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THE SITUATION ROOM

Pentagon Releases Transcript of Khalid Sheik Mohammed Hearings; Key Republican Calls for Dismissal of Gonzales; Evangelical Leader Takes Heat for Warning About Global Warming

Aired March 14, 2007 - 19:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks very much, Lou.
Happening now, there's blood in the water. That's how one analyst describes the mounting criticism of the attorney general, Alberto Gonzales over the firing of those federal prosecutors. A key Republican now calling for his dismissal. How long will the president stand by him?

An evangelical leader takes heat for warning about global warming. Is a glacial chill setting in among some Christian conservatives?

And an urgent alert sets off a desperate scramble to save a nuclear submarine. Families are told the sailors are lost at the bottom of the ocean. How could a false alarm set off such panic? I'm Wolf Blitzer, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Tonight, a sharp new slap at the embattled attorney general of the United States. For the first time, a Republican senator is joining Democrats in calling for Alberto Gonzales to be sacked. President Bush says he still has confidence in Gonzales despite the exploding controversy over the firing of eight federal prosecutors. But even Mr. bush says he's not happy about the way the shake-up was handled.

Let's begin our coverage this our with our congressional correspondent Dana Bash -Dana?

DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, all day long we talked to Republican lawmakers here who were to a person, very upset about the way the Justice Department handled the firing of those federal prosecutors.

But Senator John Sununu, a Republican, told us late this afternoon that he's beyond upset, he's fed up.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BASH (voice-over): New Hampshire Republican John Sununu says the attorney general has lost all credibility and is now the first Republican lawmaker to say he must go.

In a statement, Sununu said: "The president should fire the attorney general and replace him as soon as possible with someone who can provide strong, aggressive leadership."

In a telephone interview, Sununu told CNN that Alberto Gonzales's quote, "failed supervision over the firing of federal prosecutions was the last straw." Sununu is a Republican who is long tussled with the attorney general over civil liberties concerns in the Patriot Act and said he is still steaming over last week's revelation is that the FBI improperly obtained information about American citizens.

Sununu is up for re-election next year and is one of the Democrats top targets. He is the only Republican so far who has called for the attorney general to be fired. But there is widespread criticism of Gonzales from fellow Republicans who feel misled about why federal prosecutors were dismissed.

REP. JAMES SENSENBRENNER (R), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: The attorney general has gotten himself in deep trouble by having a different story come out of the Justice Department about every second news cycle.

BASH: Many Republican lawmakers reluctant to say Gonzales should go are also careful not to say he should stay.

South Dakota Republican John Thune told CNN, "He's going to have to answer some hard questions and politically there are concerns about how things got handled. It doesn't look good."

Even Gonzales's fellow friend and Texan says he's concerned and called to offer advice.

SEN. JOHN CORNYN (R), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: I encouraged the attorney general to make his employees at the Department of Justice available for a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee. And I think it's appropriate for them to answer questions from senators in a public forum.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BASH: The open question now is whether Republican John Sununu coming out and saying that Gonzales should be fired will prompt others to as well. That would of course change the dynamic and perhaps change Gonzales's fate - Wolf?

BLITZER: All right, thank you Dana for that.

The White House Press Secretary Tony Snow tells CNN tonight the administration is disappointed in Senator Sununu's call for Gonzales to be fired. President Bush personally addressed questions about Gonzales earlier today before wrapping up his trip to Latin America.

Our White House correspondent Ed Henry has been traveling with the president -- Ed?

ED HENRY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, at a joint news conference with Mexican President Felipe Calderon, Mr. Bush wanted to make his final pitch to the Latin American people about U.S. support for their plight. But instead, he had to scramble to defend his attorney general. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

HENRY (voice-over): President Bush flashed anger at embattled Alberto Gonzales, but said he's standing by his man for now.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I do have confidence in Attorney General Al Gonzales. I talked to him this morning. And we talked about his need to go up to Capitol Hill and make it very clear to members in both parties why the Justice Department made the decisions it made. And he's right, mistakes were made. And I'm frankly not happy about them.

HENRY: By emphasizing Gonzales has to strengthen this out with Congress, the president leaves himself wiggle room to sack the attorney general if Republicans start joining Democrats in calling for a resignation.

BUSH: What was mishandled was the explanation of the case, as the case is, to the Congress. And Al's got work to do up there.

HENRY: The president maintained the decision to fire eight U.S. attorneys was not based on political considerations. And for the first time, Mr. Bush discussed his conversation with Gonzales last October, when the president passed on complaints he had heard about some prosecutors.

BUSH: But I never, you know, brought up a specific case nor gave him specific instructions.

HENRY: The president expressed irritation that the flap helped overshadow his seven day swing through Latin America, a tour that had already been competing for attention with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez's anti-American protests.

BUSH: The Justice Department recommended a list of U.S. attorneys. I believed the reasons why were entirely appropriate. And yet this issue was mishandled to the point now where you're asking me questions about it in Mexico.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

HENRY: On immigration reform, the president did express optimism on cutting a deal with Congress by the end of the year. But given his weakened political standing, it's unclear whether he can deliver - Wolf?

BLITZER: All right, thanks very much Ed for that.

When he goes to Capitol Hill to fight for his job, Alberto Gonzales may have a tough time explaining some of those contradictions in his public statements. Let's go to CNN's Tom Foreman, he's picking up this part of the story. Tom?

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRSEPONDENT: You know Wolf, in power circles, they say when they boss says he stands behind you 100 percent, it's a good time to start packing your desk. We don't know what's going to happen now, but boy does he have a lot of explaining to do up at the Capitol.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

FOREMAN (voice-over): Attorney General Gonzales trying to navigate a minefield of questions about politics, justice and responsibility. Some of his comments reflect competing obligations.

ALBERTO GONZALES, ATTORNEY GENERAL: One, I believe in the independence of our U.S. attorneys.

FOREMAN: But he also says this...

GONZALES: All political appointees can be removed by the president of the United States for any reason.

FOREMAN: On the question of who mishandled the attorney firings, first this...

GONZALES: My chief of staff was involved in the process of determining who were the weak performers, where -- where were the districts around the country where we could do better for the people in that district.

FOREMAN: But then he says...

GONZALES: I believe in accountability. Like every CEO of a major organization, I am responsible for what happens at the Department of Justice.

FOREMAN: The attorney general was also asked to clarify the status of his chief of staff.

GONZALES: Kyle Sampson has resigned. I accepted his resignation yesterday as chief of staff. He's transitioning -- yes, as a technical matter, he is still at the Department.

FOREMAN: One former Republican Justice official finds Gonzales contradictory.

BRUCE FEIN, CONSTITUTIONAL SCHOLAR: He says we just reviewed these seven U.S. attorneys that were removed to determine whether their records showed that they were not either, one, following the policies he announced; or, number two, were not competent. But that is not what the e-mail traffic suggests. It suggests that was not the origination for these reviews.

FOREMAN: Another former Republican says Gonzales may have acted clumsily, but not wrongly.

NOEL FRANCISCO, FORMER WHITE HOUSE ASSOCIATE COUNSEL: There is no evidence there is anything even remotely like a politically motivated or politically targeted prosecution.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

FOREMAN: If you look very closely, you can find an explanation for almost everything Mr. Gonzales is saying, but it sounds like he's arguing with his self and that's going to keep this story in the news for at least a few more days -Wolf?

BLITZER: All right, Tom -Tom Foreman reporting for us, thank you.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN BREAKING NEWS.

BLITZER: And the breaking news is coming in from the Pentagon. Let's go straight to our senior Pentagon correspondent Jamie McIntyre - Jamie?

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SR. PENTAGON CORRSEPONDENT: Wolf, for the last couple of minutes I've just been perusing this document given out by the Pentagon.

It's one of the transcripts of the combatant review tribunals that took place beginning on Friday and over the weekend. This one is the one for Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, suspected accused mastermind of September 11th attacks and also the World Trade Center operation.

What's interesting about this document is, through a personal representative who reads a statement to the tribunal at Guantanamo Bay, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed says he is responsible in fact for the 1993 World Trade Center operation. He says he's responsible for the September 11th planning from A to Z, he says.

And then he lists a number, about 20 different things that he says he's responsible for, including what he calls the shoe bomber operation and the Fica (ph) Island operation in Kuwait that killed two American soldiers.

He goes on to say, he also, quote, "shares the responsibility for an assassination attempt against Pope John Paul II while he was visiting the Philippines and also against -- attempts against Pakistan's President Pervez Musharaf.

In the document though, he says - he makes no apology for this, saying that he's in a war and he compares himself, to of all people, George Washington and says that if George Washington was capture by the British during the American Revolution, he would be considered an enemy combatant.

He says he's doing no differently himself. He is in a war himself. In a quite remarkable passage, he admits to killing people and says he doesn't like to kill people. He regrets that children were killed in the September 11th attacks, but he says essentially that this is war.

This is one of statements the Pentagon is releasing to buttress its argument that the high-value detainees that were moved to Guantanamo Bay are dangerous, will continue to pose a threat to the United States and need to be held in captivity. Two other transcripts for Abu Faraj al-Libbi and Ramzi bin al-Shibh show that they did not show up for their hearing and they were represented by quote, "a personal representative." We're told that that is not an attorney, but a member of the U.S. military assigned to represent their interest -Wolf? BLITZER: You know Jamie, over the years, he's obviously been saying a lot of things, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. U.S. investigators, correct me if I'm wrong, they tend to believe him. They're not convinced as some outside analysts are, that he may be boasting to a certain degree as well.

MCINTYRE: They do. And of course we have heard before that he had taken responsibility for some of these acts. But we'd only heard it third hand. Now, I guess we're hearing it second-hand through a verbatim transcript. And I have to say also, he spoke in Arabic. The transcript is in English and the translation is a little rough. But, you get the idea. These transcripts, by the way, are going to be posted on the Pentagon's Web site. So anybody who wants to read them in their entirety can do that.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Jamie, for that - Jamie McIntyre with the breaking news this hour.

Let's go right to Jack Cafferty in New York for "The Cafferty File." Not a nice guy, this Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Jack, even if he's boasting or not.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: No, and when I get home tonight, it's going to be close between reading the transcript of his thing on the Web site and washing up the cleaning rags so they'll be ready for next week. I think I'll hit the cleaning rags.

He's not even in the race, but he's still a top choice of some Democrats. We're talking about the former vice president Al Gore. A new CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll, shows Gore is the third most popular choice of registered Democrats. He gets 14 percent, following Senator Hillary Clinton at 37 percent and Senator Barack Obama at 22 percent. And if Gore doesn't run, most of his support according to the poll, would go to Clinton.

But the more interesting number is this one -- the poll also shows that Americans have a higher opinion of Gore than they do of either Clinton or Obama. Gore gets a 50 percent favorable rating compared to 49 for Clinton, 44 for Obama, and 42 percent for Edwards.

Gore has said repeatedly that he no plans to run. But he's getting a lot of attention lately, especially since he won the Academy Award there a couple of weeks ago. And some supporters are still holding out hope that Gore will jump into the race.

So here's 's the question: Should Al Gore run for president? E- mail your thoughts to CaffertyFile@CNN.com or go to CNN.com/CaffertyFile.

He may be more popular now than he was when he was Clinton's vice president.

BLITZER: That's what a lot of people think. Jack, thank you. We'll be watching Al Gore, the Al Gore factor coming up.

Also coming up, Evangelical divide. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You've got to be God's agenda, not the Republican Party's agenda that drives us.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: The debate over torture, global warming and poverty that's dividing some Christian activists.

Plus, Senator Hillary Clinton splitting hairs on homosexuality? Find out why staying on message may actually hurt her.

Also, nuclear power, false alarm. The Navy sends out an urgent alert about a sunken sub, and even begins notifying family members. Find out how the navy got the story so wrong. Stick around, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: A feud is breaking out within the religion right and it's sparked by global warming. Let's go to CNN's Mary Snow. She's watching this story for us - Mary?

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well Wolf, that divide stems from a meeting of a major national evangelical group last week. And what's at stake, who is really speaking for Evangelicals in America?

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SNOW (voice over): Is a dispute over global warming just a sign of a broader split between evangelicals and the Christian right? At the heart of the dispute, Reverend Richard Cizik. He's policy director of the National Association of Evangelicals, or NAE. He's outspoken on global warming, evident in this recent documentary.

REV. RICHARD CIZIK, NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF EVANGELICALS: To harm this world by environmental degradation is an offense against God.

SNOW: The Christian right wrote to the evangelical group NAE trying to silence and possibly dismiss Cizik. The NAE took no action.

Tony Perkins, the president of the Family Research Council, was among the Christian right leaders telling the NAE that global warming is being used to shift the emphasis away from issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage. He says global warming is part of the leftist agenda.

TONY PERKINS, PRESIDENT, FAMILY RESEARCH COUNCIL: We're not going to allow third parties, those that have ulterior motives, to divide evangelicals. And I think that in part is what is happening with the global warming issue.

SNOW: NAE board member, Reverend Paul De Vries, disagrees.

REV. PAUL DE VRIES, NEW YORK DIVINITY SCHOOL: It ought to be God's agenda, not the Republican Party's agenda that drives us.

SNOW: That agenda was laid out in a meeting of the NAE, the first since Ted Haggard stepped down as president following a gay sex scandal. During the meeting, members drafted a declaration denouncing human rights abuses and criticizing the U.S. government in its fight against terrorism.

JEFFERY SHELER, AUTHOR, "BELIEVERS": It's certainly going to raise some hackles probably among the same people who don't like them talking about global warming.

SNOW: Evangelicals say they are sending a message to the religious right.

DE VRIES: We're actually tired of being represented by people with a very narrow focus, and we want to have a focus as big as God's focus.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SNOW: And some members say their message is also extended to the Republican Party, which is also often associated with conservative Christian groups -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Is there some sort of identity crisis going on the Christian right right now?

SNOW: Some are describing it as that or leadership crisis, saying that this is really the end of the Billy Graham era. And that there is a struggle for voices vying to speak for evangelicas right now.

BLITZER: Mary, thank you. Mary Snow reporting.

Presidential hopeful Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton is being drawn into the latest furor concerning homosexuality and whether or not it's moral. With that story, let's go to CNN's Carol Costello. She's following it from the senator's state of New York - Carol?

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, gay groups have strongly denounced General Peter pace's comments that homosexuality is immoral. They're angry and they expected Senator Clinton to show her anger, too. She's didn't.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COSTELLO (voice over): It has become the controversy that just won't go away.

GEN. PETER PACE, JOINT CHIEFS CHAIRMAN: I believe that homosexual acts between individuals are immoral.

COSTELLO: And it has tripped up gay-friendly candidate Senator Hillary Clinton. In an article on ABC's Web site, Senator Clinton was asked if she thought homosexuality was immoral.

Her response? "Well, I'm going to leave that to others to conclude." Not exactly what gay rights groups want to hear from a candidate who is actively courting their vote.

EVAN WOLFSON, FREEDOM TO MARRY: I assume that Senator Clinton, who has spoken out strongly against military discrimination, who stands for civil unions and respect for same-sex couples, understands that gay Americans are not immoral and she ought to say so clearly.

COSTELLO: To make matters worse for Senator Clinton, others have been much more forceful, like Republican senator John Warner, a powerful voice on the Armed Services Committee. He told me, "I respectfully, but strongly, disagree with the chairman's view that homosexuality is immoral."

Clinton's Democratic presidential rival John Edwards minced no words either.

BLITZER: First of all, in your opinion, is homosexuality immoral?

JOHN EDWARDS (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I don't share that view.

COSTELLO: That's not to say Senator Clinton doesn't share Edwards' view. By the time Senator Clinton's words hit the Internet, her campaign was already telling us, "Obviously Senator Clinton disagrees. She believes that everyone, including Peter Pace, has the right to be wrong -- but should not inject their personal beliefs into public policy."

As for why she didn't say that to ABC News, some analysts say her campaign is so controlled and so scripted it's difficult for her to be spontaneous.

STUART ROTHENBERG, ROTHENBERG POLITICAL REPORT: Senator Clinton's style is one of caution. She doesn't like to shoot from the hip. She's just not that kind of politician. I don't think she's comfortable doing that.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COSTELLO: And that's not necessarily a bad strategy. Senator Clinton is looking ahead, beyond the primary, to the actually presidential race, a place where past words can really come back to haunt you, Wolf.

BLITZER: It certainly can. Thank you, Carol for that.

Still ahead tonight here in THE SITUATION ROOM, Karl Rove under the threat of subpoena. Find out why he may be called to testify under oath.

Plus, Chiquita is charged with supporting a terrorist organization. We'll find out who they're accused of paying off. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Carol also is monitoring stories coming in from around the world. What's crossing the wires now Carol?

COSTELLO: Got it right here, Wolf. The government has said homegrown Islamic radicals, while potentially dangerous, appear not to have forged ties with al Qaeda. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff telling Congress, potentially violent Islamist groups prevent a greater danger than let's say a white supremacist and other more traditional extremists, but he says such groups apparently lack the strength to carry out attacks on a 9/11 scale.

The Food and Drug Administration is calling for stronger warning labels on popular sleep medications. Today, health officials confirm that any brand of sleeping pill can cause potentially dangerous effect known as sleep driving. That's when semiconscious people crawl out of bed and get behind the wheel without knowing they did so later.

A loss in federal court today for a California woman whose doctors say she will die without marijuana. The appeals court rules that 41-year-old Angel Raich is subject to federal prosecution for using the drug even if it keeps her alive. In a case involving Raich two years ago, the Supreme Court ruled that Californians are subject to federal ban on medical marijuana, even though state law allows it.

And a startling admission from Pete Rose. This is painful, baseball fans. The legendary baseball player banned from the game for life for gambling, says he never failed to bet on his Cincinnati Reds while he was the manager. He says he bet on the team every single night. And he concedes his actions were wrong. Just yesterday, Rose called for his reinstatement saying baseball fans would welcome him back as a manager and Wolf, he says he bet on his team to win. And that made him try all that much harder to win.

BLITZER: This is a story that's going resonate out there, a lot of people watching it. Thank you, Carol, for that. We've got a lot more news coming up. Just ahead...

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Will you subpoena Karl Rove?

SEN. PATRICK LEAHY, JUDICIARY CMTE CHMN: Yes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Did the president's right hand man Karl Rove have a hand in the firing of those eight federal prosecutors? I'll speak about it with the Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy. He has some very strong views.

And, they're known for their bananas. So why is Chiquita's brand international charged with a terrorist connection? Stick around, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM. Happening now, the attorney general wants to talk things over. But some just want his head. Senator John Sununu is the first Republican in Congress to call for Alberto Gonzales to be fired. This over the firings of those eight United States attorneys.

Is Sudan responsible for the terror attack on the USS Cole back in 2000 that killed 17 American sailors? Yes says a federal judge in Virginia. He added that Sudan should pay damages to the sailors' families. The families had sued Sudan, saying the bombing could not have happened without Sudan's support of al Qaeda. A lawyer representing Sudan declined to comment.

And Britain's parliament votes to renew its nuclear arsenal. It would involve new nuclear submarines to replace the old ones. The British prime minister, Tony Blair is saying it's critical amid threats from North Korea and from terrorists. Today he faced many opponents, some from within his own political party.

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

Let's get back to our top story. The attorney general, Alberto Gonzales, fighting for his own job as the scandal grows over the firing of those federal prosecutors. Meantime, serious questions are being asked about the role played by the White House political guru Karl Rove. For some answers let's turn to CNN's Brian Todd -- Brian.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the White House and the Justice Department say that Karl Rove played no role in the process. But the fact that a former aide in Rove's office benefited from one of the firings puts politics at the center of this scandal.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TODD (voice-over): Under extreme pressure, Alberto Gonzales is defiant on the firing of eight U.S. attorneys.

ALBERTO GONZALES, ATTORNEY GENERAL: These decisions were not based for political reasons.

TODD: His boss backs him up.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I have heard those allegations about political decision-making. It's just not true.

TODD: So why do questions of politics persist? The answer may center around White House political adviser Karl Rove. Timothy Griffin, a former aide in Rove's office, was tapped to replace one of the fired U.S. attorneys in Arkansas. In an e-mail obtained by CNN, Gonzales' then chief of staff says of Griffin: "Getting him appointed was important to Harriet, Karl, et cetera." A reference to Rove and former White House counsel Harriet Miers.

But deputy White House press secretary Dana Perino told us no one at the White House added or subtracted any names for U.S. attorney for the nomination process. She said when people at Justice asked whether rove would be a good U.S. attorney, Rove said yes. Perino and a former Bush White House counsel say that is permissible.

NOEL FRANCISCO, FORMER WHITE HOUSE ASSOC. COUNSEL: Karl Rove within the White House is the main liaison to the various elected political officials serving throughout the country. So it is perfectly appropriate and it makes sense and would be predictable is he the person that is the main recipient of information that is coming in throughout country.

TODD: But Justice Department e-mail also shows concerns about possible resistance to Griffin's confirmation on Capitol Hill. Quote: "We have a senator problem." And attached to another e-mail, newspaper clips saying Griffin could face questions about his possible role in the challenging of absentee votes in African-American precincts in 2004.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: I spoke with Timothy Griffin and with Ed Gillespie, former chairman of the Republican National Committee. They say that Griffin was never involved in any inappropriate or illegal effort to challenge legitimate voters. They say in 2004 when Griffin worked for RNC, he helped election officials look up addresses of absentee voters to determine if the addresses were real -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. What was else does Griffin say?

TODD: Wolf, Griffin says that that was all above board, all of that work that he did for the RNC. He said he is proud of it. He says he sent those newspaper clippings on this to people at the Justice Department knowing that the concerns would be raised. And he says the source for that information in those newspaper clippings is not reputable.

BLITZER: Thank you, Brian, for that. The Senate Judiciary Committee chairman, Patrick Leahy, is vowing to get to bottom of how and why eight federal prosecutors were fired late last year.

I asked him today about one potential witness, Karl Rove.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Well, will you subpoena Karl Rove?

SEN. PATRICK LEAHY (D-VT), CHAIRMAN, JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: Yes. He can appear voluntarily if he wants. If he doesn't, I will subpoena him. And we had -- the attorney general said well, there are some staff people or lower level people I'm not sure whether I want to allow them to testify or not. I said, frankly, Mr. Attorney General, it's not your decision. It's mine and the committee's. We will have subpoenas. I would hope that they will not try to stonewall subpoenas.

BLITZER: The White House, the president, the attorney general, they insist there was no politics involved in these decisions to get rid of these eight U.S. prosecutors. But you've seen some of the e-mail, the traffic, the paper trail, where there do appear to be some political decisions involved. What's going on?

LEAHY: I'm surprised that they're saying that there's no politics involved and we're still two-and-a-half weeks away from April Fool's Day.

There was obviously politics. I mean, this is something both Republicans and Democrats know. You go in the cloakrooms, you hear both Republicans and Democrats saying it. Everybody knows there's politics involved. Everybody knows -- in one instance, Arkansas, you had a very highly rated U.S. attorney. They were told they had to get rid of him because Karl Rove had an acolyte of his that had to be put in his place.

How can they possibly stand there with a straight face and say that's not politics? Of course it's politics.

BLITZER: But is there anything illegal in putting one of Karl Rove's associates in and making him the U.S. attorney in Arkansas?

LEAHY: There's nothing illegal in a president firing -- by itself, firing a U.S. attorney. What it does say, however, to law enforcement, you either play by our political rules -- by our political rules, not by law enforcement rules, but by our political rules, or you're out of a job.

What I am saying is that that hurts law enforcement, that hurts fighting against crime. And if it is done to stop an ongoing investigation -- and this is something we don't know, if it is done to stop an ongoing investigation, then you do get into the criminal area.

BLITZER: And so that's the focus of your investigation, whether or not somebody committed a crime?

LEAHY: The first thing I want in my investigation is to find out exactly what happened, sort of the old "just the facts." I want to find out what the facts are. But I don't want to have somebody come up in a briefing and say well, no, here's really what we think happened.

No. I want them in public. I want both Democrats and Republicans able to ask the questions. But those answers are going to be under oath or they're not acceptable to me.

BLITZER: Thanks very much for coming in. Senator Patrick Leahy, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: And even though the threat of subpoena hangs over Karl Rove's head, numerous administration officials tell our White House correspondent, Suzanne Malveaux, it is not likely, it is not likely, they say, that the president would allow the deputy chief of staff, Karl Rove or Harriet Miers, the former White House counsel, to testify. The White House is expected to cite executive privilege.

Still ahead tonight, a breaking story involving the 2008 presidential election. Also, nuclear-powered false alarm. The Navy sends out an urgent alert about a sunken sub and even begins notifying terrified and horrified family members. Find out why the Navy got this story so wrong.

And Jack Cafferty joins us to ponder the prospect of Al Gore's warming to another run for the White House. Stick around, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: This is a potentially huge political story. California, right now, in the brink of completely shaking it up this presidential campaign landscape by officially moving it up its primary date. Our senior national correspondent John Roberts is following this late-breaking development.

This is potentially enormous -- John.

JOHN ROBERTS, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It is. We have got a new Super Tuesday, Wolf. It used to be that the Super Tuesdays were in March, typically the second week of March. Now it looks like there is going to be a Super Tuesday in the first week of February. February 5th.

A handful of smaller states like Arkansas, Delaware, Oklahoma and Missouri, had already said that they were going to move their primaries up to February 5th. Either the whole system is being front loaded now with all of these states really wanting to play a part in it. And now tomorrow, Governor Schwarzenegger is going to sign into law legislation which moves the California primary up now to February 5th.

So California, with that huge block of delegates, is going to play a critical part now in the selection of the Democratic nominee next year. And so now for the Democrats at least, the schedule looks like this. On January 14th, we're going to have a caucus in Iowa. On the 19th a caucus in Nevada. That one has moved up. Still going to have the first in the nation primary in New Hampshire. That will be on January 22nd. South Carolina now, moved up to the 29th of January. So that front-loading now getting heavier and heavier into January.

Now this big Super Tuesday, Wolf, coming up on February 5th. So you're going to get two-and-a-half weeks there of incredible excitement in this nominating process. It's going to be a lot of fun.

BLITZER: And some people in New Hampshire and Iowa, they are threatening to move up their contests now as a result of this. And there is also going to be pressure on Florida, New Jersey to join that early February super duper Tuesday as well. John, thank you very much for that. A significant political story.

Another story we're following right now involving bananas, bananas. They may be in your kitchen but is the company that sold those bananas to you doing business with terrorists? Let's go to our senior correspondent, Allan Chernoff. He's in New York with details of this story -- Allan.

ALLAN CHERNOFF, CNN SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, what has happened is that Chiquita Brands has actually struck a plea bargain with the Department of Justice, the company will pay $25 million dollars for dealing with a terror group, which is illegal.

Chiquita had voluntarily confessed to the Justice Department more than three years ago. At the time, the company was making payments to a right-wing paramilitary terror group in Colombia that had threatened the lives of Chiquita employees. The payments totaled more than $800,000.

And previously Chiquita had been paying off left-wing terror groups in Colombia. Top company executives were well aware of these payments. After informing prosecutors, Chiquita sold off a highly profitable Colombian subsidiary and last year began negotiating the plea bargain.

In fact the company had already set aside the $25 million for the fine -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Allan, thanks very much. Let's get some more perspective on this story. Karl Penhaul, our correspondent in Bogota, Colombia, is joining us. There is a history of Chiquita in Colombia where you are -- Karl.

KARL PENHAUL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: There certainly is, Wolf. Chiquita and its Colombian subsidiary, Banadex, was the subject of 2001 report by the Organization of American States. And that report details how officials from the Colombian subsidiary of Chiquita helped smuggle in 3,000 AK-47 assault rifles and 2.5 million rounds of ammunition. That ammunition and those assault rifles ended up in the hands of right-wing death squads.

Now in the region that we're talking about, the Uraba region of northern Colombia, in the years between 1995 and 1997 alone those death squads, which Chiquita is now saying it paid off, were responsible for murdering 1,200 people at least in one town alone. I have just spoken to the former mayor of that town, her name is Gloria Quarta (ph), and she says that this court case against Chiquita Brands is extraordinary. She says it's shows the role of multinational capital in financing Colombia's right-wing death squads -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thank you, Karl, for that. Karl Penhaul in Colombia for us.

Up ahead, should Al Gore go for the gold again? Jack Cafferty is asking if Al Gore should run for president. Jack with your e-mail. That is coming up.

Also, does saying "mistakes were made" mean not having to say you're sorry again? Our Jeanne Moos takes a close look at the Alberto Gonzales uproar.

We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Sub sunk. That urgent message went around the world as the U.S. Navy feared the worst for one of its nuclear submarines. And crews all believed for a time to be right at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean. Once again, let's go to our senior Pentagon correspondent Jamie McIntyre -- Jamie.

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SENIOR PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, it turned out to be a false alarm. But for a few tense hours the U.S. Navy thought it had a disaster on its hands.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MCINTYRE (voice-over): The USS San Juan is a nuclear-powered fast attack submarine. It's mission? To run silent, run deep. But that silence became a source of deep concern at the highest levels when a series of events seemed to indicate the submarine was in trouble in seas as deep as 1,000 feet, just a few hundred miles off the coast of Jacksonville, Florida.

The submarine, along with two others, was part of the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise Strike Group, which was conducting pre- deployment exercises. After 7:00 p.m., a surface ship spotted what appeared to be a red submarine distress flare floating in the water.

The two other submarines were quickly located either because they were near the surface or had checked in. But there's no way to contact a submerged submarine. And when after 9:00, the San Juan missed a scheduled check-in, a full scale search was launched.

By 3:30 a.m., fearing the worst, a "sub sunk" message was sent, alerting the Pentagon and the White House, a submarine was possibly lost at sea.

And the Navy began the process of notifying families of the 110 sailors on board. But at 5:30 a.m. the San Juan checked in at what it thought was its scheduled check-in time.

By then, the Navy had already put out a worldwide alert to call for international rescue teams in case there had been an accident.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MCINTYRE: The USS San Juan was never in trouble. It was simply out of touch. The U.S. Navy is now investigating about why the skipper didn't think he needed to check in sooner. And as for that distress flare, well, Navy officials say it may have simply been a yellow flare that is used in practice -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jamie, thank you. What a scare that is. Let's go to Jack Cafferty in New York. Can you imagine, Jack, the middle of night, 3:30 in the morning or whatever, the Navy calls you and says, your husband or your son, and the submarine, 130 crew members, the sub has sunk, it is at the bottom of the ocean? CAFFERTY: Yes, that would be terrible. You know what else is very troubling to me? That a nuclear-powered submarine, probably loaded with nuclear weapons, ICBMs tipped with nuclear warheads, doesn't know what time it's supposed to be report in.

BLITZER: That is troubling.

CAFFERTY: That's very scary to me.

BLITZER: Yes.

CAFFERTY: The question is, should Al Gore run for president? "The day Al Gore made his announcement," Teresa writes, "that he would not run in the 2004 election, I gave him a magnet that read, 'it's never too late to be what you could have been.' He chuckled and put it in his breast pocket. I want to believe that he looks at it every day when he goes to his refrigerator." Right.

Jon in Washington: "No. First he invented the Internet, now he is inventing science. If he thinks that voters will support him in '08, then it is just another figment of his imagination."

Wayne in Oakwood Hills, Illinois: "Jack, and as much as I would like to see the former vice president run, it's just not feasible. A good amount of Hillary's appeal comes from the fact that she enjoys the support of Bill Clinton, probably the most popular ex-president in our history. Al Gore's run for the White House would be too divisive for the Democratic Party."

Sandy writes from Easton, Pennsylvania: "What does Al Gore not have that we need right now? He is courageous, intelligent, gracious, full of common sense, Southern, not that we need that, but the Southern contingency likes their homeboys, he is still with his first wife, and he deserves to get the office he was screwed out of the first time."

Marge in Kent, Connecticut: "Running for president would be the worst thing Gore could do. His hands would be tied by the bimbos on Capitol Hill. And his time would be taken up dealing with too many other issues, preventing him from keeping his focus on global warming. All other issues are moot if we ruin our planet."

And Alex writes from Overland Park, Kansas, where I used to live, as a matter of fact, long time ago: "The real inconvenient truth is that Hillary is a phony, Obama is too inexperienced, and Edwards is still veep material. We need Gore now more than ever."

If you didn't see your e-mail here, you can go to cnn.com/caffertyfile to read more of them online. And I promise to be on time, reporting in at 4:00 tomorrow.

BLITZER: You will be. We'll see you tomorrow, Jack. Thanks very much. See you in New York on Friday.

Let's find out what's coming up right at the top of the hour, that means Paula is standing by. Hi, Paula. PAULA ZAHN, HOST, "PAULA ZAHN NOW": Hi, Wolf. Thanks. We're going to do something really special tonight. Focusing the entire hour on a question that is "Out in the Open" more and more often. Polls show that three out of five Americans think Iraq has turned into another Vietnam. Are they right? Well, we put together some really smart and interesting guests to debate that.

We are also going to look at the culture and politics of the two eras and at the media's coverage of both wars. It's all "Out in the Open" coming up at the top of the hour. It should be pretty frank and I think really useful and productive discussion -- Wolf.

BLITZER: A very special one hour coming up, we'll be watching, Paula, thank you. Thanks for the good work.

Up ahead here on THE SITUATION ROOM, Tony Blair says, I'm sorry for slavery. We'll tell you what's going on.

Also "mistakes were made." Jeanne Moos coming up with the buzz about mistakes. Stick around, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Check back with Carol for some more news -- Carol.

COSTELLO: Hi, Wolf. A glowing assessment today from the Iraqi armed forces on the coalition crackdown in Baghdad. Its spokesman reports that in the first month of the long-awaited campaign, the number of deaths and acts of violence dropped significantly. An American spokesman says the overall trend is positive, but notes an uptick in violence over the past week.

A Florida jury recommends death for John Couey, the man convicted of kidnapping, raping and killing a 9-year-old girl. Jessica Lunsford disappeared from her home in 2005. Three weeks later her body was found in a grave in which she had been buried alive. The judge in the case will have the final say on the sentence.

COSTELLO: And British Prime Minister Tony Blair issues his strongest words of regret so far for the role the British Empire played in the slave trade that ended 200 years ago. His earlier statements expressing deep sorrow had struck some critics as falling short. Today Blair said, we are sorry.

That's a look at the headlines right now -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Thanks, Carol, for that. "Mistakes were made." Here's CNN's Jeanne Moos on the phrase of the day.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It was as if Attorney General Alberto Gonzales had washed his mouth out with the M- word.

GONZALES: Mistakes are going to happen. Correcting those mistakes...

I've learned from my mistakes.

Mistakes were made. But the question is not whether mistakes are made so much...

MOOS: Actually that was the question.

MATT LAUER, HOST, "THE TODAY SHOW": Might you not consider stepping down over this series of mistakes?

MOOS: But there no mistaking a certain phrase that crept into every appearance.

GONZALES: I acknowledge that mistakes were made here.

MOOS: Linguistics experts say that's how you acknowledge the demand for an apology without having to say you're sorry.

GEOFFREY NUNBERG, LINGUIST, BERKELEY: In three weasely words.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He said that mistakes were made.

NUNBERG: Mistakes were made really is a form that you only hear in public discourse. Nobody ever says, I know, I'm sorry about your birthday, mistakes were made.

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Can you imagine a student handing in a paper and getting the grade back from the teacher, and the teacher writes, "mistakes were made."

MOOS (on camera): Make no mistake about it, a choice of these words is no mistake. And watch out. It seems to be contagious.

(voice-over): Like avian flu it flew from Washington...

GONZALES: Mistakes were made here.

MOOS: ... to President Bush traveling in Mexico.

BUSH: Al was right, mistakes were made. He is right, mistakes were made.

Mistakes were made.

MOOS: But at least they are bipartisan weasel words, used by presidents from Clinton to Reagan to Bush Senior...

GEORGE H.W. BUSH, 41ST PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Clearly mistakes were made.

MOOS: CNN senior political analyst Bill Schneider says it's not the past tense, it's a whole new tense.

SCHNEIDER: I called it the "past exonerative," meaning, something was done wrong but nobody knows who did it. So everybody is exonerated.

MOOS: But interviewers weren't in an exonerating mood. The attorney general was grilled like a well-done burger.

GONZALES: I would say that mistakes were made. And as I said yesterday...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What were your mistakes?

GONZALES: George, my mistakes were -- let me just say this...

MOOS: His mistake was even sitting down. Then he had to say thanks for the grilling.

GONZALES: Thank you, George.

Thank you, Harry.

MOOS: But it was Miles who got Attorney General Gonzales to actually use the first person.

GONZALES: There were mistakes made here. And I think that part of the problem is...

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: I was asking not mistakes made. That is passive. The question is, how did you do your job? Do you feel like you did a good job?

GONZALES: I think that I did make some mistakes.

MOOS: The M-word in the same sentence as the I-word? For that, I award Miles O'Brien the Bob Marley "I made a mistake" award.

(MUSIC PLAYING, "I MADE A MISTAKE")

MOOS: Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: My hero, Miles O'Brien. I watch him every morning on "AMERICAN MORNING," you should to. Let's go to Paula in New York -- Paula.

ZAHN: Hi, Wolf. Thanks so much.

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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