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THE SITUATION ROOM

Obama Talks to Bill Clinton; McCain Launches Truth Squad

Aired June 30, 2008 - 18:00   ET

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


JOHN ROBERTS, CNN ANCHOR: And we welcome in our international viewers watching on CNNI.
Happening now: Barack Obama's campaign gushes about his terrific talk with Bill Clinton. This hour, the best political team on television on the silence-breaking phone call and any lingering grudges.

Plus, Obama says he won't sit idly by and let his patriotism be challenged -- his new defense just in time for Independence Day.

And John McCain's truth squad -- a new offensive after a retired general undercut his credentials to be Commander-in-Chief.

Wolf Blitzer is off today. I'm John Roberts in New York. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Happening now: Barack Obama taking a first step today to extend his newfound unity with Hillary Clinton to her husband. Bill Clinton's office says the former president is ready to work with and for Senator Obama -- the message, if Clinton ever held a grudge, it is gone.

Our senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley, is here with us now.

Take us inside, Candy, this widely anticipated phone chat that they had.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, from the Clinton camp's side of this, they say, listen, the reports that Bill Clinton was angry, that he was over the top about this were really exaggerated, that what he wanted to do was to give his wife the stage.

She was, after all, the candidate, and she was the one they wanted. They said, you know, around the time that they were talking about getting the two in touch -- that is, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama -- Hillary Clinton and the Obama campaign were still working out details of last Friday's unity event.

So, back in the country now, Bill Clinton, Barack Obama called him. We're told it was a terrific conversation. That is the Obama campaign's description of it. Bill Clinton called it a good one. He offered to do whatever he could to in fact help Barack Obama get elected. How will he do that? I am told, at least by the Clinton side of this, that they would be quite willing to have a big unity event with the Clintons and the Obamas, but it is obviously up to the Obama camp to decide whether that would be helpful or not.

But a lot of people see Bill Clinton being quite useful down South, his Southern roots, and believe that he can be helpful to the Obama campaign, and say he will be.

ROBERTS: Candy Crowley for us from Washington -- Candy, thanks.

Also today, Senator Obama is launching his most concerted effort yet to reassure voters that he shares their values and loves his country. He spoke in the battleground state of Missouri in and Harry Truman's hometown of Independence.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: At certainly times over the last 16 months, I have found for the first time my patriotism challenged, at times as a result of my own carelessness, more often as a result of the desire by some to score political points and raise fears and doubts about who I am and what I stand for.

So, let me say this at the outset of my remarks. I will never question the patriotism of others in this campaign.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

OBAMA: And I will not stand idly by when I hear others question mine.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: Candy Crowley will be back with more on Obama's patriotism. And then it is up for discussion with the best political team on television. So, make sure you stay with us for that.

Now to John McCain taking command of his own truth squad, his campaign pressed into action to respond to sharp criticism coming from an ally of Barack Obama. That would be retired General Wesley Clark. Clark took a weekend hit at McCain, targeting his history as a war hero and his possible future as president.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "FACE THE NATION")

WESLEY CLARK, FORMER NATO SUPREME ALLIED COMMANDER: I certainly honor his service as a prisoner of war. He was a hero to me and to hundreds of thousands and millions of others in the armed forces as a prisoner of war. He has been a voice on the Senate Armed Services Committee and he has traveled all over the world. But he hasn't held executive responsibility.

(END VIDEO CLIP) ROBERTS: Our Dana Bash traveled with McCain to Pennsylvania. She joins us now.

Dana, the McCain campaign hitting back very hard against what General Clark said. What are they doing?

DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, they have what you just referred to, actually. It's called a truth squad. And this is something that they really scrambled into place this morning in order to combat what Wesley Clark said and also what they say other Democrats have been saying about John McCain's war record.

Now, you know that John McCain, they know inside their campaign, if he has anything that he can rely on, it is the fact that he has a status as a war hero. So, they want to make sure that nothing changes that at all.

And they saw what happened to John Kerry, the Vietnam veteran, in 2004 when some Republicans actually hit John Kerry on his Vietnam War experience. So, they want to make sure nothing at all tries to -- nothing cracks McCain's reputation as a war hero.

Ironically, though, one of the people on this conference call with reporters today was somebody who was a commander of John McCain's at the Hanoi Hilton in Vietnam where he was a POW. And he's somebody who hit John Kerry during those swift boat attacks in 2004 -- John.

ROBERTS: Right. Obviously, McCain is really going to defend his war record, because it is the centerpiece of his argument that he's ready to be president. But this was about more than just defending his war record, wasn't it?

BASH: It sure was. You know, what the McCain campaign -- you talk to them pretty much every day. And what they say that their central theme is to say Barack Obama is not the kind of candidate that people think he is.

And what they're trying to do is say this statement wasn't just about Wesley Clark, that they say Wesley Clark was out as a surrogate for Barack Obama, and that Obama is responsible for anything that his surrogates say, and is responsible for saying that he really rejects those statements.

And they're saying that Obama is basically hypocritical on these issues. I asked Senator McCain about that earlier today. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I know that many -- that General Clark is not an isolated incident. But I have no way of knowing how much involvement Senator Obama has in that issue.

I know he's mischaracterized some of my statements in the past, including our involvement in Iraq. But I will let the American people decide about that. (END VIDEO CLIP)

BASH: Now, we should note for the record that Senator Obama's spokesman did come out and say that the senator does reject what General Wesley Clark said about John McCain, about his experience in Vietnam. What the McCain campaign says is, that is nice for Senator Obama's campaign to do, but what he wants is for Senator Obama to make it clear to all of his surrogates that that kind of thing is inappropriate -- John.

ROBERTS: Dana Bash reporting from the McCain campaign there in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania -- Dana, thanks.

Being a war veteran is no guarantee of presidential success, as we have seen during the past four elections. Back in 1992, World War II veteran George Herbert Walker Bush lost to Bill Clinton, who never served in the military. Another World War II vet, Bob Dole, lost to Clinton in 1996. In 2000, Vietnam War veteran Al Gore lost to George W. Bush, who did serve in the Texas National Guard, but didn't see combat.

And decorated Vietnam veteran John Kerry lost to Bush in 2004.

A growing and secret Bush administration war chest funding escalating undercover operations inside Iran aimed at destabilizing the government. Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Seymour Hersh makes detailed and disturbing allegations in a new article in "The New Yorker" magazine.

He joined us in THE SITUATION ROOM last hour. Here's what he told us.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEYMOUR HERSH, INVESTIGATIVE REPORTER, "THE NEW YORKER": The submarines are ready. The destroyers are ready. The cruise missiles are ready. We have been exercising and training on this for years. We're ready to go. Of course we have been for a long time.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: Let's bring in our senior Pentagon correspondent, Jamie McIntyre.

Jamie, you have been working your sources today.

What are you picking up on Hersh's story?

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SENIOR PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, this is a lot of non-denial denials about what Sy Hersh has reported and a lot of winks and nods indicating that, yes, there is covert action under way in Iran.

But as for the assertion that the U.S. is ready to strike Iran, on one level, it is true. The U.S. is prepared. On the other hand, the U.S. has made it pretty clear that it is the last resort. However, any time you have a military option that is on the table, it remains an option.

And what is the big concern at the Pentagon is that circumstances don't spin out of control, where there's a series of miscalculations and the U.S. has no choice but to go to war. On the other hand, if you are going to wave a military option as the stick behind a diplomatic carrot, you have to be willing to use it.

And, so, when Sy Hersh says the U.S. is ready to conduct a strike if it has to, he's right.

ROBERTS: All right. Jamie McIntyre for us at the Pentagon -- Jamie, thanks.

And Jack Cafferty joins us this hour with "The Cafferty File."

Good evening.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: I would be disinclined to bet against Sy Hersh on this stuff. He's a pretty good reporter.

ROBERTS: People laugh at him. They ridicule his reporting. And I haven't seen anyone prove him wrong just yet.

CAFFERTY: No. No. It might be a long wait.

When it comes to the real reason for the war in Iraq, we have pretty much heard it all now, haven't we? First, it was the WMD, and then it was about the war on terror, and removing Saddam Hussein, and about spreading democracy. But it was never, ever, ever about the oil.

Now Bill Moyers on PBS reports -- quote -- "One by one, these concocted rationales went up in smoke, fire and ashes. And now the bottom line turns out to be the bottom line. It is about oil" -- unquote.

More than five years after the start of the war, we have lost 4,100 troops, plus tens of thousands wounded, disfigured for the rest of their lives. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis are dead. Millions have been displaced. The U.S. taxpayer is stuck with a bill that could top trillions of dollars.

And what about the oil? Well, it hit another record high today, $143 a barrel, gasoline prices up almost 38 percent from a year ago. "The New York Times" reports, the Bush administration played a key role in drawing up no-bid contracts between the Iraqi government and five major Western oil companies to develop some of the largest fields in Iraq. Gee, there's a surprise -- the administration making sure that Western companies get this access in the country that holds the third largest oil reserves in the world.

For example, Russian companies with experience in Iraq, well, they were hoping for contracts, too. They're still waiting.

The White House denies steering the Iraqis toward any decisions on all of this. A State Department official says, its advice was -- quote -- "not binding" -- unquote.

Yes, OK. Well, that ought to take care of it.

Here's the question: Do you believe the Iraq war was about the oil all along?

Go to CNN.com/caffertyfile. You can post a comment on my blog.

ROBERTS: I can already see some of those responses.

CAFFERTY: It funny how this turns out, isn't it? Five Western oil companies getting first crack at deals to start pulling the oil out of the ground over there.

ROBERTS: We will see how your responses turn out.

Jack, thanks.

Over 100 days to go until the presidential election. Barack Obama and John McCain are planning major foreign trips. What happens abroad can pull in votes at home.

Imitation is flattery, but not when Democrats hire an impersonator to mock President Bush in order to win votes.

And John McCain is ready to land at a place near you. There is a new ride in the Straight Talk Express fleet.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROBERTS: It seemingly happens every presidential cycle, campaigns telling voters to carefully consider their vote, especially for the sake of national security.

In past commercials, we have seen Republicans depicting terrorists as wolves, or Hillary Clinton's famous 3:00 a.m. ad. Now one senator urges you to consider this: The United States could be attacked again by terrorists, and soon.

Carol Costello joins us now.

And, Carol, we're talking about Joe Lieberman here, who is supporting John McCain.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We are talking about Senator Lieberman. He says we could suffer another terrorist attack next year, as in 2009.

In a single TV appearance, he ratcheted up the politics of fear.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COSTELLO (voice-over): There is no doubt, even seven years after 9/11, a sense of fear still grips America, not as pervasive, but it's still there. So, when a U.S. senator says something like this, voters listen. Or do they? (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "FACE THE NATION")

SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN (I), CONNECTICUT: We're in a war against Islamist extremists who attacked us on 9/11. They have been trying to attack us many, many ways since then.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COSTELLO: Lieberman, who supports both John McCain and the Iraq war, took his comments a step farther, asserting, the next attack could come next year.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "FACE THE NATION")

LIEBERMAN: Because our enemies will test the new president early. Remember that the truck bombing of the World Trade Center happened in the first year of the Clinton administration -- 9/11 happened in the first year of the Bush administration.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COSTELLO: He went on to say, Barack Obama's call to pull American troops out of Iraq will only increase the danger. Some might call that the politics of fear. It's the kind of political language that's been getting louder of late.

Last week, McCain adviser Randy Scheunemann said: "Senator Obama is a perfect manifestation of a September 10 mind-set. He does not understand the nature of the enemies we face."

That sounds an awful lot like what then Bush adviser Karl Rove said back in 2006, an election year that saw Democrats take control of Congress. It didn't seem to work then, so why would it work now, when economic issues outweigh terrorism concerns?

Experts in voter behavior put it this way. "In politics, the emotions that really sway voters are hate, hope, and fear. The skillful use of fear is unmatched in leading to enthusiasm for one candidate and causing voters to turn away from another."

And, if Republicans are skillful, that will be good for McCain.

PAUL STEINHAUSER, CNN DEPUTY POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Terrorism is an issue where John McCain excels. And he -- what he's trying to do is make the -- terrorism the number-one issue in this campaign.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COSTELLO: As for what a skillful use of fear is in 2008, that's hard to say. But maybe independent Joe Lieberman is on to something -- John.

ROBERTS: Carol Costello for us -- Carol, thanks.

Barack Obama has faced criticism from John McCain for not visiting Iraq in more than two years. Well, that may soon change. Obama plans to head to the Middle East and Europe next month, McCain also taking to the air.

Let's go to CNN's Mary Snow, who is covering the story.

What do the candidates hope to accomplish by heading out of the country?

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, stature for one. And, also, it may seen counterintuitive, but the presidential candidates are hoping to gain support here at home by leaving the country.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SNOW (voice-over): John McCain flies his new Straight Talk Express jet south of the border to Mexico and Colombia this week. Barack Obama will head to the Middle East and Europe this summer, and he told a radio interviewer he plans on visiting Iraq and Afghanistan.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

OBAMA: In Iraq, my goal is to talk to the Iraqi leadership about making political progress, so that we can start phasing down our troops in Iraq. And, obviously, I also want to congratulate the troops for the extraordinary work they have done in reducing violence there.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

SNOW: Political observers say traveling overseas can give the candidate a chance to boost foreign policy credentials.

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: John McCain I think has used his trips to Iraq to considerable effect and have been helpful. I'm not sure whether any more foreign travel, especially to Colombia and Mexico right now, will help him very much. But a foreign policy trip for Barack Obama is essential.

SNOW: A poll in early June asking voters who would better handle foreign policy puts McCain ahead of Obama by 11 points. And McCain is playing up what he sees as his advantage and has been pushing for a joint trip to Iraq.

MCCAIN: I still offer to go with Senator Obama. I hope that I could not only add to some of his knowledge of the region, because he's only been there once, as we all know.

SNOW: Obama has turned down McCain's offer, calling it a political stunt. He's expected instead to go Iraq as part of a congressional delegation.

One former diplomat says these overseas trips that also include the Middle East and Europe are necessary, considering America's bruised image.

CARLOS PASCUAL, BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: Part of what these leaders are doing, these candidates are doing, is demonstrating that they're able to restore American leadership and partnership with others. And that's an issue that resonate and plays back -- plays back to the electorate in the United States.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SNOW: So, while the candidates are trying to shore up their credibility, their trips overseas can be seen as a test of how well they do on the world stage -- John.

ROBERTS: We will be following them every step of the way.

Mary Snow, thanks so much.

Barack Obama knows some people question his patriotism. So, he makes a big deal today to show just how much he loves his country.

France's president softens his tone. He's saying something different regarding going to China's Olympics.

And medical helicopters are supposed to help save patient's lives, not crash, explode, and cause death. But that's been happening this year. An official calls it disturbing.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWSBREAK)

ROBERTS: Barack Obama takes some blame for questions about his patriotism. And it's not just the Fourth of July holiday that is driving his sharpened focus on flag and country.

Democrats try a provocative new tactic, using a George W. Bush impersonator to try to bring down the Republicans.

And Obama and John McCain are set to go international -- the best political team on the foreign policy fight and the McCain offer that Obama can...

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROBERTS: You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

And happening now: Barack Obama talking tough on patriotism, vowing to defend his own and never question that of others.

Also, John McCain proposes a road trip with Obama. But this one -- this is his one adventure that we're unlikely to see. We are going to talk about that and more with the best political team on television coming up.

Plus, insight on a new Democratic campaign tactic, using a presidential impersonator.

Wolf Blitzer is off today. I'm John Roberts. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM. Barack Obama raising a red flag today to anyone who questions his patriotism. It has been an ongoing issue for the Democrats' nominee in waiting. But he's ratcheting up his defense, as Independence Day approaches.

Let's bring back our senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley.

Candy, this is an issue that the Obama camp is clearly concerned about and wants to address.

CROWLEY: Absolutely.

And one of the reasons they have been concerned about it is that, while it was sort of an Internet phenomenon, sort of vicious e-mails with untrue statements about Obama, it began to seep into the grassroots. So, all this week, he's really addressing a number of things that they know he has to speak out about, about faith, about public service, and, today, about patriotism.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CROWLEY (voice-over): Independence, Missouri, during Fourth of July week is a pretty standard pick for politicians to show their patriotism. The unusual is that Barack Obama came to defend his.

OBAMA: I have found for the first time my patriotism challenged, at times as a result of my own carelessness, more often as a result of the desire by some to score political points and raise fears and doubts about who I am and what I stand for.

CROWLEY: That carelessness included this, Obama, September of last year in Iowa...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (singing): ... and the home of the brave.

CROWLEY: ... listening to "The Star-Spangled Banner" without his hand over his heart, a mistake he later acknowledged, saying he was caught up in the song. And there was a clumsy answer to a question about why he didn't wear a flag pin. He wears one now given to him by a veteran.

But it all became fodder for repeatedly debunked e-mails claiming Obama refused to pledge allegiance to the flag that he was un- American. It seeped into the grassroots.

In April, a young woman asked how she could convince her father- in-law to vote for Obama.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: ... influenced by some of the spin about saluting the flag, that pin, you know?

OBAMA: Right. Right.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: All of those things that I've heard. And I just wondered what you would say to him if he was here to show him where your heart it.

CROWLEY: Now that he is the presumptive Democratic nominee, Obama has a bigger stage to show where his heart is.

OBAMA: I remember my grandfather handing me his dog tags from his time in Patton's Army, and understanding that his defense of this country marked one of his greatest sources of pride. That's my idea of America.

CROWLEY: He has a Web site designed to rebut the still circulating e-mails. He has a biography ad airing in more than a dozen states talking about his American roots. And he is pushing back.

OBAMA: I will never question the patriotism of others in this campaign. And I will not stand idly by when I hear others question mine.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CROWLEY: In the end they know this will be an ongoing process. Also this week, tomorrow, in fact, Barack Obama will have a speech about public service where he will talk about his time in Chicago, helping people who had lost their jobs -- work as a community organizer. He will also later talk about faith in America -- John?

ROBERTS: Candy Crowley in Washington -- Candy, as always, thanks.

And joining us now, CNN political contributor and Republican strategist Leslie Sanchez. She is a former adviser to President Bush. Also CNN's Jack Cafferty and Rick Stengel, who is the managing editor of our sister publication "TIME" magazine. They're all part of the best political team on television.

Leslie, let's start with you. This issue of patriotism -- is there any legitimate reason to question Barack Obama's patriotism?

LESLIE SANCHEZ, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: No. I don't doubt that. I mean he definitely understands -- let's be clear, we're all Americans. You know? And it's funny, outside the beltway, people remember that. We're Republicans, Democrats, but fundamentally we believe in this country.

But Barack Obama has a serious challenge when it comes to understanding the American public understanding who he is. You remember four years ago he was in the Illinois state legislature. He came on as a huge phenom and people aren't quite sure what is real and what is political spin.

To be fair, he's flip-flopped on things like campaign finance, gun control and a variety of other things that people are trying to get a sense of who he is. But more telling is the fact that right at Independence Day, you have him giving a major speech on patriotism, it shows that people are not connecting, that he shares with their values. And that -- and I will say November will be Independence Day, in the sense of independent voters making that decision.

ROBERTS: And do you believe that, Rick, that even with the huge crowds that he draws that people are not connecting with him? They don't quite understand him?

RICHARD STENGEL, MANAGING EDITOR, TIME MAGAZINE: Well, look what's happened over the past 40 years is that you have Republicans who have traditionally questioned the patriotism of Democratic candidates. And the idea is: are you un-American? Which has been one of the wraps that Republicans have tried to put on Democrats.

Our cover this week is a cover about patriotism. We have a picture of the flag lapel pin. And basically what we have is a really extraordinary race where you have two guys who are clearly patriots, but have different definitions of patriotism, and one of the things that we argue, and I argue, in the piece is that we have to blend those two traditional definitions of patriotism -- the Republican one, which basically said, look, our country, right or wrong, we need to support our -- we need to support America no matter what. Versus the more liberal view of patriotism, which is we haven't succeed in completing all of the goals and the ideals that were set out for us more than 200 years ago.

ROBERTS: Jack, does wearing a lapel -- a flag pin on your lapel and remembering to put your hand over your heart every time either "The Pledge of Allegiance" is said or national anthem is sung make you a patriot?

CAFFERTY: Well, you know, I suppose these are little political symbols that the opposition of these campaigns will seize on. There are real problems in this country. We have a couple of wars going on. We're broke. You know our schools are broken and we're losing jobs. The stock market is in the toilet.

I don't care what you wear on your lapel. Fix it.

SANCHEZ: You know, one thing I'd have to disagree with on that point is if you travel this country there are so many people who on Independence Day will hang out old glory and remember what this country stands for. They remember the ideals of America always America first. And that's so primitive to how we see this country.

But when you have a candidate who is so new, like a Barack Obama, who talks about, you know, diplomacy and in terms of globalizing this presidential campaign, there is a lot of reasons that people became skeptical when you add on top of that, not wearing the lapel pin, not, you know, honoring the...

ROBERTS: But you know, Leslie, you mentioned Independence Day.

SANCHEZ: They're subtle things.

ROBERTS: You mentioned Independence Day, but aren't there lots of people who, on Memorial Day, go to the beach, drink beer and have barbecues as oppose to remembering the troops that sacrificed for this country.

SANCHEZ: There is no doubt about that, but the bigger issue is: are you an apologist for the ills or the social ills or the international ills of America...

ROBERTS: So Rick, is Barack Obama an apologist?

SANCHEZ: ... and that's a bigger political issue.

STENGEL: Well, that -- see I guess -- I mean Leslie is playing a little bit into this paradigm that you have which is basically Republicans accusing Democrats of being apologists for America not being number one, for America's weaknesses.

And I think, as Jack says, we have to move beyond that. I mean, Barack Obama, the one thing that's absolutely true, we've never had an African-American candidate before. His experience of America and of America -- American exceptionalism, which is what we call patriotism, is something that's completely different and he has to explain that to people, you know. And that is a big challenge that he's got.

ROBERTS: Right. Lots more topics that we got ahead, folks. Stay with us. We'll be back with more on this.

It's the call that the Democrats have been waiting for. Former president Bill Clinton on the line for Barack Obama.

The best political team on television weighs in. What Democrats are hoping to get from a presidential impersonator and when a kiss is not a kiss? What Bill Clinton reportedly said about Barack Obama.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROBERTS: John McCain offering to accompany Barack Obama to Iraq and Afghanistan.

We're back with the best political team on television.

Let's listen to what John McCain said in reiterating his invitation to go to Iraq and Afghanistan with Senator Obama.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I would very much like to have the opportunity of traveling to Iraq and Afghanistan with Senator Obama. And, again, I extend my invitation for both of us to go together.

And the sooner, since it's now coming up on 900 days since he last visited Iraq, since before the surge, I hope that he goes as quickly as possible with or without me.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: So, Jack, why do you think Senator McCain wants to accompany Barack Obama to Iraq and Afghanistan? CAFFERTY: I have no idea. But I mean it's just silly, you know? I -- Obama is going to go there, he's going to go to Israel and he's going to go to Europe. The Afghanistan and Iraq trip gives him some street credit on the wars. You know he can probably use that. He goes to Israel, he assures American-Jewish voters that he's a friend of Israel's.

The interesting thing to watch will be when he goes to Europe. They are fascinated with our election. The western European countries are more conversant in what's going on in our political situation than we are.

They're fascinated with Barack Obama. It will be interesting to see the kinds and sizes of the crowds he draws and some of the big European cities and it is a chance, like we were talking earlier, for him to get to introduce himself to people who don't know a whole lot about him, perhaps.

ROBERTS: Leslie, is it cynical to think that the reason why Senator McCain wants to accompany Barack Obama is because he's been there so many times and Senator Obama hasn't been for two years?

SANCHEZ: They're just trying to save gas on the airplane. I mean let's call it what it is. I think the reality is you somebody with such seniority in Senator McCain who understand the situation on the ground, and very much, I think it's a dynamic invitation to have the two of them together and hear the same breathing, hear the same words and see -- juxtapose how they come -- come out of that.

Either way it's important that Barack Obama get there as soon as possible, see the successes on the ground, and come up with a strategy that makes sense. I think that's what people are waiting for.

ROBERTS: Right now, Rick, of course, nobody questions Senator McCain's credentials on Iraq. He has been there so many times. He has seen it on the ground. But in past he has made some pronouncements -- I think it was the second last time he was there -- about how you can walk around, unprotected, how General David Petraeus drove around in an unarmored Humvee.

So, I mean, does he have a lock on this issue of Iraq?

STENGEL: Well, he -- certainly he's perceived as having more experience about it. He has made mistakes. I have to say, for him to go -- there is only a loss there. I mean what does very to gain? He's already perceived as having an advantage on that.

In the case of Barack Obama, yes, he has to go, he has to show this. I mean I remember when Ronald Reagan was running and people said his own foreign policy experience is that he'd been to the International House of Pancakes a few times.

He had to go to Europe. I mean Barack Obama has to show his credibility on this subject.

SANCHEZ: One thing to keep in mind that's interesting is, you know, you don't know any candidate or president who hasn't made those political gaffes when they're on the road internationally. It's one political minefield. So I think that's one thing a lot people are going to watch for.

CAFFERTY: Including the guy in the White House for the last eight years.

ROBERTS: Well, Jack, let me ask you...

SANCHEZ: No immunity.

ROBERTS: Let me ask you, Jack, the final question here. Bill Clinton and Barack Obama had a 20-minute phone conversation today.

CAFFERTY: Stop the presses.

ROBERTS: We were told by the campaigns -- we were told by both sides -- no, there was no ill will between them, they're good friends, they plan to work together.

But James Carville sort of lifted back the curtain a little bit to say, yes, there's hard feelings, but you got to be adults and you got to swallow it and you got to work ahead.

What do you think?

CAFFERTY: Well, you know, Bill Clinton doesn't like to lose. That's, you know, in his DNA and he lost. And his wife lost and it affected his legacy in some ways and he said some things that damaged him that came out of his mouth.

So, you know, it's not unreasonable to expect it's going to take a long time to lick the wounds.

ROBERTS: Leslie...

CAFFERTY: There was also a story that came out in one of the European newspapers over the weekend that I think may have had something to do with this phone call suddenly materializing today.

ROBERTS: What was that?

CAFFERTY: Well, it was a rather uncomplimentary quote that was attributed to President Clinton that if Barack Obama wanted his support, he would have to -- would have to do something unseemly. And all of a sudden today they're talking on the phone. I mean go figure.

ROBERTS: Well, I'd love to talk about this at length, but unfortunately, we're out of time.

Jack, Rick, Leslie, thanks for being with us.

Whether you vote out of fear or some other criteria, how you vote could dramatically change Congress's balance of power. According to the Capitol Hill newspaper "Roll Call," there are 12 Democratic open seats in the House, but 36 Republican seats up for grabs. To win and keep some of them, Democrats are using the controversial tactic.

CNN's Kathleen Koch is here.

Kathleen, they're tying Republican candidates to President Bush. Is that a strategy that will work?

KATHLEEN KOCH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They certainly hope it will, John. And it is a familiar theme. But this time with a new twist. Democratic radio ads trying to score points by putting words in the president's mouth.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KOCH (voice over): When President Bush used an impersonator at the 2006 White House Correspondents Dinner it was all in good fun.

UNIDENTIFIED IMPERSONATOR: How come I can't have dinner with a 36 percent of the people who like me?

KOCH: But the GOP is not laughing now as Democrats borrow the tactic to level a political charge that Republicans have done nothing about high gas prices.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED IMPERSONATOR: W. here. Wanted to thank you for your support of the big oil energy agenda. Sure, gasoline is over four bucks a gallon and the oil companies are making record profits, but what's good for big oil is good for America, right?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KOCH: In the radio ad, the Bush impersonator calls each of 13 incumbent Republicans in districts around the country. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is spending more than $100,000 for it to run Monday through Friday.

The White House has no response. Republicans including a New Jersey congressman who's among those targeted have less than a problem with the impersonator and more with Democrats who control Congress, saying Republicans are at fault for failing to help American drivers.

REP. SCOTT GARRETT (R), NEW JERSEY? What do we get out of the Democrats? Well, we get Nancy Pelosi flying her private jumbo jet back to -- California and putting Congress on recess with no resolution to the energy crisis. And now we get attack ads.

KOCH: Democrats insist it's a fair tactic that makes a valid point.

REP. CHRIS VAN HOLLEN, DCCC CHAIRMAN: We think it is important to give credit where credit is due. After all, these are the Bush/Cheney policies. They have been enabled by their allies in the House and the Senate.

(END VIDEOTAPE) KOCH: With polls showing that gas prices are now Americans' top concerns, you can certainly expect more of these ads. As a matter of fact, the conservative group Freedom's Watch tomorrow releases radio ads in 16 districts, charging that it's Democrats who are making matters worse by voting against increased domestic oil exploration and production.

So, John, finger pointing does continue.

ROBERTS: With the massive amounts of money pouring into this campaign, I'm sure that we can expect it only to escalate.

Kathleen Koch for us -- Kathleen, thanks.

KOCH: You bet.

ROBERTS: Do you believe the Iraq war was about oil all along? Jack Cafferty has got your e-mail on our question this hour. And also it's where candidates had coffee while pressing the flesh. Now a New Hampshire institution closes its doors for good.

And millions of drivers do it every day. Starting tomorrow, it is illegal.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROBERTS: Our Carol Costello monitoring stories incoming to the SITUATION ROOM right now. She joins us from Washington.

What's up, Carol?

COSTELLO: Well, John, costs are soaring for the rebuilding at Ground Zero and the project is falling further and further behind schedule.

The port authority of New York and New Jersey says the schedule and budget should be scrapped. The "Wall Street Journal" reports the cost overruns could climb to $3 billion and the September 11th memorial will not be ready in time for the 10th anniversary of the attack.

Flooding in the Midwest was so bad farmers will have to harvest nearly 9 percent fewer acres of corn this year. The government says food prices may rise as a result. Fields have been soaked from Oklahoma to Ohio. Farmers planted more corn than they expected but much of the surplus was washed away by the floods.

As of tomorrow, people driving in California and Washington can no longer hold a cell phone to their ear while they blab behind the wheel. They must now use a hands free device. And in California, if you're under 18, you can't use your cell phone at all or send text messages. Several other states including New York also have laws restricting cell phone use.

Back to you, John.

ROBERTS: Carol, thanks so much.

Jack Cafferty joins us again. Now he's got the "Cafferty File."

What are you hearing?

CAFFERTY: Bill Moyers did a little piece on PBS suggesting all these reasons that we were told for the war in Iraq were bogus and that from the get-go it was really all about the oil. That's the question. Do you think that the war was about the oil all along?

Andrew in Arnold, Missouri write: "The war was always about the oil. When it became obvious Saddam Hussein wasn't going to share his oil with us, we took him out."

Chris says: "Are you serious? There's no doubt the main reason for the Iraq war was because of oil. If you look at U.S. history, we don't go to war unless somebody has done something to us or we have something to gain. We went into Iraq solely for the oil. If we truly cared about human rights, we'd be getting rid of the governments and imprisoning the people who are torturing and killing folks in Africa."

Doris writes from Ojai, California -- hot there this time of year --: "No, according to those who work closely with Bush from day one, he wanted to get Saddam for putting a hit out on his father."

Mike in Baltimore says: "The obvious answer is yes, based on the fact we have two heroes of Big Oil calling the shots from the White House."

Michael in Lorain, Ohio says, "Whether the war was about oil or WMD makes no difference now. What the American people are mad about is the lack of accountability. We were told, in part, that Iraq had WMD and was a threat to our interests."

"Even though no WMD were found, nobody was held accountable for the mistakes, the lies. And thanks to those people, we have 4,000 plus dead, 30,000 wounded, not to mention the extreme loss of civilians in Iraq."

Ryan says: "I served in the Marine Corps for two tours in Iraq. Even though the missions were always under the heading of Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF), we would always call it Operation Iraqi Liberation (OIL). Does that answer your question?"

And Joe in Ohio writes: "If it was, we're losing."

If you didn't see your e-mail here, you can go to my blog at CNN.com/caffertyfile and look for yours there along with hundreds of others.

ROBERTS: And people not shy about expressing and sharing strong opinions.

CAFFERTY: Very forthcoming, these folks.

ROBERTS: Jack, you off tomorrow. Have a good day. CAFFERTY: I am, thanks, John. Nice working with you.

ROBERTS: Good to work with you as well.

CAFFERTY: You won't be seeing me on that morning show those two...

ROBERTS: Come on. We can talk -- with free coffees and donuts?

CAFFERTY: No, no. Thank you.

ROBERTS: Thanks, Jack. See back on Wednesday.

On our "Political Ticker," a bleak forecast for Senate Republicans from one of their own. Minority leader Mitchell McConnell flatly telling CNN it is, quote, "impossible for the GOP to win back control of the Senate in the November election."

On CNN's "LATE EDITION," McConnell cited the fact that five Republican senators are retiring and several others face very competitive races.

Say so long to New Hampshire institution. For nearly three decades, the Merrimack diner has been a place for presidential candidates to chew the fat during primary seasons and maybe sip some chowder, too. The "Boston Globe" reporting that the Manchester restaurant closed its doors for good over the weekend. (INAUDIBLE) just won't be the same without it.

And remember, for the latest political news anytime, check out CNNpolitics.com.

Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton may have kissed and made up. But what about Bill? Apparently the former president is making an offer that Obama just might want to refuse. And no words needed here. You don't want to miss today's "Hot Shots." They're coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROBERTS: Here's a look at some of this hour's "Hot Shots" coming in from our friends at the "Associated Press."

In Independence, Missouri, Senator Barack Obama takes the -- tours the home of former president Harry Truman. He didn't take it, he just toured it.

In Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, Senator John McCain speaks to a plant worker during a tour.

This 76-year-old war veteran listens as Senator Barack Obama talks about patriotism.

And in Allen Town, Pennsylvania, Senator John McCain and his wife Cindy exit the new Straight Talk Express. The campaign ditched the bus and upgraded to a new Boeing 737.

That's this hour's "Hot Shots." Pictures definitely worth a thousand words.

The once rivals Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton have kissed and made up, literally. But is it true that former president Clinton wanted Senator Obama to kiss the other cheek?

Jeanne Moos has a most unusual look.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): There's a lot of kissing in politics. Barack kisses Michelle, Bill kisses Hillary, and lately, Hillary and Barack kiss and make up.

But this was the kind of kissing that ricocheted around the Web. It's what Bill Clinton supposedly said Barack Obama would have to do to get Clinton's support, though some struggled with how to phrase it...

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: He's going to have to kiss my -- and I can't read that part. Believe me, it's a little north of grits, all right?

MOOS: The story surfaced before Monday's chummy phone call between Bill and Barack. It was reported by a British paper, "The Telegraph."

(On camera): But as is the case with some of the very best quotes, we don't really know if Bill Clinton even actually said this.

(Voice over): His office wouldn't comment. It's the kind of taunt that brings down the house if, for instance, a firefighter says it about America's arch enemy.

MICHAEL MORAN, FDNY FIREFIGHTER: Osama bin Laden, you can kiss my royal Irish (EXPLETIVE DELETED).

MOOS: Now Bill Clinton's posterior isn't Irish, but it could be considered royal or at least presidential. Even as the online debate raged, will Barack pucker up? The quote itself was still in question.

(On camera): So try to follow me here. This is an unidentified source quoting Bill Clinton as saying to friends that Senator Obama could kiss my (EXPLETIVE DELETED).

Who bleeped me?

(Voice over): We've heard Bill Clinton's earthy side before when he didn't realize he was being recorded after an interview about racial issues with radio station WHYY.

BILL CLINTON, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: I don't think I should take any (EXPLETIVE DELETED) from anybody about that, do you?

MOOS: And if Bill did say kiss my (EXPLETIVE DELETED) to Barack, maybe what he really meant was kiss my Democratic donkey.

Bill and Barack aren't exactly buddies. We had to look long and hard to find a shot like this.

But on Monday, they had a phone conversation that the Obama camp called terrific and the Clinton camp called good. Barack described Bill as a great leader, one of our most brilliant minds. Is that kind of kissing up?

Take it from Tyra Banks who delivered the same phrase with gusto when she herself was mocked for looking large in a swimsuit.

TYRA BANKS, MODEL AND HOST: Kiss my fat (EXPLETIVE DELETED).

MOOS: Hey, she'd have them standing in line to take her up on that offer.

Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ROBERTS: Check out our new SITUATION ROOM screen saver and stay up to the date on the latest political news. You can download it at CNN.com/situationroom.

I'm John Roberts for Wolf Blitzer in the SITUATION ROOM. Up next, "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT." Kitty Pilgrim is in for Lou.

Hi, Kitty.

KITTY PILGRIM, CNN ANCHOR: Hi, John, thanks.

Tonight, Senators Obama and McCain pander to the illegal alien lobby. Both candidates pushing an amnesty agenda to win Hispanic votes.

Also, our airlines are in crisis. Passengers are treated no better than cattle. We'll have a special report.

And farmers and private companies can track the food that you eat. So why can't the federal government find the source of a major salmonella outbreak?

All that, today's news, much more. Straight ahead, tonight.

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