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THE SITUATION ROOM

Senate Begins Two-Week Recess Without Immigration Bill; Suicide Bombers Attack in Iraq

Aired April 7, 2006 - 19:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM, where new pictures and information are arriving all the time.
Standing by, CNN reporters across the United States and around the world to bring you tonight's top stories.

Happening now, it's 7:00 p.m. here in Washington. The president's poll numbers plunging to a new low as his problems pile higher. Will he sink lower in the flood of criticism over intelligence leaks?

As Democrats start jostling for 2008, who will rise to the top? I'll ask former vice presidential nominee John Edwards here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Tornadoes and thunderstorms turning deadly in Tennessee right now. Cars are tossed, trees are toppled, roofs go flying. We're on weather watch as severe storms sweep across the southeast.

And it's midnight in London, where "The Da Vinci Code" trial has come to a close. From books to movies, Jesus is a hit. As the profits grow, what's behind the growing appeal?

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

Happening now in parts of the country, where it isn't rain, it's hailing. And were there are not yet tornadoes, violent twisters could be on the way. Wild weather right now ripping through several states from Mississippi to Indiana.

In Tennessee, we're just learning from The Associated Press that seven people are dead after a tornado swept through. There's heavy damage in and near Nashville, several Tennessee counties bracing for more storms.

In minutes, we're going to show you exactly what the -- where the storms happened and exactly where they're heading next. Much more on the severe weather, that's coming up.

But we begin here in Washington with a political storm right at the White House, where the steady drip of the leak controversy is threatening to turn into a flood. The Bush presidency already seems submerged when it comes to public approval.

Check this out. The president scored his lowest-ever rating in the latest Associated Press-Ipsos poll that was released today. Only 36 percent of the American public approves of the job he is doing.

Let's turn to our senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley. She's got more -- Candy.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SR. POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, there is nothing in those court documents we saw yesterday to indicate that the president has a legal problem, but quite clearly today, he has a political one.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CROWLEY (voice over): The White House spokesman parsed his way through most of the daily briefing.

SCOTT MCCLELLAN, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Leaking classified information that could compromise our national security is something that is very serious.

CROWLEY: In the world of spin, it's an existential question: when is a leak not a leak?

MCCLELLAN: If it's in the public interest, it's another matter.

CROWLEY: The question comes up because of a court filing in the ongoing case of former White House aide Scooter Libby. In the document, Libby is quoted as saying, "The president authorized the disclosure of secret intelligent information to the news media."

Nothing ties the president to the outing of a CIA agent. Nothing illegal about the president declassifying information or the White House giving it to the press. Notable that the White House didn't deny that's what happened. The problem is...

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And if there's a leak out of my administration, I want to know who it is.

CROWLEY: While Scott McClellan danced on the head of a pin trying to align his boss' words with the court documents, Democrats went straight to the blunt instruments.

SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MINORITY LEADER: So he, the president of the United States, must tell the American people whether the Bush's -- President Bush's Oval Office is a place where the buck stops or the leaks start.

CROWLEY: Leaking is an art form along the halls of power in your nation's capital. Alexander Hamilton leaked treaty information to the British during 1794 negotiations. More recently, the Pentagon papers, Watergate, Iran-Contra, Monica Lewinsky.

Trivial leaks are usually inspired by ego or grudges in the "gotcha" game. Serious leaks are usually about trying to drive the agenda. They are a part of governance. DAVID ENSOR, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: The most common leaks are leaks that are officially sanctioned from higher-ups and are leaked to reporters who can be trusted not to say where they got it from, and are designed to affect the policy wars that go on in this town.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CROWLEY: The president declassified the material in the summer after the invasion of Iraq at a time debate was raging about whether he misused intelligence to go to war. The idea was the material would bolster his case. Now it deepens his troubles -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Candy, thank you very much.

Much more coming up on the leak investigation here in Washington. But there's other important news.

In the blink of an eye, immigration reform went from breakthrough to bust on Capitol Hill. Just hours after senators apparently reached a compromise on the fate of illegal immigrants, the deal is off. Now Congress is off for two weeks.

What went wrong? What happens now?

Let's get some answers from our congressional correspondent, Dana Bash -- Dana.

DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, what went wrong all depends on whom you ask, but senators of both parties today called it a tragedy and a travesty that a broad bipartisan compromise on immigration that they thought would never find is stalled and maybe even dead for the year.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. EDWARD KENNEDY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: I'm disappointed but not discouraged. I'm sorrowful but not without hope for the future. And I'm concerned about the lost opportunity but absolutely determined to keep right on fighting.

SEN. ARLEN SPECTER (R-PA), CHAIRMAN, JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: And the agreement has been decimated, has fallen through because of partisan politics. And regrettably, partisan politics plays too large a role on both sides of the aisle with Democrats and Republicans.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BASH: Now, on the surface, immigration got tangled in a procedural squabble over whether senators could offer amendments. But in the Senate, the procedure is all about politics, and the Democratic leader refused to allow any amendments. He called it a ruse by some Republicans to destroy that carefully-crafted agreement because they see the compromise as amnesty for illegal immigrants.

Meanwhile, Republicans accused Democrats of playing politics, saying the Democratic leadership who wants to win control of Congress this year simply wanted to prevent the Senate Republican leader from getting much of a victory at all in this high-stakes issue.

Meanwhile, Wolf, senators who supported this compromise are vowing not to let it go. But the Senate majority leader has made no commitment at all to bring it up this year.

BLITZER: A hot issue, and we'll continue to watch it, Dana. Thank you very much.

In Iraq, horrible, horrible news today. The United States ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, is calling it a vicious attack perpetrated now, he says, by enemies of all faiths and of all humanity. Dozens of people are dead after a suicide bombing at a mosque in Baghdad.

Our Aneesh Raman is standing by with details -- Aneesh.

ANEESH RAMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, for the second time in as many days, an attack on a Shia religious site that will undoubtedly ratchet up sectarian tensions in Iraq.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RAMAN (voice over): Just hours after noon prayers as people were heading home, a day of worship destroyed by Iraq's deadliest attack in months.

Outside one of Baghdad's most prominent Shia mosques, heavily guarded to prevent against attacks like this, a suicide bomber detonated a vest of explosives amid guards. At least two other suicide bombers then used the ensuing chaos to move closer and detonate their vests, killing more.

Survivors loaded bodies on to trucks. Some seething with pain, others with anger. Anger that Shia leaders fear could soon lead to actions beyond their control.

ABDELAZIZ HAKIM, SCIRI DEPUTY HEAD (through translator): For three years we have baring the slaughtering, killing and attacking of our innocents. We are always talking to our people to restrain themselves, but gradually people will start not to obey, and revenge actions are a danger.

RAMAN: This attack is the second in as many days against prominent Shia religious sites. Thursday, meters from Iraq's holiest Shia shrine in the country's holiest Shia city of Najaf, 10 worshipers were killed by a car bomb. Amid scenes like this, Shia militia leaders argue that if Iraq's security forces cannot protect their sites or their people, they will do it themselves.

But the same militias are thought to be behind reprisal attacks against Sunnis that in recent weeks have left hundreds dead in those areas and why senior U.S. military officials say they are now Iraq's biggest threat. MAJ. GEN. RICK LYNCH, MULTINATIONAL FORCE IRAQ: The militias are wrong. The militias are bad for the people of Iraq, and the militias have to be disbanded.

RAMAN: But the only people who can disarm Iraq's Shia militias are Iraqi leaders, who four months after election day are embroiled in political wrangling and yet to form a government.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

RAMAN: This attack will likely embolden and enrage Shia militias, but the hope is that it will also add urgency among Iraq's political leaders as they attempt to form a unity government -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And we're just getting these pictures in to CNN. Take a look at this.

The pictures showing an attack today on a car carrying the United States ambassador to Venezuela. You can see the ambassador William Brownfield's car being pelted with eggs and fruit. He was leaving a baseball stadium in Caracas where he'd been handing out sports equipment to a youth league.

The video was taken by someone inside the car. U.S. embassy officials say motorcyclists chased Brownfield's convoy for miles, even pounded on the cars. They say Venezuelan police escorts did not intervene. Luckily, no one was hurt. Clearly underscoring the serious tensions in U.S. relations with Venezuela.

We're going to watch this story, get more for you as it becomes available.

Let's check in with Jack Cafferty for "The Cafferty File" once again today -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: That would be a pretty scary ride, wouldn't it?

BLITZER: If you're the U.S. ambassador, I'd say.

CAFFERTY: Yes.

BLITZER: Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, the relationship, as you know, has not been strong.

CAFFERTY: No, not at all. And no sign it's going to get any better because of stuff like that going on.

All in the wording, Wolf. Is it a leak or a release of information? And does it really matter?

The White House says President Bush did not contradict himself by criticizing leaks of classified information while at the same time approving the release of classified information about Iraq. All this comes as the president's approval rating hits another all-time low. Thirty-six percent, according to a new AP-Ipsos poll. The president has also hit new lows when it comes to his handling of the war in Iraq, the handling of Iraq. The polls showing the Republicans losing their advantage to Democrats when it comes to the issue of national security.

The question now is if Democrats will be able to capitalize on all of this and perhaps grab control of one or both houses of Congress in the upcoming midterm elections. As one Republican pollster said, "The good news is the Democrats don't have much of a plan. The bad news is they might not need one."

So here's the question: In light of the reported leak, a White House leak of prewar intelligence, what should the Democrats do now?

E-mail your thoughts to caffertyfile@CNN.com or go to CNN.com/caffertyfile -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Good question. Thanks for that, Jack. We'll get back to you this hour.

Coming up, Paul Begala and Torie Clarke on presidential leaking.

Also, the developing story we're following, severe weather, deadly tornadoes sweeping across the southeast. We're following what's happening. We're going to bring you up to speed.

And the former vice presidential nominee, John Edwards, is he thinking about running for president in 2008? And is he ready to take on Senator Hillary Clinton? I'll ask him here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

And Jesus goes pop culture. From "The Da Vinci Code" to hit movies, the phenomenon that's bringing in billions.

All that coming up. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Tonight in our "Strategy Session," the White House strongly defending its release of classified information on Iraq as some new poll numbers show some new lows for President Bush. That's the subject of tonight's "Strategy Session."

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

Joining us now, our political analyst, the former Pentagon spokeswoman Torie Clarke, and another one of our political analysts, Democratic strategist Paul Begala.

Let's talk a little bit about the CIA leak -- the latest Scooter Libby revelation in these court papers that were filed this week.

Here is how Scott McClellan, the embattled White House press secretary, answered this question earlier today.

MCCLELLAN: Declassifying information and providing it to the public, when it is in the public interest is one thing. But leaking classified information that could compromise our national security is something that is very serious. And there's a distinction.

Now, there are Democrats out there that fail to recognize that distinction or refuse to recognize the distinction. They are simply engaging in crass politics.

BLITZER: All right. I want you to respond as a Democrat engaging in crass politics.

(LAUGHTER)

PAUL BEGALA, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I'm not -- I'm not going to engage. I'm just going to engage in sympathy. Rest in peace, White House credibility. I mean, come on. That's just preposterous. It's -- they leaked, at the president's order, according to the papers filed by Mr. Fitzgerald.

BLITZER: If you believe Scooter Libby.

BEGALA: But the papers filed by Mr. Fitzgerald...

BLITZER: Right.

BEGALA: ... who clearly does repeat, at least, what Libby testified.

The president of the United States ordered the leak of classified information, cherry-picked out of the national intelligence estimate, to mislead the country. Had he declassified the whole national intelligence estimate, we would have seen that, in that same document, the CIA pooh-poohed the claim that somehow Saddam was trying to by uranium in Africa.

In fact, their phrase was, we have "low confidence" in the uranium claim. Later, the CIA in the document says it's inconclusive. President Bush didn't leak those parts. He just leaked the parts to mislead the country to go into war. That's a pretty awful thing to find out.

BLITZER: What do you think?

VICTORIA CLARKE, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I think it's important to be precise. This isn't about Valerie Plame. This isn't about everything leading up to the start of the Iraq war.

It was about some of the intel that contributed to the decision to go to war. What is somewhat ironic about this is in -- end of 2002, 2003, for a long time, a lot of Democrats have been saying, declassify more information. We understand you can't declassify everything, because of security, but declassify more information.

That's exactly what they were doing. This was not about Valerie Plame.

BLITZER: But, at that time... (CROSSTALK)

CLARKE: This was -- now, wait. Wait, and let me read something.

BLITZER: Yes.

CLARKE: In "The Washington Post" today, no big fan, editorially, of this president...

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: No. Well, they are a huge fan of this war.

CLARKE: "Legal experts say that President Bush had the unquestionable authority to approve the disclosure of secret CIA information to reporters."

And he was doing exactly what a lot of people...

BLITZER: Well...

CLARKE: ... including a lot of Democrats, were calling for.

BLITZER: Because the -- to the average person out there, they will hear what the president used to say -- and I will play a clip -- and they will be confused, to put it mildly. Listen to this.

BUSH: I know of nobody -- I don't know of anybody in my administration who leaked classified information. If somebody did leak classified information, I would like to know it. And we will take the appropriate action. And this investigation is a good thing.

BLITZER: All right, now, when Scooter Libby leaked that classified information to Judy Miller, it was all classified at that time.

CLARKE: Who knows exactly what Scooter Libby said to Judy Miller. I will set that aside, because I don't know.

The president there was responding to a specific question about the leaking of a CIA agent's name, which is a very, very serious problem. The president has wide latitude, unquestionable latitude, to declassify information and put it out.

BLITZER: The president does have that authority.

CLARKE: That is what he was doing.

BLITZER: And he granted that authority to the vice president as well.

BEGALA: He does.

I'm not saying that this is a crime. I'm saying it's a lie. Sixty days after the president ordered the leaking of highly selective and misleading nuggets out of the national intelligence estimate, he went on television -- just there, we saw the tape -- and said, oh, it's bad to leak classified information. That is...

CLARKE: He authorized the declassification...

BEGALA: There's no other word for it. That's just a lie.

CLARKE: ... of information and the release of it. He authorized the declassification of information.

BEGALA: Why didn't he say, then -- why didn't he say, I often release selective information to mislead the American people?

CLARKE: It was actually...

BEGALA: That would be truthful.

CLARKE: It was actually widely discussed at the time.

Suzanne Malveaux of CNN did a story on it, on the declassification of information from the NIE. And it was in response to...

BLITZER: That was about 10 days later.

CLARKE: Right. And it was in response...

BEGALA: Why do you suppose he didn't leak...

CLARKE: ... to many of the requests.

BEGALA: Why didn't he leak that the CIA said they low confidence in the claim that Saddam was buying uranium, and that it was inconclusive?

CLARKE: My recollection was, they declassified about 60 to 80 pages of the national intelligence estimate.

BEGALA: Not for this leak, though. Ultimately, they did, but not for this leak.

BLITZER: Here's the problem the president has right now. And this AP-Ipsos poll underscores it. How is President Bush handling his job as president? Only 36 percent approve. That's a record low in this poll for the president.

How is President Bush handling the situation in Iraq? Only 35 percent approval of the way he's handling the situation in Iraq. And, finally, which party do you want to win control of Congress, which is a critical question in this new poll. Thirty-three percent say Republicans. Forty-nine percent say Democrats.

Those numbers bode very ill for the president and his party.

CLARKE: I think it's going to be a very challenging year for a lot of Republicans. Whether or not they get reelected this fall has more to do with their personal jobs and how they're doing than the president. That's the good news for them, in the midst of the challenge.

The president clearly taking a real hammering in the polls. The only good news is, he looks at the numbers that he cares about, the fact that unemployment is in a historic low, that productivity is up, the stock market is up, hourly average wages are up. He looks at those things and say, those are the numbers that really matter.

BLITZER: But he's not getting a lot of credit for all those positive numbers.

CLARKE: I got to tell you, we have -- we have talked about this before -- he doesn't care about him. He doesn't care about credit for credit's sake. He cares about the ability to get the job done. Having an incredibly strong economy, making some progress, albeit in very challenge circumstances in Iraq...

BLITZER: Very quickly, I will let Paul respond.

CLARKE: ... are important things.

BEGALA: This week only, this week, look what this president has presided over.

Tom DeLay, his best friend in the House, the House majority leader, resigns under indictment. A Homeland Security official in his government is investigated and arrested for allegedly being a pedophile. We learn the president himself authorized the leak of classified information. His immigration bill has collapsed on Capitol Hill.

And, today, the attorney general -- yesterday, the attorney general testified that the president does have the power to wiretap you and me in domestic conversations, as David Ensor was reporting about in that lawsuit, without a wiretap, without a -- permission from a court.

That's a staggering week. And, so, they are going to look back at 36 percent, where the president is today, and going to think it's the good old days. He's going to go down to six.

BLITZER: We will see -- we will see, though if the Democrats can capitalize on all those Republican problems.

As you well know -- and you wrote a book on this -- it's not necessarily a done deal, until the deal is done.

BEGALA: That's a good point.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, guys, for joining us.

CLARKE: Thanks, Wolf.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: In THE SITUATION ROOM, deadly, severe weather pounding parts of the southeast right now. Multiple tornadoes, and we're just now learning the death toll has gone up again.

We'll have the latest numbers, the latest video on the devastation.

Plus, my interview with the former Democratic vice presidential candidate John Edwards. I'll ask him if he's planning a White House run in 2008.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: And this is just coming in. CNN has confirmed that at least eight people are now dead in Tennessee. Many, many more are injured after tornadoes tore through the Nashville area earlier. And the threat remains tonight.

CNN's Tom Foreman is here in THE SITUATION ROOM with some more details -- Tom.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Unbelievable how it's getting pounded out there, Wolf. And the simple trick is we're having a little difficulty keeping up with how many storms are pounding the middle of the country. Look at all the tornadoes out there right now. And on top of that, not just tornadoes, but also hailstorms hammering homes and businesses throughout the middle of the country.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

FOREMAN (voice over): The damage at this car dealership near Nashville shows the sheer power of the deadly tornadoes that are ripping across the region. Cars tossed about, some overturned, many with windows blown out. And part of the main building now a twisted, hallowed-out shell.

Elsewhere in the Nashville region, a twister damaged and destroyed homes near the town of Charlotte. Residents who lost everything say they're grateful to be alive.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Everything and everybody is OK, except for this year, but you know, this is material things. This can be replaced.

FOREMAN: While tornadoes strafed some parts of the region, other areas were pounded by hail. In some cases, quite large and potentially dangerous.

Tennessee emergency officials report significant damage in Nashville and surrounding counties. And the same dangerous weather is threatening states including Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

FOREMAN: And brace yourself out there, America. Look at that. Warning zones all the way through the middle of the country, almost over to where we are -- Wolf. BLITZER: And given the flight and the travel, it could have impact ripple effects all over the country as well as, Tom. Thank you very much for that.

We're going to have a lot more on these storms. We're keeping a close eye on the tornadoes, the twisters.

Also, John Edwards, one on one. Find out what he thinks about the possibility of running for the Democratic presidential nomination against Senator Hillary Clinton.

And Jesus sells, from best-selling books to the big screen. We'll take a closer look at why.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to THE SITUATION ROOM. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. Let's get back to one of our top steers.

A deadly suicide attack in Iraq killing 74 people. Should the United States now tell Iraqi leaders that if they don't shape up, U.S. troops will ship out?

We just heard Democratic Senator John Kerry yesterday here in THE SITUATION ROOM spell out his demand for a deadline in Iraq. In an interview with him, he was very forceful on this issue. Now it's his former running mate's turn to weigh in.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Joining us now, Senator John Edwards, a former senator from North Carolina and vice presidential nominee.

Senator, thanks for joining us.

JOHN EDWARDS (D), FORMER U.S. SENATOR: Glad to be with you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Let's talk a little about Iraq. I want to get to a lot of issues, but Iraq -- Your running mate, John Kerry, wrote a piece in "The New York Times" the other day in which he said this. "Iraqi politicians should be told that they have until May 15th," a little bit more than a month from now, "to put together an effective unity government or we will immediately withdraw our military." You agree with your former running mate?

EDWARDS: I completely agree with the notion we can't do this for them. They have to do it and they have to take responsibility. Not just for formation of the government but providing their own security. And I think what John is suggesting is that we do everything in our power to put pressure on them to accept that responsibility and take the burden on themselves instead of counting on America to do it.

And on that issue, he's right about it. Without getting into the details of specifically about how you go about it, there is a number of mechanisms by how to accomplish that.

BLITZER: Because that sounds pretty drastic, that you have until May 15th. You put together your national unity government, including the Shia, the Kurd, the Sunni if you don't, 130 or so U.S. troops, they are out of there.

EDWARDS: What I have been saying for months, we ought to be right now withdrawing at least 40,000 troops so that we can send a clear signal, the Iraqis, to that part of the world, that we're not going to keep doing this for them and they're going to actually have to do it for themselves. John is just talking about a different way of accomplishing the same thing.

BLITZER: He also says, that even if they put together a national unity government by May 15th, by the end of the year, he wants U.S. troops out of Iraq, redeployed over the horizon, as he calls it, because that's plenty of time for the Iraqis to get their act together and to protect themselves.

EDWARDS: He's completely right that we need to reduce our presence. That needs to continue as they take up and take responsibility, which they have to do. And if they don't do it, ultimately, America can't do this for them. So he's right about that. I don't know I agree specifically about the dates and his deadlines, but what he is trying to accomplish, he is dead right about. And the underlying premise about everything that John said in this piece in "The New York Times" is they have to do this for themselves. We can't keep doing it for them.

BLITZER: Listen to what the president says. I want you to listen to this clip of what he said in Charlotte, North Carolina. Listen to this.

EDWARDS: Sure.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, U.S. PRESIDENT: Removing Saddam Hussein was the right thing for world peace and the security of our country.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Was it the right thing?

EDWARDS: You know I've written myself, about six months ago in "The Washington Post" that I voted for this resolution on the Iraq War, I was wrong. I believe that I was wrong.

I didn't know that this president was going to make such an incredible mess out of this, which is exactly what he's done. Is Saddam being gone good? Of course it is a good thing.

But for the reason us going in was not because Saddam Hussein was a bad man. We went in on the basis that we believed they had weapons of mass destruction. We were wrong about that. And it's important for us to tell the truth about that. BLITZER: And you, in your heart at the time, when you voted for that resolution, you firmly believed that he had stockpiles of chemical, biological weapons and was working, even potentially, on a nuclear device?

EDWARDS: I along with a lot of other people. What I didn't know is that George Bush would make such an incredible mess out of this, which is what he's done.

BLITZER: The secretary of defense, Donald Rumsfeld, wrote an article in "The Washington Post" on March 19th in which he said, "Turning our backs on postwar Iraq today would be the modern equivalent of handing postwar Germany back to the Nazis."

EDWARDS: Well, Don Rumsfeld is the architect, along with George Bush and Dick Cheney, of this incredible mess that we are faced with right now. And the last thing I or anybody in America is interested in hearing is what Don Rumsfeld thinks about this.

The truth of the matter is they created this mess, they made the situation much worse than it had to be, and at least so far, I have not heard a single one of them take any responsibility for that.

BLITZER: As we are speaking, there are indications in a paper, in a motion that was filed by Scooter Libby, the vice president's former chief -of-staff, saying he was authorized by the vice president, in effect, by the president, who authorized the vice president to tell him to leak classified information from a national intelligence estimate, involving Iraq, in order to make the administration's case. What do you make of that disclosure?

EDWARDS: Troublesome, you know, what is the president of the United States doing, directing people to leak classified information? The president has the authority, as you well know, to declassify information. But for him to do it in this fashion, in leaking to the press, it's just worrisome. It's consistent with the pattern that we have seen from this president.

BLITZER: Is it justified to start thinking about articles of impeachment, as some Democrats have floated?

EDWARDS: Well, what I believe is, this president has engaged in behavior that certainly justifies censure.

BLITZER: So you support Russ Feingold's motion for censure?

EDWARDS: But -- I want to add to that, because it's important. I believe that the most important thing is to hold the president accountable. Because what matters is not some censure motion in the United States Senate.

What matters is what's going to happen going forward. Which means Congress needs to take its responsibility both for the oversight of the war in Iraq, for the oversight of what's happening here domestically. We have huge issues in this country and most of America are interested in the things that affect their day to day lives, including the war in Iraq.

BLITZER: A lot of the Republicans, Tom DeLay was here in THE SITUATION ROOM the other day, and others have suggested that if there becomes a Democratic majority in the House and/or the Senate, the first thing the Democrats are going to do is push impeachment of the president, and that's obviously designed to generate their base, if you will. But is it true?

EDWARDS: I think the first thing that will happen if the Democrats take control of the House and Senate is we're going to address the problems that people face in their lives: the war in Iraq, health care crisis in America, raising the minimum wage. Democrats are about affecting people's lives. They are not about process.

BLITZER: Ed Gillespie, a former chairman of the Republican Party recently said, "He," referring to you, "He definitely looks and feels and sounds like a presidential aspirant." Are you?

EDWARDS: Thinking about it. But haven't made a decision about it yet.

BLITZER: When will you make a decision?

EDWARDS: Sometime in the future. I'm spending most of my time these days working on what I think is the cause of my life now, which is doing something about poverty in America. And somewhere down the road, we will make sure Elizabeth is OK and right now she's doing great, and we will see where I am.

BLITZER: Elizabeth is your wife.

EDWARDS: My wife, yes.

BLITZER: Who's had cancer. She is doing all right?

EDWARDS: She's doing great.

BLITZER: OK. Great. You are this weekend, though, going to Iowa.

EDWARDS: I am.

BLITZER: And that -- a lot of people who read the tea leaves say, you know, John Edwards going to Iowa, going to New Hampshire, that's almost a sure sign he's thinking very seriously of running for the presidency.

EDWARDS: Oh, I am thinking about it. There's no question about that.

BLITZER: You haven't made a final decision yet.

EDWARDS: I have not. And I wouldn't read too much into going to Iowa. Every place I go, whether it's Iowa or Florida or Texas, any place I go in the country, and I'm all over the place, I'm talking about the issue of poverty and trying to raise awareness about it. BLITZER: I want to get to the minimum wage in a moment. But our recent, February, not that recent, but recent enough, CNN/"USA Today" Gallup poll, among registered Democrats, had Hillary Clinton at 39 percent, John Kerry at 15, Al Gore at 13, John Edwards at 12. Al Gore says he's not inclined to run. He's sort of made that statement, although a lot of people think he still might run. What about Hillary? She seems like a formidable potential Democratic nominee.

EDWARDS: What I would say is there is no way to know at this point whether any of these people are going to run for president. What I hope is, whoever runs, whether I have anything to do with it or not, that it's a battle of vision and leadership and ideas. That's what it should be about, not about personality.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: That was John Edwards speaking with me earlier. We're getting some new video in. I want to show this to you. This is video coming in from a cell phone showing this twister. Check this out. This is -- these are pictures that we got, a tornado near Gallatin in Tennessee.

You see that twister coming in. Let's bring in our meteorologist Reynolds Wolf to talk a little bit about what we're seeing. Reynolds, you clearly see the debris at the bottom of the twister.

REYNOLDS WOLF, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Indeed.

BLITZER: Which is typical of the devastation, the destruction. Look at that.

WOLF: Absolutely. You know, the big killer, Wolf, from these big storms is not really the wind but rather the stuff that tornado picks up. As you mentioned, the debris. That's what you have to watch out for during these storms. That's the real dangerous aspect of them.

Really impossible to tell by the size of that storm if it's an F2, an F3 an F5. The way you can tell how strong the storm actually was is by taking a look at the damage after the storm has made its way through a given area.

We're going to be seeing more of these storms through the evening. In fact, we have got tornado warnings in many places still in Tennessee, northern Alabama, back over to Mississippi as well.

And as the storm system chugs its way from the west towards the east, going back through northern Alabama and also south of Nashville -- Nashville's been hit to the north today.

Where you saw the damage, that damage from that tornado that you saw moments ago from the cell phone, that was taken near Gallatin, Tennessee. We've also shown some video earlier in the day, of course, of a car dealership that is just destroyed, pummeled by these storms.

That video, again, just a sign of things to come. Next on the list would be places like Knoxville, north Alabama, Huntsville, perhaps even Birmingham.

BLITZER: And maybe even where you are in Atlanta.

WOLF: Very possible.

BLITZER: Reynolds, hold on for a moment. I want to bring in Isaac Cooper, he's joining us on the phone. He's the individual that shot that video with his cell phone. Isaac first of all, where are you?

ISAAC COOPER, TORNADO WITNESS (on phone): I am still here at the Ball State Community College campus.

BLITZER: And tell us what -- how far away from this tornado you were when you took these amazing pictures on your cell phone?

COOPER: I guess I was about 200 yards away. I just was standing on the backside of the library on the campus, and shot these videos until the wind got pretty strong and then headed inside.

BLITZER: Were you scared?

COOPER: No, not at all. The tornado itself, the funnel, when it was coming at us, it was clear, and it had some debris floating around the outside of it. But it wasn't dark, and it didn't look that serious. I didn't really think it was going to do that much damage, but it sure did.

BLITZER: It looked like the damage was significant because you could see the debris at the bottom of that twister. Is that what you saw?

COOPER: Yes, I saw -- I saw -- I mean, it was almost headed right at me. Where I was standing at, it kind of passed in front of me and went off to my left. And went across the edge of the campus there and took out a couple of the buildings there. And then went across the street and took out two of the auto dealerships there.

BLITZER: Isaac, you should be very happy that you got out OK. Thanks very much.

Reynolds, I just want to get some practical advice from you for our viewers who may be watching, who may be in the path of these tornadoes, give them some practical advice, what they need to know, because at least eight people are now dead and many others are injured.

WOLF: Absolutely. Great, great question. Wolf, the best thing people can do during times of these storms is to just get indoors. If you can, get into a sturdy building, a strong building.

You want to get there immediately. You want to be in the lowest floor you possibly can. A basement would be perfect, Wolf, but if you don't have the opportunity to get into a basement, lowest floor. You want to get into the center-most room you can, away from windows. That is the best spot. Isaac, if you're still with us, I was curious -- we've had reports of hail stones in Tennessee that have been baseball-sized, some softball-sized. Did you have any reports of hail or did you see any hail where you shot this video?

COOPER: Actually, no. We didn't get any type of hail and really only some light precipitation came with the funnel itself. Other than that, you know, there wasn't any type of precipitation. And now the skies are clear. And they've been this way just a few minutes after the storm passed.

WOLF: Now, Wolf that's a really interesting comment that Isaac made, because a lot of times when these storms move through an area, what you'll deal with is something that some people call the RHN factor, the rain first, then you have the hail and then you have nothing, the quiet part of the storm where you have the updrafts that feed these tremendous storms.

And, of course, some of these storms producing the tornadoes that we've seen and will continue to see through the rest of the evening.

BLITZER: Reynolds, we'll be watching it together with you. I want to thank Isaac for that excellent video. Amazing technology with these cell phones nowadays, appreciate it both of you.

We'll stay all over these twisters, severe weather in major parts of the United States tonight. Stay with CNN for all the latest information.

Still to come here tonight in THE SITUATION ROOM, moving the homeless, a $100 million plan to get them out of downtown and into the suburbs. What's going on?

And the Jesus factor, from books to the big screen. Religious pop culture making billions of dollars. Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back. There's a controversy raging in Los Angeles right now over plans to relocate thousands of homeless people from downtown Skid Row. CNN's Chris Lawrence is joining us now live from L.A. He's got the story. Chris?

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well Wolf, most people here want to help the homeless, but look at the images in the video wall next to me. Let's face it. Some people who pay to live in a city like this don't want that just a few blocks down the road. When this new plan takes effect, they might not have a choice.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LAWRENCE (voice-over): This is a part of Los Angeles most tourists never see. Skid Row, where a lot of the 90,000 homeless people in L.A. County live.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Skid Row should not exist.

LAWRENCE: City and county are coming together to tear it down. They plan to spend more than $1 billion a year to move the homeless out to the suburbs and put a roof over their head.

MIKE ANTONOVICH, LOS ANGELES COUNTY SUPERVISOR: They want to cash in on this hot real estate market and they want to ship out all of the so-called homeless into other parts of the county.

LAWRENCE: L.A. County Supervisor Mike Antonovich says developers want to clean out Skid Row to make room for more new lofts, all at the expense of some suburbs. Antonovich says if no towns are willing to accept new shelters, officials can dramatically expend small centers in beachside towns and bedroom communities.

ANTONOVICH: And what we have is a rearrangement of the chairs in the Titanic when what we need are lifeboats and an SOS for help.

LAWRENCE: Some of the homeless are mentally ill. Each has a unique story.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I had three beautiful children and a wife. I lived in a 4,000-square-foot house in Hancock Park.

LAWRENCE: Jeffrey Davis (ph) had bachelor's and master's degrees.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And then a tragic dissent which led to crystal meth, chemical addiction, and homelessness. And I have to tell you that I am so excited when I hear about you all doing this.

LAWRENCE: One mayor says he'll fight to keep a regional homeless center out of his city.

MAYOR STEVE HERFERT (R), WEST COVINA, CALIFORNIA: People are going to come out of prison. They're going to have drug counseling. It's not a real pretty picture.

LAWRENCE: But it's just as ugly in its current state downtown.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LAWRENCE: And to clean up Skid Row, the county plans to build five regional homeless centers. Officials say they'll cooperate with the local governments to get it done. But they rejected a proposal that would have given each city veto power over this project. Wolf?

BLITZER: Chris, thank you very much, important story, indeed.

Let's check in with Ali Velshi. He's got "The Bottom Line." Ali, what's going on?

ALI VELSHI, CNN ANCHOR: Hey Wolf, the president said it himself this morning. Unemployment in the United States is at its lowest level in five years, 211,000 new jobs were added in March. But the Democrats are harping on the kind of jobs that this economy is creating. The biggest chunk of new positions is in the service sector. Now, it's hard to feed a family of four with a job from McDonald's or Wal-Mart, so we did some digging to find -- try and find out where the higher-paying jobs are going to be, not now, but down the road -- even if you don't have a bachelor's degree.

Now, here's what we found. According to projections from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, jobs like truck driver with a median salary over $33,000 and registered nurse, $48,000 median, will be in high demand well into the next decade.

People will keep getting sick and we'll keep needing to buy things. Everything in this country moves by truck. Maintenance workers, accountants, secretaries, all said to be hot commodities with a decent take-home pay without a bachelor's degree.

Now, who needs to be looking for these jobs? The Bureau of Labor Statistics says between now and 2014, farmers, ranchers, clerks, sewing machine operators, all of them are going to have a tough go at it. Don't ignore that. Those industries are posting the largest job declines.

Now, this news is no surprise obviously to textile workers, because we've been seeing those jobs being shipped out for some time. Wolf?

BLITZER: Ali, thank you very much. And this important programming note. Please join Ali tomorrow night, 7:00 p.m. Eastern, Ali goes "ON THE STORY" with a team of CNN reporters. "ON THE STORY" airs Saturday, 7:00 p.m. Eastern, replayed Sunday, 1:00 p.m. Eastern, down at George Washington University.

Up ahead, Jesus goes pop culture. From best selling books to big movie hits, the growing fascinating that's bringing in billions of dollars. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: It started with "The Passion of the Christ." Now the movie "The Da Vinci Code" promises to be another blockbuster, with the life of Jesus its central focus. Let's turn to our Mary Snow. She's joining us live from the streets of New York -- Mary.

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, a court in Britain today dismissed a copyright infringement lawsuit against the authors of the "Da Vinci Code." And now that paves the way for the movie, and there certainly is hype.

I don't know if you can see behind me, this is an eight-story sign here in New York of a movie that promises to be a big moneymaker.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SNOW (voice-over): With millions at stake, at the heart of the lawsuit a fight over the rights to a theory that Jesus married Mary Magdalene and had children.

The fiction book has sold more than 40 million copies. Authors of the 1982 "Holy Blood, Holy Grail" lost their copyright infringement claim, but saw sales of their book increase during the trial. And that's just the warm-up.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Witness the biggest cover-up in human history.

SNOW: Next month in theaters worldwide, "The Da Vinci Code" movie.

MARVIN MEYER, CHAPMAN UNIVERSITY: I would have to say it is an incredible time. Who could have imagined that Jesus would be as hot as Jesus is?

SNOW: Religion professor Marvin Meyer just helped unearth ancient documents being called the Gospel of Judas. The National Geographic Society is publishing them, and they re-examine the relationship between Jesus and the disciple Judas.

Since the 2004 movie "The Passion of the Christ," which made $370 million in the United States alone, some see a growing fascination with stories based on the life of Jesus.

Paul Lauer helped market the movie.

PAUL LAUER, MOTIVE MARKETING: Post-"Passion," there is certainly more of an awareness. There's an interest, and we've been approached by a lot of people asking if we can essentially do that "Passion" thing.

SNOW: However popular these Jesus-themed projects may be, they don't come without controversy. Critics saw "The Passion of the Christ" having anti-Semitic themes. Many Catholic Church leaders are not happy about "The Da Vinci Code," and some frown on what's being touted as secret writings about Christ, much like the Gospel of Judas. But some see a collective soul searching at the root of the appeal.

MEYER: People are trying to find something there, to find some kind of guidance, some kind of leadership, I believe.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SNOW: And many say these religious-based themes are not just in pop culture, but also in politics -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Mary, thank you very much.

Still ahead here, the president and intelligence leaks. Jack Cafferty with your email. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Let's go to Jack in New York -- Jack. CAFFERTY: The question, Wolf, at this hour is, in light of the reported White House leak by the president of pre-war intelligence, what should the Democrats do now?

Dee in Florida writes -- "This is their last good opportunity to take back the country. I'm not real excited about Democrats having control, but anything is better than being stuck with what we have now, a bunch of bums only masquerading as conservative Republicans."

Scott from Phoenix writes: "The Democrats should get laryngitis. Bush and Cheney, with their twisted explanations, distorted facts and lame rationalizations for their sleazy behavior, are the Democrats' best spokespersons."

Blair in Huntsville, Alabama: "I'm almost embarrassed to be associated with the Democratic Party these days. The White House is practically in turmoil and the Democrats appear impotent. This is not the strategy of a party that wants to take back Washington."

R. in Huntley, Illinois: "They should go after Bush the way the Republicans went after Clinton."

Joanne in Voorhees, New Jersey: "Jack, we should continue to work toward winning the majority in Congress in November. In the meantime, we should support Feingold's censure measure and work toward impeachment as best we can as the minority party."

And John writes: "The Democrats should do what they always do in times like these -- regroup and advance to the rear." Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks, Jack. See you next week. Have a great weekend.

Let's bring in Abbi once again for a quick check on the severe weather online -- Abbi.

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, photos of the storms and the hail coming in. Look at these at the photo sharing Web site flickr.com. Look at the size of those hailstones there from Jon Kyle in Tennessee. Bigger than a quarter. The Vrazel family in the Nashville area recorded this hailstone here, about two inches in size -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Abbi, thank you very much.

And stay with CNN for all the latest developments on the severe weather that's unfolding in big parts of this country. Thanks very much for joining us. I'll be back this Sunday for "Late Edition." Among my guests, the United States ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, and the former U.S. military commander, the commander of the Central Command, retired U.S. General Anthony Zinni. That's Sunday 11:00 a.m. Eastern on "Late Edition," the last word in Sunday talk.

Until then, thanks very much for joining us. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. "PAULA ZAHN NOW" starting right now -- Paula. TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com

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