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THE SITUATION ROOM

Senate Majority Leader Threatens to Cut Off Funding for Iraq War; House Speaker Pelosi to Meet With Syrian President

Aired April 2, 2007 - 17:00   ET

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


SUZANNE MALVEAUX, HOST: And, of course, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Happening now, high stakes between the White House and Congress getting even higher. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid now threatening to cut off funding for the war in Iraq.

Also, the White House increasingly at odds with the Democratic House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, about to become the highest ranking to meet with Syrian President Bashar Assad.

Is she overstepping her role?

And as Britain works to free its sailors and marines being held captive in Iran, an American man is now missing in that country -- a former FBI official.

Wolf Blitzer is off today.

I'm Suzanne Malveaux and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

The top Senate Democrat is upping the ante in the showdown with the White House over Iraq. Majority Leader Harry Reid now openly threatening a vote on cut off funding for the war if and -- I say if -- President Bush vetoes a bill setting a March 2008 deadline for U.S. troops to withdraw.

Let's go straight to Ed Henry at the White House -- clearly, the White House cannot be happy with this.

ED HENRY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Suzanne.

The president himself stayed out of the fray. He was behind closed doors, a secure videoconference with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

But two of the president's top surrogates firing away at Harry Reid.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

HENRY (voice-over): Senate majority leader is ratcheting up pressure on the president, backing a new bill to cut off most Iraq war funding by next March, sparking a double-barreled assault from the White House.

DICK CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's time the self-appointed strategists on Capitol Hill understood a very simple concept -- you cannot win a war if you tell the enemy when you're going to quit.

DANA PERINO, DEPUTY WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: There's just these shifting sands when it comes to the Democrats and their decisions. It's almost shifting so fast it's like a sandstorm.

HENRY: Reid's spokesman, Jim Manley, fired back: "The only thing that has shifted is the public's opposition to the war in Iraq, as more and more Americans demand to see the troops get out of what is clearly a civil war, this administration continues to stubbornly stick its head in the sand."

GEORGE BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'll veto a bill...

HENRY: Both sides were already fighting over a war funding bill the president has promised to veto because of a provision calling for U.S. troops to start leaving Iraq within 120 days.

Reid has now also signed onto a bill sponsored by anti-war Democrat Russ Feingold that would only allow war spending in three areas -- fighting al Qaeda, training Iraqis and securing the U.S. embassy in Baghdad.

While neither bill has much chance to become law, Democrats say it's about forcing Mr. Bush to change policy.

REP. CHARLES RANGEL (D), NEW YORK: That signal is that, Mr. President, no president can successfully wage a war when the American people are not supporting you.

HENRY: By the White House shows no signs of budging.

CHENEY: It's nothing less than an attempt to force the president's hand. They're going to find out they've misread George W. Bush.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

HENRY: Now, both sides were already at each other's throats on this issue, they're just digging in deeper -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: So, Ed, is the thinking here that even if the White House loses, they win, ultimately?

HENRY: Well, the White House does believe they have Harry Reid on the defensive because if you remember, right after the last election, Reid said that while the Democrats would be tough on Iraq policy, they would stop short of cutting off funding for the war.

Now it appears Reid is backpedaling from that -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: Thanks very much. Ed Henry at the White House.

HENRY: Thank you.

MALVEAUX: And Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is promising to bring that bill cutting off most of Iraq War funding to a vote within the next two months if President Bush vetoes a timetable to withdraw troops.

Joining us now, Michael Ware -- tell me, you're on the ground. The situation there, what would happen if the U.S. government pulled most of the funding out for U.S. troops by March of next year?

MICHAEL WARE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Suzanne, it would be an American nightmare. If Congress decided to cut off the flow of finances, if America decides to stop paying for this war and the fight grinds to a halt, then the people who would benefit will be the enemies that identified -- al Qaeda and Iran particularly.

Because there's no one else to pick up the mantle of the fight and carry it forward. Within Iraq, there would be unimaginable bloodshed. And, as the former chief of Central Command, General Abizaid, forewarned, there would also certainly regional warfare within the broader Middle East that, without a shadow of a doubt would not only produce more terrorists, but would ultimately, eventually, blow back on the United States of America.

MALVEAUX: Could the Maliki government survive such a -- such a pullout and reducing those funds?

WARE: Not at all. Not at all. If these funds are cut off, not only does it rip the carpet out from underneath the feet of the American troops here on the ground, but given that America is underwriting the Maliki government, certainly in terms of finances, it would see this brittle administration here in Iraq crumble, as well.

Again, who would be the victor?

No one but Iran. Iran already has much greater political influence here in this country than Washington does.

So if the pipeline of money stops, there's nothing to stop Iran consolidating its power. Now, while I understand that Democrats and their posturing like this on the finance issues in Congress reflects the mood of America, here on the ground, it just means trouble and a nightmare end to this war.

MALVEAUX: But, Michael, what about the alternatives?

There are some Democrats who say maybe we should redeploy, put U.S. troops outside of Baghdad and perhaps outside of the country, and they'll be ready to go if such a crisis happens.

WARE: Well, again, this is not a new concept. There is now a new strategy. This is the policy of containment -- pull back, seal what borders we can -- because let's bear in mind, Iraq's longest land border is with Iran and there will be no U.S. troops on that border.

There's no guarantee Turkey will allow U.S. troops on its border, either.

And Syria?

Do you think Syria is going to allow U.S. soldiers and Marines on its territory, to police Iraq?

I don't think so.

And you want to make it a precondition that the troops will move in if something arises?

There is no if. And you'll see America's Arab allies, who have been screaming about the disaster they see here in Iraq, particularly Saudi Arabia, becoming much more overtly involved in this fight on the Sunni side.

MALVEAUX: Michael Ware, thank you so much for keeping it all in perspective.

WARE: Good night.

MALVEAUX: And missing in Iran, an American citizen and former FBI official out of touch with his family for more than a week now, prompting the State Department to take action.

CNN's State Department correspondent Zain Verjee joining us with the very latest.

What do we know -- Zain.

ZAIN VERJEE, CNN STATE DEPARTMENT CORRESPONDENT: Suzanne, the U.S. is hunting for a missing American in Iran.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

VERJEE (voice-over): Officials tell CNN the missing American disappeared several weeks ago from the resort island of Kish, off the southern coast of Iran.

SEAN MCCORMACK, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESMAN: He is a private citizen. He was there on private business.

VERJEE: The State Department insists he's not currently working in any way for the U.S. government. The FBI confirms he retired 10 years ago. As an agent, he followed organized crime in the U.S. but did not work in an intelligence capacity. Officials say he was working for an independent author and producer and was in Iran trying to arrange an interview.

It's been weeks since he's been in touch with the employer or his family. The U.S. is treating this as a missing persons case and has been monitoring the situation, but after coming up dry, is now taking action -- formal contact with Iran. MCCORMACK: Today, we are sending to the Iranian government, through the Swiss channel, an inquiry as to whether they have any information on his welfare and whereabouts.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

VERJEE: And, Suzanne, officials say that they have no indication at this point that the missing American is being held by Iranians.

CNN has also placed calls to Iranian officials and we're waiting for some kind of response on this -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: And, of course, this is happening at the same time that you have those British sailors that are being held captive.

Is there any link that you're seeing?

VERJEE: Well, the State Department has made that very clear. From their position, there is absolutely no link to this case and the stuff that we've been seeing in the news about the British sailors. Specifically, they say that this man disappeared several weeks ago, before the British sailors were captured.

But there are a lot of moving parts here and we're still trying to work out the details -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: And I notice, as well, we saw President Bush over the weekend calling the British sailors' captivity hostages. That has not happened in the case of this individual. Obviously, on very different levels politics.

VERJEE: Absolutely, a very different level. No one is calling them hostages here at the State Department. They're being called captives or detainees.

But the State Department really, on urgence of the British, have really toned it down, Suzanne. They're not hyping anything up here. They're taking a very measured approach to the whole thing and essentially saying release the British captives, release their equipment safely and immediately.

MALVEAUX: OK, thanks again, Zain Verjee.

And, of course, Jack Cafferty in New York with traffic -- Jack, what do you have for us?

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: President Bush continued his support for Attorney General Alberto Gonzales this weekend, calling him honorable and honest.

Gonzales is scheduled to testify before Congress April 17th about his role in the controversial firing of those eight U.S. attorneys.

The Bush administration is pushing for an earlier date for that hearing, but Congress isn't having any of that. The Senate is on vacation this week. The House is off for the next two weeks. Hey, they've been in session for less than a couple of months now, it's time for a vacation.

Calls for Gonzales to resign have been getting louder from Capitol Hill and beyond. Five-term Republican Congressman Lee Terry from Nebraska the latest lawmaker to join the chorus demanding that Gonzales go away. He was heard to say that this weekend.

Even the conservative magazine, "The National Review," is calling for Gonzales to resign.

But President Bush is having none of it.

So here's the question -- is President Bush making a mistake by continuing to support Attorney General Alberto Gonzales?

E-mail us at caffertyfile@cnn.com or go to cnn.com/caffertyfile.

MALVEAUX: Jack, thanks so much.

And, of course, up ahead, out of the inner circle -- a former top adviser to President Bush now turning publicly on the man he helped get elected.

Also, the speaker of the House on a controversial mission to Syria. Find out why some say this trip is out of bounds.

And bringing Americans together -- a former presidential candidate says both Democrats and Republicans have failed.

What is the answer?

I'll talk with former Senator Bill Bradley.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MALVEAUX: He is a Hall of Famer basketball star, a three-term Democratic senator of New Jersey and former presidential hopeful.

Bill Bradley's new book, "The New American Story," takes a close look at the failures of Republican and Democratic Parties and what can be done to bring Americans back together?

Joining us, Bill Bradley.

It's nice to see you again.

I covered your campaign.

It's good to have you here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Now...

BILL BRADLEY, AUTHOR, "THE NEW AMERICAN STORY": Good to be here.

MALVEAUX: As you can tell, I read your book...

BRADLEY: Oh, wow!

MALVEAUX: ... you can see by all of the Post-Its, over the weekend.

BRADLEY: You're definitely flattering me there.

MALVEAUX: You don't give anybody a break -- Democrats, Republicans.

I want to first put up a quote here. This is for the Democrats: "The Democrats' final curse is that we are hypnotized by charisma. Many of us are still waiting for another charismatic leader whom we can invest with powers more magical than real."

You look at this race, this sounds an awful lot a candidate like Barack Obama.

BRADLEY: Well, I think Barack Obama is certainly the rock star of the current campaign. He's getting 20,000 people. But I think the point I was making was that you have to build a structure. Republicans have built a structure since 1971, with money, ideas, political slogans, media and at the top of that pyramid is the Republican presidential candidate.

For Democrats, invert the pyramid. Every Democratic candidate has to invent a whole pyramid just for himself or herself.

And what I'm saying is that while charisma is fine, it's not sufficient. You have to have structure if the party is going to win in the long-term.

For example, eight years of Bill Clinton in the president -- a charismatic leader to a certain extent. At the end of eight years, sure, Democratic congressmen, senators, governors, state legislatures and the party in deep debt.

MALVEAUX: So you think the Democrats are falling into the same track here where they look at somebody like, you know, a superstar, Barack Obama?

BRADLEY: No, I think that Barack is actually touching what I tried to touch in 2000, which is the inherent sense of idealism in the American people and the hope that you can build a better country and build a better day.

MALVEAUX: Would you endorse his candidacy?

BRADLEY: Well, no. He's got to do a couple of things. No, I'm under no illusion that my endorsement means anything. I wrote the book trying to build a consensus around some issues, to get people to focus, again, on the real issues that affect people's lives, which are jobs, pensions, health care and education. MALVEAUX: Which candidate...

BRADLEY: The other issues are peripheral. Focus on the issues. Barack needs to take the rock star status, transfer it into three or four key issues that he has specific proposals on.

The other thing he needs to do is when that light is shown on you, like it's now shining on him, he's got to reflect it back on the people and empower them so that they know they're the ones that will bring change to America.

MALVEAUX: What does Hillary Clinton need to do?

BRADLEY: I think she's got to show her soul. I think that she's got to show a certain vulnerability. That's what I think her challenge is.

MALVEAUX: Are there any candidates that are out there that you would endorse, that you would publicly support, that are running the kind of campaign that you argue for in your book?

BRADLEY: Well, as I said, I'm not expecting much of an endorsement but...

MALVEAUX: But who would you endorse?

Has anybody approached you for endorsements?

BRADLEY: No, I've talked to a number of the candidates. I mean, I think in terms of who's offering specific proposals, John Edwards is offering specific proposals on health care, on energy, on poverty.

And I think that that's, ultimately, a necessary prerequisite to being taken seriously at a time where people want to hear the truth, they want to have country ahead of party and they want to be told exactly what someone is going to do to make their lives better on the issues that affect them everyday.

Not peripheral issues, not all the social issues, but on how do I get a good job at good pay, how do I make sure Social Security is solid and get Social Security Plus; how do I cover everybody with health insurance; and how do I make our education system ready to deal with the 21st century?

MALVEAUX: Let me show you what you say about Republicans: "Republicans can't begin to solve the problems facing America. They offer simplistic and ideological answers and serve whoever has the biggest bankroll. They can issue no clear call to the nation without appealing to fear, greed, nostalgia and prejudice."

That's -- that's very critical here.

BRADLEY: Yes.

MALVEAUX: We just saw Republicans who raised a lot of money, Democrats who raised a lot of money. How are they going to change their stripes here?

BRADLEY: Well, I think...

MALVEAUX: Honestly, both sides are raising a lot of money here...

BRADLEY: Yes. Well, it's...

MALVEAUX: ... and it's dominating the campaign.

BRADLEY: Well, money -- I call this buffalo money time. This is raising money to buffalo someone out of the race. It's -- it's important to raise money, but it's not essential at a time where telling the truth, I think, is more essential.

MALVEAUX: Why do you think that? Is that because people are asking for the truth?

I mean you look at the campaigns and they're running it just like they did last time.

BRADLEY: No, I think that the candidate who's inside the iron triangle, with the candidate, the consultant and the fundraiser, is going to end up unable to break out and touch people where they live their lives.

The Republicans, you know, well, they've been captured by three factions out of the 12 factions of the Republican Party. They've been captured by the messianists, who want to spread American values around the world by force if necessary; by the fundamentalists, who want to have their version of morality forced on people through government; and by the corporatists, who want to have their way with government.

The last six years has shown that when you don't like government, you hire incompetents.

MALVEAUX: Well, who...

BRADLEY: And incompetents don't deliver for people, either in Katrina or Walter Reed.

MALVEAUX: Who's honest in this campaign? Who do you think is telling the American people the truth?

BRADLEY: Well, I think that -- right now, I think John Edwards is telling people the truth. I think Joe Biden is telling people the truth.

John Edwards has been specific on domestic policy. Joe Biden has been specific on foreign policy.

MALVEAUX: What about the Iraq War? Who's been truthful about the Iraq War?

Obviously McCain says don't pull the troops out. Others are calling for the troops to come out.

BRADLEY: Yes.

MALVEAUX: Who do you think is being...

BRADLEY: I think that more the Democrats than the Republicans...

MALVEAUX: Why?

BRADLEY: ... because the law -- the war was based on a lie and that has proven to be obviously false.

What we need is an orderly withdrawal. The military has to tell us how to do that. You have to admit that a mistake was made and that you're going to withdraw and then the military will tell us how long that takes.

MALVEAUX: I've got two more questions for you, really quickly here.

Of course, you ran against Al Gore. He is -- he was up, he won an Oscar, a lot of attention around him. A lot of people want him to jump back in the race.

Do you think he is the kind of candidate who could carry your message, run that kind of campaign?

BRADLEY: Well, I think he would be a strong candidate, no question about that. He's affected the world on the issue of global warming.

The real question is what is any candidate's position on health care? What -- are they going to -- how are they going to cover everybody? What is their position on education? What should the federal government do to establish national standards and make teachers qualified and paid effectively? And what are they going to do on pensions?

What is the -- I want the first candidate to tell me what are they going to do on Social Security to make it solvent for 75 years. When that happens, you know you've got somebody who's leveling with you.

MALVEAUX: And, senator, the last question.

You say in your book here, you don't have political ambitions. But, clearly, you outline a way forward here, a campaign, a new direction.

Do you really -- you don't have any political ambitions here?

BRADLEY: No, I have no...

MALVEAUX: You have no intentions?

BRADLEY: No, I have no ambition for office. What I'm trying to do -- people have come to me in the last four years. They fall into two categories. One category says well, what should we do?

The other category says I know what we should do, but I don't think it's possible.

"The New American Story" lays out what we should do and what it's possible. I want to see a consensus built around these issues so that we focus on what the American people really want their government to focus on and not on the peripheral issues.

And then the how we'll save for another program.

MALVEAUX: Thank you very much, senator.

Appreciate your time.

Didn't make the news that you were jumping in the race, but that's OK.

Enjoy the book.

Coming up, U.S. airlines set a record, but it is not one to be proud of. We'll show you the results of a new quality report, and you can use it to plan your next trip.

Plus, another deadly tsunami in the Pacific destroying entire villages.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MALVEAUX: Brianna Keilar is monitoring the wires and keeping an eye on the video feeds from around the world.

She joins us with a closer look on what's going on -- what have you found?

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, checking the bottom line, Suzanne, Wall Street is beginning the week on a positive note. The Dow Jones ended the day up 28 points, to close at 12,382. Stocks rallied on news of several take over bids, including the $29 billion buyout offer for credit card processor First Data Corp.

The Nasdaq and the S&P 500 also finished slightly higher.

Late flights, lost luggage and bumped passengers -- sound familiar?

Well, researchers have just released their annual airline quality rating report, which finds all those problems increased in 2006 for the third year in a row. And this year is already seeing travel hassles.

The Transportation Department says February was the worst month for U.S. airlines on time performance since 2000. So not good news there -- Suzanne. MALVEAUX: Brianna, thanks so much, keeping us up to date on all the latest issues.

And, of course, for more on airline passenger complaints and lost baggage, let's go to our Internet reporter, Jacki Schechner -- Jacki, of course, you know which airlines have the highest, the lowest rating in this report. We've all been through this hassle.

What are you following?

JACKI SCHECHNER, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Well, not great news for those of us who like to fly.

Hawaiian Air came in top of the list and Atlantic Southeast fell to the bottom.

But, overall, only a couple of airlines that made any gains. Northwest Airlines and U.S. Air were the only ones that improved this year. Everybody else stayed flat or declined. The largest drop was American Eagle from American Airlines.

Like I said, Hawaiian Air topped the list. They were also number one in on time performance.

Southwest came in sixth, but they are consistently the airline with the least amount of customer complaints.

JetBlue was number one last year. This year they fell to two.

And AirTran, which was number two, fell down to the third spot -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: So, Jacki, how does the airline industry explain this?

SCHECHNER: Well, the Air Transport Association released a statement online today and what they said is that this quality report address the symptoms of the problems and not the cause, the symptoms being the fact that weather and congestion causes delays, people get upset. And they think all of this could be helped, at least a little bit, if the government updated our air traffic control system.

So they see that to be the foundation of many of these problems.

MALVEAUX: Well, we hope those problems are solved either way.

SCHECHNER: Yes, absolutely.

MALVEAUX: OK, thanks, Jacki.

SCHECHNER: Any time.

MALVEAUX: And coming up, a high level and a controversial mission to Syria.

Is House Speaker Nancy Pelosi engaging in dangerous diplomacy?

I'll ask our world affairs analyst, former Defense Secretary William Cohen.

Plus, he helped President Bush get elected twice. Now, a former member of the inner circle is coming out against him. Find out why he says he is disappointed in the Bush presidency.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MALVEAUX: You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Happening now, gunfire rang out at the University of Washington campus in Seattle today. Police say a man shot to death his ex- girlfriend and then fatally shot himself.

An inmate who escaped from an Ohio prison today is now back in custody. Police captured Billy Jack Fitzmorris inside a suburban Columbus house where had holed up. Authorities say he overpowered a guard at a hospital and robbed two banks before he was apprehended.

And the city of Seattle has agreed to pay $1 million to settle claims. One hundred seventy-five protesters who were wrongly arrested. The demonstrators were protesting a 1999 World Trade Organization meeting. As part of the settlement, Seattle will also include training for police officers.

Wolf Blitzer is off today. I'm Suzanne Malveaux. And you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

The White House is not happy and not mincing words about House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's upcoming visit to Syria, where she'll become the highest-ranking American to meet with President Bashar al-Assad.

We're going to go back to the White House with Ed Henry.

Obviously very upsetting here for the administration.

ED HENRY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Suzanne.

The White House spokeswoman, Dana Perino, today firing away at both Democratic leaders on the Hill, Harry Reid in the Senate for backing this bill that would cut off most funding for the war in Iraq, but then also Speaker Pelosi for planning to meet this week with President Assad. Perino charging that going to Damascus for Pelosi, this sends exactly the wrong message, that President Assad is just going to exploit this photo-op.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DANA PERINO, DEP. WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Syria uses these opportunities to flaunt photo opportunities around its country and around the region and around the world to say that they aren't isolated, that they don't need to change their behavior. And it alleviates the pressure that we are trying to put on them to change their behavior.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HENRY: Made no apologies for the visit today, though, telling reporters she believes there's great hope that she can open a door here with a new diplomatic initiative to Syria. That maybe by talking to them, they will stop supporting terror.

And she has some political cover there since the fact that late last year the Iraq Study Group also called for such a new diplomatic initiative from the Bush administration. The White House not buying that at all. Perino basically saying Secretary of State Colin Powell, earlier in the administration, when he was secretary of state, he tried that, it didn't work. The White House doesn't believe it will work now -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: So, Ed, what do we know about Republicans on this trip?

HENRY: Well, it's interesting. There was a separate group of Republican lawmakers in Syria this past weekend. They also met with President Assad.

You have a lot of liberals saying it's hypocritical for the White House to just be attacking Pelosi. Today, Dana Perino insisted it's a blanket policy that the White House is against Democrats or Republicans going and meeting with President Assad. But certainly the White House in the last couple of days has been more vocal about attacking Pelosi -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: Ed, thanks again.

And is the White House right when it says House Speaker Pelosi is playing into Syria's hands by visiting Damascus? Pelosi doesn't think so.

CNN world affairs analyst and former defense secretary William Cohen joining us now in THE SITUATION ROOM to talk about this.

She has said, Nancy Pelosi, that not only is she going to Syria, but she's delivering a message from the Israeli prime minister to say, look, you k now, stop supporting the terrorists and perhaps we'll talk.

Is this appropriate?

WILLIAM COHEN, FMR. DEFENSE SECRETARY: Well, it's one thing for Speaker Pelosi to travel there and to visit with the president. The question is, is she conducting diplomacy?

Under our system, the president of the United States is the chief architect. He's not the sole architect. He's the chief architect of foreign policy and the chief executor of foreign policy.

That's not to say that members of Congress don't have a role to play. The question here is, we have a divided government, should we have a divided foreign policy? We're seeing that now play out both on Iraq and now with her trip to Syria. MALVEAUX: So what do you think? Do you think it's appropriate that she's there carrying a message from Israel?

COHEN: I think it would have been better had President Bush adopted the Baker-Hamilton report that would have recommended this, as a matter of fact. But I think no doubt her trip will, in fact, weaken the president's position.

He now will be forced to either get tougher in his rhetoric and his position in dealing with Syria, or soften it, in which case it would look as if he is following her lead. So, it puts him in a very difficult position.

It also -- we should point out, when the president of the United States or his secretary of state goes to the head of the state of another country, a great deal of preparation is involved. Lots of position policy papers and position papers are presented, takeaways, what's going to come out of this. And you never go to a country to meet with a head of state unless you have some specific things you want to achieve on behalf of the administration.

In this particular case, I think it's more of a statement that we're opening up. We want to talk with you. But I think it would be inappropriate to conduct foreign policy on her behalf. I think she's just having a meeting.

MALVEAUX: Why do you suppose that the Israeli prime minister has gone along with this? I mean, he has a good relationship with the president and this administration.

COHEN: Well, we have heard for several weeks now that there's something under way between the Israelis and the Syrians. And maybe he is just seizing upon an inevitability here that Speaker Pelosi is going. It's an opportunity for him to also send a message that the Israelis perhaps are prepared to talk to the Syrians.

When I was in office at the Pentagon, the Syrians and the Israelis came very close to resolving a major difference about the Golan Heights. It may be that these talks are under way again.

Again, it would have been better had the president and secretary of state conducted this particular mission. But if the Israelis are willing to talk to the Syrians on some basis, that's a positive sign, not a negative.

MALVEAUX: I want to turn to Iraq. We heard from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who is proposing new legislation perhaps to cut most of the funding out of Iraq by -- I guess this was March -- March of next year.

Now, you have been a senator. You've also been a cabinet member. What do you think of his behavior? Do you think that's correct?

COHEN: I don't like deadlines as a practical matter. But, once again, looking at this particular issue, the president has said he wants more time. General Petraeus has said, give me eight months. I think this policy of supporting the president for funding will last until about September, and then you're going to start to see more and under pressure being brought against the administration. So, putting a date next -- next March is probably safe for Harry Reid. But I think that I don't like deadlines for the most part, and I think in this particular case, even though the reality is such, unless we show progress by, let's say, September, I think support for the president is going to evaporate on both the Republican and Democratic sides.

MALVEAUX: Thank you very much.

Secretary Cohen.

COHEN: Glad to be here.

MALVEAUX: And there are new developments in the standoff between Britain and Iran over those captive U.S. sailors and marines, including signs Tehran may be seeking resolution in the crisis.

CNN Senior International Correspondent Matthew Chance is in London.

Matthew, what do you have in terms of the latest?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SR. INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Suzanne, we have more pictures that have been broadcast on Iranian state television of these 15 captured sailors and marines, captured in the Persian Gulf 11 days ago. As you mentioned, there are also hints that there could be some progress being made towards them being released.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CHANCE (voice over): Iranians say all 15 captured British sailors and marines have admitted to trespassing in their waters and have apologized. British authorities condemn the confessions as coerced.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, I would like to say to the Iranian people, I can understand why you're so angry about our intrusion into your waters.

CHANCE: And Iran has been sending mixed signals on what it intends to do next. Protesters hold rocks and fireworks at the British Embassy in Tehran at the weekend, but Iranian officials say confessions of the prisoners will no longer be broadcast because of unspecified positive steps by the British. There are signs some in Iran want this crisis resolved.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Definitely, our priority is to solve through a diplomatic channels.

CHANCE: At this sensitive point nothing is certain. But there are now at least hopes quiet diplomatic contacts can yield some kind of result. (END VIDEOTAPE)

CHANCE: And British officials, Suzanne, say that they will be in contact with their counterparts in Iran on Tuesday to try and determine what progress, if any, can be made.

MALVEAUX: Well, Matthew, is there a general sense that this is going to end soon?

CHANCE: Well, there's certainly a general hope this could -- could end soon. But the fact is, in Iran, there are lots of competing agendas. It doesn't speak with one voice. There will be hard-liners and there will be moderates competing for the ear of the supreme leader, who will eventually make the decision on how to proceed in this crisis with Britain -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: Matthew Chance, thank you so much.

And up ahead, a high-level defection from inside President Bush's inner circle. Find out why a former top strategist now says he is disappointed with the president.

Plus, earthquakes spawn a deadly wave. Details of the latest tsunami to ravish the Pacific.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MALVEAUX: It's among the highest level of defections ever from President Bush's inner circle. A former top adviser now voicing his disappointment and disapproval of the president's leadership.

CNN's Brian Todd joining us live.

Brian, who is that former aide?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Suzanne, it is Matthew Dowd, one of the architects of the president's re-election in 2004. Now, this is a significant break, because for the first time, an inside player from Mr. Bush's Texas-based political team has turned on him publicly.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TODD (voice over): As a strategist for President Bush's 2004 election, Matthew Dowd was second only to Karl Rove.

MATTHEW DOWD, FMR. BUSH ADVISER: We all are in this together.

TODD: Now Dowd tells "The New York Times" he is disappointed in his former boss. Citing the Iraq war, the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and other issues, Dowd says George W. Bush has "... become more, in my view, secluded and bubbled in."

A scripted coordinated response from the White House. First from counselor to the president, Dan Bartlett. DAN BARTLETT, COUNSELOR TO THE PRESIDENT: He's gone through a lot of personal turmoil. But also, he has a son who is soon to be deployed to Iraq. That could only impact a parent's mind as they think through these issues.

TODD: Then from Deputy Press Secretary Dana Perino...

PERINO: Well, I think that he's had some personal hardship, and also he has a son who has volunteered to serve in our armed forces, and he's going to be deploying to Iraq. And I can only imagine that that affects a parent's thinking.

TODD: In addition to Dowd's son going to Iraq, they're loosely referring to the death of a daughter and his divorce.

Dowd issued a statement saying Bartlett is a friend and believes he meant to be kind. But another friend of Dowd's tells CNN it's inaccurate to peg this to personal problems. And Republican strategist Vin Weber says something else is at play.

VIN WEBER, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: The people that came with George Bush, if you will, in 2000, whether directly with him or as part of his political support team, really saw the presidency transformed into something other than they had expected when they backed him.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: Meaning, says Weber, that some Bush loyalists never thought the president would be so fundamentally changed by 9/11 and the Iraq war -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: Brian, is there anything else that Dowd's friends or associates are saying about White House reaction?

TODD: They are saying, in addition to Republican strategists telling me, that although the White House has taken a fairly moderate tone in public to this, that they are fuming behind the scenes. One of them saying, "There is smoke coming out of the White House over this situation."

MALVEAUX: Brian Todd, thank you very much.

TODD: Thank you.

MALVEAUX: Not surprising.

(NEWSBREAK)

MALVEAUX: Up ahead, criticizing Nancy Pelosi. The former U.S. ambassador to the U.N. gives the House speaker a piece of his mind about traveling to Syria. That's in our 7:00 p.m. Eastern hour.

Also, a killer tsunami clobbers the Solomon Islands. We'll have the latest in a live report next.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MALVEAUX: A horrific scene in the Solomon Islands in the South Pacific. A tsunami crashed ashore early today. At least 13 people were killed. Entire villages have been destroyed.

CNN meteorologist Rob Marciano joining us now.

(WEATHER REPORT)

MALVEAUX: Up next, President Bush is still calling his friend Alberto Gonzales honorable and honest. Jack Cafferty wants to know if you think the president's support of the attorney general is a mistake. Your e-mail when we come back.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MALVEAUX: Time now to check back with Jack Cafferty.

Jack, what have you got for us?

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Is President Bush continuing to support Attorney General Alberto Gonzales a mistake, in your opinion?

Soni writes from Oregon, "Most definitely. The least that we've come away with here is an uncertainty that this man Gonzales is familiar enough with the law to understand that his loyalty is to us, not Bush."

James in Maryland, "President Bush should not ask for his resignation. When Clinton got elected, he fired 92 federal attorneys and nobody said anything. How come? They are strictly political appointees."

"What's wrong with replacing a couple of them? Why are the Democrats and you making a big deal about political appointments?"

Stefan in Virginia, "The mistake was committed by the Democrats when they took impeachment off the table. Now we have a wild-wielding president and a vice president who have nothing to lose, so they'll continue to do whatever they please."

Neil in Las Vegas, Nevada, "The president's statement that the attorney general is honest shows how completely out of touch this administration is. Gonzales is in trouble with Congress not as much for the firings as for lying to the congressional committee charged with his oversight and for approving false statements being attached to the ousted attorneys' employment files."

Mike in Charlotte, "Alberto Gonzales is the Titanic in this administration, George Bush is the captain. When the ship gets ready to capsize and go under, Bush will jump in another boat and throw Gonzales a rock." Doris in Florida, "The president can't let Gonzales go. Remember all those years Gonzales was in Bush's business in Texas? Who can let all those secrets out?"

If you didn't see your e-mail here, you can go to cnn.com/caffertyfile, where we post more of them online, along with video clips of "The File" -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: Well, Jack, it looks like it's equal good news, bad news here.

CAFFERTY: What's the good news? That it's 6:00 and we get to go to dinner.

MALVEAUX: One more hour, of course.

OK.

"LOU DOBBS TONIGHT" starts right now.

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