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THE SITUATION ROOM

Clinton v. Obama; British Troops to Pull Out of Iraq

Aired February 21, 2007 - 16:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, HOST: And happening now, the first knock down, drag out fight of this Democratic presidential race. It's Hillary Clinton versus Barack Obama. Wait until you hear a Hollywood producer's red hot remarks that set this grudge match in motion.
Also this hour, allies in Iraq on separate paths right now. The White House tries to put the best face possible on Britain's plans to start a troop pullout. But some Democrats are calling it a stunning rejection of the president's policy.

And cancer and the culture wars -- a drug company steps back from its promotion of a controversial vaccine. But the Texas governor won't back down from ordering young girls to get the shots.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

The presidential race is not only starting early, it's getting ugly early. The Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama camps are trading stinging barbs today. What triggered this sarcasm dripped smack down between the two Democratic frontrunners?

The answer, the movie mogul David Geffen. He's an Obama backer right now and he's voicing in print some Democrats' worst fears about Senator Clinton and whether she can actually win a general election. Geffen isn't mincing any words, essentially calling both Hillary Clinton and Bill Clinton liars.

Our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider, is in Los Angeles.

He's watching all of this unfold.

This is very dramatic stuff, as you know -- Bill.

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: It certainly is, Wolf. A battle has broken out here in Hollywood and it has nothing to do with the Oscars.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

SCHNEIDER (voice-over): Tuesday night, David Geffen, a Hollywood mogul who used to be close to the Clintons, hosted a fund-raiser for Barack Obama that reportedly raised more than a million dollars. It seems that didn't sit well with the Hillary Clinton campaign.

MARTIN KAPLAN, DIRECTOR, NORMAN LEAR CENTER: And the word is that she was telling her friends, you can't give to everybody. You've got to just give to me. And that didn't go down so well, because a number of people in Hollywood have said that it's a good thing for the Democratic Party to have a robust debate.

SCHNEIDER: That they're getting. Maureen Dowd of the "New York Times" quoted Geffen as saying: "I don't think that another polarizing figure, no matter how smart she is and no matter how ambitious she is -- and god knows, is there anybody more ambitious than Hillary Clinton? -- can bring the country together."

Geffen called Bill Clinton "a reckless guy" and said of the Clintons: "Everybody in politics lies, but they do it with such ease it's troubling."

The Clinton campaign shot back with a statement saying: "If Senator Obama is indeed sincere about his repeated claims to change the tone of our politics, he should immediately denounce these remarks, remove Mr. Geffen from his campaign and return his money."

The Obama campaign returned fire, saying: "It is ironic that the Clintons had no problem with David Geffen when he was raising them $18 million and sleeping at their invitation in the Lincoln Bedroom."

One Hollywood observer believes Clinton is in trouble here partly because of the way she's handling the Iraq issue.

HARVEY LEVIN, TMZ.COM: Hillary Clinton's Hollywood base is crumbling. It's crumbling partly because of what she is doing and partly because Barack Obama is magic in this town.

SCHNEIDER: On the other hand...

KAPLAN: Whatever people's reservations are about Senator Clinton, it's not going to stop them from giving money to her. It is going to stop them from giving exclusively to her and certainly they have, in their own minds, a number of issues about her -- electability is one of them.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

SCHNEIDER: Mr. Geffen says he has no formal role in the Obama campaign "nor will I, other than to continue to offer my strongest possible personal support for his candidacy." He adds that his comments: "Which were quoted accurately by Maureen Dowd, reflect solely my personal beliefs about the Clintons."

Wolf.

BLITZER: And we spoke to a spokesman for David Geffen just a little while ago. We invited him to come on. They declined, saying this statement, at least for now, will represent what he has to say.

Bill, a dramatic story. Stand by.

Thanks very much. Senator Clinton is in Nevada today for a major showcase for the Democratic presidential candidates. This is an event in Carson City that Senator Obama pointedly decided to skip.

Our Congressional correspondent Dana Bash is on the scene for us -- Dana, I understand the senator, Hillary Clinton, was just asked about this uproar and she spoke out responding to it.

To our viewers what she had to say.

DANA BASH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's exactly right. You know, this is a forum that -- that the people hosting it thought would be a discussion about the issues that we know are going to be front and center in the 2008 campaign -- Iraq; here in the West, issues of water and land.

But as you mentioned, the big story today, in terms of Democratic politics, has been the back and forth between Senator Obama and Senator Clinton. And Senator Clinton, just a few moments ago, was asked about this scuffle.

Let's listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D), NEW YORK: I want to run a very positive campaign and I sure don't want Democrats or the supporters of Democrats to be engaging in the politics of personal destruction. I think we should stay focused on...

(APPLAUSE)

CLINTON: ... on what we're going to do for America. And, you know, I believe Bill Clinton was a good president.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

BASH: There you had Senator Clinton very pointedly saying that Americans don't want to hear the politics of personal destruction.

Wolf, you remember that term. Senator Clinton is not somebody who -- who uses words just willy-nilly. She uses them in terms very carefully. That is a term that the Clinton camp used against conservatives back when President Clinton was president and conservatives were going after him during the Monica Lewinsky scandal.

That is a term she now used associated with Barack Obama and his camp. It seems to be very intentional.

I just had a chance to speak with Senator Clinton and asked her if she intentionally used that term to -- to essentially hit Barack Obama and make him associated with these conservatives. She said what I said and what my campaign has said speaks for themselves -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Dana, thanks very much.

Dana Bash on the scene for us.

By the way, David Geffen has been a power player in the entertainment industry for more than two decades. Along the way, he gained influence in Washington, as well as in Hollywood. And he's amassed a personal fortune. Geffen ranks number 50 in the latest "Forbes" ranking of the 400 richest Americans. His net worth is listed at $4.6 billion.

Geffen is one of three founders of the DreamWorks SKG, along with fellow movie moguls Steven Spielberg and Jeffrey Katzenberg.

Geffen's first major success in the industry came back in 1980 when he founded Geffen Records. The company released albums by Cher, Aerosmith and other music stars of the day.

Let's get to the Bush administration's response now to that bombshell from Britain. That would be Prime Minister Tony Blair's announcement he'll withdraw some 1,600 troops from Iraq in the coming months. That will leave about 5,500 British supporting Iraqi security forces in and around Basra, in the southern part of the country.

In remarks in parliament today, Blair described a desperate situation in Baghdad.

Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TONY BLAIR, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: It is the capital of Iraq. Its strategic importance is fundamental. There has been an orgy of terrorism unleashed upon it in order to crush any possibility of it functioning. It doesn't much matter if elsewhere in Iraq, not least in Basra, change is happening. If Baghdad cannot be secured, the future of the country is in peril.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: So, Democrat Ted Kennedy is calling Britain's first step toward withdrawing from Iraq a wake up call for the White House. But the Bush administration is portraying Prime Minister Blair's decision as evidence that progress is being made in Iraq and that Washington and London are on the same page.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CONDOLEEZZA RICE, SECRETARY OF STATE: The British have done what is really the plan for the country as a whole, which is to be able to the search for security responsibilities to the Iraqis as conditions permit.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Let's bring in our White House correspondent, Suzanne Malveaux.

More reaction today from White House officials on this British decision to start a major troop withdrawal from Iraq -- Suzanne.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: They're certainly trying to portray this in a positive light here. But the bottom line here, Wolf, is that this is the coalition of the willing that is leaving. You said 1,600 British troops out of Basra. We're talking about 460 Danish soldiers, as well as possibly 50 Lithuanians.

These numbers are very small, but the potential political impact is potentially very big here. This is really a political blow to President Bush, who all along has said setting timetables for troop withdrawal will only embolden the terrorists.

And it comes at a time, Wolf, when the president is really trying to convince the American people that this war is worth it. The perception now is that his closest allies perhaps do not agree with him.

So we've heard from top officials today essentially coming out and making the case, saying that Basra is different, that the security situation there has improved, as well as southern Iraq. So these coalition forces are not necessary there. But they say American troops, that make up 90 percent of this multinational force, are still critical to the security of the rest of the country.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DICK CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And I want you to know that the American people will not support a policy of retreat. We want to complete the mission. We want to get it done right. And then we want to return home with honor.

RICE: The deployment of the American forces is in an area in which the circumstances are somewhat different, more complicated. The threats are more complicated.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MALVEAUX: So, Wolf, what is she talking about here?

She's talking about Al-Anbar Province. That is where it's an al Qaeda stronghold, as well as Baghdad. As we know, sectarian violence really essentially taking over that city. And that is what the administration is trying to do today, to make that distinction, saying, look, there's still a lot of work that needs to be done on that capital city -- Wolf, it's going to be a long time for U.S. troops to be there.

BLITZER: All right, Suzanne.

Thanks very much.

And just a little while ago, the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, told our Dana Bash that he wished the British would have made this decision a while ago.

Listen to what he said. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MAJORITY LEADER: I think this takes away a lot of the arguments of the proponents who are saying it was a cut and run attitude. Well, I don't think anyone accuses Tony Blair of cutting and running. He's been involved in this from the very beginning. And I think it's something that he had to do because it was the best thing for the people of Great Britain and the people of Iraq.

And I think that Vice President Cheney and President Bush should realize this. Iraq can be solved politically, not militarily. We have been there now going on five years.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: That was Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader, speaking to our Dana Bash.

Dana Bash, Suzanne Malveaux, Bill Schneider -- they are all part of the best political team on television.

And remember, for the latest political news at any time, check out our Political Ticker. Simply go to cnn.com/ticker.

Jack Cafferty is off today.

But coming up next, he was Vice President Cheney's chief of staff. Now, "Scooter" Libby's fate rests in the hands of 12 men and women, a jury here in Washington. We'll go live to the courthouse for the latest in the CIA leak trial.

Plus, he's a major supporter of the president on the war in Iraq.

But how long is he willing to stick it out?

I'll speak live with Republican Senator Jon Kyl. He's just back from Iraq.

And later, much more on our top story, the political spat between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.

Which candidate suffers from this nasty clash?

I'll ask James Carville and Donna Brazile.

They're standing by live for today's Strategy Session.

You're going to want to see this.

We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: The fate of former Cheney chief of staff, Lewis "Scooter" Libby, now in the hands of a jury. Many here in Washington awaiting very anxiously to see how this critical chapter in the CIA leak saga plays out.

Let's go to the courthouse.

CNN's Brian Todd standing by with more -- Brian.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this case now in the hands of 12 people who have, for the most part, been very, very focused.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

TODD (voice-over): Judge Reggie Walton sends 12 citizens off to make one of the biggest decisions of their lives. One instruction stands out -- consider your assessment of the memory capacity of the person whose memory is in question.

GUY SINGER, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: In this case, it's obviously critical. This is a case where if the jurors are going to focus on any one instruction, that one goes to the defense's entire argument.

TODD: The argument that Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney's former chief of staff, did not lie to investigators, as is charged, but misremembered conversations with reporters about the CIA job of Valerie Plame Wilson, the wife of an administration critic.

Jurors are told don't hold Libby's decision not to testify against him. The defendant's fate, in the hands of an educated panel of two African-American women, six white women and four white men. They include a museum curator, a Web architect, a government lawyer and a former "Washington Post" employee who once worked for Bob Woodward, the reporter who testified for the defense.

A studious group that pulled off one of the most bizarre displays ever seen from a jury. Valentine's Day -- they returned from a break wearing identical red t-shirts with hearts on them. All but one juror. Another, a retired math teacher, reads a statement thanking the judge and declaring: "While we're united in this, this is where our unity ends."

He then says they're committed to looking at the evidence independently. It draws uneasy smiles from the attorneys.

SINGER: You know, both sides, the wheels are spinning inside and they're thinking about what this means and they're smiling along because that's all you can do.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

TODD: Now all either side can do is wait. "Scooter" Libby waits, knowing that if this doesn't go in his favor, he could spent up to 30 years in jail -- Wolf.

BLITZER: That's a lot of time.

All right, Brian, thanks very much.

Brian outside the courthouse.

He'll keep watch on what's going on now that the jury will have to make its decision.

Let's check in with Carol Costello.

She's monitoring the wires, keeping here eye on video feeds coming in from around the world.

What are you picking up -- Carol.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Here it is, Wolf.

The U.S. military says the number of sectarian killings in Baghdad has dropped during the opening phase of the new security plan. Major General William Caldwell says the trend is encouraging, but he warns that it's far too early to declare the operation successful. Attacks today in Baghdad left at least 10 people dead.

Also today in Baghdad, controversy over rape allegations. U.S. officials are now launching an investigation. Three Iraqi police officers are accused of rape by a Sunni Muslim woman, who leveled her charges on Al Jazeera TV. The U.S. investigation comes after a brief review of the matter by Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki. He declared the allegations untrue and said Sunni politicians had made up the story to discredit the new security plan.

Iran today is staring down the barrel of tougher U.N. sanctions for its ongoing nuclear program. Tomorrow, the U.S. Security Council is expected to receive a report that will accuse the Islamic Republic of expanding its efforts at enriching uranium. The Council demanded a freeze on the program when it slapped Iran with a first round of sanctions last month.

And the U.S. camp at Guantanamo Bay has seven fewer so-called enemy combatants today. Seven Saudi suspects have been returned to Saudi Arabia. That's according to an announcement by the Saudi government. No reason has been given for their release. Just yesterday, a U.S. appeals court ruled that civilian courts do not have jurisdiction to determine if detainees are being held illegally.

That's a look at the headlines right now -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Carol, thanks very much. See you in a few moments.

Still ahead, Vice President Dick Cheney hooks horns with Senator John McCain. We're going to tell you who apologized and why.

And an early skirmish among two top Democrats, very early. The Obama campaign shows it's willing to trade punches with the Clintons.

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: On our Political Radar this Wednesday, Vice President Dick Cheney and GOP presidential hopeful John McCain at odds over Donald Rumsfeld. Cheney has called the former Pentagon chief the best defense secretary ever. The other day, McCain called Rumsfeld perhaps the worst defense secretary ever, or at least one of the worst.

Cheney disputed McCain's remarks in an ABC News interview today, saying McCain is flat out wrong and he might want to apologize to Donald Rumsfeld.

Here's an interesting breakdown of the recent House vote criticizing the president's plan for a troop build-up in Iraq. As you may remember, 17 House Republicans sided with the Democratic majority against President Bush. "The Hill" newspaper reports that five of those Republicans are publicly supporting John McCain for president. McCain, of course, is a leading advocate of the troop build-up.

John Edwards' presidential campaign is trying to set the record straight about his stance on Israel. Variety.com recently quoted the Democrat as telling Hollywood donors that Israel's attacking Iran would be the greatest threat to world peace. A spokesman for Edwards -- the Edwards campaign -- issued a statement saying Edwards actually spoke out about the threat that Israel would bomb Iraq's nuclear facilities and he cited it as a short-term threat to world peace.

Remember, CNN is a partner with WMUR Television and the "New Hampshire Union Leader" for the very first presidential debates of the campaign season. They're on April 4th and April 5th of this year. The first debates in the lead-off presidential primary state of New Hampshire.

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

Up next, America's dominant art form -- like it or not, hip-hop rules. Paula Zahn will be along with a preview of her special report that's coming up later tonight.

Also, a smack down among the Democrats -- early signs of tension between the Obama and Clinton campaign. We'll update you on what's going on.

We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Happening now, a life and death debate -- should young girls be required to get a vaccine to prevent cervical cancer?

There are new developments, new emotion in this politically charged controversy.

Also this hour, the Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama camps are caught up in a stinging war of words. At the center of it all -- biting criticism of Clinton by a Hollywood producer who backs Obama. Two leading Democrats, James Carville, Donna Brazile, they'll join us for our Strategy Session. That's coming up.

And the Bush administration is playing down a bombshell decision by Britain. The prime minister, Tony Blair, today announcing he'll withdraw 1,600 troops from Iraq in the coming weeks and months.

I'm Wolf Blitzer and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Now to the culture wars and the debate over a new vaccine to prevent cervical cancer. The firm behind the vaccine is now pulling back on mandating the shot. But a governor ordering young girls to get the vaccine isn't backing down.

Let's go to our Mary Snow.

She's watching the story from New York -- Mary.

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the question was public health versus political pressure. That's the dilemma Merck faced over efforts to make mandatory its HPV vaccine that prevents the sexually transmitted virus that causes cervical cancer. It's given to young girls.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

SNOW (voice-over): Facing criticism, Merck says it's backing off lobbying states to make the vaccine mandatory in schools.

DR. RICHARD HAUPT, MERCK: We don't want to be a distraction from the goal of trying to vaccinate women. And so if we are, we needed to reevaluate our position.

SNOW: Doctors who applaud the vaccine say they have reservations about mandating its use, since the vaccine was only approved last year.

Conservative groups have other reasons to oppose it. Some say it will promote promiscuity. Others say parents, not government, should be in control.

CATHIE ADAMS, PRESIDENT, TEXAS EAGLE FORUM: If the parent is in control, then the issues of abstinence before marriage, the moral issues, are all going to be directed and controlled by those parents.

SNOW: That argument is not swaying Governor Rick Perry, a Republican, who made Texas the first state to mandate that sixth grade girls receive the HPV vaccine.

GOV. RICK PERRY (R), TEXAS: For the life of me, when the CDC and when the other experts come forward and say this is safe, it's been tested and it's available, why in the world we would not make it available to our daughters?

SNOW: Perry's office says the fact Merck will not lobby states has no impact on his decision. But a fellow Texas Republican lawmaker is hoping the Merck decision will help overturn the mandate. REP. DENNIS BONNEN (R), TEXAS STATE REPRESENTATIVE: My fear is that we don't have enough answers to what this drug will do to 11- year-old girls. You cannot give it the government's stamp of approval until you know all the answers to the questions.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

SNOW: But both the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control say five years of testing suggests the vaccine is safe and currently over 30 states are considering legislation regarding the HPV vaccine -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, this debate, I suspect, is going to continue.

Thanks, Mary, very much.

This is Black History Month here in the United States. And CNN is devoting special coverage to issues that affect black America, indeed, all Americans.

Paula Zahn is joining us now from New York to preview a special hour she's preparing for tonight, an hour called "Hip-hop: Art or Poison?"

Paula, I understand there's some graphic language in -- in a segment you're going to introduce us to right now. But give us a sense of what's in store our viewers later tonight.

PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: Well, we're going to do a lot on the subject tonight. As you know, rap artists are wildly popular with young people of all races -- in fact, blacks buying 80 percent of the product out there, hip-hop, a multibillion-dollar industry.

But is hip-hop art or poison? We're going in depth by bringing out hip-hop's roots out into the open, including a troubling question being asked by a one-time presidential candidate, the Reverend Al Sharpton.

Again, a quick heads-up: Some of the words he uses are offensive, but they are words being commonly used by rappers themselves.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

AL SHARPTON, CIVIL RIGHTS ACTIVIST: Hip-hop started with saying, fight the power, and you're going to deal with our real kind of defiant kind of urban street self-identity, self-definition.

Now it's almost like we take the worst parodies of ourselves and try to make them hits. And I think that that is sad.

I remember my last conversation with James Brown, which hip-hop started out of. He said, "How did we go from black and proud," which was his song, "to calling ourselves niggers, hoes, and bitches?"

And I think that that is the problem.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZAHN: And that certainly is a view shared by a lot of people, Wolf.

Yet, on the other hand, in addition to folks who will say that hip-hop has completely lost its roots that Reverend Al was talking about, they are totally outraged about how these rappers portray women, how they portray gays, how there's a fear that, in some cases, this kind of music inspires violence.

But you will also hear from people tonight who fiercely defend the genre. And they say, look, this is an accurate reflection of the way some of these folks live. And it is their truth. You know, if you don't want to listen to it, don't buy the C.D.s.

BLITZER: I guess that's their answer to Al Sharpton's criticism we just heard.

ZAHN: Yes, absolutely.

But, you know, they -- it's very difficult, I think, for anyone to defend how -- how humiliating and degrading some of these videos are to women. I mean, give me a break. They run, you know, credit cards, swipe them across the -- the naked rear ends of women.

You know, that is not anything that any of us want to see. It's disgusting. We will talk about that tonight. But, once again, I know that one of our guests will say tonight, look, that's -- that's the way a lot of women -- men view women in this country.

So, it should be a pretty hotly contested debate here tonight.

BLITZER: It's called is -- "Hip-hop: Art or Poison?" It's coming up later tonight, 8:00 p.m. Eastern.

Paula, thanks very much.

ZAHN: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: And you can go to the -- our -- our Web site at CNN.com/Paula. Tell us how you feel about this, even in advance of the program that comes up later tonight. You're going to want to see it.

Coming up here in THE SITUATION ROOM: defending the course of the war in Iraq. As some of his fellow Republicans contemplate jumping ship, Senator Jon Kyl is firmly on board. He's standing by live to tell us why. He's just back from Iraq.

And later: politically incorrect, but serious about getting into the game of politics. The ever-outspoken Charles Barkley, he's here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

We will be right back. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: The British prime minister, Tony Blair, is now doing what President Bush won't do. Namely, he's starting to pull troops out of Iraq -- some Democrats here in Washington suggesting it's a stunning rebuke of the president's Iraq policy.

We're joined now by Senator Jon Kyl, Republican of Arizona. He's a strong backer of the president's war strategy. He's just back from a visit to Iraq himself.

Senator Kyl, thanks for coming in. Welcome back from Iraq.

SEN. JON KYL (R), ARIZONA: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Well, what do you say to those Democrats, like Ted Kennedy and others, who say, this is a slap by the British prime minister, one of the closest, if not the closest, U.S. ally, at the president?

KYL: Actually, the British have been deployed in a place called Basra, which is in the southern part of Iraq. And that has been an area that has been relatively calm. There has been some Shia-on-Shia violence there.

But the British have concluded that they can draw down a small part of their force there, because of the Iraqi presence and ability to control the violence there. So, hopefully, that's what we will be able to do in a few months. But, for the time being, obviously, we have a different plan up north, in Baghdad, and to the west, in Anbar Province.

BLITZER: But there's no doubt, Senator -- and I assume you will agree -- that, if Tony Blair had announced, "You know what, we don't need these troops in Basra anymore; we're going to take 1,000 or 1,500 troops and move them up to Baghdad or to the Al-Anbar Province, where the U.S. desperately needs help right now," that would have sent a powerful, powerful message of support for the U.S. strategy in Iraq right now.

Are you disappointed that Tony Blair just decided to pull them out, as opposed to redeploying them where they're needed?

KYL: Well, the truth of the matter is, yes.

And I think you're right. It would have sent a more positive message. But it is hard to -- to just pluck out a few troops from a particular country's force, and integrate them into, let's say, the American forces.

But, on the other hand, the message, I concede, is -- is not as positive as I'm sure the president would like.

BLITZER: Tony Blair, in his address in parliament today, said, yes, the situation in the south is improving. That enables the British forces to -- to leave. But he spoke of what he called -- and I'm quoting now -- "an orgy of terrorism" that exists in the capital, in Baghdad, right now. And he says, what happens in Baghdad is going to either make or break this entire mission in Iraq.

You were just there. Did you see an orgy of terrorism unfolding, because, certainly, on the day to day, we see these horrible, horrible car bombings, improvised explosive devices? What was your firsthand personal impression?

KYL: Actually, we did not see that.

The -- the day -- and -- and I -- I was there one day. But I can tell you that, both among all of our military commanders -- and we met with everyone from General Petraeus, General Odierno, the -- our ambassador, officials from the Iraqi leadership. And all had what I would characterize as cautious optimism about the new strategy that's beginning to unfold.

We already have one of the five new brigades in Iraq. The second is just about ready to go in just in a matter of days. The third is being prepared. And the Iraqis are doing things a lot differently than they had done before, with the result that the Iraqis have said that there is a totally different view on the part of the -- the people on the street about the potential for success here.

The three days prior to our visit, there had been no violence whatsoever. And they were -- they were quite pleased with that. On the other hand, late in the day, when we were there, there was some more violence.

And it fits the pattern, they said, where you will see some times where there won't be as much violence, but, obviously, the terrorists like to strike back. They don't want this new strategy to work. And, so, they -- there will continue to be violence, as -- as long as they can conduct their operations.

BLITZER: The -- your Republican colleague Arlen Specter, the ranking member of the Judiciary Committee, he thinks it might be a good idea to hold hearings in the Senate right now on reauthorizing this whole effort in Iraq.

Let me read to you what he -- what he wrote the other day to the chairman, Patrick Leahy: "The Congress cannot be pushed to the sidelines as the president commits more troops and ever-increasing funds to an engagement that commands uncertain support. We have an obligation to determine how, within appropriate constitutional constraints, we may engage the president, and ensure that the will of the American people regarding this conflict is heard."

Does he have a good point?

KYL: I strongly disagree with my friend Arlen Specter.

It's very hard for the commander in chief to conduct a -- a military operation in -- under very difficult circumstances. And, if, after Congress authorizes him to begin such an operation, he gears up, and -- and goes in, and we're right in the middle of a -- of a new strategic operation there, then Congress says, "Well, we have changed our mind; now we don't think we want to authorize it anymore," first of all, what does that say to our troops who are being sent into harm's way? And, secondly, what's the message that it sends to the enemy?

You cannot micromanage a war from the United States Senate. Once we authorize it, then we need to see it through until its conclusion.

BLITZER: What if there's a new chapter in the Middle East, a war against Iran? Should the Senate authorize that before the U.S. were to take any military action?

KYL: Well, the -- you -- you have the word "any" in there. Clearly, it's appropriate for us to take care of the Iranians who are in Iraq causing harm to our troops. I don't think anyone would dispute that.

To go into Iran would, of course, be quite another matter. And there are a few shades of gray in between. But I think, with regard to any kind of an invasion, Congress should take some kind of an action authorizing it.

But that's not what the president intends to do at this time. I don't think he's asking for such an authorization.

BLITZER: Senator Jon Kyl, we're glad you're back safe and sound. Even though you just spent a day there, it's always a dangerous day in Iraq.

Good...

KYL: Yes, it's good to be back.

BLITZER: Good to have you back here in the United States.

KYL: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks for coming in.

KYL: You bet.

BLITZER: Carol Costello is monitoring the wires, keeping an eye on the video feeds coming into THE SITUATION ROOM from around the world.

Let's check back with her to see what's making news right now.

Hi, Carol.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Some news on the economy, Wolf: inflation pressures stronger than expected last month. The Labor Department reports, the consumer price index gained two-tenths- of-one-percent in July. Minutes released today from last month's meeting of the Federal Reserve show the panel is still worried about potential inflation threats.

A lawsuit filed in connection with a suspected salmonella poisoning linked to Peter Pan peanut butter -- a Pennsylvania family is suing ConAgra Foods, after the death of a woman whose husband and daughter also got sick. A Seattle firm is seeking class-action status for a suit against ConAgra, which launched a peanut butter recall last week.

A Florida circuit judge says he will render a decision on Friday as to who will decide where to bury Anna Nicole Smith. Smith's estranged mother testified today. She's struggling for possession of the body against Smith's attorney and companion, Howard K. Stern. In fact, he's on the stand right now.

And a woman who was facing up to five years in prison for throwing a cup of ice -- yes, throwing a cup of ice -- she is getting probation instead. Jessica Hall of Virginia tossed the ice last summer. She -- she tossed it at a car that cut her off in traffic. No one was hurt in this incident. She's been in jail since January 4.

That's a look at the headlines right now -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Carol, thanks very much.

Up next: the early Clinton-Obama skirmish, and how a Hollywood mogul with deep political pockets helped set it in motion.

Also: the growing clout of Hollywood's executives and movie stars in the nation's political life.

Stay with us. We will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: And this just coming into CNN: The former Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle is now endorsing Senator Barack Obama for president.

Daschle, at one point, considered running for the White House himself, but he's now putting his weight behind Senator Obama. Back in December, Daschle told the AP that Obama -- and I'm quoting now -- "is one of those rare individuals who has almost unlimited potential" -- Tom Daschle endorsing Barack Obama.

Out of the blue, it seems, the presidential campaigns of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton suddenly come to blows. Obama's camp proves that it's willing to throw a punch, despite the candidates' pledge to inject more civility into politics.

Joining us now in our "Strategy Session," two Democrats, Democratic strategist and CNN contributor Donna Brazile, and Democratic strategist James Carville. He's also a CNN contributor.

We wanted two Democrats to discuss this Democratic feud that's under way right now.

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: Maureen Dowd wrote a column this morning that everybody is reading in "The New York Times."

Among other things, she writes this: "'I don't think anybody believes that, in the last six years, all of a sudden, Bill Clinton has become a different person,' David Geffen says, "adding that, if Republicans are digging up dirt, they will wait until Hillary is the nominee to use it."

Geffen goes on to say in an on-the-record interview with Maureen Dowd, "I think they believe she's the easiest to defeat" -- powerful words.

And that's only just the beginning, what this Hollywood mogul, David Geffen, says about Bill and Hillary Clinton.

Donna, what is going on in the Democratic Party?

DONNA BRAZILE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, look, it's too early to press the self-destructive button.

But Mr. Geffen was speaking for himself. He was not speaking for Senator Obama. And perhaps he doesn't know that, since leaving office, Bill Clinton has become one of the most popular presidents. And he's also popular, not just here, but across the globe. So, I -- I don't know what got in Mr. Geffen's coffee, but, clearly, he's stirring up a lot of conversation.

BLITZER: All right, James, what do you think?

JAMES CARVILLE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, look, a guy like David Geffen, every Democrat knows, with somebody -- a Hollywood guy like that, you try to get him to open his wallet and shut his mouth, because, inevitably, he gets around Maureen Dowd, he's going to make a fool of himself.

Now, what's the big deal, another Hollywood guy making a political fool of himself? The deal is, is that it -- he runs amok, and he starts this thing, and Obama's trying to take the -- ostensibly saying: I'm going to take the high road, and we're not going to get into this.

And then they -- they -- they start this back-and-forth. Geffen is a guy that he -- he -- as much as he knows about politics, he knows that little -- about Hollywood, he knows that little about politics. And he would have done well to -- to host a fund-raiser. It was $1.3 million. And, as opposed to trying to get in Maureen's column, he should have let Obama get in there...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Here's what Howard Wolfson, a Clinton adviser, said in reacting to his comments to Maureen Dowd: "If Senator Obama is indeed sincere about his repeated claims to change the tone of our politics, he should immediately denounce these remarks, remove Mr. Geffen from his campaign, and return his money."

What do you think?

BRAZILE: Well, first of all, I would keep his money.

(LAUGHTER)

BRAZILE: But, clearly, Mr. Geffen has no role in the Obama campaign. He's not the campaign chair. He's not the finance chair.

He's a private citizen, who, you know, perhaps spoke out of turn. But, clearly, Senator Obama has every right to get back on message and to talk about what he hopes to accomplish. And, hopefully, Senator Clinton will be able to do the same.

CARVILLE: Yes.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Let -- let me just read to you...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: ... what the Obama spokesman -- spokesperson, Robert Gibbs, says: "We aren't going to get in the middle of a disagreement between the Clintons and someone who was once one of their biggest supporters. It is ironic that the Clintons had no problem with David Geffen when he was raising them $18 million and sleeping, at their invitation, in the Lincoln Bedroom."

CARVILLE: Again, whoever this gentleman is in Mr. Obama's -- Senator Obama's campaign, somebody needs to say, hey, Bill Clinton has a 95 percent favorable among Democrats.

This -- this -- this Geffen-led strategy of attacking Bill Clinton to win a nomination is -- is -- is indicative of -- of Mr. Geffen's political stupidity.

BLITZER: But -- but doesn't it speak to this concern that you know some Democrats have? While they love the Clintons...

CARVILLE: Right.

BLITZER: ... and they love Hillary Clinton, they're concerned she can't win a general election, given the history, the baggage, or whatever.

(CROSSTALK)

CARVILLE: Well, in the same -- it's interesting. In -- in the same interview, he says, whoever the Democrat is, is going to win.

But that -- that -- that doesn't matter. The problem is, is that, when you're hosting a fund-raiser at your house, it's bad manners to interject yourself into a story, when it -- it's trying to be about Obama. This is a man that can't keep his mouth shut. Now, any -- any -- anybody with a -- with a whit of political sense would say, you have him here; you want this to be Obama's night.

What this has turned into is a kind of back-and-forth, where it looks like Barack Obama's people are attacking Bill Clinton. That's not a win situation under any circumstances. And, again, the problem with these guys is, is, you -- you want their money. You just don't want their mouth.

BLITZER: Here's how Senator Clinton responded in a question out in Nevada earlier today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D), NEW YORK: I want to run a very positive campaign, and I sure don't want Democrats or the supporters of Democrats to be engaging in the politics of personal destruction.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

CLINTON: I think we should stay focused on -- on what we're going to do for America. And, you know, I -- I believe Bill Clinton was a good president.

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: I was struck, though, how quickly the Clinton campaign, Howard Wolfson, and others, responded to this David Geffen interview with Maureen Dowd.

I suppose they could have just said: You know what? Forget about it and move on.

But they came out very tough, and they made a challenge to Obama's campaign: Distance yourself from this guy. Return the money.

They -- they didn't waste any time in...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: ... in -- in upping the ante, if you will.

BRAZILE: Well, if you recall, last week, when Senator Ford down in South Carolina made disparaging remarks about Senator Obama, the Clinton campaign was quick to distance themselves from Senator Ford's remarks.

I think Senator Clinton's campaign made the right decision to get on top of this and to completely say: Hey, let's elevate this conversation. Let's not get into the personal mudslinging. We have too many issues at stake in this election. Let's talk about the future.

CARVILLE: Yes, Wolf, you -- you get an opportunity, you take the opportunity.

And, if they wouldn't have responded, then, somebody would come on and -- and -- and question it. But this is a -- at most, a day- and-a-half story, we should remember. But it -- it probably -- I think the Obama people are going to rethink their attack-Bill-Clinton strategy.

BLITZER: Here's what David Geffen, James, said about you in -- in the column.

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: "Obama is inspirational, and he's not from the Bush royal family or the Clinton royal family. Americans are dying every day in Iraq, and I'm tired of hearing James Carville on television."

BRAZILE: Well, let me...

CARVILLE: Well...

BRAZILE: Let me take this...

(CROSSTALK)

BRAZILE: ... because I have known James for a long time. He is a good Democrat. He's a fighter for the party.

He stands up for working people. And I'm proud that James Carville is on television.

CARVILLE: Yes, that sentence is truly remarkable.

People would say, as annoying as I may be, you know, how are you equating me with people, like, dying in a war? I mean, it goes to -- again, it just goes to show you that this guy lives in some world that is -- how do you go tell 3,100 widows that James Carville being on TV is -- it was...

(CROSSTALK)

BRAZILE: He might be jealous, James. He's jealous.

(CROSSTALK)

BRAZILE: He's jealous.

CARVILLE: If I had -- I will tell you what, Mr. Geffen. You can have my TV time. I will take your money.

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: Let me -- let me just...

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: Let me wrap up this "Strategy Session" with a statement that David Geffen issued. We invited him to come on the program. He declined.

But this is the statement they released: "Despite reports to the contrary, I am not the campaign finance chair, and have no formal role in the Obama campaign, nor will I, other than to continue to offer my strongest possible personal support for his candidacy. My comments, which were quoted accurately by Maureen Dowd, reflect solely my personal beliefs regarding the Clintons. Thank you."

BRAZILE: Well, first of all, David Geffen, to his credit, has been a strong asset to the Democratic Party. And he has raised so many dollars for important causes, like AIDS. So, I -- I don't want to, in any way, say anything negative about Mr. Geffen.

But, clearly, Senator Obama needs to elevate this conversation and get back on the issues.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: But I think you will agree -- and we're out of time.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: The Republicans are looking at this feud between Obama and Clinton, and they're saying: This is great.

CARVILLE: Don't -- don't host a $1.3 million fund-raiser at your house and give Maureen Dowd an interview, if you don't want to get caught up in this thing. That's ridiculous. And he should have had better sense than that.

BRAZILE: Republicans are not just looking.

John (ph), that was Joe Biden and Chris Dodd also looking.

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: They're all -- good point, as usual.

Guys, thanks very much, Donna and James, both excellent Democrats, a good "Strategy Session."

Here's the bottom line, by the way, on Hollywood's political influence. The nonprofit Center For Responsive Politics reports, the movie, TV and recording industries gave $33.1 million to federal candidates and parties in the 2004 election. The center reports, 69 percent of those entertainment industry dollars went to Democrats in 2004. Thirty-one percent went to Republicans.

Still to come here in THE SITUATION ROOM: How are the liberal blogs reacting to the dustup between the Clinton and Obama camps? Jacki Schechner is standing with a report. And, in our next hour -- get this -- Charles Barkley, will his prowess on the basketball court transfer to the field of politics? We will talk politics with the former NBA all-star right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: The first major political spat of the 2008 presidential campaign is also playing out online.

Liberal bloggers are picking apart the harsh words flying back and forth between the two Democratic front-runners, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.

Here with some analysis, our Internet reporter, Jacki Schechner -- Jacki.

JACKI SCHECHNER, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Well, Wolf, with all that the '08 Democratic hopefuls are doing to reach out to the online community and garner support from the liberal bloggers, some would be wise to pay attention to what they're saying today about the back-and- forth between Obama and Clinton.

Duncan Black at Eschaton asking for smarter campaigns, please.

Matt Stoller over at mydd calling the back-and-forth pathetic, saying it's just a fight between rich elites and pundits, and it should stop.

Over at The Carpetbagger Report, Steve Benen saying that neither side of this is coming out looking good.

And Kevin Drum at "The Washington Monthly"'s Political Animal says, with all this mudslinging early, it's going to be hard to kiss and make up come convention time -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Jacki, thanks very much.

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