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Interview With South Carolina Congressman James Clyburn; Fire Ravages Las Vegas Hotel

Aired January 25, 2008 - 18:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now: Hillary Clinton thinks and acts positive right now in these, the closing hours before the South Carolina primary.
But will voters forget the nasty sparring with Barack Obama? I will talk about it with the top Democrat from South Carolina, the House majority whip, James Clyburn.

Also, John Edwards tries to use the Clinton/Obama feud to his advantage. Will his "I'm a grownup" strategy actually work, though?

And John McCain's mother isn't mincing any words about her son's rocky relationship with conservative Republicans. Is she telling it like it is? I will ask the best political team on television.

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

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

Hillary Clinton is tweaking her South Carolina strategy to the bitter end with the Democrats' first Southern primary only a few hours away. She began the week in a slugfest with Barack Obama, then detoured away from the state. So, what's her game plan right now?

Let's find out from our senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley. She's watching this story for us.

What is going on, Candy?

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know what the game plan always is for all these candidates in the final hours, Wolf. It's to go back to basics.


SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: And we have some immediate problems.

CROWLEY (voice-over): They think she wins if voters are convinced she understands their lives.

H. CLINTON: The failed approaches of President Bush are now coming home to roost. We've got to begin by recognizing people are hurting. This is not an abstraction. This is not a conversation for some kind of talk show. CROWLEY: Hillary Clinton is all business now, moving her focus from Barack Obama to George Bush, ticking through her agenda in the final hours for the battle for Carolina. More money for veteran's health care, lower interest rates on student loans, universal health care insurance, an end to the war.

H. CLINTON: That's a big difference between us and the Republicans. to hear them talk, they say they're happy to leave troops in Iraq for 100 years. That's not going to happen because we're going to elect a Democratic president.

CROWLEY: Leaving voters with positive impressions is campaign 101. Even Bill Clinton let up.

BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT: I love this primary because it looks like we're going to vote an African-American man or a woman and they're not losing any votes because of their race or gender. They're picking up some because of it. That's to be expected.

CROWLEY: Friday morning in the state where blacks make up about half the Democratic primary vote, she went to a historically black campus with two major league African-American politicians from New York making her case.

H. CLINTON: And I am particularly pleased to have two of my friends come down to witness for me.

CROWLEY: In fact, since late last year, before Obama won Iowa and Clinton New Hampshire, Obama's support among whites in South Carolina has been cut by about half, while Clinton's black support has dropped considerably.


CROWLEY: Even as she wraps up this race here in South Carolina, Clinton is looking ahead. She today announced that she will ask her delegates to the national convention to go ahead and seat delegates from both Michigan and Florida.

The Florida primary, as you know, Wolf, is next week. The Democrats had promised not to campaign there, and the Democratic National Committee had taken away Florida's delegates. Clinton now says, in advance of this, that she's going to go ahead and ask her delegates to seat the Florida delegates.

The Barack Obama campaign says that Hillary Clinton is looking at a loss here in South Carolina, and she's trying to make Florida more important than it really is.

BLITZER: Thanks, Candy, very much -- Candy Crowley covering the Clinton campaign.

John Edwards is taking jabs at Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. Edwards says their fighting is, in his word, petty.

Let's go to Jessica Yellin. She's watching this story for us. He's making his closing arguments right now as well, Jessica.

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. John Edwards is crisscrossing this state, telling voters that he's the only grownup in this race.


YELLIN (voice-over): In South Carolina, John Edwards is everywhere.

JOHN EDWARDS (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I was very excited about coming to South Carolina, the state that I was born.

YELLIN: He's in voters' home, by day with Tyra.


EDWARDS: We have got a -- got a big weekend in front of us.


EDWARDS: So, we will -- I got my fingers crossed.


YELLIN: By night with Dave.



No, no, no.





YELLIN: And all across the state, insisting he will do more to fight special interests, and now criticizing his opponents' campaigns.

EDWARDS: Senator Clinton and Senator Obama this week have brought their New York and Chicago politics to South Carolina.

I was very proud to represent the grownup wing of the Democratic Party on Monday night.

YELLIN: He's out with a new ad touting his self-proclaimed grownup performance at Monday's debate.



EDWARDS: This kind of squabbling, how many children is this going to get health care? How many people are going to get an education from this?



YELLIN: And telling CNN the other Democrats have taken on a negative tone.

EDWARDS: A lot of the attacks have been nasty. Some of the attacks have been divisive.

YELLIN: He's also taking aim at Barack Obama, who just weeks ago criticized John Edwards when a special interest group ran an ad on his behalf.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The individual who is running the group used to be John Edwards' campaign manager.

YELLIN: Now a similar special interest group is running an ad for Obama. And Edwards sees hypocrisy.

EDWARDS: If he means what he says, he ought to be denouncing this.

YELLIN (on camera): Are you surprised he hasn't?

EDWARDS: I am very surprised, because if you really believe something, then you stand behind it. If you're doing it for political reasons and only for selfish political reasons, then you do one thing one day and another thing another day.


YELLIN: And, Wolf, Senator Edwards is also leveling criticism at Hillary Clinton for leaving this state earlier this the week. He's telling voters, if she wasn't here in South Carolina before the Democratic primary, why should they believe that she would be there for them if she became the presidential nominee? -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jessica, thanks very much.

Tomorrow, voters will head to the polls in South Carolina's Democratic presidential primary. Stay with us throughout the day and night for complete coverage. I will be anchoring our coverage starting in the 6:00 p.m. Eastern hour. The polls close 7:00 p.m. Eastern.

Just moments ago in Florida, John McCain took one of his toughest shots yet at his leading rival in Tuesday's primary, Mitt Romney.

Dana Bash is covering the Republicans for us tonight in Florida.

What's McCain's line of attack right now, Dana?

DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, what he did just moments ago was question Mitt Romney's ability and readiness to be commander in chief. He suggested that Mitt Romney was for a phased withdrawal from Iraq, and he said that that means that he has a lack of experience on national security issues.

And this is just one example, Wolf, of an intense back and forth all day today between these two men, John McCain and Mitt Romney, on national security and on the economy. It is evidence of how crucial the 57 delegates in Florida's primary here is really going to be a potential game-changer in the GOP race.


BASH (voice-over): For John McCain an urgent rush to make a new clear distinction between his candidacy and Mitt Romney's.

JOHN MCCAIN (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I know how to lead and inspire.

BASH: Leader versus manager.

J. MCCAIN: You can hire managers all the time, people who do the mechanics. Governor Romney is touting his qualities and his experience and resume as a manager. I am telling the American people and they know it, that I am a leader.

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: And so he's had to come back and flail a bit trying to attack my record.

BASH: Romney fired right back, mocking McCain for insisting his Senate experience qualifies him to tackle the bad economy.

ROMNEY: Being on the Commerce Committee in the Senate, that's what gives you the expertise you need to know about how the economy works. Yes, oh, yes. I think he's detoured from what was some straight talk.

BASH: Grasp of economic issues is one question that plagues McCain, ability to attract conservatives crucial in Florida's primary another.

J. MCCAIN: Governor Frank Keating, Tim Pawlenty, Tom Coburn, the list goes on and on of very strong conservatives that are supporting my candidacy.

BASH: Romney is trying to capitalize with this ad.


NARRATOR: He's the full-spectrum conservative.

NARRATOR: A supporter of free-market economics and limited government, moral causes such as the right to life.


BASH (on camera): And he's clearly to take a shot at what he thinks is your biggest weakness.

J. MCCAIN: He has changed positions on literally every major issue.

BASH: Meanwhile, Mike Huckabee took a shot of cafe Cubano, mining for votes in little Havana.

MIKE HUCKABEE (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If you get a foot on dry soil, you should be able to come here.

BASH: Rudy Giuliani courted Florida's potent Cuban vote, too.

RUDY GIULIANI (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The best thing to do is to keep the pressure on the Castro regime.

BASH: Even shook some maracas.


But one of the most prominent Cuban-Americans in the Republican Party here, Senator Mel Martinez, just endorsed Senator John McCain. That just happened here in Miami just a short while ago.

And Senator Martinez, Wolf, he told us just yesterday he was going to stay neutral in this race. But he just said that he decided at the last minute that he was going to throw his weight behind McCain, and he got some intense lobbying, as you can imagine, behind the scenes from the McCain campaign for that endorsement -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Dana, thanks very much -- Dana Bash watching the story in Florida.

Let's go back to Jack. He's got "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, Bill Clinton, former president of the United States turned political attack dog, is apparently helping his wife's presidential campaign.

"The New York Times" reports that Clinton advisers say the former president's aggressive stance against Barack Obama is resonating with voters, and they plan to keep him on the campaign trail in a major role after the South Carolina primary.

They say the benefits of having Bill Clinton challenge Obama are worth the tradeoffs of perhaps overshadowing Hillary or damaging his own reputation. In fact, campaign officials acknowledge that the former president is deliberately playing bad cop, and predict a voter backlash against Obama if it ends up being Bill Clinton who looks like a victim in this.

Whether it's working or not, there are those who suggest that this is no way for a former president to act. Peggy Noonan in today's "Wall Street Journal" -- quote -- "Bill Clinton with his trembly, red- faced rage, makes John McCain look young. His divisive and destructive daily comportment -- this is a former president of the United States -- is a civic embarrassment."

Noonan goes on: "The Clintons are tearing the party apart. It will not be the same after this. It will not be the same after its most famous leader and probable ultimate victor treated a proud and accomplished black man who is a U.S. senator as if he were nothing, a mere impediment to their plans" -- unquote. Tough stuff.

Here's the question: Should a former president be acting as a political attack dog on behalf his wife?

Go to You can post a comment on my new blog.

I saw a funny bumper sticker the other day. It said, "Vote for Monica Lewinsky's boyfriend's wife for president."


All right, see you in a few moments, Jack. Thank you.

Could something that almost never occurs actually happen this year in the Democratic Party?


REP. JAMES CLYBURN (D), SOUTH CAROLINA: I think our nominee will be settled at our convention.


BLITZER: The highest ranking African-American in the United States Congress says this Democratic race could go well past Super Tuesday. Congressman James Clyburn is here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Also, you would think a presidential candidate would brag about a huge endorsement from a major newspaper, but it appears John McCain is not. We will tell you why.

And nightmare on the Las Vegas Strip -- a fire ravages a top hotel and casino, forcing everyone inside to evacuate. We will have the latest.


BLITZER: South Carolina's primary tomorrow is the first significant test of the Democratic candidates' African-American support. It may also test the fallout from the heated racially- charged bickering that's been going on between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.

I spoke about that and more just a short while ago with the top African-American in the United States Congress, the majority whip in the House, James Clyburn of South Carolina.


BLITZER: We spoke the last time just before the Democratic debate in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. You urged the candidates, in your word, to chill, especially the former president of the United States, Bill Clinton. You got a lot of mileage out of that. But they came out swinging, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, at that debate, accusations of supporting a slum lord, being on the corporate board of Wal-Mart. I don't think they necessarily listened to your advice. How did you react to that?

CLYBURN: Well, I was talking really to the surrogates, the ex- president included. I expected a lively debate. In fact, we asked you al, and you all accommodated us very well making sure that questions got asked that would make for a lively debate to let the passion show. That's what helps to generate voters.

They had competing visions about what to do about our economy, what to do about health care. All of that is good. That's far beyond the bickering that took place earlier. And I'm glad to say that from what I've gathered in the last couple of days that has subsided significantly.

BLITZER: So is this what the bickering as you call it, is that what the South Carolina voters want to see with these three presidential candidates?

CLYBURN: Well, I don't call it bickering that which they were doing during the debate. They were passionately stating their various visions for which direction the country ought to go on health care and go with the economy and other things. That, to me, is good. That's not bickering. The bickering is all this stuff about what happened 45 years ago and who may or may not have gotten -- should get the most credit for it.

BLITZER: You're still neutral, right? You're not endorsing one candidate over another. Is that right?

CLYBURN: No, sir. I plan to get up early tomorrow morning and vote for a Democrat.

BLITZER: Vote for a Democrat, but you're not going to tell us which one.

CLYBURN: No, sir. I don't think so. I've resisted so far even telling my wife or children how I'm going to vote. I think I'm going to do that and none of them will ever know.

BLITZER: One final question before I let you go, congressman. Some Democrats see it potentially as a dream ticket, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama on the same ticket unclear who would be the presidential nominee, who would be the vice presidential nominee. Would that be good for the Democratic party going in? Is that realistic at all to think that despite the bitter words, the two of them could emerge when the dust settles on the same ticket?

CLYBURN: That could happen, Wolf. But when it comes to putting a ticket together, I think politics ought to be the order of the day, not the emotions that may be caught up in this campaign. We need to put all of that aside after these primaries are over, maybe during the convention because I do believe that this primary will not settle our nominee. I think our nominee will be settled at our convention.

At that time, I would hope that everybody will sit down and look at the map. Look at what we need to do for the electoral college and be sure that we put together a ticket that will deliver us victory in the electoral college. We've had victory in the public emotional vote before, but that doesn't give you the presidency. We need to have a good electoral map put together and put everything else aside.

BLITZER: You're saying there could be a brokered convention in Denver at the end of the summer. That would be dramatic, Congressman.

CLYBURN: It would be. But it also will allow everybody to stay on the field. As I've said before, I think all three of these candidates are going to leave South Carolina with a ticket. Maybe all of them won't all have first-class tickets, but all of them will have tickets. That will make it good for us going into these other primaries.

I don't think that we ought to really allow the front loading to prevail. These people who front loaded this thing ought to know that they should settle down and let this process work and I think that if we can get through so-called Super Tuesday without anything definitive, we can then sit down and put together the kind of primary schedule for the next four years that we need to have.

BLITZER: He's the majority whip, the number three person in the House of Representatives.

James Clyburn, thanks as usual for coming in again. Good luck tomorrow in South Carolina.

CLYBURN: Thank you so much for having me, Wolf.


BLITZER: And, remember, our coverage tomorrow night, 6:00 p.m. Eastern, on the South Carolina Democratic presidential primary. We start at 6:00 p.m. Eastern from the CNN Election Center.

Apparently, the Republican presidential candidates think Hillary Clinton is the one to beat. Will talking about her so much actually fire up the Republican base? We will talk about that and a lot more with the best political team on television. T.'s coming up.

And fear and fire on the Las Vegas Strip. You are going to see what happened in an alarming hotel fire seen through the eyes of witnesses.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: A fire charred the roof and top floors of the Monte Carlo Hotel and Casino, in Las Vegas. The fire is now contained, but we have some I-Reports to show you.

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

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, this is what people were seeing as they were being evacuated from the Monte Carlo Hotel on the Las Vegas Strip earlier on today, looking up and seeing the roof of the building on fire there, the facade as you can see and pieces of burning debris falling down to the ground there.

That was up close 300 feet away. But this could be seen for miles around. These are pictures from Adam Shafer, who is in Henderson, Nevada. That's 10 miles away. And you can still see it clearly.

A great account coming in from Chris Gagen, who sent us this picture. He was working next door in the ESPN Zone at the New York New York Hotel. He said it smelt like burning fabric. There was glass shattering, falling to the ground, but that it was very orderly and the security personnel did a great job of getting people into neighboring buildings. -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Abbi, thank you.

John McCain isn't the only McCain who likes straight talk. Listen to his mother talk about Republican conservatives.


ROBERTA MCCAIN, MOTHER OF JOHN MCCAIN: Yes, I think holding their nose, they're going to have to take him.


BLITZER: Will the base Republican hold, though, warm up to McCain if he wins the nomination? The best political team on television will consider if McCain's mom knows best.

Plus, it's a big slap at Rudy Giuliani. We're going to tell you about the endorsement he didn't get and why the Republican who actually got it doesn't want to talk about it.

And a mayor's racy text messages come back to haunt him and could -- could -- lead to perjury charges.

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


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

Happening now: a favorite new target for Republican presidential candidates, Hillary and Bill Clinton. Find out why one candidate says he can't wait to run against both of them.

Also, the Republican base gets a tongue-lashing from John McCain's mother. You're going to find out what she's saying and whether her son wants mom sticking up for her (sic).

Plus, hundreds of thousands of early votes already have been cast in Florida. We're going to tell you why some say they might help a candidate now trailing in the polls. That would be Rudy Giuliani. We're watching this, all of this, plus, the best political team on television.

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

"The New York Times" says Hillary Clinton is the best choice for the Democrats in this race and that John McCain is the best choice for the Republicans. Today, the newspaper formally endorsed the two for this primary season.

Let's go to our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider. He's watching this story for us.

How do you think Clinton and McCain feel about these endorsements?

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Ambivalent is what I would imagine in both cases.


SCHNEIDER (voice-over): "The New York Times" editorial page is the voice of the liberal establishment. On Friday, "The Times" endorsed Hillary Clinton and John McCain. Good news for them? Money not.

The newspaper used its endorsement to take a swipe at President Bush. "Senator John McCain of Arizona is the only Republican who promises to end the George Bush style of governing from and on behalf of a small, angry fringe."

McCain's response was guarded.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I appreciate anyone's endorsement. Because I receive the endorsement of anyone does not mean that I necessarily share their views.

SCHNEIDER: McCain needs to win votes for Republicans and conservatives. "The Times" has never been beloved in that constituency, as this 2006 interview on FOX News suggests.


REP. PETER KING (R-NY), HOMELAND SECURITY COMMITTEE RANKING MEMBER: And "The New York Times" is putting its own arrogant, elitist, left-wing agenda before the interests of the American people.

(END VIDEO CLIP) SCHNEIDER: One of McCain's rivals was proud of not getting "The Times"' blessing.

RUDOLPH GIULIANI (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I probably never did anything "The New York Times" suggested I do in eight years as mayor of New York City. And, if I did, I wouldn't be considered a conservative Republican.

SCHNEIDER: But "The Times" is Rudy Giuliani's hometown paper. "The Times" endorsed him for reelection as mayor in 1997. That man is not running for president, "The Times" says now. "The Times" anti- endorsement could hurt Giuliani in New York.

Imagine if Giuliani loses his own state.

"The Times" did say nice things about Barack Obama, but concluded: "Mrs. Clinton is more qualified right now to be president."

But Obama is running an anti-establishment campaign. And getting the endorsement of "The New York Times" could make Senator Clinton look even more like the insider's favorite.


SCHNEIDER: Many years ago, a candidate for mayor of New York failed to carry her own precinct. Asked to comment, a rival candidate said, "Her neighbors know her."

Now that's why the endorsement or opposition of your hometown newspaper can be important. They know you -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Bill, thank you.

Republican presidential candidates are going after Hillary Clinton and her husband, the former president.

Let's talk about that and more with our senior political analyst, Gloria Borger. She's here in Washington.

Joining us from New York, our own Jack Cafferty and our senior analyst, Jeff Toobin.

They are all part of the best political team on television.

If you watched that Republican debate last night, Jack, the name Hillary Clinton and Bill Clinton kept coming up.

Here's a little sample.



GIULIANI: Bill Clinton...

MCCAIN: Senator Hillary Clinton said...

GIULIANI: Hillary Clinton...

ROMNEY: ...because the idea of Bill Clinton back in the White House with nothing to do is something I just can't imagine. I just think do we want to have a president -- not a whole -- a team of husband and wife thinking that they're going to run the country.


BLITZER: All right.


BLITZER: Well, that kind of talk fires up the Republican base, doesn't it?

CAFFERTY: Well, yes, I suppose it does. I actually was giving a speech at the 92nd Street Y here in New York and I missed the debate. But it makes sense that the Republicans would be bringing up the Clintons because the conventional wisdom is, among Republicans, I think, the conventional wisdom is Hillary, in the general election, might be easier to beat than some of the other Democratic options. So maybe they're training their guns on the Clintons with the idea that that's the easy prey come November. I'm not sure.

GLORIA BORGER, SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, you know, now that Bill Clinton has been so active in South Carolina, it gives the Republicans this real opening to say that he's going to be the co- president and that, in fact, this is going to be a co-presidency, and conveniently remind everyone of the psychodrama that was going on in the White House when Bill Clinton was president. And it's an easy -- it's easy red meat for them.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, and she has also replaced Ted Kennedy as the, you know, the person the right loves to hate and the person that they use to raise money against. But, you know, demonizing Bill Clinton is not necessarily the way to win a general election, because he's still a very popular figure among the people who will decide the next election.

BLITZER: And his approval numbers right now, not only among Democrats, but in the country as a whole, are still remarkably high right now, Jack. So he is a political asset, no matter what kind of attack dog mode he might in right now.

CAFFERTY: Oh, he's a huge political asset. There's no question about it. And there was -- we did stories earlier today that his -- that the Hillary campaign is sensing that this attacking that the president's doing against Barack Obama is actually working for Hillary and they have every intention of leaving him out there.

I think the taller order for the Republicans come November is to run against the legacy and the list of things that the Democrats are going to remind us all about on a daily basis that have happened in this country under the Republican administration of one George Bush. That's going to be a bigger enemy, I think, that the Clintons.

BORGER: But if you want to energize Republicans, one way to energize Republicans, who we've been saying are dispirited and not turning out in great numbers, one way to energize them is not only to say Hillary Clinton, but to say Bill.

BLITZER: What about John Edwards, Jeff?

He's got his own strategy in South Carolina. He's got to do really well there. But he says even if he doesn't, he's in it for the long haul, he's going all the way to the convention.

TOOBIN: What's his alternative, to go back to that big, big house in North Carolina and do nothing?



TOOBIN: I mean he's a professional...

BORGER: It sounds good to me.

TOOBIN: He's a professional presidential candidate. This has been his job for almost the past six or seven years. And I see no reason why he's going to stop doing that. You know, people talk about a brokered convention. I don't buy that. I mean, I think that's something out of the 1930s or 1920s. I just think he's going to do this because this is what he does.

CAFFERTY: The other thing is, I mean, we know John Edwards -- the country, we -- because he's been around, and, as Jeff suggests, he's been doing this for a good long while. He's much more familiar to the American electorate than somebody like, for example, Barack Obama. And yet he isn't getting it done. He didn't get it done with John Kerry and he's not getting it done now. And he's not only not getting it done, he's really not getting it done. I mean his -- his third place finishes are dismal.

BORGER: But, you know, I don't think John Edwards right now knows what he's going to do. He can cherry pick delegates. He doesn't have to win states because there's proportional representation here. So if you win a Congressional district, you get the delegates from that particular district. And so he can kind of limp along. And if he gets somewhere between 200 and 300 delegates, he could actually have some leverage.

I think it the real question is what would he do with that leverage?

John Edwards doesn't want to be vice president again. I don't think he wants to run in that number two slot again.

So what would he do?

Have the Democratic Party have a poverty, you know, platform? I mean I just -- I can't figure that out.

TOOBIN: I mean he could leverage it into a cabinet appointment, perhaps. But I just don't think there is -- there is any route forward for him where he's going to make any real difference.

BLITZER: All right, hold off, guys, for a moment, because we're going to take a quick break. We've got a lot more to talk about, including John McCain's mom. She's also doing some straight talk. She says the Republican Party is not supporting her son. You're going to want to hear what else she has to say -- a 95-year-old woman.

And messages the mayor of Detroit never wanted you to see -- racy messages with a female employee who was not -- repeat not Kwame Kilpatrick's wife. This scandal could cost the mayor his job, possibly result -- possibly -- in prison time.

Stay with us.



BLITZER: The Republican base gets a scolding from John McCain's 95-year-old mother. I love this woman.

Let's talk about her with the best political team on television.

All right, she was asked by Steve Scully on C-SPAN about the fact that maybe he doesn't have -- John McCain -- a lot of support among the base of the Republicans.

Listen to this exchange.


ROBERTA MCCAIN, JOHN MCCAIN'S MOTHER: I don't think he has any. I don't know what the base -- well, they probably -- maybe I don't know enough about it, but I've not seen any help whatsoever.

STEVE SCULLY, C-SPAN: So can he then go on and become the nominee of this party?

R. MCCAIN: Yes I think holding their nose, they're going to have to take him.


BLITZER: All right. Now that is straight talk, Jack.

What do you think?

CAFFERTY: Oh, God bless her. I wish she was running. I'd vote for her in a heart beat. You know, she might be on to something. She sees it as a problem for her son, not having that support. I'm not so sure it is -- maybe in the primaries. But since the Republicans are in such disarray, it might not be as big a factor.

What I'm getting at is look at what happened to Mike Huckabee the minute he left Iowa and left that conservative Republican support. His appeal wasn't nearly as strong. It hasn't been since.

If you're the darling of the right-wing of the Republican Party, the moderate Republicans are likely to go, no thanks -- been there, done that. And if you're a more moderate Republican, then you probably have a much better chance, given the climate in this country, of being competitive in November.

So I'm not sure. It might be difficult through the rest of the primaries, although everybody seems to be in love with John now. But once he gets beyond that, if he's the nominee, I think he might be positioned about right.

BLITZER: And, Gloria, here's how John McCain responded to his mom today.

Listen to this.


MCCAIN: I respect and love her and I appreciate her candor. My mother and I, as much as I love her, don't always agree on every issue.



BLITZER: And he said my mother is nearly 96-years-old, I respect and love her. Of course he does.

BORGER: I don't think anyone can relate to that, right?


BORGER: Nobody.


BORGER: No, no. But I actually had the pleasure of meeting her. She is just like -- John McCain is a chip off the old block. She's a straight talker. She's delightful. She's totally conversant, wonderful. She's had a sister that she used to travel around the country with. McCain called them the girls or Thelma and Louise, you know?


BORGER: And they're just -- just fabulous, just great women.

TOOBIN: You know, I don't know, Jack wants to vote for her. I would be happy to have her on the best political team on TV because I think... CAFFERTY: Yes, absolutely.

TOOBIN: ...that analysis of John McCain's relationship with the base of the party is very accurate. And the interesting thing is -- I mean I remember talking to John McCain several years ago. He felt that way about the base. He hated those people.

BORGER: Not anymore.

TOOBIN: I mean there is -- not anymore. I know. But I mean that's the difference. That's why John McCain is a very different candidate. I mean I remember him fulminating about the Ralph Reeds and the Jerry Falwells.

BORGER: Right. But he...

TOOBIN: Those were the people he hated.

BORGER: Right.

TOOBIN: Now, he's...


BORGER: But he won South Carolina this time, right?

TOOBIN: He won.


TOOBIN: That's right.

CAFFERTY: Don't you think, Jeff, that, ultimately, if he becomes the nominee, he's going to have to move to the center?

I mean you can't -- you can't just indulge the fringe of the party and expect to get anywhere, given what's happened the last seven years?

TOOBIN: Absolutely.

The question is, will those folks, knowing the history, turn out in an election?

BLITZER: All right...


TOOBIN: Will they simply stay home or will they carry him to victory?

BLITZER: Let's talk for a second, Jack, about Rudy Giuliani. You know, he's not doing well in the polls in Florida right now. But a lot of people forget there have been a lot of absentee ballots out there going on since January 1st. Hundreds of thousands of individuals already have voted. Is that potentially good news for him in Florida?

CAFFERTY: Yes, if they all like Rudy Giuliani.

Where does it say that's the case?


CAFFERTY: I mean, you know, the polls indicate that his support has slipped. It would seem to me that it's logical to assume that that means his support has slipped among all the people who participate in the election. We won't know that. We won't know until the votes are counted, but it seems to make sense.

BORGER: You know, he's got a great ground organization in Florida and -- because he's camped out there for the last 50 something days and he's got a good staff. And they've clearly been on top of the absentee ballots, which can make a difference in an election, as we all know. And I think, however, you have to have a good candidate who's connecting with the voters before the absentee ballots are going to make a difference, because they really make a difference in a close race.

TOOBIN: Well, you know...

BORGER: And at this point, it doesn't look that close.

TOOBIN: If it was good news for Rudy Giuliani, it would be the first good news for Rudy Giuliani since about fall -- maybe the middle of the fall. I mean, you know, I just think it has all fallen apart for him.


TOOBIN: And, you know, we'll see on Tuesday whether he's got any support left.

BLITZER: And all of you will be with us for the duration, including tomorrow, covering the South Carolina Democratic primary.

Guys, thanks very much.

Jack, don't leave. We've got The Cafferty File coming up.

CAFFERTY: You got it.

BLITZER: Detroit's mayor is caught up right now in a very embarrassing scandal. It catapults allegations of an affair and possible -- possible perjury into the headlines.

Let's go back to Carol Costello.

She's watching this story for us.

What's this all about -- Carol? CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Oh, Wolf, this is such an ugly story involving alleged love messages like, "I've been dreaming about you all day laughing and talking, sleeping and making love."

A lot of people in Detroit are mortified by this. The president of the union that represents city workers is now calling for the mayor to resign.


COSTELLO (voice-over): Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick is in deep trouble now, possibly facing perjury charges. Last year, he denied under oath that he'd had a sexual affair with his top aide. But new evidence has emerged suggesting otherwise.

The evidence is among 14,000 text messages between the very married mayor and his chief of staff, Christine Beatty. This one from April of 2003.

Mayor Kilpatrick: "I'm at a Laker game. The security doesn't believe I'm mayor."

Beatty: "And did you miss me sexually?"

Kilpatrick: "Hell, yes. You couldn't tell? I want some more. Don't sleep."

The "Detroit Free Press" uncovered the text messages.

M.L. ELRICK, "DETROIT FREE PRESS": You don't have to get more than two or three pages into it before you realize you're reading something that nobody who wrote one of these messages thought any other living person would read.

COSTELLO: The Wayne County prosecutor is now opening an investigation into the messages.

KYM WORTHY, WAYNE COUNTY PROSECUTOR: We will not be rushed by anyone or anything. We will only be influenced by the evidence and the facts that develop and nothing -- I mean nothing else.

COSTELLO: The "Free Press" obtained the text messages while investigating the aftermath of a $6.5 million judgment against Mayor Kilpatrick and the cash-strapped City of Detroit. A jury found in favor of Detroit's deputy police chief and another officer, who claimed they were unfairly dismissed. They had been investigating claims by two former bodyguards of the mayor that he used his security detail to hide the affair. The mayor denied it and the affair in sworn testimony and was angry when the jury ruled against him.

MAYOR KWAME KILPATRICK, DETROIT: I believe the verdict obviously is incredibly wrong and doesn't reconcile at all in my mind with the facts that were presented in this case.

COSTELLO: But one of the text exchanges, in September of 2002, reads like this. Kilpatrick: "They were right outside the door. They" -- the mayor's bodyguards -- "had to have heard everything."

Beatty: "So we are officially busted? LOL."

Kilpatrick: "LOL. LOL. Damn that! Never busted. Busted is what you see. LOL."

As for what are Mayor Kilpatrick is saying now, he issued this statement: "These 6-year-old text messages reflect a very difficult period in my life. It is profoundly embarrassing. My wife and I worked our way through these intensely personal issues years ago.


COSTELLO: And as for the alleged mistress, Ms. Beatty says she will remain on the job and I hear her home has been surrounded by police trying to protect her from the Detroit media.

BLITZER: Carol, are all these text messages kept in some sort of written file somewhere?

COSTELLO: It's interesting, isn't it?

You know, if you text using a regular phone and a regular service and you zap your text, it's pretty much gone forever. Mayor Kilpatrick used something called a Skywriter, which kind of looks like a Blackberry and was issued to him by the city. It uses a wireless company that provides texting services for city governments and big companies, you know, countrywide.

And guess what?

It records every single message with the date and the time.

BLITZER: Carol, thanks very much.

Carol Costello reporting.

Coming up, Saddam Hussein's interrogator -- a young FBI agent now speaking out about Saddam Hussein's stunning WMD confession.

Plus, should a former president be acting like a political attack dog on baffle of his wife?

Jack and your e-mail. That's coming up, as well.


BLITZER: It seems Saddam Hussein may have revealed a number of secrets during his long hours of interrogation, including an admission that his alleged arsenal of deadly weapons was mainly a mirage.

Let's go to Brian Todd.

He's watching this story for us. What are you hearing -- Brian.

Jack, thanks very much.

Jack Cafferty TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, while he was in U.S. custody, Saddam Hussein spent a lot of time with a 36-year-old FBI interrogator named George Piro. What that young agent says Saddam told him throws more cold water on the justification for war.


TODD (voice-over): War over weapons of mass destruction. But the man who allegedly had those weapons told his interrogator it was mostly smoke and mirrors. FBI Special Agent George Piro, who questioned Saddam Hussein every day, at least five hours a day for nearly seven months, says Saddam told him he was bluffing about having WMD and didn't expect the United States to invade, but faked a weapons program because he was afraid that Iran would.

A clip of Piro's interview with CBS' "60 Minutes" is on the network's Web site.

Another surprise from Saddam, according to Piro, he'd stayed one step of ahead of U.S. forces on the night major combat operations started.

GEORGE PIRO, FBI SPECIAL AGENT: He said that he was at -- at one of the locations. He said it in a kind of a bragging fashion, that he was there but that we missed him. And he wasn't bothered by the fact that he was there. It was more of the fact that he was there, but we still weren't able to -- to get him.

TODD: The full interview with Piro can be seen on "60 Minutes" on Sunday.

We spoke with Ron Kessler, who interviewed Piro for his new book, "The Terrorist Watch." Piro told Kessler Saddam was a neat freak who would wash his hands compulsively if he ever shook yours. "The former Iraqi president also flirted with an American nurse while in custody," writes Kessler, and had plenty of romantic advice for his young FBI handler.

RONALD KESSLER, AUTHOR, "THE TERRORIST WATCH": Saddam said, you know, Arab women are better at a certain age because they'll be loyal to you and American women are too independent.

TODD: The agent told Kessler when it was time to part ways, he smoked Cuban cigars with Saddam Hussein. Then...

KESSLER: They hugged each other in the traditional Arab way, which made George rather uncomfortable. But then -- then Saddam definitely was shaken and teared up.


TODD: George Piro told Kessler he found Saddam Hussein likable, with a good sense of humor. But Piro said he never forgot what an evil man Saddam was and said he felt his conviction and execution were fair -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Fascinating material.

Thanks very much, Brian, for that.

Let's go back to Jack.

He's got The Cafferty File -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: The question this hour, Wolf, is should a former president be acting like a political attack dog on behalf of his wife?

Julie writes: "I used to be a big Bill Clinton fan, but no more. I'm embarrassed and saddened by his actions over the past couple of weeks. His behavior totally inappropriate for a former president and it makes his wife look weak, as if she needs him to fight her battles. This is now what I want to see in the White House come 2009. Count this 58-year-old white woman from California as a definite Barack Obama supporter. Yes, I'd love to see a woman president, but not this woman with this husband and these sleazy tactics."

Janet says: "The only attack dog in your premise is quoting Peggy Noonan commenting on Bill Clinton. To follow it up with a slanted question referring to the former president as an attack dog puts you in the same junkyard as Peggy."

Sandy writes: "I'm a loyal Democrat. I'm dismayed a former president would stoop this low. When this race began, I was torn among the three remaining candidates. However, I know that if Hillary wins the nomination, I will not vote this year. Her husband's attacks show that they are not above politics as usual and our country needs a change of direction."

Mike in Kansas: "In the world of politics these days, it appears anything goes. Bill Clinton an attack dog -- are we supposed to be surprised? The irony is this tactic does work. The real question is do we, the American public, have enough brains to find the best candidate through all this garbage?"

Richard writes: "Democrats stood by Bill Clinton during his tough times, but I'm pretty sure we won't stand by any Clintons ever again. They clearly are only interested in one thing -- power and obtaining and retaining it at all costs. My rose-colored glasses are off and what I see is not pretty."

And K. In Savannah sums it up this way: "This is a family matter. Barack, the son, has been giving Mommy Hillary a hard time. Now daddy's home." -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jack, thanks very much.

Jack Cafferty with The Cafferty File

Late show laughs with Barack Obama. The Democratic candidate tells David Letterman his top 10 list of the campaign promises.


BLITZER: Last night it was Barack Obama's turn to appear on "The Late Show with David Letterman". And the Democratic presidential candidate delivered a tongue in cheek list of his top 10 campaign promises.

Here are some of them.


SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I will double your tax money at the craps table.


OBAMA: Appoint Mitt Romney secretary of looking good.

LETTERMAN: Yes, siree.

OBAMA: I'll rename the tenth month of the year Baracktober.

LETTERMAN: Baracktober.

How about it?

OBAMA: Pronounce the word nuclear, nuclear.

LETTERMAN: How about that?


LETTERMAN: And the number one Barack Obama campaign promise?

OBAMA: Three words -- Vice President Oprah.




BLITZER: Very funny stuff.

This Sunday on "LATE EDITION," I'll have an exclusive interview with General David Petraeus, the U.S. military commander in Iraq. We'll get an update on what is going on there. LATE EDITION starts at 11:00 a.m. Eastern this Sunday.

Until then, thanks very much for joining us.

I'll see you in the CNN Election Center tomorrow.


Kitty Pilgrim sitting in for Lou -- Kitty.