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Bush, Israeli Prime Minister Olmert Meet; New Tape From bin Laden

Aired May 23, 2006 - 19:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, HOST: You're in THE SITUATION ROOM, where new pictures and information are arriving all the time. Standing by, reporters across the United States and around the world to bring you tonight's top stories. Happening now, it's 7:00 p.m. here in Washington. President Bush and Israel's new leader see eye to eye on Iran's nuclear threat, and Israel gets a pledge of help if Iran attacks.
A new tape apparently from Osama bin Laden says confessed plotter Zacarias Moussaoui had nothing to do with 9/11. What about the Guantanamo detainees? Al Qaeda claims you haven't heard before.

And it's 4:00 p.m. at the world's biggest border crossing. U.S. agents keep a close watch but who's watching the them? We're on the scene with a look at how smugglers are getting through.

And we'll speak with the U.S. Senate majority leader Bill Frist. I'm Wolf Blitzer, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Israel's new leader gets a warm welcome from President Bush and praise for his plan to redraw the borders of the West Bank. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert also gets the promise of help if Iran attacks, while Iran gets a strong warning about its nuclear program. For all these late breaking developments let's turn to our White House correspondent Suzanne Malveaux.


SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, while these two leaders punted on a number of issues, they made it very, very clear on their stand on Iran. We had heard from the Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has threatened to wipe Israel off the map, well today President Bush along with the new Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said in the strongest terms possible, sending a warning to the Iranian president, you attack one of us, you attack us both.


GEORGE W. BUSH, U.S. PRESIDENT: The United States and international community have made our common position clear. We're determined that the Iranian regime must not gain nuclear weapons. I told the prime minister what I stated publicly before. Israel is a close friend and ally of the United States, and in the event of any attack on Israel, the United States will come to Israel's aid. EHUD OLMERT, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER: The international community cannot tolerate a situation where a regime with a radical ideology and long tradition of irresponsible conduct becomes a nuclear weapons state. This is a moment of truth. It is still not too late to prevent it from happening.


MALVEAUX: Wolf, another significant development, while President Bush did not endorse Olmert's unilateral disengagement plan from the West Bank, he did not dismiss it, either, rather saying, of course he thought it was a creative way to move the peace process forward, that it was a willingness, a sense of leadership, and that's exactly what Olmert was hoping to hear, and it is something that is going to be very valuable politically to him at home. Wolf?

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Suzanne Malveaux at the White House. Lots of important developments happening there.

Out of the blue today, a new al Qaeda audiotape, this one said to be from Osama bin Laden himself, and it's filled with denials instead of the usual warnings. The tape disavows and all but disowns confessed conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui. Let's get the specifics. CNN's Brian Todd joining us in the newsroom.


BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Wolf, U.S. officials tell us there's no need to doubt the authenticity, but they say it is being checked to verify that.


TODD (voice-over): He's not even a month into his life sentence, but already Zacarias Moussaoui' role in September 11th is apparently being discredited by the man who inspired him.

OSAMA BIN LADEN, AL QAEDA LEADER (through translator): I begin by talking about the honorable brother Zacarias Moussaoui. The truth is that he has no connection whatsoever with the events of September 11th.

TODD: On a Web site audiotape, a voice purported to be Osama bin Laden's asserts his own management of the 9/11 attacks.

BIN LADEN: I am certain of what I say, because I was responsible for entrusting the 19 brothers, Allah have mercy upon them, with those raids, and I did not assign brother Zacarias to be with them on the mission.

TODD: A claim that could be bolstered by what experts have said about bin Laden's outlook on the nationalities of the hijackers. Moussaoui is of Moroccan descent. Fifteen of the 19 hijackers were Saudis.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Bin Laden wanted to put as many Saudis on those planes as possible basically to interrupt the U.S.-Saudi alliance.

TODD: Moussaoui is serving six life sentences after a jury found he was responsible for at least one death on September 11th. At various times, Moussaoui claimed he had a key role in the plot and that he had no role.

The voice purported to be bin Laden says any confession Moussaoui gave was the result of pressure while in U.S. custody.

BIN LADEN: The brother Moussaoui was arrested two weeks before the event. And had he known anything, no matter how little about the September 11th group, we would have told the brother commander Muhammad Atta and his brothers, Allah have mercy upon them, to leave America immediately before the affair was exposed.


TODD: The voice also claims that none of the detainees at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba have any connection to September 11th, despite the assertion by U.S. officials that the man they believe was meant to be the 20th hijacker is among those held there. Wolf?

BLITZER: Brian Todd reporting. Brian, thanks.

Kelli Arena was in the courtroom for the trial of Zacarias Moussaoui. Kelli, how does this new audiotape, apparently from Osama bin Laden, confirm or contrast with what Moussaoui himself testified?

KELLI ARENA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Moussaoui testified of course, he was supposed to be on a fifth plane that was headed for the White House and part of the crew was going to be the convicted terrorist shoe bomber Richard Reid, but after sentenced to life in prison, Moussaoui made a court filing and said, actually, judge, I lied on the stand, in an attempt to actually withdraw his guilty plea.

Moussaoui has gone back and forth on this all along, Wolf, but the bottom line here is there's absolutely no intelligence to suggest, and the government agrees here, that Moussaoui was supposed to be involved in the September 11th attacks, and basically they are saying, those officials are saying that the real relevance of this bin Laden tape is to show he's still in the game, that he's up on current events and that he himself is relevant, Wolf.

BLITZER: Always frustrating to hear from him. Kelli, thank you very much for that.

In the developing story over immigration reform, the Mexican President Vicente Fox is now in Utah, a state divided on immigration issues. He'll also visit Washington State and California.

And in another development, senators today rejected an amendment to allow all illegal immigrants to stay in the United States and apply for citizenship instead of just two thirds. A vote on the overall Senate immigration bill could come as soon as tomorrow. Meanwhile, just how easy is it to get into the United States at the world's busiest border checkpoint? Our Chris Lawrence is on the scene for us. He is joining us now live.


CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Well, Wolf, every hour, more than 5,000 people come across the border here, most of them legally, but in just in the last 24 hours, agents have apprehended 172 undocumented aliens.


LAWRENCE (voice-over): As Mexican President Vicente Fox begins his visit to the U.S., federal agents and smugglers are engaged in an elaborate game of cat and mouse.

JAMES HYNES, PORT DIRECTOR: If you look close enough in the lanes behind me. You'll see people south of the border watching our operation.

LAWRENCE: The watchers are being watched. When their canines come out, where primary inspections take place, which lanes send more cars into secondary inspection areas.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Look at that. That ain't supposed to be there.

LAWRENCE: Agents say even some of the Mexican vendors can be spotters. In a sense, spies who signal criminals crossing the border.

HYNES: Alien smugglers and drug smugglers, they will go over us, under us, around us and through us.

LAWRENCE: Human beings coming to the United States in the most inhumane ways, concealed in carpets and then piled into a car. A little girl tied down inside a seat compartment. An adult woman stuffed inside the dashboard.

HYNES: When we take a mother and child out of a gas tank where there has been gas fumes, clearly their life is at stake.

LAWRENCE: San Ysidro is the largest port of entry in the world, and this year apprehensions of illegal immigrants are up 10 percent. Agents caught more than 200 undocumented aliens in one day this week.

HYNES: Do I think we're getting them all? I don't think so, but we're getting a very high number.


LAWRENCE: So customs and border enforcement agent don't catch every smuggler, but they're driving up the price. What they do is after they catch someone, the agents will interrogate them and ask them how much they paid. By all accounts, it costs more to get smuggled over now than even six months ago.

Wolf? BLITZER: And, Chris, those people walking behind you back and forth, I assume they're just crossing the border by foot as opposed to driving?

LAWRENCE: That's right, Wolf. There are many ways to get across the border here. And there's such an interdependency between this part of California and Mexico, people live in Mexico, they work here. People work in California, go home to Mexico at the end of the night. Students who go to school here in California, but still live in Mexico. Just an incredible amount of interdependence here on the border here.

BLITZER: Chris Lawrence on the border for us. Chris, good work. Thank you very much.

Let 'go up to New York. Jack Cafferty standing by with the "Cafferty File." Hi, Jack.


Senator Hillary Clinton says she knows how to cut oil imports in half in the next 20 years. It's an idea she may well try to ride right into the White House in a couple years. Her plan includes more ethanol-based fuel, conservation, government tax incentives, private investment and a $50 billion fund for energy research. The money for that fund would come from a temporary tax on some oil company profits.

Republicans fired back immediately, saying that Clinton voted against some of the President Bush's energy initiatives, including drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Government figures show that the U.S. imports 13 million barrels of oil a day and the numbers are expected to grow to more than 15 million barrels a day in the next 20 years, so here's the question -- How can Americans reduce their dependence on foreign oil? Email us at or go to


BLITZER: Jack, thanks very much.

Coming up here in THE SITUATION ROOM. Price gouging at the pump, one government study says it's not happening. Some leaders in Congress aren't buying it. Find out why one is calling it a whitewash and why a government official was nearly driving to tears earlier today.

And it's a very strange twist. Republicans coming to the defense of a Democrat over a federal raid on Capitol Hill. We'll find out why one politician accused of corruption is bringing the parties together, at least on a technical legal issue.

Plus we'll hear from the Senate majority leader Bill Frist.

And bird flu outbreak, and the possibility of human to human transmission. Our own Dr. Sanjay Gupta is live from a federal testing lab with some late information. Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Tonight, the chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee is drafting a bill to ban excessive gas price increases. At a hearing today, senators of both parties had some angry words for the oil industry and the Federal Trade Commission, after the FTC said it found no evidence of price gouging at the pump. And that's not the only source of outrage here in Washington tonight.

Our chief national correspondent John King is standing by. He is going to have more on that story in a moment. But let's go to our senior national correspondent John Roberts. He has got some more on the pain at the pump. John?

JOHN ROBERTS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good evening to you, Wolf. By now it has got to be a familiar story. Gas prices spike in the wake of a crisis, in this case Hurricane Katrina, consumers fume about it, politicians are screaming, the Federal Trade Commission investigators price gouging by the oil industry and finds nothing.


ROBERTS (voice-over): It would usually end there, but not in this election year.

SEN. BARBARA BOXER, (D) CA: I'm very disappointed in this report. I think it's a whitewash.

SEN. TRENT LOTT, (R) MS: There's something real fishy here.

ROBERTS: The chairwoman of the Federal Trade Commission was pummeled today by senators feeling the heat from angry voters, moved close to tears by charges she could care less about consumers.

DEBORAH MAJORAS, CHAIRMAN, FTC: But if you have any doubt whatsoever about my caring and my empathy and my background of working class for the people of America, then I would like to suggest you spend some time with me, because nobody who works with me doubts that for one second.

ROBERTS: But there was no sympathy for a commission that critics charge has allowed the oil industry to consolidate to the point there is no incentive to compete.

MARK COOPER, CONSUMER FEDERATION OF AMERICAN: So the FTC allowed this try to get into this state and now they don't have to do anything technically illegal to rip the consumer off.

ROBERTS: The oil companies say the price simply reflects supply and demand, but critics say the industry keep a tight leash through refining capacity, and there's no surprise, they say, that there has not been a new refinery been built in more than 20 years.

TYSON SLOCUM, PUBLIC CITIZEN: When you do not add more capacity by building new refineries to keep up with rising demand, you're going to create tighter supply situations. And when you have tighter supply situations, you have greater ability to increase prices to consumers.

ROBERTS: Of course, the high cost of gas does give politicians a convenient focal point for outrage. In a presidential-style speech, Hillary Clinton today unveiled an energy plan.

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D) NY: Our present system of energy is weakening our national security, hurting our pocketbooks, violating our common values, and threatening our children's future.

ROBERTS: The Republican National Committee, meanwhile, rolled out a new Internet ad, taking aim at Democrats for wanting high gas prices. If you want to notice just how much is at stake, listen to the warning Senator Trent Lott sent to the oil companies today.

LOTT: I don't want to do something crazy. I voted against every regulatory effort in this area for 30 years but the American people are agitated about this, and there better be some restraint shown, or the consequences are not going to be pretty.


ROBERTS: Something is already in the works. Republican Senator Ted Stevens says he's drafting a federal law to ban price gouging. Right now there isn't one, only a laws against collusion to drive up prices. But the challenge for Stevens is going to be how to make sure that this new law has got some teeth. Wolf?

BLITZER: Good report, John. Thank you very much.

Meanwhile, a government source tells CNN officials waited weeks before going public with news of the theft of personal data covering 26 million American veterans. Our chief national correspondence John King brought us this story 24 hours ago. He's here now with more. What is the fallout today, John?

JOHN KING, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, as we discussed yesterday there was already considerable outrage that this massive security breach happened in the first place, and now mounting anger at word the Department of Veteran Affairs waited nearly three weeks to alert millions of veterans that they are at risk of identity theft.

Now, the department says it wanted to give investigators time and did not want for news reports to tip off the burglars that took the computer files from a V.A. employee's home back on May 3rd. Members of Congress say that might have made sense for a few days, but no more, especially given the immediate need to put credit card companies and other vendors on alerts.


SEN. NORM COLEMAN, (R) MN: God created the whole earth and the world in seven days, that's a period of time. But three weeks? I find it very difficult to understand why the red flags and the horns weren't raised and sounded a lot earlier.

(END VIDEO CLIP) KING: Now, the V.A. says the employee has been placed on leave because he was not authorized to take home the files containing the names, dates of birth and Social Security numbers of all 25 million living military veterans and some of their spouses.

But the department has been warned that something like this could happen. As far back as October 2001, and again just months later, the V.A.'s inspector general said an audit had found, quote, "significant information security vulnerabilities that continued to place the department at risk of unauthorized access and disclosure of data subject to Privacy Act protection."

Now Wolf, Congress is hopping mad about this. The House Veterans' Affairs Committee will have a hearing on Thursday morning on this issue, and the Senate Government Operations Committee has already asked its watchdog agency, the watchdog agency of Congress, to look at not only Veterans' affairs, but across the government to see if other agencies are also sloppy with such sensitive information.


BLITZER: A lot of outrage on this story, John, thank you very much, John King and John Roberts are part of the best political team on television. CNN, America's campaign headquarters.

Still to come tonight in THE SITUATION ROOM, the Senate majority leader Bill Frist on the unprecedented raid on a congressman's office and the separation of powers in Washington, has a constitutional line been crossed?

And there's a new man testing the presidential waters, but is the early Democratic race still all about a woman, a woman named Hillary? Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Today in Louisiana a brewing storm, panicked evacuees, hope for safety and elected officials were forced to act quickly. None of it was, though, real. All of it, though, was critically important to test how ready Louisiana is for yet another hurricane. Let's turn to our Gulf Coast correspondent Susan Roesgen. She is in New Orleans, was watching all of this unfold today. Susan?

SUSAN ROESGEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, I'm at the New Orleans convention center, which is a big part of the city's evacuation plan. And this is a drill to see how well the city can evacuate people who can't get out on their own.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you live alone?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You do not. But you do have a ... ROESGEN (voice-over): There's a hurricane bearing down on New Orleans, a big one, Category 3, like Katrina, with winds over 110 miles an hour and people have to get out. That's the scenario the city is testing.

Volunteers playing the role of elderly evacuees at a senior center, picked up on city buses and taken to the Amtrak train station. For the first time, the city plans to use trains to get some people out, although the deal with Amtrak is not yet final.

Meanwhile, at the New Orleans Convention Center, names and addresses are entered into a computer database, and each evacuee is given a wristband with a bar code, a new way to track evacuees, a way for family members who get separated, to find each other.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I have a young baby and I'm not taking any risks.

ROESGEN: In the next hurricane, the city estimates that of the roughly 180,000 residents, 15,000 would need help getting out. This drill is the first step to find out if the city can do it.


ROESGEN: Tomorrow, the city will test its responses after a hurricane has blown through, dealing with communication problems and getting supplies into the city. Today, Wolf, things went fairly smoothly, but of course that's without the panic and confusion that comes with a real hurricane.

BLITZER: And let's not forget, Susan, hurricane season starts next week. We're only days away from the coming hurricane season. Susan, thank you very much.

Just ahead, the Senate majority leader Bill Frist. He will join us in THE SITUATION ROOM. I'll ask him if the FBI raid on a congressman's office is unconstitutional, as many people are now claiming.

Also, there's a developing story we're watching. Is bird flu now being passed from human to human. Can that happen? Is it happening? Our senior medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta visits the frontlines in the fight against bird flu in this country. Stay with us.


BLITZER: Welcome back to THE SITUATION ROOM. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. Let's bring in our Mary Snow. She has got a quick look at some other headlines happening right now. Mary?

MARY SNOW, CNN ANCHOR: Well, Wolf, the man who would be the next CIA director is a step closer to confirmation. Today the Senate Intelligence Committee approved the nomination of General Michael Hayden by a vote of 12 to three. The three who voted against Hayden were senators Feingold, Wyden and Bayh, all Democrats. The full Senate is expected to vote on Hayden's nomination before the Memorial Day recess.

Family members say Lloyd Bentsen died today of natural causes. Bentsen was a senator from Texas and later served as President Clinton's treasury secretary, but he was perhaps best known for one of the best-known lines at a political debate.


LLOYD BENTSEN, FORMER U.S. SENATOR: I served with Jack Kennedy, I knew Jack Kennedy. Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy.


SNOW: Lloyd Bentsen was 85 years old.

Dramatic pictures from Hamburg, Germany. A mother and son choose between roaring flames at their backs and a dangerous fall. They chose to jump from their second-story balcony. Now, fortunately they survived with only minor injuries. It's not known what caused the fire. Firefighters were delayed from getting into the apartment complex, because the locks for the gate had been changed and the fire department hadn't been given new ones. Pretty amazing story. Wolf?

BLITZER: Thank God they're OK.

Mary, thank you very much.

Tonight there's a growing uproar over the unprecedented raid on Congressman William Jefferson's office here in Washington on Capitol Hill. The bribery allegations against the Louisiana Democrat are troubling in their own right but on Capitol Hill right now lawmakers are zeroing in on the raid and warning that a constitutional line may have been crossed.

Let's bring back once again our justice correspondent Kelli Arena. Kelli?

ARENA: Wolf, over at the Justice Department, officials are bewildered at the response from Congress, and contend that they're on totally legal ground.


ARENA (voice-over): Political leaders from both parties say the search was an unnecessarily aggressive move, one that may have violated the separation of powers between the executive and the congressional branches of government.

REP. DENNIS HASTERT (R-IL), HOUSE SPEAKER: There's ways to do it. And my opinion is that they took the wrong path. They need to back up and we need to go from there.

ARENA: The search was approved by a federal judge after reviewing an affidavit outlining the evidence against Congressman Jefferson. It includes a video of him allegedly accepting $100,000 in marked bills from an FBI informant.

FBI agents say $90,000 of that was found hidden in the congressman's freezer.

Jefferson denies any wrong doing. Still, some legal experts say the search violated protections guaranteed by the Constitution.

CHARLES TIEFER, UNIVERSITY OF BALTIMORE LAW SCHOOL: I'm much concerned that what happened Saturday night was an intimidating act by which the Congress is going to be -- the members of Congress are going to be nervous about doing their job from now on.

ARENA: Justice Department officials argue they are no choice. Prosecutors subpoenaed the documents they were after from Jefferson last August but say they got no cooperation.

ALBERTO GONZALES, ATTORNEY GENERAL: We worked very hard over a period of time to get the information, the evidence, that we felt was important to a criminal investigation. And at the end of the day, the decision was made that this was absolutely essential to move forward with that investigation.


ARENA: Wolf, interestingly the suggestion to get a search warrant came from a federal judge, that's according to sources familiar with the investigation. Discussions between Justice and Congress are ongoing, but neither side seems willing to budge at this point.

BLITZER: Kelli, thank you very much. So did that weekend raid cross a red line? Members of Congress, including the Republican leadership, are not happy.


BLITZER: Joining us from Capitol Hill, the Senate Majority Leader, Republican Bill Frist of Tennessee. Mr. Leader, thanks very much.

The former speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich quoted in the "Washington Post" today as saying, "Searching Rep. Jefferson's office was the most blatant violation of the constitutional separation of powers in my lifetime."

This is the first time this has ever happened in U.S. history. What do you think was going on? What do you think of this?

SEN. BILL FRIST (R-TN), MAJORITY LEADER: Wolf, I have cautioned our leadership about getting too far out in front. I think the American people need to know, first and foremost, that no congressmen, no senator is above the law of the land. And the law needs to be enforced and needs to be enforced aggressively.

On the other hand, I think it is very important for us to take the time, not with a knee jerk reaction, but to go back and look at the separation of powers, the so-called speech and debate clause that is in the Constitution itself.

What we've done on the Senate side is to ask our rules committee to go back and look to see whether or not there is any precedent. And so far, they haven't been able to come up with any. And then to ask our legal counsel, both inside and outside, to advise us as to whether there should be certain protocols, all the time recognizing that no member of the Senate or the House is above the law.

BLITZER: Yesterday, when you issued a statement, you sounded pretty upset about it. Are you changing your mind?

FRIST: No. I think my statement yesterday reflected exactly what I am, and that is concerned. When we talk about constitutional issues, when we talk about law enforcement, when we talk about the rule of law, there shouldn't be a knee jerk statement or knee jerk reaction without very careful thought, very deliberate thought, the input of constitutional scholars, especially when there is no precedent in the past.

So yes, I'm concerned, because it does involve the Constitution, it does involve the law. So I pretty much stick with yesterday's statement. We will be spending a lot of time over the next several days and probably the next several weeks seeing whether or not a protocol should be developed consistent with that Constitution, consistent with the separation of powers, and consistent with the law of the land.

BLITZER: When do you think, switching gears to immigration reform, when do you think it will come up for a vote on the Senate floor?

FRIST: Wolf, it's moving very fast. There are amendments are going on now, tonight and, all day tomorrow.

I filed what is called a cloture vote, a procedural vote which will occur tomorrow morning. That vote means that the debate will end within 30 hours. And that means that we will have final vote on passage in the United States Senate after probably more than 30 amendments as of Thursday late afternoon. So we will be finished late Thursday afternoon.

BLITZER: A lot of your Republican colleagues, including Senator Jeff Sessions, are very unhappy with this compromise that's being worked out in the Senate. Senator Sessions says, "The Senate should be ashamed of itself. This legislation should have never, ever, ever become law."

You understand the concern that he has. But where do you stand right now as the Republican leader in the Senate? Will you support this compromise with Senator Kennedy and Senator McCain?

FRIST: Wolf, my goal at the outset was to do what the American people expect. And that is to recognize serious problems. And millions of people crossing this border illegally is a serious issue. National security, economic, humanitarian, you know the reasons. Thus, I elected in the Senate to take it to the floor, a comprehensive bill, strong on border security, and to have a process where every United States senator, Republican, Democrat, or Independent, has the opportunity to offer amendments to improve an underlying bill that did come out of the judiciary committee.

With that, the process has been superb. In a bipartisan way, we will deliver a bill that will reflect the will of the Senate. If we continue in that vein tonight, tomorrow, with amendments voted upon, up or down, I expect that I will be supporting that bill coming out of the Senate.

It -- we'll finish with it on Thursday. The House has passed a bill. It will go to conference sometime over the course of the summer. And I'm hopeful that we can again have the will of the House and the Senate reflected in a way that addresses a very real problem out there.

BLITZER: A lot of the Republicans in the House -- they have a very different version they've already passed -- are furious at what's going to come out of the Senate, including your stance.

Tom Tancredo, the Republican congressman from Colorado, said this the other day. He said, "By caving into the Democrats, Bill Frist pushed the Senate towards the biggest illegal alien amnesty in American history. Frist," he went on to say, "has put the Senate on a collision course with the House."

Tough words from a Republican colleague.

FRIST: Yes. You know, a lot of rhetoric. And again, a Republican colleague and somebody whom I respect.

And the good thing about the system, as reflected here in the Senate, is that people like Tancredo or other people throughout my caucus, which has a lot of varied opinions, everybody has had that opportunity to come forward, put their ideas out, not just rhetoric, their substantive ideas out, have it debated among that whole body, deliberated upon and then voted upon.

And that was a huge advance. Three weeks ago, the Democratic leaders said no, we're not going to allow you to bring the amendments up and be voted upon. But by the time we've finished, we will have probably over 23, 24 Republican amendments voted upon, and maybe 10, 15 or maybe more than that Democratic amendments. And that's the way our legislative body is supposed to work. Not everybody is going to agree with it. Not a perfect bill, but the best of what our legislative body can do, addressing very real issues that are out there.

BLITZER: Senator Frist, thanks very much for joining us.

FRIST: Good to be with you, Wolf.

(END VIDEOTAPE) BLITZER: They are unspeakable crimes. Coming up in a CNN exclusive, we're going to take you to Africa, the heart of Africa, for a look at a kind of terror being inflicted right now. Our Jeff Koinange has a story that will really shock you. You're going to want to see this though.

And a developing story we're watching, is bird flu being spread from human to human? Our senior medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta is joining us. He has the latest on what the U.S. government is doing to prepare. Plus another Democrat joins the growing field eying for a run for the White House. We're going to show you who's in, who's out and who may by the next to declare their candidacy. Stay with us.


BLITZER: This just coming in to CNN, the Associated Press says the lieutenant governor of South Carolina has been injured in a plane crash. Mary Snow is watching the story for us, what are we learning?

SNOW: We're learning from our affiliate WSPA that the lieutenant governor of South Carolina, Andre Bauer was injured in a plane crash. You're looking at live pictures, Andre Bauer was injured says WSPA, they report that he was conscious and alert, that he was flying in an ultra-light plane, that it clipped trees. As you are seeing, it happened in Cherokee County, just south of Charlotte. The injuries -- we don't know the exact details, but he has survived and again our affiliate reporting he is conscious and alert.

BLITZER: And flown apparently to Spartansberg Medical Center for treatment. We wish him the best, 39 years old apparently the youngest lieutenant governor in the country. We'll watch this story. Mary, thank you very much.

The World Health Organization is looking into the death of six Indonesians who died from bird flu. There's concern they may have contracted the virus from human to human transmission. So far, the 120 plus people known to have died from bird flu caught it from poultry. Our senior medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta is joins us from Ames, Iowa, where they're watching all of this very closely. What are you picking up?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this is the ground zero for bird flu in this country. You can't confirm a case of bird flu, if and when it ever happens in this country without going through this particular laboratory in Ames, Iowa.

So a lot of people paying attention to this. When talking about human to human transmission, the reason people are so concerned is that is the critical leap, the mutation, the jump that so many people have been talking about. We don't know for sure whether it's spreading from human to human. The World Health Organization could not say for sure.

Last fall I was in Indonesia. I met a six year old boy in Indonesia. There was concern he actually contracted bird flu from his aunt. You can't tell for sure whether that's happening until you identify the same exact virus in both individuals, and we just may not be able to do that.

What they're telling me, Wolf, is regardless, even if you have a few cases of human to human transmission, the virus still isn't very efficient at it, it's not very contagious, and that's not that's an important point. So they're not particularly concerned even if it is human to human at this time, Wolf.

BLITZER: Sanjay, we'll be checking back with you, a huge story, potentially very significant. We'll watch it with you.

Up ahead, how can Americans reduce their dependence on foreign oil, that's the question of the hour. Jack Cafferty has your e-mail.

Also, we'll go to the heart of Africa for some truly stunning developments. Stay with us.


BLITZER: The civil war in the Democratic Republic of Congo ended almost three years ago, yet the end of that civil war coincided with a sharp increase of the crimes you're about to hear about exclusively here on CNN. We must warn you, what you are about to see is very disturbing. Let's bring in our Jeff Koinange.


JEFF KOINANGE, CNN AFRICA CORRESPONDENT (voice over): They have nothing to sing about, and yet they sing. They sing to comfort each other and to find strength.

These mothers and daughters, grandmothers and granddaughters have all been raped again and again by men in uniform. The crimes are not isolated incidents.

Twenty-one-year-old Sinzi (ph) was attacked by 15 men wearing uniforms of the Congolese army. She says they raped her for eight days and eight nights. She was brought here on a stretcher. Now she needs a cane to walk.

"They can take away my womanhood," she says, "but they will never be able to break my spirit."

The stories get even worse. Twenty-eight-year-old Henriet Norta (ph) says three years ago she was gang-raped while her husband and four children were forced to watch. The soldiers then disemboweled her husband and continued raping her and her two oldest daughters, ages 8 and 10. This went on for three days, she says.

"I wish they could have killed me right there along with my husband," she says. "What use am I now? Why did those animals leave me to suffer like this?"

(on camera): Officials here say this past year there were more than 4,000 reported rape cases in this one province of the Eastern Congo alone. An average of 12 women arrive here at the rehab center for treatment every single day.

As part of the peace deal that ended the civil war here more than two years ago, the country's various militias were integrated into the army. The men in uniform now rape at will.

(voice over): Dr. Denis Mukwege Mukengere is the lone physician at this hospital that specializes in victim of sexual violence. In his 23 years practicing in this region, he admits he's never seen such brutality.

"When we hear stories of how some of them have knives thrust into them after being raped," he says, "and how some suffer gunshot wounds after a pistol has been fired between their legs, it's the cruelest and most barbaric thing I have ever seen."

Here in the Democratic Republic of Congo, it's easy to find the victims of rape. But Amnesty International and private donors say there seems to be no effort to find the rapists.

And so the women of this country must try to heal without justice. It makes the words of their song all the more powerful. "We will never be broken," they sing. "We will never be broken."

Jeff Koinange, CNN, Bukavu, in Eastern Congo.


BLITZER: We'll bring you more of Jeff's exclusive reporting from Africa.

U.N. officials, by the way, say they're tackling the largest electoral operation to support the first elections in Congo in 45 years. The first round of the national elections is scheduled for July 30th. We'll see if they have any impact at all on the lives of these women.

Let's find out what's coming up right at the top of the hour. Paula is standing by -- Paula.

PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: Hi, Wolf, thanks so much.

So what's the president of Mexico doing in the U.S. just as the debate over illegal immigration is reaching a climax on Capitol Hill? We're going to take you live to Utah for that report.

And then, why would anyone hit pillows with a tennis racket over and over and over again? Believe it or not, it is the idea of a controversial therapist. He's made it part of what he calls a cure for homosexuality. His story and whether it's a cure or not, and all the controversy surrounding that coming up at the top of the hour.

BLITZER: Paula, thank you very much.

And still ahead here in THE SITUATION ROOM, there's a new man testing the presidential waters. Will he be a formidable rival to Senator Hillary Clinton? Plus your answers to our questions of the hour, how can Americans reduce their dependence on foreign oil?

Jack Cafferty is standing by this your e-mails.


BLITZER: The field of possible presidential contenders in 2008 is more crowded today. Democratic Senator Chris Dodd is making his intention to run clear, but how might he fare against one of his party's biggest stars, namely Senator Hillary Clinton?

Let's turn, once again, to our Mary Snow. She's watching what's going on -- Mary.

SNOW: Well, Wolf, counting Senator Dodd, there are 12 candidates regarded as potential presidential candidates. With the de facto front runner already in place, it's going to take political muscle and money to cut a path through the pack.


SNOW (voice-over): Democratic Senator Christopher Dodd of Connecticut says he's exploring a run for the White House in 2008 because of the deep divisions among political leaders.

SEN. CHRISTOPHER DODD (D), CONNECTICUT: Most people, regardless of party and ideology, are greatly worried about where the country is going, both at home and abroad.

SNOW: The five-term senator flirted with the idea back in 2004, and joins a growing pool of Democratic potentials.

JAMES CARVILLE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: A lot of Democrats are saying, you know, I should have gone in '04, and, yes, I'm not going to -- I'm not going to sit this out.

SNOW: But it's more than just not sitting it out. It's also elbowing out Senator Hillary Clinton, even though she has not said if she will run for president.

Poll numbers and $20 million in cash puts her at the head of the pack.

LARRY SABATO, DIRECTOR, UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA CENTER FOR POLITICS: For the most part, it is going to turn out to be Hillary vs. the anti-Hillarys.

SNOW: Being anti-Hillary, say political observers, can mean different things.

SABATO: It could be somebody from the middle of the spectrum, like former Governor Mark Warner or Senator Evan Bayh. It is possible to be anti-Hillary and come from the left, as Senator Russ Feingold from Wisconsin may do. SNOW: Also in that potential category, former senator and 2004 vice presidential candidate John Edwards. In a recent interview with "New York 1," he said Democrats need to define themselves.

JOHN EDWARDS (D), FORMER U.S. SENATOR: We have had enough of sort of the politics of incrementalism and trying to be close to the Republican Party.

SNOW: Senator John Kerry is another possibility. He has over $14 million in cash from his failed presidential bid in 2004 that he can put toward another run.


SNOW: Other potential candidates include Senator Joseph Biden of Delaware, former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, Governor Tom Vilsack of Iowa, and former NATO commander General Wesley Clark -- Wolf.

BLITZER: No shortage of Democratic candidates. A lot of Republicans out there as well looking towards 2008. Mary, thanks very much.

Jack Cafferty is standing by. He's got his e-mail -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: Thank you, Wolf.

Senator Clinton says she knows how to cut oil imports in this country in half in the next 20 years. Her plan includes more ethanol- based fuel, conservation, government tax incentives, private investment and a $50 billion fund for energy research. The question we posed is, how can Americans reduce their dependence on foreign oil? It's not terribly original, but it is germane.

Chet in Point Reyes Station, California: "Telecommuting, incentives to companies that have a large proportion of their workers telecommute. They will use less gas. Everyone else will use less gas per mile on the roads. It's much easier to move the electrons down the wire than the cars down the interstate."

R. writes, "The U.S. government should mount a Manhattan Project- level effort to find an alternative fuel to oil. Cancel our NASA project to Mars. Why do we want to go to Mars if, when we run out of oil, we can't go down the street?"

Gregg in Tempe, Arizona writes, "I love you, Jack, but this ain't rocket science. Any intelligent person can readily see what has happened in Brazil and what they did with their sugarcane crop to release themselves from foreign oil dependence. That same intelligent person can then see our readily-available corn growing resources and the resultant ethanol production to fuel our cars. The real problem in this country is finding intelligence people." I don't know, Gregg, we found you.

Michael in New Haven, Connecticut: "Fuel prices should go up to at least $4 a gallon, and people will then begin to use less. Consuming less is the best way to reduce dependence on imports. Americans are getting to be such whiners."

And Mike in Redding, Connecticut: "I think we should invade a country that produces massive amounts of oil. Then we can pay for the war and lower gas prices with the profits we make by controlling the oil industry in that country. Oh wait, never mind" -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jack, see you tomorrow. Thanks very much.

And would you be better off at the pump if Democrats were in power? Let's bring in our Jacki Schechner -- Jacki.

JACKI SCHECHNER, CNN INTERNET CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, if I go one way from New York to California, AAA says my gas cost is going to be about $300. Well, the GOP has launched a new campaign saying that it would be worse if the Democrats were in power. They're making new calculations, adding what they call "Democrat tax hikes" or BTU taxes.

But we checked. These are tax legislations that were proposed in 1993. The DNC calls this campaign "a pathetic distortion of the truth," Wolf, and they point out that regular gas prices have risen 97 percent since President Bush's first inauguration.

BLITZER: Jacki, thanks very much.

Until tomorrow, thanks for joining us. Among my guests tomorrow, the former President Jimmy Carter. He'll be here in THE SITUATION ROOM. Let's go to Paula in New York -- Paula.


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