Return to Transcripts main page
THE SITUATION ROOM
Taking Sides on Iraq; Calls for New Iraq Course; U.S. Troop Deployments
Aired July 10, 2007 - 16:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, HOST: Happening now, as lawmakers press President Bush for a new direction in Iraq, President Bush says Congress "... ought to wait." I'll ask Democratic senator Jim Webb of Virginia what he thinks should happen next.
Also, simple retooling or a campaign imploding? Some are wondering if Republican John McCain's presidential campaign is coming apart at the seams. Four key people who had hoped to get McCain to the White House have now resigned.
And he often touts family value and high morals, but Republican senator David Vitter of Louisiana says he committed what he calls a serious sin now that his phone number's been linked to a woman accused of running a prostitution ring.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Right now, many lawmakers are lining up to show just whose side they're on. Some are standing with the president, saying the president's Iraq troop increase plan should be given more time. Others say the time to act is now. The Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, saying the public is outraged with how the war is going. For his part, President Bush is out defending his Iraq policy.
We're watching the story from several angles.
Our White House correspondent, Suzanne Malveaux, has more on the president's speech today in Cleveland.
But let's begin our coverage this hour with our congressional correspondent, Dana Bash, where there's a lot of activity going on right now on Capitol Hill.
Sort of a feeling, Dana, correct me if I'm wrong, it could be the next few weeks a make or break as far as the president's strategy is concerned.
DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely, it could be, certainly an accelerated make it or break it timetable, if you will, politically for the president.
One interesting moment here on Capitol Hill today, Wolf. And that is, the president's national security adviser, Stephen Hadley, was here meeting behind closed doors in the Capitol with Republican allies of the president. One senator in that meeting said that they wanted to actually make sure that the president and his team have "resolve" still, to let the so-called surge continue.
The fact that they even had to ask the White House, that is evidence of how much the political dynamic when it comes to Iraq has changed.
BASH (voice over): The most high-profile Senate supporter of the president's Iraq strategy pleaded with weary colleagues to give it more time.
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I know that senators are tired of this war, tired of the mounting death toll.
BASH: Just back from Iraq, John McCain insists there is progress and warned fellow Republicans not to support legislation to bring troops home.
MCCAIN: Should the United States Senate seek to legislate an end to the strategy as it is just beginning, and we will fail for certain.
BASH: It was a coordinated effort by stalwart allies of the president on Iraq to try to break through the growing chorus of opposition.
SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN (I), CONNECTICUT: The war is not lost in Iraq. In fact, now, American and Iraqi security forces are winning. The enemy is on the run in Iraq.
BASH: But the reality is supporters of the president's war policy are harder to find these days. For the first time, Republican Olympia Snowe will likely vote with Democrats to withdraw U.S. troops by next April.
SEN. OLYMPIA SNOWE (R), MAINE: Troop redeployment and a change of mission for the remaining troops by a specific period of time certainly is critical at this -- I think at this moment.
BASH: And Democrats are engaged in a full-court press to turn high-profile GOP defections on Iraq into GOP votes to pull troops out.
SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN (D-DE), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We continue to send our kids in the middle of a meat grinder based on a policy that is fundamentally flawed. I don't think there's a dozen Republicans on that side of the aisle who agree with the president's strategy.
BASH: Democrats even launched ads against Republicans up for re- election.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Four times this year, Sununu voted to continue George Bush's open-ended commitment in Iraq and against bringing our troops home. Now he has another chance.
BASH: But despite those Democratic efforts, it's evident from our discussions with many Republican senators that many of them are -- actually, most of them, frankly, Wolf, are not likely to vote for the Democrats' measure, the one that the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, calls the one with teeth. That actually calls specifically for a deadline for troops to come home by the end of April -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Two very influential senators, as you know, Dana, Richard Lugar, a Republican of Indian, Carl Levin, Democrat of Michigan, they're up to something. What are they up to?
BASH: It's actually Richard Lugar and John Warner. And what is interesting about them, Wolf, is that we have learned, that there is a significant development with those two very influential Republican senators, and they are working on legislation, an amendment that they plan to offer maybe even as early as this week, that is related to the war in Iraq.
Both have -- have most recently -- Richard Lugar, a couple of weeks ago -- come out and said that they oppose the president's strategy, the so-called surge in Iraq. So we don't have many of the details of this, but we do expect it to have a significant effect perhaps in trying to push the president to change his policy and could garner Republican and Democratic votes.
BLITZER: Lugar and Warner on these issues very, very influential. Thanks very much, Dana, for that.
Iraq is also on the agenda for the president of the United States. He's telling lawmakers who are pressing for a change to just wait.
Our White House correspondent, Suzanne, Malveaux, has more.
SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Despite Democrats' calls to bring American troops home and Republican pleas to change strategy, right now President Bush is refusing to do either.
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Yes, we can accomplish and win this fight in Iraq.
MALVEAUX: Mr. Bush used a town-hall meeting in Cleveland, Ohio, to defend his Iraq strategy, which keeps the current level of U.S. troops in Iraq until his top general there, David Petraeus, instructs him otherwise.
BUSH: And that's the way I'm going to play it as the commander in chief.
MALVEAUX: But the commander in chief is facing mounting political pressure to show progress in Iraq now.
BUSH: And I fully understand how tough it is on our psyche.
MALVEAUX: Mr. Bush will deliver within days an Iraq progress report expected to show that the Iraqi government has failed to meet nearly all of the benchmarks set by Congress. Democratic lawmakers eager to cut war funding and Republicans frustrated with the execution of the war are running out of patience. Mr. Bush pleaded with them to give him until September, when General Petraeus will come back with another progress report.
BUSH: And I believe Congress ought to wait for General Petraeus to come back and give his assessment of the strategy that he's putting in place before they make any decisions.
MALVEAUX: But Mr. Bush's effort to buy more time may no longer work with the American people, analysts say.
JON ALTERMAN, CENTER FOR STRATEGIC & INTERNATIONAL STUDIES: What time gets you is time lets you keep placing bets. But time doesn't mean that the bets pay off. And what you're seeing in Congress and among the American public is the sense, I'm tired of placing these bets.
BLITZER: Suzanne Malveaux reporting for us from the White House.
Let's check in with jack Cafferty. He's in New York with "The Cafferty File".
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Hi, Wolf.
While things are going from bad to worse in the opinion of many in Iraq, President Bush is worried about his legacy. "The Washington Post" recently reported the president has been inviting historians, philosophers and academics to the White House to meet with him and discuss how history will judge him.
According to some of these people, Bush is really worried about this. And he ought to be.
They also speak of the president's growing isolation. The British newspaper "The Guardian" reporting that Bush is reluctant now to go into Washington restaurants unannounced because he's worried about the public response.
His Fourth of July speech was invitation only. Thus, assuring a friendly audience.
And this all comes at a time of record public dissatisfaction. A new "USA Today"-Gallup poll puts the president's approval rating at 29 percent, the lowest ever for that poll.
It also shows -- this is interesting -- 36 percent of those surveyed say there is justification for Congress to begin impeachment proceedings. Compare that to just 24 percent who favored impeachment proceedings for President Clinton back in March of 1998. It's no secret why the president's numbers are so low. The war in Iraq is a failure. Republicans deserting him left and right on that issue. And there's not a whole lot else to be optimistic about overseas either -- Iran, North Korea, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
On the domestic front things aren't much better -- the failure of immigration reform; Social Security reform; not to mention Hurricane Katrina; Dubai Ports World' the president's embattled and worthless attorney general, Alberto Gonzales; and the commutation of Scooter Libby's prison sentence. Oh, yeah, and there are investigations reaching out as far as the eye can see.
So here's the question: How concerned should President Bush be about his legacy?
E-mail your thoughts to email@example.com or go to cnn.com/caffertyfile -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Powerful words from Jack Cafferty.
Thank you, Jack, very much.
Coming up, what should happen next in Iraq? Democratic senator Jim Webb of Virginia has a proposal. It involves how long troops should have to stay there. Senator Webb standing by to join us live. He'll explain his new legislation.
Also, he's apologizing for what he calls a serious sin. Republican senator David Vitter of Louisiana, his phone number has now been linked to the so-called D.C. madam.
And more trouble, significant trouble for John McCain's presidential campaign. Four people who had hoped to see him all the way through are through with his campaign.
Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Welcome back.
As lawmakers debate war, my next guest says the actual war is crashing down, landing on the heads of U.S. troops. Democratic senator Jim Webb of Virginia sponsoring a proposal to try to limit how often U.S. troops could be deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Senator Webb is joining us now from Capitol Hill.
Thanks for coming in.
SEN. JIM WEBB (D), VIRGINIA: Hi. Actually, my amendment, just to be clear, it doesn't limit -- it doesn't limit the frequency of deployments. It basically just says, however long you have been deployed, you deserve to have that much time at home before you're sent back. Or if you're in the Guard and Reserve, however long you've been deployed, you deserve to have a minimum of three times that amount of time before you're sent back.
BLITZER: In other words, if somebody is deployed for a year, they should be home for a year before they're redeployed, is that right?
WEBB: Right. And traditional doctrine has a 2-1 ratio in it. In other words, traditionally, if you're gone for a year, you should have two years at home. And now we're at a situation where in the Army they are down below 1-1.
They had 15-month deployments that were announced with only 12 months at home. And it's burning up our people.
So this is an amendment separate from the politics of the war, or they argue about benchmarks or whether we're going to wait until July or September. This is basically saying, with all of these different operational policies that have been put in place, let's make sure that we give these people who are serving enough dwell time back here at home so that they can have normal lives as well.
BLITZER: Congressman John Murtha, your counterpart in the House of Representatives, has talked about similar legislation there. The critics, including the president and his supporters, they argue this is simply a backhanded way to try to prevent the U.S. mission in Iraq from going forward, because there simply aren't enough troops to meet the kind of requirements that you would stipulate.
WEBB: Well, you know, my reaction to that -- and I said it to the deputy secretary of defense the day after the Army announced this 15-month deployment cycle -- is that we've had four years on the ground in Iraq as an occupation force. We've had plenty of time to be able to sort out what the operational policy should be in a way that protects our troops. And they haven't done that.
We have too many of these experimental strategies going on. So, we have enough troops. We have a situation in Iraq, whether you want to be there for 10 more years or 10 more months, that should be managed based on the availability of our troops.
BLITZER: Do you think you have 60 votes? Because if there's a filibuster, that's what you would need to get this amendment through the Senate.
WEBB: Well, I was just on the floor when I heard that the Republicans were going to demand a filibuster. I'm disappointed about that, but I also believe that this is very important.
I mean, it's constitutional, it's within the Constitution. It has precedent.
During the Korean War, the Congress stepped in when our soldiers were being sent overseas before they were properly trained. And we just got an endorsement from the Military Officers of America. This is an organization of 368,000 officers of all branches of the military saying that this type of legislation is essential in order to protect the future of the all-volunteer force. So, I believe we're -- separate out what you want to think about the politics of the war. This is something that we need to put in place to protect the well-being of our troops.
BLITZER: Well, if you're doing some head-counting, I assume you are, do you have 60 votes?
WEBB: Well, I don't know that yet. I'm -- you know, I'm doing what I can.
We have 34 actual sponsors on this bill, which means that 35 member of the Senate are actually on as sponsors, which is pretty unusual. But there's a lot of maneuvering going on, on the Republican side. A lot of it is, in my view, procedural, designed to protect people and perhaps to protect the administration. I'm hoping we can sort that all out.
BLITZER: Listen to Senator Joe Lieberman, the Independent senator from Connecticut. He was on the floor today, and he had some harsh words for the critics of the president's strategy.
Listen to Lieberman.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LIEBERMAN: The war's not lost in Iraq. In fact, now American and Iraqi security forces are winning. The enemy is on the run in Iraq. But here in -- in Congress, in Washington, we seem to be, or some members seem to be, on the run, chased, I fear, by public opinion polls.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: He also spoke out against your amendment. I wonder what you have to say to Senator Lieberman.
WEBB: Well, the first thing I would say to Senator Lieberman is that I'm hardly chasing a public opinion poll. I was warning about the consequences of invading and occupying Iraq well before we even went in.
I wrote the first major piece in "The Washington Post" six months before the invasion. And I'm very concerned about our interest in the region at large.
It's not simply Iraq. I'm not proposing that we back away from our national interests. But we're not doing what we need to do in order to increase stability in the region and fight international terrorism wherever it is.
I don't know where Senator Lieberman gets his opinions about how well we're doing. Tactically, we are. Tactically, in terms of the battle space, just as when I was in Vietnam as a Marine, we're controlling the tactical battle space.
But you have a government in Iraq that has no power. It's very similar to the government of Lebanon in 1983 when I was there as a journalist. It has very little power, it cannot compel action. And it's surrounded by armed factions that retain the power.
So that is not a situation that we're going to resolve without the interaction of all of the countries in the region in a positive, proactive, diplomatic way. And that's what I've been saying for three years.
BLITZER: Senator Webb, thanks very much for coming in.
WEBB: Thank you.
BLITZER: And this note. In the next hour, we'll be hearing from Senator Joe Lieberman. He'll be joining us live to talk about the situation in Iraq. That's coming up right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
There's a breaking story developing in Baghdad right now. Hala Gorani is standing by live.
Hala, the supposedly most secure part of the Iraqi capital came under serious attack today. Tell our viewers what we know.
HALA GORANI, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's important to note that the Green Zone does come under mortar attack very regularly. But this time up to 35 mortars fell on this heavily fortified zone, which is the seat of U.S. power in Baghdad. As a result, one U.S. service member was killed, two others were injured in this attack, according to the State Department.
Also, there were injuries. Eighteen individuals, including U.S. members, according to the U.S. Embassy here, lost their lives as a result of this. It is unclear, though, exactly how many mortar rounds fell. But between 20 and 35. So, in terms of the attacks that we see daily, this was one of the big ones.
And as the debate continues in Washington about benchmarks, political and military progress here in Iraq, there was more violence in the Iraqi capital. Seven people died in two car bombs in Baghdad today -- Wolf.
BLITZER: And the Green Zone is -- or as some call it, the international zone, this is the seat of power in Baghdad. It's not only where the Iraqi government is based, but the U.S. Embassy is there. It's a huge compound where there are a significant number of Americans, thousands of them, who are there and supposedly feel relatively secure.
But you've been saying increasingly mortars have been coming in over these past several weeks?
GORANI: Well, we have seen mortar attacks over the past few days, in fact. And today's attack was a deadly one. Three people actually lost their lives.
But on a very regular basis, one or two or three rounds will fall. It will leave a crater. And thankfully, nobody will lose his or her life in that attack.
It is a very heavily-fortified zone. But you can't control these lobbed mortars that are launched into this area. And they fall where they fall. And those individuals who died today were just unlucky and in the wrong place at the wrong time -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Hala Gorani, be careful over there. Stand by. We'll be getting back to you. Thank you very much.
Still ahead here in THE SITUATION ROOM, Michael Moore outraged. We're going to show you part two of my interview with the maker of the film "Sicko". He's trashing his critics. He's going after CNN, after me, after Dr. Sanjay Gupta.
Sanjay is standing by. He'll bee joining us live as well.
And a family values-oriented senator, and his stunning admission of what he calls a serious sin. Louisiana Republican David Vitter is apologizing amid ties to a so-called D.C. madam.
Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Carol Costello's off today. Betty Nguyen is monitoring stories incoming to THE SITUATION ROOM right now.
BLITZER: Still ahead here in THE SITUATION ROOM, he's on the list that no one in Washington wants to be on. It's a list that's being revealed. Republican senator David Vitter of Louisiana linked to a woman accused of running a prostitution ring. Now the senator is openly talking about his sin and forgiveness.
And leaving John McCain. Four key people have resigned from his presidential campaign. How will it affect his chances for the White House?
Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Happening now, despite increasing pressure from Congress over his Iraq war strategy, President Bush insists he won't budge. But is there a plan B in the works?
Up ahead, our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr, will take a closer look.
Also in the next hour here in THE SITUATION ROOM, Virginia's second largest county could take up one of the toughest measures in the nation on illegal immigrants. We're going to tell you what's being proposed right now.
And get this -- Sprint has a solution for its wireless customers who experience repeated customer service problems. The company is telling them to take a hike.
We're going to give you the details.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
As debate over Iraq heats up here in Washington, a new poll holds what's sure to be some disturbing news for the White House.
Let's go to our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider. He's breaking down the numbers for us.
What does this new poll show, Bill?
WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: Wolf, it shows the American public has been running out of patience with the administration's Iraq policy.
SCHNEIDER (voice-over): Records are being broken, and we're not talking about the weather.
A new Gallup/"USA Today" poll gives President Bush a record-low job approval rating, 29 percent. There's also a record high in the Gallup poll. More than 60 percent of Americans now believe the Iraq war was a mistake.
SEN. OLYMPIA SNOWE (R), MAINE: That time, you know, has evaporated, along with our patience.
SCHNEIDER: The troop buildup is now complete. But only 22 percent of Americans believe the situation in Iraq is any better. The White House argues that it's too early to judge, that this is the beginning of the new policy, not the end.
TONY SNOW, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: What Congress is going to get this week is a snapshot at the beginning of a retooled mission in Iraq. Everybody says, we want to do it a new way. We agree. It's now started.
SCHNEIDER: Many members of Congress see this as the end, not the beginning.
SEN. LAMAR ALEXANDER (R), TENNESSEE: There are a growing number of bipartisan senators, senators on both sides of the aisle, who are trying to come to a conclusion.
SCHNEIDER: What's driving them is the failure of the Iraqis to meet benchmarks for a political settlement.
SEN. CARL LEVIN (D-MI), ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: Although the surge is now complete, there is no evidence of political progress on the part of Iraqi leaders, none whatsoever.
SCHNEIDER: Critics don't see a military failure on our part. They see a political failure on their part. SNOWE: Our troops are making the military sacrifice, and, yet, they're not willing to make the political compromises.
SCHNEIDER: The public has clearly run out of patience. Seventy- one percent favor removing all U.S. troops from Iraq by next April, except for a limited number of counterterrorism forces. Forty-two percent of Republicans agree.
SCHNEIDER: Has any other president been so unpopular? Yes, Bush's father, just before the voters fired him, Jimmy Carter, who also got fired, Richard Nixon, before he resigned, and Harry Truman, who decided not to run for reelection, not a happy company -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Not happy, indeed. Thank you, Bill Schneider, for that.
In an effort to revive his faltering presidential campaign, Republican Senator John McCain met with his two top political strategists yesterday. Today, both men are out of their jobs.
Let's turn to our senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley.
She's here with some insight on what this all means.
What does it mean, Candy?
CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, first, we want to begin with the ending of this story, and that is that John McCain says, of course, his campaign continues. But it is surely rough going.
CROWLEY (voice-over): A major implosion in the presidential campaign of John McCain, his top two people, campaign manager Terry Nelson and senior adviser John Weaver, are out. Two other senior aides followed suit.
Washington is stunned. Weaver was John McCain's Karl Rove.
JILL ZUCKMAN, CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT, "THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE": John Weaver was the person who was plotting Senator McCain's comeback over the last eight years. And he's the one who is responsible for creating the strategy that helped Senator McCain upset George W. Bush in New Hampshire in 2000. So, it just seems -- it's hard to imagine Senator McCain campaigning without John Weaver by his side.
CROWLEY: In written statements, Weaver and Nelson praised McCain as the man who should be president. He praised their work for him.
Said one senior source, Weaver and Nelson did what was right for the candidate. They are taking responsibility for the screw-ups and overspending. They didn't think he had enough confidence in them anymore.
The departures are the most significant, but just the latest in a series of events that have turned the once presumed front-runner into an underdog. A media darling and a maverick who shook up the George Bush in the 2000 presidential race, McCain's '08 campaign has paled by comparison. He has more mainstream than maverick. Critics said he looked like yesterday's news.
Despite efforts to reach out to party stalwarts, whom he alienated in 2000, McCain has problems with some conservatives, who still consider him too much of a maverick. His stewardship of the now failed immigration bill further infuriated the right. His campaign has spent too much money and raised too little. He was forced to lay off staff.
Of the $24 million he has raised since the beginning of the year, McCain has about $2 million left. Said one source, McCain went nuts about the overspending. The shakeup reignited persistent talk that McCain might abandon his bid. Absolutely not, his campaign says.
Solace came from a major competitor.
RUDOLPH GIULIANI (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This is way too early for anybody to be, you know, written off. And John McCain is a fighter.
CROWLEY: In the hallway of the Senate, as he finished his speech on Iraq, McCain was pummeled with questions about the departures and what they mean for his campaign.
"People can make their own assessments," McCain said. "I think we're doing fine. The campaign is going well."
BLITZER: So, who is going to be his new -- quote -- "Karl Rove"?
CROWLEY: Well, they -- they have an opening now, you know, for the political things that his campaign manager used to do. But Rick Davis is now, we're told, going to run sort of day to day. He also...
BLITZER: He's been associated with him for a long time.
CROWLEY: ... McCain for a long time, absolutely.
BLITZER: And -- and there's a lot of chemistry there between McCain and Rick Davis.
CROWLEY: There is. There was also a lot of chemistry, although not the good kind, between Rick Davis and some of those who left.
BLITZER: And some suspect that, because Rick Davis was being brought in, some of the others might have decided, it's time to leave?
CROWLEY: Absolutely. And -- and, also, some were loyalists to Weaver, so, you know, went out with him and went out with Terry.
BLITZER: It's interesting that, you know, when he ran in 2000 -- and you remember this -- you covered that campaign -- he was widely seen as the darling of the news media, the mainstream media.
Right now, he -- he's got a problem with the mainstream media, which is new turf for McCain.
CROWLEY: Absolutely new turf, and so is this sort of -- you know, running as a mainstream candidate has been very tough on him. He's much -- he's better as the underdog and as the maverick, which is why some of the people around him now say, listen, don't write this guy off. There are -- some of his advisers that are still there say, listen, you know, we believe, by fall, he can turn this around, because they want to put him into these three states, New Hampshire, Iowa, South Carolina, and let him do battle.
BLITZER: And there are plenty of examples of political history where there have been major shakeups in campaigns, and the candidate has emerged just fine when...
CROWLEY: John Kerry, for instance.
BLITZER: ... when the dust settles. That's right.
BLITZER: Thanks very much, Candy, for that.
Candy Crowley and Bill Schneider, all of our viewers know, are both part of the best political team on television.
And, remember, for the latest political news at any time, you can check out our Political Ticker. Just go to CNN.com/ticker.
Coming up: apologizing for what he calls a serious sin. You will hear what Republican Senator David Vitter of Louisiana has to say about his ties to the so-called D.C. madam.
And Michael Moore, angry, and he's got some serious anger, not only directed at me and CNN, but Dr. Sanjay Gupta, one day after the man who made "Sicko" took on his critics right here in THE SITUATION ROOM. We're going to show you part two of the interview, the whole interview, unedited, the raw interview, part two. And then Dr. Sanjay Gupta will be joining us live to talk about it.
Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: A conservative Republican who has long championed values is out with a bombshell admission of what he calls a serious sin.
Senator David Vitter of Louisiana is apologizing for his connection to the alleged D.C. madam, Deborah Jeane Palfrey.
CNN's Brianna Keilar is following this story for us.
Brianna, tell our viewers what is going on.
BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, also, there is another strange twist in this story. There appears to be a connection to "Hustler" magazine in this scandal.
Dan Moldea, the independent investigative journalist working with Palfrey to write a book, told me that he is the who discovered Senator Vitter in Palfrey's little black book. He says he passed on that info to Larry Flynt, and that an editor from "Hustler" magazine contacted Vitter's office last night. And he said that was shortly before Vitter issued a response.
KEILAR (voice-over): Busted, Republican Senator David Vitter.
After his phone number was linked to an escort service run by Deborah Jeane Palfrey, the so-called D.C. madam, the junior senator from Louisiana took responsibility for what he called a serious sin. Vitter issued a statement, saying, in part: "Several years ago, I asked for and received forgiveness from God and from my wife in confession and marriage counseling. Out of respect for my family, I will keep my discussion of the matter there, with God and them."
Vitter first came to Washington in 1999, as a member of the House of Representatives. In 2004, he won a seat in the Senate, becoming the first Republican senator from Louisiana since Reconstruction. Palfrey, who apparently dealt with clients over the phone and not in person, says a private investigator told her about Vitter late Monday night.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
DEBORAH JEANE PALFREY, DEFENDANT: I had no idea who this man was prior to a few hours ago, even though I'm sure he obviously was a client, and he apparently has -- has stated accordingly and stated so. But I don't remember this man. I think he used the service in 2001.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
KEILAR: Vitter says it happened before he ran for the Senate in 2004. About four years before that, his wife, Wendy, told the Newhouse News Service that, unlike wives of politicians who have looked past their husbands' transgressions, she would be a lot more like Lorena Bobbitt than Hillary Clinton.
But, even if victim's wife has forgiven him, now the question is, will voters? LYNN SWEET, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, "THE CHICAGO SUN-TIMES": The biggest thing that the senator has going for him right now is time. And where he's lucky is that he's not up for reelection in '08.
KEILAR: That said, Lynn Sweet, Washington bureau chief for "The Chicago Sun-Times," also told us that she thinks voters make a distinction between love and lust, and tend to be more forgiving when it's an affair of the heart, rather than a tangle like Senator Vitter is in -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Thank you very much, Brianna, for that.
Vitter is a big backer, by the way, of Rudy Giuliani's presidential campaign. He endorsed the former New York City mayor. He is serving as the campaign's Southern regional chairman. This morning, Giuliani said he had not spoken to Vitter and said it was too early to tell if Vitter would leave his campaign.
Last month, Giuliani's South Carolina chairman resigned after he was indicted on cocaine charge. But Giuliani insists he shouldn't be judged based on the behavior of certain individuals associated with his campaign.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GIULIANI: I believe that this is a personal issue. We will have to hear from Senator Vitter. I think you will look at all the people I appointed, 1,000 or so, sure, some of them had issues. Some of them had problems. The vast majority of them were outstanding people. You couldn't accomplish the things that I accomplished without having outstanding people.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Giuliani made his comment on the campaign trail today in New Hampshire.
As we mentioned, the woman involved in this case is accused of running a prostitution ring. Palfrey has released the full phone records of Pamela Martin and Associates online. The material includes thousands of numbers, dating all the way back to 1994.
Let's bring in our Internet reporter, Abbi Tatton.
Abbi, why is she doing this right now?
ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, Palfrey said initially that she would sell this great list of clients' phone records to raise money for her legal defense.
Well, now she tells CNN she's releasing this information as a patriotic gesture, and that she's putting the originals online, out of fear that somebody else might post altered or doctored information. This is where she says the originals are. So, what's here? Well, pages and pages of information, spanning back over 10 years. Just one set from 2001 alone runs to almost 300 pages, with 60 phone numbers on each page, many of them D.C., Maryland, and Virginia.
The site's been crashing under all the traffic, as people search through these records. But the records are already appearing elsewhere on different sites. No names here, just numbers after numbers. And Palfrey has said on the site that it's going to take a small army to decipher all this information. Well, people, Wolf, are already at work.
If you look around the Web sites, people are cross-posting the numbers, calling them, recording their information, and indexing this vast amount of information -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Thank you for that, Abbi, watching this story for us.
Up next in our "Strategy Session": Senator McCain's campaign. Rudy Giuliani, the GOP front-runner, says, don't count McCain out.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GIULIANI: This is way too early for anybody to be, you know, written off. And John McCain is a fighter. And, you know, if they have to make alterations in their campaign staff, I'm sure it's, you know, for the purpose of his being able to wage a real -- I expect John to be right there and waging a really tough campaign.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: But can Senator McCain's campaign keep going after more top staffers step aside?
And President Bush says, give the troops more time, but Democrats in Congress and some Republicans keeping up the pressure to end the war. We will get some insight into all of this from Donna Brazile and Bill Bennett.
They're standing by live, right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Republican presidential candidate John McCain shook up his campaign team today. Does it signal a new direction or just desperation?
Joining us now in our "Strategy Session," Democratic strategist Donna Brazile, conservative commentator Bill Bennett.
Let me start with you, Bill. What do you think?
BILL BENNETT, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, it's not good times for John McCain.
The fund-raising didn't go well. Dropping these two guys -- Weaver is synonymous with McCain. So, it's bad. But I agree with Giuliani. Don't count him out. It's amazing. Politics is amazing, particularly this year, as you have commented a number of times. You know, six, eight months ago, it was all John McCain as the presumptive front-runner. He's going to be the next president.
Now people are saying he's now out completely. Remind people of what the comments were about John Kerry in late '03.
BLITZER: ... he was toast.
BENNETT: You know, he's done. He's finished, right.
So, John McCain can come back. And, personally, as we know, he's been through worse. He's suffered worse than this. There's a lot of gut in that man.
BENNETT: There's a lot of gut.
BLITZER: ... plenty of examples where there have been major shakeups in presidential campaigns, and the candidate has gone on to win.
DONNA BRAZILE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, one other example is Al Gore. Back in September of 1999, we were behind in the polls.
BLITZER: And you were there.
BLITZER: And you were inside.
BRAZILE: I was -- I was deputy campaign manager. Al Gore decided to shake up his campaign. We moved down to Tennessee. We cut the staff in half. We got rid of a lot of consultants. We survived the primary and the general election.
BLITZER: What has been the biggest issue for McCain and his -- and his problems, his support for the president's stance on the war or his support for immigration reform, aligning himself with Ted Kennedy and the president on that?
BENNETT: Immigration, for sure, with the base, the Republican Party. I even think, in the general public, people would not make a candidate, particularly a Republican candidate, pay for supporting the president or supporting the war. You would have another problem on the Democrats' side.
But, on the immigration thing, it was just a total loser from the beginning. We had trouble on some days, despite my defense of John McCain, because I admire him and like him, getting a positive call from Arizona about John McCain on the radio show. It was very, very negative...
BLITZER: Because he was in trouble, though, even before the immigration issue came back on the agenda. He was facing a lot of serious problems.
BRAZILE: No question.
Iraq has been also one of his Achilles' heels. You know, John McCain was a star back in 1999 because he was a straight shooter. He was a maverick. He appealed to independents and some conservative Democrats. He went into the 2000 primary season, you know, competitive with George Bush.
And, as you well know, the Bush campaign had a little bit of a shakeup also at the New Hampshire primary. And McCain was not a good beneficiary of that. I think McCain can come back. I wouldn't write him off.
BENNETT: But he's still a straight shooter. I mean, it's not as if he toed the Bush line on Iraq. While alienating all the Democrats for supporting the Iraq war so strongly, he alienated a lot of Bush people for being so critical of Bush's conduct of the war.
BENNETT: But this is John McCain.
BLITZER: He is a man of principle.
BENNETT: He's a -- well, yes, you can say it that way. You could also say he's just ornery. He's a cactus, you know? He's tough. And he's tough on all sides. And the magic sometimes works. It works if you're an outsider. It doesn't work if you're the presumptive front-runner.
BRAZILE: He backed the surge. And the surge is not working.
BRAZILE: And that's one -- another reason why...
BRAZILE: ... the McCain magic is not working at this moment.
BENNETT: Well, that's a matter of debate, I think.
BLITZER: Let's talk about the military strategy in Iraq. The president went on the offensive today at a town meeting.
I want to play a little clip of what he said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Troop levels will be decided by our commanders on the ground, not by political figures in Washington, D.C., and that we have got a -- a plan to lead to victory.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: All right. He's talking about victory once again, even though some of his rhetoric in recent weeks was toning down the notion of victory, as opposed to stability and security.
BRAZILE: The president has never defined victory.
What -- what the president continues to do is shift his rationale for why we're still there. Since announcing -- announcing the surge six months ago, we have lost nearly 600 Americans, 3,000 wounded. The Democrats are now calling for a complete withdrawal of our troops, a redefinition of the mission there, and to begin to come up with a strategy to bring home those who are there.
BLITZER: How big of a problem is it for the president's strategy, when you have Republicans, like Lugar, Domenici, Voinovich, standing up and saying, this policy is not working?
BENNETT: It's bad for the politics of it. But the president seems committed to this. It seems a matter of conviction, for -- of principle for him. He's drawing his inspiration from other great Republican presidents -- other Republican presidents.
BLITZER: And maybe Harry Truman, too.
BENNETT: Yes, and maybe Harry Truman, too. Things are -- things are very difficult.
But it's not as if he lacks political support completely. I had two distinguished senators on the show today, Jon Kyl, Republican, and Joe Lieberman, Democrat. You know what Lieberman says? We have them on the -- independent Democratic. Sometimes, you claim him.
BENNETT: Sometimes, you don't.
He says, we have them on the run. Lieberman said today, we are winning. Can we just, as an agreement, wait until September, which I think was the agreed-upon time when General Petraeus is reporting, and see where things stand?
A lot of people -- I mean, one of the ironies here is what Sharansky, Anatoly Sharansky, pointed out. Yes, you can criticize the president perhaps for going into this and not knowing what would occur after you took down Saddam. But what about the people who are saying, let's leave? Are they any less blind about what the consequences would be?
BLITZER: Very quickly...
BRAZILE: Well, what the president...
BENNETT: It could be disastrous.
BRAZILE: The president had an agreement with Mr. Maliki to get some political solutions on the table. And, as of today, there's nothing. So, the president has nothing to work with.
BENNETT: Well, he does have some -- a good deal of support from the Iraqi people. That -- the government is not doing what it should be doing. But these people are starting to fight back against al Qaeda.
There are some very encouraging signs of these chieftains taking on a lot of the insurgents. There are, indeed, some very promising signs.
BLITZER: All right.
BENNETT: It would be an odd time to quit.
BRAZILE: But it's still a civil war, Bill. And our troops should not be in the middle of a civil war.
BENNETT: You will see a civil war. And this isn't it. But, if we leave, you will see one.
BLITZER: Well, we have got to leave it right there.
BLITZER: Donna, Bill, thanks very much.
Still to come: Jack Cafferty with your e-mail.
Also, Michael Moore training his fire on critics of his new film "Sicko," made headlines after appearing here in THE SITUATION ROOM yesterday.
We are going to be airing part two of the interview. You haven't seen it yet. The full interview, unedited, that's coming up.
Also, Dr. Sanjay Gupta will join us as well.
And he says the war is not lost in Iraq. That would be independent Senator Joe Lieberman of Connecticut. He says U.S. and Iraqi forces are winning. Senator Lieberman, he's also standing by to join us live -- right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN (I), CONNECTICUT: I do want to say to Senator Domenici...
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Senator Hillary Clinton is asking supporters to star in her next YouTube video. Clinton's campaign is seeking ideas for a video that would debut during the upcoming CNN/YouTube debate.
Let's go to Jacki Schechner. She's watching all of this unfold.
Why is the senator asking for this kind of help?
JACKI SCHECHNER, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Well, Wolf, she says the idea is to keep with the whole user-generated team.
CNN and YouTube are teaming up for the Democratic debate on July 23 from Charleston, South Carolina. We want you to submit your questions. We are also asking the candidates to each send in a short 30-second video pertaining to the campaign. Senator Clinton's camp is asking supporters to submit videos to their campaign. They are going to edit together why people are supporting Hillary. And that's going to be her final submission to us.
At the same time, we would like you to concentrate on your questions. Send them to YouTube.com/debates. We have had more than 600 entries so far. You have got until July 22. But get them in sooner, rather than later. Keep them short, 30 seconds, Wolf. Post them online.
BLITZER: Thank you, Jacki, for that.
Let's check in with Jack Cafferty once again for "The Cafferty File."
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, the question this hour is: How concerned should President Bush be about his legacy? Apparently, he has taken to having meetings in the White House with historians and academicians to discuss what he thinks history will wind up recording him as.
Kevin writes from Gardner, Kansas: "Maybe Bush's legacy will be that he is a uniter after all. He's united most of the country against him. There's little Bush can do to improve his legacy at this point. History will judge him as one of the most ineffective and incompetent presidents this country has ever had. America will be paying the price for many years to come."
E.J. in Granville, Ohio, writes: "We will try to forget him, but should not. I hope he taught everyone to choose more carefully, and by standards that reflect the real American character."
Hugh in Florida writes: "President Bush should not be concerned about his legacy. And, obviously, he's not, or he would have caved in to the pressure a long time ago and pulled our troops out of Iraq. Misguided or not, he is driven by what he believes, and doesn't govern by polls or what the future might say about him, which is something rare in Washington."
Andrew in Massachusetts: "His legacy will be a poorer, meaner, less secure, and more hated America. He is, quite simply, the worst president we have ever had. Even Nixon had the decency to resign."
Nick in Pennsylvania, writes: "Jack, we can't blame the president for all of this. We're almost as much to blame as he is. We, the people, voted in him for a second term, and we, the people, voted for a new Congress. How did that work out?"
And Richard in Louisiana: "Jack, he already has one. It's called Iraq. No matter what he may do or accomplish in his remaining time, this war will be his everlasting legacy. Ask the mothers, fathers, wives, husbands, sons, daughters of the dead soldiers, and they will answer in a loud chorus, "Iraq," when asked what Bush will be remembered for" -- Wolf. BLITZER: Thank you, Jack.
TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.voxant.com