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The Situation Room

Bush Delivers Mission Statement About Troops in Iraq; Democrats Show Support For New Orleans; Cunningham Admits To Taking Bribes; Mark Warner Commutes Death Sentence

Aired November 29, 2005 - 16:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM, where new pictures and information from around the world are arriving all the time.
Happening now, dire warnings against a quick pull-out from Iraq. President Bush delivers a mission statement about the troops and about the terrorists. Will he fill in any more blanks when he gives his big speech on Iraq tomorrow?

Also this hour, corruption and controversy right here in Washington. The president blasted a former Congressman who admits to taking bribes.

And in the CIA leak case, does Karl Rove have new reason to be hopeful?

Plus, capital punishment politics. Two high-profile governors on the brink of life and death decisions, and their choices more complicated after almost 30 years and 999 executions in this country.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Just a short while ago, a very vivid reminder of the anti-war sentiment that's dogging President Bush. In Denver, dozens of protesters chanted "Impeach Bush" outside the site of fundraiser and they swarmed around buses carrying journalists traveling with the president.

But Mr. Bush is sticking to his guns on Iraq, declaring it would be a terrible mistake to yank U.S. troops from the area right now. It was a warm-up before he formally lays out his Iraq strategy for many wary Americans tomorrow.

Here's part of what the president had to say to reporters in Denver.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm interested in winning. I want to defeat the terrorists. And I want our troops to come home. But I don't want them to come home without having achieved victory. And we've got a strategy for victory.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BLITZER: Let's go straight to our White House correspondent Dana Bash. She's standing by over at the White House. What is the strategy -- for the president was saying today, Dana, and what he's planning on doing tomorrow?

DANA BASH, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, you know, we have reported on and watched the president give several speeches, some primetime. some in various locations and venues, many before troops, with the goal of turning around public support when it comes to Iraq. And if you look at the polls, so far, it's pretty clear no one here would argue with the fact it hasn't really worked.

So what the White House insists we will see tomorrow at Annapolis is the president giving more details than he has before in trying to -- how the U.S. expects to get to that victory that the president talked about. And he will focus on Iraqis and how they are stabilizing their country, specifically about security.

Perhaps we'll even hear the president admit that the U.S. didn't have it right in terms of how they were training Iraqi security forces at the beginning. But he will tout in specific detail how they're doing at this point.


NICOLLE WALLACE, WHITE HOUSE COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: Currently, 120 battalions of Iraqi security forces are on the ground in Iraq. Forty of them are leading missions. And once the conditions are met for Iraqis to secure their fledgling democracy, the American troops will come home.


BASH: American troops will come home. You just heard that from Nicolle Wallace. That, obviously, is the underlying theme here. The president will not explicitly say that, and he will actually outright reject, as we heard him say today, a specific timetable for withdrawing troops.

But by talking specifically about the Iraqis, how they are stabilizing their country, that is what the president will be trying to imply, that the U.S. troops can possibly -- if this trend continues, that he's going to lay out, possibly start to come home and, certainly, we've heard from the Pentagon that there are plans in place, conditions-based plans -- we hear that from the Pentagon and the White House -- for that to happen.

And one more thing, Wolf. The White House understands what Americans want to hear is that there is a plan. So we're going to see them declassify something that they say is a plan that has been in place for a couple of years, to lay out short-term, medium-term and long-term goals for getting to that point of victory that they say they can get to in Iraq.

BLITZER: All right, Dana, thanks very much. Dana Bash reporting for us from the White House. The Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld providing reinforcements for what the president is saying. Rumsfeld told reporters today that the strategy in Iraq is working and the United States should stick to it or suffer the consequences in Iraq.


DONALD RUMSFELD, DEFENSE SECRETARY: Quitting is not an exit strategy. It would be a formula for putting the American people at still greater risk. It would be an invitation for more terrorist violence. Indeed, the more the enemies make it sound as though the United States is going to quit, the more encouraged they will be.


BLITZER: Two more U.S. soldiers were killed near Baghdad today when their patrol struck a roadside bomb. That brings the total death toll for American troops in Iraq to 2,110.

Does the president's defense of Iraq policy square with his early justification for an invasion? We'll listen to the president then and now making the case for war then, making the case for the continued military operation in Iraq right now. We'll have a special report on that coming up in the 7:00 p.m. Eastern hour of THE SITUATION ROOM.

And in the next hour here, I'll speak live with Senate Democrat Joe Lieberman. He's just back from Iraq. He's essentially strongly backing up what the president is saying. And I'll ask him why he's doing that.

The president isn't mincing any words today about his fellow Republican who pleaded guilty to accepting millions of dollars in bribes, the now former Congressman Randy "Duke" Cunningham.


BUSH: The idea of a congressman taking money is outrageous. And Congressman Cunningham is going to realize that he has broken the law and going to pay a serious price, which he should.


BLITZER: On this day after Cunningham's tearful admission and resignation, we'll see how his crimes compare to crooked congressmen of the past. That's coming up here in THE SITUATION ROOM, as well. Bruce Morton has been investigating.

While Mr. Bush has been railing corruption, his chief political strategist remains under investigation in the CIA leak case. "The Washington Post" reports today that a second "Time" magazine reporter scheduled to testify in the probe could be crucial to Rove's efforts to avoid indictment.

Let's bring in our senior legal analyst, Jeff Toobin, for some analysis. Viveca Novak, the "Time" magazine reporter scheduled to give a deposition in the coming days. "The Washington Post" suggesting this potentially is good news for Karl Rove. She could back up some of his statements to the prosecutor. What do you make of this, Jeff?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SR. LEGAL ANALYST: Well, Wolf, I have to say, I'm very skeptical of that story. What's remarkable about the story is that it does not say at all how Viveca Novak's testimony would back up Rove's version of events in any way. It's just simply an assertion.

And if you know the law about grand juries, prosecutors are never obligated to present exculpatory evidence -- that is, evidence that helps the defense to the grand jury. So it's hard for me to believe Patrick Fitzgerald would simply decide to present evidence that's helpful to Karl Rove.

I'm not saying he's going to be charged or he's committed any kind of crime. But the Viveca Novak testimony does not suggest to me that one way or the other.

BLITZER: Because in the story in "The Washington Post," it makes it sound like this is all Bob Luskin, Karl Rove's attorney, that this is his idea to get Viveca Novak before the prosecutor and to make this statement about a conversation she apparently had with the lawyer. Not with Karl Rove or any administration official, but with Karl Rove's attorney a year or so after Valerie Plame's name was made public.

TOOBIN: You're exactly right. That's what the article says. But it is hard to know how that testimony, as you say, a year after her name surfaced from Karl Rove, how that helps him. It may. This is the problem with reporting about a grand jury investigation, which is, by definition, secret. There's a lot we don't know that's going on.

The one thing we do know is that Viveca Novak is testifying before the Fitzgerald investigation and she's testifying about Karl Rove. What you can clearly conclude from that is that Rove is not out of the woods. Doesn't mean he's going to be indicted, doesn't mean he did anything wrong. But one thing's for sure is that he's still under investigation and that can't be good.

BLITZER: I'm intrigued by this decision by the prosecutor to ask her to testify under oath, offer this deposition about a conversation she had not with one of the principles, not with an administration source or an administration official, but with an attorney representing someone in the administration. How unusual is that to ask a journalist to testify about a conversation with a lawyer?

TOOBIN: It's very unusual. It's unusual even in the context of an investigation that is about, in some respects, conversations between administration officials and journalists. You know, as we all know, this has been a big point of contention throughout the case, whether journalists will waive their confidentiality agreements with sources. Judith Miller of "The New York Times" went to jail, Matt Cooper of "Time" magazine almost went to jail.

Here it's even more peculiar because you have, essentially, a conversation at one removed from a principle. You have a conversation with a lawyer. It's very unusual that that would be something that a prosecutor's interested in, but it is something that he is interested in. And Viveca Novak and her lawyers have agreed to provide the information.

BLITZER: One quick little additional nugget in that "Washington Post" article, suggesting that Viveca Novak, the reporter for "TIME Magazine" was a quote, "friend of Bob Luskin, the attorney representing Karl Rove. That adds of this other element, are friends being called in to testify?

TOOBIN: Well, as many people know, Washington is sometimes a very small town. You have people who know each other for a long time, journalists and sources. That's what's at the heart of this investigation.

People having personal relationships. I mean, there's nothing inappropriate about it. It's just sort of part of life where everybody works in the same city, in the same business for a long time. But it is certainly a complicating factor here. When this case goes to trial, we can expect to hear a lot about the personal relationships between sources and journalists.

BLITZER: It's a very complicated business indeed. Thanks very much, Jeff Toobin for that analysis.

Let's go back to New York. Jack Cafferty is standing by. He's got a question for this hour, as well. It is complicated, journalists being asked to testify about conversations with lawyers, as opposed to administration officials.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, it is. And I just listened to that whole thing and my eyes began to glaze over. I don't know how you feel about it. But it's like, this thing is becoming so complicated, that eventually the general public is going to cease to care. What do you think?

BLITZER: You may be right.

CAFFERTY: Or I may be wrong, which has been known to be the case also.

BLITZER: I think a lot will depend on what the special prosecutor decides to do.

CAFFERTY: Yes, and remember his record in Chicago. It's a stunning story, if I recall. Fitzgerald started out after some, I don't know, mass transit foreman or sanitation guy, or some city worker in Chicago.

The end of his investigation, he'd gotten 67 indictments, reached all the way up to like the mayor's office, and 66 of those resulted in convictions. So he is a determined pedantic, never-say-die kind of guy. And I wouldn't want him on my trail.

BLITZER: That's an excellent point.

CAFFERTY: Now, onto the fact that sanity, Wolf, may be threatening to make a comeback this Christmas season. The tree on the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol will once again be called the Capitol Christmas Tree, at the request of the Speaker of the House, Dennis Hastert.

That's what it was called from 1964, the first year it went up, until a few years ago. But in the late 1990s, when the insanity of political correctness began to run amuck in this country, it suddenly became known as the holiday tree.

Last week, Boston's Web site called a giant tree on the Boston Common a holiday tree. After complaints from Christian groups, they removed the reference. And last year, California governor Schwarzenegger called the tree in Sacramento at the state capitol, a Christmas tree. The previous governor had called it, you guessed it, a holiday tree.

We have lost our collective minds. And in the process, destroyed some traditions that a lot of people hold very dear. Put a tree in your house, or put it on your lawn, or put it wherever, and call it whatever you want. But stay the hell out of my Christmas.

Here's the question: should Christmas trees be called something else? You can e-mail us at I got a little carried away, I'm sorry.

BLITZER: But it's a good question. Thanks very much, Jack.

Coming up, remembering New Orleans. In the eye of the storm. It's been three months since Hurricane Katrina hit. Are residents who returned still angry and frustrated?

Also ahead, running with or running away from the president? We'll check in on the president's campaign travels and whether he's of much help to his fellow Republicans.

And later, Arnold Schwarzenegger isn't the first and he won't be the last governor to agonize over a death sentence. Does he really have any good options in this particular case? You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Welcome back to THE SITUATION ROOM. Let's go to the CNN Center in Atlanta. Our Betty Nguyen is standing by with a closer look at other stories making news. Hi, Betty.

BETTY NGUYEN, CNN ANCHOR: Hi there, Wolf. Former President Bill Clinton gives Sri Lanka high marks for its reconstruction efforts in the wake of last December's deadly South Asian tsunami. Clinton is on his third tour of the island nation, where he met with Sri Lankan leaders. Now he traveled today to the coastal northeast, which was hit hard by the giant sea surge. Clinton is scheduled to travel to Indonesia tomorrow.

In other news, three months ago, or I should say tomorrow, is the last official day of this year's Atlantic hurricane season. A lot of people excited about that. But, tell that to Tropical Storm Epsilon, which formed over the central Atlantic Ocean today.

It is 26th named storm of this record-breaking season, which produced Hurricane Katrina, as we all know. Epsilon is not expected to pose a threat to land. That is some good news there. But forecasters say they are rare, but it is still possible that we might see December storms this year. So happy holidays everybody.

Now, three months ago today, Hurricane Katrina slammed head-on into the Gulf Coast, flooding New Orleans and killing more than 1,000 people there. A top White House adviser says it is still unclear if Washington should cover the cost of improving New Orleans' levee system. Senator Mary Landrieu says she's prepared to block the Senate from its holiday break until funds are approved for flood protection in her home state.

Speaking of flood protection, that along with rebuilding efforts, and a variety of complaints all are topics at a town hall meeting held by New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin at the Sheraton on Canal Street today. Nagin told residents the city's police presence will be beefed up and lawlessness will not be tolerated. Wolf?

BLITZER: All right, Betty, thanks very much. And three months after Katrina, the Democratic party is trying to show some support for New Orleans. The DNC has decided to hold its spring meeting in New Orleans and some Democrats are even suggesting the parties seriously consider holding its 2008 presidential convention in New Orleans.

Many others though still have serious doubts whether the city would be ready for such a big event that soon. We'll follow that story for you.

For a second day running, President Bush is focusing in on an issue that could be critical in the upcoming elections. That would be immigration. Along the way, he's trying to bolster Republicans' chances of winning some key contests next year. CNN's Elaine Quijano is traveling with the president. She is joining us now from El Pass -- she's joining us from Denver right now, where the president is. Elaine, what's the latest?

ELAINE QUIJANO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hello to you, Wolf. That's right. Just a short time ago, President Bush here in Denver attended a fund raising luncheon for Republican Congresswoman Marilyn Musgrave. But earlier today, he was in El Paso, Texas, as you mentioned. The second day of a push on the issue of immigration.

Now President Bush toured the U.S.-Mexican border while in El Paso to stress that he is very supportive of a crackdown on illegal immigration. That is a message, Wolf, clearly aimed at conservative Republicans, people within his own party.

At the same time though, President Bush as he did yesterday during his speech in Tucson, Arizona, emphasized that he also wants to see a temporary worker program as part of any kind of legislation on immigration reforms. So that was the president's message. Of course, that idea, of a temporary worker program, Wolf, as you know, has come under some heavy criticism from people within his own party. They call it amnesty -- Wolf.

BLITZER: What about these anti-Bush protesters who have emerged outside this fund raiser he's attending in Denver? What happened there?

QUIJANO: Well, it was about 100 to 150 demonstrators. What happened was as the president's motorcade was approaching the hotel here in Denver, he moved on and approached the hotel. The two press buses following closely were actually blocked for a very short time.

But the crowd there, again, about 100 to 150 demonstrators, quite vocal, very angry, protesting the president's policy on Iraq. For a short time, I would say less than five minutes, they blocked the path of the buses.

They were holding signs talking about bringing the troops home. They banged on the buses. But it was a very brief delay, Wolf. We were through that in less than five minutes. It's not unusual certainly for there to be demonstrators wherever the president travels.

BLITZER: Thank you very much. Elaine Quijano travelling with the President in Denver.

Still ahead, Republican Congressman Randy "Duke" Cunningham isn't the first politician to shed tears over a scandal. He's now confessed to taking bribes and he has resigned.

There have been other well-known politicians who resigned in disgrace, as well. We'll have some specific details.

Could Terrell Owens' controversial situation with the Philadelphia Eagles be an issue for Congress, yes, for Congress, to consider? One Pennsylvania Senator thinks that might be the case. We'll tell you who that is and why. Stay with us.


BLITZER: Here's something you don't see every day. A soccer game in Barcelona. These are live pictures you're seeing courtesy of Israel television, channel 10 in Israel. Look at this, a joint Israeli/Palestinian soccer team, a team of Israeli and Palestinian All-Stars on one side.

They're playing some All-Stars from Barcelona, the Israeli- Palestinian team put together by the Shimon Peres Center for Peace in the region, they call it The Peace Team. It's 0-0 36 minutes into the first half. Barcelona, zero.

The peace team, Israelis and Palestinians working together, the soccer team trying to use sports to promote peace. That's an encouraging sign. Reminds me a little bit of ping-pong diplomacy as practiced in the early '70s between the U.S. and China.

We'll keep you up to date on the score of the game. This Israeli-Palestinian Peace Team playing against Barcelona All-Stars, the top team in Spain.

The former Congressman Randy "Duke" Cunningham is cooperating with prosecutors in California after pleading guilty to accepting more than two million dollars in bribes. Authorities say their investigation is not over but won't say who might be targeted next.

Our National Correspondent Bruce Morton has been looking into this Cunningham case and other examples of lawmakers gone wrong. What have you come up with, Bruce?

BRUCE MORTON, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Cunningham, a Republican from San Diego confessed to taking at least $2.4 million in bribes to help friends and campaign contributors get military contracts.


REP. RANDY "DUKE" CUNNINGHAM; (R) CALIFORNIA: Because I was not strong enough to face the truth. So I misled my family, friends, staff, colleagues, the public, and even myself. For all of this, I am deeply sorry.

The truth is, I broke the law. Concealed my conduct. And disgraced my office.


MORTON (voice-over): He is not, of course, the first. James Traficant, an eccentric Ohio Democrat who was famous for ending House speeches, "beam me up, Scotty, there's no intelligent life down here," was convicted in 2002 of bribery, racketeering and tax evasion, among other things. He's serving an eight-year sentence in a prison.

Former House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dan Rostenkowski, a Democrat, was indicted in 1994 for fraud and witness tampering. He served 15 months in prison.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I made a lot of mistakes.

MORTON: House Speaker Jim Wright resigned in 1989 for, among other things, using sales of a book had he written to disguise political contributions. The man who led the attack against him, Republican Newt Gingrich, also had to resign under fire for another book deal.

In 1980, five house members were convicted in a scandal called Abscam of taking bribes from FBI agents disguised as Arab businessmen. The Congressmen all served prison time.

In 1976, Ohio Democrat Wayne Hayes got in trouble for putting his mistress, Elizabeth Ray on the payroll, though she couldn't type or take dictation. Hayes simply resigned. No criminal charges. And subsequently got elected to the state legislature. And so it goes.


MORTON: They are not all crooks, any more than plumbers or TV reporters are all crooks. But the opportunities are there. In October, a CNN/"USA Today"/Gallup Poll asked whether voters thought most congressmen were or were not ethical.

Sixty-three percent thought most Democrats were; 58 percent thought most Republicans were. Given the poll's sampling error, Wolf, that's a tie.

BLITZER: Bruce, thank you very much. Bruce Morton reporting for us.

This footnote, after Cunningham's resignation, the clock is ticking for California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger; he now has two weeks to set a date for an election to replace Cunningham in the U.S. Congress.

The online community has done plenty of digging into the Randy Cunningham scandal. Our Internet reporter Abbi Tatton is standing by with more on that -- Abbi.

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Ever since the newspaper, The "San Diego Union Tribune," earlier this year started digging into Cunningham's house sale, the liberal blogosphere started doing digging of their own. Possibly none more so than Josh Marshall at the site Now with the resignation, Josh hasn't stopped. He is still digging, now into the co-conspirators who are referred to in the charges, who they might be and what they might have been up to.

Other blogs are looking ahead to that special election in California, Chris Bowers is analyzing the demographics of that district, saying that, yes, it's solidly Republican, but, after a scandal like this, victory for Democrats may not be impossible. The charges are linked to on lots of blogs. You can find them at

There, you can go for yourself, Wolf, and read all the payments that Cunningham received, including candelabras, armoires, two commodes, and a Rolls Royce -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Abbi, thank you very much.

Up next, what does President Bush need to say tomorrow when he delivers what the White House is calling a major address on Iraq? We will get expert opinion in today's "Strategy Session."

And, later, are Americans confident when it comes to the U.S. economy? Who better to answer that question than our own Ali Velshi? He's standing by.


(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: In our "Strategy Session," the president is scheduled to deliver yet another speech on Iraq tomorrow. Will he signal a shift in strategy?

And, today, the president was in Texas, taking on the issues of border control and illegal immigration. Will Mr. Bush's own party prove to be his biggest stumbling block when it comes to those issues?

Joining us now, Democratic strategist Donna Brazile, and Bay Buchanan of the group American Cause -- president of American Cause.

Thanks very much to both of you for joining us.

We have got a live picture, by the way, of Air Force One. We will show it to our viewers. There it is, right behind you, Bay -- Air Force One getting ready to leave Denver to fly back to Andrews Air Force Base, outside Washington, to bring the president and his party back, after a couple speeches there, the Thanksgiving break in Crawford, Texas.

Let's start with what he said today in El Paso, when he met with reporters and tried once again to defend his strategy on Iraq.


BUSH: Victory is the -- is the primary objective. We have sacrificed a lot. We have had -- we have had, you know, some of the finest Americans die in Iraq. And one thing we're not going to do is let them die in vain. We will achieve our objective, which is a stable Iraq, an ally in the war on terror.


BLITZER: What does he need to do tomorrow, and in the coming days, Bay, to get that strategy, to make it effective?

BAY BUCHANAN, PRESIDENT, AMERICAN CAUSE: There's two parts to this strategy.

First is what he is doing himself. And it's -- and he's right. He's got to keep talking about it. He's got to tell people, and tell the American people, what we have accomplished, how the Iraqis are getting stronger and stronger, will be able to defend themselves, so that we have hope that there can be an end game here.

But the second thing, which he has less control of, unfortunately, is what's happening in Iraq. He can talk all he wants. But, if the situation in Iraq starts to unfold further, and it looks like it's getting closer to a civil war, then, no matter what he says, it will not be successful.

BLITZER: He got an enormous boost today from Joe Lieberman, the Democratic vice presidential candidate of only a few years ago -- you remember Joe Lieberman.


BLITZER: Just back from Iraq, writing in "The Wall Street Journal."

This is Joe Lieberman. Let me read it to you, at least this little excerpt of what Senator Lieberman said: "I am disappointed by Democrats who are more focused on how President Bush took America into the war in Iraq almost three years ago and by Republicans who are more worried about whether the war will bring them down in next November's elections, than they are concerned about how we continue the progress in Iraq in the months and years ahead."

He was glowing in his assessment of how things are really moving in the right direction in Iraq right now. And he urged his fellow Democrats and everyone in this article in "The Wall" -- "Wall Street Journal" to stay the -- stay the road and make sure the job gets done.

BRAZILE: Look, Joe Lieberman voted, along with 78 other senators, to sort of shift the strategy and -- and tell the president that we need benchmarks.

So, I think the important thing for the president tomorrow is to try to unify the country, to lay out his strategy for success, so to speak, and to regain the confidence of the American people, that the United States know what we're doing in Iraq at this moment.

BLITZER: Should he avoid the kind of bashing that he and the vice president and others have been doing in recent weeks, going after those Democrats who voted for the resolution, now oppose his strategy? Should he avoid those -- those kind of direct assaults when he addresses the -- the Naval Academy tomorrow?

BUCHANAN: I think he should. I think he -- he did what he should have done. He should have did it -- it took too long.

But he came out. He was aggressive and attacked. And he did exactly the right thing. But now that part's done. And we saw that the Democrats folded. They have come aboard and said, we should stay over there. There's no reason to pull out right now.

So, he has the support of Washington at this moment. He needs to get the support of the American people, so that they can see there is some hope. He's got to give them that information which shows that our troops are doing well, and that we're moving ahead, and that, indeed, that the Iraqis are getting closer and closer to the point where they can take charge.


BLITZER: I thought Lieberman's article today, by the way -- and he's going to be a guest right here in THE SITUATION ROOM in the next hour. We will talk to him about all these issues -- from the administration's perspective, probably one of the more effective arguments...


BLITZER: ... that I have read in recent weeks coming from this Democrat, Joe Lieberman, which is a little ironic, isn't it?

BRAZILE: Well, look, Democrats, we are offering the president many ideas.

Joe Biden, over the weekend, offered the president some great ideas about, you know, rebuilding Iraq and turning the reconstruction over -- if only the president will listen to the Bidens and the Murthas and the Liebermans of the world. These are individuals who know what they're talking about, along with Senator Reid, who has also been to the region on numerous occasions.

We believe -- and I think the Democrats now have a consensus that it's time that -- that the American people have a different strategy. And we -- we all know that 2006 will be a year of transition. Now the president needs to lay out that strategy tomorrow.

BLITZER: The other issue the president is focusing on, at least the last two days, has been immigration, border security. Listen what he said today on this very sensitive issue.


BUSH: One of the ways to -- to make sure we have a rational border control policy is to make work legal, not amnesty, but work legal, on a temporary basis. People ought to be given a tamper-proof work card to come here and do jobs Americans won't do, and, then, after a set period of time, go home.


BLITZER: He's basically saying to these millions of illegal workers right now, we have a six-year program for you to become a legal resident of the United States. Take advantage of it.

And he says that's not amnesty, although a lot of critics say it -- basically, it is amnesty.

BUCHANAN: It is amnesty. I mean, he - this is what they're doing out there. They have polled it, Wolf. They know amnesty doesn't work, because 70, 80 percent of Americans are absolutely opposed to it.

Guest worker programs have never worked. There's none that have ever worked. They turn into an amnesty program. And so, this is amnesty. There's no question about it. The president makes a terrible mistake. The Americans want the border secure and they want our laws enforced. They have been told they were going to happen. It never happens.

It's time for him to step up and do the job that he was voted to do, and that is secure that border and enforce our laws. Then we can talk guest worker a year, two, three years down the road.

BLITZER: What do you think of the president's strategy?

BRAZILE: Well, first of all, I think he put a lot of emphasis on security, but not enough emphasis on what I consider, you know, as smart, sensible reform.

And we really need that debate in this country. And, look, Bay's position is that we should lock down the borders and then throw everyone out. That's not the best position. I think the best position at this point is to allow those who have been here a process for becoming legal citizens, and to secure our borders.

BUCHANAN: And, you know, Wolf, this is the hottest issue out there. This is a turning issue.

If Republicans can define themselves as the party that wishes to enforce our laws and secure our borders, they will distinguish themselves from Democrats, and they will do extremely well next year. It's a way they can come back.

Donna has misinterpreted it. We're not for throwing anyone out. We're for enforcing the laws, and those people will go home themselves.

BLITZER: We will leave it there, unfortunately, ladies, because we're out of time. But it's a good discussion. We will continue it down the road.

Thanks very much.

The president getting ready to take off -- Air Force One getting ready to head back to Andrews Air Force Base outside of Washington -- these are live pictures you're seeing.

Coming up, how hot is the housing market? And what it means for your home's value -- Ali Velshi has the "Bottom Line" on sales and the bigger economic picture. Is it rosy or gloomy?

And panda-monium here in Washington -- baby pictures in black and white. That's coming up.



BLITZER: On our political radar, Pennsylvania's senior senator is accusing the NFL and the Philadelphia Eagles of treating player Terrell Owens unfairly.

Republican Senator Arlen Specter says it was vindictive and inappropriate to forbid the All Pro wide receiver from playing and to prevent other teams from trying to sign him up. The Eagles took action against Owens for bad-mouthing his teammates and his coach. Specter says it might be a violation of antitrust laws that could be scrutinized by the Judiciary Committee, which he chairs.

In Canada, the prime minister, Paul Martin, is kicking off a new election campaign a day after his government was toppled in a no- confidence vote. Canada's three opposition parties voted against Mr. Martin's government, saying his Liberal Party no longer has moral authority because of a corruption scandal. An election for all 308 seats in the Lower House of Commons now scheduled for January 23.

Now a check of the U.S. economy by the numbers.

Our Ali Velshi is poring over the latest statistics, what they all mean. Ali, he is joining us now live from New York.

Hi, Ali.

ALI VELSHI, CNN ANCHOR: Even I wouldn't stay tuned for that.

"Ali Velshi is pouring over the statistics"? Wolf...

BLITZER: Yes. That's interesting.

VELSHI: These are really interesting, actually.

BLITZER: Especially if you own a house.

VELSHI: If you own a house, if you own a gold, or have some in your fillings.

Let me just tell you a few of the headlines right now. Gold is at $500 an ounce. It hasn't seen that kind of number in almost 20 years, about 18 years. There are some negative reasons for that. But, right now, if your gold is -- if you have got gold, 500 bucks an ounce is what you're looking for.

Oil is back down below $57, about $56.50, on word that it might be a warmer-than-usual winter in the Northeast. That's good for the economy. And consumer confidence, as taken by the Conference Board, which polls Americans on a monthly basis, and the number is not as relevant, but it's -- let me just tell me, it's 98.9 for November. October was 85.2. That's a massive jump.

That means people are hopeful about their current situation and about the future.

And you're talking about homes? New home sales in November, up 13 percent. That's the biggest one-month gain in about 12 years. If you annualize that, that puts annual sales at 1.42 million units. And that is an all-time high for new home sales.

Who said the economy's in trouble, Wolf?

BLITZER: I don't know. But somebody did. I'm sure a lot of people do. They say that all the time.

Ali, thank you very much.

VELSHI: See you in a bit.

BLITZER: We have got a very important development happening in nearby Virginia.

Bob Franken is standing by. He's got the story.

Bob, what's happening?

BOB FRANKEN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, CNN has learned that the governor of Virginia, Mark Warner, has commuted the death sentence of Robin Lovitt.

He was somebody who was expected to be the 1,000th person executed in the United States since the Supreme Court reinstated capital punishment in 1976. But, just moments ago, Governor Mark Warner signed the law -- signed the order which, for the first time in his time in office, will commute a sentence.

It is now going to be life without parole. What was at issue here -- and this, by the way, was something that was argued by the well-known Ken Starr, who was the Whitewater and Monica Lewinsky prosecutor during the Clinton administration -- but Ken Starr, arguing on behalf of Lovitt, had argued that, because a clerk in Arlington County had accidentally discarded DNA evidence, there was no way that this man could get a fair hearing, as the questions about whether to commute the death penalty came down to the last word.

Now, in a statement from Governor Warner, he said, although he was convinced that the jury had made the right decision -- quoting him -- "The actions of an agent of the commonwealth" -- the Commonwealth of Virginia -- "in a manner contrary to the express direction of the law, comes at the expense of a defendant facing society's most severe and final sanction. The commonwealth must ensure that, every time this ultimate sanction is carried out, it is done fairly."

So, what this means is that Robin Lovitt will not be the 1,000th person -- person executed. To give you some idea of how long it will be before a person does become number 1,000, there is an execution scheduled in North Carolina, Wolf, on Friday.

BLITZER: The timing of the discarding of those scissors that had the blood and the DNA on it was most suspicious.

I'm reading from an AP story here. In 2001, a court clerk destroyed much of the evidence in the case, including the scissors, supposedly to free up space in the evidence room. A state law requiring preservation of DNA evidence had taken effect a few weeks earlier. I suppose that weighed very, very heavily, as you're reporting, on Governor Warner.


And, as I said, Governor Warner, for only the first time in his term in office, has commuted a death sentence. Should be pointing out that he is considered somebody who's going to be a candidate for president. Many people have speculated on that.

And polls show that there is a declining support for capital punishment in the United States. Now, by the way, the person involved, Robin Lovitt, had been convicted in 1998 of a slaying in a pool hall in Arlington County, not far from Virginia. But now his death sentence has been commuted, as we just found out, to life without parole.

BLITZER: All right.


BLITZER: Stand by for a moment.

I want to bring in our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider, talk a little bit about the politics of this.

Governor Mark Warner, he wants to run, presumably -- at least a lot of speculation out there -- for president of the United States. How does this play into -- to that political -- that political campaign he may or may not eventually decide to undertake?

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, the most important thing is that evidence was destroyed in this case.

And it's far easier to argue that you can have a basis for commuting a death penalty sentence -- a death sentence when evidence has been destroyed, raising questions about guilt, than it is in other cases, for instance, personal redemption or philosophical objections to the death penalty.

There have been a lot of cases that have come up in the last decade where DNA evidence has emerged that exonerate criminals and get them off the death penalty. And, if there's any doubt whatsoever, the safe thing to do, Warner is arguing, is to give the prisoner -- to allow the prisoner to continue to live, although he will remain in prison for the rest of his life.

BLITZER: All right, Bill, stand by.

We're going to continue to follow the story.

Bob, thanks. Thanks very much. Stand by as well -- much more on this breaking story, the governor of Virginia offering clemency to a death row inmate.

The death penalty, as a way for politicians to make a statement, is an important subject, the political consequences of life and death. We're going to have more on this story coming up.

Also, who's been trashing liquor stores in California? There's new information on the unfolding case. Here in THE SITUATION ROOM, at 7:00 p.m. Eastern, we will have details.

Stay with us.


BLITZER: We're going to have more on our breaking news story in a moment -- the governor of Virginia, Mark Warner, deciding to offer clemency to Robin Lovitt, 42 years old.

He was scheduled to be executed tomorrow night -- the governor deciding that, because some DNA evidence was destroyed a few years back, he's going to reduce that sentence to life in prison without parole. Robin Lovitt will stay alive. And we are going to continue to watch this story for you.

In the meantime, let's go to CNN's Betty Nguyen in Atlanta for a closer look at some other stories making news right now -- Betty.


Israeli news media reports say former Prime Minister Shimon Peres will leave the Labor Party to support current Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's peace efforts. Peres has been a major figure in the party for decades now. Peres and Mr. Sharon are longtime political rivals, but personal friends.

Now, last week, Mr. Sharon announced he would leave the Likud Party to form a new party, with the goal of reaching a peace deal with Palestinians.

A manhunt is under way in Atlanta for an escaped prisoner. Atlanta police say the man ran away from a police van after his arrest on drug and weapons charges. Now, they think he kicked out the back door of a van while being driven to the county jail. Law enforcement officials are sweeping the city's northwest side.

Major highways are slowly reopening all across the Plains, after the first big blizzard of the season. Check it out. The storm dumped up to 20 inches of snow on the region, creating drifts as high as eight feet. Tens of thousands of people remain without power. For stranded travelers, though, some good news -- about 200 miles of Interstate 80 in Nebraska and 100 miles of I-94 in North Dakota have reopened.

Well, as China discloses two more outbreaks of bird flu among poultry, the United States is easing its ban on poultry imports from British Columbia. The ban was sparked eight days ago by the discovery of avian flu in a duck raised in the western Canadian province. The Agriculture Department now says the particular flu strain poses no threat to human health.

That's definitely some good news, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, good. Thanks very much -- Betty Nguyen reporting.

We're following the breaking story that we have been telling you about over the past several minutes -- the Virginia governor, Mark Warner, commuting the sentence of a death row inmate, in what would have been the 1,000th execution in this country since capital punishment was reinstated back in 1976.

And, in California, the governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, currently weighing also a death penalty case as well. Bill Schneider once again joining us with more on the political consequences, what's at stake in all of these cases -- Bill.

SCHNEIDER: Well, Wolf, George W. Bush once called decisions in death penalty -- penalty cases the most agonizing part of being a governor. Two governors are finding that out now.


SCHNEIDER (voice-over): Death penalty cases carry a lot of political peril for governors with higher ambitions.

Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis' 1988 presidential campaign was doomed when he was asked what he would do if his wife were raped and murdered.

GOV. MICHAEL DUKAKIS (D-MA), DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: ... I have opposed the death penalty during all of my life. I don't see any evidence that it's a deterrent.

SCHNEIDER: Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton would not commute the death sentence of a mentally handicapped man.

Texas Governor George W. Bush resisted pleas from religious conservatives to commute the death sentence of a woman on the grounds that she had been redeemed by faith. They both got elected president.

It's politically risky, it seems, to show reservations about capital punishment. But reservations have been growing. While most Americans continue to favor capital punishment, opposition has grown from 13 to 30 percent.

DNA evidence has revealed many wrongful convictions. That's been the issue for Virginia Governor Mark Warner, who may run for president. A court official mistakenly threw away evidence that might have exonerated a convicted murder.

That's not the case with Tookie Williams in California. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger is facing pressure to commute Williams' impending death sentence on the grounds of character reform. Williams, who founded the notorious Crips gang, has preached against gang violence.

STANLEY "TOOKIE" WILLIAMS, CONVICTED MURDERER: ... that the war within me is over. I have battled my demons. And I was triumphant.

SCHNEIDER: Williams' cause has been taken up by celebrities, like Jamie Foxx and rapper Snoop Dogg.

SNOOP DOGG, RAPPER: This voice needs to be heard.

SCHNEIDER: That argument didn't work for a redeemed sinner in Texas. But times may be changing.


SCHNEIDER: And that's exactly what Governor Warner is counting on, that times are changing -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Bill, we're going to continue to follow this story in the coming hour. Thanks very much -- Bill Schneider reporting for us.

Let's head up to New York. Jack Cafferty's got "The Cafferty File." He's joining us now live.

Hi, Jack.

CAFFERTY: Another weighty issue, Wolf.

The tree on the west lawn of the U.S. Capitol will once again be called the Capitol Christmas Tree, at the request of the speaker of the House, Dennis Hastert. That's what it was called from 1964, up until a few years ago, when it suddenly became known as the Holiday Tree.

Now, the question is this: Should Christmas trees be called something else?

Nathan, a student at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire: "I'm a staunch New Deal Democrat with Jewish, atheist and Buddhist friends. And I can't stand Dennis Hastert. I hope to become an Episcopal priest. And I will forever call it a Christmas tree. It embarrasses me that other people won't do the same. Nobody says holiday menorah or holiday fast. It's Hanukkah menorah and Ramadan fast."

Hal in Dallas, Texas: "I'm an agnostic. I don't go to church and I don't buy all that in intelligent creator crap. I have a Christmas tree in my living room -- repeat, a Christmas tree."

Curtis in Portland, Maine: "They shouldn't be called Christmas trees, because they have nothing to do with Christ. Do they even have fir trees where Christ was born? Maybe they should be called holiday trees. Maybe. Would Jesus line up outside a Wal-Mart the morning after Thanksgiving to buy the latest crap from China? Don't get me started on this, Jack."

Annie from San Rafael, California: "Freestanding seasonal decorative firs with optional lighting."

Sarah (ph) in Honolulu: "With the high price of heating oil this winter, how about we call them firewood?"

And Mark in Maryland: "If the White House wants to bolster their poll numbers, they will call it the Christmas Bush. And they could hang all the indictments like little ornaments."



BLITZER: Thank you very much, Jack.

It's 5:00 p.m. here in Washington. And you're in THE SITUATION ROOM, where news and information from around the world arrive in one place at the same time.