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THE SITUATION ROOM

Defense Lawyers Plan Challenges To Spy Efforts; Cooler Weather Helps Fight Fires In Texas And Oklahoma; Enron Trial Postponed; Manassas, Virginia Redefines Family To Curb Illegal Immigration; Jimmy Carter's Strong Views On Iraq; Alito Documents Could Give Clues

Aired December 28, 2005 - 16:00   ET

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


TOM FOREMAN, CNN ANCHOR: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM, where new pictures and information from around the world are arriving all the time.
Happening right now, new challenges to the president's secret domestic spying program. Will the wiretaps without warrants hold up in court? It's 3:00 p.m. in Crawford, Texas. Is the Bush administration worried about legal or political fallout in this matter?

Also this hour, how your local government can define a family. Should the government be able to say who is and is not a member of your family? It's 4:00 p.m. in Manassas, Virginia, where authorities are redefining what it means to be a family.

And, deadly wildfires driving rains, winter conditions run amuck. We're tracking the weather out West now and whether the worst is yet to come.

I'm Tom Foreman. And you're in THE SITUATION ROOM. Wolf is off today.

We're following a developing story in Houston right now, where the former chief accountant for Enron has just agreed to a plea agreement. Richard Causey is pleading guilty to securities fraud and agreeing to a seven-year sentence as well as forfeiture of more than $1 million to the government. Causey was scheduled to go on trial next month along with Enron's founder Ken Lay and former CEO Jeffrey Skilling. Now, Causey will be cooperating with prosecutors in the case against his former bosses.

We have live pictures out of Houston where lawyers may be coming to the microphones shortly. Stick with that. We'll have much more on this developing story later in THE SITUATION ROOM with our own Ali Velshi. Stick around for that.

But first, the president's secret wiretaps of terror suspects soon may be put to a legal test. Defense lawyers in major terrorism cases say they plan to challenge the spying program in court. That's likely to add even more fuel to an already heated controversy.

Our White House correspondent Dana Bash is with the president in Crawford, Texas, with more on that.

But first we're going to go to our Homeland Security correspondent Jeanne Meserve who has more on these legal challenges and what is at stake. Jeanne?

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Tom, legal experts who agree that the White House that the National Security Agency eavesdropping program was legal and constitutional, do not believe defense attorneys will succeed in undercutting the government's terrorism prosecutions.

But defense attorneys are exploring all options. Muslim scholar Ali al-Tamimi is serving 20 years after being convicted of inciting his followers to violence against the U.S. overseas. His lawyer Jonathan Turley is going to federal court to try to determine if his client was targeted through the NSA program, if any of the evidence against him was gathered without a warrant, or if any exculpatory evidence was excluded.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JONATHAN TURLEY, GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY LAW SCHOOL: The government's not allowed to do a type of legal three card monte where you have to guess where the evidence is, under this card or that card. It has to turn over all the cards, so that whatever happens in a trial is done with the full disclosure of what evidence exists against this person or what evidence may support this person. That's the point of a rule of law. It's not a game.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MESERVE: Iyman Faris pled guilty to plotting with al Qaeda to bring down the Brooklyn Bridge and is also serving time. Government officials have already confirmed to CNN that the NSA program helped authorities move against him, and his lawyer says Faris could be a vehicle for bringing a civil case against President Bush for illegal wiretapping.

Tom.

FOREMAN: Thank you very much, Jeanne. This is very important stuff, because it makes the future of all of these cases come into some question.

Let's see if there's any reaction from the Bush administration about this. Here's our White House correspondent Dana Bash down with the president in Crawford, Texas, right now. Dana, what are folks saying down there?

DANA BASH, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, not much, Tom. The White House is really not saying much about this at all. They're referring us back to the now much-referred-to briefing early last week from the attorney general and the deputy national intelligence director where they went through what they said was their legal basis for this directive.

A White House spokesman, Trent Duffy, today refused to comment on what he calls pending cases before the Justice Department, but he did say, "I don't think it should serve as any surprise that defense attorneys are looking for ways to represent their clients. That's what defense attorneys do."

Now Tom, it will be interesting to see if this is sort of a holiday coasting or if this is going to be their line -- not to go very much beyond what the president said and just generally admitting that this program exists. It's going to be hard to do once the president is back in Washington, once Congress is back, especially since Congress is determined, according to the Republican chairman of the Judiciary Committee, to hold hearings on this matter.

FOREMAN: I know they'd like it to be a quiet week, Dana, but nice that you're staying with it. We appreciate it.

Now we're going to take a look at some of the troubles we've had with these fires out in the West, particularly looking at Oklahoma. Look at these pictures right now. This is a helicopter doing bucket drops of water, as we saw in New Orleans after the fires there, in the wake of the hurricane.

We've seen it many other live -- many other wildfires, where they pick up water from an area and bring it in. This is a big Chinook helicopter, it just went out of the shot there, and they drop the water in when they need to, to clear it up. Some grassy areas in Oklahoma are still smoking a day after dozens of blazes broke out in the dry northern and central parts of the state.

Chad Myers, our chief meteorologist, is joining us to talk a little bit about the conditions out there today. Chad?

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Tom, a little bit better today. If you remember yesterday, when we were able to pick up the smoke plumes on radar. The smoke was so thick, the radar didn't know the difference between rain and smoke.

And here's now a satellite picture of that day yesterday. The smoke plumes with the fires here, all the wind blowing out of the West, almost 40 miles-per-hour. Here is the Red River. Here is Oklahoma City right up there. There's Dallas and into the south and southwest of Dallas, some very big, big fires were there.

What has happened today? Well, the storm, especially the cold front, has moved to the East and it is making severe weather -- in fact, making tornadoes across Georgia. Tornado warnings all over the place, including for Warner Robins and Robins Air Force Base. It has been a really ugly afternoon, with some of these big super-cells rotating all around the southeast. And as we get one that starts to rotate, they will put out a tornado warning on it. If you hear the siren, you need to get inside your house.

Farther to the north, no real severe weather. But then back out to the West, we'll finally approach this. The rain has stopped for San Francisco, but more rain and more snow for the Sierra, depending on your elevation. It's been an ugly day, just one storm after another and there are still three more lined up.

Tom. FOREMAN: Not the way to spend the holiday week. Thank you very much, Chad. There's that helicopter we were talking about a moment ago -- the Chinook helicopter carrying water to some of the fires there in Oklahoma right now.

In Texas, the wildfires scorched at least 13,000 acres. State officials say the blaze has killed four people and left at least three unaccounted for. More than 100 buildings were burned. Unbelievable.

Traci Weaver of the Texas Forest Service joins us now on the phone from Granbury, Texas. Traci, what's the situation today?

TRACI WEAVER, TEXAS FOREST SERVICE: Well fortunately we aren't having 40 mile-an-hour wind gusts today and our relative humidity is much higher than it was yesterday, when it dropped to 10 percent. So the conditions are a little bit more favorable for firefighters.

FOREMAN: Are you able to deploy now and actually start putting out these hot spots? Or are you more in a holding pattern now of just making sure it doesn't flare up and surprise you again?

WEAVER: No. They're definitely doing mop up, mopping up hot spots, making sure they've got good control lines around their fires. We're still actively working five fires, and then we just had a new fire flare up in Johnson County, just southeast of where I'm at. So definitely conditions are still very, very dry, and volatile.

FOREMAN: So this is one of those things, where even though you have improvements right now, everybody is staying on the clock, more or less, in case it flares up again?

WEAVER: That's correct. And we are bringing in a lot of extra resources to help out, thanks to the governor giving us permission to do so. So we're bringing in folks from Wisconsin and Tennessee and Alabama, as well as a lot of aircraft to help us fight these fires.

FOREMAN: We want to thank you very much, Traci Weaver from the Texas Forest Service on that.

Right now in Houston, also in Texas, the attorneys for Ken Lay and Jeffrey Skilling, the former Enron executives are speaking. Let's listen in to what they're saying.

DANIEL PETROCELLI, ATTORNEY FOR JEFF SKILLING: ... honest, decent men you can ever get to know. And despite this guilty plea, I truly do not believe any of that will change.

MICHAEL RAMSEY, ATTORNEY FOR KEN LAY: Let me add something to that, Dan. Let me get closer to the mic. The notion I want to leave everybody with is that those people who finally get over the panic of the Enron collapse are going to find this is a day that is a tragic day for the process that we go through as lawyers.

You've seen a man who has been broken financially, has been threatened with an enormous prison term, who has a family and young children, that we've stood shoulder-to-shoulder with, broken bread with, talked to. We understand him, understand his psychology, and here he is pleading guilty to something that in my mind, in all likelihood, is not even a crime at all.

Not only is he not guilty of it, he pled to something that may very well not be a crime. Now, that is what has occurred to many people in this case. He's not the only one.

PETROCELLI: Well, we have to regroup. We don't have the ability to snap a finger and have Mr. Causey stand up and explain all the accounting decisions and judgments that were made, all of which I am sure he would have fiercely defended and may still fiercely defend. If he testifies for the government, it will be a very interesting day. I'm not sure at the end of the day how good of a witness he would be for the government. If he tells the truth -- and I'm sure he will tell the truth -- I think he may be a very powerful seeker of the truth.

RAMSEY: And this is one of those things that we have been over with him in so much detail, that I think we understand where he's coming from, where he's headed. This is an honest guy. And I think he will stick to the honest story of how the accounting was done and how it was approved.

So speaking for Ken Lay, it's a tragic day for Mr. Causey. His heart goes out to Mr. Causey. Ken's been under the same stress that Causey has been under and can understand and sympathize with a man with a family who is broke, making peace with the government. But it's a sad day for the process, for due process in general, when something like this happens.

QUESTION: How damaging will he be to your case?

PETROCELLI: What's so prejudicial ...

FOREMAN: Who is Ken Lay's attorney. The other gentleman who's speaking right now is Jeff Skilling's attorney, Daniel Petrocelli, laying the groundwork for what they're going to do now, now that the chief economics guy for Enron has agreed to a deal where he is going to testify, likely, against these two men. He was going to be a co- defendant with them. Now he may be against them.

Ali Velshi is standing by with some of the latest developments in this case which are also a surprise.

ALI VELSHI, CNN ANCHOR: What you just saw there, what you just heard, Tom, was what you're going to see as part of Ken Lay and Jeff Skilling's new strategy as a result of the fact that their third team member, Richard Causey, the chief accounting officer -- former chief accounting officer from Enron just switched teams.

That trial was supposed to begin on January 19. We now have reports -- and are about to confirm this, but the Associated Press is reporting that the judge has granted a delay to the trial that America has waited for, for four years. It was four years ago that Enron declared bankruptcy. At the time, it was the largest bankruptcy in American history. These three men -- Ken Lay, the former head of the company; Jeff Skilling, the former CEO; and Richard Causey, the former chief accounting officer -- were to stand trial starting on January 17. The outcome of that trial, if it didn't go their way, could have been life in prison for all of them. Richard Causey has agreed now to a plea. He's pleading guilty to one single charge of fudging the books in the first quarter of 2001, and he's going to cooperate with the government in the trial against Jeff Skilling and Ken Lay, his former bosses.

What you heard Michael Ramsey, Ken Lay's lawyer, just saying is that Ken Lay feels sorry for a man with a family who is broke making peace with the government. Their argument is that Richard Causey had no choice and the government is forcing people to testify against them. We'll see a lot more of that and we'll continue to keep you posted.

Tom.

FOREMAN: Thanks so much, Ali.

Coming up, we will have more on these new legal twists in the Enron scandal. Will this accountant tell all about his former bosses? Plus, find out how you can listen in to conversations between Enron executives.

Also ahead, a Virginia community redefining family. It's a controversial policy that critics call anti-immigrant and racist.

And later, the wiretaps without warrants controversy. Is it getting worse for the president every day? The politics of spying, coming up in our "Strategy Session."

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

FOREMAN: Kimberly Osias joins us now with a closer look at many of the other stories making news on this busy afternoon. Kimberly?

KIMBERLY OSIAS, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, Tom. Members of Iraq's Electoral Commission say allegations of fraud in recent elections are endangering their lives. They say the charges have led to threats from insurgents. Partial results show religious Shiite parties doing better than expected. Sunni Muslim and secular parties are charging fraud, but a U.N. official says the elections were credible.

At least nine prisoners and guards are dead following a shoot-out at an Iraqi jail. Twelve people were wounded. According to a guard at the jail, it began when an inmate grabbed a rifle and helped other prisoners raid the jail armory. They rushed the gate, but U.S. and Iraqi troops stationed around the jail prevented any escape.

And in New Orleans, the police chief is defending his officers after they shot and killed a man with a knife on Monday. You may remember that video. The confrontation with Anthony Hayes was all caught on video, but not the shooting itself. The police chief says Hayes tried to stab one of his men, and he said officers were trying to surround Hayes so no one could be taken hostage.

Tom.

FOREMAN: Thanks so much, Kimberly.

Back to our top story, our Internet reporter Jacki Schechner, has more on that former top accountant, Richard Causey, from Enron who just pled guilty before a federal judge. Jacki?

JACKI SCHECHNER, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Tom, just wanted to find out what we possibly could on Richard Causey via the Internet. What we did is we found an old bio page from the Enron Web site.

This is actually not active right now, but we used something called the Wayback Machine, which pulls up old Web pages that are longer active. And you can read about his bio. He was actually with Arthur Andersen specializing in natural gases before he joined up with Enron.

The other thing we found online from FindLaw, which is a legal repository for all sorts of information, we found the original indictment against Richard Causey.

We also found online the SEC indictment against him, the charges against Richard Causey, all available. You can read them all yourself.

Tom.

FOREMAN: Thank you very much, Jacki.

Still ahead, if you live in one Virginia community, your nephew apparently does not qualify as a member of your family. It's about housing laws and immigration, and it's very tricky. And it's fuel for the culture wars.

And, new entries from the Alito files. The Supreme Court nominee's confirmation hearings are getting closer. Is he looking forward to a fight or to a cakewalk? We'll find out.

Stick with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

FOREMAN: A beautiful winter sunset here in the nation's capital. Looks nice and calm, but it's not. Efforts to crack down on illegal immigration have long been a staple in the culture wars and they are flaring up around here these days. Officials are taking the fight onto new turf and in the process they're redefining who is a member of your family and who is not.

Gary Nurenberg is in one of the communities doing this, Manassas, Virginia, with more on this controversial new tactic. Gary?

GARY NURENBERG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hello, Tom. As you know, Manassas has already played a key role in American history, hosting two key 19th century battles in the American Civil War. Now it's involved in a 21st century fight over the emerging issue of illegal immigration and what towns and communities can do to deal with it.

Earlier in the month, the Manassas City Council passed a change in the zoning ordinance rules that, as you say, essentially redefines the concept of family. There's a lot of gobbledygook involved in legal terms, many multi-syllabic terms. But it essentially tightens that definition, essentially says a mother, father, son and daughter. It defines a family as the descendants of a particular mother and father. There's some exceptions to that, but for the most part, cousins and aunts and uncles are no longer family for zoning purposes.

Why is that important? In Manassas, the zoning legislation says no more than three unrelated persons can live together. So aunts, uncles cousins out.

It is believed by critics to be an attempt to limit the number of immigrants in this community who often live in -- live, rather, with many people in single-family homes. This is an attempt to deal with that. It is viewed by critics as racist, viewed by the city as one way to protect its heritage. It is an emerging fight, one we'll have more on later today.

FOREMAN: One thing about this, if I understand this correctly. They're saying, if you have a particular -- particularly in this case, a family that moved in from Mexico or Honduras, or somewhere else, people establish a house and end up having extended uncles, aunts, friends of people, boyfriends, girlfriends, five, six, seven adults living in a house.

The neighbors are complaining about too many cars, too much going on and they are saying this is not what a neighborhood is about? This law, in theory, is cracking down on that?

NURENBERG: That's why you're anchoring the show, because you put it so clearly. That's exactly what's happening. We talked to one resident today who lives next to a house that has 12 people in it. She says loud music in the afternoons. Cars coming and going. Can't park on the street. She says, this is not the neighborhood she moved into and is putting her house up for sale and has already moved to South Carolina.

FOREMAN: Gary Nurenberg, thanks so much for looking into that. This is going to be an interesting story and it's happening in other places. Keep an eye out for it in your neighborhood, because things like this are happening, whether you're for or against it, it's moving around the country now.

Up next, new legal challenges to wiretaps authorized by President Bush. Can the administration come up with a strategy for putting this controversy to rest?

And later, former President Jimmy Carter takes on President Bush in an interview with Wolf Blitzer. Carter has strong words about the Iraq war and whether you were misled when that war started.

Stick around.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

FOREMAN: We have some hot topics in today's "Strategy Session." Defense lawyers say terror cases may be mounting legal challenges against the administration wiretaps. Could the Bush administration have put terror convictions in jeopardy, or will judges rule in their favor over this issue?

Plus, two weeks before his confirmation hearings are set to begin, more documents from Samuel Alito's service in the Justice Department have been released. Is this confirmation headed for a showdown?

Joining us are CNN political analysts, Democratic strategist Paul Begala, and editor of "Human Events" Terry Jeffrey. Glad you could both be here.

Let's start off with this business of wiretaps. The fundamental question before us now is, could these legal challenges mess up these cases against big-time terrorists? Just like if a cop doesn't read the Miranda rights to somebody? Jeff, what do you think?

TERRY JEFFREY, EDITOR, HUMANEVENTSONLINE.COM: It would be absurd if it does. One of the cases reported by the "New York Times" is Iyman Faris, a man in Cleveland who is convicted of being involved in an al Qaeda plot to take down the Brooklyn Bridge.

It was a lame-brain plot. They wanted to do it with blowtorches. But he was seriously involved in that plot. If we have lawyers who are going to go after a technicality and try to get off an al Qaeda terrorist trying to bring down a major monument in New York City after 9/11, it makes a stronger case for war crimes tribunals.

Then we have to take these guys to war tribunals, take them completely out of the U.S. justice system, and try them in courts totally controlled by the military because these are acts of war that are intended against us during a congressionally authorized war.

FOREMAN: All right, Begala, the question here, then, is are these actually acts of war or are these still these weird gray zone things?

PAUL BEGALA, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: The case, the Faris case is a lame-brain case -- probably a crime if true. The guy should go to jail if he did it. They were going to take down the Brooklyn Bridge with an acetylene torch? That's like trying to sink an aircraft carrier with a bb gun.

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: The White House PR strategy is now getting in the way of their legal strategy.

When it was revealed the White House -- the National Security Agency -- on orders of the White House had been wiretapping people without warrants, they put out, somebody favorable to the White House, put out a leak that said one of these cases was the Brooklyn Bridge case, where this guy tried to bring down the Brooklyn Bridge, and isn't that important that we use these warrantless wiretaps to protect the Brooklyn Bridge.

Now they're forced in on their own because, by their own admission, they claimed that they wiretapped this fellow without a warrant and that is illegal. We still have rules.

FOREMAN: Hold on. Trent Duffy over at the White House said this: "This is a limited program. This is not about monitoring phone calls designed to range little league practices or to bring a pot luck dinner. These are designed to monitor calls from very bad people to very bad people," and on and on it goes about terrorists. Well, the point is...

(CROSSTALK)

JEFFREY: To make it more specific, House Intelligence Chairman Pete Hoekstra, who was briefed on this repeatedly, as were the Democrat senior members of the Intelligence Committee say, quote, "The target and plan for this program was an outside group linked to al Qaeda outside the borders of the United States, reaching in and touching someone inside the United States." So the specific question...

FOREMAN: But now let me ask you this, though. Even it that's the case, we have Miranda rights, we have all sorts of rules in this country because we say you can't go outside the rules to get somebody who's breaking the rules. Do you not worry about this?

(CROSSTALK)

JEFFREY: Yes, I do, but there's mitigating factors here. The president had something better than a search warrant. He had a resolution authorizing war passed by both houses of Congress targeting nation organization to a person involved with terrorist attacks against the United States.

Now I would like Paul Begala to tell me which al Qaeda-related person in Afghanistan and Pakistan's called he would not like monitored the when they call into the United States?

FOREMAN: I would like him to tell us that too, but first...

JEFFREY: Every single one of those calls...

FOREMAN: But first, I'd like him to tell me what he thinks about the Alito nomination? We're moving onto the next subject. What do you think? Is this going to be a big fight?

BEGALA: Actually, I can answer it perfectly. The president has to follow the law. Tell it to the judge. That's what Joe Friday said.

(CROSSTALK)

FOREMAN: Speaking of judges and justices, what about Alito? Is it going to be a big fight?

BEGALA: Judge Alito, by the way -- professional segue -- Judge Alito -- oh, yes, big time, because he's got a lot of problems. He has problems on this issue of wiretap where he wanted blanket immunity for government officials who wiretap people without a warrant. That now has greater saliency today than it did 20 years ago when he wrote this memo.

He's also got an enormous ethical problem that can hurt him with Republicans, and that is that he swore in writing to the Senate that he wouldn't rule on any cases involving the mutual fund he invested in. He turned around then and ruled on those very cases, and guess what, in favor of his own mutual fund, proving at least he's a Republican.

(CROSSTALK)

JEFFREY: There's no question there's going to be a huge fight. It's not going to be over these things. It's over a fundamental question. Judge Alito has proven himself to believe in an originalist interpretation of the Constitution.

There's no question this guy is a conservative. He's established his bona fides in 15 years on an appeals court. When he goes in there, the Senate Judiciary Committee, everybody's going to know where this guy stands. Liberals cannot advance their agenda in the United States unless the Supreme Court advances it for them because they can't through democratic means. They have witnessed...

(CROSSTALK)

BEGALA: Do you think the original framers of the Fourth Amendment, which protects us against illegal search and seizures, would want wiretaps without a warrant or a strip search of a 10-year- old girl? Judge Alito says that cops can grab your 10-year-old girl and strip search her.

FOREMAN: I'm going to get a fire hose out and calm you both down because we're going to have to go. Thank you for being here. Terry Jeffrey, good to have you here. Paul Begala, as always. Our "Strategy Session" came up with excellent strategies, I guess.

Stick with us. We'll be right back in THE SITUATION ROOM. Ali Velshi is going to have some more for us in just a moment. In fact, I'm told he has something more right now on what's been happening with this Enron scandal.

VELSHI: Well, I've actually got an entirely different piece of news for you, Tom. I've been sort of immersed in the Enron scandal, and in the midst of it, I've just realized that Delta -- today was the deadline for Delta pilots to ratify their deal.

They have ratified -- the pilots at Delta have ratified an interim deal with the airline, which calls for a 14 percent wage cut and another 1 percent -- it's about 15 percent. That means they don't walk off the job and they don't get locked out, and Delta keeps flying. It is not a comprehensive agreement. The Airline Pilot's Association, which represents 6,000 pilots, and Delta have agreed to continue talking to come to a deal, but no strike pending or lockout at Delta.

Tom.

FOREMAN: Thank you very much, Ali. That's why it's THE SITUATION ROOM. We're keeping up on all of these situations.

Coming up, the lead-up to the Iraq war. Were Americans misled by the Bush administration? Former President Jimmy Carter says yes. And he minces no words in explaining why.

And later, a senator's mission in Iraq. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

FOREMAN: It's getting very, very busy around here this afternoon. Kimberly Osias joins us now with a closer look at all the many other stories. Kimberly?

OSIAS: Tom, Israel shelled northern Gaza today after warning Palestinian civilians to stay out of the area. Israel says Palestinian militants have been using the area to launch rocket attacks. Palestinians condemn the move. They say creating a no-go zone in northern Gaza amounts to reoccupying land Israel gave up back in September.

America's top general is on his way to the Persian Gulf. It's the first trip to the region for General Peter Pace since he became chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He'll meet with generals and sharing meals, breaking bread with the troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Lawyers for a terror suspect detained more than three years without charges want the Supreme Court to rule that detention unconstitutional. But the Justice Department says court should not hear the case of U.S. citizen Jose Padilla. They say the case is moot because Padilla now has been charged. Padilla's attorneys say it's the other way around. They say the government charged him so the high court would ignore the detention issue.

The Red Cross says fraud has drained at least $200,000 from a fund for victims of Hurricane Katrina. Federal authorities say 49 people have been indicted. At least 14 of them worked in a call center hired by the Red Cross to help storm victims. And Red Cross Vice President Steve Cooper will be in THE SITUATION ROOM in our next hour to discuss this scheme and his agency's response. We'll look forward to that, Tom.

FOREMAN: We'll look forward to that indeed. Thank you very much, Kimberly.

Since losing the White House 25 years ago, Jimmy Carter developed a reputation as a better ex-president than president. This is not a reputation that he cares for much. Nonetheless, he has been a leading voice for free and fair elections, and a 2002 Nobel Peace Prize winner -- a very accomplished man. The Democrat has strong opinions about the war in Iraq, as you might expect, and how the Bush administration has handled it. Wolf sat down with President Carter recently to mark the anniversary of his re- election defeat and his newest book.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Joining us now, the 39th president of the United States, Jimmy Carter. He's the author of a new book entitled "Our Endangered Values: America's Moral Crisis." It's his first political book since leaving office.

President Carter, thanks very much for joining us. Congratulations on the new book. Let me read this passage from the book, "Our Endangered Values": "It became apparent soon after the presidential election in 2004 that some of our new political leaders were determined to attack Iraq with false and distorted claims after 9/11. They misled the U.S. Congress and the American public." Do you want to offer some specifics, the evidence, how they misled the American public?

JIMMY CARTER, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, I don't think there's any doubt that the American public was misled. That's been proven over and over. There were claims, very fervent that we would see mushroom clouds, that tens or hundreds of thousands of Americans would die in a single day made by the national security advisor and the vice president.

There were claims that Iraq held massive quantities of weapons of mass destruction, that we could blame Saddam Hussein for the attacks on...

BLITZER: But I guess -- let me rephrase the question. Was the president the victim of bad intelligence, or did he deliberately distort that intelligence to try to achieve his political goals?

CARTER: Well, I've never said that the president himself deliberately distorted the information. I don't know what information the president had from his subordinates, including the national security advisor and the secretary of Defense and the vice president. The fact is that the American people were indeed misled.

BLITZER: Now remember, Colin Powell, the secretary of State at the time, going to the U.N. Security Council and pointedly sitting right behind him was the director of the CIA, George Tenet, who was appointed, as you well remember, by Bill Clinton, vouching for all of this intelligence.

So much of it, as you correctly point out, proved to be wrong. So I'll rephrase the question once again. Was the president just getting bad intelligence for the CIA, or was he lying to the American public?

CARTER: Well, I'll repeat the same answer. Again, I don't know what the president was told. I think that was probably one of the worst days that Colin Powell ever experienced in his life. I think it's one that he regrets to this day. We don't know yet, pending an investigation -- which I hope will soon be forthcoming -- what was the intelligence actually received. Was there an independent intelligence agency created within the Defense Department with a strong orientation towards invading Iraq? And maybe they twisted or maybe they misled the president. I don't have any way to know.

BLITZER: I interviewed the president's counselor, Dan Bartlett, here in THE SITUATION ROOM the other day on Wednesday. Listen to what he said on this very important sensitive issue. Listen to what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAN BARTLETT, COUNSELOR TO THE PRESIDENT: President Clinton, Madeleine Albright, Vice President Al Gore, John Kerry. There's a whole list of Democrats who stepped up, as did President Bush, looked at the threat in a post-9/11 world and said this man is a threat. We removed this dictator for good reasons. Now everybody recognizes that the intelligence wasn't all correct, but the decision was correct in the post-9/11 world.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: I'd like your response to the point he just made.

CARTER: I don't think the decision was correct, to start with. And obviously, the people after the election in 2000, all of those Democrats, including the ones in the Senate, who voted to approve the invasion were given the same intelligence, I presume, that was forthcoming to the American people.

BLITZER: It was the same international intelligence estimate that the CIA prepared for the president, was prepared for the Congress. And the Congress voted to authorize the use of force in Iraq. So, you know -- I guess the argument that the White House says is, you know, we just got bad intelligence, but you can't blame us for that.

CARTER: I'm sure the White House has said that, Wolf. I don't deny what the White House has claimed. The fact is, the intelligence was based on erroneous information, or the information came in correct and it was misinterpreted by someone, either inadvertently or on purpose. We don't yet know that.

That's just one of the profound changes that has taken place in this country. And as you know, President Bush has put forward the proposition that we don't need to wait in this country for our country to be threatened from a foreign country in order to go to war. This has been the policy for our nation for more than 100 years.

Now we have a policy absolutely radical in nature, different from what George Bush Sr. did, different from what Ronald Reagan did, different from what Dwight Eisenhower did. We will go to war on a preemptive basis. That is, if we believe that a leader in a foreign country ought to be removed, we'll go to war with him. We'll send our troops in to invade, we'll bomb, strafe, and send missiles against their people even though our security is not directly threatened. This is contrary to international law. It's also contrary to what every president has done in this country for more than 100 years, Democratic or Republican. That's just one of the profound changes that has taken place in the policies of this country in recent years that caused me to write this book somewhat reluctantly.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

FOREMAN: Well, up next, we'll have more from Wolf Blitzer's interview with former President and Nobel Peace Prize winner Jimmy Carter.

And more documents are released about Samuel Alito. What do they tell us about the Supreme Court nominee? It's on our "Political Radar."

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

FOREMAN: Welcome back. We're going to continue now with more of Wolf Blitzer's recent interview with Jimmy Carter, the former president, Nobel Peace Prize winner, and author of yet another book, "Our Endangered Values."

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Let me read from "Our Endangered Values" once again, Mr. President. "Some neo-cons" -- referring to neo-conservatives in the administration -- "now dominate the highest councils of government. They seem determined to exert American dominance throughout the world and approve preemptive war as an acceptable avenue to reach this imperialistic goal."

The argument about preemptive strikes is that after 9/11' -- 3,000 people were killed that day, as you know -- the United States can no longer wait to be the recipient of a Pearl Harbor-type attack. If you have information that the terrorists are coming to kill you with a radiological bomb or poison gas or terror attack, you go out and kill them first before they come here and kill us. That's their argument for preemptive strikes, an argument you reject?

CARTER: I don't reject that at all. I think that's a false premise that you just described. You know, all presidents in the past, if we have direct evidence that our nation is threatened with an attack, we have the absolute right under international law and the policies of our country since its founding to protect ourselves.

That's not what preemptive strike means. Preemptive strike, as defined by the president himself in a speech at West Point, said that if we think that in the future, our nation might be threatened by someone, we reserve the right to invade that country or to launch missiles and bombs against them. And this is what's a radical departure from the policies of any president who has served this country, Democratic or Republican. BLITZER: If the intelligence had been good, though -- if the intelligence on Iraq and Saddam Hussein, weapons of mass destruction, stockpiles, poison gas, chemical, biological, maybe even trying to develop nuclear capability, if that intelligence had been good, would it then have been justified to preemptively go war against Iraq?

CARTER: Well, you have to make a judgment on what the facts are. That's one surmise. If those weapons of mass destruction had been in such a form that they could have been used against the United States, yes. You know, if Saddam Hussein had had, say, bombs and missiles or warheads on short-range missiles that could not have been used to attack the United States, to take some military action would have been justified.

But to send our troops in there, as we have done, and now to have more than 2,000 of them killed, 39,000 estimated civilians in Iraq killed, to prevent an attack that might some day take place is different from the policies of our country since its founding.

So, yes, if we expected an imminent attack from Iraq -- or even now, if we found that a foreign country had capability and intention of attacking our country, we would certainly have the right, justified under international law, justified under the policies of our country for the last 230 years, to defend ourselves. That is certainly not what preemptive war means.

BLITZER: Right. I wanted to clarify that because you're not rejecting completely a preemptive strike if there is a real clear and direct threat to the United States?

CARTER: That's not what preemptive means. Preemptive means you take military action even if your security is not directly and immediately threatened.

BLITZER: Maybe I'm just a little confused because what I thought I heard you say was that under certain circumstances, if the United States knows that it's about to be attacked and hasn't been attacked yet, the United States could preemptively launch a strike.

CARTER: Well, you keep saying the same thing. I can't disagree with you. If we know that an enemy, a potential enemy, has the capability to attack our country soon, in the immediate future, and the intentions to do so, if I were president, I would certainly launch an attack to protect our country. That's not what preemptive strikes mean.

BLITZER: One final question, before I let you go, Mr. President. You're quoted in the "Chicago Tribune" today as saying, "I can't deny that I'm a better ex-president than I was a president." You're smiling when you heard me read that. Explain.

CARTER: Well, we did a lot of good things when I was president. We kept our country at peace. We negotiated peace for a lot of other people. We set aside enormous contributions in the environment. We normalized relations with China, brought peace to the Middle East. We did some good things. But the last 25 years of my life since I left the White House has been the most gratifying and enjoyable and I think productive part of my existence. We have been able to promote peace, democracy, human rights, environmental quality, and the alleviation of suffering around the world through the Carter Center. Not because of me, but because we have a good organization. In fact, Rosalynn and I just returned from Liberia recently where we helped conduct an election that I hope will help bring peace and democracy to that trouble country. That happens to be the 61st election in which we've tried to help people have democracy and freedom. So I've been very gratified at the experience and opportunities that we've had since I left the White House.

BLITZER: Jimmy Carter, the former president of the United States, the author of this new book "Our Endangered Values: America's Moral Crisis." Mr. President, it was kind of you to spend time with us here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

FOREMAN: A man of many words and many, many writings. President Jimmy Carter.

In our 7:00 p.m. hour of THE SITUATION ROOM, more tough charges, this about the hunt for Osama bin Laden and how he was able to get away. I'll talk to a former CIA operations officer who says he's written a book that the spy agency doesn't want you to read. We'll have more on that coming up at 7:00.

Stay with us in THE SITUATION ROOM. In our next hour, President Bush still dogged by fallout over wiretaps of U.S. citizens without a warrant.

Also in the next hour, the Red Cross says hundreds of thousands of dollars meant for victims of Hurricane Katrina have been stolen. A Red Cross official will be here in THE SITUATION ROOM. Please, stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

FOREMAN: On our "Political Radar" this Wednesday, headlines from those newly released pieces of Samuel Alito's paper trail less than two weeks before his confirmation hearings begin. The latest documents offer hints about the kind of cases Alito thinks the high court should take. As a young Justice Department lawyer, he recommended against appealing a ruling that revived a Black Panther Party lawsuit against the government.

The head of campaign efforts for Senate Democrats is laying out some of his strategy for the 2006 elections. Senator Chuck Schumer says he's focusing on seven states where he believes his party can pick up seats now held by Republicans. As Schumer tells it, Republicans should watch out in Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Missouri, Montana, Tennessee, and Arizona.

And Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter is offering his opinion about the trial of Saddam Hussein. The Pennsylvania Republican met yesterday in Iraq with the chief judge overseeing the trial. Specter told him he's disappointed that the court has allowed the ousted Iraqi dictator to dominate the proceedings with his various antics. House Democrats say in a new report the Department of Homeland Security has failed to follow through on certain promises. Among them, a promise to help secure the U.S. against a cyber attack.

Our Internet reporter Jacki Schechner has the latest on that. Jacki.

SCHECHNER: We honed in on that part specifically, but let me give you an idea of what's going on. The Democrats on the Committee of Homeland Security accusing the Department of Homeland Security of leaving 33 unresolved promises heading it to the new year.

Now, they cover everything from port security to chemical plants to cyber security, our little area of expertise. And basically what they're saying is there's not enough coordination with the private sector, and they have failed to assess response and risk.

Well, it would be this department, US-CERT, which would be in charge of getting on top of that. And we spoke to the Department of Homeland Security today. And they basically countered almost all of the points within that report, saying they're looking ahead, not looking back.

And they say specifically in regard to cyber security, they've got something planned for 2006. There's an exercise in February 2006 called Cyber Storm. And what they're going to do is run a risk assessment exercise. They're going to work with the private sector. They're going to get all of those things done and find out exactly where we stand.

Tom.

FOREMAN: Thank you very much, Jacki.

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