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LOU DOBBS TONIGHT

Uproar in Congress Over NSA Phone Records Program; Senators Approve Immigration Bill Compromise; U.S. Government Accused Of Tipping Off Mexican Officials To Minutemen Locations; Ron Wyden Interview; Pat Roberts Interview; Failing Students Sue California Schools

Aired May 11, 2006 - 18:00   ET

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


LOU DOBBS, CNN ANCHOR: Tonight, a showdown on Capitol Hill over reports that the Bush White House has launched a huge program to track the telephone calls of tens of millions of American citizens.
ANNOUNCER: This is LOU DOBBS TONIGHT, news, debate and opinion for Thursday, May 11th.

Live in New York, Lou Dobbs.

DOBBS: Good evening, everybody.

The U.S. Congress tonight is demanding answers from the Bush White House in what could turn into a major new intelligence scandal. Three of the country's largest telecommunications companies reportedly helping the National Security Agency collect the telephone records of tens of millions of American citizens.

Those three companies, AT&T, Verizon, and BellSouth, helped the National Security Agency develop the world's largest database, according to reports in "USA Today". President Bush, without confirming that report, insisted government surveillance programs do not violate our laws and are essential to defeat al Qaeda terrorists.

Andrea Koppel reports from Capitol Hill on this new intelligence controversy and new questions about the nomination of General Michael Hayden as CIA director.

Suzanne Malveaux reports from the White House on the president's determination to defend General Hayden and the government's surveillance programs.

And Lisa Sylvester reports from Washington on a new Senate agreement to push through so-called immigration reform that would give amnesty to millions of illegal aliens.

We turn first to Andrea Koppel on Capitol Hill -- Andrea.

ANDREA KOPPEL, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Lou, reaction to this story from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle was fast and furious.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) SEN. PATRICK LEAHY (D), VERMONT: The press is doing our work for us, and we should be ashamed of it. Shame on us in being so far behind and being so willing to rubberstamp anything this administration does.

SEN. JON KYL (R), ARIZONA: This is nuts. We are in a war, and we've got to collect intelligence on the enemy. And you can't tell the enemy in advance how you're going to do it.

KOPPEL: The chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee called for a hearing and said he expected answers.

SEN. ARLEN SPECTER (R-PA), CHAIRMAN, JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: And we will be calling upon AT&T, Verizon, and BellSouth, as well as others, to see some of the underlying facts when we can't find out from the Department of Justice or other administration officials.

KOPPEL: The first casualty of the disclosure of the NSA telephone databank could be the smooth nomination of the man who helped develop it, General Michael Hayden, President Bush's choice to head the CIA. Now even early supporters are expressing doubts.

SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D), CALIFORNIA: I happen to believe we're on our way to a major constitutional confrontation on Fourth Amendment guarantees of unreasonable search and seizure. And I think this is also going to present a growing impediment to the confirmation of General Hayden, and I think that is very regretted.

KOPPEL: As for General Hayden, after the White House canceled his morning appointments, suddenly he and senior Republican Mitch McConnell appeared together, a brief photo-op to send the message Hayden has nothing to hide. But Democrats charge the Bush administration does, disputing Hayden's statement that Congress was briefed on all NSA programs.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), MINORITY LEADER: The administration wants to have the upside of saying dozens of briefings were held, but they won't release the list as to who was and when.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KOPPEL: Now, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi also met with Speaker Dennis Hastert today to try to get Hastert to sign off on the House Intelligence Committee conducting further investigations into this. The speaker thus far has remained noncommittal.

Meanwhile, over in the Senate, the chairman of the Intelligence Committee, Pat Roberts, just released a statement, Lou, in which he said that he felt that the members of the Intelligence Committee had been adequately briefed. He felt that the program was lawful and it was unnecessary to have additional oversight -- Lou.

DOBBS: Andrea, thank you.

Andrea Koppel from Capitol Hill. I'll be talking with Senator Pat Roberts, the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, and a leading Democratic member of that committee, Senator Ron Wyden, here in just a matter of moments.

The ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, Congresswoman Jane Harman, today released a statement blasting the president for the way in which he is treating the Congress. Congressman Harman said, "The drop in the president's poll numbers is no accident. Americans have lost trust in a White House which refuses to brief Congress and insists it is above the law."

President Bush today strongly defended his government's electronic surveillance programs. He said the programs are lawful and they are necessary. At the same time, the White House insisted that General Hayden is still the president's choice to be director of the CIA.

Suzanne Malveaux reports from the White House on what is another difficult day for the administration -- Suzanne.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Lou, President Bush certainly had hoped to highlight the progress since Hurricane Katrina. He was in Mississippi. He was delivering a commencement speech at a community college there.

All of this, of course, this controversy, overshadowing that event. And really, in a clear signal, Lou, that this is not business as usual at the White House, the White House did not wait for a news cycle to pass before they put President Bush in front of the cameras to defend the government's actions.

Now, they were very careful not to confirm or deny the story. Rather Mr. Bush rebutted any suggestion that the government was breaking the law or violating civil liberties.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: First, our intelligence activities strictly target al Qaeda and their known affiliates. Al Qaeda is our enemy, and we want to know their plans.

Second, the government does not listen to domestic phone calls without court approval.

Third, the intelligence activities I authorized are lawful and have been briefed to appropriate members of Congress, both Republican and Democrat.

Fourth, the privacy of ordinary Americans is fiercely protected in all our activities. We're not mining or trolling through the personal lives of millions of innocent Americans. Our efforts are focused on links to al Qaeda and their known affiliates.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MALVEAUX: And, of course, Lou, this could complicate the efforts to get his CIA director nominee, of course, General Michael Hayden, through the process of being confirmed by the Senate.

He holds -- they have those hearings that are actually going to start next Thursday. And Hayden, trying to get ahead of this controversy, responded to these accusations.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEN. MICHAEL HAYDEN, CIA DIRECTOR NOMINEE: All I would want to say is that everything that NSA does is lawful and very carefully done, and that the appropriate members of the Congress, the House and Senate, are briefed on all NSA activities. And I think I'd just leave it at that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MALVEAUX: And Lou, of course the White House strategy is twofold. They figure that first they will link this, they will say that this is all about national security, protecting Americans. And secondly, that all of these actions are lawful, and making the case that one-two punch they believe Americans will stand behind this White House and this president -- Lou.

DOBBS: Is there any concern being expressed at the White House, Suzanne, about General Hayden's nomination?

MALVEAUX: Well, there's certainly some concern in the sense that they believe it's going to be a messy situation. It is not going to go as smoothly as they had certainly hoped.

They were making a lot of progress, and Hayden reaching out and having White House officials reach out to members of Congress, Republicans who were upset that they didn't do more consultations beforehand. But they do believe that ultimately they're going to be able to push this one through.

DOBBS: Suzanne Malveaux from the White House.

Thank you.

As members of Congress argued about the government's intelligence programs, insurgents in Iraq today killed three more of our troops. The soldiers were killed in two roadside bomb attacks near Baghdad.

And separately, a Marine has died of wounds he received in Al Anbar province. Another soldier died from noncombatant wounds suffered in Mosul in northern Iraq.

Now 2,430 of our troops have been killed in Iraq.

Turning to another national security issue, our illegal immigration and border security crisis, leaders of the Senate today announced they've approved a new compromise agreement that would ultimately give amnesty to millions of illegal aliens in this country. The agreement is supported by corporate America, lobbyists, of course, and special interests who are determined to allow illegal aliens to enter the country unlawfully and to remain. Lisa Sylvester reports.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT(voice over): Senators Bill Frist and Harry Reid reached a gentleman's agreement that paves the way for the Senate to resume immigration reform Monday.

SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MINORITY LEADER: This is going to take a lot of work. We have a lot of amendments. This is not a -- this is not a two or three-amendment bill.

SEN. BILL FRIST (R-TN), MAJORITY LEADER: The process that has been laid out is one that we both feel is very fair.

SYLVESTER: Under the compromise, Reid and Frist agreed to take up the Hagel-Martinez bill that creates a three-tiered system. Illegal aliens who have been in the United States for five years or longer would be given amnesty. Those here between two and five years would be allowed to work and eventually gain citizenship. Those here less than two years would be told to leave.

Representative Tom Tancredo says there will be rampant fraud, adding, "No illegal alien with half a brain would admit they came here after 2004."

REP. TOM TANCREDO (R), COLORADO: I think that this is a lousy deal, and that I think that Senator Frist was bullied into it by Senator Reid, who essentially was allowed to set the rules.

SYLVESTER: Democratic Minority Leader Harry Reid agreed to allow Republican-sponsored amendments. In exchange, Frist promised that the conference committee that will reconcile legislation with the House is stacked with full amnesty senators.

The compromise sets a fixed number of amendments, approximately 10 for each side. There will be 25 Senate conferees, 14 Republicans and 12 Democrats. Roughly half of them will come from the Judiciary Committee, which has already signed off on the amnesty provisions.

Senator John Cornyn opposes amnesty. He's one of the few names as a conferee.

SEN. JOHN CORNYN (R), TEXAS: It repeats the mistake of 1986 in granting an amnesty which turned out then, and I fear will turn out again, to be just a magnet to future illegal immigration.

SYLVESTER: Whatever bill comes out of the Senate, the real fight will be in the Senate-House conference committee.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SYLVESTER: By limiting the number of amendments, Reid and Frist are also able to restrict the length of the debate. Both leaders hope to have a bill pass the Senate by Memorial Day. So on this crucial issue, the full Senate has allotted only 10 business days for debate on the bill itself and the many, many amendments -- Lou.

DOBBS: The Senate, Lisa, every -- every major public opinion poll showing the absolute opposition to amnesty, why is there this urgency on the part of Senate Bill Frist, the majority leader, to move this legislation forward when our borders remain secure and there is every trapping that they will simply repeat the mistakes of 20 years ago?

SYLVESTER: It's very clear that there seems to be a disconnect on the Senate and the American people. It's not clear if they are listening or just they don't want to listen to the American people, but they certainly are trying to get this through as quickly as possible. And I think the fact that there's an election looming might have something to do with it as well -- Lou.

DOBBS: The results of which are likely to be strongly influenced by what the Senate is doing over the next couple of weeks.

Lisa, thank you very much.

Lisa Sylvester from Washington.

Still ahead here, Cardinal Roger Mahony of Los Angeles is at it again, inserting himself into the national debate over illegal immigration and border security. We'll have a report for you on the cardinal and his latest maneuvers.

And congressmen demanding answers on what our government is telling Mexico about the lawful activities of American volunteer citizens on our southern border. That special report.

And we'll examine what is nothing less than a crisis in our public education system. Should failing students be allowed to graduate? Well, there's more than one answer to that question which might surprise you. We'll hear from both sides of that argument from California.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

DOBBS: We report extensively here on the widening split within the illegal alien amnesty lobby and activist groups. One group supports civil disobedience. It pushed the May 1st protest and is planning protests for the 19th of this month.

Meanwhile, another group is pursuing other tactics to advance their amnesty agenda. Cardinal Roger Mahony of the Los Angeles Diocese is encouraging supporters of illegal immigration to register to vote. Cardinal Mahony says he's asking citizens to register, but you might find it interesting to note that California does not require proof of citizenship in order to register to vote.

The California elections code says, "A person may prove he or she is a citizen by his or her certification under penalty of perjury on the affidavit of registration." In other words, they'll take your word for it.

Mahony himself has been accused of perjury and covering up child sex abuse by priests. A widening sex abuse scandal involving Mahony could bankrupt the Los Angeles Archdiocese. Last month, the Supreme Court ruled against Mahony, who had tried to keep secret church records concerning his conduct and statements.

Also tonight, Congress is demanding answers into what many call the U.S. government's betrayal of Minuteman volunteers working on our border with Mexico. As we've reported, the U.S. government is accused of tipping off Mexican authorities to the whereabouts of those minutemen volunteers. Congress wants to know what the United States government is telling Mexico about the lawful activities of American citizens.

Peter Viles reports.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PETER VILES, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Among the minutemen, outrage at reports the Bush administration has been secretly telling the government of Mexico about their activities.

AL GARZA, MINUTEMAN CIVIL DEFENSE CORPS.: Our entire volunteer sector is in a complete uproar. And not only that, they felt that their security had been exposed.

VILES: Outrage on Capitol Hill as well. Congressman Duncan Hunter, Darrell Issa and John Culberson telling Homeland Security chief Michael Chertoff in this letter to "... cease all communication with the Mexican government as it relates to the lawful and peaceful activities of U.S. citizens."

Issa says he's frustrated the Bush administration will not answer this simple question: Does it make the Mexican government aware under any circumstances of lawful minutemen activities?

REP. DARRELL ISSA (R), CALIFORNIA: There is no absolute denial from the administration when we ask for it of, are you providing information that can lead to this awareness? It's very clear they're talking in legalese rather than answering the question.

VILES: Customs and Border Protection says it does not report any activity by the minutemen to the Mexican government, except in fewer than 100 cases in which an apprehended illegal alien has alleged mistreatment.

Meantime, the minutemen want some answers, and they say they're not getting any.

GARZA: That's very typical of our own federal government. But we are demanding answers. And again, we are demanding an immediate congressional investigation. And I hope to god that this launches very, very soon, because we have a problem here.

VILES: The biggest problem, according to the minutemen and their congressional supporters, the government of Mexico cannot be trusted with any information about their activities.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

VILES: Now, the Mexican government makes no secret of its interest in learning more about the activities of the minutemen. The question is, are they succeeding in learning more, and is Washington helping them in any way? Congressmen Issa says he now believes it will take congressional hearings to get answers to those questions -- Lou.

DOBBS: And from those hearings could come some interesting answers. But at the same time, and despite the huge volume of reaction we've gotten from our audience, Pete, I don't believe any of us should be surprised. This is an administration, a government that has permitted three million illegal aliens a year to cross our borders. Why would -- should any of us, in point of fact, be surprised that this administration is facilitating the illegal immigration of literally millions of Mexican citizens?

VILES: That's exactly what the minutemen say. As upset as they are about this, they say it makes sense, and it also makes sense that they can't get straight answers from the administration on exactly what is happening with this information -- Lou.

DOBBS: Well, there would be, of course, the point of view that that would not be inconsistent with experience either.

Peter Viles, thank you very much, from Los Angeles.

It's important for this country's elected officials to hear all of our thoughts on the illegal alien crisis, our crisis at the border security. And if you feel so disposed, you can write to Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist at frist.senate.gov. You can right to House Speaker Hastert at house.gov/hastert.

If you'd like to e-mail your senator, go to senate.gov. And if you would like to e-mail your congressman, go to house.gov. Or go to LouDobbs.com, which will facilitate all of the above.

Coming up here next, hundreds of thousands enter the United States on visas, but the federal government doesn't know whether they leave when those visas expire. That incredible special report coming up in just a matter of moments.

The firestorm over a government program to track every telephone call tens of millions of citizens make in this country. I'll be talking with Senator Ron Wyden, a leading Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, and the chairman of that committee, Republican Senator Pat Roberts, next.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

DOBBS: There could be as many as four million illegal aliens living in the United States tonight with expired visas. Incredibly, the United States government has no idea where those illegal aliens are or how to locate them now that they've overstayed their visas. Americans demanding tough immigration reform and border security say the United States must finally track down these illegal aliens, but they have vanished without a trace, as far as our government is concerned.

Bill Tucker reports.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BILL TUCKER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): The government of the most powerful nation on earth has no idea what happens to the people who enter the United States on visas or what becomes of them.

REP. DANA ROHRABACHER (R), CALIFORNIA: Once people enter the country through legitimate visas, they are often never heard from again, and we have no procedure for tracking them.

TUCKER: And that failure can have consequences.

MARK KRIKORIAN, CENTER FOR IMMIGRATION STUDIES: Specifically to the issue of terrorism, we found that a majority of the terrorists who were illegal aliens when they committed their crimes were, in fact, visa overstayers.

TUCKER: It's not hard to figure out.

REP. JOE WILSON (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: This should addressed. We should be able to figure out who is here, how long they're here, and who is overstaying their visa.

TUCKER: It's not complicated. FedEx, UPS and other shippers know where a package shipped through their system is at any given time. At the end of every day, Wal-Mart knows how much of what merchandise sold in which of its stores. But the government can't get it right.

The U.S. Visit Program meant to solve the problem of visa overstays is years behind schedule. The government can't figure out how to enter a person's name and passport into a database when they enter a country and then mark down their exit when they leave, which has led some to conclude that tracking overstays and making visa overstays a federal crime is just too expensive.

MARGARET STOCK, IMMIGRATION ATTORNEY: If this becomes a federal crime to overstay your visa, we're looking at hiring massive numbers of new assistant U.S. attorneys, federal defenders, and judges to provide these new criminals with due process.

TUCKER: Overstaying a visa is currently a deportable offense but not a felony.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TUCKER: Oddly, and perhaps not surprisingly, nothing in the hearing today addressed why the government has failed where private industry has succeed in crafting a cheap, effective tracking method -- Lou.

DOBBS: Bill, this is -- at some point, one shakes your head to the point that you're tired. One can understand that this hearing would be taking place in November or December of 2001, but we're in 2006, and this government has done absolutely nothing to deal with this issue.

TUCKER: That's correct.

DOBBS: It is insane that the United States Senate would even have the temerity to talk about immigration reform when we can't run an immigration system that -- if you can call this a system -- that we have now. Nor enforce -- nor is there the will, apparently, amongst our elected officials to even enforce the laws they pass.

TUCKER: Apparently not.

DOBBS: It's incredible, four million.

Thank you very much, Bill Tucker.

Taking a looking now at your thoughts.

Alice in New York, "Mexico telling us what laws are constitutional? Someone please stop the insanity."

I'm with you.

John in Texas, "How can Congress and this president not uphold our immigration laws as they stand now? I'm outraged at the president and Congress for not protecting our country."

Catherine in California, "Hi, Lou. What is the correct word for someone who aids a foreign country to invade his own country?"

And Christina in Michigan, "'We will build our defenses beyond challenge, lest weakness invite challenge. Government has great responsibilities for public safety and public health.'"

"These phrases are part of Bush's first inaugural address. By continuously raising the national debt, by refusing to defend our borders, by not taking responsibility for mistakes made, and by not changing polices that discriminate against the middle class, it seems to me that Bush has failed to keep this country safe and has made a mockery of his own words."

Send us your thoughts and words to LouDobbs.com. We'll have more of your thoughts coming up here later in the broadcast.

Now for tonight's poll, we'd like to know which makes you proudest to be an American, the fact that we have as many as 20 million illegal aliens in the country and the Senate has just reached a so-called compromise on immigration reform, or that this nation is $8.5 trillion in debt, or the fact that the government is collecting data on millions of Americans, or that our corporations are wealthy enough to have purchased not one but two political parties? Cast your vote at LouDobbs.com. We'll have the results coming up here in just a little while.

Coming up next, Senate Intelligence Committee chairman Senator Pat Roberts, Intelligence Committee member Democratic Senator Ron Wyden join me. We'll be discussing the NSA, monitoring the American telephone traffic, and General Hayden, the president's nominee, to be director of the CIA.

And why is California's school system failing its students? I'll be talking with the state's school superintendent and the attorney suing to allow failing students to graduate.

Stay with us. It just gets better and better.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

DOBBS: Congress voting to raise spending on port security. The House Appropriations Subcommittee voted to spend nearly a half billion dollars more on port security next year than this year. That extra money intended to pay for additional Coast Guard security operations, more cargo inspections and new equipment. The full House Appropriations Committee will consider the extra spending next week.

A widening controversy tonight over the Bush administration's intelligence gathering programs. The National Security Agency as it turns out, has been secretly tracking the telephone calls of tens of millions of Americans. "USA Today" this morning reporting three of the nation's largest telecommunications companies helping the NSA build the world's largest database.

That program raises questions about the president's constitutional prerogatives and whether he has exceeded them, and his nominee for director of the Central Intelligence Agency, General Michael Hayden. In a moment I'll be talking with the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Senator Pat Roberts.

First let's turn to Senator Ron Wyden, leading Democratic member of the intelligence committee who questions what the National Security Agency and this administration are doing. Senator Wyden, joining us tonight from Capitol Hill. Senator, good to have you with us.

SEN. RON WYDEN (D-OR), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Thank you, Lou.

DOBBS: The president today says categorically that the appropriate people have been briefed. Were you briefed on the gathering of these telephone numbers and the building of this database by NSA on tens of millions of Americans?

WYDEN: I was not, Lou. The first I heard about it was when I read the "USA Today" report. Here's the bottom line. I think it's possible to fight terrorism ferociously, to fight it relentlessly and still be sensitive to the privacy needs of our citizens.

But to do that the key people have to be credible. I now have substantial questions about General Hayden's credibility. For months and months, we have been told that this program essentially involved calls where one person was overseas and one person was here in the United States, or vice versa.

Today, the "USA Today" reports, and we'll see if it's accurate, that the NSA was part of some kind of huge domestic database that raises questions in my mind about whether this is the ghost of John Poindexter's program, what was called Operation Total Information Awareness.

DOBBS: Senator Feinstein, who has been supportive of the Hayden nomination to this point said today that she believes this could be a growing impediment to the confirmation of General Hayden. And even though she was expressing regret she thinks -- and said so straightforwardly, that we could be well on our way to a major constitutional confrontation over the Fourth Amendment. What do you think?

WYDEN: That certainly is a possibility. But again, you really have to dig into this, and suffice it to say, General Hayden went to the National Press Club. He was the principal proponent for the administration of the warrantless surveillance program. He didn't tell anybody at the National Press Club anything that would suggest there was this kind of domestic database. So we've got a lot of information to excavate and I think we can fight terrorism ferociously and protect people's civil liberties.

DOBBS: Senator, I'm less concerned what the general would tell the National Press Club than the fact that you haven't been briefed as a member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence as to what NSA is doing and what information it's gathering.

The president assures us it's lawful, that I believe as he put it, the privacy of American citizens is being protected fiercely. That certainly isn't the impression that we, who do not sit on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence has. What is yours?

WYDEN: Well virtually the entire Congress has been kept in the dark about this program, Lou, and it's particularly striking since Congress is now talking about reforming the program. The Congress doesn't do that great in terms of reforming programs it knows a lot about. In this case the Congress in terms of looking at this NSA program is like a doctor trying to treat a patient who hasn't been examined. You bet the Senate Intelligence Committee needs to be given the facts about this.

DOBBS: Would you reserve the possibility that other Democratic members of the Senate select committee on intelligence have been briefed?

WYDEN: Well certainly that's a possibility, because there is a select group that is given additional information, but the entire Congress is going to have to vote on whether or not to reform this program. It's not just going to be nine or 10 members. And the entire Congress ought to be in a position, along with the president of the United States, to be accountable to the public. You can't do that if Congress is kept in the dark and that's unfortunately where things are.

DOBBS: Senator Ron Wyden, we thank you for being here.

WYDEN: Thanks for having me.

DOBBS: Senator Pat Roberts serves as the chairman of the Senate select committee on intelligence. The powerful chairman says he remains convinced that the program authorized by the president is lawful and necessary to protect this nation from future attacks. Senator Roberts joins me from Capitol Hill. Mr. Chairman, good to have you with us.

SEN. PAT ROBERTS (R), KANSAS: Lou, it's always a pleasure, thank you.

DOBBS: What more can this administration do to create controversy around issues of privacy in this country, the rights of individual citizens as it goes about surveillance?

ROBERTS: Well, I think the surveillance program is absolutely needed. The president was very clear what it was and what it is not. I do quarrel some with my colleague and friend Ron Wyden.

We had a subcommittee: seven members of the intelligence committee are fully briefed on the program, on the terrorist surveillance program and this issue. We've had three meetings, three briefings really, three hearings.

We've been out to the NSA. We've talked to the people out there who I regard as true patriots who are working 24-7 to detect and deter terrorist attacks that are being plotted right now, even as we speak. And I'm a little incredulous here when -- we're at war with al Qaeda. They're planning attacks against the United States. We have a program, a highly minimized military capacity to detect and deter and stop these attacks.

We've stopped several attacks so it's been successful. Basically I think what the president said is exactly right. We are not eavesdropping on any American unless you have a court order and there is certainly due cause for that. And we're certainly not doing anything in terms of data mining or anything like that. All we have is a program that really starts to give our intelligence community exactly what the 9/11 said, act with speed, act with haste, act with agility, act with hot pursuit and that's what we're doing.

DOBBS: And of course act constitutionally. Senator, let me ask you this, the gathering of tens of millions of phone records in cooperation with Verizon, BellSouth and AT&T -- American citizens, being assured by the president that these, this did not go beyond a database, how is it that this happens?

Because it seems when we talk about warrantless wiretapping, which is actually -- it seems easily supplanted by reference to FISA, and court order. You mentioned court order here. But why is there an aversion to simply doing what is straightforward and seemingly reasonable within the constraints of the Fourth Amendment? ROBERTS: I don't think anybody gets a phone call from al Qaeda and a terrorist camp, expects the protection of the Fourth Amendment. Let me point out that...

DOBBS: ... I was actually, Senator -- I was referring to the tens of millions of Americans apparently in this database.

ROBERTS: Yes but we are not eavesdropping. We're not looking at content. You referred to it as a reference bank or data bank. Thank goodness we had this program, that's the highest classified program that we have on the books to protect America.

If we did not have the program, America would be less safe. If we did have -- if we'd had this program prior to 9/11, I think the chances of at least stopping that terrible tragedy would have been increased. I'm not saying it would have done it, but under General Hayden's viewpoint and others, we could have had that opportunity. Now it shouldn't come as any surprise ....

DOBBS: ... Senator, if we start working with the ifs and where- ifs, if we'd had a CIA that was in any way an effective intelligence agency maybe it wouldn't have happened.

ROBERTS: I agree with that.

DOBBS: If we had an FBI agency that was correctly run, resourced and managed, perhaps it wouldn't have. We could go to a lot of ifs.

ROBERTS: Lou, you're talking to the guy who ran the WMD inquiry that proved that we had an intelligence failure, so that's fine. People should not be, what, alarmed or surprised that intelligence analysts and law enforcement people used the business records or the telephone records of people, not the content in regards to all sorts of things.

Whether you're a drug dealer, a child pornographer or a terrorist, that's what we're talking about. We're not talking about content. It is a means so that we can pursue a terrorist with speed, agility and hot pursuit. I'll tell what you I'm worried about.

DOBBS: Yes, sir.

ROBERTS: This is the leaks that continue to go on about this program, which is the highest classified program we have. Now the people have a right to know. But if we let the people know everything in regards to what we're doing to fighting terrorism, the terrorists know. And they learn and so America is less safe today because of these leaks.

And I'm extremely concerned that apparently today in Washington we have nothing that's classified. And the seven members of the intelligence committee are being briefed. We are conducting oversight. And ...

DOBBS: ... Well Senator...

ROBERTS: ... and it's a good program.

DOBBS: I appreciate that. Let me ask you this. Will you be able to stand forward as the chairman of your committee, with those Democrats and Republican members who've been briefed and will you be able to say to the American people that you have been.. briefed -- all of you -- and that you're all adequately confident that American rights are being preserved?

ROBERTS: I can't speak for the other people on the subcommittee. I can tell you that the subcommittee has been informed, seven in the Senate, 11 in the House, it's been expanded, plus the leadership, plus several on the Appropriations Committee. That's over 20.

Now, Senator Wyden said you -- you know, you needed the whole Congress briefed on the operations of the highest classified program that we have. Lou, we can't even decide when to adjourn, you know, let alone be sure that we're not going to have any leaks with this program.

DOBBS: Well, senator ...

ROBERTS: And you're going to endanger lives and make America less safe if are not -- if we don't wake up to the fact the terrorists aren't going to quit.

DOBBS: Well, Senator, you surely -- you know me well enough to know that I would be the last person to turn to for an affidavit about the effectiveness of the U.S. Senate or the U.S. House.

ROBERTS: All right, sir.

DOBBS: It's good to have you with us, Mr. Chairman.

ROBERTS: Thank you. Always a pleasure, Lou. Thank you so much.

DOBBS: Still ahead here, an Andres Oppenheimer of the "Miami Herald" trying to back away from what was an outright lie that he leveled against me in a column last week. He did not succeed and we'll show you and tell you why.

And new evidence that our nation's schools continue to fail our students. California's public schools cutting their standards in order that some students can graduate. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

DOBBS: For the first time this year, students graduating from California high schools are required to pass a uniform test administered statewide. Twelfth grade students -- this is how tough this is -- they have to pass eighth grade level math in California.

They must also demonstrate competence in ninth and 10th grade level English. Students are allowed to take the test over again until they pass. Nevertheless, 47,000 students in California failed.

Jack O'Connell is California's superintendent of schools. He joins us tonight from Orange, California. Good to have you with us.

JACK O'CONNELL, CALIFORNIA SCHOOLS SUPERINTENDENT: Thank you, Lou. Nice to be with you again.

DOBBS: This controversy, in which you've been sued in the case of 10 students -- was the last count that I had, 10 students -- who felt it was discriminatory to ask them to pass this test. And about 90 percent of the students that have been administered the test have passed. Is that correct?

O'CONNELL: That's correct. In fact, my understanding is the plaintiffs are down to six students now. Some have passed the test, some have just decided not any longer be part of this lawsuit and your numbers are accurate. We have about 400,000 students that have successfully completed the high school exit exam for the graduating class of 2006, and that's 90 percent.

DOBBS: Superintendent O'Connell, you're talking about eighth grade levels, ninth and 10th to graduate students in the state of California but we have just about everybody in this country saying we've got to raise the level of education. Why would you not have a 12th grade test for 12th graders?

O'CONNELL: Well, Lou, I'm with you. I authored the California High School Exit Exam when I was a member of the California State Senate in 1999. I'm pleased with the pass rate that we have. We need to make sure that we continue to have high standards.

I am one who firmly believes in high standards for all of our students and accountability both for our system and for our students, and the fact that the plaintiffs brought this lawsuit forward is a major step backward in terms of our culture of high expectations and high standards. And that's why we're fighting this lawsuit.

DOBBS: As you know, I'm going to be talking with Arturo Gonzalez, the attorney for the plaintiffs in this case, in just a matter of moments. Superintendent, California -- the extraordinary success story in terms of its economy.

It ranks 44th in the nation in mathematics, 48th in writing, 43rd in education spending per student, and 48th in sending high school students to four-year college for crying out loud. What are you doing out there?

O'CONNELL: And I'm afraid, Lou, that this, your lawsuit, if it's actually ratified what the initial verdict has been, is going to take us in the wrong direction. We saw our high schools for the first time since we've had our accountability system, which is for seven years now -- our high schools in terms of a percentage of schools meeting our growth targets, exceeded elementary schools and middle schools. I mean, we know we have a very diverse, challenging student population but with our exit exam ...

DOBBS: But what is the source of that population? Why has California been on decline? Is it because of the overwhelming number of illegal aliens moving into the state? O'CONNELL: You know, it's not that simple, Lou. It's ...

DOBBS: OK, make it complicated, just give me an answer. What's the reason?

O'CONNELL: We've actually seen our test scores on our standardized tests improve almost every grade level every year. However, it's not enough for many of us. We're standards-based education. We believe in accountability and this pending court decision, if I understand that's going to be ratified tomorrow, takes us in the wrong direction.

DOBBS: Let me ask you this. According to Professor John Rogers at UCLA, when today's seniors were in middle school he tracked 14 schools in South L.A. He found two-thirds of the math teachers were not credentialed. How in the world can that be?

O'CONNELL: We need to make sure that we adequately compensate our teachers. We need to respect our teachers and involve our teachers in more decision-making at the school site.

DOBBS: Respect them? How about educating them?

O'CONNELL: And how about compensating them?

DOBBS: Well, I'll be glad to compensate them if they were competent. But the idea of putting forward kids who need all the help they can get and then not even having qualified teachers in a state as rich as California, that's obscene, don't you think, Superintendent?

O'CONNELL: And we've had some movement in terms of being able to provide professional development, but we've experienced a recession. We just announced yesterday, in fact, really additional revenues that Governor Schwarzenegger's committed and I'm very pleased. And hopefully we'll be able to ...

(CROSSTALK)

DOBBS: Superintendent, I'm sorry to interrupt you, we have got to break away, because we want to give time to the attorney that's suing you. We thank you very much, Superintendent.

O'CONNELL: Thank you. Nice to be with you again.

DOBBS: Arturo Gonzalez is suing on behalf of those students who failed the exit exam, at least 10 of them. He says the students shouldn't be deprived of a diploma because the school system didn't adequately teach them. Arturo Gonzalez joins me tonight from San Francisco. Arturo, good to have you here.

ARTURO GONZALEZ, LAWYER: Thank you much.

DOBBS: I mean, 10 students who can't pass a test from -- to get a diploma and all they have to demonstrate is eighth and ninth grade proficiencies, I mean, that's kind of sad, isn't it? GONZALEZ: Yes, it is sad but let me explain a couple of things very quickly: one, a legal issue; and two, a policy issue. I'm so glad that you mentioned the study done by Professor Rogers at UCLA. Look, the problem is the state's own consultant has prepared a report saying that less than half of the schools in our public school system have taught the kids the material on the test.

So I don't care if you call it eighth grade, ninth grade or 10th grade, the point is, half of our schools haven't taught the kids the material. That's why the court is concerned, and the judge should be concerned.

DOBBS: But wait a minute. How long have these kids known they're going to have to take this test? How long?

GONZALEZ: The exit exam law was passed ...

DOBBS: It's been around for what, eight years?

GONZALEZ: In 1999, the exit exam law was passed. Correct.

DOBBS: So -- and a kid cannot get -- and I don't care what the deal is. Ninety percent of the people in the state, these kids, it's gratifying to know that 90 percent of the kids graduating from a high school in California can pass an eighth grade test, but how in the world can we rationalize these folks who can't pass it at the eighth grade level on full notice that they're going to have to deal with it?

GONZALEZ: Lou, it's pretty simple. You can give somebody notice that they're going to have to pass a swimming test but if you don't teach them how to swim they're not going to pass the test. You said it yourself. Two our of every three math teachers in the theater schools in Los Angeles, meaning the middle schools, they're not credentialed to teach math.

I mean, come on. Is it any surprise that when these kids get to high school they're behind? And the superintendent says, well, we want accountability. Excuse me, but you know, let's get these kids a credentialed teacher, and then maybe you can hold them accountable. That's why the judge is concerned.

DOBBS: I have to tell you, Arturo, I'm sympathetic to your case, because of that very reason. When you have in California just about 40 percent of the content being taught and 47 percent of the content being taught in English, based on one study...

GONZALEZ: That's right.

DOBBS: ... I mean, kids aren't getting much of a break. But what I don't understand is, why aren't you suing just about everybody, the parents, the students, and getting real about what's going on there? Because it's a disaster. You're losing half of your students, half blacks -- half of the black students in the state are dropping out of high school. Half the Hispanic students are dropping out.

GONZALEZ: That's right. DOBBS: Why don't you people get together and do something besides sue each other and get the thing straightened out?

GONZALEZ: And that's a great question, Lou. Let me tell you what we are trying to do. Number one, we're trying to get these kids their diplomas, because I don't think it's fair to deprive them of a diploma when half of them haven't been taught the material on the test.

DOBBS: You know, I'm sorry, we are going to have to break, Arturo, but can I tell you? I don't really care about that diploma if all it says is they can pass the eighth grade, and I don't think any employer would. I mean, it's just -- it's terrible, the way we're failing a whole generation of students. And it's not just California, as you well know.

Arturo, we look forward to the decision tomorrow. We know that Jack O'Connell, the superintendent, will appeal if it goes against him. We'll be talking more, and I wish you and everybody in California some success in improving education out there.

GONZALEZ: Thank you, Lou. Appreciate it.

DOBBS: Thank you.

Coming up next, "The Miami Herald's" Andres Oppenheimer is trying to back away from an outright lie that he leveled against me. We'll tell you about that and a great deal more. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

DOBBS: We brought to you this -- that -- "THE SITUATION ROOM" with Wolf Blitzer will be coming up at the top of the hour, and to prove that, here is Wolf Blitzer -- Wolf.

WOLF BLITZER, HOST, SITUATION ROOM: Thanks, Lou. The government is not trolling through your personal life -- that's what President Bush says -- but new reports show the NSA has been collecting a massive data bank of your phone records. We'll taking a closer look at how it's done, plus the political and legal fallout.

Also, much more on the immigration deal in the Senate. The Republicans and Democrats agree on a plan that includes a path toward citizenship and a guest worker program for millions of illegal immigrants.

And we'll take a closer look at a family divided over this issue. You'll see how one powerful congressman leading the charge for the House immigration plan may be putting his own brother into legal jeopardy.

Plus, the first lady and politics. The most popular person in the White House hits the campaign trail.

And get this -- chopper crash on the high seas. You're not going to believe how many people actually survived this one. Lou, that's coming up right at the top of the hour.

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

Well, two nights ago we brought to your attention outrageous charge -- a lot of outrageous charges lately, but this one, leveled by a "Miami Herald" columnist Andres Oppenheimer who wrote in his column last week that I intentionally mispronounced the name of CNN en Espanol reporter Juan Carlos Lopez. Oppenheimer said, quote, "he introduced his own correspondent, Juan Carlos Lopez, with such an exaggerated mispronunciation -- One Carlos Lopeeez --" as he put it -- "that it was hard not to perceive an intentional racial slur."

Well, people like Oppenheimer really look for an opportunity to play a race card. Just to be clear, let us play for you once again my introduction of Juan Carlos Lopez during the May 1st demonstrations and boycotts, and you can hear what I actually said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DOBBS: Supporters of illegal immigration also rally in the nation's capitol. Juan Carlos Lopez of CNN en Espanol reports now from Washington -- Juan Carlos.

JUAN CARLOS LOPEZ, CNN EN ESPANOL: Lou, hundreds of people came to Malcolm X Park in D.C....

(END VIDEO CLIP)

DOBBS: Well, tonight, Andres Oppenheimer and his column trying to back away from his outrageous assertion. He did in his "Miami Herald" column today say: "There is no question that Dobbs mispronounced the name, although, I admit, not in the way I spelled it in my May 4th column. Dobbs pronounced the name Lopez, with a clear accent on the e rather than Lo-pez, making it sound ridiculous to anyone with basic Spanish language skills," like presumably Mr. Oppenheimer.

It is shameful he could not admit he made a gross and utter mistake. There is a world of difference from charging someone with uttering a racial slur to criticizing my capacity for the Spanish language.

Let me state once again, Andres, I in no way intentionally mispronounced his game, and I state once again -- you're a liar, and it's clear you have no shame.

Despite Oppenheimer's criticism that I mispronounced the names of that -- the name of that Hispanic correspondent, Juan Carlos Lopez as an intentional racial slur, I do have to say that it's not the first time I've mispronounced a word or a name. In fact, I asked my colleagues to look back over some of my other pronunciations, and unfortunately they found a few other slurs of various correspondents' names. Take a listen now, if you will, to how I've pronounced or mispronounced some other names.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) DOBBS: David Ensor has our report.

DAVID ENSOR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: David Ensor, CNN, Washington.

DOBBS: Suzanne Melveaux (sic)...

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Suzanne Malveaux, CNN, the White House.

DOBBS: White House correspondent Dana Bush (sic).

DANA BASH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Dana Bash, CNN, Washington.

DOBBS: Bill Snyder (sic) reports.

BILL SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: No, Lou, it's actually Schneider. Please remember that, Mr. Dubbs (sic).

(END VIDEOTAPE)

DOBBS: Thank you, Bill.

Still ahead here, the results of tonight's poll. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

DOBBS: Now the results of tonight's poll. Nineteen percent of you responding that you're proudest that we have 20 million illegal aliens in this country; 12 percent said the nation is $8.5 trillion in debt, and that makes you proud; 23 percent said the fact the government is collecting data on millions of Americans; 46 percent winning out with so proud that our corporations are so wealthy they can buy not one, but two political parties.

Finally tonight, we'd like to welcome a new member of the team. Senior field producer Philippa Holland and her husband, Tom, a brand new baby boy, Thomas Cooper Holland. Tommy born Saturday night at a healthy seven pounds, seven ounces. Flip (ph), Tom, Tommy, all doing well. We couldn't be happier for you all. Congratulations. And to Lucy (ph) too.

Thanks for being with us tonight. For all of us here, good night from New York. "THE SITUATION ROOM" begins right now with Wolf Blitzer -- 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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