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THE SITUATION ROOM

President Bush Gives Another Iraq War Speech; New Poll More Favorable On Iraq War; Young Iraqi Campaigners Take Great Risks; Mitt Romney Not Running for Second Term as Governor of Massachussetts; Iraq Elections Detailed; Don King Supports Troops

Aired December 14, 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: And to our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM, where new pictures and information from around the world are arriving all the time.
Happening now, a presidential claim of responsibility. It's 4:00 p.m. in Washington, where Mr. Bush delivered his latest speech on Iraq amid new signs his message to the American people may be getting through.

Election eve in Iraq. It's midnight in Baghdad where security is tight just hours before the all-important vote. We'll take a closer look at the final rush of campaigning.

And Don King's new fight. The legendary boxing promoter is working to pump up U.S. troops. This hour I'll ask him what he plans to promote next.

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

Up first, new Iraq turning points. The early voting is over. Election day officially begins seven hours from now. At stake, 275 seats in the Iraqi parliament, the future of the nation's fledgling democracy, and the prospects for a withdrawal of U.S. forces.

In anticipation of the vote, President Bush delivered the last in a series of speeches on Iraq. He accepted responsibility for the decision to go to war based on what proved to be faulty intelligence.

Our correspondents are standing by. Aneesh Raman is in Baghdad. Let's go to the White House first.

Elaine Quijano standing by with that. Elaine?

ELAINE QUIJANO, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Good afternoon to you, Wolf. Today's speech by President Bush was not only about taking a look ahead in Iraq, but also taking a look back, the president responding directly to criticisms of how he took the United States to war in Iraq.

Now, the president reiterated in his speech at the Woodrow Wilson Center that in the run-up to the war, he and others thought Saddam Hussein was a threat but, of course, no stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction were ever found in Iraq. And today the president pointedly said that he was responsible for a decision that turned out to be based on bad intelligence.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It is true that much of the intelligence turned out to be wrong. As president, I am responsible for the decision to go into Iraq. And I'm also responsible for fixing what went wrong by reforming our intelligence capabilities. And we're doing just that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

QUIJANO: President Bush also reiterated his belief that removing Saddam Hussein from power was the right course of action, the president saying that the former dictator could have avoided war with the United States if he'd cooperated with the international community.

Wolf.

BLITZER: Elaine, how did the president respond to Democratic calls for a rather speedy troop withdrawal?

QUIJANO: Well, once again, as we've heard him say many times before, the president rejecting any call for a timeframe on the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq. The president saying what he has said before, that he believes putting an artificial deadline, if you will, on that would send the wrong message on a number of fronts. The president saying it would send the wrong message to the Iraqi people, to the terrorists, to the world, and to U.S. forces in particular.

Wolf.

BLITZER: Elaine Quijano at the White House. Elaine, thank you very much.

Top Democrats on Capitol Hill came out swinging against the president's Iraq policy once again today. The Senate minority leader, Harry Reid, said Mr. Bush had already struck out in explaining his strategy, even before he stepped up to the podium today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MINORITY LEADER: He continues to say stay the course. He continues to say we're winning. But based on his three speeches, if this were a baseball game, he would already be struck out.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. CARL LEVIN (D), MICHIGAN: The president has been strong about our staying the course. Where he's been weak is when it comes to telling the Iraqis that they must put their political house in order, or there's going to be consequences in terms of our continuing presence in Iraq.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Today all but four of the 44 Democrats in the Senate sent a letter to the president. They're urging him to better detail a strategy for success in Iraq and move forward with it in the coming year, but some House Democrats who met with Mr. Bush at the White House gave reporters a more positive take, saying Mr. Bush does have a plan and is sounding more realistic about the situation in Iraq.

I'll talk to a leading critic of the president's Iraq war policy, Democratic Senator Russ Feingold. That's coming up here in THE SITUATION ROOM in the next hour.

Our new poll suggests the American people aren't quite as down on the Iraq mission as they were only a week or so ago.

Here's our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider. Bill?

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Wolf, a month ago, most Americans believed it was a mistake for the United States to send troops to Iraq. Now, in a poll taken after President Bush delivered his first three speeches defending his Iraq policy, the public is not so sure -- 40 percent say sending troops was a mistake; 50 percent say it was not.

While President Bush does not appear to have turned public opinion around, he may have gotten some Americans to at least reconsider their views on the war. Only 26 percent of Americans want to withdrawal all U.S. troops. But an additional 38 percent want to withdraw some troops. Add those numbers together, and you get a substantial majority -- 64 percent -- who want to see at least some troops withdrawn.

While the Iraq war is not popular, most Americans do not want to risk leaving that country vulnerable to a terrorist takeover that would threaten the U.S. The poll asked Americans, do you think the United States will win the war in Iraq? Forty-six percent said yes. Do you think the U.S. can win the war in Iraq? Sixty-five percent said yes.

That's the victory gap. Most Americans believe the U.S. can win, but fewer than half think it will. President Bush's speech was aimed at closing the victory gap, and trying to convince the public that America's performance will match America's power.

Wolf.

BLITZER: Bill Schneider, our senior political analyst. Thank you very much.

Let's move to Iraq now and the countdown to the election.

CNN's Aneesh Raman is in Baghdad right now. He's joining us after witnessing some of the latest developments firsthand. What's the latest, Aneesh?

ANEESH RAMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, it is officially election day, just past midnight in Iraq. The political fight here has been as bitter as it's been elsewhere. And at the core have been the young volunteers who are literally risking it all for their candidates.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) RAMAN (voice-over): They came to be convinced -- and at this campaign rally for the former interim prime minister, Ayad Allawi, working the crowd, 27-year-old Shereen Al-Jaf is courting votes. So far, it appears to be working.

SHEREEN AL-JAF, CAMPAIGN WORKER: My plan is working very good. I'm very, very happy.

RAMAN: In this fiercely-fought campaign, there is an army of young, Iraqi volunteers working behind the scenes, putting their idealism into action.

AL-JAF: I believe Allawi can change many things in Iraq like security, like education, women's rights.

RAMAN: But not all are for change. On it's streets of Baghdad, 23-year-old Jafar Ibrahim, working out of his car is pushing the message of the current governing Shia list. While handing out posters, he tells me why this election is so important.

JAFAR IBRAHIM, CAMPAIGN WORKER (through translator): This government will be in power four years. It will determine a lot, so I'm working as hard as I can, doing all I can to make sure the Shia list wins.

RAMAN: After a few minutes here, it's off to another neighborhood, an uneasy decision. Grassroots campaigning in Iraq is essentially about getting out your base. Jafar is pushing the Shia list and says if he were to campaign in a Sunni neighborhood, he could very well get shot.

For Shereen to, there are concerns, those expressed by her family because of what she's doing.

AL-JAF: They are afraid. Afraid -- they say you are a woman, and it's not good now, and maybe they kill me. I don't know.

RAMAN: But both agree there is too much as stake to not get involved. For them, this election is as much about historical import, as it is about fixing tomorrow.

AL-JAF: Everyone should do something for Iraq, it's for Iraq. It's for you, it's for me. It's for family. It's for children, you know. That if we don't do anything, who is do it?

(END VIDEOTAPE)

RAMAN: So, Wolf, for Shereen, for Jafar, for the other 15.3 million Iraqis registered to vote, polls open in just under seven hours.

Wolf. BLITZER: Aneesh, I take it there's no such thing as exit polls in Iraq. When will we really see the first results this election tomorrow?

RAMAN: Yes, I don't think the American public would have the patience for what we expect here. It'll take about two weeks for the results to be certified, and after that, essentially you'll need a coalition to become prime minister.

No one list is going to have a majority. So we could expect weeks, if not a month of two of political wrangling, well into next year, before we know who will be the country's new leader.

Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Aneesh. Thanks very much. Aneesh Raman is going to be very busy over the next several days. He's been very busy throughout this process.

There are many firsts in this week's elections, among then, the use of technology and the Internet. You too can get a hands-on look.

Let's bring in our Internet reporter, Jacki Schechner. She's here to help.

JACKI SCHECHNER, CNN INTERNET CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, it's amazing how close you can get to the Iraqi electoral process via the Internet. Take a look at the oversight committee, Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq. They're online.

There's been a lot of talk of posters and campaign materials being torn down. So what can you do is go online and get information about how to fill out your ballot or how to navigate the polling stations.

Now, there's also an oversight committee that's independent. They're online. They're going to be posting results and information as those become available. They've also got links to other important information.

The candidates themselves are taking advantage of the Internet. This is interesting. This is Ahmed Chalabi's site, the Iraqi National Congress. Also the Assembly of Patriots, some in English, some in Arabic. And this site we thought was interesting. A couple days ago, they had the Miss World contestants and now they have Paris Hilton, just to grab people's attention.

BLITZER: I guess that will work, Jacki thank you very much. Check out this picture we're getting in courtesy our affiliate WKDW in Buffalo, New York. The former president of the United States, Bill Clinton, speaking to the Democratic Party over at the Buffalo Convention Center. Erie County Democrats, my home hometown of Buffalo.

We'll listen in to the former president of the United States. If he starts saying anything exciting, we'll dip in, listen, we'll bring it to you live. We'll monitor what Bill Clinton is saying. No doubt he's out on the campaign trail, trying to help his wife, the junior senator from New York state, get re-elected next year and maybe move on from there. We'll watch Bill Clinton.

Meantime, let's watch Jack Cafferty. He's standing by in New York. Imagine Bill Clinton campaigning for Hillary, Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Imagine anybody giving a speech in Buffalo this time of year.

BLITZER: He's a very, very courageous, brave man. Actually, Buffalo is lovely this time of year.

CAFFERTY: It's awful -- not lovely. It's an awful place.

BLITZER: If you like a little snow.

CAFFERTY: A little? How many feet do they get every year?

BLITZER: They get a few feet, a few feet. Yes.

CAFFERTY: You sound like a -- like a local.

BLITZER: It made me strong. All of those years growing up, shoveling snow.

CAFFERTY: All right. The Patriot Act is one step closer to being renewed, maybe. The House passed the revised anti-terror law today, although it's not clear what the Senate's going to do.

The majority leader, Bill Frist, who is talking with the White House after renewing the Patriot Act as is for a period of one year, if no agreement on changes can be reached.

More than a dozen parts of the bill are set to expire the end of this year. Supporters say that our country's safety is in danger if the provisions are not renewed. Civil liberties groups say that it gives the government too much power it investigate the bank, your library and your medical records.

Congress overwhelmingly passed the Patriot Act after the 9/11 terror attacks, and it's a top priority for both The White House and congressional Republicans to renew it before next year's midterm elections.

The question is this -- what should be done about The Patriot Act? You can email your thoughts to CaffertyFile@CNN.com or go to CNN.com/CaffertyFile.

The guy who came up with the name ought to get a raise in Washington. They didn't call it the KGB act or the Secret Police Act or the S.S. Act. They called it the Patriot Act. Now, who could be opposed to something called the Patriot Act?

Yet, it really does strike at some of the liberties we take for granted and was rushed through in the wake of the 9/11 terror attacks as way to try to gather additional intelligence on the bad guys. The Patriot Act, slick marketing.

BLITZER: Even some Republicans and a lot of Democrats want to be careful this time in extending it. I'm anxious to hear what our viewers have to say about that, Jack. Thanks very much. Coming up, the Massachusetts Governor makes a big decision. We'll tell what you it is, and what it may mean for the 2008 presidential race.

Also ahead, as Jack just mentioned, The House takes a stand on the war on terror. Will the Senate follow through, and will America be any safer?

And is the federal government ready to tackle a bird flu outbreak if it happens? The public weighs in. All that coming up, right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We're back in THE SITUATION ROOM. Welcome back.

On our "Political Radar", new cause for speculation about the 2008 presidential race. Republican Mitt Romney has decided not to seek a second term as Massachusetts governor next year. He's expected to make a formal announcement less than two hours from now.

The 58-year-old former businessman recently said he didn't think he could run again for governor and run for the White House. Romney has been testing the waters for a presidential race, distancing himself from the state's traditionally liberal politics and touting accomplishments, such as closing a $3 billion deficit without raising taxes.

Another possible presidential contender who has even more money in her hefty campaign coffers thanks to some help from her husband. Bill Clinton appeared at a fundraiser in New York City last night for Senator Hillary Clinton's re-election campaign.

He's speaking right now in my hometown of Buffalo, New York. Speaking to Democrats, that's a live picture, you're seeing courtesy our affiliate, WKBW. He said only a few moments ago that senator Clinton is a very, very good senator for all the people of New York State.

Not a huge surprise. We'll continue to monitor what Bill Clinton is saying and go there live if he starts making news.

Meantime a new Quinipiac poll shows Senator Clinton is leading her embattled Republican rival, Jeanine Pirro, by a huge margin: 62 percent to 30 percent.

Our Candy Crowley, by the way, will have much more on Hillary Clinton and her potential presidential prospects tomorrow right here in THE SITUATION ROOM, but Candy is also here right now to talk about a subject on the news right now, namely, Mitt Romney. What do you make of this announcement he's about to make, Candy?

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, like everyone else, I think this is a man who has said, I couldn't, in good conscience, run for re-election in Massachusetts as governor, and then turn around -- which he would have to do next November, and then turn around and say now I'm running for president.

Naturally, we're looking at this as saying he's not running for governor, and, therefore, he is continuing to, as he even put it, test the waters. However, I can tell you there's very strong pushback from those around Mitt Romney who say, look this isn't about -- he won't mention 2008 tonight. He'll be asked about it. That's so far in the future.

This is about his feeling that he's done lots of what he said he wanted to do when he took office. He wants to do even more next year. This is about what is always hard for these candidates who have presidential aspirations, and that is how do you keep doing what you're doing without everything being seen in the light of being a national presidential candidate?

It's going to be tough for Mitt Romney to sell the fact that this doesn't have anything to do with his eyeing a presidential bid. He's been in New Hampshire, he's been to Iowa, he's been to South Carolina. So this is another step, and as much as those running it would like to disconnect it, I think it certainly, if he wants to run for president, this would have been a necessary step. Let's put it that way.

BLITZER: What about the fact that he's a Mormon? Is that an issue at all, the buzz around Republican circles on that?

CROWLEY: It could be. It's about as far as we can go. It's untested at this point. I can tell you that evangelicals who have formed quite a base for the Republican Party do have a big problem with Mormonism. They don't consider it, many of them, a Christian religion. They consider it more of a cult. They have huge problems and they think Mormonism plays around with the real Bible.

So evangelicals, last time we looked, about 30 percent of the base inside the Republican Party, and they are the people that base that comes out and votes in primaries, could very well have a problem with Mitt Romney's Mormonism, something that we ran into talking to people that are friendly with Mitt Romney, who in fact say, well if he ran, I'd love to join his campaign.

These are friendly folks saying, we have to deal with his Mormonism, particularly in the South, where Southern Baptists, many of them tend to have a problem with Mormonism. That could be a problem in South Carolina, but it's untested, Wolf. They're going to try to figure that out. They have plenty of time.

BLITZER: All right, Candy, thanks very much. Candy Crowley's our senior political correspondent.

Our coverage of the race to 2008 will continue tomorrow with a new CNN poll on the likely presidential contenders. Find out who's coming out on top. Candy's piece tomorrow. She's looking at Hillary Rodham Clinton tomorrow as well. Meantime, let's head over to the CNN Center in Atlanta to our Zain Verjee for a closer look at some other stories making news. Hi, Zain.

ZAIN VERJEE, CNN ANCHOR: Hi, Wolf. A flash flood warning is in effect, and conditions in parts of the southeastern parts of Missouri, being called dangerous. A breach at a reservoir released a billion and a half gallons of water. At least two houses, a tractor trailer, and several cars were just washed away when a river in the area surged some 20 feet early this morning. Parts of at least one town have been evacuated and three children have been hospitalized.

Israeli and Palestinian sources say an Israeli air strike killed four Palestinian militants in Gaza today. The Israeli military says the four were traveling in a car packed with explosives, causing a particularly large blast when it was hit by missiles. And Palestinian sources say a second air strike also in Gaza failed to kill the militant leader it was aimed at. There's no immediate comment on that report from Israel.

Iran's leader says the Holocaust is a myth and is suggesting that Israel be moved to Europe, Canada or Alaska. In a speech in Tehran today, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad asked, "if you have committed this huge crime, why should the innocent nation of Palestine pay?" An Israeli spokesman says the Iranian regime has, in his words, a distorted sense of reality. We're going to take a closer look at this story in the next hour of THE SITUATION ROOM.

New poll numbers show that Americans are split over whether the government can handle an outbreak of bird flu. Slightly more than half the respondents in a new CNN/"USA Today"/Gallup poll say that they are confident the government would be prepared to deal with an outbreak. Wolf?

BLITZER: Zain, thanks very much. Zain Verjee reporting.

Still ahead in THE SITUATION ROOM, he's America's most famous prisoner of war, and now he's taking on the White House over U.S. torture policy. We'll tell you how Senator John McCain's faring in this difficult battle.

And later, a knockout guest. Don King joins us here in THE SITUATION ROOM to tell us how he's trying to help U.S. troops over in Iraq.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: On Capitol Hill a step forward, but new hurdles ahead for the Patriot Act. The House of Representatives votes to extend the modified version of the anti-terror law, but the measure is facing a stiff fight over in the U.S. Senate.

Let's head up to Capitol Hill. Our congressional correspondent Ed Henry is standing by. Ed? ED HENRY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, that's right. The House easily passed a renewal of 16 provisions in the controversial Patriot Act. Those provisions set to expire at the end of this year, but you're right. It faces a very uncertain fate in the Senate. So uncertain, in fact, that today Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist was mulling a one-year extension of the existing law.

Those existing provisions basically punted, not just past the holidays, but way back into the end of 2006. The sticky point here is that there is a potential filibuster from a bipartisan coalition Democrat, Russ Feingold, Republican John Sununu.

Some lawmakers talking about a three-month extension, but now this one-year extension from Frist. Frist back-pedaling a bit saying, no, he's not for a one-year extension because conservatives in the House and Senate say they do not want this delayed at all, they want it done this year.

Here's Republican Senator Jon Kyl.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN KYL (R), ARIZONA: The House of Representatives is one of the two bodies that have to agree to things and they've made it clear that they are not going to negotiate further. They've conceded an awful lot so far, and -- so it's really not an option. Chairman Specter has also made is crystal clear that somehow deferring this for another day is not an option.

We're putting an awful lot into next year. And frankly, we've got more than enough on the plate next year to get done without kicking something as important as the Patriot Act on down the road to be considered in that election year. So, no. That's not an option.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HENRY: So Senator Frist now forging ahead, saying he's going to force a cloture vote on Friday, try to break this filibuster and get this deal done by the end of the week. But I can tell you, even Frist aides acknowledging, this vote is way too close to call. It's a very uncertain fate for the Patriot Act, Wolf.

BLITZER: They need 60 votes to break that filibuster, and how close are they?

HENRY: It's nip and tuck. It's basically a couple here and there. Neither side knows for sure. The problem for the White House, the problem for Senator Frist is a growing -- a small but growing number of Republicans are joining Sununu in saying they want to join the filibuster, Wolf.

BLITZER: What about the latest on the effort by John McCain and the White House, Stephen Hadley, the president's national security adviser, to come up with some sort of language that's acceptable to both on the issue of torture? HENRY: Still an impasse. Close to a deal, but still an impasse. White House aide Stephen Hadley came up to the Hill today to meet with John McCain about it, but left with no deal.

McCain says after the meeting, basically these talks are pretty intense. But he's keeping a firm line. He wants an outright ban on torture. He doesn't want to give in, that's partly why there's no deal. He wants to get this full ban on the use of torture of detainees.

The bottom line is, Senate Republican leaders, though, are still confident by the end the week McCain is going to prevail, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, we'll see. Thanks very much, Ed Henry reporting from Capitol Hill.

Up next, the president today took responsibility for bad pre-Iraq war intelligence. Is that a smart strategy? I'll ask two experts, Paul Begala, J.C. Watts, they're standing by here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Plus, Iraqi voters take to the polls just hours from now for crucial elections. Our Christiane Amanpour joins us 7 p.m. Eastern tonight in THE SITUATION ROOM with more on what's at stake.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back. Today in our "Strategy Session", President Bush takes responsibility for relying on bad intelligence to go to war in Iraq, and he stresses the important importance of tomorrow's elections in Iraq. Have his speeches helped convince the American public that the administration has a plan for success?

And the White House and Senator John McCain continue to negotiate over interrogation guidelines. What's the political fallout from all of this? Joining us here, CNN political analyst and Democratic strategist Paul Begala. And J.C. Watts, a former Republican congressman from Oklahoma.

What do you think about the president? Let me play a sound bite first from what the president said on this whole issue of taking personal responsibility for the bad intelligence.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: It is true that much of the intelligence turned out to be wrong. As president, I am responsible for the decision to go into Iraq. And I'm also responsible for fixing what went wrong by reforming our intelligence capabilities, and we're doing just that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: What do you think about this strategy for being more candid, being more open, and accepting responsibility for mistakes? PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Very artful. Brilliant. Really, I don't know that it will change fundamentally -- the polls are driven by the facts on the ground, the casualties in Iraq, and the chaos there. But very smart for the president because listen to what he did.

You have to parse this guy's language very carefully. He says, I'm responsible for the intelligence that was wrong. Well, if you go back and look, a lot the intelligence was right, he just ignored it. His intelligence agencies warned him not to say this thing about Niger supplying to Iraq. They warned him that these aluminum tubes that they said were used for nuclear weapons were not. The intelligence agencies warned him about that. They warned him there were no links to al Qaeda. He said that there were. They warned him that Saddam Hussein was not training al Qaeda operatives in bomb making, chemical and biological. He said so anyways.

So a lot of what the president told us was false, and he knew it was false. So you can't blame the intelligence agencies for that.

BLITZER: Having said that, George Tenet, the director of CIA, said to him, "This is a slam dunk, the WMD." What do you make of the whole coming clean, if you will, the issue that the president's strategy now being more open and honest and candid about mistakes?

J.C. WATTS, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, Wolf, first of all, I think the president's smart in being out there with the American people. I don't think that you can become insular and allow the opposition to frame the war. And I think that's what the president has done.

The president's out there, we see the numbers going in the right direction. You cannot over-communicate and in times like this. So the more he's out there, the better it's going to be. I would tend to disagree with Paul in this sense.

What was the fundamental mission behind Iraq, the war in Iraq? It was to topple the regime of Saddam Hussein. We live in a very dangerous world, and I mean, that's a given. Are we better off with Saddam gone? Are we better off because we're in Afghanistan? I think we are. I think the Niger issue, I think that that can be debated. I think a lot of things that the president...

BLITZER: You're right. The issue was to get rid of Saddam Hussein's regime, but the rationale was that the WMD, the weapons of mass destruction, the chemical, the biological, the potential nuclear capability, would endanger us, and that's why you have to get rid of Saddam Hussein. The issue of trying to create a democracy, that was mentioned, albeit not all that frequently.

WATTS: Well, but Wolf, in terms of all the bad intelligence, the president was not the only one that relied on that intelligence. He had 15 people on the U.N. Security Council, Germany, France, Russia, all of those that at the end of the day said, "No, no, no, no. We don't want to do that," you had all of them voting to say, come clean. Saddam Hussein did not come clean. He suffered the consequences. I do think most people think we are better off that Saddam is gone.

BEGALA: But again, look at the record. The president does a very artful thing. He wants to take credit for appearing like he's taking responsibility, but says, I was given bad intelligence. And you know, I went and looked it up just from newspaper sources. He told us -- or Vice President Cheney told us that Mohammed Atta, the leader of 9/11, had met with Iraqi intelligence. Our intelligence had told the White House that wasn't true. They said so anyway. They said that there were links to al Qaeda, that they've trained in chemical and biological warfare. The CIA told the president that wasn't reliable. He said so anyway.

Again and again they made a case that there was threat -- not simply WMD. He repeated those four words today, "Iraq was a threat." That was the falsehood.

BLITZER: I think if you look at how the vice president phrased all those contacts, alleged contacts, between Mohammed Atta and an Iraqi official in Prague, he was always a little bit more cautious. He was talking about reports, unconfirmed reports, speculation. He never said hard and fast, I don't believe that there was a meeting.

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: People like me who think the president lied, and that's a charge that's very serious. The lie was not, Iraq has WMD, the lie was, Iraq is a threat, an imminent threat, as the White House told you, Wolf, on your Sunday show. That they were an immediate threat, an urgent threat, a unique threat, a gathering threat, a great threat, a growing threat, a biological and nuclear threat. They weren't a threat at all. That was the lie.

WATTS: But Paul, no, I disagree. I don't think that was a lie. The Russian president, President Putin, said to Washington, said to the administration -- President Putin was on the inside with the Iraqi regime, said that they do have plans, they are looking to do something bad to Americans at home and abroad.

BLITZER: If you take a look at what the Russians, the French, the Germans, they all believed that there were weapons of mass destruction, but they thought Saddam could be contained by the sanctions, the no-fly zones, the political pressure that was put on him. I want to move on because we don't want to rehash all the rationale for going to war.

WATTS: I disagree with Russia, France and Germany.

BLITZER: I know you do. Let's talk a lot about a story that's developed literally in the past hour. Mitt Romney, the governor of Massachusetts, saying he's not going to run again, leaving open the possibility, a lot of people speculate, that he may run for president. What do you think, as a good Republican?

WATTS: Wolf, I have no problem with him doing that. I kind of appreciate the fact that he's going to be -- that he would willing to be transparent about it, to say and admit what everybody is speculating, that, "Hey, I'm not going to try and be governor and at the same time run for president."

I think that's still an admirable thing, with me, that he would do that. I do think it'll get the tongues wagging and a lot of speculation, but he's a governor. I think he has -- I think that's a good thing. So we'll see what he does. BLITZER: What do you think?

BEGALA: I think he's moving to the right. To be reelected, he would have to remain pro-choice, for example, on abortion rights, where he has been. Now, as a few months back, his media adviser, Mike Murphy, did an interview where he said, well, Mitt was just lying when he said he was pro-choice. He had to say that to be the governor of Massachusetts. Now he's fixing to flip-flop on abortion, he's going to move hard right on all these issues, and I think that's never a good political strategy. Look what the flip-flop attack did to John Kerry. Romney would do better to stay with a fixed position, but you watch. He's fixing to flip-flop.

WATTS: I agree totally, Paul.

BLITZER: All right, we'll see. Thanks very much. J.C., welcome to THE SITUATION ROOM. How did it feel?

WATTS: Felt good. Hey, let me do something here. This could cost me in Oklahoma, but Paul's a Texan. I'm pulling for the Longhorns.

BLITZER: First time in five years we've beaten J.C.'s team. And by the way, he killed us when he was quarterback...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: J.C. Watts, Paul Begala, thanks to both of you.

And coming up, for centuries, millions from around the world have admired her, but her smile still remains a huge mystery. Has the Mona Lisa mystery finally been solved? Stay tuned.

Plus, from Bob Dylan to Paul McCartney. Are the music icons from the '60s sacrificing idealism for commercialism? We'll find out in our 7:00 p.m. hour of THE SITUATION ROOM.

Stay with us. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Let's head back to Zain Verjee at the CNN Center in Atlanta for a closer look at other stories making news right now. Zain?

VERJEE: Wolf, researchers have cracked the Da Vinci Code. Well, not the Catholic Church conspiracy theory in the best-selling book. Instead, they've scientifically analyzed the Mona Lisa and found a portrait of a woman with mixed emotions.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

VERJEE: That face, those eyes, and that smile. Mona Lisa is a masterpiece, and also a mystery. What makes a legendary being so compelling? Researchers at the University of Amsterdam believe they know. They applied emotion recognition software to Leonardo da Vinci's work. It measures a person's mood by examining key features such as the curve of the lips and the crinkles around the eyes.

And here's what they found, according to the British weekly "New Scientist." Mona Lisa was 83 percent happy, 9 percent disgusted, 6 percent fearful, and 2 percent angry.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

VERJEE: Scientists haven't figured out why Mona Lisa felt the way that she did. So, Wolf, like many women, she still retains a sense of mystery about her. Have you seen the Mona Lisa?

BLITZER: I am looking right -- Zain, I'm looking at your smile right now. I'm going to compare it to Mona Lisa's smile, and I'm going to show our viewers. Take a look at this right now. There's Zain's smile, there's Mona Lisa's smile. I'll take Zain's smile any day.

VERJEE: But Mona Lisa has that, I'm not smiling and showing my pearly whites. I'm smiling, but I'm still mysterious. I have something to hide. So I think that's why the most famous...

BLITZER: Zain, you have all of those elements. Zain Verjee and her beautiful smile, thank you very much.

Up next, the boxing promoter Don King. He's skilled at using publicity for causes he supports. Now, King is using his skills to raise money and raise awareness for Hurricane Katrina relief. Don King, he'll be here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

And they're called viper teams. A new program from the Transportation Security Administration to include federal air marshals, teams of dogs and security officers. They'll test counter- terrorism operations to protect the nation's transportation system. We're standing by for details on that as well.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Let's head up to New York. Jack Cafferty's back with the "Cafferty File". Jack?

CAFFERTY: Our esteemed lawmakers down there in the capital city are wrestling with what to do with the Patriot Act. Twelve provisions of this controversial piece of legislation that was passed right after 9/11 are due to expire at the end of this year. The House has passed a revised version of the Patriot Act. The Senate hasn't gotten down to wrestling with it yet, and it's unclear what they will do.

Civil liberties groups say this whole thing is a joke and they ought to just get rid of the whole deal. Supporters say that the extra intelligence gathering capability that was given to government by the Patriot Act is necessary in the wake of the terrorist attacks of 9/11. So the question is, what should be done with the Patriot Act?

Linda in Newport News, Virginia: "The Patriot Act should be scrapped. How did this get passed in the middle of the night with no oversight? It assumes that U.S. citizens are guilty until proven innocent. Now we have the Pentagon snooping and spying on peace groups. Enough is enough.

Mike in Kiakuk (ph), Iowa, writes, "Renew it if they can't get changes to it. If you have nothing to hide from the government, you have nothing to fear from the Patriot Act."

Bob writes, "First, remove the parts that infringe on my rights. Then enact whatever is left into law, if there's anything left."

Boris: "The Patriot Act is just as bad as the espionage and sedition acts of the red scare era. We've replaced communists with terrorists as the new enemy. It's time to move on."

Tyler in Concord, New Hampshire: "The Patriot Act should be put back into action. Does America have to be attacked again in order for us to realize this protection is necessary?"

And Curtis in Portland, Maine: "The Patriot Act should be totally reshaped so that it's cut down to four inch-by-four inch squares perforated on either end, and affixed to a roll, and placed in the nearest bathroom next to a toilet".

Wolf.

BLITZER: Strong views from Curtis. Thanks, Jack, very much.

Still to come, the King -- that would be Don King -- joins us next here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

And Democratic Senator Russ Feingold of Wisconsin has been unflinching in his criticism of the Iraq War. Coming up, I'll ask the senator what's at stake in Iraq on the eve of the country's elections?

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Don King is known worldwide as a big-time boxing promoter, but has also taken some new fights on recently from hurricane relief to boosting the morale of U.S. troops. Don King joining us here in THE SITUATION ROOM with those American flags.

DON KING, BOXING PROMOTER: Absolutely.

BLITZER: You are a very patriotic guy. We're going to talk about that a little bit. Remember when we met at the CNN Diner at the Republican convention outside of Madison Square Garden last year, around a year or so ago at this time.

But let's talk about Iraq. The elections tomorrow, about 160,000 U.S. troops in Iraq right now. You've got some plans to try to help them?

KING: Yes. I'm going to Iraq to put on a boxing show to lift the morale of the troops, the 101st Airborne, Air Assault, strike fear, the mightiest division on the planet is there. And I'm going over there with General David S. Petraeus, who is now handling the reconstruction there.

But all of the 101st Airborne, who's been in every war from World War I to Vietnam, to Desert Storm to Iraqi Freedom now, I want to be there to support them and bring some of my champions there to do a good show for them and lifting their morale.

BLITZER: So what are you going to do when you get there to Iraq? Are you going to have a boxing match?

KING: Yes. I have a whole boxing show there, something that I will get some of the networks to work with and transmit it back to America. I did one show in December where I transmitted the show to Mosul. And General Petraeus was back and forth the same day that they captured Saddam Hussein, December 13. And so it's a December to remember. And so now, we want to go there live and do the show live emanating from Iraq.

BLITZER: This is news that you're making here in THE SITUATION ROOM. You're announcing it, in effect, right here.

KING: Yes. All we've got to do is get the permission. I'm certain we're going to get that with the White House and Karl Rove, and all those, the USO that's there, they want to see these guys be supported because the man who fights for this country, he can claim that country for his own and have that claim respected.

And these soldiers are putting their lives on the line, putting themselves in harm's way to fight for us while we sit back and debate and discuss whether they should or should not be there. I think we have to stay the course and go out there and do what it's about, because law, order, and freedom comes from those who are (INAUDIBLE) out there fighting for us.

BLITZER: You want to go encourage the morale. You want to get a boxing match in Iraq. Do you have a date, any timeframe, when you want to do this?

KING: I'm going to discuss the timeframe while I'm here in Washington. I want to do it as soon as possible.

BLITZER: Under the auspices of the USO?

KING: Yes.

BLITZER: So this would be -- troops would be watching? And they'd watch - who would be fighting?

KING: We have several fighters that want to go including Zab Judah, (inaudible), including Lamon Brewster, you know, guys that want to be able to go out there and demonstrate their patriotism and to do what we can do. We're like sort of like a black Bob Hope, going back to the truth and going out there and giving them the support that they really justly and richly deserve, because they are the vanguard of our nation.

I visited Lamstul (ph) in Germany when I was there, and I'm going to Germany again tomorrow to have a fight in Berlin with John Ruiz and the Beast from the East, the 7'2" Russian that's going to b e fighting him on December the 17th, that's Saturday night.

BLITZER: So you want to basically increase the morale and help these troops better endure what they're going through?

KING: Yes.

BLITZER: And you're a good Republican. We met at the Republican convention last year outside of Madison Square Garden. You were there with the flags, just as you are now. You're a very patriotic guy.

KING: Well, no. I'm a Republicrat. I am for whoever is going to do for my people, the American people...

BLITZER: You love George Bush?

KING; I love George Walker Bush because I think he's a revolutionary. He's a president that comes in with conclusiveness. What they're doing in tomorrow in Iraq is a demonstration of that for the vote for democracy. The fundamental process of democracy is freedom of speech, law and order, being able to have freedom, working with people and working and governing yourselves. George Bush is that. He included in...

BLITZER: Do you have any regrets supporting him? Take a look at that picture when you and I were there at the diner last year. Do you have any regrets supporting him as enthusiastically as you did?

KING: No, I don't. In fact, I want to support him more now because it seems like everybody is punching him. You know what I mean? But he's fighting back, and he's throwing great combinations. And I think he's the guy that is really a revolutionary president.

I think he's a president that cares about the people he represents, but doesn't compromise himself to the extent that he acquiesce and accommodate. He goes out there and says like it is, and tries to make things better. Inclusiveness, education, is fighting for that.

These are the things that many guys that don't fight for -- George Walker Bush is a tremendous advocate to America, a great president for the great American people, and he's decisive. He's doesn't equivocate.

BLITZER: In addition to Iraq, In addition to helping George W. Bush, you're also trying to help the victims of Katrina. Briefly because we're almost out of time, what are you doing in New Orleans and in the Gulf Coast? KING: Well, we raised $200,000 for the victims of Katrina with the Salvation Army. I told the Salvation Army -- you can 1-800-SAL- ARMY. And from the Cleveland area, if they give 100,000, raise 100,000, I would match it 100,000. So they have gotten 100,000, and now I've got the process of matching them. From each one of them, I'm adding money to make my 100,000 come in, all right?

Then we're giving away turkeys down there to the people. And this is going on again, raising their hopes and aspirations, because this really was a tragic thing. What do you call it, a natural crisis that exposed a man-made crisis where we live, in Louisiana, and whatever. There's the racism that the president spoke about when he was down there.

So it's the thing. Wolf Blitzer, you are doing the greatest (ph). And I love it.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: I want you to be careful when you're in Iraq.

KING: Yes, I will be. God bless America, God bless our president George Walker Bush, and God bless the American people. And Wolf Blitzer, you're on the move, there ain't no stopping you now.

BLITZER: Don King, trying to help the troops out in Iraq.

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