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LOU DOBBS TONIGHT

General George Casey Grilled; Showdown Over Iraq; Intelligence Battle

Aired February 1, 2007 - 18:00   ET

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


LOU DOBBS, HOST: Tonight, our top military commanders are divided over the future direction of U.S. strategy in Iraq. Does the U.S. military fully support the president's troop increase in Iraq?
We'll have that special report for you tonight from the Pentagon.

And House Speaker Nancy Pelosi apparently believes she's entitled to the use of military aircraft not only for herself, but also for her family and the California delegation at taxpayer expense.

We'll have that special report and a great deal more straight ahead here tonight.

ANNOUNCER: This is LOU DOBBS TONIGHT, news, debate and opinion for Thursday, February 1st.

Live in New York, Lou Dobbs.

DOBBS: Good evening, everybody.

The outgoing commander of U.S. troops in Iraq, General George Casey, today publicly disagreed with President Bush over the president's new strategy for the war in Iraq. President Bush is sending five more combat brigades to Baghdad, but General Casey said he believes only two brigades would be required to complete the mission.

Meanwhile, Republican and Democratic critics of the president's conduct of this war have joined forces in the Senate. The president's congressional allies are now trying to prevent more Republican defections.

Jamie McIntyre reports from the Pentagon tonight on General Casey's grilling on Capitol Hill and his blunt answers.

Suzanne Malveaux reports from the White House on a new political battle over the latest national intelligence estimate on Iraq.

And Dana Bash reports from Capitol Hill on the showdown over the president's troop increase.

We turn first to Jamie McIntyre at the Pentagon -- Jamie.

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SR. PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Lou, Casey admitted that things in Iraq had not worked out the way he predicted. In his words, "Not where I thought I would be when I was walking out the door." But while he accepted responsibility, he offered no apology.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MCINTYRE (voice over): The case against Casey was laid out in prosecutorial style by maverick Republican John McCain, who slammed the outgoing Iraq commander's past rosy predictions and his reluctance to call for reinforcements while Iraq descended into chaos.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: I question seriously the judgment was that was employed and your execution of your responsibilities in Iraq. And we have paid a very, very heavy price in American blood and treasure because of what is now agreed to by literally everyone as a failed policy.

MCINTYRE: Casey's critics fault him for failing to adapt as the war took a turn for the worse and only asking for more troops in December, after President Bush ordered an overhaul of Iraq's strategy.

GEN. GEORGE CASEY, U.S. ARMY: I did not want to bring one more American soldier into Iraq that was necessary to accomplish the mission.

MCINTYRE: Armed Services Committee chairman Carl Levin pressed Casey on President Bush's comment that Iraq was headed to a slow failure until the president, himself, stepped in.

CASEY: I actually don't see it as slow failure. I actually see it as slow progress.

MCINTYRE: In fact, Casey says he still feels only two brigades of U.S. troops are needed in Iraq, not the five the president ultimately ordered. And he stubbornly defended his strategy.

CASEY: It may not have produced the results on the timelines that people expected or wanted, but I do believe that it has laid the foundation for our ultimate success in Iraq.

MCINTYRE: If confirmed to replace General Peter Schoomaker as the Army chief of staff, Casey's job will be to ensure his replacement, General David Petraeus, can get however many troops he needs from an Army that is severely strained.

CASEY: I will tell him the same thing that Pete Schoomaker told me when I went to Iraq two and a half years ago, and that was, "Ask for what you need, we'll figure it out."

MCINTYRE: Casey professed ignorance of a new Pentagon inspector- general survey of 1,100 soldiers which found many were short vital equipment such as up-armored vehicles. But he promised to look into it under questioning from Maine's Susan Collins.

SEN. SUSAN COLLINS (R), MAINE: This troubles me terribly. I think it is simply wrong for us to send troops into harm's way without fully equipping them, without giving them up-armored vehicles. (END VIDEOTAPE)

MCINTYRE: It appears that General Casey will not get the unanimous vote of approval that his replacement, General Petraeus, got. And while some senators are wavering, at least one influential senator says he will vote for him. Senator Carl Levin, chairman of the Armed Services Committee, told CNN earlier today that he thinks Casey made mistakes but should not be held responsible of what he termed the major policy mistakes of the administration -- Lou.

DOBBS: And this is the same Democratic leadership in Congress that wants accountability but are not going to hold this general accountable?

MCINTYRE: Well, the vote remains to be seen. As I said, General Petraeus was confirmed unanimously. There are a lot of senators who have questions about General Casey.

DOBBS: All right. Thank you very much.

Jamie McIntyre from the Pentagon.

Insurgents have killed another of our troops in Iraq. The soldier died of wounds he received in combat in Al Anbar Province. He is the first soldier to die in Iraq this month.

Eighty-five of our troops were killed in Iraq last month. 3,086 of our troops since the beginning of this war have been killed, 23,279 wounded -- 10,342 of them so seriously they could not return to duty within three days.

Suicide bombers today killed more than 60 people in a market in the town of Hilla, south of Baghdad. A hundred and fifty other people were wounded in the attack.

And congressional critics of President Bush's management of this war have formed a new alliance to challenge the president's policies. Senators offering competing resolutions blasting the president. They've now joined forces.

Dana Bash has the report from Capitol Hill.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The morning after Senate Democrats joined forces with leading Republicans to oppose the president's Iraq strategy, Bush allies scrambled to prevent more GOP defections, lashing out at fellow Republicans who would support any measure opposing a troop increase in Iraq.

SEN. JIM BUNNING (R), KENTUCKY: And I believe they send a dangerous message to our enemies.

BASH: Others pleaded for patience.

SEN. JON KYL (R-AZ), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Years ago, I used to see bumper stickers that said, "Give peace a chance." And I think today we need to dust off some of those bumper stickers and write a couple of extra words in -- give the president's plan for peace a chance.

BASH: That as anti-war protesters walked the halls of Congress, delivering petitions pushing senators to oppose more troops in Iraq.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We really need to bring an end to this war.

SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN (D-DE), FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE: The quickest, most effective way to get the president to change his course is to demonstrate to him that his policy has little or no support in this body.

BASH: Democratic leaders signed onto the less confrontational Republican resolution with the goal of attracting the GOP votes they need to actually pass a bipartisan rebuke of the president.

But in the process, Democrats lost some support on their left flank.

Wisconsin's Russ Feingold says he'll oppose it because it contradicts the goal of withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq.

Democratic presidential candidate Chris Dodd agrees.

SEN. CHRIS DODD (D), CONNECTICUT: I don't know how you can vote for this resolution and vote for that language and then simultaneously be for a redeployment of forces.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

BASH: Now, some liberal Democrats are supporting the resolution, like Ted Kennedy and Tom Harkin. And the first critical test of all of this will likely be Monday afternoon, when the Senate will vote on whether to start what all sides say will be the most spirited debate on Iraq since the war began nearly four years ago -- Lou.

DOBBS: Thank you very much, Dana.

Dana Bash from Capitol Hill.

The cost of the president's troop increase in Iraq could be much higher than the administration had projected. The Congressional Budget Office now says the troop surge, as it is called, could cost up to $27 billion over a one-year deployment. That would be five times more than the White House estimate. One reason for the difference, the CBO's figures include the additional expenses of thousand of support troops for those combat brigades.

The Bush administration tomorrow releases a new national intelligence estimate on Iraq. This is the first new national intelligence assessment of the war in more than two years.

Suzanne Malveaux reports now from the White House -- Suzanne. SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Lou, it's two pages of the key judgments, declassified, and of course they'll be sent to members of Congress early tomorrow morning. And really what this is, an assessment of the threats, the vulnerabilities of the United States, the security inside of Iraq.

The president, as well as the vice president, do not have input in this document. But as you know, it has become highly politicized.

Even before it's been released, members of Congress are complaining they have been asking this for the last six months, since August. They point to the fact back in 2002, a national intelligence estimate was produced in three weeks to make the case for war. They say they didn't have the complete picture when it comes to taking a stand on this troop surge that the president has been talking about.

And we've senior a little bit of pushback already from the administration. A rare glimpse, and even a preview, perhaps, of the points being made in this intelligence estimate.

John Negroponte, who is director of National Intelligence, has been involved in these Senate confirmation hearings for the number two spot at the State Department. And he says, look, you know, the last time we produced an NIE that quickly, it was flawed, there were a lot of holes. And also, he says, don't expect any surprises.

The national intelligence estimate will talk about that it's a precarious situation in Iraq. But they don't believe that it's an impossible situation, that they believe Maliki will be able, perhaps, to turn things around.

But as you know, Lou, there are going to be a lot of questions and a very close look at this report, whether or not there's going to be dissent that his hidden, whether or not it's really balanced -- Lou.

DOBBS: Suzanne, two questions.

One, the suggestion by Negroponte that he didn't want to prepare this in relationship to the surge strategy taken by the president suggests that that surge policy was not based on the current national intelligence estimate.

That could not be, could it?

MALVEAUX: Well, actually what they're saying is, is that the president has had access to this information, to this intelligence. But what the NIE is, it's an overall assessment, where all 16 intelligence agencies put it all together and make their case.

But clearly, Negroponte is not saying that the president did not have the information available to make the case for a troop surge. The people who are saying it are the measures of Congress who say, look, we didn't get the complete picture, we didn't get that information before we decided to give our views, our assessment about that. DOBBS: Yes. That is, it seems, a serious deficit in cause and effect. Intelligence after the fact, after the fact of a policy change.

Let's turn to Iran. There's also, I understand, a debate within the administration about releasing intelligence on Iran's role in the insurgency in Iraq.

What have you got for us on that?

MALVEAUX: Well, certainly there's a lot of pressure for U.S. officials -- and this is from those friendly with the Bush administration, Iranians and Iraqis inside of Iraq, who say, show us the evidence here, declassify this top-secret evidence that you say will strengthen your case that Iran is producing or perhaps applying these weapons to these Iraqi militia.

The NSC is very cautious about this because they say, look, this is only going to be pushed back in Washington. There will be more accusations of war mongering.

The administration is likely, I am told, Lou, to go ahead and declassify some portions of that super-secret evidence, they say. But they're going to do it in kind of a low-key way.

DOBBS: Yes. The fact is that, with the standard of confidence required now of this administration and the intelligence agencies on any decision undertaken that could potentially lead to conflicts, certainly would have to be met. And that takes the discussion about whether it would be classified or declassified, it seems, at least, to me to be rendered moot.

Thank you very much, Suzanne Malveaux, for bringing us up to date on all of that.

Christine -- Christine -- Suzanne Malveaux from the White House.

We thank you.

President Jacques Chirac of France apparently disagrees with the United States that Iran is a dangerous and immediate nuclear threat to the world. Iran, of course, has threatened to wipe Israel off of the face of the map. But in an interview earlier this week, President Chirac said, "Having one or perhaps a second bomb a little later... that's not very dangerous."

Chirac's remarks sparked outrage in France and overseas. And today Chirac offered a new assessment of Iran's threat, retracting the previous.

Chirac said, "France, along with the rest of the international community, cannot accept the prospect of an Iran equipped with a nuclear weapon."

Chirac said he didn't realize his first interview was on the record. Some of his opponents, though, say Chirac at the age of 74 has lost his political bearings.

Still ahead, pro-illegal alien groups accuse federal agents who are trying to enforce U.S. immigration laws of "ethnic cleansing" and "terror". And not a word of response from the United States government.

We'll have a special report.

And a rising number of states taking action on our illegal immigration and border security crisis, while the Bush White House and this Congress focus on amnesty.

And are radical Islamist terrorists trying to establish a base in Venezuela through which it might attack the United States?

We'll have that special report, the latest assessment of that issue from the government.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

DOBBS: The illegal alien lobby in this country today used shocking and harsh language to criticize federal agents who are trying to enforce U.S. immigration laws. Illegal alien activists saying the Department of Homeland Security should stop arresting and stop deporting illegal aliens while Congress considers amnesty legislation.

Casey Wian has our report.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CASEY WIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Using words like "ethnic cleansing" and "terror," more than a dozen immigrant rights groups are denouncing recent ICE raids targeting criminal illegal aliens, and they're demanding a moratorium on deportations.

AQUILINA SORIANO, L.A. ARCHDIOCESE: It seems that immigration is trying to really wreak havoc within our communities by putting fear -- by creating an atmosphere of fear and terror.

HAMID KHAN, SOUTH ASIAN NETWORK: We're hoping that -- you know, that our demands are met and this kind of vicious ethnic cleansing is stopped.

WIAN: Claims of ethnic or racial bias are refuted by the fact that ICE deported illegal aliens from 189 nations last year. Even so, activists are seeking the effective end of U.S. immigration law enforcement.

Even mainstream Latino activist groups, such as MALDEF and LULAC, have joined the chorus by writing Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff and demanding an end to ICE's raids.

REP. ED ROYCE (R), CALIFORNIA: The open borders lobby is sending out the message, frankly, not only in the United States, but all over the world, that if you come to the United States illegally, you can expect, you can anticipate that a Democratic Congress and this particular president is going to grant you amnesty. Now, this really compounds the problem.

WIAN: Last June, ICE launched Operation Return to Sender, a nationwide to round up criminal and fugitive illegal aliens and deport them. So far, the crackdown has resulted in at least 14,000 arrests. Activists complain that illegal aliens without criminal records have also been caught by the sweeps, sometimes separating parents from their children.

RENE SAUCEDO, LA RAZA CENTRO LEGAL: It's immoral and abominable that the U.S. government is terrorizing immigrant families and sending them the message, fine, come in and mow our lawns and wash our dishes and pick our fruits and vegetables, but we will not allow you to live in peace and dignity.

WIAN: Ice says family separations are the consequences of choices made by illegal alien parents and that raids are making immigrant communities safer because they're removing violent criminals who most often prey on legal and illegal immigrants.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WIAN: But the open borders lobby refuses to acknowledge that, and leaders are now promising to take to the streets to protest what Americans have been demanding for years: a serious effort to enforce immigration laws -- Lou.

DOBBS: And among those people involved in this, La Raza and the Los Angeles Archdiocese?

WIAN: Absolutely. Well, the La Raza group is a San Francisco- based group. It is not the National Council of La Raza there. They're a different organization.

The Los Angeles Archdiocese, of course, has been for months, years, supportive of amnesty for illegal aliens. So perhaps it's not surprising that they're supporting the moratorium -- Lou.

DOBBS: And have we heard anything from Michael Chertoff, the secretary of Homeland Security, in response to these -- this inflammatory language being used by these obviously radical elements?

WIAN: We have not heard from Secretary Chertoff himself, but we have heard from officials of ICE. Their attitude seems to be, they don't want to dignify these groups by making too big of an issue of it. But they strongly refute their allegations, pointing out that immigration status has no ethnicity nor color.

DOBBS: And the number of congressmen and members of this administration condemning that kind of language?

WIAN: Don't know what -- don't know what the answer to that is, Lou. We're going to have to see what that is. We haven't -- we haven't spoken to a wide variety of them. I haven't heard much from them.

DOBBS: Right. We'll try to see what we do here and whether or not this kind of outrageous language is allowed to go without response from elected officials in support of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, those agents trying to do a very difficult job.

Thank you very much.

Casey Wian from Los Angeles.

Congressman Duncan Hunter is sponsoring legislation for a congressional pardon for Border Patrol agents Ramos and Compean. Agents Ramos and Compean are serving long prison sentences for the shooting and wounding of an illegal alien drug smuggler who testified against those agents after having been given immunity by the U.S. attorney.

So far, 78 Republican members of Congress have signed on to Congressman Hunter's legislation. The number of Democrats who have added their names, zero. Agents Ramos and Compean have now been in prison for more than two weeks.

Virginia's legislature is moving towards passage of legislation aimed at shutting down day labor centers. That state, along with others, is acting on its own, trying to control illegal immigration while the federal government does all but nothing.

Bill Tucker reports.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BILL TUCKER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): There are nearly 50 immigration-related bills under consideration in the Virginia general assembly. That's almost double the number of bills last year.

JACKSON MILLER (R), VIRGINIA STATE HOUSE: What the sum of these bills is for is to make the Commonwealth of Virginia a very uncomfortable place for people who come to this country illegally

TUCKER: The bills pending would create fines for employers who hire illegal aliens, deny in-state tuition rates to Virginia's public colleges and universities to illegal aliens, expand the power of state and local police in the enforcement of immigration law. One bill sponsored by State Representative Miller would deny state and local assistance to illegal aliens.

Miller says it is aimed at local organizations and charities who petition the state for funds and then use those taxpayer dollars to aid illegal aliens. The bill is not popular with charities.

KITTY HARDT, COMMONWEALTH CATHOLIC CHARITIES: When we're providing emergency services, you know, basic services to people in extreme human need, we don't want to be in a position to have to stop and check the citizenship of every person.

TUCKER: The bill denying public funds passed out of the House by a vote of greater than 2 to 1. Now it is headed to the state's Senate, where Miller says it is likely to be approved.

Virginia is not alone. Last year, there were 570 bills introduced in 32 state legislatures aimed at tackling the issue of illegal immigration.

STEVE CAMAROTA, CENTER FOR IMMIGRATION STUDIES: States face a choice, really. They can either work to buttress immigration law enforcement or work to undermine it. But the basic policy of immigration and basic immigration enforcement really does come from Washington.

TUCKER: Not every state is looking to crack down on illegal immigration.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TUCKER: In Maryland, for example, they're considering offering in-state tuition to illegal aliens in direct violation of federal law. But increasingly, we are seeing state and local police make the choice to aid in the enforcement of federal law.

Today, for example, the sheriff's department of Davidson County, Tennessee, signed an agreement with ICE to have its deputies trained in immigration law enforcement. Lou, Davidson County is the home to Nashville, Tennessee.

DOBBS: Thank you very much, Bill.

Bill Tucker.

That leaves us to the subject of our poll tonight. Should states be taking the lead in enforcing immigration policy, or should the federal government enforce immigration laws and border and port security?

Cast your vote at loudobbs.com. We'll have the results here later.

Up next, worrying concerns that radical Islamist terrorists and Venezuela's left-wing president are forming an alliance.

We'll have that special report.

And in Washington, the head of the House of Representatives that pass ethics reform is now asking for some very special treatment at taxpayer expense.

And new problems where for our nation's struggling middle class, problems that haven't been seen since the Great Depression.

We'll have that story for you, a great deal more, still ahead.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) DOBBS: New concerns tonight that radical Islamists could use Venezuela as a base in this hemisphere. U.S. officials say Hezbollah could establish a base in Venezuela as Iran forms an alliance with Venezuela's Hugo Chavez.

Christine Romans has the report.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Growing concerns that the close ties between Iran and Venezuela provide a new front for Hezbollah in America's back yard. A U.S. counterterrorism official says the conditions and links are there for Hezbollah to operate in Venezuela, citing Hugo Chavez's growing ties with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a major sponsor of Hezbollah, and Venezuela's near total lack of cooperation on counterterrorism.

REP. ILEANA ROS-LEHTINEN (R), FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE: We need to focus on the increasing Iranian influence and Hezbollah influence in Latin America. We've seen it in the tri-border area. We're seeing it in Venezuela.

ROMANS: She's concerned direct flights from Tehran to Caracas beginning next month are a direct threat to the United States.

ROS-LEHTINEN: It's as easy as pie. You buy your ticket. You get false documents. And then you're able to travel the world, and especially to go into Mexico. And from Mexico, illegally into the United States.

ROMANS: A report by the House Homeland Security Committee found Hezbollah operatives have already used the border with Mexico to enter the United States.

REP. MICHAEL MCCAUL (R), HOMELAND SECURITY COMMITTEE: Indeed, the threat of terrorist infiltration into the United States is very real. And the United States needs to do a better job protecting its southern flank because, as I've stated, this threat is very much in our own hemisphere and in our own back yard.

ROMANS: The U.S. has long been concerned that Hezbollah already separates in that back yard, specifically the tri-border area of Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay. Those governments deny the area is a haven for terrorism financing, but just two months ago the Treasury Department called it a "major financial artery" for Hezbollah.

It is a growing concern in Washington.

SEAN MCCORMACK, STATE DEPT. SPOKESMAN: You have a terrorist organization that has significant resources, significant experience, proven capability in executing terrorist attacks. That's a real concern and something that certainly our counterterrorism people watch, watch very closely.

ROMANS: Iran's track record, the State Department says, does not suggest it wishes to play a constructive role in the hemisphere. (END VIDEOTAPE)

ROMANS: As the ties deepen between Ahmadinejad and Chavez, Chavez emerges as an anti-American hero in Hezbollah rallies in the streets of Lebanon, where his picture is proudly waived. And Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah has called Chavez a great man -- Lou.

DOBBS: And U.S. policy response?

ROMANS: The U.S. is concerned. They don't see Venezuela as a central hub yet for terrorism activities in our back yard, but they say, that it is "disconcerting and dangerous" the trend we're seeing in Venezuela.

DOBBS: Christine, thank you very much.

Christine Romans.

Time now for some of your thoughts.

Sherrie in Indiana said, "We're not in any position to complain because al-Maliki seems to have loyalties to Iran rather than his country or the United States. After all, President Bush seems to have loyalties to Mexico rather than his country or us."

And Robert in Florida: "For the last twenty years or so, Congress has given away their powers to the president in the name of fast-track trade authority because it was easier to let those presidents do Congress's job than it was for them. It's time for Congress to do what they are elected to do and quit passing it off to someone else."

And Dennis in Arkansas: "Lou, if you would run for president, I promise to vote for you as many times as voting machine will allows with as many different pieces of identification that I can buy."

Thanks for the thought.

Send us your thoughts at loudobbs.com. More of your e-mails coming up here later. Each you receives a copy my book "War on the Middle Class" when your e-mail is read here.

The U.S. Senate today voted to raise the nation's minimum wage for the first time in a decade. The Senate bill also includes, however, billions of dollars in tax cuts for small business, setting up a showdown with the House, where a minimum wage hike was passed without the tax cuts, the so-called "clean bill". The Senate also, surprisingly to many, added an amendment that would bar companies that hire illegal immigrants from obtaining federal contracts. The amendment, introduced by Senator Jeff Sessions.

Another grim indicator tonight for our struggling middle class: new numbers show personal savings now at lowest level in more than 70 years. This at a time when the Bush administration says the overall economy is in great shape.

Coming up next, he's in charge of Senator Hillary Clinton's campaign to be president. Terry McAuliffe is our guests.

And should members of Congress travel the country on military aircraft at taxpayer expense? The new speaker of the House thinks so. We'll tell you all about Speaker Pelosi's plans for planes.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

DOBBS: The Democratic majority in Congress is promising to end the culture of corruption on Capitol Hill. But it appears those very same Democrats seem determined to hang on to as many trappings of power as possible at taxpayer expense. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi apparently wants regular access to military aircraft for flights, not only for herself, but also members of her family and the Californian delegation.

Lisa Sylvester has the story.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Democrats rode into Congress on a wave of reform. They promised to run things differently than their Republican counterparts.

REP. NANCY PELOSI, (D-CA) HOUSE SPEAKER: This all comes back to the American people. They have to have confidence that Congress is here to work in the people's interest.

SYLVESTER: House Democrats have tackled ethics and lobbying reform that would curb lawmakers' use of corporate jets to shuttle them around the country. But critics say at the same time House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has been fighting to retain a perk enjoyed by her predecessor: the use of military jets for her travel. And according to reports, Pelosi wants to expand that privilege to include her family and members of the Californian delegation.

JOHN BERTHOUD, NATIONAL TAXPAYERS UNION: At a time when we have Air Force dollars going for kids at war, it might be some really questionable expenditure for Speaker Pelosi's staff, family, friends to be traveling on the military dime.

SYLVESTER: The military planes are equipped with an open bar and state-of-the-art communications. The planes are supposed to be used by lawmakers only for official trips overseas, to U.S. military bases or on a Pentagon-sponsored trip.

After the 9/11 attacks, then-Speaker Dennis Hastert began routinely to use the planes to travel back to his Illinois district for security concerns. Pelosi, who is second in line to the president, intends to do the same. But she wants the Pentagon to OK allowing others to have the same riding privileges at taxpayer expense.

REP. TOM PRICE, (R) GEORGIA: She has them based upon her rank and based upon the potential threat to her. And I think there's nobody in America who believes that other members of her state delegation ought to be able to travel with her and have the taxpayer pick up that tab. I think that's what violates the trust of the American people.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SYLVESTER (on camera): A Democratic aide says Pelosi would not use the military planes for political trips and her family trips would not have separate use of the military planes. Still, Lou, this is raising eyebrows because it's coming from the leader of the House who has pledged fiscal discipline -- Lou.

DOBBS: And Pelosi's office, their response?

SYLVESTER: They essentially say -- they were hard to get in touch with today because there's actually a couple of retreats going on. But they've acknowledged that yes, they have this request and they feel that it's their right essentially because of the security concerns here, Lou.

DOBBS: Oh, boy. Oh, boy. This is getting to be some kind of citizen service in Congress, isn't it?

SYLVESTER: It is indeed. We'll keep watching this, Lou.

DOBBS: Or in the White House as well.

Thanks very much, we appreciate it.

Lisa Sylvester from Washington.

Still ahead, he's been tapped to head Hillary Clinton's run for the White House. Terry McAuliffe joins us here tonight.

And a panel of Middle East experts, a top former military commander join us on the issue of Iran and U.S. policy and where are we headed.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

DOBBS: In the Democratic field running for the party's 2008 presidential nomination, Senator Hillary Clinton is leading the pack. Her campaign is headed by a Democratic Party veteran, to say the very least.

Joining me now is Terry McAuliffe, national chairman of the Hillary Clinton for President Campaign, author of the new best-selling book "What a Party: My Life Among Democrats, Presidents, Candidates, Donors, activist, Alligators and Other Wild Animals".

Good to have you with us, Terry McAuliffe.

TERRY MCAULIFFE, NAT'L. CHMN., HILLARY CLINTON FOR PRES.: Lou, it's great to be back. DOBBS: And congratulations, debuting at number five.

MCAULIFFE: Yes, it made the "New York Times" best sellers list yesterday, you know. And I put you in that category of those wild animals, Lou.

DOBBS: Well, I thank you very much for that, I think.

And to get to that point...

MCAULIFFE: Yes.

DOBBS: The idea that the Democrats have done so well, have in the midterm elections -- are now in charge of both houses of Congress, do you think 2008 is assured for the Democratic Party?

MCAULIFFE: Well, it's never sure. And we're looking very good. If you look at the polling data today, you know, Hillary's leading. The polls out, the Quinnipiac polls. Leading in Ohio, leading nationwide.

But you're right. In the House and the Senate, we now control those two bodies. It's important for us and the American voters. They want to see results. Some people reluctantly gave us the keys to the car. We now have them, and over the next two years show that we can put out great legislation and help families in this country. It's only going to bode well for us going into 2008, and Iraq is not going away.

DOBBS: Let's turn to your candidate, Senator Clinton. Senator Biden said she's got the wrong idea in capping troops in Iraq. What's your response?

MCAULIFFE: Well, listen, I'll let Hillary speak for herself. She has from day one been very tough on -- when Don Rumsfeld was secretary of defense, she was talking about laying out, capping the troops, and tying benchmarks and triggers to the expenditure money.

Listen, Joe Biden will go out and lay out his plan. Hillary has laid out her plan. Right now, Hillary is winning, and she's been in this thing a week. As you know, we expected 500 people in Iowa last weekend; 2,800 showed up. We had to go to a neighboring gym and telecast it in. It's exciting.

DOBBS: It must be exciting for you, but I have never known you at any time in your political career not to be excited. So I have to sort of (inaudible) some of that.

MCAULIFFE: Fair enough. I get excited easily.

DOBBS: Your candidate said something about evil, bad men and kind of gave a knowing grin in her response, a little piece of business. Are you a little surprised at the way people reacted to that, particularly journalists?

MCAULIFFE: Well, listen, she was out having fun on the campaign trail. I talked to her all through the month of December when she was deciding to run. I tell you, she was so excited to get into this race, and she's going to have a lot of fun. And she was having fun the other day.

I have been married 18 years. A lot of worse things have been said about me by my -- you know, she had fun. She's making a joke. And that's why we want her out of there.

DOBBS: Well, maybe she was including you in that list of evil, bad men?

MCAULIFFE: Well, she certainly could, you know, absolutely include me in that. But you know what, this is going to be an exciting race. People know that Hillary -- she's tough, she's been tested, she's got great leadership qualities. Now people are getting to see another side of Hillary that they haven't seen. A lot of people have tried to demonize her. And that's why I'm most excited.

I tell Hillary every day, let's go out, let's have some fun today, and I think that's what she's doing.

DOBBS: So should I put you down in the for column, under Senator Clinton?

MCAULIFFE: Yes. I'm with her all the way through the primaries and the general. It's going to be an exciting race. I think it's the best field, Lou, honestly, the Democrats collectively have put together. Any of our candidates would be great. She'll be the greatest, because she, you know, has the most experience and tested. But they'll all be great.

DOBBS: Terry, let's turn to a couple of issues.

MCAULIFFE: Yes, sir.

DOBBS: One, Iraq, the very serious policy issue that is really remarkable in the somewhat ambiguous strategy, to put it -- to put it somewhat gently, on the part of the White House. It is also a certainly ambiguous and tepid response from the Democrats in both the House and the Senate, is to the formulation of any kind of definitive strategy.

Senator Obama says, you know, let's be out of there in 2008. Senator Clinton says, let's cap the troops. These are not, in your judgment, are they, true policy responses to an urgent policy decision, particularly when we're losing thousands of American lives?

MCAULIFFE: Yes, but in fairness, this is not just the Democrats. You have Senator Chuck Hagel. You just had Senator John Warner. Every day Republican senators are joining the Democrats.

We are consistent on one thing. We need to get our troops home as soon as possible. And the expenditure of money, your taxpayer money that yesterday we saw a report that's just been wasted, we have to tie any more expenditure of money in Iraq to specific benchmarks, where we can show success. If we don't have that, the Iraqis need to know that we are not going do it. This is not an open-ended piggy bank. We have a civil war...

DOBBS: Are the Democrats willing to take responsibility? Should, as some Democrats have urged, as you know, that there be a relatively quick withdrawal from Iraq for the geopolitical consequences in the Middle East?

MCAULIFFE: Well, we'll see what legislation finally gets through. But Democrats and Republicans, together, say we've got to have a change of course in Iraq. You talk to the troops. I have been to the region many times. I was in the Middle East six times myself last year. We have a serious issue over there in the entire Middle East. The prestige, as Colin Powell said, you know, our moral authority has been compromised.

We need a change of direction. We need a new president who's willing to go over, bring the Middle East leaders together, and say we have to jointly fix this. We need a political solution, not just a military one. And we have to do it with Democrats and Republicans.

And that was the message, Lou, in the 2006 election. We won the House, the Senate, six governors, 10 state legislatures. People want a fresh start.

DOBBS: Terry?

MCAULIFFE: Yes, sir.

DOBBS: It's always good to talk to you. I didn't know if you were going to get to the end of that sentence, because you were just cranking up.

(CROSSTALK)

DOBBS: It's always great to talk with you.

MCAULIFFE: Great to be back.

DOBBS: We appreciate it.

MCAULIFFE: Thank you, sir.

DOBBS: And I do get the distinct impression you are somewhat enthusiastic about your candidate.

MCAULIFFE: I love Hillary.

DOBBS: All right.

MCAULIFFE: Thank you.

DOBBS: And the book is "What a Party!" No. 5 on "The New York Times" best seller list. Mr. McAuliffe would like to see it higher, I'm sure. Terry, thanks for being here.

MCAULIFFE: Thanks, Lou. Bye-bye. DOBBS: Coming up here next, a distinguished panel of Middle East and military experts. We'll be discussing U.S. policy in Iraq and the potential for conflict with Iran. Are we headed to war? Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

DOBBS: There's rising tension tonight between the United States and Iran. The Bush administration accusing Iran of helping insurgents kill our troops in Iraq. And at the same time, Iran is aggressively pushing ahead with its nuclear weapons program.

Joining me now, three leading authorities on Iran, Iraq and Iran's military ambitions. Fawaz Gerges, professor of Middle East and international studies at Sarah Lawrence College. And Ervand Abrahamian is a history professor at Baruch College, and we thank you for being here. General David Grange, one of the country's most distinguished military commanders, and it's always good to have you with us, Dave.

And Fawaz, let me begin with you. The idea that this country's headed toward war with Iran was given something of a boost today by the State Department, in making very clear charges against them. What's your reaction?

FAWAZ GERGES, SARAH LAWRENCE COLLEGE: Well, as you said, it is an intensified rhetoric on the part of the Bush administration. Not just rhetoric -- the president has a new order to capture and kill Iranian agents in Iraq. Naval build-up in the Gulf. Threats, open threats by the president.

I think -- I would not go as far as saying that we're going to war. I think the Bush administration appears to have decided to exert political and military pressure on Iran, and to basically prevent it from damaging its campaign in Iraq.

DOBBS: Ervand?

ERVAND ABRAHAMIAN, BARUCH COLLEGE: I would go further. I think the decision was made some time ago in Washington that the Iranian nuclear program has to be destroyed. I think that commitment has been made to Israel. And if once you have that premise, then the question is, how do you stop the Iranian nuclear program?

One is the diplomatic route, which the administration's excluded. So the other route is basically a military route, which is -- of course will lead to a wider war, which is the real danger.

DOBBS: Professor Abrahamian says that he sees a clear path to conflict. General Grange, your view?

BRIG. GEN. DAVID GRANGE (RET), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: I believe it's going to be inevitable, Lou. I think that, one, just the nuclear issue that you discussed, that that decision has been made. In fact, if it goes that far, there's no other choice, really. The other two issues are the support of terrorism and, of course, the influence in Iraq, which are causing American G.I.s to die and not to -- the ability to accomplish our mission. So those three things are driving it.

DOBBS: If there are, in point of fact -- if the United States has solid evidence that Iran has been killing American troops and working against U.S. interests for a year and a half, why in the world has the United States military not taken action in that year and a half period of time, General Grange?

GRANGE: Well, action has already been taken. And some action has been ongoing for some time. You don't hear a lot about it. It's just been cranked up a bit because the Iranian influence, with both Republican Guard and intelligence services personnel, equivalent of, say, their special forces, has been involved.

It's more than spying. It's more than spying, which every nation does. These are people directly involved with supporting insurgents and militias.

DOBBS: Professor Gerges, you have given us a more hopeful perspective here. How do you react?

GERGES: Lou, one point must be made very clear. The Sunni-led insurgency is responsible for the death of almost 99 percent of American and coalition forces in Iraq. And the Sunni-led insurgency is as opposed to Iran and the Shias as it is opposed to basically the American military presence.

Of course, Iran has been supporting armed Shiite militias, which have been killing Sunnis, thousands of Sunnis. And in this particular sense, Iran has contributed to the intensification of the sectarian strife.

But I think it's very misleading. Truly, empirically, to say that Iran has contributed significantly the death of the American soldiers. It's the Sunni-led insurgency, not Iran.

DOBBS: Professor Abrahamian?

ABRAHAMIAN: Yes, I think actually, so far, ironically that Iran and the United States have been on parallel paths. Both have been supporting -- SCIRI and Dawa, who have formed the main Baghdad government. So their support has gone basically to them. So I think the idea that somehow Iranians are supporting insurgents, Sunnis against -- killing Americans, it could be possible. But it's very unlikely. I would say it's in the realm of absurdity.

GERGES: I just come from the Middle East. I cannot tell you the transformation that has taken place in the Sunni-dominated Arab world, anti-Shiite and anti-Iranian sentiment is becoming deeply hardened in the region. I mean, there is a major internal, intensive struggle in the Middle East...

DOBBS: Forgive me... GERGES: Yes.

DOBBS: ... forgive me for second, you said what has become hardened?

GERGES: The anti-Shiite and anti-Iranian sentiments in the Sunni Arab-dominated world. And to put -- it's amazing. In the Arab world, the thing is Iran...

DOBBS: And, of course, Sunnis dominate the Muslim world.

GERGES: Ninety percent. Ninety percent of Muslims are Sunnis.

And, in fact, most -- I mean, a majority of Sunnis believe that the United States and Iran are basically allied together against the Sunni, the Sunni minority in Iraq. And this is the irony, the paradox of the situation in Iraq.

DOBBS: Professor Gerges, Professor Abrahamian, General Grange raise serious questions that -- and we already have a very high bar to act on any intelligence, given the history of U.S. intelligence here. Does this give you pause, as you look at what is developing there in Iran and Iraq, General Grange?

GRANGE: Lou, you know, first of all, the Iranian influence in Iraq does not only support Shia death squads or militia or whatever, it also supports Sunni insurgents. In other words, their common enemy is the Americans. They still fight each other. If two out of three Americans die from IEDs, most of the IEDs are triggered or initiated by devices made in Iran, then their influencing the death of the American soldiers regardless of who pulls the trigger.

ABRAHAMIAN: Lou, sorry. I would take issue of that. Before we believe that, we need evidence. I think it's -- the realm is so fantastic...

GRANGE: There is evidence.

ABRAHAMIAN: All right, then I would like to see it. I mean, it's as absurd as to say that American administration was behind 9/11. It just is not possible in the Middle East context to think that Iranian officials would be providing lethal materials to Sunni, Baathist fanatics who kill other Shias. It's just not possible.

GERGES: The truth is there is major, major civil war taking place in Iraq between the Sunni-led insurgency or resistance and the Shiites. It makes sense that Iran supports the Shiite militias who are battling the Sunnis.

But it doesn't make sense. It's against common sense. I can understand, for example, if Iranian arms are sold on the black market. I can understand if Syria supports some of these Sunni resistant groups. But truly Iran, it's against its interests to do so.

DOBBS: And we're going to have to conclude there.

General Grange, you get the last word, if you may quickly.

GRANGE: Well, you know, the bottom line is, Iran is influencing the outcome of Iraq. And that should be stopped just like the nuclear proliferation piece should be stopped, just like support of Hezbollah in Lebanon or the Hamas or whoever else. I mean, this is a challenge to this nation and it has to be taken on somehow.

ABRAHAMIAN: Could I...

DOBBS: I lied. You're not going to get the last word, General Grange.

Professor Abrahamian wants the last word here.

ABRAHAMIAN: ... that the logic of what is being said is, if the United States attacks Iran, what is Iran going to do? They're not going to sit back. They will, as the general says, they have assets in Iraq, also they have it in Afghanistan. We're actually heading for a 30 to 100-year war if there are air strikes.

GERGES: May I take the final word?

DOBBS: OK, You get the final word. I'm now out of the bidding.

GERGES: I think the administration is basically trying to exert both political and military pressure to deter Iran, and basically convince the Iranian leadership not to intervene in the Iraqi political situation, and send a message about its nuclear portfolio as well.

DOBBS: Professor Gerges, Professor Abrahamian, thank you very much.

GRANGE: I agree with that.

DOBBS: General Grange, thank you. We appreciate it.

And that is the last word.

But Wolf Blitzer gets the next word. He's up with the "SITUATION ROOM" at the much to the hour -- Wolf.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks very much, Lou.

We're going to follow up on this specific issue, whether Iran is using Shiite militants to fight a proxy war with U.S. troops in Iraq. Our Christiane Amanpour is in Tehran right now. She's going to tell us what they're saying there.

And fallen from grace. A rising star in Democratic politics admits he had an affair with his campaign manager's wife.

Mary Cheney has a message for all those who are willing to listen. Her child with her girlfriend is a gift from God, not a political ploy. And charges of sexism and chauvinism are causing a political meltdown in the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. Brian Todd has the latest on this he said/she said saga.

Lou, all of that coming up in the "SITUATION ROOM."

DOBBS: Wolf, thank you very much.

Coming up next, we'll have more of your thoughts and our poll results.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

DOBBS: The results of our poll: three quarters of you say the federal government should be taking a lead in enforcing immigration policy and border security.

Time for one last quick e-mail. Bill in Arkansas said: 'Regarding Border Patrol Agents Ramos and Compean, you asked, "Where is the ACLU?" Seems to me the ACLU has forgotten that the "A" stands for "American!'

We thank you for being with us.

Please join us here tomorrow.

Good night from New York.

Thanks for watching.

The "SITUATION ROOM" begins now with Wolf Blitzer -- Wolf.

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