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THE SITUATION ROOM

Cheney's Damage Control; Chertoff Grilled on Katrina Response; Congress Slams Homeland Security Director Over Katrina Response; More Than 60 Percent Of Americans Say Bush Has Done Something To Make Them Angry;

Aired February 15, 2006 - 16:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks very much. And to our viewers, you're now in THE SITUATION ROOM, where new pictures and information from around the world are arriving all the time.
Happening now. Vice President Dick Cheney breaks his silence at the accidental shooting of his hunting pal. It's 4:00 p.m. here in Washington. We'll have the latest on what the vice president said and whether he's repairing any damage that's already been done.

The vice president's comments are echoing across Capitol Hill. Are Republicans still jittery about the misfire backlash? Do Democrats still think Cheney is holding back crucial information?

Also this hour, the Homeland Security chief in the hot seat. Michael Chertoff denies he was detached when Hurricane Katrina hit, but a newly-released report suggests otherwise. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Vice President Cheney says, and I'm quoting now, "I'm the guy who pulled the trigger and shot my friend. That's the bottom line." A short while ago, Cheney spoke out about the hunting accident for the first time. This as his friend Harry Whittington recovers in a Texas hospital after suffering a minor heart attack.

Our correspondents are standing by covering this story. Ed Lavandera is in Corpus Christi, Texas. Ed Henry's on Capitol Hill. Dana Bash is at the White House. Candy Crowley is also standing by here in Washington.

Let's begin now with our White House correspondent Dana Bash -- Dana?

DANA BASH, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, as we've been talking about for several days now, there has been a lot of pressure on the vice president to come out and speak to the public, Talk about what happened, talk about why there was a delay in getting the information and why he and his office didn't get the information now first.

Well, instead of giving a press conference or something more broad, taking reporters' questions, maybe even at the White House or elsewhere, he decided to do one single interview with Fox News. So we watched him walk across the White House drive to do that interview. And the gist of it was he was apologetic about what happened, about the actual shooting himself. I'll read you a quote. He said, "Ultimately, I am the guy who pulled the trigger that fired the round that hit Harry" -- meaning Harry Whittington. "You can talk about all the other conditions that existed at the time, but that's the bottom line. It's not Harry's fault, you can't blame anybody else. I'm the guy who pulled the trigger and shot my friend, and you can say that it a day I will never forget."

That little bit different, Wolf, from the firsthand account that we got, that I got from Katharine Armstrong right off the bat on Sunday, suggesting it was Mr. Whittington's fault because he didn't announce himself when he fell back from the hunting group. And he essentially surprised Mr. Cheney. Very different there.

You know that the vice president is not known to be introspective, not known to wear his heart on his sleeve or let you know how he's feeling, perhaps. Quite different in this interview. He said, "the image of him, Harry, falling, is something I will never be able to get out of my mind. I fired and there's Harry falling, and I will have to say, one of the worst days of my life at that moment."

Now Wolf, the other question about the way this went down, the way the information got out, he was very unapologetic. The vice president said I thought it was the right call. And I still do. And he said that the accuracy was enormously important. He said he didn't have a press person with him, and he wanted to respect the fact that he was at a private ranch with friends. And he is defending the fact that he and Katharine Armstrong made the decision on Sunday morning for her to talk to her local paper.

He went through some of the things that we had been talking about over the past couple of days, in terms of the timeline, that Mrs. Armstrong tried to call the local paper earlier in the morning. It took her a little while to get through to them. But ultimately it was the Associated Press that was the first national outlet that found out about this on that paper's Web site. So -- but the vice president, in terms of the disclosure, said that he would have handled it the same way again today.

BLITZER: Dana Bash at the White House. Thank you very much.

Let's get some initial congressional reaction. Ed Henry is standing by. What are they saying on the Hill, Ed?

ED HENRY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, senior Republicans are immediately saying this is exactly what the vice president needed to do. But they're wondering privately why in the world did it take a few days for the vice president to do it. They think he allowed the critics to fill the information vacuum.

They note that in the television interview, you get to see the vice president look shaken up, and really highlight, as Dana was noting, the human dimension of this tragedy. Republicans saying that when you hear the vice president saying "this was one of the worst days of my life," that really highlights why he did not immediately worry about a media strategy. Instead, he was concerned about the health and safety of his friend.

In fact, today we really saw Republican lawmakers start circling the wagons behind the vice president, despite their anxiousness about the tentative political ramifications.

Senator Trent Lott, not always a friend of the White House, saying he thinks the national media has really overreacted here. Other Republicans, like House Majority leader -- rather, House Majority Whip Roy Blunt declaring he thinks, look, this was an accident. It's time for the media to get off the vice president's back.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. ROY BLUNT (R), MAJORITY WHIP: Now, I don't know what more the vice president needs to explain. I think yesterday at the White House there were -- I just heard driving in this morning there were 60 questions to Scott McClellan, 42 of them were repetitive questions about this accident. I don't know that it serves anybody's best interest. But I don't have any advice for the vice president on that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HENRY: But Democrats really continue the drum beat today. Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid, as well as the House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, saying it's time for the vice president to have a full-fledged press conference. They were goading him over the fact that he has not had one of those press conferences in three and half years.

They say that's because the vice president is scared that it would open it up into other subjects, tough subjects like the indictment of his former chief of staff, Scooter Libby.

And I can tell you a couple of moments ago, Democrat Frank Lautenburg said the reason why the vice president did not have a full- fledged press conference is that he does not want to come clean, charging -- in this press release, Lautenburg does quote, "now that now that he feels forced to talk, he wants to restrict the discussion to a friendly news outlet guaranteeing no hard questions from the press corps." -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, thanks very much, Ed Henry, for that.

Let's bring in our senior political correspondent Candy Crowley. Candy, did the vice president succeed today in his damage control?

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: To a certain extent. I mean, you just heard Ed Henry say the Republicans are beginning to circle the wagons now. And that's really -- you know, the vice president has a constituency of one. That's often been said, and that's the president of the United States, if the president's satisfied that this takes care of it.

I suspect that this story does not go away today. I suspect it fades over time. I doubt seriously that the vice president's going to have that full-fledged news conference for the very reasons that Ed talked about.

This is not a man, first of all, who cares all that much for the national press. You heard him say in this interview that he thought he handled it perfectly well. Assuming that we now know everything there is to know, and nothing else comes up, I suspect this fades.

BLITZER: The irony, Candy, as you well know, by going out and giving this interview and speaking for the first time publicly about it, he guarantees at least another day of extensive coverage on this very significant development. What's the fall-out in terms of the medium to long-term, as you look a little bit ahead?

CROWLEY: I think it's another one of those things that adds to preexisting conditions. It's not about how soon did you tell the national media. I don't think that there's a lot of resonance for that out past the beltway.

It is about the perception of the vice president in particular, this administration, in general, keeping secrets, not telling things straight. So insofar as it adds to that, then it's a problem. But it's a -- you know, it's up a notch because this adds to it.

I suspect the biggest problems will be that this goes on and on on the talk shows at night with the humorous -- the Jay Lenos and Letterman. That's a problem. As you know, these kinds of things can stick.

A lot of people have brought up Jimmy Carter and the rabbit incident when he was out. Some of these things can stick. And if it sticks, in that way, then it's long-term to Dick Cheney. I can't see it being long-term to the midterm elections.

BLITZER: Candy Crowley, thank you very much. Let's head off to the hospital now in Corpus Christi, Texas.

Our Ed Lavandera's on the scene with the latest on the condition of Harry Whittington. What is the latest, Ed?

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, we understand that Harry Whittington is still being kept in the intensive care unit of this hospital in Corpus Christi, but that really has very little to do with his condition.

They say that he's actually doing quite well and he is being kept in the ICU mostly for privacy reasons, because of this high-profile status that has kind of enveloped his situation here.

Doctors have been releasing over the last couple of days a little bit of information about his condition saying that he is stable, alert, eating regular food. In fact, at one point, they say that he was planning on doing some of his law work. And that is carefully orchestrated and discussed with the family.

Even though Harry Whittington hasn't made any public comments or released any statements since he has been here at the hospital, they are releasing -- and through the wishes of the family, some of the updates to let people know that he is doing OK. By all means, they don't have to do that. They could have put the clamp down on any kind of information about his condition.

BLITZER: Ed Lavandera. We're going to have you back later. We're going to have some more on what's going on out there. Thank you very much.

Our Internet reporter Jacki Schechner is also tracking this story online. Jacki, what are you picking up?

JACKI SCHECHNER, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, for better or worse, the chatter about Dick Cheney continues on the Internet. Some of the bloggers have press experience, P.R. experience. They are saying this is the best way to not handle a crisis. This is how you ensure that it's just going to get bigger.

What does it lead to online? Conspiracy theory blogging -- we're seeing plenty of that out there today. As for liberal or conservative bent, tends to be more liberal, saying the vice president just needs to take his lumps like a man. It's time for him to speak out.

But we've seen some call for that on the right as well. K.J. Lopez at The Corner actually blogged a very long piece that it was time for him to meet the press. Now we know he has done just that. There are some bloggers out there on the right saying the mainstream media has paid way too much attention to this story. They say that the Bush administration is a target of the mainstream media and that continues.

And then there's also this video making the rounds from The Caller.com, the Corpus Christi paper that broke the story on Sunday. Take a look. This is one of their photographers, who is actually an expert on gun safety. Let's see if they can get that to play for you. And he shows what it's like when birdshot is sprayed at 90 feet.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It gives you one of the finest patterns a gun can give. After shooting the .28 gauge ...

SCHECHNER: That's from Caller.com online, the small Corpus Christi paper, Wolf, that's now getting a lot more attention.

BLITZER: Jacki, thank you very much.

And we're going to have much more ahead on the Cheney story. Speaking out today for the first time about the hunting accident. What did he do right? What did he do wrong? Extensive analysis coming up. More specifics as well.

Donna Brazile, J.C. Watts -- they're going to be standing by. They have plenty to say in our "Strategy Session." We'll get to that soon.

But there's other news we are following here in Washington, including the criticism of the response to Hurricane Katrina. It keeps on coming and escalating. The Homeland Security secretary, Michael Chertoff, today faced senators still steaming about the federal government's failures.

At the same time a blistering House report on the Katrina's response was officially released. Let's bring in our homeland security correspondent Jeanne Meserve with details.

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the secretary of Homeland Security acknowledged lapses in his department's Katrina response -- in logistics and communications, for example -- calling the storm one of the most difficult and traumatic experiences of his life. But Michael Chertoff strongly disputed charges that he, his department and the White House were detached and inattentive before and immediately after landfall.

And he was clearly steaming at testimony from the former head of FEMA, Michael Brown, that he went to the White House for help during the storm because talking to Chertoff, was, quote, "a waste of time."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHAEL CHERTOFF, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: It was astonishing to me to hear the testimony of Mr. Brown concerning his decision, apparently, by his own admission, as the PFO on the ground, to deliberately bypass the department and not to deal with us. I had attributed the problems I had sometimes engaging with Mr. Brown to just the overwhelming pressures of the situation itself.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MESERVE: Republicans and Democrats on the panel hammered Chertoff on why he was unaware of levee breaches Monday night, and went to bed and to a flu conference the next day, though they had communications, some directly to the Department of Homeland Security, advising them of the situation in new Orleans.

Meanwhile, on the other side of Capitol Hill, a House committee released its report slamming federal, state, and local authorities for their failure to prepare and respond to the storm, calling it "a national failure, where leaders failed to lead" -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jeanne Meserve reporting for us. More on this story coming up. Thank you very much for that.

The House report on Katrina may be critical of the White House. But House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi says it's one-sided and not tough enough.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), MINORITY LEADER: The report that was issued today is a Republican review of the White House. It could only go so far. That is why we need an independent commission.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Coming up, I'll ask GOP Congressman Chris Shays about the Katrina report he helped write. And he'll respond to the criticism of that report. That's coming up this hour.

Also up on Capitol Hill today: the secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice took heat from senators of both parties over the administration's policies in Iraq, Iran and the Palestinian territories. It was Rice's first congressional testimony in months, and senators accused the administration of being too upbeat in its assessment of global hot spots.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. CHUCK HAGEL (R), NEBRASKA: I don't see, Madam Secretary, how things are getting better. I think things are getting worse. I think they are getting worse in Iraq. I think they are getting worse in Iran.

CONDOLEEZZA RICE, SECRETARY OF STATE: Syrian occupation of Lebanon ...

SEN. BARBARA BOXER (D), CALIFORNIA: Madam Secretary, could I just interrupt in a very positive way for you?

RICE: May I just complete my answer?

BOXER: No, because you are not answering the question. I don't agree ...

RICE: No, Senator. You asked me if I thought that the world is better now and I'm telling you that I think that it is.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: In another notable exchange, Democratic Senator John Kerry challenged Secretary Rice over whether she was involved in leaking classified information. Rice responded, and I'm quoting now, "I have always acted lawfully."

Let's go up to New York. Jack Cafferty standing by with "The Cafferty File." First of all, Jack, what did you make of Dick Cheney's interview today?

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Well, I obviously didn't see it because it hasn't been released in its entirety yet. But I would guess it didn't exactly represent a Profile in Courage for the vice president to wander over there to the f-word network for a sit down with Brit Hume. That's a little like Bonnie interviewing Clyde, ain't it? Where was the news conference? Where was the access to all of the members of the media? Whatever.

BLITZER: You still think he needs to do a full-scale news conference and invite all the cameras, all the reporters and ask whatever they want?

CAFFERTY: That's never going to happen. But running over there to the Fox network. Talk about seeking a safe haven. He's not going to get any high hard ones from anybody at the f-word network. I think we know that. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice says the Bush administration -- here's a great idea -- the Bush administration wants another $75 million in order to support democracy in Iran. This is an emergency spending bill that would be in addition to the $10 million Congress has already approved for this this year. Rice says the money will be used for radio and TV broadcasting to increase programs for Iranians to study in the United States -- there's a good idea -- and travel to this country by Iranian professionals.

But take a look at who we are dealing with here. This is a country that has defied the International Atomic Energy Agency, has resumed enriching uranium -- a step many think is the first in a march toward nuclear weapons. The country is run by a certified lunatic who says he wants Israel wiped off the map, and where a newspaper is currently holding a holocaust cartoon contest.

Let's not forget either, how well this "spreading democracy" thing is going over recently in places like Iraq and the Palestinian Territories.

They got to go in search of a clue.

Here's the question. Should American tax payers spend $75 million to promote democracy in Iran? E-mail us at CaffertyFile@CNN.com. Or go to CNN.com/CaffertyFile. Wolf?

BLITZER: I suspect you'll get a lot of people doing exactly that, Jack.

CAFFERTY: Who dreams this stuff up?

BLITZER: Thank you very much.

Coming up, are fellow Republicans satisfied with what Dick Cheney had to say about his hunting accident? I'll ask Republican Congressman Chris Shays of Connecticut. He's standing by.

Also, more disturbing images of alleged abuse at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. We're going to tell you where they are coming from.

And get your racing forms. We've got some brand new numbers for you in the early race for the White House. A brand new CNN/"USA Today"/Gallup poll.

You are in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Vice President Cheney is calling the weekend hunting accident in Texas one of the worst days of his life. Now that Cheney has spoken out about the incident can the White House and Republicans put all of this behind them?

Joining us now to talk about this as well as the federal government's response to Hurricane Katrina, Republican Congressman Chris Shays of Connecticut. He's one of the authors of that new House report on the Katrina response. We will talk to you about that in a second, Congressman.

Marlin Fitzwater said yesterday, I was appalled by the whole handling of this, referring to the hunting accident, the way the White House and the vice president have been dealing with this. He finally gave this interview today and explained his situation. But in the past, you've been critical of this White House of being overly secretive. Is this sort of an example of that?

REP. CHRIS SHAYS (R), CONNECTICUT: It's a good example. It's like they don't learn. I mean, obviously this information's going to come out. So just let it come out. It had to have been one of the worst days of his life. It had to have been terrible for him and obviously the individual he shot and everybody who was there. But the information needs to be made public and be made public quickly.

BLITZER: Are you happy he's finally done that at least to a certain degree?

SHAYS: yes, I mean he does take responsibility. And I do agree with those in your broadcasting network that believe that he does need to have a full press conference.

BLITZER: All right. We'll see if he does that. Thanks very much. Let's move on. Talk a little about Hurricane Katrina. The secretary of homeland security was testifying today before the Senate. I want you to listen to what he said in his own defense.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHERTOFF: First of all, I have to say that the idea that this department and this administration and the president were somehow detached from Katrina is simply not correct in my view and in my recollection of what happened. We were acutely aware of Katrina and the risk it posed.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Do you agree that they were keenly aware and not detached?

SHAYS: No. The White House is really in a fog. And Mr. Chertoff and his agency were basically very detached. I'd almost say totally detached. And FEMA, frankly, was somewhat clueless, and frankly, almost negligent. I mean, and you know, it goes down.

You had the governor of Louisiana who didn't tell people to evacuate soon enough. Or the mayor of New Orleans. And you had a mayor who was helping to spread rumors that simply weren't true. Inciting people's panic.

BLITZER: The report that you and your fellow Republicans issued was very, very tough on the administration. The minority report went one step further and said this. "Former FEMA director Michael Brown is the only federal official who has lost his job and been held accountable for the dismal federal response. He should not be alone. As the majority findings made clear, Secretary Chertoff provided ineffective leadership at a time of great crisis. We therefore recommend his replacement." Are you ready to call on him to step down and be replaced?

SHAYS: I think the jury's still out on him. I think what he did is said, OK, FEMA, you've run this before. I won't get in your way. You are in charge. And that's one way to look at it. But he was, and did, have the capability to declare this a catastrophic event.

And so even if the states and local governments didn't ask for help, would have come automatically. And for him to have gone to the site on Wednesday with the president blew me away. When he came and testified before our committee, I thought, my God, this guy was totally detached.

BLITZER: And that became clear in your exchanges with him. That's how you felt. Let me read another line from the House Special Committee Katrina Report. "The failure of initiative cost lives, prolonged suffering and left all Americans justifiably concerned our government is no better prepared to protect its people than it was before 9/11, even if we are."

And I guess the question is this. Are we really substantively better prepared to protect the American public today almost five years after 9/11?

SHAYS: I think we are. I really blame this on the leadership. If the White House, for instance, had sent the precedent down on Tuesday. And gone to the Superdome, for instance. And he just simply walked in with the security people and said I'm not leaving until everyone is out safe. That would have electrified people.

I think people would have said my gosh, we are taking ownership. . And resources would have happened a lot sooner. Michael Brown basically felt he didn't have the power to take any action. And he had tremendous power. And even if he didn't think he had the power. He still should have exercised it because it would have saved lives.

BLITZER: Chris Shays as usual. Thanks very much for joining us in THE SITUATION ROOM. Chris Shays, Republican Congressman from Connecticut. A member of the Hurricane Katrina Response Committee.

The details of that scathing report on Katrina and much more have just been released online. Let's go to our Internet reporter Jacki Schechner. She has more -- Jacki.

SCHECHNER: Wolf, all 364 pages available to the public online at that special committee Web site. It's called A Failure of Initiative. Here are some of the bullet points that came out in that report.

For example, a failure of complete evacuations led to preventable deaths, great suffering, further delays in relief. Another bullet point. They were not prepared. The Department of Homeland Security and the states. Not prepared far catastrophic event. There is also photographs, unfortunately, of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina with a full, complete report. Now this was a primarily Republican committee. There were some Democratic representatives who sat in on it. One of them, Charlie Melancon, has the Democratic response. You can go on to his web site. He has the select committee minority views on there. They've also got supporting documents that you can take a look at.

One of those supporting documents would be an analysis of the e- mails of FEMA Director Michael Brown. Now if you want to watch that web cast in its entirety of the hearings that went on today. You can do that at the Web site of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs. It's a hearing. You can watch it in its entirety available for all of you online.

BLITZER: Jacki, thank you very much for that.

Coming up, much more on our top story. Dick Cheney speaks out. We'll tell you more about what he said. Will his words put this controversy behind him? That's coming up in today's "Strategy Session."

And the battle for control of the U.S. Congress. Which party has the upper hand right now? We're going to take a look at some brand new CNN/USA Today/Gallup Poll numbers that are just out.

But up next. American business comes under attack in Pakistan. The protests and the reasons behind them. When we return.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Much more on Vice President Dick Cheney's interview. That's coming up in just a moment. First, our Zain Verjee still on loan to "AMERICAN MORNING," Carol Lin joining us now from the CNN Global Headquarters in Atlanta with a closer look at some other important stories making news. Hi, Carol.

CAROL LIN, CNN ANCHOR: Hi there, Wolf. We first all saw the disturbing pictures out of Abu Ghraib back in 2004 of American soldiers abusing prisoners. Well, now an Australian television network, SBS, is airing video and photos of abuse from the same time period.

None of it has been seen publicly before. Now, the network would only say it got the images while researching a story on the prison guards. SBS did not show all of the pictures it has, deeming some to be too graphic to be shown.

But now the images have been republished by other television networks and media outlets around the world. Now, CNN has decided to air some of the photos to show the extent of the abuse that went on. The images you are about to see are very graphic and disturbing. The photos show naked prisoners bloodied and lying on the floor, some tied to other prisoners and others handcuffed to their cell beds.

Some show the same incidents from the photos published in 2004 but from different angles. And there's also video of a prisoner apparently mentally disturbed banging his head against a wall. It seems to have been shot from several different angles with no one stopping him.

Now, after the original images first aired, President Bush appeared on two Arab television networks and apologized for the behavior of the soldiers, calling their acts abhorrent. Nine U.S. Army reservists were convicted of involvement of the abuse, including Charles Graner, who was given the longest sentence, ten years.

The Defense Department has maintained that the abuse was the work of a small number of low ranking soldiers acting without direction from above. But prison military commander General Janice Karpinski was demoted to colonel and relieved of her position. Now, we are going to have a live report from the Pentagon in the next hour with much more on this story.

In the meantime, violent protests in Pakistan for the third straight day. Three people, including an 8-year-old boy, were killed. Thousands of demonstrators enraged over cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed rioting in Peshawar and Lahore. They set fire to a KFC restaurant and movie theaters in other buildings. Dozens of people were hurt in clashes with police. And, Wolf, Denmark is advising its citizens not to travel to Pakistan right now.

BLITZER: Carol, thanks very much.

Up next, the vice president speaking out about his hunting accident. Will this quiet critics, or does this controversy keep on going? I'll ask Donna Brazile and J.C. Watts in today's strategy session. They're standing by.

Plus, the next race for the White House. Who's on top at this early stage? We'll reveal some new poll numbers. Some of them may be surprising to you. We have a brand new CNN-"USA Today-Gallup poll just up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Today in our strategy session, the vice president tells his story about the accidental shooting of a hunting companion. Will his explanation clear everything up or just lead to even more questions? Is he coming forward too late? Should he be giving a full-scale press conference right now?

Joining us now, our CNN political analyst Democratic strategist Donna Brazile, former Republican congressman J.C. Watts. Guys, thanks very much for joining us. So one of the things he says in this interview is this: "Ultimately, I'm the guy who pulled the trigger that fired the round that hit Harry." Harry Whittington, his friend.

"You can talk about all of the other conditions that existed at the time, but that's the bottom line. It was not Harry's fault. You can't blame anybody else. I'm the guy who pulled the trigger and shot my friend. It's a day I'll never forget." A very humble vice president speaking out. DONNA BRAZILE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: And I tell you, if the vice president would have made that statement on Sunday or even Monday or even yesterday, it would have gotten widespread coverage and the American people would have been a little bit more forgiving.

As we understand now, the vice president went before a friendly audience and he did not answer some questions that I'm sure most Americans want to know in terms of the sequence of activities. And also, why did he wait so long to talk to the public about it?

BLITZER: What do you think of the way he's handled it?

J.C. WATTS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Wolf, I think the vice president said the right thing. I think those are very humbling words. And I think they were heartfelt. I do think he was probably five days too late.

You know, in this business, in the arena of politics, the worst thing you want is people using their imagination to try to figure out what happened. And those who are going to be objective, and those who are not going to be objective, when they start to do that, ugly things come out of that. So I think he was the right thing, just way too late.

BLITZER: Another excerpt from the interview. He said, "I thought that letting Armstrong" -- Katherine Armstrong, the woman who invited them, the hostess at this ranch. "I thought that letting Armstrong tell the story made good sense because you can't get as accurate a story as possible from somebody who knew and understood hunting.

And then it would immediately go up to the wires and be posted on the Web site, which is the way it went out. And I thought that was the right call." He was then asked, "What do you think now? And he said, "I still do." He still thinks the way they handled that initial disclosure of the shooting was the right way to do it.

BRAZILE: No, that was -- he mishandled the situation. He should have gotten one of his staff people on the phone along with Ms. Armstrong, whoever else, the ambassador of Switzerland, and got the story straight, gave it to the national media, not just the local media.

This was not -- he is a national figure, the second-highest ranking American in this country. He deserved to tell the whole story to the American people and not allow someone who's not experienced at talking to the media deliver this story.

BLITZER: The former Republican Congressman Vin Weber was quoted as saying before this interview, he said, "I cannot believe he did not look back and say, 'This should have been handled differently.' Cheney made it a much bigger issue that it needed to be." I assume you agree with Vin Weber on that.

WATTS: I do. You know, Wolf, when you consider we've got unemployment numbers that's down, the economy is strong, good things are happening in the economy, 4.5 million jobs over the last two years. There's a lot of things to be talking about to try to get the president on offense. And this is one of those things that blocks that message, that takes the oxygen out of there.

So I do think, again, he said the right things today. I think he meant that. I know Dick Cheney. I know he feels bad about that. But again, I do disagree with it being about five days too late.

BLITZER: Question now is should he go forward and have a full- scale news conference? The Democratic leader in the Senate Harry Reid this morning said this. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), SENATE MINORITY LEADER: I believe the vice president should hold a press conference and talk about the incident in Texas and the other things that he hasn't visited (ph) with the press about since his last press conference in 2002.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: A lot of other issues out there that presumably would come up in a full-scale press conference, including losing his former chief of staff Lewis "Scooter" Libby and other issues as well. What do you make of the way he's handling it so far?

BRAZILE: The vice president believes that he only needs to answer to the president, not the American people. He should answer to both. He should answer to the president as well as the American people. Look, he has not held a press conference since 2002. Of course, he makes public appearances. He's making one this coming week.

But the American people have other questions, including the indicted chief of staff, Mr. Libby. And what, if anything, did the vice president authorize him to say to reporters with regards to Valerie Plame and leak classified information? So there are a lot of questions that need to be put on the table.

BLITZER: We just spoke with your former Republican colleague from Connecticut, Chris Shays, here in THE SITUATION ROOM. He agrees that the vice president should now go forward and have a full-scale news conference.

WATTS: Well, Wolf, they're going to make a decision in the White House, the vice president and his people. They will make that decision. But I can tell you, I would not be afraid to put this vice president before the press. I think he handles himself well when he meets the press, when he talks to them.

So I would not be afraid to do that. However, I think they probably made a conscious decision to say, "Hey, we've spoken to this. Let's move on. Let's be about the business of the American people."

BLITZER: Yesterday, Senator Hillary Clinton, not surprisingly, said this whole issue underscores a much bigger problem that this administration brings forward. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D), NEW YORK: A tendency of this administration from the top all the way to the bottom is to withhold information, to resist legitimate requests for information, to refuse to be forthcoming about information that is of significance and relevant to the job that all of you do and the interests of the American people.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Now let me let J.C. respond first. What do you think?

WATTS: Well, Wolf, that's the sea calling the sky blue there, all right, if you consider in the Clinton administration all the things that happened there. You know, again, I think those people that want to be objective about what happened last Saturday, they will be. I think the vice president owed it to them to say, "Hey, look, this is what happened. People understand these things happen sometimes in hunting situations."

I just disagree with the timing of it, you know, what Senator Clinton says. I mean, you have to temper that with politics. But I just think the vice president was very late in dealing with the situation.

BLITZER: You only have ten seconds. Go ahead.

BRAZILE: Well, look. Back in the 1990s, we had open governments back there. We also had congressional oversight hearings. And so we knew more today. We're not having oversight hearings. The Congress of the United States is just rubber stamping. So we need openness in government. That's what Nancy Pelosi said today as well.

BLITZER: Donna Brazile and J.C. Watts, thanks for coming in.

Up next, can Democrats take back control of the U.S. Congress this November? We've got some new poll numbers that we want to bring to you. That's coming up next.

And in our 7:00 p.m. Eastern hour here in THE SITUATION ROOM, what do people outside Washington say about the accidental shooting involving the vice president? Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to THE SITUATION ROOM. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. We're just over eight months away from congressional elections, and voters appear to be riled up. We have some brand new poll numbers to tell you about. Let's bring in our senior political analyst Bill Schneider -- Bill.

BILL SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Wolf, it's the return of the angry voters. But they're not the same angry voters who rallied behind Ross Perot and Pat Buchanan and Newt Gingrich in the early 1990s.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER: Angry voters are back. More than 60 percent of Americans say President Bush has done something to make them angry. What exactly? It could be the war in Iraq or the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina or immigration or health care or corruption or deficit spending. President Bush gets negative marks on all those issues.

OK, let's leave President Bush out of it. A different sample of Americans was asked, are you generally content with the way things are going in the country or is there something you are angry about? The results about the same. Nearly 60 percent still say they're angry about something.

Iraq seems to figure large in their anger. Seventy percent of angry Americans say they oppose the war. In the early '90s, the story was angry white men. They got angry with the first President Bush, and a lot of them voted for Ross Perot.

Then they got angry at President Clinton and voted to throw the Democrats out of Congress. Could all the latest anger benefit the Democrats the same way it helped Republicans in 1994? Two-thirds of all Americans say the Republican Party does not have a clear plan for solving the country's problems.

But two-thirds say the Democrats don't have a clear plan either. What we're seeing out there is a lot of anti-incumbent sentiment, just like in the '90s. But in the '90s, most incumbents were Democrats. Now Republicans are in control. So anti-incumbent sentiment hurts them.

Democrats hold a slim lead, seven points, when voters are asked how they would vote for Congress. Among angry voters, the Democrats' lead rose to 35 points.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCHNEIDER: Do angry voters believe that Democrats have a plan for solving the country's problems? Two-thirds don't. But 83 percent say the Republicans don't have a clear plan. If angry voters are voting for Democrats, it's not because they have confidence in Democrats. They're voting to throw the bums out. An old American tradition -- Wolf.

BLITZER: What do the numbers show, Bill, about 2008?

SCHNEIDER: Well, we asked, first Democrats, who they would prefer for the Democratic nomination. And number one on the list is Senator Hillary Clinton of New York with 39 percent. She clearly dominates the field.

After Senator Clinton comes John Kerry, the last Democratic nominee at 15. Al Gore at 13, John Edwards at 12 percent. No other Democrats are in double digits. Those figures, of course, are well known nationally, and three of them have run for national office.

What about Republicans? Who's their favorite? The answer is, no single person. The two who top the list are Rudy Giuliani at 33 percent, John McCain at 28 percent. Well, they're not the favorite candidates of conservatives. Do conservatives have a horse to ride?

Well, George Allen is at seven percent. Bill Frist, the Senate majority leader, is at 6. Mitt Romney, the governor of Massachusetts, at three. So it looks like in the upcoming contest for the nominations, Republicans are divided. Democrats are more united behind a candidate, who of course, is very controversial, Senator Clinton.

BLITZER: Thanks very much for that, Bill Schneider, our senior political analyst.

Up next, we're going to tell you why President Bush thinks the fast food chain Wendy's is doing something right.

And who's scoring points in Pennsylvania, the governor or the former football player who wants his job? Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Here's a look at some of the hot shots coming in from our friends over at the Associated Press, pictures likely to be in your hometown newspapers tomorrow. Baghdad, a man uses a bucket of water to try to put out the flames of a burning truck. Gunmen attacked the vehicle carrying equipment for U.S. troops.

Peshawar, Pakistan, cartoon protests. Smoke erupts from the burning buses of South Korean company Daewoo. Demonstrators also burned a Kentucky Fried Chicken store and a movie theater in the third day of violence. Three people have died so far.

Vatican City, treated like a rock star. The faithful reach out for Pope Benedict XVI as he arrives at the Vatican. Torino, Italy. Sweden scores on Kazakhstan during the men's ice hockey game. Sweden won the match 7-2. Some of today's hot shots, pictures often worth a thousand words.

On our political radar this Wednesday, President Bush makes a quick stop at Wendy's. Not to eat, necessarily, but to praise the fast food chain's healthcare plan. Mr. Bush used Wendy's Ohio headquarters as a backdrop to promote tax-free health savings accounts.

Vice President Cheney's hunting accident is helping out a New York State lawmaker. For years, Republican George Winter (ph) has been pushing to make it a felony to leave the scene of a serious hunting accident. Now he has new hope he'll get the bill passed after supporters dubbed it Cheney's Law.

In Pennsylvania, Democratic Governor Ed Rendell is holding a 12- point lead over his only Republican challenger, former Pittsburgh Steeler Lynn Swann. That's the finding of a new Quinnipiac University poll. It also shows that Pennsylvania Republicans are divided over whether Swann has the experience for the top state job.

Still to come here in THE SITUATION ROOM, is democracy in Iran worth millions of dollars of your tax money? Condoleezza Rice thinks it is. But do you? Jack Cafferty ready to weigh in with your opinions.

And disturbing newly released images of abuse at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison. What impact could they have in the Muslim world? We're taking a closer look. All that coming up right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Jack Cafferty is back with "The Cafferty File."

Hi, Jack.

CAFFERTY: Hi, Wolf. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said today the Bush administration will ask for $75 million to support democracy in Iran. This is an emergency spending bill, not budgeted not planned for. It's an emergency. We're got to have another $75 million in addition to the $10 million that Congress has already approved for promoting democracy in Iran this year. Yes, there's a good idea.

The question, should American taxpayers spend 75 million more to promote democracy in Iran? I mean it's working so well, like in the Palestinian territories and places like that.

Mary in Louisville, Kentucky writes, "Why is the U.S. the only country that feels it must spread its way of life to unwilling populations around the world? It's about time for America to spend a little of the money which we don't have for things like healthcare and education, not to mention reducing the deficit. I'm getting fed up."

James in San Antonio writes, "Cafferty, the answer's no. Spend 75 million in New Orleans. These people need convincing that the U.S. is a democracy."

Kevin in Mechanicsville, Virginia: "I need a definition of 'promote democracy.' Is that synonymous with 'shock and awe?'"

Eric in Milwaukee: How can we spend tens of millions of dollars promoting democracy in Iran when we're kicking homeless families out of hotels in New Orleans and denying them mortgages."

D. writes, "This latest bonehead idea of Ms. Rice reminds me of Nancy Reagan's 'Just Say No' campaign. Foolish, non-productive, bright wrappings around an empty box."

And Robin in Atlanta writes, "No. We should only spend -- what's the cost of a 20-megaton nuke? Yes, that's the amount we should spend."

BLITZER: Jack Cafferty, thank you very much.

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