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THE SITUATION ROOM

Atrocities in Iraq?; Iran's New Message; Ohio Stolen in 2004 Presidential Election?

Aired June 2, 2006 - 19:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And, to our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM, where new pictures and information are arriving all the time. Standing by, CNN reporters across the United States and around the world to bring you tonight's top stories.
Happening now, investigations of alleged atrocities by U.S. troops in Iraq -- tonight, the Pentagon releases some of its findings. We will have a live report.

It's 7:00 p.m. here in Washington. There are new developments this hour. Some soldiers are cleared. Others may be in deep trouble.

Also this hour, a nuclear response -- it's 2:30 a.m. Saturday in Tehran, where an offer for direct talks with the U.S. is on the table. We will tell you if Iran's president is backing down or standing firm.

And a well-known Democrat ignites the controversy -- reignites it, that is, over the 2004 election. Did Republicans steal the vote in Ohio? Robert Kennedy Jr. says yes. I will press him on his explosive allegations. And we will get a Republican response from Terry Holt.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

There's new word tonight from the Pentagon on an investigation into possible troop misconduct in Iraq. Army investigators have cleared soldiers of wrongdoing in a March raid in the town of Ishaqi. They say the soldiers followed proper procedures and will not face charges.

The U.S. military still is investigating other allegations of atrocities by U.S. forces in Iraq in or near the towns of Hamandiyah and Haditha. The Iraqi government is launching its own probe of the November killings in Haditha, which first raised questions about whether U.S. troops have deliberately killed Iraqi civilians. Military investigators strongly suspect a small number of U.S. Marines went on a rampage and killed 24 people after their comrade was killed in a roadside bomb.

The Pentagon also is looking into an April incident near Hamandiyah. A source familiar with that investigation says military prosecutors likely will file murder charges against several Marines being held in solitary confinement at Camp Pendleton in California. They're accused in the shooting death of an Iraqi civilian.

Meanwhile, the Iraqi prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, is now speaking out more forcefully than ever about the allegations of U.S. troop misconduct -- his powerful words in a moment.

First, let's get the latest developments from our senior Pentagon correspondent, Jamie McIntyre.

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SENIOR PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the Pentagon moved quickly today to refute allegations that U.S. troops killed as many as 11, perhaps more, civilians in a March raid in Ishaqi, a town north of Baghdad.

Those allegations surfaced after the BBC aired a new videotape of the aftermath of the raid and said that it contradicted the official U.S. military version of events. But the Pentagon says it's gone back and looked at the U.S. Army investigation, and says that this incident has been fully investigated, and military investigators have cleared the special operations troops who were involved in the raid against what was believed to be an al Qaeda safe house.

The U.S. military says that the appropriate escalation of force was used against a legitimate target, which was the source of hostile fire.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MAJ. GEN. WILLIAM CALDWELL, U.S. ARMY: The investigating officer concluded that possibly up to nine collateral deaths resulted from this engagement, but could not determine the precise number due to the collapsed walls and heavy debris.

Allegations that the troops executed a family living in this safe house and then hid the alleged crimes by directing an airstrike are absolutely false.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MCINTYRE: After reviewing the results of that original investigation, the Pentagon says there is no further reason to investigate this incident.

Meanwhile, CNN has now talked to one of the Marines who was in Haditha, the Marine major who was responsible for giving out $38,000 in payment in compensation to victims of the -- to families of 15 of the victims. Those payments were not an admission of guilt.

And the officer involved, Major Dana Hyatt, said he could not discuss them. But he did talk about the situation in Haditha at the time that these incidents took place.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MAJOR DANA HYATT, U.S. MARINE CORPS: You're going down the street and, all the sudden, something blows up right down the road, or going down the street, and, you know, you get a call on the radio, saying, hey, hold up, because somebody just told us that there's probably a bomb up the road.

And, sure enough, there was. And so, it's -- it's something that you need to be constantly aware of, but not -- not trigger-happy, like you're shooting at everything that moves.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MCINTYRE: Now, sources family with the Haditha investigation tell us that the criminal phase of this trial could -- investigation could still take six to eight more weeks. They're still interviewing witnesses and they're trying to get permission from some of the families to exhume the bodies to get more forensic evidence -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Jamie, thanks very much -- Jamie McIntyre reporting.

Meanwhile, Iraqi officials are turning up the heat on the Bush administration over the Haditha incident and other allegations of atrocities. In some of his toughest words yet, the new prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki said -- and let me quote specifically -- "This is a phenomenon that has become common among many of the multinational forces, no respect for citizens, smashing civilian cars, and killing on a suspicion or a hunch. It's unacceptable" -- strong words from the Iraqi prime minister.

Add Haditha to the political mix in a election year that may prove to be a referendum on the war in Iraq, or perhaps not.

Our senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley, is assessing the long-term and the short-term fallout -- Candy.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, you take war, allegations of atrocities and politics, and you add it all up, it makes for an ugly mix, not to mention an uncertain one.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CROWLEY (voice-over): If U.S. Marines went on a murder spree in Haditha, the most immediate, most dangerous political impact would be on the world stage. Some of the president's first words seemed aimed in that direction.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: One of the things that happens in a transparent society like ours is that there is -- there will be a full and complete investigation. The world will see the full and complete investigation.

CROWLEY: In Iraq and in the Arab world, where U.S. motives are suspect, war atrocities committed by American Marines would be a propaganda tool, a way to fuel hatred in a war less about winning territory than hearts and minds.

In the U.S., with a midterm election in five months, most strategists and politicos think, even assuming the worst in Haditha, it's too early to assess political fallout. Others suggest, it may be too late, as Haditha would only add to the existing Zeitgeist.

TERRY JEFFREY, EDITOR, "HUMAN EVENTS": And I really think we have sort of reached a default level. Everything about the politics of Iraq I think is already discounted into American politics. CROWLEY: Nonetheless, those who support this now unpopular war brace for another hit.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: Things that happen like this are always harmful, and as far as public opinion is concerned, and disappointing to many Americans.

CROWLEY: Still, U.S. military personnel are almost universally honored across the political spectrum. However they feel about the war, said one Democrat, most Americans believe that our guys are the good guys, which may mean that Haditha, used as a purely political issue, may not sit well.

JEFFREY: Any politician who seems to prejudge them or to genuinely besmirch the service of our troops in Iraq I think is going to meet the wrath of the voters.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CROWLEY: For now, most Democrats have been cautious, though not silent, about using Haditha as a political weapon. They don't really know what happened. And, in any case, they may not need it -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Candy, thank you very much.

In other news tonight, looking for answers in the tea leaves -- Iran's president is using some very fiery words to fire back at the offer for his country to give up its nuclear activities. Iran's president says his country won't crack under pressure, but he's not flat-out rejecting the deal.

Meanwhile, the U.S. director of national intelligence, John Negroponte, is telling the BBC, Iran could have an atomic bomb in four years.

More now on all of these developments, CNN's Brian Todd watching this story -- Brian.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the stakes could literally not be higher. And so much of this depends on words, tough rhetoric between governments. The maneuvering took another dramatic turn today.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TODD (voice-over): Iran's defiant president hits back, saying his country's not about to stop its pursuit of nuclear technology -- quote -- "Pressures to make us give up our rights will be in vain."

But is Mahmoud Ahmadinejad flatly rejecting the latest offer from the U.S. and five other world powers, an offer of negotiations and significant incentives, but only if Tehran gives up its nuclear fuel manufacturing program? Ahmadinejad didn't mention the overture. And White House officials are cautious about reading too much into the Iranian's latest salvo. TONY SNOW, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: This is a negotiation. And I would expect people, I would expect Iran to try to take some negotiating positions in advance.

TODD: On the line for Iran: likely economic reward if it suspends its nuclear program and sits down to talk; tougher economic sanctions with a possible military option on the table if it doesn't.

In an interview with CNN's David Ensor, the U.S. secretary of state says a definitive answer from Tehran must come soon.

CONDOLEEZZA RICE, SECRETARY OF STATE: We can't wait for months while Iran, again, says on the one hand maybe, they're interested in negotiating; on the other hand, maybe they're not.

TODD: Time always a crucial element with Iran, because observers believe the regime is playing for it, while it pursues what some U.S. officials believe is its ultimate goal, a nuclear weapon.

From the top U.S. intelligence official, a stark assessment of when that might happen.

JOHN NEGROPONTE, NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE DIRECTOR: Sometime between the beginning of the next decade and the middle of the next decade, they might be in a position to have a nuclear weapon.

TODD: Iran denies wanting a nuclear weapon, and some analysts believe the regime will never go that far, fearing it will trigger a nuclear buildup among its Middle East rivals. But one Iran scholar who now runs an energy company in the region disagrees.

ROB SOBHANI, IRAN SCHOLAR: The end game for the Iranian regime is the acquisition of a nuclear weapon. Nothing will detract them from that goal, including sanctions.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: The end game for the U.S., according to analysts, regime change in Tehran, but getting there carries huge risks. Military action would be costly, they say, and possibly deadly, and could turn the Iranian people against the U.S. Sanctions would be drawn out, possibly compromised, but also could turn the Iranian people against their own regime -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Brian, good report. Thank you very much.

Let's go up to New York. Jack Cafferty has "The Cafferty File."

Hi, Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Hi, Wolf.

Guess what Monday is? Monday is the day President Bush will speak about an issue near and dear to his heart and the hearts of many conservatives. It's also the day before the Senate votes on the very same thing. Is it the war? Deficits? Health insurance? Immigration? Iran? North Korea?

Not even close. No, the president is going to talk about amending the Constitution in order to ban gay marriage. This is something that absolutely, positively has no chance of happening, nada, zippo, none. But that doesn't matter. Mr. Bush will take time to make a speech. The Senate will take time to talk and vote on it, because it's something that matters to the Republican base.

This is pure politics. If has nothing to do with whether or not you believe in gay marriage. It's blatant posturing by Republicans, who are increasingly desperate as the midterm elections approach. There's not a lot else to get people interested in voting on them, based on their record of the last five years.

But if you can appeal to the hatred, bigotry, or discrimination in some people, you might move them to the polls to vote against that big, bad gay married couple that one day might in down the street.

Here's the question: Is now the time for President Bush to be backing a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage? E-mail your thoughts to caffertyfile@CNN.com or go to CNN.com/caffertyfile -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jack, thank you -- Jack Cafferty.

Coming up, Robert F. Kennedy Jr., find out why he says the 2004 presidential election was stolen by Republicans. The Bush-Cheney campaign press secretary, Terry Holt, will join us in the debate. We are covering all sides of the story.

Also, Wen Ho Lee -- get this -- a nuclear scientist once suspected of being a spy, we're going to find out why the U.S. government and some major news media organizations are now paying him more than $1 million.

And New York City and the nation's capital at a lower risk for a terrorist attack? It's what the Department of Homeland Security suggests, and that has got politicians from both of those cities outraged.

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: There are some new and extraordinary developments tonight in the case involving a former government nuclear scientists who once had been suspected of spying, but was later cleared of any wrongdoing.

Our justice correspondent, Kelli Arena, has details -- Kelli.

KELLI ARENA, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the government has agreed to pay Wen Ho Lee $895,000.

Now, Lee sued the Justice Department, the FBI, and the Energy Department, claiming that officials anonymously leaked damaging information about him to the press during an investigation back in 1999, that in connection with files that were allegedly missing from the Los Alamos nuclear research facility.

Now, Lee was later cleared of espionage charges. He won't get any of the government's money for his personal use. It will be used for legal costs or taxes. Now, separately, Lee also reached an agreement with five reporters that he sued for refusing to identify their confidential sources.

Now, in that settlement, Wolf, Lee will get $750,000. And that money, he can use any way he wants. In a joint statement, the news organizations employing those reporters said that they reached a settlement to protect confidential sources, to protect their journalists from further sanctions and possible imprisonment, and to protect their news organizations from potential exposure.

But CNN, this network, which paid more than $1 million for the defense of its former employee Pierre Thomas, did not agree to that settlement. In a statement, CNN says that it parted ways, because it had a "philosophical disagreement over whether it was appropriate to pay money to Wen Ho Lee or anyone else to get out from under a subpoena."

So, ABC, Thomas' current employer, paid the settlement fee on his behalf.

Wen Ho Lee also released a statement, saying that he hopes the agreement sends a strong message that government officials and journalists must and should act responsibly -- Wolf, back to you.

BLITZER: Thank you, Kelli, very much.

And, in addition to ABC, the other news organizations that paid the money to Wen Ho Lee include the Associated Press, "The New York Times," "The Los Angeles Times," and "The Washington Post."

In another developing story we are following tonight, the fight for federal funds between big and small cities -- it concerns money for the cities' anti-terror operation. Today, angry officials from New York City complained to the Homeland Security Department that they're being shortchanged.

The Pentagon report was released two days ago -- the report, actually, from the Department of Homeland Security.

Since then, our Bob Franken has been digging into the details -- Bob.

BOB FRANKEN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, often, the war on terror unifies the country. Not this time.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MICHAEL CHERTOFF, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: The measure of protection for a community is not driven just by whether that community's politicians control the spending of money. FRANKEN (voice-over): The political leaders of Washington, and particularly New York, are contemplating whatever pressure they can exert to reverse 40 percent cuts in anti-terrorism funds.

What is perhaps most troubling to many New Yorkers was the conclusion by Homeland Security that the city had no national monuments or icons to protect.

REP. CAROLYN MALONEY (D), NEW YORK: I mean, have they been to Wall Street? Have they been to the financial district? Have they been to the -- all the important museums and national icons that we have in our city?

FRANKEN: Federal funds for the two September 11 targets, New York and Washington, are being cut back this year in favor of smaller cities.

CHERTOFF: Because some communities are operating from a low level of preparedness, those deserve extra weight.

FRANKEN: Communities like Omaha, Charlotte, Louisville and Orlando, which has a few icons of its own, that have complained they've been overlooked until now.

KEVIN BEARY, SHERIFF, ORANGE COUNTY, FLORIDA, SHERIFF'S DEPARTMENT: I'm sure glad to be one of those 46 groups that got it. So, show me the money.

FRANKEN: But the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee is irate. Peter King, of New York, says he'll try and make someone very sorry.

CHERTOFF: I hope that we don't confuse disappointment with grants with a desire to exact retribution.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

FRANKEN: Attacks can happen, says Chertoff, not just in Washington or New York, but that's where he has to worry about that retribution -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Bob Franken, thank you.

And, to our viewers, stay tuned to CNN day and night for the most reliable news about your security.

Still to come tonight in THE SITUATION ROOM: serious allegations about the 2004 election from a member of the Kennedy family. He says the election was stolen. Robert F. Kennedy Jr. joins us in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Plus, the deadly crash of a private jet owned by television evangelist Pat Robertson -- there are survivors. We will have the details of the dramatic rescue at sea.

Stay with us. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back.

Our Zain Verjee is joining us from the newsroom here in Washington with some other headlines happening right now, including a development involving a plane.

What is going on?

ZAIN VERJEE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the two pilots of a Learjet were killed when the aircraft plunged into the Atlantic Ocean off the southern coast of New England today. The Coast Guard pulled three passengers from the water.

They are hospitalized with minor injuries. The jet is owned by religious broadcaster Pat Robertson. Now, he was not on the flight. Just moments ago, though, he released this statement: "I am deeply grieved, and my heart reaches out to the families and to the people on the plane. I would also like to thank the medical teams and volunteers for their quick response. I ask that everyone joins us in praying for the families of the people involved in this tragic situation."

The plane was flying from Atlantic City to Connecticut when it went down in heavy fog.

In other news, there's some new concern about an economic slowdown, after an unexpectedly weak jobs report for May. The Labor Department reports that there were 75,000 new jobs last month. That's the smallest increase since October. At the same time, the nation's unemployment rate fell to 4.6 percent. It hasn't been that low since July of 2001.

The new employment figures could keep the Fed from raising interest rates when it meets a little later this month.

Greenhouse gas emissions have risen to a record high in the U.S. Data submitted to U.N. climate officials indicate, heat-trapping gas emissions rose by 1.7 percent to seven billion tons in 2004; 32 other countries also reported emission increases. Now, that suggests that many of the -- many people are going to find it tough to meet the goals set in the U.N.'s Kyoto protocol -- many countries, rather. Many scientists, though, say that the buildup of emissions is to blame for global warming.

Nissan is telling dealers to stop selling 2006 four-cylinder Nissan Altimas and Sentra SE-Rs. This comes after reports of 17 engine fires. The automaker says there's been one minor injury. It's looking into whether the vehicle's engines burn through oil too quickly. Nissan says about 100,000 of the vehicles built between January and May of this year have the problem.

And this is just coming in to CNN, a story you probably won't see in the gossip pages, Wolf -- the editor of "The New York Post"'s "Page Six" gossip column was charged today with drunk driving. Police say that they spotted Richard Johnson talking on his cell phone after midnight while driving in an area of New York that is known for its night life.

Police say he appeared to have slightly slurred speech and watery, bloodshot eyes, and alcohol on his breath -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Zain, thank you very much -- Zain Verjee reporting.

Just ahead here in THE SITUATION ROOM: Did Republicans rig the Ohio vote in the last election? Robert F. Kennedy Jr. is making some very serious charges. He will join us in THE SITUATION ROOM, along with Terry Holt, the former press secretary for the Bush-Cheney campaign.

Plus, an exclusive interview with the general in charge of U.S. troops in Afghanistan -- our Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr is there. She will ask him, is the Taliban making a comeback? Barbara Starr and General Eikenberry on the ground in Afghanistan.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to THE SITUATION ROOM. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.

Tonight, explosive allegations are being made about the 2004 presidential election, and they're coming from a member of one of America's most famous and prominent Democratic families, the Kennedys.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER (voice-over): Robert Kennedy junior charges that a concerted effort was made by high-level Republicans to steal the presidential vote in Ohio.

It's new fuel in an already combustible partisan environment, with Republicans on the defensive and Democrats hoping to reclaim control of Congress this fall. In a lengthy article in the new edition of "Rolling Stone," Kennedy accuses Republicans of preventing more than 350,000 voters, most of them Democrats, from casting ballots or having their votes counted.

President Bush won Ohio by a little more than 100,000 votes over Senator John Kerry, putting him over the top in electoral votes and sealing his reelection. Kennedy accuses Republicans of getting that margin of victory by, among other things, purging tens of thousands of eligible voters from the rolls, creating long lines to keep Democrats from voting, and rigging the Ohio recount.

To back up his charges, Kennedy cites the early exit polls showing Kerry was winning Ohio. Kennedy contends exit polls are an exact science and essentially never wrong. But even pollsters dispute that.

Kennedy lays much of the blame on Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell, who's now running for governor. Blackwell refused to respond to Kennedy's allegations, and he declined our offer to be interviewed. He's previously denied similar allegations, saying election glitches shouldn't cause the outcome to be questioned.

And there's a noteworthy skeptic about allegations that the Ohio vote was stolen. Senator John Kerry has cited irregularities in the Ohio vote, but he says, if he had firm evidence the election was rigged or stolen, he would have taken legal action.

(on camera): And a Democratic National Committee study of the Ohio vote found significant problems but concluded they did not constitute fraud.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Joining us now from New York to talk about these allegations is the author of the article, Robert F. Kennedy Jr., and here in Washington is Terry Holt. He was the press secretary for the 2004 Bush/Cheney campaign.

Thanks to both of you for joining us.

Why are you reviving these allegations, Robert Kennedy, right now, given the fact that they've been so thoroughly reviewed over the past two-and-a-half years and people have concluded that there's no hard evidence of fraud?

ROBERT F. KENNEDY, "ROLLING STONE" CONTRIBUTOR: Well, first of all, there hasn't been that conclusion.

Second of all, there's a lot of new evidence. There's the analysis that was done, not just of the 350,000 votes -- Democratic voters -- mainly Democratic voters that were denied the opportunity to vote or whose votes weren't counted, but also the 80,000 votes from 12 rural counties in Ohio that were shifted from John Kerry to George Bush, which by themselves would have given Kerry the margin of victory in Ohio.

Plus, there's six other counties where there are high indications of ballot box, that thousands of people lost their votes.

BLITZER: Let me interrupt for a second. I read your long piece in "Rolling Stone". It was very, very long and detailed. I didn't see one individual, though, who says, "You know what? I participated in a massive conspiracy of fraud."

I didn't see any hard evidence that there was someone, and if you're going to talk about a massive fraud, you have to have somebody, presumably, that's going to come forward and say, "You know what? I was involved in this campaign."

KENNEDY: Well, that's not true, Wolf. The people from -- the executives from the Triad Company, which is the vendor for one of the -- for the big voting machine that tabulated more than half the votes in Ohio, has admitted that they fixed the recount. And that they fixed it with county boards of elections in half a dozen counties, at least.

Every single county where Triad -- and you know, there's an example of a high-level official who participated in a massive fraud, that prevented the recount that would have given Kerry the victory in Ohio.

BLITZER: Let me let Terry Holt respond to that -- Terry.

TERRY HOLT, FORMER BUSH-CHENEY PRESS SECY.: Well, first, let's establish, Wolf, that an exhaustive, bipartisan study of all 88 counties in Ohio was conducted after the election. And Republicans and Democrats in Ohio, those people most directly affected by this controversy, have agreed that there was no significant or even insignificant fraud that occurred in the election.

I think that, in fact, I'm going to stand Mr. Kennedy's story on its head a little bit because I think what was engaged in the last election, a massive effort to flood the polls with new voter registrations, with new absentee ballots, with new ballots of the provisional variety, that the Democratic Party was such a sour and poisonous taste in its mouth after the Florida election really engaged in an extensive effort to really flood the ballot box, to stuff the ballot box.

And so all over the country, not just in Ohio, but in Las Vegas, and in Miami, and other states, there were new voter registrations coming in with the names like Freddy Krueger. Michael Jordan and George Foreman, in fact, were registered to vote in Ohio and they prevented that from occurring.

BLITZER: All right -- let's let Robert Kennedy -- what Terry Holt is saying is just the opposite of what you're saying, is that the Democrats were participating in some phony business in Ohio and other states.

KENNEDY: Well, you know, that's a strong -- and the people that the Republican Party -- and I want to say this. This should not be a partisan issue, Wolf. This should be -- people should be outraged about this.

Read the facts in my article. There has been no bipartisan commission, but -- including Democrats, that have said there was no hanky-panky or shenanigans in Ohio. That's simply wrong to say that.

There's been complaints. There's been a congressional committee that's been out in Ohio and found massive evidence of fraud. The fraud is not something that's been secret. It's been exposed to the press for the long time.

There's two issues here. Number one, why hasn't the national press covered this event? There's no legitimate dispute that there was a massive, concerted, deliberate effort by high level-Republican Party officials to fix the election in Ohio. And the press has not covered this issue.

BLITZER: All right. I'm going -- I'm going to let ...

KENNEDY: All my article does...

BLITZER: Hold on one second. Hold on. We did cover John Conyers, Congressman John Conyers' report on this. Christopher Hitchens article in "Vanity Fair," all that was covered.

Senator John Kerry himself says in your article in "Rolling Stone", he says this: "Can I tell you to a certainty that it made the difference in the election?" Referring to the fraud, "I can't. There's no way for me to do that. If I could have done that, then obviously I would have found some legal recourse."

And the Democratic Party has been relatively silent on this issue, as well, Robert Kennedy.

KENNEDY: Well, you know what, Wolf? You're right about that. And I think that that's a big problem, that the Democrats backed down too easy on this.

John Kerry has said to me that at the -- at -- during the time -- during the narrow window of time when he had an opportunity to protest this election, he didn't do it, because his attorneys told him that at that point, they didn't have the facts that they needed to make the case.

John has looked at the facts that I produced in this article and particularly the issue about the 12 counties, rural counties where the votes were shifted from Kerry, where 80,000 votes were shifted from Kerry to Bush, and said that his opinion has changed as a result of that.

BLITZER: All right. Terry -- let me let Terry Holt weigh in, as well. Go ahead and respond.

HOLT: Well, I would just say that there was a very smart observation that was made in the very beginning of the article. And that is that American elections are a messy patchwork, county by county, state by state rules and regulations.

And as an example in Florida, in the 2000 election, 66 out of 67 counties in Florida were controlled by the Democratic Party and it resulted in a messy recount, 37 days.

And so our votes are involved in a complex process. But by flooding the ballot box with new invalid registrations, if any political entity is diluting the value of the honest vote that takes place. And so, our system needs to protect the legal votes from the illegal votes so that those votes count real and like they should.

BLITZER: We have to leave it there. "Was the 2004 Election Stolen?" That's the provocative title of the article. You can read it in "Rolling Stone". Robert Kennedy, Terry Holt, thanks very much for coming in. (END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: And up ahead tonight, a CNN exclusive, "Forgotten War." Our Barbara Starr right now on the frontlines of Afghanistan, with America's top general in the field in that country.

Also, crossing the line, here how one New York politician put a major foot in his mouth. Jeff Greenfield is standing by with the details. Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Zain Verjee joining us once again with a closer look at some other headlines making news around the world -- Zain.

VERJEE: Wolf, aid is getting to survivors of Indonesia's deadly earthquake, but not enough of it. The United Nations says $100 million is urgently needed to help the tens of thousands of people left homeless or hurt. Some survivors today marked the Islamic holy day of prayers at mosque. More than 6,000 people were killed in Saturday's quake, 30,000 others were injured.

Almost 1,000 looters stripped a government warehouse today in East Timor's capital. Men, women and children carted off furniture, computers and anything else they could find as police and international troops stood by. People also stormed other warehouses in Dili. Clashes between armed gangs have closed stores and forced thousands to flee. Many people haven't been able to buy food and other needed supplies.

Laura Bush says no country can afford to ignore the AIDS crisis. The first lady addressed the U.N. General Assembly conference on AIDS and HIV in New York today. She says there needs to be more education about how the disease is transmitted. She also said the United States is dedicating resources to train community health workers in African cities and villages. AIDS has killed 25 million people worldwide in the past 25 years -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Zain, thank you very much. Have a good weekend.

The U.S. mission in Afghanistan is facing a Taliban insurgency in some parts of the country. Our Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr is there right now. She caught up with the U.S. general in charge of U.S. troops in Afghanistan for an exclusive interview -- Barbara.

BARBARA STARR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the top U.S. military commander in Afghanistan is a man always on the move.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

STARR (voice-over): When Lieutenant General Karl Eikenberry goes walking through the city of Khowst in eastern Afghanistan, he attracts a huge crowd. Everyone wants to know, who is the big man in the American military uniform?

Look closely. Eikenberry has no armored vest, no helmet, no weapon. His security is discreet.

LT. GEN. KARL EIKENBERRY, COMMANDER, U.S. FORCES IN AFGHANISTAN: How are you doing?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (inaudible).

STARR: This three-star commander is facing a changing situation in Afghanistan. In many places like here, in the highly conservative area of Khowst, once an al Qaeda stronghold, there is relative peace.

EIKENBERRY: How's the security?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Thank God everything is OK. It's a good situation. It's very good in Khowst province.

STARR: But in some areas, the Taliban are back, especially in rural areas, where the new government is almost nonexistent and U.S. military forces have not yet, after four and a half years, conducted significant operations.

(on camera): What's the part of the country that concerns you the most right now?

EIKENBERRY: Taliban influence in some of these districts in the south, in Helman province, in Kandahar province, in Oruzgan province. It's in some of those areas, Barbara, that there is more Taliban influence and presence than there was last year at this time.

STARR: But even as he plans operation against a resurgent Taliban, this general, who is on his second tour of duty in Afghanistan, says it is reconstruction, aid and jobs for Afghans that will defeat the Taliban, and not U.S. military power.

EIKENBERRY: It's about building schools. It's about building health clinics. It's about what has taken place in this city right here in Khowst. It's about creating the conditions so that a civil society can begin to take shape.

STARR: But make no mistake, this military commander is determined the people of Afghanistan will have peace, and his troops will keep after the Taliban until they are defeated.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

STARR: General Eikenberry likes to say if you ask him whether he wants more troops or money to build roads, he'll take the roads -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Barbara Starr, on the scene for us in Afghanistan. Thank you very much.

And let's return now to one of our top stories. Accusations of serious misconduct by U.S. forces in Iraq. Today, some soldiers were cleared of misconduct in the Iraqi city of Ishaqi, but investigations continue in other incidents. U.S. commanders in Iraq say they're taking all of these allegations of military misconduct very seriously. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BRIG. GEN. DONALD CAMPBELL, CHIEF OF STAFF, MULTINATIONAL CORPS, IRAQ: The credibility of our coalition forces is too valuable a commodity to squander needlessly. And every incident and allegation, no matter how small, strikes a blow against that credibility.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: In a news conference from Baghdad, military leaders outlined the so-called core values training they're now planning for U.S. troops. It's actually an update to training they have already received, and the Pentagon has released that training package. Our Internet reporter Abbi Tatton is standing by with a closer look -- Abbi.

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, these are the training materials that all U.S. troops in Iraq will be using sometime within the next 30 days. The two to four-hour course is designed to help troops understand the importance of acting in an ethical, legal and morally correct way at all times. It goes through a series of training slides here. Basic training in Iraqi Arab cultural values, excerpts from the Iraqi constitution, stressing there that the Iraqi people share our values. And then in a later part, acts inconsistent with these common values: Assault, war crimes, theft listed there.

At the end of it, five different training scenarios, a point of discussion here. The military said repeatedly that improper or unethical conduct is very rare. We've posted a lot of these training materials online at CNN.com/situationreport, Wolf, so viewers can see for themselves.

BLITZER: Thank you, Abbi, very much.

In addition to the 135,000 U.S. troops who will receive the training, another 15,000 other coalition forces will receive this training as well.

Up ahead, a New York official begs the question, when will politicians learn to watch what they say? We'll take a closer look at some words and past public figures who put their feet in their mouths.

And another ruling in the CIA leak investigation. Could it make or break the defense of the vice president's former chief of staff, Lewis "Scooter" Libby? The details coming up. Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: A new ruling late today in the CIA leak case could have an impact on the vice president's former chief of staff, Lewis "Scooter" Libby. CNN's Brian Todd once again joining us with the details -- Brian.

TODD: Wolf, a setback for Scooter Libby in court today. His defense attorneys wanted the government to provide extensive records on the trip that former Ambassador Joe Wilson took to Niger to find out about Saddam Hussein's weapons purchasing program, and records on what, if any, role Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame, had in sending him on that trip.

Libby's attorneys also wanted detailed accounts on Plame's employment history with the CIA and documents on the damage that the disclosure of her identity caused to national security.

Well, today Judge Reggie Walton ruled that Libby's defense team could only have short summaries of those documents, not detailed records. The judge ruled that disclosure of those details, quote, "could cause serious if not grave damage to the national security of the United States."

Libby's team is trying to prove there was no sinister effort to punish Wilson by outing his wife's name to reporters. Libby denies charges of perjury and obstruction of justice. He is charged with lying to investigators in a grand jury about how he found out about Plame's identity and how he spoke about it with reporters. The trial is scheduled to begin in January -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Brian, thank you very much.

Heated language is all the rage among politicians, but sometimes they do cross the line. CNN's senior analyst Jeff Greenfield is joining us with a closer look at some of the latest and greatest verbal volleys -- Jeff.

JEFF GREENFIELD, CNN SENIOR ANALYST: Well, Wolf, it's an old schoolyard chant from childhood: Sticks and bones may break my bones, but words can never harm me.

Well, you would get a pretty good argument on that from politicians and political partisans, left and right, who often seem determined to employ the most incendiary language they can find.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GREENFIELD (voice-over): Latest case in point, New York State Comptroller Alan Hevesi, who gave a commencement address yesterday, in which he was trying to praise Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer for standing up to President Bush.

What Hevesi said was that Schumer would -- quote -- "put a bullet between the president's eyes, if he could get away with it" -- unquote.

Hevesi quickly summoned the press and issued a full-court mea culpa.

ALAN HEVESI, NEW YORK STATE COMPTROLLER: A remarkably stupid, incredibly moronic, totally offensive statement.

GREENFIELD: But there are plenty of cases where angry words have been cheerfully, eagerly aimed at those in power, often by those with political power. The Nazis seem to be a favorite analogy. Democratic Senator Robert Byrd in 2005 on the idea of abolishing judicial filibusters:

SEN. ROBERT BYRD (D), WEST VIRGINIA: Hitler never abandoned the cloak of legality. Instead, he turned the law inside out, and made it -- made this illegality legal. And that is what the nuclear option seeks to do.

GREENFIELD: Republican Senator Rick Santorum in 2005 on the filibuster debate:

SEN. RICK SANTORUM (R), PENNSYLVANIA: And the audacity of some members stand up and say: How dare you break this rule? It's the equivalent of Adolf Hitler in 1942 saying: I'm in Paris. How dare you invade me? How dare you bomb my city? It's mine.

GREENFIELD: And there was Democratic Senator Richard Durbin comparing Abu Ghraib to Nazi and Soviet practices, or former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay calling the Environmental Protection Agency Gestapo government.

And when Newt Gingrich began his campaign to capture the Congress for Republicans, his political team produced a series of words to be aimed at Democrats, words like anti-child, anti-flag, betray, cheat, traitors.

It almost make this is comment by Senator Robert Dole in his 1996 acceptance speech about President Clinton seem quaint.

BOB DOLE (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: And he is my opponent, not my enemy.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

GREENFIELD: So maybe it tells us something about where we are now, that an important elected official looking to compliment a colleague decided that an impulse to kill could be seen humorously as an admirable trait, or that you're in the last administration important elected officials and commentators could hint that President Clinton was responsible for having his political foes murdered -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jeff Greenfield, thank you very much.

And as all of our viewers know, Jeff is part of the best political team on television, CNN, America's campaign headquarters.

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

PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: And Wolf Blitzer happens to be a member of that team as well.

BLITZER: Thank you.

ZAHN: Thanks, Wolf. We're going to devote much of the hour to the allegations that U.S. forces intentionally killed Iraqi civilians. I'll be talking with a Marine Corps officer exclusively who says he unfairly lost his job because of the so far unproven accusations of a U.S. massacre in Haditha.

Also, an incredible story about some demonstrators who are still refusing to honor our troops' heroism and sacrifice. What they're doing at soldiers' funerals has outraged the whole country. We'll show you what they did again today. We'll have the very latest for you, and all that and more coming up at the top of the hour.

BLITZER: Sounds good, Paula. Thank you very much.

Still ahead, President Bush pushing a ban on same-sex marriage. Jack Cafferty with the story. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Let's check in with Jack. He has got "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: President Bush is going to drag an old wedge issue out of the closet Monday -- you should pardon the expression -- and talk about a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage.

The question we asked is, is this the time to be doing that?

Michael in Superior, Wisconsin: "Of course now is the time for President Bush to back the ban on gay marriages. Iraq is secure, so are our borders, the government is prepared for hurricane season, no rogue nations are trying to develop nuclear weapons, gas prices are stable, personal income far outpaces inflation, and we're enjoying a time of peace and prosperity. Obviously, there's nothing else he needs to concentrate on right now."

Joseph in Oceanside, California: "I'm a gay man in a domestic partnership. In the first election I voted for Bush. I actually believed what he was telling me about the dangerous world we live in. I've never regretted a vote so much in my life. Now he uses hate, ignorance, and bigotry because his administration and party are like the Titanic. Sorry President Bush, but your ship is going under, and I hope there are no survivors."

Patty in Russell Springs, Kentucky: "Jack, wasn't an amendment to ban gay marriage one of President Bush's campaign promises? I think it would be a big plus on his behalf if he did follow through on this promise. I think an amendment to secure the sanctity of marriage would be a step in the right direction for this country."

Al writes, "I only wish the religious right would finally realize how they have been used, and how cynical is that, masking anti-gay phobia as religion. Jesus spoke often of the poor and hungry and of tolerance."

Helena in Pacific Palisades, California: "Thank you for putting this issue front and center. I hope those with a conscience who are true Christians finally realize this is a red herring, and they're not going to be fooled again. My partner and I are one of those big, bad, lesbian couples who have moved in down the street, but quite frankly, those who would be motivated to go to the polls over this issue don't deserve our presence on their block."

And finally, Wayne in Lancaster, PA: "As a heterosexual who's been through two marriages and subsequent divorces, it's obvious to me the president is just trying to protect homosexual couples from the heartbreak and financial ruin that I've experienced" -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thank you, Jack. Have a great weekend. We'll see you tomorrow. Jack Cafferty, "IN THE MONEY," Saturdays 1:00 p.m. Eastern, Sundays 3:00 Eastern.

I'll be back on Sunday for "LATE EDITION," the last word in Sunday talk. Among my guests, the Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. "LATE EDITION" airs 11:00 a.m. Eastern.

Until then, thanks very much for joining us. Let's go to New York. Paula Zahn is standing by -- Paula.

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