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THE SITUATION ROOM
British Sailors Talk of Iranian Mistreatment, Mind Games; Interview with Charlie Rangel; Alberto Gonzeles Continues Fight To Justify Attorney Firings
Aired April 6, 2007 - 16:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Happening now, the attorney general's new clash with Congress. We'll tell you what Alberto Gonzales is holding back as he fights to hold onto his job.
Also this hour, better late than never -- in an already jam packed presidential race, is there a need for eleventh hour additions?
Plus, harrowing accounts of mistreatment and mind games. Freed British sailors and marines speak out about their captivity in Iran. Now, Iran is firing back.
Wolf Blitzer is off today.
I'm Suzanne Malveaux and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
A new head-on collision today between Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and Senate Democrats. At issue, Justice Department documents released to the controversial firing of eight federal prosecutors. Eleven days before Gonzales is scheduled to testify on Capitol Hill, his job is hanging in the balance and the political pressure on him and on President Bush keeps building.
Our White House correspondent, Elaine Quijano, of course, with the president in Texas.
But first to our Congressional correspondent, Andrea Koppel -- Andrea, what are the Democrats looking for from the Justice Department today?
ANDREA KOPPEL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Suzanne, in their letter to the attorney general, Senators Chuck Schumer, Diane Feinstein and Patrick Leahy, who is the feisty chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, are requesting immediately from DOJ that they get copies of all documents that they say are relating to this investigation of the U.S. attorneys.
In their letter they say: "We are trying to get to the truth. Documents should be provided without restrictions on disclosure so that they may be used to question witnesses, including yourself, on any issue that is an important part of our inquiry."
Now, these documents would include two categories -- the thousands of pages of documents that have already been handed over to these committees, but they also have sections which have been redacted. They want everything. They would also include any other document that has as yet to be handed over.
Now, one staffer, one Senate staffer told us that Democrats believe there are at least 1,000 pages of additional documents that have, as yet, to be handed over to Congress -- Suzanne.
MALVEAUX: And, Andrea, he wanted to know about those missing documents, those 1,000 pages that they haven't even seen yet?
KOPPEL: Well, they know because for the last several months, you've got House and Senate committee staffers that have been making the trip over to the Department of Justice, going through boxes of documents. And during a recent trip, they were handed one box that they say has about 1,000 pages of documents in it. They say they've never seen that before.
Now, according to this Senate staffer, they said it's unclear whether those 1,000 pages were deliberately being withheld or whether they were just accidentally withheld.
There has been a question as far as DOJ is concerned as to privacy concerns. Now, while DOJ has as yet to respond to this letter, we do know from a Congressional source that they believe there isn't a smoking gun in those 1,000 pages -- Suzanne.
MALVEAUX: OK, Andrea Koppel, thanks so much, from the Hill.
President Bush has said repeatedly that he still has confidence in his old friend, Alberto Gonzales.
But is there any sense that perhaps Mr. Bush's patience may be wearing thin?
For that, we turn to our White House correspondent, Elaine Quijano, of course, in Crawford, Texas for the Easter holiday with the president -- Elaine, you and I do a lot of back -- back channel talks here with people who are close to the president.
What are they saying now?
ELAINE QUIJANO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, people who are close to Gonzales -- in fact, one adviser in particular saying that while the attorney general may not be out of the woods just yet, they certainly feel, in this adviser's words, that some of the air has been let out of the balloon. And that's a sentiment that has been echoed by an administration official.
They feel, essentially, that the momentum has slowed just a bit.
Members of Congress, of course, are out of Washington, out on their spring recess. Also, the Justice Department is now saying that it tried to get Gonzales to Capitol Hill earlier. Of course, some Democrats have disputed that.
But nevertheless, they say look, there hasn't been a major shoe, really, that's dropped. And as we've seen, over the last week or so, much of the talk now has been focused not on the U.S. attorneys story, necessarily, but more on the political showdown between Democrats and President Bush when it comes to Iraq War funding -- Suzanne.
MALVEAUX: And Elaine, as you mentioned, at first, the Justice Department was trying to push back his testifying date. And then they tried to move it forward. It's going to be about a week-and-a-half or so.
Is the White House involved in the preparations with Gonzales's testimony?
QUIJANO: Well, we're told, Suzanne, that the Justice Department is really taking the lead on that. The White House, of course, doesn't want to look like it's getting too involved, necessarily, as this investigation continues.
But from a political perspective, as well, the administration doesn't necessarily want to be tied to what the attorney general is going to say.
Essentially, the White House's position is what the president himself said last month in Mexico, that while he supports the attorney general, he does have work to do. And the White House is clearly putting the responsibility for smoothing things over with members of Congress squarely on Gonzales' shoulders.
That way, if, in fact, the attorney general does come through, the president can say, look, he did what I asked him. If he doesn't, though, there's also some room there, both the president and the attorney general certainly recognize and acknowledge that. It leaves them room to move on.
So a lot certainly riding on that April 17th testimony -- Suzanne.
MALVEAUX: Certainly, Elaine, it -- as many people have said -- it's one person who has his job in his hands, and that is the president.
Thank you very much, Elaine.
Elaine Quijano, Andrea Koppel are all part of the best political team on television.
And remember, for the latest political news at any time, check out the Political Ticker at cnn.com/ticker.
There's disturbing new fuel today -- tensions between the West and Iran. Freed British troops are accusing their captors in Iran of playing frightening mind games on them during the nearly two weeks they were held.
Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) LT. FELIX CARMAN, BRITISH ROYAL NAVY: We were blindfolded. Our hands were bound. We were forced up against the wall. Throughout our ordeal, we faced constant psychological pressure.
Later, we were stripped and then dressed in pajamas. The next few nights were spent in stone cells approximately eight feet by six, sleeping on piles of blankets. All of us were kept in isolation.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MALVEAUX: Our Matthew Chance joining us from London.
You heard many of the statements coming from these sailors and soldiers.
What was the main point that they made during their press conference?
MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Suzanne, the main point during this press conference is that it was the first time since their release by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iran's president, since they were able to speak freely about the circumstances of their captivity for nearly two weeks in the Islamic Republic.
(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)
CHANCE (voice-over): Back on British soil, the sailors and marines captured by Iran are setting the record straight.
CARMAN: When we were detained by the IRG, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, we were inside internationally recognized Iraqi territorial waters.
CHANCE: Throughout nearly two weeks of captivity, the 15 British personnel were paraded on Iranian television. The group was often shown together eating meals. At one point, they were even pictured looking relaxed and playing chess.
But the reality was very different. Now free to speak, they say they were blindfolded, stripped and kept in isolation.
CAPT. CHRIS AIR, BRITISH ROYAL MARINES: Some of us feared the worst when we were in that situation, hearing weapons being cocked and not having any awareness, being blindfolded and our hands bound.
CHANCE: They say there were threats, too, and that they were given a stark choice.
CARMAN: If we admitted that we had strayed, we would be back in a plane to the U.K. pretty soon. If we didn't, we faced up to seven years in prison.
CHANCE: Iranian media have dismissed their latest statements, saying British Prime Minister Blair must have put them up to it.
(END VIDEO TAPE)
CHANCE: But here in Britain, at least, now, it's probably the Iranians say, most people now believe there were good reasons for them making the statements that they did make on Iranian state television -- Suzanne.
MALVEAUX: And another question that many had on their mind, why did they allow themselves to be taken captive -- Matthew?
CHANCE: Well, they answered this question in the press conference, Suzanne.
And they said, first of all, they didn't consider the Iranians, at first, to be a threat. Remember, Britain is not at war with the Islamic Republic.
And by the time they realized the intentions of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, they were already surrounded by heavily armed Iranian gunboats. And they said they just weren't well enough armed and equipped to deal with that kind of threat.
MALVEAUX: Matthew Chance in London.
Thank you so much.
And joining us in New York, Jack Cafferty with The Cafferty File -- Jack, what's the question of the day? What are you working on?
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We're a few days past April Fool's Day, but listen up. Vice President Dick Cheney should enter the 2008 presidential race. An editorial in the "New York Sun" this morning suggests Cheney has more to bring to the table than any other potential candidate who has not yet entered the race, people like New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, former Senator Fred Thompson and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.
They cite Cheney's virtues as a candidate, including foreign policy and economic policy experience, and they add that Lynne Cheney would make "one of the great first ladies in history."
The reality is Cheney's approval ratings hover in the 30s. In the past, when he was asked if he'd consider running, Cheney has said not only no, but hell no, and that he's out of here at the end of President Bush's second term.
However, after getting a warm greeting from a crowd in Alabama earlier this week, Cheney said a reception like that is almost enough to make you want to run for office again. So never say never.
A recent poll shows a majority of Republican voters wish they had more choices when it comes to the race for the White House and a lot of them simply don't think their party will win in 2008.
So here's the question -- what condition would the Republican presidential field need to be in for the party to consider nominating Dick Cheney for president? E-mail your thoughts to email@example.com or go to cnn.com/caffertyfile -- Suzanne.
MALVEAUX: Jack, interesting question.
So far the vice president has said no.
Now coming up, he is one of the top Democrats on Capitol Hill and wait until you hear what Congressman Charlie Rangel has to say about Vice President Dick Cheney. That's next.
Plus, in the race for the White House, is it already too late for new candidates to jump in?
Our Bill Schneider will explore that.
And he's a diplomatic frequent flier.
But why is Democratic presidential hopeful Bill Richardson helping out the current Republican administration?
Well, I'll ask him in our next hour, here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
MALVEAUX: Democratic Congressman Charlie Rangel rarely minces any words and he rarely shies away from a political fight, whether he is taking on the president's Iraq policy or whether he is taking sides in the political battles within his own party.
The new chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee has a new book titled "And I Haven't Had A Bad Day Since: From the Streets of Harlem To the Halls of Congress."
Congressman Rangel, thanks so much for joining us here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
REP. CHARLES RANGEL (D), NEW YORK: Good to be back.
MALVEAUX: Now, you have endorsed your fellow senator, Hillary Clinton. You also encourage Senator Barack Obama to run.
This is a really heated race. It's also a very exciting race.
I want to play a piece of sound for you, what you told CNN just a little bit ago.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RANGEL: If he exceeds her in terms of ability -- which I don't see how; if he gains a national reputation above hers -- I don't see how; then I have to make certain that I pick a candidate that can win. (END VIDEO CLIP)
MALVEAUX: So, Mr. Congressman, have you picked the right candidate? Have you picked the winner here?
RANGEL: I really do think so. When it comes to overall qualifications, there's no question that Senator Clinton has already proven she can do it. And as exciting as Obama's candidate is, I mean he has not gone through the primary and the debates and so we're a long way from deciding who's going to be the winner.
But in my opinion, Clinton is so far ahead and will stay ahead.
MALVEAUX: What do you make of the success of Obama's campaign raising some $25 million so far?
RANGEL: I think it's the lack of confidence that a lot of people have in the politics, in the campaigns that we had in the past. As a matter of fact, I'm frightened by the amounts of money that all of the candidates have raised. I think that it may take the candidates away from the people and substitute it with commercials.
And I'm afraid that candidates might be tempted to have those commercials to be negative. And with less than half of the people who are eligible to vote in presidential campaigns voting, money -- those large amount of monies worry me.
MALVEAUX: So you don't see Barack Obama's fundraising as a threat to Hillary Clinton?
He got twice as many of those online contributions. There's a lot of excitement behind his campaign.
RANGEL: No. It means that if he can get across with his ideas during the debate, that he get it across, he has the money to get it across. But I really don't think that he's had an opportunity to be tested on anything substantive.
MALVEAUX: Let's turn to Iraq.
Obviously, the Democrats in Congress really trying to push forward this legislation, offering a timetable for troop withdrawal. We heard from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who was saying perhaps even withdrawing some of those funds if the president vetoes the legislation.
We heard from the secretary of defense, Robert Gates, yesterday, who thought that this would really jeopardize the mission.
Let's take a quick listen to what he said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROBERT GATES, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: I believe that if we were precipitously to withdraw from Baghdad at this point, that there would be a dramatic increase in sectarian violence. (END VIDEO CLIP)
MALVEAUX: What is the compromise that Democrats can offer here? Do they see that perhaps if they were able to give a clean bill or at least a war supplemental without strings attached and revisit the issue, give it six months or so, as the secretary and others have stated, that they would allow this U.S. surge to work?
RANGEL: We were elected as the majority because American -- most Americans -- wanted us to get out of Iraq and they had total displeasure with the way the president has been handling this.
I don't think there's too many Americans that want our troops over there supporting a surge when nobody knows what the surge is all about. These people have been fighting each other for hundreds and thousands of years and they don't need United States troops placed in danger while they try to settle their sectarian differences.
MALVEAUX: Do you think that there is a compromise -- obviously there will be a lot of back and forth here with the legislation.
Are the Democrats willing to give up anything from that bill that they have already put forward?
RANGEL: You know, first, the president has to admit that he's either changing the course or he made a mistake, call in some of our allies, get our so-called friends in the Arab world, Egypt and Saudi Arabia and Jordan, and really try to see how we can work this thing out.
These terrorists have not only got the United States and Israel on their hit list, but a lot of countries in the world.
And so this military thing, without a military victory, doesn't make sense.
The question has to be how many Americans have to die -- how many innocent people have to die before the president gets it?
You can't compromise on -- on -- on how many you're willing to sacrifice in a war where there's no victory in sight and you can't even describe what a victory would be.
If tomorrow the terrorists wanted to give up, where would we take the papers for them to sign the surrender?
MALVEAUX: Congressman, I want to read real quick an excerpt from your book here that I read. You say: "At this point, a great many Americans just don't believe the president period. I think we've reached a point now with the war, the incompetence and the lies that have been told when the people are ready to listen to another version and another vision of the American dream."
Do you believe that President Bush can restore his credibility with the American people, the people that you're talking about here, in some way? RANGEL: Well, I think whether you're an individual or an entity or a president, you have to say you made a mistake, that -- let's turn it around. Let's do it a different way.
But if you say stay the course and you need more troops to accomplish something that you have no clue as to what it is -- or at least you have an inability to share it with the American people -- no, I don't think you can restore your integrity and credibility unless you change the course.
And the American people wants it done and that's why you find the House and the Senate, the representatives of the American people, pushing the president toward that goal.
MALVEAUX: And, obviously, the administration pushing back.
I want to play a quick sound bite from the vice president and how he is framing the debate.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DICK CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There's no way you can segment out and say well, we'll fight the war on terror in Pakistan or in Afghanistan, but we can separate Iraq. That's not really in any way, shape or form related. That's just dead wrong.
Bin Laden himself has said this is the central battle in the war on terror.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MALVEAUX: The administration seems to be making the case here that there really is no way to extricate, or get the U.S. troops out of the situation, because ultimately there's a broader, larger picture, this war on terror.
Do you buy into the administration's -- the line that they are telling the American people that there are threats around the world, that they do have to confront them and that that's why American soldiers need to stay?
RANGEL: Well, less than 30 percent of the people have confidence in what the president has to say. And less than that have confidence in what the vice president has to say. And it's abundantly clear from his five deferments that he's not too familiar with military fighting.
There may be problems around the world, but what's to say that they are our problems?
If we really exercise the leadership that we should, we would be bringing in people to see how collectively we can try to help these people resolve their problems.
But people aren't going to sleep at night wondering whether the Shiites or the Sunnis are going to win. We've got to get out of there. The world problems may be visionary in Cheney's mind, but they're not in most Americans' minds.
MALVEAUX: If the vice president is listening to you now, what would you say to him?
RANGEL: Get a life, Mr. Vice President. The American people want out.
MALVEAUX: Congressman Rangel, thank you so much for joining us here on THE SITUATION ROOM.
RANGEL: Thank you.
MALVEAUX: Still ahead, British troops steal some of the P.R. thunder from Iran's president.
How will their accounts of mistreatment affect Teheran's standoff with the West?
Donna Brazile and Bill Bennett square off in our Strategy Session.
And a question on this Good Friday -- would Jesus approve of modern day connection between church and politics?
You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
MALVEAUX: Our Carol Costello is monitoring all the wires, keeping an eye on the video feeds from around the world.
She joins us from New York -- Carol, what do you have coming in at this hour?
CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, incoming to THE SITUATION ROOM, the Iraqi government is reaching out to senior officers and lower ranking soldiers from Saddam Hussein's military. Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki's government has ordered that any former officer above the rank of major be given a pension equal to that of officers now retiring. Those who had a rank of major or lower may voluntarily return to the army and will be guaranteed a place.
Another deadly attack in Iraq's Anbar Province involving toxic chlorine gas. Today, a suicide bomber on western Ramadi detonated a truck carrying chlorine gas cylinders. At least 25 were killed, more than 30 others injured. Women and children were among the victims. The attack occurred near a police checkpoint.
For the rest -- for the first time curing the Iraq War, U.S. National Guard units will return to Iraq for a second time. U.S. military officials telling CNN four National Guard brigades are set to return to Iraq later this year or early next year. The plans call for 12,000 Guard members to replace troops who are leaving. The Guard members will perform security for military bases and for convoys.
NATO-led troops are putting the heat on the Taliban in southern Afghanistan and they are reporting progress. Today, NATO and Afghan troops conducted an air assault for the third straight day. Also, NATO and Afghan ground forces continued their advance and clearing operations aimed at flushing out Taliban extremists. The military push is part of a month-old spring offensive called Operation Achilles.
That's a look at the headlines right now -- Suzanne.
MALVEAUX: Thanks, Carol.
And happening now, an unprecedented sign of strain on the U.S. military. We'll have a live report on a first of its kind redeployment in Iraq.
Also ahead, a new test of America's missile killer system. It's being called a success.
So why are critics so skeptical?
And Bill Richardson's mission to North Korea -- what is the New Mexico governor and Democratic presidential candidate hope to accomplish for the Bush administration?
I'll ask him.
Wolf Blitzer is off today.
I'm Suzanne Malveaux and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
They're not quite 800 pound gorillas, but they are casting sizable shadows over the presidential race. Republicans Fred Thompson and Newt Gingrich are mulling campaigns. Democrat Al Gore hasn't entirely ruled out running. But the clock is ticking.
Our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider, is here -- Bill, is it getting too late for these guys to jump in the race?
WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, Suzanne, Bill Clinton got into the race in October 1991; George W. Bush in July -- rather, in June, 1999.
But this year, things are happening a lot earlier.
(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)
SCHNEIDER (voice-over): Is it too late for a sleeper candidate to get into the presidential race?
The chairman of the South Carolina Republican Party says...
KATON DAWSON, CHAIRMAN, SOUTH CAROLINA REPUBLICAN PARTY: If they're sleeping, they'd better get awake real quick.
SCHNEIDER: It might not be a problem for well known figures like former Senator Fred Thompson.
DAWSON: I've certainly seen a lot of excitement for Senator Thompson.
SCHNEIDER: He's a TV star. No problem with name recognition.
RICH GALEN, MULLINGS.COM: More people will watch Fred Thompson every week on "Law and Order," 20, 25 million if you include all of the versions of it, than will vote in total in the primary season.
SCHNEIDER: Newt Gingrich has name recognition and a following. So does Al Gore, and an Oscar winning movie, to boot.
Is there money out there for a new candidate?
Sure. You can only give $2,300 to a candidate, but you can give to more than one candidate.
GALEN: For most people who are in a position to give $2,300, they can write another check for $2,300.
SCHNEIDER: Right now, only about a third of Republicans and Democrats favor the frontrunners in their parties, Rudy Giuliani and Hillary Clinton. Many polls have shown Al Gore running third among Democrats and Gingrich or Thompson third among Republicans. It looks like voters are open to new choices, especially Republicans. Fifty- seven percent of Republicans want more choices. Fifty-seven percent of Democrats say they're satisfied with the choices they now have.
DAN BALZ, "WASHINGTON POST": The Democrats would like to have the 2008 election held tomorrow, if they could do it.
SCHNEIDER: Are Republicans unhappy because their leading candidates are not conservative enough?
This strategist says that's not it.
GALEN: My sense is that it's not so much an ideological fight as it is an argument over who can win this thing.
SCHNEIDER: So, this time, it may not be about ideological litmus testing in either party. It could be about finding a winner -- Suzanne?
MALVEAUX: So, Bill, what about all of these staffers that are running around Washington here? They are already pretty much locked in their own campaigns with their candidates. Is it too late to grab some of them?
SCHNEIDER: Yes, I spoke to Mr. Galen about that. And he said, campaign consultants and strategists are fungible, meaning they can be exchange or replaced.
He pointed out that Ari Fleischer started out working for Elizabeth Dole in 1999. And when her campaign foundered, he went to work for George Bush and eventually became the White House spokesperson. Even if a campaign isn't in trouble, a consultant can switch campaigns if -- and particularly if -- he has prior ties to a new candidate.
MALVEAUX: And we have already seen that with the McCain camp. So, it will be very interesting to see how this whole thing plays out.
MALVEAUX: Thank you so much, Bill.
MALVEAUX: And a Russian space launch tomorrow will take an American billionaire businessman to the International Space Station. Once there, the space tourist will meet an American astronaut. The astronaut is training to run the Boston marathon while still in outer space.
Well, let's bring in our Internet reporter, Jacki Schechner, because I don't know how you do that. How do you train for a marathon, outer space? What do you have?
JACKI SCHECHNER, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Not easily, Suzanne. You are a runner. You will appreciate this.
This is Sunita Williams in the hat here in the video. And she's going to run the Boston Marathon, all 26.2 miles of it, on a treadmill in the International Space Station. She's not going to be able to simulate the treacherous hills, but she is going to be strapped into a harness that puts some pressure on her shoulders and her hips, so it will be stressful all by itself.
She's from the Boston area. She says she's going to run the marathon in space to encourage kids to take up daily physical fitness. She's got an official number and everything. The Boston Athletic Association has electronically sent the number to NASA. They sent it up to her on the space station. She's number 14,000.
Now, all of the crew members on the International Space Station have to exercise daily to fight bone and muscle deterioration. But she is now on a marathon training schedule. She's got about a week left in her training, Suzanne. The marathon is scheduled for April 16.
MALVEAUX: That's amazing, Jacki. I have done that training. I can't imagine 26 miles on a treadmill.
MALVEAUX: Thanks again, Jacki.
And up next: church politics and the race for the White House. On this Good Friday, would Jesus approve? And, later, I will talk with Congressman and presidential candidate Duncan Hunter. Is he worried that Democrats have the upper hand on the Iraq issue and in campaign cash?
MALVEAUX: On this Good Friday, as we head into the Easter weekend, it is a fitting time to think about the convergence between religion and politics. A CNN special report tonight asks, what would Jesus really do about global problems, including the war in Iraq, poverty and hunger? It's a provocative discussion with prominent Christian leaders.
Host Roland Martin asks Pastor Rick Warren, the author of "The Purpose Driven Life," if his focus on world problems is different from the agenda of the religious right.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "PAULA ZAHN NOW")
RICK WARREN, AUTHOR, "THE PURPOSE DRIVEN LIFE": I just think there's a bigger agenda than just what evangelicals have been known for in the past, which is primarily morality issues.
But I think that there are social morality issues, too, that are important, that Jesus cared for the sick. He assisted the poor. He educated the next generation. Those are issues that we care about, too. And, historically, Christians cared about education and cared about poverty and cared about justice. And I just think we need to get back to the 19th century evangelicalism or first century Christianity.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MALVEAUX: And our own Roland Martin joining us now to explain and talk a little bit more about this very provocative special report.
What do you have laid out, Roland?
ROLAND MARTIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, first of all, we talked to several different folks, and, so, Rick Warren, of course, Reverend Jerry Falwell, Bishop T.D. Jakes, Paula White. We will have Reverend Frederick Douglass Haynes (ph), lots of defense people, again, giving their perspective on where we are in terms of faith in 2007.
And it was very interesting, because it wasn't all about just the traditional issues we hear about, abortion, gay marriage. As Pastor Warren said, it should be a broader agenda. Folks will be very surprising to even hear what Reverend Falwell has to say about that issue, but also faith and presidential politics.
MALVEAUX: Well, Roland, it sounds fascinating. We're looking forward to watching it this evening -- Roland Martin.
And be sure to tune in to "What Would Jesus Really Do?" Again, that special report is tonight at 8:00 Eastern, 5:00 Pacific, right here on CNN. Coming up: Former U.N. ambassador Governor Bill Richardson, he's running for the White House, and he's taking a path less traveled. He's coming up.
And who won the P.R. battle between Iran and Great Britain?
That's coming up here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
MALVEAUX: And Carol Costello in New York joining us now, watching all the video feeds, as well as the wires.
Carol, what's making news at this very moment?
CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: A couple of things, Suzanne, let me tell you.
Much stronger job growth than expected last month -- new Labor Department figures show a net gain of 180,000 jobs. That's up from February's net gain of 113,000. Last month's unemployment rate dipped to 4.4 percent, matching a five-year low. That's down from the 4.5 percent figure reported in February.
The stock market was closed for Good Friday, giving investors limited ability to react to that good economic news.
The last of three bank robbery suspects involved in yesterday's shoot-out that killed an FBI agent is now in custody. He was arrested this morning in Branchburg, New Jersey, about a file from where the incident occurred. Agent Barry Lee Bush was killed as agents tried to arrest the three suspects. But the FBI now says it appears that Bush was accidentally shot by a fellow agent.
Navy divers are searching the sunken wreckage of a Greek cruise ship for the bodies of a Frenchman and his daughter. They disappeared yesterday after the ship struck a reef and sank off the Greek island of Santorini. Nearly 1,600 people, including more than 700 Americans, were retrieved from the sinking ship in a three-hour rescue operation.
We will have much more on this story later.
The latest on the recalls involving contaminated pet food now -- someone may have added melamine to wheat gluten used in pet foods to increase profits. But that's only one theory being investigated by the Food and Drug Administration. The FDA has linked kidney failure in an indeterminate number of cats and dogs to the products.
That's a look at the headlines right now -- Suzanne.
MALVEAUX: Carol, thanks again -- Carol Costello out of New York.
And up next in the "Strategy Session": the showdown between Iran and Great Britain.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) CAPTAIN CHRIS AIR, ROYAL MARINES: Let me be absolutely clear: From the outset it was very apparent that fighting back was simply not an option. Had we chosen to do so, then many of us would not be standing here today. Of that, I have no doubts.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MALVEAUX: Did Great Britain lose a bit of its prestige over its sailors and marines' surrender? And which side blinked in the standoff between the U.K. and Iran?
And, in the race for the White House, when is it too late to jump into the ring? That with Donna Brazile and Bill Bennett here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
MALVEAUX: We are just getting this from the Justice Department, that Monica Goodling -- she is the Justice Department official and liaison to the White House who refused to testify, who took the Fifth, essentially, not to go before Congress in the investigation regarding the Attorney General Alberto Gonzales -- will resign tomorrow -- that, again, coming from a Justice Department statement just in here, obviously, a controversial situation, a lot of attention that's been paid to her because of her role in the investigation.
A lot of people in Congress would like to hear her story, what she knew about the kinds of conversations between Justice Department officials, White House officials, the attorney general, as well as Karl Rove regarding the firing of those U.S. attorneys. So, again, she is one of those central figures. They would hope that she would testify. She has taken the Fifth.
Now we understand that the latest development here is that she will resign tomorrow.
Now, which presidential candidate is best equipped to deal with a nuclear Iran?
Joining me in today's "Strategy Session," Democratic strategist Donna Brazile, and CNN contributor and host of "Morning in America," William Bennett.
Thank you so much.
BILL BENNETT, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Sure.
MALVEAUX: I just want to first talk about this breaking news here.
What kind of impact does this have? Does this look good for the Justice Department? Does this hinder the investigation that's taking place on the Hill? DONNA BRAZILE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I think it's going to add more pressure to Mr. Gonzales' presentation when he goes up to the Hill on April 17 to explain, first of all, why she took the Fifth, when he said he would make all of his top officials available.
And, secondly, he will have to explain her role. She was the liaison to the White House from the Justice Department. And she was a -- she was very much involved in all of these conversations and e-mail traffic. So, I think this will add to the pressure that Mr. Gonzales will face.
BENNETT: She may still have to talk. I'm not sure. You have got the Wrong Bennett. My brother would know better than I about that, the legal side of it.
BENNETT: But it doesn't look good for the Justice Department.
This is a mess. It's a problem when anybody takes the Fifth. And by her resigning, it suggests there are more problems.
MALVEAUX: And, of course, we will have much more on this.
But I also want to follow up on that as well. The fact that she resigns, does that look bad? Does that make her look perhaps guilty in some way, that she does not want to expose something? Some people would associate that move with trouble.
BENNETT: It's -- well, there's trouble. For that -- that, we're sure of. There's trouble. Otherwise, there wouldn't be the taking of the Fifth. And now she steps down. So, she's trying to get away from this. Whether she will be able to get away from it is another question.
But the whole situation is a mess, because, you know, the whole question of the Fifth, and taking the Fifth, usually has to do with whether you are protecting someone who has committed a crime, yourself, someone else.
BENNETT: No allegation of a crime here, but they just messed this thing up so bad by saying they were doing one thing, and then doing another.
MALVEAUX: Do you think that Alberto Gonzales should keep his job?
BENNETT: For the moment. One more, and I think he's gone.
MALVEAUX: Let's turn to today's news, of course, those British sailors and marines that were released.
We saw a lot of dramatic pictures, first, the release, the shaking of the hands, and then today's press conference. They had a completely different story about their captivity. It sounded like it was a pretty rough experience for them.
Who wins in this? Is it Great Britain? Is it Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad creating the political theater? Who comes out on top, Brazile?
BRAZILE: Well, first of all, I'm glad to see all of the hostages released. They are young people. And, when I listened to and heard their responses, they were under a lot of pressure to confess to things that they did not do.
As a Catholic, you know, we have a hard time confessing to things we actually do.
MALVEAUX: I know.
BENNETT: Speak for yourself.
MALVEAUX: Oh, I identify.
BENNETT: It's Good Friday. We're all...
BRAZILE: It is Good Friday.
BRAZILE: And, so, I think, in the short run, there's no question that Great Britain wins, because their troops are back home. I don't think Iran gains anything out of this. They are an isolated country. They are under tremendous pressure from the U.N. and other nations to abandon their nuclear program.
But, in the short run, those 15 sailors and airmen are back home.
MALVEAUX: Does it strengthen the Bush administration's position here to isolate Iran, to -- to keep pushing forward internationally with pressure?
BENNETT: No, I don't think it helps. And I really disagree with Donna here.
I think Iran does not lose. It doesn't gain much, but it doesn't lose, except it gains the fact that it can kidnap these people, hold them there illegally, lie about what happened, and it gets away with bloody murder -- not bloody murder, but it gets away with doing all that.
Britain, I think, loses because I think it looks weak. I think -- frankly, I don't think they were in such terrible jeopardy, even by their own testimony. You know, they were forced to sleep on blankets in the dark. Well, they had some psychological pressure. They cooperated way more than they should have. I have not seen U.S. marines ever behave like this in a similar situation. I do not think, I have to say, based on the evidence -- we need to know more -- this was not their finest hour. I think Churchill would not be happy.
MALVEAUX: Let's turn this real quick to politics.
There's a big question out there. And it's fascinating, because we're talking about it now, which is whether or not it's too late to jump into the race. We have got a number of people who haven't really officially taken that step.
Newt Gingrich, is it too late for him?
BENNETT: No, I don't think so. I think what he has to do is look at his numbers. And he's got very high negatives, and he knows that.
But we found out he's truly bilingual the other day, which is...
BENNETT: You know, which is -- well, he should turn -- he should try to turn into a plus, after his effort.
BENNETT: But, no, it's not too late on our side, to be serious.
Look, a lot of conservatives are interested in Fred Thompson. I'm getting a lot of calls to my radio show about Fred Thompson. A lot of people are interested in Newt. People like -- various people like the -- the -- Romney or McCain or Giuliani, who seems to be ahead.
But I think Bill Schneider had a segment in which he said some 55 or 60 percent of Republicans would be very happy to see someone else get in.
BRAZILE: And, on the Democratic side, we're satisfied with our crop of candidates. I think it's fair to say that the people that we're looking at now, the candidates that we're looking at, one of them will become the next president of the United States.
MALVEAUX: Thank you very much.
MALVEAUX: I'm sorry. Got to let you go.
BENNETT: That's the last word.
BRAZILE: Yes. MALVEAUX: That was the last word.
MALVEAUX: Donna Brazile, William Bennett, part of the best political team on television.
Still ahead: more to come on Attorney General Gonzales' key aide Monica Goodling's resignation. We will go live to Crawford, Texas, for White House reaction to this afternoon's breaking news.
Also: Would Republicans need to be desperate to consider nominating Dick Cheney for president? Jack Cafferty has your e-mails.
You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
MALVEAUX: And breaking news -- we will have many of the details coming up in the next hour.
Monica Goodling, she's the Justice Department official in -- a central role in the investigation of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, we are learning now that she will resign tomorrow -- that just coming in. So, we will have all those details at the top of the hour.
And the presidential primaries top today's "Political Radar."
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg says the primary and caucus schedule are flawed, and that the federal government should take the decision-making away from the states. This year, many states are pushing up the dates of their contests. Bloomberg himself is mentioned as a possible independent presidential candidate, although he denies he's going to run.
Hillary Clinton's off the campaign trail this weekend, getting some R&R from her busy campaign schedule. The Democratic presidential front-runner is heading to a resort in the Dominican Republic. She will be joined by her husband, former President Bill Clinton, and their daughter, Chelsea, at the home of a fashion designer, Oscar de la Renta.
Barack Obama's got new digs. The Democratic presidential candidate has moved his headquarters to a newer and larger office in Chicago. And, today, CNN got a peek inside. Besides his hometown of Chicago, Obama's also got offices in the early voting states of Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, and South Carolina.
Jack is with us in New York with "The Cafferty File."
Jack, what are you looking at?
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: "What condition would the Republican Party have to be in, in order to nominate Dick Cheney to run for president?" is the question we asked. Chris writes from Alameda, California: "Perhaps the Republicans will decide to see if they can lose all 50 states in the general election or adopt a plank in the party platform that calls for even greater incompetence, arrogance, and dishonesty."
Marc in Tennessee: "Dick Cheney doesn't need to be nominated to become president. He can just arrange for the office to be given to him by the Supreme Court."
Rama, Northridge, California: "The only situation that would lead the Republicans to nominate Cheney for president would be a certain, undeniable victory in Iraq some time before the election. Cheney is the embodiment of the distilled essence of the neocon agenda, and every voter knows what he stands for. He's inextricably to the advocacy of the Iraq war. And his fortunes can only rise and fall with it."
Billy writes from Florida: "I would vote for Dick Cheney over any of the knuckleheads running at the present time."
Don in New Hampshire: "For the Republican Party to nominate Dick Cheney, we will have to be in a situation of having to fight hordes of Arab insurgents arriving on our shores, you know, Jack, the ones that will swim after us if Bush is forced to bring the troops home."
Connie in Baltimore: "Jack, the Republican Party would have to be totally insane to elect Dick Cheney as its nominee for president. He has health issues. He finds WMD that don't exist. And he shoots people that get..."
CAFFERTY: "... that get in his way. Can you imagine what he might do the Congress?"
And Wayne in Florida writes: "Beyond desperate" -- Suzanne.
MALVEAUX: Jack, thank you so much.
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