updated 3/16/2007 12:05:34 PM ET 2007-03-16T16:05:34

Guests: Frank Donatelli, Steve Elmendorf, Evan Coleman

TUCKER CARLSON, HOST:  Welcome to the show.

Hillary Clinton calls for leaving American troops in Iraq indefinitely. 

That‘s just hours after promising to “extricate” us from that conflict. 

What happened? We‘ll tell you.

We‘ll also bring you the latest on today‘s developments in the Alberto Gonzales affair and the subpoena Karl Rove could very well expect in about a week. 

We‘ll also tell you about the confession of al Qaeda chief Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and what that means for the war on terror. 

First, though, Hillary Clinton‘s own version of “Don‘t Ask, Don‘t Tell”. 

Earlier this week, Marine general and chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Pete Pace, made headlines when he announced that he consider homosexual acts “immoral”.  Well, liberal group and others immediately pounced on him, denouncing pace as a bigot.  But Pace‘s comments did raise at least one interesting question.  Where do the Democrats running for president stand on that question?  Do they think homosexual acts are immoral? 

Well, yesterday reporters asked both Senator Clinton and Barack Obama that very question.  Tellingly, both refused to answer directly.  “I‘m going to leave that to others to conclude,” said Mrs. Clinton.  Ditto, in effect, said Obama. 

Both later issued written statements clarifying their positions, though neither one said point blank there is nothing immoral about gay sex.  Why not?  Both enjoy enthusiastic support from gay groups.  Both accept huge amounts of money from gay voters.  And yet, neither one is willing to say out loud and on the record that gay sex is not wrong. 

What cowards they are.  Let‘s hope that gay rights organizations hold them accountable.  Don‘t hold your breath, but we can always hope.  Let‘s hope they do. 

And now Hillary Clinton‘s new plan for America‘ military in Iraq.  Her recent speeches have included repeated calls to bring the troops home.  It‘s a sweeping antiwar position, or appears to be. 

In an interview published in today‘s “New York Times,” though, Mrs. Clinton States that she, as commander in chief, would leave a reduced but long-term military presence in Iraq to fight al Qaeda, deter Iran, and protect the Kurds, among other thing. 

Joining me now to discuss it, Republican strategist and former Reagan White House political director, Frank Donatelli, and longtime Democratic campaign consultant Steve Elmendorf. 

Welcome to you both. 

STEVE ELMENDORF, DEMOCRATIC CAMPAIGN CONSULTANT:  Thank you.

CARLSON:  Steve, I want to put up a clip that you probably saw yesterday at the firemen‘s union convention meeting.  Mrs. Clinton gets up and describes her position on Iraq.  Here‘s part of what she said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D), NEW YORK:  I hope that the president will extricate us from Iraq before he leaves office.  But let me assure you, if he doesn‘t, when I‘m president, I will. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CARLSON:  Well, that seems pretty clear to me.  So imagine my surprise when at midnight, I turn on “The New York Times” on my computer and I read this -- this is her plan for troops in Iraq—“It would be far fewer troops.  What we can do is almost take a line sort of north, between Baghdad and Kirkuk, and basically put our troops into that region”—that‘s still in Iraq, by the way—“and the ones that are going to remain for our antiterrorism missions, for our northern support mission, for our ability to respond to the Iranians, and to continue to provide support for the Iraqis, we would not be doing patrols.  We would not be kicking in doors.  We would not be trying to insert ourselves in the middle between Shiite and Sunni factions.”

But we would still be there, bottom line.  That‘s not extricating ourselves from Iraq.  That‘s making the force smaller, isn‘t it? 

ELMENDORF:  I don‘t think you‘ll find any Democrat who has said that we should completely pull every American, every soldier out of Iraq.  I mean, we went there, George Bush took us there...

CARLSON:  Right.

ELMENDORF:  ... and it‘s created a big mess.  And we‘re going to still have people there in an embassy that needs to be protected.  We‘re going to still have to do counterterrorism.  We‘re still going to have to do some things there.  And I think other candidates and other senators who are equally vociferous about leaving Iraq have said we‘re going to have to leave some people there. 

We‘re just not going to have significant combat operations fighting a war anymore.

CARLSON:  We can debate what the other candidates have said in a minute, but let me just say, I think Hillary Clinton‘s idea is perfectly reasonable.  I‘m not attacking her on the merits.  I think she is right to recognize we have strategic interests, vital ones in this region, and we need a force there. 

Do you think the antiwar left that is on the—some sort her, some don‘t -

I don‘t think they had any idea that her plan—she gave no indication that her plan included leaving large numbers of troops in Iraq.  Do you really think they knew that?  I don‘t think so.

ELMENDORF:  Well, I don‘t know how you define large numbers, and I don‘t know if “The New York Times” story defined what large numbers are.  I think “The Times” story was a little overplayed.  And again, I don‘t think what she said is all that different from what a lot of other Democrats both in the Senate and running for president have said, that we are going to have maintain some presence there. 

CARLSON:  OK.  It‘s interesting.  This strikes me as a pure political matter as pretty wise.  Hillary Clinton is betting that she‘s going to win the nomination, and when she does, she‘s going to need to have a responsible foreign policy position on Iraq.  Otherwise, she‘s going to get creamed by the Republican. 

Do you think, Frank, removing yourself as a Republican and just analyzing this as a consultant, this is smart politics for her to do this? 

FRANK DONATELLI, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST:  She‘s the one candidate in the Democratic Party because of the royalty of the Clinton name that could be nominated with the active opposition of the moveon.orgs and the left wing.  And I‘m sure that this comes from her chief adviser, the former president, Bill Clinton, who, after all, won his two nominations and his two terms by embracing the left but also keeping them at bay.  And it‘s clear she‘s following that same pattern.

Now, I have—I‘d like to raise some difficulties with what her strategy purports to be, but I do give her credit for recognizing, I think in a way, that the other candidates have not, Steve, that we have long-term interests in seeing a stable Iraq and we‘re going to be there for a while. 

CARLSON:  Well, here—let‘s let her speak.  This is what she says.  This is her rational for leaving troops there. 

And you decide for yourself whether she‘s talking about 1,500 troops or more.  Clearly more. 

“Iraq is right in the heart of the oil region.  It is directly in opposition to our interests, to the interests of regimes, to Israel‘s interests.  So it will be up to me to try to figure out how to protect those national security interests and continue to take our troops out of this urban warfare.”

She wants to leave troops in Iraq to protect oil.  Now, good for her.  But you can‘t tell me, Mr. Elmendorf, that moveon.org thinks that‘s a fine idea.  No blood for oil.  Whatever happened to that? 

ELMENDORF:  Well, I think, again, there have been many Democrats who have signed on the resolutions in the Senate that involve keeping some troops in Iraq to protect our strategic interests, to do counterterrorism. 

CARLSON:  Including our oil interests?

ELMENDORF:  To protect our people there. 

CARLSON:  Putting Texacos...

ELMENDORF:  Putting a large embassy there.  You know, we‘ve got a lot to do there.  We weren‘t the ones who said go there.  And I think what the American people understand is that Bush is for putting in more troops than what we have there, for expanding what we‘re doing there.  And every Democrat from Hillary Clinton on is for removing most of the troops to the bare minimum we need to maintain the security of what we have there. 

CARLSON:  Boy, it sounds like—how many troops—I mean, I don‘t think anyone here is a military expert, but we‘re not talking—to protect our oil interests, to keep the Kurds from being slaughtered, to protect our embassy, no less, I mean, that‘s more—I mean, that‘s thousands of troops, is it not? 

DONATELLI:  It certainly sounds like more than a cursory number.  And when you talk about who wanted us to go into Iraq, lets remember, it was a bipartisan vote.  A majority of Democrats and Republicans voted to do that. 

I think she‘s just recognizing the obvious, which is that you get past all the rhetoric, we have vital strategic interests in Iraq.  We have an interest in the future of that government.  We have an interest in not seeing Iran dominate that country and seeing chaos.  And I believe it is going to take more than 1,500 or 2,000 troops to accomplish what she wants to accomplish. 

CARLSON:  Here‘s what—very quickly, Steve, here‘s Barack Obama.  As I understand it, his plan calls for removal of all troops by the end of March of next year, by 2008. 

There is a provision in his plan, as I have read it, that if things go south, there is a trigger for keeping troops there.  But his bottom-line plan is to remove the troops. 

Do you think he and John Edwards are not going to attack Hillary for this? 

ELMENDORF:  I think his—if you look at his plan closely, I think he has talked about keeping troops there for counterterrorism purposes and  protecting our embassy.  So I don‘t think—again, I don‘t think it‘s all that big a news show difference that we‘re talking about. 

CARLSON:  Wow.

ELMENDORF:  And I do think at the end of the day, Bush and the Republicans got us in this mess.  Hillary Clinton and a lot of other Democrats are trying to get us out of this mess. 

CARLSON:  I mean, there‘s no doubt that Bush got us in.  This is not an apology for Bush. 

ELMENDORF:  Right.

CARLSON:  Obviously.  I just --  I follow this stuff pretty closely, every day, and I was amazed to see her say that.  And I just would be shocked if MoveOn didn‘t just pound on that. 

DONATELLI:  When she goes on the campaign trail, despite what Steve said, she‘s going to be asked about this.  And she‘s going to be criticized for it.  And I hope she has the gumption to stick with her beliefs here. 

CARLSON:  Yes.  I bet she will.

DONATELLI:  That this is important. 

CARLSON:  She‘s clearly decided her strategy.

Coming up, the Democrats in Congress can‘t do much about the Iraq war, which they were elected to win—partly, anyway—but they can subpoena the hell out of the Bush White House. 

Stay tuned to find out what Congress did today that might lead to Karl Rove, among many others, making mandatory appearances on Capitol Hill.

Plus, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the reputed brain of al Qaeda, is a bad, bad guy.  But is he as bad as he says he is?  What to make of KSM‘s incredibly sweeping confessions.  Its timing and new developments in the story all forthcoming.

Stay tuned.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN (D), DELAWARE:  It‘s about time we have the courage to stand up and say to the president, Mr. President, you have not only put us in harm‘s way, you have harmed us.  You have no policy, Mr. President. 

I‘m so tired of hearing on this floor about courage.  Have the courage to tell the administration, stop this ridiculous policy you have.  We‘re taking sides in a civil war. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CARLSON:  A good portion of this country feels rage about America‘s troubled involvement in the civil war in Iraq.  Senator Joe Biden, as you just saw, channeled many of those hard feelings last night on the Senate floor.  Notice the echo. 

Later this afternoon, the Senate voted on three resolutions regarding President Bush‘s war policy.  Joining us from Capitol Hill with the latest on that is NBC‘s congressional correspondent, Mike Viqueira—Mike. 

MIKE VIQUEIRA, NBC CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT:  Hi, Tucker. 

That‘s right.  Well, after years—after months of tying itself in knots, the Senate has finally come to an agreement to vote on something binding.  Remember, Democrats have been under considerable pressure, as you know, from their base.  The mandate from the election that swept them to power was to do something about the president‘s war in Iraq, what Democrats consider to be the president‘s war. 

They‘re voting on something binding now that was put forward by Harry Reid, and that would set the goal of having all United States troop out of Iraq by March of 2008.  Now, the binding part comes in here.  With 180 days of its enactment, this bill would require the United States to start to withdraw though troops and have them transition from a combat role to a support role. 

Now, all along, Republican have insisted that if this debate were to happen, they wanted to vote on their open resolution that would simply say that the United States Congress will never cut off support and funding for the troops.  That vote has been allowed.  That is happening this afternoon as well, sponsored by Judd Gregg, the Republican of New Hampshire. 

But Democrats have countered with something of their own, a Democratic version of that from Patty Murray, that simply says, yes, the United States Congress supports the troops.  And these are non-binding resolutions, more non-binding resolutions, incidentally.  The United States Congress supports the troops, but they support them in terms of readiness, they support them when they‘re back from the battlefield at places like Walter Reed and under the care of the Veterans Administration, and reserve the right to have Congress pass legislation that would end the war or make changes in the president‘s war policy. 

The Reid resolution expected to fall well short of the 60 votes that would be required for it to pass.  Tucker, it‘s probably not even going to get to 50.  They‘re going to lose a few moderate Democrats along the way.  Of course, including Joe Lieberman—Tucker.

CARLSON:  Any idea how many Republicans may vote for the Reid resolution?

VIQUEIRA: None that we know of.

CARLSON:  So that‘s a purely—going to be a purely partisan vote. 

How many Democrats you think they‘ll lose? 

VIQUEIRA:  Well, of course they‘re going to lose Joe Lieberman. 

CARLSON:  Right.

VIQUEIRA: Tim Johnson is still not back from his bout with the brain aneurysm.  There is, of course, Ben Nelson from Nebraska, who has indicated he‘s not going to go along with it. 

The timetable issue takes it off the table from a lot of moderate

Democrats.  Others that are a question mark, like Mark Pryor of Arkansas,

the vote unfolding now.  We‘ll see how it turns out.  We‘ll probably not

get to 50, much less the 60 that‘s going to be required to pass this thing

Tucker. 

CARLSON:  Interesting.  I think we‘ve just gotten—I‘ve just gotten a bulletin in my ear, even as we‘ve been talking, Mike.  Plan to pull American troops out of Iraq.  I believe that‘s probably the Reid resolution...

VIQUEIRA: Yes.

CARLSON:  ... fails 48-50. 

So it‘s over.  It‘s dead.

VIQUEIRA:  There you go.

CARLSON:  So what‘s likely to happen now? 

VIQUEIRA:  Well, the Senate is going to move on to those two non-binding resolutions.  But the big fight now moves over to the House of Representatives.  And we saw a markup in committee next week on the floor.  This is the one that would have all United States troops out of Iraq at the latest by September of 2008. 

Problem.  Not many Republicans are going to go along with that either in the House side.  Maybe seven, maybe six or so, is the latest guess.  And they‘re going to lose. 

The Democrats are a significant number of their own, primarily from the antiwar left, who will not vote a penny more to extend this war beyond New Years, December 31st, of this year.  So that‘s going to be a big fight. 

Touch and go now as far as that vote count is concern.  Of course, both these measure, the Reid measure that just went down to defeat, and this House Democratic measure, both under a veto threat from the president, if they were somehow by some miracle to get out of Congress. 

So Democrats still trying to—still trying to get something out of the Congress to demonstrate to their base that they can be effective, they can fulfill that mandate.  But at the same time, putting Republicans on the spot—Harry Reid thinks so especially—time and time again, making the Senate vote on these resolutions, whether they‘re non-binding or not.

Of course, there are 21 Senate Republican up for re-election in 2008, six of whom can be considered very vulnerable.  Reid thinks he is putting them on the spot while also demonstrating to Democrats that he is serious about doing something about Iraq—Tucker. 

CARLSON:  Right.  Interesting.  That House vote is going to be amazing. 

Mike Viqueira from Capitol Hill.

Thanks a lot, Mike.

VIQUEIRA:  All right.  Sure.

CARLSON:  Coming up, we‘ve got a live report from John McCain‘s straight talk bus tour in Iowa.  The big question is, does campaigning in Iowa at all matter anymore?  The answer is ahead. 

Plus, skeptics question the breadth of terrorist Khalid Sheikh Mohammed‘s sweeping confession and the timing of its release to the public.  How much should we believe about what he says about himself?  And how useful is that information? 

Stay tuned.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CARLSON:  The Senate Judiciary Committee today made it pretty clear it intends to hear testimony not just from key Justice Department officials, but also from top White House aides on the firing of eight U.S. attorneys and the aftermath of those job actions.  The committee approved subpoenas for five Justice Department officials in the case and will vote in a week to approve subpoenas for White House officials.  Those could include, likely will include, Karl Rove and Harriet Miers.

The big headline here, we‘re probably going to see Karl Rove appear before the committee sooner rather than later. 

Here to analyze the meaning of today‘s developments, we welcome back Republican strategist and former Reagan White House political director Frank Donatelli, and famed Democratic strategist Steve Elmendorf. 

OK.  This blows my mind.  I want to put—and I have said from day one that I think this is the kind of story—it‘s inflated because Bush is weak, which is an obvious point. 

Then I read—and I still think that.  But then I read this in “The Washington Post” this morning.  This is an e-mail sent from Kyle Sampson, chief of staff to the attorney general, Alberto Gonzales, and it‘s about replacing the U.S. attorney in Little Rock, Bud Cummins, with Tim Griffin, a former Republican operative. 

And it says this: “We should gum this to death.  Ask the senators to give Tim a chance... then we can tell them we‘ll look for other candidates, ask them for recommendations, evaluate the recommendations, interview their candidates, and otherwise run out the clock.  All of this should be done in ‘good faith‘ of course.”

That‘s like saying, we‘re going to tell the truth, of course.  This is a guy using government e-mail, which is subpoenable (ph), which goes to the National Archives, to admit that he is acting in bad faith.  This is guy is insane. 

DONATELLI:  Well, as the saying goes, mistakes were made. 

CARLSON:  Well, I guess they were!

(LAUGHTER)

DONATELLI:  And that was—look, on this episode, I‘m going to—I‘m going to speak first for the right of presidential power.  I mean, the president has the right to hire and fire U.S. attorneys.  Period. 

CARLSON:  Right.

DONATELLI:  You know, Bill Clinton fired them all when he came into office. 

CARLSON:  Sure.

DONATELLI:  It‘s silly to say that the president, once he appoints someone, can‘t remove them. 

That being said, the way this has been handled has been atrocious.  If the president feels that these eight should be replaced, he has that power.  But he also—it seems to me the White House has the obligation to tell us what was behind the decision.  That‘s all.  And I‘m not sure I know at this moment exactly why these particular people were let go. 

CARLSON:  And we won‘t know until they‘re forced to tell us, because the one thing about the Bush administration, even when they‘re right, they‘re so secretive.  They never want to tell anybody anything.  Even when they have got nothing to hide. 

It‘s actually crazy, and it come from Bush, in my view.

Here‘s what—an interesting piece in “The Politico” today.  You probably saw it, asking Democrats, what do you think of this, this scandal? 

Here‘s this anonymous senior Democrat on the Hill.  “We‘ve only had subpoena power for the last six weeks, and every tree we‘ve barked up so far has had a cat in it.  Imagine where we will be in six months.”

That‘s clearly the plan, is just to hound the hell out of the Bush administration with subpoenas.  Obviously Democrats are taking glee in this.  Understandably.

Is it good politics?  Is this really so smart to attack the White House with subpoenas?  I mean, the Republicans didn‘t do very well doing that in the ‘90s, did they?

ELMENDORF:  Well, I think—I think people want accountability and people want oversight.  And that‘s what the Democrats are doing. 

CARLSON:  I know.  But let‘s be real.

ELMENDORF:  But Tucker, when you read an e-mail like that, that—you know, it just makes the case for why we need to know what these people are doing. 

CARLSON:  Well, I don‘t know if—I mean, it makes the case that Kyle Sampson is—has got something wrong with him, pretty profoundly wrong with him to write something this stupid. 

ELMENDORF:  Well, he‘s the chief of staff of the attorney general of the United States.

CARLSON:  I‘m not defending this guy.  This is an insane e-mail. 

ELMENDORF:  This isn‘t some deputy assistant at HUD.

CARLSON:  I agree.  But you know the truth?  Because you‘ve lived here a long time.  And that is, the closer you get to anything, the worse it looks. 

You have got to stand back and say, yes, that Clinton got (INAUDIBLE) from some girl, is that a felony?  No.  Don‘t impeach him. 

In this case, does the president have a right to can his federal prosecutors?  Yes, he does.  It‘s not—you know what I mean?  Like, the underlying crime doesn‘t exist. 

ELMENDORF:  Well, there is a saying in Washington, sometimes the cover-up is worse than the crime. 

CARLSON:  Well, that‘s true.

ELMENDORF:  And these guys clearly misled the Congress every step of the way over the last several months about this.  And that‘s just wrong.

CARLSON:  It does look that way.  I agree.  But does it help—my bottom-line question is, does it help Democrats to issue all these subpoenas and look like Ken Starr, basically?

ELMENDORF:  Well, so far, we haven‘t issued any subpoenas and gotten this information.  And sometime the threat that you‘re going to issue a subpoena if people will come tell you the truth works.  And I suspect that Karl Rove will come up and testify, not under subpoena, but because otherwise he‘s going to get subpoenaed. 

CARLSON:  I tend to agree with you.

What do you—I mean, do you think—are they going to claim, you know, presidential prerogative and Rove‘s not testifying, or do you think he will? 

DONATELLI:  Well, I hope they do claim—well, first of all, I hope it can be worked out short of subpoenas and a constitutional confrontation.

CARLSON:  Right.  That‘s right.

DONATELLI:  I think this is a legitimate case where president—where executive privilege should apply. 

This is Scooter Libby 2, in my opinion.  There is no underlying crime here. 

There is no cover-up. 

The White House obviously has not had their act together.  And they‘ve removed some people.  And we don‘t know exactly why.  But that hardly constitutes high crimes and misdemeanors.  And it could be embarrassing.  It‘s embarrassing, there‘s no question about it.

CARLSON:  So you think—let‘s take it back to the procedural question.  You think if the Congress, the Democratic Congress says we want to hear from Karl Rove, the White House will say you can‘t because that‘s an important principal presidential... 

DONATELLI:  Yes.  I would do everything I could to satisfy the Republicans and Democrats.  They‘ve been criticized rightly by Republican, too—to satisfy them to make sure that they get the full story.  But I would resist if I could.  The precedent of having White House staffers go to the Hill to testify... 

CARLSON:  I think it‘s too late for that.  I mean, leaving aside whether it ought to be or is or not, or whatever, the merits, I mean, you have Senator Sununu, a Republican, very conservative Republican who‘s in a very tough race in ‘08, but still, from New Hampshire, coming out and saying Gonzales ought to resign.

You think Gonzales is going to resign? 

ELMENDORF:  Yes.  I think it‘s only a matter of time. 

CARLSON:  He‘s like one of the president‘s closest friends.  I mean... 

ELMENDORF:  Donald Rumsfeld was a close friend of his, too.  I mean, unfortunately, in bush‘s case, he usually waits too long, as he did with Rumsfeld.  He should have done it a year or six months or three months before he did it.  But Gonzales is going to be gone.  It‘s just a matter of time. 

CARLSON:  Boy.  You may—you may be right.  I just do think there are a lot of things you could hit this administration on, like where are the weapons of mass destruction?  I mean, that‘s a fair question.  But this stuff, canning people who are your own appointees?  I mean...

ELMENDORF:  Who are investigating Republican Congress people and then they got canned?  The United States...

CARLSON:  Not in the—actually, the truth is, in the case of this, the Kyle Sampson e-mail I just read, it was one conservative Republican prosecutor appointed by Bush being removed in favor of another conservative Republican prosecutor being appointed by Bush.  I mean, there is no even hint that there was some dirty motive behind this. 

DONATELLI:  If there was some evidence that cases were being short-circuited through firings because people were being prosecuted that the White House didn‘t want, that‘s one thing. 

CARLSON:  Well, that would be a good point.

(CROSSTALK)

ELMENDORF:  You had the United States senator who called the prosecutor in New Mexico. 

DONATELLI:  He called him.  He called him.

ELMENDORF:  To inquire about an ongoing criminal investigation.  Senators aren‘t supposed to do that. 

CARLSON:  No, they‘re not, but...

ELMENDORF:  And then the White House went and fired the guy because he didn‘t do anything. 

DONATELLI:  Then talk to the senator.  Well, but we don‘t know that.

ELMENDORF:  Then subsequent to that, he got fired by the Justice Department.

CARLSON:  Well, it will be interesting—it will be interesting to find out.  I mean, it will be interesting to find out if David Iglesias, the man you‘re talking about in New Mexico...

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON:  Well, he just got canned, of course.  But it would be interesting, and hopefully we will see a full accounting of his behavior as prosecutor.  Maybe he was great.  Maybe he got canned unfairly.  Maybe not. 

We‘ll find out I think. 

Coming up, Arnold Schwarzenegger wields a ton of power in Sacramento, but there‘s a new report that has him aiming for Washington.  How close are we to talking about Senator Schwarzenegger beating Barbara Boxer?  Wow.

Plus, Schwarzenegger today moved the California primary to early February.  It sounds boring.  It‘s not.  This now puts California on the most important place on the electoral map. 

So what is John McCain doing in Iowa?  

A live report next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(MARKET REPORT)

CARLSON:  John McCain spent his day in Iowa.  The Straight Talk Express, a campaign bus tour.  Campaigning in Iowa made a lot of sense for any presidential candidate until perhaps today.  That‘s because today, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger officially moved the California primary up to February 5th of next year, the beginning of the primary season. 

With that move, California may have may Iowa, New Hampshire, significantly less important.  The minnows may have been eaten by the whale.  All conjecture, but informed conjecture.

Joining us now from Ames, Iowa, where he is traveling the Straight Talk Express, NBC‘s Chip Reid.  Chip, welcome.  Is there a concern among the McCain people that Iowa is suddenly less significant, or is it more significant now? 

CHIP REID, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT:  Well, I don‘t know if it is concern, because I think they believed he would do very well in California and some of those other places, too.  But I don‘t think anybody is going to bail out on Iowa right now, or at least not real quickly, until they really see what will happen here.  There really is an argument for doing well in Iowa, New Hampshire, and Nevada and South Carolina, and building momentum up to that enormous primary on February 5th

So I think you hear people argue both ways on this.  But right now, people are certainly not ruling Iowa out.  But I think it does mean that we‘re going to see a lot more TV commercials in big states, and there will be less time, therefore, for doing the kind of retail politicking you do in place like Iowa. 

CARLSON:  Back here in Washington, as you know, the pundit have been so hard on McCain lately.  It‘s the wheel are off the bus.  It is over.  He is tired.  Giuliani‘s ascendance.  I have no idea if any of that is true or not.  It is certainly the kind of opinion de jour.  Is there any sense of that on the McCain bus or are insulated from that? 

REID:  No, they certainly are well aware that it is going on.  But I had a little conversation, a little interview with McCain on the bus today.  And he just kind of waves it all off.  I think there probably is some fear that there really is something going on here, that Giuliani does have a little magic right now.  But I think they also feel that it is kind of a boomlet, that will disappear at some point, and if they just keep doing what they‘re doing, things will be OK. 

But I tell you, with this Straight Talk Express, it is tough, because, back in New Hampshire, and in the interests of full disclosure here, I did not cover him in New Hampshire.  I was covering a guy named Al back in the 2000 campaign in the other party.  And so I never covered him.  Certainly, I am well aware that it was almost giddy on board that bus up in New Hampshire, on the Straight Talk Express. 

It is very different now.  number one, because he is not this outsider, this insurgent, this maverick.  He can try to be on some issues, but overall, he is very much an institutional Republican candidate right now.  And he spent years trying to build that institutional base.  And there is a big question whether he can run as the outsider and the insider at the same time, and generate that kind of excitement. 

And also, most of the Straight Talk he is doing now, today, at a speech here behind me, a short time ago, it is now empty, as you can see.  But 75 percent, maybe more, of his original speech was on Iraq.  He got no applause during that speech.  Hillary Clinton comes out here.  It is explosive.  It is just the nature of Iraq right now.  If you‘re criticizing the war and you have more critics in the room, they go crazy. 

If you‘re saying, we‘ve got to stick to this, and you‘ve got Republican supporter of the war in the room, those are not applause lines.  It is hard to generate excitement.  So, it will be hard to recreate that kind of excitement that the Straight Talk Express had in 2000. 

CARLSON:  I was on that bus for a long time.  I was a magazine writer then.  There were a lot of cocktails.  Are there still cocktails on the bus?  No?

REID:  I didn‘t see any today. 

CARLSON:  I don‘t want to put you in an uncomfortable situation, Chip. 

REID:  It was early morning.  It was early morning. 

CARLSON:  That never stopped me.  But I appreciate your first hand report.  Thanks a lot, Chip Reid, on the road in Iowa.  Back with their analysis of John McCain‘s Iowa tour and what the movement of the California primary means, we welcome the Republican strategist Frank Donatelli, Democratic consultant Steve Elmendorf. 

We were just talking in the commercial break, you all are not convinced, Steve, starting with you, that the elevation of California, the movement to February 5th makes the other earlier states irrelevant. 

ELMENDORF:  No, I think all this front loading makes Iowa more relevant and means that people are going to look for that bounce, that free media bounce, because they‘re not going to be able to afford to buy TV in all these states coming on February 5th

So, they‘re going to want to win Iowa and be on the cover of “Time” and “Newsweek” and be in all the network show, that they have just pulled off something big in Iowa. 

CARLSON:  This is going to be over fast.  Isn‘t it?

DONATELLI:  Yes, it will be over by February 5th, which is now essentially a national primary.  It is a very bad system.  The candidates coming out of Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, there‘s probably two, maybe three tickets coming out of there.  Those two or three people will face off in all the big primary states.  And it will be over.

It is not a good system in my judgment, because the candidates don‘t have to prove themselves over a length period of time in various venues, because February 5th is basically going to be a tarmac campaign.  Candidates are going to fly from event to event at airports, and there is really no way to connect with the people. 

CARLSON:  No, there‘s no chance.  It going to be Bakersfield.  It‘s going to be Eureka to San Diego.  It is going to be depressing, I think.  Senator Schwarzenegger, there is a report today that Arnold Schwarzenegger runs for Senate against Barbara Boxer.  Who know?  But on the other hand, why not? 

ELMENDORF:  Well, being governor of California is a much better job than being a U.S. senator. 

CARLSON:  Do you think so?  You have to deal with the legislature, all the lunatics who never stop complaining? 

ELMENDORF:  You‘re an executive of one of the largest economies in the world. 

CARLSON:  Yes, but if you‘re a senator, you get your elevator and people treat you like god.  You can go on junkets around the world.   

ELMENDORF:  I think Arnold‘s time will be up if he runs against Barbara Boxer.

CARLSON:  You think so, why?

ELMENDORF:  Because she is a very tough candidate, been elected there a lot.  It is a Democratic tide right now.  And I think Arnold has been helped by running against weak people, frankly. 

CARLSON:  Is he so much more liberal than Barbara Boxer?  I mean, so much more conservative, rather? 

DONATELLI:  Well, it is easy to get to the right of Barbara Boxer.  She is to the left even of the Democratic consensus.  Although I agree, she‘s an excellent candidate.  I think Arnold—look, the tide was Democrat in 2006, but we‘re talking about 2010.  Gee Steve, I hope it won‘t be a Democratic tide for the next four years.

I think he would be a very formidable candidate if he decided to run.  I do agree with Steve though, I don‘t know if that would be something he would be interested in.  There is much, being an executive of a state, as opposed to being a senator, it‘s -- 

CARLSON:  Everyone wants to be the decision maker.  I don‘t know, I think it would be fun to be in the Senate seat.  I want to put a quote up on the screen.  This is Barack Obama wading in to the politics of the Middle East, which is never an easy and sometimes wise things to do.  Here‘s what he said, quote, “Nobody is suffering more than the Palestinian people.  If we could get some movement among Palestinian leadership, what I would like to see is a loosening up of some of the restrictions on providing aid directly to the Palestinian people.” 

Now, I would bet you my car, Hillary Clinton would not be caught dead saying, nobody is suffering more than the Palestinian people, and we need to give them direct aid. 

ELMENDORF:  Experience matters in politics and he has obviously just started doing, hasn‘t done it before and I think he‘ll find that there are going to be some people in the Democratic party who aren‘t going to like what he just said.  Now, the difference between now and four years ago, or eight years ago, is you could go around for six months and say things and nobody knew it.  Now we‘re in the YouTube era and cable TV and everybody talks about everything you do immediately. 

CARLSON:  Is this an acceptable thing to say?  If a Republican said this, would it be acceptable? 

DONATELLI:  He wouldn‘t say it in front of AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affair Committee, where Obama said this.  I mean, to go to a Jewish audience in the United States and say the Palestinians, what about the Israelis that are suffering?  I think that‘s what the average AIPAC. 

CARLSON:  That‘s almost as good as what we saw yesterday, when Chuck Hagel came before the fireman‘s union, OK, they‘re professional firemen.  It‘s a union.  And Chuck Hagel gets up and starts talking about how great volunteer firefighters are.  That‘s like going before the plumbers union and saying, you know, we need more volunteer plumber.  It is like unbelievable. 

DONATELLI:  Steve said, it is a rookie mistake.  An experienced politician like Hillary Clinton would never say such a thing.  I think Obama is still learning the rope.  I don‘t think it is fatal, but this is part of the learning process. 

CARLSON:  This is sort of a macro question, but it gets to what McCain said yesterday in front of this group, the firefighters‘ union.  It gets to what Obama said in front of AIPAC.  McCain gets up in front of this Democratic leaning group and talks about the importance of winning in Iraq, very unpopular message, pretty brave.  Obama says this in front of AIPAC.  Does anybody ever get credit for saying unpopular things in front of an audience, ever? 

ELMENDORF:  Occasionally. 

CARLSON:  When was the last time? 

ELMENDORF:  Sister Soldier. 

CARLSON:  That wasn‘t unpopular.  That was pandering to the majority.  Sister Soldier had endorsed killing white people.  I mean, if you can‘t denounce that—no?  Have you ever seen a candidate get up and say to the teachers unions, you know what, unions aren‘t that good for education, and get applause. 

DONATELLI:  They do get credit in the press.  I remember John Anderson, many, many years ago, going to the NRA and saying we need gun control or something like that.  And he was lionized in the press.  And of course the NRA just took him apart and he was hurt by that.  So it normally doesn‘t do a good—

CARLSON:  Everyone sniffs the throne.  Quickly, Steve, all the Republicans you talk to are down on McCain.  I think, to some extent, unfairly.  How do Democrats feel?  Do they see McCain as out?  Let‘s be honest.

ELMENDORF:  I think six months ago Democrats would have said he is by far the candidate we‘re worried the most about.  And I think today think people think he has been, if not mortally wounded, severely wounded.  He got too close to Bush.  He got the Iraq war as an anchor around his ankle.  And I think he‘s in real trouble.

CARLSON:  It will be interesting to see where we are a year from now. 

Thank you both, Steve Elmendorf, Frank Donatelli, thanks.

Coming up, we‘ve got the very latest in the confession of al Qaeda‘s reputed operational mastermind.  He doesn‘t look the part, but they call him the brain.  You‘d never know it.  He says he controlled almost every terrorist plot and attack outside Spain for nearly 15 years.  An expert lends perspective to that confession, next.

Plus, they sang, you decided.  MSNBC‘s chief talent contest correspondent, Willie Geist, is back from jury duty.  He‘ll be along with his expert analysis of last night‘s unshocking shocker.  The kid with the girly hair and the high voice survived.  The scandal, the horror, the story when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CARLSON:  Al Qaeda leader Khalid Sheikh Mohammed has been in custody for four years.  Last night, the full extent of his confession to American authorities was released to the public.  And in it, the man known as KSM, or The Brain, claimed responsibility for a sweeping array of terror attacks and plots.  Those include the 1993 World Trade Centers bombings, the attacks on 9/11, a plot to assassinate then President Bill Clinton, among many others, including Richard Reid‘s aborted shoe bombing. 

Here to discuss the credibility of these confessions, their meaning in the war on terror, and the timing of their release, we welcome NBC News terrorism analyst, and founder of GlobalTerrorAlert.com, Evan Coleman.  Evan, welcome. 

EVAN COLEMAN, GLOBALTERRORALERT.COM:  Thanks for having me.

CARLSON:  Do you believe this guy? 

COLEMAN:  Well, some parts of his story do ring true.  I mean, I do believe that he was the coordinator of the, the principle coordinator behind 9/11.  Why do I think that?  Well, we have testimony from other al Qaeda operatives.  We had KSM‘s admission himself, before he was in our custody.  Let‘s remember that he admitted as much already in the media, on al-Jazeera, during an interview he gave shortly before he was captured.  He said, I‘m the one who did this.  Now he says from A to Z. 

Al Qaeda seem to agree with that.  They put out a propaganda video a few months ago, where they credited him as being the coordinator of these attacks.  Does he exaggerate?  Yes, no doubt about it.  This is a guy who love to think of himself as a super terrorist.  Loves to think of himself kind of more in the line of the Carlos the Jackal than of the modern terrorists we see. 

If you look at his behavior alone, he is the only one of the top three detainees that were brought before CSRT Tribunal, who actually attended his tribunal.  The others refused, saying this was an illegitimate trial.  But he really wanted to get his voice heard.  He really want to say the things that he had been waiting to say for a while here. 

CARLSON:  You know, just to give our viewer a sense of what sort of man Khalid Sheikh Mohammed is, sometimes these discussions can be pretty academic, I want to put on the screen a quote from the man himself.  This is KSM on the beheading of Danny Pearl, quote, “I decapitated with my blessed right hand the head of the American Jew, Daniel Pearl, in the city of Karachi, Pakistan.  For those who like to confirm, there are pictures of me on the Internet holding his head.”

This guy, in addition to being a terrorist mastermind, is an animal. 

I don‘t think that‘s putting too fine a point on it. 

COLEMAN:  No, it‘s amazing, actually.  It is amazing that he apologizes for killing women and children in New York and Washington during 9/11, because he then goes on and takes credit, with very little remorse, for killing Daniel Pearl, among other acts.  I mean, this is someone who initially, when he came up with the 9/11 plot, his idea was that there were going to be 10 plane crashing into buildings.  And at that the final plane would be him.  And he would kill all the male passengers.  He would behead them and then he would land the plane, freeing women and children and carrying a message about Israeli aggression and the Palestinian territories. 

This is a guy who sees himself as some kind—again, a terrorist Superman.  And it is a little bit sick, the way that he openly takes credit for this, with very little remorse, saying, well, sure, women and children were killed.  That‘s what happens in the war.  That‘s just what happens. 

CARLSON:  But usually, we captured him and there has got to be an ending to all this.  Just in a minute, somewhat quickly for us, what happens Khalid Sheikh Mohammed now?  Is he ever going to go on trial?  Will he be executed?  Is he going to languish at Gitmo?  What happens?   

COLEMAN:  Well, we don‘t really know.  Let‘s hope he does go on trial.  Let‘s hope that he does pay a price for these crimes.  So far, he has been interrogated.  He claims he has been subject to torture.  But I don‘t really think that‘s justice.  I think ultimately here, this person either needs to be given a death penalty or else sit in a prison by himself in solitary confinement for the rest of his life.  He needs to think and contemplate about the awful things that he‘s done.  And again that, again, he still displays very little remorse for. 

CARLSON:  It would be nice to turn him over to the widows of his victims.  An old American Indian tradition that I think works well.  Evan Coleman, thanks a lot.

COLEMAN:  My pleasure.

CARLSON:  First it was Fox News.  Now the man who spoofs Fox News. 

Democrats are ordered to stay away from big, bad, scary Steven Colbert. 

What are they afraid of?  Willie Geist tells us when we come right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CARLSON:  All week we‘ve told you that Willie Geist is gone, caught up in the American justice system, in court.  And all week we‘ve chanted, free Willie, free Willie.  Well someone has heard our pleas.  Back, at least momentarily, out on curfew, or whatever, Willie Geist.

CARLSON:  I‘m out on furlough, Tucker.  It‘s not complete freedom.  

I‘ve been furloughed.  I‘m due back in my cell by sun down, I‘m afraid.  So, for one day only, but I‘m happy to serve the American justice system and do my civic duty. 

CARLSON:  We are really glad to have you back, Willie. 

CARLSON:  Thank you, Tucker, and also I‘m very sorry that Oral Roberts will not be will not be winning the national championships, as you predicted the other night to me.  They were upended this afternoon.  I‘m so sorry. 

CARLSON:  Oral Roberts University. 

GEIST:  Of course, the basketball team.  Well, let get to the news, Tucker.  One thing you do that want to do in a nationally televised singing competition with your life‘s one and only chance at fame and happiness hanging in the balance, is forget the words to the song you‘re singing.  It happened to Brandon Rogers and it cost him his spot on “American Idol” last flight.  Brandon was sent home by the voters, while Sanjaya, who would be booed off most karaoke stages, inexplicably lived to see another week.  Sanjaya‘s escape has less to do with talent than with people who like watching him embarrass himself. 

The website VoteForTheWorst.com seeks to compromise the integrity of the “American Idol” process by encouraging people to vote for Sanjaya.  Howard Stern also encouraged his listeners to call and text their support for the 17-year-old mediocrity. 

Well, with the rather mediocre group of singers on “American Idol” this season, the real story has become the ongoing homo-erotic tension between Ryan Seacrest and Simon Cowell.  This sassy exchange happened on Tuesday night and was replayed for emphasis last night. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RYAN SEACREST, “AMERICAN IDOL”:  Simon, any advice on the high heel? 

SIMON COWELL, “AMERICAN IDOL”:  You should know, Ryan!

SEACREST:  Stay out of my closet. 

COWELL:  Come out!

SEACREST:  We‘re friend. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GEIST:  Wow, cat fight, come out, Tucker.

CARLSON:  That‘s unbelievable.  Did that really happen? 

GEIST:  Yes, it did.  It was right there.

CARLSON:  I‘m going to start watching that show.  Wow, my palms are sweating just watching that. 

GEIST:  With Antonella gone, this is about as close as we‘re going to get to an interesting sex scandal on that show.  And let me say, the guy Sanjaya, who stayed around, he is a terrible singer.  And he has got the whole Androgyny thing working, which worked for David Bowie in the 1970‘s, but this guy is not pulling it off.  Let me just assure you of that. 

CARLSON:  I can‘t get past what those guys just said to each other. 

GEIST:  Tune in next week.  Well Tucker, if you love good pizza and you‘re an obnoxious jerk with money to burn, you‘ll love the 12 inch pie now selling for 1,000 dollars at an Italian restaurant in New York City.  The man who had the audacity to put a 1,000 dollar pizza on his menu appeared on “The Today Show” this morning.  The pizza‘s toppings include salmon, lobster tail and four different kind of caviar.

For 1,000 dollars, that had also better come with some of those free cheesy bread sticks, Tucker.  Now let me say just this, we should have sniper teams in place in the restaurant, just to sort of pinpoint whoever is buying that pizza.  Just so we can take them out and get them out of society.  My take.

CARLSON:  I have the feel they‘re in the equity business.  Just a guess. 

GEIST:  You think so?   

CARLSON:  Yes.  I think they may be connected to Wall Street. 

GEIST:  Maybe, on the other end of that spectrum right now, Pizza Hut. 

I don‘t know why I‘m plugging Pizza Hut, but this is true.  For 12 dollars, you buy like a cheese crust pizza, or one of those things they have, and they give you a free cellular telephone with like games on it and stuff.  They‘re actually paying you to eat their pizza.  I guess it works both ways. 

Tucker, you will remember and how could you forget, Zsa Zsa Gabor‘s 9th husband.  The self-proclaimed Prince Frederick Can Anhalt, as the surreal cherry on top, of the recent Anna Nicole Smith Sunday.  He came out of the wood work last month to throw his hat into the Anna Nicole baby daddy sweepstakes.  Some in the press have had the nerve to question the prince‘s intentions and now he is fighting back.  Von Anhalt is suing Bill O‘Reilly and Fox News Channel for 10 million dollars because O‘Reilly called the prince, quote, a fraud during a February 22nd broadcast of his show. 

Von Anhalt says he gets dirty looks, and people say, quote, look, here comes the fraud when they see him coming.  Has anyone ever uttered that phrase, look here comes the fraud?  I don‘t think that‘s true.  I don‘t know, that doesn‘t sound like 10 million dollars worth of suffering. 

CARLSON:  I‘ve always pointed out that he is authentic.  He‘s not from Jersey.  His real name is not Larry.  No, he‘s entirely real.

GEIST:  But I did say, I don‘t want to toot my open horn, but the Anna Nicole story went from sad to excellent when Zsa Zsa Gabor‘s 9th husband, Prince Von Anhalt, came out and threw his hat in.  It became tremendous. 

Finally, Tucker, a quick one for you.  The man who makes a living parodying Bill O‘Reilly apparently scares Democrats as much as O‘Reilly and Fox themselves.  The chamber of House Democratic caucus, Congressman Rahm Emanuel instructing new members of Congress to stay away from Steven Colbert‘s Comedy Central show, “The Colbert Report.”  He has a way of dragging politicians into bad conversation, saying thing like, you know, conversations about putting kittens into wood chippers and stuff like that. 

So Tucker, I like to think that my national leadership can hang with comedians, but apparently the leadership does not have confidence in itself. 

CARLSON:  That is just pathetic.  We‘re going to leave it right there. 

Willie Geist, great to see you back. 

GEIST:  You too, Tucker. 

CARLSON:  You have to go back to court tomorrow Willie? 

GEIST:  Yes, I do.  Sadly. 

CARLSON:  I just want do say, I hope you get out.  I hope the charges, they‘re beatable.  They‘re always beatable with the right lawyer, Willie. 

GEIST:  Yes, it is jury duty, right. 

CARLSON:  Oh, is that what we‘re calling it?  Good luck.  Anyway, thanks Willie.  We appreciate it.  That does it for us.  Up next, “HARDBALL” with David Gregory.  We will be back here tomorrow.  Tune in then.  Have a great night.

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

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