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CNN LATE EDITION WITH WOLF BLITZER

Interview With Mowaffak al-Rubaie; Interview With General Rick Lynch

Aired July 8, 2007 - 11:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: It's 11 a.m. In Washington, 8 a.m. in Los Angeles, 4 p.m. in London and 7 p.m. in Baghdad. Wherever you are watching from around the world, thanks very much for joining us for "Late Edition."
Politicians here in Washington, including a growing number of the president's own party, are saying the increase in U.S. troops into Baghdad simply isn't working, and they're calling for an immediate change in strategy. Let's go right to our exclusive Sunday interview with one of the top U.S. military commanders on the front lines in Iraq, Major General Rick Lynch, the commander of coalition forces operating in the region south of Baghdad.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: General Lynch, thanks very much for joining us on "Late Edition." I want to get right to some words that you said this past week, caused a bit of a stir here in Washington when you suggested that any abrupt change in U.S. military strategy right now could seriously undermine the overall effort.

I want to play for our viewers what you said in part. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MAJ. GEN. RICK LYNCH, U.S. ARMY: Those surge forces go away, that capability goes away. And the Iraqi security forces aren't ready yet to do that. So now what you are going to find, if you did that, is you'd find the enemy regaining ground, reestablishing sanctuary, building more IEDs, carrying those IEDs in Baghdad, and the violence would escalate. It would be a mess.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Question, General, how much more time do you think you need before the U.S. military would be able to start drawing down its forces?

LYNCH: Well, Wolf, we always get the timing question. Everything in combat is about timing, and everything takes longer than you think it is going to take. I believe with the forces I have now and the battle space to which I'm assigned, it is going to take me July, August, and September to clear the enemy from those sanctuaries, deny him his ability to build the bombs, to store munitions and train to conduct attacks inside of Baghdad.

It's going to take me through the summer months. But that is just the clearing piece. The holding piece is going to take a lot of time. We have got to have sustained security presence so that the enemy can't just come back.

So people keep wanting to put a timeframe on this. It's just not possible. There are too many conditions that we don't control.

BLITZER: The theory though was that the U.S. would go in and take charge, but then Iraqi forces would come and sustain the area and maintain the security. But what I hear you saying is that these Iraqi forces are by no means ready to do that yet.

LYNCH: Well, it's not just a theory, Wolf, it's also the practice. In our battle space, as we clear, we stay there until Iraqi security forces can come forward. Either Iraqi army or Iraqi police. But that's the limiting factor.

So they have to generate more capable Iraqi security forces to be able to be the sustained security presence. And that will allow our coalition force to even go deeper into the enemy territories. So that is indeed the long pole in the tent.

BLITZER: Well, then, can we be specific in terms of the Iraqi military? There are thousands, tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of Iraqi military and police forces that have been trained, albeit in various degrees. How much more time do they need to really step up to the plate?

LYNCH: In my battle space, which is the southern belt of Baghdad, in the southern provinces, I've only got really two Iraqi security force brigades I deal with. An Iraqi army brigade and an Iraqi national police brigade.

The Iraqi army brigade, candidly, is quite capable, very confident, has great leadership, and has great effect in our battle spaces. It's only one brigade. And you need about another brigade's worth of troops to be able to secure in that area.

Same with the national police on the east side of the Tigris River. We could use about three more battalions of security forces on that side. And they're not there yet. But the Iraqi forces, you have either got to reposition them or they have got to generate them.

And we have seen a lot of recruiting going on in the last couple of months. I know they're trying to generate additional capacity in the security forces. And at the same time, as you know, we are working for local security forces, trying to find those people in the local areas that are willing to provide security for their homes and villages.

BLITZER: Even as you undertake these military operations, you know the dissent here in Washington is escalating, including some prominent supporters of the president's strategy in Iraq. I want you to listen to this. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SEN. RICHARD LUGAR (R), INDIANA: In my judgment, the costs and risks of continuing down the current path, outweigh the potential benefits that might be achieved. Persisting indefinitely with the surge strategy will delay policy adjustments that have a better chance of protecting our vital interests over the long term.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Richard Lugar, who is the ranking Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee. A very influential member of the U.S. Senate. I wonder, since you're there on the ground, you are seeing what is going on on a day-to-day basis in a pivotal area, what do you say to a senator who is obviously concerned that this is not going in the right direction?

LYNCH: Well, everything takes time, Wolf. And I've got to tell you, we just got the surge brigades in the fight on the 15th of June. That was only three weeks ago. And we're already having great effect in my area.

We have killed 50 of the enemy. We have captured over 250 more. We have taken away 50 weapons caches. And we are having an effect. So it's going to take time for these surge units to have the effect that we want.

It can't happen overnight.

BLITZER: How much of a role are the Iranians playing right now in trying to undermine your strategy?

LYNCH: I'm not sure who it is in Iran, but I know Iran is causing problems in my battle space. I've had 32 EFP strikes. Those EFP munitions are -- we can trace those back to Iran, no doubt.

Machinist capability, weapons manufacturing capability. And those 32 EFP strikes have killed nine of my soldiers and wounded five -- wounded 45 others. And we've got weapons caches we're finding with brand new Iranian munitions. Rockets, hand grenades, just yesterday.

Twelve brand new Iranian rockets. And those rockets are destined to kill some Iraqi people. And that all has to stop.

BLITZER: Well, how do you that? It doesn't look like the Iranians, at least based on what U.S. officials are saying, are stepping back.

LYNCH: Well, we have got to block the flow of those munitions into Iraq, you know? Just recently, Multinational Division Center became the owner of Wasit province as well, in terms of expanded battle space. And that is a piece of the Iranian-Iraqi border. And we are going to work operations to block that flow of munitions into Iraq.

BLITZER: But -- and I just want to be precise on this. There's no inclination right now, and correct me if I'm wrong, to actually cross the border and go into Iran to try to stop this flow? LYNCH: No inclinations at all. We're just trying to keep it from coming into here. We've got to stop the trucks that are carrying munitions, stop the trucks that are carrying these EFPs so they're not killing our soldiers, Iraqi soldiers or innocent Iraqis.

BLITZER: Do you have enough troops to block that border, to prevent those kinds of munitions from coming into Iraq?

LYNCH: Yes, commanders on the ground never have enough troops. You never will have enough troops. What you do is take the troops that you do have and you appropriately position them based on intelligence -- we talk about intelligence-driven operations -- and put them at the right place on the battlefield to have an effect on the enemy. And I have got enough troops to do that.

BLITZER: There was an incident last night in which your forces engaged Iraqi insurgents, supposedly Al Qaida elements as well. I wonder if you could tell us what happened.

LYNCH: Yes. We are taking the fight to the enemy, Wolf. In our battle space, this area called Arab Jabour, the Tigris River Valley is a rat line of bad things going into Baghdad, and we're blocking that now.

So one of my magnificent platoons is on patrol searching for the enemy. They found the enemy, came in direct contact with him. They drew back. They used our aerial surveillance capability to fine-tune where the enemy was, and then we killed 15 of them with precision munitions.

That's how you take the fight to the enemy.

BLITZER: At the same time though, the enemy has gone forward with these horrific suicide truck bombings in the north. Another 150 or so Iraqi civilians killed, a couple of hundred injured. In the past few days alone, the numbers have been pretty horrific. How do you stop that if you can?

LYNCH: Well, you know, we're trying to take away his munitions. We're trying to take away his leaders. We're trying to take away his training opportunities. And in time, that will have effect on his ability to take truck bombs into Baghdad or anywhere else in our battle space.

But that is indeed going to take time. But you've got to take away his capabilities. But remember, he is probably always going to have the capability of doing this horrific attack.

See, I have never seen a more evil, a more vicious enemy. And he doesn't care about killing a bunch of innocent Iraqis or coalition force members. And he is going to continue to want to have that one capability to do that one horrific attack. It will never be perfect.

BLITZER: Retired U.S. Army Major General John Batiste testified before the House Foreign Affairs Committee at the end of June. And he had some very disturbing bottom-line assessments of the U.S. military. BLITZER: I want you to listen to what General Batiste said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MAJ. GEN. JOHN BATISTE (RET.), U.S. ARMY: Our national strategy for the global war on terror lacks strategic focus. Our Army and Marine Corps today are at a breaking point, little to show for it. It's serious.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right. Well, you are there with the Army and Marine Corps on the ground in Iraq. Is the U.S. military right now at a breaking point?

LYNCH: By no means. I've got to tell you, on the Fourth of July with General Petraeus, we re-enlisted 500 of America's great soldiers. Every time I go to a patrol base, 115-degree temperatures, 60 pounds of body armor just before or after an attack, and soldiers are raising their right hand to stay in the Army.

They know what we do is important. We're not at a breaking point.

BLITZER: How worried are you though that the political inclination here in Washington could force a significant military shift on the ground, especially in September, when General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker are supposed to make their report to the U.S. Congress?

LYNCH: Well, you know, Wolf, we've all had numerous rotations now in Iraq, and I have got to tell you, I believe the strategy we are pursuing right now is exactly right. We're not commuting to work. We are living with the Iraqis.

I have got 29 patrol bases where I'm out there. And the local population knows we're there to stay. So they're giving us information. And that is very, very good. And we have got the forces now to take the fight to the enemy. And we will work with the Iraqis to find (ph) and sustain a security presence.

So I believe the strategy is on target, but it's going to take time.

BLITZER: General Lynch, good luck over there. Thanks very much for joining us.

LYNCH: Thank you, Wolf. Take care.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: And coming up next, senators Patrick Leahy and Arlen Specter. They're standing by live to talk about the war strategy and the growing pressure in Congress to change course.

We'll also get their take on former White House aide Lewis "Scooter" Libby's presidential reprieve. And as the British terror probe widens, insight on the security implications for the United States from two top experts. You're watching "Late Edition," the last word in Sunday talk.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to "Late Edition." I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. Coming up, perspective on the Iraq war strategy, efforts to stamp out the insurgency from the Iraqi national security adviser, Mowaffak al-Rubaie. We'll go back to Baghdad to speak with him.

But right now, let's talk about that and much more with the two top members of the Senate Judiciary Committee. In Burlington, Vermont, the committee's Democratic chairman, Patrick Leahy, and in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the panel's ranking Republican, Arlen Specter. Senators, thanks very much for coming in.

Senator Leahy, let's start with the situation in Iraq. The Senate expected in the next week or two, maybe three, to discuss whether there should be another formal withdrawal deadline.

But you just heard a top general, General Lynch, appeal for patience, give his new strategy, the military strategy that the president supports, an opportunity to work. Are you ready to be patient and to give this new strategy time?

SEN. PATRICK LEAHY (D), VERMONT: I'm not ready to be patient because I've heard one new strategy after another. We've been in Iraq longer than we were in World War II. We went in under false pretenses, or at least the premise given to the American people was false. There were no weapons of mass destruction. Saddam Hussein had nothing to do with 9/11.

We have very, very brave men and women who are over there. Many dying, many being mutilated, as well as thousands upon thousands of Iraqis, and we are caught in the middle of a civil war. It is time to say to the Iraqis, we are leaving, it's time for you, you Iraqis, to pull together and work your way out of this civil war.

We will have spent nearly $1 trillion. We are spending $12 billion a month in Iraq. That's money that we have to take out of everything from law enforcement to school systems in the United States because the president says we can't afford those things because of the war in Iraq. It is time to get out.

BLITZER: What about that, Senator Specter? You for some time have suggested this is a civil war that's happening in Iraq. Do you agree with Senator Leahy?

SEN. ARLEN SPECTER (R), PENNSYLVANIA: Well, there is no doubt there is a civil war. And had we known Saddam did not have weapons of mass destruction, we wouldn't have gone in. And now we don't want to leave Iraq in a state of total disorder.

I'm going to be listening very closely to the debate next week. I'm going to separate presidential politics from the military evaluation. We have given General Petraeus until September to give us a report.

We have to bear in mind our decision on funding is not going to be in the next week or two. That's going to come in September, when we take up the Department of Defense appropriations bill. But I'm going to be listening very closely. When Senator Lugar speaks, everybody listens.

BLITZER: On that point, Senator Specter, Senator Lugar, Senator Voinovich, Senator Domenici, all Republicans, Senator Hagel for some time now expressed their deep concern, dissenting from this new strategy. Do you put yourself in that category?

SPECTER: Well, deep concern? absolutely. Putting a deadline date with a time when the enemy, the insurgents just have to wait us out depends upon the evolving picture. I think General Lynch has it exactly right when he says a lot of factors are changing.

I want to hear the debate. I want to hear the up-to-date military assessments. These issues are much too important to make a judgment on a Sunday talk show, important as yours is, Wolf.

BLITZER: Thank you for that. Let me go back to Senator Leahy. Senator Leahy, I spoke with the Iraqi national security adviser, Mowaffak al-Rubaie. That interview is coming up in the next hour. But he warned that if the current government of Prime Minister Nouri al- Maliki were to collapse or go down in some way, all hell would break loose after that.

Listen to what he told me.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MOWAFFAK AL-RUBAIE, IRAQI NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: I can tell you one thing, that after Maliki, there is going to be the hurricane in Iraq. This is extremely important point to make across to the western audience and to the Arab audience, as well.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: So his bottom line, Senator Leahy, is as bad as the situation is right now, it could be a whole lot worse.

LEAHY: You know, it's interesting he says the message he wants to make to the American audience and the Arab audience. We are carrying the bulk of this load. Our children and our grandchildren will still be paying the bills that we ran up and will be paying for the fact we haven't been able to do things here in the United States for Americans that we should do.

But he also said he hopes the Arab world is listening. It's not a bad time for the Arab world, awash in petrol dollars, to step forward, get off the fence, start bringing the pressure and bring a conclusion to this, all of it.

Including even Iran, which has, you know, historical animosities with many in Iraq. Notwithstanding the fact that they have -- that they're stirring up a lot of trouble there. They all, Saudi Arabia, Iran, other countries in the Middle East, have a major take in what happens. It's time for them to come in and start picking up some of the load.

BLITZER: Well, speaking of Iran, Senator Specter, let me read to you what your colleague Joe Lieberman, Independent of Connecticut, said this week in his hometown newspaper in the Hartford Courant: "The fact is that the Iranian government by its actions declared war on us. The United States government has a responsibility to use all instruments at its disposal to stop these terrorist attacks against our soldiers and allies in Iraq, including keeping open the possibility of using military force against the terrorist infrastructure inside Iran."

Are you with Senator Lieberman on that?

SPECTER: Well, I would say keep open the possibility, which are his words, keep it on the table, but first I would intensify the diplomatic efforts that are under way. Finally, we're engaging in Iran on negotiations or discussions about Iraq.

I would broaden those discussions to include their nuclear capability. The military option has to remain open as a possibility, as Senator Lieberman says, but it's the last resort.

And first, I think we ought to be a lot more intense on diplomacy bilaterally, and also in bringing in Russia and China to help us put pressure on Iran, and very tough economic sanctions. They worked on North Korea. Let's impose them on Iran.

BLITZER: Senator Leahy, I want you to weigh in on that Iran issue, as well. Are you, like some Democrats, concerned that the Bush administration is thinking of using the military option against Iran because of its nuclear weapons program, if you will?

LEAHY: There is no question that there are some in the administration that would love to use the military option there. I'm not sure where they are going to get the military option, considering how spread thin we are in Iraq, a war they went into without adequate planning and with a hubris that will go down in history as one of the most amazing mistakes ever made by this country.

I absolutely agree with Senator Specter that we should intensify our diplomatic efforts. The nuclear issue should be on the table. I think that if Russia and China are going to show, especially Russia, are going to show any kind of responsibility here, they've got to be actively involved.

But I think also the Europeans have got to talk with us about the economic sanctions that could be brought. Remember, in the world currency you've got the dollar, the euros, you've got the yen. The currency of Iran doesn't trade very well around the world. If you start closing off some of the economic avenues to them, then that is pressure they are going to understand.

But I don't know how we could realistically try to invade Iran. What would you do, I know one thing you would do is that a lot of people in Iran who don't care for the current leadership would suddenly find they would support that leadership rather than have a country invading them.

BLITZER: All right, senators, stand by because we have a lot more to talk about. We're going to get to some domestic issues after we take this short little break. We'll ask senators Specter and Leahy to give us their take on the subpoena standoff between the White House and the Congress right now. Which side is about to blink first?

And later, from the war in Iraq to the presidential campaign trail. We'll sort through all of the week's politics with Ed Henry, Suzanne Malveaux, Joe Johns. They're part of the best political team on television.

Stay with "Late Edition." We'll be back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: I thought that the jury verdict should stand. I felt the punishment was severe, so I made a decision that would commute his sentence, but leave in place a serious fine and probation. As to the future, I'm, you know, rule nothing in and nothing out.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: President Bush speaking this week on his decision to commute the sentence of Lewis "Scooter" Libby, the vice president's former top aide. Welcome back to "Late Edition." I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. We're talking with Senator Patrick Leahy, the Democratic chairman of the Judiciary Committee, and Senator Arlen Specter, the panel's ranking Republican.

Do you have a problem, Senator Leahy, with anything the president decided in terms of the legality of what he did? He was within his right to commute the sentence.

LEAHY: The president has a constitutional right or has the constitutional power to commute sentences of anybody he wants. I wish he had shown more constitutional responsibility. Just as I was critical of some of the pardons by President Clinton, former President Bush or President Reagan, I've said they have the power to do it, but I didn't think they used good judgment.

It was not a surprise he did this. It was generally assumed, certainly in Washington, by Republicans I talked with, that the president would give Scooter Libby a "get out of jail free" card. It's interesting he commuted the sentence. He didn't give an out and out pardon. That way Scooter Libby can take the fifth amendment if he wants as far as any testimony before (inaudible).

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Well, I was going to ask you, Senator Leahy. Do you want to hold hearings on this whole issue?

LEAHY: No, because he's got a fifth amendment right that he can still do. I mean, this was, actually in my view, a blatant way of guaranteeing that Scooter Libby would not talk about the things that were done, you know, some of the misleading information given out by Vice President Cheney and the president. They led us into this war in Iraq, and they bought his silence. I can understand why the prosecutor was so angry about it.

BLITZER: You're talking about Patrick Fitzgerald, your colleague, Senator...

LEAHY: Also the fact...

BLITZER: I was going to say...

LEAHY: Also the fact that he was given, when the president talked about a severe sentence, he was given at the low end of the sentencing guidelines. People have been given much, much harsher sentences than he was given.

BLITZER: Senator Schumer of the Judiciary Committee wants you to call Patrick Fitzgerald to testify before your committee on this whole issue. Do you want to do that?

LEAHY: That's something I would discuss with Senator Specter before I did, but I know how concerned Mr. Fitzgerald is.

And we may very well find ourselves going down that path. It would do no good to call Scooter Libby. His silence has been bought and paid for, and he would just take the fifth.

BLITZER: Senator Specter, what do you think about bringing Patrick Fitzgerald before the committee?

SPECTER: Reluctant as I am to agree with Senator Schumer, I think he's right. And I'll tell you exactly why. As a former prosecutor, I don't have any brief (ph) for perjury and obstruction of justice, but I still haven't figured out what that case is all about.

Mr. Fitzgerald himself took out of the case the outing of Valerie Plame as a covert agent. We knew that the leak was Armitage long before Libby was ever called as a witness. We have Judith Miller kept in jail for 85 days. I visited her in the jail on the issue of reporter's privilege. That court case cost several million dollars to prosecute.

And there are a lot of ramifications that I think we ought to go into. Why were they pursuing the matter long after there was no underlying crime on the outing of the CIA agent? Why were they pursuing it after we knew who the leaker was?

BLITZER: Let me go back...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Go ahead, Senator.

LEAHY: I think if my friend Arlen, and like me, he's also -- you know, we were both former prosecutors. That's where we first met. And we tend to take a prosecutor's view on this. If he has no objection to Mr. Fitzgerald coming forward, I think you may very well see Mr. Fitzgerald before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

On these things, what I've always done is discuss them first with Senator Specter because we tried to take a bipartisan attitude toward these matters. But I have some of the very same questions in mind that Senator Specter has laid out very well. And I think you might find it to be an interesting hearing.

BLITZER: I'm sure we will.

SPECTER: Wolf, we don't have to issue a subpoena now because I'm sure Mr. Fitzgerald watches your show like everybody else. BLITZER: Well, we'll see. I'm sure he's got maybe something better he wants to do this morning. Let's talk a little bit about these subpoenas that have been issued to two former White House officials, Senator Leahy, Sara Taylor, the political director, Harriet Miers, the former White House counsel.

You're getting a letter, you're getting indications from the White House counsel, Fred Fielding, they don't want these two women to appear before your committee. How far are you willing to go in trying to force their testimony?

LEAHY: We'll ask Miss Taylor when she does come before the committee this week just where she feels on this. I haven't heard anything from Mr. Fielding or anybody else at the White House that would justify a claim of executive privilege.

Remember, this is a woman who sent something like 60,000 e-mails on the Republican National Committee account, not e-mails to the president, but political e-mails while she was there.

Many involved the, what I feel was manipulation of prosecution by U.S. attorneys. There's certainly no executive privilege for something like that. And interestingly enough, the White House, when first asked about these e-mails, they said they'd all been erased.

My response was, well, you can't erase e-mails. They sort of pooh-poohed that, and then all of a sudden, they found the e-mails. And I think that embarrassed them that they were actually still there. They still don't want to give them up. We'll ask her about it.

So far, the White House has not given us a single piece of paper. They've not given us a single witness. I think it's time for the stonewalling to stop.

BLITZER: What do you think, Senator Specter? We're talking about the firing of those nine chief prosecutors around the country and how those decisions were made.

SPECTER: I think it's very important that we get to the bottom of it as soon as possible because Attorney General Gonzales continues to serve and the Department of Justice is in total disarray. I don't want to see a lengthy legal battle because it will take more than two years.

And right now, the important thing is how the Department of Justice is functioning. We heard from Sara Taylor's lawyer by letter over the weekend that she's prepared to testify, but she doesn't want to flout what the president says.

I think Senator Leahy is right. We bring Ms. Taylor in, and we can ask her a lot of questions that don't involve executive privilege at all. Similarly, I would take up the president on his limited offer to make Karl Rove and Harriet Miers and other White House officials available, even if it's on an informal basis. That's not my choice, but I will take it a step at a time.

BLITZER: But they don't even want a transcript of that. Are you ready to go that far? Because in the past, Senator Specter, you've said they should at least have a transcript.

SPECTER: Well, I think they should have a transcript. And I think that the other conditions go too far. I'd like to see them under oath. But right now, we're faced with a situation. Either we get some information which may enable us to really make the case against Attorney General Gonzales so strong that he has to be replaced, or have a two-year battle where we won't get anything.

Let's take it a step at a time. Let's hear from Karl Rove, from Harriet Miers informally. We can always issue subpoenas at a later time and get tough as a couple of former prosecutors like Leahy and Arlen Specter want to do.

LEAHY: Well, of course, the only problem with that -- I agree with much of what Arlen said, but the problem with it, the White House has said we want them behind closed doors, no oath, no transcript, a limited number of members of Congress who could ask the questions.

They would set the agenda of what we could ask questions with, and it would have to be with the agreement from me and the House chairman that there would be no follow-up subpoenas. In many ways, that's not an offer. That's not an offer.

SPECTER: Let me ask Patrick Leahy a question, irregular as it is. Patrick, don't you think you and I behind closed doors could get a lot of important information? You and I and others know how to ask questions. It would be a good starting place. We'd know a lot more than we know today.

LEAHY: But unfortunately, they said there is no way we have to agree to do no follow-up. So they could just, two minutes into the thing, get up and walk out. And we'd be left...

SPECTER: I agree with you that we cannot give away our authority for a follow-up.

LEAHY: But you know, the problem, the problem we have, Arlen, I've asked the White House several times if they have any, willing to give any give in this at all. They say absolutely not. This is a take-it-or-leave-it offer.

Now, Mr. Fielding is a very nice man, a good lawyer. He's had experience when he worked for Richard Nixon the same issues coming up during the Nixon White House. And he's made it very clear this is their take-it-or-leave-it offer.

SPECTER: Patrick?

LEAHY: Yes, sir.

SPECTER: One thing we haven't done is asked for a meeting with the president. Why don't you and John Conyers and I ask for a meeting with the president? We may be a little tired of dealing with his lawyer.

LEAHY: Why don't you and I chat about this tomorrow when we're (ph) on the floor, so we won't be having to be taking up Wolf's time on this thing.

SPECTER: Well, I don't think Wolf's mind a bit. That's the first time he hasn't interrupted in years.

BLITZER: Fascinating opportunity for not only me but all of our viewers to be eavesdropping on a significant conversation.

LEAHY: Wolf is thinking he'd like to come along to that meeting.

BLITZER: I'd love to come to the meeting. Good luck in getting it done.

SPECTER: As soon as Wolf gets elected he can come.

BLITZER: Senators, we're going to have to leave it right there. A good discussion here on "Late Edition." Thanks to both of you for joining us.

SPECTER: Nice being with you, Wolf. Thank you.

BLITZER: Thank you.

LEAHY: I'll see you tomorrow, Arlen.

SPECTER: OK, Patrick.

LEAHY: Take care.

BLITZER: Thank you.

Coming up, the U.K. terror probe. Are new details and arrests uncovering potential threats here in the United States? Two top security experts stand by live to offer their insight. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: Let's take a look at what's on the cover of this week's major news magazines here in the United States. U.S. News and World Report has a user's guide to the 2008 U.S. presidential election, with the title "An Election Like No Other: What You Need to Know as the Campaign Heats Up."

Newsweek Magazine also goes presidential. Its cover is "Black and White: How Barack Obama is Shaking Up Old Assumptions."

And Time Magazine takes a close look at "How We Get Addicted."

But up next here on "Late Edition," the British terror probe goes global. We'll sort through new questions raised, potential threats right here in the United States with two top security experts. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to "Late Edition." I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. The investigation into last week's botched British terror plot is widening, with several doctors arrested in connection with the probe.

There are now new and disturbing questions about the suspects. Here to talk about the lingering terror threat and more, two guests, the former deputy CIA director and now CNN national security adviser John McLaughlin and the former U.S. Homeland Security Department inspector Clark Kent Ervin.

Gentlemen, thanks very much for coming in.

You know, seven doctors, I believe, allegedly involved in this British plot. And a lot of people are outraged, stunned that doctors could be involved in this.

But when you think about it, the number two Al Qaida operative, Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri, himself is a medical doctor.

So, when you heard about doctors allegedly involved in this British plot, what went through your mind?

JOHN MCLAUGHLIN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: The first thing I thought of, Wolf, is that Al Qaida's been interested in medical expertise for a long period of time. Doctors bring a lot to the game for Al Qaida. They bring, for example, knowledge of chemistry and biology. Al Qaida has had interest in developing biological weapons for years. They bring access to certain critical materials such as medical isotopes, which are radioactive and can be mixed into conventional explosives.

We haven't seen that yet, but those are some of the things they bring.

The other thing that came into my mind is, wow, they've changed the profile here. We all think we know what a terrorist looks like, what a terrorist sounds like, what a terrorist's C.V. looks like. These don't look like terrorists.

So the implication; the warning for the United States here, I think, is, the next time we have an attack, and there will be another attack, it's likely to be carried out by people who have some legitimate reason for being here.

BLITZER: Here's what Canon Andrew White, an Anglican priest in Baghdad, said after this terror plot was announced, was reported in England, about a meeting he had with an Al Qaida chief in Iraq on April 18. Listen to what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANDREW WHITE, ANGLICAN PRIEST: I experienced an ongoing litany of how he was going to kill British and American people. It was during that meeting that he said to me, "Those who cure you will kill you."

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Same question, basically, to you. The fact that doctors allegedly involved in this plot. What do you think?

Is this something that Americans should be deeply concerned about right now?

CLARK KENT ERVIN, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: Well, they certainly should be, Wolf. And we learned yesterday, for example, that two of these doctors had inquired about practicing medicine in the United States.

And of course, that raises the specter of whether foreign-born doctors -- about 25 percent of the doctors who practice medicine here are either foreign-born or foreign-trained -- whether they're coming here to commit acts of terror.

BLITZER: Is enough being done to go through their backgrounds to vet them, to make sure they're here to cure people as opposed to kill people?

ERVIN: Well, the good news is we're doing a lot more today than we were on 9/11.

For example, they have to have a special visa if they're foreign doctors. They have to be interviewed. They have to be fingerprinted; their digital photographs, their names, the photographs and the fingerprints run against a very comprehensive terror watch list.

That's all good news. But of course, no watch list is perfect. And furthermore, if they're clean skins; if they don't have a terrorist record or a criminal record in the past, there's very little that authorities can do, even after a thorough background check.

MCLAUGHLIN: Wolf, there's another implication here, in these doctors. And that is, many people have commented on these plots as amateurish. I disagree with that. Yes, the bombs didn't go off, but the most important detonation that occurs is the detonation in the head of the terrorist. Something caused these people to want to do this.

And that, to me, is the most frightening implication that comes out of this. There's a powerful narrative that bin Laden and Zawahiri and other terrorist leaders use in the extremist world and with people who are vulnerable, and it apparently took with these guys. They'll figure out, eventually, how to make bombs go off.

BLITZER: I want you to listen, Clark, to what the Homeland Security secretary, Michael Chertoff, said here on "Late Edition" last Sunday. And then I want to get your reaction.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SECRETARY OF HOMELAND SECURITY MICHAEL CHERTOFF: I have made the point of saying that I think, over the last year, Europe has become a particularly dangerous platform. And therefore, we have to be continually elevating our security with respect to travel from Europe and other parts of the world.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Because a lot of Europeans who come here without visas -- and Americans can go to Europe without visas, as well.

Is it time to try to tighten up that?

ERVIN: I think so, Wolf. In fact, I've called -- and I realize it's very controversial -- for ending the visa waiver program. That's a very draconian step, as you say, as a result of it. We ourselves don't have to have visas to travel to European countries, or about 27 countries in the program.

BLITZER: Because whatever the United States government does, as far as Britain or France or Germany, allies in Europe are concerned, they're going to reciprocate and do against the United States.

ERVIN: Understandably. But you know, I think we could have a visa process that wouldn't be unduly cumbersome if we had enough officers overseas to process those visas.

It's not for nothing that Richard Reid, the shoe bomber, came on a British passport, that Zacarias Moussaoui, whom some call the 20th 9/11 hijacker, came on a French passport. If you come from a visa waiver country, you don't have to go through the extensive scrutiny that those who do require visas have to go through now, in the post-9/11 world.

BLITZER: Bureaucratically, that would cause a nightmare for U.S. missions, for embassies around the world.

MCLAUGHLIN: It would, but I think Clark's point is well worth considering. The person who did the casings of financial institutions in New York City in the year 2000 prior to 9/11 was a person who came here on a British passport, as well. So, in all likelihood, the people who carry out another attack in the United States will either be here on some legitimate business or will come on European passports.

BLITZER: There is a story in the front page of The New York Times today, John McLaughlin, about a U.S. operation to try to take out the top Al Qaida leadership in Pakistan back in '05, but in the last minute it was scuttled because of fears that it could cause too many U.S. casualties.

You read the story. Does it ring true to you?

MCLAUGHLIN: I can't confirm it, but it does have the ring of truth for a couple of reasons. We do periodically get a window into Al Qaida activity quite sharp. It comes into focus in the tribal areas through intelligence.

Just exactly why this operation, if it was planned, was called off is not clear. The reason given in the article strikes me also as plausible. There is always another side to this argument when people say we shouldn't have called off the operation.

The article makes the point that the operation had become too large, too cumbersome. Another way to put it is the footprint had gotten to be too large. And that is a classic problem you have with special operations is how to keep the footprint small enough that people can do something with great stealth, not be detected and not set off a firestorm, a political firestorm in a country where you're going to do it.

BLITZER: Because there was concern that the government of Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf could collapse.

MCLAUGHLIN: Even in 2005, Musharraf was beginning to weaken. Of course, he's at the weakest point in his presidency now. But at that point, too, this would have been a concern, given the upsurge of opposition there would have been in the extremist community.

BLITZER: How concerned should Americans be right now about the so-called soft targets, which are very vulnerable in this great country, as you well know.

ERVIN: Well, that's one of the ironies, Wolf. You know, the harder we harden hard targets, like airports and seaports, nuclear power plants, military bases, the more attractive we'll make soft targets like nightclubs, which was the subject of at least the initial bomb plot in London.

To be fair to the authorities, there's really very little that can be done to protect soft targets. We don't want to go to what goes on in Israel, where there are bomb detectors in every nightclub and shopping mall that you go into. God forbid that we'll have to do that in this country someday.

In the absence of that, really the only thing we can do is to have a public awareness campaign. After all, it was an alert ambulance driver who spotted something suspicious in that car. So that calls upon every American to play a role in foiling terror plots.

BLITZER: We've got to leave it there. Gentlemen, thanks very much for coming in. Lots to chew over as we think about it. Clark Kent Ervin, John McLaughlin, thanks for coming in.

And remember, stay tuned to CNN day and night for the most reliable news about your security.

Still ahead, one of the Senate's senior and most respected members breaking ranks with the president over the war in Iraq. We'll talk live with Senator Richard Lugar. All that coming up. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: This reminder, coming up at 1 p.m. Eastern for our North American viewers, Tom Foreman hosts "This Week at War." Here's a little preview.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Thanks, Wolf. Coming up on "This Week at War," the failed British car bomb plot. How can we catch terrorists who are above suspicion? Is Iran paying insurgents to kill American troops? And Pakistan, teetering on the edge of chaos, wrapping up seven days of a world in conflict, "This Week at War."

BLITZER: And just ahead here on "Late Edition," Iraq's government on the hotseat to make progress and take the pressure off U.S. troops. We'll get a status report from the Iraqi national security adviser, Mowaffak al-Rubaie, in Baghdad.

Then, Republican Senator Richard Lugar calling for a change in war strategy. We'll talk live with him about the eroding GOP support for President Bush's policy. "Late Edition" continues right at the top of the hour.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: This is "Late Edition," the last word in Sunday talk.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BUSH: The fight is in Iraq. We must win it.

BLITZER: The death toll mounts for U.S. troops and Iraqi civilians.

LUGAR: The costs and risks of continuing down the current path outweigh the potential benefits.

BLITZER: And pressure grows for a change in U.S. strategy. We'll talk with Iraq's national security adviser, Mowaffak al-Rubaie, and with the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Richard Lugar, who is pushing for change.

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think the president made a reasonable choice to reduce the sentence.

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON, D-N.Y.: What we saw today was elevating cronyism over the rule of law.

BLITZER: Lewis "Scooter" Libby walks, and everybody talks.

And the latest on the U.S. presidential campaign. We'll get all sides with three of the best political team on television.

The second hour of "Late Edition" starts right now.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Welcome back. We'll get to my interview with the Iraqi national security adviser, Mowaffak al-Rubaie, in just a moment.

First, though, there are dramatic military and political developments happening now in Iraq. CNN's Hala Gorani is standing by live in our Baghdad bureau with the latest. Hala, what's going on?

HALA GORANI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, an incredible two days of carnage across Iraq -- 150 people killed in a single truck bomb explosion in northern Iraq in Amerli. That's a Turkoman Shiite town. Kurds live there as well. As the surge, the so-called surge operation gets under way across Iraq with more American troops on the ground, here the big question now is in Diayla province, north and east of Baghdad, where these U.S. soldiers were perhaps able to scare away or convince those insurgents to move away, are they now hitting softer targets, like open marketplaces and streets?

In Baghdad just today, there were two car bombs as well. So the violence here has spiked quite considerably, Wolf.

BLITZER: And...

GORANI: And on the political front, there was -- absolutely.

BLITZER: Yes, I was going to say -- I was going to say, there is political fallout from all of this, and it's getting rather dramatic.

GORANI: Absolutely, Wolf. This is a real crisis in Iraqi politics. The big question is, will the government of Nouri al- Maliki, supported by America, survive this crisis? When you have the Sunni block in parliament boycotting parliament, and ministers from the Sunni block suspending participation. The same goes for Sadrist ministers, loyal to Muqtada al-Sadr, the radical Shiite cleric, both in parliament and in the government.

What the U.S. wants is for very important national reconciliation laws to pass before the fall. The question is, even if they do pass with the numbers, but they do so without the support of some major political blocks, well, you may have a timetable able to squeeze by and squeeze through, but will you have national reconciliation and support and reconciliation between the sects? That is definitely an open question, Wolf.

BLITZER: Hala Gorani on the scene for us in Baghdad. Thank you, Hala, for that.

Meanwhile, top officials here in Washington are closely monitoring the situation in Iraq. They're clearly very worried. Just a short while ago, I spoke with the Iraqi national security adviser, Mowaffak al-Rubaie, in Baghdad.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Dr. al-Rubaie, thanks very much for joining us on "Late Edition."

I want to get right away to this front page story in The Washington Post today. I will read to you the first sentence: "The Iraqi government is unlikely to meet any of the political and security goals or timelines President Bush set for it in January when he announced a major shift in U.S. policy, according to senior administration officials closely involved in the matter."

Is that true?

AL-RUBAIE: I totally disagree with this. And this is totally untrue. I think we have already seen a visible progress in the economy and security and information, as well as political. So I disagree with that.

BLITZER: Some of the benchmarks that have been cited, going back several months, include an oil-sharing agreement, de-Baathification laws, and amending the Iraqi constitution. Those are three of the major benchmarks.

Will you be able to tell the Iraqi people and the world, including the people here in the United States in September, that you have met those three specific benchmarks?

AL-RUBAIE: These are not Washington benchmarks, these are Iraqi benchmarks. And we need these for our national unity and a vision for the future. And we believe that we have progressed a long distance towards getting these ratified.

The oil law -- the hydrocarbons law -- has been already approved by the council of ministers. It has gone now to the council of representatives. So that is a huge step for -- and also the de- Baathification, or review of the de-Baathification law has been seriously discussed, and now we have literally a final draft in the -- for the council of ministers.

So we are moving and we are progressing. I believe by September, we will be able to report a very good progress.

And these are progress for ourselves. These are not only progress for our friends to show to the Congress. These are important, essential progress for ourselves, for Iraq.

BLITZER: Will the Iraqi parliament go in recess, go on vacation during these critical summer months? AL-RUBAIE: The council of representatives have already canceled July recess and it's going to have only the August recess. So they are going to go on until the end of July. And also, they are not going to have only three or four days a week; they are going to have six days every week from now until the end of July.

So I think it is a huge improvement on the performance of the council of representatives.

BLITZER: But you know the criticism is, so why will the ministers, why will the members of parliament take off the entire month of August at a time when U.S. and Iraqi troops are dying and Iraqi civilians are dying in horrific numbers, as we have seen over the past 48 hours alone?

AL-RUBAIE: Well, this is -- I can understand where you are coming from. But I can tell you, these people are working very, very hard throughout the year, and they have done a lot of good work. But this is a parliament which is -- has to come by consensus.

This is a government of -- coalition government. This is government ruled and governed by consensus of the three major communities. And it has to take its own time. It's not an authoritarian government where it is -- it will be probably much more effective and get done -- get things done quicker, but this is a government governing by consensus.

And also, we need everybody included in this very important legislation. So we need to work on this.

BLITZER: There is a report that there is a block of members of the parliament, including in the cabinet, about to put forward a vote of no confidence against the prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, in the coming days.

How worried are you that his government could fall?

AL-RUBAIE: We are not worried at all. And this government, I can tell you one thing that, after Maliki, there is going to be the hurricane in Iraq. This is an extremely important point to make across and to the Western audience and to the Arab audience, as well as the larger Muslim audience.

This government has enjoyed support from both Shia and Sunnis and Kurds. There are some sects -- or there are some factions among the Shias which are -- they are not happy with the government. There are other factions among the Sunnis, are not happy with the government. And this is a national unity government, came from the three communities coming together.

Of course the radicals and the extremists are not going to have -- to be happy in the parliament about this government, because this government is adopting a national unity program...

BLITZER: What do you mean...

AL-RUBAIE: ... and a national reconciliation program.

BLITZER: ... Dr. al-Rubaie, when you say there will be a hurricane after the -- if Nouri al-Maliki's government were to collapse? Explain what you mean by that.

AL-RUBAIE: I can tell you it will be extremely difficult, nearly impossible, to form a new government after Maliki. And it will be very, very disturbing to all intelligent, observant in the -- in this country and abroad.

And the country will be going through very extreme uncertainties if this government is brought down.

BLITZER: Because a lot of parliamentary systems -- and Iraq has a parliamentary system -- prime ministers come and go. Governments are created and then they collapse, but then they move on.

Are you suggesting that Iraq is not yet mature enough in its parliamentary system to be able to withstand a political crisis right now?

AL-RUBAIE: What I'm saying is the -- Maliki is an honest, determined, decisive nationalist -- Iraqi nationalist, who is not influenced by any external, regional, or international forces. And he is determined. He has a very clear program to go forward. And his government has done a huge achievement in the way of security, in the way of economics and in the way of politics. So -- and information campaign as well.

So I believe the achievements this government has done are very, very good. And there are a lot more to be done -- to do in the next few months.

BLITZER: You were on "Late Edition" back in February. And we spoke about Iran and allegations that the Iranian government was directly involved in fomenting the violence against U.S. forces and Iraqi troops in Iraq.

This is what you said to me back in February. I want you to listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

AL-RUBAIE: Recently the Iranians have changed their position. And we have some evidence that they have stopped supplying arms or creating any of these charge-shaped mines in the streets of Baghdad.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: I want you to listen now to what Brigadier General Kevin Bergner, the chief spokesman for the U.S. military in Iraq, said this week about Iran's involvement in the violence in Iraq. Listen to General Bergner.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BRIG. GEN. KEVIN BERGNER, CHIEF SPOKESMAN FOR U.S. MILITARY IN IRAQ: Quds Force, along with Hezbollah instructors, train approximately 20 to 60 Iraqis at a time, sending them back to Iraq, organized into these special groups.

They are being taught how to use EFPs, mortars, rockets, as well as intelligence, sniper, and kidnapping operations.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: As you know, Dr. al-Rubaie, the Quds Force is the elite force of the Iranian military and intelligence services. I wonder if you'd want to react to this charge from the U.S. military that Iran is now directly involved in the violence against U.S. forces.

AL-RUBAIE: My wishful prediction in February, obviously, was wrong. And unfortunately, what we are seeing is some meddling into the internal affairs of Iraq. And we, in the Iraqi government, we denounce this strongly, in the strongest terms.

We will not allow any neighbors to intervene in our internal affairs or in breaching our sovereignty and independence of this country. And we will do everything possible with our allies, with the coalition forces, with our allies in the United States and in Europe to deter anybody from meddling in our internal affairs.

BLITZER: Dr. al-Rubaie, good luck over there. Thanks very much for joining us on "Late Edition."

AL-RUBAIE: Thank you very much indeed for having me.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Dr. Mowaffak al-Rubaie, the Iraqi national security adviser, speaking with us earlier in Baghdad.

Straight ahead, more Republican senators are rejecting the White House's Iraq strategy. We'll talk to one key senator breaking ranks with the president, the ranking member of the Foreign Relations Committee, Richard Lugar. He's standing by live. He is here on the set.

And later, former White House aide Lewis "Scooter" Libby gets out of jail. But what's the cost for the president?

We'll ask our political panel.

And any political questions you have for the presidential candidates can be answered at the CNN/YouTube debates. The Democrats face off later this month, on July 23, in South Carolina. The Republicans take the stage on September 17. Just go to cnn.com/youtubedebates to send in your questions.

"Late Edition" will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: Welcome back. This week, Senator Pete Domenici of New Mexico announced he no longer supported the current military strategy in Iraq.

He's joining a small but growing number of influential Republicans who say the so-called surge in Iraq simply isn't working. Perhaps the most influential voice now speaking out against the policy is Senator Richard Lugar of Indiana. He's the ranking member of the Foreign Relations Committee.

Senator Lugar is here, joining us now. Senator, thanks for coming in.

I want to get your reaction to some of the points that Mowaffak al- Rubaie, the Iraqi national security adviser, made. First of all, he says that they are making significant progress on these so-called benchmarks.

Are you satisfied with the progress you're seeing?

LUGAR: Well, I thought the minister also pointed out that something beyond a majority vote was going to be required, namely, basic consensus beyond three groups.

It's one thing to have a debate, even to have some votes with the council of ministers, but Foreign Minister Zebari, when he was over here three weeks ago, said to me and to others, you can't just count the votes. You've got to have all three. We don't have the...

BLITZER: The Kurds, the Sunnis and the Shias?

LUGAR: Exactly. And we won't for a while. He said, you Americans have got to get used to that fact. You could set all your benchmarks and say, we're tired of fooling around; we're out of there...

BLITZER: So you're not bracing for all these benchmarks to be implemented by September?

LUGAR: No. There's no conceivable way that they could be. And as the minister said today, even if they were adopted, actually taken consideration by the three groups who are on, always, the tenterhooks of disaster in a civil conflict.

BLITZER: I was surprised by the bluntness of this prediction that, if the government of Nouri al-Maliki were to fold, there would be, in his word, a hurricane that would erupt.

And as bad as the situation is now, it would be a whole lot worse then. Is that your assessment?

LUGAR: Well, it's probably true. Because there isn't really anybody else in the wings. This is not a situation of a considered campaign. And this vote of confidence might occur, as you reported, and as others have. Now, if so, this is very tough going, quite beyond the fact that they're working very hard in July and going to recess in August before the General Petraeus report that everybody looks for in September.

BLITZER: Is that acceptable to you, that they're taking the month of August off, the parliament?

LUGAR: No. It's inconceivable. Here is a country in the middle of a war, United States troops, as you pointed out, fighting to save Iraqis. And suddenly parliamentarians that were supposed to arrive at this consensus take a month off. It makes absolutely no sense.

BLITZER: Let's talk a little bit about the dissenting voice that has emerged from you over the past couple of weeks. First of all, explain to our viewers precisely where you differ from President Bush right now, in terms of the military strategy, the diplomatic, a political strategy unfolding in Iraq.

LUGAR: Well, in January, on January the 5th, Senator John Warner and I were asked by the president to visit with him in the Oval Office, Steve Hadley the only other person there, taking notes. And I made the point at that meeting that we really needed to move toward a bipartisan consensus. We had an opportunity, given the Baker-Hamilton report and some movement.

The president said he respected at least the point of view which I gave in this speech 13 days ago. But that would have to wait until the surge. And he outlined what was going to happen in the neighborhoods and why this was very important.

My counsel then was that there might not be time after the surge for a bipartisan consensus. We will be on a political calendar in which members of Congress and/or the presidential candidates would find that sort of thing to be unacceptable.

This is why I spoke again. The same words almost. Steve Hadley came over once again to visit. I hope, and I said I pray in that speech that the president will take notice, that he can work in a bipartisan way. This was a reaching out to the president, not a so- called break as it's being described.

BLITZER: Here is what the president said on July 4th. I want you to listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: However difficult the fight is in Iraq, we must win it. We must succeed for our own sake. For the security of our citizens, we must support our troops. We must support the Iraqi government, and we must defeat Al Qaida in Iraq.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: So, where is he going wrong, though, right now?

LUGAR: Well, the president has retreated to defeating Al Qaida in Iraq as being the war on terror, as Al Qaida everywhere and so forth. There are Al Qaida persons in Iraq, without any doubt. But the fact is that there are probably 20 other dissident groups that are just as effective in killing Iraqis as well as American soldiers.

And this idea of victory, I hope that the president understands that victory could come if, in fact, we get into a diplomatic forum, as I described it, in which the surrounding countries and our European allies come back to the party, try to help at least keep the sovereignty of Iraq going.

BLITZER: Correct me if I'm wrong, but you think the U.S. should start to reduce its military footprint in Iraq?

LUGAR: Yes, I do. And I believe that we ought to have residual forces there, and the military and the diplomats will have to work out where that works out best. The Kurd area has been mentioned. But that has special problems with regard to the Turks currently. And so it might have to be outside of Iraq. But somewhere so the whole area does not blow up.

BLITZER: Well, let me see if I could pin you down where you stand, because the Senate is about to take up the defense authorization bill, and there are a lot of proposals out there, amendments that are going to be coming up.

One amendment specifically calls for a flat timeline for troop withdrawal. Senator Reid, the Senate majority leader, supports that, Russ Feingold, Chris Dodd. Are you willing to go that far?

LUGAR: No. I think that's far too inflexible. I understand the point they're trying to make, and they're trying to rally all Democrats. And they have a political problem on their side.

But we really have to be thoughtful as to physically how our troops could get out of Iraq. What is going to be the safety method of doing this, as opposed to a pell-mell situation in and out as we have witnessed before?

BLITZER: What about Senator Ken Salazar's proposal to basically call for the implementation of the Iraq Study Group, former Secretary James Baker, Lee Hamilton, the former congressman, the recommendations that they came up with? Would you support that kind of an amendment?

LUGAR: Well, I think they have a lot of good ideas. And Lamar Alexander on the Republican side has joined with Senator Salazar, as have I guess a dozen other Democrats and Republicans. I'm not certain technically how you adopt that as a part of legislation. I can conceive of a sense of a Senate resolution incorporating many of the recommendations as being a part of this bill.

BLITZER: Here's the way they have it in their draft legislation. They say, "...as additional Iraqi brigades are being deployed and subject to unexpected developments in the security situation on the ground, all United States combat brigades not necessary for force protection could be redeployed from Iraq by the first quarter of 2008," which was one of the recommendations of the Iraq Study Group. Are you willing to go along with that?

LUGAR: Perhaps. I think this really is worthy of a lot of discussion during this two weeks that we're about to discuss these things. And I commended Senator Salazar and Senator Alexander for trying to bring together a bipartisan effort in the same way that I tried to address to the president for the need for a bipartisan effort at this point, so this entire policy is not pulverizing this country in the same way it is in Iraq.

BLITZER: Is that realistic, though, given the political environments here in Washington, that there can be a real bipartisan approach right now to try to resolve the situation in Iraq?

LUGAR: Well, most skeptics would think not. I'm hoping for the best for our country, for our troops, for everybody involved, without really consideration of vote counting. It seems to me this is so important at this particular point to have the largest degree of American unity behind our troops, and behind at least a policy that could lead to some degree of peace in the Middle East.

BLITZER: Why did you decide to speak out now as opposed to waiting until September, when General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker are supposed to submit their report on how this new strategy is unfolding?

LUGAR: Because I perceive that the debate we're about to have in the Senate, starting tomorrow, on the authorization bill would once again be a very divisive situation, in which the presidential candidates will be coming in, offering amendments that are useful for their campaigns, in which almost everybody else will have something to say.

And during which there will be a July 15th report, the last Senate bill mandated, coming from Iraq. It will not be General Petraeus. But it is a military report on status. And that's going to be a part of this debate.

BLITZER: Have you seen anything like this in your recent memory, where members of the president's own policy -- and you're one of the most respected when it comes to foreign policy issues, and I take it you got a phone call of support from Senator John Warner, the former chairman of the Armed Services Committee, the ranking member of that panel -- where this dissent is sort of escalating right now in the face of what's going on on the ground in Iraq?

LUGAR: I don't know that I find a parallel to this. There is no parallel for our intervention in Iraq, this type of activity before. So, we all are working our way through a lot of history, which is unfortunate.

But I'm trying to look toward the future, as I think most senators are. And it's got to be a good future for our country as well as for Iraq, for the Middle East, for the fight against terrorism, all of the above. BLITZER: One final question before I let you go, Senator. Realistically, what is a good timeline, without setting any hard and fast dates, a timeline where you think most U.S. troops could be out of Iraq, with force protection allowed to protect the embassy, U.S. diplomats, but when would they be able to redeploy outside of Iraq?

LUGAR: I would think the majority of our forces could redeploy by the midpoint of next year. Probably even before that time, but by then. And I've advocated the majority to come out of Iraq, that the rest, to redeploy somewhere other than going door to door in the present surge.

BLITZER: Senator Lugar, thanks very much for coming in.

LUGAR: You're welcome.

BLITZER: Appreciate it.

Later this hour, long-shot presidential candidates Mike Gravel and Ron Paul were speaking out this morning. We'll tell you what they had to say in our "in case you missed it" segment. And in just a moment, we'll take a look at how all the candidates, the long shots and the hot shots, did this week with our political panel.

Stick around. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to "Late Edition." I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. Our political panel standing by live to join me in just a moment.

First, though, let's take a closer look at where some of the presidential candidates will be spending time over the next few days. On the campaign trail, tomorrow Senator Barack Obama will kick off his campaign in Alabama with several fund-raisers.

Today, the former Arkansas governor, Mike Huckabee, is scheduled to attend church services in New Hampshire and will be doing TV and radio programs in New York on Monday. Also on Monday, the New Mexico governor, Bill Richardson, is raising funds back home in New Mexico.

And former Speaker Newt Gingrich, who's still not a candidate, will attend a country music freedom concert in Georgia on Tuesday. On the campaign trail with some of the presidential candidates and some who might be presidential candidates.

Up next here on "Late Edition," Democrats blasting the president's decision to lighten Scooter Libby's sentence this week. And Republicans criticizing the president's Iraq policy. And if you think this was a tough week for the White House, remember, most of Washington was off on vacation. Our political panel on what to expect next week in just a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: Welcome back. Lots of political developments here in the United States this week. Democrats ripping into the president's commutation of former White House aide Lewis "Scooter" Libby's jail sentence. And Republicans responding with tough talk about the last- minute pardons the former president, Bill Clinton, signed his last days in office.

To help us put it all in perspective, our political panel is here. Joe Johns, who keeps politicians honest for "AC 360" and our White House correspondents Ed Henry and Suzanne Malveaux. Guys, thanks for coming in.

Before we get to all of that, let's talk a little bit. Ed, we'll start with you, on the GOP defections. We just heard Senator Lugar say he disagrees with the president right now. That's pretty extraordinary when you see some of these staunch Republican supporters of the president openly walking away.

ED HENRY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right. You had Republican Pete Domenici at the end of the week following Senator Lugar. You've had Voinovich and many others. And I think there's almost a perfect storm developing.

When you look earlier in your show, when you had the Iraqi national security adviser talking about the possibility of the Maliki government going down and it being a hurricane. It's almost two storms building at once: one in Washington with the increasing number of GOP defections and secondly in Iraq itself with the violence on the ground.

And also, the Iraqi government right now is supposed to be stepping up. And at the time they're supposed to be stepping up, they actually may be falling down. And the problem for the president, he doesn't have a plan B. The White House has invested -- all the eggs in the basket are in Maliki. If he goes down, they've got no other hope there.

BLITZER: He said there could be a hurricane there. When the White House sees what's happening on Capitol Hill, forget about what's happening in Iraq right now, there must be an element, at least for some officials, panic.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, there's a great deal of frustration here. I spoke with General Bergner this week. And there are two things that are complicating the situation for the White House.

They may see more defections from Republicans. It's because they found Hezbollah inside of Iraq. And also when we saw that London terror plot this week, they actually made a connection between those terrorists, those doctors, saying they were actually trained by Al Qaida inside of Iraq.

So you have a lot of Republicans who are looking at this scenario thinking, wait a minute. The president said this is exactly what we don't want to have happen, which is have terrorists being trained inside of Iraq, being able to go to Europe or the United States, home- grown terrorists. And being transported overseas.

BLITZER: That element of Hezbollah working with Iran, supporting insurgents or Al Qaida elements or whatever inside Iraq, that's obviously a major development and a lot of concern. We just heard Mowaffak al-Rubaie acknowledge he was wrong in February when he suggested Iran was no longer involved in that.

On the Hill, this is going to be a tough couple of weeks right now for the president, because there are a lot of different factions getting ready to introduce amendments critical of the administration's strategy even before the report in mid-September is supposed to come back from General Petraeus.

JOE JOHNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Critical, certainly. And there's no clear alternative. We heard Senator Lugar just a minute ago saying about 12 people coalesce around this proposal by Senator Salazar, which would essentially bring in the Iraq Study Group's recommendations. No one seems to be coalescing around one idea. Nonetheless, everybody wants to talk about it, and they're waiting certainly with baited breath to see this latest report.

BLITZER: Let's talk about Lewis "Scooter" Libby, the president's commutation of his prison sentence. He was supposed to start serving 30 months, two and a half years in jail. Here's what Harry Reid, the majority leader, said: "Libby's conviction was the one faint glimmer of accountability for White House efforts to manipulate intelligence and silence critics of the Iraq war. Now, even that small bit of justice has been undone."

A lot of people suggesting that the president really had nothing to lose. His popularity was so low, he might as well commute his sentence, because what is he going to lose?

HENRY: Yeah, well, and conservatives are actually asking for more. So what Tony Snow has been saying is, look, if you just looked at it from a political standpoint, he would have actually issued a full pardon of Scooter Libby. Because that would have really pleased conservatives.

But I think what Democrats are saying, as you heard earlier on your show, Patrick Leahy charging, that the commutation sort of freezes things. Whereas if there was a full pardon, then Scooter Libby now would be free to talk. And who knows what secrets he might spill.

With the commutation, it freezes him for a while. He still has his fifth amendment against self-incrimination. So he can't really be called up to Capitol Hill and testify on other secrets that could be damaging.

BLITZER: And the president is flatly not ruling out that he's going to offer a full pardon at some point down the road.

MALVEAUX: It only makes things even more interesting. I spoke with Joe Wilson right after this news broke. BLITZER: He's the former U.S. diplomat who's at the center of this controversy. His wife was the CIA operative whose identity was exposed.

MALVEAUX: Right. And he was hot. I mean, he said that Scooter Libby was a traitor, this was treasonous. There's a civil suit that obviously is still pending.

But I also spoke to a Republican strategist over the week who said, look, they think the White House may be overplaying its hand here. That if the White House thinks that it's good to talk about this, they think it might be bad for Republicans.

And what I thought what was most interesting this week is a poll that came out that showed when it came to commuting Scooter Libby, the Independents were angrier about it than the Democrats, saying that they did not agree with the president's decision. So, this could hurt the Republicans in 2008.

BLITZER: Because the suggestion is, Joe, and you're an attorney. You know this, that there's one set of justice for White House insiders, another set of justice for a lot of other people.

JOHNS: Well, I only have a law degree. I don't practice as an attorney.

BLITZER: You're in recovery.

(LAUGHTER)

JOHNS: But, yeah, it's one of those situations where the Democrats certainly are energized in a lot of ways.

The Republicans are not happy, because they didn't get the pardon they wanted.

And in the middle of all of this you have, sort of, this ongoing case. So, clearly, the president has the right to do this, just like Bill Clinton had the right to pardon Marc rich, for example.

And that's what they're hanging on. So it becomes more of a political issue, while we still watch in the courts to see what happens next.

And he can also, you know, appeal, still, that conviction that he got. So that issue remains as well.

BLITZER: That appeal is going to go forward. What about this -- the subpoenas that have come forward for former White House officials Sara Taylor, the political director, the former White House counsel Harriet Miers?

The Senate Judiciary Committee -- you heard the chairman and the ranking Republican. They wants these people to testify. But it looks like the White House is going to say "no way." HENRY: Right. But what's interesting, if you read Sara Taylor's letter, what her lawyer wrote, as Senator Leahy was pointing out closely, she's saying she's willing to talk to the committee, but, right now, she's basically caught in the middle. She's almost a political prisoner.

She doesn't want to break with the president, but is willing to talk about other matters, perhaps.

You heard Senator Leahy basically calling her on that and saying we're going to call her up, maybe, and not have her talk about the executive privilege-covered matters but other matters involving all this Republican e-mails that she may have been involved in, other political issues, number one.

And I think, number two, Senator Specter, as a Republican, raised interesting issues, at one point saying, maybe we ought to just go talk to the president about all of this. I'm sure the White House is not looking forward to that. And he's also saying, let's call Karl Rove and others -- Specter said -- behind closed doors.

BLITZER: Well, they did make some news when they both agreed that Patrick Fitzgerald, the special prosecutor, the U.S. attorney, that he probably is going to be called before the Senate Judiciary Committee to testify about all of this. And that could be lively.

MALVEAUX: Absolutely. I mean, this thing is going to go on for quite some time. And I think what's going to happen with the White House is that it's only going to make things worse.

I mean, they want to, kind of, put this thing aside. They don't think that this is a good idea, to keep this thing going. And so you're going to see things just, kind of, unravel.

BLITZER: You'd want to be covering that hearing if Patrick Fitzgerald is out there.

(LAUGHTER)

That could be an interesting session.

JOHNS: Yes, certainly the liveliest hearing in town. Of course, you have to realize there's a lot he still can't say. And there's a lot he won't be able to testify about because some of these issues aren't quite resolved yet.

BLITZER: All right, guys. Stand by. We've got a lot more to talk about in just a few moments.

We'll talk about the whole presidential campaign, right now, what's happening with the fund-raising, what's happening in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, the other early states.

Also coming up, our "In Case You Missed It" segment. We're going to show you what Republican senator Chuck Hagel had to say about the current course of the war in Iraq. "Late Edition," the last word in Sunday talk, will be right back.

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BLITZER: And now, in case you missed it, let's check some of the highlights from the other Sunday morning talk shows here in the United States.

On NBC, Republican senator and Iraq war critic Chuck Hagel responded to a top U.S. military commander's assertion that a pullout of U.S. troops would leave Iraq, quote, "a mess."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. CHUCK HAGEL, R-NEB.: We have no good options in Iraq now. There are no good options. That's just a fact of life. So we deal with the facts as they are. We're not going to get out of this alone. We're going to require the regional component formalizing this in some way, as well as an international component to this.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: On Fox, the ranking Republican on the House Intelligence Committee challenged lawmakers who say it's time for the U.S. to withdraw from Iraq.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. PETER HOEKSTRA, R-MICH.: For my colleagues on the other side of the aisle who believe that -- or maybe even some Republicans who believe that this effort in Iraq is separate from the war with radical jihadists -- I think they're going to find out that they're wrong. You know, this is more than a bumper sticker war. This is a real threat. We need to defeat Al Qaida where they are.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: On ABC, the mavericks of the presidential campaign, republican congressman Ron Paul and former Democratic senator Mike Gravel discussed their long-shot bids.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. RON PAUL, R-TEXAS: The odds are great. The odds are difficult. And I know that. But I would say that what has happened so far is about 100 times greater than I anticipated. And I think that we have surprised a lot of people already. And I think we're going to surprise a lot more.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

FORMER SEN. MIKE GRAVEL, D-ALASKA: I'm a tough leader. And I'm going to hold all of these other people accountable. They want to be president? Let them show their bonafides to be president. (END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Highlights from the other Sunday morning talk shows, here on "Late Edition," the last word in Sunday talk.

We'll take a quick break. More of our political panel right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to "Late Edition." Joining us now to discuss all things political, three of the best political team on television, Joe Johns, Ed Henry, Suzanne Malveaux.

Suzanne, let me start with you. Second-quarter fund-raising totals for the Republican and Democratic presidential candidates. This is for the last three months. Barack Obama came in number one with $32.5 million, Senator Clinton behind with $27 million, Giuliani $17 million, Romney $14 million, McCain $11.2 million, John Edwards $9 million.

I guess what's stunning of all of this is Senator Obama. He's resonating with a lot of potential voters out there.

MALVEAUX: It really was a surprise here. It took the Clinton camp absolutely by surprise when they saw these kinds of numbers. And it really expresses the kind of enthusiasm you see for the Democrats as opposed to the Republicans. It also really shows just how many people, small donors, just putting in their little bit share and how much he's generating excitement.

A word of caution, however, though. I did speak with Howard Dean, and he was in a similar position. He had a lot of Internet voters, donors. He was in a very good position. Obviously, it didn't necessarily pan out for him.

BLITZER: Didn't pan out in Iowa. We all remember what happened then.

I guess the -- one of the substories was Senator McCain. He raised $11.2 million. In the first quarter, the first three months of the year, he raised $13 million.

He only has, by his own admission, $2 million left on hand right now. This has to be so disheartening for him and his team. And a lot of the campaign staff have been laid off, and some are now working without salaries. This, for someone only a few months ago was widely seen as the front-runner for the Republican nomination.

JOHNS: Yeah, and I've seen it written that John McCain is toast. But that's not necessarily true. They sort of compare themselves to John Kerry back in the last cycle, who really looked like he was completely on the rocks and suddenly just emerged out of nowhere after the front-runner there in Iowa, Dean, faltered. So, a lot of people are saying there's no way he can make it because his problem is a problem of message. In other words, he's been out there, pushing issues on the Iraq war that were unpopular, the immigration bill, unpopular in many ways. So, very substantly (ph) on the issues, it may be that's what his problem is.

A lot of people say this thing can still turn around as far as his election goes. A year from today, we will still be months away from the election.

BLITZER: Well, we're only a few months away from the first contest, though, in Iowa and New Hampshire, six months or so, which in politics is a very short span, especially here in the United States.

There's an intriguing item in the U.S. News & World Report that came out today, in the "Washington Whispers" column. It said this: "Before he falls out of the top tier of GOP White House hopefuls, chief advisers to Senator John McCain are urging him to quit his day job and become a full-time presidential candidate. 'Just resign,' one says he told McCain. 'Show you're all in.' "

HENRY: Very interesting. That's what Bob Dole essentially had to do as the Republican leader, you'll remember, back in 1996. It helped him get the nomination, but he didn't win the whole enchilada.

What's interesting for McCain as well is, he will be tied down now as the top Republican on the Armed Services Committee with a defense bill coming up on the Senate floor, all these tough votes on Iraq and other matters. He has to help manage that bill on the floor.

So, it's not just about making floor votes. He's going to be really tied down in the Senate. As you know, the Senate is not a good breeding ground for presidential candidates. Only two senators in the last century, Harding and Kennedy, made it right from the Senate to the White House.

On the other side, for Senator Clinton, as a senator, her issue is not about being a senator. It's about her husband. And you'll remember, George W. Bush, when he was still a candidate in 2000, liked to call Bill Clinton "the shadow." When's the shadow going to appear, hanging, looming over Al Gore.

And Al Gore didn't want to bring Bill Clinton out there. It probably hurt him. Hillary Clinton's got no choice. It's her husband. And she did it this week, brought him out in Iowa. But for better or worse, he's the best fund-raiser, he's the best advocate for her.

BLITZER: Especially with Democrats, he's a huge asset. Speaking of Al Gore, Suzanne, he had a spectacular series of events yesterday, the Live Earth concerts. Here is a little clip of what the former vice president had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

AL GORE, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Thanks to all of you here in America and to all of you at the other events all over the world who are still connected to us, live on this historic day. You are Live Earth. (END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: I don't know what you're hearing. Is there still buzz, though, that he may decide, you know what, he's not completely ruling it out, that he may decide to run for president?

MALVEAUX: Well, everybody is still looking. They're still hoping and watching in some corners. And he keeps denying that that's a possibility. We did see this week some trouble, some problems with his son he had to answer to.

But he remains in the spotlight. And this is someone who is attracting huge crowds, drawing big numbers here. So there is still a little glimmer of hope out there that perhaps he'll be somebody who's going to shake things up a little bit.

BLITZER: But basically, correct me if I'm wrong, Joe, among Democrats, they seem to be pretty satisfied right now with the field that they have. They're not necessarily clamoring for Al Gore to jump in.

JOHNS: Right. There's a lot of energy out there. There's a lot of energy with Obama, even though some people say he doesn't throw his audience enough red meat. He doesn't take that attack shot that a lot of people would like to see.

There's Hillary Clinton, whose sort of the known factor in all of this, and someone they think they can look back to and try to sort of bring back the Clinton years of old. So, Democrats seem to be pretty satisfied with who they're looking at right now, quite frankly.

BLITZER: Well, we're going to see. We're going to watch it all, the best political team on television. Guys, thanks very much. Ed Henry, Suzanne Malveaux, Joe Johns, an excellent team here on "Late Edition."

And if you'd like a recap of today's program, you can get highlights in our new and improved "Late Edition" podcast. Simply go to cnn.com/podcast. Coming up at the top of the hour for our North American viewers, "This Week at War" with host Tom Foreman. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: In our last hour here on "Late Edition," a lively discussion between the Judiciary Committee's Democratic chairman, Patrick Leahy, and the panel's ranking Republican, Arlen Specter. They had a friendly face-off about subpoenas issued to the White House and also had a few things to say about me as show host.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SPECTER: Let me ask Patrick Leahy a question, irregular as it is. Patrick, don't you think that you and I, behind closed doors, could get a lot of important information? You and I and others know how to ask questions. It would be a good starting place. We'd know a lot more than we know today.

LEAHY: But unfortunately, they said there's no way. We have to agree to do no follow up, so they could just, two minutes into the thing, get up and walk out.

SPECTER: One thing we haven't done is asked for a meeting with the president. Why don't you and John Conyers and I ask for a meeting with the president? We may be a little tired of dealing with his lawyer.

LEAHY: Why don't you and I chat about this tomorrow when we're on the floor, so we won't have to be taking up Wolf's time on this thing.

SPECTER: I don't think Wolf minds a bit. That's the first time he hasn't interpreted in years.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: I didn't mind at all. That's all the time we have for this "Late Edition." For our North American viewers, stay tuned. News is coming up. For our North -- for our international viewers, that is.

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