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THE SITUATION ROOM

Fierce Critic of Iraq War Criticiezd by Others; Misuse of FBI Power?; Newt Gingrich Admits Cheating on Former Wife

Aired March 9, 2007 - 16:00   ET

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


SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORREPSONDENT: Happening now, a fierce critic of the Iraq War is criticized by other war critics. Democratic Congressman David Obey of Wisconsin gets an unexpected visit in the halls of Congress and it turns into a finger pointing shouting match. Whit on tape.
Also, is being called a serious misuse of power. It involves the FBI, a tool to fight terror and the financial phone, Internet and other records of some people in the United States.

And secrets and confessions -- conservative Newt Gingrich admits cheating on former wife. For a man who's often advocated strong family values, might that hurt his presidential prospects?

Wolf Blitzer is off today.

I'm Suzanne Malveaux and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

There are new developments regarding the fight between House Democrats and President Bush over Iraq. Democrats are pushing to bring U.S. troops home, but they must first push for support from some other Democrats.

Our Congressional correspondent, Dana Bash, joins us live from Capitol Hill -- Dana, bring us the very latest.

DANA BASH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, Suzanne, the White House issued a veto threat for this Iraq plan yesterday. But at this point, it's unclear, even unlikely, the president will ever see this bill on his desk.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

BASH (voice-over): House Democrats may now have a plan to bring troops home from Iraq by fall of 2008, but the big question is will they have the votes to pass it?

REP. RAHM EMANUEL, (D), ILLINOIS: There's nothing guaranteed in life. But I feel very good, based on the conversations that the leadership in the House has had with a cross section of the caucus.

BASH: To find votes in a divided Democratic caucus, House Democratic leaders are trying some good old-fashioned horse trading, adding sweeteners aimed directly at disgruntled Democrats on the left and the right, things that have nothing to do with the war. To rally conservative Democrats in rural districts who worry about micromanaging the war, $4.3 billion for an agriculture assistance program. To lure the left flank, who want troops home now, leaders even added a hike in the minimum wage to a war funding bill.

SEN. TRENT LOTT (R-MS), MINORITY WHIP: To do those things on the backs of our men and women in uniform on an emergency military appropriations request is the worst kind of, you know, activity, I think, in the Congress.

BASH: Even if the war funding bill, with a deadline for a troop withdrawal, gets through the House, it almost certainly won't pass the Senate, where Democrats have a narrow majority.

Regardless, Democrats insist the constant Congressional debate will put pressure on the Iraq government and President Bush.

SEN. CHARLES SCHUMER (D), NEW YORK: We believe the more it is debated and discussed, the more the difference between the parties is apparent to the American people, the less flexibility the president will have in maintaining this course.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

BASH: As for the Iraq War debate that Senate Democrats hope to start next week in the Senate, we are told by some of the Republicans whop supported the Democrats the last time they brought this up in a non-binding or symbolic resolution, Republicans like John Warner and Norm Coleman, they told CNN today, Suzanne, that they will not support this. That means that that particular measure is probably not going to pass either -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: Dana Bash, thank you so much.

And in other news, it's a stunning claim of governmental misuse of power. The FBI improperly and sometimes illegally used the Patriot Act to secretly obtain personal information on individuals without a court order.

That's according to an internal audit from the Justice Department. It involves so-called national security letters or NSLs. The government uses the NSLs to obtain financial, phone, Internet and other very personal records on individuals from phone companies, Internet service providers, banks and other businesses without a judge's approval.

But the Justice Department audit says at times the FBI's use of the NSLs constituted a serious misuse of its power and the audit says the FBI under reported its use of NSLs to Congress by 22 percent.

The report and Attorney General Alberto Gonzales says none of this involved intentional wrongdoing by the FBI. But the attorney general does say that changes are needed. The director of the FBI says the use of NSLs is absolutely essential. But he says he partly bears the blame for any misuse.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERT MUELLER, FBI DIRECTOR: I am the person responsible. I am the person accountable. And I am committed to ensuring that we correct these deficiencies and live up to these responsibilities.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MALVEAUX: Now, meanwhile, both Democrats and Republicans are speaking out.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. PATRICK LEAHY (D), VERMONT: It has become more and more this idea that somehow all you have to say is well, we're out to get terrorists -- as though anybody here supports terrorists -- and we can bend the law and we can do anything we want. Ironically, that has not made us safer. Many would argue that it's made us less safe. And that's what is -- that's what's happened here.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JON KYL (R), ARIZONA: It shakes my confidence in the organization which is given a very important power and when significant and important powers are given to public officials, there's an obligation to use those powers very carefully.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MALVEAUX: President Bush continues on his first stop during his eighth trip to Latin America. The president is in Brazil, where he talked about alternative fuel and other issues with the Brazilian president.

Our White House correspondent, Ed Henry, is traveling with the president, and, of course, joins us from Sao Paolo -- Ed.

ED HENRY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Suzanne, at a press conference today, President Bush side-stepped a direct question about the latest insult from Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chavez -- "go home, gringo."

The White House does not want to be drawn into a one-on-one with Chavez. That only gives him more attention that he so desperately craves.

But it's clear that even if the White House doesn't want to directly engage him, that this shadowboxing, if you will, has really come in front and center during this seven day tour of Latin America for the president.

today touring a biofuel plant with his Brazilian counterpart, President Bush took a stab at what you might call ethanol diplomacy -- inking a deal with Brazilian President Luiz da Silva, that President Bush hopes will cut off some of Chavez's power by going after his oil riches.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm particularly anxious to work with the president on helping Central America become less dependent on oil, become energy self-sufficient. It's in -- it's in the interests of the United States that there be a prosperous neighborhood. And one way to help spread prosperity in Central America is for them to become energy producers, not become -- not remain dependent on others for their energy sources.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HENRY: Whipped up by Chavez's anti-American rhetoric, protests have been building against Mr. Bush all across Latin America. Chavez himself planning what he calls anti-imperialist rallies against Mr. Bush aimed at overshadowing the president's seven day tour of Latin America.

U.S. officials are now privately charging that all of these protests are not happening spontaneously. They charge that Chavez has been paying people to show up at the protests, bolster the crowds, to try to show up Mr. Bush -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: Thank you, Ed.

And meanwhile, some are greeting President Bush with anger. Demonstrations continue, with protesters accusing the Bush administration of wanting to control the production of ethanol in Brazil. And some 6,000 students, environmentalists and left-leaning Brazilians clash with police, who fired tear gas on the crowds.

Our Carol Costello is monitoring the wires and keeping an eye on the video feeds from around the world.

She joins us from New York, of course, with a closer look on all those other stories -- Carol, what's happening?

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Some good economic news to tell you about, Suzanne.

The Labor Department says the employment climate is in fundamentally good shape. Ninety-seven thousand jobs were added last month nationwide and revised figure show that job gains during December and January were stronger than previously estimated.

The unemployment rate edged down from 4.6 percent in January to 4.5 percent in February.

Victims of last month's tornado in Arkansas are getting some help. FEMA has reached an agreement to send 30 mobile homes and travel trailers to the area to provide temporary housing. I know what you're thinking. The state will have to pay to move those trailers 165 miles from Hope, Arkansas. Yesterday's agreement came on the same day the White House denied the county's request to be declared a federal disaster area. The latest victim of last week's terrible bus crash in Atlanta is being remembered as a wonderful son and someone with a great sense of humor. Bluffton University baseball player Zach Arend died this morning of his injuries. Four of his teammates, the bus driver and the bus driver's wife also killed. Authorities say the chartered bus carrying the Bluffton team to Florida went up an exit ramp, hit a retaining wall and fell onto the expressway.

She's threatened to release phone records of more than 10,000 of her past clients. Today, the former owner of an escort service in the nation's capital pleaded not guilty to five charges related to her now defunct business. Now, the judge has yet to act on a gag order requested by prosecutors that would prevent Deborah Jean Palfrey from releasing customer details. Now, wouldn't that be interesting?

CNN's Brianna Keilar will have more in a live report. That comes your way in the next hour.

Back to you -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: Looking forward to that report, Carol.

Carol, thank you so much.

And, of course, we're going to the Jack Cafferty File -- Jack Cafferty, of course, joining us from New York -- I'm back, Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Nice to see you, Suzanne.

Happy Friday.

This may come as a surprise to those of you watching, or maybe it won't, the FBI properly and sometimes illegally used the Patriot Act to get personal information about people in the United States. This is the kind of stuff that happens when the war on terror is used as an excuse to circumvent our civil liberties, which has become the hallmark of the Bush administration.

The Justice Department's inspector general was looking at the FBI's use of something called national security letters. Agents use these to get personal and business information about people from third parties without court orders.

The audit found that for three years, the FBI under reported to Congress how often it used these national security letters, under reported by about 22 percent.

It said in many cases, the FBI was trying to get information it "could have obtained properly" by following other presumably legal guidelines.

The report blames agent error and shoddy reporting for the problems.

The FBI's director, Robert Mueller, calls the audit report excellent and said he's to blame for not fixing the problems earlier. Members of Congress want hearings now and some say they want to consider reigning in parts of the Patriot Act, something that is an absolutely wonderful idea that is way, way overdue.

So here's the question this hour -- does it surprise you that the FBI misused the Patriot Act in order to get personal information about Americans?

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

I wonder what they know about you -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: Oh, well, let's keep that to ourselves, Jack.

Who do you think is responsible for all of this?

Because everybody seems to be saying well, I take part blame.

Who do you blame?

CAFFERTY: Well, there's a climate in Washington, beginning with the passage of the Patriot Act and the NSA spying and the trolling through bank records and the trolling through opening people's mail and all of the other things that have gone on under the guise of the war on terror and keeping us safe that have created, I think, a climate where this kind of thing is -- is sort of, you know, it's a wink and a nod and you do it the most expedient way possible, whether it's legal or not, because there's been no oversight of any of this stuff for the last six years.

And so people have learned that there's no accountability. They don't have to worry about it. And, you know, they to pretty much whatever they want to do. It's -- it's -- it's horrible. But I think there's, you know, there's a climate that exists in Washington -- or at least has -- that's allowed this kind of stuff to take root and grow.

MALVEAUX: Well, hopefully our records are still private, Jack.

CAFFERTY: Well, let's hope. Especially the stuff about you and me.

MALVEAUX: Oh my goodness, don't start any rumors. No rumors. No rumors.

CAFFERTY: All right.

MALVEAUX: And if you want a sneak preview of Jack's questions plus an early read on the day's political news and what's ahead in THE SITUATION ROOM, sign up for our daily e-mail alert.

Just go to cnn.com/situationroom.

And coming up, Newt Gingrich speaks out about his marital infidelities. But is his confession damage or damage control as he considers a run for the White House?

We'll ask our Bill Schneider.

Plus, Hillary Clinton gets ready to get back on the campaign trail. We'll tell you where she's going, as well as her rivals this busy political weekend.

And is the free ride over for the White House?

With Congress back in Democratic hands, oversight seems to be back in fashion on Capitol Hill.

Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MALVEAUX: Now, I want to show you this video of a Democratic critic of the war being confronted by other critics. It happened Monday. It involves Congressman David Obey of Wisconsin.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, COURTESY YOUTUBE.COM)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... filibuster his supplemental request

OBEY: There is no filibuster in the House.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, in the Senate they could do it.

OBEY: How, if we don't have the votes?

It takes 200...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You can filibuster his supplement request.

OBEY: I'm sorry. I'm sorry. No, I'm not going to veto for it. I'm the sponsor of the bill that's going to be on the floor and that bill ends the war. If that isn't good enough for you, you're smoking something that ain't legal.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I am -- no, I'm not, sir. No, I'm not.

OBEY: You got your facts screwed up.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: When are we going...

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You don't have to defund the war.

OBEY: (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How would it affect the war?

It's not binding. I wondered how would it affect what he's doing at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue?

OBEY: We do not have the votes. Do you see a magic wand in my pocket?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No.

OBEY: How in the hell are we going to get the votes? We ain't got the votes for it. We do have the votes, if you guys quit screwing it up, we do have the votes to end the legal authority for the war. That's the same as defunding it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

OBEY: Yes, it would.

(CROSSTALK)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MALVEAUX: Dana Bash, our Congressional correspondent, joins us from the Hill.

We saw this dramatic piece of tape here.

Explain to us what is happening.

BASH: Well, what you saw, Suzanne, is the Democratic chairman of the Appropriations Committee in the House, one of the most liberal members of Congress, David Obey, essentially, as you could see there, very much losing his cool with some anti-war activists. What they were trying to say is they want him to use his power, the power of the majority here, to cut off funding for the war in order to stop it.

And he was clearly saying you know what?

It's not that easy. He even said at one point that he thought they were "liberal idiots."

Now, Congressman Obey did issue a statement just a short while ago, and I'll read it to you. He apologized.

He said: "I'm sorry that I yelled at them. I respect their passion on the issue. I wish they would respect mine. We are both frustrated and that led us to have an argument that we never should have had because we both want to see an end to the U.S. involvement in that war" -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: Dana, is this kind of thing unusual or -- I mean do you have protesters that are in the halls of Congress?

I mean how often does something like this happen?

BASH: Well, that kind of blowup, I would expect, is quite unusual. This was actually caught on tape and put up, of course, on YouTube. That's how we got a hold of it.

But that kind of sentiment is not unusual. It really illustrates the frustration that some of the anti-war activities have with the -- with the Democratic leaders. The pressure that they are under from the left of the party to, as I said, use the majority to just stop the war -- I was talking to another Democratic chairman about this just yesterday, Suzanne. And he said that the anti-war faction of their party, they're vocal, they are relentless and they are really pressuring them to do something and do something now.

And, as you just heard from Congressman Obey, who, again, is one of the most liberal members of Congress, he's trying to make the case to them, as many other Democratic leaders are here, to say look, it's not that easy. It's not realistic.

MALVEAUX: Obviously a lot of frustration on all sides.

Thank you so much.

BASH: Thank you.

MALVEAUX: Dana Bash.

And still ahead, Louis Farrakhan blasts President Bush and even Senator Barack Obama. Our Don Lemon sat down the Nation of Islam leader in a one-on-one interview.

And outing a leak -- one House Democrat wanted to know who was leaking information so he hatched a secret plan. We'll have details.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MALVEAUX: He's a presidential prospect, the favorite of many conservatives, and he often talks of family values, yet he was having an extra-marital affair even as his fellow Republicans blasted President Clinton for his marital infidelity.

Newt Gingrich is reportedly going out in the open with what many regarded as an open secret.

Senior political analyst Bill Schneider has more -- Bill.

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Suzanne, Newt Gingrich's confession -- is it damage or is it damage control?

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

SCHNEIDER (voice-over): Newt Gingrich confesses in a radio interview with Dr. James Dobson, founder of Focus On the Family.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP, COURTESY WWW.FAMILY.ORG)

JAMES DOBSON, FOCUS ON THE FAMILY: I asked you if the rumors were true that you were in an affair with a woman, obviously, who wasn't your wife at the same time that Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky were having their escapade?

NEWT GINGRICH (R), FORMER HOUSE SPEAKER: Well, the fact is the honest answer is yes.

SCHNEIDER: The confession makes Gingrich sound like a hypocrite, passing judgment on President Clinton while all the while he himself was engaging in adultery.

Gingrich says he was not passing judgment on Clinton's personal behavior.

GINGRICH: The president of the United States got in trouble for committing a felony in front of a sitting federal judge.

SCHNEIDER: Gingrich's confession could be damage control. He says he will decide whether to run for president this fall, after he surveys the Republican field. If he runs, he can treat his affair as an issue he has already dealt with.

Rudy Giuliani has also been married three times and he's the Republican frontrunner. A Southern Baptist leader condemned Giuliani's behavior, calling his break-up with his second wife "divorce on steroids."

RUDI GIULIANI (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm a human being. You know, I made mistakes. I'm not perfect.

SCHNEIDER: Gingrich, who just published a book called "Rediscovering God In America," confessed to a religious leader and he expressed repentance.

GINGRICH: There are things in my own life that I have turned to god and gotten on my knees and prayed about and sought god's

forgiveness.

SCHNEIDER: Will religious voters forgive Gingrich?

Dobson seemed inclined to.

DOBSON: I think it's really important and will be for many of our listeners to know your responses to that point of disappointment back there some place and I really appreciate your willingness to do so.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

SCHNEIDER: Critics may say they're all hypocrites. Religious conservatives make allowances for people they agree with politically, like Newt Gingrich, but not for Rudy Giuliani or Bill Clinton -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: Bill, it's a strange time in Washington, all these confessions and "I'm sorrys," apologies...

SCHNEIDER: Yes. MALVEAUX: It's very odd.

We'll see how it goes over, how it plays with people, the voters.

SCHNEIDER: It certainly is.

MALVEAUX: OK, thank you very much, Bill.

And up next, Louis Farrakhan is lashing out against President Bush. We'll tell you what the Nation of Islam leader has to say.

And one former congressman goes to extremes to plug a leak. We'll hear from CNN's Brian Todd.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MALVEAUX: Happening now, fresh protests against President Bush in Brazil. Demonstrators yell, "Bush Out!," and burn effigies of the president as he announces a deal to share ethanol technology with Brazil.

Also, a government audit find serious misuse of the Patriot Act by the FBI. More than two dozen violations in all, and many not reported to an oversight board.

And will the U.S. talk to Iran at this weekend's regional conference on the crisis in Iraq?

I'll ask one of the key American players, the former U.S. Ambassador to Iraq, Zalid Khalilzad.

Wolf Blitzer is off today.

I'm Suzanne Malveaux and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

He may be getting older, but it appears Louis Farrakhan is not getting any more mellow with his words. He is blasting President Bush, even some presidential candidates.

Now, our Don Lemon sat down with the Nation of Islam leader.

Don Lemon joins me from Atlanta with more -- it must have been a fascinating conversation.

DON LEMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It certainly was, Suzanne.

And, you know, Louis Farrakhan has never been known to mince words, and he didn't in a rare sit down interview with us at his home in Chicago earlier this week. Now, even though he was near death and is slowly relinquishing power, as a sometimes controversial leader of the Nation of Islam, he did not hold back on criticism of the president and those who hope to become one.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

LEMON: In your speech, you talked about the war in Iraq. LOUIS FARRAKHAN, NATION OF ISLAM LEADER: Yes, I did.

LEMON: You talked about the president. You say he should be impeached.

FARRAKHAN: Oh, definitely.

The president lied to the American people. This man will throw America deep into Armageddon if he's allowed his way. And the Democrats seem so weak and cowardly to confront this thing.

LEMON: You are talking about Democrats, one of which who is running for president who lives in your very neighborhood. What do you think of him?

FARRAKHAN: I like him very much. I'm not saying that I am going to vote for him, but I like him, because he's fresh.

LEMON: Do you think that Barack Obama is the answer to George Bush?

FARRAKHAN: No. I think he's capable of being an answer.

But who will provide him with the money, so he can contend with Mrs. Clinton and her big bank, or Giuliani and McCain and their growing bank? So, the people that bankroll you, they are the ones that ultimately call the tune.

LEMON: So, what are you saying?

(CROSSTALK)

FARRAKHAN: I'm saying that, no matter who sits in the White House, if you don't uproot the structure that corrupts them, you still don't have a president. You have a figurehead.

LEMON: Do you think Barack Obama can do that?

FARRAKHAN: No, absolutely not.

He knows some of the ugliness of politics, because he's been in it long enough. But the real wickedness of the face of politics, you are looking right into the face of Satan himself. And Satan doesn't intend to be uprooted by an upstart from Chicago or Ms. Clinton from New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LEMON: And Farrakhan says, of all the choices, Obama is the best. But he still doesn't feel that he's the one to take over.

As far as who will take over after Farrakhan steps down, Suzanne, it is still unclear.

MALVEAUX: And, Don, what is your impression of his influence? We know that some of his power and impact, it's been waning for -- for years now.

LEMON: I think he is still influential when it comes to the Nation of Islam. But, as you said, it is waning.

And, as you know, the two groups split when the Honorable Elijah Muhammad died back in the 1970s and Louis Farrakhan took over. And, ever since then, there was at least a surge in membership, following that death, when Louis Farrakhan sort of became the leader.

But, over time, that has slowly waned. And, definitely, since he has been sick, it has been waning as well. So, he is hoping to get that back. And I think that's going to be part of his legacy: Who will take over after he is done?

MALVEAUX: Don, thanks so much -- a fascinating interview.

And, meanwhile, Washington is a place full of people with plenty to say. But some of it should not be spoken, at least not on the record. So, the tool of choice is often leaks. But how might you stop them?

Congressman Dave Obey of Wisconsin wanted to know. He's the same representative we saw moments ago being confronted by war critics in video we found on YouTube.

Our Brian Todd is here to explain all of it -- Brian.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Suzanne, one fellow congressman says David obey is feeling a lot of stress in his new job as a committee chairman.

But a recent comment from Obey raises questions about the level of that stress.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TODD (voice-over): This venerable Democratic congressman might not welcome the comparison, but parallels for his alleged paranoia are being drawn with none other than Richard Nixon.

David Obey, powerful chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, apparently concerned that information on a pending Iraq war funding bill was leaking like a sieve, told reporters he pulled a fast one on fellow committee Democrats.

REP. DAVID OBEY (D-WI), HOUSE APPROPRIATIONS COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: I purposely gave several members of our caucus wrong information, so that, when it appeared in print, I could see who the hell was leaking and who wasn't.

(LAUGHTER)

QUESTION: Are you serious?

OBEY: Yes. And, so, today, I know the names of two members who will not be invited to further meetings. TODD: What was the wrong information? Who did he give it to? How did they use it? Obey wasn't available to speak with us.

His press aide would not comment on the record, even to say whether this was a joke. If it wasn't, Obey's method for tracking leaks is panned by a former top U.S. intelligence official. Too difficult to pinpoint the real leaker, says this expert. Whoever Obey allegedly gave it to could have handed it to somebody else, who leaked it to the press.

Our expert says, U.S. intelligence rarely uses the misinformation technique, because of potentially dangerous unintended consequences -- maybe not such a risk in this case.

But folks on our end of this story might also learn a lesson about leaks.

HOWARD KURTZ, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: The media are used by everybody all the time, particularly by people whispering into phones and saying, don't use my name, and this is on background, and all of that. We put up with that far too often.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: And we still put up with it, even after the CIA leak case, which painted a less-than-flattering case picture of how the media deals with leaks.

But, here in Washington, that's the only way that some of the most crucial and important information travels -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: So, Brian, was some of this part of a joke or something? Any guidance on whether or not they really meant that statement?

TODD: Still no real clarity as to whether he was joking with -- with the reporters or not. But, right now, we are now the fourth news organization that has reported this story. He apparently told it to at least two other news organizations.

We have tried to get to the congressman all day. We have not been able to. So, it probably is in the congressman's interest to at least try to clarify some of this.

MALVEAUX: Sure, not a good day, necessarily, for Congressman Obey today.

(CROSSTALK)

MALVEAUX: And coming up: Barack Obama heads into enemy territory. We will tell you why he's spending tonight on Hillary Clinton's home turf.

Plus: a firefight today between Rudy Giuliani and the head of the nation's largest firefighting union. Find out what's up in today's "Political Radar." (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MALVEAUX: Barack Obama is in Hillary Clinton country tonight. And that tops today's "Political Radar."

The senator from Illinois attends two fund-raisers in New York City. All the presidential hopefuls are raising as much campaign cash as they can this month, which ends the first quarter. A strong financial showing in the first quarter can boost enthusiasm for a candidate and build more support.

A firefight today between Rudy Giuliani and the head of the nation's largest firefighting union -- the former New York City mayor is being criticized by the union for his move to restrict the number of firefighters allowed to recover remains at ground zero two months after 9/11. First-responders are some of Giuliani's biggest supporters as he makes a run for the presidency. But will this new attack hurt Giuliani's leadership image, which he's built on his performance during the terrorist attacks and in the months that followed?

We will have much more on this story in the next hour.

You're right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

All three top Democrat presidential contenders are out on the trail this weekend. Senator Hillary Clinton meets with voters in New Hampshire tomorrow, before giving the keynote speech at a Democratic Party dinner.

Barack Obama is in Iowa tomorrow. The senator is meeting with voters at town-hall meetings across the state -- also there, John Edwards. The former Democratic and vice presidential nominee is touting his plan for universal health care.

And Senator Joe Biden is meeting with Iowa voters as well. The Iowa caucuses, of course, kick off the presidential primary calendar. But it's not all Democrats in Iowa this weekend. Republican Senator Sam Brownback meets with religious leaders and conservative activists.

Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani is in Nevada tomorrow. He's raising campaign cash at a private fund-raiser.

Senator John McCain is sitting down for breakfast with South Carolina voters. The Palmetto State holds the first Southern primary.

And Mitt Romney is in Florida. The former Massachusetts governor gives the keynote address at a Republican Party dinner.

And that is a quick look at where the candidates are all on the trail.

Now that Republicans no longer control Congress, the White House is under increasing scrutiny from lawmakers.

As CNN's senior analyst Jeff Greenfield reports, we will likely be seeing a lot more congressional oversight.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEFF GREENFIELD, CNN SENIOR ANALYST: Those hearings Monday on conditions at Walter Reed provided wrenching emotional testimony. But they also provided something else: an object lesson in what it means for the party out of power in the White House to control the Congress. It's called oversight.

REP. HENRY WAXMAN (D-CA), GOVERNMENT REFORM COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: We're under-serving our military, and something has got to be done about that.

GREENFIELD (voice-over): It's safe to say that the Congress would have come down hard on the officers who are in charge of Walter Reed, no matter which party was in power. The story was too compelling, too unsettling.

But Democrat Henry Waxman, chairman of the Government Reform Committee, has a long list of targets in his sights. And he's already begun to fire. Last February, for example, he chaired hearings into the disbursement of $12 billion in cash in Iraq after the U.S. invasion.

WAXMAN: Who in their right mind would send 360 tons of cash into a war zone?

REP. BARNEY FRANK (D), MASSACHUSETTS: I want to begin with an expression of disappointment.

GREENFIELD: Representative Barney Frank will be examining executive pay and predatory lending practices, subjects the more business-friendly Republican Congress did not probe.

SEN. CARL LEVIN (D-MI), ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: The Taliban threat.

GREENFIELD: On the Senate side, Armed Services Chair Carl Levin plans a hard look back on the decision to go to war...

SEN. PATRICK LEAHY (D-VT), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: ... is beneath the dignity of this country.

GREENFIELD: ... while Judiciary Chairman Pat Leahy will certainly be far tougher on the administration's assertion of broad executive power and its judicial nominees than were his Republican predecessors.

But congressional oversight is hardly new. And it's not just partisan. During World War II, Missouri Senator Harry Truman gained fame by probing shady practices of defense contractors and unions.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A red world.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREENFIELD: And it was a Republican Senate more than 50 years ago whose investigations ultimately brought down Senator Joseph McCarthy, after he had accused top Army officials of ignoring communist infiltration.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICHARD NIXON, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I shall resign the...

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREENFIELD: At least one congressional investigation led by one party, the one into Watergate, ultimately brought down a president of another party.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That was not true, was it, Colonel North?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREENFIELD: But, 14 years later, another probe into a Republican administration by a Democratic Congress left the presidency standing, in part because Colonel Oliver North won the public-relations battle with his investigators.

(on camera): In general, though, there is no doubt that an opposition Congress is one of a White House's worst nightmares. Indeed, you can find plenty of Democrats who will say: If we had controlled the House or the Senate in 2004, the oversight power might well have changed the presidential campaign.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MALVEAUX: And Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney won last week's conservative straw poll here in Washington. But are things still looking up for the former Massachusetts governor?

A new Web site from fellow Massachusetts Republicans has plans to expose Mitt Romney for flip-flopping on important issues.

Our Internet reporter, Jacki Schechner, is following that story.

Jacki, what are you finding out?

JACKI SCHECHNER, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Well, Suzanne, this is the Web site. It's called Massachusetts Republicans For Truth. It was started by two Massachusetts Republicans.

Ron Vining is one of the co-founders of the Web site. And he calls himself a Republican activist. He says, the former Massachusetts governor left the state in a -- quote -- "state of ruin." He says, the Web site will aim to make all candidates' positions on the issues known, but is focusing specifically on Romney first. Vining says, while he wants a Republican to win the White House in '08, he has not committed to a particular candidate yet.

The Romney campaign responded to this today. They say the Web project seems to be the work of two of disgruntled political operatives looking to keep busy during the political season. And they say the facts of Romney's record will speak for themselves.

Now, this is not the first time that Mitt Romney has been attacked online for allegedly flip-flopping on the issues. This YouTube video went up in January anonymously. It was a clip from a 1994 debate when Romney ran for Massachusetts senator. And it basically attacked his views on abortion and gay rights, said they were very different from where they are today.

Now, the video has been seen some 80,000 times. Romney's campaign reacted almost immediately. Within a day, this video was up. It is Romney speaking about his past, saying that he is not embarrassed to admit that he was wrong on some issues back then -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: Thanks, Jacki.

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

Up next in the "Strategy Session": Former House speaker Newt Gingrich, he came clean on his extramarital affairs, but did he do it to clear his conscience or to clear the slate with conservative voters?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MALVEAUX: A lot of attention is focused on former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, now that he admits he morally strayed in the past.

In an interview with a conservative Christian group, he discusses the affair he had while leading the charge against President Clinton over the Monica Lewinsky scandal.

Joining me in today's "Strategy Session" are Democratic strategist Donna Brazile and editor at large of "Human Events," Jeff -- Terry Jeffrey.

Let's start off here.

We have just got to listen to the sound, because it's -- it's really quite unbelievable. Let's take a listen.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP, "FOCUS ON THE FAMILY")

NEWT GINGRICH, FORMER SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: I believe deeply that people fall short, and that people have to recognize that they have to turn to God for forgiveness and to seek mercy, that -- somebody once said that, when you're young, you want justice, and, when you get older, you want mercy.

I also believe that there are things in my own life that I have turned to God and gotten on my knees and prayed about and sought God's forgiveness.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

MALVEAUX: Terry, who -- who -- who is this man? Who -- is this the same man that we saw who was going after Clinton over Monica Lewinsky? Or is this someone who is running for president?

TERRY JEFFREY, EDITOR, "HUMAN EVENTS": Well, clearly, Newt Gingrich wants us to believe that is a different man -- he is a different man today.

And I think, you know, I believe Newt Gingrich understands that the American people believe in two things. They -- they do absolutely believe that the personal behavior of people in public leadership matters. It matters what Bill Clinton did in the White House. It mattered that Rudy Giuliani has been married three times. It matters that Newt Gingrich has been married two -- three times.

But I think Newt Gingrich also understands that the American people believe in redemption. And if he can make people believe that he, in fact, is sorry for what he did, and that he's a different person and a better person, then I think he's going to have a better political career ahead.

MALVEAUX: Donna, do -- do you buy that? Is he -- is he absolved now? Is he redeemed?

DONNA BRAZILE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, look, I think this is another election-year conversion. A lot of that is taking place on the Republican side, if you look at some of the candidates. And they are trying to explain their views from the past on gay rights, abortion rights.

I -- I -- the timing is clearly suspect. Is he cleansing his soul, or just clearing the deck, so that he can run this fall? I -- I believe that, if -- if he's ready to admit to adultery and to apologize, he should. That's a good thing to do.

On the other hand, if this is just a political opportunity to try to appeal to conservatives, then, I think that's suspect.

MALVEAUX: Well, Terry, what do you think? I mean, is -- is -- are the conservatives that frustrated, that they are not getting their agenda across, that they don't have the type of candidates they need, that they are going to put forward Newt Gingrich?

JEFFREY: Well...

(LAUGHTER)

JEFFREY: ... the conservatives aren't going to put Newt Gingrich forward. Newt Gingrich is going to put forward himself. And I will say this.

MALVEAUX: They may support him.

JEFFREY: More...

MALVEAUX: They may back him.

JEFFREY: More than any of the other potential front-running candidates -- and he is ranking rather high in the polls -- Newt does a good job of expressing what it is conservatives believe.

And I think, before today, there wasn't any question that his personal history, the fact that he had been married three times, is something that bothered conservatives, just like it bothers them with Rudy Giuliani.

So, he's trying to deal with it. I think this very clearly is a signal that Newt Gingrich is seriously interested in running for president, because what Newt Gingrich did in the past is a matter between him and God, his conscience and God. It's not a public matter.

What he's doing now is bringing it into the public realm precisely because he is interested, I believe, in seeking public office.

MALVEAUX: You know, we hear all the time family values. And it seems as if these family values keep changing here.

And Republicans use that, exploit that to their advantage here. What are family values now? I mean, does it matter how many times you are married, if you are having extramarital affairs? How -- how do you define family values, in -- in light of everybody who has come forward with these confessions?

BRAZILE: Well, look, I think family values continue to matter in an electoral cycle where people will be focusing on the candidates' character. They will focus on their values. They will focus on their other, you know, leadership characteristics. So, yes, this will be an issue.

MALVEAUX: Well, what does family values mean, though? What does it mean?

JEFFREY: Well, look, it clearly matters. There's no doubt about it.

MALVEAUX: What does it mean?

JEFFREY: You know, and a lot of people -- and a lot of conservatives...

MALVEAUX: What do family values mean to the Republican Party?

JEFFREY: Well, no, look, there's no doubt about it. And back when Bill Clinton was being impeached -- and Newt Gingrich was right today when he said it was impeachment for perjury and obstruction of justice -- there's no doubt that conservatives abhorred the behavior of Bill Clinton in the White House.

And there's no doubt that Newt Gingrich's behavior as speaker was similar, and was abhorrent for the same reasons. So, I think no one who can go forward -- Newt Gingrich isn't coming forward and justifying his behavior. And, yes, it's deplorable we have public leaders that do this in the public eye, because I think it drags down not only the nature of our debate, but it coarsens our culture. We wish this didn't happen.

BRAZILE: And he had a relationship with someone who was on the public payroll, and I think that should be mentioned. If -- if we're going to put everything out, just lay it all out, so that the public can digest it and decide if this is -- if -- if this is someone that has really admitted to his mistake, owned up to his mistake, and has taken personal responsibility.

JEFFREY: The truth is -- is, the values don't change. People do. The values don't.

(CROSSTALK)

MALVEAUX: Quit just for a second.

JEFFREY: Yes.

MALVEAUX: Let me show you how it was used in the '96 campaign...

JEFFREY: Sure.

MALVEAUX: ... Clinton-Gore. They tried to attach Dole to Gingrich to really kind of really damage him. Let's take a listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, AD)

NARRATOR: President Clinton says balance the budget, cut taxes for families, college tuition, stands up to Dole and Gingrich. But if Dole wins and Gingrich runs Congress, there will be nobody there to stop them.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MALVEAUX: So, this is a strategy that worked before. You think it's going to work again, Donna?

BRAZILE: Well, Newt Gingrich, a brilliant man, by the way, was a very flawed politician, in the sense that he was polarizing.

And, during his tenure, although he was successful in -- in recapturing the House for the Republicans, many people thought that Newt Gingrich -- he had low public approval ratings -- they thought that he was part of the problem in Washington, D.C. MALVEAUX: Got to go. I have got to let you be the last word on that.

Thank you very much...

BRAZILE: Thank you.

MALVEAUX: ... both of you.

And, of course, coming up: Rudy Giuliani hits a roadblock with New York's bravest. Will his standoff with members of New York Fire Department tarnish his 9/11 credentials?

Plus: "The Cafferty File." Does it surprise you that the FBI misused the Patriot Act to get personal information? Jack Cafferty has your e-mails -- coming up.

And the Reverend Al Sharpton, what's his take on the White House race? He joins us live here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MALVEAUX: And Jack is in New York with "The Cafferty File."

Jack, what do you have for us this hour?

CAFFERTY: For you, Suzanne, we have the following question: Does it surprise you that the FBI misused the Patriot Act to get personal information?

Stanley in Grove, Oklahoma: "Nothing surprises me about the FBI or any other government agency. The American people have a corrupt government that's been in both Democratic and Republican hands for decades. Remember, we have border guards in prison for trying to stop a drug trafficker. And don't forget about the days of J. Edgar Hoover spying on people."

L. writes: "Shouldn't FBI Director Mueller be forced to resign over the civil liberties abuses that have occurred on his watch? When does it end?"

Kelly in Ithaca, New York: "Jack, that's the one thing about the FBI vis-a-vis the Patriot Act that doesn't surprise me. What surprises me is the utter willingness with which our elected officials, their appointees, and, most of all, the American people sauntered down this slippery slope arm in arm in the first place. Shame on us all."

Susan in Baker City, Oregon: "Jack, nothing that this neo-fascist administration does surprises me any longer. The Democratic Congress needs to stop playing footsie and start impeachment proceedings immediately."

Keith in Red Hill, Pennsylvania: "This is exactly what most people were afraid of when the Patriot Act was passed. You cannot trust government to do the right thing." And J.C. in San Antonio, Texas: "Come on, Jack. Get real. The Patriot Act is a cover for martial law. Congress knows. Why don't you? Does CNN pay you enough?"

No, J.C. As a matter of fact, they don't -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: We're all looking for a raise, huh, Jack?

CAFFERTY: Never turned one down yet.

(LAUGHTER)

MALVEAUX: Thanks, Jack.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Happening now: It's mano a mano in South America, dueling tours by President Bush and his regional rival, Venezuela's Hugo Chavez, who is about to lead what he calls an anti-imperialist rally aimed at the American leader.

The day Castro dies, will there be a massive exodus from Cuba, massive celebrations in Miami? Authorities are trying to get ready.

And an alleged madam in a Washington courtroom, is she ready to name names? Who's afraid of her little black book?

Wolf Blitzer is off today. I'm Suzanne Malveaux. And you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

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

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