(CNN) – With Sens. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama locked in a dispute over diplomacy, the initial question that sparked the dispute was posed to additional presidential candidates on the trail today.
Would they meet with five hostile world leaders, with no preconditions, within a year of taking office?
Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, agreed with Clinton.
“You don’t want to sit down and meet with people who are enemies of the United Statesand everything you stand for and believe in, unless you are sure that the outcome will be beneficial…and that the outcome will not enhance the prestige or the standing of one of these dictators,” McCain said in Boston Thursday.
New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, a Democratic presidential candidate, was more open to bilateral talks, but with conditions.
“I’d meet with leaders we disagree with,” Richardson said at a campaign stop in Des Moines. “President Bush's policy doesn't work. He basically says if you exhibit bad behavior I’m not going to talk to you. It’s a big mistake.”
“I think too often our foreign policy has been based on sending envoys, sending second level negotiators. I'm the President! We’ve got big problems with Iran, big problems withSyria, big problems in North Korea. Let’s face them.”
Richardson drew the line with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad: “I probably would not meet with him. I think it reaches a point where he is unreasonable.”
He instead said he would meet with moderate Iranian officials and clerics.
– CNN's Mark Norman
Watch Specter’s comments Thursday.
WASHINGTON (CNN) – Sen. Arlen Specter, R.-Pennsylvania, said Thursday that Senate Democrats were just playing politics with their attacks on the Bush administration including their request for a special counsel to investigate Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.
“It’s been a great fundraising device for the Democratic Party,” Specter, the ranking member on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said during a press conference on Capitol Hill.
Specter also accused Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-New York, of having a conflict of interest because Schumer is both in charge of Democratic fundraising in the Senate and is the chairman of the Senate subcommittee whose Democratic members requested the special counsel investigation of Gonzales.
“Everybody's trying to top everybody else and they're reaching for the front pages,” said Specter.
– CNN Associate Producer Martina Stewart
McCain campaigned in New Hampshire Thursday.
DERRY, New Hampshire (CNN) – Despite suffering a second round of campaign staff departures in as many weeks, Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona says his presidential campaign is “going fine.”
“We’ve had our ups and downs,” McCain said at a campaign stop in Derry, New Hampshire. “But we’re very happy with our political base…Everywhere I go in New Hampshire, Iowa, and South Carolina, there’s great enthusiasm.”
The resignations of Russ Schriefer and Stuart Stevens, veteran ad-makers who worked on President Bush’s campaigns in 2000 and 2004, were reported Wednesday by the Wall Street Journal. The departures follow those of McCain’s campaign manager and chief strategist two weeks ago.
Giuliani picked up some DVDs at a campaign stop Wednesday.
(CNN) - If Republican presidential frontrunner Rudy Giuliani is feeling any frustration over likely challenger Fred Thompson’s drawn-out deliberations, he’s not showing it.
Giuliani shook hands and talked with diners at a Houston, Texas restaurant Thursday, the day after Thompson made his first swing through the city. Thompson told supporters yesterday he was still not ready to declare himself a candidate, but promised a decision shortly.
The former New York City mayor said he would have no problem if those currently dipping their toes in the water decide to leap in the pool. “This is a very, very big decision, lot to consider,” he told reporters. “I respect the people taking their time trying to make it. Whether it’s Fred Thompson, Newt Gingrich or Al Gore, who knows? Maybe he’s thinking of entering on the other side.
“They have the right to take their time. I don’t think anyone should put any pressure on them,” he said.
But Giuliani said his campaign won’t change, regardless of who ultimately enters the field. He said, “I’m running on the things I stand for. I’m not running against any other Republicans. They’re all good people. They all have good programs. I think I have more executive experience than any of them.”
TIME.com: Is Fred Thompson the GOP's Savior?
– CNN Political Desk Managing Editor Steve Brusk
FBI Director Robert Mueller testifies before a House panel Thursday.
WASHINGTON (CNN) - FBI Director Robert Mueller told Congress on Thursday that the confrontation in 2004 between then-White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales and then-Attorney General John Ashcroft in Ashcroft's hospital room was over the controversial warrantless surveillance program - in apparent contradiction of Gonzales' Senate testimony on Tuesday .
Mueller said he spoke with Ashcroft shortly after Gonzales left the hospital, and he was told the meeting dealt with "an NSA (National Security Agency) program that has been much discussed, yes."
Mueller made the comment as he testified before the House Judiciary Committee.
In testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday, Gonzales insisted he had visited the ailing Ashcroft in the hospital to discuss "other intelligence activities," not the surveillance program.
Mueller also testified Thursday that he had serious reservations about the warrantless surveillance program at the time of the dramatic internal administration showdown and threats of top-level resignations.
Mueller did not confirm he had threatened to resign, but he twice said he supports the testimony of former Deputy Attorney General James Comey, who had testified that Gonzales and former White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card tried to pressure Ashcroft to reauthorize a surveillance program against terror suspects.
Mueller for the first time publicly confirmed he did dispatch - as Comey had testified - an FBI security detail to the hospital room to ensure that Comey was not removed from the room when Gonzales was there.
–CNN Justice Producer Terry Frieden
Romney campaigned in Iowa Thursday.
MARSHALLTOWN, Iowa (CNN) - At an early morning "Ask Mitt Anything" event Thursday, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney joined Sen. Hillary Clinton in criticizing Democratic candidate Sen. Barack Obama for saying he would meet with controversial world leaders during his first year as president.
"It's absolutely extraordinary that someone can be so out of touch with our world," the former Massachusetts governor said. "Meeting with [authoritarian tyrants] is not what a president does."
These comments centered around what Sen. Obama, D-Illinois, said Monday night during the CNN/YouTube debate. He was asked whether he would be willing to meet with world leaders of Iran, Syria, Cuba, Venezuela and North Korea.
"It is a disgrace that we have not spoken to them," Obama said at the podium. "The notion that somehow not talking to countries is punishment to them - which has been the guiding diplomatic principle of this administration - is ridiculous."
Not so, said Romney.
"A president meets with important leaders where there are mutual interests or where there's been progress or hope to be key progress," Romney said. "Discussions with people of that nature are done through other parties and
things of that nature, but you do not bestow the dignity of the presidency on people like [them]."
Obama's democratic opponent Hillary Clinton has also engaged in a war of words with the junior senator, saying she would use high-level envoys in situations like this.
WASHINGTON (CNN) – On Thursday, Congressman Maurice Hinchey, D-New York, announced he is joining forces with Senator Russ Feingold, D-Wisconsin, to introduce censure resolutions against President Bush, Vice President Cheney and other members of their administration.
Hinchey will offer two censure resolutions in the House: one to formally condemn the Bush administration for falsifying its justifications to attack Iraq and its subsequent mismanagement; and a second to admonish the administration for its handling of the National Security Agency surveillance program, detainees at Guantanamo Bay, and the firing of U.S. Attorneys.
"The American people have reached a breaking point," Hinchey said in a statement Thursday. "If Congress does not act to formally admonish this White House then the future of our democracy will be placed on a slippery slope in which other presidents may point to the actions of this administration as justification for further abuses of the Constitution."
Hinchey is teaming up with Feingold, who has already stated his intention to introduce censure resolutions in the Senate. The two men are still working on the measures' language.
"I thank Congressman Hinchey for his willingness to stand up to this administration for its misleading statements leading up to and during our military involvement in Iraq, as well as its attack on the rule of law," Feingold said in a statement.
– CNN Congressional Producer Evan Glass
Obama campaigned in New Hampshire Thursday.
CONCORD, New Hampshire (CNN) - Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama left little question as to his position on diplomacy with enemy states Thursday, days after his response to a question during Monday’s CNN/YouTube debate drew sharp criticism from opponent Hillary Clinton.
“I’m not afraid to lose the P.R. war to dictators,” Obama said in a speech in Concord, New Hampshire Thursday, where he picked up an early Granite State endorsement from first-term Democratic Congressman Paul Hodes. “I’m happy to look them in the eyes and say what needs to be said... I don't want Bush-Cheney Light.”
In a later conference call with the press, Obama continued on the topic: “Part of the Bush doctrine has been to say ‘no.’ You'll have to ask Senator Clinton what differentiates her position from theirs.”
The day following the CNN/YouTube debate, Senator Clinton called Obama’s willingness to meet, without precondition, with the leaders of Iran, Syria, North Korea, Venezuela, and Cuba “irresponsible” and “naïve.” Clinton, responding to the same question Monday, said “a vigorous diplomatic effort” with such nations is necessary, but said “you don’t promise a meeting until you know the intentions. I don’t want to be used for propaganda purposes and don’t want to make a situation worse.”
– CNN’s Lauren Kornreich and Mark Norman
Watch CNN’s Bill Schneider report on the Pentagon’s latest response to Clinton.
WASHINGTON (CNN) – While saying that the discussion had "went astray," Defense Secretary Robert Gates stopped short Thursday of repudiating earlier Pentagon criticisms directed at Sen. Hillary Clinton for her request for a plan to withdraw troops from Iraq.
Gates told the New York Democrat and presidential candidate that there is a “need to be careful not to undermine the morale of our troops or encourage our enemies” while conducting congressional oversight of the Iraq war.
Gates’ reaction stems from a sharp exchange last week between Clinton and Eric Edelman, undersecretary for defense policy, regarding the New York Democrat’s request for Iraq withdrawal plans.
Edelman, in a letter to Clinton, called such an inquiry “premature” and said it “reinforces enemy propaganda that the United States will abandon its allies inIraq, much as we are perceived to have done in Vietnam, Lebanon and Somalia.”
In a conference call with reporters, Clinton called Edelman’s letter “totally inappropriate” and fired a letter to Gates asking if he agreed with the charge.
Responding to Clinton’s letter, Gates wrote in a letter to Clinton dated Thursday, “I emphatically assure you that we do not claim, suggest or otherwise believe that congressional oversight emboldens our enemies, nor do we question anyone’s motives in this regard.”
But Gates took care not to completely repudiate Edelman’s comments, adding, “we all recognized that there are multiple audiences for what we say, and we need to be careful not to undermine the morale of our troops or encourage our enemies - the point Ambassador Edelman was trying to make in his letter.”
Philippe Reines, a spokesman for Clinton, said the senator was “disappointed” Gates did not reject Edelman’s comments, but said she “nevertheless welcomes Secretary Gates's acknowledgment that congressional oversight of the war in Iraqis essential to our national debate.”
“She continues to believe strongly that there is absolutely no room for impugning the patriotism of those who rightfully engage in Congressional oversight,” Reines added.
Reines also said Clinton, along with Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, will continue to pursue their recently introduced legislation requiring the Pentagon to brief Congress on the military’s contingency plans for withdrawing from Iraq.
Clinton said last week that "given the track record of this administration with respect to its failure to plan" it would be reassuring if the Pentagon briefed the Armed Services Committee on its plans.
"We have no reason to have confidence in this administration's grasp of the complexity of the problems we find ourselves in, and their record of dismissing and belittling the professional military when it comes to providing expertise and caution about certain policies raises very big red flags in our minds about what it is that is occurring when it comes to contingency planning," she said.
– CNN's Ted Barrett and Alexander Mooney contributed to this report
Watch Leahy announce Thursday he plans to subpoena Rove.
WASHINGTON (CNN) - Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy said Thursday he will subpoena White House political adviser Karl Rove to testify about the firings of federal prosecutors.
"We've now reached a point where the accumulated evidence shows that political considerations factored into the unprecedented firing of at least nine U.S. attorneys last year. Testimony and documents showed that the list was compiled based on input from the highest political ranks in the White House, including Mr. Rove and Mr. (Scott) Jennings, and today I will subpoena Mr. Rove and Mr. Jennings."
Jennings is deputy director of political affairs at the White House.