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Test of Wills Over Iraq; Former CIA Director Angry at the White House; Democratic Debate

Aired April 27, 2007 - 16:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, HOST: Happening now, a test of wills over Iraq. President Bush sticks to his veto vow and matches the Democrats' defiance.
When this stare-down ends, will either side blink?

Also this hour, the former CIA director, George Tenet, at the center of a storm over pre-war intelligence. He's focusing his anger right now at the White House.

But should Congress have known more or done more?

And trading places -- the Democratic presidential candidates now have a debate under their belts.

Are they reversing roles with the Republican presidential contenders?

We'll explain.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.


To hear President Bush tell it, the line he's now drawing over Iraq isn't in the sand, it's in the solid concrete. Today, he isn't budging from his promise to veto a war funding bill that includes a withdrawal timetable. And Democratic leaders seem to be counting on that despite public calls for Mr. Bush to back down.

Our Congressional correspondent, Dana Bash, is standing by. She's keeping track of what's happening up on the Hill.

But let's go to our White House correspondent, Ed Henry, first -- Ed, the White House seems to be carefully setting the stage for this veto.

ED HENRY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. A lot of choreography, a lost of strategizing. It's easy to forget amid all the rhetoric the fact that this is a serious policy debate about getting money to troops that are in harm's way.

And the president made clear today he won't just veto this once, he'll veto it again and again until Democrats give in.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE) GEORGE BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I haven't vetoed the first bill yet, but I am going to.

HENRY (voice-over): At Camp David with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, the president's tone about the Iraq funding bill shifted between defiance and reluctance.

BUSH: I'm sorry it's come to this. But nevertheless, it is what it is and it will be vetoed and my veto will be sustained.

HENRY: Mr. Bush made clear he won't give an inch to Democrats and will keep vetoing war funding bills as long as they have a timetable for pulling U.S. troops out of Iraq.

BUSH: I invite the leaders of the House and the Senate, both parties, to come down, you know, soon, after my veto, so we can discuss a way forward. And, you know, if the Congress wants to test my will as to whether or not I will accept a timetable for withdrawal, I won't accept one.

HENRY: The president will get the war funding bill as early as Monday and White House aides say he will use his veto power quickly.

But a veto Monday could step on the president's all day talks with European Union leaders, including key ally, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, on major issues like trade and climate change.

Democrats would love to see Mr. Bush veto the bill on Tuesday, because it's the anniversary of the president's "mission accomplished" speech four years ago.


BUSH: My fellow Americans, major combat operations in Iraq have ended.


HENRY: Now, to push back on Democratic attacks over that speech, there has been an interesting add to the president's schedule. Next Tuesday, he's going to go down to U.S. Central Command in Tampa to meet generals. The White House trying to send a clear signal that while they believe Democrats are playing games in troop withdrawal, the president will be outside the beltway strategizing about what to do next in the war in Iraq.

And so the possibility is there that the president could veto this bill either Tuesday morning or Tuesday evening, after he returns from those briefings -- Wolf.

BLITZER: What about a possible compromise?

When all the political dust settles, what's the -- what's the prospect, based on what you're hearing, Ed?

HENRY: Well, senior officials in the administration tell me that one way out that they see is the possibility, when they hear Democrats talk about the possibility in the second version of this bill of coming up with benchmarks for the Iraqi leaders to meet instead of a specific timetable.

The White House privately says that could possibly work. Both sides could try to claim victory. Democrats could say, look, we made our point to the president and the president, in the end, could say I didn't have to give in on withdrawing -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Ed Henry at the White House.

Let's go up to Capitol Hill.

Dana Bash is standing by.

What are you hearing from your sources up on the Hill -- Dana?

DANA BASH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, we have some new information. A Democratic leadership aide tells us, Wolf, that they now plan to send this bill to the White House on Tuesday. And not only that, they are considering -- Democrats are considering holding a ceremony to send this bill off. The idea there, shining the spotlight one more time on Democrats before that veto, to make the case, just like they did today, Wolf, that from Democrats' perspective, the president is ignoring public opinion against his Iraq strategy.


BASH (voice-over): At a retreat in New York, Democrats prodded the president not to veto their plan to start to bring troops home from Iraq.

SEN. CHARLES SCHUMER (D), NEW YORK: We call on the president to look into his heart, give it one more thought and sign a bill that the American people want.

BASH: But Democrats know that's not going to happen and are already scrambling to find a post-veto strategy.

But the challenge?

How to keep one promise to fund troops in combat by passing a bill the president will sign and still keep another promise to force a change in Iraq policy.

SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MAJORITY LEADER: We are willing to sit down and talk to the president. But we have certain things that we believe are important to the country and we -- he may -- I'm sure he does, also. He just hasn't communicated with us.

BASH: Democrats say they're encouraged by new invitations to talk from the White House and GOP Congressional leaders and by Republicans signaling they're open to a leading compromise idea among Democrats -- tying some strings to Iraq funding -- benchmarks the Iraqi government must meet. SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MINORITY LEADER: There are a number of members of my conference who do think that benchmarks could be helpful, depending on how they're crafted.

BASH: Moderate Republican Olympia Snowe is proposing a four month deadline for Iraqis to show progress. If they don't, the U.S. would make plans to withdraw troops.

SEN. OLYMPIA SNOWE (R), MAINE: A hundred and twenty days would allow the political surge to take place along with the military surge. And the political surge has not been there. The administration has not placed the emphasis on the political resolution that's absolutely essential.


BASH: Republican and Democratic leaders here in Congress are already having preliminary discussions about the next steps. But those talks are really going to start in earnest after the veto. And, in fact, Wolf, Democratic and Republican leaders both are going to the White House for a meeting about this on Wednesday -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Dana, once the president vetoes this legislation, to override the veto, there would be necessary two thirds majorities in the House and the Senate. The Democrats clearly don't have that.

Here's the question -- will they still go ahead and try to override that veto, maybe even for symbolic purposes?

BASH: In the House, they -- they actually are, Wolf. Leadership aides over in the House tell us that they are going to try to do that as fast as possible. Of course, they know full well they don't even have close to the votes to override the president vetoes.

But just like you said, they say it's important to do it for symbolic, for political reasons, to get everybody on record on this vote on the override of the president's veto.

In the Senate, they say they're not going to do that.

BLITZER: All right, Dana, thanks very much.

Next week will be exciting here in Washington.

The former CIA director, George Tenet, is helping to stir up old questions and outrage about the lead-up to the war in Iraq. Details are emerging about Tenet's soon to be released book, entitled "At The Center of the Storm." Much of it is a full throated attack on the Bush administration, at least according to excerpts that have already been leaked.

Two sources confirming to CNN that in his book, Tenet writes, and I'm quoting now: "There was never a serious debate that I know of within the administration about the imminence of the Iraqi threat."

Let's bring in our Congressional correspondent, Andrea Koppel. She's up on the Hill.

I suppose this book, even what we know about it already, is giving fresh ammunition to a lot of Democrats -- Andrea.

ANDREA KOPPEL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You'd better believe it, Wolf.

Just one day after Democrats did what they said they'd promised their constituents they would, and sent President Bush a strong message that they want all U.S. troops out of Iraq, they seized on the remarks by the CIA -- former CIA director -- to sow further seeds of doubt.


SEN. CHARLES SCHUMER (D), NEW YORK: What George Tenet's book brings out very simply is that this administration makes up its mind and then talks about facts. And it should be the other way around.

KOPPEL (voice-over): Earlier this week, the second ranking Democrat in the Senate went even further. As a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee in 2002, Senator Dick Durbin said he sought top secret intel which directly contradicted positions like this one by then Secretary of State Colin Powell, who told the United Nations Iraq posed an imminent threat.

COLIN POWELL, SECRETARY OF STATE: My colleagues, every statement I make today is backed up by sources, solid sources.

KOPPEL: Durbin said he couldn't go public with what he knew because he was sworn to secrecy.

SEN. DICK DURBIN (D-IL), DEMOCRATIC MAJORITY WHIP: And so in my frustration, I sat here on the floor of the Senate and listened to this heated debate about invading Iraq thinking the American people are being misled. They are not being told the truth.

KOPPEL: Durbin's allegations are nothing new. Other Democrats, like Maryland's Barbara Mikulski, have also claimed the intelligence they saw back then didn't support the administration's case for war.

SEN. BARBARA MIKULSKI (D), MARYLAND: I really had very grave suspicions about the level of weapons of mass destruction Saddam had.

KOPPEL: And Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: At the time I said the intelligence does not support the threat.

KOPPEL: But among nine Democrats on the Senate Intelligence Committee in 2002, only five, including Senators Durbin and Mikulski, voted against the war. The other four voted to authorize it.

Among them, West Virginia's John Rockefeller, who shared the administration's concern. SEN. JAY ROCKEFELLER (D), WEST VIRGINIA: I do believe that Iraq poses an imminent threat, but I also believe that after September 11th, that question is increasingly outdated.


KOPPEL: And so even as Democrats are still trying to get President Bush to withdraw U.S. troops as soon as possible, they are still trying to answer the question, Wolf, what the administration knew and when they knew it -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Andrea, what are you hearing about George Tenet being called to testify before the House Oversight Committee?

KOPPEL: That's exactly right. The chairman of that committee, Henry Waxman of California, has issued an invitation to the former CIA director to come up here to the Hill to testify about what he wrote in his book.

And, as you know, Wolf, this comes just on the heels of Waxman issuing, for the first time, a subpoena to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to talk about Iraq's alleged attempt to purchase uranium from Niger -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thank you for that.

Andrea Koppel reporting.

This important note to our viewers. George Tenet will be a guest Monday night on "LARRY KING LIVE." That'll be a live prime time interview. George Tenet, Larry's guest, Monday night, 9:00 p.m. Eastern.

And for the reality of what's happening on the ground in Iraq and how it's affecting U.S. troops there, our Jamie McIntyre sat down with the U.S. general in charge, David Petraeus. That interview coming up here in THE SITUATION ROOM, as well.

And coming up right now is Jack Cafferty in New York with The Cafferty File -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the first of 614,000 presidential debates between now and 2008 was held in South Carolina last night. It is pretty transparent what these presidential candidates do to try to convince us that they are like us.

They tour factories and they kiss babies and they visit shopping malls and they get their pictures taken wearing a hard hat.

It's a joke.

Consider this. All the major Democratic candidates flew to last night's debate in South Carolina on private jets. Nobody flew commercial. No one jet pooled to save on fuel or emissions. And everyone except Senator Joe Biden chartered their flights at a cost to their campaigns of between $7,500 and $9,000 each. John Edwards spends $400 to get his hair cut. $400 for a haircut! He was asked about that and he said well, yes, but my dad was poor.


And it's not just the Democrats. Remember when President Bush's father had no idea what a supermarket scanner was a few years ago?

And the other day somebody asked Rudy Giuliani what a gallon of milk and a loaf of bread cost. It wasn't even close.

And don't forget, most of those people are very, very, very wealthy.

So here's the question -- do any of the presidential candidates have anything in common with the average American?

E-mail or go to -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jack, I know how much I spend for a haircut, and it's nowhere close to $400.

CAFFERTY: Well, looking...

BLITZER: You probably spend...

CAFFERTY: ... looking at you...

BLITZER: You probably spend a little bit more than that.

CAFFERTY: Looking at you, I'll bet you spend more than I do...

BLITZER: Thirty-five.

CAFFERTY: ... just based on the amount of hair...

BLITZER: Thirty...

CAFFERTY: ... you have.

BLITZER: Thirty-five dollars.

CAFFERTY: Well, I -- there's a woman in New Jersey who's been cutting my hair for 20 years, $20 a pop. Every five weeks I go. And every year there's less to cut so it's -- it's, you know, better for her.

BLITZER: Thirty-five. Yes, that's -- I give a nice tip to my barber, David. He's...

CAFFERTY: Do you have him trim the beard, too?

BLITZER: No. I do the beard myself.

CAFFERTY: Yes. Well...

BLITZER: But that's another story.

CAFFERTY: And you do it very well.

BLITZER: Thank you very much.

CAFFERTY: You're welcome.

BLITZER: It's a machine.

CAFFERTY: Track the man (ph).

BLITZER: Jack, we're giving our viewers too much information right now.

Thank you.

Coming up, the top U.S. military commander in Iraq in another hot seat.


GENERAL DAVID PETRAEUS, CMDR, MULTI-NATIONAL FORCE-IRAQ: Yes, I've spent the entire week here in Washington trying to avoid blundering into political minefields and I'm not -- not about to stumble into this one if I can avoid it.


BLITZER: Did General David Petraeus avoid those minefields?

Our own Jamie McIntyre spoke with him, asked him about the pressures he's facing right now to try to turn things around in Iraq. That's coming up

Also, a U.S. Army lieutenant colonel's stunning indictment of the U.S. generals in Iraq. He's declaring a crisis in the war zone.

And did Democratic presidential candidates emerge from their first debate last night with any scars?

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


BLITZER: A U.S. Army lieutenant colonel is firing some powerful warning shots today about the way the war in Iraq is actually being carried out.

His main target?

His superiors -- the military brass on the battlefield.

Let's get to our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr -- Barbara. BARBARA STARR, PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, it's an embarrassing crack in the Army's support for the war in Iraq.


STARR (voice-over): It's a damning indictment of the U.S. generals running the Iraq War from an officer currently serving who has done two tours of duty there.

In the latest issue of "Armed Forces Journal," a privately owned magazine, Army Lieutenant Colonel Paul Yingling writes: "America's generals have repeated the mistakes of the Vietnam in Iraq." He calls it "a crisis in American generalship."

Yingling says, like the Vietnam years, America's generals, throughout the 1990s, failed to anticipate the need to train their forces for the type of unconventional war that has emerged in Iraq.

PETRAEUS: And I don't think anyone would say that there were not mistakes or that there were not a variety of areas in which we -- we could and should have done better.

STARR: Lieutenant Colonel Yingling, now a deputy commander at the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment at Fort Hood, Texas, says there have not been enough troops and the generals did not provide Congress and the public with an accurate assessment of the conflict in Iraq. Again, something many say occurred in the Vietnam War.

It's rare for an active duty officer to go public. Retired officers have, however, been speaking out for months. Some say General David Petraeus, the new top commander in Iraq, just won't be able to make a difference.

COL. DOUG MACGREGOR (RET.), U.S. ARMY: The notion that he is going to have any profound impact on this thing, tactically or otherwise, is open to very serious debate.


STARR: Lieutenant Colonel Yingling doesn't name any generals. In fact, he says it's not a problem with individual generals, but rather a crisis in the entire military institution -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Barbara Starr reporting from the Pentagon. And her colleague and our good friend, Jamie McIntyre, spent some time today with the U.S. military commander in Iraq, General David Petraeus.

That interview coming up later this hour.

Let's check in with Fredricka Whitfield.

She's monitoring the wires, she's keeping an eye on all the video feeds coming into THE SITUATION ROOM.

She's joining us now with some other headlines -- hi, Fred.


Seized -- guns, cash and alleged terrorists. Saudi officials nab all of it as they arrest dozens of suspects in a massive anti-terror operation. The suspects were allegedly plotting attacks on senior Saudi officials and against Saudi interests. But a Saudi intelligence official also says some were plotting attacks outside Saudi Arabia, including financing fighters entering Iraq. The official says 172 militants have been arrested over nine months and that many are part of al Qaeda.

A housing market that is weak and businesses spending less money. Those are reasons economic growth in the first quarter slowed to its most glacial pace in four years. While experts had predicted some weakening, this reading of the economy is far weaker than many had forecast.

Here are some of the specifics. The economy grew 1.3 percent in the first quarter. That's down 8/10 of a percent from the last quarter.

A new development on a story we've been following. It involves Wednesday's death of a New York State Trooper as he searched for a suspect who allegedly shot another trooper the day before. Officials say the trooper who was killed died from friendly fire. Officials say the trooper was shot as he and another trooper searched a farmhouse for the suspect.

Back to you -- Wolf.

BLITZER: That's a sad story.

Thank you, Fred.

And we'll check back with you shortly.

Still ahead here in THE SITUATION ROOM, the former Democratic Senator and Vietnam War veteran Max Cleland. He's got plenty to say about reports of progress in Iraq and the president's refusal to accept the pullout timetable.

And also coming up, find out why Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama is what they're calling a twitter on the Internet. We'll explain what that's all about.

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


BLITZER: Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama in the latest politician to reach out to supporters using a popular Web site called Twitter. It could change the way political campaigns connect with voters.

Let's bring in our Internet reporter, Abbi Tatton.

All right, you've got to explain to our viewers out there, Abbi, what this is all about.


Barack Obama's doing it. John Edwards has been doing it since January. We're talking about Twitter, a Web tool where users tell a network of friends what they're doing right now using cell phone text messaging or through their computer.

And what they're doing right now may not necessarily be Earth shattering. Look at this. Someone's listening to "West Side Story." Someone else is in line waiting for a burrito. But this site is growing in popularity. Its CEO tells CNN that the amount of users doubles every two weeks and the candidates' accounts are some of the most popular.

John Edwards uses -- uses his friends on this site. More than 2,000 of them receive updates like his television appearances and speeches.

Senator Barack Obama's campaign says that they're using this Web tool, like many others, to update people on what Barack Obama is doing.

But they have to make these updates quick. They are restricted to 140 words or less -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, new technology developing all the time.


The political ramifications coming up.

Also coming up, did the field of Democratic presidential candidates reveal that there's more that unites them than divides them?

And the Republican White House contenders breaking with one another and a famous commandment from Ronald Reagan.

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


BLITZER: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Are more Iraqi troops ready to stand up so more U.S. troops can stand down?

You'll hear impassioned appeals from some military commanders in Iraq front and center in training Iraqi troops to fight. That's coming up.

Also, as Congress and the White House battle over the war, how might troops on the battlefield be reacting?

I'll ask former Democratic Senator Max Cleland. He's also a veteran of the Vietnam War.

And have you ever padded your resume?

One top official at a top university admits she did and it's cost her her job. Now, there's a huge outcry.

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

They were all there -- the men and one woman all hoping to become the next Democratic presidential nominee. Right now, many are debating last night's debate -- who won, who lost and who distinguished themselves?

Joining us now, our senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley -- Candy.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, if there was one thing that was perfectly clear after last night's debate, it was that when it comes to Iraq, they all agree on the big picture.


SEN. CHRIS DODD (D), CONNECTICUT: Well, it has been said before, I won't be the first or the last, but I also agree that the war in Iraq was a huge mistake.

CROWLEY (voice-over): They differ on how and how soon to bring them home.


REP. DENNIS KUCINICH (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The money is in the pipeline to bring the troops home. And that's exactly what ought to be done at this moment.

CROWLEY: Later...

SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN (D-DW), FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE: ... you've got to decentralize Iraq. You've got to give the regions control over their own destiny.

CROWLEY: As soon as the atmosphere is right.

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D), NEW YORK: I mean part of our challenge is to put together the political support throughout the country, particularly within the Republican Party, to join with us to bring an end to this war.

And that's exactly what ought to be done at this moment.

CROWLEY: They agreed more than they disagreed. All called for better background checks before the purchase of a gun. Most, by the way, said, as adults, they have guns in the house.

REP. DENNIS KUCINICH (D-OH), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This vice president has violated this Constitution. CROWLEY: Dennis Kucinich warmed the hearts of the left, defending his attempt to impeach Vice President Cheney. The rest of the field sat on their hands when asked if they supported the idea. They talked about issues ranging from what to do in Iran...

MIKE GRAVEL (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: some Of these people frighten me -- they frighten me. When you have mainline candidates that turn around and say that there's nothing off the table with respect to Iran, that's code for using nukes.

CROWLEY: ... to whether Wal-Mart is good for the country.

CLINTON: It's a mixed blessing.

CROWLEY: They were asked to talk about their personal commitment to the environment and the most significant political mistake they had made in recent years.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: There was a debate about Terri Schiavo, and a lot of us, including me, left the Senate with a bill that allowed Congress to intrude where it shouldn't have.

CROWLEY: When the subject turned to health care, the man with the most detailed plan of the bunch outlined how he will pay for part of it.

JOHN EDWARDS (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I would get rid of George Bush's tax cuts for people who make over $200,000 a year.

GOV. BILL RICHARDSON (D-NM), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: As Democrats, I just hope that we don't always think of new taxes to pay for programs.

CROWLEY (on camera): Afterwards, many of the campaigns complained that the condensed format and so many people on the stage made it hard to have a substantive discussion. Still, at the very least, the debate has begun -- Wolf.


BLITZER: All right, Candy, thanks -- Candy Crowley on the scene for us.

Democrats are -- logging on to a popular liberal Web site last night to discuss the debate were instead met by an unwelcomed guest. They were greeted by a message from a leading Republican presidential candidate.

Let's bring in our Internet reporter, Jacki Schechner.

What was going down online during the debate, Jacki?

JACKI SCHECHNER, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Well, Wolf, you might not be surprised to see what is called a banner ad by Senator McCain on a conservative Web site, like But, last night, during the Democratic debate, a John McCain ad supporting the war turned up on the liberal blog This is one of the top liberal blogs. Now, readers were surprised to see it. Many of them were really upset, wondering if the blog owner, Markos Moulitsas, was taking money from the enemy.

Well, it turns out they missed this post by Kos yesterday, saying that he had started accepting Google ads. And, in order to do so, he didn't have all that much control over what content turned up on his blog.

We spoke to the McCain today, and they say that is absolutely right. They did not buy ad space on Daily Kos, that they have Google ads. They're part a bundled network, and they don't necessarily dictate where that content goes. So, it could technically, Wolf, happen again.

BLITZER: All right. We will see. We will watch it. I know you will. Thank you, Jacki.

There was a time when Democrats were known for bruising primary battles that sometimes left their presidential nominee too scarred to win. Could they be trading places now with Republicans?

Let's go to our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider.

Bill, are we seeing something different this time around? What's going on?

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, when it comes to Ronald Reagan's 11th commandment, Republicans seem to be losing their religion.


SCHNEIDER (voice-over): Ronald Reagan's 11th commandment said, thou shalt not speak ill of thy fellow Republicans. But look at who is obeying it.

BIDEN: I'm looking at a bunch of winners right here, number one. And whoever wishes for Hillary is making a big mistake on the Republican side.

SCHNEIDER: Republican candidates, however, have been speaking a lot of ill, sometimes directly.

JAMES GILMORE (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: And, Governor Romney, his views are -- have been very moderate to liberal in the Northeast. And it's all on videotape. And now he's trying to shift to be a conservative.

SCHNEIDER: At a Republican dinner in Iowa this month, Gilmore took on his party's front-runner collecting, saying, "Rudy McRomney is not a conservative."

Romney's response? He said his rivals John McCain and Rudy Giuliani have changed their minds on issues, too.

And talk about speaking ill of a fellow Republican.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We all know the war in Iraq has not gone well. We have made mistakes. And we have paid grievously for them.

SCHNEIDER: Republicans are supposed to be disciplined and on message. Not this time. They say, when Democrats lose an election, they form a circular firing squad. Last year, Republicans lost. So, it's their turn to fire on one another.

The top tier Republican candidates are all suspect to conservatives. Conservatives fear they're losing their hard-won influence in the Republican Party.

MIKE HUCKABEE (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Very concerned as to whether or not, as a conservative movement, we will be, in fact, driving the political force in the '08 election cycle.


SCHNEIDER: President Bush is very unpopular. And conservatives want to make the point it's not because he's A conservative. It's because his administration has wandered away from conservative principles -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Bill, thank you -- Bill Schneider reporting for us.

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

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

The top U.S. military commander in Iraq has been spending time here in Washington this week, defending the troop buildup, backing up the president's claims of progress.

Our senior Pentagon correspondent, Jamie McIntyre, sat down with General David Petraeus today.


JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SENIOR PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: People seem to be pinning a lot of hopes on your ability to turn things around. Is that unrealistic?

GENERAL DAVID PETRAEUS, U.S. COMMANDER IN IRAQ: Well, I would just point this is not about one person. It's not even about just Americans. It's about an entire coalition. And it's very much about our Iraqi partners.

We're fortunate right now to have leaders and troopers on the ground in Iraq from the U.S. military, from our coalition military partners and certainly from the Iraqi security forces who have learned an extraordinary amount about what it is that we're doing over there.

It is, as I said yesterday, a very, very complex -- the most complex endeavor I have ever seen and the most challenging situation I have ever seen.

MCINTYRE: And, as I said, you actually helped write the counterinsurgency manual. So, you know that counterinsurgencies -- insurgencies can run years, not months.

But, yet, you seem to be up against a September deadline to see whether this new strategy is working.

PETRAEUS: Well, the assessment that we have pledged to provide in September, that Ambassador Crocker and I will provide, is really to do an analysis of where we are at that time and to forthrightly provide to our bosses our sense of how we're doing, how the Iraqi security forces and the Iraqi leaders are doing at that time.

MCINTYRE: To what extent is this still a test of wills, a test of U.S. resolve?

And, if it is, what effect does it have when political leaders in the United States say things like, "The surge is not working; the war is lost?" Does that become a self-fulling prophecy?

PETRAEUS: Well, certainly any endeavor like this is a test of wills. And, frankly, the most important demonstration of our will is on the ground. And what we're doing on the ground right now is reinforcing our force structure very substantially, adding five Army combat brigades, two Marine battalions and a Marine expeditionary unit, and a number of different enablers, as they're called.

MCINTYRE: But when people say the cause is lost, does that kind of defeatist talk end up leading to defeat?

PETRAEUS: Jamie, I have spent the entire week here in Washington trying to avoid blundering into political mine fields. And I'm not about to stumble into this one, if I can avoid it.


PETRAEUS: Well, let me just -- let me just again talk about the fact that we're always concerned about, you know, what is the reaction of four different groups to what it is that we're doing. And it's what we're doing in a whole realm of ways.

It is, what's the enemy think? What do our partners think, our Iraqi partners? What do our own troopers think? And, oh, by the way, what do our families think?

And so -- but let me just leave that there, if I could.


Well, speaking of political, everyone has said -- you have acknowledged -- that this can't be won military, that there has to be a political reconciliation in Iraq.

But I listened to your briefing yesterday, and the government that you described -- as you said, Nouri al-Maliki is no Tony Blair. He doesn't have a parliamentary majority. It sounds dysfunctional.

And now they're talking about taking the summer off. How is the political piece going to come together?

PETRAEUS: Well, it will come together by Iraqi political leaders recognizing the need for some degree of compromise, for making some concessions from their political parties' sectarian or ethnic groups' positions.

That's hugely important. That's what this is about. How do you solve this kind of situation? You do it politically.

We have seen what happened in Anbar Province, for example, which has gone from, six months ago, being assessed by the intelligence officer of the division that is responsible for that area -- assessed as lost.


PETRAEUS: And the reason it has changed is because of Iraqi leaders deciding to change and to take on al Qaeda, instead of either standing by or perhaps even tacitly accepting what they were doing.

MCINTYRE: We need to leave it there for the moment.

But quick question: If, in September, you think the surge strategy is not working, are you going to be able to tell that to the president and presumably the Congress?

PETRAEUS: Not only will I be able to; Ambassador Crocker and I will do that.


BLITZER: Jamie McIntyre speaking with General David Petraeus over at the Pentagon early in the day.

Coming up: a profile of a surprise breakout star at the Democratic presidential debate. We don't know if he attracted votes, but he sure did attract attention.

And was there a clear winner or loser of the Democrats' first face-off? Donna Brazile and J.C. Watts, they are standing by for our "Strategy Session."

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


BLITZER: Welcome back.

You may not have necessarily heard of him before last night. But, thanks to his performance in the first Democratic presidential debate, people are talking a little bit about Mike Gravel.

So is our own Tom Foreman.

Tell us a little bit about Mike Gravel.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, the best way to know who this guy is to talk who he's not.

Everybody knows that all these political debates are all so coached and prepared. And the big candidates are all set on exactly what they are going to say. Last night, three syllables changed all of that; Mike Gravel.


GRAVEL: I'm the senior statesman on here, and I was beginning to feel like a potted plant standing over here.

FOREMAN (voice-over): He was the life of the party. And that's because, when you're low in the polls, with not much to lose, you can speak your mind.

GRAVEL: And I got to tell you, after standing up with them, some of these people frighten me. They frighten me.

FOREMAN: But does former Senator Mike Gravel frighten the other Democratic candidates?

KATE MICHELMAN, EDWARDS CAMPAIGN SENIOR ADVISER: You never know what to expect from him. And so he gave it a little life, you know, a little unpredictable.


FOREMAN: Maybe that's because he's had quite the life. Gravel served in the Army during the Korean war, moved to Alaska, and became a leading state lawmaker there, before representing Alaska for two terms in the U.S. Senate.

He's also had such diverse jobs as being a New York City cab driver, a brakeman on the Alaska railroad, and a clerk on Wall Street. Gravel isn't the first long shot to add some entertainment to debates.





FOREMAN: That was Ross Perot's running mate, Admiral James Stockdale, during the 1992 vice presidential debate.


AL SHARPTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Probably the best person I have met to campaign and party with, Mrs. Kerry. I'm sorry.




FOREMAN: And Democratic presidential hopeful Al Sharpton kept things loose during the last campaign.

But do these kinds of candidates belong on the campaign trail?

KAREN TUMULTY, NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, "TIME": I think that candidates like that do not really help debates. And I think that that becomes a real problem, because they become sort of the entertainment value.

FOREMAN: Maybe, but don't tell Mike Gravel he's a joke.

GRAVEL: Who the hell are we going to nuke?


GRAVEL: Tell me, Barak. Barak, who do you want to nuke?

OBAMA: I'm not planning to nuke anybody right now, Mike. I promise.




FOREMAN: And he was throwing his bombs all over the stage. We have seen this act before. If you have been to the theaters, you have seen it. Take a look -- or don't.


ROBIN WILLIAMS, ACTOR: Politicians are a lot like diapers. They should be changed frequently, and for the same reason.


NARRATOR: Tom Dobbs was the biggest name in fake news.

CHRISTOPHER WALKEN, ACTOR: More and more people are watching your show, Jon Stewart, Bill Maher, for news. How crazy is that?

NARRATOR: Until the day he decided to stop going for laughs...

UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: Maybe you should run for president.

NARRATOR: ... and go for votes instead.


FOREMAN: Yes, see there? There it is, Robin Williams, "Man of the Year." He's doing the same thing. I love this kind of thing in a political campaign, because it knocks the other off that pre-canned game, and you have a chance to hear a lot of what they really think.

BLITZER: So, you and Karen Tumulty obviously disagree.

FOREMAN: Oh, you know, we are going to have a debate of our own in our private time.


BLITZER: We will organize that.

Tom Foreman, thanks very much.

Tom is going to be hosting "THIS WEEK AT WAR" this weekend. You're going to want to see that, Saturday night, 7:00 p.m. Eastern, re-airs Sunday at 1:00 p.m. Eastern, right after "LATE EDITION" -- "THIS WEEK AT WAR, Tom Foreman. Stay with us for that.

Up next here in THE SITUATION ROOM: our "Strategy Session." Have Democrats been handed a new way to highlight an old issue?


SEN. CHARLES SCHUMER (D), NEW YORK: I think the George Tenet book showed what went wrong. There was no debate. And the George Tenet book is a great lesson for all of us. There should be a debate. The president doesn't want a debate.


BLITZER: Will the former CIA's director's new book revive the debate over pre-war intelligence?

And, while Washington debates the war in Iraq, how is all the back-and-forth impacting our troops on the ground? I will explore that with former U.S. Senator, Vietnam War veteran Max Cleland -- all that coming up right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Let's go to today's "Strategy Session," including some fallout from the new George Tenet book.

Joining us, our Democratic strategist Donna Brazile, former Republican Congressman J.C. Watts.

Guys, thanks very much for coming in.

The former CIA director mincing no words at all, very angry at the administration, especially the vice president, Dick Cheney, he writes this in his new book, "At the Center of the Storm," at least as quoted by "The New York Times," which has a copy of the book.

"I told the president that strengthening the public presentation was a slam-dunk, a phrase that was later taken completely out of context. If I had simply said, I'm sure we can do better, I wouldn't be writing this chapter or maybe even this book."

Was he mistreated by this administration, Donna?

DONNA BRAZILE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, he claims in the excerpt that "60 Minutes" will show this weekend that he was a scapegoat.

And, apparently, he said that he called Andy Card and he said, all you have is your honor and your trust. And, somehow or another, they basically rolled over him and allowed him to hang out there. I don't know if this is going to get George Tenet off the hook. He got a $4 million advance to write this book. He had every obligation to speak out during the time he was in office and tell the truth and confront the president.

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

J.C. WATTS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, unfortunately, Wolf, when -- when people leave an administration, Republican or Democrat, under the circumstances that Mr. Tenet did, bad people in administrations, they try to wreck people, and they -- they walk on people.

And I'm not -- I don't necessarily believe that he was treated the right way. But, unfortunately, that's the sickness of Washington, D.C., and the way this city works. I think, in terms of that slam dunk statement, I think if we go back -- as we go back and look at the original statements and what happened, I think it will bring some clarity to what that slam dunk statement meant.

But I still think everybody was pretty much on board in saying that, you know, it's not a bad thing to topple Saddam Hussein.

BLITZER: All right, let's move on to the debate last night in South Carolina. There was this little clip from Senator Clinton.

I want to play it for you. Listen to this.

Actually, this is today.


CLINTON: I lived about a third of my life in Arkansas. And I lived about a third of my life in Illinois. And I have lived about a third of my life on the East Coast. And I think America is ready for a multilingual president.



BLITZER: That's -- she said that today in South Carolina, not last night.

She's responding to what, the criticism that she puts on a Southern accent when she heads South?


Well, look, I think she was being funny. Yes, there's this old saying that you should basically walk the walk and talk the talk, and that, from time to time, she has an accent that some people don't recognize.

But she did a great job last night. She was concise. She was thorough. She was tough. She was strong. I think, ultimately, she benefited from the debate last night.

BLITZER: What do you think?

WATTS: Well, I think her big benefit was, is that she was credible. I think, when you look at the top three candidates, Edwards, Obama and Clinton, I think they did no harm. I think they both -- maybe some performed a little better than others. But the bottom line is, they were all credible.

I thought Bill Richardson -- I was looking for him to kind of break out. Ironically, he was the only one that talked about energy. Energy is a big issue for Democrats.


BLITZER: He's a former energy secretary.

WATTS: Exactly. But he was the only candidate that talked energy in any kind of way.

So -- but, again, I think she was credible. And, you know, she did not hurt herself...


BLITZER: Was there a clear-cut winner, from your perspective, Donna? And you're a good Democrat.

BRAZILE: Well, look, I thought that Senator Clinton did herself some good.

But I also thought that Joe Biden -- now, he gets the award for giving the best answer, which was just saying yes.

But, on the other hand, Senator Edwards was very good in describing his health care plan. And Senator Obama, I thought, had an opportunity to show that he has experience. And he did.

BLITZER: We will leave it there, guys, unfortunately. Good discussion. Thanks for coming in.

WATTS: I -- I can't respond to that? BLITZER: No, but next time.


BRAZILE: You will get voted off the island, like Gravel.


BLITZER: Donna Brazile, J.C. Watts, thank you.

Still to come: They want to kiss your babies, take pictures with you, show you they're everyday people. But do the presidential candidates have anything in common with you? Jack Cafferty with your e-mail, that's coming up.

Also, former Democratic Senator Max Cleland, I will ask the Vietnam War veteran how the battle over Iraq here at home might be received by U.S. troops on the battlefield.

Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


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

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: The question this hour is: Do any of the presidential candidates have anything in common with the average American? Most of you don't think so.

Rick in Buena Park, California: "I think so, Jack. Obama smokes, like my uncle Mike. Hillary's husband cheated on her, like my aunt Mary. But that is not important. Let's hope they all want us out of Iraq."

G. writes: "While most of us will not be spending $400 on a haircut and know all too well about grocery store scanners, what we have in common is a vested interest in an improved America. We want improvements in health care, quality public education for our kids, and an end to the misguided war in Iraq."

Alex in Madison, Wisconsin: "Do they have, the candidates, have anything in common with the average American? Yes, greed."

M.H. in Illinois: "Not to defend the expenditure of money by the politicians, but do recall that the senators were in the Senate chamber for an important vote yesterday, and it would not have been prudent to rely on commercial flights to get to South Carolina. Perhaps they might have plane-pooled, but that would interfere with their need to have a couple of hours to prepare privately for the debate."

Stop defending them.

J. in Atlanta: "Mr. Gravel seems like one of those guys who wander around the streets of New York talking to himself. And I have an ex-wife who shrieks similarly to Hillary. Otherwise, not much."

Jeff in Carmel, New York: "Jack, you're right on target. If I see another candidate giving a speech with his sleeves rolled up, like he's about to operate a cash register at Wal-Mart, I think I will have a stroke."

Leslie in Hemet, California: "Jack, when the elite in France lost touch with the common man in the 18th century, they were provided with free haircuts."

And Sharen, Springtown, Texas: "Jack, forget the question. I want to hear more about you and the Blitzer. I love you guys."




BLITZER: Thank you, Jack, for that.

And, to our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Happening now: fresh fury over pre-war intelligence, and the former CIA director who says the White House made a mistake. George Tenet is angry. He's hurt. And he's not mincing any words.

Also, new plans to use airplanes in terror ...


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