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THE SITUATION ROOM
New York Mayor Ready to Hand Out Gay Marriage Licenses?; Interview With Senator John McCain; Anti-U.S. Violence Erupts in Afghanistan
Aired May 29, 2006 - 16:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: And, 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 today's top stories.
Happening now, U.S. forces in the line of fire on this Memorial Day. It's 12:30 a.m. Tuesday in Afghanistan, the scene of anti- American rioting. We will have the latest on the bloodshed there and in Iraq, where a CBS News correspondent is critically wounded and her crew is killed.
And we will discuss the threat to the troops on both fronts with Senator John McCain.
Also this hour, the Senate majority leader's reversal about the raid on Congress. It's 4:00 p.m. here in Washington, where Bill Frist had raised red flags about the separation of powers. Now, is he waving a white flag?
And the mayor of New York takes a stand on the culture wars. Is Michael Bloomberg ready to give out gay marriage licenses? A court hearing this week is forcing the issue and putting the spotlight on Mayor Bloomberg.
Wolf Blitzer is off today. I'm John King. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
The capital of Afghanistan is under curfew right now, after the worst rioting in Kabul since the fall of the Taliban government. Anti-American anger swept through the city after a U.S. military truck crashed into a crowd of pedestrians.
Also today, the worst wave of violence to hit Baghdad in days -- among the targets, an open-air market and a USA military convoy being covered by a CBS News crew, all this as Americans mark Memorial Day.
President Bush says the United States can honor the war dead in Iraq and Afghanistan by finishing their missions.
We begin this hour, though, in Afghanistan.
Our Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr is there with us via videophone from Kabul -- Barbara.
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, it has been an extraordinary day here in the capital city of Kabul.
Early this morning, a U.S. military convoy was involved in a serious traffic accident with a number of vehicles. Apparently, one Afghan civilian, at least, was killed, several injured, a number of vehicles involved. And, at that point, apparently, violence broke out. The U.S. had tried to render medical aid to the injured, but when the U.S. vehicles then were going to leave the scene, after rendering the aid, a riot broke out.
According to the video that has now been shown, it's pretty clear what happened. Afghan civilians, angry, began stoning the U.S. military convoy. The U.S. military convoy attempted to leave the area, but the video that has now been seen shows that at least one soldier manning a .50-caliber machine gun on top of a military vehicle apparently fired his weapon into the direction of the crowd of the Afghan civilians.
John, that set off a day of violence, rioting and gunfire across the capital city. As you say, it is the type of violence that has not been seen since the fall of the Taliban, reports across the city, shops looted, cars set on fire, violence across the city.
We here at Camp Eggers, the coalition headquarters in Afghanistan, we were put under immediate lockdown. No one was allowed to leave. So, we went up on the roof for most of the day and tracked gunfire across the city.
Late in the day, the U.S. military spokesman, Colonel Tom Collins, came out and spoke to the cameras about what had transpired and what some of the next steps will be.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
COL. THOMAS COLLINS, COALITION SPOKESMAN: This was a tragic incident, and we deeply regret any deaths or injuries resulting from this incident. Although this incident is very regrettable, the coalition remains committed to working together with the Afghan people to build a better future.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STARR: And Afghan President Hamid Karzai, tonight, having installed a curfew of the city, is appealing for calm.
But it's quite significant that some of the protesters were chanting not just anti-American slogans, but also anti-Karzai slogans. There is a feeling in this country, in some quarters by some people, that Hamid Karzai is too close to the Americans.
And many people in this country are increasingly angry. A number of Afghan civilians have been killed, inadvertently, of course, in U.S. military and coalition military operations. And people in this country are increasingly angry about that situation. That may have been part of what sparked today's violence. Commanders are going to watch very carefully at sunrise, John. They hope tomorrow will be a peaceful day, but they will be watching very carefully across the city -- John.
KING: And, Barbara, do those commanders believe this is spontaneous anti-American sentiment causing the rioting? Or do they believe these are organized demonstrations by a resurgent Taliban?
STARR: Well, at this point, there's no reason to believe that it was some organized Taliban effort, per se. But, certainly, both the Afghan government tonight and the U.S. government believe there were what they call agitators who stirred up this trouble once it erupted, because it really did spread across the city.
What has been going on in Afghanistan, however, is, in fact, a resurgence of the Taliban in the last several weeks and months. Most of that fighting, John, has been in the southern part of the country. But, down there, they are seeing groups of Taliban, as many as 100 at a time. That's something they are trying to deal with. That is something they did not expect to see either -- John.
KING: Barbara Starr for us in Kabul -- Barbara, we will be back to you later in the program. Thank you very much.
It was also a very bloody day in Iraq.
Let's go now to our Zain Verjee at the CNN Global Headquarters in Atlanta with more on the violence in Baghdad -- Zain.
ZAIN VERJEE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John, dozens of people, at least 50, are dead in a wave of insurgent attacks throughout Baghdad today.
In a northern Shia neighborhood, a roadside bomb tore through a bus carrying at least 40 people opposed to the Iranian regime. Thirteen people were killed. Fifteen others were injured, some of them critically.
Members of an embedded CBS News crew were among four people killed when a car bomb struck a military convoy. Correspondent Kimberly Dozier was critically wounded in the blast. Cameraman Paul Douglas and sound tech James Brolan were killed. Also killed were an Iraqi translator and one U.S. soldier.
The soldier's death brings the official number of U.S. military fatalities in the three-year Iraq conflict to 2,466.
Senate Armed Services Chairman John Warner is promising hearings into charges that U.S. Marines killed as many as 24 civilians last November in the Iraqi city of Haditha, and then tried to cover it up. On Sunday, Warner cautioned against a rush to judgment. Top military brass say investigations got under way as soon as the incident came to light.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GENERAL PETER PACE, CHAIRMAN, JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF: There are two ongoing investigations. One investigation has to do with what happened. The other investigation goes to, why didn't we know about it sooner than we knew about it? To my recollection, the first we knew about it back here in D.C. was around the 10th of February. And the very next day is when the investigations began.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VERJEE: General Pace appeared today on CNN's "AMERICAN MORNING."
And, John, one report from ABC News says, at least seven Marines could face criminal charges.
KING: Zain, thank you very much. And we will have a live report on that alleged massacre next hour in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Zain, thank you.
President Bush says Americans have seen the cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. And nearly 300 troops killed in those conflicts are buried in Arlington National Cemetery, where Mr. Bush marked this Memorial Day.
Here's our White House correspondent Suzanne Malveaux -- Suzanne.
SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, as you know, President Bush is facing increasing pressure to show some sort of progress in Iraq. He's also facing an increasing number of Americans who are skeptical that this U.S. mission in Iraq was worth it to begin with.
Well, President Bush made the case today that the best way to honor the fallen is to actually honor the mission itself, why we went to war in the first place, President Bush today making the case it was to bring democracy and freedom to the Middle East.
MALVEAUX (voice-over): President Bush paid tribute to America's fallen with the traditional wreath-laying at the Tomb of the Unknowns and remarks at Arlington National Cemetery.
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm in awe of the men and women who sacrifice for the freedom of the United States of America.
MALVEAUX: Before the ceremony, Mr. Bush signed a bill that bars demonstrators from disrupting military funerals by restricting access.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You cost the lives...
MALVEAUX: The law is largely in response to scenes like this, some military funerals disturbed by protests from an anti-gay church group.
This Memorial Day tribute is perhaps the president's most public recognition of the war dead. Mr. Bush does not attend funerals for U.S. soldiers killed in combat, but, instead, privately sends letters and meets with families of the fallen after public events. The White House says, the meetings tend to be very emotional. It's one of the only occasions the president allows his schedule to run late. The White House says Mr. Bush keeps his condolences out of the spotlight out of respect for the family's privacy.
BUSH: I understand what it means to have troops in harm's way. And I know the families -- there's a lot of families making huge sacrifices here in America.
MALVEAUX: But critics charge that the administration is just trying to hide the human cost of the war. Presidential historians say Mr. Bush's behavior follows a custom carried out by many of his predecessors.
ROBERT DALLEK, PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: It is a delicate balancing act. You want to give the families comfort, speak to them in ways that encourage them to believe that the sacrifice of their loved ones was worth it. And, yet, at the same time, he does not want to be out there in the public, both for reasons of delicacy, and because it's, so to speak, bad public relations for the war.
MALVEAUX: And Americans right now are looking for a clearer exit strategy, at least a timetable for withdrawal of U.S. troops, but administration officials today saying, of course, they believe that would be premature -- John.
KING: Suzanne Malveaux at the White House -- Suzanne, thank you.
And, on this holiday, fallen service men and women are being honored all around Washington and across the country. Veterans gathered at the Vietnam Memorial, where four more names were added to the wall just this past week.
New Yorkers gathered at the USS Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum for a Memorial Day replaying and ceremonial -- ceremonial flyover.
And, in New Orleans, a different kind of holiday ritual -- about 150 people gathered in the Lower Ninth Ward to honor those killed in the Hurricane Katrina disaster.
Congress is on its Memorial Day recess, but there's no break from the controversy over that FBI raid on a Democratic congressman's office. Now the focus is on the Senate majority leader, Bill Frist. He has had a surprising turnaround on whether the raid crossed a constitutional line.
Here's our congressional correspondent Dana Bash -- Dana.
DANA BASH, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, the bipartisan demand last week that the Justice Department return all the materials they seized from a Democrat's congressional office caused a heated debate inside the administration, an unprecedented schism, that resulted in the attorney general, one of the president's closest confidants, threatening to resign.
Now, tempers may have cooled there, but now there's a split within the GOP leadership on Capitol Hill.
BASH (voice-over): The Senate majority leader was the first GOP leader to publicly raise questions about the unprecedented FBI raid on a congressman's office.
SEN. BILL FRIST (R-TN), MAJORITY LEADER: Yes, I'm concerned, because it does involve the Constitution.
BASH: And, as the House speaker led the battle against the Bush Justice Department last week, Senator Frist continued to side with Dennis Hastert.
FRIST: And the whole idea of separation of powers does need to be addressed. So, I remain concerned.
BASH: But then a stunning reversal -- Senator Frist now says he's OK with the FBI search.
FRIST: There is no individual in the House or Senate that can be or should stand above the law. It's a matter of how the law enforcement is carried out. And I think it was appropriate, as I see it today.
BASH: Frist says his change of heart came after the attorney general spent an hour in his office Friday, walking him through the facts of the case. But, to his critics, it's the latest example of Frist changing with the political winds. They see a senator more worried about presidential ambition than any constitutional principle.
The majority leader's switch came as more rank-and-file Republicans complained the leadership was sending the wrong message.
SEN. JEFF SESSIONS (R), ALABAMA: I don't believe that any congressman has a -- any special privileges greater than Americans do, American citizens, who can be searched in this same manner.
BASH: Speaker Hastert still maintains, the raid crossed a line. And the internal GOP brawl is seen by many as a major political fumble. This conservative blog, for example, posted and mocked lengthy House GOP talking points, saying they turned what should have been a story about a Democrat allegedly taking bribes into a scandal about GOP leadership in the House trying to put itself above the law.
BASH: And a senior Frist aide insists, his change in position was not meant to advance his own White House ambitions for 2008, but, rather, the GOP Congress' prospects in 2006, realizing, the aide said -- quote -- "Republicans needs to win and the constitutional showdown with the White House was not helping" -- John. KING: OK, Dana, as we try to sort out Bill Frist's motivation, this issue is not going away. There will be a hearing on this issue tomorrow in the House, right?
BASH: That's right. The House Judiciary Committee, the chairman, James Sensenbrenner, is having a hearing. And I can tell you, you could get his position just from the title, "Reckless Justice: Did the Saturday Night Raid of Congress Trample the Constitution?" That's going to be tomorrow, nobody from the Justice Department. It's just going to be some experts on this issue.
But, certainly, as Republicans, especially the speaker, wants to move on, this is going to keep it going, because, of course, nothing else is happening on Capitol Hill tomorrow.
KING: A bit easier to figure out Chairman Sensenbrenner than it is Leader Frist.
Dana Bash, thank you very much.
And Dana Bash and Suzanne Malveaux part of the best political team on television -- CNN, America's campaign headquarters.
A report from the Associated Press today says that Senator Harry Reid accepted free ringside tickets from the Nevada Athletic Commission to three pro boxing matches, all this while that state agency was trying to influence the Senate Democratic leader on federal regulation of boxing.
Senate ethics rules generally allow for lawmakers to accept gifts from federal, state or local governments, but warn against taking such gifts when they may be connected to any effort to influence senators. The senator's office today defends the gift, saying -- quote -- "When a Nevada senator who is a former boxer attends a major Nevada supporting event with the state agency he's working with to protect a Nevada industry, that's called doing his job."
Time now for our Jack Cafferty, who is always doing his job. Jack joins us now from New York.
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Hey, John. I'm not sure what to make of that Harry Reid thing.
While a lot of Americans barbecue and hit the stores looking for sales on this Memorial Day, it's probably worth taking a moment to remember what the day is supposed to be all about. The meaning of the holiday was not lost on a 13-year-old New York girl. She won a contest for writing letters to American troops.
Fatima Faisal wrote -- quote -- "I give you great respect, because you had a choice to join the military. And because of your bravery and courage, you decided to join." Several soldiers from Fort Drum were at the ceremony to honor Faisal today and over the weekend. And one of them was so appreciative of what she wrote that he gave the young girl the Purple Heart he received for injuries he sustained in Iraq.
Staff Sergeant Phillip Trackey said that the children's letters meant a great deal to the troops, and by giving his medal to the girl, it was a big way of giving something back.
So, here's the question: If you could talk to our troops this Memorial Day, what would you say to them? E-mail your thoughts to CaffertyFile@CNN.com or go to CNN.com/CaffertyFile, and we will share a few in about a half-hour -- John.
KING: It's a wonderful story. Jack, every now and then, it's nice to just smile.
KING: Thank you, Jack.
And, coming up, the desperate situation in Indonesia following a very deadly earthquake. Survivors are running short of vital food and supplies -- our report up next.
Plus, this Memorial Day, my wide-ranging interview with one of America's most famous veterans, Senator John McCain.
And, later, new developments in the next race for the White House -- Donna Brazile and Bay Buchanan join me for today's "Strategy Session."
KING: Relief from all over the world has begun to trickle into Indonesia's earthquake zone. But survivors of Saturday's magnitude- 6.3 quake in central Java say that aid is arriving far too slowly. Thousands of people were killed, tens of thousands displaced. Many are hurt.
CNN's Dan Rivers is in the devastated region, where the sheer numbers of injured are taxing resources to their limits and beyond -- Dan.
DAN RIVERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, the second phase of this massive aide effort is now getting under way.
The airport here has now been reopened. And the aid is beginning to come in. But there is clearly a dire situation at the main hospitals. I have been up to one of them in Jakarta, and they are really the most awful, harrowing. There are clearly people desperately in need. And many of the people, the thousands of people, who have come into the hospital have the most horrific injuries.
RIVERS (voice-over): In the chaotic aftermath of this earthquake, the local hospital is a living hell. Every single piece of floor is occupied by injured survivors waiting for treatment, corridors and walkways choked with hundreds of patients, many of whom have not seen a doctor yet.
Some are now being evacuated to other Indonesian provinces, ferried past those who have been waiting for days.
"We were sleeping when the house collapsed and I managed to protect my wife from the falling debris," says 35-year-old Hatando (ph). He has a nasty leg fracture. There are no painkillers, and he's been waiting out here for two days.
Help is on the way. But for those writhing in agony, enduring operations without anesthetics, it can't come soon enough.
RIVERS: Awful scenes at the hospital -- there clearly is a need for more medical supplies.
At the moment, on a broader sense, the World Food Program is beginning to bring things in. They are trying to set up a two-month feeding program, where they are hoping to feed 80,000 people in the first month and 50,000 in the second month. They are hoping that will be enough to -- to help the survivors back on to their feet.
There are also huge amounts of -- of shelter coming in, in the form of tarpaulins, tents, lots of equipment, like cooking equipment, stoves, food. So, there is a big international effort, with 29 countries having pledged help. But, obviously, this is an incredible trauma for the people of this region, and one in which the suffering is continuing at the moment -- John.
KING: Dan Rivers in Indonesia.
It's a horrible story.
And for more on the relief efforts in Indonesia, let's bring in our Internet reporter, Abbi Tatton -- Abbi.
ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: John, the first airlifts of emergency supplies from UNICEF came to the region this morning. More will follow tomorrow. The U.N. Children's Agency is bringing water, sanitation to those hospitals that the agency reports are overwhelmed.
Some aid agencies already had workers in this region. That was because of a different threat. Oxfam, for example, had a small team and supplies there because of Mount Merapi. This is a volcano nearby which has been rumbling for weeks. The threat has not gone away. That volcano has been three times as active since Saturday.
Other aid agencies are saying, as well as the medical supplies that are needed and the water, there's an urgent need for temporary shelter. Mercy Corps is sending tents. All of these organizations are appealing for donations. You can find all the links at CNN.com -- John.
KING: Thank you, Abbi.
And you can help the relief effort. Donations can be made to the Red Cross at 1-800-REDCROSS or at RedCross.org. Also, try 1-800- 4UNICEF, or, on the Web, at UNICEFUSA.org.
Coming up, this Memorial Day finds U.S. forces once again on the front lines in Afghanistan and Iraq. But did the Bush administration send enough troops to get the job done? I will ask Senator John McCain when we return.
Plus, the battle over immigration. How much is Senator McCain willing to bend to come to the agreement with the House? Find out next.
You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
KING: A live picture there of visitors to the Vietnam Memorial on this Memorial Day.
And, on this Memorial Day, when so many U.S. troops are risking their lives right now, some Americans, perhaps, have greater insight than others into war, remembrance, and sacrifice.
Senator John McCain is a leading player in a number of hot political debates here in Washington. He earned his credentials on military issues the hard way, as a Vietnam veteran and former prisoner of war.
KING: Senator John McCain, thank you very much for joining us today.
Let me just start with this very basic question. What does Memorial Day mean to Senator John McCain?
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: What it does to most Americans, that we remember those who have served and sacrificed and those who have made us a nation we are, and the ability to live in the freest and most noble nation on Earth.
And, in my personal case, obviously, it makes me -- reminds me of some of my dear friends and -- who I love so much, who made that sacrifice. And, you know, it's -- it makes me very sad sometimes, but it also makes me very proud at the same time.
KING: Other young Americans are serving in Iraq and Afghanistan right now. And they are paying the ultimate sacrifice. And it, of course, is the subject of the political debate here in the United States, why we went to war, whether it has been a worthy war.
I want to read you something that the defense secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, told our Larry King the other night. And I want your reaction on it.
Secretary Rumsfeld said: "People run around saying, well, you sent less than the generals wanted. That's just utter nonsense. It's not true."
You, sir, Senator McCain, have said they sent too few troops. How would you answer that?
MCCAIN: Well, there's -- many books have been written. Many respected individuals who were part of that operation have testified.
There's no doubt there was too few troops there. And it was a classic and fundamental error that we paid very heavily for. So, I mean, there's just no doubt about it. And it's unfortunate. Mistakes are made in wars. And this was a big mistake. And I hope that we can go ahead and -- and press on and prevail anyway, because we can't afford to lose. And I do think some of the things we have been doing recently have been successful.
KING: As you know, there's a very troubling investigation going on into possible horrible conduct by some Marines in the Iraqi town of Haditha. There's preliminary findings of a massacre of some civilians.
I'm wondering what you know, sir, about that investigation and -- and just what goes through your mind when you hear things like that?
MCCAIN: All I know for now is what I have read in the media. There's going to be more information forthcoming soon. And I'm sure that we will have a hearing in the Armed Services Committee on it.
Apparently, it's true. We don't know the details. It -- it saddens you enormously. It reemphasizes the absolute requirement for discipline in the military. The first emotion one has when you see a comrade die is to seek revenge. That's a natural human instinct. But we have to have the discipline in our military to -- not to -- and the leadership -- not to do that.
I'm glad General Hagee, the commandant of the Marine Corps, went over to Iraq to talk to his Marines. I hope that, if this is indeed the case, which, apparently, it is, that -- that we will be able to move on, recognizing that this will have some harmful repercussions in the world of public opinion.
KING: Senator, if the Republicans lose control of either the House or Senate, or both, this November, do you believe the reason will be the unpopularity of the Iraq war?
MCCAIN: I think that would be one of the reasons.
I think the -- our failure to get spending under control, which has alienated one of our strong Republican pillars, I think this -- these indictments that are happening, I think that our failure to address some of the problems that affect the American people, at least in their view, has led to their low opinion of us. But I want to emphasize, John, six months is a long time. There's a lot of good things we can do, pass an immigration bill, have the president veto this -- these spending -- big spending pork-barrel projects, and get on a credible energy policy. There's a lot of things we can do to turn things around between now and November.
KING: Let's talk about that immigration bill. You were a fan, a sponsor, a backer of the Senate bill. It's now making its way to the House for the conference negotiations.
Your colleague, your Republican colleague from Arizona, Senator Jon Kyl, says, "The Senate has approved a bill that is critically flawed and doesn't go far enough to secure our borders."
One of the Republican House members from your home state, J.D. Hayworth, is saying: "The American people see through the White House spin. They know amnesty when they see it. The president's plan is amnesty."
Are you going to get a bill this year?
MCCAIN: I believe so.
I believe that the voices of -- of understanding and appreciation, that one thing that those critics that you just quoted agree with me on, and we're all in agreement on, is that the system is broken and must be fixed. And, by the way, we are taking serious steps to beef up the border...
KING: But, Senator...
MCCAIN: ... in every respect.
KING: Senator, excuse me...
MCCAIN: Go ahead.
KING: Excuse me for interrupting, but a majority of the Senate Republicans voted against this plan.
If I'm a House conservative and I do not like this guest-worker program, I believe it is amnesty, what is my incentives to compromise? A majority of the Republicans said no in the Senate. Why should a majority of the Republicans now say yes in the House?
MCCAIN: Well, one reason is, the president of the United States is deeply committed and gave a speech to the nation that was approved by an overwhelming majority of Americans, almost 70 -- between 70 and 75 percent of American people support earned citizenship in poll after poll. We should respond to the American people.
Third of all, we are willing to sit down and seriously negotiate with our House counterparts. And maybe, from a Republican standpoint, us going into the November elections without having an agreement on this issue and passing legislation, could not be helpful. KING: Would you accept a guest-worker program that allows the workers to stay and have legal status in the United States, but does not give them a path to citizenship; to get citizenship, they would have to leave the country and then get in line?
MCCAIN: I believe that every proposal should be on the table.
There are new ideas coming up all the time within the parameters of the major issues that face us. And I would not reject any proposal out of hand. Do I agree with that proposal right now? Of course not. That's why we passed a different -- a different method.
But I will sit down and talk with anybody. Look, if we -- we should go into these negotiations with respect for one another and with a -- with a goal in mind of fixing a problem we all agree exists, and exists terribly.
KING: You are someone who has at times -- this is my term, not yours, but called your colleagues somewhat spoiled, and that they want the perks of these earmarks to set aside spending and the like.
There's a big debate now about whether it was appropriate for the FBI to search a congressional office. And there's a lot of howling, even from Republican leaders, saying, this violates a constitutional line. It's a separation of powers -- if the FBI can serve a search warrant at my house or your house, why can't it serve a warrant at your office?
MCCAIN: You -- you make a good point, John.
What -- what I think probably would -- should be a reasonable solution to this would be for the FBI to call the majority leader and the speaker -- excuse me -- the speaker and the Democrat leader, and inform them that -- their intentions and why.
I think they could safely do that. And if it happened over here on the Senate side with the majority leader and the Democrat leader, I think maybe we could work out a process where the leadership was notified. But if someone is -- in all due respect, if someone is -- has strong -- there's strong evidence that someone has committed a crime, I don't think you could justify some kind of sanctuary.
KING: If you're the average Joe in, say, Des Moines, Iowa, or Manchester, New Hampshire -- they -- just random cities I picked out of my brain -- and you see...
KING: ... and you see these members of Congress complaining about this, saying, you can't search my office, what do you think normal people out in the country think when they hear that?
MCCAIN: I don't know, John. I don't -- I don't know what -- I don't know what they think.
But we -- we should have a very simple system, where, if someone is -- in this country, there's no such thing as sanctuary. I do understand a concern that legislators may have about random searches and, you know, overreach by agencies of the executive branch. I think that's a legitimate concern.
KING: Senator John McCain, thank you for joining us in THE SITUATION ROOM.
MCCAIN: Thanks, John.
KING: And a happy Memorial Day to you, sir.
MCCAIN: Thank you. Same to you.
KING: And, up next, much more on the battle between the branches -- what is the political fallout? I will ask our two experts, Donna Brazile and Bay Buchanan.
And from the front lines of the war in Iraq to the somber duty of honoring those lost in the fighting -- next hour, a look behind the scenes at Arlington National Cemetery.
KING: Today, in our "Strategy Session": Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist now says he's comfortable with the search of a Democratic congressman's office. Is this a major change from his original position? And does this put him at odds with other fellow Republican leaders on the House side?
Joining us, CNN political analyst and Democratic strategist Donna Brazile, and Bay Buchanan. She's president of the American Cause.
Let's start by listening to Senator Frist, who was the first member of the leadership to come out and say he had concerns about the FBI raiding Democrat William Jefferson's office. Just yesterday, Senator Frist said this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
FRIST: After discussions with the DOJ, Department of Justice, after discussions with my staff, with discussions with legal counsel, very comfortable that this is not a separation-of-power issue, that there is no individual in the House or Senate that can be or should stand above the law.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Bay Buchanan, he went from very concerned to very comfortable.
BAY BUCHANAN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: You know, unfortunately, Senator Frist has a habit of doing this. He takes two or three positions, usually, on any one issue. That's what he has been doing for the last several months now. I think he made a mistake here. He would have been wise just to not say anything further, say, you know, the president did a smart thing. Let's just take look at the thing carefully, get the experts on it, have the hearings, because, right now, he's trying to get the House of Representatives to work with him to get an immigration bill.
And, so, what's he -- what does he win by insulting them, taking his hand -- the back of his hands, slapping them up against the leadership of the House? I think Hastert and the boys are going to be mad as can be that he took this position, less likely to work with him.
KING: Are you sending these guys money, flowers, candy, whatever they want?
KING: They could have easily said, they raided a Democratic congressman's office because he had $90,000 in his freezer. This affidavit says he accepted bribe money.
Instead, this has become a story about the Republicans.
DONNA BRAZILE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, there's no question Senator Frist backpedaled on his original position. And the House leadership will not back down on their position.
And they believe that this is an issue of separation of powers. And I think the hearing tomorrow will demonstrate whether or not they have some grounds to continue to, you know, voice their objections to the White House. While the president has sealed these documents, what -- what is going to happen with the documents in 45 days?
And I think members have a right to be worried. At the same time, I understand how, you know, the average Joe and Jane out there in America is saying, look, they can come in and raid my house. Why not the House of Representatives?
KING: Well, let's strip it away then. Let's set aside legitimate legal questions, and then the political circus among the Republicans right now. This is about a Democratic congressman, in a year when the Democrats had hoped to run against a Republican culture of corruption. Is Bill Jefferson baggage for the party right now?
BRAZILE: This is not about one individual, because, if it was, we would be talking about Cunningham, and we can talk about Ney and -- and Mr. Lewis and so many other on the Republican side.
KING: It makes it harder to talk about them when you have this.
BRAZILE: Oh, no, no, not when you have the institution itself, not when you have the oil and gas companies writing the energy bill, and not when you have the credit card companies writing the bankruptcy bill. This is what the culture of corruption is about. It's about money influencing and the fact that the special interest has taken over the people's house.
BUCHANAN: This -- this is -- absolutely does damage to their argument that this is the culture of corruption; the Republicans have this problem.
Clearly, the culture of corruption exists in this town, and it affects both parties. They now have at least two congressmen under investigation, not just Mr. Jefferson. And, so, it does suggest that it happens to both sides. And that's what the American people, if you look at the polls, show.
They don't trust Congress as a whole. They are very concerned that this does indeed impact both sides.
KING: Let's look at another poll and jump ahead. We will see how the culture of corruption plays out in this campaign. Let's jump ahead to the one after that, 2008.
Want to show you a new ABC News poll taken just last week: Could you support Hillary Clinton for the 2008 presidential bid? Nineteen percent say they definitely could. Thirty-eight percent say maybe. Forty-two percent say, no way, they will never support Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Donna Brazile, you're the Democrat. You go first. What does that mean?
BRAZILE: It -- it doesn't mean a thing.
Look, five-and-a-half years ago, look at all of the people in New York who said no way they would support Hillary Clinton. Today, she is more popular than ever. Seventy percent of the people up in New York support her. She is going to launch her campaign for reelection in 2006. Just this week, in Buffalo, she will receive the nomination. Mrs. Clinton is a strong candidate. She's been an effective senator. If she decides to run for president, she will be very tough to beat.
BUCHANAN: You -- you know, if I were Hillary or her people around her, I -- I would say just exactly what Donna said, to look at this as not to worry. The first part of our game plan is to win the nomination. Polls all change when you only have two candidates. Let's see what happens. We have got plenty of time.
If I were the leaders of the Democratic Party, I would be looking at that 42 percent real carefully and seeing where it goes from there.
KING: Well, let's flip over to the man many think, at least at this point, is the presumptive favorite on the other side.
Same poll: Could you support Senator John McCain for the 2008 presidential bid? Definitely, 9 percent. Maybe, 57 percent. No way, 28 percent, not a tiny number, but smaller than Hillary Clinton's.
BUCHANAN: Well, you know, he's -- again, John McCain, 28 percent, I think, is probably a pretty good number, when you look at it. If he's looking at it, he sees real opportunity here.
But, you know, if John McCain wins that nomination, I know a lot of people that might vote for Hillary. So...
BUCHANAN: So, everything will change then, won't it?
KING: The biggest gap for Mrs. Clinton is white men. She has a huge problem among white men. How does she fix that?
BRAZILE: Well, easy, by talking about issues that impact all Americans, especially working Americans.
I don't think that gap will exist, again, if she decides to run for president.
KING: Now, you're on the other side, but she is going to the state convention in New York this week. Many view her Senate race as a stepping-stone. What should she say?
BUCHANAN: You know, her -- her message should be an upbeat, positive one. She has clearly got that -- she's going to win up there. She's going to win big, it looks like.
And, so, I think she should start appealing to the nation. You know, this should not just be about New York. It should be about the nation and where she is taking it, somewhat leadership. I think she should begin the groundwork, in essence, for appealing back, appease -- see if she can't appease some of these white males. But there's no question that will be her problem two years from now.
KING: You remember her husband had the Sister Souljah moment, where he took issue with one wing of the Democratic Party. He picked a fight on purpose to prove he was different. Does she need to pick a fight?
BRAZILE: I don't think so.
I think it's important that she continues to be consistent on Iraq, that she is consistent on domestic issues. And if she is consistent on -- on both foreign policy and domestic issues, she will be able to bring back white men.
But, look, we forget about white women in this battle, because they are the majority of voters in this country. And there are so many single unmarried white women who will be attractive to a candidate like Hillary Clinton, who talk about health care, talk about job, talk about kitchen-table issues. So, I think she will be a very strong candidate, if she decides. (CROSSTALK)
BUCHANAN: If she talks about those things, the white men are going to leave her in even bigger numbers.
KING: The last time she spent a lot of time talking about health care, the Republicans took both chambers of Congress.
BUCHANAN: I hope she takes your advice, Donna. I think it's great.
BUCHANAN: That was before the -- that health care costs have been rising and so forth. So...
KING: All right.
Donna Brazile, Bay Buchanan, thank you very much, especially for coming in on a holiday.
KING: We thank you both.
And Donna Brazile and Bay Buchanan, part of the best political team on television -- CNN, America's campaign headquarters.
Coming up, the Justice Department trying to shoot down two lawsuits over the government's collecting of your phone calls. We will tell you why when we get the situation online.
And a very bloody day in Iraq -- next hour, former Defense Secretary William Cohen joins me right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
KING: If it's up to the Justice Department, the public will never learn details about the NSA's controversial eavesdropping program. The government is asking courts across the country to toss out lawsuits challenging that program.
Let's get the latest move now from our Internet reporter, Abbi Tatton -- Abbi. TATTON: John, if it is up to the government, these lawsuits will be thrown out.
Back in January, the Center For Constitutional Rights in New York sued the government, alleging that the NSA intercepted its privilege attorney-client communications. And now the director of national intelligence, John Negroponte, has weighed in with this declaration.
What he says is if the litigation is allowed to go ahead, it could do pose grave -- do grave damage to national security. He is seeking to dismiss this lawsuit, saying that it relates to state secrets. The Department of Justice is also seeking to dismiss another lawsuit, that one filed by the ACLU also earlier this year.
Now, it's not the first time we have seen this kind of move by the government. There's a class-action lawsuit going on, on behalf of AT&T customers. On that one, the Justice Department is also seeking to stop it. And there's a hearing on that one due next month -- John.
KING: Abbi, thank you very much.
And, coming up, as we mark Memorial Day, we ask, if you could talk to our troops, what would you say to them? Our Jack Cafferty has your answers up next.
KING: Jack Cafferty back now with "The Cafferty File."
CAFFERTY: Thank you, John. Hi.
The question this hour is: If you could talk to our troops this Memorial Day, what would you say to them?
We got some great letters.
Gabrielle in Federal Way, Washington: "I would let them know that, in our house, we attend Memorial Day services, even though we have no family member in the military. To us, it's not a day to shop for sales, but a day to remember our fallen heroes."
Sarge in Indianapolis: "Make sure you vote in November. And vote for the people in the body bags. They no longer have a voice. Speak for them, and speak loud."
Robert in Tequesta, Florida: "As one who has been there, I would tell them to keep their heads down, do their job, keep track of their getaway day, and get their fannies home."
Richard in Syracuse, New York: "As a disabled veteran, I would tell that we will never allow them to be dishonored for their service and commitment, as previous veterans have been."
And Eric in Huntington Beach writes this: "My grandfather fought in World War II. He was a Danish resistance leader. My family, before I was born, was given a rebirth of freedom, thanks in large part to American soldiers. AS a U.S. citizen now, I would say the same thing I would tell anyone in the armed forces on a daily basis. I realize there is nothing I can really do to show my appreciation for your sacrifices, which are far beyond any sacrifice I have ever made. But, from deep inside my heart, thank you for contributing to our freedom and the freedom of others. My family has over 60 years of gratitude toward the United States military. Thank you " -- John.
KING: Wonderful letters. Jack, thank you very much for sharing that. I'm sure there's more to come, maybe later.
And, next, will New York City soon allow gay couples to marry? Find out in today's "Culture Wars."
And a very bloody day in Afghanistan -- is the Taliban behind today's violence? We will go live to Kabul at the top of the hour.
KING: New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg is taking a front-line position in the culture wars. He's vowing to fight for same-sex marriages, as that issue goes before an appeals court in New York this week.
Our Mary Snow has more on Mayor Bloomberg's stand -- Mary.
MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, he's a Republican mayor in a blue state, but when it comes to controversial issues, Mayor Mike Bloomberg doesn't see things in blue and red. He has recently been more outspoken, fueling speculation as to whether he is considering running for president, possibly as an independent.
SNOW (voice-over): The cameras focus on New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg at a local Memorial Day parade. But the questions focus on national issues, the latest, gay marriage. A case on same-sex marriages goes before an appeals court this week. Bloomberg says, if the court doesn't allow for the nuptials, he will lobby for change.
MICHAEL BLOOMBERG (R), MAYOR OF NEW YORK: If the courts say that the current Constitution does not permit it, and we need new laws, then I will go and express my views that we should have those new laws.
SNOW: That's in contrast to a fellow Republican neighbor, Governor Mitt Romney of Massachusetts.
GOV. MITT ROMNEY (R), MASSACHUSETTS: We do not want Massachusetts to become the Las Vegas of same-sex marriage.
SNOW: The Republican Bloomberg doesn't always toe his party's line. And he's becoming increasingly critical of the way conservatives in Congress are handling illegal immigration. Last week, Bloomberg criticized naysayers of global warming and evolution, telling students at Johns Hopkins that politics is clouding science.
BLOOMBERG: Was there anything more inappropriate than watching political science try to override medical science in the Terri Schiavo case?
SNOW: And there was also the National Gun Summit he held recently to crack down on those selling guns on the black market.
BLOOMBERG: Well, good afternoon.
SNOW: With Bloomberg stepping further into the spotlight, it has raised questions about his political plans for 2008. He told me today:
BLOOMBERG: I'm not running for president. I have the best job in the world.
SNOW: Political observers say Bloomberg is filling a vacuum of silence among politicians in Washington.
MITCHELL MOSS, NEW YORK UNIVERSITY: Mike Bloomberg is always honest, always direct, and always forthright. And Americans would love to have someone with those qualities in the White House.
SNOW: A political observer we spoke with says, even if Bloomberg doesn't run for office, he can affect candidates who do run in 2008, saying he is pathbreaking by being frank on where he stands -- John.
KING: Mary Snow -- a very interesting man. And you will keep watching him. Thank you, Mary.
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