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THE SITUATION ROOM
Secret Program May Monitor Muslim Sites In U.S.; Daschle Disagrees That Congress Authorized Wiretaps; Samuel Alito On Wiretaps; Robert Novak Interview
Aired December 23, 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: Thanks very much. And to our viewers, you are in THE SITUATION ROOM where new pictures and information from around the world are arriving all the time.
Happening now, new questions about government surveillance without court warrants. Why is the FBI monitoring dozens of Muslim sites including mosques? It's 4:00 p.m. here in Washington where details are emerging about this secret and sensitive program.
Also this hour, the White House and domestic spying. Did Congress give the president the power he claims to have? Another Democrat is disputing the administration's story.
And the Robert Novak interview, a SITUATION ROOM exclusive. As he wraps up his remarkable career at CNN, Novak will take on some tough questions about the hot political stories of the day, the state of journalism and that CIA leak investigation.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
We have new information about some tactics in the war on terror, reports of a top secret program to search for possible nuclear bombs at mosques and other Muslim sites here in the United States.
At issue, is the monitoring going on without court warrants just like those secret wiretaps authorized by President Bush? Our Homeland Security correspondent Jeanne Meserve has been doing some digging. She has got the story -- Jeanne.
JEANNE MESERVE, CNN HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, officials' greatest fear is a nuclear or radiological device falling into the hands of terrorists. Several government officials confirm to CNN a story first reported by "U.S. News and World Report" that the FBI, assisted by Energy Department nuclear emergency support teams, has monitored more than 100 predominantly Muslim sites in the Washington area, including mosques, businesses and homes.
Although the head of the FBI field office here in Washington says there is, quote, "no nuclear or radiation monitoring program targeting mosques or other places of gathering by Muslim or any other particular group of citizens."
But according to CNN sources, monitoring of Muslim sites has also taken place in New York, Chicago, Detroit, Las Vegas and Seattle without search warrants because it is done outside from areas authorities consider public property, including parking lots.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations called it part of a disturbing trend that affords full rights to most citizens, and another diminished set of rights to Muslims.
But one government official says a site is only monitored if there is intelligence indicating it should be checked out, and emphasizes that the government conducts a broad array of radiation surveillance activities in an effort to protect American citizens from nuclear terrorism -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Jeanne. I know you're watching this story. We'll check back with you. Thank you very much.
And to our viewers, stay tuned to CNN day and night for the most reliable news about your security.
Now, to the latest on the domestic spying controversy dogging the Bush administration. Former Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle is weighing in forcefully today. He is strongly disputing the president's claim that Congress gave him the authority to conduct secret wiretaps without court warrants.
CNN's Andrea Koppel is covering the story for us. She's joining us now live -- Andrea.
ANDREA KOPPEL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Daschle was the Senate majority leader from 2001 to 2002, and he helped negotiate new anti- terror legislation following the September 11th attacks.
KOPPEL (voice-over): With the nation still reeling just days after the 9/11 attacks, Congress authorized President Bush to use all necessary and appropriate force to go after those responsible, authority Mr. Bush claimed just this week gave him the power to sign off on secret wiretaps of American citizens.
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Do I have the legal authority to do this? And the answer is absolutely. As I mentioned in my remarks, the legal authority is derived from the Constitution, as well as the authorization of force by the United States Congress.
KOPPEL: But in an op-ed in Friday's "Washington Post," Tom Daschle, the former Democratic leader of the Senate, challenged Mr. Bush's claim writing, quote, "I did not and never would have supported giving authority to the president for such wiretaps. The president should explain the specific legal justification for his authorization of these actions."
KOPPEL: And, Wolf, it appears that is exactly what the Department of Justice is trying to do. Late yesterday it fired off a five-page letter to the U.S. Congress addressed to the chairman of the House and the Senate Intelligence Committees, defending its domestic spying activities and laying out the legal authority supporting those secret wiretaps of American citizens, Wolf.
BLITZER: Andrea Koppel reporting for us. Thank you very much, Andrea, for that.
Let's go up to New York, "The Cafferty File." That means Jack Cafferty is standing by. Hi, Jack.
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: How are you doing? So after Nixon was doing this illegal eavesdropping on Americans, they made this -- they created this court in the Justice Department that is specifically authorized to OK the wiretaps if the administration asks permission, is that right?
BLITZER: In 1978 they did that. It's called the FISA, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.
CAFFERTY: Yes, and if my reading is correct, they've turned down exactly five requests in the last 25 years out of tens of thousands. And you can even get permission up to 72 hours after you conduct the wiretap, right?
BLITZER: That is correct.
CAFFERTY: So why can't they pick up the phone and saw we want to do this?
BLITZER: What they said is that the new technology requires a different kind of process. And they don't necessarily have that standard probable cause that would justify a court warrant. They just need to do it to save your life.
CAFFERTY: Yes. Well, you know what? He's in big trouble. And I can't wait for the hearings to start in January.
Anyway, on to other stuff. You might be able to call it an early Christmas gift. Here's your government doing you some more favors. President Bush signed an executive order giving pay raises to federal workers including all the members of Congress, the judges and the vice president. Congress passed the pay raises earlier this year. They take effect in January.
Now, they just voted to cut a bunch of spending on domestic programs out of the budget here a few days ago, but they've already passed their pay raises. Members of the House and Senate get a cost of living adjustment. Their salaries go up about three grand a year to $165,200.
Mr. Cheney, House Speaker Dennis Hastert and Chief Justice John Roberts get bumped up to $212,100. The president doesn't get a raise, 400,000 is what he gets and it's not going up. Here's the question. Should members of Congress be getting a pay raise? I can't even say that with a straight face. E-mail us at CAFFERTYFILE@CNN.COM -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Thanks, Jack, very much. You'll be saying it again later this hour with a straight face. Jack Cafferty in New York.
Coming up, Robert Novak right here in THE SITUATION ROOM on this, his last day here at CNN. Our colleague takes questions from me about the CIA leak investigation, his 25 years at CNN and lots more. It is a SITUATION ROOM exclusive.
Also ahead, new insight from Samuel Alito's paper trail. Where does the Supreme Court nominee stand on the issue of secret wiretaps?
And later, holiday gifts that could be music to politicians' ears, or not. That's Bill Schneider's eve of Christmas Eve theme. Stay with us.
BLITZER: Welcome back. About two weeks before Samuel Alito's confirmation hearings before the U.S. Senate, we have some new information about where the Supreme Court nominee stands on a timely subject, domestic wiretaps.
Let's go over to the White House correspondent Suzanne Malveaux has details -- Suzanne.
SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, really at issue here is this memo, a 1984 memo, to the solicitor general written by Samuel Alito. Essentially the question is whether or not government officials have blanket immunity from lawsuits if they authorize domestic wiretaps without a warrant.
The specific case dealing with Attorney General John Mitchell at the time who did just that. Now in this memo Alito states, I'm quoting here, "I do not question that the attorney general should have this immunity," but goes on to advise against the government moving forward for tactical reasons.
Wolf, the big question here is whether or not this is even relevant. There are some members of Congress, mainly Democrats, who say that it is. And these are Democrats who are going to be investigating basically at January hearings whether or not the president, himself, overstepped his bounds in authorizing a domestic spy program without a warrant.
Senator Patrick Leahy releasing this statement saying, "these documents fill in more blanks and deepen the impression of activist that colors Judge Alito's career...checks and balances are areas of deep concern that we will bring to these hearings, and Judge Alito's answers will be vitally important in evaluating his suitability to serve on our nation's highest court."
Now, the White House strongly disagrees with this and some legal scholars as well, saying this is apples and oranges. One doesn't really have anything to do with the other.
We heard from Steve Schmidt, a White House spokesman who essentially said that despite Democrats' attempts to link this memo to reports of NSA activities, National Security Agency activities, the two have nothing to do with each other. He goes on to say that Judge Alito's memo regarding a purely domestic threat is completely different from NSA's efforts to thwart threats from foreign terrorist organizations.
What does all of this mean? Of course, it is a political hot topic that we are going to see that basically will unfold in the Judge Alito's confirmation hearings next year -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Suzanne Malveaux reporting for us. Thank you very much.
And to our viewers, you too can get your hands on these new Alito documents in question. Here to show you where and how to get these documents our Internet reporter Abbi Tatton -- Abbi.
ABBI TATTON, INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, this is part of the latest release from the National Archives. The latest document dump of over 700 pages, 45 documents of their site, all pertaining to Judge Samuel Alito.
And you can look at this 1984 memo in question. Go on the site and read it for yourself because it pertains to absolute immunity in the case of wiretapping, lots of back and forth on both sides over this document.
At blogs like the Conservative National Review's bench memos that watches the judiciary, they are commenting saying that this memo is about absolute immunity rather than whether the government officials had any right to do it.
Senators weighing in as well, as we heard from Suzanne Malveaux. Senator Charles Schumer's site a letter there to Judge Alito asking questions that he wants answered -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Abbi, thank you very much.
Still ahead here in THE SITUATION ROOM, marching orders for U.S. troops. The Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld opening up about future force levels in Iraq.
And our exclusive interview with Robert Novak. He hasn't been talking since the CIA leak indictment of Lewis "Scooter" Libby. He is about to talk to us about the leak investigation and his 25 years here at CNN.
You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Welcome back.
Our Zain Verjee is joining us now from the CNN Center in Atlanta for a look at some other stories making news. Hi Zain.
ZAIN VERJEE, CNN ANCHOR: Hi Wolf. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld says there will be fewer U.S. troops in Iraq next year. Rumsfeld says two brigades scheduled to deploy to Iraq next spring won't be going. There are about 3,500 troops in each brigade. This would reduce troop strength below the 138,000 typically in the country this year. The number reached 160,000 before recent elections.
Indonesian authorities say they're increasing their vigilance because of the threat of holiday terror attacks. The U.S. Embassy in Jakarta is warning Americans that there is a serious risk of such an attack.
The embassy says maps and explosives found in a raid last month suggest a group linked to al Qaeda was in the advanced stages of planning attacks.
An Italian judge has issued arrest warrants for 22 people said to be CIA agents. Italian prosecutors allege that the 22 were involved in kidnapping a terror suspect in Italy and flying him to Egypt where he allegedly was tortured.
One former CIA analyst says it's true, but the Italian military secret service approved of the operation. Italian Government denies that.
The Commerce Department is out today with the strongest evidence yet that a five-year boom in home sales is cooling off. Sales of new homes declined by more than 11 percent last month. The biggest monthly drop in 12 years. Nevertheless, sales of both new and existing homes are expected to set records in 2006 -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Zain, thanks very much. We are going to get back to you soon.
And given the slowdown in new home sales, is it time to buy or is it time to cash out? Should you refinance your mortgage?
Our Internet reporter Jacki Schechner is here with some valuable online tools -- Jacki.
JACKI SCHECHNER, INTERNET REPORTER: It is all online, Wolf. You can start with that report that Zain was talking about at the Commerce site at commerce.gov. That report right there. You can click on it. It will give you all the pertinent information.
You can see in this chart from CNN Money how there's the drop from October here to November. But it is because rates really peaked in October that drop looks so dramatic.
Other information, that was for new home sales this for existing home sales from the National Association of Realtors online. And what is interesting about this is it will give you the median price of home sales in every major city in the United States. You can get an idea of what's out there. What a home in your area is going for.
As for financing information online, you can go to the National Association of Home Builders. They will teach you what you need to know on financing your home. Something as simple as Yahoo Finance, for example, will teach you about looking for a loan.
And then there are also the resources at bankrate.com. And, Wolf, what this will give you is more of a long-term vision as opposed to having the day-to-day fluctuations.
BLITZER: Jacki Schechner reporting for us. Thanks, Jacki, very much.
Up next Bob Novak's parting shots on this, his last day, at CNN. He is ready to talk about some of the big controversies unfolding in Washington, including one that he figured into himself, that CIA leak probe. We will ask him the questions.
Plus, did Congress give President Bush the power to order secret wiretaps or not? The dispute rages on. We'll discuss it in our "Strategy Session."
You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Welcome back.
Whether you agree or disagree with Robert Novak, few would dispute he's an original, a one of a kind journalist, columnist, pundit and man who's been with CNN for all of its 25 years.
Today is Bob's last day with this network. It's been quite a ride, culminating with his controversial role in that CIA leak story.
Bob is with us here in THE SITUATION ROOM today.
And in our exclusive interview I'll ask him about the leak probe, much more. We'll have a wide-ranging, no-holds-barred conversation.
First though, a look back at a remarkable career so far.
Here's our national correspondent Bruce Morton.
BRUCE MORTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Bob Novak's been in the news lately because he was the reporter who printed the name of Ambassador Joe Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame, and said she worked for the CIA. He has always said he didn't know she was covert and was never told disclosure would endanger her.
ROBERT NOVAK, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I have been told not by the official sources at the CIA but by unofficial sources that she was not a covert operative whose life was in danger.
MORTON: But there's a lot more to Novak than one story.
He's written a column, first with the late Rowland Evans, then alone for more than 40 years, and they joined CNN when this network began in 1980.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROWLAND EVANS, CNN'S "EVANS & NOVAK": I'm Rowland Evans. For the next 30 minutes, and each week hereafter, Robert Novak and I will hold a controversial news figure in the camera's eye.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MORTON: Tough questions, good reporting.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NOVAK: Are you worried about the moral majority in the right wing of the party?
GEORGE H.W. BUSH, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I don't -- you're -- no, I'm not.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MORTON: Made some news. Then Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney predicting Mikhail Gorbachev's failure to reform the Soviet Union in 1989.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RICHARD B. CHENEY, DEFENSE SECRETARY: I think the bottom line is that if I had to guess today I would guess that he would ultimately fail; that is to say that he will not be able to reform the Soviet economy to turn it into an efficient modern society.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MORTON: Evans died in 2001. Novak kept going to wherever the news was.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NOVAK: I'm Robert Novak in Tokyo at the prime minister's official residence. My guest is Kaiti Miazawa (ph), prime minister of Japan.
From the Blue House in Seoul, Korea, to question the president of the Republic of Korea, Kim Jong Sam (ph).
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MORTON: American politics is his true love and he hasn't missed covering a political convention since 1960.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NOVAK: George, I've been told by the Reagan people that both Ronald Reagan and Gerald Ford will come to the hall tonight after Reagan is nominated. (END VIDEO CLIP)
MORTON: He has a nickname, the "Prince of Darkness." "I like to cause trouble and stir up strife," he said once.
And he had a chance to do that not just on "EVANS & NOVAK" but on other CNN broadcasts, "CROSSFIRE" and "CAPITOL GANG."
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
AL HUNT, "CAPITAL GANG": Bob Novak (INAUDIBLE) unattributed sources is what Baryshnikov is to ballet.
MARK SHIELDS, "CAPITAL GANG": Putting Bob Novak in charge of pardoning (ph) would be like putting Shelly Winters in charge of Twinkies.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Novak, let me say something to your face.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I deeply resent the implication. You are implying I'm a communist.
NOVAK: I did not imply that at all.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You sure as hell did, and I deeply resent it.
NOVAK: I never said you were and I said it four times.
NOVAK: I say your judgment is bad and I think you're performing a disservice to your country.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A service for the Soviets. That is absurd.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MORTON: He's done other things -- father, grandfather, jumped out of a plane on CNN at age 72, converted to Roman Catholicism in 1998. "We all know that Bob's a Catholic," then Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan quipped. "The question is will he become a Christian?"
In public, at any rate, the take-no-prisoners questions continued. His game is hardball. Since he's nicknamed a prince, I thought about saying goodbye in Shakespeare's phrase, "good night, sweet prince." But then I thought, no, Bob would object to sweet, and he'd be right.
Bruce Morton, CNN, Washington.
BLITZER: And now the man himself, Bob Novak is here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
NOVAK: Thank you, Wolf.
BLITZER: We're going to get to the CIA leak and other issues in a few moments.
Let's talk about some of the issues right now on the agenda.
The president of the United States, George W. Bush, he's been in office now for five years, approaching his sixth year. You have been a good conservative all these years.
Are you satisfied with the way he's conducted himself? Has he been a good conservative from your perspective?
NOVAK: I think it's a mixed bag, Wolf.
I think his tax policy has been terrific. I think we would be in the depths of the economy if it weren't for the fact that he took a tough stand, a courageous stand in cutting the capital gains cuts, tax, the dividend tax, other income taxes.
I think, like most -- all Republican presidents, he hasn't done enough to reduce the size of the government. Nobody wants to bite that bullet.
The thing that I took issue with him, I didn't think we should have gone into Iraq. It was a few of us conservatives thought it was a bad idea. Once we get there, you can't bug out. You can't...
BLITZER: What was so bad about going in and getting rid of Saddam Hussein?
NOVAK: It was wonderful getting rid of him.
I'd like to get rid of a lot of dictators, but we can't send the U.S. military around the world to get rid of every dictator.
The question was, was it necessary in the national interest?
BLITZER: Was it?
NOVAK: I didn't think it was. I didn't think it at the time. Because I said several times on this network that there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.
BLITZER: How did you know that and the president of the United States, the vice president of the United States were convinced that there were apparently?
NOVAK: Because my sources -- I don't run my own CIA. My sources didn't think there were, in the military, people I trusted.
And the indication by the inspectors indicated there was no weapons. But the point...
BLITZER: Do you -- let me...
BLITZER: Was the president sold a bill of goods on Iraq?
NOVAK: I think they got in a mindset where they really wanted change of government, and then it was a need to find reasons for a change of government.
BLITZER: Why was that?
NOVAK: I believe that they felt that this was the key to American foreign policy.
I think it was -- they thought it was very important to our ally, Israel, to get rid of him, to peace in the Middle East, and then you kind of think of reasons to get it done.
But let me say, Wolf, that I really do believe that once you are in there with American troops on the ground and the commitment of this country, I think it is highly irresponsible to get out.
I'm so disappointed in Congressman John Murtha, who's a great public figure, talking about redeployment, of forces getting out.
I think we are going to get out at a slow rate. But a rapid redeployment would be a disaster for this country.
BLITZER: Because you remember when he ran for president in 1999 and 2000, he ran against the notion of nation building. He thought that was a huge mistake.
NOVAK: I still think nation building is a bad idea.
But we're in -- Wolf, we're in nation building and, once you start, you can't say, gee, I didn't think this was -- this isn't much fun; we have to get out.
BLITZER: I'm sure you're upset also about this expansion of the federal government. It's bigger than it's ever been before.
NOVAK: It is. I think it would be even bigger if we had a Democratic president and Democratic Congress, there's no question. If you follow Congress, and I know you do, all the fights that go on there is the Democrats, like people in Oliver Twist say, "I want more." They want more on their plate, more porridge.
BLITZER: But the Republicans have been in charge of the House of Representatives now for what, 11 years?
NOVAK: They have too much, but they don't have as much as the Democrats. Democrats say every bill they want more for schools, more for welfare, more for everything except the military. And so it's not that they're fiscally responsible. What the Democrats want to do is raise taxes, which would be a disaster. You know, remember Henny Youngman?
BLITZER: I do.
NOVAK: He used to say, "How's your wife compared to what?" And that's the thing with the Republicans. How are the Republicans compared to what?
BLITZER: Compared to Bill Clinton. Are you nostalgic for those eight years of Bill Clinton?
NOVAK: Oh, I certainly am not. I thought he was a terrible president.
BLITZER: But he did have a balanced budget, and he did have surpluses for a long time.
NOVAK: I've never been for a balanced budget. I don't think it's important. It's a sign of something -- you can't have a balanced budget when you have 9/11, when you have a war going on around the world. And, of course, he left the country with a recession when he left.
BLITZER: I know you fiercely protect civil liberties. Are you disappointed that after 9/11, the president authorized secret wiretaps on American citizens without court orders?
NOVAK: I don't know about the whole wiretap situation. It's something that have really come to a conclusion on. I do believe that the Patriot Act goes -- particularly the revised version coming out of the conference committee -- goes too far. I think there's too much freeloading by the police.
I know this. I started -- Wolf, I started covering police in Joliet, Illinois, in the 1940s, before you were born, I believe. And the police always want more. They want more power. And I believe a real conservative wants to keep a control on police power.
BLITZER: So you would tell your conservative friends on the Hill to reject this Patriot Act, at least those provisions?
NOVAK: I think amend it. I think you have to have the Patriot Act. I think that Senator Sununu has been going...
BLITZER: John Sununu Jr. from New Hampshire.
NOVAK: That's right. He's been going in the right direction on the Patriot Act, trying to amend it. And a few other conservatives have been doing the same thing.
BLITZER: All right, stand by, Bob, because I want to get to some other issues in a moment. But we have to take a quite commercial break. You remember what quick commercial breaks were all about.
NOVAK: No, I know. I love quick commercial breaks.
BLITZER: Stand by for a moment. Bob Novak. Much more of the CIA leak bombshell. Bob Novak's role in outing the operative Valerie Plame Wilson. What does he think about the use of anonymous sources now? And does he think Patrick Fitzgerald's investigation is having a chilling effect on journalism? More of our exclusive conversation with Bob Novak. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Welcome back. On July 14, 2003, Robert Novak published a column that left and indelible mark on his career and on the Bush White House. He wrote about former ambassador Joe Wilson, who questioned the president's justification for war in Iraq. And he disclosed that Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame Wilson, was a CIA operative.
Two years later, the investigation of that leak led the special prosecutor to indict the vice president Dick Cheney's then-chief of staff Lewis "Scooter" Libby, who has since resigned. Bob Novak hasn't given any interviews since Libby's indictment until now. He's still here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Welcome back. Before we get to some of the other stuff, what do you make of the indictment of Lewis "Scooter" Libby?
NOVAK: Wolf, I haven't discussed this case on the advice of my lawyers. I was set to go on CNN at the time of the indictment of Libby and tell about my role of the case, things I haven't disclosed on the grounds that the case was over. And to my amazement the special prosecutor continued the case and late summoned a new grand jury.
So I was very disappointed because if I had been able to go on CNN to discuss that case, then I would have done my regular commentary on CNN for the rest of the year until the conclusion of my contract, which is now. So I was very disappointed...
BLITZER: So you were surprised on that day when he indicted Scooter Libby that the whole thing wasn't resolved and still continuing?
NOVAK: Oh, yes. We found that out that morning. And I was all set to go on. I was writing a column. My newspapers were prepared to have a special column. And we were going to have -- it was Friday remember? And we were going to have a Saturday column running...
BLITZER: I remember vividly.
NOVAK: ... in "The Washington Post." So it was very disappointing to me. And I still -- if this investigation ever comes to an end, and it will come to an end, then I will be writing a column. Unfortunately, I won't be with CNN anymore.
BLITZER: Let me read to you what you wrote, just to be precise. These were the sensitive words. "Wilson never worked for the CIA, but his wife Valerie Plame is an agency operative on weapons of mass destruction. Two senior administration officials told me Wilson's wife suggested sending him to Niger to investigate the Italian report. The CIA says its counter-proliferation officials selected Wilson and asked his wife to contact him." Do you regret writing that story?
NOVAK: Well, it's a very interesting question. I probably do because it's caused me so much trouble. I don't think I did anything wrong, but as a practical matter, it wasn't a big scoop. You know, I think it was in the seventh paragraph of a 13-paragraph story or 11- paragraph story. And so it was just a throw-away line. And the whole column was not abusive toward Joe Wilson in any way.
BLITZER: The argument was that it was designed, releasing her name, to undermine him and to question his credentials.
NOVAK: Yes. And I have said that that wasn't the case.
BLITZER: Why was it necessary to publish her name? Didn't CIA officials try to dissuade you from doing so?
NOVAK: Well, they said they would rather that I didn't. But my information was it was well-known.
BLITZER: What was well-known?
NOVAK: Her name.
BLITZER: Well-known to whom? Because it had never been published.
NOVAK: No, no, it hadn't been published, but it was well-known around town.
BLITZER: Because there are suggestions now that she's come under death threat, that she's lost her career, she's no longer able to good out on clandestine operations for the CIA.
NOVAK: Well, I can't go into a lot of details, but I can tell you what I've said before publicly. And that was that the CIA people said that it was highly unlikely she would ever go on another operation. This was before I wrote this.
BLITZER: Here's what you said the other day, at least according to the "Raleigh News & Observer," December 14, 2005: "I'm confident the president knows who the source is. I'd be amazed if he doesn't. So I say don't bug me, don't bug 'Washington Post' reporter Bob Woodward, bug the president as to whether he should reveal who the source is." You were talking about your initial source for this story, is that right?
NOVAK: I was giving a speech, as I do every couple of years, to a conservative think tank called "The John Locke Foundation" in Raleigh. And I've spoken there for years. And I've said a lot of outrageous things to them, and it never gets in the paper. I'd made the bum reporter's mistake. I didn't think there would be any reporters there.
So that was a stupid thing for me to say. I was just kind of -- it wasn't in the speech, it was in the -- I had given a speech for about 40 minute. We had about ten minutes of Q&A, and that was the last question. It's always the last question that does you in. That was a dumb thing to say.
BLITZER: Was it dumb to say it, or was it not true? Do you believe the president knows who your source is?
NOVAK: It was dumb to say it.
BLITZER: But you do believe the president...
NOVAK: I'm not going to say. I thought it was an off-the-record operation. And I really don't want to go any further into it. I'm embarrassed that it appeared in print. I thought it was just in a private setting, so I don't want to go further into it.
BLITZER: I want to talk about your career at CNN, but one final question on the CIA leak. Other reporter who have testified before the grand jury --whether Tim Russert or Judy Miller, Matt Cooper -- afterwards, they've come out and explained their role, what happened, what didn't happen, which is their right to do so. Why can't you do that now?
NOVAK: I can't tell you why I can't do it. I've been advised by counsel not to, my lawyers. And I take their advice except when I'm saying something stupid to -- something I thought was off the record. I have said repeatedly I will describe my role when this investigation is over, and I'll explain why I haven't said anything. But I can't -- and I'll be happy to. I'll be delighted to when this investigation is over, but not until then.
BLITZER: And you're anxious to do that, I assume.
NOVAK: Yes, I am.
BLITZER: And you're anxious for this investigation to be over. Your late partner, Rollie Evans, who was a good friend of mine too, a great journalist in his own right -- listen to what he said here on CNN before he passed away about you.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROWLAND EVANS, CNN'S EVANS & NOVAK: He's a very all-embracing kind of person, very shrewd, very smart, very smart fellow. Economics, politics and sports. Very diligent follower of sports. But for the show, politics, economics.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: You remember Rollie Evans, obviously, a lot better than I do.
NOVAK: One of the great reporters.
BLITZER: He was a great guy. When you did all those shows, Evans & Novak here on CNN, who was your favorite guest? Looking back over all of those years.
NOVAK: I think my favorite guest was Boris Yeltsin. It was very hard to get an interview with him. We had him scheduled in Moscow one year, and he didn't show up on a Saturday night. I was told never schedule Boris Yeltsin on a Saturday night at night. And so we got him in the daytime in his office the next year.
And he was really fascinating. Nobody really knew where he was coming from. And what he really said in that interview was that they were abandoning communism. That was the first time it really came over, and that he didn't believe in socialism, didn't believe in the communist system.
And that was -- Wolf, that was one of the last interviews he ever gave because a lot of thuggish aides got involved with him and were demanding money a little money in order to do an interview. And you'll find that there was almost no interviews by American networks after that.
BLITZER: Because we wouldn't pay for interviews with leaders like that. The final "Crossfire." You were on with Paul Begala. Listen to Paul Begala from that final "Crossfire."
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NOVAK: I went around on that 2004 election, about two or three times, maybe it was even more, Paul and I went to mass together. And people would come up and say, "How can you guys go to church together?" Well, I think we actually believe in the same God. Can you imagine that?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
Actually you were talking about Paul Begala. That was James Carville. You had another episode with James Carville on CNN, as you remember.
NOVAK: A lot of episodes on CNN.
BLITZER: As our viewers will recall. What kind of relationship -- even when you and James, or when you and Paul, got into it, you did have a pretty decent relationship with these guys, a civil, cordial relationship. NOVAK: I think, yes. We enjoyed our company, in fact, off camera. I try to be honest and not hypocritical. I didn't always enjoy their company on camera. I think there was a mismatch between us in one way because Paul and James, they were Democratic operatives. They were out there to help the Democratic Party.
And I was not a Republican operative. I'm not even a registered Republican. I'm a conservative. So you had one side was all for the Democrats and the other side was -- I tried to be even-handed, but from a right of center viewpoint.
BLITZER: And you're a journalist. They're not journalists, they're strategic political operatives.
NOVAK: That's right. Yes.
BLITZER: In that sense, it was sort of one-sided, not necessarily all that even. You're a great sports fan, as a lot of our viewers know. You love the University of Maryland basketball team, you love the Washington Wizards. I'm a season ticket holder, just like you. The Redskins you love. Did you ever think that maybe all these years, you would have been better off being a sports reporter than a political reporter?
NOVAK: Wolf, a lot of politicians think so. I started off as a sports writer. You mentioned I'm also a loyal alumnus of the University of Illinois, and I still am going out to their game with Michigan State on January 5th.
BLITZER: When they play Maryland, who do you root for?
NOVAK: I keep my mouth shut. I hate it when they play each other. But I covered the 1952 Rose Bowl for the "Champagne Banner Courier" (ph) between Illinois and Stanford. And then I took the train up to San Francisco and covered the East-West football game. I was then -- I wasn't even 21 years old then.
And I said, "Is it going to get any better than that as a sports writer?" The Korean war was going on, I was about to go into the army as an officer. And I said, "Gee, I think I'd like to do something more serious." I think I would have been out of place and frustrated as a sports writer. But I love it as a hobby, being a sports fan.
BLITZER: Me too. Bob Novak is finishing up his memoirs. We'll look forward to reading those. We'll look forward to spending some time with you at Wizards games and other sporting events here in Washington.
NOVAK: Can I say one other thing? I want to thank CNN for making this network available to me for 25 years. Never censored me once, ever. And I said some outrageous things. And it was a wonderful opportunity for me. I think I worked hard for CNN, but it was a wonderful opportunity, and I want to thank them.
BLITZER: And we want to thank you. We know you worked hard for CNN. Bob Novak, merry Christmas, happy New Year. And thanks for all your 25 excellent years. Let's hope the next 25 years are even better.
NOVAK: Thank you.
BLITZER: And up next, 'tis two days before Christmas and all through the House and the Senate and the White House, there's not much Christmas cheer. We'll tell you about that in our "Strategy Session."
And what's in their wallets? Do members of Congress deserve the gift of more pay? Jack Cafferty is going through your email. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Welcome back. In today's "Strategy Session," two days before a day of cheer and good will, there's little of it between both political parties here in Washington. There's rancor over the newly- revealed domestic spying program and ill-will over everything from the Patriot Act to Samuel Alito's nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Joining us, CNN political contributor, Donna Brazile -- she's a Democratic strategist -- and Republican strategist Rich Galen. Guys, thanks very much. Roy Blunt was blunt in "The New York Times" today when he said this. I'm quoting, "I think the biggest single challenge of putting votes together for our team, frankly, was the president's numbers. When you are strong, you are united and your opponents are divided. When you are weak, your opponents are united."
Now, that's pretty blunt to acknowledge that one of the problems he had replacing Tom DeLay in the House is that he's got a president with bad numbers.
RICH GALEN, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Oh, I don't think there's any question about that. I mean, although when the numbers were really bad, when we were all here together a couple of weeks ago, I said they were coming back up, and in fact, they have come back up. But although it's an off year, the fact is that these polls don't occur in a vacuum. And members gravitate to power, and if there's no power to gravitate to, then they tend to fly apart.
DONNA BRAZILE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: It explained the problem the Republicans had over the last five years. That is George Bush went out and sold the program, and the Republican Congress just rubber stamped his policies. Now, the Republican Congress has to show leadership, and what we found was that there was divisions within the rank.
The moderate Republicans decided that they didn't want to bite off on the tax cuts and some of the cuts in social programs. So I think there are problems inside the Republican Party. Meanwhile, Democrats are energized, they're emboldened, they feel like they can stop some of the Republican momentum. And I think 2006 will be a very interesting year as you see Democrats assert themselves.
GALEN: Here's something that was in the "Washington Post" poll the other day. It was buried sort of in the tables. The question was, "What do you think about the Congress." And it was, you know, like 32-70. Everybody hates them. Then it said, "What do you think about your member of Congress?" It was like 65-20. So for your guys, it's one thing to say the Congress is dreadful, but you don't get to do it that way. You have to run against each individual member of Congress. And these folks over here are very good.
BLITZER: That's been consistent over the years. People hate Congress, except they like their congressmen or congresswoman. Because they deliver the pork, they deliver all the goodies.
BRAZILE: There's a strong appetite in all of those polls. I mean, the majority of Americans still believe this country is seriously off track on a number of issues. And that could help Democrats in 2006.
BLITZER: We have a new poll, by the way, coming out here in THE SITUATION ROOM. A CNN-"USA Today"-Gallup poll, 7:00 p.m. Easter. You're going to want to stick around and see that.
GALEN: Will you buy dinner so we can do this?
BLITZER: No, but you can watch it on television if you have cable. Tom Daschle, the former Democratic leader in the Senate, wrote in "The Washington Post" today this, and I'll read it: "I can state categorically that the subject of warrantless wiretaps of American citizens never came up.
I did not, and never would have, supported giving authority to the president for such wiretaps. I am also confident that the 98 senators who voted in favor of authorization of force against Al Qaeda did not believe that they were also voting for warrantless domestic surveillance.
He said that they tried, the White House did, in certain language in that use of force resolution right after 9/11 that would have made that the case domestically, but Daschle says he resisted. As a result, what the president did unilaterally was not appropriate.
GALEN: Well, two things. One, Donna and I were talking about this a little bit ago. That if you read that op-ed piece, which is kind of a long read, what Daschle actually says was, "If the president thought he had inherent power, why did he want these words put in?" Well, he wanted the words put in to make the inherent that they believed and believe, and the Clinton White House and all the White Houses before Clinton, believe that they have.
But he wanted to make it express. They didn't get it, so they stayed with their original theory, which, by the way, Republican leadership in the House and Senate have been briefed on right straight through.
BRAZILE: The good news is that we're going to have congressional hearings, hopefully, in 2006 to get to the bottom of it and the bottom of the legality of the White House doing this type of, what you call it, these warrantless searches. Most Americans, I believe, want the president to keep us safe and secure, but they also want the president to balance that with our need for privacy and liberty. BLITZER: Don't tell me because we've got to leave it right there because they're telling me we're out of time.
GALEN: We're at war, and you do different things when you're at war.
BRAZILE: We value privacy.
BLITZER: Rich and Donna, merry Christmas. Happy New Year to both of you.
Still to come here in THE SITUATION ROOM in our next hour, the defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld says there will be fewer U.S. troops in Iraq next year. We're going to go live to the Pentagon for the latest.
And up next, how much is your congressman worth? Do you think members of Congress should get a pay raise? Jack Cafferty's going through your email. Stay with us.
BLITZER: Let's go right to Jack Cafferty in New York -- Jack?
CAFFERTY: Should members of Congress be getting a pay raise?
Nonny in Sunrise, Florida: "I understand with lobbyists perhaps going to jail, things could be tight for many members of Congress. But giving them a government handout in the form of a raise will just make them lazy. I suggest they think of better ways of making some extra money or cutting expenses. Here's some ideas. Join the National Guard. Have a bake sale, a great substitute for having health insurance.
"Cut home heating costs, use alternative fuels, burn the envelopes in which you get your special interest money, light those lumps of coal that you'll undoubtedly get in your Christmas stockings, or bask in your own hot air. Sell your influence on eBay. Ignore the above, spend like it's going out of style, and let your grandchildren worry about paying for it later on."
Steve in Palmetto, Florida: "Congress should never be allowed to increase their own compensation. That privilege should be reserved for the citizens of their district or state. They need to be reminded that they work for us and not for lobbyists and corporations."
And Terry in Nebraska writes, "What doesn't Congress get about their 29 percent approval ratings?" Wolf.
BLITZER: The answer is I don't know. But we'll continue this discussion, Jack. Thanks very much.
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