CNN NEWSNIGHT AARON BROWN
France, Germany Agree That Going to War With Iraq is Sign of Failure; Roe v. Wade Turns 30
Aired January 22, 2003 - 22:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
AARON BROWN, HOST: Good evening again, everyone. I suspect this is going to be dry as dirt, but on a day when there are lots of things to write about, I want to spend a moment tonight talking about what we don't report.
This has come up a lot this week. First over a story that UPI was runing about Israeli intelligence operations, and the other is a story about Scott Ritter, the one-time weapons inspector. A now full- time critic of the administration's policy with Iraq.
Earlier this week there were reports that Ritter had been arrested in a sex sting near Albany 18 months ago. For a couple of days we knew about the allegation and did not report it. Lots of notes to us this week about why we were silent. Many -- not all, but many assumed it was a political decision because some people see everything that way.
Same with the Israeli intelligence report. Why no coverage? So here's how we look at this stuff. Whenever it's possible, we don't report what we, CNN, cannot confirm. In the case of the Ritter story, we worked it for a couple of days, trying to find the facts, but we were not willing to run with someone else's reporting.
We needed to find sources. We needed to vet them as best we can. And when we as an organization are comfortable with what we know, then we report it. Now, it's not perfect. Sometimes we do rely on other reporting if we're unable to get to an area, for example.
Sometimes we report what others have with an acknowledgement that the story is based on someone's other work, according to AP or according to "The New York Times." But that is more the exception than the rule. We do it because we are responsible for what we put on the air. It's really that simple.
We have rules and standards. We know them, we're comfortable with them. Even when it means we sometimes get beat on a story. We'd rather be a little slow and 100 percent right.
So now on to the day's news. And we begin with "The Whip," as always. And "The Whip" begins with the ongoing campaign to keep the pressure on Iraq. Dana Bash is at the White House tonight. Dana, start us off with a headline.
DANA BASH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Aaron, the president continues to ratchet up the war rhetoric and lay the groundwork for military action against Saddam Hussein, even as two key U.S. allies say they're going to do whatever they can to prevent war.
BROWN: Dana, thank you. Back to you at the top tonight.
Thirty years ago, since Roe v. Wade became the law of the land. Candy Crowley tonight on the tangles and changing politics of abortion. Candy, a headline.
CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SR. POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Aaron, as you might expect, Washington was full of protesters today both for and against abortion. What's interesting is for most Americans the debate is beyond that.
BROWN: Candy, thank you.
And a compelling story tonight of a little girl murdered and the detectives who have not forgotten. Beth Nissen has that. Beth, a headline.
BETH NISSEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: There will be a wake tomorrow and funeral Friday for the little boy killed in that horrific child abuse case in Newark, New Jersey. Tonight we have a story about another young victim of child abuse. A little girl whose murder was never solved and whose name is still not known after more than 10 years -- Aaron.
BROWN: I promise I'll never call you "Beth" again, Nissen.
Back with all of you shortly. Also coming up tonight on NEWSNIGHT for the 22 of January, a troubling message for anyone involved in keeping the world's leader safe from terror. What appears to be a shift in al Qaeda's focus to assassination.
And as we said, the controversy involving Scott Ritter that has nothing to do with Iraq or the United Nations. This has to do with the Internet a young girl and an arrest. Mr. Ritter will join us to talk about it all tonight.
And the voice of a president that's never been heard before. Or at least words of the president. A new glimpse into the Kennedy White House, thanks to the release of 15 hours of audiotape. We'll hear a bit and talk with presidential historian Douglas Brinkley as well.
A varied program in the hour ahead. We begin with the current president. He was in Missouri today selling his economic plan. And ordinarily this would be a good way to lead the newscast. Instead tonight it's merely a $674 billion footnote to the other sales job, the one that began over the weekend and will reach a climax, we expect, in the State of the Union address next week.
The economy for now at least takes second place to Iraq. We begin tonight with CNN's Dana Bash.
(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) BASH (voice-over): In yet another sign military action may be around the corner, the commander in chief is already talking about the rules of engagement for war.
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There will be serious consequences for any Iraqi general or soldier who were to use weapons of mass destruction on our troops or on innocent lives within Iraq.
BASH: And he is talking about a post-war Iraq.
BUSH: When Iraq is liberated, you will be treated, tried and persecuted as a war criminal.
BASH: It's day four of the Bush team's full court press, giving speech after speech after speech and issuing reports. All to convince Americans and America's allies that it's not about cooperating with inspectors, it's about Saddam Hussein disarming, and his time is up.
PRESIDENT JACQUES CHIRAC, FRANCE (through translator): Therefore, everything must be done to avoid war.
BASH: As America pushes, nearly all the world is pushing back. Give inspectors more time, they say. They are not yet ready to send in the troops.
Support is also waning at home. Anti-war protestors greeted Mr. Bush in St. Louis, and polls show Americans are reluctant to attack Iraq, especially without a coalition of allies.
BUSH: The dictator of Iraq has got weapons of mass destruction.
BASH: But one senior administration official said even if there was zero support for war and he thought it was in the country's interest, Mr. Bush would act. White House aides say the president believes it's his role and the role of the United States to lead the world against so-called menaces like Saddam Hussein. And Bush officials say they are hopeful reluctant allies like France and Germany will come around as they did during the debate over the first U.N. resolution in November.
BASH: And Aaron, the sense here is really that the president is going to push ahead no matter what kind of opposition he's getting from the allies. One official said to me today that the president says that sometimes you just have to have the guts to make tough decisions -- Aaron.
BROWN: Well that sounds like a decision has in fact been made. I think the White House would argue otherwise, wouldn't it?
BASH: That's absolutely right. The president actually made clear, although his rhetoric was really tough today, no question about it. He was very clear in saying that he still wants to have a peaceful resolution. He doesn't want to have to go to war against Iraq. But there's no way to address or to interpret his statements any other way as to really see that he is trying to lay the groundwork for this and he's trying to put the pressure not only on the allies but trying to convince the American people who right now are not looking like they're very supportive of going ahead against Saddam Hussein, especially with without any kind of U.N. support.
BROWN: Well it's U.N. support that's pretty key. Now these presidential trips are always well thought out and carefully done. And this one was, too, perhaps to a fault. Tell the story of the boxes.
BASH: The story of the boxes. Well, that's absolutely right. You know you see when the president goes on these trips, they have these backdrops and they usually have these statements to try to send these messages of exactly what he's trying to say.
Well today he went to a small business in St. Louis to try to sell his economic plan. And you see there it says "strengthening America's economy." And you see all those boxes around him. There were some boxes that said "Made in the USA." Those were put there by the White House.
But other boxes that were there were owned by that small business had "Made in China" on the boxes. Well the White House -- there were hundreds of boxes -- the White House -- somebody at the White House put tape or some kind of blocking on "Made in China" so that nobody could see that.
But there was a very resourceful reporter there apparently who found out or saw that it was covered up. And the White House is saying that that was an overzealous volunteer, and that person will probably be reprimanded for doing it. But it does show the great lengths that they go to get their message across. No question about it.
BROWN: And make it look right (ph). Dana, thank you. Dana Bash at the White House tonight.
Back to Iraq. NATO today put off a decision on an American request, formal request, for military help. The United States and Britain on one side of the debate. And again, France and Germany on the other. Not a surprise.
Countries act according to their interests. In the case of Iraq, the interests diverge. France and Russia and a number of other European countries are hoping to preserve business relationships with the current Iraqi regime. France and Germany have powerful interests as well in seeing Europe emerge from the American's shadow. Neither can happen if there is a war, or at least that's the theory.
Here's CNN's Jim Bittermann.
JIM BITTERMANN, CNN SR. EUROPEAN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): On a day when German and French leaders were commemorating peace and reconciliation between their two countries, both agreed, as French President Chirac put it, going to war in Iraq would be a sign of failure. In substance, France's stance on Iraq has not changed since first outlined in early September. U.N. weapons inspectors should attempt to do their job. And if they cannot, the U.N. should decide what to do next, including possible military action.
But if the substance has not changed, the tone has. With U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell now saying time has just about run out for Iraq, the French foreign minister also dropped the diplomatic language, saying that the inspection work has not yet run its course and it would be wrong to be impatient.
DOMINIQUE DE VILLEPIN, FRENCH FOREIGN MINISTER (through translator): We believe that today nothing justifies envisaging military action.
BITTERMANN: A French foreign affairs analyst believes there are good reasons the gloves are coming off.
DOMINIQUE MOISI, FRENCH INSTITUTE ON FOREIGN RELATIONS: In a way, we are reacting to the escalation of the war rhetoric in Washington and to the escalation of European public opinion attitude, negative attitude towards the war.
BITTERMANN: The French are no less opposed to Saddam Hussein than when they fought against him alongside American troops in 1991. But their read is now different. The weapons inspectors, who for years after the Gulf War successfully disarmed Iraq until being kicked out four years ago, are now back on the ground and asking for more time to do their job.
When the inspectors asked Chirac about that Friday, he concluded they should have it. But the French have not ruled out military action.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Would we be faced with a situation where inspectors cannot work usefully, we' would be ready to consider every option, including the military (UNINTELLIGIBLE). We have said that, and our (UNINTELLIGIBLE) has not changed on that.
BITTERMANN: But after the inspectors passed through on their way to Iraq, large differences began to appear between Paris and Washington about timing, as CNN learned from officials here.
(on camera): A French diplomat said privately that U.N. weapons inspectors have calculated that it could take them as much as four months just to get back to the point where they were in 1998 when they left Iraq. He added that it might take as much as two months after that to see how far the weapon inspections process can go. Clearly, it's a timetable which does not coincide with the one being talked about in Washington.
(voice-over): And one which would delay a decision about military attack until mid summer. Jim Bitterman, CNN, Paris.
(END VIDEOTAPE) BROWN: The Iraq story tonight.
On to other matters. It is an axiom of American life that we never really settle anything in the country. When I first went on the radio as a punk kid in Minneapolis in 1968, the issues we talked about on that talk show were war, abortion, and gun control. OK, the war was Vietnam, and that's long gone. Replaced these days on the radio no doubt by Iraq.
But the other two are just as ripe as they were in '68. Thirty years ago today, abortion on demand became legal across the United States. Today, as they have done every year, the day was noted by both sides. The slogans pretty much the same, the arguments haven't really changed. The fight is as nasty now as it was then.
So nothing has changed in 30 year, right? No, not exactly. Here's CNN's Candy Crowley.
CROWLEY (voice-over): On the 30th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, thousands showed up to protest, and the anti-abortion president phoned it in.
BUSH: My hope is that the United States Congress will pass a bill this year banning partial birth abortion, which I will sign.
CROWLEY: Not a word about outlawing abortion. Maybe because most Americans don't seem to think that's the issue. A CNN-"USA Today" Gallup poll this month showed 66 percent of Americans think abortion should be legal in the first three months of pregnancy.
But outside the land of one-issue voters and sound bite politicians, abortion is a nuance subject that can't be answered with a simple for or against. Gallup found that, despite support for abortion, Americans overwhelmingly agree it should be restricted. Eighty-eight percent would require doctors to inform patients about abortion alternatives. Seventy-eight percent want a 24-hour waiting period.
Seventy-three percent said yes to parental consent for minors. Seventy-two percent would require spousal notification. And 70 percent would support a law to end a late-term abortion procedure critics call partial birth abortion.
As Roe v. Wade turns 30, the debate is not so much on banning abortion but curbing it. As a president, and as a candidate, George Bush chose to both hold on to and move beyond his anti-abortion belief.
BUSH: I'm talking about an ideal world and we don't live in an ideal world right now. So in the meantime, it seems like to me we need a leader to bring people to understand the importance of banning partial birth abortions, having parental notification laws, not spending taxpayer money on abortion. CROWLEY: The politics are sticky here. Democratic presidential contender Richard Gephardt favors a ban on partial birth abortion. But this is another Democrat. Presidential hopeful Howard Dean, a doctor, who once treated a pregnant 12-year-old.
HOWARD DEAN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: And after I had talked to her for a while, I came to the conclusion that the likely father of her child was her own father. You explain that to the American people who think that parental notification is a good idea. I will veto parental notification.
CROWLEY: As a political matter, Democrats would prefer the for or against abortion debate because it draws a bright line which attractss swing voters. They complain all this nibbling around the margins is a ruse to mask the president's real intent to undo Roe one way or the other.
SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN (D), CONNECTICUT: The right to choose is in real danger from Congress. The House leadership is considering as many as six measures to curb abortion rights. The right to choose is in serious danger from the courts because this president is imposing a rigid litmus test on judicial nominations.
CROWLEY: Much of America may see abortion as a gray area that defines simple answers, but politicians are loath to give up this sort of bright line because it makes the other side look extreme and keeps a group of dedicated voters pulling the right lever -- Aaron.
BROWN: Beyond the relatively small group of dedicated voters, is there any evidence that abortion is a significant voting issue for most Americans?
CROWLEY: Well, it's a significant voting issue in certain areas. Certainly in the south it remains a very big voting area. When you look at it electorally (ph), it can move things. But generally, one- issue voters are courted because they're the ones you can count on to come out.
So in close elections, sure. Almost any single issue can move something.
BROWN: Candy, thank you. Candy Crowley on Roe v. Wade at 30.
As NEWSNIGHT continues, we'll take a longer look at the abortion debate, among other things. We'll be talking with "TIME" magazine columnist Joe Klein about that and other issues the president faces these days. And a little later former weapons inspectors Scott Ritter facing a storm of coverage over his personal life. He joins us on NEWSNIGHT to talk about that, too.
A busy hour still to come. We'll be right back.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BROWN: On our morning call today there was a sense that there were a lot of issues sort of floating out there that had to do with the president and how the country sees him, the state of the economy, the move towards a decision on Iraq, abortion to a degree. So we called Joe Klein of "TIME" magazine who writes about such things. Mr. Klein joins us from Washington tonight.
JOE KLEIN, "TIME" MAGAZINE COLUMNIST: I'm on top of all of those, Aaron.
BROWN: You're on top of those and more, Mr. Klein.
KLEIN: I hope so.
BROWN: Nice to see you. Well, there was an ABC News-"Washington Post" poll I saw today that had the president's general approval rating softening. A lot of softening on Iraq, particularly if there is no U.N. stamp of approval on a military operation. A lot of disquiet about the economy. What's your take on all that?
KLEIN: Well, first, a caveat. He's at 53 percent in the "TIME"- CNN poll; 54 percent in the other poll. That's not chopped liver. That's pretty good.
And a week from now I fearlessly predict after the State of the Union message he'll be back up in the 60s again, because that's what always happens after a president gives a State of the Union address. You know, he gets...
BROWN: But Joe, is that a sugar high, as it were? I mean, one of those things that bounces you up for an hour and a half and then you come down?
KLEIN: Yes. Well that's the other half of the caveat. I think that what's happening started last month when people found that they couldn't spend all the money they wanted to spend on Christmas. And you began to see a softening in the polls at that point.
Then right after the holidays the president comes out with his tax package, which very strongly favors the rich. Now this is one of those delicious moments. Everybody says we pundits always say that class warfare doesn't work, but it seems to have worked in this case.
The Democrats pointing out that this was tilted toward the rich seems to have had some resonance with the public, who are a little bit ticked off about what a lousy Christmas it was. And on top of that, people are very, very nervous about this war.
BROWN: Let's talk about the president trying to close the deal, as it were, on Iraq. It seems -- well, let me ask it this way. Do you think ultimately, or does the White House think -- because you've been prowling around doing some reporting, you're not just a pundit -- does the White House think eventually, if you know, that they'll get the French on board, they'll get the Russians on board, they'll get what they want from the Security Council? Or do they think, if you know, they might have to go alone? KLEIN: Well I think that they think they're going to get everybody on board. But I've been talking to some people very close to the Security Council, and they think that the French are going to be pretty firm and so are a lot of other countries because the public opinion in their countries is running majorly against this war.
Now the president has a big selling job to do. Not only with, you know, the rest of the world, but certainly with the people here. And the State of the Union is going to start that process I'm told by people in the White House, but not finish it.
He is not going to declare war on Saddam Hussein next Tuesday night. I think that we're still a number of weeks off. Perhaps a month off.
BROWN: But do they acknowledge -- you know, we had this conversation interestingly last summer, it seems to me, or late in the summer, just before we went to the U.N. Do they acknowledge that the administration has yet to close the sale?
KLEIN: Oh, yes. In fact, the people I was talking to at the White House today compared this moment to the moment in late August, when everybody was getting really antsy, and then the president went to the United Nations and turned everything around. That's all well and good, but we're a lot closer to show time now, and the inspectors still haven't turned up anything. And from what I understand, the rest of the world isn't going to come along with us unless the inspectors do turn up something.
BROWN: But as surely as one's approval ratings go up on the State of the Union speech, a president's approval ratings soar if the country has to go to war.
KLEIN: Well, it depends on what happens in the war. I think that before we go to war the president has a responsibility -- the people in the White House would say a moral responsibility, because that's wait they put things. But I think the president has a responsibility to tell the American people that, one, if we go to war with Iraq, it's likely that -- it's more than likely that we're going to be attacked here in return.
And, number two, that if we go if there, we're going to have American troops on the ground there for years. And not just a few. A lot of them. Maybe as many as a quarter of a million.
BROWN: And that's what we need to talk more about. On the 31st anniversary of Roe v. Wade, we'll talk about that. Thank you, Joe. We didn't get there today. Joe Klein, a columnist now for "TIME" magazine covering political matters.
A few quick stories from around the country starting in Washington. A new secretary of homeland security. The Senate today confirming Tom Ridge for the job. The vote was unanimous but not without a touch of partisan sniping. Tom Daschle, the Senate minority leader, accused the administration of creating a department of homeland security while at the same time not spending enough money to keep the country safe.
Three workers died in an explosion in a coal mine in northern West Virginia today. They were about 1,000 feet down when the blast occurred. It is not now clear what caused it. Explosives, methane, a buildup of coal dust, or something else. A lot can go wrong down there and often does.
And cartoonist Bill Malton (ph) has died. Not unexpected, but sad nevertheless. He was 81. He drew World War II GIs just as they were, and the GIs loved him for it. War is hell, but Willy (ph) and Joe (ph) and the man who created them made it just a little bit better. All of them will be missed.
Coming up on NEWSNIGHT, on a frigid Wednesday in New York, man, is al Qaeda going back to its roots, back to assassinations? And outspoken former weapons inspector Scott Ritter speaks out on a personal matter. There is much to do. This is NEWSNIGHT on CNN.
BROWN: We've been thinking about the profiles of some of the victims of al Qaeda in recent years. The suburban stock trader or the Muslim janitor at the World Trade Center. The young Australian backpacker in Bali. The Kenyan dancer at an Israeli hotel.
In a way, that's been one of the most alarming developments in terms of terrorism. The terrorists seem to be utterly indiscriminate in choosing their victims. Just being concerned with some symbol of the west seems to be reason enough to attack. That doesn't seem likely to go away, but intelligence sources are saying that al Qaeda is now putting a bigger focus, a larger focus on a more targeted profile. People with titles like ambassador, secretary, perhaps even president. Here's CNN's Mike Boettcher.
MIKE BOETTCHER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In Amman, Jordan, American diplomat Lawrence Foley is assassinated outside his home in late October. According to Jordanian investigators, the attack was ordered by a senior al Qaeda figure and it was to be the first in a series of assassinations in the region.
And after the arrest of another al Qaeda leader, Abdul Rahim al - Nashiri (ph) in the UAE, CNN has learned that he, too, was allegedly planning an assassination campaign. On his hit list, a U.S. diplomat in Saudi Arabia.
(on camera): For al Qaeda, assassination has long played a key role, but now it may be central to the group's new strategy.
(voice-over): This video from al Qaeda's own archives shows one of its training camps in Afghanistan where recruits learn the finer points of ambush and assassination. And al Qaeda's encyclopedia of jihad offers even more detailed instructions in how to kill. The encyclopedia and other al Qaeda documents obtained by CNN show how to make the deadly poison ricin and recommend it for assassinations. In a recent raid on a London flat, police discovered lab equipment and a small quantity of ricin. Authorities are not clear whether this was part of an al Qaeda operation.
Rohan Gunaratna is the author of "Inside Al Qaeda."
ROHAN GUNARATNA, AUTHOR, "INSIDE AL QAEDA": Their tactic of assassination is very important for al Qaeda and for al Qaeda associate groups. In fact, al Qaeda had a specialized course, a short specialized training course in assassination.
BOETTCHER: Al Qaeda's leaders were so interested, even some investigators say obsessed, with assassination, they had copies of several documentaries about the Kennedy assassination in their video archive obtained last year by CNN.
Pope John Paul II was perhaps the most prominent target on al Qaeda's hit list. Operatives in the Philippines planned to kill the pope during his visit to Manila in 1995, but the plan was foiled.
GUNARATNA: Al Qaeda also planned to assassinate President Clinton, who was visiting the Philippines, as well as Fidel Ramos, the then president of the Philippines.
BOETTCHER: There was also plots against Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto of Pakistan, President Megawati Sukarnoputri of Indonesia. None succeeded. But on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon attacks, al Qaeda did assassinate a key opponent in Afghanistan.
PETER BERGEN, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: Shah Ahmad Massood, the legendary Afghan commander, was killed two days before 9/11. Obviously these events were related, since Shah Ahmad Massood was fighting the Taliban and al Qaeda. So, assassination has been very much part of their armory.
BOETTCHER: Rohan Gunaratna believes al Qaeda was also behind recent attempts on the current leader of Afghanistan.
GUNARATNA: Al Qaeda current strategy is to assassinate two world leaders, the leader of Afghanistan, President Karzai, and President Musharraf, the leader of Pakistan. It is because al Qaeda wants to create friendly governments in Pakistan and in Afghanistan.
BOETTCHER: But now, say intelligence sources, al Qaeda's leaders are once again taking their assassination campaign beyond Pakistan and Afghanistan. The aim: to kill Western diplomats and other public figures wherever they can.
Mike Boettcher, CNN, Kabul.
BROWN: Other stories now from around the world, before we go to break: Mexico starts things off. The western Mexican state of Colima under a state of emergency tonight, just about 24 hours after a massive earthquake hit there. At least two dozen people died in the quake. It was 7.8 on the Richter scale, mostly people who were caught in buildings in adobe houses. The fear now is many more may be buried in the rubble. The rescue goes on.
Things have gone so bad from the general strike in Venezuela that, today, the government shut down currency trading in the country. The bolivar has fallen more than 28 percent since the strike began.
And here's why I prefer golf. It may not be as much fun, but it's a whole lot less work than tennis. Man. Today, at the Australian Open, the first biggie of the year, American Andy Roddick fought his way into the quarterfinals in five sets, more than 80 games, and nearly 100 degrees. The fifth set he won 21-19, the longest single set in grand slam tennis history. Good for him.
Still to come on NEWSNIGHT, the 22 of January: former U.N. weapons inspector and Bush critic Scott Ritter here to talk about problems closer to home.
And later: new audiotapes from the Kennedy administration, providing insight into the very early days in the war in Vietnam.
Around the world, this is NEWSNIGHT.
BROWN: And Scott Ritter joins us next to address the allegations that have been floating out there about him.
We'll take a short break first.
BROWN: Scott Ritter has a knack for making headlines.
Last year, the former weapons inspector, who used to drive the Iraqis crazy, started driving the White House crazy by saying that there was no evidence that the Iraqis still had weapons of mass destruction and that war was a huge mistake. Then there were accusations, fiercely denied, that his old boss at the U.N. had turned the inspection program into a U.S. spying operation.
This all became a bit of a circus, with Ritter as the ringmaster. Now comes another furor, but this is a very different sort: reports that Scott Ritter was arrested in 2001 for trying to lure a teenage girl he had met on the Internet. It was a misdemeanor charge. It was ultimately dismissed and the record sealed. Some of this has leaked out this week.
Mr. Ritter joins us tonight from Albany, New York.
Nice to see you, sir.
SCOTT RITTER, FORMER U.N. WEAPONS INSPECTOR: Thank you.
BROWN: All right, here we go. What happened in June of 2001?
RITTER: In June of 2001, I was arrested by the Colonie Police Department and charged with a Class B misdemeanor.
BROWN: And what was that Class B misdemeanor?
RITTER: Aaron, we're dealing with a case that has been dismissed and the record has been sealed by a judge's order. And I'm obligated, both ethically and legally, not to talk about that case.
But I will tell you this. I stood before the judge in an open court session, public session. And that judge, together with the police of Colonie and the assistant district attorney and my attorney, agreed for an adjudication in contemplation of dismissal. And the case was dismissed and the file sealed.
And we should never forget that, when a case is dismissed, what the law says is that, by dismissing the case, it brings with it the presumption of innocence. And by sealing the file, it's designed to prevent the stigma attached with any unsubstantiated allegations from arising. So, as far as I'm concerned, as far as everyone should be concerned, this is a dead issue.
BROWN: Well, first of all, obviously, it's not a dead issue, because it's been out there all week. So let's -- I want to go back to some of this.
Scott, we spent a fair amount of time today looking at New York law on this. There is nothing in a sealed case, zero, that prevents you from talking about it. The point of the seal is to protect you from the state, not to protect the state from you.
Now, you can -- it seems to me, you can choose not to talk about the specifics of this. That's always the right of the guest. But I'm not sure that there is -- I'm not sure what the ethical question is about talking about it. And none of our lawyers can find the legal one, OK?
So, what happened in 2001?
RITTER: Well, Aaron, What I'll say is this. What I'll say is this, Aaron, is, in 2001, I stood before a judge.
BROWN: Why? Why were you before the judge, Scott?
RITTER: Because I was arrested, Aaron.
BROWN: Why were you arrested?
RITTER: I'm not asking for your forgiveness or anybody else's forgiveness.
BROWN: I'm not...
RITTER: I am held accountable to the law. And I was held accountable to the law. And that's what everyone should remember here. I stood before a judge and the due process of law was carried forth. And now we have a situation where the media has turned this into a feeding frenzy. This is not an extrajudicial proceeding, Aaron. I do not stand before you where I have to testify to anything. The case was dismissed. The file was sealed.
BROWN: Scott, Scott...
RITTER: End of story.
BROWN: Scott, respectfully here, you're creating a straw dog in me. And I'm not playing that game. I am not the prosecutor. I am trying to give...
BROWN: Excuse me. Let me finish here.
I'm trying to give you an opportunity, if you want to take it, to explain what happened. And here's the point of that. And you know this is true. You are radioactive until this is cleared up. Until people understand what this is about, no one is going to talk to you about the things that you feel passionately about.
And as uncomfortable as it may be, I submit to you that it is in your interests to explain what happened. Otherwise, lord only knows what people will say.
RITTER: Well, Aaron, lord only knows what people are already saying. And, frankly speaking, I have no control over that.
But, again, with all due respect, Aaron -- and I totally understand your question and where you're coming from -- but the bottom line is, the rule of law must apply here and we must never lose sight of that. I think you hit on something. I was a credible voice. I am a credible voice. And I will be a credible voice in regards to issues pertaining to Iraq.
And, obviously, what you're not mentioning here is the timing of all of this. Why did this come up now?
BROWN: No, we'll get to the timing of all of this, OK?
RITTER: No, because I have already told you...
BROWN: No, no, no, honestly, believe me...
RITTER: I'm always honest here.
BROWN: We've done business together before. And I think I have a reputation in these things of being fair. And we'll get to the question of timing. But I think we have to deal, I believe -- and I guess I get to call the shot on this one -- that we have to deal with the issue itself first. Let me try it a different way and then I'm not going to spend the rest of our time beating my head against the wall.
Did you ever go into an Internet chat room looking for teenage girls to have a sexual encounter of any sort with? How about that?
RITTER: Aaron, again, have I to respectfully reply by noting that I am obligated legally not to discuss matters pertaining to a
BROWN: Can you tell me, under what provision of what law are you referring to?
RITTER: Well, Aaron, you know I'm not a lawyer. And have I sought legal counsel on this. And I'm strictly abiding by legal counsel.
BROWN: So, I can dance around this a thousand ways and you're not going to tell me why you were arrested at that Burger King on that day in June. Is that right?
RITTER: Aaron, I will respond the same way, this way, until Sunday. I was arrested in June 2001, charged with a Class B misdemeanor. I stood before a judge and the case was dismissed. The file was sealed. And I certainly wish you and everyone else would respect that.
BROWN: OK. Again, I'm not going to beat my head against the wall. If you don't want to talk about it, you don't want to talk about it.
Let's talk about the ramifications of it. It is my view, and, certainly I think as far as this program is concerned, and I think others, that you are, in a sense, radioactive, that these charges, I would submit, until they're responded to, will keep it that way.
But, in any case, in this moment, for the moment, nobody cares what you think about Iraq. You think that's why this stuff was leaked?
RITTER: Well, I have no way of knowing why this happened. But the effect is obvious. I was supposed to be on an airplane yesterday flying to Baghdad on a personal initiative that could have had great ramifications in regards to issues of war and peace.
I wish people would keep the eye on the ball here. It's about war and peace. It's about the potential of conflict with Iraq, many thousands of Americans dying. And whether you agreed with me or disagreed with me on the issue, there's no doubting -- and you can't rewrite history -- I was a very effective voice in the anti-war effort in the campaign to keep inspectors on the ground.
BROWN: What is stopping you from going to Baghdad?
RITTER: Well, look, what's stopping me is the reason why I'm sitting here before you, Aaron.
If I went to Baghdad and tried to talk responsibly about issues of war and peace, this issue would have come up. And it would have been a distraction and it would have actually been a disservice. There are people in Baghdad right now pursuing the initiative that I started. And I want to give them every chance of success. I don't want to provide any distractions.
BROWN: Well, one way or another, I hope all this stuff gets cleared up and you can get back to talking about the issues you care about. But, again, I'm not quite sure how that's going to happen.
I appreciate your time. This is not easy for either of us. Thank you very much.
RITTER: Thank you.
BROWN: Scott Ritter, from Albany, New York, tonight.
NEWSNIGHT continues in a moment. We'll listen to some fascinating audiotapes, little bits of it at least, from President Kennedy that came out today, the fine lines of history -- as NEWSNIGHT continues.
BROWN: Well, we're running a little late tonight.
Richard Nixon, as you no doubt know, wasn't the first president to tape his office conversations. LBJ did it. FDR did it, I believe.
So did JFK. On the one hand, this taping is offensive. And, on the other hand, it provides not the broad strokes of history, but the fine lines in some exquisite detail. Today, 15 hours of JFK's tapes were released, talk of Vietnam, Cuba and more.
(voice-over): The Cuban Missile Crisis was still visible in JFK's rearview mirror. And the newly released audiotapes show that the president knew exactly what he was doing when he promised Fidel Castro that the United States would never invade Cuba.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
JOHN F. KENNEDY, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I mean, we are giving them a hell of a lot, the way it's going to be interpreted. As a practical matter, we are not giving him anything, because we can always debate if we have to. But, psychologically, it would so important to all of Latin America.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
BROWN: And only months into the new year of 1962, the president's attention was jolted to another international crisis: Vietnam, a country then that few Americans had ever heard of. He was already receiving stark advice from the Pentagon, in this case from an Army general named Earle Wheeler.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
GEN. EARLE WHEELER, U.S. ARMY: One of the difficulties out there is that the communists, the Viet Cong, are not bleeding in this war. The South Vietnamese are bleeding. In other words, they are suffering sizable losses. But the losses suffered by the Viet Cong are negligible."
(END AUDIO CLIP)
BROWN: And later still, more words of warning that, with the benefit of hindsight, sound eerily similar to what must have been said or at least thought in the White Houses of Presidents Johnson and Nixon.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
WHEELER: The people that are killed, except for perhaps a half- a-dozen battalion or regimental commanders or maybe a team of political leaders are fellows with the Vietnamese equivalent of the name Joe. And he can get plenty more of them and does. It's not going to let the blood that we feel needs to be let in order to make Ho Chi Minh recognize that he can't fight this war for free.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
BROWN: It was always something, on this day, relations with Europe. Then, as now, there was France, always the French.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
KENNEDY: There is some pretty vicious stuff out of Paris every day. They either attack us for trying to dominate Europe or they attack us for withdrawing from Europe or that we won't use our nuclear force or that we'll get them into a war and they're not consulted.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
BROWN: The tapes of JFK. We'll talk with Douglas Brinkley about them after a short break.
This is NEWSNIGHT
BROWN: Well, we love these presidential tapes. We're joined tonight by Douglas Brinkley to talk about them all. The copy said David Brinkley.
BROWN: It's good to see you, Professor.
DOUGLAS BRINKLEY, PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN, EISENHOWER CENTER FOR AMERICAN STUDIES: Nice to see you. BROWN: Anything -- I know you haven't had a chance to listen to all 15 hours. And I know you're probably dying to, to be honest. Anything jump out as you, first as a sort of headline? And then we'll work our way through some of it.
BRINKLEY: I think the headlines are -- you had a little clip of it there -- it's General Wheeler. It's the notion of the leading Kennedy general -- Kennedy had two of them, Maxwell Taylor and Earle Wheeler.
And here's Wheeler coming to the president with the report saying the problem with the Viet Cong is, you can kill as many of them as you want. You've got more and more and more coming. And if you read further into the transcripts, he's saying, we have got continue doing what we're doing, which is staying committed there in Vietnam, not letting the Viet Cong getting the upper hand.
And by 1963, staying committed meant that the United States had 18,000 military advisers, starting to use napalm and deployments over there. Wheeler, after Kennedy's assassination, becomes the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under Johnson, continues into Nixon as one of leading people pushing a so-called American victory in Vietnam.
BROWN: What's interesting to me in the Wheeler piece is that, if you don't know what his thinking is and sort of where he goes, you can interpret that to mean, look, they value life differently or there's so many of them, we can't kill enough of them to really make it hurt, or, in order to kill enough of them to really make it hurt, we need to build way up.
BRINKLEY: Exactly. That's exactly what's...
BROWN: Do we know enough, whether from these tapes or others and other documents, about any qualms JFK had about Vietnam as this was going on?
BRINKLEY: Well, what's interesting in these 15 hours is, it seems to be that he's taking a pulse of the world through the tapes and he's looking at Cuba. He talks about Berlin, looking at what's happening in France.
And Vietnam is just one of the issues. But what's interesting is Wheeler. You start seeing, if you like, the military establishment, the leader generals, making it clear to Kennedy, whatever it is, we're not going to give up there. We're not going to concede that. If we lose Vietnam, it's a domino. And in the tapes, you hear the domino theory going into effect.
BROWN: And did Kennedy accept the theory?
BRINKLEY: It's unclear, because of the assassination.
But, yes, it was a major part of his belief, as a staunch anti- communist, was somebody that -- we had to protect the United States. And, of course, part of this is the Cuba aspect of this also and the deal-making he had to make over the Cuban Missile Crisis. BROWN: I want to talk about that, too, before I run out of time.
Again, whether it's on the tapes or other stuff that's out there, did JFK believe that they had turned an almost perfect deal out of the missile crisis, that they'd really won on all counts?
BRINKLEY: He eventually came to see it that way. And, of course, Bobby Kennedy wrote "13 Days" claiming just that.
Dean Acheson, the secretary of state, who -- ex-secretary of state -- wanted to bomb Cuba, called Kennedy's legacy a homage to plain dumb luck. But whether it was luck or shrewd strategy, they did enough things, the Kennedy administration, when you listen to these tapes. And, incidentally, the Bush administration and Condoleezza Rice has been listening and getting tutored on some of this, so the connection between and Iraq...
BROWN: Is there any revisionism on that point about the deal that was struck to end the Cuban Missile Crisis?
BRINKLEY: Constantly, new bits of information come up there.
The main thing is that it all cost Kennedy, as you heard there -- which is fascinating -- saying, we're not going to -- we're telling Castro America will never do another Bay of Pigs. But he's saying, well, we'll tell him that. That will him help psychologically. Down the line, who knows.
That's the good thing about that kind of handshake deal, a deal done in dark offices without media spotlight. We can change our mind later.
BROWN: Thanks for coming in tonight.
I do love these things, even as hard as they are to hear sometimes. It's great to have them. And it's great to have you to help us understand them. Thank you.
BRINKLEY: Thank you.
BROWN: Douglas Brinkley, thank you very much.
That's the program for tonight. The Nissen story we talked about at the beginning we'll get to tomorrow, I hope. We ran a little long tonight.
We'll see you tomorrow, 10:00 Eastern time. Until then, good night for all of us at NEWSNIGHT.
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