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Campbell Brown

"Swift Boating" Barack Obama; No Russia-Georgia Cease-fire?

Aired August 13, 2008 - 20:00   ET


CAMPBELL BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: Hey there, everybody.
Once again, we begin with breaking news in the Russia vs. Georgia hostilities. After last night's cease-fire, tonight, Georgia officials report Russian armored units have pushed further into their country.

Here in the newsroom, we monitored these reports all day. And what I couldn't help thinking about today was a press conference I covered back in 2001 when I was White House correspondent. It was President Bush with then President Putin at a school down in Crawford, Texas, near Bush's ranch. It was warm. It was chummy. There was Putin charming the American audience and convincing this president that this man was a new kind of Russian leader.

Well, things look a lot different today. The questions tonight, when is Russia going to stop? How far is this going to spread? What if anything can the Bush administration do about it? Does President Bush have the credibility to lead the world on this issue? We're going to look at all of that tonight.

Meanwhile, we are hearing hints from the McCain campaign that some insiders are weighing a pretty bold idea. It could be a convention bombshell, a pledge from John McCain to serve only one four-year term. Now, Republicans say, if he did that, he would not have to think about reelection, that it would make a McCain White House bulletproof from political pressures. You have got to admit, it would be a bold move. We're going to talk about that with a bunch of our experts when we come back.

Also, tonight, remember, the Swift Boat attack that sank John Kerry? Get ready for Swift Boat two. That's what some are calling this new book that's coming out about Barack Obama. It's full of inaccuracies, pretty much recycles every phony rumor that you may have heard about Obama. In fact, the author co-wrote a very similar book in 2004 trashing John Kerry. But get this. The new Obama book debuts at the top of "The New York Times" bestseller list. So, how does that happen? And how does Obama fight back?

We're going to have all that and a lot more tonight, no bias, no bull, right here in the ELECTION CENTER.

But, first, the very latest breaking news from Georgia. I was struck today by how many references top U.S. officials made to the dark, scary days of the Cold War. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice brought up 1968, when Soviet tanks rolled into Czechoslovakia. Senator John McCain said he doesn't want to reignite the Cold War, but then he added that, in the 21st century, nations don't invade other nations.

Yes, he said that, though he did not mention how the U.S. invasion of Iraq quite fits into this thinking. In any event, for Russia and its much smaller neighbor to the south, Georgia, look at the headlines. Look at the pictures. They show a large convoy of Russian soldiers pushing further into Georgia today. The cease-fire we told you about last night, well, it simply doesn't exist.

But there is looting. There is lawlessness. A man in Gori called CNN on his cell phone today, telling us he was hiding in his basement while looters were wearing black ski masks causing chaos outside.

Just a little bit ago, Secretary of State Rice took off for France, which is leading the international effort to try to find a diplomatic solution. Her emergency mission will then take her to Georgia. That is the overview.

Senior international correspondent Matthew Chance is joining me from Georgia's capital right now, Tbilisi, to show us what he saw on the ground today.


MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice- over): Russia's military advance came without warning, a column of armor heading towards Georgia's capital in an unprecedented show of force.

(on camera): Well, there's been a lot of speculation about where the Russian troops are. Well, here they are, well inside Georgian territory and outside the main conflict zone of South Ossetia. They're now on the road to Tbilisi. The big question is, how far will they go?

I can see there are -- there are troop carriers here. There are armored personnel carriers. We haven't seen any Georgian forces up ahead. We don't know whether they're going to encounter any resistance. But these are incredible scenes.

(voice-over): But this wasn't the full-scale invasion many Georgians fear.

(on camera): This column is now turning off the road to Tbilisi.

Let me just get out of the way of the armored personnel carrier.

And it's heading down this road to a village. Georgian officials have indicated to us that this is a -- a planned incursion by Russian forces. We don't know what they're doing at the moment.

In fact, let's try and ask them.

(voice-over): I asked a Russian officer what his men were doing. "No comment," he answered, "but the Georgian people know we're here."

A couple of soldiers, edgy and smelling of alcohol, had fallen behind and approached us.

"We have not been ordered to take Tbilisi," they told me. "Russia doesn't want a war. We were forced to send our troops here," they said.

Georgian officials say Russia is failing to respect its own cease-fire.

(on camera): Well, these are the first Georgian forces that we have come across after the Russians have moved in. They're about five kilometers, three miles or so from where the Russians have positioned themselves inside Georgian territory.

Now, obviously, they're heavily armed. They have got steel guns there.

(voice-over): But this Georgian army may be in no position to resist the military might of its giant Russian neighbor.


BROWN: That's Matthew Chance reporting for us from Georgia tonight.

Now, after all we have just seen, you need to hear the Russian version of these very same events. We're going to take you to Moscow next, and you will hardly recognize the story that they're telling.

And President Bush was standing in front of the White House again today talking tough, but not quite making specific threats. Is that really going to make a difference? We are going to ask two advisers to past presidents about that.

And then later, the continuing saga of who winds up on the government's no-fly list. Well, we found a guy who is not a terrorist, but he did write an unflattering book about Karl Rove.

Stay with us.


BROWN: You know how with kids, you do get a wildly conflicting version of pretty much everything that happens? Well, that's a little bit like what's going on in Russia right now, people inside Russia getting a much different version of the violence inside the Republic of Georgia.

Well, CNN's longtime Moscow bureau chief, Jill Dougherty, she is back in the Russian capital for us tonight, joining us now.

And, Jill, we heard just a little bit ago from Matthew Chance, who told us that people in Georgia are concerned that Russia is on their way to taking over their country. But the Russians are telling a very different side of that story, aren't they?

JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN INTERNATIONAL U.S. AFFAIRS EDITOR: They are. It's diametrically opposed. In fact, the Russians say there is no way. They are not out to change the government, to take over Georgia as a whole at all.

But here's what they do say. They blame it on the Georgians. They say the Georgians are the ones who made the first military move. The Georgians are the ones who attacked South Ossetia, that breakaway region. The Georgians are the ones who killed Russian peacekeepers. And the Georgians are the ones -- the ones the Russians would say who also carried out atrocities on the citizens of South Ossetia.

And Moscow says that they had no choice but to go in to protect those peacekeepers and to protect the citizens of South Ossetia, most of whom have Russian passports -- Campbell.

BROWN: And, Jill, President Bush today said that there's intelligence that Russian troops are still conducting missions. He's putting heavy pressure on President Medvedev, on Prime Minister Putin, but is Moscow listening?

DOUGHERTY: Well, Moscow may be listening, but it's certainly not agreeing with what's it's hearing.

I mean, Moscow is really throwing it right back at the Bush administration and saying, you know, look, you were arming and training the Georgian army. Other countries were arming them as well. We told you, Moscow says, we told you that this was playing with fire, that it could lead to adventurism by the president, Saakashvili, the Georgian president, and you said, don't worry, it's never going to happen. So, in a sense, the Russians would argue, the Americans were complicit.

BROWN: All right, Jill Dougherty for us tonight from the Russian capital -- Jill, as always, thank you.

Tonight, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is heading to France to work on a diplomatic solution to the crisis. She will also visit Georgia. But Russia is not on her itinerary. And the talk we're hearing from Washington today contains very definite echoes of the Cold War.

White House correspondent Ed Henry has been listening to it all day.

And, Ed, the White House under pressure tonight to resolve this and showing more than a little frustration with Russia.

ED HENRY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: They are. In fact, they're frustrated with Russia, but they're also facing some withering criticism from fellow Republicans here in the United States.

There was a blistering editorial in the conservative "Wall Street Journal" editorial page today insisting the president has been missing in action on this crisis, comparing him at one point to Jimmy Carter in terms of ineptitude. I know it hit a raw nerve here.

It was just a few moments ago they put out a four-page what they call a setting the record straight memo, basically insisting the president has been taking action. We heard the same message from the president today in the Rose Garden, hitting back hard against Russia, and then the same message from Secretary of State Rice a little later in the day.

Here's what she had to say at the State Department.


CONDOLEEZZA RICE, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: This is not 1968 and the invasion of Czechoslovakia, where Russia can threaten its neighbors, occupy a capital, overthrow a government, and get away with it. Things have changed.


HENRY: Now, that came from a Russian reporter there in the crowd at the State Department who basically was saying, what's the difference here between what Russia's doing and what the United States did after 9/11, moving into a sovereign country like Iraq and basically advancing its own foreign policy goals?

As you can imagine, Secretary Rice didn't like that question and insisted this situation is much different than that one -- Campbell.

BROWN: And, Ed, questions like that do illustrate some of the difficulty that the U.S. is now facing trying to execute foreign policy, right?

HENRY: It does. It shows the administration has a credibility problem on the world stage right now. A lot of people around the world wondering if they have a lot of bark, not so much bite, because when you heard the president and the secretary lashing out at Russia today, there was no or else at the end of it, no ultimatum, saying, well, if you don't agree to the cease-fire, we're going to do this.

The White House's hands seem tied on that somewhat. They're letting John McCain get out to the right on them in trying to punish, saying maybe they should be dropped from the G8. And, also, the White House is not talking about potential military action, because, first of all, they're dealing with two wars right now in Iraq and Afghanistan and second of all they realize, if they do take military action, that could escalate this crisis even more. So, there really are no good options for them, Campbell.

BROWN: Ed Henry for us tonight from the White House -- Ed, thanks.

HENRY: Thank you.

BROWN: So, if you are the president of the United States, what exactly do you do right now?

We have got two men in our war room tonight who are well qualified to answer that question. CNN military analyst retired Army Brigadier General David Grange is president and CEO of the McCormick Foundation, one of the country's largest public charities. He lectures on leadership at Army bases around the country, and is a nonpaid board member of a security company that does have some Pentagon contracts, in full disclosure.

William Cohen was President Clinton's defense secretary from 1997 to 2001. He is also a former Republican senator from the state of Maine and is currently CEO of The Cohen Group.

Long introductions, but thank you for bearing with me. Welcome, gentlemen.

General Grange, let me start with you.

We heard today Secretary Rice strongly condemn Russia, saying, this is not 1968. Russia can't just do whatever it wants.

So, give us the big picture here. How critical is this situation right now, in your view? Is Russia trying to empire-build once again?

BRIGADIER GENERAL DAVID GRANGE (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, I think it is a big deal. It could escalate. It's very tenuous situation. There's not much we can do unless we, in many cases, we would want to start a war, if you use any kind of military response.

I think there's a lot we can do with humanitarian assistance, with information influence operations, to show the American flag. Here, we're dealing with an ally that is trying to get into NATO. On the same token, we're working with Russia in regards to Iran and with other issues around the world. There's two superpowers here with a small country in the middle. It's not a whole lot of option, actually.

BROWN: Well, given the options, which are, as you point out, limited, do you think President Bush is handling this appropriately?

GRANGE: Well, I think there's a lot more going on that we don't hear about. I think there's a lot of red phone talk. I think Secretary Cohen can talk about this in much more of a better detail than I can.

But I think there's efforts ongoing. And I think we have to show that we have some -- show some support for this ally, the Republic of Georgia, whose sovereign territory was invaded, no doubt about it. And we ought to say that. But I -- it's kind of hard to say, if you don't, then, you know, by goodness, we're going to do this militarily. That's tough talk. And if you can't back it up, you shouldn't say it.

BROWN: Secretary Cohen, you do have a sense for what's really going on behind the scenes, having been there. Secretary Rice now on her way to Georgia, not Moscow, we should point out. Do you think she should be going to Moscow, too, or are there behind-the-scenes diplomatic maneuverings, connections and contacts with Moscow that we just aren't aware of?

WILLIAM COHEN, CNN WORLD AFFAIRS ANALYST: I think the first thing she should do is what she's planning to do, and that's to go to meet with the president of France and to see whether we can coordinate a policy and then persuade our European allies, the E.U. and the NATO allies, to have a strong position vis-a-vis Russia.

To simply go to Moscow under these circumstances I think would not necessarily be productive. After all, we had President Bush sitting in the stands with President Putin at the Olympics in Beijing. They certainly could have had a conversation if they wanted to if we had the ability to solve this diplomatically at that point. So, Russia's not in the mood at this moment to carry on these kinds of negotiation.

I think we have to show we have a multilateral support. Unilateral action on our part at this point is not going to be effective. I think General Grange is correct. There's a lot of talk going on behind the scenes. You should never make a specific threat unless you're prepared to carry it out.

And I think, under these circumstance, you can lay out a series of things that might be considered at some future time, and then you have discussions privately with president -- the president of Russia and -- I was going to say President Putin, but he's got his third term in all practical terms.

BROWN: Let me ask you a political question, Secretary Cohen. Secretary Rice said that she had spoken with Barack Obama and with John McCain, who are both making pretty strong statements right now about the situation.

But what more or could they be doing, should they be doing right now, given that pretty much anything they say right now, whichever may become president, they will have to live with those comments, and they could essentially come back to haunt them, possibly? So, there's a lot of cautious talk right now, I know.

COHEN: They both should be cautious. After all, what we need to provide here and present is a united front.

This is one thing where, you know, foreign policy needs to be united and not divided. And we shouldn't have a Republican or a Democratic policy. It should be an American policy. And so I think they can express their opinion. I think they should be coordinating to make sure they're not contradicting the president of the United States, who for the remaining months is going to be the commander in chief.

So, I think it's important that we not show division. That can be exploited by the Russians and potentially others if they see that we are divided going into this election. So, statesmanship is called for here. And I think both are exercising some caution. But the fewer words spoken, I think the better, under the circumstances. Let the president and Secretary Rice carry the weight on this.

BROWN: All right, Secretary Cohen and General Grange joining us tonight, thanks to both of you. Appreciate your time.

COHEN: Great to be with you. GRANGE: Thank you.

BROWN: We here have been struck that some of the toughest talk we're hearing about the Russians isn't necessarily coming from Washington, but actually from the campaign trail, as we just mentioned.

Coming up next: what John McCain has against Russia and what it would mean if he moves into the White House.

And, then, later, a book about Barack Obama that has a lot of people talking, including us. How can something with such an obvious political agenda and obvious problems with the truth, frankly, still become a number-one best-seller?



BROWN: As we mentioned before the break, some of the toughest talk about the Russian invasion of Georgia is coming from the campaign trail. Today, Secretary of State Rice revealed that she has been in regular contact with both Barack Obama and with John McCain as this crisis unfolds.

Now, McCain, of course, has been blasting the Russians ever since the story broke last week. And it had us thinking whether or not there may be something going on beyond the headlines, something a little more visceral for him.

Tom Foreman has been digging into McCain's record with the Russians. And he's joining us from the CNN Election Express, Joliet, Illinois, with the very latest on this.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Campbell, there's no question that John McCain has more hands-on experience with Russia than Barack Obama does. And he's been presenting himself as both the voice of reason and of strength in this latest clash. But some foreign affairs experts are not buying it.



RONALD REAGAN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.


FOREMAN (voice-over): In the final years of the Soviet Union, as Ronald Reagan was thundering at the Russians, John McCain was a first- term senator cheering him on. And, 21 years later, he still distrusts Russia.

Listen to what he said campaigning in Michigan. SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: And I am interested in good relations between the United States and Russia, but, in the 21st century, nations don't invade other nations.

FOREMAN: A tough line, especially for a supporter of the Iraq invasion. But, he goes on:

MCCAIN: my position vis-a-vis the now prime minister of Russia has been very clear for a long period of time, that I have been very concerned about Russian behavior in a broad variety of areas.

FOREMAN: And now listen to how this foreign policy expert is reacting.

CHARLES KUPCHAN, COUNCIL OF FOREIGN RELATIONS: Well, over the last few years, McCain's views on Russia seem to be getting more and more confrontational. And I think he's really aligned himself with the far right, not with the centrists within the Republican Party. And, in some ways, it almost appears almost if he thinks the Cold War is still on or that he wants it to return.

FOREMAN: McCain has been critical of efforts to reach out to Russia politically and economically, even those of President Bush. He has repeatedly attacked Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who is a former KGB boss.

MCCAIN: I looked into Mr. Putin's eyes, and I saw three letters, a K, a G, and B.

FOREMAN: McCain wrote in "Foreign Affairs magazine: "Today, we see in Russia diminishing political freedoms, a leadership dominated by a clique of former intelligence officers, efforts to bully democratic neighbors, such as Georgia, and attempts to manipulate Europe's dependence on Russian oil and gas."

McCain has pushed to have Russia thrown out of the G8, that group of the world's largest democracies formed to promote economic and political cooperation. He has fought to bring the Soviet Union's former republics into NATO, a military alliance of Western powers formed to oppose Russia's military might.

KUPCHAN: I think it's arguably dangerous in the sense that by assuming that Russia may be more aggressive than it is and by pushing Russia's back up against the wall, it's possible that one can produce a self-fulfilling prophecy.


FOREMAN: Still, McCain's stance on Russia has been consistent, and it has brought many admirers to his side, other Americans who also believe that the Russian bear is best kept on a short leash -- Campbell.

BROWN: Tom Foreman tonight -- Tom, thanks.

The Georgia crisis erupted just as Barack Obama was starting his Hawaiian vacation, not exactly an ideal time from a political standpoint.

Senior political correspondent Candy Crowley is in Honolulu for us tonight.

Not a bad assignment there, Candy.

I know you haven't actually heard from Barack Obama all day, but his campaign sure wants you to know that he's on top of the situation, don't they?


I'm not sure that a day has gone by on Obama's vacation when either he hasn't appeared on camera, which he did once in Sacramento, as he was headed over here, and another time while he has been in Hawaii. There has been a press release of some sort under the name of Barack Obama stating how he feels about the state of play at that point.

So, this -- they have very aggressively been out there issuing statements, which obviously get picked up when people are talking about the politics of the situation in Georgia. They also have put some of his advisers out there on TV, arguing his position. So, they have made sure that he remains in the headlines, even as he remains largely out of sight.

And you really hit on it Campbell. It is tough to be on vacation when something sort of, of international import is going on, because I think what we saw on that first day, and something that Obama's been criticized for, as you saw John McCain in his suit and his tie and American flags, looking very presidential, whereas Obama's first statement, he was obviously in vacation wear. And it just doesn't mix, particularly for a man who also wants to seen as a world leader.

So, the statements have been out there, even if Obama has not.

BROWN: And, Candy, for our viewers, we heard Tom Foreman going through John McCain's very hard-line position against Russia. Contrast that to Obama's position.

CROWLEY: Well, what's interesting is that top foreign policy advisers to Obama are arguing that Obama is much closer to George Bush than John McCain is. And, as you know, this is a campaign that is trying to tie John McCain and George Bush.

In fact, Susan Rice, who is a top foreign policy adviser to Obama, was on TV last night, suggesting that McCain has been belligerent, that he's been very aggressive, and suggesting that perhaps that somehow might have complicated the situation. So, they're portraying McCain as over the top on this, and not being as sort of deliberative as Europe has been or as President Bush has been.

BROWN: All right, Candy Crowley for us tonight from warm and sunny Hawaii -- Candy, thanks.

Could John McCain have a September surprise? Well, the buzz in some Republican circles is that he should take the stage at the Republican Convention and promise to serve only one term. We're going to tell you how real this is. We will weigh the pros and cons.

And then here's a shocker. One of President Bush's toughest critics ends up on a terror watch list. Coincidence?

We're going to have that story when we come back.


BROWN: Coming up, it's all the buzz. Will John McCain pledge to serve just one term in office? But, first, Ted Rowlands has "The Briefing" tonight -- Ted.

TED ROWLANDS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: He was murdered today in Little Rock. Bill Gwatney was a longtime friend and supporter of Bill and Hillary Clinton. Witnesses say a gunman walked into party headquarters, asked for Gwatney then started shooting. Police shot and killed the suspect after a 20-mile chase. No word yet on the motive.

And the Massachusetts high school principal who claimed students started a pact to get pregnant has quit his job. In June, Joseph Sullivan said teenage girls at Gloucester High School were getting pregnant on purpose. During the last school year, 17 students got pregnant. Sullivan says he's retiring because the mayor and superintendent did not believe his claim -- Campbell.

BROWN: All right, Ted Rowlands for us. Ted, thanks.

For the past few weeks, we've been telling you about CNN correspondent Drew Griffin's personal travel nightmare. Every time he flies, he gets stopped at the ticket counter because somehow his name got on the government's terror watch list.

Well, guess what? You've got company. A big-time Bush antagonist says that it happens to him too, and he is wondering if politics is behind it all.


BROWN: We've shown you how CNN's Drew Griffin has constant frustration at the airport. Well, he's not a terrorist obviously, but his name is on the government's terrorism watch list. And he got on it after criticizing the TSA. What it means for Drew is time- consuming delays every time he flies because he has to basically prove he's not a terrorist. Well, now, Drew has discovered that an author who criticized Karl Rove is on the very same list.


DREW GRIFFIN, CNN INVESTIGATIVE UNIT CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's a little disturbing that --

He has written three books about President Bush, all critical and his toughest, "Bush's War for Reelection." JIM MOORE, AUTHOR: And that book was released right after Labor Day in 2004. And that started the entire national controversy over George W. Bush and the National Guard.

GRIFFIN: Moore's research into the president's National Guard service dogged the Bush reelection campaign in the fall of 2004.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I accept your nomination for president of the United States.

GRIFFIN: After George Bush won reelection in November, Moore decided to go on vacation. It was January. And it was his first flight since that election and something was wrong. He couldn't check in at home. Couldn't check in at a kiosk. Went to the ticket counter and found out why.

MOORE: All of a sudden, I find myself on the no-fly watch or selectee list and traveling became very, very complicated.

GRIFFIN: According to the ACLU, his name is one of a million names and aliases that have a match on the so-called terror watch list. When Moore called the TSA, as directed by the airline, he says a TSA employee told him he'd just have to put up with it.

MOORE: And she said, the only thing I can tell you, Mr. Moore, is that there is something in your background which is similar to someone they're looking for.

GRIFFIN: Do you buy it?

MOORE: No, of course not.

GRIFFIN: In a statement to CNN, the FBI, which manages the database, says while it does not reveal who is on or not on the list for national security reasons, the FBI does say "Nominations to the watch list are handled and reviewed by non-political, career intelligence and law enforcement officials who make their determinations solely on the basis of the available information and whether there is a reasonable suspicion to believe the individual is involved in terrorism."

And the FBI says, in several government audits, there's been no suggestion anyone got on the watch list for political reasons. Last month, Congress held hearings, asking Homeland Security Director Michael Chertoff if people are being added to the list for reasons other than security.

Specifically, Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, asking why I was placed on the list shortly after CNN aired critical investigative reports on the lack of federal air marshals. Jackson Lee is expecting a response from Homeland Security Department in the next few weeks. Moore says he's been waiting for three years.

MOORE: I'm stuck like everybody else, yourself included, on this list, with wondering either, am I someone's political enemy, or do I live in a country where the government is just utterly and completely incompetent? And those are -- neither one of those are pleasant thoughts.

GRIFFIN: We did ask the FBI for any information on any terrorist who shares Jim Moore's name. The FBI refused. In the meantime, this Jim Moore says being on a watch list has kept him out of the sky. He is flying much less.


BROWN: And, Drew, you continue to report on the problems with the terror watch list. You've got Congress asking questions now. What is the solution?

GRIFFIN: Well, the solution -- the airlines tell us they've been waiting for this solution promised for years now from the TSA. And to show you how messed up this is, Campbell, today, Michael Chertoff, again, blamed the airlines for the problem saying that they're not doing enough to fix it. And then he said a solution is coming and the solution is the TSA.


MICHAEL CHERTOFF, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: The TSA would actually become the validator, would match the list. Right now, the airlines do it so we could internally correct the false positives with this data. And what would happen is the airline would send the manifest and we would simply see whether people on the list are the real bad John Smith or not the real bad John Smith, and then we'd clear everybody else.


GRIFFIN: Oh, if it was that easy, Campbell, it makes me wonder why they haven't been doing it already.

BROWN: All right. Drew Griffin for us tonight. Drew, thanks very much.

Still ahead, can you imagine a new president who doesn't have to worry about getting reelected? We'll check on the bold idea that's percolating among some of John McCain's supporters. What if McCain promised to serve only a single four-year term?

For those of us who have covered the White House, it's only a fascinating proposition. We're going to break it down.

Plus, an instant bestseller that attacks Barack Obama. The author is candid about his goal. He wants to sink Obama's campaign. We know some of the most damning charges here aren't true but smears can stick. We're going to tell you how Team Obama is fighting back.


LARRY KING, HOST, "LARRY KING LIVE": Hi, I'm Larry King. A book debuting on "The New York Times" bestseller list this week is making waves. Big ones. It's by the architect of the Swift Boat controversy that had a negative effect on John Kerry's presidential campaign. Barack Obama is the target of this one.

The author and one of his critics are here to face off on the facts. Next on "LARRY KING LIVE."


BROWN: So we've been hearing a lot of buzz out of McCainland tonight about a pretty audacious move that campaign -- the campaign is reportedly considering. Will John McCain pledge to serve just one term in the White House?

Well, at first it seems crazy. But think about the positives. No reelection campaign. No politics in the White House. Kind of like the sound of that, huh? Can McCain actually make this work?

Well, Ed Henry has been digging into it all day for us. We're going to go back to Ed at the White House right now to find out what he found out.

And, Ed, obviously, this would be a pretty bold move and some of McCain's supporters say it could be the jolt his campaign needs.

ED HENRY, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. I spoke to some McCain advisers today, said, look, this is not going to get a lot of traction. It might be too bold of a move. They're focused on other things. They don't want to go down this road.

But other advisers are saying, yes, this could be something that would be a big jolt, specifically, at the convention if John McCain announced that they're saying this is something that is being looked at. It's being considered very closely.

And there are several reasons for it. On the positive side, they say, look, this could deal with the age issue head on and say, look, I'm not going to be in office very long anyway. It's not going to be a marathon. It's going to be a sprint. I'm going to try to get a lot done.

It also, more importantly, could really underline John McCain's core message, which is he's trying to say, I'm a maverick. I'm a different kind of politician. He could say, look, starting in January 2009, I'm not going to raise any campaign money. I'm not going to worry about the politics of it. I'm just going to have a four-year sprint and not worry about getting reelected.

And that could be very appealing to voters saying, look, right now, Washington's not getting anything done, let's try to shake it up, Campbell.

BROWN: Right. In theory, pure governing. But there are downsides.

HENRY: Yes, the biggest downside, of course, and advisers point this out is, look, from day one, he'd be categorizing himself as a lame duck.

BROWN: Right.

HENRY: I mean, you know from covering the White House at the beginning of all this, in 2001, President Bush had a lot more clout. Right now, certainly, when there's a crisis like the one in Georgia- Russia right now, he still is very relevant to the debate. The president's words and his actions matter, but he doesn't have a lot of juice on Capitol Hill right now to get things done and that's at the very end.

What if at the very beginning of your administration, you said, look, I'm basically a lame duck. You're going to have the Republicans looking past him, thinking and jockeying for 2012. You're going to have the Democrats like Nancy Pelosi saying do we really deal with this president? So there are some really downsides there.

And secondly, it might also bring more attention to the age issue and suggest maybe John McCain's nervous about it. Maybe he's defensive about it that's why he's only going to serve one term. It only reminds people about his age. So I think in the end what we're hearing from various advisers is that it could be a very bold gambit but it also carries so much risk that it's probably unlikely, Campbell.

BROWN: All right. Ed Henry for us tonight working two stories tonight. Ed, thanks.

HENRY: Thanks.

BROWN: So big gamble for John McCain. Would he take the plunge? Could it help him get elected? It's our question for our political experts tonight.

David Brody, CNN contributor and Christian Broadcasting Network senior national correspondent joining us; Stephen Hayes, senior writer for "The Weekly Standard" with us as well; and here with me in New York, "New York Daily News" columnist Errol Louis. Welcome, guys.

Steve, let me start with you. Get right to it. You weigh the pros and cons here. Do you think McCain should consider this, this idea of a one-term pledge?

STEPHEN HAYES, "THE WEEKLY STANDARD": Well, you know, it feels a little bit gimmicky and I actually had a chance to interview Senator McCain today and asked him directly, is this a real possibility? This little lie (ph) option? And what he said it's nothing that he's got under consideration.

He seems surprised that it's gotten as much buzz and as much discussion as it has in recent days. He said it's not anything that he's looking at right now.

The one place I would say that it could make sense is if he picks Joe Lieberman as his running mate, in which case he could go to the country and say, look, it's a Republican and a Democrat. We are going to fix these problems. We're going to take four years and it might be a way to ease some of the anxieties among conservatives if he picks Lieberman.

BROWN: Well, picking Lieberman then making it a doubly bold move, I guess.

Errol, I mean, it is, if you're an idealist, if you love, you know, politics and the ideal of what politics can do, it's got to be appealing though just to take, you know, the nitty-gritty of politics out of it and to focus on --

ERROL LOUIS, "NEW YORK DAILY NEWS": Well, it could be, but you know, honestly, when I hear it, what I think of is that there's actually some very intense politics behind it. There's a big part of the conservative base of the Republican Party that really never warmed up to John McCain and in some ways may be looking for sort of a do- over in four years.

You know, maybe they're not that happy with him. Maybe they'd like to see him as a placeholder. Maybe they think they can serve as a better candidate and run the real candidate, the real campaign that they wanted to see this year, four years from now. So rather than sort of eliminating politics it really might just kind of forestall it and really kind of rile it up over the next 48 months.


BROWN: You guys are such cynics. David, let me ask you about the age question. I mean, age is a factor in this obviously. Could making a pledge like this even sort of have the reverse effect of shining a greater spotlight on the age question, as Ed Henry pointed out?

DAVID BRODY, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: No, I don't think there's any doubt about that, Campbell. Add me to the cynics list. I mean, you know, look, -- I mean, the lame duck issue so to speak is front and center right there, Campbell, and it goes to this idea that, hey, by the way, red flag, I'm 72, by coming out and actually saying that.

There's another issue here, Campbell too. And that is Barack Obama talks about now is the time, this is the time. And he's talking about a movement, this momentum, you know, four years, eight years, you know, this idea like Ronald Reagan for eight years.

John McCain, if he does four years, we're going to have the countdown watch. We're going to have the one-term watch. It feels very, very tough to swallow.

BROWN: OK, guys, we got a lot of -- more ground to cover. But before I let you go and we take a quick break, I just want to go back to Steve because you did talk to McCain today. You had an extended interview with him not a lot of people get to these days. He's not quite as friendly with the press as he used to be. What was the most striking thing about your conversation?

HAYES: Well, I think the most striking thing was probably our discussion about his potential running mate. He hasn't really talked about this much with reporters of late and I asked him about a conversation that we had actually had back in February where he said picking a pro-choice running mate would be difficult.

And I said, do you still believe that, as you near this decision? And to me, he seemed to back off from that a little bit. He said, look, you know, we're a pro-life party. Republicans are a pro-life party, but we shouldn't disqualify someone like Tom Ridge just because he's pro choice.

Now, it may or may not be interesting that he picks Tom Ridge to talk about. As it happens, Joe Lieberman was sitting in the row right in front of us and he didn't mention Joe Lieberman. I mean, we could probably speculate about this until we're blue in the face.

But it was an interesting -- it was an interesting turn to me a little bit that he said, you know, I'm more open to picking a pro- choice running mate.

BRODY: And, Campbell, let me just say really quick...


BRODY: Because if that were ever to happen, evangelical leaders probably would not be available for comment because they'd be passed out on the floor and they would need smelling salts.


BROWN: All right.

BRODY: They would need smelling salts.

BROWN: Well, it was interesting that he floated it anyway. Maybe a little bit of scoop here tonight from Steve Hayes.

OK, guys, stay with me. When we come back, I'm going to look at this new book from the folks who brought you the swift boating of John Kerry. It recycles every bogus rumor you've ever heard about Barack Obama. But it is at the top of "The New York Times" bestseller non- fiction list already. Yes, non-fiction.

Stay with us. We'll be right back.


BROWN: There's a new book out about Barack Obama. It's number one right now on "The New York Times" bestseller list. I can guarantee you, though, nobody in the Obama camp is at all happy about that. And here's why.

It is called "Obama Nation: Leftist Politics and the Cult of Personality." The author, Jerome Corsi, also co-wrote the book, "Unfit for Command," which started the swift boating of John Kerry. "Obama Nation" is riddled with pretty much every unsubstantiated rumor you've ever heard about Obama.

Jessica Yellin found out for us that it's also turning into a major campaign headache. And, Jessica, I know -- we know that some of the most damaging charges in this book just aren't true.

The author admits he's on a mission to take down Barack Obama. He's been slammed for books that he's written before. They're also discredited. But it's still getting an awful lot of traction.

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It is. In this case, as you said, the book is topping bestseller lists and it's getting plenty of play in the media clearly. The big danger for the Obama campaign is that it could go viral. True or not, scandalous allegations have a way of spreading and sticking if they're not aggressively refuted so that's what the campaign has to do, Campbell.

BROWN: All right. Jessica Yellin, very quickly for us tonight. Jessica, thanks.

I want to get a quick reaction from the panel now. And Errol, pretty simple question to you, why do you think people are buying this book? And how much damage does it do?

LOUIS: Well, let's be clear. It is possible to gain "The New York Times" bestseller list. You can do bulk sales, which I know for a fact is going on. In this case, you buy, you know, a couple hundred books, you mail it out all over the place. There are ways if you send people out to buy in certain stores that are in key markets, you can sort of rise up, especially in a slow period like the summertime.

So getting on the list is not that hard if you want to throw enough money at it. I think, though, that there's an intense amount of interest in this campaign. We've seen it on all the newspapers, on all the news organizations. Record numbers turning out, record numbers tuning in to the debates. This is really just part of the same phenomenon in a way. I don't read it as an intense interest to read damaging things about a particular candidate at all.

BROWN: David, if you're the Obama campaign, you certainly remember what happened to John Kerry. I mean, how do you make sure that this isn't repeated?

BRODY: Well, I think what they've done, and they've done a pretty good job at this, Campbell, in the past, is talk about the nuance of it all. You know, if you look at some of those abortion votes that he had in the Illinois State Senate, I mean, they will nuance that and say, listen, it's not exactly the way the pro-lifers make it sound.

So what they'll do is if they have to, they'll go point by point and try to muddy the waters a little bit and say, listen, they've got it all wrong and there's a lot more to it. You know, I think it's very interesting it's not so much the book here, Campbell. The book plays into the narrative that conservative groups want, and that is to paint Obama as a liberal. These conservative groups have been doing it trickle, by a little bit trickling here, but it's going to be a lot more in the fall.

BROWN: And, Steve, David does make a fair point there. Is this a battle the Obama campaign is going to continue to have book or no book with conservatives honing in on this message, trying to raise questions about his religion, about race, about his patriotism?

HAYES: Yes, well, I haven't read this Jerome Corsi book, but from the descriptions that you've given and Jessica has given, and the piece in "The New York Times," you know, it certainly sounds like it has some significant problems with it.

What's interesting to me is that this "New York Times" piece today which looked at this Jerome Corsi book didn't look at the book that's number five on its own bestseller list coming out this week. And that's another book about Barack Obama called "The Case Against Barack Obama," written by a guy at "National Review" named David Freddoso.

Now, Freddoso is a serious reporter. I mean, I don't always agree with everything he says. But he's a serious reporter and he's done some of the things that David is talking about, where he's gone back and looked at Obama's votes in the Illinois State Senate. He's, I think, analyzed those, and it's a -- there seems to be a hunger certainly among conservatives for more information about Barack Obama than they're getting from the quote/unquote "mainstream press."

BRODY: Stephen --

BROWN: Yes, but the more scurrilous claims at least seem to be getting the most attention.

Sorry, quick, quick, we're almost out of time, David.

BRODY: Real quick, Jeremiah Wright, when that broke, it was ABC News "Nightline," they did a whole big expose on it. It wasn't so much the books about Jeremiah Wright and others. So that's what's going on.

BROWN: All right.

HAYES: It's true, but "The Washington Post" did an entire discussion or piece on Barack Obama and religion without ever mentioning Reverend Wright so that's the problem.

BROWN: All right, guys, got to end it there. David, Steve, Errol, thanks very much.

And we should mention that Jerome Corsi, the author of "Obama Nation" is on Larry King tonight. We're going to be back right after this.


BROWN: Larry King right now.