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Thousands More U.S. Troops to Head to Iraq; Interview With Arnold Schwarzenegger

Aired March 15, 2007 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, HOST: And to our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Happening now, more U.S. troops than promised -- why thousands will be headed to Iraq.

Was that part of the original game plan?

Hillary Rodham Clinton wants to keep some troops in Iraq. She's not the only candidate to take that position.

But will she be singled out for punishment by the Democratic left?

And Arnold Schwarzenegger gives the presidential race a jolt.

Does he have a favorite for '08? What are his own ambitions?

The governor, our guest this hour.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.


First, those reinforcements being deployed in Iraq will soon be getting reinforcements of their own. Thousands more -- more U.S. troops now getting the go ahead.

Was this part of the president's original plan?

Let's go straight to our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr -- Barbara.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, one thing is becoming clear -- keeping the so-called surge going in Iraq once again is requiring more troops.


STARR (voice-over): CNN has learned that Defense Secretary Robert Gates has signed orders speeding up the deployment of up to 3,000 additional forces, most of them from a combat aviation brigade. Armed with dozens of attack helicopter gunships and troop transports, the brigade will likely leave the U.S. in May.

Their main job?

Airborne support for the 20 brigades of ground combat forces. There just aren't enough helicopters in Iraq right now to keep the so- called troop surge on the ground going.

General David Petraeus, the new commander in Iraq, has made it clear -- he wants to mass as many troops as fast as he can.

While some levels of violence are down, there are still many skeptics.

LAWRENCE KORB, CENTER FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS: The Petraeus Doctrine is too little too late. If we were going to do this, we should have done it right from the beginning, listened to General Shinseki, had enough troops on the ground to get the situation under control after the fall of Saddam Hussein.

STARR: And for the first time, the Pentagon has openly acknowledged, in a Congressionally mandated report, that some of the violence in the last quarter of 2006 in Iraq, "is properly descriptive of a civil war." With signs the troop increase is making a difference, that acknowledgement is winning kudos from at least one long time Pentagon critic.

REP. JOHN MURTHA (D), PENNSYLVANIA: Since Secretary Gates came in, we're getting much more realistic reports. They admit there's a civil war.


STARR: Wolf, also, this request for a new helicopter unit was actually made just a few weeks ago. So for now, it is a plus up in the overall troop levels in Iraq. In addition, the Pentagon is now considering extending the tour of duty in Iraq for some additional ground combat forces.

All of this adding up to how tough it's going to be for them to maintain this so-called surge. It looks now like it's going to at least be maintained into early next year -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thank you, Barbara, for that.

Let's move on.

Brutal, barbaric and bold -- we're learning more now about the attacks and the plots hatched by an alleged al Qaeda kingpin.

For the details, we'll turn to our justice correspondent, Kelli Arena -- Kelli.

KELLI ARENA, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, you know, for years we heard about how Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was considered the mastermind of the September 11th attacks. But that, it seems, wasn't the half of it.

A new Pentagon transcript is really startling in its detail -- Wolf.


ARENA (voice-over): In chilling detail, Al Qaeda operative and self-proclaimed 9/11 mastermind, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, described how he personally slashed the throat of "Wall Street Journal" reporter Daniel Pearl: "I decapitated with my blessed right hand the head of the American Jew," he said.

It was one of the more startling statements the government says Mohammed made in a closed hearing this weekend at Guantanamo Bay. And that's saying a lot because the rest of what Mohammed said was hard to top.

Mohammed confessed and claimed credit for more than 30 of the world's most heinous terrorist attacks, from bombings in Bali to plans to blow up nuclear power plants in the U.S.

His resume reads like a horror novel. He claims responsibility for the shoe bomber operation, where Richard Reid tried to blow up an airplane; numerous assassination attempts on several American presidents, including President Carter and Clinton; and a plot to kill Pope John Paul II while he was visiting the Philippines.

What sets him apart from other Muslim terrorists, say experts, is his cold-blooded professionalism.

PETER BERGEN, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: Well, I think Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was sort of a professional terrorist. Unlike a lot of the other people in Al Qaeda, he seemed to be motivated by some sort of religious belief.

ARENA: The list of exploits Mohammed provided is so long, that some experts wonder if he really could have had a hand in them all.


ARENA: But as one legal expert put it, even if there are exaggerations, so what?

9/11 alone would be horrible enough. And in any case, if there is a trial, Wolf, the statement will be used against him.

BLITZER: Kelli, thank you for that.

Kelli Arena reporting.

Let's go straight to our Internet reporter, Abbi Tatton.

She's standing by with a closer look at some of the things that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed said in that transcript from the Guantanamo Bay hearing, that transcript that was just released by the Pentagon online -- Abbi.

ABBI TATTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, in this great list from Mohammed, plans to attack or destroy notable landmarks worldwide, some of them listed. In the U.S. the Empire State Building, the Sears Tower, financial targets like New York's stock exchange. Overseas, London's Heathrow Airport is listed; Big Ben, also; NATO headquarters; the Panama Canal. The list goes on and on.

Also listed in this 26-page transcript, some of the evidence to be used in the tribunal. Details of what was on a computer hard drive that was seized when Mohammed was captured -- photos, copies of passports of the 9/11 hijackers, a document that listed the pilot's license fees for Mohammed Atta. Also on there, three letters from Osama bin Laden -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thank you, Abbi, for that.

There are also some new developments today regarding the attorney general, Alberto Gonzales, and the controversy over the firing of those eight U.S. attorneys.

While critics say they were let go for political reasons, Karl Rove now suggests the probe itself is political.

Our Brian Todd is joining us with some more details -- Brian.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, after a speech in Alabama today, Karl Rove said those who are playing politics should look at the Clinton administration's firings of more than 100 U.S. attorneys.

Rove was unapologetic in this defense of the most recent dismissals, but there's one part of the story he wouldn't touch.


TODD (voice-over): The president's top political adviser still won't address his role in Washington's latest partisan fight.

QUESTION: Mr. Rove, did you play any role at all in the firing of those U.S. attorneys?

TODD: But moments earlier, in defending the firings, Karl Rove is more than vocal. One U.S. attorney in San Diego was replaced, he says, because...

KARL ROVE, DEPUTY WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: She would not commit resources to prosecuting immigration offenses. She made a decision that that was not going to be a priority of her office. The U.S. Justice Department asked her to make it, so she did not.

TODD: And on fired U.S. Attorney Paul Charlton...

ROVE: The U.S. attorney in Arizona said he would not ask for the death penalty. This administration has a policy of, where appropriate, asking for the death penalty.

TODD: Rove highlighting differences over policy, a seeming contradiction of this statement by Attorney General Alberto Gonzales in January.

ALBERTO GONZALES, ATTORNEY GENERAL OF THE UNITED STATES: What we do is we make an evaluation about the performance of individuals.

TODD: So which is it -- poor job performance by these attorneys or the fact that they didn't follow the administration's policy goals?

The language has evolved at the Department of Justice recently, and a top official sought to clarify it last week.

WILLIAM MOSCHELLA, ASSOCIATE DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL: It was for reasons related to policy, priorities and management, what has been referred to broadly as performance related reasons, that these United States attorneys were asked to resign.

TODD: U.S. attorneys are political appointees, and it's permissible to fire them if they don't pursue White House policies. But a staffer with the House Judiciary Committee tells CNN their investigators are now looking into whether these attorneys were removed for other partisan reasons and whether their replacements were truly qualified.


TODD: Questions that Karl Rove, former White House Counsel Harriet Miers and several Justice Department officials may have to answer soon before Congress.

The Senate Judiciary Committee has indicated it may subpoena them to testify if they don't agree to do so on their own -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Brian, stay on top of this story for us. Brian Todd reporting.

Let's check in with Jack Cafferty.

He's got The Cafferty File -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I want to see Patrick Leahy interview Karl Rove under oath in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee. I don't care who wins. I don't care who comes out of it unscathed. I just want to watch it. It would be -- it would be like watching Ali-Frazier four. It would just be terrific theater.

BLITZER: Sort of like a Pay-Per-View moment.

CAFFERTY: The same idea, yes. You know, like Geraldo getting hit in the face with a chair.

Something to ponder here while junior is away at college. Almost half -- almost half of the full-time college students in this country binge drink. That means they have five or more drinks at a time or abuse prescription drugs like painkillers or illegal drugs like cocaine or marijuana.

This is all from a new report by the National Center On Addiction and Substance Abuse. It's scary stuff. It translates to 3.8 million of our college students. The study found 23 percent of students meet the medical definition for substance abuse or dependence, which is a higher rate of addiction than the general public.

It gets worse. Since 1993, there have been significant increases in the number of students who say they use prescription painkillers and stimulants, smoke marijuana heavily or use drugs like cocaine and heroin.

When it comes to alcohol, the proportion of students who say they drink and binge drink has stayed fairly constant -- the percentage. What has gone up is how often students say they're binge drinking.

So the question, then, is this -- what does it mean when almost half of college students binge drink or abuse drugs?

E-mail us at or go to

You remember, the '60s, Wolf?

Everybody thought that that was a generation run amok on drugs. If these statistics are right, it makes those folks in the '60s look like beginners.

BLITZER: I remember those days very well, although I suspect some of my friends don't necessarily remember every nuance of every biology class they took.

CAFFERTY: I was going to say I'll bet you know people that don't remember very much about them at all.

BLITZER: I think it's a blur for a lot of people.

CAFFERTY: That's right.

BLITZER: Thanks, Jack, very much.

Still to come here in THE SITUATION ROOM, the complete interview with Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.


BLITZER: Bottom line, you want California in this presidential selection process to once again become a king maker?

GOV. ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER (R), CALIFORNIA: Well, I'll tell you, Wolf, that it is very important that California is part of the mix in the decision-making of who should be our nominees.


BLITZER: The interview with Governor Schwarzenegger coming up.

Also, California moving up its primary.

Will the Golden State now pick the new president of the United States?

And is America ready for a Mormon in the White House?

I'll ask author and conservative radio talk show host Hugh Hewitt. He's got a new book out on the subject.

And why Hillary Rodham Clinton wants to keep some troops in Iraq.

Could that keep her from getting the nomination?

Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney has said he'll consider giving a speech about his Mormon religion, much as John F. Kennedy addressed questions about being a Catholic.

Are Americans wary of electing a Mormon president?

Hugh Hewitt is a law professor, a radio talk show host. He's the author of a brand new book entitled, "A Mormon In The White House: Ten Things Every American Should Know About Mitt Romney."

Hugh, thanks for coming in.

HUGH HEWITT, AUTHOR, TALK SHOW HOST: Wolf, great to be back.

Thanks for having me.

BLITZER: Let's talk a little bit about the -- the general consensus out there is that if it's a problem for a Mormon, it's a problem with the conservative right, the religious right in the Republican Party. But this book that you have written suggests that's not necessarily what you believe.

HEWITT: I don't. I think that's a myth. In fact, most of the public attacks on Romney for his faith in the last three months have come from the left -- Jacob Weisberg at "Slate"; a cover story in "The New Republic;" a vicious attack in "The Nation" today on Mormons serving at the Department of Justice.

BLITZER: Were these attacks against him on policy issues or because he's a Mormon?

HEWITT: A Mormon. These are specifically Mormon. He's also been attacked for being a flip-flopper from the left. That's not a conservative critique of him, either.

Now, there are concerns. When you have a Reuters poll that says 43 percent of Americans have some question, obviously that's going to be on the right as well as the left.

But the public attacks that have been the most vicious -- and I go to the "Slate" one as probably the most bigoted attack -- have come from the left. I think it's because he's the conservative in the race, as you know. And, as a result, they have the most interest in building him and they're doing their best to try to do so.

BLITZER: In this "USA Today"/Gallup Poll, which we took a look at, willingness to vote for a Mormon, amongst liberals, self- proclaimed liberals, 75 percent say they are willing to vote for a Mormon. Among moderates, 77 percent. Among conservatives, though, only 66 percent, nearly a third, apparently, among conservatives, if you believe this "USA Today"/Gallup Poll, say they wouldn't vote for a Mormon.

HEWITT: And their opinion leaders are addressing that. I talked to a bunch of people for this book -- I've been working on it for a year -- whether it was Chuck Colson or Archbishop Chaput in Denver, Doris Kearns Goodwin, Mike McCurry -- left, right, center, north, south.

And the consensus position is evolving that this is bigotry and that we have to remind people about that. If someone were to say today, I wouldn't vote for a Catholic, they'd be hooted out. They'd be thrown out of the public square. Or an African-American or a Jew.

And for people to routinely say I won't vote for a Mormon, that's going to get the same status, but it's going to take some time for people to get there. And I think that's part of it.

BLITZER: And the numbers, as you know, given the question, the sensitivity of a question like this, probably are bigger, because a lot of people will say of course I'd be happy to vote for a Mormon. They think it's politically incorrect to say...

HEWITT: They self-censor.


HEWITT: They do self-censor.

BLITZER: So the numbers are probably worse.

This poll that we have, the CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll, showed Romney right now. He's gone up from 7 percent to 9 percent. But he is way behind Giuliani and McCain.

How do you explain that?

Because this book is pretty sympathetic to Mitt Romney.

HEWITT: Well, it doesn't endorse him. I'm sympathetic to Rudy Giuliani, as well. I'm not much of a McCain fan.

But there's a new New Hampshire poll out today that has McCain at 29, Giuliani at 28, Romney at 22. His Iowa organization is extraordinary. So he's going to try and play it the way that Carter played it -- win in Iowa, win in New Hampshire, and go to Michigan, his home state, survive South Carolina. And then we just moved up in my state, California. He's an ideal -- in fact, he was in California last night, tonight and tomorrow, raising about two million bucks. He's going to do very well in the Golden State.

BLITZER: So that...

HEWITT: And so will Rudy.

BLITZER: ... moving up those big states could help him, that's what you're saying.

You mentioned Chuck Colson earlier, the founder of the Prison Fellowship Ministries. He said this last year -- or two years ago, actually: "While Mormons share some beliefs with Christians, they are not Christians. They rely not on the authority of the bible alone, but also on Joseph Smith. I respect Mormons, work with them and consider them co-belligerents in many causes. But we can't gloss over our fundamental differences."

Tell us about your conversation with Chuck Colson.

HEWITT: Chuck and I went for a very long time because we're old friends. And the theological chasm is vast. But he also says he has enormous respect for Mitt Romney and he wants to communicate that, because of his defense of marriage in the Bay State, because of his 37 years married to Ann Romney, his five wonderful sons.

He likes the story. He likes the character and the ideology.

But a good theologian -- and Chuck Colson is an excellent theologian -- will never minimize theological differences. But what he'll say is it's the American story that we don't ask people about what they believe or why they believe it. We ask them what they're going to do and have they lived a good life.

And Romney has got a good story there.

BLITZER: Here is a quote from the book, "A Mormon In The White House," and it's got a question mark afterward. I want to make sure our viewers know that. Because this quote jumped out at me. And I'll read it.

"It is hard to overstate the deep dislike that Republican Party activists feel for Senator John McCain." And then you go on and write: "For conservative voters to elect John McCain in November, 2008, they would have to do what Senator McCain has routinely refused to do -- support the party when it matters most."


BLITZER: He's got some problems right now. He's trying to generate his Straight Talk Express.

Give us the background on why you wrote this. HEWITT: John McCain is a great American. He's been a lousy senator and a terrible Republican. And I'll give you just the titles -- McCain-Feingold; the Gang of 14; McCain-Kennedy; and then the smashup of the Republican agenda in September of this year, which I think had a lot to do with the reversals they felt in the Senate.

Senator McCain goes his own way. And mavericks live and die by being mavericks. He wants people to understand he's good on the war, and he is good on the war, as is Romney, as is Giuliani.

But when you go to the conservative electorate in Iowa and New Hampshire, and especially in places like California, where Arnold has now gone out on a limb against his own party again, we don't nominate people like that.

I've been a Republican my whole life and we tend to nominate people who, through thick or thin, stick with the party.

So John McCain -- I actually think that campaign is over. And when we see the fundraising at the end of March, you'll see Giuliani and Romney ahead of McCain. And at that point, I think people are going to finally recognize that his moment was in 2000, this close, but not close enough. This is a race between Romney and Giuliani and it's going to be a good race.

BLITZER: On that note, you'll be interested to know you probably agree with James Carville, because he sees John McCain dropping out, as well.

But we'll leave that for another conversation.

The book is entitled: "A Mormon In The White House?" -- with a question mark -- "Ten Things Every American Should Know About Mitt Romney."

Also, Mitt Romney, by the way, is going to be a guest tonight on LARRY KING LIVE. You're going to want to see that, 9:00 p.m. Eastern. It's a prime time exclusive. Larry King goes one-on-one with the former Massachusetts governor tonight.

Also coming up, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton maintaining she'd stop the war if she were president. But she's also now saying she'd keep some U.S. troops in Iraq.

What's going on?

And Rudy Giuliani's law firm making money off the man who calls President Bush the devil?

Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Let's check back with Carol for a closer look at some other important stories making news -- Carol.


Hello to all of you.

New developments to tell you about in the killing of a groom on his wedding day by New York City police. A last minute witness testified today before a grand jury. The head of the New York detectives union says the man showed up at the police station yesterday saying he witnessed the shooting. Michael Palladino says the man told detectives there was a fourth man besides the groom and his friends, and that the fourth man fired one or two shots at police officers.

Palladino says the witness also said he saw police officers shooting at the car in which Sean Bell and his friends were sitting.

In stories affecting small businesses today, advertising revenues at newspapers are down 3/10 of a percent last year. Gains in online revenues were not enough to compensate for a worsening downturn in print ads. Newspaper publishers have been struggling to hold onto readers and advertising dollars as people spend less time reading papers and more time on the Internet.

Also, stocks managed a moderate advance today. Signs of strength in corporate take over activity, jobs and overseas markets allowed investors to stomach a sharp rise in wholesale inflation. The Dow rose 26 points today. The Dow was still 627 points below its closing high of 12,786. That was reached on February 20th.

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

BLITZER: Thanks, Carol.

See you in a few moments.

Coming up, is it a contradiction -- if she were to become president, would Hillary Clinton pull U.S. troops out of Iraq or would she keep some of them in?

And Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger rocking the race for the White House with a bold stroke of his pen. He'll explain right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


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

Happening now, finding agreement -- the six nations pondering what to do about Iran's nuclear program agree on possible new sanctions. A proposal suggests a ban on Iranian arms exports and efforts to watch closely the travels of those Iranians involved in Iran's nuclear program. The intent is to put more pressure on Tehran to stop enriching uranium.

Also, a House panel approves a $124 billion emergency spending bill. It's mostly for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but it also calls for U.S. troops -- combat troops, that is -- to begin pulling out of Iraq by the beginning of March, 2008, and for the withdrawal to end by September 2008.

And a tragic accident in Florida. Two crew members are dead after and incident on their tanker ship. Officials say nitrogen gas may have been involved.

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

What a difference a day makes. Just yesterday, the U.S. military said things were much better in Baghdad, with fewer attacks and fewer casualties.

That was then.

CNN's Jennifer Eccleston is in Baghdad to tell us about now -- Jennifer.

JENNIFER ECCLESTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Iraq's security forces and political leaders were the target of today's violence, but civilians paid the price.

Two car bombs detonated near police patrols in different parts of the capital. Ten people were killed and dozens more were wounded. At least five people were also killed when a car packed with explosives detonated near a minibus south of the capital.

And one of the two Sadr City mayors was seriously wounded after gunmen attacked his convoy in that Shiite stronghold. A police officer was also killed.

Now, these attacks come a day after Iraqi officials announced that murders, car bombs and sectarian executions in Baghdad have fallen sharply since the U.S.-backed security crackdown got under way a month ago. Since the implementation of that plan, there's been an uptick in attacks in areas surrounding the capital, in Diyala and Anbar province.

Meanwhile, the U.S. military announced the death of five troops, three in Diyala and two in Anbar -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jennifer, thank you for that.

As many in Congress step up efforts to try to pull troops out of Iraq, could Hillary Rodham Clinton find herself in trouble for wanting to keep at least some of those troops there?

CNN's Mary Snow is watching this story for us -- Mary.

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, Democratic presidential hopeful Senator Hillary Clinton is explaining her plan to keep some troops in Iraq. The question is, does it carry political risk with anti-war activists and liberals?


SNOW (voice over): Out on the campaign trail, Senator Hillary Clinton has been calling to put a stop to the war in Iraq. SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D), NEW YORK: We should end this escalation now.

SNOW: But in a "New York Times" interview, the Democratic presidential hopeful said if she's elected, she sees a remaining military, as well as political mission, in Iraq, trying to contain extremists but avoiding sectarian violence. Clinton aides say it's consistent with a broader plan by congressional Democrats to redeploy troops. Some political observers say Clinton's blueprint could touch a nerve with the Democratic left.

LARRY SABATO, UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA: They're not really sure that she's with them on Iraq and other issues, and so they're suspicious. And that suspicion shows itself in what they say about her.

SNOW: Why the suspicions? It stems back to her 2002 vote authorizing the war, a vote she refuses to call a mistake. She's been repeatedly grilled about it on the campaign trail.

CLINTON: Well, I have said, and I will repeat it, that knowing what I know now, I would never have voted for it.

SNOW: Of her Democratic rivals, former Senate John Edwards has said his vote to authorize the war was a mistake. Senator Barack Obama wasn't in the Senate at the time, but he's openly opposed the war all along. On leaving some troops in Iraq, Obama said Wednesday...

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D), ILLINOIS: A withdrawal would be gradual and would keep some U.S. troops in the region to prevent a wider war and go after al Qaeda and other terrorists.

SNOW: It appears similar to Clinton's plan, but observers say it resonates differently with anti-war activists.

SABATO: They are not inclined to cut her very much slack. They are inclined to cut Barack Obama quite a bit of slack and John Edwards some slack as well.


SNOW: Now, observers say it's not likely that those on the left will get Senator Clinton more slack because of her history on the Iraq war -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Mary, thank you for that.

Mary Snow reporting.

The U.S.-led multinational force in Iraq is going on the popular Web site YouTube to give Americans an inside look at the military operations in Iraq. So what do the officials videos have to offer?

Jacki Schechner is standing by with a closer look -- Jacki. JACKI SCHECHNER, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, why don't you take a look at this video. This is U.S. troops spying on a suspected al Qaeda stronghold in Iraq, and the video was put online on YouTube by the multinational force in Iraq.

They say they've created this channel to reach a younger audience and also to tell the story of the war from their perspective. They say they've got all types of different footage. They've got stuff like this. You can see they've got video from Predators, from gun cameras, even from soldiers on the ground.

Now, on YouTube there is a video like this which is clearly sanctioned and edited by the military. But just a click away you're going to get hundreds and hundreds of videos that perhaps the military would prefer that you don't see.

We asked the multinational force in Iraq if they were concerned about this, that drawing people to YouTube would also give them access to other types of video. And they say they know that people are going to watch whatever they want to watch, Wolf, and they are not particularly concerned.

BLITZER: All right. Good to know. Thank you, Jacki.

Up ahead, if he could, would he? If the Constitution were changed to allow Republican governor Arnold Schwarzenegger of California to run for president, would he actually do that?

I'll ask him. My interview with Governor Schwarzenegger's coming up.

And one man wants to be president. The other harshly criticizes the current president. So what's the deal with Rudy Giuliani, Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez and some business ties? We'll unravel this story.

Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Is Arnold Schwarzenegger upping the ante for '08? California's governor today signed a bill moving up the state's presidential primary from June to early February. Could that early vote give the biggest state the biggest say in the race for the White House?


BLITZER: And joining us now, the Republican governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Governor, thanks very much for coming in.

This is a significant day. Bottom line, you want California in this presidential selection process to once again become a king maker? GOV. ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER (R), CALIFORNIA: Well, I tell you, Wolf, that it is very important that California is part of the mix in the decision-making of who should be our nominees, because up until now, by having the June primary, you know, by that time, before the voters ever had a chance to vote, it was already locked in who the candidate is. And I think that is unfair to California, because we are number one, the number one state in the union.

So now we have changed it. We've signed a bill today that moves the June primary up to February. Now we will be part of the mix and we will be part of the decision-making.

BLITZER: On the Republican side, a lot of analysts already predicting this will help the more moderate Republican candidates. Specifically, Rudy Giuliani.

Is that your assessment as well, given his moderate views or social issues like abortion rights and the views of Californians in general?

SCHWARZENEGGER: Well, to be honest with you, we don't analyze it that way. All we want to do is, if it is a Democrat or a Republican that is in the White House, I think it is advantageous for California, if those candidates come out to California, know what our issues are, know that we care about infrastructure, about health care reform, about the environment, about political reform. All of those things.

We want them to talk about that. We want them to talk about it and see what their commitment is for California if they get in to the White House. So that's what this is all about, is let them pay attention to us, because remember, we're only getting right now 79 cents on the dollar that we're paying in federal tax. We want to improve all of those kinds of things.

BLITZER: You said the other day about -- about John McCain, you said this -- and I'll read it to you. You said, "John McCain is a great, great senator, a great national leader."

Is he your personal choice for the Republican presidential nomination?

SCHWARZENEGGER: I have not chosen anyone, and I have said that I most likely would not endorse anyone before the primaries. What I'm interested in as governor of California is to represent all the people of California, Democrats and Republicans.

So I'm welcoming all candidates to come in here and talk about the issues that are important to California. We've got to get more attention from the federal government. And this is what this is all about. Californians feel disenchanted about the fact that we have never had for many, many years, a chance to participate in this kind of election, in picking the candidate, if it's Democrats or Republicans.

BLITZER: You were re-elected decisively the last time because you moved back towards the center, moved to the middle. You made global warming, for an example, an important issue for yourself.

This is what John McCain recently said about the Bush administration's record on global warming. He said, "I would assess this administration's record on global warming as terrible."

Do you agree, first of all, with him that the Bush administration's record is terrible?

SCHWARZENEGGER: I think it is very important that we as a state show leadership when it comes to the environment. I think all great things come from a grassroots level, come from a state level, and then eventually the federal government adopts it. It's never the other way around.

There's very rarely been anything that is great that comes from Washington or from the federal government. All ideas, even if you think back to welfare reform, it came from Tommy Thompson, from Governor Tommy Thompson. Then Clinton adopted it, then in a bipartisan way they passed it and they made it a national thing.

So I think it's going to be the same with the environment. We are forming regional partnerships right now with western states, with northeastern states, with England, with Tony Blair, for instance, and all this. And eventually I think there will be enough states where the federal government is going to look at this and say, we've got get our act together, too, just like the other states, and fight global warming and recognize this is a danger to our world, that we have to start fighting it now, and we have to cut down on our greenhouse gas emissions.

BLITZER: How worried are you that the political momentum, at least last November and according to all the polls now, appears to be with the Democrats, and that the Republicans are not necessarily poised to stay in the White House next year? What's your recipe? What do the Republicans needing to do to regain the momentum? Or is it just the -- what many people see as the disaster of the Iraq war?

SCHWARZENEGGER: Well, I think that, you know, wars always have gotten people into trouble, because, you know, sometimes they go well and sometimes they don't go well. And so you can't really count on that.

I think the important thing here is, is that both of the parties talk about the issues that are important to the people, rather than just talking about the ideology and the things that they believe in, because in the end, when the people send you to Sacramento, or send you to Washington to take care and represent them, it is not just Republicans, it's not just Democrats.

Every district has both parties represented, and then you get to represent everybody. I think that's the important thing.

So I think that for Democrats, you know, to go and say, you know, for us, education is important, that ought to be important also for Republicans, because we have Republican children in the schools and Democrat children. I think when you talk about building the infrastructure, there is no Democratic road or Republican road. It's roads for everybody. I think when you talk about air quality and then you talk about the environment, we all breathe the same air.

I think that both of the parties have to represent the people.

BLITZER: If senator Orrin Hatch and others get their way, there will be a constitutional amendment that will remove the restriction on people like you, who were not born in the United States, from becoming president. If that were to happen, and that certainly is a big "if", governor, as you know, would you rule out running for president?

SCHWARZENEGGER: I haven't thought about that at all. You know, there is so much work that needs to be done here in California. Wolf, I have my hands full.

I think for me, the important thing now is in this next four years to bring both of the parties together, and to do what we did today. Both parties come together, we sign bills, and we make things happen and create action for the people of California.

We are going to continue doing that. We are going to go and reform health care here in this -- in this state, which is a very, very important issue so we can insure everybody. We're going to move forward and really do all of those things that need to be done here, including prison reform and helping just people that are vulnerable citizens, and so on, and education reform, and all this. So there's a lot of work.

For me, I don't even want to think about all of this running for president, not running for president. I'm happy the job that I have, and I'm not even thinking about, OK, this is something I can't do because I wasn't born here. I only think about the things that I can do.

And let me tell you, this is the land of opportunity. And I could do so many things. I was successful in many things. So I'm very happy the way things are.

BLITZER: We're out of time, Governor. But there's one thing you could do in 2010, challenge Barbara Boxer for the U.S. Senate seat.

Have you given any thought to that?

SCHWARZENEGGER: No, absolutely not.

BLITZER: Governor, thanks very much for joining us.

SCHWARZENEGGER: Thank you very much, Wolf. Thank you.


BLITZER: And compared to other states with early primaries or caucuses, California certainly carries a lot of weight. It has 173 Republican delegates, while all together, Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, all of three of those, they total only 110 delegates.

On the Democratic side, California has 370 delegates, while Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada total 137 delegates.



BLITZER: It appears the real devil is in the details. Is Rudy Giuliani's law firm in bed with a company controlled by the man who uses words of evil about President Bush?

Our Carol Costello is digging into these details. They involve Giuliani, Hugo Chavez, a lot more.

What's going on, Carol?

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf, can you say Hugo Chavez? Yes. The man the U.S. says is uncooperative in the war on terror is tied to the candidate who touts himself as the toughest on terror.


COSTELLO (voice over): One man revels in his anti-Americanism, calling President Bush a madman and a devil...

HUGO CHAVEZ, VENEZUELAN PRESIDENT (through translator): Yesterday the devil came here.

COSTELLO: ... taunting President Bush by offering discounted oil to poor Americans.

The other man revels in his image of red, white and blue American patriotism as a 9/11 hero and a strong leader.

RUDY GIULIANI (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Republicans are essentially a party of strong national defense and fiscal discipline.

COSTELLO: It turns out opposites do attract. Rudolph Giuliani's law firm is making money off of Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez, and Chavez is gaining access to American lawmakers through Bracewell & Giuliani.

According to the Texas Ethics Commission, Giuliani's firm lobbies on behalf of Citgo, owned by Venezuela, and collected as much as $150,000 in 2005-06, and will collect up to $100,000 more this year. Hypocrisy? Giuliani as a corporate shill?

Wayne Barrett has written extensively about Giuliani's business practices. He says yes to all of the above.

WAYNE BARRETT, "VILLAGE VOICE": He got a chunk of money to join this law firm. They changed the name of the law firm to headline him. Lent his credibility to these folks, you know, and sort of toss the ball in the air.

COSTELLO: Giuliani's camp is quick to point out Giuliani himself is not involved in lobbying, saying, "Mayor Giuliani believes Hugo Chavez is not a friend of the United States, and his influence continues to grow because of our increasing reliance on foreign sources of oil."

But Barrett says that doesn't jive with the popular image Giuliani likes to project of an embattled mayor who bravely walked to the World Trade Center site while the fallen towers still smoldered, who famously refused to accept a donation from a Saudi Arabian prince, rejecting his $10 million check because the prince has suggested U.S. policies in the Middle East contributed to 9/11.

Giuliani was livid.

GIULIANI: There is no justification for it. The people who did it lost any right to ask for justification for it when they slaughtered 4,000, 5,000 innocent people.

COSTELLO: The Hugo Chavez affair is just the latest bad press for Giuliani -- his three marriages, his estrangement from his children -- and the first primary is still 10 months away.


COSTELLO: Now, as for whether this will hurt Giuliani in the polls, well, so far, Wolf, nothing else has. He still leads among Republicans.

BLITZER: Thanks, Carol. Good report.

Carol Costello reporting.

Up next, the president of Iran's latest request to come to the United States. We'll update you on that.

We'll be right back



BLITZER: Jack, he's coming to your part of the world, Ahmadinejad. I guess you're going to get that welcome wagon out for him.


The question this hour: What does it mean when almost half of college students in this country binge drink or abuse drugs?

Pat in Connecticut writes, "I think it means they're having a good time. Leave them alone and report some real news."

Robert in New York, "As a college sophomore, I'll tell you what it means. It means students are content with doing the minimum in college as long as they get that degree at the end of their four years. The majority of students simply don't have the love of learning that's necessary to enjoy the college experience for what it is. They just want to be able to have the name of that school on their resume when they graduate, and it's within those students that the 50 percent of binge drinkers reside."

Colette, Philadelphia, "Hi, Jack. As a law school and former resident adviser in my college's dorms, I know too well how students study hard and play hard. You can thank our parents for placing excess pressure on us to succeed."

Mary in Atlanta, "My daughter's an 18-year-old high school senior. She's apprehensive about going to college. She's afraid she won't be able to find someone like her, who doesn't drink or do drugs. I've reassured her that she'll find other kids with her same values, but since I heard your report, I'm afraid I might be wrong and she might be right."

Bob in Stillwater, Oklahoma, "Jack, how can this be surprising when a recent survey of high school students showed that 50 percent of students thought Sodom and Gomorrah were a married couple? The younger generation is the only reason it feel goods to be old."

Scott in Virginia Beach, Virginia, "College students are still partying too much. There's a news flash."

And David in Athens, Texas, "It means the other half is lying."

If you didn't see your e-mail here, you can go to, where you can read more of these online -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Jack. Thanks. See you back here in an hour.

Let's wrap up this hour with a closer look at some of the "Hot Shots," pictures coming in from our friends over at The Associated Press, pictures likely to be in your hometown newspapers tomorrow.

In Chechnya, children ride a bicycle near destroyed houses. Chechnya has been plagued by fighting with separatist rebels for most of the past 12 years.

In Ethiopia, residents hold candles during a vigil for eight Ethiopians who were kidnapped by armed rebels two weeks ago.

In Singapore, an Indonesian super lightweight boxer throws a fist at his challenger during a championship bout.

And digging into the news. In Florida, a 3-month-old river otter named Olive choose on a reporter's notebook belonging to a "St. Petersburg Times" photographer.

There he is. Good work. Nice picture.

Some of the hour's "Hot Shots," pictures often worth a thousand words.

Remember, we're here in THE SITUATION ROOM weekday afternoons from 4:00 to 6:00 p.m. Eastern. We're back in one hour at 7:00 p.m. Eastern for another hour of news, guests.

Until then, thanks very much for joining us.

"LOU DOBBS TONIGHT" starts right now.


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