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THE SITUATION ROOM

Rove, Miers to Testify but Not Under Oath; Thompson to Run for President

Aired March 20, 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: Happening now, on the firings of those eight U.S. attorneys, the White House will allow Karl Rove and former White House Counsel Harriet Miers to be interviewed, but not -- repeat, not under oath. Some Democrats suggest that's simply not good enough and some of them are still threatening subpoenas.
Also, might they need a referee the next time they meet?

A Democratic forum sets off a verbal smack-down between campaigns for Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. Now, one person is asking if both sides will spend the next few months "savaging each other."

And amid this kind of political warfare, who else would want to step into the crossfire?

Apparently, Tommy Thompson. The former Bush administration cabinet secretary and former Wisconsin governor is expected to toss his hat into the presidential ring. He'll be here in THE SITUATION ROOM to explain.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Happening now, the political equivalent of let's make a deal. We're waiting to hear from President Bush regarding the firings of those eight U.S. attorneys and his embattled attorney general.

Right now, the White House is offering to allow presidential adviser Karl Rove, former White House Counsel Harriet Miers and other officials to talk to members of Congress but not -- repeat, not under oath.

And some Congressional Democrats say that's simply not enough. They're still threatening subpoenas right now.

Our reporters are watching every angle of this story.

Dana Bash is on Capitol Hill.

Suzanne Malveaux is over at the White House.

Let's start with Suzanne on the very latest -- Suzanne, tell our viewers about this offer from the White House.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, it's going to happen very shortly -- 5:45 at the Diplomatic Reception Room, the president is going to lay out the deal here. He is going to say that he's going to allow the deputy chief of staff, Karl Rove, and his former White House counsel, Harriet Miers, to be interviewed by members of the House and Senate Judiciary Committees.

There are some ground rules, however, Wolf. First, that it would be in private. It is not going to be under oath, no transcripts and no subsequent subpoenas.

Also, the conversations that they're going to be able to talk about, conversations between White House officials and members of Congress and third parties, not internal deliberations from one White House official to another.

Also, they're going to be releasing some documents again, restrictions on those, as well, only between White House officials and Justice Department and third parties, not e-mails between White House officials.

The president will say this is a fair deal. It protects the private conversations between him and his top advisers and gives the information that Congress needs -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Is it also out of an abundance of concern at the White House that if they allowed, for example, Karl Rove to testify under oath with recordings and transcripts, potentially there could be obstruction of justice or perjury allegations made?

If there's no transcript, if there are no recordings, then obviously they don't have to worry about perjury or obstruction of justice.

Is there a big concern along those lines?

MALVEAUX: Well, you know, absolutely, they are not going to have to worry about perjury or obstruction of justice. They say there is going to be an informal conversation, if you will, discussions; that this is not going to be testimony. They make that very clear.

The president believes that he has executive privilege and power to have those private conversations and to have them be protected. So if there is some sort of example where there are conflicting memories or recollections, that that is something that members of Congress are going to have to deal with.

BLITZER: We also know the president is going to be making a statement, as you say, shortly, in the next hour, over at the White House. He made an early morning phone call to his embattled attorney general.

What do we know about that?

MALVEAUX: Well, absolutely, Wolf.

I mean, the one person who can save his job is the president. There are -- you've heard a lot of talk, the reports, speculation about the White House involved in trying to find replacements for the attorney general.

White House officials at the highest levels say that is absolutely not true.

So what you're going to hear is the president, once again, he's going to come out before the cameras and say he has confidence in his attorney general, that he is not going anywhere.

They are clearly trying to dismiss, to bat down this controversy as quickly as possible -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Suzanne, thanks very much.

We'll, of course, have live coverage of the president once he emerges and makes that statement over at the White House.

Meanwhile, some Congressional Democrats say this offer is one they might -- repeat, might have to refuse. Many are threatening another way toward getting Rove and others to tell what they know.

Let's go to our Congressional correspondent, Dana Bash.

She's up on the Hill with more on that part of the story -- what do we know about what the Democrats have up their sleeve -- Dana.

DANA BASH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, it was quite a scene over in the House Rayburn Office Building to see Fred Fielding come out with a crush of cameras and then the Democrats come out, Wolf, to say, point blank, Wolf, that there are disappointed with this offer, saying that is it incomplete at best.

Listen to what Senator Chuck Schumer said. He is, of course, one of the leading Democrats on this issue.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. CHARLES SCHUMER (D), NEW YORK: It's sort of giving us the opportunity to talk to them, but not giving us the opportunity to get to the bottom of what really happened here. And in that way, it's a pretty clever proposal but it doesn't do the job of figuring out what happened, as best we can tell.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BASH: Now, Democrats say they have several problems with this. First of all, the idea that Karl Rove and the others will come here, talk to members of Congress and it will not be under oath.

Now, most believe that the law says that you can't lie to members of Congress no matter what. But they say, look, we won't even know, in the end -- at the end of the day -- if they aren't telling us the truth or not, because we won't have a transcript.

As you were talking about, part of the offer is that there will not be a formal transcript of this meeting, simply -- it would simply be allowed for lawmakers and, I guess, aides at the White House to take notes on this particular -- this particular meeting.

So basically what lawmakers on the Democratic side right now are saying is that they think it would be meaningless when it comes to the legal ability to really know that Karl Rove and others are telling members of Congress the truth.

BLITZER: So, Dana, what's their next move, the Democrats?

BASH: Well, I should tell you that as we speak, Fred Fielding, the White House counsel, is still here on Capitol Hill. He's meeting with the Senate Judiciary chairman, Patrick Leahy. And essentially what we're told is that they're trying to basically go back to their corner and figure out their next move.

We do know that tomorrow morning, even with this offer on the table, maybe even especially with this offer on the table, Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee are going to have a vote to authorize the chairman to perhaps send subpoenas to these White House officials who want to testify. They will do the exact same thing in the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday, simply to have that in their back pocket as they go through these high stakes negotiations.

But, you know, certainly they are disappointed, Wolf. But I can tell you, privately, they're not surprised by this. They know full well the history of all White Houses, but particularly President Bush and this White House, when it comes to the idea of what they consider executive privilege, their top aides coming and talking to Congress.

There certainly is precedent for it in past -- for past presidents to allow their aides to come up here. We know that Condoleezza Rice, when she was working for the president, she was finally allowed to come here. But they expected this.

So, basically, they're going to figure out what their next move is.

BLITZER: Dana, thank you.

The Justice Department, meanwhile, is putting out thousands of e- mails to try and diffuse this controversy.

Let's bring in Brian Todd.

He's watching this part of the story -- Brian.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the question has constantly come up during this investigation -- were these dismissals an effort to stifle the attorneys' inquiries into corruption?

So far, we've found no smoking guns in these 2,000 plus pages. If anything, these reams of correspondence are about performance and policy -- not enough prosecutions on illegal immigration; obscenity; marijuana dealers; hesitation in seeking the death penalty.

So that's what we have so far -- Wolf.

BLITZER: So what do these e-mails really show, though?

TODD: Well, it's interesting. You know, the e-mails do pull back the curtain on how concerned the Justice Department was once the firings came under public scrutiny in January. They show aides at the Justice Department trying to round up everyone and get them on the same page for damage control. The attorney general's then chief of staff discusses a meeting planned at the White House to go over "how we are going to respond substantively to each of the U.S. attorney's allegations that they were dismissed for improper reasons."

One aide makes up makes up a chart showing each dismissed prosecutor and performance issues that would justify their dismissal. And when Congress asks for testimony, the prepared statements are edited and reviewed and vetted again and again.

One aide writes: "We need to be serious and hit back hard."

BLITZER: But the e-mail, Brian, they make a lot of references to specific U.S. attorneys.

TODD: They do. And it's interesting, there are talking points for how to handle the senators' questions. This one says "try to avoid talking about this prosecutor" -- Margaret Chiara -- "out of respect for her silence, but if pushed, say that she was a bad manager."

As the firestorm becomes public, one fired prosecutor, Bud Cummins, of Arkansas, e-mails the other seven saying the message he inferred from Justice was if the prosecutors keep talking to the press, the Justice Department would feel forced to criticize the prosecutors to justify firing them.

He wrote: "It wasn't a big deal," but "it sounded like the threat of retaliation." Very important to note, one of the Justice officials who he referred to there, a gentleman by the name of Michael Elston, has said that there was no implication of retaliation there -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Brian, thank you.

Let's go straight to our Internet reporter, Abbi Tatton -- Abbi, many of these e-mails show not just behind the scenes deliberations among Justice officials, but also some parting words from the attorneys who were fired, the attorneys themselves.

ABBI TATTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, yes, online at the House Judiciary Committee, amongst the reams of materials there, there are farewell notes and even a request for help looking for work from Daniel Bogden of Nevada here, this e-mail from just in the last month. He described this job and he said this job had been his dream job.

And e-mails from Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty give that some context. McNulty had written late last year that he was still a little skittish about this particular dismissal, saying Bogden had never had a job outside of government. Other e-mails from Margaret Chiara of Michigan show she was clearly upset by her firing, asking that officials reconsider the rationale of poor performance as the basis for her dismissal, going on to say in that e-mail just from earlier this month, "It's the notoriety of being one of these USA eight is proving a formidable obstacle for her securing employment" -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Abbi, thank you.

Abbi Tatton, Brian Todd, Suzanne Malveaux, Dana Bash -- they are all part of the best political team on television, as you know.

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

Let's continue with the best political team on television with Jack Cafferty -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: So help me out here, Wolf.

The White House doesn't want anybody to be able to listen to any sort of interviews that the Congress might have with either Karl Rove or Harriet Miers. They want these little discussions to be private. And they don't want them to have to promise to tell the truth. Is that...

BLITZER: That's correct.

CAFFERTY: Am I...

BLITZER: That's also...

CAFFERTY: Why?

BLITZER: ... they don't want them to be sworn in, they don't want any transcripts, they don't want any recordings, they don't want any media there.

CAFFERTY: Are we...

BLITZER: They just want a private conversation between Karl Rove, Harriet Miers, two other White House aides and members of Congress.

CAFFERTY: Why do you suppose they have an aversion to having them promise to tell the truth?

BLITZER: Well, their argument that they make in public is because these are private conversations -- executive privilege -- with the president.

On the other hand, there's some suspicion that if there were transcripts and there were formal recordings of all of this, then they could -- and if they were sworn in under oath, potentially they could be held up to perjury if they lied.

CAFFERTY: Yes, well, that's certainly a possibility, isn't it?

Sort of like those energy meetings they had way back a long time ago where they privately discussed energy policy and wouldn't tell anybody who was in the room.

It's like North Korea every week more and more around here.

House Democrats are sweetening the pot, literally, in an effort to pass that Iraq funding bill to end the war next year. Party leaders are now including $21 billion in Federal funds for lawmakers' pet projects -- pork added to a war funding bill.

Can't win on the merits of the issue?

Then you try to buy the results you want. And we thought things would be different after the mid-terms. Silly us.

So far, it appears the projects haven't had much impact on how congressmen intend to vote, but there are a few Republicans and some conservative Democrats who are still on the fence. They would otherwise vote no, but they're not sure if they can walk away from all this money for their constituents.

Here are some examples of the pork being added to this thing -- $4 billion for farmers; close to $3 billion for Gulf Coast recovery; $735 million for children's health insurance; $120 million for shrimp fishermen; $75 million for peanut storage; and $25 million for spinach growers who were hurt by last year's E. coli scare.

Republicans are accusing Democrats of vote buying. And even some Democrats say the war is too important to tie it to these kinds of side deals.

Meantime, the White House issued a formal veto statement last night, calling this all excessive and extraneous non-emergency spending, and they're right.

Here's the question -- should Democrats include funding for spinach growers, shrimp fishermen and peanut storage in the Iraq War funding bill?

E-mail your thoughts to caffertyfile@cnn.com or go to cnn.com/caffertyfile -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Good question.

Thanks, Jack.

Coming up here in THE SITUATION ROOM, Tommy Thompson wants to be the next president of the United States. Up next, I'll ask the former Bush cabinet secretary and Wisconsin governor why he's jumping into the race.

And Bill and Hillary Clinton -- the former president is teaming up with the presidential hopeful to raise some serious cash.

But does Bill Clinton help or hurt his wife's bid for the White House?

And President Bush stands by his man.

But is his backing of the attorney general, Alberto Gonzales, a smart strategy?

I'll ask Paul Begala and Dick Armey in today's Strategy Session.

And remember, we're standing by to hear live from the president on Alberto Gonzales.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Will he walk into the lion's den of presidential politics?

The former Bush administration official and former Republican governor of Wisconsin, Tommy Thompson -- he's here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

We're going to talk about his political intentions.

Governor, thanks very much for coming in.

TOMMY THOMPSON (R), FORMER WISCONSIN GOVERNOR: It's always a pleasure, Wolf, and thank you so very much for doing such a great job.

BLITZER: Thank you.

When will you formally announce you're a candidate?

THOMPSON: Well, that's going to be several more weeks. But it's really looking good. I've been spending a lot of time in Iowa, as you know. I've been there more than any other candidate and I'm going to see the individuals that go to the caucus. And I've been receiving tremendous support so...

BLITZER: And you say you're going to go there every single weekend between now and...

THOMPSON: And I had been there since...

BLITZER: ... January and you're going to spend time in Iowa every weekend?

THOMPSON: No, ever -- every week between now and the popularity poll in August 11th.

BLITZER: And so when -- when you're going to make your announcement, will it be in Iowa?

THOMPSON: Sure, it will be.

BLITZER: It will be in Iowa? THOMPSON: Iowa and Wisconsin.

BLITZER: And which city in Iowa?

THOMPSON: Well, probably...

BLITZER: Have you made that decision yet?

THOMPSON: Probably Des Moines.

BLITZER: In Des Moines.

THOMPSON: Yes.

BLITZER: All right, let's talk about some of the issues.

You've got a problem. Right now Giuliani is at 34 percent. McCain, in our poll, is at 18 percent. You're way down at 1 percent. You've got a huge hurdle ahead of you, as you well know.

THOMPSON: But who wins Iowa?

BLITZER: That -- you think Iowa is that decisive?

THOMPSON: Absolutely. And who can win Iowa and who's the closest one to Iowa? Who's spending the time there? Who's organizing the grassroots and who's got the best campaign team going?

And I really have great political operatives in Iowa. I feel very strong and very positive about my chances.

BLITZER: All right, let's go through some of the big issues of the day...

THOMPSON: OK.

BLITZER: ... and give me your quick response, to introduce you, in effect, on other issues besides health to our viewers.

The war in Iraq -- do you support the president's decision to increase the number of troops there?

THOMPSON: I support the troops there, but I also go way beyond what the president and other candidates are talking about. I would require the Al-Maliki government to vote as to whether or not they want the United States in their country. Nobody has ever asked that.

Number two, I would have all of the 18 territories set up their own state governments, their own territorial governments. Shiites would elect Shiites, Sunnis will elect Sunnis and Kurds will elect Kurds.

I would split up the oil revenues, the same way we do in Alaska -- one third of the oil revenue is going to the federal government, one third going to the state governments or territorial or commonwealth governments, one third to every man, woman and child. BLITZER: So you -- but the 30,000 additional troops who are either there or heading toward Iraq, you think...

THOMPSON: Well, they're there. They're all...

BLITZER: Is that a good idea?

THOMPSON: They're already there. I'm not saying it's a good idea, but I am saying we have to support them and we have to enforce them.

But nobody has put together a plan like I have to make sure that Iraq is going to be able to sustain itself after the war or after the civil war. And I think I have and I think my plan has got more possibilities, more potential than any other candidate out there.

BLITZER: Immigration reform -- do you support this notion of a guest worker program and a pathway toward citizenship for some of the millions of illegal immigrants who are here?

THOMPSON: Only with certain requirements, such as learning the English language, no crime has been committed, a period of time, paying a penalty, paying back all the taxes that they owe. And only then, after a period of time, would I allow that to happen.

BLITZER: Abortion rights for women -- where do you stand on that?

THOMPSON: I am pro-life and always have been. And I always tell this story, that right now we have just had a new miracle baby in the Thompson family, a new grandchild who was and is a -- a situation where we -- the child was frozen, the egg was frozen for two-and-a- half years and was thawed out and the child now is alive.

It's a miracle child. So I don't know how anybody cannot...

BLITZER: So no restrictions? No conditions on abortion? You would oppose any abortion and you would try to overturn "Roe v. Wade?"

THOMPSON: Well, I'm pro-life and I sincerely think that is the right thing to be.

BLITZER: And would you try to overturn "Roe v. Wade" by your appointments of Supreme Court justices?

THOMPSON: I -- that is not the question. The question is what kind of Supreme Court justices would you appoint. And I would appoint Supreme Court justices that are going to be strict constitutionalists.

BLITZER: Embryonic stem cell research -- federal funding for new embryonic stem cell research -- a good idea or a bad idea?

THOMPSON: Well, right now we haven't used up all the embryonic stem cells that were available when the president announced it on August 9, 2001. And until that is used up, I don't think you need to go to the next place. Plus, I think, also, the amniotic fluids and the cord blood show tremendous possibilities that you would not have to destroy an embryo.

BLITZER: Would you support a constitutional amendment that would ban same-sex marriage?

THOMPSON: I -- at the state level, I have. The state of Wisconsin just passed...

BLITZER: What about a federal constitutional amendment (UNINTELLIGIBLE)...

THOMPSON: I do not believe the federal constitution should be amended in that regard. I think it should be a state regard.

BLITZER: And one final question -- don't ask, don't tell in the military -- do you support keeping that policy or changing it?

THOMPSON: I think that is the policy of the land and we should keep it.

BLITZER: Keep it.

We'll leave it right there.

Thanks very much, governor, for coming in.

THOMPSON: Thank you very much.

BLITZER: You've got a huge hurdle ahead of you but I know you're anxious to get started.

THOMPSON: Well, I think it's very doable.

And thank you very much.

BLITZER: Appreciate it very much.

THOMPSON: Thank you.

BLITZER: Coming up, it was supposed to be a friendly forum, but on a question involving Iraq, it ignited a firefight between Clinton and Obama campaign staffers. Candy Crowley caught all the action. She was there. She's standing by to join us live.

Plus, a rescue dog appears to be the hero in the search for a missing 12-year-old Boy Scout. That story.

All coming up, right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Let's check in with Carol Costello for a quick look at some other important stories making news -- welcome back, Carol.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Thanks, Wolf. We've got a couple of things to tell you about.

Vice President Dick Cheney's office says he was taken to a Washington hospital today after feeling discomfort in his left leg. Now, that's the same leg where doctors found a blood clot earlier this month. A spokeswoman for Cheney says an ultrasound today did not find any complications from the clot. After the hospital visit, Cheney headed back to work at the White House.

And search teams are calling it an A-one result. A rescue dog led them to a missing 12-year-old Boy Scout today. Michael Auberry had been missing in the rugged North Carolina mountains since Saturday. He was found about a mile from the Boy Scout camp where he had wondered off from rescuers. Rescuers say he was weak and a little disoriented, but otherwise he is A-OK. There he is under the sheet there. He's doing OK -- Wolf.

BLITZER: We're really happy about that. Good -- good for him. Good for the family. We're happy he's OK.

Thanks, Carol, for that.

Coming up, we'll have more on the growing showdown between Congressional Democrats and the White House. President Bush expected to talk about the situation, the firings of those eight U.S. attorneys and his embattled attorney general. We're going to carry the president's remarks live here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Also, Barack Obama's stance against the war in Iraq coming under some attack from a rival campaign. We're going to tell you what was said, who said what.

Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Happening now, the White House says lawmakers looking into the firings of those eight federal prosecutors can interview President Bush's top political adviser, Karl Rove, and former White House Counsel Harriet Miers. But it says they will not testify under oath and Democrats are not pleased. They want sworn testimony.

President Bush will be making a statement shortly. We're going to bring you that live once he starts.

Also, in the heartland of the insurgency in Iraq -- we have a CNN exclusive. Our John King will take a hazardous ride on the edge with U.S. troops. Lurking roadside bombs are just a few of the deadly dangers they face every day and night.

And it's Arnold Schwarzenegger -- get this -- versus Rush Limbaugh. The California governor and the radio talk show host square off. One calls the other irrelevant. Our Carol Costello will tell us what's sparked this smack-down.

I'm Wolf Blitzer and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM. Few people can overshadow Senator Hillary Clinton, but Bill Clinton may be one of them. The couple took the spotlight in a rare joint appearance to raise campaign cash. And this comes amid allegations the Clinton campaign is delivering an ultimatum to donors.

Our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider, is standing by. He's got more on what is going on -- Bill.

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Wolf, over the weekend, Bill Clinton hosted a fund-raiser for his wife in New York -- tonight, Washington. Is the Clinton campaign taking a risk by showcasing the former president?

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER (voice-over): When Bill Clinton first ran for president in 1992, he talked about two for the price of one -- not this time.

WILLIAM J. CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Now that we have changed places, and I'm in the nongovernmental world and she's an elected official...

SCHNEIDER: The senator is running on her own record.

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D), NEW YORK: Clearly, it is only because of what I have done the last six years, added to all my previous life experiences, that I feel ready to assume the position of president of the United States.

SCHNEIDER: She's the most popular Democrat running for president right now. But her husband's standing among Democrats is in a class by itself.

And, in the larger electorate, as George W. Bush's popularity has dropped, Bill Clinton's popularity has risen.

STUART ROTHENBERG, "THE ROTHENBERG POLITICAL REPORT": Generally, time has been good to Bill Clinton. I think the prosperity of the Clinton years and the difficulties that George Bush has had, that's helped Bill Clinton's reputation, and that has to help his wife.

SCHNEIDER: But a presidential candidate has to make one thing clear: I am my own person.

That's why vice presidents often have trouble getting elected. It may be easier for a spouse.

ANITA DUNN, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: She is in an enviable position of being able to have the loyalty factor play for her, while she has more space to be independent.

SCHNEIDER: Seeing the Clintons together reminds people of what they liked about Bill Clinton's presidency. But they have to establish their independence. ROTHENBERG: I don't think she wants it to be -- to take the focus away from the current time and try to bring it back into the late 1990s.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER: To win the presidency, Democrats have to make the 2008 election a referendum on the Bush record, not on the Clintons -- Wolf.

BLITZER: What about these reports -- and I have heard it from some major Democratic contributors in recent weeks and months -- that the Clintons are putting some muscle on them to go ahead and either give money to them or risk the consequences if they want to give money, for example, to Barack Obama.

SCHNEIDER: Well, Wolf, that's the buzz. A Democratic strategist told "The San Francisco Chronicle" that the Clinton campaign is telling contributors: You have to be with us or against us. You can't give money to all the Democratic candidates. We will remember who our friends are.

And Anita Dunn, the strategist I interviewed, told me -- quote -- "The Clintons understand that campaigns are about choices. And forcing people to make choices early is a smart thing for them to do" -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Bill, thanks.

Tensions are ratcheting up between the top advisers to the Democratic presidential rivals, Senators Clinton and Obama. And it all started with a question about Iraq at a Harvard University forum last night.

Our senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley, was there. And she's standing by to tell us exactly what happened.

Go through this back and forth. It's fascinating, at least based on some of the reports I have read.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely, and because it was a fairly ordinary forum, included strategists for Edwards as well. They were talking about how the campaign was going, lots of talk about how this is about the future and, we're not going at each other.

An audience member got up and said to the Clinton adviser Mark Penn, who is a pollster, as well as a top strategist, said, now, listen, how can we trust Hillary Clinton not to get us into another war like this, given her vote on the war?

That's -- Mark Penn said, look, she wouldn't have gotten us into this war, and immediately pivoted and said, and by the way, Barack Obama was not as opposed to the war as they would have you believe.

And this set off the Barack Obama strategist David Axelrod, who said, wait a second. Is this going to be something where we're going to spend the next 10 months savaging each other?

The problem is, as far as the Clinton people see it, that they believe that Barack Obama has been not nearly as anti-war in the past as he is now. As you know, on his Web page, in his campaign, he is making his opposition to the war, which he says began at the beginning, stand up against hers, which was the yes vote for Iraq.

Now, this is one of the quotes that they are putting out there, the Clinton camp, which came from a "New York Times" article, and this, again, from Barack Obama, about the time of the 2004 convention: "I am not privy to Senate intelligence reports. What would I have done? I don't know. What I know is that, from my vantage point, the case was not made."

Now, the Clinton people have been going around quoting the "I don't know" part. And what prompted all of this was the Obama advisers saying, listen, you are not reading the whole quote. What it shows you is the great sensitivity to the war issue that is going on in this campaign.

BLITZER: What we do know is that there is videotape of him before the war saying he opposes it, would not support going to war. So, there's a clear record on that.

But what does this whole exchange between these two campaign strategists say about this battle between Senators Clinton and Obama?

CROWLEY: What it says is that it is very intense. Despite all of their protestations to the contrary, this is an intense battle.

As you know, Senator Clinton is getting roughed out on the -- out on the campaign trail about her yes vote. They believe that Barack Obama has gotten a free ride, that no one has gone back and looked at what he said before. So, they are trying to sort of nick him because they believe, obviously, that the war is a very powerful issue in this campaign, which, so far, it's proving to be.

BLITZER: Glad you are back from Cambridge -- Candy, thanks.

And, as Candy mentioned, Senator Obama is putting his Iraq statements front and center on his Web site.

Jacki Schechner is taking a closer look at the war of words online -- Jacki.

JACKI SCHECHNER, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Well, Wolf, if you click on this box on the front page of Barack Obama's Web site today, it's going to take you to a compilation of video clips of Obama speeches and presentations over the past six years.

Let's take a quick listen to one appearance on a local Chicago talk show. This is from November 2002.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, 11/25/2002)

BARACK OBAMA (D), ILLINOIS STATE SENATOR: ... headlong into a war unilaterally was a mistake, and may still be a mistake.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCHECHNER: Now, of course, he's talking about the war in Iraq.

This new interactive tool is on the Web site. If you roll over, it gives you some pictures and quotes, that kind of thing. The Obama campaign says that this was not in response to the event at Harvard, but it went up in correlation with the anniversary of the war in Iraq.

For Clinton's part, her campaign says that all of her stances on the war in Iraq are very clear on her Web site, in her Webcast, called HillCast, and in her blog. Of course, we know that she did vote to authorize the war back in 2002, but says, if she knew then what she knows now, Wolf, she would not have done so.

BLITZER: Jacki Schechner, Candy Crowley, Bill Schneider, they are all part of the best political team on television.

And coming up: House Democrats expected to vote on a bill for war funds that's filled with funds for many pet projects -- our congressional correspondent Andrea Koppel standing by with details.

And he's especially outspoken and pulls no political punches. I'm referring to the comedian Bill Maher. He will be here to talk about the Bush administration and a lot more -- all that coming up.

We will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: A burning issue tops today's "Political Radar."

House Democrats today announced a bill that would cut back greenhouse gases to their 1990 levels over the next 13 years. They made their pitch in front of some 3,000 environmental activists in front of the U.S. Capitol.

The president is pitching his energy agenda today, as well. Mr. Bush toured auto plants in Kansas and Missouri to promote hybrid vehicles as a way to reduce overseas oil consumption.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: What you have proven here is, a car that -- or a truck doesn't have to look like a golf cart if you are running on electricity. It can be a normal size vehicle that people like to drive. Texans like to use pickup trucks, as you well know.

And it makes sense to have these technologies fit in the kind of trucks that people like to drive or the kind of cars that people demand.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BLITZER: A presidential hopeful says global warming is a huge emergency, and America needs to act now. I'm referring to the former U.S. Senator, Democratic vice presidential nominee John Edwards who unveiled his -- his new energy plan on CNN's "AMERICAN MORNING."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "AMERICAN MORNING")

JOHN EDWARDS (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We need to ask Americans to be patriotic about things beyond war. And that includes being willing to conserve to strengthen their country. I think we can reduce dependence on electricity by 25 percent by 2025. We can actually create incentives.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: And, tomorrow, a possible presidential contender speaks out on global warming. I'm referring to the vice -- former Vice President Al Gore. He will testify in front of both the House and the Senate. Gore's documentary on global warming last month won two Academy Awards.

This week, the Democratically-controlled House is expected to vote on an Iraq war funds bill. But President Bush is threatening action against it.

Joining us now, our congressional correspondent Andrea Koppel. She's watching this story.

Andrea, tell our viewers why the president is very unhappy with this legislation.

ANDREA KOPPEL, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, he's unhappy because, in addition to having the 100-plus-billion-dollars that he says he needs in emergency funding for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, it also has about $21 billion that House Democrats have added to it as sweeteners, money for Walter Reed, money for Hurricane Katrina, other issues that they say are equally emergencies, but also issues that Republicans and the White House believe shouldn't be in there -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Do not have the votes?

KOPPEL: They do not have the votes right now. In fact, we heard from the House majority leader, Steny Hoyer, today.

As you know, they need 218 votes. At -- at this time, they believe they are anywhere between a dozen and two dozen votes away from getting to 218. Today, Rahm Emanuel, one of the top House Democrats, said that he believed that they could get there. He said it was a goal. It's a point I pressed him on.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. RAHM EMANUEL (D), ILLINOIS: We're going to have a vote this week, and our goal is to have 218, and we're in the hunt to have that.

KOPPEL: You say your goal is to have 218. But are you confident that you will have 218 by Thursday?

EMANUEL: Andrea, we're -- first of all, we're going to have a vote this week, and we are going to get to 218. If we said here today that we have it, that wouldn't be true, but we're going to have it, because we're going to get the vote.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KOPPEL: Now, considering that this is a top goal for House Democrats and Senate Democrats, Wolf, it has to be quite disconcerting for Democratic leaders to realize that they aren't there yet, and the vote's just two days away.

BLITZER: So, what do they do to twist arms?

KOPPEL: Well, that's exactly what they are doing.

I have spoken to House Democratic aides. And they say that everyone from Speaker Pelosi on down is sending a very strong message. They say that they are not threatening members, but they are saying: Look, if you do not support this bill, one that has a deadline of September 1, 2008, for all U.S. troops to get out, then they are going to have to resubmit the Iraq supplemental without this language in it, because, Wolf, fundamentally, they say they have got to fund the troops -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Andrea, thanks.

KOPPEL: Up next in our "Strategy Session": Obama vs. Clinton, it's the showdown that's defining the Democratic race for the White House, at least right now.

And Senator Obama is walking away from a mysterious Web video.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: It's not something that we had anything to do with or were aware of. And, frankly, given what it looks like, we don't have the technical capacity to create something like that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Also, President Bush standing by his man, but at what point does political reality trump loyalty to a friend? Paul Begala and Dick Armey, they are standing by for our "Strategy Session."

That's coming up next right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: In today's "Strategy Session": sources telling CNN the Senate Republican leadership met today behind closed doors and decided to support embattled U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. But will that be enough to save his job?

Joining us now, our CNN political analyst and Democratic strategist Paul Begala, and Republican Dick Armey. He's the former House majority leader. He's chairman of FreedomWorks.org.

Guys, thanks for coming in.

The president made a point of calling Alberto Gonzales at 7:15 this morning to issue his support. He's going to be speaking shortly over at the White House, presumably reaffirming that support for Alberto Gonzales.

What do you make of this?

PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: You know, there's no -- I don't know why the president would have to fire him. He clearly doesn't care about competence, the president doesn't. And he clearly doesn't care about dishonesty, or he would have fired most of the people in his government.

The truth is, if he fired Gonzales today, this scandal would not go away, because it's about the organ grinder, not the monkey, OK? Democrats are convinced that this goes to the president and to the White House, which is why they are insisting that the president's aides, who are going to be subpoenaed, testify under oath.

They are trying to claim today now that they have -- they are above the law; they should have the right to testify to Congress without taking an oath, like the rest of us citizens.

But that's where this thing is going. It will not stop with Al Gonzales. So, maybe Mr. Bush is right to not fire him.

BLITZER: And, Dick Armey, if you look behind you...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: ... you can see Air Force One. It just landed...

DICK ARMEY, FORMER HOUSE MAJORITY LEADER: Right.

BLITZER: ... at Andrews Air Force Base -- the president returning from his trip out to the Midwest. He's going to be heading back to the White House to deliver that speech on this whole uproar, and presumably this proposal they have made to let Karl Rove, Harriet Miers and others make some sort of, I guess, conversation with members of Congress, but not under oath, and certainly with no transcript or anything like that.

What do you make of that?

ARMEY: I don't know. I am still cracking up over Paul daring to use that organ grinder analogy. No Republican alive in this town could have survived having just said what -- what Paul just said, but -- but, be that as it may, for political correctness.

(LAUGHTER)

ARMEY: The -- the White House, I believe, got the attorney general involved in doing again something that's not necessary. And they have now got a serious problem on their hands.

They are not going to satisfy the Democrats. The Democrats are extremely good at feigning moral outrage. They have got an enormous echo chamber behind their moral outrage, and they are not going to let this go.

The fact is, there's a great old country song by Waylon Jennings, one of the great philosophers of our time: Somebody is going to get hurt before you're through.

And somebody is going to have to pay for the things that were done here.

BLITZER: What do you think of this offer that the White House counsel made to Congress today, the Democratic majority in Congress: You know what, Harriet Miers and Karl Rove, they can go up and they can have a conversation, but no records, no being sworn in under oath?

BEGALA: You know, as a former White House aide, let me begin by saying the president ought to have a right of executive privilege. He ought to have a right to get confidential...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Have private conversations with his staff?

BEGALA: Absolutely.

But this is not what the Congress is looking at. They are not asking people what they said to Mr. Bush in private in giving him advice. What they are trying to figure is, did the Justice Department and the White House collude to fire U.S. attorneys because they were investigating Republicans, or retain some U.S. attorneys because they were investigating Democrats?

It gives the sense that the Bush people think they are above the law. We already know one high-ranking Bush administration official lied even when he was under oath. That would be Scooter Libby, who is now convicted on four counts of perjury. So, why would anybody give them the benefit of the doubt? They have to be under oath.

BLITZER: What -- what do you think?

ARMEY: I don't think the Senate -- Senator Leahy is going to accept this. I'm not sure he should.

BLITZER: Would you accept it if you were still the majority leader?

ARMEY: No, I would not. I think, again, the fact of the matter is, there are -- should be -- and I have always argued this, going way back to observing the whole fracas around Richard Nixon -- there should be some limits on executive privilege, and there should some sense and some rationale for it.

The fact is, especially when you couple it with the -- this sort of mysterious thing that got into the Patriot Act that had to be corrected on the floor today, it looks to me...

BLITZER: That -- that allows the president to name attorney -- U.S. attorneys...

ARMEY: Yes.

BLITZER: ... without going through the formal confirmation process.

(CROSSTALK)

ARMEY: It again -- it boils down again to the problems people have when they are in positions of high office and great public trust who make political decisions and take political actions out of that.

Oftentimes, they are small, they're self-indulgent, and, more often than not, they are unnecessary. And it gets you in trouble.

BLITZER: Paul, let's turn to this new phenomenon. It's brand- new, the YouTube kind of impact on this presidential campaign.

All of a sudden, these ads are appearing, at least one ad involving the -- Hillary Clinton's campaign, going after her. Nobody knows who created this ad. But we do know that hundreds of thousands of people are looking at this ad on YouTube -- and Barack Obama saying he had no -- nothing to do with it; neither did his staff.

But this is something new. This is new territory for all of us.

BEGALA: It's great. It's free speech. It's wonderful. I take Senator Obama at his word. I'm sure he didn't have anything to do with it.

I thought he was pretty amusing when he said, I probably didn't even have the capacity in my campaign team to produce something like this.

(LAUGHTER)

BEGALA: It is a very creative ad. It cuts right to the heart of Hillary's campaign, too. I think a lot of the activists in my party are sort of resentful of the front-runner, no matter who the front- runner is.

Well, Hillary is the front-runner now. And a lot of Democrats like sticking a thumb in the eye of the establishment. So, it's -- whoever did it -- I mean, it's very creative. Now watch for some pro- Hillary guy or gal out there to come up with some creative way to stick a thumb in the other guy's eye.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: With the new technology, anybody can just get a laptop, put the software in there, and do -- do these so-called ads as much as they want.

(CROSSTALK)

ARMEY: As a matter of fact, if you use shareware, which I use often, you don't even have to buy the software.

My guess is that a bright young fellow interested -- or young woman -- interested in politics, with just a wee bit of geekiness, not much more than what I have, could have created that. The cost is virtually zero. And what happens is, you get people who will make an instantaneous impact on the campaign.

And our group, FreedomWorks, we communicate with one another over the Internet. It's inexpensive. We get broad and fast coverage. The message goes out. Bang. And somebody doing this must understand, look, all of a sudden, I may be a sophomore at the University of Toledo, but I have got a voice now that will reach millions.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: You know, I have gained an enormous amount of respect for Dick Armey. He can do this kind of stuff, the way he's talking about shareware and all this software.

BEGALA: I still have a rotary cell phone, Dick.

(LAUGHTER)

BEGALA: I can't -- I am not a technology guy at all.

BLITZER: Guys, we have got to leave it there. Thanks for coming in.

Coming up: Bill Maher in real time. The man who makes many laugh suggest it's no laughing manner on many of the so-called hot-button political issues. Bill Maher will be here live to talk about President Bush and a lot more.

And Jack Cafferty is also serious about funds for spinach growers and shrimp fishermen being attached to the Iraq war funding emergency bill. Jack will be back with your thoughts and his right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Let's check in with Jack Cafferty for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, the question is: Should Democrats include funding for spinach growers, shrimp fishermen, and peanut storage in the emergency Iraq war funding bill? That's what they are trying to do.

John in Wintersville, Ohio: "Jack, as a Democrat, I voted for change in Congress. That didn't mean that I wanted my party to continue to slip in additional legislation to help the home districts of the most powerful. How about securing our borders, dealing with illegal immigration? How about our failing education system and health care? I believe our Congress should adopt a clean bill policy to halt the pork."

Carl in Connecticut: "The shrimp fishermen, peanut storage, et cetera, comes to about a dollar per person in the country, and Katrina relief is not pork and does not deserve your scorn. We should be more exercised about $2 billion a week we're throwing away in the sandbox, Jack. Get your priorities straight."

Charlie in Urbandale, Iowa: "No. The Iraq bill should stand or fall on its own merits. Apparently, Congress didn't hear us last November. We need to get everyone in Congress on the record, voting for or against ending this damn war, so that we voters can then decide how to vote in November of 2008."

I think Charlie gets it.

Duane in Guilford, Connecticut: "Jack, looks like a politician of any color, blue or red, is just another money-grubbing, backdoor- dealing politician. This country needs a political enema. Peanut, spinach, and shrimp, oh, my. Just as with arresting a corner drug dealer who is replaced by another as fast as you can blink, we vote out politicians, and they're replaced by yet another crook."

And Don writes: "I have a shed in my backyard that I would be glad to lease to the federal government for peanut storage. In fact, the squirrels in my backyard would love this. Seriously, it's totally ridiculous" -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Jack, thanks.

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