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Bush, Cheney Meet With 9/11 Commission; Interview With Wesley Clark

Aired April 29, 2004 - 20:00   ET


PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening, and thanks so much for joining us tonight, I'm Paula Zahn. An extraordinary meeting at the White House takes center stage tonight as the president and vice president are questioned about the 9/11 attacks.

ZAHN (voice-over): The 9/11 commission finally gets it's day with the president.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If we had something to hide we wouldn't have met with them in the first place.

ZAHN: No tapes and no one under oath. Will today's session alongside the Vice President provide answers or just more questions.

He fought on the battlefield and the campaign trail. General Wesley Clark gives me his views of the war in Iraq and the race for the White House.

Looking for a running mate in all the wrong places? John Kerry considers his choices, but why do they seem like the same old faces?

What can the Marines learn from a NASCAR pit crew? A lesson in speed where losing isn't an option.


ZAHN: Also ahead, the jury comes to at least some conclusions in the trial of former NBA star Jayson Williams. And something we haven't seen at the Kentucky Derby before. First, the headlines you need to know right now at this hour.

At least 10 U.S. troops killed today in Iraq, bringing April's death toll to 126. The military is studying an offer from former Iraqi generals to build an Iraqi security force that would move into Fallujah, allowing U.S. marines to pull back. In a few minutes we'll look at an in-depth proposal regarding that.

There were 190 acts of international terrorism in the year 2003. A State Department report notes that is the lowest number since 1969. But the State Department is also issuing a new terrorism alert warning al Qaeda is still planning deadly attacks against Americans at home and abroad. Google, the Internet search engine company, is now going public. Today it registered for a $2.7 billion initial public offering of stock.

Back to that critical 9/11 testimony today, the President's testimony before that commission is in focus tonight. Mr. Bush and Vice President Cheney spent three hours and ten minutes in the oval office with the commission. Senior White House correspondent John King joins us now and fills us in with some of the details. Good evening, John.

JOHN KING, CNN SR. WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Good evening to you, Paula. A remarkable day here at the White House. We should remember of course, this president at first opposed the creation of the 9/11 commission. Then this White House said the President had no plans to testify or to take questions in any format. But today the President emerged from the Oval Office, as you noted, three hours and ten minutes of questioning. The president stressed cooperation and he appeared to be in high spirits.

We do know some of the key points discussed during the question and answer session. For one, we know there was a detailed discussion of the administration's assessment of the al Qaeda threat pre-9/11. Also discussion of that August 2001 intelligence warning al Qaeda was planning to strike in the United States, possibly even with hijackings. And a discussion, and we're told the President was emotional at this point, about Richard Clarke's testimony to the 9/11 commission the president all but ignored the terrorist threat. Aides tell us the president said flatly that was not true. And there was discussion how the President and Vice President directed the government's response on that fateful day. Remember the president in Florida, Vice President Cheney here at White House. Again, the President initially opposed creating this commission. But today when he walked out of the Oval Office he said he was glad he did it, meaning answering the questions, and proud to have the vice president by his side.


BUSH: If we had something to hide, we wouldn't have met with them in the first place. We answered all their questions. I think--I came away good about the session. Because I wanted them to know how I set strategy, how we run the White House, how we deal with threats.


KING: the president full of praise for the commission saying it asked good questions. A very cordial setting. The commission returned the favor and the politeness, Paula, saying the President and Vice President were forthright and candid and very helpful.

ZAHN: John King, thanks so much for the update from the White House tonight. Now we move back to the issue of Iraq. More that that possible solution to end the standoff in the Iraqi city of Fallujah. American air strikes continued there today. But a U.S. military official on the ground says some former Iraqi army generals are offering to oversee a force of Iraqis who would patrol the city.

Joining us now to talk about this is CNN analyst Kenneth Pollack of the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution. Always good to see you, Ken, welcome.


ZAHN: So what do you think the chances are that an Iraqi security force would have any greater luck in getting these insurgents to turn over weapons to any authority?

POLLACK: I've got to be honest with you, Paula. I think the agreement is potentially helpful to the United States in the sense of: we had a real catch-22 in the city of Fallujah. We didn't want to go in and raze the city, clear it block by block. On the other hand we didn't want to just walk away and hand the insurgents a huge psychological victory. But this agreement we're seeing is potentially very problematic. You're talking about sending 1,000 Iraqis, unclear exactly where they're going to come from. They might be new security forces personnel who have shown that they're not very good in battle, not able to stand up to the insurgents. Or they might be old Iraqi military personnel who also demonstrated that they are not particularly good in combat. And they're going to go into a city of 250-300,000 people who really don't care for the United States, plus maybe another 1,500 or as many as 3,000 hardcore insurgents who are not disarmed. And it's unclear whether they'll be able to disarm those people, let alone arrest them.

ZAHN: So why would this even be considered given all the vulnerabilities you're talking about? They certainly haven't proven themselves to be very effective in other parts of Iraq.

POLLACK: The honest answer, I think, Paula, is that I think the United States now--the government here, people in Baghdad, recognize that moving into Fallujah in a purely military fashion, when we did, was a major mistake. And we got ourselves into a situation where we were going to be damned if we did, damned if we didn't. They were looking for a way out. And this came up as a good face-saving way out. But i think we need to recognize that is potentially the best that we're going to get and this came up as a perfectly good, face-saving way out. But I think we need to recognize that that is potentially the best we're going to get, and in particular, even if we can make it work in the short-term, if we can overcome the problems that I just mentioned, we're not going to have dealt with the longer-term problem of Fallujah.

ZAHN: So then what do you do about that?

POLLACK: This is the big issue out there. We left Fallujah for 12 months. This is a problem that should have been addressed 12 months ago. We knew this was a city with a lot of people who supported Saddam Hussein. A heavily tribal city. A heavily Islamic fundamentalist city. We needed to approach it from a political and military dimension. We need to start reaching out to Sunni tribal sheiks, bring them to our side, convince the Sunni population that reconstruction is going to be beneficial to them and they are not going to be oppressed the way that they oppressed the Shia for the last 80 years. Unfortunately the way we've conducted ourselves in Iraq so far has convinced the Sunni population of exactly the opposite. And that's why we have the problem we do in Fallujah right now.

ZAHN: Let me get back to something you said earlier. You said in the short-term, maybe this Iraqi security structure might work. Certainly not in the long-term. If it doesn't, though, work in the short-term, doesn't that increase the chances of a full-on military assault by coalition forces and what would be the consequences of that?

POLLACK: Absolutely.

This is the problem, Paula. If those security forces go into Fallujah, they're not able to cope with the situation, they either go over to the rebels or simply fall apart. Or worse still, they get into a fight with insurgents and are not able to hold their own ground. You're going to see American forces called in immediately, it's going to be a very ugly situation, they may have to shoot their way in to rescue the Iraqis. Once again, you could see very significant numbers of Iraqi civilian casualties. Because this will be a fight in such a way that it will not be terribly favorable to the U.S. forces being called in to react to a deteriorating situation.

ZAHN: Ken Pollack, we're going to leave it there tonight, thank you for your expertise. Appreciate you joining us.

POLLACK: Thank you, Paula.

ZAHN: Well we want for solutions to the standoffs in Fallujah and Najaf, it's interesting to note that Iraqis seem remarkably optimistic about their future, that according to a CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll done before the most recent flare-up of violence. That survey found that 63 percent of Iraqis said their country would be better off five years from now. Ten percent said they expect Iraq to be worse. Seven percent say it'll be about the same. Let's take into more of the poll results with Time reporter and Iraqi journalist Hassan Fatah who joins us now from Dubai. And we're going to straighten out his chair. We get to watch that all on camera. Hassan, great to see you, thanks for joining us tonight.

Apparently Hassan can't hear us yet. Let me see if we can establish contact with him, this is the miracle of live television. Hassan, can you hear us?

HASSAN FATAH, IRAQI JOURNALIST: I'm sorry. I can't hear.

ZAHN: Obviously we're having difficulty bringing the shot out of Dubai for you. We're going to take a break and try to return to those very important poll results because some of them are highly contradictory and tell us a lot about what Iraqis face down the road.

Meanwhile the battle of Fallujah is more than a battle over a city. What does it say about the success or failure of U.S. policy? See, now you're looking at some of the Democratic candidates whose names were in the ring for the presidency. How many of them might end up on John Kerry's list for running mate? We'll be right back.


ZAHN: Back now with the fight for Fallujah. For two bloody weeks, the clash between American forces and Iraqi insurgents has made April the deadliest month for U.S. forces since the war began. The Fallujah offensive also raises questions about the policies being used to bring Iraq and its cities under the control of Iraqis. We get two different points of view tonight. First from former NATO Supreme Commander and Democratic presidential candidate, General Wesley Clark, in Washington. Welcome, General.


ZAHN: So what do you think the answer is here? More troops on the ground in Iraq?

CLARK: Well, more troops in Fallujah if we're going to have to assault it. I think it's clear there aren't enough troops there in the marine force around the city to really do the job. I think when that assault goes down, it's got to go down very quickly. We don't want it dragging on over a number of days. So I'd like to see more troops there. My guess that is we do need more troops on the whole in Iraq. I don't know why General Abizaid hasn't asked for it but I do know that the Army's stretched very, very thin, as is the Marine Corps. But the simple fact is there are not enough troops.

ZAHN: And what kind of numbers are you talking about would need to be added?

CLARK: Perhaps another division or more. You're talking several--20,000 maybe more, in terms of having enough troops to secure the borders, really control the main supply routes, and then have a reserve that deals with situations like Fallujah. Sending those forces is a sign of strategic resolve if anyone should doubt American will. But using the forces puts the Americans in the dilemma that Ken Pollack was talking about, between if you use the force you have to use it quickly. But then if you cause civilian casualties then you lose political support. So it's a real balancing act here.

ZAHN: Well, let me ask you this: Do you share his concerns that by June 30, you could very well have an Iraqi civil defense force that's not capable of defending Iraqi citizens?

CLARK: I think it's unlikely that the force will be capable of defending Iraqi citizens. That's why the United States and the other coalition partners will have to stay. What's critical is that the United States work with the United Nations and with the interim Iraqi government that's appointed and define precisely what it is that the Iraqis and U.N. will want the American forces to do. Because our forces have to have a basis of legitimacy to maintain the popular support of the Iraqi people to stay there. We're only going to be effective in there if the majority of Iraqis want us there. So we want to make sure we've got the Ts crossed and Is dotted before that time, Paula. And to the best of my knowledge, this is an area that hasn't begun to be worked yet.

ZAHN: Do you agree with people like Senator Levin who suggested today things would have turned out strikingly differently in Iraq if the military had been more involved in the post-war planning?

CLARK: I think the military was somewhat involved in the post- war planning to the best of my understanding, but I think that...

ZAHN: But a bigger role, would that have made a difference?

CLARK: A bigger role in planning, but also lots more forces. And not only military, but a full range of civilian agencies standing by to come in and really help the Iraqi people. It was about policing. It was about the court system. It was about justice. It was about handling weapons, storage areas. It was the whole range of issues that had to be looked at. The military leaders knew very well what these issues were because most of these guys had been in Bosnia, in Kosovo, they helped do those very things there. But for whatever reason, it didn't work its way up through the military planning and they weren't resourced with enough troops and enough civilian support to come in with sort of an overwhelming military and civilian presence to win the support and the immediate compliance of the Iraqi people. It was a major mistake.

ZAHN: Meanwhile, the man you ran against for the nomination, Senator Kerry, has been highly critical of President Bush's post-war plan. Realistically, though, could he be doing anything that much different that's what's being executed on the ground in Iraq right now?

CLARK: Well, I think John Kerry, had he been the president, would have done things much differently than President Bush and his team have done in Iraq. At this point I think John Kerry has the credibility, the leadership, the experience to really put forth a new and better policy for Iraq. Paula, we're not going to be able to succeed in Iraq unless we bring greater international support in. And that's important not only to help the United States stay there, but to help the Iraqi people accept the assistance we're willing to provide.

ZAHN: But isn't that what the Bush administration is doing right now, resting their hopes on Mr. Brahimi?

CLARK: No. Because I think what you have to create an organization that goes beyond Mr. Brahimi. You have to have international economic and political development support organization that's full of diplomats and experienced people from Europe and Asia and the Middle East and Africa, who can be on the ground in Iraq, not only in Baghdad, but out in the provinces, that are accepted by the Iraqi people, that are there to provide advice and military-not military but economic assistance. And to be able to help the Iraqi people as they finish the process of pulling the country back together. ZAHN: And a final question to you about just your general reaction to the ongoing war of words between both camps when it comes to the military records of John Kerry and the President.

CLARK: Well, John Kerry's served with distinction, with heroism, with honor, in Vietnam. And I'm very proud that he served that way. I'm very proud he's a fellow veteran and I really appreciate his service. I don't think there was any--there's no excuse for this having been brought up by the Republican Party as an issue against John Kerry. And we'd do much better to focus on the issues that the American people are interested in. But that having been said, John Kerry has every right to be proud of his record, and those who would denigrate that record, for the most part, are people who didn't serve and don't have any right to attack it.

ZAHN: And by that do you mean the President?

CLARK: Well, there are a lot of people.

ZAHN: The President's people?

CLARK: There's a whole crowd of people in the Republican Party who didn't serve during the war. John Kerry did. He's proud of it. But, Paula, that's 30 years ago. Let's move on. Let's talk about which party, which leadership, is going to do the best for America in the future. That's what this election should be about.

ZAHN: General Wesley Clark, thanks so much for your time tonight.

Now we're going to cross the political the aisle for another opinion, Republican Senator Jon Kyl, who is active in matters of defense and intelligence and is chairman of his party's policy committee. He joins us from Capital Hill. Welcome, Senator, it's good to see you.

SEN. JON KYL, (R), ARIZONA: Thank you, Paula.

ZAHN: First I want you to react to some of what General Clark told me. He said that it is his belief that you need more marines in Fallujah if there's going to be an offensive and perhaps another division in all of Iraq if you're going to make an effective turnover of power come June 30. Do you agree?

KYL: Well, I suspect General Clark didn't appreciate people second-guessing him when he was in charge. And I'm in no position to second-guess the generals who are there on the ground. We were just briefed two days ago by The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Myers, who reiterated for the umpteenth time that the commanders there have everything they've asked for, and anything they ask for they'll get. So I figure that they know what they need. They'll ask for it, they'll have it, and they'll have what we need to accomplish the mission.

ZAHN: I know you don't want to second-guess General Abizaid, but Mr. Clark made it pretty clear he was surprised that General Abizaid has not asked for more troop strength on the ground. Do you have any comment on that at all?

KYL: There are different opinions. But shouldn't we be focused on the overall policy and strategy here in Washington, and let the generals on the ground, the commanders on the ground, determine what they need tactically? For example: to take a city or to hold a city. It's just not productive for us to be speculating about that because we don't have all of the facts. And if you get the briefings as I did a couple of days ago, as I said, you're provided with an awful lot of information that frankly contradicts much of what you see on television these days by so-called experts and talking heads.

ZAHN: Give me an idea. Give me an example of where you think there's overt contradiction.

KYL: Well, for example, there's been a lot in the news about all of these ammunition dumps that aren't guarded and represent a real problem, so on. We were given very specific information about the number of dumps that have been found, the Iraqi caches of weapons. The way that they are destroyed, as soon as they are discovered-- virtually as soon--they are destroyed. There are some that are not, but they are held for later destruction. And they may not have a great deal of American security around them right now. But as was pointed out, these are the caches in which all that exists are like 1,000 pound bombs, not easily carried away in the back of an Iraqi pickup. So people that talk about all of this need to know what the facts are on the ground before speculating, is all I'm saying.

ZAHN: Let's move on to the sliver of hope that there seems to be out there that perhaps you can bring in 1,500 Iraqis. They're not sure exactly where they're coming from in Iraq-who can make up a security force that would allow American marines to move out of Fallujah. Do you have faith that could work?

KYL: Not yet. There again, you have to rely upon advice of the people on the ground. You've got a lot of pressure by the diplomats there, by Brahimi, for example, who was mentioned earlier, not to use force to take Fallujah, but to rely upon diplomacy. Well, we're trying that. And I guess we'll see whether it works. I don't have a great deal of hope in it. But if that's what the people on the ground think they need to do to try to balance between the potential destruction that could occur there, and the result they want to achieve, then I'm willing to let them make that decision.

ZAHN: And a thought from you, Senator, on some of what General Clark said at the end of the interview: his reflections on sparring we see between Republicans and Democrats over the President's war record and John Kerry's war record. He says that John Kerry has a right to be proud of his service to the nation. He doesn't think it's fair people who didn't serve in Vietnam or ever served militarily for the country should be sniping at him.

KYL: And I don't disagree at all with his characterization of John Kerry's record. But what disappoints me is that he would suggest that Republicans have criticized that record. I can't think of a single Republican that's criticized John Kerry's war record. In fact what you hear people say is that we are proud of his service and have nothing bad to say about it. The problem comes that is Senator Kerry had said so many different things about so many different issues. For example, "I didn't throw medals, I did throw medals," and that kind of thing. The question is what John Kerry has said and whether he can be consistent about anything. Nothing to derogate from the service he provided for this country. No Republican has attacked that at all. It's the words that come out of John Kerry's mouth that are the problem.

ZAHN: As you know, Senator Kerry would certainly question your conclusion there. They claim they've been fighting that around the clock for the last 48 hours, but...

KYL: And if they'd like to point to some Republican, especially like the President or Vice President, which is what was inferred here, that that person criticized John Kerry's war record, then I challenge them to do that, because I've not heard that from any Republican office holder.

ZAHN: Senator Kyl, thank you for your time tonight, appreciate you spending time with us.

KYL: Thank you.

ZAHN: Coming up. Former NBA star Jayson Williams sits and waits for a verdict. The jury says it has only reached a partial decision. We'll look at what may be hanging them up.

And NASCAR to the rescue. We'll show you how America's fastest- rising sport is helping the military save time and lives on the battlefield.

First though, remembering lives lost in the battlefield generations ago. The long-awaited World War II Memorial finally opens in Washington.



JUDGE EDWARD COLEMAN, NEW JERSEY SUPERIOR COURT: As far as the deliberations are concerned, I'm going to ask you to continue your deliberations and remind you that, as you know, it's your duty as jurors to consult with one another and deliberate with a view towards reaching agreement if you can do so without violence to your individual judgment.


ZAHN: The judge making his thoughts pretty clear there in a courtroom today in New Jersey. The jury in the Jayson Williams trial has reached verdicts on six of the eight charges the former NBA star faces. But we don't know what they are because the judge sent the jurors back to work on the other two counts. Williams is on trial in the shotgun death of a limo driver at his mansion two years ago. Joining us now to sort out what today's development means is attorney and sports analyst Rob Becker. Welcome Rob. ROB BECKER, ATTORNEY, SPORTS ANALYST: Thank you.

ZAHN: So take us back to February 14, the night of the alleged crime.

BECKER: Jayson-he was partying with friends. And he came back to his house to give a tour of his mansion to his friends and there was a limo driver in tow. Went to his bedroom. He took out a shotgun from a case that had four loaded weapons, he broke the shotgun open so that it was pointed downwards, then flicked it up, and at the moment that it flicked up it went off and killed the limo driver three feet away. So what does he do next? He wipes fingerprints off the gun, puts it in the hands of the dying man to make it look like suicide, gets rid of his clothes and tells all the guests to lie and say they were downstairs, the guy was upstairs and killed himself.

ZAHN: OK, this is your view of what happened, I mean, certainly jurors might not believe everything you're saying tonight. Let's look at the eight counts he's up against right now. Aggravated manslaughter. Reckless manslaughter. Possession of a weapon for an unlawful purpose. Aggravated assault.

BECKER: Those are the pre-shooting--the actual shooting counts.

ZAHN: OK, and then on to the four other charges which involve the cover-up issue. Hindering apprehension. I don't know whether anyone knows what that means. If you could, describe that to us.

BECKER: Stopping the cops from getting you.

ZAHN: Oh, that's hindering apprehension thank you. Tampering with a witness, tampering with evidence, and fabricating physical evidence. Which two of those charges do you think are holding up the jury?

BECKER: I think it's two from the last four. I think the evidence of cover-up is overwhelming. And if this jury is having trouble with two it must be from the four of the shooting charges. So which of the four shooting charges are at issue? The way to look at it is, manslaughter calls for recklessness. They must show Jayson thought there was a possibility someone would die. But the other three call for extreme indifference to human life. Which means they have to show Jayson thought it was probable someone would die if he did what he did. So if there's three and one, it can't be they're hung up over this mental element. So what is it? What are the two things? Well you find two charges that have something in common. That is, of all things, aggravated assault and possession of a gun. What do they have in common? They involve this idea that he pointed a gun at this guy, so does the jury thing going like this is pointing? Or maybe pointing is just going like this. And if they're hung up on that, that means he's probably guilty on everything else, including aggravated manslaughter, which is the worst charge.

ZAHN: But is there a possibility they won't reach a conclusion on these other two charges?

BECKER: Oh sure, it's possible.

ZAHN: A good possibility?

BECKER: I don't think it's that high. Because when you've been deliberating a case since February, it's not like you're at logger heads, they have six agreements. I think you say to yourself, let's finish this off, we can keep going, and reach an agreement on the other 2 somewhere and come to some common grounds. I think we'll get a verdict tomorrow.

ZAHN: You do? We're going to hold you to that. Put you outside the courtroom tomorrow.

Let's move on to the whole issue of strategy here. The one thing I don't get about the defense strategy, they originally said they were going to put Jayson Williams on the stand. Now, if my memory serves me correctly he never went on the stand. Do you think they regret that decision, having said that?

BECKER: It's hard to second-guess. Remember what happened at the Tyco trial, everyone said Robert Morvillo should have put Martha Stewart on the stand.

Well, wait a minute, no one knows what the lawyer said to his client. The lawyer doesn't know the weaknesses of the client is. I think that, really, they say to themselves, Jayson's not going to make a good witness.

ZAHN: Wait a minute. This is a guy that got paid a lot of money to be paid on television.

BECKER: Right. But he's a very loquacious, and happy go lucky guy. He speaks freely. You don't do that on the stand. You speak freely, and you know what, you say something you shouldn't have said, you say something that lets in the door to the evidence of his past. Such as killing his dog. Shooting and almost killing a football player.

And all this bad stuff would come in. They don't want him to allow that to happen, so they don't let him testify. What they really probably regret is not that decision, but the decision in the opening statement, as you pointed out, to say he's going to testify.

Why should you say that? Why not wait until the time where later on in the trial you'll decide if he testifies and decide then. There's no point committing yourself beforehand.

ZAHN: I think Jayson Williams should feel relieved you're not sitting on his jury.

BECKER: Probably wouldn't be a good idea, Paula.

ZAHN: Thank you for your very pointed comments tonight.

Coming up: the interview process for John Kerry's running mate is in full swing. We'll look at likely and unlikely names. Plus, the Kentucky Derby tradition takes a tumble. You'll see more than numbers on those silks the jockeys wear.

And tomorrow, Michael Jackson answers child molestation charges in court. He's got a new lawyer. But will it be the same old media circus?


ZAHN: Some of the headlines you need to know right now. Cleanup and repair crews are on the scene of a diesel oil spill in a marshy area near San Francisco Bay. A broken pipeline may have leaked as much as 42,000 gallons of fuel into the marsh you're looking at now.

An American and Russian have ended their six-month long stay aboard the International Space Station. The Soyuz capsule carrying them, as well as the cosmonaut from the Netherlands landed on target in Kazakhstan about 20 minutes ago. We are told the crew is just fine.

And the very last Oldsmobile rolled off the General Motors assembly line in Lansing, Michigan today. The car, an Alero, will go to a museum. The company, co-founded in 1897 by Ransom E. Olds, goes into the history books.

We turn now to the presidential race. Democratic sources tell CNN the John Kerry campaign has begun vetting possible running mates. According to the political journal "The Hotline" 63 names are out there as potential vice president candidates. Yet only 17 women, only six minorities. The rest, white men.

Why the lack of diversity? Joining us now, Democratic Congressman Gregory Meeks of New York. And in Miami tonight, Republican strategist Tara Setmayer. Great to see both of you.

So, Congressman Meeks, I know you support John Kerry. Aren't you a little -- don't you find it difficult to reconcile the list with all these white men as potential running mates?

REP. GREGORY MEEKS, (D) NEW YORK: Oh, no. The Kerry campaign is dedicated to diversity. I was one of the first individuals to endorse him a long time ago.

And one of the reasons was, because he believes in diversity. He's lived diversity. I've looked at his Senate record. He basically had a 94 percent voting record with the NAACP, on civil rights issues. I look at his commitment to the issues that are important to African- Americans. I then I look at the people around him in his campaign. You see that kind of diversity.

ZAHN: How do you explain these numbers? You can't tell me you're satisfied with a list of 63 where you only have 6 minority members and more than a dozen women?

MEEKS: We're talking about his choice for vice president. And he has kept that closely held and it's a very private situation with reference to who that candidate would be. There's a number of individuals who would be a good vice president. And I just hope that what he selects is an individual who is the best running mate for him. So that we can move this country forward. And I think that's what we're doing.

We don't need -- sometimes people think about diversity, just about skin color. I think African-Americans, in particular, understand that diversity is more than skin color, because when you look at individuals, you could have someone like Clarence Thomas, who really has not decided issues that were in the best interests of African-Americans.

So we're looking at individuals who understand the plight of African-Americans, who can make a difference in their everyday lives, talking about so they can have quality healthcare, talking about unemployment -- reduced unemployment.

So, those are the kinds of candidates he's looking at for vice president. And I'm sure anyone who he picks will be the person that's moving in the right direction.

ZAHN: But probably not African-American. Let's ask Tara about that. Tara, traditionally the Democratic party has been a strong hold of the African-American vote. Are you satisfied with the diversity in your party?


ZAHN: Yes.

SETMAYER: I think that the Bush administration and the president has demonstrated a commitment to minority issues. This president has put fort proposals that favor minority home ownership, minority entrepreneurship, programs like school vouchers which are supported heavily in minority communities. And Condoleeza Rice and Colin Powell hold positions of power that are unprecedented. And they're not just tokens, and they're not just there as affirmative action positions as what Bill Clinton did with his cabinet. He claimed to have the most diverse cabinet, but many of his appointees were mired in scandal. So it questions how qualified those individuals were.

But the Republican Party has an issue as far as effectively communicating the message in the black community. Not because we're not right on the issues, it's just that for so many years the Democrats have held the Democratic vote in the black community, with programs, social programs, and with welfare reform, and things of those nature where they have used emotional issues as opposed to the real tangible issues to court the minority votes. But the Republican party is making headroads in there.

ZAHN: Let me let Representative Meeks react to that. She's basically saying they've got the issues right for minorities in the Republican Party. It's a problem of communication.

MEEKS: You know, that's like saying that African-Americans are dumb. African-Americans are very bright people. They vote their interests. They vote where they know that someone really talks to the issues that are important to them.

ZAHN: What is she saying about the program that is supposed to increase minority home ownership? Are they right on that issue?

MEEKS: If you look at African-Americans, where they were under the Bill Clinton administration, for those eight years, and where they are now, there are more African-Americans now unemployed than under Bill Clinton. There are more African-Americans now that don't have health care than under Bill Clinton. There are more African-Americans now that are looking for a better quality education than under Bill Clinton. There's more African-American businessmen and women who now cannot find the loans and the kinds of programs as Bill Clinton had with his new market strategy and urban America.

SETMAYER: That's absolutely not true.


ZAHN: ... he's painting a rosy picture here of...


SETMAYER: That's absolutely not true. More minorities own businesses. More minorities -- there is a record amount of minorities who own homes, which is part of the American dream. Over 75 percent of minorities support school voucher programs because education is the key to freedom in this country. And our children have been held hostage in our urban communities for years with a failing public school system. And this administration has dedicated itself to make sure that no child is left behind.

And I don't even want to hear the argument that it's not fully funded, and things like that. The states and localities are funding -- they are -- the states and localities are funding these programs. And there's accountability. If there's so much corruption and there's unaccountability with these school boards, if they fix those financial problems, that money -- you wouldn't need federal government money, you'd be staying in localities.

ZAHN: Another issues that we're going to have to debate on another night. But we appreciate you touching the surface on this topic tonight. Congressman Meeks and Tara Setmayer, thank you both.

SETMAYER: You're welcome.

ZAHN: Coming up, this NASCAR track is a long way from Iraq. And now the military is taking tips from the racing circuit that could actually save lives.

And why some jockeys in this weekend's Kentucky Derby stand to make some extra cash. We'll talk to a jockey riding the favorite, Churchill Downs.


ZAHN: The NASCAR track might not be the first place you'd think of that the U.S. military would look for in help with fighting in Iraq, but it turns out the Marines have done just that.


ZAHN (voice-over): The high speed, high stress, high stakes world of NASCAR. No place on the track is more stressful and critical to the driver than the pit stop. Here, a well choreographed ballet of coordination and team work can save 1/100th of a second, the difference between winning and losing.

Off the race track, no one understands this need for speed better than Marine helicopter crews. Like NASCAR pit crews, they race against time in the battlefield to service combat helicopters.

ROB WINCHESTER: We have the pit crews that come in and service our car on the track. And everything's known for speed. And the same thing is for here in the combat situation with these helicopters, rearming and refueling.

ZAHN: For the Marines, it can mean the difference between life and death. So the Marine Corps teamed up with NASCAR's best to learn how to take their high speed track tactics onto the battlefield and shave precious seconds off their time.

WINCHESTER: Every little second counts, in either losing or winning. And it's the same thing in the battlefield.

ZAHN: Marine helicopters can only travel between 100 miles and 300 miles without refueling. In combat, aircraft can't always fly back to base for refueling and rearming. The solution, the Marine Corps version of the pit stop, called a FAARP, or a forward area arming and refueling point. A helicopter low on fuel and ammo can land at a mobile station, get refueled and rearmed, and be back in battle in a matter of minutes.

CAPT. PETER BELEJ, USMBC HELICOPTER PILOT: The team leader, usually a staff sergeant or a senior sergeant, will go ahead and make sure that the struck's up and running, that there's pressure in the hose, and that everybody is pretty much ready to plug in and go.

ZAHN: Unlike NASCAR, this Marine crew has to deal with uneven terrain, equipment clogging dust, high winds, and more importantly, enemy fire. Helicopters on the ground are like sitting ducks. It's the same kinds of challenges facing the Marines daily in Iraq.

BELEJ: Currently our sister squadron is in a multiple -- they've split up into a couple of different locations. They're running a couple of different air fields. They're doing exactly what's going on right here. They're going ahead and refuel aircraft, and they're sending them on their way.

If we can't provide a good on-station time for the aircraft, the aircraft can't support troops on the ground.

ZAHN: The purpose of the exercise is to improve performance in the field of battle, especially in Iraq. It now takes about five minutes to refuel and rearm a combat helicopter in a war zone. The goal is to shave a minute off the process, so the crews will spend one less minute sitting on the ground, and one less minute in the line of fire.


And NASCAR drivers and their cars are walking and rolling billboards for all sorts of products. But do ads belong on jockeys riding in the Kentucky Derby? We'll ask one riding the favorite this weekend.

And a fashion statement so hip, it ought to be illegal. Wait until we tell you what one politician has in mind.


ZAHN: For the first time in the Kentucky Derby, some of the jockeys will be sporting something a little bit different. A federal judge ruled that they can wear advertising patches during this Saturday's race. Shane Sellers was part of the initial group of jockeys who sued for the right to wear logos. He will be riding the Cliff's Edge, which is the favorite to win this year's derby. He joins us tonight from Louisville. Good to see you, Shane. Welcome.

SHANE SELLERS, JOCKEY: Thanks for having me.

ZAHN: So have you made a decision that you in fact will be doing some advertising during the derby on Saturday?

SELLERS: Almost positive. There's three or four companies that want to do it. But if not, if not an endorsement I would be wearing a guild patch, which represents our organization.

ZAHN: What will be the deciding factor for you?

SELLERS: Just a matter of coming to terms with the right person, or the right company. And that's in the hands of my agent at this point.

ZAHN: And explain to our audience tonight why you think it's so important that you, along with a bunch of other professional athletes, have been able to do this over the years?

SELLERS: Well, it's important for a lot of reasons. But the main reason is to have an opportunity to make money, or, you know, financial reasons, because you know, today, I wrote out a check for $1,495 to Churchill Downs for my tickets for my family to come to the race track. And if I run worse than fourth, or worse than third, I'm going to make $56 to ride the Kentucky Derby. So it's going to cost me $1,300 to ride -- to participate in the greatest race in America. And with endorsements, it's going to allow me to make money and not cost me to ride the Kentucky Derby. And that's the main reason we want to get this done. And if not endorsements, we want to support our guild, which supports 58 permanently disabled riders. And in honor of the riders who have given their lives for the game of horse racing. ZAHN: And that's a major part of what you're trying to say here tonight, that you risk your life every time you mount one of these horses, don't you?

SELLERS: We do. And we understand that we risk our lives, and that that's my decision. But I would like to be able to have the opportunity to go and make money to ride the Kentucky Derby, and not cost me $1,300 if I don't run one, two, three. And there's 20 riders in the Kentucky Derby, and 17 of us are going to make $56 to ride the Kentucky Derby. I don't think people really understand that. And that's why we want to get endorsements to secure a paycheck on certain days like that.

ZAHN: Of course, you're up against the Kentucky Horse Racing Authority, which was against this idea. That group saying that it was going to lead to corruption of the sport. Late this afternoon, they gave us this statement. Quote, "Certainly the Authority will abide by Judge Heyburn's ruling on this matter. In fairness to all jockeys, the KHRA will apply Judge Heyburn's ruling to all jockeys racing in Kentucky." What does that mean to you?

SELLERS: Oh, it's just a great, great opportunity for all riders. Again, and it showed that with unity, we can get things done that provide better working conditions for riders. And honestly, like Jerry Bailey (ph) said, I think it would bring -- it would open the doors for corporate America to come into the game of horse racing, which is unchartered waters for advertisements. And I think in probably 10 years from now, we'll be all looking at each other and saying that was a silly fight that we had, and we're all reaping the rewards from opening doors to corporate America.

ZAHN: I know you're a modest guy, Shane, but somehow I don't think tonight you're thinking you're just going to take home $56 on Saturday. Good luck.

SELLERS: I'm not thinking -- well, thank you. Thank you.

ZAHN: You're certainly the favorite at the race. We'll all be watching very closely. Thank you for your time tonight.

SELLERS: Thank you, Paula.

ZAHN: And if you were the fashion police, would these jeans be punishable by prison time? The answer coming up.


ZAHN: Here is one for you out of our unusual file tonight. Someday you could get a summons from the fashion police in Louisiana and it would not be a joke. That's because one lawmaker there wants to ban low riders, those pants that can show off thong underwear and a whole lot more. State representative Derrick Shepherd last week introduced the bill in the legislature, and I asked him how it actually would work.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) DERRICK SHEPHERD (D), STATE REP., LOUISIANA: Well, it would work as such, that if you have pants that you wear that are worn below your waist, and it exposes the skin or your intimate undergarments, then you would be in violation of the law.

ZAHN: And then what would happen to you?

SHEPHERD: Well, you could be fined. The maximum, what everybody likes to hear, the maximum is a fine of $500, or six months in jail.

ZAHN: Do you really have enough funding for your police department that you can actually afford to have thong police out there?

SHEPHERD: No, I don't think that you'll run into a situation where you have fashion police going out and actually looking for someone with this. It's more of a corrective measure. The reason that this crazy thing started was to emulate people who were incarcerated in prison. And we're actually trying to be more corrective than we are punitive in our actions.

ZAHN: Well, don't you think that's a problem that parents should correct, if they don't like the way the kids look in public?

SHEPHERD: Well, it is. It's true. But there's laws on the books to help parents out. We have truancy laws that help parents out. We have curfew laws that help parents out. And this is another law that we're going to help young people to develop the self-respect and the self-discipline that they need.

ZAHN: What do you say to folks who say, hey, wait a minute, you're messing with my right to free expression? Where do you draw the line here? If you tell me I can't wear low riders, what's next?

SHEPHERD: I don't think there's anything next. It's a case-by- case basis. And this is not to further infringe upon any other rights you may have. This is just to deal with what some would call a trend, but what others would call a disrespectful attempt to show what some people would call obscenity to others. And I have a right not to see your back side, your undergarments, and not for anyone's children to see the same.

ZAHN: What do you find so objectionable about low riders?

SHEPHERD: Well, actually what I find is the way they're worn. There's nothing wrong with low riders. But the way that they're worn, what we want to see -- underwear, and in fact in some cases the lack of underwear, and that is offensive.


ZAHN: And those of us who have three kids aren't going to plan on wearing them anytime soon.

Thank you for being with us tonight. We'll be back same time, same place tomorrow night. Tomorrow night, Michael Jackson and his entourage go to court. And a look at the exploding cost of the war in Iraq, one year after the president pronounced the major fighting over.

Thanks again for joining us tonight. Have a good night. LARRY KING LIVE is next.


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