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CNN LATE EDITION WITH WOLF BLITZER

Interview With Stephen Hadley; Interview With Jack Murtha

Aired March 18, 2007 - 11:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, HOST: This is "Late Edition," the last word in Sunday talk.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: The United States Senate wisely rejected a resolution that would have placed an artificial timetable on our mission in Iraq.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Year five begins. Is the Iraq mission any closer to success? We'll talk with President Bush's national security adviser, Stephen Hadley.

Then, we'll here from one of the Bush administration's leading critics in Congress, Democrat John Murtha.

Plus, National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski on the U.S. strategy in Iraq, the stand-off with Iran, and his new book, "Second Chance: Three Presidents and the Crisis of American Superpower."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

(UNKNOWN): This is going to take many months, not weeks.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: The surge is on, but is the U.S. troop increase in Iraq too little too late? We'll assess the battle plan with former NATO Supreme Allied Commander General George Joulwan, Retired U.S. Army Colonel Pat Lang, and New York Times chief military correspondent Michael Gordon.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ATTORNEY GENERAL ALBERTO R. GONZALES: I acknowledge that mistakes were made here. I accept that responsibility.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: From an attorney general on the hot seat to a outed CIA operative's testimony before Congress. We'll get insight on the week's political bombshells and the crowded race for the White House from Democratic strategist James Carville, Human Events magazine's Terry Jeffrey, and CNN's Candy Crowley. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, REAL ESTATE MOGUL: Everything in Washington has been a lie.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Plus blunt talk from Donald Trump. He speaks out on President Bush, the 2008 presidential candidates and whether he's ready to enter politics. "Late Edition's" lineup begins right now.

ANNOUNCER: Live from CNN in Washington, this is "Late Edition" with Wolf Blitzer.

BLITZER: It's 11:00 a.m. here in Washington, 8:00 a.m. in Los Angeles, 3:00 p.m. in London and 6:00 p.m. in Baghdad. Wherever you're watching from around the world, thanks very much for joining us for "Late Edition." We'll get to my interview with President Bush's national security adviser, Stephen Hadley, in just a moment.

First, though, let's go to Fredricka Whitfield at the CNN Center for quick check of what's in the news right now.

Hi, Fred.

(NEWSBREAK)

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Fred.

As the war in Iraq enters year five, the Bush administration is counting on a new U.S. troop buildup to help crackdown on the country's sectarian violence. The White House is expressing confidence this latest strategy will work. Just a short while ago, I spoke with President Bush's national security adviser, Stephen Hadley.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Stephen Hadley, thanks very much. Welcome back to "Late Edition."

STEPHEN HADLEY, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: Nice to be here.

BLITZER: There is a story in The Washington Post today suggesting that Al Qaida in Iraq may not necessarily represent much of a threat to people here in the United States.

Among other things, The Washington Post writes this: "Al Qaida in Iraq is the United States' most formidable enemy in that country, but unlike Osama bin Laden's Al Qaida organization in Pakistan, U.S. intelligence officials and outside experts believe the Iraqi branch poses little danger to the security of the U.S. homeland.

Do you agree?

HADLEY: We agree in this sense, because what the -- remember what the president said right after 9/11. We were going to go on the offense and take the enemies of America on overseas so we do not need to fight them at home.

There is no doubt that Al Qaida and Al Qaida in Iraq, if you listen to the statements of Zarqawi and his successor, they would like to be operating against America. But if you read that article, what it says is they are sufficiently tied down in Iraq, just maintaining themselves there and maintaining the fight in Iraq that they at this point do not have the focus and resources to come here.

Their strategy, though, is very clear. They want to get a safe haven in Iraq from which they can then destabilize neighboring regimes and come and plan actions against the United States.

BLITZER: So you believe that if the U.S. were to pull out quickly from Iraq, that would change Al Qaida in Iraq, would pose a direct to the U.S. homeland?

HADLEY: That is right. And I think if you talk to our commanders, if you talk to intelligence experts, that's their view as well.

BLITZER: Because that has been disputed by some intelligence experts and outside analysts in this story in The Washington Post.

HADLEY: If you look in the story, particularly the later portions of the column, they make it absolutely clear that they have the intention to do something but their hands are full in Iraq.

And their hands are full in Iraq because we are taking the offensive to the enemies there.

BLITZER: Let me read to you from the Defense Department report of March 2nd on this, getting close to the fourth anniversary of the war in Iraq: "Some elements of the situation in Iraq are properly descriptive of a civil war, including the hardening of ethno-sectarian identities and mobilization, the changing character of the violence, and population displacement."

They are acknowledging at least major parts of the fighting in Iraq right now are a civil war, which is not exactly what the U.S. public bought into going into Iraq.

HADLEY: If you go back, there is really not a lot new there, Wolf. If you look at the National Intelligence Estimate, the coordinate judgment of the intelligence community on Iraq that was issued here about six to eight weeks ago, it basically says civil war does not adequately characterize the struggle in Iraq.

There are a lot of things going on. There is Shia-on-Shia struggle. There is Al Qaida seeking to provoke sectarian violence. There is considerable sectarian violence in significant measure as a result of Al Qaida's activities, particularly focused in Baghdad. So it is a very complicated setting.

BLITZER: But the civil war part of it, give us your assessment. You are the president's national security adviser. Is this a civil war? HADLEY: What we have is considerable sectarian violence. If you look at -- if you ask Iraqis, for example -- there was a just an opinion poll out in the press today -- Iraqis don't call it a civil war. If you talk to Iraqis, what they say is, "It's not a civil war. It's a war against civilians."

And that is what you have to understand. It is a particularly brutal strategy that was Zarqawi's strategy from the beginning, to attack innocent Shia civilians in order to provoke Shia attacks on Sunnis in the hopes of creating a civil war.

And that is the sectarian violence that is focused on Baghdad. And that is why the key element of our strategy is to, with Iraqi security forces, bring down the level of violence in Baghdad so the unity government can pursue reconciliation, which is the key path to peace.

BLITZER: The same DOD, Pentagon report also concluded this: "Corruption remains a factor at both the unit and ministerial levels of the Iraqi army. In the personnel system, the Ministers of Defense and Interior are aware of so-called 'ghost soldiers' and policemen who exist only on the rolls."

How big of a problem is this, the phony numbers, for example, that the Pentagon says are part of this Iraq military?

HADLEY: We know that the Iraqi police has been a problem. George Casey talked about 2006 being the year of the police. I think it is fair to say we have not made the progress on the police that we need to.

There are issues of corruption. There are issues of infiltration by militia groups. That is why Prime Minister Maliki and the Iraqi government has put the Iraqi army front and center in this effort to bring security to Baghdad.

BLITZER: As opposed to the police force?

HADLEY: And the other thing they have done, which is a very interesting concept, which they have in the sort of neighborhood command centers they have established, these joint security stations.

They have put Iraqi army, Iraqi national police, Iraqi local police, and elements of U.S. battalions in these stations in order that they can watch each other and stiffen the Iraqi police and make them more effective in bringing security to Baghdad.

BLITZER: Last November that famous memo you wrote to the president following your visit to Iraq surfaced in The New York Times. And you wrote this -- and I want you to update our viewers if you still believe this: "The prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki," you wrote, "is either ignorant of what is going on, misrepresenting his intentions, or that his capabilities are not yet sufficient to turn his good intentions into action."

What is your bottom line on this prime minister right now? HADLEY: This prime minister and his government has grown in confidence and competence. If you look at his statements over the last four months, he is holding out a clear vision to the Iraqi people that security is a priority.

In order to get security, he understands it has to be enforced evenly against all of those who would use violence on innocent civilians, whether Sunni of Shia.

He has given the commander that he has put in place in Baghdad to head the Baghdad security plan clear orders to bring peace, to not show any favorites or partisanship.

And he has give assurance that the commander will be able to carry out the plan without political interference. So has grown. The Iraqi government is beginning to take some of the steps in terms of developing an oil law and some of these other things that are key to reconciliation.

BLITZER: So you've had a change of heart on that?

HADLEY: He has grown in office. He has grown in confidence. He has grown in competence. You can see it. That is what we hear from our commanders. That is what we hear from our ambassador.

This government has an enormous challenge for a new government, given Iraq's history. It is a huge challenge, and it is beginning to step up to what needs to be done.

BLITZER: Originally when the president announced the additional troops that had to go to Iraq, he spoke about 21,000 or so. But now that number has gone up to 28,000 and getting closer to 30,000.

If the commander, General Petraeus, wants additional troops, do you see that number even increasing behind this approximately 30,000 level?

HADLEY: Let's be clear what the president said. The president talked in his speech about additional combat forces. And he talked about five brigades going to Baghdad and about 4,000 troops as a net plus up in al-Anbar province to deal with al Qaida.

He talked about combat forces. As everybody knows, when you have combat forces, there is a combat support tail that follows. Bob Gates talked about that with -- the secretary of defense talked about that with General Pace here two weeks ago and said there would be an increment of combat support, probably 10 to 15 percent.

In addition, General Petraeus told the Senate when he was confirmed that if he need more forces, he would ask for them. And he asked for two additional increments, one to deal with detainees and one to deal with an aviation brigade, to give him greater helicopter capability.

BLITZER: And that brings the number closer to 30,000. HADLEY: That brings it about to 30,000. At this point in time, there are no pending requests from General Petraeus. This is his assessment at this point in time of what he needs to do the job.

BLITZER: And so you'll wait to hear if he needs more.

HADLEY: Absolutely.

BLITZER: All right. Let's talk about Iran for a moment. Last weekend, the U.S. participated in this regional conference in Baghdad with Syrian representatives, Iranian representatives, the other neighbors of Iran.

Seymour Hersh, writing in The New Yorker magazine, made this charge. He wrote this, and I want your reaction: "American military and special operations teams have escalated their activities in Iran to gather intelligence and, according to a Pentagon consultant on terrorism and the former senior intelligence official, have also crossed the border in pursuit of Iranian operatives from Iraq."

Is that true?

HADLEY: What we have focused on is what Iran doing in Iraq. And what they are doing in Iraq is giving equipment to forces in Iraq that are attacking the coalition and are attacking Iraqis.

They are giving training to those forces. We have seen Iranian equipment show up in Iraq. We have focused on the problem that Iran is providing in Iraq, and we are dealing with it in Iraq.

And that's why you've seen some operations where we have gone after (inaudible).

BLITZER: Do U.S. troops in Iraq have the authority to cross the border, either special operations forces or regular soldiers, to go into Iran to pursue Iranians who may be doing bad things against U.S. troops in Iraq?

HADLEY: At this point, they have been told to focus on what the Iranian support is doing in Iraq. Now let me say a word about the neighbors' conference you talked about. Everyone has focused on the Iran-Syria.

That conference was not about Iran and Syria. It was about Iraq. It was called by Iraq. It was held in Baghdad. It was the neighbors of Iraq plus representatives of the P-5. And the purpose was to get diplomatic support for the Iraqis and build support for the Iraqi effort against -- security effort in Baghdad in particular, and also help bring other parties into supporting this government.

The fact that Iran and Syria are there was the fact that they were neighbors. We have attended conferences on Iraq with them before, as early as 2004, then-Secretary of State Colin Powell under the international compact at a meeting where Iranians and Syria were present. So the news story out of there is this is Iraq stepping forward trying to rally the community around it and its neighbors around it to give greater support to this government, and we fully support that.

BLITZER: All right, let's talk briefly, because we're almost out of time. This new Palestinian unity government, including Hamas and the president, Mahmoud Abbas. Will the United States government deal with this new Palestinian government directly?

HADLEY: Remember, Abbas is not part of the government. He is the president...

BLITZER: So you'll deal with him, obviously.

HADLEY: ... of the Palestinian Authority.

BLITZER: But will you deal with the prime minister, Ismail Haniyeh?

HADLEY: We have said very clearly that this new government needs to accept the quartet principles. These are the sort of fundamental building blocks for peace in the Middle East. What are they? That this government needs to renounce terror and violence.

BLITZER: Have they?

HADLEY: It needs to acknowledge the right of Israel to exist, and it needs to recognize the various agreements that have entered in between the PLO and Israel.

BLITZER: Have they done those three things?

HADLEY: They have not, and that is why we will not deal with this government. We've said that before. There has been an existing government that has been made up of Hamas. They have not accepted those principles. We have not dealt with them. We will not deal with this government until it accepts those principles.

We will be watching, obviously, for the words and deeds of this government. It was a little troubling that Prime Minister Haniyeh in his statement in the program of the government talks about the right of resistance.

This is not the same as we're giving up violence and terror. We will watch their words and deeds, and we will hope they will take steps like releasing Corporal Shalit, the Israeli prisoner that they hold, cracking down on violence, and stopping rocket attacks on Israel. If they take those kinds of actions, it will show that they're moving toward the quartet principles.

So far, they have not taken those steps.

BLITZER: One final question. We heard from the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff this week on the "don't ask, don't tell" policy, which has been in effect since the first year of the Clinton administration, which doesn't allow gays serving in the U.S. military to either talk about being gay or to be asked if they are gay.

Is the president thinking right now authorizing a change in that strategy?

HADLEY: There is an existing policy as you described. It is the policy of the Department of Defense. It has been enshrined in statute. That is the policy we're taking out -- we're carrying out. At this point, I am not aware of any effort to review that policy.

You know, there is a lot going on, Wolf, and I think the president and the secretary of defense and the chairman have a lot on their plate.

BLITZER: But at a time when the U.S. needs as many qualified men and women to serve in the military, including linguists who have been kicked out because they've been gay, people who have studied Arabic or other languages important in the war on terrorism, is it time maybe to rethink this whole strategy? General John Shalikashvili, a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs, wrote in The New York Times, yes, you need all the able-bodied men and women without worrying about their sexual orientation.

HADLEY: Well, that's really -- any such review with start with Secretary Gates and will start with General Pace. I am not aware that there is such review under way, and secondly, you know, this is a policy that allows all Americans to participate in the military, and that's a good thing.

BLITZER: We'll leave it there. Stephen Hadley, thanks very much for coming in.

HADLEY: Nice to see you.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: And up next, he sounded an early warning about the war in Iraq. We'll talk with the former national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski about the U.S. strategy, as well as his new book on the crisis of American superpower.

Then, insight on what U.S. troops in Iraq are up against after four years of war. We'll hear from a panel of top military insiders.

And for our North American viewers, right after "Late Edition," at 1 p.m. Eastern, John Roberts hosts a special "This Week at War: Year 5 Begins."

"Late Edition" will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to "Late Edition." I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. Our next guest sounded one of the early alarms against the war in Iraq and warned of potentially disastrous results.

The former national security Zbigniew Brzezinski served under former President Jimmy Carter. He is the author of an important new book, "Second Chance: Three Presidents and the Crisis of American Superpower." Dr. Brzezinski is a frequent guest here on "Late Edition." Thanks for coming in.

ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI, FORMER NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: Wolf, it's good to be with you.

BLITZER: Congratulations on this new book. Let me summarize briefly, as far as Iraq is concerned, three of your conclusions in this book. The war in Iraq caused calamitous damage to America's global standing, it's a geopolitical disaster and it's increased the terrorist threat to the United States. Are those three of your main summaries?

BRZEZINSKI: Yes.

BLITZER: Let's talk about each one. It's caused calamitous damage to America's global standing. How calamitous would you assess the damage?

BRZEZINSKI: I'll just give you one example, but one could talk literally for an hour. The BBC recently conducted a worldwide poll asking people to rank countries in terms of their most positive contributions to world affairs and the ones that have made the most negative.

The three most negative countries rated by some 28,000 responders were in this sequence: The worst, I'm sorry to say, Israel. Second, Iran. Third, the United States. Now, this is 15 years after we became the only global superpower, when we had a chance to really shape the world. And this is now how we're rated.

BLITZER: And you also say this has become a geopolitical disaster for the United States?

BRZEZINSKI: Yes. Because in the Middle East there is now great turmoil, and in many respects Iran has benefited geopolitically from the destruction of Iraq, and that, of course, creates problems for us. And beyond that, we seem to be bogged down.

BLITZER: Are the 28 million or so, 27 million people of Iran better off now than they were under Saddam Hussein?

BRZEZINSKI: You mean of Iraq.

BLITZER: I mean of Iraq.

BRZEZINSKI: Look, today in The New York times, there has come the big box which measures conditions. It's very hard to say that they're better off. I think in some respects, they're worse off. And then there's a further statistic which is not there, with which I am somewhat familiar. The country had about 25 million people when we were there.

Two million left, probably the very best, the best educated. They literally have left to Jordan, to Syria and so forth. About a million and half have been displaced from their homes, so they're internal refugees. And maybe as many as half a million were neither born because of a lower birth rate or died earlier because of higher mortality or were physically killed.

So we have deprived that country of close to three million people. And we devastated the country.

BLITZER: You also say instead of reducing the terror threat against the United States, the war in Iraq has increased the terror threat to the United States. Explain what your thinking is on that.

BRZEZINSKI: Yes. It has intensified hostility toward the United States, in the Middle East, and increasingly in the Muslim world at large. We have contributed to that not only by what we have been doing in Iraq, but we have contributed to it also by a kind of Islamophobic language which identifies almost all Muslims as enemies. And that of course creates a wider, bigger, more fertile recruiting ground for terrorists.

BLITZER: But you also heard Stephen Hadley, the current national security adviser, say by fighting al Qaida in Iraq, the United States is preventing them from coming over here and committing terrorist acts in the U.S. homeland.

BRZEZINSKI: Look, if you were to extend that logic to its logical conclusion, we should be fighting, and we might be fighting before long also in Iran, more deeply in Afghanistan, potentially in Pakistan. What the administration fails to understand, and it's a fundamental historic error is that we cannot be acting like an imperial power in the post-imperial age, like a colonial power in a post-colonial age.

The only way to eradicate terrorism is to have the support and consensus of all the moderates in the countries that potentially breed terrorists. And not trying to do it by ourselves with means which increasingly alienate people.

BLITZER: You're a professor, and you give grades to three U.S. presidents. You teach at my alma mater at Johns Hopkins University at the School of Advanced International Studies. Now let's talk about the grades that you give these presidents.

You give the first President Bush a solid B. You give President Clinton an uneven C, and you give the current President Bush a failed F. All right, let's talk about the first President Bush. Why does he get a solid B?

BRZEZINSKI: Because he did extremely well in handling the disintegration of the Soviet bloc, really skillfully, much better than Reagan would have done it. And he acted with resolution, but inconsequentially in the Middle East. He failed to exploit the enormous standing he had, really enormous, to set in motion some larger, more compelling vision of the new world that the United States would shape, being now the global leader.

BLITZER: And he did presumably well, at least you say, in dealing with Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait.

BRZEZINSKI: But didn't follow up on it. And didn't follow up on the possibility...

BLITZER: But here's what I don't understand. You say he didn't follow up. You criticize the current President Bush for going in and getting rid of Saddam Hussein, but you're saying that the first President Bush should have gotten rid of Saddam Hussein then?

BRZEZINSKI: No. I'm saying he could have exploited it by being politically more persistent and more insightful to overthrow Saddam from within. I think the Army, the Baathists might have overthrown Saddam in those circumstances, especially if we were prepared to push on against the Iraqi armed forces.

But even more significant failure was the failure to exploit the remarkable standing he had, including participation of Arab countries in the war, to push for peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians. That was the moment to make a really basic push.

BLITZER: All right. Now, what about Bill Clinton? You give him an uneven C, even though for eight years of his presidency the country was basically at peace.

BRZEZINSKI: Yes. It was basically at peace. It was prosperous. But I also say that he was full of good intentions but rather self- indulgent. And I don't mean anything necessarily personal about him or only in part. The country became self-indulgent. It became kind of disinclined to really make any sacrifices.

Hedonism almost became a virtue. We weren't prepared to undertake the kind of self-restraint, self-denial that is necessary in this modern world to provide leadership. He wouldn't address the problems of poverty, of social injustice, not to mention ecology.

BLITZER: But how did he handle the crisis in Bosnia and Kosovo?

BRZEZINSKI: Very well. And I give him credit for that.

BLITZER: Because an uneven C, a lot of students, graduate students of yours would be unhappy if they got a C.

BRZEZINSKI: Well, I was known to be a tough grader. But his major failing again was the Middle East. Instead of exploiting the special standing of the United States as a mediator, he essentially kind of embraced Israel in a way in which, while giving more support to Israel, he diminished his ability to mediate between the Israelis and the Palestinians and create peace, which Israel more than anybody else needs badly.

And hence, he left eight years kind of slip, out of self- indulgence.

BLITZER: You give an F, a failed F, to the current president.

BRZEZINSKI: Yes.

BLITZER: That is a total failure. BRZEZINSKI: I'm sorry to say, this is terrible. I think what this president has done to America's position in the world is unconscionable and will take years to undo after 2008, provided we don't plunge into some terrible expanded conflict before he leaves office. And what concerns me the most about Iraq is now that it is no longer a war of national interest. It's a war of presidential hubris and has the potential for expanding into Iran.

BLITZER: Even in these final two years of his presidency?

BRZEZINSKI: That's I think the biggest danger that we face right now.

BLITZER: The book is entitled "Second Chance: Three Presidents and the Crisis of American Superpower." Zbigniew Brzezinski is the author. Thanks for coming in, Dr. Brzezinski.

BRZEZINSKI: Wolf, as always.

BLITZER: Thank you. And coming up, a new U.S. commander in Iraq. But will General David Petraeus's plan for more U.S. troops really improve things on the ground? We'll get a situation report from a panel of top military experts.

But up next, a quick check of what's in the news right now, including the latest on today's bombings in Baghdad. Stay with "Late Edition." We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWSBREAK)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back. Year five of the war in Iraq is beginning with a new U.S. commander on the ground and a new security crackdown that will eventually be backed up by nearly 30,000 additional U.S. combat and support troops. But is it enough to pull Iraq from the brink of civil war?

I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. Joining us now to discuss this and a lot more are three guests: the former NATO supreme allied commander, retired U.S. Army General George Joulwan; Pat Lang, a retired U.S. Army colonel, former intelligence analyst at the DIA, the Defense Intelligence Agency; and Michael Gordon, chief military correspondent for the New York Times and the co-author of the book "Cobra II: The Inside Story of the Invasion and Occupation of Iraq."

Gentlemen, thanks very much for coming in.

Let me start with you, General Joulwan. The CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll asked, was the war in Iraq worth it? Back in 2003 when the war started, 68 percent of the American public said yes. It's gone down every year since then. Now as we enter year five, only 35 percent, only one-third of the American public believe this war was worth it. What you do think?

GEORGE JOULWAN, FORMER NATO ALLIED SUPREME COMMANDER: Well, I think it's too soon to say. I think what we have to figure out is what is the long-term strategy that we need to try to achieve some degree of stabilization within Iraq? We haven't done that yet. Would it be worthwhile if we could stabilize Iraq in a way that will bring about some degree of peace and stability? Yes. We are not there yet. So I think it's still out.

BLITZER: Do you think it's still feasible?

JOULWAN: The jury is still out. I think it's much more difficult now than it would have been four years ago when we had the opportunity after the fall of Baghdad to stabilize a country. We didn't do it then. We're trying to do it now, only it's much more difficult now.

BLITZER: Pat Lang, let me ask the same question to you. Was the war worth it?

COL. PAT LANG (RET), U.S. ARMY: Well, the American people's opinion on this is tied to the lack of success there thus far. If you're asking me about it, no, I don't think it was worth it at all. I think it was not, in fact, an essential part of the war against the jihadis across the world and has been a diversion from that and has put us in a real mess.

BLITZER: Let me get to the statistics out there, grim statistics, indeed, Michael Gordon. And you've covered it from the beginning. U.S. troop casualties now 3,220 and they're going up. Those are killed in Iraq. Among the wounded nearly 25,000, 24,042, according to the Defense Department.

You speak to these guys every single day, top U.S. military commanders. Do they honestly believe they can turn it around and win this war?

MICHAEL GORDON, NEW YORK TIMES: I think the word "win" is probably not the best term to use to describe the objectives of the current strategy. I think the United States has embarked on new strategy. It's applying the counterinsurgency manual really for the first time in Baghdad. It's dispersed forces in the neighborhood.

And the goal is to leave something stable behind, basically to create a political space so that the Iraqi government can try to do the right thing. That's what the strategy is now. And it's early days for the strategy. You know, they're deploying five brigade combat teams and only two are there. So it's premature to form a judgment on it.

BLITZER: Because I spoke recently with General Odierno, who's the number two U.S. military commander on the ground in Iraq. And he says six to nine months before anyone can make an accurate assessment whether this new strategy is working. You think it's going to take that long? GORDON: Well, we've reported in The New York Times that General Odierno, basically taking a cue off your program, has recommended that the surge be continued through February of '08. And that's because counterinsurgency really is a long-term gain. If you're really trying to solidify your gains and if you do have some success, it takes awhile to sustain it.

I think if it fails dramatically, we'll know that soon. But if it begins to succeed, I think it will, just from a military point, require some sustainment.

JOULWAN: While I agree with all of that, I think, in my view, the surge event is a tactic, not a strategy. A strategy is much broader-based, much more political in nature. And I think we have to understand what is that longer- range strategy that we are talking about?

And the Iraqis play a big role in that. I think the surge can help create a secure environment for that to take place, but the Iraqis are going to have to decide whether this war is going to be successful or not.

BLITZER: Pat Lang, listen to what Army Colonel J.B. Burton, commander of the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, said at a Pentagon briefing on Friday about this latest strategy in the Baghdad area.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

COL. J.B. BURTON, U.S. ARMY: The key about all of those IEDs that we are finding is not only have they decreased in number, but they have decreased in effectiveness. And I believe that has to do with us being out in the neighborhoods constantly, 24 hours a day, day and night.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right, what you do think? Because a lot of these guys are saying they see some initial signs that the new strategy under General Petraeus is working.

LANG: Well, it's been a feature of various counterinsurgency wars over the last century that we go through periods of reform and a tryout of new methodology. And I think that we are seeing this again in what we are doing in Iraq.

And, actually, I think the adoption of a new methodology like this and the near unanimous vote for a new commander in the Senate deserves a prolonged trial period to see if this is going to work. And people like that colonel deserve a chance to try to make it work. Six months, nine months seems reasonable to me.

BLITZER: And so, at this stage, for the U.S. simply to withdraw quickly would achieve what?

LANG: Well, I think there is no doubt whatever that if we withdrew suddenly, in fact, it would further destabilize the country. And if you like to talk about civil war now, what you would see afterwards amongst all these different groups of both Shia and Sunni would be truly spectacular.

BLITZER: You have a piece in The New York Times today, Michael, talking about the surprise in who's the bigger threat to this latest U.S. strategy in the Baghdad area. Explain to our viewers what you've learned.

GORDON: Well, Wolf, there is no shortage of adversaries in Baghdad, unfortunately. But when the surge began, it was commonly thought that one of the primary antagonists would be the Mahdi army or splinter groups, basically Shiite militias because they had been involved.

BLITZER: These are the militias loyal to Muqtada al-Sadr, the anti-American, radical Shiite cleric?

GORDON: And some of them were not loyal to anybody really, but were carrying out sort of a Shiite agenda and trying to do ethnic cleansing in Baghdad. I saw some of that myself in October. And people thought that would be the main antagonist. And, as it's turned out, they've largely, but not entirely, gone the ground and sometimes gone south or gone north.

BLITZER: The Shiites?

GORDON: These Shiite militias.

BLITZER: But are they just temporarily laying low, holding their fire, waiting to attack, to pounce on another day? Or have they had a change of heart?

GORDON: It's too soon to say they had a change of heart. I think they're probably trying to outwait the coalition, lie low while the surge is going forward in Baghdad. But what's happened is Al Qaida of Iraq, Aquino...

BLITZER: Which is Sunni.

GORDON: It's a Sunni-based group, 90 percent Iraqi, although with foreign leadership, has tried to accelerate the violence in Baghdad by launching car bomb attacks, which have gone up. And, using enclaves, Sunni enclaves in the Baghdad area, this is forcing American commanders, when they think about Baghdad security now to think not only about the neighborhoods they have to protect, but also carrying out operations in these Sunni enclaves.

BLITZER: We're going to a break but, General Joulwan, I want you to react to that.

JOULWAN: Well, I think what we are seeing now is what even the commanders on the ground will tell you is a very adaptable enemy. This enemy has adapted over the last four years to every tactic or strategy that we've come up. And I think you're going to see an adaptability to this one, to what we call the surge. And I think it's going to be interesting to see what's going to happen, not just in three or four months like some politicians want the surge to end, but in months or years that I think it's going to take to bring some sort of stabilization to this country.

BLITZER: What you do think, Pat?

LANG: Well, it's certainly going to -- to see whether or not this (inaudible) is certainly going to take six or nine months. I doubt if there is the political patience of this country to go on with this for years.

I definitely think it's true that the Shia militias are lying back to see how we're going to deal with the Sunnis during this period of advanced American operations.

BLITZER: All right, guys. Stand by because we have a lot more to talk about. Coming up, our panel's assessment of the military challenges ahead in Iraq. Do the sectarian militias have the upper hand when all is said and done?

And later, Donald Trump's take on President Bush, the war in Iraq and the 2008 presidential candidates. This is an interview you're going to want to see. Stick around. "Late Edition" will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

VICE PRESIDENT DICK CHENEY: A precipitous American withdrawal from Iraq would be a disaster for the United States and the entire Middle East.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: The vice president speaking here in Washington earlier in the week. Welcome back to "Late Edition." I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.

We're talking about the U.S. military strategy in Iraq, as well as the war as it ends year four, moving into year five. Joining us, the former NATO commander, General George Joulwan; New York Times chief military correspond Michael Gordon; and a former Defense Intelligence Agency analyst, retired U.S. Army Colonel Pat Lang.

The vice president very tough on this issue saying a precipitous withdrawal would cause chaos throughout the region, not only in Iraq.

JOULWAN: Well, first of all, even the most ardent critics aren't calling for a precipitous withdrawal. I think they're calling in a change of mission. They're calling for a different tactic to be taken on the ground.

So I think what we need to be able to see is what that change of mission is. I think a negotiated settlement rather than victory -- because I could never figure out what victory meant -- is a much more viable mission than defeating of all the enemy in Iraq.

So I don't agree with the vice president. I think we could weather -- even if it was precipitous withdrawal we could weather that. But I think we need that clarity in terms of what you want to accomplish. And I think a negotiated settlement between the warring factions is crucial here.

BLITZER: The administration argues, Pat, that if there was a date certain a year from now, let's say, for a complete withdrawal of combat forces, the enemy would simply wait it out, wait for that date and then take over.

LANG: Well, I'm not in favor of announcing a date certain for American withdrawal. I don't mind if we have a date, and we don't announce it to anybody. But, in fact, to announce it in public would merely set the stage for the kind of collapse that the vice president was talking about.

And, in fact, although I think there would be a general amount of chaos in the neighborhood if we did that, I don't think it would lead to disaster to the United States, but it would be hell on earth in various places in the Middle East.

BLITZER: What would happen inside Iraq -- and you spent a lot of time over there, Michael -- if the U.S. were to announce a year from now all combat forces were out? What would happen within Iraq?

GORDON: Well, one thing, Wolf, is there is really a disconnect between the reality in Iraq and the political debate in the United States. And this is really evident in the National Intelligence Estimate, a public document -- your viewers can read it in unclassified form -- which was issued in January.

What it said is that the Iraqi security forces, particularly the police, are not equipped to take on alone the responsibility of controlling the country in 12 to 18 months.

And it said that if U.S. forces were to leave entirely, which not all the Democrats are proposing, but if they were to leave entirely within 12 to 18 months, the national institutions would begin to fracture, outside countries could get involved, and could you have -- as bad as the situation is now could get even worse.

BLITZER: General Peter Pace, the chairman of the joint chiefs says the U.S. has enough troops around the world to deal with other crises if they should emerge. I want to play this little clip from what he said on January 12th.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GENERAL PETER PACE, CHAIRMAN OF THE U.S. JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF: Most important for the American people and for anybody who is a potential enemy of ours out there, we have 2.4 million Americans, active, Guard and Reserve. We can handle anybody out there who might make the mistake of miscalculating about our strength.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right. You accept that? Because there's a lot of suggestions the U.S. military's about as stretched as thin as it can be right now, given the problems in Iraq and Afghanistan.

JOULWAN: When you look at what we call infantry, boots on the ground, Marine and Army units, they're not 2.4 million. I know what Peter Pace is trying to say, but it's much smaller than that. It's about a third of that, and that's high.

And so we are stretched thin. And I think it's very difficult to meet the sort of commitments we have, not only in Iraq and Afghanistan, but globally. And the increase that we're going to see in the Army and the Marine Corps is very much needed, and I think is very much in keeping with the commitments that we have.

BLITZER: You heard Zbigniew Brzezinski in the previous segment suggest that he's really worried about a possible military engagement with Iran, even in these final two years of the Bush administration. Given the experience in Iraq, what you do think?

LANG: Well, if there were such an engagement, it would be a terrifically foolish thing to do. We don't have the forces to do anything like that on the ground, just as General Joulwan was saying.

And in fact, this would be an air campaign, which would have some -- probably could not achieve the kind of goal of the desired degree of destruction in the Iranian nuclear program that people might want. And the devastation wrought to Americans' position in the world would be even worse than it is now. So I think that would be a really terrible thing to do and would be a very foolish idea.

BLITZER: We keep hearing about contingency plans. The Pentagon, they're always having contingency planning for everything. But how far advanced are contingency plans, Michael, involving Iran?

GORDON: I think the administration has looked at Iran as a contingency because of Iran's efforts to develop nuclear weapons, really. But I think that the policy that I see forming is not really an offensive policy.

It's really an active containment policy, to contain Iranian power in the Persian Gulf region, basically to prevent Iran from intervening through its operatives in Iraq. So I see kind of an aggressive containment policy at this point in time, not offensive policy.

BLITZER: You get the last word, General Joulwan.

JOULWAN: And it must include our allies and partners. I think we have to have not just pulling the military trigger, but the diplomatic and political one, as well. I think that is what's going to be needed for Iran.

BLITZER: General Joulwan, thanks for coming in. Michael Gordon, thank you. Pat Lang, as always, good to have all three of you here on "Late Edition."

And still ahead, our conversation with one of the war's leading critics in Congress, Democrat John Murtha. He wants U.S. combat troops to start pulling out of Iraq soon.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: There's much more ahead on "Late Edition," including my interview with Donald Trump and his tough assessment of President Bush, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and the war in Iraq. Also, the president's attorney general, Alberto Gonzales, under fire from both Democrats and Republicans. Is he on his way out? We'll talk about that and more with three of the best political analysts.

"Late Edition" continues right at the top of the hour.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: This is "Late Edition," the last word in Sunday talk.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JOHN MURTHA (D), PENNSYLVANIA: You know what a pain they bear. Not us, them. That they bear, the ones that are killed and out in the field.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: He's passionate about U.S. troops and determined to bring them home. But is passion enough to stop more troops heading to war as year five begins in Iraq? We'll put that question to Democratic Congressman John Murtha.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: I think Bush is probably the worst president in the history of the United States.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: From the White House to the war in Iraq, a wide- ranging, wide-open conversation with Donald Trump.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. CHARLES E. SCHUMER, D-N.Y.: Did the attorney general not know that eight U.S. attorneys were to be fired? If he didn't know, he shouldn't be attorney general. Plain and simple.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ATTORNEY GENERAL ALBERTO R. GONZALES: Ultimately, I work for the American people, and I serve at the pleasure of the president of the United States. And he'll decide whether or not I continue to serve as attorney general.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Will this week's political firestorm bring down the attorney general? And what about the White House political adviser, Karl Rove? We'll get answers to those questions in the latest twists and turns in the race to the White House from Democratic strategist James Carville, Human Events magazine's Terry Jeffrey and CNN senior political correspondent Candy Crowley.

Welcome back. We'll speak with Democratic Congressman John Murtha in just a moment. First, here's Fredricka Whitfield at the CNN Center with a quick check of what's in the news right now. Hi, Fred.

(NEWS BREAK)

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Fred. Thousands marched in Washington yesterday as the United States begins its fifth year in Iraq. Some were there in support of the war, but most were protesting against it.

Joining us now, one of the chief Congressional critics of the Bush administration's handling of the war, Democratic Representative John Murtha of Pennsylvania. He's the chairman of the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee. Congressman, thanks for coming in.

MURTHA: Nice to be here, Wolf.

BLITZER: I want your immediate reaction to what the new defense secretary, Robert Gates, said earlier today on CBS concerning some of the Democratic proposals to deal with the situation in Iraq. Listen to Gates.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SECRETARY OF ROBERT M. GATES: The concern I have is that if you have specific deadlines and very strict conditions, it makes it difficult if not impossible for our commanders to achieve their objectives and, frankly, as I read it, the house bill is more about withdrawal regardless of the circumstances on the ground than it is about trying to produce a positive outcome.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right, Congressman. What do you think?

MURTHA: Well, here's the problem. They've mismanaged this war. They talk about us micromanaging. They've mismanaged the war so badly, they put the commanders in impossible positions.

These commanders are demanding more troops and yet the troops aren't home for a year, they're being extended, they're being sent in without equipment, without -- look, they're going to ask for a trillion dollars, a trillion dollars in the next year between last year's appropriation and next year's appropriation. And we should have accountability. The contractors are falling all over each other. We need benchmarks. The Iraqis are not going to pay any attention to the threats because they keep making threats over and over again. We have a responsibility to the American people to get these troops out of there. The first step to redeploy -- or the first step to stability is redeployment of the troops in Iraq.

BLITZER: All right, so, for our viewers who aren't familiar with the details of what you would like to see happen, explain very briefly how quickly do you want to see combat forces start withdrawing and completely withdrawing?

MURTHA: Well, what our legislation says that they have to -- if there's no progress, and I'm talking about if their economic progress, oil production, electricity production, all the things we measure aren't better by July 1st, they have to start redeployment.

BLITZER: July 1st of this year?

MURTHA: July 1st of this year. If they do get better, then March of next year they should start redeploying.

BLITZER: Because they're saying there has been some -- at least initial progress.

MURTHA: Well, that's what they say, but they said this right along. This is part of the problem. Every time they say there's progress, Wolf, it turns out there's no progress, and then they have to backtrack.

For instance they say everything is getting better, yet oil production, electricity production are all at below prewar levels. Incidents have increased outside Baghdad. They're less in Baghdad but have increased, and you saw the latest casualty figures.

So it's not necessarily getting better. All of us hope it'll get better, but you have to do something dramatic if you want it to get better. And one of the things they haven't done, every time something happens, they step in, send in American troops. And these American troops are being punished and it's individuals.

Wolf, here is the problem we have. It's not thousands of troops. It's each individual troop who hasn't been home. It's each individual troop who hasn't been trained, it's each individual troop who doesn't have the equipment they need to go into combat.

BLITZER: Are the Iraqi troops getting better?

MURTHA: Well, there's only 50 percent of them showing up. That's the problem. They said 86 percent in the first couple weeks of this redeployment, and now it's only 50 percent of them showing up. That's the problem we face.

And so what do we do? We send in more troops. They should be the ones responsible. They're going to have to solve this themselves. There's no way we can solve this war. They have to solve it themselves.

BLITZER: Listen to Senator John McCain. He's been an ardent supporter of the president's strategy. In fact, he thinks even more troops should have been deployed and should be deployed. But listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, R-ARIZ.: Some argue that Iraq is already a catastrophe, and we need to get our soldiers out of the way of its consequences. To my colleagues who believe this I say, you have no idea how much worse things could get.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right. Do you want to respond to McCain?

MURTHA: Well, I think because they say it doesn't make it so. Because the White House says it, doesn't make it so. They're the responsible for the mismanagement of this war. They're responsible for the troop leaders having to ask for troops which they don't have. And they're depleting our strategic reserve.

Wolf, we have no strategic reserve in this country today. We couldn't respond to anything in Iran, anything in Korea, and if we respond with inadequate forces, we can't even come up with the forces we need to redeploy to Iraq and to get troops in Iraq without equipment. There are going to be two units go to Iraq without the appropriate equipment, and they go...

BLITZER: When you say without the appropriate equipment, what do you mean?

MURTHA: I mean trucks, body armor, all the things that they need.

BLITZER: But how can the U.S. send troops in without adequate body armor?

MURTHA: A lot of people say to me they don't trust the president. They think he'll waive that national security waiver. I don't believe that. I don't believe he'll certify sending troops if they don't have the equipment. But they put us in a terrible position, even with the trillion dollars we're going to spend, that they don't have what they need.

Two units are not going to the desert to train. They'll have basic training, the advanced training. They won't have the desert training they need before they go into Iraq. These are the type of things that worry me.

BLITZER: You have a lot more confidence in the new defense secretary, Robert Gates, than you did in Rumsfeld.

MURTHA: Well, he listens. He pays attention. He's more honest. For instance, they finally admit it's a civil war. They admit it's going to take some time. Before, we've got nothing but a rosy picture. So, I think what you get from him is going to be a much more honest appraisal of what's going on.

But I don't appreciate and I don't understand the continual optimistic view of the White House because it's not getting better. And the first step is you get them out of Saddam Hussein's palace, get them out of the Green Zone, get them out of Iraq. Get rid of Abu Ghraib. Get rid of Guantanamo.

Those are the kind of things people understand. We're the most unpopular nation in the world today, except for I think North Korea is ahead of us. So, we need to re-establish a diplomatic effort. That's the only thing that's going to solve the problem in Iraq.

BLITZER: Listen to what the Senate Republican leader, Mitch McConnell, said earlier in the week. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL, R-KY.: It is constitutionally dubious, and it would authorize a scattered band of United States senators to literally tie the hands of the commander in chief.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right. Because he is the commander in chief, the president -- the United States has only one commander in chief -- and basically what he's saying to you, Congressman, and to other critics, give me a chance to get it right.

I have a new commander, General Petraeus, on the ground. He says he needs some time. General Odierno says he needs six to nine months to see if this is working. Why not give them a little bit more time?

MURTHA: Wolf, they've said this over and over again. Give me six months. It's going to get better. It's getting better. That's what they say all the time.

Let's take a more simple example: Walter Reed. I go to Walter Reed all the time.

BLITZER: That's the chief U.S. Army hospital here in Washington.

MURTHA: Exactly. They never told me there was any problem with Building 18. We put money into Walter Reed.

BLITZER: Let me just explain to our viewers, Building 18 is the outpatient facility that was a disaster.

MURTHA: Yeah. And so I go out there, and they never tell me. If they'd have told me they had a problem, we'd have taken care of it if money was the problem. So, mismanagement of Walter Reed, we have an obligation to take care of those kind of problems. We do it all the time.

Landstuhl, which is our military base in Germany, we took care of with air conditioning. We take care of those problems -- and in Iraq, it's the same thing. A trillion dollars that Congress has a responsibility to the American people and to the troops that are over there and to the families who are suffering from this war to make sure they have what they need before they go to war.

BLITZER: I think one of the problems at Walter Reed, as you know, was that it was slated to be shut down and they simply didn't want to put more money into it if it's going to be closed in any case.

MURTHA: And, Wolf, we knew that so we put more money into Walter Reed the last two years because we knew that was going to be a problem, and they still didn't tell me about that problem or it would have been fixed. That's the tragic thing.

Now, we also said "Don't close Walter Reed" in the last piece of legislation. So we're moving in the right direction, but we have to know about these things. They have to be honest and deal with it. They've been dealing as a dictatorship -- I'm talking about this administration.

This administration has been dealing as a dictatorship, not as a partner with the Congress. They asked us for a trillion dollars; they should come to us and tell us actually what's going on. I think Gates will be better. We still have got a long ways to go.

BLITZER: Your fellow Pennsylvanian, the former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum, wrote a very tough article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette this week and he lashes out at you.

I'm going to read it. "He reminds me of another Democratic leader during a time of war, General George McClellan. He was twice the Union commander in the early years of the Civil War. He was a great leader, but he loved his troops so much that he was unable to commit them to battle, thus passing up opportunities for a swift and less bloody conflict. Jack, if you really love our men and women in uniform as much as you say, let them fight and give them what they need to win."

MURTHA: Well, at least he says "Let them fight." So many Republicans in Congress say we're fighting. We're fighting this war. We're fighting it overseas. We're not fighting this war. The young troops are fighting it, and we need to give them everything they need to do it. In the meantime, the first step to stability in the Middle East is going to be redeployment.

BLITZER: How worried are you, this charge that the vice president Dick Cheney makes, that if the U.S. were to precipitously withdraw, not only Iraq but the entire region, the Persian Gulf and the Middle East, would result in chaos?

MURTHA: Why would I believe that? I mean, all the things that they have predicted have -- everything I predicted turned out to be true. Nothing they predicted turned out to be true. Why would I believe there's going to be chaos in the Middle East just because they say it? The Iraqis don't believe that. The countries on the periphery don't believe that and the public doesn't believe it. The public wants us out. They spoke in the last election. They're ignoring the mandate that the public gave the Congress of the United States, and in the end, they're going to have to redeploy.

BLITZER: We've got to leave it there. John Murtha, Democratic Congressman from Pennsylvania, thanks for coming in.

MURTHA: Good talking to you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Appreciate it very much.

And we have a lot more coming up here on "Late Edition." Valerie Plame Wilson said that when she was exposed as a covert CIA officer, it felt like being hit in the gut. Was it an outrage or is all of this just politics as usual? We'll ask three veteran political observers.

And this note: Tonight at 8:00 p.m. Eastern, a CNN special investigation unit report on death squads operating from inside the Iraqi government, hosted by John Roberts. It airs at 8:00 p.m. Eastern tonight. All that coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to "Late Edition." I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.

From the firestorm over the attorney general to the testimony of a secret CIA officer whose cover was blown, raw politics took center stage in Washington this week again.

Joining us now to help explain it all, our three guests: Democratic strategist and CNN political contributor James Carville; CNN senior political correspondent Candy Crowley -- she's just back from the campaign trail -- and Terry Jeffrey, editor at large at Human Events magazine. Guys, thanks very much for coming in.

James, let me play a little clip from the attorney general. I think it's fair to say he's embattled right now under the decision to fire these eight U.S. federal prosecutors and the circumstances that led to the firing. Here is what he said this week.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GONZALES: I acknowledge that mistakes were made here. I accept that responsibility. And my pledge to the American people is to find out what went wrong here.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Is this a big deal or a little deal? Is it serious or just politics?

JAMES CARVILLE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: There's two deals. Number one is, is that they replaced competent people with incompetent people and lied about it. The Democrats are not interested in that. That would be a continuation of an ongoing...

BLITZER: You're referring to the eight prosecutors who were let go.

CARVILLE: Right. What the Democrats and Senator Schumer said this morning on "Meet The Press," what they believe, is that the White House was using the Justice Department as an arm of the Republican Party and that they were trying to persecute Democrats and protect Republicans.

And that's what they're going to be out to show. They're not -- that this is marginally interesting that they can't get their stories straight. But what the Democrats believe is that the administration attempted -- in some cases maybe successfully used -- federal prosecutorial power for political end. That's what's at the heart of this.

BLITZER: Of those eight, six of them had excellent or very good performance reviews and the original explanation is that they were dumped because they were not performing.

TERRY JEFFREY, HUMAN EVENTS MAGAZINE: Right. Well, I think there's no question that there's a problem with the way the Justice Department explained this to Congress. I mean, even President Bush came out today -- or came out this week and said there's a problem with the explanation.

But it seems, at this point, Wolf, that the reason there was a problem with the explanation is because Attorney General Alberto Gonzales is out of the loop on a major initiative inside his own Justice Department.

So right now the administration's got to (inaudible) so there's two questions. One is that the president clearly has the authority to remove and replace U.S. attorneys. That's no problem. The question is, the explanation to Congress. There is a problem there and right now the problem seems to be in the office of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.

BLITZER: How big of a political deal -- Candy, you've been just out on the campaign trail covering John McCain this week, but you've covered all the candidates. How big of a story is this?

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SR. POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's beginning to sort of trickle in but it's from us. You know, it's like saying, "What do you think about the Gonzales thing?" But this thing has taken on a life that's the proverbial snowball. It keeps getting worse and worse, so my sense is that the more this gets into play, the more it plays on the campaign trail.

BLITZER: And Democrats really are smelling blood right now, James, as you see. And their eyes are specifically focused not all completely on Alberto Gonzales, but on Karl Rove. Listen to Chuck Schumer, the senior senator from New York, earlier in the week.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SCHUMER: If the White House prevents Karl Rove from testifying, it will be thumbing its nose at the American people and at the rule of law.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: And there is an e-mail from Karl Rove -- an e-mail about Karl Rove, not from Karl Rove, suggesting he was mulling this idea of removing some of these prosecutors very early.

CARVILLE: I don't think Senator Schumer really cares about Alberto Gonzales. Again, I go back to this because he was just lying, incompetent and out of the loop or whatever. That's not what Senator Schumer is driving at. Senator Schumer is very clear that he thinks that these U.S. attorneys were being directed or pressured to go after Democrats and to not go after Republicans.

Of the political prosecutions during the Bush regime, 80 percent have been against Democrats. That's what they're going to prove here. Now whether they can or can't and whether that constitutes a threat on the justice or not, but that's what they're out to prove. Gonzales is -- our viewers need to understand, Gonzales is collateral to what they're trying to do here.

BLITZER: Should the White House let Karl Rove testify under oath before Congress?

JEFFREY: No, because I think the fact that the Democrats right away are targeting Karl Rove here, I think, is an indication the Democrats have already politicized this.

So far what we know about Karl Rove's role in this, is first, that there was some suggestion early in President Bush's second term they replace all 93 U.S. attorneys at once which is, in fact, what President Clinton did early in his term.

It's been reported that Karl Rove told Harriet Miers, the White House counsel, that that was not a wise idea. In other words, he gave her some good advice.

The second thing about Karl Rove is, the U.S. attorney, Mr. Cummins down in Arkansas, was going to be replaced with Tim Griffin, who was someone who had worked for Karl Rove. That in itself, is not a problem.

The fact of the matter is, Republican and Democratic administrations both use political appointments to build strength later on. John Roberts, for example, the current chief justice of the United States, is someone who worked his way up through lawyerly jobs in the first Reagan administration, the second Reagan administration, the Bush administration to qualify him so he'd go to the Supreme Court.

BLITZER: That U.S. attorney in Arkansas -- Candy, I'm going to play this little clip -- who was fired, he spoke out on CNN on Wednesday. This is the guy who was fired, replaced by an associate of Karl Rove in Arkansas. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUD CUMMINS, FIRED U.S. ATTORNEY: Political pressure from outside the department by politicians and party people, just the desire to place friends and acquaintances that wanted to be U.S. attorneys in U.S. attorney positions and the attempt to create the vacancies to do that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: The other suggestion that's been made is this former U.S. attorney, Cummins, was getting close to launching some sort of investigation in neighboring Missouri against then-governor -- the governor, now Roy Blunt, Jr. (sic), and that people in the White House weren't very happy about that. That's an allegation that has been floated out there. I haven't seen any hard evidence to back that up.

CROWLEY: Well, and I haven't either. But let me tell you why this plays in the public and why I think what's generally sort of an arcane -- you know, most people don't know what U.S. attorneys do and all that.

But what's happened here is, A, you get so many different explanations that it just plays into that the Bush administration is covering things up; and, B, I don't think people know the politics of prosecution. I don't think this tends to occur to the public.

They think there's the judicial branch of the government, the legislative branch, and the executive branch and that these are now intertwining in public I think carries some big weight in the general public.

BLITZER: Bottom line, and then we'll take a quick break. We have got a lot more to talk about, but bottom line right now, Alberto Gonzales, does he remain the attorney general?

CARVILLE: No one cares. No Democrat really cares but I doubt that he does because the Republicans think that if they put someone else in, this will go away. It decidedly won't go away with Alberto Gonzales.

BLITZER: What do you think?

JEFFREY: Actually, I think if the president threw Gonzales over now it would feed the scandal. He is on probation. He's already got senior, conservative Republicans in the Senate very critical of him. He's in a tough situation.

CROWLEY: I think this is an administration that tends not to yield to this kind of pressure and probably the more pressure there is, the less likely the White House is to do it.

BLITZER: All right, guys. Stand by because we're only getting started. A lot more politics to talk about. We're going to take a quick break. When we return, we'll turn to the presidential campaign where California has now turned the primary schedule upside-down. The governor says he just wants some respect. But what does this mean for the candidates? Who wins? Who loses? We'll look at all the angles.

Up next, though, a quick check of what's in the news right now, including a new type of bomb being used by insurgents in Iraq. "Late Edition" will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to "Late Edition." I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. We're continuing our political discussion with Democratic strategist James Carville, Terry Jeffrey, the editor at large of the conservative magazine Human Events, and our CNN senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley.

Before we resume our conversation, let's go out on the campaign trail and map out where presidential candidates will be in the next few days. Senator Joe Biden attended a St. Patrick's Day breakfast today in Boston. New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson is at a fundraising lunch today in Oklahoma City.

Senator Hillary Clinton holds a fundraiser in New York City this evening. Senator Sam Brownback will make a campaign trip into New Hampshire on Monday. Senator John McCain is on the so-called "Straight Talk Express" in New Hampshire today and early tomorrow, ending the day with a fundraiser in Philadelphia.

And former Wisconsin governor Tommy Thompson, who says he'll be spending every coming weekend in Iowa until the caucuses are held, took a day off today but did spend yesterday, guess where, in Iowa.

Let's talk about all those presidential candidates. But first I want to pick your brain briefly on the decision by Valley Plame- Wilson, the former CIA operative, to come out and testify this week before a House committee. Here's a little clip, James, of what she said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

VALERIE PLAME, FORMER CIA OPERATIVE: My name and identity were carelessly and recklessly abused by senior government officials in both the White House and the State Department.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Is this story going to have political legs, as they say?

CARVILLE: It got a good bit of coverage, I mean, she's...

BLITZER: Got a lot of coverage on Friday.

CARVILLE: ... kind of bright, you know what I mean, but nice- looking, gorgeous, almost gorgeous woman, you know, very smart, very well spoken. She made a point. To the extent that you were going to get anything out of this, I think, it went very well for her. And also she's got a book coming out published by my publisher, Simon Schuster, I might add, that, you know, is probably going to do very well.

BLITZER: If the CIA lets that book come out. And I take it you're...

CARVILLE: I don't know what the status is, but they can knock some stuff out. I don't think they can actually stop her from publishing a book, but they can say you can't -- how much they let you include is quite another question. But they don't (ph) have to be vetted through the CIA.

Is this subject, the whole Valerie Plame scandal, Valerie Plame- Wilson scandal, a huge setback for Republicans?

JEFFREY: No. I think it's basically over. I think that hearing on Friday was good publicity for Valerie Plame's book which is coming out, for the movie deal that she and her husband have apparently gone ahead with.

I think politically, Wolf, though, it's done. They didn't get the damage they wanted. They were going after Karl Rove like they're apparently going after him in this U.S. attorney question now. They didn't get him. The primary leaker, as she alluded to there, was in the State Department, Richard Armitage. I think politically, it's done. It's over with.

BLITZER: Let's talk politics, Candy. As a result of the war in Iraq, a new poll, a CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll, asked, do you feel confident? Back in March of 2003, four years ago when the war started, 83 percent of the American public, said they feel confident.

It's now down to only 35 percent. Only a third or so. You've been out covering the campaign trail. Correct me if I'm wrong. The war in Iraq is still the dominant issue.

CROWLEY: It absolutely is, but it's not the dominant issue in the sense that you go to a town hall meeting and all the questions are about Iraq. It's more that it colors everything else. I will tell you that John McCain, who obviously is the fiercest proponent of the war, starts all of his town hall meetings with the defense of that, sort of drawing the sting, I think, from questions.

But the questions indeed cover everything, the gamut, from health care to the economy in general to jobs, all of that sort of thing. But the war, like everything else, permeates the discussion in terms of how people view things.

BLITZER: And back in '92, when you helped get Bill Clinton elected, you coined that phrase, "It's the economy, stupid." If you were involved in helping any of these candidates now, what would be the similar equivalent phrase be? CARVILLE: I think I'd say the government can't fix anything until we fix the government. And I think people think that this government is completely broken at every level, from the war in Iraq to Katrina to Walter Reed to the health-care system to everything else.

I mean, if Terry Jeffrey, this has to be like summertime for him to the extent that people that don't like government, don't want people to trust government, it's at an all-time high that I've ever seen. And people just have no faith in this administration and this government to do anything right. And I have never seen it like this in my time in political consulting.

BLITZER: Between the war, Katrina and these other examples, Walter Reed, that James just mentioned, people are losing confidence.

JEFFREY: If you look at the last election, Wolf, the two things that principally caused the Republicans to lose their majority in Congress were first the Iraq war and second scandal. Right now, you see the Democrats trying to find a scandal they can manufacture, but the Iraq war remains the key issue.

And the truth is, if we go into November 2008 and the situation hasn't improved in Iraq and U.S. casualties haven't started to come down and there isn't a prospect that U.S. troops could come home because the situation is changing, Republicans are going to have a very difficult time electing a president in 2008.

CARVILLE: I have a book I'm working on, and the title is going to be "Thank You, Sir. May I Have Another?" (inaudible) the Republicans will get spanked again in '08.

And I don't have a sense, and it could change, but I don't have a sense they really have -- are learning what's happening to us.

JEFFREY: But on the...

CARVILLE: And I think the Walter Reed thing is probably more damning than any (inaudible).

JEFFREY: But the flipside of this is the Democrats, while they're calling for a deadline for U.S. troops to get out of Iraq, haven't really given us a plan how they'd deal with the potential downside consequences of that. Ethnic cleansing, maybe even genocide within Iraq, an expansion of the war outside the borders of Iraq, maybe involving the Shiite populations, down the Arab side of the Persian Gulf.

BLITZER: Well, you heard John Murtha say he doesn't buy it, he doesn't believe it. Just because you say that, he says, it doesn't mean that's what's going to happen.

JEFFREY: They have to come up with a coherent argument about how they're going to maintain stability in the Persian Gulf region. They haven't done that. And we need to have a serious debate in this country (inaudible). BLITZER: Candy, you were out on "The Straight Talk Express" in Iowa. That's John McCain's bus. He's trying to revive some of that momentum he had in 2000. Why is there this sense, at least in this poll -- let's put up the numbers in the GOP choice. Giuliani's at 34 percent. McCain's down at 18 percent. Why is this campaign seemingly in trouble at this early stage?

CROWLEY: At this point I think it's the conservatives that haven't come to him. In fact, they're going to Rudy Giuliani, which is one of those things that sort of astounds us as we look at the internals of the polls, as they call them.

Look, if you talk to the McCain people, they say this is spring training, OK? Forget all this stuff about the polls. We've got a plan. It included rolling out "The Straight Talk Express" now. We'll bring it out in full this fall.

They sort of seem as though this is a temporary thing, but it is the conservatives right now, and they mistrust John McCain. He's too much of a maverick for them. They never know what side of the issue he's coming down.

BLITZER: You still think he's going to drop out?

CARVILLE: I kind of do. And this problem that McCain has with the conservatives, they had it in 2000. He could not win a primary in which only Republicans voted. Every time that happened, he got beat bad. He would win in New Hampshire and Michigan when they let independents in.

For reasons that -- I'm not a conservative, so I can't completely understand, they never have liked him. They never have trusted him. And even he tried to, like, go back and deal with them or suck up to them or whatever word that you want to use, it didn't matter. It didn't get him anything.

BLITZER: Unfortunately, guys, we've got to leave it there. But very briefly, he's worked with Kennedy -- they don't like that -- on immigration reform, with Feingold on campaign finance reform. Those are two reasons why some conservatives don't like him. But, Terry and I will discuss this on another occasion.

James Carville, Terry Jeffrey, Candy Crowley, thanks for coming in.

We're going to have a lot more coming up. Don't forget, CNN is where you'll find the best political team on television. Coming up next, he thinks George W. Bush is probably the worst president ever and that everything in Washington, in his word, is a lie. Straight talk from Donald Trump, an interview you're going to want to see.

Don't go away. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to "Late Edition." I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. If there's one thing for certain about Donald Trump, it's that he says what's on his mind. This was clear when we sat down in his Trump Towers office in New York City on Friday.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Let's talk politics. All right? A lot of people thinking about politics right now. I'm going to mention some names. Give me your thoughts right away.

Hillary Clinton.

TRUMP: Very talented, very smart. She's a friend of mine, so I'm a little bit prejudiced. She's a very, very capable person and I think she'll probably be the nominee. We'll see, but I think she'll probably be the nominee.

BLITZER: Barack Obama.

TRUMP: Well, he's a star. I mean, he's really done an amazing job in a very short period of time. The question is experience, and do people want to have somebody get in that doesn't have the great experience? But certainly he's made an impact.

BLITZER: John Edwards.

TRUMP: I don't know him. People like him. I know people that like him very much, but I really don't know.

BLITZER: Even though he was the vice presidential nominee last time around?

TRUMP: Well, I think that's a huge negative, because that was a shame that that race was lost, because look what we have right now. It's a disaster. So, you know, I would probably be inclined not to like him on the basis that he lost an election that should have been won. That election should have been won.

BLITZER: Well, do you blame him or John Kerry?

TRUMP: Well, I guess you have to say it's a combination of both. Now, obviously, the second man on the ticket doesn't have too much of an impact, in comparison to the first, but -- and I like John Kerry a lot, he's a wonderful guy, he's somebody I know and I have -- he's a friend of mine -- but I'm so upset that he blew it.

BLITZER: You're upset because you dislike the current president?

TRUMP: Well, I think Bush is probably the worst president in the history of the United States, and I just don't understand how they could have lost that election.

BLITZER: Let's get back to that in a moment.

Let's talk about Rudy Giuliani, the former mayor of New York. TRUMP: Very, very talented, smart, tough, very formidable in every way. And I think, if it's him and Hillary, it's going to be a hell of a tough race.

BLITZER: John McCain.

TRUMP: I don't know him well. I respect him. I like him. He doesn't seem to have picked up like I would have assumed.

BLITZER: Mitt Romney.

TRUMP: I know him, I like him -- very attractive guy. I think he's probably, you know, up against two people that are way ahead, but he's certainly an attractive candidate. He's a very smart guy.

BLITZER: All right. So if I had to press you, who is, in your mind right now, the most qualified, the most ready, the person you want to lead this country?

TRUMP: Well, I don't want to say, because I know Hillary and I have great respect, and I know Rudy and I have great respect, and I know Michael Bloomberg -- now he -- I don't think we have to talk about him because he hasn't said he's going to do anything -- and I have great respect.

So, you know, it's really interesting that in a whole country, three of the very, very prominent people being mentioned -- and two of them are leading in the polls -- are from New York.

BLITZER: So it sounds like, if the contest turned out to be Rudy Giuliani versus Hillary Clinton, you, Donald Trump, would be torn.

TRUMP: I'd make a decision, because I believe in that. I don't believe in supporting two people. You know, I have friends, they support fifteen different candidates for the same office. I don't believe in that; that's almost like prostitution. And I just feel that there are two great candidates and I would make a decision. But I'm not going to make it now because there's no reason to.

BLITZER: But is your instinct more attuned with the Republicans or the Democrats? TRUMP: I'm very much independent in that way; I go for the person, not necessarily for the party. I mean, I vote for Republicans and I vote for Democrats. Look, Hillary's a Democrat, Rudy's a Republican, I think they're both fantastic. I really am much more attuned to the people, as opposed to the party.

BLITZER: The war is hovering over politics right now, as it should. This is the dominant issue, at least right now, of our time. Give us your assessment. Is there a way out?

TRUMP: The war is a total disaster. It's a catastrophe, nothing less. It is such a shame that this took place. In fact, I gained a lot of respect for our current president's father by the fact that he had the sense not to go into Iraq. He won the war and then said, "Let's not go the rest of the way." And he turned out to be right. And Saddam Hussein, whether they like him or didn't like him, he hated terrorists. He'd shoot and kill terrorists. When terrorists came into his country, which he did control and he did dominate, he would kill terrorists. Now it's a breeding ground for terrorists. So, look, the war is a total catastrophe.

BLITZER: Who do you blame?

TRUMP: And they have a civil war going over there.

BLITZER: Who do you blame?

TRUMP: Well, there's only one person you can blame, and that's our current president. I mean, obviously Rumsfeld was a disaster, and other people that are giving him advice have been a disaster.

And Condoleezza Rice, who's a lovely woman but she never makes a deal -- she doesn't make deals, she waves. She gets off the plane, she waves, she sits down with some dictator -- 45 degree angle, they do the camera shot. She waves again, she gets back on the plane, she waves -- no deal ever happens. So, I mean...

BLITZER: You got to close the deal at some point.

TRUMP: Got to make deals. The world is dying to make deals. And we don't have the right people doing it.

BLITZER: The vice president, Dick Cheney.

TRUMP: Well, he's obviously a very hawkish guy on the war. He said the war was going fantastically, just a few months ago. And, you know, it's just very sad. I don't know if they're bad people, I don't know what's going on, I just know that they got us into a mess, the likes of which this country has probably never seen. It's one of the great catastrophes of all time.

And perhaps even worse, the rest of the world hates us. You go throughout Europe -- I travel, I do deals all over the world -- the Europeans hate us. You go to Germany, you go to England, you go to places that, you know, we didn't have problems with, they all hate the Americans because of what's happened.

We had a chance, after September 11, to be the most popular -- for the first time ever -- to be the most popular nation on earth, and we blew it.

BLITZER: How does the United States get out of this situation? Is there a way out?

TRUMP: How do they get out? You know how they get out? They get out. That's how they get out. Declare victory and leave. Because I'll tell you, this country is just going to get further bogged down. They're in a civil war over there, Wolf. There's nothing that we're going to be able to do with a civil war.

They are in a major civil war, and it's going to go to Iran, and it's going to go to other countries. They are in the midst of a major civil war, and there's nothing -- and, by the way, we're keeping the lid on, a little bit. But the day we leave anyway, it's all going to blow up.

So, I mean, this is a total catastrophe, and you might as well get out now because you're just wasting time, and lives. You know, nobody talks about the soldiers that are coming back with no arms and no legs. And I saw at Mar-a-Lago -- on Mondays, I make Mar-a-Lago, my club that you know about...

BLITZER: In Palm Beach.

TRUMP: I make that, twice now, on a Monday, I let returning Iraqi injured soldiers come to the premises. The most beautiful people I've ever seen, but they're missing arms and legs.

They're with their wives, sometimes they're with their girlfriends, and the tears are coming down the faces of these people. I mean, the thousands and maybe hundreds of thousands, and the Iraqis that have been just maimed and killed -- this war is a horrible thing.

Now, President Bush says he's religious, and yet 400,000 people, the way I count it, have died, and probably millions have been badly maimed and injured. What's going on? What's going on?

And the day we pull out, it's going to explode. We're keeping the lid on a little bit; it's still a catastrophe. But the day we pull out, because they're in a civil war -- whether we want to admit it or not, they are in a civil war.

BLITZER: What do you think of some of these scandals that are unfolding in Washington right now? As we speak, the attorney general is under fire, Alberto Gonzales -- what do you make of this, as an executive, trying to watch an administration?

TRUMP: Look, everything in Washington has been a lie. Weapons of mass destruction -- that was a total lie. It was a way of attacking Iraq, which he thought was going to be easy and it turned out to be the exact opposite of easy. He reads 60 books a year, he reads a book a week -- do you think the president reads a book a week? I don't think so. He doesn't watch television.

Now, one thing I know is that, when I'm on television, I watch, or I try. Because you do -- your own ego says, you know, "Let's watch, let's see, whether it's good or bad, you want to watch, right?" He doesn't watch television. So he's on television, being interviewed by you or somebody else, he doesn't watch. Does anybody really believe that?

Now they're doing this whole scandal with the U.S. attorneys. Now they're finding e-mails, and it's proven to be a lie. Everything's a lie. It's all a big lie.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Donald Trump speaking with me on Friday in New York, an interview clearly never, never dull -- ever -- speaking with Donald Trump.

Coming up next, "In Case You Missed It," "Late Edition's" Sunday morning talk show round-up. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Up next, in case you missed it, but first, if you're confused about the war in Iraq as the fifth year of the war begins, CNN is bringing you special programming to let you learn what's really going on. Tune in tonight for a report from CNN's special investigations unit, "Death Squads," with John Roberts, the story of how death squads are operating from inside the Iraqi government, 8 p.m. Eastern tonight right here on CNN.

And for our North American viewers, coming up at the top of the hour, a special edition of "This Week at War," examining the choices, the chances and the dangers ahead as year five begins.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Let's check now in case you missed it, some of the highlights from the other Sunday morning talk shows here in the United States. On CBS and Fox, a discussion about the impact of the U.S. troop increase in Iraq.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GATES: The way I would characterize it is so far so good. It's very early. General Petraeus, the commander out there, has said that it'll probably be summer before we know whether we're being successful or not.

But I would say that the Iraqis are meeting the commitments that they have made to us. They have made the appointments. The troops that they have promised are showing up. They are allowing operations in all neighborhoods. There is very little political interference with military operations. So here at the very beginning, the commitments that have been made seem to be being kept.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN KERRY, D-MASS.: In the first month or two months or three months of this escalation, sure, I expect the militia to melt into the background. I expect them to be cautious about choosing where to engage, and they will do what insurgents and militias traditionally do.

They'll watch where the troops go, they'll learn their movements, they'll find their weak points, and then they'll probe and attack again. This will not change the fundamental dynamics.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: And on NBC and ABC, the main topic was the political firestorm surrounding the Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and the firing of eight U.S. federal prosecutors.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. CHARLES E. SCHUMER, D-N.Y.: What's different here is not simply that the president wanting this choice not that choice, but in these instances, the evidence is becoming more and more overwhelming that certain U.S. attorneys, and only certain ones, not all of them, but certain U.S. attorneys were fired because either they wouldn't prosecute a case that was politically advantageous to the White House or they were prosecuting a case that was disadvantageous to the white house.

Every legal commentator, left, right, center, says you can't do that. That's the one thing you can't do.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN CORNYN, R-TEXAS: When someone serves at the pleasure of the president, I don't know how you separate that entirely from politics. But I don't believe there's any evidence that indicates that these individuals were relieved of their responsibilities for any inappropriate reason.

Having said that, I told the attorney general that I think this has been mishandled, that by giving inaccurate information, by not giving complete information to Senator Leahy, the Judiciary Committee on which I served, at the outset.

It's caused a real firestorm, and he better get the facts out fast.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Highlights from the other Sunday morning talk shows here on "Late Edition," the last word in Sunday talk.

And that is your "Late Edition" for this Sunday, March 18. Please be sure to join us again next Sunday and every Sunday at 11 a.m. Eastern for the last word in Sunday talk.

We're in the "Situation Room" Monday through Friday 4 to 6 p.m. Eastern, another hour at 7 p.m. Eastern. Thanks for watching.

For our North American viewers, "This Week at War" with John Roberts is next. John?

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