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THE SITUATION ROOM
Former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto Assassinated; Interview With Ron Paul
Aired December 27, 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: breaking news -- Benazir Bhutto holds Pakistan's president responsible for her assassination in an e-mail sent only weeks before her death. We're going to bring you an exclusive look at that never-before-seen e-mail and an interview with the man who received and who let me in on his chilling secret.
Plus, all the latest developments on the killing of the former prime minister and the danger that could spread in her homeland and around the world.
President Bush calls Benazir Bhutto's murder a cowardly act. It's also a troubling new setback for his war on terror and for his controversial ties to the Pakistani leader, Pervez Musharraf.
Also this hour, the terror threat front and center on the U.S. campaign trail. We will hear from the presidential candidates, including my interviews with Republicans Rudy Giuliani and Ron Paul.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world.
In just a moment, my exclusive report on Benazir Bhutto casting blame for her own assassination two months before it happened. It's a story I was asked to report to the world if -- if Bhutto were killed.
But, first, an update on what's happening in Pakistan right now. The body of the opposition leader, Benazir Bhutto, lies in a casket. Her assassination today is triggering protests and fears of widespread violence and chaos before critical January 8th elections in that country.
It's a startling new jolt of instability in a nuclear-armed Muslim nation, a vital U.S. ally in the war on terror, and also the possible hiding place of Osama bin Laden.
This is a photo of the former Pakistani prime minister riding in a van right before she was killed, waving to crowds. She and at least 22 others were killed during a suicide bomb attack at a campaign rally Bhutto had just addressed. But it also appears she died of bullet wounds -- the Associated Press quoting a doctor who treated Bhutto as saying she had a bullet in the back of the neck that damaged her spinal cord and another that pierced the back of her shoulder and came out her chest. Pakistan's GEO TV released this footage of a gun, saying it's believed to be the weapon used to kill Benazir Bhutto. The Pakistani president, Pervez Musharraf, has declared a three-day mourning period and is vowing to go after the terrorists he blames for Bhutto's killing.
But, in death, Bhutto is casting blame for her assassination on President Musharraf.
Let's get to our exclusive report now on Bhutto's grim warning of what might happen to her and why. Her fears of an assassination have now come true. And only now can I reveal to you what I know. This is a story she wanted me to tell the world on her behalf if she were killed. This past October, Bhutto sent an e-mail to her longtime friend in Washington, her U.S. spokesman, Mark Siegel.
Addressing the danger she faced in her homeland, Bhutto wrote these words. And let me quote them precisely: "Nothing will, God willing, happen. Just wanted you to know, if it does, in addition to the names in my letter to Musharraf of October 16, I would hold Musharraf responsible. I have been made to feel insecure by his minions. And there is no way what is happening, in terms of stopping me from taking private cars or using tinted windows or giving jammers or four police mobiles to cover all sides, could happen without him."
At Bhutto's request, Mark Siegel forwarded that e-mail to me the day he received it, back on October 26. But he told me I could not report on it unless Bhutto was killed.
In a moment, we will get reaction from Pakistan's ambassador to the United States. Ambassador Durrani is standing by live.
But let's get to the man who received that e-mail from Benazir Bhutto, Mark Siegel, who sent it off to me.
Mark, thanks very much for coming in.
I know you and Benazir Bhutto were close for 25 users. You had a longstanding relationship with her. My deepest condolences to you on the death of your friend.
But give us the context of this e-mail that you received from her. This was two months ago.
MARK SIEGEL, FRIEND OF BENAZIR BHUTTO: Wolf, Benazir was -- was very concerned by the lack of security that she had on -- on her arrival in Karachi on October 18.
The circumstances around the assassination attempt on the night of the 18th, the morning of the 19th, was very, very suspicious. There was no investigation. Contrary to anything the ambassador might later say, there was no investigation of that horrendous killing, which killed 179 people.
The -- there -- she had asked that Scotland Yard and the FBI be involved, be brought in for forensic help for the investigation. The government of General Musharraf absolutely refused to have Scotland Yard or the FBI brought in.
As we prepared for the campaign, former Prime Minister Bhutto was very concerned that she was not getting the security that she had asked for and that her husband had asked for. It was very, very specific that they had asked for jammers to -- to set off IEDs. That was denied to be allowed in by the government of General Musharraf.
She had asked for special vehicles. That was denied to her. She had asked for special tinted cars. She had asked for four police vehicles to surround her at all times. She basically asked for all that was required for someone of the standing of a former prime minister. All of that was denied to her.
She sent me the e-mail because she...
BLITZER: Well, let me interrupt -- let me interrupt for a moment, Mark, because I just want to be precise.
This was two months ago, October 26, that she sent you that e- mail. Based on what you know -- and I know you were in contact with her a lot over these two months -- did she not get any of those extra security precautions that she sought?
SIEGEL: She got some police protection, but it was sporadic and erratic. She did not get the jammers that were necessary for the IEDs. She did not get the protection that she thought was necessary.
And she became increasingly concerned that this was not getting any better, but actually getting worse, as she toured the country in preparation for the January 8 election, which she thought was basically rigged from the top down and the bottom up. But she was going to fight the fight, because she was willing to sacrifice everything for the cause of democracy in Pakistan, and has been for most of her life.
BLITZER: I don't know...
SIEGEL: And, today, she paid with her life.
BLITZER: I don't know, Mark, if you saw that picture that was taken of her only moments before she was killed. She was standing up in a -- in the -- in this van, going through the -- the sunroof, which, I have to tell you, given what happened to her upon her return to Karachi after eight years in exile -- and more than 100 people, as you point out, were killed then -- and we're showing our viewers that -- that pictures right now -- some would argue that was pretty reckless on her part, to be going up and speaking like that through -- unprotected in a van sunroof.
SIEGEL: Benazir Bhutto believed in democracy and she believed in speaking to the people.
It's not reckless to go out and touch the people. Don't blame the victim for the crime. The person that was supposed to be protecting Benazir Bhutto and the other candidates was the government of Pakistan, was the government of General Pervez Musharraf. Don't blame the victim. Blame them.
BLITZER: No, we're not blaming the victim. But we're just pointing out that, only moments before she was killed, she was seen in this -- in this picture standing up through the sunroof in this van.
Let me bring the ambassador, Mahmud Ali Durrani, into this conversation.
Mr. Ambassador, you have heard the complaints. I want to get your reaction.
MAHMUD ALI DURRANI, PAKISTANI AMBASSADOR TO UNITED STATES: Well, I respect Mr. Siegel. He's a very knowledgeable man, indeed, and he got this mail from Benazir Bhutto. That is also true. I'm aware of that.
But I think it is a bit naive if you try and blame the government of Musharraf or the government of Pakistan that this happened because there were inadequate protection. When she came to Karachi -- let me put the record straight for everybody -- that there were, I think, a sea of security people.
There was -- she was surrounded by police vehicles. And, had it not been one of the police vehicles which took the blast in Karachi, unfortunately, she would have died there. There was a bubble around her of security. The PPP insisted that they have their own private loyalists around. They were there, too.
And there were about 7,800 to 8,000 security people deployed just for that. And that is more security than anybody deploys anywhere in the world.
BLITZER: Let me -- Mr. Ambassador, let me ask you specifically whether those items that she requested back in that e-mail on October 26, whether they were in fact made available to her.
Mark Siegel says they were not, including using tinted windows or giving jammers for police mobiles to cover all sides. Did she get the specific -- the specific security precautions that she thought she needed to stay alive?
DURRANI: Wolf, she is not a security person. She's a politician.
I think the government of Pakistan provided her all the security that was necessary. Now, you tell me, even without jammer or tinted windows, the way she was hit, she would have been hit with tinted windows or without tinted windows, or without the IEDs. No IED was used, no use of tinted windows.
So, it's just a blame game. And the problem with this blame game, to my fear, is that the real culprits are going to get away. It is the extremists and terrorists that have been after her that have been after Musharraf. It's the same terrorists.
In fact, I find a lot of commonality between Benazir and Musharraf. They are both for democracy, and they are both very, very liberal people. And Musharraf tried his best, but the circumstances under which she moved -- and Mr. Siegel also mentioned to touch her voters and the voters to touch her -- so, that was a problem, when she was moving almost in a sea of humanity. So, this -- this -- no system in the world can protect you against that.
BLITZER: Well, let me ask Mark Siegel to respond.
Mark, you heard what the ambassador is saying. Go ahead.
SIEGEL: Well, of the many bad things that the ambassador said, the worst thing he said today was comparing Benazir Bhutto to General Pervez Musharraf, comparing one great democratic leader to a tyrant and a dictator.
And I think it's disgraceful. And I think he should apologize to the people of Pakistan for it.
BLITZER: Mr. Ambassador?
DURRANI: Well, I don't want to get into a slugging match with an American. If I have to apologize to the people of what I think is my business and the business of the people of Pakistan.
I think Musharraf is -- is for democracy. He was moving in that direction. He was talking to Benazir. He was on some kind of a relationship with her. And, as far as liberalism is concerned, I think there are very few politicians in Pakistan who can match Musharraf. That is my view.
BLITZER: Mr. Ambassador, the -- three U.S. senators wrote a letter to President Musharraf also back in October, 24th -- this was two days before the e-mail that she sent to Mark Siegel -- in which they wrote this, Joe Biden, Joe Lieberman, and Patrick Leahy.
They said this: "We believe it is very important to the democratic process that Ms. Bhutto be provided the full level of security support customarily afforded to any former Pakistani prime minister. One of the most important security provisions would be government-provided bomb-proof vehicles and jamming equipment, in order to protect Ms. Bhutto and other senior political leaders from roadside bombs and improvised explosive devices."
You remember that letter that those three senators sent President Musharraf.
Let me rephrase the question I asked you earlier. Was anything done in the aftermath of that request from those influential U.S. senators to beef up security for Benazir Bhutto?
DURRANI: What I want to repeat again, that everything which was possible, the amount of security that the government of Pakistan provided Benazir during her march in Karachi, during her letter, is unprecedented. We have never had such security for any opposition member and a likely candidate to become a member of the national assembly or, for that matter, the prime minister. So, I think the amount of security that was provided to Benazir at that time far goes beyond what was asked for by the U.S. legislators.
BLITZER: Mark, I want to pick your brain.
You have had a 25-year relationship with Benazir Bhutto. I have gotten to know her somewhat over the past several years myself. But this is painful for you, given that relationship, that friendship you had with her. But tell us something about this woman that our viewers in the United States and around the world should know.
SIEGEL: She -- she was the bravest person I ever knew.
She was -- she was a very strong person. She was totally committed to the cause of democracy. She had -- was totally committed to sacrificing her own personal happiness for the people of Pakistan. Pakistan always came first, before her children, before her husband, but certainly before -- before herself.
She knew that -- that there were risks coming back, but those risks were important, important, she thought, for the fight for -- for democracy. I asked her so many times over the years: You are brilliant. You are young. You are beautiful. You have -- you are so well-educated. You have a wonderful family. You could have a wonderful life anywhere. Why are you doing this?
And she said: It is my destiny to go back and fight for the -- for the democracy and for freedom in Pakistan. And that always will come first, and my family understands that.
Now, we have just collaborated on a book which will be coming out in January called "Reconciliation: Islam, Democracy, and the West," which is a book about hope and a book about the future and a book about everything that today wasn't, a time when, within Islam and between Islam and the West, problems can be reconciled peacefully, and in a way that promotes peace in the future.
Benazir Bhutto told me that I shouldn't be afraid for her, that -- that she was committed to God, that she had faith in God, and that she was in the hands of God. And, today, she is.
BLITZER: Mr. Ambassador, I know you knew Benazir Bhutto as well. Give me a final thought on this extraordinary woman.
First of all, for a change, I will agree with Mr. Siegel. I think all that he said, I agree with him totally. She was a great woman, daughter of a great father. I have served under her. And, in fact, I had dinner with her when she was in Washington recently. We discussed the political situation.
I think her legacy will be a liberal democracy which will outlive her.
BLITZER: Mr. Ambassador, thank you very much for joining us. Our condolences to the people of Pakistan on this very sad day.
Mark Siegel, thanks to you as well. Our condolences to you and all of her friends and family -- a loss, a great loss, indeed, for the world.
Exactly one week before the first presidential contest here in the United States, the White House hopefuls are expressing their own sorrow and outrage over Benazir Bhutto's assassination. Coming up, we will see how the Democrats are seizing on this moment to play up their own foreign policy credentials.
Same goes for the Republicans. Does Benazir Bhutto's death change the campaign during these final crucial days before the Iowa caucuses?
Also, we will get reaction from President Bush, and how Bhutto's death could turn into a global nightmare. The stakes for the U.S. are enormous.
Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Exactly one week from today, Iowa Democrats and Republicans will gather across the state and begin the process of choosing the next U.S. president.
We're coming to you from our election headquarters here in New York. When America votes, we will be all over this story, of course. We will be here to the countdown to the caucuses and for the big decision days coming up.
In the lead-up to Iowa, the assassination of Benazir Bhutto is making a big impression out on the campaign trail.
Our Suzanne Malveaux is out in Iowa covering the Democrats' response.
Suzanne, what are the candidates saying about this dramatic turn -- turnaround in Pakistan?
SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, all of the candidates offer their condolences, but this quickly turned into an opportunity for a showdown, a debate, if you will, over who has the foreign policy chops to hand this -- to handle this very volatile part of the world.
MALVEAUX (voice-over): With the Iowa caucuses just days away, anything can change the political landscape, including the assassination of a key U.S. ally, Pakistan's former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.
The condolences came quickly.
SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON, (D-NY) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: (NO AUDIO)
MALVEAUX: But Senator Hillary Clinton was able to add this.
BLITZER: All right. Clearly, we're having some technical problems, Suzanne, with your piece. We're going to fix that.
But let's talk a little bit about what the reaction from these candidates has been. And we will start with Barack Obama. What was his basic line today?
MALVEAUX: Sure, Wolf.
He offered his condolences and talked about the need to take a second look at that region, obviously, to reach out to Pervez Musharraf, and to be a lot stricter when it comes to dealing with Pakistan -- a lot of key issues. Where is Osama bin Laden?
Interestingly enough, though, what happened with Senator Hillary Clinton, she talked about her personal relationship with Benazir Bhutto. It went beyond the normal condolences. She talked about how she visited with her as first lady -- she took Chelsea with her -- that they had a real personal relationship.
And that really was meant to show and highlight the kind of experience that she has. We have been talking a lot about, hearing a lot about her foreign policy experience.
And we also heard as well from Senator John Edwards. And he went a bit further, saying that he was reaching out to Pervez Musharraf. He put in a phone call to talk about the need for an international investigation in -- inside of that country into the assassination.
And then we heard from those who you would consider the senior statesman of the group, Senator Joe Biden, who said that he sent two letters to Pervez Musharraf, essentially asking for that kind of security that Benazir Bhutto was requesting, that he was rebuffed, he was ignored, that he was reaching out to the Pakistani government as well.
And then Senator -- Governor -- rather, Governor Richardson saying that he believes that Musharraf simply should resign.
It's interesting, Wolf, though, the issues dealing with the voters here, big question of whether or not is going to resonate. They're talking about Iraq. They're talking about health care. But, obviously, these candidates all wanted to put forth their foreign policy experience today -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Suzanne -- Suzanne Malveaux, thanks very much. We're going to get back to you for more.
Let's go to the Republicans, though, right now and their take on Benazir Bhutto's assassination. We will bring in our own Dana Bash. She's out on the campaign, also, in Iowa. So, what are the GOP candidates, Dana, saying?
DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, just like the Democrats, Wolf, the Republicans reacted very quickly, in part because of the gravity of the event, but also in part because it is one week from the Iowa caucuses from today, and there is definitely an emphasis, or has been, on more domestic issues.
But this could refocus the Republican race on issues of terrorism and national security. But, if you listen closely to what the Republican candidates say, there was a difference in tone and in emphasis.
BASH (voice-over): In Iowa, John McCain opened a town hall paying his condolences and playing up his experience.
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, (R-AZ) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I knew Benazir Bhutto. I know Musharraf very well. And, if I were president of the United States, I would be on the phone right now and I would be meeting with the National Security Council.
BASH: In Florida, Rudy Giuliani talked terrorism.
RUDOLPH GIULIANI (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Each one of these events that happens reminds me that we have to do everything we can to prevent these terrorist attacks and we have to do everything we can to win this war that Islamic terrorists are perpetrating against us.
BASH: In New Hampshire, Mitt Romney called for propping up moderate Islamic leaders.
MITT ROMNEY, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: And we must come together in an effort, in great haste and with great earnestness, to help overcome the threat of the spread of radical, violent jihad.
BASH: Fred Thompson also talked tough on terror.
FRED THOMPSON, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: And it's a global conflict. And al Qaeda wants to bring Western civilization to -- to its knees.
BASH: Mike Huckabee declared it too early to discuss the impact of Benazir Bhutto's assassination, and offered prayers.
MIKE HUCKABEE, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: First of all, let me begin by expressing on behalf of, I think, every American our sincere concerns and apologies for the horrible incident that has happened in Pakistan.
BASH: GOP reaction varied. But the reality is, two candidates, John McCain and Rudy Giuliani, score best on national security, and they got into an instant tussle to delicately capitalize on an issue that had receded.
McCain even admitted to CNN, it could help him.
MCCAIN: I'm the one with the most credentials and the most experience and the most judgment.
BASH: Giuliani immediately connected the attack in Pakistan to his biggest strength, 9/11.
GIULIANI: America feelings a strong sense of, I think, connection to something like this because of what's happened to us.
BASH: But McCain bluntly challenged Giuliani's foreign policy experience.
MCCAIN: ... job post-9/11 in handling in a post-crisis situation, I don't know how that credential -- how that provides one the credentials to address national security issues.
BASH: Now, it's still very early to tell how this is going to impact the Republican race.
But, Wolf, I can tell you this. This building where I am standing, it was packed earlier today with a lot of undecided Republican voters here to see John McCain. Many of them said told us that they saw what happened in Pakistan as a wakeup call, that, as much as they hear about and think about things like taxes and immigration, that terrorism is still a major challenge, and that may weigh into how they decide who they want to be the Republican nominee for president -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Dana Bash, thanks very much.
The Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul has a very different global view than his presidential rivals. Coming up, I will ask him how he would respond as president to Benazir Bhutto's assassination and the threat of a dangerous new crisis in Pakistan.
Plus, with events in Pakistan and the war on terror front and center, is President Bush now as relevant as ever? That question in our "Strategy Session."
Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Happening now: what's being called the saddest day in Pakistan's history. Amid mourning over the assassination of the former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, we are going to take you through the timeline of how this all unfolded.
Extremists hoped to kill Bhutto from the day she returned to Pakistan. She even pleaded to Pakistan's president for more protection. Was lax security a factor in her killing? And Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney says the assassination is a reminder the U.S. must stay on high alert and fight to reject extremists. It's wrapped into closing arguments he's making to try to win over voters in New Hampshire.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
One person describes it as the unthinkable becoming a chilling reality. Now Benazir Bhutto's assassination leaves much of the world in shock. What's happening in Pakistan matters here. That nation is a critical ally in the U.S. fight against terror. Many believe Osama bin Laden is hiding out in Pakistan's lawless northwest border with Afghanistan. And Pakistan, a Muslim country, already has a nuclear arsenal.
President Bush was quick to react, strongly condemning Bhutto's assassination.
Our White House correspondent, Ed Henry, is over at the president's ranch in Crawford, Texas, watching all of this unfold.
Enormous implications, ramifications, Ed, for the United States.
ED HENRY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely, Wolf. This will make it even harder for Pakistan to focus in and get tough in the war on terror, try to hunt down bin Laden, and it also makes any sort of democratic stability in Pakistan an even longer shot than before.
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: ... to all the people on Pakistan on this tragic occasion.
HENRY (voice over): A somber President Bush spoke from his Texas ranch to mark the death of Benazir Bhutto and send a tough message to those who murdered her.
BUSH: The United States strongly condemns this cowardly act by murderous extremists who are try to go undermine Pakistan's democracy. Those who committed this crime must be brought to justice.
HENRY: With chaos growing in the streets of Pakistan, aides acknowledge Mr. Bush is concerned there's a risk the assassination will spark more violence.
SCOTT STANZEL, WHITE HOUSE SPOKESMAN: We would urge calm and hope that all the Pakistanis would mourn her death, celebrate her life, and unite together in opposition to the types of extremists that are trying to stop the march of democracy.
HENRY: Mr. Bush was so alarmed about the situation that, just hours after the nation, he called Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf.
BUSH: We urge them to honor Benazir Bhutan's memory by continuing with the democratic process for which she so bravely gave her life.
HENRY: But it's unclear how committed Musharraf really is to those democratic reforms, especially with questions about whether Pakistan has misused billions of dollars in U.S. aid intended to crack down on extremists. And with Musharraf's government so unstable, a chief U.S. concern now is making sure Pakistan's nuclear weapons do not wind up in the hands of terrorists.
JOHN MCLAUGHLIN, FMR. DEPUTY CIA DIRECTOR: I don't think we should by complacent about this. If extremists have been able to penetrate into the army garrison city of Rawalpindi and carry out an assassination on the nation's principal civilian politician, we have to ask ourselves whether they can penetrate other areas.
HENRY: Now, another big question, obviously, whether or not those elections scheduled for January 8th should be postponed. The White House not touching that one, saying only that they want to see free and fair elections move forward in Pakistan at some point -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Ed Henry at the president's ranch in Crawford, Texas.
The people who hope to replace President Bush are also reacting to Benazir Bhutto's assassination, and they're playing up their readiness to deal with crises such as this one.
Let's go to our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider. He's out in Des Moines, Iowa, right now.
Could the crisis in Pakistan have an impact out on the campaign trail, Bill?
WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, yes, it could shift the spotlight to international issues and it could highlight the importance of experience.
SCHNEIDER (voice over): Outsiders are in. It's the economy, stupid. They were becoming the conventional wisdom about the 2008 campaign. The news of Benazir Bhuttto's assassination suddenly adds a new dimension to the campaign. Candidates are touting their foreign policy credentials.
JOHN MCCAIN, (R-AZ) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm the one with the experience, the knowledge and the judgment, so perhaps it may serve to enhance those credentials or make people understand that I've been to Waziristan, I know Musharraf.
SCHNEIDER: The crisis gave Rudy Giuliani an opportunity to call attention to his signature issue, 9/11. RUDY GIULIANI, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: America feels a strong sense, I think, connection to something like this because of what's happened to us.
SCHNEIDER: Populist candidates and outsiders seem to be gaining momentum in this campaign -- Democrat Barack Obama, Republican Mike Huckabee. But the international crisis gives their opponents an opening. Suddenly experience matters.
SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON, (D-NY) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Our next president will be sworn in January 20, 2009. Waiting on that president's desk in the Oval Office will be problems that are (INAUDIBLE).
SCHNEIDER: Sure, other candidates will challenge their experience, as Obama did recently.
SEN. BARACK OBAMA, (D-IL) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If you are saying that this is your relevant experience, we should know what decisions you were involved in, in the White House.
SCHNEIDER: But experience and knowledge of the world may now loom larger in this campaign, as Senator Biden alluded to last month.
SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN, (D-DE) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I believe people have a sense of and will increasingly get a sense of who's grown up and responsible and can -- and is ready to actually sit behind that desk and make decisions.
SCHNEIDER: In primaries, voters often want to make a statement. A crisis like this serves to remind them they're also choosing a leader -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Bill Schneider with the political fallout.
Thank you very much.
This important programming note to our viewers. Tonight we'll have a special edition of THE SITUATION ROOM. We'll be here in the 8:00 p.m. Eastern hour with the latest on the assassination of Benazir Bhutto and the latest on how it's affecting the race for the White House. Again, a special edition of THE SITUATION ROOM tonight, 8:00 p.m. Eastern, exactly one week to go before the Iowa caucuses.
One presidential candidate has long urged the U.S. to simply stay out of much of the world's affairs, so what does Republican Ron Paul think the U.S. should do now, given Benazir Bhutto's assassination? I'll ask him.
Also, you've heard President Bush's initial reaction to the assassination. How might he respond overall? We'll discuss that and more in our "Strategy Session."
And something Barack Obama's chief strategist said sparking controversy right now. Some wonder if that strategist is trying to link Benazir Bhutto's death to something Hillary Clinton did.
Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: The Pakistani former prime minister, Benazir Bhutto, as all of us now know, have been assassinated. Many people around the world, especially in Pakistan, are in shock, and there are fears about this act throwing Pakistan into all-out chaos. But should the U.S. stay out of the situation?
My next guest has long urged the U.S. to do just that when it comes to much of the world's affairs. The Republican presidential candidate, Congressman Ron Paul, is joining us now from Des Moines, Iowa.
Congressman, thanks very much for joining us.
Clearly, there are enormous stakes, interests for the United States. Pakistan is a Muslim country, there's an al Qaeda presence there. Osama bin Laden is believed to be hiding out there. There's a resurgent Taliban, a lot of sympathizers to these extremists in Pakistan, and this is a country that already has a nuclear arsenal.
If you were president, Congressman, right now, what would you do?
REP. RON PAUL, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I would try to change the policies so that we were less involved in their internal affairs. I've complained about the policy with Pakistan for a good many years. We've been giving them billions of dollars, they got about $10 billion over the last eight years, so we've aligned ourselves with a military dictator who overthrew an elected government.
And he was supposed to help us find Osama bin Laden. That hasn't helped. So it was a bad investment, and it also elicits concern about our puppet governments.
Musharraf is seen as one of our puppets. There's a group over there -- the al Qaeda is growing because they don't like us to have puppet governments over there, and they love chaos. So I can see where the support that we've given Musharraf has been indirectly involved in this. It's a mess, and...
BLITZER: So what would you do specifically, Congressman, right now if you were dealt this hand as president of the United States?
PAUL: I would treat them like another country. They're in a civil war. I wouldn't get involved in the civil war, it's what I wouldn't do.
I wouldn't be sending troops over there. I wouldn't be sending them any more money. I would try to talk to people who come out, when they sort it out. They should -- and urge that they have self- determination and they go back to a sensible approach, but for us to be involved militarily or send our CIA in there to overthrow one government versus another,
I've already heard, well, let's get rid of Musharraf. We've staked it out with him and it isn't working, so we want to get rid of him. Let's put somebody else in charge.
Just more of the same stuff that we have been doing for so many years. It's time we looked for non-intervention and stay out of these conflicts and let them sort it out themselves.
BLITZER: So basically what I hear you saying, if you were president, you would say, you know what, Musharraf? It's all yours, do whatever you want. We're getting out of there and no more billions in U.S. military assistance, no more intelligence cooperation, no more nothing.
Is that right?
PAUL: That would be a good policy. Besides, we don't have the money anyway. We either have to steal it from the American people or print the money or borrow it from China.
And so we're going broke, and so we can just start right now by stopping this. Of course, the whole Middle East, it's been my argument, that we just can't afford this anymore, and it doesn't help us.
BLITZER: Well, would you at all be concerned, Congress, about a Taliban-like or al Qaeda-like Islamic fundamentalist regime taking charge of Pakistan with a nuclear arsenal already? They're not thinking about building nuclear bombs, they already have nuclear bombs.
PAUL: Yes, and I think because we supported a military dictator and he became our puppet, we've actually enhanced that opportunity for him. So, yes, I'm concerned.
I'm concerned about the leftover nuclear weapons in the Soviet -- from the old Soviet system in central Asia. There's some of those weapons that haven't been accounted for.
So, yes, we have concerns, but I'm concerned about the Taliban resurgence in Afghanistan. Our policies aren't working all that well there. They're having major victories over there and there's more killing. And they're asking for more of our troops to go into Afghanistan.
I'm just saying, enough is enough. We shouldn't be doing this. We get ourselves into too many messes, and we ought to mind our own business and take care of our people here at home.
BLITZER: Well, you have a new ad that's running now. It's called "The Defender of Freedom," your ad that's showing how you want to protect freedom, protect liberty, what you call our God-given freedom.
What global responsibilities, if you were president, should the United States have? Does the U.S. have a role around the world?
PAUL: Sure it does. It should be friends with people. We should trade with people. We should try to sort things out diplomatically. But we don't have the moral authority or the constitutional authority to impose our will.
We shouldn't be either bribing them with our donations in foreign aid, and we shouldn't be threatening them if they don't do what we want and we bomb them. I'm offering something different, something the founding fathers offered, and that is neutrality. Talk with people and trade with people and negotiate with people, but not to have these two choices of either subsidizing them with foreign aid or threatening them with violence if they don't do as we tell them.
BLITZER: We're almost out of time, Congressman. A week from today, the Iowa caucuses, then a few days later the New Hampshire primary. You have got a lot of cash, you've got very passionate supporters out there. Give us a prediction. How are you going to do in Iowa and how are you going to do in New Hampshire?
PAUL: I think we're going to do well, and that's about as close as I can get. There's no way -- I don't make predictions, because I really don't know, but I think we'll do a lot better than people have been predicting.
BLITZER: Do you want to just be a little bit more precise?
PAUL: Probably can't be. I do know that I would be very disappointed if I came in last, and that's not going to happen. But I'm not going to say I'm going to come in first or second, if I don't come in first or second, I'm going to quit. Nothing like that. It doesn't even cross my mind.
We're getting a lot of support. The numbers are growing, the money is flowing in. My obligation is to fulfill the request by the supporters who come to us spontaneously. They want me to campaign hard, campaign to win. That's exactly what we're doing.
BLITZER: Congressman, thanks very much for coming in.
PAUL: Thank you.
BLITZER: Good luck out there on the campaign trail.
PAUL: Appreciate it.
BLITZER: Congressman Ron Paul joining us from the campaign trail.
In our "Strategy Session," President Bush had some words of praise for the Pakistani president, Pervez Musharraf, when I spoke with him back in November.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BUSH: He has been an absolute reliable partner in dealing with extremists and radicals.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: But has today's assassination brought new importance to the U.S. policy toward Pakistan and the region? How might it all change?
The 2008 presidential field is talking about the Bhutto assassination. Will it bring foreign policy and national security experience to the forefront of voters' mind?
Jamal Simmons and John Feehery, they're standing by for our "Strategy Session" here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Something Barack Obama's chief strategist said sparking fresh controversy right now. Some wondering if that strategist is try to go link Benazir Bhutto's death to something Hillary Clinton did.
Let's get to our "Strategy Session" right now.
Joining us are our Democratic strategist, Jamal Simmons, our Republican strategist, John Feehery.
Guys, thanks very much for coming in.
I'll play the sound bite from Dave Axelrod, who's the chief strategist for Barack Obama, and we'll talk. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DAVID AXELROD, OBAMA CHIEF STRATEGIST: I think if people need to judge where these candidates were and what they've said and what they've done on these issues, I mean, she -- she was a strong supporter of the war in Iraq, which we would submit is one of the reasons why we were diverted from Afghanistan, Pakistan, al Qaeda, who may have been players in this event today. So that's a judgment she'll have to defend.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: All right. What do you think, Jamal?
JAMAL SIMMONS, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well, I think they got the wrong messenger on that, first of all. I would like to see one of the generals or one of Barack Obama's foreign policy advisers making a case like this, not the political strategist, but, you know, this campaign gets rough and tumble. There have been a lot of accusations thrown back and forth.
I think ultimately this puts a really bright light though on people like Joe Biden and Bill Richardson, who are the people who really have been in the room when some of these decisions have had to have been made for presidents, going back a long time. And Joe Biden has probably advised seven presidents on issues of national security. BLITZER: And on the Republican side, John, it certainly would tend to underscore what John McCain keeps referring to, his national security experience. And maybe Rudy Giuliani, given what he's been saying about the war on terror. But go ahead.
This does tend, a week before the Iowa caucuses, John, to throw a new dynamic into this presidential context.
JOHN FEEHERY, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: It really does. I think if you're Rudy Giuliani or John McCain, you take advantage of this. If you're Mitt Romney or Mike Huckabee, it's worrisome because you don't have the experience that the other two have.
I think for McCain, he really hit the nail on the head. He's been in this for a long time. For Rudy, he has been in a leadership position during a crisis, and this is clearly a crisis. So both these guys can make the case that they are the ones best able to handle a situation like this. I think for the other Republican candidates it's difficult.
I would say briefly about the Obama comment, I think Obama's campaign has to say something like that, because otherwise this is really, you know, good for Hillary in a sense, because she has that White House experience that will play well for -- in an experience versus change election, experience will trump change right now.
BLITZER: Yes, but I think Jamal made a good point when he suggests that one of her national security advisers, Zbigniew Brzezinski, who supports Obama, someone like that might have resonated more powerfully than the political strategist.
Don't you agree, John?
FEEHERY: Oh, Jamal is absolutely right on that. I think that Axelrod was not the best messenger. But on the other hand, you need to have someone say something as soon as you can, because you need to change that dynamic.
BLITZER: Or Susan Rice, another one of his national security advisers who served in the Clinton National Security Council.
Jamal, I want you to listen to what President Bush told me when I interviewed him a few weeks ago over at the White House about his level of confidence in the Pakistani leader, Pervez Musharraf.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BUSH: He has been an absolute reliable partner in dealing with extremists and radicals. And, you know, it's a tough situation in the remote parts of Pakistan, but there's many examples of where the Pakistanis have, in cooperation with the U.S., brought to justice members of al Qaeda's hierarchy. And I'm thankful for that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Now, Jamal, you think a crisis like this sort of tends to underscore that this is a president -- he's still in office for another 13 months -- he's got a lot of relevancy right now given the enormous interest, the enormous potential ramifications for the United States and what happens now in Pakistan?
SIMMONS: Well, we've only got one president at a time. I mean, so we hope that George Bush does finally start to get engaged with the Pakistan policy and not just the Musharraf policy.
And that's been the mistake that he seems to have been making for a long time now in Pakistan. Much more focused on Musharraf and his leadership than we have on trying to make Pakistan a sort of stable place, and going after Osama bin Laden, who everyone seems to believe is in Pakistan.
And I hate to go back to Joe Biden, but Biden did say recently that he asked Musharraf directly, he wrote a letter to Musharraf asking him to give Benazir Bhutto some more security. I mean, he has been on this job. And I think somebody like Biden can really make an impact, because if he doesn't fall below that 15 percent threshold in Iowa, that means that his voters don't get to make a second choice in the race. So that could actually hurt somebody.
So I think Biden may find that he's going to secure himself a bit going into this thing in Iowa in a way that people may not have thought a week ago.
BLITZER: But John, just getting back to the point about Bush and his relevancy, he has got a crisis on his hands right now. He's obviously at the Crawford ranch, he's supposed to stay there until New Year's Day.
Is this the type of crisis that would warrant the president leaving, coming back to Washington, convening his National Security Council and taking charge? Or does he stay on vacation, if you will, in Texas?
FEEHERY: Well, I'm not sure if the president is ever on vacation. I think the president is always relevant. I think what he will do, if he doesn't come back here, is bring his whole national security team back to Crawford.
Now, there's two strategic imperatives in Pakistan. One is to secure the nuclear weapons, the other is to try to get after the terrorists on the Afghani border.
You need stability to get that. And I think that when the president was talking about Musharraf, he's trying to promote stability, which obviously it's even more unstable now than it was. And this is a very difficult time for Pakistan, but it's also an important time for the United States to be very careful in how they deal with this situation and not overreact and push things that will make it more unstable.
BLITZER: All right. John Feehery, Jamal Simmons joining us in our "Strategy Session."
Guys, thanks very much.
SIMMONS: Thank you.
BLITZER: A presidential candidate sees his other job exposed. You're going to want to hear what Mike Huckabee is doing on the side of campaigning. He said he needs it to try to raise some cash, but does it pose some legal problems?
We're watching the story.
Also, the latest on the assassination of the form Pakistani prime minister, Benazir Bhutto. Now some question if planned elections should go forward.
And the presidential candidate arguably with the most foreign policy experience says he urged Pakistan's president to better protect Benazir Bhutto. What does Joe Biden think now that she's dead? I'll ask him. He's standing by live right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Checking our Political Ticker today, Republican Mitt Romney may be finding a bit of new comfort after two New Hampshire newspapers urged voters not to support his presidential bid. One of those papers, the "Concord Monitor," reportedly is getting hundreds of angry e-mail messages and dozens of phone calls criticizing its scathing attack on Romney. And "The New York Times," by the way, says a handful of its readers have threatened to cancel their subscriptions as well.
Republican Mike Huckabee is doing something presidential candidates don't normally do, charge speaking fees. A spokeswoman confirms the former Arkansas governor gave two or three paid speeches last month and plans to give several more in February.
It's unusual, but apparently not illegal. And the Huckabee camp says because the candidate is not a current office holder, he needs the money.
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