The Situation: Wednesday, April 19
Editor's Note: The Situation Report is a running log of dispatches, quotes, links and behind-the-scenes notes filed by the correspondents and producers of CNN's Washington Bureau. Watch "The Situation Room" with Wolf Blitzer on CNN 4 p.m. ET to 6 p.m. ET and 7 p.m. ET to 8 p.m. ET weekdays.
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Today in "The Situation Room"
Moussaoui in his own words
Assault on Capitol Hill
The Morning Grind
Posted: 11:00 a.m. ET
McClellan steps down
Scott McClellan announced this morning he is stepping down from his post as President Bush's spokesman, the first resignation of a senior White House aide since Josh Bolten took over as chief of staff this week.
It is no surprise McClellan is leaving the post since Bolten made it clear he intends to shake up the senior level staff in an attempt to reinvigorate a White House that has come under fire from Republicans for losing its focus.
"The White House is going through a period of transition, change can be helpful, this is a good time, a good position to help bring about change," said McClellan, who has worked for Bush for seven years -- nearly three behind the White House podium. "I am ready to move on. I have been in this position a long time and my wife and I are excited about beginning the next chapter in our life together.
"You have accomplished a lot over the last several years with this team and I have been honored and grateful to be a small part of a terrific and talented team of really good people," McClellan added, as Bush stood by his side when he made the announcement.
"I thank Scott for his service to our country," Bush said. "I don't know whether or not the press corps realizes this, but his is a challenging assignment dealing with you all on a regular basis and I thought he handled his assignment with class, integrity."
"It is going to be hard to replace Scott, but nevertheless he made the decision and I accept it," Bush added. It is not yet clear who will replace McClellan, but the spokesman noted the transition would occur in "two to three weeks."
Another Bush confidante, Karl Rove, will remain in the White House but will be ceding some of his domestic policy duties. More staff changes are expected.
Prior to the McClellan announcement, Bush met with a bipartisan delegation of governors just back from Iraq and following the meeting the President reaffirmed his commitment to keep U.S. troops in Afghanistan and Iraq until each country is able to establish a stable government.
"I assured them that our goal in Afghanistan and Iraq is victory," Bush said at a news conference. "The victory will be achieved when there is a democracy in both countries that is able to sustain itself and defend itself."
Attending the meeting were Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R), Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels (R), West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin (D) and Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack. Gov. Bush is the President's brother, Daniels served in the Bush administration as director of the Office of Management and Budget and Vilsack is weighing a run for president. The group discussed their assessment of the situation in Iraq, and the conversations they had with U.S. military commanders and troops that are on the ground.
During his brief remarks to reporters, Bush also acknowledged that while not everyone agrees with his Iraq strategy, he believes it is in everyone's interest to stay until a democratic government is formed.
"I don't expect everyone to agree with my decision to go into Iraq, but I do want ... the American people to understand that failure in Iraq is not an option," he said. "That failure in Iraq would make the security situation for our country worse and the success in Iraq will begin to lay the foundation of peace for generations to come."
Later this afternoon, at 1 p.m. ET, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice delivers a speech on Iraq before the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations. Bush continues to stand by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld -- a chief architect of the Iraq War policy -- even as there is growing sentiment for him to step down from his post. Bush broke from normal protocol when he released a public statement indicating his support from Rumsfeld on Friday. Bush defended his decision to do so when pressed by CNN's Ed Henry at a news conference yesterday.
"You can understand why, because we've got people's reputations at stake," Bush said. "And on Friday I stood up and said, 'I don't appreciate the speculation about Don Rumsfeld; he's doing a fine job, I strongly support him.'"
Bush said he is not ignoring the advice of critics, including several former military officers who are urging for Rumsfeld to be replaced, but the President made clear that it is his decision, not others, to make.
"I hear the voices, and I read the front page, and I know the speculation," Bush said. "But I'm the decider, and I decide what is best. And what's best is for Don Rumsfeld to remain as the secretary of defense."
For his part, Rumsfeld shrugged off questions about calls for his ouster at a Pentagon briefing Tuesday afternoon. "The President knows that I serve at his pleasure and that's that," he said.
Meanwhile, one of Bush's most vocal critics, Sen. John Kerry (D-Massachusetts), is asking political supporters to back his Iraq plan that calls for the immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops if Iraqis are not able to form a new government by May 15. If Iraq does form a government, Kerry said U.S. troops should then leave the country by years end. Kerry, who lost to Bush in the 2004 presidential race and is now eyeing another run for his party's nomination, told supporters he plans to deliver a major speech about Iraq on Friday.
"Decades ago I stood up to the Nixon administration and spoke out for a change of course in Vietnam," Kerry said in an e-mail sent yesterday. "Four days from now, I will be delivering a speech at Boston's Faneuil Hall on the critically important topic of war and dissent. It's time to remind America that, when a stubborn president has America headed profoundly in the wrong direction, only citizen action can change our country's course."
Another potential Democratic presidential nominee, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (New York), was endorsed this morning by the Uniformed Firefighters Association and the Uniformed Fire Officers Association in her bid for a second term in the Senate. Clinton is expected to win re-election in November and then turn her sights on a possible run for the White House in 2008.
Fellow New Yorker, former Gotham Mayor Rudy Giuliani (R) continues to add dates to his fundraising tour for GOP candidates as he considers a run for president in 2008. He is scheduled to hold a fundraiser later this month for California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R), heads to Iowa for several fundraisers including one for Rep. Jim Nussle (R), who is running for governor, next month, and he joined Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pennsylvania) yesterday on the campaign trail. Now, the former New York Mayor is scheduled to appear at a May 18 fundraiser for Ralph Reed, the embattled former head of the Christian Coalition, who is running for lieutenant governor of Georgia. Reed has been tangled up in the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal that has already produced several guilty pleas, forced Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas) to announce his resignation from Congress and is expected to produce more indictments. While Reed has not been charged in any of Abramoff's misdeeds, his work on behalf of the lobbyist has come under close scrutiny.
Amy Walter, a senior editor with the Cook Political Report, tells the Grind that Giuliani's campaigning for conservatives is "not something new," but appearing alongside Reed could help the former Christian Coalition head.
"If you are going to bring in a Republican heavyweight, he fits the bill on so many levels," she said of Giuliani. "He is popular, there is still a star quality around him and he does not bring with him any baggage."
With Congress set to return to Capitol Hill and an unfinished immigration reform bill next week, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tennessee) -- who is weighing a White House run -- will meet with Sen. Mel Martinez (R-Florida) in Orlando today to discuss the situation. Martinez is the co-author of a compromise bill that is intended to bridge the differences between supporters and opponents of strict immigration laws. Meanwhile, the Democratic National Committee will begin running radio ads on the immigration issue today on Spanish language radio stations in Arizona, New Mexico and Nevada as well as on Univision radio. Next week, the Democrats will expand the campaign, DNC spokesman Mark Paustenbach said.
"Our ads will set the record straight about the Democratic Party's fight for comprehensive immigration reform, whereas the RNC's ads are a distortion of the Republican Party's extreme record on immigration," he said. Paustenbach is referring to a radio ad campaign the Republican National Committee launched earlier this week accusing Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) of blocking passage of immigration reform legislation. The RNC ads are also running on Spanish radio stations in Arizona and Nevada.
And often an accounting error can be embarrassing, but for Sen. Evan Bayh's (D-Indiana) campaign committee they are embracing this one. In Tuesday's Grind, we reported that Bayh had $8.1 million in his Senate campaign, based on information provided by the Senator's campaign committee. But a clerical error shows that the Indiana Senator in fact has $9.8 million in the bank -- an extra $1.7 million the Grind notes Bayh can use to buy valuable television time in the presidential proving grounds of Iowa and New Hampshire.
Political Hot Topics
Posted: 11:00 a.m. ET
STANDING BY RUMMY: It has become a daily ritual, the defense of the defense secretary, complete with praise from serving generals, tributes from the president and, from the man on the spot, doses of charm, combativeness and even some humility. A session on Tuesday was the third time in five days that Donald H. Rumsfeld had sought to make a public case to remain as defense secretary. "There are no indispensable men," Mr. Rumsfeld told reporters at the Pentagon. But the Bush administration sought to drive home the message that Mr. Rumsfeld was not going anywhere, no matter what critics might desire. Again, Gen. Peter Pace of the Marines, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was at Mr. Rumsfeld's side, a visual prop to counter the message from a half-dozen or so retired generals that Mr. Rumsfeld should step down. New York Times: Here's Donny! In His Defense, a Show Is Born
PORTMAN'S MOVE LEAVES VOID IN TRADE TALKS: By switching his chief trade negotiator yesterday, President Bush sent a gloomy signal to many trade experts and policymakers about the prospects for achieving significant gains in trade talks with foreign countries anytime soon. The announcement that Bush was naming Rob Portman to become head of the Office of Management and Budget showed that in just 11 months as U.S. trade representative, Portman has established himself as one of the administration's rising stars. But the personnel change comes as global trade negotiations are in serious trouble, with a major deadline just weeks away. The loss of Portman leaves the talks without a chief U.S. negotiator whose genial manner, combined with his political skill and mastery of detail, has impressed counterparts from other nations. Washington Post: Hopes for Trade Talks Dim After Personnel Switch
BROOKLYN GAS STATION CHARGES $4.50/GALLON: With pump prices rising fast, a gas station under the Brooklyn Bridge took a quantum leap into outrageousness - charging a jaw-dropping $4.50 a gallon! That's what the Gulf Station on Old Fulton St. in Brooklyn Heights was charging credit card customers for a gallon of premium yesterday. A gallon of regular gas was no bargain, either, at $4.14 for cash or $4.26 on plastic... Around the city, motorists were bracing for prices to crest at $3, a figure the Brooklyn station left in the dust. New York Daily News: Gulp! Try $4.50!
FREDDIE MAC PAYS $3.8M FINE TO FEC: Freddie Mac, the home mortgage powerhouse, agreed on Tuesday to pay $3.8 million in civil penalties to the Federal Election Commission, which had accused it of improperly funneling corporate executives' donations to candidates and holding lavish fund-raisers that often benefited congressmen on an influential House committee. It is the largest fine that the F.E.C. has obtained in a civil case. Dating from the 2000 elections, the events detailed in the agency's filings show that one of the corporation's executives, Robert Mitchell Delk, was the host of 70 campaign fund-raisers held mainly at the expensive Galileo restaurant here. Those events raised about $1.7 million for federal candidates. The agency found that Freddie Mac, a federally chartered corporation that promotes home ownership, had violated laws or regulations that prohibit it from some campaign fund-raising activities like using corporate resources for fund-raisers. New York Times: Home Mortgage Giant to Pay $3.8 Million in Fines to F.E.C.
CIA LOOKS TO BLOGS FOR SOME PERSPECTIVE: President Bush and U.S. policy-makers are receiving more intelligence from open sources such as Internet blogs and foreign newspapers than they previously did, senior intelligence officials said. The new Open Source Center (OSC) at CIA headquarters recently stepped up data collection and analysis based on bloggers worldwide and is developing new methods to gauge the reliability of the content, said OSC Director Douglas J. Naquin. "A lot of blogs now have become very big on the Internet, and we're getting a lot of rich information on blogs that are telling us a lot about social perspectives and everything from what the general feeling is to ... people putting information on there that doesn't exist anywhere else," Mr. Naquin told The Washington Times. Washington Times: CIA mines 'rich' content from blogs
AF1 DATA STILL AVAILABLE ONLINE: A week after Pentagon officials ordered an Air Force base in Georgia to remove from its Web site security information about the two Air Force One aircraft, the data remained publicly available Tuesday. Officials at the Warner Robins Air Logistics Center did not ignore the Pentagon command to remove the information. In fact, within hours of the Air Force chief of staff's office learning of the online posting, Warner Robins authorities removed the technical order that had caused consternation at the Pentagon and White House. The Air Force has discovered that once it -- or for that matter anyone -- places a Web page on a publicly accessible Internet site, that information moves into the public domain. San Francisco Chronicle: Air Force One data still on the Web
Q1 RESULTS SHOW '06 CHALLENGERS RAISING A LOT OF $$$: New campaign-finance records show that key challengers are surpassing or matching the fundraising of incumbents this year in competitive races around the country, a sign of the gathering strength of an anti-incumbent wind that doesn't necessarily distinguish between Republicans and Democrats... "Almost two-thirds of Americans think the country is heading in the wrong direction. When you have that type of situation, incumbents are in danger," said Darrell West, a professor of political science at Brown University, in Chafee's home state. In most cases, incumbents maintain a serious advantage in cash on hand, but the first-quarter results could be a sign of things to come. The Hill: Challengers rake in cash
GOP TRIES TO HELP DEM WIN PRIMARY... BY CALLING HIM AN ANTI-BUSH LIBERAL: A new television commercial running in Ohio's 6th District sure sounds as if it has mean things to say about Bob Carr. He is supposedly a "liberal Democrat" who wants to overturn President Bush's tax cuts and is "too far left to work with Republicans in Washington." Them's fightin' words, all right -- but their real target is not Carr... The NRCC, Republican and Democratic strategists privately agree, would pay for an ad attacking Carr for one reason only: They want to help him in the primary. Being called an anti-Bush liberal, after all, is the best endorsement one could get for many of the people who will vote in the primary. Washington Post: GOP's Ohio Double Play
POLITICAL "HOT POTATO" FOR IL GOV CANDIDATES: Just a day after a federal jury stung George Ryan with a felony conviction, Gov. Rod Blagojevich and Republican challenger Judy Baar Topinka on Tuesday each contended the other was more likely to be hurt by voter disgust over public corruption. The Democratic governor made it clear after Monday's guilty verdict that he intends to pursue a consistent strategy of linking Topinka, the three-term state treasurer, with fellow Republican Ryan. Topinka sought to distance herself from Ryan and pointed to state and federal investigations of Blagojevich's administration to contend that the current governor faces problems with voters on Nov. 7. The Ryan verdict provided an opportunity for both campaigns to engage in full-scale spin, something likely to play out again and again in the coming weeks and months. Chicago Tribune: Rivals treat verdict like a hot potato
BROWN CAMPAIGN NEARLY BANKRUPT: With questions swirling about his future as a U.S. Senate candidate, Matt Brown is ducking questions... The Democratic candidate, who is also secretary of state, had $35,000 left in his war chest as of April 1 for the September primary. His opponent, Sheldon Whitehouse, had nearly $1.4 million left for the primary. Even dark-horse candidate Carl Sheeler has $210,000 in his campaign kitty, although it is not clear how much of that is earmarked for the primary. With a near-bankrupt campaign, Brown has been cutting his payroll, laying off staffers, although it's not clear exactly how deep his reductions are. Providence Journal-Bulletin: Brown mum on future of campaign
GIULIANI STUMPS FOR SANTORUM...: Former Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani of New York campaigned on Tuesday for Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, a social conservative who is facing a tough re-election fight in one of the most competitive battles in the nation this year. While both men are Republicans, Mr. Giuliani supports abortion rights and is considered more moderate, while Mr. Santorum is known for his strong opposition to abortion and gay marriage. In campaigning for Mr. Santorum, Mr. Giuliani could be mending fences with more conservative Republican leaders in advance of a possible national bid in 2008. New York Times: Giuliani Stumps for Conservative Senator, Despite Differences
...AND HITS THE TRAIL WITH RALPH REED: Just days after a religious conservative questioned Rudolph Giuliani's views, ex-Christian Coalition leader Ralph Reed said the former New York City mayor will headline a fundraiser for him next month. Reed is running for lieutenant governor in Georgia. His campaign has been undercut by his ties to disgraced former lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who is facing prison time after pleading guilty to charges of conspiracy, tax evasion and fraud. The Reed campaign trumpeted the appearance with Giuliani, distributing an invitation on Tuesday which featured a smiling photo of the two men together. Giuliani, a potential 2008 presidential candidate, was widely praised for his leadership of the city after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. On Sunday, the Rev. Jerry Falwell said he admired Giuliani, but could not support him for president because of "irreconcilable differences on life and family." AP via Yahoo! News: Giuliani to Help Ga. Hopeful's Fundraising
BLOOMBERG "GAL PAL" ATTENDS WARNER EVENT: Mayor Bloomberg's gal pal, Diana Taylor, was a surprise guest yesterday at a chic Manhattan fund- raiser for former Virginia Gov. Mark Warner - widely viewed as the biggest Democratic threat to Hillary Clinton's presidential dreams. Taylor, a Republican, seemed unnerved to be met by a Post reporter as she left the private, two-hour soiree at the '21' Club, dashing across the street to a waiting car and driver after barely answering a question. "It was great," Taylor said of the Warner fund-raiser. Asked if she's supporting Warner's 2008 presidential bid, Taylor barely slowed to say over her shoulder, "I'm not a supporter of anyone." Taylor, who serves in Gov. Pataki's administration as state banking commissioner, is a registered Republican. New York Post: Mike Gal's Warner Druthers
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