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THE SITUATION ROOM

One Hour to French Curfew; V.A., N.J. Await Polls to Close

Aired November 8, 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: It's 5:00 p.m. here in Washington. And you're in THE SITUATION ROOM where news and information from around the world arrive in one place at the same time.
Happening now: it's 11:00 p.m. in France, one hour before sweeping new measures take effect aimed at stopping almost two weeks of rioting.

It's 1:00 a.m. Tuesday in Baghdad, where yet another lawyer tied to the trial of Saddam Hussein has been assassinated.

And it's 6:00 p.m. on the island of Aruba, where Alabama teenager Natalee Holloway vanished six months ago. Now the governor of her home state of Alabama is calling for a boycott of the island. He's standing by to talk to us about what he wants.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

The French prime minister calls it an hour of truth. That hour now approaching. It's closing in on midnight in France, and that's when sweeping new measures go into effect, measures the government hopes will end days of rioting.

CNN's Becky Anderson is joining us now live from Paris with all the details. What a story this has become. Becky?

BECKY ANDERSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. And let me tell you that we've only heard one official request from local officials, and that's in the northeast of Paris in an area called Amnion (ph), for a curfew as a result of these sweeping new laws, effectively a state of emergency in France at 12:00 midnight tonight, an hour from now.

We are, though, hearing of disturbances once again in Toulouse and in Marseilles in the south of France. At present, all is quiet in Paris, as it has been and indeed in the suburbs at present, but in Marseilles and Toulouse, trouble tonight.

Wolf.

BLITZER: Becky, is there any indication that what the government is doing is about to have a dramatic impact or is this going to simply go on and on and on?

ANDERSON: We talked to people here in Paris, particularly those who are from the neighborhoods, the hoods, the suburbs, the banlieue where a lot of these disturbances have been taking place. And they say, listen, you know, if we can't get onto the streets, because effectively the government has said those areas are under curfew. If you go into the streets, you'll be put in prison for up to two months, if you (ph) go onto the streets tonight.

They're saying, that's not going to stop things because when these curfews stop -- and that will be in 12 days time -- effectively people will go back onto the streets. That's what we're hearing, certainly from those who live in these neighborhoods. Who can tell at this point? All quiet certainly in the center of Paris and indeed in the banlieue at this point.

BLITZER: Becky Anderson in Paris, we'll check back with you. Thank you very much.

From Paris let's head over to Baghdad. For the second time in less than a month, a lawyer representing one of Saddam Hussein's co- defendants has been assassinated.

CNN's Aneesh Raman is joining us from the Iraqi capital with details. Aneesh?

ANEESH RAMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, good evening. Big questions tonight for the Iraqi court trying Saddam Hussein and seven other defendants after Adil Muhammed Zubaidi was shot dead this afternoon in the western part of the capital.

Zubaidi was driving when his vehicle came under gunfire. He was the lawyer for Taha Yassin Ramadan, perhaps the second-most recognizable defendant in this trial aside from Saddam Hussein himself. Ramadan was a former Iraqi vice president. Now, another defense lawyer was wounded in this attack. It's, as you say, the second time a lawyer with the defense has been killed.

The court is set to reconvene on November 28. And expectations are now that the defense will petition for a further delay.

Wolf.

BLITZER: Aneesh, we're getting some new pictures in from an operation along the Iraqi-Syrian border. What's going on up there?

RAMAN: Yes, day four of Operation Steel Curtain winding down. This is exclusive CNN video of what took place, as they're making progress securing the city of Husayba.

Now why does that city matter? It is literally right along the Syrian border. And it is through that city where foreign fighters, weapons and cash are coming into Iraq.

So some 3,000 U.S. troops and 550 Iraqi forces are rooting out the insurgency there. They are finding a number of weapons caches that they are destroying. They are taking a number of suspected insurgents into custody. The goal is to really secure that border, prevent these weapons from coming in, and stabilize the country ahead of the December 15 elections, Wolf.

BLITZER: Aneesh Raman in Baghdad for us. Thank you, Aneesh, very much.

Back here in the United States, a battle with political clashes and conflicts. Who will win, who will lose in today's elections across the United States? Equally important, why do these local races have such big national implications?

Our senior political correspondent Candy Crowley is joining us now with more. Candy?

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Wolf, on the line tonight, mayoral races in at least 370 cities and towns. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's reform agenda is on the ballot in California. There are statewide ballot initiatives in seven states on everything from parental consent before an underage can have an abortion and redistricting.

There are also two governors' races which will be read like tea leaves.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CROWLEY (voice-over): Off-year elections are like off-Broadway plays. If it goes right, you can sell it all the way to the big stage. To understand the off-year elections of '05, think mid-term elections of '06.

AMY WALTER, COOK POLITICAL REPORT: They're less important for average voters. They're much more important for the insiders, your party base, your donors, candidates, incumbents.

CROWLEY: The marquee contest of '05 is a governor's race in Virginia, Bush country.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And you'll be proud of the next governor of Virginia, Jerry Kilgore.

CROWLEY: Virginia is run by a very popular outgoing Democratic governor who wants to be president -- all of which explains why a race between two middle-aged white guys most Americans have never heard of will be parsed for what it says about the president and what it means for '06.

WALTER: If Tim Kaine wins in Virginia, the Democratic message is we have got momentum now. We have Republicans on the ropes.

CROWLEY: Now to turn it on its head...

WALTER: If Jerry Kilgore wins in Virginia, then the message to the Republican donors and the Republican faithful and Republican incumbents is, you guys, we're doing OK.

CROWLEY: Whichever side loses will say it was lost over local issues, though the president's election eve trip to Virginia has pretty much guaranteed Virginia will be used to measure his toxicity to Republican candidates. Elsewhere, in the red (sic) state of New Jersey, two very rich gubernatorial candidates have produced one nasty little race, including an ad for the Republican featuring the words of the ex-wife of the Democrat.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In the final days of the campaign, Doug Forrester has brought the Bush/Rove smear tactics to our state.

CROWLEY: It will be hard for Democrats to spin a win in New Jersey as anything other than expected. A Republican win would set conventional wisdom on its ear.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CROWLEY: To the winner goes the bragging rights and so much more. A win gets true believers believing, donors donating and candidates running all the way into November of '06.

Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Candy, thanks very much. And this reminder to our viewers, we'll be here in THE SITUATION ROOM. Our 7:00 p.m. Eastern program, that's when the results in Virginia will first get recorded. The polls in Virginia close 7:00 p.m. Eastern. We'll share the results with you as we get them in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Let's share Jack Cafferty with you right now. He's standing by in New York. Jack?

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: What's that old saw, that all elections in the end are local, right, Wolf? Even though we get all this analysis and proselytizing and reading of the tea leaves, at the end of the day, even a vote for president has to do with your own pocketbook and your own chances at improving your particular situation. So I think, you know, maybe all of us pundits ought to just sit down and relax.

BLITZER: Easy for you to say, but the pundits don't want to necessarily relax, they want to pundit.

CAFFERTY: Is that a verb, to pundit?

BLITZER: I don't know, I just made it up, I made it up.

CAFFERTY: Might be a verb, to pundit. Keep watching THE SITUATION ROOM, you learn stuff.

You might want to think twice before you pack your beret and head off to gay Paris. The State Department has issued a public announcement yesterday telling Americans to be alert to the violence in France. It said travelers should be aware of the situation while there and avoid areas where there has been rioting.

For example, they advise against taking the train from Charles de Gaulle Airport into Paris because it runs through some of the areas that have been affected by the rioting. They recommend a bus or a cab instead. However the State Department stopped short of advising Americans not to go to France.

So here is the question. Would the rioting in France keep you from going there? You can email us at CaffertyFile@CNN.com and pundit us your thoughts.

BLITZER: We're going to create a lot of new words here in THE SITUATION ROOM, I suspect.

CAFFERTY: Why not?

BLITZER: Yes, what the hell? Thanks, Jack. Up ahead, a fast- changing story on Capitol Hill. Who leaked classified information on secret U.S. prisons to the news media? Some lawmakers are now calling for a probe, others are pointing fingers.

Also, the high-tech new weapon that helped thwart a pirate attack on a cruise ship. Plus, some dramatic new photos of the assault.

And Alabama's governor calling for a boycott on the island nation of Aruba. New fallout from the Natalee Holloway case. We'll have the results of what's going on and we'll speak with the Alabama governor.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: You're back in THE SITUATION ROOM. Welcome back. Six months after she disappeared on a high school trip to Aruba, there's still no sign of the Alabama teenager, Natalee Holloway. And frustration over the way island authorities are handling the case is prompting a call for a travel boycott. The Alabama governor, Bob Riley, is leading the effort. He is joining us now live from Huntsville.

Governor, thanks very much for joining us. Why are you urging Americans to boycott Aruba?

GOV. BOB RILEY (R), ALABAMA: Well, Beth and Jug and I and Dave have been talking about this for the last five or six months. They had encouraged us not to do this. But up until the last couple of weeks, all of a sudden, I think everybody began to realize that nothing is going to happen unless there is some pressure exerted. So when they asked me to consider this, I know that the legislature, four or five months ago wanted to do it. We held off because of the request of Beth and Dave and Jug, but now they asked us to do it, we're ready to. I think the only way we're going to get any type of resolution on this problem is to apply some pressure on the Aruban government. And we're more than willing to do it.

BLITZER: So are you suggesting they didn't have enough pressure already? I mean, the economic interests for Aruba are enormous. Wouldn't they have already had enough pressure going into this investigation to try and do the best they can with this disappearance?

RILEY: Evidently not, Wolf. If you look at what's happened just in the last few weeks, we essentially had Beth going down, she had investigators, she had a team down there. We couldn't even get the Aruban government to make a request to bring equipment in. You know, and when it gets to the point that you believe -- and I honestly believe this -- that the Aruban government just wants this to go away. Well, I don't think the people in Alabama want it to go away. And I don't believe the people in America want it to go away.

BLITZER: There are plenty of unresolved crimes in Alabama that people could say, well, why aren't you doing more? I guess the argument could be made. What's going on here?

RILEY: Well, at least in Alabama, anyone can come into the district attorney's office, they can go into a courtroom, they can find out what's going on. The biggest problems that we've had down there literally for months now is that there is no access to information. There has been almost a wall, a firewall put up with any information in any part of the investigation.

I think the requests up to this point have been more than reasonable by the family. And I think this has become almost a part of each one of our lives over the last few months, not only in Alabama, but across America. We have watched this, you know, play out. And I think most of the people in America want some type of resolution to it.

BLITZER: There were 282 homicides in Alabama last year, in 2004 on average. And we're looking at state statistics. There are 52 violent crimes in Alabama reported every day. Do you know what percentage ever those are unresolved?

RILEY: Well, any of them that are unresolved doesn't mean we have closed the case, it doesn't mean that if a family requests any extraordinary measures, we will (ph) do everything we can to resolve those cases. And that is the only thing that I think anyone is asking the Aruban government to do: be candid with this family, explain to them what has happened, allow them to look at what has been developed at this point, and not just to get to the point that they say they're not going to participate.

BLITZER: Are you suggesting that there may be a cover-up or somebody's dragging their feet for some sort of a reason among the Aruban authorities?

RILEY: I'm not going to make any type of suggestions because I haven't been to Aruba. But I have had an opportunity to talk to Beth on several occasions in the last few months. I believe what Beth is telling me. I believe their theory has enough evidence to make the case, it hasn't been made. We don't know why.

But I do know one thing, if you're ever going to have any type of resolution to it, you're going to have to have the full participation of the Aruban government. That is not happening today.

BLITZER: Have you received the green light from the State Department, from the Bush administration authorities in Washington, the FBI to go forward with this boycott to put pressure on Aruban authorities?

RILEY: We didn't ask.

BLITZER: You have not?

RILEY: No.

BLITZER: You haven't asked anybody for that?

RILEY: No.

BLITZER: All right, Governor, well, we're hoping the best for Natalee Holloway. Thanks very much for joining us.

RILEY: Thank you.

BLITZER: Appreciate it. We'll continue to watch this story for you, our viewers.

Ahead in THE SITUATION ROOM, why intelligent design looks like a smart idea to one school board. Today we'll take you inside the debate.

Plus, he's accused of passing U.S. secrets to Iran, so why is Washington rolling out the red carpet for this friend? Some call him a former friend. Others say he is still a good friend. Ahmed Chalabi is in Washington meeting with the secretary of State. We'll tell you what's going on.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: As Democrats keep up the pressure in the CIA leak case, Republicans want a new leak probe of their own following reports about secret U.S. prisons for terror suspects. The Senate majority leader, Bill Frist, and the House speaker, Dennis Hastert, today asked the intelligence chairman to "immediately initiate a joint investigation into the possible release of classified information to the media alleging that the U.S. government may be detaining and interrogating terrorists at undisclosed locations abroad." That's a quote from the letter.

Joining us now from Capitol Hill, Senator Patrick Leahy. He's the ranking Democrat on the House -- on the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Senator, thanks very much for joining us. I want to get to a lot of these issues, but you have a quick reaction to this call for a leak investigation on this "Washington Post" story detailing these so- called black prisons in Eastern Europe.

SEN. PATRICK LEAHY (D-VT), RANKING MEMBER, JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: Well, I wonder who it was -- who in the Congress even knew these were prisons were going on. I was in Vermont in my farmhouse over the weekend, turned on -- picked up the computer, went to the "Washington Post" online, that's where I read about it for the first time.

I know a lot of the senators have been telling me and asked each other, did anybody know about this before we read it in the paper? What I worry about, with this administration, everybody wants to -- on their side wants to jump and say, oh, my gosh, plug these leaks. I would think it would be a lot better to say, what in heaven's name are we doing running secret prisons in the former Soviet Union?

We, both Democratic and Republican presidents, very rightly, since I've been here, blasted the Soviet Union for having these kinds of secret prisons. Why in heaven's name are we allowing the United States -- the symbol of freedom to most of the world, why are we allowing ourselves to be involved in it?

I think you want to do an investigation, sure, find out who may have leaked this. But more importantly, find out why in heaven's name are we doing this? Why was the administration allowing this? And how are we going to repair America's image with the rest of the world?

BLITZER: Let's move on and talk a little bit about pre-war intelligence. Senator Pat Roberts, your Republican colleague from Kansas, the chairman of the Intelligence Committee, said this the other day.

Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. PAT ROBERTS (R-KS), CHAIRMAN, INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: If you look at all this hoorah that's going on now, and all of these statements and all of these attacks on the president and the intelligence and everything else, what does that say to our men and women in uniform? And more importantly, what does it say to the terrorists? I think it emboldens the terrorists, I think it makes our job more difficult in Iraq.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Basically suggesting your -- that your leadership now who shut down the Senate for a few hours, went into public -- into private session, effectively making the accusation that you're emboldening the terrorists.

LEAHY: You know, this is sort of the emperor has no clothes kind of argument. If mistakes are made, I think we have a right -- not a right, I would say we have a duty to point out those mistakes. We've gone to war, over 2,000 Americans, very brave men and women have died, including 20 from my own state. We have had -- we have spent hundreds of billions of dollars. Our children and grandchildren are going to be paying for this. We've nearly bankrupted the Social Security fund to pay for the war in Iraq, and the reconstruction of Iraq.

We ought to be asking some questions. We ought to ask how we got in a war based on misstatements by the administration. They said there were weapons of mass destruction, there weren't any. They said there were these tubes for nuclear weapons, there weren't any. They said al Qaeda was in Iraq, it wasn't. They said that Iraq was involved in 9/11, it wasn't. They said we would be welcome as liberators, some liberators. And the president flies onto an aircraft carrier to say mission accomplished. When people tell him, gee, the mission is not accomplished, they're still out there, he says, bring it on.

We ought to be asking questions on behalf of the men and women who are over there putting their life on the lines for what was a mistake in the first place

BLITZER: You're the ranking Democrat of the Senate Judiciary Committee. You'll be holding confirmation hearings in January for Judge Samuel Alito. Joe Biden, the other day, on Sunday, suggested a filibuster probably would not be appropriate right now. Do you agree with him?

LEAHY: I agree we ought to have the hearing, make up our mind after the hearing. I've done this with both Democratic and Republican nominees, I've always said I'll make up my mind once the hearing is over. I think that's what we should do.

I haven't heard anybody going around saying, let's have a filibuster, let's have a filibuster, I've heard a lot of the right wing say, are you going to filibuster, are you going to filibuster? They said the same thing about Chief Justice Roberts. In fact, I recall a lot of them announcing in paid ads how I was going to vote against Chief Justice Roberts. Of course, I voted for him.

But, you know, this is -- let's have a hearing. There are a whole lot of issues, everything from conflicts on interest to how Judge Alito has ruled. Why don't we have a hearing, get the answers to that, and then talk about how we're going to vote?

BLITZER: Listen to what Professor Richard Friedman of the University of Michigan wrote in the "New York Times" on November 4. He said this referring to the confirmation hearings of Judge Alito: "The aggressively ideological opposition distorts the confirmation process. Treating it as a political matter may encourage a view of the court as nothing more than another political institution."

That sounds like a pretty reasonable, fair point he's trying to make.

LEAHY: Well, the court should be the ultimate check and balance and protect all 280 million Americans. They shouldn't be the arm of the Republican Party or an arm of the Democratic Party. I think the question of ideology came up came up for this, when Harriet Miers was nominated, several groups on the far right announced immediately the president couldn't go forward with that, said the president had to withdraw her nomination because they had not been convinced how she would vote. They didn't have enough assurances about how she would vote.

As soon as Judge Alito was nominated, all of them fell in line almost within the hour, saying, oh, he's fine, we know how he would vote. That's not the way it should be. We shouldn't have anybody there whose vote is a surety of the right or the left. And frankly, I hear all these special interest groups on both the right and the left are spending millions of dollars to lobby on this. They have a right to do that. But I wish they'd spend their money somewhere where it would do some good. The American people are the ones who have to make up their mind.

BLITZER: Senator Leahy, thanks for dropping by, coming into THE SITUATION ROOM, appreciate it. Senator Patrick Leahy is the ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Coming up on THE SITUATION ROOM, this hour, by the way, Republican Senator Saxby Chambliss of Georgia. We'll get his thoughts on these subjects as well.

And there are new developments today in the debate over so-called intelligent design. Less than an hour ago, the Kansas Board of Education approved new science standards for public schools that some say will increase pressure on teachers to emphasize intelligent design while casting doubt on evolution.

CNN's faith and values correspondent Delia Gallagher is joining us now with more. Delia, first of all, explain to our viewers what intelligent design theory is.

DELIA GALLAGHER, CNN FAITH & VALUES CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's basically a claim that evolutionary theory doesn't answer for all of the sort of systems that one finds in biology and in biological sciences. So, one of the claims of intelligent design is that things are irreducibly complex, that there are some systems that cannot be explained by a process of evolution. And they claim that these are complex enough to have been created from the beginning with this complexity, hence some kind of intelligence and some kind of design.

BLITZER: This is a debate played that's being played out all over the country, though, and we're watching it unfold specifically today.

GALLAGHER: Yes, absolutely. There are many states that are dealing with this, at least 20 of them. And one important state is going to be the Pennsylvania case, in Dover, the school district of Dover, which is the first trial case in the country. We're expecting a verdict on that -- a group of parents who have sued the school district because they wanted to introduce the discussion of intelligent design into the science classrooms.

BLITZER: Delia Gallagher, thank you very much. We'll watch this story together with you. Delia Gallagher reporting for us.

Coming up, a radio personality accused of poisoning his wife. We'll have details of a shocking case.

Plus a former administration ally who fell from grace, now he's the subject -- he has been the subject of an FBI probe, but he is meeting today with top U.S. officials, including the secretary of State. David Ensor is standing by to tell us what Ahmed Chalabi is up to.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: He was an administration ally before the war in Iraq, but he soon fell from favor. Now the Iraqi deputy prime minister, Ahmad Chalabi, is accused of passing American secrets to Iran. So, why is he meeting today with top U.S. officials here in Washington?

Our national security correspondent, David Ensor, is joining us live with more on this controversy. David?

DAVID ENSOR, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this man is -- controversy is probably putting it mildly. But his -- his admirers also say that Ahmad Chalabi is very pragmatic and very effective.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ENSOR (voice-over): He was once the Pentagon's favorite Iraqi, and emigre leader who was spirited into Iraq with supporters early on during the U.S. invasion. But Ahmad Chalabi was later accused of supplying the U.S. with discredited prewar weapons intelligence. An FBI investigation also continues, officials say, into whether he passed U.S. secrets to Iran.

Chalabi visited Iran again just the other day. So, the fact that the Iraqi deputy prime minister has meetings scheduled with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Treasury Secretary John Snow has critics furious.

SEN. DICK DURBIN (D), ILLINOIS: It's very difficult to track how this man, who gave us such misleading information before the invasion of Iraq, now under active investigation for endangering American troops, is now the toast of the town at the Department of Treasury and the Department of State. I don't follow their logic.

RAND BEERS, FORMER NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL OFFICIAL: We should not be placing a mantle of legitimacy on his shoulders that comes from meeting with senior-level people. We made that mistake once. Shame on us if we do it again.

ENSOR: But Chalabi, the secular Shiite politician, is an Iraqi survivor. Admirers say he is highly effective.

REUEL MARC GERECHT, AMERICAN ENTERPRISE INSTITUTE: He's actually one of the few people in Iraq who can get things done, that if Chalabi tells you he is going to get something done, the odds are that it will get done.

ENSOR: And Washington found that turning against Chalabi, even encouraging Iraqi police to raid his offices last summer, only backfired.

GERECHT: The decision to essentially trash Chalabi probably was a great boon to him and helped him enormously inside of Iraqi politics, where it became clear that he was not an American puppet.

(END VIDEOTAPE) ENSOR: Administration officials say it's just pragmatic now to meet with the controversial Chalabi, who wants to be prime minister, though he's not considered the front-runner in the December elections. Meeting him now is pragmatic, even though his visit is generating plenty of political heat.

Wolf.

BLITZER: As -- as expected. David, thank you very much.

But there's another story we have been following today, this call on Capitol Hill. Republicans want a formal leak investigation into that "Washington Post" story of a few days ago reporting on the so- called black prisons that the CIA might be operating in Eastern Europe. What are you hearing from your sources?

ENSOR: I'm hearing just now, Wolf, that another shoe has dropped on that. We can now report, U.S. officials are telling us that the CIA general counsel's office has referred the matter to the Justice Department.

This is what's routinely done under the law. When the CIA has the -- has the concern that there may have been the leak of classified information, it's the job of the general counsel at the CIA to refer the matter to the Justice Department and ask for an investigation to be conducted. And I'm told by U.S. officials that that has been done in this case.

Wolf.

BLITZER: So, just as the CIA referred the CIA leak story, when Bob Novak published the name of Valerie Plame Wilson in -- in his column in the "Chicago Sun-Times," they asked for a formal investigation, that the Justice Department do so, they are doing the same thing now following this "Washington Post" story?

ENSOR: That's correct. I mean, after all, the -- the existence if there are -- if it's true, of secret black facilities, prisons in -- in Eastern Europe, was what the story said -- if that's true, that's certainly classified information. And there's quite an uproar, as you know, around town about the fact that it was in the newspaper the other day

BLITZER: OK. Well, get ready for these investigations.

All right, thanks very much...

ENSOR: OK.

BLITZER: ... David for that -- David Ensor reporting.

Still to come, a radio talk show host accused of a terrible crime -- the slow, secret poisoning of his wife. We will have details of what's going on.

Plus, ambush on the high seas. We will show you some dramatic new pictures taken as pirates attack a luxury cruise ship, and passengers talking about their terrifying ordeal.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Lou Dobbs getting ready for his program. That starts right at the top of the hour. Lou, what are you working on?

LOU DOBBS, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, thank you. At 6:00 p.m. Eastern here on CNN, we will be reporting on congressional Republicans, who have launched a major new leak investigation, as they try to shift the political debate in Washington. We're live on Capitol Hill with that story and more.

As well, U.S. Marines in Iraq report significant progress in their four-day offensive to root out terrorists and insurgents near the Syrian border. We will be taking you to Baghdad.

And less than two weeks before the president goes to Beijing, there's a troubling new warning sign tonight about communist China's economic and military threat to this country.

Also, tonight, a rare victory for working men and women in this country handed down by none other than the U.S. Supreme Court.

Be with us for that story -- all of that and a great deal more at the top of the hour. Now back to you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks very much. Lou, we'll be joining you at the top of the hour.

Now -- and let's move over to Missouri right now. According to co-workers, 31-year-old James Keown was just a friendly hardworking radio reporter who lost his wife to an unexplained death. But officials now say, the radio talk show host was hiding an awful secret.

Brian Todd is standing by. He's got details of this very bizarre story. Brian, what do we know?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, this is a case that tracks James Keown from Missouri to Massachusetts and back again. Well, he's now on his back way to Massachusetts one more time to face a murder charge.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TODD (voice-over): According to the prosecutor, radio talk show host James Keown went a long way and took a long time to kill his wife

MARTHA COAKLEY, MIDDLESEX, MASSACHUSETTS, DISTRICT ATTORNEY: James Keown had slowly been poisoning his wife with ethylene glycol, which is the main ingredient in antifreeze.

TODD: An ingredient that medical examiners say is also undetectable in some drinks or food. Authorities in Waltham, Massachusetts, tell CNN James Keown began poisoning his wife, Julie, in May of last year, and when she began vomiting and showing other symptoms, kept slipping the substance into her Gatorade. By early September...

COAKLEY: Newton-Wellesley Hospital had determined that she suffered acute ethylene glycol poisoning. Both her parents and the hospital contacted police while she was still alive.

TODD: But just a few days later, 31-year-old Julie Keown slipped into a coma and never recovered. Prosecutors believe her poisoning culminated a series of betrayals at the hands of her husband.

They say they couple moved to Massachusetts earlier last year, after James Keown told his wife and his employers in Missouri that he had enrolled at Harvard Business School. But according to the DA, James Keown never went to Harvard Business School, instead enrolling in, and flunking, one class in a Harvard adult education program.

Martha Coakley says Keown also conned his wife into thinking they were financially stable.

COAKLEY: Investigators learned, in the course of the past year, several things in addition to the medical information -- that the couple, in fact, had a negative bank balance at the time of Julie's death.

TODD: The DA's office suspects James Keown murdered his wife to collect on a $250,000 life insurance policy in her name. So far, no one has collected on the policy.

Shortly after her death, Keown moved back to Missouri and landed a job as a talk show host at radio station KLIK in Jefferson City. On the station's Web site, Keown's sister is quoted as saying: "The truth will come out. We hope for the best. And I believe in him."

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: James Keown was arrested in Missouri this week. He will be arraigned on a murder charge in Waltham, Massachusetts, on Thursday.

Now, contacted by CNN, Keown's attorney, Adam Kretowicz, says it is -- quote -- "absolutely not true that Keown murdered his wife." Kretowicz disputes the prosecutor's contention that the couple had no money. Kretowicz says this is a circumstantial case that will be tough for the prosecutor to win. But he says, it will be a tough case for both sides.

Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Brian, thanks very much. What a bizarre story.

The Keown story is also being watched online. Our Internet reporter, Abbi Tatton, is checking that for us. What are you picking up, Abbi? ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, more on Keown online in his own blog. This site was most recently updated by Keown over the weekend, which he uploaded pictures of himself at an event in Missouri. Now, this blog was just started by Keown last month. It doesn't cover the time when he was living in Massachusetts. However, he does talk about that in a recent post, his frequent change of locations, he said, from Jefferson City to Massachusetts and back again, what he calls just part of the business of broadcasting.

Wolf

BLITZER: All right, Abbi. Thank you very much.

Up next, pirate attack -- passengers now telling of their frightening ordeal aboard a cruise ship ambushed on the high seas. And we have some new dramatic pictures that tell us the rest of the story. We will share those with you.

And Paris is burning again -- arson and rioting spreading across France. Is it enough to keep you at home? Jack Cafferty is going through your email.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Even as Republicans call for a new leak investigation into reports of secret terror prisons, Democrats are demanding that President Bush pledge not to pardon Lewis Scooter Libby, the former Cheney aide indicted in the CIA leak investigation.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. CHARLES SCHUMER (D), NEW YORK: We want to make sure that he tells the whole truth, and nothing but, with the prosecutors. We want to make sure that the truth comes out. And the letter that we have written makes one thing very clear. Being a high official in the White House should not entitle you to a get-out-of-jail-free card.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Joining us now from Capitol Hill, Senator Saxby Chambliss, a Republican on the Intelligence Committee. Senator, thanks very much for joining us.

What do you think what your Democratic colleague, Chuck Schumer, just said; the president should make a pledge, no pardons?

SEN. SAXBY CHAMBLISS (R), GEORGIA: Well, you know, Chuck is a lawyer, just like I am. And what Chuck has done is convict Scooter Libby before he's ever been brought to trial. And you know, I hope the president never has to consider this. We -- we have got to let the process work. We have got to let the man have his day in court. And then we will see where it goes from there.

BLITZER: What do you make of the call by Senator Frist, the majority leader, Speaker Hastert today, for a new investigation into this leak, this "Washington Post" story of a few days ago, reporting on these secret so-called black prisons the CIA is operating in Eastern Europe?

CHAMBLISS: Well, there's been a lot of discussion, obviously, lately about whether or not we have seen any torturing of prisoners out there. And we have repeatedly said that we do not torture prisoners. And you know, there's an implication here that that may be the case with respect to these supposed prisons. And I emphasize supposed.

So I think it's a good idea for the leaders to request that. And, as a member of the Intelligence Committee, I look forward to letting that process work. And let's see really what the facts are relative to those supposed prisons out there.

BLITZER: And our national security correspondent, Senator, David Ensor, just reported moments ago, the CIA has now formally referred this matter to the Justice Department for a formal investigation, although our Ed Henry, our congressional correspondent, is quoting Senator Trent Lott as saying the information may have originated from a Republican meeting, a strategy meeting that you had with -- with Vice President Cheney, in which he talked about these secret prisons in Eastern Europe.

Could you talk us about what? Could you tell us what you know about that?

CHAMBLISS: Well, obviously, I can't talk about anything that occurred in a classified setting. But one thing I can say is, this is what I would expect from Porter Goss. Under his leadership, we're seeing major transformations take place out at the CIA. And I think, if there were any questions raised about any issue, Porter -- the first thing Porter is going to do is make sure we get to the bottom of it. Here, what he has done is call in the Justice Department, ask them to take a look at it. I think that's very appropriate. So I'm pleased to see that.

BLITZER: Listen to what Harry Reid, the Democratic leader, said today on -- on this whole CIA leak investigation. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), SENATE MINORITY LEADER: The manipulation of intelligence to sell the war in Iraq, Vice President Cheney's involved in that. Leaking classified information to discredit White House critics, the vice president's behind that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: You want to respond to Harry Reid?

CHAMBLISS: Well, you know, Wolf, here we are just passing the budget reconciliation in the Senate last week. We're working on a defense authorization bill this week. We're talking about providing some long-term tax relief next week. We Republicans are trying to do positive things here in the Senate. The Democrats have nothing positive to talk about. They have seized on this issue and are trying to point the finger, relative to missteps on the part of certain individuals. And they're trying to implicate anybody they can in the administration, without having the facts behind them.

So, I'm a little disappointed that they're not out there trying to work with us to make sure that we -- we put more money in the pockets of taxpayers, we make sure that our men and women in the military are getting pay raises and weapons that they need, and that we make sure that we control this spending that's...

BLITZER: All right.

CHAMBLISS: ... that's gone crazy in Washington, instead of out there simply pointing the finger and being so negative.

BLITZER: Senator Chambliss, thanks very much for joining us.

CHAMBLISS: Sure, Wolf. Always good to be with you.

BLITZER: We will move on to some other news we are watching. Many small businesses take a hit when employees call in sick. But it turns out that's a minor headache compared to what can happen if they show up for work.

J.J. Ramberg reports.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

J.J. RAMBERG, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It may seem harmless, but a little cough in small office can turn a minor health issue into a major business headache.

PAUL GIBSON, CCH INCORPORATED: When a employee comes in sick, the employee may infect his or her co-workers. And in a small business, what that means is that, rather than having one person out sick, you might have four or five people out sick, which could be quite a bit of the workforce.

RAMBERG: Fifty-nine million workers have no paid sick leave. But the cost of allowing people to come in ill may outweigh the costs of paying them to stay home.

Sick employees coming into the office cost companies $160 billion a year in lost productivity. Small business owners are taking note. According to a report by human resources firm CCH Incorporated, nearly half of the employers it surveyed said employees coming to work sick is a problem.

This is a change in attitude from last year for many. At that point, only 39 percent of them saw it as an issue.

(END VIDEOTAPE) RAMBERG: A new bill (ph) will require companies with 15 or more employees to provide seven days of sick leave to workers who put in at least 20 hours a week or 1,000 hours a year. We will see if it passes and if that changes anything.

Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, J.J. Ramberg, reporting for us. Up next, if you're planning or thinking of a trip to France, the State Department wants you to beware. The riots have now raged for days. But would that keep you from going to France right now? Jack Cafferty is going through your email.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: There are some new gripping images from that pirate attack on a cruise ship that we have been following.

Our Zain Verjee is joining us now from the CNN Center in Atlanta with a closer look. Zain, what are you picking up? .

ZAIN VERJEE, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, the dramatic new pictures of the attack give a real sense to the danger of the Seabourn Spirit.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

VERJEE (voice-over): This is what passengers woke up to on Saturday morning off the coast of Somalia, this picture showing one of two boats that launched a violent assault on the luxury cruise ship the Seabourn Spirit.

The pirates are clearly visible, as are their weapons, including automatic rifles and a rocket-propelled grenade launcher.

And these photos just released by the U.S. Navy show the damage that those weapons did. Here, you can see where one grenade pierced the side of the 440-foot ship, and, in this photo, another one that failed to. It was eventually removed by experts from a Navy ship that came to the liner's rescue.

Today, passengers recounted their ordeal, as they began making their way home from the Seychelles Islands, where the ship was diverted after the attack.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: One chap at the front of the boat -- and he had a red shirt on -- pulled up this thing and held it to his shoulder -- over his shoulder, like this. And I thought, what the hell is this? And then, poof, and I -- there was a flash of -- of red. And then I heard something go crash up above. And I thought, oh, bloody hell. And I said -- actually, it was worse than that.

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEOTAPE) VERJEE: Wolf, passengers are also praising the captain, who used a series of evasive maneuvers to elude the pirates. He also ordered his crew to use a relatively new weapon. It's called a long-range acoustic -- acoustic device. And basically what it does, it blasts targets with a piercing tone that is nearly as -- twice as loud as a smoke detector alarm. It is designed, basically, to disorient the target. And it was developed for the U.S. military after the deadly 2000 bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen.

Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Zain, thanks very much. See you back here in THE SITUATION ROOM in an hour, 7:00 p.m. Eastern.

Jack Cafferty is going through your email. He's joining us once again from New York. Hi, Jack.

CAFFERTY: You know, one of our viewers actually wrote earlier, Wolf, suggesting that you should dress in costume for the various stories that you report in the THE SITUATION ROOM.

And I -- I swear this is true. They suggested on this piracy story that you should have to do the story wearing an eye patch, with a parrot on your shoulder.

(LAUGHTER)

CAFFERTY: Any -- any chance of that happening?

BLITZER: On Halloween, maybe.

CAFFERTY: Probably -- probably not.

BLITZER: No.

CAFFERTY: The State Department issuing a public announcement yesterday, telling Americans to be alert to the violence in France. So, we're asking this hour, would the rioting in France keep you from going there?

Florence writes from Las Vegas, Nevada: "I would not feel safe. I don't believe the French government is doing enough to stop the criminal and wild behavior. They should have brought out the army and firmly stopped this thing after the first or second night."

Mark in Tillsonburg, Ontario: "I was contemplating going to Paris and the surrounding area before Christmas, but the situation now is simply too volatile."

David writes from Seattle, Washington: "The riots certainly would not stop me from visiting France. There's a more fundamental reason than that. The place is full of French people."

(LAUGHTER)

CAFFERTY: Arlene -- it might be the same guy who wrote about the pirate costume.

(LAUGHTER)

CAFFERTY: Arlene in Brooklyn, New York, writes: "Unemployed youth will riot no matter where they live. I would not cancel a trip to France because of the riots. The French were very, very kind to me the last time I was there."

And Tracy weighs in from Portland, Oregon, with this: "I wouldn't go to France in any case. They aren't exactly fond of Americans. And having riots and chaos to boot, not a chance."

BLITZER: What about you, Jack? Are you ready to go to France?

CAFFERTY: No thank you. And I would rather stay home and wash my socks.

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: OK. Jack, you're going to be back with us in an hour as well.

CAFFERTY: Sure.

BLITZER: To our viewers, we're in THE SITUATION ROOM every weekday afternoon from 4:00 to 6:00 p.m. Eastern. And we're back in THE SITUATION ROOM weeknights, 7:00 p.m. Eastern. That's one hour or so from now.

We will have the first results from today's governor's race in Virginia. That's coming up, 7:00 p.m. Eastern.

Until then, thanks very much for joining us. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.

LOU DOBBS TONIGHT starts right now. Lou is in standing by in New York. Lou?

DOBBS: Thank you, Wolf.

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