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THE SITUATION ROOM

Gunman Opens Fire at Omaha Mall; Mitt Romney Prepares to Deliver Speech on Faith

Aired December 5, 2007 - 18:00   ET

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


JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: "But if the government is going to help them out, I have got some private student loans that are killing my bank account. Could Mr. Bush help me out with that?"
John writes from Massachusetts: "Why not? We bail out every other country that gets in trouble. We pump billions of dollars into Baghdad. Why not finally start doing something to help our citizens here at home, instead of loading up those C-130s?"

And Bill in Colorado writes: "It seems to me the government is being asked to bail out homeowners who made bad financial decisions. Were these people not adults? Didn't they read the mortgage papers before they signed them? If we're going to do this, why stop there? How about getting the government to forgive credit card debt or perhaps reimburse us for stock market losses?" -- Wolf.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you, Jack. See you in a few moments with the roundtable.

Happening now, the breaking news we're following: slaughter at the mall.

A gunman opens fire during holiday shopping. We're going to have the latest on the dead and the fear in Omaha.

Also, rape, murder, and the presidential campaign -- Mike Huckabee defending himself against old charges that he let a future killer go free -- the interview with Mike Huckabee coming up.

And the immigration mess in Mitt Romney's backyard, can he clean it up by firing landscapers? The best political team on television takes on Romney's problems and a lot more.

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

Amid a very busy holiday shopping season, it's every shopper's nightmare. A gunman goes into a huge mall and opens fire on unsuspecting shoppers and employees. That's just one of the disturbing details embarking -- emerging, that is, from a breaking news story we have been following over the past several hours in Omaha, Nebraska. A number of people are dead. Others are hurt, some of them critically. Police say, after the gunman unleashed his killing spree, he turned the gun on himself.

Let's go straight to CNN's Carol Costello. She's got more on this tragedy. What happened, Carol?

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, Wolf, just an awful story, 20 days before Christmas.

The Westroads Mall in Omaha was filled with holiday shoppers. We now know nine people are dead, two are in critical condition, and three are suffering some gunshot wounds. And, as you said, the shooter killed himself.

Imagine hearing those 20 or 30 shots, seeing people diving behind clothing racks, in dressing rooms and back rooms. Many hunkered down, praying this guy would not come their way, some witnesses telling us they saw a man shot as he used his cell phone to call 911. Others saw an elderly man's body lying by an escalator.

Listen to others.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What did you see?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, we heard the shots. And my manager was in front of me. And Janet (ph) was in front of her and the other girl. And Karen (ph) says, get down. She put her hand off me to get down, because I was behind her, and got Janet down.

And all you could hear was the shots. And I said, we got to go, we got to go. And I stood up. I said, let's go over this way. And I went around and I looked back and then I saw the guy in the children's department, big tall guy, real tall. And he just stood there with his arm like this, his hand straight up in the air and shooting.

And then I turned and ran.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I heard it was (OFF-MIKE)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't think so. I don't know. He had his hand down here, but he had his other hand straight up in the air. And he just kept shooting up in the air.

And then I said, we got to go. And all these other people are coming and they're screaming. And we go to the locker. They started to go into the break room, but there's no way out of the break room, said, no, don't go in there, but maybe they were trying to tell somebody to come out who was in there. And we got to go. And we went to the locker room and down the stairs, the ladies with babies and their strollers and everything.

And we went down. We got to the second floor. And there's a door we go out. And I open that door, we could go out to the mall. And you could hear the shots louder.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COSTELLO: Most of the victims were in that Von Maur department store inside of that Omaha mall. The shooter, police say, was a male. And he was using a rifle -- 13 victims in that department store.

Police don't know why this man opened fire. Maybe they never will, because, Wolf, as so often happens in these cases, the shooter killed himself.

BLITZER: All right. Carol, thanks very much for that story. at least it's over with in Omaha right now.

Meanwhile, there are new questions of crime and punishment dogging the surging candidate in the presidential race. Republican Mike Huckabee is getting hammered over the case of a convicted rapist released while he was the governor of Arkansas. The man, Wayne Dumond, went on to rape again and to commit murder.

And now people touched by Dumond's crimes are speaking out against Huckabee.

Our congressional correspondent, Dana Bash, is on the campaign trail in Iowa -- Dana.

DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Wayne Dumond has been dead for two years now, but Mike Huckabee has said for some time he was sure the controversy Dumond sparked would likely be an issue in his presidential race. He was right.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BASH (voice over): As he surges in his race for the White House, Mike Huckabee's biggest controversy as Arkansas governor is now coming back to haunt him. Convicted rapist Wayne Dumond was released on Huckabee's watch, but then raped and murdered a Missouri woman.

MIKE HUCKABEE (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It's horrible. I mean, there's nothing any of us could ever do.

BASH: Huckabee, in a CNN interview Sunday.

HUCKABEE: None of us could have predicted what he would have done when he got out.

BASH: But Huckabee was warned repeatedly by Dumond's rape victims not to set him free, including Ashley Stevens, who is reported to be a distant cousin of Bill Clinton.

ASHLEY STEVENS, RAPE VICTIM: I feel very depraved that the governor and the parole board failed me. Who is going to protect me now?

BASH: The Huffington Post blog posted a letter another Dumond rape victim sent Huckabee pleading with him, saying -- quote -- "I fear that he will rape again if released."

A former top Huckabee aide confirms to CNN the then-governor got that letter and a follow-up call from the victim. Back then, Huckabee called Dumond's life-plus-20-year sentence a raw deal, especially since he was attacked and castrated while awaiting trial, and a local sheriff put his testicles in a jar.

Huckabee even wrote Dumond a letter saying, ... my desire is that you be released from prison. I feel that parole is the best way for your reintroduction to society.

Huckabee had planned to grant Dumond clemency, but he dropped it in response to public outcry. Now he says it was the parole board's decision to set Dumond free. Yet, a member of the board tells ABC News Huckabee pressured them.

CHARLES CHASTAIN, FMR. ARKANSAS PAROLE BOARD MEMBER: To say that I -- I think this is a guy who grew up on the wrong side of the track and may have gotten a wrong deal.

BASH: Huckabee admits he brought up Dumond's case in that parole board meeting, but denies pushing for his release.

HUCKABEE: Frankly, it was just part of a broader discussion. I did not ask them to do anything.

BASH: And Huckabee blames his Democratic predecessors for making Dumond eligible for parole.

HUCKABEE: Bill Clinton and Jim Guy Tucker commuted his sentence because they believed it was an excessive sentence.

BASH (on camera): But the mother of Dumond's Missouri murder victim tells CNN she doesn't buy that. Lois Davidson says, now that Huckabee is doing well in the polls, she intends to actively campaign against him. She says he used poor judgment as Arkansas governor, and he's not the right man to be president -- Wolf.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Dana Bash on the campaign trail for us, thank you.

Just ahead, Mike Huckabee, by the way, responds to charges that he shares the blame for freeing Dumond and the horrors that happened after that -- the former governor joining us here in THE SITUATION ROOM to defend his record.

In other news, an estimated two million homeowners could be at risk of losing their homes once their so-called teaser mortgage rates increase. But help soon could be on the way -- the Bush administration now close to an agreement with the mortgage industry that would freeze those introductory rates for subprime mortgages for five years, that according to Bush administration sources.

They say the plan is not yet a done deal, that it would apply to qualified borrowers. President Bush is expected to reveal more of his plan tomorrow.

Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton is urging a similar plan.

Mary Snow is joining us now from New York. She has more on this story. Mary, Senator Clinton says the financial industry should do something and do something fast.

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Senator Clinton was here in New York today, and she accused Wall Street of having a see-no-evil policy that allowed risky mortgage lending. And she says Wall Street needs to take responsibility.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SNOW (voice-over): Democratic presidential hopeful Senator Hillary Clinton moved to get a step ahead of the Bush administration, outlining her plans to deal with the mounting foreclosures threatening to trigger an economic recession.

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The administration was asleep at the switch, but we can't wait until we have a new president.

SNOW: Senator Clinton is calling to impose a moratorium on foreclosures for at least 90 days, freeze adjustable-rate loans for at least five years or until subprime mortgages are converted into affordable loans, and ask for regular status reports from Wall Street on the progress it's making.

Senator Clinton is pointing her finger at Wall Street and giving a choice: Do this voluntarily or she will seek legislation to mandate it.

CLINTON: I believe Wall Street shifted risk away from people who knew what was going on, on to people who did not. Wall Street may not have created the foreclosure crisis, but Wall Street certainly had a hand in making it worse.

SNOW: But, on Wall Street, some analysts say, presidential politics could make the situation worse, if it stalls aggressive action.

ARTHUR HOGAN, CHIEF MARKET ANALYST, JEFFERIES & CO.: So, this is going to become that political football that everyone kicks around. And, by the time the election comes about, I think a lot of the medicine is going to already have been taken.

SNOW: One thing that does seem certain is that the economy is moving into the forefront for voters. And, for some states, it's a bigger concern than for others.

JARET SEIBERG, POLICY ANALYST, STANFORD GROUP: When you look at the electoral map, it's very interesting that the states that are being hardest hit are some of the most important in the presidential campaign season.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SNOW: And economists view those states as being hardest hit so far by the mortgage crisis as Ohio, Michigan, Florida, Nevada, and California -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Mary Snow reporting, thanks very much, a story that affects a lot of people.

Let's go to Jack. He's got "The Cafferty File" in New York -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: This is just annoying, Wolf.

Remember when the Democrats took control of Congress and they promised us they were going to bring back the five-day workweek? So much for that.

House Democrats have posted their schedule for next year. The much-ballyhooed five-day workweek appears exactly three times through next October. The rest of the schedule is divided between three-day weeks and four-day weeks. And I hope they can handle it.

The Web site Politico reports House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer's office insists the Democrats are not planning a leisurely pace for next year, saying that they will be in Washington -- quote -- "as many days as needed to complete the people's business."

How can he say that with a straight face? When was the last time Congress -- quote -- "completed the people's business" -- unquote. I don't remember.

As you might expect, the Republicans are all over this. Here's their quote: "You have to hand it to Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats for rewarding themselves with another broken promise. With a record low approval rating, you would think they would start getting to work, instead of planning extra vacation days" -- unquote. Ouch.

The Democrats' schedule for 2008 is lighter than this year's, but it's still more rigorous than the schedule of the Republican Congress before them. They typically held only three-day workweeks, which ran from Tuesday night to Thursday afternoon, which is really only two- and-a-half days.

I wonder when they will get around to voting themselves another raise.

Here's the question. What message does it send when the Democratic-led Congress has planned a five-day workweek for exactly three times during the next year?

E-mail us at caffertyfile@CNN.com or go to CNN.com/caffertyfile. And they will all be running around next year going, be sure to reelect me because I'm doing a hell of a job for you.

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: That's what will happen, Jack. Thanks very much. Stand by. We have got the best political team on television coming up as well.

"LOU DOBBS TONIGHT" starting at top of the hour, 7:00 p.m. Eastern, don't forget about that.

Just ahead here in THE SITUATION ROOM:

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MIKE HUCKABEE (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I even thought that he met the criteria for parole in support of it. I wish I hadn't.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Mike Huckabee shares his regrets, the regrets he has about the release of a rapist turned killer. Does the former Arkansas governor, though, share any of the blame?

Plus, Mitt Romney's credibility on immigration under fire. Will the firing of his landscapers make the problem go away?

And Oprah Winfrey's plans to rally behind Barack Obama keep getting bigger and bigger, literally. We will tell you just how big.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: He's clearly the underdog-turned-strong-competitor in the Republican presidential race, and now he's under fire over whether he was tough enough on criminals when he was the governor of Arkansas.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: And joining us now, the governor -- the former governor of Arkansas, that is, the current Republican presidential candidate, Governor Mike Huckabee.

Thanks very much for coming in.

HUCKABEE: My pleasure, Wolf.

BLITZER: Let's talk about this Wayne Dumond case, which all of a sudden has become an issue. People are making very serious accusations against you, including Lois Davidson, the mother of this young woman who was raped and killed after Wayne Dumond was released from prison.

She's blaming you in part. And I want you to listen to what she said on the CBS Early Show earlier today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LOIS DAVIDSON, MOTHER OF MURDER-RAPE VICTIM: I don't think Mr. Huckabee ought to be president. I don't think he should be running the country.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Because?

DAVIDSON: With a -- because I don't think he did enough background research on Wayne Dumond's life, and if he didn't do that kind of research, I don't think he is going to be good for the country.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right. Well, that's a powerful statement from a woman. Our heart goes out to that woman, of course.

But we need your response.

HUCKABEE: My heart goes out to the Shields family. There's no way to ever say anything that would bring some type of resolution to the understandable grief they have.

And quite frankly, I don't blame people for being angry, whether they are angry at me or they want to be angry at the governor before me who actually commuted his sentence, which I didn't do. Or angry at the parole board for paroling him. And if I'm the object of the anger, I understand that. I accept that.

BLITZER: Well, what -- but let me ask you this...

HUCKABEE: There's nothing bright about this situation. It's a horrible thing.

BLITZER: Well, what responsibility do you have in this horrible tragedy that developed?

HUCKABEE: Wolf, my only official action in this was I denied his commutation. It was actual given by Jim Guy Tucker when Bill Clinton was governor back in 1992.

It was on my desk. I did consider it. I even thought that he met the criteria for parole in support of it.

I wish I hadn't. But I didn't parole him. And governors don't parole people in Arkansas, nor can they stop a parole. And that's the tragedy, I think, that this went through several years and many different people. And all of us failed. That's the truth. All of us failed.

BLITZER: Because there's a letter that you apparently wrote that was published in The Arkansas Times to Wayne Dumond in which you said to him, My desire is that you be released from prison. I feel that parole is the best way for your reintroduction to society to take place.

Did you write him such a letter?

HUCKABEE: I wrote it because that's when I denied him, and a parole meant that he had to have had supervision. Had I granted his commutation, there would have been no supervision at all. I wasn't comfortable with that.

He had an exemplary prison record, he had the recommendations, he had met all the criteria, and that's why I think all of us are very sad. But I did not commute his sentence. And his sentence was commuted several years before I became governor. That made him parole eligible. I not only denied his commutation once, actually three or four times when he presented it in the course of the time that I had the case during my tenure as governor.

BLITZER: There was an article written back in 2002 in "The Arkansas Times' that quoted three former parole members basically as saying that you influenced them in a significant way to let this guy go. One, Charles Chastain, writing, "He made it obvious that he thought Dumond had gotten a raw deal and wanted us to take another look at it."

Another, Ermer Pondexter: "I signed the parole papers because the governor wanted Dumond paroled."

And a third, Deborah Springer-Suttlar: "For Governor Huckabee to say that he had no influence with the board is something that he knows to be untrue. He came before the board and made his views known that Dumond should have been paroled."

Are they telling the truth?

HUCKABEE: Wolf, they are not. The reality is that I was invited to the board by the chairman, Leroy Brownlee. He asked me to come as the new governor back in 1996.

I talked to them. The discussion came up, but it wasn't about Dumond. The overall discussion was about my general policy toward clemency.

Those are three people out of seven that waited six years before they ever came forward and said there was pressure. And every one of them had been appointed by either Bill Clinton or Jim Guy Tucker before me.

If as a brand-new Republican governor I was able to go in and convince a board, a board that every one of whom had been appointed by Democrat governors before me, I'm a pretty persuasive guy. And the other members of that board would give you a different story.

And interestingly, these people who make these allegations not only did so six years later, but did so after I did not reappoint them to $75,000-a-year jobs, to which they had been appointed by a previous Democratic governor.

BLITZER: So the charge you're making is they were politicizing, they were blaming you on political reasons, is that what you're saying?

HUCKABEE: And, Wolf, that's what is so heartbreaking about this. There are families who are truly, understandably and reasonably grief- stricken. And for people to now politicize these deaths and to try to make a political case out of it, rather than to simply understand that a system failed and that we ought to extend our grief and heartfelt sorrow to these families, I just regret that politics is reduced to that. (END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Mike Huckabee faces other tough questions as well about his awareness of a major report on Iran and its nuclear weapons program. We are going to more on that with the best political team on television. That's coming up.

Also, the latest on that killing spree in Omaha, Nebraska. A man opens fire in a mall. Nine people are now dead.

And Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney is set to talk about faith in America. But is he ready to talk about his own personal faith?

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Carol Costello is monitoring some other important stories incoming to THE SITUATION ROOM right now.

Carol, what's going on?

COSTELLO: Well, a little more on that terrifying incident at a mall in Omaha, Nebraska.

It was filled with holiday shoppers. A gunman went on a deadly rampage this afternoon at the Westroads Mall, shot and killed nine people, including himself. Five other people are wounded, three critically. Police believe the shooter acted alone. They say he had a rifle. The shootings began at the Von Maur department store.

A storm that brought drenching rains to the Pacific Northwest is now causing havoc far beyond. People in the Northwest are cleaning up from storm damage and that same storm is now dumping snow across the Midwest. The severe weather blamed for two traffic deaths in Wisconsin, the snow temporarily closing Milwaukee's airport today. And it caused delays and cancellations at several other airports in the Midwest, including O'Hare International Airport in Chicago.

Boy, that was a mess.

It is a case that is attracting a lot of attention. Today, the Supreme Court heard arguments on whether foreign terrorism suspects are entitled to hearings in civilian courts. The Bush administration argued that suspects held by the military at Guantanamo Bay have enough opportunities to challenge their confinement. A lawyer for the detainees said some of his clients have been held for six years. He portrayed the case as a fundamental test of the U.S. justice system.

That's a look at the headlines right now, Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks, Carol, for that.

Mitt Romney has been talking tough on immigration. Now he's trying to explain why undocumented workers did his landscaping. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You don't want to get yourself in a situation where you're almost Clintonesque, where it looks like you will say or do anything to get elected.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Can Mitt Romney get himself out of this latest immigration mess? Jack Cafferty, Gloria Borger, and Jeff Toobin, they're standing by to weigh in.

And the best political team on television tries to explain Mike Huckabee's intelligence gap. How did he manage to miss new information about Iran's nuclear program?

And the first daughter Jenna Bush phones home. Coming up, we will all get to listen in.

Stay with us -- lots more coming up right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Happening now: Democratic (sic) presidential candidate Mitt Romney under fire for illegal immigrants who worked on his estate. Our chief national correspondent, John King, examines how it might impact Romney's campaign. That's coming up in a moment.

Dark horse Republican Mike Huckabee's days as Arkansas's governor fall under scrutiny. Critics say the release of a parolee who went on to commit rape and murder demonstrates an administration soft on crime.

Two brand-new polls show Hillary Clinton is holding off Barack Obama's challenge in New Hampshire. An ABC News/"Washington Post" survey shows Clinton running six point ahead of Obama in the leadoff primary. A Marist poll shows her ahead by 13 points. We're talking about all of this with the best political team on television.

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

Right now, Mitt Romney is grappling with a new campaign embarrassment. He's fired illegal immigrants who worked as landscapers at his Massachusetts home. But questions about his credibility aren't being dismissed quite as easily.

Our chief national correspondent, John King, is reporting today from Boston.

This is an issue, immigration, illegal immigration, a huge issue among the Republicans.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely, Wolf. Ask Republicans in Iowa to rank the issues in this campaign, illegal immigration is number one. Ask Republicans in New Hampshire, illegal immigration is second only to the Iraq war. This is a controversy Mitt Romney could do without.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KING (voice over): This is what one rival calls the sanctuary mansion -- and what others mockingly label Mitt Romney's house of hypocrisy.

SCOTT REED, GOP STRATEGIST: If he's going to talk the talk, he has to show he can walk the walk. The fact is, it does make him look hypocritical, and he needed to take care of it.

KING: Romney quickly fired his landscaping company Tuesday after being confronted with evidence illegal immigrants were working at his Belmont home as recently as last week -- a headline turned easy fodder for conservative talk radio.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

LAURA INGRAHAM, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: And Mitt Romney fired another leaf company. Mitt Romney has a sanctuary mansion no more.

KING: "The Boston Globe" first reported on the issue a year ago. And Romney said then his landscaper assured him it would not happen again.

RUDY GIULIANI (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: So I would say he had a sanctuary mansion, not just sanctuary city.

KING: Romney bristled when attacked at last week's debate, and the morning after told CNN...

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: No, it's not true. And he's dishonest in saying it and he knows that.

KING: But that very morning, "The Globe" says it interviewed two landscapers at Romney's home, who conceded they were in the United States illegally.

The risks for Romney go beyond being embarrassed by his decision last year to give the landscaper a second chance.

ROMNEY: We've got to stop illegal immigration.

KING: In speeches and tough campaign mailings, Romney slams major rivals -- suggesting only he opposes amnesty for illegals. But in an interview two years ago, Romney embraced plans by President Bush and others that offered citizenship to millions of illegal immigrants.

ROMNEY: At the end of that period, registering to become a citizen or applying to become a citizen and paying a fee. And those are things that are being considered. And I -- I think that that's -- that those are reasonable proposals. KING: Add in a switch on abortion and tougher rhetoric on gay rights now than in his early days in politics, and the risk is a credibility gap.

REED: You don't want to get yourself in a situation where you're almost Clintonesque, where it looks like you'll say or do anything to get elected. And that's something that Romney and his campaign have to be sensitive to.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KING: Now, CNN tried to ask Governor Romney about this as he headed into a fundraiser earlier today in Louisiana. Wolf, he ignored that question. His campaign's public line is that by acting quickly and decisively, they believe the governor has put this behind him. But when you talk to senior Romney aides and advisers privately, they say given all the emotion and all the volatility surrounding immigration politics in this campaign, they hope it goes away, but they can't be sure -- Wolf.

BLITZER: A big issue out there for Republicans.

John King reporting from Boston.

So what's the damage to this Republican presidential candidate's credibility?

Here to talk about it, part of the best political team on television, our senior political analyst, Gloria Borger. She's here in Washington.

In New York, CNN's Jack Cafferty. His best-selling book is called "It's Getting Ugly Out There".

Also in New York, our senior analyst, Jeff Toobin. His best- selling book on the U.S. Supreme Court is called "The Nine".

Guys, thanks very much for coming in.

So what's the damage, Jack, to Mitt Romney's credibility?

CAFFERTY: Well, I don't guess we'll know that for a while. But it occurs to me that the "Boston Globe" did this story about this very same landscaping company last December. And if you're going run for president and one of your positions is going to be we've got to get tough on illegal immigrants, then it would seem to me that you would say to yourself, self, I've got to double check with the landscaping guy and make sure he took care of that illegal immigrant problem.

Apparently, he didn't do that. And so that's the embarrassment. It's not, you know, give the guy a second chance. OK.

But if you're going to run for president, you've got to follow up and make sure that you're clean.

Remember the -- I can't remember who it was -- but the Social Security payment that derailed somebody when it turned out that they had domestic person working for them and they weren't paying Social Security taxes...

GLORIA BORGER, SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: (INAUDIBLE).

CAFFERTY: ...that's the kind of thing this is. It's small, only it's not small.

BLITZER: Are you (INAUDIBLE)...

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Zoe Baird.

BLITZER: Yes. Zoe Baird. We'll get to that.

TOOBIN: Zoe Baird, the...

BLITZER: But I want Gloria to weigh in, because she was just up in New Hampshire and spent some time with Mitt Romney. He said in his statement that he did tell this landscaping company make sure there are no illegals. He was reassured there weren't. But, unfortunately, he says, there were.

BORGER: Well, apparently he sent one of his sons there to the company to check it out and was assured that they were not going to hire any more illegals.

But, you know, this is a tough campaign. And when you're out there criticizing Rudy Giuliani for running a sanctuary city and saying to Mike Huckabee that he can't give scholarships to the children of illegal immigrants and you're out there being the toughest guy on the toughest issue that divides the campaigns in this Republican race, you cannot have this happen. It's embarrassing, but it also goes to the question of competency.

I mean how are you going to run the White House if you let something like this happen on what is a key issue in your campaign?

TOOBIN: but it's worse than just competence. It's also about the issue itself, because Mitt Romney was not some conservative firebrand on immigration. In fact, he was a moderate on immigration. Now, he sees where the polls are and he's trying to out-Tancredo the rest of his colleagues.

But, you know, now the fact is, he didn't care about being tough on immigrants, because it wasn't good politics in Massachusetts and he didn't even seem to believe it. So that's -- that's why it's a double problem for Romney.

CAFFERTY: but that's been -- that's been the way he's behaved on a number of issues, isn't it?

TOOBIN: Yes, and that makes it worse.

(CROSSTALK)

TOOBIN: Abortion, gay rights. CAFFERTY: Exactly.

BORGER: It goes to the notion of what do you believe?

BLITZER: Jack, what...

CAFFERTY:

Exactly.

BLITZER: ...I want you to weigh in on another problem that Mike Huckabee, the Republican presidential candidate has -- the former governor of Arkansas. Under his watch, there was a parole -- a rapist was allowed to go free and went on and not only raped a woman, but killed her in the process. And now the parents and others are coming back and they're pinning a lot of the blame, as you know, on Mike Huckabee. You heard his defense just a little while ago here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

CAFFERTY: You know what the knee jerk reaction to that story is?

Here's Willie Horton all over again. This isn't quite as blatant. But in 1988, George, Herbert Walker Bush was trailing Michael Dukakis by 17 points in the polls when some of the people supporting Bush discovered this weekend furlough program that Dukakis had where they would let murderers and other violent criminals out of prison for a couple of days on furlough. Horton disappeared, broke into a home a couple of months later, raped a woman twice, beat her husband almost to death. And Michael Dukakis' campaign died in the water that day -- over and out -- done.

And this isn't quite that, but those comparisons will be made, guarantee. It's first thing I thought of this morning.

TOOBIN: And, you know, this story -- which sound like a Quentin Tarantino movie -- it is so ugly and awful, both what this man did and what was done to him -- you know, he was castrated in prison. What -- the problem -- even -- what makes it worse is that his cause was kind of a cause celebre of conservatives in Arkansas. They were saying he was treated so harshly because one of his victims was related to Bill Clinton.

So it was conservatives that rallied behind this rapist. And the fact that Huckabee apparently bowed to their political pressure to release him makes this awful story even worse.

BORGER: Yes, you know, I think what we're seeing now is Huckabee moving up in the polls so he's kind of lost his free pass. The opposition research is starting. The attacks are coming on Huckabee. This is a very complex issue -- this issue of parole and pardon and everything else. And Huckabee is, as he explained to you, of course, he's very sorry that any of this happened.

But just watch for more attacks on Huckabee right now, because he's -- he's in the NFL. He's no longer at the back of the pack.

BLITZER: That's true. The polls are showing that.

All right, guys, stand by.

We've got a lot more to talk about, including Mike Huckabee -- he's facing another serious question, as well, that caught him off guard -- this one about intelligence on Iran. I'll put that to our best political team. That's coming up.

Also, new poll numbers just out. We're going to show you what they say about the top Democratic candidates in the nation's first primary, only a few weeks away.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee is caught off guard on the campaign trail by questions about the new National Intelligence Estimate that states that Iran actually halted its nuclear weapons program four years ago. Huckabee was not aware of it when asked about it last night.

We're back with the best political team on television to talk about that and more.

Jack and Gloria and Jeff, I want to play for you his explanation why 24 hours after this new NIE was released and on the front pages of every newspaper out there, all over television, he didn't know about it when he was asked about it last night.

Listen to his explanation.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MIKE HUCKABEE (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I had been up about 20 hours at that time and I had not even so much as had the opportunity to look at a newspaper. We were literally going from early in the morning to late that night and talking to guys like you. And so I had not had an opportunity to be briefed on it.

And there are going to be times out there on the campaign trail -- Wolf, you've been on the campaign trail, you know -- that candidates are driven from one event to the next and it would have been nice had someone been able to first say here's some things that are going on, that are taking place.

That didn't happen. It's going to happen again. And that's what exactly it was about yesterday. We barely came up for air yesterday in Iowa when we were there campaigning.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right.

What do you think of the explanation, Jack?

CAFFERTY: Well, t seems to me, that Mr. Huckabee is suggesting if he hadn't been wasting his time talking to you yesterday, he might have been up it speed on this NIE report and know all about these -- these weapons of mass destruction. My impression is this is all your fault, Wolf.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: But he didn't mean me, per se. He meant, you know, reporters like me.

TOOBIN: but the good news is, once he's elected president, he won't be busy at all, so he'll have plenty of time to read the newspaper then.

(LAUGHTER)

BORGER: I think Huckabee needs to staff up a little bit here. I was with some other Republican campaigns whose staffers were well aware of what the NIE report said because they have their little Blackberries and tell their candidates immediately. I just don't think Huckabee is quite ready to be at that -- at the top tier right now.

BLITZER: Well, and he does have...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: He does have a very, very small staff, and everybody knows that.

TOOBIN: Yes, but, you know...

CAFFERTY: If you're going to miss one, this is not a...

TOOBIN: Blackberries are...

CAFFERTY: This is not a big deal to miss. I mean this is a report about something that happened four years ago. And the fact that he didn't know about it for 24 hours is a non-event, as far as I'm concerned. I mean you've got to give him a pass on this.

BLITZER: All right, we're going to give him a pass then.

All right, stand by, guys.

There's new poll numbers out. We love the new poll numbers -- another snapshot in New Hampshire on the Democratic race right now. The new ABC News/"Washington Post" poll has Hillary Clinton ahead -- but not by a lot -- 35 percent over Obama, 29; Edwards, 17; Richardson, 10; everybody else down in single digits.

A new Marist Poll of likely Democratic voters in New Hampshire also has Hillary Clinton up by a little bit more -- 37 to 24 percent over Obama; 18 percent for Edwards; Richardson at 8; everybody else way down.

She's still ahead in New Hampshire, but she's not ahead, necessarily, according to the latest polls in Iowa -- Jack. CAFFERTY: Well, it sounds to me like -- if these polls are accurate -- that Barack Obama has got a little momentum. And this is good for those of us who follow this stuff, because the closer he gets to her, the meaner she'll get and the more aggressive it will get and the blood will just flow.

(LAUGHTER)

CAFFERTY: I mean this is a -- it's a contact sport, presidential politics. And the closer these two get, as the voting gets close, the nastier the campaign is likely to become.

And, hey, who doesn't like a good train wreck, you know?

BORGER: Wolf, what interested me about this new ABC News poll out tonight is that there are some openings, clearly, here for Obama. She's still ahead in New Hampshire, but 41 percent of the voters in New Hampshire say that -- on the Democratic side -- say that Hillary Clinton doesn't really say what she thinks. That's not good for her. And that a majority of the voters say that what's really important to them is taking the country in a new direction -- that's more important than strength and experience -- and that's her campaign theme.

TOOBIN: And the thing that interests me about all this is that for the first time in history, it's going to be only five days between the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary -- Thursday to Tuesday.

What is that going to mean for momentum?

Is there even going to be enough time for people to change their minds in New Hampshire based on what they learn of the results in Iowa?

No one really knows how that's going to play out.

BORGER: Of course, the voters in New Hampshire say nah, Iowa is not going to affect them. But it's going to.

CAFFERTY: Yes...

TOOBIN: Historically it has.

CAFFERTY: Sure it will.

BORGER: It has and it really will.

CAFFERTY: And especially with so little time in between the two events. If you've got a couple, three weeks in between, then whatever the effect of Iowa is, it has a chance to recede. But when it's five days and it's over a weekend and that's all you're going to see and hear on the news media, it's going to have an effect. You bet.

BLITZER: Jack and Gloria and Jeff -- part of the best political team on television.

Guys, thanks very much for coming in.

Jack, don't leave.

We've got The Cafferty File coming up shortly.

CAFFERTY: I wouldn't miss it.

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: The Democratic-led Congress -- what's going on with the Democratic-led Congress?

Jack's got a question. It's planning for a five day work week, what, only three times next year. Jack wants to know what you think. He's been going through your e-mails. Jack and The Cafferty File is coming up.

Plus, a new chance for thousands of people to see Oprah Winfrey campaign for Barack Obama. We're going to show you what's going on on that front.

Stick around.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Checking our Political Ticker, Mitt Romney is getting ready for that speech tomorrow that could influence whether or not he wins the White House. His campaign released photos of the Republican presidential candidate rehearsing his remarks on his Mormon religion and how it would or would not shape his presidency. He gives that speech tomorrow in Texas.

A new survey of young Republicans shows the race for the presidential contest wide open less than a month before the first contest in Iowa. The Harvard poll find 30 percent of young adults nationwide who say they'll vote Republican have not chosen a Republican candidate. By comparison, just 13 percent of young Democrats say they're still undecided.

Oprah Winfrey mania is getting even bigger in South Carolina. Her rally with Democrat Barack Obama this weekend has been moved to a football stadium that seats more than 80,000 people. It had been scheduled for an 18,000 seat arena, but those free tickets were snapped up very quickly.

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

Lou Dobbs is getting ready for his show, that begins a that top of the hour.

He's standing by to tell us what he's working on -- hi, Lou.

LOU DOBBS, HOST, "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT": How are you doing, Wolf? Coming up at 7:00 p.m. Eastern here on CNN, more lead in more children's toys. A new report showing it's still a critical issue, despite all of the claims by the toy brands. More than a third of the toys being tested contain hazardous levels of lead. And almost all of them are still being sold in stores.

Where is the Consumer Product Safety Commission?

Where is a sense of responsibility on the part of these toy makers?

Why in the world would you even think about buying a toy this Christmas?

Also, the Senate taking bipartisan action to protect the public from dangerous food. New food safety legislation being introduced by Senators Grassley and Casey. They'll be among our guests tonight.

And public education -- the great equalizer in this society of ours -- failing African-American boys, Hispanic boys. Their high school graduation now under 50 percent. We'll explore the causes, possible solutions to what is nothing less than a national crisis.

And where in the world are the presidential candidates in both parties?

Why aren't they talking about this crisis?

Please join us for all of that and a great deal more, all the day's news, at the top of the hour right here on CNN -- Wolf, back to you.

BLITZER: I'll see you in a few moments, Lou.

Thanks very much.

Let's check in with Jack.

He's got The Cafferty File, once again, from New York -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: Is that snow coming down there?

BLITZER: Yes, it's really snowing major league in Washington.

CAFFERTY: Wow! All right. The question this hour is what message does it send when the Democratic-led Congress has now planned a five day week work for only three times next year?

Glenda in Morgan Hill, California: "We, the people, have got to vote out all of these lazy, self-absorbed bums in Congress and get somebody in there who will actually show up for work once in a while."

Larry in Vancouver: "More promises broken by your representatives. I'm saddened for our cousins to the south. Your Congress should be working six days a week to get you out of the financial mess you're in. The American dream, the economy and the stature in the world are all at terrible risk, and that affects us all in some way, whether we're Americans or not."

Don in Florida writes: "Given that their efforts seem to be focused on ways to spend more of our dollars while taking away more of our freedoms, I think complaining they don't spend enough time in session the wrong way to go. One day a month, anybody?"

Jim in Pennsylvania: "It sends the message it doesn't matter whether you're talking about Republicans or Democrats. They are all worthless, have absolutely no work ethic and will say anything to get into power. And you know what? It'll never change."

Jason writes from Baldwin City, Kansas -- I've been there. That's kind of a nice little town: "I think this sends a message America's leaders are above the rest of us. They've decided they don't need to work a full five day week, like we do. I think if they only want to work four or five days a week, then we should only give them three fifths or four fifth of their normal salary. Pay them for the work they do."

And Bruce in New Hampshire writes: "The Democrats' work schedule tells me one thing -- it's time for a third party.

If you didn't see your e-mail here, you can go to CNN.com/caffertyfile, where we post more of them online, along with video clips of The Cafferty File -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Did you get any e-mail, Jack, from viewers out there saying you know what -- they shouldn't work five days a week, because they're doing such a great job right now and they have to go back to their districts, their states, they've got to campaign. They work hard when they go home.

Did you get any e-mail like that?

CAFFERTY: I didn't read any. I have seen some like that in the past when we broached this subject, that they -- that they're hard at work, you know, explaining away their lack of accomplishments to their constituents when they're away from Washington. And I suppose that makes a certain amount of sense, based on the stuff that they don't manage to get done.

I mean look at all the business that's sitting there and they've got, what, two-and-a-half weeks before they go away for Christmas?

BLITZER: Well, you know, a lot of people go away for Christmas and they will, as well, Jack.

See...

CAFFERTY: Yes, but I mean you get your work done first.

BLITZER: Right. Right.

CAFFERTY: Right?

BLITZER: Well, some of us have to work six days a week, you know. There's a lot of people out there who work six days a week, Jack.

CAFFERTY: Touche.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Jack.

We'll see you here in the morning.

Fathers almost always enjoy unexpected calls from their daughters. But when the father is the president and his daughter is Jenna and she's calling from "The Ellen DeGeneres Show," that's a matter for CNN's Jeanne Moos.

Stick around.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: President Bush got a Moost Unusual phone call the other evening. It was his daughter. But where she was calling from is what caught the attention of CNN's Jeanne Moos.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's normal for a daughter to call home to daddy -- but not when this is home and this is daddy.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM "THE ELLEN DEGENERES SHOW," COURTESY WARNER BROTHERS TELEPICTURES)

ELLEN DEGENERES, HOST: Could you just pick up the phone like right now and call him?

JENNA BUSH: Sure.

DEGENERES: OK.

(LAUGHTER)

J. BUSH: He's going to kill me, though.

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MOOS: So at 7:30 the other night, a phone rang in the White House.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM "THE ELLEN DEGENERES SHOW," COURTESY WARNER BROTHERS TELEPICTURES)

J. BUSH: I'm not going to get anything I asked for for Christmas.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MOOS: Ellen DeGeneres is always surprising regular folks. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM "THE ELLEN DEGENERES SHOW," COURTESY WARNER BROTHERS TELEPICTURES)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh my gosh.

DEGENERES: Somebody's there.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MOOS: At least she didn't send Jenna Bush with a camera crew unannounced to the door of the White House.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM "THE ELLEN DEGENERES SHOW," COURTESY WARNER BROTHERS TELEPICTURES)

DEGENERES: We're not barging in and they're in their pajamas or something.

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MOOS (on camera): No, no, no. We're sure the Bushes were fully dressed, visiting with a friend in the treaty room when their daughter called.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM "THE ELLEN DEGENERES SHOW," COURTESY WARNER BROTHERS TELEPICTURES)

DEGENERES: Just to say hello.

LAURA BUSH, FIRST LADY OF THE UNITED STATES: Hey, Jenna.

J. BUSH: Hi, mom.

L. BUSH: I'm just sitting here with daddy.

DEGENERES: Oh, hey, it's Ellen and I wanted to say hi to daddy.

L. BUSH: Yes, daddy wants to (INAUDIBLE)...

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MOOS: And to think that just a few hours earlier, daddy was answering questions about Iran's nuclear program.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM "THE ELLEN DEGENERES SHOW," COURTESY WARNER BROTHERS TELEPICTURES)

BUSH: Where are you going?

J. BUSH: I -- I'm not going anywhere.

Hi, dad.

BUSH: I love you. DEGENERES: Hello, President Bush.

How are you?

J. BUSH: This is "The Ellen DeGeneres Show".

BUSH: Well, that's great.

(LAUGHTER)

J. BUSH: Dad?

BUSH: Yes, baby?

J. BUSH: Are you mad?

BUSH: No, not at all. I'm glad to talk to you.

J. BUSH: OK, good. Thanks.

BUSH: I'm glad to talk to Ellen.

DEGENERES: All right, look. We're showing a picture of you holding your daughters when they were just born. That's beautiful.

J. BUSH: The best day of your life, remember, dad?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MOOS: Although Ellen doesn't always get through on the first try. There's the time she tried to call CNN's Wolf Blitzer but got a producer...

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM "THE ELLEN DEGENERES SHOW," COURTESY WARNER BROTHERS TELEPICTURES)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He'd love to talk to you as soon as the show is over, and that's in 25 minutes.

(BOOS)

DEGENERES: I'll be at home having a drink by then.

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MOOS: And sometimes when a call comes in at an inopportune time -- for instance, when Rudy Giuliani's wife called during a speech -- it ends up as fodder for comedians like Bill Maher.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM "REAL TIME WITH BILL MAHER," COURTESY HBO)

RUDY GIULIANI (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Hello, dear.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Rudy? Osama.

What are you doing?

(LAUGHTER)

GIULIANI: I'm talking -- I'm talking to the members of the NRA right now.

Would you like to say hello?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. Tell them "Death To America!"

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MOOS: Watch out, Mr. President.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM "THE ELLEN DEGENERES SHOW," COURTESY WARNER BROTHERS TELEPICTURES)

BUSH: I want to tell my little girl I love her.

J. BUSH: I love you, too, daddy.

(APPLAUSE)

J. BUSH: OK. I love you, daddy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MOOS: Those comedy writers sure know how to turn sweet nothings into nothing sweet.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM "REAL TIME WITH BILL MAHER," COURTESY HBO)

GIULIANI: I love you and I'll give you a call as soon as I'm finished, OK?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Rudi, where do we keep the coffee filters?

GIULIANI: OK. Have a safe trip. Bye-bye.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But the coffee filters...

GIULIANI: Talk to you later, dear. I love you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Rudy...

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MOOS: Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

BLITZER: Nice -- nice touch on "The Ellen DeGeneres Show".

That's it for us.

Thanks very much for joining us.

It's snowing -- you can see out there outside the White House.

To all of our viewers, thanks very much.

I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Up next, "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT" -- Lou.

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