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THE SITUATION ROOM

Controversy Over Federal Attorney Firings Continues; Interview With Bill Maher

Aired March 20, 2007 - 19:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks very much, Lou.
Happening now, the controversy over the federal attorney firings. The president offered to let top aides talk to Congress, but not under oath. And he warns lawmakers, take it or leave it. Right now Democrats are not taking it. As the candidates battle it out on the campaign trail, "Real Time's" Bill Maher isn't pulling any punches. He tells us what he really thinks about both sides of the presidential race.

And is Arnold Schwarzenegger a closet liberal? Is Rush Limbaugh irrelevant? Why are these Republican heavyweights caught up in a grudge match?

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Tonight, an historic showdown between the White House and the Congress potentially, not since the impeachment of President Clinton has the government come this close to a constitutional crisis. Regarding the controversy over the firing of those eight U.S. attorneys, President Bush, in effect, is daring Congress to bring it on. He says he will give Congress unprecedented access to information.

He will allow Congress to interview presidential adviser Karl Rove and other White House officials, but President Bush will not stand for transcripts in those interviews, and he says he'll go to the mat, go to the mat against allowing any of those officials to testify under oath. Congressional Democrats want sworn testimony from those officials, and to force that, Democrats are threatening subpoenas right now. The president is warning Democrats, don't choose confrontation.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We will not go along with a partisan fishing expedition aimed at honorable public servants. It will be regrettable if they choose to head down the partisan road of issuing subpoenas and demanding show trials when I have agreed to make key White House officials and documents available.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: We're watching every angle of this showdown and potential constitutional crisis. Our congressional correspondent Dana Bash is on Capitol Hill, but let's go to the White House. Our correspondent Suzanne Malveaux is standing by. Suzanne, how far is the president willing to take this fight?

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the president is going to take this all the way. This is their final offer, senior administration officials tell me. And they say they believe this is a very generous offer. This president is going to take it all the way to the Supreme Court, if necessary, really to respond with a sledgehammer, a political sledgehammer to this potential threat to the White House and to this challenge to the White House over executive privilege and executive power.

BLITZER: Why is he so fired up on this?

MALVEAUX: Well you know ever since I've covered this president, the president as well as the vice president have felt that the executive branch has been severely weakened since Watergate, that it got worse during the Clinton era. And this is really considered a test case here, Wolf.

The Democratic Congress that has this subpoena water, they want to flex their muscles with that. They're very eager to do so. And the White House, which feels like this is just the beginning of a slippery slope, that if they allow Rove and Miers to go under oath that it's going to open the flood gates for everybody else. So they believe on principle alone here, that they have got to fight this, and they've got to respond using a political sledgehammer, Wolf.

BLITZER: The president in public is strongly supporting, standing by his man, the attorney general, Alberto Gonzales. What are you hearing behind the scenes in private?

MALVEAUX: Essentially what we heard from the president in public is lay off my guy. I'm the one who can save him, and that's exactly what I'm doing here. I spoke with a very senior administration official close to the president today who said, look, the only way that Gonzales goes is if he offers his resignation. He has not done that and it's even questionable whether or not the president would accept his resignation.

Now I also talked to Republican insiders and strategists who say, look, the people who are talking about this kind of -- we're finding replacements for the guy. They don't have the political juice, we're told. They're not at the table when it comes to decision-making. They don't know what they're talking about, but everybody is looking, Wolf, to next week, how Gonzales performs next week is going to be critical. The one thing that the White House, as well as some of these Republican advisers do agree on is that for this week, Gonzales is safe -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Suzanne, thank you. Democrats are swinging directly back at the president, calling his "take it or leave it offer" a nonstarter. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SEN CHUCK SCHUMER (D), NEW YORK: Any lawyer will tell you that the offer made by the president is not going to get the truth. No transcript, no oath, no public testimony. What are we hiding?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Let's go straight to our congressional correspondent Dana Bash. Democrats, Dana, seem to be flatly rejecting the president's offer of the no sworn testimony, no transcripts. Give us their bottom line.

DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That is their bottom line, Wolf. The Senate judiciary chairman, Patrick Leahy, just after he met with the president's top lawyer, White House counsel Fred Fielding, issued a statement saying that he flat out rejects the offer from the White House. Essentially what he says is it's not constructive and it is not helpful for the White House to tell the Senate how to do their investigation.

As you said, the biggest problem for Democrats in this offer is that it does not allow them to put Karl Rove and others under oath. And more specifically, it doesn't allow them to have transcripts of what they say. What Democrats are saying is that this does not allow them to conduct a proper investigation because they won't exactly know whether or not there is accountability, whether or not these White House officials are contradicting one another or even themselves.

BLITZER: The president said he's going to go to the mat, absolutely he said when asked that question. So what do the Democrats do now, practically speaking?

BASH: Practically speaking, what they say is they're going to go back to their corner, so to speak, they're going to try to figure out what their counter proposal is and as an insurance policy, they're going to go ahead and do something that the president strictly warned against, Wolf. And that is that tomorrow morning the House Judiciary Committee is going to vote to authorize the chairman of that committee to issue subpoenas for Karl Rove and others. The Senate is going to do the same thing in its judiciary committee on Thursday.

They say that they might not have to use it, but they are going to do that, just to have that option. Now, they did not -- they certainly expected some kind of offer short of full public testimony. But also they, perhaps, didn't expect this kind of digging in by the president. So this could be a negotiation or it could be the beginning of -- as Suzanne was talking about -- a real constitutional showdown. Because Democrats here also want to stick to their principle and they want to show the White House that they are in charge now and they want to sort of make it clear to the White House that they're not just going to wither under the president's warnings.

BLITZER: We heard the president voice his strong support for the attorney general, Alberto Gonzales. What do Republicans on the Hill say?

BASH: You know CNN has learned that there was a meeting here this morning, Wolf. The Senate Republican leadership met to make what one participant called a cold assessment of the situation regarding Alberto Gonzales. And what they decided is that certainly Alberto Gonzales does not have a reservoir of goodwill here. In fact, many Republicans don't necessarily like him very much, in terms of the job that he's doing.

But at the same time, the leadership decided that they're not going to go ahead with an active push to get him out. That's the leadership, Wolf, on the -- in terms of the rank and file, Ted Barrett, my colleague here and I talked to about a dozen Senate Republicans and it is clear still, especially among moderates like Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, that they simply are very upset because they still say they don't think Alberto Gonzales has the credibility he needs to continue to do his job.

BLITZER: Dana on the Hill. Thanks. And as we mentioned, President Bush is standing by his man, at least in public, the attorney general, Alberto Gonzales. But is the White House showing loyalty or just paying lip service? He's pledged to support other top officials in the past, even as he was easing them out of office. Last May 25 the president said the Treasury secretary, John Snow, had not given any indication he would be leaving his post.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PRES. BUSH: No, he has not talked to me about resignation. I think he's doing a fine job. After all, our economy is strong.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: But days later the White House admitted the president had misled the public confirming that when Mr. Bush spoke, Snow had already indicated that he was leaving and a successor, Henry Paulson, had already accepted the job. Then November 1, Mr. Bush did not beat around the bush, if you will, telling reporters flat out that he wanted the defense secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, to stay on until the end of his presidency, but only days later, Rumsfeld was out.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Last week you told us that Secretary Rumsfeld would be staying on. Why is the timing right now for this and how much does it have to do with the election results? BUSH: Right. No, you and Hunt and Kyle came in the Oval Office and you asked -- Hunt asked me the question one week before the campaign, and basically it was are you going to do something about Rumsfeld and the vice president? And my answer was, you know, they're going to stay on and the reason why is I didn't want to inject a major decision about this war in the final days of a campaign. So the only way to answer that question and to get you on to another question was to give you that answer. (END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: So is the president waiting for the right moment now to make a move over at the Justice Department? Could Alberto Gonzales already be on his way out? We're watching this very, very closely. Once we know more, we'll of course share it with you.

Let's go to Jack Cafferty in New York. He's got "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, our nation's capital has a major reading problem. A new report says 36 percent of Washington, D.C.'s residents are functionally illiterate. That means they have a hard time doing things like understanding bus schedules, reading maps, filling out job applications. And we're not just talking about members of Congress here either.

Compare that to the national rate of 21 percent. The report by the State Education Agency found adults over 65 had the lowest literacy score of any group and it's thought that growing number of Hispanic and Ethiopian immigrants are part of the reason for these low numbers in Washington, D.C.

It's a problem that comes with a price tag. The Washington, D.C. Chamber of Commerce says the city lost up to $107 million in taxes every year between 2000 and 2005 because there were not enough qualified job applicants. So here's the question.

Why is the rate of functional illiteracy so much higher in Washington, D.C. than elsewhere in the country? E-mail your thoughts to CaffertyFile@CNN.com or go to CNN.com/CaffertyFile -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jack, thank you.

Coming up here in THE SITUATION ROOM, one-on-one with Bill Maher -- the comedian loses faith in one of the 2008 front-runners.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: John McCain supports the idea that more troops is the answer in Iraq. To me, that's just dumb. It's just not bright. So he's out. Not my favorite anymore.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Does Bill Maher have kinder words for Senator Hillary Clinton? We'll find out.

Plus, the terminator versus the guy who calls himself the most dangerous man in America -- Arnold Schwarzenegger taking on Rush Limbaugh -- find out why they're trading insults over the airwaves.

And bracing for bombs and terror -- scrambling against what Israel feels is a looming threat from Iran. Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: They were Cold War foes, and relations have been sort of icy lately. That would be the relationship between the United States and Russia. But could Iran create somewhat of a thaw?

Our State Department correspondent Zain Verjee is watching all of this unfold -- Zain.

ZAIN VERJEE, CNN STATE DEPARTMENT CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Iran and Russia are good business buddies, and they're falling out. The U.S. could be the winner.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

VERJEE (voice-over): The U.S. is cheering a report that Russia is turning on its pal and business partner, Iran. Russia says it will stop building Iran's giant Bushehr nuclear power plant if Iran doesn't stop its uranium enrichment program. A senior Bush administration official says the White House is applauding this new pressure on Iran to change course. But Russia flatly denies the report.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There have been no Russian ultimatums to Iran of any kind.

VERJEE: Iran has been just one sore point between the U.S. and Russia.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Right now I would say it's cranky.

VERJEE: Though there's been no Cold War blast, there has been a chill.

SARAH MENDELSON, CTR. FOR STRATEGIC & INTL. STUDIES: Expectations haven't been met on both sides and there's a certain edginess.

VERJEE: The U.S. is unhappy with the crackdown on democracy in Russia. President Vladimir Putin is coming under fire, a far cry from 2001.

PRES. BUSH: I looked the man in the eye. I found him to be very straightforward and trustworthy.

VERJEE: But President Putin armed with oil cash and confidence is out for more Russian influence in the world.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE)

VERJEE: He slammed and shocked the U.S. last month, saying it's making the world more dangerous with what he called illegal unilateral military action in Iraq. Russia is also irritated about a new missile defense shield the U.S. wants to build next door in Poland and the Czech Republic and it resents U.S. support for its former Soviet Republic.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

VERJEE: The uneasy Washington/Moscow relationship plays out on every big international policy challenge, Wolf, when it comes to Iran, North Korea, Darfur and the war on terror -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Zain. Thanks. Meanwhile, dozens dead, chaos, all amid a chemical attack, it's one of many worst-case scenarios that some officials in Israel are taking very seriously right now.

CNN's Ben Wedeman is in Ramat Gan, Israel with more.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A gun-wielding terrorist rushes into the play ground of an Israeli high school...

(SOUNDS)

WEDEMAN: ... sets off a chemical bomb and runs away. This is only a drill. The exercise, complete with multiple casualties, a dead -- well, supposed to be a dead terrorist...

(SHOUTING)

WEDEMAN: ... distraught relatives and to add an extra touch of realism, a crowd of obnoxious reporters.

(on camera): The purpose of this two-day nationwide exercise is to put into practice some of the lessons learned from last summer's Lebanon war and also to prepare for what might come next.

(voice-over): And the list of what could be next is alarmingly long.

EPRAIM SNEH, DEPUTY DEFENSE MINISTER: The rockets and the missiles that Iran deployed in Lebanon under the auspices of Hezbollah, the rockets of Hamas and Islamic Jihad, which are also sponsored by Iran. And they tried to launch it on the other three, the last of the terrorist attacks from the West Bank to Israel.

WEDEMAN: Iran, and specifically its controversial nuclear program, are very much on Israeli minds these days and this drill, the biggest ever here, a not-so-subtle indication that Israel is preparing for the worst.

Ben Wedeman, CNN, Ramat Gan, Israel.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: And still ahead tonight here in THE SITUATION ROOM, Bill Maher on why he thinks the Democrats are being spineless right now.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Cut off the funding and allow Bush -- put the onus on Bush so that if the troops don't get what they need that's because that money is there to bring them home.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BLITZER: "Real Time" politics Bill Maher takes on the left and the right. Hillary Clinton attacked on YouTube. Internet users take the presidential campaign into their own hands, and it's getting dirty already.

Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Carol Costello is monitoring stories coming into THE SITUATION ROOM from around the world. Carol, what's crossing the wires?

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Hi, Wolf. Hello to all of you.

The U.S. Navy says environmental groups are not entitled to information about its use of sonar because it's a state secret. The groups have filed a lawsuit alleging sonar use in Navy training injures and kills whales and dolphins and violates environmental laws. The Navy says the requested information is classified and could hurt national security if it's disclosed.

Colombia's chief prosecutor says he will demand eight people be extradited to Colombia in connection with allegations Chiquita Brands International paid off terror groups. The banana producer has pleaded guilty to doing business with a terrorist organization. Under a plea deal with the U.S. government, Chiquita will pay $25 million in fines. It says it made the payments to protect its workers from attacks.

Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco has just announced that she will not seek re-election later this year. The Democratic incumbent saw her popularity plummet after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita devastated her state. She came under fire for her response to the storms and a recovery effort bogged down by red tape. A half dozen contenders for Blanco's job have already lined up ahead up this fall's gubernatorial election.

The 12-year-old Boy Scout who went missing for four days was homesick. His dad spoke out just a few hours ago telling reporters his son, Michael, wandered into the North Carolina woods to hitchhike home because he was lonely and homesick. A rescue dog led searchers to the boy today. Rescuers say he was weak but in good condition. Michael's dad says they're going to have another talk about hitchhiking though -- Wolf.

BLITZER: At least he's OK and a lot of us are relieved at that. I know you are as well, Carol.

COSTELLO: Yes.

BLITZER: Thanks very much.

Just ahead, "Real Time's" Bill Maher on the race for the White House and a possible surprise candidate.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think Al Gore will jump in if he smells blood in the water. I don't think he's going to do it any time soon. I think if he sees a situation sort of similar to what's going on in the Republican Party where folks are dissatisfied with the choices, I think then he will.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: My interview with Bill Maher, that's coming up here in THE SITUATION ROOM. Plus, new skirmishes in the war of words between Arnold Schwarzenegger and Rush Limbaugh, we'll have a report. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Happening now, a potential constitutional crisis on the firings of those eight U.S. attorneys, President Bush says he will provide Congress unprecedented information and access to White House officials, but he will not, he says, allow Karl Rove and other top officials to testify under oath. Congressional Democrats want sworn testimony, and they are threatening subpoenas right now.

A health scare for the vice president -- today Mr. Cheney went to the hospital after feeling pain in his leg. Once again, it's the same leg doctors treated for a blood clot earlier this month. The vice president's spokeswoman says tests today showed no complications from that clot.

And Britain bans so-called dumb cluster bombs. Those weapons are designed to kill large numbers of enemy troops. Both Britain and the U.S. used thousands of cluster bombs at the start of the invasion of Iraq. Israel used them in its war with Hezbollah last summer.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

A hugely popular video posted on YouTube may be signaling a new trend in the race for the White House. Let's get some specific details.

Mary Snow is joining us from New York with more on what is going on -- Mary.

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, this is a mystery ad that's been viewed more than one million times so far, and many say it's just proof that the Internet is shaking up presidential politics and leveling the playing field.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SNOW (voice-over): As this unauthorized anti-Hillary Clinton ad on Internet site YouTube spreads in cyber space, so does curiosity of who is behind it. The remake of a famous Apple computer ad depicting George Orwell's 1984 features Senator Hillary Clinton as big brother and portrays Senator Barack Obama as the liberator. Obama says his campaign was not behind it.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D), ILLINOIS: It's not something that we had anything to do with or were aware of. And, frankly, given what it looks like, we don't have the technical capacity to create something like that.

SNOW: The only clues behind the ad, a posting signed ParkRidge47. Park Ridge, Illinois is where Clinton was born in 1947. We tried contacting the post, but our e-mail went unanswered.

Micah Sifry who monitors the Web and its political impact did get a response.

MICAH SIFRY, EDITOR, TECHPRESIDENT.COM: They said I want this ad to speak for itself. I'm not going to say who I am, but they obviously thought of it as a grassroots attack on Hillary Clinton.

SNOW: It's that grassroots element now on the Internet that's really getting attention.

HOWARD KURTZ, CNN'S "RELIABLE SOURCES": This is a historic shift from a world in which a few important media outlets kind of control the dialogue to a game where anybody can play.

SNOW: Case in point, YouTube -- it features moments not featured in campaign ads, like Democrat John Edwards fixing his hair, Republican Rudy Giuliani shown out of context dressed like a woman.

Web video postings also make it impossible to forget comments made on the record. For example, Republican Mitt Romney opposes abortion now, but in 1994:

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, 1994)

MITT ROMNEY (R), MASSACHUSETTS SENATORIAL CANDIDATE: I believe that abortion should be safe and legal in this country.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SNOW: Some say this election is not about how the candidates are using the Internet, but, rather, how the Internet uses candidates.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SNOW: And now, today, Senator Hillary Clinton was asked by a New York station, New York One, about the "1984" ad. She said she hasn't seen it. And she added that anything that adds interest to these campaigns can be viewed as a good thing -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Mary Snow, thank you.

Let's get back to our top story. Will the firings of those eight federal attorneys bring on a constitutional showdown?

I spoke about that with a keen-eyed comic and social critic. That would be Bill Maher, the host of HBO's "Real Time With Bill Maher."

I began by asking him what he thinks of President Bush's decision to standby the attorney general, Alberto Gonzales.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BILL MAHER, HOST, "REAL TIME WITH BILL MAHER": Well, there are so many things about this that amaze me.

First of all, I was saying on my show the other night that we have been on the air for this season five weeks. In three of those weeks, there's been a major Bush scandal, Scooter Libby, Walter Reed, and, of course, now this U.S. attorneys thing.

What amazed me about it, Wolf, is that this was something that was written into the Patriot Act, that they could replace these attorneys and -- and not have to consult with the Senate.

BLITZER: It was sort of slipped in.

MAHER: And how long has...

BLITZER: It was sort of slipped in.

MAHER: Right.

And, you know, I understand that the Patriot Act, and then the "Patriot Act II: The Search for Curly's Gold," were not read. You know, that's the joke in Washington, that nobody read them. I understand, OK, nobody read them right after they were written, because, oh, it was after 9/11, and we didn't have time. We just had to rush through this legislation.

How come, at this late date, no one still has read them?

BLITZER: They're very, very long documents.

(LAUGHTER)

MAHER: I know, but you would think a lawmaker, Wolf, that's their job, to maybe go through -- you know, just when they are getting on a long plane ride, like a screenplay: Hey, take this and read it on your way to Japan.

BLITZER: Do -- have you...

MAHER: No, none of that.

BLITZER: ... seen a change on the part of the Democrats? They won back in November. They are the majority in the House and the Senate. They -- they now have subpoena power, oversight power. They can do things now they couldn't do during the first six years of the Bush presidency.

MAHER: Well, when are they going to start doing them?

BLITZER: Are you suggesting they haven't shown the spine yet, the guts that you would like to see?

MAHER: Right. They don't raise the bet, you know?

Cut off the funding. That's what -- that's what -- or at least vote for that. That's what the Congress is supposed to do, control the purse strings.

When the Republicans cut off funding, like, their famous starve- the-beast theory with government, no one complains about that. Cut off the funding, and allow the -- the -- Bush -- put the onus on Bush, so that, if the troops don't get what they need, that's because that money is there to bring them home.

BLITZER: Let me switch gears, because we have a limited amount of time. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, what do you make of this duel among the Democrats?

MAHER: Well, I think it's good for the viewer.

(LAUGHTER)

MAHER: It's interesting. It will put the presidential race perhaps on the cover of "People" magazine, and then people would follow it.

I think Hillary Clinton should run in 2008 on a platform of restoring honor and integrity to the White House.

BLITZER: It reminds a lot of our viewers of what Bush ran on in 2000; is that what you are suggesting?

MAHER: That -- that is exactly what I'm saying, Wolf.

BLITZER: Because I remember that phrase.

You think Al Gore is going to jump in?

MAHER: I think Al Gore will jump in if he smells blood in the water.

I don't think he's going to do it any time soon. I think, if he sees a situation sort of similar to what's going on in the Republican Party, where folks are dissatisfied with the choices, I think, then, he will. I think he still wants to be president. I don't think you ever lose that yen. And I think he still could be a good president.

But it's a crowded field. And I think, if Hillary or Obama falters, I think you have other candidates, even before Al Gore, who would rise to the top. I think John Edwards is probably the dark horse in this race. I think he could win this thing by being everybody's second favorite choice.

BLITZER: Let me pick your brain. You are out in California. Arnold Schwarzenegger, he seems to be -- he won decisively his reelection. He was here in THE SITUATION ROOM last week. He's pretty popular out there. How do you explain this?

MAHER: Well, I think he's a pretty good politician, for one.

He understands that you can reverse yourself and avoid the -- the term flip-flopper, which is applied to people who sometimes reverse themselves in politics. I think he looks at President Bush and, says: Oh, well, Mr. Resolute, look where that got him. He's -- he's really just seen as stubborn and willful and arrogant.

So, Schwarzenegger has not been afraid to switch gears. And the other thing he does, I think, is that he's out front of where the federal government is -- is on many issues, like the environment, like stem cell research.

He's saying: California is a giant state. It's almost its own country. If it was a country, I think it would have the seventh largest economy in the world. And he puts the federal government to shame by doing things that they should be doing.

BLITZER: Is he your favorite Republican?

MAHER: He's one of them, yes.

BLITZER: Who -- who else do you -- who else do you like?

(CROSSTALK)

MAHER: Well, I used to like John McCain a lot more. But I think what we have to look for, most importantly, in the next president is smart.

I think, if you polled the people in this country, they would say, well, we had a big experiment here the last eight years, the last six years, with George Bush. We -- we thought, well, maybe we can get away with a president who wasn't that bright. Well, look how that turned experiment turned out.

I want a very bright man in the White House next time. John McCain supports the idea that more troops is the answer in Iraq. To me, that's just dumb. It's just not bright. So, he's out -- not my favorite anymore.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: A final thought on Rudy Giuliani?

MAHER: Rudy Giuliani, you know, his reputation rests largely on the fact that he was so great on 9/11. And he was very inspiring on 9/11.

But I think what folks forget is that the reason why there were so many great pictures of him running around town that day is because the command-and-control center was put, by him, in the World Trade Center, which was attacked in 1993. He put the command-and-control center in the one place he shouldn't have. So, his big decision on terrorism turned out to be quite a bust. So, him, smart? Sorry. Can't give him that either.

BLITZER: "Real Time With Bill Maher" airs on our sister network HBO Friday nights, 11:00 p.m. Eastern.

Bill, thanks for coming in.

MAHER: Wolf, always a pleasure.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: And still ahead tonight here in THE SITUATION ROOM: California's Republican governor calling Rush Limbaugh -- and I'm quoting now -- "irrelevant" -- the latest volley in a heated war of words. Find out how Rush Limbaugh is responding.

Plus, Al Gore is about to heat up the politics of global warming. We're going to show you what he's about to do right here in Washington tomorrow.

Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Few people can overshadow Senator Hillary Clinton, but Bill Clinton may be one of them. The couple took the spotlight in a rare joint appearance to raise campaign cash -- and this coming amid allegations the Clinton campaign is delivering an ultimatum to donors.

Our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider, reports.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST (voice-over): Bill Clinton is suddenly front and center in the Clinton-for-president campaign, hosting fund-raisers in New York and Washington.

The Clinton campaign is reported to be using some muscle on contributors, telling them, you can't give money to other Democrats, only to us.

ANITA DUNN, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: They understand that campaigns are about choices. And forcing people to make that choice early is a smart thing for them to do.

SCHNEIDER: It's also smart to use Bill Clinton to raise money. While Hillary Clinton is the most popular Democrat running for president right now, her husband's standing is in a class by itself. Are we talking about co-presidents here?

When Bill Clinton first ran for president in 1992, he talked about two for the price of one -- not this time.

WILLIAM J. CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Now that we have changed places, and I'm in the nongovernmental world and she's an elected official...

SCHNEIDER: The senator is running on her own record.

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D), NEW YORK: Clearly, it is only because of what I have done the last six years, added to all my previous life experiences, that I feel ready to assume the position of president of the United States.

SCHNEIDER: Her husband certainly helps. As George Bush's popularity in the country has dropped, Bill Clinton's popularity has risen.

STUART ROTHENBERG, "THE ROTHENBERG POLITICAL REPORT": Generally, time has been good to Bill Clinton. I think the prosperity of the Clinton years and the difficulties that George Bush has had, that's helped Bill Clinton's reputation, and that has to help his wife.

SCHNEIDER: But a presidential candidate has to make one thing clear: I am my own person.

That's why vice presidents often have trouble getting elected. It may be easier for a spouse.

DUNN: She is in an enviable position of being able to have the loyalty factor play for her, while she has more space to be independent.

SCHNEIDER: Seeing the Clintons together reminds people of what they liked about Bill Clinton's presidency. But they have to establish their independence.

(on camera): To win the election, Democrats have to make the 2008 election a referendum on the Bush record, not on the Clintons.

Bill Schneider, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: The politics of global warming clearly heating up here in Washington -- the former Vice President Al Gore set to testify before Congress tomorrow on climate change.

As our Jacki Schechner explains, Gore has been preparing for his Washington return for months -- Jacki.

JACKI SCHECHNER, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: That's right, Wolf.

Al Gore is going to testify before House and Senate committees tomorrow and propose ways to stop global warming. But, when he heads up to the Hill, he's going to have 12 big boxes of postcards toting along with him.

He's been collecting signatures through his Web site, AlGore.com, since the Web site launched last December. The postcards ask Congress to take -- quote -- "real action" to stop global warming. Now, the original goal was to collect some 350,000 signatures. But Al Gore says that they reached that goal over the weekend. And, so, they were aiming now for over a half-a-million signatures. A spokeswoman says that these signatures are printed out on postcards that use recycled paper and a union vendor.

Now, what happens to these is, they all be bundled up and brought up to the Hill tonight. You will see them tomorrow as Al Gore testifies, and then they will be distributed to congressional offices after noon -- Wolf.

BLITZER: We will be having extensive coverage of that testimony tomorrow. Thank you, Jacki.

Up ahead: Rush Limbaugh says Arnold Schwarzenegger sold out. The Terminator calls the talk show host irrelevant. Find out why they're trading barbs over the airwaves.

And lots of children left behind in the nation's capital -- more than a third of Washington, D.C., residents are illiterate.

Jack Cafferty with your e-mail -- when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: There's a growing war of words between Arnold Schwarzenegger and Rush Limbaugh. The radio talk show host has long been questioning Schwarzenegger's Republican credentials. And, today, the California governor is firing right back.

Let's get some details from CNN's Carol Costello -- Carol.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, Wolf, Rush Limbaugh is a master at coining a loaded term: Breck Girl for Democrat John Edwards, feminazi for feminists, and Queen Bee Nancy for Democratic Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

But why pick on Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger?

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP, "THE RUSH LIMBAUGH SHOW")

RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: The Democrats in this country still...

(END AUDIO CLIP)

COSTELLO (voice-over): Rush Limbaugh calls himself the most dangerous man in America, because critics have longed worried his powerful radio show shaped the political landscape.

And then came Arnold, who told "The Today Show":

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "THE TODAY SHOW")

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Why?

GOV. ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER (R), CALIFORNIA: Rush Limbaugh is irrelevant. I'm not his servant. I'm the people's servant of California.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COSTELLO: It was a shot aimed at Limbaugh's loaded term for Schwarzenegger: closet liberal.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP, "THE RUSH LIMBAUGH SHOW")

LIMBAUGH: I don't know what happened to Arnold. He obviously didn't have the leadership skills to articulate conservative principles and win over the public, as Reagan did.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

COSTELLO: Some political observers say Schwarzenegger's smackdown is a sign Limbaugh's not the dominant force he once was. Back in the day, his was the only conservative voice on the airways. Now he's one of many.

But others say Limbaugh's power has always been a myth.

MICHAEL HARRISON, EDITOR AND PUBLISHER, "TALKERS": For all of his power and for all of his fame, Rush Limbaugh, during his ascent in the '90s, bashing Bill Clinton on a daily basis, hours every day, on the radio coast to coast was not able to un-elect Bill Clinton.

COSTELLO: Still, conservatives credit Limbaugh for the Republican takeover of Congress in '94. But Harrison says Limbaugh is struggling now that his party has lost power to the Democrats and because there is no leading Republican candidate he can tout wholeheartedly on his radio show.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP, "THE RUSH LIMBAUGH SHOW")

LIMBAUGH: They're good guys. They're Republicans, but they're not conservative.

I happen to be a conservative, and I happen to be oriented toward conservative triumph. And conservatism won't triumph if we water it down and dilute it, and say that people are 60 percent conservative or whatever happened to be the definition of new conservative.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

COSTELLO: Still, none of this means you will hear any Republican running for president disrespecting Limbaugh. They're still in the business of not offending anyone.

Schwarzenegger, who can't run for president, is free to shoot from the hip.

(END VIDEOTAPE) COSTELLO: And that, he does.

As for how Limbaugh responds to being irrelevant, well, on his show today, he said, "I don't know how it is I can be irrelevant, when, every time Schwarzenegger shows up on 'The Today Show,' they ask him about me."

And, you know, Wolf, he does have the number-one talk show in America, still.

BLITZER: He certainly does.

Thank you for that, Carol.

And this additional note: The fight is continuing online. The number-one story on RushLimbaugh.com right now is this: "Schwarzenegger Sold Out."

Jack Cafferty is joining us from New York.

Hi, Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, the question this hour is: Why is the rate of functional illiteracy so much higher in Washington, D.C., than it is elsewhere in the country?

Joy in Morrisville, North Carolina, writes: "It's a tragedy to think a child or an adult cannot read. Their world must be awfully small, their imagination nil. I will assume school regulations are not enforced by local government in Washington. Did they not vote in a convicted drug user to represent them? This alone says a lot."

Talking about Marion Barry, the former mayor.

Rita in Seattle: "The District of Columbia has no real representation in Congress. Therefore, the needs of its people are chronically ignored."

Danny in Nashville, Tennessee: "The reason why the illiteracy rate is so high in Washington is obvious, yet, no one politician, for fear of being called a racist, will say it. The population is 60 percent black, period. Compare the illiteracy rate of blacks around the country, and you will see the obvious answer."

Robert writes: "D.C. schools should be a model for the nation, seeing that it's our nation's capital. I think that, if elected to Congress, all members should have to send their children to D.C. public schools. Then, maybe, they would care about the education of the young people in D.C. To blame the illiteracy rate there on immigrants is ridiculous."

Dave in Pennsylvania: "Isn't it obvious? Aside from the Oval Office population, and not counting the thousands of illiterates and other vermin at Homeland Security, there are well over 500 people in Congress alone whose reading comprehension skills require remedial reading courses. This was clearly proven when they all voted for the Patriot Act with absolutely no understanding of what it said."

And Mike in Gulf Breeze, Florida: "Jack, the answer is obvious. The rest of the country elects their most illiterate to office and then sends them to D.C. to govern."

If you didn't see your e-mail here, you can go to CNN.com/CaffertyFile, and read more of them online -- Wolf.

BLITZER: See you tomorrow, Jack. Thank you.

Let's find out what's coming up right at the top of the hour.

And Paula Zahn has a preview.

Hi, Paula.

PAULA ZAHN, HOST, "PAULA ZAHN NOW": Hi, Wolf. Thanks.

As we go into the fifth year of the Iraq war, we're bringing out in the open the desperate measures some soldiers' families are taking because they fear losing a loved one in the war.

Also: the color of murder, the shocking truth about how many of America's murder victims are black and how many lost their lives to black killers."

It's all coming out at the top of the hour and out in the open.

And, Wolf, you will be a special guest tonight, when we try to figure out where our troops will be four years from now in Iraq, and how many of them. I hope you have got the answers ready for us.

BLITZER: I don't have necessarily the answers, but I'm happy to be on your show, happy that Christiane Amanpour, Michael Ware are going to be part of this panel -- a good discussion coming up at the top of the hour.

Thanks, Paula.

ZAHN: Thank you.

BLITZER: Up ahead: high fashion and lowly work. Our own Jeanne Moos has a most unusual look at Naomi Campbell's community service.

Also: new clues and new reports of animal deaths in that massive pet food recall.

Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Let's check back with Carol for some other important stories making news right now -- Carol.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Wolf. FDA investigators are now looking at whether wheat gluten is to blame for sickening and killing pet cats and a dog. Some pets reportedly also died in a routine testing test -- a routine tasting test by Menu Foods. The deaths prompted Menu Foods to recall dozens of brands of cuts-and-gravy animal food.

The FDA says Menu Foods switched to a new wheat gluten producer right around the time the pets died.

A Bahamian judge is ordering a DNA test on Anna Nicole Smith's infant daughter. It's to identify who the child's father is. Larry Birkhead and Howard K. Stern each claim they're Dannielynn's father. The former "Playboy" Playmate died suddenly last month. The cause of Smith's death remains under investigation.

He was the second man to set foot on the moon, but, today, astronaut Buzz Aldrin was the first to step onto the Grand Canyon's new Skywalk. The $40 million steel walkway takes visitors 70 feet over the lid of the canyon. It's paved with 90 tons of glass.

And, Wolf, if you want to step out on this thing, it will cost you 25 bucks.

BLITZER: It's a little scary, especially for those of us who don't like heights like that. But I assume it's pretty majestic.

Hey, Carol, thanks. See you tomorrow.

You're used to seeing her prowl the catwalks, but she's recently been working a far less glamorous job.

Here's CNN's Jeanne Moos.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): If you think our celebrity culture is garbage, this should warm your heart.

(on camera): I mean, Naomi Campbell in this atmosphere, it's just...

JOHN CHALMERS, CELEBRITY JOURNALIST: There's a contrast to it, isn't it? Look at these dump trucks.

MOOS (voice-over): The supermodel was sentenced to five days of cleaning for throwing a cell phone at her maid. But look how she showed up for cleanup -- and not just any boots. They're supposedly $1,000 designer stilettos. She brought work boots to change in to.

(on camera): So, Naomi Campbell is in this building right here, the Sanitation Department building, mopping the floors. And we're told she's also scrubbing the walls using a scrub brush on a pole, kind of like this one.

MOOS (voice-over): She's been dubbed the dumpster diva. And, every day, her outfit is analyzed as if it were Fashion Week. CHALMERS: A cute cap, black designer sunnies, gold earrings or silver earrings.

MOOS: Day two, she wore fur. Naomi told "The New York Daily News" she would auction her combat boots and work clothes for charity. Not since Martha Stewart left prison in this poncho made by a fellow prisoner...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This was like an Oscar walk.

MOOS: ... has there been such attention to the outfit a celeb in legal trouble.

Martha got flak for carrying a more-than-$6,000 Hermes bag into court. It appears a sanitation cop was carrying Naomi's bag for her. And, like Martha, Naomi wore a poncho when she was arrested, some say to hide her handcuffs.

Her rages and cell phone are favorites for ridicule.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: You stupid cow.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MOOS: The Smoking Gun has even created a puppet reenactment of her previous run-ins with the help, based on court documents.

On top of the vehicle that picked her up after cleanup duty, this TMZ video shows Naomi's very own fashion photographer documenting her every move. At least she didn't have to sleep outside in full view of the press. That's what happened to Boy George when he did community service here. And he got so annoyed...

BOY GEORGE, MUSICIAN: Oh!

MOOS: ... that he swept dirt at photographers. Because of that circus, Naomi got to clean indoors.

"The New York Post"'s cartoonist joked, "Naomi made it into a must-have accessory," the broom, the orange safety vest.

What's next?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is the dust mask that she's wearing.

MOOS: You would think this was a runway, not a driveway for garbage trucks.

(MUSIC)

MOOS: Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Let's go to Paula in New York -- Paula.

ZAHN: Wolf, thanks.

TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.voxant.com

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