CNN INSIDE POLITICS
Why Bush Approved the Change in the Terrorism Threat Level; How New Voting Procedures in Florida Have Been Handled in Primary Elections
Aired September 10, 2002 - 16:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JUDY WOODRUFF: I'm Judy Woodruff in Washington.
Americans put on a higher alert for terror on the eve of the September 11 anniversary. We will tell you who may be at risk.
KELLY WALLACE, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: I'm Kelly Wallace at the White House.
I will tell you why President Bush gave the go-ahead to increase the threat level to Code Orange.
WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: I'm Bill Schneider in Washington.
On this "Super Tuesday" of the 2002 primary season, will the heightened terror alert influence the outcome at the polls?
JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN MIAMI BUREAU CHIEF: I'm John Zarrella in Miami, where primary day has been plagued by delays and confusion, giving some people flashbacks to Election 2000.
WOODRUFF: Thanks for joining us. The nation's heightened terror alert is overshadowing this big Election 2002 primary day. We will have political reports and analysis a bit later.
Today marks the first time the Bush administration has raised the nationwide threat level to Code Orange, signaling a high state of alert, up from a Yellow, or "elevated," alert.
Federal officials say they have received credible information from a senior al Qaeda operative that strikes may be planned, largely overseas, to coincide with the anniversary of the September 11 attacks.
JOHN ASHCROFT, ATTORNEY GENERAL: Information indicates that al Qaeda cells have been established in several south Asian countries in order to conduct car bombs and other attacks on U.S. facilities. The U.S. intelligence community has also received information that one or more individuals in the Middle East are preparing for a suicide attack or attacks against U.S. interests.
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The threats that we have heard recently remind us of the pattern of...
WOODRUFF: Sorry about that audio break up there, but we want to tell you our justice correspondent, Kelli Arena, and our White House correspondent, Kelly Wallace, are following this story.
Kelli Arena, to you first. Tell us a little bit more about where these threats, exactly, are coming from.
KELLI ARENA, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, there is a senior al Qaeda operative that is in custody. We are told by sources he's not in U.S. custody but in the custody of a friendly country that is providing information and this person has been talking recently (UNINTELLIGIBLE) with information that has been described as useful and he talked about several targets in Southeast Asia, possible embassy targets, consulates or defense installations.
Also there is separate information coming from another al Qaeda source who talked about possible suicide bombings in the Middle East. But that couples with other information gathered from a variety of sources that al Qaeda cells scattered throughout the globe may be planning attacks on September 11, or around September 11, to prove a point to say, hey, we are still alive and well. We are resilient and we are committed.
So you have the global alert on high alert and you have the domestic alert level raised as you reported, Judy.
WOODRUFF: Kelli, any more information about exactly what they are saying the threat may be, especially about who may be at risk?
ARENA: No, no specific information that specific. We just know that there are targets in Southeast Asia. The area is just as specific as that.
We do know that this al Qaeda operative, at least according to the attorney general, says that al Qaeda cells in the Southeast Asia region have been accumulating explosives since January; didn't get into the types of explosives that were talked about. Again, suicide bombing is as specific as they got concerning the Middle East, and that has also been talked about among counterterrorism officials as a threat here in the United States as well.
But Judy, the so-called intelligence chatter, information that has been coming in through various means of intelligence gathering has been compared to the level that we saw this time last year. Let's not forget, Judy, the last time that intelligence pointed to an attack overseas, but we saw an attack on U.S. soil. That's the concern among the law enforcement and intelligence community now, that even though we are getting information that's talking about overseas -- U.S. targets, that they may very well see attacks here on U.S. soil.
WOODRUFF: All right, Kelli Arena, thanks very much.
And now we want to turn to Kelly Wallace at the White House. Kelly, tell us about how the president went about making this decision to say yes, let's raise this alert level?
WALLACE: Well Judy, senior officials say the president was told during a Monday evening meeting with his national security advisers about this increased level of discussion going on among terrorists and suspected terrorists, also the possibility of specific threats against U.S. interests overseas, and one official saying that CIA Director George Tenet told the president he believes the increased level of chatter is definitely connected to al Qaeda.
We are told the president told his advisers he wanted more information, and then he met with his team again this morning, then gave the go-ahead. Said one top aide, this was not done very easily. It's a very considered decision, and one very well thought out.
WOODRUFF: And Kelly, should we assume there's some connection between all this and, on the other hand, the decision to have the vice president, Dick Cheney, go to an undisclosed location again?
WALLACE: It is somewhat connected Judy. U.S. officials are saying, number one, they are doing this in some ways out of an overabundance of caution, but also due to the continuity of government concerns when there is a higher level of threat concerning terrorist attacks.
The vice president last night, in fact, was supposed to go to a memorial concert here in Washington for the September 11 anniversary. He did not attend that concert. He went to a secure, undisclosed location last night. He was at the White House today meeting with his top advisers and the president, but midday he headed to the secure undisclosed location.
He was supposed to give a speech in Washington. We are told he won't do that speech in person, will deliver his remarks via videotape, and then it's really to be announced tomorrow. He was supposed to appear at a number of events marking the September 11 anniversary in Washington.
It's not clear if he will, said one top aide. We're in a minute- by-minute decision-making process when it comes to the security and the decision making of the vice president -- Judy.
WOODRUFF: All right Kelly, thanks very much.
CIA Director George Tenet is due back on Capitol Hill later this hour to give House Intelligence Committee members more information about on this new terror alert. He already has briefed the committee's chairman, Republican Porter Goss, and I spoke with Goss just a short while ago.
WOODRUFF: Let me start by asking you based on what you know, do you think it was the right decision to raise the threat level to high?
REP. PORTER GOSS (R), FLORIDA: Yes.
GOSS: Well, I think that first of all we have an anniversary date, which obviously we are concerned about, as we were the millennium. It's that kind of situation, and it seems to have the appeal for terrorism, whether it's organized or freelance terrorism, copycat terrorism, this is sort of an excuse, a sad one and a tragic one in many ways, but that's the way terrorists operate.
The second thing that is very clear, and I think most instructive on this, is that using the capabilities that we have which I think are far better tuned now than they were a year ago, we are getting enough additional volume through our capabilities to indicate to me that there are plans afoot to try and make things happen in the next few days.
And I think it is entirely correct to take a full assessment, an analytical look of all of the evidence and come to the conclusion that efforts will be made to make unpleasant things happen, and therefore that justifies the Orange alert and the extra warning to Americans to be not panicked, but extra vigilant.
WOODRUFF: I've just been listening to an expert on al Qaeda say that anniversaries don't matter to them, that they would be much more interested in the element of surprise.
GOSS: Well, it depends which handbook you read, frankly, on terrorism. And al Qaeda are not the only terrorists out there.
It is a known fact that terrorism, since we really started to recognize terrorism back in I think the early '80s, and Lebanon was the first sort of horrible experience we had with it when we lost a barracks full of Marines, those kinds of dates seem to keep coming back.
And I'm not suggesting it's only on anniversary dates that terrorists strike. Far from it. I agree with the assessment they will use any way they can. They will go for the most vulnerable and the most surprise, that's true.
WOODRUFF: The president said today, no specific threat to America. So the question is: What's different about this new information coming in that would cause the level to be raised to the high alert level, which has never been raised to before?
GOSS: Well, I think back a year Judy and I look at the trends and how the intelligence works, the incoming intelligence a year ago. We didn't have any specific trends to America, either, but we had a number of things happening, and unfortunately they happened in America.
We had a very high noise level, a crescendo building up. We had an assassination of a fellow named Massoud, who is a very important player in a region out there, and now we've had a situation where we have an attempt again in Afghanistan. We've seen the noise level come up. Now, it may all just be a pattern that doesn't lead to anything in the United States, but we would be foolish, knowing what we know, to ignore it.
WOODRUFF: But the president today telling Americans to go about their lives as usual, to attend public events. Is there some contradiction here?
GOSS: I think not, because I think we are in a pretty good situation right now to understand what might happen. We've got much better, what I call gates, guns and guards out there. We are much better prepared to deal with things in an instantaneous way. Our communications work now. I think we can do better if there's a reason not to go to a specific place.
But I agree totally with the president. I know of no specifics.
WOODRUFF: Finally, since this threat appears to be tied to al Qaeda -- appears to be -- does it make sense to you the president's heavy focus on Iraq?
GOSS: I would say that if you're limiting your concern to just al Qaeda, you're making big mistake.
Frankly, I think there is a great concern about what I call copycat or freelance terrorists who will look for an excuse to do something who may or may not be directly related with al Qaeda who will go out and try and take an opportunity to score a point and gain martyrdom and get all the rewards of martyrdom as they see it.
WOODRUFF: Porter Goss, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. We thank you very much.
WOODRUFF: Now let's brink bring in senior Pentagon correspondent Jamie McIntyre with more on the U.S. response to the terror threat.
Jamie, what are you learning about the threat to U.S. military interests overseas?
JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SENIOR PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, again, they don't have the specific threat, but they are raising the threat level for almost all U.S. military forces overseas. The highest threat level has been declared for U.S. troops in Bahrain.
Now Manama, Bahrain is the headquarters of the U.S. Fifth Fleet which controls all the ships in the Persian Gulf. That has going to Force Protection Condition Delta, the highest threat level.
Almost all of the countries in the U.S. Central Command, which includes basically the Persian Gulf region, the Middle East, Kazakhstan, Pakistan. Those countries are all on the second-highest level of alert, which is called Force Protection Level Charlie.
Then forces in the Pacific command are at a slightly higher level of alert, and forces in the European command as well. So a higher alert level for all of those areas.
And also in addition in the Persian Gulf region, the U.S. Navy has issued a warning to commercial shipping that al Qaeda forces may be plotting an attack against an oil tanker.
So they've told all the commercial shippers in that area to be extra vigilant against the possibility of some kind of attack against oil tankers in the Persian Gulf region or in that general area.
In addition, the Pentagon which has had an Air Defense exercise starting today with unarmed missile batteries is considering arming those batteries, or at the very least providing ammunition to the air crews who are manning those batteries so that they could take action if they had to.
Again, the threat isn't specifically against the United States, but the feeling appears to be that if you're going to have an exercise with air defenses, Stinger missile launches in the Washington area, then you ought to at least give the commanders the option of being able to fire those if in the unlikely event there was actually a terrorist attack from the air -- Judy.
WOODRUFF: All right. Jamie McIntyre at the Pentagon. That, indeed, will be something we have not yet seen in Washington and, of course, hope we don't have to see.
Question, will this new terror alert and the 9/11 anniversary make a difference in today's big primary races? Our political coverage is still ahead.
Even gubernatorial candidate Janet Reno experienced problems at some Florida polling places today. We will have reports on what went wrong and on the governor's race.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. BOB SMITH (R), NEW HAMPSHIRE: I'm the same Bob Smith I've always been. If you've been watching the race, I'm not going to answer questions about the stupid polls.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WOODRUFF: One of the most endangered members of the Senate faces primary voters. Will Bob Smith hang on?
This is INSIDE POLITICS, the place for campaign news.
SCHNEIDER: ... vote on September 11, and that gave the advantage to insurgent candidates, who did unexpectedly well.
WOODRUFF: So which candidates are you talking about who could benefit?
SCHNEIDER: Well Judy, let's take the two highest profile races in today's primaries.
In the Florida Democratic primary for governor, Janet Reno appears to have the most intensely committed supporters. Her chief competitor is Bill McBride, whose support appears to be broader, but less intense. So if turnout is depressed, Reno could benefit, but with one caveat. A lot of Reno's most intense support come from elderly and urban voters, who may be reluctant to leave home on a day when the threat level is very high.
In New Hampshire the beneficiary could be Bob Smith in the Republican Senate primary. He has the loyalty of hard-core conservatives. In that race, John Sununu appears to have broader but less intense support, and Sununu could be hurt if there's low turnout today.
WOODRUFF: So a lot depends on just how seriously, how deeply, people take this higher threat level.
SCHNEIDER: That's exactly right, and how it affects turnout today.
WOODRUFF: OK, Bill, thanks very much.
When the threat of terrorism proved devastatingly real a year ago tomorrow, many Americans embraced all things patriotic.
But, as our senior political correspondent Candy Crowley explains, that has not necessarily translated into higher voter turnout.
CANDY CROWLEY, SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This is a polling place in Maryland.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How has turnout been this morning?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Good. Not great -- about average, I guess.
CROWLEY (voice-over): Maybe it was wishful thinking, but the thought was that, after 9/11, people would be more interested in politics, more apt to vote. The reality is, with exceptions for red- hot races, or lightening rod candidates, voter turnout since 9/11 has been anemic.
CURTIS GANS, CMTE. FOR THE STUDY OF THE AMERICAN ELECTORATE: Look, patriotism doesn't translate into politics. Service doesn't get translated into politics. What were we asked to do? We were asked to return to normalcy -- buy stocks, buy consumer goods, maybe give to charity. That's not a rallying cry to get people out.
CROWLEY: And how about all that talk of a new faith in a government that Americans look to for protection? In 2000, 42 percent of people polled said they trust the government to do the right thing just about always, or most of the time. A month after the attack, the trust level had gone up to 60 percent.
But now, a year later, the number has fallen to 46. And remember when people talked convincingly, of a new age of kinder, gentler politicking and politicians? The reality is what it's always been: the tighter the race, the meaner.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TEXANS FOR RICK PERRY AD: Newspapers recorded Tony Sanchez's bank laundered $25 million in drug money, stuffed into suitcases, flown to Texas and deposited in his bank.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TONY SANCHEZ FOR GOVERNOR AD: Rick Perry's attacks on me are about as honest as this shot. Come on, Rick, stop with the games; start telling the truth.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CROWLEY: And now myth number four: international issues will head the list of voter concerns. Reality: races in New Jersey and Virginia just after 9/11 turned on taxes, transportation and the economy.
AMY WALTER, COOK POLITICAL REPORT: I think Americans -- and we have seen this throughout history -- bread and butter, domestic issues, continue to drive voters to the polls and always will. And this has been true, not just since September 11, but during World War II.
CROWLEY (on camera): In short, despite the worst of fears and the best of hopes, the surface of the political world seems changed. The possibility does exist that something deeper and unseen has begun to change but (UNINTELLIGIBLE) events are rarely seen clearly in the immediate aftermath. Turning points in history are best judged by historians -- Judy.
WOODRUFF: In other words, it's going to take a little time.
CROWLEY: Maybe a lot of time.
WOODRUFF: All right, Candy, thanks very much.
Iraq's role as a potential target in the war on terror, one of the issues ahead in our "Taking Issue" segment.
Also, the new terror alert, and the threat to U.S. targets overseas. An update on the move to Code Orange, next in the "Newscycle." But first, let's turn to Rhonda Schaffler. She's at the New York Stock Exchange for a market update. Rhonda has some new developments to report in the Martha Stewart investigation -- Rhonda.
WOODRUFF: In Florida today, primary voters have to be muttering not again after problems with new voting machines delayed the opening of some polling places. A little while ago, the governor, Jeb Bush ordered polls statewide to remain open two hours longer than usual, until 9:00 p.m.
Our Miami bureau chief John Zarrella has the latest.
ZARRELLA: Just when you thought it was finally safe to cast your vote in Florida, there were issues -- and we don't mean campaign issues.
New technology touch screen machines didn't start up at numerous polling places. Democratic gubernatorial candidate Janet Reno waited more than an hour to vote, and in some cases it took several hours to get the touchy touch screens working.
At a precinct on Miami Beach, voters fumed.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is now 8:25. I've been here since 7 o'clock this morning and I've got to go.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Some of us have been here an hour and a half. The machines aren't working. They can't contact anybody to come fix the machines. We can't vote in another precinct's machine. We're locked out.
ZARRELLA: The new machines are being used for the first time in a Florida statewide election, replacing the infamous punch card machines that brought hanging chads and a disastrous 2000 presidential election. Election officials warned there would be initial difficulties with the new technology, but Democratic candidate for governor Daryl Jones said he had hoped for a much better result.
DARYL JONES (D), FLORIDA GUBERNATORIAL CANDIDATE: I was on the election reform task force. I'm on the Ethics and Elections Committee and we spent a lot of time trying to rectify the problems in the 2000 elections and it's really a little bit disappointing to see some of the problems that are cropping up.
ZARRELLA: And it wasn't just the machines giving election officials fits. In some precincts, poll workers didn't show up. In Broward County some precincts reported no poll workers and no machines.
While the problems appear to have been widespread, there were some bright spots. Voters who actually got to use the touch screen machines had nothing but praise. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Very easy, a child could do it.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's very, very hard to make a mistake.
ZARRELLA: Surprisingly in Palm Beach County which was the focal point of the 2000 election mess, the new machines apparently worked just fine.
ZARRELLA: While it doesn't appear the voting problems were as serious as they were in 2000, they parallel what happened two years ago in one predominantly black precinct in Miami for example, they couldn't get the machines to work until lunchtime.
John Zarrella, CNN, Miami.
WOODRUFF: Hard to believe.
Well, topping the ballot in Florida as John mentioned, is the Democratic primary for governor. CNN's Susan Candiotti has more on a very tight race that few people thought would be competitive.
SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Former U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno is in a political race that baffled even seasoned observers.
JIM KANE, POLITICAL ANALYST, THE FLORIDA VOTER: I'm not surprised. I'm shocked.
CANDIOTTI: Political analysts including Jim Kane never imagined Janet Reno would now according to virtually all polls, be in the tightest race of her career.
KANE: Every pundit in the state said good luck Mr. McBride. You're not going to get past her. She's more than just a candidate. She's a famous person.
CANDIOTTI: Reno consistently has maintained her experience is why voters should choose her over her opponent, corporate lawyer Bill McBride and State Senator Daryl Jones.
JANET RENO (D), FLORIDA GUBERNATORIAL CANDIDATE: I think there is a steady quiet momentum in our campaign that has been building for a long time.
CANDIOTTI: In the last week, polls indicate the momentum has swung in the direction of Reno's leading contender, McBride.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: To governor of the state of Florida needs to care about everybody.
CANDIOTTI: McBride spent an estimated $4 million on TV ads, eight times more than Reno. Some argue McBride was helped by attack ads put out by the Bush campaign when it jumped into the Democrat's fray, one theme echoed by Bush himself.
GOV. JEB BUSH (R), FLORIDA: There's been a lot of tap dancing, a lot of lofty promises, a lot of vague discussion, a lot of attacks on me. It's fair game, but that's going to end on Tuesday.
CANDIOTTI: Lacking the deep pockets of her opponent, Reno's grassroots campaign had her crisscrossing the state in her signature red pickup truck.
CANDIOTTI (on camera): It's a nail-biter. All sides agree turnout is going to be the key, whoever can get the most primary voters to the polls, especially senior citizens and African-Americans, many of whom felt disenfranchised after the 2000 presidential election.
Susan Candiotti, CNN, Miami.
WOODRUFF: The winner of today's primary, of course, will take on the incumbent governor, Jeb Bush.
The governor today was once again faced with a more personal challenge: word that his 25-year-old daughter, Noelle, is under investigation for possessing rock cocaine inside a drug treatment facility.
Governor Bush issued a statement stating his love for his daughter and requesting privacy.
Noelle Bush was arrested last January for attempting to obtain a drug with a false prescription.
In New Hampshire today, Republican primary voters are choosing -- considering between Senator Bob Smith, considered one of the most vulnerable incumbents in this election year, and his challenger, Congressman John Sununu.
CNN's Bill Delaney covering that race.
BILL DELANEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): As politicians, or just the general run of humanity go, two-term Republican Senator Bob Smith is hard to miss, glad-handing on the eve of the make-or-break New Hampshire Republican primary, even glad-footing, and not about to be dismissed, despite a late poll showing him for more than 20 points behind challenger, three-term Congressman John Sununu.
SMITH: I'm not going to answer questions about these stupid polls. Our last tracking poll had us ahead by two. I'm the same Bob Smith I have always been, if you have been watching the race. I'm still pro-gun. I'm still pro-life.
DELANEY: A new ad, though, some observers say, makes Smith seem worried. Released just last week, Smith all but accuses Sununu, who has Middle Eastern roots, of being a traitor for supporting allowing noncitizens with expired visas to apply for permanent visas -- desperate, says fit, cool-headed, former engineer Sununu.
REP. JOHN SUNUNU (R), NEW HAMPSHIRE SENATE CANDIDATE: We have responded when we have felt the need to clarify the record, but we have also run a strong message-oriented campaign.
DELANEY: Seeming to appeal to New Hampshire's important large new class of Republican voters, highly educated yuppies, like Sununu, conservatives, just not fire-breathing conservatives like Smith.
DELANEY (on camera): And then there's 1999, when, after a, well, fire-breathing speech, Smith declared himself an independent candidate for president, slamming the Republican Party as not conservative enough. Three months later, he took it all back.
DELANEY (voice-over): Not getting back, many say, creditability in Congress and rattling longtime supporters.
There's been high-profile support, like former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani. But the White House has mostly kept its distance, polls indicating, after all, Governor Jeanne Shaheen, Democratic candidate for Senate this fall, would beat Smith, but not necessarily Sununu.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SMITH: I've never wavered from our Republican principles. Have I made mistakes? Sure. Am I independent-minded? You bet.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
DELANEY: Right now, it is also a fair bet incumbent big Bob Smith is on the thin edge of political disaster.
Bill Delaney, CNN, Boston.
WOODRUFF: Coming up next: Pentagon correspondent Jamie McIntyre with new information on moves to upgrade air defenses here in Washington.
WOODRUFF: As we have been telling you this afternoon, the government has raised the terror alert level to high, to Code Orange.
And now there is new information from the Pentagon from our Jamie McIntyre about an upgrading of air defenses around here -- Jamie.
MCINTYRE: That's right, Judy.
It is no longer an exercise. Yesterday, the Pentagon said that their deployment of air defenses around key military installations in Washington, including the Pentagon, was just an exercise, that there would be no live ammunition used. But today, on the orders of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, it is no longer Exercise Clear Skies. It is now an operation, part of Noble Eagle. It is a deployment.
And now, based on the orders of the secretary, Stinger missiles will be moved from the storage location here in Washington to the various sites where these air defense have been set up. And they will be deployed ready to shoot down any threats from the sky as part of the first real deployment of these Stinger missiles around Washington.
So, again, what was an exercise 24 hours ago now is an operational deployment of surface-to-air portable missiles around key military sites in Washington -- Judy.
WOODRUFF: Jamie, is this the first time they have done this?
MCINTYRE: Well, I think you would have to go back to World War II to find a time when missiles were deployed around Washington, or air defenses, even, anti-aircraft guns were deployed around Washington. It is the first time, certainly, in recent memory. And it is a major step ahead in response to this kind of threat.
WOODRUFF: All right, Jamie, and I know you're going to be watching the story and you'll have more as more develops. Thanks very much, Jamie.
With us now from the CNN "CROSSFIRE" set at George Washington University: Paul Begala and Tucker Carlson.
Tucker, the president saying no specific threat to the United States, and yet we're hearing now missiles will be armed at sites all around the Washington area. At the same time, the government is telling Americans, "Go about your business as usual." Is there some contradiction here?
TUCKER CARLSON, CO-HOST, "CROSSFIRE": Well, it is sort of hard to see what else to say.
If they gave the general order to everyone in Washington, "Flee to your farm in West Virginia," that would cause, obviously, panic. New York City has been on a higher form of alert than the rest of the country for a long time. It is just sort of inevitable that this would happen. And it is hard to see what there is to criticize.
What else does the government do or say? Obviously, there's a higher likelihood of an attack tomorrow. And the government is just admitting the obvious, it strikes me.
WOODRUFF: But, Paul, I guess what I'm asking is, on the one hand, to say to people, "Our terror threat level is at the highest it has ever been, but go ahead and attend public events."
PAUL BEGALA, CO-HOST, "CROSSFIRE": Well, this is one -- of course, I am a great partisan -- but this is one where I do give our leaders the benefit of the doubt, Judy. They are trying right now to walk a very fine line. Actually, if I were advising them, I would say I think you can trust people with more information, rather than less. Even if they have to tell us, "Look, we're not quite sure about the quality of this information, but here are specific targets we're worried about," I think Americans would not panic and that we could take it.
But I'm really loathe to criticize them at a time when they're really trying, I think as best they can, to walk that line between informing us, but not alarming us.
WOODRUFF: Yes, I'm not so much asking for criticism as I am to clarify, because I think, for some people to say, "Yes, it is a serious, raised terror threat level," but, on the other hand, "Don't worry about it; let us worry about it,' I think may be hard for some people to handle.
I want to ask you all about Iraq and ask you, frankly, the same question I put to House Intelligence Committee Chairman Porter Goss a little while ago.
And that is, with all this information coming apparently from al Qaeda, how do you explain the president's almost sole focus right now on Iraq? That's what the speech on Thursday to the U.N. is about -- Tucker.
CARLSON: Well, I think the sole focus in public is on Iraq because you have got an entire nation to convince. And so the public relations strategy is focused on Iraq. I still think there is a great focus on al Qaeda.
But the point that Senator Graham made, that this is an inconvenient time to go after Iraq, is absolutely right on the one hand -- of course it's inconvenient -- and totally irrelevant on the other. The question is: Does Iraq present a threat that needs to be addressed immediately? That is really the only question. Whether or not it is a good time to go to war is a pointless discussion. It is never a good time to go to war, but sometimes you have to. And this may be one of those times.
BEGALA: Well, in fact, Judy, I think it is irresponsible, frankly, to be jacking people up about Iraq when the White House today -- "The Washington Post" reported that the White House has finally admitted that are no ties -- none, zero, zip -- after a year of trying to look, no ties between Iraq and Americans targeted for terrorism here at home.
As Tucker referred to, the Senate Intelligence Committee chairman did not just say it's inconvenient. He said it would be wrong. It's the wrong focus. He said that al Qaeda is the greatest threat to us. And al Qaeda is not, right now, supported by Iraq. He says it's supported by Syria. He says it's supported by Iran. Our president doesn't seem to want to go to war in those countries.
I don't understand it. But I think that Bush has lost his focus. And it was the one thing that even his critics thought he had, was the ability to focus. And I think he has lost it. CARLSON: Well, wait a second.
The rationale that the administration has presented for invading Iraq or for regime change is not predicated on the idea Iraq is responsible for 9/11 or behind al Qaeda, etcetera. It is a whole different set of threats: building a nuclear weapon, having chemical and biological weapons, etcetera, etcetera.
So, those questions are still valid questions that need to be answered by Democrats. It's not enough to say: "Well, we've got too much to juggle right now." At some point, Democrats are going to have to say: "Is this true or not? Are they building nuclear weapons or aren't they? And what should we do about it?" And they haven't answered those questions yet.
BEGALA: It's precisely the wrong question. The question is: Will attacking Iraq enhance or harm our war against al Qaeda? Senator Graham says it will harm it. I tend to agree with him. He has better information than I do.
That is the right question: Which is our greatest threat and where should our chief attention be? And our president is spending all this time -- when he's not raising campaign money -- trying to get people jacked up about a war in Iraq instead of trying to focus on al Qaeda.
WOODRUFF: And, Tucker, you are saying, by going after Iraq, you advance the war on terror -- you advance U.S. efforts to stop the war on terror?
CARLSON: Well, I guess in a general sense, if the war on terror means any threat to the United States. From what I can tell, listening to what the administration is saying, the idea is that Iraq presents its own threat, that this is a country trying to build nuclear weapons that will destabilize the area and potentially affect and threaten the United States. Should we stop that? Should we nip it in the bud or not?
It is a completely separate question from, "Where is Osama bin Laden?" for instance.
WOODRUFF: All right, we're going to leave it there.
Tucker Carlson, Paul Begala, gentlemen, thank you both.
CARLSON: Thanks, Judy.
WOODRUFF: And we want to tell you all of you who are watching, coming up at the top of the hour on "WOLF BLITZER REPORTS," Wolf will be talking with the director of homeland security, Tom Ridge -- more on today's heightened terror alert.
Just ahead here: on the anniversary of September 11, my conversation with a man determined to help others through their grief.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) WOODRUFF: Tomorrow will, of course, be terribly difficult for the families of those who died on September 11, every image, every ceremony a reminder of the day their loved ones were murdered.
Recently, I spoke to Craig Sincock, who lost his wife in the Pentagon and has since devoted his energy to others like him through the Pentagon Angels support group.
WOODRUFF (voice-over): A moment of shared grief and healing: survivors of the attacks on the World Trade Centers, the Pentagon and the crash of Flight 93 marching together from Iwo Jima to the Pentagon -- among the marchers, Army Chief Warrant Officer Craig Sincock, whose wife, Cheryle, died in the Pentagon 364 days ago.
CWO CRAIG SINCOCK, U.S. ARMY: We had people from New York, the World Trade Center. We had people from the Pennsylvania flight. We had people from Flight 77 in D.C., plus the Pentagon, just holding hands, talking to each other and understanding that we were indeed one family now. And it was just so powerful.
WOODRUFF: In the year since his wife's death, Sincock has turned his personal grief to action, starting a support group for victims of the Pentagon attack. But when the president and the secretary of defense hold their ceremony at the Pentagon tomorrow, Sincock is staying away.
SINCOCK: It was a personal decision on my part, Judy. It has nothing to do with the memorial event. It has nothing to do with the fact that other people are going to be there or not be there.
I worked at the Pentagon for 14 hours the day of the attack. I watched my wife's office window burn for 14 hours that day. I've been too close. I have worked in that building since that time. I really don't want to sit in the bleachers and watch the same spot that was attacked, just because it is nice and clean now. I just don't want to be there and remember those things. I don't want to have to revisit those things.
WOODRUFF (on camera): Do you know if some of the other families may feel the same way you do?
SINCOCK: There are other families who feel the same way, or they have their own feelings. Some are just afraid to come here. It is still a scary thought to be in the place where you lost a loved one.
And I have to understand that we are all grieving in our own way and in our own time. And that's OK. We make that personal decision. Do we want to go to the memorial? Do we want go to Arlington Cemetery on Thursday for the mass burial? Do we even want to be in the D.C. area?
WOODRUFF: We're standing just a few feet away from Arlington National Cemetery. What does this place mean for you? SINCOCK: Actually, it is kind of a warm feeling for me. I know that part of my wife will be buried there on Thursday. The rest of her is buried down at Quantico National Cemetery. But this is a real place of honor. And I feel really kind of honored myself to just be standing here, to kind of feel her presence and feel the presence of those other people who were lost that day.
It is a powerful feeling for me. It tells me that the things I have been doing are the right things, that I need to forge ahead and then continue to do things for those families.
WOODRUFF: An example of how easy it is to touch a raw nerve: Sincock says he's been told that the Pentagon plans an F-16 flyover during tomorrow's ceremony, which he finds deeply insensitive given the fact that a plane hit the building a year ago.
We'll get another perspective on the 9/11 anniversary when we return from a congressman who has a connection to the tragedy unlike any other.
WOODRUFF: Of the 535 members of the United States Congress, only one lost a family member on September the 11th: New York Democrat Joe Crowley.
A year later, CNN's Kate Snow asked Crowley about the pain he still feels and the deeper bond he has formed with many constituents.
REP. JOSEPH CROWLEY (D), NEW YORK: Well, we are going to say hello to some people and shake some hands and stuff like that. Does that sound good to you?
KATE SNOW, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In Queens, the wounds are just under the surface. Campaigning on a sunny Saturday, Congressman Joe Crowley talks about bus routes, Irish politics and the day that changed everything.
J. CROWLEY: Actually, on the day of the attack, I came to the second bridge just before the second tower fell.
SNOW: They used to be able to see the Twin Towers from here. The local firehouse lost 19.
J. CROWLEY: You knew the guys in the firehouse?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I knew half of them.
J. CROWLEY: Half of 19.
SNOW: Crowley understands the loss. His cousin John Moran, a battalion chief, was trapped in the World Trade Center that day. PEGGY CROWLEY, MOTHER OF WORLD TRADE CENTER VICTIM: I never worried about John because of his rank. I didn't think he would be in the line of danger. And yet he was.
SNOW: John's mother, Peggy.
P. CROWLEY: That first night, I knew that we hadn't heard from him. I knew we weren't going to hear from him.
SNOW: One year after that emotional time, we asked Congressman Crowley to reflect back.
SNOW (on camera): The last time we talked, you were still hoping that John might be alive.
J. CROWLEY: Well, there was always that glimmer of hope that was left. It was only a few days after the attack.
It's interesting. My cousin's son was watching a program recently that his grandmother was on, talking about his father. And he was crying. And he told his mother, "I guess all hope is lost now."
J. CROWLEY: You're the best artist. You must be a Crowley.
SNOW (voice-over): In a tight-knit family of firefighters and police officers, Crowley is the son who chose politics. His district is an old Irish stronghold that is becoming increasingly diverse.
SNOW (on camera): Congressman Crowley was born and raised in these neighborhoods. People here call him by his first name, but he says, since September 11, the bond he feels with his constituents is even stronger.
J. CROWLEY: Everyone, in some way or another, has either known someone or knew someone themselves, directly or indirectly. And for many people who didn't know anyone, they have a personal connection to the tragedy of the World Trade Center through me. I know members of Congress have told me that their connection, from a personal level, is by knowing me. And I think I brought that to Washington.
SNOW: He also brought his pain and anger. Crowley strongly backed a resolution supporting military force in the war on terrorism. He authored a 100-page report outlining the homeland security needs of New York City.
SNOW (on camera): And looking back on the year, was it as much as you hoped a year ago to get done?
J. CROWLEY: Knowing that Congress can move very slowly, I'm still amazed at some of the legislation we did pass: the airline security bill, the airline security bailout, something that was needed at the time
SNOW (voice-over): There are disappointments. A bill with Crowley's name on it would award a newly-created Medal of Valor to the police and firefighters who lost their lives. But the bill hasn't moved. And families of the victims still haven't been fully compensated.
J. CROWLEY (singing): Oh, say, can you see by the dawn's early light?
SNOW: As a second-term congressman, Crowley may not have a lot of influence in Washington, but, in Queens, he is the public figure who represents their pain.
P. CROWLEY: My nephew Joe was the Rock of Gibraltar.
SNOW: It's a role Crowley says he never anticipated, one he would trade in a heartbeat to have his cousin back.
J. CROWLEY (singing): O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave.
SNOW: Kate Snow, CNN, Queens, New York.
WOODRUFF: So many tough stories.
I'll be back in a moment, but now let's take a look at what is coming up on "WOLF BLITZER REPORTS" -- hi, Wolf.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Hi, Judy.
Coming up: a jittery nation. For the first time, the U.S. government raises the threat level. What's behind the alarm? I'll speak live with the Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge.
And Martha Stewart may be in legal trouble. We will speak to one man who had a direct hand in her fate.
Those stories, much more coming at the top of the hour, right after INSIDE POLITICS.
WOODRUFF: That's it for INSIDE POLITICS. Thanks for joining us today. "WOLF BLITZER REPORTS" is next.
I'm Judy Woodruff.
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