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Playing the 9/11 Card: President Tries to Rescue Nominee; Dems Mark Return to Power in Congress

Aired November 1, 2007 - 16:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, President Bush plays the 9/11 card to try to rescue his choice for attorney general, but support among Democrats for Michael Mukasey is fading and fading quickly. And we're going to tell you who's coming out against him right now.
Also, Hillary Clinton shows her weak spots after a bruising presidential debate. Now Democratic rivals of hers are saying they know exactly where they want to hit her hardest. That would be in Iowa.

The CNN Election Express is there.

And growing fears the religious right could bring Republicans to their knees. This hour evangelicals are anxious and a third party presidential threat is looming large.

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

President Bush is taking the lead today in yet another bare- knuckle brawl with Democrats in Congress. He's warning that new threats to Michael Mukasey's nomination as attorney general amount to a bigger threat, a threat to America's national security.

Let's begin our coverage with our White House correspondent, Suzanne Malveaux.

Suzanne, the president drawing a very, very clear line as to what the implications, the ramifications of this nomination are.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, this is a family strategy, and it's a strategy for this White House that has worked in the past. They are banking on the potential that Democrats are going to back down on this battle, and that is if they can frame this debate as one around national security.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MALVEAUX (voice over): In the battle to save his attorney general's nomination, President Bush pulled out a familiar weapon from his arsenal. He invoked the horrors of September 11th and introduced the possibility of a fresh attack.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The terrorists who struck America that September morning intend to strike us again. MALVEAUX: The message to the Democratically-controlled Congress was simple: approve his nominee, Judge Michael Mukasey, or potentially take the fall for not providing his administration with the people and tools needed to prevent another attack.

BUSH: The job of attorney general is essentially to the security of America.

MALVEAUX: Mr. Bush also called on Congress to renew legislation to give his administration broader leeway to wiretap potential terrorists without a warrant. The president went even further, accusing lawmakers of not only shirking their responsibilities, but kowtowing to antiwar groups, some who gathered outside the speech site.

BUSH: Some in Washington should spend more time responding to the warnings of terrorists like Osama bin Laden and the requests of our commanders on the ground, and less time responding to the demands of MoveOn.org bloggers and Code Pink protesters.

MALVEAUX: Mukasey's nomination is being held up over his refusal to say whether the interrogation technique of simulating drowning or waterboarding is illegal, or whether it's tantamount to torture. Mr. Bush says it's a question Mukasey can't answer, because he's not yet qualified to be briefed on top-secret interrogation methods. But the president insists it's all legal.

BUSH: The procedures used in this program are safe, they are lawful, and they are necessary.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MALVEAUX: And Wolf, the president is really trying so hard to save this nomination. He did something very rare today.

He held an on-the-record off-camera briefing in the Oval Office to preview this speech. Now, the press secretary, Dana Perino, said he was recently inspired by a photo he saw of President Eisenhower doing one of those traditional pen-and-pad type of sessions, but considering that it's six and a half years into his administration, this certainly suggests this president not only willing to do something different, but certainly needs to do something different to get this nomination through -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Suzanne, stand by for a moment. I want to go up to Capitol Hill.

Jessica Yellin, our congressional correspondent, is standing by.

Another top Democrat said he's going to oppose this nomination. Update our viewers on what's going on.

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf.

Ted Kennedy came out today and said he's going to vote against Michael Mukasey, saying that waterboarding is torture, yet Mukasey refuses to say so. That makes four Democrats opposing the judge's nomination.

Now, all it takes is one Democrat to say they will favor the nomination and the judge is expected to get through that committee, but right now all those other Democrats say they are undecided, and we are still waiting to hear which way they'll go. That vote is scheduled for Tuesday, but it's very much now up in the air which way this will come down.

BLITZER: What about Senator Schumer of New York? He was a big supporter of Judge Mukasey. What about Schumer?

YELLIN: He now says he's undecided. He had been a vocal proponent and now he says he's weighing the decision. So clearly that's a shift.

BLITZER: Suzanne Malveaux, back to you at the White House.

What's the next step for the White House?

MALVEAUX: Well, they're going to keep talking about this. You heard from the president, you heard from the vice president. They're putting out top-level officials to keep hammering this point, that this is a point about national security.

As you know, Wolf, talking to one of those officials as well, that this is something they believe if they keep talking about it, they'll put enough pressure on members of Congress to push this thing through.

BLITZER: Suzanne Malveaux, Jessica Yellin, thanks very much.

Just ahead, the White House counselor, Ed Gillespie. He'll respond to the criticism of Mukasey and the dustup over the definition of torture.

That interview with Ed Gillespie coming up.

(BUSINESS REPORT)

BLITZER: Let's check in with Jack Cafferty. He's got "The Cafferty File".

Hi, Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, "It is time for the United States to pursue direct, unconditional and comprehensive talks with Iran." Those are the words of Republican Senator Chuck Hagel.

The Nebraska senator sent a letter to President Bush last month, urging him to consider such talks. Hagel says he's supported the president's diplomatic efforts so far, working with the permanent members of the U.N. Security Council and the International Atomic Energy Agency, along with efforts on the part of the U.S. ambassador in Iraq, but Hagel says he's concerned now that the diplomatic strategy used so far is stalling.

He writes this: "Unless there's a strategic shift, I believe we will find ourselves in a dangerous and increasingly isolated position in the coming months. I don't see how the collective actions that we are now taking will produce the results that we seek. If this continues, our ability to sustain a united international front will weaken as countries grow uncertain over our motives and unwillingness to open confrontation with Iran, and we are left with fewer and fewer policy options."

Senator Hagel urges the U.S. to offer these direct talks with Iran while we work along at the same time with our allies on sanctions, and he suggests it could create a historic new dynamic in U.S./Iranian relations. His office also told us that so far President Bush hasn't even bothered to answer his letter.

So here's the question: Senator Chuck Hagel is calling on President Bush to pursue direct, unconditional and comprehensive talks with Iran. Is that a good idea?

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

BLITZER: Jack, thank you for that.

Jack Cafferty in New York.

Hillary Clinton's secrets under scrutiny. We're going to tell you why papers from her years as first lady are staying under lock and key, and why her primary presidential opponents are so eager to blast her for it.

Also coming up, the funny man Stephen Colbert may not be laughing all that much. We're going to tell you what's happening in his just- launched so-called presidential campaign.

And coming up next, charges of Chinese water torture as senators argue over Michael Mukasey's nomination to become attorney general. The presidential counselor, Ed Gillespie, responds to some very serious allegations.

Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Let's get back to our top story -- President Bush today demanding the Senate confirm his nominee to become the attorney general of the United States, because he says the nation is at war right now and he needs his national security team in place.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: And joining us now, Ed Gillespie, the counselor to the president. He's joining us now from the White House.

Ed, thanks very much for coming in. ED GILLESPIE, COUNSELOR TO PRESIDENT BUSH: Thank you, Wolf, for having me.

BLITZER: Arlen Specter, the ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee, seems to think Michael Mukasey's nomination to become the next attorney general is at risk right now. How worried are you?

GILLESPIE: Well, we believe that if Judge Mukasey is given an up-or-down vote on the floor of the Senate, he will be confirmed. This is someone who has been lauded across the political spectrum for his expertise on the law, for his fairness, for his intellect, for his independence, but the fact is there is a process here, and in that process it is possible that he could be blocked in committee.

Now, Wolf, that would be the first time, near as we can tell and according to the Senate historians Web site, that would be the first time in the history of our country, as I understand it, that a nominee for attorney general wouldn't be move out of committee to the floor of the Senate for an up-or-down vote. We are a nation at war. The Department of Justice, according to -- many of the Democrats on that committee have said that it needs new leadership, so I'm hopeful that won't be the case and that he will get a fair hearing on the floor of the United States Senate.

BLITZER: Among the issues that are standing in his way is this issue of what's called waterboarding, this real severe interrogation technique. He's refusing to say it's torture and he would never permit it as the top law enforcement officer of the United States.

Malcolm Nance is a counterterrorism consultant who's been involved in training people to deal with this issue of waterboarding, wrote a piece in "The New York Daily News" this week, and he describes it this way: "Unless you have been strapped down to the board, have endured the agonizing feeling of the water overpowering your gag reflex, and then feel your throat open and allow pint after pint of water to involuntarily fill your lungs, you will not know the meaning of the word."

He goes on to write, "The lack of physical scarring allows the victim to recover and be threatened with its use again and again. Call it 'Chinese water torture,' 'the barrel,' or 'the waterfall.' It is all the same."

Why not simply say, you know what, waterboarding is torture and it's never going to be used?

GILLESPIE: Well, Wolf, the question that was put to Judge Mukasey is, is waterboarding legal? And the judge rightly said, you know, I don't know if it is or is not used as a technique in a program that is under the supervision of the professionals in the United States government. The government has never confirmed any techniques, have confirmed the existence of an enhanced interrogation program, but never talked about any techniques.

And so Judge Mukasey doesn't have the benefit of having access to classified information as to what does or does not occur in this program and any legal underpinnings or any analysis of it. And to ask him to render a legal opinion without that kind of information or access to that kind of information is frankly unfair. And I don't think anyone who actually deserves to serve as attorney general, the chief law enforcement officer of the United States of America, would render a legal opinion without access to that kind of information.

BLITZER: Two senators, both Republicans, who have been briefed on this technique, both say it's torture and should be illegal.

Listen to what senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham said over the weekend.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Anyone who says they don't know if waterboarding is torture or not has no experience in the conduct of warfare and national security.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: I am convinced as an individual senator, as a military lawyer for 25 years, that waterboarding, the technique that was described to Judge Mukasey, does violate the Geneva Convention, does violate our war crimes statute, and is clearly illegal.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right. Both of those are Republicans, and they don't mince any words.

GILLESPIE: And both of them do have -- have been briefed and read into the program, Wolf, and have a basis by which to make that assessment. Both of them also today came out in support of Judge Mukasey.

They did encourage him in an earlier letter to -- once confirmed, to take a look at the legal underpinnings of any of the decisions affecting the enhanced interrogation program and encouraged him to do that. And so while they obviously have that very strongly-held view about waterboarding, they also came out in support of his confirmation today, because they know, too, that he does not have the basis of information to make an assessment that they are able to make right now, because he's not been privy to that classified information in the way they have.

BLITZER: He did write to the committee. He wrote to the Senate Democrats -- he said, "As described in your letter, these techniques seem over the line or, on a personal basis, repugnant to me, and would probably seem the same to many Americans." But then he went on to say that since he hasn't actually been briefed on it, doesn't have the security clearances, he can't go as far as saying he could never authorize it, or whatever.

But on a general basis, can you go as far to say that the U.S. does engage in this technique?

GILLESPIE: I cannot, Wolf. And the fact is, if you look at the record of the United States Senate, there was a debate on the floor of the Senate during a debate over detainee treatment in military detainees, and there was an amendment offered, actually, that would have been waterboarding and applied it government-wide. It was last September when the Republicans controlled the Congress, and it was defeated on the floor of the Senate.

And so when you have a record of the Senate debating it with the basis of information that many senators have from having been briefed on the program, and then ask Judge Mukasey to render a legal opinion that the Senate itself didn't choose to render a year ago, I think that's why a lot of people think that putting this question to him without the benefit of classified information that he could only get after he's confirmed is an unfair approach to his nomination and to his confirmation.

BLITZER: Ed Gillespie is the White House counselor, counselor to the president.

Ed, thanks very much.

GILLESPIE: Thank you, Wolf, for having me on.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: In our hot seat tomorrow, by the way, the consumer activist, the former presidential candidate, Ralph Nader. He'll talk about his legal fight right now with the Democratic Party. Also, I'll ask him if he's thinking once again of running for president.

If you have a question for Ralph Nader, you can record it on video and submit it to CNN.com/situationroom. Go there, and we might air your question tomorrow on video to Ralph Nader.

Some of Hillary Clinton's opponents are asking, what, if anything, she's hiding. We're going to dig into the dispute over secret White House records from her years as the first lady.

And Senator Clinton finds a new way to remind voters that in case you missed it, she's the only woman in this race.

That's coming up in our "Strategy Session."

Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Let's go back to Capitol Hill right now. Democrats there are trying to position themselves for the next big election by celebrating their victory in the last one.

Our congressional correspondent Jessica Yellin once again standing by there.

Marking the Democrats, a milestone of sorts. What's going on?

YELLIN: Well, Wolf, Democrats today are touting their own accomplishments and branding Republicans "obstructionists." A year since they took power, they are keenly aware of the Congress's disapproval ratings.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

YELLIN (voice over): It was a campaign-style rally for Democrats marking the first anniversary of their return to power.

REP. RAHM EMANUEL (D), DEMOCRATIC CAUCUS CHAIRMAN: In one short year we've made real progress and won real victories for the American people.

YELLIN: The anniversary comes as Democratic leaders are stymied on almost every issue before them, including children's health insurance, the wiretap law, and spending bills. But they offer a ready explanation for the gridlock.

REP. STENY HOYER (D), MAJORITY LEADER: This do-something, new- direction Congress has been blocked far too often by a do-nothing president and his Republican congressional accomplices.

YELLIN: And today, Senate Leader Harry Reid echoed that message, saying of the president, "Never have we had anyone so unwilling to negotiate on anything."

Americans' approval of Congress is at historic lows, but Democrats insist polls show they are doing much better than their Republican counterparts.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), HOUSE SPEAKER: Which party can bring needed change? Forty-eight percent Democratic, 26 percent Republican.

YELLIN: Republicans maintain these internal fights hurt both parties.

REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R), MINORITY LEADER: At the end of the day, if the American people see us working together, Democrats and Republicans, on their behalf, all of our numbers will go up.

YELLIN: But one analyst says the Democrats have found a winning strategy.

STU ROTHENBERG, ROTHENBERG POLITICAL REPORT: I think that's probably going to be a pretty good message come next fall, because voters are giving Democrats a bit more benefit of the doubt than they are the Republicans. They really do see Republicans as standing in the way of a lot of change.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

YELLIN: And Democratic leaders say voters now realize that Democrats need a larger majority in Congress to get more done. They say they plan to use that as a message to get Democrats elected to Congress in 2008 -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jessica Yellin, thanks very much. (NEWSBREAK)

BLITZER: Some Republicans say they're ready to dis the party. Some Evangelical Christians warning if Rudy Giuliani becomes their nominee, his support for abortion rights and gay rights will cost Republicans dearly.

John King is standing by.

And in one presidential contest, coming in second place could actually help you get to first. That's why some Democrats hope to be number one, and even hope to be number two.

We're going to explain what's going on.

Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Happening now, Condoleezza Rice heads to Turkey, but before she even gets there, many want her to "go home." Protesters saying the U.S. has a double standard when it comes to fighting terror.

Will Rice be able to accomplish her objective amid all the anger? We're going to go there.

Working in Iraq is a "potential death sentence." That's what some U.S. diplomats are now saying, and they're furious that some could be forced to work there anyway.

And New York's mayor shows his independence all the time. He's supporting a Republican now who's making other Republicans and the NRA very angry. I'll ask Michael Bloomberg what's going on.

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

They do not like Rudy Giuliani's support of gay rights and abortion rights, so what's going on right now? Some Evangelical Christians say they're ready to show the ultimate form of protest -- dissing the Republican Party in favor of another option if Giuliani wins the Republican nomination.

Our chief national correspondent John King is here. He's watching this story unfold.

Now, there's a lot at stake for the Republican Party right now.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Certainly is, Wolf.

And this one scenario, the possibility of a third-party social conservative candidacy, keeps coming up at a time when the political climate overall is already not so good for Republicans.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) KING: Steve Scheffler of the Iowa Christian Alliance would never vote for Rudy Giuliani. But:

STEVE SCHEFFLER, PRESIDENT, IOWA CHRISTIAN ALLIANCE: Going the third-party route, in my view, is just not the smart thing to do. You never say never, but I just don't that that is something that would be conducive.

KING: Many activists like Scheffler worry backing an anti- abortion third-party candidacy in 2008 would hurt their movement in the long term.

But there is fresh evidence many rank-and-file evangelicals are open to looking elsewhere if both major-party nominees support abortion rights. A new Pew Research Center study found, if Giuliani is the Republican nominee, 44 percent of all Republican and Republican-leaning voters say they would be open to backing a more conservative third-party candidacy.

Among white evangelical Republicans, willingness to back a third- party candidate jumps to 55 percent.

ANDREW KOHUT, PRESIDENT, PEW RESEARCH CENTER: At this point, it may be just expressing their frustrations, but they're expressing their frustrations in such great numbers that, should it become a real choice, you could have a significant number of these people going that way. Now, you don't need 55 percent to really hurt the Republican Party. You need -- 5 percent or 7 percent could significantly hurt the Republican Party.

KING: It is still a big if, but if the Giuliani wins the Republican nomination, Iowa will be the proving ground for the impact on Christian conservatives. President Bush carried the state by just 10,000 votes in 2004.

SCHEFFLER: Ninety percent of the people that did the yard -- the spadework for the president in 2004 were people out of that conservative faith-based community. They're not going to be there, by and large, to work for Rudy Giuliani. There will be a mixture of people voting for that third-party ticket and/or they just won't pull that lever.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KING: Now, Giuliani aides dispute the notion that a large number of evangelicals would either bolt the Republican Party or stay home if he is the nominee, Wolf.

But they also say that, if you accept that premise, they believe that, for any evangelical losses he would suffer in a place like Iowa, that he would gain in big states like New Jersey and California, that are more moderate and more centrist. So they say in the end he's still a stronger candidate in November. And this debate is not going to go away.

KING: And the stakes really, really are enormous, a lot riding on this.

John, take a look at this, right behind you. If evangelicals do eventually bolt from the Republican Party, it would certainly be a huge, huge loss. Look at this -- 126 million Americans voted in the 2004 presidential election. Of that number, almost a quarter, 23 percent, were whites who consider themselves born-again and evangelical Christians. And 78 percent of those evangelicals voted for President Bush, with Democratic opponent John Kerry getting just 21 percent of their support.

So, I assume a lot of Republican strategists, a lot of Republican activists are deeply worried that they may just sit on their hands. They may not show up and vote for a presidential candidate if Giuliani is the nominee.

KING: Absolutely. Some hope that, if Hillary Clinton is the Democratic nominee, that that is enough to unify them and tell them to come out anyway, even if they have disagreements with someone like Giuliani.

But, Wolf, if you look on a state-by-state basis -- you showed those national numbers -- we just talked about Iowa. You look at Ohio, some of the border states and Bible Belt states, if you will, that Bush carried, but by small margins, in 2000 and 2004, if the evangelicals stay home or they support a third-party candidacy, those states come into play for the Democrats, and it makes the electoral map almost impossible for Republicans.

BLITZER: John, thanks very much -- John King reporting.

The presidential candidates are working hard for support in Iowa. More specifically, some of the Democrats are working hard toward one goal, stopping Hillary Clinton in that state. But they don't have long to do it. Iowa's important presidential caucus only nine weeks away from today.

Our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider, is with the CNN Election Express that's been crisscrossing the country in many important primary states. He's joining us now from Des Moines.

Bill, are we seeing a change in the Democratic race since Tuesday night's Democratic presidential debate?

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, Hillary Clinton's rivals sense a little blood in the water, and they're ready to move in for the kill.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER (voice-over): If her rivals want to stop Hillary Clinton, they have to do it in Iowa, where the Democratic race is a dead heat. Did her performance in the debate this week hurt her?

David Yepsen of "The Des Moines Register" thinks so, but not primarily because of her position.

DAVID YEPSEN, "THE DES MOINES REGISTER": What gets her in trouble is waffling, is equivocating, is not being clear.

SCHNEIDER: John Edwards is releasing a new TV ad in Iowa drawing an obvious contrast.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, EDWARDS CAMPAIGN AD)

JOHN EDWARDS (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It is time for our party, the Democratic Party, to show a little backbone, to have a little guts.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCHNEIDER: The criticism of Clinton has resonance with Democratic caucus-goers, because it reinforces their one big doubt about her: Is she electable?

YEPSEN: Any time anything happens that reinforces Clinton's negatives or bad perceptions of her will raise questions anew about, well, maybe she can't win in November.

SCHNEIDER: Clinton is fighting back by accusing her opponents, all men, of piling on.

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I seem to be the topic of great conversation and consternation. And that's for a reason.

SCHNEIDER: On Wednesday, when a government workers union endorsed her, the president of the union said this.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Some of you may have seen last night's debate, six guys against Hillary. And I would call that a fair fight.

(LAUGHTER)

SCHNEIDER: On Thursday, she made this comment when she visited Wellesley College, her alma mater.

CLINTON: In so many ways, this all women's college prepared me to compete in the all-boys club of presidential politics.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

SCHNEIDER: Could playing the gender card pay off in Iowa?

YEPSEN: When Senator Clinton plays that gender defense, I think that's something a lot of women caucus-goers can relate to and understand. They have all been in situations where the men were kind of ganging up on them.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER: In 2004, just over half of the Democratic caucus- goers here in Iowa were women, according to the local party. That's a pretty big voting group -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Bill Schneider, on the scene for us in Iowa, thanks.

Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and John Edwards, they are vying to be number one, of course, among the Iowa Democrats. But they're also making an unusual appeal to caucus-goers to be their backup candidate as well. Here's why.

The Iowa Democrats have a rule that candidates have to get the backing of at least 15 percent of caucus-goers for that support to count. So, let's say one of the second-tier candidates, perhaps Joe Biden, falls below 15 percent. Then his supporters would be allowed to switch their vote to their backup candidate, say, Barack Obama. Once all of the second choices are tallied, the outcome of the caucus could shift dramatically.

For instance, Obama might have been running second, but suddenly could surge to first place. That scenario, by the way, only applies to the Democrats. Republicans don't have that rule in their caucus.

The CNN Election Express is bringing all the excitement of the presidential race and the issues you care about to your own backyard. From Iowa, our campaign bus, by the way, heads to the Democratic Convention city of Denver. Then it's on to Las Vegas for CNN's Democratic presidential debate. I will be there for that debate from Denver.

By the way, from Vegas, the bus treks back to Saint Petersburg, Florida for the CNN/YouTube Republican presidential debate. Remember, November 15 in Las Vegas, that's the next Democratic presidential debate. I will be moderating it in that key Western state, November 15 in Vegas.

Does Hillary Clinton have anything to hide, as some suggests? Her opponents want some documents being held in secret from her White House years. They want those documents released. But what or who is holding up that process?

Also, we will have more about Hillary Clinton's suggestion that she can take all the political jabs. We will talk about her comments on what -- what she's prepared to do in the rough-and-tumble of the political arena, an arena that's right now dominated still by men.

And the Dow dives, as oil prices soar. What does that mean for the overall economy? And what does it mean for you?

Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Hillary Clinton says her years as first lady make her uniquely qualified to return to the White House as president, but her Democratic rivals suggest there may be something from the Clinton administration years that she's trying to hide.

Let's bring in Brian Todd. He digging deep into this story.

The Clinton opponents are -- literally, they're pouncing all over her on this. What is going on?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, they're only starting to, Wolf.

The fight is over the release of records from when Hillary Clinton was first lady, which were turned over to the National Archives when the Clintons left office. With only two months until the first votes are cast, the question of how soon records will be released has become a very political one.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TODD (voice-over): Barack Obama accusing Hillary Clinton of delaying the release of White House records.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Not releasing, I think, these records, at the same time, Hillary, as you're making the claim that this is the basis for your experience, I think, is a problem.

TODD: At issue, thousands of documents related to Senator Clinton's time as first lady, memos, letters, her daily appointment schedule, that might shed new light on her failed health care effort, as well as Whitewater and the Monica Lewinsky affair.

Clinton says, that's not up to her or her husband; it's up to the National Archives.

CLINTON: The Archives is moving as rapidly as the Archives moves. There's about 20 million pieces of paper there. And they are move, and they are releasing as they do their process.

TODD: The National Archives began processing Clinton material just last year for release. They have a backlog of requests from historians, journalists to review 10 million pages of Clinton materials, and only six archivists to do it.

LEE WHITE, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, NATIONAL COALITION FOR HISTORY: The question becomes, the Archives really just doesn't have the resources to process this material.

TODD: But Bill Clinton has a hand in this as well, since former presidents are now sent all papers from their term in office before they're released. According to the Clinton Library, Bill Clinton's reviews have delayed the release of documents by, on average, eight months.

CLINTON: Hello, sir. How you doing?

TODD: The issue could provide an opening for rivals or critics of the former first lady.

ROGER SIMON, CHIEF POLITICAL COLUMNIST, THEPOLITICO.COM: Candidates who conceal things run into the problem of people believing, where there's smoke, there's fire.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: But, even if President Clinton told the Archives today, release anything you want, don't hold your breath. Experts say requests to presidential libraries are now taking years, Wolf.

BLITZER: Because some would like to see those documents before the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary, which is only about two months away.

TODD: They would. But the National Archives says that they have to process these requests in the order in which they were received. The information that they were asked about first from the Clinton presidency was about UFOs, so they processed that first. They say there's no jumping in line.

BLITZER: Brian Todd, thanks very much for that.

An anti-Hillary Clinton video spelling out some ongoing legal battles between the Clintons and a former donor is one of the most popular videos online. The 13-minute video has attracted more than 1.6 million views on Google Video alone.

Our Internet reporter, Abbi Tatton, is joining us now with more.

Who's behind, Abbi, this video?

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, it's Peter Paul, one- time Clinton fund-raiser, convicted felon, and now rising YouTube star.

For more than six years, this Hollywood businessman has been battling the Clintons. And now his documentary-style video lays out his legal complaints. At issue, this star-studded fund-raiser Paul organized for Hillary Clinton's 2000 Senate bid.

Amongst Paul's allegations, that Bill Clinton promised to help him with business venture in exchange for the gala, but never did. The Clintons have denied Paul's claims. A court ruled last month that Hillary Clinton should be dismissed from his lawsuit. The former president is still party to that suit.

But Peter Paul's claims against Hillary Clinton are getting an online audience. The video has a half-million views on YouTube, more elsewhere. It's also on Paul's Web site, which is packed with documents pertaining to his suit.

The Clinton campaign, in a statement, claimed Paul is a professional liar, saying -- quote -- "His video repackages a series of seven-year-old false claims about Senator Clinton that have already been rejected by the California state courts, the Justice Department, the Federal Election Commission, and the Senate Ethics Committee."

Paul, who is currently awaiting sentencing on federal stock fraud charges, says, there's more. This trailer was only ever intended for focus groups. He said he's getting ready to sell a longer film version online -- Wolf. BLITZER: Abbi, thank you for that -- Abbi Tatton. Interesting information.

Today in the "Strategy Session": Senator Clinton says her education uniquely qualifies her for the race to the White House.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLINTON: In so many ways, this all women's college prepared me to compete in the all-boys club of presidential politics.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: But is the presidential field treating her any differently because she's a woman? Or is she playing the gender card?

And President Bush urging Congress to move quickly on the Michael Mukasey nomination. Is it really a matter of national security? Stephanie Cutter and Terry Jeffrey, they're standing by live, right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: President Bush is comparing Democratic leaders in Congress to people who ignored the rise of Lenin and Hitler. He says Congress is lagging on tools to fight terror, and that the world could pay a huge price if Congress doesn't get its act together.

In today's "Strategy Session," Democratic strategist Stephanie Cutter and conservative commentator Terry Jeffrey. He's editor in chief of the Cybercast News Service.

I will play the clip of what the president said, making this analogy to the bad old days. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Bin Laden and his terrorist allies have made their intentions as clear as Lenin and Hitler before them. And the question is, will we listen? America and our coalition partners are listening. We have made our choice. We take the words of the enemy seriously.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right, Stephanie, that -- that, obviously, very strong words...

STEPHANIE CUTTER, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Mm-hmm.

BLITZER: ... it's going to scare a lot of people, but will it work politically?

CUTTER: Well, I don't think it's even going to scare a lot of people. I mean, these words now ring hollow to so many Americans, because we have been hearing these threats for going on seven years.

And, if he wanted to do something about the war on terror and address the threat that is raised by our enemies, he would change the policy in Iraq. He would put more troops in Afghanistan. And he would listen to his own generals about breaking the back of the military.

BLITZER: His credibility is weak sort of right now, you have got to admit, Terry.

(LAUGHTER)

TERRY JEFFREY, EDITOR IN CHIEF, CYBERCAST NEWS SERVICE: Well, Wolf, it's been more than six years since September 11. We have not had another al Qaeda attack. I think, if you would ask most Senate Democrats on September 12, 2001, they would not have believed that would happen.

Right now, they're talking about holding up the confirmation of Mr. Mukasey as attorney general of the United States over the issue of water-boarding.

Brian Ross of ABC News reported that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, was broken by our CIA after he was water-boarded, and he in fact revealed ongoing al Qaeda plots against the United States. If the Democrats in the Senate want to ban the procedure by which we got vital information out of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Harry Reid ought to put up a bill right now that says: Water-boarding is forbidden. What we did to Khalid Sheikh Mohammed may not be done again.

BLITZER: It sort of reinforces this notion that the Democrats are weak when it comes to national security. That's been a very successful strategy for the Republicans for decades now.

CUTTER: Mm-hmm.

Well, it's not just Democrats that think water -- water-boarding is wrong. It's Democrats and Republicans. McCain and Lindsey Graham think that water-boarding is wrong.

You know, this is the attorney general of the United States. The attorney general is supposed to be executing our laws. Water-boarding is illegal. Why can't he just say that?

JEFFREY: You know, I will tell you, Wolf, when we drop a bomb on an al Qaeda unit in Afghanistan, they don't ask whether they read these guys their Fifth Amendment rights or whether it violated the Eighth Amendment.

The Bill of Rights do not apply to enemies in an authorized war. Congress authorized war against al Qaeda. I will say again, if Harry Reid and the Democrats want to ban the procedure by which we got information from Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, make them do it expressly in the law.

BLITZER: All right.

CUTTER: OK. Let me make one point about that.

BLITZER: Go ahead.

CUTTER: This is not about our Bill of Rights. This is about the Geneva Convention.

If you want to water-board our enemies, that means our enemies are going to be water-boarding our own troops.

(CROSSTALK)

CUTTER: So, this is not about the politics of fear here. This is about the reality of what's happening on the ground.

If you want to put our troops in danger, then let's allow water- boarding. It's ridiculous.

BLITZER: Let's talk about Hillary Clinton's statement today that she's well-trained to get into this fight with the big boys right now.

Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLINTON: In so many ways, this all women's college prepared me to compete in the all-boys club of presidential politics.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Referring to her education at Wellesley, when -- when she was a young lady.

CUTTER: Mm-hmm.

BLITZER: Is that strategy going to bring in more women? Might it alienate some men? What do you think?

CUTTER: Well, I don't think it's going to alienate men.

I think what she is saying is that she's in an all-boys club, and that she's not getting attacked because she's a woman. She's getting attacked because she's the front-runner. But, because of her education, she's prepared. She can take it. And I think she proved that the other night.

JEFFREY: You know, after her dubious and purposely evasive comments in the debate earlier this week, I will give Hillary credit here for saying something very candid, which I think actually reflects a conservative value.

I think single-sex schools are a good thing. I believe that Wellesley helped train Hillary Clinton to be a very forceful and commanding person that has made her a viable presidential candidate. And maybe she ought to start advocating single-sex schools, for example, in the public schools right here in D.C.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: That's been an argument for single-sex schools and why parents should think about sending their daughters to all-girl schools for a long time.

CUTTER: Yes. I went to one.

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: Well, then that's why you're competing with the big boys, like Terry Jeffrey right now.

(CROSSTALK)

CUTTER: ... big boys.

BLITZER: Stephanie Cutter, thanks very much.

Terry Jeffrey, thanks to you as well.

The funnyman Stephen Colbert has a serious problem on his hands. It involves what he calls a presidential campaign, but some in South Carolina consider it a joke.

And New York's very independent mayor shows a streak of more independence. Michael Bloomberg, you're going to find out why his support for one Republican is making other Republicans very angry.

The mayor, Michael Bloomberg, will be here live right in THE SITUATION ROOM.

And working in Iraq is -- quote -- "a potential death sentence." That's what some U.S. diplomats are now saying, and they're fuming. They could be forced to go there.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: On our Political Ticker this Thursday: Stephen Colbert still has his fake newscast to fall back on, but his mock presidential campaign appears to be over.

The South Carolina Democratic Party voted today to keep the comedian off the primary ballot. State party officials decided Colbert's campaign was a joke, because he was only running in South Carolina. Colbert ruled out trying to get on the Republican ballot in his native state because it was too expensive. But he got a whole lot of publicity out of this whole venture.

Minnesota Senator Norm Coleman is throwing his support behind Republican presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani. The former Saint Paul mayor tells the Associated Press he's backing the former New York City mayor because of his stance on security and because he can get things done. Coleman may be trying to help himself, as much as Giuliani. Coleman is trying to improve his standing with swing voters in the run-up to a tough reelection campaign for himself next year.

Remember, for the latest political news at any time, check out our Political Ticker at CNN.com/ticker.

Let's go to Jack Cafferty for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: I may have asked this before and just simply forgotten the answer. What is that annoying noise that we just heard when you put up...

BLITZER: That's dramatic music that we use for the ticker.

CAFFERTY: It sounds like one of those shooting gallery things at the carnival...

(LAUGHTER)

CAFFERTY: ... where the little ducks go across the screen.

BLITZER: It's...

CAFFERTY: The question this hour, Wolf, is: Senator Chuck Hagel wrote President Bush a letter, said, you know, you ought to pursue direct, unconditional and comprehensive talks with Iran.

Is that a good idea?

Scott writes from Missouri: "It beats the hell out of going on another WMD hunting party. Talk first. Explain it. Simple. The only way they will ever get the bomb is if we drop in on them. Problem solved."

Jeff in New York: "Jack, yes, he's correct. Senator Hagel has the right idea. We have seen six-and-a-half years of cowboy non- diplomacy, a destroyed Iraq, the entire Middle East destabilized, record terrorist recruitment, record anti-Americanism, record national debt. And the war drums are beating again regarding Iran."

Jim writes: "I believe it would be wrong to have direct talks with Iran. It was appeasement that created Stalin and Hitler. We should increase sanctions, be ready to strike Iran's nuclear reactors. We must keep the military option open."

Eric in Dallas: "You bet it is. Explain to me and make me understand why it could hurt. I find that, often, people are more alike than different and, in general, want many of the same things. I just don't see a downside to diplomacy. Invite the guy over for a beer. Be the bigger person."

Grey writes: "We should have been talking to Iran before we went into Iraq. Back then, when the reformers were in power, we had a chance to create a regional cooperative effort to keep Iraq stable. The arrogant administration brushed off an olive branch that was offered then, and it has cost American lives."

And Kevin writes from Ohio: "Watching the Bush presidency is painful. Even Republicans are trying to wake him up. Lame ducks should be in a lame duck care facility, not swaggering up to the war button" -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks, Jack.

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