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Major GOP Defection on Iraq; Report Cites Iraqi Leaders 'Unable to Govern'; Undermining Nuri al-Maliki: GOP Lobbying Push Under Way

Aired August 23, 2007 - 16:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news. A powerful Republican drops an Iraq bombshell on the president. Senator John Warner now saying Mr. Bush should guarantee some U.S. troops are home by Christmas.
The White House National Security Council spokesman, Gordon Johndroe, he's standing by to give us live reaction to this potential turning point in the opposition to the war.

Plus, a new warning that the Iraqi government is on shaky ground that will only get shakier in the months ahead. This hour, the new intelligence report that's sharpening the debate of the fate of the Iraqi prime minister, Nuri al-Maliki.

And a CNN one-on-one interview with Barack Obama as he swings through a key state that could help him become president.

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

First this hour, the breaking news of Senator John Warner's revolt against the president's Iraq policy.

One of the most influential voices on military affairs is taking his reservations about the war to a new level. He now says President Bush should tell the American people next month that he's starting a troop withdrawal from Iraq. And now many are asking, if the president has lost John Warner, who might be next?

Let's go to our congressional correspondent, Dana Bash. She's watching this story for us.

And I think it's obviously, Dana, a very significant development.

DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: A seismic shift, really, in the political debate when it comes to Iraq, Wolf.

Senator Warner was just in Iraq. He has returned. And what he has essentially said is that the only way he sees it is possible for the United States to convince the Iraqi government that they really mean it when they say that the U.S. won't be there forever is for the president to announce next month that U.S. troops will start coming home.

Listen to what Senator Warner said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SEN. JOHN WARNER (R), VIRGINIA: I think no clearer form of that than if the president were to announce on the 15th that in consultation with our senior military commanders, he's decided to initiate the first step in the withdrawal of armed forces. I say to the president respectfully, pick whatever number you wish.

You do not want to lose the momentum, but certainly in the 160,000-plus, say 5,000 could begin to redeploy and be home to their family and loved ones no latter than Christmas of this year.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BASH: Now, you hear Senator Warner is not calling for a massive redeployment. He's calling for a minimal number of troops, and really saying, as you heard, the president should really pick his number. But the point is here, is that he is making it clear that he believes the only way to really shake things up, if you will, when it comes to the Iraqi government is for the president to do what he has not yet done and what somebody of Senator Warner's stature has not yet forced or at least said the president should do, which, Wolf, is to start bringing troops home.

This is a very big development when it comes to the political debate here -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Because among the Republicans, it's one thing for a Chuck Hagel or Gordon Smith of Oregon to be opposed to the president's strategy. It's a totally different thing when you have the former chairman of the Armed Services Committee, like John Warner.

Here's the question that I'm sure White House officials are asking right now -- is this going to start a chain reaction, more dominos beginning to fall on the Republican side, perhaps enough to support legislation, what the Democrats want, or at least a large number of them, namely, a specific timeline for a troop withdrawal?

BASH: Well, Senator Warner was very clear he is not for a timeline for troop withdrawal. And he made apparently all of this clear. He went to the White House today.

But, you know, it's also important to note that Senator Warner has been increasingly critical of the president's strategy. He didn't like this idea of the surge from the get-go, but he has been respectful and said, let's wait and see how it goes.

But the fact, as you said, Senator Warner is a respected voice, somebody who many Republicans and Democrats, but most importantly, Republicans here, look to for guidance in terms of their position. That's really important.

You know, I talked to Senator Warner right before he left and I said, "What are you going to tell us when you get back?" He said, "You know, I'm so damn old, that I'm going to tell it like it is when I get back from Iraq." And that's exactly what he's done -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Thank you very much. And we'll see if he's going to run for re-election in Virginia as well. We'll see if all of that is related.

Dana is on the Hill.

Let's take a look now at some of the respect that Senator John Warner has earned over the years.

He was born in 1927. He served in the Navy during World War II, being honorably discharged back in 1946. But when the Korean War started in 1950, he left law school to reenlist.

He then served in the Marine Corps during that conflict, remained in the corps reserves for 10 years. Senator Warner also served as secretary of the Navy in the early 1970s. He's been a U.S. senator from Virginia for five consecutive terms, up for re-election next year.

Still more ammunition today for the political battle over the war. A new U.S. government intelligence report is close to being a flat-out statement of no confidence in the Iraqi prime minister, Nuri al-Maliki. It says Iraqi leaders can't govern effectively and their hold on power will only get more precarious over the next six to 12 months.

The report by all 16 U.S. intelligence agencies finds Iraqi security forces haven't improved enough to operate without U.S. assistance. It's also warning of scaling back the U.S. military mission. It could wipe out improvements, any improvements made in recent months involving Iraqi security and open the door to a bolder place for power within Iraq by Iran and Syria, maybe even Turkey.

Coming up, I'll ask the White House National Security Council spokesman, Gordon Johndroe, about these findings, about John Warner's break with the president. That live interview, coming up later.

Some top Democrats, meanwhile, are seizing on the new intelligence report and demanding more information be declassified.

Let's go to our congressional correspondent, Jessica Yellin. She's watching all of this from Capitol Hill.

Jessica, what are you hearing?

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Democrats are coming out swinging. They are not just using the NIE to attack the president's strategy in Iraq, but they're attacking the NIE itself, and they're seizing on the part of the report that says a drawdown, a change in course in Iraq, will make the situation worse.

One Democratic leadership aide tells CNN about this section of the NIE, "There is particular concern about its grossly insufficient analysis of the costs and consequences of both sustaining the current course, as well as redeploying our troops." They go on to call this some of the shallowest and thinnest analysis they've seen from the intelligence community in recent years.

Those are strong words, and they're calling on both the intelligence community to do a better job and on reporters, frankly, to be vigilant in monitoring how we cover this part of the report.

They also say that there are key parts of the report that have not been declassified. And they're calling on the president to release more information concerning what they call the confidence levels the intelligence community has in each of these key findings.

Now, it's no surprise, perhaps, that the Republicans are also seizing on the same section of the report to say that they are quite pleased. John Boehner, of the House, a Republican, says, "The report states very clearly that changing the mission of our troops right now would erode the security gains achieved thus far."

Both sides finding plenty of ammunition for their message in this report.

BLITZER: It's going to fuel the debate. Jessica, thanks very much.

As criticism of Nuri al-Maliki, the prime minister, reaches new levels, there's a new effort under way here in Washington to undermine the Iraqi leader and his government.

Let's go to our White House correspondent, Ed Henry. He's been doing some digging.

And you've learned some pretty incredible stuff that's going on involving influential Republicans here in Washington trying to change the government in Iraq.

ED HENRY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. CNN has learned that a powerful Republican lobbying firm has begun a public campaign to undermine Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and promote the former prime minister, Ayad Allawi, as an alternative candidate.

Now, this firm is Barbour, Griffith ad Rogers, formed, as you know, by the current Mississippi governor, Haley Barbour. It has former Bush foreign policy aides on board at the firm.

And look at this. The firm on Tuesday sent an e-mail to congressional offices marked "A New Leader in Iraq." And look at this, it was sent to the Hill by Dr. Allawi at allawiforiraq.com.

It's a new Web site, allawiforiraq.com. And in the lower part of the e-mail, it discloses that Barbour, Griffith and Rogers is circulating this e-mail, which had negative media stories about Maliki, about various lawmakers, saying he should be ousted.

Now, a senior administration official told me the White House is aware of this and they may at some point try to tell the firm to dial this back, because it undermines what President Bush has been saying publicly.

I just also asked the White House spokesman, Gordon Johndroe, about it and whether the White House was privately involved in any way. He said no. I pressed him, why would Republican allies go against the president on this and Johndroe quipped, "Maybe it's a really good contract."

Now, a vice president at the lobbying firm confirmed that this contract has been signed but would not give me details. So we're going to want to find out eventually, will (ph) it become public, how much money the contract is for. Another big question, of course, where is Dr. Allawi getting the money to bay these big-bucks contractors? You know a lot of lobbyists get hundreds of thousands of dollars for these kinds of lobbying efforts -- Wolf.

BLITZER: That's a good question. I'll ask him Sunday. He'll be on "LATE EDITION" with me this Sunday, Ayad Allawi.

Thanks very much, Ed Henry, for reporting that news for us.

Some key moments in Nuri al-Maliki's journey to become the Iraqi prime minister.

Back in the late 1970s, he was sentenced to death for opposing Saddam Hussein and his Ba'athist Party. He then fled Iraq in 1979 for Iran. Later went to Syria.

He returned to Iraq in 2003 after the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime. Al-Maliki was a member of the commission that worked to try to purge Iraq's military and government of members of the Sunni Ba'athist elite. Many believed that effort helped fuel the Sunni insurgency in Iraq.

Let's go to Jack Cafferty for "The Cafferty File".

What a day. A lot of news happening, Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: I wonder what the London bookmakers are quoting as odds on Nuri al-Maliki lasting much longer as the head of that government in Iraq.

BLITZER: Slim.

CAFFERTY: I bet they're...

BLITZER: Slim, I think.

CAFFERTY: Yes, I was going to say I bet they are not very good. My sense he is toast in the not-too-distant future.

There's more, Wolf.

The Bush administration is claiming that a White House office that's involved in a dispute over missing e-mails is off limits. The Justice Department filed a motion that says the Office of Administration is no longer subject to the Freedom of Information Act.

The funny thing is, the White House's own Web site lists the Office of Administration as being subject to the Freedom of Information Act. And last year, the same office responded to 65 requests for information under the Freedom of Information Act with no problem. An organization called Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington filed a lawsuit last May asking for records about some five million missing White House e-mails, including when they were deleted. The missing e-mail messages covered the period from March, 2003, when we invaded Iraq, to October, 2005.

Now, since our beloved Congress, they of the whopping 18 percent approval rating, is on vacation for a month, there's a problem. They refused to address the Alberto "I Can't Remember" Gonzales matter before they left town.

So now President Bush's water boy at the Justice Department is once again in a position to obstruct a legitimate investigation into the activities of the executive branch of our government by making up his own rules.

Democratic Congressman Henry Waxman says this: "The White House obsession with secrecy is absurd. The White House is inventing new legalisms to thwart oversight and public accountability."

So here is the question: What do you suppose is in the millions of missing White House e-mails that President Bush doesn't want anyone to see?

E-mail caffertyfile@CNN.com or go to CNN.com/caffertyfile -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Can't computer, like, geeks find those missing e-mails? They must be around some place.

CAFFERTY: Well, that's -- in fact, I've gotten some e-mail already from people saying that there's no such thing as a deleted e- mail, that somewhere on some server, somebody, like you say, a geek, somebody who knows this stuff, can retrieve these. But, you know, they also claim, if you remember the story going back a few months, that a lot of these e-mails were sent on Republican National Committee servers that were outside the White House system.

So, I don't know. It's all very curious to me.

BLITZER: Thanks, Jack. We'll check back with you shortly.

John Edwards declares the presidency isn't for sale. It's being seen as a powerful and personal new shot at Hillary Clinton and her husband. Will it give Edwards any traction against the Democratic presidential front-runner?

Also coming up, new reason to think California will shake up the presidential election. It's winner take all. Or will it be? The stakes, sky high.

And Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama goes one on one with CNN's Don Lemon. We're going to give you the first taste of that interview. It's coming up, right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards appears today to be trying to hit Hillary Clinton where it hurts, implying she and her husband are examples of what's wrong with Washington. Edwards debuted his new campaign speech in New Hampshire today.

Let's bring in our chief national correspondent, John King. He's here.

Is there any doubt who he's aiming at with the latest assault?

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: No. You're about to hear it, and it will leave you with absolutely no doubt at all, Wolf.

Look, Senator Edwards has been stuck in third place for months. His frustration has been building and building. And today it all spilled into the open.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KING (voice over): He didn't name names, but the target was more than obvious.

JOHN EDWARDS (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The American people deserve to know that their presidency is not for sale. The Lincoln bedroom is not for rent. And lobbyists' money can no longer influence policy in the House or the Senate.

KING: It was a shot at her and her husband. Senator Edwards trying to shake up the Democratic race by reminding voters the Clinton days weren't all worth celebrating.

EDWARDS: The problem with nostalgia is, what we tend to do is you only remember what you like. And you -- right? And you forget the part that you didn't like.

KING: Not the first time Edwards has called on Senator Clinton to reject contributions from lobbyists. Not the first time he's labeled her a Washington insider. But the script he followed carefully this time was more pointed and more personal.

EDWARDS: It's caution versus courage. Old versus new. Calculation versus principle.

(APPLAUSE)

KING: Senator Clinton was briefed on the Edwards attacks before this health care speech in New Hampshire, but following a front- runner's playbook, decided against personally responding.

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: During the eight years as first lady...

PETER HART, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: She has an exceptionally high rating with Democrats, probably better than 75 percent positive. KING: Edwards was the Democrats' vice presidential nominee in 2004. But he trails senators Clinton and Barack Obama in campaign 2008 polls and fund-raising. The first contest now just a little more than four months off.

HART: Senator Edwards has an extremely difficult task, because he's running in third place. He has to find a way to move up to second place. That means displacing either Obama or Clinton. Tough task.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KING: Senator Clinton did not respond herself, as you saw. Her came has yet to issue a statement responding, Wolf. They say they're working on it, thinking about it.

It's interesting to watch now. Both Senator Edwards and Senator Obama, the two candidates just behind Senator Clinton in the polls, trying to raise the question of her electability. Trying to say to Democrats essentially, you might like her, but she can't win in November.

So far her lead is holding. But look for more of those attacks.

BLITZER: It looks like he's perhaps not positioning himself for another run for vice president of the United States with those strong statements.

KING: You've been here before, huh?

BLITZER: Yes. John, thanks very much.

John King, our chief national correspondent.

(WEATHER REPORT)

BLITZER: A new warning to the Democratic presidential candidates. It comes from a man who knows a thing or two about losing the White House, former presidential nominee, Michael Dukakis. Are the Democrats overconfident about winning in 2008? Paul Begala, Leslie Sanchez are standing by for our "Strategy Session" this hour.

And she's known as "Obama Girl," but she may really be Clinton girl. The YouTube video star's choice, ahead.

All that, right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We're standing by for Don Lemon's interview with Barack Obama, but let's check in with Carol Costello. She's joining us now with a closer look at some other incoming stories making news.

(NEWSBREAK)

BLITZER: Now that Senator John Warner is breaking with the president over the war in Iraq, other Republicans may follow his lead. Is this a fatal blow to the president's Iraq strategy?

Coming up, we'll speak live with the White House National Security Council spokesman, Gordon Johndroe, about Warner's defection and the new intelligence report just out today on the Iraqi prime minister's failure to lead.

All that coming up right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Happening now, Ohio's governor says his people will need federal assistance to recover from this week's devastating floods. Governor Ted Strickland, along with the homeland security secretary, Michael Chertoff, and the FEMA administrator, David Paulison, just got back from a tour of the devastated area. A full report coming up.

Sources familiar with the classified parts of the new national intelligence estimate say it includes some disturbing warnings about Iran. It says Tehran will continue to be unhelpful in Iraq and it will keep pursuing its own nuclear weapons program.

And a Baptist theological seminary is now offering very different course options to men and women, raising a lot of eyebrows. We're going to take you there. Carol Costello standing by with that story.

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

Nothing less than a political revolution is quietly under way in California. If successful, it potentially could change the way the Golden State divvies up its electoral college vote in presidential elections. And, get this, it could also give any Republican nominee an important head start for the White House.

Our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider, has a heads up on this very important potential change of the rules.

Bill, if California changes the way it allocates electoral votes, it could have a huge impact.

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: That's right, Wolf. It would shake up the entire presidential election.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER (voice-over): An obscure California ballot measure could doom Democrats' chances of winning the White House. Right now, the presidential candidate who carries California wins all of the state's 55 electoral votes. In the last four presidential elections, that's been the Democrat.

A group of California Republicans is promoting a ballot measure that would divide the state into 53 congressional districts. Presidential candidates would get one electoral vote for each district they carry, plus two more electoral votes for carrying the state. In 2004, John Kerry won 31 California districts and George W. Bush carried 22. Kerry got all of California's 55 electoral votes. If the proposed new measure had been in effect, Bush would have gotten 22 electoral votes, more than the entire state of Ohio.

Dividing the state's electoral votes sounds fairer, and supporters say it would force the candidates to campaign in California. A Field poll shows California voters inclined to pass the measure. California Democrats are divided.

But, first, the measure has to qualify for the ballot. That may not be so hard. There are no contribution limits for ballot measures in California.

DARRY SRAGOW, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: It takes about $1 million to gather the signatures.

SCHNEIDER: Can Democrats rally their voters against it?

ALLEN HOFFENBLUM, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: The Democrats will say it's a power grab.

SRAGOW: I think this will be viewed as a -- as a political power grab. And it won't work.

SCHNEIDER: If the California split gets on the state primary ballot in June, expect an intense campaign, with money pouring in from all over the country.

HOFFENBLUM: It will be an interesting campaign, I can assure you.

SCHNEIDER: Because nothing less than the entire presidential election would be at stake.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER: California Democrats are countering with ballot measures of their own. The Democratic measures would require that California's electoral votes go to whichever candidate wins the national popular vote, but only if states with a majority of electoral votes agree to do the same thing. Now, that sounds fair, because it would elect the popular vote winner.

But, in 2004, it would have meant that Californians voted for John Kerry, only to see their state's electoral votes go for George W. Bush -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Potentially a significant, very significant, development.

Bill, thanks very much.

SCHNEIDER: OK.

BLITZER: A one-two punch today to some major elements of the president's Iraq policy. The very influential Republican Senator John Warner now saying Mr. Bush needs to announce publicly the start of a troop withdrawal, and he needs to do it next month.

Also, a new intelligence report finds the future of the Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki's government is, in the words of this NIE, "precarious."

Joining us now from Crawford, Texas, the spokesman for the National Security Council over at the White House, Gordon Johndroe.

Gordon, thanks very much for joining us.

First of all, the bombshell from Senator Warner. He wants the president next month to announce the start of a troop withdrawal. He wants to see at least some of those troops home by Christmas.

What say you?

GORDON JOHNDROE, NATIONAL SECURITY SPOKESMAN: Well, we appreciate Senator Warner's recommendations. He's a very respected senator. He came in to talk with General Doug Lute, the president's Iraq adviser, about what the senator had seen in Iraq.

But right now, the most important thing for to us do is wait for General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker to come back, come back to the United States, report to the president, report to the Congress, about what they see as the way ahead, how they see the conditions on the ground in Iraq.

BLITZER: Are you disappointed in what Senator Warner is recommending, given the influence he clearly has on the Hill?

JOHNDROE: No, I think that Senator Warner's recommendations are something that have to be looked at with everything else that's going on.

And, as I said, he's certainly a respected senator, but, right now, the most important thing is listen to what our generals on the ground have to say. And that's what the president's going to do, and wait for them to report, and issue his own report to Congress on September 15.

BLITZER: Senator Warner says he wants to see the announcement of a troop withdrawal, beginning next month, to send a message to the Iraqi government of Nouri al-Maliki.

And, today, the National Intelligence Estimate summary, a declassified version, was released, which paints a very dismal picture of this Iraqi government. Among other things, it says, to date, Iraqi political leaders remain unable to govern effectively. It says the intelligence community assesses that the Iraqi government will become more precarious over the next six to 12 months.

How much confidence do you have in this Iraqi government? Because, according to the intelligence community, they're not stepping up to the plate.

JOHNDROE: Yes, well, I would point to everyone in the NIE and as well to Senator Warner that the findings are that U.S. and coalition forces have really helped to improve the security situation on the ground, and that, if they were to leave any time soon, that some of those security gains might be lost. And, so, that's something that has to be looked at.

And as far as...

BLITZER: But what about -- they say on the political front...

JOHNDROE: Sure.

BLITZER: ... which, they paint a very dismal picture. They can have all the security improvements in the world, but, if you have an Iraqi government that isn't doing what they're supposed to be doing, what good is it?

JOHNDROE: Well, I think that, one, the Iraqi government needs to see those political -- needs to see security improvements, so they can have the space to make some political reconciliation and come together.

And, look, there are challenges ahead, no doubt about it. We want to see Prime Minister Maliki, as well as the Presidency Council and other Iraqi leaders, come together, make the tough decisions that will lead to a peaceful, stable and secure Iraq. And we're urging them to do so.

We still stand by Prime Minister Maliki and the Presidency Council. And we would like to see them get some work done.

BLITZER: Our Ed Henry broke a story earlier here in THE SITUATION ROOM pointing to a major Republican lobbying firm here in Washington, Barbour, Griffith & Rogers, now actively working for the former Iraqi prime minister, Iyad Allawi, hoping to get him into office, and working to undermine the government of the prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki.

This is a firm, as you well know, Gordon, that has very close ties to the president and to the White House.

JOHNDROE: Sure. But that is something that I guess Mr. Allawi has contracted this firm to work on.

This administration supports Prime Minister Maliki, the elected government of a sovereign Iraq, supports the Presidency Council. And we will continue to work with them on the best way forward in Iraq.

BLITZER: But, if the White House would have said to these Republican lobbyists, "You know what, this is a bad idea, don't do this; don't try to undermine Nouri al-Maliki, especially at a time when the president is reiterating his support, and don't try to bring Iyad Allawi in," I suspect these Republican lobbyists would not have accepted that contract. JOHNDROE: Well, Wolf, I will have to check on this, but I don't think they asked the White House before they signed their contract with Mr. Allawi.

BLITZER: Ed Henry was reporting that they did have consultations with the White House. But we will check it, Gordon, and we will see what's going on.

JOHNDROE: All right.

BLITZER: But it's a significant, potentially significant story.

Gordon Johndroe is the spokesman for the NSC, the National Security Council. He's joining us from Crawford.

Thanks, Gordon.

JOHNDROE: Thank you.

BLITZER: And, coming up, we are going to have the latest from the Utah mine disaster. The mine boss, Bob Murray, had some angry words for Congress when lawmakers questioned his safety record only two months ago. We have looked into that record. You're going to want to see the results.

And millions of people have seen her online, but the Obama Girl may be leaning toward another candidate. We are going to tell you who that is.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: It looks like it will be Saturday before the latest drill hole breaks into the Utah coal mine where six men have been missing for 18 days. The Senate subcommittee today scheduled early September hearings into the disaster. It could give the mine CEO, Bob Murray, another chance to defend his operation's safety record.

As our David Mattingly discovered, there are plenty of question marks at Murray's other mines.

Take a look at this.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): One thing is clear about mine owner Robert Murray. He is not afraid of a fight. When confronted about reports of a poor safety record at his mines in Ohio, just listen to what Murray told Senator Barbara Boxer.

BOB MURRAY, PRESIDENT AND CEO, MURRAY ENERGY: I don't care, and I'm going to respond to that. You are flat-out wrong.

SEN. BARBARA BOXER (D), CALIFORNIA: Fine, fine.

MURRAY: That information came from your friends at the United Mine Workers and the unions. It is not fair.

BOXER: We will -- we will...

MURRAY: Today, my safety record at my coal mines -- and I take it to bed with me every night. And I resent you bringing this in.

BOXER: Right.

MURRAY: Because my employees are important to me, and I take their safety to bed every night. My safety record today is one of the best in the coal industry anywhere.

MATTINGLY: Robert Murray bought the Crandall Canyon mine only a year ago, and, until the accident, it was one of his safest mines. But, "Keeping Them Honest," we checked government records, and found they list Murray as the head of 19 mining operations in five states. Only seven are active underground mines, and four of them have injury rates above the national average.

At the Galatia Mine in southern Illinois, the rate of injuries has exceeded the national average every year since Murray bought the mine in 1998. The rate of injuries was almost cut in half from 2003 to 2006, but the mine has also racked up over 3,400 citations in the last two-and-a-half years, 968 so far this year, with nearly a quarter considered significant and substantial.

ELLEN SMITH, MINE SAFETY AND HEALTH NEWS: You wonder how that many violations can build up in that little amount of time. Now, you have to remember, he's challenging a lot of those citations. But, when you look, he's also paid a lot in fines.

MATTINGLY: He paid almost $700,000 in fines from 2005 and 2006. So far this year, Galatia has been hit with 31 major citations, each exceeding $10,000. That's more violations than any other mine in the country and second in total fines.

(on camera): And Galatia wasn't Murray's first big problem. In 2003, managers at his mining company in Kentucky were found guilty of violating safety standards and attempting to cover it up. The company was ordered to pay a $306,000 fine.

(voice-over): Requests for comments from officials at Murray Energy were not answered. CNN asked Murray about safety records of his other underground mines at a news conference Monday. Murray said he would only talk about Crandall Canyon.

MURRAY: The safety record at this mine is almost outstanding. It's well -- much better than the national average.

MATTINGLY: But, as the tragedy at Crandall Canyon shows, even better-than-average mines can involve serious risk.

David Mattingly, CNN, Atlanta.

(END VIDEOTAPE) BLITZER: Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama is campaigning in South Carolina today. And he talked about Iraq with your own Don Lemon.

Don asked Obama about calls for Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to step down.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You know, I think this is a distraction, this whole notion of, is Maliki the right guy? We can replace Maliki with four or five other guys. If the underlying political dynamic is not changing, then we are not going to see progress in Iraq.

I think this is a...

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: We are going to have a lot more of the one-on-one interview that Don conducted with Barack Obama. That's coming up in the next hour, right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

John Edwards is talking about a choice Democrats need to make. Take a listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN EDWARDS (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It's a choice between looking back and looking forward, a choice between the way we have always done it and the way we could do it, if we have the courage to do it, a choice between corporate power and the power of democracy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Sharp words aimed directly at Senator Hillary Clinton.

Coming up next in our "Strategy Session," we will discuss whether those words will stick.

Plus, a Democratic ghost from elections past has a strong warning about 2008. You're going to want to hear what he has to say.

We will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back.

Michael Dukakis has a warning for his fellow Democrats. The party's 1988 presidential nominee says, don't get overconfident about 2008.

Here for today's "Strategy Session," our Democratic strategist and CNN political analyst Paul Begala, along with Republican strategist Leslie Sanchez. Guys, thanks for coming in.

Here's what Dukakis said, among things, said. He said: "We're not going to outspend the other guys. We're probably not going to out-strategize them. And some crazy guy will blow up a building with three weeks to go, you know, and then we will be back in Bush land again"

He's warning, don't get overconfident.

PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think he's right in that sense. Don't -- don't get overconfident.

But, I would say, we're dealing with a very different electorate and a very different country, and I hope a very different campaign. I think Democrats should have learned a lesson from the failures of the Dukakis campaign. There are sort of I guess sort of strategic styles in the Democratic Party.

With respect to Governor Dukakis, there's sort of the Dukakis, you know, my friend Bob Shrum sort of strategy, where you -- you give a lot of speeches about fighting, but, when the campaign goes on, you just wimp out. Dukakis was hit with...

BLITZER: Because, after that Democratic Convention, you remember, they were up 17, 18 points.

BEGALA: Mike Dukakis was up 17 points. And the Willie Horton attack started, many of them very unfair. Dukakis didn't fight back. Dukakis collapsed. We had a four-year presidency with Bush.

BLITZER: Is this a new Democratic bunch of candidates out there?

LESLIE SANCHEZ, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: No, I think everybody is ready for a fight.

I would think the difference is, the -- the biggest challenge, I think Paul would agree with me, in any campaign is hubris. You know, you have to worry that you get overconfident. It can take out any candidate at any time.

The difference is, Republicans know that, and Democrats don't. And one thing about Dukakis' remarks which needs to be said, they were completely reckless. I mean, I think the American electorate, back in 1988, had it right in not selecting somebody like that, who is so unstable and irrational.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: What do you think of John Edwards' new speech that was debuted today? You saw John King's report. I mean, he didn't mention Hillary Clinton by name, but he did speak about the Lincoln bedroom in the White House, going after the insiders, the Washington insiders.

It was obvious who he was going after. BEGALA: You know, nobody likes attack politics more than me, OK? I like it when people attack. I want to see a fight. I mean, you know, that's what I like.

But there are smart attacks and there are not-so-smart attacks. And I really fear that Senator Edwards is not helping himself out. Now, the audience should know, I -- I like Hillary Clinton. I worked for Bill Clinton. In fact, I worked for President Clinton when those attacks about the Lincoln Bedroom were going on. And John Edwards was one of our biggest defenders at the time.

He wasn't attacking Clinton about the Lincoln Bedroom then. He seems to sort of -- I don't know. I guess he's looking for Ken Starr's endorsement or something.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: He's looking for a way to break out of number three, if you will.

SANCHEZ: Exactly.

And the reality is, that field is closing. If you looked at Hillary Clinton in the last debate, she was very strong there. She's definitely distancing herself from the other two candidates. And I would say that door is almost closed. It's almost inevitable now that Hillary Clinton will be the nominee. And -- and...

BEGALA: See, that's hubris. I'm not quite there yet.

(CROSSTALK)

SANCHEZ: Well, I would -- well, I'm arguing for the -- on the Democrats' side with that.

And, also, this is the first time John Edwards is stepping out, instead of his wife. I mean -- and I say that lightly. But it's -- really, the only approach he has right now is to try to establish himself as the change agent vs...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Is it a smart strategy?

BEGALA: Here's the problem. I -- as I say, I like the attacks, but I'm not an Iowa Democratic caucus-goer.

The people of Iowa -- I have been there -- I have been in all 99 counties, OK? They are decent, and they're kind, and they're totally opposite from me.

(LAUGHTER)

BEGALA: And they don't like attack politics. And you know what they love? They love Bill Clinton. You know, the last Gallup poll that I saw that included President Clinton, 89 percent approval rating among Democrats. So, nine out of 10 Democrats have a favorable view of Bill Clinton.

Why would Edwards either, A, want to attack going into Iowa or, B, attack Bill Clinton? Well, who is he going to attack next, Gandhi or FDR or Dr. King? I mean...

SANCHEZ: You know, it's really the only alternative he has. It's the change vs. the establishment candidate. I would argue that they are both establishment candidates. They're old-guard liberal.

BLITZER: But he's clearly much more populist, if you will, John Edwards is.

SANCHEZ: He's trying in that message.

BLITZER: Yes.

SANCHEZ: But I think it's disingenuous.

He talks about two Americas. There's the one he lives in and the one he wants people to think he lives in.

BLITZER: Here's a quote. Let's talk about the Republican fight that is going on. And it's heating up between the Giuliani campaign and the Fred Thompson campaign. It's not an official campaign yet.

Guy Molinari, he is a co-chairman for Rudy Giuliani's campaign in New York. He said this, basically, to -- to Fred Thompson: Run or keep your mouth shut. If you want to bash people, jump into the pool. We're waiting for you.

Those are pretty tough words from Guy Molinari -- New York politics always tough.

SANCHEZ: You know, I think New York politics, you know, has a lot of sharp elbows. They're ready for a good fight. They're ready to engage in this.

And I think the American electorate, especially Republicans, are ready to see a Fred Thompson candidacy. Giuliani has done very well with economic conservatives we talked about. I think Fred Thompson, you have seen nothing but a trajectory upwards.

BLITZER: Fred Thompson was making some critical comments of Rudy Giuliani's opposition, if you will, to guns, and that -- that has generated into a nice little exchange, a nice little battle going on between Fred Thompson and Rudy Giuliani.

BEGALA: And, again, I love it.

Now, on their side, I do think Republicans generally, and in Iowa, have a higher tolerance for attacks. And, so, maybe it's smarter there. Second, notice that Guy Molinari is attacking Fred Thompson. He's not attacking like Ronald Reagan, an ionic figure in the Republican Party. He's attacking another politician. And I think that's probably more well-received by voters. And, so, I think it's great. They ought to -- the problem is -- but, with Thompson, with Romney, and Giuliani, three of the top Republicans, all of them have flip-flopped more than Mary Lou Retton.

I remember when Fred Thompson was the anti-impeachment, pro- Clinton, pro-choice, moderate senator. Rudy Giuliani was also very pro-Clinton and pro-gun control. So, these guys have been all over the map, is the problem. And they are all going to point out each other's inconsistencies, and they are all going to be right.

(LAUGHTER)

SANCHEZ: You know, I would argue the same thing. I think there's a clear distinction between Republican candidates and Democratic ones. Democrats are talking about a Clinton administration that would have more regulation, higher taxes, and a continued attack on industry, which ultimately hurts the consumer.

BLITZER: Leslie Sanchez, Paul Begala, our "Strategy Session," thanks, guys.

(CROSSTALK)

SANCHEZ: Thank you.

BLITZER: Millions of White House e-mails missing and unaccounted for -- Jack Cafferty standing by with your e-mails on what you think may be buried in those messages.

Plus, misery spills over in the rain-soaked Midwest. More rain in the forecast may only add to the flooding and the damage and the danger.

Plus, for women only, a religious college offers courses in homemaking. Is it trying to create better wives or turn back the clock?

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: On today's "Political Radar," there are now some hints that the Obama Girl may be defecting, and the Obama camp may not mind.

More than three million people have seen Amber Lee Ettinger's video on YouTube. Now "The New York Daily News" reporting Ettinger is leaning toward Hillary Clinton. Senator Obama tells the Associated Press one of his daughters was upset by the video. Some people thought it was risque.

Last month's CNN/YouTube debate provided a new way for voters to communicate directly with presidential candidates. Now the candidates are getting another chance to be scrutinized by the online community, this time through MySpace.com.

Let's go to our Internet reporter, Abbi Tatton. Abbi, the candidates are paying pretty close attention to these sites.

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, it's all an effort to reach out to people, many of them young, that they might otherwise miss.

We have seen these candidates go on to the social networking sites, building their online profiles, being their list of friends. Well, now MySpace is taking this one step further.

From next month, organizers say, 11 presidential candidates will be participating, one at a time, in real-time chats. They will be streamed live on the Web and also on MTV. They will be answering questions that are submitted via instant message, e-mail.

And first up is John Edwards. And if people don't like what he's answering, well -- or any of the other candidates, for that matter -- they can participate online in online polls, and let them know in real time what they think of it.

This is just the latest in online interaction with the presidential candidates. The YouTube debates with CNN last month with the Democrats drew almost 3,000 video submissions. Of course, the Republicans are up next in Florida November 28. YouTube.com is where you can submit your question for those candidates -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thank you, Abbi, for that.

Let's go to Jack. He has been interacting with the online community for a long time.

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: That's -- that's true.

You know, that MTV/MySpace thing, I mean, if that helps to get some people interested in the political process, God knows we could use their input and their help.

The question this hour is: What do you suppose is in the millions of missing White House e-mails that President Bush doesn't want anybody to see?

C. -- the letter C. -- writes: "Bush desperately wants to keep the e-mails private because they would destroy the last vestiges of his good-old boy compassionate conservative facade, and reveal him for what he really is: a foul-mouthed, vindictive, shallow, ignorant ideologue."

Rose in Connecticut: "Dear God, Jack, what the heck do you think is in them? Bush has been president for six long and deceptive years. The Freedom of Information Act does not apply to the decider. Stop blaming Congress. Bush has fooled an entire nation, including you." James in Tennessee: "What difference would it make? Even if we could find something, nothing would come of it. Bush does what he wants to do, and nobody does anything about it but talk. Until someone is ready to take action, why are we wasting our time writing to you? It only gives you something to do to keep your job."

That's a good thing, James.

Bernie in Massachusetts: "I will bet they contain the equivalent of the Pentagon Papers, whose release showed the buildup to the Vietnam War was a hoax. I would prefer they also contain criminal evidence that George W. Bush ignored true warnings about 9/11 as well. It's time for the equivalent of the Watergate tapes."

Jerry in Georgia: "I'm certain they are not e-mails to interns asking for favors. More than likely, they are from a series of online educational tools, like you would get from 'Running a Country For Dummies' or 'How to Win a War For Dummies.'"

And Mark in Oklahoma City: "The president probably doesn't want the public to know how often he e-mails an answer to these idiotic questions on 'The Cafferty File.'"

That's a possibility -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jack, thank you.

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