Skip to main content
Search
Services


 

Return to Transcripts main page

THE SITUATION ROOM

Catholic Priest Acknowledges Fondling Foley When He Was A Teenager; Effort To Nationalize Midterm Elections; Congressman William Jefferson Fighting For Reelection And Under Investigation For Bribery; NFL Stadium Threat A Hoax; President Bush Making Interesting Choices About Who He Stumps For And Where

Aired October 19, 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: Thank you very much. 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 -- new bomb shells in the Mark Foley congressional page scandal. Priest accused of molesting Foley when he was a teenager, speaking out. And here in Washington a star witness here testifying about Foley's online messages to pages giving his time line of who knew what and when.

Also this hour, a House Democrat accused of stashing cash in his freezer is talking about his legal troubles. You'll want to hear what the CNN interview with William Jefferson has come up with.

And members of Congress may want to do our new poll on whether Americans think they're corrupt.

Plus, radioactive diplomacy and a political minefield. America's pop diplomat lands in South Korea amid fears of a nuclear test to the North, another one.

And a U.S. military official says the campaign at home is partly to blame for the surge of violence in Iraq. We're tracking new developments in those international hot spots. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

First this hour, former Congressman Mark Foley's political scandal and his personal ordeal. A Catholic priest is now acknowledging that he fondled Foley when he was a teenager but he says they never had sex. Foley disclosed his claim of past abuse by a clergyman after his clearly inappropriate online messages to congressional pages became public.

Today a former House clerk is providing critical testimony to the House Ethics Committee investigation of the Foley scandal and how Republican leaders handled it. Our congressional correspondent Dana Bash is standing by with more on the investigation.

Let's go to Miami, CNN's John Zarrella with details of what we are learning about this priest and what the priest is now saying about Mark Foley -- John. JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, well, we recall it's three weeks ago tomorrow that the Mark Foley scandal with the reports of the inappropriate e-mails, within days, through his attorney, Foley said that he was an alcoholic, and also that he had been abused by a priest. But Foley would not give the name of that priest at the time, said, in fact, it was a clergyman, would not even acknowledge that it was a Catholic priest.

But CNN has learned through sources that the priest that Foley is claiming abused him is Father Anthony Mercieca, 72 years old, he now lives off the coast of Italy in Malta. CNN spoke with Mercieca and Mercieca acknowledged he and Foley did swim naked and that he did massage Foley's neck, but that Foley was wearing a towel at the time, and that they took saunas together, but that they were wearing towels.

Mercieca told our affiliate in West Palm Beach that, quote, "Once, maybe, I touched him, but I didn't -- it's not something you call rape or penetration," end quote.

He also told our affiliate that he is sorry that Foley is offended by something that happened 40 years ago.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

FATHER ANTHONY MERCIECA, ACCUSED OF MOLESTATION: I would say that if I offended him, I am sorry. But to remember the good time we had together, you know, and how really we enjoyed each other's company. And to let bygones be bygones, don't keep dwelling on this thing, you know."

(END AUDIO CLIP)

ZARRELLA: Now, Mercieca was the assistant pastor at Sacred Heart Parish in Lake Worth the same time that Mark Foley was an altar boy there at Sacred Heart Church. Now, the Archdiocese of Miami has issued this statement saying, "The Archdiocese of Miami prays that Representative Mark Foley realizes he is not alone in his journey to recovery. The Holy Spirit is his guiding light. We also encourage anyone that has been a victim of sexual abuse by a member of the clergy or church personnel to come forward by contacting the Archdiocese's Victims Assistance Coordinator."

Now, finally, Mercieca told us and our affiliate station in West Palm that his memory of the incident is clouded because he was sick at the time and on medication -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Do we know, John, how this priest got from Lake Worth in Florida to Malta where he is right now, what he has been doing the past 30 years or so?

ZARRELLA: Well, for much of the time, he actually came to Florida from Brazil and after he left Lake Worth, he served in many parishes around the State of Florida. How exactly he ended up now as a priest in Malta, but he does work in a library at a cathedral right in Gozo right now on that Island of Malta -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, John. John Zarrella is watching this story for us.

Let's get to the Foley investigation right now on Capitol Hill. The number two Republican of the House just wrapped up appearance before the Ethics Committee after pivotal testimony by a former House clerk. Let's bring in our congressional correspondent, Dana Bash -- Dana.

DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, John Boehner, the House majority leader, literally just walked out the door moments ago. He was behind closed doors with the House Ethics Committee for about an hour and a half. When he left he said that he is convinced that this is a thorough investigation. He said that he made clear what he knew, the who, what, when of the Mark Foley sandal and that apparently is about it if terms of what he revealed about his testimony.

Now why is John Boehner key? Because he has said publicly -- what he has said publicly rather has contradicted the House speaker. What John Boehner said is that he found out about a Foley e-mail in the spring and he told the speaker about it. Now the speaker has said he didn't know anything about any of this until about three weeks ago when this Foley story broke publicly.

So John Boehner saying to reporters just as he left that House Ethics Committee hearing room that he said what he has said publicly but that's very interesting because he has contradicted the speaker.

Now, this morning, the committee heard from somebody who may be able to give some answers to clear up what exactly these GOP leaders new and when they knew it. That is a crucial witness to this investigation.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BASH (voice-over): If anyone can answer the who knew what, when of the Mark Foley scandal, it's this man.

JEFF TRANDAHL, FORMER HOUSE CLERK: Hi, guys.

BASH: Former House clerk Jeff Trandahl who had day-to-day responsibilities over House pages. He went behind closed doors with the House Ethics Committee under oath for more than four hours. His attorney saying afterwards, quote, "He answered every question asked of him."

Just before he left his job last year Trandahl confronted Mark Foley about an e-mail with a former male page. Trandahl is not talking publicly but sources familiar with his version of events say he repeatedly raised red flags about Foley years earlier, long before GOP leaders say they knew about Foley's inappropriate conduct with pages.

Two sources close to Trandahl tell CNN that he had observed and was told about Mark Foley's troubling behavior in the House cloak room and elsewhere and actively monitoring Foley's interaction with pages. CNN is told Trandahl took his concerns to Kirk Fordham, Foley's former chief of staff many times. Fordham testified under oath last week that he warned the House speaker's chief of staff three or four years ago about Foley's conduct, according to a source familiar with his version of events.

Among the many questions for Trandahl, what did he do about the early warnings? For example, Arizona Congressman Jim Kolbe says he told Trandahl five or six years ago that Foley sent a former page an e-mail that made the young man uncomfortable. Several former colleagues describe Trandahl as a by the book guy who took his job overseeing 16-year-old pages very seriously.

One source saying he watched the teenagers closely and, had, quote, "zero tolerance for problems," expelling pages for drinking and smoking pot no matter how senior a lawmaker the page's sponsor was.

Craig Shniderman is a long time friend of Jeff Trandahl and says he is confident if Trandahl was aware of something improper, he would have reported it.

CRAIG SHNIDERMAN, FRIEND OF TRANDAHL: Jeff is a guy who always does the right thing. He lives by the truth. He lives by one truth. He's not a man that tells different stories to different people. He's not probably what some people think of as the ultimate Washington guy.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BASH: Not the ultimate Washington guy perhaps but Jeff Trandahl is in the center of the ultimate Washington scandal right now. We spoke to another one of Jeff Trandahl's good friends, former Congressman Steve Gunderson who told us this morning as Trandahl was going into the House Ethics Committee that he was convinced that Trandahl would be excruciatingly honest and blunt with the committee and Gunderson also said that he can't imagine knowing of the way Jeff Trandahl operated here that he didn't take concerns if he had them to the House speaker's office -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Dana Bash, thank you very much, reporting that story and we'll have more on the Foley story coming up here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

But let's now turn to the violence in Iraq and the political fallout here at home. At least 41 people killed today in attacks across Iraq, including deadly bombings in the northern cities of Mosul and Kirkuk. The U.S. military says three more American troops were killed in combat in Iraq yesterday. Two-thousand, seven-hundred eighty-four U.S. troops have been killed in Iraq since the start of the war.

A U.S. military spokesman today is describing the recent surge of killing and chaos as, quote, "disheartening" and he is blaming it on a number of factors, the increased military presence in the streets of Baghdad, the Muslim holy month of Ramadan and the political campaign here in the United States.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MAJ. GEN. WILLIAM CALDWELL, U.S. MILITARY SPOKESMAN: We also realize that there is a midterm election that is taking place in the United States. And that extremist elements understand the power of the media, that if they can, in fact, produce additional casualties that, in fact, is recognized and discussed in the press.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Also today the White House is trying to clarify President Bush's remarks that the bloodshed in Iraq could be comparable to the 1968 Tet Offensive that prompted many Americans to turn against the war in Vietnam. Mr. Bush was asked in a televised interview if he agreed with those who draw the parallels between the bloody turning points in Iraq and Vietnam.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It could be right. There's certainly a stepped-up level of violence and we're heading into an election.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Expanding on the president's comments, the White House press secretary Tony Snow said that Tet Offensive was successful from a propaganda point of view but he contends the violence in Iraq will not be successful.

Nineteen days from now we'll find out if Iraq is major influence on the way America votes. Let's bring in our senior analyst, Jeff Greenfield.

Jeff, as we take a look at the effort to try to nationalize these midterm elections right now, a lot of pundits, a lot of experts have suggested that a lot of people go into that voting booth, think locally as opposed to national issues like the war in Iraq.

JEFF GREENFIELD, CNN SENIOR ANALYST: Well, I think if you look at the ads the Democrats are running all over the country you would have to say they believe they are succeeding in nationalizing this election. I have not so far found one Republican candidate for the House or Senate who is featuring Iraq or mention it in his or her advertisements.

But I think you see Democrat after Democrat saying my opponent voted 94 percent of the time with Bush, he is supporting what they call the failed Iraq policy. And when you look at something like the new "Wall Street Journal" poll that suggests that almost by two to one Americans disapprove of the president's conduct in Iraq, it's not hard to see why the Democrats believe that they are succeeding and making that issue a national issue -- Wolf.

BLITZER: In 2004, Iraq was certainly a big issue. But the Republicans, the president specifically, managed to convince the majority that he was better in terms of protecting America from terrorism. Can they do it again?

GREENFIELD: Well, what's changed is we've had two more years not just of American casualties but story after story, way before this election, of sectarian violence, of instability, of the inability of the Iraq government to either come to some kind of a real political agreement among the different sects and, most important, to secure Iraq as a safe place.

So the other part is this dissent here has come from who? From retired generals, from Republican senators like John Warner, from so- called some so-called neoconservatives, people who were in the press strongly advocating the war in Iraq as a way of spreading democracy.

And here is an important contrast, Wolf, to Vietnam. Back then the dissent came from the liberal left. You even had a clear minority but visibly, people marching in the streets carrying flags and pictures of the people we were fighting. This is not what is going on here. Nobody is saying yay for al Qaeda, yay for the Baathist.

This disapproval is based, in my view, on one traditional American problem with wars. It isn't working. And so I think what's happened, Wolf, is that the war on terror argument has begun to cut the other way. Instead of Bush being able to successfully argue Iraq is a centerpiece to the war on terror, the approval rating for Bush on the broader war on terror is declining in part because of the enormous opposition now in America to the conduct of the war.

BLITZER: Is that unusual for this strong opposition to be occurring right before a major election?

GREENFIELD: No. This is one of the great myths in America of politics. Politics stops at the water's edge. It just isn't true. Lincoln almost lost the Civil War because people were so unhappy with the conduct of the Civil War. In 1950, four months after the Korean War began the Republicans made President Truman's quote, "blundering" a key part of their midterm argument. The chair of the Republican National Committee there said that Truman and the communists bear responsibility for all the American casualties.

And in 1966 as Vietnam War was escalating Republicans made the conduct of the war a big midterm issue, they were saying it was a no- win policy. And curiously, Wolf, just as many Democrats today are calling for the head of Defense Secretary Rumsfeld., back then Republicans made Defense Secretary Robert McNamara one of their key whipping boys.

BLITZER: Jeff Greenfield doing some excellent analysis for us as he always does. Jeff Greenfield and Dana Bash are part of the best political team on television.

Now remember, for the latest campaign news at any time, check out the CNN political ticker. Easy way to do it, go to CNN.com/ticker. Let's move on.

In the North Korea nuclear standoff, secretary of state Condoleezza Rice right now in South Korea. She says she is not trying to dictate on how U.S. allies enforce sanctions against Kim Jong Il regime but she is encouraging them to try to stand firmly behind the punishment.

Our Zain Verjee is the only TV correspondent with the secretary of state -- Zain.

ZAIN VERJEE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, U.S. secretary of state Condoleezza Rice says the U.S. is still willing to talk to North Korea. She says North Korea has to give up its nuclear program and get back to six-party talks.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CONDOLEEZZA RICE, SECRETARY OF STATE: We want to leave open the path of negotiation. We don't want the crisis to escalate, and the sooner that North Korea would choose to unconditionally come back to the table and take up the very good -- very good statement or very good agreement that is there, framework agreement that is there as of September, it would be to the betterment of everyone.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VERJEE: Secretary Rice is also hoping that a senior Chinese official that's been dispatched to Pyongyang is able to convince North Korea to do just that and get back to talks. The secretary of state also wants South Korea to implement a resolution that was passed by the UN Security Council that essentially slaps sanctions on North Korea.

Among other things, Secretary Rice wants South Korea to play a part in inspecting North Korea cargo ships that may be carrying nuclear material. The real question now is what will South Korea actually do? Will it squeeze the regime as hard as the United States may want it to?

That's a question we put to many analysts here who say, look, in the short-term, South Korea may make some noise, they may willing to go through the motions but they may not, in the end, deliver what the U.S. wants. They're afraid that pushing the regime too hard could cause it to collapse -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Zain, thanks very much. Zain is traveling with the secretary of state in South Korea. Let's go to Jack Cafferty. He's in New York. Not traveling anywhere today -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: No, I'm glued to this chair right here in THE SITUATION ROOM. Two and half weeks until Election Day and all indications are it could be a real nightmare. Days of long lines, lots of confusion, contested results.

A lot of voters are switching over to these electronic machines for the first time. There are delays in many states, even getting these things delivered. "The New York Times" reports in one California county the audio program in some of the voting machines only works in Vietnamese. That's just lovely! A new CNN poll conducted by the Opinion Research Corporation, 66 percent of you say it's likely hackers will intentionally mess up the results on the e-voting machine. Sixty one percent say it's likely accidental problems with the machines will cause inaccurate results. Either way we're not getting an honest count.

In addition to the voting machines, other Election Day problems could involve states with new computerized registration rolls, there have been lawsuits filed over voter ID laws, places like Arizona and Georgia, leaving people unsure of what the laws actually are.

So the question is this. In light of the new voting laws and the machines, how concerned are you that you're going to have problems on Election Day?

E-mail your thoughts to CaffertyFile@CNN.com or go to CNN.com/CaffertyFile. What a shame, 2006 and we're still sitting around here trying to figure out why we can't have an election where people can trust the results

BLITZER: It is pretty shocking and we're going to see what happens. Jack, I know you got a lot more coming up, this on your special. We'll talk about it later this hour.

Also coming up, a Louisiana Democrat accused of stashing cash in his freezer now speaking out. Our exclusive interview with Representative William Jefferson. That is coming up. Many members of Congress may want to see our new poll on whether Americans think they are corrupt. On secondhand, maybe they don't want to see this poll but you do.

Plus, do you think all members of Congress are corrupt? We'll have the results of our brand new poll. Some of those results will surprise you.

And later, President Bush teams up with a Republican congressman facing some major moral problems. We'll explore this odd campaign match-up. Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: A federal judge now is ordering the Bush administration to release information about who visited Vice President Dick Cheney's home and office. The Secret Service had refused a request by "The Washington Post" For the information. Governor lawyers call it a fishing expedition that interferes with the effective functioning of the vice presidency.

In the wake of the Jack Abramoff influence-peddling scandal, the "Washington Post" and other news organizations are trying to determine how much access lobbyists had to the vice president. The judge says the Secret Service must release the vice president's visitors' logs by the end of next week or at least identify the records and explain why they're being withheld.

In Louisiana right now, Congressman William Jefferson is fighting for reelection. The same time, the Democrat who is famously accused of hiding cash in his freezer is under investigation for bribery. CNN's Sean Callebs got an exclusive interview with Congressman Jefferson -- Sean.

SEAN CALLEBS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we haven't heard a lot from Congressman William Jefferson since his Washington, DC home was raided by federal officials back in May. He has been ostracized by virtually all Democratic leadership in Washington but Jefferson still believes he can win reelection in November.

If Congressman William Jefferson's reelection effort is in jeopardy because of an ongoing federal bribery probe he didn't show it, greeting constituents at Minnie's Catfish Corner in New Orleans. Jefferson is fighting for his political life. The Louisiana State Democratic Party endorsed one of his challengers, Karen Carter, a state lawmaker.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Jefferson hereby removed from the Committee on Ways and Means.

CALLEBS: And in June, House Democratic leaders stripped Jefferson of his seat on the powerful Ways and Means Committee after he refused to step down. Jefferson, an eight-term Democrat, admits to making mental notes of those willing to toss him under the bus.

REP. WILLIAM JEFFERSON (D), LOUISIANA: The rank and file has been fine. The leadership has been a problem because they are, of course, trying to make a statement.

CALLEBS: Washington Democrats hope to seize majority control this November. In large part by making ethics and integrity campaign issues. Jefferson's bribery investigation is a blight and Democrats are distancing themselves from him.

JEFFERSON: Let me tell you this. Everybody should know this. I'm out here under an investigation for long period of time, 18 months or whatever and I've never been charged with anything.

CALLEBS: However, federal investigators say they found $90,000 of marked FBI money in the freezer of Jefferson's Washington home.

You said you're going to have a chance to answer this in an honorable way at some point. We're all ears. Do you have anything you want to tell us?

JEFFERSON: Don't expect me to discuss a matter I haven't discussed with anyone here in this restaurant today with you. That's a good try.

CALLEBS: Jefferson's leading Democratic challenger, Karen Carter, is only too eager to discuss the controversy.

KAREN CARTER (R), LOUISIANA CONGRESSIONAL CANDIDATE: There is clearly a cloud there of what that will, in my opinion, cause him to be distracted and not give 100 percent of his time to the recovery efforts -- and that what we need. (END VIDEOTAPE)

CALLEBS (on camera): Although support and campaign contributions have dropped off significantly, Jefferson has raised twice as much money as any other candidate in the race and he does have local support, including that of Mayor Nagin, as well as the Democratic leadership in Orleans and Jefferson Parish -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Sean Callebs reporting. Thank you.

It seems as though Capitol Hill has been awash lately with allegations of corruption and misconduct. Is that making an impression on voters? Lets bring in our senior political analyst Bill Schneider -- Bill.

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: Wolf, it's less than 30 days to election. Is your member of congress a crook? That's what we asked voters because corruption is a big issue this year. Three representatives have resigned, Duke Cunningham, Tom DeLay and Mark Foley and a fourth, Bob Ney, pleaded guilty last week and expected to resign soon and all four are Republicans. And you just mentioned a Democrat, William Jefferson is under investigation.

So we asked, do you think your member of Congress is corrupt. Thirty six percent said yeah, my guy is a crook. That is up 14 points since the beginning of the year. Well, are most of them crooks? Fifty percent say they are a bunch of crooks, up 12 points since January and that 50 percent figure matches the way people felt back in 1994, the last time voters threw the bums out.

Republicans have a majority in Congress so more Democrats than Republicans say they are a bunch of crooks but over 40 percent of Republicans feel that way, too. The most likely to complain, independents. There's only one of them in the House of Representatives right now -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Bill, Dow Jones Industrial ended today above the 12,000 mark. Is that likely to have some political fallout looking ahead to the elections on November 7th?

SCHNEIDER: Well, we also asked in the poll when the stock market goes up, does that help your personal finances? Forty percent of voters said yes. Most, 56 percent said no. What's interesting is that you get a majority who say yes, it helps me. Of those who are earning over $50,000. Those who earn less than $50,000 don't think it helps much. So I think it's the same old story, the rich get richer -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Bill Schneider, thank you very much.

And there is a developing story we're following. Kelli Arena, our justice correspondent is standing by. Kelli, I take it there is new word we're getting on that alleged threat yesterday involving these NFL stadiums?

KELLI ARENA, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: That's right. That alleged threat it turns out, according to the FBI and Department of Homeland Security, was a hoax. And it also turns out that it was the result of a very active imagination, Wolf. There were two young men, one in Milwaukee, one in Texas, who were basically competing with each other to come up with who could write the more imaginative, believable terror threat story.

And so this young man, 20 years old in Milwaukee, looked at dates of football games and NFL stadiums, combined that with Ramadan dates, and, lo and behold, came up with his terror threat story. Agents interviewed both men. Their stories matched. There's no terror connection whatsoever. The threat is not credible in any way, shape, or form.

Wolf, it does, interesting question is will any of these men be charged with anything and that is something that's being considered, of course, intent is key here legally. So that is a decision that prosecutors will have to make going forward.

BLITZER: Kelli, it clearly, it did not take the FBI and other law enforcement authorities a long time to determine this was a hoax. Yesterday, they were saying they've notified the NFL about this. Today, they're saying it's a hoax. Why couldn't they determine that it was a hoax before they go ahead and scare a lot of people, a lot of football fans, and notify local authorities about this threat, potential threat that may be out there? In other words, why didn't they term that before they go ahead and alert the NFL?

ARENA: Well, first of all, they didn't go out and do this publicly. I mean, the FBI did what they say they have to do. There was open sourced information that there was a possible threat against stadiums. They've said all along, Wolf, that this was -- that they did not deem the information to be credible. But they said they were sharing the information out of an abundance of caution with the officials who needed to know.

There wasn't any widespread panic. It was a story that leaked out to the press, as these often do. And, then, they get discussed in a larger arena than the FBI had initially intended.

But you have to understand that many investigators say that they are really between a rock and a hard place. They have information that they don't believe is credible, but they need to pass that on, so that all bases are covered, that security precautions are in place.

God forbid they just don't have the information that they need to deem that it is credible, so, that they're really walking a very fine line here, Wolf. But they say they did what they had to do. And, today, we have the end of the story.

BLITZER: All right, Kelli, thanks very much.

ARENA: You're welcome.

BLITZER: Kelli Arena is our justice correspondent.

President Bush is on the campaign trail today, and he's making some interesting choices about who he stumps for and where. The president's travels tell us a little bit -- maybe a lot -- about his political clout, and certainly the battle for Congress.

Let's check in with our White House correspondent Elaine Quijano -- Elaine.

ELAINE QUIJANO, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: And, Wolf, President Bush is hitting the campaign trail, hitting two places once considered to be safe seats for Republicans, but now, for very different reasons, are in danger -- so, the president's goal, to try to rally those all-important conservative voters, who are, of course, so crucial to the GOP's success, and to try to remind them why they should head to the polls next month.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

QUIJANO (voice-over): His approval ratings may be in the 30s, but President Bush still believes a photo-op with him can help boost the campaigns of two Republicans mired in controversy -- first stop, Pennsylvania, where Congressman Don Sherwood's conservatism should have insured his reelection.

BUSH: I'm pleased to be here with Don Sherwood.

QUIJANO: But, last year, Sherwood, a married father of three, admitted he had had an extramarital affair for five years. His mistress sued, claiming Sherwood had choked her. And two reached a confidential settlement.

Over the weekend, Sherwood's wife, Carol, sent voters a letter, criticizing her husband's opponent for raising the issue in campaign ads. She said her family was moving forward, and asked voters to do the same.

Today, President Bush acknowledged the elephant in the room.

BUSH: I read Carol Sherwood's letter to the citizens of this congressional district. I was deeply moved by her words.

QUIJANO: At a time when family values are in the spotlight, the White House is defending the president's support for Congressman Sherwood.

SNOW: When a president goes and campaigns for candidates, he's there to help them. And, no, I don't think there's a downside.

QUIJANO: Against that backdrop, analysts say President Bush hopes to rally disaffected conservatives in districts where their vote can turn the election.

AMY WALTER, SENIOR EDITOR, "THE COOK POLITICAL REPORT": Well, you know, the first thing is that the president does go to places where folks want him to go...

(LAUGHTER) WALTER: Sticking to a message that has worked for them for years, which is: We are the party of smaller government, lower taxes. We're the party that's going to protect you from terrorism. That is not the Democratic Party.

QUIJANO: That's exactly what the president tried to do.

BUSH: We, Republicans, understand that we must give our professionals all the tools necessary to protect the American people.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

QUIJANO: And the second stop, Virginia, where Republican Senator George Allen is in a tight race against his Democratic challenger, Jim Webb.

Senator Allen, of course, has been trying to recover from a series of highly publicized gaffes on the campaign trail. Today's fund-raiser takes place next hour in Richmond, Virginia -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks, Elaine, very much.

And still coming up here, we will have more on this story. I will ask James Carville and Bay Buchanan about this interesting campaign stop. That's coming up in today's "Strategy Session."

And, later, some new numbers Hillary Clinton may like -- we will explain in today's "Political Radar."

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

On our "Political Radar" this Thursday: A Republican congressional candidate in California says he's not personally involved in sending a letter warning Hispanic immigrants they could go to jail or be deported if they vote next month. Tan Nguyen says he believes an employee in his office might have used his voter database to send the letter without his knowledge. He says that employee has been discharged.

Nguyen is challenging a leading Hispanic member of the House, Democratic Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez. The state of California is investigating the allegations.

Senator Hillary Clinton's presidential prospects will loom large over two debates she has this weekend in her Senate reelection campaign. CNN will be there. A new Quinnipiac University poll of likely voters shows the New York Democrat now is leading her Republican challenger, John Spencer by -- get this -- 35 points.

And if -- And you won't want to miss this, the junior senator from Illinois and possible presidential hopeful Barack Obama tonight on "LARRY KING LIVE." That airs 9:00 p.m. Eastern.

Remember, for all the latest campaign news at any time, check out the CNN Political Ticker. Go to CNN.com/ticker.

Up next: Violence is surging in Iraq, and taking an increasingly deadly toll. Is the U.S. witnessing another Vietnam? And will it make a difference in the midterm elections fast approaching?

And, as we told you, President Bush out on the campaign trail with Pennsylvania Congressman Don Sherwood -- is this a wise move? I will take a hard look in today's "Strategy Session" with James Carville and Bay Buchanan. They are standing by live.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Thirty years later, is the U.S. seeing another Vietnam in Iraq? And how might this impact the midterm elections, now less than three weeks away?

Joining us to discuss this, our political analysts, Democratic strategist James Carville, and Bay Buchanan, the president of American Cause.

Here is what the vice president said more than a year ago, May 30, 2005, to our Larry King. Listen to what he said then.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "LARRY KING LIVE," MAY 30, 2005)

RICHARD B. CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: They're in the -- in the last throes, if you will, of the insurgency.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: The insurgency was in its last throes.

Now, in a new interview just put online by our sister publication "TIME" magazine: "I expressed the sentiment some time ago that I thought we were over the hump in terms of violence. I think that was premature."

You don't often hear, at least publicly, the vice president acknowledging that he was wrong. Today, he acknowledges he was wrong in that earlier optimistic assessment.

JAMES CARVILLE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: So, it was a year ago?

BLITZER: May 30, more than a year ago.

CARVILLE: More than a year ago.

BLITZER: Yes.

CARVILLE: I mean, it's evident to anybody in the world, whether he acknowledges it or not. It obviously was not in its last throes. It obviously is more violent now than it has ever been.

And, I mean, it's just an indication that you cannot have an invasion like this without a plan, without any kind of strategy, and then try to do it on the fly. This is not working.

BLITZER: The polls show, including our most recent CNN poll, that Iraq is still the number-one issue that is impacting on voters, less than three weeks before the election.

BAY BUCHANAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: There's no question.

And the insurgents over there have increased their violence, Wolf, as a direct -- deliberately, I believe, because they want to influence this election. They want to see that this issue of Iraq becomes the issue. Hopefully, they're -- they see it, Republicans will lose, and that people will blame Iraq on it, breaking the will of the American people to support this war, just like the Tet Offensive did...

BLITZER: Is this another Vietnam? You're...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: ... old enough, I'm old enough, to remember.

(CROSSTALK)

CARVILLE: I was in the Marine Corps...

BLITZER: Yes.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Are you convinced this is another Vietnam?

CARVILLE: I have no idea. Tet was in February of '68, if I remember correctly. This is in October of '06. So, there's some timing differences here.

What it does show is -- and I have no idea what is behind this, whether it's organized, whether it's trying to affect the election.

But they're doing -- they can't. And I think that -- it isn't like Iraq just started getting violent in October of this election year. It was violent in September. And it was violent -- and it had been increasingly violent over the summer.

Whatever the reasons are, in next month, we will have been in Iraq longer than we were in World War II. And there is precious little evidence, if any, that we're making any progress over there. And I think that's what people are concerned about.

BUCHANAN: There's no question in that people have a legitimate concern.

But I think the issue here is not to debate whether we should have gone or not, but that we have a serious situation. We are at war in Iraq. It is not going well . What do you do now?

And what John Kerry, for instance, is saying is, pull out, surrender. I don't believe that's the answer. And I don't believe the American people want to believe that is the answer. There's going to be a bloodbath that would ensue if we pulled out. The key is, how do we stop this violence? And I think...

CARVILLE: Thank God we're not having a bloodbath right now that we're there. I mean, whew.

BUCHANAN: Well, the bloodbath is awful now. And, if anyone thinks that it is going to dry up and stop if we pull out, they're mistaken.

BLITZER: But a lot of the polls do show, Bay, that the majority of the Iraqis want the U.S. to get out.

BUCHANAN: They want this violence to stop.

And there is no question they don't want to have a foreign being sitting there in their turf. But they certainly do not want us to pull out, and have some kind of enormous civil war, where thousands and thousands are murdered in the streets.

Right now, I think the key is this. The Iraqi people, with our troops, 144,000, have not been able to stop this violence. What do we think, that we can pull out, and then they can stop the violence?

BLITZER: Here's what the president...

BUCHANAN: There's no hope...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Here's what the president told George Stephanopoulos yesterday. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "ABC WORLD NEWS TONIGHT")

BUSH: I have always found that, when a person goes in to vote, they are going to want to know what that person is going to do.

You know, what is the plan for a candidate on Iraq? What do they believe? Frankly, I hear disparate voices all over the place on the Democrats' side about Iraq. We got some saying, get out.

The person I ran against in 2004, Senator Kerry, said date certain time we would withdrawal.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: And he says that would be surrender.

CARVILLE: Wolf, I will tell you what. Staying the course is not working. I mean, I don't know how to tell the president this. In all due respect, sir, your plan is not working. We're going to be in there longer than we have been in World War II, and things are not getting better. They're getting worse. There is less electricity. There is more attacks on our troops. We now have a place where 65 percent of the Iraqi people want us out of there. Half of the American people do.

Whether you agree with John Kerry or not, it's hardly a radical position to say we ought to have a phased-timetable withdrawal. And I think the president would be much better off, as opposed to sloganeering, and cut and run, and stay the course, and last throes of the insurgency, in all of -- and this whole victory in Iraq...

BLITZER: Let me just change the subject briefly...

BUCHANAN: Sure.

BLITZER: ... because we're almost out of time.

The president goes out there, campaigns for Don Sherwood, a Republican candidate in Pennsylvania. He's accused of -- he's acknowledged having had an affair. The woman accused him of mistreating her, beating her, if you will. The president is trying to salvage that seat for the Republicans.

Is this a good idea?

BUCHANAN: Well, the -- you know, first of all, the accusation sounds like a shakedown to me. There's a five-year affair, and, all of a sudden, right before the election, she says: Well, he beat me.

Well, when did it start, and why didn't you stop it earlier?

So, I think that's a clear shakedown.

BLITZER: He has apologized to his constituents for the affair.

BUCHANAN: He has apologized. I think, clearly, the voters are going to have to decide if they want somebody in there who has had that kind of a relationship outside his marriage.

BLITZER: But is it good for the president to...

BUCHANAN: But the president...

BLITZER: ... be going there?

BUCHANAN: ... he's not going to hurt himself. He's term-limited here. So, he doesn't hurt himself. He's out there, trying to help Republicans.

The wife has said: Listen, I forgive my husband. Let's move on.

And, so, he is in there, trying to help Republicans hold the House.

BLITZER: Ten seconds.

BUCHANAN: I have no problem.

CARVILLE: Well, look, if you're at 36 percent, not much can hurt you anyway. You're in the middle of a disastrous war.

You're going to Pennsylvania 10th, or whatever that district is, probably not going make a lot of difference in the larger scheme of things, to tell you the truth.

BLITZER: And we're watching the president now. He's in Virginia, campaigning for George Allen. We will watch that as well.

Guys, thanks very much.

CARVILLE: Thank you.

BLITZER: James Carville and Bay Buchanan are part of the best political team on television.

Coming up: Is electronic voting failsafe, or a nightmare in the making? Jack Cafferty wants to know what you think, with the midterm elections only 19 days away.

And there are new developments in the Mark Foley investigation -- two key figures testifying before the House Ethics Committee today, as the priest who supposedly, allegedly, molested Foley now speaking out for the first time.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Up next: Wal-Mart on the front lines in the battle for voters -- why employees of the world's largest retailer could be a big part of next month's midterm elections.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Wal-Mart, the superstore chain, is a key front in the battle for voters this fall. Now one group is renewing its attacks on Wal-Mart, this time, trying to win over the retailer's employees, before they head to the ballot box.

Let bring in our Internet reporter, Abbi Tatton, with the latest -- Abbi.

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, with 1.3 million employees, this is a big pool of potential voters.

The union-backed Wake Up Wal-Mart, a leading critic of the store's business practices, has just announced a new voter education campaign targeting Wal-Mart's workers and their shoppers in the days before the election. They have got new TV ads that say Wal-Mart supports a right-wring agenda, though Wake Up Wal-Mart says they are not explicitly promoting Democrats.

There's a new Web site, as well. It has voter registration information, reminders for people to vote. And they are also saying they are going to do an in-store campaign, go to more than 30 states, hand out voter materials, actually, to the employees of Wal-Mart in those Wal-Mart stores.

We called Wal-Mart to ask for a response to how that might go down, and no response to that question yet.

Now, this follows Wal-Mart's own attention, their political outreach to their own employees, a voter registration drive, and, also, these letters that were sent out to all their Iowa employees, singling out four prominent Democrats for what they say were attacks on Wal-Mart. The Wal-Mart letter goes on to say, "We would never suggest to you how to vote" -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Abbi, thank you.

And up next: New voting laws and machines were supposed to make casting ballots easier and less problematic. But guess what? They may actually create problems on Election Day. Are you worried about that?

Jack Cafferty counting your votes right now -- stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: There he is, Jack Cafferty.

Jack, you got "The Cafferty File."

CAFFERTY: Indeed, I do, right here, hot off the presses.

The question is: In light of the new voting laws and the machines, how concerned are you that we might have problems on Election Day?

Some of these are good.

Bill writes from Lehigh Acres, Florida: "Let's see, no paper records, infinitely hackable, partisan poll workers, and a president who is looking impeachment square in the face if his party loses the Senate. Gee, what possible reason would they have to rig the election?"

Terry in Bennington, New Hampshire: "I'm very confident in our voting here in New Hampshire. We still use paper ballots. In the smaller communities, each polling station hand-counts its ballots, and reports them to the state. The larger communities use optical scanners, with all rejected ballots then being hand-counted. And all hand-counting is done by teams of three, a Democrat, a Republican, and an independent."

Now, they understand how to do an honest job in New Hampshire.

Norm in Arkansas: "Cafferty, although I'm a registered voter and believe in our republic and in democracy, I may decide not to vote, if our district uses e-voting. I don't trust the crooked computer companies to run a fair election. I don't believe they have any right to be controlling our election in any way. Give us one-man/one-vote, and make sure everyone is a citizen. Get the elites out of the polling stations and the voting booths."

Jean in Johnston City, Illinois, writes: "I won't have any problem voting with machines, because I decided years ago to always use an absentee ballot. That guarantees a paper trail and lets me vote at my leisure, instead of trooping down to the polling place in the rain. And it always rains on Election Day."

And Mike in Illinois: "I'm very worried that they will figure out I'm voting Democratic, and lock me up as an enemy combatant. I will wind up at Gitmo, instead..."

(LAUGHTER)

CAFFERTY: "... of the grocery store."

Tune in tonight, 7:00, if you ain't doing anything -- even if you are doing something. We're going to take a look at what is wrong with our broken government. An hour may not be enough, but we're going to try and have a little fun, take a look at some of the problems, see how we might be able to fix it. We will talk about electronic voting, and the open borders, and the president, and the Congress.

It's your show, your e-mails. We will get together for an hour. Like for you to join us.

That means you, too, Wolf.

BLITZER: You got to believe I will be there, Jack.

CAFFERTY: All right.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Jack Cafferty.

He has got a special, 7:00 p.m. Eastern tonight. Our viewers are going to want to see that.

TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com

Search
© 2007 Cable News Network.
A Time Warner Company. All Rights Reserved.
Terms under which this service is provided to you.
Read our privacy guidelines. Contact us. Site Map.
Offsite Icon External sites open in new window; not endorsed by CNN.com
Pipeline Icon Pay service with live and archived video. Learn more
Radio News Icon Download audio news  |  RSS Feed Add RSS headlines