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Bush's Thoughts on Reid's Comments; Prison Riot in Indiana.

Aired April 24, 2007 - 16:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, HOST: Happening now, a heavyweight fight over Iraq with funding for the war at stake. The president and the vice president delivering a stinging one-two punch. And the Senate majority leader firing back with equal anger.
Also this hour, the Iraqi prime minister's struggle to try to hold on.

Amid new security breaches and bloodshed, has Nuri Al-Maliki lost the confidence of top Iraqi lawmakers?

Plus, Karl Rove in the crosshairs. The president's political operation facing investigation from inside the Bush administration.

Is this a ticking time bomb for the White House?

I'm Wolf Blitzer.


This hour, the partisan fire over the war in Iraq is getting more explosive and more personal. President Bush and Vice President Cheney are both playing bad cop today against the man who says the administration is in a state of denial and the war is lost. That would be the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid.

This war of words is playing out while the battlefield in Iraq is strewn with more blood today and with the bodies of 10 more U.S. troops.

Hanging in the balance right now, a war funding bill that sets timetables from withdrawing from Iraq.

Listen to these red hot exchanges earlier today.


GEORGE BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The American people did not vote for failure and that is precisely what the Democratic leadership's bill would guarantee.



DICK CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Senator Reid himself has said that the war in Iraq will bring his party more seats in the next election. It is cynical to declare that the war is lost because you believe it gives you political advantage.



SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MAJORITY LEADER: Oh, I'm not going to get into a name calling match with the administration's chief attack dog.


BLITZER: Let's bring in our Congressional correspondent, Dana Bash -- Dana, these exchanges pretty unusual. They're getting very, very testy on both sides.

What's the latest?

DANA BASH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, what was even more, probably most unusual about what you just saw today, was the vice president. The vice president comes here, Wolf, every Tuesday and has almost every Tuesday for the past six years to have lunch with Senate Republicans.

He always rushes by us in the press corps, barely makes eye contact with us, much less actually talk to us. He has never come to the cameras here on the Capitol -- in the Capitol before -- not until today.


BASH (voice-over): It was an unprecedented moment -- the vice president stepped up to the Senate microphones to blast the Democratic majority leader on Iraq.

CHENEY: What's most troubling about Senator Reid's comments yesterday is his defeatism. Indeed, last week, he said the war is already lost. And the timetable legislation that he is now pursuing would guarantee defeat.

BASH: Dick Cheney stood where Harry Reid usually talks to the press and accused him of inconsistent and irresponsible statements about the war. Moments later, Reid reclaimed his turf and shot right back.

REID: The president sends out his attack dog often. That's also known as Dick Cheney. And he was here again today, attacking not only me, but the Democratic Caucus.

BASH: That intensely personal war of words over Iraq was just part of the day's dizzying verbal volley up and down Pennsylvania Avenue over a Democratic bill to fund the war, but force troops to start coming home.

BUSH: Instead of fashioning a bill I could sign, the Democratic leaders chose to further delay funding our troops and they chose to make a political statement. REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: This is an ethical issue. This isn't a political issue. I respect where the president is coming from on this. I wish he would respect where we are coming from, which is a reflection of where the American people are coming from.

BUSH: A precipitous withdrawal from Iraq is not a plan to bring peace to the region or to make our people safer at home. Instead, it would embolden their enemies and confirm their belief that America is weak.

SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This president, divorced from reality, is accusing us of emboldening the enemy and undermining our troops.

Well, Mr. President, I have a message for you -- the only thing that's emboldening the enemy is your failed policy.


BASH: What's especially remarkable about all that white hot rhetoric is that the outcome is a foregone conclusion. We know that Democrats are going to pass a bill that they are going to send to the White House this week. We know the president is going to veto it.

So what you are seeing today and what you'll see over the next several days, Wolf, is positioning for what happens after that veto comes -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Dana, what are Democrats saying behind the scenes about Cheney's virtually unprecedented decision today to come out and speak to reporters while on the Hill?

BASH: Well, you know, you talk to any Democrat and they say, essentially, when it comes to Dick Cheney, bring it on. I talked -- I got an e-mail from a senior Democrat in the House about this just a short while ago who said I wish Dick Cheney would come out every single day and talk.

Harry Reid said to the cameras that Dick Cheney is somebody who's at 9 percent in the polls, so they're not worried about it.

And I should say that this, in large part, from Dick Cheney's point of view, was likely in response to something that Harry Reid said yesterday. He very much went on the attack against Dick Cheney yesterday in a personal way, saying that he has basically no credibility when it comes to the war.

So, again, this is very personal. But from the Democrats' point of view, they don't mind hearing from Dick Cheney when it comes to Iraq.

BLITZER: All right, Dana, thank you.

And a reminder of what the fireworks are all about. Democratic negotiators agreed yesterday on a $124 billion funding bill. It would require troops to begin leaving Iraq as early as July 1st of this year, if the president fails to adequately deliver an Iraq progress report to Congress.

The bill would require the pullout to begin no later than October of next year. In both cases, though, the non-binding goal is to complete the redeployment within 180 days or by April 1st of next year.

Vice President Cheney is about to get hit with another political grenade today. In the next hour, Democratic Congressman Dennis Kucinich plans to announce he's introducing articles of impeachment against Cheney. The Democratic presidential candidate had delayed his news conference from earlier today, when he heard that the vice president had gone to the hospital.

It turned out Cheney was getting a check-up of a previously detected blood clot in his left leg. According to Cheney's spokeswoman, his doctor told him the clot is "gradually resolving."

We'll have much more on this new impeachment threat. That's coming up ahead, including an interview with Congressman Dennis Kucinich.

We're following a story in Indiana -- a full scale prison riot, as it has been described.

Carol Costello is joining us now.

You're monitoring this.

What's the latest on what's happening in New Castle, Indiana?

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's at the New Castle Correctional Facility, and you are right, Wolf, it is at a full scale riot situation there. You can see some of the remnants of smoke. Earlier, there was thick black smoke rising from the prison. Local affiliates reporting the inmates had set mattresses on fire. We understand two employees were injured but we do not know the extent of their injuries right now.

We know that police have surrounded this prison. The entire police force in New Castle, Indiana has been called out to try to control this situation.

Interestingly enough, this is a medium security prison, Wolf. About 1,600 inmates. And recently it had been transferred from the Indiana Department of Corrections to a private company out of Florida and they began housing inmates from Arizona in because this prison was under populated.

Apparently, inmates from both Indiana and Arizona are involved in this riot. Things seem to be calming down now, but we've got no word that it's under control. We just know that the scene looks a little calmer right now. Of course, we'll keep an eye on this -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, we'll check with you as we get more information.

Carol is going to be monitoring that story for us.

Also happening this hour, there's something else for the embattled Bush White House to start worrying about. It's once praised political operation led by Karl Rove now is being targeted for a wide ranging investigation.

The probe is being launched by a low profile unit within the administration called the Office of Special Counsel. As the White House has acknowledged before, whenever Rove's name is attached to any controversy, though, partisan fireworks are likely to follow.

Let's go to our White House correspondent, Ed Henry.

He's joining us now.

You had a chance to speak with the head of this Office of Special Counsel.

What did he have to say -- Ed?


New this hour, I spoke to the chief investigator, Scott Bloch. And he just told me he's now authorized his office to call the White House chief of staff, Josh Bolten, apprise him of this investigation officially and urge Bolten to get all White House aides, like Karl Rove, to cooperate with this probe.

But what is the probe?

The bottom line is that Scott Bloch is investigating, from within the Bush administration, whether Rove and other top political aides here in the White House basically used federal resources improperly for political purposes.

Now, we've heard those allegations before, but what's different now is it's not a Democrat doing the investigation. Scott Bloch told me that he voted for George W. Bush in the 2000 and 2004 elections. He's a Bush appointee to his job, heading the Office of Special Counsel.

Take a listen of what he had to say.


SCOTT BLOCH, OFFICE OF SPECIAL COUNSEL: The evidence, we will follow it where it leads. We'll do a thorough job. We will not leave any stone unturned. We will be fair. We will be impartial and we'll be thorough. (END VIDEO CLIP)

HENRY: But now Scott Bloch may have a problem of his own. He is actually the subject of a separate federal investigation right now taking a look at whether or not he improperly retaliated against some of his own employees who did not agree with his policies.

He insists, though, he's innocent and he's hoping that the investigation ends -- Wolf.

BLITZER: What are the possible ramifications for Karl Rove and others in the White House?

HENRY: Well, what's interesting, Scott Bloch acknowledges he can't prosecute any White House aides. He can't really do anything like that. And he can't actually admonish them.

But what he can do, at the end of his investigation, is formally write a letter to the president urging him to take any kind of corrective action against an employee like Rove. It could be urging the president to fire an employee or to suspend an employee.

So, though, the bottom line is that this is not going to lead to a prosecution or anything like that, even if wrongdoing is proven. All it really is is another political headache for this White House at a time when it doesn't need another headache. And the fact that it's coming from a Republican appointed by this president, not a Democrat, is a problem -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Ed Henry at the White House.

Thanks for that.

Disturbing new Congressional testimony today adding to evidence of a cover-up in the friendly fire death of football star turned soldier Pat Tillman.

An Army Ranger who was with Tillman when he died in Afghanistan says he was told by a higher-up to conceal from Tillman's family the way he was killed. And Tillman's brother, Kevin, accused the U.S. military of fraud.


KEVIN TILLMAN, PAT TILLMAN'S BROTHER: Pat's death a the hands of his comrades is a terrible tragedy. But the fact that the Army, and what appears to be others, attempted to hijack his virtue and his legacy is simply horrific.

The least this country can do for him in return is to uncover who is responsible for his death, who lied and covered it up and who instigated those lies and benefited from them, then ensure that justice is meted out to the culpable.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BLITZER: Also testifying before a House panel today, Jessica Lynch. She was famously rescued in Iraq in 2003 after her convoy was ambushed. Lynch noted that the Army didn't tell the full story about her either, in an effort to portray her as a hero.


JESSICA LYNCH, RESCUED IN IRAQ: I had the good fortune and opportunity to come home and to tell the truth. Many soldiers, like Pat Tillman, who did not have that opportunity. The truth of war is not always easy. The truth is always more heroic than the hype.


BLITZER: We're going to have much more on this dramatic testimony about Pat Tillman's death, the charges of cover-up, the misinformation coming from the military, all that coming up later in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Coming up right now, Jack Cafferty and The Cafferty File -- that was dra -- I don't know if you had a chance to see some of that testimony from Pat Tillman's brother earlier today, Jack, but it was so sad, so tragic, so dramatic.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And it was apparently, at one point, his mother, I think, was asked how high up in the administration she thought this went. And she said she thought Rumsfeld knew about it.

Did you watch that part?

BLITZER: Yes, I did.

CAFFERTY: Yes. What a surprise.

Well, this is just what we need, I guess, another investigation of the Bush White House. It's all about anything anybody in Washington is doing these days.

Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald went after "Scooter" Libby and got him. But at this point, he's the only one with a scalp on his belt. The Democrats have a whole bunch of investigations going. Representative Henry Waxman is investigating everything from the administration's outing of CIA agent Valerie Plame to fraud and waste in Iraq. The Judiciary Committee holding hearings on Attorney General Alberto "I Don't Recall" Gonzales. We've got Bob Dole running a Sherlock Holmes operation into conditions at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center. And now comes word that we have the Bush administration going to investigate itself.

That ought to work.

The Office of Special Counsel -- Ed Henry was just talking about this -- headed up -- this is important -- headed up by a Bush appointee, has announced a far reaching investigation, including the firing of the U.S. attorneys, missing White House e-mails and political pressure applied to government officials by Karl Rove.

Would he do that?

And he vows that he will leave no turn unstoned.

One of Bush's guys is going to set out to do what, take down his boys?

What, are you kidding me?

That's like letting Charlie Manson conduct his own murder investigation.

Here's the question then -- how many investigations of the Bush White House are enough?

E-mail or go to -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Jack, thank you.

And coming up, will he or won't he?

That's the question concerning Fred Thompson and a possible presidential run. Wait until you hear what his colleague, Sam Waterston, has to say about that. The "Law and Order" star joins us next.

Plus, will Dennis Kucinich's push to impeach the vice president help his own White House run?

I'll ask our own Bill Schneider.

And is Iraq's president on shaky ground? Will he be able to stay in power?

Brian Todd standing by with some answers.

Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: There is a new development in the showdown over the attorney general, Alberto Gonzales, and his handling of the firing of those eight federal prosecutors.

The Senate now considering -- considering a dramatic move.

Let's go back to our Congressional correspondent Dana Bash -- Dana, what are they considering?

BASH: Well, Wolf, the Senate Democratic leadership is considering holding a vote of no confidence for the attorney general, Alberto Gonzales, who, of course, has been under intense fire for what happened at the Justice Department, the firing of those eight federal prosecutors. What Democratic leaders said this afternoon is that it's something that they're talking about but may not actually pull up for a vote. What the number two Democrat, Senator Dick Durbin said, is that they already know where the votes are. He said they would probably get about 60 votes, making it clear that the attorney general should go.

But I can tell you, in talking to some Republicans, even Republicans, Wolf, who are not happy with the leadership of Alberto Gonzales, that kind of position and kind of move could backfire, because I could end up looking political and could make it so that Democrats might not get the kind of votes that they would.

So it's something the Democrats are considering, but they have not decided whether to go through with it.

BLITZER: And it would just be a symbolic gesture, anyhow.

It has no legal binding, right?

BASH: Correct. It would just be a symbolic gesture to try to make it clear to the president that the attorney general simply does not have support here in Congress, something that if you talk to Republicans, talk to Democrats, is abundantly clear already.

BLITZER: All right, Dana, thanks for that.

Dana Bash reporting from the Hill.

Let's get to the 2008 campaign. Right now, long time "Law and Order" star Sam Waterston has a close connection to presidential politics in more ways than one.

His costar, the former Republican senator, Fred Thompson, is mulling a presidential campaign and Waterston thinks he knows what Thompson's decision will be.

Waterston also is heading up a campaign aimed at trying to end polarization in American politics.

And joining us here in THE SITUATION ROOM, Sam Waterston, the actor, the star of "Law and Order," and now a great, I guess, a citizen who wants to get involved in politics and do something.

You come in, Sam, on a day when there's a lot of bitterness happening here in Washington. You're trying and your supporters, your group trying to change all that.

Tell our viewers what you have in mind.

SAM WATERSTON, ACTOR: Well, I'm here as an advocate for Unity '08, which is an alternative to what you're talking about is happening today.

BLITZER: You'd like to see Democrats and Republicans working together to try to solve some of these crucial problems, as opposed to fighting.

WATERSTON: Exactly. And if -- our belief is if an independent or a bipartisan executive were in place, that it would make a huge difference to all the politics in Washington and might make it possible to get back to the way things used to be in the old days, when cooperation and public service were a phenomenon.

BLITZER: Give us some examples of -- you know, it may be wishful thinking on your part, on some of your colleagues' part, but give us an idea of what you have in mind. In the best of all circumstances, name names.

WATERSTON: Well, I'll tell you, in the best of all circumstances, it would be a Republican and a Democrat or a Democrat and a Republican, in no particular order, or two Independents or any credibly bipartisan ticket, obviously bipartisan ticket.

And as to names, I'm glad you asked, because one of the virtues of Unity '08 is that it puts the process first, the questions and the agenda first, and from the candidates' responses to those questions and that agenda, the people who join Unity '08 at and become delegates will choose their favorites.

BLITZER: So it...

WATERSTON: And that's how it will be decided.

BLITZER: Hypothetically, what we're talking about -- and I'll just throw out some names. If, for example, Hillary Clinton and John McCain got together to form a ticket...

WATERSTON: Precisely.

BLITZER: ... Or Barack Obama and Rudy Giuliani got together to form a ticket...

WATERSTON: Yes, but not...

BLITZER: That's what you...

WATERSTON: ... Necessarily from among the candidates that are presently before us.

BLITZER: There are others out there that you might like, as well?

WATERSTON: Absolutely.

BLITZER: What about your costar on "Law and Order," Senator -- former Senator Fred Thompson?

A lot of buzz, as you know, about him.

WATERSTON: Well, you mean as far as Unity '08 is concerned?

BLITZER: No, as far as throwing his hat in the presidential ring.

WATERSTON: Yes, I think that's going to happen, don't you?

BLITZER: You do?

WATERSTON: Um-hmm. I'm sure.

BLITZER: What kind of relationship do you have with -- with Fred Thompson?

WATERSTON: Friendly. Friendly. He's a good man, a very nice man and he's a very -- he's been very, very straightforward with me all the time.

BLITZER: As a costar of "Law and Order?"

WATERSTON: As a costar and when I've come to him with questions about what was going on in the world, he's given me straightforward answers.

BLITZER: Now, what about a third party coming up?

You know, there's talk that Michael Bloomberg, for example, the mayor of New York, might come in as a third party candidate.

WATERSTON: Well, Unity '08 proposes to be that third party for this one election only -- to show that -- that a unified executive, a non-partisan executive can change the way politics is done.

BLITZER: So you really want to do what Ross Perot tried to do back in '92, have a third party that brings everyone -- tries to bring everyone together?

WATERSTON: A third party of the center that demonstrates that that's where politics get done and that the possibility for consensus building is very real and that we do not need to be swinging between the extremes of two parties all the time and getting nothing done.

BLITZER: Now, you want to have your convention online.


BLITZER: Have people vote. But it's going to be not until, what, in the summertime? When do you want to do that, because the clock is ticking as far as getting Unity '08 names on various ballots in 50 states?

WATERSTON: The getting on the ballots on 50 states is underway. That effort is underway now. But the -- but the convention itself, and the solicitation of delegates is happening right now. So anybody can go to right now and become a delegate to the convention.

BLITZER: And you're going to do that...

WATERSTON: The convention itself... BLITZER: ... In the summer of 2008? Is that when you want to do your convention?

WATERSTON: Between the time that it's clear who the regular parties' candidates are going to be and the time that they have their anointing conventions, we will have a real convention in which the real issues will be discussed and the candidates will be vetted and the decision will be made.

BLITZER: Well, it's going to -- it'll liven up this political process...

WATERSTON: We hope to.

BLITZER: ... A little bit.

WATERSTON: We would like to renew it and refresh it and get it back to the way it was.

BLITZER: And I suspect a lot of Americans out there will feel that you're onto an idea that could resonate.

WATERSTON: The whole success of the thing depends on them.

BLITZER: Sam Waterston, thanks for coming into THE SITUATION ROOM.


Thanks for having me.

BLITZER: And coming up, it looks like former Presidents Bush and Clinton are teaming up once again. We're going to tell you why when we return.

And later, John McCain coming under attack on TV, but it's probably an attack he appreciates. We'll explain that in today's Strategy Session.

Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Happening now, a suicide bomber causes multiple deaths in one place. Nine U.S. soldiers killed in another place. Iraq's cauldron of violence sees more chaos and killings. We're going to have the latest details coming up.

Also, a controversial subject -- how to honor U.S. military veterans when they die who practice witchcraft as a religion. The government out with a major announcement today. We'll have a full report.

And is the rap music industry ready to clean up its act?

There's a movement underway to try to get some commonly used but explosive words out of the music.

I'm Wolf Blitzer and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Coming up in the top of the hour, Congressman Dennis Kucinich expected to begin a push to try to impeach the vice president. Kucinich expected to announce he's introducing articles of impeachment against Dick Cheney. And right after that, the Democratic presidential hopeful will join us here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Joining us now with more about all of this, our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider -- Bill, I suppose Kucinich believes this could give his struggling campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination a boost.

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, there is clearly a lot of rage among Democrats right now and Representative Kucinich is trying to give it some voice and direction.

But do Democrats believe that impeachment is a cause the party should rally around or do they worry that it could be a distraction?

A lot depends on the response of Speaker Pelosi. She said last year that impeachment of the president is a subject that would be off limits in the new Congress.

I think everything is likely to depend on the grounds for impeachment.

Will voters see the charges as a serious crime or as a political pretext, which is the way about two thirds of the country saw the charges against President Clinton in 1998?

BLITZER: Walk us through the process, Bill.


BLITZER: How would the impeachment process work against Dick Cheney?

SCHNEIDER: It would be the same as the impeachment process for a president. The House would hold hearings and then vote on whether to impeach the vice president and then the Senate would hold a trial on whether to remove him.

Now, presumably, the chief justice of the Supreme Court would preside over that Senate trial, as Chief Justice Rehnquist did over the Clinton trial in 1999.

It's highly unlikely that the Senate would ask Dick Cheney, in his capacity as president of the Senate, to preside over his own impeachment trial. But the vice president is a member of the Senate. So I wonder if he'd be able to vote on his own impeachment in case of a tie. I don't know.

BLITZER: Well, and, if, in fact, he were removed -- it's very, very, very unlikely -- what would happen then? SCHNEIDER: Then, it gets real interesting.

Under the 25 Amendment, if the vice presidency becomes vacant, the president then nominates someone to fill that position. The president's nominee has to be confirmed by a majority of both the House and the Senate, and both chambers are now controlled by Democrats.

So, the president would have to nominate someone who is acceptable to the Democrats. And the president's choice for vice president would very likely be seen by Republicans as President Bush's designated successor, unless, of course, Mr. Bush chooses someone like Dick Cheney, who has no higher ambitions.

A new vice president could instantly transform the 2008 contest, really in both parties.

BLITZER: All right, Bill Schneider, thanks very much. I remember, when Spiro Agnew...


BLITZER: ... was forced out during the Nixon administration, Nelson Rockefeller came in as the vice president. You remember those days, Bill?

SCHNEIDER: Yes. Well, actually, it was Ford...

BLITZER: Oh, Gerald Ford.

SCHNEIDER: ... who came in first.

But remember that Agnew was threatened with impeachment of the vice president. He got out of it by making a plea bargain deal. He pleaded no contest to the charges. And part of the agreement was, he would resign, rather than face impeachment.

BLITZER: And, then, when Ford moved up, Nelson Rockefeller moved...


BLITZER: ... moved up to vice president. Good.

SCHNEIDER: That's right.

BLITZER: Thanks for correcting me, Bill Schneider, with that.

And this note: I'm going to be speaking with Congressman Kucinich about his impeachment threat against the vice president. That's coming up here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

We're continuing to follow that story, that prison riot in Indiana.

Carol Costello been monitoring that for us. What's the latest on that front, Carol?

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: A few more tidbits of information for you, Wolf. We're following that developing story out of Indiana, a full-scale riot at a medium-security men's prison.

You can see these aerial pictures coming in to us. They show at least two fires burning in the courtyard of the New Castle Correctional Facility. That's about 43 miles east of Indianapolis.

Local officials say emergency squads and police are standing by. A prison spokeswoman says two staff members have been injured. And we're just getting word on what may have triggered the riot. I told you earlier that a whole bunch of inmates from Arizona were recently taken to this prison, because they had room, and there was some sort of fight between the inmates from Arizona and the inmates from Indiana. That apparently sparked this riot.

Of course, we will keep following this story for you.

There is a severe weather system out West. A spring storm brings snow, hail, and even a tornado in Colorado. A tornado touched down near a small town Wild Horse. That's about 100 miles southeast of Denver. There is damage to some buildings, but, so far, no word of injuries -- back to you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks, Carol. We will continue to stay on top of that story in Indiana, that prison riot.

A new report says federal employees are defrauding the U.S. government and U.S. taxpayers of nearly $20 million a year. They're doing it in part by selling their public transportation benefits online.

Let's bring in our Jacki Schechner.

How are federal workers taking the government for a ride, Jacki?

JACKI SCHECHNER, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Well, Wolf, this is a Metrocheck. It's a voucher that companies can give their employees to help pay for public transportation in Washington, D.C.

And the Government Accountability Office says today that some federal employees are taking these checks, even though they don't need them, and then reselling them online for profit. The GAO said that, in the Washington, D.C., area alone last year, it cost the government and U.S. taxpayers some $17 million.

They say they found individuals in nine different federal agencies who were potentially using these fraudulent activities. For example, they said someone in the IRS had a car, drove to work, took a free parking space, then collected benefits, and resold them online on eBay.

They say, in a three-day period, they found 20 instances of federal employees reselling these Metrochecks on eBay. They found three that were reselling them on Craigslist.

We talked to the Washington metro transportation -- excuse me, the Transit Authority, today. And they say that reselling these at all is illegal. And the Government Accountability Office says that there needs to be better controls in place, Wolf, to help combat this kind of fraud.

BLITZER: Thank you, Jacki, for that interesting story.

Coming up: Iraq's president, he's in an embattled leader, but is he also on some shaky ground? Excuse me -- not the president -- the prime minister. I will ask our Brian Todd. That is coming up next.

And Congressman Dennis Kucinich is expected next hour to begin a push to try to impeach the vice president. But how would an impeachment of Dick Cheney play out? Congressman Dennis Kucinich, he will join us live -- here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: An embattled leader seeing some shaky support, battling fierce criticism from a public that's weary from war. While that is certainly the situation confronting President Bush, it's also what Iraq's prime minister is facing right now.

Let's turn to our Brian Todd. He's joining us.

It appears Nouri al-Maliki is facing lots of criticism back home, Brian.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The frustration is growing, Wolf, this time, coming from members of the government whom Maliki needs to get things done.


TODD (voice-over): Iraqi parliament members tell CNN Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's government is failing and may soon fall. One Kurdish politician says: "Things are not going forward smoothly. We see hundreds killed every day. Deadlines should be set for the government," he says, "to deliver or resign."

The lawmakers cite crushing breeches of security, Maliki's inability to disband deadly militias or reach important economic deals that would bring factions together.

But analysts say, if Maliki does fall:

DAVID POLLOCK, WASHINGTON INSTITUTE FOR NEAR EAST POLICY: I don't have, in my own mind, any better candidates to run the country. And I think this notion that, by just substituting one person for another, you know, some kind of musical chairs act in the cabinet or in parliament, that that's going to fix Iraq's much, much deeper problems, I think that's a fantasy.

TODD: Analysts and even those complaining parliamentarians agree, Maliki, who is Shia, shouldn't take all the blame.

MICHAEL O'HANLON, SENIOR FELLOW IN FOREIGN POLICY STUDIES, BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: I would not personalize this too much about al-Maliki. Iraq's politics are so fractured, that it may be almost beyond the realm of any person to pull them together.

TODD: For example, one Shia parliament member close to Maliki tells CNN, the cabinet's approved a key oil-sharing law, but the legislature can't get it passed.

Feuding parliamentarians, these lawmakers say, also share responsibility with incompetent or corrupt cabinet ministers. Some observers say the resignations of six ministers loyal to radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr actually gives Maliki a chance to replace them with more effective leaders.


TODD: And one Sunni parliament member tells me the very structure of this government is a huge problem. Sharing power, allocating ministries along sectarian lines, she says -- quote -- "is a disaster. We need the exact opposite" -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Brian Todd with some good reporting for us -- thank you, Brian.

The attack in Diyala, by the way, immediately ranks as one of the worst against U.S. ground forces in Iraq. Only a handful were deadlier. A few days before Christmas in 2004, a suicide bomber walked into a mess tent in Mosul, killing 21 people, 14 of them U.S. troops.

In August of 2005, 14 U.S. Marines were killed when a roadside blast tore apart an amphibious assault vehicle near Haditha. A civilian interpreter also died. And, in December of 2005, 10 Marines were killed in an insurgent bombing near Fallujah.

Coming up, the Vice President Dick Cheney vs. the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid. Their hurling new and stinging insults at one another. What will it all mean for the war in Iraq? Paul Begala and Terry Jeffrey, they are standing by for our "Strategy Session."

And later: The non-candidates who are casting long shadows over the race for the White House, what happens if they run? What happens if they don't?

Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: The war in Iraq tops today's "Political Radar."

Rudy Giuliani says he can't gauge whether the U.S. troop increase in Iraq is actually working. The former New York mayor and Republican presidential front-runner made those comments today while campaigning in New Hampshire. Like most of his Republican rivals, Giuliani is backing President Bush's decision to send more troops to Iraq.

New support today for Hillary Clinton. The senator from New York and Democratic presidential front-runner picked up the endorsement of Senator Barbara Mikulski. Mikulski has been a senator from Maryland for more than two decades and is the unofficial dean of the women senators. She will serve as an adviser to Clinton's campaign.

Senator John McCain makes it official tomorrow. He's scheduled to formally announce he's running for president. The senator from Arizona will make the announcement in New Hampshire, before kicking off on a multistate tour. McCain is currently number two in most national polls among national Republicans, and he is in third place among Republicans when it comes to raising campaign cash.

We will have much more on Senator McCain coming up in our "Strategy Session" today.

And, remember, for all the latest political news at any time, check out our Political Ticker at

Up next: tough new fighting words over Iraq.


RICHARD B. CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It is cynical to declare that the war is lost because you believe it gives you political advantage.

SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MAJORITY LEADER: This is a good piece of legislation. I would hope the president would stop being so brusque, waving it off."


BLITZER: The verbal war over the war is getting uglier by the day. Will the troops or the politicians suffer? Paul Begala and Terry Jeffrey, they're ready to give us their assessment.

Also in the "Strategy Session": The president and the vice president aren't the only ones going after the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid. We will tell you what's going on.

Stick around. We will be right back.


BLITZER: One man accuses the other of defeatism, while the target of those words called for -- call the man who spoke them an attack dog. It's the war of words over Iraq between the vice president, Dick Cheney, and the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid.

Joining us now, our CNN political analyst and Democratic strategist Paul Begala, and Terry Jeffrey, the editor at large for "Human Events."

Terry, you know, a lot of Democrats say they're happy when the vice president goes out and becomes the spokesman, in effect, of the Bush administration. Is this an effective strategy, for the White House to use Dick Cheney as the point man on this issue?

TERRY JEFFREY, EDITOR, "HUMAN EVENTS": Well, I will say this, Wolf. Dick Cheney's argument has the strength of at least being consistent and coherent.

Harry Reid is saying the war is lost in Iraq. Yet, if you look at the bill he himself is sponsoring with Senator Feingold, that bill calls for keeping troops in Iraq to train Iraq's army, for keeping troops in Iraq to protect those troops, and for keeping troops in Iraq to attack terrorist groups.

So, Harry Reid is going to the Democratic base, and saying, hey, I'm going to end the war, but he's actually offering legislation that will perpetuate the war.

BLITZER: Is this a good strategy, from your Democratic perspective, for Dick Cheney to go out there and do what he did today?


First off, literally, God bless him. He went to the doctor today, because he had had a blot clot in his leg. They say that is clearing up, according to the reports we get from the White House today. So, that's a good thing. Obviously, we wish him good health.

I wish, though, he had gone sort of next door to the psychiatric ward, though, and gotten what Kinky Friedman used to call a checkup from the neck up, because, if he is looking at what is happening here, and sees it as anything other than a disaster and a defeat, he's wrong.

Terry is right. Terry is very rare among my friends on the right. He's actually read what Harry Reid is for. What Senator Reid wants to do -- and most Democrats -- is transition the mission, that is, focus on the things we ought to be doing, not combat operations. That's for Iraqis to do. But force protection...


JEFFREY: Now, wait a minute.


BEGALA: ... counterterrorism, and training Iraqis is a legitimate function...


BEGALA: ... and one that we can do.

JEFFREY: Harry Reid's actual bill...

BEGALA: Right.

JEFFREY: ... envisions combat operations...

BEGALA: No. No, sir.

JEFFREY: It says counterterrorism operations.

BEGALA: Targeted counterterrorism operations is a lot different from refereeing a civil war, Terry.


JEFFREY: Wait a minute. Wait a minute. Who is a terrorist in Iraq? Does that mean we can fight the Sunni insurgents under Reid's bill, yes or no?

BEGALA: Well, first, Terry, we have to fight al Qaeda in a targeted way.

JEFFREY: Can we fight the Mahdi army under Reid's bill?

BEGALA: You know what we're not going to do?

JEFFREY: Yes or no?

BEGALA: You know what we're not going to do? We're not going to sit there and referee...


BEGALA: ... a civil war...

JEFFREY: Can we fight al Qaeda under Reid's...


BEGALA: ... having 19-year-old boys from America...

BLITZER: Hold on a minute.

BEGALA: ... kicking down doors...


BEGALA: ... Sunni or a Shiite.

BLITZER: Terry, listen -- it's not just Harry Reid. It's a lot of Democrats, including Ted Kennedy.

I want you to listen to this little clip, what he said today.


SEN. EDWARD KENNEDY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: It is Vice President Cheney who has been wrong, and deadly wrong, in Iraq. Even more, Vice President Cheney is the last person in the administration who should accuse anyone of making uninformed and misleading statements.


BLITZER: All right, that's going to be a line you're going to hear a lot from the Democrats, that Cheney's credibility now is down to zero.

JEFFREY: Right. Look, I will give Teddy Kennedy the virtue of being consistent.

He voted against the war. He came out in January and said he wants all U.S. troops to come home. He has a starkly different position than the Democrats in Congress do. And people ought to realize it.

Harry Reid wants the troops in Iraq. He wants them fighting terrorists. It's impossible under his bill, whether it authorizes fighting al Qaeda, or al Qaeda, plus the Sunni insurgents, or fighting al Qaeda, plus the Sunni insurgents and plus the Mahdi army. How would our commanders in the field know who they could attack and who they could defend themselves...

BLITZER: All right.

JEFFREY: ... without lawyers sitting there interpreting what Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi have passed through the Congress?


BLITZER: All right. Hold on one second.

I want you to listen to a little clip from this Republican ad -- and it's an attack ad -- going after the Senate majority leader.

Listen to this.


CAPTAIN TRIP BELLARD, IRAQ WAR VETERAN: Senator Reid's remarks undercut the morale of our soldiers and undermine our troops on the ground. Our troops in harm's way deserve better than to be treated like a political football by a Washington politician.


BLITZER: That's Captain Trip Bellard, an Iraq war veteran, making that commercial for the RNC.

BEGALA: Well, the -- it's the Republican Party, Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney.

Mr. Cheney, by the way, never served in uniform. He got five -- count them -- five draft deferments. And, when he testified to become secretary of defense under the first President Bush, he said the reason he got those deferments was because he had other priorities in the '60s.

Well, there are a lot of young men who Mr. Cheney is using today as a political football, including that captain. The point of the fact is, Mr. Cheney is on the wrong side of history. He's on the wrong side of the American people. He's on the wrong side of our best military strategists, as well. But he's picking a political fight that he cannot win. And, so, it's good for the Democrats.


BEGALA: Put Dick Cheney out there every day.

JEFFREY: That is an ad hominem argument. It's not a rational argument.

BEGALA: Because he's a bad man. He's worthy of an ad hominem attack.

JEFFREY: Wolf, a couple weeks ago, when Wolf -- when Hillary Clinton was interviewed by on their Web site, and she filibustered, but two questions got through from activists.

The second question nailed her directly on this point, that Hillary Clinton wants to keep troops fighting in Iraq after this alleged deadline. You have two parties debating past each other. Both parties in Washington, D.C., are saying they want troops in Iraq. The Democrats are saying what those troops may do in legislation.

The legislation is unclear. I defy Harry Reid to explain it.

BEGALA: See, here's the problem. The president wants another blank check for an open-ended commitment to an endless war with a strategy that cannot succeed.

The Democrats are -- there's different ideas that different Democrats have. Terry's right. But they are united in trying to transition this mission, get as many of those troops as we can out. But it is true.

BLITZER: You know...

BEGALA: Some will have -- there is a moral obligation, even from people from like me, who oppose this war, to try at least to do better than Mr. Bush has done for the people that -- in whose country we have invaded.

BLITZER: has an ad going after John McCain and some comments he made the other day.

Terry, listen to this.


NARRATOR: America has lived through six years of a reckless foreign policy. We're stuck in Iraq. More than 3,000 Americans are dead and thousands more wounded. Now comes John McCain with his answer to what we should do about Iran.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: That old Beach Boys song, "Bomb Iran"? Bomb, bomb, bomb...

NARRATOR: John McCain? We can't afford another reckless president.


BLITZER: All right, what do you think?

JEFFREY: Well, I think that might appeal to MoveOn's membership. It's going to have absolutely no effect on Republican primary voters at all. They know John McCain very well. He has his pluses and his minuses with them. But they're not going to add or subtract...

BLITZER: That might help him among Republican primary voters, too...

JEFFREY: Well, it could, a little bit.

BLITZER: ... to a certain degree.

And we have got to leave it there, guys. Thanks very much....

BEGALA: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: ... Paul Begala and Terry Jeffrey.

Still to come: How many investigations of the Bush White House are enough? Jack Cafferty with your e-mail -- when we come back.

And we're also standing by to speak with Congressman and Democratic presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich. He's about to introduce articles of impeachment against the vice president, Dick Cheney.

Stick around. We will be right back.


BLITZER: Let's check in with Jack Cafferty for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: The question this hour is: How many investigations of the Bush White House are enough?

Brenda writes from Vancouver: "Abu Ghraib should have chased these bums out of office then. It's pretty much a joke now. Is it possible Bush is being held against his will and is being forced to destroy America? I'm afraid, when the dust settles, America will be a shell of its former self. Too bad. It was a nice country to visit."

Bob in Las Vegas: "As long as the administration provides sufficient reasons for investigations and fails to provide transparency in its defense of its actions, the investigations will continue."

Maureen writes: "Investigations are simply an excuse used by this president and his administration to take all public discussion off the table, and restrict all discussion to private chambers filled with Bush ball players headed by loyal GOP flunkies and cooperative Democrat shills who lack moral backbone."

Sully in Saint Martinville, Louisiana: "The Democrats can't get any of the legislation they campaigned on, so this is their only alternative."

Kevin in Philadelphia writes: "Jack, in a country where serving as our president is of the highest calling, I believe one is too many investigations. This is the theater of the absurd."

Ian writes from Columbus: "Bush made that decision for himself. Only he knows the answer."

And Craig in California: "When we get to see all of them waving from the steps of the helicopter, that will be enough" -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jack, thank you for that.

And, to our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Happening now: new outrage in the friendly-fire death of a former football star -- Pat Tillman's brother accusing the U.S. military of lying about what happened in Afghanistan. And a fellow soldier says he was ordered to keep quiet.

It's one of the deadliest attacks yet on U.S. forces in Iraq


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