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CNN WOLF BLITZER REPORTS
Pope Back in Vatican; North Korea Declares Itself Nuclear Power
Aired February 10, 2005 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now. Relief in Rome and around the world. The pope is out of the hospital and back home in the Vatican.
Stand by for hard news on WOLF BLITZER REPORTS.
BLITZER (voice-over): Bombshell. North Korea publicly declares it has nuclear weapons.
DONALD RUMSFELD, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: One has to worry about weapons of that power in the hands of leadership of that nature.
BLITZER: Can the U.S. do anything about it?
Defiant. As the U.S. turns up the heat on its nuclear program, Iran warns its enemies of a scorching hell.
Hillary Clinton explains her recent controversial comments on abortion rights for women.
He was part of the White House press corps, but was he really a reporter? In an exclusive interview, I'll ask the man known as Jeff Gannon.
Charles and Camilla, the prince that his long-time lover plan a wedding. Is Britain ready? I'll ask Sir David Frost.
ANNOUNCER: This is WOLF BLITZER REPORTS for Thursday, February 10th, 2005.
BLITZER: After years of hinting and whispering, North Korea said it out loud today, announcing that it has nuclear weapons and warning that it will increase its arsenal. The north also says it's dropping out of six-nation nuclear talks because of what it's calling U.S. threats to topple its political system. So far, the Bush administration is reacting calmly.
We begin our "Security Watch" with our State Department correspondent Andrea Koppel who's traveling in Europe with the secretary of state.
(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) ANDREA KOPPEL, CNN STATE DEPARTMENT CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The news from North Korea reached Secretary of State Rice in Luxembourg where she sought to downplay its significance.
CONDOLEEZZA RICE, SECRETARY OF STATE: This is an unfortunate move, most especially probably for the people of North Korea, because it only deepens the North Korean isolation from the rest of the international community.
KOPPEL: Rice was meeting with members of the European Union to discuss, among other issues, how to handle another proliferation threat from Iran. Nevertheless, Rice said it was no surprise to the United States that North Korea had nuclear weapons.
In 2002, U.S. officials said Pyongyang had privately admitted it had a secret nuclear weapons program. Since then, North Korea says it has reprocessed 8,000 spent plutonium fuel rods, enough nuclear material, experts say, for at least half a dozen nuclear weapons.
One of the world's most isolated regimes, known for its saber rattling, North Korea wants direct talks with Washington, but Rice said the only way out of the this nuclear impasse for North Korea was to return to the bargaining table with the U.S., Russia, and North Korea's neighbors.
RICE: And I know that we have support from the rest of the international community in saying to the North Koreans that they ought to take what is before them, a path of more reasonable relationship, a path to a better life for their people, a path to security assurances from their neighbors, including from the United States.
KOPPEL: Rice reiterated that the United States has no intention of invading North Korea.
(on camera): Until now the headline grabber during Secretary Rice's swing though Europe has been Iran, another member of the axis of evil and its suspected nuclear weapons program. Although it's unclear why North Korea has stepped up its saber rattling now. As Rice returns to Washington, it's clear another potentially more urgent threat looms.
Andrea Koppel, CNN, Luxembourg.
BLITZER: But could North Korea be bluffing? Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld says the thought of nuclear weapons in the hands of what he calls a "dictatorial regime" is worrisome if North Korea indeed has the bomb.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RUMSFELD: One has to be concerned about it from a proliferation standpoint, if you believe them, that they have weapons. I do not know of certain knowledge that they do. I know they -- I'm told that today in the press they indicated they do but they have indicated other things from time to time that haven't necessarily proved out.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Rumsfeld also in Europe for talks with NATO allies. President Bush, meanwhile, is on the road in Bluebell, Pennsylvania. That's where we find our senior White House correspondent John King.
Talk a little bit, John, about the strategy that the administration has in dealing with this North Korean nuclear nightmare.
JOHN KING, CNN SR. WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, one of the strategies is to be relatively low-key about it. The administration has believed -- and U.S. administrations have believed for eight or 10 years now that North Korea has had nuclear weapons. Why the public declaration today? The administration believes that North Korea is trying to draw attention to itself. It says in the past it has had such blustery, some would say, belligerent rhetoric.
Behind the scenes, some at the White House saying they see this as a potential actually to get the six-party talks -- broken off last year because of the presidential campaign, back on track perhaps a month or two down the road.
The most important thing for the administration is to keep the other parties to those talks, especially China and Russia on board. The administration quite happy today that the government of China issued a statement saying they hoped North Korea will reconsider and come back to the negotiations.
BLITZER: So to a certain degree there are some analysts in the government who think this public declaration on the part of North Korea may be a good thing.
KING: Well, the North Korean government in the past has said what the White House takes as belligerent or confrontational things, and then weeks or months later come back to the bargaining table. It is part of what the White House would call a negotiating pattern.
There certainly are some pressures on the White House from China, from Russia, even from South Korea, to put more carrots on the table, if you will, in these negotiations. The White House has refused so far to do that, saying it has a sufficient offer on the table.
So there could come from this more pressure for the White House to entice the North Koreans back to the table. But the White House says it's confident that all six parties -- all five parties plus North Korea, the other five parties to those talks will stay together and speak with one voice.
And again, it might sound odd on a day North Korea says for the first time publicly it has nuclear weapons, but the White House thinks it could be a blustery statement followed then by more conciliatory talks. The next thing big, conversations between the Chinese and the North Koreans.
BLITZER: John King reporting for us. Thanks, John, very much.
The U.S. intelligence committee is preparing a new major new report for the Bush administration on Iran's nuclear weapons-related programs. Government sources won't give details on the scope of the report, but says it will take months.
In the meantime, the U.S. is turning up the heat. So is Iran. On the anniversary of its Islamic revolution, Iran today reacted with defiance.
CNN's Matthew Chance has the story.
MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SR. INTL. CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This was a big turnout for the Iranian leadership, braving the worst weather for decades, tens of thousands of people massed in the snow- covered capital, a united front in the face of mounting pressure from outside.
"President Bush is wrong when he says he's standing with the Iranian people," says this demonstrator. "They're our enemies. Death to America."
Not all Iranians support the hardline Islamic government that took power here in 1979, but many are angered by what they see as veiled threats of military action by the U.S. over the country's nuclear program. Some analysts say nationalism may prove stronger than hatred of this regime, facts that could be exploited by the leadership.
PRES. MOHAMMAD KHATAMI, IRAN (through translator): Will this nation allow the feet of an aggressor to touch this land? If, God forbid, it happens, Iran will turn into a scorching hell for the aggressors.
CHANCE: Iran's nuclear intentions have been the subject of intense speculation since its secret program was revealed. The government says it wants only nuclear energy. Washington and others suspect the covert weapons program. Iran is currently observing a temporary suspension of its uranium enrichment activity policed by the U.N., but it's a freeze diplomats want made permanent.
KOFI ANNAN, U.N. SECRETARY-GENERAL: I'm very encouraged by the discussions taking place between Iran and the three European countries: United Kingdom, Germany and France. I think it's a very healthy sign and dialogue is the way to go. And I hope everyone involved will take it seriously and achieve the right results. And I think it can be achieved if everyone gets to the table with open minds and a determination to find a solution.
CHANCE: The coming months may decide if this major test of diplomacy will be passed. Matthew Chance, CNN, London.
Please stay tuned to CNN day and night for the most reliable news about your security.
Al Qaeda warnings, how much information did aviation security officials have about Osama bin Laden and his plans before the 9/11 attacks?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JEFF GANNON: Senate Democratic leaders have painted a very bleak picture of the U.S. economy, Harry Reid was talking about soup lines, and Hillary Clinton was talking...
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Controversial question creating lots of buzz. I'll speak with the man at the center of it all. The former reporter, Jeff Gannon, joins me live in his first television interview.
Royal wedding, Prince Charles and his long-time girlfriend announce their marriage plans. I'll get the inside story from British talk show host Sir David Frost. Stay with us.
BLITZER: Welcome back. More now of my exclusive interview with one of the Washington's political odd couples, Democratic Senator Hillary Clinton of New York and Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. They stood side by side in the Capitol Rotunda yesterday to announce their support for an increased benefits bill for the National Guard and reserves.
Here's part two of the interview.
BLITZER: Let's talk briefly about the budget. I assume you're upset, like a lot of Democrats, as far as the president's budget cuts are concerned. What are you going to do about it?
SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D), NEW YORK: Well, I'm upset as an American. I think that we are in this huge deficit hole. We are dependent on foreign lenders, like the governments of China and others, to keep bailing us out every month. It's an unsustainable situation...
BLITZER: But the country's at war.
CLINTON: Well, this is the first time we've ever had a president take us to war and cut taxes at the same time. It doesn't add up and it's really undermining our long-term economic viability. The budget has a lot of specific problems with it that I think are not -- you know, we're going to debate them and I don't think that eventually they will be enacted.
But the bigger question is we don't have Iraq in there. We don't have the real cost of Social Security in terms of the plan the president wants to present. You know, at some point, we've got to say, look, everybody, we have not repealed the laws of economics and arithmetic. This does not add up and we need to do a better job.
BLITZER: You disagree or you agree?
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: Well, there is going to be bipartisan buy-in to the idea that we need to control our spending like we did in 1997 when President Clinton was president. We had a balanced budget agreement. We were able to find a way to control the growth of spending. I hope we can do that. Some specific programs to be rejected by Republicans in terms of budget austerity.
But the idea of controlling spending -- cutting taxes has helped the economy, I think. I think we can have some more tax cuts. But we can't borrow our way out of every problem. With Social Security I propose not borrowing all the money you need to fix Social Security, actually raising the cap on earnings, I know as a Republican that's heresy.
BLITZER: Sounds like a tax cut -- a tax raise, an increase in taxes.
GRAHAM: Well, for some people, by raising the cap, they'll have to make a higher contribution to Social Security for the common good. What I'm trying to generate in this debate is that our problems are real for all demographics, Republican or Democrat. Our country is really in a bad way when it comes to budget matters.
Fiscal austerity with a compassionate heart, I think, is the key to this. Entitlement reform -- two-thirds of the budget is entitlement spending, if we can fix Social Security in a bipartisan way, it gives us hope. If we fail here, I don't know what we do with Medicare.
BLITZER: We are out of time. One quick question. Just clarify briefly for us the abortion issue because some abortion...
BLITZER: Some abortion supporters -- abortion rights supporters among women's groups were a little concerned by those recent comments you made. So just explain to our viewers what is your stance right now?
CLINTON: Well, I have tried to make clear over many, many years that I believe that this is a very difficult issue, morally and in every other way. I don't see how the government can enter into this matter and criminalize the behavior of women and their doctors. Therefore my hope is that we can find common ground, to deal with the underlying problem which happens to be unplanned, unwanted pregnancies.
The more we can work together to try to decrease those numbers, the less this will be a pressing issue in the hearts and minds of so many Americans.
BLITZER: But fundamentally you still support a women's right to have an abortion?
CLINTON: Absolutely. As I said in my speech in Albany, I've been to countries that forced women to have abortions and be sterilized, like China, where they had a one-child policy.
I've been to countries like Romania that forced women to bear children. They wanted every woman to have five children for the state. They used to physically examine women every month to make sure that if they were pregnant they would be followed by the secret police. And we ended up with orphans and abandoned children and a terrible AIDS crisis in the Rumanian orphanages.
I've been to Brazil, a place where abortion is illegal. And I've been to a hospital where half the women were thrilled because they were having babies and half were being treated because they had terrible, botched, illegal abortions.
So I know that in this world of ours there are many places where abortion is illegal and half the abortions in the world happen in those countries. This is a problem that needs to be dealt with from the beginning in helping young women and young men understand responsible decision-making, in providing good moral values and upbringing, hopefully religious -- we underpin so that people know what is right and wrong.
I also believe in comprehensive sex education because I think that -- although I favor and spoke years ago about abstinence, I think that it's the parents that -- going to be in our saturated culture of consumerism, materialism and sex selling everything, a problem that we can't deal with in just one way.
So I think there is common ground here. And I would, for example, hope that the administration would rethink its decision about making it recommended to provide emergency contraception after a woman has been raped, because these are areas where I think people on all sides can find some common ground. And that's what I'm hoping to achieve.
BLITZER: You want to just weigh in briefly or...
GRAHAM: I'm proudly pro-life and I agree totally with her that our men and women in the Guard and reserve need full time health care now.
BLITZER: I think everybody will agree with you on that. Senator Graham, thanks very much.
GRAHAM: Thank you, Wolf.
BLITZER: Senator Clinton...
CLINTON: Thanks, thank you, Wolf.
BLITZER: ... appreciate it very much. Good luck to both of you.
CLINTON: Thank you very much, Wolf. (END VIDEOTAPE)
BLITZER: We spoke yesterday on Capitol Hill.
Warnings before the 9/11 attacks. What aviation officials knew about Osama bin Laden? There are some newly declassified information. It has just been made public. Our Brian Todd has been reviewing it.
Royal announcement. Prince Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles go public with their wedding plans, but will the British people accept their potential king's new bride?
America's royals. Caroline Kennedy puts the last remnants of Camelot on the auction block.
BLITZER: Back now to the CNN "Security Watch." Newly declassified documents are providing some insight into events leading up to 9/11. They shed new light on some information the FAA had before the attacks. Our Brian Todd has been looking into these documents -- Brian.
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this is documentation produced for the 9/11 Commission, but which has come out since the final commission report back in July. It is very incremental, but it does show more evidence of dots not connected, opportunities missed.
TODD (voice-over): The name Osama bin Laden; his possible intent and methods all reviewed several times by aviation security officials in the months before 9/11. That's according to newly declassified documents compiled for the 9/11 Commission but not made public until this week.
Much of the information in these documents is not new, but there are fascinating details, especially about daily briefings given by intelligence officials within the Federal Aviation Administration. Quote -- "among the 105 summaries issued between April 1st, 2001 and September 10th, 2001, almost half mention bin Laden, al Qaeda or both, mostly in regard to overseas threats. Of the 52 summaries mentioning bin Laden or al Qaeda, five mentioned hijacking as a capability al Qaeda was training for or possessed."
Former 9/11 Commission member Richard Ben-Veniste remembers questioning an FAA official about the agency's intelligence.
RICHARD BEN-VENISTE, FORMER 9/11 COMMISSION MEMBER: I asked him, what would you have liked to have known about this plot that was known to our intelligence agencies prior to 9/11? And he said, we never knew the hijackers could fly the plane.
TODD: In the spring of 2001, FAA intelligence warned security officials at more than a dozen major U.S. airports about the increased threat to aviation. These documents reveal that those included the three airports later used by the 9/11 hijackers.
In those briefings, FAA officials said a domestic hijacking would be more difficult than one overseas. "If, however, the intent of the hijacker is not to exchange hostages for prisoners but to commit suicide in a spectacular explosion, a domestic hijacking would probably be preferable."
FAA intelligence officials also said they had no indication then that any group was thinking in that direction.
Asked by CNN about these latest documents, the FAA issued a statement that reads, in part -- "The FAA received no specific information before 9/11 about terrorist means or methods directed at aviation in the U.S. that would have indicated specific countermeasures."
This report is one of three issued by 9/1 Commission staffers in addition to the final commission report that came out last July. The first two covered hijackers' visas and financing. Unlike those, this document was kept classified for five months by the government. When released, many sections were redacted.
BEN-VENISTE: Well, this is absolutely unacceptable. They have cut this part like a Swiss cheese. There's much too much secrecy still in government. There is a cult of secrecy.
TODD: The Justice Department says the latest report took so long to release because the Transportation Security Administration had concerns over the inclusion of detailed aviation security measures. Justice officials say that's also why much of the material was redacted, Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Brian Todd, thanks very much. Very thorough report.
An outspoken lawyer has been convicted in New York City of giving material support to terrorists. Sixty-five-year-old Lynne Stewart was an attorney for Sheikh Omar Abdul Rahman, who's serving live in prison for plotting to destroy several New York landmarks. A veteran civil rights lawyers and left-wing activist, Stewart was convicted today of smuggling messages from the jailed sheikh to an Egyptian-based terrorist organization. She could be sentenced up to 20 years in prison.
And once again, please stay tuned to CNN day and night for the most reliable news about your security.
When we come back, a big announcement from Britain's Prince Charles. The heir to the British throne and his long-time love, Camilla Parker-Bowles are tying the royal knot. We'll get reaction from London; Sir David Frost standing by.
Back home. Pope John Paul II returns to the Vatican after battling the flu in the hospital. We'll have an update on when he may resume his schedule.
And the big buzz surrounding one former White House reporter and the question he asked President Bush. The man at the center of the controversy, Jeff Gannon, he'll join me live in his first television interview. That's coming up.
BLITZER: Welcome back. A royal wedding is announced today. Prince Charles will marry his long-time girlfriend. We're live from London with new details and pictures of Camilla Parker-Bowles' engagement ring.
First, though, this story now in the news.
Pope John Paul II is out of the hospital after a 10-day battle with the flu. Cheering well-wishers lining -- lined the route back to the Vatican. There he is. Officials say the pope's condition continues to improve, but it's too early to say when the 84-year-old pontiff will resume his regular work schedule.
Surprising news from London today. An official announcement that the heir to the throne, Prince Charles, will marry his long-time lover, Camilla Parker-Bowles. It's an unprecedented move, resulting in some unusual arrangements. CNN's Fionnuala Sweeney reports from London.
FIONNUALA SWEENEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Prince Charles reacting to well-wishers shortly after the announcement that he and his longtime lover, Camilla Parker Bowles, are to marry.
A statement from Charles' office and residence, Clarence House, putting an official seal on a romance spanning four decades. The couple, seen here in a photograph released to accompany the announcement, will marry in April at Windsor Castle outside London in a largely private civil ceremony and not a Church of England service.
The British monarch is supreme governor of the Anglican Church. And a religious ceremony for Charles and Camilla as divorcees would have been impossible. However, the wedding will be blessed afterward by the archbishop of Canterbury, the culmination of months of diplomatic maneuvering between church leaders, Buckingham Palace and Downing Street.
TONY BLAIR, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: I'm delighted for the prince of Wales and Camilla Parker Bowles. It's very happy news. And when the Cabinet heard it this morning, they sent congratulations and good wishes on behalf of the whole government. We all wish them every happiness for their future together.
ROWAN WILLIAMS, ARCHBISHOP OF CANTERBURY: I would like to welcome the announcement made today that the prince of Wales and Camilla Parker Bowles are to marry. And I hope that they'll be kept in the prayers and thoughts of many at this time. I have also been pleased to accept an invitation to preside at a service of prayer and dedication which will follow the civil ceremony. These arrangements have my full support. The Church of England has guidelines on these matters, which the prince of Wales, as a loyal and committed member of the Church of England, has accepted and agreed with.
SWEENEY: However, Parker Bowles will not become queen should Charles assume the throne. She'll be known as the duchess of Cornwall and ultimately the prince's consort, an acknowledgement perhaps that the impending marriage is a sensitive one for the church, the monarchy and the British public, which held Charles' first wife, Diana, princess of Wales, in huge public affection, a comparison not lost on the couple.
ROBERT JOBSON, ROYAL COMMENTATOR: Perhaps the biggest fear that they have is the lack of popularity of Mrs. Parker Bowles. But this is a couple that are very much in love. They've shown -- had a committed and loving relationship for many years.
SWEENEY: And within the last couple hours, we've seen the newly engaged couple for the first time in public, Charles and Camilla attending a function, a charity of which Charles is patron tonight at Windsor Castle, incidentally, the same castle where the two are to be married in April, Camilla showing her ring to reporters, saying only that she was only now coming back down to earth.
So, a relationship which began 35 years ago is now formalized in a civil ceremony in the coming weeks. However, the ghost of Diana, princess of Wales, will hover in the background, evoking memories of another marriage and prompting concerns and debate over whether or not this is the real fairy tale -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Fionnuala Sweeney reporting for us from London -- Fionnuala, thank you very much.
So, what is some other reaction of to this news of this unusual royal wedding, especially reaction in Britain?
I talked about that earlier with Sir David Frost, the venerable talk show host.
BLITZER: Sir David, as usual, thanks so much for joining us on this day we got word of the wedding. What do you make of this?
SIR DAVID FROST, TALK SHOW HOST: Well, I think there's three different sort of reactions, really.
First of all, in London -- and I was at a thing this morning where -- when the news came through with the queen present, the opening of a Churchill museum this morning, so lots of his friends were there, Prince Charles and Camilla's friends. And among friends, there's really just a great sense of joy.
Everyone's so happy for them after this long time, that they deserve their happiness and so on, and really positive. Anyone who's seen them together knows how right they are for each other. Then, of course, there will be some people who don't approve. Polls say that, at the moment, there's a poll I just saw that shows that a majority do approve and one that says a majority don't approve.
But by the time it actually happens, the momentum will be such that I would predict that the polls will be showing 90/10 in the way of approval, because I think the British people love a bit of certainty. They love a bit of glamour, too, of course. And I think they feel that they deserve their happiness. And older people will be delighted that they've done the right thing and got married and so on.
And younger people, I guess, will get caught up. And when the younger people see -- and we heard it today -- William and Harry's delight for their father, that will really sell this thing. And I think the people of this country are going to be delighted.
BLITZER: What about the commitment that she will never become queen? A lot of people on this side of the Atlantic don't exactly understand the history, the notion, why this is so sensitive.
FROST: Well, I think that you're right. Titles are very sensitive, particularly in this situation, after the tragic loss of Diana. And I think that they've been very, very wise, first of all, that she's going to be called the duchess of Cornwall and then that she wants to be known, when he becomes king, as the princess consort.
I think playing those two titles down to deal with anyone who has doubts about this marriage is a very clever thing to do, a wise thing to do, and a compassionate thing to do. And, of course, these titles do, as you say, matter a great deal in this country, and dukes and duchesses and the various titles. And they do mean a lot.
And I think they were very wise to pick two rather conservative titles. And she I think was the person, the moving spirit in that.
BLITZER: Do people in England understand the nature of this love affair between these two people? Because it's been going on, apparently, for decades.
FROST: Well, that's right.
I mean, the story is that they fell in love with each other and didn't marry, when maybe they could have done or should have done many, many moons ago. And then their lives parted. And then they came together again at the end of Prince Charles' marriage.
So it is a rather romantic story, in that sense, a story of a love affair that began 30 years ago. So it's been going for 30 years with interruptions and so on along the way. So, in that sense, if they now live happily ever after, as I'm sure they will, it will become a fairy tale marriage.
BLITZER: And one of those interruptions, Princess Diana. How will her tragic death hang over this upcoming wedding?
FROST: Well, of course, as we've seen on the television today, lots of the footage from those years has been seen on the television again today and so on.
In that sense, obviously, she will be a real presence. But I think -- I don't think it will be in any sense a pall over the proceedings, for the simple reason that you have her children, her sons, Prince William and Prince Harry, so much in favor of this and rejoicing in this, that that will I think put that in perspective.
But, of course, she won't be forgotten.
BLITZER: Sir David Frost, as usual, thanks so much for explaining to our viewers here in North America what's going on, on the other side of the Atlantic. Appreciate it very much.
FROST: Well, it's a pleasure.
And there's one other thing here in the paper, in "The Evening Standard" tonight, points out that, in the week of this royal wedding will be the week when Tony Blair probably has to announce the general election. So we are set for an eventful spring here.
BLITZER: I hope to come over and cover it firsthand. Thanks so much, Sir David.
BLITZER: Saudi Arabia does something it's never done before. Men -- and men only -- vote in the country's first regular election, but why no women voters? Our Zain Verjee reports.
Also, White House reporter controversy. I'll speak with the man critics say intentionally asked the White House some easy questions. Jeff Gannon joins me live in his first television interview.
Plus, would you like to own a little piece of Camelot? Our Mary Snow will give you a sneak preview at what's about to hit the auction block.
BLITZER: First the Palestinian, then the Iraqis. Now Saudi Arabia? Is democracy spreading across the Arab world?
CNN's Zain Verjee has the story on a first step for the desert kingdom.
ZAIN VERJEE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A figure leaf for autocracy or a first step toward democracy? Voting got under way Thursday in Saudi Arabia's first local elections.
MONIR AL SHIARYI, RIYADH RESIDENT: I believe this is a good step that we did, and hopefully we'll see more steps going on in Saudi Arabia.
VERJEE: But only men converged on polling stations in the capital, Riyadh. In this very conservative country, women were not allowed to vote or run for election, which some of the men regretted.
SHIARYI: For sure, the women should also vote in the next elections, and I wish that I see it on other things, not only with this section.
VERJEE: Maybe next time, they say.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We couldn't include all elements of society through this election, but, God willing, the coming elections which will be held after four years, that all other element of society will take part.
VERJEE: But voting of any sort here is a new phenomenon. And the mayor of Riyadh, the first city to vote, pronounced himself happy with the conduct of the election.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm very glad and satisfied.
VERJEE: Even if there wasn't overwhelming enthusiasm for the vote, fewer that one in three men eligible to vote did so.
NAWAF OBAID, SAUDI OIL & SECURITY ANALYST: They have to start convincing the people to actually take part in it and to actually show some sign of effort and sort of interest in it.
VERJEE: There are plenty of candidates, 1,800 nationwide, but their powers as municipal councillors will be very limited. And as many will be appointed as elected. Saudi watchers guard against high expectations.
SIMON HENDERSON, AUTHOR, "AFTER KING FAHD": It is going to no cure-all for all the problems of Saudi Arabia, nor for the problems of the relations between the United States and Saudi Arabia, but it's going to be an interesting test.
VERJEE (on camera): A test whose results won't be measured in just weeks or months, because, in the desert kingdom, politics move at glacial speed.
Zain Verjee, CNN, Atlanta.
BLITZER: White House reporter controversy. Did this man lob some soft questions at the White House news briefing in a bid to derail the tough questions? Jeff Gannon is in the spotlight. He'll join me live in his first television interview.
Plus, your chance at a piece of Camelot, details of the upcoming Kennedy auction -- all that still to come.
BLITZER: He was a little known White House correspondent for a little known organization. Now he's at the center of a growing controversy buzzing around Washington and the Internet. I'll have an exclusive interview with the man who calls himself Jeff Gannon in just a moment.
First, some background from Howard Kurtz of "The Washington Post" and the host of CNN's "RELIABLE SOURCES."
HOWARD KURTZ, "RELIABLE SOURCES": Jeff Gannon -- that's what he calls himself at least -- was an obscure member of the White House press corps before he got to ask President Bush a question two weeks ago. And that proved to be his professional downfall.
Gannon, a self-described conservative journalist, writes for the Web sites Talon News and GOPUSA, both of which are owned by Texas Republican activist Bobby Eberle. And when the president called on him, Gannon asked a rather loaded question that seemed to disparage Senator Hillary Clinton and Minority Leader Harry Reid.
JEFF GANNON, REPORTER: Senate Democratic leaders have painted a very bleak picture of the U.S. economy. Harry Reid was talking about soup lines, and Hillary Clinton was talking about the economy being on the verge of collapse. Yet, in the same breath, they say that Social Security is rock-solid and there's no crisis there. How are you going to work -- you said you're going to reach out to these people -- how are you going to work with people who seem to have divorced themselves from reality?
KURTZ: One problem, Reid has never talked about soup lines. And Gannon later admitted he had picked up the characterization of the senator's views from Rush Limbaugh.
Suddenly, bloggers on liberal Web sites like Daily Kos started digging into his background. His real name, they discovered, was James Guckert. Gannon resigned from Talon News, saying that, out of concerns for his family, his voice of the new media has gone silent. He says he's been stalked and threatened by -- quote -- "nuts on the left."
Democratic Congresswoman Louise Slaughter has asked Bush in a letter whether the White House cleared Gannon in the briefing room to serve as -- quote -- "a tool of propaganda for your administration." White House spokesman Scott McClellan dismissed the charge, saying Gannon was allowed in on a day-to-day basis, just like any journalist, and it's not his job to screen reporters based on their political views. The president says McClellan didn't know who Gannon was when he called on him.
(on camera): Jeff Gannon called himself the conservative guy and delighted in being outspoken, even confrontational. His critics call him a fake reporter. But others say that liberal bloggers went too far in digging into his background because they didn't like his politics. Howard Kurtz, CNN, Washington.
BLITZER: And Jeff Gannon is joining us now for an exclusive television interview, his first TV interview since leaving his job.
Jeff, thanks very much for joining us.
Should I call you Jeff or James?
GANNON: Please call me Jeff Gannon.
BLITZER: So what -- explain the discrepancy. Your real name is James D. Guckert.
GANNON: Yes. Well, it's pronounced Guckert.
GANNON: It's a professional name. I used it because Jeff Gannon is easier to pronounce and easier to remember.
BLITZER: But you haven't legally changed it?
BLITZER: So your driver's license still has Guckert?
BLITZER: So, when you went into the White House and you showed your driver's license, it was under the name Guckert.
BLITZER: And so you just did this because it was easier to pronounce, presumably.
If you didn't do anything wrong, why did you resign?
GANNON: Well, since I asked my question, people that disagree with me have harassed and threatened not only myself, but my family. And I believe that leaving my post would bring that to an end.
BLITZER: When you say they harassed your family, what was going on?
GANNON: Well, the -- on -- I've been receiving threats. People have been stalking me in my neighborhood, have followed me to church, followed me down the street. And then there are phone calls and hate mail that I've gotten over the Internet.
And it's been very troubling. And when it went toward my family, then I said that I needed to put an end to it.
BLITZER: And when you say your family, could you be a little bit more...
GANNON: Well, I mean -- I mean my -- when my mother and my brother and his wife received telephone calls that -- you know, that contained threats and all kinds of terrible things being said about me, it's very disturbing. And that's way over the line. And I needed to put that to an end.
BLITZER: Because one of the things, as you know, that were said is that you had some sexually explicit Web sites that you were working on. I don't understand what that is, but maybe you could explain that.
GANNON: Well, several years ago, before I came to Washington, I had registered various domain names for a private client. I was doing Web site development. Those sites were never hosted. There's -- nothing ever went up on them. And the client went on to do something else.
There's been so much about me on the Internet that people have, you know, made assumptions about. And I just can't -- I don't even know them all and I can't address them all here.
BLITZER: I was going to say, were you there in the White House briefing room on a daily basis to try to change the subject, if you will, send softball questions to Scott McClellan, the press secretary? Or were you there as a real journalist trying to get the story?
GANNON: Well, Talon News is a legitimate conservative online news service. And my questions are things that my readers, 700,000 daily subscribed readers, want the answer to. And those are my questions.
I created the questions. Nobody fed questions to me. Scott McClellan certainly never knew what was coming. He knows -- he certainly knows...
BLITZER: Because you wore your politics on your sleeve. Everyone knew you were very conservative.
BLITZER: Why did you not get credentials, real credentials, from Capitol Hill from the U.S. Congress?
GANNON: Well, I made an attempt to do that originally when I was going to be covering Washington for Talon News. Our business -- Talon News' business model didn't fit the criteria of the Senate Press Gallery. And while we've been trying to comply, I couldn't stop doing the news. So I went on the basis of a daily pass. And that's -- it's all under the procedures that the White House has established for that.
BLITZER: What's the connection between GOPUSA, the political Web site, and the Talon News Service? It's owned by the same wealthy Texas Republican.
GANNON: I wouldn't say wealthy. I don't know that to be true or not. But...
BLITZER: Bobby Eberle.
GANNON: Bobby Eberle.
But it's common ownership. That's all. Talon News is a separate, independent news division. I work for Talon News. I write articles for Talon News. And that's it.
BLITZER: So what are you going to do now?
GANNON: Well, there's -- you know, God closes doors and opens windows. And I believe this is going to be a good opportunity for me, even though it's been painful. And I'm going -- I believe that there's a silver lining out there.
BLITZER: Do you have something already in the works?
GANNON: I've had some people call and make inquiries to see if I had any interest in certain positions.
BLITZER: Jeff Gannon, thanks very much.
GANNON: Thank you, Wolf.
BLITZER: The last remnants of Camelot. Caroline Kennedy puts some of her parents' personal items on the auction block. Our Mary Snow is standing by with details.
Stay with us.
BLITZER: Finally, the last pieces of Camelot. Sotheby's is auctioning off hundreds of items belonging to President John F. Kennedy next week. They range from Kennedy's rocking chair to ordinary knickknacks.
CNN's Mary Snow joining us now live from New York. She has the story -- Mary.
MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, some of the items are so ordinary, Wolf, that they include magazines and scores of books, but because they belong to the Kennedys, they could be a big draw.
SNOW (voice-over): Legendary lives and ordinary items, what Sotheby's describes as the last pieces of Camelot, are up for sale at prices you could consider bargains.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There are many estimates below $100. SNOW: Like this doorstop that has a bidding estimate of $60 to $80. Unlike the last Sotheby's sale of President and Mrs. Kennedy's items in 1996 that brought almost $35 million, Sotheby's says this auction is expected to raise about $1 million.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's a smaller auction. It's about half as big, doesn't contain the very expensive jewelry, the very expensive furniture in the last sale also.
SNOW: The most expensive item, this 11th century sculpture from Jacqueline Onassis' Fifth Avenue apartment, expected to bring between $40,000 and $60,000. From the same residence:
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You have the drafting table here, which is actually quite evocative, because Mrs. Onassis had this sitting next to a window overlooking Central Park.
SNOW: The bidding price starts at $600 and could bring $800. There's a book with an inscription to Jackie with personal photos of her and a rocking chair President Kennedy used that was said to help his bad back. In all, there are nearly 700 items that are now on public display and drawing potential bidders.
PATTY ENRIGHT, POTENTIAL BIDDER: I think this is part of our history and culture. I love the Kennedy family and feel that they're our royal family.
RON DESALVO, POTENTIAL BIDDER: I like things that actually there's a tactile interest in that they may have touched and used. That to me is more interesting.
SNOW: Two items expected to gain interest, pictures that belonged to John Kennedy Jr., one from "101 Dalmatians" signed by Walt Disney, another a picture of Camelot, also photographs of John Jr. and Caroline Kennedy. In the auction guide, Caroline writes that after her brother's death she had to decide what to do with her family's possessions, as she found herself with more houses and belongings than she could enjoy.
She says she's given anything of historical significance to the Kennedy Library Foundation. And some of the rest is now for sale.
SNOW: And Sotheby's says that Caroline Kennedy will donate part of the proceeds to charity -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Mary Snow reporting for us -- thanks, Mary, very much.
That's all the time we have. A reminder, you can always catch WOLF BLITZER REPORTS weekdays at this time, 5:00 p.m. Eastern.
I'll also see you again tomorrow at noon Eastern. Tomorrow, by the way, at 5:00 p.m., Kinky Friedman. He wants to be governor of Texas. He'll join me.
Until then, thanks very much for joining us. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.
"LOU DOBBS TONIGHT" starts right now.
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