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Moussaoui Mocks 9/11 Victims And Families; Head Of IAEA Hopes To Diffuse Nuclear Standoff In Iran; Should Rumsfeld Resign?; First Televised Town Hall Meeting Between FBI And Muslim Community; School Bus Safety

Aired April 13, 2006 - 17:00   ET


HEIDI COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: And to our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM, where new pictures and information are arriving all the time.
Standing by now, CNN reporters across the United States and around the world to bring you today's top stories.

Happening right now, 5:00 p.m. in Alexandria, Virginia, where a defiant Zacarias Moussaoui testified in his own defense. But what he said won't win him any sympathy from the jury that's about to decide whether he lives or dies.

And it's 12:30 a.m. Friday in Iran, now in a stalemate with the United Nations nuclear watchdog agency, setting the stage for a confrontation in the Security Council and a possible showdown with Washington.

And 5:00 p.m. at the Pentagon. For the second day in a row, a retired top commander of U.S. forces in Iraq is calling for Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to step down.

I'm Heidi Collins, in for Wolf Blitzer, and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

No regrets and no remorse from Zacarias Moussaoui. The al Qaeda conspirator testified in the death penalty phase of his trial today, mocking 9/11 victims and their families and saying he wished more had died in the terror attacks.

CNN's Jeanne Meserve is live now for us in Alexandria, Virginia, with more.

Hi, Jeanne.


As you say, Moussaoui was unequivocal and he was unrepentant, saying he had no regret, no remorse about the 9/11 attacks. He said he wished 9/11 had happened again on September 12th, 13th, 14th, 15th, and so on. "I want to see it every day until we get here to you," he said. "Like they say, no pain, no gain."

As you mentioned, Moussaoui dismissed the testimony of 9/11 families who have testified very emotionally in his courtroom. He called one Pentagon survivor "pathetic," saying, "I was regretful that he did not die." Moussaoui said he found it disgusting that some people would show their grief to seek the death of someone else.

Abraham Scott lost his wife at the Pentagon on 9/11. He had this response to Moussaoui's court appearance.


ABRAHAM SCOTT, WIDOWER OF FLIGHT 77 VICTIM: I have no pity for him. I can't -- and I don't know whether I'm contradicting myself -- I don't hate him, but I do believe that he -- he needs to be -- he needs to be punished, punished to the fullest.


MESERVE: Moussaoui talked about hating the U.S. for its military and economic strength and also for its support of Israel. "If I want to destroy Israel," he said, "I have to destroy you. You are the head of the snake for me." He said he would be willing to kill Americans any time, anywhere.

He had very harsh words for his defense team today. That defense team is expected to argue that Moussaoui should not get the death penalty because he is mentally ill. Moussaoui may have helped that case today when he testified that he believed President Bush will set him free before the end of his term. He said that was part of a dream that he had had. Asked if he wanted to die, Moussaoui responded, "I want to fight."

Heidi, back to you.

COLLINS: Wow. Some of those things, Jeanne, really, really make your stomach churn.

Before we let you go, what exactly do you think we may hear in the following days from the defense?

MESERVE: Well, there's no court in session tomorrow. They will resume their case next week.

The judge indicated at the end of court today it's going to be a shorter defense case than we had anticipated. What we had been told to expect was testimony about his difficult childhood in France, why he might have been susceptible to recruitment from al Qaeda, and also testimony about his mental health.

Back to you.

COLLINS: All right. Jeanne Meserve in Alexandria, Virginia.

Jeanne, thank you.

Now to a developing story that we're following. The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency is in Iran hoping to diffuse the nuclear standoff. Mohamed ElBaradei says there is ample time for a solution. But how that might happen remains to be seen. CNN's Bill Schneider will explain how the situation in Iraq may complicate dealings with Iran.

But we begin first with CNN National Security Correspondent David Ensor -- David.

DAVID ENSOR, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, Heidi, the stage does appear to be set for a confrontation at the U.N. Security Council around the end of this month.


ENSOR (voice over): The Iranian government staged demonstrations in Natanz outside the uranium enrichment facility as in Tehran talks with International Atomic Energy chief Mohamed ElBaradei and top Iranian officials produced no apparent breakthroughs.

MOHAMED ELBARADEI, DIRECTOR GENERAL, IAEA: I'd like to see that Iran has come to terms with that request of the international community to take the required confidence-building measures and, therefore, be able to move all concerned parties back to the negotiating table.

ENSOR: Iran's chief negotiator, Ali Larijani, dismissed calls from the U.N. Security Council for Iran to suspend its newly announced uranium enrichment efforts as "not very important."

CONDOLEEZZA RICE, SECRETARY OF STATE: Now, when the Security Council reconvenes, there will have to be some consequence for that action and that defiance. And we will look at the full range of options available to the Security Council.

ENSOR: Iran insists its nuclear program is entirely meant to produce electricity, but in Washington, General Michael Hayden, the nation's number two intelligence officer, said, "We believe Iran is intent on developing a nuclear weapon."

U.S. officials hope extreme and sometimes strange comments by Iran's president may help them further isolate Iran, comments such as when Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said he thought he had a halo around his head when he spoke to the U.N. General Assembly.

KARL ROVE, DEP. WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: This guy had a sense that he was mystically empowered, and as a result, transfixed the audience. Now, that is not a rational human being to deal with.

ENSOR: The long shot challenge now for the U.S. and Europe is to convince Russia and China to vote for robust sanctions with teeth that might convince Tehran it should reconsider its confrontational approach to the United Nations.


ENSOR: And short of that, and short of military action, an Iranian bomb may be likely. Though U.S. intelligence officials say it is still years away -- Heidi. COLLINS: So, David, is there really any other way to put pressure on Iran?

ENSOR: Well, one way would be for the European Union to come up with its own set of sanctions of travel and economic sanctions. And that is a possibility. Diplomats are talking about it. But CNN's Elise Labott was talking to a couple of Western diplomats today who said they really want to put their attention on the U.N. Security Council sanctions, convincing Russia and China to go for those. That's not going to be easy -- Heidi.

COLLINS: I bet not. All right. David Ensor, thank you for that.

And there's one potential factor that could play a significant role in how the United States deals with Iran. Our Senior Political Analyst Bill Schneider looks at the Iraq syndrome now. And Bill is here to explain that live -- Bill.

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: Heidi, it was called the "Vietnam Syndrome." Every time the possibility of military intervention came up, the issue was, is this another Vietnam? Well, is there an Iran syndrome emerging now?


SCHNEIDER (voice over): Most Americans now say the Iraq war was a mistake. Will that produce an Iraq syndrome, concern that any use of force by the United States will turn into another Iraq? The current challenge is Iran's nuclear program.

The Bush administration does not rule out the use of force against Iran. But it doesn't exactly embrace it, either.

DONALD RUMSFELD, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: The president has indicated his concern about the country, but it is just simply not useful to get into fantasy land.

SCHNEIDER: A question in a new poll asks, "If Iran continues to produce material that can be used to make nuclear weapons, would you support military action against Iran?" The answer is a cautious yes, 48 to 40 percent. Iran is openly defiant about its nuclear program, although it says its purposes are peaceful.

MAHMOUD AHMADINEJAD, IRANIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): And nuclear technology serves peaceful purposes.

SCHNEIDER: The U.S. is not alone in its concerns.

MICHAEL O'HANLON, BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: Most countries are on record as being concerned about Iran's nuclear ambitions.

SCHNEIDER: Americans' reluctance to endorse the use of force against Iran may have bigger reasons than any Iraq syndrome.

O'HANLON: I think Americans are still fairly nervous about using force of any type under any circumstances, and there tends to be a high threshold for supporting such uses of force. And that, I think, is the fundamental reason why we are not at war anywhere else right now, as opposed to any Iraq syndrome.

SCHNEIDER: The clearest evidence of an Iraq syndrome comes from this question: "Do you trust George W. Bush to make the right decision about whether we should go to war with Iran?" Most Americans say they don't.


SCHNEIDER: That may be the real Iraq syndrome, a credibility gap for this president -- Heidi.

COLLINS: Talk a little bit about Vietnam Syndrome, if you would, Bill. How long did that last?

SCHNEIDER: Well, Heidi, it did not prevent the United States from undertaking a serious military buildup in the 1980s. It did not prevent the United States from going to war with Saddam Hussein after he invaded Kuwait in 1991. In fact, in March '91, the first President Bush remarked, "By god, we've kicked the Vietnam syndrome once and for all."

COLLINS: Bill Schneider, thank you.

And time now for what we call "The Cafferty File". Our Jack Cafferty back in New York.

Hello again, Jack.


COLLINS: We'll keep that going for the next couple of hours, all right?

CAFFERTY: It's a presidential tradition. President Bush will give commencement speeches at four colleges this year, including a community college that was hit by Hurricane Katrina. The White House announced today the president will speak at Oklahoma State University, the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy, and Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College.

In a speech to graduates of the U.S. Naval Academy last year, Mr. Bush said that, "We are winning the war on terror." That's a quote, highlighting elections in Iraq and Afghanistan at the time.

So, considering what's happened during this past year, from the ongoing war in Iraq, to Hurricane Katrina, here's the question: If you were writing a commencement address for President Bush, what would it include?

E-mail your thoughts to or go to -- Heidi.

COLLINS: Interesting question. All right, Jack. We'll wait to read those e-mails. Thank you.

Up ahead, another retired general is calling for Donald Rumsfeld to step down. He will lay out his case against the defense secretary in his own words.

Also, are Republicans worried about President Bush's plunging poll numbers? I will talk with party chairman Ken Mehlman on that. He's standing by to join us in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Plus, Ford says it's closing up shop at two major manufacturing plants. Our Ali Velshi will have much more on that story.


COLLINS: Fredricka Whitfield joining us now from the CNN Center in Atlanta with the very latest headlines.

Hi, Fred.


A Pennsylvania man is being held without bail in the killings of six of his family members. Jesse Wise was arraigned today. Court documents reportedly indicate he admitted to strangling three of the victims and bludgeoning the others last weekend.

Police found the bodies of Wise's grandmother, two of his aunts, and three cousins at Wise's grandparents' house. The youngest victim was just 5 years old.

Pakistani forces apparently have killed a suspected al Qaeda member wanted in the 1998 bombing of two U.S. embassies. Pakistani officials say Musin Atwa (ph) and several other Islamic militants died in yesterday's missile attack on their hideout near Pakistan's border. The U.S. had offered $5 million for Atwa's capture. The August 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania killed 12 Americans and more than 200 Africans.

Another day, another car bombing in Iraq. This one killed at least 15 people and wounded 22 others. The car bomb exploded in a crowded vegetable market in a Shiite area of Baghdad. Last week a car bomb in the same neighborhood killed 12 people -- Heidi.

COLLINS: All right. Fredricka Whitfield, thank you.

Now to new details in a developing story that we've been following. The White House is defending its defense secretary, Donald Rumsfeld. There is a small list of retired military generals urging Rumsfeld's resignation. It seems to be growing by the day.

Joining me now for more clarification on that CNN Pentagon Correspondent Barbara Starr.

Hi, Barbara.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Hello to you, Heidi. Well, another day of defense at the White House. And an awful lot of bad feelings all over the place.


STARR (voice over): In this case, the boss's opinion is really the only one that matters.

SCOTT MCCLELLAN, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president believes Secretary Rumsfeld is doing a very fine job during a challenging period in our nation's history.

STARR: But the questions kept coming.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Has Secretary Rumsfeld recently offered...

MCCLELLAN: I don't have any update. That could be a question to ask him, or -- I don't have any update.

STARR: Rumsfeld aides tell CNN the secretary has not offered to resign recently. He did offer twice during the Abu Ghraib prison abuse scandal. And they say the current firestorm is not a distraction.

But for the second day in a row, a recently retired combat commander from Iraq has called for Rumsfeld to step down. CNN spoke to Major General Charles Swannick, who commanded the 82nd Airborne Division in western Iraq through much of the insurgency.

MAJ. GEN. CHARLES SWANNICK, JR. (RET.), U.S. ARMY, 82ND AIRBORNE COMMANDER: I feel he's micromanaged the generals who are leading our forces there to achieve our strategic objectives. I really believe that we need a new secretary of defense.

STARR: Swannick suggests the problem is that things are simply out of kilter in the traditional balance between civilian control of the military and letting the generals do their job on the battlefield.

SWANNICK: Military leaders see their advancement only at the favor of Secretary Rumsfeld, not because of the good job they do, not because of the potential they have. More so the favor of Secretary Rumsfeld. That's where we get amiss in this whole thing.


STARR: Heidi, General Swannick says he did speak up while he was on active duty, but he explains that many generals stay on the job, he says, out of loyalty to the young troops the command.

But still, Heidi, here in these Pentagon hallways tonight, there is an awful lot of bad feeling and a serious growing concern that all of this is going to lead to some new level of mistrust between the civilian leadership of the military and the senior commanders -- Heidi.

COLLINS: But Barbara, does the Pentagon feel that Rumsfeld might actually be feeling, you know, hounded in all of this?

STARR: Well, I think that Secretary Rumsfeld's made it clear he doesn't feel hounded, but his aides certainly are making it clear that there is concern about this question. And they say that he is simply moving ahead, doing his job, staying here as long as the president wants him. But really, this has become a focus of much of the discussion in the building for the last couple of days.

It's really become a key topic around here. What Rumsfeld's aides say is they just hope to move beyond it and get back to business -- Heidi.

COLLINS: That would be good. All right. Barbara Starr, thank you, from the Pentagon today.

Coming up, thousands of jobs on the line as Ford makes a major announcement on plant closures. Ali Velshi will have "The Bottom Line" for us on that.

And, coming up in our 7:00 p.m. Eastern hour, it's reality TV with a twist. And some see it as a slap in the face to religion. We'll preview "God or the Girl" and show you what the controversy is all about.


COLLINS: Time now for our Ali Velshi with "The Bottom Line."

Ali, what's happening with Ford?

ALI VELSHI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Heidi, good to see you.

Well, back in January, you'll recall Ford announced that it was going to cut about 30,000 jobs, it was going to close 14 plants. But back then it only named five of the plants that it was going to close. Two more came today.

One of them is a plant that makes the Ford Ranger pickup truck in Minnesota -- 1,750 union workers will lose their jobs there. Also, a plant in Norfolk, Virginia, will close. More than 2,000 people will be laid off there.

Now, that factory is one of several that makes the F-150 pickup truck. And F-150, I know you know this, Heidi, has been the best selling vehicle in America for 23 years in a row. Best selling vehicle, cars and trucks.

Now, I like to point out that the F-150 comes in about 22 different flavors. So it's more of a class of a car than a model.

Now, while we are on the topic of hot selling things, what is up with Martha Stewart? She goes to jail, and now she cannot beat the new business away with a stick.

Last week, she announced a deal with Federated Department Stores, the outfit that runs Macy's and Bloomingdales. Those stores are now going to be selling Martha's branded goods.

What about Kmart? Well, Martha's contract with Kmart runs out in 2009. And what's more, now that Sears and Kmart are owned by the same guy, many people thought that Martha's brand would be sold at Sears. That is not likely to happen.


COLLINS: All right, Ali. And you're probably going to want to stick around for this next story.

If you think that by buying online you've managed to avoid paying sales taxes, think again. On this year's tax return, you may be required by law to pay taxes on that book, that movie or those clothes you bought over the Internet.

Jacki Schechner has more.

Do we want to hear this, Jacki?

JACKI SCHECHNER, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Here's the deal, Heidi. Unless you live in one of five states that have no sales tax, Oregon, Montana, Alaska, New Hampshire and Delaware, and you bought something online, you probably owe money.

Here's how it works. Go to Say I want to buy this camera and they don't charge me sales tax. Well, it doesn't mean that I don't owe sales tax.

It's called a used tax. And it's been on the books since the 1930s. So if your state has sales tax, you also have use tax.

It's either going to show up on your tax return -- right here, see, it says "used tax," or it's going to be in a supplementary form. But most people don't know what it is, so they just leave it blank.

Now, this can translate into the loss of a lot of money. The state of California tells me they think they lose about a billion dollars a year in unpaid used tax. That's money that goes into the state general fund.

So, what they are doing is they are doing a new banner ad campaign online to try to educate people, but that's about all they can do. I spoke to the Federation of Tax Administrators today, and they tell me that this is money that's very hard to collect and keep track of.

We make a lot of purchases online. We don't spend a lot of money on those individual purchases, Heidi. It's very tough to track.

COLLINS: What do you say? We move to Montana?

SCHECHNER: I'm there.

COLLINS: I'm up for it.

SCHECHNER: I'm there.

COLLINS: All right, Jacki. We'll see you a little bit later on.

Coming up now, a sinking feeling? How worried are Republicans over President bush's low poll numbers? I will talk with the man whose job it is to spruce up the Republican image. Ken Mehlman, head of the Republican National Committee, is in THE SITUATION ROOM.

And, the pope gives his opinion on a man long thought to be a liar. A recently released ancient text suggested the apostle Judas may not have double crossed Jesus. Now Pope Benedict tells us what he thinks.


COLLINS: More now on the developing story over the nuclear standoff with Iran. The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency is in Tehran hoping to diffuse the nuclear standoff. Meanwhile, Iran's president says his country will not budge "one iota" on its path to enriching uranium.

Here to explain how the Bush administration is responding is CNN White House Correspondent Suzanne Malveaux.

Hi, Suzanne.


The White House is being very cautious not to put an American face on this goal here. They are emphasizing that this is the will of the international community that Iran does not develop nuclear weapons. They are being very cautious in framing this debate.

They say it is the U.N. Security Council that is going to hold Iran to account. They also say it's the International Atomic Energy Agency that is going to force Iran to comply.

They also want to bring forward the message very careful to the Iranian people, saying this is not an issue about Iran's right to develop a civil nuclear program for electricity or for power, but rather, it's the will of the international community that has determined that Iran cannot be trusted with a nuclear weapon.


MCCLELLAN: So we'll continue to talk with the Security Council, we'll continue to talk with our other friends and allies about what steps to take if Iran continues on its current course. The regime is showing continued defiance, and it is time for the security council to act on the diplomatic front if they continue down that path.


MALVEAUX: So, Heidi, what are some of those possible steps? Well, it could be, of course, imposing a travel ban on Iranian officials, is one possibility. Another one, of course, is freezing Iranian assets, requiring all member of the U.N. to freeze those assets. That would be very significant.

The big question, Heidi, of course, is whether or not the United States will get that kind of cooperation from the permanent five members of the U.N. Security Council to do just that -- Heidi.

COLLINS: Suzanne Malveaux, thank you.

A political observer once said the Republican's Party ideals sit on a stool with three legs: economic issues, national security and social issues. But how shaky or solid might that stool be this election year?

Joining me is Ken Mehlman, chairman of the Republican National Committee, and apparently the number one guest of the show. I said it. There you go.

I appreciate that.

COLLINS: You've been on a lot. And it's a pleasure meeting you. Let me just ask...



COLLINS: Yes. Yes -- right.

We want to go to some sound from David Gergen.


COLLINS: He's a person, obviously, who has served both for Republican administrations and Democratic administrations, his opinion on this current administration...


COLLINS: ... right here.


DAVID GERGEN, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL ADVISER: I think they're in deep, deep trouble. And they may not be able to get out of this hole before it's over.


COLLINS: In response to the "Washington Post" story, and the trailers, and the WMD in Iraq, your response to that?

MEHLMAN: Well, I disagree with Mr. Gergen.

I think that this president is providing leadership that is helping not only keep prosperity in our country -- we saw again last month more than 200,000 jobs created -- but is doing what's necessary to take this tough battle against terrorists and make sure we are fighting over there, as opposed to keeping them safe over here.

In terms of the trailer story you're talking about, once again, what we heard from the Democrat chairman is more playing politics in the war on terror. The fact is that, before we invaded Iraq and removed Saddam Hussein from power, Howard Dean said, George Bush believed, Hillary Clinton believed, John Kerry believed, the French believed, the Germans believed, all over the world, people believed he had WMD.

It turns out, the intelligence indicated that wasn't the case. And now, what we're trying to do is fix the intelligence. And what you have from the other side is an attempt to play politics. And I think, if the American people will have to choose, as they will, this coming November, between one party that wants to do whatever it takes to win the war on terror and another party that changes its position to win the next spin cycle, I think the American people are going to vote to elect Republicans.

COLLINS: But it is a fair question, is it not, to ask what the president knew and when he knew it?

MEHLMAN: And -- and, look, this president has been very clear in declassifying a lot of information, so that the public understood what he knew.

We also know something else. Presidents make that decision on the basis of, one, what the public should know, and, two, on the basis of not compromising sources and methods. So, rather than being out there with a charge that is irresponsible and that shows his own hypocrisy, which Chairman Dean has done, I think it would be better for folks to stop and say, you know what? We're not going to try to spin everything. And we're not trying to win every news cycle.

We are going to allow this process to go forward, and we are going to work in a bipartisan way to fix the intelligence process, which this president is already doing, in order to make sure Americans are safe in the years to come.

COLLINS: All right. Well, let's move on to approval numbers now. I want to go ahead and show this poll of polls, if you will, the top five polls...



COLLINS: ... from the week, that we have compiled.

Look at these numbers. I'm not going to read them all, but we see the average there, 37 percent.

And then, also, something that Senator McCain said, I want you to listen to this. And I will get your response to it in a moment.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: Two thousand six is going to be a rough -- a little straight talk -- it's going to be a rough, rough election for us.


COLLINS: Is the party in trouble?

MEHLMAN: Well, I think that Senator McCain is correct, that the six-year itch, as they call it, which is the second midterm in a president's term, is always a challenge.

Obviously, we're in -- all in the middle of a tough war. That makes the challenge also serious. We take the challenge of 2006 seriously, which is why I'm confident that, when Congress comes back, you are going to see action on passing a budget that cuts the deficit in half; you are going to see action on protecting our borders and making sure we are a welcoming nation; you are going to see action on making the tax cuts permanent, so that we don't have a big tax increase, which is what you would get from the Democrats; you are going to see action on making sure that we make health care more affordable and available; you are going to see action on all of these areas.

The fact is, the president is not on the ballot in 2006. And...

COLLINS: That's right.

MEHLMAN: ... the people that are on the ballot are going to provide the American people a clear choice.

You had Chairman...


MEHLMAN: ... Dean on, who said, they are going to make a big change in economic policy.

Let me tell you what the first one is going to be. The first one is going to be a $2.4 trillion tax increase over the next 10 years, because the first thing they are going to do is bring back the marriage penalty...

COLLINS: Well, let's talk about...

MEHLMAN: ... the death tax.

COLLINS: Let's talk about your party.


COLLINS: I think it serves you better to talk about your party, quickly, here.

The immigration issue, as you bring up... MEHLMAN: Yes.

COLLINS: ... the Republican Party, not united on this.


COLLINS: Is that damaging, to have a party split here?

MEHLMAN: Well, I think that Republicans, like all Americans, recognize this is a challenging issue and want to come together.

We need to be a nation of laws and a nation of immigrants. But here's what Republicans believe. We believe that the legislative process should go forward. And what the Democrats, what Harry Reid did is, he played politics with it.

He killed a compromise. According to Ted Kennedy, according to "The Washington Post," not two Republican organs, Harry Reid was the guy that prevented this compromise from going forward, prevented us from dealing with this issue. He played politics. And that was wrong, and that was unfortunate.

What I think the American people want to see is people come together to protect our borders, to secure our borders, to protect our laws, and to make sure we remain welcoming. I'm confident we can do that. But we couldn't do it last time, because Harry Reid played politics.

COLLINS: But, you know, you bring up Howard Dean.

And, earlier, when we spoke with Howard Dean, he said that their number-one goal is that they are going to really improve their ethics in the Democratic Party.

MEHLMAN: Mmm-hmm. Mmm-hmm. I wonder...

COLLINS: Any response?

MEHLMAN: ... what Congressman Mollohan thinks about that. I wonder what Congressman Conyers, who recently was -- according to reports, they -- his staff was being baby-sitters for his office.

Look, the fact is, what I think about ethics -- and I have said repeatedly -- it shouldn't be partisan cudgel to hit your opponents. The fact is that if a Republican or a Democrat has done something inappropriate, illegal, they ought to suffer the consequences. I have said that from the beginning. And I'm going to condemn it.

The difference is, Chairman Dean went on another network and said, it's wrong what Republicans did, and then condemned Harry Reid for the exact same thing.

COLLINS: We are going to...

MEHLMAN: That's hypocrisy. And that's what the American people don't want to see. COLLINS: We are going to talk much more with Ken Mehlman in just a moment.

And, later, you be the speechwriter. Specifically, you are writing a commencement speech to be delivered by President Bush. What would you put in it? Our Jack Cafferty will have your e-mail quotable quotes.

And, in our 7:00 Eastern hour, you will meet an ex-serviceman who is passionate about going back to Iraq.



COLLINS: We're back in THE SITUATION ROOM with Republican Party Chairman Ken Mehlman. He's now facing some serious questions about a phone-jamming scheme to keep New Hampshire Democrats from voting back in 2002.

According to court documents introduced this week, key figures in the scheme had regular contact with the White House and the Republican Party as the plan was unfolding. Democratic Party chairman Howard Dean has sent a letter to Mehlman, asking him whether the White House or the national GOP authorized that plan. Mehlman was White House political director in 2002.

So, were you involved?

MEHLMAN: I was not. And I have made that clear to Chairman Dean.

And it's disappointing that he brought that up. I have to tell you, as anybody who has ever worked in politics knows, that, when you are the White House political director, and when you have a deputy, which I did, for the Northeast, their responsibility leading up to an election and on Election Day is to talk to campaigns.

One of the closest and most contested campaigns was the New Hampshire Senate race. And my deputy was in touch with them repeatedly about all kinds of questions on that day. In no time ever, did she or I discuss the phone-jamming situation.

Here is what disappointing about this. When...

COLLINS: You can understand the question, though.

MEHLMAN: I actually can't. Here's why.


MEHLMAN: When I got this job and Chairman Dean got this job, I called him up and I said, let's keep it to the issues. And he said, you bet. Let's keep it to the issues.

And the fact is, I'm a lawyer. I was a lawyer, and, one day, I will be a lawyer again. I have tremendous respect with the law. I disagree with Howard Dean on the issues, but I would never imply that, because he was somewhere where a telephone call was made, he somehow was involved in what is an illegal scheme.

He shouldn't do that about me either. And he shouldn't do it about one of my employees. And the fact is, the American people expect better from party leaders.

COLLINS: But what...

MEHLMAN: And they deserve better from party leaders.

COLLINS: What about the party paying for James Tobin's legal bills?

MEHLMAN: The fact is that a decision was made in the past, before I was chairman, that, in this case, that was going to happen, based on assurances he made. I believed it was right to honor that decision.

But for anyone to suggest -- people know me across the political aisle.

COLLINS: But when you lump -- pardon me, but when you lump the two together...

MEHLMAN: I think that it...

COLLINS: ... the question comes up.

MEHLMAN: I understand the question. But I have answered the question repeatedly.

And it's disappointing that Chairman Dean and others, who know me and know -- may disagree on the issues, but they know I'm an ethical person, would continue this drumbeat of making up a story, when there's none there.

COLLINS: I think they call it stonewalling.

MEHLMAN: Well, I don't -- they may call it stonewalling on that side. They don't from our side, because we have been very clear that no one was in any way involved in it.

COLLINS: Ken Mehlman, we appreciate you being here today.

MEHLMAN: Thanks a lot. Thanks.

COLLINS: And I think we will probably see you again, from what I hear.

MEHLMAN: Absolutely.

COLLINS: Thank you very much.

COLLINS: Lou Dobbs getting ready for his show, right at the top of the hour.

Hi, Lou. What are you guys working on today?

LOU DOBBS, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you, Heidi.

Coming up at 6:00 here on CNN, we will be reporting on the escalating insurgency in Iraq. Four more of our troops have been killed. Can our military defeat the insurgents? We will examine the military's record in previous insurgencies.

And we have a special report on the revolt by some of the former generals serving under Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

Also tonight, big business is putting its commercial interests ahead of the national interests, this time over amnesty for illegal aliens. They are responsible for a lot of the money behind the demonstrations and protests you have been witnessing. We will have that special report.

And, tonight, we will hear two opposite views on the illegal alien lobby's campaign for amnesty. The president of La Raza, Janet Murguia, and Paul Crespo, a popular Spanish-language talk show host, join me here tonight to discuss border security and immigration reform -- all of that and a great deal more coming up at 6:00 Eastern, right here on CNN.

We hope you will be with us -- back to you, Heidi.

COLLINS: All right, great. Thank you, Lou.

The FBI is reaching out to U.S. Muslims now in a way you might not expect.

CNN's Mary Snow is live for us in New York with the story.

Hi, Mary.


It's being touted as the first televised town hall meeting between the FBI and the Muslim community. Today, both sides faced the spotlight, saying they are trying to build better relations. The FBI also says it is looking to recruit new members.



SNOW (voice-over): It is reality television brought a new level. With cameras rolling, members of the FBI faced members of the Muslim community in a town hall meeting.

ADNAN MIRZA, COUNCIL OF ISLAMIC AMERICAN AFFAIRS: I think, for the -- for the overwhelming majority, we feel that we are being illegally persecuted.

SNOW: The meeting won't air until next month, but those involved say some of the questions posed were tough.

PAUL MOSKAL, FBI: I have had people ask me, for instance, what -- what methods of torture the FBI employs during the course of its interrogation.

SNOW: Meetings between the FBI and the Muslim community, like this one at a Brooklyn mosque, have been taking place in several cities. But the FBI says it decided it was time for a broader reach. They reached out to Bridges TV, the Muslim-American network based in Buffalo.

Muslim leaders say there are a number of issues leading to distrust.

MIRZA: Renditions that happen overseas, torture that goes on overseas, Guantanamo Bay, the issues we have here of illegal wiretapping.

SNOW: Buffalo was thrust into the national spotlight following the 9/11 attacks. In 2002, six men were arrested on suspicion of being linked to al Qaeda. All six pled guilty to charges of providing material support to al Qaeda, and are currently in prison.

Now, the FBI says, in addition to building bridges, it also hopes to enlist Muslim-Americans.

MOSKAL: We need to recruit directly from those communities. And I think the best way to do it is address them directly.


SNOW: Now, Bridges TV plans to air its meeting on May 15. It launched last year and says it reaches about one million homes in the U.S. -- Heidi.

COLLINS: Did they think it was successful, Mary?

SNOW: You know, I asked both sides, and both sides say, yes, they did, because, in this kind of forum, they say people don't hold back.

Also, what they are saying is, I talked to a member of the FBI who was there saying that some of these questions were thought- provoking. And the one theme seemed to be, at what price freedom, balancing the fight against terrorism and civil rights. And that is something that they really grappled with and will continue to grapple with. But they thought it was a good start.

COLLINS: Well, all right. Mary Snow in New York today -- thank you, Mary.

SNOW: Sure.

COLLINS: And Fredricka Whitfield joining us now from the CNN Center in Atlanta with a closer look at other stories making news once again. Hello, Fred.

WHITFIELD: Hello again, Heidi.

Pope Benedict XVI is not buying talk that Judas may have been loyal to Jesus after all. At a Holy Thursday mass, the pontiff called the disgraced disciple a liar and a double-crosser. An ancient Egyptian text dubbed the Gospel of Judas has portrayed Judas as a trusted confidant who was doing Jesus' will by handing him over to be crucified.

It was all a hoax. That's what police in Independence, Kansas, say about a teenage girl's claim that she was abducted at gunpoint Tuesday. They say 16-year-old Kelsey Stelting admitted today that the kidnapping never happened and that she spent the day alone, not far from her house. Thirty FBI agents joined in the search for the teenager. It's not clear if any charges will be filed against her.

The Mission: Space ride at Florida Walt Disney World is reopened a day after a woman who went on it died at an Orlando hospital. The 49-year-old woman reportedly became dizzy and nauseous after going on Mission: Space on Tuesday.

An autopsy is planned. Disney says its engineers found the ride was operating properly. A 4-year-old boy passed out on Mission: Space just last June and died of a heart condition -- Heidi.

COLLINS: So scary. All right, Fred, thank you very much.

Do you know what flashing lights on a school bus mean? Well, it turns out, a lot of drivers don't know or don't care.

Consumer reporter Greg Hunter is here now with a story that a lot of parents will probably find pretty shocking.

That, I'm sure is true, Greg.


You know, I will tell you, you can see the whole report tonight on "PAULA ZAHN NOW." But this happens 50,000 times a day in New York state alone. Drivers pass school buses with red lights flashing.

Now, multiply that number across the country, day after day, week after week, and you find that millions of drivers are often taking a terrible chance with your child.


HUNTER (voice-over): We wanted to see what bus drivers encounter on a typical day. So, we wired Hank's (ph) bus with cameras and rode with local police, who follow buses to catch violators.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A lot of traffic on this highway.

HUNTER: When a bus has amber lights flashing, that means slow down. Once the lights turn red, traffic is required to stop. Some drivers did just that, stopping well in front of the bus. Others hit the brakes just in time. But watch what happened here. Instead of slowing down, this SUV went right by the bus.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I stopped you because you passed a school bus there.

HUNTER: In New York, the penalties for illegally passing are stiff, five points on a driver's license, a $250 fine, and up to 30 days in jail.

(on camera): Did you see the school bus lights flashing?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I did see it, but the lights were yellow, so I thought it was safe to still keep proceeding.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When you see a soccer ball roll in front of your car, what do you do? You immediately hit the brakes. Now, why can't we develop that same kind of reaction around a school bus?

HUNTER: Did you know that, when you pass a stopped school bus, you could, like, hit a kid and kill them?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes. I really did not -- I really, really did not mean to do anything, I swear to God.


HUNTER: Yes. Do you know how serious that is?



HUNTER: The officer gave that woman a ticket. This is even more astounding. She's a schoolteacher. She should have known better.

Now, you will also meet some parents who lost children of their own and -- that were killed by drivers that ignored flashing red lights. In one case, just a few months ago, a kid was killed by a hit-and-run driver. He was a first-grader getting off his bus in Saint Louis, Missouri. We talk about that tonight.

COLLINS: All right. We will certainly be watching.

Once again, you can see Greg's full report tonight on "PAULA ZAHN NOW." That's at 8:00 Eastern, 5:00 Pacific, only on CNN.

Greg, thanks.

Mumps. That's right, mumps. Today, federal and state officials are warning of the largest epidemic of mumps in the United States since the '80s -- late '80s, that is. And there are new concerns now over ways the virus might spread.

Our Internet reporter, Jacki Schechner, has the situation online -- Jacki.

SCHECHNER: Well, Heidi, it's in Iowa right now and eight other states it has spread to.

You can see, it's more than 500 cases in Iowa alone. I will give you a comparison. They usually get five cases of mumps year, 53 counties right now and spreading.

What is mumps? Basically, it's a virus. You get a headache. You get -- you get a fever. You get swollen glands. It's airborne. If you cough or you sneeze, you can pick it up that way.

And, basically, it's mostly in children. And we're vaccinated for it when we're kids. Most of the countries -- or many of them -- actually have this as a normal vaccination. Well, it is spreading around right now. The median age it's spreading in Iowa is 21, which makes it a little odd.

The CDC is investigating. They think this originated with two people from Iowa who flew. They took nine different flights between March 26 and April 2. So, you can go online to the CDC and see if you were one of these people -- Heidi.

COLLINS: Wow. That sounds like an outbreak.


COLLINS: All right. Jacki, thank you.

Up next, what's in a name? Everything, when it comes to the immigration debate raging across the country. CNN senior analyst Jeff Greenfield standing by to look at some of the loaded language.

And, coming up in our 7:00 p.m. Eastern hour, young men forced to choose between the priesthood and passion. We will show you why this new reality TV series is causing controversy.


COLLINS: President Bush is blaming Minority Leader Harry Reid for the Senate's failure to pass immigration reform, saying Reid single-handedly thwarted efforts. Reid replied -- quote -- "President Bush has as much credibility on immigration as he does on Iraq and national security."

While politicians play the blame game, senior analyst Jeff Greenfield is paying attention to the name game.

So, what's this about, Jeff?

JEFF GREENFIELD, CNN SENIOR ANALYST: Well, Heidi, when Shakespeare asked, "What's in a name?" he was talking about doomed lovers, not political debate.

But if you look at the argument over immigration, you can see how just about every word we use to name that issue is packed with powerful meaning.


GREENFIELD (voice-over): Consider the phrase undocumented workers.

Undocumented, that suggests the problem here is some kind of bureaucratic snafu that could happen to anyone, showing up at the DMV without the right paperwork or trying to return something to a department store.

It doesn't suggest anything about the act of getting into this country in the first place, by breaking the law and by surreptitiously crossing the border.

Worker, that's one of the most evocative words in our whole political vocabulary. It implies a host of admirable notions, hardworking, working families.

And remember Bill Clinton's constant references to people who work hard and play by the rules? There's almost a hint here of the idea that, if you work hard, you must be playing by the rules, even if you broke those rules to get here.

Now look at the other side. Illegal aliens. Illegal implies more than just the act that got somewhere here in the first place. The suggestion is that illegality governs their lives, that, in some way, they are breaking the law every day with other, more obviously criminal and dangerous acts, even if, in fact, they are employed, paying payroll and other taxes, and behaving as model citizens.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They keep coming.

HUNTER: And, as for aliens, the very word conjures up hostile feelings. It's alien to our nature, for instance.

We not only think of aliens as separate from ourselves. We have been taught by our pop culture to see aliens as creatures completely different from ourselves, something out of "War of the Worlds."

As for amnesty, nobody says they're for that. Back almost 30 years ago, when President Carter pardoned draft resisters, he was careful to say that amnesty means, what you did was wrong; pardon means, we forgive you.

So, one side says, it's not amnesty if you have to pay a fine, pay back taxes, move to the end of the line, while the other says, hey, if you get to stay in the U.S. ahead of those applying legally, it is amnesty.


GREENFIELD: So, what's in a name?

Well, maybe it decides who gets to win a major political argument -- Heidi. COLLINS: All right. Jeff Greenfield, thank you.

Next, if you were writing a commencement speech for President Bush, what would it include? Jack Cafferty has your e-mail on that.


COLLINS: Time now to check back in with Jack Cafferty.

Any speechwriters out there, Jack?

CAFFERTY: Well, we have got a lot of them, yes, Heidi. Thanks.

President Bush is going to give commencement addresses at four colleges this spring. It's a presidential tradition that they do that. He will speak, among other places, at a community college that was hit by Hurricane Katrina.

So, the question we asked is: If you were writing a commencement address for the president, what would you include?

Here's some of what we are able to share on television with you.

Joe in Minnesota writes: "If I was writing a commencement address, I would express gratitude to our troops and condolences to the families of those who have made the ultimate sacrifice."

Bob in Kentucky says: "The ideal speech would begin with an apology for creating the dangerous international situation that exists in the world today that the graduates are about to enter. It should be followed by an apology for all of the lies he has told and a request for forgiveness. Now, can I tell you what I want from the Easter Bunny?"

Warren in Phoenix writes: "I hope you all get good enough paying jobs to pay off the humongous national debt that I'm leaving as my legacy. It will be hard work, but I'm sure you will make progress."

Sharon writes in Belview, Minnesota: "I think Bush should speak only on those subjects of which he has knowledge. That way, the speech would be really short."


CAFFERTY: And Libby in Minnesota: "Remember how, at an earlier commencement, I remarked that even a C student can become president? Well, it hasn't turned out so well. So, my advice to you is, next time, vote for the valedictorian" -- Heidi.

COLLINS: Oh, and have -- have you ever written a commencement speech?

CAFFERTY: I have given a few of them.


CAFFERTY: And I don't anymore, so don't ask.

COLLINS: Did you get fired?


CAFFERTY: Did I get fired? No.


COLLINS: I bet it was...


COLLINS: I bet it was terrific.

Jack Cafferty, we will see you back here at 7:00, OK?


And, by the way,, we are here every weekday afternoon from 4:00 to 6:00 p.m. Eastern. And we are back on the air at 7:00 p.m. Eastern, just one hour from now.

Until then, I'm Heidi Collins in THE SITUATION ROOM.

"LOU DOBBS TONIGHT" starts right now -- Lou.

DOBBS: Thank you, Heidi.


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