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President Wraps Up Public Phase Of Listening Tour At Pentagon Today; David Duke Interview

Aired December 13, 2006 - 16:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And to our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM, where new pictures and information are arriving all the time. Standing by, CNN reporters across the United States and around the world to bring you today's top stories.
Happening now, the commander-in-chief considers sending more troops to Iraq. He's getting Pentagon increase on a short-term increase in the search for a long-term solution.

Saudi Arabia issues an ominous warning to Vice President Dick Cheney.

Could that derail Iraq's efforts to take control of its own security?

And a former Ku Klux Klan leader turned politician finds a new platform to provoke outrage.

Why did David Duke team up with Iran's president and Holocaust deniers?

I'll ask him in a live interview coming up this hour from Tehran.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.


This hour, more ideas for the future of Iraq are on the table, along with a troubling new threat. President Bush met today with top officials over at the Pentagon and defended his delay in announcing a new war strategy.

Administration officials say Mr. Bush is seriously considering a short-term increase of U.S. troop levels to ease the killing and the chaos. Saudi Arabia's king reportedly read the riot act to Vice President Dick Cheney last month about the deteriorating situation in Iraq.

A senior American official says King Abdullah warned that if the U.S. pulls out of Iraq, Saudi Arabia would step in and support like- minded Sunni Arabs in their deadly struggle with Iraq's Shiite majority.

In Baghdad today, Iraq's national security adviser says the government has come up with a plan to put its security forces in the lead in the capital area, and do it soon. He says coalition forces would still be involved, but they'd be positioned at the edges of the city.

Our correspondents are following all these new developments on the situation in Iraq.

Dana Bash is on Capitol Hill.

Jamie McIntyre is over at the Pentagon.

Let's go to our Ed Henry.

He's at the White House with the latest from there -- Ed.

ED HENRY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the president wrapped up the public phase of his listening tour at the Pentagon today, revealing he delayed his upcoming speech revealing his new strategy in Iraq -- he delayed that, he says, because he does not want to be rushed into such an important decision.

Some blunt talk, as well, at the Pentagon. The president with even his incoming defense secretary, Robert Gates, who was there, saying the U.S. is not winning in Iraq.

The president tried to reassure the nation that military commanders told him in this briefing today that, in fact, progress is being made, that just in the past couple of months, thousands of enemies have been captured by U.S. military troops.

And amid criticism his administration has downplayed the sectarian strife, the president was brutally frank, saying the violence has been, in his words, "horrific."

And he also had a direct message to U.S. troops wondering about his next move in Iraq, declaring he will not be bringing them home any time soon any time soon.


GEORGE BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You have my unshakable commitment in this important fight to help secure the peace for the long-term. I pledge to work with the new Congress to forge greater bipartisan consensus to help you achieve your mission. I will continue to speak about your bravery and your commitment and the sacrifices of your families to the American people.

We're not going to give up. The stakes are too high and the consequences too grave to turn Iraq over to extremists who want to do the American people and the Iraqi people harm.


HENRY: The president said that during this listening tour he's heard some bad ideas, such as leaving before the job is done. He also said he's heard some good ideas, but he wouldn't go into detail. He doesn't want to tip his hand about where he's going. But people familiar with the deliberations say one idea the president is giving at least strong consideration to is increasing the number of U.S. troops in Iraq. In fact, neo-conservative Ken Adelman today on CNN pushing the administration to double the number of U.S. troops in Baghdad over the course of the next six months, saying this is the last best chance of victory.


KEN ADELMAN, FORMER DIPLOMAT & ARMS CONTROL EXPERT: I want a situation, a last chance, so that anybody looking at the situation six months from now says the situation in Iraq is grave, but improving.

And if we can't do that, we owe it to our troops, to these wonderful men and women who are out there serving us all, we owe it to our troops to just get out of there, because we'll never win.


HENRY: Now, in a sign of just how far the consultation is going, from this White House all of a sudden, CNN has learned that in the last hour, the president's national security adviser, Stephen Hadley, was meeting with Democratic Congressman John Murtha here at the White House. You remember in the last mid-term election campaign, the White House charging that Murtha wanted to cut and run-from Iraq. They're now at least listening to his ideas -- Wolf.

BLITZER: I suspect, in terms of the bipartisan environment, that's a step forward, Murtha at the White House meeting with the president's national security adviser.

What about this reported threat from King Abdullah of Saudi to Vice President Dick Cheney when he was there for the U.S. not to leave Iraq any time soon?

HENRY: Well, as you know, one senior U.S. official telling CNN that essentially the vice president, on that recent visit to Saudi Arabia, was read the riot act by King Abdullah, basically warning that if, in fact, the U.S. pulled out of Iraq, Saudi Arabia would have to get involved to try to help Sunnis.

Tony Snow, the White House spokesman, today insisting that is not official Saudi policy, though he wouldn't really get into the details of the vice president's meeting.

The bottom line is the president tried to, perhaps, mend fences a little bit at the Pentagon briefly, noting that he believes the bottom line is Saudi Arabia wants, in the end, to have a unified government in Iraq because that will bring peace and stability to the region -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Easier said than done, certainly.

Ed Henry at the White House, thank you.

Now to the Pentagon's take in possible changes in the overall Iraq strategy and the level of U.S. troops in Iraq.

Let's bring in our senior Pentagon correspondent, Jamie McIntyre. What are they saying there at the Pentagon about an increase in troops in Iraq?

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SENIOR PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: They're saying it's possible. But if President Bush were to select the option of sending tens of thousands of additional troops, he would be not only ignoring the advice of the Iraq Study Group, but overruling his top military commanders.

The option of more U.S. troops to restore stability in the short- term was one that was flatly rejected last month by General John Abizaid, who said he polled every division in commander in Iraq and asked them if more U.S. troops would help. They all said no, according to Abizaid.

But, critics of Abizaid and that policy, who have the president's ear, say that the generals are too wedded to their old strategy and that perhaps a big infusion of U.S. firepower would restore stability in Baghdad, and perhaps in Anbar Province, long enough for that political settlement that everybody agrees is the key to success to take hold.

Another question, of course, is does the U.S. have those troops?

The Iraq Study Group said it rejected the whole idea, partly because they said it was unsustainable with the size of the U.S. military. And while there are serious proposals now to increase the size of both the Army and the Marine Corps, that's not something that can be done quick enough to provide those troops for Iraq in the short-term -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Jamie, we'll have you back shortly.

Jamie McIntyre at the Pentagon, thank you.

A developing story on Capitol Hill.

Let's turn to our Dana Bash.

She's watching it for us.

What are we picking up -- Dana?

DANA BASH, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, we understand that Senator Tim Johnson, Democrat of South Dakota, was rushed to the hospital this morning from his office here in the Capitol with stroke-like symptoms. According to his press office, he was taken there at about 11:30 this morning. He was conscious when taken to George Washington University Hospital.

The office is not clear what the senator's status is right now. But, again, they said that he had stroke-like symptoms when he was rushed to the hospital by ambulance this morning.

They are awaiting word on his condition, as are we -- Wolf. BLITZER: All right, Dana, we'll continue to monitor it. We wish Senator Johnson, of course, a very speedy recovery. We'll get more information and bring it to our viewers.

Let's turn back to our top story.

Some reports suggesting the president might be inclined for a temporary surge in the number of U.S. troops in Iraq. We're hearing now from the incoming chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Carl Levin, and others.

And they're responding, I take it, negatively?

BASH: Negative on that. But what Senator Levin and the other Democrats are saying today is that for all of the debate and discord over whether to send more troops, whether to bring them home, the one thing that almost everybody agrees on the need for a political solution, a settlement in Iraq. And what Senator Levin said today is that the president needs to change his approach on that fast.


BASH (voice-over): From the Senate's top Democrat on military matters, a call for President Bush to immediately deliver a clear message to the Iraqi government.

SEN. CARL LEVIN (D-MI), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: That the U.S. commitment to Iraq is not open-ended, it is not unconditional.

BASH: Senator Carl Levin says that word must be sent before this weekend's reconciliation conference in Baghdad, an effort by Iraq's prime minister to bring together deeply divided sectarian factions to search for new ways to reduce violence and mistrust.

LEVIN: That message would reverberate in a very, very important way to the Iraqi leaders, to let them know that the pressure is on them to make the compromises.

BASH: Levin argues the only way to find stability in Iraq is to force its fledgling government to find political agreement and says this Bush refrain is exactly the wrong way to get them there.

BUSH: The presence of the United States will be in Iraq so long as the government asks us to be in Iraq.

LEVIN: It is that open-ended commitment which has taken the heat and the pressure off the Iraqis to resolve their differences politically.

BASH: At the White House, Levin's plea was duly noted, but not embraced.

TONY SNOW, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The Iraqis have plenty of incentive to take full governance of their country and also to fight terror. BASH: As the president mulls the larger change in course in Iraq, Senator Levin rejected an idea Mr. Bush is seriously considering, according to administration officials -- sending more troops in the short-term.

LEVIN: I think it would be a mistake because it gets us in deeper rather than getting us out, and mainly because it's a political solution which is required here.


BASH: Now, the reality is even when Democrats take control of Congress in January, they will really have very few tools at their disposal to really affect Iraq policy. The one thing that they have is the power of the purse, the power to take money away, cut off funding from the war.

But Senator Levin today, like other Democrats, rejected that. He said a repeat of Vietnam, where the troops get the impression that because there's a debate going on in Washington that there's less support for them, he said that is not the answer here -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And even as this debate unfolds here in Washington, some influential senators are now in Iraq, including some who want to be president of the United States.

What do we know?

BASH: That's right. There are a couple of Congressional delegations either headed to or actually in Iraq as we speak. Probable presidential candidate, Senator John McCain is there right now. You see a picture there. He met with the prime minister of Iraq. He's there along with a couple of -- a few Republicans, Senator John Thune, Susan Collins, and, also, Senator Joe Lieberman.

But, also, you mentioned the idea of 2008. Of course, the debate is going on here right now. Everybody is waiting to hear what President Bush decides about the change of course.

But if this -- no matter what -- I should say, no matter what happens going forward in 2008, there will be a debate, a presidential debate, because no matter who takes over in 2009, there will be tens of thousands, perhaps more, troops on the ground.

So Democrats are also very eager to go over there, those who want to be president. Senator John Kerry, Senator Chris Dodd are both potential 2008 contenders. They're actually there together, Wolf. And for Senator Kerry, this will be the first time he is there after he made that ill-fated joke, talking about the fact that troops certainly shouldn't be there. That was right before the election in November. You remember that -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Of course, we all remember.

Thanks very much, Dana, on the Hill, for that. And in what some see as an affront to the White House, Democratic Senator Bill Nelson of Florida spent an hour with the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, today. The Associated Press quotes Nelson as saying that Assad clearly indicated, and I'm quoting now, "a willingness to cooperate in controlling its border with Iraq."

Engaging Syria and Iran is a recommendation of the Iraq Study Group, but the White House press secretary, Tony Snow, doesn't think highly of Senator Nelson's diplomatic sojourn.

Says Snow, and I'm quoting now: "We don't think that members of Congress ought to be going there."

Let's check in with Jack Cafferty for The Cafferty File -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Ah, what a great idea this war is turning out to be, Wolf.

Remember a couple of weeks ago Vice President Cheney made that trip to Saudi Arabia? Apparently he got an earful from the Saudi government. The "New York Times" first reported that Saudi King Abdullah warned Vice President Cheney that if the United States pulls its troops out of Iraq, Saudi Arabia will support the Iraqi Sunnis in any war against the Shiites, and there'll surely be one.

One senior U.S. official says that King Abdullah read the riot act to Cheney about Iraq. He apparently said his kingdom would be forced to step in and support the Sunnis if the situation deteriorates.

King Abdullah also said he doesn't want the United States talking with Iran, something the Iraq Study Group has recommended.

Iran, which is mostly Shiite, clearly supports the Shiites in Iraq.

So if we pull out and the Sunnis and Shiites go at it, we could have Sunni countries like Saudi Arabia and Jordan rushing in on one side, Shiite countries like Iran rushing in on the other.

You think oil is expensive now?

Here's the question -- what does it mean if Saudi Arabia ends up backing the Sunnis in Iraq?

E-mail your thoughts to or go to -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jack, good question.

Thanks very much for that.

And coming up, many years ago, he was in the Ku Klux Klan. Now he's in Iran. Former Klan leader David Duke joining us live from Tehran, where he's making friends with Iran's president at a conference questioning the existence of the Holocaust. You're going to want to see this interview. That's coming up.

Plus, much more on the president and just what he'll do about the war in Iraq. Our chief national correspondent, John King, joins us with some new developments.

And later, call it the icing on the cake for the Democrats. I'll have the latest developments in the battle for the House.

Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Welcome back.

Former Klan leader turned politician David Duke has spent decades provoking many Americans with his opinions on race and religion. Now he's found a surprising new platform in Iran. Duke put himself front and center at a conference on whether the Holocaust actually occurred. And in the process, he became an ally of Iran's fiercely anti-American president.

I'll speak with David Duke live from Tehran in just a moment.

First, let's get some background from our Mary Snow.

She's in New York -- Mary.

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, whether he's pushing his white race agenda or targeting Zionists, David Duke and extremism have always gone hand in hand, and that extremism was welcome in Iran, where its leader has said Israel should be wiped off the map.


SNOW (voice-over): Meet Iran's new American friend -- David Duke, the former politician and ex-grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan. He's applauding Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for assembling a conference of Holocaust deniers. Duke says it's all about free speech. Many see it another way, with one headline in the U.S. reading: "Cringing At Iran Kookfest."

DAVID DUKE, FORMER KU KLUX KLAN LEADER, FORMER LOUISIANA STATE REPRESENTATIVE: And the Zionists have used the Holocaust as a weapon to deny the rights of the Palestinians and to cover-up the crimes of Israel.

SNOW: World leaders have expressed disgust.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair says Duke's presence just points to Ahmadinejad's extremism.

TONY BLAIR, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: I had to get someone to go and check twice that they actually invited this -- this person who is the former head of the Ku Klux Klan there. I mean, you know, it's just unbelievable. SNOW: And Iran's not the only spot aboard where Duke's found a receptive audience. Last year, he took his anti-Zionist rhetoric to Syria. The Southern Poverty Law Center, which monitors hate groups, says Duke has been getting an international audience larger than he gets in the U.S.

MARK POTOK, DIRECTOR, THE INTELLIGENCE PROJECT: I think David Duke is, without question, the best known white supremacist leader in America today. You know, that said, he is not anything like he was 10 or 15 years ago.


DUKE: The time is coming when the American majority will find its way to its rights and its heritage.


SNOW: Then, Duke was in the thick of politics, saying he put his days as a Klansman behind him. He served in state office in Louisiana and at one time tried running for president. In 1990, even though he lost a Louisiana U.S. Senate race, he startled many when he won more than half the white vote there.

In 2003, he went to prison for tax and mail fraud. And some say because he was discredited in the U.S. he searched for new audiences.

POTOK: Well, I think that what Duke is doing in Iran is really giving life to the Holocaust denial movement, and it is helping to stoke very dangerous fires in the Middle East and in Arab countries in general.


SNOW: On Tuesday, the White House called the Iranian conference an affront to the entire civilized world -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks very much.

Mary Snow reporting for us.

Joining us now live from Tehran is the former Louisiana state representative, David Duke.

Mr. Duke, thanks very much for coming in. What do you say to those who say -- who charge, and there are many, that you're there in Tehran at this Holocaust conference simply because you hate Jews?

DUKE: Well, first off, Mr. Blitzer, I resent the introduction you made of me. You mentioned the Ku Klux Klan 11 times. That was over 30 -- well, 30 years ago in my life, and since that time I got elected to the House of Representatives, I became -- and I received a full doctorate, I have been a teacher, I have one of the best selling books in the world.

And you interview many former communists in governments all over the world and you don't introduce them by saying former communist and certainly not 11 times. I think you're biased because you're a former lobbyist for AIPAC. You're a Jewish extremist, supporter of Israel, so you want to bias anyone who criticizes Zionism.

BLITZER: Well, do you hate Jews?

DUKE: No, I don't. Do you hate people who don't want to be controlled? Do you hate Americans who don't want the Israeli lobby to have Americans fight and die and thousands maimed because Israel wants it in the Middle East? We have a war in Iraq because Israel wanted that war, not for American interests.

They lied to us about weapons of mass destruction, and now they're trying to get America into war against Iran, and I think it would be a tragedy for this country, a tragedy for the world. And you don't like what I say against Zionism so you want to talk about the Ku Klux Klan rather than the issues facing the world...

BLITZER: Do you...

DUKE: ... the terrorism of the Israel state for instance.

BLITZER: Do you believe, Mr. Duke, that there was a Holocaust?

DUKE: I'm sorry? I believe, sir, that the only way we can know whether there was a Holocaust or the nature of it is freedom of speech. I don't think we should be locking people in prison in Europe, even elderly people in their 80s, because they dare to have a different opinion about an historical event.

The American government shouldn't be saying that the Iran conference -- the Iran conference was a conference for freedom of speech. I heard many mainstream Holocaust speakers at this conference, many. This conference allowed freedom of speech on the issue.

The American government and Tony Blair and George Bush should be saying its a disgrace that David Irving, a worldwide historian with books in almost every library in the world, is in prison right now in Austria because he said something the Zionists don't like about the Second World War.

BLITZER: Do believe in a two state solution to the Israeli- Palestinian conflict, a new state of Palestine living side by side with the state of Israel?

DUKE: I think that's probably the best solution. I think you have to ask the people who live there, of both Israel and the Arab countries. But I know one thing. You can't impose a solution from the Zionist's domination of American foreign policy.

Pearl and people like Wolfowitz, Feith, Wurmser, Kristol, Abrams -- we can go on and on. It sounds like a Jewish wedding. They have set American policy and they have hurt American interests in the Middle East. Just as I have said for years, as Walt and Mearsheimer of Harvard have said, it's a fact. And we are dying right now in Iraq because we're there for Israel's interests. We've gotten no oil out of this war. I said -- I went around the world, around the country before this war, and said there were no weapons of mass destruction.

BLITZER: Well, let me interrupt for a moment, Mr. Duke. As far as I know, the president of the United States, who is the commander in chief, is not Jewish. The vice president of the United States is not Jewish. The secretary of defense is not Jewish. The national security advisor to the president, not Jewish. The director of the CIA, not Jewish. Are these people simply tools of the Zionist conspiracy?

DUKE: They're not tools of a conspiracy, but they are definitely tools of the Zionist media and political power. Even the "Washington Post" said that 60 percent of the contributions for the Republican Party come from Jewish sources. Plus, if any politician in America dares to criticize Israel, millions will go to his opponents and he will be attacked in the media where Zionists have incredible power.

Even the "Jewish Chronicle," the "Jewish Los Angeles Times" -- excuse me, not the "Los Angeles Times," the "Jewish Times of Los Angeles" stated that four of the five conglomerates of -- the largest media conglomerates are owned by Jews, and the fifth is even more pro- Israel than some of those conglomerates. We have a controlled media in the United States, and that's why we're not hearing the truth about this conference.

This conference is about the fact that there must be freedom of speech. And this is insane that people are being criticized. This conference is being criticized when there are people in prison right now for freedom of their conscience.

BLITZER: If there's a controlled...

DUKE: Now, if you think that David Irving should be in prison right now in Austria -- I'm asking you a question, sir.

BLITZER: Well, I'm the one who asks the questions in these interviews...

DUKE: Do you think David Irving should be in prison in Austria for voicing an opinion?

BLITZER: ... and we invited you on. And the question is...

DUKE: Exactly.

BLITZER: ... if we invited you on, why is there a Zionist conspiracy if we're letting you on television right now? How do you explain that?

DUKE: How do I explain that? I think that you can't affect the news. You've got -- I think you have to put some spin on what's happening in Iran.

BLITZER: But we didn't have to invite you on CNN.

DUKE: And you want to -- it's an attack mode, always an attack mode when people like myself come on there. But you thought you could handle me with your 11 connotations of the Ku Klux Klan.

BLITZER: All right, let me...

DUKE: But you know something? You can't handle me, and you can't handle the truth, and the fact is, you are an agent of Zionism. You work for AIPAC...

BLITZER: Listen -- all right. Listen.

DUKE: ... the lobby in this country that controls Israeli policy.

BLITZER: Listen, Mr. Duke...

DUKE: You're not an honest broken on television.

BLITZER: ... I am going to read to you what Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has said...

DUKE: You're an Israeli agent.

BLITZER: All right. I'm going to read to you what Mr. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the president of Iran, has said and then you can respond if you agree of disagree with him. "Israel must be wiped off the map and, God willing, with the force of God behind it, we shall soon experience a world without the United States and Zionism."

That's what he said on October 28th, 2005, according to Al- Jazeera.

DUKE: All right, first off, that's a complete misquote. He never said wipe off the map, and he was talking about the Zionist control of the United States. In fact, I heard his last speech, and I read articles all over the world where he said Israel will be wiped off the map.

He said Israel would have a change in government just as the Soviet Union changed. Obviously, the Russian people weren't killed. Israel wasn't wiped out, and this was to garner hatred against Iran to support the Holocaust and maybe the nuclear strike against Iran.

BLITZER: Well, what about when he says we "shall experience a world" -- when he says we should "soon experience a world without the United States"?

DUKE: I'm sorry, sir. I couldn't hear you.

BLITZER: When he says we should "soon experience a world without the United States and Zionism."

DUKE: I know what the translation was. He was referring to the control -- Israel uses the United States as its proxy. They use the -- at Mahaper (ph) said from Malaysia, Israel is able to dominate our policy through their money, through their media control, and they're leading us to disaster.

Richard Pearl and Paul Wolfowitz he were the formulators of the Iraq war. Pearl, Wurmser and Feith wrote a paper for Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel calling for war against Iraq, Iran, and Syria. And that's exactly what we did. They made up the lice of weapons of mass destruction because Americans were not willing to die in thousands and spend billions of dollars for Israel's strategic objectives. That's the reality.

BLITZER: David Duke, we have to leave it there.

DUKE: And there are so many lies that are going on right now.

BLITZER: The satellite is about to go down. So we have to leave it right there. But you're in Tehran.

DUKE: Well, people can find information at --

BLITZER: I'm sure they'll have plenty of opportunities to hear what you have to say. That's it. David Duke joining us from Iran.

Carol Costello is joining us right now from here in Washington with a closer look at some other stories making news -- Carol.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, all I have to say is you rock.

In the news right now, shades of Jack The Ripper. Prostitutes in Ipswich, England being advised to stay off the streets for fear a killer might strike again. Five women, all believed to be prostitutes, have been found dead in the eastern English town in the past two weeks. Two of the bodies were discovered just Tuesday. Suffolk police believe they have a serial killer on their hands.

All but 30 of the Northeast Taco-Bell restaurants shut down after a recent E. coli outbreak have reopened. Four in New Jersey, two in Delaware and 24 in Pennsylvania remain closed. The CDC says as many as 67 people got sick after eating at outlets of the fast food chain. In the meantime, green onions remain off the menu at all 5,800 Taco- Bell restaurants until the source of the infections is definitely identified.

And astronauts aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery take on the delicate task of folding back one of the solar wing panels of the International Space Station. Those are live pictures you're looking at. The 115-foot long panel you see it there -- needs to retract 40 percent so that another set of solar arrays can pivot.

Got that?

NASA says it's sort of like holding up a road map. If the crew can't make the adjustment by remote, NASA may send space walkers outside Discovery to crank the panel by hand. We'll keep following it. Back to you -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks a lot, Carol. We will be back with you shortly.

Up next: President Bush says he's not interested in plans that would lead to defeat in Iraq. So, what is his plan? Our John King is standing by.

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM, where new pictures and information are arriving all the time.

Happening now: President Bush says he won't be rushed into revising his battle plan in Iraq. He held a strategy session with officials over at the Pentagon, after delaying an announcement on any policy changes until the new year.

A warning from Saudi Arabia may be complicating the search for an Iraq solution. A senior U.S. official says King Abdullah recently warned Vice President Dick Cheney that Saudi Arabia would step in and support the Sunni minority in Iraq if U.S. troops pull out.

On the ground in Iraq, at least 23 people were killed in bombings and mortar fire in Baghdad and near Kirkuk today. Once again, many of the victims were day laborers lured to their deaths by the promise of work.

And another 21 bullet-riddled bodies were found dumped across Baghdad.

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

President Bush is promising to give U.S. troops and commanders all the tools they need to finish the job in Iraq. His so-called listening tour on war strategy took him to the Pentagon today. Now there are plenty of voices and loads of proposals inside of Mr. Bush's head.

Let's bring in our chief national correspondent, John King.

John, what are you hearing about this listening tour, this debate within the administration?

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: We're learning more about what the president won't do, the recommendations he won't accept, than actually what he will do -- and the president saying again today he wanted more time himself. And he also thinks his new defense, Bob Gates, deserves some time to get his feet on the ground, before they come forward with this new plan.

So, look for that in the first week of January. We're told it could go as late as the January 16, but they're hoping to do it around the 3rd or the 4th of January. But we do know the president is not going to engage Iran and Syria at a high level directly. We are told that by senior administration officials.

And it was interesting, listening to the president today, when he said he has heard some -- quote -- "ideas that would lead to defeat." You can translate that into, the president is not going to announce he's drawing down U.S. troops in the short term, and he's not going to embrace any timeline to say, "My goal is to get all combat troops out by 2008," as recommended by the Iraq Study Group.

So, we're -- he's winnowing out options as to what he will do. We're not quite sure yet. Administration officials say he's not satisfied with all the information he's getting. He's asked for more and more information. How would you do this? How long would it take? How much would it cost?

And we are told still on the table that the president has not ruled out putting more troops in, in the short term. He hasn't said he would do that, but he hasn't ruled it out.

BLITZER: And we're also told he really wants to hear from Robert Gates, the incoming secretary of defense. He's going to be taking office in the next few days. He wants him involved directly in this consideration.

KING: That's right.

The president, of course, has had his listening tour, as the White House calls it. He's had input from members of Congress, input now from the generals and others at the Pentagon, input from outside experts, as well. But he wants to hear from Bob Gates, once he gets up and running -- Bob Gates obviously talking to those same generals involved in all the meetings now including those discussions today.

We're also told, though, that Mr. Gates is likely to go to Iraq, or at least bring the commanders in from Iraq, one or the other, for face-to-face conversations with them.

And another longer-term issue, Wolf, we're told the president, at least for now, is inclined to support this idea that has been kicking around, and resisted by the administration for the past few years, of a long-term increase in the size of the Army and the Marine Corps. That's gaining steam.

But, again, as the president says, it's probably a good idea -- he wants to hear what Mr. Gates thinks, as well, because Mr. Gates has said, before he embraces that, he wants to study, to see whether maybe troops in Germany, troops in Korea, troops somewhere else, could be re-tasked, instead of increasing the overall size of the military.

BLITZER: A lot at stake right now...


BLITZER: ... as we all know, John. Thanks very much for that, John King.

You saw earlier Dana Bash and Ed Henry. They are all part of the best political team on television.

And, remember, for all the latest political news at any time, check out our Political Ticker at

Up next: A top Senate Democrat puts the White House on notice over the government's wiretapping of American citizens. We're going to go live to Capitol Hill for details.

Also: five weeks after Election Day, and the results -- get this -- still coming in. We're going to tell you about another victory for the Democrats, and why it matters, in today's "Political Radar."

We will be right back.


BLITZER: A new example today of Democrats drawing a line in the sand, as they prepare to take charge of Capitol Hill. The incoming chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee is promising to fight some of President Bush's wartime tactics in order to defend Americans' rights.

Let's turn to our congressional correspondent, Andrea Koppel -- Andrea.

ANDREA KOPPEL, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, in a speech entitled "Ensuring Liberty and Security Through Checks and Balances," Senator Patrick Leahy put the Bush administration on notice.

And he said, come January, it won't be business as usual. Now, among his top priorities, he said, repairing the broken oversight of the FBI and the Justice Department, which allowed the warrantless wiretapping of Americans, as well as collecting information in databanks about them, without letting them know.


SEN. PATRICK LEAHY (D), VERMONT: Americans' privacy is a price the Bush administration is willing to pay for the cavalier way it's spawning new databanks.

But never forget this. Privacy rights belong to the people, not to the government. Don't ever, ever forget that.


KOPPEL: Now, to that end, Leahy said that he had had lunch a couple of weeks ago with Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, and that he planned to call him up before his committee in the very near future.

Leahy also said, another oversight priority of his would be to demand accountability over the use and abuse, in his words, of American taxpayer money to fund Iraqi development. He also said they would review recommendations by the Iraq Study Group to send over, from the Department of Justice, law enforcement officers to help train corrupt Iraqi police officers.

In addition, he said he planned to establish a new subcommittee for human rights. And, Wolf, he also said that he planned to reinstitute what's known as a blue slip, which allows home-state senators to block judicial nominees -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Andrea, thanks for that. I suspect this subject will be heavily debated in the new Congress.

Coming up: Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, with an eye on 2008, adds a member to his exploratory team.

And the search continues for the missing climbers in the mountains of Oregon. When will the weather cooperate?

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: We will check back with Carol for another closer look at some other important stories -- Carol.


Hello to all of you.

A nasty turn in the weather again hampering efforts to find three missing climbers on Oregon's Mount Hood -- freezing rain, sleet, and wind gusts of up to 69 miles an hour are keeping rescuers from reaching higher elevations. One climber is believed to be hunkered down up there. For now, search teams are focusing on lower elevations, where the other two might be. They say they're not giving up.

Three independent campaign groups have come to terms with the Federal Elections Commission on fines. The League of Conservation Voters,, and Swift Boat Veterans For Truth, collectively, will pay the FEC almost $450,000 for various violations. The commission approved the settlements unanimously today. MoveOn and Swift Boat Veterans played high-profile roles in the 2004 presidential election.

And Senator Elizabeth Dole is on the mend, after undergoing hip- replacement surgery. A spokeswoman says the 70-year-old North Carolina Republican had her right hip replaced in a one-hour procedure. That happened yesterday. She says, Senator Dole expects to resume work after the holiday recess.

Dole is up for reelection in 2008. Her husband, as you know, Robert Dole, was the Republican candidate for president in 1996.

That's a look at the headlines right now -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Carol, for that.

Carol will be back shortly. Up next: Former Majority Leader Tom DeLay's remarks that Senator Hillary Clinton could win the White House has the Internet buzzing. We're going to tell you what is being said.

A leading Democrat says, no way, no how to sending more troops to Iraq -- Senator Jack Reed will be our guest, right here in THE SITUATION ROOM, in the next hour.

Stay with us.


BLITZER: Here's a look at some of the "Hot Shots" coming in from our friends over at the Associated Press, pictures likely to be in your hometown newspapers tomorrow.

At the Asian Games in Doha, Qatar, supporters of North Korea cheer on the women's soccer team. They beat Japan in the finals, and will take home gold medals.

In India, an army soldier jumps his motorcycle through a ring of fire during a celebration.

Elsewhere in India, a rickshaw-puller delivers a big model of Santa Claus to a shop.

And near a beach in Thailand, foreign tourists take a break at McDonald's. Many beach areas that were damaged in the catastrophic tsunami of 2004 are again welcoming tourists -- some of today's "Hot Shots," pictures often worth 1,000 words.

Jack Cafferty is in New York with "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

CAFFERTY ANCHOR: Are those the best looking tourists you could come up with?




BLITZER: These are pictures coming in from the AP.

CAFFERTY: Well, tell them to go back to the drawing board. We need better looking tourists for the "Hot Shots."

"New York Times" first reporting that Saudi King Abdullah warned Vice President Cheney a couple of weeks back, if the U.S. pulls its troops out of Iraq, Saudi Arabia will then support the Sunnis in Iraq in any war against the Shiites.

So, the question we asked is: What does it mean if Saudi Arabia ends up backing the Sunnis in Iraq?

Charles writes from Lansing, Michigan: "All it means is, the Saudis take the place of Saddam Hussein to keep a stalemate with Iran in the area. Bush opened up this can of worms with his invasion of Iraq. That's why we must talk with Iran and Syria."

Roger in Wisconsin: "Saudi Arabia's saber-rattling is one more reason why we and the rest of the world should start weaning ourselves off of oil, which is financing this madness. A program of conservation, development of renewable domestic sources of energy is imperative."

Darlene in Eagan, Minnesota, writes: "Give me a break. The Saudis have been funding the Sunni insurgency since day one. The civil war has started already. It will grow bigger, no matter what we do. Pull our troops back to Iraq's borders to keep big armies out, and let them have at it. Money and arms will still be smuggled in. But, when they're sick of fighting, they will settle."

Judy in Chula Vista, California: "It means a regional out-all Middle East war could go bigger. We might even have militants from Asia getting involved. But what's the king supposed to do, let the Sunnis be slaughtered? God save us all from the nightmare George Bush and his neocons have created. I sure don't approve of his methods, but Saddam Hussein had a lid on this whole festering mess. In contrast to Bush, he understood the dynamics of the region. Now what do we do?"

Jim writes: "Has anyone given any thought to the possibility that this threat is just a ploy, launched in order to give Bush another excuse to keep the war going?"

And Chris in Calgary, Alberta: "Honey, we're selling the Hummer."




BLITZER: Thank you for that, Jack.


BLITZER: Still to come: Another Republican congressman gets ousted. We are going to have the results of yesterday's runoff election in Texas -- what that means for the U.S. Congress.

And America's mayor beefs up for a possible White House run. Will -- when will Rudy Giuliani actually throw his hat in the 2008 presidential ring? Will he?

Stay tuned. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: In today's "Political Radar," five weeks after Election Day, another victory for the Democrats. Seven-term Republican Congressman Henry Bonilla of Texas was knocked off last night in a special election.

Democrat Ciro Rodriguez grabbed 54 percent of the vote in the runoff election in the 23rd Congressional District in Texas. Rodriguez is a former representative who was ousted back in the 2004 campaign, after his district was altered. The victory in Texas means Democrats have now picked up 30 House seats in the midterm elections. They will control 233 seats in the new House. That's one more than the Republicans controlled in the outgoing Congress.

One contest remains undecided. And that race is in Florida, the 13th District, where the Republican candidate, Vern Buchanan, is certified the winner. He beat the Democrat, Christine Jennings, by just 369 votes. Jennings has not conceded, and is calling for a new election, and is suing because about 18,000 people who cast ballots in the district skipped the congressional race. Democrats claim the electronic voting machine simply malfunctioned.

The race in Florida 13 is to succeed Katherine Harris, who gave up her seat in an unsuccessful bid to defeat Democratic Senator Bill Nelson -- Harris, of course, no stranger to controversy. She's best known for her role in the Florida recount in the 2000 presidential election, when she served as Florida's secretary of state.

Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani today named an experienced Republican hand as executive director of his presidential exploratory committee. He's Michael DuHaime, the Republican National Committee's political director. Some campaign-watchers see the appointment as a sign that Giuliani is very seriously considering a run for the White House.

And, remember, for all the latest political news at any time, check out our Political Ticker. Simply go to

Will a Democratic ticket of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama win it all in 2008? That's what former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay thinks. And he's working on new ways to stop Democrats from taking back the White House.

Let's check in with our Internet reporter, Jacki Schechner -- Jacki.

JACKI SCHECHNER, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, earlier this week, Tom DeLay turned his old congressional campaign site into a blog and an online grassroots activism Web site.

And he say, it's all in the idea of organizing conservatives online in time for the next election cycle. Now, what he also did is met with conservative blockers yesterday at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank co-sponsored by "Human Events Online." And "Human Events" is posting that Tom DeLay is taking the blogosphere by storm.

It was at that gathering that DeLay said that a Hillary Clinton- Barack Obama '08 ticket would succeed, because of a powerful liberal coalition. He also called Obama a Marxist leftist, and encouraged conservative bloggers to dig into his past. We reached out to Obama's office today. And they say -- quote -- "This is exactly the kind of rhetoric that Americans rejected last November."

Hillary Clinton's office did not have any comment.

But liberals today online seem more inclined to talk about something else. DeLay apparently admitted on television yesterday that he doesn't do his own blogging. He has the ideas, and somebody else writes them.

So, we reached out to a Tom DeLay spokeswoman, who says that DeLay was just being humble, and that anything that says "Tom DeLay" on the bottom of the post is something he actually wrote -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jacki, thank you.