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THE SITUATION ROOM

Saddam Hussein's Final Hours; James Brown's Life Celebrated at the Apollo

Aired December 28, 2006 - 19:00   ET

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


ED HENRY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Thanks, Christine. And to our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM where new pictures and information are arriving all the time.
SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Standing by CNN reporters across the United States and around the world to bring you tonight's top stories.

HENRY: Happening now, Saddam Hussein's final hours, new word that his execution could happen soon. How is the ousted Iraqi leader preparing for death? And will his loyalists seek revenge?

MALVEAUX: Also this hour James Browns' life celebrated at the Apollo. The "Godfather of Soul" gets a send off fit for music royalty, but still true to his roots.

HENRY: And a new round in the smack down between Donald Trump and Rosie O'Donnell. He's talking about her to CNN's Anderson Cooper. Could this war of words get any worse?

Wolf Blitzer's off tonight. I'm Ed Henry.

MALVEAUX: And I'm Suzanne Malveaux. And you're in THE SITUATION ROOM

Tonight, new signs that Saddam Hussein is preparing to die by hanging any day now.

HENRY: There are reports from the region that the ousted Iraqi leader met with two of his half brothers today in his heavily-guarded prison cell in Baghdad. And he passed on personal messages to his family. President Bush and his war council meanwhile were also preparing for Hussein to be executed soon, based on information they are getting from Iraqi officials.

HENRY: CNN's Ryan Chilcote is standing by in Baghdad. But first to our White House correspondent Elaine Quijano with the president in Crawford, Texas. Of course Elaine, you have got those latest details to tell us about.

ELAINE QUIJANO, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Hello to you, Ed and Suzanne. Yes, President Bush after meeting with top members of his national security team for about three hours essentially said that he is making progress when it comes to that retold strategy policy on Iraq. But the president said he really isn't ready to announce any changes just yet. He wants to consult more with the Iraqi government as well as members of the U.S. Congress. Now the president also reiterated his belief today that the success in Iraq is also linked to security for Americans.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's important for the American people to understand success in Iraq is vital for our own security. If we were to not succeed in Iraq, the enemy, the extremists, the radicals would have safe haven from which to launch further attacks. They would be emboldened. They would be in a position to threaten the United States of America. This is an important part in the war on terror.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

QUIJANO: As for when the president might announce changes to his Iraq policy, a senior Bush official said again today that is likely to take place in early January. Now to the news that you mentioned, off the top today a senior Bush administration official was asked about what the United States government was hearing on the ground about the date for Saddam Hussein's execution.

And this official said that according to what they are hearing from the Iraqi government in Iraq itself that it was not going to happen tonight, that it would likely be though within the next few days. This official though was also trying to be cautious, essentially saying that this is a decision that is being carried out by the Iraqi government and cautioned us to check with our sources in Baghdad -- Ed and Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: Elaine, a very good point and very consistent with what we are hearing as well from sources saying they could expect a transfer and the execution of Saddam Hussein some time this weekend. Elaine Quijano, thank you so much.

What impact might Saddam Hussein's hanging have in Iraq? Earlier we spoke with CNN's Ryan Chilcote from Baghdad.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MALVEAUX: And Ryan is there any indication that Saddam's execution will further enrage the Sunnis and this will lead to more attacks against American troops?

RYAN CHILCOTE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It is possible. A lot of Sunnis blame the Americans for backing the government here in Iraq and they blame the government. They believe that the government is a Shiite-led government that is pursuing a Shiite agenda, a sectarian agenda and Saddam Hussein is really just a victim in this government, of this government that is seeking revenge. And a lot of the Iraqis -- a lot of the Sunnis they blame the government of Iraq for not doing enough to protect them. They believe that the Shiite-led government really is out to get them and the Americans are supporting them. So it is possible that this could lead to more violence both for in terms of insurgent attacks against the government and against American troops.

HENRY: Now, Ryan, there have been reports that the Iraqi government will videotape the execution of Saddam Hussein. Is there any sense there on the ground about whether the Iraqi people or the American people will ever see this videotape?

CHILCOTE: The government isn't saying whether it will be videotaped and whether that videotape would be disseminated to viewers here in Iraq and in the United States. There is a precedent for that. Just about a week and a half ago a group of 13 men were executed. And we did get some video from the gallows of those 13 condemned men being led into the gallows, right up to the moment where they were hanged. That part was not shown.

And there was -- the thinking perhaps at that time was that perhaps this is the Iraqi government testing the waters trying to gauge reaction. What we do know for sure is that the Iraqi government would like to do that. I think they feel that it's important to show the people of Iraq that indeed they have executed Saddam so there aren't any conspiracy theories. And there is also this feeling that they would like to give people justice. People who suffered under Saddam the right to -- they would like to give them the ability to see Saddam himself be hanged, so the government so far isn't saying -- Ed.

HENRY: Some fascinating details that still need to play out. Thank you -- Ryan Chilcote from Baghdad.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

Meanwhile, as the nation mourns the death of former President Gerald Ford, we are now learning he strongly disagreed with President Bush on the war in Iraq. And in a never before published interview, he bluntly called the administration's justification a big mistake.

CNN's Brian Todd has been following that story all day. Brian, what's the scoop?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Ed, this is an extraordinary sequence in Gerald Ford's story. We now find out that nearly 2 1/2 years before his death, Ford cut a deal with Washington's most powerful journalist. Telling Bob Woodward of "The Washington Post" you cannot print what I'm saying until after my death.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TODD (voice-over): Gerald Ford posthumously takes aim at his fellow Republicans in the White House and the war they started. Ford's frustration targets President Bush and two of his own former aides pictured here with him in 1975.

VOICE OF FORMER PRESIDENT GERALD FORD: I think Rumsfeld, Cheney and the president made a big mistake in justifying going into the war in Iraq. They put the emphasis on weapons of mass destruction.

TODD: During the July 2004 interview, Ford tells Bob Woodward he wouldn't have ordered the invasion, would have tried sanctions or other means.

BOB WOODWARD, "THE WASHINGTON POST": The body language was one of consternation, unease. Here is this very seasoned, experienced politician. He just did not buy the Iraq war.

TODD: But Ford has a broader problem with Bush's foreign policy.

VOICE OF FORMER PRESIDENT GERALD FORD: And I just don't think we should go hellfire damnation around the globe freeing people, unless it is directly related to our own national security.

TODD: Ford, a moderate in his day also wonders aloud about Dick Cheney's perceived ideological shift. Dick Cheney, he says, was a first class chief of staff. But I think Cheney has become much more pugnacious as vice president. Neither Cheney's office nor a White House spokeswoman would comment on Ford's criticism. But CNN contributor and fellow conservative William Bennett is disappointed.

WILLIAM BENNETT, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: You put the bomb in the tape recorder and it goes off after he's out of reach. I think that was a departure from the normal Gerry Ford that we know.

TODD: Still, one historian says the release of this after Ford's death carries what he calls tremendous gravity as for the protocol of former presidents keeping quiet about their successors.

RICHARD SHENKMAN, PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: Harry Truman criticized President Eisenhower. You had Jimmy Carter criticizing president after president. This is a rule that is almost made to be broken.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: But in that interview, Gerald Ford also let go on Henry Kissinger saying of his former secretary of state, quote, "he had the thinnest skin of any public figure I ever knew." A Kissinger aide says he is out of the country and would not comment on Gerald Ford's remarks -- Ed and Suzanne.

HENRY: Well you know, Brian, it's interesting. In fact, it seems from the interview, in a way Henry Kissinger was almost getting on Gerald Ford's nerves at certain point in those deliberations.

TODD: You do get that impression. And in the article, Bob Woodward goes into great detail about that. Saying at one point when he decided to take half of Kissinger's portfolio away from him, he decided to take the job of national security adviser away from him. He did it on his own despite rumors there was an orchestration going on by Rumsfeld and Cheney and others. Ford said he did that on his own. He said Kissinger was very, very upset about it. He said this is going perceived as you demoting me, Mr. President. Ford said no, it's not that. There are some fascinating details about their innermost discussions in the Oval Office at that time.

MALVEAUX: Fascinating indeed. Thank you very much Brian Todd.

TODD: Thank you.

MALVEAUX: And of course in the midst of deliberations over a new approach in Iraq a stark reminder of America's losses. U.S. troop death toll for December rose today to 100 -- 2,898 U.S. service men and women have been killed in Iraq since the war began in March 2003.

HENRY: Coming up, James Brown at the Apollo one last time. Fans are flooding the historic theater tonight where the "Godfather of Soul" got his start to say good-bye.

MALVEAUX: Also, new developments in a very public feud. Donald Trump talked to Anderson Cooper about his war of words with Rosie O'Donnell. Anderson will join us with a preview.

HENRY: And Denver faces another possible shutdown. A major winter storm is burying the city right now under even more snow. We'll take you there live.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HENRY: For the second time in a week, a big snowstorm is rolling into Colorado. Airlines are scrambling to get passengers on flights out of the Denver International Airport. Thousands of holiday travelers were stranded there of course last week over the Christmas holiday.

CNN's meteorologist Reynolds Wolf has been braving the elements all day. I notice Reynolds you've got a little more snow on your shoulder now.

REYNOLDS WOLF, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Yes, it's coming down. It really is. It really picked up over the last couple of hours and I'll tell you the temperature has fallen quite a bit. The wind is gusting at times. We're expecting some wind gusts upwards of 35 miles an hour by tomorrow. We're looking at some possibly into the upper 40's. So again, it is a stormy time to say the very least.

The storm is expected to reach its peak around midnight tonight. We're going to have a brief break tomorrow and then another round of possibly 10 to 20 inches of snowfall as we get into both Saturday and Sunday, so really like two big blasts can be expected over the next 48 to 72 hours. Let me tell you what it's doing to the roadways. Right now as you can imagine, we have got all kinds of slick conditions out on the roads.

We have got snowplows out there, salt trucks doing whatever they can to keep those roadways clear. However, it's an awful combination where people are in a hurry on those roads. You have slick conditions. That's not good at all. Out at the airport, conditions are not much better. Obviously what you see here, the snow moving across your screen and the wind. That's what they are dealing with.

Already many airlines have canceled a bunch of flights. What they are recommending at this time is for travelers to simply go to the perspective Web site for each of the airlines to get your latest flight information. Also another option for you would be to call any of the 1-800 numbers. That certainly wouldn't be a bad idea.

And if you need to rebook a flight, try those two things. Either go to the Internet or simply call, pick up the phone and call the 800 number. The last thing they want you to do though is to go out to the airport and deal with those long, long lines. No question.

HENRY: All right. Now Reynolds, I know earlier today I asked you about what airport officials are saying about what they learned from Christmas. People were stranded for a couple of days at a time. They were complaining about food and everything else and you said they were sort of dodging your inquiry. What are they saying now?

WOLF: What they are saying is again, they are doing everything they possibly can. I mean they can have the salt trucks out. They can have the plows out. They can do what they can to keep the runways clear. They are trying to keep the customers happy. But at the same time, there's not really a whole lot that you can do when you are having snow that's going to be falling at this magnitude.

I mean think about it. The possibility of 40 inches of snowfall possible for the Denver metropolitan area over the next 48 to 72 hours there's not really much they can do. They are trying to take care of it as it comes down. They're trying to keep people happy, but you know a lot of it is just sit wait and just trying to being fluid with the situation. That's what they are telling me.

HENRY: All right, Reynolds. Stay warm out there.

WOLF: You bet.

(CROSSTALK)

MALVEAUX: I hope you are not heading to Denver.

HENRY: No. Not Denver.

MALVEAUX: OK. Good. Well, it's where his career got started and now James Brown is at New York's famous Apollo Theater one last time -- his body lying in repose with thousands of fans paying their respects to the "Godfather of Soul".

CNN's Carol Costello is live in New York with the details. It's quite a day, huh Carol.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: It's quite a sight, Suzanne. The Apollo Theater in Harlem still packed. It has been all day long. The Reverend Al Sharpton just spoke behind a podium near Brown's open casket. He told the crowd this man danced on his feet so you wouldn't have to stay on your knees.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COSTELLO (voice-over): With all the pomp and pageantry of a royal funeral, horse-drawn carriage carrying the golden casket, thousands packing Harlem streets, politicians, celebrities and mourners join together to say goodbye to the man they say epitomized the slogan, I'm black and I'm proud.

REV. AL SHARPTON, CIVIL RIGHTS ACTIVIST: He became a superstar on his own terms and he made you respect us. That's why we respect him.

COSTELLO: His partner nearly collapsed. His grandson wept after seeing Brown's body on display. Fans say his message was deeply personal.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It wasn't a time when you was proud to be black and there was color. I didn't know how to define myself. And that was the first time I'd heard something like that and it made me feel good, made me feel proud.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Still today I can say I'm black and I'm proud thanks to James Brown. I'm still black and I'm proud.

COSTELLO: James Brown born in poverty became one of the most influential black musicians of the century.

(MUSIC)

COSTELLO: Today he returned to his musical roots, the Apollo Theater where he made his debut in 1956.

(MUSIC)

COSTELLO: And secured his spot in history as the "Godfather of Glitz, Glamour and Rock Gold."

(MUSIC)

SHARPTON: James Brown shines for us that never had anybody shine for them.

COSTELLO: Die hard fans waited for hours for the chance to pay their respects to the fast-footed legend.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Nobody can out-perform him. In this age of technology and everything, he did it without technology and still was bigger than all the stars today.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's number one, always be number one. And there will never be another one.

COSTELLO: A fitting tribute it would seem to a man many Americans considered royalty.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COSTELLO: Sharpton will travel to Augusta for another Brown funeral service. And this time he said the stars will be invited to pay respects to a man who influenced their music and their style. Back to you Ed and Suzanne. MALVEAUX: Carol, do you have any sense of when this funeral service will end? I imagine those doors will stay open to the Apollo all night until the last person says their good-byes.

COSTELLO: There are sill hundreds of people in line and I don't think they'll close -- you are right, I don't think they will close the door until the last person has filed past James Brown, open casket. I know his family members are probably gone right now. But as you can see, people are still filing by. This man meant a lot to them.

MALVEAUX: They just keep coming. Thank you very much, Carol.

COSTELLO: Sure.

MALVEAUX: And up ahead tonight in THE SITUATION ROOM John Edwards jumps into the race for president. We'll have details of the early and unconventional start of his campaign.

HENRY: Plus, we'll show you how food from cloned animals could soon be coming to your grocery store without you even knowing it.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MALVEAUX: And Carol is back with us again. Carol Costello joining us from New York at a closer news for our -- many of the other stories that are making news -- of course Carol, you've got it all.

COSTELLO: I do. Thanks, Suzanne. There is another twist in the Duke lacrosse case. The North Carolina State Bar has filed ethics charges against the prosecutor. District Attorney Mike Nifong is accused of making misleading or inflammatory statements to the media about the case. He could be reprimanded or he could even be disbarred. Three Duke University lacrosse players are charged with kidnapping a stripper and a sexual offense against her. Last week Nifong dropped rape charges against the four players.

He might be in a little pain, but California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger is hard at work in the hospital. In a statement released today, Schwarzenegger says he's feeling great. He's preparing his State of the State Address and says he'll walk into his swearing-in ceremony even if he has to do it on crutches. Schwarzenegger broke his right thighbone while skiing recently.

And Senator Tim Johnson is spending his 60th birthday today in George Washington University Hospital, his family alongside him. He remains in critical condition in the Intensive Care Unit. But doctors say he is improving and is slowly being taken off sedation. The South Dakota Democrat had emergency surgery two weeks ago to stop bleeding in his brain.

And the body of an American mountain climber missing in China for nearly two months has now been identified. Authorities say it is Charlie Fowler, a photographer and climbing guide. Searchers found his body buried in snow on a remote mountain in Southwest China. He and his climbing partner, Christine Boskoff, were last heard from in early November. Boskoff remains missing.

That's a look at the headlines right now. Back to you Suzanne and Ed.

HENRY: Thanks very much, Carol. And just ahead, Donald Trump speaks out about his public feud with Rosie O'Donnell, talking to CNN's Anderson Cooper. He's going to be right here in THE SITUATION ROOM. You are not going to want to miss it.

MALVEAUX: Plus new developments in a controversial police shooting that happened in the chaos after Hurricane Katrina.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

HENRY: Happening now, a condemned man waits to die. Saddam Hussein now knows he'll be executed, and maybe soon. He's reportedly passed on personal messages to his family after meeting with two of his half brothers today in his prison cell. One Bush official hints Hussein's execution might happen within days.

MALVEAUX: It may look and taste the same, but will it be just as safe? The government says yes. Milk and meat from cloned animals is safe to eat. But the products from cloned animals may not be on your super market shelves for years.

HENRY: And there's a new round in a clash of the TV titans, Rosie O'Donnell and Donald Trump. They are not quite done with their war of words. Our Anderson Cooper will have the latest.

Wolf Blitzer's off today. I'm Ed Henry.

MALVEAUX: And I'm Suzanne Malveaux. And you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

HENRY: More now on our top story -- Saddam Hussein will soon be executed. And one Bush official says that could happen in a couple of days.

MALVEAUX: Here to discuss that and other issues regarding Iraq and the war on terror, homeland security adviser Fran Townsend. Fran, thanks for joining us during the holiday. I know it's a busy season for you and for all of us. I want to start off by asking you.

We've heard from administration officials at the Pentagon and elsewhere Saddam Hussein, he may be transferred from U.S. custody to the Iraqi government as early as tomorrow and likely to be executed over the weekend. What can you tell us?

FRAN TOWNSEND, HOMELAND SECURITY ADVISER: Well, these are decisions. Obviously the timing of the execution will be left to the Iraqis. Saddam Hussein has enjoyed a level of due process and legal practice that he denied many of his victims. It's now time for him to face the penalty that's been determined by an Iraqi court.

We don't yet have the written opinion. And it's my belief that we'll see that before you see an execution. But this is really going to be in the Iraqis' hands now. He'll be transferred. We haven't confirmed when that will be. Again, this will be at the Iraqis' request. And then they'll proceed to impose the sentence.

MALVEAUX: Is it safe to say that this is probably all going to be wrapped up before the New Year? Some time this weekend?

TOWNSEND: I'm not sure we know that with certainty, frankly. I mean I understand that there have been lots of officials talking. But again, unless you are getting it from Iraqi officials, they are the people who are going to make these decisions.

MALVEAUX: And obviously his execution is imminent at this time. Is there any concern that with his execution that there would be a greater risk to Americans either in Iraq, overseas, or even here at home?

TOWNSEND: Well, I understand that there have been some statements by insurgents suggesting that. But you know, as you know, Suzanne, oftentimes there are statements issued that have not been later linked to attacks. It's not clear whether this is rhetoric and bluster or whether or not they intend to follow through on it. We obviously take all the statements seriously. So they are taking precautions and the military is on alert in Iraq. And we obviously look for signs here that there may be some increased signs of activity.

HENRY: But now as 2006 ends, Osama bin Laden is still at large. Heading into 2007, how confident are you that he can be brought to justice this coming year?

TOWNSEND: Well, there's no question in my mind that he'll be brought to justice. The real question is whether or not it's going to be this year. I will tell you that I feel increasingly confident, you know, it was interesting. There's a recent poll and the American people said 71 percent of them were optimistic that we can protect the country.

And I think they've got reason to be optimistic. We've made a lot of progress. They see the progress we've made. We've disrupted plots. We've made reforms in our system, in our security system. So on bin Laden, do I think we are going to get him? I absolutely know we're going to get him.

The question is will it be this year. And I will tell you I think there's increased activity both the part of the CIA, JSOC and our partners, the Pakistanis.

HENRY: You know, going back to September 2001, the president said, dead or alive, we're going to get him. Still don't have him. I know you are saying there's successes on the war on terror, and there have been. That's a failure.

TOWNSEND: Well, I'm not sure -- it's a success that hasn't occurred yet. I don't know that I view that as a failure.

Look, we can't do it alone. We understand from the intelligence that he's most likely in the tribal areas. They are inaccessible. They're difficult to reach. It's difficult terrain. And, oh, by the way, it's part of the sovereign country of Pakistan. The Pakistani governments has reached agreements with tribal leaders. We've got concerns about that.

HENRY: Are there enough troops there to get him? You've heard that charge from the Democrats repeatedly, going back to the 2004 campaign.

TOWNSEND: You know, as you know, the troop size and the mixture of troops is what's most important. We rely on our military commanders. Interestingly enough that you ask me, it turns out that the deputy JSOC commander in Afghanistan is Admiral Harwood, who worked for me at the White House on the terrorism staff. I've spoken to them. They feel increasingly confident that the tactical intelligence they are able to action will lead to bringing both bin Laden and Zawahiri to justice.

MALVEAUX: Are you satisfied with the Pakistani government's efforts to try to cooperate to try to find bin Laden?

TOWNSEND: You know, we've seen unbelievable cooperation from the Pakistanis, as well as Saudi Arabia and other countries that were not real good allies prior to September 11th. They are now.

Does that mean they're doing everything we want them to do when we want them to do it? No. Do we always -- are we always looking for additional cooperation? Absolutely.

But I have to tell you that our sense of this has been the Pakistanis have been very good partners with us. And we're going to continue to work with them until we bring bin Laden to justice.

HENRY: Let's talk about homeland security right here at home. We're about to head into New Year's Eve, as you know. It's always been a date of some concern and particular concern. We have pictures all across the country from Seattle to San Francisco where everyone is waiting with anticipation.

How confident are you that Americans can be safe on New Year's Eve from a terrorist attack?

TOWNSEND: You know, any large gathering, particularly ones that are associated with lots of media, represent a vulnerability for us. And so we listen very carefully for intelligence, both tactical and internationally we listen for intelligence.

We haven't seen real specific threat reports this year related to the New Year's Eve holiday. And so I say to people, "Go out, go to these events and enjoy yourselves and have confidence that law enforcement and intelligence work more closely today than ever and are there to protect you."

HENRY: Now, there was a major threat that was thwarted. And it was a success back in August. That British terror plot where people wanted to hijack airliners and bring them over to the United States to do all kinds of damage. Do you believe that al Qaeda was behind that?

TOWNSEND: Absolutely, I do. And it's incredible, you know, we're called that -- it's been called the London Bombing Plot. It was absolutely -- it emanated out of London. We worked very closely with our British allies. But that was intended to kill thousands of Americans and cause incredible economic damage to our aviation industry and our economy at large.

There's no question that was intended to be another aviation plot. It had been adjusted. Their tactics had adjusted to our defenses. We saw it links back to the tribal areas. We were able to thwart that. Frankly, our British allies were able to thwart that with our help and the help of our Pakistani allies.

HENRY: But early on, the administration was careful not to actually pin it on al Qaeda? It seems like you're going further now. Do you have hard evidence that al Qaeda senior leadership was behind it?

TOWNSEND: We absolutely believe, based on what we know, that there are links back to al Qaeda. Whether or not we have evidence of that -- the reason you haven't heard us say that specifically, Ed, is because it's an ongoing case in Great Britain and we are respecting their legal system. We leave the legal case to them.

MALVEAUX: Are you able to tell the American people what kind of evidence so far is linked to al Qaeda? Is that something that you're willing to make public, those details?

TOWNSEND: And Suzanne, it goes back to because of the British legal system, we are unable to speak about the underlying facts of the case, because until those people have gone through the British legal system, you run the risk of having the case blown out if you speak about it publicly. And so that's the reason that we haven't. We're respecting the British request.

HENRY: We thank you for your time. Happy holidays to you. Thanks for joining us tonight in the SITUATION ROOM.

TOWNSEND: Thank you.

HENRY: Up ahead tonight, John Edwards gets a jump on most of his presidential competition. Will the Democrat's early announcement help him or get lost in the holiday shuffle?

MALVEAUX: And an awkwardly timed revelation that Gerald Ford saw big mistakes in Iraq. Veteran White House insider David Gergen weighs in on the story coming up just before Ford's funeral.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) MALVEAUX: As we've reported, we now learn now that the late President Ford had strong reservations about the Iraqi war, expressing them in a never-published interview with the "Washington Post".

HENRY: David Gergen is a former adviser to four different presidents, including Gerald Ford. We asked him about President Ford's just revealed remarks.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAVID GERGEN, FMR. PRESIDENTIAL ADVISER: These are pretty tough comments. And they were made, remember, a long time ago, 2004, much earlier than the time when most of the country turned against the war.

So, I think this is damaging. I think it complicates the President Bush's efforts to, as soon as the, you know, this funeral process is over -- President Bush clearly is itching to go to the country and present his plans for Iraq. And now he's got this shadow cast by Gerald Ford in addition to all the other shadows from the Baker-Hamilton commission and the public rebuke that he got in the elections in November. He's got a very, very big hill to climb now to convince people that he's on the right new course.

MALVEAUX: Well, David, considering that many past presidents, of course, following protocol, have a policy not to criticize the one that is currently in office. Do you think this was a different case, a different scenario, considering the casualties, the cost of the Iraq war?

Do you think that Gerald Ford should have spoken out?

Did he have an obligation or a responsibility to basically speak his mind?

GERGEN: You mean way back when?

(CROSSTALK)

GERGEN: ... spoken out in 2004. Well, I think, you know, I think the one thing we have to be careful about here is that he spoke out in 2004 with the understanding that it wouldn't be published for some time after his death, or until Bob Woodward wrote a book. And he couldn't have known then that it would come out at a particularly fateful and awkward moment for President Bush when the president was very low in the polls. And this is -- you know, therefore the damage is much more intense than had it come out, say, in 2005, when -- or even in 2004, when the president was riding higher in public opinion.

So, you know, I just don't -- I'm sure he didn't want to hurt President Bush. He does respect George W. Bush. He obviously respects the father. Remember, he appointed the father to go out to the CIA. And he was a big, big fan of the father, a big fan of the Bush family. So I'm -- and this is not personal. In fact, as you know, he has a wonderful relationship with Don Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney, thought Dick Cheney was a first class chief of staff, as he said. What he did believe was that -- President Ford in this was classic. Ford's statement, he puts the country first. He puts it above his personal relationships. He retains the friendships but says, hey, look, guys, this is just wrong.

MALVEAUX: But David, I mean, beyond -- beyond his relationship with President Bush and his staff, do you think he had an obligation to the American people from 2004, up until the point where he still had his physical faculties, his mental faculties, to talk about what he believed was a big mistake?

GERGEN: Well, I have to struggle with that. I'm of mixed minds with that.

Would it been helpful had he spoken out? Sure. But there is a -- there is a fraternity among ex-presidents that they try not to micromanage their successors. It's sort of regarded as bad form to do that.

And I'm not sure that he would feel that it's his personal responsibility. And, you know, I have to say, particularly just after President Ford's death -- and we're all saluting him, as we should -- I don't want to wander in and take a shot at him for doing that, for not speaking out.

I -- look, I think he left many, many contributions to this country. And I'd like to leave it there.

HENRY: And David, just to wrap it up now, to bring it...

GERGEN: Sure.

HENRY: ... and push it forward a bit to President Bush, we all know at the beginning of next month he's likely -- President Bush is expected to give a big speech in January, laying out a new strategy in Iraq.

Given the Ford comments but given the other factors you mentioned, like the election, the Baker-Hamilton report, et cetera, what does the president need to accomplish in this speech?

GERGEN: You know, I don't think he can convince the country right now to rally to the war in Iraq. I think what he can possibly do is buy time. And a little more patience, give me a little more time.

But time is clearly -- time is clearly against him. It's running out rapidly. And I think that Joe Biden's comments yesterday against a surge in troops indicate he's going to have a real fight on his hands if he calls for a surge in troops, which looks now as if it's the leading option.

And he's clearly rejected the idea of talking to Iran, rejected the idea of talking to Syria. He's rejected all of the underlying premises, major premises of Baker-Hamilton. You know, so I think he's going to have a fight on his hands. It's going to be a very divided country after he -- after he completes that. And his hope has to be that he can somehow have enough time politically with the Congress, with the public, to go forward with his plans.

HENRY: But given those challenges, when you say he needs to try to stall for more time, essentially, he's tried to do that before.

GERGEN: Right.

HENRY: What would you tell him?

GERGEN: He's been successful about stalling for time.

HENRY: But what do you tell him about a troop surge? Should he do that or not?

Some think he'd be doubling down and that it could -- could get the U.S. in deeper and it could -- could make the situation worse. What would you advise him?

GERGEN: I have been in favor a long time -- for a long time of sending more troops in. But, you know, it's very late now, and I think the hour has probably passed.

But the only way you can do it now is to accompany it by some very tough steps on the economic side and on the political side and the Maliki government. And with the assurances of the military that they're going to get more troops, that this is not going to break the back of the Army.

I don't think you can go forward in any other way. And to do that, just to put more troops in, to put more troops in is folly. It has to be accompanied by reforms on the part of the Iraqi government. And frankly, they ought to be -- we ought to be very time-limited.

We can't sit here just for month after month after month leaving our troops there as sitting duck there. You know, the casualty numbers this month in Iraq are going to be one of the highest of this year. And there's a real -- the mess is deepening in Iraq.

We've taken our attention off it a little bit in the last few days here in America with the death of President Ford and other events. But in Iraq, it's a deeper mess now than it was three weeks ago.

MALVEAUX: David Gergen, adviser to four presidents, including the late Gerald Ford.

Thank you so much for joining us in THE SITUATION ROOM.

GERGEN: Thank you.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

HENRY: Now to the race for the White House. John Edwards is ringing in 2007 by kicking off his 2008 campaign.

MALVEAUX: His early announcement today was just one way the former senator and vice presidential nominee tried to set himself apart from the soon to be crowded Democratic pack. Our Dana Bash is in New Orleans, the backdrop for Edwards' big day.

DANA BASH, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: And, Suzanne, what we saw here today is the latest example of how the 2008 presidential campaign is on an accelerated timetable, and how the early buzz about Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton is having an impact even on Democrats who are well known.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BASH (voice-over): No confetti, no music, no pomp, just circumstance.

JOHN EDWARDS (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm here in New Orleans to -- and in the Ninth Ward of New Orleans, to announce that I'm a candidate for the presidency of the United States.

BASH: An early and unconventional start to John Edwards' second White House run, using a still hurricane-damaged backdrop for his populist platform.

The two Americas he talked about in 2004, the haves and have- nots, morphed into a call for citizen action.

EDWARDS: If we wait for the next election, and we stand by and hope that the next person that is elected president is going to solve all our problems for us, we are living in a fantasy world. It will never happen.

BASH: Edwards calls for universal health care and a higher minimum wage, but says the biggest challenge is restoring America's moral leadership in the world, starting with Iraq.

He wants 40,000 to 500 troops out now, used this Web video to slam potential 2008 Republican candidate John McCain for wanting more troops in Iraq.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

EDWARDS: We need to reject this McCain doctrine of surging troops and escalating the war in Iraq.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BASH: In a crowded Democratic field, Edwards is a familiar face, John Kerry's running mate, a son of a mill worker, rag-to-riches story, and photogenic family.

He has one clear advantage over other Democratic senators running for president. He is a former senator, not tethered to Washington. He's been campaigning pretty much full-time since he lost in 2004, canvassing the country with candidates, building support in early test states like Iowa and New Hampshire.

But the one-term senator has challenges, lingering criticism he lacks experience to lead a post-9/11 world. He says recent extensive world travel has given him -- quote -- "depth and understanding," and...

EDWARDS: We have had one of the most experienced foreign policy teams in American history -- Rumsfeld, Cheney. They have been an absolute disaster, by any measure.

BASH: He also has baggage that comes with being on a losing ticket.

(on camera): What makes you think you can win now, when you couldn't two, two-and-a-half years ago?

EDWARDS: Well, a lot of things have changed since 2004. Some of it is just aging and maturing. And I have learned and changed, like anybody who is evolving the way they should.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BASH: Edwards has been working hard over the past two years to strengthen his ties with organized labor and Democratic activists in key states.

He's also trying to take a page from Howard Dean's 2004 playbook, and use the Internet, podcasts, blogs, Web diaries, try to gin up grassroots support for his populist platform, and also much-needed cash for his campaign -- Ed and Suzanne.

HENRY: And thanks to Dana Bash, part of the best political team on television.

MALVEAUX: Also in New Orleans, there are new developments regarding a deadly shooting that happened just days after Hurricane Katrina. CNN Gulf coast correspondent Susan Roesgen is in New Orleans with the details. Susan, what can you tell us?

SUSAN ROESGEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Suzanne, it was just six days after Hurricane Katrina when New Orleans police got a report of gunfire on the Danziger Bridge. That's a bridge about 20 miles from downtown New Orleans.

When the police responded, they said that they were fired on by a group of teenagers. But the only people who were actually shot and killed by the police were a 40-year-old mentally disabled man and a 19-year-old high schooler, whose family said they were just on the bridge trying to get to a supermarket to get supplies.

Now, the police have said that they did recover a gun that they believe someone threw off the bridge into the water. But the grand jury today did not buy the police story. Seven officers, all seven officers involved, have been indicted now. Four on first-degree murder charges, and three on attempted murder charges. No comment from those officers or from the chief of police, but the New Orleans district attorney released a statement today saying, "We cannot allow our police officers to shoot and kill our citizens without justification, like rabid dogs."

Suzanne, it is a very controversial case down here, and it will be a very controversial trial.

MALVEAUX: Thank you very much, Susan.

HENRY: And up ahead, a new twist in the war of words between Donald Trump and Rosie O'Donnell.

MALVEAUX: Anderson Cooper is in THE SITUATION ROOM with his interview with Trump, and that's up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HENRY: Well, one fires people for entertainment, the other is known for firing off harsh words: Donald Trump and Rosie O'Donnell. Right now there's little love lost between them.

MALVEAUX: And CNN's Anderson Cooper spoke with Donald Trump today about this clash of TV titans.

Anderson joins us from New York with more.

I don't know, Anderson, can it get any nastier than this?

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes.

MALVEAUX: Is there more?

COOPER: There's more. Yes, it can get nastier. And it has. And it will later tonight on "360".

you know, it seemed like there was a Christmas break in this feud. There was sort of a silence. It seemed like both had sort of retreated to their positions. And then yesterday Rosie O'Donnell penned a poem on her blog, in which she seemed to compare Donald Trump to a pimp and was also very critical of beauty pageants, among other things.

Of course, Donald Trump did not take this lying down. We spoke to him earlier today. We will have the full interview tonight on "360" at 10:00 Eastern time.

But here's just some of what he said when I asked if he was surprised that Rosie has upped the ante by writing on her blog.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, CEO, TRUMP ORGANIZATION: Rosie is a loser, there's no question about that. People know it. People that know her know it. And I assume that it was over. She got beaten up pretty badly. And then she wrote a blog. Now, she didn't mention my name at all because she is gutless. Rosie was down and out and Barbara resurrected her at least for a little while. But Rosie will say -- I mean, Rosie's got a death wish. She is not a smart person. I know Rosie.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

COOPER: And I know, Suzanne and Ed, you've been following this very closely. You know that this all began when Donald Trump forgave Tara Conner, the Miss USA Pageant winner, for, I guess, underage drinking. e says she's now back in rehab.

Rosie O'Donnell took issue with him being a morale arbiter on this. Here's more of what Donald said earlier today.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

TRUMP: She talks about moral compass. I mean, look at Rosie. Look at where she comes. Have you ever seen her comedy act, which is, by the way, terrible. I was at one of her comedy acts and most of the people left because she was so disgusting, not funny, and disgusting.

So you know, Rosie shouldn't be talking. Rosie is a very unattractive woman both inside and out. And as hard as it is to believe, inside is probably uglier than outside. And that's really saying something.

But you have to understand, I know Rosie. Rosie's a loser.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

COOPER: And I know just in case you are wondering, yes, the new season of "The Apprentice" is starting in about two weeks or so or about a week. So maybe this has something to do with it. I don't know, it could, Suzanne and Ed. But no doubt, their feud continues.

HENRY: Yes, I was going to ask you about that, Anderson. In terms of -- is this more of the Donald Trump hype machine where he tries to gin up things on the eve of "The Apprentice"?

COOPER: Well, both seem pretty good at ginning stuff up. She's obviously got her own show to promote. The ratings are up because of this, as he is quick to point out. He's got a show to promote, though he says, look, he doesn't need any extra promotion, it's doing well, thank you very much.

But, no doubt, it doesn't seem like there's any loser in this. They both seem to be, you know, slamming back and forth. So it continues at least for one more day.

MALVEAUX: Does Rosie have any response to all of this?

COOPER: Well, we asked her for a response tonight. She -- her people directed us to her blog, to the poem on the blog. They said it sort of speaks for itself. So people can check that out, I guess, at rosie.com if they want to see what that's about. HENRY: All right, Anderson. I guess we've taken the gloves -- well, actually, the gloves have been off for days and they continue to be off.

COOPER: Yes, the gloves have been thrown out. I'm not sure whether anyone can find them even if they wanted to.

MALVEAUX: We can only this will end soon.

HENRY: All right. Thank you very much, Anderson.

You can watch the full interview of Anderson Cooper's conversation with Donald Trump tonight. "ANDERSON COOPER 360" begins at 10:00 p.m. Eastern.

MALVEAUX: It's day one of one of the Islamic world's holiest events. Millions of pilgrims are in Mecca for the annual Hajj. Our Zain Verjee is following the Hajj and is in Mecca, Saudi Arabia with more -- Zain.

ZAIN VERJEE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm standing outside the Grand Mosque in Mecca. The city has been bustling with activity all day. It's the first day of Hajj. More than three million pilgrims have been picking up last-minute supplies, some odds and ends that they may need as they head out into the desert to perform a key set of rituals.

They've been going by bus, those who can afford it, at least. We've also been seeing a lot of pilgrims just packed in on minivans and sitting on top of the roofs of buses. They're going also on motor bikes. People going by foot, by taxi. In fact, we're learning the taxi drivers make more money this week than they do all year long simply because of the amount of activity here at the Hajj.

As you take a look around, you see the sea of white. People are dressed in what's known as ehram clothing that really symbolizes purity and humility of pilgrims as they perform the Hajj. The men wear two pieces of unstitched cloth and the women just dress simply and they cover their heads.

Now, when they get to the desert in the Mina Valley, they're going to pray. They're going to meditate. They stay overnight in an encampment. And then at first light, they go to the Plain of Arafat where they stand in prayer all day until sunset asking for forgiveness.

Zain Verjee, CNN, Mecca.

HENRY: Thanks for that, Zain.

And tomorrow in the SITUATION ROOM, 2008 presidential candidate John Edwards.

Until then, I'm Ed Henry.

MALVEAUX: And I'm Suzanne Malveaux.

Up next, right after a quick break, a special edition of "PAULA ZAHN NOW: THIS YEAR AT WAR."

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

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