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THE SITUATION ROOM

Fifth Retired General Now Calls For Rumsfeld Resignation; Iran To Push Forward With Nuclear Program; Zacarias Moussaoui's Defense; Lawyers And Reporters Go Over CIA Leak Case Papers; Howard Dean Interview; Mayoral Race Mayoral Race Could Make History

Aired April 13, 2006 - 16:00   ET

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


HEIDI COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM, where new pictures and information is arriving by. Standing by CNN reporters across the United States and around the world to bring you today's top stories.
Happening now, the White House defends the Defense secretary. Is Donald Rumsfeld's future at the Pentagon secure?

It's 4:00 p.m. here in Washington, where Rumsfeld is hearing yet another call for his resignation.

Also this hour, Howard Dean hammers on questions about the president's credibility but the Democratic party chairman has critics of his own. I'll ask Dean about concerns over his leadership heading into the fall battle for Congress.

And will Zacarias Moussaoui pay for the 9/11 attacks with his life? The al Qaeda conspirator takes the stand. We're keeping close watch on this emotional case in the life-and-death decision jurors will make.

I'm Heidi Collins and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Hi, everybody. Wolf is off today. A short while ago, another shot over the bow of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld -- a fifth retired general now is coming forward to call for Rumsfeld's resignation -- the second one who actually served on the ground in Iraq.

Pentagon and the White House are pushing back hard. A top Marine general who helped lead U.S. forces early in the Iraq war went on CNN today to defend the Pentagon chief. And Rumsfeld's fate was the main topic at the White House briefing today.

Our senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley, is standing by. But first we want to go to our White House correspondent, Suzanne Malveaux.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, hi, Heidi. As a matter of fact, President Bush is heading to Camp David with his family for a quiet Easter weekend. But of course, that was the topic at the briefing today.

Scott McClellan, the White House press secretary, saying that the president has full confidence in Secretary Rumsfeld, that the president is very much aware of these retired generals' calls for Rumsfeld to step down. There is no intention to talk to those individuals, but Scott McClellan did make a distinction between those who served with Rumsfeld now and those who of course are out of service from the Pentagon.

He also quoted extensively from the chairman of Joints Chief of Staff, Peter Pace, saying he believes that there is strong support for the secretary.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SCOTT MCCLELLAN, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president believes Secretary Rumsfeld is doing a very fine job during a challenging period in our nation's history. The secretary has led the Department of Defense during two wars, wars that resulted in the liberation of 25 million people in Iraq.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MALVEAUX: And Heidi, McClellan of course, offered an explanation for the complaints, saying that we are at war, of course, and that this is a time of military transition. During that time it is expected to have disagreement and debate. It is something that they are very much aware of.

Also, of course, a time of transition today was Andy Card -- the outgoing chief of staff's last day here at the White House. We saw President Bush and Andy Card for the final handshake, as well as a wave good-bye. It was early this morning -- 5:30 this morning that staff gathered in the Oval Office here at the White House to wish him well, to say good-bye to him. And of course, Josh Bolten will be taking over tomorrow. Heidi?

COLLINS: All right. Suzanne Malveaux from the White House today. Thanks, Suzanne.

And the calls for Rumsfeld to step down are echoing loudly here in Washington, where the Iraq conflict is weighing on the battle for Congress this fall. Here now is our senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley.

You know, Candy, we've heard from the former generals and the White House now. What is the sentiment toward Rumsfeld within the Republican ranks themselves?

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, first of all, we probably should note that Congress is off on recess. So, logistically, it's a little hard to kind of get any temperature of the entire body of Congress. But having said that, here's what we know: There have been Republicans all along who have been openly critical of Don Rumsfeld for two and three years -- more like two-and-a-half years.

But since the war has started and it became clear weapons of mass destruction are not there, and that maybe some early tactical mistakes were made, we've had people like Senator McCain, Senator Chuck Hagel, Senator Lott -- have been openly critical of Rumsfeld. They've always stopped short of saying we would like him to quit or we'd like the president to fire him, because they say, look, that's the president's prerogative.

Do the generals add to the mix? Certainly, if somebody wanted to come out, the generals give them some cover. But, again, Republicans are a little hesitant to kind of go at this in a public forum simply because they do believe it's the president's prerogative. However, when we talked to a number of staffers and some congressional members today, didn't find anybody that would shed any tears if Rumsfeld were to go. He has been highly controversial up there.

COLLINS: Politically though, Candy, would it help Republicans if Rumsfeld left his position?

CROWLEY: There was one source who said we need to -- Republicans -- we need to turn the page on Iraq. Obviously Iraq is coloring almost everything on down the line of issues. It's hurting Republicans as they look toward the fall and the elections. So one in a top leadership position said, look, we really need to turn the page. We can't do it while Don Rumsfeld is there.

On the other hand, the face of this war really isn't Donald Rumsfeld -- it's George Bush. And what really will turn the page for George Bush and Republicans is, if something different, something positive happens on the ground. So it seems to me that while it would be a symbolic move, it would be tangential in terms of its effect on the elections.

COLLINS: All right. We are going to have more, Candy, with Barbara Starr coming to us from the Pentagon about Donald Rumsfeld a little bit later in the show, as well.

Candy, thank you very much.

Now to the nuclear stand-off with Iran. The United Nations top nuclear watchdog put new heat today on Iranian officials to back off from enriching uranium. But during the talks in Tehran, Mohammed ElBaradei only got a promise that Iran would be more cooperative with the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Iran's president vowing again today that his country will push forward with its nuclear program. Iran declared Tuesday it had produced enriched uranium strong enough to run a nuclear power plant.

A short while ago, though, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice again warned Iran to end its nuclear defiance.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CONDOLEEZZA RICE, SECRETARY OF STATE: As to what might happen next, there is no doubt that Iran continues to defy the will of the international community. There is no doubt that Iran has continued salami-slicing tactics -- a little bit here and then a little bit more and then a little bit more -- despite the fact that the international community said very clearly, "Stop." Now, when the Security Council reconvenes, there will have to be some consequence for that action and that defiance.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COLLINS: Americans appear to be wary about President Bush's response to the Iran nuclear threat. A new poll shows a majority -- 54 percent -- say they don't trust Mr. Bush to make the right decision about whether to go to war in Iran. Just 39 percent of those surveyed in that "Los Angeles Times"/Bloomberg poll say they approve of the way Mr. Bush is doing his job overall.

Based on that poll and five other recent surveys, the president has on average a job approval rating of 37 percent.

And another stunning day at Zacarias Moussaoui's sentencing trial. The confessed al Qaeda terrorist took the stand again today, as his defense attorneys tried to convince jurors to spare him from the death penalty.

CNN justice correspondent Kelli Arena has been following the story. She is in Alexandria, Virginia, now with the very latest. Hi, Kelli.

KELLI ARENA, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Hi there, Heidi. Moussaoui says he's got no regrets and no remorse over what happened on September 11. He actually made fun of some of the witnesses who went on the stand to talk about their losses, calling them pathetic. He said that he wished that September 11 would have also been September 12, and 13, and 14, and 15, and so on. He says he regretted that some of the survivors of the attack were actually still alive to talk about it.

And he says that if he were put in prison, he would still be willing to kill Americans, in his words, "anytime, anywhere." He says that he has not been brainwashed by al Qaeda, that it was his choice 100 percent to join the terrorist organization. He says that when he was asked to participate in the suicide mission, that it was his pleasure.

He was asked by his own defense attorneys why he hated Americans so much, and he said that largely it was because of the U.S. support of Israel. But he also said that, according to his interpretation of the Koran, that he believed that Muslims should be superior in the world and that Jews and Christians should be subservient to them, and that, because the United States is a super power, that it has to be hated because it should be a Muslim nation, an Islamic nation, that should be a superpower.

He called Timothy McVeigh the greatest American that he knows. And he also chastised his defense attorneys for conducting what he says was a very bad defense and then went ahead and gave him ideas for what his strategy would have been to defend himself.

And while he argued with attorneys and said that he was not crazy or delusional, he insisted that the president of the United States would release him, set him free, before his term was over. Moussaoui said that he had a dream about that and he believes 100 percent that that's going to happen, Heidi.

COLLINS: Wow! What a day in court today, that's for sure.

Kelli Arena, thank you very much.

We are going to have more on this story coming up in the next hour, as well.

Meanwhile, Zain Verjee is on vacation, so Fredricka Whitfield is joining us now from the CNN Global Headquarters in Atlanta with a close look at other stories making news today.

Hi there, Fred.

FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: A Pennsylvania man is being held without bail in the deaths of six family members. Police say 21- year-old Jesse Wise confessed to killing his grandmother, two aunts and three cousins last weekend.

The youngest victim was just five years old, the oldest, 64. The bodies were found in the basement of the suspect's grandmother's house. Police say they died of multiple traumatic injuries. The motive is still unclear.

There was more deadly violence in Iraq today. Iraqi police say a car bomb destroyed a major Shiite shrine in the city of Baquba, north of Baghdad last night. Hospital sources say several dozen people were killed, at least 40 people were injured -- Heidi.

COLLINS: All right, Fredricka Whitfield, thanks. We'll check in with you a little bit later on.

Now, that to CIA leak case and questions about a Bush-Cheney connection. Lawyers and reporters still are going over court papers filed late yesterday by the defense team for former White House aide Lewis "Scooter" Libby.

Here now, national correspondent Bob Franken -- Bob.

BOB FRANKEN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Heidi, Scooter Libby's lawyers were making an effort in their filing to undo the impression that had been left last week by the special prosecutor that the president and vice president were involved directly into the campaign to discredit Joe Wilson, who is the administration critic, by exposing the identity of a CIA operative wife, Valerie Plame.

It was in a footnote. It was buried on page 21 of the motion. It said, "we emphasize that consistent with his grand jury testimony, Mr. Libby does not contend that he was instructed to make any disclosures concerning Miss Wilson by President Bush, Vice President Cheney, or anyone else." Very, very interesting wording. There was nothing that constituted a direct denial.

But, the filing went on as the lawyers try and convince the judge that they should have access to intelligence material, that they need it to prove that this was a much larger operation than simply the vice president's office. They say that they are going to plan to call witnesses like Karl Rove, the deputy White House chief of staff, himself facing the possibility of indictment.

An interesting quote in the document also. The lawyers saying "there's a notion that it involves only Mr. Libby and the office of the vice president. That," it went on, "is a fairy tale." Well, this is a story where the ending is not known, but it's one that's going to go on for quite awhile -- Heidi.

COLLINS: I would imagine that to be the case. All right, Bob Franken. Thank you.

Our Internet reporter Abbi Tatton is standing by now with more on the case against the vice president's former chief of staff -- Abbi.

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Heidi, this is the Libby defense lawyers trying to get more information from the government, complaining that they haven't been given enough documents at this point to effectively fight for their client. And in so doing, you get a little glimpse into the defense.

First of all, they're saying they have only been given 14,000 pages so far of documents, about six boxes. And they want a lot more, certain documents pertaining to certain individuals. Amongst those named in this, Ambassador Joseph Wilson.

They want reports and memoranda related to his trip to Niger, saying that they might call Wilson as a hostile witness. Ari Fleischer is mentioned as well. They want notes or e-mails from Fleischer's files and also Karl Rove in this latest finding. The defense says they do intend to call Rove as a witness. We've posted this all at CNN.com/situationreport -- Heidi.

COLLINS: All right, so people check it out. Abbi, thank you.

Time now for "The Cafferty File." Our Jack Cafferty joining us from New York. Hi there, Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: How you doing, Heidi?

Bill Clinton, the former president, suggested sometimes boring is better. During a speech about coordinating aid to the developing world the former president who grabbed worldwide attention with the Monica Lewinsky scandal and subsequent impeachment, admitted that this was not the most exciting topic that he has been linked to.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAM CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: To me, it's something I want to keep working on and I like working on it because it's not a particularly sexy topic, but I've already had enough headlines to last me five lifetimes so I don't mind working on boring topics. I like boring. Boring is good. And it is very, very important. (END VIDEO CLIP)

CAFFERTY: Clinton has been working on things like global disaster relief and AIDS programs since leaving the White House. He poked fun at himself earlier in the week as well. He said he had, quote, "already made enough people mad in my life," unquote. He described himself as, quote, "the world's most famous sinner," unquote.

The question is, when it comes to former president Bill Clinton, would you rather hear him talk about something boring or something sexy? E-mail us at caffertyfile@CNN.com, or go to CNN.com/caffertyfile -- Heidi.

COLLINS: Yes, and nobody said president Clinton isn't funny, either. He always makes it funny. All right, Jack, we'll check in a little bit later. Thank you.

Coming up, Democratic Party chairman Howard Dean is making new demands of President Bush. We'll talk about Iraq, the president's credibility, and Dean's tactics in this Congressional election year.

Plus Iran's nuclear defiance. It's hard-lined president is refusing to back down. Could this mean war? And if not, what should the White House do? Tough questions in our "Strategy Session."

And the wild card in the New Orleans mayoral election. Hurricane evacuees. How many will go the extra mile to cast their ballots? You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COLLINS: Democratic Party chairman Howard Dean often finds himself on both the giving and receiving end of partisan attacks. Some members of his party have questioned his ability to lead them to victory in the 2006 elections and beyond, but Dean is trying to keep his fire on President Bush and the Republicans. I spoke with Dean a short while ago.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COLLINS: Governor Dean, you came out yesterday and blasted the president saying that he ignored intelligence on WMD. Are you implying that the president lied about that?

HOWARD DEAN, DEMOCRATIC NATL. CMTE. CHMN.: We don't know, Heidi, once again, whether the president wasn't informed -- in which case the administration is incompetent -- or whether he did know and then he deliberately lied to the American people. We deserve to know that.

What I asked the president to do was declassify this report. The president was willing, as it turned out two weeks ago, to declassify classified information for the purposes of defaming his political opponents.

Well, I don't think that's a very good reason to declassify information but I do think it's a good reason to declassify information to find out if the president of the United States has told the truth to the American people before he sent hundreds of thousands of Americans abroad to fight in the Iraq war.

So I want the president to declassify that report, let the American people know what did the president know and when did he know it? Did he deliberately mislead us? Or did he do it because people kept information from him in his administration?

COLLINS: Governor Dean, do you believe that that is moving forward or moving backward in continuing to talk about an issue that some would say has been covered?

DEAN: I think the issue of honesty and ethics in this administration is front and center. We've had arrests and convictions -- excuse me -- arrests in the White House, investigations in the White House. We've had arrests in the vice president's office, investigations in the vice president's office.

We've had the Republican leader of the Senate under investigation for insider trading, the Republican leader of the House having to resign. This Republican administration is full of corruption from top to bottom. We need to know if that reaches the president of the United States or not. If it reaches the president of the United States, he's in deep trouble.

COLLINS: Let's go ahead and listen for just a moment to White House press secretary Scott McClellan with something that he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCCLELLAN: This is nothing more than rehashing an old issue that was resolved long ago. I cannot count how many times the president has said the intelligence was wrong.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COLLINS: Your thoughts, Governor Dean?

DEAN: The -- this is not a matter of intelligence. This is a matter of what our people knew about those trailers and the fact that they reported those trailers did not have and were not being used as by biochemical laboratories.

That information was available to the president of the United States. He sent us to war using that information. It wasn't the intelligence was wrong, they had the intelligence. The intelligence was right and the president ignored the intelligence or else did he not know about it.

Only one of two things can be the case. Either the president deliberately misled the nation and sent our troops to war anyway, or people from the administration withheld that information from the president of the United States.

That goes to the heart of two issues of this next election is going to be about. One is the qualifications and competency of this president. And the other is the honest and trustworthiness, honesty and trustworthiness of this president. The American people deserve to know if their president is honest.

COLLINS: Governor Dean, you talk about elections. Let's move forward to that for a moment. Midterm elections coming up and there is a 30-seat majority in the House that the Republicans have. There is a headline in "The Washington Post" today that I'm sure you probably saw. "Democrats face uphill battle to retake the House." Uphill battle in your eyes?

DEAN: Well, we think the election issue is, do you want more of the same or do you want a real change? What we're willing to do is first have real ethics legislation that we will vote on in the first hundred days.

Second, we want a strong national defense that depends on telling the truth to the American people. Third we want American jobs that will stay in America using energy independence. We think these kinds of issues are the issues that are going to change the tide in America. We offer a change. We offer something new, a bolder vision.

COLLINS: What exactly is that change? How does the Democratic Party differentiate itself from the Republican Party? Because the goals that you mention or the agenda that you mention, I think a lot of people want.

DEAN: I think they do. A lot of American people including Republicans are tired of the dishonesty and the culture of corruption the Republicans brought to Washington.

I think a lot of American people believe they ought to be told the truth before people get sent to war. And I think a lot of American people are wondering why the president persists in sending every manner of job to other countries.

Under this president, for five years, the average income adjusted for inflation of average Americans has gone down by $2,300 dollars. I've not seen that. I think this country hasn't seen it since the Hoover depression. So...

COLLINS: ... Exactly the change though, what will be glaringly different?

DEAN: Glaringly different, we will pass real ethics legislation that denies corporate trips on corporate planes in the first hundred days. And denies the Republicans the right to stick things in conference committees that were never voted on, these kind of things.

That cost us $20 billion in December when the Republicans stuck something in the budget that sent $20 billion to HMOs. Tens of billions of dollars went to oil companies under this Republican legislation.

Enough of that stuff. The American people are sick of it. We want American jobs to stay in America and that means creating jobs that will stay here using energy independence.

COLLINS: But what about the Democratic Party and their thoughts on you in this job?

DEAN: We've turned this party around. I meet every week or every other week with Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi. We're working together. We have a message that we think is a strong message. We have a grassroots operation in every one of the 50 states now. None of those things we had before. We're remaking the Democratic Party into the party of change, the party that can bring real change to America.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COLLINS: DNC Chairman Howard Dean joining us a little bit earlier today.

Next up, now should the White House release the report on those trailers in Iraq as Howard Dean wants? Bay Buchanan, Donna Brazile will weigh in the options in our "Strategy Session."

And we'll get the Republican Party chairman's take on this issue and much more. Ken Mehlman will be joining us right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COLLINS: Today in our "Strategy Session," DNC Chairman Howard Dean takes on President Bush. He's not mincing words, either. But will the criticism backfire on Democrats?

Joining us here to discuss it all, CNN political analysts and Democratic strategist Donna Brazile and CNN political analyst and American Cause president Bay Buchanan.

Thanks ladies for being here today. You know, I'm sure you had an opportunity to listen to what Howard Dean just said about the weapons of mass destruction, the trailers, "The Washington Post" story.

He said either the president misled the American people or he just didn't know. Isn't it possible that there is a third option? That the process of vetting the information and the analyzing of it takes a long time and it just didn't get to him? Donna?

DONNA BRAZILE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well they utilize this information in the rush to justify the reasons for going into Iraq after everything else failed. And so I think the administration should declassify this information, make it available to the public so that we get a chance to understand exactly what was taking place behind the scenes. Was it real intelligence or was this just another part of the P.R. campaign to justify the decision going to war?

BAY BUCHANAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: You know what Howard Dean failed to say, Heidi, is in what we know and what I've read both in "The Washington Post" and "The New York Times" is that the president was under fire.

The administration was under fire in 2003. People were suggesting including Ambassador Wilson that they exaggerated the information. So he bent back and he says, "Listen, look at the report that I was given, the summary of the intelligence community about the threat that Saddam Hussein was to Americans."

And they presented it and he says, "Let's declassify it so the American people know that this is what I based my decision on. It's right here." And that is the fact. Those are the facts of the matter.

Now Howard Dean can say there's some other information that came in later, as you pointed out. But the facts of the matter, when he to war, he had intelligence community that backed up everything he said.

BRAZILE: But Bay, the people on the ground in Iraq who had a chance to analyze and investigate those trailers knew it was not biological weapons. It was some hydrogen tanks that used for balloons. They sent that information to Washington D.C. and somebody took it upon themselves not to deliver this information to the president.

It's important the president said he wants to get the truth out. That's the reason why he declassified some information. Well declassify this so we can figure out what the truth is. And American people are very smart, they know a lie when they hear it.

COLLINS: How does that happen, that it wouldn't get to the president?

BUCHANAN: Well I don't know how that happened or if it happened. I have no information. I do know that, when the president went to war, this country was not the only one that believed there was weapons of mass destruction. Bill Clinton and Al Gore obviously believed it. They made that statement. Germany, England, France, every intelligence agency in Western Europe believed it.

And we were told that. And our intelligence said the same thing. For the president to think otherwise is ridiculous. Whether it has come out subsequently they didn't have it is irrelevant. At the time he chose to go to war, everyone believed there was weapons of mass destruction, including CNN.

COLLINS: Donna.

BRAZILE: But, once he learned the truth, he had the obligation, I believe, as the president of the United States, to tell the American people that, you know, all of these other folks believed the same thing I believed. But now that I know the truth, I'm going to step up to the plate and tell you what I know. I mean, that's the obligation, I think, of the president.

BUCHANAN: Well, we did know it when we couldn't find them.

BRAZILE: Absolutely. (CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN: It was pretty clear when we didn't. I think we all knew that then.

(LAUGHTER)

COLLINS: Let's move on to Iran, if we could. I want to show you guys -- I want to show you guys these poll numbers that we have. This is the Bloomberg/"L.A. Times" poll about whether or not the people would trust President Bush to make the right decision on the war with Iran.

You see those numbers on the screen. Fifty-four percent of the people say no, and 42 percent say yes.

Donna, what do you think about that?

BRAZILE: Because...

COLLINS: Does it say anything?

BRAZILE: No, because they are using the same language, the same bellicose language, reminiscent of what they used in the run-up to the Iraq war to try to convince the American people that we got to rush right now to bomb Iran. And that's why the American people are saying, whoa, whoa, let's analyze the information. Let's get the facts. Let's look at the intelligence.

(CROSSTALK)

COLLINS: ... I don't think that is at all what we have heard from the White House. You know, there has been a lot of talk about this. And they say, we always have contingency plans for every...

BUCHANAN: Sure..

The contingency plans are an excellent idea. I mean, I believe that it's good and smart for the White House to make it look like we might do this, because, possibly, what we might do is the same thing we did with Libya's Gadhafi, make them believe that we are going to move. And, then, all of a sudden, we get exactly what we want from Gadhafi. We need to do the same thing with Iran.

We're virtually on our own over there. We are talking to the Security Council and all, but they are not going to come along with any kind of sanctions or preemptive war. So, what we need to do is talk about it.

COLLINS: We are on our own, but Iran doesn't have a lot of friends, correct?

BUCHANAN: Iran doesn't, so we should sit down with them and say, fellows, we know what we want and we know what you want. We can make a deal, just like we did with Gadhafi. That is good policy.

Let's do it that way, talk about it, but for -- whatever you do, do not take military action against Iran.

BRAZILE: Well, absolutely.

But, first, let's make sure we have all of the facts. The International Atomic Energy Agency is in the -- in the country.

COLLINS: That's right.

BRAZILE: Why don't we wait until they come out with the information? We don't know the truth. I mean, the CIA and others are saying five years, 10 years, 20 years. It's a guessing game.

So, let's get all of the information. Let's analyze it. And, then, let's put pressure on the Russians, when the president goes to the G8 Summit in July and put pressure on Mr. Putin, who is, you know, I guess a friend of the Iranians, and pressure on the Chinese to help us out in this situation.

BUCHANAN: And let's talk -- let's put a little pressure on our congressional leaders. You know, they are all saying, well, if we had only known, we wouldn't have gone to -- we wouldn't have supported the war in Iraq, including your friends over there as Democrats.

It's time for them to say, listen, he can't take military action in Iran, unless we approve it. We're the only ones that give him authority. Let's start the debate today.

BRAZILE: Well, and that includes the Republican rubber-stamp majority as well.

(LAUGHTER)

COLLINS: Let's keep it nice now.

BUCHANAN: And Kerry and Clinton.

COLLINS: This is a nice, friendly discussion.

All right. We want to move on to...

BRAZILE: That's very friendly.

COLLINS: It is. It's very good.

(LAUGHTER)

COLLINS: Lewis Libby, defense -- I want to put this up on the screen as well -- this is what we would see. "We emphasize that, consistent with his grand jury testimony Mr. Libby does not contend that he was instructed to make any disclosures concerning Ms. Wilson by President Bush, Vice President Cheney, or anyone else" -- again the Lewis Libby defense filing.

Does this change anything, Bay?

BUCHANAN: Well, it should. It should bring the Democrats right to their knees and ask for an...

(LAUGHTER)

BUCHANAN: ... to accept their apologies.

I mean, the accusations they make against the president and vice president are outrageous. They're completely false. They called -- they said, we should call for a special prosecutor. The president did that. And he completely complied with them and testified and did everything he wanted. And the special prosecutor said, there's no evidence whatsoever that the president of the United States has done anything wrong, is the least bit tied to this case, and, likewise, with the vice president.

COLLINS: So, Donna, do you see -- do you see Democrats apologizing?

BRAZILE: No way.

(CROSSTALK)

BRAZILE: I mean, look, the Republicans are passing around Rolaids today. They are relieved that this filing took place last night.

But you know what? The story will not go away, because we don't know the complete story. That's why it's important to have this investigation out in the open and for the White House to cooperate fully with Mr. Fitzgerald, so that we can get behind exactly who leaked this CIA operative's name. That's is bottom line in this investigation.

BUCHANAN: And we have done all of that, and, yet, the Democrats continue to make accusations against the president of the United States which are categorically false, and they know it.

BRAZILE: It's our job to protest and to also...

BUCHANAN: Protest? And to acknowledge the facts when they come to the table.

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN: And to hold this administration to the fire, since the Republicans will not do that.

COLLINS: This is a question that I asked yesterday about stories like these that continue to be written about. And you say the stories will continue to be heard, and that people are interested. Do stories like this, because of where the president is in the mix of it all, whether he is guilty or not, just his name in these stories, continue to chip away at the credibility of President Bush?

BUCHANAN: Absolutely.

You know, the president has an agenda. He wants to do certain things, get certain messages out. When you are -- when all the questions that particular day are about what happened in some trial last night, or the pretrial motions, then he loses that opportunity to get his message out, and he's on the defensive. It's never good. It's never good news.

COLLINS: Donna, quickly.

BRAZILE: You can't say one thing and do another thing.

The American people look at you, and, if you say you're a straight shooter, you want to return honesty and integrity to the White House, then the credibility is on the line. And that's what is on the line. And that's the reason why his poll numbers are dropping.

COLLINS: Donna Brazile, Bay Buchanan, thank you very much...

BUCHANAN: Thank you.

COLLINS: ... for being in the "Strategy Session."

Up next, it's an election unlike any other. How far will hurricane evacuees go to cast their ballots in the New Orleans mayoral contest?

And religious reality -- young men aspiring to be priests forced to make a decision between God or a girl. It's in our 7:00 p.m. Eastern hour of THE SITUATION ROOM. Find out why some Catholics are outraged over this new show.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COLLINS: A first in American politics could be in the making right now. The New Orleans mayoral race could have more voters outside the city than inside of it. Early voting across Louisiana is under way. And Election Day is now a little over a week away.

CNN's Alina Cho is covering this landmark contest -- Alina.

ALINA CHO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Heidi, the evacuees are being called the wild card in this election. That's because, no matter how many polls are taken, it's impossible to know just how many of them are going to vote. The candidates aren't taking any chances, and neither are some of the residents.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CHO (voice-over): Carolyn Schexneider lives in Houston but says New Orleans will always be home to her. It's why she's volunteering her time going door to door, making sure others like her take the time to vote.

CAROL SCHEXNEIDER, KATRINA EVACUEE: Hi. This is Carolyn Schexneider.

My pitch is, you know, I'm a native of New Orleans, because I want them to know I understand and I know what they've been through, because I've been there, too.

CHO: Schexneider and her family rode out the storm in New Orleans. Her brother is still missing. Though she has no immediate plans to return to the Crescent City, she says one day she might, if the right person is elected.

She's not alone.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They going to help me rebuild my house?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That's what we're working on.

CHO: Houston is home to the largest number of Katrina evacuees, an estimated 150,000. Overall, nearly a quarter-million former residents are spread out over all 50 states. That's a lot of votes. Experts say it may be enough to swing the election.

SUSAN HOWELL, POLITICAL ANALYST, UNIVERSITY OF NEW ORLEANS: The turnout of the evacuees will be extremely important.

CHO: Susan Howell, professor at the University of New Orleans, has been watching local politics for 32 years.

HOWELL: The top candidates are traveling to Atlanta, to Memphis, to Houston, to Dallas. So, you're running for mayor, but you have to go to four, five different states.

CHO: Candidate Mitch Landrieu has been crisscrossing the region.

LT. GOV. MITCH LANDRIEU (LA-D), NEW ORLEANS MAYORAL CANDIDATE: It's just been a very strange election process. All these experts that think they know what they're doing, they're completely confused.

CHO: Keeping track of the issues is also a challenge, even for the incumbent, Ray Nagin.

RAY NAGIN (D), MAYOR OF NEW ORLEANS: If you're staying in New Orleans, it's about garbage and debris removal and making sure that the criminals don't take over. But, for people outside the city, it's about, "How do I get home?"

CHO: Nercile Winfield, is a third-generation New Orleans resident. On this day, she's registering to vote.

NERCILE WINFIELD, KATRINA EVACUEE: We are displaced, and I feel like we don't say anything about it and do something about it, then, they don't know how we feel about it. They might feel that we're satisfied at being displaced.

CHO (on camera): And you're not.

WINFIELD: No, we're not.

CHO (voice-over): Linda Jeffers is also volunteering her time. She wants to make sure evacuees have a voice in this election. LINDA JEFFERS, KATRINA EVACUEE: The message to the candidates is that they need to understand that we're going to vote, and they're going to have to address our agenda because we're coming home.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CHO: If you're one of the thousands of people living outside of New Orleans, voting certainly will not be easy. You essentially have three options. You can request an absentee ballot, vote early at one of 10 satellite polling stations in Louisiana. And, by the way, early voting is already under way.

Finally, you can travel to New Orleans on Election Day, which is a week from Saturday.

Heidi, I think it's safe to say, the candidates are hoping former resident will make the effort to vote. They certainly could make the difference.

COLLINS: All right, Alina Cho, thank you.

Coming up, Bush-economics -- the president is offering his take on your finances, but is the public giving him any credit?

And, speaking of money, Hillary Clinton has got it, big-time. We will tell you what is in the senator's campaign war chest.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COLLINS: The economy is on President Bush's "Political Radar" today. He spoke to a small business conference in Washington, as new reports suggest the economy has snapped out of an end-of-the-year funk. But are Americans giving President Bush any credit for that?

We averaged together four of the most recent polls. And here's what we found. Thirty-nine percent of Americans approve of the way the president is handling the economy.

Meanwhile, Senator Hillary Clinton is raising money like a presidential candidate, even though she is only running for reelection against poorly funded opponents. Her reelection campaign reports raising more than $6 million in the first three months of this year. And it has more than $19 million cash on hand.

The New York Democrat could use leftover money from her reelection campaign for a future run for the White House.

And now an update on a story you first heard here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

We are learning new details about a class-action lawsuit against AT&T. AT&T customers say the company gave the NSA access to millions of its customers' online communications.

Internet reporter Abbi Tatton has the very latest -- Abbi.

TATTON: Heidi, the lawsuit says that AT&T violated the privacy of its customers. It alleges that the communications giant gave access to the NSA to the vast databases of information.

Court filings just this week talk of new documents, internal AT&T documents that have been furnished by a former AT&T employee. And plaintiffs say that these documents support their belief that AT&T assisted the NSA in the surveillance program.

AT&T has been fighting to get these documents back. They say they contain trade secrets, that they are confidential. They're trying to keep them under seal. Now, we tried to get a comment from AT&T, and they wouldn't comment on ongoing litigation, and nor would the NSA. But what AT&T did tell us, that the company follows all laws with respect to requests from governmental authorities -- Heidi.

COLLINS: All right, Abbi Tatton, thank you.

Up next, it's a Disney ride that's so intense, it's equipped with motion-sickness bags. Walt Disney's Mission: Space is now reopened, one after a woman who went on it died. We will have what Disney is saying after the popular ride's safety in just a moment.

And you may remember the so-called Vietnam syndrome. Does President Bush face an Iraq syndrome that could endanger his credibility with the American public?

That's next hour, right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COLLINS: Welcome back to THE SITUATION ROOM, everybody.

Zain Verjee is off today, so Fredricka Whitfield is joining us now from the CNN Global Headquarters in Atlanta with a closer look at other stories making news today.

Hi, Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: Hello again, Heidi.

Florida's Walt Disney World has reopened its Mission: Space ride a day after a woman who went on it died at an Orlando hospital. The 49-year-old woman became dizzy and nauseous after going on the ride on Tuesday. Disney says she may have had high blood pressure. It say its engineers found the ride was operating properly. A 4-year-old boy fainted on Mission: Space last June and died of an irregular heartbeat.

A major mishap in the Tokyo Bay. A Japanese cargo ship collided with a Philippine container ship in heavy fog today. The collision caused the Philippine vessel to sink. All 25 crew members were safely evacuated in a lifeboat. The Japanese ship made it to the harbor. Its five crew members are safe as well. The cause of the collision is still under investigation. Toyota is recalling 57,000 Lexus vehicles. The world's number- two automaker says there's a problem with the seat belt device. The luxury cars are being recalled in the U.S., Japan, Europe, and other markets.

And Ford Motor Company announcing today that it will close two plants in Northern Virginia and Saint Paul, Minnesota, in 2008. They employ about 4,300 workers. In January, the nation's number-two carmaker announced it would shut down 14 plants by 2012.

Not-so-good news for a lot of folks in the auto industry, Heidi.

COLLINS: Boy, that's for sure. That's a lot of jobs.

All right, Fred, we will check back a little bit later.

Still to come now, sexy vs. boring. Got your attention? So, which do you prefer to hear about when former President Bill Clinton is at the podium?

Jack Cafferty is up next with your e-mail on whether you think sexy topics trump boring ones. It seems pretty easy to me.

Anyway, are Republicans worried they will get hurt by President Bush's sinking poll numbers? I will talk with GOP Party Chairman Ken Mehlman. That's next hour, right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COLLINS: And here's a look at some of the stories coming in, the "Hot Shots." They're coming to us from the Associated Press, all across the world, pictures likely to be in your newspapers tomorrow.

Look at this one in Spain. A prisoner reaches through the bars to touch a statue of Jesus during a Holy Week procession.

In India, fans burn cars and buses during the funeral of movie actor Raj Kumar. They rioted after they were unable to view the body of the film icon.

And to New Mexico now -- colorful spring chickens. Look at that.

(LAUGHTER)

COLLINS: They come from a hatchery that dyes the chicks while they are still in the egg. Hmm.

And, in the Cayman Islands, David Blaine gets ready for another big stunt. He is going to try to hold his breath longer than any human being.

And that's today's "Hot Shots," pictures worth 1,000 words.

And our own hot shot, Jack Cafferty, standing by with "The Cafferty File."

(LAUGHTER)

COLLINS: Hey, hot shot.

CAFFERTY: That's very clever.

I may -- I may not pick up the paper tomorrow, if that's all that is going to be...

(CROSSTALK)

(LAUGHTER)

CAFFERTY: ... stupid pictures of those blue chickens.

(LAUGHTER)

CAFFERTY: Bill Clinton suggests, sometimes, boring is better. He would know.

During a speech about coordinating aid to the developing world, the former president said he likes working on this, because -- quote -- "It's not a particularly sexy topic." He added: "I don't mind working on boring topics. I like boring."

The question...

(LAUGHTER)

CAFFERTY: Where did we get this? When it comes to former President Bill Clinton, would you rather hear him talk about boring or sexy topics?

Mike in Hot Springs, Arkansas: "Bill Clinton could read his grocery list, and it would be 10,000 times more interesting than anything Bush could say."

Suzie in Atlanta: "As one who has had the pleasure of hearing the president in person, I can tell you, nothing he says is boring. Everything he does is sexy. He has a fantastic command of the English language, with a very organized thought process, and he doesn't pretend that everything is perfect."

Michael in Mansfield, Massachusetts: "Jack, this is, by far, the stupidest question you have ever asked."

Mike, I might agree with you.

"You have reached a new plateau in obscurity. However, I would rather listen to President Clinton talk on any subject than any GOP on-point bobblehead."

Terry in North Carolina: "Clinton spent half of a presidential term talking or not talking about something sexy. The taxpayers won't mind a bit if he tackles a few boring issues that might have seen some progress during his term under more boring circumstances." Anne in Illinois: "I don't care what Bill Clinton talks about, as long as he continues to talk. If Hillary is smart, she will him constantly by her side if she chooses to run for president."

And Steve in Spokane, Washington: "Can you even use 'sexy' and 'boring' in the same sentence as the word Clinton? I thought there were FCC regulations against that."

Let's go back to Heidi and the blue chickens. I find those more compelling.

(LAUGHTER)

COLLINS: Oh. Man, I thought you were going to say something else.

(LAUGHTER)

CAFFERTY: No.

COLLINS: All right, Jack, we will...

(LAUGHTER)

COLLINS: ... check back with you later. That's for sure.

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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