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THE SITUATION ROOM

Interview With New York Senator Hillary Clinton; Former Pakistani Prime Minister Laid to Rest

Aired December 28, 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; an outpouring of grief and violence in Pakistan. Slain opposition leader Benazir Bhutto is laid to rest, and questions remain, though, about how she was killed and who's to blame. The answers could have a big impact on U.S. policy and security.
Also this hour, Hillary Clinton's get-tough approach to Pakistan -- in our exclusive interview, she has some harsh words for President Musharraf and for the Bush administration, and she's responding to fresh criticism from Barack Obama.

Plus, the Iowa expectations game -- six days before the first presidential context, it's worth remembering that winning isn't always everything.

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

We begin with the fallout from the assassination of Benazir Bhutto. A political ally of Bhutto tells CNN the Pakistan government's explanation of her death is, in her words, a pack of lies. The government of Pakistan released this video -- take a look -- showing the moments of her assassination.

Pakistan now says the former prime minister died from a skull fracture she suffered when her head slammed against her car during a suicide attack. A government spokesman denies earlier reports that Bhutto was killed by bullet wounds or shrapnel.

A gunman opened fired on Bhutto during a campaign rally yesterday, then blew himself up, killing at least 20 others.

Take a look closely also at this video from the rally showing a hand firing a gun three times. But the Pakistan government says the shooter missed. As more Pakistanis take to the streets to vent their outrage over Bhutto's killing, Pakistan's interior minister is blaming al Qaeda and the Taliban for the assassination.

The government released a transcript today of a purported conversation in which a Taliban leader, one Baitullah Mehsud, congratulated his people for killing Bhutto. U.S. officials say they have independently identified Mehsud as a top suspect.

Benazir Bhutto was laid to rest in Pakistan today against the backdrop of violence and political turmoil.

CNN's John Vause is in Karachi. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOHN VAUSE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, to the very end, Benazir Bhutto, the popular, charismatic leader, proved that she can still bring out huge crowds, with hundreds of thousands of mourners gathering at her family's mausoleum to pay their respects.

Amid the grief and anger, the former Pakistani prime minister was laid to rest, buried in the same place as her father and two brothers. All of them died violently. Many of those who attended her funeral were Pakistan's poorest, the supporters who were drawn to her message of a better life, jobs, education for their kids, and security.

And, with Benazir Bhutto's death, it seems that hope has now died as well, and many of them blame the Musharraf government for either being directly involved or failing to provide adequate security -- Wolf.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: John Vause on the scene for us in Karachi.

Senator Hillary Clinton says the Pakistan government has no credibility when it comes to determining how Benazir Bhutto died. The Democratic presidential candidate is calling for an independent international investigation, and she's suggesting that Barack Obama is politicizing Bhutto's assassination.

My exclusive interview with Senator Clinton coming up -- that's just ahead.

A lot more on this story as well, but there's other news we're following, including President Bush. He threw a curveball today at Congress over funding for America's wars. The White House revealed his plan to veto a sweeping defense bill that includes more than $600 billion in military spending.

Let's go to our White House correspondent, Ed Henry. He's watching all of this unfold.

It puts the president, Ed, in a sort of awkward position, because this surprised the Democrats in Congress, I think, completely.

ED HENRY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely.

And, also, you know, the veto officially just came in, in the last few minutes here in Crawford, Texas, the move coming after some pressure from the Iraqi government. They essentially threatened to yank up to $25 billion in Iraqi assets that are in various U.S. banks, the Iraqis declaring they needed to do that because of the fact that there's a provision in this defense bill that would allow American victims of Saddam Hussein to move forward with lawsuits.

These are former POWs from the first Persian Gulf War who say they were beaten and tortured by Hussein. Officials from the White House to the State Department today declared that an already fragile Iraqi government cannot be dealing with lawsuits.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TOM CASEY, SPOKESMAN, U.S. STATE DEPARTMENT: I don't think that we would ever see it as helpful to have, at a time when Iraq is trying to rebuild and overcome the terrible legacy of Saddam Hussein's misrule, to have its national assets be seized or otherwise diverted for these kinds of purposes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HENRY: But Democrats Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid teed off on the president today, saying that, if he really had these objections, he should have launched them months ago and much more forcefully. White House aides say that they did send out letters a few months back and -- and raised concerns, but the Democrats it should have been much more forceful. And they also say that the White House should not be letting the Iraqi government dictate U.S. policy -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And the Democrats are also saying that this jeopardizes money for U.S. veterans and for U.S. troops.

HENRY: Absolutely.

This now will block some veterans' health funding that was in the defense bill, at least temporarily. It also blocks part of a pay raise for the troops. They were expected to get a 3.5 percent pay raise. They are going to get at least 3 percent January 1, regardless of this action. But 0.5 percent of it will not be put in right away now.

What the White House is saying in reaction is that, retroactively, they will take care of the rest of that pay raise next year, after they straighten out this provision.

But this certainly was a surprise. It puts the White House a bit on the defensive. The president talked so much about helping the troops. Now here's a bill that at least blocks some of the pay raise temporarily -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Ed, thanks very much.

Let's go back out to the campaign trail right now. A presidential candidate appears to be trying to change the subject after making what some are calling a notable gaffe. That would be Republican Mike Huckabee. He's a former governor with less foreign policy experience than some of his rivals. Now some are wondering if that is becoming obvious out on the campaign trail.

Let's go out to Iowa. Dana Bash is watching all of this unfold.

You have learned about the concerns inside Huckabee's own camp about his national security experience. Explain to our viewers what's going on.

DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, in a very candid moment today, a senior Huckabee campaign official told me that, with their candidate -- quote -- "There is no foreign policy credential" and that, unlike many other presidential candidates, he can't boast about knowing Benazir Bhutto.

This official also said that, until they can -- quote -- "get him briefed and up to speed on Pakistan," they are going to try to bring it closer to home.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MIKE HUCKABEE (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Good morning.

BASH (voice-over): Mike Huckabee is responding to crisis in Pakistan in an offbeat way, tying it to a red-hot campaign issue, immigration.

HUCKABEE: There are more Pakistanis who illegally cross the border than of any nationality, except for those immediately south of our border, 660 last year. That's a lot of illegals from Pakistan.

BASH: Sounding an alarm about illegal Pakistanis in America is a surprising tactic for a candidate who preaches tolerance. He dismissed any concern it looks like xenophobia.

HUCKABEE: No, not at all. I'm just saying that a lot of Americans sitting in Pella, Iowa, maybe look halfway around the world and say, how does that affect me?

BASH: When asked by CNN for the source of his statistic, 660 illegal Pakistanis, Huckabee seemed unsure.

HUCKABEE: It has come largely from CIA numbers. And I will get you the exact source. But I will -- those are numbers that I got today from a briefing. And I believe they're CIA and/or immigration numbers.

BASH: A senior Huckabee campaign official admitted to CNN, the former Arkansas governor has -- quote -- "no foreign policy credential." That's why his campaign turned to immigration, a top concern for Iowa GOP voters, especially men he's been losing ground with. The pivot followed a gaffe, not appearing to know martial law was lifted in Pakistan two weeks ago.

HUCKABEE: What impact does it have on whether or not there's going to be martial law continued in Pakistan?

BASH: Huckabee later said he meant he worried martial law would be reinstated.

Governors running for president historically have trouble proving their foreign policy chops, some more than others. Remember this?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, 1999)

GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The new Pakistani General has just been elected. He's not elected. This guy took over office.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Name him.

BUSH: General -- I can name the general.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And it's...

BUSH: General.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BASH: Now, for the record, Mike Huckabee does know that general's name is Pervez Musharraf. He, of course, is still, seven years later, the leader in Pakistan.

And, Wolf, on that figure that Huckabee cited, 660 illegal Pakistanis in the U.S., his campaign tells us they actually got it from a newspaper article written back in March of 2006.

Now, our own homeland security correspondent, Jeanne Meserve, looked into it. And she's told by a government source that, if you add up the number of Pakistanis turned away and apprehended, it gives -- you get the figure that is somewhere close to 660, but, also, it's really impossible to tell how many illegal immigrants from any country are in this -- are in this country, in the U.S., right now -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Dana out in Pella, Iowa -- thanks, Dana, very much.

While some criticized the Pakistani president, Pervez Musharraf, in the wake of Benazir Bhutto's death, one presidential candidate is actually standing up for him, saying, things could be much worse. That would be Republican John McCain.

He says that, prior to Mr. Musharraf -- and I'm quoting now -- "Pakistan was a failed state" with what McCain called corrupt governments. To make his point further, McCain said, Mr. Musharraf has been a reliable U.S. ally, that he stepped down as the head of the Pakistan military, and that Musharraf agreed to hold elections.

Hillary Clinton is demanding answers about the death of Benazir Bhutto.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I don't think the Pakistani government at this time, under President Musharraf, has any credibility at all.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Senator Clinton is calling a number of people on the carpet in the aftermath of Bhutto's assassination. And that includes rival Barack Obama. My exclusive interview with Senator Clinton, that is just ahead. Also, just six days before the first presidential contest, are Iowa voters still iffy about their choices? Donna Brazile and Terry Jeffrey, they are crunching new numbers in our "Strategy Session."

And the early race for the White House isn't just about winning and losing. It's about beating expectations.

We will explain right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: The assassination of Benazir Bhutto and the political turmoil in Pakistan keeps stirring up the presidential race right here at home, less than a week before the critical Iowa caucuses.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: And joining us now from the campaign trail in Iowa, the Democratic Senator Hillary Clinton. She's a Democratic presidential candidate.

Senator, thanks very much for coming in.

CLINTON: I'm glad to be talking with you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Let's talk about the aftermath, the ramifications of the assassination of Benazir Bhutto. There are conflicting reports coming in from the Pakistani government right now about the cause of death, who may have been responsible, perhaps al Qaeda, maybe not.

The bottom line, do you trust the Pakistani government right now to conduct a fair and full investigation, so that all of us around the world will know who killed this woman and how she was killed?

CLINTON: I don't think the Pakistani government, at this time, under President Musharraf, has any credibility at all. They have disbanded an independent judiciary. They have oppressed a free press.

Therefore, I'm calling for a full independent international investigation, perhaps along the lines of what the United Nations has been doing with respect to the assassination of Prime Minister Hariri in Lebanon.

I think it's critically important that we get answers. And, really, those answers are due, first and foremost, to the people of Pakistan, not only those who were supportive of Benazir Bhutto and her party, but every Pakistani, because we cannot expect to move towards stability without some reckoning as to who was responsible for this assassination.

And, therefore, I call on President Musharraf and the Pakistani government to realize that this is in the interests of Pakistan to understand whether or not it was al Qaeda or some other offshoot extremist group that is attempting to further destabilize and even overthrow the Pakistani government, or whether it came from within, either explicitly or implicitly the security forces or the military in Pakistan.

You know, the thing I have not been able to understand, Wolf -- I have met with President Musharraf -- I obviously knew Benazir Bhutto and admired her leadership -- is that President Musharraf, in every meeting I have had with him, the elites in Pakistan, who still wield tremendous power, plus the leadership of the military, act as though they can destabilize Pakistan and retain their positions, their positions of privilege, their positions of authority.

BLITZER: All right.

CLINTON: That is not the way it will work.

So, I am really calling on them to recognize that the world deserves the answer. The Bhutto family deserves the answer. But this is in the best interests...

BLITZER: So...

CLINTON: ... of the Pakistani people and the state of Pakistan.

BLITZER: So, Senator, just to be precise, you want a United Nations international tribunal or commission of inquiry, whatever you want to call it, along the lines of the investigation into the assassination of Rafik Hariri?

CLINTON: Well, there are other institutions that are international that have credibility, like Interpol and others. So, it doesn't have to be the exact model of the Hariri investigation, but it needs to be international. It needs to be independent. It needs to have credibility.

And nothing that would happen inside of Pakistan would. I'm -- I'm reluctant to say it should be an American investigation, where we send our law enforcement personnel, because I'm not sure that would have credibility for a different reason. So, that's why I'm calling for an independent international investigation.

BLITZER: This is a damning indictment of President Pervez Musharraf. Some are calling on him to step down. Do you believe he should step down?

CLINTON: What I believe is that he should meet certain conditions, and quickly.

We should immediately move to free and fair elections. Obviously, it's going to take some time for Benazir Bhutto's party to choose a successor. Nawaz Sharif has said that he won't participate at this time.

I believe, again, some kind of international support for free and fair elections in a timely manner would be incredibly important. If President Musharraf wishes to stand for election, then he should abide by the same rules that every other candidate will have to follow.

We also want to see a resumption of the move toward an independent judiciary. I think that was a terrible mistake.

You know, this is an odd situation, Wolf. The people in the streets are wearing suits and ties. They are lawyers. They are professionals. They are the middle class of Pakistan, which really offers the very best hope for a stable, democratic country. And that is in America's interests.

BLITZER: All right.

CLINTON: But, more importantly, it is in the interests of the Pakistani people.

BLITZER: I think I understood what you were implying when you said a U.S. investigation probably wouldn't have credibility for different reasons. But explain to our viewers out there why you -- you're suggesting a U.S. investigation into the death of Benazir Bhutto probably wouldn't have credibility either.

CLINTON: Well, because I think it would politicize it, at a time when what we want to do is, as much as possible, support the continuing move toward democracy.

And we need, frankly, an international tribunal to look into this, where there can be a broad base of experts who are not aligned with any one country. Obviously, I would certainly offer our expertise through the FBI and others to assist that tribunal. But I think it would be much better for it to be independent and impartial, and be seen as that.

You know, part of what our challenge here is, is to convince the Pakistani people themselves, and particularly the business elite, the feudal elite, the military elite, that they are going down a very dangerous path, that this path leads to their losing their positions, their authority, their -- their obvious leadership now.

BLITZER: All right.

CLINTON: And, therefore, we need to help them understand what is in their interests. And that, of course, includes President Musharraf.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: We're going to have a lot more of my exclusive interview with Senator Clinton. That's coming up this hour.

She's accusing President Bush of giving Pakistan a blank check. And she's responding to fresh criticism of her own judgment from Barack Obama.

Also coming up: Air travelers, beware. We're going to tell you which major airport is getting socked right now.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: We will get to my interview that continues with Hillary Clinton in just a moment.

(NEWS BREAK)

BLITZER: As Pakistan is gripped by new turmoil, Hillary Clinton is pointing a finger at President Bush.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLINTON: I do not think we should be giving the Musharraf government a blank check. And that's exactly what the Bush administration has done.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Does Senator Clinton have anything better to say about her fellow Democrat Barack Obama? More of my exclusive interview with the Democratic presidential candidate, that's coming up.

Also, sure, candidates want to win the first presidential contest, but, if they don't, can they still keep hope alive? Just ask Bill Clinton.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Happening now: fear the crisis in Pakistan could devastate the U.S. war on terror. Right now, the U.S. is taking bold steps to try to get Pakistan's army to go out more aggressively after al Qaeda. We're watching the story.

Who will lead Benazir Bhutto's political party now? One man mentioned is a leading critic of Pakistan's president, but sits in confinement. His son speaks to CNN about efforts to try to free him, but that son says -- quote -- "There is no law in Pakistan."

And you just heard Hillary Clinton call for an international tribunal into Benazir Bhutto's death. What does one of her presidential rivals think about that? I will ask Chris Dodd about that and more and about his saying being first lady does not qualify one to be president.

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

Let's get back now to my exclusive interview with Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. She's not only questioning Pakistan's credibility after the assassination of Benazir Bhutto; she's accusing the White House of dangerous miscalculations.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Over the years since 9/11, the United States has provided the Pakistani military with some $10 billion. Will you, as a United States senator, continue to vote for funding of these billions of dollars going to the Pakistani military?

CLINTON: No.

And I'm very pleased that, finally, the Congress began to put some conditions on the aid. I do not think we should be giving the Musharraf government a blank check. And that's exactly what the Bush administration has done.

Even after Musharraf cracked down on the judiciary and the press and the pro-democracy movement in Pakistan, President Bush was saying he was a reliable ally.

Well, I don't think he's a reliable ally when he undermines democracy and when he has failed to reign in the al Qaeda Islamist elements in his own country.

So I think we do need to condition aid. I would do it differently.

I would say, look, we want to know very specifically what accountability you're going to offer to us for the military aid that we believe should be going in the fight against al Qaeda and the Taliban. The Department of Defense is equally unaccountable with the money that passes through them.

I'd like to see more of our aid shifted toward building civil society. I've been calling for this, I have legislation that is bipartisan, education for all that is particularly aimed -- I've talked to President Musharraf about the necessity for us to raise the literacy rate, to reach out with healthcare and education that would help the Pakistani people to really concentrate on civil society. We should be working with these rather heroic lawyers and others who are in the streets demanding democracy instead of giving the Bush blank check to President Musharraf and the military.

BLITZER: But aren't you afraid, Senator, that as imperfect and as flawed as President Musharraf is, there's a possibility whoever comes to replace him in this large Muslim country with a nuclear arsenal already, heavy al Qaeda presence, a resurgent Taliban, that the alternative could be even worse from the U.S. perspective?

CLINTON: Of course. We all fear that, and that's why we need to take remedial action immediately.

You know, when I came back from my last meeting with President Musharraf in January of this year, I called the White House. I asked that they appoint an American envoy, a presidential envoy.

I suggested that, you know, a retired military leader who could relate to President Musharraf on a one-to-one basis and could shuttle back and forth between President Musharraf and President Karzai, because there were a lot of tensions. And also perhaps serve as, you know, kind of a support to President Musharraf, military man to military man, about what it takes to really move toward democracy that President Musharraf in every conversation that I've ever had with him has given lip service to. But I don't think the Bush administration has frankly asked enough of President Musharraf, has provided the right kind of assistance, has given the support needed.

You know, we have this difficult problem in the military. We have a lot of the senior leadership that we have relationships with. We don't have those relationships for a lot of reasons with the junior leadership.

I just think we have given a blank check under President Bush to President Musharraf. And the results are, frankly, not in the interests of the United States, they're not in the interests of Pakistan, and they're certainly not in the interests of the region. We should begin to try to have an ongoing process that includes India and Afghanistan. A lot of what you see happening in Pakistan is driven by the, you know, very strong concern coming out of Pakistani government toward Afghanistan, toward India.

BLITZER: Right.

CLINTON: We have really had a hands-off approach. We have, you know, said, OK, fine, you be our partner in going after al Qaeda, we'll turn a blind eye to everything else. That has undermined our position. I believe Pakistan is in a weaker position to combat terrorism today than they were after 9/11 in large measure because of the failed policies of George Bush.

BLITZER: I interviewed your rival, Barack Obama, for the Democratic presidential nomination last night, and he had some implied criticism of you, saying some of your past decisions do not necessarily warrant your stepping up and becoming the next president of the United States.

Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think it's important for the American people to look at the judgments they have made in the past, and the experienced hands in Washington have not made particularly good judgments when it comes to dealing with these problems. That's part of the reason we are now in this circumstance.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: I think he was referring to your vote giving the president authority to go to war against Saddam Hussein's Iraq, and your more recent vote to declare the Iranian Revolutionary Guard a terrorist organization. In effect, he says that gave a blank check to the president to go to war against Iran.

You want to respond to Senator Obama?

CLINTON: Well, first, Wolf, I really regret that anybody would try to politicize this tragedy. I personally knew Benazir Bhutto. She was prime minister when I visited Pakistan on behalf of our government.

I stayed in touch with her over the years, and I don't think politics should be playing a role in how our country responds both on the personal level to the tragedy of this assassination, but furthermore, Pakistan has been unstable for a long time. You know, Benazir Bhutto's father was deposed and killed.

Obviously, we know that President Musharraf came to power in a military coup. So the instability in Pakistan has long predated any of the recent events.

And therefore, I think you need to have a historic understanding, you need to look at Pakistan as a country that still, today, the best information that we have, wants to have a better standard of living, wants to have a democracy. And the United States should be doing more to promote that.

I regret that President Bush's policies have failed to create that kind of environment, and I hope it's not too late. I really do.

And that's why I'm calling on the president now to begin to make some of the changes. If he has a good relationship with President Musharraf, which he claims to have, then let's have an envoy.

BLITZER: All right.

CLINTON: You know, let's have this international investigation. Let's do what we know will work to try to stabilize Pakistan at this time.

BLITZER: But what about the specific criticism of your foreign policy judgment that we heard from Senator Obama, we heard earlier in the day from his chief strategist, David Axelrod? What about that implied criticism that some of your decisions on these national security foreign policy issues raise questions about whether or not you should be president?

CLINTON: Well, I just regret that both of them would be politicizing this tragedy, and especially at a time when we do need to figure out a way forward. And that's what I'm focused on.

I'm focused on extending my sympathy to Benazir Bhutto's family. I'm focused on doing everything I can as a senator, as someone with a platform running for president, to try to be both positive and effective in helping to set a course.

We have a year to go with President Bush as our president. A year is a long time. We know the threats that could be posed with a nuclear-armed country like Pakistan becoming more and more unstable.

I have found that President Musharraf is someone that needs, in my opinion, to have a very consistent message and then, frankly, the help that would come with helping him and those who are in leadership positions, understanding that this is not just about the United States. Obviously, we have a very important national security interest. This is about what happens to Pakistan.

President Musharraf could become as important to the future of Pakistan if he changed course and began to and in a way that would create more confidence to have these free and fair elections, to restore an independent judiciary, to take the shackles off the press, to say that he trusted the Pakistani people. That's what I'm hoping will happen over the next weeks.

BLITZER: All right. We've got to leave it there. We're out of time, Senator.

Thanks very much for spending a few moments with us.

CLINTON: Good to talk to you, Wolf. Thank you.

BLITZER: And you know about the 16 major presidential candidates vying for your vote right now, but some political analysts say there's another candidate in this race. Bill Schneider, he's standing by to explain.

Also, the race in Iowa couldn't be much tighter. Three top Democrats are in a virtual dead heat. Who has the edge when it comes down to questions of experience and having new ideas?

And Mitt Romney attacks a rival by attacking his experience. Romney takes direct aim at John McCain's time in the U.S. Senate. You're going to want to hear just what Romney is saying.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: In the presidential race you know about the candidates we've spent so much time talking about, but some say there's a little- known rival you should also know about.

Joining us now is our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider. He's watching this for us.

Is there another candidate in the race, Bill, besides the ones we've been covering?

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, there is, and the other candidate's name is "expected."

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER (voice over): Every candidate is competing against a candidates named "expected." They're trying to do better than expected.

The polls help set expectations. The latest Iowa Republican polls show Mike Huckabee on top, followed by Mitt Romney. So Huckabee is expected to win, right? Not if you listen to him.

MIKE HUCKABEE (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Considering the resources that we're up against, I mean, it really would be a miracle to win here.

SCHNEIDER: He's lowering expectations. They all do it for themselves.

Huckabee is also expected to win Iowa because it has a strong evangelical Christian vote. That's his base. If Romney beats back Huckabee in Iowa, it will be an even bigger victory, because he will also have done better than expected.

Polls show a close race between three Democrats in Iowa. A clear-cut victory by any of them means they will have done better than expected.

JOHN EDWARDS (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: What that means in practical terms is somebody is going to come out of here with momentum.

SCHNEIDER: Edwards is trying to lower expectations that he has to win Iowa because he's invested so much time there.

EDWARDS: I don't think you can say for any of the three of us that you have to win.

SCHNEIDER: His campaign is telling reporters that Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have more staff members in Iowa, you should expect them to win. But the tight polls mean that if her competitors expect to stop Clinton, they may have to do it in Iowa. That's where she's weakest.

And other Democrats? They just want to do better than expected.

SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN (D-DE), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Ladies and Gentlemen, if you get my out of here, one, two or three, I warn you, I'm your next president.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER: Bill Clinton lost the New Hampshire primary in 1992, but because he did better than expected by coming in second, he labeled himself "The Comeback Kid." And Lyndon Johnson won the New Hampshire primary, but because as an incumbent at the peak of the Vietnam War, he did worse than expected. It wasn't long before he got out of the race -- Wolf.

BLITZER: A very interesting candidate that we haven't really covered that much, Bill. Thanks very much.

And as all of our viewers know, Bill Schneider is part of the Emmy Award-winning best political team on television.

As we count down to the Iowa caucuses next week, stay on top of the race, the issues, the polls. Go to cnnpolitics.com for all the latest information, and please be sure to check out the political ticker blog there as well.

In our "Strategy Session," Barack Obama's message of change.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) OBAMA: I'm not running against something, because it's easy to be against the failures of the last seven years. I'm running for something. I'm running because I believe that we're in a defining moment in our history.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Is it resonating with Iowa voters? Or will experience be the most important factor?

And my exclusive interview with Hillary Clinton. Will her get- tough message with the Pakistani president distinguish her from the rest of the Democratic field?

Donna Brazile and Terry Jeffrey, they're standing by right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: A few moments ago, you saw it here in THE SITUATION ROOM, Hillary Clinton made some bold statements about Pakistan. She's calling for an international investigation into the death of Benazir Bhutto. She says President Pervez Musharraf's government doesn't have any credibility.

Let's talk about that and more in our "Strategy Session." Joining us, CNN political analyst and Democratic strategist Donna Brazile, and conservative commentator Terry Jeffrey. He's editor-in- chief of the Cybercast News Service.

Guys, thanks very much for coming in.

Well, Donna, let me start with you.

I gave her a chance to swipe away at Barack Obama, but she took the high road. She simply said she didn't want to politicize this whole issue, the reaction to the assassination of Benazir Bhutto.

Six days before the Iowa caucuses, what does that say to you?

DONNA BRAZILE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, first of all, Senator Clinton understands that it's her experience that has gathered so many people around her candidacy. This gives her the opportunity to reinforce her core message that she's ready to lead and ready to take the Oval Office from day one.

So I think this helps Senator Clinton on one hand, but Obama has talked about judgment, from making the right decisions from day one in terms of the war on Iraq. And now he's saying I was right, and perhaps it's time for a change and someone who would have better judgment in the Oval Office.

BLITZER: What did you think, Terry?

TERRY JEFFREY, CONSERVATIVE COMMENTATOR: Well, unfortunately, I didn't hear what Donna just said. But I will say this, Wolf -- I think all of a sudden, Hillary Clinton has become Jimmy Carter on steroids in foreign policy.

Back in the late 1970s, we had an authoritarian leader in the Middle East, the shah of Iran, who was a good ally of the United States, who had shared interests with the United States. He was threatened by a revolutionary Islamic movement, and Jimmy Carter all of a sudden started wringing his hands and basically withdrew our support from a friend there.

I think Hillary Clinton basically is doing to Musharraf what Jimmy Carter did to the shah, and the potential consequences are far greater, Wolf. We're talking about a regime that already has nuclear weapons.

Al Qaeda is already present on the ground there. They have a massive Islamist movement. If we try to meddle too much in their internal politics, what we can end up with is our worst nightmare, an Islamist regime, armed with a nuclear weapon, that's friends with al Qaeda.

BLITZER: All right.

Let me put some poll numbers up for you, Donna, the "L.A. Times"/Bloomberg poll that just came out, that shows the Democratic contest in Iowa right now. It has Hillary Clinton ahead once again at 31 percent, John Edwards at 25 percent, Barack Obama at 22 percent, but given the uncertainty, given the difficulty, Donna, in measuring the likely caucus-goers on the Democratic and the Republican side, this is really a three-person race, at least for number one right now.

BRAZILE: There's no question, the race is still fluid. Look, the weather forecast next week is for a cold night, a very clear night, and that could benefit all three candidates. We know if it was a snowy night, John Edwards will probably have more support, because his supporters are regular caucus attenders. But I think this race is even, it's up for grabs, and it's all about turnout in the closing days of the campaign.

BLITZER: It does show, Terry, the same poll, that when it comes to experience versus change, as far as having the right around of experience among Democratic caucus-goers, likely ones, 48 percent thought Clinton had the right experience, only 10 percent thought Obama did, 21 percent for Edwards. But on the issue of change, who's more likely to produce new ideas, 21 percent said Clinton, 46 percent said Obama, 20 percent said Edwards.

Give us your strategic hat view right now. What's more important, looking at it from an outsider, for Democratic caucus- goers, the issue of experience or the issue of change?

JEFFREY: Well, obviously experience is more important. That's why Hillary is leading in part. I think this poll actually is good for Hillary, as close as it is.

Obama was surging in Iowa, he's still surging in New Hampshire. If Hillary can win Iowa, I think she's going to roll the table on the Democratic primaries. So Obama or Edwards has to beat her there next week. And right now she's actually doing pretty well, I think.

BLITZER: And the other question that we asked, Donna -- and I know you saw this "L.A. Times"/Bloomberg poll as well -- are you certain you're going to vote for that candidate, or is it possible you might end up voting for somebody else? Among likely Democratic caucus-goers, 76 percent of the -- of the Clinton supporters said they were certain, 70 percent of Obama supporters said they were certain, 76 percent of Edwards.

Statistically, I don't know how much of a difference it is, but it looks like a big number, at least three quarters, are saying that they're pretty certain where they're going to vote.

BRAZILE: Look, Democrats have been very enthusiastic from day one, and Senator Clinton has had the best and strongest supporters. I still believe this is a very fluid race. And even if Senator Clinton pulls it out and wins the Iowa caucuses, she still has an uphill fight in New Hampshire, South Carolina, and, of course, on Super-Duper Tuesday. So this is going to be a wild ride into 2008.

BLITZER: Terry, on the Republican side, the same poll has Huckabee ahead in Iowa 36 percent to Romney, 28. Thompson, 10; Giuliani, 8. But with six days to go and foreign policy national security, a crisis in Pakistan, the war on terror getting a lot of attention, is that likely to have an impact in Iowa?

JEFFREY: Well, I think it will, and I think it actually works to the advantage of John McCain, who's been moving up in New Hampshire. And I'm not sure it helps Mitt Romney.

Romney's strategy was to win those first two states, and now it looks like Huckabee is moving towards victory in Iowa, and McCain is moving into position to perhaps win New Hampshire. Especially if Romney doesn't win Iowa. So it's good for McCain.

BLITZER: All right. I'm going to let both of you go, but I want a quick prediction, if you want to make one. You don't have to if you don't want to.

Donna, you wan to make a prediction for Iowa?

BRAZILE: No, but I'll say Democrats will win the general election in 2008.

BLITZER: A fair assessment from a good Democrat.

What do you think, Terry?

JEFFREY: I think Huckabee wins the Republican caucus there.

BLITZER: And does it propel him in New Hampshire and South Carolina and beyond?

JEFFREY: I think then McCain wins New Hampshire and you have a massive showdown in Michigan, which people haven't been paying enough attention to. And it's probably going to be between Huckabee and McCain there.

BLITZER: Because Romney has some roots, as you know, in Michigan as well. His father was the governor.

JEFFREY: Exactly right.

BRAZILE: That's correct.

JEFFREY: But if he loses New Hampshire, it's going to be McCain and Huckabee who go to Michigan with the momentum. And, of course, losing there would absolutely kill Romney. So Romney has got a very important week ahead of him.

BLITZER: I don't hear you mention the name Giuliani, Terry.

JEFFREY: I think Giuliani is effectively eliminated already, Wolf.

BRAZILE: He's history, Wolf.

JEFFREY: I don't see how he can lose Iowa, New Hampshire, Michigan and South Carolina, which he is about to do, I believe, and come back and be viable in Florida on January 29th.

BLITZER: You want to weigh in on the Republican side briefly, Donna?

BRAZILE: I still think John McCain has a lot of rhythm out there, so I won't count him out for the Republican nomination. And look, on the Democratic side, we still have some great second-tier candidates that may break through in one of those early states. So this is a wild ride going into 2008.

BLITZER: All right, Guys. Thanks very much.

Donna Brazile, Terry Jeffrey in our "Strategy Session."

Coming up, it's a sweet tribute. It's yellow, it's large, but you might not guess which presidential candidate this mound of butter is supposed to represent.

Also, one of Hillary Clinton's rivals says being first lady does not qualify one to be president. I'll ask Chris Dodd about that. He's here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

And we'll have more of that disturbing video of the attack on Benazir Bhutto. It shows a hand holding a gun. We're going to talk about it.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: On our Political Ticker this Friday, Republican Mitt Romney is out with a new ad attacking his rival, John McCain. The spot portrays McCain as soft on tax cuts and illegal immigration. It's airing in New Hampshire, where McCain is either tied for the lead with Romney or a close second in most -- most of the recent polls.

If Barack Obama doesn't win the White House this time around, he may not take another shot at the presidency, at least not if his wife gets her way. Obama told an Iowa crowd today that his wife Michelle doesn't want him to run again if he loses in 2008.

Obama says it's a reflection, that they both understand what it means to be normal, and they fear that too many years in Washington might change that.

Not sure if this is normal. It's definitely, though, unusual. Check it out.

It's a bust of Senator Obama made of butter, 23 pounds of butter, to be exact. The Iowa woman who made it is an Obama supporter. She also makes butter replicas of cows.

It's hard to top that, but take a look at who's heading to the campaign trail -- the former president of the United States. Well, he played one on TV. "The West Wing" star Martin Sheen plans to campaign with Democrat Bill Richardson in Iowa this weekend.

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

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