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THE SITUATION ROOM

Gonzales Prepares for Upcoming Capitol Hill Testimony; Interview With Jack Murtha

Aired April 5, 2007 - 16:00   ET

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


SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Happening now, the attorney general in training for the fight to keep his job.
Is Alberto Gonzales ready to face angry senators in the showdown over fired federal prosecutors?

Also this hour, new attacks in the battle over Iraq war funding and the withdrawal deadline. Congressman John Murtha comes out with guns blazing in response to the president's veto threat. Murtha is our guest.

Money changes everything -- or does it?

In the presidential race, Barack Obama is cashing in on his fundraising prowess. But Mitt Romney may have shot himself in the foot.

Wolf Blitzer is off today.

I'm Suzanne Malveaux and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Right now, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales is laying low and bracing to do battle. Gonzales is said to be intensely preparing for Congressional hearings that could determine the fate of his career.

CNN's Brian Todd joining us live -- Brian, of course, first they tried to delay the time he would testify. Then they tried to move it up. We have not seen Gonzales lately.

Why?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Suzanne, he has essentially hunkered down. The attorney general and his team admit the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in less than two weeks is absolutely crucial to his survival and he has got to be ready.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

TODD (voice-over): He's about to face Democratic senators who want to tear him down and Alberto Gonzales is preparing like it's a heavyweight title fight.

Justice Department officials tell CNN he's staying behind closed doors, canceling a family vacation and will go through mock grilling sessions, possibly with outside legal advisers. DAVID WINSTON, GOP CONSULTANT: It's now gotten to the point where the credibility of the attorney general is really coming into play and he's -- and this has all been self-inflicted.

TODD: By conflicting statements, critics say, between Gonzales and his former chief of staff about the firings of eight U.S. attorneys.

ALBERTO GONZALES, ATTORNEY GENERAL OF THE UNITED STATES: I was not involved in seeing any memos. I was not involved in any discussions about what was going on.

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

TODD: Gonzales will have to answer for that to this man -- Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy. In a letter to Gonzales, the Democrat seems to warn him of the pressure he'll face in an April 17th hearing, repeatedly scolding Gonzales for not responding in a timely manner to the committee's inquiries, instructing the attorney general to include in his written testimony "all the specifics of your role" in the firings.

Justice officials tell CNN Gonzales has started to reach out to at least a dozen members of Congress to try to smooth the way, the vast majority of them fellow Republicans.

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: So he starts this kind of isolated, even among Republicans. And what he really needs to do, if he is going to keep this job, is to reassure Republicans enough to the extent that they feel comfortable defending the president's decision to keep him on.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

TODD: In fact, several GOP consultants who asked for anonymity since they were talking about Gonzales' future tell CNN that what he says in the next few weeks and how it's received will be crucial to his support in Congress. One of them said: "He has a tall order. It has to be a compelling presentation" -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: And, Brian, we've heard from Gonzales before.

Is there any hint that he's going to say anything differently than what we've heard in public?

TODD: He seems to nuance it a little bit, and I'll give you an example. Last Friday at a public briefing in Boston, he said: "I don't recall being involved in deliberations involving the question of whether or not a U.S. attorney should or should not be asked to resign."

He is hedging it a little bit, saying I don't recall being involved in the deliberations. So he is trying to, I think, nuance the language a little bit. You might see some kind of that language in the -- in the committee hearings in a couple of weeks.

MALVEAUX: OK, thanks.

Thanks, Brian Todd.

And new shots over the bow today in an even bigger political fight pitting the White House against Democrats. Congressman John Murtha is blasting the president's vow to veto any war spending bill that includes a timetable for troop withdrawal.

I spoke with Murtha a short time ago and he accuses Mr. Bush of running a war without end or accountability. And he says Democrats are trying to change that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JOHN MURTHA (D), PENNSYLVANIA: We have 126,000 contractors in Iraq and we can't even hold them accountable. We don't know who they are. The Iraq inspector general said to me, you have to help us get accountability.

Now, what am I talking about?

I'm talking about some of those contractors are being paid more than the secretary of defense out of the 126,000.

So we cut 5 percent out of that money. Yes, I think that if he vetoes the bill, we have to do something dramatic, because the public is demanding that there be accountability. $1.2 trillion in one year and there's no accountability at all.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MALVEAUX: The full interview is coming up right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Reunions and relief in Britain right now. Fifteen British service members are back in their homeland after being held for nearly two weeks in Iran. They were freed after Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad granted them amnesty, claiming the British sailors and marines who had crossed the Iranian borders.

Today, British Prime Minister Tony Blair again denied that and he said no deals were made to win the captives' freedom.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TONY BLAIR, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: What has actually happened is that we have managed to secure the release of our personnel, I think, more quickly than many people anticipated and have done so, incidentally -- and I want to make this very, very clear -- without any deal, without any negotiation, without any side agreement of any nature whatever. We made it clear at the outset we weren't going to do that and we held firm to that position throughout.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MALVEAUX: And there is outrage in Britain at Iran's president over the seized sailors and marines. One newspaper is accusing Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of milking the humiliating situation for all it was worth.

CNN's Robin Oakley is in London and joins us now -- Robin.

ROBIN OAKLEY, CNN EUROPEAN POLITICAL EDITOR: Suzanne, what the British public and media are arguing about now is quite simply who won this diplomatic spat.

Tony Blair's supporters argue that he got the captives back without having to issue an apology or to cut any kind of deal.

Iran's supporters say it has scored a huge public relations coup in the Middle East by taunting and holding off a power like Britain for a fortnight and then, in an act of magnanimity, releasing the captives, so transforming the image of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, at least temporarily.

But the real winners?

Those 15 captives -- back in uniform, back in Britain and back with their loved ones -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: Robin Oakley in London.

Thank you so much.

And the United States is welcoming the release of the British captives and praising the way Tony Blair's government handled the face-off with Iran.

Our White House correspondent, Elaine Quijano, in with the president in Crawford, Texas. We know it is a working vacation, Elaine, so we assume that President Bush did get word of this.

ELAINE QUIJANO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: He certainly did, Suzanne. And he spent about an hour on a secure videoconference with British Prime Minister Tony Blair. Aides telling us that the president did welcome the return of the 15 British sailors and marines.

The president also commended the British for their resolve in bringing the situation to a peaceful close.

At the same time, though, the Bush administration says Iran still essentially has work to do in other areas, namely in complying with U.N. Security Council resolutions, resolutions aimed, of course, at getting Iran to curb its nuclear programs.

Now, Gordon Johndroe, the National Security Council spokesman, was asked today whether the administration views this action by Iran, the release of these 15 British Naval personnel, as a sign of goodwill. Gordon Johndroe said that the United States certainly is pleased that Iran did decide to let these personnel go, but at the same time said that the administration wishes that they hadn't been taken in the first place -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: And, Elaine, there's a published report about a release of an Iranian diplomat and whether or not there are links to the Brits being released yesterday.

What is the White House saying about that?

QUIJANO: Well, the White House basically says that's wrong, that it's inaccurate. Gordon Johndroe, again, telling reporters here that there have been no links between any other releases and what happened with the British Navy personnel.

He says that really this whole thing was an issue between the U.K. and between Iran and he says to his knowledge the U.S.' role in all of this, Suzanne, was really limited to a support role -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: Elaine, thanks.

Good to see you, Crawford, Texas.

Elaine Quijano, Robin Oakley and Brian Todd are part of the best political team on television.

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

And now time for The Cafferty File.

Jack Cafferty joining us in New York -- what are you working on this hour, Jack?

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I wonder why those British sailors and marines weren't wearing their military uniforms when they were released. They were wearing Iranian civilian clothes. Not good.

A tug of war over funding the war continuing between the White House and Democrats in Congress. President Bush now says that what's going on in Iraq is not a civil war. Quoting here, Bush says "it's pure evil and I believe we have an obligation to protect ourselves from that evil."

The White House says the president's comments from yesterday are part of a drumbeat that Mr. Bush plans now to continue through next week, which is when the House and Senate are scheduled to try and reconcile their war funding bills.

Meanwhile, with Congress on its spring break and the president at his ranch in Crawford, Texas, whatever it is in Iraq is continuing to kill Americans. In the last day or so, insurgent attacks have killed nine coalition troops. Four British soldiers died today in Basra. Five U.S. soldiers died yesterday in and around Baghdad. That brought the U.S. death toll since the start of this war to 3,266.

Here's the question -- how would you characterize the war in Iraq? Is it a civil war or pure evil -- or something else, perhaps?

E-mail us at caffertyfile@cnn.com or go to cnn.com/caffertyfile -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: Jack, it should be very interesting to see what the viewers have on that one.

And if you want a sneak preview of Jack's questions plus an early read on the day's political news and what's ahead in THE SITUATION ROOM, sign up for our daily e-mail alert. Just go to cnn.com/situationroom.

And coming up, did Mitt Romney misfire over how many times he's actually hunted?

We've got that story in our Bull's Eye.

Plus, Rudy Giuliani stands firm on his abortion stance.

Will this hurt him with crucial conservative voters?

And later, it was pretty much a draw in the first round, but who will have the advantage in the next battle for campaign cash -- Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama?

Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MALVEAUX: A new dustup in the 2008 presidential race. It's left Republican Mitt Romney with some explaining to do.

At issue -- did Romney exaggerate his history as a hunter?

It's a distraction for Romney at a time when he'd prefer people still were talking about his impressive first quarter fundraising performance.

CNN national correspondent Bob Franken here joining us -- Bob, what do we know about what Romney has claimed about his hunting experience?

BOB FRANKEN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, first of all, we now know that he can afford a gun with that impressive financial performance. And, first of all, when a presidential candidate cozies up to hunters, saying he's one of them, he certainly is, at the very least, a hunter for votes.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

FRANKEN (voice-over): Mitt Romney this week in New Hampshire.

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I've been a hunter pretty much all my life. I never really shot anything terribly big.

FRANKEN: And the campaign is really taking umbrage at reports it's only been twice in that life, when he was 15 on an Idaho ranch, said a spokesman, he spent an entire summer handling firearms and shooting at varmints.

"Since then," he went on, "Romney has been shooting on more than a few occasions."

And there was last year, on a game preserve.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY: I went quail hunting this last year.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, yes.

ROMNEY: With Governor Purdue in Georgia.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.

ROMNEY: And it -- that's a challenge. But it was fun, I've got to tell you. It was a really fun...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We had a good...

(END VIDEO CLIP)

FRANKEN: Why has Romney been doing all this?

Why did he become a member of the National Rifle Association last August, a lifetime member, no less?

He's running for president.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Really?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Come to the gun show.

I'm running for president.

FRANKEN: But as Massachusetts governor, Romney supported gun control and a ban on assault weapons. And the NRA would not comment for CNN.

And who can forget the photo-op of 2004 -- Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry traipsing around in hunting gear?

Actually, Kerry is firing away now at Romney, saying he had never hunted in a preserve.

And call it coincidence, but Senator John McCain has decided to announce now support from a just formed New Hampshire sportsman's coalition.

CHUCK DOUGLAS (R), FORMER U.S. CONGRESSMAN: And it's not about squirrels. It's about people being able to defend themselves, defend their families and their property.

FRANKEN: By the way, McCain does not hunt, but it's beside the point, according to his campaign, which says he is an avid fisherman.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

FRANKEN: Well, what's clear is that part of the presidential campaign should be a walk in the woods, real or imagined. And we probably should be grateful, Suzanne, that Vice President Cheney is not a candidate.

MALVEAUX: Now we know that there are some issues that are really important, Iraq and health care.

But how important is the gun debate and gun rights when it comes to primary voters?

FRANKEN: Well, for Republican primary voters, the NRA, for the most part, and those who support gun rights are really overwhelmingly Republican.

MALVEAUX: Bob Franken, thank you very much.

And we're joined now by CNN political editor Mark Preston.

A couple of questions for you, of course.

Mitt Romney seems to have stumbled a little bit with his remarks on how active a hunter he has been.

How much do you think it's going to hurt him?

MARK PRESTON, CNN POLITICAL EDITOR: You know, Suzanne, I think it's early enough for Mitt Romney to get over this little bump in the road. Clearly it was shown that he is a candidate that's for real. He raised more than $20 million. And I think for gun rights activists, they want to see somebody who is going to tell them where he's going to be down the road.

And, clearly, Mitt Romney is trying to curry favor with them, so he's telling them that he supports gun rights. So I don't necessarily think this is going to hurt them with that voting bloc.

MALVEAUX: Now, we might have seen a little bit of a snag here with Rudy Giuliani. You know, our Dana Bash had an interview with him in THE SITUATION ROOM and he did make a statement yesterday that he would support taxpayer funded abortions.

How much is that going to hurt him in the Republican primary, if at all?

PRESTON: Well, you know, he did repeat that again today on the campaign trail. There's no question that this is going to hurt Rudy Giuliani with some social conservatives.

But I will tell you, Suzanne, that there is a feeling amongst Republicans that Hillary Clinton -- there's a good chance, anyway, that Hillary Clinton could be standing outside the U.S. Capitol in January 2009 taking the oath of office.

So right now what you're hearing from Republicans, at least quietly, is are they willing to give a little bit on some of their social issues to make sure that they can retain the White House?

Some Republicans would suggest that Rudy Giuliani is that type of person who can defeat Hillary Clinton in general election.

MALVEAUX: Mark Preston, CNN political editor.

Thank you so much for joining us.

PRESTON: Thanks, Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: Thanks, Mark.

And still ahead, who's on first now that the first quarter fundraising totals are in? What do the figures really tell us about where Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton stand?

We'll dive deep into the numbers.

And blasting the speaker of the House. One newspaper says Nancy Pelosi's trip to the Middle East was "foolish and counter-productive." We'll talk about that in our Strategy Session.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MALVEAUX: And now, our Carol Costello has been monitoring the wires, keeping an eye on all the video feeds from around the world.

She joins us now from New York with a lot of things going on -- Carol, what are you looking at?

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Oh, lots of stuff going on, Suzanne.

The recall of contaminated pet food is expanding. The Food and Drug Administration saying the recall now includes dog biscuits made by the Alabama company Sunshine Mills. The FDA says the biscuits are contaminated with potentially toxic wheat gluten. The FDA also says Menu Foods is expanding its recall of a wide variety of products to include a broader range of dates.

The number of pet deaths linked to this recall varies widely, from an official count of 16 to more than 3,000.

An FBI agent is dead after a shootout with three bank robbery suspects in north central New Jersey. Agents investigating a string of bank robberies confronted the suspects leaving a bank in Readington today. That's when shots were fired, injuring the agent. He was taken to a hospital in Newark, where he died. Two suspects now in custody. Police searching for a third.

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales is getting ready for his grilling on Capitol Hill over the firing of those eight U.S. attorneys. Justice Department officials say he'll take part in mock question and answer sessions that could include outside legal advisers. The major hearing will be before the Senate Judiciary Committee. That will come on April 17th.

And the government predicts that up to 9,600 deaths will be prevented each year once vehicles have anti-rollover technology. All new vehicles will be required to have electronic stability control by the 2012 model year. Electronic stability control senses when a driver may lose control. Brakes are then automatically applied to individual wheels to help stabilize the car and avoid a rollover.

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

MALVEAUX: Thanks, Carol.

And up next, Barack Obama is hot on her heels when it comes to fundraising. But Hillary Clinton has a few advantages he can't match.

Plus, President Bush gives Democrats another target for their anger after he bypassed the Senate nomination process. We're following the fallout.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MALVEAUX: Happening now, a nightmare scenario -- freak storms partly wiping away some U.S. cities. Scientists are saying that's just what global warming could do. We'll tell you which cities experts say are most at risk.

Also, President Bush says there is no civil war in Iraq, but there is "pure evil." But one top Democrat says it is a civil war and Congressman John Murtha says the administration should be held accountable for its Iraq policy. The congressman will join me later here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

And just after the White House blasted House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's trip to Syria, a Republican meets with the Syrian president. Congressman Darrell Issa of California met with President Bashar Al- Assad today. The Republican says President Bush has partly failed in diplomatic efforts to engage Syria.

Wolf Blitzer is off today.

I'm Suzanne Malveaux and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

In the Democratic race for the White House, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are the undisputed first quarter superstars.

But does Obama have bigger bragging rights? There's still plenty of discussion about cash and political advantage, so let's bring in our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider -- Bill, what do these first quarter fundraising numbers really tell us about the Democrats' campaign?

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, it's still early in the game, Suzanne. But the first quarter results gibe us some important clues about how the Democratic race is shaping up.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

SCHNEIDER (voice-over): What do the first quarter fundraising totals tell us about the Democratic race?

That Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are in a class by themselves. By nearly matching Clinton in total contributions, Obama proved his campaign is no pickup team. He argues money follows message.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D), ILLINOIS: It's the candidate who raises the most money, but a lot of times it's the candidate who has the best message and then the money follows.

SCHNEIDER: The Clinton campaign's response?

"We are thrilled with our historic fundraising success and congratulate Senator Obama and the entire Democratic field on their fundraising, which demonstrates the overwhelming desire for change in our country."

The first quarter tends to be easy picking for fundraisers. The second quarter is when it gets tough. You need to show sustainability. Obama looks well positioned to do that. His contributions came for twice as many individuals as Clinton's did, and in smaller amounts. He can go back to them for more.

But Clinton has some advantages, too.

DAN BALZ, "WASHINGTON POST": He is trying to energize a group of people who don't necessarily always participate in the process, but who are hungry for something different. I think she is going more for what you would call the kind of the core Democratic constituencies who often have been instrumental in helping somebody win a nomination.

SCHNEIDER: And she has a powerful weapon when it comes to raising money -- her husband.

The candidate who raises the most money doesn't necessarily win the nomination. Ask Howard Dean, who raised more money than any other Democrat in 2003. You need enough money to cross the threshold of credibility, to get your name known and your message out.

What's different for 2008?

BALZ: I think that the difference this time around is that the threshold seems to be much, much higher than it's been in the past. (END VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER: You need a message, but you need money to get the message out. It's like the radio comedian Fred Allen once said. There are many things in life that are more important than money, and they all cost money -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: And, Bill, let's take a quick look here at some of the -- more fund-raising numbers.

All told, the Democratic presidential candidates raked in an estimated $77 million during the first three months of this year. And then the Republican presidential candidates raised $50 million. What do you think this tells us about the race? This is a very unique situation.

SCHNEIDER: Yes. We have never seen the Democrats collectively raising more money than the Republicans.

The Republicans are a little demoralized since the midterm last year. Second of all, of course, President Bush is in the doldrums in his approval ratings. And, third of all, they are having problems getting really enthusiastic about any of the 10 candidates who are running for the Republican nomination. That's why they keep talking about Ronald Reagan. Who can be the next Ronald Reagan? Some are looking for Fred Thompson or someone else to come in and play Ronald Reagan.

The Democrats, on the other hand, they are really jazzed. They are enthusiastic. They are eager. They are ready to vote. They are telling people in Iowa and New Hampshire, we want the election to be held tomorrow.

(LAUGHTER)

MALVEAUX: Well, we will see. We have got a long way before the elections. Thanks so much, Bill Schneider.

SCHNEIDER: OK.

MALVEAUX: Some Senate Democrats are fighting mad today over President Bush's decision to, in essence, go behind their backs. Mr. Bush used a recess appointment to give a Republican donor a U.S. ambassadorship.

Presidents have the power to make temporary appointments while Congress is on break. That allowed Mr. Bush to get around intense opposition to his nominee.

Our congressional correspondent Andrea Koppel joining us now.

Obviously, the president has used this power before. It is one that he has the privilege and the right to use. What do we know about the one who is creating such controversy?

ANDREA KOPPEL, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Suzanne, over the years, 77-year-old Sam Hill (sic) is known as a big-time Republican contributor. He's donated millions over the years.

And President Bush now has made this recess appointment, because during his recent Senate confirmation, he recognized that Sam Hill (sic) -- Sam Fox, rather -- did not have the votes needed to win that nomination.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KOPPEL (voice-over): He's the man who helped bankroll one of the hottest ads of the 2004 presidential campaign.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, SWIFT BOAT VETERANS FOR TRUTH AD)

ANNOUNCER: Even before Jane Fonda went to Hanoi to meet with the enemy and mock America, John Kerry secretly met with enemy leaders in Paris.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KOPPEL: Sponsored by the group Swift Boat Veterans For Truth, this ad, among others, helped sink Senator John Kerry's 2004 campaign for the White House. Now, thanks to a recess appointment by President Bush, Saint Louis businessman Sam Fox, who donated $50,000 to the group, is about to get a new title, ambassador to Belgium.

During his Senate confirmation hearing in February, despite sharp questioning from Kerry, Fox refused to apologize for the ads.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: So, you see no responsibility, as an individual citizen, to try to guarantee that you aren't going to support that kind of politics of personal destruction?

SAM FOX, U.S. AMBASSADORIAL NOMINEE: I think, if one side is giving, too, the other side almost has to.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KOPPEL: In a statement, Kerry called the Fox recess appointment "sad, but not surprising."

Presidential candidate Connecticut Democrat Chris Dodd called it "outrageous, underhanded, and an abuse of executive authority" that he wants investigated.

Two other recess appointments made this week are also raising red flags for some, including Susan Dudley, who will serve as a regulatory czar in the White House of Management and Budget, and Andrew Biggs, who will get the number-two spot at the Social Security Administration.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KOPPEL: Now, the White House has defended all of its recess nominations. President Bush, in particular when talking about the Fox appointment, has said that he is qualified to serve, with a long history of accomplishments and a proven record of leadership -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: And, Andrea, not surprising, when the White House is under attack, specifically the president, we often hear from Vice President Cheney. What did he say today when he weighed in on the debate?

KOPPEL: Well, on the -- one of the radio talk shows, Vice President Cheney said that now Ambassador Fox is somebody who is a good friend of his, again echoing President Bush's long list of achievements, and that he will do, in the vice president's opinion, a superb job as the ambassador to Belgium -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: Andrea Koppel, thanks so much.

And, as you heard, Senator John Kerry's anger and concerns about Sam Fox were evident in that February hearing on Fox's confirmation. Let's listen in on the fireworks.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

FOX: Mr. Senator, when I am asked, I just generally give.

KERRY: So, again, I ask you the question. Do you think now that you and others bear responsibility for thinking about where we put money in American politics, what we're saying, what we present to the American people? Is truth important or isn't it?

FOX: Senator, if I had reason to believe, and if I were convinced that the money was going to be used to -- in any untruthful or false way, knowingly, I would not give.

KERRY: ... 527, as you said, is mean, ugly and not accountable.

FOX: I agree with that. I absolutely agree with that.

(CROSSTALK)

KERRY: Why would you give $50,000 to a group you have no sense of accountability for?

FOX: Well, because if 527s were banned, then it's banned for both parties. And so long as they're not banned...

KERRY: So, two wrongs make a right?

FOX: Well, I don't know, but, if one side is contributing, the other side...

(CROSSTALK)

KERRY: But is that your judgment? Is that your judgment that you would bring to the ambassadorship, that two wrongs make a right?

FOX: No, I didn't say that two wrongs make a right, sir. (END VIDEO CLIP)

MALVEAUX: Andrea Koppel and Bill Schneider, part of the best political team on television.

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

Coming up: Protecting the nation from harm can take a lot out of you. The new director of national intelligence reveals his biggest challenge in adjusting to his new job. It may surprise you.

And outrage in the Ivy League -- police accuse some non-Americans of an act many consider anti-American. And the accused are students at Yale. We will have details.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MALVEAUX: A Greek cruise ship with Americans on board is taking on water after striking a reef off the coast of the island of Santorini. The nearly 1, 200 passengers had to abandon ship.

Our Abbi Tatton has been tracking the ship and the rescue efforts online all day.

Abbi, how are they doing? How is it going?

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Well, everyone has been evacuated at this point.

And this is the Sea Diamond earlier today after scraping that reef -- these pictures sent in to CNN through I-Report. This is Nikos Sirigos, who was watching from the shore as all of this took place. You can see the ship there was listing. This is towards the end of the evacuation that went on for several hours this afternoon. And it was an evacuation that was all caught on the island's Web cameras, at the Web site here, Santorini.info.

We were watching as it all took place, many smaller vessels going to the rescue of those almost 1,200 passengers, several hundred of them Americans. And more pictures were sent to us by the Webmaster of Santorini.info, who showed us the greater detail here of the ship that has 570 cabins, 10 decks. You could see all the people watching from the shore as this took place from these Webcams -- the cruise operator saying that all passengers safely disembarked, there were no casualties, and that the technical team for the company is on their way to evaluate the situation -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: That's fascinating, Abbi, that they actually have those cameras already set up there. I'm assuming perhaps it's for security reasons?

TATTON: They are actually for tourists, so people can check what's going on, people that are heading to the island. But, today, it's where we were watching this evacuation.

MALVEAUX: Great. OK. Thank you very much, Abbi Tatton.

And our Carol Costello monitoring all the stories that are happening at this hour from around the world.

Carol, what's making news?

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Got a couple of things to tell you about, Suzanne.

First off, a former intern with the National Archives in Philadelphia now admits he stole 164 Civil War documents from the archives. Denning McTague pleaded guilty to the thefts today. A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office says McTague posted 150 of the documents on eBay and sold about half of them. All but three have been recovered. McTague could face 10 years in prison when he's sentenced in July.

It's the biggest loss of life for British forces in Iraq in more than four months. Four British soldiers were killed today in an ambush in southern Iraq. Insurgents used an array of firepower when they ambushed a British armored vehicle west of Basra. A civilian translator was also killed in the attack.

And the new director of the national intelligence is speaking out about his new job. He says his biggest challenge is having stamina for the 18-hour workdays. Retired Vice Admiral Mike McConnell has been on the job for less than two months. He said today there's a need to improve collaboration and information sharing among the 16 agencies that make up the intelligence community, something we have been hearing for a long time -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: Obviously, a lot of improvements need to be made. But 18 hours. I don't know, Carol. I think you and I kind of rival those hours, don't you?

(LAUGHTER)

COSTELLO: I think so. I'm with him. I am trying to find my own stamina.

(LAUGHTER)

MALVEAUX: OK.

Thanks, Carol.

And up next: The criticism is heating up over Nancy Pelosi's trip to Syria. But she doesn't appear to be worried.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: We think there is an opportunity for peace. To the extent that we can use our good offices to facilitate that, we have a responsibility to do so.

(END VIDEO CLIP) MALVEAUX: Will Pelosi come out the winner for defying the White House?

Donna Brazile and Rich Galen take on that question in our "Strategy Session."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MALVEAUX: President Bush is drawing criticism after bypassing the Senate to name Sam Fox as U.S. ambassador to Belgium. Nancy Pelosi is facing more scrutiny over her trip to the Middle East. And Alberto Gonzales is preparing for his grilling on Capitol Hill.

Joining me to talk about all of this in today's "Strategy Session," Democratic strategist Donna Brazile and Republican strategist Rich Galen.

Thank you so much for joining us.

Let's first start off talking about Sam Fox, as we know, now appointed, recess appointment, U.S. ambassador to Belgium. It was just last week that the White House announced they were pulling the nomination, didn't look like he was going to have the votes. Then we get the announcement yesterday that he's been appointed -- obviously, Senator Kerry very angry. This is someone who has contributed at least $50,000 to the Swift Boat Veterans of Truth.

Let's take a listen.

Oh, it's not a sound bite. Let me just read it for you here.

(LAUGHTER)

MALVEAUX: He says: "It is sad, but not surprising that this White House would abuse the power of the presidency to reward a donor, over the objections of the Senate. This nomination was withdrawn because the administration realized it would lose in the Foreign Relations Committee. Unfortunately, when this White House can't win the game, they just change the rules, and America loses."

Do you think that this was a fair move by the administration here?

RICH GALEN, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Sure. That's why they are called recess appointments. The Constitution specifically provides a president can do that.

And, by the way, Bill Clinton did exactly the same thing when he appointed James Hormel in June of 1999. The Republican-controlled Senate would not approve him, and he used a recess appointment to appoint James Hormel to be ambassador of Luxembourg. And the Republicans whined about it then, too. So, this is...

MALVEAUX: But -- but there are some who are saying this is actually an abuse of the executive power, that...

GALEN: Who is saying that?

MALVEAUX: Democrats are saying that.

GALEN: Who? Which Democrats?

MALVEAUX: Well, Donna, I mean...

(CROSSTALK)

GALEN: Well, you will say it. Bail her out.

DONNA BRAZILE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Oh, well, look...

(LAUGHTER)

BRAZILE: ... not only did they appoint Mr. Fox. They appointed two other officials that clearly did not have the votes to be confirmed.

(CROSSTALK)

GALEN: But he also appointed a bunch of career foreign service...

(CROSSTALK)

BRAZILE: Oh, look, I'm not debating the fact that the president can do a great deal of damage during a recess and can appoint.

GALEN: And both have.

BRAZILE: That's correct.

But it just goes to show that this administration is willing to bend over backwards to help a friend and a donor. But they are willing to lift a finger to do other things that's important to the American people.

So, Senator Kerry is absolutely right to express outrage about this particular appointment. This man donated $50,000 to smear a decorated Vietnam veteran. And it brings back this whole sorry episode on the Swift Boat and the 527s.

(CROSSTALK)

GALEN: I agree. I agree. But here's the point that I think is of interest, that the reason these 527s have such power is because of McCain-Feingold.

They took that money away from the two committees, the RNC and the DNC, where people had some control over how it would be spent, and handed it off to people over whom nobody has any control. And John Kerry voted for that bill. And he's suffering because of it. Too bad.

MALVEAUX: I want to go to another controversial matter. As you know, of course, Speaker Pelosi, who was in Syria yesterday, meeting with the president, Bashar al-Assad, and here's what she said that she got out of her meeting.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PELOSI: These are important issues, not only in the fight against terrorism, but important priorities for us, peace with -- peace in the Middle East. We expressed our interest in using our good offices in promoting peace between Israel and Syria.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MALVEAUX: What's the matter with her going over there? The Iraq Study Group endorsed it. You have elder statesmen like Baker who has endorsed it, many European allies who say this needs to happen, a dialogue between the United States and Syria. And, if the president isn't going to do it, what is the harm in actually having someone as powerful as the speaker perhaps start that?

GALEN: Well, I mean, "The Washington Post," not generally known as a mouthpiece for the Bush administration, used the words "foolish, counterproductive, and ludicrous" in response to Nancy Pelosi conducting what "The Post" called a shadow presidency.

I think there's a great deal of danger in misrepresenting the fact that this is sort of open to any member of Congress or senator who can get themselves invited to come over and conduct foreign policy. The U.S. has to speak with one voice. Next time, it may be somebody else's voice. But, for right now, it's...

MALVEAUX: Well, let me flush that out just a little bit, because you have stolen my note cards here.

(CROSSTALK)

GALEN: I'm sorry.

(CROSSTALK)

GALEN: I was reading it upside down.

(LAUGHTER)

MALVEAUX: "The Washington Post" here -- in fact, "The Washington Post" editorial does say today: "Two weeks ago, Ms. Pelosi rammed legislation through the House of Representatives that would strip Mr. Bush of his authority as commander in chief to manage troop movements in Iraq. Now she is attempting to introduce a new Middle East policy that directly conflicts with that of the president. We have found much to criticize in Mr. Bush's military strategy and regional diplomacy. But Ms. Pelosi's attempt to establish a shadow presidency is not only counterproductive; it is foolish."

And, Donna, they go on to say the reason why is because she said she had a message from Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to -- essentially to bring about peace. And then he came back and said: I gave no such message here. There's no change in policy.

BRAZILE: Well, and I think they slightly misinterpreted what the prime minister said. I read some of the papers in Israel, when he responded.

Look, Speaker Pelosi is the leader of the Congress, of the House. She's third in line for the presidency. She has every right to go over on a fact-finding mission, to talk to leaders, to assess, to -- and to figure out what's going on.

But they made dislike the messenger going over there, but they should like the message, because she brought the same message the president has been saying time and time again to Syria: It's time to disengage from terrorists, stop funding Hezbollah, Hamas, and stop sending insurgents across the border. So, they may disagree with her, but she went over there with the same message that Vice President Cheney or the president would have delivered.

MALVEAUX: Rich, do you think the administration has been fair, because there's a lot of controversy around Speaker Pelosi? She's a Democrat, but, obviously, we have Republican -- a Republican congressman who is there today. They have been there in the past. And you don't hear a lot about their visits.

GALEN: Let me just make this point. If this -- if the speaker's name were Gingrich, and the president's name were Clinton, you two would be in a projectile froth right now about, how could Newt Gingrich, how could he dare get in the way of American foreign policy by going over there?

But now, because it's Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat, all is well. Thank you for showing up.

BRAZILE: No. No. No. We're at war. And Syria will play a large role, I believe, or a role, in the United States getting out of Iraq.

(CROSSTALK)

MALVEAUX: OK. Got to be the last word there. Donna Brazile and Rich Galen, thank you so much for joining us here.

GALEN: Thanks, Suzanne.

BRAZILE: Thank you.

MALVEAUX: And still to come: "The Cafferty File." How would you characterize the war in Iraq, a civil war or pure evil? Jack Cafferty has your e-mails coming up.

And Democratic Congressman John Murtha responds to the president's veto threat with a threat his own.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) MALVEAUX: Here's a look at some of the political "Hot Shots" coming in from our friends at the Associated Press.

It may be snowing in New Hampshire, but that's not keeping Democratic presidential hopeful Bill Richardson and other candidates off the trail in the crucial first-in-the-nation primary state.

Dennis Kucinich is also there, chatting up voters at a bookstore in Warner, New Hampshire.

On the Republican side, Senator Sam Brownback reaches out to lawmakers in Oklahoma. Now he's moved on to Iowa, which kicks off the presidential contest season.

And Tommy Thompson is taking to the airwaves, chatting up voters over the radio in New Hampshire.

And that's the campaign edition of "Hot Shots," pictures often worth 1,000 words.

Barack Obama tops our "Political Radar." The Democratic presidential candidate and senator from Illinois says he's moving cautiously to put together a health care plan. In Iowa today, Obama says he wants to slowly build support for a proposal. Health care appears to be a major concern among Democrats out on the campaign trail this year.

Coming next week, a heated debate over global warming -- John Kerry and Newt Gingrich will face off here in Washington next Tuesday morning. The senator and former Democratic presidential nominee will take on the former House speaker and possible Republican presidential hopeful over how to battle climate change.

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

And Jack is in New York with "The Cafferty File."

Jack, what are the folks saying?

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Kerry and Gingrich on how to battle climate change? You suppose there are any tickets left for that?

(LAUGHTER)

CAFFERTY: President Bush has called the war in Iraq -- he says it's not a civil war; it's pure evil. Our question is: How would you characterize it?

Jay in Georgia: "There's nothing civil about this or any war, nor does there seem to be anything civil about the Mideast in general. They kidnap, decapitate, spew dogma like Jerry Falwell on speed, kill each other, skew their perspectives in the name of Allah, and generally project themselves in the most uncivil of behaviors. I wouldn't call it evil. I would, however, call it stupid." Eric in Idaho writes: "It's a civil war, Jack. Now that Saddam is gone, it's a scramble for everyone else to get on top. That's why there's all this sectarian violence."

Lisa wrote this: "This is just another attempt by Bush to capitalize on the neuroses of the religious right by using biblically themed words such as 'evil' to describe a wholly worldly event. What a way to drum up support for this war, and just in time for Easter."

Chuck in Fairmount, Georgia: "Pure evil? Sounds like a term from the Salem witch-hunts. Of course, it's like everything else that comes out of the talking Bush: embellishment and exaggeration. Why don't we just call it what it is, two groups of religious fanatics wiping each other out? I say let them go at it. We can't stop them from killing each other, no matter what this administration does or how long we stay there."

Flint writes from Cherry Hill: "Jack, you're way too cynical. Remember, attitude is everything. It's not a civil war or an endless conflict that is bankrupting America. It's a 'Festival of Freedom.' In keeping with the Bush administration's past marketing slogans, like Clear Skies Initiative or the Patriot Act, which increased pollution and destroyed our civil liberties, I was going to call it the Happy Arab Initiative. But that just doesn't have the pizzazz that Festival of Freedom has."

(LAUGHTER)

CAFFERTY: And Bill in Texas writes: "The war in Iraq is a mistake. It can be characterized no other way. And, in the end, who the father of Anna Nicole Smith's baby is will have as much to do with protecting our homeland as anything that happens in Iraq" -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: Jack Cafferty, thank you so much -- a lot of e-mail coming in.

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