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THE SITUATION ROOM

Defense Secretary Gates Hears Troops Flatly Ask For More Troops; Four Marines Charged With Number Unpremeditated Murder Counts; Stranded Holiday Travelers Part Of Blizzard Pounding Colorado; Congressman Virgil Goode Makes Controversial Comments About Muslims and Immigration; Jeb Bush Says He Has No Political Future

Aired December 21, 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: 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, we're with Defense Secretary Robert Gates in Iraq, where some U.S. troops are urging him to send more troops in. And U.S. senators telling Syria not to send aid to Iraq's insurgents.

Virginia Congressman Virgil Goode is warning a soon-to-be colleague, Minnesota's Keith Ellison, not to use the Koran at his swearing in ceremony and Goode says he wants to keep other Muslims out of the United States.

Will Goode stick to his guns?

This hour he goes before the cameras and I'll speak exclusively with Congressman-Elect Ellison.

Also, stunning new details show how a top Clinton adviser smuggled and destroyed top secret documents -- not just any adviser, the national security adviser.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates is getting a firsthand look at the situation in Iraq and he's hearing firsthand what some think he should do about it. He got the big picture from the Iraqi prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, discussing the possibility of sending in more U.S. troops.

But when he met with a group of American soldiers, the defense secretary heard the troops flatly ask for more troops.

Our senior Pentagon correspondent, Jamie McIntyre, is the only television reporter traveling with Secretary Gates.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SENIOR PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: The question is how much say should front line troops have in whether the U.S. pursues an option of surging tens of thousands of additional troops into Baghdad.

That was the question that came up at a breakfast meeting between Robert Gates, the new defense secretary, and a small but representative sample of U.S. soldiers here in Baghdad.

When Gates asked them the question, "Would you like to see more U.S. troops in Baghdad?," the answer was a resounding yes.

Specialist Jason Glenn's answer was typical.

SPEC. JASON GLENN: I really think we need more troops here. I really think we need more troops in Iraq. I'm just thinking that maybe with more presence on the ground, more troops, we might be able to hold them off long enough to where we can actually get some of the Iraqis trained up strong so they can hold it themselves.

MCINTYRE: Other soldiers quickly chimed in that they'd also like to see more U.S. troops here. When Gates asked how the Iraqi troops were doing, one soldier said they're doing OK, but they need to get better.

Another said that they thought having more troops here would give the U.S. more time to integrate troops into the Iraqi units and strengthen them, as well.

The attitude of the troops here is they'd like to stay and succeed rather than leave, and that might require more troops.

Now, Gates went on from that breakfast meeting to meet with Iraqi leaders. He's looking from them for some kind of commitment of what they would do to take advantage of a lull in the violence if the U.S. were to surge troops in to bring the violence down. And then Gates will factor all of these decisions -- the recommendations of the commanders, the sentiments of the troops, the promises of the Iraqi government when he makes his recommendation to President Bush, likely some time next week.

Jamie McIntyre, CNN, Baghdad.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: And Jamie is going to be back with us in the next hour. And he's going to have much more on what's going on. Remember, he's the only TV reporter traveling with the defense secretary in Iraq.

Meanwhile, the U.S. military today announced that a U.S. soldier and a Marine died of wounds suffered during combat this week in Iraq's volatile Anbar Province. And that brings the overall military death toll to 2,958.

And Iraqis from all walks of life continue to suffer devastating losses. At least 18 died in Baghdad today, 15 of them when a suicide bomber targeted police recruits. And police in the capital say they found the bodies of another 38 people, apparent victims of sectarian death squads. The Marine Corps has just announced that eight -- eight U.S. Marines now face criminal charges or administrative punishment in connection with the killings of Iraqi civilians in the city of Haditha last year. Lawyers for a Marine sergeant say he's been charged with murder in 18 of those deaths and could face a maximum sentence of life in prison. Three other Marines have reportedly been charged with murder in the case.

We'll speak with our own Barbara Starr over at the Pentagon.

She's going to have much more on this story -- actually, let's speak to Barbara right now -- Barbara, I know you're watching this story very carefully.

Give us a little background on what is going on.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, today the Marines finally announcing a number of charges involving unpremeditated murder and negligent homicide against several Marines, all related to an incident last year, last November, in the town of Haditha, Iraq, in which it is alleged that the U.S. Marines shot and killed 24 unarmed Iraqi civilians.

Let's emphasize all of this does remain, of course, to be proven in the military judicial process. But this is a case that has been under criminal investigation by the military for some months. Now four Marines being charged with murder, unpremeditated murder in this case. Another one of the Marines facing 13 counts of murder. Another one of the Marines facing, as we continue to watch this press conference, a number of counts of negligent homicide.

This case has been extremely disturbing to the United States Marines for many reasons. There have been allegations that the Marines -- allegations -- that they went on a shooting rampage after one of their fellow Marines was killed in a roadside attack. There were also a number of conflicting statements about how this incident unfolded.

It was originally reported that the Iraqi civilians died in a roadside attack. Some weeks later, it came out that that was not true, clearly not true. The Marines apparently, according to all accounts, entered the town of Haditha, entered the homes of these Iraqi civilians.

Two weapons were found, but when the shooting was all over, 24 Iraqi civilians were dead.

Now, the lawyers have alleged, over time, that the Marines were simply responding to being shot at from these homes by Iraqis in the town, that this was a combat incident. But today now, we are seeing four Marines charged with a number of counts of unpremeditated murder.

One Marine, Staff Sergeant Frank Wuterich, facing 13 counts alone. Other Marines facing counts of negligent homicide. And a number off the Marines also facing counts of dereliction of duty. Some of that related to this conflict about how the incident was originally reported.

What will happen next, Wolf?

Well, all of this now will go to what is called an Article 32 proceeding. That's essentially the equivalent of a grand jury proceeding. The military will look at these initial charges, decide if there is enough evidence to proceed to a courts-martial, which, of course, is a trial. There also are likely to be discussions the with Marines, frankly, about plea bargains in some of these cases.

The lawyers will be speaking publicly. The defense attorney's are expected to speak publicly. Many of them are expected to indicate that they believe, of course, their clients are innocent. And, of course, there is a presumption of innocence until there is any finding. Otherwise, the case will clearly revolve around this very difficult question -- did the Marines shoot believing legitimately that they were under attack at the time of this incident -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Barbara, a good explanation.

Thanks very much.

Barbara is going to stay on top of this story for us.

Meanwhile, Syria has been accused by the Bush administration of allowing aid to Iraq's insurgents. But a pair of key Democrats today defended the Bush administration by showing up in Damascus.

For that, let's turn to our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider -- Bill.

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Wolf, today two more Democratic senators showed up to meet with Syrian President Bashar Assad.

What does it mean?

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER (voice-over): Three Democratic senators, this week John Kerry and Christopher Dodd, last week, Bill Nelson, went to Damascus to meet with Syrian President Bashar Assad and other Syrian officials, over White House objections.

TONY SNOW, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: We have discouraged members of Congress from doing this.

SCHNEIDER: The Democrats got political cover from the Iraq Study Group report, which recommended that the U.S. negotiate with Syria and Iran for a specific reason -- they can help resolve the situation in Iraq.

The public strongly favors negotiations with Iran and Syria, even though they have no illusions about either country. Most Americans consider Syria either unfriendly or an enemy of the United States. They're not sure which. Nearly half the public considers Iran an enemy.

Not a surprise, then, that the Democrats showed up in Damascus and not Tehran.

President Bush made it clear that when it comes to Iran, the U.S. has other priorities besides what they can do in Iraq.

GEORGE BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If they verifiably suspend that they've stopped enrichment, we will come to the table.

SCHNEIDER: The same with Syria -- other priorities.

G. BUSH: They've got to leave the Democrat Lebanon alone.

SCHNEIDER: It comes down to priorities. The Iraq Study Group had one big priority -- resolving the situation in Iraq.

If Iran and Syria can help, why not bring them in?

"Talking to an enemy is not appeasement," Study Group co-chairman James Baker said.

Democrats have one big priority -- resolving the situation in Iraq.

"President Assad indicated that he was willing to seek common ground and explore issues of mutual interest," Kerry and Dodd said, after meeting with the Syrian president.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER: Why is the American public open to negotiations with countries it doesn't like or trust?

Because the public has one big priority -- resolving the situation in Iraq. That's an especially big priority for Senator Kerry and Senator Dodd. They may run-for president -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Bill, thanks very much.

Bill Schneider reporting tonight for us on this sensitive situation.

Meanwhile, here in the United States, icy hazardous roads, more than two feet of snow, thousands of stranded holiday travelers all part of a huge winter blizzard pounding Colorado and the Western part of the U.S. right now.

Thousands of people have been stuck in Denver International Airport for the second straight day.

CNN's Gerri Willis is joining us now from the scene.

She's got more on what's going on -- Gerri, give our viewers an update.

How is it doing? How is it looking?

GERRI WILLIS, CNN ANCHOR: Well, I've got to tell you, Wolf, the snow out here has finally stopped in the let's hear. That's the good news.

But as you say, for travelers, it is a disaster here. Thousands of people stuck. The Denver International Airport right now saying that they don't expect to reopen until noon tomorrow, at best. And, of course, there's no guarantees of that. People having to do what they can where they can. And, as you know, Denver is a hub for United Airlines. This is causing stresses throughout the system. So it's not just people who have been in here in Denver who are going to face problems, it's people, probably, all over the country.

And for people right here in Denver, they're looking at about 25 inches of snow. They're having difficulty getting around. Interstates throughout the region have been closed down. If roads are open, they're difficult to pass. There's no mail service. Even the malls are closed. So if you were doing that last minute holiday shopping, forget about it. There's no way to get around and not even any stores open -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Gerri, we're going to stay on top of this with you, as well.

Thanks very much.

Gerri Willis will be back later here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Jack Cafferty is standing by with "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: You remember Sandy Berger. He's the former national security adviser to President Clinton, the guy who stole classified documents from the National Archives by stuffing them in his socks.

You remember -- a real class act.

Well, we've got some new information. An inspector general's report shows that Berger hid these classified documents under a construction trailer outside the National Archives so that he could later secretly retrieve them and take them to his office.

There, he used scissors to destroy some of them, before throwing them away. When Archives officials accused him of taking this stuff, Berger then rushed out to try to find the trash collector to get them back. Oh, yes, and Berger initially said he took them by mistake.

The classified documents Berger stole were all about how the Clinton administration responded to millennium terror threats. Berger took them while he was getting ready for testimony before the 9/11 Commission. He eventually pleaded guilty more than a year ago and was fined $50,000, ordered to do 100 hours of community service and he had to forfeit his security clearance, but only for three years. That's it.

Well, here's the question -- former National Security Adviser Samuel Berger stole classified documents from the National Archives.

What's the appropriate punishment, in your opinion?

E-mail your thoughts to CaffertyFile@CNN.com or go to CNN.com/CaffertyFile -- Wolf.

BLITZER: I'm interested to hear what our viewers think on this.

Jack, thanks very much for that.

The details on exactly how Sandy Berger smuggled those documents are part of a newly released interview. We've posted the memo from the National Archives inspector general online.

Let's bring in our Internet reporter, Abbi Tatton.

She has some additional details on this story -- Abbi.

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, the memo states Berger was told he must not remove documents then details for 10 pages exactly how he did so -- hiding things in his jacket or perhaps pants pocket before hiding things under that construction trailer, looking up and down the street before he did so.

The memo also states that Berger was aware of the risk he was taking and that when he was found out that Berger called someone whose name here is redacted, asking what he should do. That person told Berger to get a lawyer -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Good advice in that kind of a situation.

Thanks very much, Abbi, for that.

Coming up, much more on the Sandy Berger controversy.

Was the former national security adviser trying to protect Bill Clinton's legacy?

I'll ask Paul Begala and Bay Buchanan. They're standing by for today's Strategy Session.

Plus, we're only days away from a major document dump of classified FBI files.

What closely held secrets from the cold war period will be revealed?

We're going to take a closer look at that, as well.

Plus, bad weather here on Earth could put the space shuttle in a pickle of sorts.

Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Let's check in with Carol Costello for a closer look at some other stories making news -- hi, Carol.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Hi, Wolf.

Hello to all of you.

Heavy fog in London right now causing major problems for air travelers. Tens of thousands of people are right now stranded at London's Heathrow Airport. That's the busiest airport in Europe. Forecasters say the dense, sometimes freezing fog, could linger into the holiday travel weekend.

Just hours ago, space shuttle astronauts deployed a satellite as one of the final tasks of their mission. NASA engineers want Discovery on the ground by Saturday, before the spacecraft runs out of electricity. But weather concerns are complicating landing plans. Clouds in Florida and winds in California could force NASA to use a landing site in New Mexico. The shuttle has not landed there since 1982.

Commander Mark Polansky says either way, it will not be a problem.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MARK POLANSKY, DISCOVERY COMMANDER: No, I really don't care where we land. You know, I've had a lot of things to worry about on this flight, things that I could control. And the weather is something that I just can't. So I'm prepared to land at any of the three sites and we've trained a lot to do that. So wherever the weather is good and the folks decide to bring us into, we'll be prepared to do that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COSTELLO: And wherever it is, we'll be following it.

Gay couples in New Jersey now can have all the rights and benefits of marriage, but not the title. This afternoon, Governor Jon Corzine signed a law legalizing civil unions for gay couples. Four other states already grant similar rights to gay couples. A New Jersey court had ordered the legislation, but left it up to lawmakers to decide whether or not to call it marriage.

And a setback today for efforts to limit the influence of well- financed special interest groups in political campaigns. A federal court today rejected a ban on so-called issue advertisements that mention candidates during peak campaign season. Some lawmakers say that could create a loophole in the McCain/Feingold campaign finance law.

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

BLITZER: All right, see you soon, Carol.

Thank you for that. At the stroke of midnight on December 31st, the United States government will take the wraps off of millions of documents, including many closely held secrets from the cold war period.

CNN's senior analyst, Jeff Greenfield, has our story -- Jeff.

JEFF GREENFIELD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, New Year's Eve is not usually a time for presents, but this year historians and researchers will get a long-awaited gift courtesy of the U.S. government. On December 31st, hundreds of millions of pages of official documents will be declassified and with that comes the chance that light may be thrown on some dark corners of recent history.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GREENFIELD (voice-over): The process will apply automatically to papers more than 25 years old unless government agencies seek exemptions. And it means that we are likely to learn a lot about what our government was doing during some politically volatile times.

For example, we've known for years that the FBI was trying very hard to infiltrate anti-Vietnam War groups, including those engaged in peaceful protests. We may now learn more about just how extensive that effort was and whether, for example, it included attempts to infiltrate political campaigns of anti-war candidates.

We've also known that the FBI, under Director J. Edgar Hoover, was deeply suspicious of civil rights and black protest movements, ranging from Martin Luther King, Jr.

MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR.: Do it unto the least of these, my brethren.

GREENFIELD: To the far more militant Black Panthers. We may learn a lot more about this, as well.

But there's a broader issue here about just how much history is buried deep within classified files.

For instance, it took decades to learn about the infamous Tuskegee experiments, where subjects, mostly black and poor, were included in syphilis studies and were left untreated for the sake of so-called science.

We've only recently learned the sad fact that during Vietnam, deadly attacks on innocent Vietnamese civilians was far more extensive than the occasional My Lai massacre story might suggest.

Or that the abusive treatment of detainees at Abu Ghraib has a history stretching back through the cold war, to some of the lesser known practices of American intelligence agents.

And it's not just American files that throw light on the past. Examination of files from the now defunct Soviet Union, for instance, strongly suggest that Julius Rosenberg, executed as a Soviet spy back in 1953 and whose guilt has been debated for decades, was, in fact, a Soviet agent. And when East Germany collapsed in the early 1990s, a search through the files of its notorious secret police, Stasi, revealed that the friends, co-workers, even family members of millions had spied on each other.

What makes this such a puzzling area is that while the government frequently fights ferociously to conceal some secrets, others are clearly in the public arena.

The Nixon administration tried hard in 1971 to punish the "New York Times" for publishing "The Pentagon Papers," the secret, if relatively innocuous history of how we went to war in Vietnam. But for years, citizen have been able to listen to recordings of Lyndon Johnson's telephone calls...

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

FORMER PRESIDENT LYNDON JOHNSON: Or we could just pull out and say to hell with you.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREENFIELD: ... which show that he believed the war could not be won even as he was escalating it.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

GREENFIELD: Now, there's clearly a legitimate case to be made for keeping some secrets secret -- to protect lives or national security.

But as for keeping secrets in order to protect the public from learning about government's past misdeeds, well, that's what Jefferson had in mind when he said "sunlight is the best disinfectant" -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jeff, thank you.

Jeff Greenfield reporting.

Meantime, after decades of litigation, the Justice Department has agreed to release never before seen secret government documents on John Lennon.

Why was the FBI keeping tabs on the former Beatle back in the '70s?

The documents are now online.

Let's turn again to Abbi Tatton.

She has the details -- Abbi.

TATTON: Wolf, "Lennon has encouraged the belief he holds revolutionary views by the contents of his songs," so states a 1972 FBI memo, an apparent reference to Lennon's "Power To The People."

This is one of 10 once secret FBI documents the Justice Department has just made public, ending a 25-year struggle with Lennon biographer and historian John Wiener for access.

Now, some files on Lennon have long been available and declassified, some of them even available on the FBI Web site. But on these 10 particular documents, the FBI had been holding back, telling a court in 1983 that releasing them could jeopardize national security.

Now, the documents are online. They contain reflects to Lennon funding a left-wing book shop in London. One is even addressed to the White House, calling Lennon a known sympathizer of communists.

Having reviewed these documents, John Wiener says that the security concerns were absurd. The Justice Department had no comment -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Abbi, thank you.

Coming up, a Virginia congressman tells his constituents that unless immigration is tightened, more Muslims will become members of Congress.

Will Representative Virgil Goode of Virginia stick to his guns?

We're going to hear live from the congressman when he goes before the cameras in a few minutes.

And after Goode speaks up, I'll speak exclusively with the target of his comments, incoming Representative Keith Ellison. He's the first Muslim elected to Congress. He'll be joining us live right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM, where new pictures and information are arriving all the time. Happening now, new Defense Secretary Robert Gates getting an earful from U.S. troops on his visit to Iraq. Many soldiers, Marines, telling Gates more American troops are needed there to improve security and train Iraqi soldiers. Gates also assured Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki that the United States government supports his government.

Despite White House disapproval, Democratic Senators John Kerry and Chris Dodd met with Syria's president, Bashar al-Assad, in Damascus to talk about helping stabilize Iraq. Kerry and Dodd say they challenged the Syrian leader to take a more constructive role. The White House says the trip sends a mixed message about U.S.-Syrian relations.

And "The Donald" blasts back at Rosie O'Donnell. Donald Trump is threatening to sue "The View" co-host after O'Donnell sharply criticized him regarding the Miss. USA scandal. More on that coming up right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

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

Democratic Congressman Elect Keith Ellison of Minnesota, a Muslim, touched off controversy recently when he indicated he'd include the Koran as part of his swearing in ceremony next month.

Republican Congressman Virgil Goode of Virginia has done his best to add to the controversy now, calling for immigration policies that would keep Muslims out of this country.

Let's get the latest now from CNN's Brian Todd.

He's joining us live from Rocky Mount, Virginia -- Brian.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we're expecting to hear any moment now from Congressman Virgil Goode, the Republican from this district in southern Virginia. Up to this moment, he has stood by -- at least through his aides -- stood by comments that he made in a letter to a consistent a couple of weeks back, where he really slammed the request by incoming Congressman Keith Ellison, the first Muslim elected to Congress. That request by Mr. Ellison to use the Koran in his swearing in.

Mr. Goode has generated, as you say, a lot of controversy over that particular letter.

I'm going to first read the contents of the letter that have stirred up so much trouble -- quote -- "I do not subscribe to using the Koran in any way." He goes on to say: "If American citizens don't wake up and adopt the Virgil Goode position on immigration, there will likely be many more Muslims elected to office and demanding the use of the Koran.

I fear that, in the next century, we will have many more Muslims in the United States if we do not adopt the strict immigration policies that I believe are necessary to preserve the values and beliefs traditional to the United States of America."

That was in a letter to a constituent of his. His office tells us that was in response to many letters that he got regarding -- there were complaints regarding Mr. Ellison's request to use the Koran.

Now, we have interviewed an official with the Council on American-Islamic Relations earlier this afternoon. Here is what he had to say about Mr. Goode's comments.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NIHAD AWAD, SPOKESPERSON, COUNCIL ON AMERICAN-ISLAMIC RELATIONS: We were shocked to learn that Congressman Goode holds this kind of views against Muslims and immigrants in general. It's appalling to see an elected official to a national office to -- to hold such bigoted and intolerant views.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TODD: Now, Mr. Awad of the Council on American-Islamic Relations has called for the House Republican leadership to repudiate Mr. Goode's comments.

We have been trying all day to reach the offices of outgoing House Speaker Dennis Hastert and John Boehner, the outgoing House majority leader. Their press secretaries have not called us back.

In fairness, Mr. Hastert's office says they are shutting down. They are getting ready to move out. There may be some logistical problems, but they have not reached us back regarding that call for the House Republican leadership to repudiate Mr. Goode's comments -- and, again, Wolf, expecting to hear from Mr. Goode any moment now.

BLITZER: Brian, thanks for that -- Brian Todd on the scene for us out in Virginia.

Let's get some more now in our "Strategy Session" about this congressman and his very, very controversial comments.

Joining us, our CNN political analysts, Democratic strategist Paul Begala, and Bay Buchanan, the president of American Cause.

We're standing by. Virgil Goode is about to speak to reporters back in his home district in Virginia. We're going to go there live once he starts speaking to explain what he meant. Afterwards, we're going to be speaking exclusively with Keith Ellison, the incoming congressman, the first Muslim elected to the United States Congress.

He is going to be speaking to us from Minnesota.

But what do you make of this controversy, Paul?

PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: You know, well, first, just call a spade a spade. Virgil Goode is a bigot and he's an idiot. Let's hope he clears that up when he has his press conference, because lots of people misspeak.

That -- that goofy comedian who played Kramer on "Seinfeld" had this horrible anti-black tirade. At least that was verbal. This was something in writing. This is something that the congressman sat down, thought about, and wrote out.

And it's just rife with bigotry. And I just -- what's interesting is that the leader of his party, our president, George W. Bush, hasn't commented on this. He should denounce Virgil Goode, Congressman Goode, kick him out of his party.

George Bush's father denounced David Duke, who was a racist and a bigot who tried to call himself a Republican. And Bush Sr. said, no, that's not what Republicans are.

Now, George W. Bush can make the party of Lincoln the party of Lincoln again by denouncing Goode and kicking him out of the party.

BLITZER: Let me read once again for you, Bay, and for our viewers precisely what is in this letter that he wrote: "If American citizens don't wake up and adopt the Virgil Goode position on immigration, there will likely be many more Muslims elected to office and demanding the use of the Koran."

BAY BUCHANAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I can understand what he is trying to say. I think that his choice of words were outrageous. I think it's a clear mistake that he made, to suggest that we should be worried that Keith Ellison is a -- happens to be a Muslim, and is elected now to the Congress, wants to use a Koran.

I don't see any problem with any of the above, none whatsoever. I think what he -- what he is trying to say, which I think is a legitimate point, is that, as a nation, we should get control of our immigration laws, and make certain we have a national debate as to what is our best interests as to who is coming and who we are inviting into this country.

And that is a legitimate national debate, not what we're doing today. But I think this is something not quite that. And I think this is a mistake.

BLITZER: Here's what he said yesterday, Keith Ellison.

And just to be precise, Keith Ellison was born in Michigan.

BUCHANAN: Yes.

BLITZER: He converted to Islam while he was in college. He can trace his ancestry here in the United States back to the 1700s, which is a lot earlier than I can...

(LAUGHTER)

BEGALA: Same here.

BLITZER: ... or any of you probably can either.

BUCHANAN: Absolutely.

BLITZER: So, he said this.

He said: "I'm looking forward to making friends with Representative Goode, or at least getting to know him. I want to let him know that there's nothing to fear. The fact that there are many different faiths, many different colors, and many different cultures in America is a great strength."

I thought that was a lovely statement on his part.

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: It shows that he is a big person, a bigger person than I am. I would have lashed out.

Think about -- I'm a Catholic, right. And, a generation ago, when John F. Kennedy was running for president, there was a lot of anti-Catholic bigotry. We will find out if there's anti-Mormon bigotry, as Mitt Romney, a very prominent Mormon, who is the governor of Massachusetts, runs for president.

But there's clearly anti-Muslim bigotry in America. And Virgil Goode represents that. Congressman Ellison will have a chance to talk to you about it, and show what a big person he is. You know, Carville told me he met Congressman Ellison, in fact, met him at a synagogue.

BUCHANAN: Exactly.

BEGALA: So, Carville is a Catholic. Ellison is a Muslim. And they were both in a synagogue at the same time. That is America.

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN: Keith Ellison got -- actually received the endorsement of a Jewish newspaper.

I mean, this is a man that ran on a certain platform. He gathered people from all different faiths to support him. And he has every possible reason in this great country to represent that district.

His religion, to me, is a strength, his strength. I mean, I will tell you what I'm far more concerned about in Congress, is -- than a Muslim, is the pagans we have up there.

(LAUGHTER)

BUCHANAN: I think they are a greater threat to us than anyone who has some religious beliefs.

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: Let's talk a little bit about another sensitive subject.

Sandy Berger, I know you worked closely with him when you served in the White House under Bill Clinton. All of a sudden now -- we thought we knew the story, a year ago, when he pleaded guilty, paid the $50,000 fine, and had his security clearances removed for three years.

But now it turns up that there was -- there is more to the story, and he actually took the documents, classified documents, top-secret documents, outside of the National Archives, and actually hid them underneath some construction site, and then came back an hour or so later to take them to his office, which shows that there was more than just a sloppy, nerdy Sandy Berger, which was earlier projected as the case, someone who just got overwhelmed.

BEGALA: Yes.

I say this as somebody -- I not only worked with Sandy. I love the guy. And I think he's a great patriot. And, yet, this was an enormous mistake he made. And let's call it what it is. It was a crime.

Now, to his credit, after he committed the crime, which is a serious one, Sandy pleaded guilty. He confessed. And he took the punishment that the judge meted out, maybe not the punishment Jack Cafferty thinks he should get, but that's the punishment the judge gave him.

And, so, at least there was accountability. And I do wonder if there is a bit of a double standard. The Bush administration prosecuted Sandy for this, as they should. It's a crime.

But, yesterday, the president was asked at his press conference by Mark Knoller of CBS whether Mr. Bush was going to prosecute the people who leaked his aide Stephen Hadley's memo, which was classified. Or he might have been asked, why aren't they prosecuting whoever leaked Donald Rumsfeld's classified memo?

And Mr. Bush said: Gee, it hasn't -- it's not fresh in my mind. I don't even know if I ordered an investigation.

So, if a Republican leaks something, we don't prosecute. If a Democrat does, we do. It's a double standard.

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN: First of all, this is not leaking. And this is not Sandy Berger taking responsibility. The reason Sandy Berger took responsibility is because he got caught.

He lied his way up to the last minute, until they had the goods on him. And then he got himself the first-class attorney to get himself out of something. Get himself out of jail time is what he did.

But the key here, I think, is, what this exposes is a man in the Clinton administration, a top fellow in national security, was deliberate in his effort to make certain documents were destroyed that would have obviously been incriminating to Clinton and...

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: Not incriminating. Nobody suggests they were incriminating.

BUCHANAN: Well, no. Stop.

You think that this man went in there and stole documents and destroyed them that would make him look good or make Bill Clinton look good?

BEGALA: No, no. I'm sure...

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: ... it cast him and his boss, my former boss, in a bad light.

BUCHANAN: Absolutely.

BEGALA: But that's different from saying it was evidence of criminality. Nobody suggested that those documents...

BUCHANAN: I didn't say...

BLITZER: These were actually -- these were actually copies of the originals, which were at the Clinton Library in Little Rock. They had sent up to the National Archives copies. What he destroyed were copies.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: But the originals were still around.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: So, people could still look at that highly sensitive millennium after-action report.

BUCHANAN: Yes, but, Wolf, where you missed this -- the reason he was caught was because the first three visits he went into the archives, they started becoming suspicious that he was taking documents.

On the fourth visit, they copied it, and they tracked him. OK? That's how he got caught. We do not know how many documents he took and if, indeed, today that we have them all back.

BLITZER: They say five documents. But they were basically different versions of the same documents.

BUCHANAN: But those are what they prosecuted on.

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN: That's what they prosecuted on.

BEGALA: Why do we prosecute the Clinton aide and not the Bush aides?

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: Mr. Bush yesterday almost mocked it...

BLITZER: All right.

BEGALA: ... when his aides, maybe -- who knows who leaked them -- but a Donald Rumsfeld memo was classified and mishandled and leaked. And a Stephen Hadley memo was leaked. And those are potentially crimes. And Mr. Bush laughs it off yesterday.

BLITZER: We have got to leave it there.

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN: ... laugh it off.

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: We have got to leave it there, unfortunately, but we can -- we could go on talking about Virgil Goode, Sandy Berger, a lot to talk about.

BUCHANAN: Absolutely.

BLITZER: Never any shortage here in our "Strategy Sessions." Thanks, guys, very much.

BUCHANAN: Sure.

BLITZER: Paul Begala, Bay Buchanan, and, as you saw earlier, Brian Todd, remember, they are all part of the best political team on television.

Also, for the latest political news at any time, check out our Political Ticker at CNN.com/ticker.

Up next; John McCain makes a major hire, as he beefs up his campaign for a possible White House run. In today's "Political Radar," we're going to tell you who he hired.

Plus: the movie star and the former president -- why is George Clooney teaming up with George Herbert Walker Bush? We will tell you.

Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: The race for the White House tops today's "Political Radar."

Seventy prominent Democrats from Nevada today called on the governor of New Mexico to run for the White House. Bill Richardson, who also was a former Clinton cabinet secretary, says he will make a decision about a presidential run early next year.

Nevada will be a crucial state in deciding who wins the Democratic presidential nomination. The state will hold its caucuses right after Iowa, and just before the New Hampshire primary, all of it coming up January 2008.

A crucial hire today for John McCain, as the Arizona senator builds up his team for a possible run for the White House -- McCain today hired Steve Schmidt as a senior adviser. While not a household name, Schmidt is well-known here in Washington. He played a crucial role in President Bush's 2004 reelection campaign, and this year was manager for Arnold Schwarzenegger's successful reelection campaign, as well -- also worked for Dick Cheney.

Coming up: Is the Bush dynasty officially over? We're going to find out why the outgoing Florida governor, Jeb Bush, says he has no political future.

Plus: It's getting even uglier. We are going to have the latest war of words in the battle between Donald Trump and Rosie O'Donnell.

Stick around -- much more coming up right here in THE SITUATION ROOM. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Standing by to speak to Keith Ellison, the first Muslim elected to the United States Congress, in a moment or two.

First, let's check in with Carol Costello for a closer look at some other stories making news -- Carol.

COSTELLO: We have to talk about Donald Trump first, Wolf.

A scandal over a beauty queen has now led to an ugly war of words between Rosie O'Donnell and Donald Trump. Earlier this week, Trump, a co-owner of the Miss Universe Pageant, announced that the reigning Miss USA, Tara Conner, would not lose her title after admitting to underaged drinking.

O'Donnell then used her chair on the morning talk show "The View" to rip Trump for that. She suggested that his long marital and extramarital resume...

(LAUGHTER)

COSTELLO: ... make him unfit as a judge on moral issues.

Now Trump is a responding. And he's not pulling any punches.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "SHOWBIZ TONIGHT")

DONALD TRUMP, CHAIRMAN & CEO, TRUMP HOTELS & CASINO RESORTS: Well, Rosie is a loser. She's always been a loser. I have always understood it. She failed with her magazine. She failed with her show. As you know, at the end, it was doing very poorly, in terms of the rating.

Rosie is really somebody that she's unattractive in every sense of the word. From a physical standpoint, she looks like hell. Inside, she is far worse than she is on the outside.

And I understand Rosie. But Rosie inherently is a loser.

A.J. HAMMER, CNN ENTERTAINMENT CORRESPONDENT: What about what she said about you being the moral compass for 20 year-olds, and the country taking exception, saying, left the first wife, had an affair, left the second wife, had an affair?

TRUMP: Look at Rosie's moral compass. You tell me about a moral compass. You take a look at Rosie's moral compass. I mean, this woman is a disgrace.

HAMMER: Plan to follow through with your threat to sue her?

TRUMP: Well, you know, taking money out of her big fat ass would be probably something that is fairly easy, and we probably will follow through with it, yes.

(END VIDEO CLIP) COSTELLO: Don't know whether to laugh or cry, do you? We are going to have much more on this story in the next hour.

An unlikely pair joined forces a short time ago to support rebuilding plans in hurricane-damaged southwest Louisiana. Former President George H.W. Bush and actor George Clooney were on hand to announce a $2 million federal donation to help reopen a hospital in the Gulf Coast town of Cameron.

Bush says, the storms and their aftermath brought out the best in human nature.

And maybe Rosie and Donald should take a cue from them -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, good work for both of their part. Thanks to them.

Thank you, Carol, for that.

Still to come: Sandy Berger admits to stealing secret government files. But does a $50,000 fine fit the crime? Jack with your e-mail -- that is coming up.

And also coming up: reaction to Congressman's Goode's comments. Were they over the top? We will ask one of his colleagues. We will also speak with Keith Ellison, the first Muslim elected to the United States Congress -- all coming up right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Jack Cafferty is back with "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: Former President Clinton's national security guy, Sandy Berger, pled guilty to stealing classified documents from the National Archives, and his punishment amounted to a slap on the wrist, a $50,000 fine, some community service, and he had his security clearance revoked for, like, three years.

We wanted to know what you think the appropriate punishment should be -- Wolf.

Curtis in Philadelphia writes: "Geez, Jack, where do we start, with the theft charge or with the vandalism and destruction charge? Add in the place of the crime, the National Archives, and the position Berger once held, he should be sent away for a long time. You and I would be. But he won't be. I didn't realize a government I.D. was a get-out-of-jail-free card."

Jerry in Florida gives us this: "Give him a medal. He fits in with the rest of the crooks in Washington. Who cares anymore? These guys do what they want when they want, because they know that all they will get is a slap on the wrist. Government of the people? Ha!"

Ron in Indianapolis, his place in history is more punishment than any magistrate could impose."

Joseph in California: "How about having him work on a city trash collection truck every Tuesday and Thursday for two years?"

And John writes: "Take his library card away, or three to five in a federal penitentiary -- your choice, Jack."

And, in honor of the holiday season, I read you the following from Jeff in Virginia: "I don't care what the question is. I'm tired of your ranting and complaining every day. You're old, behind modern concepts, and entirely depressing to watch and listen to. Even if human rights were fixed throughout the world, you would still find something to complain about, you pessimist. Just retire. You're no good at what you're doing. Hand over the reins to someone with energy, excitement, and meaning" -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jeff, he must be a good friend of yours?

CAFFERTY: I don't know him.

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: Thank you. We will be back in a few minutes to you.

And still to come: We're standing by. We're going to be speaking to Keith Ellison, the first Muslim elected to the United States Congress. We will get his reaction to Virgil Goode, a Republican congressman for Virginia. He is speaking out right now. We will get what Goode is saying, Ellison's reaction. That is still coming up.

Also: Florida's outgoing Governor Jeb Bush puts an end to any speculation that he wants his older brother's job, and says his days in politics are over -- Mary Snow with that story. That's coming up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Outgoing Florida Governor Jeb Bush isn't mincing any words about his political future. The younger brother of President George Bush says, simply, he has no political future.

But is it way too soon to count Jeb Bush out of the political arena?

Let's turn to CNN's Mary Snow. She's watching this story -- Mary.

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, some political observers say that the -- having the last name Bush won't be a good thing in 2008, but some are saying the idea that Jeb Bush is finished with politics for good is far-fetched.

Here is what happened, is that Governor Jeb Bush was speaking with Spanish-language reporters yesterday in Florida, when he was asked whether or not he had a political future in 2008.

Here is what he had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

(APPLAUSE)

SNOW (voice-over): Whatever the language, Republican Florida Governor Jeb Bush insists, the message is the same. Asked by Spanish- language reporters Wednesday about his political future for 2008, Bush said, "No tengo futuro" -- "I don't have a future."

Questions have been asked for years about whether Jeb Bush would try to follow in the footsteps of his father and brother to the White House. This was Governor Bush in 2004.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, 2004)

GOV. JEB BUSH (R), FLORIDA: I'm not running for president in 2008.

QUESTION: Might you change your mind between now...

(CROSSTALK)

J. BUSH: No.

(LAUGHTER)

J. BUSH God.

QUESTION: Why not?

J. BUSH This is -- why -- why am I not believable on this subject? This is driving me nuts.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SNOW: It may have been driving him nuts, but, in an interview with Larry King last year, his own father, former President Bush, said he would like to see his son run for president.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "LARRY KING LIVE," MAY 31, 2005)

LARRY KING, HOST: Would you want Jeb to run? He says no.

GEORGE H.W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Someday, I would, yes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SNOW: The elder Bush also said the timing is wrong in 2008 for his son.

TOM DEFRANK, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, "NEW YORK DAILY NEWS": And I do believe that, in '08, there's still going to be some Bush fatigue, or as a Republican governor of Texas recently said to me, Bush burnout.

SNOW: While the president's popularity has been hard-hit, a poll in Florida shows his younger brother still remains popular, despite the controversies of his two terms, one of them being the 2000 presidential recount. And the other is his interference in the Terri Schiavo right-to-die case.

As Jeb Bush's term expires, it has been an emotional time for the Bush family, as evidenced at a recent event in Florida, when former President Bush began crying while paying tribute to his son.

G.H.W. BUSH: We love this guy.

(APPLAUSE)

SNOW: And some say, while Jeb Bush may not run for office in 2008, they don't believe the Florida governor is through with politics.

DEFRANK: Some of the respective nominees in 2008 have all floated Jeb's name as a possible vice presidential running mate. That's testament, I think, to the fact that he's very popular and viewed very, very highly in the Republican Party.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SNOW: And veteran political reporter Tom DeFrank says he does expect the Republican Party may one day talk to Jeb Bush down the road, but not in 2008 -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Mary, for that.

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