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THE SITUATION ROOM
Michele Bachmann Interview; GOP Race Shifting, Again?; Obama Fights for Jewish Support; Should President Obama Panic?; First Look at WikiLeaks Suspect
Aired December 16, 2011 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
BRIAN TODD, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Will taking down a network like this hurt Hezbollah?
MATTHEW LEVITT, WASHINGTON INST. FOR NEAR EAST POLICY: I think it will, not only financially, but also in terms of exposing Hezbollah's illicit activities. It's important to note -- these blatantly criminal activities support all of Hezbollah's actions, not only those of its terrorist wing, but also its political and social welfare activities that some considered to be legitimate.
TODD: One Hezbollah official has dismissed American claims of a criminal connection as politically motivated propaganda -- Wolf.
WOLF BLITZER, HOST, CNN'S THE SITUATION ROOM: Brian, thank you.
And to our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
One of the most up and down presidential races in memory could be shifting again after the final debate in Iowa. The gang of Newt Gingrich may -- repeat -- may be having an impact. I'll speak about that and more with Michele Bachmann. She's joining me this hour. I'll ask her if Newt Gingrich has been dismissive of her personally and her campaign.
And one of the most talked about pro football players makes his mark on the 2012 political contest. Rick Perry says he's the Tim Tebow of the Iowa caucuses. Will that score him some points?
And the death of a Florida A&M student after a suspected hazing incident has just been ruled a homicide.
We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. Breaking news, political headlines and Jeanne Moos all straight ahead.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Strap in for some turbulence heading into the final days before the first presidential votes are cast. The Republican candidates are pulling out all the stops right now trying to gain momentum and derail Newt Gingrich. With their final Iowa debate behind him, the leadoff contest on January 3rd could still be very much up for grabs.
CNN's Jim Acosta is in Iowa -- Jim.
JIM ACOSTA, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Newt Gingrich had a rough night. Mitt Romney had a good one and even better day after it. All signs that the race for the GOP nomination may be changing again.
(voice-over): Stopping in an Iowa steel plant, Mitt Romney was beaming with a new sense of momentum and an outsider's message.
MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: What concerns me is that we have in Washington a class of people who spent their whole time in Washington and they don't understand what you do.
ACOSTA: Also on message was the latest Tea Party favorite to endorse Romney, South Carolina Governor, Nikki Haley -- a top conservative in a crucial early voting state. The anti-Washington line of attack appeared to be aimed at the man clinging to the top of the GOP field, Newt Gingrich, who is once again under siege at the last GOP debate before the Iowa caucuses.
REP. MICHELE BACHMANN (R-MN), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: He cashed paychecks from Freddie Mac.
ACOSTA: Michele Bachmann took aim at the big money Gingrich made advising mortgage giant Freddie Mac.
NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I never lobbied. People ought to have facts before they make wild allegations.
BACHMANN: You don't need to be within the technical definition of being a lobbyist to still be influence-peddling.
ACOSTA: In response, Gingrich supporters eagerly tweeted out this video of Bachmann praising the former speaker in 2008.
BACHMANN: This man can do it all. He's truly our Renaissance man.
ACOSTA: But Bachmann also unloaded on Ron Paul and his hands off approach to Iran's nuclear ambitions -- a libertarian stand that may not sit well with conservatives.
REP. RON PAUL (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You know what I really fear about what's happening here? It's another Iraq coming. It's war propaganda going on and we're arguing -- to me, the greatest danger is that we will have a president that will overreact.
BACHMANN: And with all due respect to Ron Paul, I think I have never heard a more dangerous answer for American security.
ROMNEY: Thank you so much.
ACOSTA: It all fit neat hi into a game plan perfectly executed by Romney, who called Gingrich zany early in the week, then stayed positive at the debate.
Newt-mentum seemed to be fading before Republican eyes.
GINGRICH: I sometimes get accused of using language that's too strong. So I've been standing here editing, very concerned about not appearing to be zany.
BOB VANDER PLAATS, SOCIAL CONSERVATIVE: I've never seen a caucus like this before.
ACOSTA: Iowa social conservative Bob Vander Plaats believes caucus-goers are so conflicted over the GOP field, the state could be up for grabs down to the wire.
VANDER PLAATS: I really think you might get a late surprise. I think this thing could break very late and very fast.
BLITZER: And Jim Acosta is joining us now from Iowa. Cold in Iowa on this day.
Jim, looking ahead, potentially speaking in the coming days, what's the next game-changer that could be looming out there?
ACOSTA: Well, this weekend, Wolf, the "Des Moines Register," the state's major newspaper, is expected to announce its endorsement in this GOP race and that could be a big boost to one of those candidates. If not Newt Gingrich or Mitt Romney who are at the top of the pack, perhaps a Rick Santorum or Michele Bachmann, maybe even a Rick Perry. It could be just the boost one of these candidates needs to get right back in the running in this race.
BLITZER: I assume the "Des Moines Register" editorial page does have some clout. It is the main newspaper in the state.
But let's take a look ahead to Newt Gingrich. What is his strategy in the coming days and weeks? He's trying to stay above the fray. But the question is this -- in the face of all the attacks, can he do that?
ACOSTA: That is a big problem for Newt Gingrich. He's actually heading home, back to Washington this weekend. According to his campaign, he'll be back in Iowa early next week with a couple of stops on the eastern side of the state. That is an area that Newt Gingrich hasn't touched that much.
And then in the coming days, he's going to be putting a bus out here crisscrossing the state. So, he's going to be fighting hard for Iowa. The big reason why is because he does not want Mitt Romney to pull off some kind of stunning upset here and win this state, because if Mitt Romney can win Iowa and then go into New Hampshire, he will have a lot of momentum coming out of New Hampshire and into South Carolina, considering that endorsement he's picking up today from Nikki Haley.
So, for Newt Gingrich, Iowa's becoming very important, Wolf.
BLITZER: Thanks very much for that, our man on the scene, Jim Acosta.
Let's dig a little deeper down with our chief political analyst Gloria Borger.
Gloria, how do you think the debate last night changed the state of the race if it did?
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think it actually reflected the changes that are already taking place in this race. I mean, there you had Newt Gingrich, the presumptive front- runner, being attacked by everyone. Except for Mitt Romney, who kind of has let his ads do the talking or his political action committee's ads do the talking.
And then Newt was on defense, right, with Michele Bachmann, as you pointed out, attacking him on selling access and being an insider. And I think that's one of the story lines, along with the temperament of Newt Gingrich that is really going to stick -- because when you talk about Iowa caucus-goers, the one thing they didn't want was something who's a Washington insider who sells access, whether you call it lobbying or not. When Newt Gingrich first became famous, he led the Republican revolution. And right now, they're looking for more of a revolutionary than they are an insider.
BLITZER: These recent endorsements that Romney has received, South Carolina's governor, Nikki Haley.
BLITZER: The unsuccessful Senate candidate in Delaware, Christine O'Donnell. They're both favorites of the Tea Party movement.
Do you believe they're significant?
BORGER: Well, I think Christine O'Donnell doesn't matter. I think Nikki Haley does matter, although, you know, endorsements don't matter as much as they did a decade ago. But she is a very popular governor of a very important state.
And I was told today by one Republican source that the Rick Perry campaign really, really courted Haley and expected to get her endorsement. They did not get her endorsement. This is a big, big disappointment for them.
And one other thing to keep in mind about Mitt Romney is that there was a recent poll this week, Wolf. And he was only considered unacceptable by a third of Tea Party voters, so he does have a potential upside here. With the Tea Party, I should also point out, Newt Gingrich does, too.
BLITZER: Well, Gingrich, as you know, is getting hammered and hammered, especially on the air in these commercials on radio and television in Iowa. Based on everything you're hearing, is it having an affect?
BORGER: Yes, I think it is having an affect, I think we see him losing altitude in the polls. I want to just show for you why he's losing that altitude.
Here's a sampling that we put together for you starting with an ad from the pro-Romney super PAC. Take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)
NARRATOR: Newt has a ton of baggage. He was fined $300,000 for ethics violations and took $1.6 million from Freddie Mac before it helped caused the economic meltdown.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's demonstrating himself to be the very essence of the Washington insiders.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's about serial hypocrisy.
NARRATOR: Mitt Romney raised business taxes 20 percent in Massachusetts.
(END VIDEO CLIPS)
BORGER: So, Wolf, you know, even Newt Gingrich's own campaign sent out a letter today saying, you know what? These negative ads are having an impact on us. Send money.
Newt's only choice really was to go positive because he didn't have the money and he didn't have the organization to do anything else, so he might as well stay on the high road, at least for now.
BLITZER: All right. Thanks very much, Gloria, for that.
Meanwhile, a new attempt today by the president of the United States to try to shore up what many see is a vulnerable part of his political base, American Jewish voters.
Let's go to our White House correspondent Dan Lothian -- Dan.
DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the president sounded like he was in campaign mode today as he was addressing a group, a conference here, a Jewish group in Washington. He was trying to make the case for what he has accomplished so far during his administration.
You might recall back in 2008, the president received 78 percent of the Jewish vote. He still maintains strong support among Jewish voters. But that number is slipping.
LOTHIAN (voice-over): For Jewish Americans worried about where the administration stands on its support for Israel, President Obama tried to dispel doubts.
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I am proud to say that no U.S. administration has done more in support of Israel's security than ours. None. Don't let anybody else tell you otherwise. It is a fact.
LOTHIAN: This is just a piece of the president's strategy to shore up support among Jewish voter, amid mounting criticism from presidential hopefuls --
GOV. RICK PERRY (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: There needs to be no space between the United States and Israel, and this administration has absolutely bungled.
LOTHIAN: And attacks from some Jewish groups.
This new ad slashed across the pages of national newspapers accused the Obama administration of treating Israel like a punching bag.
(on camera): Is the Obama administration treating Israel like a punching bag?
JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Do you think --
LOTHIAN: I was just asking you a question.
CARNEY: I would -- I would refer you to the president's extensive remarks just a short while ago on this administration's absolute, resolute, unshakable commitment to Israel's security. It's unprecedented.
LOTHIAN (voice-over): The Obama administration does have its defenders and both the White House and a campaign have a point person to handle Jewish outreach.
Why this aggressive effort to target a voting bloc that makes up only a small fraction of the overall population? David Harris heads the nonpartisan American Jewish Committee.
DAVID HARRIS, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, AMERICAN JEWISH COMMITTEE: On voting day, rain or shine, Jews tend to vote. So, the voter turnout is much higher, registration among Jews is much higher than other Americans, number one. Number two, Jews tend to concentrate certain states and some of those states tend to be particularly important.
And, of course, the most obvious one is the state of Florida.
LOTHIAN: Now, I asked Jay Carney why there continues to be this skepticism about the administration's policy towards Israel, he said there will always be people who don't agree with everything in this administration, but he says that the facts prove otherwise about the administration's policy -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Dan Lothian at the White House, thanks very much.
The president, by the way, at that event, also tried a more personal way to connect with Jewish voters. He mentioned that his 13- year-old daughter, Malia, has been going to a lot of bar mitzvahs and bat mitzvahs of her Jewish friends here in Washington and fretting over what to wear.
Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: There is quite a bit of negotiations around the skirts that she wears at these bat mitzvahs. Do you guys have these conversations as well?
All right. I just wanted to be clear it wasn't just me.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Given Malia's experience, the president also joked that she is now the family expert on Jewish tradition.
President Obama has been taking a beating from Republican candidates and in the polls. Coming up, I'll speak with Democratic James Carville. We'll talk about if heads should roll within his campaign.
And Michele Bachmann is accusing Newt Gingrich of saying outrageous things about her. Stand by for my interview with Michele Bachmann and the moment she showed a softer side.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BACHMANN: Everybody say hi to Wolf.
CROWD: Hi, Wolf.
BACHMANN: Good to see you from Orange City, Wolf. Bye, bye.
BLITZER: Bye, bye. Thanks very much.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Sports metaphor. Certainly, very popular in politics, but Rick Perry is, shall we say, taking the ball and running with it. He's likening himself to one of the most popular and polarizing to a certain degree, NFL quarterbacks, Tim Tebow, of the Denver Broncos. Listen to Rick Perry at last night's debate. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GOV. RICK PERRY, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: There are a lot of folks that said Tim Tebow wasn't going to be a very good NFL quarterback. There are people that said well, he doesn't have the right throwing mechanisms or, you know, he's not playing the game right. And you know, he won two national championships and that looked pretty good.
We were the national champions in job creation back in Texas, and so, but am I ready for the next level? Let me tell you, I hope I am the Tim Tebow of the Iowa caucuses.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Sure he does because Tim Tebow's doing a great job for the Denver Broncos. Let's bring in our own John King. He's joining us from Iowa once again. He's been there all week. You had a chance to speak to the Texas governor a little while ago. How did that go, John?
JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Wolf, of course, I began with the Tim Tebow analogy from the debate last night. And I said, you know, governor, if I take that literally as a sorts fan, is what you're saying essentially that you stunk the joint out for the first three quarters and you're going to, somehow, find a way, perhaps an ugly way, to win at the end? Listen to Gov. Perry's answer.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PERRY: There may be some after my first three debates as somebody said, you know, we stunk it up pretty bad, but we've got our feet back under us now. We had three really, you know, good debates and last night. I think we had the opportunity to really get our message home and hammer it home about being an outsider, about getting this country back working.
So, yes, that's my goal is to Tim Tebow. I got great respect for him. Both a man of faith and quite a talent and lot of people said he couldn't make it, couldn't do it, and he's showing them wrong.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Showing them wrong is what Rick Perry says he's going to do here in Iowa, Wolf, for those who say he can't win. Very important, the Tim Tebow reference, not only a sports reference, Tim Tebow, a devout Christian, and we had a fascinating day here today. Even a lot of the people here at this event, Rick Perry was campaigning right here in the Copper Cuff Cafe, a lot of them were Santorum voters, some Bachmann voters.
And a lot of people -- I talked to several evangelical voters here, women, who said they're torn between Bachmann, Perry, and Santorum. There's no one candidate getting the big vote of the critical evangelical vote right now. If that split stays that way, probably gets in the way of Governor Perry coming back.
He needs to convince some of those Bachmann and Santorum voters to come his way. There is an uptick for Perry here in Iowa. The question is, isn't enough, Wolf, in the final two and a half weeks?
BLITZER: We do know he still has millions and millions of dollars to spend in this final weeks, so that's probably going to help him, I suspect, John, but you've been watching TV there. Are all the channels bombarding everyone with paid advertising for the candidates?
KING: It is beginning to accelerate. Earlier in the week, it was not as bad. You know, you watch the morning news shows, you watch the evening news shows, the local news to get a sense, because that's when most of those ads are on.
And, at the beginning of the week, I was thinking back to prior campaigns and say, you know, not as many, but this morning, I was smart enough to get up and go to the gym this morning, Wolf, and you know, sitting there, watching the morning news, you are seeing the volume increase.
And that's what's so interesting. No more debates. Now, we're going to see a retail politics. The kind of retail politicking at small places like this that Iowa and New Hampshire are famous for and be the ads, and that is a key point you make. Gov. Perry has more money than Bachmann and Santorum.
It will be interesting if his appeals -- right now, the ad up is critical. The Perry ad up is critical of Gingrich and Romney. It will be interesting to see if he goes back as he did in his earlier ads here in Iowa to targeting those evangelical voters.
BLITZER: And bringing people to the caucuses as we all know. That's going to be critical as well if he's got the organization to do it. We look forward to your interview in the next hour for our North American viewers. "John King USA" coming up here on CNN.
Michele Bachmann fired back at Newt Gingrich during last night's debate.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. MICHELE BACHMANN, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think it's outrageous to continue to say over and over through the debates that I don't have my facts right when as a matter of fact, I do. I'm a serious candidate for president of the United States.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: And I asked Michele Bachmann if Newt Gingrich is taking her campaign seriously. She didn't pull any punches. Stand by for the interview, that's coming up.
And the first lady has a date, and it's not with the president. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
BLITZER: This just coming in to the SITUATION ROOM. A medical examiner in Florida making a bombshell ruling in the death of university student after a suspected incident of hazing. George Howell has been covering the story for us. What happened, George?
GEORGE HOWELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, we just confirmed through the Orange County medical examiner's office that Robert Champion's death is now being ruled homicide. Champion, a 26-year-old drum major for Florida A&M University died November 19th
Investigators say the result of hazing. In fact, one quote from the medical examiner's report that I'll read to you here says that "The autopsy revealed extensive contusions to Champion's chest, arms, shoulders, back, and extensive hemorrhages." Now, there's no evidence also of natural disease.
They believe that, again, this is the result of a hazing incident and the Orange County sheriff's office still investigating this case -- Wolf.
BLITZER: I understand, George, that the Florida governor, Rick Scott, met with the university president today. What do we know about that?
HOWELL: Well, from what we understand, it was a scheduled meeting. The governor planning to hear James Ammon's comments, his thoughts on staying on as president for the A&M University. But from what we understand, Gov. Rick Scott did not change his mind.
He still recommends that the board of trustees for Florida A&M University suspend Ammons. So, again, we are waiting to see a meeting on Monday to see what happens with that, Wolf.
BLITZER: Thanks very much, George. We'll stay on top of this story. Very sad story, indeed.
Meanwhile, Syria's vice president is in Russia. Mary Snow's monitoring that and some of the other top stories in the SITUATION ROOM right now. What's going on?
MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the violence that's rocked Syria the better part of the year is at the center of talks between Syria's vice president and Russia's foreign minister in Moscow. The Syrian vice president arrived in the Russia capital today. Meanwhile, opposition activists say at least 17 people were killed in Syrian violence just today.
Now, here in the U.S. and on a much lighter note, Michelle Obama has accepted a date to the Marine Corps ball. It won't so be with the president. At a toys for tots event today, 20-year-old Marine Lance Corporal Aaron Leeks asked the first lady to accompany him to next November's event adding, "with your husband's permission, of course." She responded, "I love to." Leeks will deploy to Afghanistan next month. And wouldn't it be nice to see legendary rocker, Bryan Wilson, perform with the Beach Boys again? Next year, you can. Wilson will be joining the remaining members of the band on a 50-date reunion tour starts in April as well a perform on a new album. The stage-wary Wilson hasn't toured with the Beach Boys, guess which day?
BLITZER: I don't know.
BLITZER: Wow! When you said wouldn't it be nice, you know, you said that, right?
SNOW: It is --
BLITZER: You want to sing a little bit of that --
SNOW: I would drive our viewers away, but I'll let you --
BLITZER: It would be nice.
SNOW: It would be.
BLITZER: Thanks very much.
SNOW: All right.
BLITZER: Michele Bachmann isn't holding back in her anger at Newt Gingrich. Stand by for my interview with Michele Bachmann.
And could a passenger sneak nuclear material past airport security in the United States? A frightening incident overseas involving Russia and Iran is raising radioactive questions.
BLITZER: Whatever you may think about Michele Bachmann, she clearly is not afraid to speak her mind. It was obvious at the Republican presidential debate in Iowa last night.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NEWT GINGRICH, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Sometimes, Congresswoman Bachmann doesn't get her facts right.
BACHMANN: This isn't just once. I think it's outrageous to continue to say over and over through the debates that I don't have my facts right when as a matter of fact, I do. I'm a serious candidate for president of the United States.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: And Congresswoman Michele Bachmann is joining us now from Iowa. Congresswoman, thanks very much. That was quite a little exchange you had with Newt Gingrich. We just played the sound bite. Does he take you seriously? What do you think? BACHMANN: Well, frankly, I thought that it was outrageous and insulting the way that he seemed to treat me like I was a student, and I'm not. I'm a serious candidate for president of the United States. And I had my facts right, and he has said this repeatedly and he's just not true.
He's memory challenged, but I'm thrilled to be with you today. I'm here in orange City, Iowa in Sioux County. We're having a great time here today. There's a lot of young people here. We've had a wonderful meeting here in Orange City.
BLITZER: You think Newt Gingrich has a different attitude towards you as a prospective presidential candidate because you're a woman?
BACHMANN: You know, I don't know. You'd really have to ask him that question because I don't know the thoughts and intentions of his heart, but I thought that it was condescending in talking down to me, and that's something that I don't think anyone should do to any other candidate.
BLITZER: I ask the question only because it dawned on me, the way the exchange and your reaction to him, also because some women and some men, for sure, have some problems with Newt Gingrich because he has been married three times.
Is that an issue in this campaign?
BACHMANN: Well, that's something that the voters will make a decision about. It's part of the whole package when they look at the candidates.
Who are we? What's our character? What's our life experience? What are we going to do for the country? What are our policy positions?
What have we done before for the country? What has our voting record been?
And so I think all of that together will be part of the composite when voters go to the polls. And, of course, here in Iowa, January 3rd is the very first voice that any American gets to weigh in on, on who will be the next president. That's why I'm here in Orange City today, to ask people for their vote on January 3rd, because I'm the one true constitutional conservative in this race, and I want to be the next president of the United States so I can put the country back on the right frame and create millions of high-paying jobs.
BLITZER: Ron Paul had an angry exchange with you at the debate as well. And let me play a little excerpt of the back-and-forth.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. RON PAUL (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: To me, the greatest danger is that we will have a president that will overreact and we will soon bomb Iran.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BACHMANN: And with all due respect to Ron Paul, I think I have never heard a more dangerous answer for American security than the one that we just heard from Ron Paul.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: But Ron Paul, Congresswoman, potentially could win in Iowa. He's doing well in the polls.
What does that say to you about the state of the Republican Party if -- and it's still a big "if" -- if Ron Paul were to win in Iowa?
BACHMANN: Well, I'm intending to win in Iowa. We're showing very well. And we have a lot of excited crowds everywhere that we go, and I think we're exactly poised where we need to be to prevail on January 3rd.
We've seen almost like a political Wall Street in the last few months with candidates going up and candidates going down, but I won the all important Iowa straw poll. And I think on January 3rd, Iowans are going to come back, because they've been looking, and it's a good thing.
Iowans are very independent thinkers. They want to know, who will be the best candidate to go toe to toe with Barack Obama?
I'm the candidate who's already gone toe to toe with Barack Obama on Obamacare, Dodd-Frank, illegal immigration, cap and trade, taxpayer- funded abortion. I'm proven in that arena, and I will take -- I will hold President Obama accountable in the debates and I'll emerge victorious. I will be that president.
BLITZER: But why do you say that Ron Paul, the answer he gave on Iran, for example, was among the most dangerous answers you've ever heard as far as American national security is concerned? He says he's a non-interventionist, as opposed to an isolationist.
BACHMANN: Well, it's because, quite frankly, the number one issue that we have in the world right now with foreign policy is Iran obtaining a nuclear weapon. Why is that a problem? Because already, the religious leaders and the president of Iran have stated, unequivocally, they will use a nuclear weapon to wipe Israel, our ally, off the face of the map. They will use a nuclear weapon against the United States.
It isn't just an idle threat. They mean it. So much so, that Ahmadinejad was here in the United States in September, and he said in August as well that he wants to eradicate Israel from the face of the earth.
I don't take this as idle chatter. I think if there's anything that history has taught us in the last 100 years, it's this.: when a madman speaks, listen. Take them seriously. I'm privileged to sit on the House Intelligence Committee. We deal with national security and the nation's classified secrets. And we have an IAEA report, the International Atomic Energy Agency report, that stated unequivocally, we are looking at the very real potential and threat of Iran obtaining a nuclear weapon.
We don't have definitives on exactly when something that will come on line, but we need to err on the side of caution and keeping the American people safe. And as president of the United States, and as commander-in-chief, that's exactly what I'll do.
BLITZER: How disappointed were you today to learn that Nikki Haley, the governor of South Carolina, like you, a Tea Party favorite, has endorsed Mitt Romney?
BACHMANN: Well, I really like Nikki Haley. I think she's a wonderful governor in South Carolina. I've gotten to be a good friend of hers.
Of course I was disappointed, of course I would have loved to have had her endorsement. But I highly respect her, and I'm very pleased to be able to say that I have so many people that have come over to endorse me in South Carolina, whether it's Representative Ralph Norman or whether it's Tea Party leaders or Evangelical leaders. The most important endorsement I'll need is on the night of the primary in South Carolina, and we think with the cannon shot that we're going to get out of Iowa, that we'll do very well in South Carolina.
BLITZER: How much will this help Mitt Romney with the Tea Party activists? Because that so far hasn't necessarily been his strength.
BACHMANN: Well, I think people recognize that in the race, I truly am the only Tea Party candidate. I started the Tea Party Caucus in Washington, D.C., because I believe in the voice of the Tea Party. And I brought the Tea Party to Washington, 40,000 strong, to fight against the government takeover of health care.
That's people who believe we're taxed enough already. They believe that government shouldn't spend more than what we take in. And they believe that government should act within the Constitution.
That's a pretty mainstream agenda, and that's an agenda that I've let on as a member of Congress, but also as an independent citizen. And as president of the United States, it's that Tea Party voice also that I'll be representing as president in the White House.
BLITZER: One national security question, Congresswoman. If you were president, and the U.S. lost a super sensitive drone over Iran, what would you do?
BACHMANN: Well, first of all, I would hope that we would have the technology in place to be able to destroy that drone if it was in any other nation's territory. But I would make sure that we would seek to obtain that drone back in United States' hands.
I think it's just absolutely appalling what Barack Obama has done. He's just saying, as Mitt Romney said last night, pretty please to Iran to give it back. That's ridiculous. We need to have a president who's a very strong individual. I will be that strong commander-in- chief.
BLITZER: Well, what would you have done? Would you have sent in a mission to go get that drone? Would you have bombed it, flown over Iranian air space? What would you have done?
BACHMANN: Well, of course it's not prudent to say as a president what I would do ahead of time. I wouldn't be ever communicating to the enemy what my intents will be and what level of force I would use. Only to send the signal, don't try it. If I'm president of the United States, don't even bother trying.
BLITZER: Michele Bachmann, good luck in Iowa out there. We'll stay in touch.
BACHMANN: Hey, we're great.
Everybody say hi to Wolf.
UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: Hi Wolf!
BACHMANN: Good to see you from Orange City, Wolf. Bye-bye.
BLITZER: Bye-bye. Thanks very much.
A foreign policy based on "pretty please"? You just heard it. That's how Mitt Romney is characterizing President Obama's handling of that U.S. drone that crashed in Iran.
We're going to talk about that and a lot more. What advice does James Carville have for the Obama campaign?
Plus, a day in court for the U.S. soldier accused of leaking hundreds of thousands of documents to WikiLeaks. What did Bradley Manning say? Our Brian Todd is on the scene.
BLITZER: She won the Iowa straw poll back in August, and Michele Bachmann tells me she can win the Iowa caucuses as well. They're now less than three weeks away, January 3rd.
Let's talk about what we just heard in our interview and a whole lot more with our CNN political contributor, the Democratic strategist, James Carville.
Michele Bachmann, she's tough. You've got to admit that.
Does she have enough of momentum, if you will, to win in Iowa based on everything you're hearing, James?
JAMES CARVILLE, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Well, first of all, I thought she did a really good job of staying on message in the interview that she just did with you. I mean, pretty clear of where she stands. She does a good job of sort of repeating it and coming back to it.
I think what's going to happen is the religious conservatives are going to decide between Bachmann, Perry and Santorum. And I think one of them is going to do clearly better than the other two. And she has a good chance to do that. And if that happens, then she could surprise some people. I don't know if she can win, but she can do better than expected.
I don't think that they're going to want to go with Speaker Gingrich, and I'm pretty sure they're not going with Governor Romney. So, if that happens, if they coalesce around one candidate, and she stays on message like I saw in your interview, it's possible she can do well.
BLITZER: Well, we'll see how she does.
Let me get to President Obama right now. He's another candidate. Doesn't have a challenger for the Democratic nomination.
A few months ago, you caused a big stir. You said it's time for him to panic, if you will, and start firing people. Otherwise, he'll be a one-term president.
Since you made those recommendations, what have you seen?
CARVILLE: Well, I haven't seen him fire anybody so much, but boy, I'll tell you, I've seen a different message. The speech out in Kansas I thought was terrific.
In addition to that, I've seen, as everybody else has, not great, but improving economic numbers. And if he's able to stay on that message he had in Kansas and supplement it with some policy descriptions for his second term, and if these economic numbers continue to grow, I think things are going pretty well for him.
And on top of that, this Republican nominating process has not been very helpful on their side. So he's caught some things of his own making, some things maybe -- a little bit of luck here, the combination of the two. He's looking actually a little better than he was back in August, which was a low point after the deal.
And now we see they're starting to really crack down on some of this financial fraud. And if they continue to do that, I think he's positioned -- his chance of re-election improving here.
BLITZER: Well, there are certain things he can control as president, certain things he can't control.
What else does he need to do in the coming weeks and months to really get himself re-elected?
CARVILLE: Well, one of the important things -- and I think that they're ready to do this -- as soon as it's apparent who the Republican nominee is going to be, I think they need to not waste the winter and the spring and really define that person early. And I suspect that they have got all of their research done. I suspect that -- they've already indicated what I think is a good bit of aggressiveness in going after Republicans, which I think is a good thing.
And I think they should do that before that nominee has a chance to really come out and shoot at their convention. And I think there's a good likelihood that that's going to happen. I think that they need to take the Kansas speech which was a very good speech and add more policy prescriptions to it, which I feel confident that they're going to do at some point, and contrast that going in the general election.
BLITZER: James, thanks very much.
CARVILLE: You bet.
BLITZER: The White House would be wise -- and I'm sure they are -- to listen to what you have to say. You've got a pretty good track record, as all of our viewers know.
Thanks very much, James. Have a great weekend.
CARVILLE: Thanks. Appreciate it, Wolf. You bet. Thank you.
BLITZER: A man caught trying to sneak radioactive material into Iran. You're not going to believe where it was found.
And the man charged with the largest intelligence leak in U.S. history shows his face in court. We have new video that's just coming in to THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: For the first time, TV cameras and the public got a glimpse of the man charged in the largest intelligence leak in U.S. history.
CNN's Brian Todd is joining us now from Fort Meade in Maryland, just outside Washington.
Brian, you were in court today when Bradley Manning finally appeared.
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. It was quite a sight. And, you know, there were fireworks from the opening gavel today.
Bradley Manning's attorney came out swinging, saying that the presiding officer at this hearing is biased and should remove himself from these proceedings. And as you mentioned, after a year and a half of anticipation, we finally got a firsthand look at Bradley Manning.
TODD (voice-over): He sat upright in court, gave crisp, "Yes, sir" answers when asked if he understood the charges against him. Wearing thick-framed glasses, showing more traditional military cropped hair, Private Bradley Manning appeared robust and laser-focused. As Manning took notes, his attorney came out firing, laying down an early mark on how tough he'll be.
Defense layer David Coombs accusing the investigating officer who's essentially the judge in this preliminary hearing of being biased against Manning. Coombs said that officer, Lieutenant Colonel Paul Almanza, is in his civilian job an official at the Department of Justice, which is conducting a separate investigation of WikiLeaks.
A former Navy JAG officer says that shouldn't raise red flags.
MICHAEL NAVARRE, FMR. NAVY JAG OFFICER: That's kind of a broad brush. That's realistically a broad accusation of bias. And we didn't hear any facts that related him specifically to this case or to the facts of the case, or the investigation of Manning or Assange or any of these others.
TODD: That presiding officer, Lieutenant Colonel Almanza, points out he's in a completely different division at the Justice Department and refuses to pull himself off the case.
Outside the gates of Fort Meade, dozens of Manning supporters continued their fervent pleas for his freedom.
UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: Hey-hey, ho-ho, let Bradley go!
TODD: But it appears this hearing to determine whether Manning will be court-martialed will roll on.
Manning, charged with 22 counts in the largest intelligence leak in U.S. history, hundreds of thousands of documents published on WikiLeaks.org, his attorney now gives a hint of what tact he'll take, saying, "This case rises and falls on whether information was properly classified."
Manning's supporters say this about many of the documents leaked --
KEVIN ZEESE, LAWYER, BRADLEY MANNING SUPPORT NETWORK: That they shouldn't have been of a classified nature and that they didn't do any harm to national security.
TODD: But Michael Navarre says that may be countered by prosecutors.
NAVARRE: We don't know what all their evidence is in terms of potential harm to national security or potential harm to other intelligence interests. So, at this point, I think the jury's still out on that and we'll have to wait and see what the facts come out.
TODD: Michael Navarre says that despite losing that initial challenge to the presiding officer, he says Bradley Manning's attorney is really just planting seeds, signaling that he is going to challenge these proceedings at every step. If this goes to court-martial and Manning is convicted of the most serious charge against him, aiding the enemy, his sentence is likely to be life in prison -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Brian Todd on the scene for us. Thanks, Brian, very much.
In Moscow, at the airport, their Customs agents discovered radioactive material inside someone's luggage, and it was headed toward Iran.
CNN's Mary Snow is working this story for us.
I was curious, could screeners here in the United States be able to detect that kind of material?
SNOW: Well, you know, if you ask the TSA, they will say that air cargo is more secure than it's ever been. While it's met a mandate on screening domestic flights though, critics worry about what isn't being done on all international flights coming into the U.S.
SNOW (voice-over): The discovery of radioactive material in luggage at a Moscow airport raises the question, would it have been detected in the United States? At American airports, agents wear personal radiation detectors like this one. They gained notice following Japan's Fukushima nuclear accident. At the time, some U.S. airports reported detecting low levels of radiation among some passengers.
ROBERT PEREZ, U.S. CUSTOMS AND BORDER PROTECTION: Customs and Border Protection has been screening for radiation in the cargo and passenger environments for the better part of almost a decade now.
SNOW: The Department of Homeland Security adds, "DHS utilizes a multi-layered cross-component approach, including state-of-the-art technology, to detect the illegal transportation of nuclear material.
Specifically at airports, it says passenger baggage and general cargo is scanned for the presence of radiation. But the government still does not screen all cargo on incoming international passenger flights.
Congress passed a law giving the Transportation Security Administration a deadline by December 31st of this year. All cargo on international passenger flights must be screened.
But the TSA says it won't make the cutoff. That's raised concerns among members of Congress, particularly Democrat Edward Markey. In a statement, he said, "Al Qaeda and other hostile forces continue to target aviation for terrorist activities," adding, "TSA must finish the job of closing the loophole in our air cargo screening system or we ignore this warning at our great peril."
DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano was recently asked about it.
JANET NAPOLITANO, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: The issue is, is 100 percent screening mandate actually furthering a way to meet the objective, or by doing layers of security and doing some other things, can you actually reach the objective more quickly?
SNOW: She adds, "There is 100 percent screening of high-risk cargo."
But others dismiss all the focus on radiation detection at airports and at seaports.
COL. RANDALL LARSEN, INSTITUTE FOR HOMELAND SECURITY: It only takes a piece of that highly-enriched uranium about the size of a volleyball to create a Hiroshima-style explosion.
SNOW: Retired Air Force Colonel Randy Larson founded the Institute for Homeland Security. He says more focus needs to be placed on highly-enriched uranium that's unaccounted for, particularly in the former Soviet Union, that he says is easy to shield from detection.
LARSEN: So, the best way to protect our country and our family from nuclear terrorism is to locate, lock down, and eliminate loose nuclear material.
SNOW: Meanwhile, the TSA says it continues to take steps to strengthen security, and that includes, it says, a pilot program to focus more intensive screening on cargo that it knows very little about.
Pretty scary stuff, Mary, thanks for that report. We'll take a quick break. We'll be right back.
BLITZER: Let's go straight to our Jeanne Moos.
JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It is the Mona Lisa of mug shots enshrined on T-shirts. So famous, all it takes to recognize it is the outline.
Ridiculed in song --
MOOS: -- imitated --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Put your hands like this, Nick.
MOOS: -- worn as Halloween costume, as seen here in "People." Someone even put it on his credit card.
Almost a decade after its release, Letterman is still making jokes about Nick Nolte like the one about how the U.S. didn't release a death photo of Bin Laden --
DAVID LETTERMAN, HOST, "LATE NIGHT WITH DAVID LETTERMAN": Right? They didn't release any pictures. So the White House released this instead. Take a look at that.
MOOS: The mug shot connoisseurs at "The Smoking Gun" -- UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's probably the best celebrity mug shot ever taken.
MOOS (on camera): But now Nolte is talking, and he's saying a mug shot it was not.
(voice-over): In an interview with "GQ" magazine, Nolte explains he was high on a drug called GHB, Liquid Ecstasy, when he swerved off the Pacific Coast Highway. "At the hospital Nolte was taken for a blood test, a young officer asked him if he could take a Polaroid. 'I said, 'Come on. You don't really want to ask that, do you?' Nolte recalls. But he did."
"Nolte made him agree that, if he posed, the young officer would share any proceeds with his colleagues. 'And I let him shoot the Polaroid.'"
The rest is history. It's the gold standard against which mothers compare their baby's hair.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Which reminds me a lot of Nick Nolte mug shot hair.
STEPHEN COLBERT, "THE COLBERT REPORT": He was 1992's "Sexiest Man." And look at him now -- still sexy.
MOOS: One guy posted that on his local TV weather forecast, "When we are expecting heavy wind, this picture of Nolte is what they used for bad hair day."
But police may be tearing out their hair, because the California Highway Patrol spokesman who originally released this picture says it is a mug shot, one of several that they took, not a Polaroid taken at the hospital.
ANDREW GOLDBERG, TSG MANAGING EDITOR: Maybe that's how he perceived it on GHB, that maybe they were saying, please stand for a picture, maybe he thought here's a fan who wants a picture. Maybe that's one of the things that GHB does to you.
MOOS (on camera): It makes you think everybody's a fan.
GOLDBERG: Everybody's a fan. Who doesn't want my picture? MOOS (voice-over): Mel Gibson has reportedly said that he made sure his hair was groomed in his mug shot so he wouldn't end up like Nolte.
(on camera): The moral of the mug shot, or whatever it was, comb your hair.
(voice-over): But even if this kid didn't, at least he wasn't wearing a Hawaiian shirt.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Nick Nolte mug shot hair, Hudson's (ph) hair.
MOOS: Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.
BLITZER: That's it for me.
I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.
The news continues next on CNN.