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President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney Face 9/11 Commission, Los Angeles Residents on Alert Following Threat, Ten Americans Killed Near Baghdad

Aired April 29, 2004 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): In the Oval Office with the doors shut. Bush and Cheney face the 9/11 Commission.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We are still vulnerable to attack.

BLITZER: Blood April, Baghdad. Bombings and ambushes. Are Saddam's ex-spies calling the shots?

Fallujah. Still fighting, but also talking. Can they reach a deal?

Najaf. Troops under fire.

L.A. on alert. Are terrorists targeting shopping malls? Residents are urged to be on the lookout.

ANNOUNCER: This is WOLF BLITZER REPORTS for Thursday, April 29, 2004.


BLITZER: By all accounts it was a frank meeting about a tough subject. The president and the vice president in an historic closed door session with the commission trying to learn how al Qaeda pulled off the worst terrorist attack in U.S. history. And the president was the first to talk about it after it was all over.


BLITZER: (voice-over): President Bush came into the White House Rose Garden only moments after wrapping up more than three hours of Oval Office questioning by the 10 members of the 9/11 Commission.

BUSH: It was wide ranging. It was important. It was -- it was just a good discussion. And I really -- I appreciate the members.

BLITZER: The president had been joined by Vice President Dick Cheney though sources present during the meeting say Mr. Bush did about 90 percent of the talking. Neither was under oath. No formal commission recording of the session was permitted.

BUSH: I was never advised by my counsel not to answer anything. I answered every question they asked.

BLITZER: The sources say all ten commissioners had a chance to ask questions. They say there were no tense moments.

A statement released later by the 9/11 Commission decribed the historic meeting as extraordinary, adding that Bush and Cheney were forthcoming and candid. And the information they provided was of great assistance.

The president defended his decision to appear before the commissioners together with Cheney.

BUSH: If we had something to hide we wouldn't have met with them in the first place. And I think it was important for them to see our body language as well, how we work together.

BLITZER: Two members of the commission left the session after about two hours even as it was still underway. Vice Chairman Lee Hamilton and former Democratic Senator Bob Kerrey later explained they had previously scheduled commitments.

As far as the al Qaeda threat to the U.S., the president was blunt.

BUSH: We are still vulnerable to attack. And the reason why is al Qaeda still exists, al Qaeda's dangerous, al Qaeda hates us and we have to be correct 100 percent of the time in defending America and they've got to be right once.


BLITZER: This additional note, sources present during the Oval Office meeting tell me the vice president was asked several questions about what actually happened on 9/11 while the president was aboard Air Force one, hopscotching around the country and Cheney was over at the White House in a secure bunker.

The ten members of the 9/11 Commission are split evenly down the line along party lines. The former Indiana Representative Tim Roemer is among the five Democratic members. He's joining us now live with his take on this landmark meeting.

Thank you very much, Congressman, for joining us. First of all, did you learn something today that you didn't know?

TIM ROEMER, 9/11 COMMISSION MEMBER; Well, first, Wolf, I think it's important to say that this was an historic meeting. Only in America could a meeting like this take place. Three and a half hours, actually probably three hours and 37 minutes of questioning the president and the vice president in very tough questions, very respectful questions. And very direct and cooperative answers from the president and the vice president.

We were -- some of us were worried that we might not have enough time to ask the president all of the questions we had. I came away with that very, very impressed with the graciousness of the president. I not only got in a second round of questions, the president said did you have any follow-ups to that and I did. I had a third bite at the apple. And he was very helpful in those answers.

BLITZER: So you obviously must have learned something.

ROEMER: We certainly learned a lot spending over three hours with the president and the vice president of the United States. We spent four hours with former President Clinton, three and a half hours with former Vice President Gore. And those were very helpful meetings as well.

What we're trying to do here, Wolf, is we know we're still vulnerable to attack, as the president just said. We feel the weight of history on our shoulders. We know a lot of commissions have not been very successful this getting very good recommendations passed.

And we want to work with the president and the vice president and a bipartisan group of Congress people to make this country safer. The American people are watching. I think they're going to be demanding.

And we know that al Qaeda's coming at us. We don't have time for politics and games in this. We need to get answers. We need to work on these recommendations with the president. And that's what we talked about.

BLITZER: Is it fair to say that everything you wanted to ask the president, all ten of you, you managed to get in during those three and a half hours?

ROEMER: I can't speak for the other nine commissioners. Those are part of the ground rules, and I won't do that.

I personally felt very comfortable a host of wide-ranging, tough questions that I asked the president of the United States. He answered them as directly as he could. He was cooperative, he was frank and gracious with his time.

And we will now move into the next set of hearings that are very important, very gut wrenching about heroes, about people that walked back into burning buildings that eventually collapsed.

Are we ready for the next emergency? What are we doing now about that? How do we prepare for the next set of attacks. How do we secure the country from al Qaeda coming from us, quickly, lethally and in a poisonous and effective way.

BLITZER: Did you get the president to explain -- and I know there are limits to what you can say -- on that August 6 presidential daily brief when he was warned al Qaeda threats here in the United States? Did he explain what he did in the aftermath of that.

ROEMER: Wolf, I have had the same ground rules. And I think I've been on your show before after the interview with former President Clinton. I will not talk about the substance. Much of this is classified. I did not talk about the substance in the Rice interview when we spent hours with Dr. Rice. She was helpful to us. Nor will I talk about the substance with former Vice President Gore.

BLITZER: I understand those are the ground rules.

Let's talk a little bit though about the flavor. What was going on? The president spoke about the body language between him and the vice president. The vice president answered some questions, I understand, as well. Although most of the questions were directed at the president.

ROEMER: Both were helpful. Both spoke directly to the questions that were asked. Both spent a great deal of time with us.

And what we need to do now is carefully think through their answers. We're starting that the point, all five Democrats and Republicans on this commission, who have gotten along so well under great leadership, the bipartisan leadership of Tom Kean and Lee Hamilton.

We're starting to think through. We've seen some of the problems. We're not pointing and blaming anybody. We're trying to think through how to get to the solutions. We're talking to members of Congress now. We're working with lots of Republicans and Democrats up there and get these problems solved.

BLITZER: I know some Republicans have been quite critical of a few Democratic members, like Jamie Gorelick, the former deputy attorney general.

I'm told, and I spoke with several of your commissioner colleagues earlier in the course of today, that the president seemed to know precisely what was going to, the questioning, the line of questioning that you and your colleagues. Maybe it was in the good humor, good banter. And he was generous toward not only you and the others, but the other Democrats including Jamie Gorelick.

ROEMER: The president was helpful. He was in good humor. But it was a very serious, very somber topic of 3,000 people dying.

I will say that I think Jamie Gorelick is one of the finest members of this commission. She's hard-working, incredibly smart. She's recused herself from any kind of areas of conflict. This so- called wall that some people are concerned about in Congress, the director of the FIB in his testimony has said the wall is gone. It's no longer there. The PATRIOT Act took it away.

Let's move forward now and see these problems. We want to work with Republicans and Democrats in Congress. We can't get this done without them.

BLITZER: One final question. Two days of public hearings coming up in New York City with survivors, victims' families, people who were actually there. That could be pretty dramatic.

ROEMER: It's very dramatic.

BLITZER: In the middle of May, right?

ROEMER: This will be coming up, Wolf. I don't know if you remember one of our hearings before when we had the voice of one of the flight attendance, Betty Ong, talking about what they were trying to do on that flight to save people. That went down in Pennsylvania.

And you hear these brave, courageous people fighting against these terrorists, maybe saying the Capital building here in Washington D.C.

You're going to hear stories that will break your heart, turn your gut and remind you of the horror of what terrorists can do or the bravery and the courage of people up in New York City and at the Pentagon.

BLITZER: Tim Roemer, commission member. Thanks very much for joining us and we'll, of course, have coverage of this commission throughout May and June, the final report, scheduled to be released at the end of July. And we'll have more on this historic day of questioning before the 9/11 commission. I'll speak live later this hour with Republican Congressman, David Dreier, a strong supporter of the president.

Here's your turn to weigh in on this important story. Our web question of the day is this. "Do you believe President Bush and Vice President Cheney should answer questions from the 9/11 commission in public? You can vote right now, go to We'll have the results later in this broadcast.

In Iraq today U.S. forces facing trouble on several fronts. April has been the bloodiest month for troops, U.S. troops, since the war began and in the Iraqi capital it just got a lot worse.


BLITZER (voice-over): Baghdad, a seemingly one-sided battleground as casualties from the war's deadliest month pile up. Ten Americans killed near the capital, eight in a car bomb attack just south of the city. On Baghdad's eastern fringe, one U.S. soldier killed by a rocket-propelled grenade, another in Baqubah just to the north. These images from two of those attacks show the amount of hostility toward American troops and among some locals.

Fallujah, where deadly contradictions unfold every day. On one hand U.S. forces and their Iraqi allies try to work out a possible American pullback from the city. One that might involve strengthening Iraqi security forces there with former members of Iraq's military. But a senior military official tells CNN there are no ongoing negotiations directly with the insurgents who have been slugging it out with marines house to house.

But as talks continue in Fallujah, so does combat. As insurgents and U.S. troops fight on the ground, a U.S. fighter jet drops at least two bombs on the southwest part of the city. Is Najaf the next Fallujah? The sacred city still controlled mostly by militia loyal to the radical Shiite cleric, Muqtada al Sadr, but American forces are repositioning at the city's edges. And at a checkpoint U.S. soldiers come under attack.


BLITZER: One U.S. soldier takes a bullet in the leg, but no one is killed in this exchange.


BLITZER: A year ago on May 1 President Bush declared an end to major combat in Iraq, but this April has been the deadliest month for Americans there. Those ten combat deaths today raised to 126, the number of U.S. troops killed by hostile fire this month. That's well above the 109 Americans who were killed by hostile fire during the six weeks of what was declared combat. Major combat last year.

More on the standoff in Fallujah. That's coming up. We'll have a live report from a journalist embedded with U.S. marines in the city. Plus this.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Take cover! Where is it at?


BLITZER: Caught in the crossfire. We'll take you inside a dangerous firefight involving the U.S. 1st Armored Division. That's near Najaf.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Information that we received through an anonymous call this week indicated there might be a terrorist action of an unspecified type.


BLITZER: Los Angeles on alert after an anonymous warning that terrorists would strike. Hear more from L.A.P.D. Chief William Bratton. That's coming up.

And vetting (ph) a vice president. John Kerry's search for a running mate, it's beginning to gather some speed.


BLITZER: Los Angeles police are on alert today in the wake of what they're calling an uncorroborated threat to a shopping mall in west L.A. Though the information passed on by federal officials is unsupported, the L.A.P.D. is taking no chances. It has ordered increased patrols at shopping malls and has also asked mall operators to beef up their own security while a joint terrorism task force investigates.

Los Angeles residents are also being asked to be extra vigilant about noticing unusual activity. Why all of the heightened security for an unconfirmed threat? I spoke earlier today with Los Angeles Police Chief William Bratton who says better safe than sorry.


BLITZER: Chief Bratton, thanks very much for joining us. How serious is this threat to a mall in L.A.?

CHIEF WILLIAM BRATTON, LOS ANGELES POLICE DEPT.: Well, citywide we have not reached that threat level so it is specific to a geographic location in the city. Information that we received through an anonymous call earlier this week indicated there might be a terrorist action of an unspecified type in the vicinity of our federal building at a mall in the vicinity of that building. So after investigating and attempting to identify the source of that call as well as the veracity of the threat we decided to notify all of our various mall security forces and late last evening went out with a notice to the public and the media that we have received this threat and that we were going to take precautions today to deter any action if in fact there was any veracity to the phone call that we received.

BLITZER: Is it just this one anonymous phone call that you got or is there anything else that has forced you to take these steps?

BRATTON: Well, the call was anonymous. It was received by a federal agency, moved very quickly through the federal family, and to our joint terrorism task force here in Los Angeles, where that task force working with the federal agencies in our critical incident bureau with Chief John Miller (ph) determined that because of the specificity of the date and the location and other elements that I'm not at liberty to discuss, that this threat should be treated with an appropriate response.

That response in this instance is increased police patrols in the area, not only of the designated threat, but in other malls in the contiguous area. Notification to the public that we did last night through the news media and thirdly, involvement of the various mall security forces to be on heightened sense of alert. Those malls, many of them will check cars going into their garages and beyond the alert and we ask the public to be on alert for anything that looks out of the ordinary. Packages left unattended, people dressed inappropriately for the warm weather in California and we have learned in the past that one of the best ways to deter these actions if you have information is to put forth these type efforts. New York on several occasions has thwarted terrorist actions that were intended against the Brooklyn Bridge that they feel quite comfortable was deterred because of this type of action.

BLITZER: Are you specifically concerned about a car bombing, explosives, a suicide bomber? All of the above? What, specifically are you looking for?

BRATTON: Well, we are not specifically looking for anything because the nature of the call did not specify what type of action might occur as a result of this threat. We are concerned in the sense of the specificity of the date and location because of world events. Prior to significant terrorist attacks in the past, the terrorists have usually indicated through pronouncement that these attacks are pending. As you know, Wolf, there have several of those indicated in the last several weeks, threatening Americans, threatening action in America. So the international situation coupled with the specificity of a threat here to Los Angeles caused us to engage in the actions that we're taking today.

BLITZER: As you well know, Chief, and I'm sure you've seen this around the world, for example in Israel or even in some places in Europe, you go into a mall. A so-called soft target, a restaurant or a supermarket, sometimes you have to go through metal detectors to even walk in. Do you foresee the need for that here in this country?

BRATTON: Not at all. I think our situation is such that that would be incredibly difficult to do. The reality is that we have not experienced any of those activities fortunately, so far in this country, not to say that that might not happen and indeed that's what's being threatened. No, I think what we're doing here today, the idea is if there were to be an actual activity behind this reported threat that we're hoping the actions we're taking today that we're on guard, we're watching would deter that type of action, but I don't foresee anything in the future of the magnitude of everybody coming into a mall or subway stations. I don't see that happening.

BLITZER: Chief Bratton, good luck to you and good luck to the people of L.A. Thanks for joining us.


BLITZER: A deadly day for U.S. troops in Iraq as the string of attacks kills ten more American soldiers but U.S. marines in Fallujah are still trying for a truce. Up next I'll speak with one of the few embedded American journalists on the ground in Fallujah.

9/11 probe. Will the president and the vice president's appearance before the panel today put an end to lingering questions? Up later I'll speak with Republican Congressman David Drier.

And a searching for a sidekick. Who will be on the ticket with John Kerry?


BLITZER: Welcome back.

Efforting an end to a deadly siege in an Iraq city, namely Fallujah. A new offer that would allow U.S. Marines to pull back from the front lines. We'll have a complete live report. That's coming up.

First, though, a quick check of the latest headlines.

No decision today. The jury in the Jayson Williams trial has gone home for the day without reaching a verdict. Jurors earlier reached a verdict on six of the eight charges, but they remain split on the remaining two. The former NBA star faces charges in connection with the shooting death of his limousine driver. If found guilty on all charges, he could face up to 55 years in prison.

Federal officials say emergency response teams are trying to clean up a big oil spill near San Francisco. A 14-inch pipeline ruptured yesterday. Up to a million gallons of diesel fuel was spilled in Suisun Bay, which feeds into San Francisco Bay.

And a Russian spacecraft is about to make its return trip home from the International Space Station. The Soyuz closed its hatch earlier today. It will carry a crew of a Russian cosmonaut and astronauts from the United States and the Netherlands.

Is there a deal in the works that would end the fighting in Fallujah?

"Los Angeles Times" Tony Perry is embedded with the U.S. Marines in Fallujah. Once again, he's joining us on the phone from there.

What do you know, Tony? What is the latest on these suggestions there could be some sort of peaceful way out of this?

TONY PERRY, "THE LOS ANGELES TIMES": Well, there's been a tentative deal agreed to between the Marines and a group of Iraqis, including four former Iraqi army generals. They have agreed to pull back. The Marines will pull back out of the city and the Iraqis will form an army. They have got several potential names.

It might be called the 1st Fallujah Brigade, battalion. So we'll just have to see how it goes. There was a meeting this morning that I was waiting outside the door in which the top Marine generals met with the Iraqi generals. They emerged smiling and saying that they were close, that an agreement was in the offing. And the Marines are now making plans to pull back within the last seven -- within the next seven to 10 days and the Iraqis have promised to filled an army between 100 men and 1,000 men.

BLITZER: So what I'm hearing you saying, Tony, is that these Iraqis, this new Iraqi army aligned, of course, with the U.S., they will go in and disarm the insurgents in Fallujah. Is that right?

PERRY: That's the way it looks. Major General James Mattis, the head of the 1st Marine Division, said it's his understanding and his belief that this new Fallujan army run by the generals will go in and clean out the insurgents, disarm them, put them out of business.

Now, whether that means take all of their weapons away or imprison them or have an assault and kill them, I think that option is available to the Iraqi army itself. The Marines will monitor this very closely. They'll be right outside the city. They're not going that far. They'll continue to interdict smugglers and also take defensive action against insurgents in the suburbs and in the rural areas to keep them from going into Fallujah. They'll stay out of the city, but they'll be right outside the city. So the Marines aren't going home. They're pulling back to put as they say an Iraqi face on this. From the beginning, the Marines have said they wanted the Iraqis involved in this mission of confronting the insurgents. They tried the Iraqi police. They tried the Iraqi civil defense corps, kind of National Guard, and, frankly, they weren't up to the task.

Many of them were just missing in action. Others just didn't have the competency, maybe because the U.S. action was premature, that these Iraqi security forces weren't ready yet to stand on their own or even stand beside the U.S. So they weren't really up to it. So the search for another way to put an Iraqi face on this and have Iraqis solve their own problem, in this case, insurgents, went on.

Now, these four generals have stepped forward. The Marine Corps knows who they are. The Marine Corps last year before the invasion to topple Saddam Hussein did a lot of work and had a dossier on all the top Iraqi generals. They know who they are, their education, their training, their family, their tribal and political affiliations, their quirks and their styles as military leaders.

So these are known qualities. And the Marine Corps and the U.S. civil authority, the Coalition Provisional Authority, are willing to give this a chance. There are a lot of details of that have to be ironed out. But I think they'll be ironed out in the next couple of days.

BLITZER: A potentially very dramatic development reported by Tony Perry of "The Los Angeles Times." Let's see how this unfolds, Tony. We'll check back with you tomorrow. Good luck to you.

More on the situation now in Fallujah and other hot spots in Iraq.

CNN's Ben Wedeman has been keeping track of what's going on in Baghdad.


BEN WEDEMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Fallujah residents at a Marine checkpoint wait to return to their besieged city, as the wait goes on for a resolution of the frequently violent standoff between the insurgents and the Marines.

Thursday was a day of more fighting between American forces and their opponents, American bombs dropped on the city's southwest. But there is a glimmer of hope coming from an unlikely source, a group of former officers from Saddam Hussein's army who have come forward with an offer to take a stab at restoring order and convincing the insurgents to lay down their arms. They've told the Marines they can muster as many as 1,000 men who will help diffuse the crisis and take responsibility for security in Fallujah.

The Marines accepted their offer, but one senior military spokesman told CNN he was only -- quote -- "hopefully optimistic" they might be able to field such a force. One Iraqi negotiator was more upbeat.

SAIB AL-GILANI, NEGOTIATOR: We have heard that the American troops are going to withdraw their powers from Fallujah and this is -- if it happens will be a very good sign, an indicator that peace will have progressed.

WEDEMAN: But talk of a peaceful solution in Fallujah came on a day when American casualties mounted dramatically, eight soldiers with the 1st Armored Division killed by a car bomb south of Baghdad, another American soldier killed in an attack in Baquba, northeast of the capital. Another lost his life in an ambush on his convoy in an eastern Baghdad suburb.

A crowd gathered after the attack with some climbing on top of the damaged vehicle, chanting, "Long live Sadr," referring to the Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, whose militia, the Mahdi Army, has taken control of the Shiite holy city of Najaf.

(on camera): A reminder that as hopes rise for a resolution in Fallujah, in another part of Iraq, another standoff waits to be resolved one way or another.

Ben Wedeman, CNN, Baghdad.


BLITZER: Occupiers or liberators? How do the Iraqis really feel about U.S. forces in their country? Polls just released shed new light on their feelings toward America's presence.

And the hunt for a running mate. Find out who's in the running for the second spot on the Democratic ticket.

We'll get to all of that. First, though, a quick look at some other news making headlines around the world.


BLITZER (voice-over): The families of three Italians held hostage in Iraq led a peace march of hundreds through the streets of Rome. The abductors threatened to kill the hostages unless Italians carry out a huge demonstration against the war. Four Italians were abducted earlier this month. One was killed a few days later.

Gaza withdrawal. The latest polls in Israel show Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's plan to withdrawal from Gaza will fail in Sunday's referendum of his Likud Party. The plan which is backed by President Bush calls for the removal of all Jewish settlements in Gaza.

Thailand violence. Human rights groups and Muslim officials are accusing the Thai government of using excessive force to repel raids on security outposts. The fighting yesterday in the Muslim-dominated south killed more than 100 suspected militants. The government blames the violence on Islamic separatists.

Hero in Oz. Lulu the kangaroo is being honored with a special award for saving an Australian farmer knocked unconscious by a fallen tree branch. According to the farmer's wife, Lulu witnessed the accident and began barking. The noise alerted the wife who found Lulu standing next to the injured farmer, who, as it turned out, suffered only minor injuries. Next month, the Royal Society For the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals will present Lulu with its national bravery award.

And that's our look around the world.



BLITZER: U.S. troops face a number of hot spots in Iraq. And as we saw earlier today, even the capital, Baghdad, remains an extremely deadly place for Americans. And Najaf to the south, that's quite dangerous as well.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Take cover! Where's it at?


BLITZER: Mario Mancuso joins us now. He commanded a U.S. Army special operations unit in Iraq, back in Washington now.

You believe that this tentative deal, as Tony Perry described in Fallujah, let Iraqi soldiers go in there aligned with the U.S. and they can get the job done?

MARIO MANCUSO, FORMER U.S. ARMY SPECIAL OPS COMMANDER: Well, I think there are several points to that.

I think it could work. We'll have to wait and see what the structure of the force is, what the circumstances of into their entry into Fallujah will be. But I think, Wolf, what's really interesting about this development is that the targeted use of military force combined with what seems to be Marine patience waiting on the outskirts of the city has created this alternative momentum within that community.

You've seen increased pressure by tribal leaders, albeit it hasn't amounted to very much. We've also seen the prospect of an Iraqi general leading an all-Iraqi force. So I think that in itself, whether or not it leads to anything, is a positive development.

BLITZER: Because that's been the U.S. goal all along, to let the Iraqis get the job done themselves if possible. Unfortunately, until now, they haven't been able to do that.

MANCUSO: There are a couple of problems, unfortunately as far as I can see with the Iraqi forces. A, there's a question of their training and, B, there's a question of the motivation. Those are two critical inputs to a successful military operation.

But to the extent that there is an Iraqi face to this, it helps militarily and it also helps politically.

BLITZER: Is that true in the south as well, in Najaf, which is an even more potentially explosive environment given the holy nature of that city?

MANCUSO: Absolutely. To the extent there's any military action in Najaf, it would be preferable to have an Iraqi face, but it doesn't appear that military action is on the horizon in Najaf.

In fact, it seems that coalition forces are using a little bit of both. They're using a little bit of force. It seems they're using a little asymmetric warfare by announcing public works project. And they're also giving space to the internal dynamics within the Shia community an opportunity to marginalize Muqtada al-Sadr and his militia.

BLITZER: You were just there in Iraq. You spent months and months there on the ground, serving with the army in Najaf and elsewhere. The deadly death toll, this deadly count this month, 120 U.S. troops killed in April alone, what does that do to the morale of the U.S. fighting men and women on the ground?

MANCUSO: Well, I'd like to point something out, because it's an interesting statistic. But the insurgency is intensive. These are difficult times.

But it doesn't does appear to be extensive. When you take top- line estimates of the insurgents, anywhere from 10,000 to 15,000, it appears that their actions are concentrated in a geography within Iraq that constitutes about 5 percent of Iraq. So it is deadly, but it's not extensive.

In terms of morale, you know, troops are professional. Clearly, if you asked them whether or not they'd rather be home, they would probably say yes. But that's not the more nuanced question. The more nuanced question would be, if you had to go home knowing that the mission would change here, would you go home? And I'd venture to say that they probably would say no.

BLITZER: All right, Mario Mancuso, we'll have you back. Thanks very much.

MANCUSO: Thank you very much.

BLITZER: A groundbreaking survey done for CNN, "USA Today" and the Gallup organization offers an authentic snapshot of Iraqi opinion. And Iraqi opinion of the United States isn't particularly good, at least not right now.

Of the more than 3,000 Iraqis interviewed in late March and early April, more than half said they viewed the U.S. unfavorably. Less than a quarter held a favorable view. As for their former leader, six in 10 said Saddam Hussein should get the death penalty if he's some day convicted of killing Iraqi civilians. And five years down the road, 63 percent of Iraqis said they believe Iraq will be better off.

We point out the poll was taken before this month's explosion of violence in Fallujah and elsewhere in Iraq.

An historic day over at the White House. I'll speak with Republican Congressman David Dreier about the president and the vice president's testimony before the 9/11 Commission.

Officially looking. Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry begins vetting possible running mates.

Plus, the opening of a memorial honoring the veterans of World War II. That's just ahead.


BLITZER: Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry is in the City of Brotherly Love right now. And while he's campaigning in public, his advisers are looking for a possible running mate in private.

Our national correspondent Kelly Wallace in New York and she's got all of the details.

Kelly, what are you hearing?

KELLY WALLACE, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, Democratic sources are telling CNN that the campaign has begun vetting candidates and that means doing a detailed and lengthy check to make sure there's nothing problematic in their backgrounds.

We know from our sources that North Carolina Senator John Edwards and Missouri Congressman Richard Gephardt, both former presidential candidates, are being vetted. Also other candidates expected to be vetted, if they are not already, include Iowa's Governor Tom Vilsack.

Now, this is all though a tightly-held secret about exactly what is going on. Aides say that's exactly the way John Kerry wants to keep it, including when a decision will be made, a source within the Kerry campaign telling CNN we should not expect a decision in May, but other sources outside the campaign saying there has been renewed talk over the past few days about trying to name someone soon, if possible, to give John Kerry some extra help on the trail fighting off attacks coming not just from President Bush, but also from Vice President Cheney -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Kelly Wallace in New York covering the campaign -- thanks very much, Kelly.

Earlier this hour, I spoke exclusively with former Indiana Congressman Tim Roemer, a Democrat, a member of the 9/11 Commission. We talked about the commission's historic meeting earlier today some three and a half hours involving the president and vice president.

Joining us now, Republican Congressman David Dreier of California. He's of course a strong supporter of the president.

He was pretty effusive in his praise, Tim Roemer, a Democrat, of the president and the vice president for answering all their questions.

REP. DAVID DREIER (R), CALIFORNIA: I didn't see the interview, but I talked to him right after he got off the set here, Wolf. And he was, I believe, very strong. I was very proud of what was said.

I think he came to the conclusion that most Americans have come to. And that is, President Bush has been doing everything that he possibly can to ensure that we never face the kind of terror again that we did on September 11. I think that, were we prepared for September 11? Obviously the answer is an overwhelming no. We all know that we weren't.

Was time and energy put in to winning the global war on terrorism before September 11? Yes. But remember the definition of hijacking an aircraft before September 11 meant commandeering a plane and taking it and landing it in a foreign country. People didn't really ponder the idea of flying it into a building.


BLITZER: That's not exactly true. There were various studies...

DREIER: There were a couple of reports that did indicate that.

But as far as very credible reports of the prospect of this, the definition of hijacking an aircraft in the eyes of most was clearly something other than what we saw on September 11.


BLITZER: There had been a couple of intelligence reports over the years of terrorists hijacking a plane, going into the Shalom Towers in Tel Aviv, the tallest building in Israel, or even to the Eiffel Tower. So there had been suggestions they would do that.


DREIER: But not to the extent that we saw here in this country. Many people believed that with the security that we had in place that it could not have in this country before September 11. And obviously, we were wrong.

I think the important thing to note and what the commission is really focused on is the fact that things have been done and need to be continue to be done. If you think about the three important things that President Bush and his administration have taken, steps they've taken since September 11, obviously, establishing a Department of Homeland Security, while focused on civil liberties, establishing the Patriot Act, so that we don't see these terrorists throwing cell phones away and doing these kinds of things and really subverting the law on this.

And, actually, the most important thing, too, is taking this war to the terrorists, meaning that we obviously have not had an attack here.

BLITZER: All right, let's talk a little bit about the campaign right now.

Max Cleland was on the show, the former senator from Georgia, yesterday, a Vietnam veteran wounded seriously, as you well know. I'd like you to listen to what he said about over the whole uproar over John Kerry's background, what he did after he came back from Vietnam, and the president's service in the Texas Air National Guard.

Listen to this.


MAX CLELAND, FORMER U.S. SENATOR: And it started with Bush going after John McCain in South Carolina when Bush got in trouble. Bush is in trouble now. He's got a failed war on his hands. And he has got a bona fide, authentic Vietnam American hero coming at him. And this war has only started.


BLITZER: McCain says have a cease-fire between these guys on this specific issue. You think that's a wise idea?

DREIER: John McCain is absolutely right. And, of course, we herald the military service of both Max Cleland and John Kerry.

But the focus here is on the record. I know there's been a lot -- you've probably run the clips of that most television ad that has been run. Clearly, on those weapons systems that are focused on in the commercial, John Kerry has voted no. And I think that it's fair game to talk about his record and it's fair for us to focus on the inconsistency.

And time and time again, we've seen real inconsistency in John Kerry's record. And I think that the American people clearly want a leader who is going to be strong and decisive and -- sure, go ahead.

BLITZER: One final question before I let you go. I know you're very close to the governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger. He's about to go to Israel right now. This is a significant trip. He's the son of a Nazi, after all. And I know the purpose of the trip, but tell our viewers what you know about this decision


DREIER: Well, I will tell you, this is a decision that he made a while back. And I first had this discussion with Rabbi Marvin Hier, who, as you, is the dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles. And we talked about this trip. And I am so pleased that Arnold is going for this great dedication which is going to take place.

I first met Arnold Schwarzenegger, Wolf, 15 years ago, 16 years ago I guess now, at a fund-raising event for the Simon Wiesenthal Center's Museum of Tolerance. This guy has been focused on tolerance. And he kicked the neo-Nazis out of his town of Gras, Austria, when he was a young man. And I believe that to have him go to Israel this weekend is a wonderful, wonderful thing. And I am so pleased about that.

BLITZER: David Dreier.


BLITZER: Thanks very much.

DREIER: Always good to be with you, Wolf.

BLITZER: In a moment, we'll honor the men who fought bravely for the United States in a past war, as well as the women.


BLITZER: Here's how you're weighing in on our "Web Question of the Day." Take a look at this, remembering, of course, this is not a scientific poll.

Now our picture of the day. The National World War II Memorial opened for public preview today on the Mall here in Washington, D.C., to honor those who fought and died in that long, global conflict. It will be officially dedicated on May 29.

A reminder, we're on weekdays 5:00 p.m. Eastern, as well as noon Eastern. I'll see you back here tomorrow. Thanks very much for joining us.

"LOU DOBBS TONIGHT" starts right now.


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