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CIA Tapes Destroyed; Cover-up or Security Move?; Surprise Take on Romney Faith Speech; Interview With Senator Christopher Dodd

Aired December 7, 2007 - 16:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, Democrats want answers about why CIA tapes were destroyed. Did the videos provide evidence that the U.S. government tortured terror suspects?
Plus, Oprah's new arena. She's set to pack voters into a huge stadium on behalf of Barack Obama. Will she add campaign kingmaker to her remarkable resume?

And Mitt Romney gets fired up about the illegal immigrants he's fired. In Iowa, we hit the presidential hopeful with some tough new questions that hit him close to home.

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

But we begin with the destruction of CIA videotapes. The story exploding today into a full-blown firestorm, and now top Democrats are asking the Justice Department to launch a full-scale investigation.

The tapes capture the harsh interrogations of at least two alleged terrorists back in 2002. The CIA director revealed only yesterday that the videos were destroyed in 2005 without being turned over to Congress, the courts or the 9/11 Commission. The spy agency says it got rid of the tapes to protect the identities of its interrogators, but Democrats and other critics aren't buying that at all.

CNN's Kathleen Koch is standing by live over at the White House, but let's begin our coverage with CNN's Mary Snow. She's watching this story.

And the Democrats are really pouncing. What's going on, Mary?

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, they're angry, they're blasting the destruction of the tapes, demanding an investigation. And the criticism is also coming from some Republicans.


SEN. DICK DURBIN (D), ILLINOIS: ... don't know what that included.

SNOW (voice over): The number two Democrat in the Senate sent a letter to the Justice Department asking to investigate whether the CIA violated any laws in destroying the tapes.

Senate Democratic whip Dick Durbin of Illinois... DURBIN: It is a startling disclosure. The United States of America, the nation where the rule of law is venerated, has now been in the business of destroying evidence.

SNOW: Democratic senator Ted Kennedy dismissed the CIA's claims that it was trying to protect the identity of the interrogators.

SEN. EDWARD KENNEDY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: The CIA's role in this cover-up is only the latest reminder that Congress must fight harder to prevent this administration from making a mockery of the rule of law.

SNOW: Republicans joined in on the criticism. Congressman Pete Hoekstra of Michigan, who was chairman of the House Intelligence Committee until 2006, disputes claims that his committee was informed of the tapes' existence. An adviser said, "Congressman Hoekstra does not recall ever being told of the evidence or destruction of these tapes. He believes that Director Hayden is being generous at best in his claim that the committee was informed. He believes the committee should have been fully briefed and consulted on how this was handled."

On the campaign trail, Republican presidential hopeful Senator John McCain said he didn't think any laws were broken, but...

JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I don't think they should have destroyed those tapes, and it will harm the credibility of the CIA, in my view. And I wish they had listened to members of Congress who said they should not do so.

SNOW: Democratic presidential candidates raised concerns, including Senator Hillary Clinton.

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We've got to really clean house here and get to the bottom of what has been going on in the last years.


SNOW: And other Democrats on the campaign trail also speaking out. Former senator John Edwards saying the disclosure raises deeply troubling questions, and Senator Joseph Biden saying that he is calling on the CIA's inspector general to look into the matter -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Stand by for a moment, Mary, because I want to go to the White House and find out what the White House is saying about all of this. Kathleen Koch is standing by.

What's the reaction there?

KATHLEEN KOCH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the White House is using very, very precise language today in describing who knew what when, when it comes to these interrogation tapes. Press Secretary Dana Perino saying the president "has no recollection" of being made aware of the tapes or their destruction before yesterday. Now, Perino says that was when CIA Director Michael Hayden informed the president in his regular morning intelligence briefing. Another administration official says at that same meeting, that was the time when Vice President Dick Cheney learned about the tapes and their destruction for the first time.

Now, Perino could not say though whether or not anyone else in the White House knew about the tapes, knew about their destruction, a plan to destroy them, nor would Perino characterize the president's reaction, whether or not he approved of the tapes' destruction or the reason for it.


DANA PERINO, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: ... and that he has complete confidence in General Hayden, he doesn't have any reason to doubt him. But they're still gathering facts, and I think until that is finished, I'm not going to comment beyond that.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What's the level of concern here that a law may have been broken, or laws?

PERINO: I think I'll decline to comment.


PERINO: Well, as I said, they're continuing to gather facts, and so I don't think it's appropriate for me to comment on that.


KOCH: Now, Perino says that if the Justice Department does decide to launch an investigation, that the White House will support that. Perino defended the interrogation program, saying that it was put in place to deal with a very limited number of suspects, the most intransigent of terrorists. She says it was legal, she said it has saved lives.

The question from reporters then is -- was, well, if it was so defensible, then why destroy any part of it? And Dana declined to answer.

Back to you.

BLITZER: Kathleen, thanks very much.

Kathleen Koch over at the White House today.

We're going to have a lot more on this story coming up later this hour throughout THE SITUATION ROOM here. We're including why this story developed right now.

Much more coming up in THE SITUATION ROOM.

But let's move on right now to the presidential campaign in Iowa. Republican Mitt Romney in the spotlight there, a day after his big speech about his Mormon faith. The best political team on the campaign trail, as always, is covering these story in New Hampshire and Iowa and beyond.

Dana Bash is out in Des Moines.

Dana, Romney certainly is watching all of this very, very closely, but the follow-up from his speech yesterday, what happened today?

DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's really interesting, Wolf. You talk to any Romney adviser, and they'll admitted the blatantly obvious, that Mitt Romney gave that speech about faith yesterday in Texas because he wanted to reassure Republican voters about his Mormon faith. The more candid advisers say it's also because after much deliberation, they decided to do it because he's simply not doing as well as he was here in Iowa.

But he was asked about that speech just a short while ago, and he said it had nothing to do with politics.


MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Yes, that's not what the speech was about.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What was it about, sir?

ROMNEY: The speech was about faith in America and religious pluralism, the role of faith in America, a need to maintain the religious base of our country, to keep God in the public square, if you will. The faith -- excuse me, the speech was not about -- was not about politics. I don't know how the politics work on it, to tell you the truth.


ROMNEY: Then you've got to get together with political pundits, and they'll tell you how it's going to work, but that's not what the speech was about.


BASH: A bit of a surprising answer, but Romney did go on to say that he hopes the speech touched the hearts of some -- Wolf.

BLITZER: He also spoke out, Dana, about the firing of those illegal immigrants who were working on his lawn, the landscapers, the story that's developed over the past few days, at least resurfaced over the last few days.

What did he say?

BASH: Well, you know, it's interesting, Wolf. This happened three days ago. Romney announced that he fired this landscaping company because they had illegal immigrants working at his house in Massachusetts, but today was the first time he's actually spoken out about it.

I asked him whether or not he thinks it's a bit of a paradox that he did have to fire this company for having illegal immigrants at his house, yet he's campaigning so aggressively as somebody who is tough on immigration. He answered by saying, as a homeowner, he would have no way of knowing.


ROMNEY: As a homeowner, I'm able to do -- that's not something which is available until our current system in this country. And that's why I proposed that instead, we have an employment verification system to identify which aliens are here legally, which are not here legally. On that basis, companies that do the hiring would be able to make that assessment.

But the individuals at my home were not my employees. They were hired by a company. The company made a mistake in judgment, and that's why I terminated the relationship with them.

BASH: You're running as somebody who is a CEO who is really focused on issues like this, not an average, everyday citizen, so should people look to you as somebody who would have the judgment or perhaps take the extra mile to make sure...


ROMNEY: And what's the extra mile?

BASH: To make sure -- especially...

ROMNEY: Tell me how you do that in this country. So, for instance, let's say I go to a restaurant. Should I make sure that all the waiters there are all legal? How would I do that?


BASH: Now, of course Romney did know that this very same landscaping company last year had illegal immigrants working for him, and yet he decided not to fire that company, because he said he was reassured.

But, you know, privately, Wolf, his advisers understand that, fairly or not, this is something that can potentially hurt him, and that has the potential to really hurt him because of the fact, Wolf, that, fairly or not, this is a narrative that is continuing with Mitt Romney, that he says something publicly, yet that might not match with what he's doing privately or what he's done in the past -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Dana Bash in Des Moines for us on the campaign trail.

Dana, thanks very much.

Let's check in with Jack Cafferty. He's in New York with "The Cafferty File."

Lots of news going on, Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Yes. Mr. Romney not looking so presidential there, getting his back up a little bit about -- I mean, that analogy of the restaurant, the landscaping company worked for Mitt Romney, he employed them. You just go eat at a restaurant. It's not his -- not his restaurant.

It looks like President Bush is losing support from a group that almost always stands behind wartime presidents, military families. A new "Los Angeles Times"/Bloomberg poll shows nearly six out of every 10 families with ties to the U.S. military disapprove of President Bush and his handling of the war in Iraq. And that's only just marginally better than the rating Mr. Bush gets from the general public.

When it comes to families who have soldiers, sailors or Marines who have served in either Iraq or Afghanistan, 60 percent say the Iraq war was just not worst the cost. And there's more. Fifty-three percent of military families disapprove of the Bush administration handling of the needs of active duty troops, of military families and, of course, of veterans. Fifty-eight percent took no exception to retired military officers publicly criticizing the way the administration has executed this war.

The military families opinion of the president and Iraq may also be affecting his party. Thirty-nine percent of them say Democrats could be trusted to do a better job of handling issues related to them, 35 percent chose Republicans.

So the question this hour is this: What message does it send when a majority of military families now disapprove of President Bush's handling of the war in Iraq?

You can e-mail us at on go to Oh, yes, or you can do this -- this is brand new. You can post a comment on this thing.

This is my blog. Who would have ever thought I would have my own blog? Well, I do.

All you have to do is go to, click on "Add a Comment," and knock yourself out. You'll also be able to find "Cafferty File" commentaries and video clips.

And as was explained to me, the reason, Wolf, that this is a cool thing is that ordinarily if you go to the Web site, you can only see like five or six letters that we get every day. We get hundreds, sometimes thousands, of e-mails a day.

And in the early going here, you'll be able to go to that blog site and read dozens of them each day, and eventually probably hundreds of them. If you have no life at all, this is how you can spend your afternoon.

BLITZER: This Internet thing, it's an amazing situation, isn't it?

CAFFERTY: It's pretty cool. I have a blog. Do you have a blog?

BLITZER: I don't have a blog, but I love the picture of you on that full-screen graphic, too. You see yourself smiling over there? Very handsome, Jack.

CAFFERTY: Well, I'm happy there. I'm happy here. I'm a happy guy -- Wolf.

BLITZER: You are. Stand by. Stand by. We're going to have a lot more happiness coming up here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Is the CIA hiding something about the interrogation of terror suspects caught on tape? Senator and presidential candidate Chris Dodd, he's standing by live to weigh in on those destroyed videos and whether the law was broken.

He's up next.

Plus, the Omaha mall shooter in the midst of his rampage. The shocking images now released.

And new complaints about congressional pages. Is anyone watching over young people working under the dome?

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


BLITZER: Welcome back.

We now know the CIA destroyed some videotapes back in 2005 showing harsh interrogations of alleged terrorists, but many people are now demanding a fuller explanation of just why those tapes were destroyed.

Let's get some more now on our top story, the controversy over what the CIA did and the calls by some for an investigation.

Joining us now from Capitol Hill is Democratic presidential candidate, long-time U.S. senator from Connecticut, Chris Dodd.

Senator, thanks for coming in.


BLITZER: The explanation that General Michael Hayden, the current CIA director, gave yesterday to his employees was this, among other reasons -- "... the tapes posed a serious security risk. Were they ever to leak, they would permit identification of your CIA colleagues who had served in the program, exposing them and their families to retaliation from al Qaeda and its sympathizers."

What do you think of that explanation? DODD: Well, I don't think it holds a lot of water. And it would have been wiser, I think, for the director to inform the members of Congress who sit on the intelligence committee so that some justification, if you want to call it that, might have been legitimate here.

I think many of us suspect the reason they were destroyed, because that's the kind of evidence that should have been turned over to the 9/11 Commission or to federal courts looking at these issues. You can't have a dual standard here.

If we're opposed and agree that torture is wrong and unconstitutional, you can't have agencies of this government engaging in those kinds of activities. And I think, frankly, many people suspect that those tapes would have revealed exactly that. And that's why there's so much concern, why it ought to be investigated thoroughly. But he should have gone to members of Congress who chair these committees, given them the opportunity to see them, and draw the conclusion before they destroyed them.

BLITZER: He says in a statement to his employees that he did inform -- not him, his predecessor, because this was not done on his watch. Porter Goss was then in 2005 the director of the CIA.

He says, "The decision to destroy the tapes was made within the CIA itself. The leaders of our oversight committees in Congress were informed of the videos a year ago and of the agency's intention to dispose of the material."

Now, today we're getting conflicting word from some of the members of the House and Senate intelligence committees, saying they don't remember ever being told of the destruction of those videotapes.

DODD: That's exactly what I've heard as well. And that's the point I want to make here, obviously.

Look, we can't have a dual standard here. Our military people know and those at the Judge Advocate General's Corps will tell you, this kind of behavior is harmful to our security.

The idea here that we engage in these kind of activities make us more secure is a false dichotomy, Wolf, here. Benjamin Franklin said this a long time ago -- those who would give up liberty in the name of security deserve neither, in a sense here.

There are those who falsely judge here that we need to do this to be more secure. That's a very dangerous conclusion. In fact, quite the opposite is true.

When you have renditions, secret prisons, when you a Guantanamo, then you engage in these activities, you make our country less safe, less secure and more vulnerable, more isolated in the world. That's why this is so dangerous.

BLITZER: You issued a statement earlier really hammering away at the Bush administration on this, but the White House press secretary today said the president only learned about this himself over the past few hours.

Listen to Dana Perino.


PERINO: I spoke to the president this morning about this. He has no recollection of being made aware of the tapes or their destruction before yesterday. He was briefed by General Hayden yesterday morning. And as to the others, I'll defer to the vice president's office.


BLITZER: And the decision to destroy, according to General Hayden, once again, during the tenure of his predecessor, the decision to destroy the tapes, he said, was made within CIA itself.

Do you buy that?

DODD: Well, listen, the last few days we've had the White House claiming they didn't know about the national intelligence estimate here -- just a few days ago. This is stretching credulity here, Wolf, quite honestly here.

It's hard to believe, given these matters, the importance of them, the prominence of these debates and discussions. Just recently a confirmation hearing that focused on the very subject matter here. I would think that either the director or someone might have informed people at the White House this could pose a serious problem here.

There was going to be a briefing up here today by the CIA. They canceled that. I think I know why. I suspect you do as well here.

There's something going on here. We're not getting the full story, hence the reason why there should be an investigation of this, because it again goes to the heart of our national security, our protection, our safety, our isolation in the world. That's why this is so important.

BLITZER: You also blasted your colleagues in Congress by saying there effectively has been no oversight of what's going on in the intelligence community. I don't want to put words in your mouth, but tell our viewers what you're suggesting.

DODD: Well, I'm concerned. Listen, you know, going back, this is 2005 here. We had for too long congressional committees up here that basically were turning a blind eye and a deaf ear to everything going on.

We were getting more information out of media about what was happening around the world than we were with committees charged with the responsibility of protecting the American taxpayer and our principles and values here. What were these committees doing?

And back in 2005 or 2006, when they were notified about this, what did they do about it here? That was their responsibility. They should have stepped forward, in my view.

BLITZER: Well, what about you, personally? Because you've been a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, what, for 26 years. Looking back, what should you have done that perhaps you didn't do?

DODD: Well, the reality is the Foreign Relations Committee is not the Intelligence Committee. We're never informed about these matters here, what goes on.

This information is held among the leaders of the various committees that have oversight over the intelligence community. That responsibility was taken away from the Foreign Relations Committee years ago, Wolf. I wish we had that kind of information.

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

DODD: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: I suspect this story is not going away.

Senator Chris Dodd joining us from Capitol Hill.

John McCain is hoping to be New Hampshire's new comeback kid. We're going to tell you how he's trying to get more traction in the primary state he won back in 2000. Will it be enough though to keep his campaign alive and well?

And look for the Republican presidential candidates to reach out to Latino voters this weekend. But are those voters willing to listen to them?

We'll tell you what's going on.

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



BLITZER: Coming up, some are calling it Oprah-bama. The queen of daytime TV and the presidential candidate ready to storm the campaign trail together. You're going to find out where they'll be, and if the talk show host can talk voters into supporting Barack Obama.

And John McCain hopes to surprise everyone, but to do it, he'll have to endure some freezing temperatures to keep his political hopes alive.

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


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

Happening now, disturbing signs of Iraq's past, but positive signs of its future. Our Michael Ware takes you inside some notorious torture chambers and shows us all of us how something quite extraordinary has cleared out there.

We're watching this story. That's coming up.

Also, they come to your home to fight fires. Should they also look around your home for possible terrorist activity? Could new training for firefighters mean violations of your privacy?

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

New red flags today about sex and other bad behavior inside the congressional page program. This isn't -- repeat, isn't -- in the realm of another Mark Foley sex scandal, but it does raise some serious questions about who, if anyone, is watching out for those kids working up on Capitol Hill.

Let's go to our congressional correspondents, Jessica Yellin. She's watching this story for us.

I suppose a lot of people are saying to themselves they thought this page program was cleaned up after the Mark Foley scandal. What happened?

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, it has been reformed, but Republican members of the page board say not enough, and they've resigned. And now the clerk who oversees the program says she will begin an immediate review.


YELLIN (voice-over): Representative Ginny Brown-Waite says inappropriate sexual activity has been going on in this dorm for congressional pages for months.

REP. GINNY BROWN-WAITE (R), FLORIDA: It wasn't kissing and hugging. Let me put it that way.

YELLIN (on camera): It went beyond that?

BROWN-WAITE: It went -- it did go beyond that. And there were not only young male and female involved in the incident, but there also were observers and other page participants who were, let's say, enablers.

YELLIN: Brown-Waite says no members of Congress were involved and the two pages who engaged in the activity were expelled this week.

Still, she and Representative Shelley Capito, the two Republican members of the Page Board, resigned, saying, the program suffers from mismanagement and lack of supervision, and the Democrats who run it have not learned lessons of the Mark Foley scandal.

Brown-Waite contends that, for too long, the clerk of the House who oversees the program and was appointed by Nancy Pelosi was unaware of the public sexual activity going on between the pages. BROWN-WAITE: This had been going on for months. Almost all of the pages knew about it.

YELLIN: Brown-Waite and Capito also say the clerk failed to notify the Republican board members when two pages were expelled for shoplifting earlier this year. The clerk, Lorraine Miller, insists that Democrats have made significant reforms to the page program, including expanded safety measures and a monitoring, and a zero- tolerance policy for pages who break the rules.

Still, Speaker Pelosi is calling for a review of the page program.

REP. STENY HOYER (D-MD), MAJORITY LEADER: We also need to make sure that there's oversight of the conduct of the pages, as well as the conduct of anybody that deals with the pages.

YELLIN: But Brown-Waite contents, that response is too slow.

BROWN-WAITE: One parent dubbed it kids gone wild. That's a shame.


YELLIN: Now, Wolf, Brown-Waite says that new cameras are being installed in the dorms to monitor the pages' activities.

But she says the whole program needs a supervisor whose sole responsibility is to oversee those kids -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Jessica, thanks very much. We will stay on top this story together with you.

Meanwhile, Barack Obama has a potentially powerful political weapon his rivals are hard-pressed to match. And right now, he's poised to use it. Her name, Oprah Winfrey.

With less than a month set to go before the first major presidential contest, the gentleman from Illinois and the queen of daytime TV are set to storm the campaign trail in the coming days.

Let's go out to our senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley. She's watching this story for us.

And potentially a very significant story, Candy.


I mean, there's usually not a direct correlation between an endorsement and a person's vote, but there are lots of ways that this can be helpful endorsement. And it comes at a very good time for Barack Obama. We're smack up against those caucuses. And it comes at a time when both politicos and the Barack Obama campaign, as well as the feel on the ground, tells you that Barack Obama is picking up some steam.


CROWLEY (voice-over): They're calling it Oprah-bama.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oprah is the girl. She's the woman, and Obama is the man.

CROWLEY: From Iowa to South Carolina to New Hampshire, presidential candidate Barack Obama will campaign this weekend with the woman of daytime TV. It's a programming trifecta that's selling out tickets in South Carolina and lighting up the gray winter of New Hampshire and Iowa.

JODIE PLUMERT, UNIVERSITY OF IOWA: One of the secretaries was just so excited about the fact that Oprah was coming. And she said, who would have thought, Oprah coming to little old Iowa?

CROWLEY: Oprah speaks daily to almost nine million viewers, turns books into bestsellers, makes experts into household names. Can she boost Barack? Oh, how this campaign hopes so.

CHERYL CARTER, OBAMA PRECINCT CAPTAIN: I think that having Oprah here on Saturday will definitely pull women out. And I think it will just show that women in Iowa are Barack Obama supporters.

CROWLEY: Operative word, women, the crux of the '08 election. Did we mention that Oprah's audience is 75 percent female? Forty-four percent make less than $40,000. A quarter have no more than a high school education. More than half are women over 50.

It is a profile of the female Clinton voter, and this is a direct pitch for that demographic.

Linda Peterson (ph) from North Liberty, Iowa, is leaning Obama.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think it's going to help him with the women my age, because she's very popular, very respected among my age group.

CROWLEY: While Oprah's support is unlikely to translate directly into a significant number of Obama votes, we are talking loads of free media, and, if they come to see her, they will hear him.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: And, if you stand up in this caucus for me, then I promise you that I will stand up for you.

CROWLEY: Like all Obama precinct captains in Iowa, Monique Washington got as many tickets as she wanted. She's dispensing them to supporters and waverers.

MONIQUE WASHINGTON, OBAMA PRECINCT CAPTAIN: When I make phone calls, a lot of people say they're undecided. And I say, well, would you like to see Oprah and Obama and Michelle? And they go, yes, I want to come out.

CROWLEY: Obama workers also handed out tickets to anyone who volunteered four hours to the campaign or signed up for a caucus seminar.


CROWLEY: And, when that was all done, they gave some tickets to the public, but, in order to get one, you had to show up at an Obama headquarters, where they were looking for both your name and your address. So, this is not just a happening, Wolf. This is an organizational tool.

BLITZER: It's going to be an important story, indeed. Candy, thanks very much. And we will watch it throughout the coming days.

Meanwhile, over on the Republican side, John McCain hopes his own political celebrity will draw crowds of supporters this weekend in New Hampshire. The presidential candidate will campaign in the cold, hoping to upset those who had dismissed his chances.

Let's go out to cold. Our chief national correspondent, John King, is standing by.

It looks a little chilly out there. Some are calling it McCain's last stand in New Hampshire, where you are right now. John, what's going on?

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It is a beautiful snowy day here in New Hampshire, Wolf.

And John McCain starts almost every event by joking that the folks back at the Phoenix Chamber of Commerce wanted him to pass along that it's 80 and sunny back home in Arizona. That John McCain is joking at all these days ought to tell you something.


KING (voice-over): The telltale signs are everywhere. Winter's blanket means the wait is almost over. And the candidate written off in the summer heat is angling for another New Hampshire surprise.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's been said before. It will never be said enough. Welcome home.



KING: The diner stops and town halls start early and run late.

MCCAIN: I want to do the hard things. First, we have got to eliminate the wasteful and corrupt spending practices, and then take on Social Security and Medicare.

Listen, I thank you for being here.

KING: Independents powered his surprise primary win here in 2000, but are overwhelmingly against the Iraq war. McCain talks of a Thanksgiving visit with the troops and insists, things are finally looking up.

MCCAIN: Senator Edwards used to call it the McCain surge and the McCain strategy. He doesn't call it that anymore. But he used to do that. I knew what was the right strategy, and that strategy is succeeding.

KING: At every turn, reminders of the issue that sent him from front-runner to frustrated.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: But I'm truly, really concerned for this country as far as illegal immigration is concerned.

MCCAIN: So, I tried to fix it.

KING: He tried by pushing a path for citizenship for millions here illegally.

Listen now.

MCCAIN: So, it seems to me my lesson is, secure the borders first. First, secure the borders.

KING: But lesson learned doesn't necessarily translate into comeback kid. Money is still tight, and, unlike 2000, at least at the moment, independents here are leaning left.

ANDREW SMITH, DIRECTOR, UNIVERSITY OF NEW HAMPSHIRE SURVEY CENTER: They're going to be voting in the Democratic primary, so he doesn't have those people to go to. And I think that's the major reason you're seeing John McCain running a much more traditional Republican campaign this time.

KING: But McCain has clawed back into second place here and hopes the backing of this state's conservative "Union Leader" newspaper brings more progress.

WHIT AYRES, REPUBLICAN POLLSTER: When Pat Robertson endorses Rudy Giuliani and when "The Manchester Union Leader" endorses John McCain, it reinforces my sense that the Republican presidential nomination is like the 2007 college football season. It just doesn't make a lot of sense and is not particularly predictable.


KING: is still running well behind Mitt Romney from neighboring Massachusetts here, Wolf, but his strategy counts on a Romney stumble in Iowa. The McCain campaign believes that would dramatically change the landscape here in New Hampshire. That is a hope. It is in fact far from certain, but the fact that John McCain has hope at all, Wolf, is a different situation than just several weeks ago.

BLITZER: All right, John, we want you to get a scarf, some gloves, maybe a hat. It's cold out there.

KING: You're from Buffalo. This is beautiful.

BLITZER: You're from Boston.


BLITZER: But, you know, it's still cold.


BLITZER: All right, John, thanks very much.

One party, two voices -- Republicans talk tough on some issues, like immigration reform, to Latino voters, but they talk fondly when it comes to getting their votes. So, which voice will the Republican candidates use in this weekend's Spanish-language debate? We will watch that story for you.

Also, his supporters got him $4 million in one day. Now they want to raise a lot more in a few weeks. You will want to here how Ron Paul supporters hope to do it.

And could new training for firefighters make some people worried about calling for their help? You are going to hear what some people are saying, what's going on.

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


BLITZER: Most Republican presidential candidates plan to debate on Spanish-language TV this Sunday. Only congressman Tom Tancredo is boycotting the session, saying the idea of a forum translated into Spanish, in his word, un-American.

Let's go to our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider -- Bill.

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Wolf, Republican candidates have been speaking with two voices to Latino voices. The evidence suggests Latinos have noticed.


SCHNEIDER (voice-over): When Republican candidates participate in the Univision debate this weekend, which voice will they use? There's the harsh voice they often use when they debate illegal immigration.

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I said no to driver's licenses for illegals. I said, number two, we're going to make sure that those that come here don't get a tuition break in our schools.

SCHNEIDER: There's also a compassionate voice they use to reach out to Latino voters.

ROMNEY: It's very important that we, as a party, communicate how much we value immigration. SCHNEIDER: Latino voters have noticed. Eight years ago, Democrats had a 33-point advantage over Republicans among registered Latino voters.

Then, under President Bush, Republicans starting making inroads into the Latino vote. By 2006, the Democratic advantage was noticeably smaller, 19 points. Suddenly, this year, Republicans have taken a U-turn. The Democratic advantage among Latino voters is back up to 34 points.

It happened even though President Bush and other prominent Republicans endorsed comprehensive immigration reform.

MCCAIN: We tried and we failed. And I appreciate the president's efforts. He comes from a border state, too. And what we have learned is that the American people want the borders enforced.

SCHNEIDER: One reason why Republicans speak with two voices, this Republican pollster argues, is that Americans have two values.

DAVID WINSTON, REPUBLICAN CONSULTANT: They have got a real conflicting set of values here. One, we're a country of immigrants; two, we're a country of laws.

SCHNEIDER: When President Bush and Senator McCain spoke with a compassionate voice, they faced a fear backlash.

WINSTON: To some degree, they got out in front before there was a clear resolution in the American public's minds.


SCHNEIDER: The poll warns Republicans they could be facing a backlash from Latino voters, unless they learn to talk about border security in ways that Latinos do not culturally insensitive -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Bill, thank you -- Bill Schneider reporting.

The same Ron Paul supporters who hauled in $4 million-plus in one day online have a new plan now to try to boost the Republican candidate, a giant blimp nearly 200 feet long.

Let's turn to our Internet reporter, Abbi Tatton. She's watching this story for us.

All right, tell us about this blimp, Abbi.

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, it's a Goodyear-sized blimp. Here it is getting prepped in North Carolina.

The plan, from the grassroots supporters of Ron Paul, to plaster the thing with ads -- look, this kind of thing, "Google Ron Paul" -- and then fly it up the East Coast next week to Boston to promote an online fund-raising drive which they're planning around the anniversary of the Boston Tea Party. They have raising money online to hire the blimp. The president of the company that owns the blimp confirms he's been talking to them, and the plan is under way, though he warns that a Monday launch could be a little bit unrealistic and that winter weather could corrupt any plan that might be going ahead.

Still, the supporters of Ron Paul that are behind this are raising money online. A spokesman for the effort says they have got $200,000 so far to get it off the air -- up in the air, and that, if they get even more money to come in, that they could fly it over New Hampshire for the primary.

If it all sounds farfetched, well, these are the same online supporters that last month promised a massive one-day fund-raising haul online, and then they pulled it off. So, we probably should be watching -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Abbi, thanks for that.

Can the power of Oprah turn into votes? We're talking about it in our "Strategy Session." That's coming up next.

And a prominent civil rights and political leaders backs Hillary Clinton, but did he embarrass her in the process? The surprising remarks and a lot more -- coming up.

We will be right back.


SANCHEZ: Let's get to our "Strategy Session" right now: Oprah teaming up with Barack Obama.

Let's bring in Democratic strategist Jamal Simmons and Republican strategist Cheri Jacobus.

Guys, thanks very much for coming in.


BLITZER: How big a deal for Barack Obama is this Oprah tour, shall we call it?

SIMMONS: Oh, it's going to be big for him.

Look, there are a lot of women out there who watch Oprah Winfrey every day. They're going to see Barack Obama. They're going to go there to see Oprah Winfrey, and then Barack Obama is going to try to pitch them. Now, it's up to Obama to be able to sell it. We just found out, I guess, Bill Clinton is going to try to shadow this a little bit and try to do the same thing, and use his star power to bring people in, talk about Hillary Clinton.

But this is -- no doubt, this is a major weekend for the Obama campaign. And it's coming at just the right moment for...


BLITZER: And she's going to go into several of the states with him, not just South Carolina -- New Hampshire and Iowa.

This is a big deal, isn't it, Cheri?


I mean, she's doing the grand tour with him. But I think she may get credit for his numbers going up, because Hillary's are already going down. I'm not really sure that anybody that is really watching politics is convinced that she can actually bring in votes.

But, you know, I would go see her if the tickets are free. And I wouldn't vote for Obama. I would like to go see Oprah. So, she's filling stadiums right now, not necessarily him.


BLITZER: Might not help, but certainly can't hurt; is that right?

SIMMONS: Oh, it certainly can't hurt. And I think Obama's numbers are starting to pick up a little bit of momentum. And this is going to be a good shot in the arm for him. So, it's going to be a challenge for the Clinton campaign.

BLITZER: How big of a deal is the fact that almost all of the Republican presidential candidates, Cheri, are going to show up at the Univision Spanish-language debate this weekend down in Miami?

JACOBUS: I think it's a pretty big deal. Any time our guys get together and debate, I think it's a big deal.

But I think that it's not going to be as divisive -- divisive as perhaps Democrats are hoping. I mean, Republicans are pretty clear in their position on this. I don't think the issue of immigration is as tough for Republicans now as it is for Democrats. As we saw...

BLITZER: Explain that. Well, explain why.


JACOBUS: Well, just a few weeks ago, we saw the trouble that Hillary Clinton got into, as well as Barack Obama, when she didn't quite know what her answer was with regard to driver's licenses in New York for illegal aliens. So, that's become a big problem.

Republicans don't have that problem. They're pretty clear. What they do have to do, however, is really talk to the Hispanic-American community as Americans about those things that unite us. But we have to also remember that there is a poll out -- there's many polls out that show that a 90 percent, close to a 90 percent issue in this country is that Americans believe that immigrants that come to this country should learn our language and should be able to read and write proficiently. And I think that's key. BLITZER: There's no doubt Democrats in recent years have made inroads with the Hispanic vote. But the Republicans are still trying to get those Hispanics to vote for them.

SIMMONS: They're going to try, but this is one of these things that happens from time to time, whether it was Prop 187 in California, English-only. Now we're talking about immigration.

Just when Hispanics start to feel some affinity toward the Republican Party, they do something that sort of pushes them away again, like this. We saw, in Bill Schneider's report, that you have got this gap. It's gone from 19 percent under George Bush, where Hispanics were really interested, and now it's back up to 34 percent, which is almost at the high from 1999.

So, this is a tough issue for -- for Republicans, and in a growing part of the electorate.

BLITZER: But there are disagreements on the -- among the Republican presidential candidates.

John McCain was, after all, with Ted Kennedy and President Bush, in the forefront in trying to get comprehensive immigration reform, which, of course, went down in flames.



And, so, he sort of tempered his position, or the way he talks about it now, which is the wise thing to do. And he's being realistic.

But I -- I think that we now know where the country stands on this. I also think it's a big mistake to assume that everybody of Hispanic heritage, people who are here in this country legally, who worked hard to become Americans, and still value their culture, but somehow they are going to vote against a candidate that supports amnesty for illegals.

These are people who worked hard to become Americans. I think that either party is making a very big mistake if we sort of assume that all Hispanics feel the same way on this. This -- it's a fluid issue. It's how our candidates talk about it that's going to matter.

SIMMONS: The person that may benefit from this the most is Tom Tancredo, because this is an issue that's perfectly made for him. And him deciding not to go down there will energize his supporters, I think.

BLITZER: All right.

JACOBUS: Which will mean nothing, essentially.



BLITZER: He's not exactly doing all that great in the polls right now already.

All right, guys, thanks very much...

JACOBUS: Thank you.

SIMMONS: Thank you.

BLITZER: ... for coming in, Jamal and Cheri.

Barack Obama may be battling Hillary Clinton, but now he's also competing against Bill Clinton. There's a new rivalry that's coming up. We will explain.

And, in Iraq, we're taking you inside notorious torture chambers that are now empty. How they were cleared to some very important -- it's very important to America's hopes in Iraq. We will tell you what is going on -- Michael Ware on the scene.

We will be right back.


BLITZER: In our Political Ticker today: The Democratic presidential candidate hasn't been selected yet, but guess what? Barack Obama has clinched one nomination already.

The senator from Illinois has been nominated for a Grammy in the spoken word category for the audio version of his bestselling book, "The Audacity of Hope." His competition, by the way, former President Bill Clinton nominated for his own audio book "Giving."

Remember, for the latest political news at any time, check out our Political Ticker at

You got an audio version of your book there, Jack?


BLITZER: Why not?

CAFFERTY: No, I don't.

BLITZER: You should. You should.

CAFFERTY: I don't know. Well, because nobody -- I know I should, but nobody asked me to do that.


BLITZER: Tell your publisher we want an audio version of "It's Getting Ugly Out There."

CAFFERTY: Does that mean I have to go and record the thing? BLITZER: Yes, your -- in your own voice, not some actor.

CAFFERTY: Yes. Well, all right. I guess we could do that.

This -- this Oprah-Obama thing, it's going to be in an outdoor football stadium; is that right?

BLITZER: Right, 80,000 potential fans out there.

CAFFERTY: Have you ever been in Iowa in December outside?

BLITZER: Yes, I have, every four years, every four years.

CAFFERTY: If there's a five-mile-an-hour wind blowing, those people will be blocks of ice in about 20 minutes.

BLITZER: But, except, this one is going to be in South Carolina.




BLITZER: The event is going to be in South Carolina.

CAFFERTY: Oh, I thought they were going to do it in an outdoor football stadium in Iowa. They're not?

BLITZER: No. The event is going to be at an outdoor football field in South Carolina. But then she will be going to Iowa. She will be going to New Hampshire, all over the place.

CAFFERTY: That's the reason you anchor this program and I don't, because I'm confused, and you're not. Thank you for...

BLITZER: But you're a best-selling author.


CAFFERTY: The question this hour: What message does it send when 60 percent of military families now disapprove of President Bush's handling of the war in Iraq?

R.A. writes: "Our own intelligence showed 26 countries with an al Qaeda presence after 9/11. Iraq was not one of them. By attacking and occupying the wrong country, we provided our enemies with propaganda fuel and destroyed our reputation with most of the world. We have had our future sold out from under us, borrowing all the money needed for this war. I'm ashamed my fellow Americans would accept this."

Barrett writes: "I doubt the polls you describe got any other result than the one they wanted. I have to admit that it pains me that more than 50 point of Americans are willing to be losers again and will follow the Democrats down that path. But, as an officer in a large veterans organization, I seldom hear veterans espousing any methods that would tell the enemy when we're leaving, or are they willing to leave without winning, whenever that might be."

Patty in Newportville, Pennsylvania: "Dear Jack, this is not surprising. Our military members and their families are the only ones sacrificing anything for this war. Bush and his cronies told everyone else to spend, spend, spend. Then, when our brave soldiers come home, they find themselves up against a bureaucracy that makes them jump through hoops to the get the benefits they richly deserve."

Jack and Florida writes: "The disapproval of the war is far too late for the nearly 4,000 troops who have died and those thousands more who have been maimed for the rest of their lives. What took them so long? Patriotism is not enough. Common sense should prevail."

Jim writes: "Even the military is admitting that Bush's war is wrong, and that means that it's high time Pelosi put impeachment back on the table."

And Eric writes: "Get out the orange sauce. The lame duck is done" -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jack, thank you.