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Taking the Fifth: Justice Department Refuses to Speak; Gonzales Under Fire, Support Eroding; British Marines Seized

Aired March 26, 2007 - 18:00   ET


KITTY PILGRIM, CNN ANCHOR: Tonight, a stunning new development in the firing of U.S. prosecutors. A Justice Department official will take the Fifth and not answer questions from congressmen.
And Republican lawmakers raise questions about the credibility of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.

Also, the Democratically-controlled Congress launches a new showdown with President Bush, and the Senate prepares to vote on a timeline for the removal of combat troops from Iraq.

And there could be even more troubles for the White House. Did employees at a government agency break a law in order to help the Republican Party?

We'll have hose stories and much more straight ahead tonight.

ANNOUNCER: This is LOU DOBBS TONIGHT, news, debate and opinion for Monday, March 26th.

Live from New York, sitting in for Lou Dobbs, Kitty Pilgrim.

PILGRIM: Good evening, everybody.

Dramatic developments tonight in the case of the fired federal prosecutors. One Justice Department official involved in the firings will take the Fifth and refuse to answer questions from Congress.

The White House is refusing to give an inch and continues to stand by the attorney general, but another White House mess may be brewing. Congress is investigating a case of possible unlawful political activity by an administration official.

Dana Bash reports on the Justice Department official who will take the Fifth.

Suzanne Malveaux reports on the White House continuing to support the attorney general.

Brian Todd reports on another possible scandal about to hit the White House.

We begin with Dana Bash -- Dana.

DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kitty, a senior official at the Justice Department did tell Congress today that she is not going to come answer questions about her role and what she knows about why eight federal prosecutors were fired. She did say she is going to exercise her Fifth Amendment right against self- incrimination, and that prompted immediate statements from senior Democrats, saying that her refusal to testify raises even more questions about the potential misconduct and legal violations in all of this.

That, as her boss, the attorney general, is facing new questions here on Capitol Hill about whether he's been truthful.


BASH (voice-over): At the White House, a fresh defense of the embattled attorney general. But also this...

DANA PERINO, DEPUTY WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The attorney general knows that he has work to do on Capitol Hill.

BASH: That is an understatement.

Republican Senator Charles Grassley tells CNN he is troubled by inconsistent statements from Alberto Gonzales about the fired federal prosecutors.

SEN. CHARLES GRASSLEY (R), INDIANA: You shouldn't have conflicting statements coming from somebody who is a top law enforcement officer in the United States. You ought to get a consistent story, and I would expect it to be the truth.

BASH: Grassley's frustration adds to the growing GOP chorus of concern about the attorney general's credibility.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: He has said some things that just don't add up. I like him as a person. I really do like Attorney General Gonzales.

But he has been wounded.

SEN. ARLEN SPECTER (R), PENNSYLVANIA: We find he has not been candid and truthful. That's a very compelling reason for him not to stay on.

BASH: The attorney general's latest problem is this memo, released late Friday night, which shows he attended a meeting to talk about the federal prosecutors 10 days before they were fired. That appears to contradict what Gonzales said two weeks ago.

ALBERTO GONZALES, ATTORNEY GENERAL OF THE UNITED STATES: But that is, in essence, what I knew about the process. I was not involved in seeing any memos, was not involved in any discussions about what was going on.

BASH: Administration officials argue there's no inconsistency, saying the attorney general meant he wasn't involved in the details of the plan to purge the prosecutors, but has acknowledged he gave the final go-ahead. The White House points to this CNN interview.

GONZALES: I did sign off on those names. Understand that these were -- these were names that had been vetted throughout the department.


BASH: And the attorney general certainly does not have very much support here, even among Republicans, but he does have some, Kitty. Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah, for example, has said he just thinks the attorney general needs to come back to Congress and answer questions in a truthful way.

But he's not going to do that. He's not going to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee until April 17th. That's about three weeks from now -- Kitty.

PILGRIM: Thanks very much.

Dana Bash.

The White House today continues to voice its support for the embattled attorney general. And in addition, the Bush administration is defending itself in the face of a possible constitutional showdown with Congress.

Suzanne Malveaux reports from the White House -- Suzanne.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kitty, White House officials today are saying that the attorney general, Alberto Gonzales, is telling the truth, that his statements are not inconsistent. And what are they pointing to? They are pointing to transcripts.

Yes, we are talking about transcripts. White House spokesman Dana Perino earlier today saying, look, even if the attorney general had a meeting with aides about the U.S. firing of these attorneys here, that it's not inconsistent with what he said publicly on March 13th at a press conference, as well as from a transcript the day after from an interview with CNN, saying that this was a broad picture, that he was in charge of the big picture of these firings, not the details.

Now, all of this quite curious and interesting, as you know, because the Justice Department has said, OK, Gonzales can come forward and testify. They will offer a transcript.

The White House has said that is not happening with top aides here, that they will have these closed, informal discussions, no transcripts. So the irony of the White House using this transcript today to make its point was not lost on anyone, including the White House.


DANA PERINO, WHITE HOUSE DEP. PRESS SECRETARY: I understand the inconsistency of my own statement of referring back to a transcript of March 14th. However, these meetings are not hearings. They are not interrogations.


MALVEAUX: And so, Kitty, they say once again here that it is not negotiable here, that this is a take it or leave it deal, that they are not going to offer transcripts at this time. They are not invoking executive privilege, but we are told they will do so if it amounts to that, if they raise the stakes here -- Kitty.

PILGRIM: Suzanne, one extra point, though. What is the White House saying tonight about the aide to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales who's refusing to testify and take the Fifth before Congress?

MALVEAUX: You know, the White House is not actually responding to that, but there's a reason why. It certainly complicate the situation for them.

All along they have been talking about Justice Department officials offering testimony, that they will go ahead and provide these transcripts, and that they will provide the information that members of Congress are looking for.

Really, they've been using it as a political cover to deflect some of the criticism and the questions involving White House aides and why it is that they will not testify publicly and provide those transcripts. Now, that perhaps poses a potential problem for this White House, who is looking at this and saying, OK, now the Justice Department officials are not available either, putting a lot more pressure on those White House aides to come forward.

PILGRIM: Thanks very much.

Suzanne Malveaux.

And we'll have much more on this growing controversy coming up. One of those fired attorneys, Bud Cummins, a former U.S. attorney in Arkansas, will be here, and we'll be speaking with him.

In Iraq, U.S. and Iraqi officials have made contact with Sunni insurgent groups in an attempt to build an alliance against al Qaeda. Zalmay Khalilzad, the outgoing ambassador to Iraq, confirms those contacts. Khalilzad also said he was cautiously optimistic that success is possible in Iraq, but that Iraqi leaders must act fast to maintain Washington's support.

Insurgents in Iraq have killed eight more of our troops. They were killed in a number of attacks in Baghdad and other regions of the country.

Seventy-six of our troops have been killed so far this month, 3,241 of our troops have been killed since this war began. 24,187 of our troops have been wounded, 10,772 of them very seriously.

The Senate today picking up the debate on the Iraq war. The Democrats want to set a goal of removing combat troops from Iraq by March 31, 2008. Republicans want the bill to go through so the president can veto it, and Senate leaders made their cases.


SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MAJORITY LEADER: If the president won't listen to generals, he won't listen to the American people, who have spoken for a new direction, then perhaps he will listen to us, Congress, when we send him a supplemental bill that acknowledges reality in Iraq. We must find a new way forward.

The swagger, Mr. President -- he can swagger all he wants. But we have 3,241 dead Americans.



SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R), MINORITY LEADER: I urge my colleagues to put an end to this unfortunate and misguided effort to set an arbitrary date upon which to withdraw from Iraq, and to strip language from this emergency spending bill that only guarantees our troops will have to wait for the help they need and the support they deserve.


PILGRIM: Senator McConnell said the Republican goal is to pass the bill because the troops need the money.

Now, 15 British sailors and marines remain in Iranian hands tonight. The men were seized on Friday. Iran claims the British troops were operating in Iranian territorial waters. Britain's ambassador to Iran met with the foreign ministry officials in Tehran to ask for their release.

Aneesh Raman reports from Tehran on the standoff.


ANEESH RAMAN, CNN MIDDLE EAST CORRESPONDENT: Fifteen British marines and sailors remain in Iranian custody, transported over the weekend, we understand, to the capital, Tehran. A top Iranian military commander has said all the British military personnel have confessed to illegally entering Iranian waters. No further information was given about those confessions, but Iranians say they also have evidence to back that charge.

The British government, for its part, continues to maintain its military personnel were in Iraqi, not Iranian, waters when they were seize the by members of Iran's elite Revolutionary Guard on Friday. Iran has rejected that British explanation and has called this an act of "blatant aggression".

There is no sense as to when these British military personnel will be released. A similar incident that took place in June, 2004, saw British military personnel seized by Iran but released within three days.

The sense on the ground is that the atmosphere has certainly changed. Iran has just been sanctioned again over its nuclear defiance, and five Iranians remain in coalition custody within Iraq. Because of that, hard-liners within Iran are calling for a trial of the British military personnel who they want to be charged with espionage.

They are putting pressure on the country's foreign ministry to do that. The foreign ministry, of course, is also getting external pressure from neighboring countries to release the British military personnel, most recently from Iraq's foreign minister.

The days ahead will determine where Iran is going to take this case, whether we will see a quick release of the British military personnel or perhaps a trial.

Aneesh Raman, CNN, Tehran.


PILGRIM: Now, the presidents of China and Russia today called for a peaceful resolution to the dispute over Iran's nuclear weapons problem. President Hu is meeting in Moscow with President Putin. And they also called on Iran to abide by the terms of Saturday's U.N. Security Council resolution.

The council approved sanctions against Iran over its refusal to suspend uranium enrichment. Iran has rejected the council's resolution. Its foreign minister said Iran's nuclear program is completely peaceful and the council has no authority over Iran's nuclear program.

Coming up, prices are climbing. Real wages are falling. So who's coming to the defense of America's middle class?

We'll have a report.

And Hillary Clinton's been a big hit with Hollywood fund-raisers, but will that carry over to voters?

We'll have a report.

Stay with us.


PILGRIM: The Federal Reserve meets this week to decide whether the current inflation rate is a threat to the nation's economy. But with inflation driving wages down and the price of almost everything from gas to food up, middle class families are already feeling squeeze.

Lisa Sylvester has this special report.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Rennie Wade is a software engineer, a husband and father of two. In 2005, he was laid off from Oracle after his job was off-shored to India. He now works as a part-time contractor for Microsoft.

Making ends meet is not easy.

RENNIE WADE, SOFTWARE ENGINEER: Oh, I definitely feel the pressure. I mean, not only is it things getting more expensive, like housing and other costs, general living expenses in the area, it's tougher working a full-time job.

SYLVESTER: Workers like Rennie Wade are gripped by a new economy. Their paychecks are shrinking and prices are climbing.

Food, housing and medical expenses rose six percent in the last three months alone. And anyone who has been to the gas station lately has seen the jump in prices. The national average is up 41 cents since November's election.

Adding to workers' worries, companies are cutting back on their hours.

JARED BERNSTEIN, ECONOMIC POLICY INST.: There have been two forces that have kind of worked together to erode the value of that paycheck in recent months. One is inflation, which, as we noted, has been growing more quickly, but the other is hours worked.

SYLVESTER: Some workers have seen their weekly hours slipping, others are just not earning enough hourly. And jobs are less secure.

Middle class workers have been displaced by companies seeking cheap labor. The American workers often find their new jobs don't pay as much as their old jobs, a concern raised during a hearing on Capitol Hill.

LAEL BRAINARD, THE BROOKING INSTITUTION: Fifty percent of permanently displaced workers that are going back into jobs are experiencing average declines in wages of 20 percent. That is unfortunately the economic reality.

SYLVESTER: An economic reality that has benefited corporations and stockholders, but has left many middle class workers behind.


SYLVESTER: And many middle class families, even those in the upper middle class, get the sense that they're working hard, they're bringing home a paycheck, but after paying the bills, paying for health care, paying for child care, there isn't just much left for anything else -- Kitty.

PILGRIM: And these are not decisions that you -- that you can dispense with. You can't avoid paying for some of this, can you Lisa?

SYLVESTER: These are the things -- the things that are going up in price, we are talking food, you're talking gasoline. These are things that people have to pay. There's no getting around it. And at the same time, they're seeing wages flat or actually falling.

PILGRIM: Very real problems.

Thank you very much.

Lisa Sylvester.

The state of Idaho is fighting Congress and President Bush on the creation of the North American Union. Idaho is calling on its congressional representatives in Washington to step in and block the plan.

Now, as Bill Tucker reports, 13 other states are considering similar measures.


BILL TUCKER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): The fight against the North American Union is escalating. Not at the federal level, but at the state level.

Currently, 14 states are considering legislation opposing what the administration calls the Security and Prosperity Partnership. In Idaho, the measure has been approved by both houses of its legislature because Idaho is tired of the secrecy.

In a simple statement from one of the Senate sponsors, he explains, "... Idaho wants Congress to weigh in on this and get it out in the open and vote on it."

At the federal level, it's hard to escape the push for unifying Canada, Mexico and the United States. The language is everywhere, even though the people have never voted on it.

In last year's failed so-called comprehensive immigration reform bill, the Senate inserted language praising the North American Union for progress made "... in developing and implementing an immigration security strategy for North America that works towards the development of a common security perimeter." In other words, gone are the borders of the United States of America, welcome to the borders of North America.

It's a far cry from what's happening at the state level.

TOM FITTON, JUDICIAL WATCH: The state activity is an indication of the grassroots concern about this issue. The states are closer to the grassroots, and that's where you're going to first see the indication of some discomfort with the Security and Prosperity Partnership, or the idea of a North American Union.

TUCKER: Washington isn't listening, just as Washington has ignored the people on the issue of immigration.

(END VIDEOTAPE) TUCKER: Now, papers obtained by the conservative group Judicial Watch under the Freedom of Information Act from the Department of Homeland Security show that many of our security policies, in fact, perhaps have already been coopted. In fact, it quotes Michael Chertoff in memos internally telling the department to align itself with the priorities and the values of SPP when it comes to security- related matters regarding Canada and Mexico.

So, Kitty, clearly, this policy is pushing ahead and has huge momentum all on its own, and it's being ignored out in the states for the most part.

PILGRIM: Yes. The states really don't have the jurisdiction on this, do they?

TUCKER: No, they don't. And when you talk with Idaho and you talk with groups like the National Council for State Legislatures, they'll tell you, we really don't follow this. And what Idaho is doing is a little unusual because they don't have say in this.

But, like the congressman -- or the state congressman out there said, "We want to get this out in the open," Kitty. We want people talking about this. We want to create a national dialogue, not just let this thing happen sort of quietly in the middle of the night.

PILGRIM: It certainly is gaining a bit of momentum, though, isn't it? It's turning up in press reports and now with these states.

TUCKER: Well, you have 14 states now, and 14 out of 50 doesn't sound like a lot, but that's still a substantial momentum, because a year ago, you would have been hard pressed to find any states talking about this.

PILGRIM: Or to raise any awareness.

TUCKER: Or raise the awareness of the issue.

PILGRIM: Thanks very much.

Bill Tucker.

Now our poll question.

Do you think the Bush administration recognizes the growing economic strain on working men and women in this country? Yes or no?

Cast your vote at, and we'll bring you the results a little bit later in the broadcast.

Coming up next, is there more trouble ahead for Karl Rove and the White House? We'll have a report on another possible scandal for the Bush administration.

Clashes at an amnesty agenda, protests in the streets of Los Angeles.

We'll have that story and more when we come back.


PILGRIM: There could be more trouble facing the Bush administration tonight. The head of the General Services Administration is being accused of playing politics, which could be a possible violation of federal law. Now the House Oversight Committee is calling on the GSA administrator to answer some questions.

Brian Todd reports -- Brian.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Kitty, just what the White House doesn't need in the wake of the U.S. attorney firings, the CIA leak, and other scandals. This time, a top official accused of overstepping her bounds to try to help the president's allies.

She is Lurita Doan, head of the General Services Administration. They call it the government's landlord. They buy and manage billions of dollars worth of buildings and equipment.

We spoking with Democratic Congressman Henry Waxman, chair of the House Oversight Committee. He says several sources have told him about a meeting in January where Doan and other GSA officials got a briefing from a White House aide from Karl Rove's office about the elections. Here's what Waxman says happened next.


REP. HENRY WAXMAN (D), OVERSIGHT COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: Ms. Doan asked the GSA representatives all around the country who worked under her auspices to make sure that they could do all they could to help Republicans, even to exclude Democrats from participating in some ceremonies where they were announcing a government project of one sort or another.


TODD: What's more, Waxman says he understands the White House put Doan up to it. A White House official denied that to us. Doan would not speak to us, but Waxman released a letter from Doan saying, "There were no improper political actions that occurred as a result of that January meeting."

Now, by law, Doan is not allowed to engage in politics on the job or use her agency to do it. But it's important to point out that her position is politically appointed by the president -- Kitty.

PILGRIM: Did she give reasons in this letter?

TODD: She basically said that there was nothing improper about that. And Mr. Waxman is also looking into allegations that she improperly got involved in a problematic technological contract, and also that she intervened on behalf of a friend to win a no-bid contract.

She denied all of that in a letter to Mr. Waxman. She is going before his committee on Wednesday, where she says she's looking forward to explaining all these actions.

PILGRIM: Thanks very much.

Brian Todd.

Coming up, illegal alien amnesty advocates and their opponents clash.

We'll have a report.

Senator John McCain may be winning the fund-raising race among Republican candidates for president, but just how much does money matter?

And the calls for his resignation keep coming. Will Attorney General Alberto Gonzales take a political hit for the Bush administration?

Those stories and more when we come back.


PILGRIM: We have more now from the White House tonight on the aide to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, who's refusing to testify and take the Fifth before Congress.

Suzanne Malveaux has some new developments, and she reports now from the White House -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: Well, Kitty, we actually have a statement from the White House now. White House spokeswoman Dana Perino reacting to the news here that Monica Goodling says she will not testify, will not incriminate herself, citing the Fifth.

She says, "It is unfortunate that a public servant no longer feels comfortable that they will be treated fairly in testimony in front of Congress. The attorney general, with the president's support, has urged members of the Justice Department to cooperate with Congress' request for testimony. However, we must respect the constitutional rights of the people involved, and the decision of those individuals and their counsel to protect those rights."

Clearly, Kitty, it's a disappointment to the White House. They say they respect her decision. They are disappointed that she's uncomfortable testifying.

It does put more pressure on the White House to get those aides, Karl Rove, as well as Harriet Miers, before members of Congress to testify themselves. That is something that the White House says is not going to happen, it's not on the table.

They say private conversations should be enough. But clearly, this is going to put more pressure on White House to do more for those lawmakers -- Kitty.

PILGRIM: Now, this person under considerable scrutiny at this point, worried that she'll perhaps be in the hot seat. But in the letter, there were many reasons stated, Suzanne.

Did you have any thoughts on that?

MALVEAUX: Well, one of the reasons that her attorneys gives -- and I'll just read it very quickly -- he says that "It is the politically-charged environment created by the members of the committee, and the fact that you and other members of the committee have already publicly drawn conclusions about the conduct under investigation that has created the ambiguous and perilous environment even in which innocent witnesses would be well advised not to testify."

So, what they're saying here, they're making a case that this is already a poisonous environment inside of Washington, that people have already made up their minds about who's guilty and who's innocent. So they have decided to bow out of this process.

But clearly, it does put more pressure on this White House to come forth with sworn testimony by Karl Rove and Harriet Miers -- Kitty.

PILGRIM: Thanks very much, Suzanne Malveaux.

And we'll have much more on this growing controversy coming up. One of those fired attorneys, Bud Cummins, the former U.S. attorney in Arkansas, will be here, and we'll be talking to him.

It is, of course, too early to predict who will win the Democratic and Republican nominations for president. That doesn't stop the pundits from keeping track of the money.

As Bill Schneider tells us, with the first primaries almost a year away, fundraising is just one way to keep score.


BILL SCHNEIDER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST (voice-over): How do you keep score in a political race where nobody will be voting for nearly a year? We've got polls, of course, but what do they really mean?

THOMAS MANN, BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: Public standing, visibility, name recognition, while -- while fundraising indicates their ability to put together a substantial organization.

SCHNEIDER: The first quarter totals will be out next month. Hillary Clinton is reported to have raised nearly $10 million just in the past week.

On the Republican side, John McCain tried to lower expectations. "We started late, our money raising and we're going to pay a price for it," McCain told reporters.

McCain's advisers tried to pump up expectations for rival Mitt Romney by suggesting that his fundraising might outpace McCain's. But a Romney aide stated flatly, McCain will be in first.

There's a question how much money really matters in the early states.

GORDON FISCHER, FORMER IOWA STATE DEMOCRATIC PARTY CHAIR: You can get around and campaign in Iowa fairly inexpensively. And so I don't know that money is all that important.

SCHNEIDER: The key indicator in Iowa may be endorsements. Senator Clinton got a big one on Monday when former Iowa governor and presidential candidate Tom Vilsack endorsed her. The Vilsack endorsement could bring organization.

FISCHER: We have over 2,000 precincts in Iowa, and he was to the point where he was naming precinct chairs. So he was far, far ahead of any of the other candidates in terms of organization.

SCHNEIDER: Clinton may be getting a big endorsement, but Barack Obama is drawing big crowds. Do crowds matter? Maybe not.

FISCHER: I'd much rather, you know, appear in 500 different living rooms than have 500 people in one crowd.


SCHNEIDER: Polls, money, endorsements, organization, crowds, those are all different ways of keeping score before the race actually begins, because when that happens, the scoring next year will come early and very fast -- Kitty.

PILGRIM: Bill, certainly crowds have to count. After all, that's voters, right.

SCHNEIDER; They are voters. But the question is, I've heard -- I went to New Hampshire last week, and I spoke to people who said, "Well, I've gone to a Hillary Clinton meeting and a McCain meeting, and half the people there said, 'I don't know who I'm voting for. I'm just here to look around'."

PILGRIM: Interesting stuff. Well, it can't hurt to be face to face with your voters. Thanks very much, Bill Schneider.


PILGRIM: Supporters of open borders and illegal alien amnesty tried to burn the American flag during street demonstrations in Los Angeles on Sunday. But border security activists were there to confront them. Casey Wian reports.


CASEY WIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Advocates for illegal alien amnesty took to the streets of Los Angeles Sunday.

ANGELA SAMBRANO, CENTRAL AMERICAN RESOURCE CENTER: We hope that Congress is serious about keeping our families together and in protecting the rights of all workers, including immigrant workers now and in the future. GIEV KASHKOOLI, UNTIED FARM WORKERS: We know that it is immigrants that feed this country. We know that it is immigrant workers that helped build this country.

WIAN: But the real action was nearby in a smaller march of counter protesters from the Minuteman Project and other border security groups.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We support ICE raids. American citizens, yes. Legal immigrants, yes. Illegal immigrants, no.

WIAN: They marched through an area of downtown Los Angeles dominated by Latino immigrants and were separated by police from another group of protesters draped in the Mexican flag carrying anarchist banners and images of Che Guevara.

This man tried to burn the American flag and later flew the stars and stripes upside down. A confrontation erupted between another masked demonstrator, apparently disrespecting the flag, and this man, who ripped it from his hands.

All this took place in the aftermath of a Los Angeles visit by Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff. He addressed a swearing in ceremony for 4,500 legal immigrants becoming U.S. citizens.

MICHAEL CHERTOFF, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: You who are here today have taken the legal path to citizenship. You now live proudly and openly as citizens, enjoying the full rights and privileges of Americans.

WIAN: He then spoke to the Los Angeles World Affairs Council about the importance of secure borders.

CHERTOFF: There cannot be a sensible immigration reform without first a plan to protect our borders.

WIAN: A plan is one thing, but actually securing the borders another.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Whose America? Our America. Whose America? Our America.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Whose America? Our America. Whose America? Our America.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Whose America? Our America. Whose America? Our America.

WIAN: Back on the streets the divide between those depending strict border security and those demanding open borders appears to be widening.


WIAN: Last year an estimated 500,000 amnesty advocates marched in opposition to the Sensenbrenner border security bill. This year, only about 5,000 showed up to support the Flake-Gutierrez amnesty effort -- Kitty.

PILGRIM: In all this melee, Casey, how much distinction was made between legal and illegal immigrants?

WIAN: It depends on which side of the melee you were on. The border security advocates chanted in favor of legal immigration. Many of them spoke of being married to legal immigrants and having relatives who are legal immigrants.

Those on the pro-amnesty side seemed to refuse to recognize the distinction between legal and illegal immigration, Kitty.

PILGRIM: And that seems to be the real problem in this debate, is the confusion of that term. Thanks very much, Casey Wian.


PILGRIM: A group of Republican congressmen want to give temporary legal status to Venezuelans illegally in the United States. And they say Hugo Chavez is a dictator, and Venezuelan illegal aliens should be safe from being deported. Christine Romans reports.


CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Anti-American President Hugo Chavez, singing his country's anthem, smiling and tightening his grip on power.

REP. LINCOLN DIAZ-BALART (R), FLORIDA: The time has come to admit formally that Chavez has installed a dictatorship in Venezuela.

ROMANS: He's one of five Republican congressmen asking the president to protect Venezuelans illegally in the U.S. from being deported.

DIAZ-BALART: Sometimes people are in danger due to political realities.

ROMANS: He says the political reality is Hugo Chavez systematically eliminating his citizens' rights and persecuting people for opposing political views. So the U.S. government should suspend deportations and expedite work permits for Venezuelans already in the U.S.

But others say the U.S. simply can't absorb the citizens of every country with a dictator.

ROSEMARY JENKS, NUMBERS USA: Will this become an incentive for more Venezuelans to come to the United States illegally?

ROMANS: She says U.S. foreign policy should encourage change in Venezuela from within. And there's already an asylum process for Venezuelans seeking refuge in the U.S.

Last year immigration authorities approved 47 percent of those asylum applications. In the past five years, 1,989 Venezuelans received asylum.

Meanwhile, there are some 300,000 Central Americans and 4,000 African citizens living in the U.S. temporarily, protected from deportation because of civil wars or natural disasters at home that make it impossible to return. These temporary programs, critics say, are rarely temporary.


ROMANS: That Hugo Chavez is strangling democracy in his country, there appears to be little doubt at this point. He's declared war on capitalism. He's moving to nationalize the telecom and electricity industries. Most recently, he's pledged to seize property for the collective good.

The question is whether that qualifies for what many say is the first step toward amnesty for all Venezuelan illegal aliens -- Kitty.

PILGRIM: Christine, it really begs the question how many Venezuelan illegal aliens can be in this country.

ROMANS: Well, that's exactly right. When you look at the numbers, it's hard to tell, because illegal immigration is so hard to quantify. But several experts said they think that Venezuelan illegal immigration isn't even the top 15 of countries who are sending their citizens here.

And as for deportations, well, actually, the government isn't even deporting very many people who are in the country illegally from Venezuela. Removal over the past couple of years has been somewhere around 200 a year.

So it begs the question, why create an entire category for a country for people to be here, protected from deportation when it doesn't seem to really be a problem at this point?

PILGRIM: All right. Thanks very much, Christine Romans.

And coming up next, President Bush says he's standing by his friend, embattled Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. But will Gonzales be a political scapegoat for the White House? We'll talk to one of the fired federal prosecutors about this growing controversy.

Also, former congressman Tom DeLay will be here, and we'll hear his take on the attorney general crisis. We'll also discuss his new book. Stay with us.


PILGRIM: New developments in the controversy over the firing of eight federal prosecutors. A Justice Department official will take the fifth, also refused to answer questions in the probe.

Now this comes as newly released documents suggest that U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales was more involved with the firings than he first admitted. One of the eight prosecutors fired is Bud Cummins. He's from Little Rock, Arkansas, and he joins us now.

Thanks very much for being with us, sir.


You know, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales claimed that he was out of the loop. And now e-mails have surfaced, and it shows -- they appear to show that Mr. Gonzales had a meeting about the dismissals before they happened.

Here's what Senator Patrick Leahy had to say about this. So let's listen first.


SEN. PATRICK LEAHY (D), VERMONT: Personally, attorney general said he's out of the loop. Then he said -- and then the e-mail shows he was in the loop. It's bad either way. I mean, this was a horrible mistake and never should have been done without the OK of the attorney general. It should have been done with the OK of the attorney general. So in many ways, it is bad news either way.


PILGRIM: What do you have to say about the progression of information that's coming out in this case?

CUMMINS: I think it's appalling. The Department of Justice lives on credibility. I mean, that's how, just simply how they get their job done every day. And this has really been damaging.

PILGRIM: You know, I have to take our viewers through some of your credentials. You're a Republican who works as part of the Bush- Cheney election in 2000. You were appointed U.S. attorney for eastern district of Arkansas by President Bush in 2001.

And yet, in a memo written by the attorney general's chief of staff, it suggested in 2005 that they were looking for loyal Bushies. How do you feel about that?

CUMMINS: Well, it's difficult to really give that much credibility. I don't think that the people's names appeared on that list. They didn't really have any way of -- mechanism of knowing what my loyalty was, except for the work we were doing. And the work I was doing and my office was doing was, by all the measures within the department, outstanding.

PILGRIM: And yet, how did you feel when they said it was a performance review? You have said, and you've been quoted as saying, you understood a political act in this -- in this dismissal, but you were quite concerned when the words came up "performance review." How do you feel about that?

CUMMINS: Right. And if you listen to the progression of explanations by the attorney general, I just cannot understand why the attorney general can say he wasn't involved and he didn't know and he doesn't know, because Kyle Sampson's gone and has a lawyer and isn't talking about anything that happened to lead to these decisions.

Yet, he stands by them, and he stands by the assertion that it was some kind of legitimate performance review. No. 1, that's not true.

No. 2, I'm not aware of any person outside the inner circle at the Department of Justice there that believes that.

So they really need to stop this madness and stop saying that right now. And move onto the next one of several important issues that they're going to have to deal with, with the Senate and with the public.

PILGRIM: And what do you believe that is? What would you like to hear come out?

CUMMINS: Well, No. 1, they just need to say, "Look, there was obviously a lack of integrity in the system of decision making. And we back off the assertion that there was any legitimate performance review process. We're not sure what happened. And if it was improper, we want to investigate that and get the truth out. And that will happen in due course."

But every day they continue to stand by this performance assertion, my colleagues are subjected to more and more slander. Because they are -- the department is continuing to try and push out these vague reasons why some of them might have needed to be removed. And that's really not the test. And it certainly hasn't been proved up in all seven cases.

PILGRIM: Let me ask you about something. You gained some publicity when this -- when you were first dismissed, and you were quoted in the paper. And then you say that you received a phone call from someone in Justice, and you say the message in that conversation was that you should keep quiet.

Do you feel that that message was to intimidate you?

CUMMINS: Well, I think the message was to tell us what might happen if the controversy went on, and I'll point out to you, none of us spoke until the Senate challenged the department and the department misrepresented the reasons we were terminated.

But what I thought during that phone call, what I exactly pictured in my mind was what has happened over the last two or three weeks, a dumping of thousands of documents unrelated to anything in some desperate effort to try and color up performance claims against my colleagues.

And it's wrong, and the people at the top of this can stop this right now. They can say, "We're backing off of that, and we're not going to say that ever again." PILGRIM: OK. The Justice Department released about 3,000 documents. Here's what the White House deputy press secretary had to say about that.


DANA PERINO, WHITE HOUSE DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY: I think the other thing that we cannot lose sight of is that Justice Department is going out of its way to try to find documents that are responsive to the request and then to turn them over to the Congress and to the press as soon as possible.


PILGRIM: Now, you can understandably be criticized for a document dump of 3,000 documents. However, you could also make the case that it's being as forthcoming as possible, giving them everything they could possibly ask for. Which way do you think this is?

CUMMINS: I'd make this case. Where is the memo in all those documents that evidences any legitimate performance review process? As was particularly articulated by the deputy attorney general and referenced by the attorney general's sworn testimony of the United States Senate.

They're not there because it never happened. And they need to back off of that, that particular assertion.

What is there is a lot of evidence of petty and personal and maybe political activity that needs to be investigated and reconciled, because it's done a lot of damage to those 110,000 people that the attorney general talked about that still work at the department and are doing great work and don't deserve to have their integrity and credibility put in jeopardy as it is right now.

PILGRIM: You know, I have to ask you, the White House has said that Karl Rove will not testify or other White House advisers will not testify under oath.

Do you believe that testimony has reached the point in this country where testimony should be given up? Given under oath.

CUMMINS: Well, that's really not for me to say. And there are legitimate questions about the executive branch and the protection of their executive privilege. And I'm not going to enter into that.

But regardless of what forum they tell the Senate this story in, if they really want to get the truth out, they can hold a press conference or get in a conference room with some folks and say it in their own forum today, right now.

And if they had something else to offer, they would clarify these assertions of some legitimate performance review. That could happen today. There's no reason to wait till April 17 or June or 2009. They can do that today. And somebody that's up there in charge needs to say, "Let's stop this. We're destroying the integrity of the Department of Justice. And we have a lot of important work still to do there."

PILGRIM: Bud Cummins, thank you very much for appearing on this broadcast.

CUMMINS: Thank you.

PILGRIM: Bud Cummins, former U.S. attorney in Arkansas.

CUMMINS: Thank you.

PILGRIM: Coming up, former House majority leader, Tom DeLay, will join me. He says Attorney General Gonzales should fight for his job. We'll talk to him, and also about his new book, so stay with us.


PILGRIM: Tom DeLay, the former House majority leader, has seen his share of political battles. And his advice to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales has been to fight.

Well, his new book is titled "No Retreat, No Surrender". He joins me now.

Thanks for being with us, sir.


PILGRIM: You know, we just gave the title of your book, "No Retreat, No Surrender". Yet, I you resigned from Congress less than a year ago, withdrew your reelection bid. Is that a bit of a contradiction from your book title?

DELAY: Not at all. I understood that even if I got reelected, I would be relegated to a rank and file member. And I wouldn't be able to accomplish the things that I've accomplished outside.

And I've already proven in this very short period of time that I can provide some leadership for the conservative cause in support of Israel. So I've been proven right. I can do more in a different arena. And that's what I'm doing.

PILGRIM: Let's talk about your book a bit. This book is deeply personal. A lot of personal stories. But you have also discussed some very revealing behavior.

So let's bring this quote up. And I'll read it for the benefit of our viewers. "I was busy then during my first months in Congress, but unfortunately not too busy to continue my partying. I drank and drank heavily, knocking down my usual dozen martinis during an evening revelry. There were also women and the same self-centered, pleasure- seeking ways that I had begun in the Texas House."

You were a driving force, sir, behind President Clinton's impeachment. Some have suggested this is highly hypothetical. You have you been criticizing President Clinton's behavior.

DELAY: You failed to point out that that was over 20 years ago. It was seven years before the impeachment of Bill Clinton. I found Christ, changed my attitude and changed who I was, focused on my family, and I became a different person.

And yes, I thought it was very important for the Congress to take its responsibility and hold a president that had perjured himself before a grand jury and hold him responsible for it. And we did that.

PILGRIM: Let's talk about some of the other accusations in your book. You have accused Democrats of, quote, "politics of personal destruction in their effort to remove you from power."

But you really do not offer apologies on the allegations of corruption against you, the numerous House Ethics Committee admonishments, your ties to the Jack Abramoff issue and campaign finance related charges. Do you think that in any way you hold responsibility?

DELAY: Well, you really shouldn't play their game. First of all, I haven't been found guilty of anything. And all the ethics charges, and there's been many of them over the last 11 years, have been dismissed as frivolous. I had a repo suit. It was dismissed as frivolous.

Admonishments are not sanctions for violating House rules. And the media uses them as if I should go to prison and get the death penalty, because I was warned by the ethics committee, warnings that I disagree with.

So the point is, as I point out in my book, and I'm very forthright about it. And I tell the truth of what's going on here. And we're seeing it with the attorney general scandal.

The criminalization of politics has taken a new level. And the Democrats have a strategy to not just vilify somebody but to destroy them if they stand up and are effective in what they're doing.

And we're seeing it in your segment right before me. Here is -- here is a scandal that's made up. There's no evidence whatsoever of illegal activity. There's not even evidence of unethical activity. It's a personnel matter that the press and the Democrats in the Senate are now coordinated.

Used to be the press were responsible enough to at least investigate it to see if there's a scandal. And if there's one, run with it. If there's not, drop it.

But now, all you have to have is somebody accuse you of something. It can be a frivolous accusation. And the scandal's off and running. It's really destroying and undermining our institutions.

PILGRIM: Thanks very much for being with us tonight, Tom DeLay. Thank you, sir.

DELAY: Thank you, Kitty.

PILGRIM: Coming up at the top of the hour, "THE SITUATION ROOM" with Wolf Blitzer -- Wolf.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Kitty, he says the attorney general, Alberto Gonzales, should resign, and he's calling the vice president, Dick Cheney, disingenuous when it comes to supporting troops in Iraq.

I'll talk about that and more, my interview with Democratic senator and presidential candidate, Chris Dodd. That's coming up.

Also, talking to Iraqi insurgents. Did the U.S. miss a crucial opportunity to calm the chaos in Iraq?

And we're going to show you what the Venezuelan president, Hugo Chavez, is up to now that some are wandering if he's trying to spread communism across South America.

Plus, find out why Elizabeth Edwards says she's sick to death of seeing herself on TV, all that coming up, Kitty, right here in "THE SITUATION ROOM".

PILGRIM: Thanks very much, Wolf.

A reminder now to vote in tonight's poll. Do you think the Bush administration recognizes the growing economic strain on working men and women in this country? Yes or no? Cast your vote at We'll bring you the results, and your e-mails are coming next. So stay with us.


PILGRIM: Now the results of tonight's poll. Ninety-five percent of you do not think the Bush administration recognizes the growing economic strain on working men and women in this country.

Time now for some of your thoughts.

Dennis in Michigan: "Alberto Gonzales and Karl Rove should hire illegal aliens to testify under oath for them. It's one of those jobs Americans like Gonzales and Rove won't do."

Charles in Pennsylvania wrote to us, "Alberto Gonzales says he's not resigning. He's staying to protect our kids, is allowing illegal alien drug dealers to come into this country with full immunity protecting our kids?"

And Sean in Rhode Island wrote to us: "How the Department of Justice fired eight attorneys for 'poor performance' and managed to overlook U.S. Attorney Johnny Sutton is beyond me."

And Jake in Michigan wrote, "I'm a senior in the criminal justice program and I've begun to wonder if I should be pursuing this degree. With law enforcement officers being sent to prison for protecting the people they swore to protect, I wonder if I should have majored in Mexican foreign relations instead!" And Jan in Colorado: "Congressman Flake and Gutierrez are trying to fool American citizens into supporting their sh-amnesty scheme. So much for representative government."

We love hearing from you. Send us your thoughts at Each of you whose e-mail is read here will receive a copy of Lou's book, "War on the Middle Class".

Thanks for being with us tonight. Please join us tomorrow at 6 Eastern and then again at 8 for a special edition of the show "Border Betrayal". We'll be live in Yazoo City, Mississippi, uncovering the truth behind the prosecution and incarceration of former Border Patrol agents Ignacio Ramos and Jose Compean. We'll have exclusive interviews with the man who was their boss and the U.S. attorney who prosecuted them.

For all of us here, thanks for watching. Good night from New York. "THE SITUATION ROOM" starts right now with Wolf Blitzer.

BLITZER: Thanks, Kitty.


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