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Petraeus Questioned by Senate; Interview with Joe Biden

Aired September 11, 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, skepticism, even some scorn during round two of Iraq War hearings. The top U.S. military commander and the U.S. ambassador get an earful in the Senate. Some of the sharpest words coming in from Republicans. I'll ask Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden for his firsthand take on the testimony. That's coming up.
Also this hour, 9/11 and the race for the White House. This sixth anniversary of the terror attacks puts the spotlight on Rudy Giuliani, for better and for worse.

Plus, Fred Thompson mixes it up. It's a whole new contest now that he's officially running for president. We have some eye-popping new poll numbers that will prove it. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

The president's top general and top diplomat in Iraq have been laying the groundwork on Capitol Hill, and now Mr. Bush is set to follow through on their proposal to bring U.S. troop presence in Iraq back to the level before the so-called surge. CNN confirms President Bush will announce plans to reduce the U.S. troop strength by about 30,000 by next summer. A prime time address is expected later this week, perhaps most likely on Thursday.

All this coming on a day when General David Petraeus and the U.S. ambassador, Ryan Crocker are enduring back-to-back Senate grillings on Iraq. The Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin and presidential candidate John McCain among those offering some strong opinions.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. CARL LEVIN (D-MI), CHAIRMAN, ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE: The Iraqi politicians dawdle while our casualties and our expenditures keep climbing. The GAO told us last week that most of the key promises of Iraq's political leaders, the benchmarks that they set for themselves with relevant time tables have been ignored.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: As Ambassador Crocker has noted, no one can be certain of success. We can be sure, however, that should the United States Congress succeed in legislating a date for withdrawal and thus surrender, then we will fail for certain.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Let's go to our congressional correspondent Dana Bash. She's on Capitol Hill.

It was intriguing today, very interesting that some influential Republicans, especially on the Foreign Relations Committee, Dana, were expressing their deep skepticism.

DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. You know, this morning's headlines talking about troop cuts may have raised hopes at the White House that the general's long-awaited testimony actually stopped some Republican defections on the war, but that was before the general headed to the Senate.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BASH (voice-over): The refrain of the day, not enough.

SEN. RICHARD LUGAR (R), INDIANA: It is not enough for the administration to counsel patience until the next milestone or the next report.

BASH: And it was the president's fellow Republicans leading the charge.

SEN. NORM COLEMAN (R), MINNESOTA: Americans want to see light at the end of the tunnel.

BASH: As he did a day earlier, General David Petraeus talked of reducing troop levels by 30,000 by next summer, but refused to say when more could come home.

GEN. DAVID PETRAEUS, CMDR., MULTI-NATIONAL FORCE-IRAQ: Our experience in Iraq has repeatedly shown that projecting too far into the future is not just difficult, it can be misleading and even hazardous.

BASH: Some Republicans were pointed.

SEN. CHUCK HAGEL (R), NEBRASKA: Are we going to continue to invest American blood and treasure at the same rate we're doing now? For what?

BASH: Others, more polite.

SEN. LISA MURKOWSKI (R), ALASKA: Is this a change in strategy? Is this a mission shift?

BASH: But nowhere near satisfied, and the deep GOP skepticism was telling.

MURKOWSKI: This sounds -- very much sounds identical to what President Bush has been saying all along.

BASH: The strain of two long days of testimony showed as General Petraeus was pressed to imagine the president pushing for answers.

SEN. ROBERT MENENDEZ (D), NEW JERSEY: You would be able to give him some timeline, two years? Five years? PETRAEUS: I would not, sir. Obviously, we all want -- you know, I'm as frustrated with the situation as anybody else. This is going on three years for me on top of a year deployment to Bosnia as well. So my family also knows something about sacrifice.

MENENDEZ: And I appreciate that, General.

BASH: The U.S. ambassador to Iraq responded to tough questions by warning greater troop withdrawal might undermine efforts at reconciling Iraq's warring factions.

RYAN CROCKER. U.S. AMBASSADOR TO IRAQ: It would make them, I would fear, more focused on, you know, building the walls, stocking the ammunition, and getting ready for a big, nasty street fight without us around.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BASH: Now, a reality check here, despite all of the Republican skepticism on display, Democrats still do not have enough votes to force a deadline for troop withdrawal, so Democrats are now actively negotiating with Republicans -- those frustrated Republicans, some of whom we heard from today, trying to find a way to change the president's strategy in Iraq short of a hard and fast date for troops to come home -- Wolf.

BLITZER: So is there any common ground that the Democratic leadership and the Republican leadership, or at least renegades on the Republican side might find?

BASH: They are looking actively. CNN is told that Senator Warner -- John Warner, the Republican from Virginia, Senator Carl Levin, the chairman of the hearing that's going on right behind me, that they are in what Democrats call super secret talks trying to find some kind of compromise.

And you have sort of groups, pockets of moderates, if you will, who have been talking for some time, trying to figure out whether or not they can find compromise. The big difference between now and a couple of months ago is that the Democratic leadership is blessing this. Before they didn't want to give in. Now they know they have to.

BLITZER: Dana is on the Hill for us. Dana, thanks very much.

And coming up in a few moments, I'll be speaking live with Senator Joe Biden. He's a Democratic presidential candidate. He is also the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee. That's coming up right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Another GOP lawmaker, meanwhile, is breaking with President Bush on the war in Iraq. Ten-term New York Congressman Jim Walsh announcing today, it's time to bring the troops home. He says after visiting Iraq, he now would support legislation to begin a withdrawal. Walsh is one of 11 GOP moderates who said they'd consider changing their stance on the war if they didn't see more progress by this September.

Over at the White House, they're fine-tuning their talking points about the Petraeus/Crocker testimony. President Bush met with congressional leaders of both parties this afternoon to discuss options in Iraq.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think it's very important before I make up my mind that I consult with the leaders of the House and the Senate. I thank the members for coming and giving me their honest appraisal, whether they think they can find common ground or not and how they think we should proceed.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Let's go to our White House correspondent, Ed Henry.

So, Ed, what are you hearing about the next moves now that the Petraeus-Crocker testimony is about to wrap up today? What's going to happen over there.

ED HENRY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the White House is brushing off this latest Republican criticism you heard about from Dana that was in the Senate today. But they're embracing big time the testimony from both General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker because it's giving them some much-needed political breathing space.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

HENRY (voice-over): White House spokesman Tony Snow said that testimony from General David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker shows real progress in Iraq, and the need for more time for the president's strategies.

TONY SNOW, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: We have what appears to be trend lines that are pointing to success. Now, it seems to me if you have got something that is succeeding, you want more of it.

HENRY: So after months of promising this progress report would be a critical moment in the debate...

BUSH: The Iraqi government needs to show real progress in return for America's continued support and sacrifice.

HENRY: ... the president is essentially buying another six months for the current policy, even though Iraqi leaders have not stepped up.

DANIEL BENJAMIN, THE BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: We always knew that if you put more people on the ground, you can control more territory, but the question is, control territory for what? If all those people still want to fight, then are we going to keep those troops there forever?

HENRY: The president did tell author Robert Draper in long, candid conversations that his goal is to get Iraq stable enough that his successor will keep troops there longer.

ROBERT DRAPER, AUTHOR, "DEAD CERTAIN": What the president was hoping is that the surge would work, that its success would be more or less undisputed to the degree then that not only the average citizen but perhaps in particular presidential candidates would feel comfortable talking about a sustained troop presence.

HENRY: Snow is ducking all questions about troop levels until the president addresses the nation later this week.

SNOW: What you're trying to do is to get me to sort of wink, nod, and show a little ankle. It was valiant and it was very clever.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

HENRY: It's also very interesting that today retired General John Abizaid, the former U.S. commander in the Mideast, told the Associated Press he thinks it will take from three to five years before the Iraqi government can operate on its own -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Ed Henry, over at the White House. Thanks, Ed.

Now to the day seared in the hearts and minds and fears of a nation. Exactly six years ago to the minute after the 9/11 attacks, Americans pause to grieve and remember. In New York the names of those lost echoed in dreary skies.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... Callahan.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Liam Callahan.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Luigi Calvi.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... J. Burns (ph).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Kathleen Ann (ph) Burns.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Keith James Burns (ph).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: John Patrick Burnside.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Over at the Pentagon, "Amazing Grace" broke through the silence and sorrow.

(MUSIC PLAYING, "AMAZING GRACE")

BLITZER: And in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, the homeland security secretary, Michael Chertoff, honored the passengers of United Airlines Flight 93. Let's go to Jack Cafferty in New York. He's joining us with the "Cafferty File."

Hi, Jack. JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Hi, Wolf. Thanks. We are safer today than we were on September the 11th, 2001, but we're not safe and nor are we likely to be for a generation or more. That is the -- one of the nation's top counter-terrorism officials speaking, four of those people told the Senate panel about the threats that still face the United States six years after 9/11.

One of the major threats that we have would have to be the fact that six years later our nation's borders remain unsecured, 3,000 illegal aliens a day, it's estimated, stream into this country. Think there aren't some terrorists slipping into the U.S. as well? You can bet the deed to your house on it, that is if you still have the deed to your house.

There was more good news about the great job that our government is not doing protecting us, which by the way is their job. A pilot program launched last week now allows up to 100 Mexican trucks to travel anywhere in this country.

Well, who knows what some of those trucks eventually might be carrying. Our ports remain vulnerable. Just a small percentage of cargo containers are inspected. Same goes for the cargo shipped on passenger airplanes.

So here is the question, it has been six years since 9/11. Why hasn't the government secured our borders? E-mail us at "Cafferty File" at cnn.com. And go to cnn.com/caffertyfile. It's an absolute disgrace -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jack Cafferty with the "Cafferty File." Thanks, Jack.

A fugitive's bizarre journey leads to Senator Hillary Clinton and the return of thousands of campaign dollars. We're following the money and a fund-raiser, strange but true story. You're going to want to hear it.

Also coming up, was it worth the wait? Now that Fred Thompson is an official White House candidate, are his Republican rivals running scared? You're going to want to see our fascinating new poll numbers that are just coming out this hour.

And coming up next, Senator Joe Biden, not mincing any words during today's confrontational hearings on Iraq. The Democratic presidential candidate, the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, he's standing by live to join us right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: This just coming into us here at CNN and THE SITUATION ROOM. They have set a court date now for Republican Senator Larry Craig of Idaho, when he's going to appeal his guilty plea in connection with that disorderly conduct charge at a Minneapolis men's room. That schedule -- hearing now scheduled for September 26th in Minneapolis. The senator will go forth and try to get that guilty plea withdrawn. He said if he can get it withdrawn, he might stay in the Senate. Otherwise, he might step down. So we're watching this story, get you more information as it becomes available, but he'll have his day in court on September 26th of this year. That's coming up.

Let's get some more now on our top story. The top U.S. military commander in Iraq and the top U.S. diplomat in Iraq facing some very tough questions from U.S. senators today. Some of them sit on the Foreign Relations Committee, and its chairman is joining us now live from Capitol Hill. Senator Joe Biden is also a Democratic presidential candidate.

Senator, thanks for coming in.

SEN. JOE BIDEN (D-DE), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Happy to be with you, Wolf, thanks for having me.

BLITZER: Did General Petraeus convince you that his strategy is working?

BIDEN: No. There really is no strategy. All what you heard today was -- it was kind of anti-climactic, is that we're going to go down to "pre-surge levels" this time next year. So when you -- what they want to do is for almost a year-and-a-half keep us surged in Iraq, an additional 30,000 troops, and they're going to draw down to what? To the 130,000 troops we had before with no prospect for any end in sight?

BLITZER: But Ambassador Crocker says, and you heard him specifically say, you know what, there's no guarantee this is going to work, but he could guarantee that if you pull out the troops quickly, which you and a lot of others are recommending, Republicans and Democrats, of course, then it's going to be so much worse than the current situation.

BIDEN: Well, I think Ambassador Crocker is just simply wrong. Look, I was recently with him in Ramadi in the Anbar province on last Thursday, and I met with the Sunni tribal leaders, and I met with the vice president of the Sunni -- the Sunni vice president, Hashemi.

And, you know, look, what are these guys telling me? They're telling me that, yes, we're prepared to fight al Qaeda out here with your help, but we're not prepared to make any deal with the Shia. The central government still isn't taking care of us. We don't think they're going to be fair to us, et cetera.

So there has been no diminution in the real problem, which is this sectarian violence, the civil war that's going on.

BLITZER: You know, a lot of Republicans are saying it doesn't matter what they would have said, these two professionals, General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker, they wouldn't have convinced Democrats like Joe Biden no matter what they would have testified to before your committee. What would they have had to say that would have convinced you that maybe the situation is moving in the right track? BIDEN: Well, what they would have had to say is that, in fact, there is evidence that the Maliki government is, in fact, cooperating with the Sunnis, with the Kurds, forming a national government.

Let me give you an example. The ambassador talked about how they had this reconstruction grant given to the Sunnis. Well, I'm sitting there with the Sunni vice president and he says to me -- he said, you know, as of -- this is Wednesday night, he said, as of Wednesday night, you could not even get the central government to sign the paper to send $70 million out here for our reconstruction project. Your ambassador had to go in and force him.

There is no evidence, zero evidence, that the Maliki government and the Sunni (sic) -led "coalition" in Baghdad has any intention of any major reconciliation with the Sunnis. And the Sunnis, they're pretty clear, unless they get a piece of the action in terms of the oil, which they're supposed to get, they're not about to be able to cooperate with a central government.

BLITZER: All right. So let's move the story forward. The president is going to announce later this week, no huge surprise, he's accepting the recommendation of General Petraeus to reduce by next summer the overall U.S. troop level by about 30,000. Go from approximately 168,000 right now back into the 135,000 or so which was the level that occurred earlier this year in January and February.

So what do you do as the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee and other critics of the president's strategy between now and then? Clearly this is not acceptable to you.

BIDEN: Well, it's not acceptable to me and I don't think it's acceptable to the American people. And I don't think it's acceptable to the Iraqis. And what I do is I continue to point out that, in fact, if you do not decentralize this government, if you don't let the Iraqi constitution work, that is, give significant more control in the regions to the Sunnis, the Shia, and the Kurds so that they can, in fact, be separated, have some breathing room, and, in fact, then stop the sectarian fighting, that if you don't do that, there's nothing that's going to progress.

BLITZER: But you know, Senator, and excuse me for interrupting, that your Democratic presidential rivals, including John Edwards and now Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, Chris Dodd, they're saying, you know what? Don't vote for funding for this war, and that would get the president's attention. You've disagreed with them on that, and I assume you'll continue to disagree as this new legislative initiative comes forward in the coming weeks and months.

BIDEN: If I had any idea they can honestly look you in the camera and say if, in fact, we had the votes to de-fund the war, that would end the war, I would do it in a heartbeat, because a lot of innocent Americans are dying, a lot of innocent Iraqis are dying.

The fact of the matter is, you need 67 votes, Wolf, to override a presidential veto. So if you go ahead and you vote against funding and you get 51 votes, what do you do? You may delay for a week or two or a month the fact that we're going to get the kind of help that our troop needs.

I mean, let me give you an example. When I went to Ramadi, I landed there. I went straight out with a group of young soldiers and a two-star general to where they had these new MRAPs, these mine- resistant vehicles, two of them, and they had them sitting right next to these up-armored Humvees.

They immediately show me a picture where because they were riding in one of these new up-armored vehicles, one of these new MRAPs, called a Cougar, it showed an explosion. They showed me that this Cougar had been blown all the way up as high as a telephone pole, knocked down the wires, split all apart, seven people in that particular vehicle, all of them lived. The worst case was serious concussion. Had they been in that up-armored Humvee, they would all be dead.

If we do not vote for the money to build these mine-resistant vehicles, while we're trying to get our troops out of there, over a presidential veto, we're going to have a heck of a lot more dead Americans. I can't bring myself to do that.

BLITZER: Senator Joe Biden, thanks for coming in.

BIDEN: Thank you very much.

BLITZER: Senator Joe Biden is the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee. He chaired that hearing earlier today.

General David Petraeus leaving many senators on both sides of the aisle wanting more today. Did he change the political dynamic though here in Washington? Paul Begala and Bill Bennett, they're standing by for our "Strategy Session."

And in New York and on the Internet, the presidential candidates mark six years since 9/11. Are they paying tribute or are they politicizing tragedy? Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Our Carol Costello is joining us now with a closer look at some other incoming stories making news.

Hi, Carol.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Hi, Wolf. Hello to all of you. China today signed an agreement to stop using lead paint on toys it exports to the United States. It comes after the recall of millions of Chinese-made toys. Lead paint has been banned on U.S.-made toys since 1978. The Chinese also promise to improve the overall safety of their toy exports as well as fireworks, cigarette lighters, and electrical products.

Chances are your home is not worth what it used to be. It will also be harder to sell. The National Association of Realtors predicts prices for existing homes will be about 4 percent lower than in July, August, and September of last year. What's more, the group says turmoil in the mortgage industry is making it harder for potential buyers to borrow money.

There's news that should calm the oil markets and perhaps hold prices steady. At the OPEC meeting in Vienna today, the oil-producing countries agreed to raise production levels by half a million barrels a day. OPEC's general secretary says the 12-nation cartel wants to send consumers the message "that we care."

Back to you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Carol, thanks very much. It's a whole new ball game for Republicans now that they are sharing the presidential field with Fred Thompson. We have some brand new poll numbers that show Thompson's entry is making a huge difference. You're going to want to see these numbers.

Plus, 9/11 and the presidential race. Exactly six years after the attacks, are the candidates at all wary of overplaying terror as a campaign issue? Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Happening now, analysts are pouring over some chilling 9/11 anniversary messages from Osama bin Laden as he makes clear his thirst for American blood. Is an America helping him put out his message? That story coming up.

Also a possible hate crime in West Virginia. A woman is held hostage, sexually abused, she is stabbed, tortured. The six suspects are white. The victim is African-American.

And just when the sports world didn't need yet another scandal, some are accusing the New England Patriots of cheating, allegedly spying on an opponent to win.

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

You might say the former actor Fred Thompson is playing the part of a villain when it comes to Rudy Giuliani's presidential support. Right now, he's stealing from some of the spotlight from the former New York City mayor.

Joining us now is our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider.

Now that Fred Thompson, Bill, is in the race, that race is being shaken up quite a bit, at least according to our new poll numbers.

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: That's right, Wolf. The Republican race is beginning to take on a recognizable shape, and it looks like it's going to be a humdinger.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER (voice-over): The Republican race now has two front- runners. Last month, Rudy Giuliani was still ahead among Republicans nationally, with the still undeclared Fred Thompson running second.

FRED THOMPSON, REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Hello.

SCHNEIDER: Now Thompson's in.

THOMPSON: I was thinking about this race, and I saw an opportunity.

SCHNEIDER: So, what's happened? Thompson has just about caught up with Giuliani, a neck-and-neck race nationally.

Is Giuliani worried?

RUDOLPH GIULIANI (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think Fred is a really, really good man. I think he's done a pretty good job of playing my part on "Law & Order."

(LAUGHTER)

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

SCHNEIDER: The poll shows Thompson leading among men, Giuliani among women. Thompson is ahead among Republicans over 50, Giuliani among those under 50. Thompson is on top with conservatives, Giuliani with moderates.

Thompson also has the edge among evangelical Republicans and especially among his fellow Southerners. That's where Thompson has made the biggest gains and where he's getting his most enthusiastic reception, men, older voters, conservatives, evangelicals, Southerners. Sounds like the Republican base is tilting toward Thompson.

THOMPSON: My record is, eight years in the Senate was 100 percent record against abortion or anything related to it.

SCHNEIDER: What does Giuliani have to compete with that? Nine- eleven.

SAM PULIA, LOST COUSIN ON SEPTEMBER 11: I particularly like Rudy Giuliani. I think he did a hell of a job that day under enormous stress.

SCHNEIDER: But Thompson is not going to concede the terror issue.

THOMPSON: The whole world watches and waits as the determination of the American people is tested.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER: Giuliani has another argument, electability.

"I know my opponents won't say this," he told an audience of Florida Republicans, "but here's the truth. If they get nominated, there will be no campaign in New York. If they get nominated, there will be no campaign in California. If we lose Ohio, Hillary Clinton becomes president." Now, our polls shows Clinton leading both Giuliani and Thompson, but Giuliani running stronger mostly, because he's much better known -- Wolf.

BLITZER: What do our new poll numbers, Bill, show us as far as the Democratic presidential candidates are concerned?

SCHNEIDER: Well, not much happening in the Democratic race, and that's very good news for Hillary Clinton. She's still the front- runner on the Democratic side. She's got 46 percent support. That's edging up towards a majority. Her support has been slowly growing since the spring.

That's twice as much support as Barack Obama, who is at 23 percent. And John Edwards is running third at 16 percent, so, not a lot changing in the Democratic race.

BLITZER: And I want to point out, as we always do, Bill, these are national numbers.

SCHNEIDER: Yes.

BLITZER: There are very different numbers in Iowa or New Hampshire or South Carolina, some of the early states. And we will talk about that on another occasion. But these are the national numbers.

SCHNEIDER: Very true.

BLITZER: I just want to make sure that's right.

SCHNEIDER: That is correct.

BLITZER: All right, Bill Schneider, thanks for the good work.

Meanwhile, we continue to take a closer look at this day of mourning for the nearly 3,000 innocent lives lost six years ago. Many Americans are observing the 9/11 anniversary. At least one is taking some heat for taking part in a public ceremony.

Let's go to CNN's Brian Todd. He is watching the story for us.

And includes the former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani.

Explain, Brian, what's going on.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, Rudy Giuliani has attended every anniversary remembrance at ground zero, but, of course, this year, there's a pretty major twist.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GIULIANI: On this day, six years ago, and on the days that followed, in the midst of our great grief and turmoil, we also witnessed uncompromising strength and resilience as a people. TODD (voice-over): Rudy Giuliani, near ground zero in New York, on the sixth anniversary of 9/11. The former New York City mayor is making his actions during and after the terrorist attacks the centerpiece of his run for the White House. And that has helped the man who likes to be known as America's mayor grab the top spot in most national polls of Republicans.

But Giuliani's 9/11 performance could also come back to hurt him.

DEPUTY FIRE CHIEF JIM RICHES, LOST SON ON SEPTEMBER 11: He failed on 9/11. We had no radio. Radios didn't work. We had no command center, because he put it in the wrong place.

TODD: Some New York City firefighters say the city wasn't prepared for the terror attacks, and they blame Giuliani. The former mayor disputes such accusations.

Some relatives of those killed at ground zero objected to Giuliani's role in the anniversary ceremony, saying, now that he's a candidate, he would politicize the event. But just about everyone questioned in a new "USA Today"/Gallup poll felt Giuliani's presence was appropriate.

PULIA: If he wasn't running for political office, no one would be saying anything about what he's doing. But I think the man did an excellent job at 9/11, after 9/11.

TODD: Giuliani has had a speaking role at each anniversary ceremony, and was invited to speak again at this year's events by the current mayor, Michael Bloomberg.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: Another presidential candidate, New York Senator Hillary Clinton, was also at today's ceremony, but she did not speak -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Brian, thanks very much -- Brian Todd reporting on that story.

Several presidential candidates are using the Web to mark the 9/11 anniversary.

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

Abbi, what are they saying online?

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, as the day goes on, most of the candidates adding tributes to their campaign Web sites. At the site of Senator Hillary Clinton, who was at today's ceremony in New York, a pledge to never forget.

And in an e-mail sent around to supporters in the last hour from the Barack Obama campaign, a call for unity, something that's echoed on the Barack Obama Web site.

But one of the campaign Web sites today is gone. In a tribute that the campaign says will be up all day, the Web site of the Rudy Giuliani campaign is replaced by this one simple page. It contains a quote from then New York City Rudy Giuliani in his address to the United Nations in October of 2001, and one link only from the site to the National September 11 Memorial Museum.

What this means to visitors to the Rudy Giuliani Web site today, they can't donate here. They can't sign up for their campaign or read about Rudy Giuliani. However, this page that replaces all that usual online politics an obvious reminder from the campaign of this particular candidate's background -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Abbi Tatton reporting for us -- Abbi, thanks very much.

Apparently, many of you do not necessarily think the U.S. is doing all that well in the war on terror. A fresh CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll says, only 31 percent of Americans believe the U.S. is winning the war against terror. And that's down from 41 percent in January of 2006.

The survey also asked, will terrorists always find a which to launch attacks, no matter what the U.S. government does? Fifty-seven percent of the respondents said yes. Forty percent said no.

Apparently, Hillary Clinton's campaign wants nothing do with him. They're cutting all ties to a fund-raiser who was a fugitive. And they're giving back what one official calls an unprecedented amount of money.

And Republican presidential candidate Fred Thompson hopes to court religious conservatives, but will any of them have problems with his churchgoing going habits?

You are going to find out that, a lot more, coming up in our "Strategy Session."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Senator Hillary Clinton's campaign is taking a much closer look at its donor rolls after the embarrassing case of the fugitive Democratic fund-raiser Norman Hsu -- the Clinton camp announcing yesterday it's returning hundreds of thousands of dollars Hsu raised. But that's just one strange twist in a very strange story of political moneyman on the lam.

Let's go to CNN's Mary Snow. She's watching this story.

Mary, what are you learning?

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, we're learning some of the strange circumstances leading up to Norman Hsu's arrest last week on an Amtrak train. Passengers describe him as being in distress before he was taken to a hospital.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SNOW (voice-over): As fund-raiser Norman Hsu is guarded by armed officers at a Colorado hospital, bizarre new details are emerging surrounding his arrest last week. Hillary Clinton's campaign is severing all ties with him, returning the $850,000 he raised. It's an amount one former Federal Election Commission official describes as apparently unprecedented.

LARRY NOBLE, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, CENTER FOR RESPONSIVE POLITICS: I cannot remember a time where somebody's returned that much money.

SNOW: A senior Clinton campaign official says the campaign is acting out of an abundance of caution and from now on will "institute vigorous additional vetting procedures on our bundlers, including criminal background checks."

Hsu was a bundler, a practice in which a fund-raiser combines donations from others when they have reached their legal limit on contributions. Questions emerged this summer about Hsu's fund- raising, and it came to light that he spent 15 years as a fugitive on charges linked to an investment fraud scheme.

In late August, he turned himself in, but then skipped a bail hearing. And that is where the story turns even more bizarre. Paramedics removed Hsu from an Amtrak train in Grand Junction, Colorado, last week when they responded to a call for someone needing medical attention.

"The Wall Street Journal" quotes a fellow passengers looking into Hsu's sleeper compartment who says she saw a man wedged against the door, bare-chested and in a fetal position. "The Journal" reports, conductors used a crowbar to open the door. And the witness was quoted as saying she spotted lots and lots of medication and pills rolling around the floor.

Hsu's attorney had nothing to add following a statement from last week in which he said, "The strain he has been under has been enormous and perhaps unbearable."

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SNOW: Now, the hospital where Hsu is being treated would only say that he's in good condition. Once doctors determine he's OK to be transported, he's expected to be taken to a California jail -- Wolf.

BLITZER: What a story. Thanks very much, Mary -- Mary Snow reporting for us.

Coming up next in our "Strategy Session": Whether the Petraeus strategy is working depends perhaps on where you're sitting.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This continues to be a disastrous foreign policy mistake.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We're getting it right, because we finally have in place a strategy that can succeed. (END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: But, after two days of congressional testimony by General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker, has the political dynamic changed at all?

And Fred Thompson has a surge of his own to be crowing about. But will his absenteeism at church cost him with voters?

Paul Begala and Bill Bennett, they're standing by for our "Strategy Session" -- right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: In our "Strategy Session": General David Petraeus, Ambassador Ryan Crocker facing some pretty tough questions today from senators about the way the war is going.

Let's discuss it in our "Strategy Session."

Joining us, our CNN political analyst and Democratic strategist Paul Begala, and our CNN contributor Bill Bennett. He's the Washington fellow of the Claremont Institute. And he also has a radio talk show every day.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Thanks, guys, for -- very much for coming in.

Did -- did Crocker and Petraeus change anyone's mind?

PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: It doesn't look like it, Wolf.

I mean, I think there are three audiences, the moderate Democrats, where it doesn't look like they moved any of them at all, moderate Republicans, where I think they really had hoped to shore them up for the president's position -- early signs -- you reported earlier Jim Walsh, a veteran Republican, moderate from New York State, now says he will cut off funding. That's the -- that's the liberal Democratic view. So, it looks like they're losing ground with moderates.

And the third key audience is voters. Really too early to tell, but I know what voters want to hear, and it's not that we're going to be there for years and years, nine or 10 years, like Petraeus says. Voters want to hear what one the shepherd said to the other shepherd. Let's get the flock out of here.

(LAUGHTER)

BEGALA: That's what they -- that's all they want to hear from that general.

BLITZER: Did they change any minds, you think?

BILL BENNETT, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I don't think much.

I think the overall picture is, the president will pretty much get what he wants. I don't think you will see a big move to cut off funding. I don't think the numbers are there. I don't think the votes are there.

They were also, I think, pretty impressive as witnesses. It's a very tough situation. If you watched Crocker, he certainly didn't oversell. This was a very sober assessment. And I think they made a very good presentation.

I think the -- the political overlay on this -- and I don't -- I don't bring this up to be picky -- was that ad. I think that MoveOn.org ad was a real problem. And I think...

BLITZER: The one that suggested General Petraeus...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: ... might be "General Betray Us."

BENNETT: I don't understand why the leading Democratic candidates aren't running from that. I had thought, at this point...

BLITZER: But a lot of the Democrats -- correct me if I'm wrong -- they have disassociated themselves from that ad.

BENNETT: I haven't heard the leading presidential candidates.

BEGALA: See, I think it's foolish of them to disassociate themselves with it. They're not responsible for it. They didn't create that ad.

And we now have the standard, right? It's the Bush standard. Bush, President Bush, stood there and had really a disreputable man attack John McCain's record as a veteran, and he said nothing. Other and worse things were said about John McCain's, at Bush's behest.

Republicans ran ads -- Saxby Chambliss, a draft dodger, ran an ad against Max Cleland, a war hero, questioning his courage and depicting him with Osama bin Laden in an ad. John Thune, who never served, attacked a veteran, Tom Daschle, depicted him in an ad with Saddam Hussein.

Now, these are Republicans. MoveOn is a liberal group.

BLITZER: What do you think of that?

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: God bless them. Let me say what they want.

BENNETT: Fine. If they want to take a pass on this, let me just say, when Trent Lott spoke up and made his comments about Strom Thurmond, I -- we spoke up. A lot of us Republicans did. A lot of us spoke up about Larry Craig. That wasn't any of my business, but it is the party's business.

When people accused Bill Clinton of wagging the dog, we spoke up and criticized them for doing that. Leadership means separating yourself from this.

And here is the -- here is the point. I thought Democrats had figured out, since Vietnam, you don't attack the soldiers. You -- this has been this -- this mantra: We support the soldiers, but not the mission.

Well, General Petraeus is a soldier. He is the field commander of these soldiers.

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: He's a politician, too. He became a politician six weeks...

BENNETT: Well...

BEGALA: ... before the 2004 election, when he wrote an op-ed that said things like this. I wrote it down: We have great momentum, optimism, tangible progress.

Right before the presidential election, he inserts himself in there.

BENNETT: All right. Well...

BEGALA: So, nobody is above criticism here, and that includes General Petraeus.

BLITZER: All right. Let's -- let's change...

(CROSSTALK)

BENNETT: The question is how this will cut. I mean, I understand now why Paul doesn't think they should. I still think it's a mistake.

BEGALA: But note where he went. He gave one exclusive interview after he testified.

BLITZER: He's going to be doing more interviews.

BEGALA: He gave one yesterday, FOX News, which many Democrats believe is an organ of the Republican Party and the right wing of that party.

BENNETT: Well, he will be doing more. I mean, it's fine, fine for him to do FOX, as long as he does -- does others.

(CROSSTALK)

BENNETT: He's going to...

(CROSSTALK)

BENNETT: ... generally available.

BLITZER: He will be doing interviews...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: He will be doing interviews on CNN, we're told, as well.

(CROSSTALK)

BENNETT: Good.

BLITZER: All the networks will eventually get a chance to ask him and Ambassador Crocker questions. In fact, Ambassador Crocker is going to be here in THE SITUATION ROOM tomorrow for an interview.

BENNETT: But it was CNN's excellent reporting that pointed out just how false that ad was, and I -- I would just -- you know, your thing with Tom Foreman. That thing should not have been run and should not be embraced. But, if they want to live with it, let them live with it.

BLITZER: All right.

Let's -- let's talk about Fred Thompson. And we have got some new poll numbers. We -- Bill Schneider reported them earlier.

In our new CNN/Research -- CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll, among registered Republicans -- look at this -- Giuliani is at 28 percent. Fred Thompson is at 27, McCain at 15, Romney at 11, plus-or- minus five-point sampling error, so that's what they call a dead heat right now.

What do you think about Fred Thompson? Supposedly -- a lot of pundits were saying, you know, he didn't necessarily do that great of a job, but maybe going on the "Leno" show was a pretty good idea.

BENNETT: Yes, the -- the two-man race that I talked about between Romney and Giuliani has now been narrowed to a four-man race. I think McCain is kind of back in it, because he has -- he had a good week. And Thompson is certainly in it.

Yes, people are taking a look at him. He is kind of a familiar, very familiar, kind of conservative to the Republican Party, Southern, Christian, sort of. There's -- there's...

(LAUGHTER)

BENNETT: I'm sorry. I mean, he is. I don't mean to suggest that. But there's this church thing, church issue. So...

BLITZER: We will talk about that in a moment. But...

BENNETT: So, he's very familiar and I think a comfort level here. He's a TV star, movie star.

BLITZER: A nice surge for the "Law & Order" star.

BEGALA: Yes, but -- and I say this every time we do these national polls -- polling across America right now is about as useful as polling in Lithuania.

We're not voting in America. We're not voting in Lithuania. We're voting in Iowa. We're voting in New Hampshire. We're voting in South Carolina and Nevada. Any other place that we survey, I think, is -- it's -- it's interesting to yack about it, but I know those strategists are only looking at those first four states.

BLITZER: You -- you raised the issue of church. He said this, according to Bloomberg News: "I attend church when I'm in Tennessee. I'm in McLean, Virginia, right now. I don't attend regularly when I'm up there."

All right. So, is that going to hurt him with a lot of Christian evangelicals and other churchgoing Republicans?

BENNETT: I think it will hurt him because -- in this way. I have been having this argument all day with people.

People say, look, it's a relationship between the individual and God, not whether he goes to church or not. But, if you present yourself as, I'm your next-door neighbor, I'm not a beltway guy, I'm a -- I'm your next-door neighbor, your next-door neighbor goes to church, likely, if you're -- if you're -- if you're coming from where Fred Thompson comes from.

A lot of churches in McLean, McLean Bible Church, some huge churches in McLean. So, this is a bit of a surprise, and I think not a positive.

BLITZER: Quickly.

BENNETT: Yes, I think the Republicans are going to tear him up for that and for other things. It turns out he lobbied for a pro- abortion-rights group. There's a story this weekend that perhaps he advised the attorneys for Libya's terrorists. Now he says, I don't go to church.

I think he's going to -- welcome to the NFL, I guess, Mr. Thompson.

(CROSSTALK)

BENNETT: Well, it will be off-script, you know? "Law & Order" is great, but you can do six takes. Now it's live.

BLITZER: Yes.

BLITZER: Good point.

Guys, thanks very much, Paul and Bill. BENNETT: Thank you.

BLITZER: An excellent "Strategy Session," as usual.

Still to come, you want to know how Iraq assessments from top officials match what's really going on in the war zone? Our own Michael Ware is in Baghdad. He's standing by live for his own reality check.

And targeting American troops. We have some new details about a secret smuggling campaign involving weapons and fighters. It involves Iran and Afghanistan. It's very disturbing. Barbara Starr has some new and exclusive information. We're going to share it with you. Iran in Afghanistan -- that's coming up, right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: On our "Political Radar" this Tuesday: Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards says he's taking five supporters to New Orleans to work on rebuilding homes. The former senator noting he -- he's giving backers a chance to create change, rather than -- quoting now -- "have a fancy dinner or photo-op with celebrities."

That could be -- could be read as a direct shot at Democratic rival Barack Obama, who had a $3 million fund-raiser at Oprah Winfrey's home over the weekend. Edwards' plan to bring supporters to New Orleans comes after it was revealed he had financial ties to some subprime lenders foreclosing on the homes of Hurricane Katrina victims.

Republican presidential candidate John McCain may be playing up his new underdog status, along with his military background, on the campaign trail. The senator today launched what he's calling a no- surrender tour through Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina. Other former prisoners of war, Medal of Honor recipients, and veterans will join McCain for the weeklong tour, rallying support for U.S. troops in Iraq.

Republican Mitt Romney is distancing himself from a Web site that's critical of a presidential rival, Fred Thompson.

This is a clip from the site at -- quote -- phonyfred.org. It was online yesterday and captured the attention of WashingtonPost.com. But it was quickly taken down, after the post raised questions about a reported link between the anti-Thompson site and one of Romney's campaign advisers.

A Romney spokesman tells CNN the site has no direct affiliation to the campaign and that Romney's camp had no knowledge of the site's development. Fred Thompson's campaign is promising to say more about this tomorrow, after the 9/11 anniversary.

And, remember, for the latest political news at any time, you can always check out our Political Ticker at CNN.com/ticker.

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

Hi, Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Hi, Wolf.

Quick clarificat -- clarification, he tried to say. Earlier, we mentioned a pilot program launched last week which allows up to 100 Mexican trucking companies, not trucks, to travel anywhere in this country, another really stupid idea, courtesy of our governmental officials.

The question this hour is: It's been six years since 9/11. Why hasn't the government bothered to secure our borders?

Don writes from Calgary: "How many illegal votes would the Democrats lose if the southern border is sealed? Not to mention how much money the Catholic Church would lose."

Ron in California: "I understand that trying to sneak into Area 51 in Nevada is downright impossible." That's a military area. "Why can't the government have the same technology on the borders? It's all politics. Democrats want the votes. Republicans want the cheap labor.

Veronica writes: "Our government has not spent money on our borders because it is too busy trying to secure the borders in Iraq against Syria and Iran."

Vick in Florida: "As you know, Jack, we have the best government money can buy. Big business wants open borders for cheap labor, so we have open borders. Democrats are just as bad as Republicans when it comes to doing what big business wants.

Dave in Santa Cruz, California: "Obviously, the Mexican government won't give us permission to do so. Instead, they have us prosecuting our own border agents. Come on, Cafferty. You know the answers to these questions.

And Chuck in Upper Darby, Pennsylvania: "Protect our borders better? Secure our ports? Be more diligent? Come on. We can't even import safe toys for our children."

We invite you to tune in next Wednesday, September the 19th, week from tomorrow, 8:00 Eastern. We're going to do a special one-hour edition of "The Cafferty File," talking about just how ugly it's getting out there. Get it? We will tackle issues like the do-nothing Democratic Congress, what has happened to the presidency under George W. Bush, and what the next president will have to contend with, i.e., the mess that is left behind.

And we're very hard at work trying to secure the services, Wolf, of Lou Dobbs to appear on that program...

BLITZER: Let's...

CAFFERTY: ... among other -- among other people. BLITZER: He should definitely appear.

"It's Getting Ugly Out There" happens to be the title of Jack's new book, which is now out.

Jack, stand by.

CAFFERTY: OK.

BLITZER: We're coming back to you in a few moments.

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