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THE SITUATION ROOM

Giuliani-Romney Smackdown; Thompson's Debate Reviews; Republicans vs. Clinton

Aired October 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, Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney's new smackdown. This time, the Republican presidential rivals are fighting over a so-called lawyers' test for national security.
Plus, Jimmy Carter insists President Bush got it all wrong. He says the current administration has used torture, and he knows it.

This hour, my in-depth interview with the 39th president of the United States.

And he may be just days away from winning a Nobel Peace Prize, but some of Al Gore's fans still want him to win the White House. Will a new draft Al Gore campaign get anywhere?

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

We're also watching that breaking news from Ohio. A teen gunman fired on students and teachers at a Cleveland high school. At least four people are wounded. The 14-year-old shooter is dead.

We're waiting for a live press conference from the Cleveland mayor. We'll go there as soon as it starts.

More on this story coming up right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

But right now a powerful, very powerful charge from the former president of the United States, Jimmy Carter, directly, directly contradicting the current president of the United States.

Carter says the Bush administration is torturing terror detainees despite repeated denials by the White House, including the president himself.

Listen to this clip from my interview today with Jimmy Carter.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: President Bush said as recently as this week the United States does not torture detainees.

JAMES CARTER, FMR. PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: That's not an accurate statement if you use the international norms of torture, as has always been honored. Certainly in the last 60 years, since the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was promulgated. But you can make your own definition of human rights and say we don't violate them and you can make your own definition of torture and say we don't violate it.

BLITZER: But from your definition, you believe the United States, under this administration, has used torture?

CARTER: I don't think it. I know it, certainly.

BLITZER: So is the president lying?

CARTER: The president is self-defining what we have done and authorized in the torture of prisoners, yes.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: The Bush White House is calling Jimmy Carter's comments -- and I'm quoting now -- "sad". Much more of this interview. It's a powerful interview. That's coming up this hour, including Jimmy Carter's claim that the Bush administration and Republican presidential candidates in particular, he says, they are appealing to what he calls ultra-right-wing warmongers.

In the presidential campaign, the nasty sound bites and e-mails are flying as Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney are trying to make the Republican race a two-man contest. Their latest sparring match stems from Romney's answer to a question on whether he would get congressional authorization for military action against Iran's nuclear facilities.

Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You sit down with your attorneys and they tell you what you have to do, but obviously the president of the United States has to do what's in the best interest of the United States to protect us against a potential threat.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Today the Giuliani campaign is having a field day with Romney's comment, causing it a "lawyer's test for national security". Romney fired back, accusing Giuliani of being lawsuit-crazy when he was the New York mayor.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY: The lawyering in history here has to come from the mayor. He gets -- he gets first place when it comes to suing and lawyering.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Let's go right to our chief national correspondent, John King. He's covering Romney in Michigan today.

All right, John, a tough question. What's going on? JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, this reflects the state of the Republican race. By all accounts, Giuliani is leading the national polls, Romney is leading in Iowa and New Hampshire. And they are fighting each other for preeminence in the race right now, with fewer than three months until the Iowa caucuses. And they're fighting for the fiscal conservative base of the Republican Party.

Giuliani has shown surprising strength among social conservatives, remarkable strength among fiscal conservatives. And Romney is trying to chip into that by saying when this guy was the mayor of New York City, he sued to block a welfare law, he sued to challenge the line-item veto, he is not a solid Republican conservative. But the Romney camp concedes privately that he led with his chin a bit in that answer, Wolf.

Any president, of course, consults with his attorneys before going to war, before taking any dramatic steps. But had Romney flipped that sentence, saying you do what is in the best interest of the United States, and either left out the lawyer part or said in consultation with your lawyers, he would not be in this dustup this morning. The Giuliani camp sees an opening and it is hitting him hard. It not only reflects the state of the polls, it reflects an increasingly testy and getting nasty Republican race -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And Fred Thompson, he made his debate debut last night. On this, the day after, what's the reaction?

KING: Well, Wolf, the fact that we're talking about Romney and Giuliani gives you the basic of all the reviews on the morning after, that Fred Thompson turned in a solid performance, no major gaffes, but he didn't steal the show.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KING (voice over): Score Fred Thompson's debate debut as solid but hardly scintillating.

FRED THOMPSON (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The stock market seems to be doing pretty well. I see no reason to believe we're headed for -- for an economic downturn.

KING: Top aides concede the former Tennessee senator was a bit rusty out of the blocks, but their post-debate line was he did what he came to do.

SPENCER ABRAHAM, THOMPSON CAMPAIGN CO-CHAIR: I thought he rose above the other candidates and certainly showed that he's a very strong leader, very presidential in his performance.

KING: The newcomer was at center stage and got the first word, but was a spectator to the sharpest exchanges between national poll leader Rudy Giuliani and the candidate running first in Iowa and New Hampshire, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney.

RUDY GIULIANI (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I brought taxes down by 17 percent. Under him, taxes went up 11 percent per capita. I led, he lagged.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sir, rebuttal here. Final rebuttal.

ROMNEY: It's baloney.

Mayor, you've got to check your facts. I did not increase taxes in Massachusetts. I lowered taxes.

KING: Dearborn, Michigan, was the venue. And pocketbook issues dominated.

JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The fact is that Social Security is going broke.

KING: On that front, Thompson was most specific, taking the risk of putting benefit cuts on the table.

THOMPSON: Index benefits to inflation for future retirees would not affect current or near-retirement people.

KING: This tip of the cap to President Bush was part of his goal to come across as a low taxes/pro-growth conservative.

THOMPSON: We are enjoying a period of growth right now, and we should acknowledge what got us there and continue those same policies on into the future.

KING: Thompson's target audience was the Republican base nationally. His upbeat assessment a much tougher sell here in Michigan.

SAUL ANUZIS, MICHIGAN STATE GOP CHAIRMAN: You know, we have the highest unemployment in the country. We're the home of the domestic auto industry. For all practical purposes, we're in a single-state recession.

KING: And some grading Thompson on Style points said Ronald Reagan's trademark smile was hard to come by.

ED SARPOLUS, MICHIGAN POLLSTER: Is he a president? Well, yes, he looked presidential, but he looked very depressed presidential. He wasn't very optimistic. His facial expression was very negative. Sometimes it didn't seem like he was there.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KING: Another Thompson goal coming in was to portray himself as the strongest candidate against Hillary Clinton. But while Romney and Giuliani repeatedly took aim at the Democratic frontrunner, Thompson never mentioned her -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, John. Thanks very much.

John King reporting for us from Michigan.

Let's get some more now on Hillary Clinton as a favorite punching bag of the Republican presidential contenders.

Our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider, is standing by.

Bill, who was a bigger target in yesterday's debate? Would it be Fred Thompson or Hillary Clinton?

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, Wolf, most of the focus was on the Democrat who wasn't even there.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER (voice over): Multiple-choice test. When the Republican candidates debated economics this week, whose name came up most often? Was it, A, Ronald Reagan, or B, Alan Greenspan, or C, Hillary Clinton? And the answer is, C, Hillary Clinton.

The Democratic senator's name was mentioned 12 times during the debate. Reagan's only three times. Greenspan's not at all.

The references to Hillary Clinton were all negative. They talked about Hillary the big spender.

GIULIANI: She's going to give $5,000 to every child born in America, with her picture on it.

ROMNEY: The Hillary Clinton plan costs $110 billion.

SCHNEIDER: They talked about Hillary's big government health care plan.

ROMNEY: Hillary-care is government gets in and tells people what to do.

GIULIANI: If we do Hillary-care or socialized medicine, Canadians will have no place to go to get their health care.

SCHNEIDER: Why the obsession with Senator Clinton? She's the Democratic frontrunner, of course, but she also has a unique ability to rally Republicans.

Eighty percent of Republicans have an unfavorable opinion of Hillary Clinton. Only about half of Republicans don't like the other two leading Democratic contenders, Barack Obama and John Edwards.

Moreover, Senator Clinton looks like a formidable opponent. In polls taken over the past month, Clinton beats every leading Republican candidate. It's not just that Republicans don't like her. They see her as a huge threat, so there's a competition going on among the Republican candidates.

ROMNEY: I can't wait to debate with her, because I've done it. She's just talked about it.

GIULIANI: I challenged her on it. I challenged her. She's backed off that.

SCHNEIDER: The message to Republican voters is: I'm the one that can beat her, bring her on.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER: So what are Democrats thinking? If Senator Clinton threatens Republicans so much, she must be one formidable candidate, and that may help her build up her standing as the Democratic frontrunner -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Bill Schneider reporting for us.

Bill, thanks very much.

Let's go to Cleveland right now. The mayor, Frank Jackson, is speaking on this horrific shooting incident at a Cleveland high school in which a 14-year-old shot four individuals -- they're all wounded -- before police killed the shooter.

Let's listen in to the mayor.

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

MAYOR FRANK JACKSON, CLEVELAND, OHIO: The shooter, the suspect, is a 14-year-old student from the school. He has committed suicide, is our understanding.

We have -- the families of all of the victims have been notified, and we are currently connecting all the children and parents with people who can help them through this. Our rec centers will be open tomorrow. I think there's -- I think it's JFK, Curdale (ph). And they will open around 8:00 in the morning.

Dr. Sanders, I think it's (INAUDIBLE) and Curdale (ph) on the west side, and we have JFK and Glenville (ph) on the east side. They will be open at 8:00 in the morning for any child that wants to come in with their parents to have discussion with counselors around this incident.

I will have Dr. Sanders indicate to you what is going to happen to the schools and what he will be doing starting this evening and going into tomorrow.

Thank you, Mayor.

EUGENE SANDERS, CEO, CLEVELAND METRO SCHOOL DISTRICT: Today at SuccessTech, as the mayor indicated, we are pleased that our students are doing OK, and here are the steps that we're going to take beginning this evening at 5:00 p.m.

BLITZER: All right. We're going to continue to monitor this news conference out of Cleveland.

A teenage gunman fired on students and teachers. Four individuals were wounded, two adults, two students. As you heard the mayor say, the shooter is dead right now.

We'll continue to monitor the story and bring you information as it comes in to THE SITUATION ROOM from Cleveland.

Let's go to Jack Cafferty right now for "The Cafferty File" in New York.

Hi, Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, here's a great quote: "We're not going to buy ourselves a turkey here. We're going to make sure we get what we paid for."

That was State Department spokesman Sean McCormack talking about the massive new U.S. embassy in Baghdad.

Sean, so far it's a turkey.

The opening has been delayed now indefinitely while a Kuwaiti contractor fixes a whole plethora of problems, problems that have occurred in spite of the $144 million in cost overruns. The almost $750 million Vatican-size complex was supposed to open last month. Now the State Department says they don't know when it will open.

Congress initially approved $600 million to build the biggest U.S. embassy anywhere in the world, but it's cost far more than that and it's still not inhabitable Congressman Henry Waxman sent a letter to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice asking her to explain the delay and accusing her department of incompetence and inadequate oversight.

Waxman says documents show hundreds -- hundreds of violations of regulations, including the fire codes and numerous electrical problems. $750 million, that's your money.

The State Department says the increase in the price tag is not a cost overrun, but rather a change in the contract once they realized more office and living spaces would be required.

Here's the question: What has the almost $750 million U.S. embassy in Baghdad, whose opening has now been delayed indefinitely, come to represent?

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

BLITZER: This is not only going to be the largest U.S. embassy ever, but I'm told it's going to be the largest embassy by any country ever put together, any place in the world.

CAFFERTY: But we don't do nation-building.

BLITZER: No. No.

OK. Jack, thanks very much.

Jack Cafferty will be back.

Former president Jimmy Carter isn't holding back in his criticism of President Bush. Do any of the current candidates for Mr. Bush's job scare Jimmy Carter? His answer coming up. Our candid, in-depth interview with the former president.

Also coming up, a new political battle over wiretaps in the war on terror. A Democrat is accusing the president of trying to scare the nation.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: President Bush is sending a stern message to Democrats today that he won't sign a new government surveillance bill unless it has what it takes to protect Americans. Democrats are proposing a new version of the government's eavesdropping program that includes additional oversight.

Let's go to our congressional correspondent, Jessica Yellin. She's watching this story for us.

The battle lines are clearly forming, Jessica, on Capitol Hill.

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: They are, Wolf. Republicans are closing ranks with President Bush, even as one Democrat accuses Mr. Bush of playing the fear card.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

YELLIN (voice over): President Bush is warning House Democrats not to send him a wiretap bill he says will damage America's intelligence-gathering tools.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: My administration has serious concerns about some of its provisions, and I am hopeful that the deficiencies in the bill can be fixed.

YELLIN: And his allies in the House agree.

REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R), MINORITY LEADER: Democrats are taking a big step backward and are putting the handcuffs back on our intelligence officials.

REP. DARRELL ISSA (R), CALIFORNIA: I think this is one of the worst pieces of legislation that I've ever had the misfortune to see.

YELLIN: They insist the bill would slow down intelligence- gathering by getting a court involved. They want to give immunity to telecommunications firms that cooperated in past surveillance and guarantee that NSA wiretapping can continue permanently. They say without these measures, the bill will not get Republican support.

REP. LAMAR SMITH (R), TEXAS: I think you're going to see a solid vote against this FISA bill.

YELLIN: But House Democrats maintain the current law gives the intelligence community too much unchecked power. And they say they can pass their bill without Republican support. REP. JERROLD NADLER (D), NEW YORK: The bill before us gives the administration everything it says it needs in terms of the actual tools to collect intelligence.

YELLIN: But this fight is a political balancing act for Democrats.

STUART ROTHENBERG, NONPARTISAN POLITICAL ANALYST: The Democratic base, the liberal wing of the party, wants to stress constitutional issues and individual rights issues, but many Democrats on Capitol Hill want to protect themselves on the issue of the war against terror. So, this is an issue that they're kind of forced to take on, but that is uncomfortable for them.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

YELLIN: It's uncomfortable for them, he says. So why are Democrats taking on this issue now? Well, when they passed the current law, they vowed to fix it. They said they didn't like the bill that they passed. And they say if they don't try to fix it, they would be accused of reneging on one of their promises.

So it's an uncomfortable fight they feel they must have -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jessica Yellin on the Hill for us.

Thanks, Jessica, very much.

The first lady, Laura Bush, usually stays away from controversy, which makes her op-ed column in today's "Wall Street Journal" especially eye-opening. She puts a military government on notice that her husband is watching and warns that things need to change.

Let's go to our White House correspondent, Suzanne Malveaux. She has the behind-the-scenes story -- Suzanne.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, in covering the first lady, traveling with the first lady, she has really changed her profile here. It started off focusing on her background as a librarian, education, and then she expanded her portfolio fighting AIDS in Africa, as well as asserting women's rights in Afghanistan.

Well, today, today she weighed in against a military dictatorship in a whole other part of the world.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MALVEAUX: Mr. President, what do you think of your wife's editorial today?

(voice over): The president gave a thumbs up for his wife for taking on the military government of Myanmar, also known as Burma.

In a scathing editorial in "The Wall Street Journal," First Lady Laura Bush warns the military dictatorship President Bush is prepared to slap on more sanctions if they do not move towards democracy within the next couple days. She specifically calls on the generals "to step aside to make way for a unified Burma, governed by legitimate leaders."

It's a rare foray into foreign policy, but one she has increasingly embraced.

LAURA BUSH, FIRST LADY: I think we can keep the attention on it. I hosted a roundtable on Burma last year during the United Nations General Assembly in New York.

MALVEAUX: Since then, she's fired off numerous statements, provided written testimony before the Senate. And just yesterday gone on the phone with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to discuss whether there was any progress.

Mrs. Bush says it's personal. A cousin involved in the issue first told her about it years ago, but aides say now she's become much more outspoken because it has turned into a crisis.

ANITA MCBRIDE, FIRST LADY'S CHIEF OF STAFF: You know, she never intended to be an activist on the world front. She's worried for the Burmese people, very worried for them.

MALVEAUX: With the president's low standing on the world stage, largely due to Iraq, perhaps the first lady is the better messenger, but aides say Mrs. Bush is not concerned that she's upstaging her husband.

MCBRIDE: She is a good spokesman and she's a good advocate. And the president would be the first person to tell you that.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MALVEAUX: And Wolf, the first lady will continue to travel, she'll continue to take on those tough issues. We are told -- the White House, the first lady's office also saying that she's not the most traveled first lady. However, as this traditional role changes -- that was Pat Nixon, covering about 80 countries in her tenure -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Suzanne Malveaux.

Suzanne reporting from the White House.

Former president Jimmy Carter stepped into THE SITUATION ROOM just a little while ago. Listen to this. It's already getting a reaction over at the White House. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CARTER: They all seem to be outdoing each other in who wants to go to war first with Iran, who wants to keep Guantanamo open longer and expand its capacity, things of that kind. They're competing with each other to appeal to the ultra-right-wing warmongering element in our country. (END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: The former president's answer and the White House reaction. A lot coming up right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Plus, the day after buzz about Fred Thompson's debate debut. We'll tell you what's going on, on that front.

Much more coming up right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWSBREAK)

BLITZER: A former president of the United States unleashed. Right now, Jimmy Carter has some stinging words for Republican presidential candidates on the war on Iraq, even some stinging words for some of his fellow Democrats.

In a one-on-one interview, Jimmy Carter talks with me about Republicans courting what he calls the ultra right wing and says he knows "certainly" that the Bush administration is not being honest about one very controversial issue.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Joining us now, the former president of the United States, Jimmy Carter. His new book is entitled "Beyond the White House: Waging Peace, Fighting Disease, Building Hope".

Mr. President, welcome back.

CARTER: Thank you, Wolf. Good to be with you.

BLITZER: Let's get to the book shortly -- let's talk about some of the issues on the agenda. Right now, Republican presidential candidates, including Giuliani, making the suggestion that if Democrats are elected to the White House, U.S. national security will suffer.

Here's what Giuliani says: "If one of them gets elected, it sounds to me like we're going on the defense. We're going to cut back, cut back, cut back, and we'll be back to our pre-September 11 mentality on being on defense."

What do you want to say to Rudy Giuliani?

CARTER: Well, I thought on pre-September 11 that George W. Bush was in the White House and the Republicans were in charge.

I think, during the Clinton years, we kept our country safe, we protected out interests around the world, we were admired by almost everyone on earth, and we were free. And we were also out of a war. So I think that history has shown that the Democrats are just as firm and staunch on security as are the Republicans. It ought to be a nonpartisan issue, and it's a ridiculous thing for Giuliani to be making a claim of that kind.

BLITZER: Do any of these candidates, presidential candidates, scare you?

CARTER: Not on the Democratic side, no.

BLITZER: What about the Republican side?

CARTER: Well, they all seem to be outdoing each other in who wanted to go to war first with Iran, who wants to keep Guantanamo open longer and expand its capacity, things of that kind. They're competing with each other to appeal to the ultra-right wing, warmongering element in our country, which I think is a minority of the total population.

BLITZER: Who scares you the most?

CARTER: I wouldn't want to judge between them, because if I condemn one of them, it might escalate him to the top position in the Republican ranks.

BLITZER: But basically, what I hear you saying is, from your perspective, on the issue of national security, there's really not much of a difference between the Republican frontrunners.

CARTER: That's exactly right. I think the Democrats, basically, want to see the Lee Hamilton and the James Baker recommendation -- one of the finest blue-ribbon commissions ever established in this country -- unanimously recommended what we should do about Iraq.

BLITZER: The Iraq Study Group.

CARTER: Yes. And the Democrats are basically for that. The Republicans threw it in the wastebasket and said we don't want that, we want it to be much more militant, stay in Iraq definitely, and maybe invade or attack Iran. And I think that's a startling difference between the two.

BLITZER: Let's talk a little bit about Iraq, which still seems to be the number one issue facing the American voters right now.

I want to play a clip of what two of the Democratic frontrunners, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, said at their recent debate on -- in terms of keeping U.S. forces in Iraq over these years if they were elected.

Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I believe that we should have all our troops out by 2013. But I don't want to make promises.

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It is my goal to have troops out by the end of my first term, but I agree with Barack, it is very difficult to know what we're going to be inheriting.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right. So what do you think? Because a lot of people were surprised that neither one could commit to getting all U.S. troops out of Iraq by the end of their first term, if, in fact, they're elected president.

CARTER: Well, I agree with -- I agree with the premise that you can't predict what's going to happen, but I disagree with that basic supposition that we'll still be there. I think the American people and the blue-ribbon commission to which I just referred all prefer that we get out.

But, if we should see an unforeseen development in the future where the Iraqi people, completely in control of their own affairs, request the American troops to stay in isolated areas for a period of time, I think that would possibly be acceptable. But that's not my personal preference.

BLITZER: So, on this issue, you disagree with Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama?

CARTER: Absolutely. We ought to get out earlier than 2013.

BLITZER: How quickly do you think the U.S., realistically, could withdraw all 168,000 troops from Iraq?

CARTER: I think, over an 18-month period, we could be totally out, if that's our desire, but I never have seen anybody in this current administration or the Republican candidates advocate that we ever get out of Iraq. I think they want to stay there permanently.

BLITZER: On the scale of, you know, historic precedents and historic blunders, from your perspective, what kind of blunder was the invasion of Iraq to get rid of Saddam Hussein?

CARTER: Among the preeminent blunders of American history. It was predicated on false claims. Deliberate or not, I don't know. It was incorrectly consummated and perpetuated.

The claims of what -- how easy it would be were wrong. And I think everyone -- just about everyone agrees that the whole war in Iraq has been carried out with a series of blunders.

BLITZER: Some suggest it is the worst foreign policy blunder in American history. Are you among those?

CARTER: I would put it almost on an equal basis with Vietnam, yes. Those two in my lifetime certainly would be the worst two blunders.

BLITZER: In the book -- the new book, "Beyond the White House," you write this on page 252: "We had assumed in earlier years that our commitments and activities in support of human rights were in harmony with those of our government. And we were able to cooperate with officials in Washington. That is no longer a dependable premise."

CARTER: That's true.

BLITZER: That sounds like a swipe at -- at President Bush.

CARTER: Well, in a way -- you know, I think the entire -- of global human rights community, with its multiple facets, including those deep inside Pakistan and Israel, B'Tselem and Al-Haq, both would -- all would agree with the fact that our country, for the first time in my lifetime, has abandoned the basic principles of human rights.

We have said that the Geneva Convention does not apply to those people in Abu Ghraib Prison and Guantanamo. And we have said that we can torture prisoners, deprive them of an accusation of the crimes to which they accuse.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: President Bush said as recently as this week the United States does not torture detainees.

CARTER: That's not an accurate statement, if you use the international norms of torture as has always been honored, certainly in the last 60 years, since the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was promulgated.

But you can make your own definition of human rights and say, we don't violate them. And we can -- you can make your own definition of torture and say we don't violate it.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: But, by your definition, you believe the United States, under this administration, has used torture?

CARTER: I don't -- I don't think it. I know it, certainly.

BLITZER: So, is the president lying?

CARTER: The president is self-defining what we have done and authorized in the torture of prisoners, yes.

BLITZER: But -- but that raises a really important question. Those who are engaged in torture, who commit torture...

CARTER: Yes.

BLITZER: ... potentially, that could be a violation of international or other laws.

CARTER: Yes, I think so.

BLITZER: Has there been a violation of the law from your perspective? CARTER: If you use the international treaties to which we are committed...

BLITZER: Like the Geneva Conventions...

CARTER: ... like the Geneva Conventions, and also...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Because early in the -- they said the Geneva Conventions don't apply to these detainees who were not wearing uniforms. They were not part of any formal army. They were picked up on the battlefield and brought to Guantanamo Bay.

CARTER: My impression is that the United States Supreme Court has said that is a false premise. And I presume that the administration complies with the rulings of the Supreme Court.

And the international community obviously still adheres to and professes to commit themselves the honoring of the Geneva Convention, and also the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which the United States helped draft and promoted and has endorsed up until six-and-a- half years ago unanimously among all the...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: So, should someone be held accountable?

CARTER: Well, I think we -- the best way to hold people accountable in this country is through the election process.

BLITZER: That is the best way to get -- in other words, from your perspective, to get rid of the incumbent administration and move on?

CARTER: Yes.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: But you don't want to see any formal charges or a trial?

CARTER: No, I don't think so. I think that would be inappropriate. That has been done in some cases, as you know, but I don't think it is appropriate at all.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: In response to our interview, a senior White House official who did not want to go on the record simply said this, saying: "Our position is clear. We don't torture. It's just sad to hear a former president speak like that."

We have also asked for reaction from Rudy Giuliani. When we get that, we will bring it to you here in THE SITUATION ROOM. Also, we have a lot more from this interview with Jimmy Carter coming up in the next hour. You have only heard part of the interview. You're also going to hear what he has to say about the possibility of war with Iran, and what he has to say about the vice president, Dick Cheney.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CARTER: Well, almost without knowing the subject, if somebody asked me, "Do you agree with Condoleezza Rice or the vice president?" I would just say automatically, I agree with Condoleezza Rice.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Tough words from Jimmy Carter, including more on what he thinks about Hillary Clinton's vote on a war -- on the war and possibly the situation with Iran -- all that, a lot more, coming up with Jimmy Carter right here in THE SITUATION ROOM in the next hour.

There's also a lot of talk going on right now about Al Gore. Could he be on the short list for the upcoming Nobel Peace Prize? It's going to be announced on Friday. That might put him on the short list for the White House as well. Will he change his mind?

Our Tom Foreman is taking a closer look at the growing pressure on the former vice president.

Also, a Mike Huckabee joke misfires badly, very badly. We're going to take a closer look at how much it could hurt him.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We want to update you now on that horrible shooting incident at a Cleveland high school. Shots were fired inside the high school. At least two adults, three teenagers are hurt. Just a short time ago, Cleveland's mayor said the teenage gunman is dead.

Let's get the latest from Carol Costello. She's here in THE SITUATION ROOM monitoring the story for us.

What is the latest, Carol?

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, we're waiting to find out more about the shooter. We do know he was 14 years old. He had been suspended for fighting and had made threats to blow up the school or shoot up the school in the past.

Today, he turned up during 10th period brandishing two guns, one in each hand. Cleveland's mayor says he shot five people, three students, a teacher and an adult. All survived and are in the hospital. The shooter eventually shot and killed himself. Now, this all took place at SuccessTech High School in downtown Cleveland.

And it all sounded so agonizingly familiar, parents taking calls from their terrified children who were hiding wherever they could.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She told me that they had heard three shots inside the school. Her class was secure. She had four teachers there. They were all sitting there, waiting to find out what was going on. And they were OK. All the kids were upset. They were screaming and yelling because they didn't know what was going on, but they did hear the shots. And they didn't know what had happened. All they know is that someone was in the school with a gun.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COSTELLO: Now, the school did issue a code blue over the loudspeaker system. Students knew what that meant. They dove under tables. Teachers locked classroom doors.

This school, Wolf, is SuccessTech. It is a great success story in the Cleveland educational system. It only admits the best and brightest students who want to study technology, truly a sad day for the Cleveland public school system.

BLITZER: Carol, thanks very much. We will stay on top of this story and update our viewers when more information comes into THE SITUATION ROOM.

Meanwhile, Al Gore is back in demand. A group of Democrats is urging the former vice president to jump into the race for the White House. And now they're stepping up their efforts.

Tom Foreman is here in THE SITUATION ROOM, watching all of this.

Will this group make Al Gore change his mind?

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it sure doesn't look like it, but there are just some people who will not take no for an answer.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

FOREMAN (voice-over): Al Gore has said it over...

AL GORE, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm not planning to be a candidate again.

FOREMAN: ... and over...

GORE: I don't really have plans to run for office again.

FOREMAN: ... and over.

GORE: I have no plans to run. Thank you.

FOREMAN: But DraftGore.com is not listening. The organization, which describes itself as a group of grassroots Democrats, took out a full-page ad in Wednesday's "New York Times." Their open letter urges the 2000 presidential nominee to enter race, saying -- quote -- "Your country needs you now, as do your party and the planet you are fighting so hard to save." The ad also says 136,000 people have signed DraftGore's online petition. The group tells us signatures are coming in by the thousands.

Gore's office says the former vice president truly appreciates the heartfelt sentiment behind the ad; however, he has no intention of running for president.

Some Democrats are not giving up hope. Thirteen percent of them supported Gore for the Democratic nomination in our most recent poll, but, even if Gore changes his mind, the clock is ticking.

MARK PRESTON, CNN POLITICAL EDITOR: Gore would certainly shake up the race if he changed his mind and decided to get in. But with less three months before the Iowa caucuses, his window of opportunity to actually make a serious run for the Democratic nominee probably has passed him by.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

FOREMAN: The ad came out just two days before Gore finds out if he might be the winner of this years's Nobel Peace Prize. There's been a lot of speculation about that for his work on global warming.

But the simple truth is, he's been saying no, and he hasn't even been flirting about it. And people have to get it through their heads, Wolf.

It's like when I asked Bobbi-Sue Graven (ph) to the prom. She didn't say maybe. She said no.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: What about the second time you asked her?

FOREMAN: I didn't do it a second time, because it was done.

BLITZER: It was a done...

(LAUGHTER)

FOREMAN: And, yet, they keep insisting they're going to get him to do it. But all indications are he's giving no hint that he will change his mind. The answer is no.

BLITZER: And I'm sure Bobbi-Sue still regrets that no that she gave you then.

FOREMAN: I'm not -- I'm not sure she ever regretted it for one minute.

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: Tom Foreman, thank you very much. Meanwhile, a joke by a Republican presidential candidate about suicide is not going over very well. A suicide prevention group is outraged at what Mike Huckabee said. Take a listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MIKE HUCKABEE (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If I were some of these guys who had spent tens of millions of dollars and weren't any further ahead, I would have to be sitting in a warm tub of water with some razor blades in both hands at this point, saying, how much money does one have to spend, you know, to get on track?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Huckabee's point is that other candidates' level of support don't necessarily match their fund-raising.

But the National Hopeline Network, a suicide prevention group, put out a statement saying, suicide is no joking matter. The group is calling Huckabee's joke a -- quote -- "disgrace." So far, no response from Huckabee.

John McCain has an ominous warning on Iran during the GOP debate. Paul Begala and Dick Armey, they are standing by for our "Strategy Session."

Plus, the Atlantic City mayor is in rehab and resigns. We will tell you what's going on, on that front.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Politicians from both parties are still buzzing over the Republicans' latest presidential debate.

Paul Begala and Dick Armey, they are here in our "Strategy Session."

Dick Armey, let me start with you.

What did you think last night on his debate debut? Fred Thompson, how did he do?

DICK ARMEY, FORMER REPUBLICAN HOUSE MAJORITY LEADER: Well, my own view is, given the suspension -- or suspense that he let build up about his first trip on stage, he was a letdown.

He should have understood it was incumbent upon him to come on that stage and command that stage. And he didn't do it.

BLITZER: Did he have a Ronald Reagan presence last night?

PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: He did not.

And I have thought a lot of about this. I have interviewed a whole lot of President Reagan's former aides and tried to really analyze, what was that magic? Well, at least tonight -- last night, there were two things that Thompson lacked that Reagan had in abundance, optimism and energy.

Yes, Reagan was an older-than-average candidate. He was full of energy, and he lit up a room, he lit up a stage. And he was always optimistic. We got very little of that from Fred Thompson. Now, that's a awful high bar, in fairness to Senator Thompson. He's a very talented guy, but he's no Ronald Reagan.

BLITZER: Because of lot of his supporters look back on an actor...

BEGALA: Right.

BLITZER: ... coming into the likable kind of guy, and they're -- they think he's the new Ronald Reagan.

Now, Romney and Giuliani, they clashed over several important issues. What do you make of this fight? Because that seems to be a much bigger story emerging from the debate than how Fred Thompson did.

ARMEY: Well, it looked to me like they both had chosen or decided this is the guy I have got to beat.

But, you know, if you look at all of the people, what was lacking in that debate was anybody on the stage that had more reason what he wanted to do with being president than he had reason why he wanted to be president.

BLITZER: Because they all love -- love to hammer away at Hillary Clinton and slap her.

BEGALA: Right, which is, as Bill Schneider says, is very good for Hillary, because Hillary is probably one of the -- probably the most moderate of the Democrats in the field.

When the -- when the conservatives attack her in a Republican debate, it helps her with the left without her having to move to the left. So, they are giving her a gift. They may not intend it for that, but it's nothing but good. I'm sure Hillary's strategists were very happy with the debate last night.

BLITZER: John McCain, I want to play a little clip, Dick Armey, of what he said on the possibility of going to war against Iran. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I would, at minimum, consult with the leaders of Congress because there may come a time when you need the approval of Congress. And I believe that this is a possibility that is, maybe, closer to reality than we are discussing tonight.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BLITZER: Is that what the American people want to hear, that these Republican presidential candidates, McCain in particular -- but the others are saying something along those lines as well -- get ready for another war, not with Iraq or Afghanistan, but -- but Iran?

ARMEY: No, I don't think the American people want to hear it. I didn't want to hear it.

There are all kinds of options with respect to Iran that -- that our nation is not carrying on with. One of the most obvious things is, we are protecting a group of people in a camp in northern Iraq that are Iranian dissidents.

While at the same time they're protected people under our protection, we keep them on a list of foreign organizations -- terrorist organizations.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: You're talking about the mujahedeen.

ARMEY: Yes. And it's crazy.

The fact of the matter is, these folks are the people that can keep us best informed of what's going on in Iran, and they -- which they already do, and they're the people that can best inform people within Iran of the opportunities for liberty. And we keep them tied down.

So, let's get smarter about our policy and how to use the resources that are naturally available to us.

BLITZER: Let's talk about Al Gore. You saw this full-page ad in "The New York Times" today. Among other things, it said: "You say you have fallen out of love with politics, and you have every reason to feel that way. But we know you have not fallen out of love with your country. Please rise to this challenge and run, or you and millions of us will live forever wondering what might have been."

Is it possible -- you know the Republicans -- that Al Gore should -- could reconsider and still throw his hat into that presidential ring?

BEGALA: You know, I heard Tom Foreman's piece. And I think he has got a good point. The vice president hasn't given any indication that he will.

I think the ad was very flattering. It was well-deserved. He's a terrific leader. And most Democrats love and admire him. I bet you he's grateful they used his college yearbook photo, too. I mean, I don't know if we have it up, but he looks like a million bucks in that picture.

But, no, the Democrats are very happy with their field, and so there's not much oxygen for a new entrant. Republicans had been unhappy with their field. And it made room for Fred Thompson or maybe even a Newt Gingrich, who decided not to run. I think Democrats would have to be very unhappy with Hillary, Barack, Edwards and the rest before Gore could get in.

BLITZER: What happens if, on Friday, he wins the Nobel Peace Prize?

ARMEY: Well, I think if he's as smart as I think he is about such things -- see, I think Al Gore is as smart about politics as the average sophomore girl is about dating.

And he's just been celebrated. He's just been celebrated. Why then take all the celebration that he's getting now, set it aside, while he goes in the field, has Hillary pin his ears back, whip him, send him home a loser? And now where's his standing? He's smart enough, I think, to, while the world is rejoicing in me and wants to pursue me, let them chase me.

If he's smart enough, he will never get caught.

BLITZER: And, remember, he's still only 59 years old. So, he still...

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: And richly deserving of that Nobel Peace Prize, by the way.

BLITZER: Well, we don't -- he hasn't...

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: Let me lobby our viewers in Oslo.

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: Vote Gore for the Nobel.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: He hasn't won it yet.

ARMEY: And I have no problem with people dumbing down the Nobel.

(LAUGHTER)

ARMEY: It should be recognized for as meaningless and shallow as it is. And giving it to Gore will do a great deal to...

(CROSSTALK)

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: Dick Armey and Paul Begala, thanks to both of you for coming in.

Coming up: How could a mayor of a major city simply go missing? That's what happened in Atlantic City. Now there's a surprising development about his whereabouts and his political future.

And much of northern Iraq had been largely quiet, but it's now in danger of exploding into violence. It involves attacks that could spark an international controversy between the U.S. and a key NATO ally.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: On our "Political Ticker" this Wednesday, the mystery surrounding the missing mayor of Atlantic City, New Jersey, is solved. Robert Levy resigned today, after a two-weeks absence from office. His lawyer says Levy checked himself into a rehab clinic for overmedicating himself for severe back pain. He disappeared while he was until federal investigation for embellishing his Army service record in Vietnam.

New polls show Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton leading Republican front-runner Giuliani in a three battle -- in three battleground states. The Quinnipiac University survey shows Clinton edging out Giuliani in Florida by three points. They were tied back in September. Clinton leads Giuliani by 6 percentage points in Ohio, and she's ahead of Giuliani by the same margin in Pennsylvania.

Republican presidential candidate Sam Brownback is setting a relatively high bar for himself in Iowa. The Kansas senator confirms he will drop out of the race for the White House if he doesn't finish in the top four in the leadoff caucus state. Brownback says that during an online discussion -- he said that during an online discussion with "The Washington Post" Web site.

Remember, for the latest political news at any time, you can always check out our Political Ticker at CNN.com/ticker.

Let's check back with Jack Cafferty in New York for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: The mayor of Atlantic City was being investigated for embellishing his service record?

BLITZER: Yes, something about pretending that he was a special operations elite commando in Vietnam, when he was...

(CROSSTALK)

CAFFERTY: Is that the same as -- that's the same as lying, isn't it?

BLITZER: Yes.

CAFFERTY: Yes.

And he was overmedicating himself for back pain. So, he had to go to rehab.

BLITZER: Right.

CAFFERTY: That means he's addicted to some kind of drugs.

So, he's a lying drug addict is what -- but that's not what his lawyer said.

BLITZER: No.

CAFFERTY: His lawyer said something else.

BLITZER: But you can -- you can draw that -- that conclusion, I suppose.

CAFFERTY: Well, that's what I was -- that's what I was drawing. I was drawing a conclusion.

BLITZER: Let's put it this way. He's got a lot of problems.

CAFFERTY: Yes.

(LAUGHTER)

CAFFERTY: Here's a problem. What has the almost $750 million U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, whose opening has now been delayed indefinitely, come to represent?

Eugene in California: "A $750 million U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, no plans for completion, just like the administration's Iraq war plan. It's a black hole where Bush and his cronies, AKA the haves and the have-mores, will continue to kill America's heroes and rape taxpayers for years."

Chuck in Ohio: "Seventy hundred and fifty million, just another miscalculation by the administration, nothing to be concerned about. Money can buy an Ivy League degree, but it can't make a person brilliant. Can anyone point to any great success, other than welfare for wealthy, that has happened during this administration? We in the middle are sinking fast."

Carolyn writes: "The boondoggle -- boondoggle of an embassy will stand as a permanent monument to George Bush's ineptitude and the failure of his policies in Iraq. It was started with inadequate knowledge, planing, carried out without oversight, apparently without a master plan for success, and, in the end, will stand empty as a hollow tribute to everything that went wrong over there. Mr. Bush cannot afford to fund health programs for poor kids, but he has no problem dumping money down a rat hole with projects such as this."

Bob writes, "It has come to represent the most elaborate, expensive landing platform in the world, with the eventual evacuation of U.S. troops and personnel."

John in Texas: "What do you suppose it represents? Government waste, corruption, theft, call it what you will. Bush has a lot of rich friends."

And G. writes: "Don't tell anybody, Jack. The embassy being built in Iraq is really going to be the Bush Library."

(LAUGHTER)

CAFFERTY: Wolf.

BLITZER: Somebody has got a good sense of humor.

Jack, thanks very much.

And, to our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Happening now: There's the breaking news we're following involving a high school shooting. With a gun in each hand, a teenager opens fire on students and teachers. There's new information coming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now on what sparked the bloody rampage.

The Bush administration warns Congress not to fit a genocide label on a key U.S. ally, fears that a furious Turkey could cripple the U.S. war effort in neighboring Iraq.

And the former President Jimmy Carter, who once sent U.S. troops into Iran on a hostage rescue mission, is now warning against any new attack against Iran. And he's on the attack against Rudy Giuliani. Why is he calling the Republican presidential candidate, in his word, "foolish"?

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