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The Situation Room

Fred Thompson's Iowa Debut; Tragedy at Crandall Mine

Aired August 17, 2007 - 16:00   ET


MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, tragedy at the Crandall Mine. The search for the missing miners is suspended after three rescuers died trying to find them.
Is there any chance they will be ever found alive?

Plus, Fred Thompson auditioning for a big role. The former senator and actor is sure acting like a candidate today. And wait until you hear what he told our John King.

And the man they called the "accidental speaker" is ready to throw in the towel on a long career in Congress. Dennis Hastert will not seek a 12th term. But why is he quitting now?

Wolf Blitzer's off today. I'm Miles O'Brien.


Lots on our plate today. We're following all kinds of stories that are changing very quickly.

We begin in Iowa, the race for the White House and the most popular non-candidate in the field. Former senator and actor Fred Thompson is making it very clear he is, in fact, running, even though he has yet to formally enter the race. Thompson's candidacy is sure to shake up the Republican contest.

Our chief national correspondent, John King, spoke today with the candidate to be -- John.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Miles, visit the Iowa State Fair and you can see giant hogs, a cow sculpted from butter, the dizzy dragons and amusement rides galore, and on this day, and only this day, a political star who tells CNN he will soon go from testing the waters to an official presidential campaign.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you very much.

KING (voice over): In Hollywood speak, this is Fred Thompson's Iowa premiere. Not yet an official candidate, but this a critical signal today.

The actor and former Tennessee senator still chooses his words carefully. (on camera): Do you think that you can still get in this race a couple weeks from now as planned and do what it takes to win the Iowa caucuses?

FRED THOMPSON (R), FMR. U.S. SENATOR: Yes, I do. I really do. We're going to be getting in, if we get in, and, of course, we're testing the waters, the legality. We're going to make a short statement that will cure all of that.

KING (voice over): But the timing of what you might call a "wait for me" visit was no accident. Rudy Giuliani still leads national polls of the Republican race. The former Massachusetts governor, Mitt Romney, is, at least at the moment, more and more the candidate to keep an eye on.

WHITE AYRES, REPUBLICAN POLLSTER: Mitt Romney is now first in Iowa, first in New Hampshire, with the most money in the bank, and a lot more money where that came from. That's a pretty good impersonation of a front-runner.

KING: This public stroll at the Iowa State Fair came after private meetings with Iowa GOP activists and elected officials, including Christian conservatives who traditionally have huge influence in the state's kickoff presidential caucuses.

AYRES: The real question now is, what happens with Fred Thompson? Does he come in and consolidate the conservative wing of the party? Or does the conservative wing get disillusioned with Fred Thompson as they have with many other candidates?

KING: Steve Sheffler is a veteran activist who runs the Iowa Christian Alliance and was among those invited to a private meeting with Thompson.

STEVE SHEFFLER, IOWA CHRISTIAN ALLIANCE: I think by and large people felt comfortable with what he had to say but, again, I think, you know, the first time meeting with these people is not going to be where people are going to say a light went off in my head and that's who I'm going to support.

KING (on camera): Many social conservatives complain of what they call lip service from the candidates for president. But Senator Thompson tells CNN that over time he is sure he will convince them that a President Thompson would not only push for a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, but also push aggressively to overturn the Supreme Court's landmark Roe versus Wade abortion rights decision.

John King, CNN, Des Moines, Iowa.


O'BRIEN: More on John King's one-on-one interview with Fred Thompson, that's coming up a little later in THE SITUATION ROOM. Stay tuned for that.

Carol Costello is monitoring some other stories for us right now. (NEWSBREAK)

O'BRIEN: In Utah, the outlook for those trapped coal miners has never been grimmer. The rescue operation is suspended indefinitely now after last night's fatal cave-in. Three rescuers killed, six injured trying to save their friends and co-workers.

Senator Orrin Hatch, Republican of Utah, is in Huntington right now. He joins us in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Senator Hatch, good to have you with us.

SEN. ORRIN HATCH (R), UTAH: Nice to be with you, Miles.

OPERATOR: I know you've spent time with these families. How are these families doing?

HATCH: Well, not very well, of course. You know, not only the families of the six miners, but of those who were rescue workers, three of whom are now dead, and two others are very seriously injured. So, it's a little tough for anybody, let alone these folks who have been living through this ordeal all these -- all these days.

O'BRIEN: The decision to suspend the rescue effort, it's obviously very ominous. But given what is obviously an unsafe condition underground, it's almost inevitable at this point.

What do you see ahead? Will there be any way to get back into that mine safely?

HATCH: Well, they were using the very best water support -- power supports that they possibly can. Now they're scouring the earth to find experts who might be able to show them how to do even -- you know, if there's any other way of putting stronger supports in there. But the best that we know of were being used.

And, of course, the bump in the mountain just blew them -- blew them sideways. And that, of course, has injured these nine miners. So, you know, they're exploring everything they possibly can to somehow find a way of getting in there and getting these people out.

They're also drilling a fourth hole. And if they can locate them through the holes, there's another way that they might be able to go and get them, and that would be through a 30-inch hole all the way down through.

If they could locate them and they are alive, if they find them alive, they can lower food and oxygen and all the other things that they need down there and have them wait until they drill that 30-inch hole from the top, if they can't go in sideways. So, there are ways of trying to do this. But I have to say, it's very discouraging, very difficult for the families.

I just want to praise the MSHA people here. They're the best in the world. Mr. Stickler is one of the best in the world here, and he has just done a terrific job under the circumstances. The state and local people who are here and, of course, the sheriff's office that has handled so much of this, and, of course, above all, extend our sympathy to the families of these -- of these good Samaritans who were in there who got hurt in the last day or so, and yesterday, as a matter of fact. And the families of those six miners who are still entrapped inside the mountain.

O'BRIEN: Senator, a word about safety in general here. These very deep mines, this technique of mining, some have called it retreat mining, is -- is very controversial and some would say not safe.

Do you think that there needs to be some changes in the law to prevent and -- prevent accidents like this from happening in the future?

HATCH: Well, my understanding is this was not retreat mining. It was regular mining. And they've been able to mine this -- this mine for many, many years.

Let's just face it, coal mining is a hazardous occupation. These men realize that when they go in -- men and women, by the way, who go in there and do this mining.

They do risk their lives when they go in there. Coal is a vital, necessary resource in our country. We can't run our country without coal right now.

Yes, it would be wonderful if we could find other energy sources that would be equivalent, but we can't. But we should use the safest possible methods we can. And as far as I can see, safe methods were used here.

It's just that you've had a series of what they call bumps or seismic events that literally had never been expected. We've had a few here at this mine in the past but they were never this serious.

And -- and, you know, when the mountains shift like that, in ways that really haven't happened before, pretty tough to tell what to do. But, it's a dangerous occupation. I have respect for anybody who mines coal. And without it, I think our country would have a very difficult time keeping our whole establishment going.

O'BRIEN: We certainly share in that respect.

Senator Orrin Hatch from Huntington, Utah.

Thank you for your time, sir.

HATCH: You bet.

O'BRIEN: Let's go right now to Jack Cafferty and "The Cafferty File" in New York.

Hello, Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: While the U.S. military is being ground down in the four-and-a-half-year-old civil war in Iraq, Russia and China are playing games, war games. On Russian soil. Not exactly a comforting sight for the people in Eastern Europe especially. Despite the joint efforts of two of the largest armies in the world, both countries deny that this could one day lead to a force that would counterbalance NATO.

The war games are complete with fighter jets and commandos leaping from helicopters and the boom of artillery shells. They were staged by an outfit called the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and include Russia, China and four other central Asia states.

Russian President Vladimir Putin watched the exercises, along with Chinese president Hu Jintao. Putin called the war games another step towards strengthening relations between his country and China, toward international peace and security, and toward the security of their people.

There's more to this.

Putin also announced that he's ordered the Russian military to resume regular long-range flights of strategic bombers.

Our State Department says it's not troubled by any of this, the war games, the strategic bomber flights. It's all OK.

Of course, this all comes at a time of growing tension between the United States and Russia, with Washington criticizing Russia's record on democracy and Moscow wining about America's missile defense plans for Eastern Europe.

So, here is the question: How concerned should the United States be about joint Russian-Chinese war games?

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

O'BRIEN: Jack Cafferty, thank you very much, sir.

Hurricane Dean is bigger and stronger and plowing toward land. We're tracking the storm's power and its path right now. We're going to go live to our severe weather center in Atlanta for an update shortly.

Plus, those maddening markets. Stocks continue their wild ride, ending the week with a positive note. Or is it?

We'll be live in New York ahead.

And the man they call "The Coach" is calling it quits. Dennis Hastert, the longest-serving House speaker ever, will not run for a 12th term in Congress. Is he leaving because he sees tough times ahead for Republicans?


(COMMERCIAL BREAK) O'BRIEN: Hurricane Dean tore across the Caribbean islands of St. Lucia and Martinique earlier today, and it's gaining strength quickly as it churns through the Caribbean Sea.


O'BRIEN: The government stepped in and gave those ailing stock markets just the tonic they needed today, apparently. The Federal Reserve bank slashing its so-called discount rate by a half point.

Now, the discount rate is the interest the government charges your bank for a loan. It now stands at 5.75 percent. The Fed did not drop its more important federal funds rate, but indicated it is prepared to cut it as well. The move is designed to ease concerns about the credit crunch and stabilize the financial markets.

It appears it worked. The Dow finished the day up by a good chunk of change.

Susan Lisovicz is at the New York Stock Exchange, where the markets have just closed.


O'BRIEN: John Edwards bills himself as a man of the people, but he -- is he practicing what he preaches when he invests his millions? Paul Begala and Leslie Sanchez standing by or our "Strategy Session".

And the Bush administration puts pressure on the president of Pakistan to join forces with an arch enemy.


O'BRIEN: Welcome back.

Let's go back to Utah, where rescuers have indefinitely suspended their search for six trapped miners after that cave-in that killed three rescuers and injured six others last night.

Our Brian Todd is at the scene. He joins us with the latest.

Brian, I guess they're still drilling those holes. So, to some extent, there is an operation under way to try to rescue them.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Miles. A fourth hole is continuing to be drilled from the top of this mountain down. It is really the only facet of this operation that is ongoing.

The digging in the main tunnel of the mine has been suspended indefinitely. And we're getting just a really graphic new account of just how devastating and sudden this collapse was last night.

Richard Stickler, the head of the Mine Safety and Health Administration, said that the miners were working in one of the deepest parts of the mine, some 2,000 feet underground, when essentially the weight of that mountain became too much to bear for that tunnel and its supports. It blew out the wall. Rubble was just shot to the other side of that tunnel.

It buried the nine miners, three of whom died. They all had to be pulled out of the coal at that point.

Now, with this main -- main tunnel, excuse me, being shut off indefinitely, the governor of Utah has weighed in on what he thinks should be done from here.


GOV. JON HUNTSMAN (R), UTAH: Let us ensure that we have no more injuries. We have suffered enough as a state. Whatever is done above or below -- and I don't know that much will be done below until we can guarantee worker safety.


TODD: But with that main tunnel now being shut off indefinitely, what we're getting is an indication of one possible way left that these miners, at least for the moment, could be found and could possibly be pulled out, and that is through the drilling process. We just mentioned a moment ago the fourth hole being drilled down.

Now, Mr. Stickler said that if by chance that hole gets to its destination and they do find the miners alive, they could drill a larger hole right there to put a capsule down and then possibly bring the miners up. Right now, Miles, that is about the only hope of finding these men and getting them out.

O'BRIEN: All right. Brian Todd in Huntington.

Thank you very much.

Fred Thompson is responding to critics who charge he was a lazy senator. The Republican presidential prospect in Iowa goes one on one with our John King.

Also ahead, the former speaker of the House is leaving. Dennis Hastert bowing out because maybe he sees trouble ahead for the GOP?



O'BRIEN: Happening now, the top U.S. commander in Iraq will deliver a report card on Iraq in a few weeks, but now his deputy is giving a hint as to what he might recommend when he briefs Congress. Barbara Starr with details on that.

And another recall of a potentially dangerous product from China. This time it's a medical device used by millions of Americans.

Also, remember this guy? Well, he escaped those dangerous floodwaters in Texas yesterday by climbing a tree. Well, he finally got back to dry land and now he's in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Wolf Blitzer's off today. I'm Miles O'Brien.

And you are in THE SITUATION ROOM, too.

Fred Thompson is in Iowa playing the part of a presidential candidate, even though he has not formally announced that he would like to audition for this role of a lifetime.

Our John King was able to pin him down, and Thompson left no doubt what his intentions are.


JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Let me start with a simple expectations question. You know, as you have been thinking about this, some people say, well, the longer he waits the more risk that people sign up, especially in a state like this, a caucus state, where the organization is so important.


KING: Do you think that you can still get in this race a couple weeks from now, as planned, and do what it takes to win the Iowa caucuses?

THOMPSON: Yes, I do. I really do.

We're going to be getting in, if we get in. And, of course, we're -- testing-the-waters phase, the legality. We are going to make a statement shortly that will cure all of that.

But, yes, we will be in traditionally when people get in this race. People have announced traditionally September, October, November. Things have been moved up a little bit this time in terms of the caucuses, but the campaigns have really been moved up. And they have been going on for a long, long time. And we're doing, in a few months, what most campaigns have done over a much longer period of time.

But, with the ways that we have to communicate today in the modern era, there's no question that we can do that. And, most importantly, we can have a ground game that will get out to everybody in Iowa.

KING: You met this morning privately with some conservative activists in this state, the people who helped people win the caucuses in the past.

They say that they were very comfortable with everything you said in that private meeting, very comfortable with your agenda. But they say they are skeptical, that they don't want to just hear lip service. They want to see results.

And they want to know, over time, as they meet you, would a President Fred Thompson actively push a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage? Would a President Fred Thompson actively push to overturn Roe v. Wade? What are the answers to those questions?

THOMPSON: Yes. Yes. I think that, with regard to gay marriage, you have a full faith and credit issue. I don't think one state ought to be able to pass a law requiring gay marriage or allowing gay marriage, and have another state be required to follow along under full faith and credit.

There are some exceptions and exemptions for that. It hasn't happened yet, but I think a federal court would very much -- very well likely will -- will go in that direction. And the constitutional amendment would cure that.

I think Roe vs. Wade was a bad decision. I think it was bad law and bad medicine. You don't just get up one day and overturn the entire history of the country with regard to social policy without any action by Congress, without any action by the American people or a constitutional amendment. And that's what happened. It shouldn't have happened. It ought to be reversed.

KING: So, it wouldn't be a speech a year or two speeches a year; you would promise, on those issues, on both of those issues, a sustained effort if you were the president?

THOMPSON: Well, I don't think, as a president, you can do anything halfway. I mean, if you take a position, you're bringing the whole office of the presidency to bear. And you have a bully pulpit. You have an obligation to speak about those things that are important to you. And those things are important.

KING: On the Democratic side, the debate on Iraq seems to focus on how fast you can get the troops home, many of the candidates saying they want to get almost all of the troops out of Iraq by the end of 2009, essentially, if the president won't get them out beforehand, once a new president takes over, use that first year in office to get most of the U.S. troops out.

How long would U.S. troops be in Iraq under a Thompson administration?

THOMPSON: A lot of hypotheticals, John. They can't deal with an important subject like that on a hypothetical basis.

All I know is, right now, we need to make every effort to make sure that we don't get run out of there with our tail between our legs before we have done the job of securing that place and stabilizing the place, so that the whole place doesn't go up into chaos, and tens of thousands of more innocent people don't get killed, and the whole place becomes nuclearized on -- on a sea of oil, as it were, bad, bad results for America.

And we shouldn't even be talking about anything else, except sustained activity, until we get a report back from General Petraeus in the middle of September. I think they're making progress there. I think we have to come to terms with the fact that Iraq is only a part of a global problem that's going to be with us for a while. It's going to take a lot of time, effort, and money. We need to face up to that fact, because the security of America and the next generation depends on it.

KING: As you know, the chatter in Washington is, you know, this guy Fred Thompson's a nice guy, he's a very good guy to get along with, but, in the Senate, he didn't like to work very hard. He's too lazy. He's not going to give the 18 to 20 hours a day it takes to win the presidency of the United States.

What do you say to those critics?

THOMPSON: Well, if I have critics in Washington, it's not going to come as a surprise to me. I will have more by the end of this campaign.

Proof's in the pudding. I think that's curable.

KING: Senator, thank you very much.

THOMPSON: Thanks a lot.


O'BRIEN: Former Senator George Allen's macaca moment changed the political game. Now it seems every campaign is being dogged by so- called trackers, hoping to catch that fatal mistake on video.

And, as you can imagine, some of them are none too happy about it.

Internet reporter Abbi Tatton is here.

Abbi, let's talk about Susan Collins. She is particularly upset about this whole phenomenon.

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Miles, it's her campaign.

An aide to Senator Collins saying this week, calling this intrusive and demeaning to the political process. Take a look at this video. A tracker for the Maine Democratic Party hired recently to gather intelligence on opponents seen here videotaping Senator Collins at a parade last weekend.

Now, a spokeswoman for the Maine Democratic Party called these accusations hyperbole. They have posted on YouTube the tracker's own video to, in their words, show how innocuous it is.




COLLINS: OK. I will be seeing you on the campaign trail.

(END VIDEO CLIP) TATTON: "I will be seeing you on the campaign trail," she says.

And no doubt, we will be seeing a lot of trackers on the campaign trail. Tracking is becoming a more visible component of campaigning. Its most famous victim, of course, former Senator George Allen.

And since 13 macaca moment, the National Republican Senatorial Committee has been giving some how-to advice. In their Internet guidebook that they put out earlier this summer for Republican campaigns, they're saying to these campaigns, it's likely that Democrats are going to be filming your candidate's every move. Their advice? Act accordingly, and think about filming your opponents as well -- Miles.

O'BRIEN: Yes, these days, there's always a camera out there, isn't there?

TATTON: There's always a camera, and they are all posted online.

O'BRIEN: Abbi Tatton, thank you very much.

The longest-serving speaker of the House, ever, has decided not to run again. Dennis Hastert says he will leave Congress at the end of his 11th term in the House. Hastert, of course, handed over the gavel to Nancy Pelosi after Republicans lost control of Congress last year. But he remained in Congress.

Our congressional correspondent Jessica Yellin is here.

Jessica, end of an era.


You know, this time last year, Dennis Hastert was predicting the Republicans would hold on to Congress, maybe even make gains in the election. Today, he announced his retirement and the end of a political career.


YELLIN (voice-over): From the district he served for more than two decades, former Speaker Dennis Hastert announced he's coming home.

REP. DENNIS HASTERT (R), ILLINOIS: After much consideration, I have decided not to seek another term of Congress.

YELLIN: Hastert was speaker during a period of Republican dominance. He helped pass tax cuts, a partial-birth abortion ban, a prescription drug bill, and an array of legislation responding to 9/11. His strength, colleagues say, was behind the scenes.

TOM DELAY (R), FORMER HOUSE MAJORITY LEADER: You just felt like you could climb up in this big, bulky bear's lap, and -- and trust him when -- when he was telling you something.

YELLIN: The former wrestling coach was elected speaker in a frenzied atmosphere. Republicans had lost seats in the '98 election. The House voted to impeach President Clinton, Speaker Gingrich resigned, and the man who would replace him was sidelined by scandal.

BILL PAXON (R), FORMER U.S. CONGRESSMAN: I sat next to Denny Hastert at that moment, and every -- on the floor -- and just everybody looked at him and gravitated to him as this figure who could unite, calm the place, and move the process forward.

YELLIN: He quickly lowered the rhetoric level in Congress.

HASTERT: It helped calm the waters and lay the groundwork for the election of George W. Bush.

YELLIN: More recently, the Mark Foley page scandal erupted under his watch. Corruption scandals marred a number of Republicans, and his party lost control of Congress. His announcement today raises new challenges for Republicans seeking election in 2008.


YELLIN: Now, Hastert isn't the only House Republican retiring. Deborah Pryce, Ray LaHood, and Chip Pickering also announced they're not seeking reelection. Those open seats will make it harder for Republicans as they try to regain the majority next year -- Miles.

O'BRIEN: Jessica Yellin, thank you very much.

John King, Abbi Tatton and Jessica are all part of the best political team to television.

And, remember, for the latest political news at any time, check out our political sticker, That's where you find it.

The U.S. is sending a strong new message to Pakistan's president. They're saying bury the hatchet with a bitter enemy if you want to hold on to power. Our Zain Verjee is standing by with more on the kiss-and-make-up diplomacy.

And Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney square off on immigration. Is it backfiring on either one of them?



O'BRIEN: Pakistan's embattled President Pervez Musharraf is barely holding on to power. His ouster would be bad news for the U.S., which counts on him as an ally in the war on terror.

So, the White House is urging Musharraf to reach out to a bitter foe in order to shore up his political foundation.

Our State Department correspondent Zain Verjee is here.

Zain, what exactly is the U.S. asking Musharraf to do?


Well, the U.S. basically wants sworn enemies to become friends so it can fight the war on terror.


VERJEE (voice-over): They can't stand each other, but the U.S. wants these archenemies in Pakistan to kiss, make up, and share power. President Pervez Musharraf grabbed power eight years ago in a military coup. Now he's under fire from both extremists and moderates, on the verge of losing his iron grip, and considering canceling the upcoming election, while imposing a state of emergency.


VERJEE: With al Qaeda finding refuge near the Afghan border and fears Pakistan's nuclear weapons could fall into terrorists' hands, the U.S. is worried.

But the U.S. is warning Musharraf, democracy, not a state of emergency, is needed in Pakistan. Helping Musharraf hang on could be seen as contradicting the pro-democracy message President Bush spelled out in his 2005 inaugural.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: S, it is the policy of the United States to seek and support the growth of democratic movements and institutions in every nation.


VERJEE: But, if he allows elections, U.S. officials now worry that Musharraf will not be the one left standing. After putting all its eggs in Musharraf's basket, reality is sinking in for Washington.

COHEN: I don't think he's the man who is going to lead them out of the present area of darkness that they're in.

VERJEE: So, now, for the U.S., plan B: Cozy up to former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and encourage her and Musharraf to join forces.

BENAZIR BHUTTO, FORMER PRIME MINISTER OF PAKISTAN: I would like to go back to Pakistan sooner, rather than later. But General Musharraf still is opposed to my return to Pakistan.

VERJEE: Even in exile and charged with corruption, she's still hugely popular in Pakistan.

COHEN: She has pretty good relations with the rest of the world. She's an articulate, modern person. And I think that's -- she presents a good face for Pakistan.

(END VIDEOTAPE) VERJEE: Now, if there was a deal between these two, Miles, it would also offer President Musharraf a lifeline, you know, just make sure he stays in power.

U.S. officials also tell CNN that a deal between them could also boost moderates against the extremists in Pakistan -- Miles.

O'BRIEN: Well, Zain, I guess it could be difficult, though, if it looks like the U.S. has engineered this whole alliance. Would that be a difficult thing for Musharraf to explain?

VERJEE: It would be a difficult thing. It would also be a difficult thing for Benazir Bhutto to explain. There are a lot of people in her party that don't like this whole idea, because they say, look, we don't want to bail this guy out. We shouldn't be doing that.

And what it may also do, they say, is increase the amount of anti-American sentiment that is already in existence.

O'BRIEN: Zain Verjee, thank you very much.

Up next in our "Strategy Session": Former Speaker Dennis Hastert bids farewell to Washington.


HASTERT: Who would have guessed that a wrestling coach from Kendall County in Illinois would be the longest-serving Republican speaker of the House of Representatives?



O'BRIEN: Well, what kind of speaker was he?

And Mitt Romney and Rudy Giuliani trade barbs. The subject is immigration. How are voters reacting to this new border war? I will ask Paul Begala and Leslie Sanchez.



O'BRIEN: Dennis Hastert is out. Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney are feuding. That's fodder for our "Strategy Session" today.

Joining me, our Democratic strategist Paul Begala, and conservative commentator Leslie Sanchez.

Good to have you both with us.


O'BRIEN: Dennis Hastert, longest Republican speaker ever, what's his legacy, Leslie? SANCHEZ: I think it's a very strong legacy.

What's interesting about Speaker -- former Speaker Hastert is, he was never one to toot his own horn. But he was really one of the pioneers and architects of some significant things that benefited Americans.

You have got the 1996 telecommunications reform bill, which, at one point, there were almost 2,000 jobs a week that were created in the telecom industry because of him. You had FDA reforms, so people could get drugs kind of approved faster. There's a lot of great things he had his fingerprints on. And he built coalitions.

O'BRIEN: Consummate insider overshadowed, really, by the majority whip at the time, Tom DeLay, right?

SANCHEZ: Very much so, I would agree with that. But he was very much the muscle behind that. Some people would say Tom DeLay was. But he was the architect. He was putting the coalitions together. And he -- he did America a great service.

O'BRIEN: So, he was the muscle and Tom DeLay was the muscle. It's a bad cop/bad cop combination? Is that what it was?


SANCHEZ: Sometimes, I can say that.

Well, you know, he -- it's really hard to put a very diverse coalition together. And that's something he did effectively. He very much relied on his experience as a coach. And he has a strong, positive legacy because of that.

O'BRIEN: It's hard to say no when you get in a half nelson, right?


O'BRIEN: What do you think, Paul?

PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, you know, I don't like to speak ill of the politically dead, but I think his lasting legacy is corruption.

I think Denny Hastert is a man who, as speaker, tolerated a level of corruption that most Republicans -- this is not a partisan thing -- Teddy Roosevelt would never have tolerated the kind of corruption that Dennis Hastert let run rampant. Nor would, say, have John McCain.

He had -- Duke Cunningham, a close ally, is now in the federal penitentiary, Bob Ney, a close ally, in the federal penitentiary. Mark Foley -- Hastert knew or should have known that Foley was sending predatory e-mails to children. And he helped to cover it up.


BEGALA: Hastert, he's a man -- I let you talk about the 1996 Telecom Act.


SANCHEZ: I'm talking about American jobs.


O'BRIEN: Let him finish.

BEGALA: It's very important that people understand, the Hastert legacy is corruption. And it damages his party, which was once the reform party in America. It damages it for -- for years to come.

People are going to think of Republicans and corruption, and in part because of Denny Hastert.


O'BRIEN: There you are talking about this Democratic, you know...

SANCHEZ: You know...

O'BRIEN: ... ride to power that is going to continue, right?

BEGALA: Well, it depends. Now, if the Democrats sweep out the Republican corrupt lobbyist and just sweep in their own Democratic corrupt lobbyists...

SANCHEZ: Corrupt lobbyists.

BEGALA: ... they're through.

To their credit, Nancy Pelosi, his successor, has passed tough ethics reform. A lot of Democrats didn't even want it, but she passed it through. She's reformed the so-called earmarks, the directed spending that was so corrupt under Hastert. So, Nancy Pelosi has looked much better on corruption and anti-corruption. She's cleaning the swamp.


O'BRIEN: Well, let me ask you, Leslie. Do you think that Dennis Hastert sees something blowing in the wind for Republicans and is getting out now?

SANCHEZ: Oh, not at all.

You know, but I have to go back to the issue of corruption. I mean, to say that Republicans are the ones with mud on their boots on that exclusively is nonsense.

I think, if you look at Nancy Pelosi's leadership, she has been pretty much hog-tied, to use a Texas expression, in terms of being forced to look at ethics reform and lobbying reform and a lot of things. And the Democrats are no better on the ethics issues and the corruption issues.

O'BRIEN: Well, there's plenty of corruption to go around in Washington.


SANCHEZ: To go around.


BEGALA: There has been traditionally. But Pelosi and Harry Reid in the Senate decided that they -- they ran in 19 -- in 2006 in part on corruption, in part because of the corruption Hastert allowed to occur in his House, under his watch.

And now they are cleaning it -- it is a fact that the ethics reform bill, the lobby reform bill, is a very good one and a strong one. They have reformed these earmarks. They have only been in office for seven months in power. They have done more than Denny Hastert did in 10 years.

SANCHEZ: There's a reason the Democratic Congress has a 16 percent approval rating. They are not getting everything done.

BEGALA: Because of Iraq.

SANCHEZ: They are ineffective. They -- people know that they are -- it's all talk, with no solution, no agenda.

And I would say Denny Hastert, there's nothing that was ever proven that he knew about those things. And it's been investigated to death.

O'BRIEN: All right.


BEGALA: He did know or should have known that Mark Foley was...


SANCHEZ: Should have known is another issue.

O'BRIEN: Let's shift gears.


BEGALA: He should have known.

O'BRIEN: Let's get out on to the presidential campaign trail.

Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney trading barbs over immigration, and both of them trying to essentially renounce previously softer stances on this. Let's walk through this for just a moment.

First of all, let's listen to Rudy Giuliani recently. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RUDOLPH GIULIANI (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We can end illegal immigration. I promise you, we can end illegal immigration.



O'BRIEN: All right, much softer statements, if you go back to 1994, when he was mayor, much more of a melting-pot-type approach.

Mitt Romney saying this: "If you look at lists compiled on Web sites of sanctuary cities, New York is at the top of the list. When Mayor Giuliani was mayor, he instructed city workers not to provide information to the federal government that would allow them to enforce the law. New York City was the poster child for sanctuary cities in the country" -- that from Mitt Romney. That was on August 8.

Leslie, are they doing themselves any favors by going after each other this way?

SANCHEZ: I would say it's a very dangerous area to -- to politically tread on. I think you do have a lot of the Republican base, conservative base, that wants to see Republicans strong on national security, border enforcement, those issues, what to do about the 12 million-plus undocumented immigrants that are here.

It's how we talk about it and have that conversation that can be very dangerous. And having one Republican against another in contrast, I don't necessarily think that's a healthy conversation to have. I -- I think it can go down a slippery slope very quickly.

O'BRIEN: What do you think?

BEGALA: I think Leslie is right. I think that, when you get into this...

O'BRIEN: You agree? This is good.


O'BRIEN: This is good.

BEGALA: The risk here...


SANCHEZ: It's an honest answer. I mean, that's...


O'BRIEN: All right. Go ahead. Go and finish up.

BEGALA: The issue for any politician is hypocrisy. All right? The social conservatives in the Republican Party tend to be nativist, anti-immigrant. The economic base of the Republican Party is very pro-immigration because they want lower wages.

And both Rudy and Mitt were once part of that economic base, very much pro-illegal immigration, if you will, in the eyes of the more nativist wing of their party. And Mitt Romney factually is right. Rudy helped make his city a sanctuary city for illegal aliens.

He, I guess, left out of that sound bite that he himself at the same time was employing illegal aliens.


BEGALA: Mitt Romney was, on his estate in Massachusetts. So both of these guys have very unclean hands.

SANCHEZ: Let's be clear. I think the one distinction, too, is this is a conversation -- immigration reform is a serious issue that Republicans, for better or for worse, are addressing...

O'BRIEN: All right. And it will...


SANCHEZ: ... vs. the Democrats...

O'BRIEN: Yes. All right. Let's leave it at that.


O'BRIEN: Leslie Sanchez, Paul Begala, thank you very much. Enjoy your weekend.

Russia and China joining forces for war games, is that a threat to the U.S.? Jack Cafferty is reading your e-mails.

And a billboard for a storage locker company becomes an unlikely backdrop for the battle over abortion.

And a top general weighs in on what is next in Iraq, ahead of that much anticipated report card next month.


O'BRIEN: Welcome back. Some news coming in right now from Crawford Texas, let's get right to it with Suzanne Malveaux.

Hello, Suzanne.


Well, Press secretary Tony Snow will be leaving the White House. He won't say exactly when. In an e-mail exchange earlier today, he said he's not making any announcements today, but, in a radio show right after Karl Rove's resignation, when asked that question, he said he would not be able to go the distance, primarily for financial reasons, and that, essentially, he would not be able to stay.

Now, CNN has independently been able to learn that it could be as early as September when he actually leaves his job. That's not surprising, Miles. As you know, he undergoes extensive treatment for cancer. He's got three children, some of those who are approaching college age. And so tuition is going to be a big concern. He wants to try to raise money out on the speaking circuit.

So, Tony Snow is not going to remain for the rest of the term -- Miles.

O'BRIEN: And, Suzanne, does this have to do with the -- the timing, the White House chief of staff, Josh Bolten, asking staffers to make a decision, either quit by Labor Day or stay for the duration?

MALVEAUX: Well, certainly. Chief of Staff Josh Bolten put -- really is kind of giving a little nudge to those who need to make those critical decisions. Tony Snow says he's been saying all along that it would be a financial decision, in a joking way, saying, when he runs out of money, that's when he's going to be running out of the White House.

But, essentially, if you stay after Labor Day, that means you have got a commitment for the rest of the term -- Miles.

O'BRIEN: Suzanne Malveaux, in Crawford, Texas, thank you very much.

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

Hello, Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: The question, Miles, this hour is: How concerned should the U.S. be about the current joint Russian- Chinese war games going on inside Russia?

Janet writes from Tacoma: "If it were 2009, I would be mildly worried until our guys went over and had a conversation with their guys. Until then, I am going to be scared to death, in case the White House decides to go for another legacy that fries us all."

Robert in Venice, Florida: "Very concerned. With U.S. military power stretched to the limits among al Qaeda, Iraq, and Afghanistan, Russia and China combined would be a grave threat to our country's security and interests throughout the world. It is the worst-case scenario for us, a whole new cold war, with only the threat of MAD, mutually assured destruction, available to us."

Peggy in Missouri: "China and Russia joining forces scares me to death. China owns us lock, stock and barrel, and they are building up their military. Look at what Russia has been up to lately. They still have a large stockpile of nuclear weapons. This is not good."

Roy in Texas: "Under normal circumstances, I would be very concerned. However, the administration's desire for a war with Iran is what is keeping me up at night currently. I'm a strong supporter of the U.S. Constitution, but I'm wishing the founding fathers had envisioned somebody like the Praetorian Guard to save us from presidential insanity."

Richard writes, "Worry about war games between Russia and China when they are hosted by Mexico."

And Phil in Tennessee: "We know China can go to war with tires, toothpaste, and toys. How do the Russians hope to keep up with that?" -- Miles.

O'BRIEN: All right. Thank you very much, Jack Cafferty.