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THE SITUATION ROOM
Dems' Delegate Showdown; Clinton's Puerto Rico Push; Interview With Scott McClellan
Aired May 30, 2008 - 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, a turning point for the dueling Democrats. A long-awaited decision on Florida and Michigan's banned delegates could be only hours away. The Obama and Clinton camps are bracing for the showdown.
Also this hour, the president's former press secretary and his role in spreading what he calls propaganda. I'll have some tough questions for Scott McClellan about his new book. Did he flat-out lie to the American people? And would he testify against Mr. Bush?
Plus, Barack Obama's new pastor problem. He has ties to a priest who openly mocked Hillary Clinton, and it's all on videotape. There's new reaction coming in today.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
It's the hottest ticket in town. At least in this town right now. And no one will be watching the outcome with more of a vested interest than Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.
A Democratic Party committee is preparing to meet here in Washington tomorrow, but major decisions could happen as early as tonight. The fate of Florida and Michigan's banned convention delegates hangs in the balance, along with the outcome of the Democratic presidential race.
Our Suzanne Malveaux is with the CNN Election Express. She's over at the crucial meeting here in Washington, watching all of this unfold.
Set the stage, Suzanne, for what's going on.
SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, all the action is going to take place here. All eyes are going to be on this meeting.
There were 500 tickets that went online that were snatched up immediately just to get a seat inside the room to watch this whole thing unfold. We are obviously going live with this. They expect thousands of protesters on the outside. All of this getting one step closer to finding out who becomes the Democratic nominee.
MALVEAUX (voice over): Showdown.
SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I believe the Democratic Party must count these votes.
MALVEAUX: Barack Obama versus Hillary Clinton over who will get the lion's share of delegates from Florida and Michigan. Five hundred tickets snatched up within minutes to get a front row seat to Saturday's live event. Several thousand protesters are expected outside.
WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: Politically, this is the climax of the nominating process.
MALVEAUX: Thirty people who make up the DNC's Rules and Bylaws Committee will listen to testimony and then decide how many delegates will go to the Democratic convention from Florida and Michigan. They will also decide how those delegates will be split between Clinton and Obama.
SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Thank you. I am fired up!
MALVEAUX: Neither candidate campaigned in the two states before their unsanctioned primaries. Obama's name wasn't even on the ballot in Michigan. But, nevertheless, Clinton won both states, so she wants all of the delegates seated.
Democratic sources say the DNC will likely punish the states for their early primaries by cutting the delegates' votes in half.
SCHNEIDER: The committee is going to decide whether or not to seat those delegates. But the irony is, it's not going to decide the nomination.
MALVEAUX: The nomination will be decided by the remaining uncommitted super delegates, which way they swing. Clinton's hope is the DNC will rule in her favor to give Florida and Michigan a big role.
SCHNEIDER: She will be able to say, particularly if Puerto Rico votes strongly for Clinton, that she has more popular support in the Democratic Party than Obama. Now she can counter that argument and say, a-ha, I trump you. I have more popular votes than you did. So there.
MALVEAUX: So, Wolf, there is a slight possibility that this may not be resolved over the weekend. That is if the Clinton campaign objects to the decision by the committee. It could be kicked to the credentials committee. They could make a recommendation. That doesn't happen until July. Then it has to be ratified at the convention in August.
So this could be a long summer -- Wolf.
BLITZER: May or may not end tomorrow or over the next few days. We'll have to watch.
Suzanne, thanks very much.
Thirty members of the DNC's Rules and Bylaws Committee will be meeting at that hotel here in Washington tomorrow morning. Thirteen of them are Clinton supporters, eight of them are Obama supporters, nine of them say they're not committed to a candidate right now.
And stay with CNN tomorrow morning for up-to-the-minute coverage of the Democrats' "Decision Day." You'll see it all live unfold. Our coverage begins 9:00 a.m. Eastern here on CNN and CNN.com. I'll be anchoring our coverage, together with the best political team on television, 9:00 a.m. tomorrow morning.
It's a one-two punch for Democrats this weekend. That DNC meeting here in Washington followed by the Puerto Rico primary. That's on Sunday.
Hillary Clinton fighting for every last vote in this third to last Democratic contest of the season. But she can't escape the speculation that her presidential campaign could be over within a matter of days.
Jessica Yellin is in San Juan. She's watching this story from there.
What's the latest from the campaign trail, Jessica?
JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Senator Clinton is jetting into Puerto Rico right now. That is because she is pinning her hopes on a landslide victory here on Sunday.
It is so crucial to her, so do or die, she has sent her whole family in. Chelsea Clinton has been to this island three times already. Bill Clinton was here this week. He was treated like a rock star in the streets.
And we asked one of their top supporters why the Clinton brand is still so popular here on the island.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
YELLIN: Why is Bill Clinton so popular here?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, Bill Clinton is popular everywhere. And when he was president, Puerto Rico's economy did very well. He was very involved in Puerto Rico issues.
He was the president to stop the bombing in the island of Vieques. That was a very important issue for the people of Puerto Rico. And people love to see him.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
YELLIN: Wolf, Barack Obama has also been to town. He visited last weekend. And so he hasn't written it off, but he is trailing Senator Clinton in the most recent poll, and this really is far more important to Senator Clinton, a huge victory on Sunday is, than for Barack Obama, because here is the bottom line. If she wins by a large enough margin, she can leave Puerto Rico claiming she has won the overall popular vote in the entire Democratic nomination, and that would give her a huge moral victory, something she could take to the super delegates to try to argue that they should make her the nominee -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Jessica. Thanks.
Jessica's going to be covering this for us from San Juan.
And the polls will be closing in Puerto Rico Sunday at 3:00 p.m. Eastern. Our live coverage from the CNN Election Center will begin at 2:00 p.m. Eastern on Sunday. I'll be there together, with the best political team on television.
Lots of news happening this weekend.
Let's go back to Jack Cafferty, though, right now. He's got "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: So you're going to anchor all this coverage tomorrow...
CAFFERTY: ... on the meeting of the Rules Committee, the Democratic National Committee, and then you're going to be on the air again on Sunday. Now, are you going to be here again Monday to do THE SITUATION ROOM?
BLITZER: Yes. I'll be in New York at the CNN Election Center Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. So we've got a lot of work to do, Jack.
CAFFERTY: You're amazing. I get tired just watching you.
Despite worries on the home front about the economy, the housing market, record high gas prices, the war in Iraq has now made it center stage once again in the presidential campaign. Both the likely candidates, John McCain, Barack Obama, think the debate over the war can work to their advantage. Here's how.
McCain has been blasting Obama about Iraq, criticizing him for making decisions without visiting the war zone since 2006. What decisions? He was opposed to the war.
McCain argues conditions on the ground have changed drastically since then. The RNC says, "The fact is there are 2-year-old Iraqi children who weren't born the last time Obama was in their country. It raises questions about what he is making his decisions on."
It's part of a larger strategy to paint Obama has inexperienced. It's also, of course, convenient to shift attention away from domestic issues -- the economy, energy, health care, where Obama polls much stronger than McCain, issues that rank much higher in importance with the electorate than the war.
Obama's camp now says the candidate is considering a trip to Iraq, during which he would focus on how best to withdraw our troops, not reconsider whether or not they should leave there. Obama suggests McCain hasn't learned enough from all his travels to Iraq since all he wants to do is continue President Bush's war policies, even saying at one point that American soldiers could be in Iraq for 100 years.
If elected, Obama's vowed to start pulling the troops out immediately. All combat brigades out of Iraq within 16 months, he says.
On the other hand, McCain says the U.S. can't go until Iraqi forces have been trained and al Qaeda's defeated. However, there is also a risk for McCain here. By talking about travels to Iraq, he reminds people about his infamous stroll through the Baghdad market last year. And then he returned to the United States and gave Americans a completely false report about how peaceful and secure it was there.
Here's the question. How important is it for Barack Obama to go to Iraq? Go to CNN.com/caffertyfile, where you can post a comment on my blog -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Jack, thank you for that.
The president's former spokesman tells me how and why he became disillusioned with Mr. Bush.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SCOTT MCCLELLAN, FMR. WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: For more than three years, we had been out there decrying the selective leaking of classified information. And here it was the president himself had done that very thing.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Just ahead, my one-on-one interview with Scott McClellan. I asked the former White House press-secretary-turned- author if he lied to the American people and if he's sorry for it.
Plus, a fellow Vietnam veteran takes new swings at John McCain on behalf of Barack Obama. The McCain/Obama fight over Iraq is getting more intense right now.
And a new measure of Obama's strength against Hillary Clinton. We're keeping tabs on those crucial swing states and who's on the Obama bandwagon.
Lots of news happening right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: The criticism is growing more scathing by the day. The president's allies are calling his former spokesman everything in the book because of the tell-all rocking the White House.
BLITZER: Joining us now from our New York studio, Scott McClellan. He's the former White House press secretary. He's also author of a brand new book entitled, "What Happened: Inside the Bush White House and Washington's Culture of Deception."
Scott, thanks for coming in.
MCCLELLAN: Wolf, thanks for having me on today.
BLITZER: You caused a lot of commotion by suggesting that it was propaganda that was used to justify the war in Iraq, but you were part of that. Listen to what you yourself said in July 2003.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MCCLELLAN: The president has been very straightforward about this from the beginning. He laid out a very compelling case, a very clear case. It was based on solid evidence.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: All right. You don't believe that now, so were you lying then?
MCCLELLAN: Well, Wolf, I got caught up in this permanent campaign culture that exists in Washington. That's one of the key themes in my book, about how destructive that culture has become today.
And one of the things we need to do is look at how we can minimize the impact of the permanent campaigns. But I very much believed in the president's leadership back at that time. I was inside the White House bubble, and that sometimes tends to obscure the larger perspective on things as you're working very hard for someone you have a lot of affection for.
BLITZER: When did you go, Scott, from being a true believer to a doubter?
MCCLELLAN: Well, I think after you step outside of that bubble and you're able to kind of set aside that partisan hat and look back and reflect on that time period, then you can better understand some of the larger truths about the situation.
Now, in the buildup to the war, I was concerned that we were rushing into it awfully quickly in Iraq. Like a lot of Americans were.
BLITZER: Did you ever express those concerns to anyone? MCCLELLAN: No, because at the time, like a lot of Americans, I gave the administration, the president, his foreign policy team and advisers, the benefit of the doubt. I thought that they had the intelligence before them, and they were saying that this war was necessary to go forward with and this post-9/11 environment. And like a lot of us, was caught up in that post-9/11 atmosphere.
BLITZER: We asked some of our viewers to send in questions for you through our iReport. And I want to play a few of them.
Here's a question that Jack sent in from Phoenix, Arizona.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. McClellan, a lot of lives might have been saved if you and others had spoken up in 2006. Would you now consider testifying about your colleagues at a war crimes trial?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: What do you think?
MCCLELLAN: Well, Wolf, I don't know that that's something that's being contemplated. I understand and appreciate the person's point of view, but one of the things I talk about in the book -- and I think some of the initial reaction, particularly from the White House, has been a little bit out of line.
One of the things I say is that this was not something that was deliberate or conscious in terms of our efforts to go about this. It's just this part of this campaign -- permanent campaign culture in Washington, D.C., the propaganda campaign that you referenced at the beginning, where you get caught up in trying to sell and sell to the American people what you're trying to do. And when you transfer that to an issue of war and peace, it becomes very troubling and potentially destructive and dangerous.
BLITZER: Well, knowing what...
MCCLELLAN: And that's what happened in this instance.
BLITZER: Knowing what you know now, do you believe war crimes, as this iReporter suggests, were in fact committed?
MCCLELLAN: No, I don't believe that. Now, I don't know everybody -- individuals' thinking on this topic. But the intelligence was certainly wrong. But I think the administration is incorrect to say it was just an intelligence failure in terms of Iraq, because what happened was that the case was packaged together, overstated and oversold to the American people.
At the time when I was there, I didn't see that clearly. Now I do. And we've learned a lot since that time.
And as the buildup to the war accelerated, you saw administration officials, including the vice president and others, get more certain in what they were saying about the intelligence when there were -- there was contradictory evidence. There were caveats to this intelligence. And my point is that we didn't present that case openly and forthrightly to the American people as we should have, particularly in the matter of war -- particularly in a matter of war.
BLITZER: Some members of Congress are now suggesting in the aftermath of your book's release, they want you to testify under oath before Congress. Are you ready to do that?
MCCLELLAN: Well, I'm glad to share my views. I think I've made them very clear in the book.
I suppose they're probably talking about the Plame leak episode. And essentially, everything I know on that leak episode is written in the book, what I was told by Karl Rove and Scooter Libby when I was knowingly misled, but only learned that much later. And that's really when I started to become disillusioned at the White House and realized...
BLITZER: But as much as they, Scooter Libby and Karl Rove, you write, misled you, you really felt betrayed when the president told you he authorized the declassification of intelligence to try to buttress the White House case.
MCCLELLAN: That's right. That was kind of the final straw for me, when I became increasingly disillusioned between the time of the Rove and Libby revelations and when I walked on Air Force One -- and I tell this conversation in the book -- and asked the president -- or told him that the reporter was shouting out to him, asking if he had authorized the secret declassification of parts of that national intelligence estimate.
And he looked at me and said, "Yeah, I did." And I was kind of taken aback. He clearly didn't want to talk about it anymore.
I went back to my senior staff seat on Air Force One and found out more information about it. And as I did, it was really dismaying, because for a three -- well, for more than three years, we had been out there decrying the selective leaking of classified information. And here it was, the president himself, had done that very thing.
Now, he had the authority and legal authority to do that. But at the same time, no one else in the administration knew about it expect the vice president, who he told, and Scooter Libby.
BLITZER: And you felt they were hanging you out to dry?
MCCLELLAN: Well, there's no other conclusion I can come to other than they knowingly misled me because I asked those two individuals point-blank, is there any way -- were you involved in the leaking of Valerie Plame's identity in any way? And both of them told me unequivocally, no.
And not only that, but the president of the United States was told by Karl Rove that he was not involved in the leaking of her identity. And the vice president and president spoke about Scooter Libby and directed me to go out and exonerate him.
Now, I said to the chief of staff, Andy Card, the only way I'll do that is if I get the same assurances from Scooter that I got from Karl. And Scooter said, no, absolutely not, when I asked him if he had been involved. We now know that they were.
BLITZER: All right.
You also are scathing in your review of what happened in the aftermath of Katrina. You write in the book this: "It was a failure of imagination and initiative. And when the storm hit and the damaged prove worse than anyone expected, our ability to adjust bespoke of failure of responsibility."
But here's what you said yourself on September 6th, right after we began to know what was going on.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The person who says that he found out about the convention center, seeing it on the media -- that is to say, the FEMA director -- is still in place. Is that satisfactory that somebody would have responded like that?
MCCLELLAN: Again, this is getting into where someone engaged in a blame game.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's not a blame game. It's accountability.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Do you regret those kind of comments knowing what you know obviously now?
MCCLELLAN: That's part of the tactics in the permanent campaign atmosphere in Washington, D.C. And like I said, I got caught up in it like everybody else.
You know, there was certainly a breakdown at all levels of government when it came to the response to Katrina. The point I make in the book is that people look to the federal government as that vital backstop, the failsafe backstop that can come in and help when the local and state authorities are overwhelmed. And what happened was complacency had set in by this time.
We had dealt with four major hurricanes the year before, and I think we thought we could treat this just like any of those other hurricanes and deal with it the same way. But it was different when it came to New Orleans and those levies were breached, and you had enormous flooding and, unfortunately, hundreds, over a thousand lives, I guess, lost in the end. And we should have been getting back to Washington, D.C., ahead of that storm, taking steps earlier than we did.
BLITZER: We're going to have more of my interview with Scott McClellan just ahead. I asked him why he decided to write about the president's response to questions about alleged cocaine use. What was the point? Was this issue something McClellan himself was deeply worried about?
Plus, Barack Obama faces a new preacher problem. This time, a priest who had some harsh things to say about Hillary Clinton.
All that and a lot more coming up right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Now back to my interview with the former White House press secretary Scott McClellan. His new tell-all book touching on some very, very sensitive subjects for the Bush White House.
BLITZER: You revived the whole issue that had been dormant for so long, the president's alleged cocaine use. And among other things, you write about a conversation you overheard in which the president suggested, at least according to your account, he doesn't remember whether or not he ever used cocaine.
And then you write this. You say, "So I think he meant what he said in that conversation about cocaine. It's the first time when I felt I was witnessing Bush convincing himself to believe something that probably was not true and that deep down he knew was not true, and his reason for doing so is fairly obvious: political convenience."
I guess the question is, A, do you believe the president actually used cocaine as a young man many years earlier? And B, why revive that issue in your book right now?
MCCLELLAN: Well, I think it was a telling moment. It's not really an issue about whether or not he had tried cocaine in the past. I mean, I -- if he had, it wasn't something that concerned me. And certainly it's understandable when it comes to an issue like that that occurred years ago that a politician is going to take that kind of stance. But the point I make there is that this transferred over into other areas.
I think one of the most telling examples of that -- now, there were times when it was in private conversations with me on policy matters, and then there were other times when it was public. One of the most telling examples of that that everyone saw, I think, was when he was talking about Iran -- or the administration was, Iran pursuing nuclear weapons. And it came out that there was a national intelligence estimate that said that they had suspended their pursuit of nuclear weapons even before the president last spoke about that.
And then the president was asked, when did you learn about that? And -- in a news conference, and he said he didn't remember. And I just think that that's the president convincing himself of something that suited his needs.
BLITZER: So you saw a pattern in the president trying to sort of convince himself that what wasn't true really was true. Give me another example.
MCCLELLAN: Yes. And I think that that carries over with a number of politicians that that happens. And it was just something that I think was a very telling moment.
You asked me for another example. You know, I mean, there's the time when Claude Allen left the White House. This isn't something I write about in the book.
BLITZER: A domestic policy adviser.
MCCLELLAN: A domestic policy adviser. And I was in discussion with Harriet Miers and Andy Card, and the president was kind of -- a late Friday night, so we were all in different places.
And Andy had felt that he had told the president that -- about that information weeks before. And the president said he didn't remember being told about it until just before the news came out that he had been arrested for shoplifting basically from Target. But there are other examples like -- go ahead.
BLITZER: So -- well, I guess the question is, is the president -- and this is a blunt question -- in your opinion, a serial liar?
MCCLELLAN: No, I don't view it that way, Wolf. You know, I'm someone that has great affection for the president. I think he's sincere and authentic. But I think this is what happens sometimes to leaders when they get involved in this political environment and issues like this come up, and they have to look for a way -- I guess a way out of getting into some of these issues. And it's not viewed in their mind as something that is deliberately lying.
I don't take it that way. But it's a striking -- it's something -- and when those issues that I just mentioned came back up, it made me think back to that moment back in 2000 when I was on the campaign trail with the president. It was such a vivid moment...
BLITZER: When you talked to him about the cocaine use?
MCCLELLAN: Right. I thought to myself, how can you not remember that? But like I said, at the time I didn't think it was that big of an issue because what he did 20, 30 years ago, whether or not he did it or not, was not the issue. But it was what he convinced himself to believe.
BLITZER: A lot of our viewers sent in a variant of this question. Here's another iReporter, Dan from Lansing, Michigan.
Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you were filled with some concern and discontent over the way things were run in the Bush White House, why didn't you voice your concerns at the time? In fact, why didn't you resign? Surely you didn't hold all this in until now just to make a quick buck.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: We got a lot of questions along those lines, and I want to give you a chance to respond.
MCCLELLAN: Sure. Well, first of all, there's an interesting article today in "The New York Times" that I think people might want to read in terms of this whole "he was motivated by money."
But look, I'm someone who grew up in a political family, that was taught the importance of public service, taught the importance of speaking up, taught the importance of making a positive difference. When I went to work for then Governor Bush back in 1999, I had great hope in him.
I was an idealistic young political staffer and someone who believed in his bipartisan leadership in Texas, where his approval ratings were well into the 70s. And I continued to have -- believe that he would bring that same kind of bipartisan spirit to Washington, D.C. But I realized when I got there after a while that it was not meant to be.
Now, I wasn't sure who was to blame for in terms of responsibility or who shares the responsibility for that when I was there. But unfortunately, with the Iraq war, that bipartisan spirit completely disappeared as information that we claimed was true turned out not to be the case.
BLITZER: You're going to make a lot of money on this book, so you are going to be making a lot of money. It's going to be a major bestseller. And the accusation is you sold out the White House for a buck. And I want you to respond to that.
MCCLELLAN: Not at all, Wolf. In fact, the point of the book is there's a much larger purpose to the book. And that is, trying to change this poisonous atmosphere in Washington, D.C., where both sides, left and right, are squabbling in bitter ways over every single issue and little gets done.
And that's part -- that's the overarching theme in the book is, what can we learn from the mistakes we made in order to change Washington for the better going forward? And, if it takes talking about unpleasant truths to force change, then so be it. I don't know that this book will force it. But, hopefully, it will contribute in some small way to making a positive difference.
BLITZER: We're going to have more of one-my-one interview with the former White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan in a moment. You're going to hear what he has to say about Bob Dole, who today is calling him -- and I'm quoting -- "a miserable creature" for writing this tell-all book,and why he says he's not a hypocrite for speaking out right now.
Plus, the McCain and Obama campaigns clash on the war in Iraq. Now the Vietnam War veteran Senator John Kerry says a McCain fund- raising letter simply went way too far, and why John McCain says he agrees.
Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Scott McClellan is fending off some very, very brutal criticism of his new book and his allegation that the president used propaganda to sell the war in Iraq.
Let's go back to my one-on-one interview with the former White House press secretary.
BLITZER: The president's former counterterrorism adviser Richard Clarke left the White House, and then he subsequently wrote a book blasting the administration. You railed against him.
I will play a little clip of what you said back then about Richard Clarke.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MCCLELLAN: Why, all of a sudden, if he had all these grave concerns, did he not raise these -- sooner? This is one-and-a-half years after he left the administration. And now, all of a sudden, he's raising these grave concerns that he claims he had.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: So, the question is -- it's a blunt one -- are you a hypocrite?
MCCLELLAN: No. That -- no, that was part of our talking points at the time.
I didn't even read the book. I actually ran into Dick Clarke last night here in New York City. And I expressed my apologies to him for that. Unfortunately, that's what happens when you get caught up in this permanent campaign culture in Washington, D.C.
BLITZER: So, you were just reading -- you -- you were just reading talking points? You never bothered to read his book? Is that what you're saying?
MCCLELLAN: I had not read his book at that time. And I think you see the same thing happening out of this White House, that information -- or that people are saying things about my motivations and about me, in terms of this book, and they haven't even had a chance to read the book or haven't taken the opportunity to read the book.
I think that anyone who is objective who reads the book will see that it was a very tough process to come to these conclusions. It wasn't easy to write these things.
MCCLELLAN: But I felt it was vital to write these things, in order to move this country forward and get Washington back on track.
BLITZER: When you saw Richard Clarke, did you apologize?
MCCLELLAN: I'm sorry?
BLITZER: When you saw Richard Clarke last night, did you apologize?
MCCLELLAN: I did. I did express my apologies to Dick Clarke last night, when I ran into him. We had a brief conversation.
BLITZER: Bob Dole, the former Republican -- Republican presidential nominee, the former senator, he says he's written you a scathing e-mail.
Among other things, he says this: "There are miserable creatures like you in every administration, who don't have the guts to speak up or quit if there are disagreements with the boss or colleagues. No, your type soaks up the benefits of power, revels in the limelight for years, then quits, and, spurred on by greed, cashes in with a scathing critique" -- Bob Dole in an e-mail to you.
I assume you received that e-mail?
MCCLELLAN: I did receive that e-mail. He is correct that he sent it to me.
I have a lot of respect for Senator Dole. I think he's a noble public servant, a veteran, and someone who has spent a lot of years actually trying to work across the aisle with some of the Democratic leaders, prior to these past 15 years, when the partisan warfare really broke out and the polarization of Washington was exacerbated.
And it's something that preceded us. We were going to come and change it. That's what the president promised. He was going to bring in bipartisanship and honor and integrity to the White House, when, in fact, we didn't do that. We made the problems worse in Washington.
But, in terms of Senator Dole's comments, I am speaking up. I have had time to reflect and go back. And what I'm saying is sincere. I am trying to openly and honestly address these issues, look back at my experiences, and learn the lessons from where we went wrong. That's what the book is about. It's about what happened to take this administration so badly off course and what we can learn from it. BLITZER: You said you apologized to Richard Clarke. Do you owe the American people an apology?
BLITZER: For the years that you served in the White House, and you said what you said, and now you said a lot of that stuff was simply wrong.
MCCLELLAN: Well, like I said at the time, what I was saying was sincere.
But I believe now, looking back and reflecting on that, that some of what I was saying was badly misguided. And I'm expressing that to the American people. I think, if they read the book, they will see that I express my sincere regret about some of what I did.
BLITZER: So, are you sorry?
MCCLELLAN: I'm sorry?
BLITZER: Are you sorry? Do you want to say you're sorry to the American people? Do you want to apologize?
MCCLELLAN: Well, you can go back and look at this. And I think I have come to terms with it, and realized that some what I said was badly misguided.
There are -- there's things we did right and there are things we did wrong. The things that we did wrong overshadowed so much of what we did right. And that's not -- you know, we didn't expect things to turn out this way. And I'm disappointed about it.
And I think the American people see, through what I have been saying the last few days, that I do regret that I didn't realize some of the things then that I do now. And I was very young when I came in as press secretary at 35 years, not experienced in the ways in Washington as much as I would have liked to be.
And I talk about that in the book. But I have since come to realize a lot of things and am speaking up now about them for that reason.
BLITZER: We're out of time, but a quick question.
"The Salt Lake City Tribune" reports in the paper today -- President Bush was out at a fund-raiser there yesterday. He said at this fund-raiser last night, he didn't read -- he doesn't intend to read your book, but he is going to work to forgive you.
What would you say to the president of the United States right now, assuming you could -- assuming he would take your call or the two of you had a conversation? You would look at him at say what?
MCCLELLAN: Well, I don't think we will have that conversation, Wolf. I don't expect that, at least not any time soon. But I hope, maybe, some day, he might take an opportunity to read what's in the book and understand and appreciate where I'm coming from, because then I think he will realize I'm sincere. I don't need to ask for any forgiveness from him, because my comments are sincere and honest.
And it was tough getting to the conclusions I drew. But they are absolutely the truth, from my perspective. And that's what I'm sharing with the American people, my perspective on how things got off track and what we can learn from them.
BLITZER: The book is entitled "What Happened: Inside the Bush White House and Washington's Culture of Deception," the author, Scott McClellan.
Scott, thanks very much for coming in.
MCCLELLAN: Thanks for having me, Wolf. Glad to be with you.
BLITZER: Up next: getting on the Obama bandwagon. A new poll shows Democrats in a couple key battleground states are switching to Senator Barack Obama. We're going to go behind the numbers.
Also, Scott McClellan, as you just saw, strongly defending his White House tell-all. Is he profiting from all the media buzz?
Plus, speculation Pakistan's President Musharraf could become the ex-president -- the latest on the political turmoil there, plus, how it could impact the hunt for the world's most wanted terrorist. There's news happening in Pakistan.
You want to see it -- right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Barack Obama right now has the delegate lead over Hillary Clinton. And he's also edging her out in some of the polls in key battleground states, like California, where Clinton trounced Obama in February's primary.
Let's go straight to our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider. He's joining us from the CNN Election Express that is here in Washington, getting ready for that big DNC meeting tomorrow.
Bill, are Democratic voters ready to shut down this race, based on the numbers you're seeing?
WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, wolf, we are seeing some evidence of a bandwagon effect.
SCHNEIDER (voice-over): Face it, Barack Obama says, this race is nearly over. SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If it's not Tuesday, then it will be Wednesday or Thursday that we can say that I am the nominee.
SCHNEIDER: But it's not over until the, um, former first lady sings. Hillary Clinton ain't singing.
SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: They have been trying to tell me to stop running since January. And, every time they -- they say it, people rebuke it and keep voting for me.
SCHNEIDER: Does the audience think the show is just about over?
Two weeks ago, the CNN poll of polls showed Democrats across the country favored Obama over Clinton by seven points. In our new poll of polls, Obama has doubled his lead to 14.
On February 5, Clinton won the California primary by nine points. A Field poll shows California Democrats now prefer Obama by 13. They're getting on the Obama bandwagon. So are New Jersey Democrats. Clinton won the New Jersey primary by 10. Garden State Democrats now prefer Obama by seven.
Clinton is making one last pinch.
CLINTON: And I think the coalition I have put together, the states that I have won, particularly swing states, really argues very strongly that I would be the stronger candidate.
SCHNEIDER: Is she? Our poll of polls shows Obama leading McCain by three points nationwide. And Clinton? Exactly the same.
She says she does better in the swing states. She does -- in some of them. We found 12 states where Obama does better than Clinton against McCain. Four of them, Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Washington, are swing states. We found five states where Clinton runs stronger than Obama, including three swing states, Florida, Ohio, and Pennsylvania.
SCHNEIDER: If Democrats want to know whether Clinton or Obama would be a stronger candidate in November, the polls really don't show a big difference. It looks like a close race, no matter who the Democrats nominate -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Bill, thanks very much -- Bill Schneider at the CNN Election Express.
In our "Strategy Session": John McCain questions Barack Obama's judgment on Iraq. Is Obama weak on foreign policy? His one-time presidential rival Senator Joe Biden says he's been asked to play a more prominent role in the campaign. What's going on?
Plus, Scott McClellan was here in THE SITUATION ROOM. You just saw him make his case. We will discuss that and more right here in our "Strategy Session."
We will be right back.
BLITZER: Let's get to our "Strategy Session" right now.
Joining us, the Democratic strategist, the former deputy campaign manager for John Edwards Jonathan Prince, and the Republican strategist Cheri Jacobus.
Guys, thanks very much for coming in.
BLITZER: Joe Biden says he's going to be playing a more prominent role right now in the Obama campaign on foreign policy, even though he still hasn't endorsed anybody. What do you make about this?
JONATHAN PRINCE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: I think it's a great thing. I think what you're seeing is the party coming together. And lots of Democrats who have been running for president, as John Edwards was, as Joe Biden was, who have been helping other candidates, all are going to be, you know, getting on board, because...
BLITZER: Jumping on the bandwagon, you think?
PRINCE: It's not jumping on the bandwagon. It's -- it's getting ready to take the case for change to the entire country, move it out of this phase of the nominating process and say, OK, the country's been going in the wrong direction for eight long years. And we have got a chance to really shift gears. And everyone is going to be getting on board. We're very close to having a nominee.
BLITZER: A lot of people say he needs some help on foreign policy issues.
CHERI JACOBUS, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Oh, sure.
BLITZER: And Joe Biden, he is the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee. He's been doing this for a long time.
JACOBUS: Well, far be it for me to give advice to the Obama campaign, but I think this is a good move. And the more they can pull somebody like Joe Biden into their camp, the better off they will be.
I mean, you have to look at the fact that Obama has had to get rid of two top foreign policy advisers because of their gaffes, big gaffes, that are quite dangerous. You have Samantha Powers, who said to a British press newspaper, British press, that maybe they really won't pull out of Iraq right away. They are not going to do the same thing in office as they're saying in the campaign.
And, then, just a couple weeks ago, Obama had to fire Robert Malley because he was secretly leading with Hamas leaders, you know, the Palestinian terrorist organization. This, Wolf, was one day after Barack Obama sat here with you on this show and said that John McCain was, you know, doing -- basically smearing him by pointing out that Hamas had, in fact, endorsed Obama. So, these are some very serious...
BLITZER: Well, I want you to respond. But McCain's had to dump some of his advisers, too, for lobbying connections...
JACOBUS: You know what?
BLITZER: ... with sordid groups, too.
JACOBUS: Lobbying -- lobbying is completely different than...
BLITZER: But Robert Malley was an -- Robert Malley, just for the record, was an NSC official in the Clinton administration. You worked,, Jonathan, in the Clinton administration.
PRINCE: That's right.
BLITZER: And, as part of his outside work, he had to go out and talk to Hamas leaders.
PRINCE: That's right.
BLITZER: He wasn't secretly negotiating.
PRINCE: Well, the good news -- the good news for Barack Obama is that he has known that this war was wrong from the very beginning, and he has got a real plan to get us out of it. And he also happens to know the difference between Sunni and Shia, which is a good thing and something that Senator McCain has not always been able to...
JACOBUS: I don't think he has a plan to get out.
BLITZER: Let's talk about the explosive charges that Scott McClellan makes.
And you have known -- I assume you have known Scott McClellan. I was stunned to hear what he's -- what he's writing.
BLITZER: And, obviously, we just spent some time talking to him. What do you think?
JACOBUS: You know, here's the thing, Wolf. I didn't know Scott McClellan. And a lot of people in Washington didn't. And I think that President Bush made a judgment error, error in judgment when he promoted Scott beyond his abilities. Scott had worked -- I think his only campaign experience prior to coming to...
BLITZER: He was Ari Fleischer's deputy, so when Ari Fleischer left...
JACOBUS: But, before that, he had only worked at -- before coming to the Bush operation, he had only worked for his mother, it's my understanding.
So, this is a man who sat in meetings, had very little to contribute, either positive or dissenting or anything, and now comes out with this book. It's no secret that he was pushed out of the White House. He's clearly angry about that.
I think that Bob Dole said it best and kind of spoke for a lot of people. But Scott McClellan simply wasn't right for the job. And his book has no new revelations, no new information.
JACOBUS: It's really just, you know: I'm angry. I'm going to throw some mud at you guys.
BLITZER: Bob -- Bob Dole called him a "miserable creature."
PRINCE: I saw that.
You know, look, personally, do I think that this is the right way you ought to comport when you work with yourself and you give your life to a politician for a while? No, I don't.
But, on the other hand, do I think it's surprising that, in a White House that basically practiced a culture of deception and lies and misled the American people for a long time, that they're not always able to trust the folks around them? No, I don't find it surprising at all.
BLITZER: Were -- were you thinking about writing a tell-all book about the Clinton White House? You served in that White House. Did it ever enter your mind?
PRINCE: Much has been told about the Clinton White House, as you know.
But, no, of course. I don't think that's right. When you have got...
JACOBUS: I have to say this on the lying part.
The information on -- and the intelligence on WMD that George Bush had was exactly the same intelligence that Bill Clinton had, and said so, as of his last intelligence briefing on his last day in office. So, I think we just need to stop this whole thing about Bush lied. That is something that people that are paying attention know simply didn't happen.
PRINCE: I think -- I think...
JACOBUS: The intelligence was flawed. But it had been flawed for some time.
BLITZER: OK. A quick point, and then I got to...
PRINCE: Look, the country's verdict on whether or not the Bush administration led the country to war with mistaken and misleading information, I think, is pretty apparent.
BLITZER: All right.
PRINCE: They clearly did.
BLITZER: We have got to leave it there.
Jonathan, thanks for coming in.
PRINCE: You bet.
BLITZER: Cheri, as usual, thanks to you.
JACOBUS: Thank you.
BLITZER: Another religious leader, more outrageous statements, more problems for Barack Obama, what a priest said about Hillary Clinton, the fallout, and why it might even matter.
And his new book burned bridges over at the White House, but Scott McClellan still has a prominent role in P.R. for the White House. How can that be? You're about to find out. We will tell you -- right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: (AUDIO GAP) Political Ticker: Hillary Clinton makes the case she's a stronger candidate among voters nationwide than Barack Obama. But look at this. Obama holds on to a double-digit lead over Hillary Clinton in our new national poll of polls. When you average the latest nationwide surveys of Democratic voters, Obama has 54 percent. Clinton has 40 percent.
Let's go back to Jack Cafferty. He's got "The Cafferty File."
Jack, you're smiling.
BLITZER: You're chuckling.
CAFFERTY: Don't you know by now those things don't matter a whit to Hillary? Those things -- that makes no difference. She needs to be the candidate.
The question this hour is, how important is it for Barack Obama to go to Iraq? That's the ongoing squabble between Obama and McCain this week.
Kay in West Virginia writes: "A trip to Iraq for Obama is a double-edged sword at this point. McCain will claim that he is the reason for the trip and that Obama needs to be pushed into caring about our troops. To not go seems to be uncaring as well. His best bet is to state publicly he is using this time to look at domestic issues and the economy, but plans to travel to foreign lands, including Iraq and Afghanistan, once he has the nomination."
Maryann in Connecticut says: "At this point, it will just be a photo-op. He should have gone months ago. Plus, the amount of security it would take to protect him would cause undo stress on the troops on the ground there."
Edward writes: "I believe it is important for Senator Obama to go to Iraq. Regardless of a policy position, a potential commander in chief needs to show his support and affection for the troops, even if he disagrees with the current administration's policy. This is also important in order to debunk the myths that, if you oppose a war policy, you are somehow unpatriotic, unsupportive of the troops, or weak."
Saroop writes: "I think it is more important for McCain to visit America. With foreclosures, rising energy costs, border insecurity, a crisis response system that has shown to be ineffective with Katrina, and a list of other issues the current administration has supposedly handled, I think there is some work to be done here in the homeland."
Lett writes: "Yes, Obama should go, Jack, after he is elected and personally escort our troops home."
And Paul in South Carolina says: "Absolutely. It's a one-way trip, isn't it? I will chip in for tickets."
If you didn't see your e-mail here, you can go to my blog, CNN.com/caffertyfile, and look for yours there, along with hundreds of others.
It occurred to me, watching Scott McClellan, he seemed relieved when you said, thank you for being with us.
BLITZER: I think you may be right.
All right, Jack. We're going to be talking a lot more about that later, you and me and the best political team on television.
And, to our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.