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THE SITUATION ROOM

Opinions Vary on President Bush's Speech

Aired December 18, 2005 - 22:00   ET

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


BLITZER: Thanks very much, Larry. 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, it's 10:00 p.m. here in Washington. The president makes his case for staying the course in Iraq, but how long will American troops have to stay there? And will the American people stay on board for the long haul?

Is tonight's address being overshadowed by a more immediate problem right here at home? The government spying on Americans without a court order. There is fury and fallout in Congress. We'll hear from both sides of the aisle.

And they lost loved ones in the Iraq War. Parents of fallen Americans. One blames the government, the other one backs the president. We'll get their reactions to tonight's address.

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

It was a personal milestone for President Bush, his first Oval Office address since the very start of the war. He portrayed the Iraqi election as a milestone, calling it, and I'm quoting now, "a landmark day in the history of liberty," but he concedes much trouble still lies ahead.

The president gives no sign that he's ready to announce a troop reduction, but he calls on Americans not to give into what he calls "defeatism and despair."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: For every scene of destruction in Iraq, there are more scenes of rebuilding and hope. For every life lost, there are countless more lives reclaimed. And for every terrorist working to stop freedom in Iraq, there are many more Iraqis and Americans working to defeat them.

My fellow citizens, not only can we win the war in Iraq, we are winning the war in Iraq.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Standing by, we have correspondents covering the story. Our chief international correspondent Christiane Amanpour is in London. Our Suzanne Malveaux is over at the White House. Barbara Starr is at the Pentagon. Ed Henry is over on Capitol Hill. Suzanne, let's start with you. The president spoke for just more than 16 minutes. Give our viewers a sense of what he tried to project?

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, what was really interesting about this speech, and perhaps unique, was the tone, the demeanor, even the language, all very much conciliatory by this president here. He talked about a willingness to listen. He talked about acknowledging responsibility and missteps, all of this part of somewhat of a relatively new tack taken by this administration.

He said that no weapons were found. Much of the intelligence was wrong. He went on to say Iraqi security forces, their progress moving slower than we expected. He also pledged to listen to honest criticism, and then made a direct appeal to his skeptics, essentially saying, look, you may not agree with everything that I've put forward here, but in his words, he says do not give up on this fight for freedom. So obviously, a conciliatory tone by the president.

Having said that, however, Wolf, of course, there were no new policy initiatives here. He did not change direction, of course. No benchmark for bringing U.S. troops home, essentially saying stick with the mission.

All of this bottom line, Wolf, is about the U.S. strategy here. It is about controlling the message the American people. It is about reassuring Republicans, buying time, saying look, you are not going to hurt or suffer from this - the U.S. Iraq policy when it comes to elections 2006. It's about exploiting the differences within the Democratic party. And ultimately, it is about assuring this president's legacy, Wolf?

BLITZER: Suzanne, stand by. I want to go to Ed Henry on Capitol Hill, where reaction from Democrats and Republicans pouring in. Give our viewers a sense of what you're hearing, Ed?

ED HENRY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, it's pretty clear that leaders in both parties have made up their minds about this war. One speech is not going to change anyone's mind up here. I think that's best exemplified by the fact that midway through the speech, before it was even over, I got an e-mail from Tom DeLay's office basically saying it was a great job. "President Bush was clear, specific, and resolute about America's objectives in Iraq and our commitment to finishing our work there."

Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid said just the opposite, of course. He said the president was not clear, not specific. "While I appreciate the president's increased candor, too much of the substance remained the same and the American people have still not heard what benchmarks we must meet along the way to know that progress is being made and that our brave troops can begin to come home."

So you can see the divide right there. Both sides digging in, Wolf. BLITZER: All right, Ed, stand by. I want to go over to the Pentagon. Barbara Starr is standing by over there. Barbara, if there were military officials expecting to hear from the president, some specific new information about troop withdrawal, they certainly didn't hear it in this speech.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: No, Wolf, they did not. And they do not expect to at all. The real question on the table right now is why the military commanders don't expect it. And that is because they believe the violent insurgency will continue.

This election, they say, will not make a short term difference in all of that. The key question on the table for military strategy is what will the Ba'athists do, the Saddam loyalists, the Sunnis. The largest part of the insurgency essentially is not the foreign fighters, but it's the Ba'athists.

And although they embraced the election that they did not launch a lot of attacks during the election day, will that last? General George Casey says he doesn't know. He doesn't know yet what the Ba'athists will do.

The question is will they continue to fight? And what about the Shi'ia? There is a widespread view now amongst the highest levels of the U.S. military that the Iraqi police force is now infiltrated largely by Shi'ia militia, and that it needs to basically be straightened out before it can be counted on for Iraq's security.

So a good deal of work to be done about the insurgency. General Casey and the top commanders not yet ready to come to any conclusion about what this election will mean until a new Iraqi stable government is formed and it takes power. And all of that can still be weeks away, Wolf.

BLITZER: Let me go back to the White House. Suzanne Malveaux, the president has now delivered, this is his fifth speech. This is his first primetime speech from the Oval Office. I take it he's going to be going to Crawford for Christmas, New Year's. Is that about it for now?

MALVEAUX: Well, we also suspect that he's going to be visiting with wounded soldiers, nearby close to the White House, that he's going to be delivering this message to the American people throughout the week.

We also expect, of course, before the holiday, he might make himself available for a press conference, which is the tradition before the holiday. But expect, Wolf, to kind of hear this same type of message, but really trying to strike a balance here, a different type of tone.

He's been criticized in the past very much so for living in a bubble, for not being open to listening to various opinions. This is something that the White House is really trying to incorporate, but he's going to get out there and express a sense of hey, you know, I'm open to listening to these various ideas here. But at the same time, sticking with the U.S. policies. Not - he's not moving on that particular point.

BLITZER: Suzanne, stand by for a moment. The Vice President Dick Cheney driving home the president's stay the course message made a surprise 10 hour visit to Iraq earlier today. Like the president, Mr. Cheney applauded the Iraqi elections and warned against the speedy withdrawal of U.S. forces.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DICK CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And on behalf of the president, I assure you, any decisions about troop levels will be driven by the conditions on the ground and the judgment of our commanders, not by artificial timelines set by politicians in Washington, D.C.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Our chief international correspondent Christiane Amanpour has just returned to London from Iraq. She spent the week there meeting with troops, meeting with Iraqis, and getting a sense of what was going on.

You listen carefully, Christiane, to the president's speech. How do you think that's going to play in Iraq?

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think it's really interesting. In the clip you chose to play from the president's speech said that we are winning. And I think that is the most controversial aspect of the whole situation right now.

When you talked to American forces there, and most particularly not just soldiers who are actually having to do the grunt work on the ground, but to the officers there, they know that the jury is still out, that there is a huge amount of work to be done, which is not just time based, but quality based.

If it's about getting the Iraqi forces up and running, this is nowhere near an accomplished fact. It's nowhere near even halfway there.

There - the president talks about Iraqi forces who are leading battles. Well, maybe they're joining battles, but the problem is without American logistic help, they could not do it. And this is the problem that U.S. officers tell us about and what they're trying to accomplish now.

They're trying to get this Army up and running. And for the other thing, the insurgents, president calls them all terrorists. Well, there is a terrorist element, the al Qaeda, the foreign forces. But the Americans on the ground there have accepted that there is also a genuine insurgency, which forms the larger part of this anti- American fight there. And even though they took a hands off approach to violence on the election, as they did in the previous elections, they're waiting to see the results and waiting to see whether they can come into the system. But nobody expects them to give up their arms anytime soon. And they've already said that they still consider fighting against the American presence their legitimate right.

And if you remember, they even put that in a document in Cairo, when Sunni politicians and all the others got together in Cairo a few months ago. Legitimate resistance, they say, is their right. And it's been accepted by the Iraqis, who are the leaders there.

And then on the political front, the question very much is, is there going to be a kind of pluralistic government that the United States and the rest of the world wants to see?

Or is it going to be increasingly factionalized, as it is right now? And the polls that are quoted clearly shows that the quality of life, the kind of optimism is strictly along factional lines. And the Army is very heavily, and the interior ministry police and internal security forces very heavily militia based and along the Shi'ia sectarian lines.

So this is a potential problem that's going to have to be worked on going forth.

BLITZER: Christiane, 2.5 years ago, almost three years ago, you were with the first team of CNN reporters in Baghdad, right when Saddam Hussein was overthrown. You've been there several times since, including last week. Do you sense that there is serious progress being made in defeating this insurgency, that democracy is moving forward? Is it standing still? Is it going backwards? Give us a sense of where you see progress over these past nearly three years?

AMANPOUR: Well, I think to start off, you have to say that basically what we're being told now is that there was never a proper post-war plan put in by the Pentagon. It was a hope to win based on huge optimism that was not reflected by the necessary number of American troops on the ground at the very beginning.

Many of the officers that we talked to say that it did not need to get to this point, that there should have been more Americans on the ground to enforce the peace after so decisively winning the war.

That - you have to say that because basically, if you remember at the beginning, and this is what I always remember, for more than a year, the Pentagon and others were telling us that this insurgency was just a bunch of dead enders, a handful of dead enders with nowhere to go.

And what they've done, according to what we've seen, and according to American commanders on the ground, they have simply kept increasing their strength. If you take it simply in the number of people who are killed, whether it be Iraqis or Americans, this continues apace. And for instance, the Iraqi forces and police had many more deaths this year, 2005, than in the previous years. So on the political level, clearly, it's moving forward. It's incredibly gratifying to see these elections. I've witnessed every one of them. Last January, the referendum in October, this election. And it's an incredibly uplifting thing to watch because the majority of Iraqis clearly want progress. They want a proper democratic peaceful, stable country.

But on the other hand, remember that the Sunnis overwhelmingly rejected the constitution in October. What is that going to mean as this government goes forward? We don't quite know yet.

And on the reconstruction front, Wolf, it's simply not gone as planned. Even the U.S. inspector general has said many, many projects will go uncompleted because of the security situation. They haven't been able to do it.

BLITZER: Christiane, stand by. Ed Henry is on Capitol Hill. Ed, why wasn't there a response from a leading Democrat, one of the Democratic leaders on Capitol Hill in terms of addressing the American people in rebuttal?

HENRY: In talking to a lot of senior Democratic strategists, they say that basically, it's extremely difficult for them to stand up and battle the image of the Oval Office. It's one thing to respond to the president when he's at a podium, he's giving a speech in Philadelphia. It's such a powerful media for him to be in the Oval Office, something the Democrats and the minority cannot match.

What they can do is individually come out and throw some sharp words, some jabs. And one other bit of information we're just getting from Senator Edward Kennedy, saying he believes the president missed an opportunity tonight to address the domestic spy story that has really captivated and really grabbed a lot of headlines the last couple days, saying, "the president's domestic spying scheme placed fast and loose with the law and our Constitutional protection."

Strong words there, but we're hearing that not just from Kennedy, but from some Republicans as well. Not going that far with the rhetoric, but this is something Congress is going to take a close look at, Wolf.

BLITZER: And we're going to take a closer look at that part of the story out of this as well.

Barbara Starr at the Pentagon, when are we going to get the formal announcements of this 20,000 troop reduction from about 158,000 down to 138,000 now that the elections have come and gone?

STARR: Well, Wolf, General George Casey said last week that he is working on an assessment now, and expects to make the recommendation to the president about the 20,000 troops within the next several days.

All indications are by the end of the year, by the new year. The military will have made the recommendation to the president. Whether he announces it at that time still remains to be seen because of this very critical calculation. What will the insurgency look like? What will the Sunni Ba'athists do in the days after the election now? Will violence take an upturn?

How do you announce a reduction in U.S. troops if there are still more and more attacks coming?

BLITZER: All right, Barbara, stand by for a moment.

The president's speech is already generating lots of buzz online. Let's go to our Internet reporter Jacki Schechner. She's watching the situation there. What are you picking up already, Jackie?

JACKI SCHECHNER, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, this is what's so cool about the blogs. You want to know how a speech like this resonates with the general public? All you got to do is go online to look for comments.

And I'll tell you what I'm seeing early from the right is this was an excellent, excellent speech. From The National Reviews blog, the Corner, K.J. Lopez pointing out that it was a strong solid address. Captain's Quarters blog, another big conservative blog, smart, presidential.

Over at Redstate.org, they opened up their comments sections and let people weigh in. People were saying this is the speech we should have been hearing all along. It would have put President Bush in a better light.

Now on the left, a lot of read the speech, why bother to watch it. I tell you, Think Progress got an early copy, posted it. Other big liberal blogs were linking to it. I don't even know that a lot of them even watched the speech. They were not impressed.

Think Progress pointing out there was no mention of a timeline. That's what they're looking for.

As for reaction from politicians, a lot of them posting online as well. Senator Frist saying this was a strong presidential speech. And Senator Feingold again pointing out no timeline.

So Bush - Wolf, I'm sorry, immediate reaction online to President Bush's speech.

BLITZER: All right, Jacki. Thank you very much. I want to thank our reporters who have been with us. Suzanne Malveaux over at the White House. Christiane Amanpour in London. Barbara Starr at the Pentagon. Ed Henry up on Capitol Hill, thanks to all of you.

The Bush administration's campaign on Iraq continues tomorrow. We're going to ask some tough questions to the Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. She's going to be joining us here in the Situation Room tomorrow.

That comes up. Remember, we're here in The Situation Room weekdays, 4:00 to 6:00 p.m. Eastern, as well as 7:00 p.m. Eastern tomorrow. The Secretary of State with us. Coming up, spying on Americans without a warrant. Has the president crossed the line? Are his actions illegal? We're asking the questions.

Plus, the ultimate sacrifice. A mom and a dad who lost their sons in Iraq. Do they support the president? We're going to get two very different perspectives.

And he was a reluctant advocate of the Iraq invasion. What does the former Secretary of State Colin Powell have to say now about the timing of a U.S. troop pullout?

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: I see the consequences when I talk to parents, who miss a child so much, but tell me he loved being a soldier. He believed in his mission. And Mr. President, finish the job.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Tonight the United States death toll in Iraq reached 2,155. The families of those men and women were among those closely watching the president's speech tonight. Like many Americans, their views on the war vary widely.

Georgette Frank is joining us from Chicago. Her son, Phil, was killed while searching homes in the Anbar Province in April 2004. And from Philadelphia, we're joined by Al Zappala. His son, Sherwood Baker, also died in April 2004 while providing security for inspectors searching for weapons of mass destruction.

And to both of you, our deepest condolences. Our hearts go out to both of you.

And Georgette, let me start with you. What did you think of the president's speech tonight?

GEORGETTE FRANK, SON KILLED IN IRAQ: I thought it was very good, Wolf. He brought out some very good points. I agree that we are making progress in Iraq. Maybe it's not as - moving along as quickly as some would like it to, but we are doing it. We are accomplishing.

BLITZER: What did you think, Al?

AL ZAPPALA, SON KILLED IN IRAQ: Well, the two main things that disturbed me about his speech is one, that he keeps intimating that Iraq had something to do with 9/11. He keeps saying it.

And the other thing is saying that mistakes were made to get us into this war when what really happened was they lied getting us into this war. They used information. They cherry picked what they wanted to hear. They wanted information they used was a person who flunked a lie detector test. And the president still used that information in the State of the Union speech in order to get us into war.

So we went into war under false pretenses. And we should leave. And the troops should come home now.

BLITZER: Do you believe, Al, that your son died in vain?

ZAPPALA: My son is a hero to me. And he's been a hero to me long before he was killed. He died - yes, he died for the wrong reasons.

BLITZER: What about you, Georgette? You support the president, although the president himself acknowledged that the information, the intelligence upon which he based - largely based going to war, the weapons of mass destruction stockpiles that information was wrong?

FRANK: Yes, he did say that, Wolf. And that is correct. But if we remember back to the time when these decisions were being made, it wasn't just the United States that felt there were weapons of mass destruction there.

We were joined by many other countries, including France and Germany and Russia. It was the general consensus that he was hiding something.

I don't believe we had any choice but to do what we did. I so clearly remember and Al brought up 9/11. We lived right across the bay from New York. Phil watched the first tower collapse. And the smoke from the World Trade Center was visible to us 24 hours a day. It was a - it was an impact that I'll never forget.

BLITZER: Let me break...

FRANK: That's the kind of thing...

BLITZER: Yes, go ahead - hold on a second, Georgette. I want to bring Al back for a moment. And just talk a little bit about your son, Sergeant Sherwood Baker. Talk a little bit about him. What he was doing in Iraq and the attitude he had when he was dispatched there?

ZAPPALA: Well, Sherwood was sent to Iraq in March of 2004. And like you said, Wolf, he was sent there to provide security for the Iraqi survey team, which was supposedly looking for weapons of mass destruction.

Now this is already - they already knew there were no weapons of mass destruction. The - all the inspectors had been there, come back and said there were no weapons.

In fact, I believe it was around March 25th, President Bush made a speech at a press ball. And he made a big joke about it. And he started looking under his desk and said where are those weapons of mass destruction? And he got a big laugh. And he laughed about it. He thought it was funny.

Well, I can guarantee you that my son Sherwood wasn't laughing and neither were his men.

BLITZER: Georgette, tell us a little bit about your son, Phil, who was 20-years old when he was killed?

FRANK: That's correct, Wolf. He joined the Marines. It was what he wanted to do. He went to Iraq knowing that he was going into harm's way, but his dedication to what he wanted to do, which was to be part of helping the Iraqi freedom that the Iraqi people achieve a measure of freedom.

He was dedicated to that. That was his focus. And I speak to so many who come back and who are on their second tours of duty. They've gone back over. And they all say the same thing. We need to be there. We're doing the right thing. We're following a course of action that's going to plant seeds of freedom in a part of the world that has never seen that plant grow.

How can we not reach out? How can I dishonor my son and what he believed by doing anything less than supporting his memory, his life, and his brothers and sisters who are still there in harm's way?

And our president for that matter, Wolf...

BLITZER: Yes, I was going to...

FRANK: ...because I do believe that - I'm sorry.

BLITZER: No, go ahead, finish your thought.

FRANK: Because I do believe he is leading us in the right direction. And that these steps that are taken will change the course of events on our planet in years to come.

BLITZER: Georgette Frank and Al Zappala, both of you have made an awful, awful sacrifice. We appreciate both of you joining us. And once again, our deepest condolences go out to you. No greater loss possible than to lose a child as both of you have. Thanks to both of you for joining us on this night.

ZAPPALA: Thank you, Wolf.

FRANK: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Thank you.

And still ahead here in THE SITUATION ROOM, Capitol Hill reacts to the president's address. Congressman Charley Rangel, Congressman Peter King, they'll weigh in on what the president said, as well as domestic spying here in the United States. Plus, Colin Powell speaks out. Hear why he thinks an immediate troop withdrawal would be a tragic mistake.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Let's get some congressional reaction now to the president's address, as well as his public confirmation that he authorized domestic spying on Americans and others without court warrants.

Joining us from Capitol Hill to talk about both of these issues, two members of Congress. From New York state, Democrat Charley Rangel, Republican Peter King.

Congressman Rangel, your reaction, first of all, to what you heard the president say tonight?

REP. CHARLES RANGEL (D), NEW YORK: There was an old song that Peggy Lee used to sing -- "Is That All There Is?" It just seems to me for those of us that oppose the war, he said to give him a chance and to trust him. Well, over half of the American people don't trust him.

And the fact that we were misled -- whether the information was deliberately distorted not is not nearly as important as how quickly the president passed over that and allowed us to believe that the loss of all of these lives and all of the injured soldiers that we have over there was worth it just to get rid of Saddam Hussein.

He tells us, who oppose the war, that he's willing to accept criticism. But it was rather harsh in saying that if he didn't think it was constructed, then we're undermining the troops and we're unpatriotic and we would defeat us.

So, I wasn't impressed at all.

BLITZER: What about you, Congressman King, what did you think of the president's speech tonight?

REP. PETER KING (R), NEW YORK: I thought it was a fine speech. The fact is, that we have made extraordinary progress in Iraq. As Senator Lieberman has said, there is a plan and it's working.

Obviously there is tremendous difficulties. Every death is tragic. But I've been to Iraq a number of times. The morale on the ground is great. We have removed a dictator from one of the most volatile portion of the world. And we would never be able to defeat Islamic terrorism -- that's what it is -- Islamic terrorism, so long as you had a power (inaudible) dictator with access to weapons of mass destruction right at the center of that. And so the president did exactly the right thing in attacking in 2003.

He's doing the right thing now in making sure that we don't give up the way some people want us to. And the fact is that progress is being made and it would be the worst mistake of all, to pull out precipitously. The job is being done. The elections the other day were a tremendous victory -- not just for democracy, but to stabilizing the Middle East.

BLITZER: Let's talk a little bit about the president's public confirmation yesterday, that he's authorized spying on Americans and others, without a court warrant. There are some Democrats, Congressman Rangel, who believe the president has broken the law. What do you say?

RANGEL: Condoleezza Rice said that he did it under statutory and constitutional law. Those of us that have studied this have found no statute. As a matter of fact, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act actually restricts the president from unilaterally doing this to people as he goes to the court.

And certainly, there's no provision in the constitution. So Condoleezza Rice said she was no lawyer. Well, the president's no lawyer either, but it's kind of clear to us that there's no statute or constitutional right to do what he has done.

BLITZER: So, Congressman Rangel, did he break the law?

RANGEL: It seems that way to me, but the president ought to come forward. If -- if they say there was a law, he ought to bring it to the Congress immediately.

BLITZER: We heard earlier today from Senator Spector, the Chairman of the Judiciary Committee Congressman King, in the U.S. Senate, saying he'd like to see the legal justification, the legal opinion upon which the president based this extraordinary decision after 9/11 to authorize domestic spying.

KING: Well, first of all, Wolf, if he had done this back in 1998, 1999 and 2000, we probably wouldn't have had the attacks of September 11. As far as the legal justification, I was listening to well, Professor Rodstein (ph), from Georgetown, today, who said you could certainly make an argument that Article 2 of the Constitution and also the legislation passed after September 11 does give the president that power.

As the "Washington Post" points it out today -- no friend to President Bush. They said all administration, both Democratic and Republican, have claimed the inherent constitutional right of the president to carry this out.

And let's keep in mind, there's nothing secret about this politically. The president brought in the democratic leaders of the House and Senate and the democratic leaders on the House and Senate Intelligence Committees. So, he was faced with a situation where there were Islamic terrorists attempting to kill us. And he brought in the opposition. If he was trying to sneak something over, you wouldn't bring in Nancy Pelosi, you wouldn't bring in Harry Reid, you wouldn't bring in Tom Daschle and Dick Gephardt, at J. Rockefeller.

RANGEL: Well, at least one of those four people have indicated that they were sworn to secrecy and they did protest. I tell you this, that bringing in someone and says a secret. If you tell the rest of the world what I'm doing and being subjected to an indictment by the grand jury is not really as open as you say, Mr. Chairman.

KING: Charlie, it's certainly opened up -- if he was trying to put one over on anyone, you wouldn't bring in the opposition. And Charlie, my point is listen, maybe we should pass laws to make it more specific that he has the right to do it. But he's charged -- you know, not you or I, but he's charged with defending the lives of all Americans.

In the wake of September 11, I think he did the right thing and I think if we do want to question it, then I think we should say how do we change the law to accommodate it? Because this is a real need. If you have people in the United States who are telephoning out or receiving calls in from a known terrorist overseas, certainly we should be using our track surveillance on that.

BLITZER: But my point is that what good is it bringing in just the leaders and swearing them to secrecy? And the second point is that any dictator can do what he's done and then say there should be a law. The question is, he ought to show us the constitutional law in which he acted.

KING: Well, as Professor Rodstein (ph) said today, arguments have been made at that -- Article 2 of the constitution does give the president the inherent power to carry this out. And if not, we should make sure he does have it. Because I think if we're going to survive as a nation, we have to give the president of the United States that power. And I don't think any dictator brings in leaders of the opposition to tell them what he's doing if he's trying to put one over on the American people or any people.

RANGEL: Marcos (ph) did this with the Supreme Court. He went there and asked whether he could have marshal law, and there were guns all around. You bring in people and you say you swear them to secrecy. And then you me just because it sounds like the right thing, you got a professor. I want the attorney general to come forward and say who authorized the president to do this? On the face, it looks illegal.

BLITZER: Charlie, why don't we give the president of the United States at least some credit for trying to save American lives, not comparing to President Marcos (ph), a dictator. I mean, this is a type of micro-more-rhetoric, which is going to cause a Democratic party to get wiped out in the next elections. Because, listen, we can have arguments in good faith, disagreements in good faith, but I would never have compared Bill Clinton to Fidel Castro or to Marcos (ph) or anyone else. And I think it's really wrong -- in time of water -- compare the president of the United States to a vicious dictator, who was deposed, by the way, during a Republican administration.

Well, I can tell you one thing. The way you guys treated Bill Clinton, I don't see why you're so concerned that the Democrats are going to get hurt by saying that. No matter how good the intent, if you're the president of the United States, the commander in chief, you're still not above the law. So you can say it's right, and your professor can say it's right. But the law's the law for everybody.

KING: Exactly. And I believe Article 2 of the Constitution does give the president that power. As ever recent president that I know of has claimed that he

BLITZER: Let me interrupt for a moment, but Congressman King, the argument is that the president could have done this by simply going to that -- what's called that "Phizer Court," the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance act court. There's a judge there who sits in super-secret session over at the Justice Department. And also on a routine basis, rubber stamps these requests for wire taps, for surveillance. So what was the problem with simply doing that and then you have the cover of a court order?

KING: Wolf, I was not present at the meetings, but I do know -- I've spoken to members of Congress who were at the meetings, -- the end of each meeting at the White House, they would be asked -- they would ask you of any concern or any problems with this, and people I spoke to were there, said none were ever raised. I mean, that's -- I assume the reason why they were brought down to the White House was to explain to them why they were using this extraordinary procedure, rather than getting the Phizer Court Order.

If they could get it -- I assume they would have gotten it. It could have been a question of time. They also had the chief judge of the Phizer Court there for at least one of those meetings.

BLITZER: Congressman Rangel, hold you fire for a moment. I want to take a quick commercial break, continue this discussion, continue the discussion about domestic spying. Also, the president's address tonight from the Oval Office. Much more coming up with these two influential members of Congress.

And, did the president say what he needed to say on Iraq? Will the public hang in for the long haul in a war which the president concedes is still far from over.

And the Former Secretary of State Colin Powell, speaking out about the war in Iraq and about his former colleagues in the Bush administration.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back. We're talking about the president's acknowledge that he did repeatedly authorize domestic spying on Americans and others in the aftermath of 9/11 without a court warrant. Two members of Congress still with us, Charlie Rangel, Democrat of New York; Peter King, Republican of New York.

We just heard Congressman King, Charlie Rangel say that this is an extraordinary time after 9/11 and the president has to do whatever is necessary to protect the American people, including this extraordinary authorization. You don't buy that?

RANGEL: Of course not. First of all, when Pete says would the president be doing something and then invite the leaders in and tell them? You bet your life. If he swears them to secrecy and they're subject to the grand jury indictment, then they can't not talk with Pet or with me about what went on in those meetings.

But the whole concept because we're at war, it is at this time, if we're trying to instill democracy in a foreign country -- even though I don't think that's the mandate of the United States military. The one thing we should do is to obey the law. And you just can't say because it's war time that the president is above the law. That's absolutely ridiculous.

BLITZER: Alright, Congressman King, you want to just briefly respond to that?

KING: I don't think he is above the law, I think is it that within his inherent powers as commander in chief? And Charlie, when he had the Democratic leaders in, I'd like to know did any of them forcefully object? If I were called into a meeting with the president...

BLITZER: ... Well, let me interrupt for, Congressman King, I'll respond because they've issued statements saying they were briefed, the leaders of the Senate, the Democratic leader of the Senate, the democratic leader in the house, the ranking democrats on the intelligence committees in the Senate and the House; and several of them have said, yes they knew about it, but they did express their concerns.

Of course, given the highly natured classification how secretive and sensitive this was, they couldn't say anything publicly.

KING: Well, if there were 12 meetings -- I mean, if I were called into one of those meetings and I really thought there was a constitutional problem, I would do more than just to say I have a concern. Every meeting I went to, I would say, Mr. President, this is wrong. I don't want to be a part of it. I mean, so certainly, they could have protested a little more than they apparently did. I mean, all of us could have different concerns where this go too far or that goes too far.

RANGEL: I thought about that too, Pete. But after the guy tells you you're sworn to secrecy, then you just can't get up and look out.

BLITZER: Well, the other argument, or let me just wrap this up, Congressman Rangel. The other argument the White House makes is that career lawyers at the National Security Agency, at the Justice Department, as well as the White House counsel -- they authorized this opinion and said it was okay for the president to do this.

RANGEL: Well, I hope he's right and he should really come forward and say that. The same way he said that he had mistaken intelligence that led us to war and mislead the Congress. Let it all hang out. But I have not heard publicly where the president got the authority to eavesdrop on American citizens when the law is abundantly clear?

BLITZER: And we're anxious, Congressman King, to get that legal opinion from the White House, and we'll have a much better sense as Senator Spector, Chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said today he wants to get that legal justification for this extraordinary move by the president.

We have to leave it right there, Congressman.

RANGEL: Well, if that fails, Pete's got a professor for him, so. You know, may work out.

BLITZER: He can speak to Professor Rodstein (ph), of Georgetown Law School. Alright, thanks very much, Charlie Rangel, Peter King, good to have both of you here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Coming up, the Oval office speech on Iraq. The first Oval Office address in almost three years. Does the president have the right message? And did he get it across. We'll talk about it in our strategies session.

Plus, we'll check the "buzz" on the Internet to get reaction online. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Some look at the challenges in Iraq and conclude that the war is lost and not worth an other dime or another day. I don't believe that. Our military commanders to do not believe that. Our troops in the field who bear the burden and make the sacrifice do not believe that America has lost.

And not even the terrorists believe it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: We also heard the president say tonight that there will be more violence, more difficulties ahead in Iraq. He said the U.S. and its allies are winning this war.

Did he make a convincing case to the American people to stick it up for the long haul?

Joining us here in the THE SITUATION ROOM, our strategy session, CNN analyst, Democratic Strategist Paul Begala. From New York, our CNN's Senior Analyst Jeff Greenfield. How did he do, Jeff?

JEFF GREENFIELD, CNN SENIOR ANALYST: He summarized what he's done the last couple of weeks. But let me respectfully suggest to you, Wolf, that that is not the key question. From the start of this war, there's been one rule -- present and future conditions will define the American public's view of past decisions.

When the insurgency grew worse, when reconstruction faltered, when American casualties grew, Americans' doubt grew -- not only about the conduct of the war, but why we got into it, and the president's honesty and trustworthiness. I believe that will true three months and six months from now. This speech is like a button on the last five speeches, but in terms of affecting public opinion, it is -- what did Everet Dirks (ph) used to say? It is a snowflake on the bosom of the Potomac.

What is happening and will happen will drive public opinion. And I think that's one of the reasons why the president and his people put aside the spin that they've been doing the last couple of years with the rallies and the signs, and went for a much more modest kind of speech.

BLITZER: And what about that Paul Begala? When you worked for Bill Clinton, you wrote several of these speeches or at least contributed significantly to them. What was your assessment?

PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, these speeches are hard to do. Ronald Reagan was the really only master of the medium that is sitting in the Oval Office, no audience, it's very cold, it's very sterile, it's very, very difficult to do.

I think stylistically, the president did fine, actually. It's not his strongest suit. He's always better when he has people around him. He'll never be another Ronald Reagan.

But Jeff's right, the facts on the ground are what drives this. The president is being advised, apparently, by a political scientist from Duke, named Dr. Fever, which I find sort of WKRP in Cincinnati- ish. But, Dr. Fever has convinced him that the American people want to hear that we can win. We're winning, we're going to win.

The sound bit you just played today -- I think that the debate is instead about credibility. The president says one thing. If something else happens on the ground, he's in trouble. And think of all the time that we've been told we were turning the corner. When the statue of Saddam fell and Saddam himself fell, when Uday and Qusay were killed, when Saddam was captured.

We turned the corner, and then we'd turn the corner in the preliminary elections. And then we turned the corner and handed over sovereignty. Then the constitutional election in October. Now, the elections in December this year. Every time we turn the corner -- and yet Americans look at it and they think things are getting any better. And that causes this terrible dissidence -- it's what's causing the credibility problem the president has.

BLITZER: You know, Jeff, like me, you've lived Vietnam, some of the abuses of intelligence gathering domestically. What do you make of the president yesterday morning confirming that "New York Times" story on Friday, that yes, he did authorize this kind of domestic spying without court orders.

BEGALA: I'd sure like to know how the facts on this one play out. I would like to know whether or not members of both parties were briefed, were informed, did they protest? Did anybody say to the president, you really don't have this power? Was there a way to get this information without doing that?

We're in the first 48 hours of this. But I think on this particular issue, politically, one of the most interesting things is going to be whether or not the conservative libertarian republicans -- some of whom have opposed provisions of the Patriot, some of whom have opposed what they consider big government conservatism, rally behind the president on national security grounds or turn on him because of the expansion of federal power.

I mean, here's a flash, Wolf, the while the problems control the executive and legislative branches. If significant numbers of them don't have a problem with this, and it becomes a simply partisan debate, I think the president gets off relatively unscathed.

If Republicans begin to say what are you doing with all those executive power -- you just got a real problem, I think.

BLITZER: Alright, guys, unfortunately we got to leave it right there. Good discussion. Jeff Greenfield, Paul Begala, we'll continue it down the road. Thanks to both of you for joining us.

Coming up, Colin Powell's speaking out. We'll find out why he believes a call for immediate withdrawal from Iraq -- those calls would result in a tragic mistake. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Former Secretary of State Colin Powell is offering some candid opinions on the war in Iraq. In an interview with the BBC, he admits he was sometimes at odds with the Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. In fact, he describes some discussions with Rumsfeld, as quote, "Not pleasant." But he echoes the president of the issue of troop withdrawal.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

COLIN POWELL, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: To essentially just walk away, to say we're taking all of our troops out as fast as we can, would be a tragic mistake. It would be a disaster for us to do that. And it would be unconscionable.

After we took out that horrible regime, let us all be glad that Saddam Hussein is standing trial and his regime is gone. That is a major success for the world. And now, the challenge is to make sure the Iraqi people get the opportunity to decide how they're going to be governed and let the insurgents dictate it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Colin Powell speaking earlier.

President Bush's speech this evening addressed some of the costs associated with the war in Iraq, but what are they? It's all online. Let's go back to Jacki Schechner. She's got more -- Jacki.

SCHECHNER: Well, if Michael White created a site called Icasualties.org. And in addition to the map you see running behind me, he also created a map that has all of the casualties by state in the United States. For example, those in red are over 100 in California, 222 fatalities. Unfortunately, alone. He also has this map that breaks it down by city. He wants to make sure that these men and women are not forgotten. He also has biographies of them online as well, links to news articles about their passing. There's also this more controversial site that has the Iraqi death toll, Wolf, and unfortunately that, at $31,000.

BLITZER: Jacki, thanks very much. We're in THE SITUATION ROOM, weekdays 4:00-to-6:00 p.m. Eastern. About 7:00 p.m. Eastern. I'll see you tomorrow. Among my guests, the Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. She'll be with us. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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