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General Petraeus Delivers Status Report on Iraq; Iraq Vets Sound Off

Aired September 10, 2007 - 20:00   ET


RICK SANCHEZ, CNN ANCHOR: All right, thanks, Wolf. Here we go, I want to show you something. If ever an image that symbolized a moment in time for our country, this is it. The Iraq war, which way do we go?
Dissent in America taking center stage.


GEN. DAVID PETRAEUS, TOP U.S. COMMANDER IN IRAQ: I wrote this testimony myself.


SANCHEZ: A definitive word from a general or a sales job from the White House? We're live with Yellin on Capitol Hill, McIntyre at the Pentagon, Cooper in Iraq.

Also, Senator Larry Craig has a new legal strategy.

Should more presidential debates sound like this? Tom Tancredo, will you do it in Spanish? He joins us live.

And was Britney's comeback really that will bad? We bring the bare facts OUT IN THE OPEN.

And hello again everybody, I'm Rick Sanchez. General David Petraeus, a top U.S. commander in Iraq, sat down in front of 100 members of Congress to report on progress on the war, and when the troops can come home.

Like the war itself, the hearing was contentious, at times messy, in fact, this thing was so snake bitten from the start, the committee chairman, Ike Skelton was caught on mike using foul language. It appears that somebody forgot to hand out the general's statement to committee members. When it finally came time for General Petraeus to speak, just watch.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How is the microphone?


SANCHEZ: Just a strange moment all the way around. The mike was by the way, eventually fixed. Petraeus played his opening statement and then this, some anti-war protesters, dissenters who now by the way represent a majority of Americans decided they, too, wanted to be heard.


IKE SKELTON, CHAIRMAN: let me make this announcement. That those who have been -- please remove them. Those who have been.


SANCHEZ: This thing lasted for quite awhile. In the end, what did Petraeus say about bringing our troops home? Let's go right now to congressional correspondent Jessica Yellin to get us started. Jessica, this is what so many people in this country have been waiting for. In the end, what did the general say?

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Rick, what General Petraeus said today is that he's actually ready to begin starting to draw down U.S. troops to pre-surge levels by next summer. He said he can even begin bring some troops home this month and the reason why, he says the surge is working.


PETRAEUS: The military objectives of the surge are in large measure being met. In recent months in the face of tough enemies and the brutal summer heat of Iraq, coalition and Iraqi security forces have achieved progress in the security arena.


YELLIN: Now, with lots of graphs and charts, he offered some detailed data, proving that this surge is having success. He says car bombings and attacks are down, civilian deaths are down. He said al Qaeda is not defeated, but it's off balance.

Now, some Democrats received his words with some skepticism. They say he pained the rosiest picture he possibly could have, and that's just what they expected.


REP. TOM LANTOS (D), CALIFORNIA: But the fact remains, gentlemen, that the administration has sent you here today to convince the members of these two committees and the Congress that victory is at hand. With all due respect to you, I must say, I don't buy it.


YELLIN: Now, General Petraeus had an answer to that. After the hearing, he spoke to reporters at a camera here and he said, you know, he's just giving the facts.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) PETRAEUS: Well, I did not provide optimistic words. What I provided was an assessment. In fact, you may have heard me say several times I'm not an optimist or pessimist any more. I'm a realist. Iraq is real hard.


YELLIN: Real hard. In fact, Rick, he says that he does not recommend drawing down troops beyond pre-surge levels at this point. In fact, he said any sort of quick withdrawal would be devastating and very dangerous -- Rick?

SANCHEZ: There was a lot of talk about this full page ad that was in the "New York Times" where they seemed to suggest that General Petraeus has been a yes man in the past. There you're looking at it. What kind of reaction did it get on Capitol Hill, Jessica?

YELLIN: A real uproar as you can imagine. Republicans came out firing. They insisted that Democrats denounce the ad. Democrats ended up back on their heels having to spend the day answering questions about how closely they're associated with and that really took Democrats off their message, which was they want a full withdrawal quickly.

SANCHEZ: Jessica Yellin, thank you.

Let's bring in our senior Pentagon correspondent, Jamie McIntyre who's been following this thing for us. Jamie, it seemed interesting that Petraeus would be using so much White House jargon. I must have counted at least on five or six different occasions where he said the way forward. Yet the first thing out of his mouth when he started speaking was this is a report that he wrote himself and had nothing to do with the White House. How do you reconcile those two?

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SR. PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, sometimes you wonder whether the White House gets the jargon from the generals or the generals get it from the White House.

I have to say that I heard the phrase the way forward as a reference to future plans in the Pentagon well before I ever heard it referred to as the next step in Iraq.

But you know, General Petraeus was up there not just defending his strategy for Iraq, but really his reputation and his credibility. As you said, he started out insisting that he wrote his report and his remarks with no interference from anyone.


PETRAEUS: This is my testimony. I wrote this testimony myself. It has not been cleared by nor shared with anyone in the Pentagon, the White House or the Congress.


MCINTYRE: The one thing you have to wonder about is whether he's under pressure to bring any of those troops home early because if you'd listen carefully to what the general said and particularly his top deputies over the last several months, they all seem to indicate they needed every troop they could get their hands on until March.

But again, General Petraeus today in announcing that some of the troops might come home a little earlier insisted that could be done without jeopardizing the overall goals.


PETRAEUS: I believe that we will be able to reduce our forces to the pre-surge level of brigade combat teams by next summer without jeopardizing the security gains that we have fought so hard to achieve.


MCINTYRE: First thing he's going to do is bring back the Marine Expeditionary Unit. These are forces that were sort of going to be held in reserve on ships in the Persian Gulf. That's an easy one so he can bring about 2,000 marines home there.

Then they're going to bring a brigade combat team home in mid- December. That seems suspiciously like the John Warner plan to make some sort of symbolic withdrawal of troops.

The rest of the drawdown and rest of the brigades, pretty much the original schedule which the surge basically is phased out by summer.

SANCHEZ: Jamie McIntyre on top of the story for us from the Pentagon response. By the way, we're planning to go to Anderson Cooper. He's going to be standing by in Iraq for us as you might imagine from time to time. It's kind of difficult to get a transmission out of Iraq. So Will, let us know as soon as we're able to hook up in Baghdad with Anderson, we'll go to him, stand by. We're going to be taking you there.

In the meantime, let's kind of boil this down for you. Follow me if we can. We'll talk about just not the Petraeus report. Everyone has been talking about that. He essentially is saying that the surge is working and that we'll be at pre-surge levels in terms of troops by sometime next summer.

But there's another report we've been watching as well, this is the GAO report you heard about, the General Accountability Office. What it essentially says in this report is that the U.S. and Iraq have failed to meet 11 of 18 benchmarks set by Congress. Even those 11 can be broken down somewhere in the middle and some complete failures. Three they said didn't work at all.

And then there's this. This is called the Jones report. It was commissioned by Congress, named after an ex-general, a marine. What it essentially found is that Iraq's armed forces are improving, but not fast enough. It says even a year and a half from now, think about that, a year and a half from where we are right now, Iraq's army still won't be able to do the job. That's what that report says. So these are three different perspectives.

Let's try and break it down more for you. Joining us now, one of the people who advised General Petraeus on strategic planning in Iraq. Stephen Biddle is a senior fellow at the Council of Foreign Relations and he sees the U.S. keeping fewer than 130,000 troops in Iraq for as long as, get this, the next 20 years. Professor Biddle, thanks for being with us, sir.


SANCHEZ: You heard what the general says. He says probably back to pre-surge levels by next summer. Is that realistic?

BIDDLE: I think it's going to be very hard to do anything other than that. The whole surge was premised on the idea that it was temporary than eventually, the five brigades we added would come home. And what the general is talking about is the natural subsiding of what was always understood to be a temporary surge.

SANCHEZ: What we're talking about is almost a de-escalation beginning next summer where we're back to pre-surge and then it goes down after that. That's what he seems to be saying. You don't think that's going to happen?

BIDDLE: I think the likeliest prospect for success in Iraq, which I think is an unlikely prospect anyway, but the best shot we've got, is if this bottom-up political model, the Anbar model spreads through the rest of the country.

If it does and it succeeds, what it would ultimately produce is a collection of local and unstable power balances between combatant factions, who retain the forces that could enable them in principle to start fighting again.

SANCHEZ: But how likely is that to happen? What most people who look at this say that you have, even in Anbar, for example, is really the whack a mole theory. Sure, violence is down, yes, there's a lot of troops there. Take out the U.S. troops, violence will likely go back up. Agreed?

BIDDLE: Distinct possibility. I'm actually pessimistic on the prospects for Iraq, but I think if we're going to try, if we're going to make an effort to pull us out at the 11th hour, if you will, the best route available to us is by replicating this bottom-up model.

It's likelier to fail than to succeed. Even so, nobody should come away from this with the impression that this is a sure thing.

If we want to try and pull this thing out, and I think there are two defensible positions on Iraq and they are the extremes. You can make a case for pulling it out and also make a case for getting out all together and cutting our losses. If you're going to try and pull this thing out, I think the best way to do it is a model that requires somebody to remain after a cease-fire to keep it stable. SANCHEZ: Professor, that's a long road to haul. We'll see if Americans have the patience to stomach it. Thank you, sir -- Stephen Biddle.

BIDDLE: Thanks for having me.

SANCHEZ: You've been hearing from some of the experts, you've heard from some of our correspondents both at the Pentagon, the one on Capitol Hill as well.

Now as promised, let's take to you Baghdad. My colleague Anderson Cooper has been following the situation there. He's joining us now from you Camp Victory. Anderson, I guess what we need most from you is a sense of reality on the ground there and whether or not it fits the description given today by General Petraeus.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Well, I don't think there are any real surprises in what General Petraeus was saying. The portrayal that five combat brigades can be removed by the beginning of next summer, that's not a big surprise. That's basically an operational reality.

It's impossible given the current troop levels to keep the surge, the so-called surge going much longer than next spring or early summer. So that's not a big surprise.

When you look at the declines in deaths in Baghdad area, you also, the part of the matrix that isn't talked about is the fact that two million Iraqis have already fled this country. Two more million Iraqis are internally displaced in this country. You've had large scale essentially ethnic cleansing of neighborhoods in Baghdad.

So the neighborhoods are much more Sunni or Shia, much more homogeneous than they were before. So it stands to reason, some argue that, sectarian killings, the number of killings would have gone down because there's fewer people to kill in those neighborhoods.

So there's a lot, when you started to look at the details behind some of the numbers. The other thing people point out is that it's being portrayed as if the goal of the surge all along was to link up with these Sunni tribes and to make the most of the Sunni tribes turning against al Qaeda.

That wasn't the goal. The mission of the surge was to provide military security in the Baghdad area to allow political reconciliation, to allow Iraqi political leaders time to make deals and reconcile one with the other. That simply hasn't happened. If you listen to Ambassador Crocker's testimony, it boils down to him saying it's hard. The only other options are even worse. So, the surge as it was sold initially, the political objectives certainly have failed at this point, the question is, how does the U.S. choose to go forward?

SANCHEZ: Anderson Cooper bringing us the very latest from Baghdad, referring to one of the many problems, the brain drain that's been taking place there in Iraq. By the way, tonight Anderson will be anchoring "A.C. 360" from Camp Victory. You'll see it right here, 10:00 p.m. Eastern. Good show.

Every night on this newscast, we highlight the videos of the day. We found this one especially troubling. This is a homemade video we want to share with you now. It's prepared by neo-Nazis. So what you say, right? Neo-Nazis, you've seen them before. Here's what's so different about this. This tape was done in Israel by neo-Nazis, by Israeli neo-Nazis. Police in Israel say it's the first case of a homegrown neo-Nazi movement there. They've arrested eight alleged gang members over the weekend, accusing them of planning attacks against innocent people.

How hard is it to try and rebuild Iraq's army? We want to check out this analogy now, it's from General Petraeus himself.


PETRAEUS: This has been building, you know, the world's largest aircraft while in flight and while being shot at.


SANCHEZ: You know how easy that is. Everyone has something to say about Iraq. We're being joined tonight by veterans who say they can speak from real experience.

Also, families of soldiers who say they're left holding the bag, and they're tired in many cases of going it alone.

Also, did you hear Senator Larry Craig has a new legal strategy. He just keeps coming back. By the way, so will we. Stay with us.


SANCHEZ: We welcome you back. It's been a story of report card after report card. But the long-awaited report from the general with the Roman soldier sounding name has moved the conversation on Iraq once again.

But has he moved the men whose blood and whose spirit has been truly consumed by this war? That's the part we want to get to right now. Joining me now, three Iraq war veterans, Paul Rieckhoff, founder of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. By the way, he's also written a book that's called "Chasing Ghosts: Failures and Facades in Iraq. This is a soldier's perspective."

Also with me is Marine Corporal Mark Finelli, who's not only an Iraq war veteran, but a 9/11 survivor. And Major Paul Hackett is good enough to join us. He's a member of the Marine Corps Reserve and he's a former Democratic congressional candidate, as well. Gentlemen, our thanks to you for your service, first of all.

Thanks for being here. Mark, after hearing what you heard today, is it proper to continue this fight to, to continue losing our best and our bravest? Did this general make the argument that we should continue to do that?

MARK FINELLI, IRAQ VET: He certainly did. One thing we have to continue to understand is the most important objective that we have is maintaining our geopolitical advantage of being in Iraq. Certainly things have gotten better. I don't just know that from listening to the general speak today. I know it from my friends who are e-mailing me.

If I remember right, before I got out of the Marine Corps, five months ago, you saw a horrible bombing within Baghdad every single day almost - 50 people, 100 people dead, innocent civilians. You rarely see that in Baghdad right now. It still happens.

SANCHEZ: To what end? Where are we going with this?

FINELLI: We're going with us to maintain our geopolitical advantage of being Iraq.

SANCHEZ: Geopolitical advantage in the region, that's where we're going with this right now.

FINELLI: That's what's kept us safe for five years, 364 days and 20 hours and 25 minutes.

SANCHEZ: Paul Hackett, let me bring you into this conversation. I heard a Congressman Abercrombie say today it's going to end up with us cutting oil deals, not the Iraqis cutting their own oil deals, but we will be cutting their oil deals. I also heard today the general refer to Iraq being a client state of the United States from a military weapons standpoint. These things trouble you.

PAUL HACKETT, IRAQ VET: well, here's the problem. First of all, the surge which is really an escalation that got us back to troop strength where we were at the beginning of our invasion, what we've done is if you can picture a water balloon and you take a water balloon and you squeeze it in the middle and the water goes off to the sides.

Well, imagine the middle is currently Baghdad. So sure, Baghdad looks safer, but overall, the country is not safer. We've not led Iraq to a better place than it was a year ago, two years, three years ago. We still only have an hour or two of electricity in Baghdad. The infrastructure is deteriorating.

Ultimately, the problem is that and escalation, this temporary surge is an ad hoc temporary solution that is not dovetailed into a grander plan, a more comprehensive strategy, a strategy that's never been articulated in this war that will lead us to most importantly maintaining our interests in that region and stabilizing the region.

SANCHEZ: Let's wrap it up though Paul. In 20 seconds, what that is strategy? You say -

HACKETT: It's never been articulated by our political leadership. You know, I don't think anybody wants to hear my strategy. I think ultimately though, we are going to maintain a presence in order to keep Syria and Iran out of the Iraqi borders, and to act as a quick reaction force in the region to make sure that it doesn't further deteriorate.

SANCHEZ: Paul Rieckhoff, let me bring you into this because I think this is an interesting part of the discussion because I'm hearing from some people who are saying maybe what Mr. Hackett is saying is we probably should have relied less on bombs and bullets and relied more on ideas. Do you agree with that?

PAUL RIECKHOFF, IRAQ WAR VET: I do agree with that. I think they can complement each other. There's a bigger piece that we haven't addressed. Ambassador Crocker testified today, too. And that's getting lost in the media today.

Petraeus laid out the security plan, the military strategy and how there are military successes in parts of the country. I think that's true.

But the larger mission for the surge was to create the space for political reconciliation. That hasn't happened. Crocker delivered an even more abysmal report about the total lack of political progress that's happened. Even if we win every single military battle, if there isn't political progress, we're not winning. We're not moving forward.

SANCHEZ: Let me tell you something al-Maliki said just yesterday, quoted I believe in the "Washington Post." He said the troops are not ready now and probably won't be ready for quite some time.

FINELLI: I agree 100 percent with that.

RIECKHOFF: We all talk about when the Iraqis stand up. What if they don't? In my experience, they were very slow. It was very difficult training them when I was on the ground in Baghdad and we need to plan for the worst course of action.

SANCHEZ: But maybe they don't want to stand up. Maybe it's just not here. Paul, go ahead.

HACKETT: I was going to say, part of the problem is we're holding them to American standards, number one. And we're neglecting to realize that within those borders, there is a coder of people that manage to militarily support that country before we became involved in the country.

SANCHEZ: But five years.

HACKETT: They're there. When we leave, they're going to take care of it.

SANCHEZ: We certainly hope so. Five years into it, you get the last word. Down to about 10 seconds, go ahead.

FINELLI: The last word is on September 12th of 2001, the American people asked the United States military to protect them, to keep them safe to, to keep no terrorist attacks happening. We've done that. Now I'm asking the American people.

SANCHEZ: You think Iraq is the right place to do that?

HACKETT: But Mark, the only problem with that statement is 9/11 had nothing to do with Iraq.

FINELLI: It's what's keeping us safe. I can't get into it now.

SANCHEZ: Paul Hackett, Paul Rieckhoff, Mark Finelli, we'll have you all back. We'll have you all back. We enjoyed the conversation. Thank you very much. Three soldiers all honorable.

You know, it's one thing for all of us to debate Iraq. Next, the people with the most to lose. I'll ask a mother, a wife, an aunt, should your loved ones come home right now? We should tell you, don't expect them to agree.

Later, can we get away with unpleading guilty? That's the question he seems to be asking. We'll be right back. Stay with us.


SANCHEZ: We welcome you back as we continue this special OUT IN THE OPEN.

While General David Petraeus was testifying before Congress today about America's future in Iraq, this news was getting back to us from the war zone. Seven American troops died today near Baghdad. That brings the death toll to 28 this month, 3,770 in all.

The people we haven't heard from today are the families of men and women serving in Iraq. So we turn the newscast over to them now. Joining me Emily Afuola, whose nephew is an Iraq vet, who is about to go back for another tour, also her son whose back from Afghanistan. Terri-Lynn Braun, whose husband is now in Iraq. And Paula Rogovin, who has a son in Iraq. Thanks, ladies, for being with us today.

Paula, I'm going to begin with you. Are you still convinced that what your son is doing after hearing the general, after hearing the GAO report, after hearing the Jones report, is an honorable mission?

PAULA ROGOVIN, SON SERVING IN IRAQ: I respect my son. He's made a choice. He's volunteered. I personally am opposed to this war. I'm still opposed to it. I think it's wrong. I think it was based on lies and we're getting more lies about the situation in Iraq now.

SANCHEZ: Are you convinced that the general was trying to tell the truth or perhaps was stretching the truth in any way? Terry, let's go to you.

TERRI-LYNN BRAUN, HUSBAND SERVING IN IRAQ: I actually quite honestly did not get to hear all of the report. So I can't accurately answer that, but I will tell you that when these reports are prepared, they are prepared by the people who are there and know what's going on. So if the information that he has been said will be as accurate as they can possibly make it. SANCHEZ: Emily, are you convinced when this general speaks, he speaks for himself, he speaks for the Pentagon, for the military and not for the White House or any political establishment in this country?

EMILY AFUOLA, AUNT OF IRAQ WAR VETERAN: That's a very hard question for me to answer.

SANCHEZ: Talk from your gut. I mean --

AFUOLA: I can't really give a political opinion.

SANCHEZ: What do you think is driving this war? Let me ask the question that way. Because people argue there's an industrial complex that has a lot to do with the economy of this war. People will argue that there's a lot of politics involved in this war. And then there are those who say no, it's an earnest good war being fought for a good cause. Where are you?

AFUOLA: I'm here to support the military. That's what I'm here for. I cannot give a political opinion. I have to keep them to myself. Will be better if you ask one of these ladies.

SANCHEZ: Please, Paula.

ROGOVIN: I think the war is about oil. I think one of the benchmarks, one of the main benchmarks that Congress has put forward and the Bush administration has put forward is to have an oil law to get the Iraqi parliament to pass that law, which would give the oil companies, the foreign oil company's control of Iraqi oil. So, I'm so disturbed that our loved ones are dying and getting severe injuries, post traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury, so many other problems for...

SANCHEZ: What do you think, you two, when you hear her say that and others like it? How do you respond?

AFUOLA: I think that post traumatic stress is a very, very serious issue; TBI is a very serious issue. But again, I have to say that I support the military. I support our troops.

SANCHEZ: Terry, to you.

BRAUN: I have to agree. Nobody hates war more than the family members of soldiers and the people who have to go over there and fight it. But, we go where we are told.

SANCHEZ: In a Democracy like the one we have, is it our job, your job, especially, you seem to have the most invested to stand up and talk to the politicians, the business people, the big leaders in this country and say these are our concerns. Do you feel like you're doing enough of that?

AFUOLA: Well, I absolutely feel like I'm doing enough of that. I go to my politicians and speak with them, and do vote. But... ROGOVIN: My group, Military Families, speak out as a national group. We have met consistently with our senators, our congressmen. We have demonstrations and we have forums and told them we want Congress to vote to end the war. We want all funds removed from war. We want all the troops home now.

SANCHEZ: You disagree?

BRAUN: I disagree.

SANCHEZ: And you're just defending your son.


AFUOLA: Well, I'm not only supporting my son. I support all the military, but I just cannot give a political opinion because of what I do for the military.

SANCHEZ: Well, you know, it's a gutsy conversation. My thanks to all three of you for coming here and having this discussion. God bless you all and certainly God bless your sons and your loved ones who are over there. Emily Afuola, Terry-Lynn Braun, Paula Rogovin, thanks to all of you.

BRAUN: Thank you.

SANCHEZ: Also...


BILLY MARTIN, LARRY CRAIG'S ATTY: We think the law is on the senator's side and we're hoping that this think in court will agree and that it will be reversed.


SANCHEZ: Reversing Senator Larry Craig's guilty plea. Coming up, his brand new legal strategy.

You know this guy from THE SITUATION ROOM, right? Not that guy, this guy, Jack Cafferty. He gets personal, talks about his life, talks about his drinking, talks about his anger. This is a real conversation.

Then, what could this reporter possibly have said to deserve this?

He's taken down. We'll tell you what happens. Oh it gets worse. We'll bring you the rest. Stay with us.


SANCHEZ: Yep, it's happened again. Tonight the Senator Larry Craig case is back in court. His lawyer says that his guilty plea should be thrown out because he really didn't mean to plead guilty and he was terribly confused. His lawyer, Billy Martin, said Craig was under enormous pressure because of a newspaper that happened to be investigating him at the time about his sexuality.


MARTIN: He had just gone through an interview where you put to sleep, put to rest any argument that he was gay and they were going to publish this article. So, he stepped in this bathroom, shortly after that interview and I know the pressure and the stress, as well as the panic from what this could do, did not have him thinking clearly and he waived his Constitutional rights. We're asking that be reversed.


SANCHEZ: Let us now bring in senior legal analyst, Jeffrey Toobin. This is one of his favorite stories.

Jeff, I understand the defense is something called "manifest injustice." I've never heard of it, would you explain it to me and all the folks at home.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, under Minnesota law, a guilty plea can be set aside if letting the guilty plea stand would be a manifest injustice. And Billy Martin and Craig's lawyers have raised two arguments to say why this is a manifest injustice. The first is that he was simply overwhelmed because of the Idaho statesman asking these questions. And that's frankly just an absurd argument. This is a United States senator, he's used to answering tough questions. No court is going to overturn a plea because of that.

But the other argument has more potential. What he's saying is this conduct, you know, the gestures underneath the bathroom door, that simply is not a crime. That can't be disorderly conduct. And I think that's possibly -- that might work.

SANCHEZ: But he's got a very serious problem, which you, by the way, have point out in the past. It's not like he was intimidated into signing anything right there on the spot. He waited what, a month, two months before he finally signed the plea and then mailed it in or something?

TOOBIN: Six weeks. And that -- you put your finger on it. You can't be a United States senator, think something over for six weeks, have the opportunity to consult a lawyer, if you choose to, and then claim that you were just out of your mind. That's just not going to fly. The other argument, maybe it will.

SANCHEZ: Yeah, by the way, what do you think, I listened to the entire tape. It seemed like the credibility of the officer will stand. He seemed like an upright guy who was even trying to give this fellow a break at one point.

TOOBIN: Absolutely. I don't think anybody's going to criticize the officer. The issue is, even if the officer is telling truth about what happened, is that conduct a criminal offense? Is that disorderly conduct? I can see a judge saying, you know, it was all so vague and so harmless, that you know, I will not let this stand. But the important point also to make is that there's no way this could be resolved legally by September 30, so I think he's on his way out of the Senate. This case is really about his clearing his name, much more than preserving his political career, because that's over.

SANCHEZ: The stain for the Republican Party which becomes a serious problem. Jeffrey Toobin, thanks as usual. Good stuff.


SANCHEZ: Well, this Larry Craig scandal is made to order material for my next guest. You know Jack Cafferty from his pointed commentaries on THE SITUATION ROOM. Well, he's just written a book and it's hitting the stores today. And it's good. It's called "It's Getting Ugly Out There: The Frauds, the Bunglers, the Liars and Losers who are Hurting America." Jack Cafferty, good enough to join us now.

Hi Jack, how are you?


SANCHEZ: Read the book on the plane. Gave up a nap for it, by the way.

CAFFERTY: Well, I'm glad it didn't put you to sleep.

SANCHEZ: Darn good. By the way, let's just start with this, because I saw you chuckling while I was interviewing Toobin on the Larry Craig incident. What do you make of this whole thing?

CAFFERTY: I think you have to wash your hands every time you say his name out loud. It's just disgusting. But I think what they ought to do -- he wants the thing overturned, over turn it and THEN re- institute the more serious charges of attempting to engage in lewd conduct and let's have a trial. Let's put him on the stand, let's put the cop on the stand, let's have a trial.

SANCHEZ: Well yeah, and the Republican Party's going to love that.

CAFFERTY: I mean, if you're innocent, and he says he is, then you're entitled to a day in court. Let's have a little trial.

SANCHEZ: Let's talk but for a little bit because I found it fascinating. You revealed a lot of yourself in this book.

CAFFERTY: A little bit, not a lot. Some.

SANCHEZ: No, no I mean, the story you tell about your mom and dad, and I know you love your mom and dad and you tried everything you could for your father until the very end. And he basically kind of wanted to waste himself away. And some of that rubbed off on you, as well.

CAFFERTY: They were both alcoholics and I loved them when I was young but you grow to -- they squish the love in you over a period of time. It was a very dysfunctional household. There were 11 marriages between my mother and father, not between the two of them, a total of 11 marriages, would have been 12, my dad killed one of the women he was engaged to.

And you reach a point where there's no love left any more in a situation like that. But the thing that you develop is this sense of questioning everything because the stuff you're told and the stuff that's promised you as a child turns out to be not true. So, you develop this sixth sense of always questioning authority, which is something that's served me well, actually, in my work.

SANCHEZ: As I read your book, and the first chapter talks about your parents and all the troubles they had with alcohol. When I got to the chapter when then you start spilling your own guts and say, by the way, I was a bit of a drunk myself.

CAFFERTY: Well, I was.

SANCHEZ: I couldn't believe that. It's like, wouldn't you have learned from what your mom and dad went through? How does that happen?

CAFFERTY: Oh, they -- my dad taught me to drink. I mean he took me into the bars with him when I was 11, 12 years old and you know, it wasn't long before you switch from coke, the bartender says oh, let the kid have a beer, you know, and this kind of thing. My dad thought me how to drink.

SANCHEZ: You were going to a shrink to ask him whether you were an alcoholic and drinking on the way.

CAFFERTY: Well, I used to do the local news here in New York, at WNBC television and I used to leave the studio, go to a bodega across the street, get a six pack, drive to New Jersey for an appointment with a psychiatrist to discuss whether or not I had a drinking problem. I'd drink three of the beers on the way there and the other three on the way home after the doctor's appointment. And then, of course, when I got home, you have a couple of drinks before dinner. It was bad. I had my last drink 20 plus years ago.

SANCHEZ: You know, what makes you greats on TV, by the way? Maybe it's all these experiences that you had in your life, but you're like that can t-shirt my wife keeps trying to throw out that I won't let her throw out. It's got the holes in it, but you say it like it. You say it like it is.

CAFFERTY: Are you suggesting I'm like a holy t-shirt?

SANCHEZ: Kind of, yeah. That would be good if you're in Rome. The pope would say, hey.

CAFFERTY: There you go.

SANCHEZ: But, you have a lot to say about what's going on in this country and it's real and it's a real gut check, isn't it?

CAFFERTY: We'll, I've lived longer than you have. You know, I'm 64 and it wasn't always this way. You know? I guess those are the things that I remember is that the country wasn't always this way. I get thousands of e-mails every week on THE SITUATION ROOM, thousands of them. And a lot of people that write to me are deprived and discouraged and feel like they've been abandoned, for want of a better word, by the people that we elect to take care of us.

The middle class guy has no voice in Washington any more. It's the corporations and the lobbyists and the special interest groups and we're never going to have, probably, a return to the "good ol' days," until we begin to turn over the status quo. And I don't know that -- I don't know how you do that except you vote the incumbents out of office.

SANCHEZ: Yeah, we keep listening to a guy like you. Thanks a lot, Jack, appreciate it.

CAFFERTY: Nice to see you.

SANCHEZ: Jack Cafferty. We'll be watching him, by the way, of course, in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Coming up, presidential politics like you've never seen or heard it before. I'm going to asking Tom Tancredo, is he going to the Republican Hispanic debate?



SANCHEZ: We can't stop bringing you the pictures of the day. So here, this is bizarre. This is from Melbourne, Australia. This poor guy is just trying to file a report, look what happens. It's just a live shot, right. That's what we call them in the business. You've heard it before.

And then they really go after him. I mean some annoying guy first tries to distract him, then the other guy comes back, they tackle the reporter onto the ground in a couple of minutes, that reporter's getting the stuff beat out of him. These are rugby fans, folks. So, now you understand. Right?

Horrible scene in Veracruz, Mexico. Let's go to that, (INAUDIBLE), Will. Thirty-four people are dead. Check out the flames. It was a truck loaded with dynamite; it blew up after a collision on a highway in northern Mexico. Three reporters were covering the story; they were killed, as well. This explosion was so big; it left a 40-foot crater in the middle of the road.

Now let's go to a Business Break. On Wall Street, the Dow gained 14, NASDAQ lost six, the S&P lost just under two. The worst economic grow the in five is the forecast from a group of private economists, today. National Association for Business Economists blames the troubled housing market and the credit crunch and the group also says the top risk? A possible recession.

Disney it's going to start independently testing toys that feature Disney characters to make sure that they are safe. The move comes after three embarrassing recalls by Mattel involving millions of toys made in, you guessed it, China. And tainted with lead paint.

Coming up, Tom Tancredo. He is one of the top Republicans. He doesn't want to go to Miami and speak in Spanish for any debate and he's going to tell us why, right here. Maybe we'll debate. Stay with us.


SANCHEZ: And we welcome you back. And the ratings, we should tell you, are right off the press -- hot off the presses, I should say. More than 4.5 million people tuned in for the first of its type TV event last night. It shows just how much America seems to be changing.

As presidential debates go, this one certainly looked and sounded different.


ANNOUNCER: (speaking foreign language)


All the questions in Spanish. That's a first. The questions translated and the candidates had to answer in English.


GOV BILL RICHARDSON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If you're going to build a 12-foot wall, you know what's going to happen? A lot of 13-foot ladders. This is a terrible symbol of America.



SANCHEZ: Aside from disagreement on whether we need a wall along the U.S.-Mexican border, there were few differences among the eight candidates.

SEN JOHN EDWARDS (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: And it is enormously important that we have comprehensive immigration reform.

SEN BARACK OBAMA (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I have been a consistent champion of comprehensive immigration reform.

SEN HILLARY CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We do need to work with the Congress to get legislation that is comprehensive.


SANCHEZ: The real surprise is that a Spanish language debate took place at all. It speaks to the growing clout of Latinos in the U.S. Look at this, according to the Census Bureau, Hispanics are now the country's largest minority, larger than Blacks. They're also the fastest growing minority.

There are potentially 17 million Hispanic voters out there, among Hispanic Democrats, a recent Gallup poll shows Senator Clinton is the overwhelming favorite. Her 55 percent is 43 points ahead of Barack Obama Obama's 12 percent.

The front-runner used last night's debate to zing the Republicans and certain members of the media.


CLINTON: There are many in the political and frankly in the broadcast world today who take a particular aim at our Latino population. And I think it's very destructive...


SANCHEZ: There won't be a Spanish language debate for the Republicans because Senator John McCain, so far, is the only one who said he would come.

Oh, but that's about to change, because we're about to talk to Colorado congressman and Republican presidential candidate, Tom Tancredo into signing up for the next one.

Congressman, how are you? Sir?


SANCHEZ: Good to see you. Hey, so last night you're sitting there, got your popcorn out, you got your root beer and watching this thing, right?

TANCREDO: I missed it.


TANCREDO: I don't know what I had to do, but it's something. It was something important.

SANCHEZ: Why does that not surprise me?

Hey listen, 42 million people in this country call themselves Hispanic. That is one big voting block. Why would you cast aside a group like that? Speaking not just for yourself, but for the Republican Party? Shouldn't you be paying attention to these folks?

TANCREDO: Well, why is it that in order to speak to them, you have to speak to them, first of all, in Spanish or that it has to be translated into Spanish? The fact is that there are -- it is a huge voting block, that's absolutely true. Now, whether or not it votes as a block, you know, it is not monolithic.

In Arizona, in the last election, what we saw was a really amazing thing, that they had four issues on the ballot in Arizona, all of them were very tough on illegal immigration, one was an English only, I think, amendment of some sort. There were four issues, 47 percent of the Hispanics in Arizona voted for them. And by the way, they all passed overwhelmingly. So you cannot say that it is a monolithic voting block.

SANCHEZ: You want to put money on it right now that you don't get more than 20 percent of the Hispanic vote in this country? I mean, go ahead.

TANCREDO: Well, we first would be betting on whether I could get to the point of getting the nomination. That's a pretty much of a long shot too, I have to admit that. I'm willing to admit it.

SANCHEZ: Seriously though, don't you think there should be a coming together? Because do you have -- and you know, this is one of my problems with this -- you've got Univision and Telemundo over here, talking to Hispanics in Spanish -- which I don't think is a good thing -- and then you got over here the rest of the media, CNN and FOX and MSNBC and the rest of us doing the daily grind on the news. Somewhere in the middle, somebody's got to talk about the problem and come up with some kind of solution, right?

TANCREDO: Absolutely. I totally agree they do and they should talk about it in English. You know, if you are going to vote in this country, you should be a citizen. That's the law. Some people vote if they're not. But to be a citizen of this country, you're supposed to be able to know English. We should not be separating America into these linguistic camps and eventually it becomes ethnic, it's terrible.

SANCHEZ: I agree with you. And I'm sorry for hurrying you. But it's my producer's getting me out. We never give you enough time.

TANCREDO: You're right, you're right. You don't.

SANCHEZ: Do you not believe that eventually assimilation falls into place in this country?

TANCREDO: Doesn't happen.

SANCHEZ: I came to this country and spoke only Spanish. Today I speak English and some Spanish, as well. Doesn't it happen that way for everybody?

TANCREDO: No, sir, it just doesn't happen by accident. You have, by the way, to have people come in who want to assimilate and on our side of the -- you know, on the society side, you have to push assimilation. We're not doing it on either side. We're pushing a separation. It's bad stuff. Bad stuff.

SANCHEZ: You get one more question and you only give me one-word answer. Yes or no, will you be at the Republican Hispanic debates?

TANCREDO: No! And that translates in to English and Spanish. No!

SANCHEZ: No. Congressman Tom Tancredo. Thanks for being with us again. We'll get you back.

TANCREDO: OK, bye-bye.

SANCHEZ: Time for another one of our video pics. And guess what, this probably is not a legitimate news item, but it is something that's being discussed by people all over the world. The MTV Video Music Awards, Britney Spears being described as stumbling her way through a performance. You be the judge.

They say she looked like she may not have not had all her faculties. She was stumbling, forgot some of the lyrics while she was trying to lip sync the song. And the reaction from those there, well, pretty obvious.


SANCHEZ: I want to thank you tonight. More and more of you have been watching us at 8:00. Still nothing compared to the King, next.