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THE SITUATION ROOM

Some Democrats and Republicans Feuding Over Part Of National Intelligence Report Saying War in Iraq Is Making Terror Threat Worse; Leak Of National Intelligence Estimate Concerning Iraq And War On Terror Could Have Significant Political Impact; Interview with Frances Townsend

Aired September 25, 2006 - 16:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks very much, Ali.
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, Iraq fireworks. Democrats pouncing on new evidence that the war is making the terror threat worse. It's 4:00 p.m. here in Washington where the Bush administration says a leaked portion of an intelligence report doesn't tell the full story. I'll talk to the president's homeland security adviser, Fran Townsend. She is standing by live at the White House

Also this hour, questions of confidence. We have new poll numbers on the president, the war on terror, and Iraq. Will they be decisive factors when America votes this fall?

And we're following new Clinton controversies. The former president angrily defends his attempts to get Osama bin Laden, and Senator Clinton's camp says she was demonized by the Reverend Jerry Falwell.

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

Up first this hour, some Democrats are finding aid and comfort in the classified intelligence estimate of the terror threat to the United States. Intelligence and counter-terrorism officials say the report concludes the war in Iraq is giving fuel to Islamic extremism and al Qaeda wannabes.

Now some Democrats and Republicans are feuding over the leaked part of the report, and whether it distorts the truth or proves the Iraq war was a failure. And it's all playing out only six weeks before Election Day.

Our White House correspondent Suzanne Malveaux is standing by, but let's go to Capitol Hill, our congressional correspondent, Andrea Koppel, with more on this controversy -- Andrea.

ANDREA KOPPEL, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, CNN has just obtained this letter. It's from the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, Jay Rockefeller, and it's addressed to the director of intelligence, John Negroponte, asking him to declassify that entire NIE. We're also told that the top Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee, Pat Roberts, is echoing that call.

We're also told that tomorrow, the top Democrat in the Senate, Harry Reid, is expected to write a similar letter to Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist asking him to convene a closed door meeting so that all lawmakers can get fully briefed on what was in that April 2006 NIE.

I'm also told, Wolf, that this is part of what Democrats say will be a weeklong blitz designed to capitalize on the release that leaked report of the section of the NIE on the counterinsurgency and the impact on terrorism around the world. It is part of this recent effort to blunt the president's P.R. campaign that we just saw in the last couple of weeks, targeting terrorism.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MINORITY LEADER: As reported throughout America yesterday, the United States intelligence community believes the war in Iraq has created an emboldened terrorist worldwide. Far from being the central front on the war on terror as President Bush describes it, Iraq has become the central reason terror is on the rise five years after 9/11. The president's course is doing more harm than good.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KOPPEL: Now, Senator Reid's remarks came during an oversight hearing on the war in Iraq, in particular on the planning and conduct of the war in Iraq. It was convened by Democrats. There were eight Democrats present, eight Senate Democrats, and one House Republican, Walter Jones, whose district is home to Camp Lejeune.

Now, the three witnesses who were called to testify before this committee were all recently retired generals who offered a scathing criticism, not just of the conduct of the war, but, in particular, of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, who they say has proved himself, quote, "incompetent strategically, operationally, and tactically."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MAJ. GEN. JOHN BATISTE, U.S. ARMY (RET.): This is all about accountability and setting our nation up for victory. There is no substitute for victory, and I believe we must complete what we started in Iraq and Afghanistan. Donald Rumsfeld is not a competent wartime leader. He knows everything except ...

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KOPPEL: Now, this hearing that took place today, Republicans counter when they're criticized as saying they haven't held any oversight hearings. Republicans counter and say they've held at least 40 oversight hearings in the Armed Services Committee alone.

And according to the number two ranking Republican in the Senate, he said this, quote/unquote, "hearing is simply another partisan media event and while it may rile up their liberal base it won't kill a single terrorist or prevent a single attack" -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Andrea Koppel on the Hill where there's fireworks today. Thank you very much, Andrea.

President Bush is traveling today in two key November battleground states. That would be Connecticut and Ohio. And the flap over the Iraq terror connection is following him.

Let's go to our White House correspondent Suzanne Malveaux -- Suzanne.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, I talked to the counselor to the president, Dan Bartlett, earlier today who made a couple of important points.

First of all, he says that this leaked portion of the NIE portion is just. It's a leaked portion. It does not give the full picture and does not give the full story. Now, perhaps what is even more important, Bartlett's point is essentially that even though this report makes the case that the Iraq war may be encouraging terrorists across the globe by using it as a recruitment tool, he says what it does not conclude is that Americans are less safe because of it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAN BARTLETT, COUNSELOR TO THE PRESIDENT: And we fully recognize and have talked about the fact that the propagandas within the extremist movement use Iraq, other grievances, as a recruitment tool. It doesn't make any final judgments to say that America is less safe or not because of this. It's just saying that they use us to use it as a recruitment tool.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MALVEAUX: So Bartlett also says he acknowledges, look, he says, al Qaeda, of course, they're diffused throughout the world. You have these kind of renegade cells, you have these sleeper cells, copycat cells, and he says this makes for a much more challenging environment in the war on terror, executing that. He says the president, other officials, have talked about that.

But he says there are other factors besides the Iraq war that really makes this very difficult, that makes this so challenging. I asked him what are those other factors? And he says, well, I can't say because it's a classified report.

So I asked him, of course, why not just declassify this NIE document? It has been done in the past when the lead up to the Iraq war and making the case for Iraq, weapons of mass destruction, most recently the president talking about his secret CIA detainee program and Bartlett said he did not believe that this rises to the occasion of declassifying that material.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARTLETT: I think you're going to have a negative effect on those analysts who are trying to give very candid advice or very candid estimates -- that's what they are -- to the president or to policymakers on Capitol Hill.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MALVEAUX: So, Wolf, of course, we'll see if some of the political pressure that Andrea was talking about will change that political equation, but for now the White House feels confident they can make their case without declassifying this document -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Suzanne Malveaux at the White House.

And in a few moments, I'll speak live with the president's homeland security adviser, Fran Townsend. She is standing by.

The White House today says it takes issue with some of Bill Clinton's angry assessments about the Bush administration's war on terror. In an interview with "Fox News Sunday," the former president defended his own handling of the threat posed by Osama bin Laden. Clinton said he was attacked back then for his efforts to kill the al Qaeda leader by some of the same Bush allies who now claim he didn't do enough.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You know, we do have a government that thinks Afghanistan is only one-seventh as important as Iraq. And you ask me about terror and al Qaeda with that sort of -- sort of dismissive thing, when all you have to do is read Richard Clarke's book to look at what we did in a comprehensive, systemic way to try to protect the country against terror?

And you got that little smirk on your face and you think you're so clever, but I had responsibility for trying to protect this country. I tried and I failed to get bin Laden. I regret it, but I did try.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: White House press secretary Tony Snow was asked today about the former president's comments. The former Fox News anchor replied with this clip. He retorts, you decide.

In the lead up to the battle for Congress, President Bush's approval rating is holding relatively steady in our brand new poll. Forty-two percent of those surveyed now say they approve of the way Mr. Bush is doing his job. A majority, 55 percent, still disapprove. The president's approval rating has been in the low 40s in our poll since mid-August, increasing from 37 percent back in June.

We have more now on our new poll from our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider -- Bill.

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: Wolf, the leak of the National Intelligence Estimate concerning Iraq and the war on terror could have a significant political impact. Our new poll shows why.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER (voice-over): Terrorism and Iraq -- those remain the top two issues to voters this year, but their political impact is very different. President Bush and the Republicans are trying to keep the focus on terrorism.

SEN. BILL FRIST (R-TN), MAJORITY LEADER: The war on terror is a war that we've fought in Afghanistan, that we're fighting in Iraq which, right now, is the major front.

SCHNEIDER: Among the nearly half of likely voters who say terrorism is an extremely important issue, the race for Congress is close. Now an intelligence estimate is reported to have found that the war in Iraq is making the terror threat worse. That finding will not come as a surprise to the public. When asked last month whether the war in Iraq has made the United States safer from terrorism, most Americans said no. The leaked intelligence report brings the Iraq issue back to the debate on terror, where Democrats want it.

REP. JANE HARMAN (D-CA), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Intelligence analysts, whom I talk to everywhere, say the war in Iraq and the deteriorating situation on the ground there is making us less safe. It's a staging ground for terror.

SCHNEIDER: Among the nearly half of likely voters who say Iraq is an extremely important issue, Democrats have a wide lead, better than 2-1. Among all likely voters across the country, Democrats have a 13-point lead, which appears to be driven mostly by disillusionment over Iraq.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER: President Bill Clinton is trying to rally voters behind Democrats on the terrorism issue, by defending his record and arguing that Democrats will implement the 9/11 Commission's recommendations. Is Mr. Clinton a good spokesman for his party? Apparently. Sixty percent of Americans express a favorable opinion of the former president. Higher than any other public figure, except Laura Bush -- Wolf?

BLITZER: Bill Schneider reporting for us. Thank you, Bill. Bill Schneider, Andrea Koppel, Suzanne Malveaux are part of the best political team on television.

Here's something else that could figure into Iraq politics this November. Officials say about 4,000 U.S. army soldiers who are expected to return to their home base in early January will instead stay in Iraq at least until late February. It's the second time since August that the army has extended the combat tours of thousands of U.S. troops stretched thin by the war in Iraq. We're going to have a live report from the Pentagon on this story. That's coming up in the next hour.

And joining us now from the White House is the president's homeland security adviser, Fran Townsend. Thanks very much for joining us. This NIE, this national intelligence report generating lots of commotion as you well understand. Let me read to how the "New York Times" put it on Sunday.

"The NIE report asserts that Islamic radicalism, rather than being in retreat has metastasized and spread across the globe. An opening section of the report, 'Indicators of the Spread of the Global Jihadist Movement,' cites the Iraq war as a reason for the diffusion of jihad ideology. The report says that the 'Iraq war has made the overall terrorism problem worse,' said one American intelligence official."

Is all that accurate?

FRANCES TOWNSEND, WHITE HOUSE HOMELAND SECURITY ADVISER: No. I mean, it takes -- what this does it is takes a single paragraph out of a more than a 35-page report and blows it out of context. This is a report, Wolf, that's on global trends in terrorism the next five years. Does it mention the jihad in Iraq as being used for propaganda purposes to spread Islamic extremism? It does, but it talks about it as being a single factor. What hasn't been laid, the other factors that are talked about in the report and it makes it very difficult if we're going to observe the classification of this document to be able to engage in this dialogue with the American people.

BLITZER: We're getting word from leaders in the intelligence committees and the House and the Senate, including the Republican Chairman Pat Roberts on the Senate side -- why not go ahead and just declassify this document so the American public will be able to read it in terms of its full context?

TOWNSEND: Well, because the problem, Wolf, is, as usual, with classified documents, the reason they're classified is so we don't share what our understanding is and what our beliefs are about their motives and their capability. What we don't want to do is tell them what we know so they know how to operate around that. And so the leaking of classified documents is always very dangerous and it's particularly dangerous in this case.

BLITZER: But very often in the past and I've been covering this story for a long, long time -- all administrations, they sanitize or they redact various NIEs, national intelligence estimates and they make them public. Why not take out the really sensitive sources and methods, information and let the bottom line conclusions, though, be known to the American public?

TOWNSEND: Wolf, that is obviously something we're going to look at, but I will tell you having gone through this document, it's a difficult thing to do when you're talking about an assessment of global trends and the development of the enemy. BLITZER: But does the document specifically state, Fran Townsend, that the war in Iraq has worsened the terror situation for the American public?

TOWNSEND: We are certainly not safe -- we are certainly not more at risk as a result of the war in Iraq. And in fact, the thing that -- if we were to leave Iraq, that would make us less safe. There's no question the document does mention that jihad in Iraq as one source of propaganda. But as we know, Wolf, from the 1990s when they used Afghanistan as a propaganda tool, we know they used the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. They now use the Internet to disseminate their propaganda. There are many things that they use for propaganda purposes,

BLITZER: But I know that they refer to a lot of different reasons why the terror problem is so acute right now. But does it specifically state that the war in Iraq has worsened the terror situation for the United States?

TOWNSEND: It does not say that. It does not say that the war in Iraq has worsened the terror situation for the United States.

BLITZER: What does it say on the connection between the war in Iraq and terrorism right now?

TOWNSEND: As I said to you, there is certainly reference in this paragraph that talks about Iraq that the Iraq jihad is one of several things that are used to spread the message of global extremism around the world. It does say that, but, again, as I said to you, that is one of only several factors and I can't very well go into the rest of them. It's very frustrating for us. I can't go into it because it's classified.

BLITZER: In our poll back in August, we asked, has the war in Iraq made the U.S. safer from terrorism -- 37 percent of the American public said yes, 55 percent said no.

So this conclusion, which apparently was -- contained in April in this NIE and only now leaked to the news media, this conclusion was well known -- at least the American public shared this conclusion as it was leaked.

TOWNSEND: Well I mean, I have to say to you. We ought to question the motives of the individual or individuals who leaked this. It was written in April. It is more than sort of a coincidence to me that we're now in almost October before a midterm election and now once again we're seeing the leak of classified documents and taken out of context to make a political point.

BLITZER: Are you going to ask for the Justice Department to investigate this leak?

TOWNSEND: Wolf, as you know, it's really not up to me. I defer to my colleagues in the Justice Department to determine whether or not it's appropriate but I will tell you it's certainly very damaging to national security to have it leaked. BLITZER: Let me go back to the first eight months of the Bush administration. We heard over the weekend former President Clinton suggests the CIA and the FBI had certified at the end of his administration that al Qaeda was, in fact, responsible for the attack on the USS Cole. That when President Bush came into office, he was told this, yet, he didn't do anything between the time he took office and 9/11 to go after al Qaeda, even though he knew that al Qaeda was responsible for the attack of the USS Cole. Do you want to respond to that?

TOWNSEND: I do, Wolf. The notion that anybody is not doing all they could do to combat the war on terrorism, to defeat al Qaeda and prevent the next attack is just defensive.

I will say to you -- we heard a lot from President Clinton in that interview with Chris Wallace. And one of the things he talked about, as you mentioned, is this certifying. What he said was at the end of his administration that the FBI and CIA had not yet certified that it was al Qaeda.

I will tell you, the use of the word certification, is pretty interesting. It's a very legalistic, evidentiary term. What we want to know who was responsible. I don't think there was much doubt throughout the intelligence community at that time that it was al Qaeda. Had they certified it? Well, no. But the very people that President Clinton was looking to certify the response -- who was responsible are the very same people, CIA, FBI, and the U.S. military that were, at the time, suffering enormous resource cutback during his administration.

BLITZER: We're almost out of time. Why didn't President Bush do anything about that al Qaeda attack on the USS Cole after he took office, before 9/11?

TOWNSEND: Well, there is no question that terrorism was a priority. There had been multiple meetings. President Clinton also mentioned having left behind a comprehensive strategy to proceed with the war on terror and I'm not familiar that anybody in the administration at the time, the Bush administration, when they came in, is familiar with that.

BLITZER: Fran Townsend, we're going to have to leave it there, but we will continue this down the road. Thanks very much for joining us.

TOWNSEND: Thank you, Wolf.

And let's go to New York, Jack Cafferty standing by with "The Cafferty File." Hi, Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: We don't know yet if there will be an October surprise but there may well be a November surprise. There are reports the Pentagon is considering sending more of our National Guard troops into battle in Iraq after the election.

See, five years of war in Iraq and Afghanistan have stretched the army almost to the breaking point. And while the Washington brain trust that's running this operation continues to deny that there's a manpower shortage or that we might need a draft to fight these two wars, a lot of soldiers are on their third and fourth combat tours.

So the administration is considering sending more National Guard troops over there to fight. But they're not going to tell us, before the election. It's the same old story. Keep the bad news to themselves until after the election. The National Guard consists of part-time civilian soldiers. They didn't sign up because they wanted to do combat duty in Iraq. And besides, what if we get another Katrina or something worse here at home?

Do we really want the National Guard 10,000 miles away, bogged down in the quicksand that's become Iraq? Here is the question. Should the United States commit additional National Guard troops to the war in Iraq? E-mail your thoughts to CaffertyFile@CNN.com, or go to CNN.com/CaffertyFile.

BLITZER: Thank you, Jack.

Jack Cafferty with us in New York. He will be back.

Coming up, the battle for Congress. How will this new report on the war on terror and Iraq influence voters? Will either party benefit? I'll Paul Begala and Bay Buchanan. They're standing by live in our "Strategy Session".

Also, it looks like another controversy for George Allen. We will tell you what new fire the senator from Virginia is trying to put out today.

And later, Joe Lieberman speaking out on Iraq. We're going to tell you what the former Democratic vice presidential nominee, who is now running as an independent, has to say about that issue, the issue that cost him the primary. That would be the war in Iraq. Stay with us. You're in the SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back. Let's check in with Zain Verjee. She's got a closer look at some other important stories making news.

Hi Zain.

ZAIN VERJEE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Legislation on the National Security Agency's warrantless wiretapping could be headed to the Senate floor this week. Three Republican Senators reached a compromise today with the White House. They say the agreement gives the government the necessary tools to combat terrorism, but still protects the rights of U.S. citizens.

The bill allows but doesn't require President Bush to submit the controversial surveillance program to a special court to determine if it's constitutional.

Saddam Hussein genocide trial resumes in Baghdad tomorrow with or without him. The judge tossed the former Iraqi president out of the courtroom today after Hussein repeatedly interrupted the judge. Hussein's defense team wasn't in the court either. They are boycotting the proceedings to protest the recent replacement of the chief judge. Court-appointed attorneys are standing in for them.

British forces have apparently killed the top al Qaeda leader in Iraq. British military officials say troops killed Omar Farouk (ph) in a pre-dawn raid in Basra today when he fired at them. The U.S. defense department has previously said Farouk was al Qaeda's southeast Asia's chief. He was captured in Indonesia in 2002. He fled from an Afghanistan prison last year and openly boasted about his escape.

U.S. military forces say that U.S. forces have killed ten suspected Taliban insurgents in eastern Afghanistan today. The U.S. troops, backed by helicopters, battled with the suspected militants.

Also today, two gunmen killed the Director of Women's Affairs for southern Afghanistan just outside her home in Kandahar. Afghan officials say the killing was an apparent response to her efforts to help educate women.

Pope Benedict XVI is trying to soothe strained relations with leading Muslims. He met today with about 20 Muslim ambassadors in Vatican residence near Rome. The pope caused a worldwide furor recently when he cited a 14 century emperor's critical comments about Islam. He said today he wants to say his total and profound respect for all Muslims -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thank you, Zain.

Zain Verjee reporting.

New questions are being raised today about Senator George Allen's racial views. A former college football teammate of the Virginia Republican says Allen frequently used a racial epithet to refer to African-Americans. In a news conference just a short while ago, Allen vehemently denied the allegation.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. GEORGE ALLEN, (R) VIRGINIA: I do not remember ever using that word and it is completely false for them to say that that was part of my vocabulary -- then or since then or now. I have never -- I don't understand why I would ever use such a word and I don't remember ever using it. And, again, for them to assert that that was part of my vocabulary is absolutely false.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: This new flap comes after apologized for calling an Indian-American man macaca and after the senator belatedly acknowledged his own Jewish heritage. I spoke at length with Senator Allen last week. It was an emotional, exclusive interview. I'll speak with his Democratic challenger Jim Webb about their heated race. That's coming up next week right here in the SITUATION ROOM. Still ahead, a leaked classified intelligence report claims the Iraq war is making the terrorist threat worse, not better. Will it have an impact on your vote this November? We're going to take a hard look in our Strategy Session".

And Former President Bill Clinton lashes out at critics in a stunning T.V. interview. Why he says they got it all wrong about his efforts to kill Osama bin Laden. Stay with us. You're in the SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to the SITUATION ROOM. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.

In today's "Strategy Session", could a leaked classified intelligence report give the Democrats key political ammunition just before the November midterm elections? Joining us now to discuss that and more, our CNN contributor and Democratic strategist Paul Begala and our CNN contributor and American Cross president Bay Buchanan.

Guys, thanks very much for coming in. Look at this situation. You have to assume that this leaked NIE National Intelligence Estimate report is a godsend to the Democrats.

PAUL BEGALA, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Absolutely. It's -- it's a shame it's come out so late. It was prepared, apparently, in April, over a two-year period it took to write it.

BLITZER: Well, some suggest, including Fran Townsend, the president's homeland security adviser, that this was a deliberate leak, Democratic leak, designed to help the Democrats going into this political season.

BEGALA: Sure, all those Democrats that George Bush put in the intelligence community.

That's nonsense. It -- I don't -- I don't have any idea what the motive was of anyone. But it is indisputably the government's national intelligence estimate.

And it says that the -- that the president's war in Iraq has made us less safe, not more, right in line with where voters are -- I saw Bill Schneider's piece earlier -- right in line where -- with where all the policy experts are.

Politically, it's two things, though. It goes to the president's competence and credibility in the war on terror, competence, because we're not safer, and credibility, because he got this report in April. And through May, June, July, August, September, he's been telling us that we are safer.

And, so, he's been fibbing. I try not to use the L-word with the president of the United States, out of respect to the office, but he's not telling the truth.

BEGALA: What do you think?

BAY BUCHANAN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I think there's no question the leak is suspect. It's perfect timing.

The president's polls have come back. This has been a very good couple of weeks for the president and for Republicans. More and more Americans are moving towards Republicans again. And it looks like that -- that, indeed, we're -- we're in much better position today than we were just four weeks ago.

So, clearly, this -- the leak is suspect. Secondly, what does it say? I mean, this is classified material. And we don't know the whole picture here. We only know part of it. But the information is not new, Wolf.

I mean, they are suggesting that there is an increase in the recruiting abilities because now they are using the war, Islamic fundamentalists using the war help with their recruits.

No kidding. You put 150,000 military, foreign troops, in your backyard, and no kidding it's going to help with the recruiting. There's no question about that. People predicted that would happen, and it happened. So, I don't think this is any real news. It's clearly beneficial for Democrats to have this come out now, because the president is picking up steam.

BLITZER: And especially on this issue...

BUCHANAN: Absolutely.

BLITZER: ... the war on terrorism, which has been a strong point for the Republicans.

BUCHANAN: Absolutely.

BLITZER: You want to button this part up?

BEGALA: The president -- I have said this for months on this broadcast. The president would have done much better if he would have told the truth. He has the same position, substantively, as John McCain, but John McCain doesn't give us this happy horse hockey about how everything is great and we're making progress, and we have turned the corner, and mission accomplished, and all that garbage.

He would have done a lot better if had preserved his credibility. Having lost that credibility, it's gone for good.

BLITZER: You know, we saw this extraordinary interview the former President Bill Clinton gave Chris Wallace on "FOX News Sunday" over the weekend.

You worked Bill Clinton for a long time. I covered him as a White House correspondent for a long time. Everyone always said this guy had a temper. He got over it very quickly, but he had a temper. I'm sure you -- you noticed that up close and personal on several occasions. What do you make of this extraordinary posturing or whatever, this extraordinary position that he took?

BEGALA: Gosh, that was wonderful.

(LAUGHTER)

BEGALA: It was wonderful, about substantively and politically -- substantively, because everything he said was absolutely true.

He lined out the -- the steps that his administration had taken in the war on terror, that he handed that all off to President Bush. President Bush did nothing, essentially, until 9/11. And he pointed out that FOX News, which is basically a propaganda wing for the right -- arm for the right wing, has never asked a Bush administration official on "FOX News Sunday," their Sunday program, why they didn't retaliate for the bombing of the Cole?

It turns out the Center For American Progress, a think tank, looked at all the transcripts of all those shows. And 23 appearances by Condi Rice, four by Stephen Hadley, nine by Donald Rumsfeld, and six by Dick Cheney, never once did "FOX News Sunday" ask them that question.

BLITZER: All right.

BEGALA: So, Bill Clinton was right.

BUCHANAN: Whatever FOX News did or did not do, it in no way suggests that the president of the United States is somehow not culpable for the -- his inability to do anything or take any kind of strong action against Osama bin Laden for the eight years he was in the presidency.

And what does he say himself? Read this book. Read Richard Clarke's book. Read Richard Clarke's book. Eleven times, he says that.

You go to Richard Clarke's book, and it doesn't say that the president ordered anything. He tried to convince the FBI -- or, rather, the military and the CIA, to take action. He tried to get them to do it.

He is commander in chief. Who is running this shop over there? He tried to get them, and they wouldn't take action?

I would say there's a real problem there in that administration.

BEGALA: He launched -- as he pointed out, he launched cruise missile attacks on August 21, 1998.

The embassies in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, and Nairobi, Kenya, had been bombed on August 7. So, just two weeks later, he launched a massive cruise missile attack on bin Laden in Afghanistan, barely missing him. And he blew up a factory in Khartoum, which intelligence officials said was being used to manufacture chemical weapons. That doubtless prevented lots of other attacks. And, when he did that, our friends on the right said he was wagging the dog to distract from the Monica Lewinsky thing. He was absolutely right when he said that in -- in the interview with Chris Wallace. And the -- I have looked it up. The record is right there.

BLITZER: You know...

BEGALA: And I was working for him at the time, so I remember. I helped him write that speech when he launched those attacks on bin Laden.

BLITZER: Was this a spontaneous Bill Clinton response to Chris Wallace's questions? Or did he go into that interview wanting to energize the Democratic base by -- by making this case the way he did?

BEGALA: A little halfway in between.

I have talked to people who were in the room when it happened. I talked to them like within seconds after the blowup, OK? Not to the president, but to people who were in the room.

He had a sense that FOX News would have an agenda. He believes, like most Democrats, that FOX News is biased to the right wing. And, so, he was sort of loaded for bear. He did not have a strategy to try to energize the base. This was not a political event for him. It was at his Global Initiative, where he just had raised $7.3 billions to take on poverty, AIDS, childhood obesity...

BLITZER: All right.

BEGALA: ... and -- and global warming.

BUCHANAN: But -- but he -- he agreed he wanted 50 percent of this interview related to that.

BEGALA: Right.

BUCHANAN: Well, the other 50 percent -- this is Chris Wallace -- this is not some right-wing nut -- who has a legitimate reason to ask questions.

This is the key issue in this campaign. And he asked the question: What were you doing? Why weren't you doing something? A lot of people suggest Democrats are weak on this, you being one of those people.

He had a legitimate question. The president was -- atrocious response, but not to be surprised, any of us, because it's what he always does when he gets in a corner.

BEGALA: Why don't they -- why doesn't FOX ask the right?

I will brag on you, because you're not allowed to. "U.S. News & World Report" this week says Wolf Blitzer gets all the good guests.

BUCHANAN: That doesn't justify this kind of reaction...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: All right.

They say you get the good guests because you play it straight down the middle.

BLITZER: Let's -- let's...

BEGALA: FOX doesn't. They veer off the right.

BUCHANAN: His response was atrocious, blaming others for his inabilities.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Let's button this up with two of our favorites, Hillary Clinton and the Reverend Jerry Falwell.

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: They had at it a little bit this weekend -- Jerry Falwell saying on Friday: "I certainly hope that Hillary is the candidate. She has $300 million so far."

I'm not sure that's exactly accurate.

"But I hope she's the candidate, because nothing will energize my constituency like Hillary Clinton. If Lucifer ran, he wouldn't."

He says he was just joking.

BEGALA: Sure, just joking.

It's a character test for Republicans. Last week, when Hugo Chavez, who, in my eyes, is a clown, and a thug, and a martinet, he comes to the U.N. and gives a really disgraceful speech, insulting our president.

And Democrats, Nancy Pelosi, Democratic leader in the House, Charlie Rangel, the Democratic congressman in whose district that occurred, stand up and say: That is wrong. You should never compare our president to the devil.

Jerry Falwell compares Hillary to the devil.

BUCHANAN: He did not.

BEGALA: Thundering silence from the Republican right.

BLITZER: All right.

BUCHANAN: He -- he did not compare them. He's -- he's a making...

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: Joked she was worse than Lucifer.

BUCHANAN: He said that, if she runs, the response from his people will be even better than if it were Lucifer. He could get more people out.

That is not comparing her to Lucifer. And then he apologized, virtually, and said, look, it was tongue in cheek. It was a throwaway line. It was no meanness intended.

BLITZER: All right.

BUCHANAN: And -- and -- and you guys have to lighten up.

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: Everybody...

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: We're all going to lighten up.

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: Thanks very much, good advice from Bay as usual.

Paul Begala and Bay Buchanan, they are part of the best political team on television. And you just saw why.

Up next: hot races, new numbers in the battle for Congress. We are going to tell you who is up, who is down, and which incumbents are in hot water.

And Senator Joe Lieberman launches a new defense of his support for the Iraq war, and he's taking new swipes at the challenger, who is using Iraq against him.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Close and contentious Senate races on our "Political Radar" this Monday -- in Pennsylvania, a new poll shows incumbent Republican Rick Santorum trailing Democratic challenger Bob Casey by 10 points. The survey of likely voters was conducted by Temple University and "The Philadelphia Inquirer."

In Ohio, another Republican incumbent, Senator Mike DeWine, also running behind his Democratic challenger. A new "Columbus Dispatch" poll shows Democratic Congressman Sherrod Brown is leading DeWine by five percentage reports among registered voters. President Bush is attending a DeWine campaign event in Ohio later today.

Our next stop: New Jersey, where it's the Democratic incumbent who is fighting to keep his job -- Senator Bob Menendez trailing Republican challenger Tom Kean by six points in the new Monmouth University poll of likely voters.

And in the Maryland Senate race, a new poll shows Democratic Congressman Ben Cardin leading the race to succeed fellow Democrat Paul Sarbanes. The "Baltimore Sun" survey of likely voters gives Cardin an 11-point advantage over Republican Lieutenant Governor Michael Steele.

One of the most famously embattled incumbents, Senator Joe Lieberman, today is taking on the issue that put his job on the line. That would be the war in Iraq, and, in the process, the Democrat- turned-independent-candidate taking new shots at his Democratic challenger, Ned Lamont.

Let's bring in CNN's Mary Snow. She's covering this Connecticut race for us -- Mary.

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, Senator Lieberman had been criticized for not talking more about the Iraq war on the campaign trail. Today, he made it the focal point of his speech.

Senator Lieberman was joined by new group, Vets For Joe, who are now working to get him reelected as an independent, after losing the Democratic primary to anti-war candidate Ned Lamont. Lieberman says his opponent is giving up on Iraq by calling for a plan for a July 1 withdrawal of U.S. troops. And, one day after reports of an intelligence estimate determining that the war increased the threat of terrorism around the world, here is what he had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN (D), CONNECTICUT: We will only grow that terrorist threat exponentially worse if we follow the Lamont plan, and rush our troops out to meet an arbitrary, politically preset deadline nine months from now.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SNOW: Among other things, Lieberman is calling to replace Donald Rumsfeld as defense secretary. And a plan he outlined calls to keep American military generals in the field longer, and double or triple the number of soldiers embedded in Iraqi units.

Now, in response to Lieberman, Ned Lamont insisted he is not sticking to a July 1 withdrawal date, but thinks a year from now is a reasonable amount of time to leave Iraq.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NED LAMONT (D), CONNECTICUT SENATORIAL CANDIDATE: I think the case we're trying to make -- and I think the national intelligence estimate said it -- is our being there is making the situation worse.

As our generals have said, it's fueling the insurgency. That's why it's so important that we change course and come up with a plan that the Iraqis step up and take responsibility for their own destiny.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SNOW: And Lamont's camp says Lieberman is stubbornly clinging to a failed stay-the-course strategy -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Mary, thanks very much.

Mary Snow is going to stay on top of this race for us here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

And we're doing something new today. It's our CNN "Political Question of the Day." Here is what you want to do to weigh in. How do you feel about Congress' record this year? Have they done their job? Whether you are satisfied to not, you can head to CNN.com to cast your vote. You can see our quick vote at the very bottom right of CNN's main page. Vote now. And we are going to show you the results. That's coming up in our 7:00 p.m. Eastern hour.

Coming up: Is the Internet becoming the latest weapon of choice for extremists? We're going online to find out how the Web may be fueling hatred among insurgents.

And the rules for airline security are changing again. We're going to tell you what you can and you can't bring on board right now. This is information you need to know.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Let's get back to our top story.

Intelligence and counterterrorism officials say a classified report concludes the war in Iraq is making Americans less safe. One significant concern: how the Internet may be fueling the fire among extremists.

Jacki Schechner joining us now with details -- Jacki.

JACKI SCHECHNER, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, while the White House isn't giving specifics about the leaked classified information, they have addressed the issue of extremists using the Internet earlier this month, in a report you can get online called "The National Strategy For Combating Terrorism."

And they talk about how extremists use the Internet. And one of the big challenges they have is that there's a use of the Internet to communicate, to recruit, to train, to rally support. It's a -- a good tool for online extremists.

They also talk about cyber safe havens in this report, that the Internet is largely unregulated, that -- virtual safe havens. And they also talk about how the U.S. can use the Internet to counter extremist propaganda.

Now, we spoke to Laura Mansfield today, who is an online terrorism expert. And she said that she has seen an increase in message boards and postings online since the start of the conflict in Iraq. She also says she has seen uptick in postings by young men in the U.S. and Western Europe, and also in Canada -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thank you, Jacki, for that.

Let's go back to Zain. She has got another close look at some other important stories making news -- Zain.

VERJEE: Wolf, the Bush administration aims to beef up security at the nation's seaports and transportation hubs. The Department of Homeland Security is handing out nearly $400 million in grants to help protect potential terrorist targets. New York City is getting $79.5 million to secure its ports, subways, bus and railway systems. Earlier this year, the government slashed terror funding to New York and to Washington, D.C.

Starting tomorrow, you can bring some liquids and gels onto airplanes with you. The federal government is partially lifting its ban on such items, as long as they are bought from secure airport stores. It will allow small, travel-size toiletries if they're in a clear plastic bag. Transportation Security Administration officials say the move will maintain security, while making things easier for travelers.

It's being called a big blow to tobacco. A federal judge in New York is allowing millions of light-cigarette smokers to join in a class-action lawsuit. The suit claims nine tobacco companies duped smokers into believing light cigarettes were safer than regular cigarettes. An attorney says the judge's ruling makes this the largest class-action lawsuit in U.S. history. Defendants R.J. Reynolds Tobacco and Philip Morris plan to appeal -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Zain, thank you -- Zain Verjee reporting.

Up next: Bill Clinton didn't hide his anger when he responded to critics of his anti-terrorism efforts. We are going to go online to find out how people are responding to the former president's outspoken comments.

And what exactly did the former president try to do to nab Osama bin Laden? And what did his critics say back then? Our Pentagon correspondent Jamie McIntyre will have a fact check. That's coming up in our next hour -- right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Turning back now to one of our top stories, on "FOX News Sunday," the former President Bill Clinton vigorously defended his role in trying to capture and kill Osama bin Laden. Those heated comments are getting some major pickup and reaction online.

Our Internet reporter, Jacki Schechner, once again with more on this -- Jacki.

SCHECHNER: Wolf, well, not only is the interview one of the top viewed videos on YouTube.com today, but it's also shown up on some of the top political video blogs, like Crooks and Liars, and Hot Air, just to name a few.

Now, as for reaction online, it's pretty mixed, depending on who you read. The conservatives tend to think that Clinton flew off the handle and it was sign of his temper. And we're seeing others saying that perhaps it was a strategy to rally the Democratic base, that perhaps he planned on getting outraged at Wallace, even before the interview started.

Over on the left, there is conversation of the interview being a mugging of Clinton, and also some talking about this should be a lesson learned to Clinton, that his bipartisan outreach lately has really gotten him nowhere.

The establishment latching on -- at GOP.com, they're doing a counter-fact-check to Clinton's interview. And the DNC is using this as a rally to get people going on the offensive, like Bill Clinton.

Now, if you go to CNN.com/ticker, we have links to all of these blogs and this story in general for you. This is a new CNN report online. It's our political wire. It's got all of the latest political news from CNN correspondents, plus all of the CNN insight that you are used to. You can also sign up to have this delivered to your inbox in the morning and the afternoon -- again, CNN.com/ticker -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, a good service. Thanks very much for that, Jacki.

Still to come: Should the United States commit more National Guard troops to the war in Iraq? Jack Cafferty's emotionally charged and politically charged question -- when we return.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Let's go back to Jack in New York -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: Wolf, the Pentagon is reportedly considering sending additional U.S. National Guard troops to combat duty in Iraq after the November election. That's an important part: after the election.

The question is: Should the U.S. commit additional National Guard troops to the war in Iraq?

Joe in Atlanta writes: "We should either increase the boots on the ground in Iraq to between 500,000 and one million or get out immediately -- full mobilization, if it is necessary to get the job done. We have not learned a damn thing from the lessons of Vietnam."

Phillip, who is a former U.S. Marine reservist from Desert Storm: "They are called the National Guard for a reason. If we change their name to the International Guard, then perhaps they ought to go to Iraq. Let's start taking care of our own and get out of Iraq."

Terry in Lincoln, Kansas: "Yes, the government should send more National Guard troops to Iraq, if necessary. We're in a war, even if some people don't think so. The troops should be staying until the job is done, as was the case in World War II. The Guard and Reserve signed up, and they knew what it -- would be involved. If the country needed them, they would have to go."

Ernie writes: "The president had a golden opportunity to mobilize this country right after 9/11. Rumsfeld is trying to fight this war on the cheap. And our soldiers are dying. If we are indeed at war, then put the country on a war footing. Get the military industrial complex in gear, initiate a draft, and let's win this thing, once and for all."

Randall writes this: "This is so typical of this morally bankrupt group of cowards and frat boy bullies that are running our government. Of course we should not be sending the Guard to Iraq. But, unfortunately, we're in this quagmire. And George and the gang don't have a clue how to change course, so they will continue to throw our young men into this hellhole, until they or their successors are forced to admit defeat and withdraw."

And Ike writes: "Thanks for the heads-up. There is absolutely no doubt we should all go out and vote our conscience in November, and then pray that our vote gets counted right" -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jack, thank you.

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