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The Situation Room
Harry Whittington Speaks To Reporters; President Bush Speaks At Centcom About Wiretaps Without Warrants; Michael Brown Grades Key Players In Katrina Disaster; Prosecutors Want More Classified Documents In CIA Leak Case; Rumsfeld Gives Blunt Assessment About Possible Failure Of Iraqi Troops After U.S. Leaves Iraq; Conservative Base Sometimes Angered By Bush
Aired February 17, 2006 - 16:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks very much, Susan.
And to our viewers, you are now in THE SITUATION ROOM where new pictures and information from around the world are arriving all the time.
Happening now, hunting accident recovery. Both the vice president and the man he shot are on the move today and talking publicly. Does that put an end to the misfire controversy?
Also this hour, President Bush back on the defensive over domestic spying. We'll tell you what he's saying now, and we'll also look at how his political problems are shaking up his base.
And Michael Brown, the movie. We are getting a first look at a filmmaker's exclusive interview with the former FEMA chief. Does Brown understand America's anger after Hurricane Katrina? We'll listen to him for the first time in this new interview.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Vice President Cheney is trying today to put his hunting accident behind him with a little help from his friends. He appeared before a welcoming audience, the state legislature in his home state of Wyoming.
Meantime, the hunting pal he mistakenly shot is getting out of the hospital today. Harry Whittington spoke to reporters for the first time offering comforting words for Cheney after a rough week for both of them.
Our Chris Lawrence is standing by in Cheyenne, Wyoming.
But let's go to Ed Lavandera. He's in Corpus Christi with the latest -- Ed.
ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, just a short while ago Harry Whittington and his family left the hospital here in Corpus Christi on their way back home to Austin, Texas. And the country's most famous victim of an accidental shooting had a few thoughts before leaving.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HARRY WHITTINGTON, INJURED IN HUNTING ACCIDENT: I regret I couldn't have been here earlier, so you could see what a lucky person I am. For many years, my family have been friends of the Armstrongs down in Kennedy County. We have visited them for over 25 years and have had some wonderful trips and visits and pleasant memories that we cherish forever.
However, this past weekend, encompassed all of us in a cloud of misfortune and sadness. It is not easy to explain, especially to those who are not familiar with the great sport of quail hunting. We all assume certain risks in whatever we do whatever activities we pursue.
And regardless of how experienced, careful, and dedicated we are, accidents do and will happen. And that's what happened last Friday.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LAVANDERA: Mr. Whittington was very welcome composed. Although clearly on the right side of his face and neck you could see the bruising. A yellow and purple bruising that is the remnants of that shooting accident from Saturday afternoon.
Doctors say he is still not 100 percent. But they feel much more confident about his condition just days after suffering that mild heart attack. But they feel much more confident and feel that his recovery process can continue in the comfort of his own home -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Ed Lavandera on the scene for us in Corpus Christi.
Ed, thank you very much.
Now to the vice president. Dick Cheney's appearance today in Wyoming. That's his home state. Many people were expecting him to say something about Harry Whittington, and he did.
Let's go to Chris Lawrence. He's in Cheyenne with that part of the story -- Chris.
CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well Wolf, actually he barely even alluded to the shooting incident during today's speech. And, you know, despite what his critics may say, the vice president may not have anything else to add on this issue.
LAWRENCE (voice-over): It was two degrees in Cheyenne when the vice president arrived. Outside the state Capitol, bitter cold. Inside, a warm reception.
DICK CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I want to thank you for that welcome home. It's a wonderful experience to be greeted with such warmth by the leaders of our great state. It's especially true when you've had a very long week. LAWRENCE: This was Vice President Cheney's first public speech since last weekend when he accidentally shot his friend while they were hunting quail in Texas.
CHENEY: Thankfully Harry Whittington is on the mend and doing very well.
LAWRENCE: And that is all he said about the shooting.
DAVID MILLER (R), WYOMING STATE HOUSE: I actually thought he'd talk about the hunting a little more because we would be a very, you know, receptive audience to that because, you know, the majority of Wyoming people hunt. But it was real brief on that part and he got it behind him and got through it and at the end got back to the theme of protecting America and those important issues.
LAWRENCE: A small group of protesters showed that not everyone here agrees with Cheney on those issues. But all in all this was friendly territory for the vice president.
LAWRENCE: Yes, Cheney actually started as an intern right there in the building behind me. He was later reelected five times to Congress as the representative from Wyoming.
Tonight he is headed to Jackson, the other side of the state, to his home there. And he may have said all he's really going to say on this incident -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Chris. Thank you very much.
Chris Lawrence reporting from Wyoming.
In the six days since Cheney's hunting accident we've gotten insights into the shooting and into the vice president himself.
Let's bring in our senior political analyst Bill Schneider -- Bill.
BILL SCHNEIDER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the Cheney hunting incident has gone from an unfortunate accident to a revealing moment. And from there, to "The Political Play" of the week.
SCHNEIDER (voice-over): The Cheney hunting incident has dominated the national news for a whole week. Is it just the media obsession?
SCOTT MCCLELLAN, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: If you all want to continue spending time on this, that's fine. But this administration is focused on doing what the American people want us to do.
SCHNEIDER: The American people don't want to know much more about the incident. By nearly two to one, the public says it does not see the need for any further investigation of what happened.
The Cheney shooting incident has captured public attention because it's a revealing moment. It reinforces an image people have of a public figure like other revealing moments in the past.
The story of President Jimmy Carter getting attacked by a so- called killer rabbit was such a moment. It reinforced Carter's image as weak and ineffectual. When President Gerald Ford tripped, it reinforced his image as clumsy and inept.
When Dan Quayle spelled potato wrong, it reinforced the stereotype about the vice president's not being too bright. The first President Bush seemed unfamiliar with the supermarket scan. The message, he was out of touch with ordinary Americans.
President Bill Clinton reinforced his image as slick and evasive when he told a grand jury...
BILL CLINTON, FMR. PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It depends upon what the meaning of the word is, is.
SCHNEIDER: The Cheney incident captures the risk-taking, sometimes reckless image of the Bush administration.
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Now, this is a man who likes the outdoors. He likes to hunt. And he heard a bird flush and he turned and pulled the trigger and saw his friend get wounded.
SCHNEIDER: The incident also reinforces the image of a closed and secretive administration, one that doesn't seem to want people to know what's really going on. It was a revealing moment, and for that reason, "The Political Play" of the week.
SCHNEIDER: Revealing moments are self-inflicted and inadvertent. That's what makes them revealing -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Bill Schneider thanks very much.
In our "Security Watch" this hour, President Bush in Florida talking about the war on terror in his justification for wiretaps without warrants.
Our White House correspondent Elaine Quijano is traveling with the president.
Elaine, what happened today?
ELAINE QUIJANO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good afternoon to you, Wolf.
Well President Bush was at the Air Force base in Tampa visiting the headquarters of U.S. Central Command. Now Centcom, as it's known, is the headquarters overseeing the military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. And it was there that the president took part in a private briefing that included General John Abizaid who heads up U.S. Central Command.
Now also in Tampa, the president made remarks, and as he's done in the last couple of months or so, took questions from an audience of invited guests, about 500 guests invited from the Tampa and St. Petersburg chambers of commerce.
Now there the president covered a variety of topics, including the controversial domestic surveillance program. The president amid some criticism even some criticism from Republicans defending it once again as necessary and within the law.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BUSH: I said is it legal? I'm asking this to the attorney general of the United States, the legal counsel in the White House. NSA's got lawyers. I mean, a lot of lawyers looked at this. And they said you bet, Mr. President, it's legal.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
QUIJANO: And this election year, President Bush trying to sound a familiar theme from the '04 campaign that he and Republicans are strong on national security and the war on terror.
We are told that the president just a few minutes ago wrapped up a meeting with a family of a fallen soldier at MacDill Air Force Base. He is now heading here to Orlando to Disney World for a Republican dinner -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Elaine, did the president weigh in a little bit more on the Cheney hunting accident?
QUIJANO: Well, you know, it was interesting, Wolf. He was asked about that by a woman in the audience who said how do you keep your perspective, especially, she said, when much of the focus this week has been on Vice President Cheney's hunting accident and that there are other issues out there, other criticisms you have to take.
Well, here is part of how he answered that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BUSH: There is a lot noise in Washington. There is a lot flattery, there's a lot of criticism, there's just a lot of noise. And I keep -- I try to keep my life in perspective.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
QUIJANO: And the president going on to say at the end of that question that he is wise enough not to fall into the trap about addressing the vice president's hunting accident directly. He's saying that there are a lot of keen reporters paying attention to every word he is saying -- Wolf?
BLITZER: All right, Elaine. Thanks very much. Elaine Quijano.
Stay tuned to CNN day and night for the most reliable news about your security.
Let's go to New York now. Jack Cafferty is standing by once again with "The Cafferty File." Hi, Jack.
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Hi, Wolf.
How's this for absolute stupidity? The United States government is on the verge of transferring control of six major American ports to a company from the United Arab Emirates.
This is a country that has served as a transfer point for nuclear materials to Iran, North Korea and Libya; served as a base for the 9/11 hijackers that attacked us; and is one of only three countries in the entire world that ever recognized the Taliban as the official government in Afghanistan.
That country would soon be given control of ports in New York, New Jersey, Philadelphia, Baltimore, New Orleans, and Miami for a sale price of $6.8 billion. the bush administration defends this action saying that it was, quote, "rigorously reviewed," unquote.
The terrorists who murdered 3,000 innocent people in this country hung out in the United Arab Emirates before they flew airplanes into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Now the government wants to give them control of six of our ports. Who dreams this stuff up? Two Democratic senators say they are going to introduce a bill that would block the sale.
The question is this. Should the government sell control of U.S. ports to companies in foreign countries? E-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org or go to cnn.com/caffertyfile. What a brilliant idea, don't you think?
BLITZER: You know, we did some research today, Jack. Guess what the Department of Homeland Security says the percentage of cargo coming into American ports that's actually inspected -- actually inspected. Guess what the percentage is?
CAFFERTY: Three? Three?
BLITZER: They say five percent.
CAFFERTY: They are probably lying on the upside. But that's not very much, is it?
BLITZER: Ninety-five percent of the cargo coming in -- the president spoke today in the port of Tampa in Florida. Ninety-five percent of the cargo is not inspected.
CAFFERTY: We've done a great job since 9/11, don't you think? I feel a lot safer.
BLITZER: Jack, thanks very much. We'll get back to you soon.
Coming up, more than five months after Hurricane Katrina, does Michael Brown really get it? The former FEMA chief opens up to filmmakers. We're going to get an exclusive look at that interview.
Also ahead, disaster in the Philippines. Deadly mudslides and still dangerous conditions. We'll have the latest on the casualties -- and they are enormous -- and the rescue efforts.
Plus, still more protests over the cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed. We'll tell you who is outraged now, and what former President Clinton is saying about the controversy. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: When he first went before Congress, the former FEMA director, Michael Brown, did as much fingerpointing as apologizing for the Katrina disaster. Now Michael Brown is speaking out again in an interview with a filmmaker. How sorry is he? Is he still angry?
CNN was given an exclusive look at the interview. CNN's Mary Snow is in New York. She has details -- Mary.
MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, during the interview, former FEMA director Michael Brown is critical of individuals and organizations. At one point, he was so emphatic that he used a curse word. At another juncture he got emotional and shed tears.
While he has answered questions publicly before Congress, this marks the first time he did a one on one interview with a filmmaker who is also a resident of New Orleans, directly effected by Katrina.
In the interview, Brown says he is the victim of character assassination. He says he finds fault with himself for not being more blunt with the American people about how big the disaster was. But he finds faults with others and was asked to grade key players in the handling of the disaster.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How do you rate President Bush?
MICHAEL BROWN, FORMER FEMA DIRECTOR: Sure. I'll give the president an A minus. I think the president let his political intuition down just a little bit at the very beginning. He understands the importance of the politics of disasters. And I think this just caught him off guard initially.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Secretary Chertoff?
BROWN: You know, a C minus. The secretary is a judge by training. And you can't do things like tell your disaster guy to go back to Baton Rouge and stay in Baton Rouge and never leave. That's not how you do operations. He just didn't get it.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Governor Blanco.
BROWN: If she were one of my students, I would give her a C plus because she did try. Her heart's in the right place. She was faced with a catastrophic disaster unlike any other governor has seen in this state. They just weren't ready for it.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mayor Ray Nagin of New Orleans.
BROWN: You know, I'm going to give the mayor a D. I like the mayor. I think he's a good guy. I'm still irritated about not doing mandatory evacuation.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: General Russel Honore.
BROWN: A plus. I like the guy. You know, he's the American Rambo, but he gets it. He understood the difference between civilian authority and military authority and how those had to work together.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How do you think you should be rated?
BROWN: For Katrina, I'll give myself a C. Just average. I could have done more.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SNOW: Brown is most critical of the Department of Homeland Security secretary Michael Chertoff. He says Chertoff did not have the guts to fire him and says that Chertoff was detached from the disaster, saying he was too focused on terrorism and other issues.
We contacted Secretary Chertoff's office for a response. A spokesman directed us to the secretary's testimony on Capitol Hill this week.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MICHAEL CHERTOFF, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: I have to say that the idea that this department and this administration and the president were somehow detached from Katrina is simply not correct.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SNOW: We also have calls into the offices of Mayor Ray Nagin and Governor Kathleen Blanco for reaction to the low grades Brown gave them. And we'll play you more of this exclusive interview the next hour and you'll be able to see a lot more of it tonight at 7:00 p.m. Eastern -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Thanks very much, Mary, for that. And we will also, at 7:00 p.m. Eastern tonight speak with the executive producer of the man who put this new documentary, entitled "New Orleans Story," together. That's coming up in THE SITUATION ROOM 7:00 p.m. tonight.
And I'll speak about the failures in the Katrina response with the Homeland Security secretary himself, Michael Chertoff. He'll be among my guests this Sunday on "LATE EDITION," the last word in Sunday talk. "LATE EDITION" airs Sunday morning, 11:00 a.m. Eastern.
You can place your bets once again in New Orleans. Harris Casino reopened today hours before the first major Mardi Gras parades are set to roll. The casino served as a police staging area in the chaotic days immediately after Hurricane Katrina hit.
Zain Verjee returns to THE SITUATION ROOM on Monday.
Fredricka Whitfield is with us now. She's joining us from the CNN center once again with some other stories making news.
FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Hello to you, Wolf.
We're keeping a watch on a situation in Mesa, Arizona, where apparently our affiliates are reporting a hazardous material situation at a Wal-Mart store. And reportedly many people in that store have been evacuated. When we get more information we'll be able to bring that to you.
In the meantime, dangerous conditions have halted rescue efforts after a mud slide buried a village in the southern Philippines. The Red Cross estimates that some 300 people are dead with another 1,500 missing.
Two weeks of heavy rain triggered the slide. An elementary school with more than 200 children inside is among the buildings buried. Emergency personnel and equipment, including at least two U.S. Navy vessels are reportedly headed to the region.
But authorities say conditions are still unstable, so search and rescue operations have been suspended for now. We'll have a full report on this story next hour right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Pakistani police used tear gas to disperse violent protests as a general strike shutdown much of the port city of Karachi. It was one in a series of demonstrations across Pakistan protesting the public caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed.
A Pakistani prayer leader now says a bounty of more than $1 million has been offered to anyone who kills one of the creators of the cartoons. They were originally published in a Danish newspaper and later reprinted around the world.
And Bill Clinton condemns the cartoons but says they don't reflect a lack of respect for Islam in the West. The former president is in Pakistan for unrelated humanitarian work. He says the violent protests are helping drive a wedge between Muslims and the West.
And terror suspect Jose Padilla will remain in jail as he awaits trial on conspiracy charges. A federal judge in Miami today denied a bail request saying Padilla represents a flight risk and has a history of violence.
Padilla was originally arrested for allegedly plotting to set off a so-called dirty bomb in the U.S. He spent more than three years in a military brigade as a so-called enemy combatant before being indicted on different charges -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Fred, thanks very much. The vice president, Dick Cheney, speaking out in public about his shooting accident. But what strategy should the White House use to get beyond the story? I'll ask Torie Clarke and Terry McAuliffe when we come back.
Plus, will new developments in the CIA leak case help or hurt Scooter Libby's defense? Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Welcome back.
In our strategy session today, the vice president and the man he accidentally shot. Both speak out. What's the White House strategy to move beyond this issue?
And Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld addressing the role of the news media in the war on terror. What can the U.S. do to improve its image abroad?
Joining us now, former Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe, former Pentagon spokeswoman Torie Clarke.
Thanks guy very much for joining us.
Harry Whittington emerged from the hospital and among other things he said this. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WHITTINGTON: My family and I are deeply sorry for all that Vice President Cheney and his family have had to go through this past week.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: What a gentleman. He's worried about the vice president. He was shot, but he's worried about what the vice president had to go through. That's a class act.
TERRY MCAULIFFE, FORMER DNC CHAIRMAN: He is a class act.
TORIE CLARKE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: And he looks great. I don't look that good...
MCAULIFFE: Yes, I hope I look good when I'm 78.
But, you know, there is nothing I believe about the story. There was no way that he was 30 yards away the way the pellets hit him. But the, you know, issue will go on, the idea of this deception of this administration.
It goes to all the issues about Iraq, the misleading intelligence to get us into war. It's the continuous pattern of deception. Not coming out and putting the facts on the table. Lying to the American public about so many issues that I think will go on. People don't care about the hunting. I'm a lifelong hunter. Love to hunt. We are going to move on from this issue. But the idea of that Dick Cheney didn't tell anybody. The press for 24 hours. You know, it's just unacceptable behavior.
BLITZER: Torie, the people will remember this. But is the flap for now over?
CLARKE: Oh, I think we are moving past it. I think the American people like Harry Whittington himself want to move past it. And I think we will.
BLITZER: The vice president -- it's going to be a burden. He's going to be laced with this for the rest of the career.
CLARKE: Laced, interesting choice of words.
It's part of his bio forever, absolutely. But I think more interesting is the question, what the Democrats try to do with this. If they try to exploit this politically ad nauseam I think it will backfire continuing to use interesting vocabulary on them.
Because most people see it for what it was, a terrible accident handled poorly. No attempt to hide anything. They certainly didn't get out as much news and information, as I would have liked. But none of that actually happened.
So The American people are going to say, oh my God, there they are ragging about something that happened months ago. When are they going to tell us what they really want to do for the country?
BLITZER: Is it smart for the Democrats to move on and focus then on other issues or to focus and continue to focus on this issue?
MCAULIFFE: Nobody cares about this whole hunting incident. It's the idea what he did, Dick Cheney did around it. This is, you know, George Bush and Dick Cheney once again not taking on personal responsibility for their actions.
You know, Torie just said, he handled it poorly. We all agree he handled it poorly. But it is symptomatic of this administration, you know, not providing the proper body armor for our troops, misleading us on intelligence.
We now have the Taliban back in Afghanistan. We have the Iraqi borders are porous. Terrorists are moving back in. Not protecting our borders. It's all of those issues. The incompetence of the Bush/Cheney team is what people will remember and not just on this issue.
BLITZER: Torie, I was struck by some words from Scott Reid. He's a very smart guy. He was the campaign manager for Bob Dole when he ran for president.
Quoted in "The Wall Street Journal," today, he said, "Cheney may not care about his political image but his political image affects the president, affects the party and affects members of Congress," which is all true.
CLARKE: Sure, but it's a matter of to what degree. I actually think the implications on this particular incident are greater for the Democrats than for Republicans.
BLITZER: If the Democrats try to pile on, you mean?
CLARKE: Sure. In terms of the vice president, I think views about the vice president and this president as well are pretty hardened. I don't think they change a whole lot. You either like them and support them or you don't. And I don't think this is going to upset that balance that much.
BLITZER: Let's move on to the Defense Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld. The man you used to work for. Torie, he was speaking before the counsel on foreign relations in New York today, a high- powered group of academics and foreign policy thinkers. Among other things, he said this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD RUMSFELD, DEFENSE SECRETARY: While the enemy is increasingly skillful at manipulating the media and using the tools of communications to their advantage, it should be noted that we have an advantage as well. And that is quite simply that the truth is on our side. And ultimately, in my view, truth wins out.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Is that good enough, Torie?
CLARKE: Well, he said it before, and he's going to have to continue to go out there and say it again and again and again. Because if you saw the whole speech or read all of it, he's talking about all the incredible information technologies that we have in this era. And the bad guys, the terrorists, are much better at using them and exploiting them than big cumbersome governments like ours.
We've got to get much better at that. He is absolutely right. But it is something that not a lot of people are aware of. And a lot of people, Republicans, Democrats, all aspects of government, are going to have to get engaged to be more successful. I think he's right. The truth ultimately prevails, but it's harder to get the positive truth out there, and it takes a lot more work.
BLITZER: What do you think?
MCAULIFFE: Couldn't agree more that the truth is important. I wish we'd had the truth before we actually went into Iraq and dealt with intelligence data that was properly presented. I wish the truth had come out, you know, when we know find out that Dick Cheney had authorized his chief of staff to leak information and outed a CIA operative. The truth is very important.
BLITZER: Well, we don't know -- you jumped to outing a CIA operative. The only thing he said in that affidavit was that he was authorized by superiors to leak information from a national intelligence estimate before the war.
MCAULIFFE: Which is classified information.
BLITZER: Yes, but not necessarily outing a CIA operative.
MCAULIFFE: Why is the vice president, who is his only superior, I would say -- either that, or he's going to George Bush. I don't know who he's going to. But his superior, Dick Cheney, authorized him to out with classified information. Why is a sitting vice president doing that?
BLITZER: He's authorize to do that, the vice president, under an executive order. He can declassify, like the president, whatever he wants.
CLARKE: He is authorized to do it. And I tell you, as many challenges as the Republicans have this year -- and they've got many -- I feel better every day. Terry is one of the leaders of the Democratic Party. And if the best they can do is have a laundry list of things they don't like about this administration but not offer any real, tangible, substantive measures going forward, then the Republicans will do just fine.
BLITZER: The president was out defending the NSA warrantless wiretaps once again today in Tampa. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BUSH: I'm doing the right thing. Washington is a town that says, "You didn't connect the dots." And then when you do connect the dots, they say you're wrong. In order to protect America, if somebody's talking to al Qaeda, we want to know who they are and why they are talking to them.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: He's really passionate when it comes to defending the legality of what he authorized.
MCAULIFFE: That's great. The issue for most Americans is, they don't want average Americans being eavesdropped on without some type of judicial oversight. We've continually said it.
Torie likes to say, "Well, the Democrats aren't offering anything." Let me remind you that the White House is controlled by the Republicans, as well as the House and the Senate. This is their administration. You want to connect the dots?
Let's talk to George Bush about what happened in Katrina. We've just seen a scathing report come out of the Republicans, the total ineptness United States government led by George Bush, who said he didn't know that the levees may be breached. And then we found out that he'd been briefed in advance. It is the total competence.
When you get the Democrats -- let me promise. And this is what we'll do, Torie. We'll appoint people not like Michael Brown to be the head of FEMA. We'll put qualified people in who will run our government. And before we commit our troops overseas, I promise you with the Democrats you will make sure it was based on credible evidence.
And when our generals say we need more troops, we'll give more troops. George Bush didn't send enough troops. He didn't listen to the generals. And we'll give them body armor. That's what the Democrats will do, plain and simple.
CLARKE: Sure. Very traditional Democrat talking points, fine. The question was about the NSA program. What most Americans want is to prevent terrorists from launching further attacks on this country. When this all broke several weeks ago, we talked about this.
And I said, "The end result of this will be a lot of screaming and yelling on some people's part. At the end of the day, what you're going to have is the program largely in tact, far greater consultation with Congress on both sides of the aisle." And that's a very good thing. And that's where we're going to end up, I believe.
BLITZER: Torie Clarke, Terry McAuliffe. Have a great weekend.
CLARKE: Thank you, sir. Good to see you.
BLITZER: Thanks very much.
Back to the NSA spy program. At least for now, even if it's ultimately blessed by the Congress and the courts, there's still some growing concerns this will do little to prevent terrorists necessarily from communicating. Our Internet reporter Abbi Tatton has more on this part of the story -- Abbi.
ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, this is Skype, a free online program that lets millions upon millions of users worldwide make calls over the Internet. Let's see how it works. Peter, you out there?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hey, Abbi. How's it going?
TATTON: There's peter. He's at his computer next door working away, and I'm talking to him here. Now, one key difference, obviously, is that I'm not using a telephone. Another key difference with Skype and calls like it is that they are encrypted. They're encoded with a complicated mathematical formula that makes it very difficult to find out what's being said. Security expert Bruce Schnyer (ph) tells us that it's almost impossible to decode those calls.
As such, they could be used conceivably by terrorists to bypass surveillance. Now, this business is growing. Right now, over four million people online using this service right now. Even if the government were legally intercepting calls like this, it would be very, very difficult, Wolf, for them to decode it.
BLITZER: Abby Tatton, thanks very much. Coming up, they help put him in the White House six years ago and helped reelect him in 2004. But are conservatives now souring somewhat on President Bush?
Plus, why is Hillary Clinton looking a bit stiff? We're going to explain. That's coming up. Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: An update now on the CIA leak case. Prosecutors are fighting the release of more classified documents, documents sought after by Lewis "Scooter" Libby's lawyers. They want those documents, but the prosecutor says, "You have enough, at least for now." Our justice correspondent Kelli Arena is following this story.
It's a little complicated, Kelli, but what happened today?
KELLI ARENA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, basically, Wolf, special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald says that that request from Scooter Libby's lawyers would sabotage the case if it were granted. And as you said, lawyers for Libby are asking for classified intelligence documents, including nearly a year's worth of the daily threat assessment that the president receives each day.
Fitzgerald warned the judge overseeing the case that in order the turn over such documents would provoke a very long legal battle with the president over issues of national security and executive privilege. But Libby's lawyers say that they need those documents to prove that Libby had many important issues on his mind which could have clouded his testimony before the grand jury.
Now, that's important because Libby, as you know, is charged with perjury. Fitzgerald says that he's already handed over more than 11,000 pages of classified and unclassified documents, which he says is much more than legally required. Libby's team needs to file a response by February 21st. And a hearing before the judge, Wolf, is scheduled on the 24th. One week from today.
BLITZER: The legal maneuvering continuing. Kelli, thank you very much.
On our "Political Radar" today, the battle for Congress. Candidates and special interest groups already have spent tens of billions of dollars in television advertising just six weeks into the midterm election year. A campaign media analysis group says at this pace, 2006 ad spending is likely to top the record $1.4 billion spent in 2004. That was a presidential election year.
Hillary Clinton is looking a bit stiff. Not the real senator, but a wax figure of her. Madam Taussaud's unveiled the former first lady's look alike in New York yesterday at a mock Hillary 2008 presidential rally. Visitors at Madam Taussaud's get to vote on whether they think Senator Clinton will be the first woman president here in the United States. Coming up, so what's going to happen in Iraq when the United States pulls out? You may be surprised at what Don Rumsfeld is predicting. You'll hear what the secretary of defense had to say on that subject right after the break.
And then, you're more likely to be hit by lightning, 500 times more likely, in fact. So why are so many Americans lining up for the longest of long shots? Find out, coming up right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: A blunt assessment today from the Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld about the possibility for failure by Iraqi troops when U.S. forces eventually pull out. He spoke to the Council on Foreign Relations in New York city. Check this out.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RUMSFELD: We are going to have to pull out of some pieces of real estate and turn over things to Iraqis. And they're going to drop the ball. I mean, let's face it. And we're going to have to step in, go back in, and fix it, and then turn it back over again.
And it's going to be three steps forward and one step back. It isn't going to be perfect, it isn't going to be pretty. It isn't going to look like a United States of America. It's going to be an Iraqi solution, politically, an Iraqi solution, economically, and an Iraqi solution from a security standpoint.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: The defense secretary also spoke out about calls for the closure of the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. He's not happy about a United Nations report. We're going to have a live report on what he said. That's coming up here in THE SITUATION ROOM in the next hour.
Zain Verjee is finishing up. She's actually finished up her stint over at "American Morning." she returns here on Monday. Fred is back here with us once again with a closer look at other stories making news.
WHITFIELD: Hello again, Wolf. And an update now on that incident, that hazmat situation we told you about within the hour in Mesa, Arizona. It turns out, according to officials, that mace or pepper spray contaminated the air and 25 people were treated on the scene, and now people are being allowed to return back to that Wal- Mart store.
And now, rescue teams are searching the Mississippi River after a worker apparently fell from a highway bridge into the water. Three other bridge workers were pulled to safety after dangling for several minutes by their safety harnesses. It wasn't immediately clear if the man who fell into the river was wearing a harness.
And we're seeing wild weather across much of the U.S. In the past 24 hours or so, temperatures in the lower 48 states range from a low of minus 20 degrees in Minnesota to a high of 91 degrees in Texas. That's a difference of 118 degrees. Parts of the Great Lakes and the Northern Plains are now being blasted by snow and frigid temperatures. But it feels like spring in much of the Northeast. We'll have a full forecast at the top of the hour.
And the largest jackpot in U.S. history has sparked frenzied buying of Powerball tickets in 28 states and the District of Columbia. The potential payout jumped to $365 million when there was no winner in last night's drawing. The next drawing will be tomorrow. And the odds of winning, less than 1 in 146 million. Wolf, I hope you're thinking of me and maybe you'll pick up me a ticket or two.
BLITZER: Maybe I'll go over to Union Station later and get a ticket. You have any tickets yet?
WHITFIELD: No, but I'm counting on you.
BLITZER: All right. Let me see where I get.
WHITFIELD: All right, thanks so much.
BLITZER: Up next, should the federal government sell control of U.S. ports to foreign countries? It's a provocative security question. Jack Cafferty is going through your email.
Talk about bad baggage. U.S. Airlines has been losing more and more of your luggage. The startling statistics. That's coming up here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Let's check back with Jack with "The Cafferty File" -- Jack?
CAFFERTY: Thank you, Wolf. The U.S. government is on the verge of transferring control of six major American ports to a company from the United Arab Emirates. That's a country that served as both the financial and operational base for the 9/11 hijackers. Sale price is $6.8 billion.
The Bush administration's defending this action, saying the sale was rigorously reviewed. Two Democratic senators say they're going to introduce a bill, excuse me, that would block the sale. Now, that's a good idea. The question is this, should the government sell control of U.S. ports to foreign countries? It's funny, nobody wrote in and said, "Yes, it's great. Let's do that."
Rowland in Austin, Texas: "So let me get this straight. We haven't given first responders a way to communicate with each other, we haven't prepared out major city hospitals for a chemical or nuclear attack, we haven't sealed our borders, and we're giving control of our largest ports to a country that harbors terrorists?" Mike in Greensborough, North Carolina: "It is absolute stupidity for our elected officials to even consider selling U.S. ports to foreign companies. I wish we could vote now for the midterm elections. These fools in D.C. need a permanent timeout.
Charlie in Campbellville, Ontario: "It's like I've always said. Keep your friends close, and sell your ports to your enemies."
C. in Lawrence, Kansas writes, "Be careful, Jack, that you don't become known as one of the frenzied press, an angry person, someone who dares question those who know best but can't tell you what our why.
Kathy in Riverview, Florida, writes, "Why not? While we're at it, let's place Centcom in the control of Saudi Arabia. This White House has very peculiar ideas about national security. Somehow, this does not make me feel safer. This administration takes hypocrisy to an even grander level. We are in serious trouble here, folks."
And Charles writes, "You made that up, didn't you?" With I had, Charles. Afraid not. True story.
BLITZER: You can't make this kind of stuff up. If somebody would have said to you, "Jack, the United States is going to outsource the ports. And not just little ports, New York. New York city. You live there. You know what it's like. It's hard to believe."
CAFFERTY: New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Miami, New Orleans, which is, I think, maybe even a bigger port than New York. And it's not just outsourcing it to a country like Great Britain or, you know, Brazil...
CAFFERTY: ... or Canada. This was the operational and financial headquarters of the 9/11 terrorists who attacked our country and killed 3,000 of our citizens. They were given a free pass in this country where they're going to sell -- it's mind boggling. I could get very upset if I allowed myself. But I'm trying to remain calm here.
BLITZER: All right, Jack. Thanks very much.
Let's get a little bit more on the fallout this story's having online. Jacki Schechner is joining us with that -- Jacki?
JACKI SCHECHNER, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Jack should blog his anger, Wolf. So according to DP World's Web site, they control ports all over the world. They don't have any assets in North America right now, and that, as we've been talking about, will change with the acquisition of P&O Ports. You can see the major cities there.
Now, this is bipartisan outrage online. Both sides coming together unhappy. Some upset that this is the UAE, others just upset that it's a foreign government in general. This decision was made by the Department of the Treasury, a committee within that department. And there was a group of congressmen bipartisan who joined together to write a letter to Treasury Secretary John snow saying, "We would like you to consider this. We want another formal investigation. They're entitled to that by law." That letter available on Senator Schumer's Web site.
There was also Congressman Pete King who has said he is going to do more investigation into this. He is the head of the Homeland Security Committee in the House. He says that this is an arcane decision-making process, pre-9/11, Wolf, and he wants to know more.
BLITZER: I'm going to ask Michael Chertoff, the secretary of homeland security, all about this program when he's on "Late Edition" this Sunday.
Still to come, President Bush on shaky ground with his base. Are fellow Republicans piling on to his problems?
Plus, those deadly mudslides in the Philippines. We'll have a full report on what happened, and more on the stunning pictures. That's coming up at the top of the hour.
BLITZER: In Florida this hour, President Bush is getting ready to appear at a Republican fundraising dinner. Yet another effort to try to reach out and help his own political party. These days, he may need some more shoring up of his base than ever. Our senior political analyst Bill Schneider is standing by -- Bill.
SCHNEIDER: Wolf, President Bush and Karl Rove have spent a lot of effort on the care and feeding of their conservative base. But some conservatives seem ready to bite the hand that feeds them.
SCHNEIDER (voice-over): Cracks are beginning to appear in President Bush's conservative base. One leading conservative characterizes the view of Bush this way.
DAVID KEENE, AMERICAN CONSERVATIVE UNION: We love the guy, but...
SCHNEIDER: But what? Well, consider this. Nearly half of self- described conservatives say President Bush has done something to make them angry. Like what? Many conservatives have problems with the Bush administration's expansive view of government. They're outraged by the deficit.
REP. MIKE PENCE (R), INDIANA: It's simply morally wrong for us to allow the expansion of government and pass that bill along to our children and grandchildren.
SCHNEIDER: This week, an all-Republican congressional committee examining the government's response to Hurricane Katrina issued a scathingly critical report. REP. TOM DAVIS (R), VIRGINIA: The president or the secretary or Andy Card or someone who'd say, "Do you have everything you need?" And he'd say yes. But there was no supervision. And they were just not engaged.
SCHNEIDER: President Bush's immigration policies have angered many conservatives.
REP. TOM TANCREDO (R), COLORADO: And if the president of the United States really wanted to, he could secure the border tomorrow.
SCHNEIDER: Some conservatives are asking, should the U.S. be engaged in nation building in Iraq?
KEENE: Part of the base belief of conservatives is that the people in Washington have neither the confidence nor the ability to tell the people of Peoria, Illinois, how to order their lives. It therefore sort of seems inconsistent to say that, "Well, we may not be able to do that, but we do know how to organize societies halfway across the globe."
SCHNEIDER: There's even been criticism on the right of Vice President Cheney's handling of his hunting accident.
J.C. WATTS (R), FORMER GOP CONGRESSMAN: I just think the president -- or the vice president was very late in dealing with this.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCHNEIDER: You could call it piling on. If you're down in the polls, even your own people turn against you. But some of the criticism represents real differences of principle. President Bush is a big government conservative. And to many conservatives, that's an oxymoron -- Wolf?
BLITZER: Bill Schneider, our senior political analyst. Thanks very much.
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