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CNN LATE EDITION WITH WOLF BLITZER

Interview With Fran Towsend; Interview With Mowaffak al-Rubaie

Aired September 9, 2007 - 11:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, HOST: It's 11:00 a.m. here in Washington, 8:00 a.m. in Los Angeles, 7:00 p.m. in Baghdad. Wherever you're watching from around the world, thanks very much for joining us for "Late Edition." My interview with the White House homeland security adviser, Fran Townsend, is coming up.
But first, there is news happening right now involving a story that has gripped much of Europe -- indeed, much of the world -- for months as the parents of 4-year-old Madeleine McCann led the search for their daughter. She disappeared from her parents' hotel room in a Portuguese resort in May.

This week, Portuguese police said new forensic tests led them to officially name both parents as suspects in the child's disappearance. And today the parents took their other two children home to England.

CNN's Adrian Finighan is joining us outside the McCann's house in England.

Update our viewers on what's happened over the past couple hours.

ADRIAN FINIGHAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Over the past couple of hours, Wolf -- well, four hours ago it was, the McCanns arrived back here at their home in Rothley, a quiet street in the heart of the English countryside. We're about 120 miles from London here.

Upon their arrival at the airport at midday local time, Gerry McCann read a pre-prepared statement and once again asserted that they, the couple, Kate and Gerry McCann, had nothing to do whatsoever with the disappearance of their daughter. Here's what he said.

BLITZER: Adrian, unfortunately, we don't have that sound bite from the parents of Madeleine McCann, but as you say there, insisting that they're innocent. Explain -- I think we have it right now. Let's play that clip.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GERRY MCCANN, MADELEINE'S FATHER: Portuguese law prohibits us from commenting further on the police investigation. Despite there being so much, we wish to say we are unable to do so except to say that we have played no part in the disappearance of our lovely daughter, Madeleine.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BLITZER: Adrian, if both of these parents are officially suspects in the disappearance and the killing of this little girl, why did the Portuguese government let them get on a plane and fly out of Portugal back to England?

FINIGHAN: I think it has something to do with the way that the Portuguese treat suspects. The word arguido, the Portuguese word -- basically there are no restrictions upon Kate and Gerry McCann. They've both been allowed to keep their passports. They're both still cooperating fully with the investigation. And Gerry McCann has said on numerous occasions that, if required, he'll be more than happy to go back to Portugal to assist.

Now, before leaving Portugal for home, both Gerry and Kate McCann gave lengthy interviews to Sunday newspapers. Gerry McCann said that they were not running away, but that he had begun to have serious doubts about the Portuguese legal system, which he alleges tried to squeeze a confession out of his wife by promising her a light or suspended jail sentence.

Now, for her part, Kate McCann speaking to The Sunday Mirror said that "the police wanted me to lie. They're trying to frame me," she said. Both interviews were given in the hours before they were named as official suspects. Legally, they can say nothing more. We're not likely to hear from them again about the case unless, of course, there are new developments.

The McCanns have appealed for privacy but with such a high degree of public and media interest in this case, Wolf, that -- it remains to be seen whether that will be granted, that wish will be granted.

Wolf?

BLITZER: CNN's Adrian Finighan reporting for us from the scene. We'll stay on top of this story for our viewers. Thank you, Adrian.

For the first time in nearly three years and on the eve of the sixth anniversary of 9/11, Osama bin Laden is making it clear he's still around, he's got a new videotape message.

I spoke about that and more just a little while ago with the White House homeland security adviser, Frances Townsend. We spoke about the tape and the lingering terrorist threat.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Fran Townsend, thanks very much for coming in.

FRAN TOWNSEND, WHITE HOUSE HOMELAND SECURITY ADVISER: Good to be here.

BLITZER: All right. So we see this new Osama bin Laden videotape. You have had a chance -- you and the U.S. government -- to review it. Is it him?

TOWNSEND: Yes. The intelligence community has reviewed the tape and do believe that it's bin Laden himself.

BLITZER: And what have you concluded from looking at him? Because three years ago, the last time we saw him, his beard was gray, now it's black. What, if anything, does that say?

TOWNSEND: Well, Wolf, as you can imagine, what we are doing now is going through the technical analysis by the intelligence community and we are looking for things like indications about his health, indications about his whereabouts, the contents of the message. Are there any hidden meanings or messages to it? That technical analysis is ongoing.

BLITZER: And have you reached any preliminary conclusions you can share with us?

TOWNSEND: Well, you know, Wolf, based on our experience, we have never seen bin Laden use a tape to trigger any operational activity. That said, we take it very seriously. And obviously we're looking at that now.

But you know, we ought to remember, six years since the tragedy of September the 11th, we haven't seen another attack. This is a man on the run in a cave who is virtually impotent other than his ability to get these messages out. It's propaganda.

BLITZER: Here is a little bit of that propaganda. I will play a tiny little snippet of what he says.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OSAMA BIN LADEN, AL QAIDA LEADER (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): The first is from our side, and it is to continue to escalate the killing and fighting against you. This is our duty and our brothers are carrying it out, and I ask god to grant them resolve and victory.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: It doesn't sound like there was a specific threat in there, just a general threat to continue the jihad, the struggle until they win.

TOWNSEND: Well, obviously, they've continued. We looked at the disruptions in Germany this week, and the Danish disruption before that. They're serious, and they continue to plot and plan against us.

We take those threats seriously. We've been fortunate by virtue of our men and women in uniform and the intelligence community to be able to disrupt and protect this country.

BLITZER: Here's what the CIA director, General Michael Hayden, said this week, because when I heard it, it was pretty alarming, but I want you to elaborate. Let's listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CIA DIRECTOR MICHAEL V. HAYDEN: We assess once again with high confidence that Al Qaida is focusing on targets that would produce mass casualties, dramatic destruction, and significant economic aftershocks.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right. So when you hear the CIA director say that, you get nervous. What can you tell us specifically about the threats that he might be talking about?

TOWNSEND: Well, this is really a reiteration of what we heard in the National Intelligence Estimate, where the intelligence community as a whole spoke and said that they are looking for a mass casualty, spectacular type attack.

We have no specific or credible information right now about an imminent attack, but we see these ongoing plots around the world and, of course, they are concerning and we continue to make sure that the information is being shared not only with our agencies overseas, but our investigative agencies here at home like the FBI and local police departments.

BLITZER: Is the working assumption that there are sleeper Al Qaida cells operating in the United States right now?

TOWNSEND: You know, it was interesting, Wolf, in the National Intelligence Estimate, that's the one place where they say Al Qaida is having problems, finding a way to infiltrate people into the United States.

It's obviously the number one priority for the FBI in terms of their intelligence collection and investigative activity. Where we find it, we investigate it, we disrupt it, we arrest people, we deport them, and we take it seriously.

BLITZER: You referred to the incidents, the arrest in Denmark and Germany over the past few days. The arrests in Germany were supposedly aimed at U.S. targets there, whether a U.S. military base or discos frequented by Americans.

In Denmark, was that the same or were they going after Danish -- allegedly, targets in Denmark?

TOWNSEND: The Danish investigation is ongoing. The Danish authorities have not spoken publicly about the intended targets, and so I would defer to them.

We are fortunate, I would say, to have such a good working relationship that these investigations -- the information that comes from these investigations and leads are shared freely and in real-time with our agencies.

BLITZER: Now, the Germans there are other suspects at large in Germany that they're looking for right now. What can you tell us about that? How many are there? Were these Keystone Cop-type characters or were they hardcore terrorists who had sophisticated training that could potentially kill a lot of people? TOWNSEND: Well, there's no question, when you look at them, the Germany authorities have said publicly that they were looking to produce hydrogen peroxide bombs. That is the same technique -- it is a known Al Qaida trademark. It's the same technique we saw on a smaller scale in the London train bombings in -- that July of '05.

And so we take it pretty seriously. And clearly what we are looking now is for what connection. The Danish authorities said in the instance of their cell they did have connections. We know in the German case it was related to IJU, the Islamic Jihad Union, and that is an al Qaida affiliate. So these were pretty serious groups.

BLITZER: Here's what The Washington Post writes today on their front page, a long piece about al Qaida: "Al Qaida central moved quickly to overcome extensive leadership losses by promoting loyalists who had served alongside bin Laden for years. It restarted fund- raising, recruiting and training, and it expanded its media arm into perhaps the most effective propaganda machine ever assembled by a terrorist or insurgent network. Today,al Qaida operates much the way it did before 2001."

Do you fundamentally agree with that assessment?

TOWNSEND: Well, I think what that doesn't say to you is, we are safer today than we were in 2001. There is no question that we've had operational successes undermining al Qaida. And it is the fundamental reason we haven't seen another attack.

Have they begun to regenerate some of their capability? Absolutely. And we acknowledge that in the National Intelligence Estimate. All of those things...

BLITZER: Let me interrupt. Do you agree though that al Qaida operates much the way it did before 2001, that it operates today as it did then?

TOWNSEND: I'm not sure what the reference is back to. Does bin Laden continue to provide inspirational guidance and leadership? Sure he does. And that's what you see in a propaganda video that's just been released.

Have they been successful operationally here inside the United States? No. Do they continue to plan and train and try to create that operational capability? Yes. And we act against it.

BLITZER: Because a lot of Americans, coming around the sixth anniversary on Tuesday of 9/11, are understandably nervous. How nervous should they be?

TOWNSEND: This isn't a question about being nervous. It's, are we vigilant? Are the American people vigilant? Yes, I think they are. They understand -- the American people -- this is not just a problem for the federal government. This is a problem at the state and local level, and for our citizens. And so...

BLITZER: Are you taking any extra precautions between now and Tuesday, the Department of Homeland Security, local or state, federal law enforcement?

TOWNSEND: The Department of Homeland Security, working both federal and local law enforcement work whenever there are large gatherings. And obviously, for memorials, we work very closely to ensure the security around those memorials of large gatherings.

BLITZER: You know, I think Maureen Dowd accurately reflected what a lot of Americans feel, the frustration that six years after 9/11, bin Laden is still at large. She writes this: "Can we please get someone in charge who will stop whining that Osama is hiding in harsh terrain, hunt him down and blast him forward to the Stone Age?"

The frustration level that this guy still appears on videotapes; Ayman al-Zawahiri, his number two, appears obviously very frequently. What's going on? Why can't the U.S., the most powerful country in the world, find this guy and kill him?

TOWNSEND: You know, Wolf, it's interesting, because I've been asked this before and I can't help but to think, about Eric Rudolph. It took us five years. He was in the foothills in the Carolinas here in the United States, and it took us five years to find him.

BLITZER: But you weren't devoting the resources to finding Eric Rudolph that you're devoting to finding Osama bin Laden.

TOWNSEND: No, but you have the counter-terrorism resources that are devoted to not only finding bin Laden, but they're also devoted to preventing the next attack, to following leads, both in this country and around the world.

Capturing and killing bin Laden is the number one priority, but it's not our only priority. We also have to be mindful of current and ongoing threats against this country.

BLITZER: Last time you were with us here on "Late Edition," the president told me last September that if you had intelligence, actionable intelligence where bin Laden was, even if he was in Pakistan and the Pakistani sovereignty obviously is a sensitive issue, you would go in there and find him or kill him if the Pakistanis weren't doing what they should be doing.

And to that, the foreign minister said here on "Late Edition" on July 22nd, he responded in effect to you and the president. I want you to listen to what Khurshid Kasuri told me.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KHURSHID KASURI, FOREIGN MINISTER OF PAKISTAN: Pakistan army is one of the most organized armies in the world. It's one of the largest armies in the world. It has a track record prior to First World War. What we can do, nobody can do better. So if you have superiority in technical intelligence, please share that with us. (END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Are you doing that with Pakistan? Are you sharing the best intelligence you have on bin Laden's whereabouts with the government of Pakistan so they can go into their tribal areas there along the border with Afghanistan and try to find him?

TOWNSEND: Absolutely. Obviously, the first line of defense here -- the first line of offense, actually -- is to go in and work with our Pakistani allies to be successful in this fight. And I think the point the president was making, I was making was in the end, there will be no options left off the table in protecting the American people.

But our first priority is to work with our Pakistani allies. They've enjoyed a good deal of success. We've gotten a number of operational leaders working with them, and that's of course the first option.

BLITZER: So you have confidence in President Musharraf.

TOWNSEND: He has been a good ally, and we've enjoyed success with him. And we will continue to work with our Pakistani allies in the military and the intelligence community, to be successful.

BLITZER: We're running out of time, but I want you to respond to this GAO report, the Government Accountability Office, that came out with this study on the Department of Homeland Security and preparedness. They had 24 categories, and only five of them had been achieved in terms of performance and expectations generally achieved. In terms of emergency preparedness and readiness following Katrina, only five of 24 have actually been achieved. That's not necessarily a great grade for the Department of Homeland Security.

TOWNSEND: We've made a lot of progress. Wolf, we've never said that we don't have more we have to do. The men and women of the department have in the wake of Katrina made many improvements, particularly working with local -- on the issue of local preparedness.

After all, if there is a catastrophic attack or a natural disaster, the first responders are the people at the local level. We have to be sure that we have the plans in place to support them, and that's exactly what the department is doing, and we've made great strides.

BLITZER: President Bush's homeland security adviser, Fran Townsend. Thanks for coming in.

TOWNSEND: Wolf, good to be with you.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: And just ahead, the Iraqi prime minister's national security adviser will be joining us. The government of Nouri al- Maliki under enormous pressure right now to meet key political benchmarks. So far, they've failed. My interview with the national security adviser, Mowaffak al- Rubaie. You're looking at him live in Baghdad. That's coming up next, right here on "Late Edition."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to "Late Edition." I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. The United States military strategy in Iraq was designed to give Iraqi leaders some breathing room for political reconciliation.

On that score, so far, though, the Iraqi government is getting a failing grade. The Iraqi national security adviser, Mowaffak al- Rubaie, who's joining us now live from Baghdad.

Dr. al-Rubaie, thanks as usual for coming in. And I want to read to you what General David Petraeus, the U.S. military commander, wrote to all of the U.S. military men and women, as well as the civilian personnel working in Iraq, on the eve of his testimony here tomorrow before the U.S. Congress.

He wrote this. He said: "Many of us had hoped this summer would be a time of tangible political progress at the national level in Iraq as well. One of the justifications for the surge, after all, was that it would help create the space for Iraqi leaders to tackle the tough questions and agree on key pieces of national reconciliation legislation. It has not worked out as we had hoped."

Why is the Iraqi government, Dr. al-Rubaie, incapable of doing what the U.S. and so many other people around the world want it to do, which is reconciliation, find a way to live together so that the U.S. troops can start withdrawing?

MOWAFFAK AL-RUBAIE, IRAQ'S NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: We also hope that it should have worked better than what we have achieved. But there are huge challenges. And these problems are really complicated in this country. And by oversimplifying them is not going to help.

We have made huge achievements in the statement which was issued by the five political leaders a few weeks ago. And they basically restated their will and their means of their going to work together. We have great progress in the national reconciliation process. People are sticking to the legislation, to the four legislations like the de- Baathification, like the provincial election, like the hydrocarbons law and revenue sharing...

BLITZER: Let me interrupt, Dr. al-Rubaie, excuse me. Because on those issues, there's a lot of rhetoric. People are talking about it, but tangibly in terms of disbanding the militia or passing legislation to spread around the oil wealth, the tangible results haven't been there.

Listen, for example, to what the former interim prime minister, Iyad Allawi told us here on "Late Edition" two weeks ago. Listen to Iyad Allawi.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

IYAD ALLAWI, FORMER INTERIM PRIME MINISTER OF IRAQ: I don't see that we are getting closer to reconciliation. I don't see that we are getting closer to getting rid of militias. I'm not seeing that we are getting closer to having assertive policies, foreign policies which would not allow Iran to intervene in Iraqi affairs. (END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right, so, that's a pretty gloomy assessment from Iyad Allawi.

AL-RUBAIE: Wolf, I wouldn't take that really seriously because this is internal politics. Basically what I'm trying to say is that all this legislation, we are talking about in the national reconciliation program, we are already implementing them. We are already applying them in practice.

Through an executive director and the true executive orders of the prime minister, we're doing most of them, even before they have gone to the council of representatives, which is the parliament in this country.

BLITZER: How much more time...

AL-RUBAIE: We are doing very well on this front.

BLITZER: How much more time, realistically, do you think you need to be able to take charge of the political process in Iraq and the military process in Iraq? Do you need six months? Do you need six years? Do you need ten years? How much more time realistically, Dr. al-Rubaie, do you need?

AL-RUBAIE: We have already made very good progress in building our Iraqi security forces. And we have just last week issued a new national security strategy, which is called "Iraq First."

And this is the progress and our vision in economy and security and the other -- and other fields, basically from now until the 2010. I don't think we can -- we should pin it down to days or months, and that particular month we should be able to be self-governed, but we're working really, really hard to speed up the process to get to the self-reliant status.

BLITZER: Here's a conclusion. A very sad conclusion from an independent commission of retired U.S. military officers and police officers who spent the last three months studying the security situation in Iraq. Among their conclusions was this -- this is the General James Jones report. "The Ministry of Interior in Iraq is a ministry in name only. It is widely regarded as being dysfunctional and sectarian, and suffers from ineffective leadership."

This is the ministry that's in charge of the national police force, which this report concludes should simply be disbanded because they are so infiltrated with various militias, specifically Shiite militias. That's a very damaging assessment of your interior ministry.

AL-RUBAIE: Wolf, I do agree we have a problem in the interior ministry, and we have a problem with other institutions and ministries as well. And we are working very hard to get -- and we have a committee, a reform committee, which has looked very, very carefully and meticulously and in details to the Ministry of Interior. And we have managed to fire 19,000 employees from the Ministry of Interior in the last 19 months. There are 9,000 -- other 9,000 cases under investigation and people are liable to be fired from the Ministry of Interior.

BLITZER: Dr. al-Rubaie, I want you to listen...

AL-RUBAIE: This is...

BLITZER: ... to what Charles Ramsey, he's the former police chief here in Washington, D.C., he was a member of this independent commission. He was on "Meet the Press" just a little while ago. And listen to his gloomy assessment.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHARLES RAMSEY, MEMBER OF GENERAL JAMES JONES COMMISSION: We know what we're looking at. And we were appalled at what we saw. It's not to say there isn't good training and the Iraqi police service isn't moving along at a fairly decent rate. But the national police is very problematic, and they can't deploy much outside of Baghdad.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: So just briefly, what are you going to do about that as far as a national police force? Do you think it's better off just disbanding the whole operation now, starting from scratch?

AL-RUBAIE: No. Absolutely not. Absolutely not. The national police is doing a very, very good job. I agree there are some problems, there are some infiltrations from the militias, from political parties. Because these forces, not only the national police, the ministry of defense, the ministry of interior, the -- our intelligence agency, they were built over the last three years from scratch.

Now we have nearly 500,000 employees in our national security institution. Now, to build it over three years, of course you're going to be liable for infiltration. Of course you're go to be -- to have a problem in logistical and supervision and build a modern police. Of course we have a problem.

We were the first to admit that. But we are doing a reform of this. And we are very aggressive in our reform. And as I said, 19,000 have been fired over the last nine months. And 9,000 more cases in the Ministry of Interior under investigation.

BLITZER: Well, as you know, Dr. al-Rubaie, everyone is watching, Everyone is hoping the Iraqi government can get the job done. I've got to tell you there's been a lot of disappointment here in Washington and I'm sure that will come out in the hearings this week when General Petraeus and U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker testify.

AL-RUBAIE: I'm sure, Wolf, Petraeus and Crocker are top professional people and their report is going to be very thorough and methodical and factual, facts and figures, and is going to be helpful to Iraq, and we look forward to hear. They're world- class professional, these people, and I'm sure it's going to be a good report.

BLITZER: And their testimony starts tomorrow morning here in Washington. We'll be carrying it on CNN. Dr. al-Rubaie, thanks as usual for coming in. Dr. Mowaffak al-Rubaie is the national security adviser of Iraq.

Just ahead a new independent report says Iraqi security forces aren't ready to stand on their own. So what does that mean for U.S. forces in Iraq? We're going to get insight from the former supreme commander of NATO, General George Joulwan. He's one of the authors of that report. He's standing by live. Stay with us. You're watching "Late Edition."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back. An independent commission's new report about Iraq notes that while the Iraqi army is showing some signs of progress, the country's national police force is ineffective and corrupt. The former NATO Supreme Commander General George Joulwan is a member of that commission that issued the report. He's joining us here on "Late Edition." General, welcome back.

GEN. GEORGE JOULWAN, FORMER NATO ALLIED SUPREME COMMANDER: Good to be here.

BLITZER: Among your conclusions you write this: "Despite continued progress, the Iraqi military will not be ready to independently fulfill its security role within the next 12 to 18 months."

So what does that mean for the 168,000 U.S. troops who are currently stationed in Iraq?

JOULWAN: The keyword there is independently. That's what we were asked to do by the Congress of the United States. Where will they be in 12 to 18 months? Can they take over their territorial integrity in 12 to 18 months? Clearly, no.

However -- which is the however is important here -- we think in that 12 or 18 months, at least from what we saw, there can be significant progress in the Iraqi military to at least consider some restructuring of U.S. and coalition forces in Iraq.

BLITZER: Starting when?

JOULWAN: I think starting, as we say in the report, in 2008, early 2008.

BLITZER: Like February, March, April?

JOULWAN: I think by the springtime, if...

BLITZER: By April, they have to start withdrawing troops because the U.S. Army can't sustain that 15-month troop deployment rate beyond April.

JOULWAN: I understand the concern of the United States Army and their deployments. However, we based this on what we saw on the ground and the potential of the Iraqi military forces, particularly the Army and the special forces, of achieving a certain level of professionalism.

BLITZER: So between now and April...

JOULWAN: Yes.

BLITZER: Let's back up a little. Between now and the end of this year, is there room for any U.S. troop withdrawal from Iraq?

JOULWAN: The commission believes so. However, the commanders on the ground (inaudible)...

BLITZER: Like a token, like 4,000 or a brigade or something?

JOULWAN: I would not get into the numbers. I really think what we ought to be focusing on, how can we increase the effectiveness of the Iraqi, particularly the army and special forces to be able to allow that to take place? And that's what we tried to recommend in this report.

BLITZER: Well, what you need to do, first of all, is make sure the Iraqi government can get their act together. You just heard the national security adviser of Iraq say they're doing that. Did you see evidence that they're doing that?

JOULWAN: Not really. In fact, just the opposite is taking place. And I think what really has to happen, what we looked in depth in -- now, that was outside of our charter, but we gave...

BLITZER: But you spent time with them. You saw a lot of these things that were going on.

JOULWAN: We saw a lot of that. And in particular, the dominance of -- particularly the Shia side of it is causing great concern, particularly with the national police. Now, that's 25,000 out of about 230, 250,000 police. But this 25,000 really -- you mentioned being disbanded. We think not only disbanded, reorganized. So you take those, you reorganize them and vet them out...

BLITZER: Because they've been described as a bunch of thugs or killers, basically going out and doing the militia dirty work for the various Shiite militias.

JOULWAN: That's what needs to change. And if you really look at the facts and figures we saw on the Iraqi army in particular, 75 to 80 percent are Shia in the army. And somehow they're making the integration work. And that's what we need to build on.

BLITZER: I'm going to play an excerpt of what General Jones, the former Marine commandant, also a former NATO supreme allied commander, said at the hearing on Thursday. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

U.S. GENERAL JAMES JONES, FORMER NATO SUPREME ALLIED COMMANDER: The force footprint should be adjusted, in our view, to represent an expeditionary capability and to combat the "permanent force" image of today's presence.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: The point that he's trying to make is that the United States military of 168,000 or so, they seem to be, to a lot of people, especially in Iraq, occupiers...

JOULWAN: Yes.

BLITZER: ... as opposed to assistants or liberators or whatever else you want to call them. And this occupying notion is really hurting the overall mission.

JOULWAN: Exactly. And what we need to be able to do is how to restructure that force? He talked about an expeditionary force. We talk also about going into really what we call a strategic overwatch in time. In other words, as the Iraqi army, in particular, continues to improve, the United States and its coalition partners can pull back and be in some overwatch positions to watch, overwatch this development take place.

BLITZER: Because one of the symbolic things that sort of underscores this notion of the U.S. military as occupiers is that they have effectively taken over Saddam Hussein's palaces. That's where General Petraeus and the other commanders operate from just as Saddam Hussein and his guys used to operate from. So what you're recommending is leave the palaces and get out of there because it just sends such a horrible message to the people of Iraq.

JOULWAN: And we reduce the dependency on the coalition and U.S. forces. But remember now, we totally dismantled this army four years ago.

BLITZER: Which was a blunder.

JOULWAN: Which was a blunder. And we're trying to rebuild it now. And they're making some excellent progress. I met with four division commanders, Iraqi. When I met with the minister of defense, he's got 11 divisions now. Ten formed, one forming, four Sunni, four Shia and three Kurd. He is trying to balance his horse. We ought to build on that.

BLITZER: There was a story in The Washington Post today, above the fold, Page One, reporting on a dispute that has developed over these past few months between General David Petraeus, the top U.S. military commander in Iraq, and Admiral William Fallon, who's in charge of the Central Command. Technically, he's General Petraeus's boss.

Let me read a line from that story: "His efforts offended Petraeus's team," referring to Admiral Fallon, "which saw them as unwelcome intrusion on their own long-term planning. The profoundly different views of the U.S. role in Iraq only exacerbated the schism between the two men."

I know you say it's not unusual -- because you served at the highest levels of the U.S. military -- for two four-star officers to disagree. But in this particular case, Admiral Fallon is saying you've got to start withdrawing for a couple reasons: To reduce the footprint in Iraq but also because there are other missions that could be undermined if the U.S. Army, for example, doesn't have enough troops. How serious of a problem is this?

JOULWAN: First of all, we must understand the president is the commander in chief. He will get input from not only Fallon and Petraeus but others as well. He will balance all of this. And if it's done right, he will get a variety of options here.

But he must make that decision. But it is not unusual for two four-stars to have different views on what should be done. I think they're close on most of the issues.

BLITZER: All right. I want to put up on the screen an ad that will be in The New York Times tomorrow by an anti-war group, moveon.org. There you see it. It says, "General Petraeus or General Betray Us?" and it talks about cooking the books for the White House.

You know General Petraeus. You know he's going to be testifying tomorrow. The whole world will be watching. Is this a political general who's only looking for his own political benefit, or is this guy going to tell the truth as he sees it to the United States Congress?

JOULWAN: He will tell the truth as he sees it, in my opinion. We had several sessions with General Petraeus and his team. Very direct, very forthright.

You know, I did not agree with the way this war was planned nor how it was conducted. But we are where we are, and we need a clear, honest assessment. And in my view, General Petraeus will give that tomorrow. We tried to do that in the commission report, and we think we made out a very valid where we are and where we need to go.

BLITZER: Well, I strongly recommend all of our viewers should read your report, because it has General Jones and Charles Ramsey, the former D.C. police and everyone else, including you, General Joulwan, did an excellent job in bringing forth this information. We're grateful to you for doing it.

JOULWAN: Thank you.

BLITZER: Thanks very much.

And still ahead, Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee. We're going to get his take on what's going on in Iraq, on the new Osama bin Laden tape and his new rival for the Republican presidential nomination, former Senator Fred Thompson. Mike Huckabee standing by live. That's coming up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

With tomorrow's testimony from General David Petraeus, the war in Iraq will no doubt be a key topic on the presidential campaign trail here in the United States.

Joining us now from Atlanta, Republican presidential candidate, the former Arkansas governor, Mike Huckabee.

Governor, welcome back to "Late Edition."

MIKE HUCKABEE (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: You said something at the debate, the Republican debate, earlier in the week that caused a stir, at least among some. You said, "What we did in Iraq, we essentially broke it. It's our responsibility to do the best we can to try to fix it before we just turn away because something is at stake."

Now, what do you mean when you say the United States broke it?

HUCKABEE: Well, when you have a war, you end up with a lot of carnage, not just the human carnage but also the infrastructure of the country. You've got a nation that is clearly in disarray and some would say chaos. But the point is, things are improving.

But you don't just walk away in the middle of the mission. That's never been the history of this country and it's certainly not the mission, nor is it the intent of our military. And it would, I think, break their spirit to take them out before they finish the job that they know they not only can do but that they're going to do if given the opportunity.

BLITZER: Here's a little exchange you had with another presidential candidate, Ron Paul, who supports an immediate withdrawal from Iraq. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. RON PAUL, R-TEXAS: We dug a hole for ourselves and we've dug a hole for our party. We're losing elections and we're going down next year if we don't change it and it has all to do with foreign policy and we have to wake up to this fact.

HUCKABEE: Even if we lose elections, we should not lose our honor and that is more important than the Republican Party.

PAUL: We're losing -- we've lost over...

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right, Governor, how long are you ready to stay in Iraq with this current troop level of about 168,000 forces?

HUCKABEE: Wolf, I wish we were out of there tomorrow. I wish every last American could come home if not tomorrow, today. I don't want to see another life lost.

But on the other hand, I don't want the long-term safety of the United States and our security compromised, nor do I want the credibility of this nation lost for generations because we've simply decided that people were ready for us to come out, whether or not we had finished the task we went there to do.

Even our own Senate sent General Petraeus over there this summer with full confidence and told him he would have until this week to be able to bring a report back. He had barely landed on the ground before they were already on the Senate floor saying we had failed, saying we had lost.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: But Governor, you've got to be really disappointed in the behavior of the Iraqi government in failing to disband the militias, failing to take virtually any of those political steps that the U.S. has literally begged them to take.

HUCKABEE: Well, the Iraqi government certainly has not lived up to their needs or our expectations. And we're going to have to push harder. I think the fact that we're doing our part and doing it well gives us more credibility and more leverage to say the Iraqi government, "Look, we're doing our part. We have an expectation that you do theirs -- that you do yours." But one thing we've got to understand...

BLITZER: What if they don't? What if they don't, Governor? What if they don't do it?

HUCKABEE: ... is that there's a real problem with...

BLITZER: What if they don't do it?

HUCKABEE: Well, then I think we have reasons then to starting saying, "Here are our limits." Now, I don't think we ought to put a timeframe. This is not football with a clock. This is baseball and we have to play it to its conclusion.

And the fact is, we never want to announce to the enemy exactly how long we're going to stay because then we've already lost. They don't have to beat us. They just have to outlast us. And that's not a strategy that the United States could ever play.

BLITZER: All right. Let's move to some of the presidential politics of the week. Fred Thompson decided he was going to be an official presidential candidate, the former senator from Tennessee. He didn't show up at the Republican presidential debate. He had some other things he wanted to do. I'm going to play a little clip from that debate of some of the statements made by and you your colleagues.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, R-ARIZ.: Maybe we're up past his bedtime.

HUCKABEE: Maybe Senator Thompson will be known as the no-show for the presidential debates.

FORMER MAYOR RUDOLPH W. GIULIANI, R-NEW YORK CITY: I think he's done a pretty good job of playing my part on "Law & Order."

FORMER GOV. MITT ROMNEY, R-MASS.: Why the hurry? Why not take some more time off?

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right, who does he help and who does he hurt? There's a general consensus that another strong conservative like Fred Thompson helps Rudy Giuliani because it sort of divides that conservative base -- you and Romney and others. Do you agree with that assessment?

HUCKABEE: I don't know where Fred stands on a lot of issues. That's why I think we were disappointed he didn't show up for the debate, because then he would have had to have defended his record and his positions, just like the rest of us have in the first five debates that we've already participated in.

But Fred did say that he wanted Lincoln/Douglas style debates. He said he would participate in those. I've taken him up on his offer and suggested that he and I go to it, maybe in New Hampshire.

And I hope he'll honor what he said on the Jay Leno show and be serious about that because I think it would be great for the American people. I've signed Newt Gingrich's pledge to take on nine 90-minute debates. I think that's a great idea and it's the kind of discussion that, frankly, the American people would benefit from.

BLITZER: Well, we welcome all of you guys here on CNN to do that debate at the right moment.

Here's what you said -- I saw it this morning in the new issue just coming out of U.S. News & World Report in an interview with you. On Senator Thompson, you said, "I'm distinctly different -- an executive position as a governor, not a Senate position, don't have a Washington address, never been a lobbyist, never been paid to lobby for a pro-abortion group." You're referring to Senator Thompson when he worked for a law firm, giving some advice to a pro-abortion group. So what do you mean by that? Should he be persona non grata among Republicans?

HUCKABEE: No, not persona non grata, but he's got to defend decisions that he made. And I know that he said, "Well, lawyers take on clients that sometimes they don't believe in." Lawyers can also say no. And if it's a matter of conscience, if it's something that gets to the very heart and soul of an issue like the sanctity of human life, I think if he's genuinely all the way to the bone convinced that it's wrong, then you just say, "You know, there are some case I just don't choose to take."

This was not a court-ordered defense appointment from a judge. This was a choice that he made as an attorney. And he's going to have to defend that.

BLITZER: I'm going to show you some poll numbers because it shows you moving up in Iowa, New Hampshire. Nationally, you're still down at only 3 percent. We'll put that poll of polls as we have up there first. You have a problem nationally.

But if you go to Iowa, you see you've moved up to number three with 14 percent behind Romney and Giuliani. And if you go to New Hampshire, you're at 9 percent moving up. You're at number four just behind John McCain.

At the same time, I want to read to you what Mitt Romney is saying about your campaign. He said this: "If Huckabee raises $20 million this quarter, like we did in the first quarter, then he'll become a front-tier candidate." He says that in an interview with the Associated Press on Friday. Do you want to respond to Governor Romney?

HUCKABEE: Well, with all due respect, I appreciate his budget advice but we're not spending money like he is. We don't have to raise it, and we're getting where we're going by being frugal just like I would want to be with the Federal Treasury.

I would be worried if I were a voter if a person is spending millions and millions of dollars to barely be in double digits. I'd be beginning to think I don't want that person in charge of the Federal Treasury.

So we don't really let Governor Romney decide our campaign budget and neither do we let him decide our campaign message. But I appreciate the advice that he's offered to us.

BLITZER: How's the money situation coming in?

HUCKABEE: It's much better as a result of the Iowa straw poll. That gave us some credibility, Wolf, that we certainly needed. And I think it showed that there is a separation between our campaign and some of the others and that we're gaining traction. We're on the trajectory we want to be on. We're hiring staff, not laying people off. And we're on the path up, not down.

And we're certainly not sitting still or static. And, you know, we've seen this all along, like a marathon, a long race that requires some stamina. And it's want just a matter of a few explosions along the way. We wanted a slow, steady, but upward burn.

BLITZER: And if you do become president of the United States, you will be the second U.S. president from a place called Hope -- Hope, Arkansas. Governor Huckabee, thanks for coming in.

HUCKABEE: Thank you, Wolf. Pleasure to be back on the program.

BLITZER: Appreciate it.

And coming up here on "Late Edition," some in Congress are accusing President Bush of whitewashing the war in Iraq. You're going to hear what one of the president's most vocal war critics has to say. That's John Murtha. That's coming up next right here on "Late Edition."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back. Let's get to "The Best of The Situation Room" from this week. An outspoken war veteran and a critic of President Bush's Iraq policy, Democratic Congressman John Murtha joined us earlier in the week.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Do you trust General Petraeus?

REP. JOHN P. MURTHA, D-PA.: Petraeus -- it's not Petraeus' policy. It's Bush's policy. It's President Bush is the one that sets the policy. Petraeus makes recommendations.

I've heard it over and over again. I heard it in Indochina, I heard it in -- even Afghanistan, what the Russians are saying. Rhetoric does not win it. It's got to be -- show progress on the ground.

Now, there may be some progress, and I'm interested to hear what General Petraeus says. But in the long run, electricity six hours a day, -- now what that would mean in the United States with six hours a day of electricity, potable water 30 percent of the people, 2 million people have left the country, for heaven's sake.

They have ethnic cleansing in Baghdad. They're moving all the Sunnis out of Baghdad. Those are the kind of things I measure and those are the kind of things I worry about.

The military's done everything they've got to do. I'm inspired by the military. It's got to be done politically. That's the problem we have. I'm not going to argue with the military leaders and what they say about progress here or there.

What I'm going to say is the policy has to change so the international community gets involved and the Iraqis start to do what they said they're going to do, they start to meet the benchmarks they said they're going to meet.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Congressman John Murtha earlier in the week. So how will others on Capitol Hill respond to General Petraeus' much anticipated report? We're going to be speaking live with two leading members of the U.S. Senate. "Late Edition" continues right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Still to come, will Congress stand behind President Bush's war strategy after hearing from General Petraeus tomorrow? Senators Barbara Boxer and Arlen Specter, they're standing by live right here on "Late Edition."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: The surge of operations that began in June is improving security throughout Iraq.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Manipulating information. We'll hear from two influential members of the Senate, Republican Arlen Specter and Democrat Barbara Boxer.

Campaigner in chief.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

FORMER PRESIDENT BILL CLINTON: She's the best qualified, best suited non-incumbent I've ever had a chance to vote for.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: What effect is Bill Clinton having on his wife's bid for the White House? Insight on that and the week's other big stories from three of the best political team on television. The second hour of "Late Edition" begins right now.

Welcome back. We'll get to our interview with senators Barbara Boxer and Arlen Specter in just a moment. But first, let's go to CNN's Aneesh Raman. He's in Baghdad now with a live report on the situation there, this on the eve of General Petraeus's testimony before the U.S. Congress. What's happening today, Aneesh?

ANEESH RAMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, Wolf, a big meeting today. The second conference of Iraq's neighbors along with representatives of the U.N. Security Council in the G-8, Iran and the U.S. were in attendance. There you see the foreign minister, Hoshyar Zebari. He opened the session with a short but poignant speech, saying that Iraq's neighbors, while many of them support the country, are still interfering in a number of ways.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HOSHYAR ZEBARI, FOREIGN MINISTER OF IRAQ: Despite our emphasis on national reconciliation at home, we also need to be reconciled with our neighborhood, with the international community at large. And this is a critical period for us that we need your support, your commitment, especially from our immediate neighbors.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

RAMAN: You saw just before the foreign minister, Iran's deputy foreign minister, who was in attendance. That is still the crux of this, keeping the U.S. and Iran talking. From Iraq's point of view, keeping a proxy war at bay. They have set up committees, and they're hoping for a ministerial-level meeting in Istanbul, Wolf, at the end of October.

BLITZER: Aneesh Raman reporting for us. Aneesh, thanks very much. Last week there were two reports to Congress on progress or lack of it in Iraq, and now we're awaiting tomorrow's testimony of General David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker.

To preview what should be a key week in the course of this conflict from the U.S. perspective, Two guests. Joining us from Philadelphia, the Republican Senator Arlen Specter, the ranking member of the Senate judiciary committee. And with us here in Washington is Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer of California. She's a key member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Senators, thanks very much for coming in. Senator Specter, I'll start with you. All eyes now on General Petraeus and his testimony tomorrow before the Congress on what to do next in Iraq. But a lot of people are saying that this guy's been proven wrong before, including almost exactly three years ago, just before the U.S. presidential elections, when he wrote an op-ed in The Washington Post saying this.

I'll read you a couple sentences why he says at that time there were reasons for optimism: "I see tangible progress. Iraqi security elements are being rebuilt from the ground up. The institutions that oversee them are being re-established from the top down. And Iraqi leaders are stepping forward, leading their country and their security forces courageously in the face of an enemy that has shown a willingness to do anything to disrupt the establishment of the new Iraq."

Senator Specter, that was widely optimistic at that time. Three years later, you could say the same thing now, and he's presumably going to say something similar right now. Do you think this general has the credibility to convince you and other members of the Senate that they know what they're doing?

SEN. ARLEN SPECTER (R), PENNSYLVANIA: Well, notwithstanding the fact that he may have been wrong in the past, General Petraeus has a very strong reputation and I think he does have credibility. But Wolf, we're going to look behind the generalizations that General Petraeus or anybody gives us and probe the very hard facts to see exactly what the situation is.

As I've said in the past, unless we see some light at the end of the tunnel here, very closely examining what General Petraeus and others have to say, I think there's a general sense that there needs to be a new policy. General Petraeus himself in the last couple of days has said that he's prepared to see the withdrawal of some troops, talked about a brigade, so let's see specifically what develops.

BLITZER: Well, there's conflicting reports on that, Senator. Some suggesting that he's not even ready for a brigade of about 4,000 U.S. forces to start withdrawing by the end of this year. We'll see what he testifies tomorrow. But let me ask Senator Boxer, do you have confidence in General Petraeus?

SEN. BARBARA BOXER (D), CALIFORNIA: Well, I will have the chance to question him on Tuesday in front of the Foreign Relations Committee. My chairman, Joe Biden, has just gotten back from Iraq, as you know, and I think we'll know then. It's too soon to know. I don't know what he's going to say.

But let me tell you what I do know, Wolf. I do know what has happened since the surge. There has been no political reconciliation. We have had the deadliest three months, the deadliest summer ever in the war in Iraq in terms of the loss of our troops. We have 78 percent of the Iraqi people saying, please leave the country.

The Brits have withdrawn. We've had other reports saying the surge hasn't worked. So I intend to question General Petraeus about it. But the last point I'd make is, General Petraeus is really the messenger. The policy comes from President Bush.

BLITZER: Well, President Bush...

BOXER: And that's where I'm going to keep the focus.

BLITZER: President Bush was very firm in reacting to the new Osama bin Laden videotape in drawing consequences for the United States's stance in Iraq. Listen to what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: If Al Qaida bothers to mention Iraq, it's because they want to achieve their objectives in Iraq, which is to drive us out and to develop a safe haven.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right. Those are enormous ramifications for the United States if the president's right.

BOXER: This president amazes me. Every time I see that fugitive terrorist on television taunting America, I think of how wrong this president was in turning away from going after that murderer who murdered our citizens, and moving into Iraq and not having any way of getting us out, while this guy keeps dyeing his beard apparently and making new tapes.

It's an outrage, and we need to finish our work in Iraq -- we must do that now -- redeploy our troops out of there and focus on getting Osama bin Laden and focus on the war on terror.

BLITZER: Realistically, Senator Specter, how much time does the Bush administration have, do you think, to come up with a strategy that will generate the kind of bipartisan support everyone is looking for?

SPECTER: Well, Wolf, I think that this month is critical, and the next few days are very, very critical. And then I think you'll see on the floor of the Senate a very, very vigorous debate to see if we can come to a consensus.

You have to have 60 votes. But when we took up the issue in July, we only took up one of the resolutions, the Warner resolution. We really need to take up -- rather we took only up the Levin resolution. We need to take up the resolution by Warner-Lugar and the resolution by Salazar-Alexander. And I think that this month is going to be very critical when you look at how much time the president has.

BLITZER: But are you going to go along, Senator Boxer, the Democrats, with additional funding, for example? There's reports the president might be seeking an additional $50 billion to continue to fund the war, fund the U.S. troops in Iraq. Will you try to kill that funding using all the means, the legislative techniques you have in the Senate?

BOXER: Well, I personally believe there's a time in which you say, Mr. President, I'll give you the funding, but not to continue what you're doing. So I will, in fact, try to change the mission. But I think Arlen has said something...

BLITZER: But will you filibuster that $50 billion request, assuming it comes in?

BOXER: Well, I don't think it's necessary to do that, because I think we need to get back to what Arlen Specter has put out there. And I agree with him completely. I think that Senator Reid, who is, as you know, our leader in the Senate, Democratic leader and the leader of the Senate, is going to put a range of options on the table.

Arlen is right, we need to get to 60 votes. We had about 53 or 54 for a time deadline to get out. We had a majority of the United States Senate. But we think...

BLITZER: But if you get to those 60 votes, it would be a symbolic message to the president, as opposed to binding legislation, forcing a specific timeline for a withdrawal.

BOXER: But we to have to get to 67 because he's going to veto anything that comes to his desk.

BLITZER: Do you see any prospects you can get to a two-thirds override of a presidential veto?

BOXER: Wolf, today I doubt it because we can only get a few independent-thinking Republicans like Arlen Specter to break with the president. But you know what? The American public is clear. They are tired of this war. They want to see us bring our troops home. And I believe in democracy, so I can't tell you we have 67 votes. Maybe we might for some kind of alternative that's going to come before us. But the fact is, we keep on pushing, we keep on trying and we make it a political issue in the Senate races. You know, the Republicans have 22 seats up, and if we have to go and make the Iraq war an issue again, we'll do that until we get the votes necessary to end this war.

BLITZER: You think realistically, Senator Specter, there's any prospect whatsoever that following this week of General Petraeus's testimony, Ambassador Ryan Crocker's testimony, some new consensus might emerge that will allow this process to go forward in a less partisan way?

SPECTER: Well, we're going to try very hard to do that. Let me just correct something Senator Boxer said. I haven't broken with the president, but I have an open mind.

BOXER: Good.

SPECTER: I want to know exactly what the facts are and there are quite a few of us who are in the center, who are deliberating this matter, who do believe that some new policy is necessary.

And, Wolf, you say there have been conflicting reports, but I was encouraged by the report that General Petraeus is willing to have some call down, at least a brigade. The negotiations have to go forward between the Congress and the president and within the Congress, within the Senate, but we have to work at trying to find a consensus, something we can agree to.

BLITZER: Well, when I say conflicting reports, The New York Times and The Washington Post, as you know, did suggest that perhaps -- perhaps -- General Petraeus was ready to see a symbolic withdrawal by the end of this year or early next year of one brigade, 4,000 U.S. troops, from the 168,000 who are there.

But other sources close to General Petraeus then told our senior Pentagon correspondent, Jamie McIntyre, he was going to recommend no U.S. troops are withdrawn until the spring of next year at the earliest, otherwise that could undermine the overall mission. All right, we're going to pick up...

SPECTER: Well, Wolf...

BLITZER: Yes, go ahead, Senator.

SPECTER: ... that's why it's important to hear from him.

BLITZER: Obviously. We'll hear from the horse's mouth tomorrow.

SPECTER: We're not going to make our generalizations about what appears in the newspapers. We might on CNN, but we're going to take a close look at exactly what the facts are to see if we can figure out a consensus policy.

BLITZER: And we'll have that tomorrow morning when he starts testifying. All right, Senators, stand by. We're going to continue this. We have other subjects we're talking about as well. It's still unclear, for example, whether the Idaho Republican, Senator Larry Craig, will fight to stay in the Senate after his guilty plea after a bust in an airport bathroom. We're going to discuss that, a lot more with the two senators in just a moment.

And later, there's a new face in the race for president of the United States. We'll handicap the chances of former Senator Fred Thompson with some of the best political team on television. "Late Edition" will continue right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to "Late Edition." Once again, we're joined by Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer, Republican Senator Arlen Specter.

Senator Specter, last Sunday you suggested that Senator Larry Craig, your Republican colleague from Idaho, should fight that charge of disorderly conduct that he pleaded guilty to in a Minneapolis airport bathroom.

The day before, though, on Saturday, we subsequently learned Senator Craig left a voicemail on someone's recording that said this -- I'm going to play it for you, because you've gotten yourself involved in this whole scandal. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. LARRY E. CRAIG, R-IDAHO: Arlen Specter is now willing to come out in my defense arguing that it appears by all that he knows I've been railroaded and all of that. Having all of that, we've reshaped my statement a little bit to say it is my intent to resign on September 30.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right. Senator, remind our viewers, why do you think that he should try to withdraw that guilty plea that he confessed to, that he signed that affidavit to?

SPECTER: Well, Wolf, let's start off with the fact that I'm not involved in any scandal.

BLITZER: No, no, no. Only in the aftermath of the scandal. I'll correct that. You're right.

SPECTER: I called up Senator Craig because I wanted to know what facts were. I knew I would be asked about it and I don't like to rely on what I just hear through the news media. And when he told me what had happened and I had heard the tape, I was convinced that he couldn't be convicted if he fought the case. He was very badly confused when he responded.

BLITZER: When he pleaded guilty?

SPECTER: When he entered the plea of guilty. The law in Minnesota is that a guilty plea may be withdrawn if there is manifest injustice and that is defined that a plea can be withdrawn if it was not intelligently made. And what Senator Craig did was by no means intelligent. BLITZER: But let me ask you this, Senator. This is a United States senator who had two months to think about it. We was charged, arrested in June. It wasn't until August that he signed that document pleading guilty to disorderly conduct. Isn't that enough time to think rationally about that?

SPECTER: Well, Wolf, what I say is he's entitled to his day in court. Was there enough time? It was foolish of him to enter the plea. It was equally foolish of him not to consult with an attorney. But here you have a guilty plea to disorderly conduct. And bear in mind, that is not moral turpitude. And just disorderly conduct is not a major offense.

BLITZER: So let me just be clear, Senator. You think he should still stay in the Senate and fight this?

SPECTER: I do. I think that Senator Craig is entitled to the same rights as any other person, no more or no less. Look here, Wolf, very frequently you get a parking ticket and the meter is broken but you enter a guilty plea, you sign off, you pay a small check and not to fight it.

He thought that this matter would not be publicly disclosed, and that was very foolish. Now, look here, you have 27 years in the Congress, you have his reputation, you have his whole life on the line. I think he's entitled to his day in court. Maybe he'll be convicted, but I doubt it.

BLITZER: Well, let me bring Senator Boxer in. You're the chair of the Ethics Committee in the Senate and there's been a referral to your Ethics Committee by the Republican leadership, suggesting you should take a look at this whole case. Give us your thoughts.

BOXER: Yes. I will as far as I can. The bottom line is, any time there is a complaint made against any senator, a preliminary inquiry opens. And then it's disposed of and it's -- sometimes it's disposed of quickly. Sometimes it takes awhile to get to the bottom of it. And then the Ethics Committee determines what then follows.

At the end of the day, you can censure someone, you can expel them or recommend to our colleagues -- it would have to be a vote -- or you can just dismiss the whole thing.

So, obviously, this has been very new and we have this before us. We did have Senator Craig's lawyer write us and say that, in fact, the Ethics Committee has no jurisdiction over this case. That is untrue.

BLITZER: But based on what you know about the evidence out there, is it worthy of a full Ethics Committee examination?

BOXER: That's what the Ethics Committee determines in this first phase.

BLITZER: And so -- and you've agreed you should go ahead with it?

BOXER: Well, you must, according to the rules. Anytime there's a complaint filed, there's a preliminary inquiry.

BLITZER: Do you agree with that, Senator Specter?

SPECTER: I believe that the Ethics Committee should proceed. I think that the Ethics Committee does have jurisdiction and I think that they will treat Senator Craig fairly and decide along the merits. I think that's all that Senator Craig is asking and all that anybody should ask.

BLITZER: Senator Specter, put your hat on now as a ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee. When do you think the president is going to announce his nominee to replace Alberto Gonzales as the attorney general?

SPECTER: My speculation is he'll do it promptly next week. He's coming back...

BLITZER: This coming week?

SPECTER: Yeah. He's coming back from Australia, he's going to be in Washington. I know that the chief of staff and others have been diligently looking over prospects, and I believe it will be promptly made. Attorney General Gonzales is due to resign on the 17th. That's a week from tomorrow. And it's important to move ahead promptly and get a new attorney general in place so that department can function.

BLITZER: Lots of speculation on the former solicitor general, Ted Olson. Is he someone you think the president should nominate?

SPECTER: Well, I don't want to say whom the president should nominate, but I think that Ted Olson's a very able guy and would make a good attorney general.

BLITZER: Last week, Lanny Davis, President Clinton's former special counsel, recommended Ted Olson as well. What do you think about Ted Olson, Senator Boxer?

BOXER: I'm not going to say what I think about Ted Olson, but I am going to say what I am looking for. I did not vote for Alberto Gonzales for one reason, and I said it at the time. I said his loyalty to the president will would trump his loyalty to the American people. He has to be the people's lawyer.

So anyone, anyone who comes before the Judiciary Committee, I just hope the president will choose someone who understands that. This should not be a partisan person. This should be someone who really has a passion for the law and a passion to protect the American people.

BLITZER: A quick question on this article that was in The Washington Post today, Senator Specter, on six years after 9/11, Tuesday. The former New Jersey Governor Tom Kane, Lee Hamilton, former member of Congress, the 9-11 Commission co-chairmen, they say the United States has got to quickly shut down the Guantanamo Bay prison. It's poisonous, they say, for the U.S. reputation around the world. Do you agree? SPECTER: I think that the facility ought to be shut down as soon as there are arrangements made as to where they're going to be placed. People who want to direct what ought to be done ought to have an alternative. But I do think the procedures out of Guantanamo are fundamentally unfair, that the administration position on habeas corpus is wrong, that the combat status review board which functions in Guantanamo does not give due process. And I do agree that the United States has a very bad reputation worldwide for the way we are treating those detainees.

BLITZER: Are you convinced, Senator Boxer, the U.S. is safer today than it was six years ago on the eve of 9/11?

BOXER: In some ways we're safer because of the policies that were put in place by the Congress and the president in terms of doing more surveillance at airports and the rest of it. But the bottom line is, and I get back to where we started, once this president took his eye off getting Osama bin Laden, breaking the back of Al Qaida once and for all, when we had the entire world with us, and went the other way, into Iraq, taking all of those resources, no, I think we are not as safe as we should be at all.

I'm very concerned about it. And even in my own home state, 50 percent of the National Guard equipment is gone. Just in terms -- forget terrorism. A major earthquake. I've been told by the secretary of the Army the equipment is not there. I come back to Iraq, again and again. It is just sucking the air out of this country.

BLITZER: Senator Boxer, thanks for coming in. Senator Specter, thanks to you, as usual, as well.

SPECTER: Nice to be with you. Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Thank you.

Still ahead, President Bush was playing to a friendly audience when he met with U.S. troops in Iraq on Monday. But how will Congress greet General Petraeus when he testifies on Capitol Hill this week?

Our political panel standing by with a preview. "Late Edition" will continue right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We're going to get to our political panel in just a moment. But first, let's take a closer look at where some of the presidential candidates here in the United States will be spending some time over the next few days. On the campaign trail, all the leading Democratic candidates will be in Miami tonight for a debate on the Univision television network, the first Spanish-language debate ever. Often mentioned although still not officially a candidate, maybe won't be a candidate, the former House Speaker Newt Gingrich will be giving a speech in Washington, D.C., on Monday. The topic, a winning strategy for the war on terror. Senator Hillary Clinton will speak on her agenda for senior citizens Monday in Palm Beach, Florida. Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani will be at a buffalo grill in Houston, Texas, tonight. Former Senator John Edwards will be holding a fund-raiser at the American Serb Memorial Hall in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, tomorrow.

And the newcomer to the campaign trail, former Senator Fred Thompson, isn't letting the grass grow under his feet, hitting New Hampshire today, South Carolina tomorrow. On the campaign trail with some of the presidential candidates.

Coming up next on "Late Edition," John Edwards gets tough on Hillary Clinton. Is the race for the White House getting too negative? And the president prepares his report on Iraq. Is there is any room for compromise in a partisan Congress? We'll discuss all that, lots more, with three of the best political team on television. "Late Edition" will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: In many ways, Washington has been waiting for this moment since January. That's when General David Petraeus took over the command of the U.S. military and coalition forces in Iraq. Tomorrow, the general will report to Congress on the progress of his new strategy, and how will Congress react?

To help us get a preview of the important week in Washington, three of the best political team on television: our White House correspondent, Ed Henry, our CNN Radio Congressional correspondent, Lisa Goddard and our CNN Capitol Hill correspondent, Jessica Yellin. Guys, thanks very much for coming in.

Ed, the president started off the week with a calculated strategy. He shows up by surprise in the Al-Anbar Province to underline what is a major convention, that things are beginning to fall into place.

ED HENRY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: He's trying to make the case. He didn't go to Baghdad for a couple reasons. First of all, it was kind of a slight, obviously, of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, go around the central government. But also he's trying to highlight success in Al- Anbar Province.

A lot of experts, though, saying that you maybe can't translate that success from Al-Anbar, around the country. That's one of the challenges General David Petraeus will be asked about a lot. But I think the bottom line on this whole week and the thing to look for, is that we're all talking about how this might be a turning point in the war, a pivotal moment.

The fact of the matter is, when you look at the landscape on Capitol Hill, it's very unlikely the Democrats have the votes to change the president's strategy. The president very clearly is saying he wants to keep the current strategy going forward, status quo. So the bottom line at the end of all this, I think it's really just going to kick the can down the road another six to eight months. And this is not going to be a pivotal moment after all.

BLITZER: Well, even in advance, Jessica, of this testimony from General Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker, the U.S. ambassador in Iraq, Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the House, and Dick Durbin, the number two Democrat in the Senate, they were already preemptively speaking out against this latest testimony. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

U.S. REP. NANCY PELOSI, SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES: The facts are self-evident that the progress is not being made. Now they might want to find one or two places where there's some progress and cherry-pick in that way.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: And Dick Durbin, the number two Democrat in the Senate, listen to what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

U.S. SENATOR DICK DURBIN, D-ILLINOIS: By carefully manipulating the statistics, the Bush/Petraeus report will try to persuade us violence in Iraq is decreasing and the surge is working.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right. The Democrats have their own strategy right now. Explain to our viewers a little bit what they're trying to do.

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Democrats are in what they acknowledge is a very tricky position. They want to cast some doubt on Petraeus' credibility and his independence.

BLITZER: That is a tricky position because he's a four-star general.

YELLIN: And they voted for him. And they're constantly frustrated by the fact that the president keeps pointing that out.

But they want to call attention to the fact that his report, indications show, might be inconsistent with the independent GAO report received earlier and another report, both of which showed the Iraqi government has not made significant strides, the violence there continues, and they really want to make it clear that this is not the end all, be all find word on Iraq.

Because right now, the sense on Capitol Hill is the tide has turned, the momentum is in the direction of the current strategy.

BLITZER: And some of them are presumably going to point to earlier statements from General Petraeus, including one in 2004, an op-ed in The Washington Post which also was relatively optimistic, saying things are finally beginning to turn around. That proved to be a little premature. LISA GODDARD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right. And he's got that going against him. And there's skepticism coming from all sides about Iraq in general. I think Ed's right, though. This isn't necessarily the pivotal week that was expected because of the votes.

But watch for things like proposals coming from Senator Lamar Alexander, sort of a John Warner-type idea of looking province by province for troop withdrawals, looking for some area in between where they'll draw down gradually and have a specific plan for how. You're going to see more plans like that coming from the middle, maybe Republicans.

HENRY: And you have to say that it turns out August turned out to be a relatively good month for the White House. As Jessica was pointing out, if you go to the beginning of the summer, more and more senior Republicans were turning against the White House policy, Lugar and Voinovich and others, but those voices have really quieted down.

And when the Democrats thought they would come into September with a head of steam, it looks like they're not.

BLITZER: The last time Osama bin Laden, Jessica, was out on videotape was just before the presidential elections here in the United States in 2004, almost exactly three years ago.

This week he shows up, once again, with a darker beard, a pretty black beard this time, and politically all the pundits were already suggesting you know what, the last time he probably helped George W. Bush get re-elected because he scared the American public into thinking they need a tough president like Bush. How does it play out this time? Can the Republicans still play that card?

YELLIN: They've played it successfully over and over, so the answer is yes. But it really does cut both ways because look for Democrats to aggressively use this video to remind Americans that the fundamental goal after 9/11 to stop Al Qaida, catch bin Laden has not been achieved.

BLITZER: And John Edwards made exactly that point. I'll play a little clip for what John Edwards said, the Democratic presidential candidate.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN EDWARDS, DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Are we any closer to getting rid of terrorism than we were six years ago? And the answer to that is no. In fact, we're further away. Today, terrorism is worse in Iraq and worse around the world.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: What do you think?

YELLIN: Well, you heard Barbara Boxer say that just on this show. This is something that Democrats will come back to again and again. Whoever the Republicans nominate, they're going to come back to it as well. But the problem is, they're not going to run against President Bush again this year. So, they can play it up to a point, but they have much more fundamental problems than just Osama bin Laden and terrorism.

Americans, I think, are sick of this. They want to know what's getting done on other issues, health care. And Iraq, one of the problems Democrats had this week, Iraq has eclipsed actually a major bill they passed, the student loan bill, which I think more Americans may even care about right now.

BLITZER: But let me just point out -- do the Republicans still have the upper hand on the issue of national security? Are the Democrats -- do they have a national security problem right now?

HENRY: I think both parties have a national security problem right now. I think that the gap that the Democrats once faced has been narrowed significantly, and now it's almost a 50/50 proposition. Whereas the president had his party with a 15, 20-point advantage at one time.

But the credibility for the president has waned a lot, obviously, in large part because as we approach the sixth anniversary of 9/11, he hasn't caught bin Laden. If you listen to what Fran Townsend, the president's homeland security adviser, said on your program at the beginning, she charged that bin Laden is impotent at this point and can't really launch attacks. He's just a propagandist.

On the other hand, just yesterday, essentially, the president said this bin Laden videotape shows why we can't pull out of Iraq, because bin Laden is strong, Al Qaida is strong, we can't give them Iraq.

That sounds to me like a dichotomy there. On one hand, they're saying he's impotent. On the other hand, they're saying he's so strong, we can't pull out of Iraq. That's hurt his credibility.

BLITZER: Every time bin Laden does show up, he reminds Americans that he's still out there, whether in a cave or any place else, whether he on the border or Rawalpindi or Karachi, in a big city, he is out there. And despite the enormous hunt for him, the U.S. can't find him.

YELLIN: And the question is, does that mean the U.S. should stay in Iraq or get out of Iraq? And does that mean the president has failed in his policies or has succeeded? It depends what side you fall on.

GODDARD: And what's interesting, in his videotape, bin Laden didn't just taunt Republicans, he taunted Democrats. He pointed to the fact that Democrats are in the majority now and haven't been able to change the policy in Iraq.

BLITZER: He was talking to the Democrats specifically. He was making fun of them, you know, you got yourselves elected, you haven't been able to get out of Iraq.

Here's Arnold Schwarzenegger, the Republican governor of California. He made this point about his party. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER, R, GOVERNOR OF CALIFORNIA: In movie terms, we would say we're dying at the box office. We are not filling the seats.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right, now, he was re-elected. He's a popular governor out there. But are other Republicans heeding his advice?

HENRY: No. I think it is a big challenge. And you use the box office analogy. Fred Thompson, the former actor, now jumping in this week. When CNN's John King interviewed him and asked him about bin Laden, he seemed to be enunciating the same policy that the president has had about how, well, bin Laden is just a symbol. It's really not about one man. He said that in the CNN interview, essentially, and I think, obviously, a large number of people around the country are thinking, he's maybe more than a symbol.

Bin Laden is still at large six years later, and I think that that is a big challenge for the Republicans, and no one clearly in the Republican field has really established themselves as the go-to person.

BLITZER: We're going to pick up the point on Fred Thompson. He's in the race right now. What does that mean? What does it mean for the other candidates? Guys, stand by. A lot more coming up with our political panel.

Also coming up, we're going to tell you what senators and presidential candidates are saying today. John McCain and Joe Biden had some strong words about the situation in Iraq, very different opinions. We'll cover the other Sunday morning talk shows in our "in case you missed it" segment. That's coming up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: And now, "In Case You Missed It," let's check some of the highlights from the other Sunday morning talk shows here in the United States. On all of the talk shows, discussion focused on where things stand in Iraq and what's next.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM, R-S.C.: And security is better in Iraq than it's been before, Anbar has been retaken from the enemy, Al Qaida is on the run. We're now dealing with the militia groups on the Shia side. Iran wants to fill a vacuum. It is in our national security interest to make sure there's no vacuum.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SEN. EDWARD M. KENNEDY, D-MASS.: This a cockamamie policy. We have been a crutch for too long. We have been the survival blanket for the Iraqi government and the only way they're going to make the tough decisions in judgment is start bringing those troops home.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCCAIN: This strategy is only begun when you look at the fact that some of his troops have only been there for some months. And I think we're at a point where you could, in some months from now, start redeploying and withdrawing troops if you give it a chance.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOSEPH R. BIDEN JR., D-DEL.: The reality is, that although there has been some mild progress in the security front, there is, in fact, no real security in Baghdad and/or in Anbar province where I was dealing with the most serious problem: sectarian violence. Sectarian violence is as strong and as solid and as serious a problem as it was before the surge started.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

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

When we come back, our political panel will talk about Fred Thompson and his decision to jump into this presidential race and more. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back. Let's get back to the U.S. presidential contest and our political panel, Capitol Hill correspondent Jessica Yellin, our White House correspondent Ed Henry and our CNN Radio correspondent Lisa Goddard.

Here's Fred Thompson, the movie star, the actor, the former senator from Tennessee saying he's in this race, this presidential race in Des Moines. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

FORMER SEN. FRED THOMPSON, R-TENN.: I feel this is another door to serve the country that I love. So, the preseason is over. Let's get on with it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

All right. Jessica, his supporters say this is the new Ronald Reagan, a lot of comparisons, a movie star, a politician. Does he have it? YELLIN: Who knows? I mean, we have to see how he does on the trail. He went out, he didn't get a lot of supporters his first trip out in his first big speech and appearance. And the question is, are little bits of information going to start dripping out like what was in The Washington Post this weekend about all his establishment ties in Washington that contradicts his public image as an outsider?

BLITZER: And you heard Governor Mike Huckabee of Arkansas saying on this program just a little while ago, he was never a lobbyist, he was never a Washington insider, he never did legal work for a pro- abortion group. So they're going to go after him.

HENRY: At a time when change is one of the watch words in both parties -- it's sort of a change election, running against Washington. It's going to be tough when these things dribble out about him being a Washington insider, not just as a senator, but as a lobbyist. And so that is clearly going to be a challenge.

I think he has an advantage, obviously, as a former movie star where he was able to announce on Jay Leno, which Mike Huckabee and the others didn't get to do.

But on the other hand, he skipped yet another Republican debate this week, Thompson did, and at some point, he's going to have to get in and actually mix it up with the other candidates if he really wants to gain.

BLITZER: Is it too late for him to get the organizational structure? He's had some problems with staff, to get the fund-raising going, to be a viable candidate?

GODDARD: Right. He made that preseason football analogy, but it's almost like he's changing his coaching staff right as the game is beginning for him. And the truth is, as his game begins, these other guys are in their middle game getting ready for the end game.

So he's had some dramatic -- just three major staffers in the last week, and before that, we've seen campaign management change. He's got to keep that together. That's a really serious problem behind the scenes.

BLITZER: He's got a big mission ahead of him. Chuck Hagel dropping out. We expect tomorrow for him to make the official announcement he's not going to seek reelection as the U.S. senator from Nebraska and he's also not going to run for president, which had been mooted probably arguably, the Republican with the most anti-war record in the U.S. Senate.

BLITZER: This opens the door for a Democrat potentially, Jess, to kind of come in.

YELLIN: It's a tough season ahead for the Republican, not just Hagel but they also have -- John Warner is leaving.

BLITZER: In Virginia. YELLIN: In Virginia, and a Democrat could take his seat. There's a tight race there likely. And their whole map is really in jeopardy right now. There's a lot of nervousness up on Capitol Hill among the Republicans.

BLITZER: A lot of people think that Bob Kerrey, the former Democratic senator from Nebraska who's now the president of the New School University in New York, is going to go back to Nebraska and run for that seat.

HENRY: That's right. And Chuck Schumer, the recruiter for the Democrats, has been working on Kerrey for weeks. And he's a tough guy to say no to. He stays at it, gets in your face, as we all know.

And secondly, I think it could be a big matchup, a rumble, if you will, because Mike Johanns, the agriculture secretary for President Bush, is a former governor, popular in Nebraska, he could jump into this race as well.

So you could have a couple of titans in Nebraska politics. And you can bet that the president, people at White House are going to be leaning hard on people like Johanns, for someone like that to get into the race because if Kerrey gets in -- Bob Kerrey -- he's going to be very tough to beat.

BLITZER: And the Democrats, as you know, Lisa, they have a very slim majority -- 51-49, if you include Joe Lieberman, the independent -- in the Senate right now, but they're hoping to expand that majority and the cards clearly show that they have some favorable indications because the Republicans are more vulnerable in the seats that they're opening.

GODDARD: That right. I think 22 of these seats are Republican seats and the vulnerable ones are Republicans, not just the ones we've mentioned but Norm Coleman in Minnesota, Susan Collins in Maine, these moderates who are really suffering because of the Iraq war and who Democrats are clearly targeting. You heard Barbara Boxer, again, earlier, they're counting the numbers. They want 60. They would love 67. I mean, you know, very unlikely they're going to get that.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: They're not going to get that.

GODDARD: But they're...

(CROSSTALK)

GODDARD: But they're looking at this election as a step toward 60 after that.

BLITZER: I think they'll be happy with 55, if they can do that, which is significant. I'm not saying that's not significant. That's pretty significant.

Bill Clinton, he was on Larry King this week and speaking about his role, whether he's going to help or hurt his wife become president. Here's a little clip.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

FORMER PRESIDENT WILLIAM J. CLINTON: Whether I'll be an asset or a liability, the surveys show that it's helped because I think people know I'd do anything I could for her, but the people that don't like me probably wouldn't have voted for her anyway.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Yes. He is an asset, certainly, with the Democratic base.

YELLIN: I think as they used to say on "Family Feud," the survey says he's right.

(LAUGHTER)

This guy, we know what his liabilities are, but he's such a marvelous campaigner. People already know where his weaknesses are, so I don't think they hold it against him. He's just a win for her.

BLITZER: What do you think?

HENRY: Well, but he's a better campaigner than she is, perhaps, and connects with audiences and that presents a challenge for Senator Clinton in terms of not letting her husband overshadow her. They've so far in the campaign, I think, done a pretty good job of using Bill Clinton in relatively small doses -- bring him to Iowa when they need him, he does a Larry King interview because he's promoting a book right now. That's pretty good publicity.

But there can be a negative side to Bill Clinton, as we all know, and if there are other stories that come out about him down the road that could be a hurt to her campaign, and he could end up overshadowing her in ways that she won't like.

BLITZER: Senator Barack Obama, the big fund-raiser at Oprah's house out in California last night, but he had a new twist on the whole issue of change versus experience. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BARACK OBAMA, D-ILL.: I've been in elected office longer than John Edwards or Hillary Clinton. I past more bills I'm sure than either of them, certainly in the state legislative level.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GODDARD: It's funny that they're waiting until now to really bring this out. It is true; he does have extensive state legislative experience and, of course, he was an on-the-ground civil rights worker in Chicago. That's significant.

But Hillary Clinton was still in the White House for eight years -- you can't ignore that -- and in a role that most first ladies were not in, which was very hands on with policy.

BLITZER: But this Oprah involvement is certainly going to be a huge benefit given her reputation and her clout.

YELLIN: Everything Oprah touches turns to gold. I mean, you cannot deny the power of the Oprah effect. And with Oprah behind you, I mean, it's a huge wind at your back for Obama.

BLITZER: She can make a best-seller out of any book that she wants. If she does that with a book, she could presumably help Obama a great deal.

HENRY: And, obviously, it can cut into any advantage that Hillary Clinton would likely have with female voters. Oprah has got a huge audience of people all around the country, but particularly female voters, female viewers, and I think, obviously, that could cut into Hillary's advantage right there.

She obviously can also help Barack Obama even more with the African-American community, cut into a benefit that Bill Clinton brings for Hillary Clinton because of his closeness with the African- American community. So clearly, Oprah brings a lot to the table for Hillary Clinton.

GODDARD: I think these are untested waters, though. I think star power -- I don't know that it all converts to votes. It definitely converts to money, which is help for Obama, but we've seen he's got a great fund-raising machine already. I'm just skeptical about the Oprah factor in the voting booth.

BLITZER: We've got to leave it there, guys, because we're out of time. Jessica Yellin, thanks very much. Ed Henry, you'll be busy at the White House this week. All of you guys -- Lisa Goddard, you're going to be very busy, critical week coming up here in Washington. Stay with CNN, of course for all -- all -- the latest developments. And by the way, if you would like a recap of today's program, you can get our new and improved "Late Edition" podcast. Simply go to CNN.com/podcast.

And coming up at the top of the hour, "This Week At War" with host Tom Foreman. Here's a preview.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Thanks, Wolf. Once again, terrorists directed by Al Qaida threaten U.S. citizens in Europe. What is being done?

And the future of U.S. troops in Iraq could be decided in the next few days. We'll have a complete preview of General Petraeus' report on "This Week At War."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Let's get to some of your e-mail before we say goodbye.

Sean from Louisiana writes this: "Anyone can see that a complete pullout of troops would result in a bloodbath of warring factions. Since we were so adamant to free the Iraqis of Saddam's tyranny, we owe it to the innocent civilians and to Iraq as a whole to lead them to a safe and secure Iraq."

Leena from Canada, though, has a very different view. She writes this: "As long as American soldiers are acting as freedom fighters for Iraq, there will not be freedom because insurgents will continue to fight to defend their land."

Remember, we always welcome your comments. Our e-mail address is LateEdition@CNN.com.

Let's take a look at what's on the cover of this week's major news magazines here in the United States. Time magazine features General Petraeus and the question, "How Much Longer?"

Newsweek asks, "What Kind Of Decider Would Senator Hillary Clinton Be?"

And U.S. News & World Report leads with what they call a reality check on Iraq entitled, "Where Do We Go From Here?"

And that's your "Late Edition" for this Sunday, September 9. Please be sure to join us next Sunday and every Sunday for two hours at 11:00 a.m. Eastern for the last word in Sunday talk. We're in "The Situation Room" Monday through Friday. Until tomorrow, thanks very much for watching.

"This Week At War" with Tom Foreman starts right now.

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