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Clinton and Obama Neck and Neck in New Hampshire; President Bush Wins on Iraq, Again; Interview With Mike Huckabee

Aired December 12, 2007 - 16:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, a dead heat right now in New Mexico. Our brand-new CNN poll shows Barack Obama has closed the gap with Hillary Clinton in the leadoff primary state. The Democratic race now more uncertain and more exciting than ever.
Plus, the Republican front-runner in Iowa, Mike Huckabee, is he feeling bruised after the GOP debate we just watched here on CNN? I'll get his take on the face-off, the attacks, what's going on, where this race stands by.

Mike Huckabee standing by live to join us.

And they were undecided when the debate started. Are they decided now? Iowa Republicans tell us who did best and who might get their vote.

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

Move over, Iowa. The Democratic presidential race in New Hampshire is now nip and tuck as well. Or brand-new CNN/WMUR poll shows Hillary Clinton's lead has evaporated and she's now running neck and neck with Barack Obama.

Our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider, is joining us now live with more on what's going on in New Hampshire.

And you're there for us in Manchester. Dramatic results from our latest poll, Bill.

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: That's right. You know, in politics, New Hampshire is supposed to be the firewall state, but the firewall may not be holding.


SCHNEIDER (voice over): New Hampshire is supposed to be Hillary Clinton's firewall. If she loses Iowa, New Hampshire is her must-win state. But look at what's happening in the Granite State. The Obama fire has spread to New Hampshire.

In the latest CNN/WMUR New Hampshire presidential primary poll conducted by the University of New Hampshire, the state is now neck and neck -- Clinton 31, Obama 30.

Is it the Oprah effect? Oprah Winfrey campaigned for Obama in New Hampshire this weekend. Obama gained seven points among women, but he picked up 10 points among men.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Our pollster is confident that there may have been a couple points worth, but that the trends themselves are much larger than any one visit any one weekend.

SCHNEIDER: What could be bigger than Oprah? Here's a clue. Clinton continues to lead among registered Democrats, but Obama is ahead among Independents.

New Hampshire voters say Obama is least like a typical politician. He's become the anti-establishment candidate.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The American people are paying attention to not just change political parties in the White House, but change how politics is done in Washington.

SCHNEIDER: New Hampshire has often been friendly to anti- establishment candidates like Gary Hart in 1984 and John McCain in 2000. They both won the New Hampshire primary with strong supports from Independents, though neither won their party's nomination.

What's happening on the Republican side in New Hampshire? Nothing. Mitt Romney is still leading. Mike Huckabee has picked up a few points, but he's still running fourth. New Hampshire's not Iowa.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Here it's less socially conservative. You get more of the Independent, but fiscal conservatives, so that core group that's supporting Huckabee doesn't necessarily exist in as big of numbers here in New Hampshire.

SCHNEIDER: Republicans have not coalesced behind an anti- establishment candidate. Both Independents and registered Republicans are voting for Romney.


SCHNEIDER: Isn't the straight-talking John McCain supposed to be the Republicans' anti-establishment candidate? Well, he was in 2000, but not now. Asked which Republican candidate is least like a typical politician, New Hampshire Republicans told us they're not sure -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And Bill, explain to our viewers why that Independent vote in New Hampshire is so critical, not only in the Democratic contest, but in the Republican contest as well.

SCHNEIDER: Because here in New Hampshire, registered Independents can vote either party's primary. So they can participate in the Republican or the Democratic primary.

But remember one other thing. According to the poll, almost half the voters in both parties saying they haven't made up their minds yet. It's like Christmas shopping, Wolf. People are waiting to make up their minds until the last minute.

BLITZER: All right. Well, that last minute is quickly approaching.

Bill Schneider with dramatic new poll numbers.

Thanks very much.

A lot more coming up on the political scene, what's happening in New Hampshire and Iowa. All of that coming up, but I want to move to some other important news right now.

President Bush's days in the White House may -- repeat, may -- be numbered, but he's proving today he can still get his way with the U.S. Congress.

Ed Henry is standing by at the White House. He's got more on what is going on.

Ed, tell our viewers what happened today.

ED HENRY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the final deal has not been written, and we have to caution that these budget deals are always a moving target until the final moment. But CNN has learned that the president is on the verge of a big legislative victory involving war funding.

Democratic lawmakers and staffers on Capitol Hill are privately saying that they're working out the details of a final budget that would give the president as much as $70 billion in new war funding for Iraq and Afghanistan with no timeline to withdraw most U.S. troops by the end of 2008, as Democrats wanted.

Now, congressional Democrats are privately trying to sell this as a partial victory because of the fact that the president originally wanted another $200 billion, would only be getting up to another $70 billion. But as you know, the Democrats' liberal base is very unlikely to buy that. They're going to b3e very angry that it appears the Democrats are giving in on this war funding -- Wolf.

BLITZER: It does show, Ed, that the president -- some say he's a lame duck, but he's still got a lot of clout in dealing with these kinds of matters because the Democratic majorities in the Senate and the House are very, very modest.

HENRY: They are, and they're also split on some of these issues, and it's been diffuse for the Democrats in trying to put together a message. But also, as you know, the president has been putting a lot of political pressure on Democrats, saying they can't go home for Christmas without funding the troops, also warning the Pentagon, as you know, would have to start laying off some civilian employees if they didn't get more money.

You'll remember that in recent weeks, Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the president would not get another dollar in war funding by the end of this year. It now looks like the president might actually get a lot more in war funding -- Wolf.

BLITZER: We'll see. Ed, thanks very much. Let's go back to Jack. He's got "The Cafferty File" in New York -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Mike Huckabee declined to answer when he was asked if Mormonism is a cult earlier this year. It might have been the right response.

In an upcoming "New York Times" magazine article, the former Arkansas governor is quoted as asking this: "Don't Mormons believe that Jesus and the devil are brothers?"

Well, this, after telling a reporter he thought Mormonism was a religion but admitting that he doesn't know much about it. Rival Republican candidate Mitt Romney, of course, who's a Mormon, says he thinks "Attacking someone's religion is really going too far. It's not the American way."

Huckabee's campaign insists his comments were taken out of context -- don't they always -- that he wasn't bashing the religion, but instead was illustrating his unwillingness to answer questions about Mormonism and to avoid addressing theological questions during this campaign.

Sure, Mike. Nice try.

Huckabee has been making big gains recently, taking the lead in Iowa, getting closer to Rudy Giuliani in the national polls, and he and Romney are also duking it out for support from evangelicals.

So the question is this: What's your reaction to Mike Huckabee saying, "Don't Mormons believe that Jesus and the devils are brothers?"

E-mail your thoughts to, or you can go post a comment on my new blog -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And Mormons don't believe, by the way, that Jesus and the devil are brothers, just for the record. I want to make sure our viewers know that. That's been an accusations that critics of Mormonism have made against Mormons, but they do not believe that to be a fact.

All right. Stand by, Jack. We're going to have a lot of e-mail coming up on that, and we're going to talk about it with Mike Huckabee, himself. He's going to be joining us live this hour right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

In a moment, the undecided Iowans, who do they like? Mary Snow, she's standing by with 21 undecided Republicans. Are some of them leaning toward one candidate now in the aftermath of this Republican presidential debate?

And as we've been pointing out, in Iowa right now it seems that Mike Huckabee is the Republican to beat. Just minutes after going head to head with his rivals, Huckabee facing some serious, tough questions right here in THE SITUATION ROOM. And we'll take a look at tomorrow's Democratic presidential debate in Iowa. Who has the most to gain? Who has the most to lose as the Democratic contest turns into more of a free-for-all?

And the CIA chief has briefed Congress on those destroyed CIA interrogation tapes, but lawmakers from both parties are clearly not satisfied. You're going to find out where the investigation and the outrage go from here.

Stick around. Lots of news happening right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Turning from the first-in-the-nation presidential primary to Iowa's first major presidential contest. That would be the caucuses on January 3rd. And just in to CNN, what voters were most and least impressed with in the last Republican presidential debate before the caucuses, the debate that just ended out in Iowa.

Mary Snow is joining us now from Johnstown in Iowa.

Mary, you've been talking to a group of undecided Republicans. They have little meters to show us what they liked, what they didn't like.

Tell us what happened.

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, we're getting immediate reaction. We have 13 women, eight men sitting, watching the debate. And according to how they viewed this, they felt that Rudy Giuliani performed the best among the Republican candidates. That is because they did not expect him to do well at this debate.

Expectations were very high for Mike Huckabee. He had a strong showing among these registered Republicans who are undecided, but they thought he would do better in this debate.

Now, if the election were held today, we asked this random survey of the people in this room who would win, and the results are that Mike Huckabee placed first in that category, followed by Rudy Giuliani, Mitt Romney, and then Fred Thompson in fourth place.

Some of the people here say they're closer to a decision. Some say this debate made them shy away from a decision or they're not any closer to it.

One person who is closer to a decision is Diane Proctor.

Diane, after watching this, how are you leaning?

DIANE PROCTOR, IOWA REPUBLICAN VOTER: I'm leaning toward Rudy Giuliani.

SNOW: And why is that? PROCTOR: Because of his commitment to our national security and to less government. And we believe in less government and less taxes, and we want our states to handle more of things like education, and our federal government needs to handle infrastructure and our national security.

SNOW: All right.

Now, Mona Butters, you had a very different reaction. You said that you had been leaning toward Mitt Romney. What's your reaction after this debate?

MONA BUTTERS, IOWA REPUBLICAN VOTER: I thought it was great today. I thought all the men performed extremely well.

I think that I was most surprised truly with Tom Tancredo and to Duncan Hunter. I thought they did a fabulous job. And I think instead of being really focused on who I wanted, I think I'm thinking there's some other really great candidates out there.

SNOW: So now you're a little more open to other candidates?

BUTTERS: I'm more open.

SNOW: And finally, Greg Lascheid.

Greg, you said that you're no closer to a decision now, right?

GREG LASCHEID, IOWA REPUBLICAN VOTER: No, I came in here pretty much a Huckabee guy, a little undecided. But now I'm kind of up in the air. I'd like to see more of Duncan Hunter. And Giuliani impressed me as well.

SNOW: So you came in here a Mike Huckabee fan, you're undecided, but you were leaning that way. But now after this debate you've had a change of heart?

LASCHEID: That's correct.

SNOW: And anybody else that you were impressed by today?

LASCHEID: Not overly so, but I did not like Mitt Romney's answer on healthcare. That concerns me. And so he's pretty much out of the picture now.

SNOW: What specifically didn't you like?

LASCHEID: I don't know how he intends to pay for healthcare for everybody, but that sounds like what we're hearing from the Democrats, and I really don't want to go there.

SNOW: All right.

So, Wolf, this is just a sampling of some of the 21 registered Republicans. Just a few weeks to go before the Iowa caucus. All the people in this room say they intend to go caucus, but really nobody walked out of here saying that they had declared their candidate and who they would support.

BLITZER: I just want to clarify one thing, Mary. When you say that Huckabee did the best if the election were held today, did they say they would vote for Huckabee today or they think he would win if the election were today? Were they -- in other words, were they expressing their personal opinion or analysis of what would happen?

SNOW: When they were asked today after the debate about if the election were held today, they were asked who they thought would win. And Mike Huckabee came out first in that selection.

BLITZER: But that wasn't necessarily their personal preference? That was their assessment of who would win?

SNOW: Exactly.

BLITZER: All right. I just wanted to make sure that we clarified that.

And what I'm also hearing is that of these 21 Republicans, most of them, they may have narrowed down the gaps a little bit, maybe opened up their minds, but they haven't necessarily closed a deal for one or another candidate?

SNOW: Yes. And, you know, several people I was talking to say that they really thought they weren't going to be closer to making a decision, but after seeing the debate they were more confused after watching the debate. So, still, there's a lot of uncertainty out there.

But also, we do want to also just point out that in terms of the strongest performances and where we did see reactions to candidates, we saw some of the strongest moments come when Mike Huckabee was speaking and also when Rudy Giuliani was speaking. Two of those moments got the biggest reaction from this crowd.

BLITZER: All right, Mary. Thanks very much. And please thank those 21 undecided Republicans as well.

As all of our viewers know, Mary Snow is part of the Emmy Award- winning best political team on television. And remember, for the latest political news any time, check out our political ticker at

Mick Huckabee walked into this final Republican debate before the Iowa caucuses on January 3rd in a whole new position. The former underdog now is a top contender, if not the top contender, for this first presidential contest of the primary season. And that also makes him, of course, the targets for some scathing attacks and some fierce scrutiny. He understands that.

The former Arkansas governor is joining us now from the site of this debate.

Governor, thanks very much for coming in.

And let me ask you right away, what did you think? How did you do?

MIKE HUCKABEE (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, I think the debate went fine. It was frankly a little less fireworks than I anticipated, but believe me, Wolf, I'm very fine with that. I was kind of anticipating there would be blood on the floor, most of it mine. And fortunately, I came out with -- without a Band-Aid.

BLITZER: And that's from your standpoint very good, because you now are in all of these most recent polls in Iowa the favorite right now to win. And that normally means you have a bull's eye, but I didn't see a lot of these candidates really directing their aim at you during these 90 minutes.

HUCKABEE: Well, I didn't, either. I think they've saved it for the mail and for television, because there's sure enough of that out there.

The post office is having a heck of a month, and Christmas has nothing to do with it, in Iowa. A lot of mail pieces out there, a lot of negative TV ads. We'll see how it works.

I don't think it's going to. I think it's going to have a sort of a counter-effect, but if I'm wrong, I'm wrong. I just am convinced that people here want a positive campaign, and that's what we're trying to give them. I think that's why we're ahead right now.

BLITZER: All right. "The New York Times" Sunday magazine has a long profile of you, and one line has jumped out and is causing a lot of commotion right now.

When you asked this question to the interviewer, the reporter who wrote the story, you said this: "Don't Mormons believe that Jesus and the devil are brothers?" Now, as you know, Mormons say that's a canard, they don't believe that, that's been a canard spread by people who don't like Mormonism.

I want you to explain what you were doing by even raising that question.

HUCKABEE: Actually if you'll talk to the reporter, because he was shocked that that was characterized out of an 8,100-word story, as we were, we thought, good heavens. We were having a conversation. It was over several hours, and the conversation was about religion, and he was trying to press me on my thoughts of Mitt Romney's religion.

And I said I don't want to go there. I don't know that much about it. I barely know enough about being a Baptist. And I really didn't know.

Well, he was telling me things about the Mormon faith, because he frankly is fairly well-schooled on comparative religions. And so as a part of that conversation, I asked the question, because I had heard that, and I asked it not to create something -- I never thought it would make the story.

After the debate today I went to Mitt Romney and apologized to him, because I said, I would never try, ever, to try to somehow pick out some point of your faith and make it, you know, an issue, and I wouldn't. I've stayed away from talking about Mitt Romney's faith. And I told him face to face, I said, "I don't think your being a Mormon ought to make you more or less qualified for being a president." That has been my position.

Wolf, everybody I've talked to just about wants me to come out and say something about Mitt Romney's faith. I've not taken the bait, but if I don't say something, they say that my avoiding it is really an underlying statement. If I do say anything, then I'm attacking him.

So I'm not sure how to deal with that, but I certainly am not in any way getting into that. And as I said to him, I say to you, I don't think his particular religion is a factor in whether or not people should vote for him or against him.

I'd like to think that my being a Baptist isn't a factor in people voting for or against me, although in Arkansas, when people say, are the Baptists active in your campaign, I always say they're all active, half for me and half of them against me, but it certainly didn't mean that they automatically voted for me.

BLITZER: So how did he react, Mitt Romney, when you went up to him and you said -- you apologized, I guess, for that one quote?

HUCKABEE: Well, he was gracious. You know, I hope he knows it was sincere. But, you know, I'm trying to stay away from everything I can say. I'm being much more cautious now, because everything is being parsed.

And heck, not just the things I'm saying now, but, you know, we have got a lot of people dumpster-diving right now in the political process, and they're going through every old wastebasket they can find to dig up anything I have ever said, but I understand. I went through this in Arkansas, it's part of the political process. It's not something I'm shocked by, not something I wasn't expecting.

If anything, I'm kind of delighted that it's happening, because there's no way that this wouldn't be happening if I wasn't scaring some people to death.

BLITZER: By a lot of estimates, Governor, you're going to win in Iowa, at least if the election were today, the caucuses were today. But people are saying, you know what? He doesn't have the organization, he doesn't have the money to really take that win in Iowa and really go anywhere, because in New Hampshire it's a much different picture.

What do you say to those cynics out there who say, you know, even if you win in Iowa, it's not going to mean a whole lot?

HUCKABEE: Well, whatever we do, somebody has an excuse for why it's not enough. I was never supposed to be here, remember? I was the guy that wouldn't get past the spring. I was the guy that wouldn't make it through the summer. I was the guy that would be a second-tier candidate through the whole process and wouldn't even get to the caucuses. So everything that's been written about my political obituary so far has been wrong. Hopefully it still will be.

I just am always reminded that a ragtag army of under-equipped, under-financed, under-trained and under-prepared people won the Revolutionary War. Underdogs always have a history, and it's not -- there's an old saying in the South -- it's not the side of the dog in the fight, it's the size of the fight in the dog that determines the outcome. And there's a lot of fight in this dog.

I've been through a tough battle in Arkansas, fought the Clinton political machine and beat it four times. I understand something about the kind of political environment in which I'm playing just because I've had to win as a Republican in a state that didn't have any. So the fight in this dog is ready for it.

BLITZER: Well, you better get ready, because you've got three weeks now before Iowa, and I suspect it's going to get heated, even more heated than it is right now.

Governor, you've had a long day already, and I suspect your day is only just beginning. Thanks for spending a few moments with us here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

HUCKABEE: Glad to do it, Wolf. Thanks for having me back.

BLITZER: All right.

Governor Huckabee, the front-runner in Iowa right now. We'll see what happens over these next three weeks.

And with three weeks to go before the Iowa caucuses, presidential candidates already have spent more than $13 million in TV ads in the Hawkeye State. That figure from CNN's exclusive consultant on TV ad spending. Most of the money, more than $8 million, was spent by the three Democratic front-runners.

On the Republican side, Mitt Romney has spent a hefty $4 million on TV ads, and yet he's fallen behind Mike Huckabee, who's barely spent anything on commercials in Iowa.

Hillary Clinton goes from looking inevitable to looking like she could be in trouble. Coming up, Senator Clinton's dead heat with Senator Barack Obama in New Hampshire. Republican strategists Bill Bennett and J.C. Watts, they're ready to discuss this and a lot more. That's coming up in our "Strategy Session."

THE SITUATION ROOM will be right back.



BLITZER: Frustration on Capitol Hill, it's building about the CIA's destroyed videotapes of waterboarding and other interrogation methods. Key lawmakers say they were kept out of the loop. They want to know why.

And Barry Barry (ph), Bird Legs, and Coyote bill? We're going to match the presidential candidates with their childhood nicknames. You're going to want to stick around and see this.

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


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

Happening now: in Iraq, attacks as bold as they were bloodthirsty. In a crowded market, terrorists use one bomb to draw in a crowd, another bomb to strike those onlookers, and a third bomb apparently to ensure maximum casualties. Now dozens of people are dead, scores more wounded. Many are in shock. We will go to Baghdad. That's coming up.

Also, a congressional hearing hopes to get to the bottom of a very troubling problem. Why are some young combat veterans coming home from the war and killing themselves?

And it should give everyone nightmares, some experts warning of possible aircraft runway collisions if the government doesn't take some serious steps right now.

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

Today, the director of the CIA took walked out of a private closed-door meeting on Capitol Hill and took back some of his words. Days after we -- we learned the CIA destroyed some videotapes showing interrogations of terror suspects, General Michael Hayden says something different than what he said on that matter at first.

CNN's Brianna Keilar is joining us now live from Capitol Hill.

Brianna, there is bipartisan anger unfolding even as we speak.


And the one thing becoming clearer here on Capitol Hill, that's who didn't know about these tapes.


KEILAR (voice-over): After emerging from a three-hour session with CIA Director Michael Hayden, the top Democrat and Republican on the House Intelligence Committee told reporters they were left out of the loop when it came to the CIA tapes.

REP. SILVESTRE REYES (D-TX), HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: Suffice it to say that there is a tremendous amount of frustration. REP. PETE HOEKSTRA (R), MICHIGAN: It's pretty clear that the House Intelligence Committee was not kept fully informed of what was going on with these tapes.

KEILAR: That's not what Hayden said six days ago, when word of tapes showing harsh interrogation of suspected terrorists first became public. In an internal CIA e-mail, Hayden said: "The leaders of our oversight committees in Congress were informed of the videos years ago and of the agency's intention to dispose of the material. Our oversight committees also have been told that the videos were, in fact, destroyed."

After Wednesday's briefing, Hayden backpedaled.

GEN. MICHAEL HAYDEN, CIA DIRECTOR: And I think it's fair to say that, particularly at the time of the destruction, we could have done an awful lot better in -- in keeping the committee alerted and informed as to that activity.

KEILAR: The hearing followed a similar closed-door hearing before the Senate Intelligence Committee Tuesday, but lawmakers still have unanswered questions. Why were these videotapes destroyed? Who ordered it? And were the interrogation tactics shown on the tapes illegal?


KEILAR: General Hayden may not be the guy to ask, because George Tenet was head of the CIA when the tapes were made. Porter Goss was head of the CIA when the tapes were destroyed.

And both men, along with Jose Rodriguez, the then head of the clandestine branch of the CIA, are expected here on the Hill in the near future to tell Congress what they knew about the tapes -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Brianna, thanks very much.

Let's get some analysis of this huge controversy.

Joining us, our world affairs analyst, William Cohen, the former defense secretary, chairman and CEO of The Cohen Group here in Washington, also a former United States member of the House and the Senate.

You served on the Intelligence Committee. This is hugely embarrassing for the director of the CIA to now say, well, maybe nobody was informed of this destruction when it occurred, only days after he said they were informed.

WILLIAM COHEN, CNN WORLD AFFAIRS ANALYST: I think that, obviously, he's backtracking on this now because he didn't know what the facts were.

BLITZER: But how could he put out a statement like that without vetting every -- knowing how sensitive this issue is? You would have thought that that letter that he released to the employees of the CIA, knowing it was going to be released publicly as well, would have been thoroughly checked.

COHEN: One would think that he would do that, but, in this case, apparently he didn't.

The real issue goes back to the whole waterboarding/torture issue. And you have this debate taking place in terms of, is waterboarding torture or not? The question always is raised, well, we get -- do we get good information or not?

That shouldn't really be the issue, whether you get good information or reliable information. The question is, are we prohibiting it under the Geneva Convention, because it's inhumane or because you don't get good information? I think that's what the focus has to go back to.

Do we, as a society, authorize or want our president or our agencies to engage in enhanced interrogation techniques? That's pretty...


BLITZER: If it will save -- but if it will save American lives?

COHEN: Well, that's a -- that's -- that's the big question.

If, for example, you were to amputate someone's fingers, or start pulling nails up, is that some interrogation technique that we ought to pursue? Under the Geneva Convention, the -- most nations have said, we don't want that kind of information coming out of -- out of prisoners. We want humane treatment.

BLITZER: Because there are a lot of people out there who will say, if it is going to save thousands of American lives, do whatever you have to do.

COHEN: The question is, as a policy itself, do we say, we don't engage in torture? That should be the policy of the United States. Are there exceptions under which a commander in chief saying, I understand it's illegal in terms of our policy, but I'm going to do it under these circumstances, because I'm satisfied I will save the United Nations -- United States, I will save thousands of lives?

That's something that the president needs to...


COHEN: ... to make a statement on.

BLITZER: You served in the House during Watergate. And you were part of that committee, that special committee that concluded that Richard M. Nixon, the then president of the United States, probably did commit a crime.

COHEN: Right.

BLITZER: Is there -- is there evidence here, based on what we know right now, that, potentially, a crime was committed by the destruction of those videotapes?

COHEN: We don't that. At this point, the question is, were the tapes destroyed in order to -- quote -- "protect the identification" of those who were conducting the waterboarding or enhanced interrogation techniques, or were they designed to obstruct justice?

It goes back to the 18-and-a-half-minute tapes that were erased by Rose Mary Woods. Was that an accident or was it deliberate? Well, pretty clear to me at the time it was pretty deliberate.

This case, we know it was deliberate. The real issue is, CIA says, we had legal authorizations from our counsel.

That's going to be in dispute by the Congress.

BLITZER: All right.

William Cohen, thanks for coming in.

COHEN: OK. Pleasure.

BLITZER: Tomorrow, it's the Democrats' turn. Democratic presidential candidates will face off in Iowa just three weeks before the state's caucuses. Is it all up for grabs on that front as well? We are going to have a preview.

And we will also have a recap of this afternoon's Republican presidential debate. We're going to tell you what new revelations surfaced about the candidates.

And a fact check -- you're going to find out which candidates, if any, made mistakes earlier today.

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


BLITZER: Right now, the Democratic presidential candidates are gearing up for their Iowa showdown. They will debate tomorrow exactly three weeks before the critical caucuses on January 3.

Our senior political correspondent is over at the debate site in Johnston, Iowa, watching all of this unfold.

Candy, there was a report in "The New York Daily News" today suggesting that former President Clinton is irate, or alarmed, by his wife's slide in the polls and apparently ready to intervene, to do something about it.

What are you hearing?

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, I have to tell you that, inside the campaign, they say, listen, there was no yelling. You know, the president is a former president, is very happy to be helping his wife. Nonetheless, we all know that Bill Clinton is very vested in seeing that his wife get elected. Things are not going that well for Hillary Clinton at this point. We now have that statistical dead heat in New Hampshire. There certainly has been one in Iowa for a while.

So, obviously, this is a campaign that is feeling the pressure. But they deny that anybody's job is in jeopardy or that they're thinking about throwing their campaign upside down to bring new people in. It would be an unwise thing to do, shall we say, right before the Iowa caucuses, because then all the stories would be that they're panicked.

So, inside the campaign, they're saying, look, we're not going to be distracted by these stories. If anybody knows the ups and downs of a campaign, it's Bill Clinton.

BLITZER: He was certainly went back, up and down, and the comeback kid in New Hampshire, as we all remember, back in '92.

So, what do these Democratic candidates need to do tomorrow in their -- in their debate?

CROWLEY: Well, I think they're in the same sort of box that Republicans were. This is that time in a campaign, leading up to those January 3 caucuses, that you're supposed to make nice. You're supposed to be saying, here's why you should vote for me, not going after the other guy.

On the other hand, the one sure way to bring down somebody's poll numbers, generally, is to go after them. But we -- we have, again, a format that doesn't lend itself to that, that gives candidates a chance for their 30 seconds and their minute to really make their own argument.

So, I suspect we will see, if the format holds in the Democratic Party, much as what we saw here with Republicans. And that is that they will get a chance to kind of make their closing case. There will be a couple of jabs, but it's very hard to get fireworks going under this particular structure.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Candy.

Candy is going to be joining us later as well.

The Republican presidential hopefuls have taken a last shot as swaying Iowa caucus-goers in their debate. It just ended just a while ago. Coming up, who did himself the most harm? Who did the most good? Two fellow Republicans give us their debate reviews. Bill Bennett and J.C. Watts, they are standing by live.

Also in our "Strategy Session": What happened to Hillary Clinton, now that she's neck and neck with Barack Obama, not only in Iowa, but now in New Hampshire as well? Are her days as the front- runner over?





BLITZER: The last Republican presidential debate before the Iowa caucuses is now over.

So, what do two members of the best political team on television think happened?

Joining us now in our "Strategy Session," CNN contributor and conservative commentator Bill Bennett, and CNN political NATO J.C. Watts, a former Oklahoma Republican congressman.

I just want to clarify. In -- Mary Snow, when we had the -- the dial testing, 21 undecided Republicans who watched the 90-minute debate, we asked them, if your vote were today, if you had a vote today, who would you vote for, Huckabee came out on top with 30 percent, Giuliani 25 percent, Romney 20 percent, Fred Thompson with 15 percent, if they had a vote today. They weren't making that commitment.

On the most likely to win, who they thought would be most likely to win, their assessment, Giuliani, they thought most likely to win in Iowa, with 35 percent, Huckabee 20 percent, Romney 20 percent, Fred Thompson 15 percent.

So, they came out thinking they would vote for Huckabee slightly over Giuliani. But it's -- Giuliani is doing a lot better than a lot of people suspected he might be doing in Iowa.


BLITZER: And Romney not necessarily doing all that great.

BILL BENNETT, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Yes, I wonder what they saw.

I guess -- Giuliani did -- kept coming back to the things that he's strong in. He talked about national defense and security. And, again, that -- that reminder of what the presidency is about may have encouraged them. It's very interesting.

BLITZER: It's interesting that this focus group, you know, undecided Republicans, and they have a chance to play with these meters, what they like, what they didn't like, and they came out at least saying, if they had a vote right now, they would vote for Huckabee. He's doing amazingly well right now.

J.C. WATTS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: And it doesn't surprise me.

I think Mike will continue to do well. I think Rudy will do well. I think Romney, McCain, I think they will do well.

The issue, Wolf, is, who tops that 30, 32 percent mark? You know, nobody's getting more than 25, 27 percent in national polls. And, so, it's going to be interesting. I still don't think Republicans have made up their mind yet. I don't think...

BLITZER: It's still wide open.

BENNETT: It is wide open.

WATTS: I think it's wide open.


BLITZER: On the Democratic side, too. We're going to talk about that in a second.

But I don't know if you saw my interview with Mike Huckabee.


BLITZER: And he explained that quote from the Sunday "New York Times Magazine" about asking the question of the -- of the reporter, well, don't Mormons -- I'm paraphrasing -- believe that Satan and Jesus Christ are brothers? And, as I pointed out, that is a canard that Mormons say strictly not true.

But what do you think of the way he handled it, his answer?



BENNETT: I have to tell you -- don't be in a rut here, but I got e-mails since you said that, saying, no, Wolf is wrong.

Now, I don't think you and I are going to resolve...


BLITZER: I'm not an expert either on...


BENNETT: You and I are the last two people who should resolve it.

But I this thing this will keep going, certainly through Sunday, when we will all read it in "The New York Times." I don't know how convincing that explanation was.

But this tells you, doesn't it -- it does tell you why they said no religion tests for public office, why the founders thought of that. If you get in very deep in this stuff, you get into things you don't want to talk about.

BLITZER: What did you think?

WATTS: Well, I did not -- I was actually talking in the green room when he was -- when you were asking him about that, but...

BENNETT: I always tell him to be quiet when you're talking.


BLITZER: But he was gracious, Mike Huckabee, in saying, he went up to Mitt Romney...


BLITZER: ... and apologized if, in fact, he had slurred Mormonism.


BLITZER: And -- and he said that Mitt Romney was very gracious in accepting that.

WATTS: Well, I -- I think he -- probably, he did the right thing in apologizing to Mitt Romney. But, at the same time, the governor better get prepared to answer that over and over again, because it's going to come up.

BLITZER: It's a neck-and-neck race for the Democrats, Bill...


BLITZER: .. in Iowa.

And Barack Obama, in several of the more...


BLITZER: ... recent polls, he's even ahead in some of them...


BLITZER: ... not all of them.

But, in our new CNN poll that came out, the CNN/WMUR New Hampshire presidential primary poll -- look at this -- Senator Clinton's at 31 percent. Barack Obama is at 30 percent.


BLITZER: That's a statistical tie in New Hampshire. And she was way ahead only a few weeks ago. What's going on...


BLITZER: ... on the Democratic front?

BENNETT: Let me tell you two things against the conventional wisdom.

I think, despite what people report about themselves -- you know, Oprah doesn't influence me -- I think Oprah counts. I think she counts big time. You look at the size of those crowds and that enthusiasm. And the point is, she got people to these rallies that never came out before. So, that's a new group.

Second, the thing about the Clinton problem now is not so much, in my view, a small faction of Democrats that doesn't like her. More damaging, arguably, is a general unease about her that one feels, one sees when you talk to Democrats.

There's no romance there. There's no, you know, soaring of -- of one's feeling and imagination, like people are getting with Huckabee on the Republican side. That all goes to Obama. And this is the most romantic of countries. In our politics, we fall in love with people. Sometimes, we fall in love with the wrong person, but it's got to be part of it.

BLITZER: And, in -- in New Hampshire, our poll showed that, among independents, he's doing a lot better than Hillary Clinton is in New Hampshire. And independents can vote either in the Democratic or the Republican primary.


WATTS: Well, that doesn't surprise me about independents. Seven out of 10 Democrats, Wolf, have always said that, she's not our first choice.

And, so, I think Barack continues to play into the theme, turn the page, a new day, fresh start. That's all because she has such a high disapproval with -- with many Democrats. So, what Senator Obama has done, he's turned a coronation into a competition. And I think she needs to be concerned about that.

BENNETT: It's -- something very quick, because you talked about the undecided nature of the Republican race. You're absolutely right.

And a number of Republicans I have talked to have said -- and this just makes it kind of interesting, even more interesting -- I want to wait to see who it is we're running against. So, this whole situation with Hillary and Obama further complicates the Republican race.

BLITZER: It's a contest out there on both sides.


BENNETT: Some people -- some people think only Rudy should run against Hillary.


WATTS: Well, which, I think, yesterday goes back to the point that I made, in saying John McCain... BENNETT: Yes.

WATTS: ... when you make the comparison, Clinton/McCain, John does very well.

BLITZER: All right. We will see, because, among the Republicans, he does well in that hypothetical matchup against the Democrats.

BENNETT: Absolutely. Absolutely.

BLITZER: Guys, thanks very much for coming in.

'Tis the season for closeups of the first dog. Coming up, whether or not you're ready, the Barney Cam is back.

Plus, the firestorm over those destroyed CIA interrogation tapes, what could it mean for terror suspects now and in the future?

And was a Muslim teenager murdered for refusing to wear her head scarf to school? The shocking case -- that and a lot more coming up right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: On our Political Ticker today: Republicans hold on to two U.S. House seats in special elections, frustrating Democrats' hopes to expand their majority before 2008.

In Virginia, the first-term state legislator Rob Wittman easily won the seat left by -- left empty by the death of Congresswoman Jo Ann Davis.

In Ohio, state lawmaker Bob Latta defeated a Democrat making her third run for the seat of Congressman Paul Gillmor, who died in September.

And the suspense is over. Barney Cam six is out. This year, the first dog is marking the holiday season with a video of his efforts to become a junior park ranger, along with the Bushes' other Scottish terrier, Miss Beasley. Along with the president and his family, Barney Cam features cameo appearances this year by the country singer Alan Jackson and the former British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Remember, for the latest political news any time, check out our Political Ticker at

Right now, they have titles like senator, congressman and governor, but, once upon a time, the presidential candidates were called some unusual names. The Associated Press asked them to reveal their childhood nicknames.

New Mexico's Bill Richardson was dubbed Coyote Bill. John Edwards was known then and now simply as John. Hillary Clinton says she didn't have any nickname that stuck. Barack Obama went by Barry. Rudy Giuliani was and is Rudy. John McCain was called Johnny. Mitt Romney may win the prize for most unusual nickname, Bird Legs.

Fred Thompson, by the way, gets the nod for the most appropriate nickname, given what's going on right now. Even as a kid, he was called -- get this -- Mr. President.

Jack Cafferty is joining us with "The Cafferty File" in New York -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: The question this hour is, what's your reaction to Mike Huckabee saying -- quote -- "Don't Mormons believe Jesus and the devil are brothers?"

Got a lot of mail.

Laura writes from Savannah, Georgia: "I think Huckabee was pointing out how little Americans actually know about Mormonism. As a lifelong Democrat, Huckabee is a Republican I will vote for. He wants to help the little people, too, and actually believes the words of Jesus should guide the Republican Party. I have given money to Clinton, Obama, Edwards, and now Huckabee."

Trevor in San Jose, California: "Mr. Huckabee knows much better than that. He's a pastor. He's had training in seminary. He said he didn't want to comment on Romney's religion, but he knew he could get in a jab and play it up as an innocent question. It was an underhanded move, and he knows it. I expected more from him."

Richard writes: "I really don't care what they say about each others religions. I personally am sick and tired of the infantile bickering over religion. It is childish, doesn't address the issues they should be talking about."

G.R. in Atlanta: "Don't this highlight how little Americans know about Mormons? The faith has not been particularly open to those outside of their own faith. Mitt Romney has had plenty of opportunities to explain some misconceptions about Mormonism, and has decided that he does not wish to discuss them."

Addison writes: "In all honesty, I think Huckabee just didn't want to answer such a foolish question. It's a political land mine to get into a debate over religion, especially about one of your opponents. Too bad about -- to talk bad about Mormons or any religion would make him seem heartless. That would be a bad move."

And Will writes, "I don't know about Jesus and the devil being brothers, but I am sure that the Republicans and the devil are related" -- Wolf.

BLITZER: See you in a moment or two, Jack. Thanks very much.