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Culture of Corruption; Best Government Money Can Buy; Update on Trapped Miners; U.S. Government Funds Mexico to Patrol the Border; Able Danger Prevented From Sharing Information With The FBI; Russia Using Natural Gas As Political Tool

Aired January 3, 2006 - 18:00   ET


LOU DOBBS, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening, everybody.
We'll continue our coverage of the West Virginia mine disaster.

Tonight, one of the biggest political corruption scandals in decades as well. Top members of Congress, other high level Washington officials could well be implicated. We'll be going live to Washington.

Also tonight, the best government money can buy? How special interest groups are spending billions of dollars to overturn the will of the people and to buy political favor in Congress and in the federal government.

Also tonight, a desperate struggle to rescue those 13 miners trapped underground in West Virginia. It's intensifying. We'll have a live report for you from the mine.

And new developments within the hour on the wildfires in Oklahoma and Texas. The very latest coming up.

And overwhelmed by illegal aliens. One county sheriff who says he's ending one of the biggest illegal alien detention programs in the country and giving up millions of dollars in federal funding at the same time. Sheriff Jerry Speziale is our guest tonight.

We begin with what could be the worst corruption scandal in Washington in a generation. Former top lobbyist Jack Abramoff today pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit fraud and other charges after a plea deal with federal prosecutors. Abramoff's testimony could implicate top members of Congress and staff members in a huge influence peddling case.

We turn first to Ed Henry in Washington -- Ed.

ED HENRY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Lou, CNN has just learned that the Republican speaker of the House, Dennis Hastert, has decided to give back about $70,000 in Jack Abramoff-related campaign money, give that money to charity. It's another sign that today's plea deal is just starting to reverberate all across Washington.


HENRY (voice-over): Jack Abramoff pled guilty to tax evasion, mail fraud and conspiracy, including allegations he bribed public officials. Then the one-time super lobbyist told the judge, "Words can never express my sorrow and profound regret. Nor can they express my sadness and regret for my conduct. I ask for forgiveness and redemption from almighty."

Humble words from a man who defrauded his Indian gaming clients out of tens of millions of dollars.

ALICE FISHER, ASSISTANT ATTORNEY GENERAL: Abramoff profited tremendously from the illegal arrangements outlined today, receiving an estimated $25 million in undisclosed kickbacks and other fraudulently-attained funds.

HENRY: The courthouse developments are being watched nervously on Capitol Hill. Abramoff has agreed to cooperate with the probe, which according to a government official is now looking at about two dozen lawmakers and congressional staffers.

The plea deal alleges the lobbyists conspired to corruptly give, offer and promise things of value, including money, meals, trips and entertainment to public officials and their relatives with the intent to influence and in return for agreements to perform official acts benefiting defendant Abramoff. Recipients of those gifts include powerful Republicans, like former House majority leader Tom DeLay, who has denied wrongdoing, and Bob Ney of Ohio, who's been subpoenaed by the grand jury.

Ney is pledging to cooperate with the investigation and is confident he will be cleared. Though he's been tight-lipped about the allegations.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Have you been told you're going to be indicted? Did you take bribes?


HENRY: Now, Democrats hope to use the Abramoff case in the upcoming midterm elections to bolster their allegation that there's a Republican culture of corruption in Washington. But that case could be undermined if Democrats get caught up in this scandal as well -- Lou.

DOBBS: Thank you, Ed.

Ed Henry from Washington.

The Abramoff scandal has exposed the dirty truth about politics in Washington. Lawmakers are not always serving the best interests of the voters they purport to represent. Instead, many lawmakers are receiving favors from special interests.

Lobbyists now spending more than $2 billion a year. Two billion dollars a year to buy the best government they can.

Christine Romans reports.


CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It goes as far back as the days after the Civil War. One newspaper's description of the American lobbyist, "Stretched at full length on the floor of Congress, this dazzling reptile, this huge, scaly serpent of the lobby."

Today, a guilty plea from former power lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

CRAIG HOLMAN, PUBLIC CITIZEN: He certainly is not alone. Capitol Hill has an entire environment that just nurtures the kind of corruption through lobbying activity that we've seen from Jack Abramoff.

ROMANS: A culture, he says, in which campaign contributions are expected from lobbyists. They arrange fund-raisers, give gifts, arrange luxury travel for members of Congress and their staff, and then there's the promise of lucrative future employment.

A former member of Congress can earn $1 to $2 million a year as a lobbyist. A savvy congressional staffer, at least $300,000.

DANIELLE BRIAN, THE PROJECT ON GOVERNMENT OVERSIGHT: Washington is just teaming with people who are paid to help push particular clients, particular industries' agenda. And it is not in any way necessarily the public interest's agenda that they're pushing.

ROMANS: The numbers are astounding. According to the Center for Public Integrity, there are two drug industry lobbyists for each member of Congress. Forty of those are former congressmen themselves. Since 1998, 273 former White House staffers have registered as lobbyists.

Public Citizen say there are now 2,390 former federal officials in the revolving door from public service to K Street. And almost half of outgoing congressmen and women sign up to lobby their former colleagues.

About 14,000 people now lobby in Washington, constantly working to influence Congress, the White House and the press.


ROMANS: And many feel this guilty plea is just the beginning of the fallout for policymakers and lobbyist. Not since Heidi Fleiss has there been a little black book that has made so many people so nervous -- Lou.

DOBBS: And this investigation obviously accelerating. The sad part is not much of an investigation is required to see the sordid and extraordinarily disappointing influence that we've permitted lobbyists to gain over the electoral process and indeed our government.

Christine Romans. Thank you very much.

A new poll conducted before Jack Abramoff pleaded guilty shows many Americans believe most members of Congress are outright corrupt. But it's not about Democrats nor is it about Republicans. The poll reveals voters believe lawmakers of both parties are corrupt in equal measure.

Bill Schneider has the report.


WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST (voice-over): Jack Abramoff's going to sing. But who's going to face the music? There are two schools of thought.

One says that when voters hear "corruption," they don't think Republicans or Democrats, they think politicians. Almost half the public believes most members of Congress are corrupt. About the same as in the fall of 1994, which saw a huge revolt against the incumbents.

Right now, corruption is not a highly partisan issue. The public does not see Republican members of Congress as significantly more or less corrupt than Democrats. It's really a populist issue.

Americans who didn't finish college believe most members of Congress are corrupt. College grads don't think so. They're closer to the establishment and less suspicious of it.

Republicans are counting on the issue to remain nonpartisan. The White House is distancing itself from Abramoff.

SCOTT MCCLELLAN, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The wrongdoing that he apparently now is acknowledging he was involved in is outrageous.

SCHNEIDER: President Bush himself called Abramoff "an equal money dispenser to people in both political parties."

JACK ABRAMOFF, FMR. LOBBYIST: I have no choice but to serve my various constitutional privileges against having to testify.

SCHNEIDER: The second school points out that most of Abramoff's money seems to have gone to his fellow Republicans, including one very high-profile Republican.

And even if voters turn against all incumbents, Republicans have more at stake. Most incumbents in Congress are Republicans.

When asked in October which party in Congress would do a better job dealing with corruption, Democrats held an 11-point advantage. Not because people believe Democrats are less corrupt, but because people know Democrats are out of power, and money follows power.


SCHNEIDER: In 1994, Democrats had been in power for 40 years. So when voters got disgusted with Congress, they threw out the Democratic majority. Well, Democrats say, it's a Republican Congress now -- Lou. DOBBS: Bill Schneider. Thank you.

Later here, I'll be talking with someone who knows more than most about the inner workings of Congress and the federal government. Former House general counsel Stanley Brand will join me. Today, speaking about the Abramoff scandal, Brand said, "When this is all over, this will be bigger than any government scandal in the last 50 years, both in the amount of people involved and the breadth to it."

Stanley Brand will be coming up here later in the broadcast.

Joining me now, our senior legal analyst, Jeffrey Toobin.

Jeffrey, let's just start with the plea deal that apparently was orchestrated with the guilty plea. If they have such a strong case, why take that approach?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SR. LEGAL ANALYST: Because they want him as a witness, and he is a means to an end for prosecutors. The goal for prosecutors is to get as high up in the food chain as you can, and that means elected officials. And they apparently believe that even though Jack Abramoff was a one-man crime wave based on his own admissions, it's worth it to make a deal with him to try to get the elected officials.

DOBBS: Right. To try to get those elected officials and presumably staff members. There have been reports as many as 20 names are involved in the papers today filed in court.

Do you think it is that large? Do you think it goes beyond that?

TOOBIN: That certainly seems like a reasonable estimate given the breadth of Abramoff's contacts with various people. The one person who is really in trouble today based on the federal -- the filing is Bob -- Bob Ney, the congressman from Ohio, a senior Republican. He appears almost certainly to be -- certain to be indicted. The others, it's harder to say.

DOBBS: Hastert returning money that apparently had been provided him. As Bill Schneider just reported, DeLay, his name figuring now in this. To what degree?

TOOBIN: Well, that -- he's the big -- he's the big cheese here, he's the top of the pyramid as far as prosecutors are concerned. DeLay is undoubtedly target number one.

But it's important to emphasize that there is not any evidence in this indictment today against Tom DeLay, and he hasn't been charged in anything in connection with this investigation. So even though he's clearly in prosecutors' sights, there's no evidence that he's done anything wrong here.

DOBBS: OK. Thank you very much, Jeffrey Toobin.

That brings us to the subject of our poll tonight. The question: Do you believe lobbyists and all lobbying organizations and associations should be completely banned?

Cast your vote at We'll have the results for you coming up in the broadcast.

Still ahead, hope and determination in the struggle to rescue 13 miners trapped in West Virginia. We'll be taking you live to the mine.

Also tonight, new information this hour on the Texas and Oklahoma wildfires. We'll have the details.

And overwhelmed by illegal immigration. One county sheriff says he's not going take it anymore. Our special report is coming right up.

Stay with us.


DOBBS: In Upshur County, West Virginia, tonight, the unbearable wait continues. Rescuers working frantically, nonstop, trying to reach 13 miners trapped more than a mile beneath the earth. It has been more than 35 hours since those men were heard from, and hopes that they may still be alive become slimmer by the hour.

Brian Todd is live in Tallmansville, West Virginia, and has the latest for us -- Brian.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Lou, as you just mentioned, there's been no sign of the miners. Here's what we know at this hour.

Rescue teams are about 11,200 feet into the mine. That's about a thousand more feet than they were the last time we were briefed on this roughly six hours ago.

They believe they're about a thousand to 2,000 feet from where the miners may be located. And they are very cautious about offering projections here, but they're saying that, given where they are now, and how fast they are progressing, they believe it could be three to five hours, possibly, now, possibly from the time when they reach the general area where the miners may be.

But again, they are very cautious. They don't want to make projections here, and they do not want to make any predictions about the conditions that these miners are in.

They have no serious debris to contend with, they say, and no explosive damage. Their main obstacles are noxious gases like carbon monoxide. That is hindering the rescue teams as they go in. They have to move very, very slowly.

Now, the picture that we are getting from the officials who run the International Coal Group, this mining company, is really one of contrast. We heard just a few moments ago from the president of the company, Ben Hatfield. Here's what he had to say.


BEN HATFIELD, PRESIDENT, INTERNATIONAL COAL GROUP: It is our goal to keep hope alive while there is hope, and we don't want to discourage anyone that believes we can get there. We believe we can get there if the crew has managed to barricade themselves and kept themselves protected from the toxic fumes.

Certainly, with each hour that passes, the likelihood of a successful outcome diminishes. But our effort is to move forward as quickly as we can, and we're fervently determined to do our very best to get to them.


TODD: In another instant, Mr. Hatfield said, "We are clearly in a situation here where we need a miracle." That's a quote from him, and that this is a sad day.

But again, they're saying they want to keep as much hope alive as they can. They are working furiously through the night to get to these miners.

Drilling is under way, they are now into the third hole that they are drilling to try to get to these miners. The first one they punched through revealed really deadly levels of carbon monoxide. And so they are trying to get to these miners at this hour, and we hope to find out more very soon -- Lou.

DOBBS: Brian, obviously, we're all anxious for the rescue of these miners, we're anxious and concerned for their families. And so the questions may be somewhat naive, but those rescuers have air tanks, they have safety suits. Why are those gases posing such an obstacle to their -- to their efforts?

TODD: They do have those suits. The gases are an obstacle for a couple of reasons.

When the explosion occurred, very likely there was some kind of fire in the mine. That would have triggered off very, very deadly levels of carbon monoxide. And where that carbon monoxide went they are still kind of finding out inch by inch.

They are -- they just cautioned us in the briefing a moment ago, "We can't go in there that fast, because whatever caused that first explosion may be still present. We may be dealing with that again." You know, it may be around the next corner.

And again, they're very cautious about even saying what caused that accident. So it's really the presence of very thick carbon monoxide in some sections of this mine that has hindered them so far.

DOBBS: But the hope is that we will know more about the fate and hopefully the rescue of these miners within the next three to five hours.

Brian Todd, thank you very much, reporting from Tallmansville, West Virginia.

There are serious questions tonight about the Sago Mine and its safety record over the months leading up to this accident. Safety violations at the mine have been spiking higher at a time when mine safety nationwide has actually improved.

Kathleen Koch has the story for us tonight from Washington.

Kathleen, what's in the safety records here?

KATHLEEN KOCH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Lou, these safety records, first of all, are accumulated by both state and federal inspectors who go into these mines on a regular basis. They check things like the structure, the ventilation, the work practices, and they did find some problems at the Sago Mine.

After being closed for a couple of years when it began ramping up in 2004, it was cited 68 times for potential safety violations. But then in 2005, when its workforce grew to 145, its cited safety violations more than tripled to more than 205. And then it had 11 roof collapses in the last six months of the year. And of those safety violations, 96 were considered serious and/or substantial.

Now, one safety expert sees a problem in all this.


DAVITT MCATEER, FMR. DIR. MINE SAFETY & HEALTH ADM.: Their injury rate is three times the national average. Again, it's another indication that the program you have in place isn't working and that you're having more accidents than you should.


KOCH: Now, an important caveat in all this is that as of mid- November, Sago Mine is under new ownership. And International Coal Group says that safety was up the last quarter of the year. They claim that it has improved by some 80 percent.

Now, an expert that I spoke with recently said that the trend toward more injuries and potential safety violations in recent years certainly isn't good. Sago Mine does not have the best record he's seen, but he also says it does not have the worst -- Lou.

DOBBS: Kathleen, thank you very much. Kathleen Koch from Washington.

Still ahead here, new wildfires in Oklahoma and Texas. Fears mounting as new fires sparking over the past hour. We'll have the latest details for you on this growing emergency.

Also tonight, new rules for homeland security. We'll tell you which cities are receiving more money to fight terrorists threats and why.

And one sheriff has had enough. He's kicking illegal aliens out of his jail and he's giving up millions of dollars in federal funding at the same time for doing so. I'll be talking with him to find out why coming up next.

Stay with us.


DOBBS: Firefighters tonight are working to contain massive wildfires that have scorched more than 200,000 acres in Texas, Oklahoma and parts of New Mexico. But as they put out existing fires, new fires flare up.

The new fire today in the town of Shamrock, Oklahoma, this fire destroyed an abandoned school and nearby homes. Officials are warning that dangerous new fires could start at any time.

Strong winds continuing to whip through these three drought- stricken states, and rain isn't in the forecast until mid month at earliest. Four people have been killed in these fires since they started last week. More than 100 buildings have been destroyed.

Tonight, a change of direction at the Department of Homeland Security. The department is apparently finally listening to years of criticism about its distribution of anti-terrorist funding to communities. That system has often given millions and millions of dollars to areas where there was little, if any, risk of terrorism.

Lisa Sylvester reports.


LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Wisconsin's Natural Resources Department bought 45 pairs of night vision goggles. The cost, $100,000. Critics say that money earmarked to fight terrorism went to target poachers. On a per capita basis, states like Wyoming and Alaska received more anti-terror funds than New York.

STEVE ELLIS, TAXPAYERS FOR COMMON SENSE: It's now become a big money grab. And members of Congress and communities are interested in getting what they can for their own parochial interests.

SYLVESTER: The list doesn't end there. A Wisconsin high school received $75,000 in video surveillance and electronic equipment.

Remote (INAUDIBLE) California spent $3,500 for small creates and kennels to hold stray animals.

And North Pole, Alaska, population 1,500, received $500,00 for rescue and communications gear.


SYLVESTER: But change is on the way. Secretary Michael Chertoff announced the agency will begin awarding $765 million to high terrorism threat areas instead of doling out the money based on political formulas.

CHERTOFF: What we have to do is drive these divisions by looking at where the major risks are and allocating our priorities accordingly.

SYLVESTER: One former inspector general for the Homeland Security Department says Chertoff's changes are overdue.

CLARK KENT ERVIN, CNN SECURITY ANALYST: Given our limited federal resources, we need to concentrate those dollars on those cities, those localities, those areas that are of greatest threat. And that's what this announcement today is all about. Everybody knows that North Pole, Alaska, is not under terrorist threat.


SYLVESTER: And smaller communities have argued that a terror attack could happen anywhere. And while that may be true, it doesn't excuse some of the more outrageous spending, including $30,000 to the state of Kentucky to make sure their charity bingo halls are not financing terrorists -- Lou.

DOBBS: The best government that money can buy.

Thank you very much. Lisa Sylvester.

Well, still ahead here, with each hour, hopes dim in the search for 13 miners trapped in West Virginia. We'll have the very latest for you on the story.

Also tonight, Washington's culture of corruption. Why the Jack Abramoff guilty plea could touch off the worst Washington scandal in decades.

And our nation's broken borders. Too many illegal aliens, not enough places to put them. Why one jail is saying enough is enough. And I'll be talking with the sheriff who's made the decision here next.


DOBBS: Officials are now saying the fate of 13 coal miners trapped in West Virginia should be known within a matter of hours. Rescuers are still working, trying to reach those trapped miners at this hour. There is little hope that these miners have survived, however, because of the high levels of carbon monoxide that have been detected in the mine.

President Bush today met with federal prosecutors and he strongly urged Congress to pass a long-term renewal of the Patriot Act. Prosecutors said today the Patriot Act is critical to their work. Congress passing a five-week extension of that act, doing so last month.

And software experts blasting Microsoft for dragging its feet on a serious new virus in Windows. This virus has been spreading since last week, threatening hundreds of millions of Windows users. Microsoft says it will not release its new security patch until the 10th of January.

A jail in Passaic County, New Jersey, is pulling the plug on one of the largest illegal alien detention programs in the country. The sheriff there says the illegal alien inmates and the millions of federal dollars that come along with them simply aren't worth it.

Bill Tucker reports from Passaic County.


BILL TUCKER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The Passaic County Jail has seen enough of illegal aliens.

JERRY SPEZIALE, PASSAIC COUNTY SHERIFF: What happens is the INS detainees are just causing disruption to the facility. They bring demonstrations. The perception of the public is that these are illegal aliens that came across the border, overstayed on a visa, and were here, like, for the American dream.

TUCKER: The demonstrators agitate for the release of the illegals as heroes. They cost the sheriff's department overtime to police the crowds and the sheriff notes that many of the illegals currently in his jail have committed violent crimes that he's prohibited from discussing by nature of his contract with Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Officials in ICE said they respect the decision by the sheriff to stop taking prisoners and in a statement said, quote, "The New York field office has already identified other facilities in the New York, New Jersey, area to accomplish our mission."

VICTOR CERDA, FORMER DIRECTOR, ICE: You have plenty of people, plenty of municipalities willing to pick up whatever slack exists. Willing to support in its detention needs whatever they need to do. Passaic, I believe, falls into the area of the exceptions.

TUCKER: The Passaic County Jail once housed an average of 200 detainees a day. That number is now closer to 100 as the jail transfers out prisoners at a rate of ten per week.


TUCKER (on camera): The jail is not the only organization, Lou, that is going to be happy to see this relationship end. Back in mid- December, an advocacy group for illegal aliens petitioned the Department of Homeland Security to end to his contract with the jail, citing alleged poor conditions and health risks. Lou?

DOBBS: Bill Tucker, thank you very much.

Passaic County Sheriff Jerry Speziale, the man who decided to end this program is here with me tonight. Sheriff, good to have you here.

SPEZIALE: Great to be with you, Lou. DOBBS: Let's start with the treatment of those illegal alien detainees. How do you respond to that?

SPEZIALE: What you have to realize something. That there are times that we have to go into the dormitories and have to use force when force is used against officers, but there are very, very limited times that it's ever been proven that officers have abused any detainees.

If, in fact, there was any abuse, they've been prosecuted, they've been terminated and suspended. So we've dealt with it decisively.

DOBBS: And your reason for terminating the program straightforwardly, it's just more trouble than you think it's worth?

SPEZIALE: It's definitely more trouble than it's worth. There are so many advocacy groups out there. There's demonstrations that cost overtime to the taxpayers of Passaic county, it's really not worth it.

DOBBS: Who are the demonstrators?

SPEZIALE: You have different groups that come from time to time that create us to have to put overtime officers out there to make sure we allow people to demonstrate. So it costs a lot of money.

DOBBS: Bill Tucker just reported that you can't even discuss these incidents where your officers are abused or attacked violently.

SPEZIALE: Correct.

DOBBS: Because of the conditions under the federal contract?

SPEZIALE: See, what happens here is the INS detainees, the perception is that most of the people are someone that crossed over a border or overstays on a visa to be here for the American dream. In reality, these are people that crossed over that border and then stole the American dream by committing a felony, by committing a murder, by committing a rape, or a sodomy, and we can't even discuss that.

DOBBS: Sheriff, you're committing truth here. The fact is everybody wants to believe that illegal aliens in this country are simply coming here to do America a favor, yet the figures show that at 400,000 criminal illegal aliens, that is besides the crime of crossing our border illegally, are at large in this country?

SPEZIALE: Yes, Yes. And that is just the problem. The perception is that these people in my jail are people that just came over for the American dream. And that is the not the reality. The reality is the fact that these people are criminal aliens.

DOBBS: ICE suggested it has plenty of alternatives to your jail, your detention center. What is the solution here, Sheriff?

SPEZIALE: I think that the United States government is going have to come up with their own detention facilities, because regardless where you put these detainees, the advocacy groups and the demonstrations will continue, and you're just going to have problems for other facilities.

DOBBS: Sheriff Speziale, thank you very much for being here.

SPEZIALE: My pleasure.

DOBBS: Tonight, rising outrage over the tens of millions of dollars that the federal government is sending to Mexico each year in the fight against illegal aliens ostensibly.

Washington somehow believes Mexico is a committed partner in its efforts to secure our borders. Critics say the money is simply a waste of taxpayer dollars. Casey Wian reports.


CASEY WIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): After September 11, the United States began spending more money on military training and law enforcement equipment for Mexico. The goal, to enlist Mexico's help fighting the wars on terror and drugs and to improve border security.

From helicopters for Mexico's Justice Department to x-ray scanners for Mexican customs to training in the United States for hundreds of Mexican military forces. Last year it add up to nearly $60 million, triple the amount of military and police aid send to Mexico in 2000.

Latin American experts say it's a troubling trend given Mexico's history of drug-related corruption.

ADAM ISACSON, CENTER FOR INTERNATIONAL POLICY: Individual members, even entire units of police and military have gotten in trouble for helping the narco thugs, in exchange for money, really. They're too easily corruptible. And that is a problem when we are giving these guys lethal equipment and lethal skills through training.

WIAN: Isacson says it's easy for U.S. authorities to verify that large items, such as helicopters, are used for their intended purpose. But smaller equipment and personnel are difficult to track, so it's entirely possible that U.S.-trained Mexican soldiers are already working for Mexican drug cartels and a hostile threat to U.S. border patrol agents.

U.S. State Department says its financing of Mexican forces is carefully balanced between the immediate goal of directly attacking existing cross-border criminal activity and the longer term goal of enhancing Mexico's law enforcement institution.

Even border security hawks in Congress support the program, saying it will help catch terrorists.

REP. RICK RENZI, (R) ARIZONA: I'm not an apologist for Mexico, I believe there is a good amount corruption, but there's a lot of people who are Mexican nationals, Mexican officials, who are fighting and dying for their government and trying to pull that government back from the jaws of the drug cartels. We have to be engaged with our Mexican brothers to the south.

WIAN: This year the Bush administration plans to spend about 25 percent less on Mexican military and police aid, largely a result of budget pressures here in the United States.


WIAN (on camera): There's another concern. Mexico will have a presidential election this year and other leading candidate is considered to be openly hostile to U.S. interests, so there's a good chance that he could be in control of U.S. military technology and U.S. trained military personnel. Lou?

DOBBS: That would sort of fit in with the trend that's been established with the U.S. government's relationship with Mexico over the past five years at least. Casey Wian, thank you very much.

Still ahead, former lobbyist Jack Abramoff naming names. My next guest say Congress, and even the White House have reason to be afraid.

And why the Able Danger controversy and the White House NSA spying scandal have a great deal in common. I'll be talking with the investigative journalist Peter Lance on the latest on the Able Danger investigation coming right up. Stay with us.


DOBBS: The Jack Abramoff scandal is widening and my next guest says the Abramoff corruption scandal could well implicate top executive branch officials as well as top members of Congress. Stanley Brand, former general counsel to the House of Representatives joins me now. He's principal partner in the Brand Law Group and frequently represents public officials accused of wrongdoing. Good to have you here. You say this could be one of the biggest scandals in Washington in a half-century. Why so?

STANLEY BRAND, FORMER HOUSE GENERAL COUNSEL: Well, because you have already convictions by -- of three principal participants. Michael Scanlon, an associate of Jack Abramoff, and Abramoff today. You have an indictment against a man named Safavian, who is the procurement official in the White House. And you have the specifications in the indictments themselves which point to other public officials and their families.

DOBBS: And their families. The corruption scandal is obviously widening, particularly with today's revelation that Abramoff has been cooperating now for a year with federal prosecutors. How far do you think this is going to go, how wide, how high, how deep?

BRAND: Well, it will go deeply into the Congress. It will involve, I would guess, by the end of the year or more of this, another six-to-eight elected members. It will involve top staff people, some of whom worked for the leadership, and it will reach further into the executive branch and the agencies that were involved in regulating the Indian casinos who were his clients.

DOBBS: Stanley, as we look at this, over 200 -- it's 220 lawmakers receive $1.7 million in campaign contributions from Abramoff and his associates. We're focused on Abramoff and this scandal and its widening investigation. But the fact is, there are a lot of people in Washington shoving a lot of money looking for political favors from our elected representatives, well beyond Abramoff, right?

BRAND: Oh, no question. And it's not just campaign contributions, that won't really be enough. What's at stake here, at issue here, are gifts of extraordinary values. Golf trips overseas, wining and dining at his own restaurant, sporting events, meals and entertainment. That's what is the grist of this case, and that's where the bribery and gratuity allegation are going to come hot and heavy at some point this year.

DOBBS: The fact is, earlier in this broadcast, we reported -- Christine Romans reported that over half of congressmen and women leaving office, come back to lobby their colleagues that they've left behind on Capitol Hill. That's a crazy statistic, it's embarrassing.

BRAND: Well, there's no question that the lobbying industry has exploded in the last ten years, and that the number of registered lobbyists all competing to get the largess of the Congress and to get legislation through, has forced people or motivated people to seek new ways to influence the process.

DOBBS: I've got ask you a question, because you are very savvy in law, in politics and public service. Bill Schneider here reported tonight that more than half of those without a college education in this country believe that Congress is corrupt. Little over a third, if they got a college degree believe it. What do you think? Do you think that suggests that a college degree isn't worth what it once was?

BRAND: My old boss, Tip O'Neill, used to say, you know, they hate the Congress, but they love their congressmen. The Congress is corrupt, but the person who represents us is a great person. In 1994 that came home to roost in a very negative way for the Democrats after the House bank scandal. The party in control tends to suffer disproportionately.

DOBBS: Yet in that same survey, the fact is that people believe Democrats and Republicans are just about evenly corrupt.

BRAND: People get painted with the broad brush in these things, and they don't necessarily distinguish by party.

DOBBS: Is it your hope, is it your belief, that this investigation will result in a cleaner, more principled Democratic process, at least on Capitol Hill?

BRAND: In the short term. But as John McCain pointed out, ethics in Washington is like a water balloon. You squeeze it on one end to cut off one series of corruption, it pops out at the other end.

DOBBS: Stanley Brand, thanks for being here.

BRAND: My pleasure.

DOBBS: And a reminder to you to please vote in our poll tonight. The question is, do you believe that lobbyists and all lobbying organizations and associations should just be completely banned? Cast your vote at We'll have the results coming up here in a matter of moments.

Coming up next, the American people may soon learn more about the top secret Able Danger program and what it knew about Mohamed Atta before September 11th. I'll be talking with Peter Lance.

And an escalating battle between Russia and Ukraine over a vital natural resource. Europe, vulnerable and feeling the impact. We'll have that story as well, stay with us.


DOBBS: Coming up at the top of the hour here on CNN, "THE SITUATION ROOM" and of course Wolf Blitzer. Wolf, tell us what you're working on.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you very much, Lou. We're getting closer and closer to learning the fate those 13 coal miners trapped below ground in West Virginia. We'll find out why some family members are beginning to get not only frustrated, but angry.

Plus corruption on Capitol Hill, a dirty lobbyist pleads guilty to conspiracy and fraud. We'll find out why some members of Congress are very nervous right now.

Also, Farris Hassan's week off. The high school student speaks out for the first time since he took off to Iraq. We'll hear what he has to say. And legalizing marijuana, the smallest state in the nation just says yes. Lou, back to you.

DOBBS: Wolf, thank you very much. Looking forward to it.

Capitol Hill is gearing up for hearings into what could be one of the most explosive intelligence failure controversies in our history. Officials in the top-secret Able Danger army intelligence unit say they identified 9/11 mastermind Mohammed Atta and other 9/11 radical Islamist terrorists more than a year before those attacks.

And they say they were prevented by U.S. army attorneys from sharing information with the FBI. Last month, the Pentagon announced that it no longer objects to having Able Danger officials testify in congressional hearings. Hearings could begin as soon as next month. Joining me tonight with his insight into these latest Able Danger developments, Emmy award-winning investigative journalist Peter Lance. The author of the book, "Cover Up."

Peter, you say the Bush administration's secret wiretap program boosts the credibility of Able Danger. How so? PETER LANCE, INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALIST: Well, the idea that the NSA, which is the biggest of all the big five intelligence agencies was using data mining, the same technique as the Able Danger operation shows that this was not some rogue operation that they had just done a one-off intelligence investigative technique.

When, in fact, the government itself for years has been practicing this data mining, where they sweep the Internet and look for connections. So I think it enhances the credibility of people like Tony Shaffer and Scott Philpot who have come forward at great risk to say that they had this information on Atta, et cetera.

DOBBS: Well, and Shaffer and Philpot, as they have expressed themselves in this limited way to this point, apparently they're going to be able to speak straightforwardly and openly. We don't know yet whether there will be open hearings or closed, but at least they're going to be appearing before elected representatives. What do you expect that the American people will be learning, if not directly at least through their elected representatives?

LANCE: Well, again, as I've said with you before, the most important information is the corroboration between -- that they found between the active al Qaeda cells in 1999 and the original World Trade Center bombing cell of the blind sheik and Ramzi Yousef.

DOBBS: In 1993.

LANCE: '93 -- that's a crucial, crucial piece of information.

DOBBS: Which you've been investigating for years.

LANCE: Which has been the contention in the findings of the my two books, but also it was ignored by the 9/11 commission. That's like a massive difference of opinion as to what happened on the road to 9/11.

DOBBS: Well, let me ask you this, because I talked with a number of the 9/11 commissioners, former commissioners, and each one with varying degrees of reluctance have either defended the commission's work or denied altogether that there is any relevance here whatsoever for Able Danger. How do you analyze it? How do you react?

LANCE: The reason I believe, Lou, is -- and I had a source inside the commission. I believe that this commission on the Democratic and the Republican side as it was conceived, they made a decision to limit the investigation to the last few years prior to 9/11 from '96 forward.

They intentionally decided not to go back to 1989 when they had these same guys on the radar of the FBI, not to look at World Trade Center bombing in '93, and the reason being, I believe, to remove the culpability of the FBI's New York office and the southern district, the offices of origin, from any culpability for not stopping Yousef in '93. If you take him out of 9/11 plot, then effectively then they're not liable for having not stopped him in '93. DOBBS: Do you think these hearings will produce real, tangible results for the American people, a real understanding of what happened?

LANCE: It's the best chance to reopen the investigation, and they have to get this fellow Dietrich Snell, put him under oath, subpoena him. And if Dietrich Snell tells the truth about what happened when he was on the 9/11 Commission in the southern district, we will get the truth on 9/11.

DOBBS: Peter Lance, thank you very much for your contributions to truth. And we'll be talking throughout. Thank you.

LANCE: Thanks, Lou.

DOBBS: Coming up next, Russia's gas war. The United States and Europe calling upon Russia tend to its hard-line tactics. Our special report coming up next.

And tonight, I'll also have a few thoughts about the old year and the new year, and a few editorialists as well. Stay with us.


DOBBS: Tonight, the State Department is blasting Russia for its move to block natural gas supplies to the Ukraine. The State Department warned Russia against using energy as a political tool. This natural gas dispute has disrupted supplies throughout Europe, but the Europeans appear to have only themselves to blame. Kitty Pilgrim has the report.


KITTY PILGRIM, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Russia picked the coldest time of year to turn off the gas, trying to freeze the Ukrainians into submission and charging them four times as much for gas supplies. But at least 80 percent of that supply goes on to Europe. Sharp falls in delivery to Europe set off howls of protests from European politicians.

CLIFF KUPCHAN, EURASIA GROUP: What's so interesting about what happened on Sunday is that the Soviet part of President Putin jumped back into the forefront. I think Mr. Putin misgauged the European reaction. It was a shock to the Europeans, the Europeans reacted as though they were shocked. I think that, in turn, was a shock to Mr. Putin.

PILGRIM: Russia is one of the largest single sources of natural gas in the world: Germany gets 30 percent of its gas from Russia; France, 27 percent; Italy, 30 percent; the Czech Republic, 71 percent; Hungary, 64 percent; and Poland, 40 percent. President Putin's ploy backfired.

Russia took over the chairmanship of the G8 just two days before it decided to shut off the gas and it will host the G8 meeting later this year. Instead of looking look a world economic power, Russia looked like a thug. Russia's intent was to demonstrate to voters in the Ukraine how much they need Russia. The political maneuvering trying to influence the Ukrainian elections in March.

ARIEL COHEN, HERITAGE FOUNDATION: It was about Russia using its energy power for the first time in an outright play to influence the direction of politics in Ukraine, to serve its control over Ukraine, and I'm not so sure that in the long term it's going work.


PILGRIM: The Europeans like the rest of the world, are now waking up to the fact that they need to diversify their source of energy. Russia seemed a convenient source for Europe because the supply can come entirely over land.

But Europeans are learning the hard way reliance largely on a single source has its risk when the supplier is Russia -- Lou.

DOBBS: Dependency is vulnerability. It could apply as well to, I believe, another large, well-known nation. Thank you very much, Kitty Pilgrim.

Now the results of our poll. Ninety-four percent of you say lobbyists and lobbying organizations should be completely and utterly banned.

Now some of your thoughts. Patty in St. Paul, Minnesota, wrote into say "Lou, must thought I'd let you know that China had a great Christmas. Of the 22 gifts I received, 15 were made in China."

Gary in Salt Lake City: "Lou, corporations keep saying we need a better educated workforce. If we took their advice, we would just end up having the most educated middle class on the unemployment line."

And Josh in Little Rock, Arkansas: "I think the Bush administration should get tough on border security, before we let the smoking alien become a mushroom cloud."

And Frank, in New Egypt, New Jersey wrote to say, "while watching the West Virginia coal miners today, I wondered to myself how can anyone saw that there are jobs that Americans will not do when these men work 260 feet below ground?"

Thanks for your thoughts. Send them to us at

And finally tonight, I'd like to end this program and begin this new year by thanking you for watching and listening to the broadcast throughout. And thank you for your loyalty, your innate intelligence, independence of thought and concern for this nation and for all Americans who deserve the same opportunities that have benefited you and me.

The fact that this broadcast takes to task both Republicans and Democrats, liberals and conservatives alike, confuses some people in this day and age of highly partisan views that often define entire networks and quite a few shows and their hosts. Those who are most confused by our commitment here to the national interests above special interests are primarily editorial page writers and some columnists and a few media critics who can't quite seem to grasp that there is a nonpartisan reality that deserves to be reported and to be commented upon without partisan favor or pursuit.

The libertarian "Wall Street Journal" editorial writers can't tolerate my concern for working men and women in this country, and my disdain for so-called free trade policies that destroy American jobs, and budget deficits that contribute to staggering debts that may overwhelm our next generation.

The conservative "Washington Times" editorialists can't stand my concern about the health of this economy and worries about working wages that have been stagnated despite extraordinary growth and productivity.

The liberal "Los Angeles Times" editorial editors call me a protectionist, apparently because I believe in balanced and mutual trade, instead of trade deficits in perpetuity.

And because I believe it's insane to permit Mexico's president to determine U.S. immigration policy and the strength of our border security, the "Times" writers accuse me of calling for closed borders.

We're spending tens of billions of dollars to fight a war against radical Islamist terrorism, and the "Times" editorial editors think it's rational to have open borders? At least the "Times" deserves credit for also publishing Joe Robinson's essay of excellent new year's resolutions for a sane workplace, with one exception. I don't want to be secretary of labor, and we thank you for joining us.

We wish you a very happy new year and good night from New York. "THE SITUATION ROOM" and Wolf Blitzer next.


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