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CNN "The Situation Room" - Transcript


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WOLF BLITZER, HOST, CNN'S THE SITUATION ROOM: I'm Wolf Blitzer, we're here in THE SITUATION ROOM. We're reporting live from Dubuque, Iowa right now. It's ground zero in the presidential campaign. In only seven days, the Iowa caucuses will take place, the first voting for the Republican presidential nomination.

We're joined by the Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich. Mr. Speaker, thanks very much once again for coming, and let's talk a little bit about Virginia, because a lot of folks are saying you couldn't even get on the ballot in Virginia.

Here's a question from Facebook from Matthew Burrier. "Does missing the Virginia deadline to get on the ballot and having similar issues related to lack of organization and fundraising ability mean that Newt is unelectable?

GINGRICH: Well, first of all, in Virginia, the rules are very complicated. And Rick Perry didn't make it, Rick Santorum didn't make it, Michele Bachmann didn't make it. The fact is, you end up in -- and Jon Huntsman didn't make it.

So, you ended up with two people, Ron Paul and Mitt Romney, both of whom had run before, both of whom had spent years on this project. They're the only two people who made it.

And I wish we had made it. We came very, very close to getting on the ballot. I wish they would allow write-in votes. Every poll in Virginia says I'd win if we had -- if we were on the ballot.

BLITZER: Well, you've lived there, outside of Washington, DC in northern Virginia --


GINGRICH: We lived there. Right.

BLITZER: -- for a long time.

GINGRICH: And so --

BLITZER: But what does it say? You've been running since, what, May? When did you announce? GINGRICH: Well, look. This was a mistake, and we feel badly about it. I think it'll be the only state that we're not on the ballot. We're going to be on Ohio tomorrow, and I think we'll be on Illinois early next week.

BLITZER: Do you have the national organization? Do you have --

GINGRICH: We're getting it. If you remember, Wolf, when I first started, everybody in the news media said I was dead. So, we spent two months proving I wasn't dead. So, we're about ten weeks behind where I'd like to be right now.

But I think it's fair to say that we increasingly have organization in every state, and that we're rapidly catching up. We're raising money, we will raise almost as much money in the fourth quarter as John McCain did in 2007, which is an enormous increase from where we were in mid summer.

BLITZER: Mitt Romney made fun of you today. I don't know if you heard, did you hear about this?


BLITZER: About the Virginia snafu and all of that. I'll play the clip. Watch this.



MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You know, I think he compared that to -- was it Pearl Harbor? I think it's more like Lucille Ball at the chocolate factory.


ROMNEY: So, I mean, you've got to get it organized.


BLITZER: Now, he was referring to a statement that your campaign manager said, this was like Pearl Harbor, you've learned from it, and it's not going to happen again.


BLITZER: But he's comparing you to Lucille Ball, "I Love Lucy" --


BLITZER: -- when she was at that chocolate -- you remember that scene.

GINGRICH: I have a very simple message for Mitt Romney. I'll meet him anywhere in Iowa for 90 minutes, just the two of us, in a debate, with a timekeeper and no moderator. I'd love to have him say that to my face. I'd like him to have the courage to back up his negative ads. I'd like him to have -- back up the things his staff have been putting out. He wants to prove he can debate Barack Obama? He ought to have the courage to stand on the same stage with me.

He's buying millions of dollars in attack ads through a phony super PAC run by his former staff, paid for by his millionaire friends.

Now, I'd like to have him have the courage to be on the same stage and defend his ads and explain his record as a moderate in Massachusetts, explain his record of raising taxes, explain his record of paying for abortions through state money, explain his record of putting Planned Parenthood on.

And frankly, explain why he was a -- he wasn't a job-creating governor. His current plan is much weaker than mine. So, I'd like to debate the Gingrich supply-side conservative economic plan versus the Romney moderate plan, which is much weaker in job creation.

And I'm happy for him to have fun at a distance, but I'd like to invite him to spend 90 minutes debating face-to-face.

BLITZER: There have been about a dozen debates --


BLITZER: -- he's been on the stage with you --


BLITZER: -- so far. He was standing on some of those debates very close to you.

GINGRICH: Herman Cain was willing to debate one-on-one, Jon Huntsman has debated one-on-one, Rick Santorum has debated one-on-one. Mitt Romney's the guy running the most ads attacking me, and he's doing it through this disingenuous, "Oh, gee, I don't control all of my former staff and all of my millionaire friends." It's baloney.

If he wants to defend his negativity, show up in Iowa, 90 minutes, face-to-face. Let the -- let the people decide whether or not, in fact, he'll back up what he's been saying, and let him back up his moderate record -- not conservative record -- as governor. And I don't think he'll do it.

BLITZER: You know, 24 hours from now, I'm going to be interviewing Mitt Romney --


GINGRICH: Well, ask him why --


GINGRICH: -- ask him why he won't debate me.

BLITZER: I will ask him that question. But is there anything you want to say to him --


BLITZER: Look into the camera right now and talk to -- because he might be watching, for all I know.


BLITZER: He's in Iowa, we're in Iowa.

GINGRICH: He'll certainly see the video. All I'd say, Mitt, is if you want to run a negative campaign and you want to attack people, at least be man enough to own it. That's your staff and that's your organization, those are your millionaire friends paying for it.

And let's be clear. I'm willing to fight for real job creation with a real Reagan-Kemp-style job creation program. You are a moderate Massachusetts Republican who, in fact, is very timid about job creation. Let's get it on together and let's compare our two plans.

BLITZER: I'll play that clip for him tomorrow --


BLITZER: -- here and we'll get his reaction --

GINGRICH: All right.

BLITZER: -- that's only fair. Let's go through some substantive --


BLITZER: -- issues right now, because you're causing a stir on a whole bunch of issues, but that's what you've done for a long time, and it comes with the territory.

On justices of the Supreme Court, lower courts, you've made some very controversial comments that if you disagree adamantly with some of their decisions, you wouldn't hesitate to subpoena these guys, these judges, bring them forward, and not -- and basically ignore their decisions.

I asked Jeffrey Toobin, our Senior Legal Analyst, he's an authority on the US Supreme Court, as you probably know. I asked him whether or not you have a basis from which to speak on this issue, and I'll play the clip --


BLITZER: -- of what he said.


JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: The courts have the last word. You don't like it, you can change the constitution, you can have new justices on the Supreme Court, you can even impeach a federal judge.

But you cannot haul them in and beat them up in front of a Congressional committee. You cannot use the police to intimidate judges. That is something that is fundamentally against American constitutional history.


GINGRICH: Well, he's wrong --

BLITZER: All right. Jeffrey Toobin.

GINGRICH: Look, Jeffrey's wrong on two counts. First of all, the courts are not the last word. The courts are one of three last words. The constitution's designed around a balance of power between the legislative, executive, and judicial branches. There is on superior branch. Hamilton --

BLITZER: But until new legislation is passed --


BLITZER: -- the rule of the -- the decision of the Supreme Court stands.

GINGRICH: Only in the case of the law. Not in -- only in the case. Lincoln says in his 1861 inaugural address the Dred Scott case extending slavery over the whole country is not the law of the land. And he says, furthermore, you would eliminate our freedom if nine people could decide it.

Jefferson, when asked if the Supreme Court was supreme over the president and the Congress said that is absurd. That would be an oligarchy.

Jeffrey ought to look at the 54-page paper at where, as a historian, we lay out the historic case. Alexander Hamilton says the courts would never pick a fight with the legislature and the executive because, in fact, they would lose the fight. Now, that implies something about relative strength.

Lastly, he has made my case. He said judges can be impeached. The first step towards impeachment is hearing testimony. The question I was asked was, could Congress compel testimony? By definition in an impeachment case, they can compel testimony.

BLITZER: I'm going to move on, but I'll just read to you what Mitt Romney told the "Wall Street Journal" on this. He said, "I think Speaker Gingrich said that if he disagreed with the Supreme Court on an issue like gay marriage, he might decide not to carry it out. Well, if that's the case for President Gingrich, might not that be the case for President Obama?"

GINGRICH: And the test is a three-part test. There are three branches. If the president and the Congress take on the court, the court loses. If the Congress and the court take on the president, the president loses.

And so, you have this constant balance of power written into our constitution. The specific case I cited is Boumediene. This is George Washington's commander-in-chief flagged. The commander-in-chief was written into the constitution at a convention Washington presided over. Washington had been commander for eight years.

The idea that a court in Boumediene would put American civil liberties into a battlefield to start setting a standard for dealing with enemy combatants would be abhorrent to all of the founding fathers, and there is a classic case where the president, as the commander-in- chief, could say "We are not going to enforce this decision."

BLITZER: All right, so you're not backing away from anything you've said on judicial decisions --

GINGRICH: No. No. And I urge people --


BLITZER: Judges, justices --

GINGRICH: But I urge people to read the paper at It's 54 pages long, and it's historically very sound.

BLITZER: When I covered you when you were speaker, you worked closely with President Clinton at the time --


BLITZER: -- and the two of you got a lot done together.


BLITZER: What happened, then, that isn't happening right now? Who's to blame for all of this?

GINGRICH: Well, look, I think there's enough blame to go around for everybody. I've never seen a bigger mess than the Congress and the president passing a pathetic two-month tax extension at a time when we desperately need a job -- we need an economic growth and jobs plan.

Because if Europe really gets in trouble this spring, we don't -- and we're not growing, you're going to see the whole world economy drug deeper into this deep recession. It's totally irresponsible for the president and the Congress to leave town and not do more than a two- month extension.

Part of the difference was that both Clinton and I understood that we had a higher loyalty than partisanship, that we had a job -- I was Speaker of the House --

BLITZER: You liked him, Bill Clinton, didn't you?

GINGRICH: I like him as a person. I think he's -- BLITZER: You used to come out of the West Wing, I used to see you in the driveway over there, and you would be glowing in some -- something your Republican colleagues weren't very happy with what you've just said.

GINGRICH: Look. We were like two graduate students in that we liked ideas, we liked talking, we liked books. But the fact is, we also understood as president and as Speaker of the House, we were constitutional officers of the United States.

We weren't just Democrat and Republican. We weren't just liberal and conservative. We had -- my dad was a career soldier, so I grew up with honor, duty, country. We had a belief that we had -- we had a job to do, and that job involved helping America.

And the result was together, we balanced the budget four times, we cut taxes, we brought unemployment down to 4.2 percent, we reformed welfare. Two out of three people went back to work or to school, child poverty was the lowest it ever achieved after welfare reform because we were doing things that made sense for America.

The current spectacle of Obama's total inability to lead and, frankly, Harry Reid's partisanship as Senate leader and the lack of coordination between Speaker Boehner, who has a, I think, a very hard job, much harder than my job, and Mitch McConnell. That lack of coordination, I think, is a big deal.

BLITZER: All right, we're going to take one more break and we're going to --


BLITZER: -- wrap this up. We have some more questions to ask the Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich. More from Dubuque, Iowa, right after this.


BLITZER: We're back with Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich. You saw the story that CNN reported yesterday on your first divorce, the discrepancy, what's in the documents that were released or given out yesterday as opposed to what was originally said, that you initiated -- you had actually filed for the divorce, but you said your first wife asked for the divorce. I want you to clarify.


BLITZER: If you can.

GINGRICH: Well, all I can tell you is, if anybody's interested, Jackie Cushman is my daughter. She's written on this, and people can read her --

BLITZER: Your daughter from your first marriage.

GINGRICH: From my first marriage. She's the one who did all the work. She talked to her mother, she talked to me, she sorted out -- I think her article captures it, and that's the most I'll say. Go look at Jackie Cushman's article.

BLITZER: And she -- her basic point is --

GINGRICH: Her basic point is when she talked to everybody and sorted it all out, she was comfortable that it had been fundamentally misreported and that we had worked things out in a way that she felt comfortable with, that her mother felt comfortable with.

And again, I mean, I have great respect for her mother, who did a very good job raising the two girls. I'm -- as you know, I'm very close to both of them. Callista and I have a very close relationship, both with Kathy and Jackie and with our grandchildren, Maggie and Robert. People just need to look at that and make their own decisions.

BLITZER: And these -- in these court documents, if you weren't providing --


GINGRICH: They should just --

BLITZER: -- child support --

GINGRICH: -- they just need to look at --

BLITZER: -- and you weren't providing money for the family --

GINGRICH: -- they just need to look at what Jackie's written. There are a lot of things that are said in divorces that turn out not to be true, and lawyers write lots of things in the middle of fights.

BLITZER: So, that's basically where you want to leave it?

GINGRICH: That's where I want to leave it.

BLITZER: All right, one final question, just because it's so important to the country and to me, because I've been covering this war in Iraq going back to the first Gulf War.

Knowing what you know right now, knowing what all of us know, including this tension that's developing in the aftermath of the US withdrawal, was it -- was it smart for the US to go in there in March of 2003 and launch this invasion and get rid of Saddam Hussein based on faulty intelligence?

Was it a blunder? If you knew then, in other words, what you know now, would you have done it?

GINGRICH: First of all, you can look back and say based on faulty intelligence. Based on the intelligence that was agreed to by the Russians, the British, the Italians --


BLITZER: Which was faulty.

GINGRICH: -- the French --

BLITZER: Which was faulty.

GINGRICH: But nonetheless, every major power agreed --

BLITZER: But it was faulty. We all know -- we're all smarter now than we were then.

GINGRICH: Yes, but you have the great advantage of looking back in hindsight and say, gee --

BLITZER: Well, that's the question.

GINGRICH: -- you wish the world were different.

BLITZER: With hindsight, with 20/20 hindsight, was this war smart or stupid?

GINGRICH: I think replacing Saddam Hussein was good for the world. This was a murderous, evil person who had done a lot of terrible things and had -- had been involved in killing well over a million people.

BLITZER: A million people?

GINGRICH: And -- well, look at the cost of the Iran-Iraq War. And so, I would say to you, if you look at his use of chemical weapons he used on his own people, you look at the degree to which he was trying to get nuclear weapons --

And remember, when you talk to people form the debriefing teams, most of his generals thought Saddam had a nuclear weapons program. They just didn't think they knew what it was. So, I think it's very hard to go back.

BLITZER: He didn't have one, by the way.

GINGRICH: The big mistake was, I think, not hiring the Iraqi regular army. I'd written a paper in the summer of '02 for the Pentagon that said go in with what I called "Operation Switch." Get the Iraqi regular army, get rid of the Republican Guard, have them police the cities, pull back as fast as you can, and recognize the limits of power.

Bremer made a different decision. This is not hindsight. In December of 2003, I said both on "Meet the Press" and in "Newsweek," we have gone off the cliff. Bremer saw it to fundamentally change Iraqi society without the forces, the toughness, or the understanding that would require.

And I think we are now in a very dangerous environment where the Iranians are gaining control in a way that could become very dangerous for all of us. BLITZER: Yes, I'm very worried about the situation --

GINGRICH: I am, too.

BLITZER: I'm sure you are. Mr. Speaker --

GINGRICH: Thank you.

BLITZER: -- you spent a lot of time with me, thanks very much.

GINGRICH: Good to see you.

BLITZER: Good luck out there on the campaign trail.

GINGRICH: Thank you.

BLITZER: Appreciate it very much. We have a lot more news coming up. We'll dissect and digest what we just heard from the Republican presidential candidate, Newt Gingrich.

By the way, tomorrow, exactly at this time, I'll be speaking with Mitt Romney here in Iowa as well. Our coverage of all of this stuff continues in a moment.


BLITZER: Welcome back. I'm here in Dubuque, Iowa one week before the leadoff presidential contest. Newt Gingrich, Ron Paul, and Mitt Romney, they are clearly the frontrunners right now, but the results next Tuesday, one week from today, could change a lot of that, possibly persuade some second tier candidates to call it quits.

I just finished speaking with Newt Gingrich, the Republican candidate. He let loose with some very, very tough criticism of Ron Paul despite his earlier vow he was going to stay positive. Listen to this.


GINGRICH: First of all, as people get to know more about Ron Paul who disowns ten years of his own newsletter, says he didn't really realize what was in it, had no idea what he's making money on, had no idea that it was racist, anti-semitic, called for the destruction of Israel, talked about race war, all of this was a sudden shock to Ron Paul?

There will come a morning people won't take him as a serious person, as a potential president, a person who thinks the United States was responsible for 9/11, a person who wrote in his newsletter that the World Trade Center bombing in 1993 might have been a CIA plot, a person who believes it doesn't matter if the Iranians have a nuclear weapon.

I'd rather just say, you look at Ron Paul's total record of systemic avoidance of reality and you look at his newsletters, and then, you look at his ads. His ads are about as accurate as his newsletters.

BLITZER: Now, if he were to get the Republican nomination --

GINGRICH: He won't.

BLITZER: Let's say he were, could you vote for him?



BLITZER: There you heard it. Newt Gingrich saying he could not vote for Ron Paul if he got the Republican presidential nomination. Let's assess what we just heard. Joining us now, the Democratic strategist, Jonathan Prince. He worked in the Clinton White House. He also worked for President Obama.

Also joining us, our CNN contributor, David Frum. He was a special assistant to President George W. Bush. David, first to you. I think, I could be wrong, but I think he's the first Republican candidate to flatly say that if Ron Paul were to get the Republican nomination, he would not be able to vote for him.

DAVID FRUM, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Right, but the key part of that answer was what he said immediately before, which was no, Ron Paul is not going to get the Republican nomination. The Republican Party is a party of strong national defense. It is an antiracist party. It's a party of inclusion. It's a party that does stand for decent social safety net, and it's a party that has made contact with the changes in economic thinking over the past 150 years.

So, somebody who wants to take us back to the banking system that obtained before the civil war, no, that person is not going to get the Republican nomination for president. I don't think we have to worry about it too much. Although, it may make for a fun night in Iowa.

BLITZER: But it certainly, Jonathan, I don't know if you're familiar with the Ron Paul supporters out there, they are very, very devoted. They're very articulate. They work really, really hard. This is going to antagonize a lot of them. It took guts, I think you'll agree, for Newt Gingrich to come out as strongly and as adamantly against Ron Paul as he just did.

JONATHAN PRINCE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well, sure, look, anytime you're in a competitive contest on one side of the aisle or the other and you're willing to go out and say, I'm not going to support somebody, it takes gut to some extent, particularly, that individual's gut some measure support. But look, I'm in violent agreement here with, frankly, Speaker Gingrich and David.

Ron Paul's not going to win the nomination, ought not to win the nomination, and is not going to be president of the United States. This is a guy, as David point out in op-ed, who is not only, you know, -- that comes from the kind of well of ignorance and fear, which is bad enough. This is a guy who was racist by design, with, you know, malice and knowledge aforethought. This is not good stuff. And in fact, a lot of his supporters, because, you know, he's flown under the radar for so long because he doesn't have a chance to win the nomination, a lot of his supporters are not really aware of all that stuff. They're for legalizing drugs and he picked up some young supporter. They don't know the kind of things that he's dealt with in the past.

BLITZER: All right. Jonathan, David, guys, stand by for a moment. There's a lot more to assess, a lot more news this hour here in the SITUATION ROOM. We'll take a quick break. We'll be right back.



GINGRICH: All I say, Mitt is, if you want to run a negative campaign, if you want to attack people, at least be man enough to own it. That's your staff and that's your organization. Those are your millionaire friends paying for it and let's be clear. I'm willing to fight for real job creation with a real Reagan-Kemp-style job creation program.

You are a moderate Massachusetts Republican who, in fact, is very timid about job creation. Let's get it on together and let's compare our two plans.


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