Return to Transcripts main page

THE SITUATION ROOM

What Voters Really Care About; CIA Director in Hot Seat; Oregon Landslide

Aired December 11, 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, destroyed tapes and damaged confidence. The CIA director faces some tough questions right now about a possible cover-up. There's a closed-door hearing under way at the Senate Intelligence Committee right now.
We're standing by to hear what happened inside.

Also this hour, the Clinton-Obama-Edwards advantage. Our new poll shows only one Republican has a shot at beating any of the top Democratic presidential hopefuls.

Stand by for that.

And an all-out Republican immigration war. Mitt Romney tries to claw his way back to the top in Iowa by going after the new caucus front-runner, Mike Huckabee.

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

Let's begin this hour with the race for the White House. While support for the candidates moves up and down, something else is also shifting. It's something that pits worries about the war and terror attacks against worries about money and gas prices.

Our senior political analyst Bill Schneider is standing by live in Des Moines, Iowa. He's with the CNN Election Express.

All right, Bill, set the scene for us about these priorities, what voters out there really care about right now.

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, yesterday we reported that the candidate's standings are changing while the issues are changing, too.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER (voice over): Remember the economy, stupid? That was Bill Clinton's winning issue in 1992. It was also the last time we had an election about the economy.

1992 saw an economic downturn. Now, for first time in more than four years, a majority of Americans say the country's in recession. The economy is now the biggest issue in the presidential campaign.

Is the economy that bad? SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I've described the economy today as kind of a trapped door, where you're one medical diagnoses or pink slip or missed mortgage payment away from just dropping through and losing everything.

SCHNEIDER: Republicans prefer to look at the big picture.

RUDY GIULIANI (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: What country has had more success in creating a society of fairness and decency, in creating a society in which people move out of poverty, in which people have social mobility, have a chance to succeed?

SCHNEIDER: Yes, but what about gas prices, home foreclosures and lagging wages? Can Republicans look to national security to save them?

Terrorism, Giuliani's issue, ranks low in importance right now. Security in Iraq may be improving, although that, too, is in dispute.

JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The senator from New York, Senator Clinton said, "I would have to suspend disbelief in order to believe that the surge is working." Well, anyone today would have to suspend disbelief to not believe that the surge isn't working.

SCHNEIDER: But there's no evidence of growing public support for the war. Sixty-nine percent, the highest number yet, want to withdraw some or all U.S. troops.

The news that Iran may have halted its nuclear weapons program might not help Republicans. Most Americans believe the Bush administration deliberately misled them about Iran's weapons program.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER: President Bush's job approval is at 32 percent. No wonder Republicans, as well as Democrats, are trying to run as agents of change -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Is it the same among -- basically, when you think of Republicans and Democrats, this heightened interest in the economy right now, domestic issues, do you see any differences between Democratic caucus-goers and likely Republican caucus-goers?

SCHNEIDER: Interesting question. The economy is now the number one issue for both Democrats and Republicans. But they disagree on whether there's a recession. Democrats say yes. Republicans say no.

BLITZER: Bill Schneider with the CNN Election Express out in Des Moines.

Thank you very much.

And as all of our viewers know, Bill is part of the Emmy-Award- winning best political team on television. Remember, for the latest political news any time, check out the political ticker at CNN.com/ticker. Now to a story that's developing right now up on Capitol Hill. The head of an agency seeped in secrecy revealing what he knows about a brewing controversy. For a few hours today, senators have been grilling the CIA director, Michael Hayden, in a private hearing that's certainly expected to end fairly soon. One key question right now, why did the CIA destroy those videotapes showing terror detainees being put through harsh interrogations?

CNN's Brianna Keilar is up on Capitol Hill. She's watching all of this unfold.

Lots of stuff going on where you are right now, Brianna. Update our viewers on what we know. What is going on behind closed doors?

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, as you said, this was a closed hearing. It wrapped up just a few minutes ago. And obviously we aren't privy to the details that went on inside.

However, the chairman and vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee came out and did share some of their thoughts. Republican vice chair Kit Bond saying that Hayden was forthcoming and that there was no indication that there was anything illegal that had gone on in these tapes or in the process of destroying these tapes.

Now, John Rockefeller, the chairman and Democrat of this committee, said that obviously this didn't happen while Hayden was in command of the CIA. And so he is -- he, Hayden, is just relying on the facts from others, and that he's looking forward to hearing those facts from the people who were in charge when these tapes were destroyed in November of 2005.

Now, when CIA Director Michael Hayden came to the Hill today, he said he was prepared to lay down all of the facts. Here's more of what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHAEL HAYDEN, CIA DIRECTOR: Well, we're going to talk about all of that in here. And I just want to let you know that this is -- this is what the agency wants, to come down and lay it out in front of the committee.

I think Senator Rockefeller said it very clearly, it's the committee that should be looking at all these facts. And I'm very delighted to come on down and lay out the facts as we know them. And we'll be very happy to let the facts take us where they will.

Thank you.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KEILAR: Now, what's clear from what the leaders of this committee came out just a few minutes ago and said is that still a lot of questions remain. And no doubt one of the things that was discussed during this closed hearing is who knew what and when? Because as you'll recall, when this story broke on Thursday, Hayden said that the CIA had told leaders of congressional oversight committees about their plan to destroy these tapes before they were destroyed in November of 2005. And as we've heard from congressional sources, both Democratic and Republican, the leaders of some of these committees, some of these leaders dispute that -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And there's no doubt there's going to be more follow-up on Capitol Hill. There's going to be full-scale investigations.

The Justice Department over the weekend announced they're launching what they're calling a preliminary investigation. There are internal investigations. The inspector general at the CIA. The White House is doing a fact check. And they're telling -- and members of the Congress are telling officials in the executive branch to preserve documents, don't burn or destroy anything else.

I assume all that's coming up on the Hill, Brianna?

KEILAR: That's right. And stay tuned for tomorrow, because Hayden is right back here before the House Intelligence Committee -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Brianna Keilar up on the Hill for us.

Brianna, stand by. We're going to be getting back to you and your colleagues.

I'll be speaking, by the way, with a former CIA officer who is very upset about the destruction of those CIA interrogation tapes. John Kiriakou helped interrogate a top al Qaeda figure back in 2002, says the information learned probably helped save some American lives. But the former CIA officer also says what eventually broke the detainee amounted, in his word, to torture.

I'll be speaking with this former CIA officer. That's coming up later in THE SITUATION ROOM.

In Oregon, meanwhile, roads covered with mud, trees and logs, that's the scene unfolding right now in one part of the state after a major mudslide.

Carol Costello's watching all this unfold for us.

What do we know, Carol?

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, we know very little right now, but the pictures are incredible, Wolf.

Let's take you out to Portland, Oregon, right now where you can see this massive mudslide. This is a highway that connects Portland and the coast, and, well, as you'll see hopefully soon, it is covered with mud, trees, logs. Lots of debris following that mudslide.

Amazingly enough, no one was hurt in all of this mess. This section of highway is about five miles west of Clatskanie, in a region of the state hard hit by recent storms. This is probably going to be going on for quite some time, because as you can see, it is one major mess right now. And as you might expect, that part of the highway is closed down.

I'll bring you more when I have it -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And no word yet on anybody who might have been injured or, God forbid, killed in this mudslide? Is that right?

COSTELLO: No reports of injuries. No reports of deaths. But I'll keep my eye on it.

BLITZER: All right, Carol. Stand by. Keep monitoring this and we'll get back with you on this.

COSTELLO: Sure.

BLITZER: Let's check in with Jack Cafferty. He's got "The Cafferty File" in New York -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: A former CIA officer says that waterboarding has probably saved lives, but now he considering it torture. John Kiriakou participated in the capture and questioning of Abu Zubaydah, the first al Qaeda suspect who was waterboarded.

Remember how the CIA said they destroyed these tapes because they didn't want to reveal the identities of these agents? Well, one of them is named John Kiriakou, and he's talking about what he did.

He says he didn't witness the waterboarding of Zubaydah, but he described Abu Zubaydah as defiant and uncooperative until the day he was waterboarded. And then he says, after just 35 seconds of waterboarding, Abu Zubaydah broke. And the next day he told his American captors that he would tell them whatever they wanted.

Kiriakou says the technique probably disrupted dozens of planned al Qaeda attacks, led to the capture of other suspects, and indirectly led to the capture of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed. But now he says he has mixed feelings about waterboarding.

He told "The Washington Post" this -- quoting here -- "Americans are better than that. Maybe that's inconsistent, but that's how I feel. It was an ugly little episode that was perhaps necessary at the time. But we've moved beyond that."

Meanwhile, CIA chief Michael Hayden, as you heard, was up on the Hill today telling his story to the congressional intelligence committees. Tomorrow he will answer questions about the agency's destruction of those videotapes showing the use of the so-called alternative interrogation techniques on two al Qaeda suspects.

"The New York Times" reports that CIA lawyers gave written approval in advance for the destruction in 2005 of hundreds of hours of these videotapes. Despite being told by the Congress and by the White House and by the Justice Department not to destroy the tapes, the CIA destroyed them anyway. Here's the question: Are there any circumstances under which waterboarding or enhanced interrogation techniques are justified?

E-mail us at caffertyfile@CNN.com, or you can post a comment on the blog. Go to CNN.com/caffertyfile, and there's a button you can click on and you can do it that way if you want -- Wolf.

BLITZER: A lot of people are probably doing that already.

All right, Jack. Thanks very much.

And once again, we're going to be speaking with that CIA officer later in THE SITUATION ROOM. You're going to want to hear this interview.

Some Republicans are demanding to know if U.S. intelligence agencies are getting their facts straight about Iran's nuclear program. Did Tehran actually stop trying to develop a bomb four years ago?

I'll speak about it with senator John Ensign of Nevada about the investigation he's now pushing for.

Also coming up, Mitt Romney tries to hit Mike Huckabee where it hurts in Iowa. Will a new Romney ad on immigration stop Huckabee's surge?

And when Iowa freezes over -- will icy weather in the leadoff caucus state right now affect who wins on January 3rd?

Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: President Bush today is calling on Iran to explain why it had a secret nuclear weapons program in the first place. Mr. Bush's own intelligence experts are now saying Iran stopped developing nuclear weapons four years ago. But some Senate Republicans and others want a congressional commission to investigate that new finding.

Senator John Ensign, Republican of Nevada, is one of them. He's here in THE SITUATION ROOM with us.

Senator, thanks for coming in.

SEN. JOHN ENSIGN (R), NEVADA: It's good to be with you.

BLITZER: You don't trust necessarily this conclusion. This national intelligence estimate says the Iranians four years ago stopped building a bomb.

ENSIGN: Well, it's not that I trust it or not trust it. Actually, the intelligence within the report is very, very good. I went over and read the classified version of it today, was briefed on it by some of our experts that we have in the Congress. This is such critical intelligence, and the interpretation of that intelligence to get right not for President Bush, but for the next president -- because right now a lot of people in the country don't trust our current president. They don't trust a lot of what is going on in the Congress.

So I proposed a bill that would take it out of the hands of Congress, take it out of hands of the president, allow Republicans and Democrats equal numbers to appoint a panel of experts to look at the intelligence, all of the classified things that we have, and to come up with a conclusion so we get this thing right. The relationship with Iran and Iran trying to be the major player in the Middle East is so critical to our national security, we cannot afford to get this wrong.

BLITZER: But you want a postmortem on how they came up with the conclusion which begins by saying, "We judge with high confidence that in fall, 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program." You want these expert, six Democrats, six Republicans, to take a look at that because there's a history of these NIEs which were totally wrong and you suspect -- correct me if I am wrong -- this one could be wrong.

ENSIGN: I don't want to prejudge it one way or the other. I looked at some of the conclusions. I think there is some very good intelligence in there. But the fact is, is that they did -- you know, the big news is, is that they actually had a nuclear weapons program. But the other big news is that for them to start it back up in the future, the biggest part of this is producing the fissile material, the plutonium. And they can do that through their civilian nuclear program.

And then to produce a weapon, it only takes a country with any kind of technology six to 12 months in the future. So the 2007 report really isn't that much different than the 2005 report, except that we actually know that prior to 2003, they were actually trying to develop the weapon. And it's the first intelligence we have that actually says that.

BLITZER: But there's a huge difference between the 2005 NIE and the 2007 NIE. The 2005 NIE basically concluded they were aggressively working to develop a bomb. And this one says they stopped doing that back in 2003.

ENSIGN: What this one doesn't know is whether they have started it back up again.

BLITZER: They said -- that's right. They say they don't know. They say, "We also assess with moderate to high confidence that Tehran in a minimum is keeping open its options."

ENSIGN: Moderate confidence.

BLITZER: Here's what...

ENSIGN: And the biggest thing about this though that we cannot forget, it really is about capability, because if they developed a fissile material, 2010 to 2015, the report says that they will be able then -- if they have the fissile material, they will be able to develop a nuclear weapon within six to 12 months, which Iraq would have been able do. Any country in the world with any technology can do that if they have the fissile material.

BLITZER: It's probably smart to have a postmortem given the track record of these NIEs...

ENSIGN: That's why...

BLITZER: ... that were wrong going into the war in Iraq...

ENSIGN: It should be bipartisan. It should...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: But it looks like a slap at the administration, because I'm going to play a clip of what the president said when he got this new national intelligence estimate.

Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Without getting into sources and methods, I believe that the intelligence community has made a great discovery. And they've analyzed the discovery. And it's now part of our government policy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Because he seems to have total confidence in these conclusions.

ENSIGN: Well, he has confidence in the intelligence. And I think that -- I think that anybody who's looked at this, there's some really, really good intelligence in there.

Some of the conclusions may be questionable. I'm not an expert on the intelligence. I think we ought to put it in the experts' hands outside of politics. And that's why I've called for this outside commission to look at it.

We've done this similarly in the past. And because things in the Congress right now are so partisan. Things in the White House are so partisan. Let's take it out of politics and do the right thing.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Because they used to have these outside assessments during the Cold War...

ENSIGN: Yes.

BLITZER: ... about the old Soviet Union. One quick question. Do you believe, as some conservatives, neoconservatives believe, that liberals, career military officers, or career diplomats have sort of moved up the chain of command in the intelligence community and are now basically coming up with these conclusions which go counter to an old, let's say neoconservative line that Iran is definitely working on a bomb?

ENSIGN: You know, I don't want to make any judgments, you know, based on somebody's motives. What I want to do is have some outside experts come in, because we can't afford to get this wrong.

I think we should be looking at this as an American. Not as a conservative, not as a liberal, not as a Republican, not as a Democrat, but as an American. Let's get the intelligence right on this, because it literally will set the policy toward Iran for the future.

We don't know whether the next president is going to be a Republican or Democrat. I hope it's a Republican, but we don't know. And so we need to have the intelligence right and the conclusions right for whoever the next president is and the policy they're going to set toward Iran.

BLITZER: Senator John Ensign, Republican of Nevada, thanks for coming in.

ENSIGN: Thanks, Wolf. Good to be with you.

BLITZER: While Republicans do get out for front-runner status, only one of them beats top Democrats in our new presidential poll. You're going to find out who that is. That's coming up.

Plus, teens and illegal drugs. Are young people getting high like they used to? We're going to tell you about a brand-new report.

Lots of news happening right now. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWSBREAK)

BLITZER: Meanwhile, in Iowa right now, Mitt Romney is unleashing a new attack on Mike Huckabee. But will it help Romney regain his footing and put a lid on Huckabee's dramatic rise in the polls?

Also coming up, the substance behind the strategies.

And Bill Clinton's close encounter with an unusual heckler. We'll tell you what happened.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM. Happening now, the Federal Reserve does something to help the nation's economy and to help many people, but it disappoints a lot of investors, sending Wall Street into a sharp plunge.

Also, all of us worry about the safety of the food we eat. Now, after months of alarming reports about unsafe food from China, there's a new deal to try to ensure the food from that country is actually safe.

And a very disturbing claim that involves a former subsidiary of Halliburton. A woman who worked for the company now claims she was gang-raped by some fellow contractors. And the woman's claim of what happened to her after she told her story is also very, very alarming.

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

Now, more than ever, Mike Huckabee's Republican rivals are doing their best to try to bring him down. Mitt Romney launching a new ad today aimed at stopping Huckabee's surge in Iowa, where Romney once was the GOP candidate to beat.

Like the Iowa weather, the presidential campaign getting cold as ice as we close in on three weeks before the leadoff contest.

CNN's John King and Dana Bash, they're both covering this Romney versus Huckabee smackdown. They're on the scene for us in Des Moines with the CNN Election Express.

Let's go to you, John, first.

Romney certainly banking on the illegal immigration issue as a way to hammer away at Huckabee.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: He is Wolf, but an interesting day today.

Governor Romney took a stroll in a downtown Des Moines landmark, the skywalk. It is designed to shield the locals and visiting candidates from the harsh winter conditions here. The governor took that stroll, but he left his tough talk to his TV ads.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I hope you get the nomination and make it all the way.

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm planning on doing it.

KING (voice-over): Call this is skywalk scrum, Mitt Romney courting votes and avoiding questions.

ROMNEY: I think we're going to get rid of the media and chat in a moment.

KING: It was a promise he repeated. ROMNEY: We will chat a little later.

KING: But ultimately did not keep.

ROMNEY: We have got to find the guys that are in charge here. Where's Matt?

KING: As the candidate and his wife, Ann, took their lunchtime stroll, aides insisted this was a photo-op only. And when pressed, Governor Romney would not discuss his new attack ad or the reaction of its target.

(on camera): Would you care respond to what Governor Huckabee said today?

ROMNEY: I haven't seen him yet.

KING (voice-over): It was an odd event for a candidate top aides promised would be much more aggressive in Iowa this week. It is just three weeks until Iowa votes. And, while some campaigns are in jovial moods, the value of Romney's big investment is in question, $20 million of his own money, yet the lead he built here this summer is suddenly gone.

ROMNEY: Get out and vote at the caucus now, all right?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: All right. Thank you.

KING: Trying to turn things around requires digging deeper, more TV ads, this the first direct attack ad of the 2008 campaign cycle.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, ROMNEY CAMPAIGN AD)

NARRATOR: The difference, Mitt Romney stood up and vetoed in- state tuition for illegal aliens, opposed driver's licenses for illegals. Mike Huckabee supported in-state tuition benefits for illegal immigrants. Huckabee even supported taxpayer-funded scholarships for illegal aliens.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: And glossy new mailings in Iowa and other early battleground states.

Huckabee is priority number one in this new Romney South Carolina mailing. "Supports de facto amnesty" is Romney's charge.

High school math teacher Mike Boyd isn't swayed by the new Romney attacks.

MIKE BOYD, HUCKABEE SUPPORTER: I do believe that immigration is a big, big issue.

KING: But this Huckabee volunteer in Iowa's conservative northwest corner acknowledges that with Huckabee's rise comes attention and more and more questions about the Arkansas record. BOYD: Some people are asking, well, about what his stance on this? I said, you know what? Go to the Web site. See what Web site has to say and get the facts there. We have been getting some flyers in the mail from other candidates, saying some things about Governor Huckabee that I believe are not true.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KING: As for Romney, his aides say that the governor decided that skywalk stroll today, Wolf, was not the right place to mount any fresh attacks on Governor Huckabee. But they do say those contrasts, as they call them, will come over the next several days, including at the big Republican debate here tomorrow.

They say the governor will spend the next few days here in Iowa highlighting what he believes are significant differences on illegal immigration, taxes, and spending -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, John, thanks very much.

Let's go to Dana Bash. She's also out in Des Moines.

What's the Huckabee campaign doing about these attacks coming in from Mitt Romney, Dana?

DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, on the substance of the ad, Wolf, Huckabee fully admits the fact that he did support college tuition breaks for children of illegal immigrants. And he still says, it is the right thing to do.

But, today, Wolf, Huckabee seemed a lot more interested in boasting about what this ad against him means about his rise in the polls.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BASH: You have a big endorsement.

MIKE HUCKABEE (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Yes, we do, actually.

BASH (voice-over): Mike Huckabee has one word for Mitt Romney and his new ad against him: desperate.

HUCKABEE: The more desperate and frantic campaigns get when they see how much money they have spent, and we're winning, I mean, that -- that causes people to -- to do some sometimes desperate things.

BASH: The come-from-behind GOP candidate insists, he's flattered.

HUCKABEE: I seem to be the recipient of the first negative attack ad in the Republican primary.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, ROMNEY CAMPAIGN AD)

NARRATOR: Two former governors... (END VIDEO CLIP)

BASH: Huckabee is trying to turn a negative ad into a positive event, insisting, it will remind voters he's trying to run an above- the-fray campaign. He warns, the ad will turn Iowans off to Romney, but carefully gets his own digs in, Huckabee style.

HUCKABEE: As the tattletale in the third grade, let met tell you what this guy's doing. We didn't like it when we were in the third grade. I don't think we like it electing it a president either.

BASH (on camera): Is Romney acting like a third-grader?

HUCKABEE: No, I didn't say that. I said what I said. I said, it is like -- I use a lot of metaphors. You should know that by now, Dana. You have covered me for a while.

BASH (voice-over): That Huckabee showed up here in treacherous weather, despite canceling other Iowa events, is a sign he knows he can fall as fast as he climbed.

Aides hastily arranged a news conference to tout the endorsement of Jim Gilchrist, founder of the Minutemen, a private group that patrols the border and tries to keep illegal immigrants out.

HUCKABEE: It is a real pleasure to have Jim with me today, because I think that there are some who want to move away from the fact that the federal government has completely and miserably failed in dealing with this issue.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BASH: Now, Huckabee tried to use this new support from an anti- illegal immigrant group to counterpunch Romney's ad. But, for all of his bravado, Wolf, Huckabee says that he understands how huge the immigration issue here -- is here in Iowa and around the country.

That's why, both on -- in TV ads of his own and on the stump, he's talking about his new plan to combat illegal immigration -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Dana, thanks very much, a nice little feud developing there between Romney and Huckabee.

Huckabee, by the way, says today he's willing to meet with a trailblazer in the fight against AIDS who wants him to explain his statement back in 1992 that patients with the virus should be isolated.

Jeanne White-Ginder is the mother of Ryan White. He's the Indiana teenager whose losing battle against AIDS back in the 1980s gave many Americans a new perspective on the disease.

Here's what Huckabee had to say about meeting with White Ginder.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HUCKABEE: I would be very, very willing to meet with them. And...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What would you tell them...

(CROSSTALK)

HUCKABEE: Well, I would tell them that we have come a long way in research and treatment. And I certainly never would want to say anything that would be hurtful to them or anybody else.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: In Iowa this weekend, Huckabee refused to retract his 1992 call -- quoting now -- "to isolate carriers of this plague." But he says he probably would not make that same statement today since, more is known about the spread of AIDS.

If anything can stop presidential candidates in their tracks, it's an ice storm. Just ahead, the new campaign issue in Iowa -- that would be the weather.

And Republican Fred Thompson gives something up. We're going to tell you about a campaign decision that speaks to his problems in the polls.

And, later, the power and the personality of Condoleezza Rice. I will speak with reporter Elisabeth Bumiller. We will talk about her new book that reveals a lot about the secretary of state and her relationship with President Bush.

Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Now something that may send a chill through most of the Republican presidential candidates, including the rising star right now, Mike Huckabee.

Our brand-new poll shows nearly all of the GOP hopefuls would lose, and lose decisively, to one the top Democratic contenders if the general election were held right now. And that's obviously a huge if.

Mary Snow is all over the story. She's watching this unfold.

The Republicans at the top of the Republican pack right now don't necessarily do that well in a hypothetical matchup, do they?

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They don't, Wolf.

And this poll is the first head-to-head matchup that includes Mike Huckabee. It shows he has some hurdles ahead.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SNOW (voice-over): Mike Huckabee has leapfrogged to the top of the list of Republican presidential hopefuls in recent polls. But, in a head-to-head match pitting the former Arkansas governor against his Democratic rivals, the numbers tell a different story.

A CNN/Opinion Research poll shows Huckabee would likely lose to Democratic presidential hopeful Senator Hillary Clinton by 10 percentage points, Senator Barack Obama by 15, and John Edwards by 25.

KEATING HOLLAND, CNN POLLING DIRECTOR: The thing that struck me the most was how poorly Huckabee is something and how well McCain is doing in general election matchups, despite the fact that Huckabee has far more support than McCain in the primary matchups among Republicans.

SNOW: The poll finds, Republican Senator John McCain would fare best against the leading Democratic contenders, and, on the Democratic's side, John Edwards would beat all four leading Republican candidates.

But does that mean they're the most electable? If so, why is Edwards running third in the polls behind his Democratic rivals and McCain placing fourth among his fellow Republican contenders?

Political observers say, it all points to the uncertainty of the race, especially on the Republican side, where voters have been looking for an alternative to the top-tier candidates.

STUART ROTHENBERG, EDITOR AND PUBLISHER, "THE ROTHENBERG POLITICAL REPORT": They looked around. They looked at Fred Thompson, and he didn't impress them. And now they're still looking. And, finally, they found Mike Huckabee. We will have to see whether they stay in love with him. But, for -- for the moment, polls suggest they're -- they're definitely smitten.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SNOW: Now, as to why Mike Huckabee isn't doing better in the polls against Democratic rivals, one potential reason is that he's still seen as largely being unknown to many Democrats and independents, even though he's been surging in the polls in recent weeks among Republicans -- Wolf.

BLITZER: That known factor is obviously a very important factor.

All right, thanks, Mary, thanks very much.

Mike Huckabee may be rapidly rising in the polls among Republicans, but the former Arkansas governor is going online to ask for help in keeping his campaign on the road in Iowa.

Let's bring in our Internet reporter, Abbi Tatton. She's watching the story for us.

All right, Abbi, tell us what happened.

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Well, this is the Huckabus. And, apparently, it needs fuel. The Huckabee campaign's pretty proud of their campaign vehicle. It appears in these Web videos that they put on YouTube. But, in a blog post and on a new Web site from the Huckabee campaign, the presidential hopeful is asking supporters to donate $100 tomorrow to keep this thing on the road and journeying around Iowa.

Well, there are plenty of presidential hopefuls who have their online fund-raising gimmicks, but this one reflects that reality that, while Huckabee is surging in the polls, his rivals' cash flow is quite daunting.

Look at Mitt Romney. He's loaned himself more than $17 million this campaign. The latest FEC figures that came out at the end of last quarter showed that he had more than $9 million cash on hand. Compare the to Mike Huckabee's $650,000.

At the Web site since those figures have come out, the Mike Huckabee campaign has been touting their online fund-raising this quarter. And this latest push is just part of that overall strategy to keep the Huckabus and therefore Huckabee still rolling -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, thanks very much. Fascinating material, the money race.

In our "Strategy Session" that is coming up: the give-and-take over illegal immigration in Iowa, Romney and Huckabee trading barbs. But what will the voters think of all the name-calling that's going on?

And Fred Thompson's giving New Hampshire the cold shoulder. But will focusing in on Iowa and South Carolina prove to be a brilliant move for his campaign?

That and a lot more -- right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: More now on a story we just reported, our new poll showing nearly all of the Republicans contenders losing to one of the top-tier Democrats in the race if the general election were held right now. There is one exception, though.

Let's talk about it in our "Strategy Session." Joining us, our CNN political analyst J.C. Watts and -- who is a former Republican congressman from Oklahoma -- and the Democratic strategist Peter Fenn.

Peter, let me start with you. And I will just put them up on the screen very quickly, these hypothetical matchups. Clinton decisively beats Huckabee. She decisively beats Romney. She decisively beats Giuliani. But look at this. When it comes to a McCain-Clinton matchup, he wins 50 percent to 48 percent.

Why does McCain beat the Democrats, at least Hillary Clinton, and the others in this hypothetical matchup, the other Republicans lose?

PETER FENN, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: I think this is fascinating, Wolf. What you have got is, you have got a situation where independents and some the Republicans are staying with McCain. He has the better profile nationally right now. He is not -- his negatives are not that high with -- with the general election voter. So, you see him doing a little bit better than...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Is he the greatest threat to a Democrat being in the White House, John McCain?

J.C. WATTS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, Wolf, it's usually conservatives that don't like John McCain's honesty and his transparency and his candor.

(LAUGHTER)

WATTS: You know, Democrats and independents kind of -- kind of -- or a lot of Democrats and a lot independents actually kind of like that.

I think John McCain is a guy -- you know, I have said that Mike Huckabee was the dark horse that continues to get lighter. John McCain, I think, is still the guy to keep an eye on, because I think, as Republicans kind of sort through this thing, I think, at the end the day, they may say, ah, we don't know who we are going with. Let's go back to McCain.

So, I think he's going to be an interesting candidate for the next month or so.

BLITZER: And he does have that name recognition, that perhaps Mike Huckabee, for example, doesn't have. Maybe Mitt Romney doesn't have it either. Rudy Giuliani, obviously, does have a lot of name recognition.

FENN: Well, and if these guys beat each other up, and he kind of comes up the side in New Hampshire, he's got -- a third of that New Hampshire voters are independent. If they go to -- to McCain, something could happen, could be a surprise.

WATTS: He's some base. He's got a good base in New Hampshire. He's got a good base in South Carolina, where he's not in the top two, but I think he's second or third in most polls down there. So, again, he's the guy -- he will do well in Michigan. So, he's the guy that could...

BLITZER: He won't do well in Iowa, though?

WATTS: Won't do well in Iowa.

FENN: No. He's not going to play in Iowa.

"The National Review" just came out with their endorsement, the conservative publication, endorsing Mitt Romney, among other reasons, saying this: "Unlike some other candidates in the race, Romney is a full-spectrum conservative, a supporter of free-market economics and limited government, moral causes, such as the right to life and the preservation of marriage, and a foreign policy based on the national interest."

FENN: Is that today, Wolf? Or was that yesterday?

I think the problem is that they're obviously accepting what he's saying right now. His difficulty is that he's been flip-flopping on these issues. But, look, here's a guy right now who I think is playing it right in Iowa. He may be the comeback kid in Iowa with this advertising. I don't know how Huckabee is going to -- if he's having trouble for getting gas for his bus, how is he going to put up ads to counter this immigration...

BLITZER: Because money obviously still talks.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: And Romney has a lot more than Huckabee.

FENN: Yes.

WATTS: No question. And money, obviously, is key in these races. And I think Mike -- I think Mike probably wins Iowa, Governor Huckabee.

I think Mike's challenge will be to take that message and that energy from state to state. You know, you probably don't have -- won't have the organization that other campaigns have that. That's going to be critical. But, again, I think he -- he knows what he's talking about. He's got a good message. He's got a lot of energy. He was conservative before it was cool to be conservative.

(CROSSTALK)

WATTS: So, I think that helps him.

BLITZER: He's being hammered by Romney now in these new ads on illegal immigration.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Romney really going directly at Huckabee.

FENN: And the upside of it for Huckabee is that, if he can withstand this, if he can win Iowa substantially, which he's ahead right now, he's a heck of a presence, and put some of this stuff behind him. He would be -- he would have a big engine going into New Hampshire and then South Carolina, where he's doing very well.

(CROSSTALK)

FENN: And where is Rudy? I mean, Rudy is not in this debate. And one of the cute things about this ad that Romney put out there is, at the very beginning, they talk about how they're pro-family and pro- life. WATTS: Right.

FENN: And what that is doing is also sticking it to Rudy.

BLITZER: What does it say that Fred Thompson, who came in months ago with great expectations, now suggesting he's not going to even play in New Hampshire anymore? He is going to focus in on Iowa. He can't -- he can't worry about New Hampshire right now. He's going to look at Iowa and then move onto South Carolina.

WATTS: I think it is strictly a strategic decision that they're making to say, we have got limited resources. We're struggling. We have got try to find our footing. We're going to write off New Hampshire. We will be in Iowa. We will go down to South Carolina, where they feel like they have some -- some traction down there.

But I -- I still think this is a campaign that seems to be trying to find itself.

FENN: I will tell you, if Fred Thompson comes back, I will shave my head, J.C.

(CROSSTALK)

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: We will leave it right there. That's a picture I am not sure we want to see.

FENN: Don't want to see.

(LAUGHTER)

WATTS: I don't want to see it.

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: Peter and J.C....

FENN: My wife won't want to see it either.

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: ... thanks very much for coming in.

Someone is trying to ruffle Bill Clinton. We are going to tell you what one heckler is doing, and, strangely, what that person is wearing.

Also, she's one of the most famous women in the world, but what does the world really know about Condoleezza Rice? There's a revealing new biography out that suggests her ties to President Bush don't always necessarily serve the nation's interests. We will speak about it with the author, Elisabeth Bumiller of "The New York Times."

And Halliburton mentioned amid some truly shocking claims. A woman who worked for the company says she was gang-raped by fellow contractors. And she makes some other stunning allegations.

Stick around -- lots more news coming up right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Checking our Political Ticker right now: Democrat Hillary Clinton is zeroing in on money matters out in California today, as polls show the economy is now the top campaign issue. Clinton is holding what her campaign calls a public conversation with the billionaire financier Warren Buffett.

Move over, Oprah. Another celebrity known by her first name may play a role in the presidential race. "The New York Daily News" reports Madonna stands ready to help Hillary Clinton fight the Oprah effect on Barack Obama's campaign.

And Bill Clinton has seen his share of hecklers, but this may be a first. While campaigning for his wife in Iowa last night, he was upstaged by a man dressed as a robot. Watch this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Bill Clinton, I want you to apologize to Sister Souljah. Robots of the world want you to apologize to Sister Souljah. We want...

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Remember, for the latest political news, including news about robots, you can check out our Political Ticker at CNN.com./ticker.

So much for listening to their mothers -- quite a few president candidates apparently refuse to eat some vegetables. The Associated Press asked White House hopefuls which foods they hate. Hillary Clintons says, she like almost every food except things that are still alive. John Edwards can't stand mushrooms. Bill Richardson feels the same way. Barack Obama says he always avoids eating beets.

There are plenty of Republican veggie haters. Mitt Romney steers clear of eggplant. Mike Huckabee has banned carrots from his diet. John McCain says he doesn't too well with some vegetables. Rudy Giuliani breaks from the pack. (r)MDNM¯He hates liver.

Let's go to Jack Cafferty. He's got "The Cafferty File" in New York -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: The question this hour, are they any circumstances under which water-boarding or enhanced interrogation techniques are justified?

Gerry in San Diego writes: "There's no circumstance when our country should engage in water-boarding or any other kind of torture. To do so changes us from being the shining example in the world to being a banana republic." Nick writes: "I'm sorry. Call me weak, a terrorist lover. Call me a bleeding heart. I don't care. I don't feel comfortable stooping to their level, ever. Two wrongs don't make a right. And just because our enemies don't respect human rights doesn't make it OK for us to do the same. Torture is never OK, even if there's a chance it could save my life. I would rather die proud of my country than live ashamed of it."

Jay in Minnesota writes: "Water-boarding is a useful and needed form of interrogation any, and, every time, it has the possibility of yielding information that will result in the saving of American lives."

Juan writes: "Torture is torture, no matter the name you give it, water-boarding or extreme techniques. In any case, it amounts to torture. And torture is never justified. At least it's not justified if we aspire to achieve civilization."

Cliff in Monroe, Connecticut writes: "I watched as both planes slammed into the Twin Towers on 9/11. If it stops an attack on us again, yes."

And Dave in New York writes: "Enhanced interrogation techniques would be justified in order to learn about what happened to millions of missing e-mails, CIA operative identity leak, WMDs, data-mining, destroyed videos. You get the idea" -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jack, thank you.

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

Happening now: the CIA director, Michael Hayden, called before Congress to answer questions about interrogation videotapes the agency destroyed. What is he telling lawmakers behind closed doors?

Also, al Qaeda now says it's behind a deadly bombing today believed to have killed dozens of people, including United Nations employees.

Plus, an inside look at one of the world's most influential and mysterious woman, the secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice -- her complex relationship with the president revealed in a brand-new biography.

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

The head of the CIA on Capitol Hill this afternoon facing what are no doubt pointed questions about those destroyed videotapes of harsh terror interrogations. That closed-door hearing comes as a former CIA officer speaks out about water-boarding. He says it probably saved lives.

TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.voxant.com