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Libby Juror Disqualified; Schwarzenegger Calls for End to Partisanship; Will Al Run?

Aired February 26, 2007 - 16:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, HOST: Happening now, a juror disqualified -- a mistrial avoided, new drama in the CIA leak saga.
What does it all mean for the former Cheney aide turned defendant, Lewis "Scooter" Libby?

Also this hour, Arnold Schwarzenegger wags a finger at Washington. The California governor asks Republicans and Democrats why they all just can't get along.

And a star is reborn -- Al Gore's Oscar triumph makes a political statement heard well beyond Hollywood.

What does he do now for an encore?

I'm Wolf Blitzer.


The remaining 11 jurors in the trial of Lewis "Scooter" Libby are pressing on with deliberations right now. The twelfth member of the panel was booted earlier today. The judge determined she had been exposed to information outside the courtroom.

Let's go to CNN's Brian Todd.

He's over at the courthouse.

He's watching all of this unfold -- Brian, update our viewers.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, just about 28 hours or so into deliberations now and the just has made a very strong statement -- he would rather go with fewer jurors than set this process back.


TODD (voice-over): Showing obvious disappointment, Judge Reggie Walton declares about one juror: "What she had exposure to obviously disqualifies her," a reference to information on the case the juror had received outside the courthouse. With that, a woman who had worked as a museum curator is thrown off the jury and not replaced, despite the concerns of Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, who worried out loud that the pool is getting dangerously low.

The judge's reason for not seating an alternate? He didn't want to start from scratch and waste more than two days of deliberations. The fate of former vice presidential aide Louis "Scooter" Libby, charged with lying to investigators about the leak of a CIA officer's covert identity, now in the hands of 11 people.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: It's certainly unusual to have a verdict from 11 jurors. But it's not unprecedented and it's certainly treated the same way as the verdict would be from 12.

TODD: It's unclear what kind of information the juror, who's now an arts researcher, was exposed to. But she has got her own way before in this case.

On Valentine's Day, when jurors came in wearing identical red t- shirts and one read a note of thanks to the judge, she was the only one who didn't play along. And in jury selection, she told of being mugged in Washington and said when she later recognized her mugger on the streets, she did not notify the police because: "I would have lost my whole day of research at work to probably no avail."

JONATHAN TURLEY, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: She was also something of a character. She was self-assured. She was different from a lot of the other jurors and she really stood out in refusing to wear a Valentine's shirt.

All those things made her a point of considerable interest.


TODD: Now, when he finally heard about this juror's exposure, the judge feared that whatever information it was might have tainted other jurors. After interviewing them and speaking to the jury foreperson, he concluded it had not, but he emphatically warned the panel not to have any contact with any outside information -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Brian, thanks very much.

Our Internet reporter, Abbi Tatton, has more now on that dismissed juror from the bloggers who have actually been credentialed to cover the Libby trial -- Abbi, what are you seeing?

ABBI TATTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, from those blogs and their online descriptions of what's been going on, we saw an early description of this juror. We're going back now to jury selection January 18th, when, in her answers, she was described as being very dramatic. Drama we saw mentioned elsewhere talking about this juror.

She was asked about her exposure at that point to the media, what she followed online. At that point, she said she doesn't read newspapers daily, she just flips through them, mentioning the "New York Times" and the "Washington Post."

In terms of TV news coverage, she answered at that point she never watches TV at all. Now, this is the juror that was dismissed today for exposure to outside information about the Libby trial -- Wolf. BLITZER: Thank you, Abbi.

Let's get to the vice president, Dick Cheney, on the front lines of the war on terror.

Cheney is on an unannounced trip to Afghanistan and Pakistan. He's pressing for a united front against resurgent Taliban fighters and he delivered an unusually tough message to a critical U.S. ally -- the Pakistani president, Pervez Musharraf.

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

ED HENRY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the vice president putting private pressure on the Pakistani president to crack down harder on both al Qaeda, as well as Taliban militants.

The bottom line here, that President Bush needs the cooperation of his Pakistani counterpart more than ever, after the president just sent additional U.S. troops to Afghanistan in advance of an expected spring offensive by terrorists.

But here's what's most important about what happened today. While the vice president was applying that private pressure to the Pakistani president, the White House spokesman, Tony Snow, back here at the White House, was striking a much more cautious tone.

Listen to this.


TONY SNOW, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Well, no. I just -- I'll let others characterize it. We have not been saying it's a tough message. What we're saying is we're having -- the vice president is meeting with President Musharraf because we do understand the importance of -- of making even greater progress against al Qaeda, against the Taliban.


HENRY: So what's really going on here is a delicate diplomatic dance. The bottom line is that President Musharraf has been helpful to the U.S. in capturing literally hundreds of terrorists in urban areas of Pakistan. But he has been not quite as helpful in the rural, the rural areas where, for example, Osama bin Laden is expected to be hiding.

Now, Democrats trying to ratchet up the pressure on the president, saying he's been treating the Pakistani president with kid gloves, he's got to get even tougher. But the bottom line is intelligence experts note, Wolf, that if you push too hard against Musharraf and his government falls you could have extremists take over Pakistan. Then they'd be running a nation that has a nuclear weapon right next door to Afghanistan, where, of course, that war is raging anew -- Wolf.

BLITZER: it's such a delicate and very dangerous diplomatic dance.

Thanks very much, Ed, at the White House.

On Capitol Hill, senators are picking up the Iraq debate where they left it off last week. Democrats are considering a bold move -- an attempt to repeal the 2002 authorization for the war. But there are many details and divisions getting in the way.

Let's turn to our Congressional correspondent, Andrea Koppel.

What's the latest -- Andrea.

ANDREA KOPPEL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, Democrats Joe Biden and Carl Levin are continuing to shop around their plan to repeal and rewrite that 2002 authorization for the Iraq War.

Now, under their proposal, the role of the U.S. military in Iraq would be limited to one of training, primarily in counter-terrorism, with the stated goal of withdrawing all U.S. troops not involved in this mission by March of next year.

Now, Biden and Levin hope to convince Senate Democrats to get behind their proposal when the caucus meets tomorrow. And in a preview of the heated debate we could see as early as this week on the Senate floor, Republicans are arguing if the Senate were to pass this resolution, I would be mismanaging the war and tying the hands of commanders on the ground.


SEN. JOHN THUNE (R), SOUTH DAKOTA: What if those troops are fired upon?

Can they not return fire because the United States Senate says they're not to have a combat role?

Just when I thought this debate had reached the low point on the depth chart, Mr. President, the Senate Democrats drained a lot more out of the pool.


KOPPEL: And unlike the vote earlier this month on a non-binding resolution opposing the president's plan to send more troops to Iraq, which saw seven Republicans break with Mr. Bush, it already appears that Biden-Levin Plan, as it now stands, would not get the support of at least two of those Republicans, Minnesota's Norm Coleman and Nebraska's Chuck Hagel. That doesn't bode well for the Democrats' latest anti-war measure, Wolf, which, if it goes to a vote anytime soon, seems sure not to get the required 60 votes that it would need to pass -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Andrea, thanks.

The Democrats clearly are on risky terrain as they try to navigate their next moves on Iraq. Let's bring in our chief national correspondent, John King; our senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley.

This is very, very dangerous turf for the Democrats right now, Candy, how they try to work this opposition to this surge, as it's called, out.

CANDY CROWLEY, SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. I mean what they're trying to do is walk that fine line between showing their base, which voted for them, put them in the majority, that they are going to be tough on this president and that they're going to get him to change course without looking like they're pulling the rug out from under the troops. And that's the line they're walking.

BLITZER: How do they do that? can they do that?

JOHN KING, CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's very difficult. You have the House and the Senate going on different tracks. Right now, Democrats in the House more liberal, more willing to deal with the funding issues. The Democrats in the Senate, some complaining that the leadership is out there talking about this resolution Andrea just talked about, why can't they bring it to the caucus first, then talk about it in public?

So some of this is process.

In the Senate side, Wolf, they think it's better to go with the Levin-Biden approach, reauthorize the war, if you will, say the troops should be in support roles, not combat roles, because under that approach, you get in the president's face. You say your approach has failed, Mr. President, but the Democrats would not have wanted to deal with the much more politically risky funding issue until down the road.

This would be a more safe incremental step, if you will.

BLITZER: The problem, also, the Democrats in the Senate have is Joe Lieberman. He represents that one seat majority that they have in the U.S. Senate and he's warning pretty bluntly, don't go too far, he's saying to his fellow Democrats.

Let me read to you what he says: "The Senate and the House of Representatives are bracing for parliamentary trench warfare, trapped in an escalating dynamic of division and confrontation that will neither resolve the tough challenges we face in Iraq or strengthen our nation against its terrorist enemies around the world."

Because if he switches -- it's unlikely he will and he says it's almost certain he won't, but, still, he's leaving that door slightly open -- then the Republicans become the majority in the Senate...

CROWLEY: Well...

BLITZER: ... the Democrats go back to being the minority.

CROWLEY: Absolutely. And this already sounds like the old U.S. Senate, the one that he's describing. So, look, the problem with Joe Lieberman, I don't think, is can he give the majority to the Republicans, can he, you know, keep it with the Democrats.

It's how he's going to vote, because they lose yet another one, they're going to lose other Republicans that voted with the Democrats the last time around.

So you have the -- the specter of last time around we got this many votes, now we're getting fewer votes. And that's not the message they want to get out there.

BLITZER: You've covered Lieberman a long time.

Is there any chance, realistically, that he would flip from being with the Democrats as opposed to -- and go over to the Republicans?

KING: Well, he has a six year term. He would not do that if he thinks he's going to go back and run in six years and be reelected. That would be an interesting choice for him to make.

Is he likely to do that?

I think the answer is no, is he likely to do that.

Is he leaving the door open?

Yes, he is. But when you have the Democrats squabbling and the Republicans squabbling, it's a perfect opportunity, isn't it, for a powerful Independent, something who has a vocal voice on this war, to stand up and say don't forget me.

BLITZER: All right, so, Candy, how does all this debate right now over the war, the authorization for the war, the funding for the war, the surge, how does it play out in the 2008 presidential election?

CROWLEY: Well, what's going to be interesting here is you now have probably all five of the Democrats out there with their variations of what is generally the same plan, but they do have some different ones when it gets down to the Dodd and Biden.

So what they have to do is once again show that they are tough on the president, that they understand the message of the '06 election. But they also have to look toward '08 and say we cannot send that old Democratic message about how we don't support the troops and were not tough on national security.

So they're walking that same line, only in a much more public way and much more individually.

BLITZER: On the Democratic side.

And the Republican side?

KING: So far, most of the leading Republicans are we support the president's plan, he's mismanaged the war, a lot of mistakes have been made, Secretary Rumsfeld didn't do a good job. But of all the options on the table, this is the best one we see right now.

Let's send in more troops, let's give it three months, maybe six months and then see what happens.

The defining question will be when we're three months or six months down the road, have the Democrats worked out their differences or is that all the Democratic campaign is about -- all the candidates fighting over Iraq. And if the president's plan doesn't work, what do the big Republicans do then?

BLITZER: Thanks very much, guys, for doing -- for coming in, Candy and John.

And, as our viewers know, Candy and John and Ed Henry and Andrea Koppel, Abbi Tatton, Brian Todd, 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 at

Jack Cafferty is off today.

Coming up, is the Iraq War stretching the National Guard beyond its limits?

I'll ask Florida's governor, Charlie Crist. He's standing by to join us live right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Plus, Arnold Schwarzenegger's move to the middle.

Is the California governor's moderate views a model for Republicans elsewhere?

And later, will Al Gore's award winning night push him toward making another run for the White House?

Donna Brazile and J.C. Watts, they're in today's Strategy Session.

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


BLITZER: The nation's governors are here in Washington for their annual winter meeting. Among the new members of that elite group, the Florida Republican Governor Charlie Crist. He and his peers are grappling with a whole host of hot issues, including some that drive those tensions between the state and the federal government.

Governor Crist is here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Congratulations on your election.

Thanks for coming in.


It's great to be with you. BLITZER: Let's talk about national security first and foremost.

We all think of Florida, we think of hurricanes, natural disasters, the National Guard.

Are you stretched too thin right now in terms of dealing with your state crises with the National Guard and deploying troops to Iraq?

I say this because the North Carolina governor, your Democratic colleague, Mike Easley, he said this recently. He said: "We, the governors, rely on the Guard to respond to natural disasters, a pandemic or terrorist attack. Currently, we don't have the manpower or the equipment to perform that dual role of responding to both state and federal needs."

Are you in good shape in Florida or not?

CRIST: We are in good shape in Florida.

The head of our National Guard is General Burnett. He's done a great job. As you probably know, we recently had tornadoes that devastated central Florida. We lost 20 lives, as a matter of fact. The National Guard couldn't have done a better job and we're very pleased with their service and they're ready to go.

BLITZER: So right now you're in good shape on that?

CRIST: We are.

BLITZER: Let's talk about immigration right now. Congressman Tom Tancredo, Republican of Colorado -- he's running for the Republican presidential nomination -- he recently compared Miami to a Third World country.

CRIST: Where does he get that?

BLITZER: Well, what we're -- I don't know. He's a fellow Republican.

Talk a little bit about this issue of the criticism of your state, the immigration, what's going on in Miami.

CRIST: Well, immigration is very important. I'm the grandson of an immigrant. One of our United States senators, Mel Martinez, is an immigrant himself.

We had a discussion this morning, the Governors Association did, with President Bush about this very issue.

We think it's very important that we secure our border. We also think it's important, however, to make sure that we have illegal immigration eliminated so the promise of legal immigration can continue.

BLITZER: Are you with the president when it comes to a pathway toward citizenship for some of the millions of illegal immigrants who are here right now?

CRIST: Yes, sir, I am. I think it's the right thing to do. We've always...

BLITZER: And a guest worker program, too?

CRIST: I agree with that, as well. Yes. I mean if people can earn their way to citizenship, that's how my grandfather did it. He shined shoes for a living in Altoona, Pennsylvania, made $5 a month and then he himself joined the Army so he could accelerate his citizenship coming to pass.

That's the promise of America.

BLITZER: Fidel Castro -- it's always a big issue in Florida. He's obviously very, very sick right now.

What are you bracing for when he dies?

We have no idea how he's doing right now.

A big immigration, a big movement of Cubans from Cuba down to South Florida? What do you think is likely to happen?

CRIST: Something that might happen -- I'm not so sure. You know, his brother Raul is very high up in the government right now, really taken over power while, you know, Castro is ill. And so we don't expect that that will happen.

If it does, though, we're prepared. We've been coordinating with the Navy, with the Coast Guard. We have updates that happen periodically and, as a result of that, if he does pass and if there is a migration one way or the other, we're prepared to handle it. We'll do the very best that we can. It's what we do in Florida when any situation arises.

BLITZER: And that same -- the same rules go if they're picked up at sea, then they go back. If they're -- if they touch U.S. soil, then they're allowed to stay.

CRIST: Well, the wet foot-dry foot, of course, would still be in place and we would defer to our federal friends in regard to that policy.

BLITZER: Let's talk about the 2000 Florida election fiasco, and it was a fiasco, as all of us remember.

Have you taken steps to fix the problem?

I say this in light of the problem that existed last November in Orlando when some 18,000 ballots weren't really counted. Diane Feinstein of the Senate Committee on Rules and Administration, she says this. She says: "There are those who will say it's impossible to adopt meaningful security and verifiability requirements for the 2008 election. But one only has to look at what happened in Sarasota to see how dangerous it might be to wait." Do you have a paper trail in place now to make sure that everyone's vote is really counted?

CRIST: Well, it's ironic you would ask that. Robert Wexler, who's a congressman from South Florida, Palm Beach County, a dear friend of mine...

BLITZER: He's a Democrat.

CRIST: He is. We served in the state senate together. But we're taking a bipartisan approach to this and our budget recommendation to the legislature, we put in $32 million to make sure that we can have a paper trail so that situations like that don't arise again.

The most important thing we can do in democracy is ensure the democratic process and the integrity thereof. We feel very strongly about that in Florida. As you know, we've got the presidential coming up next year. We don't want to have any problems to the extent possible.

BLITZER: But you still don't know what happened to those 18,000 ballots in Orlando in the Congressional election -- Sarasota, excuse me. You still don't know what happened to those 18,000 votes.

CRIST: Well, the concern I have is going forward, Wolf. And I want to do everything I can as the new governor of Florida to make sure that everything that happens on my watch that we can defend, that can make sure we have secured the integrity of that process. I want to make sure that Florida voters can have the kind of confidence in their vote that they deserve and that they should expect.

BLITZER: Well, let me just press you on this point. In the elections in November of 2008, the Congressional elections and the presidential election, will everything be in place so that there won't be any residue of that 2000 fiasco?

In other words, will there be that paper trail, what you and Congressmen Wexler want? Will that be ready to go for sure?

CRIST: We believe that it will. Now, we've got a legislature we've got to work with. I'm not a dictator. We have to work with the legislative branch. And they've done a great job.

So I'm very confident that we'll be there.

BLITZER: Charlie Crist, thanks very much for coming in.

CRIST: Thank you, Wolf.

Good to be here.

BLITZER: The new governor of Florida.

He's got a tough job down there.

Coming up, a new development in the Anna Nicole Smith saga. We're going to have details of what's coming up.

Also, Iraq's leader hospitalized in neighboring Jordan.

How serious is his condition?

And later, something he never expected -- the shocking news about his past has Al Sharpton outraged.

Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Let's check in with Susan Candiotti.

She's down in West Fort Lauderdale, Florida with developments on the Anna Nicole Smith trial.

What are you hearing -- Susan?

SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The latest comes out of the 4th District Court of Appeals in West Palm Beach, handling the appeal for this case. And that court has just issued a stay, which, in essence, means that Anna Nicole Smith's remains probably aren't going anywhere for the time being.

That's because this court says we will take under advisement this -- this request we have from the mother of Anna Nicole Smith, who is challenging whether she is the next of kin or Dannielynn, Smith's baby, is the next of kin.

In the meantime, earlier this day, the probate judge here refused to issue a stay. But that seems to be a moot point now. And in the meantime, there will be paperwork filed on this District Court of Appeals issue by tomorrow afternoon and there will be a separate hearing on Wednesday afternoon -- if you can keep all this straight, Wolf -- on Wednesday before a family court judge. And he'll be deciding whether he has jurisdiction in whether a DNA sample can be taken from Dannielynn.

Back to you -- Wolf.

BLITZER: So, for the time being, the body stays put down in South Florida.

We'll continue to watch this with Susan Candiotti, among others.

Up next, Arnold Schwarzenegger comes to California -- he actually comes to Washington and the California governor has a message for both Democrats and Republicans. Jeff Greenfield standing by with that story.

Also, his documentary won an Academy Award, actually, two Academy Awards.

So what does Al Gore do for an encore?

I'll ask Bill Schneider. He talked to Al Gore last night in Hollywood.

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


BLITZER: Happening now, honoring Vietnam valor. Today, President Bush bestowed the nation's highest military honor on Bruce Crandall. The 74-year-old received a Medical of Honor for his heroics in one of the bloodiest battles during the Vietnam War. Crandall's heroics were depicted in the movie, "We Were Soldiers."

Also, the high profile hearing over Jose Padilla continues in Florida.

At issue?

Whether the accused terrorist conspirator is mentally competent to stand trial.

And some postal rates could soon go up. What a surprise. An independent commission recommends raising the cost of a first class stamp and the postcard stamp by two cents. But the panel is also urging the sale of so-called "forever stamps" that could be used to mail a letter no matter how much postal rates actually go up. The Postal Service has not yet decided on the recommendations.

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

His state is blue, his party pairs with red, but Arnold Schwarzenegger thinks in shades of purple. And today, California governor pushed for more of the nation's leaders to do the same thing.

Our senior analyst, Jeff Greenfield, is in New York.

He's standing by live to explain what's going on -- hi, Jeff.


Well, Governor Schwarzenegger was in Washington today and he brought a message that demonstrates why he's one of the most remarkable and successful figures around. The message of this highly successful politician? Stop playing politics. But it's a message that resonates, because the governator has delivered on it and followed it once and again.


GREENFIELD (voice-over): Schwarzenegger's message was a lament, a lament that Washington was in the grip of partisan gridlock.

GOV. ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER (R), CALIFORNIA: For too long, this town has been about divide and conquer: Find an issue that splits our country in half, then crack it just enough so you can come out ahead. It doesn't look like anything has changed here in Washington. The same things are happening all over again.

GREENFIELD: What makes the words resonate is that the governor himself is something of a born-again centrist.

In 2003, after winning a recall election, he sounded strong bipartisan themes.

SCHWARZENEGGER: I have appointed to my Cabinet Republicans, Democrats and independents, because I want the people to know that my administration is not about politics. It is about saving California.

GREENFIELD: But, in 2005, frustrated by a Democratic legislature, Schwarzenegger went to war, promoting ballot measures to curb the power of unions, to cap the budget, to change redistricting. All of those measures went down to defeat.

SCHWARZENEGGER: I just made terrible mistakes.

GREENFIELD: So, in a remarkable 180-degree turn, Schwarzenegger began cutting deals with the legislature on education spending, on extending health care to all children, on dealing with a budget deficit and roads through bond measures. That's borrowing.

He has joined Senator John McCain, embracing a massive effort to cut greenhouse gases, something the conservative GOP base is not exactly crazy about. And he has even defended the Republicans' public enemy number one, Senator Hillary Clinton, over her Iraq war vote.

SCHWARZENEGGER: Every human being makes mistakes. And that is why they understand when a politician says: I made a mistake.

It's that simple. Now, with Hillary Clinton, I think that people should -- when it comes to the war, should elevate this whole discussion, and really not, you know, pick on -- on -- on things like that, but, really, try to get along in Washington.

GREENFIELD: He finished his speech in Washington by reminding his audience of the smoking tent he erected in Sacramento outside his office, where legislators can come to smoke a stogie and to schmooze, in his words.

And his advice to President Bush?

SCHWARZENEGGER: Get yourself a smoking tent.


GREENFIELD: Now, there are Republicans who argue that it Schwarzenegger's centrism is really an abandonment of core conservative principles.

But, when you realize that he won a 17-point reelection in the nation's biggest state in a big Democratic year, you might understand why folks like John McCain and Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney might think that their favorite part of the U.S. Constitution is the one that says no foreign born citizen can run for president -- Wolf.

BLITZER: I saw him at the NBA All-Star Game in Las Vegas. He showed up with Maria Shriver. And I got to tell you, he was a rock star there. He was widely applauded. You have just come back. You have spent some time in California.

Is that the general reception he gets when he travels around the state?

GREENFIELD: Yes, it is, particularly after he was declared politically dead in 2005. And he is also extremely funny, and he even cites Richard Nixon as inspiring guy, and makes fun of the fact that he said people thought he was crazy for citing a -- a disgraced politician. But he said, that is what really happened.

He is a really unusual political figure -- Wolf.

BLITZER: A very successful one, too.

Jeff, thanks very much.


BLITZER: Jeff Greenfield back in New York for us.

Let's get to another politician who knows a thing or two about comebacks. That would be Al Gore, still basking is in his golden Oscar moment. Even the White House press secretary, Tony Snow, says he is happy for Al Gore, now that the former vice president's documentary on global warming is an Academy Award winner.

Republicans may be hoping that Gore's new career is something he sticks with.

Let's bring in our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider. He's in Los Angeles.

You were there last night. You have been watching all of this unfold, Bill. What is the latest?

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, Wolf, before the Oscars, the Al Gore question of the moment was: Will he or won't he? After the Oscars the question is: Did he or didn't he?


SCHNEIDER (voice-over): It was Al Gore's night at the Academy Awards. His move won not one Oscar, but two, one for best documentary feature...

JERRY SEINFELD, COMEDIAN: And the Oscar goes to "An Inconvenient Truth," Davis Guggenheim.


SCHNEIDER: ... and best song.

JOHN TRAVOLTA, ACTOR: And the Oscar goes to Melissa Etheridge for "I Need to Wake Up" from "An Inconvenient Truth."

SCHNEIDER: This is liberal Hollywood. They love Gore.


ELLEN DEGENERES, COMEDIAN: Jennifer Hudson was on "American Idol." America didn't vote for her. And, yet, she is here with an Oscar nomination. That is amazing. That is incredible.


DEGENERES: You know?


DEGENERES: And, then, Al Gore is here. America did vote for him and then it's...



MARTIN KAPLAN, DIRECTOR, NORMAN LEAR CENTER: People think that he has paid his dues. He has had more of an impact on issues that people care about than many people who have been in office.

SCHNEIDER: The big question hanging over the ceremony was: Will he owe won't he?

AL GORE, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I guess, with a billion people watching, it's as good a time as any. So, my fellow Americans...


GORE: I'm going to take this opportunity right here and now to formally announce my intention...



SCHNEIDER: So, did he or didn't he?

GORE: I think the moment has passed now.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Are you completely...

GORE: You know, the music coming off and...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So, in the future? In the future...

GORE: In all seriousness, I have -- I have said before, I don't really have plans to run for office again.

SCHNEIDER: The next question is for Democrats: Are we or aren't we happy with what Mr. Gore said?

KAPLAN: On the one hand, people would love to get him into the race. On the other hand, the idea of a race which includes both Gore and Edwards and Clinton strikes everybody as a kind of melodramatic train wreck waiting to happen.


SCHNEIDER: Mr. Gore says the moment has passed. But it could come again, especially if the squabbling among the Democratic front- runners gets out of hand -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, we will continue to stay on the Al Gore watch, together with you, Bill. Thanks very much.

Even if Al Gore, by the way, didn't announce anything during the Academy Awards program, he got a lot of super-expensive airtime, all for free. "Ad Week" says a 30-second spot on the Oscar telecast cost $1.6 million, a bargain by Super Bowl comparisons. But, still, that kind of cash could put a serious dent in a presidential campaign war chest, if -- and it's still a huge if -- if Al Gore decides to run.

A big-name presidential endorsement tops our "Political Radar" this Monday. Senator John Warner issued a statement of support today for colleague John McCain's expected White House campaign. The former chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee cited McCain's service in the Navy and his experience on military and security issues.

Warner is backing his longtime friend over a fellow Virginia Republican. That would be the former Governor Jim Gilmore -- Gilmore exploring a presidential campaign himself.

Republican presidential hopeful Rudy Giuliani says economy and taxes helped convince him years ago to convert from being a Democrat to a Republican. Giuliani spoke today over at the Hoover Institution, a public policy center. He is trying to prove his Republican stripes to skeptical conservatives.

And now he is set to take that quest to a new forum. The former New York mayor is scheduled to speak to the Conservative Political Action Conference here in Washington on Friday. We will be covering it.

And what is in a name? Senator Hillary Clinton apparently is dropping the Rodham from her name, or at least she is de-emphasizing it. Her maiden name does not appear on her campaign Web site. But "Rodham" still appears on Clinton's official Senate Web site. It occasionally appears on Clinton news releases.

Confused about what to call her? We are as well.

Coming up: He's a leading civil rights activist who is thinking about making another run for the presidency, but now Al Sharpton has got to deal with some shocking news from his past. We will have that story coming up next. Also; How likely is a war with Iran? The Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist Seymour Hersh says the Pentagon is intensely planning for a bombing campaign against Iran -- his explosive charges, all that, coming up right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Welcome back.

It's a discovery Al Sharpton suggests is nothing short of shocking, that his family tree is linked to that of the late senator who was once one of the nation's most segregationists.

Let's bring in our national correspondent, Bob Franken. He's watching this fascinating story for us -- Bob.

BOB FRANKEN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, it's one of these shameful realities, Wolf, of America's past that, if blacks and Southern whites go back far enough, just a few generations, actually, it's entirely possible they will find a connection: slavery.


AL SHARPTON, CIVIL RIGHTS ACTIVIST: I was absolutely shocked. I assumed that my forefathers were slaves, but the connection to Strom Thurmond is something that I couldn't have imagined in a worst nightmare.

FRANKEN (voice-over): That is how a flabbergasted civil rights activist Al Sharpton described what it was like to learn not that his great, great grandfather was a slave, but a slave owned by relatives of a symbol of racial segregation, Senator Strom Thurmond.

According to the genealogists, Coleman Sharpton, before he was freed was owned by Julia Thurmond, blood ancestor of Strom Thurmond who, generations later, became the champion of Jim Crow laws, before moderating his views in later years as a U.S. senator.

He had walked out of the 1948 Democratic Convention and run for president as a Dixiecrat. This intertwined family history was discovered after Web site approached "The New York Daily News," and then Sharpton, who has run for president himself.

MEGAN SMOLENYAK, CHIEF FAMILY HISTORIAN, ANCESTRY.COM: I will tell you, this was a stunner, even for me. I had no clue we would -- we would find a -- a story like this hiding in there.

FRANKEN: It was just another chapter in the story of Senator Strom Thurmond. Before Thurmond died, at age 100, it was made public that he was, in fact, the father of a mixed-race daughter, Essie Mae Washington. Family members are refusing comment on the slavery connection, although a niece of Thurmond's, Ellen Senter, did tell "The Daily News": "It is wonderful that Sharpton was able to become what he is in spite of what his forefather was."

SHARPTON: The shame is that I am the heirs of those that were properties to the Thurmond family. But the glory is that Strom Thurmond ran for president in 1948 on a segregationist ticket. I ran in '04 on a ticket for racial justice.


FRANKEN: And what might be useful about this is that, as we try to this day, Wolf, to try to achieve racial justice, it's probably worthwhile to remember that the starting point, as we mentioned at the beginning, is slavery.

BLITZER: Fascinating story.

Thanks very much, Bob Franken, for bringing it to us.

This note to our viewers: The first lady, Laura Bush, will appear tonight on CNN's "LARRY KING LIVE" -- among the topics she talks about, the personal effects of the war in Iraq.


LARRY KING, HOST, "LARRY KING LIVE": Has the war -- Well, what's a good term? -- worn you down? I mean, the public, obviously, is -- more people disapprove than approve. It's hurt the standing of the presidency.

What has it done to you?

LAURA BUSH, FIRST LADY: Well, of course, it's wearing -- wearing. There's no doubt about it. And I understand how the American people feel, and that they feel like things aren't going like we want them to there.

On the other hand, I know how important it is for us to continue to help the Iraqis, and that to leave now would be a serious mistake. And I really agree with the president on that.


BLITZER: You can see Larry's full interview with the first lady. That airs tonight on "LARRY KING LIVE," 9:00 p.m. Eastern.

Let's check in with Carol Costello. She is watching, monitoring a lot of developments coming into THE SITUATION ROOM.

What is happening now, Carol?

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, I got a couple of things to tell you.

Iraq's president is now in the hospital in Jordan. Today, Jalal Talabani was placed in intensive care. A hospital source tells CNN doctors inserted a catheter into his heart. But the Iraqi government and Talabani's son deny that. The son says, the Iraqi president had a bout of dizziness and low blood pressure, partly brought on by exhaustion. Britain may be pulling troops out of Iraq, but they're sending more troops to Afghanistan, nearly 1,400 British troops, says Britain's defense secretary. Most of them will be deployed over the summer to help fight a violent comeback from the Taliban.

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

BLITZER: Thank you very much, Carol, for that.

Up next in our "Strategy Session": A former president has words of praise for former Vice President Al Gore, but is it enough to change his mind about a White House run? Donna Brazile and J.C. Watts, they are standing by live right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

And is the Pentagon getting ready for a war with Iran? The Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist Seymour Hersh says yes. That's coming up as well, all of that.

We will be right back.


BLITZER: In today's "Strategy Session": Al Gore's golden moment. Now that his documentary has won top movie prizes, might the former vice president be eying the ultimate prize?

Joining us now are two CNN political analysts. Donna Brazile is a Democratic strategist. J.C. Watts is a former Republican congressman from Oklahoma.

Let's run a little clip of Al Gore in Hollywood.



GORE: Even though I honestly had not planned on doing this, I guess, with a billion people watching, it's as good a time as any. So, my fellow Americans...


GORE: I'm going to take this opportunity right here and now to formally announce my intention...




BLITZER: He had a little fun with that.

But what did you think? First of all, let's, before we talk, look ahead. What did you think of last night and Al Gore? And you speak as someone who served as his campaign manager back in 2000. BRAZILE: I was very excited.

Look, I watched the Oscars last night for the entire moment, to see Al and Tipper enjoy this -- this wonderful event. Look, I was very proud of him last night. I thought -- first of all, he's done a great job since leaving -- you know, running for the presidency.

And last night was just one of those rare moments to see Al Gore shine and -- and to bring this issue that he has cared so deeply about to the public stage.

Congratulations, Al Gore.

BLITZER: What did you think, J.C.?

J.C. WATTS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, congratulations as well.

But I -- I think we ought to ask Donna, is he going to run?

BRAZILE: Oh, well, he has already told many of us that he has no intentions right now of running. He's -- he's closed the door. But who knows. There may be a window of opportunity. And we will see.

WATTS: Well, and...

BLITZER: He says -- he says -- he parses his words, Donna, very carefully. He says he has no plans to run, which is not necessarily a hard and fast absolute no.

Here is the question. If the front-runners on the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, John Edwards, if they seem to be stumbling, might he then throw his hat into the ring?

BRAZILE: Look, Al Gore not only has the stature. We all know that he can raise the money. He has a built-in network, an advantage that most candidates would envy.

Just recent, he was in Idaho. And he -- he was able to sell 10,000 tickets in 10 minutes -- that's faster than Elton John can sell tickets -- in a bright red state. So, I think Al Gore, if he decides to get in late fall, early next year, he can still get in.

The deadline he has to watch -- and many people know this -- is that, of course, you have to slate delegates, and you also have to file to run in certain states. And some of those filings will occur as early as November.

BLITZER: What do you think?


WATTS: I think there's two people, Wolf, that you ought to watch over the next two or three months, Newt Gingrich on the Republican side, Al Gore on the Democrat side. Now, you can't run a -- a covert campaign. So, you -- you need to be active in some way. We don't see any signs of Al Gore being active. However, I think the key is, if somebody stumbles on the Democrat side, if -- if Senator Clinton happens to stumble, I think that's the key.

I think he may get in. I think it's a real possibility. The same thing -- John McCain on the Republican side, you see John stumbles, I think Newt probably takes a serious look at it.

BLITZER: And Newt has said repeatedly he will make a decision at the end -- toward the end of this year.

WATTS: Right.

BRAZILE: But he is -- he is recruiting people right now to -- to help with this climate change campaign.

BLITZER: You're talking about Al Gore?


He is -- he's actually bringing in a lot of people. He's training them across the country, as -- or all over the world. And, on March 21, he is coming to Washington, D.C., to hold hearings.

John Dingell will also be holding hearings. And Al Gore is the -- is the star witness, so to speak. So, I think Al Gore has...

BLITZER: Just a few days before his birthday, too.

BRAZILE: Well, you know, it's a good time to come.

WATTS: And I don't -- and I don't think -- I think there is an issue out there that you could probably run for president on. It's not climate change. I think it's Iraq. So, I think he has a little different -- little different challenge, in terms of a -- a platform to run on.


BLITZER: He got an endorsement yesterday from former president Jimmy Carter, who said, among other things, this.



JIMMY CARTER, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: His burning issue now is global warming, and -- and -- and preventing it. He can do infinitely more to accomplish that goal as in coming to the White House than he can making even movies that get, you know, they -- they get Oscars. So, I -- I would hope he would.

But I -- I don't think he will. I -- I have put so much pressure on Al to run, that he has almost gotten aggravated with me. (END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: A lot -- a lot of Democrats, as you know, say he was right in opposing the war in Iraq, right on global warming.

They're nostalgic. They think he actually won the election back in 2000, that it would -- was taken away from -- from him.

How much pressure is on him from Democrats right now to run?

BRAZILE: I think there's a lot of pressure, especially with the netroots community, the grassroots community. They want a candidate who not only they can back, but a candidate that they can go out there and say, look, he's been right on the issues. He won the last time. He didn't get the position. So, let's throw our weight behind Al Gore.

We will see what happens.

WATTS: Well, I think they're saying, he's been right on the issues that we are concerned about. There is obviously another side of that story on global warming, on the war in Iraq.

And I -- again, I -- I think the climate change, I think, is a much tougher issue to run on. Iraq is more tangible. He's been opposed to the war. And, then, I think that gives him some standing. But, nevertheless, he has got nine, 10 other candidates in the Democrat party that are not going to roll over and play dead. And he has got the Republican opposition as well.

So, if you're going to do it, I think time is getting short. But we will see what happens.

BLITZER: We will leave it there, guys. Thanks very much.

BRAZILE: Thank you.

BLITZER: And Donna Brazile, J.C. Watts, as you saw earlier, Bill Schneider, Jeff Greenfield, Bob Franken, 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 at

Still to come: Is your member of Congress Web-savvy? Our I-Team has a report on which members are keeping up with the Internet and who is getting passed by.

And is the Bush administration preparing for an attack against Iran? The Pulitzer Prize warning investigative journalist Seymour Hersh says the Pentagon is intensely planning for a bombing campaign against Iran. We will update you on that.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: We have seen how the Internet can be a powerful tool for politicians running for office. But how well do elected officials actually use their Web sites?

A new report says the overall quality of congressional Web sites is -- quote -- "disappointing."

Let's go to our Internet reporter, Abbi Tatton -- Abbi.

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, Congress has not kept up with an increasingly Internet-savvy public. That was the finding of the report of the Congressional Management Foundation in giving out their Gold Mouse Awards.

They looked at more than 600 member committee and leadership Web sites in putting this out. Now, some were singled out for praise, some standouts praised for their -- usability of their sites or innovation. But, on the whole, more than a third of the sites that -- people they looked at received a substandard or failing grade -- the Congressional Management Foundation not telling us who those members were that failed.

They said they are going to be contacting -- contacting all of them with some discrete guidance in the next week. Overall, in terms of office sites, they found that Republicans are doing a little bit better than Democrats.

In terms of Senate winners, Democrat Patrick Leahy of Vermont received an award, also former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, who still blogs over at his site, and former Senator Rick Santorum, whose site was praised for innovation and audience-targeting. But that didn't help him last year.

The report only looked at members' Web sites in the previous Congress. The efforts of freshmen are going to be studied later on this year -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Abbi, thank you.


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