Skip to main content
U.S. Edition
Search
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 


 

Return to Transcripts main page

THE SITUATION ROOM

Showdown Over Firing of U.S. Attorneys; Al Gore Urges Congress to Act on Global Warming

Aired March 21, 2007 - 16:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, HOST: Happening now, a showdown over the firing of those U.S. attorneys. A House panel daring President Bush to bring it on and approving the authorization of subpoenas for some White House aides also.
But now the White House is warning if those subpoenas do come, all deals are off.

Also, Al Gore says it's an inconvenient truth that global warming threatens all of mankind. He's urging lawmakers right now to act and to act fast to avoid what he calls a planetary emergency. But he's facing a chilly response from one U.S. senator, who thinks global warming is the biggest hoax ever.

And is someone trying to scare a Republican Congressman into supporting a troop withdrawal from Iraq?

Police are probing the ransacking of that congressman's office, where one sign proclaimed in red, he has, "blood on your hands."

I'm Wolf Blitzer.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

As of today, the Bush administration is one step closer to a constitutional showdown with Congress. And the heat could rise tomorrow in the growing confrontation over the fired federal prosecutors.

With the latest from the White House, let's turn to our Suzanne Malveaux.

She's standing by.

It looks like they're eyeball to eyeball.

The question -- Suzanne, who is going to blink first?

I wonder what kind of indications you're getting.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, clearly, both sides have staked out the positions. We are not at DEFCON 1 just quite yet. The House Judiciary today voted to authorize issuing subpoenas, but they did not vote to actually issue those subpoenas. Once that happens, Press Secretary Tony Snow says that is when the White House offer is off the table. That is to allow Karl Rove and Harriet Miers to be testify -- to actually interview regarding the firing of those U.S. attorneys.

In the meantime, the White House strategy now is simply to emphasize what's being dubbed here as EGO, that is, the extremely generous offer, they are calling it. At the same time, putting pressure on Democrats to capitulate.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TONY SNOW, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Do you want to get at the truth or do you want to create a political spectacle?

Those -- those -- those are the options that are laid out. What we think is possible is that we have come up with what we think is an amicable and a respectful way to enable the House and Senate and their oversight responsibilities.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MALVEAUX: Now, Wolf, there is a principle here, of course, that is at stake. That is executive privilege. But, also, one White House insider saying look, they realize that this is a political game, it is a game that is going to be played out to the very end -- Wolf.

BLITZER: What's the biggest hurdle, from the Democrats' perspective, right now?

MALVEAUX: Well, clearly, they want to see Rove, as well as Harriet Miers, under oath when they're actually answering those questions about this whole controversy.

That is not going to happen, White House insiders say.

The big question here, however, is whether or not at least they'll allow some sort of transcript of their answers. Tony Snow was pressed on that numerous times, why that is not going to be.

He says well, it's just good enough, we're going to get to the truth anyway.

The bottom line here, Wolf, is that Tony Snow and this White House are asking the American people and Congress -- trust us -- and that is a huge hurdle considering all of the issues of credibility that this White House has faced in the past -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Suzanne, thanks.

We're going to have a lot more on this historic, potentially historic, crisis. That's coming up shortly.

I want to move on to another major story we're following in Washington right now.

If members of Congress have not yet seen the film "An Inconvenient Truth," today they got a preview of its themes from the man who has made global warming his signature issue. I'm referring to the former vice president, Al Gore.

He took his message to Capitol Hill today, seemingly less like a former lawmaker returning to his roots, more like a celebrity with a major cause, to try to save, in his words, the planet.

Our Congressional correspondent, Andrea Koppel, is joining us now from Capitol Hill.

She has more on this dramatic story -- Andrea.

ANDREA KOPPEL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, you would have thought that this was the hottest ticket in town, let alone here on Capitol Hill. Every lawmaker from these two committees was on hand. The room was jam packed. You would have thought that it was a rock star who was on the stand.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

KOPPEL (voice-over): From Hollywood's red carpet to Capitol Hill's marble halls, the former vice president came to Washington with an urgent message and boxes filled with what he claimed were half a million letters demanding Congress take real action on global warming.

AL GORE, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This is the most dangerous crisis we've ever faced. But it is also the greatest opportunity we've ever been confronted with.

KOPPEL: Four hours in the House and Senate, Mr. Gore held court, more professor than politician.

GORE: Water vapor is, indeed, the most common greenhouse gas.

Increases and it magnifies the warming phenomenon.

Each one of these CO2 molecules has a kind of a chemical signature.

KOPPEL: Calling it a moral imperative, Gore said the solution would depend upon an immediate freeze of carbon dioxide emissions, a 90 percent reduction by 2050, as well as enacting a pollution tax.

It's a message Mr. Gore tried to spread during the 16 years he represented Tennessee in Congress, a point his friends didn't forget.

SEN. BARBARA BOXER (D), CALIFORNIA: Because when the history of this issue is written, your name will be at the forefront.

REP. EDWARD MARKEY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: I obviously sat here with you 30 years ago and what you were saying about information technologies, what you were saying about environmental issues back then, now, retrospectively, really do make you look like a prophet.

KOPPEL: Prophet to some Democrats, problem maker to some Republicans, like Oklahoma's James Inhofe, who has called global warming a hoax. SEN. JAMES INHOFE (R), OKLAHOMA: He said that the East, Antarctica, might melt and this could raise levels -- sea levels by 20 feet, so we're all going to die.

However, according to many scientists, the Antarctica is gaining ice mass, not losing it.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

KOPPEL: Now, some of the other exchanges with other Republicans, including the former speaker of the House, Dennis Hastert, were a little friendlier, Wolf. In fact, the former speaker said that -- that Mr. Gore was kind of like a movie star coming here. And Mr. Gore responded by saying, you know more like Rin Tin-Tin -- Wolf.

BLITZER: An Academy Award winner, at least this film was.

Andrea, did you have a chance to get to Al Gore on this whole buzz that's been going around over these past several months about whether or not he's absolutely, positively ruling out another presidential run?

KOPPEL: I did, Wolf.

He tried to sneak out the back door of the committee room, but fortunately we were there with his -- with our cameras. And I put that question to him.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KOPPEL: CNN.

(CROSSTALK)

KOPPEL: Tell us (UNINTELLIGIBLE) are you running for...

GORE: (LAUGHTER).

KOPPEL: ... are you...

GORE: I'm running -- I'm running to the Senate.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Like how do we get past...

GORE: I'm running to the Senate side to do testimony over there.

KOPPEL: Are you ruling out the possibility of...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How do we get this partisan...

(CROSSTALK)

KOPPEL: ... ruling out the possibility (UNINTELLIGIBLE)?

GORE: Yes?

Pardon me?

KOPPEL: Are you ruling out the possibility of throwing your hat in the ring?

GORE: You know, I have no plans to run for president again. I don't intend to and I don't expect to. And I -- I did enjoy listening to the other side. And I thought a lot of them on both sides made some great points today.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KOPPEL: Now, that is pretty much word for word what they have been saying over the last several weeks, Wolf, although you'll notice he did not explicitly rule out the possibility of throwing his hat in the ring in '08.

BLITZER: It's one thing to say I will not run, it's another thing to say I have no plans to run.

KOPPEL: Exactly.

BLITZER: Andrea, thanks.

In appealing for lawmakers to get Al Gore -- to act, Al Gore appealed to Congress' conscience. He warned that a climate crisis is too grave to leave to another generation. And he also warned of the consequences of the road not taken.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GORE: I promise you a day will come when our children and grandchildren will look back. And they'll ask one of two questions. Either they will ask what in god's name were they doing? What was wrong with them? Were they too blinded and numbed by the business of political life or daily life to -- to take a deep breath and look at the reality of what we're facing?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: On the other hand, Al Gore talked about what future generations might say if lawmakers take the road to action.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GORE: Or, they'll ask another question. They may look back and they'll say how did they find the uncommon moral courage to rise above politics and redeem the promise of American democracy and do what some said was impossible -- and shake things up, and tell the special interests, OK, we've heard you and we're going to do the best we can to take your considerations into account, but we're going to do what's right.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Like the professor he once was, Al Gore forcefully argued this point. The debate over global warming is over, he says, due to a strong consensus in the scientific community.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GORE: One of the leading experts said it's a strong consensus than on practically anything, except, perhaps, gravity.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Strong words from Al Gore.

Let's get some more now on the chilly response that he got from at least one U.S. senator who believes global warming is the biggest hoax ever.

Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

INHOFE: I'm sure you read the new year's article that quoted the scientists -- I mentioned this in my opening statement -- about they're -- they're criticizing you for some of your -- being too alarmist and hurting your own cause.

Now, I'll ask you to respond in writing for that one, because that would be a very long response, I'm afraid.

Now, it seems that everybody...

GORE: Well, I would like to respond to it.

INHOFE: ... on global warming in the media...

GORE: May I respond?

INHOFE: ... go into course...

GORE: May...

INHOFE: ... last summer.

BOXER: Excuse me.

Senator Inhofe, we'll freeze...

INHOFE: I'm asking...

BOXER: We'll freeze the time for a minute.

INHOFE: Oh?

Yes.

BOXER: I'm just trying to...

INHOFE: Take your time. We're freezing the time.

BOXER: No, no, we're freezing the time, just for a minute. I want to talk to you a minute, please.

(LAUGHTER)

BOXER: Would you -- would you agree -- would you agree to let the vice president answer your questions and then, if you want an extra few minutes at the end, I'm happy to give it to you. But we're not going to get anywhere...

INHOFE: Why don't we do this?

BOXER: We're asking good questions.

INHOFE: Why don't we do this?

At the end, you can have as much time as you want to answer all of the questions...

BOXER: No, that isn't the rule of -- you're not making the rules. You used to when you did this. You don't do this anymore. Elections have consequences.

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Barbara Boxer with a smack-down of Senator Inhofe.

The battle between Al Gore and Senator Inhofe, by the way, has been brewing a lot longer, at least a year or so.

Abbi Tatton has been following the rivalry online.

It's getting hotter by the day and we're referring to this debate between Inhofe and Gore.

ABBI TATTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Exactly, Wolf.

"One of the slickest science propaganda films of all time," that's how Senator Inhofe characterized Al Gore's film, "An Inconvenient Truth," last year.

And there's been plenty more where that came from. Senator Inhofe, in December of last year, put out this 60-plus page booklet, "A Skeptics Guide To Debunking Global Warming Alarmism." In that multiple references to Al Gore -- "misleading science," "unfounded speculation," also challenged the media to stop what Senator Inhofe called "the global warming hype."

His staff has also put on YouTube videos of the senator on the floor on this very issue.

Well, this, in committee, is going on right now. And the former vice president is standing his ground, telling the Senate committee and the House committee earlier today that there is no longer any serious scientific debate over the fundamentals of global warming -- Wolf. BLITZER: Abbi, thanks.

Abbi Tatton, Andrea Koppel, Suzanne Malveaux -- 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 cnn.com/ticker.

Let's go to Jack Cafferty in New York for The Cafferty File -- if you didn't see that exchange between Barbara Boxer, Senator Inhofe and Al Gore sitting there, it's worth re-watching at some point down the road.

It was good TV.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: No, no, I saw it. It was good TV.

Collision course -- that's where the White House and the Congress may well be headed when it comes to this controversy over the firing of federal prosecutors.

President Bush is insisting that his top political adviser, Karl Rove, and former White House Counsel Harriet Miers, will not testify in public or under oath and there'll be no transcript.

Let's see, what was "Scooter" Libby convicted of?

Oh, yes, perjury.

How could anybody possibly suspect that all the president's men and women, if called upon to do so, would tell anything except the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth?

Well, Congress is suspicious and they have other ideas. A House Judiciary subcommittee has now authorized its leaders to issue subpoenas to force their testimony. The Senate Judiciary Committee will take up that issue tomorrow.

Some Democrats say the threat of force is on the way to get a straight answer from the White House.

President Bush insists no one did anything improper.

So what's the problem with his people sitting down under oath and answering questions?

Well, here's our question -- when it comes to having Karl Rove and Harriet Miers testify under oath and in public, who's right, the White House or Congress?

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

BLITZER: Jack, thanks.

Coming up here in THE SITUATION ROOM, Alberto Gonzales under fire by lawmakers from his own party.

Will more Republicans cross the line?

I'll ask William Cohen. He broke with his own party and voted to impeach President Nixon way back.

Plus, this isn't the first White House to tangle with Congress over what's called executive powers, and it certainly won't be the last. We'll take a closer look at past constitutional clashes.

Plus, more on Al Gore speaking out on global warming.

But is he warming up for something else?

Paul Begala, Terry Jeffrey, they'll talk about that in our Strategy Session, and a lot more.

Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: During Watergate back in the '70s, my next guest was a young Republican congressman from Maine who broke ranks with his own party and voted to impeach President Nixon.

William Cohen has witnessed many political showdowns in his years here in Washington.

Might Congress and the White House be on a road to a similar constitutional clash right now?

Joining us, our world affairs analyst, former defense secretary, William Cohen.

Is this the same thing that we're seeing now in terms of executive privilege, this debate that's unfolding?

WILLIAM COHEN, FORMER DEFENSE SECRETARY, WORLD AFFAIRS ANALYST: Well, I'm not sure the issues are of the same magnitude. Obviously, what we are talking about investigating the president of the United States with the possibility of removing him from office, the stakes were certainly much higher.

At that time, you may recall that President Nixon made a statement out of the Oval Office and he said, with all of the edited transcripts stacked up behind him, he said, "Never have conversations so private been made so public."

And that was the offer he made to the House Judiciary Committee at that time and the committee rejected that, saying that the edited transcripts were insufficient to get at truth.

And I suspect that the Congress is going to argue, at least the Democratic majority will argue, that they need to have access to the full record, including testimony under oath, in order to get at the full truth here. So I think we are on a collision course and that may take some months to play out.

BLITZER: Who's likely to win this -- this fight?

COHEN: It's hard to say, at this point, by the time it gets to the Supreme Court. The court has argued in the past that executive privilege is a very important part of our constitution, as such, and part of our governmental process. And so it shouldn't be invoked except on circumstances of protecting national security, military or diplomatic affairs.

The court has ruled that under those circumstances, the executive has a very strong case to make. It doesn't mean it can't be invoked, but I think under these circumstances, where you're talking about the possibility of the seven or eight who have been dismissed, they may say that the White House is on thinner ground under those circumstances.

So Congress has the power of the purse. It can seek to hold these individuals under contempt. That will be appealed. Congress could then use the power of the purse. It might withhold confirmation of other nominees that come forward.

So we're going to see a real contest here. I suspect that Fred Fielding, who is now handling this matter, is going to seek some way out of this with some kind of a compromise, perhaps having the witnesses testify under oath before the committees and yet not made public.

I'm not sure that that will be forthcoming, but I'm not sure the Congress would accept it.

But I think he'll try to find some way to broker a compromise.

BLITZER: Fred Fielding being the White House counsel right now, with a lot of experience in these matters.

Is there an argument that the White House could make that there's, at least as of now, no underlying crime a the heart of this, it's all politics, which could bolster their case?

COHEN: Well, that is an argument they certainly can make. I've seen reports, for example, that some are arguing that the -- the individuals involved may have been dismissed because they weren't carrying out the president's agenda. Well, it depends what we mean -- or what they mean by that.

For example, if it's part of the president's agenda to prosecute companies who hire illegal immigrants and you have a U.S. attorney who is refusing to do so, well, that's one thing where he is in violation of what the president is seeking to do.

On the other hand, if there is any evidence that they may be trying to obstruct a prosecution by removing a -- a young prosecutor, that would be another matter. So what you need to have is more facts and we'll see whether those facts are forthcoming.

But I think it's too early to tell. I think we have to keep it in some perspective that the -- the president is entitled to have his prosecuting team as such.

But ordinarily, once you have confirmation of these U.S. attorneys, you remove them only if there is malfeasance or if they really are incompetent. Absent that, usually the policy has been don't disturb it.

If you're now playing politics with the situation, people come to question whether justice is being impartially administered.

BLITZER: William Cohen, thanks very much for coming in.

COHEN: A pleasure to be with you.

BLITZER: And up next, the scary greeting for staffers of a Republican congressman from Michigan. The bloody message they saw and what's being done about it when we come back.

Plus, Congressional Democrats want this man to testify about those fired prosecutors.

But will their moves to subpoena Karl Rove backfire?

Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Might someone be trying to actually scare a Republican congressmen into changing his mind about Iraq?

That's what police want to know.

Our Brian Todd reports on this story.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Blood red paint, bodies outlined in spray paint on the sidewalk and a chilling sign on the congressman's door -- "Rogers, you have blood on your hands!"

This is what greeted staffers for Republican Congressman Mike Rogers in Lansing Michigan on Tuesday morning.

REP. MIKE ROGERS (R), MICHIGAN: To call themselves peace protesters defies the very logic of -- of what they're trying to accomplish. And we need to put an end to that right now. I mean that is completely unacceptable.

BLITZER: Rogers says it is unclear if the vandalism was caused by Iraq War protesters, but passions on the war run high among his constituents. The congressman has supported the president on the war, but has opposed the recent plan to send additional troops.

ROGERS: We've gotten a lot of e-mails and calls saying hey, we may not be with you or on your stance, but we don't condone this. We're with you on this.

TODD: One local peace activist is no fan of Rogers, but says vandalism won't bring the troops home any sooner.

ERIK NELSESTUEN, PEACE ACTIVIST: There is a lot of anger about the war. But it just serves no purpose to -- to really create violence or cause problems.

TODD: The office had security cameras installed after previous vandalism. Investigators are expected to check the tapes to see if they captured any evidence before they were disabled.

ROGERS: Well, you know, I'm an old FBI agent, so it's -- you know, you're not going to intimidate me, I'll tell you that. But I do worry about my kids having to worry about it. I worry about my staff.

TODD: Officials say security for the congressman's family has been stepped up, but the congressman tell us his stance on the war in Iraq will be unchanged.

Brian Todd, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

BLITZER: And up next, a major confrontation here in Washington. All of a sudden the Bush administration and the Democratic leadership in Congress are locked on a constitutional showdown. Lots more coming up on this.

Also, more on the return of Al Gore to Washington. The former vice president comes in from the cold to talk about global warming.

We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Happening now: Might some U.S. military retirees be at grave risk right now? We're hearing some very disturbing stories involving some veterans at an armed forces retirement home. Are they being treated like Iraq war vets over at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center? We have some new information.

Also, more on the showdown between Congress and the White House -- congressional Democrats want sworn testimony from White House aides regarding the firing of those eight U.S. attorneys. But the White House says they will go to the mat against that.

I will speak about it live with Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer. This is a potential constitutional crisis.

And what's got so many Cubans so angry right now at Mitt Romney? It involves a gaffe the Republican presidential candidate made. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Let's get some more now on our top story, this showdown between the White House and Congress and the potential constitutional crisis. A House panel has approved the authorization of subpoenas for White House aides.

Our correspondent Dana Bash is standing by. She has more on the significance of what the House Judiciary Committee did today -- Dana.

DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, if the White House really is saying, here's our offer, deal or no deal, Democrats here across the board are saying, no deal.

And that is why Democrats say they went ahead and voted to authorize the House Judiciary chairman to issue subpoenas for Karl Rove and other top Bush officials. Now, that chairman, John Conyers made clear today that he's not going to actually issue those subpoenas just yet. He made clear he thinks it's leverage.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JOHN CONYERS (D-MI), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: What we're voting on today is merely a backup. I am hopeful that we can move forward in negotiations.

But what Fred Fielding said to us yesterday was so disconcerting and so off the mark -- I mean, obviously, anyone that comes before the committee would have to be put under oath. Obviously, there would have to be a transcript.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BASH: Now, in that vote, it was party-line. Republicans,. for the most part, made clear they think it's premature even to be talking about or even issuing the authority to send some subpoenas to the White House, Wolf.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. ARLEN SPECTER (R-PA), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE RANKING MEMBER: My own preference is that it be public, because I think the public has a very deep-seated interest and a right to know what is going on.

Also, if it is done behind closed doors, and then senators emerge and are interviewed, you're likely to get conflicting accounts as to -- as to what was said.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BASH: Now, what you just heard there, Wolf, is something that is quite interesting. That was the ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee. He was talking about the fact that he's not entirely on board with the White House proposal.

And that is a sentiment that we picked up -- and it was quite surprising here -- from Republicans in the Senate. They had a closed- door meeting earlier today, trying to come up with some kind of consensus, because they're going to have a vote on this very issue, whether to authorize subpoenas.

And we were -- we got -- we picked up sentiment that could give the White House some trouble. For example, John Cornyn, who, of course, is one of the president's most staunch allies here on Capitol Hill, he said he was -- quote -- "dubious" about having interviews behind closed doors. He said he would rather have Karl Rove and others come in public.

And, then, Arlen Specter, who you just saw there, the other thing he made a point of saying today is that he thinks that there could and probably should be transcripts of these, even if they're private meetings.

So, that is a dynamic that is brewing here. It will be interesting to see how it plays out. We're also told by Arlen Specter, Wolf, that he is he probably going to send a letter, along with the Democratic chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Pat Leahy, to the White House, perhaps to have some kind of bipartisan counterproposal. Stay tuned for that.

BLITZER: We heard Tony Snow, the White House press secretary, say the -- the members could take some notes, but no transcripts. That's a bottom line from the White House. We will see where the showdown goes.

Dana, thanks -- Dana on the Hill.

Meanwhile, might Democrats be overplaying their hand right now involving this situation?

Let's turn to our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider. He's watching this part of the story -- Bill.

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Wolf, who's politicizing what? That's the big debate here in Washington.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER (voice-over): In Washington, everyone wants to be seen as above politics.

SEN. CHARLES SCHUMER (D), NEW YORK: On issue after issue, not just the U.S. attorneys, politics seems to take precedence over the rule of law.

SCHNEIDER: Democrats are charging Republicans with political interference in the judicial process.

SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D), CALIFORNIA: What was the real reason why these eight U.S. attorneys were fired, especially in light of the fact that six of the eight were involved in prosecuting corruption?

SCHNEIDER: The Republicans' response? GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Initial response by Democrats, unfortunately, shows some appear more interested in scoring political points than in learning the facts.

SCHNEIDER: Who's been winning the debate?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The political upper hand is with the Democrats -- these eight very telegenic former U.S. attorneys who are saying, we were run out of office for political reasons.

SCHNEIDER: The Republicans' response, everybody does it, does not get them off the hook.

KARL ROVE, SENIOR ADVISER TO PRESIDENT BUSH: I would simply ask that everybody who's playing politics with this be asked to comment about what they think about the removal of 123 U.S. attorneys during the previous administration.

SCHNEIDER: But Republicans have found some new ammunition.

SEN. JOHN CORNYN (R), TEXAS: Senator Schumer, who also serves on the Judiciary Committee, seems to be using this to raise money on the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Web site.

SCHNEIDER: Now Democrats have put out a radio ad attacking a Republican congresswoman.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP, AD)

NARRATOR: According to testimony from the United States Senate Judiciary Committee, Congresswoman Heather Wilson called U.S. attorney David Iglesias and pressured him concerning a federal corruption investigation.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

SCHNEIDER: The Democrats are taking the risk of looking too political themselves and giving the other side an opening.

ROVE: This, to my mind, is a lot of politics.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER: Democrats need to be wary of doing anything that would encourage voters to echo Mr. Rove's sentiment, it's all politics, because that means they don't take it seriously -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Bill -- Bill Schneider reporting.

The race to the White House tops today's "Political Radar." New York lawmakers -- get this -- they overwhelmingly today approved a bill to move up the state's presidential primary to February 5. New York Governor Eliot Spitzer is expected to sign the measure, which would add New York to California and a host of other states for a massive coast-to-coast super-duper Tuesday showdown. The move could also help presidential hopefuls and New Yorkers Rudy Giuliani and Hillary Clinton. We will watch the political fallout.

It appears to be an all-or-nothing decision for Duncan Hunter. The presidential hopeful and longtime Republican congressman from California will not run for reelection for a seat in Congress -- that word from his office and from his son, who will now make a bid for his father's House seat. Hunter becomes the first presidential hopeful from Capitol Hill to announce his retirement from Congress.

Will he or won't he? Former longtime Democratic Senator John Breaux says he's seriously considering running for governor of Louisiana. Breaux has said for weeks that he wouldn't run if the current governor, the Democrat, Kathleen Blanco, made a bid to keep her job.

But, last night, Blanco system she is not running for reelection. She was down by double digits in the latest polls to her Republican opponent. She's been criticized, as all of you remember, for her response to Hurricane Katrina.

Coming up: a tragic mistake in Baghdad. We're going to tell you why the Iraqi Finance Ministry was rocked today by explosives in an incident involving the United States military -- also, our "Strategy Session" over the firing of those federal prosecutors.

Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Let's check in with our Carol -- Carol Costello for a closer look at some other important stories making news right now.

Hi, Carol.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Wolf.

Hello to all of you.

A deadly blast today at the Iraqi Finance Ministry. Iraqi officials say U.S. experts were among those called to investigate a suspicious truck. As a precaution, a decision was reached to blow up the truck without knowing what it all contained. Secondary blasts rocked parts of the building. Rockets went off. One person was killed, seven more wounded.

Also in Iraq, the military says it fears insurgents are using a shocking new tactic: sacrificing children in suicide bombings. Cars carrying kids have an easier time passing through checkpoints. But, after clearing a checkpoint on Sunday, two men jumped out and fled, leaving two children inside. They were killed when the car blew up. Three other people also died.

We have some very intense video to show you now. A police dashboard camera records this car on fire. A man is trapped inside. Oh, you can hear him screaming in there. This is Fayetteville, Arkansas. Several people tried to pull him out. Police were finally successful, but not before the man suffered severe burns on his lower body. He is said to be in the stable condition. It appears, Wolf, he's going to be OK.

BLITZER: Let's hope he is. What amazing, amazing pictures, awful situation. Let's pray for him.

Thanks very much, Carol, for that.

Still to come here in THE SITUATION ROOM: Al Gore suggests the world is getting sicker by the day and is in need of curing.

Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

AL GORE, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The planet has a fever. If your baby has a fever, you go to the doctor. If the crib's on fire, you don't speculate that the baby is flame-retardant. You -- you take action.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: I'll ask my two "Strategy Session" guests, Paul Begala and Terry Jeffrey, for their reaction to Al Gore's global warming assessment.

And, on the showdown between Congress and the White House, I will speak with Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer about this potential constitutional crisis.

Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: The new Democratic Congress, and it's up and running only for the past two-and-a-half months, but already a possible constitutional showdown with the Bush administration.

To talk about that and more in our "Strategy Session," including Al Gore's return to Capitol Hill, we're joined by our CNN political contributor, Paul Begala and Terry Jeffrey. He's the editor at large for "Human Events" magazine.

Guys, thanks for coming -- coming in.

Al Gore comes back to Washington today. He appears on the House side, goes to the Senate side, makes his appeal.

Does -- does he look like a possible presidential candidate in the process?

PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: He's maybe even more than that. Maybe he looks like a possible Nobel Peace Prize winner.

BLITZER: He's been nominated.

BEGALA: Yes. And he ought to win.

He was fantastic. He was just great, animated, and -- and really passionate. And I think he explained a complicated issue very powerfully.

What helped him, though -- in any drama, you need not only a hero -- and Gore is my hero in this -- but you need a villain. And God bless Joe "Big Oil" Barton, a Republican from Texas on the -- the House ranking member on the House committee, and Jim "ExxonMobil" Inhofe, the ranking member on the Senate side in the Republican Party.

They provided the perfect foil of sort of -- of, you know, the stereotypical blockhead, no-nothing, big-oil Republican. Many Republicans are not that way, candidly. Most Republicans are environmentalists. But those two guys became perfect foils for Al Gore.

BLITZER: And we have even -- even heard the president in recent weeks and months shift in his -- at least his tone on the whole issue of global warming.

TERRY JEFFREY, EDITOR, "HUMAN EVENTS": You know, Wolf, to tell you the truth, I think that Senator Jim Inhofe, who used to be the chairman of the Environment Committee, has made some good points in rebuttal to Al Gore's argument in his movie. I took a look at it today.

For example, Senator Inhofe claims that the National Academy of Sciences says that there was a medieval warming period from 900 A.D. to 1300 A.D., when the temperatures were actually warmer than they are today. I'm not an expert on this, but I have a very simple question.

Is what Senator Inhofe is saying that the National Academy of Sciences says true, or is Al Gore's argument that we are in an anomalous period, where we're facing catastrophic warming that could have horrible effects for the human species true? One of them is telling the truth. One of them isn't. And I think we need to get to the bottom of it.

BLITZER: A quick political question on Al Gore: He's not completely shutting the door...

BEGALA: Right.

BLITZER: ... to a possible presidential run.

What do -- what do you see is going on?

BEGALA: I think he's doing -- I mean, I saw Andrea chasing him down the hallway...

BLITZER: Right.

BEGALA: ... on our -- on our piece there. BLITZER: No intention, no plans.

BEGALA: Right.

BLITZER: I don't hear him saying, "I -- I will not run."

BEGALA: Yes. He ain't General Sherman.

BLITZER: Yes.

BEGALA: He's Vice President Gore.

And I suspect -- I don't know. I haven't talked to him probably in a year. But I -- I suspect, like any prudent public figure, he's watching this remarkable Democratic field.

But it's not inconceivable -- it's unlikely, but it's not inconceivable that both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, and maybe some of the other major candidates in my party, stumble and create an opening for him. It's unlikely, but it's -- why -- why shut the door? Why not leave it open?

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Let's shift to this potential constitutional crisis, the showdown between the White House and the Democrats in Congress.

I want you to listen to what Tony Snow said today about this White House offer to the Democrats on making information available and certain aides available.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TONY SNOW, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Do you want to get at the truth or do you want to create a political spectacle? Those -- those -- those are the options that are laid out.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Is this -- is this a smart strategy, Terry, for the White House to be laying down, because the president came out on fire last night, as you saw, in -- in rejecting the notion of his aides testifying under oath, even allowing a transcript of what they say in this -- quote -- "interview" to be -- to be made.

JEFFREY: Well, I think the White House needs to be forthcoming, but I think they made a reasonable offer in saying they will have Karl Rove and Harriet Miers go over and talk to these committees.

And here's an irony on this, Wolf. You know, it wasn't so long ago that Senate Democrats, including Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, were saying how much they admired and respected Harriet Miers. Senator Reid even thought he wanted her to be on the United States Supreme Court.

Now basically what they're saying is that we don't believe, if Harriet Miers comes over here voluntarily and tells us what she knows about the removal of these U.S. attorneys, that we can trust what she says.

I mean, it seems to me that they escalated so quickly for political reasons, not because they're interested in the truth.

BLITZER: Go ahead.

BEGALA: They're dealing with a crowd who has a very sketchy record on telling the truth, particularly on this issue.

Set aside weapons of mass destruction, all the other lies they have told the last six years. They first told the Congress that these firings were performance-related. Now we know that that's not the case. They were political.

Then they said the attorney general really wasn't involved. Now, apparently, from this e-mail traffic, he was. Then, they said the White House wasn't involved. Well, it was. Then maybe Mr. Rove wasn't involved. Now it seems he is.

We -- you couldn't get the truth out of these guys, you couldn't pull it out of them, with a John Deere tractor. So, of course they have to be under oath. You know, just a case -- in point -- just in -- in -- a piece of history here, OK? When I was working in the -- in the Clinton White House, one committee alone, the House Government Reform Committee, issued 1,000 subpoenas to Clinton administration officials to -- 141 different people were subpoenaed.

And one -- one investigation alone, 140 hours of sworn testimony on Bill Clinton's Christmas card list.

JEFFREY: Well...

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: Now, that's excessive.

JEFFREY: No, wait a minute.

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: ... four people to testify under oath about obstruction of justice is not.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Hold on one second.

Very quickly, because we're almost out of time, why was it OK for the Republicans then to subpoena all sorts of documents and demand witnesses from the White House...

JEFFREY: Well...

BLITZER: ... including the White House Counsel's Office, testify under oath? Why was it OK then, but it's not OK now?

JEFFREY: Well, I think -- I think, ultimately, the administration has to be forthcoming. I think, ultimately, the Congress has a right to this information.

If they in fact go ahead with a subpoena, Wolf, what we might have is a stalemate, where it goes into the courts, and this is a protracted battle, where, ultimately, we don't get the truth, and the clock is run out. They should start by listening to what Rove and Miers have to say in interviews. If they don't think they were forthcoming, go with the subpoenas.

BLITZER: Terry Jeffrey, Paul Begala, we will continue this discussion.

BEGALA: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: Thank you.

And still to come, Jack Cafferty wants to know, when it comes to having Karl Rove and Harriet Miers testify under oath and in public, who's right, the White House or Congress? Jack with "The Cafferty File," that is coming up.

And will the Senate Judiciary Committee authorize subpoenas for top White House aides as part of the probe into the firing of those federal prosecutors? I will talk about the looming constitutional showdown with committee member Senator Chuck Schumer -- all that coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Let's get "The Cafferty File." That means Jack is standing by.

Hi, Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, the question: When it comes to having Karl Rove and Harriet Miers testify under oath and in public, who's right, the White House or the Congress?

Ellen in Wisconsin: "Congress is right. Even if the politically motivated firings did not suggest a serious compromise of our justice system, this president and his cronies are drunk on executive power. It is time for an intervention."

Dave in Santa Cruz, California: "My wife and I have been in the court-reporting business for almost 30 years, and I guarantee we're not paid for our services strictly for convenience. Without a certified record taken under oath, there will always be deniability, which, of course, is exactly what the White House seeks here. If the American public can't see through this ruse, we are really in big trouble."

Hugh writes from Vero Beach, Florida: "The White House is correct. This is nothing more than a partisan witch-hunt by the Democrats. The Democrats are back to their old tricks of holding hearings and inquiries on everything, instead of taking care of business and running the country."

Al in Maryland writes: "Congress must compel Rove to testify. Who better to display the arrogance of the White House, their contempt for the law, and their distorted value of party over country? Let the impeachment hearings begin."

Karen in California: "To repeat the mantra of the Republicans regarding the NSA spying, if you have nothing to hide, why do you care? I apply that to the unwillingness of the president to allow his aides to testify under oath."

Christine -- short and sweet -- "Congress is right. And they had better not back down."

And Jim in Illinois: "The White House is always right, because Bush says so. Never mind about the truth. Haven't you learned anything during the last six years?"

Wolf, if Harriet Miers is going to appear in front of one of those committees, it wouldn't be quite as good as if she was going to be interviewed about becoming a Supreme Court justice, but it would be close.

BLITZER: We will be watching. We will take it live, if it happens. Let's...

CAFFERTY: Oh, yes.

BLITZER: Let's see if it happens.

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: Thanks for that.

CAFFERTY: OK.

BLITZER: Jack will be back shortly.

There's a lot of precedent going on right now.

With more on that, let's turn to our senior analyst, Jeff Greenfield -- Jeff.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEFF GREENFIELD, CNN SENIOR ANALYST: Wolf, the Congress has aimed subpoenas at some top present and former White House aides. The president says he will go to court to fight what he calls a partisan fishing expedition.

This is a battle over an idea that's never explicitly mentioned in the Constitution, but is at the heart of a decades-long struggle between the two ends of Pennsylvania Avenue. (voice-over): The struggle is over executive privilege, the notion that presidents won't get the candid, free-wheeling advice they need from their aides if Congress can summon them to Capitol Hill and force them to reveal their private conversations.

That's why, for instance, the Supreme Court, in 2004, ruled that Vice President Cheney didn't have to reveal what went on with his energy task force.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You have, at no times, knowingly disobeyed any of his lawful instructions?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREENFIELD: On the other hand, Congress does have the constitutional power to look into wrongdoing, especially possible criminal wrongdoing, in the executive branch, which is why, back in 1973, just about all of Richard Nixon's top aides went before the Senate panel looking into Watergate.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAM J. CLINTON, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: They harassed and brought up there and cost them tens of thousands of dollars in legal expenses.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREENFIELD: Often, a White House simply feels it's not politically wise to resist the demands of Congress.

So, during the Clinton administration, according to the Congressional Research Service, Clinton aides testified some 47 times before Congress on matters such as the Whitewater fair.

So, what about the U.S. attorneys' dismissals? The charge here is not criminal. It's that Attorney General Gonzales and former White House counsel Miers ousted U.S. attorneys for political reasons and that top Bush aide Karl Rove was closely involved in that decision.

The clearest case, say critics, is in New Mexico, where the U.S. attorney was dismissed after he resisted pressures from Congresswoman Heather Wilson, in a tight reelection race, and Republican Senator Pete Domenici to bring vote-fraud charges against Democrats before Election Day.

The ousted U.S. attorney charges as much in a "New York Times" op-ed piece today.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I appointed these U.S. attorneys.

GREENFIELD: For its part, says the White House, it will let Rove and others talk to the Congress informally, in private, not under oath, and without transcripts. If they offer false accounts, the White House says, they can be prosecuted, even if they weren't under oath.

If you're looking for consistency here, you won't find much. Democrats fiercely defended executive privilege during the Clinton years. And, as a commentator, Tony Snow, now White House press secretary, labeled Clinton's claim a dodge.

(on camera): Now, to be fair the combatants can usually point to distinctions between their past and present views. But, in most cases, the most important distinction is a political one: What side are you on? -- Wolf.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Jeff Greenfield, thanks.

TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.voxant.com

CNN U.S.
CNN TV E-mail Services CNN Mobile CNNAvantGo Ad Info About Us Preferences
Search
© 2007 Cable News Network LP, LLLP.
A Time Warner Company. All Rights Reserved.
Terms under which this service is provided to you.
Read our privacy guidelines. Contact us. Site Map.
Offsite Icon External sites open in new window; not endorsed by CNN.com
Pipeline Icon Pay service with live and archived video. Learn more
Radio News Icon Download audio news  |  RSS Feed Add RSS headlines