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THE SITUATION ROOM
New York City Trial For 9/11 Suspects; Sarah Palin Burning Bridges?
Aired November 13, 2009 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: In this case, though, the arrest of these bloggers has got worldwide attention.
So, you can see here this is a protest outside the embassy of Azerbaijan here in Washington, D.C., complete with donkey masks. Azerbaijan, the authorities have not responded to repeated questions from CNN about the trial -- Wolf.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Abbi, thank you.
And happening now: the best political team on television on these stories.
The self-proclaimed mastermind of the 9/11 attacks will get his day in court, civilian court, only blocks from ground zero -- this hour, the angry backlash.
And why the president needs a new lawyer, the inside story on first big shakeup in the Obama White House.
And Sarah Palin burning bridges with her new book. Will "Going Rogue" help her political future or destroy it?
We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
The Obama administration says it's justice in action. The self- proclaimed mastermind of the 9/11 attacks will be tried in New York City. That's near the scene of the crime. But critics say it's a threat to national security and an affront to the victims of the attacks.
Our homeland security correspondent, Jeanne Meserve, is walking into the THE SITUATION ROOM.
You're here in THE SITUATION ROOM, Jeanne. Tell us what's going on, because this is causing quite an uproar.
JEANNE MESERVE, CNN HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: That's right. And the firestorm started even before the official announcement that the alleged terrorist would be brought to New York for trial.
MESERVE (voice-over): Just blocks from where the World Trade Center once stood, the men who allegedly plotted its destruction will face trial in a federal court. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who has confessed his role, and four others will be moved from the detention center at Guantanamo Bay to New York City. Attorney Eric Holder says prosecutor will seek the death penalty, and he thinks they will get it.
ERIC HOLDER, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: I'm quite confident that we're going to be successful in the prosecution efforts.
JEANNE MESERVE, CNN HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Holder's predecessor, President Bush's attorney general, called the decision to move the cases out of military commissions unwise.
MICHAEL MUKASEY, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: This step to appears to have resulted simply from a commitment to close Guantanamo within a year, because regardless of the reality on the ground, it has a poor image.
MESERVE: Capitol Hill critics were even harsher.
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: I do not understand why a war criminal should be able to have the same rights as a common criminal.
MESERVE: Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was water-boarded 183 times. And defense attorneys will likely use that to try to block the use of his confessions. Though the Justice Department says there is other evidence that's still not public, critics feel that there could be acquittals and that terrorists could be released into the United States, though current law prohibits that.
But the father of a firefighter who died on 9/11 is just fine with the administration's decision to bring the alleged terrorists to New York.
JIM RICHES, FATHER OF 9/11 VICTIM: Let them come back to the biggest stage in the world and they will be shown they will given a fair trial, and then they will be executed, as they deserve, because they don't deserve anything less.
MESERVE: The attorney general also announced Friday that the man charged with plotting the attack on the USS Cole and four others will be tried in military commissions, not civilian courts. No announcement yet on where those commissions will be held and no word on how the administration will deal with the other 200 or so detainees still at Guantanamo, which the U.S. of course still hopes to close in the new year.
BLITZER: Huge decision for Eric Holder, but I assume the president of the United States has to sign off on something controversial as this.
MESERVE: Well, it's interesting. I just read the transcript of an interview the attorney general did this afternoon. And he said he told the president of his decision, but he's the one who made it. BLITZER: Yes, that's going to have huge ramifications for the president. So, I assume, if the president would have said, you know what, I don't like this decision, he would have said to his friend Eric Holder, don't do it, because there's a lot at stake here.
MESERVE: Yes, one would guess that.
BLITZER: And he is a constitutional professor formerly at the University of Chicago Law School, President Obama.
MESERVE: It's true.
BLITZER: So, he knows something about this. But I'm sure he's a good politician. He understands the political fallout as well.
MESERVE: That's right.
And Eric Holder is a former prosecutor, so he understands how that game is played.
BLITZER: Good. Thanks very much, Jeanne Meserve.
MESERVE: You bet.
BLITZER: There are about 200 detainees left at Guantanamo Bay. Most of their fates are in limbo. Some of the most infamous detainees, Abu Zubaydah, said to be an operational planner for al Qaeda and a top lieutenant to Osama bin Laden. Also at Gitmo right now, Mohamed Qahtani, widely believed to be the so-called 20th hijacker in the 9/11 attacks.
The e-mails have been flying all day long from lawmakers responding to the decision to try these 9/11 suspects in New York City, most of the outrage coming from Republicans, but not exclusively, who say war criminals should not be treated like common criminals.
Let's bring in our senior congressional correspondent, Dana Bash, who's been getting the reaction.
And lots of people are upset.
DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Lots of people are upset.
We were most interested in what the New York delegation thought, because the New York delegation, obviously, it is most important, is closest to home for them. Now, most of the congressmen and two senators from New York are of course Democrats, so it was mostly supportive and positive.
But, specifically, we talked to and we got a statement from Jerry Nadler, who actually represents the courthouse where this is going to be tried and also, of course, ground zero. And here's what he said.
He said: "It is fitting that they be tried in New York, where the attack took place. Any suggestion that our prosecutors and our law enforcement personnel are not up to the task of safely holding and successfully prosecuting terrorists on American soil is insulting and untrue."
So, he says it's perfectly safe.
Well, I talked by phone to Republican Peter King, who represents suburban New York. He could not disagree more. I should tell you he's also the top Republican on the House Homeland Security Committee. Here's what he said.
He said, "To me, it dramatically increases the terror threat to New York." He said, "We are already the top target of the world." He said, "They only have to be lucky once.
Another interesting thing. We heard both the mayor in New York City and the police commissioner said they're fine, they can handle it. Well, he said -- he told me that his father actually was a cop in New York and trained Ray Kelly. He said he's got a lot of friends in the police community. He said he doesn't believe it. He said they're already very strained and that it's going to be very hard on them to keep New York secure.
BLITZER: The U.S. Marshals office put out a statement saying they think they can handle the security as well.
But not all the Democrats, as you know, Dana, are thrilled with this decision.
BASH: That's right.
One in particular was quite harsh. And that is Senator Jim Webb of Virginia. He said he is concerned about the wisdom of this. And I will put up here on the wall the rest of his statement. He said, "Those who have committed acts of international terrorism are enemy combatants, just as certainly as the Japanese pilots who killed thousands of Americans at Pearl Harbor."
And he went on to say, "It will be disruptive, costly and potentially counter productive to try them as criminals in our civilian courts."
Now, as you know, Jim Webb is one of the most hawkish Democrats in Congress. He's actually a former Republican. So in some ways this isn't surprising, but the fact that this was so incredibly harsh, that he said point-blank not just this, but he believes that this is wrong, that these trials should go on in military tribunals, not in civilian courts, and was so open about it was pretty interesting.
BLITZER: Yes, it's very interesting. John McCain, we're going to have his reaction. We got that just a little while ago. That's coming up here in THE SITUATION ROOM as well.
John McCain not very happy about this decision. BASH: Of course.
BLITZER: More Republican anger from former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani. The man who led the city through the horrors of 9/11 issued this statement. Let me read to it you in part.
"We have regressed to a pre-9/11 mentality with respect to Islamic extremist terrorism. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed should be treated like the war criminal he is and tried in a military court. He is not just another murderer or even a mass murderer. He murdered as part of a declared war against us, America."
And this just coming into THE SITUATION ROOM. We now know the punishment for former Louisiana Congressman William Jefferson. He was sentenced only moments ago for taking hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes.
CNN's Kate Bolduan is joining us with details.
All right, Kate, what did he get?
KATE BOLDUAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey there, Wolf. Well, the headline here, 13 years in a federal prison. And even if you don't remember the particulars of this case, everyone will remember the $90,000 of cash discovered in former Congressman William Jefferson's freezer in 2005.
You see pictures right here. He was convicted on 11 counts of corruption over the summer, bribery, money laundering, wire fraud, racketeering. Today, he faced the music, as we said, sentenced to 13 years in a federal prison. And that is much less than the sentencing guidelines, which ranged from 27 to 33 years.
Jefferson's attorney had asked for leniency in the sentencing, citing Jefferson's humble beginnings and long history as a public servant, the Louisiana Democrat serving Congress for 18 years. But in a case that included allegations of influence-peddling, soliciting hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes for himself and his family, prosecutors argued Jefferson shouldn't receive any preferential treatment.
Now, I should say, Wolf, that Jefferson had pled not guilty. He denies any wrongdoing. And the producer Paul -- our producer Paul Courson, who was in the courtroom, he said that Jefferson did not speak in court, under the guidance of his attorney, pending appeal. So, this may not be the end.
BLITZER: We will see what happens at the appeal. They wanted almost 30 years, the prosecution, against him. He gets 13 years. If he serves 13 years, he may have been better off copping a plea. He could have negotiated maybe a shorter prison sentence, but he didn't want to do that.
BLITZER: Kate Bolduan, thank you. BOLDUAN: Of course.
Even thousands of miles away from home, issues are dogging the president, domestic policy issues. He's on a trip to Asia. You're going to hear how the president was pressed over issues you care about and how he answered in front of a foreign audience.
BLITZER: Let's get back to our top story: the Obama administration's decision to send five terrorists from Guantanamo Bay, detainees, to New York City, where they will be put on trial. Critics say it will put the nation at risk.
Let's continue to discuss what's going on, the decision to try these five 9/11 detainees.
Tom Foreman is standing by.
You have got some of the logistics, where this is all going to unfold, Tom.
TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Sure, Wolf.
Let's look back a little more than eight years ago. This is what it looked like on the lower end of Manhattan, when we had the Twin Towers rising there up above that whole financial area, where people get so involved in great finance. And it was beautiful. It was an extraordinary sight.
And we had that amazing thing that happened that morning. Trust me, this is going to be what you hear a lot of and see a lot of in this trial. This is what it looks like now, ground zero. Many of you as tourists have probably been there, seen the great sort of hole in the Manhattan skyline.
Well, this trial, Wolf, is actually not far away. Remember, of the 2,800 or so people who died that way, about 2,600 of them died right here. So, let's move over to the courthouse and give you a sense of how close that is. It's only about a 15-, 20-minute walk about 10 blocks away from ground zero.
You get to the Daniel Patrick Moynihan United States Courthouse. This is where they tried the terrorists from the first World Trade Center bombing back in 1993. So they can certainly manage the security around here. These are the folks who are going to be involved, of course, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, one of the masterminds.
Of these four fellows down below, three of them are people who actually are believed to have volunteered to take part in the actual plane hijacking and the attacks that day, but they couldn't get into the country at the time. All of them were captured in Pakistan.
One of the issues about security, though, Wolf, that I think we really have to look at here -- it's an important thing -- is, let's fly out and just look at downtown overall. And I'm going to turn on what the real concern is here, all the potential targets you would have in Manhattan.
If you look at them -- if I can get them all to turn on here, you will see -- look at this. You have got the South Street Seaport over here, a population tourist destination, the Brooklyn Bridge over here. Here's Wall Street right down here. Here's City Hall. Here's the World Financial Center basically over here.
This is where the trial's going to be, right up in here. So, this is an area where there are an awful lot of people, millions of folks every day, an awful lot of attention even on a normal day. There will be a lot of concern about security for all of these places in the midst of this trial and even further up in midtown, as you go past Times Square, Rockefeller Center, all of those places, the Empire State Building.
Wolf, it's going to be a very, very big event and a very emotional event, I'm sure, for New York City, as they try to seek justice in this case that rocked all of us -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Tom Foreman, thanks very much.
Joining us now from Lubbock, Texas, a man who was in on the decisions that put these suspected terrorists in Guantanamo Bay in the first place, the former Attorney General in the Bush administration Alberto Gonzales.
Thanks very much, Mr. Attorney General, for coming in.
ALBERTO GONZALES, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: I'm happy to be here, Wolf.
BLITZER: Are you confident that the federal justice system can deal adequately with these five suspected terrorists?
GONZALES: Well, you know, Wolf, the Bush administration decided after the attacks of 9/11 that we would provide a series of options for a president to deal with a captured terrorist.
One is to detain them indefinitely, without charges. And that's something that is allowed under the laws of war. And I do believe that someone like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed is a war criminal. Any time you're responsible for the death of over 3,000 innocent civilians, that is a war crime. And as far as I'm concerned, he is a war criminal.
But, in addition to detaining someone indefinitely without charges, we can -- we devised a system where we could bring terrorists to justice through the criminal justice system or through military commissions. And, again, the goal was to provide the commander in chief as many options as possible to deal with captured terrorists.
BLITZER: Well, what's wrong with using the justice -- the civilian courts to try to bring these guys to justice?
GONZALES: In the appropriate case, it may be the right thing to do. The question is, is it the right thing to do with respect to this particular individual?
You have to understand that there is a presumption of innocence...
BLITZER: Do you think it is?
GONZALES: Do I think it is what?
BLITZER: The right thing to try Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in a federal courtroom in New York City?
GONZALES: Again, here are the challenges as I see, Wolf.
First of all, he will be entitled to the full privileges under the Constitution. His lawyer will do everything that they can do to exclude certain evidence that they claim was obtained through coercion, in violation of his constitutional rights.
They will want access to information that we consider extremely sensitive and classified information. They may want access to detainees as witnesses at Guantanamo Bay. They may insist and ask the judge, we want to question these witnesses, bring them over to the United States.
And, so, there's a great deal of fear about that. But, in addition to that, Wolf, by bringing someone like KSM into the United States, it does raise a host of very difficult legal questions about what additional statutory and constitutional rights that a foreign terrorist might have.
BLITZER: All right.
GONZALES: For example, would he have the right to file a claim under the Federal Tort Claims Act? Would he have the right to file a Bivens claims for violations of his constitutional rights. These are all unknowns..
GONZALES: ... and one of the reasons that I think people have concern about coming here.
BLITZER: I hear you saying that you disagree with the Justice Department's decision today, Eric Holder's decision; you think it was a blunder?
GONZALES: I think that there are very serious challenges that I hope people within the administration consider very, very carefully, because you have to assume that various decisions, various rulings by the judge are going to go in your favor.
And at the end of the day, these are very difficult legal questions. And what happens if someone like this is acquitted.
BLITZER: Excuse me for interrupting. I'm trying -- just trying to get your sense.
You're worried about the decision, but you're not ready to say it was a blunder?
GONZALES: Again, sitting here today, I don't know what kind of information the attorney general has today.
But I can tell you that there are a series of very serious challenges and concerns, challenges and concerns that we considered and thought about very carefully during the Bush administration.
BLITZER: All right.
GONZALES: And it is for that reason that President Bush exercised that option to continue to detain him without charges.
BLITZER: I want you to listen to what Congressman Joe Sestak, a retired admiral in U.S. Navy who was at the Pentagon on 9/11, then worked in counterterrorism, what he told me today here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. JOE SESTAK (D), PENNSYLVANIA: What better way to show the resolve of this nation than to bring them to New York City to see how their effort to try to destroy something has risen again. And then to bring them into that court system, to show them the strength of America, that the rule of law will show them they were wrong and throw away the keys once they have been brought to justice, it's the right way to do it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: You agree with him?
GONZALES: I think it is consistent with the rule of law to try him in a military commission, just as it would be just consistent with the rule of law to try him in our criminal justice system, just as it would be consistent with the rule of law to detain him indefinitely without charges.
Those are all consistent with the rule of law. The question is, what is the right policy for the United States of America to bring this person to justice, but to do so while protecting the national security of our country?
BLITZER: We will leave it on that note.
Alberto Gonzales, thanks very much for coming in.
He's still in a military hospital. Here's the question, what the accused Fort Hood shooter, what is he now telling his lawyer about his condition, including the severe pain he's in? (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
BLITZER: She ran for vice president of the United States with the Republican John McCain. Now Sarah Palin is spilling the beans on her soon-to-be-released memoir, "Going Rogue." We're going to have details for you.
And the White House counsel, the top lawyer at the White House, Greg Craig, calling it quits. We are going to examine how the personnel shift might change things.
BLITZER: Right now, President Obama is being warmly welcomed as he travels around Asia. It's an eight-day trip. And the president will stress that the United States wants to deepen its ties with that part of the world. And, yet, other issues are dogging him while he's abroad.
Our senior White House correspondent, Ed Henry, is traveling with the president -- Ed.
ED HENRY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this tour is taking the president from Japan, Singapore, China and South Korea. But it's clear the challenges back home are still front and center right here in Asia.
(voice-over): The president's biggest problems followed him to Asia, especially news that 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four other Guantanamo detainees will be sent to New York to trial, raising questions about whether the Obama administration can get guilty verdicts in civilian court.
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm absolutely convinced that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed will be subject to the most exacting demands of justice. The American people will insist on it and my administration will insist on it.
HENRY: At a news conference with Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama, the president was also pressed on whether he's taking too long to decide on new troop levels in Afghanistan. Mr. Obama promised an announcement soon, but made no apologies for the delay.
OBAMA: I am very pleased with how the process has proceeded. And those who participated, I think, would acknowledge that it has been not an academic exercise, but a necessary process in order to make sure that we're making the best possible decision.
HENRY: Hatoyama is pledging several billion dollars in reconstruction funds for Afghanistan, but has abruptly stopped refueling ships headed to war. The new prime minister ran on a platform of asserting Japanese independence, which is why he's also pushing hard for U.S. troops stationed in Okinawa -- a source of major protests here -- to be relocated to more remote areas of the country.
YUKIO HATOYAMA, JAPANESE PRIME MINISTER (through translator): It will be a very difficult issue, for sure. But as time goes by, I think it will become even more difficult to resolve the issue.
OBAMA: Both Yukio and I were elected on the promise of change. But there should be no doubt, as we move our nations in a new direction, our alliance will endure.
HENRY: Meanwhile, the president's alliance with his White House counsel is ending after Greg Craig resigned on Friday. He's being replaced by Democratic attorney, Bob Bauer, in a move that White House aides say is amicable. But other Democrats familiar with the move say that Craig was forced out because of mistakes dealing with the closure of Guantanamo -- yet another sign of how difficult dealing with terror suspects has become for this White House -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Ed Henry traveling with the president.
It appears Sarah Palin is naming names, settling some scores. Her new book, "Going Rogue," has not yet been formally released. But what we're hearing, partially, some of it pretty surprising. She's calling out certain people, including some from deep inside the John McCain campaign.
So what does the senator himself think?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: One of the things about campaigns and losers, there's always mistakes made. And the campaign that wins is always the perfect campaign. I'm proud of the campaign we ran. I'm proud of Sarah Palin. And we continue to have a great and wonderful relationship. And so I'm -- I'm very proud of the campaign we ran and I have moved forward.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE) did you read the book?
QUESTION: Have you read (INAUDIBLE)?
MCCAIN: No, I -- I've heard about it. I just received a signed copy of it from her yesterday, so I'll have to look -- I'll read it with interest.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: A lot of us will be reading it with interest.
Our senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley, is joining us.
Folks have pointed out that usually these memoirs are written at the end of the career, not potentially at the middle of a career.
CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: But if it is the middle of her career. Perhaps she's decided that what she wants to do is publish this book and make a lot of money, because the fact is that you don't get a million dollar advance for a book that you're not going to say something in. And, in general, for a book to sell, it has to have some of these details, to name names.
The fact of the matter is, is that some Republicans looking at what they have seen so far in these excerpts say it is not a book that one can run for president on, Wolf. They say what she really needs to do, if Sarah Palin wants to turn the corner and be seen as a serious presidential candidate, she has to remember that our latest poll -- 70 percent -- don't think she's qualified to be president. And she needs to turn the corner from celebrity into politician with some, serious thoughtful issues articulated.
Now, we don't know. Perhaps in this book -- there are a couple chapters on serious issues. That doesn't tend to sell well, but we'll see.
BLITZER: It's about a 400 page book.
CROWLEY: Right. It's huge.
BLITZER: So I assume there's a lot of good stuff in there. I read a little excerpt on "Drudge" today in which -- the excerpt had her explanation of why she decided to give Katie Couric that first interview. And she "blamed" Nicole Wallace, who was then a top adviser to John McCain, who had worked in the Bush White House.
CROWLEY: She did
BLITZER: Also, a guest on -- here in THE SITUATION ROOM on many occasions.
CROWLEY: I -- I talked to Nicole at some length this afternoon about the quotes attributed to her and she said -- and there -- there were others about her dissing -- hints that she was dissing George Bush, who obviously was a mentor of sorts of hers. She worked in his White House. She worked in his campaign.
And she said, listen, not a single thing quoted under my name is anything I ever said. She said, I -- Nicole said she expected that this would be a book where Palin had her say. She said, she should have her say. She said, I expected her to talk about this strategy was dumb and it wasn't well executed. And she said, the fact of the matter is there were enough things done wrong in that campaign, Nicole said she could have written about that without what Nicole said was making stuff up.
BLITZER: So she's saying those direct quotes attributed to her were...
CROWLEY: She said that the direct...
BLITZER: ...were lies?
CROWLEY: Were -- yes. She said not a single thing quoted under my name is anything I've said. And then she said, it's not even like it's slightly wrong. It's like I feel totally the opposite.
Thanks very much for that.
Sarah Palin May be in the spotlight, but some of her political competitors are certainly not shying away from that, either.
Let's walk over to our national political correspondent, Jessica Yellin.
I see it says, "GOP, where are they now?"
It's a good question, but I'm sure you've got the answers on this.
JESSICA YELLIN, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: We've got some answers, Wolf.
I wonder if some of the Sarah Palin news is making folks feel a little nostalgic for the other presidential contenders we heard so much about not long ago.
Well, Palin isn't the only one on the road telling her story.
So where are they now?
Well, former presidential contender Mitt Romney, best known for running the Olympics and bringing universal health care to Massachusetts, he's now in California. Tonight, he's going to speak to a group of young conservatives. And advance word is he will President Obama hard on Afghanistan, accusing him of inattention and dereliction on that front. It seems a speech designed to make headlines.
He's also, yes, writing a book -- "No Apology: The Case for American Greatness." Expect a book tour there. And he has a political action committee, Free and Strong America. They're raising money for fellow conservatives.
OK, let's walk back to the other side.
Where is he now, Mike Huckabee?
His greatest hits included an upset win in Iowa in 2008 and playing the guitar. He's now on the Huckabus in Spartanburg, South Carolina -- of course, a key early state -- and one of 22 states he's visiting on a book tour promoting his new book -- not a political book, "A Simple Christmas." We're told he's signing copies of his book around the country, but only his name, not personalizing any notes. He's also running the Huck PAC, dedicated to electing conservatives. And then we can't forget Tim Pawlenty. Yes. He is currently the governor of Minnesota. The truth is, he's not yet known for much, but supporters think he's got a lot of potential.
Today's stop, Florida -- Naples. He'll be there talking to the nonpartisan Forum Club.
And guess where he was last week?
Pawlenty, oh, he has not written a book. Maybe that's coming. But he does have his own PAC -- Freedom First, dedicated to promoting freedom in America.
And, Wolf, we should acknowledge that all these politicians say, oh, they have not decided whether or not they'll run for president next time around, but it sure seems like the race has started early.
BLITZER: Yes, it's started early. Well, it's never too early in this kind of business. And what, only, maybe three years until an election, but...
YELLIN: Thirty-five months.
BLITZER: Two years before Iowa, you know. So things are going to happen relatively quickly.
What do the polls show?
YELLIN: Well, our latest CNN poll shows that Huckabee is ahead of the pack, followed by Palin. Romney comes in third and Pawlenty is way at the bottom. He even scores lower than an unnamed other, who gets just 10 percent. But as you say, early days.
BLITZER: Other is doing better than Pawlenty.
YELLIN: It's not ideal.
BLITZER: He's got a lot of work to do, Pawlenty.
BLITZER: Thanks very much, Jessica.
Don't go too far away.
Later tonight, at 7:00 p.m. Eastern, right at the top of the hour, in honor of America's veterans, CNN photojournalists turn their lenses onto the men and women of the United States military. Our one hour special highlights stories of the service, the struggle and the success of our nation's vets and their loved ones.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
(MUSIC) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm still a musician, but I spend most of my days playing (INAUDIBLE).
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But after returning from Iraq, I decided to come out to myself.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE) the United States Marine Corps. (INAUDIBLE) kind of new.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's so important to have ships like this.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We were shooting at them, they were shooting at us and that's -- that's all you think about.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Please join host Tom Foreman, as CNN brings you "Veterans in Focus," honoring the men and women who've dedicated their lives to the service of our country. That airs at the top of the hour, 7:00 p.m. Eastern, only here on CNN. You can also check out more stories online at CNN.com/veterans.
The Obama administration has its first big shakeup. The White House counsel, Greg Craig, is out. The veteran Democratic attorney, Bob Bauer, is taking his place. The best political team on television takes a closer look at what's going on, the effects of this change -- what does it mean for President Obama?
BLITZER: A major shakeup in President Obama's senior staff. The White House counsel, the top lawyer at the White House, Greg Craig, announced his resignation today.
Let's talk about this and more with the best political team on television.
Joining us, our CNN senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley; the Democratic strategist, Jamal Simmons; Terry Jeffrey, editor-in-chief of the conservative news Web site, CnsNews.com; and our good friend, Clarence Page of the "Chicago Tribune".
All of them are actually good friends, not just Clarence Page. But we like...
BLITZER: We like Clarence a lot.
CLARENCE PAGE, "CHICAGO TRIBUNE": And we like each other, too.
BLITZER: He's what the attorney general, Eric Holder, said about his good friend, Greg Craig, today after it was announced he was leaving the White House. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ERIC HOLDER, ATTORNEY GENERAL: Greg is a friend of mine. And those who have tried to place on him, I think, an unfair proportion of the blame as to why things have not proceeded perhaps as we had wanted with regard to Guantanamo, that's simply unfair.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Is that the unfair?
Because Greg Craig, he's getting all the -- the grief, at least a lot of the grief, Clarence, because the president might not be able to meet that January 22nd deadline for closing down the detention camp at Guantanamo Bay.
CLARENCE PAGE, "CHICAGO TRIBUNE": Well, that's right. And it would be a shame for him to take the -- take the weight for that, but it looks like he is. At the same time, his wife, Anita Dunn, is leaving. Her temporary appointment is -- is ending.
BLITZER: It's not Greg Craig's wife, it's -- it's his replacement's wife.
PAGE: Oh, sorry.
PAGE: Bauer's wife.
PAGE: Right. Exactly.
But this is the kind of thing that has -- that you see at a point now where Guantanamo is not moving ahead as quickly as it should, Craig is taking -- has taken the fall for it.
BLITZER: Is that a fair -- a fair fall, if you will?
TERRY JEFFREY, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, CNSNEWS, CONSERVATIVE COMMENTATOR: I don't know. You know, I would like to think that he's leaving out of -- of what Eric Holder is going to do with these terrorists, Wolf. But, look, from a conservative perspective, I would just say that there's things that Greg Craig could have done as White House counsel and advising President Obama. He didn't do.
For example, where's the Constitutional analysis of this mandate in health care bill that everybody -- that insurance?
Orrin Hatch says it's not Constitutional.
Where was the legal analysis that said the president of the United States could take bank bailout money and buy a controlling interest in General Motors?
BLITZER: But he's got other problems, Greg Craig. But...
JEFFREY: Well, these are legal issues.
BLITZER: But the Justice Department normally would have to review a lot of that, too. You can't just pin it on a White House lawyer.
JEFFREY: But it's -- it's part of his responsibility.
BLITZER: It -- it certainly is.
What do you think?
JAMAL SIMMONS, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well, they're all playing very nice right now. Remember, if we can all go back...
BLITZER: Very nice?
Greg Craig is gone.
SIMMONS: He's gone, but they're all being very nice about him leaving. I mean, he has made a nice statement, the president made a nice statement about valuing his counsel and wanting him to come back and talk about it.
You know, Greg Craig did a very big solid favor for the president a year-and-a-half ago. He came out -- even though he had worked for President Clinton, he came out and endorsed Barack Obama in the primaries, which gave a lot of cover to people who were thinking about being with Barack Obama.
But Bob Bauer has been the president's attorney. And he's somebody, I think, he feels very close to. And now he's going to come into the White House and take over that White House counsel's office. And this things -- these things happen in administrations. We've seen them.
BLITZER: It certainly does...
SIMMONS: So this is the beginning.
BLITZER: But is it any way to treat someone like Greg Craig, who was an ardent supporter?
CROWLEY: He did -- he was out there on a limb...
CROWLEY: -- when he went against the -- the Clinton machine. I mean he's -- he's close to the Clintons. He was in the Clinton White House.
BLITZER: He worked aggressively in the Obama campaign for -- for the president CROWLEY: And he worked very aggressively for President Obama. I -- it may be nice on the surface, but he clearly is the fall guy for what we believe will be the missing of the deadline. But, you know, I said well, you know, the president shouldn't have signed that presidential order on the second day...
BLITZER: The executive order.
CROWLEY: the executive order saying we're going to close Guantanamo Bay in -- in a year, in January. I just don't believe that Greg Craig was the one that said OK, tomorrow, let's sign this executive order.
BLITZER: I'll tell you this, that deadline for January 22nd, according to Eric Holder, is clearly going to slip, because they can't just close it in time by January 22.
As controversial as that decision is, this decision today that Eric Holder announced, to send these five detainees, including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, to New York for trial, that's going to cause a bigger uproar, I suspect.
Listen to John McCain today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: Trying Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and the other terrorists that orchestrated and were responsible for the tragedy and the terrorist attacks of 9/11 is unacceptable to me and to the majority of the American people and to the families of 9/11.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: All right. He's going to get a lot of grief on this one. Eric Holder made the decision, but he -- it went through the president. The president could have said no. He decided not to, to let this go forward. It's going to cause a huge -- it already has caused a huge uproar.
SIMMONS: Well, it's caused a huge uproar with some of the -- some of the Republicans in the -- in the Senate and people like George Pataki, who I know you had on earlier today.
BLITZER: And Democratic Senator...
CROWLEY: Stu West (ph).
SIMMONS: Well, perhaps.
But here is the issue. And the issue is the American people voted for a president who was going to actually be engaged and set an example for the world about what we want. At the end of the day, this isn't just about what the terrorists have done to us. This is about who we are as Americans and what we think is appropriate. Justice, as Congressman Sestak, who was on your show earlier, said justice is something that we -- that we value. And having people go through the system of justice and all these concerns about whether or not they're going to see access to classified information, there are laws that particular -- that prohibit defendants from having that kind of access.
BLITZER: All right, Jeffrey.
JEFFREY: The most telltale aspect here is that Harold Elder's (ph) decision today -- if you're taking five of these terrorists, your going to put them in a military commission. If we're taking five others, they're going to put them in federal court, including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the mastermind of 9/11.
By putting five of them out of commission, Holder and Obama are admitting that commissions are not unconstitutional, they're not illegal, they're not unjust.
They're saying that Mr. Nashiri, the mastermind of the Cole attack, Clinton administration go to the commission; Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the mastermind of 9/11, goes to -- to the courts. And what's going to happen here is you're going to have these lawyers for KSM saying he wasn't given his Miranda rights, he was waterboarded more than 100 times by the CIA when they interrogated him, he didn't break under the CIA until they interrogated him. And even if the jury knows this guy is guilty, they're going to try and game the system (INAUDIBLE).
BLITZER: Do you understand this decision by the Justice Department -- the Obama Justice Department -- some go to military trials, some go to civilian trials?
PAGE: Correct. I can only imagine that Eric Holder figures they can prosecute KSM, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, without the waterboarding question coming up, that they had enough evidence before that, before they brought him into custody, that they can mount their case.
I expect a New York jury isn't going to let Khalid Sheikh Mohammed off easily and that the appeals process is where these procedural questions will come up.
But I think Barack Obama is making a statement of faith in our judicial system, saying if it's not going to work for us here, then we need to scrap the whole thing if we don't have that...
BLITZER: Ten seconds.
PAGE: ...that much faith in it.
CROWLEY: I think this is one of those things that's -- I think it's a huge political risk. And we have to see how this trial goes.
Does it become inflammatory?
Is it chaos?
What do we see in the streets, I mean, that sort of thing?
We are not going to know whether this was brilliant or a huge mistake until we see this trial proceed.
SIMMONS: Well, we've done it before and Ray Kelly, the New York police commissioner, said it's OK.
BLITZER: He says the security, they can do the security on it.
SIMMONS: And Mayor Bloomberg said it's OK.
BLITZER: Security is different from the actual trial.
Guys, thanks very much.
We'll continue this conversation.
First it was a former beauty queen. Now Vice President Al Gore is giving our own Larry King a hard time. We're going to show you what happened.
And the world's largest cruise ship -- so big, it has its own Central Park. We'll take you aboard this city at sea.
BLITZER: It's the height of a 21 story building and five times bigger than the Titanic. Royal Caribbean's newest ship, Oasis of the Sea, arrived at its port in Florida today. Abbi Tatton has some details about this amazing ship.
ABBI TATTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's really massive. It's 40 percent bigger than its nearest rival. And this is the Oasis of the Seas arriving at Port Everglades in Florida today. To give you an idea of its size, it costs $1.4 billion to build, can carry more than 6,000 passengers, 2,000 crew. And it's so massive inside, it's divided up into seven different neighborhoods, one of them with its own version of Central Park.
Now, it's been on its way here from Finland, where it was built. It had a little bit of a close call when it passed through Denmark's Great Belt Bridge. If I can show this video here. This is when it went underneath. A crowd had gathered to see if it would make it. It did, just by two feet. Royal Caribbean, Wolf, says that they were never worried. They knew that they would always make it through.
BLITZER: It's -- it's a tough time, though, economically, to fill a ship like this.
TATTON: It really is. It was commissioned in 2006 -- a very different time for the cruise industry. Now, the inaugural voyage is next month, December 5th, and there are still spaces.
BLITZER: I suspect you'll be on -- in one of those spaces pretty soon.
Abbi, thank you.
Let's check in our Polit -- with our Political Ticker. Jessica Yellin is standing by for that -- Jessica.
YELLIN: Hi, Wolf.
Well, this just into the CNN Political Ticker. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison is reserving the right to change her mind. We've learned the Republican will announce tomorrow that she's not quitting her day job while she runs for governor of tax.
Now, Hutchison had said she would resign from the Senate while she challenges current Republican governor, Rick Perry, for the Texas seat. When a Perry spokesman was told that Hutchison is keeping her Senate seat, he responded saying, he hopes this means she's taking the governor's advice to stay in Washington. Zing.
All right, here's a trivia question for you, Wolf -- what does Al Gore have in common with controversial former Miss California Carrie Prejean?
Well, they're both giving CNN's own Larry King a hard time, but Gore did it for laughs.
If you missed it, Prejean got a little snippy with Larry when she didn't like the questions he was asking.
Listen to what she said then listen to Gore spoof her when he sat down with Larry the very next day.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM "LARRY KING LIVE")
LARRY KING, HOST: In mediation, it was discussed why you were mediating.
CARRIE PREJEAN, FORMER MISS CALIFORNIA: Larry, it's completely confidential...
PREJEAN: ...and you're being inappropriate.
KING: All right.
PREJEAN: You're being inappropriate.
KING: All right. INAPPROPRIATE KING LIVE continues.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KING: The book is "Our Choice: A Plan to Solve the Climate Crisis."
The author is Al Gore and we'll be coming back to that and a lot of other topics tonight.
It's always great to see you.
AL GORE, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, thank you for not being inappropriate.
KING: Ah, they won't let go of it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
YELLIN: Al Gore a funny guy.
So, Wolf, I bet you've never asked an inappropriate question on television.
BLITZER: I'm going to be filling in for Larry King later tonight, 9:00 p.m. Eastern, so I'm going to try not to be inappropriate. I hope nobody walks off the set with me.
Thanks very much, Jessica, for that.
A very special edition of our Hot Shots -- that's coming up next.
BLITZER: Eight years ago, a Hot Shots producer named Eric Sherling joined my team -- a team that like to call The Wolf Pack. And this is his last day as our executive producer -- a very, very sad day for all of us.
So, Eric, here's a Hot Shot tribute from your family here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
These pictures of Eric give our viewers here in the United States and around the world only a glimpse of the man we so admire and will miss terribly at work here in Washington.
Or covering elections. There he is covering an election.
Or with his wonderful family.
Oh, and, Jack -- a wonderful family, indeed.
Today, we toasted Eric and we wished him all -- only the best. He's heading off to "Good Morning America." That's a show that airs on another network early in the mornings.
Now, there he is. There's Eric Sherling. No one -- let's listen to that (INAUDIBLE) sound of that applause right now. There he is, Eric Sherling. He's done a great job for all of us. Eight years working with me, can you imagine?
We're going to wish him only, only the best. And we wish his wife, Leslie, only the best, as well. She's getting ready to deliver a third little Eric Sherling, as well. Only, only the best.
Eric, we're going to miss you. You did a great job.
Good luck down the road.
Thanks very much for joining us.
I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Up next, "VETERANS IN FOCUS: SERVICE, STRUGGLE AND SUCCESS."