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THE SITUATION ROOM
Obama to GOP: 'Lay Off My Wife'; Hillary's Donors Betting on Obama?
Aired May 19, 2008 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
BLITZER: And to our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Happening now, after a GOP attack video aimed at Michelle Obama, the candidate himself is now telling his critics -- and I'm quoting now -- "Lay off my wife."
Are some of Hillary Clinton's big fundraisers ready to start placing their bets on Obama?
We're going to tell you what the Democratic donors are telling us.
And are the apologies enough?
The U.S. military takes unprecedented steps to head off serious trouble after a U.S. soldier uses the Muslim holy book, the Koran, for target practice.
I'm Wolf Blitzer.
You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
It's a sound bite that plays right into the hands of her husband's opponents and now they're capitalizing on Michelle Obama's own words in a very controversial new video. And it's prompting Barack Obama to say "Lay off my wife".
Carol Costello is working this story for us -- Carol, a lot of questions are being raised as a result of this whole issue.
What is going on?
CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: What's going on?
Well, you can argue that you are the one running for office and not she, so you shouldn't really complain about her. But that doesn't just -- that doesn't fly these days. But this morning, Barack Obama tried to set some boundaries.
COSTELLO (voice-over): Chivalry is not dead. As Michelle Obama talked issues on ABC's "Good Morning America," her husband rushed to her defense.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM "GOOD MORNING AMERICA," COURTESY ABC)
MICHELLE OBAMA, WIFE OF BARACK OBAMA: The American voters are ready to talk about the issues and not talking about the things that have nothing to do with making people's lives better.
SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I also think these folks should lay off my wife, all right?
B. OBAMA: Just in case they're watching.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I am proud of this country each and every day
COSTELLO: Barack Obama is defending his wife against a YouTube attack ad created by the Tennessee Republican Party. It makes good use of an often criticized remark of hers.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM YOUTUBE.COM)
M. OBAMA: For the first time in my adult lifetime, I'm really proud of my country.
BOB HOPE: Hi, I'm Bob Hope and I'm proud to be an American because mainly of the First Amendment -- the right to worship God anywhere I choose to.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM "GOOD MORNING AMERICA," COURTESY ABC)
B. OBAMA: Whoever is in charge of the Tennessee GOP needs to think long and hard about the kind of campaign that they want to run. And I think that's true for everybody, Democrat or Republican.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COSTELLO: One political analyst said Obama's choice of words is no accident.
RUTH B. MANDEL, DIRECTOR, EAGLETON INSTITUTE OF POLITICS: Your family is exposed and vulnerable. And how you handle that is a big part of who you are as a candidate.
COSTELLO: Mandel says Obama has the right edge, but it will be his wife's future performance that will be his best defense of her. One analyst believes it doesn't matter what Obama says, his political enemies will continue to attack his wife.
CHRIS CILLIZZA, "WASHINGTON POST": If you're going to put Michelle Obama or Cindy McCain out to raise money for your campaign, to make voter appeals for your campaign, then you also have to be willing that what they say can and probably will be used against them.
COSTELLO: Even if, as the Obamas have explained, Mrs. Obama's remark was misconstrued.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM FEBRUARY 18)
M. OBAMA: For the first time in my adult lifetime, I'm really proud of my country.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COSTELLO: Mrs. Obama says she meant she was proud of the record turnout in this year's democratic process. But she can rest assured that remark will continue to be a line of attack, even as her husband rushes to her defense.
B. OBAMA: Michelle is the most honest, the best person I know. She is one of the most caring people I know. She loves this country. For them to try to distort or to play snippets of her remarks in ways that are unflattering to her, I think, is just low class. And I think most of the American people would think that, as well.
(END VIDEO TAPE)
COSTELLO: Some analysts told me Senator Obama came out strong in defense of his wife and that's a good thing. Remember, Michael Dukakis, when CNN's Bernard Shaw asked him, if his wife were raped and murdered, if he'd favor the death penalty for the killer. And Dukakis replied coolly, "No, I don't and I think you know that I've opposed the death penalty during all of my life."
And that really hurt Michael Dukakis during the campaign, because he didn't come out in defense of his wife.
BLITZER: Among other things. A lot of other things hurt him, as well.
BLITZER: Thanks very much, Carol Costello, for that report.
While Obama and John McCain act is if the nominations are behind them, eyeing a likely showdown in November, tomorrow is still the biggest night left for Democrats, with primaries in Kentucky and Oregon. Two thousand twenty-six delegates are needed to clinch the nomination and at this point, Barack Obama holds a comfortable lead, with 1,909 overall delegates compared to 1,718 for Hillary Clinton.
At stake tomorrow, 51 delegates in Kentucky; 52 delegates in Oregon.
Oregon, by the way, is 100 percent vote by mail. It's the only state that votes exclusively by mail. Washington State has a mostly mail-in vote, but not completely. Ballots are due by 8:00 p.m. Tuesday night local time. Oregon voters can mail them in or deliver them to their designated drop sites.
And the numbers so far, as of Thursday, the latest figure available, 582,998 ballots have been returned. That's 29 percent of the total. A lot more coming in.
As the odds seemingly grow steeper for Hillary Clinton, are some of her fundraisers ready to start placing their bets on Barack Obama?
Let's turn for that story to CNN's Jessica Yellin -- Jessica, what are you hearing?
JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, I've been on the phone with a bunch of Clinton and Obama supporters today. And it's clear that many of Clinton's backers are prepared to write fat checks for Obama -- but just not yet.
YELLIN (voice-over): While Barack Obama is squaring off for the general election...
B. OBAMA: John McCain's campaign is being run by Washington lobbyists.
YELLIN: Senator Clinton insists this fight isn't done.
SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This is nowhere near over.
YELLIN: But a series of news outlets is reporting that Clinton's donors are preparing to switch sides and already joining Obama supporters for private talks aimed at merging the two candidates' teams.
Supporters of both candidates tell CNN Clinton donors are not jumping ship en masse and they are not holding hush-hush meetings. But many top Clinton backers are telling friends in the Obama campaign they're ready to support him when the primary season is over.
One top Democratic donor insists this isn't betrayal, it's evidence that Democrats will unite. And the Democratic National Committee is getting in on the act. They've gotten both candidates on board as DNC fundraisers. The agreement became late night chatter.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM "THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JAY LENO," COURTESY NBC)
JAY LENO, HOST: You made news today.
There's some new fundraising agreement?
HOWARD DEAN, DNC CHAIRMAN: Yes. Senator Clinton and Senator Obama have both agreed to raise money for the Democratic National Committee.
DEAN: So that means that one candidate is willing to support the other candidate financially no matter who wins. (END VIDEO CLIP)
YELLIN: The Clinton campaign insists she can win and is still raising money.
CLINTON: So I hope you'll go to HillaryClinton.com and support our campaign.
YELLIN: But several top Clinton fundraisers tell CNN "We're not dumb." They believe Obama is likely to be the nominee. And one of Clinton's most loyal backers put it this way: "When my commander decides it's time to surrender, I will know it and enthusiastically support the other. Until then, I'll put my life on the line for my commander."
(END VIDEO TAPE)
YELLIN: So, Wolf, Clinton supporters telling me that they will back Obama, but only once Clinton says it's time for her to go -- if she does.
Now, one of the outstanding questions surrounding her is how can Senator Clinton pay down at least $20 million of debt that her campaign has accumulated?
The bottom line is that neither the Democratic National Committee nor Obama can just write her a check. It's not legal. She'd have to hold separate fundraisers to pay off that debt. But Obama and the DNC can help by tapping their pool of donors to pay it down, which would help unify the party -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, thanks very much.
Jessica Yellin on top of that story.
John McCain is once again hammering away at Barack Obama's stance on Iran. The Republican candidate today pounced on comments by Obama that Iran and other U.S. foes right now are "tiny compared to the threat once posed by the Soviet Union." McCain said Obama's willingness to talk with Iran's president show what's he calls -- -- and I'm quoting him now -- "reckless judgment."
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This isn't to suggest that the United States shouldn't communicate with Iran our concerns about their behavior. Those communications have already occurred at an appropriate level, which the Iranians recently suspended. But a summit meeting with the president of the United States, which is what Senator Obama proposes, is the most prestigious card we have to play international diplomacy. It is not a card to be played lightly.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: We're going to be speaking later with one of McCain's top foreign policy advisers; also, with one of the top foreign policy advisers to Barack Obama. Much more coming up on this subject later in THE SITUATION ROOM.
And this programming note for our viewers. We're going to bring you coverage of the Oregon and Kentucky primaries tomorrow. Our coverage will start right here in THE SITUATION ROOM, 4:00 p.m. Eastern. It will run late into the night. That's because the Oregon polls close at 11:00 p.m. Eastern, 8:00 p.m. Pacific.
BLITZER: Jack Cafferty is joining us once again with The Cafferty File.
A long night tomorrow night -- Jack.
CAFFERTY: For you. I'll be going home at 7:00.
If John McCain keeps firing people who have ties to lobbyists, there won't be anybody left to run his campaign. His national finance co-chair resigned from the campaign yesterday because of ties to lobbyists. That makes him the fifth campaign adviser in about a week to leave due to increasing questions about whether lobbyists have too much influence over John McCain.
These folks have been cutting ties with McCain since his campaign issued a new policy that requires all staffers to either step down or end their relationships with lobbying firms or outside political groups.
The issue here is that John McCain has built this reputation on ethics and fighting special interest groups. The appearance of all these people with ties to lobbyists working for him doesn't seem to wash with his image as a self-described straight talker. In fact, some of his top strategists are lobbyists who have taken leaves of absence from their jobs, including his campaign manager, Rick Davis, who ran a lobbying firm for several years, and top political adviser Charlie Black, who was the head of a Washington lobbying firm.
McCain defends both of them, saying that they have been "out of the lobbying business". When asked if he was worried about all the departures, McCain said his campaign's new conflict of interest policy should solve the problem.
You'd better hope it does.
Of the latest resignation, Barack Obama said: "It appear McCain is very much a creature of Washington," which doesn't represent the kind of change Americans are looking for.
The McCain campaign shot back, saying it looks forward to a debate about Obama's associations and what they say about his judgment, pointing to people like William Ayers, a former member of the radical Weather underground group.
Here's the question then this hour -- what does it mean when five -- five John McCain campaign aides have resigned in a week because of lobbying ties? Go to CNN.com/caffertyfile. You can post a comment on my blog.
BLITZER: See you in a few moments, Jack.
Outrage in Iraq right now -- angry protests. You're going to find out what a U.S. soldier did to a copy of the Koran -- and that's resulting in very angry protests -- and what the U.S. is now doing to try to make up for it. Michael Ware on the story for us.
Also, Cuba is making some strong allegations against a top U.S. diplomat in Havana. We're going to show you what's behind the claims.
Plus, the White House furious with a major television network news operation. We're going to have details of an angry letter and what the president's top aides are now demanding.
Stay with us.
You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: There's outrage in Iraq right now over the desecration of the Muslim holy book, the Koran, by a U.S. soldier who used it for target practice. The U.S. military trying desperately right now to head off some major, major trouble.
And joining us now in Baghdad, our correspondent Michael Ware -- Michael, this story has really sparked a lot of nerves out there.
Tell us what happened.
MICHAEL WARE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, what this is, is a potentially incendiary issue, which could have fractured America's alliance with the Sunni insurgents.
But the Americans reacted quickly and in a very forthright manner and perhaps have nipped it in the bud. But it's still bubbling today.
Let's go back and look at how it all started. Sometime around the 11th of May, at a shooting range just near an Iraqi police station, an American -- a group of American soldiers went in for target practice. When they stopped shooting, an Iraqi police officer or militia member went in there and saw what they'd been shooting at. And, indeed, it was a copy of the Holy Koran, riddled with bullets, torn apart.
This is an enormous affront to all Muslims. And inside was scrawled some graffiti in English -- an expletive and a reference to the film "Team America".
Now, what happened is that Iraqi complained to his superiors. It enraged the local tribes working with the Americans -- enraged this district just outside of Baghdad. And, thankfully, the tribal elders went to the Americans. The American commander immediately launched an investigation. And that very rapidly identified the group of soldiers. And from that, they identified a staff sergeant, a sniper section leader, who at first denied involvement, but then later confessed.
Now what happened is the Americans, on Saturday, went -- the commanding general of all forces in Baghdad, Wolf, confronted this chanting mob and before them all, he made this very heartfelt apology.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MAJ. GEN. JEFFREY HAMMOND, U.S. ARMY: The actions of one soldier was nothing more than criminal behavior. And I've come to this land to protect you, to support you, not to harm you. And the behavior of this soldier was nothing short of wrong and unacceptable.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WARE: Indeed, Wolf, General Hammond said that that soldier had lost the honor to serve the U.S. Army and the people of Iraq here in Baghdad and are being sent to the United States.
A number of disciplinary proceedings have been taken against that soldier. And we saw today, the number two most senior commander in all of Iraq, General Petraeus' number two man, Lieutenant General Austin, went to the vice president of Iraq, Tariq al-Hashemi, further apologized. And the vice president of Iraq has demanded even more action against that U.S. soldier and even more commitment from the Americans that this shall never happen again.
But by and large, the U.S. forces reacted quickly, promptly. And, hopefully, they've salvaged the very alliance that has helped them put Al Qaeda on the run -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Michael, you'll stay on top of this.
I suspect the ramifications haven't yet been complete.
Michael Ware is our correspondent in Baghdad. Michael, thanks.
WARE: Thank you, Wolf.
BLITZER: China observed three minutes of silence today for the more than 34,000 victims of last Monday's quake. In the meantime, there have been a handful of rescues. A week after the country's massive earthquake struck, rescue workers have pulled two men and two women alive from the rubble. But there's more tragedy, as well. Mud flows buried 200 workers repairing damaged roads.
An American military plane, a sensitive border and now accusations the U.S. crossed the line. Coming up, you're going to find out where the U.S. has some explaining to do.
And one U.S. Congressman has been staying out of the spotlight after some very embarrassing news.
So why is he appearing in a parade?
One more worry for the GOP.
Stay with us.
You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Carol Costello is monitoring some other important stories incoming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now -- Carol, what's going on?
COSTELLO: Well, Wolf, a U.S. military official is confirming to CNN that a Navy surveillance plane strayed into Venezuelan air space. It happened on Saturday night after the plane took off from a nearby Dutch island. But Venezuela's defense minister accuses the United States of deliberately breaching its air space, part of what he calls "a chain of provocations."
The Cuban government is lobbing some serious accusations at Washington's top diplomat in Havana. It accuses Michael Parmly of funneling cash from private U.S. groups to dissidents inside Cuba. Cuban officials say they have e-mails and taped conversations proving their claim. The State Department says it doesn't have any information on specific allegations.
It is day one of custody hearings involving more than 400 children removed from a polygamous Mormon group's Texas ranch. It's expected to take three weeks to sort out the tangle of cases, which began with allegations that underage girls were forced into marriages and sex. State officials placed 463 children in foster care, but still have not identified the mothers of more than 100 children.
And remember this video of Philadelphia police beating three shooting suspects?
Well, now the city's mayor and police commissioner have announced the fallout. Four officers will be fired, two others will be disciplined and a supervising sergeant will be demoted. An investigation found the final two officers involved acted within appropriate limits. Local and federal investigations continue, though.
That's a look at the headlines right now -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Carol, thanks very much for that. Carol Costello reporting.
Less than 24 hours to go until the last big Democratic face-off -- two states two very different predictions.
What will happen next?
We're going to break down what you should be watching for. That's coming up. Also, the voters he's hoping to win with his TV appearances -- we're going to show you the serious business behind John McCain's comedy.
And later, it's the White House versus a major TV network -- the interview that made the president want to set the record straight.
Stay with us.
You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Happening now, the Pentagon assessing a possible role for the U.S. military in the growing global food and fuel crisis. The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff has formed a task force to explore a possible military response to various scenarios, including food riots and refugee crises.
Also, the Treasury secretary, Henry Paulson, updating President Bush on the economic stimulus checks the government has sent out and is continuing to send out. He told Mr. Bush the money is arriving as promised. The president said it should help stimulate the economy.
And the U.S. Supreme Court has upheld a law aimed at preventing child pornography. The Justices ruled 7-2 that a pandering provision does not violate free speech protections.
I'm Wolf Blitzer.
You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
There's a lot on the line right now in Kentucky and Oregon.
Let's take a closer look at what's at stake in tomorrow's Democratic primaries.
We'll go to our chief national correspondent, John King.
He's joining us from New York with more on this story.
Let's look ahead tomorrow. It could be a busy night for all of us -- John.
JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: A busy night, Wolf. And let's look at the map. As you can tell by looking at this -- the light blue the Clinton states, the dark blue the Obama states. And we're running out of states, Wolf. The end is near. Kentucky here. You can see, Senator Clinton has done very well in this region of the country right here. That's why she is favored in Kentucky.
Come out here to the Pacific Northwest, she did well in California and Nevada, but Senator Obama is favored in Oregon because of the -- his success up in the Pacific Northwest and across the Plains States.
Let's look at Kentucky first. This is a state, of course, that borders Ohio, borders West Virginia, borders Tennessee -- all states won by Senator Clinton.
The big challenge for her -- run up the numbers in the major population centers out here and continue to get big rural support among white voters out here. About 7, 7 1/2 percent of this state is African-American. Yet if you look at the polls, it is heavily favored Clinton, especially because the demographics match the neighboring states where she has done well.
Let's go across over here to Oregon. This is also a very white state.
So why would Senator Obama be favored in the polls here?
It is a much more affluent state. The median price of a home out here close to $150,000. Back in Kentucky, only about $80,000. And much more affluent Democrats out here, bigger college towns, more liberal voters.
These are the population centers, Wolf, right along here. Senator Obama favored -- Portland, obviously, Salem, Medford and Eugene, the big population centers. Out here is a swath of rural, very sparsely populated areas. But a split is expected in the polls to continue what you see as the geographic split in the Democratic Party. But a split would be good for Obama in the sense that there aren't that many states left. And right now what he's focused on more than anything is the delegate math.
BLITZER: John, Hillary Clinton keeps saying -- and Terry McAuliffe, her campaign chairman, told us here in THE SITUATION ROOM just a little while ago -- she can still put out -- pull this thing out. You've looked at the numbers. You've looked at the delegates, the popular vote.
KING: Her only chance, Wolf, her only chance -- and it is a slim chance -- is somehow getting the party to rewrite the rules in some way that bring Michigan and Florida back into play. Because under the existing rules, if you keep the existing rules -- and we'll go now to our delegate calculation. The states are almost all voted. The delegate math is overwhelmingly in favor of Senator Obama. It's much easier to understand looking at this graph. Here's where we are heading into it tomorrow; Clinton back here, Obama out here. Wolf, look how close he is to the finish line. All he needs is -- fewer. But if he gets three and ten the rest of the way of the remaining delegates, these will be decided in the remaining primaries and caucuses. These are the remaining superdelegates. Barack Obama gets three in ten, he is the winner. He's doing better than three of ten at the moment.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: John, thanks very much. We'll see you in the next hour. One after the other, John McCain has been making the rounds in the late night comedy talk shows. He's joking about his age.
Let's go to Brian Todd. He is looking at this story for us.
What is he attempting to accomplish, Brian?
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well Wolf, the campaign doesn't say this but observers believe that at least part of the strategy here is to spin the age issue to John McCain's advantage.
TODD: The latest McCain offensive, making age an issue on his terms with skits on NBC's Saturday Night Live.
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: What should we be looking for in our next president? Certainly someone who is very, very, very old.
TODD: And days earlier appearing loose, even hip on the Daily Show with John Stewart.
JOHN STEWART, TALK SHOW HOST: You're watching the Democrats beat each other over the head. Are you on a --
MCCAIN: It's terrible. I hate to watch this.
STEWART: Must be very difficult.
TODD: One Republican strategist not aligned with John McCain calls these appearances a kind of inoculation, putting McCain's age out there in positive terms, preempting any attempts by a younger opponent to capitalize on it.
RICH GALEN, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: If McCain is successful at making fun of his age, then as we move through the campaign cycle, if they do run ads attacking McCain for being 71, it makes them look small and mean.
TODD: The McCain campaign tells us they're simply showcasing he's a congenial, regular guy. Yes, it does help that these shows have a younger demographic. reaching younger voters through their favorite TV programs, a tactic made legendary by Bill Clinton on the Arsenio Hall Show in 1992.
In this campaign, Hillary Clinton has tried to tap that market as well with appearances on Saturday Night Live and others. But analysts say there's a broader strategy here. Barack Obama seemingly doesn't need to connect with younger voters but he still danced with Ellen DeGeneres and did top 10 lists with David Letterman.
SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Throughout high school was consistently voted Barackist.
TODD: The overall goal, experts say, is to reach not just younger voters but all those who aren't motivated by party lines or issues.
MATTHEW BAUM, HARVARD UNIVERSITY: It becomes increasingly important for candidates to reach out to those segments of the public that are persuadable and so here you have a sizable, relatively less partisan, non-ideological or at least somewhat less ideological audience that can be persuaded to vote for you if you can reach them.
TODD: One political strategist believes these entertainment show appearances are effective at playing into the psychology of most voters. Not just those on the fence. He says in a presidential race many people vote on emotion and this can help candidates connect with them on a very human level, Wolf.
BLITZER: There's really little downside of them doing this. All of this is scripted pretty careful.
TODD: That's right. I mean they control the message. The jokes are written for them. There's very little that can go wrong in these situations but one critic says, but look if you really look into these things, it doesn't give you much insight into the candidate's personality. When you see John McCain reading from a teleprompter and the laughs are kind of semi canned there, it doesn't give you a lot of insight if you really past it.
BLITZER: But millions of people are watching and a lot of people laugh and have fun and they have a good appreciation of the candidate.
TODD: They might remember it when they get in the booth. That's the kind of thing voters tend to remember.
BLITZER: Every little sort of thing helps. Thanks Brian Todd for that.
White hot furry from the White House. It's directed right now at NBC News. We're going to tell you what the Bush administration is very angry about, specifically the president.
And he was arrested for driving while intoxicated. Then this married father admitted to having another child out of wedlock. By the way, he's a U.S. congressman and his party is on pins and needles right now over his future. We'll have an update.
Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
The White House is very angry with NBC News and has fired off a letter accusing the net work, and I'm quoting now, of deceitful editing.
Let's go to our White House correspondent, Elaine Quijano. She is watching the story for us.
Elaine, what's going on here? ELAINE QUIJANO, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well Wolf, judging from the forcefulness of the White House's response, safe to say President Bush himself is not at all happy in the way in which NBC News edited an answer the president gave about a question, in responding to a question about Iran policy and appeasement. This side, of course, coming on the heels of that speech before the Israeli Parliament that touched off a firestorm on the campaign trail. Now for some context, let's take a look first at the clip in question.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You said that negotiating with Iran is pointless and then you went further. You said that it was appeasement. Were you referring to Senator Barack Obama?
PRES. GEORGE BUSH, UNITED STATES: You know, my policies haven't changed. But evidently the political calendar has. And when, you know, a leader of Iran says that they want to destroy Israel, you got to take those words seriously.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
QUIJANO: Now, the White House insists, and in fact the full interview does reflect the fact that President Bush did challenge the premise of the question in one respect, edited out of the clip what you didn't see there was this portion of the president's answer, "People need to read the speech. You didn't get it exactly right either. What I said was that we need to take the words of people seriously."
Now, the White House is letting loose on NBC News in the form of a harshly worded letter from counselor to the President Ed Gillespie to NBC News president Steve Capus saying, "This deceitful editing to further a media manufactured storyline is utterly misleading and irresponsible." Wolf, the White House taking the unusual step of releasing that letter to reporters.
BLITZER: What is the response from NBC News?
QUIJANO: Came very quickly. In response, NBC News issuing a statement of its own, saying that the full interview of the president has, in fact, been made available on their website. Going on to say, quote, "Our reporting accurately reflects the interview. Just as the White House does not participate in the editorial process at "The Washington Post," "The Wall Street Journal," or USA Today, NBC News is part of a free press in a free society makes its own editorial decisions."
But interesting, again, Wolf, the way in which the White House is hitting back, pulling no punches, saying it feels it was wronged by the way NBC News characterized the president's answer. We can be sure Wolf we will likely be hearing more about this in the days to come although I should note we did not hear from the podium deputy press secretary Scott Standal (ph) talking about this today. I asked about perhaps why that was. He said this letter, the decision was made to release the letter once it was ready. It simply wasn't ready before the briefing happened. Wolf?
BLITZER: Elaine, thanks very much. Elaine Quijano with the latest from the White House.
John McCain and Barack Obama are clearly going after each other with increasing vigor when it comes to foreign policy, specifically policy towards Iran. Let's talk about that and more. John Lehman is joining us. He's one of the foreign policy advisers to John McCain, a former secretary of the navy, 9/11 commissioner.
JOHN LEHMAN, MCCAIN FOREIGN POLICY ADVISER: Thanks very much for coming in, Mr. Secretary.
Pleasure to be here.
BLITZER: All right. Here's a clip of what Obama is saying about McCain and we'll talk about it. Listen to this.
SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The reason Iran is so much more powerful now than it was a few years ago is because of the Bush/McCain policy of fighting an endless war in Iraq and refusing to pursue direct diplomacy with Iran. They're the ones who have not dealt with Iran wisely.
BLITZER: All right. Pretty serious accusation from Barack Obama. You want to respond?
LEHMAN: Well, you know, I think he doesn't understand what the nature of summitry is all about. You don't go and meet with the head of state until you have something very clear to say. You've either got to have a carrot or a stick. We know what Iran's intentions are. We know they've killed a lot of Americans in Beirut and Saudi Arabia and now in Iraq. They trained some of the 9/11 conspirators. They gave them free passage to al Qaeda. What are you going to say if you go to a summit with them? Are you going to say either you stop killing Americans and supporting jihad around the world or we're going to do something to you? Or do you say, we'll give you this concession if you please stop being mean to us? That's a very naive point of view.
BLITZER: Let me ask you, when McCain says that his policies, Obama's policies meeting with an Iranian leader without preconditions seriously deficient, deficient a strong word, what does he mean by that?
LEHMAN: I think he means that we've seen what happens when new presidents go without an agenda to meet with -- with adversaries. Senator Obama used the example of President Kennedy meeting with Khrushchev. That was a catastrophe. All historians now see that was a huge mistake to go without an agenda, a clear agenda.
BLITZER: What Senator Obama says, excuse me for interrupting, he says there would be no preconditions at the actual summit meeting but there would be a lot of advance work, a lot of preparations going into the meeting. What's wrong with that? Why not have the lower level preparations to make sure everybody knows what's going on but then when you go in, there's no commitment in advance for preconditions?
LEHMAN: Well, obviously there has got to be preparations. But the point is what deal are you going to make? Are you going to -- are you going to just sit down and say, OK, I'm prepared, I know all the bad things you've done and can't we just be friends?
BLITZER: The U.S. meets -- the Bush administration has had several meetings with Iran going back to right after 9/11.
LEHMAN: Sure. And we would continue to have discussions and -- and very intense communication. But to bring the president in to give the dignity of the presidential office to a meeting with an extremist like Ahmadinejad without a clear deal being pre-negotiated would be a huge mistake.
BLITZER: Would John McCain as president, Secretary Lehman, do anything differently toward Iran or, for that matter, the war in Iraq right now than what President Bush is doing?
LEHMAN: I think very definitely.
BLITZER: Give us a few examples. First of all, how would he deal differently with Iran than the way President Bush is dealing?
LEHMAN: First of all, you have to look at the history of this. We've been sitting by and watching Hezbollah supported by the government of Iran blow up our marines in Beirut.
BLITZER: That was back in '83.
LEHMAN: Right. Then a few years later blow up our Air Force people in Saudi Arabia and then to give training to al Qaeda prior to 9/11 and now to be providing these weapons to kill Americans with these shape charges, providing them to enemies both Shiite and Sunni.
BLITZER: What would he be doing differently towards Iran if he were president as opposed to President Bush?
LEHMAN: Well, I think what you'd see is a much more comprehensive overview of how everything fits together. And not treat everything as episodic. He would certainly not allow Iran to get off Scott free. That doesn't mean --
BLITZER: He would have a more robust military strategy against Iran than President Bush? Is that what you're suggesting?
LEHMAN: He would have a fully integrated strategy in which the military options like blockade and other options short of an invasion or a bombing attack would be integrated with the diplomacy in a larger picture?
BLITZER: Isn't that going to scare a lot of voters out there who think John McCain might be getting ready for another military confrontation with Iran right now?
LEHMAN: No. Because he's made it clear he's not advocating an attack on Iran. He's advocating treating them with the full range of an integrated policy that takes into view exactly what the whole picture in the Middle East is. And not allow them to kill Americans without paying a price. That doesn't necessarily mean a military attack at all. We have plenty of levers beyond that. And it would be a return to fully integrated foreign policy and national security policy, which we haven't seen for 15 years.
BLITZER: All right. Secretary Lehman, thanks very much for coming in. Let's continue this conversation down the road.
LEHMAN: Look forward to it.
BLITZER: Appreciate it very much.
In our next hour, we're going to be speaking to a top national security adviser to Barack Obama. Dr. Susan Rice will be joining us live here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
A congressman arrested for driving while intoxicated then admitting to an affair, fathering a child out of wedlock. No wonder his party is deeply worried right now. We'll tell you what's going on.
And a fifth adviser leaves John McCain's campaign. What does it mean? Jack Cafferty with your e-mail when we come back.
BLITZER: A Republican congressman is in hot water right now. He is keeping his party on pins and needles about his future.
Let's go to Mary Snow. She's watching this story for us.
Mary, not exactly what the Republican Party needs right now. Tell our viewers what's going on.
MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well Wolf, it's this story that's gain add lot of attention right here in New York. Republican leaders are anxiously watching since it's a house seat that wasn't supposed to be vulnerable.
SNOW: Attending a community parade like this wouldn't be out of the ordinary, except this is Congressman Vito Fossella. The embattled New York Republican has been keeping a low profile since disclosing in early May he'd been arrested.
REP. VITO FOSSELLA (R), NEW YORK: I was arrested for driving while intoxicated in Virginia.
SNOW: Just days after that, the married father of three admitted to having a child out of wedlock. He's been under constant scrutiny by New York papers and one in his own town of Staten Island called on him to resign. But when asked, the Congressman refused to answer questions about his political future. FOSSELLA: It's a great day for a parade.
SNOW: House minority leader John Boehner said whether he steps down is a personal decision. A spokesman for Fossella says he hasn't made up his mind about seeking a sixth term. Fellow Republican congressman and Fossella friend Peter King tells CNN he thinks Fossella could win if he runs. And some political watchers say it's a cause for concern for Republicans.
DAVID WASSERMAN, HOUSE EDITOR, COOK POLITICAL REPORT: The last thing Republicans need is another sex scandal at this point. Certainly it's not as damaging as the Mark Foley scandal we saw in 2006. It could still have an impact.
SNOW: That's because Republicans are reeling from losing three house seats in special elections in traditional Republican districts this year. Fossella is the only Republican to hold a congressional seat in New York City. If he resigns before July 1st, there's a possibility a special election could be held, something observers say Republicans don't want. But Fossella also faces a big embarrassment should he keep campaigning. He has a court date June 27th and faces the possibility of having to spend five days in jail if he's convicted on the drunk driving charge.
SNOW: Now, while Republicans wait for an official decision from Fossella, a spokesman for one potential Republican candidate says Republican leaders have already called him to discuss the possibility of running if Fossella steps aside.
BLITZER: Mary Snow, thank you for that.
By the way, the magic number in the House of Representatives the number of votes needed to override a presidential veto. That would be 290. The last time the Democrats had more than that magic number was back in the 95th congress of 1970s when there were 292 Democrats in the house.
Let's go back to Jack Cafferty right now. He's got the Cafferty File.
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Before we get to the question, earlier we said John McCain's top political adviser Charlie Black was the head of a Washington lobbying firm and that he took a leave of absence from the position. In fact Black resigned from the firm. He says he has no connection with it, receives no income from it and I regret the error.
The question this hour is what does it mean when five, count them, five John McCain campaign aides have resigned in a week because of lobbying ties? John in Austin writes, "It means the McCain camp knows full well they have no room for error this election season. They're trying to put out every potential fire before the Democrats turn full attention on them."
Mitch writes from Arkansas, "It means the Republican Party has to sense of the mood of the country. People are fed up with our voices being drowned out by these lobbyists and their special interests. McCain is too late in sensing in."
Mark in Yuba City, California, "He's trying to get potential conflicts of interest off his campaign staff. I'm not sure his or anybody's campaign could be entirely free of lobbying or special interest influence. But he's trying. And that's a good thing."
Don in Illinois, "It means all of these folks will be in the McCain cabinet should he win. That's how politics is played and he's certainly a big player. He's the ultimate elitist politician. Earmarks matter but what you do for the lobby is where the real money is. That's what it's all about. Money and power."
Pete in Massachusetts, "Simple, Jack. It means McCain is not the true maverick he says he is. He's just your run of the mill Washington insider. The time for change is now."
And Nancy in Tennessee says, "Looks like John McCain has the duster out, doing some spring cleaning, John McCain getting his campaign advisers ready for the real fight. Bring on the Obamas. Barack and Michelle better make sure they've cleaned all the cobwebs out of the corners and are ready to rumble."
If you didn't see your e-mail, you can go to my blog at CNN.com/CaffertyFile and look for yours there along with hundreds of others.
BLITZER: See you in a few moments, Jack. Thanks very much.
The house speaker Nancy Pelosi in Iraq, we're going to show you what she was doing there and the message she brought with her.
Also, a proposed guest worker program tied to war funding. Lou Dobbs standing by to talk about that.
Stay with us. You've in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Hillary Clinton says she's not done yet but Barack Obama, John McCain are already looking ahead to November. We'll have live reports on the campaign trail as the count down begins to tomorrow's big primary.
Stay with us. Much more coming up right here in THE SITUATION ROOM. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
BLITZER: In our political ticker, the house speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Iraq over the weekend leading a bipartisan delegation. She met with the Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki as well as the top U.S. commander General David Petraeus. In a written statement, Pelosi says she made it clear in her meetings that, "The war must be brought to an end."
Remember, for the latest political news any time check out CNN politics.com. That's where you can down load our new political screen saver and where you can check out my latest blog post.
Lou Dobbs got a program coming up in about an hour from now. He's joining us now.
What do you think about this notion of adding guest worker program to this war funding bill right now to help farms out there, the agricultural community bring in guest workers so they can go ahead, pick the crops, do what they need to do to keep the cost of farming relatively low so food prices don't go up? What do you make of this?
LOU DOBBS, CNN ANCHOR: Well, I'll tell you what I think Wolf. I think the Democratic leadership in the senate is just as disastrous, corrupt and irresponsible as the Republican leadership of the senate that preceded it. Remember they used to talk about a culture of construction, the Democrats. Then they got elected in 2006. They're continuing it. They're an absolute disaster. What could be more dishonorable than to put this on the Iraq funding bill, this amnesty program, as introduced by Dianne Feinstein and Larry Craig, quite a twosome, don't you think, and put it before the American people in the dark of night.
BLITZER: They're saying it's a temporary workers program.
DOBBS: You know what it is. They're so full of -- who do they think they're kidding? It is absurd. It's dishonest, dishonorable. It's beneath the dignity of the senate. It's just what we've become used to in this country. We can't trust the people we elect to Washington and the last thing that's going to happen in Washington is the rule of the majority be both honored and respected. It is a disgrace and I'm sure the Democratic leadership is very proud of itself.
BLITZER: We'll see you in one hour, Lou. Thanks very much.
DOBBS: You've got a deal.