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THE SITUATION ROOM

Congressman Jefferson Indicted; Post-Debate Analysis of Democratic Presidential Race; Republicans Prepare for Debate Tomorrow

Aired June 4, 2007 - 16:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, HOST: A U.S. congressman indicted nearly two years after wads of cash were found stuffed in his freezer. This hour, the just announced bribery case against Democratic Congressman William Jefferson and the possible political fallout for his party.
Also, after a night of sparring on our debate stage, top Democrats now preparing for the next round. We'll tell you what we learned about the presidential candidates and what to expect during a forum on faith and values tonight.

And Republican White House contenders are getting ready for their debate close-ups. We'll get an up to the minute snapshot of the field before Republicans take their turn on our debate stage. And I'll speak about it all with the Republican Party chairman, Senator Mel Martinez.

I'm Wolf Blitzer in Manchester, New Hampshire.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

We're here on the campus of Saint Anselm College, the site of the first presidential debates in the leadoff primary state of New Hampshire. The Republican contenders are heading this way for their big face-off tomorrow, sponsored by CNN, WMUR-TV and the "New Hampshire Union Leader."

If the Democrats' performance is any indication, it should be a lively and sometimes combative exchange.

Now the top three Democratic hopefuls are just hours away from a very different kind of forum, this one on faith, values and politics.

We'll have much more ahead on all of these pivotal events for the White House contenders.

But first, there's a developing story we're following -- the indictment of Louisiana Congressman William Jefferson. The Democrat now stands accused of 16 criminal counts of corruption, including soliciting bribes, racketeering and money laundering.

The Justice Department laid out the charges just a short while ago. This case made headlines when investigators say they found $90,000 in Jefferson's freezer. And now, if convicted it, could land the Congressman in jail for decades.

Let's go to our Congressional correspondent, Andrea Koppel. She's standing by.

Tell us -- Andrea -- more about the charges and what, if anything, Jefferson is now saying about all of this.

ANDREA KOPPEL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, just a few moments ago we heard from the Department of Justice, saying that they had evidence that proved that Jefferson was involved in 11 bribery and wire fraud schemes, which spans two continents.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHUCK ROSENBERG, U.S. ATTORNEY: The schemes included efforts to secure telecommunications deals in Nigeria and Ghana; oil concessions in Equatorial Guinea; satellite transmission contracts in Botswana, Equatorial Guinea and the Republic of Congo; offshore oil rights in Sao Tome and Principe; the promotion and sale of waste recycling systems in Nigeria and Equatorial Guinea; and the development of a sugar plant and other projects in Nigeria.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KOPPEL: Now, according to the Department of Justice, these schemes were designed to benefit Jefferson and his family. We have as yet to get any kind of reaction from William Jefferson who, throughout the last couple of years, has maintained his innocence on all of these questions.

Wolf -- back to you.

BLITZER: Andrea, how much of a headache, though, is this indictment going to be for the Democratic Party leadership in the House?

KOPPEL: It is -- look any time you have a member of your party who has been indicted on fraud, it's not a good day.

That said, Speaker Pelosi, while she was still the minority leader in the House, had begun to insulate herself and her party against such a possibility. She forced Jefferson to resign his seat on the powerful Ways and Means Committee. She had also tried to prevent him from getting other powerful assignments.

That said, Republicans are already leaping on this, Wolf. We know that the Republican leader in the House, John Boehner, is calling for a special motion for the Ethics Committee to meet and to make moves to expel Jefferson from Congress -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, we'll watch the story.

Andrea, thank you.

Let's get to the presidential race right now. The Republican candidates are coming here to New Hampshire, well aware that this state has the potential to make or break their campaigns. And that only raises the stakes for their big debate here on this campus tomorrow night.

Our chief national correspondent, John King is here.

Let's talk a little bit, John, about the expectations for the Republicans.

JOHN KING, CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, it's a very different set of issues that the Republicans will have. You were on the stage last night. The Democrats divided mostly over the war.

When the Republicans gather here tonight, all 10 of them, they tend to support the president when it comes to the war. But they do have significant differences when it comes to issues, say, like immigration and taxes and spending.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

KING (voice-over): The second tier means smaller crowds.

MIKE HUCKABEE (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The war is not something we can just simply walk away from and say OK, we're finished.

KING: But former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee is banking on New Hampshire rewarding a guy doing it the old-fashioned way. Wishful thinking, perhaps. But Huckabee says his one handshake at a time approach will ultimately win more votes than the Hollywood script of former Senator Fred Thompson.

HUCKABEE: What we might call the Mighty Mouse candidacy -- you know, here I come to save the day. And, in the end, voters are not necessarily looking for Mighty Mouse to fly in. They're looking for somebody who stands the ground and goes the distance.

KING (on camera): Senator Thompson won't be here when 10 Republicans share this stage Tuesday night. The basic framework of their race and the stakes of their debate not unlike the early Democratic lineup.

(voice-over): Like Clinton, Obama and Edwards on the left, Giuliani, McCain and Romney are the early leaders on the right.

ANDREW SMITH, UNH POLLING DIRECTOR: Three well funded, well known candidates, and a number of other people who are trying to rise to that top level.

KING: But the issues debate is very different for Republicans. President Bush remains really popular with core GOP voters. So as Romney adviser Tom Rath puts it, the 2008 candidates need to show they would be different, but without being too critical.

TOM RATH, ROMNEY ADVISER: I think the biggest problem this field is having -- everybody in the field -- is deciding how you -- how much latitude you have in describing your vision of where the country will be four years from now or eight years from now if you're the president. We have a Republican president who is still quite popular in the base here.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

KING: Those in the top tier of the Republican field obviously hoping not to stumble in this debate. But, Wolf, the odds and the stakes might be even higher for the lesser known candidates because they're not necessarily trying to win votes at this point, but they're trying to convince people, much like the lesser known Democrats last night, keep sending money so I can stay in the race, closer and closer to primary day.

And on the Republican side, with someone like Senator Thompson about to formally jump in, those lesser known candidates really need to keep the money coming in, and it's difficult.

BLITZER: A lot of our viewers, John, will remember George P. Bush, the young nephew of the president of the United States. Years ago he was just getting ready to go to law school. Now he's a lawyer. But he's endorsed Fred Thompson for president of the United States, the former Senator from Tennessee.

That whole Thompson shadow is going to be hovering over that Republican debate tomorrow night.

KING: It is. And it's interesting to watch people line up with Senator Thompson. George P. Bush sent out an e-mail saying let's send Senator Thompson some money, convince him that he shouldn't back out, that he should jump into the race, as we all expect him to formally do just after the 4th of July. He is obviously the nephew of the president of the United States.

Mary Matalin -- we talked about this last week -- a close adviser to President Bush and closer, even, to Vice President Cheney, also behind the Thompson effort.

Remember, Senator Thompson worked with the White House in getting the Supreme Court picks through the Senate. He also stood up and publicly defended Mr. Cheney's former chief of staff, Scooter Libby -- defended him, helped him raise money. He has a lot of friends in the Bush-Cheney circles who say this guy was a stand up guy for us and we will help him out.

BLITZER: All right.

We're going to be -- have you back in a little while with Candy Crowley.

John, thanks very much.

John King Andrea Koppel -- they are both part of the best political team on television.

And remember, for the latest political news at any time, you can always check out our political ticker at cnn.com/ticker.

Jack Cafferty is also part of the best political team on television.

He's joining us from New York with The Cafferty File -- hi, Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Wolf.

Remember when the Democrats took control of the Congress back in January?

On their very first day in power, they approved rules to clearly identify so-called pet projects or earmarks in spending bills -- you know, part of their promise to bring openness and transparency to government.

Well, guess what?

The Associated Press reports Democrats are not including these spending requests and legislation as it's being written. Instead, they're following an order from the House Appropriations Committee chairman, David Obey, to keep the bills free of these earmarks until the fall.

Now by doing this, nobody will know what the earmarks are when the bills are first voted on in June. And when they're finally announced in the fall, well, then it will be virtually too late to do anything about them.

Clever, don't you think?

Obey says he's doing this reluctantly, because the committee doesn't have enough time to review the 36,000 requests -- earmarks totaling billions and billions and billions of dollars.

But not to worry. Obey says -- and I'm quoting here -- "I'm going to make doggone sure that we do everything possible to screen every project."

Sure, Mr. Obey.

We believe you.

Here's the question -- when it comes to pork barrel spending, are Democrats living up to their promises of openness and transparency?

E-mail caffertyfile@cnn.com or go to cnn.com/caffertyfile -- Wolf.

BLITZER: You know, Jack, for a lot of these lawmakers -- most of the lawmakers -- they don't like the pork barrel spending, they don't like the earmarks, unless it's in their state or their district. And then, of course, that's a different story, because those are essential to the -- to the very existence of the United States.

CAFFERTY: We need to throw this entire government out in the street and start over, because both parties are just as bad, one as the other. They both reek.

BLITZER: Jack Cafferty with The Cafferty File.

Jack, thanks very much.

Coming up, Hillary Clinton draws a line with John Edwards on the war on terror. She gives President Bush a surprising bit of credit along the way.

We're following the Democratic debate fallout.

Plus keeping the faith -- what might we learn about the top Democratic presidential contenders during a unique forum on religion, values and politics later tonight?

And will Republicans leave one another battered and bruised after their debate here in New Hampshire tomorrow night?

We'll set the stage with the Republican National Committee chairman, Senator Mel Martinez.

We're standing by to speak with him live.

We're live here in Manchester, New Hampshire and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

COMMERCIAL

BLITZER: The Republican presidential candidates already have two debates under their belts, but they still have a lot to prove to voters, including people here in New Hampshire, where the GOP candidates face off tomorrow night right here on CNN.

The Republican National Committee chairman, Senator Mel Martinez, is joining us now from his home state of Florida.

Senator, thanks very much for coming in.

There's no doubt that the issue of immigration reform deeply divides several of these Republican candidates.

Let me play for you a little clip of what Senator John McCain said earlier today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: I would hope that any candidate for president would not suggest doing nothing. And I would hope they wouldn't play politics for their own interests if the cost of their ambition was to make this problem even harder to solve.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: That sure sounded like a swipe at former Governor Romney.

But do you agree generally with the stance taken by Senator McCain on this issue of immigration reform? SEN. MEL MARTINEZ, REPUBLICAN PARTY CHAIRMAN: Well, I do indeed. And I think the Senator's been courageous in the face of some political winds blowing in a different direction.

And I think -- he was in Florida, in fact, as he spoke -- in Miami today. And so I think it will be an interesting issue tomorrow to have the candidates' address.

Obviously, the issue cuts in different ways and there is division among Democrats, as there is among Republicans, on this very difficult issue. And I think at best, you know what all the candidates need to do is address it as best they can and then let the voters judge them based on how they would tackle problem, how they would solve the problem.

I think the one thing we cannot do is allow anyone, really, frankly, to have a free pass and criticize simply without offering solutions. So I expect between what the Senator said and what I've said, that they'll all be prepared with their solutions tomorrow night. And I hope you'll dig that out of them.

BLITZER: Here's how Governor Romney responded to Senator McCain. He said: "The immigration approach proposed by Senators McCain and Kennedy falls short of a workable solution to an important problem. I respect Senator McCain, but my opposition to his bill is a matter of principled disagreement about policies and priorities related to our enforcement of our immigration laws."

On the one hand, you're a United States senator and everyone expects you to have a stance on an important legislative issue like this.

On the other hand, you're the chairman of the party, where you have to stand above these kind of disputes among top leaders in the Republican Party.

But I take it on this specific issue, you're a lot closer to Senator McCain than you are to Governor Romney.

MARTINEZ: I think the rank and file Republicans will have to make up their mind about who they will support, and I'm certainly staying neutral. But, undoubtedly, I have worked with John McCain on this issue in the Senate and I more parallel his position on the issue.

I think what -- in the absence of a position, one has to suggest that the system we have today is OK. And we know that isn't the case.

So I think all candidates, Republicans and Democrats, Wolf, owe the country a plausible solution of how they would tackle the problem.

But, honestly, I'm going to let them sort this one out tomorrow night at your debate and remain out of the fray while I do continue forward in the Senate this week as we try to craft a bill.

BLITZER: All right. So when the president said this on Friday, back in Washington, I assume you agree with him.

Let me play that clip.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This bill isn't amnesty. For those who call it amnesty, they're just trying to, in my judgment, frighten people.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: A lot of Republicans insist, Senator, that this bill is amnesty, because it gives an opportunity to those 12 million or so illegal immigrants in the United States right now to eventually get not only legal residence in the country, but citizenship, as well.

But you agree with the president, I assume.

MARTINEZ: I do indeed agree with the president. And I want you to understand that before anyone in the country today would have the opportunity on a path to citizenship, they would have to return to their country of origin and apply legally and go to the back of the line. I think it's an important mention to make.

But I do agree with the president. I think he's been very strong and, as he has been on so many other issues, a very decisive leader on this issue. And I frankly believe he's done a great job of continuing to explain to the American people what is in this bill and not just have a buzz word like amnesty rule the day.

BLITZER: A lot of Republicans are beginning to doubt that the Iraqi government -- the government of Nouri al-Maliki -- really has what it takes to get the job done, to take some of the decisive decisions they really need to do.

Yesterday I spoke with Republican Senator Richard Shelby; Jeff Sessions a week earlier.

Are you among those Republicans now increasingly doubtful, losing confidence in the Iraqi government?

MARTINEZ: I would rather say that I'm impatient with the Iraqi government's pace of reforms. We have to understand the difficult political situation they face and the fact that even the Maliki government is a government of coalitions. And he doesn't have absolute control over his own -- his own government. Understanding that, it is going to have to be necessary for them to make the tough decisions that they must make politically to bring the country to a more united -- a more united country. And undoubtedly the clock is ticking. The political patience of our country, I think, is going to wear thin. And while we all wish them the best and we want them to succeed, it is going to be coming to a point where they're going to have to make decisions that are difficult to make, but they're going to have to make them.

BLITZER: And there's no doubt the Iraq issue will be hovering over this debate here tomorrow night in Manchester, New Hampshire when 10 Republican presidential candidates will gather behind me.

Senator, thanks very much for coming into THE SITUATION ROOM.

Always good to have you here on the program.

MARTINEZ: Good luck, Wolf.

Good luck with the debate.

BLITZER: Thank you very much.

MARTINEZ: All right.

BLITZER: Thank you, Senator.

Still ahead one of the world's richest men gives the gift of more than $100 million. We're going to tell you who is the newest recipient of Bill Gates' benevolence.

And now that the Democratic presidential candidates have argued their positions in our debate, what did we learn about where they stand on some of the key issues?

Candy Crowley and John King, they're standing by live. They're coming back with here.

All that coming up.

We'll be right back.

COMMERCIAL

BLITZER: Our Carol Costello is monitoring the wires, keeping an eye on all of the video feeds coming in from around the world.

She's joining us now from New York with a closer look at some other incoming stories making news -- hi, Carol.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, wolf.

Hello to all of you.

He's accused of terrorizing civilians, even sexual slavery. But former Liberian President Charles Taylor calls his war crimes trial at the Hague a charade. In a letter read by his attorney, Taylor made clear he is boycotting the trial. And in that same letter, Taylor says he wanted to fire the very attorney who was reading it, saying he wants to represent himself.

Taylor will stand trial on 11 war crimes charges involving Sierra Leone's bloody civil war. Last year, he pleaded not guilty.

It appears $100 million is very fashionable these days in terms of gifts to university. Microsoft founder Bill Gates and his wife Melinda are giving $105 million to the University of Washington. It is the largest private donation the school has ever received and will help the school monitor global health programs. This weekend, the founder of another software giant pledged $100 million to the University of Illinois. And the University of Chicago recently received $100 million from an anonymous donor.

It is a case involving the Supreme Court, the State of Florida and a woman's protest with no clothes on. Today, the high court ruled that Florida does not have the pay the nudist woman's lawyer fees. She previously won a ruling saying Florida should pay. All of it stems from a situation in 2003, where the woman wanted help -- wanted to help form a human peace sign in a Florida park with no clothes on.

And the Supreme Court allows for the execution of a man convicted of carjacking, rape and murder. The case stems from incidents that happened in 1991 -- crimes for which the man initially won a reprieve from the death penalty. His lawyers argue that a potential juror who was rejected should have been allowed to participate in his trial. Well, today the Supreme Court said the trial judge properly used his discretion in dismissing that potential juror, who expressed some doubts about capital punishment.

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

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Carol.

Up next, what do we know about the Democrats today that we didn't necessarily know before their New Hampshire debate?

John King and Candy Crowley -- they're standing by live. We'll go to them in a moment.

Also, is the war on terror just a bumper sticker slogan?

That question prompting a surprising remark from Senator Hillary Clinton. We're live here at Saint Anselm College in Manchester, New Hampshire.

And you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

COMMERCIAL

BLITZER: Happening now, a surprising assessment. A top U.S. military commander gives his view of just how much of Baghdad is under control and just how much of it is not. A full report coming up at the top of the hour.

Also, the alleged plot to attack New York's JFK Airport. There's a fight over extraditing two suspects and a hunt for another. Police say the suspects were so impressed by a police informant, they thought god sent him to help them kill. We'll have a full report on this story, as well.

And why is a well known publisher of pornography offering you $1 million for evidence of sex scandals involving politicians?

I'm Wolf Blitzer in Manchester, New Hampshire, and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM. Welcome back to Saint Anselm College here in Manchester. In this hockey arena on the campus, the Democratic presidential candidates got into a few brawls here last night. As moderator of the debate, I had an up-close look at who took some jabs, who pulled some punches.

Our chief national correspondent, John King, is here, along with our senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley.

Iraq, clearly, guys, very much hovering over this Democratic debate last night.

I want to play a little clip from Senator Joe Biden, because he -- he strongly defended his decision to go ahead and vote for that funding bill, even if -- even though there was no troop withdrawal deadline.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN (D-DE), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The truth of the matter is, the only one that's emboldened the enemy has been George Bush by his policies, not us funding the war. We're funding the safety of those troops there, until we can get 67 votes...

BLITZER: All right.

(CROSSTALK)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: He was basically saying, John -- I think you recognized this -- that, you know, he had his responsibility; he couldn't just posture for votes; and, even though he knew, politically, within the base of the Democratic Party, this would hurt him, he felt a responsibility to get that money to the troops.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I thought it was interesting on two points.

Number one, he used the term playing politics. He didn't want to name names, but, clearly, he was trying to say that Senator Clinton and Senator Obama, who had previously been on the record saying they would never vote to cut off funding for the troops, that they changed their mind to play politics, to appease the anti-war left in the party.

Overall, also, though, a very muscular approach by Senator Biden throughout the debate, defending his Iraq vote, talking about, back in the Kosovo days, he called for military intervention, and saying they might need military intervention in Darfur -- so, a very muscular, pro-projecting-force Democrat that does make him unique in this field.

BLITZER: And John Edwards, he didn't mince any words either in naming -- he actually named names when I -- when I pressed him. He was willing...

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: And you -- you didn't even have to press him that hard.

BLITZER: I thought it would be a little...

CROWLEY: He was ready to do it.

BLITZER: I thought it would be a little bit more difficult. But it was -- as soon as I suggested him -- suggested, you want to name some names, he didn't hesitate.

CROWLEY: Absolutely.

I mean, and, again, he is playing to a party that is fiercely anti-war. And this is where he thinks he has the advantage. He believes that he is to the left of both Hillary and Barack on this, certainly Hillary, and he, obviously, with the vote that he had advised them to vote against, which they did.

But then he came back and said, well, you didn't lead. That's the problem. You know, it's one thing to just go cast your vote. It's another thing to lead.

So, he still is going to turn this into something where he is pushing them to the left, and that's where he thinks he can best attack them.

BLITZER: Senator Barack Obama, on several different issues, he was pretty forceful and -- and pretty decisive.

Listen to what he said on this notion of, if you had a chance to go ahead and kill Osama bin Laden, if you're president, the intelligence community said, you know, we know where he is; we have 20 minutes to do it; you have got to give the order to launch a Hellfire missile, kill him, even if means killing some innocent civilians in the process.

Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I don't believe in assassinations. But Osama bin Laden has declared war on us, killed 3,000 people. And, under existing law, including international law, when you have got a military target like bin Laden, you take him out. And, if you have 20 minutes, you do it swiftly and surely.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: What did you think, John?

KING: Well, three years ago, he was in the Illinois legislature. He's only been in the United States Senate a few years.

This is the question about him. Is -- is he ready, experienced enough, tough enough, polished enough to be commander in chief? Does he have the resolve? So, Senator Obama is trying to say, if that comes to my desk, Osama bin Laden is out there, I won't hesitate. Show me the intelligence. I will go get him.

CROWLEY: You know what this reminded me of was, in the first Democratic debate, the question was, if there was a terrorist attack and you knew who did it, what would you do?

And Hillary Clinton got rave reviews for saying, I would go after them.

And Barack Obama fumbled that question. It took him forever to get around to, and then I would go get them, after all these caveats. And she was given a lot of creds for saying, I would go after them. They said, she was muscular and she was decisive, and he wasn't.

This reminded me of that question. They did a little schooling over the -- the course of the time.

KING: Lesson learned.

CROWLEY: Yes.

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: Credibility, for those viewers who aren't familiar with the word creds.

(LAUGHTER)

CROWLEY: Oh, sorry.

BLITZER: OK.

CROWLEY: I have children. What can I tell you?

BLITZER: All right.

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: All right. Let's talk about Senator Edwards on health care.

Listen to this little clip.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN EDWARDS (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I do believe that -- and by the way, you didn't say this, but my plan costs $90 billion to $120 billion a year. I would pay for it by getting rid of Bush's tax cuts for people who make over $200,000 a year.

And I believe you cannot cover everybody in America, create a more efficient health care system, cover the cracks, you know, getting rid of things like preexisting conditions and making sure that mental health is treated the same as physical health, I don't think you can do all those things for nothing. That's not the truth.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Because several of the other candidates are suggesting, with -- if you eliminate waste and inefficiency, and if you roll back the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest, that alone would pay for, in effect, universal health care. That was the -- that was a point that Senator Edwards was disputing.

KING: After the war, this could be the most fascinating issue in the campaign, because there's no question, the middle class and, increasingly, businesses want help with the cost of health insurance.

The Democrats are competing among themselves, just as they are competing about the war. The question for me is, how does this play out in a general election? One of them will be the nominee of the party. All of them, pretty much, say repeal the upper-income Bush tax cuts.

The Republicans are going to say, they are going to raise your taxes. So, it's a health care argument, but it also will soon become a taxes argument, as well.

CROWLEY: I think, also, what's interesting here is that I -- had we not had the differences over Iraq, we would have been talking about health care, because they do have differences on how they would approach it.

And, you know, we heard John Edwards saying, listen here. You can't do this without raising taxes.

What's also interesting to me is how often John Edwards returned to the idea of honesty, credibility with the public. This is clearly something that has resonance out there. In the dial test that WMUR did...

BLITZER: The focus group.

CROWLEY: The focus groups -- he scored very high when he talked about, we can't lie to the American people anymore. We have had too much of that.

He came back to that subject again and again.

BLITZER: Candy, stand by, because you're going to be coming back here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

John, thanks to you, as well.

KING: Thank you.

BLITZER: You're not going anywhere either.

One comment, by the way, made by Senator Clinton last night in the debate gaining somewhat -- a lot of attention, shall we say. She said the U.S. is safer now since 9/11. And that's sparking some interest for a number of reasons, including her message behind it.

Let's bring in Mary Snow. She's also here in Manchester. She's watching this part of the story -- Mary.

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, it's gaining attention because it's not something that Senator Clinton has said a lot on the campaign trail.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SNOW (voice-over): With an alleged terror plot targeting JFK Airport fresh on voters' minds, Senator Hillary Clinton drew a line with fellow Democrat John Edwards on terrorism. She took issue with his claim that the war on terror is political propaganda.

EDWARDS: But what this global war on terror bumper sticker -- political slogan, that's all it is, all it's ever been.

SNOW: To that, she disagreed.

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I am a senator from New York. I have lived with the aftermath of 9/11. And I believe we are safer than we were. We are not yet safe enough.

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: It was surprising. And I think a lot of Democrats were a little bit surprised, if not shocked, to hear her say that, because a Democrat is not supposed to say, the country's safer with -- under George Bush, that we're safer than we were since 9/11.

SNOW: To be fair, some Democrats have made similar statements, including John Edwards, in years past.

But Senator Clinton drew a clear distinction between the war on terror and the war in Iraq.

CLINTON: This is George Bush's war. He is responsible for this war. He started the war. He mismanaged the war.

SNOW: When it comes to terrorism, political observers say Senator Clinton is trying to send the message: I will keep you safe.

And it comes as fellow New Yorker and Republican Rudy Giuliani has been ramping up attacks on Democrats on security.

RUDOLPH GIULIANI (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I don't think the Democrats have gotten the full impact of the message the way the Republicans have, because -- because I'm afraid they are going to put us back on defense.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SNOW: And, with Rudy Giuliani keeping up the pressure, political observers say Senator Clinton's message is really being aimed at general election voters and not Democratic primary voters -- Wolf.

BLITZER: It's a -- a little bit of a risky strategy, though, because you're not going to have to worry about a general election, Mary, if you don't first get the party's nomination.

SNOW: Yes, it does carry some risk, especially since she has been under a lot of pressure from the left wing of the party, and because Democratic voters may not warm up to a centrist theme.

BLITZER: Mary Snow is here in Manchester with us -- Mary, thanks very much.

Coming up, our "Strategy Session" -- we will discuss possible strategies for the Republican presidential candidates. They're gearing up. They're preparing right now, going through their own dress rehearsals for tomorrow night's big debate here in Manchester. We will review that. We will take a look back, what happened last night.

Also, other important stories we're covering: some more tough talk from the Russian president, Vladimir Putin. He's warning he may aim nuclear weapons at targets in Europe. What's going on? We will have his explanation, a lot more.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Some top Democrats don't want to cede the issue of faith or values to Republicans. The three leading presidential contenders are set to take on questions of religion and morals during a unique forum later tonight at 7:00 p.m. Eastern.

Our Dana Bash is over at George Washington University in Washington.

What's this forum, Dana, all about?

DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, here on this stage, we are going to hear from Democratic presidential candidates talking about something, as you said, we usually hear about, at least in the last couple of elections, from Republicans.

And that is, they are going to talk about their faith, their religion, and their values. Now, this is where it's going to happen. The three top-tier candidates, if you will, Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and John Edwards, are going to be questioned by our Soledad O'Brien.

But they were invited by the Sojourners Forum. And the person who started that is Reverend Jim Wallis. And he is a self-described progressive evangelical.

And he's really been encouraging Democrats not to cede this territory of values of faith to Republicans anymore, and to really press -- press the issue, because it has been a political mistake the Democrats have been making.

And we have some numbers to actually show you exactly what they are talking about. In 1992, George Bush, George H.W. Bush, got 48 percent of the vote from people who say that they go to religious services weekly.

In 2004, George W. Bush got 60 percent of that vote. So, he got a lot more. And the Democrats pretty much stayed about the same. So, that is proof Democrats understand of why they really need to talk more about religion as they talk about their policy issues.

So, you are going to hear tonight, and, really, you hear on the stump, when Democrats, more and more, are talking about things like human rights, about poverty, even things like the environment, they do it through the prism of faith, values and religion -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Dana, thanks very much.

And CNN's Soledad O'Brien, as Dana just mentioned, will moderate tonight's presidential forum on faith, values and politics, part of a special SITUATION ROOM, right here, 7:00 p.m. Eastern, 4:00 Pacific.

Up next, in our "Strategy Session": John Edwards and Barack Obama came out swinging in last night's debate. But, as the number two and three candidates in the race, at least according to the national polls, as they're dueling out, is Senator Clinton building an insurmountable lead?

And, tomorrow, the Republicans will have their turn. Who is going to strike first at the front-runner, Rudy Giuliani? And what will the issue be? We will discuss all that with Paul Begala and Mike Murphy. They are standing by here in Manchester for today's "Strategy Session."

We will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: In our "Strategy Session": the Democrats' debate, more on one of our top stories, each of the presidential candidates laying out where they are similar to their opponents and where they're different.

Joining us now, our CNN political analyst, the Democratic strategist Paul Begala, and Republican strategist Mike Murphy.

Guys, thanks very much for joining us.

It was clear that Senator Edwards, Senator Clinton disagree on Edwards' notion that this war on terror is a bumper sticker slogan. She -- she made clear she disagrees with him on that.

PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: She did.

And I think Hillary did it in a way she was forceful and strong. They have an important disagreement there. But her strategy was to rise above that, not to rise to the bait, you know? Edwards attacked both Barack and Hillary. Barack rose to the bait. Hillary rose above it.

And I think they each had their reasons. I think Barack and Edwards are sort of fighting to be the anti-Hillary. And Hillary, her biggest problem, even among Democrats, is this worry that she's too divisive.

So, last night, she became a unifying figure. You know, she even -- in fact, she even took you on a little bit in defense of all the Democrats. And they seemed to defer to her.

I think, in an important way, she solidified her position as someone who can unify. And I think that's the biggest worry that Democrats have about her. So, I think she helped herself a lot.

BLITZER: She did try to project this all -- almost presidential aura about her last night.

I'm sure you...

MIKE MURPHY, REPUBLICAN MEDIA STRATEGIST: Right.

BLITZER: ... sensed that as well, Mike.

MURPHY: Yes, her best moment was when she kind of fought back on hypothetical questions. I thought that was her highlight. But I don't...

BLITZER: Which presidents love to do.

MURPHY: Yes.

BLITZER: I'm not going to answer hypothetical questions.

MURPHY: Yes, which is also a three-in-one escape key for any tough question.

(CROSSTALK)

MURPHY: Well, that sounds awful hypothetical to me. What I love, puppies, children, ice cream.

I thought her problem was -- I don't buy that she had a particularly great night. I thought they all did OK. What I saw was the entire Democratic Party lurch to the left. I saw the old Bill Clinton-DLC centerism go out the window, which used to win presidential elections for the Democrats.

Instead, I'm hearing about gays in the military, tax and spend, universal health care, a lot of expensive things, no English first, things I think the Republican nominee next year will be working on and winning votes with.

(CROSSTALK)

MURPHY: So, this was an inside liberal Democrat debate. I didn't see a swing voters...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: I suspect we will see a major contrast with the Republicans.

When I asked the Democrats, though, do you -- would you support getting rid of the don't-ask/don't-tell policy that effectively bars gays from serving openly in the U.S. military, all of them said, yes, get -- get rid of it.

BEGALA: Right.

BLITZER: I suspect the Republicans will have a different stance on that, by and large.

BEGALA: No. They will -- they will -- in fact, they will want to go back to the book of Leviticus, where we stoned gay people.

I mean, they -- the -- the Democrats are moving left. But the country is moving left. The center is moving left. People are much more accepting of gay rights today, especially in the military, than they were 14 years ago, when we put the don't-ask/don't-tell policy in place.

BLITZER: If you were advising Republicans...

MURPHY: Right.

BLITZER: ... on that question tomorrow night...

MURPHY: Right.

BLITZER: ... what would you tell them to say?

MURPHY: I would say, stay where Bill Clinton was, don't ask, don't tell. It's working. It's a good policy that most Americans have accepted.

And I think the Democrats have gone into left field. You see, what's happened to the Democrats, they won the Congress on kind of a protest vote about the war and some incompetence in government. So, now they are getting cocky. This is what they always do.

They're thinking, you know, we don't have to do this fake centerism anymore. We can be ourselves. We can go all the way left, way out into big-tax-and-spend-ville, gays-in-the-military-ville.

It's going to hurt them in the general election.

BLITZER: I thought Senator Barack Obama helped himself when he said this. And I want to play this little clip of what he said about the national intelligence estimate leading up to the war in Iraq.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) OBAMA: I will say on the National Intelligence Estimate that Chairman Graham -- Bob Graham of Florida, who at the time was the head of the Intelligence Committee -- cited that specifically as one of the reasons that he voted against it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: And Hillary Clinton did not actually go ahead and read that entire NIE, that national intelligence estimate. Bob Graham, who was the ranking Democrat, at one point the chairman of the Intelligence Committee, he read it all. Even before the war, he said: You know what? I don't believe that threat is imminent, based on everything I have seen.

Was she hurt by the fact that she didn't actually read that NIE before the war?

BEGALA: I think, actually, the fact that John Edwards didn't read it and Hillary didn't read it doesn't actually come across equally to voters.

In other words, nobody worries that Hillary is going to be uninformed. You know, fairly or not, they see her as the dutiful student, somebody -- and she said, I was fully briefed, and I went to meetings, and I did this and that.

She should have read it, if you ask me. She should have.

By the way, Condoleezza Rice testified to the 9/11 Commission that she didn't read it. The president said he didn't read it. It's apparently the most unread document. But all of those people should have read it.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: And a lot of the Republicans didn't -- a lot of the Republicans who voted for the war...

MURPHY: Right.

BLITZER: ... never bothered to read it either.

MURPHY: That's true. But there was a lot of information going to a lot of people.

But I think you're on to something here. There's a fault line in the Democratic primary that Hillary tried to cover up last night, which was, she doesn't want an inter-Democratic war over who was really against the war and who wasn't.

So, she's trying to take that wedge issue away, so she can say, oh, we're all anti-war, and protect herself from an attack from the left, which I think is a great vulnerability in the primary.

And I don't think for a minute that Edwards in particular, because his whole campaign is almost premised on it, is going to let that go. This issue is going to be with her a long time: Where were you really?

The fact is, she was the least anti-war of the Democrats.

BEGALA: Well, no, if you look at what they said at the time, John Edwards was even more hawkish than Hillary Clinton. They both voted the same way.

But Senator Edwards was -- he was talking like General Patton. Now he's -- now he's Mahatma Gandhi.

(CROSSTALK)

MURPHY: But he says the words you will never hear from Hillary Clinton: I was wrong.

BEGALA: Yes. And I think that's helped him. I do. I think...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: All right, guys, thanks very much.

You're going to be sticking around here. We have got a big debate -- I don't know if you heard -- tomorrow night here in Manchester...

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: I heard that. Who is hosting that debate, Wolf?

BLITZER: We will talk about it later.

BEGALA: Who is the emcee?

BEGALA: Still to come: Are Democrats living up to their promises when it comes to pork? Jack Cafferty standing by with your e-mail.

Also ahead, a new glimpse of Fidel Castro, the first in months, what does it tell us about the Cuban leader's health and the future of his regime?

And later: the pornography publisher who is hustling for dirt on high-ranking officials, and willing to pay big money for it.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Is Google headquarters in California now a required campaign stop for presidential hopefuls? Four top candidates have already made the trip.

Let's bring in our Internet reporter, Jacki Schechner.

Jacki, which candidates already have gone out to Google?

JACKI SCHECHNER, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Hi, Wolf.

We have got three Democrats and just one Republican so far. Senator Clinton was out there in February, followed by Governor Richardson, and then former Senator John Edwards.

The lone Republican, Senator John McCain -- and here's a clip of him warming up the crowd.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Yes.

(LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And it's -- and it's hard to get a job at Google.

MCCAIN: I know. I have got...

(LAUGHTER)

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So...

MCCAIN: And I know I have my work cut out for me.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCHECHNER: Good thing that's not the job he's going for.

Google has invited all of the candidates. Those are the four that have gone so far. They say what the candidates do is get a chance to talk to the crowd about issues that they're interested in, issues like math and science education, or fighting censorship.

They have got some 12,000 Google employees worldwide. The candidates go to the Googleplex in Mountain View, California. And they also get a preview of new technology. The forums like this are in person for the Google employees. They are also videoconferenced, Wolf, and then they're posted online on YouTube.

BLITZER: Very interesting, Jacki.

And let's go from Jacki to Jack. He's got "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, the question this hour is: When it comes to pork-barrel spending, are the Democrats living up to their promises of openness and transparency?

Before I read the e-mails, the answer is, no, they are not.

Mike in Florida: "No, the Democrats are not holding up to their word. I voted Democratic in '06 because I wanted change. We have got no change, just the same old rhetoric and actions as we got from the Republicans. The American voters need to start a grassroots lobby of voters and demand term limits. If terms limits were there, many of the earmarks would stop."

Linda in Florida: "I don't call it being open, when a group of them hide behind closed doors and then come out swinging with a lousy immigration bill to ram down our throats."

Mike writes: "Jack ,the Democrats aren't living up to their promises. They can't. They're just politicians, like the Republicans. We have a primary here tomorrow, but I'm sorry to say I can't find enough difference between the various scum to make it worth voting."

Mike didn't mention where he's from.

Bob in Indiana: "Much as I hate to agree with you, Jack, you're absolutely right on this. Both parties reek. Throw the bums out. Unfortunately, I don't think that will happen."

Patricia in South Carolina: "Jack, all the politicians are alike. They all lie to get voted in, and break their promises. I haven't seen anything the Democrats have done that is impressive."

And Ken in Lebanon, New Hampshire: "Jack, I think we can see clearly enough. They are thinking of funding a monument to the 'Pork Mess Monster.' It will be stuck to a bill along with peanut storage. The project will employ lots of illegal aliens and attempt to bring credibility to something of which they only have scant photographic evidence" -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jack, thank you for that.

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