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'Butcher of Bosnia' Caught; McCain Vs. 'The New York Times'; Who Will Be John McCain's V.P. Nominee?;

Aired July 21, 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: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Happening now, breaking news: The fugitive known as the butcher of Bosnia, finally, finally has been caught. The Bosnian wartime leader Radovan Karadzic could soon be brought to justice for allegedly leading involvement in the slaughter of thousands of Bosnian Muslims. We're working the story.

And a war of words follows Barack Obama to Iraq. His trip is getting lots of attention. But John McCain is pressing Obama to admit he was wrong on something about Iraq. The best political team on television is standing by.

And before you eat your next meal, we have a warning you need to know. One food item could make you very sick. The government says, just don't eat them.

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

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

And we begin with the breaking news. He's been on the run, not seen in public for more than 10 years. But the man called the "Butcher of Bosnia" has now been caught.

Radovan Karadzic led the Bosnian Serbs back in the 1990s. He also allegedly led a campaign of death, slaughter, other extermination tactics against Bosnian Muslims in a horrific phase of what was widely called then as ethnic cleansing.

Let's go straight to CNN's chief international correspondent, Christiane Amanpour. She's joining us on the phone for some perspective.

Give our viewers in the United States, Christiane, and around the world some perspective, because you covered that war very, very closely.

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I did indeed.

And of course the news that he has been captured comes from the president of Serbia, his office. And it's been welcomed by the head of the War Crimes Tribunal in the Hague, which is where Radovan Karadzic will shortly be dispatched to hear the formal charges and to continue and proceed with the prosecution.

This is a very, very good day for international justice. Radovan Karadzic has been on the run for nearly -- well, more than 10 years now. He was indicted twice back in 1995, not just for the siege of Sarajevo and the wholesale slaughter of Bosnia Muslims and indeed Croats around Bosnia, but also more specifically for the massacre at Srebrenica on July 11, 1995, when more than 7,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys were separated and slaughtered.

This was the worst massacre in Europe since World War II. And after the U.S. broke the Dayton Accords, which ended the Bosnian war, Radovan Karadzic was meant to be handed over, along, I might say, with his fellow henchman, the former Bosnian Serb General Ratko Mladic, who is still on the run.

And this, of course, has been a great shame for the international community. They have refused to get too far into trying to capture him while NATO forces were in Bosnia. They were afraid of getting hurt. They were afraid of all sorts of instability, and they did not go after him hard enough.

And now he's been captured after many, many years hiding out, finally captured in Serbia, according to the Serbs. His being at large has also held up Serbia's full integration into the international community and the European Union. And it was a condition, his capture and Mladic's capture, a condition for them to be fully accepted into the European Union -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Christiane, we are going to be speaking to the former United States Ambassador to the United Nations Richard Holbrooke. That's coming up as well, a critically important story on this day.

Let's get some more right now on the man known as the "Butcher of Bosnia."

Radovan Karadzic was born in 1965 in Montenegro. The onetime practicing psychiatrist took poetry classes at Columbia University in New York back in the 1970s. He helped found the Serbian Democratic Party back in 1990. He declared himself president of an independent Serbian Republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina back in 1992.

But over a span of just three years, '92 to '95, his troops massacred more than 200,000 Muslims and Croats. He was last seen in public in September 1996, before going into hiding.

And, as I said, we're going to have much more on this breaking news story. That's coming up. We're standing by to hear from the former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Richard Holbrooke.

But let's turn to presidential politics right now.

Barack Obama gets his own look at what's happening in Iraq and how the United States is doing. It's billed as a fact-finding mission, but the specter of presidential politics certainly very evident. Our senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley, is covering all of this from Amman, Jordan -- Candy.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, what looks like a boost from the Maliki government and those pictures coming out of Iraq, as far as the Obama campaign is concerned, so far, so good.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CROWLEY (voice-over): Barack Obama is 6,200 miles from the nearest U.S. campaign trail, but, as he steps into the international arena, the imagery sent back home is all American, commander in chief- like, a helicopter tour of Iraq with David Petraeus, the general in charge of multinational forces, a chow-down with the troops in Afghanistan, basketball with U.S. forces in Kuwait.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Senator, how is the trip?

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Great so far. Thank you.

CROWLEY: But if there is anything better in politics than imagery, it is timing. And Barack Obama has it.

OBAMA: Mr. Prime Minister, thank you so much for having me.

CROWLEY: He arrives in Iraq as the Maliki government said it hopes U.S. combat troops will be out of Iraq by 2010, pretty much Obama's 16-month timetable.

OBAMA: We had a very constructive discussion.

CROWLEY: And though Maliki says his previous statement that Obama's timetable seemed about right was misinterpreted, and in any case not an endorsement of Obama, it was more than enough for the Obama campaign to claim their candidate is more in synch with conditions in Iraq than John McCain.

OBAMA: Excellent to see.

CROWLEY: Likewise, politics and on-the-ground developments dovetailed in Afghanistan, where Obama visited with President Hamid Karzai and U.S. troops. The come comes amidst a resurgence of al Qaeda and an increase on attacks on coalition troops there. It lends weight to Obama's argument that the war in Iraq has distracted the U.S. from the real war on terror in Afghanistan.

OBAMA: We have got to have a clear strategic vision that uses all of our power, our economic power, our diplomatic power, our intellectual power, as well as our military power, to help make this world safer.

CROWLEY: The Pentagon-sponsored part of Obama's trip ends in Iraq. From here in Jordan, on to Israel, France, Germany, and England, Obama will be aboard his campaign plane on a journey funded by his campaign.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CROWLEY: But the Obama campaign denies this is campaign trip. They say it's a chance to discuss substantive issues with world leaders. Obama himself told CBS News it's a way to lay the groundwork for when he becomes president -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Candy, thanks very much -- Candy Crowley reporting from Amman, Jordan.

Now, this, by the way, is Obama's second trip to Iraq. John McCain's been there eight times, spending two days there each time, for a total of 16 days in Iraq over the years. McCain made six of those trips since Obama's last visit. That was back in January of 2006. McCain's most recent journey to Iraq was back in March.

He was accompanied by two other senators, Lindsey Graham and Joe Lieberman. You may also remember McCain's trip to Baghdad in April of 2007. He strolled through the streets, talked about how safe it was, but McCain strolled with dozens of heavily armed U.S. service members.

Today, one man who aspires to be president went to see a former president in a place not known for helping Republicans win the White House.

Let's go to Dana Bash. She's in Kennebunkport, Maine, watching John McCain on this day.

Update us on what happened this day, because McCain had plenty of opportunities to take some shots at Barack Obama.

DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right.

You know, Wolf, at that press conference, McCain was asked whether he was worried about all the attention his opponent is getting. He sort of shrugged his shoulders and said, it is what it is. But that belies an intense effort inside the McCain camp to influence Obama's trip.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It was the surge that is winning this war. He opposed it.

BASH (voice-over): John McCain's message? Barack Obama may have the spotlight, but I'm the one who should get the credit.

MCCAIN: When you win wars, the troops come home. And we are winning. And the fact is, if we would have done what Senator Obama wanted to do, we would have lost. And we would have faced a wider war.

BASH: What McCain aides are trying to protect is one of the few areas he beats Obama, big-time, ability to be commander in chief.

The latest "Washington Post" poll gives McCain a 24-point lead on the issue. And some Republicans are quite alarmed at the Iraqi prime minister's weekend comments that appeared to support Obama's 16-month withdrawal deadline, which McCain opposes.

(on camera): Does it trouble you that that seems to undercut the message that you have against Barack Obama?

MCCAIN: It doesn't in the slightest undercut the fact that it's based on conditions on the ground.

BASH (voice-over): McCain pointed to the U.S. military commander for political backup, Joint Chiefs Chairman Mike Mullen, who said this Sunday about Obama's withdrawal plan.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ADMIRAL MICHAEL MULLEN, JOINTS CHIEFS CHAIRMAN: I think the consequences could be very dangerous in that regard.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MCCAIN: I hope we pay attention to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, particularly someone who has no military experience whatsoever.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BASH: And that last comment by Senator McCain about Obama having no military experience is no accident.

The McCain campaign is trying very hard to keep this a debate between McCain and Obama. They know that's very hard with people like the Iraqi prime minister and even the White House for that matter chiming in and getting involved in this intense policy debate, important policy debate between the two candidates -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Very significant differences between these two candidates and we're watching them closely -- Dana in Kennebunkport, Maine.

Let's check in with Jack once again for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: When politicians release information late on Friday afternoons, it's because they hope you won't see it over the weekend.

So, it was late last Friday that John McCain's campaign co- chairman, Phil Gramm, quit. Former Texas Senator Gramm called us a nation of whiners and said we're in a mental recession. Gramm was also serving as an economic adviser to John McCain.

McCain distanced himself from the remarks, but the damage was done. Can we kill the sound while I read this? Thank you.

Democrats said it's another example of how out of touch John McCain is with the average American. McCain had already told us, the economy's not his strong suit, and Phil Gramm's comments, well, they sort of proved that, didn't they?

Gramm said he was quitting in order to -- quote -- "end this distraction," saying that it hurt McCain's ability to focus on the issues. What it hurt was John McCain's credibility when he claims to have the answer to our economic problems.

Besides, Americans don't like being called whiners. But that wasn't the only hand grenade that exploded last Friday. That same day, another McCain surrogate came out with an absolutely stupid remark of his own. Colonel Bud Day, who was a POW with McCain in Vietnam and one of McCain's closest friends, defended the Iraq war policy by saying -- quote -- "The Muslims have said, either we kneel or they're going to kill us" -- unquote.

Republicans spent the rest of Friday trying to explain that Colonel Day was talking about Islamist extremists, but that is not what he said. And it's a safe bet that a lot of Muslims weren't amused.

Here's the question: Did Phil Gramm wait too long to resign as co-chairman of John McCain's campaign? Go to CNN.com/caffertyfile, and you can post a comment on my blog.

BLITZER: Jack, thank you.

A major development in the salmonella outbreak that has sickened more than 1,000 people, investigators now finding the bacteria on a certain type of pepper, and they're issuing a warning to consumers. Stand by for that.

John McCain vs. "The New York Times." Barack Obama gets valuable space on the op-ed page. So, why is his Republican rival getting the runaround?

And a New York subway ad campaign promoting Islam gets some backlash because of the controversial religious leader behind the ads and his alleged connection to a terrorist mastermind.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Federal investigators say they have a significant break in their search for what caused a massive salmonella outbreak across the United States.

Carol Costello is here in THE SITUATION ROOM working that story.

There's some new clues in this investigation. CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, one tiny, teeny little infected pepper. If you have fresh jalapeno peppers in your house or you have salsa made with fresh jalapeno peppers, do not eat them. The FDA now says don't take a chance. They now suspect jalapeno peppers for the salmonella outbreak in some 40 states.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COSTELLO (voice-over): Finally, a clue. And it comes in the shape of a single jalapeno pepper, a clue but not yet the answer to the outbreak of salmonella that has sickened hundreds.

The FDA says investigators found the infected pepper at a relatively small distribution center in McAllen, Tennessee. It had been imported from a farm in Mexico and had an exact genetic match to the St. Paul strain of salmonella. The next step, finding out whether that pepper was infected at the farm or somewhere along the way to that Texas distribution center.

DR. DAVID ACHESON, ASSISTANT COMMISSIONER FOR FOOD PROTECTION, FOOD AND DRUG ADMINISTRATION: Looking at possibilities of cross- contamination, all we know at this point, definitively is that a pepper in this facility is positive with the strain. But we don't know whether it became contaminated in this distribution facility or at some point leading up to that distribution facility.

COSTELLO: More than 1,200 people in 42 states have been sickened by salmonella since April. At least 229 have been hospitalized. Initially, the FDA warned people not to eat certain kinds of tomato. Last week, they lifted that warning. But, by that time, the tomato industry had lost millions of dollars.

ACHESON: There is nothing to indicate that that association was incorrect or inappropriate. Jalapeno and serrano peppers have become more clearly implicated, but tomatoes are not exonerated from a cause as part of this outbreak.

COSTELLO: Again, tomatoes are not completely exonerated, because salsa containing both peppers and tomatoes may be to blame. The FDA just doesn't know yet.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COSTELLO: So, I know what you're thinking. What the heck do you do about tomatoes? Well, that's up to you. The FDA says they are safe to eat, but they are still suspect. The FDA says it's moving as fast as it can to solve this salmonella mystery.

BLITZER: All right, thank you. We will watch the story -- Carol working it.

A series of posters is slated to go up in New York subway cars promoting Islam. But there's a controversial Islamic cleric behind them with alleged -- alleged -- ties to terror.

Mary is working this story. Mary Snow's got the story in New York.

What are you picking up, Mary?

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, these ads are the first of their kind. They are intended to promote Islam and reach New York's estimated five million daily subway riders. But the ads already are prompting the kind of discussion the ad's organizers are trying to erase.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SNOW (voice-over): Head scarf? Islam? These subway ads are designed to battle negative images of Islam. They aren't even put up yet, but they have sparked this "New York Post" headline, "Jihad Train." The "Post" story focuses not so much on the message as the messenger, an imam who is now promoting the project to spread awareness about Islam to millions of subway riders.

SIRAJ WAHHAJ, IMAM: Imagine them (INAUDIBLE) Imagine them seeing the word Islam. Imagine them seeing the word hijab.

SNOW: Imam Siraj Wahhaj draws attention because he's among 170 unindicted co-conspirators in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing case. And he served as a character witness to the man convicted of being the mastermind of that bombing, Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman.

WAHHAJ: The concept of me being of character witness for Sheik Abdel Rahman is what we knew about him before the incident.

SNOW: A former U.S. prosecutor in the case says, while Wahhaj was on a list of unindicted co-conspirators, he was never charged.

ANDREW MCCARTHY, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: I think the list is probably an interesting footnote to people. I get asked about it every couple of years when some story or another about Wahhaj comes up. But, you know, I think the list is a tempest in a teapot.

SNOW: Wahhaj says, while he may be a controversial figure, he was also the first Muslim to lead a prayer before a session of the House of Representatives in 1991. But he admits there are things he said he regrets, such as calling the FBI and CIA terrorists.

WAHHAJ: What I was saying is that, no, not that all of the FBI are terrorists or the CIA are terrorists. But there are some elements in there. So, if you want to accuse some Muslims, OK, these Muslims did that, but don't undermine the entire -- the faith. That's really the message.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SNOW: Now, the group behind the ad, the Islamic Circle of North America, says it welcomes the imam's promotion of their campaign, saying he's misrepresented the way the religion of Islam is misrepresented. The MTA says the 1,000 ads will be placed in subway cars in September -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Mary, for that. Mary is working that story.

The first U.S. war crimes trial since World War II begins with a not guilty plea. A military tribunal will determine if this man was Osama bin Laden's personal driver and a key terror operative.

The president gives U.S. athletes an official Olympic send-off and a message for communist China.

We're keeping an eye on growing Tropical Storm Dolly, potentially a hurricane, as it takes aim at Texas.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We're continuing to follow the breaking news. The man called the "Butcher of Bosnia" finally has been caught, after being on the run for more than 10 years.

Radovan Karadzic led the Bosnian Serbs back in the 1990s. He allegedly led a campaign of extermination against Bosnian Muslims. He's an accused war criminal.

Let's discuss with Richard Holbrooke, the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, who negotiated the Dayton Accords, ending this fighting.

You met Karadzic yourself. And you refused to shake hands with him.

RICHARD HOLBROOKE, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO UNITED NATIONS: Yes. We negotiated with him.

This is a historic day, Wolf. A man who has been on the run for 12 years, who NATO should have captured, has been captured and by the Serb government themselves.

BLITZER: To their credit.

HOLBROOKE: To their credit. This is the government of Boris Tadic. It's a huge event.

I would think that Mr. Bashir, the president of Sudan, who has just been indicted by the International Criminal Court down, in Khartoum is thinking hard tonight that it could be him.

BLITZER: Remind our viewers. When you negotiated with Karadzic and General Mladic, another alleged war criminal right now still on the run, he's still on the run someplace, you negotiated the end of the siege in Bosnia.

(CROSSTALK)

HOLBROOKE: And you covered it.

Look, there was -- I only spent one horrible night with Karadzic and Mladic. We were bombing them. Milosevic said to me...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: The former leader of Yugoslavia.

HOLBROOKE: Former leader, not then indicted, said, would you meet with Karadzic and Mladic? We knew this was going to happen. We gathered and said let's do it. General Clark was my military assistant then. Chris Hill was my political deputy.

Each man decided for himself whether to shake hands. I wouldn't shake hands.

BLITZER: Because he had blood on his hands.

(CROSSTALK)

HOLBROOKE: Yes. He is...

BLITZER: How many people do you think he was directly or indirectly responsible for killing?

HOLBROOKE: Three hundred thousand.

BLITZER: How do you get that number?

HOLBROOKE: That's the number of people who were killed. And without Radovan Karadzic, this thing wouldn't have happened.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: How is it possible that he was -- in a small tiny area where he was hanging out, how is it possible that he could remain free at large for a dozen years, and Ratko Mladic is still at large?

HOLBROOKE: The original failure to capture him was a NATO failure in 1995, '96, when he was quite easily visible, and NATO didn't make enough of an effort. That failure continued.

Mladic is at large because the Yugoslav army was protecting him. But this guy in my view was worse than Milosevic or General Mladic. He was the intellectual leader.

BLITZER: So, what do you want to have happen to him right now? He's going to go on trial.

HOLBROOKE: Well, it is a big issue. You said he was an alleged war criminal.

BLITZER: He hasn't been convicted yet.

HOLBROOKE: He hasn't been convicted. But he is an accused war criminal. And he is indicted in the Hague.

The question for President Tadic in Serbia tonight is, do you turn him over to the Hague, as they did with Milosevic, or do they try him in Serbia, which would be a big political issue?

BLITZER: What do you want?

HOLBROOKE: I would like him to go to the Hague.

BLITZER: For a long -- that could be years, that trial, as we saw.

HOLBROOKE: One he goes to the Hague, he's not getting out again. That would be the end of that.

Now, the other issue, of course, is the effect on the region. This guy was a kind of a Robin Hood to the Bosnian Serbs, evading capture for 12 years, fomenting dissent. His removal from the scene will help enormously to create stability. This isn't some historic event -- I mean, ancient event. This is an ongoing event of historic importance.

BLITZER: All right, well, thanks for your perspective. I know you're a very happy man today.

HOLBROOKE: Well, you covered it. You know what...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: I remember vividly. And I know you will be happy when they get Mladic as well.

Richard Holbrooke, the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.

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

Happening now: "The New York Times" asks John McCain to rewrite his op-ed piece, but it didn't ask Barack Obama to rewrite his. Does the newspaper have a double standard when it comes to the two presidential candidates?

Also, Barack Obama and Iraq's prime minister seemingly on the same page when it comes to withdrawing troops from Iraq. So, what does that mean for November? The best political team on television is standing by.

And Hillary Clinton's campaign debt, we're now learning it's even higher than anyone thought.

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

For many conservatives, it's the newspaper they love to hate. Now "The New York Times" is giving some Republicans even more ammunition for their claims.

Howard Kurtz of CNN's "RELIABLE SOURCES" has more -- Howie.

HOWARD KURTZ, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Wolf, the opinion page of "The New York Times" is precious real estate, which is why Barack Obama used it last week to preview his speech on Iraq. But the price of admission is apparently a bit higher for John McCain.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KURTZ (voice over): The McCain campaign submitted an op-ed piece on Friday, hoping for the newspaper equivalent of equal time. McCain's article criticized Obama for pushing the ... same old proposal... for a 16-month withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq, saying, Any draw-downs must be based on a realistic assessment of conditions on the ground, not on an artificial timetable crafted for domestic political reasons.

Times' opinion editor, David Shipley, who, as it happens, worked in the Clinton White House, turned down the piece about two hours later, saying it contained nothing new. Shipley wrote, It would be terrific to have an article from Senator McCain that mirrors Senator Obama's piece. To that end, the article would have to articulate, in concrete terms, how Senator McCain defines victory in Iraq. It would also have to lay out a clear plan for achieving victory -- with troops levels, timetables and measures for compelling the Iraqis to cooperate.

It's fairly common for opinion editors to ask contributors for more details. But for The Times' liberal page to impose a stringent list of conditions on the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, days after publishing a similar piece on the subject by the presumptive Democratic nominee, is rather unusual.

A couple of campaign cycles ago, that would have been the end of it. But the McCain camp gave the rejected article and the e-mails to the Drudge Report, which gave it a big splash online. A Times editor was not immediately available for comment.

A McCain spokesman says his Iraq position -- quote -- "will not change based on politics or the demands of 'The New York Times.'"

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KURTZ: And one irony of the Internet age, the rejected piece will probably wind up getting far more attention from the controversy whipped up by Matt Drudge than it would have if "The New York Times" had just gone ahead and published it.

We received a statement from "The New York Times," which I will read to you now.

"It is standard procedure on op-ed page, and that of other newspapers, to go back and forth with an author on his or her submission. We look forward to publishing Senator McCain's views in our paper, just as we have in the past. We have published at least seven op-ed pieces by Senator McCain since 1996. 'The New York Times' endorsed Senator McCain as the Republican candidate in the presidential primaries. We take his views very seriously." -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Howie.

Thank you very much. Howie Kurtz of "The Washington Post" and CNN's "RELIABLE SOURCES" reporting.

If you want to read "The Times" -- what "The Times" wouldn't publish, by the way, from John McCain, you can go to our Web site. You'll find it at our Political Ticker at CNNPolitics.com. You'll find "The New York Times'" editor's e-mail refusing McCain's op-ed piece. That's on our Web site at CNNPolitics.com.

Let's talk about that and more with our senior political analyst, Gloria Borger.

Our own Jack Cafferty and Tara Wall the editorial editor for "The Washington Times".

Thanks very much.

I want to talk about it in a moment.

Gloria what are you hearing?

There's a lot of buzz out there about when John McCain might be announcing his vice presidential running mate. I know you've been doing some reporting on this.

What are you hearing?

GLORIA BORGER, SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, there's a lot more buzz since this afternoon Robert Novak said the McCain campaign could actually decide to name its vice presidential nominee at the end of this week. I've done some reporting, Wolf, and I'm told by a source in the campaign that there have been discussions going on about whether to do that by the end of this week. My source says that no decision has been made by the candidate.

But what this does mean, of course, is that the choice has been narrowed to the point where McCain can even think about it. Now to be a little skeptical about this, Wolf, it's very clear, also, that naming a vice presidential candidate at the end of this week would really change the subject. From Barack Obama's foreign trip to a John McCain story. And there are clearly some people who are arguing that that would be a good thing to do. But there are also other people in the campaign arguing that it would not be wise to name a vice presidential nominee this week. That in fact, you should wait until after Barack Obama names his running mate and then counter.

BLITZER: Would it be wise for him to do so later this week?

BORGER: Well, actually in some of the discussions I've had with the campaign on this particular topic, it was apparent to me they were pretty close, you know, to naming a V.P. nominee. I mean it sounded like they were getting there. And I don't know if that had anything to do with this current trip or not. I mean, I think it's easy to say that given that, of course, John McCain kind of wants to turn the page and change the subject as Barack Obama.

Does this tour. But I think they've been pretty close for at least the past week. It sounds like it's coming pretty soon.

BLITZER: All right.

Let's go back to this "New York Times'" opinion page editor's e- mail refusing McCain's op-ed piece. That's on our Web site, at CNNPolitics.com.

Let's talk a little bit about more -- about that and more with our senior political analyst, Gloria Borger; our own Jack Cafferty and Tara Wall, the deputy editorial page editor for "The Washington Times".

Guys, thanks very much.

I want to talk about it for a moment -- in a moment.

But, Gloria, what are you hearing?

There's a lot of buzz out there about when John McCain might be announcing his vice presidential running mate.

I know you've been doing some reporting on this.

What are you hearing?

GLORIA BORGER, SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, there's a lot more buzz since this afternoon. Robert Novak, in a short two sentence piece in "Human Events" said the McCain campaign could actually decide to name its vice presidential nominee at the end of this week.

I've done some reporting, Wolf, and I am told by a source in the campaign that there have been discussions going on about whether to do that by the end of this week.

My source says that no discuss has been made by the candidate. But what this does mean, of course, is that the choice has been narrowed to the point where McCain can even think about it.

Now, to be a little skeptical about this, Wolf, it's very clear also that naming a vice presidential candidate at the end of this week would really change the subject from Barack Obama's foreign trip to a John McCain story. And there are clearly some people who are arguing that there would be a good thing to do. But there are also other people in the campaign arguing that it would not be wise to name a vice presidential nominee this week, that, in fact, you should wait until after Barack Obama names his running mate and then counter program.

BLITZER: Would it be wise for him to do so, Tara, this week?

TARA WALL, FORMER SPOKESPERSON, DHS GULF COAST REBUILDING EFFORTS, FORMER RNC PRESS SECRETARY FOR OUTREACH: Well, you know, actually, in some of the discussions I've actually had with the campaign about this particular topic, say about a week ago, it was apparent to me that they were pretty close, you know, to naming a V.P. nominee. I mean it sounded like they were getting there. And I don't know if that had anything to do with this current trip or not. I mean I think it's easy to say that given that, of course, John McCain kind of wants to turn the page and change the subject, as Barack Obama does this tour.

But I think they've been pretty close for at least the past week. It sounds like it's coming pretty soon.

BLITZER: All right, let's go back to this "New York Times," the little controversy, Jack, that has erupted, refusing to publish as is the John McCain op-ed after publishing the Barack Obama op-ed. A big deal, a little deal.

What do you think?

CAFFERTY: Well, to begin with, there are no equal time requirements when it comes to the opinion pages of a newspaper. Now, they're opinion pages. The guy who edits that page, David Shipley, used to be an employee of Bill Clinton.

"The New York Times" tends to be a little more liberal newspaper, as we are all aware.

But the question that they asked John McCain to answer seems to me to be a reasonable question -- how do you define victory in Iraq?

McCain has been saying we're going to win this war, we're going to win this war, we're going to win this war.

Well, what does that mean?

I don't know what he means. It's not unreasonable, before you put the op-ed piece in the paper, to ask him to explain what he means. We are spending a lot of money and losing a lot of kids' lives over there.

BLITZER: You're an editorial page editor, Tara.

Does "The New York Times" have a point?

WALL: Well, let me just say, too, I've read the piece and we'd certainly be glad to run it.

(LAUGHTER)

WALL: There is -- there are a couple of points that Jack made -- the point Jack makes, I think, is legitimate. But I don't have so much of a problem with that question that he wants answered.

The other question, though, the more detailed questions they asked had more to do with this timeline. And as you know, John McCain has never issued a timeline. Republicans aren't issuing timelines as it relates to Iraq.

So that seemed a bit strange to me. I mean, listen, as an editor, of course, it's up to the editor's discretion what guidelines they want to use in accepting an op-ed piece and an editorial piece. That's certainly their discretion.

At the same time, I think that the description that was laid out is a lot more detailed than the ones that I've ever seen.

BORGER: Look, you know...

WALL: And I wouldn't necessarily say they're biased. Infatuated, well, yes, I think maybe so.

BORGER: Wolf, you know, the McCain campaign is clearly upset. One top staffer said to me, McCain is getting covered like he's a speed bump on the road to history. You know, they think they're getting a raw deal here. And that's clearly why they...

(LAUGHTER)

BORGER: It's a good line. It's clearly why they...

CAFFERTY: It's a great line.

BORGER: ...they leaked this story. And you know that -- that's why they felt that McCain's piece should have gone in, because Obama had a piece. And, by the way, Obama took a couple of partisan shots at McCain in his piece.

BLITZER: Jack, you know, the whole notion of this double standard, that supposedly the mainstream media loves Barack Obama and treats John McCain with disdain, it's got a whole lot of resonance out there. And it's ironic because for so many years, John McCain was actually the darling of the mainstream media.

CAFFERTY: Well, a lot more is known about John McCain than is known about Barack Obama, including the fact that, in many people's minds, he is not dissimilar in many of his views from the administration that's been running the country for the last eight years.

Obama is new and is different and not as much is known about him.

And, quite frankly, he's a better story, you know?

We sell -- we're in the business of selling newspapers. And you put the guy on the cover that sells the most newspapers. And Barack Obama, at 46, the first African-American ever to head a major ticket and doing what he did to the Clinton political machine in the primaries is a giant story.

BORGER: Yes. And...

CAFFERTY: John McCain is not a giant story.

BORGER: Well, he's a...

WALL: And...

BORGER: But he's a presidential contender. Come on... CAFFERTY: So what?

BORGER: He's a giant story...

CAFFERTY: So was John Kerry and so were a lot of other people.

BORGER: He...

CAFFERTY: He does not have the glitz and the attraction as a subject for journalists that Barack Obama does.

BORGER: But you know...

WALL: (INAUDIBLE) that he does...

CAFFERTY: He's a 71-year-old, four term Senator.

WALL: He does have the character -- he, absolutely, Barack Obama has the charisma that carries the cameras. Absolutely. But I think at the end of the day -- and he learned during, particularly, that ABC debate, that he's got to go just beyond this glamorous appeal and this star studdedness. He's got to start answering these hard questions, which I think are legitimate questions the media needs to begin to raise.

BORGER: You know...

WALL: They have started to do that in some degree, but have to continue to hit hard, or just as hard, on some of these concrete issues and get him nailed down from foreign policy...

BORGER: Right.

WALL: ...to education to immigration. They've got to nail in and hone in on these issues. And I think that's why he's avoiding these debates, as well, with John McCain...

BORGER: Well...

WALL: ...at these...

BORGER: Can I get...

WALL: ...at these town halls, because that's going to be essential.

BORGER: Can I just say that this charisma thing, which no doubt that Obama has, could actually start to backfire against him at a certain point?

And maybe this is the tipping point we're seeing right now. I don't know. But the American public wants to hear...

WALL: Absolutely.

BORGER: ...from both of these candidates because they actually have a decision to make. And so whether or not we believe that -- that Barack Obama has more charisma or he sells more magazines or he gets more eyeballs, you know, I understand that. That's fine. But, you know, there is a presidential campaign going on here.

BLITZER: All right...

WALL: And hopefully that will become more apparent once we get closer to the nominations and the debates start and the town halls and the real hard campaigning really starts (INAUDIBLE).

BORGER: And I agree with you. I think Obama should be doing the town halls, as well, by the way.

WALL: Absolutely.

CAFFERTY: Why should he?

That gives -- that gives McCain a free ticket.

Why should he -- why should he do McCain the favor of going around to a bunch town hall meetings...

WALL: Because the American people need to hear...

CAFFERTY: ...with John McCain?

WALL: Both sides of the (INAUDIBLE).

BORGER: But maybe it wouldn't be such (INAUDIBLE).

CAFFERTY: They can hear both sides. I'm suggesting they don't have to do it together...

BORGER: But maybe it wouldn't be (INAUDIBLE)...

CAFFERTY: And a town hall venue is the kind of thing that is more favorable to John McCain...

BORGER: Why?

He cannot...

WALL: Well...

CAFFERTY: Because he -- have you seen him try to stand behind a podium and give a speech?

BORGER: Right.

WALL: It is...

CAFFERTY: Because he can't do that, that's why.

BORGER: But you know what?

Obama is not bad at town halls, either. So... CAFFERTY: But why should he do...

BORGER: So what's the problem?

CAFFERTY: Why should he do that for McCain?

WALL: The town halls, arguably, yes. Town halls are, arguably, John McCain's strength.

BLITZER: All right...

WALL: He does much better in these town halls than Barack Obama. Barack Obama is probably practicing, as he needs to, before he starts doing some of these town halls.

BORGER: I say let's hear from both of these candidates.

CAFFERTY: Oh, that's...

BORGER: That's what the American public loved during the primaries.

WALL: I agree.

CAFFERTY: Oh, that's all we hear every day, Gloria, is from both of them.

WALL: Together.

CAFFERTY: That's all we hear.

WALL: No. Outside of the sound bites.

BORGER: Kind of like...

WALL: Real people need to hear from them in front of them.

BLITZER: Stand by, guys.

WALL: Not the sound bites.

BORGER: Kind of like you and me, Jack.

BLITZER: Stand by.

All right.

BORGER: They need to hear from us.

BLITZER: We get the point. The three of you don't agree. That's good.

All right. Stand by.

Barack Obama sits down with military commanders and with Iraq's top leadership. Is the Iraqi government counting on an Obama win in November over John McCain?

And what might this mean for how long U.S. troops stay in Iraq?

Plus, the McCain campaign unveils a new ad attacking Barack Obama on rising gas prices.

But will his call for drilling find favor with American voters?

Stick around. Lots more coming up.

A busy news day here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We're back with the best political team on television.

Guys, I'm going to play a little part of an ad that the McCain campaign is running against Barack Obama right now.

Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Gas prices $4, $5 -- no end in sight, because some in Washington are still saying no to drilling in America, no to independence from foreign oil.

Who can you thank for rising prices at the pump?

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: Obama! Obama!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right. They're chanting, "Obama! Obama!"

Tara, I can see blaming a lot of institutions and governments and speculators, all sorts of people, for the high price of gas.

But credibly, realistically, is Barack Obama to blame?

WALL: Well, there's a whole lot of blame to go around in this category, Republicans and Democrats alike. So I think that John McCain is just capitalizing on the issue of the moment, which is the gas and the economy. And he has a little bit of a claim to stake because most Americans -- the majority of Americans do support drilling and he is in favor of drilling on the Outer Continental Shelf, not ANWAR, of course. Conservatives still want to hold his feet to the fire on that issue.

BORGER: But...

WALL: I will say, though, I've got say, I love his use of, you know, hope for more energy, don't vote for it -- using -- almost always using Barack Obama's words, in a sense, against him... BLITZER: All right...

WALL: ...in that don't hope for it, vote for it.

BORGER: But to blame Barack Obama is ridiculous. Everybody says -- including his own supporter, Arnold Schwarzenegger -- that drilling offshore now would not reduce the price at the pump for at least another five to 10 years. So come on. I mean it's a little...

WALL: Yes, but it's a long-term strategy.

BORGER: It's a real...

WALL: And if...

BORGER: It's a real stretch.

Now, I know Obama's ad accused McCain of being part of problem. So this is kind of a little tit for tat going on here. But it's -- it's a little too much.

WALL: But the answer lies in the middle, Gloria. The argument is...

BORGER: Right. But that's not the end.

BLITZER: Let me let Jack...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Let me get Jack waiting...

WALL: They haven't voted for this when they had the opportunity to vote for it, Republicans haven't.

So there's some blame there. But there's a balance that most experts will agree, that drilling as well as alternative fuels need to be considered.

BLITZER: All right, Jack, go ahead.

CAFFERTY: He's also responsible for the pollution at the Olympic Games in Beijing and global warming. And he's going to be brought up on charges as soon as he gets back from overseas.

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: Yes. I mean what about...

CAFFERTY: That is nonsense.

BLITZER: What about the insatiable appetite that we have, that India and China and the rest of the world has?

BORGER: Right.

BLITZER: There's a limited amount of oil out there, but there's a terrific demand.

CAFFERTY: But, excuse me. John McCain has been a member of the United States Senate for 24 years, during which time we've had no energy policy.

BORGER: That's right.

CAFFERTY: Where the hell you been, Senator McCain?

You've had a long time to address this issue and you've come up as empty as everybody else.

BORGER: And, you know, Republicans would say to John McCain, why did you oppose drilling...

WALL: Absolutely.

BORGER: ...in the wildlife refuge in Alaska, right?

WALL: Yes.

BORGER: John McCain?

WALL: You know, and that's -- that's the argument I -- that's the argument I was just making is that, you know, even when Republicans had control, they still failed to pass any legislation. I mean they vetoed...

CAFFERTY: Exactly.

WALL: ...President Bush's bill, any legislation on drilling.

BLITZER: All right...

WALL: So, again, there's blame to go around. McCain is just being strategic about it, getting a jump on this issue, if you will, and kind of holding Barack Obama's feet to the fire on this -- on this issue, because it is a popular issue with Americans, who, again, the majority actually favor drilling.

CAFFERTY: How come he's not running this commercial about suspending that gasoline tax for 90 days?

Whatever happened to that?

BORGER: Yes, whatever happened to that idea? That's a good...

BLITZER: That...

BORGER: That's a good point.

BLITZER: People talked about it (INAUDIBLE).

WALL: Barack Obama called it a gimmick, remember?

BLITZER: He still talks about it.

BORGER: Well, and so did everyone else.

BLITZER: All right, guys...

WALL: Yes.

BORGER: Lots of Republicans, too.

BLITZER: I'll just point out that that last CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll we had on offshore oil drilling, 73 percent said they favored it, 27 percent said they opposed it. That's why probably McCain sees an opening on this issue right now.

BORGER: You think?

WALL: (INAUDIBLE).

BLITZER: Gloria...

CAFFERTY: Ask the people in Galveston, Texas if they think it's a good idea.

BLITZER: All right. Stand by, Jack, because we've got The Cafferty File coming up, as well.

Also, a mountain of debt higher than anyone knew -- surprise news about Hillary Clinton's campaign and an additional $1 million loan.

Plus, a diner becomes a drive-through -- unexpectedly.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Let's check in with Lou to see what's coming up right at the top of the hour on "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT".

What are you working on -- Lou?

LOU DOBBS, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you, Wolf.

Tonight, we're working on troubling new developments in the scandal over San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom's sanctuary policy for illegal aliens. City officials protected a suspected illegal alien gang member accused now of a triple homicide.

Also tonight, members of Congress so busy with their partisan blather, they can't pass a housing rescue bill to help our working men and women and their families. We'll have that special report.

And the FDA finds salmonella bacteria on jalapeno peppers from Mexico but still doesn't know the source of the nationwide salmonella outbreak. We'll have that for you.

And legendary oil man T. Boone Pickens is among my guests here tonight. Pickens says it's time to stop the partisanship in Washington. He wants to launch a national effort to become independent of foreign crude oil.

Join us for all of that and more at the top of the hour here on CNN. We'll have all the day's news and more with an Independent perspective -- Wolf, back to you.

BLITZER: We'll see you in a few moments, Lou.

Thank you.

Let's check in with Carol right now once again.

She's monitoring some other important stories incoming to THE SITUATION ROOM -- Carol, what's the latest?

COSTELLO: Well, Wolf, a hurricane watch is up along the U.S./Mexico border at the Gulf Coast. As Tropical Storm Dolly closes in, forecasters expecting it to reach hurricane strength before making landfall, possibly within the next 36 hours. The storm is packing lots of rain, in addition to high winds. Up to 20 inches of rain could fall in some coastal areas.

The first war crimes trial at Guantanamo Bay is now underway. Salim Hamdan is accused of being Osama bin Laden's bodyguard and his driver. Today, he pleaded not pleaded not guilty to supporting terrorism. Hamdan was captured in Afghanistan in 2001, allegedly with missiles in his car. His lawyers argue he was just a low level employee without any role in the al Qaeda conspiracy against the United States.

An update on something that we reported earlier. Blackwater Worldwide, which has made millions through security contracts in Iraq, tells CNN it is not abandoning its security services, but is looking for growth in other areas of its business. Blackwater says any suggestion that the company is pulling out of security contracts is incorrect.

And definitely not on the menu -- a car plows into a diner, slamming a man and the booth he was sitting into the counter. Unbelievably, Kenneth Mac Anderson (ph) was not injured. In fact, as you can see, from the surveillance video, he calmly reaches for his hat before he leaves. A regular at the Wilkesboro, North Carolina diner, he says he plans to go back, though he might want to find a new place to sit -- Wolf.

BLITZER: That's one lucky man right there, and a cool character, as well.

Carol, thank you.

Let's go to another lucky man and another cool character. That would be Jack Cafferty.

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: Jack, did you see that guy?

CAFFERTY: I did.

BLITZER: Could you imagine sitting in a diner and a car comes in and smashes you up against the counter like that?

CAFFERTY: I had to look closely. I thought one of my daughters might have gotten out of that car. I mean I've got one who has a little trouble piloting those automobiles around.

The question this hour: Did Phil Gramm wait too long to resign as co-chairman and economic adviser to John McCain's campaign?

The announcement coming late last Friday afternoon.

Kate writes: "It doesn't really matter if he quit. Come on, the guy wrote McCain's entire economic plan. McCain ran around for months telling everybody what an economic whiz kid Gramm is and how he relied on his advice. He may be out of the campaign, but he'll be very much a part of any future McCain administration. And if you don't get trembling goose bumps at the thought of the Phil Gramm's economic plan becoming reality, it's because you haven't read it."

Tasha in Houston writes: "Clearly, he waited too long. But the plan was to let Gramm and this story fade away with no action. That's why they waited until late Friday to announce it. Then along came Bud, sounding like McCain, not knowing who's who, insulting entire cultures of people. There really wasn't a choice after that campaign blunder last Friday. Friday was supposed to be "bury Obama on foreign policy day." McCain's campaign needs another shakeup. Somebody isn't doing their job."

Martha in Vancouver writes: "The question ought to be why didn't McCain fire him?"

T.J. writes: "That's not the point. The point is that Gramm -- what was Gramm even doing as a financial adviser to John McCain? Considering Gramm works for a company, UBS, that's been a major player in the mortgage meltdown, how was he ever selected to be a financial guru for the McCain camp? It makes you wonder who else he'll choose to get advice from if he's elected."

Roy writes: "Another example of Republican B.S. These crabby old men with their old cronies and their old way of thinking should all just step aside and let the up and coming fix the problems they have ignored."

Quentin says from New York: "It doesn't matter. It was only a mental resignation."

If you didn't see your e-mail here, you can go to my blog at CNN.com/caffertyfile and look for yours there among hundreds of others -- Wolf.

BLITZER: We've got clever, clever viewers out there, Jack.

CAFFERTY: They're great, aren't they?

BLITZER: I love those people.

All right, Jack, thank you.

In today's Political Ticker, Republicans are hoping for a grand old party at their convention in St. Paul, Minnesota in the first week in September. Construction now underway over at the host site, the Xcel Energy Center, to get ready for September 1st. Thousands of delegates, guests, members of the news media -- we're all going to be there, crowding the hockey arena. The GOP convention starts just four days after the Democrats end their convention in Denver. McCain's strategists say that could work to their candidate's advantage.

Campaign debt is proving tough to get rid of for Senator and former White House hopeful, Hillary Clinton. "The New York Times" reports she leant her presidential campaign another million dollars at the end of June. Unpaid bills had increased to $12 million by that point. Clinton has now lent her campaign more than $13 million to pay outstanding debt.

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

Jeanne Moos has something on her mind.

JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I wonder what Barack Obama would say from a postcard from his big overseas trip.

BLITZER: Meeting the troops -- Jeanne Moos fills in the rest of Obama's postcard, right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Vacation postcards -- we all send them.

But what if you're a White House hopeful playing ball with the troops in Kuwait and springing across Iraq and Afghanistan?

What might Barack Obama tell his family back home?

CNN's Jeanne Moss has this Moost Unusual report.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Dear Michelle and girls, Daddy sure wishes you were here -- walking into a gym full of troops in Kuwait was just like walking into one of my campaign rallies. One soldier even held up a "Chi-town" sign. She must be from Chicago, too.

I ate breakfast with the troops in Afghanistan. They caught me on camera eating a strip of bacon, though the press seems to think I'm an arugula eating fitness fanatic.

And speaking of fitness... (VIDEO CLIP)

MOOS: ...did you see me playing basketball?

OBAMA: I may not make the first one, but I'll make one eventually.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Get it in.

MOOS: Shock and awe.

(on camera): Wish you were here?

Members of the press went...

(VIDEO CLIP)

MOOS (voice-over): Instead, it was just a military camera crew following me around the hot spots. They even shot me washing my hands before breakfast. Their questions were sure a lot nicer than the ones I get from the regular press.

QUESTION: What's it like eating breakfast with the troops?

What's it like?

OBAMA: The food is excellent, but the company is even better.

MOOS: I know everyone is analyzing whether I look presidential.

OBAMA: Thank you so much for having me.

MOOS: Meeting with these foreign leaders, don't you think I look the part, sitting in those tacky chairs with the gold guild?

How many Afghans does it take, any way, to fill up a lavender couch?

And when I had to face the nation, that blond reporter asked about overcoming doubts people have about me being commander-in-chief.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you have any doubts?

OBAMA: Never.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MOOS: Now they're going to say I'm talking like an elitist again. I haven't made any gaffes yet. But The Huffington Post pointed out somebody who did.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCCAIN: Particularly given the situation on the Iraq-Pakistan border.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MOOS: Too bad Iraq and Pakistan don't share a border. Later in the week, I'll be giving a speech in Berlin before adoring throngs, sort of like JFK.

JOHN F. KENNEDY, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Ich bin ein Berliner.

MOOS: Maureen Dowd wrote about me -- "Ich bin ein Jetsetter." Though, so far, I've spent more time in a helicopter with General Petraeus than in military planes.

Did you see my newly refurbished campaign plane?

Change we can believe in -- unless you're changing planes and we lose your luggage.

So what if those snarky, right-wing blogs are promoting t-shirts making fun of my world tour, showing me as a messiah or on a magic carpet?

At least I have the audacity of hoops.

Love, Barack.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Leave it to Jeanne Moos.

Thank you, Jeanne, very much.

That's all the time we have.

I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Let's go to Lou.

He's standing by in New York -- Lou?