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Congressional Pages Gone Wild?; Firestorm Erupts Over Destroyed CIA Tapes

Aired December 7, 2007 - 18:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now: the new firestorm over destroyed CIA tapes. Was the spy agency hiding something about its treatment of terror suspects?
Plus, Mitt Romney says it wasn't his fault. The presidential candidate gets a little testy about those illegal immigrants who did his landscaping.

And new complaints about congressional pages gone wild. Is anyone watching over young people working under the dome on Capitol Hill?

All that and the best political team on television. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Top Senate Democrats are demanding answers about why CIA videotapes were destroyed and whether laws were broken. They're asking the Justice Department to investigate. The tapes capture the harsh interrogations of two alleged terrorists back in 2002.

The CIA director revealed only yesterday that the videos were destroyed in 2005.

Mary Snow is following the political fallout.

It is dramatic. Update our viewers, Mary, on what's going on.

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, Senator Ted Kennedy for one is accusing the CIA of a cover-up, but it's not just Democrats. Republicans are also voicing concerns, both on Capitol Hill and on the presidential campaign trail.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

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

SNOW (voice over): Senate Democrat 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: Republican Congressman Pete Hoekstra of Michigan, who was chairman of the House Intelligence Committee between 2004 and 2006, says he was never briefed about the tapes or their destruction and criticized the CIA.

REP. PETE HOEKSTRA (R), MICHIGAN: On the committee, we're entrusted with a great responsibility by our colleagues in the House of Representatives, by the American people to do the oversight on the intelligence community. And when the community doesn't cooperate and they don't fulfill their responsibilities to Congress, yes, I'm very -- I'm very unhappy about that.

SNOW: 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 have got to really clean house here and get to the bottom of what has been going on in the last years.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SNOW: Democratic presidential hopeful Senator Joe Biden called the disclosure of the destroyed tapes, in his words, another troubling example of the Bush administration's lawless behavior and called on the CIA's inspector general to investigate -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Mary Snow reporting for us, thank you.

The White House is distancing itself from the flap over those destroyed CIA tapes, suggesting they were not on the president's radar.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DANA PERINO, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: But 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 will have to -- I will refer you to the vice president's office.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Perino also says the president has complete confidence in the way the current CIA director, Michael Hayden, has handled this matter.

We're going to have a lot more coming up on this story this hour.

Let's get, though, to the presidential campaign out in Iowa right now. There are dramatic developments unfolding. The Republican candidate Mitt Romney is facing some tough questions about the reason he spoke out about his Mormon faith and why he fired illegal immigrants who did his landscaping.

The best political team on the campaign trail, including our Dana Bash, standing by in Des Moines, Iowa -- Dana.

DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, it's been three days since Mitt Romney announced he fired his landscaping company for having illegal immigrants at his house. Yet, today was the very first time he talked about it publicly.

And I asked him whether or not he thinks it's paradox that he had illegal immigrants working at his house in Massachusetts, while out here on the campaign trail, he talks very tough against illegal immigration. He responded by saying, as a homeowner, he had no way of knowing.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: 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.

QUESTION: If I may follow up, sir, you're running as somebody who is a CEO, who is really focused on issues like this, like judgment, 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 that no illegal...

(CROSSTALK)

ROMNEY: And what's the extra mile?

BASH: To make sure, especially a candidate for president.

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?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BASH: Of course, he did know that, last year, this very same landscaping company was using illegal immigrants at his house. Yet, he decided to keep them on, he says, because he was assured that they would no longer do that. Now, Romney also talked today about the major address that he gave yesterday in Texas about his faith. And his advisers fully admit the obvious, which is the reason he gave that speech is to reassure Republican voters who are skeptical about his Mormon faith.

The more candid advisers in Romney's camp say that it's also because of the fact that he is simply not doing as well here in the state of Iowa with very powerful evangelical voters who are skeptical. Yet, today, when asked about him, Romney insisted that that speech had nothing to do with politics -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Dana Bash reporting for us from Des Moines -- Dana, thanks very much.

And we're just getting this into THE SITUATION ROOM right now. I think it's fair to call it a bombshell in the Republican presidential race in Iowa. There's a brand-new poll that has just come out that shows Mike Huckabee -- get this -- some 22 points ahead of Mitt Romney among likely Republican caucus-goers in Iowa, 39 to 17 percent.

Huckabee had sort of neck and neck or just slightly ahead with Romney in Iowa. But this "Newsweek" poll is the first to show moving so far ahead. The survey shows Fred Thompson, by the way, third, followed by Rudy Giuliani and Ron Paul. Paul edges out John McCain among the top five.

Just ahead, the best political team on television talks about this stunning turn.

If these new "Newsweek" poll numbers, Jack Cafferty are accurate, 39 percent for Huckabee, 17 percent for Mitt Romney. That's a dramatic lead, if, in fact, this snapshot is accurate.

But I want to caution our viewers, sometimes, caucus-goers, the polling among likely caucus-goers may not necessarily be precise.

(CROSSTALK)

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: And so far that's kind of out of whack with most of the rest of the polls, which show the race between Huckabee and Romney much closer.

However, if we get another poll from somebody else that shows this kind of space, then -- you wonder if maybe Romney got an early peek at this. He seemed a little snippy with that reporter in that clip we saw earlier, didn't he?

BLITZER: Yes. I'm sure he's worried.

CAFFERTY: Yes. Well, he ought to be, I guess.

This is not good news. One out of every 31 adults in this country is either in prison, in jail or under court supervision. That is 7.2 million people. A new Justice Department report shows that at the end of last year there were more than 2.2 million men and women in prison or in jail. The number of people on probation or parole topped five million for the first time ever.

A record 905,000 of Americans -- prison inmates, are African American and the number of women in prison is at a record high of more than 112,000.

This all suggests, of course, when it comes to the criminal population, the numbers keep trending up. The Justice Department says the increase is keeping pace with expanding capacity in prisons and jails. Congress and state legislatures have been passing laws with stiffer sentencing to try to crack down on crime.

But the critics say the current system is simply too expensive. It costs about $25,000 per inmate per year to incarcerate these folks. They also point to high recidivism rates. And it should also be pointed out that the criminal justice system in this country is a huge business, huge, employs a ton of people.

Anyway, here's the question. What does it say about the U.S. when about one in 31 adults are either behind bars or under court supervision? You can e-mail your thoughts to caffertyfile@CNN.com. But, instead of just doing that, click on this thing. I got a blog now. You click on this thing. You go to CNN.com/caffertyfile, and then you click on comments.

The old way, you would just send them in the mailbox. But, if you click on comments, you can go ahead and write your response, however you want. And, instead of the three or four or five that we read on the air each hour, all of these that pass muster with Samantha (ph), who is the standards lady on these things, will be posted on the blog.

So, if your e-mail doesn't get read here on the air, you can put it on the blog and other people can read it there. And you can go there and read other people's. It's a way for you to kind of talk among yourselves, if you get my drift.

BLITZER: It's a great idea, Jack.

CAFFERTY: Check it out.

BLITZER: Stand by. We got you coming back with the best political team on television. Lots more coming up with Jack this hour.

Also coming up, a presidential candidate says something the CIA did should make the entire country worry.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. CHRISTOPHER DODD (D-CT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You make our country less safe, less secure and more vulnerable, more isolated in the world. That's why this is so dangerous.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Democrat Chris Dodd, why does he think the CIA's destruction of those videotapes is so harmful to U.S. security. He will explain.

Young people that work for Congress gone wild. There are revelations of inappropriate sexual activity up on Capitol Hill, claims that Democrats are not doing enough to stop it.

And chilling new details regarding that gunman in the Omaha mall massacre. There are pictures just before his killing spree began.

And a suicide note in which he wrote -- and I'm quoting now -- "I just snapped."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: 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 now 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.

DODD: Thank you, Wolf.

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 have 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.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

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 will defer to the vice president's office.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

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 have 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 have 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: Some are calling it Oprah-bama -- the queen of daytime TV and the presidential candidate ready to storm the campaign trail tomorrow. You are going to find out where they will be and if the talk show queen can talk voters into supporting Obama.

And politics can be a very rough sport, but an all-out brawl? You are going to find out why these politicians used more physical means to get their points across. We will tell you what is going on -- that and a lot more coming up here in (r)MDNM¯THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Barack Obama has a potentially powerful political weapon his rivals are hard-pressed to match. Right now, though, he's poised to use it.

Our senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley, is watching all of this unfold out in Des Moines, Iowa.

A lot people are scrambling to see what happens this weekend, Candy.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it will be really interesting. In any case, it will be quite an event. And it comes at a very good time for Barack Obama. First of all, we are right up against those Iowa caucuses, and, second of all, he seems to be getting some traction here.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

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.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CROWLEY: As for those tickets that were left, those were for the public. But, in order to get one, you had to go into Obama headquarters someplace, give them your name and your address. So, this is not just a happening, Wolf. This is a campaign organizing tool.

BLITZER: Candy, I can see, you're absolutely right. Thanks very much for that, Candy Crowley, on the campaign trail in Iowa.

Destroyed evidence -- Democrats aren't buying the CIA's claim that it got rid of tapes to protect the interrogators. But will that matter to voters? We're watching this story.

Also, Mike Huckabee soaring in Iowa. We're going to take a closer look at these surprising brand-new poll numbers. What's going on? Could the presidential race be upset? The best political team on television standing by to take on that.

And disturbing problems within congressional page programs up on Capitol Hill. We will tell you what's going on.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

Happening now: The CIA, did it overstep its bounds? Congressional leaders calling for an investigation into the destruction of those CIA interrogation videotapes. Leading Democrats want the Justice Department to determine if the agency and its agents simply went too far.

Huckabee rising -- a brand-new "Newsweek" poll of likely Republican caucus-goers gives the former Arkansas governor -- get this -- a 22-point lead over former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney -- the Iowa caucuses only four weeks away, less than that, actually.

And the power of celebrity endorsements -- Oprah Winfrey throwing her support in for Barack Obama, thousands, tens of thousands, preparing to flock to see them this weekend. We're talking with our best political team on television about that and a lot more.

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

But, first, more on our top story, new fallout from the CIA's revelation that it destroyed videotapes of harsh terror suspect interrogations -- leading Democratic members of Congress now asking the Justice Department to investigate.

Our justice correspondent, Kelli Arena, first brought us the story when it broke yesterday -- Kelli.

KELLI ARENA, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, members of Congress are absolutely outraged. There are still way too many questions about what happened, why it happened, and whether it was legal.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ARENA (voice-over): Lawmakers want to know if anyone at the CIA broke the law by destroying those interrogation tapes.

SEN. EDWARD KENNEDY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: What would cause the CIA to take this action? The answer is obvious: cover-up.

ARENA: They're also angry about being left in the dark.

In a letter to employees, CIA Director Michael Hayden said that congressional leaders were told of the intention to destroy the tapes ahead of time.

But Congresswoman Jane Harman, who's the top Democrat on the Intelligence Committee, and other lawmakers insist, that's not true.

REP. JANE HARMAN, (D-CF), CHAIRMAN, TERRORISM RISK SUBCOMMITTEE: No one ever informed me that tapes were being destroyed.

ARENA: The tapes were made in 2002, after the president approved severe interrogation techniques for terror detainees, which included waterboarding -- or simulated drowning. Government officials with knowledge of what was on them say they included interrogations of two prisoners -- one of them, Al Qaeda operative Abu Zubaydah. The CIA says the tapes were destroyed in 2005 -- right in the middle of a major debate over whether the agency's actions amounted to torture. They were never made available in any terrorism trial or even to the 9/11 Commission.

DANIEL MARCUS, 9/11 COMMISSION GENERAL COUNSEL: If the commission had known at that stage that videotapes of some of the detainee interrogations existed, we would have insisted on seeing them.

ARENA: Hayden says the tapes were destroyed to protect CIA interrogators. If their identities were ever leaked, he argued, they could be targeted by Al Qaeda.

But it's not flying.

SEN. CARL LEVIN (D-MI), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: It's a pathetic excuse. They'd have to burn every document at the CIA that has the identity of an agent on it under that theory.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

ARENA: The CIA maintains that there was no legal or internal reason to keep those tapes. The Justice Department says it has received the Congressional request to investigate and that it's in the process of fact-finding -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Kelli, thanks very much.

The fallout only just beginning. Here to talk about it, the best political team on television.

Our senior political analyst, Gloria Borger. She's here in Washington.

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

Also in New York, our CNN contributor, the Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Carl Bernstein. His best-seller is called "A Woman In Charge," a book about Hillary Clinton.

BLITZER: Jack, first to you.

All right, what do you make of what's going on -- the revelation yesterday that the CIA destroyed these videotapes.

CAFFERTY: Well, I've got two or three questions. One is, I wonder what kind of guy the new attorney general is going to turn out to be before this is over. We're sure going to find that out.

The other question is does anybody tell President Bush anything anymore?

(LAUGHTER) CAFFERTY: He didn't know the about the NIE stuff on Iran. He didn't know about -- Dana Perino is starting to look like Ralph Kramden at these daily press briefings doing a hum and a hum and a humma (ph), trying to cover up for the fact that the White House either doesn't know or should know or something.

The only reason any of us know -- and little credit where it's due -- is because the " New York Times" called General Hayden on Wednesday night and said we know you've been destroying tapes and we're going to put it in the newspaper. And General Hayden then told the employees of the CIA apparently yesterday -- and President Bush. So without the help of some good investigative reporting on the part of the "Times," nobody would have known anything about this stuff.

BLITZER: All right, let me bring in Carl Bernstein. A lot of our viewers remember, of course, Woodward and Bernstein and what happened back in the '70s.

What do you make of this?

CARL BERNSTEIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Nixon didn't destroy his tapes.

(LAUGHTER)

BERNSTEIN: In this case, they were destroyed.

I think that this is about the presidency. It is about the same question that Richard Nixon raised when he said if the president says it's legal, it's legal. And the Bush presidency has asserted the same thing throughout the conduct of this war. I wrote a long piece in "Vanity Fair" about it that viewers can see on carlbernstein.com, my Web site.

And the question is, when is Congress going to have a real investigation -- not the Justice Department -- but the Congress of the United States -- about the conduct of this presidency and the war so we learn from Republicans, as well as Democrats. Take this out of partisan politics, as Watergate was taken out of it because Republicans join in and investigated the so-called White House horrors. And there are White House horrors that need to be investigated in the Bush presidency. And it's long overdue.

BLITZER: Gloria?

GLORIA BORGER, SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Wolf, I talked to a former top agency official today. And he said to me, look, these tapes probably should not have been made in the first place. They definitely should not have been destroyed. It's never a good idea to destroy this kind of thing. But, from his point of view -- and this is, again, a former agency official.

He said why did they destroy these tapes?

They destroyed these tapes because they know that eventually they'd get to Capitol Hill and then they'd be made public. And they were worried that they were explosive, because what's contained on these tapes is clearly interrogation techniques that would be offensive to a lot of people in America. And that's exactly the kind of thing that Congress is trying to legislate against now.

Why did this story get leaked now?

It got leaked now because Congress is considering this legislation that the president has said -- or his staff has said that it would veto. So there you have this tug of war going on right now.

BLITZER: What one person told me, Jack, was that if you thought that Abu Ghraib Prison pictures were horrendous and embarrassing, that was child's play compared to the interrogation techniques that were videotaped back in 2002.

CAFFERTY: Well, and this whole explanation is so lame and bogus -- well, we were afraid we were going it reveal the identity of these CIA operatives.

BERNSTEIN: Like Valerie Plame.

CAFFERTY: They weren't too concerned about Valerie Plame, were they, when they let that out?

BERNSTEIN: Right.

CAFFERTY: Carl, let me ask you a question.

Based on your knowledge of the Nixon administration and your knowledge of what's gone on for the last seven years in the Bush administration, was a mistake for Nancy Pelosi to say "impeachment is off the table?"

BERNSTEIN: I don't think impeachment is called for until you have a real investigation of what happened in this presidency, like we had in the Watergate investigation. You can't call for impeachment until you know what happened. And so far, Republicans have not been willing to join with Democrats to find out what happened in this presidency. And, of course, one of the reasons, I think, that the Republicans did so badly in the Congressional elections is this sense that they have backed the president up time and again without really looking at the kind of oversight that people expect their representatives to give them.

BORGER: But the question about this presidency, as Jack was saying earlier, is not necessarily that he knew that there were tapes, but it's what he doesn't know.

BERNSTEIN: No, the question is...

BORGER: That's really...

BERNSTEIN: No.

BORGER: That's really the question.

BERNSTEIN: No. It's like Richard Nixon saying, look, if the president says it's legal, it's legal...

BLITZER: All right...

BERNSTEIN: And that's what this administration has done time and again.

BLITZER: Guys...

BERNSTEIN: Yes?

BLITZER: Stand by for a moment...

BERNSTEIN: Stand by.

BLITZER: ...because we've got to take a quick commercial break.

But you know what?

There's a lot more to talk about with the best political team on television, including that bombshell poll just released involving Iowa -- a new poll showing a huge shakeup among Republicans only a few weeks before the Iowa caucuses. Mike Huckabee, according to "Newsweek" magazine, surging big time.

Plus, the battle of the campaign stars. Candidates call on their biggest guns, trying to harness celebrity power this weekend.

We'll talk about that and more.

Stay with us.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: A new "Newsweek" poll shows Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee surging -- get this -- 22 points ahead in Iowa, where the nation's first caucuses will take place in just a few weeks.

We're back with our senior political analyst, Gloria Borger, Jack Cafferty and our CNN contributor Carl Bernstein.

Let's be precise, Jack. We'll put the numbers up on the screen. The new "Newsweek" poll -- likely Republican caucus goers -- the caucus on January 3rd. Huckabee, 39. Romney, 17. Thompson. 10. Giuliani, 9. Paul, 8. McCain, 6. Tancredo, 2.

The sampling error, though -- the sampling error -- very important -- 7 percent. The "Des Moines Register" poll that came out last weekend had Huckabee also ahead, but by 29 to 24 over Romney. The sampling error 4 percent.

Whatever it is, Huckabee is clearly, at least according to these two polls, doing very, very well. CAFFERTY: Well, it's hard to base a lot of conclusions, I think, just on this one "Newsweek" poll just because the margin between he and Romney is so wide in this one poll. And there are a lot of polls being done and the electorate out there is very fluid and we've got four weeks to go.

But I'd say this. If Huckabee comes out of Iowa with anything approaching a margin of victory like he has in this "Newsweek" poll, it's going to be deep trouble for the rest of that Republican field because he will have the big momentum going in a very large way.

But I think we've got to wait and see if they -- if we get another poll with this kind of wide separation.

BORGER: Wolf, I think this volatility really reflects just kind of the general weakness of the Republican field that you have. Iowa caucus goers out there kind of looking for a different candidate. And they find one in Huckabee. But it also is sort of the revenge of the Evangelical voters. If you look deep into this "Newsweek" poll, 47 percent of those who identify themselves as Evangelical voters say they're for Huckabee. Only 14 percent for Mitt Romney. And this was taken after his religion speech.

BLITZER: Carl?

BERNSTEIN: Beware polls. And when you see polls like this, what it means is that as a candidate gets more support in polls, people are going to take a closer look at him.

BORGER: Right.

BERNSTEIN: They might go to the Huffingtonpost stories on Huckabee right now that are very damming in terms of some things he did with a pardon in -- back when he was governor of Arkansas.

The real story right now is the increasing possibility that Mike Bloomberg is going to enter this race as an Independent. Huckabee's rise and Giuliani's fall -- or falling numbers and perceptions right now are part of that story.

BLITZER: All right...

BERNSTEIN: I've talked to an awful lot of people around Bloomberg who think he's taking a real serious look and he's probably going to go.

BLITZER: He certainly...

BERNSTEIN: And that's the real story.

BLITZER: He certainly has the money.

I just want to make one thing -- he didn't pardon anybody, Huckabee in Arkansas. There was a parole -- the parole board...

BERNSTEIN: (INAUDIBLE). BLITZER: ...the parole board went ahead and paroled this guy who went on to rape and kill a young woman.

BERNSTEIN: Correct. What I'm suggesting is that people ought to read the stories.

BLITZER: Right. There...

BERNSTEIN: And that's true of all these underlying stories about these candidates. We need more than two minute discussions. The great thing about the Web now is you can listen to people like us and you can go online and find out and really get facts.

BLITZER: And get a lot more information.

BLITZER: All right, Jack, I want your quick take, though, before we go, on Oprah. It's going to be a huge event in South Carolina. They got a big stadium -- 80,000 seats, getting ready to go. She's obviously very enthusiastic for Barack Obama.

Big deal or a little deal?

CAFFERTY: Somebody made an interesting point. It's a huge deal for people who want it see Oprah Winfrey. But the point that somebody made -- it might have been Candy Crowley -- is that you get 80,000 people in a football stadium to see Oprah, they're going to hear Barack Obama. So, you know, whether there's any bleed over of his message getting into the minds of people that might have been on the fence or not, I don't know.

There's a big question mark whether these celebrities amount to that much. Let's see what happens when Alf (ph) declares for Dennis Kucinich and they start touring together.

BLITZER: And...

BERNSTEIN: She's a celebrity...

(CROSSTALK)

BERNSTEIN: ...Ellen DeGeneres...

BLITZER: Hold on a second.

Gloria -- Gloria...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: ...Bill Clinton is going into South Carolina to support his wife, sort of trying to preempt the Obama/Oprah event.

What do you think?

BORGER: Well, I think Bill Clinton is the best surrogate that she has. He's a real attraction for African-American voters in South Carolina. And, you know, I remember when -- in Selma, Alabama when Hillary Clinton went down there for the march and all the interest was in Barack Obama.

Who did she bring?

She brought Bill Clinton with her. So, she's doing it again, because she knows that Oprah is really popular with older women voters and she needs those voters. And she's asking her husband to help her out on all fronts.

BLITZER: The old people and older people vote a lot more than the young people, as we all know.

Gloria, thanks very much.

BORGER: Sure.

BLITZER: Carl Bernstein, thanks to you.

Jack, don't go.

We've The Cafferty File.

CAFFERTY: OK.

BLITZER: That's coming up.

New red flags today about sex and other bad behavior inside the Congressional page program up on Capitol Hill. And this 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 these kids.

Let's bring in our Congressional correspondent, Jessica Yellin.

She's watching this story for us.

We were told that whole page program has been cleaned up in the aftermath of the mark Foley scandal.

What happened?

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it was reformed, Wolf, but the Republican members of the Page Board say not enough, and they've resigned. And now the clerk who oversees the Page Board says she'll begin an immediate review of the security and supervision of the pages' dorm.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

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 that 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 clerks 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 contends that response is too slow.

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

(END VIDEOTAPE)

YELLIN: And, Wolf, Brown-Waite says new cameras are now being installed in the pages' dorm so that they can better monitor their activity. But she says beyond that, they need a new supervisor for the program whose sole responsibility is to oversee these pages -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jessica, what a story.

Thanks very much.

Jessica Yellin will stay on top of it for us.

Coming up, friends with money -- the California governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, reveals some of his wealthiest supporters. We're going to tell you why and who they are. And Jack Cafferty asking this question -- what does it say about the U.S. when about one in 31 adults are either behind bars or under court supervision?

Jack with your e-mail.

Stay with us.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Checking our Political Ticker right now, Congress and the nation will have to wait just a little bit longer than expected for President Bush's final report on the state of the union. Three Congressional sources tell CNN the White House is pushing back the date for the annual address to January 28th -- six days later than indicated by a Congressional calendar issued earlier this week.

California's governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, has released a list of millionaires and billionaires who pay for much of his overseas travel. An obscure non-profit group has funded many of the international trade missions, as well as other events, since shortly after he took office. Critics say that donors to the group have unfair access to the governor and his office.

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

The same Ron Paul supporters who hauled in $4 million plus in one day online have a new plan to boost the Republican candidate.

Let's go to our Internet reporter, Abbi Tatton.

She's watching this story for us -- Abbi.

ABBI TATTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the plan is a Goodyear sized blimp. And these grassroot supporters of Ron Paul want to plaster this thing -- here's a picture of it here -- with ads like this one: "Google Ron Paul," that kind of thing, and then fly it up the East Coast ahead of a massive online fundraising drive, they hope, that they're planning for the end of next year.

These supporters have formed a company online. They've been soliciting funds to try and get enough money to hire the thing. They say that they're on track. And the president of the company that owns it says that, yes, that plan is going ahead, though he thinks that a Monday launch is unrealistic.

A spokesman for the effort says that if they get enough money, they want to fly the thing over New Hampshire for the primary.

If it all sounds far-fetched, remember, these are the same Ron Paul supporters -- online grassroots -- that promised a massive fundraising drive last month and then delivered. So we'll be watching -- Wolf. BLITZER: They certainly did deliver and they're delivering enormous amounts of money for them, as well.

He's going to be a guest of ours here in THE SITUATION ROOM next week.

Let's check back with Jack.

He's got The Cafferty File in New York.

CAFFERTY: This is great stuff. I mean the imagination those people that like Ron Paul are showing is -- it does a heart good, somebody who has become jaded by the same old same old. They're showing that there's more than one way to try to get it done.

The question this hour -- what does it say about the United States when one in 31 adults are either behind bars or under court supervision?

That's over seven million people.

Jack writes from Sudbury, Vermont: "I work with inmates and ex- offenders in Vermont. Over 75 percent of those imprisoned here are there for drugs or drug-related offenses. We have it all wrong on punishments for this. We need education, not punishment. We've developed into a society of fear and punishment. These are politically expedient, but ineffective."

John writes: "No surprise here. It's symptomatic of our deteriorating society, lack of values and the careless government. We're now like the Roman Empire in the decline. And the big rock is rolling so fast down the hill, I doubt anyone or anything can stop it. God help us and our children.

Rick writes: "It's appalling the amount of people who are in jail. It's become big business and the probability of rehabilitation runs contrary to the big business rule. The number of people jailed for victimless crimes is greater and they tend to serve more time than violent criminals. Only in America."

Marty writes: "Call it prohibition, the sequel. Vast numbers of people in prison or on probation are non-violent offenders convicted of private drug use and are not a threat to society. After spending time with the violent offenders who belong in prison and being unable to find a job with a criminal record when they get out, they may just become violent offenders."

And Marta writes: "It means I'm not as cynical and pessimistic as I often get accused of being when I say long and loud this country is going down the toilet and fast. It's no longer your dad's, granddad's or even your generations, America, anymore. I feel so bad for kids today. Their future is really bleak here in this new American melting pot. Maybe chamber pot would be a better description." -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Have a great weekend, Jack.

CAFFERTY: You, too.

BLITZER: See you back here on Monday.

CAFFERTY: All right.

BLITZER: Jack Cafferty with The Cafferty File.

A quick check of our top stories when we return, including new details on the Omaha mall gunman.

Stay with us.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Mary Snow is monitoring some other important stories incoming to THE SITUATION ROOM right now -- Mary, what's going on?

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, police have released the suicide note from Omaha mall shooter Robert Hawkins. Hawkins says he just snapped, adding: "I know everyone will remember me as some sort of monster."

Surveillance images of the rampage were also released. He leaves and returns with a canceled AK-47 rifle. The third picture shows him holding the rifle. Hawkins killed eight people and himself.

Two suicide bombings killed more than two dozen people in Iraq today. One was carried out by a woman, who blew herself up outside the office of a Sunni group opposed to al Qaeda. Later, a suicide bomber rammed into an Iraqi Army checkpoint.

And in this story, you can call it politics Taiwanese style. Today, they descended on the speaker to block him from making an announcement. They also blocked doorways to the legislature floor. The mayhem was meant to obstruct discussions on the makeup of Taiwan's national election committee -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Mary, thanks very much.

Have a great weekend yourself.

This weekend, my exclusive interview with Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf. He'll be among my guests Sunday on "LATE EDITION" -- the last word in Sunday talk. That begins 11:00 a.m. Eastern.

That's it for me.

Have a great weekend.

Christine Romans sitting in for Lou -- Christine.

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