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THE SITUATION ROOM

President Bush Stops At State Department To Show He's Listening To New Ideas About Iraq; Rumors Say There May Be Some Effort To Get Rid Of Nouri Al-Maliki; Space Shuttle Discovery Docking With International Space Station In Series Of Dangerous Maneuvers; Rahm Emanuel Aware Of Inappropriate E-Mail Exchange Between Mark Foley And Teenaged Male About A Year Ago; Gordon Smith Interview

Aired December 11, 2006 - 17:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And to our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM, where new pictures and information are arriving all the time. Standing by, CNN reporters across the United States and around the world to bring you today's top stories.
Happening now, as blood runs through the streets in Iraq, there is an urgent search for solutions here in Washington. President Bush today getting advice from the State Department and from some outside experts on Iraq, looking for a way forward -- a new way forward.

He supported the war, but now says the relentless spilling of American blood has brought him to the end of his rope. I'll speak with Republican Senator Gordon Smith and ask him why he says America's Iraq policy may now be criminal and who should be held accountable.

And denying the killing of six million Jews -- it's 1:30 a.m. in Iran, where a conference questions if the Holocaust ever really happened.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Rethinking Iraq and searching for a new strategy -- President Bush holding a series of meetings no the war, hearing today from State Department officials, as well as outside historians and other experts. He's also making a subtle, but possibly significant, change in the language he uses when talking about the overall mission in Iraq.

Our senior international correspondent, Nic Robertson, is in Baghdad.

But let's turn to our White House correspondent, Ed Henry, first -- Ed.

ED HENRY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the president just wrapped up a meeting here with retired generals and other military experts, all part of a high stakes effort to chart a new course in Iraq.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) HENRY (voice-over): Struggling to find the way forward in Iraq, the president stopped at the State Department to show he's in listening mode about new ideas.

GEORGE BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And success is a country that governs, defends itself, that is a free society that serves as an ally in this war on terror. And the reason why that's vital is because Iraq is a central component of defeating the extremists who want to establish safe haven in the Middle East.

HENRY: The president calling Iraq "a central component" instead of what he said over and over, the central front in the war on terror.

But White House Spokesman Tony Snow quickly insisted it was not a change, raising questions about whether the president has a dramatic new approach or are these internal reviews by the State and Defense Departments really just an attempt to give him political cover to ignore the recommendations of bipartisan Iraq Study Group.

TONY SNOW, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: He is not selecting from a menu, one from A or one from Column B, but instead, taking a very good, hard look at all of the analysis and all of the opinions and making decisions based on all the input from advisers on what he thinks is the prepare way forward.

HENRY: But confronted with the stunning change of heart by a Republican senator...

SEN. GORDON SMITH (R), OREGON: ... has our soldiers patrolling the same streets in the same way being blown up by the same bombs, day after day. That is absurd. It may even be criminal.

HENRY: ... the White House did not sound ready for big change.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HENRY (on camera): A Republican senator is saying the president's policy may be criminal and it's immoral.

SNOW: And what would you...

HENRY: And you were just saying...

SNOW: ... what would you like me to say?

HENRY: ... you just said...

(CROSSTALK)

SNOW: Well, should I...

HENRY: Don't you think you should answer for that?

SNOW: ... do duels at 10 paces?

HENRY: You're saying -- you said from this podium over and over that the strategy is victory, right?

SNOW: And it continues to be.

HENRY: We have a Republican senator saying there is no clear strategy, that you don't have a strategy for victory.

SNOW: Well, let's let Senator Smith hear what the president has to say. We understand that this is a time where politics are emotional in the wake of an election.

And you know what?

Senator Smith is entitled to his opinion.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(END VIDEOTAPE)

HENRY: Senator Smith is entitled to his opinion. You heard that from Tony Snow right there. But his views will not necessarily carry the day, as the president charts the way forward -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And the big speech that we're all now bracing for, any indication if it'll be a prime time address to the nation, during the day?

Presumably, we're told, it's going to be before Christmas some time.

HENRY: The president keeps hinting at some sort of a big speech. We've heard from aides there is going to be something big. But they really will not characterize whether it's prime time or not. One would presume they're going to want the maximum audience.

Today, Tony Snow insisting the president's not locked in cement in terms of getting it done before Christmas.

But other aides here still insist they believe it will be very likely before Christmas that he'll chart this new course in some sort of a speech -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thank you very much, Ed, for that.

Ed Henry is our man at the White House.

And as President Bush huddles with advisers for answers on Iraq, are there huddles in Iraq aimed at ousting the man at the top?

And joining us now from Baghdad, our correspondent, Nic Robertson -- Nic, what's the latest on these rumors out there that there may be some effort to get rid of the Iraqi prime minister, Nouri Al-Maliki?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SR. INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the prime minister's spokesman says this is not the case, that although there are political divisions at the moment and there is a group within the government that's trying to form across sectarian lines -- a group of moderates that can accelerate an end to the sectarian divisions, the prime minister's office says no, that he is still going to be the prime minister.

However, we have heard the prime minister himself only recently talking about a cabinet reshuffle.

But, very clearly, the sectarian divisions that are driving this city apart are also cutting across political boundaries here. We are seeing deepening political divisions opening up this week -- Wolf.

BLITZER: That political story will be huge.

We'll watch it, together with you.

Also, there was a dramatic bank robbery.

Tell our viewers what happened.

ROBERTSON: Well, incredibly, as a bank was transferring money to one of its branches, a militia man -- or what were described as men wearing uniforms that looked like Iraqi uniforms -- stopped the convoy of vehicles, took the money out of the security vehicle, put it in their own vehicles and drove off with it -- some $1 million.

The indications are that perhaps this is insurgents or militias trying to fund their armed campaigns by openly and brazenly stealing money.

Now, the Iraq police are under incredible pressure here to stop the killings, to stop the death squads, to stop the kidnappings. And, clearly, this is really just an indication of the level of lawlessness that exists within Baghdad at the moment -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Nic Robertson on the scene for us in Baghdad.

Nic, thanks a lot.

All right, happening now -- we're going to get back to Iraq in a moment -- but high above the Earth, the Space Shuttle Discovery docking with the International Space Station in a series of very delicate and dangerous maneuvers. It's happening right now.

Our space correspondent, Miles O'Brien, is following all of this -- explain to our viewers what we're seeing now, Miles, and why this is so critical.

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN SPACE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, what you're looking at is a commander's eye view of the International Space Station seen from the Space Shuttle Discovery.

It's kind of hard to make it out, but this is the edge right here of the docking ring. And in the middle of that is a -- it's so faint, right in the middle is a target. And the commander of the space shuttle, Mark Roman Polansky, is trying to line up the targets that he has on board the space shuttle with the target that is right there in the center on the space station. There you see a shot. There is the space shuttle up there. There you see, right in here, that's the docking mechanism.

And let me show you where we were looking. That was the location where we were looking from. This is what we're looking down on, OK?

So this whole process comes down to kind of a visual way of guiding the space shuttle in.

You can see it is creeping ever so slowly as it makes its way in these final moments before docking to the International Space Station.

It's been a spectacular docking maneuver, which was preceded by this, this wonderful rollover pitched maneuver -- an RPM, NASA calls it. We call it a back flip. The back flip in the post-Columbia world has become routine for space shuttles. It allows the crew of the space station to get out a couple of cameras, 400 millimeter and 800 millimeter, and snap a bunch of pictures of that heat shield.

Just looking at the heat shield, as we did a little while ago when that occurred, we didn't see any obvious signs of damage, but that still remains to be seen. Those pictures are obviously much higher resolution. They'll be beamed back down to Houston.

Engineers there will pore over them and make sure there aren't any pieces of that heat shield which have been damaged in any way, which, of course, hearkens back to Columbia nearly four years ago now, coming back with that ruptured heat shield as it was hit by a piece of foam during launch.

Let me show you some animation just to give you the big picture of what's going on here right now on this. The space shuttle making its way up to the line, which would go in the forward direction on the International Space Station. The commander, Mark Roman Polansky, slowly easing it in using the thrusters on the space shuttle, in for that docking.

The docking is expected to happen in just a couple of minutes.

Let's go back to that live picture right now. A spectacular shot there, as you see. The docking ring all lit up there. Right there, that's what he's trying to aim, connecting it to that. There you see just a little bit of the limb of the Earth, kind of the sunrise/sunset, the thin atmosphere of the space -- of the Earth.

All this happening as they fly over the Russian Siberia at about 220 miles above us, 17,000 miles an hour, Wolf.

They make it all look easy, don't they?

BLITZER: Between the Discovery and the space station up there, how many astronauts -- how many people are up there right now?

O'BRIEN: There's a total of 10 -- seven on board the Space Shuttle Discovery, three on board the International Space Station. The hatch will be open in just a couple of hours, assuming this docking goes off without a hitch. And the combined crew of 10 have a busy, busy period of time ahead of them, 10 days or so, as essentially they're going to rewire that space station, which has been kind of on a temporary wiring rig. And there are going to be three space walks to disconnect and reconnect wires and cables, all very complicated on when they turn off the power and turn on the power, as you can imagine.

This will be an interesting one to watch.

BLITZER: We'll watch it together with you, Miles.

We'll get back to you.

Thanks very much.

And I want to just remind our viewers they can see Miles every weekday morning, 6:00 a.m. for three hours, with Soledad O'Brien. You're going to want to watch "AMERICAN MORNING," weekdays here on CNN.

Jack Cafferty is in New York.

He's with us weekdays in THE SITUATION ROOM -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Indeed, I am, Wolf.

Hillary who?

That's what some Democrats might be thinking after Senator Barack Obama's stunning visit to New Hampshire over this past weekend. Obama went to Manchester, ostensibly to promote his book. But the crowds that turned out to see him were unprecedented in New Hampshire, two years before a presidential election.

Reagan didn't get these kinds of crowds. Clinton didn't draw these kinds of crowds. Nobody has this early.

Fifteen hundred plus showed up at an event for a state Democratic Party fundraiser in Manchester. Hundreds more waited in line for hours at a book signing event just to get a glimpse of the guy. And he hasn't even decided if he's going to be a candidate for president yet.

Manchester, New Hampshire is a town of only 100,000 people, so if you get a couple of thousand people out, that's two percent of the population of the town. Pretty amazing. And it's cold up there.

Obama has what you might call some mojo that Senator Hillary Clinton wishes she had. Or, for that matter, any of the Republicans who are thinking about running, as well.

There are reports now that Senator Clinton may have to move up her planned visit to New Hampshire, originally scheduled for February. There's some talk now that she could even wind up up there before the end of the year.

Here's the question -- what does Senator Barack Obama seem to have that the other potential presidential candidates don't?

E-mail us at CaffertyFile@CNN.com or go to CNN.com/CaffertyFile.

It's interesting, Wolf, this isn't a phenomenon just peculiar only to the United States, either. Obama was in Africa a few months ago and it was reminiscent of when Muhammad Ali was over there. I mean the people that turned out, by the thousands, and they cheered him and I mean -- he's a rock star.

BLITZER: His father was from Nigeria. His mother is from Kansas. He studied at Columbia and at Harvard and he was treated like a rock star when he went back to Nigeria to catch some of his roots. He's being treated as a rock star in New Hampshire right now, Jack.

Thanks very much.

Jack Cafferty, we'll get back to you this hour.

Up ahead, Iran's president taking on the Holocaust again, this time with an American ally at his side. That would be the former Klansman, David Duke.

Also, a Congressional Republican calls the president's Iraq policy absurd and possibly even criminal. It's Oregon Senator Gordon Smith. He'll join us here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Plus, Senator John McCain in Rudy Giuliani's backyard sound more and more like a presidential candidate.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We're going to go back to Miles O'Brien.

He's watching what's going on with the space shuttle, the Discovery.

What has happened in the last few minutes alone -- Miles.

O'BRIEN: They docked. They have successfully docked with the International Space Station. As a matter of fact, we can show you a live picture right now. You can take a look at the Space Shuttle Discovery with a head-on, kind of a side shot there. This is the International Space Station right there and that's, of course, Discovery.

As you can see, there's a little gap there. It's going to take them a little while to retract -- there you go. You see that gap right in there.

It takes them a little while to retract these little bars -- cinch it down. And that takes a few minutes. Then they'll make sure that all the connections are tightly sealed before they open any hatches. It's going to take a couple of hours to go through that whole procedure. And then the crews will come together for the welcoming ceremony.

Take a look just a few moments ago.

We can listen in, Wolf, as they actually -- that's a spectacular picture there -- as they arrived at the space station.

Let's listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MARK ROMAN POLANSKY, SPACE SHUTTLE DISCOVERY COMMANDER: Houston and Alpha, from Discovery, capture confirmed.

Welcome aboard.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: And so now it's off to work for the combined crew of 10. And, as you see, that wonderful picture as they hurdle across the planet, now over the Pacific Ocean, 17,500 miles an hour, 200 miles above us, beginning a busy 10-day stint of rewiring the International Space Station, putting an additional piece on, all part of the effort to get as much of this space station done as they can before the shuttle retires in 2010 -- Wolf.

BLITZER: We're -- we wish all those astronauts only the best. We know -- we sort of take it for granted how easy this is, but it's really, really complicated and, as we all know, very dangerous work, as well.

We wish them only the best.

And I know, Miles, you do, as well.

Thank you.

Meanwhile, there are new developments in the controversy involving disgraced former Republican Congressman Mark Foley of Florida and the explicit Internet messages he sent to those underage House pages.

There are new questions of just who knew what and when.

Let's turn to our Congressional correspondent, Dana Bash -- Dana.

DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the House Ethics Committee's decision not to hold anyone accountable despite the fact that they found GOP leaders in trouble, if you will, and the fact that they found Republicans did have what they called "willful ignorance" of what happened with Mark Foley, is causing a lot of controversy up here.

So is the fact that, as CNN first reported on Friday night, Rahm Emanuel, the Democratic campaign chief, actually was aware of an inappropriate e-mail exchange with Foley and a teenaged male about a year ago.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BASH (voice-over): A Republican congressman says Emanuel "lied" when asked if he or his staff knew about Foley's e-mails during this ABC News interview in October.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM "THIS WEEK," COURTESY ABC)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You were not aware?

REP. RAHM EMANUEL (D), ILLINOIS: There -- no.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You had no involvement?

EMANUEL: No. We never saw them. No involvement.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BASH: Now, Emanuel's aides admit he did know about the inappropriate but non-sexually explicit e-mails a year before they became public.

According to the House Ethics Committee report, the e-mails had been given to Emanuel's campaign shop by Democratic leadership aide Matt Miller, who was peddling them to reporters and hoped Emanuel's team could help.

A Democratic aide tells CNN Emanuel knew about efforts to get "some light on the e-mails by showing them to the media," but says Emanuel never actually saw them.

REP. DENNIS HASTERT (R-IL), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: The Republican leaders of the House did not have them. We have all said so, and on the record. But someone did have them.

BASH: Republicans, pummeled for not taking Foley's behavior seriously enough, say this proves they were right in questioning Democrats' involvement in a scandal. Yet there is no reference to Emanuel in the Ethics Committee report.

The panel heard testimony from eight lawmakers, not Emanuel. That may be more grist for critics who accuse the bipartisan Ethics Committee of not digging deep enough and not reprimanding anyone, despite the fact that the report skewers Republican leaders.

It says: "Neither John Boehner nor Tom Reynolds showed any curiosity regarding why a young former pages would have been made uncomfortable by e-mails from Representative Foley" and says: "a top Hastert aide who had been warned repeatedly about Foley's behavior with pages showed an explicable lack of interest in the e-mails."

Editorials are slamming the Ethics Committee for issuing no punishment, the "New York Times" calling the report: "91-page exercise in cowardice."

Watchdog groups calling it proof Congress cannot police itself.

CHELLIE PINGREE, COMMON CAUSE: Well, I think you have a case here where members of Congress did not want to point fingers at each other, where they looked the other way consistently over long periods of time so that no one would be held accountable.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BASH: Now, the Democrats poised to take control of Congress are under pressure to beef up the rules governing the behavior of lawmakers, who are still seen as way too protected by the institution. And, meanwhile, Wolf, the incoming speaker, Nancy Pelosi, announced today some -- a few changes to the page program itself, including more regular meetings of the board that oversees the teenagers who, of course, are here for months under the care of members of Congress -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Dana, thank you.

Dana Bash with more on the Foley fallout.

Coming up, a Republican senator's change of heart about the war in Iraq. Senator Gordon Smith now a harsh critic of the president's policies. My interview with the senator. That's coming up.

And coming up in our 7:00 p.m. Eastern hour, new questions and embarrassing answers for the incoming chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. You might be surprised by what he doesn't know about the war on terror.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Carol Costello is in New York with a look at some other important stories making news.

Another week in THE SITUATION ROOM -- Carol.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Oh, you've got that.

Hello, everybody.

Another popular Colorado pastor has left his church over allegations of engaging in gay sex. In a videotaped message to his congregation of 2,000, Paul Barnes confessed to struggling with his homosexuality since the age of five. Barnes' confession echoes that of Ted Haggard, who preached to a congregation of 14,000 in Colorado Springs. Haggard was fired after charges emerged that he had a past relationship with a male prostitute.

A vocal opponent of the war in Iraq has been convicted of trespassing. Cindy Sheehan and three other women were found guilty this morning in a New York City courtroom. They had tried to deliver an anti-war petition to the U.N. mission and refused to leave when asked to do so. Each received a conditional discharge and was ordered to pay court costs.

And the Middle Eastern company whose planned take over of U.S. port operations set off a political furor early this year -- remember that?

Well, it's selling those operations. Dubai Ports World says it has cut a deal with AIG Global Investment Group, whose parent company is based right here in New York. Operations at seaports in New York, New Jersey, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Miami, Tampa and New Orleans were valued at some $700 million. D.P. did not disclose the value of its deal with AIG.

That's a look at the headlines right now -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Carol.

We'll check back with you very shortly.

Coming up, a Republican who was once for the war now says the relentless bloodshed has put him at the end of his rope. Senator Gordon Smith of Oregon speaking out. I'll ask him why he says America's Iraq policy may now actually be criminal and who should be held accountable.

And invading political turf -- might presidential prospect John McCain be looking for support -- yes, in New York City?

Mary Snow is standing by with details.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: And to our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM, where new pictures and information are arriving all the time.

Happening now, President Bush in listening mode as he huddles with State Department officials and outside experts weighing a new strategy for Iraq. Tomorrow, the president will hold a teleconference with military commanders and the U.S. ambassador in Baghdad.

Also, the outgoing United Nations secretary-general, Kofi Annan, making his farewell speech at the Truman Presidential Library in Missouri and taking a swipe at the Bush administration, saying when the U.S. appears to abandon its own ideals, it leaves allies troubled and confused.

And a delicate dance in space -- the Space Shuttle Discovery docking right now with the International Space Station. The two craft joined just a few minutes ago. You saw that here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

And I'm Wolf Blitzer and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM. As the Iraq War has worsened, some senators who voted for the war have now come out against it. One of them is the now very frustrated senator who's calling for a very, very course -- serious course correction and is actually blasting the Bush administration, that senator being Republican Gordon Smith of Oregon.

He had this to say late last week about Iraq. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SMITH: I, for one, am at the end of my rope when it comes to supporting a policy that has our soldiers patrolling the same streets in the same way, being blown up by the same bombs, day after day. That is absurd. It may even be criminal. I cannot support that anymore.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: So, if the U.S. policy were in fact criminal, who might be held accountable?

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: And joining us now, Republican Senator Gordon Smith of Oregon.

Senator, a powerful, emotional statement, I know, coming from your gut, coming from your heart. Why the about-face?

SMITH: Well, Wolf, if you have the privilege of representing one of the united states, and you have a voice and a vote, now is the time to speak up.

And I felt duty-bound to say what was on my heart, and to describe how this war had mutated from one thing to another, from taking out a tyrant and a terrorist, and ridding him of weapons of mass destruction, and establishing democracy, to now being street cops in a sectarian civil war. That's not what I voted for. That's not what the American people are for.

BLITZER: So, you have concluded this is now a civil war in Iraq?

SMITH: I have concluded that.

You know, this is a fight, when you get right down to the root of it, between Sunnis and Shias -- it goes back a millennia of time -- over who is the rightful successor to the Prophet Mohammed. That is not our fault. That is not our fight. And that's not something we can fix.

BLITZER: Was there one issue, one thing that happened, that pushed you over to deliver this remarkable address on the Senate floor?

SMITH: Well, I have read a number of books recently that got me thinking and stirred up. And, then, I woke up -- Wednesday, I believe it was -- to the news that 10 more of our fighting men, and maybe a woman -- I don't know -- but they were killed again in another roadside bomb. And I just simply hit the end of the rope, if you will.

And I felt I had to speak up, because, if these sacrifices are being made in -- in pursuit of a policy that cannot succeed, then, we need to admit it, and readjust in a way that the American people and our soldiers find worth the sacrifice. And this is not.

BLITZER: You used the word criminal in that statement, a very sharp, pointed word.

If, in fact, some of the actions committed by the U.S. were criminal, who should be held accountable?

SMITH: Well, if you will read my remarks in context, I was clearly speaking rhetorically, not in a legal sense.

But I find examples like when the British generals, day after day, in the First World War, would send thousands of their men in -- running into machine guns, and not make adjustments, I find that criminal.

And when we send our young folks out in vehicles that cannot take out these -- or, rather, accept these kinds of blasts to them, without taking their lives, I don't find that smart. And I find that very derelict in duty.

Moreover, if you think we should be going out and fighting them, you have to answer the question whether the insurgency that this has become is worth doing. If you say yes, it is, then you have to adapt your tactics.

What we are doing -- and I have seen this in -- with my own eyes in Iraq -- what we are doing is sending them out from the Green Zone, clearing, and then retreating back to the Green Zone.

Now, I got to tell you, that does not make any sense, if you are fighting an insurgency. History will tell you, to fight and win insurgencies, you have to clear, hold, and then build, so you build confidence in the people there, so that they become the foot soldiers, they root out the terrorists, and they ultimately fight for their freedom. It is not our country. It is theirs.

BLITZER: So, let me repeat the question. Who should be held accountable for what you believe has now become -- and I will use just a word -- fiasco or disaster, or some -- some word along those lines?

SMITH: Well, I think all of us with positions of responsibility are accountable.

But, clearly, I can't be quiet anymore. I'm leveling this charge at no one man or woman. But I am clearly saying that the American people will and should hold us accountable. So, if you have got something to say, now is the time to say it. Either let's fight the war intelligently for an objective that's obtainable, or let's admit it, and figure out how to preserve the lives of our soldiers.

BLITZER: Because, morally speaking, if you -- if you do conclude it is futile right now, and that, a year from now, it is not going to make any difference what the U.S. does, that the situation is still going to be a sectarian civil war -- your words -- is it moral to keep U.S. men and women in harm's way, let another 1,000 or so Americans die over the next year, if it is going to simply wind up exactly, if not worse, than it is right now?

SMITH: It is not right to do that.

Let me do -- let me also add, though, that we have an ongoing interest in prosecuting the war on terror, a fight from which we can retreat only at the peril of our own nation. There are ways to reposition on the borders of Iraq to take on terrorist jihadists from Iran, Syria, Saudi Arabia, to -- and these are the people that we want to fight. That is our fight.

And, ultimately, that is a very important fight for our country, for our sake, not just for Iraq's.

BLITZER: Knowing what you know now -- and, obviously, with hindsight, we are all a lot smarter -- if you had to do it over again, knowing that no WMD in Iraq, no al Qaeda connection, knowing 3,000 Americans were going to be killed, $400 billion spent, $2 billion a week, would you have voted for that resolution to support this war?

SMITH: Well, as I said on my -- in my floor statement, had I known there were no WMD there, I would not have voted for it.

But I do want to add that I believe it is a good thing that we removed Saddam Hussein. I think there would have been other ways to do that, without the cost in life and treasure that our current approach has led us to.

BLITZER: One final question, Senator: Do you think President Bush is, as his critics charge, still in a state of denial?

SMITH: Oh, you know, what I say, I say in sorrow, not in anger. President Bush is my friend. And I know he agonizes day and night over this issue.

But he has a very determined streak in him. And, yet, I -- I have to believe he knows, with the Iraq Study Group, and what others are saying, that the time is now to rethink this and reposition the American war against terrorism.

BLITZER: Senator Gordon Smith, thanks very much for coming in.

SMITH: Thank you.

(END VIDEOTAPE) BLITZER: And still to come: an Arizona senator in New York City. Might Senator John McCain be hunting for votes in Rudy Giuliani's own backyard? Mary Snow standing by live with the latest.

And denying the deaths of six million Jews -- Iran hosting a conference questioning one of the worst atrocities the world has ever seen. We are going to have the latest details. What's going on in Tehran?

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: While 2008 presidential hopefuls test the waters in New Hampshire and Iowa, Republican Senator John McCain ventured in a potential rival's turf. That would be New York. He delivered a stern warning for Iran, and repeating his call to keep troops in Iraq as well.

CNN's Mary Snow joining us from New York with more -- Mary.

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, while many are calling for U.S. troops to begin leaving Iraq, Senator John McCain told an audience last night that doing so would increase the violence there. And he warned that for the U.S. to wash its hands of the situation in Iraq now is to risk catastrophe.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SNOW (voice-over): He took his hard-line stand on Iraq into the backyard of Rudy Giuliani, his potential Republican rival.

Senator John McCain delivered the convocation speech at Yeshiva University. But political observers say, his hawkish words are meant for audiences far beyond New York.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: If U.S. forces begin a pullout, we risk all-out civil war and the emergence of a failed state in the heart of the Middle East.

SNOW: McCain has been a rare voice calling for more troops in Iraq, the most critical last week of the Iraq Study Group's recommendation to start bringing troops home.

MCCAIN: I believe that this is a recipe that will lead to, sooner or later, our defeat in Iraq.

SNOW: It is that kind of talk, says one Republican strategist, that conservative voters and GOP primaries want to hear in states like Iowa and South Carolina.

FRANK LUNTZ, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: John McCain has realized what Republican primary voters are talking about, which is that they don't want to cut and run; they don't want to give up; they don't like this Baker report.

SNOW: And some political observers say, conservatives are also lukewarm on McCain, and he needs to win them over.

LARRY SABATO, DIRECTOR, UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA CENTER FOR POLITICS: McCain is still perceived as a maverick. He is still disliked by many conservative Republicans.

SNOW: Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani is hard sell conservatives, since he supports abortion and gay rights. In the latest CNN poll by Opinion Research Corporation, though, Giuliani ranks number one among registered Republicans for the 2008 nomination. While analysts say McCain is distinguishing himself with his hawkish stand, it could come back to haunt him in the general election.

SABATO: He has taken a position every bit as hawkish, even more so, than George Bush. So, if there is a price to be paid for Iraq in 2008, McCain is setting himself up to pay it.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SNOW: And, in New York on Sunday, Senator John McCain also called Iran a possibly deranged and surely dangerous regime. He said, while a military solution to deal with Iran's nuclear threat is a last resort, he said all options must remain on the table -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Mary Snow -- we will be hearing a lot more from John McCain over the next weeks and months.

As far as the Democrats are concerned, we have some new poll numbers out this afternoon on the top picks for 2008. Senator Hillary Clinton comes out on top again among registered Democrats, 37 percent. She's followed next by Barack Obama, Al Gore, John Edwards, and John Kerry.

Meanwhile, Ohio Democratic congressman Dennis Kucinich says he's running for president again, with a formal announcement tomorrow. He will also be our guest tomorrow here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

And still to come: lots more news, including the fashionistas. They say what you are -- you are what you wear. If so, is Senator Barack Obama what? Our senior analyst, Jeff Greenfield, has an idea or two on that.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Let's check in with Lou Dobbs to see what is coming up right at the top of the hour -- Lou.

LOU DOBBS, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, thank you.

Coming up at 6:00 p.m. Eastern here on CNN, tonight, we are reporting on a new ethics scandal in Washington -- a Democratic congressman under investigation by the FBI set to take over a congressional panel that oversees -- you guessed it -- the FBI's budget. We will have that special report. Also tonight: U.S. trade officials blasting communist China for its unfair competitive practices and theft of American intellectual property. So, why in the world are the U.S. Treasury secretary, six other Cabinet-level officials on their way to Beijing? We will have that story.

And more than 50 congressmen are demanding a presidential pardon now for two U.S. Border Patrol agents who were given harsh jail sentences for shooting an illegal Mexican drug smuggler -- the smuggler given immunity by our government. Two of those congressmen, Ted Poe, Walter Jones, both join us here tonight -- all of that, and a great deal more, coming up at the top of the hour.

Please join us -- Wolf, back to you.

BLITZER: Did you get -- did you get any indication, Lou, the president is going to listen to that request for a pardon?

DOBBS: There is no indication at all that this president considers it anything more than what his White House press secretary Tony Snow called nonsensical.

But this president seems to be more of a -- in more of a mood to listen. So, we will cross our fingers and hope for rationality and compassion and good sense.

BLITZER: I know you have been all over this story. And I know you are going to have a lot more on this, coming up in little while.

DOBBS: Absolutely.

BLITZER: Lou, thank you very much...

DOBBS: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: ... for that.

Thousands gathered in a chapel in Santiago, Chile, today to pay respects to the former dictator Augusto Pinochet, who died Sunday of a heart attack -- a military funeral scheduled for tomorrow.

Pinochet's death spawned demonstrations and even sporadic violence across the country.

Let's check in with our Internet reporter, Abbi Tatton. She's following the story online -- Abbi.

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf -- Wolf, images coming in online in the last 24 hours from Santiago, Chile, right in the thick of things.

Student Gabriel Larenas (ph) was in the Plaza Italia yesterday recording these images. He said it was probably the most joyous celebration he ever saw by anti-Pinochet demonstrations who were there yesterday. But you are also seeing online people posting videos of equally strong feelings in support of Pinochet, and all these with the title "Carnival" -- demonstrations going on today from what we're seeing coming in, but those demonstrations yesterday also turning violent.

You can see posted here journalism student Gido Vargas (ph) yesterday watched crowds throwing things at police -- police responding with tear gas and water cannons.

Chilean officials have said that there will be a military funeral, but no state funeral, nor any official days of mourning -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Abbi, thank you for that -- Abbi Tatton reporting.

Iranian media and a student news Web site report a rare display of defiance today against the president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. As the president spoke at Tehran University, students interrupted the speech by booing, setting off firecrackers, and shouting -- and I'm quoting now -- "Death to the dictator."

Downplaying the incident, Ahmadinejad's office says they could have been referring to the U.S. and Britain. A spokesman says the Iranian president held talks with students after the speech.

Iran is also in the news for hosting a conference in which participants deny the killing of six million Jews during World War II -- its headliner, David Duke, a former American Klansman turned politician who spent time in jail for tax evasion. Duke is there to add his wisdom on how -- to -- quote -- "Images of the Holocaust against Jews are used to justify and promote a terrible war against Iran, and that would constitute a new Holocaust." That's the subject of his remarks.

Ahmadinejad says the aim of this conference is not to deny or confirm the Holocaust. Its main aim is to create an opportunity, he says, for thinkers.

We're going to have more on this story coming up in our 7:00 p.m. Eastern hour.

Up next, Jack Cafferty's question of the hour: What does Senator Barack Obama seem to have that the other potential presidential candidates don't? Jack with your e-mail right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Here's a look at some of the "Hot Shots" coming in from our friends over at the Associated Press, pictures likely to be in your hometown newspapers tomorrow. Check them out.

A pole vaulter from Kazakhstan fails to clear the bar at the Asian Games in Qatar.

In Santiago, Chile, a woman strikes an opponent of the late General Augusto Pinochet with her purse. Thousands of Pinochet supporters are paying tribute in front of his coffin nearby. As you know, he died Sunday, at the age of 91.

In Dublin, Ireland, the actor Martin Sheen stands next to a statue of James Joyce outside a screening of Sheen's new film, "Bobby."

And at the Italian Embassy in Ethiopia, two lion cubs are safe on embassy grounds, after their mother was killed by villagers. The Italian diplomats plan to reintroduce the cubs into the wild -- some of today's "Hot Shots," pictures often worth 1,000 words.

Let's go to Jack Cafferty in New York for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: Which will done in fewer than 1,000 words, I think, Wolf.

The question this hour is: What does Senator Barack Obama seem to have that the other potential presidential candidates don't?

He was in Manchester, New Hampshire, over the weekend, and just -- he knocked them on their snowbank, if you know what I mean.

George in New York: "I think Obama is so popular right now because he's giving Americans on both sides of the aisle -- I'm a Republican -- hope that America can see better days. The reality is, the Bush administration is starting to mirror the Carter administration, in terms of foreign policy disasters and the low morale of Americans at that time in our history. Essentially, Obama's communication skills and his message, which transcends traditional party politics, are captivating the minds of Americans, in a similar way that Ronald Reagan did in 1980."

Mark in Asheville, North Carolina: "He has the media behind him, for now. But that cannot, will not elect him in 2008. The New Hampshire people clamoring to see him will vote Democratic regardless of the nominee. But, in a post-9/11 world, the swing voters would balk at voting for someone with a Middle Eastern-sounding name. It's as brutally simple and unfair as that."

Tom in Alabama: "Obama has less time in the Senate, therefore, hopefully less time to be corrupt and to think only of himself, unlike most of Congress. This may or may not be true, but the perception is there. And, as desperate as America is for anything that even resembles good leadership, that might be enough."

H. in Baltimore writes: "Obama is the new kid on the block. Good to have a look at him now, before he disappears after the primaries."

And Linda in Minnesota: "It's all in the voice. Barack Obama has the voice of an orator. His tone is deep and resonant. He speaks with conviction and authority. I would follow him anywhere. It doesn't hurt that he's eye candy either."

You know, they say that about you, Wolf, on THE SITUATION ROOM.

BLITZER: Yeah. (LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: You, too.

(LAUGHTER)

CAFFERTY: If you didn't see your e-mail here, you can go to CNN.com/CaffertyFile and read more of them online.

The guy is -- is fascinating to a lot of people at this moment in time, for whatever the reason.

BLITZER: I incorrectly pointed out earlier that his father was from Nigeria. His father is really from Kenya.

CAFFERTY: Right.

BLITZER: He went to Kenya, where he was treated as a rock star.

Barack Obama, he is, in fact, a potential presidential candidate. We will watch together with you, Jack. Thanks very much.

And, as Jack just noted, he is clearly a rising political star, and he's a favorite among many Democrats looking toward the next presidential election. And that means a lot of scrutiny for the Illinois senator, from his head, right down to his clothes.

Let's turn to our senior analyst, Jeff Greenfield -- Jeff.

JEFF GREENFIELD, CNN SENIOR ANALYST: Wolf, the political community has gone predictably hysterical over Senator Barack Obama's presidential flirtation.

So, in the spirit of retched excess, let's take a look not at what he's saying, but at another crucially vital matter: what he is wearing.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GREENFIELD (voice-over): The senator was in New Hampshire over the weekend, sporting what's getting to be the classic Obama look. Call it business casual, a jacket, a collared shirt, but no tie.

It is a look the senator seems to favor. And why not? It is dressy enough to suggest seriousness of purpose, but without the stuffiness of a tie, much less a suit. There is a comfort level here that reflects one of Obama's strongest political assets, a sense that he is comfortable in his own skin, that he knows who he is.

If you want a striking contrast, check out Senator John Kerry as he campaigned back in 2004. He often appeared without a tie, but clad in a blazer, the kind of casual look you see at country clubs and lawn parties in the Hamptons and other toned (ph) locations.

When President Bush wanted in casual mode, he skipped the jacket entirely. Third-generation Skull and Bones at Yale? Don't be silly. Nobody here but us Texas ranchers.

You can think of Bush's apparel as a kind of homage to Ronald Reagan. He may have spent much of his life in Hollywood, but the brush-cutting ranch hand was the image his followers loved, just as the Kennedy sea ferry look provided a striking contrast with, say, Richard Nixon, who apparently couldn't even set out on a beach walk without that "I wish I had spent more time at the office" look.

But, in the case of Obama, he may be walking around with a sartorial time bomb. Ask yourself, is there any other major public figure who dresses the way he does? Why, yes. It is Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who, unlike most of his predecessors, seems to have skipped through enough copies of "GQ" to find the jacket-and-no-tie look agreeable.

And maybe that's not the comparison a possible presidential contender really wants to evoke.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

GREENFIELD: Now, it is one thing to have a last name that sounds like Osama and a middle name, Hussein, that is probably less than helpful. But an outfit that reminds people of a charter member of the axis of evil, why, this could leave his presidential hopes hanging by a thread. Or is that threads? -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jeff Greenfield reporting for us -- Jeff, thank you very much.

And remember to our viewers, we're here in THE SITUATION ROOM weekday afternoons from 4:00 to 6:00 p.m. We're back in one hour, at 7:00 p.m. Eastern.

Until then, thanks very much for joining us. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.

Let's go to Lou Dobbs in New York -- Lou.

DOBBS: Thank you, Wolf.

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