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THE SITUATION ROOM

Bush Out of Touch?; Governor Taft's Troubles; Able Danger and the 9/11 Commission; Cindy Sheehan to Move Her Protest; "King of the Hill"

Aired August 17, 2005 - 16:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: It's 4:00 p.m. here in Washington and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM where news and information from around the world arrive at one place simultaneously.
Happening now, several stories we're following.

Anti-war protesters ready to move. It's 3:00 p.m. in Crawford, Texas, where Cindy Sheehan is set to put less distance between herself and the president.

Animated politics. It's 4:00 p.m. in Raleigh, North Carolina, where a top Democrat is using the cartoon "King of the Hill" as a secret weapon.

And in search of a break. President Bush gets heat for spending August at the ranch, but Britons have much bigger questions about Tony Blair's vacation plans.

I'm Wolf Blitzer, and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

First up this hour, it's day 11 over at the protest site that has been called Camp Casey. Anti-war demonstrators are standing firm in their vigil near the president's Texas ranch even as they get ready to relocate.

Our White House correspondent Dana Bash is in Crawford, Texas. So is Anderson Cooper. He is getting the lay of the land there.

Let's go to Dana first. What's the latest from your vantage point, Dana?

DANA BASH, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Well, where I am, essentially trying to focus on what the White House is saying about this is the focus is really nonexistent. The White House isn't saying very much about this at all and hasn't been in the past 11 days. We have heard the president say he is sympathetic to her cause but not much beyond that.

One thing that Bush aides do recognize, and there's not much they can do about, is the fact that the president is down this week, that he doesn't have any travel, no events. So there is a bit of a news vacuum, if you will, one that Cindy Sheehan and the people supporting her are pretty sophisticated about filling.

Wolf? BLITZER: You told us yesterday they were going to move the site of their protest. What is going on? When is this move going to take place?

BASH: Well, they think they're going to move tomorrow. And essentially where they're going to move is to the land of a man by the name of Fred Mattladge. He actually held a conference call with reporters this morning to explain why he's giving the land to Cindy Sheehan. He said he sympathizes with her, sympathizes with the fact that she is a grieving mother. He, of course, is a cousin of the man we all remember from over the weekend who shot a few gun fires in the air to sort of make his protest to the protestors known. But Fred Mattladge, the cousin with the land says it has nothing to do with that.

Interesting that this land, Wolf, is much, much closer to the president's ranch than where the site is right now. In fact, it is right up against the security checkpoint. It's so close that our camera crews who were there trying to find the land late yesterday actually got a glimpse of the president bike riding. Wolf, that is almost something we never see. It is quite rare, so it is very close to the president's ranch. Cindy Sheehan is much happier about that.

BLITZER: Thanks very much and we're going to check in with Anderson Cooper. He is right on the scene there at what is called Camp Casey. We'll check in with him shortly.

The Sheehan-Bush standoff is playing out on several fronts. Bush supporters are planning another anti-Sheehan event. A group called Move America Forward will conduct a "You don't speak for me, Cindy" caravan next week.

On Sheehan's side, the wife of the former Democratic vice presidential candidate, John Edwards, Elizabeth Edwards, wrote a personal letter to Democratic supporters criticizing the president for -- quote -- "cavalier dismissal of Sheehan."

And FBI whistleblower turned congressional candidate Colleen Rowley plans to stand with Sheehan. The Minnesota Democrat is due in Crawford tomorrow. We'll watch that story for viewers.

And watching another story. Only minutes ago in Ohio, the prosecutor made it official. He's filing criminal charges against the state's Republican governor, Bob Taft.

Let's check back with CNN's Mary Snow. She is watching the story for us. Mary?

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this is the first time criminal charges have been filed against a governor in Ohio. As you mentioned, this just happened moments ago. What's at stake here is an ethics lapse. The prosecutors saying that four misdemeanor charges will be filed against Governor Bob Taft, this for failing to disclose golf outings on ethics disclosure forms. State employees are required to disclose anything over $75. Now, the governor said that it was not intentional. Prosecutors have been saying that he has been fully cooperating. The penalty for this, maximum fine of $1,000 on each count, and potentially six months in prison, although it is considered highly unlikely that any jail term will be associated with this.

Now this is pretty much unfolding from a coin scandal that started developing earlier this year. And this has involved other state officials, although Taft has said that he has denied any wrongdoing and was unaware of it. And that is what's been happening in Ohio.

Wolf?

BLITZER: All right. Mary Snow, we'll get back to you. Thanks very much.

Here in THE SITUATION ROOM, we can bring you lots of information simultaneously. Here's what is incoming right now. Several stories we're following.

Check this out. In Ft. Worth, Texas, a gasoline tanker has tipped over, spilling some of its 3,000 gallon load of fuel and caused an evacuation in the area. What a truck accident that is.

Look at this. Pictures from Gaza. The deadline has come and gone for Jewish settlers to evacuate. These are pictures of Palestinians clearly celebrating off the coast of Gaza in the Mediterranean.

Look at this, the sentencing phase of the so caused BTK killer in Wichita, Kansas, under way. Dennis Rader admitted to 10 killings. Prosecutors pushing for the maximum sentence of 175 years without the chance of parole.

We'll watch all those stories for our viewers.

Time now for you to weigh in on some of the stories we're covering in THE SITUATION ROOM. Once again, Jack Cafferty joining us from New York with the "Cafferty File." You've got a question for this hour, Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: I do. I was listening to some of the testimony in the sentencing phase of the BTK killer on I think it was Court TV earlier this morning and an investigator described how this thing, whatever he is, pulled a chair up next to a bed in a room where he was in the process of murdering a little boy after placing T-shirts and plastic bags over his head and then sitting in the chair while he watched the kid die. Maybe that's what they ought to do with this guy instead of putting him in prison and feeding him for the next 30 or 40 years.

Cindy Sheehan not the only parent speaking out on the government's policy in Iraq. Yesterday, the Ohio parents of a Marine who died in Iraq two weeks ago in a roadside bombing went public with their thoughts on the war. ROSEMARY PALMER, MOTHER OF EDWARD SCHROEDER, KILLED IN ACTION IN IRAQ: We applaud the efforts of Cindy Sheehan in Texas. We consider her the Rosa Parks of the new movement opposing the Iraq war. We feel you either have to fight this war right or get out. Now, her view of course is get out without the other. But it doesn't matter if we agree exactly on how we bring this to the American attention. We feel she's doing a lot to bring this to our attention.

CAFFERTY: Rosemary Palmer accused the president of refusing to make changes in a war policy that has failed. With the protest in Crawford gaining more attention as you saw a few minutes ago here on CNN in THE SITUATION ROOM, other grieving parents beginning to speak out.

Here's the question for this hour. Should parents who have lost sons or daughters in Iraq be able to influence U.S. war policy? CaffertyFile -- one word -- @CNN.com. Let us know what you think about that.

BLITZER: We'll be going out there shortly to speak with our Anderson Cooper. He is on the scene for us.

Jack, thanks very much. We'll get back to you this hour.

Still ahead, the U.S. Army intelligence officer who's come forward with disturbing claims, extremely disturbing claims about terror warnings that were blocked before 9/11. He'll join us live here in THE SITUATION ROOM. I'll ask him what happened.

Plus, why are some Democrats suddenly talking tougher against Judge John Roberts? The Supreme Court -- the Supreme Court battle, that comes up in our strategy session.

And where in the world is Tony Blair? It's the question many Britons are asking about their prime minister.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: In our "Security Watch" segment, here in Washington, a veteran Army intelligence officer is now out of the shadows going public with his claims that he tried to warn about al Qaeda and that threat before 9/11 but was stymied.

Lieutenant Colonel Anthony Shaffer says he alerted the FBI in 2000 about the information, at least he tried to alert the FBI about the information gathered by his classified unit called Able Danger. But he says military lawyers blocked his team from actually meeting with bureau officials and passing along information.

Right now, the colonel is in our SITUATION ROOM. He's joining us live. Thanks very much, Colonel Shaffer, for joining us.

LT. COL. ANTHONY SHAFFER, ARMY INTELLIGENCE OFFICER: Thank you for having me. BLITZER: Able Danger, you were working at the Pentagon. This was a secret unit involving special operations personnel. And you were looking for terror cells in the United States and around the world. Pick up the story.

SHAFFER: Able Danger was the first task force in Special Operations Command to actually go after al Qaeda as a global target. Now, the purpose of this was to try to figure out methods to identify them, figure out what they were doing, how they were doing it, and then have the option of taking action against them to counter their capability to do offensive operations.

BLITZER: Now, in your research, in the various work that you did, you say you came across the name Mohammed Atta, who was the ringleader of 9/11, and three of his associates.

SHAFFER: That's correct. The way we did that was really through the Army Land Information Warfare Activity, LIWA. It was their data mining process which, essentially, to put it in simplistic terms, 2.5 terabytes of data, very advanced algorithms to search through it to pump data points out.

BLITZER: These are open sources.

SHAFFER: Open sources -- 2.5 terabytes of open sources.

BLITZER: You came across this name Mohammed Atta you say.

SHAFFER: Right.

BLITZER: And you called this the Brooklyn cell because they were -- what? -- based in Brooklyn?

SHAFFER: The associations led us to Brooklyn. That was part of the problem. They weren't necessarily all located there, but all these links were somehow identified by the technology to be in Brooklyn.

BLITZER: You remember specifically the name Mohammed Atta.

SHAFFER: Yes.

BLITZER: Did anybody write it down? Is it in one document?

SHAFFER: We believe there's a single document which shows all these names. A copy of that document was provided to Congressman Curt Weldon shortly after 9/11. That was the one he talked about where he took it over to Stephen Hadley and they presented it as something we knew -- the fact we could do and could do this thing before 9/11.

BLITZER: Curt Weldon is the Republican congressman from Pennsylvania who has been outspoken on this. And Stephen Hadley is the president's national security adviser. He was the deputy national security adviser earlier.

So you say you came across Mohammed Atta, this cell. You wanted to alert the FBI, but lawyers at the Department of Defense said you can't do that. Why?

SHAFFER: At that point in time, there were very draconian restrictions regarding anyone who was here legally.

BLITZER: Mohammed Atta was in the United States legally.

SHAFFER: That's correct. That put him in that category. Therefore, anyone who was in that category, we had to treat them as if they were a total citizen with all rights and benefits.

BLITZER: Were you concerned that Mohammed Atta and his friends were plotting terror attacks against the United States?

SHAFFER: We didn't know they were plotting attacks, but we did know they had linkages to the larger al Qaeda command and control structure. That was what was of concern. Plus we believed that Madeleine Albright's declaration of al Qaeda as a global threat to the United States gave us impetus to go past the U.S. person issue even if they had those protections.

BLITZER: Now, you say you repeatedly asked for permission to tell the FBI. Did you tell the FBI anything about this?

SHAFFER: Let me set the record straight on that. My associate who was the operations officer within Able Danger was trying to get permission from his command to pull the information out, give it to the FBI. My role as to what I was doing was to try to broker the relationship. I was doing a similar set of support for the FBI at this very same time. I tried to bring the two together.

Operation security is a key factor in any successful operation. I couldn't tell FBI about SOCOM's operations and vice versa.

BLITZER: Because that could compromise sources and methods.

SHAFFER: Exactly. But in this case -- there's some of that we can't talk about. But for the most part, we're talking about open source data, giving them the basic data we already had.

BLITZER: What did the lawyers say?

SHAFFER: The lawyers essentially took the data we had -- and I didn't witness this but my associate did -- and talked to the 9/11 Commission already and talked about how they were directed to take yellow stickies and put them over the faces of the terrorists that were displayed on this summary of the 2.5 terabytes of data. These cells. And that was where we had to actually make a decision what we're going to do with it. At that point in time, we couldn't do anything. We couldn't update it. We couldn't verify it. We had to leave it sit where it was and go on to focus on overseas ...

BLITZER: And they were concerned this could violate some sort of domestic law, if -- by sharing information from the armed forces with the domestic law enforcement agency?

SHAFFER: That is very possible. I'm not a lawyer and I wasn't involved this that aspect of how the lawyers came to their decision. I do know the effect was to essentially make them hands off.

BLITZER: Here's the statement that was released late Friday night by the 9/11 Commission. In looking back -- because there was no reference in the 9/11 Commission report to be Able Danger or anything of what you're saying -- a year before 9/11 you came across Mohammed Atta, wanted to warn the FBI about it, but you couldn't. The Operation Able Danger -- the statement says -- the operation itself turn did not turn out to be historically significant set against the larger context of U.S. policy and intelligence efforts that involved bin laden and al Qaeda.

They claimed this was irrelevant, basically.

SHAFFER: I have two answers to that. First, I talked to the person who actually took the Pentagon's copies of copies over to the 9/11 Commission. They gave them two briefcase size elements that they apparently reviewed. I can tell you for a fact, Wolf, we had more than 20 boxes of this sort of information they never saw. For whatever reason, I don't know.

Second factor is, how can it be that an operation run by -- tasked by the chairman of the Joint Chiefs to the four-star commander of Special Operations Command in which we're using advanced technology, the best and brightest minds to go after these guys, how can that not be relevant when we're talked by this same group a year later.

BLITZER: Here is the rest of their statement, another piece of their statement -- the 9/11 Commission -- Governor Tom Kean, Lee Hamilton were the co-chairmen of that commission.

None of the documents turned over to the commission mentioned Mohammed Atta or any of the other future hijackers, nor do any of the staff notes on documents reviewed in the Defense Department Reading Room indicate that Mohammed Atta or any of the other future hijackers were mentioned in any of those documents.

SHAFFER: Two issues here. First, I sincerely believe, I know they did not get all the documents, nor did they display summaries of data.

BLITZER: But you say there is a document that mentioned Mohammed Atta in 2000, a year before 9/11.

SHAFFER: Yes. And that's one of the things we're trying to find right now through the storage of some of these documents. One of the issues here, Wolf, is they did not do a rigorous investigation of the information. When I first talked to them in October of 2003, there was a great deal of interest. Mr. Zelikow in that very same statement said ...

BLITZER: He is the staff director of the 9/11 Commission.

SHAFFER: ... says that he immediately after talking to me, called back to the United States to start researching this. So I don't know what exactly he took away from that meeting, but apparently it was something important enough that he called back immediately. Then they asked me to follow up with them in January when I returned from my deployment to Afghanistan.

BLITZER: Why are you going public now? You're a United States military officer, a lieutenant colonel. You could be reprimanded. You could be dismissed for what you're doing.

SHAFFER: Two reasons right now. First, we didn't do this purposely. This came up as a consequence of us trying to reenergize a part of this technology for the U.S. Navy. I was assigned to support the Navy on bringing back part of this capability regarding data mining.

Congressman Weldon was our advocate, trying to get us funding for it. And it was his 27 June speech on the floor which talked about this historically which I believe he was trying to put in the record to justify giving us funding now was what stimulated all of this coming out now.

My desire, Wolf, is I don't want to be here. This is not what I wanted to have the end state to be. The end state I want to achieve -- and it's what's important for this country -- is we find all the technology that's out there to leverage it. And in the case of data mining, I think it's a tool we need to have.

BLITZER: One final question, because we're almost out of time. Are you under investigation for some activities you did at DOD? What's the story of that? That was mentioned in the "New York Times".

SHAFFER: I've talked to my lawyer and he's talked to my organization, the Defense Intelligence Agency, and he's not aware of any investigation. I sincerely believe this is something that may be part of certain people within DOD.

Now let me say, Dr. Cambone was very supportive, I have met with him, met two days ago. I cooperated with DOD, trying to get to the bottom of this yesterday. They are committed to getting to the bottom of this, and I have to believe what they told me is they're sincere in wanting to get this fixed. So I do not consider DOD an adversary. I consider some folks within DOD who may not get the message as trying to stir trouble up.

BLITZER: Dr. Steve Cambone is in charge of intelligence over there. LTC Anthony Shaffer coming forward, speaking out, clearly requiring lost more investigation. Very serious charges, indeed. Appreciate it very much.

SHAFFER: Thank you.

BLITZER: And we'll get another side of this story and reaction to Shaffer's claims tomorrow. I'll speak with former 9/11 Commissioner, former U.S. Congressman Tim Roemer. He'll be joining us here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

As always, stay tuned to CNN day and night for the most reliable news about your security.

Let's get back to our top story -- at least the top story at this hour. Day 11 at the protest site dubbed Camp Casey out in Texas near the president's ranch. Anti-war demonstrators standing firm in their vigil near the president's ranch as they get ready to relocate.

Let's bring in CNN's Anderson Cooper. He is on the scene for us and he is joining us live. Give us a little bit of the lay of the land, Anderson.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Yeah, Wolf, they are planning on relocating. That is not going to happen today according to the people we've talked to. I just want to show you where we are. You probably heard about the row of crosses. There are more than 800 crosses they have put up. Each has the name of a serviceman or woman killed in the war of Iraq. That's all lining that road. There's sort of a crossroads here and you have 20 to 30 tents that have basically been set up, people kind of standing around, probably 80-100 people here right now, people who agree with what Cindy Sheehan is doing.

There were one or two people earlier holding up signs, counter- protestors. They have left. But the numbers ebb and flow. Over the weekend, there were more than 100 anti-Sheehan protestors, if you will. There's going to be another demonstration this weekend, a counter-demonstration.

But there's really sort of a sense of normalcy here. It's been going on for 11 days. There are places where you can get coffee. People serving up food. And a lot of just kind of standing around.

What you don't get on television is how hot it is here. It's probably about 92 degrees. It can reach up to 100. And so shade is a very precious commodity here. Cindy Sheehan right now is resting. I saw her down there a little bit earlier. She basically spends a lot of the day sitting and talking to people who have come, welcoming those who have come. And we talked to a lot of women in particular who have come really from all around the country because they feel something with Cindy Sheehan and they feel they wanted to be here, Wolf.

BLITZER: Anderson, tell our viewers what you have on tap for tonight on ANDERSON COOPER 360, 7:00 p.m. Eastern?

COOPER: We're going to be live out of here in Crawford but we're really focusing on the debate going around the country in living rooms, in homes, in towns -- people for and against the war. People wanting the U.S. to pull their troops out of Iraq right now. People who want the troops to remain there. We're going to be talking to people on all sides of the issue. We'll talk to Cindy Sheehan, as well. And we'll also talk to other mothers who feel differently than she does. It should be a very interesting hour, Wolf.

BLITZER: Anderson, we'll be watching 7:00 p.m. Eastern. ANDERSON COOPER 360.

Coming up in THE SITUATION ROOM, all the attention that Cindy Sheehan is getting, is it hurting the president politically? We'll get some expert opinion in our "Strategy Session".

Plus, a major U.S. airline making some significant changes. How will that affect all of us? The story when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back. CNN's Zain Verjee standing by at the CNN Center for a quick look at other stories making news right now. Zain?

ZAIN VERJEE, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, gruesome and chilling testimony in Wichita, Kansas, at the sentencing hearing for BTK killer Dennis Rader. Law enforcement officials are testifying about his confession to binding, torturing and killing 10 people, including two children, over 17 years. The judge trying to determine whether Rader will serve his sentences concurrently or consecutively.

Tension and high emotion in Gaza where the Israeli military and police are appealing to Jewish settlers to leave. There's been some resistance. Officials attribute much of it to teenage outsiders who have infiltrated the settlements. Authorities say they've cleared about half the settlements so far.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is condemning the shooting of three Palestinians in the West Bank, police say killed by a Jewish settler who normally shuttles workers to and from a West Bank settlement. Police say the man grabbed a gun from a guard then shot the two men. He was about to drive home, then went to an industrial area, opened fire on another group of workers, killing a third man.

Changes at U.S. Airways as it prepares to merge with America West airlines. To coordinate policies, U.S. Airways says it will no longer allow children under 14 to travel unaccompanied except on nonstop flights. The airline says it will also stop accepting animals as checked baggage or cargo, although most existing reservations will be honored.

Wolf?

BLITZER: Zain, thanks very much. We'll be checking back with you.

When the spotlight is on Crawford, Texas, it's almost -- almost clear that the Cindy Sheehan story will not be going away. We're going to get more on that.

But only a few moments ago, we received word from -- that the American Bar Association has given its official rating of the Supreme Court nominee John Roberts, the American Bar Association giving him a "well qualified" rating. That is the highest rating for a potential Supreme Court justice. So let's talk a little bit about that in our "Strategy Session".

Paul Begala, our Democratic strategist, Bay Buchanan, our Republican strategist, joining us now.

Paul, doesn't get any better than that, the American Bar Association saying he's well qualified.

PAUL BEGALA, FORMER CLINTON ADVISER: Well, there's no doubt. I don't think anybody should be surprised by that. It's news from nowhere, certainly welcome for the Bush White House. The president picked Judge Roberts because he hopes there's not the sort of paper trail that can pin him down on non-qualification issues, on ideological issues.

This week we got word when he was an aide in the Reagan White House, he described equal pay for women as a radical concept. That's the sort of thing that's going to hang him up, not qualifications.

BLITZER: The Democrats now, at least some of the more liberal Democrats in the Senate, including Senator Kennedy, Senator Leahy, members of the Judiciary Committee, are coming out and saying this is not going to move forward automatically, Leahy putting out a statement only yesterday following that "Washington Post" story that it was a slam-dunk for Judge Roberts.

"Those papers that we have received paint a picture of John Roberts as an eager and aggressive advocate of policies that are deeply tinged with the ideology of the far right wing of his party ... Roberts expressed views that were among the most radical being offered by a cadre intent on reversing decades of policies on civil rights, voting rights, women's rights, privacy and access to justice."

What is the strategy that the Democrats have in dealing with this, because it seems to be all over the place?

BAY BUCHANAN, PRESIDENT, AMERICAN CAUSE: It is -- for good reason. They're kind of in a difficult situation here as I see it. They've been worked over by the women. The feminists want a battle. They want a battle. They recognize that this fellow John Roberts is going to more than likely be voting against their issue.

And more importantly, they want a battle because if they make enough stink, possibly the second nomination will be held up if he, too, shares that view.

But the problem with Democrats is they've got a couple of cards they're holding for next year's election. Iraq is going their way, the economy, jobs issue, even immigration is moving against Bush and towards the Democrats.

So what do they do? They could possibly, if they screw this up, this Roberts nomination, hand the Republicans something to work them over.

Most of the Democrats are trying to say, look, he's going to get nominated. He's going through, all right? So let's not -- let's ask tough questions, but let's not look like we're kind of radical and we're kind of...

BLITZER: Is there a possibility Democrats could overplay this issue and it could be counterproductive from the Democratic perspective?

PAUL BEGALA, FORMER CLINTON ADVISER: Absolutely. That's why I think Bay's got it right. I think that that's the Democratic strategy is it's not -- first off, there have been no personal attacks against the guy which we've seen in the past from both parties against a judicial nomination...

BLITZER: Well, there have been some questions asked about, you know, the role of his religion -- he's a Catholic -- in his own legal stance...

BEGALA: Right. Justice Scalia has lectured on that.

BLITZER: Questions raised about adopting his two kids...

BEGALA: Not by Democrats. That was by the media.

BLITZER: Right. Well, you say there were no questions, but there...

BEGALA: The Democrats have not made any personal attacks. Now, some people have asked, what would you do if your religion conflicts with your duty under the Constitution?

Justice Scalia, a Catholic, a graduate of Georgetown University, came back to his alma mater and gave a fascinating lecture about that very topic. That's a legitimate thing as a Catholic for Catholic jurists, I think, to debate and discuss. And it's an interesting topic no matter what.

But what the Democrats are trying to do is, I think, take the focus off of some of the more divisive issues of gay rights and abortion, and put it onto some of the really more extreme positions he took in the Reagan White House like against equal pay, like being against affirmative action, like being very contemptuous of civil rights and of the Voting Rights Act. These are some pretty extreme positions he took in the '80s.

BLITZER: All right. Let's move on, talk about Cindy Sheehan. Talk a little bit about what the conservative strategy should be in dealing with this problem, because the president faces a dilemma he perhaps could have resolved a couple of weeks ago or 10 days ago or whatever, but decided not to meet with her.

BUCHANAN: He did. And, initially I thought he should. But to be quite honest, now that I see that and learned that she came into town with an "Impeachment Tour" written on the side of her bus and she's calling the president the murderer of her son, one does tend to think that maybe he should not have done this.

But the key strategy now is the president and White House can do nothing. They cannot attack Cindy Sheehan. And I don't believe they can meet with her at this time. They can't say anything bad. They can't even leak stuff about her because she has really sacrificed, given the greatest sacrifice there is, the life of her son, for this policy. They back off.

So who has to step in and do the battle for the White House? It's the conservatives, the activists out there have to speak up. And that's who has to take this battle right to the media and to the liberals who are really using her to hurt the president.

BLITZER: Do you think she's going too far in politicizing her own personal tragedy?

BEGALA: No. She has a perfect right. She has absolute moral authority. She is a Gold Star mother. She gave her son's life for her country. And she is the most position -- most pristine position to speak about these things.

I think the conservative activists that Bay talked about are overplaying this in a terrible way. They could be having a legitimate debate over America's role in Iraq. Some people think we should do more, some less. It's an honest debate. Instead, they're attacking her personally.

Rush Limbaugh, who is very close personally to George W. Bush and very close to the White House, has gone on his radio show and alleged that she's making this up. He said, oh, she's just like the guy who forged documents allegedly about President Bush in the National Guard. That's not true. She's not making this up. Her son actually died.

BLITZER: Making what up?

BEGALA: You've got to ask Rush. He's suggesting that she's making it up that her son died. They're attacking her personally instead of attacking her position on the war. You cannot ever win attacking a Gold Star mother personally.

BUCHANAN: I agree. You can't attack her personally, but I do think it's important to get the facts out. I mean, she came there. She's changed her position entirely since her son died. Immediately afterwards, talking and praising the president. Now she's looking for reasons to expose him and to hurt him. That's her game. I feel terribly.

When I look at her, I feel like a mother. I feel like, my gosh, there's a woman trying to fill that void and she'll having really trouble doing it. But now I think that's the unfortunate thing. And the media and the anti-war movement is stepping in there and making the most of this. Well, when they go home and the cameras leave, she's going to be still standing there with that hole still inside. And that's where it's going to be difficult.

BLITZER: It's a difficult issue all around. Thanks very much, Bay Buchanan, Paul Begala, as usual in our "Strategy Session."

He's a popular Democratic governor in a red state and he may be thinking about running for the White House. So what is Mike Easley's secret? A popular TV cartoon show may have something to do with it. That story next in our "Culture Wars" segment.

Plus, our question this hour -- should parents who lost sons or daughters in Iraq be able to influence U.S. war policy? Jack Cafferty, checking your answers. He's standing by.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Check this out. Some of the hot shots coming in from The Associated Press, pictures likely to be in your newspaper tomorrow. That's Tiger Woods that we saw there.

Also an honor guard over at Arlington National Cemetery, U.S. military personnel being laid to rest. Our deepest condolences.

In our "Culture Wars" this Wednesday, cartoon politics. Officials have been known to criticize animated shows. The first President Bush slammed "The Simpsons." But as our senior political analyst Bill Schneider now reports, a top Democrat is trying to use a popular cartoon to his advantage.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BILL SCHNEIDER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST (voice-over): Mike Easley is a politician. Hank Hill is a cartoon character. Believe it or not, Hank Hill has been one of Mike Easley's secret weapons. Easley, a Democrat, has been elected governor of North Carolina twice.

GOV. MIKE EASLEY (D), NORTH CAROLINA: And I will take your hopes, your dreams, your ambitions and your aspirations, and I will embrace them as my own.

SCHNEIDER: According to the "New York Times Magazine," Easley is embracing fans of this cartoon, "King of the Hill" which is heading into its tenth season on Fox.

Easley says he's always thinking about how he can sell his ideas to people like the Hills, a middle-class Texas cartoon family.

Mike Judge created "King of the Hill" more or less in his own image.

MIKE JUDGE, CREATOR, "KING OF THE HILL": People like me basically...

SCHNEIDER: Which he characterizes as...

JUDGE: An un-hip middle American family and what they're up against in a modern world.

SCHNEIDER: Viewers don't watch "King of the Hill" because of its political agenda. The show really doesn't have one. But it does identify with the characters' everyday problems like when Hank tries to shop at Mega Lo Mart.

HANK HILL, ANIMATED CHARACTER: Do you know where I can find four D batteries for my flashlight?

STORE ATTENDANT: Aisle 30, I think.

H. HILL: This is aisle 30.

STORE ATTENDANT: Fifteen, three!

SCHNEIDER: What's the secret of "King of the "Hill"'s success?

JUDGE: It's not condescending.

SCHNEIDER: Exactly what Governor Easley's pollster found.

FRED YANG, DEMOCRATIC POLLSTER: People aren't made to feel stupid in the show for holding a view, or thinking about a certain way.

SCHNEIDER: Yang says Democrats need to reconnect with "King of the Hill" voters by doing just that, not talking down to them.

YANG: They care about jobs. They care about education. They care about the environment. It just seems to me that we've gotten away from telling them why this matters to them, and why we matter to them and why they matter to us.

SCHNEIDER: Governor Easley seems to have figured that out by watching Hank Hill.

Bill Schneider, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Coming up, Tony Blair's big break. The British prime minister's vacation plans may be raising even more eyebrows than President Bush's summer stay at the ranch. We'll tell you why.

Also ahead, the Jimi Hendrix experience. Revelations about the rock star 35 years after his death. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: You're in THE SITUATION ROOM, where video and reports from around the world are coming in, in real time.

We're checking out this right now. This is Dennis Rader sitting in the courtroom. This is the sentencing phase. He's obviously going to be sentenced to a long time. They're expecting to hear from him tomorrow. We'll see if he does. Meanwhile, victims, their families are speaking out right now before the judge.

Other stories we're following. On a much, much lighter note.

High-powered summer breaks on our political radar. President Bush has been getting heat for spending almost five weeks at his Texas ranch even if it is a so-called working vacation. He just might envy his pal Tony Blair who's getting to spend his vacation out of the spotlight.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Absolutely.

BLITZER (voice-over): President Bush is enjoying some downtime at the ranch this week -- opportunities for the bike riding and brush clearing he loves. But he knows he can't afford to be out of the spotlight too long. That's why he's been meeting with top officials, taking side trips to sign legislation and promote policy. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: President George W. Bush.

BLITZER: Staying busy and staying visible. It's a far cry from Tony Blair's summer break. His aides won't even say where exactly the British prime minister is, when he left, or when he's coming back. They cite security concerns.

But this is nothing new in Britain. Europeans tend to take their vacations seriously, especially when compared to many workaholic Americans. And no doubt, Blair is enjoying kicking back without a pack of reporters trailing his every move and asking questions like those journalists back in Crawford.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're referring to Mrs. Sheehan here, I think.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: And this summer with the anti-war protests and efforts to show he's working as well as vacationing, President Bush may wish he could join Mr. Blair at an undisclosed location. Not happening for an American president.

Coming up here in THE SITUATION ROOM, the families of troops in Iraq. Should those who have lost loved ones influence U.S. government policy? Your answers in Jack Cafferty coming up.

And later, tears of trauma in Gaza. We'll have a live report on the Israeli pullout and the consequences.

Plus, could the United States have done something about Osama bin Laden before 9/11? Some new information, some declassified documents coming out of the State Department. Andrea Koppel standing by with that.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Let's find out what you think about our "Question of the Hour". CNN's Jack Cafferty in New York with the "Cafferty File". Jack?

CAFFERTY: Thanks, Wolf. Cindy Sheehan is not the only parent speaking out these days on the war in Iraq. Yesterday, the Ohio parents of a Marine who was killed in Iraq, urged President Bush to either send more troops to that conflict or pull out of Iraq all together.

The question this hour, should parents who lost sons or daughters in Iraq be able to influence U.S. war policy?

David in Washington State writes, "The answer is yes. People who have lost a child in the war have the right to influence policy. They have paid a price that goes far beyond taxes and deserve that their voice be heard."

Mark in Ridgecrest, California, "I'm a veteran. I believe that the parents of our countrymen lost in action should have the biggest voice. How many Senators and Congressman have their sons and daughters in Iraq? President Bush should listen to all parents of our soldiers in Iraq."

Matt in Mount Juliet, Tennessee writes, "Absolutely not. Parents should not be able to influence policy. They are acting out of emotion. We elected a president to be strong. And that's exactly what he's doing by staying the course in Iraq. We are safer because of our troops in Iraq."

And Ray in Ithaca, New York, writes, "Yes. Better them than huge corporations with lucrative contracts."

Wolf?

BLITZER: Some strongly held views. You have strongly held views on this too, Jack?

CAFFERTY: I suppose. We all have an opportunity to influence policy on Election Day. And I don't know that parents, considering it's a volunteer military, parents of soldiers who were lost in the conflict should have any louder or more influential voice than any of the rest of us, although it's tough not to be sympathetic because of the loss that they have suffered. I've got four kids. And, you know, I don't know how you deal with the loss of a child.

BLITZER: Yeah, I know. That's something none of us ever wants to think about. Thanks very much, Jack. We'll get back to you next hour. That's coming up pretty soon.

Also come up, a bombshell on the blogs. Could suicide bomber Mohamed Atta have been caught before that hijacking on 9/11? It's one of the hot topics we're watching online.

More U.S. troops getting marching orders to head over to Iraq. We'll tell you who's going and when.

And a rock legend's life and death becoming even more interesting. Some things you may not have known about Jimi Hendrix.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Let's get more on that developing story out of Ohio. The governor there facing criminal charges for failing to report golf outings he didn't pay for. Bloggers already pouncing on that story.

Our Internet reporters Jacki Schechner and Abbi Tatton are joining us now to take us "Inside the Blogs". Jacki?

JACKI SCHECHNER, CNN INTERNET CORRESPONDENT: Well Wolf, this is a story they have been following online for quite some time. A lot of liberal bloggers have been referring to local Ohio newspaper reports on this story, guys like TalkingPointsMemo.com, MightyD.com, SwingStateProject.com. But the early reaction right now is from local Ohio bloggers.

We took a look at guys like this, Cincinnati blog, over to Mark Dan, who is actually an Ohio state senator who's blogging, who turns around and says this is a very sad day for the state of Ohio. What is he calling for now? Mark Dan says now it's time for Taft to come clean, and let's wipe out the culture of corruption in Ohio and the Republican Party once and for all. He, by the way, is a Democrat.

As far as other Democrats blogging in Ohio, this is the Modern Esquire. He's a recent law school grad. He's calling for impeachment, saying nothing purges the soul like a good impeachment. Pointing out Taft, a liability for the Republicans in 2006.

One more to show you, hypothetically speaking, they say that the likelihood of an impeachment as likely as the Dems winning a marathon, but look more for a resignation than an impeachment.

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET CORRESPONDENT: So, that story is big already -- just developing there in the liberal blogs.

One story we've been following all day -- in fact, for the last week -- in some of the more conservative blogs is this Able Danger story.

We heard Lieutenant Colonel Anthony Shaffer talking about it earlier today, saying information that his group had on Mohamed Atta that never made it into the 9/11 Commission report.

Now, before Shaffer came along and gave his name last night, people were speculating whether this report was going to go anywhere, whether it was indeed valid. Power Line Blog, in the absence of a name, they were saying just a few days ago, good reasons not to trust this source, because he's not going public. We now know that he has.

Intel Dump also last week. This is a military blog started by a former U.S. Army officer. They were speculating, too. A lot of people weighing in on this one saying some of the things contained in this information doesn't pass the smell test.

Now, what was interesting about this post right here on this blog was the comment section. On blogs, people can go in and comment on the posts, what's being talked about and react to it. One very interesting comment here from Anon -- Anonymous there. "OK, smart guys with your smell tests, it said," and went on to say, "let me clear up a few things about the Able Danger nightmare."

Well, it turns out this anonymous poster on this site was none other than Lieutenant Colonel Anthony Shaffer himself.

SCHECHNER: We spoke to him about this. He says he has never blogged before. He has never posted a comment on a blog before. He doesn't intend to do it again. But what he did say was that friends were saying you've got to go online and check out what people are saying about this.

So, he Googled, I assume, himself or Able Danger -- he didn't say exactly what -- and found this blog and decided to clear some things up himself. So again, he doesn't plan on blogging again any time soon or commenting any time soon, but felt the need to clear up rumors he thought were spreading online or some misinformation.

As far as how the conservative blogs are reacting right now, we are seeing a lot more on the conservative side than we are on the liberal side right now. Although Shaffer himself says he doesn't think this is a partisan issue, more so a national security issue.

But the way that they're commenting are guys like Austin Bay Blog, saying now it's time for President Bush to address this, time for him to come out and say something. He says, even come out and say something like the statements require further investigation. Let's put some power of the president behind it.

Another one commenting -- this is Tom McGuire at JustOneMinute.typepad.com. And basically what he says now is, let's get this into the Senate. Let's put some people under oath. Let's really find out what's going on here.

So, really trying to put this story forward and figure out who's telling the truth and where this information is coming from and why we're finding out about it now.

BLITZER: All right. We heard just now from Lieutenant Colonel Shaffer on this program. Tomorrow, we'll hear from 9/11 Commissioner Tim Roemer. He's got a different perspective, presumably, as well.

Jackie and Abbi, thanks very much.

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