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CNN NEWSNIGHT AARON BROWN

Democrats Debate in Los Angeles; House Speaker Blocks 9/11 Commission Extension

Aired February 26, 2004 - 22:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

AARON BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening again.
We have lots of politics on the program tonight. The debate just completed tops the news. But this is about politics of another sort, to start with.

We admit we don't do causes very well on the program. And I don't do outrage well at all, yet, tonight, a cause and an outrage. The decision by the speaker of the House to deny the independent commission investigating the 9/11 attack on America a 60-day extension -- that's all, 60 days -- to complete its work is unconscionable and indefensible, which, no doubt, explains why neither the speaker, nor any member of the House leadership, nor none of their press secretaries would come on the program to talk about it, despite repeated requests.

The commission itself has gone about its work quietly. It's had to fight tooth and nail to get necessary information. And now this, an arbitrary decision to deny not just the commission -- that's the least of it -- but the country the chance to know all of what happened, how it happened, and how best to prevent it from happening again.

Perhaps, the speaker and his team assume you do not care. I hope they're wrong. I hope you care enough to write them and e-mail them and call them until they relent. Do that. Do it for the victims and their families. Do it for the country that was attacked and for history.

More on that later. It is primary politics where we begin, the debate that just concluded in Los Angeles.

CNN's Candy Crowley was there listening to it all.

So what was the headline in this debate?

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SR. POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the headline, really, Aaron, is that, of the 10 Super Tuesday states, California has the most delegates. That's why they had the debate here tonight, where the topics ranged from gay marriage to Iraq -- Aaron.

BROWN: Candy, we'll get the details coming up.

Back to the 9/11 Commission, the Congress and the president.

Joe Johns, our Capitol Hill correspondent, give us a headline that I haven't stolen.

JOE JOHNS, CNN CAPITOL HILL CORRESPONDENT: Aaron, some top Republicans here in Washington disagree about extending the deadline for the commission investigating the September 11 attacks. The White House says it's the right thing to do. The Senate Intelligence Committee is now on board. But the speaker of the House, as you said, is opposed and his critics are questioning his motives -- Aaron.

BROWN: Joe, thank you very much.

A window into another painful moment now, Columbine.

David Mattingly reporting on that for us tonight.

David, the headline from you.

DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Aaron, Columbine parents call it a step in the right direction, but the release of thousands of documents and thousands of pieces of evidence from the Columbine massacre, they say, may still not give them all the answers they're looking for -- Aaron.

BROWN: David, thank you.

And, finally, Haiti.

CNN's Lucia Newman is in the capital city, which is soon, perhaps, to be under attack. She's on the videophone.

Lucia, a headline.

LUCIA NEWMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hundreds of more foreigners, Aaron, are rushing to get out of the country. President Jean-Bertrand Aristide is still standing firm. He won't resign, even as armed insurgents vow to march onto the palace and take him.

BROWN: Lucia, thank you. We'll get back to you and the rest very shortly.

Also coming up, on a 90-minute edition of NEWSNIGHT tonight, a high-profile wedding in San Francisco, as Rosie O'Donnell shows up to make her own statement about gay weddings. We'll also look at the suspension of Howard Stern, a radio disk jockey, and the uproar in Congress over decency on American radio and television. And, as always, prim and proper himself, the rooster will stop by with a check of your morning papers for Friday. And it probably will be Friday, or nearly so, when we get to it -- all that and more in the next 90 minutes.

We begin with politics, nothing down and dirty about where we start. We begin with the debate, a pretty genteel affair, John Kerry, leading in the polls for Super Tuesday, John Edwards, bright, polished, widely mentioned as a contender some day, but a potential running mate now, the two barely going head to head, in fact, sitting side by side, two opponents who, for the most part, gracefully shared the billing. But as is sometimes the case, a character actor, Al Sharpton, stole some of the biggest moments. We'll break it all down in a bit.

But, first, the high points from CNN's Candy Crowley.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CROWLEY (voice-over): It is their least favorite subject, but Rosie O'Donnell got married in San Francisco today and here they were in California at a debate. Of course they discussed gay marriage.

SEN. JOHN EDWARDS (D-NC), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This president is talking about, first, amending the United States Constitution for a problem that doesn't exist.

AL SHARPTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The issue in 2004 is not if gays marry. The issue is not who you go to bed with. The issue is whether either of you have a job when you get up in the morning.

CROWLEY: And they hated every minute of it.

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This discussion we've just had is exactly where the Republicans want us to spend our time.

CROWLEY: In the oldie-but-goody category, the war on Iraq, still a difficult subject for the two leading contenders who voted for the Iraq resolution.

JANET CLAYTON, QUESTIONER: It was a blank check. Why?

EDWARDS: But those -- but those -- what we did is we voted on a resolution.

(LAUGHTER)

EDWARDS: The answer is, what we did is, we voted on a resolution.

KERRY: And I have a slightly different take from John on this. Let me make it very clear. We did not give the president any authority that the president of the United States didn't have. Did we ratify what he was doing? Yes. But Clinton went to Haiti without the Congress. Clinton went to Kosovo without the Congress. And the fact is, the president was determined to go, evidently, but we changed the dynamics.

LARRY KING, MODERATOR: Do you regret your vote?

EDWARDS: I did what I believed was right at the time.

KING: Do you regret it?

EDWARDS: I believe I did what was right at time.

KING: But do you regret it?

KERRY: I do not regret my vote. I regret that we have a president of the United States who misled America and broke every promise he made to the United States Congress.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CROWLEY: Interesting, Aaron, that, as we wind up the debate season and as the Democratic nominee begins to appear, with only four left in the race, we're still talking in this debate what we were talking about in the first debate, but a very different tone now, as you mentioned, nothing in it for John Kerry, the front-runner, to look angry.

He simply rises above the whole thing. And John Edwards, who has based his entire campaign on being the man that doesn't attack his Democratic rivals really has very little room to go after Kerry. So, as you mentioned, a pretty placid debate.

BROWN: You're semi-whispering. Tell me what's going on behind you.

CROWLEY: Oh, hang on.

I'm semi-whispering, by the way, because I've lost my voice.

BROWN: Oh, OK.

CROWLEY: But it's Dennis Kucinich. We're in the spin room. And Dennis Kucinich came in to talk about his performance and go more on the U.N. and getting the U.N. in and the U.S. out. So this is -- we're just waiting for the candidates to come out to get their assessment of how they did.

BROWN: I wonder how they'll think they did.

Thank you, Candy -- Candy Crowley in Los Angeles.

CROWLEY: Sure.

BROWN: Jeff Greenfield is with us here.

You've watched a bunch of these now.

JEFF GREENFIELD, CNN SR. ANALYST: Yes.

BROWN: How have they changed?

GREENFIELD: Well, for one thing, since there are four, instead of 10, they're slightly more coherent.

But I think tonight, you saw the clearest attempt of John Edwards to say to the Democrats, here's why you have to nominate me. He laid out explicitly what he's been saying implicitly: I can win where Kerry can't. I can win in the South. I can win among independents.

And Kerry said, well...

BROWN: He hasn't been saying that?

GREENFIELD: He hasn't been saying it face to face to John Kerry quite that directly.

BROWN: OK.

GREENFIELD: And he was trying to make that -- put flesh on that by talking about the differences on trade and by using -- by recycling his stump speech, in effect to say: John Kerry is too much of an insider. I feel it personally. We've heard these lines 50 times before.

By the way, the subtext of that is, all you Howard Dean out there who don't have a place to go with your frustration, I'm the closest you're going to get.

BROWN: I think the conventional wisdom, which occasionally is right, is that Senator Edwards needed a major breakout, needs a major breakout. Did he get that tonight?

GREENFIELD: No.

And that's part of the problem Candy alluded to. When you've pitched your entire campaign, as he did from Iowa, on saying, I'm the guy who is not going to be attacking anyone, all right, that's fine. But now Democrats, who have seen five weeks of other Democrats voting for one guy, essentially, need to have a reason not to do that.

And Edwards reason, the best argument he has is, I think, is, I can win where Kerry can't. But that requires, because of his previous refusal to be negative, a very delicate touch. It's almost cryptic nudge-nudge, wink-wink, rather than saying, this guy is a Massachusetts elitist, liberal, anti-death penalty. That argument, I think, helped Edwards.

(CROSSTALK)

GREENFIELD: But I think it helped him in that argument. This guy can't win. And he can't say it that bluntly.

BROWN: How do you think that -- I want to talk about two of those hot-button issues, those wedge issues. How do you think the two front-runners here handled the death penalty question?

GREENFIELD: Well, it's interesting.

John Kerry gave the answer everybody says Michael Dukakis should have given Bernie Shaw word for word.

BROWN: Absolutely.

GREENFIELD: I would have strangled him with my bare hands.

BROWN: Right. Yes. GREENFIELD: I actually think the Kerry argument is problematic for him, because, basically, he's making a very old anti-death penalty case, that it hurts the civility of the country. The stronger argument is the exoneration.

BROWN: Right, he started with the exoneration.

GREENFIELD: Yes.

But what Edwards was saying was, I'm sorry. There are some things that are so heinous. And that's basically been the Democratic position. Kerry's position is a throwback. In the last couple of elections, Clinton, Gore, even Bradley were for the death penalty. So this could be an interesting -- I don't know how emotional it is these days, but it was an interesting throwback.

BROWN: And how they handled the gay marriage question?

GREENFIELD: Here again, without getting into the legal complexities, the Democrats' answer to this, you know, Defense of Marriage Act, it's not coherent. Maybe we should talk about this the other time. There are real problems, whatever you think of the issue, with using the Defense of Marriage Act issue as your...

BROWN: As your cover?

GREENFIELD: Yes.

The best cover the Democrats have is, so many congressional Republicans don't like the idea of amending the Constitution. And if I were an adviser to these guys, which I am not, I would say, why don't you hide behind or use the protective cover of all these conservative Republicans saying, I don't like the idea?

Because the argument they're making doesn't logically hold up when you see the recent Supreme Court decisions and what's going on in San Francisco and Massachusetts. So I think -- I think that, down the road, this could be a problem for them, were it not for the fact that so many Republicans are saying, ah, amend the Constitution? I don't know.

BROWN: I do want to talk about this more. So, next week, I guess we'll throw it around a bit.

GREENFIELD: We'll schedule something.

BROWN: Yes.

GREENFIELD: Because it gives me a chance to use the law degree I haven't had to use, thank God, for almost 40 years.

BROWN: I'm in trouble. Thank you. It's nice to see you.

GREENFIELD: All right.

BROWN: We'll have more on the debate in the next segment. We're gathering up some folks in Los Angeles and moving some cameras around. It's something that takes a little time. So we'll get to that.

We'll deal with some other news first. The 9/11 Commission. The top of the program, if you were with us, was comment. It always is. This is not comment. This is the straight news report on the speaker's decision to deny the House a vote and deny the 9/11 Commission the time it says it needs to get its work done.

Here's our Capitol Hill correspondent, Joe Johns.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOHNS (voice-over): The 9/11 Commission wants its deadline extended, and President Bush says he agrees. But the top Republican in the House, Speaker Dennis Hastert, is opposed. Democrats suggest he's doing what the president really wants.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), MINORITY LEADER: I think that Dennis Hastert is a reasonable man and that he will agree to letting us go forward. If he does not, I can only assume that he is doing the heavy lifting for the White House, who never wanted this commission in the first place.

JOHNS: And a Democrat on the 9/11 Commission is lashing out.

RICHARD BEN-VENISTE, 9//11 COMMISSION MEMBER: Speaker Hastert's position, frankly, is inexplicable. We see no reason why we shouldn't have the additional time and we think the American public strongly supports our work.

JOHNS: The commission has asked the deadline for its report to be moved from late May to late July, closer to the election. Hastert's aides say he doesn't want it to become a political football.

REP. DENNIS HASTERT (R-IL), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: What we want to get the commission and the report out as quickly as possible, so if there are problems we can solve those problems.

JOHNS: The speaker's lieutenants deny Hastert is playing bad cop to help the president.

REP. ROY BLUNT (R-MO), MAJORITY WHIP: I'm sure this is no deal. And I'm also sure that if there's a good cop here, got cop is the speaker. The good cop position here is, let's do what's best for the country.

JOHNS: The White House, when asked repeatedly whether Mr. Bush will personally press Hastert to drop his opposition, says only that the president supports an extension. The commission is also upset that the White House is saying the president and Vice President Cheney can only be questioned in private for one hour and only by the commission's chairman and vice chairman.

Meanwhile, the families of the 9/11 victims still a potent force. Monica Gabriel, whose husband, Richard, was killed in the World Trade Center, said if the White House truly wanted an extension, it would be done. MONICA GABRIEL, WIDOW OF WORLD TRADE CENTER VICTIM: This White House is playing politics and it's unconscionable and despicable.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

JOHNS: The Senate Intelligence Committee tonight approved a proposed two-month extension, but it still has a long way to go in the House. There has been an effort by some of the families of the victims and members of Congress to extend the deadline past the election season -- Aaron.

BROWN: Just quickly, do you believe -- and not that you've counted every nose -- but if it were to come to a vote, a public vote, an on-the-record vote in the House of Representatives, the commission would get its extension?

JOHNS: Some members of Congress have actually told some of the family members of the victims that they don't believe, at this time, they would be able to get the votes to push it through the House of Representatives. Of course, whatever the speaker of the House does in this situation is key, Aaron.

BROWN: Joe, thank you very much. Good to have you on the program and with us as well. Joe Johns joins us.

Former chairman of the House Foreign Relations Committee retired Congressman Lee Hamilton is both intimately acquainted with the ways of the institution and the way things work in Washington. Currently, he serves as vice chairman of the 9/11 Commission. Mr. Hamilton is a congressman who is thoughtful and smart. He was of a time when politics wasn't quite the blood sport it seems today.

And we spoke with him about this earlier tonight.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BROWN: Congressman, since we talked to your co-chair the other day, things haven't gone very well. Is there any reason now to believe that the commission will get its extension, its 60-day extension it believes it needs

LEE HAMILTON, VICE CHAIRMAN, 9/11 COMMISSION: I think it's unresolved at this point.

Today, there was significant action, of course, by the Senate Intelligence Committee reporting out a bill to the Senate. The president has indicated he favors the bill. And we have some concerns that the speaker has expressed and we have to try to meet his concerns, so that we can get the extra 60 days.

BROWN: Do you think you'll get them?

HAMILTON: I'm optimistic. I hope we will. But it's really out of our hands.

What we have to do is make the case for it. We have to persuade the speaker, perhaps others in the House of Representatives, maybe some senators, too, that we've been diligent, that we've proceeded in a bipartisan way, that we've got a mountain of material still to go through, that we need time to digest what we have and to build consensus behind recommendations. You can't force that. That takes time.

BROWN: It's interesting to hear you list those things off, because, along the way, just as an outsider looking in, it doesn't seem like there's any question about how you've handled any of this, that this has been handled in an absolutely nonpartisan way, that it has been careful and thoughtful and diligent and you have operated as quickly as you can. Does anyone actually think those things are not true?

HAMILTON: Well, I hope they believe that they have the same opinion that you have just expressed.

I've been quite impressed by the manner in which the ten commissioners have proceeded. We've had not a single partisan vote that I can recall. We've had some very vigorous discussion on a lot of tough issues. They're very serious. They're very, very professional. We've gone through over two million pages of documents. We've interviewed over 1,000 witnesses and still have some more to go.

And it just takes a lot of time to develop the most authoritative positions that we possibly can and answer some of the most difficult questions I've ever encountered.

BROWN: If you don't get the extension, what will be the cost in terms of the work that you are trying to do? What will you not be able to do?

HAMILTON: We will abide by the law. And if the law requires us to report, as it does right now, by May 27, we'll do the very best job we can within that timeframe.

I think there be would some slippage in the amount of follow-ups we can do. You interview a witness, you want to follow up a little more. There probably would be fewer hearings. There would be less time for commissioners to talk out some of the recommendations that we hope to make and want to build as solid a consensus behind as we possibly can. The report will not be as tightly edited as we'd like it to be, sharply worded, concise, precise.

So the quality of the work, I think, would be good, but it would not be as good as we're capable of doing.

BROWN: I've known you for a bit. I've watched you for far longer. You're not a man prone to histrionics. Have you given any thought -- do you believe any commission member has given any thought to resigning over this matter?

HAMILTON: Well, I heard a report today that one of our commissioners, former Senator Bob Kerrey, because of a very heavy workload -- he's president of a university -- might be considering that. I hope he does not. He's a very valuable member of the commission.

The amount of time that these commissioners have put in and will be putting in, in the next few weeks and months is staggering. And I can understand why some of them may have some concerns. But so far, so good and I hope Senator Kerrey stays with us.

BROWN: And you're not planning to resign for any reason, including in protest over the speakers' position at this point?

HAMILTON: Oh, no. We've had one obstacle after the other to encounter. We've overcome most of them. We have got excellent leadership with Chairman Kean. So I'm optimistic that, no matter how this breaks, we'll fulfill our mandate and do a good job.

BROWN: Well, sir, we hope you get the time you need and we hope you get it right. Thank you for your time tonight.

HAMILTON: Thank you. Thank you.

BROWN: Thank you, sir.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BROWN: Talked to former Congressman Hamilton a little bit earlier in the evening.

Still ahead, in the remaining 70 minutes or so of the program, we'll go back to the debate, get some expert opinion. Our pundits join us. We may hear from a candidate as well. We hope to.

And later, Howard Stern's suspension from some radio stations and the uproar over indecency on radio and television around the dial, but none here.

This is NEWSNIGHT from New York.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN: Now back to presidential politics, the debate and now, I guess, our debate.

With us in the studio here in New York, Brian Lehrer, who speaks of politics on public radio here in New York. In the spin room in Los Angeles, John Harwood of "The Wall Street Journal," who has joined us after a number of these, and, in the hall, Janet Clayton of "The Los Angeles Times," did some of the questioning, and Judy Woodruff, who does a lot of questioning everyday on CNN's "INSIDE POLITICS."

It's good to have you all with us.

Janet, let me start with you, because you were right there.

What was the mood like? Was it as relaxed as it appeared on TV?

CLAYTON: It was reasonably relaxed. The thing is, is that there was some competition, as I think you could see, between Edwards and Kerry, some good natured-ribbing that wasn't always good-natured. But the thing is, is that we tried very hard, when we discussed our questions in advance, about trying to draw Edwards out and trying to give him every opportunity to distinguish himself.

And I don't know. I was there. And perhaps I was too close to it. I didn't see him do that much, except on trade, which he'd done before.

BROWN: John, I think I ask you this every week we do one of these things. What's the lead?

JOHN HARWOOD, POLITICAL EDITOR, "THE WALL STREET JOURNAL": Well, I think the lead is, not a single thing happened tonight to shake John Kerry's position as the dominant front-runner in this race. He was very solid tonight.

And John Edwards, as Janet just suggested, for whatever reason, simply isn't going to go after him in forums of this kind. He drew some very low-key distinctions on biography, on trade, but he also acknowledged places where they agreed and he simply didn't do anything to damage John Kerry.

BROWN: And if you believe, as I know you do believe, that Senator Edwards needed a kind of breakout performance tonight, I gather you do not believe he did that?

HARWOOD: Absolutely not. I don't think anything happened to change the dynamic in this race.

BROWN: Judy, someone suggested today that they thought -- or tonight -- that Senator Edwards did a very nice job of running for vice president this evening. Perhaps a little harsh, but did you hear some of that in it?

JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: Well, sure, because you know, as Janet and John have just said, John Edwards really held back tonight. He was given opportunity after opportunity to draw sharp distinctions between himself and John Kerry.

And he'd talk about it, but he wouldn't really go in for the kill, if you will, the political kill. At the end, he joked. You could tell he was joking when he talked about an Edwards/Kerry ticket. This was all, I think, about John Edwards holding back. And, you know, Aaron, this debate is one more reminder of why these -- the fact that Edwards has stayed in is good for the Democrats, because they all bashed George Bush.

BROWN: Actually, let me ask a question on that point here, because I wonder if this whole thing has crested already, that now that the -- or at least largely the suspense is out of it, that it's crested and people's interest is muted.

BRIAN LEHRER, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: People's interest may be muted, but it's also peaking at the same time, because Super Tuesday is Tuesday and the votes are actually coming around. Yes, there have been 20 debates over more than a year, but people haven't been engaged.

There's been a select few who are really into politics who have been watching. Now it's coming around. The whole country is watching. I think that's one of the reasons that it's been working for the Democrats. The White House probably never expected this road show to take off the way it has, a lot of Bush-bashing. And both Edwards and Kerry have really established their characters with the American people.

BROWN: Judy, you've probably talked to these candidates the most of any of us. Do you think you could answer -- do you know how either one of them will keep American jobs from going overseas, what exactly the loopholes are that they will close?

WOODRUFF: Well, I will say this, that I know -- for example, I know that John Edwards, today, put out another statement about tax breaks that he wants to give to American companies that don't take jobs overseas. And he wants to end tax breaks for companies that move jobs offshore.

John Kerry has made statements in that direction. But I think the point you're getting at, Aaron, is, what are they going to do about 2.6 or 2.7 million jobs?

BROWN: Yes.

WOODRUFF: It's -- that is an enormous undertaking. And it is one thing to point to the president and say, it all happened on his watch. It's another thing altogether to say, hey, I've got a plan for restoring all these jobs.

LEHRER: Can I say something about that?

BROWN: Yes.

LEHRER: I think that the president had a very effective political play against the Democrats this week in one of his speeches, when he said, all they do is show carping, partisan bitterness. They don't have any solutions.

And that's been the Democrats' problem for a few years. It hurt them in the 2002 midterm elections and it is going to be very tough for them, after blaming the president for all the country's problems, that are complex problems, terrorism and job loss, all these things, to now turn around and say, I have a position that's as clear as my criticism. So far, they don't.

BROWN: John, how do you think they handled the gay marriage question?

HARWOOD: Well, I think you saw John Kerry do a pivot on the gay marriage question that is exactly what's going to happen the whole rest of the year. He said at one point that, after criticizing the president for being divisive, for using this issue to try to score political points, he said, look, this is exactly what the Republican Party wants us to do, to talk about this issue, which is good for them, bad for us.

Let's talk instead about the jobs that we've lost and the 43 million Americans without health care. Now, on the earlier point about the Democrats' plans, Aaron, the dirty little secret of American politics -- and it's not that much of a secret -- American voters get it -- is that presidents don't have all that much control over the state of the economy.

But when you're running against an incumbent president, he tends to take the blame when things go badly, even if voters kind of know that the alternative platform from the Democrats may not make a whole lot of difference in terms of keeping these jobs in the country.

BROWN: Janet, how does the presence of Reverend Sharpton and Congressman Kucinich change the whole feel of the 90 minutes?

CLAYTON: Well, I thought that they both made points in representing their constituencies within the Democratic Party. And I think they did that well.

I mean, I must say, that, for a lot of people watching, I'm sure they felt it was a distraction. It's like, why are these guys here? You know they're not going to win. But the reality is what they're really doing is setting up, particularly, certainly, in Sharpton's case, setting up what he's going to be able to extract from the party in terms of platform changes or, you know, for himself personally or for his supporters.

And so this is sort of part of the game. And the Democrats are loath at this point. The last thing Kerry wanted was a one-on-one with John Edwards. Why would he want that? You want to have the other two guys there so that you can diffuse the conversation and so that you can have, you know, sort of side issues come up, and it prevents stature issues, and it's just -- and by not suggesting that they're both the same. And I know that that was important to Kerry, and so that was a win for him, to have everybody there.

BROWN: Janet, nice shop tonight, by the way. Judy, thanks for being with us. John, as always. Brian, good to have you. I hope you will all come back. I have a feeling these debates are just going to go on and on and on for a while longer. Thank you all.

Coming up on the program, we've got a ways to go tonight. We go back to Colorado and see the small mountain of evidence released today in the Columbine killings, unsettling stuff, that. Then to San Francisco, where Rosie O'Donnell made her stand on gay marriage, on the steps of City Hall. A break first. From New York, this is NEWSNIGHT.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN: It'll be five years ago this April that Columbine became shorthand for one of the worst mass killings in American history. Since then, information about the two teenage boys behind the killings has seeped out as investigators tried to put together the pieces of this awful puzzle. Today the pieces -- thousands of them -- were made public at a Colorado fairground.

Reporting for us tonight, CNN's David Mattingly.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Months before their murderous rampage, Columbine killers Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold can be seen in trenchcoats, acting out violent scenes with fake weapons. These disturbing videos are just part of a massive new public disclosure by Colorado authorities.

KEN SALAZAR, COLORADO ATTORNEY GENERAL: Hindsight is always 20/20, and I think for all of us, we wish there would have been something that could have been done to have prevented the horrific tragedy that occurred during that time.

MATTINGLY: In all, more than 10,000 items were placed on public display in an attempt to allay lingering suspicious over the investigation and to prevent future school killings.

DAWN ANNA TOWNSEND, COLUMBINE MOTHER: That was the first time I saw the weapons, and I saw the two that murdered her. And I think that brought -- that, among everything else, brought me to my knees.

MATTINGLY: Dawn Townsend's daughter, Laura, class valedictorian, was reportedly shot 12 times. She is among parents now deeply disturbed upon finally seeing the frightening cache of weapons amassed by Klebold and Harris. There are pipe bombs, tanks of gasoline, knives and shotguns.

TOWNSEND: How can that go undiscovered? I don't know how it can. How can it go unexcused?

MATTINGLY: The first of many questions that remain unanswered as the horrors of that day nearly five years ago are on silent display, documented room by room. There is a desperate plea for help from the science and math department, bomb fragments from the cafeteria, shell casings from the library, and 58 brown paper bags, all containing clothing the victims were wearing.

RANDY BROWN, COLUMBINE FATHER: And whether you like it or not, the truth is what matters here. The only way to honor these children is to get the truth out and not let this happen again.

MATTINGLY: For Randy Brown, whose son, Brooks (ph), was named publicly as an associate of Klebold and Harris during the post- Columbine investigation, it was a day of sad vindication. Newly released records show prior to the massacre, his son and other family members talked to deputies nine times, complaining about Harris's behavior. A search warrant of the Harris home was prepared but never served.

BROWN: What really matters is these families back here that lost kids, and that shouldn't happen again. So if you're a policeman, do your job!

MATTINGLY (on camera): Even with today's remarkable disclosure, Columbine families we spoke to here say they're still not ready to let investigators off the hook, but the fact that so much information and so much evidence is now being made public, they say, it is a good start -- Aaron.

BROWN: Well, it is all those contacts with police that -- or that police had with the two teenage killers that I guess drew the most attention. What is the explanation the police give for not having done more?

MATTINGLY: Well, the attorney general here is giving the explanation today. It was his investigation and his decision to allow all of this information to come out and be made public. And today he said the police, the investigators at the time, were making judgment calls based on the information that they had available to them. The attorney general right now is not second-guessing them, saying that, of course, looking back, we see that it was a very serious string of events that should have told us that something terrible was about to happen. But at the time, the information they had did not indicate that.

BROWN: David, thank you very much. David Mattingly, who's in Colorado tonight.

Here are a number of other stories that made news around the country today. The FBI unveiled a new policy today. You wouldn't think this was necessary, but apparently so. It is a policy that bans agents from taking souvenirs from crime scenes. The announcement follows a Justice Department report that found 13 FBI agents had removed items from the World Trade Center debris. The agency says the practice has never been permissible but until now had no formal rule against it.

Richard Perle, an outspoken advocate for the invasion of Iraq, has resigned from the Pentagon's Defense Policy Board. He says he wanted to avoid having a negative effect on the president's reelection campaign. Mr. Perle was formerly the board's chairman, but he gave up that position on the eve of the invasion of Iraq because of a controversy over a business relationship.

Now to gay marriage -- no shortage of news on that front in the culture wars. The debate took a decidedly sharper turn on Tuesday when President Bush announced his support for an amendment, a constitutional amendment, banning gay couples from marrying. Mr. Bush said he felt compelled to do so because of several developments, including what is going on in San Francisco. Now more than 3,300 gay couples have wed there in just two weeks, and today there was some star power, if you will.

Here's CNN's Rusty Dornin.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RUSTY DORNIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Rosie O'Donnell and her long-time partner, Kelli Carpenter, showed the world their take on love and politics with a defiant wedding march down the steps of San Francisco's City Hall. It was a private ceremony in the mayor's office with a very public aftermath, complete with a gay men's choir serenading them with "I'm Going to the Chapel and I'm Going to Get Married."

ROSIE O'DONNELL, TALK SHOW HOST/ACTRESS: We already did. We got married. There you go.

DORNIN: They were angered by President Bush's proposal for a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage, so they decided to fly to San Francisco and make their own statement.

O'DONNELL: We were both inspired to come here after the sitting president said the vile and vicious and hateful comments he did on Tuesday.

DORNIN: And what's next for the often controversial O'Donnell and the woman she referred to as her wife?

O'DONNELL: Some people asked us where we were going on our honeymoon. With four kids under the age of the 8, there will be no honeymoon.

DORNIN: And in parting, one last bit of political commentary.

O'DONNELL: With liberty and justice for all! Peace!

DORNIN (on camera): A whirlwind wedding, 45 minutes. They got married, gave a speech, and in a New York minute, they were gone, the 3,327th same-sex couple to say "I do." Rusty Dornin, CNN, San Francisco.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BROWN: Still to come on an expanded edition of NEWSNIGHT, a spy scandal at the U.N. And up next, a small Haitian town caught in the middle between the rebels and the capital city the rebels aim to capture. Around the world, this is NEWSNIGHT.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN: That ear-piercing story's big in my house.

Intelligence, otherwise known as information gathered through spying, has been in the news a lot lately, especially because of the lead-up to the war with Iraq, many of the stories concerning how President Bush and Prime Minister Blair used intelligence to make their case for war. Well, tonight Mr. Blair is facing a new crisis over intelligence and it could spread over here. A former cabinet minister delivered an explosive charge in an interview with the BBC, saying that Britain had been spying on Kofi Annan, the U.N. secretary general, for years, a charge Mr. Blair has so far refused to either confirm or deny. As you might imagine, this accusation has set off quite a storm.

From the U.N. tonight, CNN's Richard Roth.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RICHARD ROTH, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The U.N. is outraged Secretary General Kofi Annan may have had company on the line while trying to prevent the war with Iraq.

FRED ECKHARD, U.N. SPOKESMAN: We want this action to stop, if, indeed, it has been carried out.

ROTH: A former British government minister, Claire Short, said Annan was bugged by British intelligence, and she even read the transcripts.

TONY BLAIR, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: The fact that those allegations were made I think is deeply irresponsible.

ROTH: The visiting president of Georgia poked fun of the bugging report.

MIKHAIL SAAKASHVILI, PRESIDENT, GEORGIA: I was quite surprised. I didn't know anything about it. But my first reaction was that I feel very protected in your presence.

(LAUGHTER)

ROTH: The U.N. was not laughing, calling any bugging illegal under several world treaties protecting the U.N.. The secretary general's office and other parts of the building are swept for listening devices, but the effort will now be intensified. U.N. security was conducting a sweep of the Security Council with Blass (ph), but his nose was not sniffing for bugs but bombs.

(on camera): Here, inside the United Nations Security Council, countries confront each other face to face. There is a long history, though, of espionage here, with nations using so-called "intelligence experts" posing as diplomats. But spying on the U.N. secretary general by permanent members of this council, if true -- well, that's causing quite a stir.

SERGEY LAVROV, RUSSIAN AMBASSADOR TO U.N.: I think it is illegal, but this shows that the British intelligence services, at least technically, are very professional, I assume.

JOHN NEGROPONTE, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO U.N.: I am not going to comment, OK? You want to try again?

MIHNEA IOAN MOTOC, ROMANIAN AMBASSADOR TO U.N.: We don't have hidden agenda. We don't have hidden thoughts. So...

ROTH (on-camera): How about hidden microphones?

MOTOC: So it doesn't matter.

ROTH (voice-over): The British ambassador called Kofi Annan, but that conversation -- at least for now -- is being kept secret. Richard Roth, CNN, United Nations.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BROWN: On to Haiti. Caribbean nations today urged the U.N. to deploy a multi-national force to restore order to the country under siege. Police in Haiti say the rebels have now captured the country's third largest city. The insurgents now control half the country and claim to have surrounded the capital of Port-au-Prince. The U.S. Coast Guard says it has intercepted more than 500 Haitian nationals attempting to flee the chaos. Many more, of course, are staying put. They've no other choice.

Here's CNN's Lucia Newman.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

NEWMAN (voice-over): The port city of St. Marc, the last major town between rebel-controlled territory and the capital, the place the insurgents say they'll attack next. On the main road towards the north, a barricade.

(on camera): The locals have brought this container from the nearby port and put two trucks at the very entrance to the town as a kind of a dam to keep the rebels from pouring in.

(voice-over): Since vehicles can't get through, the only way people can get their produce from one side of the country to the other is to carry it, going around the ravine. The police keep a nervous eye on things, but they're no match for the insurgents. In many towns, they've run away before the rebels arrive.

At the hospital, though, Dr. Albert Tshiula is holding his ground. The representative of the Belgian-based organization Doctors Without Borders is working to guarantee that the hospital, which services 250,000 people in the area, will be ready to meet any emergency. Staff consists only of a Cuban obstetrician, two surgeons, including himself, and six local doctors and nurses.

"The people are scared," he says, "but at least we can say that the hospital is guaranteeing the security of the population." Not so simple in this country where armed gangs on both sides of the conflict regularly raid hospitals to finish off their injured opponents.

For now, it's a waiting game for everyone to see what arrives first, the armed rebels or a peaceful solution to Haiti's spiraling conflict.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

And back here in Port-au-Prince, Aaron, hundreds if not thousands of foreign nationals are trying to leave this country for fear that there'll be a total breakdown of law and order, but they're finding it very difficult. Today American Airlines announced that it was suspending its five flights to and fro from Haiti until March the 3rd because its staff was finding it impossible or very difficult to make it to the airport because of all the turmoil on the streets here, Aaron.

BROWN: So is that the only way out for Americans, or are there other ways out?

NEWMAN: It's the most simple way. There are -- there is the possibility of going by -- by ship, but of course, cruise ships aren't coming by here, either. And in fact, many countries are sending in military aircraft to take their countries out. Brazil has done it. Mexico's done it. Canada, as well, and the Dominican Republic. Perhaps the United States might have to consider that, as well, Aaron.

BROWN: Lucia, be safe. Lucia Newman in Port-au-Prince tonight.

A few more items now from around the world. The government today lifted the ban on travel to Libya. It had been in force for nearly two decades -- more than two decades, actually, 23 years, I think. The change finally came when Libya opened its nuclear program to the world and once again officially took responsibility for the downing of Pan Am flight 103.

United States and North Korea appear somewhat closer to ending their 19-month standoff over nuclear matters. Six-way talks in Beijing today produced an offer from North Korea to freeze its nuclear program and a counter-offer from South Korea, China and Russia to offer energy assistance in exchange. Secretary of State Powell says the results so far are positive. Late tonight, the talks were extended another day, a good sign that.

Ahead on the program, the battle over decency and the latest casualty in the decency war, Howard Stern. My goodness. This is NEWSNIGHT.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN: Hang on. We have breaking news to report. Howard Stern, the radio guy, is raunchy. You knew that? Apparently, the head of the company that owns the most radio stations in the country did not know that. He was shocked to learn the shock jock was shocking. He was equally shocked -- I love this -- that a guy using the name Bubba the Love Sponge was raunchy. Really. He was shocked by this. This may be the best argument yet that too many stations owned by one company is a bad thing because, clearly, these people don't know what their stations are running. Ah, but they do now. Apparently, Janet Jackson told them when her costume malfunctioned.

Here's CNN's Adaora Udoji.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ADAORA UDOJI, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Howard Stern built a syndicated radio dynasty on racy talk.

HOWARD STERN, RADIO PERSONALITY: I would love to see you with your top off.

UDOJI: His fans love him for it. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Howard! Howard! Howard!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Howard! Howard! Howard!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Howard! Howard! Howard!

UDOJI: But federal regulators have fined him for it to the tune of nearly $2 million the past 10 years. Now one radio group, Clear Channel, has suspended him from six stations, citing a new decency policy.

The company says Tuesday's discussion about the sex tape of socialite/fashionista Paris Hilton went too far, with Stern graphically asking her co-star, Rick Solomon, for details.

(on camera): Then a caller, using the "N" word and other crude terms, asked Solomon if he'd ever had sex with an African-American celebrity.

(voice-over): On Capitol Hill with other broadcast executives, Clear Channel's president said, Enough.

JOHN HOGAN, PRESIDENT & CEO, CLEAR CHANNEL COMMUNICATIONS: ... Howard Sterns of the world are the exception, rather than the rule, and that they will no longer have a platform on our stations.

UDOJI: Cleaning house of shock jocks, the company also fired Todd Clem, AKA Bubba the Love Sponge. Stern's syndicator, Infinity Broadcasting, had no comment on Stern's suspension. But Stern, who is still on the air in dozens of markets, called the suspension, among other things, silly.

STERN: I'm going to be the sacrificial lamb. Sad day. Really is. I got to take my punishment. I don't even know what the hell happened on the show Tuesday that hasn't happened for 20 years.

UDOJI: In a surprising twist, he has a supporter in the conservative fellow talk show host Rush Limbaugh, who says he hasn't even heard the show.

RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: I'm in the free speech business here, my friends. I couldn't survive without it. And it is one thing for a company in business to determine whether or not they're going to be a party to it. It's quite another for a government.

UDOJI: Many are asking how far does this go. Will the fall-out from the Super Bowl antics of Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake mean permanent changes?

HOWARD KURTZ, TV CRITIC, "THE WASHINGTON POST": If Congress and the FCC were really to get serious about cracking down on all the indecency in all the different forms on television and radio, a lot of corporate profits would be threatened.

UDOJI: Stern makes money and few expect the latest censure to mark his end. Adaora Udoji, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BROWN: From that to Disney. Disney now, and the trials of CEO Michael Eisner. He has in the space of just a few months presided over a nasty boardroom shakeup, a split with Disney partner Pixar, and most recently, word that the country's largest pension fund out in California will cast a vote of no confidence in Mr. Eisner at Disney's annual board meeting next week in Philadelphia.

We're joined tonight from Los Angeles by Kim Masters, who's the author of "Keys to the Kingdom: The Rise of Michael Eisner and the Fall of Everybody Else." A wonderful title that. Pleased to have her with us.

Just a kind of overview question before we get to this. If we were talking about the head of MGM or the head of Universal, well, would we be talking about it? Would anyone care very much?

KIM MASTERS, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO: No, I don't think so. I think Disney has a unique place in the -- American and even the global psyche. And I think Michael Eisner's probably one of the most famous chief executives in any country -- company. So you know, with all those mouse ears and everybody who grew up watching "The Mickey Mouse Club," people have an emotional response to Disney that I don't think they have to any other company.

BROWN: What's he done wrong?

MASTERS: Boy, if you ask Roy Disney, the question would be, What hasn't he done wrong? The complaints against Disney are many, that -- that they have failed to revitalize the ABC network, that they have lost their preeminence in animation, that they have lost lots and lots of top executives who have streamed out the door, that they, you know, do a lot of penny-wise and pound-foolish decision making that eventually hurts the brand of the Walt Disney Company, which is, of course, hugely valuable.

BROWN: The -- is this anything that a really great summer at the theme parks or a couple of "Lion Kings" can't solve for Mr. Eisner, or has it all gone too far, in some respects?

MASTERS: Well, you know, this -- I mean, a couple of "Lion Kings" are big, don't get me wrong. But after the California, the largest pension -- public pension fund in the U.S., in California, came out against him yesterday, today they were piling on in New York and New Jersey and Connecticut and Massachusetts. They're all voting no. Two major shareholder advisory groups have urged a no vote. Different groups have different issues with different board members, but they're united in their opposition to Michael Eisner. And I think that's a pretty -- it's getting very tough out there for him.

BROWN: So as my kid would say, is he toast?

MASTERS: You know, he's one of the most capable in-fighters, one of the great survivors. He's been there for 20 years. But I think I'm almost ready to call it. I think that it would take something of a miracle for him to get back, at this point. It's going to be -- I don't think he'll necessarily go out gracefully, but I don't see how a board can stare down these huge institutions that are against him and say, You know what? We like him and we're keeping him.

BROWN: And then there's the whole -- we haven't even touched on the whole Comcast thing and its attempt to swoop in and buy up the company.

MASTERS: Right.

BROWN: Is that dead dead, or is that...

MASTERS: Oh, no!

BROWN: ... dead waiting to be revived?

MASTERS: That's not -- it's not dead. It's not dead. I think there was a sort of a sequence of events here, where Roy Disney was thrown off the board and started this fight against Michael Eisner. The relationship with Pixar fell apart, which I always felt would be absolutely fatal because they are the company that made "Finding Nemo" and "Toy Story" and just a huge number of hits. And finally, in comes Comcast, and I think that Comcast feels that the ground has been softened. And I think that all of this turmoil plays right into their hands, and they are going to jump up and say, We're the answer. And I don't think it's going to be an easy road for them, but I can tell you, I'd be shocked if they've really gone away.

BROWN: Is this all the buzz in Los Angeles right now? I mean, if you go into the -- into the Hollywood coffee shops and the -- where -- where the business hangs out, is this what they're talking about?

MASTERS: Yes, this has sort of stolen some of the Mel Gibson thunder. And the thing that came out in the last couple of days, there was some correspondence between...

BROWN: Yes.

MASTERS: ... Michael Eisner and Michael Ovitz. And I have to tell you, one of the town's moguls called me today and said he was deriving such extreme pleasure from reading this letter and these e- mails that he almost felt guilty. So yes, the town, I'm sorry to say, is having a lot of Schadenfreude right now for watching all of this.

BROWN: Well, thanks for being with us. If you'd called me before you wrote the book, I would have told you how I once spilled cream cheese on his shoe. But that's another story and another matter.

MASTERS: He's not known for sartorial splendor, so probably, it wasn't that noticeable.

BROWN: Well, it was to me! He was my boss. Thank you very much.

MASTERS: Oh, well! OK.

BROWN: Kim Masters in Los Angeles.

Before we go to break, a few more business items, starting at supermarkets in California, all the big ones. Grocery clerks and three supermarket chains reached agreement tonight on a tentative contract. The deal, if it goes through, would bring an end to a long and bitter strike. Five months this has been going on, 70,000 workers have been laid off in a battle that was essentially about the cost of health insurance.

Software next, the Justice Department today filing suit to block Oracle and its hostile bid for Peoplesoft. Seven states have joined the fray. The lawsuit contends that the combination of these two companies would stifle competition in the software market.

Firestone voluntarily recalling nearly half a million tires, some of which have been linked to 14 SUV crashed and 5 fatalities. The tires in question were made for Ford Excursions sold as 2000 to 2003 models. Check your tires.

The markets today were mixed, experts taking consolation that the NASDAQ is holding steady above the 2,000 mark, if only barely.

Coming up on NEWSNIGHT, athletes behaving badly. That could be a nightly segment. The case of a superstar NFL running back in court when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN: In our 4:00 o'clock meeting this afternoon, which, in truth, has never once started at 4:00 o'clock -- someone called this hour "athletes behaving badly segment." In fairness, athletes allegedly behaving badly. The allegations, drug dealing, target a star NFL running back, who was in court today to answer the charges.

Here's CNN's Josie Burke.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOSIE BURKE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This was Jamal Lewis in December, finishing the season that saw the Baltimore Ravens running back rush for more than 2,000 yards and earn Offensive Player of the Year honors. This was Lewis on Thursday, walking into an Atlanta courtroom to face federal drug charges of conspiring to possess with intent to distribute cocaine. Lewis pled not guilty and was released after posting bond.

JAMAL LEWIS, BALTIMORE RAVENS RUNNING BACK: It's extremely important to me that my family, my friends, my fans and the Ravens organization know that I am innocent, and I thank everyone for their continued support.

BURKE: Prosecutors allege that more than three years ago, before his first NFL season, Lewis and a friend met with a woman who happened to be a police informant at this Atlanta restaurant to discuss a drug transaction. Lewis's attorney says his client was framed.

ED GARLAND, LEWIS'S ATTORNEY: She was someone that came along trying to set him up to get herself out of jail. Her story will be quite interesting and will come out in the future.

BURKE: The ravens issued a statement. It reads, "There are two sides to every story. From what we know of the charges, these seem out of character for the Jamal we know."

But Lewis has not been entirely problem-free in Baltimore. In 2001, he was suspending after violating the league's substance and alcohol abuse policy for the second time. The league did not offer details of the violation, in accordance with its confidentiality policy. Then Lewis's penalty was four missed game checks. If convicted of felony drug charges, he faces 10 years to life in prison. Josie Burke, CNN.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BROWN: Couple of other bits and pieces to do with sport and scandal, starting with Baylor University's report on improprieties in its basketball program. The investigation concluded that coach Dave Bliss failed to report players who flunked drug tests and paid a number of players' tuitions, including Patrick Dennehy. Mr. Dennehy, you may recall, was murdered this past summer allegedly by another player. The report goes to the NCAA next week.

And in Chicago tonight, a little blast of the past -- literally. Cubs fans gathered in a restaurant there to celebrate the destruction of "the ball." You may recall that last fall the Cubbies were five outs away from making it to the World Series, first -- there it goes -- first time in nearly 60 years when a fan interfered with a sure out. Well, it's always a sure out now. And of course, they went on to lose. Tonight, using a combination of heat pressure and explosives, the ball, as you can see, was destroyed, which the ever-suffering Chicago Cubs fans hope ends their long World Series drought. Greg Mattox (ph) may help.

As NEWSNIGHT continues, we'll return to the topic we touched on last night, a controversial plan to prevent certain kinds of lawsuits against gun manufacturers and gun sellers. We'll talk with the sponsor of that bill, Senator Larry Craig of Idaho, after the break. This is NEWSNIGHT from New York.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN: In the Senate, opponents of a liability shield for gun manufacturers and dealers are essentially scrambling now to cut their losses. The bill has far more than enough votes to pass. The fight now has shifted to several amendments, including one to reauthorize and expand the ban on assault weapons. Democratic sources said today that Senator John Kerry will return to Washington on Super Tuesday so he can vote on those amendments, just one measure of what's riding on the bill.

Senator Larry Craig of Idaho is one of the bill's sponsors, and we talked with him yesterday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

Why should any industry, any one particular industry, be protected in this way?

SEN. LARRY CRAIG (R), IDAHO: Well, Aaron, you know, I would say no industry should be, if we haven't seen -- if we had not seen the gaming of the courts over the last good number of years. We've had lawsuit after lawsuit filed which are basically frivolous or junk against law-abiding manufacturers who produce a legitimate legal product into the market. Some third party misuses that product, whether it be the gun or the automobile or the baseball bat, and somebody wants to file a suit, saying, Well, gee, the manufacturer was responsible for that. Those suits are costing industries in this country hundreds of millions of dollars. They're also costing us jobs at this moment. Clearly, the gun industry has lost nearly 2,000 jobs over the last 10 years because these kinds of lawsuits cost a lot and they're draining them of their money.

BROWN: Isn't this precisely the argument that the tobacco industry used for years, that they manufactured a legal product and they should not be -- and they went to court and repeatedly won lawsuits that I'm sure they described as frivolous also. But over time, we began to learn some things about the tobacco industry that suggested maybe those suits weren't so frivolous at all.

CRAIG: Well, Aaron, that's -- that is -- that's an interesting argument, and what we found out about the tobacco industry is that they were gaming the tobacco. In essence, they were making them more laden with tar and nicotines than originally thought. We don't see that going on in the gun industry. A legitimate firearm is manufactured. It's sold into the market. We're not talking about product liability at all. We're not talking about the malfunctioning of a firearm. We're not going to protect the firearm industry from a bad product or mishandling it or legal -- or criminal conduct.

What we're talking about is taking to the courtroom a law where the judge can look at the filing of these suits and say, No, this one is the third-party suit that goes through to a law-abiding manufacturer, and the evidence simply is not there to suggest they acted illegally, so therefore, this suit cannot be brought.

Clearly, if there is negligence, if there is damage from that kind of negligence, a felonious act, a criminal act, then lawsuits go forward, and I would not think of blocking or saving the industry from that.

BROWN: Two other questions. I think the harshest criticism goes something like this. The industry has a lot of political clout. The industry makes a lot of campaign contributions. The industry is, in many respects, feared. And so people -- politicians just cave to whatever the industry wants, and the industry wants this badly.

CRAIG: Well, that's always an argument placed. I think I heard one senator on the floor today talking about special interests, special interests. I believe that millions of law-abiding American citizens with guns, I believe that people who legitimately manufacture a product in our market legally and safely ought to have some protection, if they're not acting illegally. And you have, if you will, the trial bar gaming the system.

But here is the reality of the gun manufacturing community. Put them all together and they together would not have enough gross assets to equal a Fortune 500 company. They are relatively small, many of them with only 200 or 300 employees, high-paying union jobs. And so we're not talking about a powerful, monolithic industry here. What we're talking about is firearm enshrined within our Constitution and a legitimate right, but more importantly, a misuse of our court system by the trial bar.

BROWN: Is there any doubt in your mind this will pass?

CRAIG: Oh, I do believe it will pass. There are going to be a variety of amendments that we'll be working on, some that would damage the value of it if they were to succeed and stay on and make it to the president's desk. But we think we can get a clean bill to the president.

BROWN: Senator, we appreciate your point of view on this. It's a controversial issue, and I'm sure over the next week, we'll revisit it again. Good to talk to you.

CRAIG: Thank you very much.

BROWN: Thank you, sir, very much.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

Quickly change clothes. No. We talked to the senator yesterday.

Ahead on NEWSNIGHT, remembering an injustice. We go back to a small Alabama town taking small steps but important ones to correct the past. From New York, this is NEWSNIGHT.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN: In Scottsboro, Alabama, some 200 people turned out in the rain recently to see a small marker unveiled. It sits near a sidewalk that leads to a courthouse, and it's meant to recall one of the darkest moments in the city's history, a miscarriage of justice that put Scottsboro on the map for all the wrong reasons.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

(voice-over): The trains roll through this small Alabama town carrying freight to the more important places.

DAN CARTER, HISTORY PROFESSOR, UNIVERSITY OF SOUTH CAROLINA: The town was typical of many small up-country communities in the rural South at the time -- very friendly, at least until you started talking about the Scottsboro case. BROWN: History professor Dan Carter is back for the first time since 1965. Then he was taking notes for a book on the "Scottsboro boys" case. In 1931, a long time ago, a sheriff's posse pulled nine black hoboes off a passing train and accused them of raping two white women. They were taken to the Scottsboro courthouse for trial, the National Guard called in to control the crowd.

CARTER: For the Scottsboro defendants, these young men, one of whom was 13, one who was barely 14, it must have been terrifying to walk through a gauntlet of soldiers, past a machine gun, having barely escaped lynching the night of the incident.

BROWN: Almost certainly innocent but quickly convicted, the so- called Scottsboro boys spent years, in some cases more than a decade, in prison, much of it on death row. Appeals of their cases resulted in Supreme Court decisions that mandated that even the poorest of defendants must have a competent lawyer and ended segregated juries. In the end, none was executed and the last surviving Scottsboro boy was pardoned in 1976.

On this rainy Sunday, a new historical marker will join those that already crowd the town square. In the courthouse where the judge's bench from 1931 is still in daily use, the songs and the words are uplifting.

ANN BARBEE CHAMBLESS, JACKSON COUNTY HISTORICAL ASSOCIATION: In 2004, we cannot change the course of human events which began on March the 25th, 1931. But we can unite to heal long-standing wounds.

REV. R.L. SHANKLIN, ALABAMA NAACP: I wore this tie today to show you how, when you bring colors together, how beautiful they are, and how beautiful is this room here today. Just as my tie, it's got every color in it. And we have all colors here.

BROWN: A tattered book hidden by her parents inspired Sheila Washington to start the struggle that led to this moment. She has but one regret.

SHEILA WASHINGTON, COMMUNITY ACTIVIST: I wish that one of the boys could have been left here to see this moment, that Scottsboro has recognized this day and that justice has served its place.

BROWN: The unveiling was a picture of racial harmony. Reality, as usual, is more complex.

CARTER: Still, everybody walks in eggs just a little bit. It's like black and white are coming closer together, but there is still a space in between. Black residents of Scottsboro that I talked to see this as something that is a deep, dark reminder of what can go wrong. And whites see it as something that we need to learn from and then to move on. But the emphasis is on the move on part of it. And in that sense, it's still two slightly different Americas, two slightly different Souths.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BROWN: Scottsboro, Alabama.

Morning papers are next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN: Okeydokey, time to check morning papers -- I don't know why I did it that way -- from around the country and around the world. Put those over there.

I just love this headline. I don't think we've ever started with "The Dallas Morning News," but this is a very good headline up in the corner her, "From Janet's affront to Howard's end." That's how they did the Howard Stern Clear Channel story today. "Nervous after Super Bowl flash dance, industry sends Stern message." They were so surprised by that? I'm amazed. They also put the sports story, "Baylor reveals violations," on the front page of "The Dallas Morning News." Good paper.

"South Florida Sun Sentinel" in Ft. Lauderdale -- I was there over the weekend. That's a good town, too. This is a natural lead for them, "Turmoil in Haiti, 546 held at sea as crisis deepens." They also put the Howard Stern story on the front page, "Stern fans stir up waves of protest, Clear Channel's shock jock's ardent crowd," or something like that.

I think Clear Channel is based in San Antonio, so I'm a little surprised "The San Antonio Express News" didn't play this a little harder -- "Clear Channel muzzles shock jocks." Anyway, they didn't. But down here is a pretty good front page story. It's an AP story, I believe. "Smith & Wesson chief knew guns too well, parent company's chairman was tossed in prison for robbery in the '50s and '60s." Don't you hate when that comes out in the newspaper?

"The Boston Herald" -- this is a good headline, too, Rosie O'Donnell and her new spouse, "Sealed with a kiss," is the headline in "The Boston Herald." And up top, "Foes slam church abuse report." The Boston archdiocese came out a report (UNINTELLIGIBLE) 7 percent of its priests over a period of time were accused of abuse. A big report comes out tomorrow.

How much time, Terry (ph)? Twenty seconds? OK.

We'll end it with "The Chicago Sun-Times" for a change. Someone asked me recently why we do this. I have no explanation other than it amuses me. "House bill ignites abortion debate, proposed federal law would treat attacks on a pregnant woman as a separate crime against her and her fetus she is carrying." That is a mouthful. They also put the baseball on the front page. And the weather tomorrow -- speaking of the baseball -- is "dynamite" in Chicago.

We'll wrap up the day after the break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN: Before we leave you, a quick recap of our top story. A debate tonight at USC in Los Angeles, four candidates, two headliners, one front-runner. The consensus, it seems, this is a placid affair, Senator Edwards and Kerry remaining firmly in character, Kerry looking ahead to November, John Edwards seen by some as pulling his punches and maybe taking a trip to the No. 2 spot on the ticket.

Tomorrow on the program: Perhaps the most unlikely NBA coach who's ever won a game -- and another game, and a few more to boot -- one loss the other night, but until them, a 13-game winning streak. This is a great story. Lawrence Frank (ph), a true non-player, perpetual assistant, interim coach and now, at about five-foot eight- and-a-half, a big big-time winner.

Before we go for the night, Bill Hemmer and "AMERICAN MORNING."

BILL HEMMER, CO-HOST: Aaron, thank you. Tomorrow morning here on AMERICAN MORNING, a unique perspective on Iraq. Home from the war, through the eyes of a general. Major General David Petraeus, 101st Airborne Division, on the war and the homecoming and whether or not his own division will have to go back to combat sooner than first expected. You'll hear from him tomorrow morning, 7:00 AM Eastern here on AMERICAN MORNING -- Aaron.

BROWN: We'll see you tomorrow. Good night for all of us.

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