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President Bush Versus the Senate; Kyle Sampson Speaks Up About Alberto Gonzales; Standoff Between Iran and Britain

Aired March 29, 2007 - 16:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, HOST: Happening now, in the battle of the branches, the Senate engages President Bush. They've passed a war funding bill that does exactly what the president urged them not to do. This hour, I'll speak with two lawmakers with starkly different views on Iraq -- Senator Joe Lieberman of Connecticut and Congressman John Murtha of Pennsylvania. We'll talk about what's going on in Iraq right now and what's going on right here in Washington.
Also, the man at the center of a brewing controversy finally speaks. Former chief of staff to the attorney general, Alberto Gonzales, Kyle Sampson, tells U.S. senators about the firings of those eight U.S. attorneys. But then the proceedings abruptly stopped. We're going to tell you why.

And another salve on the standoff between Iran and Britain. Iran says it's taking back its promise to release the only female among those British sailors and marines. And a letter said to have been written by her calls on British forces to leave Iraq.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.


Senate Democrats say President Bush is looking for a fight over Iraq and they've just signaled they're fully engaged. The Senate defied the president, passing a war spending bill with a time line for U.S. troops to leave Iraq. And despite President Bush's vowing the bill will never get past his veto pen, the president is -- the Democrats in Congress and some Republicans are moving forward on that front.

Our Ed Henry is standing by over at the White House.

But let's begin with our Congressional correspondent, Andrea Koppel.

She's on the Hill with the latest -- Andrea.

ANDREA KOPPEL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, just one week after House Democrats passed an emergency funding bill with a deadline, throwing down a gauntlet to President Bush, the Senate has followed suit.


SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D), ILLINOIS: The ayes have -- are 51. The nays are 47.

KOPPEL (voice-over): By the slimmest of margins, Senate Democrats passed the president's emergency war funding bill and with the help of two Republicans, Nebraska's Chuck Hagel and Oregon's Gordon Smith, practically dared Mr. Bush to veto it.

SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MAJORITY LEADER: The ball is in the president's court. We have done what we have to do to take care of people who are fighting for us.

KOPPEL: Like the House version, the $123 billion Senate bill is chock a block with sweeteners, pet projects to help farmers, Iraq War veterans and victims of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

Republicans called it a ploy to buy votes. But even more alarming, they said, the bill's goal to withdraw most U.S. combat troops from Iraq by March 31, 2008. That's five months earlier than the August 31st deadline agreed to by the House.

Republicans said Democrats had, in effect, set a date for defeat.

SEN. RICHARD SHELBY (R), ALABAMA: It is the wrong message at the wrong time. Surely this will embolden the enemy. It will not help our troops in any way. It's a big mistake.

KOPPEL: The challenge now for appointed lawmakers in the House and Senate -- to bridge their differences on a date for withdrawal, before the bill is sent to the president's desk.

A bigger challenge -- how to proceed if Mr. Bush makes good on a threat to veto it.

SEN. PATTY MURRAY (D), WASHINGTON: We challenge the president not to veto a bill that finally takes care of those men and women who have worked so hard for us.


KOPPEL: And despite the fact that Senate Democrats and Republicans have appointed members to negotiate with the House, neither House Democrats or Republicans have picked their conferees, which means, Wolf, that an effort to reconcile their differences won't begin until at least April the 10th. That's when Congress returns from its spring break -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And when does the Pentagon say it -- says it -- when does the Pentagon say it needs this funding without slowing down supporting those troops?

KOPPEL: Well, today we heard from General Peter Pace, who said that if the money did not come by about March -- May 15th, rather -- when they're scheduled to run out of funds, that could have a chain effect and could actually delay the military from sending additional fresh troops there.

And, as you know, Wolf, Congress, according to the Pentagon, has pretty much tied their hands and they don't have a lot of discretionary funds.

BLITZER: Andrea, stand by.

Andrea Koppel reporting.

While the Senate did its business, President Bush continued to do his, focusing in on some other pressing priorities in the process.

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

What was the president doing today -- Ed.

ED HENRY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this president obviously under siege on two fronts -- the full Senate defying him on Iraq policy, as well as this Senate panel hearing testimony -- explosive testimony in that U.S. attorney flap.

The president is trying to both push back and focus on the rest of his legislative agenda, but that's easier said than done.


HENRY (voice-over): In pictures and words, a not so subtle message from the president -- while Democrats are busy investigating, Republicans are legislating.

GEORGE BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And so we had a very productive session, a session of friends talking amongst friends, all aiming to put a strategy together of how we can work together to secure this nation and keep it prosperous.

HENRY: Never mind that the president, who has spent very little time cultivating lawmakers, never previously had all the House Republicans over to the White House at the same time. But in this hour of need, with controversy raging over the firing of eight U.S. attorneys, the administration is eager to show they're focused on the nation's business.

QUESTION: Is it a distraction as the president tries to...


HENRY: For the second straight day, the president threatened to veto a war funding bill passed by the Senate Thursday that would begin withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq within 120 days.

BUSH: We stand united in saying loud and clear that when we've got our troops in harm's way, we expect that troop to be fully funded. And we've got commanders making tough decisions on the ground. We expect there to be no strings on our commanders.


HENRY: Now, White House Spokeswoman Dana Perino followed that up by charging that the Senate bill is a "arbitrary retreat and the president is not going to back down here."

Obviously, Wolf, the battle lines are drawn.

BLITZER: So what's the next battle after this one?

HENRY: Well, we're going to have a lot more from the White House and the Pentagon. They're starting to say that the Army and the Marines, they're borrowing money from other accounts to deal with force issues. And you're going to hear a lot more about how if they don't get the money from this emergency funding bill, basically the troops in the field are not going to get those funds.

The Democratic response, obviously, is don't veto the bill then -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Ed Henry at the White House.


The Congress and the White House have been on this road to a showdown for some time. Friday, the House passed its war funding bill by a very narrow margin. It provides $124 billion in funds, but says U.S. combat troops should leave Iraq by August 31st of next year.

About an hour after the bill passed, a visibly angry President Bush blasted the move as an act of political theater.


BUSH: A narrow majority in the House of Representatives abdicated its responsibility by passing a war spending bill that has no chance of becoming law.


BLITZER: Then, just two days ago, the Senate defied President Bush with its own move toward a troop pullout. Republicans had hoped to strip a Senate bill of language calling for a pullout deadline, but they failed by a vote of 50-48.

And again, President Bush was quick and harsh was response.


BUSH: The House and Senate bills have too much pork, too many conditions on our commanders and an artificial timetable for withdrawal.


BUSH: And I have made it clear for weeks, if either version comes to my desk, I'm going to veto it.


BLITZER: Still, it appears Congress will not have enough votes to override a presidential veto.

Ed Henry and Andrea Koppel, by the way, are part of the best political team on television.

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

Other news we're following involving Iran. It now says a group of British sailors and marines entered Iranian territorial waters six times before they were seized by Iranian troops last week -- charges London is strongly denying.

Our Zain Verjee is standing by with more on this story -- Zain, one of the British sailors wrote a letter, supposedly, today, suggesting what?

ZAIN VERJEE, CNN STATE DEPARTMENT CORRESPONDENT: Well, the letter has been written supposedly by the female detainee. And her name is Faye Turney. The letter says that the British government needs to investigate why its military crossed illegally into Iran's waters.

It also calls on Prime Minister Tony Blair essentially to withdraw forces from Iraq.

Now, CNN can't really confirm the authenticity of the letter or whether she was actually forced to write it. It was thought, Wolf, that Iran may release Turney in the next few days. But as the war of words escalates, that really seems quite unlikely to happen very soon.

Now, Iran, for its part, Wolf, is saying that the British should admit that they made a mistake and say that they were in Iran's waters. And if they do that, Iran says they'll release the crew of 15.

But the British are saying there's no mistake and their crew should be released immediately -- Wolf.

BLITZER: What's the State Department, Zain, saying about all of this?

VERJEE: Well, senior U.S. officials there tell CNN that basically what they have been doing is just playing it low key on purpose because the British government has asked for that. The U.S. said that it's really not going to say or do anything that would jeopardize British efforts to get their crew freed.

The U.S. knows, Wolf, it's got a hard relationship, a difficult one, with Iran, and it doesn't want to complicate things. So the comments that you're hearing from the State Department are fairly limited, saying only that the capture of the British military personnel was illegal and that they should be released -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Zain, thank you.

Let's go to Jack Cafferty. He's in New York with The Cafferty File -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Chalk up one more voice of opposition to problems policies in Iraq -- and this one has some clout.

Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah, a good buddy of the president's, is calling the U.S. military presence in Iraq a "illegitimate foreign occupation." The king, of course, a good friend with all the Bush family, told leaders at the Arab League meeting that unless Arab governments settle their differences, foreign powers like the U.S. will keep dictating the region's future.

And that's not the only sign there could be problems between Saudi Arabia and the Bush administration. King Abdullah also called on the West to end its financial embargo against the Palestinians, a boycott that both the U.S. and Israel support.

And there's more. Abdullah invited Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to Riyadh earlier this month. The Saudis have been willing to negotiate with Iran and Hezbollah in trying to bring some stability to Lebanon. That's something the United States is unwilling to do.

And, finally, there are reports that the Saudi king canceled his appearance at a White House dinner in his honor next month. The official reason given was that old scheduling conflict.

The U.S. rejected Saudi Arabia's claim today, saying that American troops are in Iraq under a U.N. mandate and at the invitation of the Iraqi people.

Remember back when they sent the note saying please invade us?

Here's the question -- what message does it send when Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah calls the U.S. presence in Iraq an "illegitimate foreign occupation?"

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

BLITZER: Remember, the vice president, Dick Cheney, was just in Riyadh, met with the king, trying to make sure that the Saudis were on board.

CAFFERTY: Apparently that visit didn't go so well. Sort of like his quail hunting trip.

BLITZER: Not necessarily that bad, but it apparently didn't achieve...


BLITZER: ... the results he...

CAFFERTY: ... in a manner of speaking... BLITZER: ... he would have liked.

CAFFERTY: I'm being figurative.

BLITZER: Yes, correct.

Jack, thank you.


BLITZER: See you in a few minutes.


BLITZER: Coming up, Congressman John Murtha's assessment of President Bush and the war in Iraq. It's getting even harsher.


REP. JOHN MURTHA (D), PENNSYLVANIA: And the days of rosy scenarios and misguided optimism must end.


BLITZER: And Senator Joe Lieberman taking exception to that. You're going to want to hear their tough dueling interviews. That's coming up here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Plus, did a former aide to the attorney general do any damage to his ex-boss today?

We're going to tell you about Kyle Sampson's testimony and senators' skeptical reaction.

And would Rudy Giuliani's wife be first lady in the model of Hillary Clinton?

Republican presidential candidate Giuliani's surprising statement gets picked apart by Ed Rollins and Paul Begala. They're in our Strategy Session later this hour.

We'll be right back.


BLITZER: Let's get some more now on our top story, the Senate's defiance of the president's promise to veto its war spending bill for Iraq.

Today, one lawmaker who normally votes with the Democrats did not join them. He voted against the Senate bill.

And joining us now, Senator Joe Lieberman of Connecticut. He won as an Independent even though he's caucusing, of course, with the Democrats.

Senator, thanks for coming in.

SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN (I), CONNECTICUT: Good to be with you, Wolf.


LIEBERMAN: As always.

BLITZER: Another Democrat, Congressman John Murtha of Pennsylvania, he has a very different position on the current situation in Iraq than you do.

Listen to what he said today.



MURTHA: Today, because of the administration's mishandling of the war, the United States military is weaker than it was five years ago. Our forces are stretched thin and are caught in now what I consider an Iraqi civil war. It's a war that cannot be won solely by the United States military and one that can only be fought by the Iraqis. And the days of rosy scenarios and misguided optimism must end.


BLITZER: His point is that the stance that you're taking and the president is taking simply is way off base and resulting in needless more American lives lost.

LIEBERMAN: Well, I respectfully disagree. Look, John is right that mistakes were certainly made in the prosecution of this war and that the military is under stress because it's working so hard to succeed in Iraq.

But I totally disagree with him that our cause in Iraq is hopeless. In fact, in response to, finally, a lot of review of what we were doing that was not working there, the administration came up with this new plan, the so-called surge plan. We've got a new general, more troops, and the first reports from Iraq are that it's working to reduce sectarian violence and to strengthen the Maliki government, the Iraqi government...

BLITZER: Senator --

LIEBERMAN: ... in trying to reconcile the country. That's good and it's not time to pull out or force a pullout.

BLITZER: The people on the ground say it's not necessarily that rosy. Tuesday, 85 dead from various truck bombs in Talafar alone, an area that earlier had been secure. Wednesday, 70 people shot to death, 40 people in Talafar kidnapped. They're saying that the bloodletting continues. LIEBERMAN: Look, Wolf, the question is when you -- when you read about these horrible acts of murder, often caused by people fanatical enough to kill themselves in order to kill others, some people look at it and say what are we doing there?

Let's get out.

I look at it and say do we want to turn Iraq, the Middle East and our future over to fanatics like that if we have a chance to stop them?

And, of course, my answer is no, because I believe we do have a chance to stop them.

But the fact is -- I was briefed by a retired general who just returned from Iraq last week on conditions on the ground in Baghdad. Sectarian violence is down. Our troops and the Iraqi troops feel more confident going through sections of Baghdad. We're doing well in Anbar.

But this is war and we're fighting a brutal, inhumane, evil enemy. And so, yes...

BLITZER: All right...

LIEBERMAN: ... they'll strike at Mosul and Talafar, as they have. But that cannot lead us to throw in the towel and walk away.

BLITZER: I asked our correspondent, Michael Ware, this week -- he's been in Baghdad for four years, since the beginning of this war -- if there's any part of Baghdad -- any part of this huge city of some five million people where he or any other American could simply stroll around, go to a coffee shop, go to a restaurant.

Listen to what he said.


MICHAEL WARE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: No way on Earth can a Westerner, particularly an American, stroll any street of this capital of more than five million people. I mean, if al Qaeda doesn't get wind of you or if one of the Sunni insurgent groups don't descend upon you, or if someone doesn't tip off a Shia militia, then the nearest criminal gang is just going to see dollar signs and scoop you up.

Honestly, Wolf, you'd barely last 20 minutes out there.


BLITZER: That's a pretty, pretty gloomy assessment of the current situation, at least a month -- a month-and-a-half into this new U.S. strategy.

LIEBERMAN: Well, here's one thing that Michael Ware's very gloomy report leaves out, and it is the American soldiers, the thousands of soldiers that are now in Iraq. And here's what I hear back from them. And, again, briefed last night, I can tell you because I'm sure he'd say it here, retired Army General Jack Kean was there. He spent a lot of time in Baghdad with our troops.

Our soldiers told him they feel more confident than ever as they go on patrol in Baghdad and the neighborhoods we've settled into with their Iraqi colleagues and that the Iraqi -- why?

The Iraqi people are coming out and protecting them because they have chased out the fanatics on both sides, those who are carrying out sectarian killings. And they're much more confident than they were in the earlier strategy when they were being put into Humvees and racing through the cities of Baghdad as if they were moving targets.

So, I -- I don't -- I can't directly dispute Michael Ware's overall picture, but I'll tell you most significantly, the American soldier is more confident walking the streets of Baghdad today. And that's a very important change.

BLITZER: Senator Joe Lieberman, as usual, thanks for coming in.

LIEBERMAN: Thank you, Wolf.

Good day.

BLITZER: And as you just heard in that interview, Senator Lieberman responded to Congressman John Murtha involving the situation in Iraq.

Now, the congressman speaks. He talks about Iraq and the prospect of a very controversial measure.


MURTHA: In the past, what's happened is the Iraqis don't step up to it, so the Americans come in. The British leave and we come in. The polish leave, we come in. So the Americans are bearing the brunt. We are currently in a civil war. It's time for the -- for the Congress to exert its influence. We have an obligation to exert our influence. This is not...

BLITZER: So what do you say to...

MURTHA: ... strange.

BLITZER: What do you say to President Bush, congressman?

MURTHA: I say to President Bush, if he vetoes this bill, he's the one that's cutting off the money to the troops.


BLITZER: We're going to have the full interview with Congressman Murtha. That's coming up here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Also, is Bill Clinton doing more harm than good to his wife's presidential campaign?

The public answers that provocative question and the response may surprise you.

Plus, are senators buying Kyle Sampson's testimony in the scandal over those fired prosecutors?

The former aide to the attorney general in his own words and the reaction.

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


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

What's increasing right now -- Carol.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I've got it right here, Wolf.

It was an extremely bloody day in Iraq today. A suicide bombing tore through a crowded marketplace. At least 60 are dead, dozens more wounded. Earlier, three car bombs rocked a marketplace in the town of Khalis. That's north of Baghdad. Thirty people reported dead there, more than 70 wounded. Those markets frequented mostly by Shiites. At least 40 -- 14 more people died in scattered attacks around the capital.

We know a lot more about that big fire in Houston we were reporting on yesterday. Three people now confirmed dead in that blaze. Six others injured. Firefighters are awaiting the go-ahead to make a final search for victims. Authorities are investigating the cause, but they say they think it started in a medical supply company on the fifth floor of the six story building.

Six decades after completing their World War II mission, a legendary group of African-American fliers being honored on Capitol Hill. President Bush was among those on hand to present some 300 surviving members of the Tuskegee Airmen with a Congressional Gold Medal. Nearly 1,000 fighter pilots trained in the unit and many saw combat during the war.

Some of the headlines right now -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, see you in a few moments, Carol.


Coming up, was Alberto Gonzales defended or contradicted today?

The attorney general's former chief of staff gives his long awaited testimony.

And Rudy Giuliani opened a hornet's nest by discussing the role his wife would play if he becomes president. Paul Begala, Ed Rollins -- they'll consider the fallout in our Strategy Session.

We'll be right back.


BLITZER: Happening now, a star witness to the scandal over those fired federal prosecutors.

Did the attorney general's former aide back up his ex-boss or hang him out to dry?

Plus, Iran accusing British forces of invading its space and it's claiming it has the pictures to prove it.

Is a service woman held hostage backing up Iran's claim?

And is the violence in Iraq right now already genocide?

Congressman John Murtha says yes. In our next hour, the Democrat goes farther in a stinging assessment of this war.

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

The former top aide to the attorney general, Alberto Gonzales, Kyle Sampson -- he's the man many lawmakers have been wanting to talk to. Now they're getting their chance.

Senators demanded to know what he knows about those eight fired U.S. attorneys. Hearings are still going on despite a procedural maneuver by Republicans that briefly stopped them.

Our congressional correspondent, Dana Bash, is here. She's got more.

Dana, these hearings are still going on and on and on.


You can see behind me, there aren't a lot of senators there, but they did just start their third round -- third round -- of questioning for Kyle Sampson. He has certainly been taking a grilling all day long. As you mentioned, there were some fits and starts.

But what has happened is that he has certainly not made life easier for his former boss, the attorney general, Alberto Gonzales.


BASH (voice-over): Under oath, the attorney general's former chief of staff disputed Alberto Gonzales' claim that he was not involved in discussions about firing federal prosecutors.

KYLE SAMPSON, FORMER CHIEF OF STAFF TO ATTORNEY GENERAL ALBERTO GONZALES: I don't think the attorney general's statement that he was not involved in any discussions about U.S. attorney removals is accurate. And...


SAMPSON: I don't think it's accurate.

BASH: In fact, Sampson told senators that conversations with the attorney general on the issue began two years ago, when Gonzales was still White House counsel.

SEN. CHARLES SCHUMER (D), NEW YORK: So there were repeated discussions.

SAMPSON: Yes. And I think the attorney general clarified that a couple of days ago.

SCHUMER: Just want to get it clear.

So, were there at least five?

SAMPSON: I don't remember specifically, but it would -- I spoke with him every day, so I think at least five.

BASH: Sampson's account is at odds with this Gonzales statement two weeks ago.

ALBERTO GONZALES, ATTORNEY GENERAL: But that is, in essence, what I knew about the process, was not involved in seeing any memos, was not involved in any discussions about what was going on.

BASH: Gonzales has since acknowledged department records suggesting he did sign off on the dismissals. But Sampson's testimony adds to what even loyal Republicans call a growing Gonzales credibility gap.

SEN. JEFF SESSIONS (R), ALABAMA: I don't think it was a small matter. And I think the attorney general -- I'm disappointed he didn't remember that in his statement.

BASH: The exchanges about Gonzales may have overshadowed Sampson's efforts to challenge the assumption that led Democrats to launch this investigation, that eight federal prosecutors were fired for being too tough on Republicans and too soft on Democrats in corruption probes.

SAMPSON: To my knowledge, there was no -- no U.S. attorney asked to resign for the purpose of influencing a particular case for a political reason.


BASH: But Sampson also made clear that, while he gathered information, along with other top Justice Department officials, about the U.S. attorneys that may or may not be fired, he made clear that the final decision lied in the hands of the attorney general, Alberto Gonzales, and the White House counsel, Harriet Miers. The roles of those two people, Wolf, seem a lot greater today than they did yesterday.

BLITZER: There seems to be, Dana, a new development emerging between other Justice Department officials and members of the House Judiciary Committee. What's going on?

BASH: Well, We just learned, Wolf, that, over in the House, the Judiciary Committee there, they have come to an agreement with the Justice Department that they are going to have private interviews, with transcripts, but private interviews, with some of the top officials, some of the officials that Kyle Sampson behind me has been talking about all day, and that the first interview is going to be with a man by the name of Mike Elston.

He is the chief of staff to the deputy attorney general. He, again, was one of the senior officials involved in all of this.

Another name on this list is Monica Goodling. You will remember, of course, she said that she was going to take her Fifth Amendment right, invoke, not -- against self-incrimination in terms of appearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee. We're trying to find out exactly what this means.

But bottom line is, they are going to start private interviews with these Justice officials on the House side starting tomorrow.

BLITZER: We will be watch with you, Dana. Thanks.

So, who exactly is Kyle Sampson, and why did he resign? A friend and former co-worker said Sampson felt like he let the attorney general, Alberto Gonzales, down, and that his resignation might take some heat off the Justice Department.

Before his time there, Sampson worked as counsel on Capitol Hill and over at the White House. Sampson is a Mormon. And friends describe the married father of three young children as a deeply, deeply religious man.

Meanwhile, asset or a liability? That's what some are asking about one person's chances of becoming president with the help of one who has already been president.

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

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Wolf, you have heard of buyer's remorse. How about voter's remorse?


SCHNEIDER (voice-over): Does Bill Clinton help or hurt his wife's campaign for president? It's a question a lot of people are asking. So, the "USA Today"/Gallup poll asked it. The answer? Seventy percent of Americans think Bill Clinton will do more good than harm to his wife's campaign. Only 25 percent believe he will do more harm than good.

A certain, what, nostalgia, revisionism has set in about Bill Clinton's presidency? "You can run again," shouted someone from the audience.




W. CLINTON: Well, I can't. You need to think about something else.


SCHNEIDER: We call it voter's remorse. It happens a lot. When Bill Clinton left office in 2001, only 42 percent of Americans had a favorable opinion of him. That number has climbed to 60 percent.

The more people turn against President Bush, the better they remember his predecessor. The economy was booming; the rest of the world liked us. So what if he got impeached?

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D), NEW YORK: I believe Bill Clinton was a good president. And I'm very proud of the...


H. CLINTON: ... record of his two terms.

SCHNEIDER: Voter's remorse also benefited George W. Bush in 2000. Forty-nine percent of voters held a favorable opinion of the first President Bush just before they fired him in 1992. By 2000, that number had climbed to 73 percent. So what if the economy was a disaster when he left office? People remembered the first President Bush as a man of good character, who didn't carry on like his successor.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And I want to thank my dad, the most decent man I have ever known.



SCHNEIDER: In the Gallup poll, 76 percent of Americans said the state of Hillary Clinton's marriage should not matter when people consider whether or not to vote for her. But 58 percent said it will matter. It shouldn't, but people think it will -- Wolf.

BLITZER: So, they are going to still be remembering what happened during Bill Clinton's presidency, at the same time moving forward, and perhaps giving her a clean bill of health and just start all over again? SCHNEIDER: Well, I think that they will remember -- she hopes they will remember the good things about his presidency. The interesting point is, a lot of the good things are coming back because people are so frustrated with the performance of President Bush.

BLITZER: Certainly good for her. We will see what happens on that front. Thank you, Bill, for that.

Coming up: a last-minute dash to raise campaign cash happening right now. We're following the money online.

And is Rudy Giuliani's wife becoming a political liability? His remarks about her role in a Giuliani White House raising some eyebrows right now. Paul Begala and Ed Rollins, they are going to be on top of that story in our "Strategy Session."

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


BLITZER: Saturday marked the first-quarter fund-raising deadline for presidential hopefuls to report how much they have actually raised.

Our Internet reporter, Jacki Schechner, has been watching all of this closely.

Jacki, the candidates, they are using the Web to try to grab some last-minute cash. How are they doing?

JACKI SCHECHNER, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Some doing better than others. It is a mad dash for cash, mostly because the money that they raise will be used as a political scorecard from here on out.

Let's take a look at Duncan Hunter's Web site. He's put this front and center.


REP. DUNCAN HUNTER (R-CA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If you send me $20 or $50 or $100, we use that money to win, to get our message out.


SCHECHNER: That's pretty effective use of the Internet to try to grab some money.

Take a look at some of the other Republican candidates' Web sites so far. Senator John McCain just has this banner here mentioning the deadline. And Mitt Romney has been sending out e-mails.

We're seeing a lot more color on the Democratic side. If you go to Bill Richardson's Web site, he is asking people to turn up the heat with his chili pepper. And Chris Dodd is asking people to put him into the final four, with, obviously, the basketball reference there. You can see where Senator Hillary Clinton is calling on some famous friends, like Geraldine Ferraro, and her husband, Bill Clinton, who made a video on her Web site, asking people to send in money.

There's also Barack Obama, who is not asking specifically for money. He's asking for people and for donations. He says it's the people that count.

And then John Edwards is sending out an e-mail daily, at this point, asking for money. But it turns out that he's actually getting an influx of cash that he didn't count on. We spoke to ActBlue, who verified that, in the five days after Elizabeth Edwards announced that her cancer had returned, the Edwards campaign saw an influx of cash online of more than $500,000. That's according to ActBlue, which is the online clearinghouse for Democratic fund-raising -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jacki is watching all of this for us.


And all of these campaign donations, by the way, will be reported to the Federal Election Commission on March 31. That's this Saturday. The FEC then tallies all the numbers and releases its campaign finance report on April 15. We will be watching those numbers closely.

Jacki Schechner is part of the best political team on television.

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

Up next: The attorney general's former aide testifies under oath.


SAMPSON: There was no -- no U.S. attorney asked to resign for the purpose of influencing a particular case for a political reason.


BLITZER: Are Paul Begala and Ed Rollins buying what Kyle Sampson had to say? Our "Strategy Session" is just ahead.

And, if Rudy Giuliani becomes president, will his wife be part of his kitchen cabinet? Paul and Ed will chew on that as well.

Stay with us.


BLITZER: We're watching an emergency landing that just occurred down in Florida.

Carol Costello is watching it as well.

What are we getting, Carol? CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes.

This happened at the Sanford Orlando International Airport. That's not the main Orlando airport. And you can see these live pictures of this airline. It's the Allegiant Airlines, 150 people on board. It landed without its nose wheels. I was watching it land online, oddly enough.

And, as the plane landed, you could see like smoke from the friction of the plane rubbing its nose on the runway coming up from the ground. Otherwise, the plane looks OK. Emergency vehicles are now on the scene. Passengers are still on board, as far as I know.

Now, of course, they will have to take -- it will take some time to get those passengers off the plane. They have to check it out and make sure everything is OK.


COSTELLO: But, as of right now, it looks like it -- it's landed OK.

BLITZER: We're going to get those pictures of the actual landing, Carol, come back to you once we get them.

Want to thank our affiliate WESH for this live picture down in Orlando.

Republican presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani and his wife, Judith, recently sat down with Barbara Walters for a very personal interview. Will it help to head off any concerns voters may have about Giuliani's personal life?

Here for today's "Strategy Session," Democratic strategist Paul Begala and Republican strategist Ed Rollins.

Guys, thanks very much for coming in.

Basically, among other things, he suggested she would be welcome at Cabinet meetings. You get two for the price of one.

I have heard that before, Paul. Maybe you remember that.


You know, and, look, I don't know Ms. Nathan, but I think it's going to be pretty interesting to see how Republicans handle this. I think it's fine. We have had precedent. Rosalynn Carter, when Jimmy Carter was president, sat in on Cabinet meetings. Edith Wilson, who was Woodrow Wilson's wife, ran the country when President Wilson had a stroke.

As a rule, Hillary Clinton did not sit in on Cabinet meetings. But -- but I don't have a problem with it. The candidate is being candid about it. He's being up front about it. I just -- it would be interesting, though. The same people who were having a hissy fit and getting their panties in a wad when they thought Hillary had too much power now are going to have to adjust to the potential of Ms. Nathan, not Mrs. Giuliani, by the way, being a powerful first lady, if he were to win.


BLITZER: What do you think, Ed?

ED ROLLINS, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: I want to know if President Clinton is going to sit back in the Cabinet meetings again.


ROLLINS: That may be a plus.

The critical thing here, I think, for Mrs. Giuliani, this is her first campaign. She wasn't around when he ran in his mayor's races. And I think she needs to be very careful. People need to get to know him across this country, and particularly Republican voters, who know him only as the mayor of New York.

And I think, if she gets out front too much, or becomes too much a part of the story at this point in time, I think it detracts from him.

BLITZER: We remember that article in one of the women's magazines not that long ago, Ed, when she was sitting on his lap and saying all sorts of glowing things, what a great guy he is.

I guess it's part of the process for all these candidates to introduce themselves, their wives to the American public.

ROLLINS: Well, the wives are very important.

But I just think -- as I said, I think it's very important -- she's not known -- he's not particularly known across the country -- that she not distract at this point in time. The story needs to be about what he's going to do as president, or presidential candidate, and not about her.

BLITZER: Is this a good strategy, in effect, to sort of soften himself up a little bit by showing what a loving husband he is, Paul?


Frankly, usually, Democrats need to show how tough they are, because people worry that Democrats are too weak. Republicans, and particularly Rudy, I think, people admire his strength. But I think there are some voters who worry about that it goes too far and could be ruthless. And so now here's the softer side of Rudy, the feminization of Rudy.

Now, he's a gun who's already comfortable wearing a dress on "Saturday Night Live." So, I don't know how much more feminine he needs to get.


BLITZER: You have a problem. Sometimes, the consultants, Ed -- and you used to do this for a living -- they get so involved in trying to package and repackage these candidates, they turn out to be not exactly what they really are.

ROLLINS: You have to take the person who he is.

It's -- at the end of the day, it's his or her words. It's his or her ideas. And, if you are an effective consultant, you find out the strengths of your candidate, and you try and make sure that those are the ones that are expressed. If there's weaknesses, you try and make them aware of the weaknesses and try and compensate for that.

But I think the critical thing is, packaging of a candidate never works. The candidate is who he is. And I think we consultants are like jockeys on a horse. You got a great horse, you don't fall off, they win. If you have got a bad horse, you can maybe make it a little better, but you can't win.

BLITZER: You agree with that, Paul?

BEGALA: Oh, yes, absolutely.

Look, Ed -- but Ed was a historically great campaign manager. He helped Ronald Reagan carry 49 states. But I think part of the genius of what Ed did for President Reagan were those famous four words: Let Reagan be Reagan.

And guys like me studied Ed and studied President Reagan. And I think that's part of the reason President Clinton was successful, too, is that we didn't try to change him. He was who he was. And, thank goodness, the country fell in love with him.

BLITZER: Let's talk about what happened on the Hill today in the Senate Judiciary Committee, Kyle Sampson, the former chief of staff to Alberto Gonzales, testifying for a long, long time.

Ed, it looked like the Democrats, particularly, were mostly interested in Karl Rove. They want him to come up there and testify under oath, in open session, about what he knew about the firing of these federal prosecutors.

What was your take?

ROLLINS: Well, my take was, this was not a good day for the attorney general.

I think, when you have your chief of staff basically saying what he said publicly and what he said to senators is not accurate, I think, creates a credibility problem.

There's not a Democrat anywhere that doesn't want a piece of Karl Rove. He's viewed as the master strategist in this White House. And he's viewed also as the culprit in everything that's gone wrong. He also deserves some of the credit for everything that has gone right.

But I think the reality today is, this was not a good day for this administration. And this whole process of these -- firing these U.S. attorneys, which is certainly the president's prerogative, is a disaster that we don't need right now, when we're fighting a much bigger battle in the funding battle for Iraq and other things.

BLITZER: These hearings are still going on.

What was your take, Paul?

BEGALA: The problem that the president has is -- as Ed says, it's not going to stop with Alberto Gonzales. It's going to go straight into the White House, you know, because the White House now has misled us, not just Judge Gonzales, the attorney general, whose own chief of staff, as Ed points out, today admitted that what the attorney general said was not accurate.

But the White House has told us, for example, that Mr. Rove, the president's top aide, was not involved. We now have seen e-mails that showed that he was. They told us that this was performance-related. Now we see that these attorneys all had high performance ratings.

So, the question here is, did the White House move to fire some U.S. attorneys for political reasons, because they were too tough going after corrupt Republicans or too slow going after Democrats? And I think that's the issue here. And that gets to obstruction of justice.

BLITZER: Is that framed right, Ed?

ROLLINS: It's framed exactly the way the Democrats are going to frame it.

And I think the reality is, as I said, this was an idiotic thing to take down at this point in time. And I think, at the end of the day, a lot more is going to be known before we're finished here. And it's not going to be a pretty story. And I don't think there was anything in the sense of them trying to cover up or stop these people from doing anything. But it's just -- it's about competence.

And, at this point in time, this administration is being hurt terribly by questions of its competency. And I think this just feeds that.

BLITZER: Ed Rollins, Paul Begala, thanks for coming in.

ROLLINS: Thank you. My pleasure.

BEGALA: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: We're following that story down in Florida. It's a developing story, a commercial jetliner making an emergency landing without its front landing gear. We're going to bring you video of this extraordinary landing. That's coming up in just a moment.

Also: Is Iraq in the middle of a brutal ethnic cleansing?


REP. JOHN MURTHA (D), PENNSYLVANIA: There's genocide already. They're going -- the Shias are going into the hospitals and getting rid of all the Sunnis. They are getting all the Sunnis out of the Shia areas.


BLITZER: That controversial assessment from one Democrat staunchly against the president's Iraq war policy -- you are going to want to hear more of what Congressman John Murtha has to say.

And Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah calling the U.S. presence in Iraq -- and I'm quoting now -- "an illegitimate foreign occupation." What do you think that means?

Jack Cafferty with your e-mail -- when we come back.


BLITZER: We're going to get you those dramatic pictures shortly of that commercial jetliner making that emergency landing down in Orlando. There you see it -- no front landing gear. This is a dramatic development. We're going to show you what happened. We will get to that in a few moments.

But let's bring in Jack Cafferty first for "The Cafferty File."

Do you see of that? That's pretty scary stuff, Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Yes. But nobody got hurt, you said, right?

BLITZER: Well, I hope. We don't know for sure, but we don't think anybody got hurt.


BLITZER: But it's still a dramatic -- you see that plane landing with the nose down, the smoke coming up. It's a scary situation.

CAFFERTY: Indeed, it is.

Here's another one. Saudi Arabia is calling the U.S. presence in Iraq an illegitimate foreign occupation. This is the king of Saudi Arabia, U.S. ally, oil supplier, friend of the Bush family -- illegitimate foreign occupation.

So, we asked what you thought that meant.

Veronika wrote: "The Saudis are right. It is an illegal occupation that is going on in Iraq. And it was not sanctioned by the U.N. And to think the Saudis would say anything different is foolish. The Saudis no longer have anything to gain from supporting Bush, while simultaneously losing popular support among their own people."

Kenneth writes: "It's a clear sign the king of Saudi Arabia has finally realized that he, along with many American Islamic allies, have been Bush-whacked."

Alan in Washington: "Regarding Abdullah's comments on the U.S. in Iraq, 15 of the 19 hijackers on 9/11 were from Saudi Arabia. They have been holding us hostage, OPEC, for a long time. And now we know the true feelings behind their smile."

Lonnie in Baltimore: "It sends the message we better force Israel to make a deal with the Palestinians, because the Arab world is finally becoming savvy to and sick of our horrendous double standards. They are also starting to clearly see how we manipulate the lives of millions to serve our own narrow interests."

J. writes: "Jack, it means, after 2,000 years, the Arab world finally finds one thing they can agree on. And now they hate the United States worse than they hate each other. Great job, Mr. President."

Jim writes: "Even billions of dollars in oil isn't enough to prevent the truth from finally coming out. The Saudi statement matches the attitude of 95 percent of the world."

And Al in Kansas writes: "I guess the president's support really is down to Laura and the dog. It might be lower. I don't know how you poll a dog" -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jack, thanks.

See you in a few moments.

The fight for crucial California voters tops today's "Political Radar."

Senator Hillary Clinton appears to be winning the battle for Golden State Democrats. A new Public Policy Institute of California poll finds Clinton topping Senator Barack Obama by 11 percentage points in the Democratic presidential primary matchup.

Rudy Giuliani has the early lead in the Republican battle. The former New York City mayor topped senator John McCain by 14 points -- California becoming more of a player in presidential politics now that it's moving up its primary to February 5.

Barack Obama in Spanish? Add him to list of presidential hopefuls putting out a new Spanish edition of a bestselling book. "Audacity of Hope," his second book, is coming out in Spanish this June. Books written by Hillary Clinton, Rudy Giuliani already have been translated.

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

Washington can be a very serious city, but necessarily last night. At the Radio-Television Correspondents dinner, presidential adviser Karl Rove was a good sport at poking some fun at himself.

You have to watch it to believe it. Take a look at this little clip.


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