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Former New York Police Commissioner Indicted; Interview With Virginia Senator Jim Webb

Aired November 9, 2007 - 18:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And happening now: Rudy Giuliani already getting hammered over the indictment of his former police commissioner -- and, just a short while ago, a very, very tough attack from one of Giuliani's Republican rivals. Stand by for that.
Also this hour, the squeeze on middle-income Americans. You -- repeat, you -- may be falling victim to attacks that was once intended for the very rich. Is Congress about to do anything about it?

And Americans are getting even angrier at members of Congress and they are more eager than ever to kick them out. Our new poll is one for the record books. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

It didn't take very long for Rudy Giuliani to get hit hard over the indictment of his former police commissioner, Bernard Kerik. Kerik pleaded not guilty today to a federal grand jury indictment on 16 counts of corruption.

Just a short while ago, John McCain's presidential campaign issued a stinging statement about Giuliani's ties to the disgraced ex- cop.

It says -- let me quote -- "A president's judgment matters, and Rudy Giuliani has repeatedly placed loyalty over regard for the facts."

Let's get some -- we will get some more on the political fireworks of what has happened in a moment.

But let's go to CNN's Mary Snow, first. She is at the courthouse in White Plains, New York, watching all this unfold.

What is the latest, Mary?

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, prosecutors accuse Bernard Kerik of selling his office while he worked in the Giuliani administration. They say he secretly accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars in gifts. Bernard Kerik's lawyers say he's being wrongly accused and will beat the charges.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SNOW (voice over): Once New York's top cop, former police commissioner Bernard Kerik is now under federal indictment for corruption charges. Following his arraignment, he left the court and took no questions, but vowed to fight the charges against him.

BERNARD KERIK, FMR. NEW YORK POLICE COMMISSIONER: My life has been marked by challenge. Whether it was growing up, being a cop, Rikers Island, the New York City Police department was the worst challenge until this time, my challenge during and after 9/11. This is a battle I'm going to fight.

SNOW: Inside a federal courtroom, Kerik pleaded not guilty to 16 counts on charges of conspiracy, tax fraud, and making false statements.

Prosecutors allege Kerik accepted $500,000 in gifts over several years while he was a city official, but never reported it. They allege he received more than $250,000 in renovations from a company seeking to do business with the city and free rent equivalent to approximately $236,000 at a luxury Manhattan apartment.

Prosecutors say the apartment was paid for by someone Kerik agreed to do business with.

MICHAEL GARCIA, U.S. ATTORNEY: It's a sad day when this office returns an indictment against a former law enforcement officer, particularly one who served in positions as high as those held by Bernard Kerik. But we will not hesitate to pursue any public official who violates his oath and betrays the public trust, as Mr. Kerik is alleged to have done.

SNOW: Among the charges, prosecutors claim Kerik lied to the White House and other federal officials when he was being vetted for the post of homeland security secretary in 2004, a nomination supported by Rudy Giuliani.

Kerik withdrew his nomination, citing issues with the nanny. Giuliani now calls his then endorsement of Kerik a mistake.

RUDOLPH GIULIANI (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: In that particular case, I pointed out that I made a mistake. I made a mistake in not clearing him effectively enough. I take the responsibility for that.

SNOW: As Giuliani seeks the Republican presidential nomination, his onetime friend faces trial, marking a dramatic fall from grace.

Kerik rose from the detective ranks and went on to become both corrections and police commissioner under Giuliani.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SNOW: Now, along with Giuliani, Kerik was thrust into the national spotlight following 9/11. He also worked at Giuliani's private firm until his failed Homeland Security nomination and his legal troubles began -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Mary, assuming there's no plea agreement, when would the trial likely take place?

SNOW: Wolf, for right now, all parties are scheduled to be back in court January 16.

Now, Kerik's lawyer has been saying that he's going to try to get some of these charges dropped, but, as for now, January 16 is the next time they will meet, and in the meantime Kerik is out on bail today on $500,000.

BLITZER: All right, Mary, thanks very much. She's at the courthouse in White Plains, New York, outside of New York City.

There's also new evidence that Giuliani is feeling the heat over the Kerik indictment and the new attack by Senator John McCain about his ties to the former police commissioner.

Just a short while ago, Giuliani's campaign communications director issued this statement: "Best as I can tell, it's just John McCain's pure desperation in the face of a failing and flailing campaign trumping his so-called straight talk. It is truly a shame that John McCain has chosen to stoop this low."

Let's bring in our chief national correspondent, John King.

It is ugly out there, to paraphrase our good friend Jack Cafferty. What is going on?

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It is getting a bit ugly.

And it's also very interesting, because, remember, Rudy Giuliani is on record saying, if he didn't run for president, he probably would have supported John McCain. He's his favorite of the other Republicans.

McCain is low in the polls. He is struggling right now, although he has come back a little bit. So, that is why the Giuliani campaign says it's desperation. But that's also, as you know, a trademark tactic. If somebody hits you, hit back by accusing them of being negative.

What the McCain people are doing is not going Giuliani's supposed weaknesses, his views on the social issues, but straight at his strength in this race, which is leadership. The statement by Rick Davis, McCain's campaign manager, says, citing news reports: "Giuliani was briefed on Bernie Kerik's mob ties even before he made him New York police commission. He should not have done that, let alone recommend him to be the top homeland security official in the Bush administration."

So, they are going after his judgment, going after his leadership, which is, of course, the pillar of strength of the Giuliani campaign.

BLITZER: And going after Bernard Kerik's record when he was sent over to Iraq to try to train the Iraqi police. McCain's folks are saying that was a disaster.

KING: McCain himself said that. So, you have -- the first question is, should Giuliani have made him police commissioner to begin with? Shouldn't he already have known of his ethical problems? Then McCain says, while I was over in Iraq, he was supposed to be training police. He came in and then he disappeared, essentially cutting out because the job was too tough, was the implication McCain was making.

So, again, trying to take a shot through Kerik at Giuliani, saying, everyone says this guy is tough; this guy was the great leader after 9/11; let's take a closer look at some of his key judgments, because, as Rick Davis, the campaign manager, said in that statement, that is all about the presidency, making judgments. So, an interesting strategy, going at Giuliani at his greatest strength.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, John King, reporting for us.

Right now, tens of millions of Americans should be very worried. If you're middle class, the taxes you pay could soon go up. By how much? Thousands and thousands of dollars. It involves what's called the alternative minimum tax. Today, the House of Representatives did something to try to shield many Americans from it.

Let's go to our congressional correspondent, Jessica Yellin. She's on Capitol Hill.

Jessica, the White House not very happy with what the House is doing. What's going on?

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: What is going on is, the House has passed a measure that would seek to relieve some of this tax pressure on millions of Americans. But it's unlikely it will ever become law. That's because, even though most members of Congress think this is a problem, they can't agree on how to fix it or how to pay for it.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

YELLIN (voice-over): Ron and Sharon (ph) Jakubek are worried. If this tax bill doesn't become law, their lives will change dramatically.

RON JAKUBEK, TAXPAYER: I just feel like the, you know, middle class is getting squeezed out.

YELLIN: This year, the alternative minimum tax, which was meant to capture money from millionaires, could hit some families earning $50,000 a year. And a family of four with a household income of $75,000 could see their tax bill double.

Democrats have proposed a solution that would help millions of Americans avoid that new tax. Republicans object to the way it's paid for, because it raises taxes on others.

REP. TOM REYNOLDS (R), NEW YORK: You're going to hear tax gap, tax fairness, tax equity. I promise you that results right here in this bill as a tax increase. YELLIN: Democrats say, not so fast. The only ones paying more would be financial bigwigs, managers of major investment organizations, like private equity firms and hedge funds.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: The bill is about tax fairness. It's about fiscal responsibility, and, again, it's about keeping America competitive.

REP. JIM MCDERMOTT (D), WASHINGTON: The Republicans are willing to say that 50,000 rich fat cats are more important than 21 million middle-class folks in this country.

YELLIN: It's not clear this bill will get through the Senate and the president has vowed to veto it, which is cause for concern to the Jakubeks.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

YELLIN: And the disagreement over this bill is even more intense in the Senate than it was in the House. Folks there, the Democratic leadership, they're still trying to decide if they can find an alternative way to pay for it or if they should pay for it at all. Again, if they do nothing, 21 million Americans will see their taxes jump this year -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks, Jessica, for that.

And just to remind our viewers, this is certainly a tax that millions of you, millions of you should care about. Congress created the alternative minimum tax back in 1969 to stop a very small number of very wealthy people from using tax breaks and other maneuvers to eliminate their entire tax bill.

The problem is, it was not indexed for inflation. So, every year, more and more of the middle class are forced to pay this tax. Only 20,000 people paid the tax back in 1970, but last year almost four million people had to pay this tax. And for the 2007 tax year, the current tax year -- get this -- that number could balloon to almost 24 million people, each paying about $2,000 to $3,000 more, more in taxes. That's why you should care.

"LOU DOBBS TONIGHT" starts at 7:00 p.m. Eastern, at its new time, at the top of the hour. But, with Jack Cafferty's absence today, we have invited Lou to join us here for today's roundtable. That's coming up shortly this hour.

Also coming up, we all voted them in. Now it appears many of us want to kick them out, your members of Congress. There's a record level of anger at Capitol Hill right now.

And Democrats pan for gold out West. They hope to turn some of the so-called red states blue in the presidential election. But will they come back empty-handed?

And addressing a truly national disgrace, those who served America who now sleep on America's streets -- 25 percent of veterans are now said to be homeless. Let me repeat that: 25 percent of the homeless are now said to be veterans. I will speak about that with the Virginia Senator Jim Webb.

That's coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: While Congress remains at odds over how and when to withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq, there is growing concern about what will happen to military men and women once they return home and hang up their uniforms.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: And joining us now from Capitol Hill, the Democratic Senator Jim Webb of the Commonwealth of Virginia.

Senator Webb, thanks for coming in.

SEN. JIM WEBB (D), VIRGINIA: Good to be with you.

BLITZER: Sunday is Veterans Day. And a study came out only yesterday. It's a national disgrace. Twenty-five percent of America's homeless people are veterans of the U.S. military.

How is that possible in this great country of ours?

WEBB: Well, some veterans have difficulty transitioning but the most important thing that I see is that we need, at this point in our history, to show affirmatively that we respect veteran service.

On the one hand we have people saying over and over again this is the new greatest generation and on the other, this is an issue that I care a lot about, we haven't been treating them when we leave the military in the same way we did people who came back in World War II.

I introduced a bill my first day in office to give the post-9/11 veterans, the people who have gone to Iraq and Afghanistan, the same type of benefits the World War II veterans got.

When they came back from World War II, they got all the tuition paid for, they got the books bought, they got a monthly stipend and it was a measurable sign from the country that they respected them.

BLITZER: I was an enormous bonanza for the veterans coming home from World War II as you and Senator Chuck Hagel, another veteran, document in the "New York Times" today. But what's the problem. Why hasn't this happened?

WEBB: Well, I think first of all, inside the military in this volunteer system, there is more a focus on the career force then there is on the people who are getting out. There are a lot of people who go into the military who don't look at it as a career route. They do it because of family traditions, love of country, all these other reasons. They're not getting taken care of by the military and the second thing is a lot of people I think just missed the boat on how important this educational benefit is as a readjustment benefit. We had Senator Dole in front of the Veterans Committee a couple of weeks ago. I asked him about his experience with the World War II G.I. Bill.

He said, in his view, the World War II G.I. Bill was the most important piece of legislation that our country has ever passed when it came to fairness among our citizens. And for every dollar that was spent on the World War II G.I. Bill, we got seven dollars back in terms of tax revenues because these people were able to become successful.

BLITZER: You voted against that resolution that would declare the Iranian Revolutionary Guard a terrorist organization.

A bunch of other Democrats, including the Democratic presidential front-runner, Hillary Clinton, voted in favor with the Republicans on that resolution. Why were you right and they were wrong?

WEBB: Well, I think if you look at the Democrats, or the people that voted against the resolution, and they were Democrats, not only Democrats, but the top six leaders on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, two Republicans and four Democrats all voted against the resolution.

It's an entirely different step to move forward and say that an actual entity of a foreign government is a terrorist organization. With all the implications of what that means in the war against terror.

Senator Clinton did vote in favor of the amendment but then she also cosponsored my amendment which would require the administration to come to the Congress if it's going to begin a new type of war against Iran so we need to calm the region down. I think Senator Hagel made a very important speech yesterday about a different approach on these issues and hopefully we can get some consensus here for the good of the country rather than for one party or the other.

BLITZER: So, is Hillary Clinton trying to have it both ways?

WEBB: I think there is some consistency in the way that she presents the argument. For me I believe that my vote was responsible. I did it after a great deal of consideration of what that actual term means, a foreign terrorist organization.

Terrorism is in and of itself an entity that works the seams of international law. And if we are at war against international terrorism than we could justify based on that vote, the administration could justify based on that vote, military action against Iran. I don't think that's the way you want to proceed to that particular objective.

BLITZER: "The Washington Post" had a story recently saying, "Webb seen as a potential 2008 running-mate," a vice presidential candidate.

Is that something you're open to?

WEBB: Two months from now they will be talking about someone else. we have spent a good bit of time putting together, I think, a really good staff and we're focusing on a lot of really good issues here and this is where I intend to stay.

BLITZER: Senator Webb, thanks for coming in.

WEBB: Thank you. Good to be with you.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Are Americans fed up with their political parties? Will a third-party candidate emerge in the '08 campaign? Lou Dobbs joins our best political team, our roundtable. That's coming up.

And the top woman standing up to Pakistan's president spending the day in lockdown behind barbed wire. We're on the scene with Benazir Bhutto.

Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: She's the top opposition leader of a country in chaos. Some say she's the best hope for leading Pakistan back to democracy. But, today, police rounded up her supporters and kept the former prime minister, Benazir Bhutto, herself, in virtual lockdown behind barbed wire.

CNN's Zain Verjee is on the scene for us in Islamabad -- Zain.

ZAIN VERJEE, CNN STATE DEPARTMENT CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Benazir Bhutto is no longer under house arrest, but earlier today at her home, she faced down security forces.

They had surrounded her house, hundreds of them, heavily armed carrying AK-47s. She was trying to get to a rally in nearby Rawalpindi that she had planned. What she tried to do was go through the barbed wire, the cement blocks, the barricades, the trucks that had been placed around her.

She was able to cut through the wire, but not able to push through the security that was there. So, what she did was, she sat in a bulletproof jeep and spoke on a megaphone to police, saying: "Get out of the way. I am not the enemy."

She also criticized General Musharraf. At the end of the day, she turned around and went home, but she made her point. She's planning another protest on the 13th of November -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Zain, thank you.

Zain is in Islamabad, the capital of Pakistan.

Let's go to Carol Costello. She's monitoring some other important stories incoming to THE SITUATION ROOM right now.

What's going on, Carol?

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: A couple of things, Wolf. Crews still at the scene of that freight train derailment on the bridge over the Anacostia River here in southeast Washington. Several cars have fallen into the water, at least six to eight, actually. A Coast Guard official says the train was parked when another freight train rear-ended it.

The fire department and hazmat crews are busy taking coal and train cars out of the water. Coal is considered a hazardous material.

An autopsy on the woman who died in custody at a Phoenix airport is over, and it determined the death was accidental hanging. And it says the woman was intoxicated. Carol Gotbaum was headed to a rehab facility when she missed her connection in Phoenix and became enraged. Police arrested her, accused her of disorderly conduct, placed her in a holding cell, where she died. Police said she tried to escape her handcuffs and accidentally strangled herself.

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

BLITZER: Thanks, Carol, very much.

Americans are downright angry at Congress right now, but are Democrats or Republicans the bigger target?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KEATING HOLLAND, CNN POLLING DIRECTOR: Politics is a zero-sum game. Anything that hurts one side helps the other. And, for now, it looks like Americans are angrier at the Republicans than at the Democrats.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Are you fed up with Congress? Do you think Congress is broken? You are going to find out how many Americans think like you. Lou Dobbs and our panelists, they're standing by. They have plenty to say on that.

And many Republicans are also not necessarily happy campers when it comes to their choices for the White House. Our panel places some odds on a third-party presidential campaign.

And Bush 41 to the rescue. He's defending his son again and invoking Saddam Hussein's name to do it.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

Happening now: Is America's government broken? A lot of people may feel that way. Our latest CNN poll shows they are running out of patience with Congress.

And how do Americans feel about their political parties? Could a third new -- could a new third-party candidate suddenly emerge in the '08 election?

Also, who really has to make a strong showing in next week's Democratic debate? We are going to take a closer look at the candidates and the issues, as Lou Dobbs joins our roundtable tonight.

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

From corruption, to taxes, to the war in Iraq, there's a lot of fuel for anger over at the Congress and for the feeling that the government is simply broken.

Right now, we have new evidence that the outrage, once again, is on the rise.

Lou Dobbs and our other panelists are standing by.

First, though, CNN's Tom Foreman has our new poll numbers -- Tom.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, how low can they go? This is a very bad time to be a congressman on Capitol Hill.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The House will be in order.

FOREMAN (voice over): Fifty-three percent of those we questioned in our new CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll say that most members of Congress do not deserve to be reelected. That is the highest number since the question was first asked 16 years ago. And here's why.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), HOUSE SPEAKER: Today, the American people voted for change.

FOREMAN: But Democrats have not been able to deliver much change.

SEN. EDWARD KENNEDY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: Important to know that the minimum wage is going to go up.

FOREMAN: Other than some big-ticket items, like raising the minimum wage and ethics and lobbying reform, Democrats have not be able to turn their agenda into law.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Congress is not getting its work done.

FOREMAN: From Iraq to domestic programs, Democrats face White House vetoes and little support from Republicans on Capitol Hill.

PELOSI: I know that Congress has low approval ratings. I don't approve of Congress because we haven't done anything. FOREMAN: With the next battle for control of Congress starting to heat up, you would think our poll would be bad news for Democrats and good for Republicans.

But, when we asked your choice for Congress, 53 percent still said Democrat, and 42 percent said Republican. Here's why.

KEATING HOLLAND, CNN POLLING DIRECTOR: Politics is a zero-sum game. Anything that hurts one side helps the other. And for now, it looks like Americans are angrier at the Republicans than at the Democrats.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

FOREMAN: Here's a measure of how bad it is. Americans almost always rate their own Congress member better than Congress as a whole. But even there, four out of 10 want to throw their own Congress member out -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And those are literally record numbers.

Thanks, Tom, for that.

Should members of Congress -- especially the long timers -- be worried they could lose their jobs and what can they do to try to win the country's trust back?

Let's bring in our roundtable.

Joining us tonight, Lou Dobbs, the anchor of CNN's "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT." His brand new book entitled "Independents Day: The Awakening the American Spirit." It's about to become a best-seller.

Also joining us, CNN legal analyst Jeff Toobin. He's in Miami. His new book, "The Nine," already is a "New York Times" best-seller.

And CNN's senior political analyst, Gloria Borger. She's thinking about writing a book.

GLORIA BORGER, SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: OK.

BLITZER: If she does, I'm sure that will be a best-seller, as well.

Lou, let me start off with you, you're our guest here.

LOU DOBBS, ANCHOR, "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT": Sure.

BLITZER: Why do so many Americans, in a nutshell, believe government is broken?

DOBBS: Because they're awakening to reality. This government is dysfunctional. The administration will leave a legacy -- and I'm amused by people wondering what this president's legacy will be. It will be one of disappointment and absolute dysfunctional government. This Congress has delivered on absolutely the barest -- the minimum that it could have. And that is the reffance that you made to the minimum wage. This -- our leaders in this country -- our elected officials -- there has never a wider gulf between them and the people in our country since -- since the middle of the 19th century. This is an absurdity. It is disgusting.

BLITZER: Gloria, what's going on?

GLORIA BORGER, SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, you know, I think what's to blame here -- and, by the way, I think there's plenty of blame to go around on the Democrats and the Republicans -- is that what we engage in in this country is what none other than Bill Clinton use today say is the permanent campaign. And members of Congress are always looking for the issue, rather than the solution, as they head into the next election. And so they're looking two years down the road for political gains, or if you're a Senate candidate, six years or a four year cycle for a presidential campaign. So we tend to think in terms of political cycles rather than long-term solutions in this country.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: I think there's -- it's a little simpler than that. There is a war on that 60 percent of this country opposes and Congress hasn't stopped it. The reason the Democrats are in the majority is in the war. It's because of the war. They haven't stopped the war. That's why they're unpopular -- period.

BLITZER: But do you believe if the war were suddenly to end tomorrow there would be a shift, that Americans would start to trust Congress?

TOOBIN: Well, not on all issues. But you bet it would -- they would be a lot more popular. Americans are dying every day over there. We're spending billions of dollars every month. That's why this Congress was elected and they haven't done anything about it.

BLITZER: All right, Lou?

DOBBS: Yes, I think your question is absolutely the correct one. And I quite agree that the war is critically important to the mood of the people. But it is not, as the saying goes, it is necessary but not sufficient to deal with this war and its conduct. The American people are tired of being screwed, to put it quite simply. The fact is that we're watching a Congress that can't agree on the resolution of the average minimum tax. They can't agree. A Democratically led Congress can't agree to tax at an equitable rate. The executives of hedge fund operators who are putting their money offshore. We are watching public education fail in this country -- fail an entire generations of Americans. We are watching idiots in both political parties absolutely destroy the American dream.

BLITZER: Gloria, why is it, do you believe -- and this poll of ours shows that among registered voters, as far as their choice for Congress, Democrats do better than Republicans, 53-42 percent.

Should Democrats take some great solace in that? BORGER: Well, if they do, they're foolish because they shouldn't. And I think the approval for Democrats goes back to what Jeff was talking about, which is really the sense that people disapprove of this war. And the Democrats are opposed to the war.

But I think any member of Congress has to look at these numbers -- and, by the way, these numbers are worse, but they look a lot like the numbers going into the midterm elections, which really hurt the Republicans.

You know, any member of Congress looking at these numbers is going to go home and run against Washington -- which, by the way, is what they always do. They're in Washington serving, then they go home and they say I'm different from the rest of those fellows.

BLITZER: All right, Jeff, just...

BORGER: I'm trying to get something done.

BLITZER: Jeff, button it up, because we're going to take a quick break.

TOOBIN: Well, I just think Republicans should be in a panic, because if you look at every issue -- it's not just the war. It's the environment. It's immigration. It's education. Democrats are more favored on those issues. And I think it's -- it's just locking like a Democratic year.

BLITZER: All right, stand by, guys.

We've got a lot more coming up.

Many of you say you're fed up with your Congressional representatives, but are you so tired of them you'd actually support a third party presidential candidate?

We'll discuss that. And our roundtable is standing by for that.

And some people think Barack Obama should go on the attack or that Hillary Clinton should fight back.

What do you want to see in our CNN Democratic presidential debate next week in Las Vegas.

Much more of our roundtable right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Considering how disgruntled the American voting public is with their government's performance, isn't the time ripe for a third party presidential candidate to emerge?

Let's go back to our roundtable.

Lou Dobbs, the anchor of "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT," is joining us. He's got a brand new book out entitled "Independents Day". Congratulations to Lou on that.

DOBBS: Thank you.

BLITZER: Also joining us, our senior analyst, Jeff Toobin. His book, "The Nine," is a best-seller.

And CNN's senior legal -- senior political analyst, Gloria Borger.

A lot of us remember, Lou, Ross Perot. He got close in '92, to having an effective third party run for the presidency.

Can it happen again this time around?

DOBBS: I not only think it can, I think it's very likely that it will. When I travel around the country, the people with whom I'm speaking, Wolf, there's no great enthusiasm for these candidates in either party -- not even the frontrunners -- not Romney, not Giuliani, not Clinton.

I think it's very likely we're going to see an Independent, and, I believe, populist candidate emerge over the next three to four months.

BLITZER: You want to name any names?

DOBBS: No, no. I don't -- I'm not thinking of any one person. It may come from any -- he or she may come from any quarter of our society. But I truly believe that there is such dissatisfaction with this slate of candidates that it's very likely that not a single one of them will be the president-elect come a year from this week.

BLITZER: All right, Jeff, what do you think?

TOOBIN: Well, I sure do disagree. I think Mike Bloomberg, who is the obvious possibility -- didn't get $10 billion by going on fool's errands. And I don't think there is room for a presidential candidate. Ross Perot came about as close as he could come, but he didn't come very close.

The Evangelical community is a politically savvy group now. They're not going to get a -- go on a suicide mission. That's why Pat Robertson endorsed Rudy Giuliani.

DOBBS: Well...

TOOBIN: They want to win...

BORGER: Well...

TOOBIN: They don't want to -- they don't want to hand the presidency to Hillary Clinton.

BLITZER: Let's let Gloria weigh in.

BORGER: Look, I think these things kind of rise from the roots up. And I think that somebody -- for example, let's take Ron Paul, who in one day last week -- a libertarian candidate, anti-government -- raised $4.3 million over the Internet from 37,000 donors. You know, that's not chicken feed. So I think...

TOOBIN: It's a great deal of money...

BORGER: I think you have to take a look at the -- yes, it is.

I think you have to take a look at the mood out there...

DOBBS: Right.

BORGER: ...and say that anything can happen, if, example, these nominations are not resolved after Super Duper Tuesday in February.

TOOBIN: Ron Paul...

(CROSSTALK)

TOOBIN: Ron Paul getting 270 electoral votes cannot happen in the United States.

BORGER: No, but that doesn't mean he wouldn't try.

TOOBIN: Nada (ph).

BORGER: That doesn't mean he wouldn't run, you know?

DOBBS: Yes, and I've got to say, if I may, this conversation and conversations that are going to occur just like it and have occurred just like it amongst those who follow politics carefully, trying to see the future, are taking the perspective of the orthodoxy, the partisan two parties that have failed the American people. And we're not referencing that immense dissatisfaction, anger and contempt held by nearly every -- by most voters in this country for those two parties and these candidates.

I believe that there is a real opportunity for someone of character and capacity and vision to step forward and really make a difference here.

BLITZER: But, Lou, you don't have a name?

Is there somebody (INAUDIBLE)...

DOBBS: I don't have a name.

BLITZER: Are there a few names out there?

Is it a Ron Paul?

Is it a Michael Bloomberg?

Do you...

DOBBS: I... (CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: You know, I'm just throwing out a couple of names that have already been mentioned.

DOBBS: By the way, Ron Paul is among those candidates who probably has some of the greatest enthusiasm, who has, also, the least regard by mainstream media. I wouldn't be surprised if he were to be -- he could adopt a more populist view. He is -- he could be come an Independent candidate if he does not succeed on the Republican side.

John Edwards, on the Democratic side, has a populist view, but is also, at the same time, hide bound to his party.

BLITZER: All right, Jeff, let's talk about next Thursday's Democratic presidential debate.

Hillary Clinton -- what does she need to do next week to recapture that momentum she apparently -- well, at least a little of it, she lost at the last Democratic debate?

TOOBIN: Well, start talking again like a human being and not a politician...

(LAUGHTER)

TOOBIN: ...in giving incomprehensible, weaseling answers and attack George Bush, don't attack the other candidates. Because she's leading. She doesn't have to lower herself. What she's got to do...

BLITZER: Well, what if she's attacked?

TOOBIN: Ignore it.

BLITZER: Do you think...

TOOBIN: I don't think it matters.

BLITZER: What do you think, Gloria?

BORGER: No, I think -- I agree with Jeff in that she's got to just do some straight talk, as John McCain would say. But I also think if she's attacked, she's got -- she's got to fight back -- which is, by the way, what the Clinton campaign always does. But I think Hillary has the highest mountain to climb in this -- in this next debate, because she's got to -- she's got to show that she can answer questions directly.

BLITZER: All right, Lou, what do you think?

DOBBS: I think that the correct perspective is from that of the voters and the primary. I think that they're going it be -- I think they're disgusted with all of these candidates. And Hillary Clinton's waffling, wobbling answer, I think, may have been a mortal blow. And I don't believe either Obama or Edwards followed intelligently their pursuit of her answer. And I don't think they distinguished themselves, because they're aligned with her on the same issue.

TOOBIN: And...

DOBBS: It looks like politics as usual, and that's something that's disgusting all of us.

TOOBIN: And her campaign should stop whining about being attacked.

You know what?

She's running for president of the United States. Get used to it. It's going to be worse if she's the nominee. So this is nothing compared to what it's going to be like in the fall.

BLITZER: All right. Hold -- hold out, guys.

We've got to leave it right there.

Jeffrey Toobin, thanks very much.

Gloria Borger, thanks to you.

Lou is not going anywhere. He's coming up at the top of the hour. He's got a brand new show, "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT."

Give us a little headline of what we can expect -- Lou.

DOBBS: We're going to talk about politics, why -- and we're going to completely analyze the idea that an Independent candidate can prevail -- sorry, Jeffrey Toobin. There seems to be some impulse that an Independent and populist candidate not only could win, but should be driving the impulses in this race. So it will be interesting to see.

BLITZER: All right...

DOBBS: And, of course, we'll be covering everything -- all of the day's news that top of the hour, right here on CNN -- Wolf.

BLITZER: We'll be watching, Lou.

Thanks very much for joining us today.

And this programming note. The debate is next Thursday. We'll all be in Las Vegas. I'll be moderating that Democratic presidential debate.

As the Democrats head west for the debate, can they stake a claim to some of those traditionally red Western states?

Our Election Express rolling into the Rockies.

And you can now bid on eBay for a Mitt Romney flip-flop kit. Democrats are behind the auction. We're going to tell you what the GOP candidate thinks about it. Stay with us.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: On our Political Ticker this Friday, Hillary Clinton picks up a key presidential endorsement in the battleground state of Ohio. The Democratic governor, Ted Strickland, telling reporters today he's backing Senator Clinton over her primary rivals because, in his words, "She's an experienced and strong leader." Ohio narrowly went to President Bush over John Kerry back in 2004, and was decisive in the final outcome of the presidential race.

The Democratic National Committee is going after Republican Mitt Romney in an unconventional way. Get this -- it's auctioning off a Mitt Romney flip-flop kit on eBay. It's a dig at Romney's changed views on several issues, including abortion. And it's a slap at Romney fundraising efforts that encourage his supporters to sell their old belongings to help put cash into his campaign war chest. The Romney camp says the stunt is proof that Democrats are deeply worried about running against him next fall.

And remember, for the latest political news at any time, check out our Political Ticker at CNN.com/ticker.

In the next election, Democrats are hoping to gain new ground in the Western states that traditionally have been more red than blue. And that brings us to Denver, where the Democrats will be holding their nominating convention next summer, and where our senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley, is standing by right now with the CNN Election Express.

Give us a little bit of a lay of the land -- Candy.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: You know, Wolf, it doesn't matter whether you talk to Democrats or Republicans out here. They believe that the presidential battle next year will all come down to this region.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CROWLEY (voice-over): Democrats are coming to Colorado, not for the bustle of the Mile High City or the awesome Rockies or the open plains, but for the possibilities.

GOV. BILL RITTER (D), COLORADO: I think Colorado is absolutely a state the Democratic Party can win, the president can win. Clinton won it in '92. And no Democrat has won it since, but we're in a different place than we have been in the last election.

CROWLEY: Bill Ritter is the Democratic governor of Colorado, who works with a Democratic-controlled state legislature -- the first time for that combo in 40 years. The Colorado population has both grown and changed. Many residents now come from the East and West Coasts. There are more Hispanics. A third of voters are Independents. (on camera): It's not just California transplants and East Coast retirees changing the nature of politics here. It is concern within a natural constituency of the Republican Party that there's a threat to all that makes Colorado, Colorado.

(voice-over): Increased oil and gas drilling, particularly across the Continental Divide to the west, has sportsmen and ranchers worried about quality of life.

JOHN STRAAYER, POLITICAL SCIENCE PROFESSOR, COLORADO STATE UNIVERSITY: I think that what you're seeing is some of the traditional Republican leaning folks finding common ground with environmentalists, who might otherwise lean in different directions.

CROWLEY: But this goes beyond Colorado borders. In 2000, there were no Democratic governors in the eight Interior West states. Now there are five.

GOV. JANET NAPOLITANO (D), ARIZONA: I would say there's a four state area -- Colorado, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, that -- that truly are going to be up for grabs in the presidential election. And some others, as well, could be surprises. So, when you combine those electoral votes, if you're looking at a -- at the map and how to get to that magic number to be elected as president, there's a big clump of votes out there to get.

CROWLEY: One can overstate the case. The Western Democratic governors are moderate to conservative, which is why the head of Colorado's Republican Party can't wait for that Democratic Convention. DICK WADHAMS, COLORADO REPUBLICAN PARTY CHAIRMAN: They're going to adopt a liberal platform that I think will be out of the mainstream of most Coloradans. But, most importantly, I predict they will be nominating Hillary Clinton in that hall in downtown Denver.

CROWLEY: Whatever else, the game is on in the Mountain West. The Denver convention sends a clear message -- Democrats have come here to play.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CROWLEY: One note from history to underscore the importance of this region for Democrats. If you set aside California, Democrats have not held a convention west of Chicago in 80 years -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks, Candy, for that.

The CNN Election Express, by the way, is out on the campaign trail. From Denver, the bus heads next to Las Vegas for CNN's Democratic presidential debate next Thursday. And from there, the bus treks back to St. Petersburg, Florida for the CNN/YouTube Republican presidential debate. After that, the Election Express will head to Iowa and South Carolina.

President Bush's dad coming to his defense again.

Is he speaking as an ex-commander-in-chief or as an emotional father?

Plus, alarming new word on the threat from and the scope of an oil spill out West.

Stay with us.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: President Bush faces fierce and growing criticism for his handling of the war in Iraq. But the president's father has a message for his son's critics -- back off.

Let's go to our White House correspondent, Ed Henry.

He has more -- Ed.

ED HENRY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, these are trying times for the man known as Bush 41 -- only the second former president in history after John Adams to watch his son follow him into the White House.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) GEORGE H. W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: That was a gift from Gorbachev, I think.

HENRY (voice over): While giving "USA Today" a tour of his remodeled presidential library in Texas, the patriarch of the Bush family lashed out, declaring criticism of his son's handling of the Iraq war is grossly unfair.

"Do they want to bring back Saddam Hussein, these critics?," the elder Bush railed to the newspaper. "Do they want to go back to the status quo ante? Do they think life would be better in the Middle East if Saddam were still there?"

Family friends like Andy Card say this is a case of a father aching for his son. And analysts note the former president has a unique perspective on the challenges faced by a commander-in-chief.

MARK PRESTON, CNN POLITICAL EDITOR: Let's not forget that George Bush, Sr. Sent troops into Iraq and went head to head with Saddam Hussein. He has a unique perspective that perhaps nobody else has on this issue.

HENRY: Despite his father's bruised feelings, the current president continues to claim he doesn't care about the naysayers.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And popularity is just like -- it comes and goes. And I've never been one to really worry about that, you know. And -- because, when it's all said and done, I think the key thing in life is to look -- look in the mirror and say, I didn't compromise my core beliefs.

HENRY: In advance of this weekend's meetings at his ranch in Texas with Chancellor Angela Merkel, the president told German television he's secure about his legacy.

BUSH: I helped this country protect itself, and, at the same time, I was unashamed -- unabashed at spreading certain, you know, values to others -- the main one being liberty, whether it be the freedom from forms of government or the freedom from disease and hunger.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

HENRY: There are now sharp questions about whether that philosophy, which the president calls The Freedom Agenda, has really worked -- not just in Iraq, but also in Pakistan, where the White House's ally, Pervez Musharraf, has now slid off the path to democracy -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Ed Henry at the White House.

Thanks.

Let's check back with Carol.

She's monitoring some other important stories coming in right now into THE SITUATION ROOM.

What's going on -- Carol?

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: A couple of things, Wolf.

Michael Mukasey is now officially the U.S. attorney general. He was sworn in this afternoon during a private ceremony at the Justice Department. The Senate voted 54-40 last night to confirm him. The five senators who are presidential candidates were not present.

It could be a political breakthrough in Myanmar. Opposition leader and human rights activist Aung San Suu Kyi was allowed to meet with members of her political party today. Now, this was the first time in more than three years that that has happened.

And crews are working to contain the damage from a huge oil spill that stained some of Northern California's coastline. Questions persist about why the Coast Guard took so long to report the scope of the spill Wednesday. City officials were told that only 140 gallons of oil had spilled into the Bay, but Coast Guard officials have said they knew hours earlier that the spill dumped 58,000 gallons. That's the headlines right now -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Carol, have a wonderful, wonderful weekend.

Thanks very much.

Carol Costello reporting.

This note. This Sunday on "LATE EDITION," the last word in Sunday talk, the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton -- he'll be discussing his brand new book, "Surrender Is Not An Option." Tensions with Iran, the crisis in Pakistan very much on the agenda. "LATE EDITION" airs Sunday, 11:00 a.m. Eastern.

Until then, thanks very much for joining us.

I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Up next, "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT" -- Lou.

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