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THE SITUATION ROOM
Destroyed CIA Tapes Dispute; Clinton's New Hampshire Rebound; Interview With Rudy Giuliani.
Aired December 19, 2007 - 16:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, an angry dispute over destroyed CIA tapes. The White House blasting a new report about the administration's role.
This hour, who was involved? And was anyone misled?
Plus, Hillary Clinton gets her groove back in New Hampshire. We're going to tell you why she's regaining some ground against Barack Obama as primary day gets closer.
And Rudy Giuliani on the issues. My exclusive interview with the Republican presidential candidate on board the CNN Election Express.
I'm Wolf Blitzer in Columbia, Missouri, and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
We're here on this Super Tuesday battleground state of Missouri to talk at length with the Republican presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani. We'll be climbing aboard the CNN Election Express shortly for that exclusive one-on-one interview, go into all the major issues of the day.
But first, there are new questions unfolding right now about the Bush administration's role in the destruction of those CIA interrogation tapes. A published report today suggests White House officials were more involved than previously thought.
Let's go straight to our White House correspondence, Ed Henry. He's standing by.
Ed, the White House responding now to the story with guns blazing. What's the latest?
ED HENRY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, guns blazing, for sure, Wolf. Press Secretary Dana Perino firing back that the inference of this story in "The New York Times" was, in her words, pernicious and troubling, but pay attention to the fact that once again citing these ongoing investigations, Perino did not deny the underlying facts in the story.
HENRY (voice over): On the same day firemen rushed to the White House compound to put out a fire, Press Secretary Dana Perino was struggling to extinguish another problem caused by a "New York Times" headline claiming the White House's role in the CIA videotape case was wider than officials first said.
DANA PERINO, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: ... implying that I had either changed my story or I or somebody else at the White House had misled the public. And that is not true. And I have heard now from "The New York Times" that they will retract that headline.
HENRY: But most notable is the White House did not demand a correction over the story's key assertion, that four White House lawyers were involved in discussions with the CIA about whether to destroy the tapes showing interrogations of terror suspects.
PERINO: I'm not commenting on the underlying facts of the story. I'm sticking with what I had done in the past, which is...
PERINO: Well, there's...
HENRY: But in fact, "The New York Times" story does suggest a wider role for the White House that this Bush officials suggested earlier this month.
When the story first broke, administration officials anonymously told reporters that former White House aide Harriet Miers had urged the CIA not to destroy the tapes. One senior official then telling CNN of the CIA, "They were told not to destroy the tapes. It was fairly unequivocal and completely unanimous."
PERINO: I am not accountable for all the anonymous sources that you turn up. I am not. I am accountable -- I speak to the president and for the White House. This says that I was misleading, and I was not.
HENRY: And just into CNN, the House Intelligence Committee chairman, Sylvestre Reyes, is now saying that the Justice Department has reversed itself and is allowing the CIA to cooperate with his investigation of the tape matter. This is coming after he threatened -- the Democrat, Reyes, did -- to subpoena CIA officials if they do not cooperate. Reyes saying he hopes to get documents and maybe even testimony as early as this week.
One key question, obviously, with these new allegations that there were four White House officials who knew at some level about the tape matter, it's going to raise more questions about what the president knew and when he knew it. Officials here still maintain the president only learned about this matter earlier this month -- Wolf.
BLITZER: And it's interesting that the pressure from Capitol Hill, Ed, is not only coming from Democrats, but from Republicans as well, including the ranking Republican in the House Intelligence Committee, for example, Peter Hoekstra. He's been outspoken, and I assume that helps explain why this reversal of sorts coming from the Bush administration today, the Justice Department? HENRY: Absolutely. You also have Republicans like Arlen Specter in the Senate saying and challenging Attorney General Mukasey's assertion that Congress should not be investigating at the same time he's having a preliminary inquiry. Democrats and Republicans on the Hill saying, look, there are many precedents for parallel investigations, outside investigations, outside from the executive branch -- Wolf.
BLITZER: This story clearly not going away, Ed. Thanks very much.
Let's get to the presidential race and a comeback of sorts for Hillary Clinton. She's reclaiming some lost ground in New Hampshire, where voters appear to be rethinking some of the big issues.
Let's go out to our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider. He's in Manchester watching all of this with our brand new poll on both the Democratic and Republican races.
Bill, it looks cold up there. The New Hampshire race frozen in place, at least that's what some are suggesting.
WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, not at all. But what's changing most here are the issues driving this campaign.
SCHNEIDER (voice over): They say if you don't like the weather in New England, wait a few minutes, just like politics. A week ago, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama were neck and neck in New Hampshire. Now Hillary Clinton has regained her lead.
What happened? Most of the gains came from seniors.
Over the longer run, we're seeing a big shift in the issues. Iraq no longer dominates the campaign.
ANDY SMITH, UNIVERSITY OF NEW HAMPSHIRE: As Iraq drops in importance as an issue, it allows these other traditional issues that come up in any campaign, particularly the economy and healthcare as an issue related to the economy. It allows them to come up.
SCHNEIDER: Healthcare is now equally important to Democrats. That's an issue Democrats give Hillary Clinton high ratings on, despite her bad experience with healthcare reform in the '90s. Actually, because of that experience.
SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Back in '93 and '94, we tried to come forward with a plan, we weren't successful. I have the scars to show for that experience.
SCHNEIDER: More voters are concerned about the economy, another issue where Democrats give Clinton high ratings.
CLINTON: When my husband became president, he inherited a lot of economic problems. As someone said the other day, there seems to be a pattern here. It takes a Clinton to clean up after a Bush.
SCHNEIDER: Pocketbook issues are moving to the forefront of this campaign.
SCOTT SPRADLING, WMUR: The candidates are now talking a lot more economic issues than they were just a few months ago.
SCHNEIDER: That explains Mitt Romney's continuing lead among New Hampshire Republicans. They say they trust Rudy Giuliani to deal with terrorism and John McCain to deal with Iraq, but Iraq and terrorism have been declining in importance.
Which candidate do they trust most on the economy? Mitt Romney.
MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I've worked in 20 countries around the world, working on investments and helping manage a business and so forth. That skill, that experience is essential.
SCHNEIDER: When the economy is bad, the economy is the issue. And here in New Hampshire, you hear a lot of talk about another economic downturn, like the one this state suffered 15 years ago -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Is it the sense that John McCain getting some momentum now from the multiple endorsements that he's getting from Joe Lieberman? New Hampshire clearly critical for McCain right now.
What's the latest on that front, Bill?
SCHNEIDER: He's picked up a few points in the past week. He got endorsements from two important newspapers, "The Boston Globe," but even more important, the one that has influence with Republicans here, "The New Hampshire Union Leader."
They seem to have given him perhaps a slight boost, not a great deal. He's now in a solid second place. A week ago he was tied for second.
BLITZER: Bill Schneider on the scene for us with the latest CNN poll numbers.
Thanks very much.
Let's check in with Jack Cafferty. He's got "The Cafferty File" in New York.
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Schneider won't be with us for another half hour now, He has to go feed his hat.
As the "Los Angeles Times" rightly sums it up, "The Democrats' year-long campaign to bring the war in Iraq to an end concluded with a whimper yesterday as the Senate failed once again to pass a timeline for withdrawing U.S. troops from the conflict." That's a quote.
The House still has to approve the revised spending bill, but with unrestricted war funds for Iraq and Afghanistan, and it seems now very likely it will pass. There is strong Republican support.
It's not your imagination, either. As recently as last months, House and Senate Democrats vowed not to give President Bush any more money for the war in Iraq without withdrawal timelines. Remember?
But the president threatened to veto the massive spending bill needed to keep the government running unless he got the money for the wars without any strings. And the Democrats, lacking any backbone whatsoever, of course immediately surrendered. These are people that make the French look brave.
Democratic senator Russ Feingold offered the failed amendment that would have required the withdrawal of most U.S. troops within nine months. He remains defiant, saying nothing is more important to him or his constituents than ending this disastrous wars. But Republicans insist they're doing the right things for the troops and that Washington cannot ignore the military progress that has recently been made in Iraq.
So here's the question: Should Congress have refused to pass funding for the war in Iraq without some timeline for troop withdrawals? E-mail your thoughts to firstname.lastname@example.org or go to cnn.com/caffertyfile, where you can post a comment on our new blog.
And they're lighting up this blog, Wolf. We're getting an awful lot of response.
BLITZER: I'm not surprised, Jack. You've got a huge number of fans out there.
Thanks very much. We'll be getting back with you shortly.
Coming up, a new presidential campaign ad asks the question, are the Democrats all that different when it comes to Iraq? We'll compare their positions on Iraq and other hot topics. Also, new attacks on Republican Mike Huckabee. What are his opponents using against him now?
And Rudy Giuliani is standing by for our exclusive live interview. I'll press him on some of the national security issues that our central to his quest for the White House.
Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: On the Democratic side, the candidates have talked a lot about what they want to get done. Now they're talking about how they do it.
CNN's Jessica Yellin is joining us now live from Des Moines, out in Iowa. Jessica, many of those Democrats are emphasizing right now their personalities to try to differentiate themselves from their rivals.
What's going on?
JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the buzzword among the Democratic front-runners right now, the buzzwords, are change and experience. That's because there's not all that much disagreement about policy. The real disagreement is on style, leadership style.
YELLIN (voice over): A new ad from the Bill Richardson campaign asks...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is there a difference between the Democrats on Iraq? There's a big difference.
YELLIN: The ad claims unlike the Democratic front-runners, only Richardson has a plan to get all the troops out. So, is there much difference among the Democratic front-runners?
Obama, Clinton and Edwards all want to get out of Iraq. They all support a goal of universal healthcare. They all want to help make America energy independent. But in each case they differ only on how or when to do it.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's not a huge amount of daylight among the Democrats.
YELLIN: Four years ago it was different. Howard Dean was the antiwar candidate. John Edwards championed the middle class. John Kerry was about national security. But this election, the Democrats' agendas are so similar, what they're selling is leadership style.
CLINTON: I believe that I have the experience and qualifications to make the changes that America deserves.
YELLIN: Translation: she's a pragmatist who can work the system.
JOHN EDWARDS (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm here to tell you we've got a fight on our hands, and we're going to win that fight together. That's what we're going to do.
YELLIN: That is, he'll fight the powerful rather than compromise.
SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It's not enough just to change political parties in the White House, we also have to change our politics. We also have to change how we do business in Washington.
YELLIN: In other words, he'll find a way to work together without compromise.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hillary Clinton is trying to occupy, in a sense, I think, the center of the Democratic Party. Edwards is running from the left, and Obama is running from above.
YELLIN: Now, Wolf, there is one area of strong disagreement. Senator Clinton maintains that it is possible to work with special interests, but both Edwards and Obama disagree. And right now they're trying to one-up each other on who would do more to clean up Washington -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Jessica, thanks very much.
Jessica Yellin out in Des Moines.
BLITZER: Welcome back.
Only a moment or so ago, Rudy Giuliani walked aboard the CNN Election Express. He's now inside the CNN Election Express with me.
Mr. Mayor, thanks very much for coming in.
RUDY GIULIANI (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Thank you for joining -- for coming here and joining us, the campaign.
BLITZER: We're here in Columbia, Missouri. It's an important state for you, because it's a Super Tuesday state.
GIULIANI: It's a February 5 state, yes. It's, you know, one of the 28, 29 between January and...
BLITZER: And that's part of your strategy. We'll get to that later. We'll talk politics.
I want to talk about some of the issues...
BLITZER: ... that are facing the American people, and I want them to get a better sense that if you become president of the United States, where will you be coming from, what will you be doing?
GIULIANI: Fair enough.
BLITZER: Hopefully at the end of this interview, they'll have a little bit appreciation of what you would be like as president.
GIULIANI: Right. BLITZER: Which is important at this time of the year.
The CIA interrogation tapes, should those tapes, based on what we all know right now, should they have been destroyed?
GIULIANI: Well, I mean, based on what we know now, no. But, you know, we don't know why they were destroyed. In other words, was it a mistake? Was it some kind of policy? Or was it a deliberate act...
BLITZER: Clearly, it wasn't a mistake. There was a decision made to go ahead -- these are hundreds of hours.
GIULIANI: No, I meant was the decision a mistake? I mean, we don't have a clear explanation of the decision yet. There's a whole big investigation that's going to determine that. And I think we have to wait until we see exactly why it was -- exactly why it was...
BLITZER: Because as you know, there are already allegations, charges that there could be -- and this is -- you know, it could be obstruction of justice.
BLITZER: There could be destroying of evidence, those kinds of allegations.
BLITZER: So the question is this -- and I know you're very friendly with the new attorney general, Michael Mukasey. You go way back with him.
BLITZER: Should the administration, in effect, be investigating itself, the administration, or, as some are suggesting, should there be an outside special counsel brought in to take a look at these serious allegations?
GIULIANI: I generally in my career have favored the Justice Department doing -- I think the special counsel, independent counsel situation becomes a much more complicated one, and it's better for the institution of justice to handle this. But I...
BLITZER: But you were -- you were the number three guy at the Justice Department...
GIULIANI: I was.
BLITZER: ... during the Reagan administration. Is there a conflict of interest, though, when you ask an attorney general as competent and respected as Michael Mukasey might be -- he was appointed by the president. Do you ask that attorney general to go ahead and investigate...
GIULIANI: Sure. BLITZER: ... decisions made -- clearly decisions made...
BLITZER: ... by the White House has participated in those decisions?
GIULIANI: Well, we don't -- we don't know the level yet. And even the special -- even the special prosecutor act I'm not sure at this level would absolutely have invoked some kind of a conflict of interest.
So, the attorney general is certainly capable of -- and I'm not just talking about Michael Mukasey. Any attorney general is capable of investigating at this level. And if you start taking away situations like this from the attorney general, then you end up with special counsel for this, independent counsel for that, special counsel for this.
I think this is one where we're going to get a pretty clear exposition of the facts by a Justice Department investigation. And I'd like to know, for example, what was done in -- what was done in the past. We've had other situations like this, war tapes destroyed in the past.
Was there a rationale for it? Was it to protect the safety of the interrogator?
BLITZER: Well, the...
GIULIANI: Or was it being done -- was it being done because there was some investigation coming up and somebody...
BLITZER: Because the tapes apparently showed what they call as harsh interrogation techniques, and some suggesting waterboarding. Is waterboarding -- should that be appropriate? Is there room for waterboarding in trying to get information from suspected terrorists?
GIULIANI: Having looked at this, my belief is it certainly shouldn't be a practice that's approved, a practice that goes on, you know, generally. But I wouldn't want to say with what I know, including how some of these situations were effective with very dangerous people in once in a lifetime situation, once in a decade situation, someone -- we've been asked about this during these debates, possibly even yours, in which you have a terrorist, there's a bomb that's going to go off in a day or might go off in a day, and he knows about information that could stop the killing of thousands and thousands of people.
BLITZER: Because John McCain, your rival...
GIULIANI: I know John...
BLITZER: ... he says that it should be outlawed... GIULIANI: Right.
BLITZER: ... this is torture, the United States should not engage in torture.
GIULIANI: I'm not willing to go as far on that particular answer to that question.
BLITZER: He speaks with some authority on this subject.
GIULIANI: Sure he does. Sure he does, and I respect John greatly. And I think John's opinion has great weight here.
But I do think you have to preserve for the president, and you have to preserve for our intelligence people at a time of grave national emergency a certain amount of discretion to do what's necessary. So I don't know that you could write this all out as a procedure that would apply in every situation. As a general matter, it would seem to me that a procedure like this would be inappropriate and not allowed.
BLITZER: If American prisoners were subject to waterboarding, would that be considered torture? And would that be a crime against -- a war crime, in effect?
GIULIANI: I'm not sure I know the answer to that, whether that's a war crime or not.
BLITZER: Because they will argue, the bad guys out there, that if we do it, it's OK for them to do it.
GIULIANI: Sure. And that's why this should not be a matter -- a matter of procedure that would always be the case.
I don't think that this should be something that you would allow all the time, or something you would allow as a matter of procedure. Or as you say, something you would allow for the investigation of prisoners.
Again, however, if there's a once in a lifetime situation, and you have -- and you have a person who may know about a massive attack that's going to go on, then I think the president and the appropriate officials have to have some discretion there. And you can't have it all written down as a group of procedures.
BLITZER: Mike Huckabee writes in the current issues of "Foreign Affairs," the 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."
Do you agree with him on that?
GIULIANI: No, I don't look it at it that way. I think Mike, you know, has a right to express it his way.
BLITZER: Those are strong words.
GIULIANI: Look, we all -- during the campaign, we all write things and say things in certain ways, and then we go back later and say, I wish we had said it somewhat differently. And I give Mike certainly the room to do that. I'm not going to jump all over him for it.
BLITZER: Let me rephrase the question. What would you do differently in terms of foreign policy, national security...
GIULIANI: That's a better question.
BLITZER: ... than President Bush is doing right now?
GIULIANI: I think that's a better question rather than my necessarily...
BLITZER: What would you change?
GIULIANI: I would put the emphasis on stability in Iraq and trying to get there. I think...
BLITZER: They're not doing that?
GIULIANI: Well, that's the point. I think the president made the change. I think the president made the change at or around this time last year. I think the policy was incorrect up until then, from the time -- you know, the invasion itself was very successful. The toppling of Saddam Hussein was very effective.
It might have something to do, by the way, with the NIE. I don't know. You know, the...
BLITZER: It was based though on a flawed -- a spectacularly flawed piece of intelligence...
GIULIANI: But it may...
BLITZER: ... that they had weapons of mass destruction.
GIULIANI: But it may well have played a role in having Gadhafi wave the white flag of surrender. It may have played a role, if the NIE is correct, with regard to the nuclear program, arms program in Iran. It may have played a role in those things, and it certainly played a role in moving a pillar of support for Islamic terrorism.
So all those are achievements, and all those things happened in lightning fast period of time. There was...
BLITZER: But you believe Saddam Hussein was a pillar of support for Islamic terrorists?
GIULIANI: Over the years of course he was. Over the years.
BLITZER: Was he associated with al Qaeda?
GIULIANI: We're not talking about just -- Islamic terrorism is not just al Qaeda. Islamic terrorism, as you know, are a number of groups.
BLITZER: Because he was a secularist, as you know.
GIULIANI: But he still, when it suited his purposes, supported terrorist organizations. When it suited his purposes. And that's true of all of them. I mean, all these state sponsors of terrorism, they don't have any one organization that they support all the time.
BLITZER: When I asked what would you do differently, I assumed you would say I would go out there and capture bin Laden and I devote whatever resources are needed to get the guy who did to my city what he did, which is -- it hasn't happened yet.
GIULIANI: Right. That's one of the things I would do.
BLITZER: What would you do to get bin Laden?
GIULIANI: But let's talk about Iraq for a moment and we'll go to that.
What I would do in Iraq -- hopefully would have done, is to put more emphasis on stability at an earlier stage. The president is now doing it, it appears to me that it's having more success than people thought. And I would stick with it and redouble the efforts if we had to, to get to the point of a stable Iraq that will act as an ally for us in the Islamic terrorist war against us.
At the same time, we can't take our eye off Pakistan and we can't take our eye off Afghanistan.
GIULIANI: Where we have al Qaeda and the Taliban.
BLITZER: ... Ayman al-Zawahiri, that's been -- I think it's...
GIULIANI: It's very frustrating.
BLITZER: ... a spectacular failure.
GIULIANI: Very frustrating, very frustrating for me personally having been the mayor of New York City at the time.
BLITZER: So what would you do? Would you devote more resources to the Pakistan/Afghan border, move troops out of Iraq?
GIULIANI: I would. I was asked this just the other day and I said I would redouble the effort in Pakistan and Afghanistan, not just to -- not just to catch bin Laden, which I think is critically important, but I'm also concerned about the fact that al Qaeda and the Taliban could be reemerging.
We got a great job done there, you know, right after September 11th. The invasion in Afghanistan was tremendously successful. We routed al Qaeda. We routed the Taliban.
BLITZER: They seem to be making a comeback though.
GIULIANI: But now -- that's the point. Now there are indications that they're making a comeback. In addition to the necessity to catch bin Laden, that's another strategic purpose that's very, very important.
So, here -- what I would do is increase the size of the Army. I would add 10 combat brigades, so we don't feel this -- this kind of being stretched thin, you know, this idea that...
BLITZER: What would you do -- what would you do to strengthen the intelligence community, so that we wouldn't have these failures? Yes, they're working on a nuclear bomb, the Iranians; no, they're not working on a nuclear bomb.
Every other year or so, it seems that the NIE comes out, and they....
GIULIANI: Well, didn't you find the NIE somewhat confusing? Highly confident that they stopped...
BLITZER: Well, it says, "We judge with high confidence that, in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons problem -- program."
BLITZER: Two years earlier, they said they were working on a nuclear bomb. And now they say they stopped four years ago working on a nuclear bomb.
GIULIANI: But they only have moderate confidence that they haven't started again.
BLITZER: What would you do to fix that?
GIULIANI: I would -- my major concern -- and this...
BLITZER: Because intelligence can save lives.
But, this, you have to be on the inside to really assess this effectively.
BLITZER: Human intelligence.
Human intelligence is the answer. You have to -- you have to have sources from the inside. The technology is terrific nowadays. And the amount of information it gets you is overwhelming. And that's part of the problem. It's overwhelming.
So, you need human intelligence in order to -- in order to pick out the piece of paper that's the important one.
BLITZER: All right. You're president of the United States. And you're in there and you're making decisions. Give us some example of some names. Who would come in? Would who be, potentially, a secretary of state, a secretary of defense, a national security adviser?
GIULIANI: I'm not going to name. I'm not going to name. I'm not going to name.
BLITZER: Well, who are the people advising you right now?
GIULIANI: I'm not going to name people that would possibly...
BLITZER: On foreign policy and national security.
GIULIANI: The one who advises me most often is Charlie Hill. He...
BLITZER: He was a career diplomat at the State Department.
GIULIANI: Correct. Professor, right.
BLITZER: A top-notch diplomat.
GIULIANI: And he and I developed a very good relationship all through the year. He's helped me on foreign policy. He's helped me with my overview of foreign policy.
BLITZER: So, he's your chief foreign policy adviser?
GIULIANI: That's right.
BLITZER: He is to you what Condoleezza Rice was to President Bush during his campaign back in 2000?
GIULIANI: He is my chief foreign policy adviser.
BLITZER: And who else is in that inner circle?
GIULIANI: And Bill Simon kind of has organized a group of about 30 or 40 others. And I don't want to single out any one in that particular group.
But I have met with many, including during the time that the surge policy was put together, met with some of the people that put together that policy, have met with some of them after that to see how it was going, and have met with some of the people that were opponents of it. So, I have tried to listen to -- I have tried to listen to both sides of it.
BLITZER: In effect right now, any military strategy against Iran, the rug has been pulled out from under the legs of those who would support it, given this latest national estimate, which says they stopped building a bomb four years ago. Is that right?
GIULIANI: Well, you missed the second part of it. They're only moderately confident that they haven't started again, and they warn that, long term, this is a problem.
So, I think what it should -- to me, the NIE shows that pressure works, that, if in fact it's correct, and then they also warn you it may not be correct. There's a slight possibility it's not correct.
Well, let's say it's correct. In 2003, for some reason, right, the Iranians decided to stop their nuclear program, to have nuclear arms. What was going on in 2003? The lightning-quick deposing of Saddam Hussein. It took us 20...
BLITZER: So, you think they were influenced by that? Well, let me ask you this.
GIULIANI: Wouldn't they be -- well, wouldn't they be -- for 23 -- it took 23 days for us to depose Saddam Hussein. They had a war, Iraq and Iran, for eight years.
BLITZER: So, you believe this NIE, that they actually stopped four years ago?
GIULIANI: I don't believe it or not. I just read it for what it is. It says...
BLITZER: But you think it's credible?
GIULIANI: It says they are moderate -- they are highly confident. So, I would have to leave that at face value.
GIULIANI: You have to take that at face value.
BLITZER: Rudy Giuliani, president of the United States...
BLITZER: I know you like to hear those words.
BLITZER: And you have got a crisis with Iran. You have still got a crisis with Iran.
Here's what Jimmy Carter told me a few months ago, the former president. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JIMMY CARTER, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, they all seem to be outdoing each other in who wants to go to war first with Iran, who wants to keep Guantanamo open longer, and expand its capacity, things of that kind. They're competing with other to appeal to the ultra-right-wing, war-mongering element in our country, which I think is a minority of the total population.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Now, he wasn't specifically referring to you, but he was referring to...
GIULIANI: Referring to Republicans in general.
BLITZER: ... support your stance on these kinds of issues, the neoconservatives, the neocons, as they're called.
So, the question is this. Would you talk directly, at the highest levels, with the Iranian government, even while you keep your military option on the table?
GIULIANI: I would, first of all, have to dispute what the ex- president said. I don't know who he was speaking of, if he was speaking of Republican candidates or me. I don't...
BLITZER: Not you specifically, but...
But there's no desire. I mean, just the opposite is the case.
BLITZER: But would you talk to the Iranians?
GIULIANI: Let me first respond to that.
I would not seek war with anyone. I think war is a terrible, terrible outcome. And the military option with regard to Iran would be a very dangerous, very risky thing to ever have to use. The only thing I believe is, as a policy matter, the United States should make it clear that it would be more dangerous and more risky to the world if Iran became a nuclear power, so they understand our position on it and don't become confused about it and they're not ambiguous about it.
I believe strength here works. And I think the NIE shows that.
BLITZER: But what about talking? What about talking?
GIULIANI: I would have preconditions for it.
BLITZER: Like what?
GIULIANI: Well, I would want to make sure that there was a chance it would work. I would want to make sure that there would be an opportunity to verify whatever it is that we were going to do.
I worked for Ronald Reagan. I believe in truth, but verify. Ronald Reagan went into...
BLITZER: Because he spoke to the Russians...
GIULIANI: He did.
BLITZER: ... the Soviets.
GIULIANI: He did.
BLITZER: He spoke to the Chinese, even at the height of the Cold War. There were the highest-level discussions.
GIULIANI: But never without preconditions, and never without a very, very clear indication that there would be some strong movement on the other side.
BLITZER: So, under the right conditions, you would meet with Ahmadinejad?
GIULIANI: There would have to be preconditions.
BLITZER: Like what? Like what?
(CROSSTALK) GIULIANI: Well, I don't think you lay out all your preconditions. I mean, that's a very big mistake. The last thing you do -- and some of these Democratic candidates have made the mistake of saying they would take regime change off the table, or they seem to be less firm about the military option, or -- you start taking all these things off the table, there's nothing to negotiate with. There's no pressure. There's no leverage.
You have to have leverage in a negotiation. Ronald Reagan was great at developing leverage. He called the Soviet Union the evil empire. He put missiles in Europe and pointed them at Russian cities.
BLITZER: But he also negotiated deals with them and he met with Soviet leaders.
GIULIANI: But just think of all that leverage he created. He put -- he -- all of a sudden, a whole group of new missiles were pointed at Soviet cities.
BLITZER: All right. All right.
GIULIANI: And he increased the military by numbers that a lot of the Russians believe spent the Soviet Union into oblivion.
BLITZER: We're going to take a quick break, but we're going to continue this conversation aboard the CNN Election Express.
We're out here in Missouri. The former mayor of New York, Rudy Giuliani, he's standing by. We will talk about some of the domestic issues that could affect him, if in fact he became the president of the United States.
We will take a quick break.
Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Welcome back.
We're continuing our conversation with Republican presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani. He's trying to take a different path to the White House, not the normal route. Almost all the White House hopefuls have campaign appearances today, for example, in the early- voting states of Iowa or New Hampshire. Giuliani is here with us in Missouri.
And that speaks to his primary season strategy, which hinges in large measure on February 5. Missouri is one of 24 states that hold presidential contests that day. Even if Giuliani loses some of the early showdowns in Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina, he is banking on a hung Super Tuesday sweep, as well as a win in Florida's January 29 primary.
Let's continue our conversation right now.
BLITZER: That's a -- that's an extraordinary strategy. It's very different than has been done in the past; you acknowledge that?
GIULIANI: It -- I'm not sure it's so different. This is a -- this is a long primary season that is compact. No, actually, it's a big primary season compacted into a month.
And we have had primaries go down two, three months. And we have never had anyone that has won...
BLITZER: But do you concede already you're not going to win in Iowa or New Hampshire?
GIULIANI: Of course I don't concede that we're not going to win.
It's like saying you will begin a nine-inning game and you concede that you're going to lose the first inning or the second inning. I kind of look at it as a nine-inning baseball game. And I know I'm going to lose a few. And I'm hopefully going to win most of them.
Right now, I'm ahead in probably 18, 19, 20 of the 28, 29 states. That's a pretty good position to be in. I'm not ahead in all of them. I'm not going to win all of them.
BLITZER: You're really hoping that the early states, Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina, for example, if you don't win, that it's sort of divided. Let's say Huckabee wins in Iowa, or Romney wins in New Hampshire, McCain wins in South Carolina, or Fred Thompson. If all of them are divided, that would be good for you?
BLITZER: Say yes.
GIULIANI: Well, I'm not sure.
GIULIANI: I'm not sure what I'm going to have to face.
BLITZER: Let's talk about...
GIULIANI: It depends on -- if I say yes now and then I have to face something different, then I'm going to have to talk to you again. So...
BLITZER: All right. Let's talk about what John McCain criticized you for, and your friendship with Bernard Kerik, the former New York police commissioner.
BLITZER: He said this on November 9: "Kerik was supposed to be there -- referring to in Iraq when he went over to train Iraqi police -- "He was supposed to be there to help train the police force in Iraq. He stayed two months and one day just left. That's why I never would have supported him to be the head of national security, because of his irresponsible act when he was over there in Baghdad. That should have been part of anybody's judgment before they would recommend that individual to be the head of the Department of Homeland Security."
The implication from McCain's words is that you showed a lack of judgment; you were in fact blinded by your loyalty to Bernard Kerik, instead of worrying about the Department of Homeland Security.
GIULIANI: Well, I was worried about the Department of Homeland Security. And I made the judgment to support him. Should have vetted him more effectively than I did. And I said that was a mistake. So, I don't...
BLITZER: But do you agree with McCain that...
GIULIANI: Well, maybe not necessarily the particular situation he talks about. But if you are talking about the overall should I have vetted him more carefully? Absolutely. Is it my responsibility? Absolutely. Was I wrong and did I make a mistake? Absolutely correct.
GIULIANI: So, I can't -- I can't criticize the senator for criticizing me, because I have criticized myself for it. But I do think...
BLITZER: Are you overly loyal, too blinded by loyalty? Because that's been something a lot of your friends have suggested over the years.
I think the honest way to look at this is, I have made thousands of judgments under difficult situations, sometimes in difficult problems, crises. I selected people -- I have selected hundreds of people for situations like that, maybe 1,000, I don't know, when you count assistant U.S. attorneys, and people appointed in the Justice Department. I have made a couple of mistakes.
BLITZER: This was the biggest one, though, right?
GIULIANI: Maybe the most public one.
BLITZER: Was there anybody else...
GIULIANI: Oh, sure. I have had -- yes. I have some mistakes made in the people that I selected. They do something wrong. There's something you should have found out about.
But 99 out of 100 have turned out to be very good. And hundreds have turned out to be superior. And I couldn't have gotten the results that I got if I didn't have good judgment about people. I couldn't have turned around a city if I didn't have good judgment about people. I couldn't have put more mafia people in jail than just about anyone, and had a U.S. attorney's office with people like that, without selecting good people.
I couldn't have taken on white-collar crime the way I did, couldn't have been successful in the Justice Department as I was. So, most of the time, my judgment about people is correct.
Am I human? Do I make mistakes? I do. And do I try to learn from them? Of course. And maybe what I can say to the American people is, you have got a chance to vote for a candidate who isn't perfect, who has made mistakes.
Part of the reason that some of my mistakes, like that, are big is that I have had such success. So, when I do something that is a mistake, maybe it looks a little bit bigger. I consider that a mistake. I have learned from it. I will not make it again. I will do everything I can not to make it again. And I think I have had a record of having success, against the odds.
BLITZER: Let's talk about Mitt Romney's complaints against you. He's your other rival. And he's not shy at all. He's circulating a flyer in South Carolina, saying you have flip-flopped totally on the issue of immigration.
BLITZER: He said, at one point when you were mayor, you ordered city workers not to deny benefits for illegal immigrant workers. You advocated measures easing pathways to citizenship for illegals. He claims you fought for welfare benefits for illegal immigrants, you ran New York City as a sanctuary city. And, on all of those issues, he says now you're taking the other position and that you have flip- flopped.
What do you say to Mitt Romney?
GIULIANI: What I say is that none of us have a perfect record on immigration.
BLITZER: But is it true that you did support these things? GIULIANI: Some of that isn't. Some of that is. It's a kind of confusing combination of things.
The reality is, I dealt with the situation that existed in New York City, and I dealt with it I think in a way that even my critics would say got superb results from the point of view and safety and security.
And what those policies we're talking about were, we had 400,000, roughly, illegal immigrants in New York City. The federal government couldn't deport more than 1,000 or 2,000 every year. So, we had 398,000 illegal immigrants.
The policy that I continued, which was started by Mayors Koch and Dinkins -- and I agreed with it -- and I take full responsibility for it also, so I'm not saying, because they started it, there was anything wrong with it -- it was a good policy.
The policy was, let the children go to school. Let people get medical coverage -- medical care, not medical coverage, not medical insurance, but going to emergency rooms from the point of view of public health, protecting public health and humanity, and, finally, make sure that people can turn in the criminals that commit crimes, because, sometimes, those crimes were committed against illegals, and we had to catch those criminals.
Those were the only three exceptions, none of the other things that were talked about. Part of that instructive, however, part of that directive, was that you had to turn in all people suspected of crimes. And we turned in all the people that were arrested, all the people that were convicted, and urged the federal government to deport them.
BLITZER: So, you have no regrets on any of those policies?
GIULIANI: No regrets at all. Balanced policy. If I hadn't done it, I would not have reduced crime by more than any other place in the country.
And it's not inconsistent with the position that I take now. The position that I take now, same one that I would have taken at any time. We should end illegal immigration at the border.
BLITZER: All right.
GIULIANI: And I believe, from the results that I have gotten, I can get it done.
No one of us candidates -- Republican candidates, all of us have a record of having some of these issues on immigration in the past, not -- what I call not a perfect record. The question is, now, who can straighten it out? Who can stop illegal immigration? Who can change behavior?
And then I also believe we have to keep open the door of legal immigration. Father Hesburgh once said, if we don't close the back door of illegal immigration, we are not going to be able to keep wide open the front door of legal immigration. That's my belief.
BLITZER: Father Hesburgh, the former president of Notre Dame University...
BLITZER: ... for those of our viewers who don't know.
We're almost out of time. Quick couple of questions, and you can give me your honest answers, as you always do.
Has Hillary Clinton been a good senator for New York State?
GIULIANI: Not from my point of view, from the point of view of my ideology, my thinking, the things that I would like to see, which would be smaller government, tax cuts.
She made the right vote on Iraq in having to deal with Saddam Hussein. I think her backing away from that vote, I know that was popular within the Democratic Party. To me, that was very disappointing.
She's worked hard, if that is what you're saying. Has she been a hardworking senator? Absolutely. And, for the short time that we overlapped, when I was the mayor, I was able to work with her. And she was always cooperative in doing what the city needed. But her ideology is so different, her wanting to move toward mandated government medicine, socialized medicine.
BLITZER: If you became president, would you be able to work with her and other Democrats?
GIULIANI: Of course.
I ran a city that was 45 Democrats in the city council and -- and only six Republicans, a city that was 5-1 Democratic. I think one of the reasons that I should be the nominee of the party is, I'm the only Republican candidate that can carry on a 50-state campaign.
It's somewhat similar to this primary campaign that we're carrying on. I look at it as, day I get nominated, we are going to be campaigning all over the country. We are going to be campaigning in New York. We are going to be campaigning in Connecticut, in New Jersey, in Delaware, in Pennsylvania, in California, in Michigan, in Minnesota.
BLITZER: All over.
So, one final question.
GIULIANI: And I don't want to miss any.
GIULIANI: And all these states that we have left out sometimes are the best.
BLITZER: We have got to wrap it up, but I have one final question.
Who do you look at, former presidents, as your model, if you were to become president?
GIULIANI: I looked at Ronald Reagan as my model when I was mayor of New York City. I worked for Ronald Reagan. And I write about it in my book "Leadership."
Ronald Reagan to me was the president that you would most want to model yourself on. Now, I'm not just talking about being -- conservative philosophy, although I think a lot of his conservative philosophy still has great application today, if not all of it.
I'm really talking about his style of leadership. He stood for something. You knew what that was. He was able to keep the American people knowledgeable about where he wanted the country to go. He always had optimism about the future. That's so important. You have got to see a brighter future.
Remember they used to say about Ronald Reagan he looks at the country through rose-colored glasses as a criticism? To me, that was one of his great assets. If you look at it through rose-colored glasses, maybe you can make it that way. If you dream of a better country, you can make it a better country.
BLITZER: Mr. Mayor, we have got to leave it right there. Thanks for coming aboard the CNN Election Express.
GIULIANI: Thank you for coming to Missouri.
BLITZER: Nice place you got here.
GIULIANI: Nice bus you got here.
BLITZER: I know you have got a big rally and a few hundred people are waiting for you right now.
Thanks very much.
GIULIANI: Thank you, Wolf.
BLITZER: And good luck to you.
GIULIANI: Always -- always a pleasure to be with you. Always has been.
BLITZER: Thank you very much.
We're going to assess what we have just heard from the mayor, the former mayor of New York, the Republican presidential candidate. Dana Bash, John King, they're standing by. We will take a break.
Much more coming up. We're live in Columbia, Missouri, and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: It was a wide-ranging exclusive interview.
Only moments ago, as you saw live here in THE SITUATION ROOM, I wrapped up my one-on-one conversation with Rudy Giuliani. We talked about several issues, his own strategy to try to win the Republican presidential nomination.
Joining us now to discuss this and more, our chief national correspondent, John King -- he's joining us from Davenport, Iowa -- and CNN's Dana Bash. She's in west Des Moines.
First of all, John, give us your sense of Giuliani's strategy to try to win this nomination, because it's, shall we say, highly unusual.
JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Highly unusual and many Republicans would say highly risky, Wolf.
I was very struck near the end of the interview where he said Republicans should nominate me because I'm a guy who could run a 50- state campaign. Well, I already got an e-mail from a Republican in New Hampshire saying it would be nice if he would spend more time here.
Now, the Giuliani campaign says he will spend some time there later this week.
And, here in Iowa, he is a nonfactor in a race that right now is between Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee. So, he says he has the credentials nationally for the general election, but, in the primary campaign, as you noted, he's running a very risky strategy, assuming he could lose two or three of the early contests and then pick up momentum.
No one has done that before. Others have tried it. We have never had a calender like this. But he is trying something that's quite risky.
I was also struck when you asked him about Mitt Romney's criticism on immigration. Remember, in the last debate, it was Rudy Giuliani who quickly fired back and said, Mitt Romney had the sanctuary mansion, had policies in Massachusetts that were what you might describe as soft on immigration.
In the interview, he took a much more kinder, gentler tone. That may be because we're getting closer to the first voting, and many of the candidates have pulled back a bit from being harshly critical.
BLITZER: Dana -- I want to bring Dana in, too.
Dana, the -- John makes a good point, because I gave him a few opportunities to really lash out at some of his rivals, including Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee. You know, you -- you heard him responding to the criticism, but he -- he didn't, in effect, give tit for tat, as they say.
What was your sense of that -- that strategy?
DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: He didn't at all.
And, to me, the most striking example of the fact that Rudy Giuliani simply isn't really competing in this first caucus state of Iowa is the fact that he gave Mike Huckabee a pass when you asked him to comment on the fact that Huckabee talked about the fact that he believes that the Bush administration's foreign policy has an arrogant, bunker-like mentality, because what has been going on, on the ground here in Iowa, Wolf, is that the -- the heads of -- the people who are leading here, besides Mike Huckabee, are trying to get at Mike Huckabee's lead by attacking him on that very issue.
The two things that they're trying to convince Iowa voters of, number one, is that Mike Huckabee might be with you on social issues, but he's not with you on a whole host of other Republican core issues. One is foreign policy. And the other is that he is simply not ready to be president.
In fact, we heard that both from Mitt Romney and from Fred Thompson. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Saying that that administration was subject to arrogance and a bunker mentality, and that's simply not a proper characterization of the cause of our challenges.
And the -- the president is a person who is deeply devoted to this country and doing what's right for this country, and protecting American lives.
FRED THOMPSON, REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, I don't -- I don't think Governor Huckabee appreciates the kind of world that we live in.
I think he's under the impression that, if we're nicer and sweeter to the bad guys, that maybe they will love us. Unfortunately, that's not the case. So, I think that you have to have a realistic approach. I think you have to recognize the complexities and the difficulties that our country is going to be facing.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BASH: So, there you heard Mitt Romney and Fred Thompson try to go after the front-runner in this state in two ways, one, by questioning his loyalty as a Republican to the Republican president, and, two, by simply stating, almost flatly, that he does not think he gets it, that he's a governor from Arkansas, and he doesn't understand the complexities of the foreign stage.
And that is a dynamic here, something that Rudy Giuliani simply deflected, decided not to answer, in your interview. It was quite interesting, Wolf.
BLITZER: I thought so, too.
Dana, thanks very much.
John King, thanks to you.
Let's check in with Jack. He's got "The Cafferty File."
Jack, before you get to "The Cafferty File," you're a longtime observer of Rudy Giuliani. Give us -- you were watching the interview. Give us your reaction.
CAFFERTY: I think he did himself a lot of good in this interview.
I'm not so sure I agree with him on some of the early stuff he talked about in terms of foreign policy. But I got the sense he's a guy who is very comfortable with who he is, with what he believes. He's confident he understands at least some of the problems we face, and is not unwilling to say: You know what? I'm not perfect. I made a mistake with Kerik. I have probably made some other mistakes. I will make some in the future.
But what impressed me most was his ability to remain absolutely unflappable and unfazed by the rapid-fire nature of the questioning coming from the Wolf man.
I mean, you're -- you can be a tough guy when it comes to some of these interviews. And I think you were firing high hard ones at him with a certain amount of speed. And it impressed me that he stood there, he listened, he heard what you were saying, and he worked in his answers in between.
And, like I say, I think he did himself some good. He was a good mayor of New York. I wasn't so sure how good a presidential candidate he might be. I was impressed watching the interview this afternoon.
BLITZER: You know, Jack, I just want to add one point. He was willing to stay and go longer, but he has -- he has got several hundred people waiting here in Columbia, Missouri. And he had some problems with his plane earlier, so he was already running late. But he was willing to take the questions and stick around. There's no doubt about that.
CAFFERTY: What did you think of him? You have done a lot of these interviews.
BLITZER: I -- you know, he's obviously a very smart guy.
BLITZER: And he's been around, as you say. If he could take questions from the New York media, as he did for the years he was the mayor of New York, he can certainly take questions from us as well.
That's a tough press corps you got in New York City there.
CAFFERTY: Yes, it is.
All right. We -- we're not going to have any more time left. I better get on to this thing here.
The question this hour is: Should Congress have refused to pass funding for the war in Iraq without some timeline for troop withdrawals?
B. writes: "They will be criticized for not standing up to Bush, so why not just do what the majority of Americans want and demand a timeline? I think they worry about their image too much. And we, as Americans, not being totally stupid, see that. The troops should have been home months ago."
John writes: "No, Congress should not have refused funding for our troops. They are not simply pawns in some beltway power struggle. They are our sons and daughters, and they do need resources to stay that way. Unfortunately, the situation is more complicated than having a one right or one wrong answer to this political tug-of-war."
Jeremy: "Are you kidding me? I'm actually supposed to expect that this Democratic-controlled Congress, who claimed they would take us in a new direction with the war in Iraq, to actually keep their word and make some sort of progress? Seriously, stop pulling my leg. To this date, they have done absolutely nothing to bring our troops home, and Bush has essentially had his way, just as he did when Republicans had the majority. It's very sad, indeed."
Jack writes: "You want a yes-or-no answer, Jack? Why don't you just ask everyone to raise their hands, like they were asked during the debate, the candidates? Is it really that simple? There is no easy out on this, Jack. And political posturing by this venal Congress is just pandering at its worst."
Laura, Newport News, Virginia: "One more indication we wasted our votes in 2006, trying to change the direction of our government and its policies. You can't vote in courage."
And George writes: "Congress should do as they promised to do, end the war. They have the power to end it. They just don't have the backbone. This is the most useless Congress in my lifetime. And I'm 73 years old" -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Jack, thanks very much.
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