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THE SITUATION ROOM

Bush And Merkel Urge U.N. Intervention On Iran Nuclear Program; Iran Decade Away From Being Able To Make Bomb; Laura Bush On Who Would Make A Good Presidential Candidate And Speaking To Families Who Had Lost Loved Ones In Iraq; Outrage, Heartbreak In New York Child Abuse Case; Stardust Space Probe Returns; Eight Grader Shot In Florida School; New Orleans Fire Releasing Toxic Fumes; Hastert Wants To Oust Ney; Citgo Launches Fourth Oil Rebate Program; Cell Phones Tracked For Fee

Aired January 13, 2006 - 17:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: You're in THE SITUATION ROOM. Happening now, are records of your cell phone calls available to anyone over the Internet? It's a growing problem that raises huge concerns about privacy and safety. The results of our special investigation may shock you. That's coming up this hour.
And what it's like for the first lady to meet with families whose loved ones have been killed in Iraq. Laura Bush opens up in our CNN exclusive interview.

And it's 4:00 p.m. in New Orleans, where a massive debris pile from Hurricane Katrina is now the scene of a massive fire. Do toxic chemicals pose new dangers for the battered city? I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

We begin with a high-stakes showdown over Iran's nuclear program. President Bush and German Chancellor Angela Merkel may have upped the ante today by calling on the world community to step up and confront Iran over its nuclear activities. For now they're urging for intervention by the United Nations.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The U.N. Security Council is part of a diplomatic process. Started by Germany, France and Great Britain. Representing the interest of a lot of countries like ourselves. Which made it abundantly clear to the Iranians that the development of the know-how and our -- a nuclear weapon was unacceptable. And the reason it's unacceptable, is because, Iran armed with a nuclear weapon, poses a grave threat to the security of the world.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: We're watching the story closely. David Ensor standing by. Let's begin with our White House correspondent, though, Suzanne Malveaux -- Suzanne.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this is a considerably different situation in Iraq and U.S. officials explain this way, they say the reason they're treating it differently with Iran is because what you see are a number of world leaders, European leaders, very powerful, an international body, International Atomic Energy Agency, essentially all of them saying the same thing here, that there's proof that Iran is actually pursuing a nuclear program. That's why you hear them talking about diplomacy.

What are the options here? Of course, they want the IAEA to refer to the U.N. Security Council for possible economic sanctions. But there are things they can do that are lesser than economic sanctions. They can actually decide that will impose travel bans. Perhaps, even cutting foreign investments, or isolating Iran diplomatically even further.

So when you talk and hear people saying, perhaps, there's military options on the table, while the Bush administration says, yes, they're keeping all of the options open. Quietly, they say, of course, that's not the preferred case here. What they want to see are these diplomatic means playing out.

Wolf?

BLITZER: Suzanne Malveaux, at the White House. Thanks, Suzanne, very much.

How close could Iran be to developing nuclear weapons? Let's turn to our national security correspondent David Ensor. He's been doing some digging on that. David?

DAVID ENSOR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the U.S. Intelligence Committee estimated last year, that Iran is about a decade away from processing enough enriched uranium to make a bomb. And that, officials say, remains their view. Though, if things went well for Iran, some believe it could be less. Maybe three to five years.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ENSOR (voice-over): Some U.S. analysts and some Israeli officials, too, worry about another point in the development of centrifuges, thousands of them, to enrich uranium. A point that they fear could be much closer. They call the point of no return.

DAVID ALBRIGHT, INSTITUTE FOR SCIENCE AND INTERNATIONAL SECURITY: The point of no return is when they have learned everything they need to learn. And, it could be as soon as a year. Where they have overcome the major technical hurdles to building a centrifuge plant.

ENSOR: So nuclear experts like Albright say now is the time that American and European need to convince China, Russia, India and others to squeeze Iran, now, before that point is reached. The latest satellite picture underscores the urgency.

What are these here?

ALBRIGHT: These are the footprints on of the underground, what are called cascade halls. So Iran wants to build 50,000 centrifuges. And they would be under these two areas? ENSOR: How do you know that?

ALBRIGHT: Because we have watched it being built since 2000. You would be able to see a hole in the ground the concrete structures going in. And the hole was 75 feet deep originally.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ENSOR: Iran, of course, insists its nuclear research is for peaceful use only, but intelligence officials also point to evidence of efforts on missiles and other technologies that would be needed to field a weapon in maybe 10 or possibly 15 years.

BLITZER: David Ensor reporting for us. David, thank you very much

In Iraq today, a U.S. Army reconnaissance helicopter went down in Mosul, killing its two pilots. The OH-58 Kiowa was on a combat mission, and the deputy U.S. commander in Iraq says there are indications that the aircraft was downed by hostile fire. The latest fatalities bring the death toll among U.S. Forces to 2,214.

Meeting with families whose loved ones have been killed in battle has been an obligation taken seriously by President and Mrs. Bush. The First Lady revealed her feelings about visiting troops in an exclusive interview with CNN's Zain Verjee.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ZAIN VERJEE, CNN ANCHOR: Let's talk a little bit about the families that you meet whose sons or daughters who have been killed in Iraq. What's like for you to can comfort, to console them, especially in families no longer believe in the cause, no longer believe that Iraq is worth it? And it was all in vain. How do you console them?

LAURA BUSH, FIRST LADY OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, of course as you could imagine, it's unbelievably difficult. For them. What they have to suffer. What they'll suffer for the rest of their lives with the loss of somebody they loved best. And then for the president and me to meet these with these families and to know what they have lost.

VERJEE: What do you say?

BUSH: Amazingly enough. Many times they're the ones who comfort us.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: And we'll have more of Zain's exclusive interview with the First Lady. That's coming up this hour here in THE SITUATION ROOM. The entire interview, by the way, will air 7:00 p.m. in THE SITUATION ROOM.

In Florida today a standoff at a middle school ended up with a shooting of an eighth-grader. The Seminole County sheriff says the incident began when the students noticed that the boy had brought a gun to school. The school was evacuated. The SWAT team (sic) was called in. And the student was chased into a restroom. The sheriff said the boy pointed a gun at himself and then at deputies, one of whom who shot him. The boy's weapon turned out to be a modified pellet gun.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LT. MIKE WEIPPER, SEMINOLE COUNTY, FLORIDA: This was the actual firearm that was held during the incident. As you can see, it looks almost identical to that Zac Pahldi (ph) is holding which is the actual real nine millimeter handgun.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: CNN's John Zarrella is joining us on the phone now from Florida. He has more. John?

JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (on phone): Hi, Wolf. Well, this all began 9:30 this morning when other students spotted the gun in the boy's open backpack. After what police say was a brief struggle, this eighth-grader ran off. One of the other boys notified the school resource officer. The police were called in. About 40 arrived within 10 minutes to the school.

The school went into lockdown, eventually evacuated. The SWAT team (sic) trapped the boy to a bathroom in another building. Police say they pleaded with him to put the gun down, he didn't. And in fact, pointed it, they say, at the police officer and that's when they shot -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Do we know about the condition of the boy?

ZARRELLA: The last we heard, he was on advanced life support. No further details.

BLITZER: John's on the scene's there. He's on the way there. We'll get more from you, John, as it becomes available. John Zarrella in Florida.

There is new trouble in New Orleans. Ravaged by flood waters, now a fire is burning in a scrap yard filled with debris from the disaster, and there is serious concern it could be giving off some toxic fumes. CNN Gulf Coast correspondent Susan Roesgen is live now in New Orleans. She's joining us with the latest. Susan?

SUSAN ROESGEN, CNN GULF COAST CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, you can see the smoke from this fire and the wind behind me. In a scrap yard filled with old appliances. Washing machines, refrigerators, you name it. Appliances that were destroyed by the flood.

And when appliances burn, they can cause a toxic smoke. But just a few minutes ago I spoke to an EPA spokeswoman who told me that they have been using air quality control here on the scene and in aircraft flying through the smoke, and right now according to the EPA there are no elevated levels of any hazardous materials in that smoke. However, Wolf, the EPA has told the fire department to stay away from this fire, to keep it contained but don't try to put it out. To let it burn itself off. And Wolf, that could take a couple of days.

BLITZER: And if there is any danger, Susan, we want you out of there. We can see that smoke, that plume right behind you. It certainly looks ominous, but hopefully it's not really toxic. It's not going to be very dangerous.

ROESGEN: That's what the EPA says. And also, Wolf, it's not blowing any populated areas. So it should be a threat to anyone if it stays blowing out of the way, as it is, and if, as the EPA says it doesn't contain any hazardous materials.

BLITZER: Susan Roesgen is on the scene for us in New Orleans. Thank you, Susan, very much.

We're watching severe weather conditions in parts of the eastern United States. Right now our meteorologist Jacqui Jeras is joining us now from the CNN weather center with more on what's going on.

(WEATHER REPORT)

BLITZER: All right, Jacqui, thanks very much. Jacqui Jeras is our meteorologist.

Just ahead here in THE SITUATION ROOM. Who's that on your cell phone? Now, anyone can try to find out. A CNN investigation will show you how anybody right now can buy your private cell phone records and see who you called, when you called, why you're calling - I don't know if they can find out that, but they can certainly find out a lot.

It's a very disturbing story. If you own a cell phone you'll want to stick around and see this report.

Also our CNN exclusive interview with the First Lady. Mrs. Bush sat down earlier today at the White House with our Zain Verjee. One item that she discusses how she and the president comfort the families of those who died in Iraq.

And a NASA spacecraft named Stardust will soon return to earth carrying comet dust. We'll tell you how you can follow the reentry online.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Our congressional correspondent Ed Henry is following a developing story happening now on Capitol Hill. What are you picking up, Ed?

ED HENRY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, CNN has confirmed that speaker of the House, Dennis Hastert is actually in talks with Republican congressman Bob Ney to oust him as the chairman of the House Administration Committee. This is a story first reported by "Roll Call" newspaper on their Web site tonight. Sources on the Hill confirming, in fact, that Hastert is moving to push Ney out next week. And for the greater good of the Republican Party. He would be the second political casualty, if you will, of the Jack Abramoff scandal, coming less than one week after Republican Congressman Tom DeLay announced that he would not be running for majority leader again.

Ney, of course, was named as a so called Representative Number One in the Abramoff plea deal. Allegedly took several gifts in exchange for official legislative actions. We have a comment, in fact, on the record from Hastert spokesman Ron Bonjean saying there are ongoing discussions about this, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Ed Henry, thank you very much. Ed Henry reporting for us. Let's go back to New York. Jack Cafferty standing by. Little house cleaning, if you will, on Capitol Hill in the aftermath of the Jack Abramoff scandal, for those of our viewers who are following this closely.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Stand by for further developments. I've got a hunch there will be a lot more. If the world thinks that they can trust for five minutes that whack job who is currently in charge in Iran, they are kidding themselves.

President Ahmadinejad -- sounds like you have something caught in your throat with a hairball. Ahmadinejad. He's a dangerous little punk who is cut out of the same ball of cloth as the funny looking little dude who runs North Korea.

This guy is a former member of the Iran Revolutionary Guard. There are questions about what role he may have played in the 1979 hostage standoff at the U.S. Embassy in Tehran. He has also questioned that the Holocaust even happened and he's called for the end of Israel's existence. Real choirboy, this one. He insists Iran's restarting of its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes, only.

The bottom line is the civilized world can't afford to take him at his world. Here's the question. What should be done about the growing nuclear threat from Iran? You can email us at caffertyfile@cnn.com.

BLITZER: We'll be anxious to hear what our viewers think, Jack. Thank you very much, Jack Cafferty, with the "Cafferty File."

Coming up, Zain Verjee's exclusive interview with Laura Bush. The first lady would like to see a woman president. She has someone in mind. She'll tell us who she's thinking about.

And, act of charity or act of revenge. The Venezuelan president, Hugo Chavez is again donating oil to cash-strapped in the Northeast. That's angering many, including many in the Bush administration. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: Here's a strange story. Some Rhode Island residents are actually getting some cheap home heating oil compliments of one of the Bush administration's arch enemies. Ali Velshi is joining us in Washington. He's got the bottom line. Ali, what's going on?

ALI VELSHI, CNN ANCHOR: Interesting story. Well, these record oil prices over the last year have meant record profits for oil companies. We told you about that. With the onset of winter, record numbers of low income Americans who are having trouble paying home- heating bills. Back in October, 12 Democratic senators, including Hillary Rodham Clinton wrote a letter to the nine biggest oil companies, to take some of those profits and help families that don't have much money.

Well, according to one of those senators, the only company to respond was Citgo. That's the Venezuelan state-run oil company. It's now launched its fourth heating oil rebate program for struggling families and this one is in Rhode Island. 3.3 million gallons of heating oil. And the folks there and the three other states where Citgo has been discounting heating oil are loving it. At a 40 percent discount, the 9,000 Rhode Islanders who benefit don't care much where the oil comes from.

And neither do those who got the cheap Citgo Oil in New York or Maine or Massachusetts. Where it comes from is part of what makes this situation controversial. Citgo is wholly owned by the government of Venezuela. A government, as you mentioned, that the U.S. government isn't so fond of.

Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez has been a bit of a thorn in the side of the Bush administration. Criticized the administration on matters from the war in Iraq to just capitalism in general. The guy who runs Citgo's parent company in Venezuela is coincidentally also the country's minister of energy.

Citgo, we spoke to them, they said it's nothing political about this. They're doing a good deed. They're helping people out. Is the Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez simply thumbing his nose at President Bush. This story will certainly continue. Wolf?

BLITZER: It certainly will, Ali. Thank you very much. Ali Velshi with the bottom line and this important note to our viewers. Please be sure to watch Ali this weekend, he's hosting ON THE STORY tomorrow night. 7:00 Eastern right here on CNN before a studio audience, over at George Washington University. ON THE STORY with Ali Velshi airs Saturday night, 7:00 p.m. Eastern. If you haven't seen it, you're going to want to see it this weekend.

Coming up -- could a complete stranger get a hold of your cell phone records. You might be shocked how easy it is.

And the First Lady Laura Bush up close and candid in an exclusive interview with our Zain Verjee. Find out who the First Lady thinks would possibly make the best first lady president for the United States. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We have been working on a very important story for our viewers. So cell phone viewers, that is, in particular, listen, cell phone users in particular, listen up right now. This next story is going to shock a lot of people.

There is growing concern that the telephone numbers for every phone call you make and receive on your cell phone, that those numbers are now available online to almost anyone with a little bit of cash. Our Internet team has spent the last week investigating this very serious problem. The results quite startling. Let's begin our coverage with our Internet reporter, Jacki Schechner. Jacki, what's going on?

JACKI SCHECHNER, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Here's the deal, Wolf. This isn't my cell phone. Yet, I have the last 100 outgoing calls from this cell phone. Let me show you what we did. We conducted an investigation. We put one of our producer's cell phone into this Web site, locatecell.com. All we needed was the cell phone number and $110.

Before we go any further, we want to say we have made several phone calls, to locatecell, they haven't gotten back to us over the course of the past week. This was at 2:15 yesterday. According to several Sprint customer service representatives, somebody called Sprint at 3:52 yesterday afternoon. And our producer's account was opened. Nothing else was done with it, as far as we could tell.

9:00 this morning, we got this email that details all of the 100 calls made by this cell phone. We put these up against the actual Sprint cell phone records, and they check out side by side.

Now these look hand typed and we went into them and there were some discrepancies but they looked like typos. For example, the number here, says 669. It was typed in as 399. But other than general typos like that, everything else seemed to be in order.

Again, speaking to several customer service representatives at Sprint, they were unable to give us any more information about who made the call to Sprint, what the customer service representative at Sprint actually did. They did offer our producer the opportunity to purchase, for a nonrefundable $20 a kit that he can then fill out and send back to corporate security at Sprint.

But that was about all they could do. They also offered to change his password. He's already got one of those. That didn't seem to matter. We called Sprint corporate, let me read their statement - "Sprint Nextel does not condone these types of firms and has well- established processes to verify the identity of authorized account holders. Nevertheless, these firms have managed to make a business out of selling such information based on fraud. Sprint Nextel is not the only wireless carrier to have discovered this problem."

That's very much true. We know of people whose records are T- mobile and Cingular they have also been purchased. I spoke to both of those companies. They both said the are aggressively fighting this. Cingular has even filed lawsuits against companies, including the one that operates locatecell.com.

Wolf, I want to point out, one thing that experts told me over the past few days that you can do to protect yourself is to put a pass word on your cell account. But frankly, our producer had a pass word, and that did not make a difference. So this is a very, very serious issue.

BLITZER: Jacki, thanks very much. And it raises some very serious privacy and even safety concerns. CNN's Brian Todd has been looking into this part of this story -- Brian.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, experts say from cops to criminals to others who just don't want their cell phone records out there, the implications of what these data brokers can do are chilling.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TODD (voice-over): Phil Becnel is a private investigator in the Washington, DC area. He says he doesn't use so-called data brokers to find private cell phone records because of the legal implications. But Becnel believes he knows why people use them.

PHIL BECNEL, PRIVATE INVESTIGATOR: The spouses want to determine if their other is cheating on them by determining who they have called recently, stalkers possibly.

TODD: Other security experts we spoke to say online data brokers can be used in many devious ways. Companies can find out if employees have contacted their competitors with their cell phones or if they've called psychiatrists.

Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan believes the law enforcement implications are enormous. Madigan's office recently subpoenaed locatecell.com, one of the most prominent data brokers, to find out how it operates. She hasn't heard back from the company and is preparing her next move.

CNN was unable to get a response from locatecell.com. Madigan says, among the most vulnerable are victims of domestic abuse. Many already don't establish land phone or utility accounts, fearing their abusers may find them.

LISA MADIGAN, ILLINOIS ATTORNEY GENERAL: It's very difficult for you to protect yourself if you're using a cell phone, or any phone, for that matter, if you know that somebody can, for $100, get a hold of the information that will allow them to find out when you're at work, when you're at home, where you are, who you're talking to. And, therefore, they can potentially, you know, stalk -- stalk you and track you down.

TODD: Other law enforcements officials say criminal gangs can pay these services to see if any suspected informants have contacted police using cell phones.

(END VIDEOTAPE) TODD: And it's not just informants who are in danger. Lisa Madigan says a warning recently went out to undercover officers and other police in the Chicago area, saying information on their cell phone calls, including calls they might have made to their own homes, could be sold by these brokers -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All this is so shocking, Brian. Thank you very much.

Our senior Internet producer, Alex Wellen, has been looking into the legal implications of all of this.

Alex, are the companies that provide and sell this information acting legally?

ALEX WELLEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNET PRODUCER: It depends on how they do it. That's really the question.

What's most common, what happens most of the time is that they're calling, what's called pretexting, asking for information, pretending to be you. In the hacking world, when they broke into systems, they called that socially engineering somebody, getting that information out of them.

That's illegal, especially when it comes to bank records, financial records. However, there's a loophole. And it hasn't been -- and it's been exploited and not been dealt with in the law when it comes to these cell phone records. So, on the federal side, we definitely have some problems.

You can otherwise go into the state side of things. There are state laws that deal with deceptive trade practices and theft of property. Those are ways you could go after a company like this.

BLITZER: So, if there's jilted lover or an employer...

WELLEN: Right.

BLITZER: ... or someone who wants this information, gets this information, are they breaking the law?

WELLEN: They are. They are. Technically, they are breaking the law, although we haven't seen anything like that before.

But they're breaking the law. They are basically invading someone's privacy. The laws vary from state to state. But, essentially, they're either breaking the law or inducing someone else to commit a crime, to commit fraud. They go to the company and they say, do something fraudulent. And they're just as responsible.

BLITZER: Can Sprint or T-Mobile or some of these other cell phone companies be sued?

WELLEN: Yes. They could be sued. But they probably wouldn't be sued, if there's an insider. And that's what happens all the time, too. There's somebody inside giving this information. Our investigation, Jacki Schechner's good report, indicated that some of the numbers weren't exactly right. If someone, let's say, were giving it -- and we don't know that was the case -- but giving that information, typing it up, well, that insider might be solely responsible. But if you wanted to go after the company, specifically, I think you would have to show that there is some sort of business pattern or business conduct that demonstrates that they're negligent in that kind of way.

BLITZER: So, what's being done? You speak about this loophole that is out there.

WELLEN: Right.

BLITZER: What is being done to fix this, because this -- this is awful?

WELLEN: I think part of it is all the buzz. It's an important thing right now to have these media reports, these investigations.

Harry Reid, Senator Harry Reid, actually issued a letter today going to the FCC, saying, I want you to do more of an investigation. Charles Schumer has also said, listen, let's close up that loophole. Let's make sure this applies to cell phone records.

And, finally, there's the Electronic Privacy Information Center. And they focus on these types of things. They have also gone to the FCC. And they have gone to the Federal Trade Commission. And they have said, look, there are all these companies doing this right now. You have to stop them. You have to stop them from pretexting, from convincing people that they're someone that they are not.

BLITZER: So, if our viewers, any of our viewers who are nervous right now about somebody getting their records, their cell phone calls, once again, what is the best thing they should do right now?

WELLEN: The best thing they should do is definitely put a password on their account. Actually, now that all the companies are learning this, and they know this information, they basically tell them, essentially, you have had someone call your number; somebody has been looking in to it.

So, you can follow the paper trail, find out if somebody has actually violated your privacy.

BLITZER: Alex Wellen, our senior Internet producer, excellent work, the entire Internet team here...

WELLEN: The whole team together...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: ... in THE SITUATION ROOM. Good work. Thanks very much.

Still to come, Zain Verjee's exclusive interview with the first lady, Laura Bush.

Tracking Stardust, also -- we will show you how you can follow this plucky little spacecraft heading home to Earth right now with a cargo of comet dust.

And this note: coming up in our 7:00 p.m. Eastern hour here in THE SITUATION ROOM, the truth about truthiness -- CNN's Jeanne Moos with 2005's words of the year.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back.

We will move on now to first lady on the first woman president in Africa and a first woman president in America.

Laura Bush spoke earlier today in an exclusive interview with our Zain Verjee, who is joining us here in THE SITUATION ROOM -- Zain.

VERJEE: Wolf, the first lady gave us her thoughts on who she thinks would make a good presidential candidate. She also told me what it was like speaking to families that had lost loved ones in Iraq.

But we started out by talking about her upcoming trip to Liberia to attend the inauguration of a new president, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, a woman.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

VERJEE: Well, thank you so much for this interview.

Why is it so important for you to attend the inauguration ceremony of Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf?

LAURA BUSH, FIRST LADY OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, I think it's a very, very historical time for Liberia, of course. And really for the whole continent of Africa to have the first women president.

Liberia just has had 14 years of civil war, of a lot of problems. And they just ended up with a really good, competitive and fair election. And it's really thrilling that Ellen Sirleaf-Johnson (sic) is going to be the new president.

VERJEE: She's a magnificent woman, isn't she?

BUSH: She is.

VERJEE: Very, very powerful.

As an American woman, seeing that Africa has its first elected president who is a woman, what does that make you think? Do you think it's time that America...

BUSH: I think it will happen for sure. I think it will happen probably in the next few terms of the presidency in the United States. VERJEE: Who would you like to see?

BUSH: Well, of course, a Republican.

(LAUGHTER)

BUSH: Maybe Dr. Rice.

VERJEE: Yes?

BUSH: Yes. And she says she definitely is not running.

VERJEE: But you would like to see her run?

BUSH: Sure, I'd love to see her run. She's terrific.

VERJEE: I have grown up in Africa. You know, I've seen sort of the poverty, the HIV/AIDS there that really devastates the continent. The lack of education programs, as you are well aware of.

How do you think you can make a difference, even a small difference, to the lives of African women and Africans in general in the projects that you are trying to do?

BUSH: Well, I think that when -- actually, if we talk about it, if we speak out from all over the world and talk about how important it is for girls to be educated; how if girls are educated, they have much more of a chance to be able to negotiate their own sex life, for instance, to protect themselves from sexually transmitted diseases. And then to be able to contribute to their economies, to their societies.

As we look around the world and we see countries where women are left out, we usually see an unstable, not very prosperous economy. And we know that for countries to be able to really succeed, everybody needs to be able to be involved.

VERJEE: There was a very dramatic moment a couple of days ago in the Supreme Court confirmation hearings where Mrs. Alito just sort of broke down, cried and left the room on hearing her husband being criticized.

BUSH: Do I ever feel like doing that?

(LAUGHTER)

VERJEE: Yes, I mean -- have you...

BUSH: Every once in a while.

VERJEE: Do you ever feel like crying when you hear the president being criticized, called a liar, being abused?

BUSH: Well, no, not really. But I will say I called Martha Alito yesterday to tell her to hang in there. I do think it's really important in the United States for people like Judge Alito, who -- to be treated with respect.

I think it's very important for the Senate to have a very civil and respectful hearing for anyone that has been nominated, for the Supreme Court or for the other jobs that require Senate confirmation.

But on the other hand, my family's been in politics for a long time. And I think you do develop a thick skin. Does it ever not hurt? You know, not really.

VERJEE: So you don't take it personally?

BUSH: Well, you try not to take it personally.

VERJEE: Right. Do you...

BUSH: But that's what I want to say, is that I think personal attacks are what people don't like and are what are really unwarranted.

VERJEE: Let's talk a little bit about the families that you meet whose sons or daughters have been killed in Iraq. What's it like for you to comfort them, to console them? Especially if these are families who no longer believe in the cause, no longer believe that Iraq is worth it and that it was all in vain. How do you console them?

BUSH: Well, I mean, of course, as you can imagine, it's unbelievably difficult. The -- for them, what they have to suffer, what they'll suffer for the rest of their lives with the loss of somebody they loved best. And then for the president and for me to meet with these families and to know what they've lost and what they've suffered.

VERJEE: What do you say?

BUSH: Amazingly enough, many times they are the ones that comfort us. In a lot of cases, military families have a tradition of being military families. The fathers themselves or the mothers were in the military. And it's a proud tradition of their family. In many, many cases, the grandparents were also in the military.

But, you know, what we say is what we say today, to you, which is, we do think it's worth it, that we know we can really make a huge difference in the world if Iraq, in the middle of the Middle East, can build a stable democracy. That's -- it will be unbelievable, really.

I mean, it will be something that will be so strong for all of the other surrounding countries, for Palestine, for Israel, for this opportunity to build peace there and to build strong and stable countries.

VERJEE: And finally, I know the president has an iPod; you don't have an iPod.

BUSH: I have an iPod. No, I have an iPod.

VERJEE: But -- so, I'll ask you then, what's on your reading list for 2006? What are you reading now?

BUSH: Well, right now, let's see, I'm reading a really great book about Gertrude Bell. Gertrude Bell was a British woman who was really very ahead of her time. She did a lot of travel in what we would call the Middle East and Arabia, which she would, Persia. And she was very influential in actually the designation of Iraq as we know it at the end of World War I. And it's a book about a very, very fascinating and adventuresome woman, but also a very interesting time.

VERJEE: Do you ever recommend your books to the president to read?

BUSH: Sure. Yes, we share books with each other a lot.

VERJEE: All right, thank you so much, Mrs. Bush.

BUSH: Thank you.

VERJEE: It's been a real pleasure.

BUSH: Thanks a lot.

VERJEE: Thank you very much.

BUSH: Thank you.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

VERJEE: And, Wolf, the first lady leaves tomorrow night for Liberia. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will be accompany her as well.

And Mrs. Bush's daughter, Barbara, who is 24 years old, will also be part of the official delegation for the first time. Mrs. Bush says that she's very excited about that. The whole delegation will go to Ghana after Liberia -- Wolf.

BLITZER: This is really important for Africa. You were born in Africa...

VERJEE: Yes.

BLITZER: ... in Nairobi...

VERJEE: Yes.

BLITZER: ... in Kenya.

How important is it, A, that there is a woman who's democratically elected, the new president of Liberia, and that the first lady of the United States is now going to go to her inauguration?

VERJEE: It's a really big deal for all Africans. African women, particularly, are so proud of this, particularly the fact that Laura Bush will be present at this inauguration. Like you said, I have -- I have grown up in Africa. And you see a lot of African women, you know, working in the fields, trying to just make ends meet, you know, earn enough to buy bread, enough to buy milk, that are not always represented at -- at a political level at all in parliament, because they're just trying to get their basic needs sorted out.

So, in an environment where, historically, we have seen so many strong men, dictators of Africa, that have not acquiesced to any election results, to have a democratically elected woman is a big deal. She's also Harvard-educated, economist, 67-year-old grandmother. So, everyone is excited about it.

BLITZER: We met her. She was here...

VERJEE: Yes.

BLITZER: ... in THE SITUATION ROOM a few weeks back.

Thanks very much. Good work, Zain -- Zain Verjee reporting for us.

And this important note to our viewers: The entire interview with the first lady, Laura Bush, much more, will be coming up at 7:00 p.m. Eastern right here in THE SITUATION ROOM, Zain Verjee's exclusive interview with the first lady in its entirety, 7:00 p.m. Eastern.

Lou Dobbs standing by, getting ready for his program that begins right at the top of the hour -- Lou.

LOU DOBBS, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, thank you very much.

And Zain had a terrific talk with the first lady.

Coming up here at 6:00 on CNN, we will have the very latest for you on all the day's news. We will be talking about Able Danger as well, which Congressman Curt Weldon says could be the biggest scandal of our lifetime. Congressman Weldon is my guest tonight.

And another scandal well under way, the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal -- we will tell you about one House of Representatives committee that allowed lobbyists to throw an expensive party for them all, on government property, by the way. But what's really startling about this story is that this is the same committee that's principally responsible for government reform.

And, Wolf, don't think for a minute that it's an accident that our federal government is allowing three million illegal aliens a year to cross our borders. Tonight, you will hear about a U.S. congressman working openly with open-border activists to kill a critical piece of border security legislation.

All of that, and a great deal more, coming up at 6:00. Back to you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Lou. Lou Dobbs' program comes up right at the top of the hour.

But, up next, her story has captured attention and hearts around the world. We will update you on the condition of Baby Noor, following her surgery.

Plus, what should be done about the growing nuclear threat from Iran? It's our question of the hour. Jack Cafferty is going through your e-mail.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: In New York, there's outage and heartbreak over a case of child abuse that left a 7-year-old girl dead, and questions over whether her life could have been saved.

Mary Snow's joining us now from New York with details -- Mary.

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, it's an unspeakable case of child abuse. And it has also prompted the city to review thousands of cases of abuse and neglect immediately.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SNOW (voice-over): A city mourns the death of a defenseless 7- year-old.

The alleged crimes against Nixzmary Brown are hard to fathom. Her mother and stepfather are now under arrest. The city is checking into whether it missed opportunities to save her life, after signs of trouble were first reported last spring.

MICHAEL BLOOMBERG (R), MAYOR OF NEW YORK: We, as a city, have failed this child. And we should do everything we can to make sure that we don't fail the next child.

SNOW: Investigators say the child, who weighed only 36 pounds, was, allegedly, systemically tortured.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She was beaten repeatedly. She was starved. She was tied up. She was bound, like an animal.

SNOW: Among other charges, the girl's stepfather, Cesar Rodriguez, was charged with murder and sex abuse -- her mother, Nixzaliz Santiago, charged with manslaughter. The Brooklyn District Attorney's Office says they pled not guilty.

The city's Administration for Children's Services says it first checked on Nixzmary Brown back in May, when her school reported long absences. It says the family cooperated at the time. But, in November, the ACS was called again. This time, it says the family allegedly refused to allow case workers into the home. The child services commissioner says not getting a warrant was crucial. JOHN MATTINGLY, COMMISSIONER, NEW YORK CITY ADMINISTRATION FOR CHILDREN'S SERVICES: The one thing we are sure of is, that was our key opportunity. People made judgments about whether it was an emergency or not. And those judgments turned out to be wrong.

SNOW: Now the city is reviewing all open cases of abuse and negligence reports. It's estimated there are as many as 10,000 of them. Child advocates say the review is a good move, but have questions.

MARCIA LOWRY, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, CHILDREN'S RIGHTS: One has a concern about how thoroughly that is going to get done, of course. But it's also, in many ways, an extraordinary admission. It's a brave thing to do, to be so forthcoming.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SNOW: But the child advocate we spoke with also says there needs to be a permanent system where these cases are reviewed on a regular basis. Meantime, the two suspects in the little girl's death are being represented by public defenders, who could not be reached for comment today -- Wolf.

BLITZER: What a heartbreaking story.

Mary, thank you very much -- Mary Snow reporting from New York.

And now an update on another story we have following. Doctors say Baby Noor will likely develop normally. She was released from an Atlanta hospital earlier today. Doctors recently operated on the three-month-old Iraqi baby brought to the United States for treatment for spina bifida.

Up next, it has spent years chasing comets and gathering space samples -- now that space probe named Stardust only hours away from home. We will tell you how to follow it online.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back.

NASA's Stardust space probe is headed back to Earth, scheduled to parachute into the Utah desert just past 5:00 a.m. Eastern Sunday. The satellite has spent almost seven years chasing comets and collecting dust samples from outer space.

But you don't have to be in mission control to watch the satellite's return. The event will be unfolding online around the world.

Abbi Tatton has details -- Abbi.

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, the Stardust has been around the sun three times, and now it's headed to Utah. After it enters the Earth's atmosphere, parachutes are going to deploy to slow the landing of this capsule containing particles from the comet Wild Two.

Now, if you're in the states around Utah, Nevada, California, Oregon, in some areas there, you are going to be able to see this reentry. But if you're watching from home, you can also watch the live Webcam at mission control. The last time one of these capsules returned to Earth, the parachutes failed to open, and it crashed to ground. So, you will be wanting to watch this mission control in Pasadena very carefully, if you want to get up early on Sunday morning -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Let's hope it's safe landing. Thanks very much, Abbi, for that.

Jack Cafferty in New York with "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: Thanks, Wolf.

What should be done about the growing nuclear threat from Iran?

Glen (ph) writes from Haymarket, Virginia: "It's a perfect example of the lack of understanding of the Muslim world. I'm now firmly convinced that Iran wants to be taken to the U.N. Security Council. It will then shove the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in our faces. They will then hope they can convince other countries the U.S. has ticked off to vote against sanctions."

Noel in Edmonton, Alberta: "Their present fixation with nuclear development is neither new, or unusual. But recent history does not bode well for the near future. The U.N. should brand them as pariahs and severely sanction them. The United States should keep out of it."

Lloyd writes from Las Vegas, Nevada: "President Bush had the solution to begin with. He just didn't follow through. To wit, destroy those who attacked us on 9/11 and all who housed, aided and abetted such terrorists and terrorism. That means finish the job with Iran and Syria as well."

Alan writes from Knoxville, Tennessee: "Couldn't we just assassinate the leader of Iran? We could blame it on Pat Robertson. He seems to have no problem killing off world leaders."

Paula in Albuquerque, New Mexico: "I have no idea. However, whatever is decided had better contain a great deal of forethought and caution. Iran doesn't seem particularly frightened by America, its envoys or its military."

Martin writes: "He wants nukes? Let's drop one on his research facility and fulfill his dream."

This weekend, on "IN THE MONEY," which is a little business program we do around here, we will look at how more and more companies are doing away with pension plans and why that actually may be a good thing, unless, of course, it's your pension plan that's done away with. The show is on tomorrow at 1:00 Eastern and Sunday at 3:00.

Jennifer Westhoven, who you see regularly on CNN Headline News, and Andy Serwer, who is a regular on "AMERICAN MORNING" and an editor at large for "Fortune" magazine, join me on this program, along with Allen Wastler, our online guy. It airs Saturday at 1:00, Sunday at 3:00. And we take roll, so try to be on time. And -- and we will promise to finish on time and let you go for the rest of the weekend.

BLITZER: It's really a great show. We watch it.

Jack, thanks very much. See you back here in THE SITUATION ROOM in one hour.

"IN THE MONEY," you're going to want to catch it, Saturday afternoons and Sunday afternoons.

We are here in THE SITUATION ROOM weekdays, 4:00 to 6:00 p.m. Eastern. We are back 7:00 p.m. Eastern, one hour from now. We will have Zain Verjee's full interview with the first lady, Laura Bush. You will be able to see the whole thing. It was done earlier today over at the White House.

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

Lou Dobbs getting ready for his program -- Lou is standing by in New York.

DOBBS: Thank you, Wolf.

TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com

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