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THE SITUATION ROOM
Scott McClellan's Colleagues Defend Bush; News Anchors Disagree with Former Press Secretary's Claims; DNC Rules Committee Set to Meet Saturday
Aired May 28, 2008 - 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: Thanks very much, guys.
Happening now, the tell-all outrage at the White House. The former Press Secretary Scott McClellan accusing the president of using propaganda to sell the war in Iraq. This hour, angry new reaction from Bush allies. I'll also be speaking with a former White House Counselor Dan Bartlett. He's angry.
Plus, the Democrats rules. A new memo set the stage for a weekend showdown over delegates from Michigan and Florida. We'll look at the options on the table and what they mean for Obama and Clinton camps.
The color purple, Barack Obama and John McCain fight for the same Western turf where red and blue are blurred.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Up first this hour, the president's allies are circling the wagons accusing a former Bush insider of betrayal. Their target, the former White House press secretary, turned author, Scott McClellan. In his brand new book McClellan accuses the administration of playing loose with the facts, particularly in its efforts to build support for the war in Iraq.
Let's go to our White House Correspondent Ed Henry, who's watching this story for us.
Lots of outrage, lots of reaction coming in. What's the latest, Ed?
ED HENRY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: The White House initially would not comment on this book last night. But now former colleagues of Scott McClellan are speaking out and the gloves are coming off.
HENRY (voice-over): It was supposed to be a glorious day. President Bush in Colorado delivering the Air Force Academy's commencement.
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Your parents are proud of you, and so is your commander in chief.
HENRY: Instead, it was rainy and bitter cold. Matching the first White House reaction to Scott McClellan's explosive new book. In charges the president used propaganda to sell the war in Iraq, which has become, a quote, "serious strategic blunder."
White House spokesperson Dana Perino issued a written statement declaring the former spokesman is disgruntled about his time in the administration.
"For those of us who fully supported him before, during and after he was press secretary, we are puzzled," Perino said. "It is sad. This is not the Scott we knew.
A former Bush aide, Fran Townsend, was even harsher. Charging McClellan was not in a position to know what really happened in the run up to the war.
FRANCES FRAGOS TOWNSEND, FMR. BUSH HOMELAND SECURITY ADVISOR: Oftentimes the press secretary will get briefed after some of these more sensitive meetings. But the press secretary doesn't participate in, for example, the briefings of secretary of Defense.
HENRY: Another former White House insider, Dan Bartlett, lashed out at McClellan telling CNN it's, quote, "total crap" to say the media was soft on the administration. Claiming again that flawed intelligence was to blame for mistakes leading up to the war.
McClellan's predecessor at the podium, Ari Fleischer, declared, "If Scott had such deep misgivings he should not have accepted the press secretary position as a matter of principle."
But a former Clinton White House insider said McClellan account has credibility because his long proximity to Mr. Bush gave him a window on how the war was prosecuted. He may now be having pangs of conscience.
JOHN PODESTA, FMR. CLINTON W.H. CHIEF OF STAFF: The fact, that we went to war based on to some extent propaganda, a false premise, it was a terrible mistake of judgment, which I think he's come to the conclusion -- as two thirds of the American people have. It was a bad mistake of judgment on behalf of the president.
HENRY: I Scott McClellan briefly last night by telephone. He said he's standing behind his account. As for the president, White House aides say that he's familiar, he's been told about what's in the book. They say it's very unlikely he's going to comment on it any time soon. They say he has far more pressing matters to deal with -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right. Ed Henry in Colorado Springs, Colorado, for us. Thank you.
Just ahead I'll be speaking with the former White House counselor and one-time communications director Dan Bartlett. He was Scott McClellan's boss. That interview coming up here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Scott McClellan has a long history with President Bush. He went to work as his spokesman back when Mr. Bush was Texas governor in 1999. McClellan served as traveling press secretary for the Bush campaign in 2000. He later went to work in the White House press office. He was promoted to press secretary in 2003, replacing Ari Fleischer. He left in 2005. McClellan's family has political connections as well. Deep connections in Texas. His mother, Carole Keeton Strayhorn, is a prominent Texas politician. His brother, Mark, served as commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration.
Now to the big decision weighing in on the Democratic Party and its presidential candidates -- what to do about those delegates from Michigan and Florida, currently barred from the convention in Denver this summer. A new memo is giving us some hints at what could happen during a crucial meeting on this matter three days from now, right here in Washington on Saturday.
Our senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley, is traveling with the Obama campaign in Colorado.
Candy, a lot of anticipation about this crucial meeting of the DNC Rules Committee on Saturday. What are you picking up?
CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SR. POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, first of all, what we had in that staff memo that you just mentioned is an indication that the staff believes that Democratic Party rules mandate that if a state does not comply with rules as Michigan and Florida did not, that at least 50 percent of their delegations will not be counted.
Now I have to tell you that the Obama campaign seems OK with that. Saying, look, we know we're going to have to compromise. But the Clinton campaign said when you look at the rules you can read it a different way. They are still insisting, in the Clinton camp, that what they want is full seating of the Florida and Michigan delegations, 100 percent of those delegates seated -- and also seated proportionately as the votes went in both Florida and Michigan. As you know, Hillary Clinton won in both those states, Wolf.
BLITZER: There's one option they should just penalize both of the states by perhaps only seating half of their pledged delegates, maybe all of their superdelegates. What are you hearing about that option?
CROWLEY: Well, again, the staff at the DNC say that, yes, this seems to be the least of punishment that would be meted out to Michigan and Florida according to Democratic Party rules. That what they would do is probably seat the whole delegations but only give them half a vote.
Obviously, this would hurt Hillary Clinton, though she would still come out with more pledged delegates from Michigan and Florida even if they just give those delegates half a vote.
BLITZER: All right. Thanks very much, Candy.
I want to just let our viewers know, we're going to be having extensive coverage of this meeting on Saturday. Stay with CNN as members of the Democratic Rules Committee meet to debate the status of Michigan and Florida, their primary votes. We're calling it "Decision Day". I'll be anchoring our coverage together with the best political team on television. Our live coverage begins Saturday morning, 9:00 a.m. Also, CNN.com will have extensive coverage as well.
A federal judge dismissed today a lawsuit aimed at forcing the DNC to seat Florida's delegates at the convention. It's the second time a judge in Tampa rejected arguments the national party discriminated against Florida voters by stripping the state of its delegates. The Democratic strategist behind the lawsuit says he's disappointed and he plans to appeal.
Let's go to Jack Cafferty right now. He's got "The Cafferty File".
Busy news day, Jack.
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Indeed it is. Bush White House sold the Iraq war to the American people with, quote, "a political propaganda campaign." That was led by the president and focused on, quote, "manipulating sources of public opinion" and, quote, "down playing the major reason for going to war."
Those are some of the withering charges in an explosive new book by former White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan. McClellan saw it all from the inside as a member of the president's inner circle; worked for him for 10 years. McClellan stops just short of saying that the president lied about Iraq, but he says, "the administration played fast and loose with the truth in a way that almost guaranteed that the use of force would be the result."
McClellan concludes, quote, "what I do know is that war should only be waged when necessary and the Iraq war was not necessary, unquote.
The White House is fuming. They're dismissing McClellan's claims as the work of a disgruntled former employee. But his book could have implications for John McCain. McCain has practically staked his campaign on his national security credentials, and the war in Iraq, suggesting the U.S. could be there for 100 years.
He's also criticized Democrat Barack Obama for having, quote, "no experience or judgment or knowledge on Iraq," unquote. Let's see. McCain and Hillary Clinton voted for the war. Barack Obama did not. McClellan's book would suggest that Obama got it right.
While McCain goes around saying he'll never surrender in Iraq without telling us whom he would surrender to, his sale of the Iraq war to the American people as a campaign issue just got a whole lot trickier. Suddenly a White House insider says the war wasn't necessary.
Here's the question: How will Scott McClellan's book affect the presidential election?
Go to CNN.com/caffertyfile. You can post a comment on my blog -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Jack, thank you.
Former colleague of Scott McClellan now venting anger, shock and confusion about his new tell-all memoir.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DAN BARTLETT, FMR. WHITE HOUSE COUNSELOR: There is enormous amount of disappointment among those who are closest to Scott. This is not the Scott we knew.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: My interview with the former White House Counselor Dan Bartlett, that's coming up.
Also, the actors of the big three broadcast networks are responding to Scott McClellan's allegation that journalists were simply too soft on the Bush White House, leading into the war.
And in the shadow of the Pro Football Hall of Fame we'll visit one Ohio county that could be crucial in choosing the next president of the United States. Stay with us on this busy news day right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Carol Costello is monitoring some other important stories incoming to THE SITUATION ROOM right now.
Carol, what's going on?
CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is too dogged by scandals to effectively run the country, that is what Israel's defense minister says.
Ehud Barak says the prime minister should step down or face new elections saying Mr. Olmert needs to tend to his personal situation. That situation is Mr. Olmert being under investigation for allegedly receiving illegal funds and bribes.
Mr. Olmert says the money was for legitimate campaign purposes and that he will only resign if he's indicted.
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown is commenting on what are called cluster bombs. Those are the weapons that are clustered together when dropped, like out of a plane, but break apart to scatter hundreds of smaller bomblets across and area.
Today Mr. Brown said Britain will take all cluster bombs out of the service. Many of the smaller bomblets do not explode on impact posing a danger to anyone handling them.
Last year there were many more U.S. troops enduring serious anxiety because of their military service. According to new statistics, the number of troops diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder jumped almost 50 percent in 2007. Most come from the Army with the most forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Pentagon has increased its efforts to get troops to seek counseling regarding mental health issues.
At the end of this year Indonesia says it will pull out of OPEC, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries. It's not immediately clear what they'll do to global oil prices and ultimately the price you pay at the pump. Indonesia is the only Southeast Asian country in the 13-nation oil cartel. Its oil production has steadily decreased in the last decade.
That's the look at the headlines right now, Wolf.
BLITZER: All right. Thanks, Carol, very much.
We're going to continue to follow up on the stories Carol just told. The new demand for Israel's prime minister to step down. We'll have a full report coming up from Jerusalem. The Israel prime minister now dogged by scandal and facing a powerful new call, as Carol just reported, to step down.
Also coming up, I'll speak with the former White House counselor, Dan Bartlett, about Scott McClellan's bombshell new book, allegations the president simply spread propaganda to generate support for the war in Iraq. Much more coming up right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Now to one of the most provocative allegations in Scott McClellan's new book about his days in the Bush White House. The target, those of us in the news media who cover the president. The anchors of the three broadcast networks are speaking out about that very subject, reacting to McClellan's charges today.
Let's go back to CNN's Howard Kurtz, the host of CNN's "Reliable Sources." Also from "The Washington Post."
Now, Howie, these three anchors, they have some very different views, at least what they're expressing publicly to Scott McClellan's very, very strong accusations against us.
HOWARD KURTZ, HOST,"RELIABLE SOURCES": That's exactly right. McClellan says in his new book, Wolf, that the liberal media didn't exactly live up to its reputation during the run up to the Iraq war. But not all members of the media agree with that assessment.
KURTZ (voice-over): The former White House spokesman writes that while President Bush was making the case to invade Iraq, the press was probably too deferential to the White House. The three network anchors, promoting a cancer fundraiser on "The Early Show" have decidedly different reactions to McClellan's charge.
ABC's Charlie Gibson flatly disagrees. CHARLES GIBSON, ABC NEWS ANCHOR: No, I think that the media did a pretty good job of focusing and asking the questions. We were not given access to get into the country. I think it's convenient now to blame the media, but I don't.
KURTZ: NBC's Brian Williams believes the media were swept along by a wave of patriotism after the 2001 terror attacks.
BRIAN WILLIAMS, NBC NEWS ANCHOR: People have to remember the post 9/11 era. And how that felt and what the president felt he was empowered to do and that Colin Powell speech at the U.N.
KURTZ: CBS's Katie Couric was the most critical of her profession saying sometimes journalists have to go against the mood of the country.
KATIE COURIC, CBS NEWS ANCHOR: I think it's one of the most embarrassing chapters in American journalism. I think there was a sense, a pressure from corporations who own where we work, and from the government itself, to really squash any kind of dissent.
KURTZ: Couric has told me that while she was at NBC, where she co-hosted the "Today Show", she got what she described as complaints from network executives when she challenged the Bush administration.
Print coverage, meanwhile, was also flawed. "The New York Times" which published Judith Miller's erroneous stories about Saddam's alleged weapons of mass destruction, and "The Washington Post", including Bob Woodward have expressed regret for not being more aggressive in questioning the march to war.
KURTZ: It was only when violence surged in Iraq and public opinion began turning against the war that ABC, CBS, NBC, and the rest of the media turned more skeptical. These days war coverage seems to have dramatically dwindled as network anchors, and most of their colleagues, focus more on politics here at home.
Wolf, a question for you: With the benefit of hindsight, how do you assess CNN's coverage during the run-up to the Iraq conflict.
BLITZER: I think we were pretty strong. But certainly, with hindsight, we could have done an even better job. There were a lot of things missing in our coverage that obviously, you know, ex post facto, after the fact. Certainly we raised the important questions.
I can't tell you how many times we had Scott Ritter and Hans Blix and Mohammed ElBaradei, from the International Atomic Energy Agency on my shows, and a lot of the other shows on CNN, where they suggested, you know what, they don't see the evidence about the weapons of mass destruction. They're not convinced.
But could we have done a better job? Sure. Remember. We're a first draft of history, journalism. We can always look back and look back and say we could have done this, we could have done that. On the whole, though, I think we asked the tough questions but we could have done better.
KURTZ: One of my problems is that anti-war voices had limited access, it seems, to the airwaves while administration officials, of course, were on every day pounding for --
BLITZER: But you know what, we had a reporter whose soul job, Maria Hinojosa, was to cover the anti-war activists. And we did a lot of the protests. We did a lot of that almost on a daily basis, going into this war. So we didn't ignore those anti-war protests.
KURTZ: It's always easier in hindsight.
BLITZER: Yes, you're absolutely right.
Howie Kurtz, thanks very much for joining us.
Shocking claims from the former White House press secretary are leading people who know him virtually speechless. Yet they are managing to talk about their disbelief at what Scott McClellan is saying about President Bush. The former White House Counselor Dan Bartlett is one of them. He's here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
And Bill Clinton still sees a way for his wife to win the presidential nomination. Would it involve bending the rules, though? You're going to hear the surprising comments, the latest comments that Bill Clinton is making today. Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM. Happening now, united they stand.
In a rare show of unity all three presidential candidates are equally outraged by something that's been happening. They're putting their anger on the same page, literally. We'll tell you what's going on.
President Bush compares Iraq and Afghanistan to World War II. What does he see as the similarities? And are they fair comparison comparisons? We're watching this story as well.
His new book is entitled "Churchill, Hitler, and the Unnecessary War: How Britain lost its empire and the West lost the world".
How does Pat Buchanan explain his belief Britain created the conditions in Europe for someone like Hitler to arise and this contention that the U.S. right now is on a similar misguided global path. Pat Buchanan is here as well.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Allies of President Bush are not mincing any words in their very angry reaction to their new book by the former White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan.
Joining us now from Austin, Texas, Dan Bartlett. He was the communications director in the Bush White House, effectively Scott McClellan's boss. Here to talk about these very serious charges that McClellan is leveling in his new book, "What Happened".
Among other things, Dan, he says this: "What I do know is that war -- what I do know is that war should only be waged when necessary, and the Iraq war was not necessary. This from a White House press secretary who defended this war for years.
This is a very serious charge given the number of American troops who have been killed, the hundreds of billions of dollars that have been spent. What do you say about this charge?
DAN BARTLETT, FMR. WHITE HOUSE COUNSELOR: Well, Wolf, you're right. Scott McClellan did say these things, defended this war from the podium. In fact, in the most private of moments within the West Wing of the White House, with his closest colleagues, he never raised these concerns he's now airing in this book.
That I think is why it's so troubling to see this type of tell- all book that we're now reading about. It's really like listening or reading a completely different person than we all got to know.
BLITZER: You've known him for a long time.
BARTLETT: I've known him for more than a decade. And I must say there's no one more shocked and surprised by the allegations.
BLITZER: Was there ever a moment he came to you, during his years working for you in the White House? You were effectively his boss as the communications director. And he said, you know, Dan, I really feel this is a mistake?
BARTLETT: No. In fact, he didn't. And was very much supportive of this president. I think he still is trying to be supportive personally of the president. These types of allegations, without raising any of these concerns throughout his whole tenure -- and I think another important point, Wolf, to stress is that during that critical buildup to the war, Scott McClellan was not the press secretary. He was the deputy press secretary who dealt with domestic issues.
So he would not even have been really -- have access to the types of meetings and deliberations that the president participated in. So that's why it's also a little bit, I think, misguided for him to make these kind of broad con -- accusations and draw these big conclusions about the president.
BLITZER: But you know what, he goes into specifics on this president. And he was, as you say, during that period the deputy press secretary, and later becoming the press secretary. He writes this in the book about the president.
"He and his advisers confused the propaganda campaign with the high level of candor and honesty so fundamentally needed to build and then sustain public support during a time of war."
He doesn't flatly say the president was lying to the American people, but that's the upshot.
BARTLETT: Well, now, I think this is the part that gives me the biggest concern about this book. Because to give credibility to such an outrageous accusation, that mostly was coming from the left wing of the Democratic Party, is really disappointing.
There is a key difference, Wolf, between intelligence being wrong and those who were explaining the war to the American people deliberately lying to them. And that this president was deliberately trying to mislead the public. Nothing could be further from the truth. I think Scott McClellan knows that.
On the other hand, or at least on the other side of the ledger, he also accuses that the media didn't do a good enough job in the lead up to the war, which I think is wrong as well. They asked the tough questions. You asked the tough questions. The fact of the matter was the weapons of mass destruction weren't there. The intelligence was wrong.
But that doesn't make people out to be liars or manipulators or propagandists. It makes them wrong.
BLITZER: Here is what he says about the president.
He says: "President Bush has always been an instinctive leader, more than intellectual leader. He is not one to delve deeply into all of the possible policy options, including sitting around, engaging in extended debate about them, before making a choice. Rather, he chooses based on his gut and on his deeply held convictions. Such was the case with Iraq."
That's a pretty awful picture he paints of the president going into the most important decision any president could ever make, whether or not to send young men and women -- women off to war.
BARTLETT: And, Wolf, all I can tell you, as somebody who was actually in the meetings, is that that is not true.
And this is the part that I think is going to be the most uncomfortable for people who are friends with Scott, that to explain to the public that the president did take that awesome decision and responsibility to send people into war incredibly seriously.
I listened to the deliberations. I saw the national security advisers give the president different options. I saw him wrestle with these decisions. These were deliberations of which, unfortunately, Scott was not a part of.
Now, you could always do more, and there could be easily, in retrospect, when we've seen that -- the challenges we have faced in Iraq, that it could have been done differently. But the bottom line at the time, I do believe the president took the necessary precautions and deliberations to make the right decision, again. BLITZER: Is George Bush an instinctive leader who acts on his gut, rather than an intellectual, someone who looks at all the evidence and has extended debates about it? Because that's the upshot of his argument.
BARTLETT: I think any successful leader has a combination of both. You have to have good instincts. You have to have good judgment. And you have to have good information. And you have to have good advisers around you.
And I think the president had the balance between both. And I think great presidents do have good instincts, do have to -- at the end of the day, at times, have to trust their own values and judgment on things.
But that's not based on -- in a vacuum. That is not done without deliberations. That is not done without information. And I would say it's easy to flyspeck this looking backwards, when there has been all the challenges we have faced in Iraq.
But that doesn't change the fact that this president took that position very seriously. I can only say it in one respect. I was there. I saw it. I saw it a lot more than Scott did, in fact. And I know the president took it seriously. I know those decisions still weigh on him today, because he understands the sacrifice we're making.
The fact of the matter, he still thinks those sacrifices were worth it.
BARTLETT: And I think that's where the big difference is between those who oppose this war and those who support it.
BLITZER: He says the failures in responding to Hurricane Katrina were emblematic of this White House.
"It was a failure," he writes, "of imagination and initiative. And, when the storm hit and the damage proved worse than anyone expected, our ability to adjust bespoke a failure of responsibility."
He was the press secretary during Katrina, right?
BARTLETT: Oh, absolutely.
And I think the president himself in an address to the nation accepted responsibility for the shortcomings of the response, not only at the federal level, but at all levels of government, Wolf.
It was a catastrophe in which this nation had never faced before. Our response to that could have been better. We have been very candid about that. And Scott tried to contribute in some respects. I think some of the points he makes in his book where impressed upon himself, a lot of people are scratching their heads, because they don't necessarily recall those moments. But the bottom is, is that was an enormous catastrophe. It could have been handled better. We did our best under very trying circumstances. And politicians at all levels of government were held responsible by the public, because they felt we could have done a better job.
BLITZER: He also makes a very serious charge against Karl Rove and Scooter Libby, saying, in effect, that they conspired to create their own story that they would tell federal prosecutors, and that they lied to him, and he, in effect, went out and told bad information to the American people through the news media.
That's a very serious charge he makes.
BARTLETT: It is, Wolf.
And I -- I must start by saying this entire episode, or chapter, in the administration, in which we were dealing with this leak investigation, was incredibly difficult for all of us, especially for Scott, because he was the one who had to be the public face.
And it was a very interesting dynamic internally, because we were ordered not to talk to each other or to collaborate about what had happened by the prosecutors. So, it was hard for us to discern from each other what our true feelings were, because we were told, frankly, not to.
And, in this case -- and it's really striking, because, really, the whole theme of Scott's book is that he doesn't like the way Washington works. It's kind of this deception. It's this. It's that, and that this whole way of how we operate in Washington is bad.
And, then, he does one of the very things that makes it bad in Washington. He throws out an allegation about Karl Rove and Scooter Libby that he doesn't have enough evidence to support. He says that Karl and Scooter never met privately, that this was a rare moment.
I saw them meet privately all the time. And, then, it was a private meeting. Scott was not in the meeting. Yet, he jumps to this broad conclusion that the two of them must have been up to no good.
BLITZER: So, is he...
BARTLETT: I find that very troubling.
BLITZER: Is he lying in this book?
BARTLETT: You know, that's the type of things, whether it's betrayal or is he lying, I can't speak to Scott's motives.
I can only say, from the perch that I sat, and in the meetings I witnessed, is that I think I have a much different portrayal of this president than Scott does.
And I can't explain to you why he has today decided to come out with all of these views that he apparently held throughout the entire time he served in the White House, yet said nothing to anybody.
BLITZER: Have you -- do you regret hiring him? I guess that's the question.
BARTLETT: All I will say is that there is an enormous amount of disappointment among those who are closest to Scott. This is not the Scott we knew. Maybe that is our fault. Maybe this is a new Scott.
It's almost like -- it's almost like an out-of-body experience, quite frankly. And -- but, you know, it's a lesson learned. That's for sure.
BLITZER: We're going to be speaking to him here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
What would you ask him, if you could?
BARTLETT: Well, I -- you know, look, as I said, Scott is a friend of mine, a colleague that I worked very closely with. I won't speak to him through the media. I'll speak to him personally, if that's -- if that's required.
BLITZER: And you haven't yet, though?
BARTLETT: I haven't.
BLITZER: Dan Bartlett, thanks very much for joining us.
BARTLETT: Appreciate it, Wolf.
BLITZER: And what do you want to ask Scott McClellan? I will be interviewing him here in THE SITUATION ROOM on Friday. Here's what you can do.
Go to ireport.com/situationroom to submit your own video question for Scott McClellan. Once again, ireport.com/situationroom. We will try to get some of your questions in on video for Scott McClellan.
The presidential candidates are seeing purple -- coming up, one of the crucial crossroads between red and blue America. That would be the battleground state of Ohio. The CNN Election Express is there.
Plus, Florida and Michigan were punished for breaking party rules. Will the DNC let them off the hook? DNC member Donna Brazile, she will be joining us in our "Strategy Session."
And sharp new exchanges between John McCain and Barack Obama on Iraq, as they fight for support out West -- lots going on right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: What do Barack Obama and John McCain both know about states like Ohio? They could go either way. That's for sure. You have also heard about the so-called red and blue states.
But it's the so-called purple states that are bitterly contested. There were 12 in the last presidential election decided by a margin of 5 percent or less.
Our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider, is joining us now in Ohio. He's taking politics to the people on the CNN Election Express.
Bill, tell us why the bus and you right now are in Canton, Ohio.
WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Wolf, this is Stark County, Ohio, a bellwether county in presidential elections. And we're here to find out for whom the bellwether tolls.
SCHNEIDER (voice-over): Canton, Ohio, famous for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, the William McKinley Presidential Memorial, and it's in Stark County, a bellwether county in presidential elections.
CHARITA GOSHAY, "THE CANTON REPOSITORY": We have a pretty good record of picking winning presidential candidates, with two exceptions. We went for Richard Nixon in 1960 and John Kerry in 2004.
SCHNEIDER: So, who will Stark County go for in 2008? No question what issue number one is here.
GOSHAY: We have lost a couple major manufacturers in recent years, like the Hoover Company. And that's -- that's -- that's a big blow to absorb.
SCHNEIDER: We asked people who live here who they think will carry Stark County if the race turns out to be between Barack Obama and John McCain.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I would say Obama.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think Barack Obama.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Obama.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's a Democrat. And they're basically working people in Stark County, you know, steel workers, contractors.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: With the way the economy is, I think the people of Stark County are ready for a change.
SCHNEIDER: Unanimous? Well, almost.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think Stark County will choose McCain.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't think the people here will vote for Obama.
SCHNEIDER: What if it turns out to be Hillary Clinton vs. John McCain? Almost all of those who thought Obama would win also thought Clinton would win.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, I do believe that it will be a Democrat, whichever of the two will be running.
SCHNEIDER: But here's a warning to Democrats.
GOSHAY: They're going to have to come here, if they want people to know who they are and what they stand for.
SCHNEIDER: Very different from William McKinley's 1896 campaign, when the candidate never left his home in Canton, Ohio.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Then, people came in droves to meet with him on his front porch, very literally. They would come and meet with the candidate.
SCHNEIDER: McKinley won -- twice. His platform? Anti-free trade. And that's an issue that still resonates here in Canton, Ohio, where the jobs keep disappearing -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Bill, thank you -- Bill Schneider in Canton.
And if you doubt how much Ohio can sway either Republican or Democrat, here's proof. Look at this. In 1992, Bill Clinton won Ohio by a very slim margin of about three points. In 1996, it was a similar story, Clinton beating Bob Dole by six points. But the picture of Democratic victory changed in 2000. Ohio certainly helped George W. Bush win over Al Gore.
And, in the last presidential election, President Bush beat John Kerry by just more than two points in Ohio.
Coming up in our "Strategy Session," the former White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan's new book has a lot of President Bush's loyalists simply scratching their heads.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
FRAGOS TOWNSEND: Scott really was part of the -- sort of the Texas family, if you will, and did have the opportunity to make his views known. I think we have got to ask ourselves, why now?
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BLITZER: Why now? And how will this tell-all play out on the campaign trail?
And one leading editorial page has a blunt reminder to Florida and Michigan Democrats: Play by the rules. But will the DNC? Donna Brazile and John Feehery, they are here for our "Strategy Session." That's coming up.
BLITZER: Right now, let's look at the options on the table, as Democrats prepare for a big weekend meeting on Florida and Michigan. The DNC Rules Committee could decide not to seat any of the delegates from the states. That's one option. That would keep the bar set where it is right now, at 2,026 delegates needed to clinch the nomination.
There's a second option on the table: Seat all of the delegates from both states. That would raise the threshold to 2,210 delegates needed to clinch, put Hillary Clinton in the best position to try to catch up with Barack Obama.
There's a third option, we're told, seat half of the delegates from Michigan and Florida. That would put the magic number to clinch at 2,118. And there's also a fourth option. And there may be even more. Fourth option: Seat half of the pledged delegates from both states, but seat all of the so-called superdelegates. If they did that, that would put the number needed to clinch at 2,131.
Bill Clinton is also weighing in on the options that would best help his wife win the presidential nomination. But is he looking at some fuzzy math himself?
Listen to what the former president said just a little while ago.
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WILLIAM JEFFERSON CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The party will have to decide whether they believe the caucuses, where you get about one delegate for 2,000 votes, are more important than the primaries, where you get one for 12,000, and that this really astonishing race, where both of them have run amazing campaigns, they're going to have to decide how to resolve this, the unpledged delegates, the so-called superdelegates. But at least she will have been able to make her best case there. We will just see what happens.
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BLITZER: All right, joining us now in our "Strategy Session," our political contributor, the Democratic strategist, an undeclared superdelegate, Donna Brazile, and Republican strategist John Feehery.
Guys, thanks very much for coming in.
What do you think of these options? You're a member of the Rules Committee. Are there more options than the four that we just discussed?
DONNA BRAZILE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Absolutely.
That's why we have a Rules Committee, not only to set the rules and to inform the states, and to encourage them to abide by the rules. There's other options I have read that would also strip the superdelegates. There are options that say we would give them half a vote, not a full vote.
BRAZILE: So, there are many options.
And the purpose of the meeting, Wolf, is to sit down and review these options, and to deliberate, and to come up with a best -- the best solution that's fair to not just the voters in those states, but also fair to the voters in the states that have already voted as well.
BLITZER: Are you confident, Donna, that, some time on Saturday -- and we're calling it decision day -- we're going to have extensive live coverage here at CNN -- at some point on Saturday, there will be a decision that will be reached across the board, the Rules Committee will announce it, and then we will know what happens to Michigan and Florida?
BRAZILE: Wolf, we will not know until the Rules Committee actually has an opportunity to meet.
I cannot speak for anyone else but myself. But it is my goal, I hope, and I think the others who are flying in from all over the country, to resolve this matter, so that the party can come together and that we can unify and prepare for the fall.
BLITZER: Here's what "USA Today" say in an editorial.
It said this, John. It said: "All sorts of compromises are being floated." We just, obviously, floated a few ourselves. "And it's up to the party to decide what to do. But any resolution should remind states of what every first-grader ought to know. You break the rules, you get punished."
JOHN FEEHERY, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, it's a good point.
And I think what they will end up doing is punishing somehow -- I think Donna's probably right. They will probably do a -- I'm not speaking for her, but get half the delegates. Give them half-a-vote, all the delegates half-a-vote. That's the Republican way. That's what the Republicans did.
And then to have the punishment, but also make sure that the delegates can be seated. And the fact of the matter is that Barack Obama, at the end of the day, is going to get the nomination, in my view. And, then, that's the most important part. If they do something where they fool around with the rules, and it gives Hillary Clinton the nomination, that's really bad for the Democrats. And I think it would really kind of divide that party irreparably.
BLITZER: Theoretically, is there still MSNBC way, no matter what formula you come up with, that Hillary Clinton could in fact capture this nomination?
BRAZILE: Look, Wolf, I don't -- I don't engage myself in hypotheticals. And, so, at this point Senator Obama appears to be about 40, 45 delegates away from Clinton, the option one. BLITZER: The original number?
BRAZILE: Absolutely. And that is a very important number. And Senator Clinton is about 200 votes short. And there are enough superdelegates out there who can sway this and enough superdelegates who could change their mind. Of course, that's all within the rules.
BLITZER: You know Scott McClellan, John. What do you think about this new book?
FEEHERY: The book says, basically, "It's not my fault."
Well, actually, it was kind of his fault. He was -- during that period, he was actually a pretty lousy press secretary. And if you look at the label of incompetence on the Bush administration, it's because of Scott McClellan, in a small part, on his performance on the podium.
I would sit there and watch him. My family would watch him, and think, what the heck is he doing? He was just bad. And I think that he's giving this -- writing this book to say, "Hey, it's not my fault."
Well, you know what? You have got to take the blame. He should have taken the blame. I haven't read the whole book. But -- and I have talked to some friends at the White House. And they are mystified as to why he would do this.
BLITZER: What do you think, Donna?
BRAZILE: He was a loyal foot soldier in President Bush's administration, his campaign, so, I can't discount what Scott is saying. I want to read the book, especially the chapter on Katrina.
But to trash Scott before reading the book and getting an understanding of what he's saying, I think, is premature. I think we should figure out what happened inside that administration and, clearly, the run-up to the war. He makes some damaging assertions in that book.
BLITZER: And he says the war was blunder, should have never happened.
That will have, potentially, political ramifications on the campaign trail that could dog John McCain.
FEEHERY: I don't think so. And I will tell you why.
John McCain is known for straight talk. And he's also was -- said, you know what, we did blunder early on in this war, and Don Rumsfeld made some bad decisions. And John McCain actually was right on the war before John McCain and George Bush were right.
And we -- he has the right strategy. The best thing about John McCain is, he talks straight. And that's what one criticism of Scott McClellan was, that he didn't. And I think that that will not hurt McCain at all.
BRAZILE: I think any attempt to just basically disarm the messenger without looking at the book, reading the book and assessing the damage would be premature.
I think this is a very important book. For an airtight administration, to get a glimpse inside the Bush administration, I'm looking forward to reading it when it's big print and of course on sale.
BLITZER: And I assume you will be looking forward to seeing him here in "THE SITUATION ROOM" on Friday.
BRAZILE: If he's with you.
BRAZILE: I will watch.
BLITZER: He will be here, Donna.
Thanks very much, John.
FEEHERY: Thank you.
BLITZER: Guys, thanks to both of you for coming in.
It's not high noon, but it appears there's a showdown out West, on one side, Barack Obama moving in on what John McCain considers his turf. You are going to want to hear how it's playing out. That's coming up right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: On our Political Ticker: Check out this quick glimpse of President Bush with John McCain at the Phoenix Airport. It was their only public appearance last night, as they teamed up behind closed doors to raise cash for the McCain campaign. The event reportedly raised about $3 million.
Remember, for the latest political news any time, check out CNNPolitics.com. That's where you can download our new political screen-saver and where you can check out my latest blog post. Just wrote one before the show.
Let's go to Jack once again for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.
CAFFERTY: The question this hour is: How will Scott McClellan's book affect the presidential election? Judy from Exeter, California writes: "McCain doesn't have an ice cube's chance in hell now. McClellan has done the right thing, but, for many, it's too little too late. Sleep well, Mr. Bush, Mr. Cheney. How can they live with themselves?"
Shawn in Rosharon, Texas: "The question shouldn't be whether McClellan's book will affect the election. Rather, the question should be whether or not the American people will listen."
Terri in Virginia writes: "When he left his post at the White House, McClellan received accolades, and we heard how he would be missed. Now that he has the audacity to challenge the facts leading up to the war, he has become a disgruntled employee. I think it has the potential to hurt McCain's campaign if the Rove machine doesn't figure out a way to spin this."
Margarite in Florida writes, "Just another political hack trying to make money by selling out his friends and employer."
Steve in Laguna Niguel, California: "The truth shall set you free. The American people are finally getting some truth to how pathetic the Bush administration really is. The book will only enforce the notion that we need change.
Andrew writes: "Sadly, the book will have little impact on the election. Fewer and fewer voters read. Of those who do, those already planning to vote Republican will dismiss the book as a hatchet job by a writer looking to cash in on his service with Bush. And those planning to vote Democrat already knew Bush lied to bend public opinion. The book's message is, same story, different day."
And Linda in Woodbury, New Jersey, writes this: "The combination of the HBO special 'Recount' and the McClellan book was the one-two punch that made me feel that neither we the people, nor the Electoral College, is running the show, and that the media has not given us the guidance we needed to get us through. It may affect the election. I might not vote at all. Is there any point? All we get is spin. We don't have a clue."
If you didn't see your e-mail here, you can go to my blog at CNN.com/caffertyfile and look for yours there. We post hundreds of them. Maybe you will find yours -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Jack, thank you.
And, to our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.