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THE SITUATION ROOM

John Edwards Launches Presidential Campaign; Interview With Michigan Senator Carl Levin; President Bush Declares National Day of Mourning For Gerald Ford

Aired December 28, 2006 - 17:00   ET

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


ED HENRY, CNN ANCHOR: And, to our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM, where new pictures and information are arriving all the time.
SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN ANCHOR: Standing by, CNN reporters across the United States and around the world to bring you today's top stories.

HENRY: Happening now: new word on when Saddam Hussein is likely to go to the gallows. Will his loyalists seek revenge against the United States? We will have reports from Baghdad and the western White House, where President Bush has been meeting with his war council.

MALVEAUX: Also this hour: Democrat John Edwards gets the jump on most of his presidential competition. He is the first top-tier contender to formally launch his campaign. We will consider the pros and cons of Edwards' resume, his agenda, and his holiday season announcement in New Orleans.

HENRY: And another winter storm out West gives travelers the shivers. Will the Denver airport be snowed shut for the second time in two weeks? We will have an up-to-the-minute forecast.

Wolf Blitzer is off. I'm Ed Henry.

MALVEAUX: And I'm Suzanne Malveaux. And you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

First this hour: the timing of Saddam Hussein's execution, and the threat of grave consequences when that day comes.

HENRY: Bush administration officials now are preparing for the ousted Iraqi leader's hanging, based on new information they have gotten from the government in Baghdad. President Bush just held Iraq strategy talks with his national security team today.

Our White House correspondent Elaine Quijano is with the president in Texas. CNN's Ryan Chilcote is in Baghdad.

First to you, Elaine. It seemed like, today, for the first time, we got a bit of a timeline from the Bush administration about when this execution may happen.

ELAINE QUIJANO, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Ed. Today, a senior Bush administration official was asked about what the United States was hearing, in terms of a date perhaps for Saddam Hussein's execution. And this senior official said that it would not be tonight, and that it would probably happen over the next few days.

Now, this official told reporters that was based on what U.S. officials in Iraq were being told by the Iraqi government, that it could probably be another day or two, most likely. But this official made clear, Ed and Suzanne, that this is a decision being carried out and a process being carried out by the Iraqi government, and cautioned us to check with our sources in Baghdad -- Ed and Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: And, Ryan, of course, in Baghdad, give us a sense of what you are hearing, whether or not there's a sense of anticipation, fear, excitement from the Iraqi people. And who do you think will be the Iraqi official who will give the news about Saddam Hussein?

RYAN CHILCOTE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Don't know who the Iraqi official will be who will give the news about Saddam Hussein -- a lot of speculation about that. But the government isn't saying anything.

One thing I did want to tell is, we just got off the phone with the chief attorney for Saddam Hussein. He informed us that two members of Saddam's defense team met with Saddam Hussein today at the detention facility where Saddam Hussein is being held to officially inform him that the final decision has been reached, that he will be executed.

They didn't give any kind of timeline. They say they don't have a timeline. They say that Saddam Hussein took the information, took the news in stride, that he said that he was ready to be executed, that he believes it's his destiny. He also said that he would like to see the Iraqi people unite.

Also very interesting, the defense team telling us that none of Saddam's family members have been notified of an execution date. That's interesting, because, according to the law here in Iraq, Saddam's family members should have the right to see him before he is executed.

Now, officially, the government isn't saying anything about when this execution might happen. In fact, it could have already happen, and they could just be waiting to -- to inform the public. We just don't know.

Technically, the execution has to happen by the 27th -- that according to Iraqi law. But there are a lot of signs that this could happen sooner. The Iraqi prime minister, for example, has said he would like to see Saddam hanged by the end of the year. He's under a lot of political pressure from his -- his power base to do that. So, this could happen very, very soon -- Suzanne and Ed.

HENRY: Ryan, one quick follow-up, before we get back to Elaine in Texas.

I'm wondering about these reports that, potentially, the Iraqi government will videotape the hanging, and whether or not that will be available to the Iraqi people. Will the American people see it?

CHILCOTE: Again, the Iraqi government isn't saying anything about whether this will be videotaped. It is something that they had discussed earlier. They have stopped talking about it.

There is a precedent for that, however. Just about a week-and-a- half ago, 13 men were put to death here in Iraq. And the condemned -- video of the condemned as they marched into the gallows was disseminated to Iraqi TV. It was shown on Iraqi TV.

When that happened, a lot of people interpreted that as an attempt by the government, the Iraqi government, to test the waters, to see how people would react to that. But the government so far has been quiet as to whether this -- this execution will be videotaped and whether it will be shown to people after the execution, or maybe each live.

HENRY: Thank you, Ryan Chilcote, in Baghdad.

Let's go back to Crawford, Texas, Elaine Quijano, our White House correspondent.

The president today is meeting with his war council, trying to get ready to potentially launch a new strategy in Iraq -- what happened today?

QUIJANO: Well, a senior Bush administration officials says that today's meeting really focused on security, economic and political issues facing Iraq, with the bulk of the focus, of course, on the security situation on the ground.

As for where the White House stands in crafting that new Iraq plan, this official said it is -- quote -- "taking shape."

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

QUIJANO (voice-over): After a three-hour meeting with his war cabinet at his ranch, President Bush said he was making progress towards a retooled plan for Iraq, but he made clear he is not ready to announce changes just yet.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I have more consultation to do, until I talk to the country about the plan.

QUIJANO: The president signaled, those consultations include discussions with the Iraqi government, as well as talks with members of the soon-to-be-Democratically-led Congress.

BUSH: I fully understand it's important to have both Democrats and Republicans understanding the importance of this mission.

QUIJANO: A senior administration official says, the president and his national security team are driving toward what the official called conclusions and final decisions -- among those attending today's meeting, Vice President Dick Cheney, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and General Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Their meeting took place against the backdrop of a new element in the Iraq debate, news that the late former President Gerald Ford disagreed with the Bush administration's Iraq policy.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

GERALD FORD, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I don't think if I had been president, on the basis of the facts as I saw them publicly, I don't I think I would have ordered the Iraqi war.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

QUIJANO: Those remarks came in a 2004 interview with "Washington Post" reporter Bob Woodward, who agreed not to release them after Ford's death.

Ford also criticized his former aides, Vice President Dick Cheney, and former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld for putting the emphasis to go to war on weapons of mass destruction.

Bush aides responded to the disclosure by saying, the administration and the president are focused on grieving and on keeping Gerald Ford's family in their prayers.

But the revelation came one day after President Bush paid tribute to Ford as a man who led with -- quote -- "common sense," and at a time when the president is already facing intense political pressure to change course on Iraq.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

QUIJANO: As for those consultations with Congress, a senior official says that, when Congress convenes, and the tributes and memorials and funeral services for the late president former Gerald -- former President Gerald Ford are over, that President Bush will go ahead and start reaching out to members of Congress to hold additional discussions on Iraq -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: And, Elaine, with this meeting today, is there any indication the president is any closer to making an announcement?

QUIJANO: There really wasn't any kind of narrowing down of a time frame, if you will, on an announcement by President Bush.

In fact, senior aides, as you know, have been reluctant to do that, ever since weeks ago they signaled that perhaps the president might be ready before Christmas to make some sort of announcement. Of course, that did not happen.

When pressed on it again today, a senior official would only say that it is still due to take place in the early part of January -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: Thanks, Elaine, very much, out of Crawford, Texas. And now for the race to the White House -- while most of us are gearing up for the start of 2007, John Edwards decided, this is the time to kick off his 2008 presidential campaign.

The early announcement was just one way the former senator and vice presidential nominee tried to set himself apart from the soon-to- be-crowded Democratic pack.

Our Dana Bash is in New Orleans, the backdrop for Edwards' big day, and, obviously, a lot of excitement there -- Dana.

DANA BASH, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Suzanne.

And, really, what we saw here today was the latest evidence of how the 2008 presidential campaign is on an accelerated timetable, and how the early buzz about Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton is having an impact on all Democrats, even those who are well known.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BASH (voice-over): No confetti, no music, no pomp, just circumstance.

JOHN EDWARDS (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm here in New Orleans to -- and in the Ninth Ward of New Orleans, to announce that I'm a candidate for the presidency of the United States.

BASH: An early and unconventional start to John Edwards' second White House run, using a still hurricane-damaged backdrop for his populist platform.

The two Americas he talked about in 2004, the haves and have- nots, morphed into a call for citizen action.

EDWARDS: If we wait for the next election, and we stand by and hope that the next person that is elected president is going to solve all our problems for us, we are living in a fantasy world. It will never happen.

BASH: Edwards calls for universal health care and a higher minimum wage, but says the biggest challenge is restoring America's moral leadership in the world, starting with Iraq.

He wants 40,000 to 500 troops out now, used this Web video to slam potential 2008 Republican candidate John McCain for wanting more troops in Iraq.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

EDWARDS: We need to reject this McCain doctrine of surging troops and escalating the war in Iraq.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BASH: In a crowded Democratic field, Edwards is a familiar face, John Kerry's running mate, a son of a mill worker, rag-to-riches story, and photogenic family.

He has one clear advantage over other Democratic senators running for president. He is a former senator, not tethered to Washington. He's been campaigning pretty much full-time since he lost in 2004, canvassing the country with candidates, building support in early test states like Iowa and New Hampshire.

But the one-term senator has challenges, lingering criticism he lacks experience to lead a post-9/11 world. He says recent extensive world travel has given him -- quote -- "depth and understanding," and:

EDWARDS: We have had one of the most experienced foreign policy teams in American history, Rumsfeld, Cheney. They have been an absolute disaster, by any measure.

BASH: He also has baggage that comes with being on a losing ticket.

(on camera): What makes you think you can win now, when you couldn't two, two-and-a-half years ago?

EDWARDS: Well, a lot of things have changed since 2004. Some of it is just aging and maturing. And I have learned and changed, like anybody who is evolving the way they should.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BASH: Edwards has been working hard over the past couple of years to strengthen his ties with organized labor and Democratic activists in key states.

And he's also trying to take a page from Howard Dean's 2004 playbook, and use the Internet, podcasts, Web diaries, things like that, blogs, in order to try to gin up grassroots support for his populist platform, and also get some much-needed campaign cash -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: And, Dana, what is next on this big announcement tour?

BASH: Well, you know, he left here, he left New Orleans, several hours ago to head off to Iowa. He's going to hit really all four of the first primary and caucus states that Democrats have to do well in, in the beginning of January -- end of January, beginning of February 2008, first Iowa, then New Hampshire.

Then, he's going to head off to Nevada. There's an early caucus there, and then South Carolina. But the most important stop will be his first, Iowa. Why? Because, remember, 2004, it was a fresh-faced John Edwards, really an unknown, who came in second in that first-in- the-nation caucus. And even his aides, they openly admit, Suzanne, that he's got to place first.

They see that really as important. He has got to place first in order to -- for his campaign to be continue to be viable. They look at the polls there now. In most of them, he is dead even or at least ahead. So, that certainly makes them pretty happy, but it is very early.

MALVEAUX: Very early, indeed. Thanks very much, Dana. Appreciate that.

And, of course, a closer look now at where John Edwards stands on some of those top issues.

As Dana mentioned, he opposes the war in Iraq. Edwards initially voted in favor of using military force, but now says he was wrong. Edwards also supports abortion rights. And he opposes same-sex marriage, but he also is against a constitutional ban on gay unions.

Edwards supports legal status and citizenship for some illegal immigrants. He calls for working with Mexico to better control the border and stop illegal trafficking. Edwards opposes the president's plan for Social Security privatization using individual saving accounts. And he supports eliminating tax cuts for oil companies and the wealthiest Americans.

HENRY: We will talk with John Edwards about his presidential ambitions tomorrow. He will be our guest right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

And thanks to Dana Bash and Elaine Quijano, both part of the best political team on television.

And, remember, for the latest political news at any time, check out the Political Ticker at CNN.com/ticker.

MALVEAUX: And coming up: a Democrat who will play a powerful role in a future of America's military and the prospects for a withdrawal from Iraq. The incoming Senate of the Armed Services Committee, Carl Levin, is standing by.

HENRY: Also ahead: more on Gerald Ford's complaints about the Bush administration's Iraq policy in our "Strategy Session," plus, an update on preparations for the former president's state funeral.

MALVEAUX: And we're tracking a new snowstorm out West, and whether it will freeze holiday air travel in Denver and beyond.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HENRY: Carol Costello joins us now from New York with a closer look at other stories making news.

Good afternoon, Carol.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hello, Ed.

We have a breaking story just into THE SITUATION ROOM to tell you about. There has been an explosion at a house in Monroe Township, New Jersey, multiple injuries reported now, the blast lifting the house from its foundation and blowing out its walls. We don't know what caused it. Of course, we will keep our eye on it for you.

Senate Democrats are getting ready to take charge on Capitol Hill next month, and they may take another look at legislation setting guidelines for interrogating and detaining suspects in the war on terror. Congress passed the Terrorism Detainee Bill in September, but some Democrats and at least one Republican want to get rid of a provision that bans detainees from confronting charges against them in court without a trial.

Several top Democratic and Republican senators won't be at Saturday's state funeral for former President Gerald Ford. They're on a pre-scheduled trip to Bolivia, Ecuador and Peru to meet with those country's leaders. Incoming Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is heading that delegation. It includes Democrats Dick Durbin, Kent Conrad and Ken Salazar, and Republicans Judd Gregg and Robert Bennett.

Reid's spokesman says Reid has called Betty Ford to express his condolences.

Somalia's prime minister says Islamists fighters have retreated from Mogadishu, and Somali government troops are now in the capital. Ethiopian troops supporting the Somali forces remain on the city's outskirts, though. Somalia's transitional government has imposed a state of emergency in Mogadishu to stop the looting. And the U.N. says dozens of refugees fleeing the fighting are missing, after their boats capsized off Yemen's coast. It says its security forces fired on the vessels.

And a string of bombs exploded in Baghdad today, killing at least 20 people. Two bombs went off simultaneously, tearing through a crowded market. Iraqi police also found 14 bullet-riddled bodies. North of Baghdad, a U.S. soldier died when a roadside bomb went off. Yesterday, four U.S. troops died in Iraq. The number of U.S. military deaths now stands at 2,988.

That's a look at the headlines right now -- back to you, Suzanne and Ed.

HENRY: Thanks, Carol. We will get back to you soon.

As Carol just noted, the U.S. troop death toll nears 3,000. President Bush is considering sending even more troops to Iraq.

MALVEAUX: Joining us now, a leading Democratic voice on military policy, the incoming chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Carl Levin.

Senator, thank you very much for joining us here, of course, in THE SITUATION ROOM.

I want to start off by asking you, of course, that you're going to be holding these hearings. And President Bush has indicated that he, at least his administration, is seriously considering a troop surge, at least temporary troop surge, in Iraq.

Let's take a listen, a quick listen, to what President Bush said today, after his national security meeting.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's important for the American people to understand. Success in Iraq is vital for our own security. If we were to not succeed in Iraq, the enemy, the extremists, the radicals, would have safe haven from which to launch further attacks. They would be emboldened. They would be in a position to threaten the United States of America. This is an important part of the war on terror.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MALVEAUX: Now, Senator, obviously, from senior administration officials, as well as defense officials, the people we talk to, they are all saying, that is a serious consideration, to increase troops, at least temporarily, to get a control of the situation in Baghdad.

How are you, how is your committee, how are the Democrats essentially going to stop that?

SEN. CARL LEVIN (D), MICHIGAN: Well, the problem with the president is his logic.

The fact is that our -- the course that we're on is not leading to success in Iraq. Obviously, everybody wants to increase the chances of success in Iraq. But just saying stay the course is not the way to achieve success in Iraq. And we have learned that, I hope, over the last few years.

We are not on the road to success in Iraq. So, let's change the course and try to increase the chances of success in Iraq by pressing the Iraqis to reach a political solution. There is no military solution in Iraq. All of our military leaders are telling us there is no military solution in Iraq.

And we believe -- and I think almost all the Democrats in the Senate believe, that this open-ended commitment of American troops to Iraq sends exactly the wrong message to the Iraqis, that, somehow or other, their fate is in our hands, instead of in their hands.

And I think surging troops and adding troops just gets us in deeper and keeps us on the same course. We will get to that chasm earlier, instead of later.

MALVEAUX: So, what do the Democrats do in January, when you gain control of Congress? I mean, what can you do, aside from perhaps cutting off funding from the troops, to keep this from happening?

LEVIN: No one is going to cut off funding to the troops that I know of.

But what we are going to do, depending on what the president does -- and I think his -- he is still considering various options, including the one that we have recommended, which is to tell the Iraqis that their future is in their hands, and that we're going to begin to reduce our presence in four to six months.

That's been the consistent, almost a consensus Democratic position. There's a few exceptions to that. But almost all Democrats believe that that's the case. And we will continue to make that case, if the president continues on, basically, his stay-the-course policy.

(CROSSTALK)

MALVEAUX: So, Senator, basically, all you can do is continue to press your case, make your point. But, beyond that, what are these hearings meant to accomplish? Is this just an academic exercise? I mean, what -- what comes out of this? Is this forward-looking?

LEVIN: It's very forward-looking.

We're going to be looking at options. Hopefully, the president is looking at options other than just the status quo. We will be looking at options. We are going to be considering his decision, of course. The first hearing will be on January 11. There will be two additional hearings on the two Thursdays after that.

If the president has made his decision by January 11, we would then expect that the new secretary of defense, Bob Gates, would be in front of us, as would General Pace, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, to present the -- the administration's position.

If it's not decided by the 11th, we would have them in front of us on a subsequent Thursday. But we have to examine whatever the president is -- is going to propose. I don't want to prejudge that, by the way. I don't want to assume that he is just going to stay on the current course, because there's so many reasons to change course, not just that the current course isn't working and is not leading to success, but the American people have spoken dramatically at an election.

He has a new secretary of defense that said he was open to new options, new directions in Iraq. And, in addition to all of that, we have got the report, of course, of the recent study group, that said, we have got to change direction.

HENRY: But, Senator, now, you're saying that, if we send more troops to Iraq, we get in deeper. But, just a couple days ago, the incoming Senate majority leader, the Democratic leader, Harry Reid, told CNN's Dana Bash something that sounds a little different.

Let's take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MINORITY LEADER: If the president came to us, the Congress, and said, "Look, I need to increase the number of troops there for a few weeks, but it's -- here is when -- here what we're going to do; we're going to get out of there within a year," I think a lot of people would say, well, that's OK. But just for a troop buildup, no one wants that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HENRY: That -- that sounds a little different from what you're saying and what -- what Democratic Senator Joe Biden is saying.

LEVIN: Well, not much.

I think, as a matter of fact, Senator Biden says very -- almost exactly the same thing. He is not in favor of a troop buildup at all. What Senator Reid said is that, well, maybe for a few weeks as part of a reduction program, which is another part of that interview -- it's part of a program of reductions -- that, then, he would then consider it. That's pretty close to what we're -- what I'm saying.

The bottom line is, the main direction has got to be troop reduction. And, as far as I'm concerned, a surge which is not part of a program of reduction is not worth considering. It's -- and, also, it seems to me that, even if the president is going to propose to add troops, he's got to make that conditional upon the Iraqis doing something.

The whole problem with our current program and policy is that it is an open-ended obligation. It's an open-ended commitment to the Iraqis. Instead of being conditioned on the Iraqis reaching a political settlement, the president has told the Iraqis, we're going to be there as long as you want us.

It's too open-ended. It's too unconditional. It's too much of a blank check.

HENRY: Senator...

LEVIN: Whatever the president proposes hopefully will be conditioned on the Iraqis taking critically important political steps.

HENRY: Senator, last question. I have 30 seconds.

What do you make -- you're from Michigan. That's the home state of the late President Gerald Ford. He's now made some -- he gave an interview to Bob Woodward back in 2004, basically coming out against the justification for the war in Iraq.

What do you make of those comments? And what do you make of them coming out now, after his death, and whether or not that's proper?

LEVIN: Well, the comment is obviously significant. I'm not going to comment beyond that. It speaks for itself.

But I think, during this period of mourning, I am not going to comment further on what that report is, because I would rather focus on the significance of Jerry Ford's life at this point.

MALVEAUX: Senator Carl Levin, thank you so much for joining us today in THE SITUATION ROOM. Appreciate your time.

LEVIN: Sure. Good being with you.

MALVEAUX: Thank you.

The race is on, as John Edwards makes it official. But does he have the right stuff? And what makes him a better candidate now than in 2004?

HENRY: And a voice from the grave may be giving President Bush and Vice President Cheney headaches. We will examine the political implications of the late President Ford's opposition to the war in Iraq. That's in our "Strategy Session."

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MALVEAUX: You're in THE SITUATION ROOM, where new pictures and information are arriving all the time.

HENRY: Happening now: new word that the late President Gerald Ford said he would not have ordered the war in Iraq. In a 2004 interview with journalist Bob Woodward, Ford said the president's justifications for the war were, in his words -- quote -- "a big mistake."

MALVEAUX: In New York today, a celebration of the life of the godfather of soul. Thousands of people gathered in Harlem for a memorial service for James Brown. The legendary soul singer's gold casket arrived at the Apollo Theater in style, in a horse-drawn carriage -- a full report in our next hour.

HENRY: And federal health officials say meat and milk from cloned animals are safe to eat and drink. That draft ruling from the Food and Drug Administration could bring that controversial technology closer to becoming a reality on supermarket shelves. Dr. Sanjay Gupta will give us his prognosis ahead.

Wolf Blitzer is off today. I'm Ed Henry.

MALVEAUX: And I'm Suzanne Malveaux. And you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

In a stunning never-before-published interview, the late Gerald Ford sharply criticized the Iraq war. The former president said, President Bush and his top advisers made -- quote -- "a big mistake" in justifying it.

HENRY: Joining us now to discuss this in today's "Strategy Session," CNN political analyst Democrat Donna Brazile, and Bay Buchanan, the president of American Cause.

I wonder if I could first start asking Bay, how damaging is this to the White House, that the former Republican president, the late president Gerald Ford, said this before he died, and it's now coming out about the Iraq war?

BAY BUCHANAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Damaging -- I don't believe it's damaging. Embarrassing, a day or two of a story, the last thing the president needs right now.

The president obviously not going to respond. But I think what's interesting is how the press is focusing on what he said two years ago or -- yes, I guess about two years ago -- but, last month, he told Tom DeFrank in an interview, another political writer, that he believes that it was justified to go to the war just to get rid of Saddam Hussein, but that he just shouldn't have used as a reason to go the WMDs, which is obviously something everybody has concluded.

HENRY: But that was the reason.

BUCHANAN: Well, that was the reason. But, clearly, once we found there was no WMDs, then, obviously, it wasn't such a good idea to go for that particular reason.

But the key is to remember, the president did believe there were weapons of mass destructions. And when he believed that, he felt that the United States was threatened, and he took action.

MALVEAUX: Well, let's -- let's take a quick listen to -- to that piece of sound. And -- and then we will get on the other end of it for a quick minute.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

GERALD FORD, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I don't think, if I had been president, on the basis of the facts as I saw them publicly, I don't I think I would have ordered the Iraqi war.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

MALVEAUX: Now, how appropriate is it for a president, obviously, to disclose this kind of information and to hold onto it? I mean, this is a very costly war, in terms of blood and treasure, and, yet, this news is only coming out now. We only wonder if it would have influenced, in some way, his proteges, Cheney, as well as Rumsfeld, in the kinds of decisions they made in the Iraq war.

Donna?

DONNA BRAZILE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, look, it's a time- honored tradition for former presidents not to comment on the current occupant, until such time as they are all former, I'm sure.

But the truth of the matter is, in 2004, there wasn't a lot of debate in this country. Those who opposed the war, somehow or another, were basically being scandalized by saying, you know, you're not patriotic.

And, so, perhaps Mr. Ford thought this was an opportunity to comment on a very important event in history -- we decided to invade a country -- and to allow it to be embargoed until such time that he is not here. I have nothing -- I have no problem with people speaking from the grave. As a New Orleanian, it's refreshing.

(LAUGHTER) HENRY: What do you think?

Oh, let's turn to the presidential announcement from Senator John Edwards today. He makes the announcement in New Orleans. You're from New Orleans Your family, obviously, was affected deeply by Hurricane Katrina.

What do you think, from a strategy perspective, about John Edwards launching another presidential campaign, and clearly, directly using Katrina as a backdrop? Some may say that it's cheap. Others may say it's appropriate, because it's such a big issue. Where do you come down on it?

BRAZILE: Well, in 2004, John Edwards made two Americas his major campaign theme. But it went largely unheard of.

But, after Katrina, this resonates with the American people. The American people were shocked and appalled at the situation in New Orleans. Thirty-seven million of our fellow citizens live below the poverty line.

I believe that John Edwards has an opportunity to not only elevate this issue. But he also wants to talk about access to health care, conserving energy. He is launching a new type of campaign, utilizing the Internet and other mediums to get his message out. And, starting in January, he will use every month as an opportunity to get people to -- to get involved in helping their fellow citizens.

MALVEAUX: But it's the same old message. I mean, what we heard today from -- really, from him was that he said, it's two Americas, the have, the have-nots.

There was even, in "The New York Post" here, yesterday -- he said, a state of denial. He is building a $3.1 million estate in North Carolina, while he's campaigning on poverty issues here.

Does he have a perception problem, that he is perhaps not genuine in his cause?

(LAUGHTER)

BUCHANAN: He is going to.

MALVEAUX: What do you make of that?

BUCHANAN: Well, there is no question he is going to have one. And maybe people won't pay much attention to it, and the other candidates won't comment on it until and if that he should start rising. But it will become a problem.

He is a very well-to-do, wealthy man who talks about these two Americas. In fairness to him, he has actually been down in New Orleans really doing work down there, not just using as a backdrop.

But I do believe that John Edwards, he -- he wants to be this populist candidate. But even his themes are too lofty for a populist: I want an end poverty. I'm going to -- you know, we're going to introduce moral leadership for the world.

Well, those are not issues that you get and energize people on the grassroots. He has an opportunity, I think, to break through, only because of one thing. He's willing to work his head off in Iowa. And I haven't seen his other two contenders...

(CROSSTALK)

HENRY: Robert Kennedy energized the grassroots by using poverty. He was a rich man, but he still was able to energize the grassroots. Are you sure that, from a strategy perspective, that won't work?

BUCHANAN: Well, you have got to give them something to -- to work with. And just this kind of idea we're going to end poverty, and -- these are too big.

I mean, he -- what are you -- you're going to see him talking about the issues that mean something to the American people today. You are going to see him talking about the war. And then you're going to talk specifics about the economy, maybe jobs, how to recreate and bring jobs back home.

It has got to be much more specific than these big, kind of lofty ideas, in order to make a populist campaign work.

BRAZILE: Well, I'm glad that somebody is talking about poverty, because, too often in our society, we leave poor people out of the equation.

And I'm grateful to John Edwards, who has spent, since 2004, his time talking about this issue across the country. He now heads up the Center For Poverty and Justice down in North Carolina. And I hope he will use his political capital and others use their political capital to raise the level of awareness about poverty in our country.

HENRY: What about the war as an issue? You mentioned war. Let's just wrap there.

John Edwards voted for the war in Iraq, now says it was a big mistake.

(CROSSTALK)

HENRY: Is that going to backfire for him?

BUCHANAN: I think it hurts him.

You know, if all of the candidates, of which there are many, in the Democratic field, were people who had voted for the war, and now were reversing themselves, as most of them are, that's one thing.

But we have somebody in this race, it looks like, Obama, who actually was opposed to the war up front. He has a clean record. I believe he is the one that will introduce the -- energize the anti-war movement in this country. BRAZILE: I think it takes political courage to admit that you made a mistake. And, in John Edwards' case, and in the case of so many other Democrats and Republicans, it takes a tremendous amount of humility to go before the American people and say: You know what? I -- I made a mistake.

MALVEAUX: Sorry. We have run out of time here.

BUCHANAN: All right.

MALVEAUX: Bay Buchanan, Donna Brazile, thank you very much for being in THE SITUATION ROOM.

And, of course, John Edwards' official announcement that he is running for president came today in New Orleans, but it was the online community that learned first, perhaps even a bit earlier than planned.

Our Internet reporter, Jacki Schechner, has that story.

Jacki, what actually happened?

JACKI SCHECHNER, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Well, Suzanne, John Edwards' campaign put this video online last night on YouTube and MySpace. Take a quick listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

EDWARDS: And, tomorrow morning, from this place, I will announce that I'm a candidate for president of the United States.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCHECHNER: Now, this video was also online on his new official presidential campaign Web site, JohnEdwards.com.

But the Associated Press reported that the site, due to an Internet glitch, went live a little early by accident. And we spoke to the campaign today. And they said that they were actually testing the site.

Now, if you go online to the John Edwards Web site, it's a lot of carryover material from his One America political action committee Web site, things like blog community, his podcasts. He is also having a little trouble with this new site. And his campaign tells us it's because they have been overwhelmed with traffic. We found it a little glitchy throughout the day.

One of the things that Edwards is doing is taking the grassroots movement offline to some traditional methods, calling this a citizens launch, giving people material that they can download from his Web site to hand out in their local community. Also, that steers people back online.

And, then, online later today, Edwards is using the whole live broadcast, podcast thing with a town-hall meeting from Des Moines, Iowa, at 6:00 p.m. Eastern time. You can go on and submit your questions. And he will answer them live via the Internet -- Suzanne, Ed.

HENRY: Thanks, Jacki.

Up next: a snowy sequel in Denver, still reeling from a pre- Christmas blizzard. We will have a live report on the storm and the possible threat to New Year's travelers.

MALVEAUX: And rehearsals are under way for a presidential send- off. We will have the latest on Gerald Ford's funeral plans and a new move by President Bush to honor his predecessor.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MALVEAUX: Denver is bracing for what could be its second blizzard in a week.

Take a look at these traffic cameras coming into THE SITUATION ROOM. This is in Denver. Snow is already falling in southern Colorado, with more than three feet possible in some areas. Dozens of flights are canceled at the Denver International Airport. That's where thousands of holiday travelers got stranded last week.

CNN meteorologist Reynolds Wolf joins us now in THE SITUATION ROOM for the latest.

Reynolds, what are you seeing so far?

REYNOLDS WOLF, CNN METEOROLOGIST: We're seeing a lot of white, Suzanne, no question about it, a lot of snowflakes.

I know you, the viewers at home, were able to see the snowflakes going from the top to the bottom of your television screen. We are going to seeing that through much of the afternoon, into the evening, and overnight as well.

What's interesting is, the original forecast models, the original plan was that we were going to see anywhere from 10 to 20 inches of snowfall between now, through the evening, and into tomorrow. The way it now looks, that we're still going to see that initial heavy snowfall, but there is the potential of another burst of heavy snow into the weekend, popping up into Saturday, possibly lasting through Sunday, and even into early Monday as well.

So, that being said, we're now looking at the possibility, total snowfall, from anywhere from 20 to 40 inches of snowfall for the Denver metropolitan area between now and Monday. So, yes, it could get pretty rough.

You were talking about some traffic cams throughout Denver. Right now, behind me, we have got I-70. And I can tell you that we have seen snowplows out there. Things are moving smoothly for the time being. But it's just a mathematical equation. When we have more snow, it begins to build up as we get to the evening hours, no question alone, we're going to have some issues out there.

So, we are going to watch this for you very carefully. We are going to be with you in the next hour, the hour after that, through the evening, bringing you the very latest -- but certainly snowy times here in the Mile High City -- back to you.

MALVEAUX: Many hours. Thank you very much, Reynolds Wolf.

WOLF: You bet.

(CROSSTALK)

HENRY: That airport is really going to get hit hard -- a lot of people going through there for New Year's.

Coming up: a live report from California, as mourners prepare to pay their respects to the late President Ford.

And, in the next hour, a former presidential adviser will be live in THE SITUATION ROOM. We will get David Gergen's perspective on the late president and the fallout on Ford's opposition to the war in Iraq and the justification for it.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MALVEAUX: President Bush has declared Tuesday a national day of mourning for Gerald Ford. That's the same day a memorial service will be held for the 38th president at the National Cathedral here in Washington.

The White House says Mr. Bush plans to speak at that service. He will travel from Texas back to Washington on Monday, and go straight to the Capitol to pay respects to Ford, who will be lying in state in the Rotunda. The official tributes to the former president begin tomorrow in California.

CNN's Dan Simon is in Palm Desert, California.

And, Dan, I know you have got a lot of those details as well.

DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Suzanne, we are in front of the Saint Margaret's Episcopal Church. And dress rehearsals here have been going on all day long. We just saw a Marine Corps band playing "Hail to the Chief." There has also been an honor guard here.

Let me tell a little bit about this church, the Saint Margaret's Episcopal Church. The Fords have been coming here for the last 30 years. There a pew dedicated to them inside. There's a new addition, which is just behind me. It was built in 1988. The Fords helped raised money for it.

In terms of what is going to happen tomorrow, there will be a private service for close friends and family tomorrow afternoon, followed by a public viewing. And, then, on Saturday, Mr. Ford's body is going to be flown to Washington, D.C. On Sunday and Monday, there will be -- Mr. Ford will lie in state in the Rotunda. And, then, on Tuesday, there will be a service at the National Cathedral. Then, on Wednesday, Mr. Ford's body will be flown to Michigan, Suzanne, where he will ultimately be laid to rest. And, again, the funeral is going to begin in earnest tomorrow afternoon, beginning with this private service for Mr. Ford's family and very close friends here at the Saint Margaret's Episcopal Church -- Suzanne, back to you.

HENRY: Thanks very much, Dan Simon, in Palm Desert, California. We appreciate it.

Coming up: James Brown, he made a living in America -- made living in America a little better. And now fans are showing their appreciation. We will take a look at the musical legend and the impression he made on the country.

And would you drink milk from this cow, even if you knew it was cloned? The FDA weighs in. And we will get a debrief from Dr. Sanjay Gupta.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HENRY: Now here's a look at some of the "Hot Shots" coming in from our friends at the Associated Press, pictures likely to be in your newspaper tomorrow.

Masked insurgents in Iraq engage in a battle in Baquba.

In London, a gesture of solidarity with the United States -- the British flag flies at half-staff atop Buckingham Palace, in memory, of course, of Gerald Ford.

In the West Bank town of Ramallah, members of the Palestinian Presidential Guard have a snowball fight.

And, in Berlin, a newborn rhino checks out her new home at the zoo.

And that is this hour's "Hot Shots," pictures often worth 1,000 words.

MALVEAUX: Carol Costello joins us now from New York with a closer look at other stories that are making news at this hour -- Carol.

COSTELLO: Talk about a picture being worth 1,000 words -- in New York, thousands of people paying tribute to the godfather of soul, James Brown. See the huge amount of people there? They sang. They cheered. They clapped, as a horse-drawn carriage carried his gold casket -- casket to Harlem's Apollo Theater for a public viewing. It was an open casket.

One by one, mourners are paying final respects to the music legend. Brown made his debut at the Apollo back in 1956. A private funeral ceremony is planned near his hometown of Augusta, Georgia. You may soon see labels saying "clone-free" at the supermarket. The FDA is giving preliminary approval to the sale of meat or milk from cloned animals and their offspring. Still, that likely won't happen for a few years at least.

CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta will join us in the next hour for much more on this.

And some mixed signals from the real estate market -- sales of existing homes rose six-tenths-of-a-percent last month. It's the second monthly increase in a row. But the price of homes sold dropped in November, for a fourth straight month. Prices of existing homes are now down more than 3 percent from a year ago.

And, along with home sales, consumer confidence is also up. The Conference Board says its consumer confidence index rose nearly four points in December. It's now at an eight-month high of 109 points. But the business research group cautions it's too soon to tell if this is a true sign of better times ahead.

That's a look at the headlines right now -- back to you, Ed and Suzanne.

HENRY: Thanks, Carol.

We will see you next hour.

Still to come: a winter weather alert for Denver. Our online team has tips on how you can track the storm -- a live report coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MALVEAUX: Let's turn back to that looming winter storm in Denver.

With three feet of snow possible in some areas of Colorado, the Department of Transportation and the Denver International Airport are taking steps to brace for difficult travel.

Jacki Schechner is standing by with some of the best ways to stay posted online.

Jacki, what do you have so far?

SCHECHNER: Well, Suzanne, the Colorado Department of Transportation Web site is pretty well done.

They have a traffic map with all of their Webcams online, where you can see for yourself what it looks like, if you dare to venture out of the house, with this winter storm on its way. This is from I- 70 in Denver at Sixth and Kipling (ph). There's another one here for you in Idaho Springs. This is I-70 East. You can see where the snow is starting to cover the ground. Some of the roads seem to be pretty well-plowed so far. They're also having real-time updates to tell you what exactly has delays and what exactly has been closed -- now, the FAA also taking a look at the weather. This is their live delay tracking map. You can get an idea of what you're looking at when you head out to the airport.

And you can see Denver right here in green in the middle of the map. That means that there's no real delays at this point. The only delays we are seeing on the map right now are out in Las Vegas. That is weather-related, assuming, as this storm moves east.

Now, what they are doing at the Denver International Airport is allowing people to get on earlier flights at no cost, in anticipation of the storm. And they say that at least 55 flights have already been canceled.

If you want to track the movement of the storm online, you can do that from the National Weather Service. They have got all of the radar information for you there. You can do it right from your desktop at home -- Suzanne, Ed.

MALVEAUX: And, Jacki, we will be keeping a close eye on that.

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