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THE SITUATION ROOM

Senate Goes Into Closed Session; Bird Flu Plan

Aired November 1, 2005 - 16:59   ET

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


(JOINED IN PROGRESS)
SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MINORITY LEADER: Well, the relationship I have with Senator Frist is up to him. I'm the Democratic leader, he's the Republican leader. We work together. And I'll continue to work with him. I try to get along with everybody.

If Senator Frist is upset about my following Senate procedures, then I'm sorry he's disappointed in my following Senate procedures. The procedure that I used has been used in the last several decades. I only look back to the '40s -- some 40-odd times.

This isn't anything that hasn't been done many times before. It was our way of getting to the bottom of something that was long overdue. That is, an investigation of what went on in Iraq and how the -- what went on prior to Iraq and how the evidence regarding intelligence was manipulated. It's simple as that. They agreed to do it.

QUESTION: Earlier today, Senator Specter said he wished the Judiciary Committee had the jurisdiction to do hearings into prewar intelligence. Have you talked to any Republican colleagues? Is anybody supporting you on that side?

REID: Let me tell you, we have had not in the Armed Services Committee, not in the Intelligence Committee, not in the Judiciary Committee, we have not had oversight hearings. We have not had oversight hearings on any subject. You can go through all the committees, just not those.

QUESTION: Mr. Leader, why not go and consult with the leader and say I have an interest...

REID: Consult with the leader so he stops me from going and moving on this? What do you mean consult with him? What are you talking about?

QUESTION: Well, that's what he had suggested, that you...

REID: Well, he can suggest anything he wants. Consult with him? All he would have done is (INAUDIBLE), and we couldn't have done this. You've got to understand a little bit about procedures around here.

Do my colleagues want to say anything, Senator Durbin, Senator Schumer?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You said it all. (LAUGHTER)

REID: Last question, seriously.

QUESTION: (INAUDIBLE) on the floor, saying that his staff have been working on this investigation, that they've been at this...

REID: I'm sure they have, a spec at a time. They've done nothing, nothing substantive. And that's been the problem, nothing substantive.

It's been a charade, and we were able to figure out what they were doing. It's the old stall game. It's pretty easy to figure out what that charade was.

SEN. CHARLES SCHUMER (D), NEW YORK: If you want to see the frustration, just read Senator Rockefeller's press release that he put out.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: The Democratic leadership in the U.S. Senate, a remarkable day today on the floor of the U.S. Congress.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. We're here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

We're following this breaking news, an acrimonious exchange between the majority and the minority leaders in the U.S. Senate. The majority leader calls it a slap in the face, a hijacking and a pure stunt. Senate Democrats say the American people deserve answers about the lead-up to the war in Iraq, and Republicans they say aren't providing those answers.

So they've made a rare move, forcing the chamber into a secret session. All that unfolding over the past couple hours.

CNN's Brian Todd is joining us here in Washington with more on this story.

Brian, what happened?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, Senate Democrats have been gearing up for a few fights on Capitol Hill. Observers say they saw the indictment of vice presidential aide Scooter Libby as a window to press the Republicans on prewar intelligence and other issues.

Now, this afternoon, the Senate Democratic leader pushed open the window, and he nearly broke it.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TODD (voice over): The political battle over prewar intelligence has officially spilled over on to the Senate floor.

REID: Mr. President, enough time has gone by. I demand on behalf of the American people that we understand why these investigations aren't being conducted. And in accordance with Rule 21, I now move the Senate go into closed session. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. President, I second the motion.

TODD: The senate's Democratic leader triggering a closed session of the full Senate to pressure the Republican leadership to conduct an investigation into the handling of prewar intelligence, a probe the Republicans had promised but had not yet started. Democrats threatened that until that investigation gets under way, they would push to close the Senate chamber every day.

Republicans were furious.

SEN. BILL FRIST (R-TN), MAJORITY LEADER: I'll have to say, not with the previous Democratic leader or the current Democratic leader have ever I been slapped in the face with such an affront to the leadership of this grand institution. Every other time -- and again, we'll have to go back and look at the history -- there has been at least consideration for the other side of the aisle before a stunt - and this is a pure stunt that is being performed by Senator Reid, Senator Durbin and their leadership.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: Just minutes ago a compromise was reached. Senate leadership agreeing that three senators from each side will assess progress on the Senate Intelligence Committee investigation on prewar intelligence, and they will report back to the Senate leadership by November 14. The Senate Republican heading the Intelligence Committee just a moment ago had this to say...

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. PAT ROBERTS (R), INTELLIGENCE CHAIRMAN: Had to work in bipartisan fashion. And I said a long time ago that whatever -- whatever ended up on the fan, we were going to have to clean it up. And I said a long time ago we would let the chips fall where they may. And that went for phase two, as well as the WMD special inquiry.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TODD: Now, in the meantime, while the progress on that Senate investigation into prewar intelligence is being assessed by those three senators on both sides, the Senate will stay open -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Brian. Thanks very much. And the vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Senator Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia, is on the floor speaking right now.

SEN. JAY ROCKEFELLER (D-WV), VICE CHAIR, SENATE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: And the office of the secretary of defense shall be passed all intelligence agencies in our government directly into the White House? The administration's ability to head off any line of inquiry into matters of appropriate congressional oversight is not limited to the Intelligence Committee Iraq investigation, despite repeated attempts by me and other committee members to initiate a detailed review of fundamental legal and operational questions surrounding the detention, interrogation and rendition of suspected terrorists held in U.S. custody, important national security matters that fall squarely within the jurisdiction of the Intelligence Committee.

The committee's majority has refused to conduct such an investigation.

Mr. President, what are we to do? The Intelligence Committee obligation under the Senate resolution reads, "To provide vigilant oversight of the intelligence activities of the United States."

It requires us to not only answer questions related to questions of detainee abuse, but to examine the effectiveness of the methods used in interrogations. But again, it is apparent to me that the White House has set down the edict to the majority. And I can say more, that the Congress is not to carry out its oversight responsibilities of detention, interrogation rendition matters, or in some of the previous matters that I discussed, as it would bring uncomfortable attention to the legal decisions and opinions coming from the White House and the Justice Department and the operation of various programs.

BLITZER: Very strong words from Senator Jay Rockefeller, the vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, strongly suggesting that there has been collusion between the Republican White House, the Republican leadership in the Senate, to stifle this investigation into prewar intelligence leading up to the war in Iraq.

It caused a remarkable showdown on the floor of the U.S. Senate over the past few hours.

Let's go over to the White House, get some reaction. Our correspondent, Suzanne Malveaux, is standing by -- Suzanne.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, White House officials are watching the spectacle on the Hill very much like we were. They are not commenting, they do now want to get involved in this fight.

This is a White House that saw, perhaps, the president's worst week last week. It's a White House that is trying to pivot to the agenda.

Yesterday, President Bush rolling out a Supreme Court nominee. Today, it was about the bird flu plan. But if the White House thought that it was going to be spared criticism it is now thinking again.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MALVEAUX (voice over): A prescription from President Bush to battle a possible flu outbreak, a $7 billion-plus emergency plan.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There is no pandemic flu in our country or in the world at this time. But if we wait for a pandemic to appear, it will be too late to prepare. And one day many lives could be needlessly lost because we failed to act today.

MALVEAUX: Today cases of bird flu have been documented in Europe and Asia. But Mr. Bush warned the U.S. could be next.

The administration's plan is to provide more than $1 billion for vaccine against the current strain of bird flu to protect 20 million Americans, $1 billion dollars to stockpile more drugs to treat flu symptoms, close to $3 billion to speed development of new vaccines, and more than $580 million for states and local governments to plan for an outbreak.

Mr. Bush's proposal is being received well by the medical community as a first step.

DR. GEORGES BENJAMIN, AMERICAN MORNING. PUBLIC HEALTH ASSN.: It's a down payment.

MALVEAUX: Some Democrats who had been pushing for stronger action from the administration for the past year called Mr. Bush's plan inadequate.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D), ILLINOIS: Mr. President, the United States cannot afford to have a Katrina-level preparedness or a Katrina-like response to an international outbreak of avian flu.

MALVEAUX: Mr. Bush is using the bird flu to make the case he's prepared for the next national disaster.

BUSH: And by putting in place and exercising pandemic emergency plans across the nation, we can help our nation prepare for other dangers such as a terrorist attack using chemical or biological weapons.

MALVEAUX: Political observers say the president's focus on the bird flu won't necessarily insulate him from the administration's recent political problems.

DAVID GERGEN, FMR. WHITE HOUSE ADVISER: No one should suppose that this is going to be an elixir, that it's going to immediately get the president back to full health.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MAVLEAUX: And Wolf, in the meantime, the president and administration continue to try to focus the American people's attention on their agenda looking forward, as well as the South America summit that happens later this week -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Thanks very much.

Suzanne Malveaux at the White House.

Let's get a closer look now at the president's battle plan against bird flu and some of the criticism that's coming in as well. Our homeland security correspondent, Jeanne Meserve, is here in THE SITUATION ROOM -- Jeanne.

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, some bio-defense experts say they want to see the details of the president's plan before making final judgments. But on Capitol Hill in particular, many Democrats are already underlining what they see as its flaws.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MESERVE (voice over): No cases of avian flu have been reported in the U.S. in birds or humans, but nonetheless, criticism that the president's plan to combat it is insufficient and overdue.

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D), NEW YORK: Well, the good news is that the administration has acted and recognized that an ounce of prevention is truly worth a pound of cure. The bad news is that they've acted late, they've acted too little, and they have not recognized that simply having vaccine available doesn't mean it will get where it's needed.

MESERVE: The president's call for new technologies to produce new vaccines faster is welcomed by most experts. But it will take years to convert from current egg-based production techniques.

His interim plan, to stockpile enough vaccine to immunize 20 million people.

THOMAS INGLESBY, CENTER FOR BIOSECURITY: Twenty million doses of vaccines is not a strategy, and it's barely a safety net. So what we need is a plan to take the egg supply that we have now in the United States and around the world and figure out how much vaccine we can possibly make out of those eggs. And we haven't done that yet.

MESERVE: The likely starting point for a pandemic, Asia. And so the president proposes spending $251 million to bolster international efforts to detect and detain any outbreaks. But some describe the investment as paltry.

SEN. EDWARD KENNEDY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: We cannot have an effective program with a tin cup budget. And we cannot have really half measures and deal with the kind of challenges that we're facing.

We're talking about a real globalization detection system that is going to be throughout Southeast Asia, and also be in Europe and in third world countries. It has to be vibrant, and it has to be vigorous, and it has to be complete.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MESERVE: The president says all levels of government must be prepared for a pandemic, but there is skepticism in many quarters that they while be, in part because the public health system is in disrepair, but also because the fumbling state, local and federal response to Hurricane Katrina is so fresh in public memory -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jeanne Meserve reporting.

Thank you, Jeanne, very much.

For more on the president's bird flu plan, let's turn to Internet reporter, Jacki Schechner. She's checking the situation online.

What are you picking up, Jacki?

JACKI SCHECHNER, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, the full plan is available online for your perusal at whitehouse.gov. But the Web site we want to focus on right now is the one that President Bush mentioned himself in his speech this morning. That's pandemicflu.gov.

Now, we spent most of the day digging through this site, taking a look at what it has to offer. It's incredibly comprehensive. It has links to such organizations as the World Health Organization, the Centers for Disease Control, the USDA, among many, many others.

A couple of things that we thought were really interesting.

One, you can find state pandemic plans. Now, just to note, this is not comprehensive. There are only 23 state plans listed on this site.

The other thing we thought was interesting is the World Health Organization list of 10 things you need to know about pandemic flu. A couple of tidbits we found interesting, that pandemic influenza different from avian flu. The difference between avian flu being in birds, pandemic influenza, when it spread to humans, and all countries will be affected, Wolf.

This is fascinating. The last pandemic was in the age of ship travel, and now with international air travel this could spread to all continents within three months.

Send it back to you.

BLITZER: All right, Jacki. Thanks very much.

Let's go up to New York. Jack Cafferty standing by with more -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Well, a little lighter topic for this third hour. There's another reason, Wolf, to keep listening to your mother.

The average professional woman now in her 20s is likely to live into her mid 90s, according to some research that's coming out of England. And for women who are born 20 years for now, life expectancy could well be near 100 years.

As for men, their life expectancy is catching up with women. But as things stand right now, women outlive men by an average of about seven years.

So here is the question: Why do you think women live longer than men? CaffertyFile.com.

Of course there's that old joke, why do husbands die before their wives? The answer is because they want to.

Why do you think women, Wolf, live longer than we do?

BLITZER: They're healthier and smarter.

CAFFERTY: OK. Well, there's one answer.

BLITZER: All right. Well, we'll see what happens with our viewers. Thanks, Jack, very much.

CAFFERTY: All right.

BLITZER: Up ahead, the Senate show down here in Washington. Why did the Democrats make such a rare move? Coming up, I'll speak with the Democratic whip, Dick Durbin. He's standing by.

In Pakistan, was a U.S. helicopter helping out earthquake victims fired at by a rocket-propelled grenade, or is it all a big misunderstanding? There's a debate over what exactly happened.

And Prince Charles and his new bride officially on a trip to the United States to promote environmental causes, but unofficially trying to warm Americans to their union. We'll tell you about that campaign.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: It's been a major story we've been following all afternoon here in THE SITUATION ROOM, the Democrats effectively shutting down the Senate for a few hours, calling for a closed secret session to protest what they say is a conspiracy, collusion between the Republican majority in the Senate and the White House over the intelligence leading up to the war in Iraq. Also coming on the heels of the indictment of the White House -- the vice president's former chief of staff, Lewis "Scooter" Libby.

Joining us now, the number two Democrat in the U.S. Senate, the whip, the minority whip, Dick Durbin of Illinois.

Senator, thanks very much for joining us.

SEN. DICK DURBIN (D), ILLINOIS: Good to be with you.

Senator Frist says this was a slap in his face, a stunt by the Democrats. What do you say?

DURBIN: This was a victory for the American people. The American people have a right to know whether any elected official misused intelligence to mislead our nation into war.

You know, in this democracy, the informed consent of the govern (ph) is critical for this government to work. We now know that because of misinformation and disinformation the American people were not told the truth about Iraq before the invasion.

The Democratic Senate caucus stood its ground this afternoon for three hours. And at the end of that standoff we have an agreement. By November 14, we will have a schedule for completing this important investigation so the American people will know the truth. BLITZER: Couldn't you have achieved those same results by going and speaking in a collegial way with the Republican majority?

DURBIN: Wolf, we tried it for a year and a half. As of last July, in 2004, Senator Roberts, the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said we're working on this, it will be done right away. And nothing happened.

We had to take this unusual move. It's allowed under the rules, but it is an unusual move to dramatize the need for this Senate to act, for the Senate Intelligence Committee to keep its word.

BLITZER: Are you saying that Senator Pat Roberts, Republican of Kansas, the chairman of the Intelligence Committee, is not an honorable man?

DURBIN: No, sir. I did not say that at all.

What I'll say is that he dragged his feet. The committee did not respond to its promise that it would complete what's called phase two investigation to bring the facts before the American people. Because of this standoff this afternoon, we'll have an agreement by November 14 to schedule the completion of this important investigation.

BLITZER: Senator Jay Rockefeller, the vice chairman of the Intelligence Committee, effectively was accusing the Republican majority in the Senate of doing the work of the White House, refusing to engage in this investigation into prewar intelligence because it was embarrassing to President Bush and Vice President Cheney.

DURBIN: I don't know any other conclusion that you could draw, because the first phase of the investigation, whether our intelligence agencies made mistakes with information they gave us before the war was completed long ago. The second phase, as to whether any member of the administration misused intelligence, mislead the American people, just was dragging on and on and on.

Senator Rockefeller has had the patience of Job. And he finally reached the end of his patience this week, and he joined us on the floor to really forge this important agreement that we will have this investigation finally completed.

BLITZER: How long were you, the Democratic minority in the Senate, preparing, planning this maneuver, which came as a total shock, a total surprise to the Republican majority?

DURBIN: We planned it yesterday.

BLITZER: And walk us through the process how this came about.

DURBIN: I'm not going to tell you how we came to our strategy or the playbook or anything like that. But we sat down and said, how long are we go going to wait?

We spoke to Senator Rockefeller and said, "Do you have any indication that the Senate Intelligence Committee is going to keep its word to the American people to complete this investigation?" And he said no. And we realized we had to take this extraordinary action.

Keep in mind this isn't about a simple political victory. It's about the American people being informed as to whether anyone in the administration misused the intelligence they had and mislead the American people into believing we had to invade Iraq.

BLITZER: Did you pounce on the Republicans at this point because you smell blood, you sense the president has been weakened by a series of events?

DURBIN: I think the timing really reflects the fact that Senator Roberts told us last year he couldn't do this because of an election. Tomorrow is the one-year anniversary of the last election, and nothing has happened in the past year.

We felt that we were running out of time, we're nearing the end of this session. It's time for this important investigation and this important information to be released to the American people.

BLITZER: Senator Dick Durbin, thanks for joining us.

DURBIN: Thank you, sir.

BLITZER: And coming up in THE SITUATION ROOM during our 7:00 p.m. Eastern hour, we'll speak with Senator Pat Roberts. He's the Republican chairman of the Intelligence Committee. He'll join us live during our special edition of THE SITUATION ROOM.

Coming up right here, more on CIA leak. How much harm was done to U.S. intelligence? And with the Senate in a bitter showdown, how much political damage is it all causing?

And the royals kick off a U.S. tour with visit to Manhattan. Did Charles and Camilla draw bows and curtsies from curious New Yorkers? We'll let you know.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back.

Our big story this afternoon, the Senate showdown. Democrats and Republicans hurling angry words at each other over prewar intelligence and the Lewis "Scooter" Libby indictment.

Let's get some analysis of what exactly is going on. Joining us here in THE SITUATION ROOM is Richard Falkenrath. He's a CNN homeland security expert, the former deputy homeland security adviser in the Bush White House.

Joining us from Cambridge, Massachusetts, is David Gergen. He's been an adviser to four U.S. presidents. Now he's the director of the Center for Public Leadership at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government.

I'll start with you, David Gergen. This is a pretty extraordinary development, what we saw in the Senate today. GERGEN: It is, Wolf. You know, we keep saying, Wolf, that political partisanship in Washington can't get any worse, and then it does. And that's what we saw today. And it's all been building up since the end of last week with the Libby indictment.

The Democrats smelling blood, sensed that George W. Bush would be conciliatory after that, would reach out to them over the Supreme Court nomination, and then he didn't. And they felt -- they felt then with the Alito nomination that he was -- it was a needlessly provocative nomination.

And they also seemed skillfully changing the story away from Scooter Libby to Alito, and also now today to avian flu. And so they decide to jump back in and dramatize their size of the story and not give notice to the Republicans. And a needlessly provocative gesture.

And I think what all Americans see is just a passion and a fury and a distrust and a poison, that I think all it leaves is most of us gasping and hoping, can't these guys can't get along somehow?

BLITZER: The answer is probably not. But at least in this current environment.

Richard Falkenrath, at the core is this concern that the Democrats have, and some Republicans, that the Bush White House manipulated the intelligence at a minimum, maybe lied about the intelligence to justify going to war.

RICHARD FALKENRATH, CNN SECURITY ANALYST: Yes. That lies at the base of this entire problem. But they're in an awkward position since most of them voted to authorize the war and had access to the exact same information all along in the run-up to it. And now they find themselves in a very difficult situation.

I thought today's action by the Senate Democrats was really surprising, was unseemly, and it was sad. I mean, just -- the difference between Senator Reid's comments, where he was visibly unnerved, and the Fitzgerald announcement of the indictment of Libby was just remarkable. And here we saw the Senate of the United States in a spat.

Contrast that to the extremely professional investigation by a U.S. attorney. It just looked bad. So it's a sad day for the U.S. Senate.

BLITZER: David, I want you to respond to that, but we just heard Senator Dick Durbin on this program say -- declare a victory in a sense that November 14 they're finally going to get this ball rolling after a year and a half of constant delays, he says, by the Republican majority.

GERGEN: Well, that is the other piece of the substance, Wolf, here that's missing. I think they were needlessly provocative in not telling the Republicans that they were going to do this. But on the substance, why shouldn't they push for a conclusion of this investigation? That is what was promised. And after this indictment, and after the press conference that Mr. Fitzgerald had last Friday, the Democrats I think have every reason to say, well, tell us what really did -- how the intelligence was handled inside. What are the answers to who said what to whom?

You know, the press is asking a lot of those questions. I don't know why the Democrats can't push for a conclusion to this report that was promised by the Republicans on the Senate Intelligence Committee.

BLITZER: Do you suspect we're going to get those answers, Richard Falkenrath, the answers that a lot of people in America want to know?

FALKENRATH: I'm not sure. And the reason is that it's protected to the president's right to deliberate in private. And so I'm not sure the full story will every come out.

I, as you know, served in the White House during this time. And I don't know exactly what was said to whom at what point. And I'm not sure the full story will ever come out even in the context of these criminal indictments that have now come down against Mr. Libby.

BLITZER: Because a lot of people, Richard Falkenrath -- and I'll let David weigh in on this as well -- simply can't believe that the United States intelligence community, arguably the best in the world, could get it so wrong when it comes to weapons of mass destruction, stockpiles in Iraq, or lack thereof.

FALKENRATH: Well, they should believe it. And they should read Senator Roberts' first phase report.

This is the second phase of his investigation. The first phase report was a very good report, one of the best investigations by a congressional committee that I've ever read.

I was privy to that intelligence. I believed it. And I, too, was wrong. Everyone who was believed on that intelligence believed it, to my knowledge. And we were all wrong. It was a massive failure by our intelligence community. And his first-phase report was quite good at exposing why that occurred and who made which mistakes at what point in the process.

BLITZER: All right, David, button this up for us.

GERGEN: OK. I think Richard Falkenrath is absolutely right, that there was a massive intelligence failure. But Bill Clinton has said that he looked at some of this intelligence and found many of the same things.

I think the question becomes was, on top of the intelligence failure, was there a lot of hype by administration? Did they try to silence their critics? Did they try to scare us to death about a nuclear war? Did they leave the impression out there that as, that somehow Saddam Hussein was responsible for 9/11?

I think those are legitimate questions on which the public deserves answers.

BLITZER: David Gergen and Richard Falkenrath, thanks to both of you for joining us.

Coming up here in THE SITUATION ROOM, a major debate over an incident involving a U.S. military helicopter on a relief mission for earthquake victims in Pakistan. Was it shot at? The U.S. says, maybe yes. The Pakistani military insists no. We'll tell you what's happening.

And Prince Charles and his new wife, Camilla, are hoping Americans will be charmed during their visit to the United States. They've started it. They're in New York. Will it work?

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Very disturbing incident today over the skies of Pakistan. A U.S. military helicopter was involved in an incident that the U.S. military says was an apparent attack, but that Pakistani officials say is really a misunderstanding.

Let's get some details now from our senior Pentagon correspondent Jamie McIntyre. What happened, Jamie?

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SENIOR PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, here's what we know. A U.S. Army CH-47 Chinook helicopter was delivering relief supplies in a rugged part of Pakistan, about 50 miles northeast of Islamabad. The crew felt the helicopter shudder. The person in the back of the helicopter look out, saw what they thought was an impact of a rocket-propelled grenade on the ground.

They filed a report saying they thought they were fired on by an RPG. The Pakistani military says no, they think what happened was, some dynamite being used to clear debris from the roadway was what caused the impact. The incident is under investigation. The pilots believe their version is accurate, and the Pakistani military, obviously they wouldn't be anxious to be -- to have it seen as somebody fired on a relief helicopter. They insist they think it was all a misunderstanding.

BLITZER: But no one was hurt, is that right, Jamie?

MCINTYRE: No one was hurt. The helicopter returned safely to base.

BLITZER: OK, Jamie McIntyre at the Pentagon, thanks very much.

Let's get some military analysis now, what may have happened. Joining us is retired U.S. general George Joulwan. He's the former NATO supreme allied commander.

Welcome to THE SITUATION ROOM.

GEN. GEORGE JOULWAN (RET.), FORMER NATO SUPREME ALLIED COMMANDER: Good to be here.

BLITZER: It, what, what do you, just based on those facts, is that realistic to think it might have been dynamite as opposed to a RPG?

JOULWAN: I think it's under investigation. We'll find out one way or the other. But there are two things you need to keep in mind. First of all, we have about 30 CH-47 helicopters, U.S., operating in this relief area, which is, by the way, in the most rugged area, high altitude, in the border between Pakistan and Kashmir.

BLITZER: These are the Chinook helicopters...

JOULWAN: The Chinook helicopters that we are providing. The crews primarily are from Afghanistan, so...

BLITZER: The American crews.

JOULWAN: The American crews. So they know what an RPG sounds like, looks like, et cetera. (INAUDIBLE)...

BLITZER: They're fired at all the time.

JOULWAN: All the time. So they know. The Pakistani says, they're make -- and they are building a road. So I think it would all, it all, it all come to pass. But it should not diminish the enormous effort being made by the United States in providing relief in this very devastated area, earthquake that took place in Pakistan.

BLITZER: Which is critically important. And a lot of dead people and many more as a result of the horrible weather right now.

But the first thing that went through my mind when I heard about it was that either there was a -- there may be a renegade Pakistani military unit supporting the Taliban, opposed to President Musharraf, that might be involved in this. Or the Taliban or al Qaeda may have operations in Pakistan.

JOULWAN: Or it's on the Kashmir-Pakistan border, which has been a troublesome area for decades. So I think we have to wait till we get to the bottom of it, crews debriefed, et cetera, et cetera. But it should not diminish the enormous effort being made, particularly by the United States, in coordinating a devastating earthquake that took place in that area.

BLITZER: Under the radar screen, and you know a lot about this as the former NATO commander, NATO slowly but surely is taking the lead in Afghanistan, potentially freeing up U.S. troops there to go deal with other issues like Iraq.

JOULWAN: That's an excellent point. And I think we need to understand that NATO is moving in that direction. And there's plans now afoot for NATO to take over much, if not all, of Afghanistan, the operations there, by next year. They have 12,500 troops there. They have F-16s there. And I don't think most of the American people understand that, that NATO is making a huge commitment to Afghanistan and working in conjunction with the United States.

BLITZER: I want you to listen to what the defense secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, said today about the situation in Iraq, and what the insurgents there are up to.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD RUMSFELD, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: They know that the center of gravity of this war is not in Baghdad but in Washington and London, in the homes and the cities and the hearing rooms and the newsrooms of coalition countries. Their ultimate objective is a radical new caliphate that seeks to dominate the Middle East and to intimidate the free world, as totalitarians have tried over past decades.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Is that a fair assessment?

RUMSFELD: I think it's a fair assessment. Equally important is that what we must not lose is the moral high ground, as we prosecute this war, that what we stand for, our interests, our deals as a nation, extremely important. And so as we go for the hearts and minds of the people of the region, both sides are trying to do it. How we conduct ourselves, what our strategy is, what are rules are of engagement, all of that is extremely important as we prosecute this war.

BLITZER: General Joulwan, thanks very much for joining us.

JOULWAN: Thank you.

BLITZER: Let's head up to New York, Lou Dobbs getting ready for his program that begins right at the top of the hour. Lou, what are you working on?

LOU DOBBS, HOST, "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT": (INAUDIBLE), Wolf, as you know, there's a lot going on. At 6:00 p.m. Eastern, the latest on today's extraordinary political developments in the U.S. Senate.

Also, I'll be talking tonight with top Republican and Democrat senators about those peculiar goings-on in the Senate, a Senate that was shut down for two hours today.

Roadside bombs now the insurgents' most lethal weapons against our troops in Iraq. We'll have that special report from the Pentagon.

President Bush has announced a $7 billion plan to combat the possibility of a global bird flu pandemic. Two of the world's leading authorities on infectious diseases join us. Is the plan enough? Is it the right direction?

And the fight to protect American manufacturing jobs from cheap foreign imports. Tonight, we go live to a major protest in one of the country's largest town meetings, being held tonight in Darlington, South Carolina.

We'll have all of that, and a great deal more, coming up at the top of the hour here on CNN. Please join us.

Now back to you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Lou. "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT" starts in about 20 minutes or so from now.

Still to come, a royal tour. An official visit, the first in 20 years, for Prince Charles and the first ever for his wife, Camilla. Like many who come to America, they began their visit in New York City at ground zero.

We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Prince -- Britain's Prince Charles and his wife, Camilla, are in New York City, their week-long U.S. tour now in full swing.

CNN's Mary Snow is over at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, one of several stops the royal couple is making. Mary, what's going on right now?

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, just as teenagers have a debutante ball and have a coming-out party, you could say this is the coming-out party for Prince Charles and his wife, Camilla. This is their first official to the U.S. outside the modern art museum tonight. Royal watchers are waiting outside for the red carpet for them to arrive.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SNOW: With some pomp, pageantry, and plenty of photographers...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hey, photographer.

SNOW: Prince Charles is introducing his new wife, Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, to the United States. First stop, New York.

The couple visited ground zero with New York Governor George Pataki. They paid tribute to the British citizens killed on September 11 at the British Memorial Garden. The prince of Wales then went to the United Nations to meet with Secretary General Kofi Annan. This is the first U.S. visit for the couple, who wed in April.

PRINCE CHARLES: My wife and I are so pleased to have this opportunity to be with you all today.

SNOW: But it may be hard to escape comparisons to the last time Charles made an official visit, 20 years ago, with his then-wife Princess Diana. She stole the spotlight and crushed the British image of the stiff upper lip when she took to the dance floor with John Travolta at a White House dinner.

Since Diana's death in 1997, there hasn't been much attention paid to princesses here in the U.S. A new poll shows 81 percent of people questioned said they are not interested in Camilla and Charles.

Despite that, there seemed to be no shortage of cameras trotting behind the royals to catch their every move.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SNOW: Now, while some crowds are waiting outside, the prince and duchess have not yet arrived. There are expected 400 guests on hand tonight. In keeping with tradition, people are keeping mum about who's on that guest list. But there are reports that they include Sting, Jerry Seinfeld, Robert DeNiro, and, of course, along with some stars will be some politicians, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. We'll have much more on this coming up during our 7:00 p.m. hour of THE SITUATION ROOM. Mary, thank you very much for that report.

Up next, can you feel that old age coming on? If you're a professional woman in your 20s, you can expect to live into your 90s. If you're a man, well, not necessarily quite as long. Why is that? We want to hear what you think. Jack Cafferty's been going through your e-mail.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: An amazing show is happening right now in one of the most spectacular locations on earth. Our Zain Verjee is live from the CNN Center. She's joining us now with details of a volcanic eruption. Zain?

VERJEE: Wolf, it's happening on one of the Galapagos Islands. And this awesome eruption is drawing even more tourists than normal to this unique spot made famous by Charles Darwin.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

VERJEE: Glowing hot lava flowing from the Sierra Negra volcano on Isabella Island, part of the Galapagos chain some 600 miles off the coast of Ecuador. It's the mountain's first eruption in 26 years, and it's drawing hundreds of tourists to this remote location.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): It is incredible. This is just so much luck to be here on vacation and see this spectacle. It is fantastic.

VERJEE: But the eruption, which started on the 22nd of October, is proving too popular for the island's good, with as many as 200 people each day flocking to this delicate ecosystem, officials were forced to limit the number of sightseers.

Isabella's one of 13 islands in the Galapagos chain, whose exotic wildlife helped inspire Charles Darwin's theory of evolution. The islands are so unique, the United Nations declared them a World Heritage Site in 1979, which was also the last time this mile-high mountain erupted. Volcanic activity is not uncommon in the Galapagos. This eruption happened in May on deserted Bonadina (ph) Island.

In fact, Isabella is one of only four inhabited Galapagos islands. Its sole village, home to some 2,000 people, is safely out of the volcano's reach, at least for now.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

VERJEE: But officials say there are emergency plans in place to evacuate the island's residents, by sea and by air if necessary. And Wolf, officials are also worried about their famed giant tortoises that live on the island there, something that they love, a lifespan of 150 years, and they actually live near the crater.

BLITZER: All right, Zain, thank you very much. All very, very interesting. Zain Verjee reporting for us. Thank you very much.

Closer to home, Floridians are tallying the damage from Hurricane Wilma, which took an especially heavy toll on agriculture in the southern part of the state.

J.J. Ramberg reports.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

J.J. RAMBERG, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Hurricane Wilma's fierce winds tore through Larry Dunnegan's (ph) farm last week, killing nearly all the avocados, beans, and squash he was growing, and creating a ripple that could extend throughout the country. Southern Florida is the top producer of winter vegetables at this time of year.

LARRY DUNNEGAN, FARMER: These won't make it. There won't be beans, whole beans for Thanksgiving this year.

RAMBERG (on camera): We have them for Christmas?

DUNNEGAN: We'll have some for Christmas, yes, we will.

RAMBERG (voice-over): Early estimates are that agricultural damage from Wilma will top $1 billion. For farmers here, the timing of the storm couldn't have been worse.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: These won't come back. In otherwise, they're too far gone.

RAMBERG: Dunnegan's neighbor, Air Torici (ph), grows tomatoes, squash, and beans.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We should have had money coming in another 30 days. Now we won't see any income for closer 90 days. So it definitely puts a damper on Christmas, I'd so to speak, you know. You don't have the money coming in that you would have had coming in. So it tightens up the belt.

RAMBERG: With the land in this part of state in high demand for housing development, agriculture officials worry about the long-term effect of the hurricane season on Florida's farming industry. (END VIDEOTAPE)

RAMBERG: And keep in mind, Wolf, it's not just the farmers that are being affected. It's also all the small businesses in the area that support the industry there, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, J.J., thanks very much. J.J. Ramberg reporting for us.

Up next, the cartoon ad drawing big political fire. We'll show it to you.

Also, it's a sort of battle of the sexes over who might live longer, men or women. A new study suggests women are winning. Why do you think that is? Our Jack Cafferty has your e-mail.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: The race for New York City mayor is taking an ugly turn right now, thanks to a controversial new campaign commercial.

CNN's Brian Todd is joining us now live with more. Brian?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, some say this got ugly a while ago. But other observers say, Hey, this is New York politics, and it's part of the rough and tumble. Either way, you've got another high-profile campaign with an ad controversy.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TODD (voice-over): In a race that observers say is getting increasingly nasty and one-sided, the Democratic challenger for mayor of New York City goes double-barrel against the incumbent with this cartoon campaign ad.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, FERRER CAMPAIGN COMMERCIAL)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mike Bloomberg made the largest donation in the history of the Republican Party, $7 million.

Elect Freddie Ferrer mayor. He's not like Mike. He's more like you.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TODD: Analysts say all during this campaign, Fernando Ferrer has tried to paint Mayor Michael Bloomberg as a Bush Republican, freely giving millions of dollars to the GOP. A Bloomberg campaign official calls this ad disgusting and says the ad's claim that Bloomberg gave $7 million to the Republican Party is not true. The Bloomberg campaign says he did give $7 million last year to the Republican National Convention Host Committee, which Bloomberg aides say is a nonprofit, nonpartisan group that has also taken money from entities like "The New York Times."

Campaign observers say the ad probably won't fly with New Yorkers anyway, since many remember Bloomberg as a former Democrat who changed parties shortly before winning election four years ago.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: Now, another part of this campaign that is not playing well with New Yorkers right now, Fernando Ferrer himself, the Democrat, trails Mayor Bloomberg in most polls by margins of up to two to one, Wolf.

BLITZER: Brian, there's a debate tonight among the candidates. What do we expect?

TODD: I asked a Bloomberg campaign official just this afternoon if the mayor was going to bring up the subject of that ad. The official said no comment. Given that this the election is just a few days away, I would be surprised if the mayor didn't bring it up tonight. This is New York politics, after all.

BLITZER: All right, thanks very much, Brian Todd reporting for us.

Let's go back up to New York. Jack Cafferty's been going through your e-mail on his question this hour. He's joining us once again live.

Why are you shaking your head, Jack?

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Because that thing's mild. You remember the thing, Vote for Cuomo, not the homo, when Ed Koch was running against Mario Cuomo for mayor of New York City, or governor of New York? I mean, they had these posters turned up in every borough of this city, the obvious reference to some question about Mayor Ed Koch's sexuality.

I mean, politics in this town is a bare-knuckle situation. I mean, that little Ferrer-Bloomberg thing is mild compared to some of the stuff I remember seeing.

Anyway, women live longer than we do, Wolf. No news there. The average professional woman in her mid-20s likely to live to her mid- 90s according to some studies coming out of England. Men are closing the gap, but their life expectancy about seven years less than women. Why do you think that is?

Lillian in St. Charles, Missouri, "Could it be because women take better care of their health? And could it be that married men live longer than single men because they have a woman to look after their health for them?"

Amanda in Charlotte, North Carolina, "Because there are less type A personalities in the female half of the population. Also, we're smarter and better looking."

Rex in Toronto, "If I could sleep till noon, get up and eat chocolate all day, while watching soap operas and ordering useless crap from the Home Shopping Network instead of getting up at 5:00 a.m. and working like a rented mule till 6:00 p.m., I would probably live longer too."

There'll be no kiss goodnight for Rex tonight.

Joseph in Oceanside, California, "This is easy. Women in general take better care of themselves. If they have a medical problem, they go see the doctor. Men are mostly in a state of denial. They figure what they don't know won't hurt them. Of course, by the time they know, it's RIP."

And Scott in Chillecothe, Ohio, "Their active lifestyle, doing dishes, cleaning house, running errands, is the main reason that women live longer. The only thing us men want to do after a hard day at work is sit down from 3:00 to 6:00, watch THE SITUATION ROOM, and drink beer."

BLITZER: Good for Scott in Chillecothe, Ohio. I like the way he thinks.

Jack, take a look at the monitor. We're getting some live pictures coming in right now from the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. The royals are in town, Prince Charles, Camilla, Jack. How excited are you that these people are visiting New York City?

CAFFERTY: Well, you know, if we didn't have to stay here and do an extra hour of THE SITUATION ROOM, I'd be in line going to get tickets to that thing. But I have to be here with you, Wolf, instead, and my heart is broken.

BLITZER: The Museum of Modern -- You mean, you weren't invited to that dinner, is that what you're saying?

CAFFERTY: Nah, not again this time.

BLITZER: Tough ticket to get, I guess.

All right, Jack, stand by, because you're not done for the night yet. We got another hour to go here in THE SITUATION ROOM, a special edition coming up, 7:00 p.m. Eastern, one hour from now. We're on weekdays normally 3:00 to 6:00 p.m. Eastern.

"LOU DOBBS TONIGHT" standing by. Lou is in New York.

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