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CNN NEWSNIGHT AARON BROWN

Bush Faces Criticism Over State of Union; Another U.S. Soldier Killed in Iraq; Government Denies Judge's Orders in Moussaoui Trial

Aired July 14, 2003 - 22:00   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, everyone.
It is amazing the trouble 16 words can cause. The administration spent the weekend trying to end the controversy over that now infamous line in the president's State of the Union speech and the president did the same but clearly it's not over.

Many Democrats are having a field day, an issue that may have some stick but it isn't just Democrats and it isn't just politics. It is the credibility of the president and the administration the next time intelligence is used to justify an action.

So, for now, the issue remains alive and once again begins the whip. CNN's Bob Franken did the reporting today, Bob a headline please.

BOB FRANKEN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Aaron, the consequences of course are very serious, but the two sides in this debate about weapons of mass destruction accuse each other of using weapons of mass distortion.

BROWN: Bob, thank you. We'll get to you at the top tonight.

To Iraq next more violence today just as the Iraqi governing council was coming into being, Nic Robertson back in Baghdad with that, Nic a headline from you.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SR. INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Aaron, one U.S. soldier killed today, ten injured, in an attack in Baghdad. The new government council puts expanding the Iraqi police force at the top of its agenda and, in Fallujah, U.S. troops pull out leaving the Iraqi police there to patrol alone -- Aaron.

BROWN: Nic, thank you.

A major showdown involving the case of terrorism suspect Zacarias Moussaoui, Justice Correspondent Kelli Arena here tonight, Kelli a headline.

KELLI ARENA, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, the government is defying a judge's order to allow Moussaoui to interview another al Qaeda operative despite the consequences -- Aaron.

BROWN: Kelli, thank you. And, back to the United States for this too, people on the Texas coast preparing for Tropical storm Claudette, John Zarrella in Corpus Christi, Texas tonight, John a headline.

JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Aaron, two questions people here along the Texas Gulf coast are asking tonight where exactly will Claudette make landfall and how strong will it be when it gets there -- Aaron.

BROWN: John, thank you, back to you and the rest shortly.

Also coming up tonight on NEWSNIGHT, Jeff Greenfield on whether the Bush White House is borrowing from the Clinton playbook in arguing that those 16 words in the State of the Union speech were technically correct.

Another credibility question facing the United States is Afghanistan getting the help and attention it needs? We'll hear from Afghanistan's foreign minister who says the answer right now is no.

Also tonight, a fascinating crime story from out west, one that was big news, oh, a century or so ago, the legend of Billy the Kid, new efforts to solve an old mystery 122 years after Billy the Kid supposedly died.

And, some news of course from tomorrow as well, tomorrow's news tonight, our look through the morning papers from around the country and, with any luck, around the world as well, all that and more in the hour ahead.

We begin in Africa, not the president's trip to Africa which we suspect the White House would dearly love to talk about. Instead, today as it's been for the last week the focus was squarely on the other Africa story, the uranium, the intelligence, and how it became part of the case for war with Iraq.

Things reached a peak on Friday, it seemed, when the CIA Director George Tenet took the blame but three days of damage control later Mr. Tenet still has a job and the White House is still under fire.

Several reports tonight, beginning with CNN's Bob Franken.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

FRANKEN (voice-over): The president was hanging tough on the quality of the intelligence advice he used to make his case for war.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think the intelligence I get is darn good intelligence and the speeches I have given were backed by good intelligence.

FRANKEN: Supporters were rallying around the director of Central Intelligence.

SEN. TED STEVENS (R), ALASKA: Those of us who work with him on a daily basis, including the president, trust and rely on George Tenet and are ready to defend him as a good man.

FRANKEN: That was not a unanimous view in Congress where many were demanding to know what role the White House played in putting the CIA director in this position.

REP. ED MARKEY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: George Tenet must resign for the credibility of the intelligence community. Secondly, those who forced him in the national security community in the White House to accept those words which he disagreed with they also must be made accountable.

SEN. CHUCK HAGEL (R), NEBRASKA: Listen, it wasn't just the CIA involved here. We had a vice president and his office involved, Secretary Rumsfeld, Condy Rice, Secretary Powell's people. This wasn't just a one man show.

FRANKEN: The Democratic vice chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee was pointing the finger at one woman, the National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice who normally avoids controversy.

SEN. JOHN ROCKEFELLER (D), WEST VIRGINIA: I'm not accusing her of anything. I just think it's a little disingenuous not to take accountability.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

FRANKEN: Departing White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer described charges that the controversy undercuts the central justification for the war in Iraq in a very succinct way, Aaron. He said that is a bunch of bull but the critics may want more of an answer -- Aaron.

BROWN: Where does this go in terms of -- at least in terms of the Congress where is this headed?

FRANKEN: Well, Wednesday is going to be a big day because George Tenet is going up to Capitol Hill. There had been a meeting, closed meeting, with the Senate Intelligence Committee scheduled a couple of weeks ago. You can bet that an awful lot of the conversation now is going to be about this latest controversy.

BROWN: Bob, thank you very much, Bob Franken in Washington tonight.

The president campaigned for the job in part on the notion that he was the anti-Clinton, a man who said what he meant, meant what he said, no sentence parsing needed. Square that with today and critics who say you've got a bonanza for sentence parsers and at least the makings of a credibility gap.

Here's CNN's Jeff Greenfield.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CONDOLEEZZA RICE, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: It is 16 words and it has become an enormously overblown issue. JEFF GREENFIELD, CNN SENIOR ANALYST: That is the core of the case the administration was making on the Sunday talk shows. Which 16 words? These.

BUSH: The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.

RICE: We're talking about a sentence, a data point, not the president's case about reconstitution of weapons of mass destruction or of nuclear weapons in Iraq.

GREENFIELD: So, why the furor? Why is the Bush administration facing its most serious credibility test?

(on camera): Because words, especially words used by people with great power have to be taken seriously. Their use or misuse is what George Orwell was getting at in the famous essay when he wrote that if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought. In fact, the misuse of language is one of the big problems Republicans had with the last president, remember?

BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I did not have sexual relations with that woman.

GREENFIELD (voice-over): Only words but to Clinton's critics they spoke volumes.

CLINTON: It depends upon what the meaning of the word is, yes.

GREENFIELD: So, if this president's case for war, the most serious matter any president faces, rests even in part on a questionable fact that's going to cause a controversy but it can also lead to carelessness on the other side of the aisle.

Look at this ad that the Democratic National Committee recently began airing.

BUSH: Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.

GREENFIELD: Hold it. What happened to the attribution that it was the...

BUSH: British government.

GREENFIELD: ...British government that supposedly learned this? Can the Democrats say well we only left out five words, of course not.

Finally, listen to Defense Secretary Rumsfeld on "Meet the Press."

DONALD RUMSFELD, DEFENSE SECRETARY: Put the quote back up.

GREENFIELD: Why, moderator Tim Russert wanted to know, did he brush aside an estimate by the army chief of staff that "several hundred thousand" U.S. forces might be needed when, in fact, there are still some 150,000 forces in Iraq?

RUMSFELD: I think right now we have 147,000. That's what I said. That is not several hundred thousand. That is half of several hundred thousand.

GREENFIELD (on camera): So, are there any long term consequences to these battles over words? Well, remember in Vietnam the controversy over how we got into that war grew as the body count did.

So, if 150,000 or 200,000 or 300,000 U.S. forces are presiding over a more peaceful and stable Iraq then this controversy probably goes away. If the picture is one of continuing disorder and conflict and casualties then it doesn't.

Jeff Greenfield, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BROWN: And, in Iraq today another American soldier died. A convoy was attacked this morning in the western part of Baghdad, insurgents firing rocket-propelled grenades killing one soldier, injuring ten more. That makes 32 soldiers killed in hostile action since the president declared an end to major hostilities back in May.

Violence also accompanied the first meeting of Iraq's new governing council. A car bomb went off not far from the meeting site which did not stop the U.S. selected panel of 25 prominent Iraqis from voting the Senate delegation to the United Nations and wiping out a number of Ba'ath Party holidays.

The council's political clout is expected to grow in the months ahead when it hashes out a budget for next year. That said veto power over all its actions still rests with the American administration in Baghdad.

But the trend is clearly towards easing off wherever possible to reduce tension and, of course, to limit attacks on Americans. In Fallujah, in central Iraq, American troops have now handed over control to Iraqi police, our story from CNN's Nic Robertson.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ROBERTSON (voice-over): On their first full patrol without U.S. troops tense moments for Iraqi police in Fallujah as they arrest a suspect carjacker. In the town that has proven tough for U.S. troops to gain acceptance, Iraqi police on this patrol at least seemed welcomed.

"We are glad with these policemen" says this sheikh "because we speak the same language and they can understand our social status and respect it."

Recently supplied with new vehicles, uniforms, and weapons by the U.S.-led coalition, police officers decided they would be safer working without U.S. help. 1ST LT. AZZIF HAZZIM, FALLUJAH POLICE (through translator): The people of Fallujah think that policemen who are out on joint patrol are committing an act of spying on them and they are bothered by that act and they started hating them.

ROBERTSON: At the mayor's office, formerly a base for 30 U.S. soldiers, Iraqis now stand guard and, although U.S. engineers and civil affairs soldiers are here by day, U.S. troops no longer stay overnight.

CAPT. JOHN IVES, 3RD INFANTRY DIVISION: All attacks on U.S. forces were on static site security and that's also being taken care of. We're replacing static sites with local Iraqis that have been hired as security guards.

ROBERTSON: With no U.S. forces on the street local Iraqi police say attackers set fire to part of the police station Sunday night.

(on camera): Coalition officials have already predicted, based on intelligence, there could be an increased number of attacks on U.S. troops this week. By taking some soldiers out of Fallujah, even a handful, they may have saved some casualties.

(voice-over): Given Fallujah's bumpy track record with U.S. troops few would venture to call it a model of how the U.S. can manage a city. The attempt to keep U.S. troops out of potential hot spots, however, may be a template likely to be applied elsewhere.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ROBERTSON: And it seems to be with an eye on these transitions that the new governing council is putting security at the top of its agenda saying that it wants to expand Iraq's police force from 35,000 policemen to 60,000 in the next year and a half -- Aaron.

BROWN: Nic, on another matter, last week it was said that the 3rd ID, the 3rd Infantry would be rotated home. Some are already in Kuwait, today news that that may not happen so quickly.

ROBERTSON: Indeed. Some of the soldiers I was talking to in Fallujah are from the 3rd ID, a lot of disappointment there, a lot of hung heads when I was in the office in one of their camps today. They're very disappointed. They've been told until a few days ago they were leaving.

Now they're told they don't even have a date and they say that they came out to the region in September some of them. They were debating was it September the 20th or 21st. They remember to the day when they came and they want to know a date when they can leave.

The temperature, the distance from home, the endurance that they have to put up with, the conditions, the attacks, all of that adds up and many of them just want to get back home now -- Aaron.

BROWN: Beyond the homesickness, for lack of a better word, is it possible to assess the morale of the 3rd ID and other Americans in the country?

ROBERTSON: I think if you look broadly to the 1st Armored Division, to the 4th ID, they tend to say, look, we knew we were going to come to these conditions. We knew it would be hard. We don't have air-conditioning. We don't have a lot of cold water around to drink but we do have water. We have food. We expected to get shot at. We knew the conditions would be tough. We fall back on our training and we're ready to do our job and that's what I hear.

And, I try and push people on this issue and I'd say come on the temperatures are really hard, soldiers are being killed this must be tough for you. And they say, no, we're professionals. This is what we can to do. They say, sure, we'd like to put our feet up. We'd like to have a beer. We might even like to go home but we're here to do a job.

So, morale with the guys, the soldiers, the men and women who've been out here perhaps a shorter length of time than the 3rd ID still at this time seems to be good -- Aaron.

BROWN: Nic, thank you, Nic Robertson who is in Baghdad tonight.

On to other matters, it's the kind of thing that seems only possible in the new normal, the world after 9/11 when an extraordinary moves comes as a surprise to no one. It's pretty remarkable that the Justice Department would defy an order of a federal court.

And, it's completely expected because the government says to comply with the order would threaten national security. This act of defiance is the latest strange twist in the federal case against Zacarias Moussaoui and it may not be a federal case in the classic sense for long.

We go back to Kelli Arena who is in Washington, Kelli good evening.

ARENA: Good evening, Aaron.

Well, back in January, Judge Leonie Brinkema told the government that Zacarias Moussaoui had a constitutional right to interview an individual that he says has information that could clear him of any involvement in the September 11 attacks.

Well, the problem is that the individual is another al Qaeda operative Ramzi Binalshibh who is in the midst of an interrogation. Now, the Justice Department tried to get an appeals court to intervene but it didn't work so it's now in the unprecedented position of defying a federal order.

Now, in its filing this evening the government said: "Such a scenario is unacceptable to the government, which not only carries the responsibility of prosecuting the defendant but also of protecting this nation's security at a time of war."

Now, the government also said that it fully understands that its decision means that the judge could dismiss the case against Moussaoui. Now, obviously, the government isn't going to let him just get up and walk away, Aaron, and officials have privately said all along that if all the legal options were exhausted that Moussaoui would likely be transferred to military custody as an enemy combatant.

Now, short of dismissal the judge does have the ability to sanction the government in other ways. For example, she could dismiss some of the charges or she could rule that the case is not death penalty eligible. That is what we're waiting to hear at this point and, of course, whatever Judge Brinkema decides can be appealed by the government -- back to you, Aaron.

BROWN: If this were to be transferred to a military tribunal does the underlying issue here, the right of the defendant to have access to possibly exculpatory evidence go away?

ARENA: Yes, it does because once he is declared an enemy combatant then he's taken completely out of the legal system and this case would be precedent setting, Aaron. And, all along, we saw this in the John Walker Lindh trial, the American Taliban. We see this now.

The government has consistently said that it will not allow anyone access to any of the detainees, the al Qaeda operatives that they have in custody at undisclosed locations that they're interrogating. They say it's a basic issue of national security. They've been consistent all along. They reached a plea deal with Lindh.

In this case that obviously won't work. They're trying as hard as they can to keep this case within the judicial system because they want to prove that the U.S. can deal with cases like this but if it does get to the point where they are forced to present a detainee they just will not do it.

BROWN: Kelli, thank you, Kelli Arena in Washington tonight, good to see you.

Ahead on NEWSNIGHT on this Monday night, the latest from the Texas coast. Tropical storm Claudette is approaching.

And later tonight, Segment 7, who's really buried in Billy the Kid's tomb? Here's a hint it's not General Grant.

From New York, this is NEWSNIGHT.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN: Tropical storm Claudette remains just that tonight, a tropical storm, but all along the Gulf Coast of Texas hurricane warnings have been posted in anticipation of what the storm might become. After a weekend at sea, Claudette is gathering strength and, as you can see, bearing down on areas where even a mild hurricane can be strong stuff indeed.

We go back to Corpus Christi, Texas now and CNN's John Zarrella, John good evening. ZARRELLA: Good evening, Aaron.

Well, it's difficult with a clear night here, starlit night and beautiful day all day today in Corpus Christi to imagine that there's a hurricane or tropical storm lurking a couple hundred miles out in the Gulf of Mexico but, indeed, according to the satellite images you can certainly see Claudette out there.

The latest on Claudette, moving northwest at about seven miles an hour, expected to make more of a turn to the west, which would mean the center would make landfall sometime late tomorrow, somewhere between Port O'Connor and Freeport, Texas.

But, because the storm lingered out in the Gulf, a lot of people here, particularly in the Corpus Christi area, didn't really know what to do, whether they should batten down the hatches or just go about their business. So, some prepared and others went to the beach.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ZARRELLA (voice-over): What a disappointing first trip to the beach this has been for three-year-old Payton Kuykendall from Oklahoma. She was stung by a jellyfish and now Claudette is coming. The Kuykendall on vacation in Corpus Christi say for them the storm should be a breeze.

KYLE KUYKENDALL, TOURIST: Oh, in Oklahoma we have tornadoes all the time but it's all in spring and so 85 mile an hour winds that really doesn't scare us that much. That's just a thunderstorm.

ZARRELLA: While it was uncertain where Claudette would eventually come ashore, experienced residents weren't taking any chances.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's better to board up because they still don't know where the storm is going to yet.

ZARRELLA: Before noon, Floyd Williams was at the Home Depot buying plywood for the windows.

FLOYD WILLIAMS, CORPUS CHRISTI RESIDENT: I'm not going to take any chances. I'm going to go ahead and board up some windows and just hope for the best.

ZARRELLA: In Port Mansfield to the south the scene was no different. Storm savvy Texans got ready.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I've been through Carla, Beulah, Alan, Brit, Gilbert, and you know, if it's been out in the Gulf this long and the winds are still no higher than they are then I don't really see too much of a threat.

ZARRELLA: With clear skies along nearly the entire Texas coastline it was tough for folks to get too worked up over Claudette but a couple of waterspouts off Galveston Island are a clear warning trouble is on the way. (END VIDEOTAPE)

ZARRELLA: And, hurricane forecasters say that Claudette could well be a minimal hurricane, 75 to 80 mile-an-hour winds when it finally does make landfall. The last time that a major hurricane hit the Corpus Christi area was Celia, way back in 1970.

For the past 33 years since then there have been some near misses and close calls and it appears at this point that once again Corpus Christi will be a near miss from Claudette as it moves a little further to the north -- Aaron.

BROWN: John, we'll find out tomorrow night I guess. Thank you very much, John Zarrella down in Corpus Christi.

Two stories in our national roundup tonight, about one person beginning a very tough job and, another person leaving a very tough job.

The first is Bill Keller who was named executive editor of "The New York Times" today, highest editorial position at the paper. He'll have to get the paper beyond the scandal involving reporter Jayson Blair, the scandal that brought down his predecessor Howell Raines.

A Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, he's been at "The Times" for nearly 20 years, once described himself as "a reporter who spent his whole life swearing he'd never become an editor."

And, today was the last day on the job for White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer. The White House Press Corps was tough as usual for his very last briefing and then they left time at the end for a really important matter like eating the goodbye cake.

Mr. Fleischer who is opening a public relations firm will take a long vacation first. He said he'll still read a couple of papers a day but from now on he's going to read the sports section first, doesn't everyone.

Coming up on NEWSNIGHT, more on the weapons of mass destruction controversy, we'll talk with Republican Senator Chuck Hagel about the uproar over bad intelligence.

A break first, around the world this is NEWSNIGHT.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN: We said at the top of the program the question of intelligence gathering in Iraq isn't just politics and it's not just Democrats. Republican Senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska is a member of the Senate Select Intelligence Committee. We heard a bit from him in Bob Franken's report at the top of the program. He's got plenty of questions for the CIA director and the administration and he's not exactly shy about them. We spoke to the Senator earlier today.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) BROWN (voice-over): Senator Hagel, do you have confidence in Mr. Tenet, the CIA Director?

HAGEL: Well, I think at this point I do have confidence in him. The president has said he does. It's important that we hear from the CIA director and I understand that Mr. Tenet will be before the Senate Intelligence Committee this week. So, at this point I think he needs to explain a few things and answer some questions and we'll go from there.

BROWN: What is it you'd like explained?

HAGEL: Well, it isn't just George Tenet that's involved in this intelligence issue. Many people have had their, and still do, arms wrapped around this, the vice president and his office, Secretary Rumsfeld, Secretary Powell, Dr. Rice. To say that the CIA director was the one who alone signed off on and had the influence on putting those 16 words in the president's State of the Union message is not just quite accurate here.

Now, come on, the reality is all these people are involved in our intelligence process and so we need to know what happened. We need to go wider and deeper not just in the 16 words but is there a problem with our intelligence? Is there a process problem? Is there a problem getting it to the decision makers? Is there a flaw here somewhere?

We know it's imperfect but I think a lot of those kinds of questions need to be answered because there are many inconsistencies here as we know the situation today that are coming out.

BROWN: When you talk about inconsistencies and all of this is surrounding, I think, pretty much this whole question of the 16 words and the uranium and the rest, what is the principal inconsistency that you see?

HAGEL: Well, on the particular issue of did the Iraqis contract or try to contract with Niger for uranium that issue was around last year. The CIA questioned that particular intelligence report even early last fall and said it wasn't correct and told the British it wasn't correct.

In fact, it was not put in the president's speech in Cincinnati in early October but yet it ends up in probably the president's most important speech that to the nation and the world, the State of the Union message in January of this year. That would be one inconsistency. How could that happen?

BROWN: Over the weekend it sounded to me and you can characterize this as you wish -- that what the White House was saying was that the 16 words were literally correct, that the British in fact said this. There are people who are -- who would argue that is a sort of Clintonian explanation. Are you comfortable with that explanation coming from the administration?

HAGEL: No, I'm not. This is real stuff here we're talking about. We're talking about intelligence, which drives policy, which drives actions. Intelligence today is probably more important than any time in the history of this country, because we rely on that intelligence for everything. Certainly, it's imperfect. We know that. But when we're talking about the new threats that face this country and the world today -- terrorism, weapons of mass destruction -- that intelligence is critical.

The processing of that is critical. The analysis of that is critical. Who's involved in that process is critical. So some quick answer, like, well, we just shouldn't have had 16 words in the president's speech, we need to go a little deeper and wider than that.

BROWN: Just a final question, sir. Do you have a real concern that intelligence has been politicized where Iraq is concerned?

HAGEL: Well, I always have a concern about intelligence. I'm not saying, right now, that there's any evidence to show that the administration politicized this intelligence or shaped and molded it, framed it, to work in their own interests. That's why we need the facts.

Listen, this is in the interest of the administration to get this cleared up. Our credibility in the world is at stake. Our word is at stake. Our trust is at stake. And our intelligence is right -- caught in the middle of this. Now, one of the things we don't want to happen, Aaron, is for this to get captured by the raw partisan presidential politics that it might get captured by. And it's too important and too dangerous for that to happen.

So let's get into this, as we have been, and let's get it cleared up. The American people are owed an explanation.

BROWN: Senator Hagel, it's always good to talk to you. Thank you for your time today, sir.

HAGEL: Thank you.

BROWN: Thank you.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BROWN: Senator Chuck Hagel, Republican from Nebraska. We talked to him earlier today.

Up next: Doyle McManus who is the Washington bureau chief with "The Los Angeles Times" and possesses a sharpened eye for policy and politics, as anyone working that beat would.

Good to have you on the program tonight.

Is there a sense in Washington that this is a big story or a medium story or just a summer story that fills the space before the really important stuff happens? DOYLE MCMANUS, "THE LOS ANGELES TIMES": Aaron, I think this story is actually teetering on the edge of that news judgment and that important political judgment.

The White House is hoping that this is only what you might call a summer squall, a story that is going to kick up a lot of noise for a week or so and then go away. Others, the administration's critics and some Democrats, are hoping it turns out to be a long-term weather front that settles in and stays on top of the administration for a long time to come.

We don't know the answer yet. I think the answer to that question will depend on whether evidence of weapons of mass destruction does turn up, because, as Senator Hagel said, there is a very important question underlying this momentary controversy.

BROWN: So, tomorrow, they find big tub of anthrax out there in Iraq somewhere, and those 16 words go away pretty quickly?

MCMANUS: In a political sense, those 16 word go away, even though the anthrax will have nothing to do with the uranium.

BROWN: Yes.

MCMANUS: Yes. Yes.

BROWN: What's left to know here?

MCMANUS: There's actually plenty left to know.

There was a Clintonian ring to the administration's excuse that, well, those words we said were literally true, even though they weren't substantively true. But, as a matter of fact, we don't know whether Iraq was undertaking a serious effort to buy uranium. We don't know whether Iraq had deployable weapons of mass destruction, chemical weapons, ready to go during the war or not, although the administration said it was certain they did.

And we don't know, still, whether Saddam Hussein had serious and deep and important links to al Qaeda, the terrorist organization, even though, again, the administration said it did. The real problem the administration has isn't that the evidence has turned against it. It's that the evidence they expected to find after winning the war in Iraq hasn't turned up.

BROWN: Maybe this is just asking a question of your instincts, but assuming for a moment that there is no -- that they do not find that big vat of anthrax or anything like it, is this a political problem of significance for the president, do you think?

MCMANUS: I think it is, Aaron, because George W. Bush has tried to make his name as what his aides like to call a plain-speaking man, a man who will just tell you the truth, unalloyed, sometimes perhaps too brusquely.

Well, that -- this has really opened up the first glimmer of a potential credibility gap for the administration since September 11. It's not a significant -- it's not a serious, deep, gnawing credibility gap of the kind that Lyndon Johnson had or Bill Clinton had yet. But it's the first danger sign.

BROWN: There's been an awful lot of talk that the line ended up in the speech in part, perhaps in large part, at the insistence of the vice president's office, if not the vice president himself. There was a vice presidential trip over to Langley to the CIA. Do you sense that the vice president has some political vulnerability here?

MCMANUS: Oh, Vice President Cheney sure does have some vulnerability. On the other hand, he has an unmatched ability in this administration to disappear. You haven't seen Vice President Cheney on television recently.

He doesn't have the responsibility others do to come up and answer questions. The problem with the State of the Union speech is that it has many, many fingers on that speech. It's going to be very difficult to sort out responsibility for getting that line into it.

BROWN: I still don't know that you'll know the answer to this yet. Do you have any ideas how many reporters in Washington are chasing this story?

MCMANUS: Oh, at this point, I think the administration has, for example, the short-term bad luck of Tony Blair, the British prime minister, coming to Washington.

BROWN: Yes.

MCMANUS: That means another round of questions. In a sense, you could say every White House reporter is looking at this. And that's 300, 400 reporters.

BROWN: It's summertime. And there's a story out there, so people are working.

Good to have you on the program. Thank you, Doyle.

MCMANUS: Thank you.

BROWN: Doyle McManus, "The Los Angeles Times," the bureau chief for a very good newspaper.

As NEWSNIGHT continues: nation-building in Afghanistan. We will talk to the Afghanistan foreign minister about how his country's experience may relate to what's happening in Iraq, other things as well in our conversation.

We take a break first. From New York, this is NEWSNIGHT.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN: And next on NEWSNIGHT: the foreign minister from Afghanistan; and a little bit later, morning papers.

This is NEWSNIGHT on CNN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN: Is it possible for a country to have attention-deficit disorder? The sad fact is that some critics think that the United States does have ADD when it comes to Afghanistan, that Afghanistan was crucially important after 9/11, and that the United States lost interest too fast. And by the time we start paying attention to the country again, Afghanistan could become a hotbed of terrorism.

The Afghan foreign minister may not accuse the United States of having ADD. In fact, I am almost certain he won't. But he is deeply concerned about Afghanistan getting all the support it needs. As he says, we cannot afford failure.

Dr. Abdullah is in Washington trying to rally more support. And he joins us from there tonight.

Dr. Abdullah, thank you.

I know you will give me a diplomatic answer to this. I hope you will give me a candid one as well. Do you think, with its hands full in Iraq, a lot of money, a lot of troops devoted to that problem, that the United States has lost some interest in the problems in Afghanistan?

DR. ABDULLAH ABDULLAH, AFGHAN FOREIGN MINISTER: I wouldn't call it losing interest to Afghanistan. I would think that there would be some shift of focus from Afghanistan to another case which is developing, which is Iraq situation.

But the leaders in the United States, the president of the United States, administration, the leadership in Congress and Senate, they are all assuring us and reassuring us that -- the importance and the crucial importance of the continuation of the campaign against terror in making Afghanistan a full success story, is realized here. And due actions will be taken in the coming months and years in order to show that

(CROSSTALK)

ABDULLAH: ... success.

BROWN: I am sorry, sir.

And the world community, which made all sorts of grand promises for aid and assistance and help to Afghanistan during the war, is it delivering?

ABDULLAH: As far as the disbursement of assistances is concerned, yes, the assistances which were promised in Tokyo conference are being dispersed timely, slowly, but, again, timely.

But the point is that those pledges made in Tokyo conference a year and a half ago was not sufficient, far from being sufficient. What is needed at this time is to have a review of the situation in the needs for long-term commitment for Afghanistan, as far as reconstruction is concerned.

BROWN: What are the consequences of not updating the needs of the country?

ABDULLAH: Of course, Afghanistan, from one side, it is a success story. From other side, potentials for failure can grow, if the government of Afghanistan is not able to deliver, if the partners, if our friends in the international community, fail to deliver on the promises which they have made.

The road ahead of us is a long one and lots of challenges to overcome. I think we can -- we proved, with the events of the past 1 1/2 years, that we are able to overcome those challenges, provided the attention needed for Afghanistan is there. The consequences, negative consequences, will be disastrous for Afghanistan, for the region, and for global peace.

BROWN: Does the -- there is, Dr. Abdullah, in the United States a perception, fair or not, that, while the central government in Afghanistan controls the capital, that all sorts of others control everything else, warlords, tribal chieftains. You name it, they control it. How accurate is that? How much control does the government, your government, really have in the country?

ABDULLAH: There are different circumstances which sometimes leads to confusion and to confuse perception about the situation in Afghanistan.

President Karzai authority, all over the country, his orders will be accepted and people have to respond, the regional leaders, the commanders, the provincial leaders, whatever they are. Then, if you're talking about the capacity of the government to deliver to the people, that capacity is not there because of the resources. The resources -- enough resources are not being made available to the government of Afghanistan to integrate the government in different parts of the country. So it is two different questions.

BROWN: Dr. Abdullah, good luck in your meetings in Washington this week. And again, we appreciate your time tonight. Thank you, sir, very much.

ABDULLAH: Thank you.

BROWN: The foreign minister from Afghanistan.

Ahead on NEWSNIGHT -- talk about changing gears -- wanted dead or alive. Time to answer the question of who is really buried in Billy the Kid's grave.

A break first, NEWSNIGHT.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN: According to the legend, he was only 21 when he was killed. And before he died, so goes the story, he had murdered as many men as he had years. History says it was 122 years ago tonight, July the 14, 1881, that New Mexico Sheriff Pat Garrett shot him without warning in the bedroom of a friend's house.

Of course, there have been dozens of book and movies about all of this. Lots of men have claimed that they were Billy the Kid. We won't sort all of it out tonight, but there's an investigation brewing in New Mexico, that threatens to topple one of the grandest stories ever out of the West.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BROWN (voice-over): It's an isolated spot, far off the usual desert track. But still they come to stand and pose under the blistering desert sun in front of the grave of one of the Old West's most enduring outlaws, William H. Bonney, Billy the Kid.

SANDY PAUL, FORT SUMNER CHAMBER OF COMMERCE: Billy is buried right over there, was killed right over yonder. And we have Billy the Kid.

BROWN: But 122 years after his death, his tombstone protected on all sides by iron bars, designed to look exactly like a jail cell, the verdict of history may be changing.

SHERIFF TOM SULLIVAN, LINCOLN COUNTY POLICE DEPARTMENT: Why wouldn't anybody want to know the truth? It's that simple, so far as I'm concerned.

BROWN: Tom Sullivan is the sheriff of Lincoln County, New Mexico. And he and a deputy named Steve Sederwall say there's enough doubt about the old legend to force an investigation, a high-tech examination of whether one of Sullivan's predecessors, famed Lincoln County Sheriff Pat Garrett, did indeed shoot and kill Billy the Kid at Fort Sumner, New Mexico.

MAYOR STEVE SEDERWALL, CAPITAN, NEW MEXICO: A lot of this is driven by people out there saying that they were Billy the Kid, Brushy Bill Roberts. There's others out there. There is 23 of them exactly that said they were Billy the Kid. If one of them is Billy the Kid, that means that Pat Garrett let him go.

BROWN: Brushy Bill, a man from Texas named Ollie Roberts, lived until he was 90 and died claiming he was the Kid. Pure nonsense, say historians.

HOWARD BYRAN, HISTORIAN: There's no question about the fact that Billy the Kid was actually killed. And Brushy Bill, even though he might have thought he was Billy the Kid, was not Billy the Kid, and no chance that he was Billy the Kid.

BROWN: Kid's real name was Henry McCarty, born in New York City. But by the time he was 21, he was here in the violent, rugged landscape of eastern New Mexico's Lincoln County.

Already convicted of murdering a sheriff, he escaped from this courthouse, killing two deputies, J.W. Bell and Bob Ollinger. It was for those killings that Pat Garrett tracked him down at midnight 77 days later. BYRAN: Just pulled a gun and shot him dead right there in the dark room. Billy the Kid never knew what hit him or who hit him.

BROWN: The current Lincoln County sheriff has designed a shoulder patch commemorating Pat Garrett. But now he says it's possible that Garrett actually helped the Kid escape -- Western heresy, to be sure.

SULLIVAN: I'm not going to be embarrassed or anything like that. I'm just trying to find out the truth. And so is Steve. And so is the governor.

BROWN: That would this man, Bill Richardson, who has promised state money to help exhume the body the Kid's mother and perhaps even the Kid himself to extract the DNA and to find out once and for all.

GOV. BILL RICHARDSON (D), NEW MEXICO: We want to uncover a lot of issues relating to Billy. Did Pat Garrett kill Billy the Kid? What about the Texans? They say they have the body, Brushy Bill, in Texas. We think that's wrong, but DNA will prove otherwise, we think. But we want to just unearth a legend that involves the history of the West.

BROWN: And if it's good publicity for his state and means more money spent on tourism, well...

RICHARDSON: The news is full of wars and famines and refugees and AIDS. Look what we're doing. We're trying to uncover whether Billy the Kid was really as bad as they say he was. This is fun. This is American history. And we're doing it properly through DNA and scientific evidence. And if we have a little fun and it promotes my state, that's what a governor's supposed to do.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BROWN: The legend of Billy the Kid.

Morning papers, legendary in its own way, after the break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN: Okeydokey, a rooster made it through the weekend, huh?

Time to check morning papers from around the country and around the world. I hope we have enough material tonight. We begin with "The Chicago Sun-Times": "NAACP Leaders Miffed" -- I like the word miffed -- you don't see it much -- "Miffed By Dems' Snub." "Your political capital is the equivalent of Confederate dollars," Mfume says, of candidates who skip their forum. That's probably not the smartest political move ever, but they did anyway.

But the big story in Chicago is the All-Star Game, right? And the weather tomorrow -- take a shot -- there you go -- home run weather. Actually, we saw the early edition in "The Sun-Times." And the weather was, play ball. So I guess it's getting better as we go. Tomorrow's a home run. And, by the way, if you're in Chicago, pick up your souvenir copy of "Chicago Sun-Times": "Chicago Stars to Shine Tonight." They play this at the New Comiskey Park. I wish we could get "The Chicago Tribune," which is a fine paper, but they're slow to work on it, I guess.

"The Detroit News" -- sports has become a huge part of life, OK? This is unbelievable. "Plea Bargain Keeps Webber Out of Prison." That's Chris Webber, the basketball player. Ex-U.M. -- that would be Michigan -- star pleads guilty to contempt charge. That's not a real sports story, but it's sort of a sports story. "His Resiliency Keeps Trammell" -- that would be Alan Trammell, wouldn't it? -- "in the Ball Game," one-time great ballplayer and now a manager for what I think is generally considered the worst team in baseball.

And then the perfect Detroit story, marrying both sports and the auto industry: "Lincoln" -- that would be Lincoln the car -- "Pins Hope on Magic," as in Magic Johnson. It does not get better than that.

The -- it's right here in front of me. You wouldn't think I would have trouble knowing what paper is. "The Boston Herald": "Evil Plot. Report: Dad bought Shovel on Frantic Trek Across U.S." This is not the story about a guy who bought a shovel. It's a guy accused of killing his children. It's a very sad and awful story.

"The Oregonian." I like this story a lot. "Caught in an Ambush." It's a local guy, Sergeant Matthew Rose, and his story with the 507th Maintenance Company, one of the big stories of the war in Iraq.

That's a look at morning papers. That's the program for tonight.

We're all back tomorrow at, oh, let's say 10:00 Eastern time. Hope you'll join us. Until then, good night for all of us at NEWSNIGHT.

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