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Democrats' Decision Day; Interview With Former White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan; Alleged Resolution Reached in Texas Polygamous Case

Aired May 30, 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: And, to our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Happening now, breaking news we're following, a deal to let hundreds of children removed from a polygamist go back to their parents, their moms and dads soon. Our correspondent is heading out of the courtroom right now. We will have the latest.

Countdown to decision day -- the Democrats could finally solve their Florida and Michigan problem tomorrow. And Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton have the most to gain, or lose. We're watching this story closely.

The president's former press secretary confronts allegations he's a sellout and a hypocrite. This hour, my interview with Scott McClellan. He explains why he included the cocaine question in his tell-all book about the Bush White House.

And a priest openly mocks Hillary Clinton, and now Barack Obama may be paying a political price for that -- all that coming up, plus the best political team on television.

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

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world.

We want to begin this hour with more breaking news coming out of the state of Texas. There's a new draft agreement on the fate of those hundreds of children taken from a polygamist sect ranch. Some children may be returning home to their moms and dads as soon as Monday. All of this comes after that Texas Supreme Court ruling that their seizure was simply not warranted.

As soon as CNN's David Mattingly comes out of the courtroom -- he's inside right now getting details -- we will bring you that story. That's coming up shortly.

But let's go right now to a firestorm involving the Barack Obama and John McCain campaigns. It involves the war in Iraq. Leading the charge for Senator Obama, Senator John Kerry, who is clearly willing to get into it with a fellow Vietnam War veteran. That would be John McCain.

In response, McCain is standing firm on one front, but he is backing down on another.

Mary Snow is following the back and forth between these campaigns. She's joining us now live with the latest -- Mary.

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, these clashes seem to be getting more intense by the day. The latest clash is over the level of troops in Iraq. The Obama camp is turning up the heat on McCain for a statement he made yesterday. And it's taking aim at him for his using General Petraeus in a campaign mailing.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SNOW (voice-over): Senator John McCain admits his campaign went too far with this fund-raising appeal showing General David Petraeus. Fellow Vietnam veteran John Kerry, who supports Democratic Barack Obama, criticized McCain, pointing out that Joint Chiefs Admiral Mike Mullen asked that men and women in uniform be left out of politics, saying -- quote -- "It's deeply disappointing that Senator McCain is using a picture of General Petraeus in uniform to raise money and launch negative attacks."

QUESTION: Do you think it's appropriate for you to use a picture of yourself and General Petraeus in fund-raising material?

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: No. It won't happen again.

SNOW: But McCain says he did not make a mistake when he said this about troop numbers at a town hall meeting Thursday in Greendale, Wisconsin.

MCCAIN: I can look you in the eye and tell you it's succeeding. We have drawn down to pre-surge levels.

SNOW: The Obama camp was quick to point out there are more troops in Iraq than before the surge began, saying McCain should know better.

It comes as McCain has been trying to paint Obama as inexperienced and making the case he doesn't know enough about how the surge is working because he hasn't been there since 2006. According to the Pentagon, there were 132,000 troops in January 2007 and 155,000 now. Five brigades were sent into Iraq as part of the surge. Three have left. Two are in the process of leaving.

Did McCain misspeak?

MCCAIN: Of course not. We have withdrawn three of the five brigades. We have drawn down the Marines. The rest of them will be home the end of July. That's just a fact and that's -- those are the facts as I stated them.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SNOW: Now, McCain advisers say the problem was not with numbers, but verb tenses and called the discrepancy in their words nitpicking. But as CNN's Pentagon unit has reported, once the surge ends, there will still be as many as 10,000 more troops in Iraq than before the surge began, since many of the combat troops are still needed -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Mary, thank you.

Meanwhile, you might not believe whom John McCain is defending right now. That would be Hillary Clinton, this after what's being called a divisive, even hateful political tirade.

It's from another pastor aligned with Barack Obama, and uses racial and gender rhetoric to mock Senator Clinton.

Brian Todd is working the story for us. He's here.

It has sparked new problems right now for Senator Obama and some swift reactions. What's the latest?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Swift and very angry reactions, Wolf.

This may be known as the seasons of firebrand pastor, considering all of these controversies. Now a popular Chicago priest has caused more political migraines for Senator Obama with remarks about Senator Clinton delivered from the pulpit.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TODD (voice-over): In front of Barack Obama's congregation, a priest with longstanding ties to Obama openly mocks Hillary Clinton, referencing her public tears earlier in the campaign.

REV. MICHAEL PFLEGER, CHICAGO ACTIVIST: I really believe that she just always thought: This is mine.

(LAUGHTER)

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

PFLEGER: I'm Bill's wife; I'm white, and this is mine. I just got to get up and step into the plate.

And then out of nowhere came: Hey, I'm Barack Obama.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

PFLEGER: And she said oh, damn. Where did you come from?

(APPLAUSE)

PFLEGER: I'm white. I'm entitled. There's a black man stealing my show!

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) TODD: This video of Father Michael Pfleger, hosted on YouTube, was taken last Sunday at Obama's parish, Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago.

Obama was not in the church, and Father Pfleger is not the pastor there. Obama was quick to respond, issuing a statement saying, "I am deeply disappointed in Father Pfleger's divisive, backward-looking rhetoric, which doesn't reflect the country I see or the desire of people across America to come together in common cause."

Father Pfleger would not do an interview with us, but issued a statement saying: "I regret the words I chose on Sunday. These words are inconsistent with Senator Obama's life and message. And I am deeply sorry if they offended Senator Clinton or anyone else who saw them."

The Clinton campaign says, "Divisive and hateful language like that has no place at the pulpit or in our politics."

Pfleger is a priest at Saint Sabina Catholic Church on the South Side of Chicago. He has not formally endorsed Obama, but an aide to Pfleger says he's known Obama for about 20 years and has donated small amounts to Obama's state and national campaign.

As a state senator, Obama once directed a $100,000 grand to a community center affiliated with Pfleger's church. Pfleger also went to Iowa during the caucuses to take part in a religious forum at the behest of the Obama campaign.

One independent analyst says none of this is likely to hurt Obama politically and the remarks about Clinton may soon be forgotten, but:

LARRY SABATO, DIRECTOR, UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA CENTER FOR POLITICS: The problem is, it's brought up Reverend Wright again. That is where Obama is genuinely vulnerable, because Wright was his pastor for so long. They were so close. He listened to so many of these sermons that were somewhat like the ones we heard.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: So, with this latest episode on top of all the other pastor controversies, others involving McCain as well, some analysts say that may be time now for the candidates to separate church from state, Wolf, get away from these people altogether.

BLITZER: Father Pfleger, he was rebuked now today by the diocese in Chicago.

TODD: That's right. That was a fairly late development. They came down pretty hard on him, the archbishop of Chicago issuing a sometimes, saying -- quote -- that Pfleger's remarks are "both partisan and amount to a personal attack. I regret that deeply," he says. The archbishop says Pfleger has promised him that he won't enter into campaigning or speak publicly about any candidate anymore.

So, it was pretty harsh rebuke there. BLITZER: He slapped him down pretty quickly.

All right, thanks very much, Brian, for that.

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

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: It happens, Wolf, every time there's a presidential election. Some Hollywood celebrity comes out and announces that if the candidate they don't like wins the election, they're going to leave the country.

They say this with a sense of high drama, like anybody cares. The problem is, they never leave. In 2000, Alec Baldwin's wife had reportedly told a magazine that, if George Bush won, her husband was going to leave the country. I was working at CNNFN at the time doing a morning program there and I remarked on the air that I wanted to be sure to get off on time, because I was going to go out to Long Island and help Alec Baldwin pack his stuff. Alec Baldwin is still here.

This time around, it's Susan Sarandon. If John McCain wins, Sarandon is threatening to move either to Italy or Canada. That could be reason enough to support McCain. Five will get you 10, regardless of the outcome of the race between John McCain and Barack Obama, you're not going to find Susan Sarandon at the Calgary Stampede or the Vatican. But we can dream, can't we?

Here's the final "Cafferty File" question for a Friday: Which Hollywood celebrity would you like to see leave the country and why?

Go to CNN.com/caffertyfile.com. You can post a comment on my blog -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Love your final Friday questions every week.

CAFFERTY: It's just silly. We just get tired and we do silly...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Good stuff. Excellent stuff. Thank you, Jack.

He was once part of the inner circle over at the White House. Now Scott McClellan is spilling his secrets right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SCOTT MCCLELLAN, FORMER WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: we didn't present that case openly and forthrightly to the American people as we should have, particularly in the matter of war.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Coming up: why he says the administration simply got it wrong and why he's coming out right now -- my one-on-one interview with Scott McClellan, that's coming up next. Also, breaking news we're following: a deal to let those hundreds of children removed from a polygamist sect go back to their parents soon. Our correspondent is heading out of the courtroom with the details. He will share them with all of us.

Plus, hidden deep in a South American jungle, a tribe untouched by modern times, one group says it has the pictures to prove it. You are going to see those pictures.

That's coming up. A lot's coming up -- right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: The criticism is growing even 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.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Joining us now from our New York studio, Scott McClellan. He's the former White House press secretary. He's also the 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've 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.

But... 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. But like a lot of...

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 in 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 I-Report, and I want to play a few of them.

Here's a question that Jack sent in from Phoenix, Arizona.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

QUESTION: 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 is being contemplated. I understand and appreciate the person's point of view.

But, you know, 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 I-Reporter 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 have 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 when it -- and that's really when I started to become disillusioned at the White House and realized that...

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 if it -- or told him that a reporter was shouting out to him asking him if he had authorized the secret declassification of parts of that national intelligence estimate. And he looked at me and said, "Yes, I did," and I was kind of taken aback.

And 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 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 has the authority and legal authority to do that. But at the same time, no one else in the administration knew about it except the vice president, who he told, and Scooter Libby. And I...

BLITZER: And you felt that 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 will 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.

BLITZER: All right.

MCCLELLAN: We now know that they were.

BLITZER: 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 damage proved worse than anyone expected, our ability to adjust bespoke of failure of responsibility."

But here's what you said yourself on September 6, right after we began to know what was going on.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

QUESTION: 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. We've got a...

QUESTION: It's not a blame game. It's accountability.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: 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 the other hurricanes and that we could 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 1,000 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.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Scott McClellan's job was to look all of us in the eye and deliver the truth. Does he feel he owes the American people an apology?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCCLELLAN: And I think I have come to terms with it and realized that some what I said was badly misguided. There are -- you know, there's things we did right, and there are things we did wrong.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: More of my interview with Scott McClellan coming up.

I'll ask him why he revived rumors in his brand-new book of President Bush's alleged cocaine use when he was younger.

Also, more on the breaking news we're following right now: a deal to let hundreds of children removed from a polygamist sect go back to their moms and dads very soon. Our correspondent is still in the Texas courthouse, where the details are emerging. We will go there live when he comes out.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Now back to my interview with the former White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan -- his new tell-all book touching some very, very sensitive subjects for the Bush White House.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

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 overhead 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, you know, 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 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?" 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...

BLITZER: So you saw a pattern -- you saw a pattern...

MCCLELLAN: ... of something that suited his needs.

BLITZER: So you saw a...

MCCLELLAN: I'm sorry?

BLITZER: You saw a pattern in the president trying to sort of convince himself that 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, 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 discussions with Harriet Miers and Andy Card, and the president was kind of -- 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 till just before the news came out that he had been arrested for shoplifting basically from Target.

But there are other examples like...

BLITZER: So...

MCCLELLAN: Go ahead.

BLITZER: Well, I guess the question is, is the president -- and this is a blunt question -- in your opinion, a serial liar?

MCCLELLAN: 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.

BLITZER: And when he...

MCCLELLAN: It was such a vivid moment because...

BLITZER: When you talked to him about the cocaine use.

MCCLELLAN: Right. I said how -- I thought to myself, "How can he 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 or not was not the issue, but it was what he had convinced himself to believe.

BLITZER: A lot of our viewers sent in a variant of this question. Here's another I-Reporter, Dan from Lansing, Michigan. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

QUESTION: If you were filled with such 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 of this in until 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 70. 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.

I've spent my career in public service. And this book is an extension of that public service career, where I want to continue working to make a positive difference.

BLITZER: When the president's former counter-terrorism adviser, Richard Clarke, left the White House and then he subsequently wrote a book blasting the administration, you railed against him.

I'll 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: 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...

BLITZER: So you were...

MCCLELLAN: ...culture in Washington, D.C. .

BLITZER: So 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're see the same thing happening out of this White House, the 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, 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 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 was correct that he sent it to me. I have a lot of respect for Senator Dole. I think he is a noble public servant, a veteran and someone who is -- 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 this is 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 did not 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'm 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?

MCCLELLAN: For?

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 know, you can go back and look at this. And I think I've come to terms with it and realized that some of what I said was badly misguided.

There are -- you know, 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've 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 fundraiser there yesterday. He said at this fundraiser 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'd look at him at and say what?

MCCLELLAN: Well, I don't think we'll 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're absolutely the truth from my perspective. And that is 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.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: You just heard Scott McClellan call it a telling moment, but his decision to write about the president's response to the cocaine question is still raising lots of eyebrows.

The best political team on television is standing by to talk about that and more.

Also ahead, John McCain says it won't happen again.

But is the war in Iraq becoming over politicized in this presidential election?

And could there be a dramatic new political upheaval in Pakistan?

We'll tell you what we're hearing -- the stakes there enormous.

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM. (COMMERCIAL)

BLITZER: Former colleagues are blasting the former White House press secretary, Scott McClellan, for his brand new tell-all book, "What Happened?"

McClellan says he owes no one an apology.

And now it's time to talk about it with our senior political analyst, Gloria Borger; our own Jack Cafferty, and our senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley. They're all part of the best political team on television.

Jack, you asked me to ask him why he decided to revive the whole Bush alleged cocaine use in his book. He spent three pages talking about it.

What did you think of his answer?

CAFFERTY: Well, I thought it was -- the explanation in the book was very interesting. I thought it was the most insight that I read into the character of George Bush. Bush, on the telephone, claimed that he didn't remember whether or not he tried cocaine.

Say what?

I mean come on. You know whether you tried cocaine or not.

But what McClellan suggests is that he watched President Bush say something that on some level Bush knew was wrong, but created this blank memory as sort of a convenient escape hatch for himself -- much like a witness in a trial on the stand saying, I don't remember, when in fact, you know damn good and well they remember, they're just choosing not to tell you.

And he said that he saw evidence of that in other issues, at other times, about incidents that were much more important and critical to the welfare of the people of the United States. The most recent example was when he was told a few weeks ago, hey, there might be $4 a gallon gasoline by spring. He goes, I didn't know anything about that.

Really?

BLITZER: Yes.

You know, Gloria, you've had a chance now to digest this bombshell of a book. You've seen the interview we just did with him.

What do you think?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, it's kind of interesting to me, because, on the one hand, Scott McClellan says and writes that he believes Bush is authentic. But, on the other hand, as Jack was talking about, in terms of this whole cocaine use issue, he describes him as just another politician who practices self-deception, who essentially begins to invent a lie in his head and then believes it so he can say it's the truth when he -- when he talks about it.

So it's clear to me that this guy is sort of conflicted, really, about how he views President Bush, because he goes out of his way to say nice things about him in the book, but then says something like this and portrays him as just another pol.

BLITZER: And, as you know, Candy, he was once a real true believer inside that Bush inner circle. And he came across as someone, you give him the talking points, he'll go out there read them and no ifs ands or buts.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. And I think -- I mean, look, Scotty goes back with Bush to his governor years. I mean he precedes the election. So he has known George Bush for an awfully long time. And I think what was interesting about that interview -- if we didn't know before what set him off -- I know he says well, looking back on it. But what set him off was the whole Karl Rove/"Scooter" Libby thing, when he went out there and lied to people not knowing that he lied. Press secretaries don't like that.

You know, everybody that covered the White House at the time when Scott was there understood that he was not in the loop. But I don't think he understood that people would stand in front of him -- as he tells this story -- and flat out lie to him.

BORGER: Right.

CROWLEY: And I think that's when this book started to be written.

CAFFERTY: You know what it was a little bit like to me?

A kid seeing that his hero had feet of clay.

BORGER: Right.

CAFFERTY: He idolized George Bush. He joined him, as he said, when he was a young political operative, a wide-eyed, idealistic kid. Bush was a god in Texas -- 77 percent approval ratings.

Then he becomes president. They all move to Washington. I mean you throw down your life for this guy. He's your hero. And then all of a sudden, a little bit at a time, you see these layers begin to be peeled away from him and you find out he's just another guy out looking out for his own bacon first and yours not first at all.

It was almost like he gradually became disillusioned with this guy that he absolutely worshipped.

BLITZER: Yes.

BORGER: So not only was he disillusioned, but he feels like he was used.

BLITZER: Yes. BORGER: You know, as Candy was pointing out, he was the guy hung out there to dry and these people used him. And they knew they were using him. And he says that might even include the vice president of the United States and maybe even the president.

BLITZER: All right, guys. Hold on. We have more to discuss, including Senator John McCain. He's now apologizing for a campaign e- mail. What he says won't happen again -- that's coming up here in THE SITUATION ROOM, with the best political team on television.

Also, a plane overshoots a runway and lands on a busy street crushing several cars. We'll have details on the deadly crash.

And we'll also follow the breaking news coming out of that courthouse in Texas involving this polygamy case. Children could be returned to the ranch as soon as Monday. Some strict conditions apply. The latest on the state's case against the sect. What's happening right now?

All that coming up right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCCAIN: I can look you in the eye and tell you it's succeeding. We have drawn down to pre-surge levels. Basra, Mosul and now Sadr City are quiet.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: An optimistic assessment from John McCain on what's going on in Iraq right now.

Let's discuss this and more with the best political team on television.

Jack, one factual problem -- the U.S. military hasn't drawn down to pre-surge levels, which were below 130,000. There's about 155,000 right now, although they plan ongoing down to around 140,000.

CAFFERTY: You know, this is John McCain's long suit, Iraq. I mean he's the guy who tells Barack Obama you don't know anything about Iraq and I know everything about Iraq.

They sent five combat brigades into Iraq for the surge. Three of them have come out. Two of them are still there. The math says they're not at pre-surge levels, they are still considerably above pre-surge levels. And McCain can't go around making mistakes like that because he's got credibility on stuff like foreign policy and military matters, until he opens his mouth and does something like that. It's not -- it's careless and it's not good.

BLITZER: What do you think, Gloria?

BORGER: Well, I think it's really clear Obama is fighting back on this, pointing out the McCain mistake, calling the invitation that John McCain made to him to accompany him to Iraq a political stunt. And it's clear that Obama is not going to cede Iraq, John McCain's widely acclaimed strong suit. He's not going to cede the issue of Iraq to John McCain and is going to try and make the case that maybe he hasn't been to Iraq as many times as John McCain, but it's his judgment that counts, because he was against the war from the start and John McCain was for the war at the start.

BLITZER: And there's no doubt, Candy, that that really resonates with a lot of people out there. And it may be the single most important reason why Barack Obama has reached this point right now. He says, you know what, I wasn't at the Senate at the time. I thought this war -- going to war back to 2002 was a mistake. I would have never supported it.

McCain supported it. Hillary Clinton supported it. He didn't support it. And he says, you know what, I may not have the experience, but I have good judgment. And that may have helped him tremendously -- maybe more than anything, to reach this point.

CROWLEY: Well, absolutely. And it's certainly differentiated himself from most of the Democrats in the race at the very beginning.

But, look, this still isn't a playing field that Obama wants to spend all his time on. Look, Democrats' strength, let's face it, are what Americans are now putting up at the top of their list -- you know, gas prices, the economy, jobs, that sort of thing.

So Obama's trying to strike some sort of balance here, because he doesn't want to always be responding to John McCain. He does have an argument that he knew all along Iraq wasn't there.

Nonetheless, they want to turn their -- the bulk of their attention to the economy and not constantly getting drawn into these arguments with John McCain.

On the other hand, you can't let it go unresponded to. So they're trying to figure out what the balance is here.

BLITZER: Yes, not an easy challenge in this campaign.

All right, guys, thanks very much.

Jack, don't go away. We've got "The Cafferty File" still coming up.

But we also have some breaking news we're following out in Texas involving the polygamy case. Children could be returning to the ranch as soon as Monday. Strict conditions will apply.

What are those conditions? What's going on?

We'll go there live. That's coming up.

Plus, concerns the U.S. could lose a major ally in the war on terror. So what would happen to control of Pakistan's nuclear arsenal and the hunt for bin Laden if -- if President Pervez Musharraf were to step down in the coming days?

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

CAFFERTY: The final question for the week: Which Hollywood celebrity would you like to see leave the country and why?

In 2000, Alec Baldwin threatened to leave if Bush was elected. He's still here. Now Susan Sarandon says she might go to Italy or Canada if John McCain is elected.

Bill in Michigan: "Let's send them all as the new Peace Corps. We could solve poverty, adopt villages, establish educational system, free Tibet, best the FEMA organization and, in some cases, set up rehab centers."

Bob in Philadelphia: "I'd love it if Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity left the country, but you asked for celebrities, not conservative morons who run their mouths without looking at the facts."

Ed in Texas writes: "When the mother ship finally comes, Tom Cruise will be leaving the planet."

Steve writes: "Michael Moore. Discussion over."

Cynthia: "It's a toss-up between Britney Spears and Rosie O'Donnell. Nah, it's not even close. See you, Rosie."

Tom writes: "Barbra Streisand -- unless she would agree to shut up and just sing."

James writes: "Is it me, or is this the biggest waste of digital ink that CNN has ever encouraged? Maybe."

Ian suggests: "Sharon Karma Stone."

Laura in Scotland: "I don't want any of them leaving the country because they might -- I'm scared they might come here."

Michael in New Orleans: "Politics aside, it's time for Dr. Phil to quit pretending to be a weight loss guru and shrink to the stars and relocate himself to Belize."

Jay writes: "Finally you asked something that's bipartisan."

And John in British Columbia says: "I'll keep the Hollywood celebrities if you'll leave the country and remain silent until the campaign is over." If you didn't see your e-mail here, you can go to my blog at CNN.com/caffertyfile, where there are a lot of e-mails suggesting I should leave the country -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Not from me, Jack.

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: All right, thank you very much.

Let's go right back to Carol Costello. She's got new details on what's emerging out of that courthouse in Texan involving those kids.

What's going on?

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, our correspondent, David Mattingly, is inside that courtroom, along with a producer. They can't get out right now, so they've been e-mailing me information. I also have a copy of this deal that's being hammered out between Texas authorities and lawyers for that polygamist cult.

I'm just going to read you some of the more interesting parts of this. "It is ordered," it says, "that the department" -- which is the Children's Services Department in the State of Texas -- "will start returning these children to their parents or guardians beginning June second 2008, from 8:00 a.m. Until 5:00 p.m. each day through June 6 2008."

Now each person going to get a child will have to take a photographer with that child. And this is important because, as you know, Wolf, it's been very difficult for authorities to determine who these kids' parents are. So now they'll have a photographic record.

Also, it is ordered that each respondent -- each parent or guardian -- will take parenting classes. The children shall not be removed from the State of Texas. And the parents or guardian shall provide a phone number and an address of where these kids are living, because the investigation is not over yet. Authorities want to have the ability to go back and question these parents or children.

The deal isn't signed yet. But David Mattingly will be out soon to update you more.

Also in the news tonight, new uncertainty for the U.S. over the political future of Pakistan. Several officials tell CNN President Pervez Musharraf could step down in days to avoid being forced out by the new government. Talk of Musharraf quitting also dominated Pakistani media. But Musharraf calls reports he will resign just rumor mongering.

And a plane crash in Honduras has left at least three people dead and 60 injured. Officials say the passenger jet overshot the runway and crashed onto a city street in the Honduran capital. The pilot and a bank president were among those killed. The Taka Airlines flight left San Salvador this morning carrying 124 people. And take a look at the these amazing pictures from above the deeper regions of Brazil's Amazon forest region. They are aerial photographers of a tribe still untouched by modern civilization. The pictures show men outside their thatched huts looking up and pointing their bows in the air. Survivor International says more than 100 so- called uncontacted tribes still exist worldwide. It says about half life in the Amazon rainforest in Peru and Brazil.

And Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is not the biggest fan of rock music. But the band Kiss apparently thinks she's pretty cool. They happened to share a hotel with Rice in the Swedish capital and asked to meet her. Rice, who was in Stockholm for a forum on Iraq, readily agreed. Gene Simmons and his band mates signed autographs and handed out T-shirts to her staff. Power to Condi.

BLITZER: Yes. Pretty cool.

All right. Have a great weekend. Thanks very much, Carol for that.

Remember, tomorrow morning our coverage of the Democratic Party's decision over what to do with Michigan and Florida.

Our coverage starts 9:00 a.m. Eastern. I'll be here with the best political team on television. Sunday our coverage of the Puerto Rico primary begins with "LATE EDITION," 11:00 a.m. Eastern.

Thanks for joining us. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Up next, "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT".

Tonight, Kitty Pilgrim sitting in for Lou -- Kitty.