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THE SITUATION ROOM
Iraq Progress Report: General, Ambassador Brief Congress; Interview With Senator Chris Dodd
Aired September 10, 2007 - 16:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, the top U.S. military commander in Iraq suggests an end to the so-called surge is now in sight. But Democrats aren't buying much of what he had to say.
This hour, Congress hears a long-awaited and controversial progress report on the war.
Also, Donald Rumsfeld launching a new defensive of his handling of Iraq nine months after quitting as defense secretary. Is Rumsfeld showing any hint of regret?
And Senator Larry Craig takes it back. Can he make his guilty plea in a bathroom sex sting go away? The Republican's lawyer launching a new legal battle today.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
General David Petraeus walked into a congressional hearing room today facing a daunting challenge, to convince skeptics there's light at the end of the tunnel in Iraq. But first Petraeus tried to defuse Democratic critics who charged he is simply manipulating the facts on behalf of the White House.
We don't have that exchange, that sound bite, but Petraeus also told House members that the troop buildup in Iraq is working in large part, and he said he envisions the so-called surge lasting nearly another year.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEN. DAVID PETRAEUS, COMMANDER IN IRAQ: I believe that we will be able to reduce our forces to the pre-surge level of brigade combat teams by next summer without jeopardizing the security gains that we have fought so hard to achieve.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: The U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Ryan Crocker, joined Petraeus in warning that despite uneven military gains, the future in Iraq is uncertain, and that a premature withdrawal could be disastrous.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RYAN CROCKER, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO IRAQ: I cannot guarantee success in Iraq. I do believe, as I have described, that it is attainable. I am certain that abandoning or drastically curtailing our efforts will bring failure. And the consequences of such a failure must be clearly understood by us all.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Let's go to our congressional correspondent, Dana Bash. She's up on the Hill.
The political reaction to the testimony only just beginning, but its intense.
DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It sure is.
You know, Wolf, all spring and summer Democrats and Republicans alike billed this testimony as pivotal in what everybody billed as what was -- what they were sure would be a change of course in Iraq, but so far it doesn't look like it's turning out that way.
BASH (voice over): It was the day Iraq war opponents anxiously awaited, testimony they thought would turn the tide of the Iraq political debate. This preemptive strike was a clear sign Democrats don't think the turn is in their favor.
REP. TOM LANTOS (D), FOREIGN AFFAIRS CHAIRMAN: The fact remains, Gentlemen, that the administration has sent you here today to convince the members of these two committees and the Congress that victory is at hand. With all due respect to you, I must say I don't buy it.
BASH: Democrats question the accuracy of General Petraeus' progress report, statements like this...
PETRAEUS: As a bottom line up front, the military objectives of the surge are in large measure being met.
BASH: Democrats have been walking a fine line raising questions about Petraeus' creditability but trying not to directly impugn his integrity. But many thought this crossed that line, a full-page ad from the anti-war group MovOn.org: "General Petraeus or General Betray Us? Cooking the Books for the White House".
REP. DUNCAN HUNTER (R), ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE: Mr. Chairman, I think it's an outrage that we spent the last week prepping the ground, bashing the credibility of a General officer whose trademark is integrity.
REP. ILEANA ROS-LEHTINEN (R), FOREIGN AFFAIRS COMMITTEE: This cannot be tolerated. I urge my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to publicly denounce the ad.
BASH: Even the loudest and most ardent Democratic war critics denounced the ad. "I didn't like it," former presidential candidate John Kerry cold CNN. "I think it's over the top." REP. JAN SCHAKOWSKY (D), ILLINOIS: To make General Petraeus as somehow betraying the American people I think is not an accurate statement.
BASH: Now, reducing the number of troops to pre-surge levels by next summer is nowhere near the dramatic withdrawal the Democrats are demanding, and it does give some political cover to Republicans who will be able to go back home and make the case that the military, that the administration, is -- does have a plan to bring troops home. But this will make it very hard, Wolf, likely for Democrats to do what they want to do legislatively, which is get enough Republican votes to pass and send the president a bill that demands troop withdrawal with a firm deadline.
BLITZER: Dana Bash on the Hill watching this story.
That full page MoveOn.org ad blasting General David Petraeus drives home the risks for Democrats as they push back against today's key testimony and against the war in Iraq.
Joining us now, our world affairs analyst, the former defense secretary, William Cohen. He's chairman and CEO of The Cohen Group here in Washington.
This ad, "General Petraeus or General Betray Us?" -- are the Democrats overplaying their hand if they go ahead with this line of attack?
WILLIAM COHEN, FMR. DEFENSE SECRETARY: Oh, I think so. I think this is clearly an attack upon his integrity.
I recall when the Bush administration first came into office, there were those who -- some who said that -- in the four stars that I had worked with, that they were "Clinton" generals, and there was great resentment toward that statement, that somehow they were under the heel and boot of the president of the United States. They were -- they were professional soldiers who had dedicated their lives to being professional military personnel and leaders, and I think the same thing applies here.
If you attack someone like General Petraeus, whose reputation is of the highest order, and suggest that he would engage in a dereliction of duty -- in other words, he would subvert the facts or twist the facts to fit a political objective that he doesn't agree with, I think that would clearly be a deception and a dereliction of duty. And I don't think that he would engage in that.
BLITZER: He's a career military officer who spent three decades- plus, a West Point grad, a four-star General. Ryan Crocker is not a political appointee. He's a career diplomat, a foreign service officer who speaks Arabic, has spent his whole professional career out in that part of the world. So it's hard to make the case that these guys are just political hacks doing the White House's bidding. COHEN: And they haven't given us any Pollyannaish predictions. As a matter of fact, they said this is still hard, this is going to be very hard, and there are no guarantees.
I think what's going to happen here is that the Republicans who were wavering or thinking of supporting the Democratic proposals probably will not be inclined to do so now. This will give them some room for maneuver or an opportunity to say let's wait a little bit longer.
I think on the other hand, things on the ground might change things. There was a movie that Cuba Gooding was in. He said, "Show me the money." I think that the members of the House and Senate will say show us the movement, the political movement, as well as this incipient military movement.
They're going to demand that Prime Minister Maliki perform and produce. And we haven't seen much to date. If he does, then that will give the president more support that will lead this into next spring and into next summer.
BLITZER: And I guess the upshot of General Petraeus' remarks, at least as far as the troops are concerned, about 2,000 marines can start coming home by the end of this month. Another 4,000 soldiers maybe by the end of this year. One brigade. And by next summer, almost a year from now, maybe 30,000 troops will be gone, bringing the level from about 168,000 down to 130-something thousand, which was the level it was at the start of this year before the so-called surge began.
COHEN: And then much will depend upon whether or not there will be a systematic reduction from that point forward going into the elections. If there's no movement, if there continues to be violence, that certainly will have political consequences to Republicans, and down to the benefit of Democrats. But much remains to be determined at this point.
I think the most important thing is the president will buy some time until next spring. This is Senator Warner's proposal, you may recall. He recommended perhaps 5,000 could come home by Christmas. This seems to be consistent with that, showing...
BLITZER: These numbers, about 5,000 or 6,000, might be out by the -- by Christmas of this year. All right. That's certainly not going to satisfy the Democrats.
We're going to have a lot more to talk about on this front as well.
BLITZER: William Cohen, thanks for coming in.
COHEN: A pleasure.
BLITZER: Let's go to Jack Cafferty in New York for "The Cafferty File".
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, tomorrow, of course, the sixth anniversary on 9/11, and right on time we once again hear from the man behind those attacks, Osama bin Laden. But six years after the fact, not everybody is in agreement about just how important figure the al Qaeda leader actually is these days.
President Bush's national security adviser calls bin Laden "a man on the run in a cave who is virtually impotent other than his ability to get out of these messages." Several of the Republican presidential hopefuls also weighed in.
Mitt Romney says the new videotape message from bin Laden is nearly impossible for Americans to understand. And Romney adds that he thinks bin Laden is deluded.
Fred Thompson says bin Laden is more of a symbolism than he is anything else.
Symbolism? Are we going to get another one who can't talk?
Rudy Giuliani says capturing or killing the terrorist leader should not be a secondary goal, that individual figures in Islamic terrorism are enormously important.
And Senator John McCain insists that Osama bin Laden and his henchmen must be hunted down, and he vows to do just that as president.
So, who's right?
Here's the question: How big a threat do you believe Osama bin Laden is?
E-mail your thoughts to caffertyfile@CNN.com or go to CNN.com/caffertyfile -- Wolf.
BLITZER: I want to just alert our viewers, Jack, in our next hour in THE SITUATION ROOM, we're going to be talking about your new book, "It's Getting Ugly Out There," which...
CAFFERTY: Oh, good.
BLITZER: ... which debuts today. But you know what, Jack? We're going to see a side of you -- because I've gone through the book this weekend -- a side of view that our viewers are not familiar with, a very personal side of Jack Cafferty that we're going to talk about. But that's coming up in our next hour.
Congratulations though, Jack. The book finally reaching bookstores today.
CAFFERTY: Thanks, Wolf. BLITZER: And coming up, heading into today's high-stakes testimony on Iraq, what were the American people expecting to hear about the future of the war? We have a brand new snapshot of a deeply skeptical American public.
Plus, he's a fierce critic of U.S. policy in Iraq. Did Senator Chris Dodd hear anything from General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker to ease his outrage? The Democratic presidential candidate, he's standing by live with his take on where the war goes from here.
And the Democrats stake out new presidential campaign ground. What did they accomplish during their first-ever Spanish language debate? And will the Republicans be sorry they opted out?
Lots of news happening right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Many Americans anxiously want to know more about today's testimony from General David Petraeus and the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Ryan Crocker. We're going to get more right now though on our top story from our next guest.
In the coming days he will support efforts to try to get the U.S. out of Iraq based on firm deadlines. That would be Democratic presidential candidate Chris Dodd. He's a senator from Connecticut. He's joining us now from coral Gables, Florida.
Thanks, Senator Dodd, for coming in.
SEN. CHRIS DODD (DD-CT.), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Thank you, Wolf.
BLITZER: All right. Here is the upshot of what General Petraeus told the Congress today. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PETRAEUS: As a bottom line up front, the military objectives of the surge are in large measure being met.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: All right. Do you agree with him?
DODD: Well, again, I have respect for General Petraeus here, and I'm not questioning in terms of their military objectives, but there's something far broader here than just military objectives. And obviously with a surge of this size, I assume that they were able to quiet down certain problems in certain areas.
But we know as a fact here today this has been the bloodiest summer since the war began here, and you can't manufacture those numbers. And the bottom line here is, are we safer, more secure, less vulnerable today? And obviously what's happened here in Iraq is this has become, as I've described it to you before, Wolf, the petri dish, the incubator for jihadists and terrorists here.
I don't think we're safer today. I think we're far more vulnerable today. That's really the strategic question that's the job of the president, to make sure we are.
DODD: The soldiers have done a great job, but I'm very worried that a continuation of this policy in a dysfunctional government here is going to make us far less secure in the coming years.
BLITZER: But ambassador Crocker, who's an Arabist at the State Department. He speaks Arabic, he spent his whole career out in that part of the world, he testified that as ugly as if might be politically right now, if the U.S. were to do what you suggest, simply get out, it would be a whole lot more chaotic. It would be brutal. The bloodbath would intensify.
DODD: Well, again, I certainly respect Ambassador Crocker, but I disagree with him here. And I'm not suggesting it's going to be all rosy at the end of all of this. But it doesn't get any better, and today it's as about as bad as it can get.
Remember, two million Iraqis have left their country. A million more are displaced within the country. More than 70,000 have lost their lives.
The Taliban is on the resurgence in Afghanistan here. You have Osama bin Laden again sort of thumbing his nose at us, reminding us he's still in power, still running things here.
This is a mess. It's not getting better. Our military people have done a fantastic job. There's no debate about that. And I know they're doing a very good job with the surge, at least quieting things down where they can.
What happens when that ends? And it's got to end at some point. Ten billion dollars every month, Wolf, is not something that we can continue to support indefinitely here. And that seems to be what they're suggesting.
BLITZER: What did you think of the full-page ad in "The New York Times" today from MoveOn.org, "General Petraeus or General Betray Us?"
Did you see that ad?
DODD: I did see it, and look, I'm not going to -- this is not about the personality of General Petraeus. I have respect for him as a military individual here giving his best assessment. And even his assessments indicate this is not going to be easy at all, even under the best of scenarios they're describing here.
So the debate ought not to be about the personalities. The debate is about the policy. The policy has failed, and the underlying concern of the policy has to be the safety and security of our country. BLITZER: Because...
DODD: And our country is alone today in the world and far more vulnerable.
BLITZER: ... a lot of Republicans, including Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader in the Senate, and others are going after MoveOn.org, saying this is simply an outrage to question the patriotism, the professionalism of General Petraeus. And they're saying that Democrats who take money from MoveOn.org should not longer accept money from this organization and return the money that they have taken.
You have accepted money from MoveOn.org. So the question is, will you return that money or will you suspend cooperation with MoveOn.org as Republicans are demanding?
DODD: You know, Wolf, the debate is much more serious here than about whether or not you accept campaign contributions from a group that runs an ad you may agree with or disagree with. Let's get back to the question at hand here.
Mitch McConnell is the majority -- minority leader of the Senate. He has a responsibility here to try and do what he can to keep us safer and more secure. That's the debate about the policy in Iraq.
The policy is not working. It's a dysfunctional civil war in the middle of that country. We're being asked to resolve that.
I don't think we can, and I think most Americans agree with that. Therefore, having a time certain for withdrawal, we don't leave the region. We're going to be deeply involved in the region, we're just not going to be engaged militarily in the middle of a civil war in Iraq.
That is the bottom line. The tactic questions are ones that we can talk about indefinitely, but the policy is failing and we need to change it.
BLITZER: All right. Let's talk about your book, because we actually invited you to come out -- but there's a lot of news, as you understand -- "Letters from Nuremberg: My Father's Narrative of a Quest for Justice," by Senator Chris Dodd.
This is a powerful story about your dad, who was a prosecutor at the Nuremberg war trials. And it tells the story of what happened then, but there are important lessons, Senator, for what is happening right now.
In a nutshell, what's the most important thing a reader of "Letters From Nuremberg" should come away with as far as current U.S. policy is concerned?
DODD: Well, the rule of law. My father, Justice Jackson, Henry Stimson, the Republican secretary of war under Franklin Roosevelt, Ben Roseman (ph) were a handful of people who believed that after Nuremberg, after World War II, there should be a trial, they should put these people on trial.
Winston Churchill wanted to summarily execute them, the Soviets wanted to have a show trial and then execute them. But because there were a group of individuals who stood up -- and the quote of Robert Jackson is worth quoting to you here. He said that "Four nations flushed with victory and stung with injury stayed the hand of vengeance and voluntarily submitted their captive enemies to the judgment of the rule of law, to the greatest tribute that power ever paid to reason."
We're not doing that. Our Constitution is under assault, in my view. The Military Commissions Act which was adopted last year did away with habeas corpus, revived torture, and walked away from the Geneva Conventions.
That greatest generation that delivered us from the evil of World War II and succeeded in proving the moral authority of the United States, upon which we built the structures, that guided us through the years of dealing with the Soviet Union, are being disregarded. And my father's letters to my mother indicate that, they show that, they talk about that. And the difficulty they worked at or the difficult job of trying to get there is I think a history lesson worth reading today.
BLITZER: It certainly is. It's entitled "Letters From Nuremberg: My Father's Narrative of a Quest for Justice".
Senator Dodd, thanks for writing it.
DODD: Thank you, Wolf, very much.
BLITZER: And thanks for coming in.
DODD: You bet.
BLITZER: Chris Dodd is a Democratic presidential candidate.
Coming up, it's a first on the road to the White House. Was the Democrats' Spanish language debate lost in translation? We're going to tell you how the forum went and whether Republicans messed up by refusing to follow the Democrats' lead.
Plus, he hasn't been able to make his political problems go away, but can Senator Larry Craig erase his guilty plea in Minnesota? It's another new twist in the bathroom sex sting scandal.
Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: The American people making no bones about it. They're weary of the war in Iraq. Are they equally skeptical about the top U.S. general's progress report on the war?
We have got some brand new poll numbers on the public's expectations.
And Donald Rumsfeld has never been one to watch his words. What is the former defense secretary revealing now about his handling of the Iraq war? He's speaking out.
We have the story. That's coming up right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Happening now, holding up their words to reality. You're going to want to know how the latest assessment on the war in Iraq actually matches up to what's really happening there. We're fact-checking today's testimony from General David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker.
That's coming up.
Also, brutal Neo Nazi gangs attacking people in Israel. They have explosives and weapons and they have videotaped some of their crimes.
You might not believe that the people suspected of attacking Israelis are themselves Israelis.
And every traveler's nightmare, a plane with problems making a dramatic landing that causes a fire. You're going to find out where it happened and how it ended.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
In the run-up to today's testimony from General David Petraeus about the war in Iraq, some liberal activists questioned his integrity, but a fresh survey looks at what you think.
Let's go to our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider. He's joining us.
What was the public's view of his testimony, at least going in to today's dramatic presentation?
WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, Wolf, in a word -- skeptical.
SCHNEIDER (voice over): Do Americans trust the top U.S. commander to report what's really going on in Iraq without making the situation sound better than it is? CNN and the Opinion Research Corporation asked them last month. Fifty-three percent said no.
The "USA Today"- Gallup poll asked the public again whether they thought General Petraeus' report would be independent and objective. Again, 53 percent said no.
The public is skeptical. SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: In a short period of time we have seen significant success.
SCHNEIDER: The public is skeptical about that, too. Asked whether the troop increase is succeeding in improving conditions and ending violence in Iraq, most Americans say, it's not.
General Petraeus reports some military progress.
GENERAL DAVID PETRAEUS, COMMANDING GENERAL OF THE MULTI-NATIONAL FORCE-IRAQ: To summarize, the security situation in Iraq is improving.
SCHNEIDER: But few see much political progress by the Iraqi government.
GENERAL JAMES JONES, FORMER SUPREME NATO COMMANDER: To us, it just hinges on the government doing what the government is supposed to do. And that is finding a way to get a -- a sense of -- of an agreement that they will stop the killing and stop the ethnic violence.
SCHNEIDER: Last month, Americans were divided over whether the U.S. military is making progress in improving conditions and ending violence in Iraq. But their judgment of the Iraqi government was much harsher.
The current "USA Today"/Gallup poll finds the same thing. People feel the U.S. is not putting enough emphasis on finding a political solution in Iraq.
REP. JAN SCHAKOWSKY (D), ILLINOIS: The reason for the surge was promoted by the president and by General Petraeus as creating the space for political settlements in Iraq, which have not only not happened, but we have even seen steps backwards.
SCHNEIDER: Americans see the failure in Iraq as a political failure much more than a military failure. The U.S. military is doing its job, people feel. The Iraqi government is not -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Thanks very much for that.
One of the prime architects of the war in Iraq is now speaking out. Several months after former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld resigned, he says he sleeps just fine regarding the decisions he made while he was the defense secretary.
Let's go to CNN's Brian Todd. He's joining us.
And he also says a lot more about the situation in Iraq, Brian.
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: He sure does, Wolf. On the very day that the debate over Iraq resumes on Capitol Hill, Donald Rumsfeld speaks out in his first interview since leaving the Pentagon, and he defends his handling of the war.
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: America remains a nation at war.
TODD (voice-over): Nine months out of office, he's still chided for being an architect of a war that's gone wrong in so many ways. But the woman who interviewed Donald Rumsfeld says, flat out, the man does not do regret.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: If he feels any kind of remorse or pain or sorrow, he's just not going to say it. That is not who he is. And -- , if he did, he wouldn't be Donald Rumsfeld.
TODD: In his interview with "GQ" magazine, Rumsfeld says he sent a memo to the president about the dangers of invading Iraq.
"I wrote down all of the things that could be problems, that we wouldn't find weapons of mass destruction, that there would be a fortress Baghdad, and a lot of people would be killed."
BUSH: Mr. Secretary, welcome back.
TODD: Former Secretary of State Colin Powell, who Rumsfeld says he was never close to, acknowledges, Rumsfeld issued those warnings. But also speaking with "GQ," Powell says: "We didn't do the contingency planning on what we would do about it. So, we watched those buildings get burned down, and nobody told the divisions, hey, go in there and declare martial law."
Rumsfeld says they did have a plan, but, still, he believes Iraq hasn't worked as well as Afghanistan: "It's been a big success. The Iraqi has not been successful as yet. What the Department of Defense is doing is working. What isn't working is the diplomatic side."
Despite Iraq being the reason for his departure, Rumsfeld told "GQ" that wasn't the toughest moment in his life.
TODD: Rumsfeld also said that before the November elections, he decided that he would resign if the Republicans lost either the House or the Senate. But, if the Republicans had kept control of Congress, would he have acted differently? He said he would have -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Did he say what the toughest moment of his life was, Brian?
TODD: He said that, actually, his term as the chief of staff to President Gerald Ford back in the '70s was tougher, because the climate, the political climate, was more acidic in the country, a lot of bitterness. He said that was tougher to deal with, believe it or not, than his term as defense secretary and all the criticism over Iraq.
BLITZER: Brian Todd reporting for us -- thanks, Brian, very much.
Meanwhile, apparently, Rumsfeld and President Bush don't have much to talk about these days. Rumsfeld told "GQ" magazine he couldn't remember the last time he and the president actually talked to each other.
And when asked if he misses the president, Rumsfeld replied -- and I'm quoting now -- "Mmm, no."
Coming up: He's the senator embroiled in scandal, said he would resign, then backtracked. Senator Larry Craig is now causing more confusion about his intentions. We're going to update you on with -- with what's happening today.
And the questions were already tough enough, and they were posed in Spanish. The Democratic presidential candidates answered them at the first-ever Spanish-language presidential debate. We will tell you what happened. Candy Crowley is standing by for that.
We will be right back.
BLITZER: Another setback today for Republicans and their slim hopes of regaining a Senate majority next year.
Senator Chuck Hagel announcing today he won't seek a third term in 2008. The Nebraska Republican, who has been a thorn in the party's side when it comes to the war in Iraq, also says he won't run for president. But he says, if he had taken a shot at the White House, the timing would not have worked against him.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. CHUCK HAGEL (R), NEBRASKA: The Republican Party is a long way from settling on a candidate. Fred Thompson just got in last week. We may have other candidates get in. So, I don't think it's too late for a candidate to get in. I don't think it's too late for Fred Thompson to get in. I don't think it would have been too late for me to get in. But I made the decision.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Twelve Senate Democrats are up for reelection next year, while Republicans have to defend nearly twice as many seats. Of those 22 seats, so far, three of them are open. In addition to Hagel, Republicans Senator John Warner of Virginia, Wayne Allard of Colorado have announced they won't seek reelection next year.
After his on-again/off-again/on-again resignation announcement, Senator Larry Craig is backtracking again. This time, he's changing his tune about the guilty plea that helped ignite the scandal over his men's room arrest. The Idaho Republican is filing court papers today seeking to withdraw that guilty plea.
Let's go back to Carol Costello. She's watching this story for us.
Craig's lawyer is getting deeply involved in this legal battle right now, filing the formal paperwork, I guess, today.
CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Filed it today, Wolf. And three words describe Larry Craig's fight: Blame the media. Will it work? And, more importantly for Craig, will it save his Senate seat?
SEN. LARRY CRAIG (R), IDAHO: I have now retained counsel, and I am asking counsel to review this matter and to advise me on how to proceed.
COSTELLO (voice-over): Larry Craig has done just that. His lawyer is filing papers to withdraw his guilty plea in an airport bathroom sex sting.
BILLY MARTIN, ATTORNEY FOR SENATOR LARRY CRAIG: Senator Craig stepped in that bathroom to do a perfectly legal function, that is, to relieve himself.
COSTELLO: The motion describes a fearful Craig who had just been interviewed by "The Idaho Statesman," which was preparing an article about his sexuality.
Faced with allegations from the airport incident, the motion says he was panicked that such allegations would be made public. So, when he was arrested in that bathroom, Craig felt compelled to grasp the lifeline offered to him by the arresting officer, David Karsnia. Craig's lawyer says the officer heightened Craig's anxiety by calling him a liar and that the officer pressured Craig to plead guilty by telling him three times, pay a fine and it will go away.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
DAVE KARSNIA, INVESTIGATIVE SERGEANT: So, we will start over. You're going to get out of here. You're going to have to pay a fine, and that will be it. OK? And I don't call media. I don't do any of that type of crap.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
COSTELLO: The senator's motion also details Craig's actions in the bathroom, described how he was anxiously waiting a stall to free and glanced into the undercover officer's stall to see if it was empty.
And it states that now infamous detail, how Craig stands well over six feet tall and has a wide stance.
MARTIN: Senator Craig admits to going into the bathroom. He admits to moving his foot. He admits to reaching his hand down. That's all. That is not a crime.
COSTELLO: Whether any of this will sway a judge to throw out a guilty plea...
LISA BLOOM, COURT TV ANCHOR: Courts do not like withdrawals of guilty pleas. They want to see something very significant, legal duress, incompetence. The person is mentally retarded. They don't speak English. They were completely confused as what was going on. I think it's unlikely that Senator Craig is going to prevail on any of those kinds of grounds.
COSTELLO: And, as for whether any decision will be made before September 30, the day Senator Craig says he will resign his seat if, well, that's hard to tell.
But it's clear most Americans do want him out, Wolf. In a CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll, 67 percent say he should resign. Twenty-six percent say he should not.
BLITZER: And what's also clear, Carol, is, most of the Republican leadership in the Senate wants him to resign as well.
Carol (r)MDNM¯Costello, thanks very much.
The Democratic presidential candidates are fresh off their first- ever Spanish-language debate. And, on the topic of immigration , they gave the Hispanic audience a lot of what they wanted to hear.
Speaking in English, with their words immediately translated, the Democrats all vowed to work to change immigration laws during their first year in the White House, and they criticized some Republican efforts to crack down on illegal immigrants.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I do favor much more border patrolling and much more technology on both of our borders, and, in certain areas, even a physical barrier, because I think we have got to secure our borders. That has to be part of comprehensive immigration reform.
I have championed comprehensive immigration reform, and it includes starting with securing our borders, in order to give people the support they need to come over and support us when it comes to having a pathway to legalization.
GOV. BILL RICHARDSON (D-NM), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This wall is a horrendous example of Washington's misguided policy. The Congress only funded -- and, in addition to that, if you're going to build a 12-foot wall, you know what is going to happen?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you.
RICHARDSON: A lot of 13-foot ladders...
RICHARDSON: This is a terrible symbol of America.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Let's bring in our senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley. She's here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
So, where does this immigration debate stand among the Democratic presidential candidates?
CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, what's interesting now, as we saw in the debate last night, there are some slight differences of opinion. You heard the wall. Richardson, you know, opposes building a ball for security between Mexico and the U.S. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama both voted for it.
But what's interesting is how they are using it against the Republicans at this point. What they're doing is looking over and seeing the Republican side of the race, and knowing that the talk about amnesty and the -- the very tough talk on illegal immigrants has cost them some in the Latino community, so they are beginning to use that as an issue.
Immigration doesn't tend to come up as much on the Democratic side as it does on the Republican side.
BLITZER: It certainly comes up on the Republican side. Now, the Republicans are opting out of going to this Spanish debate.
CROWLEY: And Ronald Reagan used to make...
BLITZER: Except for John McCain.
CROWLEY: Except for John McCain. Ronald Reagan used to say all the time, 95 percent of life is showing up. And the Republicans are not showing up for this, at least not right now -- John McCain the only one to tell Univision, this Spanish-language network, that he would come.
So, it's been at least delayed.
I -- I asked Mel Martinez, who is, obviously, a Latin American who came to this country -- he's now head of the Republican Party -- I asked him if he was disappointed in that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. MEL MARTINEZ (R-FL), REPUBLICAN NATIONAL COMMITTEE GENERAL CHAIRMAN: It is a little bit of a disappointment to me. I wish they had been there, but I understand why they weren't. I'm not going to criticize them. I think every candidate has to run their own campaign how they think is going to best advantage them to win the nomination.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CROWLEY: Now, the question is, does it hurt Republicans in 2008?
I -- I talked to some experts today that said they really believe it does hurt them. They think that George Bush has made some inroads, that the Spanish vote, the Latino vote is very important in five states in particular, some of them in the far West, the interior West, that will be battlegrounds this time around.
They believe that Republicans have hurt themselves, because they believe it shows that they didn't respect the culture. Mel Martinez believes there's time to make that up when we get to the general election.
BLITZER: And he's, Senator Martinez, also the U.S. senator from Florida...
BLITZER: ... in addition to being chairman of the Republican Party.
Candy, thanks very much.
BLITZER: Up next in our "Strategy Session": the Petraeus report to Congress. Before he even spoke, he was a point of contention.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. IKE SKELTON (D), MISSOURI: General Petraeus, who sits here before us, is almost certainly the right man for the job in Iraq. But he's the right person three years too late and 250,000 troops short.
REP. DUNCAN HUNTER (R-CA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It's an outrage that we spent the last week prepping the ground, bashing the credibility of a general officer whose trademark is integrity.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: So, did the commanding general in Iraq make a winning case for going forward with the war?
Also, we're going to have more on Chuck Hagel's retirement. Will his move turn the Senate into a deeper shade of blue in 2008? All that coming up in our "Strategy Session." Donna Brazile and J.C. Watts, they're standing by live.
BLITZER: Nearly the entire country has been waiting to hear from them, testimony from General David Petraeus and the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Ryan Crocker, about how well the war is going.
Here to talk about that and more, our two CNN political analysts. Donna Brazile is a Democratic strategist. J.C. Watts is a former congressman from Oklahoma.
Guys, thanks very much for coming in.
Very quickly, you watched General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker make the case. How did they do?
DONNA BRAZILE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, first of all, I didn't think Ambassador Crocker had much to talk about, because there's been no political progress. Only -- only three of the benchmarks have been achieved.
I thought what General Petraeus said, with all of the charts and graphs, is to give, once again, an unconvincing report about the surge. We all know that increasing the military would tamp some of the violence. But what I was waiting for is -- listening to -- listening to him, I wanted him to say something about the Iraqi army. I wanted him to say more about the Iraqi police.
And it's clear -- it's clear that -- that the surge working, but it's not working to our benefit.
BLITZER: The -- it's no great surprise the Democratic presidential candidates came out pretty quickly with harsh words.
Senator Barack Obama, J.C., saying this: "The time to end the surge and to start bringing our troops home is now, not six months from now. I can only support a policy that begins an immediate removal of our troops from Iraq's civil war and initiates a sustained drawdown of our military presence."
What do you think?
J.C. WATTS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, Wolf, I don't think that what General Petraeus or the ambassador had to say was going to be what any of the Democrats wanted to hear, unless it was, bring the troops home today.
General Petraeus, you have to -- have to remember this was actually his recommendation. The president was not, you know, on board with this. This was his recommendation. John McCain, others said, Secretary Powell said long ago, we don't have enough boots on the ground. Now it's working, and -- and it's unfortunate that some have to be against this for political reasons.
Now, we have not made the political process or political progress that needs to be made. And -- and, concerning the benchmarks, depending on who you talk to, three to 11 of the 18 benchmarks have been met. So, some progress...
BLITZER: But or at least -- at least partially...
WATTS: Yes. That's right. (CROSSTALK)
BLITZER: ... depending on that.
But, you know, the Democrats are going to find themselves in a dilemma right now, because they don't have the votes in the Senate -- forget about the House for now -- in the Senate to -- to break a filibuster. You need 60. And, then, to override a presidential veto, you need 67.
With General Petraeus' recommendation with troop withdrawals, 2,000 Marines coming home by the end of this month, maybe another 4,000 U.S. Army soldiers by the end of the year, relatively modest numbers from the 168,000 right now, and bringing it down to 130,000 by a year from now, next summer or so.
But the Democrats are -- are going to have a tough time dealing with this, because they -- they -- they think that's way too long to keep that many troops there.
Listen to what Senator John Edwards, a presidential candidate, said, the former senator from North Carolina: "Congress must stand strong for the American people and tell the president, no timeline, no funding, no excuses."
Can the Democrats do that?
BRAZILE: Some Democrats will argue for a cutoff of the funding in war. Some Democrats will continue to advance the notion that we need a -- a withdrawal or a redeployment, and then some Democrats will continue to seek a compromise with the Republicans.
I think the only solution that may work is to run out the clock and wait until we get a next -- another president, because I don't see the Democrats picking up enough Republican support.
Look, Secretary Gates said here on CNN on January 11 that the surge, it's temporary. I think the president will have to go out and explain to a war-weary public why he will continue our troops at that level throughout the next six months.
BLITZER: He will quote General Petraeus and he will quote Ambassador Ryan when he makes that televised address, I assume.
WATTS: Well, and I -- and I think the surge, as General Petraeus said today, you hope to see a drawdown some time in the next probably eight to nine months, some time next summer, get down -- I think there's about 165,000 troops on the ground today. You could get it back down to pre-surge levels, which is about 130,000.
BLITZER: About 130,000, which would be next July or so.
But that -- that kind of timeline -- and correct me if I'm wrong -- Democrats are not going to be happy with that.
WATTS: I agree. BLITZER: They're going to think there's way too many troops, almost another year at 130,000. And -- and I think -- I think they're going to complain bitterly. But the question is, what can they do about it?
BRAZILE: If we don't see enough progress on the ground, if the Iraqi government fails to meet some of the benchmarks, then the Republicans will be calling for the troops to come home, and the Democrats will not have to be singing in that choir by themselves.
BLITZER: Let me just pick up another question, because I want to get to your thoughts on this decision by Senator Chuck Hagel, who has been a pretty vocal critic of the president's strategy in Iraq. He announced today, as you know, he's not going to seek reelection. Puts another Republican seat up for grabs right now -- a lot of talk that former Senator Bob Kerrey, a Democrat, now the president of the New School University in New York, will go back to his home state of Nebraska and run.
He could be very competitive in Nebraska.
WATTS: Well, I think the right candidate, the right Democrat candidate in Nebraska, could be competitive under any circumstances, with, I think, the electorate being in the mood that they're in today.
But, obviously, Bob Kerrey makes it much, much tougher, and I think probably puts the onus on Republicans to say, it's not a matter of us holding the seat. We have got to go defend the seat. Bob Kerrey...
BLITZER: Is there a Republican candidate you like who -- who might throw his or her hat in the ring?
WATTS: Well, you have the House members that would possibly run. Tom Osborne, who -- old football coach, who is a member of Congress. I don't think Tom probably has any interest in it, though. But there are some good candidates, but Bob Kerrey is a very good candidate as well.
BLITZER: All right, guys, thanks for coming in, Donna and J.C.
BRAZILE: I agree that Bob Kerrey is a good candidate.
BLITZER: And what -- what should football, you know, guys have in politics anyhow?
BLITZER: It's a ridiculous notion. I think all of us agree with that.
(LAUGHTER) BLITZER: Thanks very much for coming in.
Still to come, Jack Cafferty with your e-mail.
Also, Osama bin Laden apparently has a chilling new message for Americans. It's being called a last testament. We're going to tell you what it's for and why some people are deeply worried right now.
And, as Americans talk about Iraq, what do Iraqis think about what's happening in their country? We're going to get the view from Baghdad. Our own Michael Ware standing by live.
Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Let's check in with Jack Cafferty. He's in New York with "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, the question this hour is: How big a threat do you believe Osama bin Laden still is six years after 9/11?
Ellen writes from Atlanta: "The fact that he can still send tapes six years after 9/11 shows what a total disaster the Bush policy against the so-called war on terror has been. Al Qaeda is stronger. The world and the U.S. are in much more danger. We now have a new generation of young Muslims living in poverty, frustration, and violence directly as a result of the preemptive war in Iraq. Osama is thanking the U.S. for contributing to his recruiting drive."
Vin, he says he's a New York resident still finding dust from the World Trade Center in his apartment: "Hunt him down, capture him, and bring him to justice. Show the world what happens when a country, or, in this case, a group, commits an act of war against a democracy. Give him his rights, a defense team, a trial, and a sentence. That's it. Simple. What we have failed in is that, when you do commit an act of war, retaliation should be swift."
Shadi in Chapel Hill, North Carolina: "As an Arab-American, I wish month after month this sorry excuse for a human being is found. As long as he is alive, he serves as a reminder for the citizens of not only this country, but the world, that I am 'dangerous.' I get looks of concern from young and old alike. I get random security checks on every flight I have been on since 9/11. I am ready for it to be over. I feel I have suffered long enough. Find him and execute him."
Alexis in Las Vegas: "I'm not sure if he really is a threat anymore. Haven't heard from him in over two years. People are still dying all over the Middle East. Was it really him who started it all, or just the beliefs that they hold? I don't think it matters whether he's alive or dead. People are still going to keep killing in the name of religion."
And Bill in Florida writes: "Jack, Osama is as relevant as Paris, Britney, or Anna Nicole. We have bigger fish to fry" -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Jack Cafferty, thanks very much.
And, to our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
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