Return to Transcripts main page
THE SITUATION ROOM
Iraq Coverage Under Fire; Interview With Former White House Counselor Dan Bartlett; McClellan's White House Tell-All; How Will Democrats Award Superdelegates?
Aired May 28, 2008 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And, to our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Happening now, new reaction right now from President Bush to his former spokesman's harsh criticism. Scott McClellan's new book is prompting Bush allies to circle the wagon. I will talk about it with a former White House counselor, Dan Bartlett.
Did the news media go soft in the coverage of the Iraq war and the Bush White House? Some of the biggest voices in TV journalism are speaking out about that.
And John McCain comes out swinging at Barack Obama on Iraq. Why did he fail to get a reaction out of Obama? The best political team on television is standing by.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world.
The president's spokeswoman now confirms she's talked to Mr. Bush about Scott McClellan's bombshell memoir. Dana Perino says the president is puzzled and doesn't recognize the man he worked with for so many years. Among other things, McClellan accuses the administration of playing loose with the facts to build support for the war in Iraq.
Let's go to our White House correspondent Ed Henry -- Ed.
ED HENRY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the White House initially would not comment on this book. And former aides were somewhat muted in their responses. But now they're not holding back, and it's getting ugly fast.
HENRY (voice-over): It was supposed to be a glorious day, President Bush in Colorado delivering the Air Force Academy's commencement.
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Your parents are proud of you, and so is your commander in chief.
HENRY: Instead, it was rainy and bitter cold, matching the first White House reaction to Scott McClellan's explosive new book. It charges, the president used propaganda to promote the sell the war in Iraq, which has become a -- quote -- "serious strategic blunder."
White House spokeswoman Dana Perino issued a written statement declaring the former spokesman is disgruntled about his time in the administration. "For those of us who fully supported him before, during and after he was press secretary, we are puzzled," Perino said. "It is sad. This is not the Scott we knew."
A former Bush aide, Fran Townsend, was even harsher, charging, McClellan wasn't in a position to know what really happened in the run-up to the war.
FRANCES FRAGOS TOWNSEND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CONTRIBUTOR: Oftentimes, the press secretary will get briefed after some of these more sensitive meetings. But the press secretary doesn't participate in, for example, the briefings of the secretary of defense.
HENRY: Another former White House insider, Dan Bartlett, lashed out at McClellan, telling CNN it's -- quote -- "total crap to say the media was soft on the administration," claiming again that flawed intelligence was to blame to blame for mistakes leading up to the war.
And McClellan's predecessor at the podium, Ari Fleischer declared, "If Scott had such deep misgivings, he should not have accepted the press secretary position as a matter of principle."
But a former Clinton White House insider said McClellan's account has credibility, because his long proximity to Mr. Bush gave him a window on how the war was prosecuted, and he may now be having pangs of conscience.
JOHN PODESTA, FORMER CLINTON WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: The fact that we went to war on to some extent propaganda, a false premise, and it was a terrible mistake of judgment, which I think he's come to the conclusion, as two-thirds of the American people have, that it was a bad mistake of judgment on behalf of the president.
HENRY: I spoke briefly to Scott McClellan by telephone. And he stood behind his account.
As for the president, aides say the book has been described to him, but they did not expect him to comment on it any time soon. They say he has far more pressing matters to deal with -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Ed Henry joining us from the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs.
Clearly, Scott McClellan's former colleagues are sounding confused and betrayed by the very harsh words in this new book.
BLITZER: Joining us now from Austin, Texas, Dan Bartlett. He was the communications director in the Bush White House, effectively Scott McClellan's boss, here to talk about these very serious charges that McClellan is leveling in his new book "What Happened."
Among other things, Dan, he says this: "What I do know is that war should only be waged when necessary and the Iraq War was not necessary." This from a White House press secretary who defended this war from years. This is a very serious charge given the number of American troops who have been killed, the hundreds of billions of dollars that have been spent. What do you say about this charge?
DAN BARTLETT, FORMER WHITE HOUSE COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: Well, Wolf, you're right, Scott McClellan did say these things, defended this war from the podium. And in fact, in the most private of moments within the West Wing of the White House with his closest colleagues, he never raised these concerns that he is now airing in this book.
And that I think is why it's so troubling to see this type of tell-all book that we're now reading about. And it's really like listening or reading a completely different person than we all got to know.
BLITZER: You've known him for a long time.
BARTLETT: I've known him for more than a decade, and I must say, there is no one more shocked and surprised by the allegations.
BLITZER: Was there ever a moment that he came to you during his years working for you in the White House, you were effectively his boss as the communications director, and he said, you know, Dan, I really feel this is a mistake?
BARTLETT: No. In fact, he didn't, and was very much supportive of this president. I think he still is trying to be supportive personally of the president, but these types of allegations, without raising any of these concerns throughout his whole tenure.
And I think another important point, Wolf, to stress is that during that critical build-up to the war, Scott McClellan was not the press secretary, he was the deputy press secretary who dealt with domestic issues. So he would not even have been really -- you know, have access to the types of meetings and deliberations that the president participated in.
So that's why it's also a little bit, I think, misguided for him to make these kind of broad -- accusations and draw these big conclusions about the president.
BLITZER: But you know what, he goes into specifics on this president. And he was, as you say, during those -- during that period, the deputy press secretary, and later becoming the press secretary.
He writes this in the book about the president: "He and his advisers confused the propaganda campaign with the high level of candor and honesty so fundamentally needed to build and then sustain public support during a time of war." Now he doesn't flatly say the president was lying to the American people, but that is the upshot.
BARTLETT: Well, I think this is the part that gives me the biggest concern about this book, because to give credibility to such an outrageous accusation that mostly was coming from the left wing of the Democratic Party is really disappointing.
There is a key difference, Wolf, between intelligence being wrong and those who were explaining the war to the American people deliberately lying to them, and that this president was deliberately trying to mislead the public. Nothing could be further from the truth. And I think Scott McClellan knows that.
On the other hand -- or at least on the other side of the ledger, he also accuses that the media didn't do a good enough job in the lead-up to the war, which I think is wrong as well. They asked the tough questions. You asked the tough questions.
The fact of the matter was, the weapons of mass destruction weren't there. The intelligence was wrong. But that doesn't make people out to be liars or manipulators or propagandists.
BARTLETT: It makes them wrong.
BLITZER: Here is what he says about the president.
He says: "President Bush has always been an instinctive leader, more than intellectual leader. He is not one to delve deeply into all of the possible policy options, including sitting around, engaging in extended debate about them, before making a choice. Rather, he chooses based on his gut and on his deeply held convictions. Such was the case with Iraq."
That's a pretty awful picture he paints of the president going into the most important decision any president could ever make, whether or not to send young men and women -- women off to war.
BARTLETT: And, Wolf, all I can tell you, as somebody who was actually in the meetings, is that that is not true.
And this is the part that I think is going to be the most uncomfortable for people who are friends with Scott, that to explain to the public that the president did take that awesome decision and responsibility to send people into war incredibly seriously.
I listened to the deliberations. I saw the national security advisers give the president different options. I saw him wrestle with these decisions. These were deliberations of which, unfortunately, Scott was not a part of.
Now, you could always do more, and there could be easily, in retrospect, when we've seen that -- the challenges we have faced in Iraq, that it could have been done differently. But the bottom line at the time, I do believe the president took the necessary precautions and deliberations to make the right decision, again.
BLITZER: Is George Bush an instinctive leader who acts on his gut, rather than an intellectual, someone who looks at all the evidence and has extended debates about it? Because that's the upshot of his argument.
BARTLETT: I think any successful leader has a combination of both. You have to have good instincts. You have to have good judgment. And you have to have good information. And you have to have good advisers around you.
And I think the president had the balance between both. And I think great presidents do have good instincts, do have to -- at the end of the day, at times, have to trust their own values and judgment on things.
But that's not based on -- in a vacuum. That is not done without deliberations. That is not done without information. And I would say it's easy to flyspeck this looking backwards, when there has been all the challenges we have faced in Iraq.
But that doesn't change the fact that this president took that position very seriously. I can only say it in one respect. I was there. I saw it. I saw it a lot more than Scott did, in fact. And I know the president took it seriously. I know those decisions still weigh on him today, because he understands the sacrifice we're making.
The fact of the matter, he still thinks those sacrifices were worth it.
BARTLETT: And I think that's where the big difference is between those who oppose this war and those who support it.
BLITZER: And that's only just the beginning. Dan Bartlett goes on to talk about his shock at what has been written about the president and others.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARTLETT: There is an enormous amount of disappointment among those who are closest to Scott. This is not the Scott we knew.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: We're going to have much more of the -- my interview with Dan Bartlett. The former White House counselor elaborates on that response to the criticism involving the Bush administration's response to Hurricane Katrina.
I will also ask him to give us his reaction to McClellan's assertion that Karl Rove was deceptive about his role in the leaking of a CIA operative, Valerie Plame -- that and a lot more coming up, part two of the interview.
And did the news media drop the ball in the run-up to the war in Iraq? That's another claim made in this new bombshell book. You are going to hear what the three broadcast network angers are saying about this charge today.
Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Now back to the angry response from the president's allies to the new tell-all book by the former White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan.
Let's pick up with part two of my interview with the former White House counselor Dan Bartlett.
BLITZER: He says the failures in responding to Hurricane Katrina were emblematic of this White House.
"It was a failure," he writes, "of imagination and initiative. And, when the storm hit and the damage proved worse than anyone expected, our ability to adjust bespoke a failure of responsibility."
He was the press secretary during Katrina, right?
BARTLETT: Oh, absolutely.
And I think the president himself in an address to the nation accepted responsibility for the shortcomings of the response, not only at the federal level, but at all levels of government, Wolf.
It was a catastrophe in which this nation had never faced before. Our response to that could have been better. We have been very candid about that. And Scott tried to contribute in some respects. I think some of the points he makes in his book where impressed upon himself, a lot of people are scratching their heads, because they don't necessarily recall those moments.
But the bottom is, is that was an enormous catastrophe. It could have been handled better. We did our best under very trying circumstances. And politicians at all levels of government were held responsible by the public, because they felt we could have done a better job.
BLITZER: He also makes a very serious charge against Karl Rove and Scooter Libby, saying, in effect, that they conspired to create their own story that they would tell federal prosecutors, and that they lied to him, and he, in effect, went out and told bad information to the American people through the news media.
That's a very serious charge he makes.
BARTLETT: It is, Wolf. And I -- I must start by saying this entire episode, or chapter, in the administration, in which we were dealing with this leak investigation, was incredibly difficult for all of us, especially for Scott, because he was the one who had to be the public face.
And it was a very interesting dynamic internally, because we were ordered not to talk to each other or to collaborate about what had happened by the prosecutors. So, it was hard for us to discern from each other what our true feelings were, because we were told, frankly, not to.
And, in this case -- and it's really striking, because, really, the whole theme of Scott's book is that he doesn't like the way Washington works. It's kind of this deception. It's this. It's that, and that this whole way of how we operate in Washington is bad.
And, then, he does one of the very things that makes it bad in Washington. He throws out an allegation about Karl Rove and Scooter Libby that he doesn't have enough evidence to support. He says that Karl and Scooter never met privately, that this was a rare moment.
I saw them meet privately all the time. And, then, it was a private meeting. Scott was not in the meeting. Yet, he jumps to this broad conclusion that the two of them must have been up to no good.
BLITZER: So, is he...
BARTLETT: I find that very troubling.
BLITZER: Is he lying in this book?
BARTLETT: You know, that's the type of things, whether it's betrayal or is he lying, I can't speak to Scott's motives.
I can only say, from the perch that I sat, and in the meetings I witnessed, is that I think I have a much different portrayal of this president than Scott does.
And I can't explain to you why he has today decided to come out with all of these views that he apparently held throughout the entire time he served in the White House, yet said nothing to anybody.
BLITZER: Have you -- do you regret hiring him? I guess that's the question.
BARTLETT: I -- all I will say is that there is an enormous amount of disappointment among those who are closest to Scott. This is not the Scott we knew. Maybe that is our fault. Maybe this is a new Scott.
It's almost like -- it's almost like an out-of-body experience, quite frankly. And -- but, you know, it's a lesson learned. That's for sure.
BLITZER: We're going to be speaking to him here in THE SITUATION ROOM. What would you ask him, if you could?
BARTLETT: Well, I -- you know, look, as I said, Scott is a friend of mine, a colleague that I worked very closely with. I won't speak to him through the media. I'll speak to him personally, if that's -- if that's required.
BLITZER: And you haven't yet, though?
BARTLETT: I haven't.
BLITZER: Dan Bartlett, thanks very much for joining us.
BARTLETT: Appreciate it, Wolf.
BLITZER: And, so, what would you want to ask Scott McClellan? I'll be interviewing him this Friday here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Here's what you can do. Go to ireport.com/situationroom to submit your own video questions for Scott McClellan. We are going to try to get some of your questions to McClellan on Friday, when he's here with me.
Let's go to Jack Cafferty. He's following all this and a lot more with "The Cafferty File."
You know, you can't make this kind of stuff up, Jack.
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: No.
Can I submit a question for your interview Friday?
CAFFERTY: Without doing that I-Report thing, since I'm right here with you?
BLITZER: Go ahead.
CAFFERTY: There have been allegations around for as long as George Bush has been president about rumors of past cocaine use there.
There is a fascinating passage in McClellan's book about a telephone conversation that McClellan claims he overheard the president talking about cocaine. And if you would ask him about that on Friday, the answer will provide, I think, some tremendous insight into the possible workings of George Bush's mind and kind of the way he handles subjects that he's uncomfortable with. It's penetrating, riveting and compelling stuff, and that would be my request, if you have time on Friday.
BLITZER: Will do.
CAFFERTY: All right. Here's another troubling sign about the state of our economy. More Americans are choosing to file for bankruptcy, despite a 2005 law that makes it more expense and difficult to do so.
"The Washington Post" reports bankruptcy filings were up 38 percent last year for Chapter 7, which wipes out debt, and Chapter 13, which reorganizes debt. The reasons behind the bankruptcy filings are many, declining incomes, lost jobs, rising costs, poor health insurance. The experts say that the bankruptcy trend cuts across all walks of life, the young, the old, homeowners, renters, the poor, the middle class.
It used to be that bankruptcies were more likely filed by those who had sudden life changes, things like a divorce or a loss of a job, but not anymore. Declining home values have made bankruptcies even more common. In fact, many people are filing for bankruptcy in order to try to save their homes.
By filing for Chapter 13, the one that reorganizes debt, owners get a foreclosure frozen, and they can then negotiate payments with their lenders and maybe hang on to their house.
Meanwhile, billionaire investor Warren Buffett is warning that this economy is already in a recession. He believes, though it may not be a recession as defined by the economists, that the people are already feeling it. And Buffett, who is arguably the best investor in this country, one of the best in the world, says the recession in this country is going to be deeper and longer than what many people think. That's a quote.
A new Gallup poll seems to bear that out -- 87 percent of those surveyed say the economy is getting worse -- 87 percent. Only 17 percent rate the economy as excellent or good.
So, here's the question: What does it mean when more and more Americans are choosing bankruptcy?
Go to CNN.com/caffertyfile.com. You can post a comment there on my blog -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Thanks very much, Jack. See you in a few moments.
So, did the news media fail to fully do its job? That question being asked by a lot of people now that Scott McClellan has raised it himself in his bombshell book. Katie Couric, Brian Williams, and Charlie Gibson, they are weighing in today. You are going to hear what they're saying.
And Barack Obama says he won't go to Iraq with John McCain. Wait until you hear what McCain had to say about that. He wasn't shy at all.
Lots of news happening today -- right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Now to one of the most provocative allegations in Scott McClellan's new memoir about his days in the Bush White House.
The target? Those of us in the mainstream news media who cover the president. The anchors of the three broadcast networks are speaking out about that charge today.
Let's go to Howard Kurtz of CNN's "RELIABLE SOURCES" and "The Washington Post."
Some tough charges, Howie, from McClellan. What did he say and what do they say?
HOWARD KURTZ, HOST, "RELIABLE SOURCES": Well, Wolf, in his new book, Scott McClellan says that the liberal media didn't live up to its reputation during the run-up to the Iraq war. But not all members of the media agree with that assessment.
KURTZ (voice-over): The former White House spokesman writes that while President Bush was making the case to invade Iraq, the press was probably too deferential to the White House.
The three network anchors promoting a cancer fund-raiser on "The Early Show" had decidedly different reactions to McClellan's charge.
ABC's Charlie Gibson flatly disagrees.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "THE EARLY SHOW")
CHARLIE GIBSON, ABC NEWS ANCHOR: No. I think that the media did a pretty good job of focusing and asking the questions. We were not given access to get into the country, and I think it's convenient now to blame the media, but I don't.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: NBC's Brian Williams believes the media was swept along by a wave of patriotism after the 2001 terror attacks.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "THE EARLY SHOW")
BRIAN WILLIAMS, NBC NEWS: People have to remember the post-9/11 era and how that felt and what the president felt he was empowered to do, and that Colin Powell speech at the U.N.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: CBS's Katie Couric was the most critical of her profession, saying sometimes journalists have to go against the mood of the country.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "THE EARLY SHOW")
KATIE COURIC, CBS NEWS: I think it's one of the most embarrassing chapters in American journalism. And I think there was a sense of pressure from corporations who own where we work and from the government itself to really squash any kind of dissent.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Couric has told me that, while she was at NBC, where she co-hosted "The Today Show," she got what she described as complaints from networks executives when she challenged the Bush administration.
Print coverage, meanwhile, was also flawed. "The New York Times," which published Judith Miller's erroneous stories about Saddam's alleged weapons of mass destruction, and "The Washington Post," including Bob Woodward, have expressed regret for not being more aggressive in questioning the march to war.
KURTZ: It was only when violence surged in Iraq and public opinion began turning against the war that ABC, CBS, NBC and the rest of the media turned more skeptical.
And, Wolf, looking back, what you know, given what we know now, how would you assess CNN's coverage during the run-up to the invasion?
BLITZER: I would say we did a solid job. With hindsight, could we have done a better job? Sure. But I think that's the case in every story looking back.
Howie, thanks very much for coming in -- Howard Kurtz joining us.
John McCain is hammering Barack Obama for not visiting Iraq lately. Obama's reaction -- or lack thereof -- may surprise you.
And the Democrats' rules -- a new memo sets the stage for a weekend showdown over delegates from Michigan and Florida.
And, in South Dakota today, Hillary Clinton's presidential hopes set in stone.
Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: To our viewers, You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Happening now, a fierce new volley from John McCain in his war of words with Barack Obama over the war in Iraq. We're going to show you what they're both saying. And we will take you inside their latest smackdown.
Also, the stinging new tell-all Bush by Bush's former press secretary, could it come back to hurt John McCain in November?
Plus, how to divvy up Michigan's Democratic delegates. We're going to show you the latest plan -- all this coming up, plus the best political team on television.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM. Barack Obama and John McCain are on the campaign trail, slugging it out. But Hillary Clinton's campaign is saying, don't count her out either.
Our senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley, is out on the campaign trail herself in Colorado.
Candy, let's talk a little bit about what's going on, including this latest delegate fight over Michigan and Florida, the state set for a major battle on Saturday.
CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely.
While they are out on the campaign trail, both Democratic candidates have one eye on this Saturday, when they will decide what to do with those delegates from Michigan and Florida. So far, those delegates have been discounted because both states held their primaries outside the party calendar.
But out here on the campaign trail, it's as though three campaigns are going on. John McCain fully engaged in a general campaign. Hillary Clinton fully engaged in her primary fight for her life. And then Barack Obama somewhere in between.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Come on down.
SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Hello.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: These are some of our eighth grade students.
OBAMA: What's your name?
CROWLEY (voice-over): In his only stop of the day, Barack Obama paid a leisurely visit to a school in suburban Denver, where the Democratic convention will be held. There were classroom tours and a town hall meeting focused on education. In contrast to the sharp rhetoric of John McCain and the urgency of Hillary Clinton's bid for the White House, the Obama campaign is giving off an aura of suspended animation.
OBAMA: All right, everybody. Thank you very much. I'll see you back in August.
CROWLEY: For the second day in a row, Obama did not directly engage John McCain on Iraq. McCain, continually suggesting Obama wants to surrender in Iraq without knowing what's happening there, is itching for a fight and a headline.
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Now why is it that Senator Obama wants to sit down with the president of Iran but hasn't yet sat down with General Petraeus, the leader of our troops in Iraq? CROWLEY: McCain is getting reinforcement from the Republican National Committee, which set up a Web site dedicated to clocking how many days have passed since Obama's last and only trip to Iraq.
Yesterday, an Obama spokesman called the whole thing a publicity stunt.
With the Democratic primary season in its twilight days, the Clinton campaign sent a memo out to super-delegates re-arguing her electability claim -- made the heightened urgency along the campaign trail in South Dakota and Montana.
SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We have not gone through this exciting, unprecedented, historical election only to lose. So you have to ask yourself, who is the stronger candidate?
CROWLEY: Tuesday's primaries in South Dakota and Montana are the last of the season, but looming every bit as large is the Saturday meeting of Democratic Party officials, who will decide what to do about Florida and Michigan's now discounted primary results.
CROWLEY: One last thing on that exchange between McCain and Obama. A spokesman for Obama did put out a written statement saying the campaign found it odd that John McCain, who they say bought into a false promise about going to war, is now giving lectures on the depth of someone else's experience -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Thanks very much, Candy, for that.
Let's discuss this and more with our senior political analyst, Gloria Borger; our own Jack Cafferty; and Karen Tumulty, the national political correspondent from our sister publication, "Time" magazine. They're all part of the best political team on television.
Jack, what do you think of McCain's line against Obama, that Obama is willing to sit down with Ahmadinejad, but isn't willing to sit down with General Petraeus?
CAFFERTY: You know, I think that the voters are faced with a very clear choice when it comes to the kind of foreign policy they want in November. If you like the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and you like that we've lost 4,000 soldiers and a trillion dollars, and you think maybe we ought to be there for another 100 years, then you have that candidate. You can vote for John McCain.
If you think it was a mistake and maybe we should cut our losses and get the hell out of the Middle East and start tending to our own business, which a Gallup Poll suggests 87 percent of us say this economy is getting worse, then you have that candidate and you can vote for Barack Obama.
And, I think, you know, the person who addresses that Gallup poll number is probably going to be the next president, because that's the number one issue in this country. The rest of this stuff is -- it's what it is. But the voters have a choice.
BLITZER: There's no doubt, Jack, it makes a good point, that on the issue of the war in Iraq, Gloria, there's a huge difference between McCain and Obama, assuming Obama is the Democratic nominee.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Oh, you know, of course, there is. But what you see McCain doing now is he's trying to define Barack Obama. In a way he's trying to caricature Obama into this young and naive man who doesn't know anything about Iraq, who's only been to Iraq once, who doesn't want to meet with General Petraeus, who doesn't want to go with John McCain on a trip to Iraq, where John McCain would show the young man the ropes. You know...
CAFFERTY: Or the market where it was so safe to shop.
CAFFERTY: Remember that phony deal?
BORGER: Maybe that, too.
But it's clear McCain and the Republican National Committee and the Republican Party and the Republican candidates are going to portray Barack Obama as a young naive fellow who doesn't really know much about foreign policy. That's what's going on.
BLITZER: Karen, the Republicans have had incredible success over the past several decades trying to paint these Democratic candidates as soft on national security, weak -- they're going to not be able to protect all of us. They've done it in the past. They're clearly going to try to do it again this time.
KAREN TUMULTY, "TIME" MAGAZINE: Yes, I think, though, that they could have perhaps picked a better day than today to make this argument...
TUMULTY: ...given the fact that Scott McClellan's book seems to be out there reminding everybody of the fact that most Americans disagree with the decision ever to get into Iraq. And that was one where Barack Obama actually finds himself on the side of majority opinion.
And I think, too, while there are, you know, plenty of good reasons to argue that Barack Obama should have spent more time in Iraq, I think where John McCain sort of jumped the shark here was with his suggestion that the two of them go together. I mean just the thought of the security and the logistics required by something -- by that kind of visit, I mean surely the troops have a lot better things to do than be sort of handling a big campaign photo-op in Iraq.
BORGER: And, you know, I think McCain has to watch his tone here a little bit, too. Because he can get a little sneering about Obama and people really don't like that.
What they like about John McCain is that he's a truth-teller. But they don't want, you know, that side of McCain that can get a little snarky can get him in trouble. And I think he's almost there on this notion of oh, let me bring Obama over to Iraq and we'll have a great time together.
BLITZER: All right, we're going to take...
CAFFERTY: Well, he's patronizing, you know?
BORGER: Yes. Yes.
CAFFERTY: Who needs that stuff?
BLITZER: Stand by, guys. We're going to continue this thought.
And it's a harsh rebuke of Iraq as we now know.
So what impact will the new tell-all book by the former White House press secretary have on the political trail, on John McCain specifically, who's staking almost everything he has on the war and what's going on right now?
Plus, Democrats poised to decide what to do about those disputed delegates in Florida and Michigan. We're going to show you one plan being floated.
Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Stinging statements about the war in Iraq in a new tell-all book by the former White House press secretary, Scott McClellan.
Will they be used against John McCain?
Let's continue our discussion with the best political team on television.
What is the fallout, Gloria, from Scott McClellan's statements, including his statement, "What I do know is that war should only be waged when necessary and the Iraq War was not necessary."
What's going to be the fallout on McCain specifically?
BORGER: Well, it's going to be very interesting to watch how McCain reacts to this. Because, of course, he has supported the war whole-heartedly. And what I think you'll see him do is distance himself from the way the war was conducted and to say that perhaps if he were the president of the United States, he would have conducted the war with more candor. Remember, McClellan said that this administration had very little, if any, candor about the war.
But, of course, McCain won't say that the war was a mistake. And that's clearly what Obama's going to say. Well, if you have John McCain, you'll have four more years of George W. Bush.
BLITZER: You meant McCain won't say that.
BORGER: Right. Exactly.
BLITZER: Yes. And that's the point, Karen. The whole notion of this war being a bad war, a war that was fought for none of the reasons advertised going into the war, that's going -- that potentially could come back to haunt McCain.
TUMULTY: You know where I think it possibly could is McClellan makes the argument that the American people were misled into supporting this war, that it was an exercise in propaganda. Now, John McCain has staked his reputation on anything but on straight talk. And the idea that the candidate of straight talk could find himself also in this same position, you know, advocating this same war, that's where I think it could begin to sort of chip away at McCain's reputation and, really, what it is that Americans have loved about John McCain.
BLITZER: If you would have told me, Jack, that a White House insider going way back to Bush's days in Texas was about to write a tell-all book really going after this president and his senior advisers and you gave me a list of some of those people, Scott McClellan would have been the last one I would have thought would have done this, given the way he behaved publicly when we used to see him at all those White House press briefings.
CAFFERTY: Well, he was absolutely a team player. And that probably gives what he has to say in this book some added credibility or credence.
The problem John McCain is going to have with this book -- there's two problems. One, the publicity tour is going to be huge. It's already number one on Amazon. He's going to be in THE SITUATION ROOM on Friday. He's going to -- he's going to do every television show in the country. He's going to be in -- there will be excerpts in all the magazines. It's going to remind people that we were led down the primrose path with this thing in Iraq. And the statement from a White House insider saying what I learned was the war in Iraq was not necessary -- if it wasn't necessary five years ago, John McCain, why is it necessary now?
That's the problem.
BORGER: But can I say one thing?
I don't think, though, Wolf, that it's going to really change public opinion in any drastic way, because if you look at public opinion on the war, it is very well formed. So is public opinion on George W. Bush.
The surge didn't get people to change their minds about whether we should be in Iraq. So I don't know that Scott McClellan's book is going to change anybody's mind one way or another, because people who oppose the war are going to see this as confirming evidence that we shouldn't have gotten into war in the first place.
CAFFERTY: Yes, but people who might have...
BLITZER: We're almost out of time but...
CAFFERTY: People who might have supported it and read this from somebody who was inside the White House might come to the conclusion that they were being jerked around by the government.
BORGER: Right. Or they might...
CAFFERTY: Which is what was happening. And that could be problematic for John McCain.
BORGER: Right. Or they might...
BLITZER: Very quickly.
BORGER: ...side with Dan Bartlett. I mean who knows?
BLITZER: Karen, do you have any good insight what the DNC is going to decide Saturday, when they consider Michigan and Florida?
TUMULTY: You know, I think Florida is a pretty easy proposition. I think they can come up with some way of allocating the delegates, because both candidates were on the ballot there. Michigan is going to be the big problem. And everybody I'm talking to is saying there is really no obvious way out on this.
BORGER: Well, you know, there's been -- I've been talking to some people on that Rules Committee and there is no obvious way out. One thing they made clear to me, though, is that, first of all, the campaigns are not involved in this. It's going to be decided in that Rules Committee. And that what happens in the primaries next week may be more important because after those primaries are done, I'm told you're going to see a lot of superdelegates moving en masse toward Barack Obama. And that may well decide things.
BLITZER: Jack, a final thought?
CAFFERTY: Just that whatever they do, I think they have to be very careful not to undermine the integrity of the 48 states that had primaries and caucuses according to the rules. The rules don't matter if two states can break them and get away with it and it winds up working to someone's advantage. So I think that's the only caveat. You've got to play fair in however this thing goes down.
BLITZER: Thanks, guys, very much.
Jack, don't go away. We've got "The Cafferty File" coming up.
And this important note to our viewers. Stay with CNN, as members of the Democratic Rules Committee meet on Saturday morning to debate the status of Michigan and Florida, their primary votes. We're, calling it Decision Day. We'll have live coverage. It begins at 9:00 a.m. Saturday morning here on CNN and CNN.com. I'll be anchoring our coverage Saturday morning with the best political team on television.
An unusual show of bipartisanship by the presidential candidates. We're going to show you the one thing bringing John McCain, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama together.
Plus, Hillary Clinton visiting Mt. Rushmore. She's asked if she'd like to be up there herself. We'll tell you her response.
That and a lot more coming up right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: It looks like a horrible scene happening in Newton, Massachusetts, near Boston.
Let's go to Carol. She's watching this story.
What's going on -- Carol?
CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, you can see it there. Those -- that's a commuter train in the Boston area called the T. This happened on the green line. Two trains have collided. Both have derailed. Ambulances are on the scene trying to get people out.
According to our affiliate, WHDH, two people are trapped inside one of the cars of that train.
We'll keep you posted. We don't have much information right now. We don't know why it happened. Maybe it was a signal problem. We'll try to get you more information and pass it along -- back to you.
BLITZER: It looks bad.
All right, Carol. Thanks very much.
Let's check in with Lou to see what's coming up right at the top of the hour -- Lou?
LOU DOBBS, HOST, "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT": Yes, Wolf, we'll have the very latest for you on that train collision in Boston.
We'll also have the very latest on the out of control drug wars raging in Mexico.
Are Mexican drug cartels assassinating police officers trained by the United States?
We'll have that special report on a possible conspiracy.
And gasoline prices soaring to record highs for 21 straight days. The Bush administration, the Congress, oil companies and the presidential candidates all without a single idea on what to do.
And Christian conservative Tony Perkins is joining me. We'll be talking about God politics and politics, the importance of immigration as an issue in this election.
And three of the best and brightest political analysts and strategists join me. We'll be talking about disenfranchised voters in Florida and Michigan, Scott McClellan's blistering attack on his old boss and a lot more.
Join us at the top of the hour for all of that and much more -- Wolf, back to you.
BLITZER: Thanks very much, Lou. See you in a few moments.
Let's go back to Jack. He's got "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.
CAFFERTY: The question this hour is: What does it mean when more Americans are choosing bankruptcy?
The latest Gallup poll, 87 percent of Americans say the economy is getting worse.
Katie in Pekin, Illinois: "Sadly, they've reached a stage they can't survive in this economy. With every essential increasing steadily in price -- health care, education skyrocketing, job losses, decreases in wages and the value of homes, what are people supposed to do? Where can they turn? Our present government has done a number on middle and lower class America and it will be decades before we can dig out of this hole."
Joe in San Diego says: "I don't have a car payment. I drive a '95 Corolla. I bought a house with a 30-year fixed rate mortgage. I paid off my student loans instead of going on vacation. Those who declare bankruptcy are lazy and morally bankrupt. They refuse to take responsibility for their actions."
James in Akron, Ohio: "We know all too well exactly what it means. Americans are quickly losing hope in their leaders. With oil and record food prices continuing on a three week rampage, no viable solutions anywhere in sight -- just what Lou was talking about -- we're hemorrhaging what little money we have left."
Jerry in Tennessee says: "I suspect it means there are too many predatory lenders dangling a lifestyle in front of too many people who can't resist the temptation to live beyond their means. Add that to the protection that bankruptcy offers homeowners and it's not surprising folks feel compelled to declare bankruptcy when things get out of hand."
And Ben in South Carolina: "High schools need to add mandatory budgeting classes. Oh, wait. I forgot. The federal government needs to take the class, as well. What a great example to set for our nation and our kids -- spend today, save nothing for tomorrow. People reap what they sow."
If you didn't see your e-mail here, you can go to my blog at CNN.com/caffertyfile and just knock yourselves out. There's hundreds of them there and you can just spend all night reading them -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Thanks very much, Jack, for that.
See you tomorrow.
On our Political Ticker, the three major presidential candidates are united on one thing. In a rare joint statement, they accused Sudan's government of atrocities against civilians in Darfur and they demand that the genocide there be brought to an end. The signed statement was provided by the Save Darfur Coalition, which also took out an ad in today's "New York Times".
Chelsea Clinton leading the search for a new official t-shirt for her mother's campaign.
Plus, Ellen DeGeneres' gay wedding at the Bush family ranch?
CNN's Jeanne Moss takes a Moost Unusual look when we come back.
BLITZER: There's been a horrible train collision up in Boston. We'll update you on what we know right after this.
BLITZER: Jeanne Moos is about to take us on an unusual look into Ellen DeGeneres and her wedding plans.
JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In case you couldn't tell from all the hand holding and cozy body language...
ELLEN DEGENERES, HOST, "THE ELLEN DEGENERES SHOW": I'm madly in love.
MOOS: But the body language is slightly more awkward when Ellen DeGeneres has not so gay marriage friendly guests on her show. And ever since this announcement...
DEGENERES: I'm announcing I am getting married.
MOOS: With her spouse-to-be, Portia de Rossi, clapping in the audience. Ever since, Ellen has been tweaking certain guests about her upcoming wedding -- most recently, Laura Bush and her just married daughter, Jenna, married at the Bush ranch.
DEGENERES: So the ranch was a great place to get married?
JENNA BUSH, DAUGHTER OF PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Yes.
DEGENERES: It looked like nobody could fly over and get pictures or bother you, really.
J. BUSH: No, it was really nice. DEGENERES: Yes.
So can we borrow it for our wedding? Can we get the ranch? Does that mean we...
J. BUSH: Sure.
DEGENERES: OK. Great. I appreciate it.
J. BUSH: Sure, you can.
MOOS: Note Laura Bush nodding silently.
Just the week before, it was John McCain's turn.
DEGENERES: When we come back, I will be discussing with you California overturning the ban on guy marriage and...
MCCAIN: I can hardly wait.
DEGENERES: Me, too.
MOOS: And when they did return...
DEGENERES: We are all the same people, all of us. You're no different than I am. Our love is the same.
MOOS: But same-sex marriage was too much for Senator McCain, though he did say...
DEGENERES: I, along with many, many others, wish you every happiness.
So you'll walk me down the aisle, is that what you said?
MOOS: And speaking of saying don't to gays saying I do, check out this Republican Congressional candidate's attack ad that's causing laughing attacks.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: In San Francisco, Nancy Pelosi's throwing a party for Kay Barnes, a ritzy California fundraiser celebrating Barnes' San Francisco style values. Yes to same-sex marriage. Yes to abortion.
MOOS: All that gay dancing earned this Missouri Congressional ad the title "worst campaign ad of the year" from the liberal "New Republic." Many couldn't believe it was a real ad, saying it seemed more like a "Saturday Night Live" spoof.
(on camera): Like the Village People on a bad hair day.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And yes to same-sex marriage. Yes to abortion.
MOOS: Say yes to mullets from the '70s. The attack ad provoked a counterattack ad.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sam Graves' negative campaign. It's sad.
MOOS: Or at least cheesy. There'll be nothing cheesy about the Ellen/Portia wedding. We've taken the liberty of preparing the invitations. Ellen will be given away by the Republican candidate for president at a ceremony held on the Bush ranch, unless we hear any objection.
DEGENERES: Does that mean we...
J. BUSH: Sure.
DEGENERES: OK. Great.
MOOS: Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.
BLITZER: There's been a head-on collision, two trains up in Boston.
Let's go to Abbi Tatton. She's getting information online.
What are we seeing -- Abbi.
ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, this is from our and finally tonight, WHDH, from their Web site. We've been listening in and watching the pictures of what our affiliate there is reporting just outside of Boston.
This is two trains colliding head-on. This is the T line just outside of Boston, the green line. And what they're reporting is that neighbors around the scene said that the force was so great of this collision, it sounded like an earthquake.
We've watched several ambulances here on the scene and there's been also other reports of people still trapped inside.
That from our affiliate, WHDH, in Boston.
We'll be bringing you more updates -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Abbi, thanks very much.
And stay with CNN for complete coverage. We'll let you know when we know what's going on with this head-on train collision. That's it for us.
I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Up next, "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT" -- Lou.