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THE SITUATION ROOM

Interview With Dick Cheney; Jimmy Carter Fires Back at Critics

Aired January 24, 2007 - 19:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks very much, Lou. 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 tonight's top stories.
Happening now, Vice President Dick Cheney makes no excuses and pulls no punches on Iraq or anything else. On this day after the president's State of the Union address I asked the vice president some of the tough questions you want answered in an exclusive interview. See for yourself why he got fired up.

Former President Jimmy Carter is firing back at his critics who accuse him of being a liar and bigot. It's a provocative new chapter in the controversy over Carter's latest book.

And the scapegoat strategy, will it save former White House aide Lewis "Scooter" Libby from being convicted? We'll examine a powerful allegation in the CIA leak case that Libby was sacrificed by the White House to protect Karl Rove.

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

Tonight, Vice President Dick Cheney isn't giving an inch to his critics on Iraq, even to fellow Republicans who say he and the president are flat out wrong. I sat down with the vice president for an exclusive and often combative interview on a wide range of topics including growing opposition to plans for a troop buildup.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: What if the Senate passes a resolution saying this is not good idea? Will that stop you?

RICHARD B. CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It won't stop us. And it would be, I think, detrimental from the standpoint of the troops. As General Petraeus said yesterday -- he was asked by Joe Lieberman, among others, in his testimony about this notion that somehow the Senate could vote overwhelmingly for him, send him on his new assignment and then pass a resolution at the same time and say but we don't agree with the mission you've been given.

BLITZER: So you're moving forward, no matter what the Congress...

CHENEY: We are moving forward. We are moving forward. (END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: We're going to have much more of this exclusive interview with the vice president. That's coming up. You're going to want to see it, including his explanation why Osama bin Laden is still on the loose and his take on whether Hillary Clinton would be a good president. You're going to want to see this interview.

But let's go to Capitol Hill first, where the U.S. Senate took a first step toward putting its opposition to a troop buildup in Iraq on the record. It happened in a heated session over at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Let's turn to congressional correspondent Dana Bash -- Dana.

DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well Wolf, by a vote of 12-9 that Senate committee passed a resolution, repudiating the president on the war. It was a non-binding resolution, meaning it was symbolic but supporters say they hope it will help send a message to the president.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BASH (voice-over): One senator repeated a question he asked 36 years ago about another unpopular war.

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: How do you ask a man to be the last to die for a mistake?

BASH: Vietnam veteran John Kerry spoke for many Democrats at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee went on the record with a non- binding resolution, opposing the president's decision to send more troops to Iraq.

SEN. CHUCK HAGEL (R-NE), FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE: We better be damned sure we know what we're doing, all of us before we put 22,000 more Americans into that grinder.

BASH: But it was the president's fellow Republicans who delivered the strongest answer to Mr. Bush's State of the Union appeal for patience and support. The answer? No.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We better be as sure as you can be, and I want every one of you, every one of us, 100 senators to look in that camera and you tell your people back home what you think.

BASH: Nebraska's Chuck Hagel was the sole Republican to actually vote for the resolution but few others spoke out in support of the president.

SEN. JOHN SUNUNU (R), NEW HAMPSHIRE: I don't think that U.S. troops are best suited to take the lead in dealing with sectarian violence.

BASH: Most Republicans said they voted against the resolution out of fear it would send the wrong signal, and some said because the White House won't listen anyway.

SEN. RICHARD LUGAR (R), INDIANA: This vote will force nothing on the president, but it will confirm to our friends and allies, that we are divided and in disarray.

BASH: Other Republicans did say Mr. Bush deserved one last chance.

SEN. DAVID VITTER (R), LOUISIANA: I've decided to support the president's plan as a final attempt to stabilize a viable democracy in Iraq.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BASH: And the real test will be on the Senate floor next week. We will actually see some votes. Several other Republicans have co- sponsored a different resolution, which they hope will get broad bipartisan support. Why? Because they think that the way they've crafted it the language is less confrontational and more Republicans and Democrats will come on board.

BLITZER: The Republican leader, Mitch McConnell and the Senate have been threatening a filibuster which would mean the critics of the president would actually need 60 votes to move it forward. Where does that stand right now?

BASH: No, it's really unclear Wolf, as you said, Mitch McConnell had threatened to filibuster but appeared to pull back on that a little bit. They're actually trying to figure out what their strategy is, to be quite frank but the leading thought is that perhaps they are going to offer their own resolution that could sort of counter-balance this particular one, but whether or not there will actually be a filibuster is to be seen.

BLITZER: All right Dana. Dana, we'll be watching this closely for us.

Once again, a fierce and deadly gun battle right in the heart of Baghdad today, pitting U.S. and Iraqi forces against well-armed Sunni extremists. Iraqi officials now report at least 30 insurgents were killed.

CNN's Arwa Damon was embedded with U.S. forces and was right in the middle of the action. She's joining us from Baghdad with details -- Arwa.

ARWA DAMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, exactly 24 hours ago we heard the first explosions in the vicinity of Baghdad's notorious Haifa Street. By dawn, it had erupted into a full-fledged battle.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

(SHOTS)

DAMON (voice-over): This is where the battle for Baghdad was fought today, out of apartments and high-rise buildings that lined this major Baghdad thoroughfare. Listen carefully, as the U.S. troops spot an Iraqi insurgent in a nearby building.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right over here. You see the corner of the building (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All right.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They're running between there and that blue door. See, there they go.

DAMON: The insurgents are so close, the Americans can see them without binoculars.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There you go. There you go.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's the money maker right there.

(SHOTS)

DAMON: That material was shot by a Pentagon camera crew, in another building nearby, we had a different vantage point.

DAMON: We arrived on this rooftop near Baghdad's Haifa Street seven hours into the battle. The American troops side by side with their Iraqi counterparts, are being fired at from one of those high- rises in the foreground.

(HELICOPTER)

DAMON: American Apache helicopters circle the building repeatedly to try to get a clear shot at the insurgents inside. But they can't. So the target building's coordinates are radioed to a site far from Haifa Street, and that's when it happened.

(MISSILE)

DAMON: A precision-guided U.S. missile fired from a site unseen, levels the building where the insurgents were holed up. As soon as the building falls, the insurgent guns go virtually silent.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

DAMON: The hope is that in the coming days, U.S. and Iraqi troops will no longer have to fight, and that they will be able to concentrate their efforts on helping out whatever is left from the population on Haifa Street -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Arwa Damon in Baghdad, doing dangerous assignment for us.

Let's check in with Jack Cafferty in New York -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, although House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has said impeachment is quote, "off the table" not everybody is so sure about that. Two New Mexico state senators have introduced a resolution calling on Congress to impeach President Bush and Vice President Cheney. The measure accuses Mr. Bush and Cheney of misleading Congress about the war in Iraq, torturing prisoners and violating Americans' civil liberties through the domestic spy program.

One of the sponsors told a crowd of supporters quote, "we created a ripple. Your voice is going to turn it into a tidal wave hopefully" -- unquote. Well the way it works is that a state of course, cannot mandate impeachment of a president but the impeachment charges can be forwarded to the House of Representatives. The newspaper in Santa Fe, "The New Mexican" reports the measure already is running into trouble even though Democrats control both chambers of the state legislature, and that's because no Republicans support it.

Senate leaders have assigned it to three different committee hearings, meaning that there are more chances to kill the measure before it ever makes it to a vote. But the fact that the issue of impeaching a sitting president is being discussed seriously in a state legislature like New Mexico's speaks volumes.

So here's the question. What impact would state resolutions to impeach the president and vice president have, do you think? E-mail your thoughts on that to CaffertyFile@CNN.com or go to CNN.com/CaffertyFile -- Wolf.

BLITZER: See you in a few minutes, Jack. Thank you.

And still to come, tough questions and defiant answers -- my exclusive interview with the vice president, Dick Cheney.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Here's the problem that you have, the administration, credibility in Congress with the American public, because of the mistakes, because of the previous statements, the last throes, the comment you made a year and a half ago the insurgency was in its last throes. How do you build up that credibility. Because so many of these Democrats and a lot of Republicans now are saying they don't believe you anymore.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: The answer to that question and a lot more, that's coming up. We're going to play the interview for you.

Also, White House insider on trial -- find out why "Scooter" Libby says he's a fall guy for the White House and Karl Rove.

And Jimmy Carter damage control. We'll hear how the former president now feels about being called a liar, a bigot, an anti-Semite and a coward. You're going to want to hear this.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Vice president Dick Cheney sat behind President Bush during his State of the Union address and listened to the commander in chief strike a more humble tone on Iraq, but today the vice president isn't budging on the war, or on a troop buildup. I asked him some very tough questions on many topics in our exclusive, sometimes heated, interview. So what got the vice president riled up? Listen for yourself.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: And joining us now the vice president of the United States, Dick Cheney. Mr. Vice President, thanks very much for doing this.

RICHARD B. CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's good to see you again, Wolf.

BLITZER: We heard the president mention Osama bin Laden last night in his State of the Union address. Why can't you find this guy?

CHENEY: Well, he's -- obviously, he's well hidden. We've been looking for him for some time. I think the fact is, he's gone totally to ground. He doesn't communicate, except perhaps by courier, he's not up on the air, he's not putting out videos the way he did oftentimes in the past.

BLITZER: His number two, Ayman al-Zawahiri, is.

CHENEY: Zawahiri's much more visible, yes.

BLITZER: I mean he's on television almost as much as I am.

CHENEY: Well, I don't know if anybody's on as much as you are, Wolf, but -- no, he's more of a public figure than Osama is. But if you've ever been in that part of the world, it is some of the most rugged territory imaginable. I've flown over it and been on the ground in Afghanistan, Pakistan, up along the Khyber Pass and so forth, and that general area is a remarkably difficult area to get people into. Parts of it have never really been...

BLITZER: Is bin Laden -- is bin Laden still alive?

CHENEY: I think so.

BLITZER: And you think he's in Pakistan, Afghanistan, on the border some place?

CHENEY: I don't want to be that precise.

BLITZER: Because this is so frustrating to so many people for more than five years after 9/11. Not only that bin Laden is out there, but that his deputy pops up every now and then on television and makes these threats.

CHENEY: Yes, but look what we have done. We have not gotten Osama bin Laden, obviously, because he's very careful. I mean to say he doesn't communicate and he's not in direct contact on a regular basis. But we've taken out several times that whole layer of leadership underneath Osama bid Laden and Zawahiri. One of the most dangerous jobs in the world is to be number three in the al Qaeda organization. There's a lot of them now dead or in custody. So we've done a lot of damage to that senior leadership...

(CROSSTALK)

CHENEY: ... including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and many others, as well...

BLITZER: The criticism is that you took your eye off the ball by going into Iraq and in effect reducing the focus of attention on al Qaeda and bin Laden.

CHENEY: It's just not true. I've heard that charge -- it's simply not true, Wolf. The fact of the matter is we can do more than one thing at a time and we have. And we've been very successful with going after al Qaeda. They're still out there, they're still a formidable force. But they're not nearly as formidable as they once were, in terms of numbers and so forth.

BLITZER: But how worried are you of this nightmare scenario that the U.S. is building up this Shiite dominated Iraqi government with enormous amount of military equipment, sophisticated training and then in the end they're going to turn against the United States.

CHENEY: Wolf, that's not going to happen. The problem is, you've got...

BLITZER: They're...

CHENEY: Wolf...

BLITZER: ... warming up to Iran and Syria right now.

CHENEY: Wolf, you can come up with all kinds of what-ifs; you've got to be deal with the reality on the ground. The reality on the ground is, we've made major progress. We've still got a lot of work to do. There's a lot of provinces in Iraq that are relatively quiet. There's more and more authority transferred to the Iraqis all the time.

But the biggest problem we face right now is the danger that the United States will validate the terrorist's strategy, that in fact what will happen here, with all of the debate over whether or not we ought to stay in Iraq, with the pressure from some quarters to get out of Iraq, if we were to do that, we would simply validate the terrorist's strategy that says the Americans will not stay to complete the task...

BLITZER: Here's Nouri al-Maliki...

CHENEY: That we don't have the stomach for the fight.

BLITZER: Here's the problem...

CHENEY: That's the biggest threat. BLITZER: Here's the problem that I see it, and tell me if I'm wrong -- that he seems to be more interested right now -- the prime minister of Iraq -- in establishing good relations with Iran and Syria than he is with moderate Arab governments, whether in Jordan or Egypt or Saudi Arabia.

CHENEY: I just think you're wrong, Wolf. He's been working with all of them. They're all in the neighborhood. He's got to develop relationships with all of them, and he has.

BLITZER: Here's what Jim Webb, senator from Virginia said in his Democratic response last night.

SEN. JIM WEBB (D), VIRGINIA: The president took us into this war recklessly. We are now, as a nation, held hostage to the predictable and predicted disarray that has followed.

BLITZER: And it's not just Jim Webb; it's some of your good Republican friends in the Senate and the House are now seriously questioning your credibility, because of the blunders, of the failures. Gordon Smith...

CHENEY: Wolf...

BLITZER: Gordon Smith...

CHENEY: Wolf, I simply don't accept the premise of your question. I just think it's hogwash.

BLITZER: That what? There were no blunders? The president himself says...

CHENEY: Remember me -- remember with me what happened in Afghanistan. The United States was actively involved in Afghanistan in the '80's, supported the effort against the Soviets. The mujahideen prevailed and everybody walked away. And in Afghanistan, within relatively short order, the Taliban came to power.

They created a safe haven for al Qaeda. Training camps were established, where some 20,000 terrorists trained in the late '90's. And out of that, out of Afghanistan -- because we walked away and ignored it -- we had the attack on the USS Cole, the attack on the embassies in East Africa and 9/11, where the people trained and planned in Afghanistan for that attack and killed 3,000 Americans. That is what happens when we walk away from a situation like that in the Middle East.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: What if the Senate passes a resolution saying this is not a good idea? Will that stop you?

CHENEY: It won't stop us. And it would be, I think, detrimental from the standpoint of the troops. As General Petraeus said yesterday -- he was asked by Joe Lieberman, among others, in his testimony about this notion that somehow the Senate could vote overwhelmingly for him, send him on his new assignment and then pass a resolution at the same time and say but we don't agree with the mission you've been given.

BLITZER: So you're moving forward, no matter what the Congress...

CHENEY: We are moving forward. We are moving forward. The Congress has control over the purse strings. They have the right, obviously, if they want, to cut off funding. But, in terms of this effort, the president's made his decision. We've consulted extensively with them.

We'll continue to consult with the Congress. But the fact of the matter is we need to get the job done. I think General Petraeus can do it. I think our troops can do it. And I think it's far too soon for the talking heads on television to conclude that it's impossible to do, it's not going to work, it can't possibly succeed.

BLITZER: What was the biggest mistake you made?

CHENEY: Well I think in terms of mistakes, I think we underestimated the extent to which 30 years of Saddam's rule had really hammered the population, especially the Shia population, into submissiveness. It was very hard for them to stand up and take responsibility, in part because anybody who had done that in the past have had their heads chopped off.

BLITZER: Do you trust Nouri al-Maliki?

CHENEY: I do. At this point, I don't have any reason not to trust him.

BLITZER: Is he going to go after Muqtada al-Sadr, this anti- American...

CHENEY: I think...

BLITZER: ... Shiite cleric who controls the Mehdi Army?

CHENEY: I think he has demonstrated -- I think he has demonstrated a willingness to take on any elements that violate the law.

BLITZER: Do you want him to arrest Muqtada al-Sadr?

CHENEY: He has been active, just in recent weeks, in going after the Mehdi Army. There have been some 600 of them arrested within the last...

BLITZER: Should he be arrested, Muqtada al-Sadr?

CHENEY: That's a decision that's got to be made...

BLITZER: Because, as you know, the first U.S. general there, Ricardo Sanchez, said this guy killed Americans, he has blood on his hands, he was wanted basically dead or alive. Whatever happened to that?

CHENEY: Wolf, you've got to let Nouri al-Maliki deal with the situation as he sees fit. And I think he will.

BLITZER: Here's the problem that you have, the administration, credibility in Congress with the American public, because of the mistakes, because of the previous statements, the last throes, the comment you made a year-and-a-half ago, the insurgency was in its last throes. How do you build up that credibility, because so many of these Democrats and a lot of Republicans now are saying they don't believe you anymore?

CHENEY: Well, Wolf, if the history books were written by people who have -- are so eager to write off this effort, to declare it a failure, including many of our friends in the media, the situation obviously would have been over a long time ago.

Bottom line is that we've had enormous successes and we will continue to have enormous successes. It is hard. It is difficult. It's one of the toughest things any president has to do. It's easy to stick your finger in the air and figure out which way the winds are blowing, and then to try to get in front of the herd. This president doesn't work that way.

He also will be very clear in terms of providing leadership going forward for what we need to do in Iraq. Now the fact is this is a vitally important piece of business. It needs to be done. The consequences of our not completing the task are enormous.

Just think for a minute -- think for a minute, Wolf, in terms of what policy is being suggested here. What you're recommending or at least what you seem to believe the right course is, is to bail out...

BLITZER: I'm just asking questions.

CHENEY: No, you're not asking questions.

BLITZER: Yes, I am. I'm just asking...

CHENEY: Implicit...

BLITZER: ... questions...

CHENEY: Implicit...

BLITZER: ... your critics are asking.

CHENEY: Implicit in what the critics are suggesting, I think, is an obligation of saying well, here's what we need to do, or, we're not going to do anything else, we're going to accept defeat. Defeat is not an answer. We can, in fact, prevail here and we need to prevail. And the consequences of not doing so are enormous.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

And as you just heard, the vice president is optimistic about Iraq's government and its willingness to crack down on the Shiite militias, but is that optimism misplaced?

Coming up, I'll ask CNN's Michael Ware who's been covering the war from the very beginning.

Plus, more of my exclusive interview later this hour with the vice president. You're going to want to see and hear what he has to say about fellow Republican John McCain, as well as Senator Hillary Clinton as president.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Vice President Dick Cheney telling me earlier in the day in that exclusive interview we had that he has faith in the Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and his willingness to go after the Mehdi Army, that's the militia loyal to the radical anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. I talked about that with CNN's Baghdad-based correspondent Michael Ware. He joined us from New York.

You've been in Iraq ever since day one of this war. You've seen this whole situation unfold on a day-to-day basis, done some incredible work for all of us and especially not only CNN but "TIME" magazine where you worked earlier. What do you make of the optimism of the vice president that Nouri al-Maliki is going to finally get tough with the Shiite militia?

MICHAEL WARE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: In a word, Wolf, baseless, completely baseless. I mean, I -- in all this time, I'm yet to see any sign or any indication that prime minister al-Maliki would do as Vice President Cheney says he has faith that he will do. Principally, to move against the rebel anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and his massive Mehdi Army militia, and of course its influential political bloc that has put the prime minister in power.

In fact, I found that the tone of the vice president almost contradicts the tone of President Bush's State of the Union speech. I think if you recall the address last night, President Bush, when he's talking about relying on the Maliki government their so-called partner in Iraq, he immediately went about and chided that government and said you need to deploy forces.

You need to confront the radicals, and he said, President Bush said they need to remove the needless restrictions on coalition and Iraqi forces. I believe that was specifically a reference about the Mehdi Army and how Prime Minister Maliki has been protecting them to this point.

BLITZER: What would happen to the prime minister, Nouri al- Maliki, if he did what so many Americans would like him to do, go in there and crush the Mehdi Army of Muqtada al-Sadr and actually arrest this young anti-American Shiite leader?

WARE: Well, it would tear his government apart. It would tear the country apart and quite frankly I don't think it's possible. I think even with the vice president's 160,000 American troops, they cannot crush Muqtada or particularly his Mehdi Army. If you arrest Muqtada now, this rebel cleric who has got American blood on his hands or indeed, if you killed him now he becomes nothing more than a martyr and his Mehdi Army is much more than just a force.

It's a movement, and it has mobilized, the great disenchanted impoverished Shia population that can't be stopped. Once that genie is out of the bottle Iranian supporter as it is, it can't be put back in. So I don't see where Vice President Cheney gets his faith from, Wolf.

BLITZER: I raised this scenario, this nightmare scenario with the vice president. I wondered if he feared that all of this U.S. military equipment, this training, building up this Shiite-led Iraqi army in the end could turn against the United States and be aligned with Iran and Syria. He rejected that as unrealistic. What do you think?

WARE: Well, I think in that assessment, the vice president is either himself being unrealistic or isn't being quite frank enough. Now whether these forces would physically turn on American forces, I agree that's hardly unlikely. That's a battle that the Iraqis would never have a chance of winning.

However, the way they turn, the way they work against U.S. interests is much more insidious. It's much more behind the scenes. It's much more subtle. I mean the -- essentially, what the American troops are doing are training forces who are essentially opposed to American interests, or at the very least, they don't share American interests either within Iraq, with this government, with this so- called democracy, or in the region, and in fact, you'll find that many of these troops have long histories with Iranian forces, or have since developed relationships with Iranian special forces.

BLITZER: Michael Ware in New York for us, getting ready to head back to the war zone. Michael be careful when you get over there. Thanks again.

WARE: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: And when we come back, we'll hear what the vice president thinks about the Democratic front-runner for president.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Do you think Hillary Clinton would make a good president?

CHENEY: No, I don't.

BLITZER: Why?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: The answer to that question, plus the vice president responding to Senator John McCain's tough criticism of him. We'll have some more tough questions and tough answers in my exclusive interview with the vice president, Dick Cheney. That's coming up. Stay with us. You're 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, a rare one-on-one interview with the vice president. In my exclusive interview with Dick Cheney, I asked him how he feels about his friend and former staffer Lewis "Scooter" Libby saying he's been set up by White House officials. That's coming up.

His critics won't have him to kick around anymore, at least not in the 2008 presidential race. Democratic Senator John Kerry says he will not mount a repeat run for the presidency. Kerry says he's tempted, but says it's not the time.

And regarding O.J. Simpson's unpublished book "If I Did It," a federal judge refuses to hear the case aimed at getting the money Simpson was paid for it. The lawsuit was brought by Fred Goldman, the father of Ron Goldman, who was killed along with Nicole Simpson back in 1994. The judge says the case is out of his jurisdiction.

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

Now we return to my exclusive interview with the vice president, Dick Cheney. We pick up with the CIA leak case and the trial of his former chief of staff, Lewis "Scooter" Libby.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: The whole notion of your long-time aide, Lewis "Scooter" Libby -- he's in the papers, his lawyer now suggesting on opening day of the trial that he was basically set up by people in the White House to protect Karl Rove, the president's political aide. What do you make of this?

CHENEY: Now, Wolf, you knew when we set up the interview, you can ask all the questions you want. I'm going to be a witness in that trial within a matter of weeks. I'm not going to discuss it. I haven't discussed it with anybody in the press yet, and I'm not going to discuss it with you today.

BLITZER: You -- but you are very close friends.

CHENEY: Wolf, you've got my answer. You've got my answer.

BLITZER: Have you contributed to his legal defense fund?

CHENEY: I'm a strong friend and supporter of Scooter's. I have not contributed to his legal defense fund. I think he is an extraordinarily talented and capable individual.

BLITZER: Do you think Hillary Clinton would make a good president?

CHENEY: No, I don't.

BLITZER: Why? CHENEY: Because she's a Democrat. I don't agree with her philosophically and from a policy standpoint.

BLITZER: Do you think she will be president, though?

CHENEY: I don't.

BLITZER: Who do you think will be?

CHENEY: I'm not going to speculate.

BLITZER: Will it be John McCain?

CHENEY: I'm not going to speculate.

BLITZER: Won't be you?

CHENEY: It won't be me.

BLITZER: John McCain?

CHENEY: I'm not going to speculate.

BLITZER: He's been very critical of you, John McCain, lately.

CHENEY: Well, John's a good man. He and I have known each other a long time, and we agree on many things and disagree on others.

BLITZER: He said the other day -- he said, "The president listened too much to the vice president. Of course, the president bears the ultimate responsibility, but he was very badly served by both the vice president, and, most of all, the secretary of defense." That was John McCain.

CHENEY: So?

BLITZER: You want to react?

CHENEY: Well, I just disagree with him.

BLITZER: He said about the former defense secretary, "Rumsfeld will go down in history, along with NcNamara, as one of the worst secretaries of Defense in history."

CHENEY: I just fundamentally disagree. You heard my speech when Don retired. I think he's done a superb job.

BLITZER: We're out of time, but a couple of issues I want to raise with you. Your daughter, Mary. She's pregnant. All of us are happy. She's going to have a baby, you're going to have another grandchild. Some of the -- some critics, though, are suggesting -- for example, a statement from someone representing Focus on the Family, "Mary Cheney's pregnancy raises the question of what's best for children. Just because it's possible to conceive a child outside of the relationship of a married mother and father doesn't mean it's best for the child." Do you want to respond to that? CHENEY: No, I don't.

BLITZER: She's, obviously, a good daughter...

CHENEY: I'm delighted -- I'm delighted I'm about to have a sixth grandchild, Wolf. And obviously I think the world of both my daughters and all of my grandchildren. And I think, frankly, you're out of line with that question.

BLITZER: I think all of us appreciate...

CHENEY: I think you're out of line.

BLITZER: ...your daughters. No, we like your daughters. Believe me, I'm very, very sympathetic to Liz and to Mary. I like them both. That was just a question that's come up, and it's a responsible, fair question.

CHENEY: I just fundamentally disagree with you.

BLITZER: I want to congratulate you on having another grandchild.

Let's wind up on a soft note. Nancy Pelosi. What was it like sitting up there with her last night, as opposed to Dennis Hastert?

CHENEY: I prefer Denny Hastert, obviously. I liked having a fellow Republican in the speaker's chair. Nancy's now the speaker of the House. We had a very pleasant evening.

BLITZER: But it's different to have a Democrat in control.

CHENEY: Sure, it's different. They have -- yeah, but it's the way it's been during most of my career in Congress. So I didn't find it all that surprising or startling.

BLITZER: How do you feel?

CHENEY: Good.

BLITZER: Good. Mr. Vice President, thank you.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: By the way, Hillary Clinton's camp is responding tonight to the vice president's prediction in our exclusive interview that the senator won't become president. Clinton adviser Howard Wolfson telling CNN -- and I'm quoting now -- "Didn't Dick Cheney tell us he knew where the weapons of mass destruction were? His track record on predictions isn't very good." That statement coming in from the Hillary Clinton camp.

And we're just getting this in to CNN as well. The Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, some interesting claims about the health of Fidel Castro. Let's go to Carol Costello. She's working the story -- Carol. CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, this is coming from the Associated Press, and it is the latest word -- alleged word, I should say -- about the health of Fidel Castro.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said, and I quote, "Castro is walking more than me. He's almost jogging." Now, that would be pretty amazing, because it was just last week that Hugo Chavez told everyone that Fidel Castro was fighting for his life, and just what, seven days later he says that Castro is almost jogging.

Hugo Chavez says he found this out after meeting with the vice president from Cuba, and the vice president of Cuba delivered that news to him.

Now, of course, as you know, Fidel Castro hasn't been seen very much since July 31st, when he underwent some sort of operation and turned power over to his brother.

As for the real state of Castro's health, well, we only have the word of Hugo Chavez to go on right now. Back to you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Carol, thank you for that.

And still to come tonight, former President Jimmy Carter. He now says it's hurtful to be called a liar, a bigot and an anti-Semite. He spoke to an audience of potential critics of his controversial new book. So how was he received?

And it's an explosive allegation. Vice President Cheney's former chief of staff says White House officials actually set him up to protect presidential adviser Karl Rove. We're going to have the latest details on Lewis Scooter Libby's claims in the CIA leak case that continues right here in Washington.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: It's a high profile trial involving high profile government officials and featuring very explosive allegations of lies and betrayal, some of which are being lodged against officials in the White House right now. Today in the CIA leak trial here in Washington, the government called witnesses. But will anything they say be as highly charged as what Lewis Scooter Libby's lawyers alleged yesterday? Our Brian Todd is over at the federal courthouse here in Washington. He's got the latest -- Brian?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, today's testimony dealt mostly with the credibility of Scooter Libby's bad memory defense. But many are still talking about the opening statements of this trial and how a bombshell from the defense adds even more political intrigue to this case.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TODD (voice over): He's turned on a White House that places a fierce premium on loyalty and set the tone for a trial that one observer says will portray the Bush administration as engaging in a scorched earth campaign against critics. In his opening statement, attorney Ted Wells said his client, Dick Cheney's former chief of staff, Lewis "Scooter" Libby, was to be sacrificed. Karl Rove was to be protected.

Experts says this is not Libby's legal defense as he fights charges of lying to investigators in the CIA leak case. This, they believe, is designed to play to the sympathies of a jury drawn from a city where Democrats heavily outnumber Republicans.

JONATHAN TURLEY, GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY: So what the defense is doing is to say, yes, we know you don't like the administration. And you know what? They're just as bad as you thought they were, and this guy is the guy they want to take the fall for them.

TODD: Ted Wells said Libby even went to Cheney saying he was concerned about being scapegoated. Wells quoted a note from Cheney to Libby saying he wouldn't be sacrificed. A former prosecutor warns this could undermine Libby's defense that he accidentally misled investigators because of a bad memory.

MICHAEL ZELDIN, FORMER SPECIAL PROSECUTOR: The notion of a scapegoat in the midst of a conspiracy and the notion of "I forgot because this wasn't important," seemed in contradiction to me.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: Now Karl Rove, the president's high-powered political adviser, has not been charged in this case, but may be called as a witness. Sources close to Rove have acknowledged he was a source for the disclosure of a CIA officer's covert identity. Now, we contacted the White House, Rove's personal representative and the vice president's office. None of them would comment on Ted Wells' statements that Libby was sacrificed to protect Rove -- Wolf?

BLITZER: Brian, we'll stay on top of this story -- Brian Todd over at the federal courthouse.

There are also new developments in the controversy over Jimmy Carter's book over the Israeli/Palestinian crisis. He spoke publicly and candidly about the stinging criticism and he actually apologized for the first time at least for one part of the book all before a very potentially unfriendly audience. Let's go back to Carol in New York -- she has the latest.

COSTELLO: His speech was certainly interesting to watch. President Carter, who has refused to apologize for any part of his controversial book, did. Standing before a Jewish audience, he at times looked hurt, defiant and charming.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COSTELLO (voice over): Jimmy Carter faced controversy head on at the historically Jewish Brandeis University.

JAMES CARTER, FMR. PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This is first time that I have been called a liar and a bigot and an anti-Semite and a coward and a plagiarist. This has hurt me.

COSTELLO: His best-selling book, "Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid," has enraged some Jewish leaders over that the use of the word "apartheid". But Carter did not back down.

CARTER: I chose that title knowing that it would be provocative.

COSTELLO: But when it came to this controversial passage on page 213, that reads, in part, "It is imperative all Palestinian groups make it clear they would end the suicide bombings when international laws and the ultimate goals of the roadmap to peace are accepted by Israel."

Students told Carter the line suggests suicide bombings are tactic used in war and should only be stopped when peace comes. Carter did bend there. And for the first time since the controversy began, apologized.

CARTER: That sentence was worded in a completely improper and stupid way, for which I have apologized to many audiences.

COSTELLO: As for whether Carter brokered another peace accord with that mea culpa, Harvard Law professor Alan Dershowitz, who rebutted Carter's remarks, says no.

PROF. ALAN DERSHOWITZ, HARVARD UNIVERSITY: This was the Brandeis speech, and then there's the Al-Jazeera speech in which he mentions none of the above.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COSTELLO: I asked Mr. Dershowitz why Jimmy Carter would say one thing about his book to a Jewish audience and another to a Palestinian audience. Dershowitz says it all boils down to who donates to the Carter Center -- Wolf?

BLITZER: All right, an explosive charge from Alan Dershowitz. Thank you, Carol, for that.

And up ahead, Jack Cafferty wants to know what impact would state resolutions to impeach the president and the vice president actually have? Jack with "The Cafferty File." Stay with us. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

CAFFERTY: Wolf, two New Mexico state senators have introduced a resolution calling on Congress to impeach President Bush and Vice President Cheney. The question we asked is what impact do you think these kinds of state resolutions might have?

Matt writes from Kankakee, Illinois -- "These Washington legislators are spineless. The state resolutions might, just might provide political cover for these clowns to actually give serious consideration to drafting articles of impeachment."

Kevin in Virginia -- "Your story on THE SITUATION ROOM is actually a non-story. Any state representative can propose almost anything. The truth, based on your own story, is that the proposal's not going to be considered seriously and will never leave the state of New Mexico."

Patty in New Jersey writes -- "Bush and Cheney are waging war on the Constitution. They've put torture on the table, made it fair game for opposing forces to torture Americans. Impeachment is our only defense, but the Chicken Littles on the Hill think the sky will fall if they so much as utter the word. It's going to take a good knock with a big clue stick to wake them up to reality. State resolutions may be just the thing."

Bob in Massachusetts -- "Where do you dig this stuff up? First of all, the New Mexico state senator's stated reasons for impeachment are laughable. And secondly, if they were valid, the effect of their resolution would still be less than the effect the state's citizens have through direct contact with the office of their representatives and senators. A waste of time."

And Rob in North Hollywood writes this -- "Zero impact. Come on, Jack. If Congress, the Senate and the voters of this country are ignored by this president and vice president, what impact do you think New Mexico will have? But now having said that, I realize the state has the word 'Mexico' in it. So maybe the president will give it some consideration."

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

BLITZER: Jack Cafferty, thanks. See you tomorrow.

And this information just coming in to CNN, a disturbing story with nuclear implications. Carol, once again from New York, monitoring this development. What's happening, Carol?

COSTELLO: This is really an interesting story. This first coming over the AP. CNN has now confirmed it. Officials of the Republic of Georgia, along with the American CIA, conducted a sting operation. That sting operation led to the arrest of a Russian man trying to sell a small amount of nuclear -- a small amount of nuclear bomb-grade uranium.

Now, the man was arrested in the Republic of Georgia. He's in custody there. Don't know where he got this stuff. Apparently, Russia is somehow hindering the investigation, because it doesn't get along with the Republic of Georgia. The CIA, as far as we know, is still involved.

An interesting story, and of course we'll keep following it. And when we find out more, of course we'll pass it along. Back to you, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Carol. Thanks for that update. And still to come tonight, winking, blinking and drinking -- the other side of the State of the Union. Jeanne Moos when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: There are important people doing some strange things in an important national address. As our Jeanne Moos shows us, the State of the Union is an occasion for more than just listening to the president.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BUSH: In his day, the late congressman...

JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (on camera): Winking, blinking, and drinking. We put our magnifying glass on the state of the people watching the State of the Union.

(voice-over): There was winking John McCain, winking away at acquaintances during the speech.

And there was drinking that seemed as choreographed as synchronized swimming.

As for the blinking, we clocked Speaker Nancy Pelosi at 85 blinks per minute at one point.

In a Washington bar...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We were trying to do a shot with every drink -- or every blink. But after about 10, we were forced to stop.

MOOS: But blinking is bipartisan. Remember the days when George Bush blinked his way through a debate with John Kerry?

At times, the State of the Union looked like it induced a dream state, but no, they weren't sleeping, just reading along with the speech on their laps.

BUSH: Because the state of our union is strong.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The state of our union is not something I'm worried about.

MOOS: A comedy troop called the Upright Citizens Brigade did this parody of the speech before the real one was delivered.

BUSH: And whatever you voted for, you did not vote for failure.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Let me remind you that failure will not be a success.

MOOS: Ever wonder what folks say to the president as he triumphantly enters and leaves? Smooch, smooch.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Your best line was, "we did not vote for failure."

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Listen, bottom of the 9th, grand slam, you win.

MOOS: The Democrats figured they'd win by being civil. Speaker Pelosi cued her troops on when to stand and applaud by herself popping up at certain key phrases.

BUSH: Protect the American people.

Troops in the field and those on their way.

MOOS: The parody portrayed Speaker Pelosi shaking her head in disbelief. But in reality, her staff briefed her about keeping a neutral face.

Senators Clinton and Obama were in demand after the speech.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We are ready for a sex change in the White House.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, I don't know about that. We're ready...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The face of the next president -- excuse me, sir -- will be a feminine face.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, thank you. I do think I have some feminine features...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: A feminine face in the White -- an actual female.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... and somewhat androgynous in some ways...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: With all the fully functioning organs of a female.

MOOS: The functioning parts of a female dressed in white were her hands.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, absolutely.

MOOS: Freshman Congresswoman Michele Bachmann of Minnesota latched on to the president for a record-breaking 24 seconds. And yes, she's a Republican.

REP. MICHELE BACHMANN (R), MINNESOTA: Are we going to get a kiss, Mr. President?

MOOS: The state of this union seems fine, better than this one.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Will you not touch me!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The American people...

MOOS: Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you hear me?

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Leave it to Jeanne Moos. Only Jeanne Moos does those kinds of reports, and she's featured every time we can get her right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Thanks very much for joining us. Tomorrow, Duncan Hunter. He's announcing he's running for president, Republican of California. We'll be speaking with him. Until then, thanks very much for joining us. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. Up next, "PAULA ZAHN NOW" -- Paula.

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