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New Congressional Leaders Using Tough Language To Set Stage For State of the Union Address; Senator Clinton Offering Vote Of No Confidence On Nouri Al-Maliki; Senator Mel Martinez Launching Tenure As New Chairman Of Republican National Committee

Aired January 19, 2007 - 16:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And to our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM, where new pictures and information are arriving all the time. Standing by, CNN reporters across the United States and around the world to bring you today's top stories.
Happening now, former President Jimmy Carter holds fellow Democrats' feet to the fire on Iraq. And former Vice President Walter Mondale has stinging words for the current vice president, Dick Cheney.

This hour, my exclusive joint interview with Carter and Mondale, 30 years after they took charge of the White House.

Top Democrats in Congress also come out swinging days before the president's State of the Union Address. They're slamming him on Iraq and warning him about Iran. We'll bring you the partisan punches and a preview of Mr. Bush's big speech.

And the war, the presidential race and a question of faith -- Senator Hillary Clinton shares her doubts about Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki only days after their meeting in Baghdad.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.


Up first this hour, a former Democratic president is pressing his party's leaders in Congress to fully use all their new power and do what it takes to prevent a troop build-up in Iraq.

In our exclusive interview, Jimmy Carter steps into the Democrats' debate over how far to push back against President Bush and his Iraq policy.


BLITZER: Mr. President, how far should the Congress go in trying to stop this war in Iraq?

Specifically, should it use the so-called power of the purse?

JIMMY CARTER, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think that's perfectly legitimate, Wolf, not dealing with our military already over there. We don't want to cut them off because they haven't been adequately supplied, as you know, with body armor or with armor on their vehicles and other facilities.

But I think the Congress should use its maximum authority.


BLITZER: Coming up, we'll have much more of my exclusive joint interview with Jimmy Carter and former Vice President Walter Mondale 30 years almost to the day after they were sworn into office. That's coming up.

Meanwhile, top Democrats in Congress are being accused by the White House of launching a bitter sound bite war, as they're calling it, over Iraq. The new House and Senate leaders are using particularly tough language today to set the stage for the president's State of the Union Address next week.

They're charging Mr. Bush with creating a tragedy and committing what they call an historic blunder in Iraq and of saber rattling at Iran.

The president, meantime, is finalizing his speech and hoping to shift some of the focus away from the war.

Our White House correspondent, Ed Henry, is standing by.

But let's go to our Congressional correspondent, Dana Bash.

She's getting some new information, first of all, on Republicans who are concerned about this troop build-up in Iraq -- Dana.

DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, it's an update on what we reported yesterday, that several senators in the president's own party are working on a resolution opposing his Iraq policy.

We now know that that resolution will be introduced on Monday and it will be significant.


Because one of the senators who helped write is it John Warner, the former chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, perhaps the most influential voice on the war here in Congress. And he has been noticeably absent in the debate over the president's plan on Iraq, especially the issue of whether or not more troops should go to Iraq -- Wolf.


BASH (voice-over): The president's new Iraq strategy promises more robust steps to stop what Bush officials call Iranian meddling in Iraq.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid accused the president of saber rattling and warned... SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MAJORITY LEADER: The president does not have the authority to launch military action in Iran without first seeking Congressional authorization.

BASH: The White House insists there are no plans to invade Iran, but Democrats talked tough, reminding the president that he'll be giving his State of the Union speech next week to a very different Congress than in the past, especially when it comes to the Iraq debate.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: It is not in our national interests to increase or deepen our involvement in Iraq, including the escalation of our -- of our involvement there.

BASH: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi threw an even stronger jab at the president earlier in the day, telling ABC: "He has to answer for his war. He has dug a hole so deep he can't even see the light on this. It's a tragedy. It's a historic blunder."

The White House was quick with a counter-punch.

DANA PERINO, WHITE HOUSE DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY: For Pelosi to say, and I quote: "The president knows that because the troops are in harm's way that we won't cut off the resources, that's why he's moving so quickly to put them in harm's way," is poisonous.

BASH: Publicly, Democrats insist symbolic Congress votes planned to register opposition to the president's Iraq plan will force him to change course. Privately they admit that's unlikely.

But there have been some stunning White House reversals, like retreating from the claim the government has the authority for warrantless wiretapping and Democrats are gloating.

REID: Well, we found the president in his first six years to be pretty stubborn and we've found the last few weeks, as much change as has been in the first six years.


BASH: Now, what you just saw there were the Democratic leaders in the House and the Senate give what they called their prebuttal to the president's State of the Union Address. That, of course, will be on Tuesday. The official response by the Democrats will be given by Democrat Virginia Webb of -- excuse me -- Jim Webb of Virginia.

And we interviewed him today, Wolf. He says that he has actually not started it, but he will be writing this speech himself. But he, of course, will have to get the stamp of approval from his party, and that will be an interesting thing to watch for the independent minded Democrat who was, just a few years ago, a Republican.

BLITZER: The State of the Union Address Tuesday night. We'll all be watching that and Jim Webb's response.

Dana is up on Capitol Hill. Let's go to the White House, where Mr. Bush is fine tuning the State of the Union Address that he will deliver next week.

Let's go to our White House correspondent, Ed Henry.

He's got the latest -- Ed.

ED HENRY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, as you can see, Democrats already hitting the president hard on Iraq in their prebuttal to the State of the Union. But top White House aides say the president is not planning to let the war dominate his speech.

One obvious reason for that -- the war is the issue that makes him so unpopular, so divisive a figure right now, but, also, the president dealing with a new political reality now. This is his first State of the Union with a Democratic Congress.

So what he's going to do is try to focus on a few -- a handful of domestic issues where he thinks he can find common ground, reach across the aisle and the Democrats' issues, like immigration, energy, education and health care.

Now, Spokesman Tony Snow says, of course, the president is not going to ignore Iraq. He's going to talk about it, though, in the broader context of the war on terror and especially given the fact that coming out of last week's White House speech on Iraq, the president does not seem to have really move the public in favor of increasing the number of troops in Iraq, so Republican strategists like Ed Gillespie say this State of the Union really gives the president another opportunity to reframe the whole legislative debate, especially on Iraq.


ED GILLESPIE, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Every year, the State of the Union sets the table for the policy debate for the next 11 months. And Iraq will be at the center of a policy debate in Congress for the next 11 months. And this is an opportunity for the president to frame that debate, to pose the right questions, to put forward his own policies and to invite policy alternatives from others.

But I'm hopeful that as he lays out this policy, you'll see momentum gained for -- for the so-called surge.


HENRY: Now, one big change we know about already, Spokesman Tony Snow says this speech will be shorter. The president does not want to do the traditional laundry list of dozens and dozens of policy initiatives, partly because he believes that puts audiences to sleep when presidents of both parties do that.

But, also, again, the practical reason is that this is the first State of the Union to a Democratic Congress. Before, the president, when he laid out his policy initiatives, he would get waves and waves of adulation and applause from Republicans. This time, he's going to deal with a hostile Democratic Congress and also, let's face it, he has more and more Republicans on the Hill stepping up, breaking with him on key issues like Iraq -- Wolf.

BLITZER: So it normally goes 45 minutes, sometimes even an hour. Bill Clinton used to speak for an hour.

What are they suggesting this time, half an hour?

HENRY: They have not given us a clear timetable on it. They're loathe to do that because they'll be reworking the speech over the weekend. But clearly shorter than that 45 minute to one hour window -- Wolf.

BLITZER: If history is any judge, by the time he delivers it, it'll probably be a little longer than they anticipate right now.

HENRY: That's right.

BLITZER: They've got to get a lot of stuff into that speech.

Ed Henry and Dana Bash, as you know, are part of the best political team on television.

We're going to have much more on the State of the Union, the political fight over Iraq, the battle over domestic spying on "LATE EDITION" this Sunday.

Among others, I'll speak with the Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy and Senate Armed Services Committee member Lindsey Graham. They strongly disagree when it comes to Iraq.

That's this Sunday, 11:00 a.m. Eastern. "LATE EDITION," the last word in Sunday talk.

And remember, for the latest political news at any time, check out our Political Ticker at

In the House of Representatives today, an overwhelming vote for reform in response, at least in part, to the Mark Foley Congressional page scandal. Members unanimously passed a bipartisan resolution to reform the board that oversees the chamber's page program. That includes new rules to increase protection for pages. The changes were prompted by the disclosure of sexually explicit electronic messages sent to teenage pages by Mark Foley, who resigned from the House in September.

former Congressman Bob Ney was sentenced today to 30 months in prison in connection with an influence peddling scandal. The Ohio Republican admitted trading political favors for golf trips, tickets, meals and campaign donations from the disgraced lobbyist, Jack Abramoff.

Ney expressed deep regret -- his words -- as he was sent to a minimum security prison in West Virginia. He resigned from office just before the November elections, after then House Speaker Dennis Hastert threatened to expel him from Congress. By the way, the National Taxpayers Union estimates Ney still will be eligible for a $29,000 pension when he turns 62 in the year 2016.

An update now on whether the new Democratic leaders in Congress are making good on their promise to work a full five days a week, like most Americans do. Three weeks into the session, the Senate is taking today off. The next floor vote isn't scheduled until Tuesday, effectively giving senators a four day weekend.

That's after the Senate was closed on Monday for the Martin Luther King, Jr. federal holiday.

Jack Cafferty works five days a week, like a lot of people. Some of us, Jack, even work more than five days a week.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Those people are lying weasels down there and it makes me want to not pay my taxes even more. I mean I didn't want to pay them when they said they were going to work five days a week, but three weeks after they get started they're taking four day weekends and working three day work weeks, I -- 2008 can't get here soon enough and we ought to vote every single incumbent out.

I said that last time. We got a few of them. We ought to get the rest of them next time.

While the U.S. continues to challenge Moses' record of wondering for 40 years in the desert in the Middle East, China is moving on up. With U.S. military forces mired in Iraq, China successfully tested a missile that can destroy an orbiting satellite. Presumably, if they wanted to, they could hit American spy satellites, blinding our military in the event we would ever have a tiff with them over something like, say, Taiwan.

As the "New York Times" reports, China is modernizing its nuclear weapons, expanding the reach of its navy and sending astronauts into orbit for the first time. With the U.S. Fed chief warning of a possible fiscal disaster by the next decade, as baby boomers start to retire, China's economy is growing at about 10 percent and they enjoy huge surpluses.

They also hold hundreds of billions of dollars in U.S. Treasury bills. And with the U.S. image in tatters abroad, China made itself one of the key deal makers in the nuclear negotiations with North Korea and has joined Russia now in refusing to back tough sanctions against Iran.

Here's the question -- how big a threat does China pose to the United States?

E-mail your thoughts to or go to -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jack, thank you.

Jack will be back later this hour with a lot more. Coming up, very candid comments from Hillary Clinton on Iraq's prime minister. We're going to tell you what the senator and presidential hopeful has told our own John Roberts. That's coming up next.

Plus, it's been to war and now back and now we're auctioning it off for a very, very good cause. The Warrior 1 story -- our Hummer. That's coming up.

And later, a former president and vice president of the United States take on the current office holders. You won't want to miss my exclusive joint interview with former President Carter and former Vice President Walter Mondale.

Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Senator Hillary Clinton is offering a vote of no confidence today on the Iraqi prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki. The New York Democrat has been sharpening her criticism of the war in Iraq and President Bush's policies in recent days, after returning from a visit to Iraq. She also may be setting the stage for a presidential campaign.

Our senior national correspondent, John Roberts, is joining us with more on his interview with Senator Clinton -- John.

JOHN ROBERTS, SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the senator told me that she has noted a marked deterioration in Iraq from the last time that she was there. A steady diet of bad news, setbacks, mistakes and problems is how she described it.

An assessment like that could be expected from a potential Democratic presidential candidate, but it is interesting to note how her language has shifted over the years from a staunch supporter of the Iraq War to now one of its fiercest critics.

She also didn't have much good to say about Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, whom she met in Baghdad last Saturday.


ROBERTS: Nouri al-Maliki, the prime minister, do you have any faith that he is the guy who can -- who can bring Iraq back to a state of security?

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D), NEW YORK: I don't have any faith.

ROBERTS: No faith in al-Maliki?

CLINTON: Whether there's a gap between his intentions and his will and capacity is the real problem or whether he's doing what he intends to do to sort of mark time and further the, you know, the dominance of his sectarian supporters, it's hard to tell. (END VIDEOTAPE)

ROBERTS: While the senator is opposed to President Bush's troop increase -- she wants to cap the number of boots on the ground at its January 1st level -- she still will not say that her vote in favor of the war back in 2002 was a mistake, or that she regrets it.

When I asked her why she hasn't recanted that vote, like so many other Democrats have, she told me that you don't get do-overs in life, you take responsibility for the decisions u make and then you try to make the situation better.

A presidential slogan?

She wouldn't say if she's running, but she did tell me that she'll decide soon -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, John Roberts in the newsroom for us.

And this important note to our viewers. You can see much more of John's interview with Senator Clinton on THIS WEEK AT WAR.

That program airs Saturday night, 7:00 p.m. Eastern, Sunday at 1:00 p.m. Eastern, right here on CNN. The Sunday THIS WEEK AT WAR right after "LATE EDITION."

And check out this. This is Warrior 1, one of the vehicles CNN used to cover the war in Iraq. After a complete makeover compliments of the TLC program, overhauling, Warrior 1 will be auctioned off tomorrow. I'll be there at the auction in Scottsdale, Arizona.

All of the proceeds will go to the Fisher House Foundation that provides housing for military families during a medical crisis. You can find a lot more information on Hummer 1. Go to

This is a very, very important cause and I'm proud to be participating in it tomorrow.

Up next, a party divided -- is the battle over illegal immigration tearing the Republican Party in two?

Our Bill Schneider is standing by to weigh in.

And later, a flashback for Barack Obama -- we're going to show you a photo of the presidential hopeful that's buzzing on the blogs.

Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Senator Mel Martinez of Florida is launching his tenure as the new chairman of the Republican National Committee. And in the process he's driving home his party's divisions when it comes to the very, very sensitive issue of immigration.

Let's turn to our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider -- Bill.

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Wolf, the Republican National Committee elected its new general chairman today and he's going to need some very special skills.


SCHNEIDER (voice-over): By selecting Mel Martinez as general chairman, the Republican Party is trying to make a statement.

MEL MARTINEZ, RNC GENERAL CHAIRMAN: President Bush has led a party that is very inclusive -- his appointments to office, his -- the way he honored me in appointing me.

SCHNEIDER: In his farewell remarks, outgoing Republican Party Chairman Ken Mehlman called on Republicans to support comprehensive bipartisan immigration reform that maintains America as a nation of laws and a welcoming nation for immigrants.

What concerns party leaders is a sudden drop in Hispanic support for Republican candidates last year. But Chairman Martinez is facing pressure from another direction -- Americans angry about illegal immigration.

REP. JAMES SENSENBRENNER (R), WISCONSIN: The flood of illegal immigrants is flooding our schools. It is taxing our health care and social services systems.

SCHNEIDER: Many Republicans argue that they lost the 2006 election because the party strayed from its conservative principles. The party of limited government failed to keep government spending under control and the party of law and order appeared to embrace amnesty for law breakers.

GEORGE BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There is a rational middle ground between granting an automatic path to citizenship for every illegal immigration and a program of mass deportation.

SCHNEIDER: President Bush handpicked Martinez, a Cuban-American who sides with the president on immigration reform, to be party chairman.

MARTINEZ: While there may be discordant voices on the issue of immigration, what this party stands for is not that kind of attitude.

SCHNEIDER: In his new position, Martinez is going to have to carry off a balancing act worthy of the flying Walendas.


SCHNEIDER: President Bush clearly tipped the balance when, by voice vote, the Republican National Committee confirmed Martinez as party chairman, with a scattering of no votes. But the president looks more and more like a lame duck. His job approval rating, at 35 percent, is lower than all previous presidents at the beginning of their next to last year in office -- Wolf. BLITZER: The Republicans pretty divided amongst themselves right now on a whole host of issues.

Bill, Bill Schneider reporting for us.

Up next, much more of my exclusive interview with former President Jimmy Carter and former Vice President Walter Mondale.

Has Vice President Cheney usurped President Bush's authority?

What should be the vice president's role?

And coming up in the next hour, Senator Sam Brownback, the conservative from Kansas, he now has White House ambitions.

Is that why he's breaking with the current White House over Iraq?

I'll ask him live right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM, where new pictures and information are arriving all the time. Happening now, a former vice president blasts the current vice president. Walter Mondale says Vice President Dick Cheney seems to have stepped across a very important line. In just a moment, Mondale will tell you what that line is in my exclusive joint interview with him and his former boss, President Jimmy Carter.

Also, sending more American troops to Baghdad will ultimately delay U.S. troops already in Iraq from coming home. That's what the co-author of the Iraq Study Group says. Lee Hamilton told a House panel that the U.S. troop increase will delay training for Iraqi troops.

And the Iraqi government says it was not told that a controversial raid would happen before it happened. In that raid, a top aide to the radical Shiite cleric, Muqtada al-Sadr, was arrested. An adviser to the Iraqi prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, says it was not cordoned by Iraq's political leadership.

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

They dealt with international crises, they pursued peace in the Middle East, they experienced both highs and lows in public opinion. So former President Jimmy Carter and his vice president, Walter Mondale, are both uniquely qualified to talk about the pressures and the perils of the U.S. presidency, this on the 30th anniversary of their taking office.

A short while ago, I spoke with them exclusively and they compared and contrasted their White House with the current one.


WALTER MONDALE, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: One of the things that I'm proudest of about our four years together was that we told the truth, and we obeyed the law, and we kept the peace.

It doesn't sound like much, maybe just what is expected. But I think we're seeing evidence of what happens when you stray from these fundamental principles.

BLITZER: It sounds, Mr. Vice President...

MONDALE: I was never...


BLITZER: It sounds, Mr. Vice President -- excuse me...


BLITZER: ... for interrupting -- that that's an implied criticism, if not a direct criticism, of the current president...

MONDALE: Well...

BLITZER: ... and vice president.

MONDALE: That's -- well, that's acceptable to me, if you want to draw that conclusion.


MONDALE: But the fact of it is that ours was an honest administration. You could believe what you were told. We never played games with the law.

We were true -- we were true to that oath of office. And we did everything we could to enhance American power, based on our principles, and try to avoid war. And we accomplished that. And I feel good about it.

BLITZER: Is this a dishonest administration?

MONDALE: You know, let me just say this. A lot of the things -- I never use that word. A lot of the things we were told proved not to be true.

BLITZER: But it -- was that a deliberate -- was the president and the vice president -- here is the question, Mr. Vice President. Was the president and the vice president -- did they mislead the American people, or were they misled themselves?

MONDALE: I have been very careful about avoiding words like deceit or lying and so on.

What I'm talking about is our four years, during which I'm absolutely positive we told the truth, we obeyed the law, and we kept the peace. That's what I'm talking about.

We now have an administration that stumbled over these values, and is having its own great difficulties trying to sustain public leadership, in part because of things they said that got us into this war. They surely have been contemptuous of enforcing the law. And they have been -- they have dumped, basically, the whole foreign intelligence surveillance system. They may be bringing it back.

And it seemed, for a while, they just recklessly wanted to get involved in international military conflicts. And I think it's been at great cost to our country.

BLITZER: Mr. Mondale, about Dick Cheney, you have been critical of him, the relationship he's had with the president. Contrast that to the relationship you had when you were vice president with President Carter.

MONDALE: Carter is credited by all historians, I think, for having established a unique, new relationship with his vice president.

I was brought into the White House. I was privy to the same information. We met repeatedly. I was involved as an adviser and worked for the president in many, many different ways.

And I think future vice presidents have all followed that example, including the Cheney example. But I think one of the problems now is that this vice president, the current vice president, seems to have stepped across the line that we thought was important in our time.

In other words, I tried to work as a representative of the president. I didn't go around volunteering my own policies. I considered myself that kind of officeholder, and not a prime minister, not a deputy president or something like that.

This vice president, see, is troubling to me, because, time and time again, we have seen the establishment, for example, of almost a parallel National Security Council, the involvement of the vice president in trying to pressure, influence the kind of information that flows to the top and up to the presidency.

And I think that political scientists ought to study about whether there should be a recognized line that a vice president must obey to prevent that kind of problem that we're seeing today. Many of the things we have been told that has helped got -- get us in trouble here, I think, is a reflection of that problem.

BLITZER: Mr. President, how far should the Congress go in trying to stop this war in Iraq? Specifically, should it use the so-called power of the purse?

JIMMY CARTER, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think that's perfectly legitimate, Wolf, not dealing with our military already over there. We don't want to cut them off, because they haven't been adequately supplied, as you know, with body armor or with armor of their vehicles and other facilities.

But I think the Congress should use its maximum authority. My own recommendation to the Congress, particularly to the Democrats in the Congress, is to adopt, with minor modifications only, the -- the Hamilton-Baker task force recommendations.

I think that's a solid bunch of recommendations on what we ought to do. And it's something that all Democrats could adopt, but with individual candidates for president, and so forth, modifying themselves somewhat slightly.

But I have been very proud, so far, of this first 100 days and the things that the House has done. And my hope is that the Senate, despite the restrictions of -- and a need for getting 60 votes, will follow in the footsteps of the House, and have very strong moves toward the future...


CARTER: ... to correct some of the mistakes that have been made during the last six years.

BLITZER: You meant the first 100 hours, not the first 100 days.

CARTER: First 100 hours. Excuse me.

BLITZER: First 100 legislative hours.

The president is going through a period right now, where he is very unpopular. His policies are unpopular. You went through a similar period during the 444 days of the Iranian hostage crisis.

What advice do you have for the president right now, as he goes into his final two years in office?

CARTER: Well, obviously, I can't change the character of the president. I don't want to comment on that.

But I -- obviously, what needs to be done is to reassess some of the mistakes that have been made that are patently obvious to everyone, the violation of basic laws, some of which Mondale and I passed -- that is the -- getting judicial approval before you start spying on American people -- there seems to be some acknowledgment, in the last few hours, as a matter of fact, that they violated a law there and the basic elements of the Constitution -- to reassert America's status in the entire world as a champion of human rights, instead of a foremost violator of human rights, both domestically and in our prison camps, or sometimes innocent people, also to pursue the effort to have an energy policy that will correct the mistakes that we have made in recent years, letting the oil companies establish the energy policy.

And I would say that, in many other ways, the tax program that has benefited, almost unanimously, the wealthiest people in the United States, those need to be revised.

So, health programs -- I think the best advice is to reassess the mistakes that have been made, cooperate as much as possible with the Democrats in the Congress. And I think there's a -- not a unanimous, but there is a bipartisan inclination to make some of the corrections that I have described. (END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Coming up, we will have much more of my exclusive joint interview with former President Carter, former Vice President Walter Mondale. We will explore their legacy. There are some surprising answers when I asked the 39th president what were his best and worst decisions.

And a picture is worth 1,000 words, especially if the picture is of Senator Barack Obama. Our Internet team is tracking the latest Barack Obama buzz in the blogosphere over a picture you are going to be seeing right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Stay with us.


BLITZER: Our Carol Costello is monitoring the wires, keeping an eye on the video feeds coming in from throughout the United States and around the world. She is joining us now from New York with a closer look at some other important stories making news -- Carol.


Hello to all of you.

When might Americans be able to see clear evidence the new Iraq plan is actually working? This summer. That's what the top-ranking U.S. military official in Iraq said today. General George Casey says, it will likely be late summer before Baghdad residents begin to feel safe, with some progress to come in the next two to three months.

And Casey says he thinks late summer is how long the new troop deployment to Iraq will remain in effect.

Also: Who murdered a well-known journalist in Turkey? That's what officials in Istanbul are investigating. Prominent Armenian journalist Hrant Dink was gunned down in front of his newspaper office today. Now government officials are vowing to find the killer. Dink was editor of an Armenian Turkish-language weekly, and was known for speaking out against the mass killings of Armenians by the Ottoman Empire during World War I.

If you're trying to book a room at the Hilton Hotel near Virginia's Dulles Airport, do not bother. They are not taking reservations, and guests are actually being relocated. Hilton's hotel at Dulles is closed for a top-to-bottom cleaning, after 120 people got sick with a highly contagious norovirus.

The hotel says it first learned of the illnesses on Wednesday. Norovirus outbreaks cause vomiting and diarrhea, and are often seen on cruise ships, hotels, and nursing homes.

And, just recently, you were told they were unsafe, but, today, a federal safety expert says parents should continue to use their infant car seats. The head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration told CBS, parents should feel confident about the infant seats, this after "Consumer Reports" withdrew its recent study, which said many infant car seats were unsafe.

We will have much more on this in the next hour -- back to you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Carol is monitoring all the latest developments for us.

President Jimmy Carter -- that is, former President Jimmy Carter and former Vice President Walter Mondale served one term in the White House, from 1977 to 1981. Those were very difficult times, including the Iran hostage crisis that weighed very heavily on President Carter's days in the White House and contributed to his reelection defeat.

During my exclusive joint interview with Carter and Mondale, I asked them about the hard choices they had to make 30 years ago.


CARTER: The best decision and most difficult decision, Wolf, was not to launch a military attack against Iran. Most of my strong advisers said that would be a good political thing to do, and it would punish Iran for taking our hostages.

But I thought then, and still believe now, of course, that, if I had attacked Iran -- and we could have destroyed Iran with our powerful military -- that it would have resulted in the loss of life of more than 10,000 innocent Iranians. And there's no doubt that they would have killed our hostages as well. So, I think that was the most important single and most difficult decision I made.

BLITZER: What was your worst decision, Mr. President?

CARTER: I guess...


CARTER: I guess my worst decision was to send seven rescue helicopters, instead of eight. If we had sent one more helicopter, Wolf, we would have been successful.

I would say the most painful decision and not the most important diplomatically was having to withdrawal from the 1980 Olympics. That was painful for me.

BLITZER: Was that a political decision, given the fact that you wanted to be reelected?

CARTER: No. I think it was an unpopular decision, as a matter of fact. But it -- I don't think that that early -- I don't think that was -- affected the outcome of the election.

What affected the outcome of the election, most importantly, was, the hostages were still being held.


BLITZER: And there is much more of my exclusive interview with Jimmy Carter and Walter Mondale in our next hour right here in THE SITUATION ROOM. We will explore, among other things, the current controversy over Jimmy Carter's bestseller.

And there's also much more of my exclusive interview coming up this Sunday on CNN's "LATE EDITION" at 11:00 a.m. Eastern -- "LATE EDITION," the last word in Sunday talk.

Senator Barack Obama's personal history has been well publicized, thanks to his two best-selling books. Now the Internet is shedding some new light on another aspect on the presidential hopeful's biography, his high school years in Hawaii.

Our Internet reporter, Abbi Tatton, has the story -- Abbi.

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, Senator Barack Obama, as you know him now, and back then -- actually, this is Barry Obama, class of 1979, at Punahou School -- his high school yearbook entry now posted online by blogger Eve Maler, who is class of 1980.

There are pictures here of Barry Obama playing basketball, with a caption, "We go play hoop." There are thanks to "Tut" and "Gramps," his grandparents, with whom he lived at the time, and also to "Choom Gang" and "Ray."

There's a still-life picture, a caption, "Still Life," with a sign-out "Laters." Now, blogger Eve Maler said there was so much interest in this post when high-profile blogs put it online yesterday, that her site crashed.

We spoke to an Obama spokesman, who confirms the photos, and says he think that you, Wolf, could pull off that color. He's not so sure about Jack.


BLITZER: OK. Thank you, Abbi, for that.

Check out my high school yearbook picture sometime. You will get a chuckle yourself.

Up next in our "Strategy Session": What is the message Republicans are trying to send voters with their choice of Senator Mel Martinez to head their party? And will it work? Our "Strategy Session" is next.


BLITZER: Welcome back.

In today's "Strategy Session": A former vice president says he is troubled by the way the current vice president has conducted himself while in office. In my exclusive joint interview with Walter Mondale and former President Jimmy Carter, both men talk about their administration and the current one.

Joining is now, our CNN political analysts. Donna Brazile is a Democratic strategist. Bay Buchanan is president of American Cause.

Guys, thanks very much for coming in.

You had a chance to watch a lot of this interview. What do you make of rather blunt talk, not only from Jimmy Carter -- we expect blunt talk from him -- but from Walter Mondale, on Dick Cheney?

DONNA BRAZILE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I thought he was very eloquent in describing how, during the Carter years, they had an honest administration. They obeyed the law.

And, while he did not use the words lying or deceit or deception, he said, essentially, that this administration has stumbled over the law, and he was quite worried about the vice president's performance.

BLITZER: Jimmy Carter basically said that the current administration broke the law by these warrantless wiretaps.

BAY BUCHANAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, you know, I don't think that that's certainly the case.

The president feels he had a very strong case that he had to do that, national security reasons. That will be played out in the courts eventually, I suppose. But, up to now, I think the president has made a strong case. And I think it's terrible that the president has now reversed that and thrown it into the courts.

BLITZER: Because, you know, they speak with some authority on the FISA, the Foreign Intelligence...

BUCHANAN: Exactly.

BLITZER: ... Surveillance Act, because that...


BLITZER: ... was enacted while he was in office, Jimmy Carter...


BLITZER: ... given the abuses that occurred earlier.

So, they speak with some authority, when it comes to whether or not the -- this current president was authorized to go ahead with these warrantless wiretaps, which, as you know, in the last few days, they have reversed themselves on.

BUCHANAN: They -- yes, and reversed themselves, which really now suggests that maybe it wasn't required by national security. That is what is upsetting, Wolf. The president made his case that, when FISA passed, communications systems were completely differently than they are today, and, for national security reasons, he had to move ahead quickly; they couldn't use the system in place.

And now he says: Well, I can use this the system in place. It's been adjusted somewhat.

That concerns me. If it was for national security, he had every right to move ahead. He was wise to do so. And I can't explain why he would reverse it at this stage, except he is concerned about a Democratic Congress suddenly.

BRAZILE: Well, of course. He should be...


BRAZILE: ... because this Democratic Congress will probably continue to hold this administration accountable for circumventing the law and going around the judicial process over the last couple of years.

BUCHANAN: And he probably saved lives doing so. And I think that's a strong case, one that the American people would support.

BLITZER: What do you think of Mel Martinez now, the new chairman of the Republican Party?

He said this the other day: "My job is to make clear that our door is open, and we're reaching out to all Americans, speaking to their hopes and aspirations and dreams."

There are some Republicans -- I assume you're one of them -- that don't necessarily like his views, because they're in line with the president, on immigration reform, including the option, the opportunity, for a pathway to citizenship...

BUCHANAN: Absolutely.

BLITZER: ... for some of these millions of illegal immigrants.

BUCHANAN: Better known as amnesty.


BUCHANAN: The key here is what this individual is, the party chairman, is -- should try to bring this party together. And he should energize the base.

We are demoralized. We have taken a terrific hit. And why? Why is the party divided as it is? Four reasons: George Bush, Bush's amnesty, Bush's war, and Bush's spending. And, so, who does he put in -- head of the party to unite it? A Bush apologist. It doesn't make any sense.

He should have gone to a fresh new face, like a Michael Steele, who would have energized, who wouldn't have been identified with the Bush policy, and would be the future of the party, and give us some real hope. He chose to pick one of his own, which I think is just -- it's going to be a tough two years for Republicans. And, if the Democrats just do nothing and say nothing, I think they will do very well two years from now.

BLITZER: I know you're not a Republican, but you're an observer, Donna. Go ahead.

BRAZILE: Well, first of all, he received two standing ovations from the Republicans. They elected him by voice vote.

He has a tough job. Look, in the last four years, they have lost the support of the Latino community. The Republican Party is fractured. They are divided. And I think, over the next couple of years, Mel Martinez will have to, you know, work full time to try to not just bring the party back together on those issues that Bay talked about, but also to lead the Republicans out of the wilderness.

BLITZER: We're just getting this crossing the wires from the Associated Press.

I will read it to you: "The New Mexico governor, Bill Richardson, plans to announce Sunday that he is taking the first step in the Democratic presidential race, this according to officials" -- not a huge surprise.

A lot of us anticipated that Bill Richardson, the former U.N. ambassador, the former energy secretary, former member of the House, would want to run for president.

But what do you make of this?

BRAZILE: Attractive candidate. I believe he will be able to not only garner support in some of the early states.

But, look, as the nation's only Latino governor, he has an impressive record, not only as a member of Congress, U.N., just came back from Africa. Bill Richardson is going to bring a great deal of experience and -- and a lot of charisma to this race.


BLITZER: A lot of Democrats already want to be president.

Plenty of Republicans, Bay, as well, but it's becoming a very crowded field, a -- a year before Iowa and New Hampshire and Nevada and South Carolina.

BUCHANAN: You know, Wolf, it's fascinating to me. You have got the two big ones, the -- Clinton and Barack Obama, who are using up all of the -- taking up all the air. And you have all these other ones out there. And why are so many other ones who are experienced, who have resumes, who certainly understand the business, putting themselves out there? I think there's a possibility that the first two may knock each other off, and that this may go to the -- to the second tier of candidates.

BLITZER: Still plenty of time for a lot of surprises out there.

BUCHANAN: Absolutely is.

BLITZER: We will watch Bill Richardson and everybody else.

Guys, thanks.


BLITZER: Bay Buchanan and Donna Brazile are part of the best political team on television.

And, remember, for the latest political news at any time, check out our Political Ticker at

Coming up: He's about to throw his name into the ring of GOP presidential contenders. And he's had a change of heart about backing the president's plan to stabilize Iraq. Senator Sam Brownback joins us live, right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

But up next: "The Cafferty File." How big of a threat does China pose to the United States? Jack and your e-mail -- right after this.


BLITZER: Let's go back to Jack and "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: Wolf, in light of China's successful test of a missile shooting down an orbiting satellite, we asked this: How big a threat does China pose to the United States?

Ron in Martinsville, Virginia, writes: "I have always thought of China as a circling vulture, keeping a watchful eye on the world, patiently waiting to devour it when the time comes. Vultures don't attack the strong and the living, just the weak and the dying. America is destroying itself from within. Our enemies need only to sit back, sharpen their talons, and wait."

Charles in Saint Ann, Missouri: "China's military buildup and its decades-long defiance poses a bigger threat than Iraq ever could. This latest episode is just the beginning of bigger eye-openers to come."

Joseph in Jersey City, New Jersey: "Since when did China become a threat? Without them, the U.S. residents would have no clothes to wear, no iPods to listen to music on, and no Christmas trees. If America had technology to shoot down orbiting satellites since the 1980s, it's hardly a threat if China figures out how to do it 20 years later."

Diane in New York writes: "China is not a threat. China is our friend. We're sending China our jobs, our technology. And they steal what we don't give them. And we have borrowed enough money for them to own us. Just because they're the biggest human-rights abuser, biggest technology thieves, and they own us is no reason to think they're any kind of threat. Are they?"

And Richard in Virginia Beach: "China is the biggest threat to the U.S. in the world. Other factions may offer a greater hatred, but China is the only state that has the capability to make war on a global scale against the United States" -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jack, thanks.


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