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THE SITUATION ROOM

White House Press Secretary Snow Diagnosed With Liver Cancer; Interview With John McCain

Aired March 27, 2007 - 16:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, HOST: Happening now, cancer strikes inside the Bush White House. The press secretary, Tony Snow, has the disease again, and it has spread. We're going to have the latest on Tony's condition and how he and the administration are trying to carry on.
Also this hour, Democrats are asking does Alberto Gonzales's Justice Department have something to hide?

We're tracking the fallout right now, especially since a top aide to the attorney general is refusing to answer senators' questions.

And John McCain's Iraq struggle -- is his support for the troop build-up hurting his presidential campaign?

The senator standing by to join us live. We'll talk about the war. We'll talk about his White House race.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

But first this hour, the Senate is diving into a showdown over Iraq right now. Members are nearing a vote on a measure to strip language from a war spending bill that would set a formal target date for bringing U.S. troops home.

The House narrowly passed a similar measure last week. This new measure in the Senate will be a critical test of Democratic unity in the Senate in the face of a presidential veto. Senate resolutions predicting they have the votes to kill this timetable.

But it could be a nail biter. This vote, it's going to be happening soon, so stay right here. We're going to have all the latest developments on that. We'll get up to Capitol Hill shortly.

Another important story we're following, a high profile reminder today that cancer can strike anyone, anytime, anywhere.

The White House press secretary, Tony Snow, once again battling the disease, and it has now spread to his liver. This brings new and very personal misery to the Bush administration during a time of political conflict.

Our White House correspondent, Suzanne Malveaux, is standing by.

And there were a lot of sad people at the White House when they got the word here earlier this morning -- Suzanne.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, you know, people here are absolutely stunned, as all of us are. I spoke with Tony on Friday and kind of in his irreverent Tony Snow way said it is what it is.

Clearly, it is a little more than what Tony expected or any of us expected, but he is trying to encourage people here to remain optimistic and strong.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

MALVEAUX (voice-over): Devastating news for White House Press Secretary Tony Snow -- cancer. He called the president early this morning.

GEORGE BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He told me that when they went in and operated on him, they found cancer.

MALVEAUX: Last Friday, Snow announced he was going into surgery to have a small growth on his abdomen removed and would return within weeks.

TONY SNOW, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: And it'll take me a little while to heal up, so I'll come back here a little lighter.

MALVEAUX: But news that the growth is cancerous and has spread to his liver stunned the White House.

DANA PERINO, DEPUTY WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: A little bit of shock for myself. I thought he was -- I thought he was going to check back and they were going to say oh, he was fine.

MALVEAUX: Snow is a survivor. In February of 2005, the then 49- year-old radio host was diagnosed with colon cancer. Doctors treated it by removing his colon and with a six month course of chemotherapy.

Last April, a clean bill of health from his doctor cleared the way for him to accept the rigorous job of press secretary.

BUSH: Tony already knows most of you and he's agreed to take the job anyway.

MALVEAUX: Snow has always been up front about his cancer battle. At his first official White House briefing, he was brought to tears reflecting on his family's struggle.

SNOW: I lost a mother to cancer when I was 17, the same type -- the same type, colon cancer. And what has happened in the field of cancer since then is a miracle.

MALVEAUX: Snow, who's also a father of three and a guitar player in a local band, says he'll go after his cancer aggressively, with chemotherapy and perhaps additional treatment. And if all goes well, he hopes to return to the podium.

BUSH: His attitude is one, that he is not going to let this whip him, and he's upbeat.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

MALVEAUX: And, also, Dana Perino is the one, the deputy who is going to be taking his place. In the meantime, she said that he is watching the news developments very actively, emphasizing that she had to deliver the message that the president would veto any legislation out of the Senate that would call for a troop withdrawal.

She was asked whether or not she thought Snow as actually watching the briefing today. She said well, if he is, I'm blushing a little bit. But she said he's going to be in constant contact with the White House the next couple of months.

BLITZER: And, of course, I speak for and you I speak for all of us, in fact, all of our viewers. We wish him only, only the best. We're praying for Tony.

Thanks very much, Suzanne, for that.

Only last week, Tony Snow was praising Elizabeth Edwards for being open about her renewed fight against cancer. Today, the presidential candidate, John Edwards, returned that favor, issuing this statement. Let me read it to you: "We want to thank Tony again for his kind words following our announcement that Elizabeth's cancer had returned. Our thoughts and prayers are with Tony and his family during this difficult time. We wish him the best in the upcoming battle and are praying for a full and speedy recovery."

There are some sobering statistics that we want to show you, just how disturbing, though, this development is. For those with colorectal cancers similar to Tony Snow's, the relative survival rates are grim. According to doctors we spoke to, the median survival rate for metastatic colon cancer is about two years. About 153,000 Americans will be diagnosed with colorectal cancer this year.

We're going to have much more ahead on Tony's cancer, his prognosis, America's war against this disease. Our Carol Costello has been talking to cancer experts. She's going to have a full report here in THE SITUATION ROOM in the next hour.

Let's go to Jack Cafferty in New York.

He's joining us.

I know this is an awful, awful situation.

I have known Tony for many years. A really, really great guy, and we wish him and his family, Jack, only, only the best.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Tough stuff. I mean it's a -- it's a tough job he's in and now he's got this. He's got three kids at home.

But this whole thing about colorectal cancer -- get a colonoscopy. Go to the doctor and get a colonoscopy, because if they find those little polyps, they just snip them off, there's nothing to it and it never develops into -- into colon cancer, which is what's led to this situation now with Tony Snow having this stuff in his liver.

So...

BLITZER: Especially -- let me just add one point.

Especially if you're over 50 or you have a history of colon cancer in your family. Those colonoscopies can be life savers.

CAFFERTY: Thank you, Dr. Blitzer.

On to other things.

Let's hope British Prime Minister Tony Blair doesn't ask the United States to join a coalition of the willing to invade Iran and get its hostages back. My feeling is President Bush would be on that like a bird on a worm.

To borrow a phrase from the British, the seizing of the 15 sailors and marines last week in the Persian Gulf presents a bit of a sticky wicket for the prime minister. And today Mr. Blair warned Iran that negotiations to get the Brits back will "move into a different phase if diplomacy fails."

Iran won't say where it's holding the captives, won't allow British diplomats to see them.

Some hard-liners in Iran want to charge them with espionage.

The dispute all goes back to whether or not these 15 sailors and marines were in -- or sailors and marines -- were in Iranian territorial waters or Iraqi territorial waters.

When it comes to holding hostages, Iran is a country with a Ph.D.

Remember the '70s?

Iran held Americans hostage for 444 days.

Now, the U.N. voted this last weekend to lay some heavy duty sanctions on Iran because it refuses to stop enriching uranium. So the holding of those British sailors and Marines could represent an international game of tit for tat.

Meanwhile -- and this is scary -- the U.S. Navy has begun large scale military exercises in the Persian Gulf today, one of the biggest shows of force since the invasion of Iraq, with some U.S. Navy warships now just miles off the coast of Iran.

Here's the question -- how should Britain go about trying to win the release of its captured sailors and Marines from Iran?

E-mail your thoughts to caffertyfile@cnn.com or go to cnn.com/caffertyfile. It's a little frightening what's going on over there right now -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, I know.

We're going to have a lot more on this story coming up over the next couple of hours, as well.

Jack, thank you.

Coming up, he's rushed back to Washington to cast his vote on the Iraq War. Up next, Senator John McCain joins us live. We'll talk about his support for the war, his bid for the White House, why some say he's lowering expectations when it comes to his campaign. All that coming up.

Plus, do you think the attorney general, Alberto Gonzales, should resign over the federal prosecutors' controversy?

We'll take a closer look at some brand new poll numbers.

And he's jumping in the polls, but he hasn't even jumped into the presidential race yet. We'll take a closer look, as well, at what's driving Fred Thompson's numbers.

Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: As we told you at the top of the hour, the U.S. Senate nearing a showdown vote over the war in Iraq. Senate Republican and presidential candidate John McCain remains one of the staunchest supporters of the president's Iraq policy, a vocal advocate of a U.S. military build-up in Iraq.

Senator McCain is joining us now from Capitol Hill.

Senator, thanks for coming in.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: Thank you, Wolf.

Could I just say, I am a supporter of the new strategy. It's a new strategy. It's an increase in troops, but it's an entirely different strategy. And it is succeeding, as we speak.

BLITZER: Well, tell us why you think it's succeeding. Because we get sort of conflicting notions. Some people saying the insurgents, the terrorists, they're sort of lying low right now, but they're -- they're ready to pounce when the U.S. and its Iraqi allies ease up a little bit.

MCCAIN: Well, if we announce a date for withdrawal, like -- or a date certain for surrender, as this legislation we're considering is passed, which I pray that it won't -- then obviously that may happen.

But when you drive them out of a place and they have to leave, you give an opportunity for the political and economic process to move forward. And we are now already seeing cooperation from the people as far as identifying the bad guys. There are quieter neighborhoods. The sheikhs in Anbar Province are now providing us with thousands of recruits, as they have turned against al Qaeda.

There's a lot of good news.

What is the bad news?

Still we haven't got a strong enough police force. The Maliki government still isn't quite as strong, although they've been doing some things we wanted them to do. The suicide bombings, which are the hardest thing to fight against -- ask the Israelis -- still go on.

But I am confident within a short time we've already achieved some measurable successes.

BLITZER: What the...

MCCAIN: That doesn't mean it isn't going to be hard and tough.

BLITZER: But the Democrats, at least some of them, are saying, you know what?

Let's say you're right. Maybe you give them another year, the Iraqis. It's now year five of this war. Give them another year to get their act together, strengthen their military, strengthen their police force, strengthen their whole political environment there, and then you begin to leave.

Do you think they can get their act together over the next year?

MCCAIN: I'm sure -- I'm confident that they can, to a large degree. But that's like saying after the Korean War, after we had a cease-fire, that we would immediately pull out. We kept our troops there and we keep them there as a stabilizing force.

I think that there is no doubt that we may require troops there for a long period of time, a long period of time. But at the same time, we can achieve success and American troops withdraw from the front battle lines.

But...

BLITZER: How much time do you think, Senator, the Iraqis need to be really in charge of their own security?

MCCAIN: I don't know the answer to that and when I venture a guess, then we have a date for a withdrawal.

What I'm saying is we are achieving success. The key to it is not U.S. presence, it's U.S. casualties. And if we can keep U.S. casualties down, as we did after the Korean War, obviously, Americans won't mind that.

And Americans have got to understand the consequences of failure. Failure is catastrophe. Failure is genocide. Failure means we come back. Failure means they follow us home. The consequences of failure -- one of the most disingenuous -- two disingenuous aspects about the Democrats' position, one is what do you do if we leave? What if -- what do you do if -- if Iraq deteriorates into chaos?

And, second of all, if you really feel this way, if you really feel it, then bring them home tomorrow. That's the intellectually honorable thing to do.

BLITZER: Here's the latest poll in the "USA Today"/Gallup poll. Asked about setting a timetable for withdrawal by fall of 2008, 60 percent say they favor such a timetable, 38 percent say they oppose it. You'd be in the 38 percent.

Why is the American public -- or at least the majority of the American public -- disagreeing with you?

MCCAIN: Because the American public is frustrated and angry and saddened by our failure and mismanagement of the war for nearly four years. And they would like to see us have -- be out of there. But they also want us to succeed.

You know better than I do it's how you ask the questions in a poll. If I asked the question, if I can show you a path to success that involves maintaining a U.S. presence there for an extended period of time, you'd have 80 percent of the American people say yes, if we can show them a path to success.

And Joe Lieberman could never have been reelected, you know, in Connecticut if it was as clear-cut as some describe it, that Americans just want us out, because his opponent, clearly, that was his position.

BLITZER: If the situation a year from now, senator, is what it is basically today, what will that say to you?

MCCAIN: Well, it won't be. It won't be. It'll be either better or worse.

BLITZER: Well, what if it's worse?

MCCAIN: No military -- no military person...

BLITZER: What if it's worse?

MCCAIN: Then obviously we're going to have to examine a set of bad options. But I am confident it won't be. I am confident hell won't freeze over. I am confident we can succeed if we stay with this -- with this strategy. And if I'm wrong, we've got a lot more problems than anything that it does to my political reputation.

BLITZER: Here's what you told Bill Bennett on his radio show on Monday.

MCCAIN: Yes.

BLITZER: "There are neighborhoods in Baghdad where you and I could walk through those neighborhoods today."

MCCAIN: Yes.

BLITZER: "The U.S. is beginning to succeed in Iraq."

You know, everything we hear, that if you leave the so-called green zone, the international zone, and you go outside of that secure area, relatively speaking, you're in trouble if you're an American.

MCCAIN: You know, that's why you ought to catch up on things, Wolf.

General Petraeus goes out there almost every day in an unarmed Humvee. You want to -- I think you ought to catch up. You see, you are giving the old line of three months ago. I understand it. We certainly don't get it through the filter of some of the media.

But I know for a fact of much of the success we're experiencing, including the ability of Americans in many parts -- not all. We've got a long, long way to go. We've only got two of the five brigades there -- to go into some neighborhoods in Baghdad in a secure fashion.

BLITZER: Let me refer to a few of your colleagues in the Senate and the House.

Chuck Hagel, John Murtha, former Senator Max Cleland, the current senator, Jim Webb. They're all like you, Vietnam War veterans.

You say this is potentially a worse situation if the U.S. were to withdraw from Iraq as opposed to when the U.S. withdrew from Vietnam.

Why are -- because they're saying just get out, basically, and you're saying you've got to stay.

Why -- why do you think these Vietnam War veterans, decorated just as you are, disagree?

MCCAIN: Well, because I hope that all of our experience, knowledge, background and decision-making is not driven by the experience of the Vietnam War. I hope it's an accumulation of all the training, experience and knowledge I had, including 22 years in the military and 24 years in the Congress and the Senate.

But, look, don't take my word for it that -- that -- that they'll follow us home. Look at what they say. Look what bin Laden says. Look what Zarqawi says. Look at what Khalid Sheikh Mohammed said at his tribunal down in Guantanamo. They all say the same things. Go on their Web sites. They'll tell you. They want to follow us home. We're their enemy. They're the ones we want to destroy.

They win in Iraq the way they won in Beirut and the way that they won in Somalia, then they will -- they will be following us home.

Again, it's not my stated -- not from anything I've written or said. It's what they're saying and writing. BLITZER: Senator Hagel, who is a Republican from Nebraska, he's really angry at the president, as you well know. In fact, in the current issue of "Esquire" magazine, he says this: "The president says I don't care, he's not accountable anymore, which isn't totally true. You can impeach him. And before this is over, you might see calls for his impeachment. I don't know. It depends how this goes."

For Senator Hagel to even be discussing -- saying that word, impeachment, I guess it underscores his deep concern, his deep anger right now of what's going on.

MCCAIN: That's right, Wolf. And Chuck has honest, deep-seated, sincere feelings on this issue, as does Max Cleland and others. And, by the way, this strong difference of opinion we have has not impaired our friendship, which predates this and post-dates it.

I have the greatest warmth and feeling for all of them. We just have a fundamental disagreement and I am respectfully disagreeing with them and continue this debate and discussion all over America.

BLITZER: There's another showdown happening right now between the White House and the Congress, especially the Democrats in Congress, involving the Justice Department, the attorney general. Now one if his top aides refusing to testify, citing her right under the fifth amendment.

For someone who has the Straight Talk Express, what do you think about this latest development, a top Justice Department official refusing to answer questions from members of the House and Senate?

MCCAIN: Well, it's disturbing, but the lesson I've learned in this town is you get everything out as quickly as possible and try to move on. I think that Attorney General Gonzales should try to work out a way that he can best inform Congress and inform the American people as to what happened -- as to what has happened.

I also believe that there's a certain significant amount of party politics at play here.

BLITZER: You don't think he should resign, though?

MCCAIN: No, I think he should be able to make his case and I think he -- everybody should work together so that he can make that case. I certainly believe in executive privilege, but I'm hoping that reasonable people could sit down and work out a way to get this whole issue out in the open and resolved.

BLITZER: The Republican presidential race is heating up, as they say. Take a look at the these "USA Today"/Gallup numbers that are just out today. Rudy Giuliani with 31 percent among registered Republicans, or Independents leaning Republican; Senator McCain, that would be you, at 22 percent; Senator -- former Senator Fred Thompson has got 12 percent, even though he's not even a candidate; Newt Gingrich got 8 percent, even though he's not a candidate.

What do you make of these latest numbers? Because it looks like it's a real battle between you and Giuliani.

MCCAIN: Well, first of all, I -- Fred Thompson, I often said if I had his voice I'd be president of the United States today. And people -- at least 12 percent should support him. He's already been president in several movies. He's a wonderful man and has led this country very well.

Look, we're still in spring training, Wolf. We're just getting off the dime here. There's going to be good candidates. I would add Sam Brownback, Governor Huckabee, others who are not in those top tiers. Newt Gingrich hasn't even decided what he is going to do.

I guarantee you there is going to be so many ups and downs around here that it's going to be a roller coaster and it's going to be a lot of fun to watch.

BLITZER: I like the spring training analogy, senator.

Thanks very much.

Kind of you to spend a few moments with us here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

MCCAIN: Thank you, my friend.

Thank you.

BLITZER: Senator John McCain from Arizona.

He's a Republican presidential candidate.

MCCAIN: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: And up next, a famous freshman senator speaks out today after his aide is arrested for carrying a loaded gun into a Capitol Hill building. We're going to tell you what Senator Jim Webb is saying.

Plus, a new poll shows John Edwards on the rise.

What's behind the jump in his numbers?

We'll ask our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider.

Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Our Carol Costello is monitoring the wires. She's keeping an eye on all of the video feeds coming into THE SITUATION ROOM from around the world.

She's joining us from New York with a closer look at some other important stories -- hi, Carol. CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Wolf.

Hello to all of you.

Former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld cannot be tried for the alleged torture of prisoners in overseas military prisons. That's according to a federal judge. He threw out a lawsuit against Rumsfeld. The suit alleged Rumsfeld and other officials turned a blind eye to torture and even approved some illegal interrogation tactics. The judge says Rumsfeld cannot be held personally responsible for actions taken in connection with his job.

And a pistol packing politician says he has a right to defend his family and himself. Democratic Senator Jim Webb of Virginia spoke out today after one of his top aides was arrested on weapons charges yesterday. That aide was carrying the senator's loaded pistol into the Senate office building. And today his lawyer says the aide is not guilty of breaking the law. Webb calls the situation unfortunate, but he would not talk about the case because it's ongoing.

He did talk about how times have changed.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JAMES WEBB (D), VIRGINIA: Since 9/11, for people who are in government, I think in general, there has been an agreement that it's more -- a more dangerous time. I'm not -- and, again, I'm not going to comment, again, with great specificity about how I defend myself, but I do feel that I have that right.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COSTELLO: Or why his aide was carrying that loaded pistol and, of course, Wolf, his aide is still in trouble. And the senator is not.

BLITZER: We'll see what happens.

Thanks.

We'll watch this story unfold with you, Carol.

Coming up here in THE SITUATION ROOM, new ammunition for critics of the attorney general, Alberto Gonzales, and his handling of the federal prosecutors. Democrats demanding to know what, if anything, one of his top aides has to hide.

And you just heard Senator John McCain defend his support for the war only moments ago.

Did he help his presidential campaign? Did he hurt it?

Donna Brazile and J.C. Watts -- they'll give their views.

That's coming up right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Happening now, truck bombs, suicide bombs and stabbings -- Iraq's violence leaves at least 70 people dead. But the top U.S. military commander for the region says Iraq is not embroiled in a civil war. Admiral William Fallon tells CNN Baghdad may be besieged with violence, but there are signs of hope elsewhere.

Also raging here in Washington, the war over the war -- the Senate getting ready to vote on an Iraq measure in just a few minutes. It's over a war funding bill and whether or not to take out language that specifically calls for a date to bring U.S. troops home. We are going to go to that all-important vote once it happens.

And some disturbing news saddens the White House. The press secretary, Tony Snow's, cancer has come back. President Bush says Snow is determined to not -- quote -- "let this whip him."

We will take a closer look at how possible that might be for those who are battling similar forms of cancer.

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

New developments in the firestorm over those fired U.S. attorneys. A new "USA Today"/Gallup poll shows Americans are evenly divided on whether Attorney General Alberto Gonzales should resign. But most, 68 percent, say Congress should issue subpoenas to force White House officials to testify under oath about the matter.

About half of those polled agree with Democrats that the prosecutors were fired primarily for political reasons; 26 percent take the White House view that the attorneys were not doing their jobs well.

But Americans are skeptical about the Democrats' motives; 59 percent say the Democrats are investigating the prosecutor shakeup to gain political advantage.

Another flash point in the fired prosecutor controversy, Democrats are pouncing on the wall of silence being put up by a top aide to the attorney general, Alberto Gonzales. He was asked today about Monica Goodling's decision to take the Fifth when she's called to testify before Congress.

Listen to what he said during a news conference in Illinois just a short while ago.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ALBERTO GONZALES, ATTORNEY GENERAL: I'm not going to comment on the decision by a -- an employee at the department to exercise her constitutional rights.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Let's bring in our congressional correspondent Dana Bash. What are the Democrats saying about Goodling's refusal to testify, Dana?

DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, you just heard there the attorney general saying that he's not going to comment.

They are commenting about it over at the White House. They are casting it as -- quote -- "unfortunate" that a public servant doesn't feel comfortable enough to come before Congress and testify.

And, to answer your question, Democrats say they think that public servant has something to conceal.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BASH (voice-over): If a senior aide to the attorney general won't talk to Congress, Democrats say there must be something to hide.

SEN. RICHARD DURBIN (D), ILLINOIS: When a high-ranking official, either in the White House or Department of Justice, decides to take the Fifth Amendment, it's troubling. That, of course, is her constitutional right, but it raises the question, what conduct was she involved in that may have some criminal consequence?

BASH: Democrats are seizing on a comparison Monica Goodling's attorney made to former Cheney aide Scooter Libby.

SEN. PATRICK LEAHY (D-VT), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: It's a little bit odd. In his letter, he speaks that she does not want to face the fate of Mr. Libby, or words to that effect.

Scooter Libby was convicted of perjury. He was convicted of obstruction of justice.

BASH: GOP senators say they don't blame Goodling for not wanting to testify, saying Democrats have already concluded Justice officials aren't telling the truth about why federal prosecutors are fired and want to use hearings for political gain.

SEN. ARLEN SPECTER (R-PA), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE RANKING MEMBER: A hearing conducted by the Judiciary Committee ought to have at least, as I put it, a modicum of objectivity. As Goodling's lawyer complains -- and I understand why -- that the hearing lacks fundamental fairness.

BASH: But, privately, Republican congressional sources tell CNN they do worry that a senior Justice Department official pleading the Fifth could make a big political problem even worse. And Bush allies are increasingly unsure if the attorney general can keep his job.

SEN. JOHN CORNYN (R), TEXAS: This whole process has now become snakebit. That's a Texas term. But I think it's been prejudiced by the way that it's been handled. So, I think it makes it harder and harder for this to be sorted out. The attorney general's got the responsibility now to come up here, I think, and answer a lot of hard questions. And I think, in many ways, his future depends on how he handles that.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BASH: Now, once again, the attorney general is not scheduled to come here to Congress for another three weeks.

But, Wolf in the meantime, the ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, Arlen Specter, told us today he thinks maybe Monica Goodling should be given immunity in order to com up and testify. We asked her attorney whether he would go for that. He just responded, no comment -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Dana, thank you.

The political firestorm now consuming Washington has been in the making for years. Let's walk through how we got here.

Back in January 2005, the first administration e-mails were exchanged discussing the possibility of firing some or even all of the U.S. attorneys. Nearly two years later, in December 2006, the shakeup actually went down. The prosecutors were asked to hand in their resignations.

In January of this year, senators asked the attorney general about the prosecutor firings. He testifies under oath that he would never, ever -- quote -- "fire U.S. attorneys for political reasons."

This coming Thursday -- now we're in March of this year -- this Thursday, we will find out if Gonzales' former chief of staff, Kyle Sampson, will contradict his boss when Sampson testifies on Capitol Hill.

And, even though you probably have heard of Monica Goodling until now, who is this new lightning rod in the prosecutor shakeup scandal? Our Brian Todd will have an answer. That's coming up here in the next hour.

But coming up next: Her cancer and his decision to stay in the race have sparked a national debate. Now Americans are weighing in on John Edwards' heartbreak and his presidential hopes.

Plus, we're keeping a watch on Capitol Hill, as the U.S. Senate nears a showdown vote over Iraq and a timetable for bringing troops home. We are going to bring you the results from the floor of the Senate as soon as it happens.

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: There's been some changes going on in the polls.

Shaking up the race for the White House right now are one very, very famous face and one very sad health development involving a presidential candidate.

Our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider, is joining us with more.

First of all, Bill, do Americans support senator -- former Senator John Edwards' decision to stay in this race?

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. By 2-1, the public says they support Edwards' decision, which was made with his wife's support.

Now, we check with Gallup to see if men and women are in agreement on Edwards' decision. And they are. Both men and women support his decision to stay in the race by about 2-1.

BLITZER: Has this issue, this issue affected Edwards' standing among his fellow Democrats?

SCHNEIDER: A little. The Gallup poll shows Edwards gaining five points among Democrats, while other candidates have stayed more or less the same. But Edwards is still running third, behind Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, fourth if you include Al Gore, who says he has no plans to run.

Now, what happens if you ask Gore voters who their second choice is? Edwards' support does go up slightly, but he still runs third.

BLITZER: Now, Former Senator Fred Thompson of Tennessee, he is considering running for the presidency. He said that publicly. How would that affect the race?

SCHNEIDER: Well, you know, Thompson is a movie and a TV actor, and he has high name recognition. You add his name to the list, and he gets instant double-digit support, 12 percent among Republicans nationwide, putting him in third place, behind Rudy Giuliani and John McCain.

Now, who does Thompson take support from? Mostly Giuliani, who drops 13 points, although Giuliani does remain the front-runner. It suggests that a lot of Giuliani support is name recognition, and fairly soft. Thompson does very well with conservatives, many of whom are looking for an alternative to McCain and Giuliani.

You know, Mitt Romney has been trying to fashion himself as the conservative alternative. With Thompson in the race, Romney's support drops to just 3 percent.

BLITZER: All right, interesting numbers, indeed, Bill. Thank you.

And, as you saw a few moments ago, I spoke here with Arizona Senator and Republican presidential candidate John McCain. Tomorrow, it's Senator Barack Obama's turn, the senator from Illinois and Democratic presidential candidate. He will join us here in THE SITUATION ROOM tomorrow.

It's March madness, and our Internet reporter, Jacki Schechner, reports Mitt Romney is hoping college students will help him raise some money. Jacki, how is he going about doing that?

JACKI SCHECHNER, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Well, Wolf, what college kid doesn't want a little extra cash? That's what Romney's campaign is counting on.

His son and daughter-in-law have started a new campaign online called StudentsForMitt.com. Here's how it works. Students will have the chance to earn a 10 percent commission on the money that they raise over $1,000. So, if you raise $3,000, you get 300 bucks. There's also added incentive. The person who raises the most money in the first three months will win themselves a video iPod.

Now, the campaign says there are some regulations. You have got to be 18. You have got to be a full-time student. You have got to fill out an application. And, if you are accepted, then you will get all the tools you need to be an accredited fund-raiser.

Mitney does have -- Mitney -- excuse me -- Mitt Romney does have some support online from students already. He has got support on social networks like MySpace and on Facebook.

And then there's also this StudentsForMitt.org, which was started by students back in August -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jacki, thanks.

Jacki Schechner, Bill Schneider, both are part of the best political team on television.

The race for the White House tops today's "Political Radar."

The three Democratic presidential front-runners, Senator Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and former Senator and Democratic vice presidential nominee John Edwards, all spoke today here in Washington to the Communication Workers of America Union.

And while domestic issues dominated their comments, all three spoke out on the war in Iraq and the war on terror.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I am proud of the fact that I was opposed to this war from the start, that, in 2002, I said it was a bad idea.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

OBAMA: I am proud of the fact that I have got a bill in right now that says we have got to get our troops out by May 1 of -- we have to start getting our troops out by May 1 of this year, and have our combat troops out by March 31 of 2008. It's time to bring our troops out of Iraq.

JOHN EDWARDS (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We have to restore trust between Americans and their president. We have to restore trust between the president of the United States and the rest of the world. And the starting place there...

(APPLAUSE)

EDWARDS: The starting place there is this bleeding sore that is Iraq.

America -- listen, let me start with a very simple idea. America needs to be leaving Iraq.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

EDWARDS: And we need to start leaving right now.

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D), NEW YORK: I will always protect and defend America's interests. But I know we need to build alliances and coalitions, because we can't solve these problems on our own. If we're going to deal with...

(APPLAUSE)

CLINTON: If we're going to deal with the threat from terrorism and extremism, we got to have people on our side. We got to have the folks who know the bomb maker down the street and turn him in. We got to have people who are rooting for America, because we are the last, best hope of humanity.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: And, just minutes before Senator Clinton spoke, an anti-war protest broke out. The five protesters were escorted out of the forum. Code Pink is a feminist anti-war group.

It appears Rudy Giuliani is making a pitch for conservative voters. The Republican candidate is up with radio commercials on talk shows hosted by Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity.

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

You just heard him defend his position on the war in Iraq right here in THE SITUATION ROOM only minutes ago.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: I am confident hell won't freeze over. I am confident we can succeed if we stay with this strategy. And, if I'm wrong, we have got a lot more problems than anything it does to my political reputation.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Was that straight talk from Senator and presidential candidate John McCain?

J.C. Watts and Donna Brazile, they are standing by. They have plenty to say about that. Also in our "Strategy Session": Will Alberto Gonzales pay a price for his aide's refusal to testify before Congress? The growing fallout over those fired U.S. attorneys -- all that coming up right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: One man rising, as another falls.

In today's "Strategy Session," we want to talk about a poll showing how even the potential -- even the potential for the actor Fred Thompson running on the Republican presidential ticket is shaking up the race.

Joining us now are two CNN political analysts, Democratic strategist Donna Brazile, and J.C. Watts, a former Republican congressman from Oklahoma.

Want to get to Fred Thompson in a moment, but what about Senator McCain? You just heard him here in THE SITUATION ROOM. He made the case, give this new strategy, he says, in Iraq, a chance; a year from now, things are going to be a lot better.

DONNA BRAZILE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, unfortunately, it's not a new strategy.

This strategy has been tried on several occasions. And it did not meet success. What Senator McCain is saying is that, for now, there's been a drop in violence in Baghdad. But for how long? We know our troops are in the middle of a civil war. So, let's figure out a timetable to bring them home and responsibly transition their mission.

BLITZER: He says there already are some positive signs on the streets of Baghdad.

You buy that?

J.C. WATTS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: There are some positive signs, but, as he said, it -- that doesn't mean that it's over. And I think the fact that the violence has gone down, that in itself is a positive sign.

You have to give the al-Maliki government a chance to take root, allow the -- the reforms to take place. So, I do think that we have got a chance for success there. I do think it's a different strategy that was laid out 45, 60 days ago. And we see some signs of success, but we're not out of the woods yet.

BLITZER: The "USA Today"/Gallup poll, on the Republican side, either registered Republicans or those leaning Republican, Giuliani with 31 percent, McCain 22. But look at this. Fred Thompson, who was at zero, wasn't even thought a month or so ago, all of a sudden, he's at 12 percent by merely saying, "I'm thinking about doing that."

Who is the winner, who is the loser on the Republican side if Fred Thompson jumps in?

BRAZILE: Well, there's no question. I think John McCain.

Look, everyone thought that he would be the front-runner; he would raise the most money; he would pick up the most endorsements. And look at this survey. That's almost a fourth of the Republican Party. They are looking for an alternative to Mitt Romney and Rudy Giuliani.

BLITZER: Giuliani's numbers went down as a result of Fred Thompson already, his numbers going up. So, Giuliani, potentially, could be a big loser as well.

WATTS: Well, I think, Wolf and Donna, what this says, those numbers that we saw a few minutes ago, is that Republicans are kicking their tires and they're raising the hood.

I think those numbers are going to continue to be fluid. I think the only -- the only candidate that could actually jump in the race and have a double-digit lead, and it would be for real, would be Donna.

(LAUGHTER)

BRAZILE: Not as a Republican.

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: She's not running, as far as we know, though some people have suggested that she should run.

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: Some people would like you to come back out of retirement and run for political office.

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: We're going to leave it...

(CROSSTALK)

WATTS: Wolf, but one -- but one -- but one other note: I think the McCain numbers, and what we see with Giuliani and McCain, I don't think that means one thing.

I think we're surprised that Giuliani is doing as well as he is. We're surprised that John is not doing as well. But I don't think these numbers mean anything.

BLITZER: Let's talk about these numbers in this "USA Today"/Gallup poll numbers. Should Congress subpoena White House officials, like Karl Rove, former White House counsel Harriet Miers? Sixty-eight percent favor that; 24 percent oppose that.

What do you think?

BRAZILE: Look, I think the White House is in serious trouble. And with Ms. Goodling's decision to plead the Fifth...

BLITZER: Monica Goodling, a top aide to Alberto Gonzales who doesn't want to testify.

(CROSSTALK)

BRAZILE: But she was in the middle of all of it. She was the liaison to the White House from the Justice Department. All of the e- mails circle back to her.

So, I think the White House will -- should force her or compel her to testify.

WATTS: I don't think it looks good that Monica...

BLITZER: Goodling.

WATTS: ... Goodling that she -- she took the Fifth.

But, you know, Wolf, in light of what happened during the Scooter Libby trial, and he said/she said, and all the muddy waters we saw there, it doesn't surprise me that she did.

But, again, I still don't think it's good for the administration. And, in my opinion, I think there are some interesting things going on here. And, if there's cover-ups, or if there were political firings, I think heads need to roll.

It's -- it's wrong for Republicans to do it. It's wrong for Democrats to do it. It should have no place in the political arena. And we will get to the bottom of it, but it does not look good for her taking the Fifth.

BRAZILE: I endorse that.

BLITZER: All right, we will leave it there.

Donna, J.C., thanks for coming in.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Donna Brazile and J.C. Watts, as you know, they are part of the best political team on television.

Up next, it's Tony Blair's dilemma, and it's Jack Cafferty question: How should Britain try to free its captured troops from Iran?

And, don't forget, Senator and presidential candidate Barack Obama, he will be joining us here in THE SITUATION ROOM tomorrow. Will his political honeymoon wear off any time soon? We will see how he does here in THE SITUATION ROOM. That's coming up tomorrow.

Stay with us. We will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: Let's check in with Jack Cafferty. He's got "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: The question is: How should Britain go about trying to win the release of its captured sailors and Marines from Iran?

Steve in Ohio writes: "Great Britain should negotiate for one week and then attack, period, case closed, next case. The only thing Iran understands and respects is the use of force."

David in Chicago: "Too bad they can't elect Ronald Reagan. That always seemed to help."

Gerald in Tampa: "Nothing should be done. It's a phony crisis. Blair, Bush and the Australian prime minister cannot be trusted. And shame on us if we fall for these tricks again."

J. in Los Angeles: "That's easy. Britain should contact President Bush, tell him they have intelligence that shows Iran plotting to kill his daddy."

John in Buffalo, New York: "The British government persuading the U.S. to release the Iranian diplomats detained by the American military in December of 2006 might be a good start. After all, they were in Baghdad attending a conference at the invitation of Iraq's president."

Mike in Wethersfield, Connecticut: "Britain should do what the United States does when an act of war is thrust upon your country: Attack the country next door to the perpetrator.'

And Bill in North Carolina says: "Threaten Iran with a personal visit from Prince Charles and Camilla. That would freak me out" -- Wolf.

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: See you in a few moments, Jack. Thanks.

The Democratic Party already working to bring down potential 2008 Republican opponents -- they are using some new technology and the Internet to track Republicans' every move on the campaign trail.

Jacki Schechner has the story.

What are you picking up, Jacki?

SCHECHNER: Well, Wolf, you remember George Allen's macaca moment?

Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. GEORGE ALLEN (R), VIRGINIA: Let's give a welcome to macaca here.

(APPLAUSE)

ALLEN: Welcome to America and the real world of Virginia.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCHECHNER: Now, this video was caught on camera by Allen's Democratic opponent. And the DNC is now hoping that people will remember the impact this had in '06 and give money -- money towards doing the same thing in '08.

The DNC has sent out an e-mail asking for money from video crews. They want to put crews on the ground in early primary states to track each and every Republican candidate.

They say in this e-mail they are asking for money to fund research teams. What they want to do is build a narrative, they say, so that Democrats can use it once the primary season is over, whoever that nominee happens to be, though, what they say is that, since the Internet is making things so much easier to get and to distribute, they need a state-of-the-art operation, and that is what the money would go towards. They're calling it their research team.

We reached out to the RNC if to ask if they had any -- had anything comparable, and they say that their research team has been up and running for some time, and they're using their fund-raising effort for other things -- Wolf.

BLITZER: It's called opposition research.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Thanks very much for that, Jacki.

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