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THE SITUATION ROOM

D.C. Chatters Over Miers Withdrawal & Possible Pending Indictments

Aired October 27, 2005 - 16:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZTER, CNN ANCHOR: It's 4:00 p.m. here in Washington. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM, where new pictures and information from around the world are arriving all the time.
Happening now, the who-will-replace-Harriet-Miers guessing game. Just hours after she pulled her Supreme Court nomination, the shockwaves may be easing but the speculation is intensifying.

Also this hour, the political fallout for the president and the pressure he faces right now. Did the White House learn lessons from the Miers mess that will make the next nomination go smoothly?

And the CIA leak may be set to burst. Will the special prosecutor announce indictments against top administration aides? We should know the answer by this time tomorrow.

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

It wasn't the announcement that all of Washington was waiting for. Instead of possible word of indictments, we got word of a withdrawal. Harriet Miers has pulled the plug on her nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court after nearly a month under fire.

CNN's Elaine Quijano is over at the White House. She's joining us live with more on what happened and what happens now. Elaine?

ELAINE QUIJANO, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Good afternoon to you, Wolf. Well, White House officials are insisting that the Harriet Miers withdrawal boiled down to confidential documents and the issue of executive privilege. And in fact, we heard President Bush talk about this -- foreshadow this just a little bit earlier this week, drawing, as he called it, a red line -- the president referring there to not wanting to reveal confidential documents, confidential paperwork that took place from Harriet Miers' service as White House counsel.

Now in fact that was the very issue that Miers herself raised in her withdrawal to President Bush -- the letter reading -- quote -- "while I believe that my lengthy career provides sufficient evidence for consideration of my nomination, I am convinced the efforts to obtain executive branch materials and information will continue".

And President Bush echoing himself that in his own statement, saying: "Harriet Miers' decision demonstrates her deep respect for this essential aspect of the constitutional separation of powers and confirms my deep respect and admiration for her. I am grateful for Harriet Miers' friendship and devotion to our country. And I am honored that she will continue to serve our nation as White House counsel."

Now at the same time, though, White House aides concede privately that there were some missteps in the rollout of Harriet Miers' nomination. They certainly did not anticipate the amount of pushback that they received, the intense criticism not from Democrats but from people within the president's own party, conservatives who felt that Harriet Miers lacked the credentials to be on the Supreme Court.

There were also concerns about how Harriet Miers might perform at the Senate Judiciary Committee hearings if she made it that far because of the complex constitutional questions involved. One senior Bush aide saying it would have been -- quote -- "an intractable scenario on live TV."

Now as for what happens next, President Bush says that he will put forth a new nominee in a timely manner. But no word, Wolf, on just how quickly the president intends to move.

Wolf.

BLITZER: She will be involved I assume in the vetting process, something she was not necessarily involved with in vetting herself for this nomination.

QUIJANO: That's exactly right. A somewhat awkward position, but Harriet Miers, we understand, will stay on as White House counsel and be intimately involved in the details of that vetting process which she is now familiar with from the other side. But certainly an awkward position to be in. She will stay on as White House counsel.

Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Elaine Quijano, over at the White House. The president's -- quote -- "reluctant" acceptance of the Miers withdrawal is the postscript to 24 days of praising his nominee and defending her against critics.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This morning, I'm proud to announce that I am nominating Harriet Ellan Miers to serve as associate justice of the Supreme Court.

I don't want to put somebody on the bench who's this way today and changes. That's not what I'm interested in. I'm interested in finding somebody who shares my philosophy today and will have that same philosophy 20 years from now.

Part of Harriet Miers' life is her religion. Part of it has to do with the fact that she was a pioneer woman and a trailblazer in the law in Texas.

The person I pick to take Sandra Day O'Connor's place is not only a person of high character and of integrity, but a person who can get the job done. Harriet Miers is a uniquely qualified person to serve on the bench.

Out of this will come a clear picture of a competent, strong, capable woman who shares the same judicial philosophy that I share.

They've asked for paperwork about the decision-making process, what her recommendations were. And that would breach very important confidentiality. And it's a red line I'm not willing to cross.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: And it's now a line the president won't have to cross, at least on behalf Harriet Miers now that she's out as his high court nominee.

Reaction to Miers' withdrawal has been fast and furious over on Capitol Hill. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle now are looking ahead to a likely showdown over the president's next nominee.

Let's check in with our congressional correspondent, Ed Henry. They came in all those press releases, all the reaction very, very quickly, Ed.

ED HENRY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. And you know, the White House has been saying that this was Harriet Miers' decision, but it came after a series of high profile warnings from Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist. He told me a short while ago, in fact, it started yesterday morning in a face-to-face meeting with the president in which Senator Frist warned him that it was not looking good.

Senator Frist adding that he gave the White House updates throughout the day, that culminating after a Republican dinner just off the Senate floor last night among the Republican leadership, Frist called over to the White House chief of staff, Andy Card, and suggested things were clearly not going well.

At the end of all that, clearly people knew that Harriet Miers was in trouble, but even Senator John Cornyn, one of her top allies here on the Hill, says that he found out from a CNN e-mail alert this morning. He had no clue that she had actually told the president last night that she was pulling out.

Also a lot of confusion here on the hill as you mentioned. Among that reaction about what happens next, about the battle ahead, so I put together some of the sound to give you a flavor of what people are saying.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SEN. JOHN CORNYN (R-TX), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: I think this is unfortunate, but Harriet Miers is -- I think always knew that this was not about her. And she always believed it was about serving in a position of public trust and the Supreme Court and the presidency. And she didn't want the story, which was increasingly about her, to do any harm or damage to either of those institutions. SEN. TED KENNEDY (D-MA), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: President Bush has an opportunity now to unite the country. In choosing the next nominee, he should listen to all Americans, not just the far right. If he does, we can have a smooth and dignified confirmation process and avoid the kind of harsh battle that the extremists on the right seem bent on provoking.

SEN. ARLEN SPECTER (R-PA), CHAIRMAN, JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: Whether she would have been confirmed remains an open question. But at least she would have had the major voice in determining her own fate.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

HENRY: It's also an open question just how quickly the president will now act. A lot of confusion up here whether he will move quickly, whether or not he might take a breath and take a few weeks to think about this before he picks a replacement for Harriet Miers. But the bottom line, bipartisan agreement right now that it's very likely the president is not going to get anyone confirmed until at least early next year.

Wolf.

BLITZER: Well, you heard John Cornyn say on this program just a little while ago that he thought it was going to be a matter of days before the president comes up with a name. We'll see if that happens. Thanks very much, Ed Henry, reporting for us.

Miers' supporters and critics would probably agree on this much: As a Supreme Court nominee, she was no John Roberts.

Let's bring in our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider. Bill?

WILLIAM SCHEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Wolf, Harriet Miers and John Roberts, two Supreme Court nominees, two different outcomes. What have we learned?

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER (voice-over): Credentials, that's the trump card in a Supreme Court confirmation process. John Roberts had impeccable credentials, conservatives who were a little uneasy because...

(AUDIO GAP)

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER: Well, conservatives were a little uneasy about John Roberts, but in the end they felt that he was an intellectual superstar, conservative activists told me. Many liberals who were also uneasy over Roberts found it difficult to oppose him. And you'll recall half the Democrats in the Senate voted to confirm Roberts.

Harriet Miers did not have those kinds of intellectual credential, particularly as a constitutional authority. Let's continue with the tape.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER (voice-over): John Roberts had impeccable credentials. Conservatives who were a little uneasy because they were not sure of Roberts' views found it difficult to oppose him.

TOM ROESER, WLS RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: Conservatives feel that John Roberts is at this point anyway an intellectual superstar.

SCHNEIDER: Many liberals who were also uneasy about Roberts' views also found it difficult to oppose him. Half the Democrats in the Senate voted to confirm him.

SEN. PATRICK LEAHY (D-VT), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: Judge Roberts is a man of integrity.

SEN. RUSS FEINGOLD (D-WI), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: Judge Roberts has the legal skills, the intellect, and the character to be a good chief justice.

SCHNEIDER: Harriet Miers did not have impressive credentials as a constitutional authority. The chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee said she needed a crash course in constitutional law. So when President Bush asked conservatives to trust him on Miers, they balked.

ROESER: You've got to have more than that for the Supreme Court because the Supreme Court has to have firepower, intellectual firepower.

SCHNEIDER: Democrats who were suspicious of someone so close to Bush had no reason to defend Miers.

SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MINORITY LEADER: The only voices heard in this process were the far right.

SCHNEIDER: Roberts was called an establishment conservative -- meaning not radical -- therefore, much easier to confirm.

Now that President Bush gets a do-over, he has to choose someone who unites the Republican Party, Roberts did. Every Senate Republican voted to confirm him. Miers split the GOP and threw Bush's conservative base into an uproar at the very moment when the president needs them most.

Is there another John Roberts out there? Preferably a female or minority John Roberts?

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER: President Bush also needs to act quickly to show the White House is not in disarray, and to change the subject from what could be some bad news coming from the special prosecutor.

Wolf. BLITZER: Bill Schneider, thanks very much. We're going to pick up that thought right now. This day feels like it's been a long day for the Bush White House. Tomorrow may not be any better. That's when we expect to get word on the outcome of the CIA leak investigation and whether top administration officials will be indicted.

Our national correspondent Bob Franken covering the story for us, he is joining us now live. Bob?

BOB FRANKEN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: And, Wolf, probably the only thing worse than expecting bad news is not knowing what to expect.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

FRANKEN (voice-over): Patrick Fitzgerald can keep a secret. As the White House braces for what could be the second day in a row of terrible news, the special prosecutor has given no indication, at least publicly, what his intentions are; more importantly, what the grand jury's intentions are as it holds its last scheduled session on Friday.

The federal rules of criminal procedures allow for extensions. There has already been one. But announcements are expected by Friday's end, decisions made, if they haven't been already, on whether indictments will be handed up or not; and if so, against whom.

The most publicly discussed names include Karl Rove, the president's chief political adviser since the beginning of the president's political career. The grand jury has heard testimony about his conversations with reporters, around the time that Valerie Plame was identified as an undercover CIA operative. Plame is the wife of administration critic Joe Wilson, and this investigation began amid charges that the leaks about her were illegal.

Another focus is the vice president's chief of staff, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, whose conversations with reporters have also been the subject of grand jury testimony.

Fitzgerald met with the presiding judge Wednesday following his presentation of evidence to the grand jury according to sources knowledgeable about the investigation.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

FRANKEN: Tomorrow, the announcement expected on a case that's focused on unhappy possibilities for an administration that certainly needs bad news, Wolf, even less than usual.

BLITZER: What's the expectation, Bob? How do they make that announcement? Do they release a piece of paper? Does he go out and make a statement? What's the expectation?

FRANKEN: Well, we've been clamoring to find out. We know do that Fitzgerald on occasion will hold a news availability to describe what action has been taken. So we are hoping and expecting, as a matter of fact, that that's what will happen tomorrow.

BLITZER: All right. We'll be all over the story. Thanks very much. Bob Franken will be all over it tomorrow, as well. And stay with CNN tomorrow for the latest word on that CIA leak investigation.

Coming up here in THE SITUATION ROOM, one failed Supreme Court nominee reviews another. The conservative icon Robert Bork came out swinging against Harriet Miers. What is he saying now that she says she's out of the mix? We'll speak with Judge Bork.

Also ahead, a conservative who sounded supportive of Miers suddenly changes his tune. We're getting a read on all the reaction from the right.

Also ahead as well, great expectations and disappointments, when a hurricane hits. Can politicians deliver when disaster strikes?

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: A lot of happy people in Chicago today, that's because of the Chicago White Sox. Look at this, we're getting some live pictures coming into CNN right now, this is an American Airlines jetliner, courtesy of our affiliate WLS in Chicago. That's a Chicago White Sox flag over in the front of this plane, a couple of them, in fact, bringing the White Sox back to Chicago.

There's a lot of excited White Sox fans. They've been waiting a long, long time for this moment. We're going to watch the scene. Bring some happy moments to White Sox fans. Not such happy moments to Astros fans.

We've kept you up-to-date all week on the physical damage Hurricane Wilma inflicted on South Florida. Well, it now turns out that Wilma may be taking a political toll, as well.

Let's bring in our Brian Todd, he's picking up that part of the story. Brian?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, it seems these days every hurricane is politicized before and after it hits. And even with his experience to fall back on, Florida's governor cannot escape the fallout.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TODD (voice-over): In the Sunshine State, millions still without power or patience for their politicians.

MARCIA JENKINS, OAKLAND PARK, FLORIDA, RESIDENT: And there was no ice to be given or water.

TODD: Governor Jeb Bush, well-graded for performances in hurricanes past, finds himself caught in the game of storm politics, the expectations versus reality edition. Here's what the governor said before Wilma.

GOV. JEB BUSH (R), FLORIDA: We have pre-staged ice and water in trucks that we control. If Wal-Mart can do it, why can't the government do it, is kind of the question that I've been asking for the last six months. And in fact, we can.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We want to have some water!

TODD: Here's what he said after Wilma, addressing complaints that the Federal Emergency Management Agency failed again to deliver relief supplies on time.

J. BUSH: And if anybody wants to blame anybody, let them blame me, don't blame FEMA. This is our responsibility and we are doing a good job.

TODD: But with gas stations unable to pump because of power outages, and projections by utility companies that some of the more populous areas of South Florida won't get power back for nearly a month, are we confronting another Katrina-style political failure?

JANE BULLOCK, FMR. FEMA CHIEF OF STAFF: The governor said that there was water and food and ice pre-positioned and it would be ready to go. Then that got recanted and we see long lines of people. We see lines of seniors standing, waiting for food. FEMA is broken. The people that will run disasters, that know how to run disasters, are not in charge.

TODD: Contacted by CNN, an official in Governor Bush's office admitted distribution of food and water didn't go as well as expected in the first 24 hours after Wilma. But she said things have gotten better since then and will continue to improve.

A FEMA official says historically it's considered a success if FEMA is on the ground and operating within 72 hours of a hurricane. And after Wilma, FEMA was there within 24 hours.

But political experts tell us the post-Katrina expectations of political leaders may be too far-reaching, that politicians sometimes encourage expectations by promising too much before and after a storm. But in reality...

THOMAS MANN, BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: I think that the state and the feds are in the short term simply unable to restore power. It's going to be a period of adjustment and I think patience is probably called for.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: Another political expert says Jeb Bush will likely ride out this political storm and maintain his popularity. Other leader who may suffer from post-Wilma fallout, incumbents running soon for reelection in hurricane-hit states.

Wolf.

BLITZER: Brian Todd reporting for us, thanks, Brian, very much.

Still ahead, on the road, conservatives and liberals are lighting up the dials, talking about the Harriet Miers' withdrawal. Coming up, we'll tell you what many of them are saying.

And former Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork, familiar with contentious nomination battles, including his own. I'll talk with him and ask for his thoughts on this day of Harriet Miers' withdrawal.

And take a look at this live picture coming out of Chicago. A lot of happy, very happy Chicago White Sox fans. The Chicago team getting off the plane. The American Airlines plane bringing them back from Houston where they won, they took a clean sweep, four straight games. Chicago White Sox, the World Series champions. There they are. A lot of happy people in Chicago.

We'll take a quick break, we'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: These days here in Washington, there's enough courtroom suspense to fill all the "Law & Order" spin-offs and plenty of political drama for the "West Wing," "Commander In Chief," TV series, a lot more.

Let's talk about the yanking of Harriet Miers' nomination and the soon-to-end CIA leak investigation. Our senior legal analyst, Jeff Toobin, is with us, along with our senior analyst, Jeff Greenfield.

Jeff, what a day on the eve of yet another day tomorrow. Presumably we're all going to be very busy tomorrow, as well. What goes through your mind?

JEFF GREENFIELD, CNN SENIOR ANALYST: Well, if I'm the Jeff...

(LAUGTHER)

(CROSSTALK)

GREENFIELD: ... I'll take that.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: He's the senior Jeff.

GREENFIELD: We've got an interesting dilemma here, but we'll do it that way. He'll be Jeffrey.

I think those two things are connected. I don't think it's cynical to say that the White House is bracing for some potentially very bad news tomorrow. That history says that when a president is engaged in real difficulty, the key to survival is to retain your core supporters.

President Bush had alienated them as nothing else in his five years with the nomination of Harriet Miers. And I think that it's a perfectly understandable reaction to say we've got to lance this boil before these storm waters of indictments, potential indictments hit. And that's where I think the two are linked.

I think, as I said to you before, Wolf, if you believe this was just about executive privilege, I've got a couple of bridges in Alaska I'll sell you.

BLITZER: So you think the timing of the announcement today was deliberate before tomorrow's potential indictments?

GREENFIELD: Yes. I'm sure this was building to a head. Confirmation hearings scheduled to start November 7, a couple of Republican senators I think as late as yesterday indicated their opposition. I'm sure they took a look at the terrain and said things are not getting better, they are getting worse. But I have to think that they wanted the week to end with some story that would give their base heart rather than just another piece of bad news if that news comes tomorrow.

BLITZER: Jeff Toobin, as you've been reporting and pointing out, there are some important Supreme Court decisions that have to be made in the coming weeks and months. Practically speaking, there's not going to be a replacement for Sandra Day O'Connor for a few months now. That whole schedule has been delayed. What does it mean?

TOOBIN: Well, in -- specifically what it means is on the Supreme Court, no vote by a justice counts and until the decision is rendered. So the fact that Sandra Day O'Connor sat and heard arguments in cases, as she has since the first Monday in October, has no significance in terms of voting. But she's going to be there it looks like at least until the end of the year.

And certainly the Supreme Court will render some decisions by then, including on some important cases possibly like the Oregon assisted suicide case in which they have already heard argument. Most importantly, on November 30th, you have the court's first abortion- related case in five years, a case involving the parental notification law in New Hampshire.

It is possible now that Sandra Day O'Connor, who is now a reliable pro-choice vote, may vote in that case because that decision may come out sometime in early 2006.

BLITZER: So presumably the Democrats and the Republicans who support abortion rights for women are going to try to drag this out as long as they can.

TOOBIN: Well, I think that's possible. It's hard to think they could drag it out for too long.

BLITZER: Depends on who that name might be. What do you think, Jeff?

GREENFIELD: Well, you know, Wolf, how I feel about predictions, especially when this ultimately comes down to one decision. What I've been trying to figure out, not with a name, is it seems to me that the Bush White House has an interesting dilemma or opportunity. They need to pick somebody credentially conservative enough to say to the base, OK, you made your point about Harriet Miers, here's somebody you can get behind.

But if they go too far in that direction and they risk alienating six or seven Republican relative moderates, that could really put this nomination in trouble and it would make the so-called nuclear option impossible to execute, because you need 50 votes in the Senate to get Cheney to break the tie if they wanted to abolish filibusters.

So there's a needle to be threaded here: get somebody conservative enough so that the base says OK, we've got our champion, we've made our point. But not so far out there that they risk losing the nomination and risk also losing the fight that they want to make to argue to the public, we're on the right side of the issues in terms of the court.

BLITZER: I was looking forward to seeing both of you here in Washington November 7, for the start of these confirmation hearings. I hope you didn't buy non-refundable ticks on your trains or shuttles.

GREENFIELD: Wait a minute, Wolf, are you sure there's going to be a nominee in time for hearings...

BLITZER: Not on November 7, I said I was looking forward. Obviously, that is not happening anymore. Go ahead, guys, enjoy New York while you can, you'll be here in Washington soon enough. Jeff Greenfield and Jeff Toobin.

Our Internet reporter Abbi Tatton is standing by. She's been monitoring the reaction to the Miers withdrawal all day. The blogs on the right are celebrating, at least a lot of them. Abbi, what are you picking up?

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET CORRESPONDENT: A lot of relief and celebration out there, yes, Wolf. What we've been covering here on the conservative side of the blogosphere over the last weeks is the intensity of the reaction against this nominee. And yes, a lot of relief today.

There have been Web sites like this one, withdrawmiers.org, and blogs as well. The Truth Laid Bear, this site was finding out how many over the last few weeks of conservative bloggers were opposing this nominee. Two hundred and eighty was the latest number, versus around 50 that supported Miers.

Those against her, like La Shawn Barber today talking about this "blogswarm" against this nominee -- and certainly this vocal opposition online had been noted -- and the established Republicans which were trying to do something about it.

The Republican National Committee reaching out, Ken Mehlman as chairman, reaching out with conference calls to some of these conservative bloggers. But it was too little too late for some of them. They'd made their mind up. They weren't changing their mind. They felt that President Bush had let them down with this nominee.

Incidentally, at the RNC Web site there, the latest blog post hasn't been updated. They're still touting the qualifications of Miers. We'll look for an update there.

Redstate.org, one of those on the conference call -- lots of bloggers there who were against this nominee. They're now talking about who's next, who are we going to support. And everyone's throwing names out there. There's lots of speculation as to who it will be. But there's a lot of feeling of give us one of these people. We want to mend the rift in the party, we want move forward on this one.

Just one other to mention, the National Review Online, a series of blogs there, many of them against this nomination. Catherine Jean Lopez posting there today, that Bush at least he gets things right on the big issues.

Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Abbi, thank you very much.

Up next here in THE SITUATION ROOM, talk radio is often the place for people to vent their views on politics. With the Harriet Miers withdrawal, you can imagine the dials are turning today. We'll tell what you they're saying.

And where does the White House go from here? We'll discuss options in our "Strategy Session."

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Somewhat rare for the Bush administration to wave a white flag, but the crash and burn of the Harriet Miers nomination is not a unique event in presidential history.

Our national correspondent Bruce Morton is standing by. Bruce?

BRUCE MORTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, there have always been nominees who withdrew or got rejected. But it is harder for presidents now. Just since the 1920's, the Senate has started holding hearings, asking questions and so on.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MORTON: Lyndon Johnson named Abe Fortas to the court, but when Johnson tried to make him chief justice, Republicans rejected and filibustered. Fortas was under fire for questionable speaking fees and for giving the president political advice, which justices weren't supposed to do. Johnson withdrew the nomination.

Richard Nixon wanted to get a southerner on the court. But his first two picks, Clement Haynsworth and Jay Harold Carswell lost. Carswell was memorably defended by one Republican senator who said maybe he was average, but weren't average people entitled to be a justice? The Senate voted no.

But most famous recent rejection was a Ronald Reagan nomination. Robert Bork. He was smart, everyone agreed. But he had opposed part of the 1964 Civil Rights Act as unconstitutional, feeling merchants had a right to refuse to serve blacks or anybody else. He subsequently changed his mind. He also said he would vote to overturn Roe v. Wade, the decision which established a woman's right to an abortion. The Senate voted him down.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The yeas are 42, the nays are 58. The nomination is not confirmed.

MORTON: Haynsworth, Carswell and Bork were all voted down. The most recent nominee to withdraw was law professor Douglas Ginsberg, no relation to the present Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg whom Reagan nominated after Bork was defeated.

But Ginsberg turned out to be an occasional marijuana smoker during his younger years. Nancy Reagan's just say no campaign was under way and the marijuana use raised enough eyebrows that the nomination was never formally submitted to the Senate.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MORTON: Now Harriet Miers done in mainly, not by the president's political opponent, but by his political base.

Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks very much. Bruce Morton with some good perspective.

Robert Bork knows all too well what it's like to be a failed Supreme Court candidate. But he's been highly critical of Harriet Miers, calling her nomination a disaster. Judge Bork is joining us now from McLean, Virginia, just outside Washington. Thanks very much, Judge Bork, for joining us.

Do you consider this a victory, the decision to withdraw her nomination today?

JUDGE ROBERT BORK, FRM. SUPREME COURT NOMINEE: Well, I think it was something that the president made a bad mistake about and he cured the mistake by withdrawing it. I hate to think of it as a victory. I suppose in some sense it is.

But I feel sorry for the lady. She should not have been put in this position. She, I don't think, was qualified. She has many other qualifications for other kinds of jobs. I don't think she was qualified for this one. And I'm sorry to see that she was beaten up so badly. And I feel sorry for her.

BLITZER: Do you think top White House officials, including the president himself, may have been distracted by other problems, whether Iraq or Katrina or a potential indictments? They really didn't pay enough attention to this nomination?

BORK: I think that may be true. And I think also they were looking for somebody who hadn't said much on the relevant topics so that they couldn't be questioned. You know, there are those of us who went up there who had written a great deal, and that turned out to be a real liability. Maybe they were looking for a stealth candidate. But the fact is, her lack of any paper trail, her lack of visible qualifications are what did her in.

BLITZER: Listen to what Senator Ted Kennedy said earlier today here in THE SITUATION ROOM. Listen to this, judge.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KENNEDY: I think Americans are disappointed that a sort of an extreme view by the certain groups in the Republican Party would have this kind of authority and this kind of power. That isn't what the nominating process is about.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: What do you say to Senator Kennedy?

BORK: I'm sick of this business about extreme groups, because what he's talking about are people who believe in reading the Constitution as it was understood by the people who wrote it -- now, not just the details but the principles, the broad principles of the Constitution. And what originalists like myself object to is people who make up new principles, not just adapt the existing principles to new circumstances but make up whole new principles that have no place in the Constitution. He calls that extreme. I call that mainstream.

BLITZER: What about the business that you know, whether or not she was a good nominee or not, she deserved an opportunity to make her case before the Judiciary Committee and have an up and down vote.

BORK: Well, I'm sure she had the -- I'm sure she could have had that opportunity. I think one of the reasons she might have been withdrawn was that so many of the senators who talked to her on a one- on-one basis came away very unimpressed. And I think it began to look as if the hearings would be a humiliating experience for her -- not that people disagreed with her but that she didn't really grasp the constitutional problems she was talking about, or supposed to talk about. And I think it's just as well she was spared that humiliation.

BLITZER: One of the things your supporters deeply admired about you and when you came before the Judiciary Committee for your hearings is that you could have pulled out, you could have walked away earlier but you decided to fight. And you didn't want to give up. Even in the face of a lot of criticism of you in advance of the confirmation hearings, I'm sure you remember those days.

BORK: I do. In fact, I know when I made the decision not to pull out. I knew the votes were there to beat me already. So it wasn't -- I didn't stay in with any hope that the thing was going to turn around. I just decided to stay in and not give them an easy victory.

BLITZER: Is this a vote, as Senator Durbin says, a vote of no confidence in the president, this decision by her to walk away?

BORK: No, well, I don't think it's a vote of no confidence in the president. The president is having problems with his confidence these days with his base particularly. And he's going to have to rethink his approach to a number of issues, not just Supreme Court nominations, but to a number of issues to solidify his base again.

BLITZER: And you think he will do that?

BORK: I hope so, I think he would. He may be distracted by so many things happening over there right now with possible indictments and so forth coming down against top level people. But I hope that he's able to analyze the situation and get himself out of it.

BLITZER: As you know, when you were defeated, your nomination -- there was a verb that was created. Nominees were being "Borked" as you well know. I suspect there are some going to say now, nominees are being "Miered." I don't know if they're saying that yet.

BORK: No, I don't think so. I think Bork has a particular meaning. It's flinging of false accusations. But, that's all right. Having your name go into the language is a form of immortality, like Captain Boycott , Captain Lynch and so forth.

BLITZER: That's a positive attitude. Thanks very much, Judge, for joining us.

BORK: You're welcome.

BLITZER: Still ahead here in THE SITUATION ROOM, from the right and from the left, many found fault with Harriet Miers. But can they agree on the idea of putting another woman on the Supreme Court? We'll check that out.

And with stranded American tourists still struggling to get home from Mexican beach resorts, we'll bring you the story of a couple whose honeymoon turned into a horror story when Hurricane Wilma barged in.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

BLITZER: Now that Harriet Miers has pulled her nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court, conservatives who feel like gloating may be too busy spoiling for the next high court fight.

Our Mary Snow has been listening to the reaction from the right, and some of it is surprising.

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, you'd expect conservatives who put the heat on Harriet Miers to withdraw would be smiling and they are -- praising Miers for knowing it was time to go. But even one of her supposed supporters on the right, James Dobson, now is openly expressing his reservations about Miers.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SNOW: Just days ago, Christian conservative activist James Dobson was defending his tentative backing of Miers and the private reassurances he got about her from the White House. JAMES DOBSON, CHRISTIAN CONSERVATIVE ACTIVIST: What did Karl Rove say to me that I knew on Monday that I couldn't reveal? Well, it's what we all know now, that Harriet Miers is an evangelical Christian, that she is from a very conservative church, which is almost universally pro-life.

SNOW: But now in a statement on Miers withdrawal, Dobson says, in recent days, I have grown increasingly concerned about her conservative credentials.

Dobson cites a 1993 speech in which he says Miers sounded pro- abortion themes. He says based on what he knows now, he would not be able to support Miers' nomination.

Rush Limbaugh says he was disappointed by Miers from day one. On his radio show today, Limbaugh celebrated the conservative clout that helped force Miers out. And he tried to deny Democrats any sense of satisfaction.

RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO HOST: Democrats went out there, got brand new suits and ties, all ready to be on TV last night, proclaiming the death of the Bush administration. They wake up today, they find not only are there no indictments today but Harriet Miers has withdrawn and thecConservative movement has unified fully behind George W. Bush.

SNOW: But with Harriet Miers out, some top conservatives are putting the president on notice.

Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council says Mr. Bush needs to pick someone to replace Miers who doesn't leave anyone guessing about where the nominee stands on judicial philosophy.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SNOW: In statement after statement today, conservative activists are making it clear -- they want the president to choose a nominee they can support, and they don't want Mr. Bush to run away from an ideological fight with Democrats.

Just ahead on THE SITUATION ROOM, picking a new nominee. Where does the White House turn after its Harriet Miers misadventure? We'll look at the possible options for a Supreme Court nomination in our "Strategy Session".

And, stay with us as we go to Florida where the president gets a first-hand look at Wilma's wrath, while residents struggle to find food, fuel and other necessities.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Now that Harriet Miers is out, who might be in? And what's next for the Bush administration? Joining us, CNN political analyst and Democratic strategist Paul Begala, and Republican strategist Rich Galen.

Paul, I know you believe this is a huge, huge loss for the Bush administration but, as Rush Limbaugh does point out, conservatives are now rallying around the president.

PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Right, and that's part of the president's problem is that he now looks weak. He is weak. He is a weakened president. He is at 39 percent and he looks like it. As so as he retreats to his base -- if he does that, if he does what Rush Limbaugh and all the crackpots want and puts up a hardcore right- winger, he looks weak. He looks like he's caving in to the most powerful faction which is out of the mainstream of American politics.

He's in a terrible bind right now.

BLITZER: Do you agree with that, Rich?

RICH GALEN, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: No. I've known this president I think even longer than you have. I've known him since 1979. And one of the things I know about him is that I've never known him to shy away from a fight. I don't think it was shying away from a fight last night or today. I think what happened was that the reality just kind of overtook them. And from a strategy standpoint, I think there was some thought that, OK, if we don't have the votes there and we may have bad news tomorrow, let's have a horrible week and get it behind us.

BLITZER: There were Republican senators who were grumbling about her, but I don't think there was even one who said they were going to vote against her.

GALEN: I think we said here -- I said I didn't think that this was going to be won or lost in the hearings. It would be won or lost in the one-on-ones.

I didn't think the lost part -- I just put that in there just to kind of sound right. But I think what happened was she wasn't gaining any support. And there came a point where Frist et al had to say, you know, Mr. President, you need to rethink this thing because it's going to be really tough up there. But nobody thinks she's a bad person. Nobody thinks she's not very smart.

And, to Paul's point, I think that the president now has a wider field from which to operate. He can do a lot of different things. There's no end of smart conservative jurists that he can choose from. There's also no end of smart, moderate to conservative jurists that he can choose from. And my suspicion is that's the direction he's going to go, so that the left wing says, "Well, close enough," the right wing says, "Well, not perfect, but close enough."

BLITZER: Do you think the timing of this withdrawal today, a day before the announcement -- whatever the announcement is -- from the special prosecutor in the CIA leak investigation may be related?

BEGALA: Yes, I think it's a combination. I think the potential indictments tomorrow. It's also this week we got the tragic news the 2,000th troop had been killed -- American soldier had been killed in Iraq.

The president has a world of problems right now. And he just didn't -- Rich is right. I've never seen him shy away from a fight either until now. He's got terrible problems in Iraq. He's got terrible problems with the tone of cronyism from Hurricane Katrina and the disaster that FEMA was there. Now he's got a problem of corruption in a grand jury investigation.

He just didn't have the stomach for one more fight.

BLITZER: It was sort of uncharacteristic of George W. Bush to see this unfold the way it did.

GALEN: Actually, somebody looked this up for me. I won't claim that I did it. But President Clinton sent up 497 appointments for the federal judiciary. Of those, 125 -- 125 -- were withdrawn, returned or defeated.

So I mean this is not an unusual thing to have happen. It's unusual at the Supreme Court level, clearly...

BEGALA: It's been 19 years since we've had a Supreme Court -- 18 years.

GALEN: But your old boss, he had to withdraw a bunch of these.

BLITZER: How do they prepare at the White House for what might happen tomorrow in the CIA leak?

GALEN: Well, I suspect they've gamed it out. Paul's probably better able to answer this than I am. I don't think the principals have gamed it out. But I suspect the rest of the staff has sort of been sent to quarters and said, OK, if this, then that. If this, then that. Then you have somebody like Ed Gillespie -- who's pretty well respected in this town, whether you agree with him or not -- to be kind of teed up and ready to go, depending upon which.

BLITZER: Ken Mehlman presumably, too -- a former political director of the White House, now the chairman of the RNC.

How would you, if you were giving advice to the White House -- and I can assure you they're not going to be asking you for advice...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: But you worked in the Clinton White House. What would you be doing right now?

BEGALA: I would have a stronger chief of staff. Andy Card's a nice man, but he's been there for too long.

GALEN: But you can't do that between now and tomorrow.

BEGALA: He's worn out. Yes, you can. Bill Clinton brought John Podesta in and promoted him up -- he's as tough as a bar of iron.

Second, I would segregate out the policy people, put them on their job and have a small team working on the scandal. That's what we did with Clinton. The problem is Rove is the policy shop. The president doesn't have an independent policy shop. It's all been Karl. And that's a shame because if, in fact, the news reports are true, Karl could be in a lot of trouble. And if he's not, then the president escapes.

But he's got...

(CROSSTALK)

GALEN: ... guys like Al Hubbard (ph) in there, people that not well-known and don't go out very much -- but could in a minute. He could send a lot of guys out.

I don't think you read about that. I think he's got a lot of very strong, independent policy people that can immediately step up.

BEGALA: You know what else? He needs a lawyer. This could very easily reach the vice president and the president themselves if, in fact, they were involved in any of the meetings and discussions about this. And we'll know soon enough.

GALEN: It could reach you.

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: It isn't going to reach me. I'm not out smearing the CIA. But it could very well touch the president.

GALEN: Smeared me once.

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: We'll stop smearing anyone. Thanks very much, Paul Begala.

BEGALA: Have a great afternoon.

BLITZER: Richard Galen, thanks very much.

And remember, stay with CNN tomorrow for coverage on this announcement, whatever it is, by the special prosecutor.

Still to come here in THE SITUATION ROOM, they were vocal in the beginning and they're really typing right now -- the blogs, that is. They're abuzz over the Harriet Miers withdrawal. We'll tell you what they're saying.

And one newlywed couple isn't calling Wilma a home wrecker, but they are blaming the hurricane for ruining their honeymoon. We'll tell you about their romantic Mexican getaway that turned into a not necessarily so romantic nightmare.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back. Our Internet reporter Jacki Schechner has spent the day monitoring the so-called blogosphere. She's here with the latest on the Miers withdrawal.

JACKI SCHECHNER, CNN INTERNET CORRESPONDENT: That's what I do, Wolf, all day, every day.

So the Miers nomination was primarily a conservative story. What we wanted to do was give you some liberal reaction to the withdrawal today. We start with Daily Kos, which is the largest liberal blog. They're got more than 800,000 page visits a day. They have this heading, "The big cave" -- essentially, President Bush and the White House caved to the right.

The same thing over at St. Progress, the blogging arm of the Center for American Progress: The "White House caved to the right wing."

We're seeing the same thing from MYDD, another big liberal blog. They deal primarily with Democratic strategy looking ahead. It basically said the White House was bowing to the far right.

And taking a look ahead is Josh Marshall, another large liberal blogger. And basically he says now that what President Bush has to do is get somebody really right in there to make the conservative base happy. He is looking ahead.

Somebody who is taking a look back is the Hotline. This is political publication. They've a blog. And what they've done is put together a timeline of where the Harriet Miers nomination progress went wrong. It takes you up to yesterday.

What they don't include in that is this: Harriet Miers redo questionnaire. Remember, the Senate Judiciary Committee asked her to redo her questionnaire. She did it and submitted them last night. So that's the second to the last thing that she submitted as the nominee.

The very last thing, Wolf, is her actual resignation letter, and you can read that online for yourself at TheNationalReview.com.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Jacki.

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