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THE SITUATION ROOM

Libby Found Guilty; Can Schwarzenegger Deliver California to GOP in '08?; New Details Emerge in Astronaut Love Triangle

Aired March 6, 2007 - 17:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, HOST: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Happening now, a former top aide to Vice President Dick Cheney found guilty of lying and obstruction in the CIA leak investigation.

What does the conviction of Lewis "Scooter" Libby tell us about the inner workings of the Bush White House?

Can Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger deliver California to the GOP in 2008?

I'll ask one of his predecessor, the current attorney general there, Democrat Jerry Brown.

And stunning new details in the astronaut love triangle -- steamy e-mail messages sent to the space shuttle while it was in orbit.

Did they send a jealous rival over the edge?

I'm Wolf Blitzer.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

From the White House to the big house, the former top aide to Vice President Cheney could now be facing a federal prison sentence. A jury today found Lewis "Scooter" Libby guilty on four of five counts stemming from the investigation into the leak of a CIA operative's identity.

Let's take a closer look at the charges and the verdicts.

Count one, obstruction of justice. Libby was found guilty.

Count two, making false statements to the FBI about a conversation with NBC's Tim Russert, Libby was found guilty.

Count three, making false statements to the FBI about a conversation with former "Time" magazine writer Matthew Cooper, Libby was found not guilty.

And counts four and five -- perjury. Libby was charged with lying to investigators looking into the outing of Valerie Plame Wilson's role as a CIA operative. He was found guilty on both of those counts. Our White House correspondent, Suzanne Malveaux, is standing by.

But let's begin our coverage this hour with Brian Todd.

He's over at the courthouse -- Brian.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, a devastating verdict for Vice President Cheney's former chief of staff, but "Scooter" Libby's attorneys promise this fight is not over.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

TODD (voice-over): Silent and stoic, Lewis "Scooter" Libby lets his attorney react to the jury's crushing verdict -- guilty on four of five counts.

TED WELLS, LIBBY'S ATTORNEY: We believe, as we said at the time of his indictment, that he is totally innocent, totally innocent, and that he did not do anything wrong.

TODD: Ted Wells vows to fight for a new trial and says if that fails, he'll appeal the verdict.

Inside the courtroom, observers say, Vice President Cheney's former chief of staff blinks several times as the verdict is read. Libby's wife then hugs and kisses Wells, telling him, "I love you," apparently moved by his advocacy for her husband.

Outside, Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald says he's satisfied with the outcome. But...

PATRICK FITZGERALD, SPECIAL COUNSEL: The results are actually sad. It's sad that we had a situation where a high level official, a person who worked in the office of the vice president, obstructed justice and lied under oath. We wish that had not happened but it did.

TODD: During closing arguments, Fitzgerald said NBC's Tim Russert had been "a devastating witness against Libby," Russert rebutting Libby's claim that he first heard about Valerie Plame Wilson's CIA job from Russert.

One juror says the panel found Russert credible and did not buy Libby's claim of a bad memory. Personally, though...

DENIS COLLINS, LIBBY TRIAL JUROR: I just think he was a very sympathetic guy sitting over there day after day. His voice on the -- on the grand jury testimony was very, very even and polite and nice. And we, you know, nobody had any animosity toward him.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

TODD: Still, with this verdict from Denis Collins and 10 others, Lewis "Scooter" Libby faces up to 25 years in prison. Though with federal sentencing guidelines, it is very likely he will get much less time. Sentencing is set for June -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Brian, thank you.

Let's go to the White House.

Suzanne Malveaux is standing by -- Suzanne, the vice president just issued a statement himself.

To our viewers what he said.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, it came late afternoon and this is what it says verbatim, from the vice president: "I am very disappointed with the verdict. I am saddened for "Scooter" and his family. As I have said before, "Scooter" has served our nation tirelessly and with great distinction through many years of public service. Since his legal team has announced that he is seeking a new trial and, if necessary, pursuing an appeal, I plan to have no further comment on the merits of this matter until these proceedings are concluded.

Now, Wolf, I talked to some White House insiders who say today, this verdict is demoralizing but it is also revealing.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MALVEAUX (voice-over): Like the rest of America, President Bush learned of "Scooter" Libby's guilty verdict on TV. The White House's response was predictably not that much.

DANA PERINO, WHITE HOUSE DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY: He said that he respected the jury's verdict, that he was saddened for "Scooter" Libby and his family.

MALVEAUX: There's a code of silence here regarding the "Scooter" Libby case, which comes from the very top.

GEORGE BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm not going to talk about any of it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How about pardons, sir?

Maybe you were asked whether you might pardon somebody...

BUSH: I'm not going to talk about it.

MALVEAUX: Administration officials say their self-imposed gag order comes from the fact that there is an appeal process and a civil suit that have yet to play out.

But quietly, some admit there's the embarrassment factor. When Mr. Bush first ran for president following Clinton's legal troubles, he pledged under his watch he'd bring back good ethics.

BUSH: America wants somebody to restore honor and dignity to the White House. That's what America is looking for. MALVEAUX: But by September, 2003, the Bush White House had become fully embroiled in a criminal CIA leak investigation. In June, 2006, when the highest ranking official, Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove, was told he would not face any charges, many White House insiders felt the administration had dodged a bullet.

But the investigation did reveal some of the hardball tactics the White House used to discredit its critics. Among them, selectively declassifying sensitive information, strategically feeding it to certain reporters. And on at least one occasion, lying to then Press Secretary Scott McClellan about the case.

While those tactics were not illegal, they were, at times, heavy- handed and calculating.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

MALVEAUX: And, Wolf, of course, there is one matter that the president could use, that exclusive power to actually pardon "Scooter" Libby. But we are told by White House officials it is much too early to speculate about that -- Wolf.

BLITZER: We're going to have more on this story coming up this hour.

Thanks, Suzanne, for that.

Let's turn now to the scandal surrounding the Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

President Bush today called conditions there, and I'm quoting, "unacceptable" and he announced a blue ribbon presidential panel will investigate. It will be led by former GOP presidential candidate Bob Dole, who was badly wounded back in World War II and Democrat Donna Shalala, former secretary of Health & Human Services during the Clinton administration.

Meantime, angry lawmakers also want to know who's accountable for the military's health care system.

Let's bring back our senior Pentagon correspondent, Jamie McIntyre -- Jamie.

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SENIOR PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, once again in the hot seat, Lieutenant General Kevin Kiley, who today, as he did yesterday, began his testimony with an apology. But some members of Congress were in no mood to hear it.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

MCINTYRE (voice-over): It was South Carolina Republican Senator Lindsey Graham who asked the question on everyone's mind.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: General Kiley, should you resign? LT. GEN. KEVIN KILEY, U.S. ARMY SURGEON GENERAL: I still think I've got the right skill sets and the right experience to fix these problems. But as I said, I stand ready for decisions.

MCINTYRE: As the Army's top medical officer, Lieutenant General Kevin Kiley has become a lighting rod for critics, who say he should join Army Secretary Frances Harvey and Walter Reed Commander General Weightman among the ranks of the fired.

Missouri's Claire McCaskill read an e-mail from a wounded soldier who charged that Kiley, as commander of Walter Reed in 2004, and now as surgeon general, could and should have done a lot more.

SEN. CLAIRE MCCASKILL (D), MISSOURI: "However, rather than addressing the problems, he was more aware of than anyone, he continued to downplay and minimize the issues."

MCINTYRE: Kiley has made a number of public comments that sounded like excuses, such as this explanation for why he didn't know about the problems at Building 18.

KILEY: I live across the street. But I don't do barracks inspections at Walter Reed in my role as an Medcom commander.

MCINTYRE: That particularly rankled Maine's Susan Collins.

SEN. SUSAN COLLINS, (R), MAINE: And I must say that I found that to be a stunning and troubling response.

KILEY: It was not my intent to -- to somehow shed responsibility for that and I would inspect barracks, I have inspected barracks. I understand that it's part of command -- command accountability and responsibility.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

MCINTYRE: In fact, over the last two days, General Kiley has been somewhat contrite and admitted to numerous times when he failed to grasp the full extent of the problem.

And, Wolf, for now, he still has his job.

BLITZER: Thank you, Jamie, for that.

We're going to stay on top of this story.

Let's check in with Jack Cafferty. He is in New York with The Cafferty File -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Thank you, Wolf.

Remember this?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: America wants somebody to restore honor and dignity to the White House. That's what America is looking for.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CAFFERTY: That's an interesting clip in light of today's conviction of Vice President Cheney's former top adviser, Lewis "Scooter" Libby. He was found guilty on four of five counts against him and they all had to do with lying and obstructing justice when it came to details about Valerie Plame's identity.

Why would he lie?

Who was he protecting?

We'll probably never know the answer to that, but the fact that Libby lied to investigators and to a grand jury speaks volumes. This was the nation's top adviser to the vice president, one of a handful of people who had unfettered access to the highest levels of power in this country, and yet he couldn't tell the truth.

Why not?

What's he hiding?

The most interesting part of this story will be whether or not President Bush pardons Libby on his way out the door, a year-and-a- half or so down the road. Somehow, it would be the perfect parting gesture for an administration that has come to view things like the constitution and the nation's laws as inconveniences that only serve to get in the way of their agenda.

So here's the question -- how will the conviction of "Scooter" Libby impact the Bush White House?

E-mail your thoughts to caffertyfile@cnn.com or go to cnn.com/caffertyfile -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Speaking of that pardon, it's interesting that "Scooter" Libby, while he was in private practice, represented Mark Rich and helped Mark Rich get a pardon from then President Bill Clinton. You remember that.

CAFFERTY: You know what they should do?

They should do away with presidential pardons altogether. If you're convicted in a court of law, tough noogies. That's the way it goes and you've got to pay the price, and skip all this going out the door and letting these worms out of the -- out of the traps that they've gotten themselves into. Do away with that stuff.

BLITZER: All right, Jack, thank you.

CAFFERTY: Make a not of that, will you?

BLITZER: I got it.

Let me write that down. CAFFERTY: All right.

BLITZER: Do away with pardons.

CAFFERTY: That's it.

BLITZER: OK, thank you.

CAFFERTY: Appreciate it.

BLITZER: Up ahead, a scary series of coordinated attacks.

Who's behind the message?

We're going to show you the exact time line.

Also, a new battleground pitting the U.S. against Iran -- the battle for control of Iraq's intelligence community. Our Michael Ware is in Baghdad. He's been doing some exclusive reporting and has some new information for us.

And the female factor -- can it help Hillary Clinton win women voters in 2008?

Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: In Iraq today, a carefully coordinated slaughter. Insurgents attacked Shiite pilgrims as they traveled to the holy city of Karbala. The attacks began in the morning with a roadside bomb in a Baghdad neighboring. Then, like clockwork, at 15 minute intervals, bombings and shootings throughout Baghdad and its suicide bombers. There was more attacks in the afternoon, the worst at 4:15, when two suicide bombers blew themselves up among a crowd of pilgrims in the town of Hillah. That's 25 miles east of Karbala. Ninety-three people were killed there. About 150 were wounded.

Pilgrims are heading to Karbala on foot for Saturday's Shiite holy day marking the end of a traditional mourning period.

A rising toll for American troops in Iraq, as well. The U.S. military today announced the deaths of at least nine American soldiers in a pair of bombings yesterday in areas north of Baghdad. Four others were wounded.

All this comes amid an apparent setback for U.S. intelligence efforts in Iraq.

And joining us now in Baghdad, our correspondent, Michael Ware -- Michael, you've been doing some exclusive reporting on this competition between the U.S. and Iranian intelligence services in Iraq.

What are you picking up? MICHAEL WARE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, what it's coming down to now is the long-term victory in terms of intelligence here in Iraq.

What's at stake, Wolf, is the dominance of the Iraqi intelligence community. What we're seeing now is the Iraqi government, which U.S. military intelligence and Western intelligence claims is heavily dominated by political factions with ties to Iranian intelligence, trying to reset the landscape.

Just as you have in the United States with the CIA, the FBI, the DIA, a myriad of intelligence agencies, so you have here in Iraq. But there's legislation that's about to go before the Iraqi parliament that essentially will gut the CIA's influence here within the Iraqi community.

BLITZER: Who's winning right now, the CIA or the Iranian intelligence community, in terms of influencing events in Iraq?

WARE: Right now, you would have to argue that it's a tie, although politically one would say that Tehran has much more sway here in Baghdad than Washington does. Among the intelligence community, it's still up for grabs.

BLITZER: But you're saying the long-term impact for the U.S. is not good.

It is good, though, for Iran?

WARE: Absolutely, Wolf.

What we're seeing is a complete resetting of the landscape. And as it stands right now, if these laws pass through parliament, a parliament dominated by Iraqi Shia political factions that Western intelligence claims are linked to Iranian intelligence, then completely Tehran will have the advantage.

While America invaded Iraq, removed Saddam, established what it calls a democratic government and the intelligence apparatus that goes with it, what we are now witnessing, Wolf, is Tehran swooping in and taking over, dominating the entire intelligence landscape under the CIA's watch.

BLITZER: A very disturbing picture you paint.

Thanks very much, Michael, for joining us.

WARE: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: When troops come back home from the battlefield, one of the wounds of war is often hidden or masked by other more apparent injuries.

Let's turn to our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr -- Barbara. BARBARA STARR, PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the Department of Veterans Affairs says finally it will start screening returning veterans from the war to see if they are suffering from brain injuries.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

STARR (voice-over): Lawmakers at the first Congressional hearing on conditions at Walter Reed Army Hospital met Staff Sergeant John Daniel Shannon.

STAFF SGT. JOHN SHANNON, WOUNDED IRAQ VETERAN: On November 13th, 2004, I suffered a gunshot wound to the head from an AK-47 during a firefight with insurgent forces near Saddam's mosque. The result of that wound was primarily a traumatic brain injury and the loss of my left eye.

STARR: Shannon's loss of vision is apparent. His traumatic brain injury, TBI, is not. TBI is often the invisible wound of this war. Soldiers injured, especially in blasts from roadside bombs, suffer debilitating brain injuries as blast waves rock delicate brain tissue.

Four years into the war, for the first time, the Department of Veterans Affairs will start screening all returning vets for TBI, asking them if they were ever in an IED attack, if they were ever unconscious.

Lawmakers say in order for already stretched military hospitals to treat brain injured troops, there first needs to be a better idea of how many are suffering.

SEN. PATTY MURRAY (D), WASHINGTON: The DOD, Department of Defense, is not recording those injuries. These soldiers may go out, go home and several months later be -- not be able to remember what's happening tomorrow or where they're supposed to be and don't realize it was an impact of one of these IED explosions.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

STARR: The Pentagon says it, too, will start looking more closely at veterans for possible brain injury, that it's already treated about 1,800 troops.

But Senator Murray and others say the problem is much deeper, that possibly as many as 10 percent of all the troops that have served in the war, about 140,000 in all, may be suffering from brain injury problems -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Barbara, thank you.

A pretty horrendous situation.

Coming up, can Arnold Schwarzenegger deliver California for a moderate Republican in '08? I'll ask one of the state's most experienced politicians, the former governor, the current attorney general, Jerry Brown. He's standing by live to join us right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Plus, newly revealed -- the e-mail that may have pushed NASA astronaut -- a NASA astronaut -- over the edge.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Mary snow is monitoring all the feeds coming into THE SITUATION ROOM from around the world.

She's standing by in New York with some other important stories -- Mary.

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the death toll from a pair of strong earthquakes on the Indonesian island of Sumatra is now up to at least 70. The first quake had a magnitude of 6.3 and it was followed just two hours later by a magnitude 6.1 quake.

Now, this is the same Indonesian region where 131,000 people were killed by a quake triggered tsunami in 2004.

Operation Achilles is now underway in Afghanistan. It's the largest offensive against the Taliban since NATO took over what was the U.S.-led mission in that country.

The goal?

Gain control of 8,600 square miles from Taliban forces. Military spokesmen say British -- one British soldier was killed in the first hours of the offensive.

And a black Lab named Pearl in peril after she fell through the ice on a Denver lake. A firefighter in a dive suit came to her rescue and helped the dog make it back to shore. Her owner says Pearl was chasing ducks on the lake when she fell in. Firefighters say they get about 20 calls every spring for similar dog rescues. It seems Pearl is just fine -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Interesting pictures.

Thank you for that, Mary.

We'll get back to you shortly.

Coming up, guilty verdicts in the Lewis "Scooter" Libby trial threatening to bring a whole new set of problems to an already troubled White House. Our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider, standing by to show us what we might expect.

And what are the weaknesses that could sink any Democratic presidential candidate in '08? I'll ask a veteran politician who's been there, the former California governor, Jerry Brown. He'll be live, right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Happening now, the verdicts are in, but the Lewis "Scooter" Libby case is far from over. His lawyer vowing to ask for a new trial, and if that's denied, he says Libby will appeal his four convictions.

Also, President Bush touting what he calls gradual but important progress in Iraq and taking a swipe at Democratic calls for reducing troop levels, saying that would undermine the entire U.S. mission and adding, and I'm quoting now, "There are no shortcuts in Iraq."

Millions of Americans feeling lucky and scrambling to buy Mega Millions lottery tickets. Tonight's jackpot -- get this -- an estimated $370 million.

The odds of winning?

One in 176 million.

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

Let's get back to our top story -- the guilty verdict for former Cheney aide, Lewis "Scooter" Libby, in the CIA leak case.

How much more damage can the Bush administration take?

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

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Wolf, the Bush administration was already deeply unpopular. The Libby verdict is likely to add a whole new dimension to the administration's problems.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

SCHNEIDER (voice-over): According to the Gallup Poll, the last time a majority of Americans approved of the way Mr. Bush was handling his job was in April '05 -- nearly two years ago. This is the longest period a president has gone without majority support since Harry Truman.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And we wish we could land on every one of these rooftops.

SCHNEIDER: The public saw shocking incompetence in the mishandling of Hurricane Katrina. Americans have felt increasingly misled about the administration's case for war in Iraq.

REP. BILL PASCRELL (D), NEW JERSEY: The truth is that the 9/11 Commission found no credible evidence of a link between Iraq and al Qaeda in attacks upon the United States.

SCHNEIDER: Just before the midterm last fall, a solid majority of the public, 58 percent, felt the administration had deliberately misled them in making the case for war. In that election, Americans voted for a change of direction in Iraq. President Bush's defiance in calling for a troop increase made the administration look out of touch. The Libby verdicts add another count to the public's indictment -- criminal wrongdoing.

Just after the vice president's chief of staff was indicted in October 2005, 56 percent of Americans believed Libby was guilty, 59 percent thought the charges were serious and not a technicality, and 78 percent believed others in the administration may have acted illegally.

And for the fact there was a cloud over anyone was not our doing. It was the facts of the case. It was aggravated by Mr. Libby telling falsehoods.

SCHNEIDER: The cloud now hangs over Vice President Cheney.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER: The timing of the Libby verdict was actually fortunate for the administrations. It came after the mid-term election, and more than a year before the next presidential election. But the issue of whether President Bush will pardon Mr. Libby could stay hot right through the next election -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Bill. Thank you very much.

So what was it like inside the courtroom when the verdict was read? How did Libby, his wife, his legal team react?

Our Internet reporter, Abbi Tatton, is here with a glimpse inside the courthouse from the bloggers that were actually accredited to cover this trial -- Abbi.

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, yes, the first time that these bloggers were given credentials to cover a trial in a federal court. Firedoglake was there during the verdict today, reporting that Libby was stoic when the verdict came down, that seated between his attorneys, he did not move. His wife, on the other hand, she was dabbing her eyes. She went up and hugged the defense team, telling attorney Ted Wells that she loved him, with much emotion, said Firedoglake

And there were so many people following this trial, this verdict. On the site, the site crashed earlier, and the comments, the updates were being posted at another blog, Daily Kos. But it's been Firedoglake that's really been following this minute by minute, collective liberal bloggers who have been camped out in Washington, D.C., providing this coverage. They are liberal bloggers, and they're not afraid to say today -- to give their opinions and share their views about how this went -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks, Abbi, for that.

Let's move to the race for the White House. It's well under way right now and it promises to be a long campaign season.

My next guest knows a lot about campaigning. He's run unsuccessfully for president, for the U.S. Senate, but Jerry Brown twice won the governor's office in California. Last November, he was elected overwhelmingly to become the state's attorney general. He's the former mayor of Oakland, as well.

Jerry Brown is here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Governor, thanks for coming in.

JERRY BROWN (D), CALIFORNIA ATTORNEY GENERAL: Well, thanks for inviting me.

BLITZER: Is it possible that Governor Schwarzenegger, who's popular right now in California, as you well know, could help carry that state for a moderate Republican, let's say like Rudy Giuliani, maybe even John McCain, in 2008. Is that possible?

BROWN: Yes, it's possible. How likely, that's not as clear. But Schwarzenegger is now carving out a path of what he calls post- partisan politics.

It's somewhat similar to Governor Earl Warren, who later became the chief justice of the United States. He was beloved by both parties, and Arnold, after some -- a rocky road, has figured out a way to go right down the middle.

And he has one big ace card, and that is the legislature wants to modify term limits, and the only way they can modify term limits is if the majority of people feel good about their performance. So they're all going to be on their best behavior until the presidential election, when they put on this special term limits.

So I think he's going to be positioned. Now, who is going to be -- is Giuliani...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Well, do you think Giuliani can get the Republican presidential nomination?

BROWN: I think it's too early to tell. But he certainly would bring that mayoral experience, where you go...

BLITZER: So he would have a shot in California?

BROWN: I think he would have a shot.

BLITZER: What about --what about John McCain?

BROWN: I think that his position on the war is going to make him very -- I think there's going to be a lot of people who will be very troubled by that.

BLITZER: And Mitt Romney?

BROWN: Mitt Romney's a completely fresh face. I think some of his more fundamentalist affiliations would make it difficult, but he's certainly -- if you are going to central casting, Mitt Romney would be the guy who you would pick.

BLITZER: Let's talk Democratic presidential politics for a moment. Achilles heel -- do the front-runners have an Achilles heel? For example, Hillary Clinton right now? What's your sense?

BROWN: I think they do. Having gone through a presidential and a gubernatorial and a senatorial campaign, you run out of stuff to say. You get boring.

As things get boring, there's -- people start looking for things. The press starts grabbing at you. The extremes in your party pushes you.

I think it's a very risky position that the poll position out front...

BLITZER: To be the front-runner right now?

BROWN: To be the front-runner...

BLITZER: And so Hillary could be in trouble?

BROWN: Well, it's kind of like she's going to be in somewhat of a stall to try to prevent turbulence, and all these other people are going to be creating turbulence. And so...

BLITZER: They are going to be going after her.

BROWN: We've never had a campaign with so many high-profile people so early, with 24 hour news to push it along.

BLITZER: What about Barack Obama? What do you make of this phenomenon?

BROWN: Well, he is exciting. He doesn't have the record, but in many ways that's quite good, because the more of a record you have, the more they can pick at you.

So that in itself is possible. But then you get the question, where's the beef? Which they threw at Gary Hart. So each of these candidates have possibilities, have vulnerabilities, and as they go back and forth, a new candidate could emerge.

BLITZER: If you were giving those Democrats one piece of advice right now, what would it be, knowing your personal experience in seeking the nation's highest office?

BROWN: Well, I'd say, to Hillary, I would avoid exposure until later. Barack, he's got to keep coming up.

And the other ones, I'd make start attacking, start making noise. They have to break through.

So each one has a different strategic challenge that they are facing.

BLITZER: What about Al Gore?

BROWN: Well, Al Gore is always waiting there. He seems rather reluctant, but there is the possibility if Barack and Hillary start weakening themselves in mutual combat, that opens up the possibility of these other lower-tier candidates, and then Al Gore could come in to try to overcome the wreckage and then present himself as the consensus candidate.

That's highly possible. He's well-known. He doesn't have to raise a lot of money. He can wait until the very end, just waiting for some kind of train wreck to precede his entry.

BLITZER: Talk a little bit about Gavin Newsom, the mayor of San Francisco. As we know, he had a scandal that's caused him an enormous amount of grief right now, an affair with a married woman, the wife of a former aide of his. But he's up for reelection this year.

Can he get re-elected in San Francisco?

BROWN: Oh, I think he's going to be overwhelmingly elected. And this was definitely a big bump in the road, I don't think in the context of San Francisco it's going to slow him down.

BLITZER: Why is that?

BROWN: Because San Francisco is a very liberal city. This is not, you know, a fundamentalist town. You know some of the adjectives that the Republicans use in respect to the city.

It's a very -- always been tolerant from the days of the Barbary Coast. And while this was, you know, a sexual dalliance, that's not the thing that is going to keep you down. It's not the budget, it's not crime, it's not a financial scandal.

So I think it's the kind of thing that people can absorb and forgive as he goes forward. He's very young, he's very talented, and the polls show him very high.

BLITZER: How do you like being attorney general of California? This is a new gig for you.

BROWN: A brand new gig. I haven't been in state government since 1983, and...

BLITZER: When you were governor.

BROWN: When I was governor. I kind of like it. Governor, you are always talking about new laws. But we have several hundred thousands of them, and now as attorney general, my job is to enforce them.

So it's the policemen on the beat, it's the trial lawyer, the prosecutor. And it's quite something, because I would even say we have plenty of laws. We ought to start removing them. We ought to enforce the ones we got with some wisdom and some balance.

BLITZER: One final question. Scooter Libby, you think the president should pardon Cheney's former top aide?

BROWN: Nope. And I think -- I think the key to this case is it's tie-in to the misinformation, the disinformation leading up to the Iraq war. And this was all part of that defense of what is now perhaps the most disastrous policy in the history of America. So I think that justice was served. And now were he to make a pardon, I mea, it would be a disaster for the Republican Party.

BLITZER: Tell me why it would be a disaster.

BROWN: Well, we know what happened when I was running in 1974, when Gerald Ford pardoned Nixon. And that just -- it just undermined by Republican opponent, it made for massive victories all over America. So, when you rig the rules of the justice system, Americans of all parties are revolted by it.

BLITZER: Having said that, do you think he will pardon?

BROWN: I can't tell. What do they do when they walk out the door? You know, that last week people make what they call deathbed appointments, deathbed pardons. So you can never tell. But it would not stand the Republican Party in good stead.

BLITZER: Jerry Brown, the attorney general of California.

Thanks for stopping by THE SITUATION ROOM.

BROWN: Thank you.

BLITZER: We hope you'll come back.

BROWN: I will.

BLITZER: Up ahead, Hillary Clinton trying to win over women voters. We're going to show you what her campaign is doing right now that potentially could give her an edge in '08.

Plus, the e-mail shedding new light on the case of that NASA astronaut charged with trying to kidnap a romantic rival.

Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: It could be a deciding factor in the race for the White House, but will women be more inclined to vote for Hillary Clinton for president because she's one of them? Her campaign is certainly hoping so, already moving to try to capitalize on it.

Let's go back to Mary Snow in New York for the story -- Mary.

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, women make up roughly 52 percent of voters in the general election. And in the Democratic primaries, that number is eve higher. Now the Clinton campaign is aggressively targeting them.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SNOW (voice over): Call it the female factor. Democratic presidential candidate Senator Hillary Clinton is making an all-out push to woo women voters. She's appealing to them to make her the first female president.

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D), NEW YORK: Together, we can break that hardest and highest of all glass ceilings.

SNOW: Senator Clinton spoke at an event hosted by EMILY's List, the political group that supports pro-choice Democratic women. It has already endorsed her. The question is, will women nationwide follow their lead?

The Clinton campaign says it is not taking the women vote for granted and is aiming to build a national network through social contacts and the Web. Their premise -- women rely on one another.

ANN LEWIS, CLINTON CAMPAIGN SR. ADVISER: When women have questions that are really important to them, when women want to talk about what's important to their families, they going to talk to other women about it.

SNOW: Helping to do the talking, the Clinton campaign has enlisted Geraldine Ferarro, the first female vice presidential candidate; first female secretary of state, Madeleine Albright; and tennis great Billie Jean King, among others, to reach out to women. Recent history has shown women have an advantage in the numbers.

RUTH MANDEL, DIRECTOR, EAGLETON INST. OF POLITICS: About almost nine million more women voted in the 2004 presidential elections. We would not expect that number to go down.

SNOW: What kind of difference can women make? Recent poll shows among men, senators Clinton and Democratic rival Senator Barack Obama are roughly neck and neck. But among women, Clinton was clearly in the lead. And one of the ways the campaign hopes to win over women voters, economic issues.

CLINTON: Even today, more than 40 years after the passage of the Equal Pay Act, women who work full time year round earn just 70 cents for every dollar that a man earns.

(END VIDEOTAPE) SNOW: And the Clinton campaign is hoping those economic issues will resonate with unmarried women, since its estimated that 20 million single women did not vote in the last presidential election. The goal is to get them to the polls -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Thank you, Mary, for that.

(NEWSBREAK)

BLITZER: Up ahead, love letters from Earth to space. We're going to have details of the e-mail that's at the center of that NASA astronaut love triangle.

And coming up in our 7:00 p.m. Eastern hour, the Democratic Party chairman, Howard Dean, he'll weigh in on the Libby case. Does he think the president or the vice president committed a crime?

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: New developments in that NASA love triangle that has one astronaut charged with attempted kidnapping of her romantic rival. Some of the steamy e-mail messages that may have motivated her are now out.

Let's turn to our national correspondent, Susan Candiotti. She's joining us from Miami with more -- Susan.

SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Wolf.

More than a dozen e-mails and other police interviews are now part of the public record. But those e-mails make an especially fascinating read.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CANDIOTTI (voice over): It may be freezing outside those shuttle hatches, but inside zero gravity, steamy e-mails can keep astronauts warm. "Will have to control myself when I see you. First urge will be to rip your clothes off, throw you on the ground, and love the hell out of you," writes Air Force captain Colleen Shipman to her lover, astronaut Bill Oefelein at the time last December he was circling Earth, piloting the shuttle Discovery.

Oefelein tells Shipman he's "a moron" when she's not near. He writes, "You must really have me around your finger that I can't even function without you here. And with you here, I am slightly smarter than a slug."

E-mails between Shipman and Oefelein apparently sent romantic rival Lisa Nowak over the edge. Prosecutors say after fellow astronaut Nowak found the love letters on Oefelein's computer, she plotted revenge -- a mind-boggling 900-mile cross-country drive from NASA headquarters in Houston to Orlando in adult diapers to meet Shipman's plane. Nowak is charged with trying to kidnap Shipman from an airport parking lot. Even though Nowak, a mother of three who is seeking divorce from her husband, downplayed their affair, Oefelein told police he was involved with both women, but told Nowak he wanted to date Shipman exclusively.

In this newly released letter from Nowak to Oefelein's mother, Nowak pours out her soul. "Bill is absolutely the best person I've ever known and I love him more than I knew possible."

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CANDIOTTI: Lisa Nowak has pleaded not guilty. No comment from the two other players who just might be regretting those oh-so- personal e-mails from outer space and back -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Susan, what's the status of this case?

CANDIOTTI: Well, Lisa Nowak has what they're calling a written arraignment in just a couple of weeks. Other than that, the case is just chugging along.

BLITZER: Susan Candiotti reporting from our Miami bureau.

Thank you, Susan, for that.

Susan in Miami.

Up ahead, Jack Cafferty wants to know how will the Libby guilty verdict impact the Bush White House? Jack with "The Cafferty File" when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWSBREAK)

BLITZER: Jack Cafferty is joining us once again with "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: What sort of an omelet would you call that?

BLITZER: Mixed omelet? A crush omelet, or wasted omelet?

CAFFERTY: Yes.

The question this hour is: How will the conviction of Scooter Libby impact the Bush White House?

Doug writes from Dallas, "Libby's case will have no impact on the Bush administration other than feeding those who claim Bush lied with ammunition for more attacks on Bush. It's just more politics."

Ray in Lubbock, Texas, writes, "I don't think an asteroid could impact the White House. Those people have pulled up the drawbridge."

Greg in Buffalo, New York, "It should open the door to impeachment, but we all know it won't."

Forest in Albuquerque, New Mexico, "Maybe the Bush administration will finally realize that the press is in bed with the Democrats, considering the one-sided coverage of the whole Plame-Wilson-Libby fiasco."

Steve in Libby, Montana, "It won't. Bush and Cheney and their neocon cabal have proven over and over again that they feel that they are above the law and need not answer to any man, any law, or the Constitution. Just more business as usual."

J. writes from Pleasant Prairie, Wisconsin, "Jack, Libby Schmibby. While what Libby did isn't very cool, it's peanuts compared with the criminal, treasonous and despicable deeds of Cheney, Rice, Bush and 100 or so congressmen and congresswomen. More smoke and mirrors."

And John writes this: "Any person over the age of 10 who goes by the name 'Scooter' deserves to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law."

Couldn't agree more.

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

BLITZER: What were they saying, our viewers out there who are writing to you, Jack, about why Scooter Libby, who's now been convicted of lying to the FBI, lying to a federal grand jury, what was his incentive to lie?

CAFFERTY: Well, that's the great unknown, isn't it? They didn't put Libby on the stand, they didn't put Dick Cheney on the stand, despite his apparent willingness to testify in this case. But the question that we'll probably never get the answer to is, why lie about this?

Who were you trying to protect? What didn't you want us to know? And that's the great unanswered question in all of this.

But if there was really nothing wrong with this, if it was all just an innocent mistake, then you go in front of the grand jury and you tell the truth. He didn't do that.

BLITZER: He himself was a highly-regarded lawyer in Washington. He knows the law. He knows you don't go to a grand jury and lie or to the FBI.

So something motivated him to do that. And I think you're right. We're probably not going to know, at least for the time being. Although, in the end, a lot of this stuff eventually comes out.

In the end could be a long time from now, Jack.

CAFFERTY: Apparently.

BLITZER: See you back here in an hour.

Jack Cafferty with "The Cafferty File."

We're here weekday afternoons, back at 7:00 p.m. Eastern.

Let's go New York and Lou Dobbs.

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