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THE SITUATION ROOM

Controversy Over NSA Domestic Spying Continues; Top Activist Groups Claim They've Come Under FBI Surveillance; Cornyn, Graham Debate; Early Results From Iraqi Election Last Week Making People Somewhat Uneasy; Families Of Seaplane Crash Victims Are Grieving; Pennsylvania Judge Rules Against Intelligent Design; New York City Transit Strike Making It Hard For Commuters To Get Around; Vatican Says No To Online Absolution Of Sins

Aired December 20, 2005 - 19:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: You're in THE SITUATION ROOM, where pictures and information are arriving all the time. Standing by, CNN reporters across the United States and around the world, to bring you today's top stories.
Happening now, at 7:00 p.m. here in Washington: Were his words meant to deceive? A past statement by President Bush on wiretaps and warrants comes under close scrutiny, and some lawmakers are demanding closer scrutiny into an investigation into domestic spying.

Off the coast of Miami, they're raising the wreckage of a seaplane that crashed with 20 aboard, hoping to find out what made it go down in flames.

And it's 7:00 p.m. in New York, where it's strike and counterstrike. Transit workers leaving millions in the lurch. A judge tries to crack down.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. And you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

The White House is under even more fire over the president's admission of a secret domestic spying program. Tonight, the former chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Democrat Bob Graham of Florida, is strongly disputing the administration's claim he was informed about the specifics of the wiretap plan. We'll hear from Senator Graham. That's coming up this hour.

Some other Democrats are now asking if Mr. Bush may have committed an impeachable offense. And they have additional ammunition. A past statement by the president seems to contradict what he's saying right now.

President Bush stepping forward this week to say he absolutely has the authority to approve spying on terror suspects without court warrants. But listen to what he said just last year.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There are such things as roving wiretaps. By the way, anytime you hear the United States government talking about wiretap, it requires -- a wiretap requires a court order. Nothing has changed, by the way. When we're talking about chasing down terrorists, we're talking about getting a court order before we do so.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: That was more than two years after the 9/11 attacks and after Mr. Bush first approved this secret wiretap program. White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan was asked if Mr. Bush's 2004 comments were misleading.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SCOTT MCCLELLAN, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I reject that suggestion. You're asking me to look back at something that's in relation to the Patriot Act. And it's in relation to the Patriot Act. And I'll be glad to take a look at his comments.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: The Bush White House argues that the secret eavesdropping program is limited and crucial to the war on terror.

In Pakistan, Vice President Dick Cheney added his voice to the debate.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DICK CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It is good, solid, sound policy. It is, I'm convinced, one of the reasons we have not been attacked for the last four years.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: But some top Democrats are accusing the president of crossing a legal line, and even raising questions about whether he committed an impeachable offense.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BARBARA BOXER (D), CALIFORNIA: Lots of people are after the truth, and I think we will find out exactly why they couldn't take time to get a check and balance on their work, go to the court.

HOWARD DEAN, DNC CHAIRMAN: Why is it that President Bush went in front of the American people and said that a wiretap, quote, "requires a court order," unquote, after having approved a wiretap program without a court order two years earlier? It's time for the president to be truthful with the American people.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: And now, the Bush administration must deal with this growing controversy in what are usually the quiet days before Christmas.

Let's bring in our White House correspondent, Suzanne Malveaux. What specifically are they saying, when the president flatly said in his comments of April of last year, "nothing has changed, by the way," referring to the wiretaps. Well, something had changed -- namely, he had authorized wiretaps without court orders. How do they explain that?

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, I actually talked to Press Secretary Scott McClellan on a number of occasions today to kind of clarify and specify exactly that particular point. What Scott McClellan says is that the president, during that April 2004 speech, was specifically talking about provisions within the Patriot Act, and essentially he was not talking about the National Security Agency's program and the program we're talking about at the heart of this controversy, that secret domestic spying program.

He says that the president's comments were correct, that he was talking about provisions that had not changed when it came to wiretapping within the provisions of the Patriot Act. So you can look at this and say, of course the president did not mention the NSA program that's at the heart of the controversy.

I spoke with an intelligence official as well, who says he does agree that the president's statement was correct. But there are critics -- Democrats today -- who have been complaining, saying that the president was dishonest by omission. It has become very clear that the White House, the president stating himself, he did not want that particular program to come to light.

Wolf.

BLITZER: And will the White House cooperate, make witnesses available? Senator Specter, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, among others, they want formal hearings. Will the White House make everyone available to testify?

MALVEAUX: Well, so far the White House is not committing anyone to go before it and testify. They're going to wait and see how all of this plays out. Of course, it looks like there are going to be hearings early next year, but what the White House is banking on now is that they're moving forward very aggressively, making their case that the president, the administration did not break the law. But what they're also looking at as well is what are members of Congress going to be dealing with when they go back home for the holidays? Are Americans going to be complaining about this?

They do not believe that this is a water cooler conversation. They believe that most Americans will look at this and say, OK, there's some exceptions here, that there's some maneuvers within the law that the president used to protect the American people, that this does not necessarily apply to us or our family, and therefore this will not be an issue that sticks.

That is their hope, but they're going to wait and see until Republican members of Congress in particular come back and report to the president and say what Americans are saying.

BLITZER: Suzanne Malveaux at the White House for us, thank you very much.

And later this hour, we'll ask this question -- did the president keep senior senators in the dark about this new program involving domestic spying without court orders? I'll ask a former Democratic senator, Bob Graham, about that. He was the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee when the order was given. And Republican Senator John Cornyn of Texas. That's coming up this hour.

Now that these secret orders and operations have all come to light, how broad a net does the government cast to ensnare those it considers a threat?

Let's get some more specifics. Brian Todd is joining us from the newsroom. Brian?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the story of potential government -- of spying on Americans has now broadened with the claim by some top activist groups that they've come under FBI surveillance.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TODD (voice-over): John Passacantando wasn't shocked to learn the government was paying attention to him. As executive director of the environmental activist group Greenpeace, Passacantando has led countless anti-administration protests, and been arrested for civil disobedience. He was surprised to see FBI documents with information about the political leanings of a relative.

JOHN PASSACANTANDO, EXEC. DIRECTOR, GREENPEACE: The absurd thing is, there's the FBI, in this time when we want them to be going after terrorists, and there they are, spending their time and their research dollars going after Greenpeace.

TODD: Greenpeace and the group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, or PETA, are under scrutiny by FBI counter-terrorism units, and have been targeted for surveillance -- that's according to the American Civil Liberties Union, which obtained FBI documents in a lawsuit.

ANN BEESON, ACLU: The FBI has placed confidential informants inside organizations including PETA and Greenpeace.

TODD: ACLU officials aren't sure if other methods, like wiretaps, were used.

Contacted by CNN, the FBI issued a statement, saying, quote -- "The FBI does not investigate any public interest or advocacy group based on the group's lawful activities or political beliefs."

The bureau and one of its former top counter-terror officials told us why they would investigate.

PAT D'AMURO, FORMER ASSISTANT DIRECTOR-IN-CHARGE, FBI: There needs to be the threat of a crime, a threat of violence, a threat of loss of property. There have been numerous domestic groups that have been involved in that type of activity. That would cause the FBI to conduct an investigation.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: Now, one of the documents says, quote, "PETA is known to hire interns from Asia and other locations for the sole purpose of criminal acts." Contacted by CNN, an attorney for PETA said its members may engage in civil disobedience, but he has no way of knowing whether any of them also associate with other activist groups known to use violence. The attorney says PETA is a completely lawful organization, and he calls the FBI's actions outrageous.

Wolf.

BLITZER: Brian Todd reporting. Thank you, Brian, very much.

Let's go to the Senate floor right now. New York Senator Chuck Schumer speaking out about the president's order for domestic spying. Let's listen in briefly.

SEN. CHARLES SCHUMER (D), NEW YORK: ... beyond discussion, that if you're going to wiretap an American citizen you need a court's permission. In emergencies, of course, it's allowed 72 hours after it is done. That that was more or less the consensus in this country, it has been for 30 years, and it was a consensus the president was part of, at least as of a year and a half ago.

What made the president change his views? What made him reverse the universally accepted view that a wiretap requires a court order is beyond me.

But let us move forward here. Let us come together, realize that we must protect ourselves, but that we can protect ourselves and protect our liberties at the same time.

BLITZER: All right, Chuck Schumer speaking on the Senate floor. We'll continue to monitor what he's saying, go back there if he makes some news. We're watching this story from all angles.

In the meantime, let's check in with our Zain Verjee. She's at the CNN Center in Atlanta. She's got a closer look at other stories making news. Hi, Zain.

ZAIN VERJEE, CNN ANCHOR: Hi, Wolf. New Yorkers are trying to find any way they can to get home this evening. Most are walking. New York City's bus and subway workers went on strike early today, stranding millions of commuters. A state judge is fining the city's transit workers union $1 million for each day the walkout lasts. Mayor Michael Bloomberg says there will be no more negotiations until the strike ends.

The federal government wants your help to find more than 500 pounds of missing explosives. Authorities are offering a $50,000 reward. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives says the theft from a storage facility outside Albuquerque, New Mexico, was discovered on Sunday. It says enough explosives were taken to level an entire building, but officials add there is no evidence suggesting a link to terrorism.

States aren't using millions of dollars in federal funding to provide children with breakfasts in school. That's according to the Food Research and Action Center. It's launching a "Got Breakfast?" awareness campaign to encourage states to use the money. Former Presidential candidates Bob Dole and George McGovern are part of the campaign. Says Dole, "Many kids who don't get breakfast at school, often don't get it at home, either." They've launched a campaign for kids to write essays saying why they think breakfast is so important and the winners get a laptop, among other things.

Do you have good breakfasts each morning? Does Jack?

BLITZER: I don't. I'm sure Jack does. It may be the most important meal of the day for all of us. Let's check in with Jack. Jack, you probably have a very robust breakfast every morning.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: I never eat breakfast, and I'm fine.

VERJEE: No, you're not. That's probably why.

CAFFERTY: Well, I'm sort of fine. I drink a cup of coffee. That's all.

Let's talk about media bias. It's real, according to a new study led by the University of California at Los Angeles, which shows there is a strong liberal bias. Well, there's a bulletin.

Researchers found out that of 20 main media outlets, 18 scored to the left of center. The most liberal of all were the news pages of the "Wall Street Journal," not the editorial pages, the news pages. Followed two, three and four by the "CBS Evening News," the "New York Times" and the "Los Angeles Times."

In this study, only "Special Report with Brit Hume" over there on the F-word network and the "Washington Times" scored to the right of the average voter. The most centrist media outlets in the country, "The News Hour With Jim Lehrer" and "USA Today."

Here is the question -- where do you find the most bias in the media? Email us at CaffertyFile@CNN.com or go to CNN.com/CaffertyFile. Remember to have a good breakfast every morning.

BLITZER: We will, Jack. Thank you very much. Anxious to hear what our viewers think about media bias.

Coming up, a Republican senator and former Democratic colleague go head to head on the spying controversy and whether key lawmakers were actually informed by the president of his decision or kept in the dark.

Also ahead, dredging up the wreckage of that deadly seaplane crash off Miami Beach. Will they find any clues that will tell us why the plane crashed?

And can schools require the teaching of Intelligent Design as well as evolution, a judge's new ruling on a longtime controversy about creation.

And evening rush hour in New York City. Don't try rushing to get the bus -- transit workers on strike, commuters on edge.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: The Bush administration says it kept senior lawmakers informed about the electronic eavesdropping on Americans without court orders.

In the last hour, I spoke with former Democratic Senator Bob Graham -- he was the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee in 2001 -- and with Republican Senator John Cornyn. He serves on both the Judiciary and Armed Services Committees.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Senator Graham, Senator Cornyn, thanks to both of us for joining us.

Senator Graham, first to you. You were the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee before and after 9/11.

The president says you and other Democrats were informed of his extraordinary decision to authorize this secret wiretapping of American citizens without court orders. Is that true?

FORMER SEN. BOB GRAHAM, (D-FL), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE FORMER CHAIRMAN: Wolf, the meeting that I attended focused on the fact that there were telephone communications from one foreign site to another that were now being sent, transited through the United States.

The question was, could the NSA collect those intercepts, since technically they were inside the United States. The administration felt they should be able to do so. I believe that all of the congressional members of the Intelligence Committee also agreed with that.

What I did not hear was that that collection was going to involve procedures other than that which had been used for over 22 years, which is that you seek a warrant from this special security court which meets in secret, either before you intercept or within three days after you intercept.

That is a procedure that had worked very well. I had heard no criticisms. The administration had not recommended any amendments to the law to make it more effective.

BLITZER: Let me interrupt, Senator Graham. So what you're saying is you were never told that there would be surveillance of American citizens without court orders?

GRAHAM: That's correct. BLITZER: Well, what about that, Senator Cornyn? You're a former judge. Should the American public be outraged that the president made this decision?

SEN. JOHN CORNYN (R-TX), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: I guess we have a different version of the facts, Wolf, from Senator Graham than we've had from Jay Rockefeller, who's a current ranking member, Nancy Pelosi and others who said they were consulted on this.

But the fact is -- and I've had a chance now to do a little research into this ,-- this authority is one that comes from the president's power under the Constitution as commander in chief ...

BLITZER: Let me interrupt, Senator Cornyn, if I may. When I hear is the former chairman, Senator Graham was then the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee when this decision was made, not later when Nancy Pelosi came in or Jay Rockefeller came in. He was the chairman. And he says they never told them they would spy on American citizens without court orders.

CORNYN: There's obviously a difference of the story from what we're hearing from Nancy Pelosi, Jay Rockefeller and other Democrats who said they were consulted. But the fact is, Wolf, this authority under rare circumstances is one that's been claimed not only by this president, by President Clinton, President Reagan, President Carter and presidents dating back to at least to Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

This is important. It is a limited surveillance of terrorist operatives in the United States communicating with people overseas. The president has a responsibility to use all legal means to collect that intelligence to protect American lives.

BLITZER: Senator Graham, I've known you for many years, and most of your friends and colleagues know that you're very meticulous. I know you also keep a diary every day of things that happened to you. Have you gone back in your diary, just to refresh your memory, to make sure they never told you about domestic spying without court orders?

GRAHAM: Because any statements that are inscribed from a classified briefing are subject to removal, capture and secure safekeeping, I did not write down notes from meetings to which those would be the standards.

But let me say a couple things. One, Jay Rockefeller did become the ranking Democrat on the committee as of January 2003. I left the committee on the same day. So what they might have been saying a year and a half later, I do not know.

Number two, if the administration felt that there were problems with the FISA act, if this 22-year-old act that had served the country very well was deficient, then the administration had the responsibility of coming to Congress in the fall of 2001, probably as part of the Patriot Act, to ask for changes. To my knowledge, they did not do it at that time; they have not done it since.

BLITZER: Well, let me ask Senator Cornyn. Would you have felt comfortable, Senator Cornyn, if former President Bill Clinton had unilaterally decided to change the rules of the game and authorized secret surveillance of American citizens without any court orders? Would you have been comfortable with that?

CORNYN: Well, Wolf, what I understand, this is not changing the rules of the game. This is consistent with what President Clinton did and presidents dating back as long as...

BLITZER: I don't think President Clinton ever -- I don't think he ever authorized secret intelligence wiretaps of American citizens without court orders.

CORNYN: 1994, Jamie Gorelick, on behalf of the Clinton Justice Department, testified that they considered -- that President Clinton considered it within his constitutional authority to order wireless surveillance of potential terrorist operatives from a foreign power. And, you know, it goes back to an executive order signed by Ronald Reagan and others.

BLITZER: But those were -- but were those American citizens?

CORNYN: Well, they could include American citizens, if it was connected with a foreign power -- agents of a foreign power.

BLITZER: Without a court -- without a court order?

CORNYN: That's correct.

BLITZER: Is that true, Senator Graham?

GRAHAM: Well, the answer is no. Since 1978, there's been this special secret court, a court which has given way over 99 percent of the warrants that were requested, a court that can retroactively approve wiretaps if the administration feels there was not enough time to act first.

The basic question is, what is wrong with that current procedure that required the president to unilaterally trash it and proceed to get warrant-less intercepts, including against United States citizens? And if I could ask...

CORNYN: I'll be glad to answer that.

BLITZER: Hold on one second. Hold on one second, before we get to that, though, Senator Cornyn, let me rephrase the question that I asked before. You wouldn't have a problem if Bill Clinton had authorized surveillance on American citizens without going to court and getting a court order?

CORNYN: If, in consultation with Congress, the president felt that it was important to discharge his responsibility to protect us against foreign spies and terrorists, I would have no problem with that. That is the president's primary responsibility as commander in chief.

I would point my friend, Senator Graham, to the testimony of Jamie Gorelick before the Senate Intelligence Committee, or House Intelligence Committee, in 1994, when she said that President Clinton, that administration, claimed the authority under the Constitution to perform those kind of warrant-less searches.

The reason why that's important, as Director Mueller has said before the Judiciary Committee in May 2004, is because the FISA process -- the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act process -- was getting jammed up, and agents weren't able to get the orders that they needed in order to do this kind of surveillance.

BLITZER: We're out of time, but Senator Graham, I'll give you the last word. Go ahead.

GRAHAM: Well, I think the administration is going to bear the burden of coming before the American people and stating, here are some cases that we were able to make to avoid terrorist attacks because we wiped away these basic civil protections, and that would not have been made had we complied with the law. I don't think there are such cases.

BLITZER: All right. We've got to leave it there, Senators, unfortunately, but a good discussion. Senator Graham, Senator Cornyn, merry Christmas to both of you.

CORNYN: Thanks, Wolf. Same to you.

GRAHAM: Thank you.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: And just after the interview, we contacted the former deputy attorney general under Bill Clinton, Jamie Gorelick. She said she didn't know what Senator Cornyn was talking about. She went on to say this --and she gave us this statement -- "During the Clinton administration, the Justice Department sought from Congress the extension of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, FISA, to include physical searches. Congress granted that authority. The Justice Department did not seek authority to wiretap without a warrant."

And Jamie Gorelick went on to say this. She said that as an employee of the Justice Department, she never asked for authority to obtain a warrant-less wiretap.

We'll go back to Senator Cornyn and get his update, to see if he has a different recollection, or if he has different information than what Jamie Gorelick has just told us.

Still to come here in THE SITUATION ROOM, retrieving the pieces of a tragic accident. In the crash of a seaplane in Miami that killed 20, investigators are hoping to piece together what happened. We're going to tell you what we know right now.

And in the debate of evolution versus so-called intelligent design, one federal judge weighs in very strongly. It's a stinging ruling aimed at religious conservatives, from a judge appointed by this President Bush. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: You're back in THE SITUATION ROOM. Welcome back.

Let's go down to the CNN Center in Atlanta. Our Zain Verjee standing by with a closer look at other stories making news around the world. Zain?

VERJEE: Wolf, some 50 people were hurt when two passenger trains collided today just south of Rome. The cause of the crash is now under investigation. Authorities say one train had stopped at a station when the other train slammed into it from behind. Part of one of the trains was thrown on top of the other, temporarily trapping passengers in the wreckage.

The United States wants Lebanon to turn over a convicted hijacker. Germany disclosed today Mohammed Ali Hamadi was released from a German prison and sent to Lebanon last week after serving 19 years for hijacking TWA Flight 847 in 1985. He had been sentenced to life. U.S. authorities want to prosecute Hamadi for the murder of a U.S. Navy diver in the hijacking. He could face the death penalty.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is out of a Jerusalem hospital. The 77-year-old was released today, two days after suffering a mild stroke caused by a blood clot in his brain. His doctors say he should make a full recovery. Sharon says he's eager to get back to work.

More U.S. troops could soon come home from Afghanistan. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld says about 3,000 U.S. troops will be pulled out of Afghanistan by next spring. There are about 19,000 U.S. troops there right now. Rumsfeld says the reduction is basically because NATO is expanding its forces in Afghanistan from 9,000 to about 15,000.

Wolf.

BLITZER: Zain Verjee, thanks very much. Zain Verjee reporting.

Let's go to Baghdad now, where some -- where Saddam Hussein is expected back in court in only a few hours. The former dictator, if you will recall, boycotted the last session of his trial. The prosecution now says it has a surprise in the case. It won't elaborate.

Meantime, there's some early results from the Iraqi election of last week and they're making lots of people somewhat uneasy.

CNN's Aneesh Raman is in Baghdad. Aneesh?

ANEESH RAMAN, CNN BAGHDAD CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, good evening. Charges of voter fraud by Sunni politicians and by the country's leading secular politician, Ayad Allawi.

Iraq's electoral commission today announcing preliminary results from Thursday's parliamentary elections. Those results show the governing Shia religious list likely to get the lion's share of seats in next year's government. That, a list closely aligned with Iran -- also one likely to bring a more religious tone to Iraq.

The U.S., of course, had been pushing for a secular democracy to take root. And now Iraq's electoral commission says it will not give final results until next year, because they are investigating over 1,000 complaints that have been lodged. Those include those filed today by Ayad Allawi's list and by the Sunni politicians.

Now the Shia list will not have enough seats to govern on its own, but the more seats it has, the less it has to compromise, the less it has to build bridges, with the Sunni minority and with the country's secular politicians.

Wolf.

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

Back here in the United States, it's a simple question to a very complicated matter -- what happened? How did a small plane go down in flames yesterday in Miami? Today as officials search for answers, one man searches for comfort -- his lost magnified 11 times.

Chris King is joining us now live from Miami with the latest. Chris?

CHRISTOPHER KING, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, recovery efforts have been suspended for the evening. They'll resume again in the morning. In the meantime, families of the victims are of course, grieving. They come from a small close-knit island called Bimini in the Bahamas. The impact is being felt by virtually everyone there.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KING (voice-over): His nickname is Brave. And he's certainly hoping to live up to that in this dark hour. One day after the deadly descent of a small seaplane in Miami, this man says his personal sense of grief is multiplied.

LEONARD "BRAVE" STUART, RELATIVES DIED IN CRASH: I was related to, and I know all of them personally.

KING (on camera): How will you be able to move on now?

STUART: Just with the help of God and the help of people that's been calling from all over the United States.

KING (voice-over): All of Stuart's relatives died in the crash, along with eight others. A twentieth person on board is still missing.

Today crews began the difficult task of pulling the plane out of the water, piece by piece. So far, they found parts of the wing. Officials say it's a painstaking process.

MARK ROSENKER, ACTING CHAIRMAN, NTSB: So you must do it in a very scientific, in a very slow way. Otherwise you will break things apart.

KING: The wreckage will be examined for clues about what caused the crash. Officials say the plane was not required to have a flight data recorder, but it did have a cockpit voice recorder, which has not yet been recovered. As for the amateur video of the plane's final moments seen exclusively on CNN, officials say it will be crucial to their investigation.

ROSENKER: Video like that is going to be extremely helpful as we progress down this investigation. It's very rare that we have the opportunity to get video of the actual accident, so we'll be taking that back to Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KING: Now, salvage teams have recovered fragments of the plane. The NTSB says it hopes to have the rest of the plane out of the water by tomorrow afternoon, weather permitting.

Wolf.

BLITZER: We're expecting another briefing, I take it, coming up later tonight by the NTSB. Any indications that they're making some progress in trying to determine, Chris, what happened?

KING: Well, they are making some progress in that they were able to pull up one of the wings of the plane. They're still looking for that voice recorder on the plane. There's no sophisticated flight data recorder, but they're trying to get that voice recorder to get some more clues as to why the plane went down. Wolf?

BLITZER: Chris King in Miami for us. Chris, thank you very much.

Just ahead, evolution versus intelligent design. A judge rules on what can and cannot be taught in public schools. The decision and the outrage, coming up here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: A federal judge in Pennsylvania has issued a key ruling against the teaching of what's called intelligent design, which critics compare to creationism. The ruling came as a Pennsylvania high school was introducing the concept to its students.

Let's go to the scene. CNN's Mary Snow is joining us now from the battleground, which actually happens to be Dover, Pennsylvania. Mary?

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, it started here as a debate over ninth grade curriculum. It turned into a lightning rod in the culture wars, and today resulted in some scathing words from a federal judge.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) SNOW (voice-over): It's a coincidence, but fitting, that Dover High School sits across from a church. It was in this town that the line between church and state was tested over whether intelligent design, the theory which says life is so complex that there has been to be a master design, can be taught alongside evolution.

In a landmark ruling, a federal judge called it creationism re- labeled, saying intelligent design cannot be mandated in science classes in public schools. Former school board member Casey Brown fought to keep it out of the classroom.

CASEY BROWN, FORMER SCHOOL BOARD MEMBER: The broadness of his ruling, I view it as a victory for the separation of church and state, for the civil rights of all religious groups who live within this country.

SNOW: Former school board member Jim Cashman also sees Dover's battle as significant, but for a different reason. He fought for the teaching of intelligent design.

JIM CASHMAN, FORMER SCHOOL BOARD MEMBER: I'm concerned about the trend I see in judges and how they're interpreting the Constitution, because I don't think they're doing it accurately.

SNOW: And that goes to the heart of the battle in this rural town, where the school board had voted to include intelligent design, a battle that ultimately resulted in a lawsuit brought by 11 parents and the ACLU.

After a six-week trial, Judge John Jones issued a 139-page ruling with harsh words for school board members, questioning the motives behind their support for intelligent design. Quote, "It is ironic that several of these individuals, who so staunchly and proudly touted their religious conviction in public, would time and again lie to cover their tracks and disguise the real purpose behind the intelligent design policy."

Dover's battle grabbed the attention of evangelist Pat Robertson, who in November accused the town of rejecting God, when the community voted to oust school board members who supported intelligent design. But Jeffery Brown believes it was the right call.

JEFFERY BROWN, FORMER SCHOOL BOARD MEMBER: We went from the 21st century school district that's at war with 19th century science, to the little district that could.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SNOW: And a former school board member says while the legal battle may be over here in Dover, Wolf, she says it could take years to repair the reputation and repay more than $1 million in legal fees.

Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Mary, thank you very much. Mary's in Dover, Pennsylvania. Up next, New Yorkers pride themselves on being able to make it under any circumstance, but that's being put to the test. Right now millions of New Yorkers trying to find ways home during a crippling transit strike. We'll tell you if they're making it.

And secrets and lies -- it seems everyone has them. We'll have some shocking confessions.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back. Right now in New York City, millions of commuters looking for a ride. A transit strike has crippled the city and choked the city streets.

Let's get the bottom line. CNN's Adaora Udoji joining us on the streets of New York. How cold is it is there, Adaora?

ADAORA UDOJI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Oh, it is frigid, Wolf. It's been a long and very cold commute for anyone trying to move around in New York City, getting to work or otherwise. We're actually at Penn Station, and you can see things have actually thinned out a little bit, although the streets are still very busy.

This is how seven million people who had to get very creative today to get wherever they were trying to go -- this is how many of them were doing it. They were walking. And you can see, actually, the traffic on the street is moving along just fine. But we also have to remember there are lots of New Yorkers who don't have cars, because so many people rely on the subway and bus system.

Again, the workers are on strike, which has meant that today people had to either walk, they got in car pools. Taxies were allowed to pick up multiple fares today. Companies hired private buses to get their workers to work today, so that was very tough. And, of course, also big concerns for retailers, because the estimates are that they will be losing anywhere between 250 and 400 million a day every day of the strike.

Also some tough news for the union today and their workers, which was a judge late this afternoon ruled that they are in contempt as they strike, in contempt of a former court ruling that held striking would be illegal, against state law, so they are going to be forced to pay $1 million a day for every day that they are striking.

And also some harsh words from Mayor Mike Bloomberg, who was one of those walkers this morning crossing the Brooklyn Bridge to get to work. This morning he had some very harsh words. He called the strikers selfish.

And, Wolf, the not encouraging news here is simply that, from what we understand, the two sides have not been negotiating at all today, so of course the big question for New Yorkers or anyone planning to come into the area is when this strike will be over, no idea, which means everyone has their fingers and toes crossed that it will be sometime very soon.

BLITZER: What a mess in New York. Adaora, thank you very much.

The transit strike has New Yorkers wondering how to make their way in and out of the city. Before you hit the road, though, you'll want to see what our Internet reporter, Abbi Tatton, has found online. Abbi?

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Yes, Wolf, we're been watching people head out, and we have been in the last couple of hours here. Online, this is the New York City Department of Transportation Web site. They have got 45 cameras around Manhattan. We've zoomed in on one of them here.

This is in Lower Manhattan at the Brooklyn Bridge at Center Street where we've been watching people file out, bundled up, a row of policeman there telling the many bicyclists to get off their bicycles as they head across the bridge here.

More information at other sites. This is Metropolitan Transportation Authority, advice on the strike contingency plan there. Also traffic cameras on all the arteries, bridges, tunnels in and out of Manhattan there. You can go online and check it out before you head out.

Wolf.

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

Let's go back to New York. Paula Zahn, a New Yorker, is standing by with more. Paula, tell us what's on your program right at the top of the hour.

PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: You're not going to want to know how many miles I walked to work today, Wolf?

BLITZER: How many?

ZAHN: Forty-two. No, just kidding, a very short walk. Thanks, Wolf.

At the top of the hour, we're going to update the day's top stories, including the investigation into that seaplane crash off of Miami and the commuters' nightmare here in New York.

We're also going to show you a surprisingly popular form of cosmetic surgery, but it's only among Asian women.

And then we have some interesting questions tonight about what really happened in Bethlehem 2,000 years ago. Some scientists are now saying some shocking things, or things that followers of the Christian tradition might find shocking, about Jesus' life.

So join me for those stories and more, just about seven minutes from now.

BLITZER: We certainly will. Good luck in New York, all the New Yorkers. Paula, thanks very much. ZAHN: Yes, we need it. It was not pleasant out there today.

BLITZER: It sounds like it, in fact. Thank you.

Up next, for many people keeping a secret can be torture, but in a new and novel exercise, many people are actually confessing, and you just might be who they're confessing to. We'll tell you what's going on.

Stick around.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Outrage and anger is what normally happens when long- kept secrets are revealed. We're seeing that right now after the revelation that President Bush secretly approved the eavesdropping of Americans after 9/11 without court orders. But in a parallel story of what happens when secrets come out, some ordinary people are confessing secrets they ordinarily carry to their graves.

Tom Foreman, and only Tom Foreman, is joining us with more on this story. Tom?

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: With all this brouhaha in Washington over secrets, this is really amazing. This thing has taken off like wildfire.

It's about an exhibit here that's based on an idea a guy had which he calls Post Secret.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

FOREMAN (voice over): One year ago Frank Warren was a businessman with an idea. He printed 3,000 (ph) self-addressed postcards and handed them out to strangers, asking for secrets in return, and 13,000 have come back.

FRANK WARREN, KEEPER OF SECRETS: I'm never shocked, but I'm always surprised.

FOREMAN: Many of the messages are tiny works of art. Some funny, I work for Pepsi, but I drink Coke. Some sad.

WARREN: When I was 12, my mom joined the crowd of relatives who were laughing at me because I can't carry a tune. I've never whistled again and I really love music.

FOREMAN: When we set up a video confessional at the exhibits, some were at least a little shocking.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My brother thinks I hate him, but I really love him.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And we had sex, and it was sort of a really quick thing, and I think he feels regretful for what he did.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I give my friends cheap presents, and I say that they're expensive.

FOREMAN: Frank's Post Secret project is now a book and Web site, and the postcards keep coming every day.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

FOREMAN: Wolf, I'll never give you a cheap present and say it's expensive. Nonetheless, later on, we're going to have the reaction from the churches to all of this. They have a lot of experience with confessions. They're a little concerned about that. We'll have it on ANDERSON COOPER 360, along with a few more confessions that you just got to hear. Make sure you're there.

BLITZER: We'll definitely be there. As I said, only Tom Foreman could get a story like this. Tom will have much more on ANDERSON COOPER 360, that starts at 10:00 p.m. Eastern tonight here on CNN.

With hundreds of thousands of confessions on-line, the question becomes this -- is there such a thing as cyber-absolution? You might be surprised to learn the Vatican has in fact addressed this very issue.

Our Internet reporter and only our Internet reporter Abbi Tatton has discovered this.

TATTON: Wolf, there's been such an explosion of these cyber- confessionals that, yes, the Vatican did have to put out a statement on the Church and the Internet. Dailyconfession.com, for example, they tell us they get over one million hits a day, though most people just read other people's sins rather than posting their own.

At absolution on-line, you confess your sins and get punishments doled out to you, including fasting and Hail Marys. This site is also a disclaimer, saying this site is not supported by the Catholic Church, nor will it be.

At the Vatican Web site, there's actually a policy paper from 2002 that tells you specifically there are no sacraments on the Internet, Wolf.

BLITZER: Thank you very much. Very interesting.

Still ahead, media bias, who has it, who doesn't. As always, Jack Cafferty has his opinions, and he has your emails.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Here's a look at some of the "Hot Shots" coming in from our friends at the Associated Press, pictures likely to be in your hometown newspapers tomorrow.

Sacramento, California, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger speaks during the annual Hanukkah celebration at the state capitol.

New Orleans, Christmas decorations on a wrecked car in the hurricane devastated lower ninth ward.

South Los Angeles, hip-hop artist Snoop Dogg reads at the funeral of executed killer Stanley Tookie Williams.

Australia, snow leopards, a mother plays with her newborn at the local zoo in Sydney.

Today's "Hot Shots." Pictures often worth a thousand words.

Jack Cafferty's often got a thousand words, but not tonight.

CAFFERTY: Tens of thousands.

A new study led by the University of California at Los Angeles shows that there is a strong liberal bias in media. The researchers found that out of 20 major media outlets, 18 scored left of center.

So the question tonight is, where do you find the most bias in the media?

Chris writes from Blacksburg, Virginia: "I probably shouldn't tell you because I might be under surveillance, but it rhymes with FOX News"

James in Memphis, Tennessee: "The liberal media bias is shouted and drummed over and over, but I can't ever remember a collective media so cowed by an administration as it is now."

Brooks in Toronto, Ontario: "I believe the most bias is left-wing bias written by the 'New York Times' on its news pages. Even more than on its editorial pages."

Suzie in Atlanta, Georgia: "Television news, cable news, is very biased. You all are. However, I don't mind as long as I like the bias. Coming in a close second are local newspaper editorials. Hey, humans are biased, so we're never going to get totally unbiased reporting."

David in Salt Lake City: "Bias, what bias. I'm a CNN junkie so I'm naturally a fierce Caffertian and Dobbsian. I still can't tell if they are liberal or conservative. I like it that way, but then I agree with them."

Katie in Oregon writes, "I find the most bias in the media where it diverges the farthest from my point of view.

BLITZER: Is it Caffertarian? What is that word?

CAFFERTY: Caffertian is what he wrote and Dobbsian.

BLITZER: That's Lou Dobbs and Jack Cafferty. Two of the best.

CAFFERTY: You're very kind.

BLITZER: Thanks very much. Jack.

We'll say good night right now. Don't forget, we're on weekdays 4:00 to 6:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. Eastern.

Paula Zahn getting ready to take over. Paula?

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