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Former U.S. Congressman Indicted; Interview With Presidential Candidate Fred Thompson

Aired January 16, 2008 - 18:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now: The Republican presidential race goes south. And it's more up in the air than ever. Are the top candidates changing their pitches after Mitt Romney's Michigan win?
Also, Barack Obama finds an unlikely role model. The best political team on television looks at the parallels between the Democrat and Ronald Reagan.

And a shocking indictment of an ex-U.S. congressman. Prosecutors say a money trail links him to a charity that itself is linked to funding terror.

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

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world.

So long, Michigan; hello, South Carolina, and another chance for voters to prolong the suspense of the Republican presidential race. After Mitt Romney's dramatic victory last night, pundits are looking for new ways to describe just how important the first Southern contest of 2008 is likely to be.

Let's go out to South Carolina. CNN's Dana Bash is standing by.

Where does this Republican race, Dana, stand right now?

DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it stands here, that there are three big winners so far. That means no clear front-runner. It also means that, because the race is moving here to South Carolina, it is turning more conservative. But it is as volatile as ever.


BASH (voice-over): Mitt Romney finally found a message that produced victory in Michigan. So, he's sticking with it down South.

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm not willing to declare defeat in any industry where we can be competitive. I'm going to fight for every job. I will make a commitment to look at this economy well. And that's how I spent my life, by the way.

BASH: But Romney admits he's not likely to win South Carolina's primary. He is looking to campaign elsewhere. ROMNEY: I'm planning on getting the nomination. I'm not looking for gold stars on my forehead, like I was in first grade. I want delegates.

HENRY MCMASTER, SOUTH CAROLINA ATTORNEY GENERAL: Nobody who has ever won the Michigan primary has gotten elected president. We do that here.

BASH: After his stinging loss in Michigan, South Carolina means everything to John McCain. So, the candidate who usually appeals to veterans and fiscal conservatives here added a new stump line: outreach to powerful social conservatives, long skeptical of McCain's commitment to that issues.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm proud of my pro-life record; 24 years, I have never changed. I have defended the rights of the unborn. I have fought, I have fought for the rights of the unborn.

BASH: He has got stiff competition from former preacher Mike Huckabee, who appealed to deeply religious Baptist University students, telling them the story of when he found Christ at age 10.

MIKE HUCKABEE (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: And I remember praying that prayer that day and feeling overwhelmed with the presence and sense that God really did love me.

BASH: The former Arkansas governor is hoping to win here with an "I'm one of you" pitch. But another son of the South is trying to do the same.

FRED THOMPSON, REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Just to cut through the baloney, it was me, not him, who received the National Right to Life endorsement.


BASH: Now, because the Republican race is so jumbled, no Republican candidate is willing to say, if he loses, he's gone.

But the reality is, even if South Carolina doesn't play its traditional role this Saturday night in picking the Republican nominee, it is likely to push one or more of these Republican candidates to the fringe heading into the next contest states, Wolf. And that, of course, is going to be Florida and the big super-duper Tuesday on February 5 -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And we will have extensive coverage this Saturday of both the South Carolina primary, the Nevada caucuses as well.

Dana, thanks very much.

The Democrats are also gearing up for their South Carolina primary. CNN and the Congressional Black Caucus Institute are sponsoring a Democratic presidential debate in Myrtle Beach on Monday night, January 21. That's Martin Luther King Jr. day. Please join me, along with Suzanne Malveaux and Joe Johns. We will be asking the questions Monday night, 8:00 p.m. Eastern, right here on CNN.

Shifting now to another battleground, there's an intense fight under way to win Nevada's caucuses this Saturday, the top-tier Democrats hoping to do that with help from labor unions in the state. Barack Obama has the support of the biggest in Nevada. That would be the Culinary Union.

Let's go to Las Vegas. CNN's Jessica Yellin, she's standing by on the Strip out there.

This union endorsement is a huge issue. It is a big matter in Nevada, these unions.

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: They are huge here, Wolf. And with this major endorsement that Barack Obama got, it matters not just in Nevada, but nationwide.

When the culinary workers decided to go for him, he got the support of that 60,000-member-strong union in this state, but it also represents 450,000 workers in similar unions across the country, states like New York, New Jersey, and California.

When we talked to the head of the union about why they decided to go with Obama, they said in part it's because he was an organizer who stood with labor long before he was running for president, but also because Obama and his message represents something else they identify with, sort of a fighting spirit.

Here is what they had to say.


D. TAYLOR, CULINARY WORKERS UNION LOCAL 226: A large percentage of our membership are immigrants. You know, Obama's father came from Africa. He's of mixed race. A lot of our members are the same way. Our members can identify with that.

PRISCILLA SCOTT, CULINARY WORKERS UNION: I think he's going to be honest 100 percent of the time. I think he is really going to include the American populace in the decisions that are made. I think it's time for new blood.


YELLIN: And it looked for some time that the union might endorse Senator Hillary Clinton.

But, when we spoke with the head of the union here today, they said, you know, Hillary Clinton represents the establishment. The elites are aligned with her. And they wanted someone else who comes from a sort of underdog position, from a fighter's position.

Now, one of the downsides is this union waited until almost the last minute, just last week, to endorse Obama. So, there remains an outstanding question how much they will be able to mobilize their people to actually go out and caucus for him on Saturday. But many of their people work in the casinos around this city. And they will, it seems, be caucuses in those unions -- in those casino sites on Saturday, most likely unless a court case stops it. But right now this endorsement was the one to get, and it went for Barack Obama -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. He is doing a little roundtable meeting on the economy right now in out Van Nuys, California, not very far from Nevada.

Jessica Yellin on the Strip for us in Las Vegas.

Other news we are following right now -- we are going to get back to politics shortly, but this is an important story that is coming into THE SITUATION ROOM.

A former United States congressman and U.S. delegate to the United Nations was actually indicted today, accused of ties to an Islamic charity which in turn is accused of raising money for terrorists.

Let's go to our justice correspondent, Kelli Arena. She is watching the story for us.

What can you tell us, Kelli?

KELLI ARENA, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, according to this indictment, a charity called the Islamic American Relief Agency paid former Congressman Mark Siljander $50,000 in stolen federal money to lobby the Senate Finance Committee.

Now, the group allegedly wanted to clear its name from the government's list of charities that support terrorists. The government says Siljander knowingly took the stolen money, he laundered it, then lied about it twice to federal prosecutors who were investigating. He allegedly claimed that the money was for a book that he was writing on bridging the gap between Christianity and Islam.

Now, in fact, Wolf, the charity that he's accused of lobbying for is charged with sending $130,000 to an Afghan terrorist, a guy by the name of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who supports the Taliban and al Qaeda. It was shut down in 2004.

Now, Siljander's lawyer says he vehemently denies these allegations, that he will enter a not guilty plea. He says he was never an officer of the Islamic American Relief Agency, nor was he ever involved in any alleged efforts to engage in any prohibited financial transactions with any U.S.-designated terrorists.

But, as corruption cases go, Wolf, this one is a definite shocker.

BLITZER: It certainly is. And we are going to stay on top of this story. Thanks very much for that, Kelli Arena, our justice correspondent.

Let's check back with Jack. He's got "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: He was writing a book. What's the big deal?



CAFFERTY: All right. Here we go.

Consumer and animal rights groups up in arms over a ruling from the Food and Drug Administration. The FDA has said that food from cloned animals and their offspring is safe to eat, as safe as food from non-cloned animals. We are talking meat, milk from cows, goats and pigs primarily here.

The FDA also said that it is not necessary to label foods from cloned animals as such. The announcement follows seven years of research. Some groups, though, say more study is needed and that food containing ingredients from cloned animals should be labeled as such, so consumers could choose not to buy it.

The FDA says regulators cannot require that these products be specially labeled, because there's no difference between them and food produced by the regular kind of animals. Clone, you see, means identical. Right now, cloning cost thousands of dollars per animal birth. So, it's going to be a while before we are dining on any cloned meat.

But it is something that's in the pipeline and will be coming at some point in the future.

So, the question is this: Should the government require that labels say if ingredients come from cloned animals?

You can go to, where you will find no clones. There's only one. And you can post a comment on the only "Cafferty File" blog, which you will find there.


CAFFERTY: Would you eat cloned meat? Does that bother you?

BLITZER: It is sort of icky. I'm not very comfortable.

CAFFERTY: Yes, icky. That's a good word. It's a little icky.

BLITZER: I'm not very comfortable knowing -- we may be better off not knowing it's cloned food.

CAFFERTY: Some scientist had his hand all over my hamburger.


CAFFERTY: Yes, it is a little icky. You are right.


BLITZER: Yes. All right, Jack, stand by. We have got the best political team on television coming up as well.

Americans struggling with high gas prices, record home foreclosures and fear of losing their jobs -- one presidential candidate urging calm right now.


THOMPSON: So, let's don't get historical. Let's don't declare a recession.


BLITZER: Fred Thompson explains what he would do to help the nation's which. He's here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Also, you might think it is a strange comment from one Democrat about another. Barack Obama says Bill Clinton could not do something that Ronald Reagan did. We will explain.

And an issue you care deeply about -- which presidential candidate is most ready to protect Americans from terror on day one? We're going to have a reality check on some of the claims.

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


BLITZER: New fuel today for inflation fears -- the government reporting that consumer prices were up 4.1 percent last month from where they were 12 months ago.

I spoke earlier with Republican presidential candidate Fred Thompson. And I asked him, if he were president right now, what would he do to help Americans struggling to meet rising food and energy costs.


THOMPSON: Sound economic principles, fundamentals that have to do with our fiscal policy, or primarily right now have to do with our spending policies. We are locked into a mandatory spending cycle now that's going to literally bankrupt us some years into the future. So it all gets back to that.

Lower taxes, lower tax rates always mean growth in the economy. On the other side, though, we have got to do better with regard to the spending. And, of course, spending and inflation historically have been directly tied together.

BLITZER: But in the short term, if people can't afford to heat their homes or put food on the table, what are you going to do to help them? THOMPSON: Well, I think that we are looking at the possibility of a recession now. Nobody knows for sure. we have got to take action that will help those most in need.

I think one of the things that we would have to consider would be a stimulus package that might involve putting a stop on the 10 percent tax rate for a year, declare a moratorium on that, rebate that tax money to those people, increase the child tax credit to $1,500. That would put, depending on the circumstances of the family, maybe a couple thousand dollars in people's pockets that need it, and would help the overall economy.

You have to have a good overall economy for people to be -- to be benefited. You cannot address the issue on a family-by-family basis. You need sound economic principles, and you need to stimulate the economy if it can be done on a targeted basis that will get the job done in short order.

BLITZER: Forget about the technical definition of a recession. There are economists who believe the U.S. already is in a recession.

You have been traveling all over the country. Is the U.S. already in a recession based on what you personally have seen?

THOMPSON: No. I can't say that. I can't say that.

I think it has to do with recent numbers that we're looking at right now, and your conversations with people reflect the fact that we're moving in the wrong direction in some respects. We have got an unemployment rate that's moving up. However, 5 percent used to be considered full employment not too long ago.

So, let's don't get hysterical. Let's don't declare a recession.

I mean, technical terminology does matter. And we're not in one now. But we have to be mindful of the fact that we could be in one.

And the subprime mortgage problem has poured over into the general housing credit market, which has poured over into the consumer credit situation. Automobile loans are tighter. Credit card rates are going up.

So credit is being tightened, and that's hurting a lot of -- a lot of middle income folks. So those are the kinds of things that need to be addressed in the short run.

BLITZER: Hillary Clinton says if she were president -- and I'm paraphrasing now -- she would have a 90-day moratorium that there would be no foreclosures at all. No foreclosures over 90 days to help people -- to help them from losing their homes.

Is that a good idea?

THOMPSON: No. I mean, that's totally typical big government. You know, drop money out of a helicopter kind of approach. You have got to have sound economic fundamentals. Those who are paying taxes now who would have a moratorium on their taxes for a year at the lower income tax bracket, you know, that would be people who are paying taxes that you would give a benefit to directly and a child tax credit, for example, as I talked about. You know, that would find its way into the economy right now.

But if you're going to squelch a particular part of the economy for a period of time, that pressure builds up otherwise. You're going to create a bigger bubble in the future than you have now. It might sound good politically but it's not -- it's not practical.


BLITZER: Fred Thompson speaking with me earlier.

Coming up: The White House, it concedes it may have lost a number of e-mail. And it tells a court how the messages might have gone missing. But are they gone forever?

Police crack down on opposition protesters in Kenya. And our own Zain Verjee is caught right in the middle of one very frightening confrontation. We are going to show you what happened. She was just hit there.

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



BLITZER: Mass protests and a violent reaction by police sparking fears of new chaos in Kenya. Security forces used tear gas and bullets to break up opposition rallies. At least two people were reported killed in one showdown with rock-throwers in a western city.

Our own Zain Verjee was caught up right in the middle of the confrontation in Nairobi.


ZAIN VERJEE, CNN STATE DEPARTMENT CORRESPONDENT: The heavy paramilitary and security presence here at Uhuru Park is ringed only by tear gas surrounding the city here.

Opposition leaders have been scattered all around Nairobi. What they are trying to do is rush Uhuru Park, really as something symbolic that they really want to be able to come to this park and say, we actually made it here.

They are firing tear gas at us as well. The police are trying to push us away. There's -- a massive media has descended onto this hotel, which many have believed...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Get out of there. VERJEE: They have been tear gassing the opposition leaders here that are trying to get into Uhuru Park. They have not been able to do that to all of them. Now they are tear-gassing some of the journalists standing here as well.

The police here are on their horses are trying to intimidate journalists and they're trying to disperse us. Opposition supporters and security forces appear braced for another confrontation, on this side, supporters of Raila Odinga saying that he is really the president. They want to march into Uhuru Park.

In Uhuru Park, if you take a look there, what you see is hundreds of police and paramilitary forces. They have just added another truck now in for reinforcements. They have been firing tear gas canisters at both supporters of the opposition, opposition leaders themselves, and journalists as well. They are beginning to make their move, and it is very likely that, from the other side, they will start firing back.

They hit my back.


BLITZER: It looked like this was totally unprovoked. Give us a little background of what happened.

VERJEE: Well, we were just standing around, and opposition supporters were coming in, and we were doing some interviews. All the journalists were standing around in that particular area across a park they were trying to get to called Uhuru Park.

And, all of a sudden, just out of nowhere, they fired that tear gas canister that hit me. Then, as everybody dispersed, they continued to fire another one and then a third one. And it stung our eyes terribly. And everybody just fled.

But what this really underscores, Wolf, is not that just that we were treated this way and it was unprovoked, but this is happening all over the country. There's excessive police brutality. I mean, they even fired tear gas on old ladies selling tomatoes. So, that's a real issue. And this is what the demonstrators have been feeling the brunt of today -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Well, thank God you are OK, Zain. And be careful over there. Give our best to your family and your friends. And let's hope this situation eases up.

Zain Verjee doing some amazing reporting for us all week in Nairobi -- Zain, thanks.

And Republicans love to compare themselves to Ronald Reagan. But why would Barack Obama do that? You are going to find out. That's coming up.

Plus, which Democrat would be ready to deal with a terror attack on day one in the White House? We will fact-check some dueling claims by Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.

And the economy drove Mitt Romney's win in Michigan. How might the campaigns respond to Americans' deep recession fears? The best political team on television standing by right now.

We're back in 90 seconds.


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

Happening now: Democratic front-runners Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama each claim to be the best candidate dealing with terror. So which one is it? We are keeping them honest.

Also, Obama praising Ronald Reagan for doing something he says Bill Clinton didn't do. We are going to show you what Obama's comparison is all about.

Plus, the economy goes front and center in the race for the White House. We will show you how it could impact the campaign -- all of this, plus the best political team on television.

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

Hillary Clinton is pressing ahead with one of her main weapons against Barack Obama. That would be her claim that she will have the experience to be commander in chief on Inauguration Day.

Our homeland security correspondent, Jeanne Meserve, has a reality check on the latest back and forth between Clinton and Obama.


JEANNE MESERVE, CNN HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Terror attacks last summer just days after British Prime Minister Gordon Brown took office, an example, Hillary Clinton says, of why her experience counts.

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We have real enemies and we better be prepared and we better be ready to meet them on day one.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: When Senator Clinton uses the specter of a terrorist attack with a new prime minister during a campaign, I think that is part and parcel with what we have seen, the use of the fear of terrorism in scoring political points. And I think that's a mistake.

MESERVE: But there's other evidence that terrorists pay attention to election cycles.

In 1993, terrorists struck the World Trade Center just two months after Bill Clinton became president. In 2004, terrorists attacked Madrid's trains, just three days before Spain's elections. While officials say right now there is no intelligence that terrorists are plotting an election-time attack, a government task force does say the most vulnerable period is 30 days prior to through six months after the change of administrations.

MICHAEL CHERTOFF, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: It is in the transition period, when people are doing the handoff, that there is a natural degree of confusion, which creates an invitation to people to carry out terrorist attacks or other damaging enterprises.

MESERVE: Republican Rudy Giuliani is making his experience handling the 9/11 attacks the centerpiece of his campaign.

But homeland security experts say, none of the candidates are being specific enough about exactly how they would protect us.

STEVE FLYNN, COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS: I'm still waiting for a candidate who will stop talking and square with the American people that we do need to deal with vulnerabilities here at home, that our government still isn't organized to deal with this effectively.

MESERVE: Experts say candidates would be well advised to think through their strategies because if there is an attack before the election, they will be asked what would you do. If there's an attack after the election, one of them will be president and will have to respond.

Jeanne Meserve, CNN, McAllen, Texas.


BLITZER: So which presidential candidate is ready to tackle terror on day one?

Let's talk about it with our senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley. She's out in Las Vegas.

In New York, our own Jack Cafferty and our contributor, Carl, Bernstein.

They're all part of the best political team on television.

All right, does she have it right, Jack, Hillary Clinton, when she says that whoever is the next president is going to immediately be tested by Al Qaeda and the bad guys and that she would be ready to take charge and deal with that threat on day one in the White House?

CAFFERTY: Well, let's just hope whoever is president won't continue to sit and read "My Pet Goat" if it happens.


CAFFERTY: It'll probably happen.


CAFFERTY: This is the same boogie man fear-mongering garbage we've had from the Bush administration for the last five years. Wrap your house in clear plastic sheeting and duct tape because there's terrorists hiding under your bed. We'll probably be attacked again. Britain was attacked. Britain is still there. The prime minister is still doing his job. The country is still functioning. And this country will survive, too. It isn't the terrorists that are going to take this country down. We're doing a good job of that all by ourselves.

BLITZER: Carl, is she better prepared to deal with this threat than Barack Obama?

CARL BERNSTEIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: No. We're watching campaigns speak and the best and worst of Hillary Clinton. And this goes down a little bit toward the worst.

By her argument, George H.W. Bush, then the vice president, would have been -- should have beaten Bill Clinton for the presidency, because he was so-called better prepared.

The fact is whoever is elected president begins getting national security briefings the day after he or she is elected. She has, indeed, become a credible defense intellectual as a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. Obama has done his homework, too.

But it is fear-mongering. And we're seeing so much in the way of campaigning from the Clinton camp in the last couple of weeks -- we see her on the economy being solid, knowing her stuff. And then we see stuff like this and stuff on race and it's not a pretty picture.

BLITZER: Candy, set the scene in Nevada where you are. We see you on the strip in Las Vegas right now -- Saturday the caucuses out there. This is an intense battle -- a three person battle right now in Nevada.

Let's not forget John Edwards is still part of this fight.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. And, you know, you can't find anybody here that will tell you who they think is going to win, regardless of who they support. All of the polls -- and we all know the caveats we have to put on those polls -- do show that this is a three-way race. But there's so many other unknowns that come with these Nevada caucuses. This is the first time they've really had the limelight here.

When you ask, well, so how many caucus goers do you think are going to come?

And you get well, maybe somewhere between 25,000 and 100,000. They don't know who is going to come. They don't know where they're going to show up. We have this whole battle about these at-large caucuses that have been set up that will allow culinary workers and others who work on the strip to take time off from work to go and caucus. There's a lawsuit against that, people feeling that that disenfranchises others throughout the state.

So there are so many unknowns here, Wolf, that it is really, really hard to predict. Jack, Obama gave an interview to the "Reno Gazette-Journal" and he took this indirect little swipe at the Clintons.

I'm going to play this clip.

Listen to this.


SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I don't want to present myself as some sort of singular figure. I think part of what's different is -- are the times. I do think that, for example, the 1980 election was different. I mean I think Ronald Reagan changed the trajectory of America in a way that, you know, Richard Nixon did not and in a way Bill Clinton did not. He put us on a fundamentally different path because the country was ready for it.


BLITZER: All right, now how do you see it?

What do you think about that, Jack?

CAFFERTY: You know, Franklin Roosevelt had polio and Dwight Eisenhower was in the Army. I mean, enough of looking in the rearview mirror. Yes, I understand, everybody would like to be identified with Ronald Reagan.

Maybe Barack Obama is a breath of fresh air, maybe he's not. I want to hear some specifics.

What are you going to do about the dollar being worth half of what it was?

What are you going to do about $9 trillion in debt?

What are you going to do, Barack Obama, about runaway entitlement programs threatening our credit rating?

I know who Ronald Reagan was. I don't care about 1980. I care about what kind of country my kids have next month, next year, 10 years from now. We're in a heap of trouble and I don't hear enough specifics out of any of these people.

BLITZER: Well, let me ask Carl, are you getting, from Obama, the answers to those questions and similar questions -- the questions that Jack just raised?

BERNSTEIN: Not for Obama. Not from Hillary Clinton. I think we're getting a better sense from Obama, though, of his sense of the sweep of what he would do as a president. From Hillary, we're getting very solid specifics on the economy -- certainly not really on national security.

I think we need to slow down and go back and find out about these people's lives. Go back and -- whether it's my book or another book that somebody reads about Hillary Clinton, really find out about her life. The same with Barack Obama. The same with John Edwards, since he's still in this thing. The same with Mitt Romney. The same with McCain, etc.

We are doing too much ephemera here and the media can't get too caught up in these daily attacks and back and forth, and you're this and I'm that.


BERNSTEIN: But I think we do know the difference, at this point, between Obama and Hillary in terms of what kind of vision they have for the country under each of their presidencies.

BLITZER: All right, guys...

BERNSTEIN: Now we do need specifics.

BLITZER: Stand by for a moment. Stand by. We're going to take a quick break, guys. We have a lot more to talk about with the best political team on television, including the rising prices, the credit crunch, overall a very troubled economy. You're going to find out what impact that might have on the race for the White House.

Plus, Republican Mike Huckabee says he wants the Constitution to conform to what he calls "God's standards." Details of the controversy he's causing. That and a lot more coming up right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Let's get back to the best political team on television.

Candy, you're out in Nevada right now getting ready for Saturday's caucuses on the Democratic side. It's a very important contest coming up.

Are the Democrats giving the voters out there the answers that they want -- the specifics on these very important bread and butter economic issues, the issues that Jack and Carl were just discussing?

CROWLEY: Well, I can tell you that it comes up all the time. Hillary Clinton did a press conference this afternoon. It was pretty much all about her economic stimulus program, which obviously wouldn't even take place until January, so I'm not sure how helpful that is.

But they all talked about their economic stimulus programs. They have all talked about how they think the banks have to bear some responsibility for giving out these subprime loans that have caused now all of these bankruptcies and these recalling of the home mortgages -- that kind of thing.

So, yes, they're specific about it. But they're not -- not in the kind of detail -- particularly when it comes to homeland security -- I think that a lot of people may be looking for. BLITZER: Jack, the big issue in Michigan last night was the economy, on the Democratic and the Republican side. It clearly helped Mitt Romney with his win.

And I asked him about his strategy just in that interview we did a little while ago.

Listen to this little clip.


MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It's time to have somebody go to Washington who understands how the private sector works, who knows why jobs go away, who knows how to balance books. The greatest fear with a recession is that people just get the recession mentality and cause a recession.


BLITZER: Is that what we need, a businessman right now, who knows how to deal with these kinds of issues, as he says?

CAFFERTY: Well, you know, Romney may be able to capitalize on his background as a businessman, but the legacy that is our current set of economic problems is largely a result of Republican policies that have been in place for the last six years.

I listened to the show today. I heard McCain talking about he's proud of his record on abortion. I heard Huckabee wants to amend the Constitution to put God in it in some way. I heard somebody else talking about flying a confederate flag over a courthouse. Marriage is between a -- it's the same crap that we hear every election cycle. And no one is talking about the kinds of spending cuts and tax increases and sacrifices that the American public are going to have to make if they want to keep this country from sliding off into the Third World status at some point.

BLITZER: What do you think, Carl?

BERNSTEIN: I think he's right on -- that Jack's right on the Republican side. The interesting thing, on the Democratic side, that economics -- which has historically been a weakness with Hillary Clinton -- she was against parts of her husband's own economic plan -- has become a very strong suit for her.

She's put forward a very specific plan and I think it does give voters a chance to really hear what she has to say and what she would do on an important topic that affects them. And it's been more specific than what Obama has proposed.

But on the Republican side, it's just...

BLITZER: All right...

BERNSTEIN:'s like a "Saturday Night Live" routine, an awful lot of it -- especially listening to Romney say one thing one day and something else the next.

BLITZER: Candy, is the truce holding between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama on the dispute they had earlier involving race and politics and gender?

What was it like out there today?

CROWLEY: Pretty calm. I was with Hillary Clinton. I can tell you that she didn't bite on a couple of questions that came up as a result of last night's debate, when they did try to get them kind of back on the race issue and how it all came about.

I will tell you that what they are talking about now is their different approaches to what the presidency is primarily about. The Clinton campaign is really going hard after this whole idea of Barack Obama saying he doesn't want to be a chief operating officer. Hillary Clinton says hey, you've got to have a hands-on control over this bureaucracy. So that's where they're -- that's where they're confronting each other today.

BLITZER: Candy Crowley will be covering the Nevada caucuses on Saturday for us. We're going to have extensive coverage all day.

Candy, thanks very much.

Carl Bernstein, thanks to you, as well.

Jack, you can't go anywhere. We've got The Cafferty File coming up in a couple of moments.

Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee says the U.S. Constitution needs to be amended to conform to what he calls "God's standards" in a statement some critics find very troubling.

Let's go to Carol Costello.

She's watching this story for us.

What's the issue he's specifically referring to -- Carol?

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, it's the incredibly divisive issue of abortion. There is a split among social conservatives in how to ban the procedure. Huckabee has positioned himself far to the right, invoking God and the Constitution.


MIKE HUCKABEE (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Life begins at conception and we'll protect it until its natural conclusion.

COSTELLO (voice-over): Mike Huckabee, a Baptist minister, says he is so strongly opposed to abortion, he advocates a constitutional amendment banning the procedure. It's an unusually strong stance.

But what's angering some critics is the way he's selling his idea. HUCKABEE: But I believe it's a lot easier to change the Constitution than it would be to change the word of the living God. And that's what we need to do, is to amend the Constitution so it's in God's standards, rather than try to change God's standards so it lines up with some contemporary view of how we treat each other and how we treat the family.

COSTELLO: Huckabee's idea reflects a split in the Republican Party. For years, social conservatives have opted to chip away at "Roe v. Wade" through judicial rulings or urging states to outlaw abortion, as opposed to pushing a U.S. constitutional amendment -- John McCain, Fred Thompson and Mitt Romney among them.


ROMNEY: I'm not looking to change the Constitution. I do believe, from time to time, we'll have amendments to the Constitution, particularly where there has been confusion on its applicability. I think marriage should be defined as a relationship between a man and a woman. But I'm not looking to apply a religious text to the Constitution of the United States.


COSTELLO: And constitutional experts say that's exactly what Huckabee wants to do.

PROF. JONATHAN TURLEY, GEORGE WASHINGTON LAW SCHOOL: What Governor Huckabee is suggesting is to create more of a sectarian Constitution -- a Constitution that reflects not morality, but his specific view of morality.

COSTELLO: But it's Huckabee's comments that seem to be appealing to Evangelical Christians -- an important voting block in the coming South Carolina primary.

TONY PERKINS, PRESIDENT, FAMILY RESEARCH COUNCIL: I don't think the governor in any way was injecting God or religion. I think he was stating a very clear fact that many Americans believe, as well.

COSTELLO: At least one Republican strategist says it's a good strategy to win South Carolina's conservative vote. But it may backfire if Huckabee makes to it the general election.


COSTELLO: And if you're wondering where Americans stand on the issue of a constitutional amendment to ban abortion, according to a CNN/"USA Today"/Gallup Poll taken last November, 37 percent favor it; 61 percent are against it.

BLITZER: Carol Costello, thanks very much for that report.

Four states now down -- we're going to show you where the candidates stand right now in their battle for the delegates.

Who will win them -- who will win the nomination?

Plus, sword play, birds of prey, even dancing girls -- we're going to show you some very odd highlights from President Bush's Middle East trip. Only Jeanne Moos -- and only Jeanne Moos has this report.

That's coming up right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: On our Political Ticker right now, the latest delegate count in the race for the White House.

After four presidential contests, Mitt Romney leads the Republican pack with 52 delegates. Twenty-two of them are from his big win in Michigan last night. Mike Huckabee has 22 delegates, John McCain 15. Ten other delegates are divided among the remaining Republican candidates.

Hillary Clinton leads the Democrats with 190 delegates. Barack Obama has 103, John Edwards 51. Dennis Kucinich has one delegate.

The lion's share of delegates are up for grabs in the upcoming contests. Through Super Tuesday on February 5th, 1,126 Republican delegates are at stake -- almost all of the 1,191 delegates need to win the GOP nomination; 1,751 Democratic delegates are up for grabs through Super Tuesday -- 86 percent of the delegates need to win the Democratic nomination.

You're going to be hearing a lot more about these delegates in the coming weeks.

Remember, for the latest political news any time, check out That's also where you can read my daily blog if you want to read it and I know you do.

CAFFERTY: Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes.

BLITZER: Do you, Jack?

CAFFERTY: Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes.


BLITZER: You've got a blog, too.

CAFFERTY: Yes, I do. I have a large blog.

BLITZER: Pretty soon everybody on Earth will have a blog.

CAFFERTY: I know. And then we can go out and say I don't have one and that will be different.


CAFFERTY: Our question this hour is should the government -- FDA says cloned meat, milk, things like that, perfectly safe to eat and that there will be no label required letting you know when these things get on the grocery shelves that they're from cloned animals.

So we asked -- should the government require labels that say if ingredients come from cloned animals?

Brian in New York: "Of course the FDA should require labels indicating whether meat is sourced from cloned animals. Until there's absolute definitive proof this meat does not cause any health problems in humans or pets that consume it, the labels should indicate the source. Why take the risk otherwise?"

Juanita writes: "A cow is a cow, no matter how it started. We start new human life with the help of test tube technology. Why does it matter the animal's pedigree? I agree there's no difference in the finished product and I have no qualms about using any cloned product."

Lauren writes: "I think the majority of Americans who would purchase the cloned meat products don't have a clear understanding of the process. Clone, to an average American, implies a science project dripping of chemicals from a lab where all the scientists wear white suits. The fact of the matter is the meat is exactly the same as the animal it was cloned from."

Victor in North Carolina: "If milk, the milk and other companies were smart, they would start putting their own labels on their products, such as 'our cows are not cloned' or 'we don't use cloned cows.' This would be a way to tell people what they're getting and also circumvent the government's ruling."

Aisha, Miami, Florida: "Artificial cows equal artificial burgers. I'd like to know whether I was getting the real deal or not."

Syndi in Virginia: "I definitely think the government should include a warning on cloned meat. They can't even keep things like spinach safe and they expect me to believe that just because they declare a cloned animal safe for consumption, that I'll feed it to my kids. No way."

And Bruce says: "The good part of this is you can have the same steak every year on your birthday. And when you get a good cut of beef you can order it over and over and over again. I think I'm ready to go vegetation." -- Wolf.

BLITZER: I'll stick to the artificial sweetener and that's about it, Jack.


BLITZER: Thanks.

See you tomorrow.

Thank you very much.

CAFFERTY: All right. BLITZER: It's what happens after you come back from a long trip -- you look back over your travels, your pictures.

But what might President Bush be thinking after his time in the Middle East?

Our Jeanne Moos is standing by with a Moost Unusual look. You're going to want to see this.

Stay with us.


BLITZER: President Bush is headed back from his trip in the Middle East.

CNN's Jeanne Moss has a Moost Unusual look at some highlights told from what could be the president's point of view.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Dear mom and pop, just back from the Mideast and I'm bushed. It must have been all that sword play.


MOOS: I felt like Saddam Hussein. I had to do just about everything but swallow a sword.


MOOS: Did you know instead of the Rockettes they have sword dancers?


MOOS: I knew those snotty blogs would write snotty headlines, but I managed to get my sword back in its sheath without stabbing anyone. Still, the sword play was child's play compared to dealing with a disco version of "Hava Nagila."


MOOS: Now I know what happened the last time I let loose and boogied.


MOOS: The press crucified me. So it took courage to wade into those little disco Israeli girls.


MOOS: Everywhere I turned, there were dancing girls...


MOOS: ...twirling or tossing their heads.


MOOS: But I really felt like I was in Oz when a teenager serenaded with me with "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" in Hebrew.


MOOS: You know how embarrassing it is when someone sings right at you, in two languages no less.


MOOS: Somewhere out in a desert near Abu Dhabi, the crown prince's falcons made me feel like I was back on the Crawford ranch. Of course, holding some big bird makes me the target for comedians.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ...however, Cheney accidentally shot the thing.


MOOS (on camera): Parading past the press wearing a traditional fur-lined Saudi robe wasn't exactly my cup of tea. But sitting behind glass viewing the king's Arabian stallions was.

(voice-over): I'd even heard of one of them.


Remember Alysheba?

MOOS: A Kentucky Derby winner.

BUSH: He's looking at you, Your Majesty. He wants to see if you're paying attention to him.

MOOS: I wish everyone would pay less attention to me. Especially that Jon Stewart.


JON STEWART, HOST: How silly can we make America's president look?


STEWART: For instance, do you think we could make him, I don't know, hold the falcon.

Would he hold it?

I don't know.


STEWART: Oh! Oh! He's holding it. I can't believe it.


STEWART: Do you think we can make him hold the sword of Ganges?

Yes, he'll hold it!


STEWART: Oh my god, he's dancing with it!


MOOS: I don't know which made me more uncomfortable -- holding that sword or holding that rose.


MOOS: Lots of love, your son George.


BLITZER: And now you can take the best political team with you any time, anywhere. Download the best political pod cast at

Thanks for joining us.

I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Up next, "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT" -- Lou.