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THE SITUATION ROOM

Interview With Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman and Arizona Senator John McCain; Sleeper Candidate John Edwards?

Aired December 17, 2007 - 18:00   ET

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


JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now: A rebel takes on John McCain's cause. What is behind Joe Lieberman's bombshell endorsement? I will ask the Democrat-turned-independent and the Republican he's backing now in the race for the White House.
Plus, Hillary Clinton tries to literally take off in Iowa. She is barnstorming the state and leaving her husband to do some of the dirty work against Barack Obama.

And John Edwards as the sleeper candidate. While his rivals grab the headlines, will Edwards rise and shine come caucus day?

Wolf Blitzer is off today. I'm John King. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Some of Joe Lieberman's longtime Democratic allies say his choice for president is, well, flat-out wrong. But the Democrats' 2000 vice presidential candidate isn't looking back. He's flaunting his independence by endorsing Republican John McCain's White House bid. Now McCain's campaign is riding a new wave of endorsement momentum.

Our Mary Snow is in New Hampshire for the big news from the McCain camp today.

And, Mary, what is the reaction there?

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, the reaction is kind of one of curiosity about this endorsement.

Senator John McCain is having an aggressive push to gain independents in this state, hoping that he will recreate a victory that he had here eight years ago.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SNOW (voice over): He was once called the maverick of the Republican Party. He jokes that he may be seen as the eccentric uncle of the Democratic Party. Senator Joe Lieberman, the Democratic vice presidential nominee in 2000, whose now turned Independent, knew crossing the aisle to endorse Republican senator John McCain for President would draw attention.

SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN (I), CONNECTICUT: You know, I know it's unusual for a Democrat to be endorsing a Republican.

SNOW: McCain says he sought Lieberman's endorsement, hoping to show he can work with partners across the political aisle.

JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think it's great when anyone crosses party lines to support a candidate from another party. The easiest thing for Joe to do, would have just sat on the sidelines in this campaign. That way no one would criticize him.

SNOW: While their political parties may be different, they stand together on one big issue -- supporting the surge in Iraq. Lieberman says he thinks McCain is the best candidate to fight Islamic extremists, and Lieberman took a swipe at the Democrats.

LIEBERMAN: I think the Democratic Party, to its damage, has left that tradition of a strong foreign and defense possible. And that includes the leading Democratic presidential candidates.

SNOW: McCain is appealing to Independents in this early primary state.

MCCAIN: Town hall meeting after town hall meeting, people stand up and say, why can't you all work together? Why can't Republican and Democrat work together for the good of this country?

SNOW: McCain is hoping to recreate his 2000 victory in New Hampshire when Independents supported him, but political observers in this state are skeptical.

DANTE SCALA, UNIVERSITY OF NEW HAMPSHIRE: I don't think he can do exactly what he did in 2000 because times have changed so much and Independents have changed up here as well.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SNOW: And one of the big changes, John, among independents is that, since John McCain won that primary in 2000, independents here have been supporting Democrats in recent hopefuls. And the McCain camp sees stiff competition this time around with Democratic presidential hopeful Senator Barack Obama -- John.

KING: Mary Snow for us on a big day in New Hampshire -- Mary, thanks very much.

And just ahead, Senators Lieberman and McCain share the inside story of how this dramatic endorsement came to be. They will be my guests right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Now our endorsement scorecard. John McCain has nabbed the support of "The Des Moines Register" in Iowa and two papers influential in New Hampshire, "The Boston Globe" and "The Portsmouth Herald." "The Register" endorsed Hillary Clinton in the Democratic race. "The Globe" endorsed Barack Obama.

Now, do these papers have a winning track record? In the last two presidential primary seasons, "The Register" did not back the winning Democratic nominees, endorsing Bill Bradley back in 2000 and John Edwards in 2004. But it did choose the winning Republican in 2000, George W. Bush. No GOP endorsement was needed, of course, in 2004 because Mr. Bush, the incumbent, was unopposed. "The Boston Globe" got its last two Democratic endorsements right, supporting John Kerry in 2004 and Al Gore back in 2000. But "The Globe" backed McCain's failed campaign back in 2000. "The Portsmouth Herald" has the same track record as "The Globe," endorsing Gore and McCain in 2000 and Kerry in 2004.

Democrat John Edwards is trying to get in on the endorsement action today. Questions persist about whether he is being dangerously overshadowed, you might say, by all the attention given to Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. Edwards appears, though, on the cover of this week's "Newsweek" magazine under the headline "Sleeper."

His campaign may be flying under the radar, but polls show he is still competitive with both Obama and Clinton in Iowa.

For the latest, let's bring in CNN's Suzanne Malveaux. She's there with the Election Express.

Tell us about the latest endorsement, a new endorsement, for Senator Edwards, Suzanne.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, 'tis the season for endorsements. Everybody trying to get a piece of all of this, hoping all the handshaking and the rallies, the courting pays off ultimately.

Senator John Edwards getting his own endorsement today from Iowa's first lady, that being Mari Culver. She said that there are a lot of reasons why she supports John Edwards, one of them, that he has a populist message, really a personal, appealing story and anti- poverty platform. And then she also said that there was something that specifically was very important to her.

Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MARI CULVER, IOWA FIRST LADY: Third, and most importantly, I believe John Edwards can win.

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MALVEAUX: OK. Well, that is the big question, whether or not he is electable.

Senator John Edwards' strategy has been really to set himself apart from his opponents, as portraying himself as fighter. Now, I have been covering his rallies. And one thing he says is that he says the American people need a president who has guts. He also says it's a fantasy to believe that you can sit across from oil and drug companies, negotiate what is good for the American people.

I had a chance to ask him, is he talking about his opponent Barack Obama, who said he wants to do just that and who also said part of his New Year's resolution was to not be so timid? Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN EDWARDS (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I was talking primarily about me. I was talking about me, 54 years of my life, fighting from the time I was young in mill towns and mill villages, all the way through my entire life, fighting for the causes that I care about.

There's a toughness and strength and fighting side me that is ready for this job. I was born to do this job and to do this fight. Senator Obama and I just have a philosophical difference about what is required.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MALVEAUX: One thing going for Edwards is that he has a very strong grassroots organization, a traditional organization that has been on the ground for quite some time here in Iowa. If he does in fact make that move, that serious jump, series of jumps, then the big question is whether or not he is going to have the kind of national political organization as strong as some of his other opponents -- John.

KING: Suzanne Malveaux in Des Moines, where there are 17 more days to air out those philosophical differences, as the senator calls them -- Suzanne, thank you very much.

And Jack Cafferty joins us now from New York.

Hello, Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: You know, you have got to watch out for Edwards. In all those hypothetical matchups that polling people did, placing the top Democrats against the top Republicans, Edwards is the one who comes most electable. Out of the three, Clinton, Obama and Edwards, he is the one who has the best chance in these polls of beating the Republican candidate. So, we shall see.

President Bush -- here's a surprise -- President Bush doesn't want Congress and the courts looking into CIA videotapes, the ones that were destroyed about the detainee interrogations? Surprised, aren't you?

Nonetheless, the top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee pledging to move forward with his investigation. Congressman Peter Hoekstra says it's important to hold the CIA accountable, adding -- quote -- "You've got a community that's incompetent. They are arrogant. And they are political" -- unquote.

On Friday, the CIA asked the Intelligence Committee to halt its investigation, saying that any inquiry would interfere with an ongoing probe by the Justice Department in collaboration with the CIA.

See, any time there's a problem, the White House just wants to investigate itself, and then they will come out of this thing looking just fine -- this after Attorney General Michael Mukasey, following in the proud footsteps of Alberto Gonzales, rejected demands from Congress for information about the Justice Department's inquiry. He said turning over the information to the Congress might be seen as bowing to political influence.

Democratic Congresswoman Jane Harman agrees with Hoekstra that congressional inquiries should continue. She says parallel investigations happen all the time, adding -- quote -- "It smells like the cover-up of the cover-up" -- unquote.

And it's not just about Congress. The Justice Department is also telling a federal judge not to look into this matter, not to start his own inquiry. U.S. District Judge Henry Kennedy had ordered the administration in June of 2005 to preserve evidence regarding detainees held at Guantanamo Bay. The administration insists the CIA tapes weren't covered by the judge's order because these detainees weren't being held at Gitmo. They were being held at a secret CIA prison overseas. Can you spell technicality?

Here's the question: Why would the Bush administration ask the courts and Congress to stay out of investigating those destroyed CIA tapes?

E-mail us at caffertyfile@CNN.com or go to CNN.com/caffertyfile, where you can post a comment on my blog.

(LAUGHTER)

KING: Or you can spell technicality, T-E-C -- we will leave it to the blog.

CAFFERTY: You know how to -- you can do it?

KING: I can do it. That's why I'm leaving it for the blog.

CAFFERTY: You cover these guys longer probably longer than I have.

Why is it when there's a question about anything they're doing, they say, we can't tell you, we don't want you looking into it, and it's a closed matter, and we will take care of it?

KING: I am going to leave that one for the blog.

(LAUGHTER)

KING: Jack.

A senator often aligned with Democrats explains why he is not supporting one for president.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LIEBERMAN: This is a moment of such importance to America. There's so much at stake in this election of our next president, that I don't think you can make it on partisan lines. (END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Get that. Senator Joe Lieberman wants a Republican to defeat the party to which he belonged so long. Both Lieberman and John McCain will be right here to explain just how this endorsement happened.

Is Bill Clinton speaking his mind or doing his wife's bidding? He is launching rough zingers against Barack Obama. But Obama is not talking it without a response.

And Republican candidate Ron Paul may be short on support, but he's big on buzz. His campaign doing something which has all of his rivals more than a little jealous.

Stay right here. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: They may seem a bit of a political odd couple, but Senators John McCain and Joe Lieberman both like to think of themselves as mavericks with minds of their own.

I spoke earlier with the Republican presidential candidate John McCain and his new supporter, Democrat turned independent Joe Lieberman.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KING: Senator Lieberman, I want to know how you came about a decision, a dramatic decision, an Independent Democrat, as you call yourself, to endorse this Republican candidate for president. Before you answer, I want you to listen to something you said in your own campaign just about 17 months ago.

On July, 2006, you were campaigning against a Democrat, Ned Lamont. Much of your party, as you well know, abandoned you in that primary. And you said this to Ned Lamont about the stakes in the 2008 presidential election. Let's listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LIEBERMAN: I want Democrats to be back in the majority in Washington and elect a Democratic president in 2008. This man and his supporters will frustrate and defeat our hopes of doing that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Why important now, Senator Lieberman, to elect a Republican president in 2008?

LIEBERMAN: Well, what I was saying in that is exactly the reason why I'm supporting John McCain today. Look, I'm from a tradition of the Democratic Party that goes back to Harry Truman and Hubert Humphrey, Scoop Jackson, progressive on domestic policy, strong on foreign and defense policy. My opponent last year and the group around him represented an entirely different point of view. And I stood and fought them. And I said if they won the primary, I worried that they would embolden and strengthen that element within the Democratic Party.

Presidential candidates in 2008 in the Democratic Party would begin to defer to that group in the party. And in November, they would have a hard time convincing the American people, who know we're at war against a brutal enemy that attacked us on 9/11, that they were prepared to do what was necessary to defend America.

So, in fact, what I worried about has happened, and, in fact, that's why I'm supporting John McCain, because, honestly, he's closer to the Truman-Jackson Humphrey-Kennedy foreign policy that I associate with being a Democrat than the other candidates are today. And most important, he has got a proven record of breaking through the partisanship.

He can unite our country to defend our country against the Islamist extremists and win this war. And look, what you talked, John, about before is exactly an example.

He supported the war as I did against Saddam Hussein. it was the right thing to do. But when he saw the strategy going wrong, he didn't yield to partisan loyalty and not criticize the president, Secretary Rumsfeld. He said we have got to change this, it's not working.

And when they finally did, it's begun to work. So that's why I support jack McCain and that's why I think it's totally consistent with what I said last year.

KING: So, peel back the curtain, Senator McCain. You obviously have worked closely with Senator Lieberman on the war and other issues.

He is a Democrat, an Independent Democrat. You're a Republican. So you're thinking, all right, maybe I want this guy's endorsement.

Take us behind the scenes. How did you get it?

MCCAIN: Well, with Joe and I, we're very close and dear friends, as I said. I just asked him, and he said he would think about it and get back to me.

And again, Joe could have easily just said, look, I will sit back and watch this one play out. But again, I believe he really displayed what I think is remarkable trade, and that's doing what I think he thinks is best for the country. And I'm honored and grateful.

KING: And how has it helped, Senator McCain? You don't like process questions, but you're in a state where you're competing for Republican votes, but also you can get Independent votes. How do you think it helps in a place -- you obviously announced it in New Hampshire for a reason.

MCCAIN: Thanks, Joe -- John.

Thanks again, Joe.

Thanks, John, for the question.

LIEBERMAN: You're welcome.

MCCAIN: There's -- 42 percent of the voters are Independent voters, John, as you know, and here in New Hampshire, some will break Democrat, some Republican, some lean Democrat, some lean Republican. But I think the Independent voter is a very important voting bloc, and I hope that this will motivate them to give me another look and maybe support my candidacy.

Joe is very credible with many, many of these people. I can see how warmly he was greeted by the people here in New Hampshire this morning.

KING: And Senator Lieberman, when he makes that point about the Independents, if you look at the polling right now, most of them seem inclined to vote in the Democratic primary. They did in 2006, voted Democrat in New Hampshire because of their anger at the war.

LIEBERMAN: Right.

KING: Take me inside what you think your role can be. And as you answer, what you're doing today is a pretty damning indictment of three very prominent Democrats, several prominent Democrats. But Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and John Edwards, you have served with all three of them.

LIEBERMAN: Yes.

KING: That's a pretty damning indictment of them, what you're doing today.

LIEBERMAN: Well, as I said in my statement today, we have got many fine people running for president in both parties, and some of them are my friends. But this is a moment of so much importance to America, there's so much at stake in this election of our next president, that I don't think you can make it on partisan lines. And I just have differences of opinion, respectful differences of opinion with the leading Democratic candidates.

When John called me, I thought about it, because I would been saying all along that this election was too important to decide who to support based on party. I was going to go with the person I thought would do the best job. I thought I would wait until after both parties had their nominees, but then as I thought about it, John is my favorite.

I think he can two a better job for America, in uniting us and cutting through the partisan gridlock. He really is the change candidate in this race because he's a restless reformer and strongest on national security, which is bottom line the most important issue of the day. So I just decided when John asked, you know, this is my responsibility. If I think he's the best, I have got to get in there at this moment while he's got a fighting chance to get this nomination.

Incidentally, I think people are taking a second look at John McCain, as they have second thoughts about some of the other candidates. And I hope that my endorsement today will encourage people in New Hampshire to play their traditional role, which is to lead the country. And I think if they -- if they go with John McCain, he will win this nomination, and then I think he can get elected and be the best president.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KING: Senators McCain and Lieberman a bit earlier today.

A Republican presidential candidate criticizes the Bush administration and is then criticized for it. Mike Huckabee calls the administration's policies arrogant. And that is giving Republican rival Mitt Romney fresh fodder for anti-Huckabee attacks.

And from Saudi Arabia, new developments regarding a female rape victim who was sentenced to 200 lashes and prison time. We will tell you what has happened and how the United States is responding.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWS BREAK)

KING: Hillary Clinton is trying to bare more of herself in Iowa.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Here in Iowa, I want you to have some flavor of who I am, you know, outside of the television cameras, when all the cameras and the lights disappear.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Is the senator's new effort to connect with voters working? The best political team on television takes on Hillary Clinton's personal touch.

Plus: Bill Clinton as his wife's attack dog. Is he wounding Barack Obama or Senator Clinton's campaign?

And Mitt Romney vs. Mike Huckabee, and President Bush caught dead in the middle -- a new dust-up over Republican loyalty and allegations of arrogance all ahead.

Stay right here.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: You're in THE SITUATION ROOM. Happening now: Hillary Clinton is set to fly high in her campaign helicopter. She's determined to land in most of Iowa's counties, but will this give her the lift she needs to win the first major presidential contest?

One presidential candidate says the Bush administration has a bunker mentality and that its policies have been arrogant. And that is from a fellow Republican. Will that hurt Mike Huckabee with other Republicans? I will ask the best political team on television.

And some of Republican candidate Ron Paul's rivals, you might say, are green with envy. He's done something they probably wish they could.

Wolf Blitzer is off today. I'm John King. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

With just over two weeks until the first major presidential contest, you can bet all the candidates will be watching what they say. You can also bet all their rivals will be watching what they say, too, hoping to find something to use against them. Right now, apparently, Mitt Romney thinks he has found something about Mike Huckabee.

CNN senior political analyst Bill Schneider joins me.

Bill, these two have been at it a lot. What is this latest dust- up about?

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: It's about foreign policy, of all things, which is neither of those candidates' strong suit.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER (voice-over): It all started when Mike Huckabee wrote in "Foreign Affairs" magazine: "American foreign policy needs to change its tone and attitude, open up, and reach out. The Bush administration's arrogant bunker mentality has been counterproductive at home and abroad."

Arrogant bunker mentality? That's quite a thing for a Republican candidate to say about the Bush administration, as Mitt Romney was quick to point out.

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I said, well, did this come from Barack Obama or from Hillary Clinton? Did it come from John Edwards? No, it was one of our own. It was Governor Huckabee.

SCHNEIDER: Huckabee explained.

MIKE HUCKABEE (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I didn't say the president was arrogant. And one of my opponents has -- has mistakenly -- and maybe purposefully -- my position on that. I have said that the policies have been arrogant. SCHNEIDER: Huckabee wrote: "Much like a top high school student, if the United States is modest about its abilities and achievements, if it generous in helping others, it is loved. But, if it attempts to dominate others, it is despised."

Republican caucus and primary voters may not worry too much about whether the United States is loved.

ROMNEY: The truth of the matter is, this president has kept us safe these last six years. And that has not been easy to do.

SCHNEIDER: Sixty-one percent of Republicans approve of the way President Bush has handled foreign policy. Nearly a third are critical. At the same time, about half of Republicans endorse the view that the next president should take the country in a new direction.

HUCKABEE: I've got to show that I do have my own mind when it comes to how this country ought to lead, not only within its own borders, but across the world.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER: Huckabee is betting that the desire for change has resonance, even among Republicans. Now, that's a risky bet. He risks being called disloyal to a Republican president -- John.

KING: Interesting question.

Bill Schneider.

Bill, thanks so much.

And this note. Mike Huckabee will be on CNN's "LARRY KING LIVE." That's tonight at 9:00 p.m. Eastern.

Listen to him respond to all the incoming, you might say, from the campaign trail.

Now, is Mike Huckabee being too mean about the Bush administration's foreign policy?

Is Mitt Romney being too mean to Mike Huckabee?

The best political team on television is here to sort it all out.

CNN's senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley, is on the trail in Iowa.

Jack Cafferty is in New York. Jack's best-selling book -- in case you haven't heard about it, I've you've been in a cave -- it's called "It's Getting Ugly Out There".

CAFFERTY: Hey.

KING: And here in Washington -- it's a great read. And here in Washington, CNN senior political analyst, Gloria Borger. Jack, let's start with you.

Mike Huckabee is a Republican. George W. Bush is a Republican. So one would think, in most years, it's not very smart for a Republican candidate to be going after a Republican president when he wants Republican votes.

What do you think?

CAFFERTY: Have you looked at George Bush's approval rating?

I mean taking issue with President Bush might help Mike Huckabee. And this bunker mentality, when it comes to Republicans and Democrats, is part of the reason that Washington is paralyzed, the country is divided and we haven't been able to get much done about anything. It's OK to disagree with someone whose opinions are different than yours. And the record will show that the foreign policy of the Bush administration has been a disaster with a capital D.

So Mike Huckabee is speaking the truth. And if Mitt Romney doesn't like it, well, that's probably his problem.

KING: But Candy -- Candy, you're in Iowa right now -- a state President Bush carried last time, a state where he had the support of those Evangelical Christians that Mike Huckabee wants in the Iowa caucuses.

Is Mike Huckabee potentially hurting himself here?

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: I think Bill is right in his piece. I think it is risky, because while Jack is right that most of the country has turned against George Bush and his foreign policy, the bulk of Republicans have not. So it might be a great general election strategy. Anybody who is a Republican who gets this nomination is going to have to begin to back away from George Bush.

But we're talking about in a Bush state -- it's actually a purple state -- but you're right, he won it -- where there is -- there are a lot of Evangelicals and Christian conservatives and there are a number of people who still support Bush foreign policy in Iraq and Iran and down the line.

So I think there are some risks to this for Mike Huckabee.

KING: So, Gloria, he is surging in the polls right now and he's having what Ricky Ricardo might call a 'splaining to do moment about many of his policies.

(LAUGHTER)

KING: How is he doing?

GLORIA BORGER, SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, you know, in fact, I don't think this is so much about Mike Huckabee as it is about Mitt Romney. Let's focus on why Mitt Romney has been attacking Mike Huckabee, not only on this issue, but on the issue of his positions on illegal immigration. And that's because he's lost his groove in Iowa and New Hampshire and he's trying to get it back, as the movie said.

And I think so it's sort of open season on Mike Huckabee right now. And this was one moment -- one sentence where Romney thought gee, I can get a little wedge in there and try and get back some of those conservatives that I'm -- that I'm losing to Mike Huckabee.

KING: There have been a lot of questions...

CAFFERTY: The problem...

KING: ...a lot of questions about whether Mike Huckabee is up to this moment. He surges in the polls and it's a question of whether he can go from insurgent to contender. Mitt Romney has been after him, as Gloria notes. He has a new ad that will debut tomorrow questioning his record on crime in Arkansas.

Well, Mike Huckabee has a new ad, too.

And let's listen to this and see if he's maybe getting in the season.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM MIKE HUCKABEE FOR PRESIDENT CAMPAIGN AD)

HUCKABEE: Are you about not worn out of all the television commercials you've been seeing -- mostly about politics?

I don't blame you. At this time of year, sometimes it's nice to pull aside from all of that and just remember that what really matters is the celebration of the birth of Christ and being with our family and our friends.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Candy, out there out on the trail, you know, people are tired of politics.

Smart there?

Or is he missing a policy opportunity?

CROWLEY: Well, smart here for a couple of reasons.

First of all, because it does remind those conservative Christians that have flocked over to him about his conservative Christian roots. And good because, look, in the season of peace it's sort of hard to carry on a war -- a political war here in Iowa. And you're seeing a lot of them now beginning to go a little softer here. Hillary Clinton, I know we'll talk about later. But Mike Huckabee. And it's really easy when you're leading to do this sort of thing. It's a lot tougher for Mitt Romney, because, obviously, when you're number two, you've got to battle your way up to number one. So it's a lot easier for Huckabee.

KING: And Jack and Gloria, before we go to break on this segment, you two could see this -- Candy is outside. When you watch this ad, Governor Huckabee is speaking and this Christmas present sort of moves behind him as the camera moves. It's got a cross dead center. It looks like a cross.

Jack, did you take it as that?

CAFFERTY: Well, what a surprise. Mike Huckabee is a Christian. I mean come on.

What do you what would you expect him to have back there?

I mean of course there's a cross in the shot. This also goes a long way toward blunting the thing we were talking about when it comes to whether or not it's a risk to criticize the Bush administration.

Who are the Evangelical Christians in Iowa going to vote for?

They're going to vote for Mike Huckabee. That's why he's in front.

BORGER: Can I just say this ad, though, has a little "Saturday Night Live" quality to it -- the little guitar in the background and you -- you kind of are -- seem to be waiting for a punch line at some point. It's -- it's a caricature of a political Christmas ad.

KING: All right, everybody stand by. We've gone from Ricky Ricardo to "Saturday Night Live". More to come.

Now it's Bill Clinton versus Barack Obama. The former president casts doubts about the would-be president's qualifications. But Obama gets in a dig of his own -- or two.

And Rudy Giuliani pulls the plug on some expensive TV ads in Boston. That's next door to New Hampshire, if you haven't been paying attention.

Can he still compete there?

More when we're back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: The clock is ticking toward the Iowa caucuses, now just over two weeks away and Hillary Clinton is trying to save some time on the campaign trail by flying over it in her Hilacopter.

We're back with the best political team on television.

Our senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley, in Iowa; CNN's Jack Cafferty; and CNN senior political analyst, Gloria Borger.

Jack, I'm sure you have a jet, but what do you think of that helicopter?

CAFFERTY: You know, John...

(LAUGHTER)

BORGER: (INAUDIBLE).

CAFFERTY: That's -- that's not funny.

(LAUGHTER)

CAFFERTY: No, I don't have a jet. I don't even have a rubber boat, John, you know that?

Here's the deal about the helicopter. I don't -- you know, I don't -- it doesn't matter. So she's flying around Iowa in a helicopter. Fine. What matters, I think, is this new aggressive stance that her husband is taking toward Barack Obama. There's a reason they call him Slick Willy. But I think he might have over played his hand.

It's one thing for you to tell me about your wife, who lived with you in the White House for eight years, and why I should vote for her -- presumably you know her better than I do and I might learn something about the candidate who wants to be president.

But to suddenly turn on the guy who has caught your wife and, in fact, passed her in the polls and begin lashing out and attacking him, it's fairly transparent and reminds people exactly why the Clintons invented the term "political hardball."

KING: Well, Jack raises that point. So Candy and Gloria, stand by for just one second.

Let's listen to Bill Clinton. This is Bill Clinton on "The Charlie Rose Show," I believe, Friday night, talking about Barack Obama.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM "CHARLIE ROSE," COURTESY PBS)

BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Barack Obama -- I get tickled watching him. He's got great skills. It depends on what the American people and the Democrats, in the first instance, believe is more important.

Is it more important to have somebody who is basically, by his very nature, a compelling, incredibly attractive, highly intelligent symbol of transformation or is it more important to have somebody who also would symbolize change by being the first woman president, but has actually done incredible numbers of different things to change other people's lives?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Gloria, Bill Clinton being smart and helping here or hurting here?

BORGER: All of the above. I think -- (LAUGHTER).

I think he's obviously trying to help her, trying to point out that Hillary Clinton has the experience. But, you know, it must be a little bit like "Alice Through the Looking Glass" for Bill Clinton because, of course, when he ran in '92, the argument that George H.W. Bush made against him was that this young fellow didn't have any experience or the right kind of experience.

And now he's on the other side of the looking glass here, making that argument against Barack Obama. It doesn't necessarily work for Hillary Clinton, however. We're just, you know, we're going to have to wait and see. But I think he's both a plus and a negative now.

KING: And, Candy, when you spend so much time with the Clinton operation, is this calculated good cop/bad cop or do the senator's top advisers sometimes worry the former president has gone off the reservation?

CROWLEY: Sure. I mean sometimes they worry about things he says and how they play. But the fact of the matter is this goes to the central argument of the Clinton campaign, and that is that Barack Obama is not as prepared as Hillary Clinton. That's how she would put it. The former president basically said he's not prepared.

So, you know, it is one and the same message. And if you're sitting in Iowa and you've got three candidates right now that you're looking over, maybe four and on down the line -- but you're looking at Hillary Clinton, you're looking at Barack Obama and you're looking at John Edwards -- what are you looking at Barack Obama?

What is the fear about him?

The fear is that he's not quite ready for prime time. They're playing on that, whether it's Bill Clinton or Hillary Clinton, regardless of how they phrase it.

KING: We're almost out of time. Each of you, quickly. She has this new Web site, thehillaryiknow.com. Obviously, she thinks she is misunderstood.

Maybe that's fair, maybe it's not, but is there time to turn it around in the 17 days before Iowa?

We'll start with Jack.

CAFFERTY: We all are who we all are, John. That includes you.

(LAUGHTER)

CAFFERTY: And, you know, you're not going to -- you're not going to change who you are because you put up a Web site called whatever they call it. No. I mean everybody knows who Hillary is all about and what she's all about. It's not going to change.

KING: Gloria?

BORGER: Why don't we do the Hillary I never knew, the Hillary I'd like to know, the Hillary I think I know. I mean it -- it's sort of -- at this point, it's kind of silly. And, of course, she has enough time. Two-and-one-half weeks is a really long time. KING: And Candy in Iowa?

CROWLEY: What a bunch of cynics. I mean come on.

(LAUGHTER)

CROWLEY: I mean look, the fact of the matter is they sort of look at these boxes -- competent, check. She's won over Democrats. Presidential, check. She's won over Democrats. Ready to take office, check.

What they know is that there is also that lingering doubt about Hillary Clinton that she is not all that likable. They're trying to address that. And these final two weeks is also, again, the time to be upbeat. So this -- there's a definite tonal change in the Clinton campaign at this point.

KING: Candy Crowley in Iowa, Gloria Borger here in D.C., Jack Cafferty in New York.

I have to have my own Web site.

i'vemadejackmadhowipromisetomakeituptohim.com.

CAFFERTY: No.

(LAUGHTER)

CAFFERTY: No you haven't.

KING: Thank you all for joining us.

We'll do this again.

(LAUGHTER)

KING: It's a case that shocked the world and sparked outrage at the highest levels of the Bush administration -- the victim of a brutal gang rape in Saudi Arabia sentenced to 200 lashes and six months in prison.

Now that victim has been pardoned by the Saudi king.

Let's go live to our State Department correspondent, Zain Verjee -- Zain, tell us what you're hearing.

ZAIN VERJEE, CNN STATE DEPARTMENT CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, it's been a personal and a legal nightmare for that Saudi rape victim. But she learned today that she won't be beaten or put behind bars. Good news for her and good news for the U.S.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

VERJEE (voice-over): The king's pardon was removes a source of embarrassment for the U.S. and Saudi Arabia -- the closest of allies on fighting terrorism, the Middle East and oil. TOM CASEY, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESMAN: And we're very pleased by the decision that was taken by the king. We certainly hope it will send a signal to the Saudi judiciary.

VERJEE: Casey says Washington has made it clear what U.S. views were on the subject through its embassy in Saudi Arabia and in its public statements.

The case was a public relations disaster outside Saudi Arabia.

GEORGE BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: What happens if this had happened to my daughter? How would I react?

I would have been angry at those who committed the crime. And I would be angry at a state that didn't support the victim.

VERJEE: King Abdullah's pardon means a gang-raped teenager won't face six months in jail and 200 lashes for being alone with a man who was not her relative.

Saudi women and journalists call the pardon historic.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That sends us a strong message that we should keep on hammering and demanding our rights.

VERJEE: Saudi activists say this is one case -- one pardon. But it's unclear if it will have any bearing on other rape cases. A Saudi justice official told a Saudi newspaper: "The king thought a pardon was in the best interests of the Saudi people."

It comes as millions of Muslims converge on Mecca for the Hajj Pilgrimage. The rape victim's husband called the pardon "a noble gesture which will lift the family's emotional and psychological stress."

Seven men were convicted for kidnapping and raping her and given sentences ranging from two to nine years in jail.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

VERJEE: Saudi women activists say that international media pressure really helped in this case. But they also worry that other rape cases similar to this don't get as much attention, if any. They say what's really needed is better legislation that protects women's rights -- John.

KING: Zain Verjee.

Zain, thanks so much.

He's the $6 million man -- Ron Paul breaking his own records and bringing in a bundle.

And a bird gets loose inside the Senate. Jeanne Moos tells us it's not the senator from West Virginia. She'll have the latest on the chase. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Checking our Political Ticker, New Jersey is the first state in more than 40 years to reject capital punishment. Governor Jon Corzine signed a law today abolishing the death penalty and replacing it with a maximum of life in prison without parole.

Rudy Giuliani's presidential campaign has pulled costly TV ads from the Boston market -- seen by many voters, of course, in neighboring New Hampshire. Giuliani allies tell CNN heavy ad buys in that state have not improved his sagging poll numbers as much as they had hoped. Giuliani aids also say the campaign has to adjust its resources. The Republican still intends to compete in New Hampshire. He needs to save money for down the road, as well.

Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul raked in an astounding $6 million online during yesterday's fundraising drive by supporters.

Our Internet reporter, Abbi Tatton is here -- Abbi, what is Ron Paul going to do with $6 million new money in cash?

ABBI TATTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, he spoke about that earlier today, John.

Ron Paul calling this a shot in the arm for his campaign, one that means he can extend that campaign further and for longer. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RON PAUL (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You know, a lot of times people can do one state or two states and maybe have no resources, you know, for the later primaries. And we certainly will be in good shape for February 5th, as well.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TATTON: Ron Paul in that press conference acknowledged that this cash haul was the work of his supporters -- these folks here online -- Ron Paul fans who populate the Web sites and forums where you can actually following along what they're trying to raise attention for this candidate. They've been doing it in the air with their Ron Paul blimp. If you look online, at comment sections, yes, they're all over the place. And now, reaching into their pockets for a second time to record-breaking effect.

And with the Ron Paul campaign at their Web site reporting they're up to over $18 million this quarter. That's more than any other Republican brought in last quarter. You can see that he's getting the attention that they'd like -- John.

KING: Remarkable numbers. Remarkable. Remarkable.

Abbi Tatton, thanks so much

And Jack Cafferty joins us again from New York -- hi, Jack. CAFFERTY: Remarkable, indeed. We've got 600 e-mails on The Cafferty File blog on CNN.com/caffertyfile -- 600 e-mails just about Ron Paul just this afternoon. Pretty amazing.

The question this hour is why would the Bush administration ask the courts and Congress to stay out of investigating those destroyed CIA tapes?

Michael in Wisconsin: "Of course, Bush doesn't want anyone other than his Justice Department looking into the CIA tapes. He said he didn't recall being briefed about these tapes. He didn't say he wasn't briefed. If someone else looks into these tapes, he might have to remember that he was involved."

Diane in New Hampshire writes: "The White House follows in the proud tradition of the Rosemary Woods school of jurisprudence -- if the evidence is incriminating, simply destroy it and then stonewall any investigation until January, 2009."

Dan in Florida writes: "A no-brainer. They have much to hide, like they always have, for the last seven years in power. The thing they have in their favor is that the Democratic majority won't hold them accountable and they'll roll over again and play dead. That's why I am now a former Democrat."

Donna writes: "We have covert operations intelligence going on. That means the stuff is secret. Get over it."

Darren in Leavenworth, Kansas: "Bush doesn't want us to know the extent of torture his administration was involved in. He claims the U.S. doesn't use torture. But if that were true, the administration would be open to investigations and have to come clean about what they were doing."

And Doug writes from Melbourne, Florida: "Remember Watergate? It's called a cover-up, America, pure and simple. Bush has something to hide. It's not rocket science. It's corruption. Two bits he'll get away with it, too." -- John.

KING: Interesting answers.

An interesting question.

Jack, thanks so much.

Next the bird whisperer matches up against a feathered intruder in the U.S. Senate. Our Jeanne Moos has the high flying story, just ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: A quick look at some of this hour's Hot Shots.

In Hungary, a one-and-a-half inch Christmas tree finds a home in an art gallery showcase. It's dubbed as the world's smallest silver fir Christmas tree. Check that out. In Montreal, walking in a winter wonderland -- a snowstorm dumped more than a foot of snow.

In Gaza, an elderly Palestinian woman sits near her flock of sheep in a refugee camp.

And in Germany, a dog dressed for the holidays trods along in the Santa Claus run.

That's his hour's Hot Shots -- pictures worth a thousand words.

An unexpected guest today dropped in on the Senate gallery. And this feathered intruder was not only hard to catch, it also left a little something to remember it by.

Our Jeanne Moos has this Moost Unusual look.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's shaped like an aviary...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh my God. It's coming right in front of you.

MOOS: And it contains plenty of bird brains.

(VIDEO CLIP OF BIRD IN SENATE)

MOOS: So what's one more?

There it was, a bird in the Senate -- not to be confused with Lady Bird or Senator Byrd.

SEN. ROBERT BYRD (D), WEST VIRGINIA: We're being overwhelmed.

MOOS: Actually, Senator Byrd was referring to illegal immigrants. But the bird was treated like an illegal, as security chased it with a net in the Senate press gallery, where they hold press conferences.

(VIDEO CLIP OF BIRD IN SENATE)

MOOS: That exclamation came when the bird collided with a ventilation duct. It survived.

Now, chasing a bird around the Senate can't compare with, say, a lollaby (ph) chase.

(VIDEO CLIP)

MOOS: Or a herd of escaped buffalo running around on a tennis court. Those heads in the Senate gallery swiveled as if watching tennis. And it was pretty exciting when photographer Matthew Cavanaugh lured the bird to land on his pinky.

(VIDEO CLIP OF BIRD IN SENATE)

MOOS: His colleagues mocked Matthew as the bird whisperer.

But it turns out...

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEW CAVANAUGH: I crunched up some of a granola bar and put it in my palm of my hand.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MOOS: As the birdie swooped across the Senate gallery, it joined other political flying objects making the rounds -- like a presidential candidate Ron Paul's blimp...

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Bye, guys.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MOOS: ...and the Hilacopter ferrying Hillary Clinton around Iowa. At least they didn't drop bombs.

(VIDEO CLIP OF BIRD IN SENATE)

MOOS: The second exclamation was when the bird dropped a present on the guy rubbing his head.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I was pulling for the bird.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Kill it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's a bald guy, so he took it -- it cleaned up pretty well.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MOOS (on camera): How did we hear about this?

A little birdie told us -- a lot of little birdies.

(voice-over): A flock of frantic e-mails dispersed from Washington, giving blow by blow accounts.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Heads up!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MOOS: Heads up for Senator Charles Schumer -- though heads were already up looking for the bird.

SEN. CHARLES SCHUMER (D), NEW YORK: But if it flies out, I'm going to stop, OK?

MOOS: That would be an amazing feat -- to stop the loquacious Senator Schumer.

Last we heard, security was chasing the bird down a hallway with a Tupperware container. Someone suggested if we could read that bird's brain, it would be saying "don't 'tase me, bro."

Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

KING: "Don't 'tase me, bro."

Now you can take the best political team with you any time, anywhere. Just download the best political pod cast at CNNPolitics.com.

Thanks for joining us today.

I'm John King in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Up next, "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT".

Kitty Pilgrim is in for Lou -- hi, Kitty.

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