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CNN Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer

Interview With Samir Sumaidaie; Interview With John Bolton

Aired March 25, 2007 - 11:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, HOST: This is "Late Edition," the last word in Sunday talk.

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: A narrow majority in the House of Representatives abdicated its responsibility by passing a war spending bill that has no chance of becoming law.



REP. NANCY PELOSI, D-CALIF.: We voted no to giving a blank check to an open-ended commitment, to a war without end, to the president of the United States.


BLITZER: Stare down over the war in Iraq. With President Bush and congressional Democrats clashing over troop deadlines, can common ground be found? We'll talk with a key Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee, Bill Nelson; and the leading Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee, Orrin Hatch.


TONY SNOW, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: What we're trying to avoid is showmanship. We're trying to avoid a show trial.


BLITZER: The White House stands firm as House and Senate panels vote to authorize subpoenas in the investigation of fired federal prosecutors. Are the two sides on a constitutional collision course? Insight from former White House special counsel Lanny Davis, and former U.S. attorney Joe Digenova.

Insurgents strike the heart of Baghdad's Green Zone in the midst of a major security crackdown. When and how will Iraq's government be prepared to contain the violence? We'll ask the country's ambassador to the United States, Samir Sumaidaie.

Plus, blunt talk from former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton, about the war in Iraq, tensions with Iran and a nuclear North Korea. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN EDWARDS, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You can go cower in the corner and hide, or you can be tough and go out there and stand up for what you believe in.


BLITZER: Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards vows to press on with his campaign despite the return of his wife Elizabeth's cancer. We'll talk about that and more with Democratic strategist Donna Brazile, Former Republican Party chairman Ed Gillespie, and CNN's Dana Bash.

Plus, comic and TV host Bill Maher weighs in on President Bush, Washington scandal and a crowded presidential race.

"Late Edition's" lineup begins right now.

ANNOUNCER: Live from CNN in Washington, this is "Late Edition" with Wolf Blitzer.

BLITZER: It's 11:00 a.m. here in Washington, 8:00 a.m. in Los Angeles, 4:00 p.m. in London and 6:00 p.m. in Baghdad. Wherever you're watching from around the world, thanks very much for joining us for "Late Edition."

We'll talk about the debate over troop deadlines, war funding and a lot more with Senators Hatch and Nelson in just a moment.

First, let's check in with CNN's Fredricka Whitfield for a quick look at what's in the news right now.

Hi, Fred.


BLITZER: President Bush is promising to veto an Iraq war funding bill approved by the U.S. House of Representatives. It calls for all U.S. combat troops to be out of Iraq by August of 2008. A similar bill is making its way through the U.S. Senate.

With us now to discuss this and more, two key U.S. senators. Joining us from Orlando is Democratic Senator Bill Nelson of Florida. He's a member of the Senate Armed Services and Foreign Relations Committees. And here in Washington, Republican Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah. He's a member of the Senate Intelligence and Judiciary Committees.

Senators, welcome back to "Late Edition."

And, Senator Nelson, I'll start with you. I want to play this little clip of what the president said on Friday shortly after the House of Representatives narrowly approved legislation that calls for a withdrawal of combat forces by next summer. Listen to this.


BUSH: The purpose of the emergency war spending bill I requested was to provide our troops with vital funding. Instead, Democrats in the House, in an act of political theater, voted to substitute their judgment for that of our military commanders on the ground in Iraq.


BLITZER: What about what the senator's charge is? What's your response, Senator Nelson?

SEN. BILL NELSON (D), FLORIDA: Wolf, the Senate will take a little bit different approach. It will set as a goal of the withdrawal of some of the troops, leaving troops for the purpose of training the Iraqi army for force protection which could include border patrol.

And that follows the recommendation of the unanimous, bipartisan Iraq Study Commission. That, combined with a very aggressive, diplomatic effort in the region is what we're going need to have.

BLITZER: So when do you think, Senator Nelson, U.S. combat forces, from your perspective, should be out of Iraq?

NELSON: Well, as the Iraq Study Commission said, early next year there ought to be a redeployment. That's not a withdrawal. That's a redeployment so that you get them out of the crossfire in the middle of the sectarian warfare in Baghdad which is civil war. The Sunnis and the Shiites hate each other. They've been at it over 1,327 years, and our boys and girls are right in the middle of that crossfire.

BLITZER: All right.

Senator Hatch, what do you think?

SEN. ORRIN HATCH (R), UTAH: Well, that's certainly better than the House bill. The House bill is basically setting parameters, military parameters. And, of course, two Supreme Court cases, U.S. v. Lovett, U.S. v. Klein, basically say that the House cannot put unconstitutional language in a bill to manipulate the war, Ex parte Milligan.

BLITZER: Well, when would you like combat forces out of Iraq?

HATCH: Well, the fact of the matter is, I'd like them out when we get General Petraeus, who 100 percent of the senators confirmed, who then said he wants to be able to go against these insurgents and to clean and hold Baghdad and to get the Iraqi troops up to par so that they can continue to do the work, I'd like to give him a chance to do it rather than undermining him.

And, you know, I get a little tired of these erstwhile generals in the House of Representatives and the Senate who want to really run the war when it's the obligation of...

(CROSSTALK) BLITZER: Well, what about Senator Nelson's group that the Iraq Study Group came up with the recommendation that by the summer of 2008 or so those combat forces should be redeployed?

HATCH: Well, the problem with that is that we now have General Petraeus, who's a leader against insurgencies, who's written the book for both the Army and the Marine Corps on insurgencies, who said "Give us a chance with this 21,500 member group to go in there and see what we can do."

BLITZER: Isn't a year from now enough of a chance to do it?

HATCH: Well, any time you set a goal or you set a time limit, you're basically playing right into the hands of those who really want to undermine everything we're doing. Why don't they just sit back and wait until the Congress of the United States manipulates the war and brings our troops home?

BLITZER: Well, that's a fair point, Senator Nelson. And you hear this from the White House and you hear it from a lot of Democratic critics saying, "If you set a timeline, if you give a specific date, it's only going to encourage the insurgents, the terrorists to stay on the sidelines, wait the U.S. out."

NELSON: Well, Wolf, a lot of other generals, including the just- retired General Abizaid, the head of Central Command, had said we do not need to have this surge that is now going into Baghdad. And you can argue the whole thing on both sides, but the question is, are we winning. And there's nobody in the administration that says that we are.

And at the end of day, what you want to do is stabilize Iraq. Five prominent Republicans and five prominent Democrats studied the issue in the Iraq Study Commission and they came out unanimous the plan that I've outlined.

BLITZER: All right, let me bring back Senator Hatch, because these were disturbing poll results in Iraq of Iraqis, an ABC News/USA Today poll that was taken at the end of February and early March. Do you support or oppose the presence of coalition forces in Iraq? Remember, these are Iraqis responding. Only 22 percent support the presence of coalition forces in Iraq; 78 percent say they oppose the presence.

The other question they asked: Are you confident in U.S. forces? Only 18 percent of Iraqis said they were confident in U.S. forces; 82 percent said they were not confident. There's a problem here when it looks to a lot of Iraqis as if the U.S. is imposing itself on them.

HATCH: Well, there is a problem there, but I would contrast that with the approximately 80 percent of the people who voted for a representative form of government who really would like to change Iraq and have it work.

I think it's fair to say that 100 percent of the Iraqis would like us out of there and 100 percent of the Americans would like us out of there, but the question is when?

And are we going undermine this surge, so-called surge, which is more than a surge, more than putting troops in there. It's $10 billion that the Iraqis agreed to put up, it's cleaning up Baghdad, it's providing clean water and electricity for the people there so their kids can go to school and they can go to school in freedom. It's providing freedom for women for the first time in many respects over there.

When you add it all up, it takes time. Now, yeah, I would like to see us come out of there, but I don't want to undermine the troops, nor do I want to act like a super-imposing general because I'm a senator in the United States Senate. That's the job of these generals and the president.

And I dispute what Senator Nelson says with regard to General Abizaid and some of the others. They themselves know that if we set a time limit or goal, that's just playing into the hands of those who are...

BLITZER: All right, Senator Nelson, let me let you respond.

NELSON: Wolf, we've been hearing that for the last four years, and we're not any closer to our goal. And so the question is, how do you stabilize Iraq if it's at all possible? And as I have outlined, a withdrawal concentrating on training the army, force protection and going after the real enemy, which is al Qaida, along with the diplomatic effort, and ultimately at the end of day you're going to be a separation...

BLITZER: All right, but Senator Nelson, let me just press you on the point, the charge, the very serious charge that Senator Hatch is making against you and fellow critics, that you're undermining the U.S. troops.

NELSON: Well, that's simply not true. What you opportunity to do is stabilize Iraq. There are many different people, including just-retired Marine General Jones, that think that the approach that the Iraq Study Commission has outlined is the way, not putting more into Baghdad in the middle of a civil war.

BLITZER: Very quickly, Senator Hatch.

HATCH: You're not going to stabilize Iraq by pulling our people out on a timed basis. Look, the problem with Democrats on this and even some Republicans is they don't have any answers to what you do if we pull out and we have even a vaster civil war that kills hundreds of thousands, if not millions of people.

They ignore the fact that al Qaida is established right there in al Anbar and that they want to take over those oil revenues and use them all over the world, and they ignore the fact that this is not a normal war.

These people don't wear uniforms. They don't represent a country. These are terrorists are that are capable of doing things all over the world. And what are we going do? Pull out prematurely so they can come here.

BLITZER: We're going to move on, but I'll give you a few seconds just to respond to that. Then we'll take a break. Go ahead, Senator Nelson.

NELSON: Well, I simply disagree. And this is the same old, same old that we've heard. The American people want something else. Our boys and girls are in the middle of harm's way where they shouldn't be. They can redeploy where we can better protect ourselves and achieve the mission that we want, Wolf. That's what everybody misses. We need to stabilize Iraq.

BLITZER: Senators, stand by because we're going to continue this conversation. We'll take a quick break. When we come back we'll get the senators' take on the probe of the eight fired U.S. federal prosecutors as new questions emerge just how involved the Attorney General Alberto Gonzales was in their dismissal.

Then, is President Bush headed to a constitutional clash over the firings? We'll get insight from two top Washington lawyers. And later, violence hits close to the heart of the green zone while the top United Nations official is visiting. We'll talk to the always- outspoken former U.S. ambassador to the U.N., John Bolton, about the increasing threats in Iraq.

"Late Edition" will be right back.


BLITZER: Welcome back to "Late Edition." I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. We're continuing our conversation with two key members of the United States Senate: Bill Nelson, Democrat of Florida, Orrin Hatch, Republican of Utah. Senator Nelson, would you like the attorney general, Alberto Gonzales, to step down?

NELSON: Personally, I would because I think he's lost his credibility. But I think we ought to go through the procedures and hear what he says. And I don't see what all this fuss is about people coming forth and raising their hand and saying they're going tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

That's what the American people deserve, and that's what we ought to get to. What's the truth?

BLITZER: Senator Hatch, do you have confidence in the attorney general?

HATCH: I do. He's an honest man. I've worked with him very extensively. He's honest, he's decent and he's honorable. But let's be honest about it, the Justice Department has bungled this attorney thing. There's no question about it. There's no excuse for it.

BLITZER: What about the White House?

HATCH: Well, I don't know that the White House has. But you know, I think the White House could have had a more hands-on approach. But basically, the Democrats are complaining because they think that the White House and the Justice Department have acted politically.

Politically? You mean appointing U.S. attorneys isn't political? Give me a break.

BLITZER: Let me press you on the attorney general.


BLITZER: This is what he said on March 13th. I'm going play a little clip of what he said. Alberto Gonzales.


ATTORNEY GENERAL ALBERTO R. GONZALES: I never saw documents. We never had a discussion about where things stood.


BLITZER: But late Friday night, the Justice Department released a new batch of documents, and among other things, he convened a one- hour meeting on November 27 that he chaired in which they discussed the removal of these federal prosecutors. And they were all removed subsequently on December 7th. It looks like a flat-out contradiction between what he said publicly in March and what he did in November.

HATCH: Well, it isn't. We shouldn't just lift words out of e- mails because that one hour was set up by, I think, the person who sent the e-mail. Now, I called the attorney general on that, and he said, well, we did have a meeting, but it was a general meeting. It wasn't about specifics.

And I don't think his comments are inconsistent at all. I think people are trying to make them inconsistent. And this whole flap is about whether the president can replace -- can think politically in replacing U.S. attorneys. Well, of course he can. Of course he can.

BLITZER: Senator Nelson, what do you think?

NELSON: When politics gets in to prosecutions, sending people to jail, then it crosses the line. Now, we ought to know what happened. We know that a bunch of attorneys have been fired. There's a recent resignation right here in Florida.

A bunch of those attorneys also signed a letter to the Justice Department, criticizing the Justice Department. Now, is there a connection there? Is there a connection with all of this stuff that we're hearing coming out of the White House? We simply need to know, Wolf.

BLITZER: And the chairman of the Judiciary Committee -- you used to be a chairman of the Judiciary Committee. You know how the system of oversight, what Congress, the House and the Senate are supposed to debate. They'd like to get to the bottom of it. They want to have White House officials like Karl Rove testify, but they'd like to do it, the Chairman Pat Leahy, says under oath and public with transcripts and the White House says none of the above. HATCH: Well, first of all, the fact of the matter is, this is the White House. They've had over 3,500 e-mails so far and documents given to them. The White House and the Justice Department are cooperating. The Justice Department is going to produce people under oath, all of them are going to testify that they want...


BLITZER: Senator, let me just make this point.

HATCH: But I want...

BLITZER: You were chairman of the Judiciary Committee when there were Democratic administrations, during the Clinton administration, for example. Would you have accepted those kinds of ground rules from the Clinton White House that they would only be able to have an interview, no cameras, no transcripts, no questions under oath?

HATCH: You're darn right I would, because there is such a thing as presidential right to keep confidential conversations of very close staff confidential, but the White House has gone beyond that.

They've not only offered to produce these people in private meetings without being under oath, but nevertheless, tell us the things that we want to hear and give us the facts, something we'll never get if we continue to pursue it the way the Justice Department -- or, excuse me, the way the Judiciary Committee's doing it, because if they issue subpoenas the president said he's going fight them. It would take more than two years to even get to a conclusion on this.

So we ought to get the facts now, and the way to do it is to first cooperate with the White House, have them cooperate with us, recognize the Justice Department people are being produced under oath and go from there and then see where we go after that.

BLITZER: Senator Nelson, what do you say?

NELSON: Wolf, bottom line is, get the truth. In recent times, 74 presidential advisers have come and testified on Capitol Hill. Sure, there's something known as executive privilege, but that shouldn't stand in the way of the truth. And so let's stop all this mumbo jumbo and just resolve to get this done and stop this partisan posturing.

BLITZER: OK, a final word. Is there a compromise here that you think -- knowing Senator Leahy and the Democrats on the Judiciary Committee, is there a compromise with the White House that will fly or is this heading towards a constitutional legal showdown?

HATCH: Well, Senator Leahy says no, but I really believe there is. And I think we can resolve these matters, but I don't blame the president for drawing a line. Now, one other thing that Senator Nelson said, he said that neither the president nor anyone else -- now, these people can be removed at the pleasure of the president.

That is a political decision. But political decisions should not interfere with ongoing investigations and there is absolutely zero evidence that any of these considerations have interfered with ongoing investigation.

BLITZER: Well, some Democrats that have raised questions that there were some investigation in California that were moving up, involving Republicans but we don't have time, unfortunately.

HATCH: But what they missed is that these U.S. attorneys don't try those cases all themselves. They had assistant U.S. attorneys who do try those cases and those cases are going to won regardless.

BLITZER: Senator Nelson, you're going to have the last word. Go ahead.

NELSON: Wolf, there were two U.S. attorneys on another network this morning that said that they believe it was political interference that stopped them because of the way that they handled investigations on Democrats.

BLITZER: And that raises obstruction of justice questions, serious allegations that, unfortunately, we don't have a chance, Senator Hatch. I know you're frustrated, but we have got to end it here, but I'll give you five seconds. Go ahead.

HATCH: That's different to say there have been political considerations which there have been, from saying that they were interfering from ongoing investigations or trials and there's no evidence of that whatsoever.

BLITZER: We'll leave it right there. Senator Hatch, always good have you here on "Late Edition."

Senator Nelson, thanks to you as well.

NELSON: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: And coming up, questions swirling, as we've just seen, about President Bush's top political aide, Karl Rove. Did he help orchestrate this purge of federal prosecutors? Should he have to testify before Congress under oath and in public? We're going to continue this conversation with former Clinton White House special counsel Lanny Davis and former U.S. attorney, Joe diGenova.

But up next, a quick check of what's in the news right now, including a very tense situation unfolding between Iran and Britain involving those 15 captured British marines. "Late Edition" will be right back.



GONZALES: At the end of the day, we have a situation where the president of the United States has the authority to hire and to fire United States attorneys.


BLITZER: The attorney general, Alberto Gonzales, addressing questions about the firing of those eight federal prosecutors. Welcome back to "Late Edition." I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. Democrats in Congress say they're determined to get to the bottom of the controversy by subpoenaing, if necessary, top presidential aides. But the White House standing firm, refusing to budge on this issue.

Here with two very different legal perspectives on all of this, former Bill Clinton White House special counsel Lanny Davis and the former U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia, Joe Digenova. Gentlemen, thanks very much for coming in.

In the letter that Fred Fielding, the White House counsel, wrote to the House and the Senate in making the White House's offer for making Karl rove, Harriet Miers, the former White House counsel, and other officials available for, quote, "interviews," there's one line that jumps out: "Such interviews would be private and conducted without the need for an oath, transcript, subsequent testimony or the subsequent issuance of subpoenas."

Lanny Davis, why is that unacceptable to Democrats?

LANNY DAVIS, FORMER WHITE HOUSE COUNSEL: Well, I just cannot imagine, when Republicans were investigating a 22-year-old land deal, if the Clinton White House had offered to put people forward without being under oath and with no transcripts that the Republican senators would have accepted that. But I do think there is a compromise still available here, and some of those words may be negotiable.

If the senators were to interview Mr. Rove under those conditions but still leave open the option because it is a crime to lie even under those conditions during the course of that interview, and if they...

BLITZER: But if there's no transcript, Lanny, how could you ever prove they were lying?

DAVIS: I think that the White House ought to make Mr. Rove available publicly because I think there's a story to be told here that politically it's OK to replace U.S. attorneys. But there's a serious matter whether those replacements were motivated because of prosecutorial agendas. But my proposal would be, the option is available to the Senate, to the Democrats to subpoena Mr. Rove, if they're unsatisfied (inaudible).

BLITZER: But not according to this letter, because it says here that they would only be made available if there were no subsequent issuance of subpoenas. What do you think?

JOE DIGENOVA, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY: Well, I think the White House is going to stick with that position. and I would do that if I were they in this situation. First of all, in the other instances which have been named in today's papers where all former and current White House people were called to testify from the president's personal staff, in each one of those inquiries, there was an allegation of underlying criminal conduct.

Right now in this case, there is no evidence or allegation of underlying criminal conduct by anybody in the White House or the Department of Justice. It is true that there is remarkable incompetence at the Justice Department, perhaps political interference. But none of those things rises to the level of a crime.

And so therefore, in the fight over executive privilege, I think the White House wins legally on that issue. And by the way, if the Democrats litigate this question by issuing citations for contempt, this goes until 2009, and they get nothing.

BLITZER: What about that? No underlying crime has been alleged, at least so far as a result. The Democrats would lose in a court battle.

DAVIS: Well, the issue of whether a subpoena can be enforceable is not whether there is an underlying crime alleged, but I agree with Joe. What I disagree is that it's not stating history exactly correct. The notion of the White House Christmas card list by Bill Clinton was the subject of requiring the chief of staff to President Clinton, Erskine Bowles, to testify under oath. That's not exactly a crime.

We all know there have been subpoenas issued during the Clinton years that were completely political and partisan motivated. And I'd like to see this gotcha back-and-forth stopped this time by having the Democrats proceed, get to the bottom of why the U.S. attorneys were truly replaced, have full transparency. Attorney General Gonzales should do a Geraldine Ferraro press conference.

DIGENOVA: I agree with Lanny that there was political motivations in some of those investigations of the Clinton administration. And that's why many of us suggested that for the benefit of the presidency and his successors, he shouldn't give in on some of those subpoenas, but they had reasons to do so given the circumstances.

BLITZER: What would be so wrong if Karl Rove, for example, went up and testified before the Judiciary Committee under oath with transcripts and public?

DIGENOVA: It's not a question of what would be wrong.

BLITZER: If they had nothing to hide, why don't they let him do it?

DIGENOVA: It's not a question of whether or not you have something to hide. This is a question of presidential prerogative. There are two equal, co-equal branches of government, the executive and the legislative.

The president has a right to fire any U.S. attorney he wants, even for political reasons. Even if he doesn't like the cases that they're bringing. Especially if he doesn't like the cases they're bringing. Congress has a right to ask questions saying, why were these people fired?

The question is, at what point at the water's edge do those two confluences of powers come to an end and there has to be a constitutional crisis? We may be getting to that. I think the Democrats would be wise to try and negotiate some sort of a compromise here, because as I said, if they try to enforce a contempt citation, they lose, because that would go on for three years.

DAVIS: Let me go back to crisis management 101. And Joe and I are completely on the same wavelength here. Attorney General Gonzales, a man who I think is honorable and sincere, has mishandled this. He should do a Geraldine Ferraro understatement...

DIGENOVA: Has he mishandled it?

DAVIS: ... press conference. He should invite everybody in, ask every question there is to be asked. Of course, these replacements were not all performance-related. That statement by the deputy attorney general was simply not true. We have to clear the air.

I think Karl Rove testifying publicly would be effective in telling everyone, most of this was about political replacements. We misspoke when we said it was performance-related. Here's the full truth and the story is over.

BLITZER: Here's what the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, Senator Patrick Leahy, said this week after they got this Fred Fielding offer for this very limited interviewing of Karl Rove and others. Listen to Pat Leahy.


SEN. PATRICK J. LEAHY, D-VT.: What we're told we can get is nothing, nothing, nothing. We are told that we could have a closed- door meeting with no transcript, not under oath, a limited number of people and the White House will determine what the agenda is. That, to me, is nothing.


BLITZER: Now you...

DIGENOVA: By the way. I agree with Senator Leahy. If I were in his position, and I were the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, that is precisely what I would be saying. But you're asking my opinion if I were in the White House. If I were in the White House, I would be doing precisely what Fred Fielding is doing.

The president has prerogatives. The Senate has prerogatives. Whether or not this can be worked out really depends upon the sophistication of the attorney general. And that appears from all available evidence to be at a very low (inaudible).

BLITZER: The president, Lanny, says he's concerned about the confidentiality of advice he's getting from his aides. I want to play this little clip for you. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: If you call somebody up in front of Congress and put them in oath and, you know, all the klieg lights and all the questioning, to me it makes it difficult for a president to get good advice.


BLITZER: You served in the White House. Is he right or wrong?

DAVIS: I'm sympathetic with that argument. I heard President Clinton make that argument when Maggie Williams, the first lady's chief of staff, was dragged in front of Al D'Amato, had to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars of legal fees over what Ken Starr said was absolutely nothing.

The compromise that I'm proposing here today, Wolf, would be to kick the can down the road, which is a good way when you're in a stalemate. Have the Democrats do the private interview, leaving open the option of calling him back if they think they've lied or they don't think they have the full story.

BLITZER: With a transcript or without a transcript?

DAVIS: I would say there should be a transcript, but even with without a transcript, they can kick that one down the road and resubpoena him. Mr. Fielding has to compromise and say, OK, let's go with that first. If you're unsatisfied, we'll reargue the question of the subpoena. That's at least one way of breaking a stalemate.

BLITZER: Well, what about that? Is that...

DIGENOVA: Listen, anything you can do to avoid a constitutional crisis. The thing that supports Lanny's position is, here you have the attorney general and Paul McNulty, the deputy, giving inaccurate, incomplete, inconsistent, incomprehensible answers as to why these people were fired. Under those circumstances, the Democrats' questions are perfectly logical.

Now, there's also a little Kabuki theater here on the part of the Democrats. They want to pounce. They have subpoena power. And they're going to take advantage of a situation. But the truth is, when you have the type of incompetent performance by an attorney general, which this administration has had to suffer through over the last month, this is what happens.

This is what happens when you don't have adults in cabinet positions and when you have a deputy attorney general who makes absolutely inaccurate statements before a congressional committee. I mean this requires oversight. Absolutely, but it doesn't require a constitutional confrontation.

BLITZER: The former chief of staff to the attorney general, Kyle Sampson, is going to be testifying voluntarily in front of the cameras, under oath, with full transcripts on Thursday before the Senate Judiciary Committee, and I suspect he could have some bombshells.

DAVIS: I think that at the end of day the bombshells will be the following sentence: "We misspoke." Joe is absolutely right. This was not all about performance-related. We need to fully investigate it. Some of these instances, such as the New Mexico instance, where the real serious issue is will Senator Pete Domenici be investigated for an improper telephone call.


DIGENOVA: See, here's the danger, and Senator Durbin said this today on television. They're going start saying the ones who weren't fired were allowed to stay, why? Were they playing ball? Are some of their cases politically motivated?

For example, they're already talking about Delaware, this U.S. attorney up there, Colm Connolly. There's been tremendous criticism in the local press up there about the political motivation of him going after very important Democrats. That's where the Democrats are headed. They're going to start looking at corruption cases that have been brought and this is the danger.

BLITZER: Well, let me -- we have to wind it up, Lanny, but I want to ask Joe, because you were a U.S. attorney.

DIGENOVA: That's correct.

BLITZER: If somebody in the Justice Department or at the White House would have come to you, Joe diGenova and said, "Hey, Joe"...

DAVIS: Or a U.S. senator or a member of the House.

BLITZER: Wait a second. Wait a second. And would have said, "Joe, this is really sensitive stuff and maybe you should avoid it because you're dealing with a subject that they didn't want you to deal with," you would have been outraged.

DIGENOVA: I would have told them to go to hell.

DAVIS: He would have.

DIGENOVA: I would have told them to go to hell and that happened, by the way, in one case.

BLITZER: Which case?

DIGENOVA: The Pollard case.

BLITZER: The Jonathan J. Pollard case.

DIGENOVA: Sure. Somebody at the Justice Department got squeamish and I said "Get out of my way. Don't dare get in the way." And that's what you tell a senator who calls up. You don't sit there and whine, "Oh, I got a call from the senator." You say, "Senator, get off the line right now, we're done talking." You don't go home and whine about it. You might want to call the Justice Department and tell them, but you don't sit and whine about it, you say, "Senator, get off the phone."

DAVIS: And, Wolf, one final comment here. Senator Pete Domenici and Congressman Heather Wilson are, I think, on the borderline of criminal conduct or at least unethical conduct in making a call and mentioning the substance of a prosecution.

In Senator Domenici's case, he said he was asking about the status. It was highly improper. Congresswoman Wilson actually asked "When are you going to be bringing a case?" It was a political prosecution.

Mr. Iglesias, widely admired, felt pressured. That's where the focus of the Democrats' and the Republicans' investigations should be and someone like Joe diGenova would have said "Go to hell." That's exactly correct.

BLITZER: I suspect if the two of you were handling this negotiation you would come up with a compromise that would avoid a constitutional crisis right now. Lanny, Joe, thanks for coming in.

DIGENOVA: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Up next, the Iraqi government under fire now from insurgents, also facing serious pressure to stop the country's sectarian violence. We'll talk about it with Iraq's ambassador to the United States, Samir Sumaidaie.

And coming up right after "Late Edition," at 1:00 p.m. Eastern, please join our own John Roberts for "This Week At War." We'll be right back.


BLITZER: Welcome back to "Late Edition." I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.

Iraq's prime minister Nouri al-Maliki insists his government is making progress on curtailing the violence, but insurgents and sectarian militias are still flexing their muscles in a very deadly way and on an almost daily basis.

Patience from the streets of Baghdad to here in Washington wearing thin right now. Let's get some analysis of what's going on. For that we're joined by Iraq's ambassador to the United States, Samir Sumaidaie.

Mr. Ambassador, welcome back to "Late Edition."

SAMIR SUMAIDAIE, IRAQI AMBASSADOR TO U.N.: Thank you, Wolf. It's good to be here.

BLITZER: I want to play for you what happened earlier in the week when the new secretary-general of the United Nations was meeting with the Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in the international zone, the so-called Green Zone, the most secure part of the Iraqi capital.




BLITZER: As you can see, the place was bombed not very far away. A mortar came in, he flinched. Nouri al-Maliki, because he's used to it, he barely even acknowledged what was going on, but what does it say four years into this war that the insurgents can still launch these kinds of mortars into the heart of Baghdad?

SUMAIDAIE: You know, Wolf, what it takes to launch a mortar is not very much, a pickup truck with some sand in the back that's parked anywhere, moving around the city, parked anywhere within 30 seconds around is launched and they disappear. It's not difficult to launch a mortar round.

BLITZER: But the area around Baghdad now for the past month-and- a-half or so, there's been an intense security sweep...


BLITZER: ... a U.S. and Iraqi forces going in and they say it's making an impact, but when they can still do that in the international zone, in the Green Zone, it's worrisome.

SUMAIDAIE: Well, it's not -- the Green Zone is just across the river from residential areas. Unless you have a humvee at every street corner you're not going to be able to stop that totally.

However, the effort that has been made on this new plan is making an impact. It's too early to tell and we should not be talking about a resounding success. We are up against a very resourceful and determined enemy, but people in Iraq do feel safer. They've started to come out to go to their work more, to open their businesses more. Markets are more populated. As I said, I'm reluctant to talk about how big the progress is, but...

BLITZER: Because in the past there have been great expectations that have been...


BLITZER: Here's something that was also very worrisome to me, and I'm sure to you as well. The deputy prime minister of Iraq, Salam al-Zubaie, was nearly killed this week in an assassination attempt. Now, he's a high-ranking Iraqi Sunni and it looks like it was at least in part an inside job to get this deputy prime minister. What can you tell us about this?

SUMAIDAIE: Well, again, we are familiar with that. When I was minister of interior I was subject to an assassination attempt and one of my own security details was in on it. These things happen all the time. There is infiltration. There is the lure of big money for a lot of these people and it's very hard. As I said, we are up against a very resourceful enemy.

BLITZER: What would happen if the U.S. Congress, the House and the Senate, did what the House of Representatives did this week, come up with a deadline to get all U.S. combat forces out of Iraq by the end of August 2008. What would that mean for your country?

SUMAIDAIE: Well, first, I don't expect them to do so. Secondly, if they did, they would live to regret it.


SUMAIDAIE: Because of what is inevitable after that. If we set out a date now for a complete withdrawal, you can bet your bottom dollar that the terrorists are going to be waiting for that date and attacking and launching their biggest attack on civilians and the institutions of state of Iraq.

BLITZER: You don't think the Iraqi police force and the Iraqi army, hundreds of thousands of them supposedly have been trained by the United States and other coalition forces, you don't think that within another year you'd be able to take charge?

SUMAIDAIE: Well, not quite. They are taking charge. Now they are in the front of this fight. You talk to General Petraeus. I'm in touch with him sometimes, and I know that Iraqi police force and Iraqi army units are really clocking up some major achievements. Last week we had the arrest of a major terrorist in Basra. Another one in Mosul.

BLITZER: But for every one of those guys who's arrested, there seem to be a hundred waiting in the wings who are ready to take their place.

SUMAIDAIE: That is true, but with the pressure in Baghdad, with the pressure on the terrorists in al Anbar, with the collaboration of the tribes and the local people, with pressure in Mosul on them, with pressure in Diyala -- there is a new deployment in Diyala -- they are really feeling the pinch.

BLITZER: Here's are very disturbing numbers -- and I'm sure they're disturbing to you as well -- in that ABC News/USA Today poll of Iraqis, not of Americans, of Iraqis. The question was asked, what kind of role is the United States playing in Iraq right now?

Twelve percent said positive, 77 percent said negative, 11 percent were neutral. Here's another question they asked. Your own life, is it going well right now? Back in February 2004, 70 percent said yes. Right now, it's only down to 39 percent.

SUMAIDAIE: It's understandable.

BLITZER: But these numbers, after all the United States has done for Iraq over these four years, more than 3,000 killed, 25,000 wounded, hundreds of billions of dollars spent. An overwhelming majority of the Iraqis think the United States is playing a negative role in your country. SUMAIDAIE: Well, let me explain that. First of all, we appreciate the sacrifices that the United States has done. However, everybody admits, even people in this city, that the situation was not handled well in the beginning, which allowed matters to deteriorate, which resulted in turning the lives of ordinary Iraqis into hell.

This, the responsibility for that, is basically on the terrorists, yes, but the United States also bears some responsibility for the handling of that. Now we are in this together. We've got to come out of it together.

BLITZER: Unfortunately, the attitudes in Iraq, the mood right now not good, but let's hope that there can be some positive -- given the enormous sacrifice that everybody has made. We'll just leave it on that note that hopefully something positive can come out of it.

SUMAIDAIE: Wolf, there has to be. If you talk to the political leadership in Iraq, they understand what's involved and they understand the importance of the continued involvement of the United States in this.

Now, there are people who are against the war. There are people against being there. But to them I say, I am also against the war, but get al Qaida to stop attacking us and get al Qaida to say they will not attack the United States. They will not.

And as long as we are and our civilians and your civilians are in danger, we have to keep going until we defeat them.

BLITZER: Samir Sumaidaie is Iraq's ambassador to the United States. Thanks for coming in.

SUMAIDAIE: Thank you very much, Wolf.

BLITZER: Good luck to you, and good luck to all the Iraqi people.

Still ahead here on "Late Edition," the politics of war as the White House and the Congress clash over war funning and troop deadlines. Which side will the American public choose? Our political panel standing by for that.

The race for the White House heating up, some shocking twists and turns this past week. We'll be right back.


BLITZER: Much more "Late Edition" coming up right at the top of the hour. Among other things, comedian Bill Maher. He's got some sharp words for politicians on both sides of the aisle. Plus, our political panel and John Bolton, the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. He's always outspoken. Much more "Late Edition" right after this.


BLITZER: This is "Late Edition," the last word in Sunday talk.


JOHN BOLTON, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO U.N.: The only thing that will stop Iran from getting nuclear weapons is regime change in Tehran.


BLITZER: He's always outspoken. Former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton speaks out about U.S. policy in the world's hotspots.


EDWARDS: It doesn't matter what's happening in the campaign. If she needs me -- if she's not with me, which she will be most of the time, I'll be there.


BLITZER: And from a personal crisis gone public on the campaign trail to the showdown between the White House and Congress over Iraq and fired U.S. attorneys. Insight on the week's hot political stories from Democratic strategist Donna Brazile, former Republican Party chairman Ed Gillespie, and CNN's Dana Bash.


BILL MAHER, COMEDIAN: I think Hillary Clinton should run in 2008 on a platform of restoring honor and integrity to the White House.


BLITZER: Comic and TV host Bill Maher takes on both sides of the presidential race.

ANNOUNCER: Live from CNN in Washington, this is "Late Edition" with Wolf Blitzer.

BLITZER: Welcome back. We'll get to my interview with the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton, in just a moment. First, let's check in with Fredricka Whitfield for a quick look at what's in the news right now.

Hi, Fred.


BLITZER: Thanks very much, Fred.

Iran is facing some new and tougher sanctions from the United Nations Security Council for refusing to suspend its uranium enrichment program. But are the new penalties enough to change its stance? Just a short while ago, I spoke about that and a lot more with the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Ambassador Bolton, thanks very much for coming in.

BOLTON: Glad to be here.

BLITZER: Let's get your reaction to this unanimously approved United Nations Security Council Resolution 1747. Among other things, it prohibits nuclear materials trade with Iran. It freezes assets of Iranians associated with nuclear programs, embargoes on some Iranian weapons exports. And there is a 60-day review, and if they don't comply within 60 days, presumably more steps will be taken.

What is your sense? Is this going to convince Iran to suspend its uranium enrichment?

BOLTON: Not at all. This is a marginal step forward. It is a useful resolution to have. But I think Iran has made it clear they are going to continue to pursue their 20-year-long effort to get nuclear weapons.

I think they have shown their determination to resist the Security Council. There is no sign that these resolutions are making them back away from that.

BLITZER: Here is what the president of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, said on Friday: "Maybe they thought with the propaganda we would back down. But we have not backed down. And we will not back down."

Strong words. What should the U.S. and the international community be doing right now to try to change Iran's stance on its nuclear program?

BOLTON: We need to accelerate a lot of things that are already under way: keeping Iran out of international financial markets more fully, denying them materials and technology they need to complete their effort to gain mastery over the nuclear fuel cycle.

But I think ultimately the only think that will stop Iran from getting nuclear weapons is regime change in Tehran. This regime has shown zero evidence that it has changed its strategic decision. And to date the pressure that has been applied to them has not moved them an inch.

BLITZER: Well, we hear the words "regime change." How do you do that?

BOLTON: I think that the best way to do it is to have popular discontent in Iran, which is substantial, well up to the point where the regime is overthrown. I don't think that is going to be easy. I don't think it will happen in the short term.

But we have historical evidence that it is at a time of regime change that governments decide not to pursue nuclear weapons. The case of South Africa after Apartheid is one example; there are others as well.

BLITZER: Well, let's talk specifically about regime change. What should the United States be doing, from your perspective, to encourage a popular uprising, if you will, against the regime in Tehran?

BOLTON: I'm not so sure it is what we can do to encourage the popular uprising, although I think we should be supporting the Iranian diaspora, using the Iranian-American community, a very strong community that knows what life is like in Iran, and basically making it clear that there are alternatives to the Iranian people.

There is already ethnic discontent. The people are dissatisfied with the Iranian government's mismanagement of its economy. And they are a sophisticated, educated people. They know there is an alternative life for them other than the one they have been living under this government.

BLITZER: Here is what you told -- what you are quoted by the Associated Press as saying on Wednesday: "I believe that ultimately the only real prospect of getting Iran to give up nuclear weapons is to change the regime. If the alternative is a nuclear Iran, as unpleasant as the use of military force would be, I think the prospect of a nuclear Iran is worse."

So I want to be specific. What is the U.S. military option, if any, as far as regime change in Iran?

BOLTON: I don't think the military option really applies to regime change. I think that is something that we want to see Iranians themselves do. And as I have indicated, I think there is reason to think that can happen -- not overnight and not without some difficulty, but it can happen.

The military option is really a last resort if it looks like Iran really will get complete domestic mastery over the nuclear fuel cycle and is moving toward a weapons capability.

I don't advocate it at all early or first, but I do think that faced with the prospect of a regime such as Ahmadinejad's with the capability to inflict nuclear devastation on friends and allies of us and to give these weapons to terrorist groups that could even bring them to this country, that the military option has to be there.

BLITZER: Well, how much time is there before the Iranians master that nuclear weapons capability?

BOLTON: I don't think we know for sure. I think the estimates differ and they are based on good faith assumptions about when Iran will solve various technological difficulties. I think that given we know intelligence can be wrong in a lot of different directions, we have to look at that military option very seriously in short order.

BLITZER: Most of the experts I have spoken to say U.S. intelligence on what is actually happening in Iran right now is not necessarily all that good. BOLTON: I don't think it is as accurate as we would like it. That is, of course, a larger subject of what is wrong with our intelligence collection capabilities. But I think we know enough about what Iran has been doing for 20 years to get to this point that we can draw the conclusion that they are making progress, they have had technological difficulties.

They have four years of negotiations with the European Union to overcome many of these difficulties. And that is why time is not on our side in this matter.

BLITZER: I have heard various estimates, from one year, two years, to as long as 10 years, before they have that capability. What is your assessment?

BOLTON: I think these estimates are based on assumptions about when Iran achieves certain stages of technological competence. And as I say, they can be conducted in good faith. But a few quick breakthroughs and Iran could be there a lot more -- a lot earlier than some people think.

So I don't want to calibrate that they are three years away or five years away. They are driving towards a nuclear weapons capability and for our own safety's sake, we need to stop them.

BLITZER: What is your assessment of the Iranian decision to pick up these 15 British marines in the northern Persian Gulf?

BOLTON: Well, there is obviously a lot there we don't know. It may simply have been a target of opportunity. But it looks to me, given that the Revolutionary Guards were involved in it, that this is a conscious decision by the government in Tehran to prod coalition forces in Iraq, possibly in response to the resolution, possibly picking on the British because they think the Europeans are the weak link in this effort.

I think this did not happen by accident. We should not take it lightly. And I think it is related to Iran's overall more aggressive stance in the region.

BLITZER: Do you believe Iran is directly or even indirectly involved in the killing of Americans in Iraq?

BOLTON: I have absolutely no doubt about it. This is a target of opportunity for the Iranians. It is consistent with their support for terrorism, their funding of Hezbollah and Hamas, and their generally more active attitude around the region.

I think they like having us as a target in Iraq. And I think they have clearly taken advantage of it.

BLITZER: So what should the U.S. be doing about this?

BOLTON: Well, I think the president has got a very aggressive strategy in response. And I think the Iranians need to know that we will pursue their agents, their military, their intelligence people inside Iraq and that the president has full constitutional authority, whether it is through the doctrine of hot pursuit or whatever else he needs to do, to protect Americans from Iranian attacks.

BLITZER: The Iraq situation, from your assessment four years into this war, is what?

BOLTON: I think there are analytically two questions that you have to ask about Iraq. The first is, should we have overthrown Saddam Hussein? I think the answer to that, based on all we know now, remains unquestionably yes. That was the right thing to do.

BLITZER: Even though he didn't have stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction?

BOLTON: He himself and his regime were the threat to international peace and security. The president never made the argument that he constituted an imminent threat. It was the existence of the regime that was the threat. And that is why it was right to overthrow it.

BLITZER: But the president, with all due respect, and the secretary of state, when he went to the U.N. Security Council, they gave the impression there was an imminent threat from Saddam Hussein.

BOLTON: No, sir.

BLITZER: That he was about to use those stockpiles in an awful way.

BOLTON: No, sir. In the 2003 State of the Union message, the president took on the imminent threat argument and rejected it. He said, some have argued that the threat must be imminent, but since when have terrorists or dictators ever given advance notice of their intentions?

It was the regime that constituted the threat as large majorities of both houses of Congress had recognized in the late 1990s.

BLITZER: So even though the intelligence was wrong, and there were no stockpiles, you still think the U.S. should have gone to war against Saddam Hussein, even though many other analysts then and obviously since then, felt he was contained in a box with the no-fly zones, the sanctions, and he really wasn't causing much harm to people outside of his own country?

BOLTON: I think the decision to overthrow him was unquestionably correct. I don't think somebody like him or Ahmadinejad or Kim Jong- Il are really susceptible to classic theories of deterrence.

I think there is a second question analytically that it's fair to ask, and that is, after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, was the conduct of policy correct? And I think on that question, reasonable people can disagree.

In hindsight I'd have turned responsibility back to the Iraqis a lot earlier than we did. The question now going forward is, what is the best strategy? I think the president's surge is really the only strategy there is.

BLITZER: Let's talk about North Korea very briefly. You've disagreed with President Bush on his decision to go ahead and take these steps to try to stop the North Koreans from building their own nuclear arsenal.

And you've gone public in your disagreement. Here is what the president said in response to some of your criticisms and others. Listen to this.


BUSH: We had a breakthrough as a result of other voices in the United States saying to the North Koreans, we don't support your nuclear weapons program, and we urge you to get rid of it in a verifiable way. So the assessment made by some that this is not a good deal is flat wrong.


BLITZER: He says you're flat wrong.

BOLTON: Well, I don't disagree with the president lightly. I'm still a supporter of him. He was very loyal to me during a difficult confirmation fight. But I think you've got to tell it like it is.

And this deal does exactly what the president said in the first term he would not do, which is reward bad behavior. Now a small but telling incident, the North Koreans have walked away from the talks in Beijing.

They're trying to condition us in a Pavlovian way to urge them to come back to the table. We have started down a road here that's going to be very hard to get out of. But I do take the president at his word that if the North Koreans are not in strictest compliance with their commitments under this deal, that he will repudiate the deal and go back to doing what I think we need to do, which is further isolating that regime.

BLITZER: Basically, from your perspective, what the Bush administration is doing now is similar to what the Clinton administration did in the early '90s as far North Korea is concerned: Promise them a lot of economic assistance, energy assistance in the hopes that they'll stop their nuclear program.

BOLTON: Kim Jong-Il will never voluntarily give up his nuclear weapons. They are a clear element of his regime, a trump card against China, Japan, the United States. He will talk about giving them up. He will even commit to giving them up. He does it all of the time.

But when push comes to shove, he will never voluntarily give up those weapons. That's why the course of this deal cannot succeed for the United States.

BLITZER: John Bolton, the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, thanks for coming in. BOLTON: Thank you.


BLITZER: And coming up next, already fighting to win the White House in 2008, John Edwards reveals a more personal challenge involving his wife, Elizabeth, and her recurrence of cancer. We'll get our political panel's take on what it means for his campaign.

Then, Schwarzenegger, McCain or Giuliani? Bill Maher reveals his favorite Republican in my interview with the comic an talk-show host. And tonight, CNN's special investigations unit and Dr. Sanjay Gupta bring you the ultimate medical drama. Real-life residents on a job where almost anything can happen. That's "Grady's Anatomy," tonight, 8 p.m. Eastern, right here on CNN.

"Late Edition" will be right back.



BUSH: Congress needs to send me a clean bill that I can sign without delay. And I expect Congress to do its duty and to fund our troops.


BLITZER: President Bush reacting to the war funding bill approved by the House of Representatives this week, a bill that calls for U.S. troops, combat forces, to be out of Iraq by August of 2008. The president says the bill will be dead on arrival. Will his veto force Congress to blink?

Welcome back to "Late Edition." I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. Here to help sort out the political implications on that and a lot more, Democratic strategist and CNN contributor Donna Brazile, CNN Congressional correspondent Dana Bash and former Republican Party Chairman Ed Gillespie. Guys, thanks very much for coming in.

You think this eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation over Iraq funding between Congress, the Democrats in Congress largely, and the president, that's going to materialize, or will there be some sort of compromise before there's any delay in actually funding the troops?

DONNA BRAZILE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: I'm sure the Democrats would like to see a compromise on behalf of the president. Look, the Democrats, I believe, acted responsibly. They took the January 10th address that the president gave where he established benchmarks for the Iraqi government, and they put it in this binding resolution and said, Mr. President, we want our troops home.

Here is a timetable. We will fund the troops. We will fund the operations. This is everything General Petraeus wants. But we also would also like to see our troops come home.

BLITZER: Here's another clip of what the president said, Donna. I want you to listen to this part of what the House approved.


BUSH: These Democrats believe that the longer they can delay funding for our troops, the more likely they are to force me to accept restrictions on our commanders, an artificial timetable for withdrawal, and their pet spending projects. This is not going to happen.


BLITZER: Because there was all sorts of money included in this so-called emergency funding for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, for spinach farmers, for shrimp -- the shrimp industry, for the milk industry.

What does that say about supposedly a new environment here? The Republicans used to do the same thing. But I thought the Democrats said they were different.

BRAZILE: Well, these were priorities that many Americans thought that the Congress should have addressed in the 109th Congress, but they didn't get to it. There's also money in full disclosure for Louisiana, $1.3 billion to fully restore the levee. So while there is some sweetness, some poor, there is a good bill and the president should embrace it.

BLITZER: Go ahead, Dana. You want to weigh in?

DANA BASH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I was just going to say, that sort of speaks to some of the dynamic going on in the Democratic caucus. I and many other reporters did a lot of stories on how hard it was for Democrats to get to that 218 to actually pass this because they were divided internally about whether or not this was the right thing to do.

I cannot tell you how many times, Wolf, I got off the air doing a story like that when the phone was already ringing, somebody saying -- you know, a senior Democratic Congressman, I'll leave the name out -- saying "We're divided now but you just watch. We're going to get the votes."

They did get the votes but it was really, really difficult to do. And the big way they did it was just how you're describing, peanut storage in Georgia, things that have nothing to do with the war but it's old-fashioned politics.

BLITZER: Republicans used to do the same thing in their emergency spending so-called...

ED GILLESPIE, FORMER RNC CHAIRMAN: No, let me take exception to that, Wolf. Not when it came to funding troops in combat. This is entirely different and if you can imagine the outrage that would have taken place when we were debating the Iraq war resolution, whether or not to go to war, the administration was saying you know what, if vote for us to go to war, we'll get a bridge in your district or we'll buy some votes for pork barrel spending or for spinach farmers or shrimp farmers, that is outrageous.

I have to tell you -- and for these Democrats, many of whom ran as centrist Democrats, to give up their vote on funding for the troops and a deadline -- an artificial deadline in exchange for spinach farming money, $25 million, this is really going to hurt them. This is a vast overreach by the Democrats. It's going to backfire.

BRAZILE: Ed, if you look at the record, the Republicans are just as guilty as Democrats in adding extraneous matters to spend the bills including emergency supplemental. Look, they've added hurricane relief.

GILLESPIE: Not for funding for troops in combat.

BRAZILE: No, it has. They've done it before and this is not an opportunity for anybody.

BASH: The whole point is, this all could and it's very likely to stop when this gets to the Senate, because, as you know, the votes aren't there.

BLITZER: There's a different dynamic in the Senate. All right, let's move on, talk about Alberto Gonzales. I want to you listen to what Arlen Specter, Republican of Pennsylvania, the ranking member, the ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee said earlier today.


SEN. ARLEN SPECTER, R-PA.: We have to have an attorney general who is candid, truthful, and if we find he has not been candid and truthful, that's a very compelling reason for him not to stay on.


BLITZER: All right. Ed Gillespie, a lot of people like Alberto Gonzales, but there have been inconsistencies in what he said publicly and now with the paper trail suggesting he did privately.

GILLESPIE: Well, Wolf, if you looked, the Justice Department spokespeople said -- I saw the inconsistencies that were cited by the news media which was Attorney General Gonzales said "I wasn't involved in the back and forth and detailed discussion of which of these U.S. attorneys would be on the list or not on the list."

He didn't say he wasn't involved. He took responsibility for the ultimate decision. And the media is treating the fact that he had a meeting to discuss this as somehow contradicting...

BLITZER: A one-hour meeting only days before the seven of those federal prosecutors...

GILLESPIE: It's saying here are the ones that are on the list. That's different from than saying -- let's say that Donna comes to me and says, "You know, I think that we ought to seek the resignation of Wolf Blitzer and Dana Bash in April." And I can go, "Well, let's go back and take a look. I think Dana's record is a little better than Wolf's" and come back in May and then we go back and forth on it again.

That's now what appears to have happened here, and that is consistent with what the attorney general said.

BLITZER: Is that your reading, Donna?

BRAZILE: Oh, absolutely not. When the attorney general initially said this was an overblown personnel matter and then the story shifted again, the problem is that he's lost all credibility. He told Congress one thing and now he told the American people -- I think it's important that he goes to Capitol Hill and gives us the complete story under oath with a transcript like the other officials.

BASH: And that's the word, the C-word. That is the word, Wolf, that you hear from so many Republicans. We've talked to probably almost every Republican in the Senate about this and credibility and the concern about his credibility comes up over and over and over, even from people who are saying, "You know, we're nowhere near the point of where we think of Alberto Gonzales should step down." There's a lot of concern among the Republicans.

BLITZER: The Democrats, they really want Karl Rove, the president's top political adviser, to come before the committee, the Judiciary Committee in the House and the Senate, and testify under oath, publicly, with transcripts. They're really anxious for that to happen. But the sense I'm getting is the White House is not going to let that happen.

BASH: No, absolutely. And, you know, you had this panel on of lawyers talking about the legal realities, the precedent in terms of the law, but the bottom line is this is probably going to play out not on whether executive privilege should stand or whether there is precedent for White House aides coming up. It's going to be based on the political realities.

BLITZER: Because you know the public out there, they say if the president and his advisers have nothing to hide, what are they afraid of going up to the Hill and talking?

GILLESPIE: They're not afraid of anything. They're not afraid of anything. That's why they have volunteered to have Karl Rove and Harriet Miers and others come up and talk. And the attorney general, it was just revealed today, is coming up to testify before the committee. Kyle Sampson, the chief of staff who resigned, is coming up to talk before the committee. That's all fine. This is all...

BLITZER: But have you ever heard of a conversation without a transcript involving the Congress?

GILLESPIE: There would be plenty of folks in that room taking notes, Wolf. The fact is what Dana is talking about, what the Democrats want is everybody get your rod and reel and let's go fishing here. And that's ridiculous.

Let's remember what the story here is. After the 2004 reelection, there was a review of all political appointees including cabinet agency officials, and Andy Card came in and said "Maybe you should replace me as chief of staff." The attorney general of the United States and other cabinet officials stepped down after that reelection and there was a review of all of the political appointees.

U.S. attorneys are political appointees. There was a discussion of whether or not they should do what Clinton did, which was get rid of all 93 after that. And they said, "No, that would be disruptive and they are own appointees. That wouldn't make sense. But let's go through and look at them."

They did that, they came up with a process. They found these seven, especially where they said we have concerns about performance, which doesn't mean that these guys were asleep at the switch. Performance means a lot of things when it comes to U.S. attorneys.

BLITZER: I want to take a break but very quickly, will there be a compromise on whether or not Karl Rove, Harriet Miers, other White House officials will be allowed to testify under oath publicly?

BRAZILE: If you listen to Senator Leahy this week, absolutely not. They want Karl Rove before the committee, under oath and with a transcript.

BLITZER: All right, guys. Stand by because we have a lot more to talk about with our political panel, including a new controversy involving the top Democratic presidential candidates, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.

But up next, a quick check of what's in the news right now including more on those 15 British marines being detained by Iran.

"Late Edition" will be right back.



BLITZER: Welcome back to "Late Edition." I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. We're talking politics with Democratic strategist Donna Brazile, former Republican Party Chairman Ed Gillespie and CNN Congressional correspondent Dana Bash.

We'll get back to that conversation in a moment. But first, let's map out where some of the presidential candidates are heading on the campaign trail. Senator John McCain is attending a fund raiser tonight in Austin, Texas. Congressman Duncan Hunter pays a visit to New Hampshire tomorrow. Senator Sam Brownback will be attending receptions in Iowa tomorrow.

Congressman Dennis Kucinich is the guest speaker tonight at a dinner in Albany, New York. Senator Hillary Clinton will be in Iowa Monday, where she's expected to get the endorsement of former Governor Tom Vilsack, while former Senator John Edwards will be campaigning in San Francisco on Monday.

We're going to talk more politics coming up. Let's talk first about John Edwards, Elizabeth Edwards. A very dramatic moment this week when all of us learned, together with the American public, the world, that Elizabeth Edwards has a recurrence of her cancer, her breast cancer, now spreading to her bones. I want you to listen to what her husband, the Democratic presidential candidate, said.


EDWARDS: We know from our previous experience that when this happens, you have a choice. You can go cower in the corner and hide, or you can be tough and stand up for what you believe in.


BLITZER: What do you think? Because I keep hearing different reactions from people out there just average people. Some say they're doing the right thing by continuing the campaign. Others saying, you know, he really should be devoting his energies now to his wife full- time because this is a really serious problem she has to endure. What do you think?

BRAZILE: There are millions of cancer survivors out in this country today, and they are applauding the decision by the Edwardses to keep going. Life goes on.

It's a tough call, no question about it, because when voters look at campaigns and candidates, you know, they want to know a little bit about the candidate and the spouse, and Elizabeth Edwards has been a tremendous asset to her husband's campaign. But this was a tough call, but life goes on, and he's decided to move forward.

BLITZER: Ed, what do you think?

GILLESPIE: Wolf, that's a decision for John Edwards and Elizabeth Edwards to make with their doctor. And no one, I don't think, frankly, has a right to second-guess it, and Democrats and Republicans alike have Elizabeth Edwards in our prayers today.

BLITZER: I think you're right.

BASH: One thing I noticed in John Edwards's speech yesterday in Nevada, it was all about health care. And he made a point of bringing up the fact that obviously he is lucky in that he can deal with his wife's illness and has health care. And he wove it into his speech about health-care insurance and about the need for it on a campaign trail.

And I asked one of his top advisers this morning, I said, is there a little bit of concern about going too far there, because, you know, you don't want to look like you're potentially, you know, taking any political advantage. And you know, he said, look, we have been doing this from the beginning, that John Edwards has been talking about his wife, talking about her illness and relating it to the campaign.

But, you know, that is something that people are -- there is going to be a spotlight on this from now on, certainly. And there is going to be a fine line that John Edwards and Elizabeth Edwards are going to walk.

BLITZER: There was another moment on Capitol Hill, Ed, involving the former Vice President Al Gore coming back to testify on global warming. And as fascinating as all that was, there was this exchange involving Barbara Boxer, who had the gavel in her hand, and James Inhofe, who is a critic of Gore and a skeptic on the whole issue of global warming. Listen to this exchange.


SEN. JAMES M. INHOFE, R-OKLA.: Why don't we do this. At the end, you can have as much time as you want to answer all of the questions.

SEN. BARBARA BOXER, D-CALIF.: No, that isn't the rule. You're not making the rules. You used to when you did this. You don't do this anymore. Elections have consequences.



BLITZER: She said elections have consequences. It was a pretty dramatic moment there. What was your take on that?

GILLESPIE: Well, my take on it, I have to tell you I was surprised because they wouldn't allow Senator Inhofe to pursue a line of questioning without a series of yes or no questions for Senator Gore, and he kept going on and on and on, as is his want, and I think Senator Inhofe had a right as a senator on the panel of equal standing, even though he's not the chairman obviously, to be able to ask a series of questions in a limited amount of time.

One of the things that was a little disconcerting, I think increasingly disconcerting in this debate, is the extent to which there doesn't seem to be allowed to be debate. And if you question whether or not global warming is a phenomenon or man-made phenomenon or what the impact of it is, it's almost as if you're shouted down. And I think we saw that in the hearing.

BLITZER: Donna, as a former campaign manager for Al Gore, what was your take about his return generally to Washington?

BRAZILE: Well, not only did they roll out the green carpet, but I thought Al Gore conducted himself very well. He could answer just about any question put to him. I think he did a superb job in breaking down this very complicated subject, and almost in layperson term, talked about the dangers, and I think reignited this campaign that he's launching now, which is the only campaign I now believe Al Gore is embarked upon.

BLITZER: You don't think he's going to run?

BRAZILE: You know, I didn't get that sense. I had an opportunity to see Al Gore this week, and Tipper. They are fabulous. They are doing very well. He is so happy right now that I almost would hate to see him get back on the campaign trail because he's happy.

BLITZER: What do you think, Dana?

BASH: Well, you know, one thing that I was thinking about, I could not get out of my mind the image of sitting in the House chamber in 2000 watching Al Gore, then-Vice President Al Gore, having to certify the 2000 election for George W. Bush. And that was the last time we saw him on the Hill.

And what a difference seven years makes, I guess 6 1/2 years makes, for him coming back completely different. Essentially back to the future for Al Gore, talking about what he had been talking about on Capitol Hill when he was a member of Congress, and at that point nobody was really listening to him.

BLITZER: Guys, we're going to leave it there because we're out of time. But a serious, good discussion. I want to thank all three of you for coming in. And don't forget Donna Brazile and Dana Bash, they are part of the best political team on television. That's right here, not only on "Late Edition," but on CNN.

Coming up next, the comedian Bill Maher pulling no punches on President Bush, Democrats in Congress, the controversy over those fired federal attorneys.

"Late Edition" will continue right after this.


BLITZER: It's always good to get an outside-the-Beltway perspective to help us better understand what's happening right here in Washington. For that, I turn to a keen-eyed comic and social critic. That would be Bill Maher, the host of HBO's "Real Time With Bill Maher."


MAHER: There are so many things about this that amaze me.

First of all, I was saying on my show the other night that we have been on the air for this season five weeks. In three of those weeks, there's been a major Bush scandal: Scooter Libby, Walter Reed, and, of course, now this U.S. attorneys thing.

What amazed me about it, Wolf, is that this was something that was written into the Patriot Act, that they could replace these attorneys and not have to consult with the Senate.

BLITZER: It was sort of slipped in.

MAHER: And how long has...

BLITZER: It was sort of slipped in.

MAHER: Right. And, you know, I understand that the Patriot Act, and then the "Patriot Act II: The Search for Curly's Gold," were not read. You know, that's the joke in Washington, that nobody read them. I understand, OK, nobody read them right after they were written, because, oh, it was after 9/11, and we didn't have time. We just had to rush through this legislation.

How come, at this late date, no one still has read them? BLITZER: They're very, very long documents.


MAHER: I know, but you would think a lawmaker, Wolf, that's their job, to maybe go through -- you know, just when they are getting on a long plane ride, like a screenplay: "Hey, take this and read it on your way to Japan."

BLITZER: Have you...

MAHER: No, none of that.

BLITZER: ... seen a change on the part of the Democrats? They won back in November. They are the majority in the House and the Senate. They now have subpoena power, oversight power. They can do things now they couldn't do during the first six years of the Bush presidency.

MAHER: Well, when are they going to start doing them?

BLITZER: Are you suggesting they haven't shown the spine yet, the guts that you would like to see?

MAHER: Right. They don't raise the bet, you know? Cut off the funding. That's what -- or at least vote for that. That's what the Congress is supposed to do, control the purse strings.

When the Republicans cut off funding, like, their famous starve the beast theory with government, no one complains about that. Cut off the funding, and put the onus on Bush, so that if the troops don't get what they need, that's because that money is there to bring them home.

BLITZER: Let me switch gears, because we have a limited amount of time. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, what do you make of this duel among the Democrats?

MAHER: Well, I think it's good for the viewer.


MAHER: It's interesting. It will put the presidential race perhaps on the cover of People magazine, and then people would follow it.

I think Hillary Clinton should run in 2008 on a platform of restoring honor and integrity to the White House. BLITZER: It reminds a lot of our viewers of what Bush ran on in 2000; is that what you are suggesting?

MAHER: That is exactly what I'm saying, Wolf.

BLITZER: Because I remember that phrase.

You think Al Gore is going to jump in?

MAHER: I think Al Gore will jump in if he smells blood in the water. I don't think he's going to do it any time soon. I think, if he sees a situation sort of similar to what's going on in the Republican Party, where folks are dissatisfied with the choices, I think, then, he will. I think he still wants to be president. I don't think you ever lose that yen. And I think he still could be a good president.

But it's a crowded field. And I think, if Hillary or Obama falters, I think you have other candidates, even before Al Gore, who would rise to the top. I think John Edwards is probably the dark horse in this race. I think he could win this thing by being everybody's second favorite choice.

BLITZER: Let me pick your brain. You are out in California. Arnold Schwarzenegger, he seems to be -- he won decisively his reelection. He was here in "The Situation Room" last week. He's pretty popular out there.

How do you explain this?

MAHER: Well, I think he's a pretty good politician, for one.

He understands that you can reverse yourself and avoid the term flip-flopper, which is applied to people who sometimes reverse themselves in politics. I think he looks at President Bush and, says: "Oh, well, Mr. Resolute, look where that got him." He's really just seen as stubborn and willful and arrogant. So, Schwarzenegger has not been afraid to switch gears.

And the other thing he does, I think, is that he's out front of where the federal government is on many issues, like the environment, like stem cell research.

He's saying: "California is a giant state. It's almost its own country." If it was a country, I think it would have the seventh largest economy in the world. And he puts the federal government to shame by doing things that they should be doing.

BLITZER: Is he your favorite Republican?

MAHER: He's one of them, yes.

BLITZER: Who else do you like?

(CROSSTALK) MAHER: I would say -- well, I used to like John McCain a lot more. But I think what we have to look for, most importantly, in the next president is smart.

I think, if you polled the people in this country, they would say, "Well, we had a big experiment here the last eight years, the last six years, with George Bush. We thought, well, maybe we can get away with a president who wasn't that bright. Well, look how that turned experiment turned out."

I want a very bright man in the White House next time. John McCain supports the idea that more troops is the answer in Iraq. To me, that's just dumb. It's just not bright. So, he's out -- not my favorite anymore.

BLITZER: A final thought on Rudy Giuliani?

MAHER: Rudy Giuliani, you know, his reputation rests largely on the fact that he was so great on 9/11. And he was very inspiring on 9/11.

But I think what folks forget is that the reason why there were so many great pictures of him running around town that day is because the command-and-control center was put, by him, in the World Trade Center, which was attacked in 1993. He put the command-and-control center in the one place he shouldn't have.

So, his big decision on terrorism turned out to be quite a bust. So, him, smart? Sorry. Can't give him that either.

BLITZER: "Real Time With Bill Maher" airs on our sister network HBO Friday nights, 11:00 p.m. Eastern.

Bill, thanks for coming in.

MAHER: Wolf, always a pleasure.


BLITZER: No political sacred cows when it comes to Bill Maher.

Still ahead, "In Case You Missed It," highlights from the other Sunday morning talk shows here in the United States.

"Late Edition" will be right back.


BLITZER: Let's take a look at what's on the cover of this week's major news magazines here in the United States. Newsweek features "The Voices of the Fallen." And Time magazine looks at why we should teach the Bible in public schools. U.S. News and World Report was a double issue last week.

Up next, in case you missed it, "Late Edition's" Sunday morning talk-show roundup. And if you missed any of our show today, you can always download a video podcast of the entire two hours. Just go to Click on the link for "Late Edition."

Coming up at the top of the hour, "This Week at War" looks at the chilling new insurgent tactics, including children, new pressure on Iran, and the political tussle over the war funding bill and troop deadlines.


BLITZER: And now in case you missed it, let's check some of the highlights from the other Sunday morning talk shows here in the United States. On NBC, CBS and Fox, the main topic was the Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and where the investigation into the firing of those eight federal prosecutors is heading.


SEN. ARLEN SPECTER, R-PA.: I think Attorney General Gonzales' testimony will be a make-or-break situation for him. There are a lot of questions to be answered. Beyond credibility. There's no doubt that what has happened has had a very chilling effect on the United States attorneys across the country.



SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN, D-CALIF.: I think the day of the dual- hatted attorney general should be over. Attorney General Gonzales has had the view that he serves two masters, that he serves the president and that he serves as a chief law enforcement officer. He serves one master, and that's the people of this country.

I think the nation is not well-served by this. I think we need to get at the bottom of why these resignations were made, who ordered them and what the strategy was.



LEAHY: The American people ought to know what happened here. I would take the same position whether it was a Democratic administration or Republican administration.

If you destroy the integrity of the prosecutorial system, you hurt everybody all the way down to the cop on the beat because the investigators are going to ask, well, should I really look at this case? Is it politically allowable to go after this person because they're Republican or this person because they're a Democrat? You can't have that. Justice has to be blind.


BLITZER: On ABC, Republican Senator Chuck Hagel said that the war in Iraq is taking a serious toll on the U.S. military.


SEN. CHUCK HAGEL, R-NEB.: What we are doing to our force structure in this country is disastrous. We essentially are ruining our National Guard. We are destroying our Army. We're destroying our Marine Corps.

We can't sustain this kind of not only deployment but training tempo. And the consequences of that, you're seeing at Walter Reed Hospital, for example, and the consequences of that, for example, dumbing down your United States Army. We are now in a situation where we're waiving criminal records, drug-abuse records to entice people to join the Army.


BLITZER: Highlights from the other Sunday morning talk shows here on "Late Edition," the last word in Sunday talk. And that is your "Late Edition" for this Sunday, March 25th. Please be sure to join us again next Sunday and every Sunday at 11 a.m. Eastern for the last word in Sunday talk.

Remember also, I'm in "The Situation Room" Monday through Friday, 4 to 6 p.m. Eastern, another hour at 7 p.m. Eastern. Until then, thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.

For our North American viewers, "This Week at War" with John Roberts is next. John?