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CNN BREAKING NEWS

Miers Nomination Withdrawn; CIA Leak Investigation

Aired October 27, 2005 - 11:59   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: It's approaching noon here in Washington, and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM, where new pictures and information from around the world are arriving all the time.
Happening now, Harriet Miers' nomination goes down in flames. And battle lines already being drawn over the president's next Supreme Court pick.

This hour, more of our special coverage of the Miers withdrawal. The opposition that forced her out and the showdown likely to come.

President Bush says he accepted Miers' decision to bow out reluctantly. Does this striking turn of events spare him grief or only add to his political headaches?

And talk about timing. The Miers bombshell comes on what could be the even of indictments. The special prosecutor now expected to announce the outcome of that CIA leak probe tomorrow.

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

Major developments here in Washington. Let's check in with our reporters. Our White House reporter, Dana Bash, is covering this story. Our congressional correspondent, Ed Henry, is as well.

Dana, let's start with you. Recap what has happened.

DANA BASH, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, what happened really is this nomination, Wolf, as you've been talking about, which was embattled from the beginning, ended this morning when the White House put out a letter that Harriet Miers wrote to President Bush formally withdrawing her nomination, saying that this is something that "clearly is a burden for White House and our staff, that's not in the best interest of our country."

That's what she wrote to President Bush formally. But it was really last night that she made a phone call to the president saying that she was going to go ahead and do this, going ahead and withdrawing.

That after a series, a flurry of last-ditch meetings to try to figure out if there is any way to salvage this nomination. Meetings between the vice president and members of the team here, trying to push Harriet Miers. And also a call that the White House chief of staff got from Capitol Hill, from the Senate majority leader, saying, look, this isn't -- this just isn't going to happen. Now, the White House is putting this today is that they were at an impasse. Essentially, Wolf, the rank and file revolt had turned into something that really mattered, which is the votes. The White House realized the votes just weren't going to be there in the Senate.

The president made clear in a written statement today that he is very disappointed in this process, but he would move forward quickly. Now, we haven't heard from him at all about this, but certainly over the last several weeks we heard time and time again from him about why he thought Harriet Miers would be a good nominee.

Let's look back from something he said about a few week ago.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I picked Harriet for a lot of reasons. One reason was because she had never been a judge. I thought it made a lot of sense to bring a fresh outlook of somebody who has actually been a successful attorney. And not only a successful attorney, but been a pioneer for women lawyers in Texas. I remind you that she was one of the top 50 women lawyers in the United States, consistently ranked that way.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BASH: Now, that was the president in the Rose Garden answering one of many questions he has been asked about his embattled nomination. This is a White House that frankly, Wolf, was surprised about the massive opposition that was coming within their own ranks to this nomination for a very -- for a variety of reasons. And it's also a White House that tried to correct that along the way, trying various options, talking about her resume, talking about her religion, making phone calls to some of the conservatives who were most in opposition to this.

None of that worked. And again, what it came down to was the Senate getting the votes through. And the White House, it was clear to them that that just wasn't going to happen.

BLITZER: I assume, Dana, and correct me if I'm wrong, the White House is about to start a major new round of consultations with Democrats, Republicans up on the Hill to try to come up with a new name. But correct me if I'm wrong.

BASH: Yes, we can assume that. Ironically, the person who will likely be leading that charge will be Harriet Miers herself because, she is, of course, the White House counsel. And she is going to lead this process.

You know, part of the problem, one of the many problems that some have told me here, is that Harriet Miers didn't have a Harriet Miers. That because she was the nominee, there was no one who was really in control of the process for her. That's one of the problems.

Now, back on the consultation, you know, we heard some Democrats this morning saying that the White House maybe didn't consult, or that they need to consult. The irony here is that initially, when Harriet Miers was put up, the president and his aides said it was because of consultation with Democrats, that they wanted somebody from outside the judicial bench, from outside the monastery, as they call it. And that was the first thing that set off conservatives, the first of many things that set off conservatives, is that she didn't have a clear conservative judicial record.

BLITZER: Dana Bash at the White House. Dana, thank you.

And what Dana says is absolutely true. Two of the influential Democrats that influenced the president on the Harriet Miers nomination, clearly in Patrick Leahy, the ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, and the Democratic leader in the House of Representatives, Harry Reid.

Let's go up to Capitol Hill. Ed Henry is watching this story for us.

They recommended, in effect, someone like Harriet Miers. And you see what happened, Ed.

ED HENRY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. And everybody knew -- obviously it was the biggest open secret in town that this nomination was in deep trouble. Dana Bash talking about the flurry of meetings over at the White House yesterday. There was also a high-level meeting here at the Capitol yesterday in Vice President Cheney's office, where White House officials were working behind closely with Texas Senator John Cornyn, the biggest supporter of Harriet Miers, trying desperately to save this nomination.

Here's Senator Cornyn right now live, actually, taking questions about the nomination.

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

SEN. JOHN CORNYN (R), TEXAS: ... suggestions or specific names. And I think that's been very good. I saw one of my colleagues on the other side of the aisle that said there hadn't been enough consultation. Well, clearly there has, an unprecedented consultation.

Yes?

QUESTION: Do you think that the Miers nomination shows that it would be almost impossible for someone to serve on the Supreme Court now if they haven't been a judge before?

CORNYN: Well, I certainly hope that's not the case. And it shouldn't be the case.

I mean, my -- one reason I felt so strongly about Harriet Miers' qualifications is I thought she would fill some very important gaps in the Supreme Court. Because right now you have people who have been federal judges, circuit judges most of their lives, or academicians. And what you see is a lack of grounding in reality and common sense that I think would be very beneficial. The best example I can think of is the Ten Commandments decision. It took 10 opinions from nine justices to decide that the Ten Commandments was -- could constitutionally be displayed in Texas but not Kentucky. That doesn't strike me as a very practical or common sense exercise of judicial authority.

Yes, ma'am.

QUESTION: Senator...

BLITZER: John Cornyn is the -- one of the Republican senators from Texas. He had been a strong supporter of Harriet Miers' nomination, expressing disappointment that she's decided to withdraw that nomination.

Ed Henry, you're up on Capitol Hill. Give us a flavor of what the Democrats are up to on this day after Harriet Miers announces that she's withdrawing her nomination.

HENRY: Wolf, Democrats can barely contain their glee. They see this as basically an inter-party Republican fight. And they're immediately trying to shape the debate over the next nominee, whoever President Bush picks before that name has even surfaced. They're already trying to say that conservatives were rising up here, that they won, they beat back the White House nominee that they did not feel was adequately conservative enough, and they're trying to shape the debate so they can immediately say that the next nominee, whoever it is, is too far to the right.

Here's Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MINORITY LEADER: Mr. President, I believe without any question when the history books are written about all this that it will show that the radical right wing of the Republican Party drove this woman's nomination right out of town. Apparently, Ms. Miers didn't satisfy those who want to pack the Supreme Court with rigid ideologies.

The only voices heard in this process were the far right. She wasn't even given a chance to speak for herself before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HENRY: Now, top Republicans are already objecting to this characterization, telling me that Democrats are basically shedding crocodile tears here, that a lot of Democrats were probably going to end up voting against Harriet Miers on the issue of abortion. But the bottom line is, Democrats didn't even get that chance. And we'll never know, because, in fact, conservatives were the ones who pushed this nomination back -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Ed. Thanks very much. Kay Bailey Hutchison, a Republican senator from Texas, strong supporter, good friend of Harriet Miers, speaking on the floor right now.

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

SEN. KAY BAILEY HUTCHISON (R), TEXAS: "... my service in the White House to demonstrate my experience and judicial philosophy. While I believe that my lengthy career provides sufficient evidence for consideration of my nomination, I am convinced the efforts to obtain executive branch materials and information will continue."

Mr. President, this is a letter that was written by a woman who cares more about our country, more about our president and his role, and the respect for his role under the separation of powers in the Constitution than she cares about a wonderful cap for a wonderful career. And that is, her career.

I admire her even more, if that's possible, for the decision that she has made. I have to say I'm disappointed in that decision, because I know she would have be a superb justice. She would have been a strict constructionist. She would have been a judge who knew the place of a judge not to make law, which is a requirement and responsibility for those elected for that purpose, but she would have be a justice who looked at and interpreted the law.

And I'll tell you what else Harriet Miers would have done that I think is very important. She would have known what it was that she could do on the Supreme Court to give to give guidance to legislatures, to members of Congress, to clients that are being represented by lawyers throughout the country about how this law should be interpreted.

She would have...

BLITZER: Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, a Republican of Texas, a strong support of Harriet Miers, expressing her disappointment on how all of this has unfolded.

Let's bring back our chief national correspondent, John King, our chief political correspondent, senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley.

You've had a little time to weigh in, both of you, to weigh in with some of your sources.

What are you picking up, John?

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, one, that even Republicans who last night said there's no way the president would ever do this because -- even though he knew he had a troubled nominee, that it would be more harmful to drop out, to have her drop out and to withdraw the fight. They're saying the president did the right thing, he had no choice because of the math. You've heard Dana and Ed talking about the math on Capitol Hill. Another thing I think that is stunning -- and this is what Republicans are having -- now that this is done, they're having to look at themselves. It was a year and one week ago that the president won re-election with 51 percent of the vote. The Republicans held down the Congress. The Republican Party was in ascendance, and everybody said that was a chance to build an even bigger majority party.

Right now, who's in charge? You have a weekend president, the House majority leader was forced out. There is profound disappointment among most Republicans with the Senate majority leader, Bill Frist. The Republican party has a -- we'll call this a victim of an internal civil war or an internal war within the Republican Party. There's a bigger question about what comes next for the party.

BLITZER: Candy.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SR. POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: I'm hearing Democrats who can hardly sit in their seats. They're excited. They just basically feel they didn't have to put a chit in the ante at all.

They just -- they -- they got to sit back. They feel they are well positioned for the next fight, as you heard Ed talking about.

Conservatives' relief? I can't tell you how many of them on the phone in the break said, "We are just so relieved."

And -- but now they really are trying not to get in the president's way. And by that, they say, look, you're not going to see groups coming out saying, how about, you know, Priscilla Owen, or how about this person, or Michael Luttig, how about any of those people? Because they are afraid it will be the kiss of death, because they're watching what the Democrats are saying.

And so they know that they need to now not play a huge obvious forceful hand, that they need to kind of give the president a little bit of running room. However, the nuclear option comes up more than once in conversations with conservatives. They wouldn't mind if this becomes a big fight.

BLITZER: All right. We're going to talk about that nuclear option, and filibusters, all sort of other things.

But let's bring in Jan Greenburg, who covers the Supreme Court, among other things, for the "Chicago Tribune." She's joining us now live. She's here in Washington.

You spent a lot of time over at the Supreme Court. What does this mean, this decision, Jan, by Harriet Miers to withdraw her name as a Supreme Court nominee? What does it mean?

JAN CRAWFORD GREENBURG, "CHICAGO TRIBUNE": Well, it means that Justice Sandra Day O'Connor is going to be sitting on the bench a lot longer than any of us thought, this would be including Justice O'Connor herself. As you know, she announced her retirement at the end of June. It was dependent on the confirmation of her successor. So, when the president turned to John Roberts to take the chief justice seat, he called her and said, get ready on your homework, you're going to be back on the bench. We expected that she would finish things up by the middle of November. But now it looks like at least, at least, to the end of the year.

And this is an important term for this court. There are controversial cases. There are two big abortion cases, one of which is being argued on November 30.

It looks like Justice O'Connor, the critical swing vote, the vote that often makes a difference, will be there and participating in those key cases. That is something that we did not expect.

BLITZER: Is it -- correct me if I'm wrong on this, but the justices who hear the arguments are the ones who participate in the eventual vote on the final decision. In other words, if the new nominee, whoever that might be, is not hearing the arguments, that new nominee is not gong to be participating in the final vote. It's going to be Sandra Day O'Connor?

GREENBURG: Not necessarily. And that's why we've got this really bizarre situation at the Supreme Court right now.

Justice O'Connor is back. I've seen her the last couple weeks in arguments. She's very active, asking questions like she always does, really participating. But if she is not on the bench when the decision itself is written and finished up and edited and ready to be released, then her vote will not count. So it's this strange situation where she can sit here and weigh in on these cases, but we don't know at the end of the day if her vote will count.

Now, the new nominee, when the new nominee comes in, what the court has done in the past for controversial cases, for example, with Justice Thomas when he came on the court, having missed the first two weeks of argument, the justices voted to reargue cases that were divided 4-4. So in this case, if they did that, the new nominee could come in, hear the case again with the other justices. But don't think she'll cast the deciding vote, or he'll cast the deciding vote.

History shows that sometimes when a new justice comes in all the justices rethink their position. And we saw that when Justice Thomas joined the court.

BLITZER: And that's presumably one reason why so many conservatives want not just a rubber stamp, if you will, someone who is going to go along with Antonin Scalia and Justice Thomas, but someone who is going to be articulate and knowledgeable, an effective leader for that side of the story.

GREENBURG: Wolf, that's exactly right. This nomination was so critical to the conservative legal base. They worked 20 years, and this was the ballgame, the chance to replace the key swing vote in the middle. And Harriet Miers they believed just did not have the international heft, not only to follow Justice Scalia, but to stand up to the intellectual heavyweights that President Clinton nominated, say Justice Ginsburg and Justice Breyer.

They want someone who necessarily is not just going to vote the right way, as the White House was trying to assure conservatives, but who has the intellectual heft to get to the right decision by doing this intense legal analysis while you've got people on the left who are, you know, intellectual heavyweights in their own right saying, no, it should be the other way.

BLITZER: Janet Crawford Greenburg rights for the "Chicago Tribune," covers the Supreme Court.

Jan, thank you very much.

Senator Jeff Sessions is a Republican from Alabama. He's joining us now live.

Senator Sessions, what's your reaction?

SEN. JEFF SESSIONS (R-AL), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: Well, Wolf, I hate it for her personally because she was such a fine and decent person. And I think could have made a good judge -- or justice in the court. But, you know, things just never seemed to come together. It was just one thing after another. And I'm not sure it was the right appointment. And maybe in the end things will work out.

But I really feel for her, because she could have done a nice job. I think she might have done better at these hearings than people think. But I believe -- I believe she made the decision she felt was right. And I think the president had no choice but to accept it.

KING: Senator Sessions, this is John King. I want to ask you a question. I tried earlier today with one of your colleagues.

Is this document fight truly the reason, as the White House is saying, or as you noted, there are many things that didn't come together? Many I've spoken to in the hours since this has unfolded have said that is being used as an excuse. That simply there was not the support among Republicans for Harriet Miers, and the president needed a reason to save face, if you will?

SESSIONS: Well, I think there as unease out there for a lot -- for the reasons, really, Janet Greenburg just mentioned. She does not have a depth of experience in constitutional issues that most of us feel that probably is necessary right now on the Supreme Court.

A lawyer from a private firm is fine. But at this point in history, maybe this wasn't the right nomination.

But this thing over the White House documents is important. We had people demanding that she provide her constitutional memoranda that are confidential. The president was not going to do that. She did not have really any other constitutional writings to look at to see how she thought about constitutional issues. And so for her particular case, it was a pretty tough spot to be in.

CROWLEY: Senator Sessions, it's Candy Crowley. You have a budget that seems to be pretty out of control at this point, a war that's very unpopular. We just passed the 2,000 mark for the number of U.S. deaths.

You have some problems that may or may not be resolved tomorrow with a special prosecutor internally at the White House. And now you have another Supreme Court vacancy.

What is most important to Republicans on the Hill, that a conservative strict constructionist be put in that place, or that there not be a big, huge, messy fight?

SESSIONS: No, I think that the president needs to do what he did with John Roberts, present somebody of impeccable credentials, good integrity, and who can articulate his vision that a justice of the Supreme Court should show restraint and modesty. So I think that's big.

And I would just say, yes, this is a time of angst, maybe, among the American people, and a lot of things seem to be problems there. But our economy is doing well. We raised -- our Treasury got $212 billion more last year than the year before as a result of the rising economy.

Gas prices are causing people a great deal of concern. We hope this decline will continue. But high gas prices are a real concern for us.

I think the president can turn all of this around. I don't see any fundamental systemic problem that prevents him from reorganizing here a bit, taking a deep breath. Maybe rethinking how he's messaging.

Those of us in Congress probably need to rethink how we're communicating and come out with a clear agenda for the American people. And I believe we can overcome this. We certainly don't need to take it for granted, however.

BLITZER: Senator Jeff Sessions, Republican of Alabama, joining us here on our special coverage.

Thanks, Senator, very much.

SESSIONS: Thank you.

BLITZER: The president of the United States getting ready to arrive in Miami. He's going to be touring some of the damage from Hurricane Wilma. His brother Jeb Bush standing by to receive him, other top Homeland Security officials, FEMA officials.

There he is, the president, his brother, Jeb Bush, in the blue shirt on the phone, the cell phone, talking presumably with aides. We'll watch that story.

We're also watching the Harriet Miers nomination withdrawal.

When we come back, we'll update you, though, on the CIA leak case. There's new information coming in. Possible indictments tomorrow.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: She has been preparing, getting herself ready for confirmation hearings, but today she wrote a letter to the president saying, not going to happen. She's withdrawn her nomination, asked the president to withdraw the nomination. He has agreed Harriet Miers now will simply go on and resume her old job, that is counsel over at the White House, counsel to the president.

We're watching that story, getting reaction from all across the board. But there's another story that's unfolding, the CIA leak investigation.

Bob Franken is joining us now with more on that.

What's the latest, Bob?

BOB FRANKEN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the motto of the White House this week could be "It's always something." And the something tomorrow, we're told by sources who have knowledge of this case, will be an announcement by the special prosecutor, Patrick Fitzgerald, about whether there will be indictments after his nearly two-year-long investigation into the leaks of -- that disclosed the identity of Valerie Plame as an undercover CIA operative. She, the wife of Joseph Wilson, who had been a harsh administration critic in the areas of weapons of mass destruction.

Now, we do know that those two top prominent White House officials have been a focus of this investigation. Questions asked during testimony about Karl Rove and his conversation with reporters about the time of those disclosures, the public disclosures. Rove the deputy chief of staff at the White House now. More importantly, the president's longtime political adviser.

The other name, Scooter Libby, the vice president's chief of staff. An investigation into any role at the vice president's office might have had in this.

The possibilities, of course, would be, if there were indictments at that level, it would be really terrible news for an administration that can do without such things right now. We're told that when the grand jury meets tomorrow on what is its last scheduled day, that will be followed by announcements by the special prosecutor, Patrick Fitzgerald. What we will then find out, if Fitzgerald will continue to do work here or whether the investigation will mark the end of this -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Bob Franken. Thanks very much. We're going to check back with you on this story. And there's going to be a lot of news, presumably, tomorrow on this front.

John King and Candy Crowley are still here in THE SITUATION ROOM. We're watching the president about to land Air Force One in Miami. We've got a live picture. I want to show our viewers what's going on.

Jeb Bush's brother is down there. They're going to be dealing with the whole issue of hurricane relief in the aftermath of Wilma. There's Air Force One touching down in Miami right now. Lots of work on that front.

Were you surprised, John, having covered the White House for so many years, at how this announcement was made, the White House press office simply releasing the text of these two letters, Harriet Miers' letter and the letter from -- the letter from the president accepting this recommendation from her, as opposed to some sort of photo opportunity between the two of them?

KING: No, when you're on the way out, they tend to do it with paper announcements. That has -- that's a traditional thing. It goes back from administration to administration to administration.

You know (INAUDIBLE). Sometimes you're sitting in the White House booth, you think you finally have a slow moment, you're trying to make a few reporting phone calls, and the loud speaker system says, you know, "Statement from the president now in the bin."

And you think, statement from the president? Then you run up, and, boo. Sometimes you get a head's up call that it's coming.

That's how they tend to do it. You release the letter from the person who's withdrawing, then you release a statement from the president with it.

The president almost always says he accepts it with regret. And you also always in your first phone call have someone at the White House tell you the president realized he had no choice but to do this.

That's how the process unfolds.

As to am I surprised they did it, they can count. Like anyone else, they can count. But this is also a very stubborn president, and many thought because of his precarious political situation, he should at least try to get her through the hearings. But there was that meeting that our correspondents have been talking about, we talked about this morning.

The vice president and others trying to do the math here. They simply realized they were not going to get the Republicans in line. So you cut your losses.

BLITZER: Candy, you've covered this man for a long time, George W. Bush. You know him quite well. When he was running as governor of Texas for the nomination, you were our lead reporter at the time, watching every step of the way.

Were you surprised that he didn't stick up for this woman more aggressively on this -- on this point?

CROWLEY: You know, there are-- there are two George Bushes in some ways. There is the George Bush that John talks about. That is, you know, he's stubborn, he can get his back up. He can -- you know, he is like trying to turn a freighter.

And then there's the George Bush that goes, cut it off. And we saw that George Bush in the campaign. I'm not sure how many times we've seen it at the White House, but who looked on things as small as how many debates are there going to be? And there's going to be four, there's going to be four, there's going to be four, however many, and then when he realized it's not doable, bam, the next day they could turn on a dime.

This was the George Bush that can turn on a dime.

BLITZER: We're going to take a break. But Candy, it's going to be hard to make an evil man out of Patrick Fitzgerald, the special prosecutor, in this particular case, after the president only a few days ago said he was conducting this investigation in a very dignified manner.

CROWLEY: Yes, absolutely. And I think that we've seen signs, although it hasn't happened. We've seen signs that what they're going to do, if there is an indictment, is say what they've been doing now.

There is a judicial process going on. We -- you know, we don't want to interfere with that. We certainly regret it. Boom, I have to go worry about the budget.

KING: To the point Candy made a minute ago, that George Bush, cut your losses when you have to, pivot. Even if it is one or two of his most trusted advisers, they will be gone.

BLITZER: All right, guys. Stick around. We're going to continue our coverage.

Jeff Toobin is in New York. He's going to be weighing in as well.

Air Force One now on the ground. We expect to see the president emerge in Miami very soon. We'll show you what's going on down there.

Lots going on here in Washington.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Harriet Miers wrote to the president of the United States this morning, saying she no longer thinks she could be the nominee for the Supreme Court. "I want to withdraw as a nominee to serve as an associate justice of the Supreme Court of the United States. She wrote, "I have been greatly honored and humbled by the confidence that you have shown in me and have appreciated immensely your support and the support of many others. However, I am concerned that the confirmation it presents a burden for the White House and our staff that is not in the best interests of the country.

The president later issued a statement saying this, "Today I have reluctantly accept her nomination to the supreme court of the United States. I nominated here because of her extraordinary legal experience, her character and her conservative judicial philosophy. Throughout her career, she has gained the respect and admiration of her fellow attorneys. She has earned a reputation for fairness and total integrity. She has been a leader and a pioneer in the American legal profession. She has worked in important positions in state and local government and the bar, and for the last five years, she has served with distinction and honor in critical positions in the executive branch."

The president adds this, "I understand and share her concern, however, about the current state of the Supreme Court confirmation process. It is clear that senators would not be satisfied until they gained access to internal documents concerning advice provided during her tenure at the White House, disclosures that could undermine a president's ability to receive candid counsel. Harriet Miers' decision demonstrates her deep respect for this essential and confirms my deep respect and admiration for her" And he has accepted her request.

The president is now on the ground in South Florida, in Miami. There he is, with his back to us. His brother is there as well, the governor of Texas. The president is going to be touring some of the damage from Hurricane Wilma. Members of Congress are there receiving the president as well.

Jeff Toobin is watching all of this. The president got out of Dodge pretty quickly, Jeff. He got out of Washington, made his way to Miami. It was scheduled earlier in the week, shortly after we learned of the damage from Wilma, but he's got a lot on his plate. Not only the Harriet Miers withdrawal, but potential indictments tomorrow against some top aides. We're watching that story, Jeff.

How much legal trouble potentially does the White House have?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SR. LEGAL ANALYST: Oh, it's enormous, Wolf, because if there are indictments that begins a story that is more than simply the trial of top aides. It becomes well, who will testify at the trial? Whose notes need to be presented? Will Cheney testify? Will President Bush have to testify. Do -- will there be a parallel congressional investigation of something that wasn't important enough to merit an indictment. So the mere fact that their indictments would be bad, but the news spinning off of that could be worse.

BLITZER: What are the prospects of a plea agreement between the special prosecutor, Patrick Fitzgerald, and some of those top White House officials who might be indicted? A plea agreement presumably could be announced tomorrow as well.

TOOBIN: Well, the higher up you go in the food chain, the less the likelihood of a plea. Whether prosecutors are investigating a company or an organized crime family, the way they tend to work is you make plea deals with the lower-level people in agreement -- with an agreement to testify against higher ups.

So I don't think you will see any household names pleading guilty. Because the prosecutor, Fitzgerald, could ask for such draconian terms that they would never plead guilty. If there are any plea deals, they would certainly be with low-level people whose names are probably unfamiliar to virtually everyone outside the government.

BLITZER: Jeff, stand by. John King and Candy Crowley are here in THE SITUATION ROOM with us as well.

John, is it a foregone conclusion that if a Karl Rove or a Scooter Libby were indicted, they would step down, they would leave their positions in the White House?

JOHN KING, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, they would step down immediately. They would resign. The president would make some kind of a statement, and then he would try to move on. Just very quickly, listen to what we're talking about today, a failed Supreme Court nomination, the possibility of indictments. This is a week, right around now, where the president hoped to end the negotiations on the Social Security reform plan, at the end of the first legislative session, then hoped to pivot to major tax reform. This is an administration, the policy agenda has gone off the tracks. And the question now is, what will the president get out of this investigation? How will he try to salvage the Supreme Court? We are in a very different political situation. A huge challenge for this president. There will be many trying to call him a lame duck. The midterm elections are coming, then the next presidential election.

It is striking the conversations, the things we are re talking about, now, as opposed to what the newly re-elected president, just one year ago, thought we would be talking about.

BLITZER: And if there are trials taking place over the next coming months, Candy, that will certainly dominate the headlines going into the elections next year, the midterm elections?

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It will. And it's also why the White House has been trying to figure out ways to try to protect the president from the fallout, which is why they want to pivot quickly to -- and why you've seen already, well, the president, you know, is he worried? Well, the president is much too busy going about the people's work. That's been -- and that's what you'll see, should there be indictments of any of his top aides tomorrow.

BLITZER: Jeff Toobin, legally, right now, we expect there to be some announcement tomorrow. We don't expect an extension of this grand jury. Walk us through a little bit what might be happening 24 hours before an announcement.

TOOBIN: Well, it's interesting to note when the grand jury met last week -- I'm sorry, yesterday, on Wednesday, the prosecutor spent three hours just talking to the grand jurors. And I think a lot of people don't realize that grand juries are very different from trial juries. It's very much an interactive process with the prosecutors. There's no judge in the courtroom. The grand jurors are allowed to ask questions, make comments. And what they were doing is consistent with explaining an indictment that would be voted on at a later date.

When I've presented evidence to grand jurors, what you would do is you would say, well, the elements of the crime are the following, and the evidence that we believe supports those elements are the following, do you have any questions? And that kind of thing goes on. For a complicated case, it can take several hours.

It is also consistent with prosecutors saying, look, we believe there is not enough evidence to bring any charges, and this is why, and that could take three hours as well. So it is consistent with the end of an investigation. But the what result is, you know, I don't want to guess.

BLITZER: Very quickly, Candy, what gets President Bush back on track?

CROWLEY: I can tell you what people are saying, and that is, they said, look, he started out with eight people he talks to; he's down to about four right now. He needs to expand that circle. A lot of people have said -- whether it's gotten to the president, we don't know. I've told the president, he needs to use his cabinet. This is a president who has relied so heavily on his staff, that he hasn't used the cabinet in the way that he could. They really think he needs to expand that has been inner circle that has been so vital to the first five years.

BLITZER: Marine One now, having taken off, carrying the president. He'll get a bird's-eye view of the damage from Hurricane Wilma. He'll go down and speak with some of the victims, as well. He's down in Miami right now, touring South Florida. The president having done this now on several occasions, Hurricane Wilma the most recent. Rita, Katrina, only in the past few weeks.

John, button this up for us.

KING: Well, I want to take a contrarian view -- not necessarily a contrarian view, but another angle on what's going to happen tomorrow. We had hear from the special prosecutor. He may well indict some people. One of the things he cannot do, because he's operating under different guidelines than Ken Starr, is that he cannot put out a final report.

Remember the volumes of the Starr report? You were reading it on live television in those days. We were running to the White House lawn in those days. The Republicans used every page to try to find something to slam the Democrats about. I see Terry MacAuliffe in the room, I assume he's a guest coming up.

One of the things that the Democrats will not have here is the untold story. We will get the indictments or any charges, but anything else that the special prosecutor considered, anything else that could give Democrats political fire at this White House, we will not see. That will be one of the debates to come.

BLITZER: All right, John King, thanks very much. Candy Crowley, thanks to you. Jeff Toobin. We'll speaking with all of you throughout the day. Much more of our special coverage.

Our "Strategy Session" coming up right after this. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back. Harriet Miers has withdrawn her name as a potential Supreme Court justice. The president has accepted the decision. Letters exchanged earlier today. Mr. Bush now in Florida, touring some of the damage from Hurricane Wilma. He's in Marine One, flying over south Florida right now.

Joining us here in our "Strategy Session" in THE SITUATION ROOM, Terry McAuliffe, the former chairman of the Democratic National Committee; Bay Buchanan, a good Republican strategist.

Terry, is this is a good day for the Democrats?

TERRY MCAULIFFE, FMR. DNC CHAIRMAN: Well, Bush White House, I would say, is in tatters today. I mean, let's talk the politics of this. George Bush had lost his base. We've got important elections coming up, the governorship of Virginia and New Jersey coming up. Jerry Kilgore, the Republican candidate for governor of Virginia, refused to be seen with George Bush yesterday. So it is not good times for the Bush White House right now and Harriet Miers is one more step.

BLITZER: Well let me just ask Bay. Has he lost his base?

BAY BUCHANAN, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: His base is upset with him, there's no question. And if you look at the polls, it's obviously -- it's eroding. His support from the base is, without question, eroding. But that is what is so significant about today. He has a chance of getting it back in 24 hours. I mean, there's real excitement now amongst the base, and real energy. And if he were to appoint somebody that we think will be a strong justice on the Supreme Court, we will be ecstatic and our support will be there with him again.

BLITZER: The Democrats' strategy -- they all seem to be pretty united right now on the Hill in saying that the extreme right wing of the Republican party was responsible for this debacle, the putting the name forward and now the withdrawal. But the Democrats, they can split pretty quickly. John Roberts, that nomination, 22 Democrats voted to confirm, 22 Democrats to oppose.

MCAULIFFE: Well, let's just deal with the facts. You're right, the conservatives -- this was a big victory for Bay. And, you know, George Will destroyed forests writing how bad a pick that Harriet Miers was. And Charles Krauthammer. They all were out. Bill Kristol attacking her. You know, she was extreme -- in their mind, not extreme enough.

So it was a bad day for Bush in the sense that, let's go back to the politics of this. He needs his base out to help win elections. And his base, like Bay right now, is, you know, somewhat of a revolt. Probably not a revolution yet. The revolution possibly could come and they're going to wait and see who the next nominee will be. But, you know, I think what Americans want is a justice like Sandra Day O'Connor. And if he does something like Sandra O'Connor, I think Bay and the others -- I think you're going to see a true revolution.

BUCHANAN: He won't do that. He would not to do that. He must have learned this lesson, if nothing else, that he does need that base in order to move on. Now more than ever, he needs the support and strength of the conservatives. You call us extreme. We are the conservatives, we are the real heart and soul of the Republican party.

BLITZER: I think what he learned is he needs someone like John Roberts, who can unite the Republicans, but also bring in some of the Democrats.

BUCHANAN: But that's an assumption, Wolf. I don't know that that's true. I think he needs a battle. Why are we afraid? Why is he afraid? We've got the House, the Senate and we have the White House. He should not be afraid of battling for those values that we so believe in.

BLITZER: Dana Bash is our White House correspondent. Dana, what are you picking up over there?

BASH: Well, one of the interesting things, Wolf, is you know, this was obviously a nomination that was in big trouble from the beginning. And talking to people at the White House as the nomination was still alive, they were a little careful, as you can imagine, to talk about why. Why did this happen? How did they let this kind of thing get so out of control? Now they're a little bit more free to talk.

I was just talking to one source, asking, what was the biggest miscalculation? And this source says that -- essentially is that they took the bait. They took the bait from the people who were saying that what was needed, what was wanted at this point was somebody from outside the judicial monastery, somebody who doesn't fit on the bench, somebody who doesn't have a record. And that came back to haunt them, particularly with conservatives like Bay was saying. Because it is a record that conservatives were looking for, to prove that the nominee, that Harriet Miers, is conservative.

And the other thing that's interesting is, you know, this whole question in the last couple of hours of whether or not the White House saying that the fight over documents was the thing that really brought Harriet Miers down, whether or not that's really accurate or valid.

Apparently, Harriet Miers herself had some pretty tough conversations with members of the Senate -- Republicans who were looking for a way to vote for her. And really said, look, we need more information. We need more information about what you believe, what you've said, what you've written, what you've advised. And it was clear that she wasn't going to be able to do that, because she doesn't have a record and she doesn't -- the White House is not giving up these documents at all.

BLITZER: All right, Dana.

Senator Arlen Specter, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, speaking on Harriet Miers right now. SEN. ARLEN SPECTER (R-PA), JUDICIARY CHAIRMAN: ... the debate on the Senator floor, Ms. Miers' qualifications were subjected to a one- sided debate in news releases, press conferences, radio and TV talk shows and the editorial pages. I acknowledge the rights of everyone to express themselves as they see fit, but that should not have precluded Ms. Miers from getting basic due process. There was a decisive imbalance in the public forum with the case for Ms. Miers not heard because of the heavy decibel level against her.

I have repeatedly noted her excellent work in handling complex civil cases. Had the constitutional process been followed with a hearing, she would have had an opportunity to establish that her intellect and capabilities, demonstrated in her 35-year professional career, could be carried over in the field of constitutional law and the work of the court.

Whether she would have been confirmed remains an open question. But at least, she would have had the major voice in determining her own fate.

Ms. Miers did deliver late yesterday evening, on time, her responses to the committee's request for supplemental information on her questionnaire. Eight large boxes are in the committee's possession. But now, there is no reason to read or analyze those responses.

A judiciary committee carefully did not intrude on the president's executive privilege. The committee studiously avoided asking what advice Ms. Miers gave to the president, and that limitation would have been continued in any hearing with an adequate range of questions available to enable the committee to decide on her qualifications for the court.

We must guard against having the Miers proceedings become a precedent for the future. I ask unanimous consent that the text of the op-ed piece which I had submitted to "The Washington Post," and the "Post" yesterday had agreed to publish the credit in the record at the conclusion of these remarks.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Without objection.

SPECTER: I thank the chair.

Senator Arlen Specter, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee weighing in, clearly not pleased the way this whole situation unfolded.

There is, Bay, a little bit of -- I guess a great deal of unpleasantness. This is a human being who is respected. You didn't like her necessarily on the Supreme Court. But she's done some pretty impressive things over her career as a lawyer.

BUCHANAN: There's no question. She's a gracious lady, she's a fine woman, and no one has suggested otherwise in my movement. But the key here is we didn't feel like she was qualified for this particular position. It's a key position, an important one, and so we felt that our voice should be expressed.

And I'll tell you who to look for, if I believe if the president does like you suggest, which is to go to somebody who doesn't create a firestorm in a real debate in the Senate, but would get through, but more like a Roberts. I think you look at a Senator Cornyn, who has been very supportive of Harriet Miers, who has been out there supporting him and being on the president's side all along, and who would be a middle-ground person who would, I think, be very welcomed in the Senate and also welcomed by the conservatives.

BLITZER: All right, he's a former judge himself.

All right, guys. Stand by. I want you to sit around. We're going to take a quick commercial break.

Bay, we're going to continue our special coverage right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWSBREAK)

BLITZER: Jacki Schechner, our Internet checking what they're saying on the blogs. What are they saying about Harriet Miers, Jackie?

JACKI SCHECHNER, INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, first, I wanted to show you that Harriet Miers' resignation letter is available in full online at nationalreview.com. You can read that for yourself. Also President Bush's statement in response available at White House.gov.

As for liberal response, we wanted to give you the quick bullet points from the Center for American Progress. It's blog, thinkprogress.org. A sign of weakness for the White House. From Daily Code (ph), the top liberal blog at half a million hits a day, essentially that this was a victory for the far-right wing of the Republican Party.

So Josh Marshall, a talking points memo, another big liberal blog. What does this mean for Bush? He's really got to get somebody to the right that they really, really want. That's where he's got to go right now. Early speculation, Michael McConnell (ph), the frontrunner online.

Finally, Wolf, I wanted to make this point to you, that with the possibility of indictments tomorrow, the CIA leak investigation is the big story. The Miers' resignation did not happen in a vacuum. People are very well aware there will be plenty of time to speculation on what's to comer next, but it's the CIA leak investigation that is their top priority.

BLITZER: Thanks, Jacki, very much.

Let's button this up, Terry, the CIA leak investigation, Harriet Miers' withdraw, lots of other news going on. You're a good solid Democrat. What do you do now? MCAULIFFE: We keep putting our positive agenda out there. But this is the Bush White House crumbling. You've seen the Harriet Miers' nomination pulled, the issues around Katrina and Rita. You've oil companies this week come out with record profits that they've had, with people paying record numbers at the pumped. Tom DeLay indicted. Bill Frist's stock sale. Possible indictment tomorrow. It's a mess for the Bush White House. They're not focusing on the issue that Americans want him to focus on. So you know, it's bad, bad time for the Bush White House.

BLITZER: But, Bay, you think there's an opportunity fort president?

BUCHANAN: An enormous opportunity here. This is something that his base, as I talked about, is going to be very energized, and interested and focused on, and he gives us somebody that we can rally behind, we will be there; his numbers are going to go up.

I think the president is doing a fine job of addressing the issues in this country right now. And even though that there are some tough times in that White House, I think he's doing a great job, and I think the numbers will start surfacing, if he does the right thing. But the last thing he wants to do is give us another Harriet Miers.

BLITZER: Always, Bay Buchanan, thanks very much, Terry McAuliffe, always a pleasure having both of you on.

MCAULIFFE: Two Democratic wins in the governors races in 10 days.

BLITZER: We'll see.

MCAULIFFE: Invite me back.

BLITZER: We'll see. We'll invite you back even if they lose.

MCAULIFFE: OK.

BLITZER: All right, Terry McAuliffe, Bay Buchanan, thanks very much.

And we'll be back here in THE SITUATION ROOM later today, 3:00 p.m. Eastern, much more of our coverage of the Harriet Miers' nomination withdrawal. That's coming up. More on the CIA leak investigation.

Right now, "LIVE FROM" with Kyra Phillips.

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