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THE SITUATION ROOM

DOJ Official Refuses to Testify on Firings of Eight U.S. Attorneys; Security Scare on Capitol Hill

Aired March 26, 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, Kitty.
Happening now: Why won't she talk? A top Justice Department official refuses to testify about the firing of those eight U.S. attorneys. Are angry Democrats about to light a fire under the attorney general, Alberto Gonzales?

A security scare on Capitol Hill, an aide to Democratic Senator Jim Webb is arrested with a loaded gun, but did the gun really belong to his boss?

And it began with whispers in quiet corners. Now the I-word is being spoken out loud. If even Republicans are talking about impeachment, is it just idle conversation?

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

Tonight a top aide to the attorney general, Alberto Gonzales, is vowing to keep her lips sealed about the firing of those federal prosecutors. You probably never heard of Monica Goodling. We've circled her in the graphic behind me. She's about to become a new lightning rod in the scandal tearing at the White House and pitting Congress against the president.

Our White House correspondent Suzanne Malveaux is standing by. Let's get the latest first from our congressional correspondent Dana Bash. Dana, what is the latest?

DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well I'll read you the operative line from the letter that Monica Goodling's attorney wrote to Congress. Check it out in the wall next to me.

It says the potential for legal jeopardy for Ms. Goodling from even her most truthful and accurate testimony under these circumstances is very real, one need look no further than the recent circumstances and proceedings involving Lewis Libby", that of course referring to "Scooter" Libby who was just convicted for perjury.

Now he also gave a couple of other reasons, the first, perhaps the most interesting. What he said is that they already know that one of Monica Goodling's bosses told the senator that he wasn't truthful with Congress because Monica Goodling didn't give him all of the facts. And she clearly doesn't want to be the fall guy or gal in this case. And the other reason, Wolf, they say that they believe the Democrats have simply already made it their conclusions even before she or anybody else has come here to testify.

BLITZER: So she wants to take the Fifth, refused to testify for grounds it could incriminate her. How are the Democrats reacting to this major development?

BASH: Well, they reacted immediately, essentially saying that this raises even more questions about why these federal prosecutors were fired because Monica Goodling is a senior official at the Justice Department and also the liaison to the White House. One senior Democrat said that essentially suggests, I should say, that Monica Goodling has something to hide, that perhaps that's why she's not coming forward and talking to Congress about what went on.

That immediately gave -- led to a response, Wolf, from her attorney. This is a really fast-moving story, essentially saying this is exactly what I'm talking about. This is why I'm not allowing my client to come and talk to Congress because you Democrats, you've already concluded we've done things wrong. Why should we bother?

BLITZER: From Capitol Hill, let's go to the White House. Suzanne Malveaux is standing by. What are they saying about this bombshell, Suzanne?

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, I just got a statement from Dana Perino, a spokeswoman here at the White House. I'll read it to you. She says it is be unfortunate that a public servant no longer feels comfortable that they will be treated fairly in testimony in front of Congress.

The attorney general with the president's support has urged members of the Justice Department to cooperate with Congress' request for testimony. However, we must respect the constitutional rights of the people involved and the decision of those individuals and their counsel to protect those rights.

Now, Wolf, clearly the situation tonight really complicates things for the White House. It puts more pressure -- much more pressure -- on this White House to move forward and put before it Karl Rove and Harriet Miers, allowing them to testify before members of Congress. That is not going to happen. They still say there is no deal regarding that. They feel that voluntary discussions behind the scenes is good enough.

The White House has also used this as political cover, if you will, saying Justice Department officials are more than welcome and open to testify. Now we see a different picture -- Wolf.

BLITZER: It's not every day that a top Justice Department official takes the Fifth. Suzanne, stand by. We're going to be getting back to you.

This political firestorm now consuming Washington has been in the making for years. Let's walk through how we got here. It was back in January 2005 as President Bush began his second term that the first administration e-mails were exchanged discussing the possibility of firing some or all U.S. attorneys. Nearly two years later in January of 2007, the shakeup actually went down with seven of the eight prosecutors who were ousted, actually in December of 2006. They were asked to hand in their resignations.

In January 2007, the attorneys continue the problems, the attorney general, Alberto Gonzales, asked about the prosecutor firings, and he testified under oath that he would never, ever fire U.S. attorneys for political reasons.

Let's flash forward now to March this year, this coming Thursday, in fact. We're going to find out if Gonzales' former chief of staff, Kyle Sampson, will contradict his ex-boss when Sampson testifies on Capitol Hill.

Other news we're following, new threats from Iran tonight about some new questions involving the state of those British sailors and Marines seized at sea by the Revolutionary Guard.

CNN's Aneesh Raman is in Tehran -- Aneesh.

ANEESH RAMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, hard-liners in Iran are calling on the government to charge the 15 British Marines and sailors in Iranian custody with espionage and to see them put on trial. Iran's government has yet to officially say if it will or will not put the British military personnel on trial.

Meantime, over the weekend, we understand they were transported to the capital, Tehran. A top Iranian military official says in the course of interrogations all the British military personnel confessed to illegally trespassing into Iranian waters. The British government, of course, maintains they were in Iraqi, not Iranian waters when they were sized on Friday.

Iran has rejected that explanation and called this an act of quote, "blatant aggression." Now the last time Iran had British military personnel in its custody was in June 2004. They were released after three days. All indications on the ground are that the atmosphere has changed in the past three years.

Iran just slapped with another round of sanctions. Also five Iranians remain in coalition custody inside Iraq. Because of that, expectations are this ordeal could last longer -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Aneesh Raman in Tehran for us, thanks.

This showdown, by the way, began right here in the mouth of the Shaat Al Arab (ph), that's the disputed waterway on the Iraqi/Iranian border. Here's how it played out. Britain says its sailors and Marines were in Iraqi waters when they set out on rubber boats to inspect a ship suspected of smuggling automobiles.

The anti smuggling missions are authorized by the United Nations. But take a look at this. Patrol boats from Iran's Revolutionary Guard quickly moved in, surrounded the targeted ship, and seized the British sailors and marines. Iran says the British were in its territorial waters, and that's where the standoff stands right now.

So why was this British ship there in the first place? Our Abbi Tatton has been looking into the HMS Cornwall's mission -- Abbi.

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, it's there to protect Iraq's oil and therefore Iraq's economy. HMS Cornwall is home to a task force with the U.N.-backed mission to safeguard Iraqi oil platforms, Iraq's oil tankers, crucial exports from attack. And operating these 24-hour patrols of these waters, the members of this task force are also on the lookout for smugglers, routinely boarding merchant vessels and conducting inspections on them.

Where does it operate? Well it's in the Royal Navy Web site right here, the area of operation Iraq territorial waters. Iraqi waters that the British insist its marines and sailors were operating within at the time of this seizure -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Abbi, thank you.

Let's check in with Jack Cafferty. He's in New York. He's got "The Cafferty File" -- hi, Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Hi, Wolf.

Originally we were going to ask about how Britain should go about getting those sailors and marines back from Iranian custody, but then we got a hold of this story and it's just better. An aide to Democratic Senator Jim Webb was arrested this morning with the loaded gun on Capitol Hill. The Virginia senator's office identified the aide as Phillip Thompson.

According to the Capitol police an x-ray machine spotted the loaded pistol with two fully loaded magazines. The cops figured out he didn't have a license to carry a gun in Washington, D.C., and that he was in possession of an unregistered firearm and unregistered ammunition. It gets better.

Webb's office put out a statement that this was all an oversight by the aide and that they're quote, "awaiting the facts." One congressional official, who was briefed by law enforcement, told CNN that the handgun actually belonged to Senator Webb himself.

The aide said Thompson was driving Webb to the airport this morning. Webb suddenly remembered he had the gun on him. Senator Webb reportedly then gave the gun to Thompson and told him to take care of it. Well, getting arrested with the senator's gun comes up a little short of taking care of it.

Here's the question. Why does a U.S. senator need to carry a loaded gun? E-mail your thoughts to CaffertyFile@CNN.com or go to CNN.com/CaffertyFile. This is the guy that ousted George Allen down there in Virginia for the macaca comments and other things and was the fellow in a very close race who eventually tipped control of the Senate over to the Democrats. I don't know why he needs a loaded gun, do you, Wolf?

BLITZER: They have very liberal gun laws in the state of Virginia.

(LAUGHTER)

CAFFERTY: Yes, well he wasn't in Virginia.

BLITZER: I know...

CAFFERTY: Why is he carrying it to Washington?

BLITZER: That's where he's from. He lives...

Jack, stick around. Thank you.

Coming up, might Democrats change their minds and consider impeaching President Bush?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I would be very cautious about jumping to that procedure here of impeachment.

BLITZER: You're not completely ruling it out?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, again, you never want to rule those things out.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Senator and presidential candidate Chris Dodd leaves the door slightly open. It's a door with a lot of political land mines. He'll be joining us here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Plus, secret talks with Iraqi insurgents. Did the U.S. miss an opportunity to ease the bloodshed and start bringing troops home?

And is Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez cultivating a new weapon in his war of words with the U.S.? Would that be communism?

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: High Iraqi officers taking heat today over the friendly fire death of former pro football star Pat Tillman. Three years after the Army Ranger was killed in Afghanistan investigators have now announced their findings.

Let's go live to our senior Pentagon correspondent Jamie McIntyre. Jamie, who is the Pentagon holding accountable?

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SR. PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, after three botched investigations, interviewing hundreds of people, thousands of documents at a cost of $2 million, the Army says it finally has the investigation into Pat Tillman's death right.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) GEN. RICHARD CODY, U.S. ARMY: In April 2004, the Army broke faith with the Tillman family and how Pat Tillman's death was reported and briefed to him. For that I am truly sorry both as a general and as an Army father. But apologies aren't enough, and that is why we have investigated, taken corrective action and we will continue to hold ourselves as an Army accountable not only to the Tillman family but to every Army family.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MCINTYRE: Now investigators concluded the soldiers that shot Tillman made a tragic but understandable mistake, not so for the handling after the fact. The report was scathing saying that the previous investigations were deficient, that nine officers were to be faulted including four generals and the toughest criticism came for Lieutenant General Philip Kensinger, who is no longer on active duty. He's accused of misleading investigators about what he knew and when he knew it. He could face charges of false statements.

BLITZER: What about the Silver Star that Pat Tillman -- what happens to that?

MCINTYRE: Well, another general you may be familiar with, General Stanley McCrystal, who was a Pentagon briefer at one point, is under fire for approving that inaccurate Silver Star citation and failing to notify the Awards Board when it became clear that this would have been a friendly fire incident which wouldn't have qualified for a Silver Star. The Army says they're going to keep -- give Tillman the Silver Star. That they're going to adjust the supporting documentation to reflect what really happened, not the fiction that was written originally.

BLITZER: What a tragic story this has been, Jamie. Thanks very much.

Other news we're following, secret talks with Iraq's insurgents. There are new details emerging on contacts with the enemy from America's outgoing ambassador. Zalmay Khalilzad says the aim is to try to persuade them not to side with al Qaeda. But is it too little too late?

Joining us now in Baghdad our correspondent Michael Ware -- Michael, did the U.S. miss any opportunities in trying to deal with these Sunni insurgents?

MICHAEL WARE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Oh, absolutely, almost from day one. And that's been repeatedly admitted certainly privately by U.S. military intelligence officials, by officials from U.S. intelligence agencies, and by certain diplomats. I mean I personally sat with Baathists, Sunni nationalist insurgents, Iraq's version of former west pointers, Iraq's version of ex-members of the CIA, from the very beginning, from the fall of Saddam, they had no love lost for that dictator, but they love their country.

They saw themselves defending it. What they couldn't understand is why America was attacking it, why America was occupying it. From the very beginning they said we have more in common than we have in difference. They're prepared to host U.S. bases. They're prepared to deny sanctuary to al Qaeda. They're prepared to oppose Iran.

Their big problem has been this government, that they see that the U.S. has brought to power, a group of exiles who left the country during Saddam and took sanctuary amongst neighboring Iran principally, so that's where the difference lies. It all comes back to the old Iran-Iraq/Iran-U.S. differences and rivalries -- Wolf.

BLITZER: You know there are moderate Sunnis, there are moderate Shiites, certainly plenty of moderate Kurds, but the question is this, Michael. Among the more militant Sunnis, the Sunni insurgents, the more militant Shiites, the militias, can their division ever be brought together? Can they ever make peace given the hatred between the militants on both sides?

WARE: Well, this is the question. Has the civil war gone so far already that the scarring on the national psyche is so deep that no one can ever recover? Certainly there are extremists on both sides for whom there is now and never shall be room for negotiation. What's at stake is the middle ground, middle Iraq.

And I have to tell you, be they former Baathists who believe that they fought for their country, be they Shia militia who they believe have opposed a foreign occupier, not in the name of Islam, not in the name of Tehran, but in the name of their country. Among these people I believe there is still one last chance to bring them in under a nationalist umbrella. And it's up to America now whether it can harness this kind of Iraqi pride.

BLITZER: Michael Ware reporting for us from Baghdad. Michael, thanks as usual.

WARE: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: We're going to have a lot more on this subject, the war on Iraq coming up tomorrow right here in THE SITUATION ROOM. Senator John McCain, Republican presidential candidate, he will be among our guests.

Moving on, he's a thorn in the side of the Bush administration, now making sweeping changes to his own country. But is the Venezuelan president, Hugo Chavez, fomenting a new wave of communism in the process?

Our State Department correspondent Zain Verjee is joining us now live. What is Chavez up to, Zain?

ZAIN VERJEE, CNN STATE DEPARTMENT CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Venezuela's leader wants to grab land, to share the wealth. Could Hugo Chavez, the socialist, be steering the country down the road toward communism?

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

VERJEE (voice-over): He fancies himself a modern day Robin Hood. Hugo Chavez is taking land from the rich to share with the poor.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE)

VERJEE: On his weekly TV show, the Venezuelan leader insists the state has the right to turn private farmland into collective property. Is this land grab code for communism? Experts say any worries communism is spreading close to the U.S. is overblown.

DANIEL ERIKSON, SR. ASSOC. INTER-AMERICAN DIALOGUE: It's very hard and this -- in the year 2007 when the globalized economy to really see a replication of communism.

VERJEE: Also, there's little chance that other Latin American leaders will go the Chavez way. Most don't agree with him. Those that do don't have the political support that Chavez does, but Chavez may be riding another wave.

ERIKSON: Chavez is really trying to take advantage of the widespread anti-American sentiment that exists in Latin America and he's trying to do it both for domestic political consumption within Venezuela as well as to build a broader following throughout the region.

VERJEE: Since he was re-elected, Chavez has been pushing his socialist vision. He's made headlines, nationalizing the telecommunications and electric industries. And Chavez controls a lot of oil and gas. This latest land move doesn't hurt him either. He gets to keep a firmer grip on power.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

VERJEE: The State Department says that Venezuela's in charge of running its own economy, but says Chavez's choices are not going to help the people of Venezuela, only the free market can -- Wolf.

BLITZER: We know he's pals with Fidel Castro in Cuba. Is that what he's trying to do in Venezuela, create a new Cuba there?

VERJEE: No, not really. He's not going down the path of communism. Hugo Chavez is essentially a socialist. The Venezuelan economy though is a mixed one. They are capitalistic characteristic, but there has been a lot of unhappiness over privatization and so what Chavez has done he's really jumped on that saying there's a better way and it's his way -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Zain Verjee reporting, our State Department correspondent. By the way, Chavez is using his country's considerable oil wealth to gain influence throughout Central and South America. He's promised electricity plants in Nicaragua, sending diesel fuel to Ecuador, building roads and schools in Bolivia. And he's purchased billions of dollars in bonds and risky debt in Argentina. He's been a very busy guy.

Up ahead tonight here in THE SITUATION ROOM, a Republican goes where even some Democrats won't. Senator Chuck Hagel's impeachment talk, should President Bush feel threatened? And Elizabeth Edwards' first solo appearance campaigning with cancer, is she helping her husband's presidential bid? We're tracking her on the campaign trail and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Carol Costello is in New York. She's monitoring the stories that are coming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now. What's the latest, Carol?

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Well mystery solved, Wolf. Why were some people on a flight from Hong Kong sick at the same time with the same symptoms? Apparently they just all suffered symptoms of the flu. The Continental flight landed at New Jersey's Newark airport after about seven passengers complained of illness and the whole plane was detained for a time. But after examination health officials said their illness was normal and nothing to worry about and they were all allowed to go through Customs.

Drugs used to treat anxiety, a large amount of sleeping medication, even one drug that can be used for weight control -- all of those drugs and more were found in Anna Nicole Smith's system. In Florida the autopsy shows nine prescription drugs, and it was a fatal combination, but police believe it was an accidental overdose involving no foul play.

And Japan's prime minister says he's sorry to women who were sex slaves in Japan during World War II, but the prime minister is not saying that Tokyo forced thousands of women into sexual slavery. The Japanese prime minister would only say that he was sorry for quote, "the situation they found themselves in."

That's a look at the headlines right now, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. We'll check back with you in a moment, Carol. Thanks.

Just ahead, growing calls for the attorney general, Alberto Gonzales, to resign over that prosecutor purge.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think the time has come based on the information over the weekend and this kind of information that the attorney general really needs to step aside.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: We'll talk about Gonzales, the war in Iraq, possible impeachment of the president with Democratic presidential candidate and Senator Chris Dodd.

Plus, details of a sudden resignation at the Smithsonian coming amid serious questions about some out-of-control spending that's been alleged.

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

Happening now, he's a suspected terrorist and an admitted hotel bomber, now he's a prisoner at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, an Australian who officials say admits he was involved in the 2002 attack on the Paradise Hotel in Kenya, which killed more than 12 people.

They want a peaceful end to a very tense situation, the president of China and Russia. They met in Moscow. Both say they hope for a sound solution to crises in Iran and North Korea and their nuclear programs.

And Tony Snow undergoes surgery. It's to remove a small growth in his lower abdomen. Snow was treated for cancer back in 2005. Today's procedure is to see if his cancer has returned.

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

Our top story tonight, a new bombshell in the political battle over fired federal prosecutors, a top aide to the attorney general, Alberto Gonzales, says she won't, repeat, won't answer senators' questions about the scandal. Her lawyer says Monica Goodling will invoke her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination to protect herself from legal peril and from what her lawyer calls, and I'm quoting now, "a hostile environment created by Democrats."

Let's go back to our White House correspondent, Suzanne Malveaux. What's the administration saying about this whole scandal today, Suzanne?

MALVEAUX: Well, Wolf, they're really playing off on this letter from Monica Goodling, the attorney that actually sent it over to members of the committee inside Congress saying, look, that they feel that this is unfortunate that she does not feel comfortable, that she would get a fair hearing, testimony before members of Congress. So they are painting this really as what you had mentioned before, the attorneys saying a poisonous and perilous environment.

They are also saying as well that they believe that the president has tried to push and tried to encourage Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and his aides to come forward and to give as much information as they can but they say they respect Goodling's right not to do so because they don't think the process is fair. Clearly they are trying to kind much play into that idea that the environment here in Washington is so poisonous that they don't think that ultimately she is going to get a fair hearing -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Suzanne, thank you. And Monica Goodling's refusal to testify on the firings of those attorneys instantly drew fire from Democrats. Listen to what the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Patrick Leahy says, and I'm quoting: "The American people are left to wonder what conduct is at the base of Ms. Goodling's concern that she may incriminate herself in connection with criminal charges if she appears before the committee under oath." Let's turn to Democratic presidential candidate, Connecticut Senator Chris Dodd.

Thanks, Senator, for coming in.

SEN. CHRIS DODD, (D-CT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: This is a fast-moving story involving Alberto Gonzales and this latest development is raising a lot of concern. What's your reaction to the senior Justice Department official now pleading the Fifth?

DODD: Well, it is deeply troubling to me. Of all the departments and sitting around the cabinet table, the one you traditionally think of as being outside of politics, even though these jobs are political in nature, in the beginning, appointed through a political process, it's the one agency you would like to believe is as far removed from the day-to-day politics of Washington as any agency. This is the Justice Department. The power to prosecute individuals. One tries to imagine that job and the people in those positions being as far removed from the politics of Washington as any agency could possibly be.

So this is very, very troubling. I think the time has come based on the information over the weekend and this kind of information that the attorney general really needs to step aside. The president ought to be asking for his resignation. This story is only going to get worse. It seems to me the quicker they can clean this up and restore the American people's confidence in the Justice Department and the jobs these U.S. attorneys are doing, the better off everyone is going to be.

BLITZER: There is another showdown involving the White House and the Congress, mostly Democrats, some Republicans, involving funding for the war in Iraq. What the president is saying, he said last week after the House vote, this is simply Democratic political theater. And some are saying that was a preemptive strike against you and your fellow Democrats in the Senate. Don't do anything that will stop the funds that the troops need.

DODD: Well, the troops are going to get whatever they need. All of us feel that. There's no -- to suggest somehow that people who disagree with this policy and believe the time has come to get our troops out of these densely-populated urban areas like Baghdad where you have militias -- dozens of militias operating here, asking our troops to become referees, in effect, in the middle of a civil war, is something that I think is not just a question of Democrats caring about.

Anywhere you go in this country, Wolf, you're hearing from people regardless of political party that believe after more than four years now that we've done about all we can do here absent the Iraqis themselves deciding they want to be a country and to come together politically. And that's what Baker-Hamilton recommended, all our military leaders there have made the same recommendations. So I don't think you're going to find here about theater -- political theater. This is an expression of where the American public believes we ought to be going in Iraq. And so my hope is that we can do what the House did this week and begin to terminate this policy but not leave our troops. None of us will leave our troops in harm's way.

BLITZER: Well, the president and the vice president, Dick Cheney, says that's what would be accomplished if you had your way. Listen to what the vice president has just said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DICK CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If they really support the troops, then we should take them at their word and expect them to meet the needs of our military on time in full and with no strings attached.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right. Do you want to respond to the vice president?

DODD: Well, you know, listen, after four different times over the last four years, I had to fight unsuccessfully to get body armor for our troops on the ground. Remember Secretary Rumsfeld being chastised by troops in Baghdad that they were only going to get the army they have not the one they ought to have.

This is the same crowd that didn't provide the armoring up for our vehicles there, it refuses to provide benefits for our veterans when they come back. This is the vice president talking about caring for the troops, he is a little disingenuous here and, again, the notion that you can disagree with the policy and continue to support our troops is not a hard one for people to understand.

BLITZER: Chuck Hagel, the Republican senator from Nebraska, has caused somewhat of a stir in an interview in Esquire magazine raising the impeachment word involving President Bush. I'll read to you from the Esquire interview.

"The president says, I don't care. He's not accountable anymore, which isn't totally true. You can impeach him and before this is over you might see calls for his impeachment. I don't know. It depends how this goes."

Where do you stand on the issue of impeachment and President Bush?

DODD: Well, I listened to Bill Cohen, your previous guest. I think he sort of expressed my views on this. I don't want to see us jump to this right now. It seems to me this is getting ahead of ourselves. There have been calls already. Various people have raised that as a suggestion here.

I'd rather see us try and resolve some of these outstanding issues we have here. We have got an awful lot of issues at home and abroad to try and work our way through. At this point here I wouldn't go that far. Others have raised those concerns but I'm not there at all yet, Wolf.

BLITZER: Well, but I -- what I'm hearing is you're not completely ruling it out.

DODD: Well, again, you never want to rule those things out, but it seems we're getting ahead of ourselves here. I thought Bill Cohen explained it pretty well here. We have got a lot of issues to grapple with here. The American public are wondering when we can get beyond the 51-49 divide in this country.

We need to sort of work through -- we have a lot of issues at home and abroad that require much more cooperation. I've been down this road. I spent -- that foolish effort to impeach Bill Clinton, that took so much time and effort here, I would be very cautious about jumping to that procedure here of impeachment having been through it once already.

BLITZER: Senator Chris Dodd is a Democratic presidential candidate. Senator, thanks for coming in.

DODD: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: And still ahead tonight, Elizabeth Edwards hits the campaign trail on her husband's behalf and she has a confession to make.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ELIZABETH EDWARDS, WIFE OF JOHN EDWARDS: I can't turn on the television without seeing me or open a newspaper without seeing me and honestly I'm sick to death of me.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: And she has a lot more to say about her fight with cancer, Elizabeth Edwards, in her own words. That's coming up.

And Jack Cafferty wants to know why does a U.S. senator need to carry a loaded gun? Jack is standing by with "The Cafferty File." And you are in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: They used to be just whispers, quiet conversations about impeaching the president, but now as we just saw, they're getting a little bit louder. And you're going to be surprised who is doing some of the talking. CNN's Carol Costello joining us once again in New York.

What are you hearing, Carol?

COSTELLO: Well, Wolf, sounding just like a politician. He's not calling for it or suggesting it, but Chuck Hagel did drop the I-word. Keep in mind he is a Republican. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COSTELLO (voice-over): More calls to impeach Bush, they're coming from lawmakers in more than half a dozen states. The mayor of Salt Lake City, a Democrat in solidly red Utah, was one of the first to jump on board.

And now, although he's not calling for it, Republican Senator Chuck Hagel did say in Esquire magazine: "Before this is over, you may see calls for his impeachment."

The issue? What Senator Hagel and some other critics see is President Bush's arrogance and disregard for Congress.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM ABC NEWS "THIS WEEK,")

SEN. CHUCK HAGEL (R-NE), FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE: Any president who says I don't care or I will not respond to what the people of this country are saying about Iraq or anything else, or I don't care what the Congress does, I am going to proceed, if a president really believes that, then there are -- what I was pointing out, there are ways to deal with that.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, HOST: And you think that would be appropriate in this case?

HAGEL: This is not a monarchy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COSTELLO: Though there are times when Mr. Bush's outlook seems downright royal.

GEORGE BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: But I'm the decider.

COSTELLO: But decisions people may disagree with doesn't make a president impeachable.

Reality check.

JONATHAN TURLEY, CONSTITUTIONAL LAW EXPERT: The framers did not want a president impeached because he simply is a bad president or he does bad things or stupid things. But once the president starts to violate federal law, then he gets into a realm of impeachable offenses.

COSTELLO: Turley says it is not an impeachable offense to, as the president's toughest critics charge, mislead the American people into war with Iraq. Or, as another presidential hopeful claims, to threaten another country, like Iran.

Congressman Dennis Kucinich, in a statement from his Web site on YouTube...

REP. DENNIS KUCINICH (D-OH), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It's illegal to threaten aggressive war against another nation. Iran has no ability to attack us. And they do not have the intention to attack the United States.

COSTELLO: Reality check.

TURLEY: If the president were to truly ignore Congress, if Congress put restrictions, for example, on money, then we would be getting in to dangerous territory.

COSTELLO: To sum it up, the only way President Bush can be impeached is if he violates the law.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COSTELLO: And the Constitution makes it clear, you can dislike a president all you want, but the only way a president can be impeached is if he is found guilty of high crimes and misdemeanors -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thank you, Carol, for that. Elizabeth Edwards says living with cancer on the campaign trail is easier when people are cheering for you. The wife of a Democratic presidential candidate, John Edwards, got a rousing show of support in Cleveland today. It was her first solo appearance since revealing last week her disease is back and incurable. Our Mary Snow watched all of this unfold in Ohio -- Mary.

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Elizabeth Edwards says she has received thousands and thousands of e-mails and spoke to cancer survivor Lance Armstrong. And she said, just like the world famous cyclist, it's hard to stop when people are cheering you on.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SNOW (voice-over): She was greeted with a standing ovation at the City Club of Cleveland. Elizabeth Edwards, in her first public speech since announcing her breast cancer had spread, joked about all the media attention on her.

E. EDWARDS: I'm sick to death of me.

(LAUGHTER)

SNOW: With questions from the audience came comments, including one woman who said she was tired of hearing the talk about how Mrs. Edwards' health will affect her husband's presidential campaign.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think you are one wonderful woman, and go get them, and set the standard for Americans.

SNOW: Asked what she hoped would come out of the awareness of her stage four breast cancer, Mrs. Edwards said, she hoped cancer would be seen as something to live with, not die from, and she said she hopes people will think about their own mortality.

E. EDWARDS: Maybe this conversation about our own mortality allows us to think about how it is we want to use that unknown number of days each of us has.

And, if that conversation starts and people start thinking about, you know, how is it that I can do something better for my family, do something better for my community, do something better for my country in those days, instead of what we can accumulate in our lifetime.

SNOW: Some in the crowd said support for Elizabeth Edwards does not automatically mean they will support her husband, John Edwards, for president.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hey, I'm OK.

SNOW: Fifty-five-year-old Susan Hershman, who is getting treatment for breast cancer, is a Democrat who says she will support him if he's the nominee. But she says, first and foremost, Elizabeth Edwards is bringing health care into focus.

SUSAN HERSHMAN, CANCER SURVIVOR: When she can get across a message about health care, and not be afraid to talk about her personal issues, and the inspiration that she brings to other people, I think it's a tremendous help.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SNOW: And Elizabeth Edwards expects to learn more information from her doctors this week about her course of treatment -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Mary Snow in Cleveland for us tonight. Up ahead, Jack Cafferty wants to know why does a U.S. senator need to carry a loaded gun? Jack standing by with "The Cafferty File."

Plus, forget about "American Idol." CNN's Jeanne Moos takes a "Moost Unusual" look at "Inmate Idle." We'll tell you what is going on. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Let's check in with Jack Cafferty in New York. He has got "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: The question this is hour is, why does a U.S. senator need to carry a loaded gun? Tom in Arizona writes: "The question should be, why shouldn't a senator carry a gun, it's his constitutional right. Who knows, we might get some true political entertainment with a duel like Hamilton and Burr in 1804."

R. writes from Virginia: "I don't think being a senator has anything to do with Jim Webb carrying a gun, Jack. Have you noticed Webb is a macho military man who happens to live in Virginia where it's legal to carry a gun. I go for walks on a country road there all the time. My pistol is on my hip every time. I have a legal permit to carry it. And it is my choice. Better safe than sorry."

Tony in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina: "Webb is a Democrat in a closely divided Senate. Dick Cheney occasionally wanders those halls, and we all know Cheney shoots first. If I were Webb, I would carry a gun too.

Pat in Pasadena: "Why does a senator need to carry a loaded gun? Why does a chicken cross the road, to use on the other side of the aisle."

Eric in Iowa: "It's a new image for the Democratic Party and as such it is quite welcome."

Peter in Toronto: "It just seems so odd that people just casually carry around handguns down there. Bizarre really. I'm 38 years old. I live in the largest city in Canada. I've never known anyone that carried a gun. That said, I don't know any senators.

And David in Tennessee writes: "The question is why some citizen getting arrested in D.C. with a pistol is more interesting than a confrontation between two major powers such as Britain and Iran? The answer, the latter requires real thought to cover properly, whereas the former issue is as mindless as you are. So it's a great and easy match." That's from my buddy David down there in Memphis.

If you didn't see your e-mail here you can go to cnn.com/caffertyfile. We post more of them along with video clips of "The Cafferty File." My guess is David in Memphis won't be checking out those video clips -- Wolf.

BLITZER: You know, whenever you get into the gun issue, it's a sensitive issue out there. A lot of passionate supporters of the Second Amendment.

CAFFERTY: Well, absolutely and rightfully so. I'm a supporter of the Second Amendment. The thing that made the story interesting is that he wasn't in Virginia. He wasn't carrying the gun, which would have been fine. It's registered to him. It was in the briefcase of an aide. It was confiscated in an airport because the aide forgot he had the gun in the briefcase and it somehow emblematic of some of the kinds of things that all of us taxpayers suspect goes on in Washington on lots of different levels all the time.

BLITZER: Good point, Jack. Thanks. See you tomorrow.

CAFFERTY: All right.

BLITZER: Let's find out what's coming up right at the top of the hour. Kiran Chetry is sitting in for Paula tonight.

Hi, Kiran.

KIRAN CHETRY, GUEST HOST, "PAULA ZAHN NOW": Hi there, Wolf. At the top of the hour, "Out in the Open" tonight, the Anna Nicole Smith autopsy report, we know she died of an accidental overdose but why did she have nine different medications in her system at the time?

Also, we're tracking the mortgage meltdown as millions of Americans risk losing their homes. We're going to hear from one couple who say that they were forced to sign up for a loan they didn't want and now it could end up ruining them. We have all that and much more coming up "Out in the Open" at the top of the hour. Wolf, back to you.

BLITZER: Kiran is our newest entry here at CNN. Welcome to CNN, Kiran.

CHETRY: Thank you.

BLITZER: We are looking forward to working with you for a long time.

CHETRY: Me too. Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: Good work. Coming up here in THE SITUATION ROOM, a better way to drive to work. President Bush may have the answer. We'll explain.

Plus, jailhouse rock like you've never seen it before. Our Jeanne Moos takes a "Moost Unusual" look. Stay with us, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Carol Costello once again monitoring some stories incoming here into THE SITUATION ROOM.

What's the latest, Carol?

COSTELLO: Got it right here, Wolf. The secretary of the Smithsonian Institution resigning amid questions about his expenses. An internal audit revealed $90,000 in questionable spending by Lawrence Small, including private jets and expensive gifts, that along with Small's $900,000 salary prompted the Senate to freeze a proposed funding increase for the Smithsonian. An acting secretary has been appointed while the board of regents looks for a replacement for Small.

Ceremonies held today at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial on the Washington Mall. They marked the anniversary of the groundbreaking for the memorial 25 years ago today. Some of the same lawmakers and military commanders who took part in that event were also on hand for today's ceremonies.

And President Bush praising the big three American automakers for building more vehicles powered by ethanol and biodiesel blends. Mr. Bush saw some of them up close on the White House lawn after a meeting with the heads of Ford, GM, and DaimlerChrysler. The president also said cutting gasoline use is critical to both national security and the environment. That is a look at the headlines right now -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks, Carol, for that. See you tomorrow.

A sheriff who is famous for running the second-largest jail system in the country with an iron fist is trying something new. He says he hopes it doesn't ruin his reputation and the people won't think he's gone soft. CNN's Jeanne Moos has the "Moost Unusual" story.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The production values may not be as great as on the real "American Idol." Instead of dress up, these performers really do wear jailhouse stripes.

Instead of going down into the crowd, the main audience here is stuck behind a fence. As low the Maricopa county jail in Arizona, this is "Inmate Idle," I-D-L-E. And who dreamed it up?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The toughest sheriff in the United States of America...

MOOS: That would be Sheriff Joe Arpaio. The sheriff was one of the judges along with Alice Cooper and an Elvis impersonator.

Now "Inmate Idle" is odd enough. But this sheriff is one tough guy, famous for his tent city where inmates get no TV, no salt, no coffee, and prisoners have to wear pink underwear because, as the sheriff says, they hate pink.

No escapes at this talent contest. Christopher Marsh (ph) is in for burglary, Katrina Duhart (ph) is in for forgery. Notice the sheriff didn't join in the clapping, it obvious who the Simon Cowell of this group is.

SHERIFF JOE ARPAIO, MARICOPA COUNTY, ARIZONA: Well, you know, she can dance but I don't think she can sing.

You may go places when you get out of jail.

MOOS: Not to mention the clear eyes of watchful guards. And the winner is Corey Brothers, in on a probation violation related to theft and assault. The prize for the winner and his podmates (ph), pizza, Big Macs, milkshakes, cake, no recording contract.

COREY BROTHERS: "On a cloudy day," and it's definitely cloudy today. I got a little sunshine out of it.

MOOS: We would say put your hands together for Corey Brothers. But here someone might snap on the cuffs.

Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Let's close this hour with some of the "Hot Shots" coming in from our friends over at the Associated Press, pictures likely to be in your hometown newspapers tomorrow. In Jerusalem the United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon lays a wreath at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial.

In South Korea, a riot policeman clashes with protesters during a rally opposing a free trade agreement with the United States. In Japan, police officers check the damage to a house after a powerful earthquake tore into a rural area Sunday. The quake killed at least one person.

And in India, a cricket fan shaves his head to protest the India cricket team's poor performance in the World Cup.

Some of the this hour's "Hot Shots," pictures often worth a thousand words.

This programming note, two important guests coming up in THE SITUATION ROOM, tomorrow Senator John McCain will be joining us, Wednesday Senator Barack Obama, until then, thanks very much for joining us. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. "PAULA ZAHN NOW" starts right now, Kiran Chetry filling in for Paula -- Kiran.

CHETRY: Thanks so much, Wolf.

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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