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CNN Late Edition

Dick Cheney Discusses Republican Strategy for Regaining the Lead in the Polls

Aired September 24, 2000 - 12:00 p.m. ET


WOLF BLITZER, HOST: This is LATE EDITION, the last word in Sunday talk.


RICHARD B. CHENEY (R), VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think it's a very close race. It's going to be neck-and-neck and I think it'll go that way right down to November 7.


BLITZER: Republican vice presidential candidate Dick Cheney is campaigning hard, blasting Vice President Al Gore's oil strategy, economic plans and ties to Hollywood. He joins us to discuss the Republican strategy for regaining the lead in the polls.

And we'll get a response from the Gore campaign's communications director Mark Fabiani.


MARK FABIANI, COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR, GORE CAMPAIGN: The investigation in connection with the Madison Guaranty Whitewater matter is now closed.


BLITZER: Six years after it began, independent counsel Robert Ray shuts down the Whitewater investigation. But is President Clinton home free after he leaves office?

We'll ask Robert Ray in his only Sunday interview.

Plus our LATE EDITION roundtable, Steve Roberts, Susan Page and Tucker Carlson. And Bruce Morton has the Last Word on debates.


SEN. JOHN F. KENNEDY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The question really is which candidate and which party will meet the problems of the United States is going to face in the 60s.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BLITZER: Forty years after the first televised contest between Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy, can these debates make or break a campaign?

BLITZER: It's noon in Washington, 9:00 a.m. in Los Angeles, 6:00 p.m. in Belgrade, Yugoslavia, and 3:00 a.m. Monday in Sydney, Australia. Wherever you're watching from around the world, thanks for joining us for this 90-minute LATE EDITION.

We'll get to guests shortly but, first CNN is releasing a new poll on the presidential race at this hour.

Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush and Democratic candidate Al Gore are now back in a neck-and-neck race. The latest CNN/"USA Today" Gallup tracking poll numbers being released at this hour have Bush with 47 percent; Gore with 46 percent. Ralph Nader and Pat Buchanan each come in with 1 percent. Only a week ago, Gore was ahead of Bush in our tracking poll by some 10 points. Remember, this is only a tracking poll.

A short time ago, I spoke with Republican vice presidential candidate Dick Cheney about the polls, the campaign strategy, the oil crisis and more.


BLITZER: Mr. Secretary, thanks so much for joining us once again on LATE EDITION.

CHENEY: Good to be here Wolf.

BLITZER: You know this program is seen live around the world so I want to begin with a few international issues that are on the agenda right now. First of all the election today in Yugoslavia. Slobodan Milosevic, the president, is behind in the polls, but a lot of international observers predict that no matter what the results are, he's going to declare himself the winner even if he should "steal the election."

What should the U.S. do in a situation like that?

CHENEY: Well, it's not clear at this stage what's going to happen, a lot of speculation obviously, but I think we need to be as firm as possible. He's been big trouble for the Clinton administration consistently, of course with dust up over Kosovo a year ago. And I think if he has in fact designs on stealing the election after he's gone through ritual of holding one, that we ought to hold him accountable in the international court of public opinion, diplomatically perhaps economically. But...

BLITZER: But it doesn't seem -- he already declared, and declared a war criminal.


BLITZER: Than, what else can the international community do, or what should it do?

CHENEY: Well, at some point he clearly will no lodger be there, but until that time, then I think you've got to maintain a fairly stiff posture against whatever he wants to do. You don't accept him in the international organizations, you don't meet with him, you isolate him and ostracize him.

BLITZER: The Bush-Cheney campaign, though, has suggested perhaps it's time to withdraw U.S. troops from Kosovo, let European forces take the lead.

Wouldn't that send precisely the wrong message though to Belgrade?

CHENEY: Well, the purpose here and the reason we suggested switching European troops out for American troops, is if you look around the world, we've got worldwide commitments. We've got a force that's shrunk 40 percent in recent years. And, by keeping forces tied down in Bosnia and Kosovo that makes it more difficult to fulfill commitments elsewhere.

We think there with the Europeans with significant amounts of manpower, that they could substitute for our forces on the ground. We would still be involved. We suggest we stay and provide intelligence assets, that we provide logistics capabilities, maybe air assets. Those things the Europeans are short of.

But with respect to just basic fundamental soldiers on the ground, we think that the Europeans could pick up some of that slack and that would alleviate some of the pressures on our forces.

BLITZER: One of the great pressures on U.S. forces remains to this very day, nearly 10 years after the Gulf War, the situation in Iraq. This week, Russia, and now France, began civilian commercial flights, if you will, into Baghdad, the first time since the Gulf War.

The Clinton administration says that's a violation of the sanctions policy that your administration, the Bush administration in 1991 imposed together with international coalition, against Iraq.

What should the U.S. be doing to deal with this kind of situation, if in fact it's a serious problem as for as you are concerned?

CHENEY: Well, I think part of the difficulty has been the administration's had a hesitant policy, if you will at this point, our friends don't know exactly what our policy is, nor do our adversaries. And if you are not consistent with your policy over time, then the coalition starts to come unglued. People don't know what it is we expect of them. They're not sure they can count of on us in a crunch. And clearly Saddam Hussein will push the limits right up to the edge.

We've seen -- we used to have a very robust international arms inspection operation there. That's been withdrawn now. The administration has been unable to do anything to get that back in. I think our friends in the area, the Arab nations up and down the Gulf, have doubts about the quality of the U.S. leadership today and our commitment to maintain those sanctions.

Now when the French coming along, or the Russians, and begin commercial flights in there, that simply further undermines U.S. credibility. And the administration appears to be unable to do anything about it. That's a sign of weakness, from a foreign policy standpoint, with this administration.

BLITZER: But are France...

CHENEY: Our allies don't respect us and our adversaries don't fear us.

BLITZER: Are France and Russia violating the terms of the agreements that were put in place in 1991?

CHENEY: I would hope they wouldn't undertake those kinds of actions without U.N. Security Council approval.

BLITZER: Flights into Baghdad.

CHENEY: Right.

BLITZER: Were those specifically prohibited as far as you recall?

CHENEY: I don't recall. I'd have to go back and look at, specifically, at the resolution -- Security Council resolution. But up until now, nobody has done that, and it is just one more chink in the armor, even if it's a relatively minor thing or even if you can find a legal loophole that you can do it. The fact that they are trying to find legal loopholes is a sign that they don't have any great respect or regard for the U.S. position on this issue.

BLITZER: The point that you raised about these weapons inspections that have been put on hold -- there have haven't been any in a long time. But there's a new team that has been reconstituted, ready to go in. Saddam Hussein says, can't go in.

So what's going to happen? What should happen?

CHENEY: I think the U.S. ought to take -- play an aggressive role in supporting United Nations in this regard. If we're going to have sanctions, and the multilateral sanctions I think in this case were effective, the arms inspection that we had there early on was very effective at sort of stripping away his capacity to produce chemical and biological agents and putting limits on what he was trying to do with respect to nuclear weapons. That was all a key ingredient to the post-war settlement and solution.

We are ready to go back in there now, but this administration, I think, frankly, is trying to avoid any kind of a dust-up before the election. I think they just want the problem to go away, rather than aggressively pursue it, try to organize their partners in the coalition, and work back through the United Nations to try to get those inspectors back in there. BLITZER: Iraq is now exporting oil at nearly the capacity it was exporting oil before the Gulf War, taking in about $30 billion. Some people see that there is almost a contradiction there. The U.S. wants Iraqi oil to be on the international market, because that, presumably, will increase the supply, lower the price. But at the same time, it is providing a whole lot of money for Saddam Hussein. What should be the policy as far as Iraqi oil exports are concerned?

CHENEY: It is a classic case, Wolf, of the problems we are encountering now with respect to energy, because we have not expanded our domestic production here at home. We are at the lowest level of production in U.S. since 1954. We've got to go back 46 years to find a time when we produced as little oil as we do right now today. Every time our domestic production falls, we become that much more subject to international pressure, so we find ourselves in a position now where there is not a lot of excess capacity in the world. We have not expanded our capabilities here at home.

So Saddam Hussein, by simple virtue of the fact of being there, sitting on a 100-billion-barrel reserve of oil, is in a position, clearly, to tweak the international oil markets and create problems if he wants to. But our vulnerability is brought home by the fact that we have had a big expansion in demand around the world.

CHENEY: There is not a lot of excess capacity out there today. The Saudis have some, but most of OPEC's already producing at their maximum limits, and, as a result of no energy policy in U.S. and no increase in our domestic production here at home, that makes us more vulnerable than we have been in a long time to Saddam Hussein's oil lever, if you will.

BLITZER: So you -- at this point, given the facts as you have described them, should the U.S. continue to allow Iraq to export oil and take in this revenue?

CHENEY: I think unless you do, you are going to have major problems here at home. And, you know, gasoline is expensive now, oil at $35 a barrel is pretty expensive. Now, it'll get a lot more expensive if you take 2.5 million barrels out of production, which is roughly what Iraq does on a regular basis.

But, again, I circle back to the notion that our lack of an energy policy in the U.S. contributes now directly to our vulnerability. The administration has said repeatedly -- Hazel O'Leary did, then Bill Richardson did, that they wanted to reduce our reliance on foreign sources.

They wanted to expand domestic production here at home. But every time we try to do that, we are blocked by the administration. Congress tried to pass legislation allowing us to go into ANWAR, the Alaska National Wildlife Reserve. We know there is oil there. It's right next to the pipeline. It would be easily developed, and it's been blocked by Al Gore and Bill Clinton.

BLITZER: But environmentalists argue that that would be a disaster to the beautiful, natural preserves up there. CHENEY: Well, if you are not going to develop domestic resources, you'd better get used to liking Iraqi oil. Because, you know, you get to the point here where you can't have it both ways. And Al Gore would love to have it both ways. We are now to point, though, where they have avoided developing an energy policy. They have done things that have moved in exactly the opposite direction. It's six weeks before the election, and now they are are going to release a little bit of oil out of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to try to ameliorate the concerns over pricing.

BLITZER: Well, on that point, President Clinton did announce this week that he was going to use about 30 million barrels of oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. I want you to listen to what he said as explanation for going forward with the decision.


WILLIAM J. CLINTON, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This is a swap, and the reserve will be replenished along with the premium, further increasing our long term protection against energy supply disruptions. This is the right thing to do. It is good energy policy, good national security policy, and good family policy.


BLITZER: What's wrong with that, given the fact that the nation, especially some of the colder states approaching winter, are going to deal with a real problem in terms of heating oil unless steps like that, presumably, are taken?

CHENEY: Well, there are serious problems out there with respect to heating oil, Wolf. Governor Bush and I, for example, want to support full funding of the low-income energy assistance program. We think it is important to help people, especially at low end of the scale, be able to heat their homes this winter.

But part of the difficulty here is that it's not just a crude oil availability problem. It is also a refinery problem. And the fact is, again, we come back to the administration. There haven't been any new refineries built in this country in the last 10 years. The bureaucratic red tape is so great and so burdensome that to try to get the permits to build a refinery is almost impossible, so nobody is building refineries.

What that means is, as our demand is increased, our refineries that we do have out there are now running very close to capacity -- 96, 97 percent. If we have one of them break down, we're going to have a real crunch on our hands. And I come back around again to the notion that what we've done here, what we've seen with respect to the administration, is a band-aid on a serious national problem, six weeks before election.

The other point that needs to be made...

BLITZER: The president denies, as you know, that the politics have anything to do with this decision. CHENEY: I'm sure that butter wouldn't melt in his mouth, Wolf. But the fact is that the Strategic Petroleum Reserve was set up for wartime scenarios. I was there in the Ford administration. Al Gore said he was there at the beginning of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. He wasn't. He wasn't in even Congress yet. 1975, when President Ford signed the act, I was working for him in the White House.

It was set up, specifically, with the purpose in mind not to manipulate marginal changes in prices, but rather for that emergency situation caused by war, or by some major international crisis that would interrupt the flow of oil to the American economy.

The other thing that we have to keep in mind here, that I'm concerned about, is that this isn't just an argument or a debate over the price of gasoline or home heating oil this winter. This is the kind of problem that could, in fact, threaten our prosperity. The importance of energy to our economy, as sort of the building block that drives American prosperity, can't be underestimated.

BLITZER: So there's a short-term crisis right now.

CHENEY: There's short-term pricing problem right now.

BLITZER: What would you do if you were in office right now, given the fact that October, November, December, colder months are approaching, what would you do in the immediate period to deal with the high prices for gasoline and for home heating oil?

CHENEY: First of all, I'd level with the American people. I wouldn't put on the charade that somehow they're doing something about the problem that they helped create in the first place.

You ought go out and you ought to have a direct discussion with the American people. And say look, here is the situation, this is the crude oil, this where it is coming from, this is our refinery capacity, this is what our outlook is with respect to the winter months, these are inventories et cetera. You ought to deal with that on an honest basis.

Then you ought to have some kind of emergency relief for low income citizens, for example, folks who cannot pay their fuel bills. The federal government ought to help with that. There's about 550 million available in that account that could be used for that purpose. And I'd support that, that helps on the short term.

But long term, it's a -- we've got to build more refineries and we've got to produce more here at home. And here's what I recommend. And I'd go up with legislation that in fact free up ANWAR, so that we could go in there and develop ANWAR. I would see if we couldn't get some emergency authority to build a couple refineries so we can at least expand that capacity and deal with the problem down the road.

They are looking at it strictly within the limits of this next six weeks of the election. Al Gore has consistently advocated higher prices for petroleum products. In his book, he re-released again last year, calls for big tax increases on all fossil fuels. BLITZER: "Earth in the Balance"

CHENEY: He's the guy -- "Earth in the Balance". He's the guy who voted to put the gas tax increase in '93, cast the tie-breaking vote. He doesn't believe in the internal combustion engine. He wants to do away with it. If there is a man out there who has advocated higher prices for energy, Al Gore is it.

And yet because it's six weeks before election, they have now reversed the position they took seven or eight months ago when they said they didn't think you should use the Strategic Petroleum Reserve for this purpose. They are now using it, I think frankly, to try to buy him some relief in terms of the campaign this fall.

BLITZER: Just ahead, with little more than six weeks left before the election, the Bush-Cheney ticket finds itself lagging behind in some must win states. I'll ask the Republican vice presidential candidate about his campaign's battle plan for bouncing back, when LATE EDITION continues.


BLITZER: Welcome back to LATE EDITION.

Now, more of my conversation earlier today with Republican vice presidential candidate Dick Cheney.


BLITZER: Let's talk a little bit about the political situation. It's only a few weeks to go before this election.

CHENEY: Six weeks from Tuesday.

BLITZER: The polls seem to be on a nationwide basis getting a lot closer, this by all accounts, turned out to rather good week for the Bush-Cheney campaign, some people are crediting Governor Bush's appearance on "Oprah" and "Regis Philbin," I don't know if that's your assessment, but do you think those kinds of appearances do have an impact, resonate with the public the kind of sort of softer interviews that we've seen, become a familiar part of these campaigns.

CHENEY: I think they do. I -- it's another way to show another dimension to a political figure. We have to be a little bit careful not to treat any of this debate, I think, in a frivolous light because this serious business, we're picking a president of the United States. But I think to have Governor Bush and Al Gore on "Oprah," I thought was perfectly appropriate.

BLITZER: We saw.

CHENEY: I didn't have any problem with that.

BLITZER: We saw Joe Lieberman sing on Conan O'Brien.

CHENEY: I saw that. BLITZER: Will we be seeing Dick Cheney sing at any of these programs any time soon?

CHENEY: I don't think so. No, Wolf, I was kicked out of choir in the third grade because I couldn't carry a tune, so I might do stupid pet tricks or something, but I'm not going to do any, any singing.

BLITZER: No immediate plans to go on any of these programs.

CHENEY: No immediate plans, no.

BLITZER: All right, you know as close as the national polls appear to be getting right now in some of the key states, though, there's been some surprises as Florida in particular, the most recent poll that's come out in Florida I want to show on our screen over here, Al Gore has 43 percent; George W. Bush 40 percent. It was not supposed to be this close in Florida, where the governor's brother, of course, Jeb Bush is the governor of Florida. I want to read a quote from an article in today's "New York Times."

Rick Berke writes, "even if Mr. Bush carries Florida, the Gore campaign can claim something of a victory, because the Bush camp and the Republican Party have spent more than $4 million in advertisements here since the Democratic convention. The money could have been spent on Midwest campaigning.

What's happening in Florida? Why is it that close when it wasn't supposed to be that close?

CHENEY: Well, the -- you know, you can go back two or three months and find that everybody had written off the contest, Governor Bush already had it locked. It's clearly, it's going to be a close election. We've always said that from the very beginning of my involvement with campaign. We've expected a very tight election, that's exactly what we have. We've got -- we make some gains, they make some gains, we got to bounce out of our convention, they got a bounce out of their convention.

The polls now this week look like in fact, it's a virtual toss up. And you can go state by state around the country and we're doing better in some states than people would have expected. They're doing better in some states than people would have expected. Bottom line, I don't think it's going to be known what the outcome will be until November 7.

BLITZER: Illinois, that's a state where we're now told this morning, that the Bush-Cheney campaign is going to stop advertising because it seems to be definitely in Al Gore's column.

CHENEY: Don't believe everything you read in the newspapers.

BLITZER: Has the campaign...?

CHENEY: Don't believe everything you've read in the newspapers. The people are -- I understand the urgent drive in the press in terms of trying to of cover election to predict what's going to happen or to get all caught up in horse race aspects of the contest. I would not at this stage, write anything off, write anybody off. I think that there are a number of big states and some small states that will be, that will determine the outcome and will be very, very close. And, a lot of those are in the Midwest, some of them in the West Coast.

BLITZER: Is the campaign..


BLITZER: Is the campaign going to continue buying ads in Illinois?

CHENEY: I believe so, but again, I haven't talked to anybody this morning about it. I'm always suspicious, you know I read an article here a week or so ago, character no longer matters, only issues matter. Well, they both matter and Governor Bush has said that, I've said it. So, we may have some minions down there working away with reporters suggesting, you know, we're going this way or we're going that way. This will be a tough hard-fought contest for every single vote. We expect to win, but I don't think we'll know for sure until November 7.

BLITZER: California though, in the most recent poll in California it had Al Gore at 50 percent; George W. Bush at 36 percent. California, you have basically conceded.


BLITZER: You're still going out there?

CHENEY: I was there all two, two days full days last week. I would not concede California, and the polls with all due respect, Wolf, and I know you guys do your poll, we watch to see what your poll says we watch other polls.

CHENEY: One poll this week went on a national basis from down 14 to minus 2, overnight. You know, you cannot, you don't want...

BLITZER: You're talking about the "Newsweek" poll.

CHENEY: I was talking about the "Newsweek" poll. I was trying not to mention the other brand.

BLITZER: You can mention it. It's all right.

CHENEY: But the fact is that you have to be very careful about assuming based on one or two poll results, even on a state-by-state basis. What's going on out there. We've got a strategy. We know what our key states are. We are out actively executing that strategy. I think we'll be successful. But, you know a have me back November 8th and we'll talk about it.

BLITZER: I'd love to have you back November 8th and we will talk about it. Let's take a look at an ad that the Gore campaign is running now dealing with an issue that is very important to millions of Americans, namely prescription drug benefits for seniors. They say your campaign is misleading the American public.

Let's listen to this excerpt.


NARRATOR: Newspapers say George Bush's prescription drug ad misrepresents the facts. In fact, Al Gore's plan covers all seniors through Medicare, not an HMO. George Bush forces seniors to go to HMOs and insurance companies for prescription drugs. They have no choice. And Bush leaves millions of middle class seniors with no coverage.



BLITZER: What do you say about that?

CHENEY: I say their ad is inaccurate in many respects.

BLITZER: What's inaccurate about it?

CHENEY: They say that we leave a lot of seniors without coverage. That's absolutely not true. What we have done is we've got a sort of a two-stage proposal. Stage one is to reform the Medicare system to give seniors options so they will be able to choose among four or five different plans, just as federal employees and members of Congress can today. Each one of those plans will provide prescription drug coverage for seniors in that.

And all seniors will be eligible to make those choices. If they want they can keep their existing Medicare coverage, but if they don't, they can go enroll in one of these. The other thing we do is we provide short-term immediate legislation to set up a four-year program that will provide prescription drug coverage for all seniors, working with the states. There are some 23 states that already have programs. We want to appropriate 48 billion dollars over a four-year period of time.

We'll provide 100 percent of the costs of that for seniors, for couples up to $15,200 a year income. For singles up to $11,300 a year of income. Above that level you will get significant subsidy and above 175 percent of the poverty level, everybody will still get some subsidy. So it does cover everybody. It does give them choices. It does provide a significant financial assistance, especially for low and moderate income seniors. That's the facts.

BLITZER: What they argue that is yours is a very complicated plan; theirs is rather simple. Just add prescription drug benefits to all Medicare recipients, as if they had other medical problems. Let them get a prescription drug benefit through Medicare. What's wrong with that?

CHENEY: In 1992 Al Gore promised prescription drug benefits. It didn't happen. In '96 promised prescription drug benefits; didn't happen. This is his third national campaign where he is trying to run on this issue. The other problem is they don't fix Medicare. They do not go in and address the problems of Medicare. Medicare has been a great program. It's provided coverage for 80 million Americans since it was set up in 1965.

But it's old and outmoded and creaky. We have 100,000 pages of bureaucratic regulations that govern it. Three times as many as cover the tax code. We've got a lot of important new technologies that aren't covered by Medicare. Prescription drugs are not covered by Medicare, so all they are doing is going in and grafting a program on top of Medicare without fixing Medicare. Medicare will be insolvent a few years down the road if we don't address those basic fundamental problems. And they don't address them. They haven't even made a proposal to do that.

So the fact is if you want to preserve Medicare and if you want choices as seniors, the Bush plan provides them. All you get under Al Gore is you get one shot. When you're 64 and a half years old you get to decide if you want his prescription drug coverage. If you say no, then that's it. You never get another shot at it and you never get to make choices. You are stuck with the government-run HMO system.

BLITZER: Up next, more of my interview with Dick Cheney. I asked him whether he was held up to the same background checks as the other potential Republican vice presidential candidates. Stay with us.


BLITZER: Welcome back.

Now the final part of my conversation with Republican vice presidential candidate Dick Cheney.


BLITZER: I know you saw this story -- and we're almost out of time -- you saw this story in today's "Washington Post," did Cheney pass his own test. The question being that you asked a lot of potential vice presidential candidates to fill out long questionnaires, some of them spent weeks filling these out with their accountants and their lawyers. And the question is, did you fill out one of those questionnaires that could have presumably preempted some of problems that came early on around time of your getting the...

CHENEY: Yes. I probably was probably more fully vetted than anybody else, Wolf. The governor originally offered me the job and I said, you know, thanks, but no thanks. And then asked me to run this process for him, which I did.

At the end of process, when we got all through reviewing everybody, he said, look, I still want to consider you. And he asked me to allow myself to be added to the list. And I agreed at that point to do that.

I went through all the financial stuff, same people reviewed my finances that reviewed everybody else's. My medical review was more thorough. We brought in outside consultants, like Denton Cooley (ph), for example. My congressional voting record was reviewed by the same people that did all other voting records. I spent more time with the governor than any of the other candidates did, in terms of talking about myself.

So that the notion that somehow I wasn't vetted just doesn't track. I also had been through three full field FBI investigations to be White House chief of staff and secretary of Defense. So the idea that somehow he didn't know everything that there was to know about me, or that I didn't share with him every piece of information I could think of that was relevant, just simply isn't true. He is happy with result. I'm happy with result. We're off and running.

BLITZER: But the specific question that this article raises, did you fill out the questionnaire?

CHENEY: I have answered your questions.

BLITZER: You have?

CHENEY: I have.

BLITZER: Am I missing something?

CHENEY: No. You've -- it's old news. I don't know why the "Post" trotted it out again this morning, but, you know, that's their call. But it's -- I was thoroughly vetted and the governor is convinced I was thoroughly vetted. I'm convince I was thoroughly vetted, and we'll leave there.

BLITZER: And we'll leave it there.

CHENEY: We'll leave it there.

BLITZER: Your wife, Lynne Cheney, was on our program last week. She says you're a happy camper out on the campaign trail.

CHENEY: Well, we're having a great time. It's an amazing process. you know, it's such intense, sort of immersion into the country. You can go through life and you've got your job and your family and where you vacation and where you work and so forth. But then you get thrown into presidential campaign and you start covering the country coast-to-coast, border-to-border, seeing all kinds of people, from the inner cities to the farms, to the ranches, to the beautiful vacation homes on Santa Barbara. I mean, it's just this fantastic, huge, complex, diverse nation.

And there is no more intense way to see it than in a presidential campaign. And we are having a few laughs along the way.

BLITZER: Mr. Secretary, always good to have you on our program.

CHENEY: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: And we'll look forward to November 8th.

CHENEY: We'll be back.

BLITZER: Thanks for joining us.

CHENEY: All right.


BLITZER: And this note, we've invited Democratic vice presidential candidate Joseph Lieberman to join us on this program as well and we hope to have him as a guest soon.

Just ahead, we'll get the Gore campaign's response to Dick Cheney. I'll talk live with Gore deputy campaign manager, Mark Fabiani.

LATE EDITION will continue right after this.


BLITZER: Welcome back to LATE EDITION.

Joining us now from Nashville is the Gore deputy campaign manager, Mark Fabiani.

Mr. Fabiani, good to have you back on LATE EDITION.

FABIANI: Thanks for having me, Wolf.

BLITZER: Let's take a look, and I want to get your reaction to some of what Dick Cheney had to say in a moment, but let's look at this new CNN/"USA Today" Gallup tracking poll. Take a look over the past several days.

Right now, for the first time, really, since the Democratic convention, George W. Bush is slightly ahead, within the -- well within the margin of error, 47 to 46 percent. Look only a few days ago, it was -- there was a 10-point spread, 51 percent for Al Gore, 41 percent for George W. Bush. Obviously, a very good several days for Governor Bush.

FABIANI: Well, it has been an interesting several days. You know, Governor Bush started out the week by saying he was going to talk about the issues, and I think we all hoped that that would be true. And he reverted near the end of the week, though, into his personal, negative attacks. And I think what you are seeing in your poll maybe a reflection of a couple of days of him attempting to talk about the issues. But now, you know, he's right back to the personal, negative attacks that we think Americans are going to reject.

Al Gore is standing up for families. He's standing up for families on energy policy. We're going to be standing up for families this week on health care and Medicare. And, in the end, we feel very good about the way this election is going. You know, California and New York are out of reach for Bush. They've dropped out of Illinois. They're fighting for their lives in Florida, in Nevada, in Arizona, places they had taken for granted. So things look very good around the country for Al Gore.

BLITZER: Well, look at the other number that we're going to show on our screen. Among women voters, only a few days ago, Al Gore had a huge lead over George W. Bush, but now in our latest numbers, 48 percent for Al Gore, 44 percent for George W. Bush. He has dramatically narrowed that gender gap -- that so-called gender gap. Some people think it's because of his very successful appearances on Oprah and Regis Philbin.

Is that why he is scoring points among women?

FABIANI: You know, I think we make a mistake here at our campaign, I know we do, if we run a campaign based on polls. We know for certain that if Al Gore communicates his commitment to health care, to education, to Social Security, to a fair energy policy for all Americans, that we're going to win this election. And we don't change what we say based on a poll here or are a poll there.

You know, George Bush has reinvented his campaign three times over the last two weeks. He said he would talk about issues, finally. I don't know what he thought he was talking about before, but finally this week he said I'll talk about issues, and in the last three days, he's back to his negative, personal attacks. And if he keeps going in that direction, we feel even more confident than we already do about the outcome, and that's Al Gore in November.

BLITZER: Some people are suggesting that Al Gore has been sitting on his lead over these past few days since the Democratic convention, playing, in effect, defense -- sort of, you know, trying to play out the clock without going out aggressively and doing the kinds of things that got him to where he was ahead of George W. Bush.

Is there going to be a readjustment now that these poll numbers across the board seem to be getting closer?

FABIANI: I think we are going to continue to do the same thing we've always been doing. No one campaigns harder than Al Gore. No one works harder. No one has been preparing longer for this moment, for this campaign, and for the job of being the president of the United States. He is going to continue to do that.

I think you had a little bit of griping in the newspapers about his -- last time he had press conference was a couple months ago. The fact is, he appears all the time on his plane with reporters. Unfortunately, now there are a lot more reporters traveling with us. The rest of the reporters are in a press plane. They don't all fit on Air Force Two. So we have made an adjustment. The vice president had a press conference on Friday, and we'll do everything we can to make him available to the media.

At the same time, though, we are going to continue to run an aggressive campaign, and the results are showing all over the country. You know, when the Republicans pull out of Illinois, the birthplace of Abraham Lincoln, that is a major, major statement about where this election is going. BLITZER: You know, the uproar over the past few days about a supposed mole that the Gore campaign had in the Bush campaign. You've suspended a young staffer working in the Gore campaign, because he supposedly boasted to a friend that your campaign had a mole buried deep inside the Bush campaign and provided that videotape of Governor Bush preparing for the upcoming debates. Tell us what's going on right now.

FABIANI: Well, as you know, someone sent a debate videotape and some debate preparation materials from the Bush campaign to Al Gore's debate preparation partner, Tom Downey. The Gore campaign and Mr. Downey handled this immediately.

FABIANI: The material was turned over to the FBI immediately, we notified the media right away. We handled it entirely appropriately. We understand from press reports that the FBI is closing in on the person inside the Bush campaign who did this, and we don't know anything more about it than that.

As for the news report that you're talking about regarding our campaign, there is a very low level staffer, a 28-year-old administrative assistant to the field director, who boasted to a friend outside the campaign that he knew about a mole.

We've explored that completely, we've done an internal review, there's no evidence whatsoever that there's -- that we know of any kind of a mole within the Bush campaign. We've gotten a sworn affidavit from the 28-year-old indicating that his statement was made without any knowledge or basis in fact, and that's where it is, it's that simple. I think, you know, George Bush has to be worried that he's got a problem in his campaign if his debate materials start showing up on our doorstep.

Bottom line though, Wolf, we don't want any part of these materials, if people are sending us stuff, we'll send them right over to the FBI and let the Bush campaign worry about that.

BLITZER: A hot issue this week involves, of course, the price of oil, home heating fuel, gasoline prices, you heard Dick Cheney say that Al Gore simply has no policy on this issue and he also seems to have flip-flopped from supporting going into the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to not -- to going forward right now.

What is the vice president's position on this entire Republican assault on using the Strategic Petroleum Reserve allegedly for politics?

FABIANI: Well, let's start from the beginning and that is that both Bush and Cheney are oilmen, they come out of the oil industry. And everything they've said in response to this week has been to defend the oil industry. They don't want more oil on the market because that will reduce the price and that will hurt big oil companies.

They don't want to make OPEC go into surrender as we do by putting more oil on the market, because that'll hurt their friends in OPEC. They want to go in to a sensitive national wilderness areas and they want to do that because it will help their friends at oil companies. Al Gore is standing up for families, it's the winter time coming up, people need to heat homes and Al Gore's going to make sure that they're able to do that.

Now, Al Gore had a different position back in February because the situation was different back in February. Home heating oil supplies were not at crisis level, oil prices were not at historic highs, the situation changes and that's part of being an effective leader to react to changed circumstances, and that's what Al Gore has done on behalf of American families.

BLITZER: Mark Fabiani, we unfortunately we have to leave it right there, thanks for joining us from Nashville.

FABIANI: Thanks, Wolf for having me.

BLITZER: I'm sure you'll be back on LATE EDITION sometime in the not too distant future.

And just ahead, the independent counsel clears President Clinton and first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton in the Whitewater case. But is there still a looming indictment for President Clinton? We'll have an exclusive interview with independent counsel Robert Ray about his continuing investigation when LATE EDITION continues.



CLINTON: Even Mr. Starr said almost two years ago that there was nothing in any of that stuff. That it's just been coming out now year and a half later, so I think people are capable of drawing their own conclusions about that.


BLITZER: President Clinton responding to the release this past week of independent counsel Robert Ray's final report on the Whitewater affair. That report concluded there was insufficient evidence to prove the president or the first lady committed any criminal wrong doing in the Arkansas land deal.

Welcome back to LATE EDITION.

Joining us now to talk about his report and more is the independent counsel, Robert Ray.

Welcome to LATE EDITION.

ROBERT RAY, INDEPENDENT COUNSEL: I'm pleased to be here, thank you.

BLITZER: "The Wall Street Journal's" reaction to your word -- your report this week was interesting. Let me read to you what "The Wall Street Journal" wrote in an editorial. "The finding of insufficient evidence to persuade a jury beyond a reasonable doubt is understandable. But it is by no means an exoneration of the Clintons for their conduct in either Whitewater or the White House."

Is that fair?

RAY: Well, my job as a prosecutor is to decide whether there is sufficient evidence or not, that one would bring before a jury and convinced that a jury would be able to sustain those charges beyond a reasonable doubt. I'm not in the business of passing judgment in the sense that the Wall Street Journal mentions. I'm in the business of, as a prosecutor, of making a responsible judgment about whether or not to bring charges. That's it. Beyond that, that's for other people to decide.

My task is completed once I decide whether or not it's appropriate to bring a case. And to explain, as I have tried to do during the course of this week, the basis of a judgment about whether or not to bring a case.

In this instance, with regard to the conclusion of the Whitewater, Madison Guarantee investigation, we determined that there was insufficient evidence with regard to a number of separate matters that have now been placed into the public domain about what the value of that evidence was and whether it was appropriate in the exercise of discretion to bring a case.

If the prosecutor's not firmly convinced that a case can be brought before a jury and a jury would convict, the prosecutor doesn't bring a case.

BLITZER: So would it be fair to say they have or they haven't been exonerated?

RAY: Well, in a legal sense, with regard to criminal charges, they are relieved of criminal charges. The matter is now closed.

BLITZER: All right. Mark Geragos, as you know, is an attorney for Susan McDougall. She was one of the defendants in the whole Whitewater matter. He was on CNN's "Burden of Proof" earlier this week. I want you to listen to what he said reacting to your report.


MARK GERAGOS, ATTORNEY FOR SUSAN MCDOUGALL: They can't bring themselves to just say there's nothing there. Instead they phrase it in the reverse and say there's not enough evidence to convict them under a reasonable doubt standard. It really is duplictious on behalf of the office of independent counsel.


BLITZER: I think he meant duplicitous.

RAY: Or subliminal.

BLITZER: Yes, something like that. RAY: The -- an investigation is commenced, in this instance, because the president of the United States signed the Independent Counsel Reauthorization Act. The Attorney General of the United States thought that there was sufficient credible information to warrant an investigation. That was what caused the appointment of an independent counsel in the first place.

I am the successor to an independent counsel previously who conducted initially the investigation. Indeed, before even the statute was passed, Robert Fiske, the attorney general's appointment looked into this matter.

It's not for me to say, again, whether at the end of this process, addressing the merits of the exercise of judgment, what people think about or reacting to the facts of this particular investigation. Is for me as a prosecutor to pass judgment on a very narrow issue, and that is whether or not it's appropriate to bring criminal charges.

There is not a prosecutorial solution to every problem. There was a problem here. It warranted action. There was a conflict of interest between the attorney general and the White House with regard to an investigation involving high level government officials. As a result of that, prosecutions were brought.

This investigation established that crimes were committed by, among others, the then sitting governor of the state of Arkansas, the former associate attorney general of the United States, the number three person in the Department of Justice and others.

Those are a matter of record. We did establish during the course of this investigation that crimes, in fact, were committed. That was not, however, the end of the story. The rest of the story was to determine whether or not president and Mrs. Clinton knew of those crimes, participated in those crimes, when asked about them, gave truthful testimony with regard to that activity and those crimes.

With regard to the latter aspect of the investigation, my investigation determined that there was insufficient evidence to proceed. Once having made that judgment, I thought it appropriate to call the investigation to a conclusion, an appropriate conclusion and explain why we had done so.

BLITZER: Which is part of what you're doing right now. You know, you're being slammed though. Not only from President Clinton's supporters and Mrs. Clinton's supporters, not just for this report but for the entire process.

But from the other side, some of the harshest critics of the president, Judicial Watch, a very conservative legal group here in Washington, a private legal group. Larry Klayman, of course, as you know, is the head of that. He has a statement that he put out this past week in response to your report. Let me just read to you what he says, a couple of headlines.

"Ray Punts on Whitewater, Ignores Evidence of Criminal Activity by Bill and Hillary Clinton."

"Office of Independent Counsel Guilty of Prosecutorial Malpractice Ignores Overwhelming Evidence in Favor of Political Outcome."

So you're being slammed by both sides to a certain degree.

RAY: Well, Mr. Klayman has made the point that I should not even stop at the water's edge of determining in my judgment that a case can be brought and proven beyond a reasonable doubt. He thinks that I should proceed if I believe by probable cause there's sufficient to return an indictment before a grand jury.

The fact of the matter is no responsible prosecutor would bring a case simply based on a judgment that a grand jury would return a charge by a probable cause determination. Much more is expected of a prosecutor. Much is expected of a prosecutor particularly in these circumstances where a certain amount of judgment clearly has to be made.

You cannot legislate discretion and you cannot legislate fairness. I have attempted to conduct the work of my office toward an appropriate conclusion with regard to those matters that can be closed. And where they can be closed I will say so and explain.

But by the same token let it also be understood that with regard to the exercise of that discretion, where it is appropriate and we believe based upon sound prosecutorial discretion with a commitment and a conviction that we could sustain a case beyond a reasonable doubt if brought before a jury, we won't hesitate to act. By the same token, in those circumstances where we do not have the evidence it is appropriate for us to say so, and I have said so. And that's why we went and made our announcement this week with regard to the conclusion of this investigation.

The country is entitled to closure. As a matter of fairness, a candidate for the United States Senate is entitled to finality and a rendering of a judgment if one could appropriately be made before the election and in a way that fairly and in a balanced way explains what it is that we have done. And that is what we have tried to do this week.

BLITZER: You know, as far as Mrs. Clinton is concerned, you know she is obviously running for the Senate. A few months ago you did release the report on the travel office firing. You also released the FBI files or report in those two matters.

In that travel office report among the things you did say, was there was "substantial evidence that she had a role in the decision to fire the travel office employees. Mrs. Clinton's concerns ultimately influenced David Watkins," a White House official at the time," decision to fire the travel office employees." But then you went on to say the evidence was insufficient to prove to a jury beyond a reasonable doubt that she committed any crime.

RAY: Very similar to what we've done here, by the way. BLITZER: That report is going to be released, presumably by the three-judge judicial panel, maybe as early as next month, before the election in New York?

Is that appropriate to release the details of that so close to the election in New York?

RAY: Well, as an initial matter, that's not my decision. That's a decision ultimately that the special division will make. And I won't comment with regard specifically regarding this matter because it would not be appropriate for me to do so. But let me -- I would like to say ...

BLITZER: Hold on for one second. I want you to hold that thought because we have to take a quick commercial break. I want to get into that. I want to get into whether or not you're going to indict President Clinton after he gets out of office. We have a lot more to talk about, Robert Ray, stand by.

We have to take this break.

For our international viewers world news is next.

For our North American audience, stay tuned for another 30 minutes of LATE EDITION. We'll check the hour's top stories then more of our interview with Robert Ray plus a LATE EDITION roundtable and Bruce Morton's "Last Word."

It's all ahead when LATE EDITION continues.


BLITZER: Welcome back to LATE EDITION.

We'll continue our conversation with Independent Counsel Robert Ray in just a moment. But first, here's Brian Nelson in Atlanta with the hour's top stories.


BLITZER: Now back to our conversation about the investigation of President Clinton with the independent counsel, Robert Ray.

Mr. Ray, we were talking about the Hillary Rodham Clinton factor. When you released the travel office findings a few months ago, you knew, or you suspected that three or four months down the road there would be a release of the full report, which, potentially, could be somewhat damaging to Mrs. Clinton on the eve of her election.

Was that a factor at all in your consideration?

RAY: Well, remember, I have, since January of this year and certainly by March, announced a timetable for the conclusion of those investigations that could be responsibly and appropriately concluded. March, FBI files. June, the travel office. Now September, the conclusion of the Whitewater/Madison Guarantee investigation. And they were spaced over a period of approximately three months, so that in an orderly way, there would be, ultimately, a public release of findings and conclusions, followed by, as we saw in the FBI files matter, the eventual release of a final report.

In connection with the travel office matter, it was appropriate to speak to the question of the role that the first lady played in connection with the firing of the travel office employees. And it was a discreet issue, which could be appropriately explained in a fair and balanced way.

The Whitewater/Madison Guarantee investigation is, obviously, somewhat more complicated, and, in any event, as you well know, based upon what has previously occurred, there would be no way for a final report to be released to the public prior to the election. So, it counseled in favor, again, of being fair and balanced, which I think is what we certainly tried to do, and I hope we have accomplished.

BLITZER: One outstanding, perhaps the only outstanding, issue on your plate right now is whether to indict President Clinton after he leaves office. I take it, that's why this grand jury that was highly publicized in August on the day of Al Gore's acceptance speech -- that's why you've convened that grand jury to examine whether or not there's room for a criminal indictment of the president.

RAY: Well, it wasn't my choice that the public was informed of the fact that a grand jury is now sitting with regard to the matter that you discussed, and it's not appropriate for me to comment about grand jury matters, other than to say, as I have said publicly and previously, that I will turn my attention in the exercise of sound prosecutorial discretion to determining whether or not it's appropriate to bring charges. And I will do that once the president leaves office.

BLITZER: Presumably fairly quickly. Michael Zeldin, a former independent counsel, wrote in "The Washington Post" earlier this month. I want to read to you what he said. "The president was impeached, fined civilly, held in contempt, and ordered to pay restitution, and he now faces the loss or suspension of his law license, all because he tried to conceal an extramarital affair in the context of a politically motivated civil law suit. This is as harsh a sentence as any prosecutor could hope for, under the circumstances." And he says it's time for you to just close up shop and forget about further prosecution of the president.

RAY: I think the public would like me to wrap up this investigation, but that doesn't mean walk away from the responsibilities that I have. I took an oath to promptly and fairly and impartially and responsibly in a cost-effective way conclude this investigation. And you are right -- that decision will be rendered shortly, very shortly after the president leaves office in the best interest of the country, and also not to unfairly tread on the new president's administration. But closure comes not at the price of waving away one's responsibilities.

BLITZER: You don't operate within a vacuum. Would it make a difference if Gore's elected or Bush is elected? RAY: That shouldn't affect ones prosecutorial determination, but there are factors that one does consider that have not fully played out. Again, it is a determination as to -- at the appropriate time whether there's a substantial federal interest in bringing a case. We're going to turn attention and on our undivided efforts to that matter over the course of the next several months.

BLITZER: And very briefly, if he's disbarred in Arkansas, does that affect your decision?

RAY: It's a factor to be considered, it's not to say it's the only factor, it's not to say it's a despositive factor, but again it goes into the question of whether or not there's a substantial federal interest in bringing a case. One of the things you look at is whether or not they're other adequate remedies that could be found in a civil proceeding, for example, or in this particular incidence, a disbarment proceeding.

Those were all factors and it's not to say how one would look at them, it's just simply to say that those were things that the U.S. attorney's manual, a Department of Justice guidelines ask a prosecutor to take into consideration in any case, this would be no different.

BLITZER: All right, Robert Ray. Hopefully you'll be back on this program after you've concluded your investigation, all your final reports.

RAY: Well thank you and pleased to be here.

BLITZER: Thank you for joining us.

And just ahead, touring the talk show circuit, Governor George W. Bush schmoozes with Oprah and Regis, while Al Gore hams it up with Jay Leno. Is this the future of presidential campaigns? We'll go round the table with Roberts, Page and Carlson when LATE EDITION continues.


BLITZER: Welcome back.

Time now for our roundtable. Joining me, Susan Page, Washington bureau chief for "USA Today," Steve Roberts, contributing editor for "U.S. News & World Report" and Tucker Carlson, political writer for "The Weekly Standard."

All right, Steve. Bill Richardson, the Energy Secretary was on "Meet the Press" earlier today insisting this decision to go to the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, nothing to do with politics. Listen to what he -- listen to what he said.


BILL RICHARDSON, ENERGY SECRETARY: This has nothing to do with a political campaign. This has to do with the fact that we want to make sure the Americans are protected.


STEVE ROBERTS, CNN COMMENTATOR: Well, that's absurd. Of course it has to do with a political campaign. Now does it have a practical effect in helping people, perhaps helping bring down the price of oil? Sure. And that's a good thing. It appears to have stabilized the price a little bit in the world market.

But it's highly political. And the fact is, this is what incumbents get to do. I was talking to Governor Whitman of New Jersey, Republican governor yesterday. And she said, the power of incumbency is amazing. She said, this is something I've wanted for New Jersey. We have a big heating oil problem here. This is going to be a big boost for the Gore campaign. She was sort of admiring the use of the political office.

Look, the basic line in politics, you reward your friends, you punish your enemies. If the Republicans were in office, they'd do exactly the same thing.

BLITZER: Would they, Tucker?

TUCKER CARLSON, CNN COMMENTATOR: Yes, they probably would. That doesn't make it any less over the top, though. I mean, this is never been done in peacetime. It's -- or at a time when oil wasn't cut off from the United States.

And I think it points up a fundamental problem with the Bush campaign. Here you have Al Gore, he's been vice president for more than seven years. Oil prices spike, and somehow he turns the issue and the focus to George W. Bush who hasn't been in a position to control oil prices. And all of a sudden it's the fault of big oil and the Bush campaign. And Gore takes none of the heat for this. It's really a remarkable political trick he's pulled off.

BLITZER: In an earlier incarnation, Gore might have said, it's good these prices are going up, it's going to force conservation and less dependence on imported oil.

SUSAN PAGE, CNN COMMENTATOR: You know, as recently as February when Bill Bradley proposed tapping the reserve for this very reason, Al Gore said it wasn't a good idea because it could so easily be offset by OPEC. I actually -- I wonder if this is a total slam dunk for Al Gore. I think it's a somewhat risky thing he's done over the last few days. Because he made a statement that does help people, and maybe that's very appealing. But it also opens him up to a charge that has been somewhat damaging to him, which is that he's a politically minded through and through. That he'll change his position if the politics demand it. And that's an attack that we've heard Bush and Cheney make on him. And I wonder if that's one reason, perhaps, we're seeing these polls tighten.

ROBERTS: Although on balance, I think it's a good thing for him, because it also is a metaphor. It's a chance -- and again, this is what incumbents get to do, they get to act and not just talk about it. And say, look, I'm doing something to help you people who are facing this problem. That's a real, tangible thing that you can argue on the campaign trail.

And the Bush argument -- I'm not sure this is a great bumper sticker. You know, "No Oil Out of SPRO." I mean, I don't think we're going to have people rallying through the streets carrying that sign.

BLITZER: You know, one other thing, we did see very dramatically, not only this week, but the last couple of weeks, the use of some of these softer talk shows by the candidates to score points, especially with women voters, a key group out there. We've got a little montage we've put together.

I want you to watch this.


REGIS PHILBIN, HOST: You ever watch "Survivor," Governor?

BUSH: I did. I was fascinated to see who was going to survive.


BUSH: Kind of like me.

I feel like I'm going through "Survivor."



OPRAH WINFREY, HOST: I'm looking for specifics.

BUSH: I know you are, but I'm running for president.



JAY LENO, HOST: Now according to the latest polls, Al Gore is the handsomest, smartest, most -- what? That doesn't sound like the joke I wrote. But who's the cue card guy? Oh look who the cue card guy is.


LENO: It's the man who invented the cue card, Al Gore. Wow.


BLITZER: Hey, Tucker, if I were running for office, I'd be on those shows every day. They're usually very soft, Valentines, the interviews that happen there.

CARLSON: Oh, get the air sickness bag. No, I think there is something -- there is really -- this is deeply undignified. And sure, you know, it's necessary. The -- both campaigns believe -- I mean, you saw Al Gore on Oprah. This is a guy who really prepped for Oprah. I mean, he knew everything about Oprah's career. When he went on -- he knew the radio station she worked at when she was 18 years old.

Clearly they fell it's totally important. But it is sort of an arms race on both sides. How low can you go? Where does it stop? I think it's -- I don't like it.

ROBERTS: Well, I think that -- I think you're being a little harsh. I think that not only do we know there are a lot of women who watch these shows, but this is not a point so much about gender. The fact is, an awful lot of voters don't go into the voting booth and say, I'm going to vote for that guy because of his position on the Strategic Petroleum Reserve.

They go into the voting booth and say, do I feel comfortable with that person? Do I like him? Do I trust him? These shows are a way where they have to be sort of spontaneous, of getting a sense of their personality. I think it's a good thing for the voters because it's a dimension that you normally don't see.

BLITZER: Susan, there's a cover story in "The New York Times" magazine out today, "The Most Trusted Source for Campaign News."

Guess what? My picture is not there.


It's Jay Leno, his picture and Chris Lehane the press secretary for Vice President Gore. In the article it's quoted as saying, "the monologues are evidence of when a certain story really breaks through. If it makes into Leno or Letterman, it means something.

PAGE: Well, there is a -- there is great power, but it makes you worry a little bit about political leaders who are actually very qualified, maybe would be great presidents. Who are not really designed to do this kind of show. I mean, I don't know -- would George Washington have done well on "Oprah," you know.

BLITZER: Franklin Roosevelt.

PAGE: Franklin Roosevelt, what he might have done all right.

CARLSON: Roosevelt would have been great.

PAGE: But there are people who are substantive leaders who are not really designed to do the joke and repartee thing and maybe this isn't the best -- maybe this shouldn't be the bottom line when you chose a president.

BLITZER: But a lot of people do make up their minds based on these kinds of shows, don't they Tucker?

CARLSON: They do, and those are exactly the people who shouldn't vote. I mean...


ROBERTS: Oh, that's ridiculous. CARLSON: It's not ridiculous, because think of it this way, if you were called into a murder trial and someone said, you haven't heard the evidence, but render judgment. You'd say, boy I don't know enough to render judgment.

ROBERTS: I really...

CARLSON: We encourage people to vote on the basis of no knowledge, isn't that troubling?

ROBERTS: I really disagree with you about that. I think a lot of voters not only do this, but have a right to say what I really care about is the feelings I have. Do they connect with me, do they understand me, do I like their personality, do I have confidence in them. I think those are totally legitimate reasons to vote somebody. In fact that's the way a lot of people do vote. (OFF-MIKE)

CARLSON: I thought we had two Clinton administrations.

ROBERTS: A lot of people don't ...

CARLSON: Feelings don't matter.

ROBERTS: ...don't watch CNN or any of these....


ROBERTS: I know, it's true.

BLITZER: We have to take a quick break, on that note, I'm cutting him off. We have more of our roundtable including Mrs. Clinton's race for the Senate in New York when we come back.


BLITZER: Welcome back to our roundtable.

It looks like it's a horse race in New York state, as well. Different poll numbers: The Marist poll is basically 48-48 in New York State. "New York Times" poll was 48-39, much bigger gap. What's happening in New York?

PAGE: Well, there's a sort of a risky agreement that Hillary Clinton has made with Congressman Lazio to eliminate, or try to eliminate, these soft money ads that cost a lot of consternation in the political community.

BLITZER: And there's a tentative agreement now.

PAGE: A tentative agreement on that. I think somewhat risky for Mrs. Clinton. She's had much more money expended on her behalf in soft money ads. She's also had less success raising money recently, hard money, that could be used on ads, then Rick Lazio has. So, I think she'll get a lot of editorial support in editorial columns and newspapers for doing this, but I wonder if it's somewhat risky in terms of her campaign. ROBERTS: I think a little vulnerable, too, on this news releasing 404 people who slept over at the White House. There's a new Hillary campaign slogan, which is "We're going to leave the light on for you."

BLITZER: On that point, Rick Lazio was on this week earlier today, Tucker, and he says that the Clintons have not yet completely released all the important information on those sleepovers at the White House and New York state donors.

Listen to this.


REP. RICK LAZIO (R-NY), NEW YORK SENATE CANDIDATE: Mrs. Clinton needs to come clean on this. The White House needs to come clean on this. We need to get the dates of when people stayed there to determine whether or not the Clintons were even on location. They said they were visiting with friends. Well, were they at the White House? Were they at Camp David?


BLITZER: Is this going to be an important issue in the New York Senate campaign?

CARLSON: If Lazio can help it. And I think it's a valid question. It's federal property, and it's hard for the White House to argue that it doesn't have an obligation to release these names -- 404 people in a year? I mean, that's pretty over the top. One-quarter of them donors to either Mrs. Clinton's campaign or to the Democratic National Committee. I mean, that's -- this is significant.


PAGE: You don't have that many houseguests at your own house?

CARLSON: We do, but not all of them give money.

BLITZER: But you've covered Republican administrations in the White House, as well. And didn't Republican presidents invite their political supporters, their big campaign contributors to sleep over?

PAGE: I think not at all to this degree. I think the Reagans, in particular, did not have a lot of overnight guests beyond family members. Bush has had somewhat more, but I think the Clintons have had greater numbers of people than previous modern presidents. Now, that's not to say there's anything wrong with that. Although I do think this is a -- not a big issue for New Yorkers, but maybe a little reminder of some of the things that have made people uncomfortable about the Clinton administration.

ROBERTS: Well, we talked about the power of incumbency, in terms of the oil issue. There can be a downside to that, if the power -- if you seem to be abusing the power of incumbency. And I do think there's a shadow of a problem here. Although, let's admit it, even if the Republican presidents didn't do exactly the same thing, you have the Republican leader of the House, Tom DeLay, taking his big contributors out to Las Vegas. Well, it's not federal property and I'm not particularly happy with the White House being turned into a Motel 6, but, still, you reward the people who give money to you. That's very standard political practice.

CARLSON: Vegas with Tom DeLay? Come on.


BLITZER: We have to leave it there. Tucker Carlson, Susan Page, Steve Roberts, our roundtable. Go watch football games. Later -- thanks for joining us.

Just ahead, we'll reveal what's on the cover of this week's major news magazines, plus, Bruce Morton's "Last Word."


BRUCE MORTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): No debates in 1964 or `68 or `72, but the candidates have debated one way or another ever since. And there have been some defining moments.


BLITZER: Presidential debates: Do they still matter?


BLITZER: Time now for Bruce Morton's "Last Word." Now that the debate over this year's debates has been settled, Bruce shares his thoughts about what else, presidential debates.


MORTON (voice-over): Forty years ago this coming Tuesday, Vice President Richard Nixon and Massachusetts Senator John Kennedy squared off in the first-ever TV debate between presidential candidates. Eighty million people watched that first debate. Most who watched thought Kennedy won, looked calm, confident, while Nixon sweated. The much smaller group who heard it on radio, I was one, thought it was fairly even. Maybe Nixon had the edge. But TV was what mattered in that campaign and since.

No debates in 1964 or '68 or '72 but the candidates have debated one way or the other ever since. And there have been some defining moments. Gerald Ford in 1976 seeming to deny Soviet domination of eastern Europe, though it was a fact. Ronald Reagan undoing Jimmy Carter with a single question in 1980:


RONALD REAGAN (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Are you better off than you were four years ago? (END VIDEO CLIP)

MORTON: No, the country shouted. And the Reagans moved to the White House.

Usually campaigns have scuffled about the format, the rules, and usually whoever is ahead gets his way in these scuffles. President Bill Clinton simply said he couldn't make the first debate in 1996. He was too busy being president.

Formats can matter. In 1992 in an Oprah style debate, questions from the audience, Clinton shone. President Bush looked at his watch twice and seemed bored.

This time the commission on debates got its way. The debates will be held when and where it wanted. And pretty clear, debating will be part of presidential campaigns in the foreseeable future. It's a skill candidates will need. There may be others. Are there votes in kissing Oprah? Do candidates need to be able to carry a tune?


SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN (D-CT), VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE (singing): Regrets, here's one right here ...


MORTON: How far must they carry it? Does Lieberman want to do this for the next seven weeks? Probably not.

But the debates so matter. They are on the main channels. Sure, you can find a movie somewhere, but most watch. Sixty million or so last time. It's a chance for the candidates to speak to the whole country, major candidates anyway. And it's probably fair not to invite those who are single digits in the polls. And a chance for the whole country or a lot of it anyway, to listen without competition from the world series or the NFL. And democracies work better of course, when the voters are paying attention.

I'm Bruce Morton.


BLITZER: Thanks, Bruce.

And now a look at what's on the cover of this week's major news magazines.

"Time" magazine reveals what's next for Napster: How Web music founder Sean Fanning (ph) upended music, on the cover.

"Newsweek" asks, who will teach our kids? Half of all teachers will retire by 2010. What schools and parents can do, on the cover.

And on the cover of "U.S. News & World Report" can Bush bounce back? With Gore on a roll, Bush shifts strategy and gears up for the debates.

That's your LATE EDITION for Sunday, September 24.

Be sure to join us again next Sunday and every Sunday at noon eastern for the last word in Sunday talk. I'll also be back tomorrow night at 8:00 p.m. Eastern on "THE WORLD TODAY."

Coming up next on CNN: CNNdotCOM, the story of a Massachusetts town that's giving high tech havens like San Francisco and New York a run for their venture capital money.

For now thanks very much for watching. Enjoy the rest of your weekend. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.



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