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CIA Under Criminal Investigation Over Interrogation Tapes; Closing the Sale in Iowa

Aired January 2, 2008 - 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: Happening now: the CIA under criminal investigation. Were laws broken when terror interrogation tapes were destroyed? I will speak live to the 9/11 Commission co-chairman Tom Kean. He has got some stinging words for the CIA.
Plus, an historic get-out-the-vote effort in Iowa. On the eve of the first presidential contest of 2008, top Democrats played to win and hedge their bets in case they don't. Plus, the Republicans racing to the finish line in Iowa as well, the Mitt Romney/Mike Huckabee showdown staying close and bitter to the end.

I'm Wolf Blitzer at the CNN Election Center in New York, and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

It will be the FBI vs. the CIA. The Justice Department today announcing a criminal investigation into the destruction of those CIA videotapes showing the interrogation of terror suspects. An outside prosecutor will oversee the case.

Let's go live to our homeland security correspondent, Jeanne Meserve. She's watching all of this unfold.

A significant development, Jeanne. There's doubt but the Justice Department right now under the new attorney general is not taking this lightly.

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: That is absolutely right.

The opening of a criminal investigation into the destruction of the tapes was an expected step, but as you mentioned it is nonetheless a serious one.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MESERVE (voice-over): The CIA says it will cooperate fully with the investigation into its destruction of tapes of harsh interrogations of al Qaeda suspects Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Rahim al- Nashiri.

In a statement, Attorney General Michael Mukasey said the opening of an investigation does not mean that criminal charges will necessarily follow.

And a former federal prosecutor agrees. MARK BIROS, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: This is a particularly difficult situation. Hard to tell whether anybody is going to be prosecuted or not.

MESERVE: The CIA is located in Northern Virginia. But the U.S. attorney there will not conduct the inquiry because officials say that office has handled other issues relating to detainees. And there is concern about the appearance of a conflict of interests.

A deputy U.S. attorney from Connecticut, John Durham, will conduct the probe instead. Meanwhile, Congress has launched it own investigation. Jose Rodriguez, the CIA official who ordered the destruction of the tapes, has been subpoenaed to appear two weeks from today before the House Intelligence Committee.

The agency's chief lawyer, John Rizzo, who was opposed to the destruction of the tapes, will appear voluntarily.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MESERVE: Meanwhile, the chairmen of the 9/11 Commission wrote a blistering editorial in "The New York Times" today accusing the CIA of obstructing their investigation by failing to mention the existence of the tapes, an accusation the CIA is flatly rejecting -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Jeanne, thank you.

And he says the CIA stonewalled the 9/11 Commission on those interrogation tapes. I will speaking live coming up with the commission co-chairman Thomas Kean. We will talk about that, serious allegations he is raising right now.

There is another big story we are following. In a little more than 24 hours, thousands of people in one state will make a decision that could change history. Candidates from both parties are stopping in more than a dozen Iowa cities right now in a race against time.

The caucuses tomorrow represent a crucial point in one of the most important presidential elections of our time and the race is very, very tight.

The best political team on television is standing by, but let's begin tonight with Jessica Yellin. She is covering the Democrats campaigning in Iowa -- Jessica.

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the Democratic candidates are aggressively lowering expectations for caucus night, but at the same time their campaigns are pulling out all the stops targeting key voters for the largest get-out-the-caucus this state has ever seen.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

YELLIN (voice-over): You hear it often as Barack Obama's events.

MONICA GREEN, IOWA VOTER: I have been a Republican my entire adult life, until now. And I am so proud to tell you that I will be changing my registration, so that I can stand for change and caucus for Barack Obama on January 3.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

YELLIN: Obama has been wooing independents and Republicans, promising to bring Americans together.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: There are all kinds of Republicans and independents outside of Washington who have also been disaffected, who have also felt disappointment in their government, who can also be part of a coalition for change.

YELLIN: It could be working, at least according to Tuesday's "Des Moines Register" poll, which shows an unprecedented number of independents and Republicans plan to caucus with Democrats, most for Obama.

But the other campaigns are betting the Obama enthusiasm is a Howard Dean-like phenomenon, lots of hype, low turnout. And their get-out-the-vote efforts are at full throttle. Senator Clinton rallied campaign workers who will go door to door offering rides and child care to help Iowans get to the caucuses.

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You are venturing out into the cold today.

YELLIN: She is appealing directly to older and female voters.

CLINTON: Put on your coats, warm up the car, call your friends, pick up a buddy, come out to caucus tomorrow night and together we will make history.

YELLIN: Operating with far less money than the others, John Edwards pulled a 36-hour barnstorming tour of the state.

JOHN EDWARDS (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You know, we have important work still left to do.

YELLIN: He is counting on a strong base of Democrats who reliably caucus come sleet or snow to show up with him in numbers.

EDWARDS: Stay with us during the day on Thursday. Get your friends and family and everybody else to the caucuses with you on Thursday night.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

YELLIN: And, Wolf, one other note. Some of Senator Barack Obama's efforts to reach independents and Republicans seems to have alienated certain Democrats. Some left-wing bloggers are going after him, claiming that he has turned his back on the liberal base -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jessica Yellin, thank you.

Let's get to the Republicans' final sales pitch in Iowa. In these closing hours, the Mitt Romney/Mike Huckabee showdown is center stage.

Dana Bash is covering the Republicans out on the campaign trail in Iowa -- Iowa right now.

What are you hearing from the top candidates today, Dana?

DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, we are hearing them search for those -- every last vote.

About 100,000 Republican voters, actually fewer than that, caucused last time around. So, that cliche every vote really does matter. And so what we saw from the top contenders and their campaigns, they were furiously looking for every one.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BASH (voice-over): Come-from-behind candidate Mike Huckabee is trying to rally Republicans to caucus like he is leading a revolution.

MIKE HUCKABEE (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If we win, it will be the most unbelievable political story in decades. You will tell your kids and grandkids, I helped make political history.

BASH: Reminding Christian conservative voters why they like him, consistency, authenticity on their issues.

HUCKABEE: When I tell you that I'm going to fight for human life, it is not something that a pollster just told me last week that I need to say.

BASH: Millionaire businessman Mitt Romney wants to close the deal with leadership.

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I have run things. I have built teams. I have been able to make differences, not just talk about differences.

BASH: And an uplifting litany of promises.

ROMNEY: I want to strengthen America. I want to strengthen our homes and our families with good health care, with great schools and great values. I want to strengthen our economy, so our kids will have great jobs and will be able to have the kind of prosperous life that we have enjoyed in this nation for so many years.

BASH: But the urgent battle now is not on the stump. It's out on the streets...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm Matt with the Mitt Romney campaign. How you doing?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hi. Good.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Good. I'm just here to remind you about the caucuses.

BASH: ... and back at headquarters on the phone.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you know of anyone you can bring with you, friends or family?

ROMNEY: We had people out knocking on doors in bitter cold weather. There were over 12,000 calls made yesterday from my headquarters.

BASH: The great unknown, will Romney's well-funded establishment operation with voter lists and databases win the day or will it be Huckabee's less organized last-minute sign-ups in the back of the room?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you going to call them and remind them to come and show up?

BASH: And passion from churchgoers, homeschoolers and first-time caucus-goers.

HUCKABEE: Load up your car, your van. Rent a van, a big bus, whatever it takes. Get out there and caucus and take friends and relatives and people from work and neighbors.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BASH: But both contenders for the top spot here on the Republican side, they are already looking beyond this state.

Mike Huckabee is right now headed to California looking for maximum national exposure on "The Tonight Show." He will be on that tonight.

Meanwhile, Wolf, Mitt Romney, he spent a lot of time today criticizing somebody who is not his chief rival in this state, John McCain. John McCain of course is really giving him a run for his money quite literally in his next battle. That of course is New Hampshire -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Dana, thank you.

Jack Cafferty is back and he's got "The Cafferty File" here in New York.

Welcome back.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Leno has been off the air for how long and his first night back, their idea of a big bang-up guest is Mike Huckabee? Come on.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: You got to get who you can get.

CAFFERTY: They need to settle with the writers.

(LAUGHTER) CAFFERTY: New year, got new rules, more laws, 31 states out with new laws going into effect this year, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

One of the most common changes, 14 states have raised the minimum wage. Some of other laws include mortgage crisis means that lenders in Colorado have to better evaluate borrowers and delinquent borrowers get more months to get caught up.

Illinois mandating energy-efficient light bulbs in buildings larger than 1,000 square feet.

Connecticut is expanding tax breaks for fuel-efficient cars, Arizona stripping licenses from businesses that knowingly hire illegal aliens. That's a good idea. They ought to take out "knowingly" from the wording of that law.

California making it illegal to smoke in a car that has a kid inside. That's a good idea.

Washington State is banning text messaging while driving. Duh.

And here in New York, there is a new airline passenger bill of rights, where it supposedly means you can't sit on a plane trapped on the tarmac for more than three hours without getting food, water, air, and clean restrooms.

So, the question is this: What new law would you enact in your state?

Give us your creative best, CNN.com/Caffertyfile. And you can post it on my blog, if you want.

BLITZER: There will be a lot of good ideas coming in, Jack.

CAFFERTY: We do this every year and we get some funny stuff.

BLITZER: All right. We will see.

Thanks very much, Jack Cafferty. Always good to have him back here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

We're going to have more on this major announcement that came in today from the United States attorney general. The CIA is now under criminal investigation. The former 9/11 Commission co-chairman Tom Kean, he is standing by to join us live. He has got some stinging words for America's top spy agency.

Also, those Iowans may hold the key to tomorrow's caucuses. We are going to take a look at who they are, the independents, what are they thinking.

Plus, new fury in the streets after today's decision by Pakistan's president. This could have some serious international implications, including an impact on the U.S. presidential race. We are watching what is happening in Pakistan. Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Let's get back to our top story: the Justice Department formally opening up a criminal investigation into the CIA's destruction of those videotapes showing the harsh interrogation of al Qaeda suspects.

The heads of the 9/11 Commission have some very harsh criticism for the CIA, writing in today's "The New York Times" that the agency stonewalled -- stonewalled -- them.

Thomas Kean is the co-chairman of the 9/11 panel. He is joining us now live, the former governor from New Jersey.

Governor, thanks very much for coming in.

What is your reaction to the attorney general's decision to formally launch a criminal probe?

THOMAS KEAN, FORMER CO-CHAIRMAN, 9/11 COMMISSION: Well, I commend the attorney general. This is a very serious matter. And I think the attorney general is doing absolutely the right thing.

BLITZER: You and Lee Hamilton wrote in "The New York Times" today you have no doubt that there was obstruction on the part of the CIA in preventing you and your panel, the 9/11 Commission, appointed by the president, approved by the Congress, from going forward with this investigation.

Obstruction is a very serious word, because it certainly leads to the possibility of obstruction of justice, which is a crime.

KEAN: Well, that's right.

But we are not making any judgment on the legal side of this. What we are saying this is, we had a mandate to get the facts. We asked for everything having to do with the detainees. The CIA obviously withheld information from us that they had. And that, as I say, is a very serious matter. Whether it is criminal or not is up to the Justice Department.

BLITZER: And that is what that criminal investigation is now going to do.

Did they lie? Did elements at the CIA lie to you and your fellow commissioners?

KEAN: Well, they certainly didn't give us information we requested.

And, again, the CIA is -- they are a part of our federal government. They are not a rogue agency. They are supposed to be responsive to both a commission like ours and, for that matter, to the United States Congress. And they have not been. BLITZER: Because you write in the article today with Lee Hamilton that you repeatedly met with the then CIA Director George Tenet and went through all of these things. Is it possible that you were not precise enough in questioning the CIA, saying, are there specific videotapes of interrogations? You never formally asked the question that precisely, did you?

KEAN: Well, look, we asked for every single thing they had having to do with the detainees. And not only that, but I sat in the meeting with the director of the CIA and Lee Hamilton and myself.

And I heard Lee Hamilton says this. He said: Look, even if we haven't asked for something, give it to us if it has to do with the detainees.

And that is on record. We went back and looked at our files. And the evidence is incontrovertible. We asked for everything they had, and they didn't give us everything.

BLITZER: And I know you specifically asked to be able to question Abu Zubaydah, one of the two al Qaeda suspects whose interrogation was, in fact, videotaped by the CIA. But Tenet said, no way.

What was his explanation, what was his argument that you and your fellow commissioners could not question Abu Zubaydah?

KEAN: He said the questioning of Abu Zubaydah and a couple of the other detainees was so sensitive and being done in such a sensitive manner that any interruption by any new questioners, such as a member of our staff, might lead to the fact of our not getting information that might save American lives.

And, so, we ended up compromising and saying, look, we will submit the questions. You ask them. But we had no idea they had tape. If they had had tape, then, obviously, we had a right to see that tape.

BLITZER: The CIA -- current CIA director, Mike Hayden, in explaining to CIA employees on December 6 why those videotapes were destroyed, he wrote this. He said, "Were they ever to leak, they would permit identification of your CIA colleagues who had served in the program, exposing them and their families to retaliation from al Qaeda and its sympathizers."

Is that a good excuse?

KEAN: Well, I won't judge that as a reason.

But, you know, things shouldn't leak when they are presented to the 9/11 Commission. We were given the most secret things in possession of the United States government. Not a single thing leaked during our investigation, not one single thing.

BLITZER: So, you are happy this criminal investigation is under way right now, and you have confidence that the process, the naming of this special prosecutor, if you will, is going to go forward in a real serious, proper manner?

KEAN: Yes.

And I think it is very important for the future workings of the CIA and the United States government that it does so.

BLITZER: A critical moment for the CIA right now.

The former governor of New Jersey, Tom Kean, the 9/11 Commission co-chairman, thanks very much for coming in.

KEAN: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Two American soldiers found dead in a hotel room in the African nation of Ghana. Now investigators have a theory about what happened.

Also, there are new developments in the investigation into the shooting death of an American diplomat in Sudan on New Year's Eve.

Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWS BREAK)

BLITZER: The president of Pakistan is taking new steps to try to ease unrest after Benazir Bhutto's assassination. Just ahead, Pervez Musharraf's appeal. Zain Verjee is on the ground for us in Pakistan. We will go there.

Plus, the new criminal investigation into those destroyed CIA tapes, does it pack a punch as we kick off this heated election year? The best political team on television is standing by.

And when Iowans go to the caucuses tomorrow, one group of voters could make a huge difference.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Happening now: Oil hit a record-high price today, $100 a barrel, on concerns about supplies and economic factors. The price settled at $99.62. Still, the cost of crude up 60 percent in the year 2007.

Also, a watchdog group is warning that the U.S. may be helping the Chinese military modernize. It says the Commerce Department's new looser export rules are letting U.S. companies sell technology to companies with ties to the China armed forces.

And police in San Francisco are now looking into whether those two brothers who survived that deadly tiger attack at the San Francisco Zoo may have actually provoked the attack -- all of this coming up, plus the best political team on television. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You are in THE SITUATION ROOM.

His government is facing violence and sharp criticism following the assassination of Benazir Bhutto. Now Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf publicly says his rival was -- quote -- "martyred by terrorists" and he's letting Britain's legendary Scotland Yard come in to investigate.

Meantime, parliamentary elections are being pushed back for what authorities hope will be a cooling-off period.

CNN's Zain Verjee is in Islamabad -- Zain.

ZAIN VERJEE, CNN STATE DEPARTMENT CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, two major decisions here in Pakistan by President Pervez Musharraf, but a lot of people that we have spoken to say they are still really skeptical.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

VERJEE (voice-over): President Pervez Musharraf makes the case on prime-time TV for delaying elections until February 18.

PERVEZ MUSHARRAF, PAKISTANI PRESIDENT (through translator): Election commissions' officers across the country were ransacked and equipment they put in their offices were destroyed. So, election commission is facing so much difficulties in holding elections.

VERJEE: And a dramatic turnabout -- he now says Pakistan will turn to outside help, British police, to help investigate Benazir Bhutto's assassination.

MUSHARRAF (through translator): With the grace of God, this team will immediately be coming to Pakistan and will be helping in our investigations.

VERJEE: At Mashala (ph) restaurant in Rawalpindi, most turned President Musharraf out. Some that did listen said the government's change of heart was for self-preservation.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE) their own safety. Therefore, they call the Scotland Yard.

VERJEE: Many here were angry at Musharraf's declaration. The troops will crack down on any violent protests ahead of elections.

This man says Pakistan must brace itself because there will definitely be protests by opposition parties.

Out in the market, not far from where Bhutto was killed, some Pakistanis tell us they are fed up with Musharraf's rule and the spike in suicide attacks by Islamic extremists, like Gulam Hussein (ph), who runs this barbershop. He says he has lost faith in Musharraf and daily life would be better if Bhutto had been in power.

This woman tells me she never voted for Bhutto but now, after her death she and other women like her will vote for her party. (on camera): We've been spending some time here, in the heart of Bara Bazaar in Rawalpindi. What people here are telling us is that they care less about politics and much more about bread and butter.

(voice-over): Kuram Shazad (ph) runs a fabric store and says Musharraf has been bad for business. He complains that for him, the cost of living has tripled.

After Bhutto's assassination, her supporters say they have lost interest in the elections. They gather at a temporary memorial at the spot where she died -- pensive and emotional. Her assassination has left a huge void in Pakistani politics and a people despondent about their country's future.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

VERJEE: President Musharraf also says that he is committed, like Bhutto, to fighting terrorism. He also added in his address today that the elections will be free fair and peaceful -- Wolf.

BLITZER: The Justice Department -- thank you very much, Zain.

The Justice Department today announcing a criminal investigation into the destruction of those CIA videotapes. And the attorney general, Michael Mukasey, is naming an outside prosecutor to oversee the case.

Let's talk about that and more with our senior legal analyst, Jeff Toobin.

CNN's Jack Cafferty -- he's back. His best-selling book is called "It's Getting Ugly Out There".

And our senior political analyst, Gloria Borger.

They are all part of the best political team on television.

What do you think about this?

The FBI in effect is now going to be investigating the CIA?

CAFFERTY: The problem with me is that the Justice Department, after the reign of that little dweeb, Alberto Gonzales, has no credibility at all. Mukasey might be a great guy. But no investigation in the seven years that Bush has been office has gone anywhere except for the Prosecutor Fitzgerald, who got "Scooter" Libby on a perjury and obstruction charge. And, of course, "the decider" raced in to commute the sentence.

So I'm not going to hold my breath. I would like to find out what the White House knew about this. Harriet Miers said don't do anything to the tapes. A federal judge said don't do anything to the tapes. Tom Kean and Lee Hamilton said even if we didn't ask you for the information about the detainees, give us everything you've got. Something stinks here.

GLORIA BORGER, SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: But they're going to answer your questions.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: I mean, that's right.

I mean what are you complaining about?

BORGER: That's exactly what the investigation is about.

CAFFERTY: How do you know they're going to answer my questions?

(CROSSTALK)

TOOBIN: Well, this is a very responsible prosecutor. He has a terrific record. He's not politically answerable...

CAFFERTY: Is he like those other prosecutors that got fired...

TOOBIN: Well, but Patrick...

CAFFERTY: ...a few months ago.

TOOBIN: Well, but Pat Fitzgerald went ahead with his investigation and prosecuted one of the top aides to the president of the United States. I mean you can't accuse him of not being independent.

BORGER: Right.

TOOBIN: Sure, his sentence was commuted, but I mean it was a pretty serious investigation.

BORGER: And I think you have to give the attorney general credit, because I'm sure there was a lot of pressure on him not to do this and he did. And he decided that he needed to get to the bottom of it, because there were serious questions. I mean you have Tom...

CAFFERTY: Why are they both ganging up on me?

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: (INAUDIBLE) Jack.

(CROSSTALK)

TOOBIN: You're better in person.

(CROSSTALK)

BORGER: Oh, it's so much more fun.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Governor Kean, the co-chairman, Republican Lee Hamilton, the other co-chairman, a Democrat, they wrote in the "New York Times": "Government officials decided not to inform a lawfully constituted body created by Congress and the president to investigate one of the greatest tragedies to confront this country. We call that obstruction."

Now, obstruction is a pretty technical but specific word.

TOOBIN: It's a federal crime, obstruction of justice. And that clearly is going to be the agenda of Paul Durham, the Connecticut prosecutor who is going to be running this thing, to determine whether -- particularly the CIA people who did not acknowledge the existence of these tapes in these investigations and then destroyed them -- whether that was a crime.

BLITZER: You know, this...

CAFFERTY: And let me just ask Jeff.

BLITZER: Yes.

CAFFERTY: You're a lawyer.

How much executive privilege can the White House hide behind in one of these deals?

TOOBIN: This is going to be a brutally difficult investigation because not only are there issues of privilege, but everything is highly classified. So for him to get access to the material he needs to investigate is going to be a nightmare. And it will certainly take up the rest of President Bush's (INAUDIBLE) term.

BLITZER: And, politically, there could be some -- if there's a full scale investigation over the next year -- and this could take that -- this could take at least a year -- that could certainly spill over into the political process.

BORGER: I mean this is just another problem that the White House didn't want to have, that the CIA didn't want to have. I mean, Wolf, this is an agency that's -- it's torn apart right now and this investigation is going to tear it apart even more.

CAFFERTY: They did it to themselves.

BORGER: Well, they may, have but they're torn.

CAFFERTY: Well, I mean I would...

BORGER: And I -- you know, I think this is going to be very difficult for George Bush. These are the kinds of questions he doesn't want asked -- questions of cover-up, right, again.

CAFFERTY: In the Bush White House?

BORGER: Tapes destroyed.

(LAUGHTER)

BORGER: Those are not good.

BLITZER: He's got his own agenda. He's got a year to go. But you don't think he's a lame duck yet?

CAFFERTY: I think he's lame. I don't know about the duck part.

TOOBIN: Well, and I think this is another illustration of why it's going to be so hard for him to get anything done in this next year.

BLITZER: This could further complicate his agenda.

TOOBIN: Yes.

BLITZER: All right, guys, stand by. We're going to continue our discussion and move on to politics.

Iowa's Independents -- they could change a lot tomorrow at the caucuses. We're going to look at this real wild card in the first contest for the race for the White House.

Plus, a new jab at Mike Huckabee's celebrity supporter, Chuck Norris. We'll show you what Mitt Romney is now saying about him.

Stay with us.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Independent voters could change a lot in tomorrow's Iowa caucuses.

We're back with our senior analyst, Jeff Toobin, Jack Cafferty, our senior political analyst, Gloria Borger.

They are all part of the best political team on television.

BLITZER: Independents, you know, they have an independent streak and they could influence what happens in the Iowa caucuses tomorrow.

CAFFERTY: Well, you know, it may have been fortuitous of Barack Obama to hang his campaign on that word change. Look at all the polls that have been done for the last four or five years. Seventy percent of the people think the country is going in the wrong direction. The Congress has an 18 percent approval rating. Bush has a 30 percent approval rating -- something in that area.

People are sick and tired of status quo in Washington. And maybe it's beginning to show up at the grassroots level, where Independents are saying you know what, if he's promising change, I'm with him.

I don't know if it's going to go that way, but it makes some sense.

BLITZER: What do you think, Gloria?

BORGER: Well, what's interesting about this recent "Des Moines Register" poll is that it measured 40 percent of likely Democratic voters who say we're Independent voters. That would be double the number of Independents who voted in the last presidential caucuses. And if those folks turn out, this is going be huge for Barack Obama, because he appeals to Independent voters. Hillary Clinton does not appeal to Independent voters.

But you're actually asking voters to go to a caucus and reregister and sign up as a Democrat. And that's -- that's a big logistical problem.

BLITZER: But he appeals also to Independent first time caucus goers, if you will.

TOOBIN: He does. They are the shakiest attendees, especially given the college students. Many of them will be on Christmas break still tomorrow.

But one thing he has very much going for him, not only in Iowa but also in New Hampshire, is that the rules invite Independents to vote in either partisan primary. That's not true in every state. But in Iowa and New Hampshire, you can declare yourself...

BLITZER: That day.

TOOBIN: That day.

BORGER: Yes.

TOOBIN: So, I mean that was the secret to John McCain's success in 2000 in New Hampshire. And, clearly, Obama is planning on doing the same thing.

BLITZER: You know, I suspect, Jack -- and you and I have spoken about Ron Paul. He's got passionate supporters out there.

CAFFERTY: Yes.

BLITZER: He's got millions and millions of dollars -- maybe not in Iowa so much, but in New Hampshire. All of us pundits, all of us experts and the pollsters could be surprised that he -- he will do relatively well.

CAFFERTY: I think he probably will. And I think regardless of who wins, the makeup of the electorate tomorrow, with those caucuses, is going to give us a pretty good idea of just how dissatisfied people are, just how willing they are to throw caution to the wind, change party affiliations, go out in five degree above zero whether and express that dissatisfaction.

I think Ron Paul is going to do well. I think Obama is probably going to do well. The weather is going to be clear, the temperature not too cold -- 20, 25, which is almost balmy in Iowa.

BLITZER: It is, relatively speaking.

BORGER: You know, Wolf, the thing to look at is that traditionally, the Iowa caucuses attract the older, more partisan voters. And if we see in the turnout tomorrow night, if we see that there are younger voters and there are more independent voters, you are going to see that change. And you'll probably see a larger number of Independents in New Hampshire, as Jeff was talking about.

TOOBIN: Well, and...

BORGER: (INAUDIBLE).

TOOBIN: ...and Ron Paul is already, in some polls, polling ahead of Rudy Giuliani, which is a pretty remarkable thing considering Giuliani, a couple of months ago, was the national frontrunner by a substantial margin. Now, what some people regard as a fringe candidate is ahead of Giuliani in Iowa. And if he does well tomorrow, maybe he will continue on.

BLITZER: You know, some of the polling experts I've spoken to say that the polls may not necessarily show Ron Paul's significant support out there, because a lot of his supporters are young...

CAFFERTY: Sure.

BLITZER: ...20-year-olds, 30-year-olds. They don't have hard line home phones. They just have cell phones.

TOOBIN: Oh, you know what they do have?

They have e-mail...

BORGER: Yes.

TOOBIN: Because I said something bad about him when we covered one of these debates and I was inundated...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: All of us have been. But you know what...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: You know what, when pollsters call and try to gauge with support, they're calling homes...

TOOBIN: Sure.

BORGER: Sure.

BLITZER: ...people who have regular old-fashioned phones that are connected to a wire.

TOOBIN: Right. Right.

(CROSSTALK)

CAFFERTY: ...too far on what we might see tomorrow. I think if Ron Paul and Barack Obama do well and if the people who support them are younger, the Independents you're talking about, we're going to get a sense of whether or not the population in general has a belly full of business as usual in Washington.

I think we're going to learn a lot of just how deep dissatisfaction might go.

BORGER: But you could also say that Mike Huckabee is running as an anti-Washington, populist candidate.

CAFFERTY: Yes, but he's...

BORGER: Mitt Romney really is the...

CAFFERTY: He's an Evangelical...

BORGER: ...sort of establishment Republican.

CAFFERTY: ...conservative.

BORGER: Yes, but he's sort of out of the realm of Washington. He runs against Washington. Yes, he is an Evangelical Christian. But...

CAFFERTY: And I don't think he'll do as well, for example, in New Hampshire as he stands to do in Iowa...

BORGER: No. Absolutely. Absolutely not.

CAFFERTY: ...because there are more Evangelicals in Iowa.

BORGER: Absolutely not. But he is kind of an outsider candidate.

BLITZER: You know, and it's also fascinating tomorrow night, because people -- in a regular primary, in a regular election, they have their first choice, they go in and vote. But tomorrow night, the second choice of a lot of these Democrats is going to be critical to shaping the final outcome.

TOOBIN: I mean this is the weirdest electoral process in the United States.

(LAUGHTER)

TOOBIN: I mean the Democratic Iowa caucuses is just extra -- are an extraordinary thing. And as you point out, there is a two stage process of -- at every caucus. Everybody who doesn't reach the threshold of 15 percent, those voters have to go somewhere else.

And so the question is, of the so-called major candidates, who will be the popular second choice?

The conventional wisdom is that Hillary Clinton will not be the second choice.

CAFFERTY: Kucinich said he's already...

(CROSSTALK) CAFFERTY: ...he doesn't expect to get the 15 percent.

BORGER: No.

CAFFERTY: He wants his people to vote for Obama.

BLITZER: Yes. The last time he said for Edwards.

CAFFERTY: Yes.

BLITZER: He changed his mind.

CAFFERTY: And Edwards did well.

BLITZER: Yes. He certainly did.

All right, guys, thanks very much.

We've got...

CAFFERTY: Are we done?

BLITZER: You're not done.

CAFFERTY: We don't even get any (INAUDIBLE)...

BLITZER: They're not done. We have a lot more coming up. We have a special coming up at 8:00 p.m. Eastern, guys, so don't go in anywhere.

Let's check in with Lou to see what's coming up right at the top of the hour -- Lou.

LOU DOBBS, HOST, "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT": Your panel is getting a little unruly there, Wolf.

BLITZER: I know.

DOBBS: Keep them under control.

BLITZER: They're good. They're good.

DOBBS: Wolf, thanks.

Coming up at 7:00 p.m. Eastern, we'll have complete coverage tonight on the countdown to the Iowa caucuses. We're also reporting on an issue nearly all the presidential candidates are trying to ignore -- communist China's aggressive military buildup and Beijing's blatant effort to steal American technology. They're succeeding in both. We'll have that report.

And tonight, new evidence of the bleak future of our manufacturing industry, working men and women and their families facing an even bleaker future. We'll have that special report and tell you what the candidates are saying they'll do about it. And Senator Hillary Clinton apparently accusing me of being full of hot air on the issue of illegal immigration. Oh, Senator Clinton, you really shouldn't have. I'll have a few thoughts. We'll find out whether Senator Clinton's campaign has completely lost its way.

Carl Bernstein, author of "A Woman In Charge," among our guests here tonight -- three of the country's best political analysts and strategists join us.

All of that, all the day's news and a lot more, coming up at the top of the hour.

Please join us -- Wolf, back to you.

BLITZER: Lou, good to have you back. Thanks very much.

A senior Congressional leader is now stepping down with very sad news about his health. We're going to have details of the announcement that caught all of us off guard.

Plus, the filmmaker, Michael Moore, is blasting Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. We'll tell you why.

Stick around.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Checking our Political Ticker, Congressman Tom Lantos says he will not seek re-election this year because he has cancer of the esophagus. The California Democrat is the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. In a statement released by his office, he says he was diagnosed with cancer through a routine medical test. Lantos is 79. He's serving his fourteenth term in the House. We wish him only the best.

The man behind the film "Sicko" is taking direct aim at Hillary Clinton on this day before the Iowa caucuses. On his Web site, Michael Moore is blasting Clinton's vote to authorize the war in Iraq, writing: "Do you want a president who is so easily misled?"

The documentary filmmaker did not endorse any candidate, but he praised several of the other Democrats and especially -- he had some especially kind words for John Edwards' pitch against big corporations.

A new jab today at Mike Huckabee's celebrity supporter, the actor and martial arts star, Chuck Norris. In a new Web video called "Roundhouse Kick," Mitt Romney's campaign is poking fun at Huckabee and Norris, an announcer saying: "Two good men, both into fitness, both love Chuck Norris."

Norris responded by saying: "I don't roundhouse kick, I choke."

Then Norris added that he hates negative campaigning. Look for Hillary Clinton to make a cameo appearance on "The Late Show With David Letterman" tonight. We're told she takes a few lines from the top of the show from Cedar Rapids earlier in the day. Clinton may be trying to go toe to toe with the Republican, Mike Huckabee, who appears on "The Tonight Show With Jay Leno" later tonight.

Letterman and Leno both are returning to late night TV talk for the first time since the writers' strike.

Remember, for the latest political news any time, check out CNNPolitics.com.

And if you caucus, by the way, in Iowa tomorrow, we want to know what it's like. Bring us -- bring your camera, send us your photos, your videos from inside. We'll air some of the best I-Reports during our coverage tomorrow. Details CNNPolitics.com.

And, also, one final programming note. Please be sure to join us here tomorrow night at the CNN Election Center for complete coverage of the caucuses. The best political team on television takes you inside this important contest, with up to the minute results and analysis. Our special coverage begins tomorrow night 8:00 p.m. Eastern.

Jack Cafferty is here in New York for The Cafferty File.

CAFFERTY: A lot of new laws go into effect January 1st all across the country.

The question we asked is what new law would you enact in your state?

Steve writes: "I'd ban smoking for all public employees. Double the fine if that employee was in uniform -- cops, firemen, etc. They are role models for our children."

Jody in West Virginia: "I'd want my state and the entire United States to make English the official language. In my state, I would like all the illegal aliens rounded up. I know where they all are. Why doesn't the government?"

Mary in Illinois: "I think talking on a cell phone while driving should be illegal."

It is in a lot of places, Mary. I'm not going to read that one.

Nancy in Arizona: "We need a law that requires builders of homes more than 2,000 square feet in all commercial buildings" -- this is a good idea -- "to put solar panels on the roof. We have lots of sunshine. We should make use of it."

Jay writes in Irvine, California: "I would enact a bad driver lane. There would be a special lane designated for people with bad driving skills. That way they could all see what the heck the rest of us are talking about."

I'm not going to read that one either.

Shirley in Delray Beach, Florida: "I live in Florida. Maybe a law making it mandatory to count all the votes in elections -- both parties."

And Derek in Wisconsin: "Wisconsin should have a law that prevents politicians from recording messages and then calling me at dinnertime to play them back."

BLITZER: What do you think about this $100 a barrel for oil?

CAFFERTY: It's a number. You know, it's like saying Dow 10,000. It'll go above, it'll come below. The trend in energy prices is up. Part of the price appreciation in oil over the last couple of years is because it's traded like other commodities -- gold and things like that -- on the commodities exchanges. So the speculators push the price up and drive it down based on news events.

It's not good, but there's -- until we figure out what to do about things like solar panels on commercial buildings, there's not much we can do about it.

BLITZER: That's why I asked.

CAFFERTY: Yes.

BLITZER: All right, Jack, we'll see you back here tomorrow.

Thanks very much.

Jeanne Moos is keeping a close eye on the presidential campaign. Now she's got the story behind the story -- literally.

That's next right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Here's a look at some of the Hot Shots coming in from our friends over at the Associated Press -- pictures likely to be in your newspapers tomorrow.

In Switzerland, a snowboarder performs a jump during a practice run.

In Iraq, a man lifts his shirt as he approaches U.S. Army soldiers on foot patrol, showing he's unarmed.

In Baghdad, Iraqi Kurds gather to pray for rain. Rainfall has been lower than normal this year, but their prayers were answered with a sprinkling of rain earlier in the day.

And in Switzerland, forest ghosts parade through town to chase away the winter.

Some of this hour's Hot Shots -- pictures often worth a thousand words. Political candidates are notorious for trying to orchestrate everything that takes place at their campaign events -- except, that is, what's going on right behind their backs.

CNN's Jeanne Moos takes us into a Moost Unusual look behind the candidates.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A lot goes on behind a candidate's back -- and not all of it is good.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: For some, politics is a yawn.

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We know we can do better because we did better.

MOOS: They yawn when they're young. They yawn when they're old.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: There was a young kid standing on a street corner.

MOOS: Sometimes, they manage to squeeze in a yawn...

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: And then I spent three years out running the Olympic Games.

MOOS: ...just in the nick of time, avoiding detection. And sometimes they graduate from yawning to sleeping.

CLINTON: And, at the end of the day.

MOOS: It seems to be the end of this little girl's day.

It's easy to find your eye wandering to the human backdrop -- drawn to oddball sights like the guy in the twitching cowboy hat.

CLINTON: Forty-seven million uninsured Americans. Millions more...

MOOS: Did we just imagine that?

CLINTON: Make the changes that we know we can make together.

It's normal for supporters to serve as strategically placed props, though wearing your sign on your head defeats the purpose.

OBAMA: Thank you.

MOOS: Even if it shades your eyes from the bright lights.

Who could forget perhaps the most riveting background distraction ever -- the kid Letterman made famous for upstaging the leader of the free world.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM "THE LATE SHOW WITH DAVID LETTERMAN," COURTESY WORLDWIDE PANTS INC.)

GEORGE BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: (INAUDIBLE) is with us today.

(LAUGHTER)

BUSH: If you're worried about the quality (INAUDIBLE)...

(LAUGHTER).

BUSH: We stand for the fair treatment of faith-based groups.

(LAUGHTER)

BUSH: ...they will receive federal support for...

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MOOS: A close second to that kid was Rudy Giuliani's son. As Rudy was being sworn in as New York's mayor, son Andrew blew kisses...

RUDY GIULIANI (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: To our city...

MOOS: ...and joined in the oath.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I, Rudolph William Giuliani...

MOOS: Sometimes what happens behind their backs does capture the candidate's attention -- for instance, when someone fell behind Barack Obama Wednesday

OBAMA: And also to challenge ourselves -- woops.

Everybody OK?

OK.

MOOS: Then there was the guy who seemed to tune out Mitt Romney by putting in his earphones and zoning out.

And you know how you can get really absorbed in a book?

OBAMA: And save for our own retirement at the same time.

MOOS: It looked like it might have been a Harry Potter book to us. It definitely wasn't Obama's "Audacity of Hope".

OBAMA: Just like Michelle remembers her dad, who had multiple sclerosis.

MOOS: This wasn't just a page turner, it was a sleeve chewer.

Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

BLITZER: Thanks, Jeanne.

And now you can take the best political team with you any time, anywhere. You can download the best political politics at CNN.politics.com.

Stay right here, also, for complete coverage of the Iowa caucuses. And that will begin in one hour. Tonight, we're going to have a special report. We're going to set the stage for tomorrow's big event. Where the presidential race may go from here.

Please join me and the best political team on television at epee, one hour from now, for our special on the Iowa caucuses.

Until then, thanks very much for watching.

I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

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

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