Skip to main content
U.S. Edition


Return to Transcripts main page


Immigration Reform Showdown; Discussion with Amy Holmes; Libby Pressures for a Pardon

Aired June 14, 2007 - 16:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, HOST: Thanks very much, guys.
Happening now, the vice president's former right-hand man ordered to prison without delay. The bombshell ruling against Lewis "Scooter" Libby is putting new pressure on the president to pardon him.

Will he?

Also, the Senate majority leader is now under new fire from Republicans. At issue, Harry Reid's reported bashing of top U.S. generals, including the new commander in Iraq.

Plus, the president trying to sweeten the immigration deal for wary Republicans.

Will it help him get the needed votes to yank the compromise out of limbo?

We're following the negotiations this hour.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.


This hour, also, lawyers for Lewis "Scooter" Libby are scrambling to appeal a judge's order to send the former White House insider to prison sooner rather than later. The judge refused to delay Libby's two-and-a-half-year sentence while he challenges his conviction in the CIA leak case. The prospect of Libby behind bars is only intensifying the pressure on President Bush from conservatives, who argue that Libby should be pardoned and pardoned before he steps foot in jail.

Let's go to CNN's Brian Todd.

He's over at the federal courthouse here in Washington.

He watched all of this unfold earlier today -- how soon, Brian, might "Scooter" Libby actually go to jail if the president doesn't do something in advance?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, that could come within about eight weeks. The guidelines call for him to report to prison within six to eight weeks. Obviously, that calls for a prison term to be served -- start to be served within two months.

As a matter of fact, Mr. Libby left the courthouse a short time ago, having just been processed for voluntary surrender to the prison system. Again, likely to start serving within eight weeks. The judge essentially today ruled that he should start to serve soon because the appeals arguments put forth by Mr. Libby's attorneys were not strong enough to allow him to be free pending appeal.

What were those appeals arguments?

Well, "Scooter" Libby's attorneys really hammered on the authority given the prosecutor, Patrick Fitzgerald, saying that he was essentially appointed improperly, saying that under the terms of his appointment, Fitzgerald did not have to follow Department of Justice policies, didn't have to report to anyone above him of any political accountability, that he had way too much latitude to pursue other people for the crimes other than the CIA leak -- the actual leak of Valerie Plame Wilson's name.

Fitzgerald actually then got up in front of the judge and retorted, saying, look, I did report all this to superiors at Justice. I was invested -- I was asked to investigate a crime, not just a person. And he made the point that he didn't have so much authority that he wasn't fire-able at will. He said the words very carefully: I was fire-able at will.

Here's how a prominent legal expert, a former prosecutor, reacted to that argument.


RICHARD SMITH, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: If Mr. Fitzgerald was fire-able at will, I think the government's pretty safe in believing that there's no merit to that argument and the court accepted the government's position, because they did not -- he did not allow that argument to prevent him from a sentencing Mr. Libby to jail immediately.


TODD: And immediate, as, Wolf, you mentioned is somewhat relative. We're thinking probably six to eight weeks before "Scooter" Libby is supposed to report to prison. That is going to be determined by the Bureau of Prisons. We just got word from a source close to Libby's defense team that his defense team will appeal today's ruling next week sometime, in addition to their overall appeal of the conviction.

BLITZER: And this special prosecutor, Patrick Fitzgerald, he was appointed by President Bush in this administration. But the judge, he's a tough judge. He was also appointed by President Bush. And what he's outraged about, I'm told, Brian, but you were there, is that Libby is convicted of lying to a federal grand jury and lying to the FBI. And this judge obviously takes those charges and the conviction very seriously.

TODD: He did. And he alluded to that in the sentencing. He said, look, the evidence here is overwhelming against Mr. Libby. Prosecutors had said, also, during the sentencing that Mr. Libby lied repeatedly and the evidence showed that.

This judge really showed from the start that he was not inclined to grant this request for the defense for Mr. Libby to be free pending appeal, not inclined to give him really any slack on this.

He really, you know, stuck to that today, despite getting some external pressures.

One interesting thing that happened today, at the beginning of the proceedings, the judge said that he had received a number of harassing threatening phone calls and letters from people wishing him and his family harm.

So this judge not without some -- some external factors to consider here.

BLITZER: All right, Brian, thanks very much.

Brian Todd is over at the federal courthouse.

The pressure mounting on the White House right now from conservatives. In the meantime, the White House issued this terse statement just a little while ago: "Scooter" Libby still has the right to appeal and therefore the president will continue not to intervene in the judicial process. The president feels terribly for "Scooter," his wife and their young children and all that they're going through."

That statement coming from the White House just a little while ago.

No new statements coming from the vice president, only reiterating what the vice president said after the initial conviction of "Scooter" Libby. We'll see if more develops on that front. We're going to have a lot more on Libby's fate and the prospect of a presidential pardon, including some analysis from our senior legal analyst, Jeff Toobin. That's coming up a little while here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

But let's move over to Capitol Hill right now and a new partisan skirmish over the war in Iraq. At issue -- Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's reported criticism of the Joint Chiefs chairman, General Peter Pace, and the Iraq military commander, General David Petraeus. Today, Senator John McCain is calling Reid's comments -- and I'm quoting now -- "highly inappropriate."

Let's go to our Congressional correspondent, Andrea Koppel.

She's watching all of this unfold -- the majority leader, Harry Reid, Andrea, got a lot of heat today as a result of those remarks.

Give our viewers the background.

What happened?

ANDREA KOPPEL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Sure, -- Wolf. You know, just a couple of months ago, Senator Reid grabbed headlines for saying that the war in Iraq was lost. Now he appears to be taking aim at the top U.S. commanders in Iraq.


KOPPEL (voice-over): Majority Leader Harry Reid's swipe at the outgoing chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff was first reported in "The Politico" newspaper. Reid reportedly called General Peter Pace "incompetent" during an interview this week with a group of liberal bloggers, a characterization Reid did not dispute when asked about it today.

SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MAJORITY LEADER: There's a long line of people who have indicated in various ways that General Pace was not the person to be the chairman of the Joint Chiefs. That's why the name was pulled. Peter Pace -- I talked to him in my conference room, just him and I. And I told him how I felt, that he had not done a very good job.

KOPPEL: "Politico" also reported Reid had harsh remarks about another top U.S. commander -- Army General David Petraeus, who heads up U.S. military operations in Iraq. But a senior Democratic aide told CNN that's not true. And Reid, for his part, signaled his biggest concern with Petraeus wasn't about his competence, but with his comments about what's happening in Iraq.

REID: I was a little disappointed, to say the least, today reading "USA Today" newspaper where he's saying things are going fine, the kids are playing soccer -- and I don't know what other examples he gave. The truth is, if you look up -- if you look at another newspaper and look at a different page of "USA Today," the bloodiest three months of the war has been since the surge took place.

KOPPEL: The White House demanded Reid apologize.

TONY SNOW, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: It seems outrageous to be issuing slanders toward the chairman of the Joint Chiefs and also the man who is responsible for the bulk of the military operations in Iraq.


KOPPEL: Now, other Republicans, like Senator John McCain, who's running for president, fired off a written statement, saying: "It's incredibly disappointing that Harry Reid would make such disparaging remarks." While other Republicans, like Kentucky's Jim Bunning went even further, saying: "To sling political mud at these two men, who are not part of the political arena, is cowardly." -- -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Any indication, Andrea, why the tough talk coming from Reid right now?

KOPPEL: Remember, Wolf, just last month the Democratic leader and, in fact, the speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, came under a lot of heat from their party's anti-war base for seeming to cave to the White House in signing off on that funding. By turning up the heat on these military commanders, they seem to be keeping up the heat on the Bush administration -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Andrea Koppel watching the story for us on Capitol Hill.

Thanks, Andrea.

Let's check in with Jack for The Cafferty File.

Jack, of course, is New York -- hi, Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, "THE CAFFERTY FILE": Republican presidential hopeful Rudy Giuliani says he would consider sending more U.S. troops to Iraq if the head of the military operations there, General David Petraeus, asked for them.

In an interview, Giuliani said: "If he said the strategy was working and we needed more soldiers to make it work, of course, I would look at that and consider that."

Giuliani said he knew it would be an unpopular decision and added that: "Leadership is about sometimes doing the things that you know are right and then educating the public."

Meanwhile, this all comes at the same time as a grim report out of the Pentagon. Three months into President Bush's so-called surge and overall violence has increased in almost all of the Iraq provinces. Violence has fallen in Baghdad and Anbar, where most of those almost 30,000 additional troops are stationed. But the attacks have shifted to other parts of the country.

That Pentagon report also says Iraqi leaders have made little progress on political goals, suicide attacks have more than doubled and civilian casualties have now risen to more than 100 a day.

So here's the question -- Rudy Giuliani says he'd consider increasing U.S. troops in Iraq. Is that the answer?

E-mail or go to -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks, Jack.

See you in a little while.

Coming up here in THE SITUATION ROOM, does "Scooter" Libby still have a shot out of staying out of prison?

Our senior legal analyst, Jeff Toobin, standing by live. He'll read behind the lines of the judge's ruling today and what happens next.

Plus, President Bush makes a desperate attempt to rescue immigration reform. We're going to tell you what he's offering fellow Republicans and whether they're buying it. And the president's bottom line.

Is he still a cash machine for GOP candidates, even as his poll numbers keep plunging?


BLITZER: Let's check in with Carol Costello.

She's monitoring the wires and keeping an eye on the video feeds coming in from around the world.

She's joining us from New York with a closer look at some other incoming stories making news -- hi, Carol.


Hello to all of you.

More bad news for the battered housing market. Thirty-year mortgage rates rose a fifth straight week, hitting their highest level in nearly a year. Freddie Mac says 30-year fixed rate mortgages now average 6.74 percent. That's sharply up from 6.53 percent last week. Wall Street does not appear to hold out much hope for a Federal Reserve interest rate cut this year, given growth and inflation outlooks.

At the Supreme Court, a Washington law that restricts how union dues are used has been upheld. The court ruled states they can force public sector labor unions to get consent from workers who are non- members before using the dues for political activities. Judge Antonin Scalia says the law doesn't violate first amendment rights of unions.

A victory for gay rights activists. Massachusetts lawmakers today blocked a proposed constitutional amendment that would have let voters decide whether or not to ban gay marriages. Massachusetts is the only state to allow same-sex marriages. That after a 2003 state court ruling. The proposed amendment needed 50 votes to advance to the 2008 ballot. It got 45.

And a man with a deadly form of tuberculosis is scheduled to have surgery next month. Andrew Speaker will have an operation to remove a tennis ball sized chunk of lung tissue. It's infected with extensively drug resistant T.B. The surgery will be done at the University of Colorado Hospital. The Atlanta lawyer set off an international scare last month when health officials tried to find him and isolate him.

That's a look at what's happening now -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Carol, thanks very much.

We're going to check back with you shortly.

We're also going to check in with Jeff Toobin. He's standing by. And we'll get some legal analysis on the Lewis "Scooter" Libby pardon. Also, did President Bush make fellow Republicans an offer they can't refuse?

New incentives in the battle over immigration reform. We're going to go live to Capitol Hill for the latest on the negotiations that are taking place right now and whether the president's efforts are making a difference.

Stay with us.

Lots more news coming up right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Let's get back to our top story this hour.

Lewis "Scooter" Libby may be behind bars within weeks after a judge refused today to delay his sentence in the CIA leak case. President Bush is staying out of the legal maneuvering, at least for now. But will he bow to pressure to pardon the vice president's former chief of staff?

Let's go to our senior legal analyst, Jeff Toobin.

He's joining us -- Jeff, just briefly walk us through -- what authority does the president to have to pardon the -- Lewis "Scooter" Libby?

How quickly, if he wanted to, could he do it?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: He could do it this afternoon, Wolf. The pardon power is one of the few absolute powers that the president has. He can pardon someone before they're indicted. Gerald Ford pardoned Richard Nixon before he was criminally charged with anything. You can be pardoned long after you've served your sentence, like Ronald Reagan pardoned George Steinbrenner years after that case was over.

So the pardon power is absolute. It can't be appealed. It can't be overturned. And President Bush has to decide whether he's going to exercise it for a very form -- a very close former aide.

BLITZER: This issue of pardons at the end of a term or whatever, that's when Bill Clinton did it, when this president, at the end of the year they can do it. But normally isn't there like some sort of pardon review process that goes on in the Justice Department that makes recommendations?

TOOBIN: Absolutely. There's a whole pardon office within the Justice Department that has very strict rules about when they will recommend a pardon to the president. They say, for example, that you can't even apply for a pardon until five years after you've completed your sentence. That would obviously preclude President Bush from getting involved in the "Scooter" Libby case at all.

However, those rules are not binding on the president. The president can pardon anyone he wants. Those rules are meant for people who are applying in the normal process. But when President Clinton pardoned Mark Rich and his other controversial pardons, he didn't listen to the pardon office. Presidents have absolute authority in this area.

BLITZER: What about something sort of a pardon, suspending the sentence, shortening the sentence, deciding he doesn't agree with the judge and allowing "Scooter" Libby, for example, to stay out on bail while his appeals process goes forward?

Could the president, if he wanted to, undertake those kinds of steps?

TOOBIN: Well, I have to say, maybe there are some constitutional experts out there who will contradict me, but I don't think the president has that authority. I think it's an all or nothing proposition. He can pardon "Scooter" Libby and end the case against him today. But other than that, he has no authority, as I understand it, to get involved in the process at all.

BLITZER: Here's what the White House, the outgoing counselor to the president, Dan Bartlett, told our John King, just a little while ago.

I want to play this clip from an interview that John had.


DAN BARTLETT, WHITE HOUSE COUNSELOR: And as long as there is an appeals process, as he is still outside of the custody of the criminal justice system, my understanding is that it would be some time before that would actually take place. And in the meantime, there is an appeals process -- an emergency appeals process -- that is being filed.


BLITZER: All right, so he did -- he was


Much more of that interview, by the way, coming up later tonight on "A.C. 360"

But tell us what you walk away from hearing what Dan Bartlett just said?

TOOBIN: Well, Wolf, he actually said two very different things. He says there is an appeals process underway. And that appeals process will continue whether "Scooter" Libby is in jail or not. So if that's the rule, then President Bush will let "Scooter" Libby begin serving his sentence and wait until the appeal plays out.

But the other thing Dan Bartlett said was he's not in custody yet, which would suggest that that would be the moment when President Bush gets involved. Clearly, I think, there is a struggle going on at the White House. There are lots of people in the White House who care about "Scooter" Libby a great deal, who respect him, admire him, like him, feel sympathy for him. They will be pushing the president to grant a pardon.

Other people will recognize that this two be a terribly unpopular political act. Pardons are almost never popular, especially in -- in a politically charged situation like that. This is one of those decisions where the president simply has to make up his own mind. There's really -- there's no process here. This is just the president and his conscience. And I don't think we know what President Bush is going to do here yet, and I don't think he probably knows at this point.

BLITZER: Well, the pressure is going to be mounting. He's got six or eight weeks to make a decision, and we know that conservatives out there on "The Wall Street Journal" editorial page, "The Weekly Standard" editorial writers, "The National Review" editorial writers, they're -- they're leaning very hard on this White House to issue that pardon. We'll see if he does it.

TOOBIN: But there is one possibility that could take President Bush off the hope -- off the hook. The Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, they could -- it would be very unusual, but a lot of stuff is unusual in this case -- the Court of Appeals could step in and say, we think the issue is important enough that he deserves bail pending appeal.

So the Court of Appeals could get involved. They usually don't, but it's -- it's another reason to stay tuned during the six to eight weeks.

BLITZER: All right, Jeff, thanks very much.

Jeff Toobin, our senior legal analyst.

Democrat Barak Obama is taking his turn in the YouTube presidential spotlight. He's starting a conversation with his online supporters. But Obama is sharing the spotlight with one particularly enthusiastic fan.

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

She's watching this for us.

What's Obama asking YouTube users to do today?

ABBI TATTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, he's asking YouTube users to submit a question about how they would change the country, about what makes them inspired.


SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D), ILLINOIS: But also sharing your ideas, your energy, the things that are making you passionate. The main thing I want to...


TATTON: The things that are making you passionate.

Well, on that, Senator Obama, you needn't have asked. Because almost neck in neck for popularity today on YouTube with that video is this one -- an ode to Barak Obama, an unofficial one.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Won't you pick up your phone, cause I've got a crush on Obama. (INAUDIBLE) 2008.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Baby, you're the best candidate of the new Oval Office. You'll get your head of state. And I can't give you enough, cause I've got a crush...


TATTON: That's containing the immortal lyrics: "universal healthcare reform, you make me warm."

She's a model who was recruited by a couple of Barack Obama fans who put together this video. And if you want to see more of her, CNN's Jeanne Moos will talk to her in the 7:00 p.m. Hour.

We asked the Barack Obama campaign about this particular video. They said, "We're not involved, but had no further comment -- Wolf?

BLITZER: All right, well, let's speak about -- let's speak a little bit more, though, about YouTube.

Today we're getting some more specifics, Abbi, on our upcoming debate, our Democratic presidential debate, South Carolina, July 23rd.

Tell our viewers what -- what they can do to get involved and start thinking about some questions for the candidates.

TATTON: Yes, Wolf, this debate is different. In this one, it's going to be the YouTube users, by submitting their questions on the Web site, who are going to be asking those questions. And that's a process that started today on the Web site. It's very easy to do. Record your question, upload it onto YouTube. And CNN's going to be going through those, selecting those.

Democrats next month, Republicans in September -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Charleston, South Carolina, July 23rd, our next presidential debate.

Abbi, thanks very much. And viewers won't want to forget our 7:00 p.m. Eastern hour tonight. Jeanne Moos will have more on that video that's causing a lot of ripples out there on YouTube.

Coming up, the president's poll numbers keep tumbling, but Congress' approval ratings aren't any better. They're actually worse.

Are voters in a sour mood heading into the 2008 election?

Donna Brazile and Amy Holmes, they're standing by for our Strategy Session.

And what's driving Fred Thompson's gains in the presidential polls?

Will it last if he actually becomes a candidate?

Stay with us.



BLITZER: Happening now, the Palestinian government dismissed. Gaza in a state of emergency right now and under Hamas control after four days of bitter fighting. We're going to have a live report on the crisis and the threat of a new militant Islamist state.

Also, new rage and bloodshed in Iraq right now, triggered by the bombing of that Shiite shrine.

Will this cycle of violence and the attacks on the mosque spiral even further out of control?

And what if Rudy Giuliani is elected president of the United States?

We're continuing our series of reports on the White House contenders and what they might do in the Oval Office.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.


On Capitol Hill right now, Senate Republicans are weighing an urgent new attempt by President Bush to make immigration reform a reality. Mr. Bush says he now backs spending billions of extra dollars for border security. It's part of the behind-the-scenes scramble to win Republican votes for a compromise bill that's been shelved, at least for now.

Our congressional correspondent, Dana Bash, is standing by.

But let's go to our White House correspondent, Suzanne Malveaux, first.

Suzanne, this is clearly an attempt by the president to try to sweeten this immigration deal.


And, really, Wolf, it's on two scores here. One, they say, look, the president has requested $12 billion for border security for fiscal 2008. They say this is money that would be in addition to that. So, it would lower the burden to taxpayers. And they also say that this is going to happen a lot faster. Sign this bill on the dotted line. They will cut a check, and it will be immediately available, instead of waiting for that appropriations process to take place.


MALVEAUX (voice-over): In a desperate effort to get immigration reform through Congress, President Bush is offering this compromise: Pass the bill, and, immediately, nearly $4.5 billion will go to strengthening the border.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The need for reform is urgent.

MALVEAUX: The urgency in securing the border is a transparent effort by Mr. Bush to convince his critics, mostly conservatives of his own party, that the government is serious about border enforcement.

A senior administration official involved in the negotiations says this compromise is meant to address the mistakes of the immigration bill signed in 1986.

BUSH: Most Americans agree that the 1986 immigration law failed, didn't work. It failed because it did not secure our border.

MALVEAUX: White House aides say, the money would initially come out of the U.S. Treasury to create this $4.5 billion account. The account would be paid off using the fees and penalties collected from the nation's 12 million illegal immigrants over a two-year period.

TONY SNOW, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Think of it, a direct deposit right now on border security.

MALVEAUX: But with no idea of how many illegal immigrants are really in the United States or how many would comply with the law and pay penalties, even White House aides acknowledge, they're not certain the numbers would add up.

SNOW: You're absolutely right. No 100 percent guarantee here, but it is based on the best estimates.


MALVEAUX: Wolf, that estimate is really based on 60 percent of illegal immigrants cooperating. They say it's a conservative estimate, which means they believe they will have even more money.

Now, the White House continues to negotiate with members of Congress. They're keeping a close eye on this. They have already seen Congressman Duncan Hunter's rejection of this.

I talked with Scott Stanzel, a White House spokesman, who said that, we think this is an appropriate way to demonstrate the administration's commitment. And they say, look, the big concern among members of Congress, when they met with the president, was the fact there would not be those resources to pay for border security. They say this is a way to put those resources in to meet some of those immediate goals -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Suzanne.

Suzanne's at the White House.

Let's go to Capitol Hill, where there's lots of behind-the-scenes wrangling going over right now over this immigration compromise.

Our congressional correspondent, Dana Bash, is watching it.

What do we know right now, Dana? Where do the negotiations stand?

DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, all throughout the day today, Wolf, senators have been meeting in a very small room right off the Senate floor, and they have been trying very hard to revive this immigration bill.

And, of the senators we talked to coming out, just even in the past half -- past half-an-hour or so, said that they were cautiously optimistic. One source inside the room actually said they might be even on the verge of a breakthrough, a breakthrough that could -- could -- bring this immigration bill back to the Senate floor by late next week.

And, remember, the reason why -- the main the reason why this stalled last week is because opponents of the immigration measure wanted more chances, really about, really unlimited chances, to change what they didn't like about the compromise.

So, what they're doing in this room is trying to come up with a limited number of amendments, or chances for those opponents to change the bill. So, that's what they're working on right now. We are actually told that they are just about there, in coming up with the number of amendments. They are probably going to present this to the leadership, Democratic and Republican leadership, later today.

If they do that, if all goes as they hope, again, they could have some kind of an agreement, perhaps today, to bring this back to the Senate floor by late next week -- Wolf.

BLITZER: So, maybe this promise from the president to spend billions to strengthen border security, that could make a difference?

BASH: You know, it definitely could have.

We talked to several Republican senators sort of on the fence on this issue today, and they said that it definitely did help. Why? Because what the president did today, Wolf, was really a direct result of -- from the earful that he got from Republican senators here just a couple of days ago.

What they told him is, the people, especially conservatives, simply do not trust the government to make good on the promise in this bill to secure the border. And they essentially said, we the government, you, Mr. President, you have to put your money where your mouth is on border security.

That's why this helps. This, the particular measure that the president proposed today, $4 billion or so to go into border security, that would be part of what they would bring up on the Senate floor, if it comes back.

Now, there are those, like Suzanne was mentioning, that simply don't like this and will never like the idea that the president proposed today, because they don't like the idea of giving illegal immigrants any kind of legal status.

But, for the most part, it seems -- seemed to have helped, especially given the fact, Wolf, many Republicans said that this was a positive thing from the president, not some of the -- of the negative statements they think that he's been making in the past couple of weeks.

BLITZER: All right, Dana, let us know when they emerge from these meetings. And we will go right to you, and we will get the latest information on this.

Still to come here in THE SITUATION ROOM: raking in the cash. President Bush has always been a big draw at Republican fund-raisers. But he -- does he still have the touch?

And he's not a candidate -- not officially at least, not yet. But he's giving some Republican heavyweights a run for their money. We are going to check out Fred Thompson's rise -- and it's been very dramatic -- in a lot of these polls.

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


BLITZER: He hasn't thrown his hat into the ring, at least not officially yet, but Fred Thompson has to be encouraged by some new poll numbers.

The actor and former senator, who is thinking about running for the Republican presidential nomination, is now in second place in two national polls of Republicans.

A closer look now at the numbers from our senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley.

Do we have a sense, Candy, why this dramatic jump for Fred Thompson?

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think there are a couple of things at play.

First of all, the Republican field is still very fluid. It's clear that conservatives, in particular, have not yet settled on anyone for sure. I think, in our last poll, you saw that only 7 percent of Republicans said they had actually decided on who they would pick.

Then, two, Fred Thompson is still outside the race. He hasn't come under the same kind of scrutiny that some of the others have. He hasn't participated in the debates. So, his numbers keep climbing. He's looking good.

BLITZER: What's he -- what he's waiting for to make it official? Because everybody knows he's going to do it.

CROWLEY: Well, here again, a couple of things.

He has to get a staff together. He can't -- he's got to hit the ground running. So, that's what they're doing this month. They're also collecting some money.

The other thing is, as you know, at the end of this month is the end of the second quarter. This way, he does not have to report those numbers. If he were to file right now, he would have to report those numbers. Now, if he gets into the presidential contest, he will have to report them later, but better not to report lower numbers than anybody else, if that's, indeed, what's going to happen, and to wait until later and sort of make a big splash with some big money.

BLITZER: And a lot of people think he is going to do that around July 3, July 4...

CROWLEY: Yes. Yes.

BLITZER: ... early -- early next month.

Based on the polls, he's -- his numbers are going up in -- at least in these two national polls. Whose numbers among the Republicans are going down?

CROWLEY: Well, you're seeing Giuliani and McCain going down. You're seeing Mitt Romney on the rise.

Now, some of this is -- is in state polls. Some of it is in national polls. But what we have seen, certainly in New Hampshire -- we had those polls the other day -- that both Giuliani and McCain are beginning to tumble.

Now, again, we always say, snapshot. This is what's happening today. These -- again, very fluid race. And, if it's fluid, it also means that Giuliani and McCain can step it back up again.

BLITZER: And a lot of people are waiting to see how Fred Thompson handles the intense pressure he will come under once he's an official candidate.

Candy, thanks very much.

He may be dropping in the polls, but President Bush can still help Republicans, when it comes to campaign cash. Or can he?

Let's bring in Mary Snow. She's following this story for us.

Mary, some are suggesting the president may have lost his touch.


And, Wolf, President Bush headlined a dinner last night of Republican heavyweights. However, he did not score a fund-raising knockout.


BUSH: We have a goal, and that is to retake the House, retake the Senate, and keep the White House in 2008.


M. SNOW: President Bush helped to raise more than $15 million to support Republican congressional candidates Wednesday night. While that's a good chunk of change, it's a lot less than the $27 million raked in at the same event the president headlined last year.

The dinner came as the president's approval sank to an all-time low in a new "Wall Street Journal"/NBC survey. Mr. Bush fares little better in our poll of polls. CNN took the president's approval ratings from the six most recent national polls, and the average comes to 32 percent.

But Mr. Bush is still popular among his party's faithful.

KEATING HOLLAND, CNN POLLING DIRECTOR: Even though most Americans don't approve of him, he still has very high approval among Republicans. That's the audience that he's trying to raise money from. That's the audience that's giving him money.

M. SNOW: While he's still the man in demand to rake in campaign cash, will he be welcome and effective on the campaign trail?

HOLLAND: The redder the state, the greater the likelihood that a Bush campaign appearance is going to help a Republican candidate.

M. SNOW: Alabama is such a state. Senator Jeff Sessions is dead-set against the president when it comes to the battle over immigration reform.

SEN. JEFF SESSIONS (R-AL), ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE: I think the president is wrong to push this piece of legislation so hard, after we have demonstrated the flaws that are in it.

M. SNOW: But Sessions, who faces reelection next year, welcomes the president out on the trail.

SESSION: He's coming to Alabama to me next week to campaign for me. And he made clear he was going to do that.


M. SNOW: Now, despite the dramatic drop in the president's take at last night's dinner, Republicans say they're still pleased. But Democrats say it's a sign the president can't raise cash the way he used to -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Mary, thanks very much.

Mary Snow is watching the story.

Mary and Candy Crowley, as you know, they are both part of the best political team on television. And, remember, for the latest political news at any time, you can always check our Political Ticker at

Up next: The White House is no rush to show President Bush's hand when it comes to pardoning Scooter Libby.


T. SNOW: What the president has said is, let the legal process work itself out. We're not talking about -- we're just not engaging in that right now.


BLITZER: But what are the political implications of the president's pending decision whether to pardon or not?

Plus, a new batch of poll numbers show a bleak outlook for President Bush, for Congress, and the Republican presidential candidates. But what can they do to turn it around? All that coming up in our "Strategy Session" -- right after this.


BLITZER: To pardon or not? President Bush faces growing pressure to grant Lewis "Scooter" Libby a reprieve. Whichever way he does go, what are the political implications? Also, new poll numbers show a bleak outlook for the president, for Congress, and for Republican candidates in general. What can they do to try to turn it around?

Let's bring in our "Strategy Session," our Democratic strategist Donna Brazile and conservative strategist Amy Holmes.

Guys, thanks very much for coming in.

In this so-called poll of polls, the president's job approval number is only 32 percent, not very good at a time when he's really squeezing his fellow Republicans to accept what he wants on this immigration reform. Can he do it, given these low approval numbers?

DONNA BRAZILE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: No, the Republicans don't appear to like this immigration bill. They're dissatisfied with Iraq. And, as a result, the president's hemorrhaging support.

Now, back in April, his support among Republicans stood at 75 percent -- today, 62 percent. At the rate he's going today, he's going to lose half the Republican support. And, by Labor Day, the president may be down even further.

BLITZER: Can he get enough Republicans to support him and Senator Kennedy and McCain and -- and those who have put this coalition together to get a deal through the Senate?

AMY HOLMES, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, Wolf, that remains to be seen.

We saw today that the White House tried to sweeten the deal, with trying to ensure border security. But this is an unpopular bill. And they only really have between now and August to get it done. Once you get to September, you're getting into presidential elections, and, I think, Donna, as you know, legislation is hard to pass.

These numbers aren't good for Bush, but they're even worse for the Congress. The same "Wall Street Journal" poll...

BLITZER: Well, we're going to -- I'm going to -- I'm going to talk about that right now, Donna, because there's a new NBC News/"Wall Street Journal" poll that has the Congress' job approval at worse than the president's, and only 23 percent think Congress is doing a good job right now.

That's not good for Nancy Pelosi, the speaker, or Harry Reid, the majority leader.

BRAZILE: Well, and it's not good for the Republicans who are up again in 2008.

Once again, the public is dissatisfied with the course of things in Iraq. And, as a result, they're sending messages to the Democrat, as well as Republicans: Get your house in order.

HOLMES: But what was also striking in this poll that's different than when Republicans were in charge is that, when the voters were asked, do you support your representative, only 41 percent said yes.

Back believe November, the fact that voters would say, I like my guy, I just don't like Congress, that was kind of a ray of light for Republicans that didn't shine through. But here...

BRAZILE: It's all Iraq.

HOLMES: But here, now that we're in June, for the voters to say, only 41 percent, I like my guy, is really bad news for Democrats.

BLITZER: I think what Donna was alluding to, more Republican incumbents in the Senate are up for reelection next time, next year, as opposed to Democrats. So, it doesn't bode well for the Republicans even more so, at least on that...


HOLMES: You have the whole House that is up for reelection...


HOLMES: ... November.

BLITZER: The House -- that's right, all the House.

So, here's what doesn't bode well, Amy, for the Republicans in this NBC News/"Wall Street Journal" poll. Do you want a Democrat to win the presidential election or do you want a Republican to win? Fifty-two percent said they want a Democrat to win. Only 31 percent said they want a Republican to win.

That's got to be very disheartening...

HOLMES: Well...

BLITZER: ... for the Republican presidential candidates.

HOLMES: Yes. And that's been consistent for months, actually, that Gallup has asked that question and that the voters are saying that they would prefer a Democrat.

But, when you actually look at the -- look at the head-to-head matchups, it's pretty even if it's between Giuliani and Hillary, McCain and Hillary, Romney and Hillary. So, if Democrats put up Hillary, they are not going to be taking advantage of that voter dissatisfaction.

BRAZILE: Well, first of all, for the -- in this poll, Mrs. Clinton leads Rudy Giuliani by five points, 40-43.

And, also, that number has spread. With 508 days to go, it's clearly -- it's clear that the public is on a shopping spree for a new president, and they want a Democrat.

BLITZER: Let's make a turn and talk about Lewis "Scooter" Libby. Within six or eight weeks, he could be in prison, unless -- unless the court of appeals, the higher court, does something about the decision from the federal judge earlier today, which most experts think is unlikely, or if the president decides to do something, and step in and give him a pardon.

As you know, Amy, the president is under enormous pressure from his political base, "The Weekly Standard" editorial writers, "The National Review" editorial writers.

"The Wall Street Journal" editorial writers wrote on June 6: "Mr. Bush is a stroke of the pen away from ending that ordeal with a pardon. It was the cowardice and incompetence of his administration that led Mr. Libby to this pass. Feeling 'terrible' won't keep his man out of prison."

What do you think President Bush is going to do? HOLMES: Well, I -- you know, he is getting a lot of pressure from conservatives.

But there's actually a third way. And "National Review Online" has published a piece today about that he could give Scooter Libby a respite. And I think, today, the judge's decision to throw him in jail while his case is still pending appeal is extreme enough that the president and Republican candidates for the presidency can come forward and say, we have a compassionate compromise. Libby does not need to be in jail while his case is pending appeal. He's not violent. He's not a flight risk. Let him stay out of jail.

Previous presidents have done that. Even President Clinton gave a reprieve -- not a reprieve, but a respite to two felons that were on -- on death row until that there was more look at their cases.

BLITZER: Jeff Toobin, when we spoke to him earlier about that third option, said, he's not so sure there is this option. But it's obviously a subject for some legal discussion.

What do you think?

BRAZILE: I think the president should stay out of it.

Look, what Scooter Libby did was simply wrong. He lied to the grand jury, lied to the FBI. He should serve something, pay the fine. And, if the president decides to get in, I think it will send a bad signal.

BLITZER: All right, Donna and Amy, thanks, guys, for coming in.

At our recent presidential debate, by the way, up in New Hampshire, we pressed the GOP candidates on whether they would pardon Scooter Libby if elected.

Mike Huckabee, Jim Gilmore, Ron Paul, and Duncan Hunter said they would not pardon Libby. John McCain, Mitt Romney, Tommy Thompson said they would keep the option open. Three others said they would either pardon Libby or were inclined to do so. They were Rudy Giuliani, Sam Brownback, and Tom Tancredo.

Still to come: Is another so-called troop surge in Iraq the answer? Jack Cafferty standing by with your e-mail.

And Gaza in crisis and growing fears of a Middle East meltdown -- I will speak with a former U.S. special envoy to the region, Dennis Ross, and ask him if the violence and the chaos are beyond control and if the damage is beyond repair.

And their day jobs are on Capitol Hill, but they're putting more cash in their pockets and other places -- a revealing new look at where the senators who are running for president are making money.

Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: John Edwards tops our "Political Radar" today. The Democratic presidential candidate was in Detroit, pitching his plan to bring health care to all Americans. The former senator from North Carolina also wants to lower health care prices, partially by making it easier to get access to generic drugs.

Mitt Romney's criticizing -- he's being criticized today, and he's criticizing Massachusetts lawmakers. State legislators voted down a constitutional amendment that would have defined marriage as a union -- the union between a man and a woman. Massachusetts is the only state in the nation that allows same-sex marriage.

Romney is the former governor of Massachusetts. The Republican presidential hopeful says today's vote is a setback in efforts to defend traditional marriage.

A first today for Joe Biden -- his campaign says the senator and Democratic presidential hopeful became the first candidate to receive the endorsement from a state chapter of the powerful AFL-CIO. Today, the Delaware chapter of the national union endorsed Biden. Biden, of course, is the longtime senator from Delaware.

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

Let's go to Jack in New York -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, Rudy Giuliani said today that he would consider increasing the number of U.S. troops in Iraq. Our question is: Is that the answer?

Barbee in Utah writes: "The bigger question, Jack, is, where the heck are the extra troops going to come from? We just don't have the manpower. It's a well-known fact our troops are already stretched to the breaking point. What does Giuliani propose to do about that?"

Tony in Oklahoma City: "It's way too late to send more troops to a war that is already lost. Like General Shinseki said four years ago, we needed 300,000 troops to secure Iraq. It didn't happen, and he lost his job."

Gary in New York: "Rudy Giuliani is the mayor who chose the World Trade Center for his emergency command center, after it had already been bombed and was targeted for further attack. This is the same mayor who ignored numerous pre-9/11 studies calling for a functioning communications system between New York City police and fire departments, with the resulting deaths of numerous firefighters. I wouldn't vote for him for dogcatcher."

Adam in Iowa City: "Of course a troop increase is the answer. It's been the answer since 2003, when this administration grossly underestimated how many troops were needed to do the job."

Jackie in San Francisco: "If Giuliani wants to make an unpopular decision, he should mention the D-word, as a draft is the only way he will get the massive number of troops it would take for us to win." James in New York: "To be fair, Giuliani said he would send in more troops if his generals in the field asked for them. I'm far more bothered by his belief that he will -- quote -- 'educate' those who disagree with him after he has taken some future action. It's that arrogance and self-serving stupidity that got us into this position to begin with. Do we need what amounts to a meaner version of George Bush?"

And Dave in North Richland Hills, Texas, writes: "The answer is to increase U.S. troops in the U.S." -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thank you, Jack.

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

Happening now: bloody chaos in Gaza. Hamas declares Islamic rule, but the Palestinian president declares a state of emergency and fires the Hamas-led government. Does this set the stage for an even greater explosion of violence?


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