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THE SITUATION ROOM

President Bush Spends Second Day on Gulf Coast; What John McCain's 70th Birthday Means For His Political Future; Michael Brown Interview; Armitage May Be Source for Robert Novak's Column That Revealed Identity of Valerie Plame

Aired August 29, 2006 - 16:00   ET

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


JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Thank you Susan 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 today's top stories.
Happening now, hope and heartache a year after Katrina. It's 3:00 p.m. in New Orleans where President Bush joined the commemorations and revisited the federal government's failures. Will the Gulf Coast ever fully recover? We'll have brand new poll numbers and I'll talk to the former FEMA chief Michael Brown.

Also this hour, Tropical Storm Ernesto veers down on South Florida. It's 4:00 p.m. in Miami where many residents are trying to play it safe with Katrina memories on their minds. We are tracking Ernesto's power and path.

And is John McCain too old to be president? As the senator celebrates his 70th birthday, we'll get some straight talk about his health his and political future. Wolf Blitzer is off today. I'm John King, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Right now, Florida is under a state of emergency as Tropical Storm Ernesto churns closer to the southern coast. It's far short of hurricane strength, but experts are warning of possible tornadoes, flooding and mud slides. The forecast ahead.

Of course on this day, much of the nation is remembering a storm of shocking strength that left so many feeling powerless. In New Orleans, Mayor Ray Nagin led a bell-ringing ceremony marking one year since Hurricane Katrina hit and he's defending his plan for rebuilding the city.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MAYOR RAY NAGIN (D), NEW ORLEANS: The big problem that I got into with some people with this so-called we don't have a plan is because it's not their plan. And what they've been trying to get me to do is shrink the footprint of the city of New Orleans and basically say a community like the Lower Ninth Ward cannot come back.

We have restored utilities to half of the neighborhood. The other half is in such disrepair that we're working on repairing that and we will get it done. The Lower Ninth Ward will come back. Our street grids are fine and it's just a matter of getting the money to the people so that they can rebuild their homes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: President Bush is spending a second day on the Gulf Coast addressing what went wrong a year ago and what still needs to be done now. In a speech in New Orleans, he again accepted full responsibility for the federal government's Katrina response and he promised lessons have been learned. But many Americans remain skeptical and that could influence how much taxpayer money is invested in the Gulf Coast future. Our Bill Schneider is here with a new look about how the public views the Katrina recovery challenge -- Bill.

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: John, you may not think of Hurricane Katrina's recovery effort as political, but it is.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: New Orleans is going to rise again.

SCHNEIDER (voice-over): The public does not share the president's optimism. Just after Hurricane Katrina hit a year ago, 56 percent of Americans said they did not think New Orleans would ever completely recover. And now? Confidence has not gone up, 60 percent do not believe the city will completely recover.

A year ago, President Bush made a pledge.

BUSH: I came to Jackson Square. I said we could not imagine America without the Crescent City and pledged that our government would do its part.

SCHNEIDER: Do Americans believe the federal government has done its part? A majority say no, they don't. That opinion is intensely political. Only about a quarter of Republicans believe the federal government is not doing enough.

Democrats disagree overwhelmingly. Do people believe low-lying areas of New Orleans should be rebuilt? Nearly 40 percent of Americans say no. That view is held by half of Republicans, but only one-third of Democrats.

President Bush made another pledge last year.

BUSH: And a year ago, I made a pledge that we will learn the lessons of Katrina.

SCHNEIDER: The public is not sure. Just over half say the country has learned a lesson from Katrina and is much better prepared for disasters than it was a year ago. Just under half says the country has not learned a lesson and is just as vulnerable as it was a year ago. Behind that split is of course, politics.

BUSH: If there is another natural disaster, we will respond in better fashion. SCHNEIDER: Republicans agree can the president, the country has learned a lesson from Katrina and will be better prepared next time. Most Democrats are skeptical.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER: Republicans and Democrats do agree on one thing, that New Orleans is not prepared to deal with a major hurricane, 84 percent of Democrats feel that way, and so do 84 percent of Republicans -- John.

KING: An interesting snapshot one year later. Bill Schneider, thank you very much.

And now to the coming storm as a tropical storm warning and a hurricane watch are in effect for parts of the Florida's Atlantic Coast. We're of course tracking Ernesto at CNN's hurricane headquarters. Let's go now to our meteorologist, Jacqui Jeras. Hi, Jacqui.

(WEATHER REPORT)

KING: And whether this tropical storm strengthens into a hurricane could also be influenced by the temperature of coastal waters. Our Internet reporter Abbi Tatton is standing by with more on that. Abbi?

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: John, as Ernesto travels north towards Florida, it's these warm waters around the state that forecasters are going to be paying close attention to. These are maps from Rutgers University's coastal ocean observation lab. To orient you, here is the peninsula of Florida and it's these areas in dark red here that are the very warmest waters, temperatures of about 85 degrees.

According to the National Weather Service, hurricanes can form over waters with temperatures of at least 80 degrees. Once Ernesto makes land fall, the danger isn't entirely over. If you look at this, the cone of the storm that extends not just over land, but it extends past, over the water on both the east and the west coasts of Florida -- John.

KING: Still some questions to answer. Abbi, thank you very much -- Abbi Tatton.

And many Florida residents are lining up for gas and other staples. They are being warned to have 72 hours worth of supplies on hand just in case Ernesto packs more of a punch than is now expected. Governor Jeb Bush and Homeland Security Chief Michael Chertoff say they're looking at this storm as a test of post-Katrina hurricane readiness.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHAEL CHERTOFF, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: This does not look like a catastrophic event, but we always want to be ready and we always want to test ourselves. And this is a great chance for our federal coordinating officer Tito Hernandez and his team to be seeing how all these new reforms we've put into place are actually working in the real event and we'll be tracking that as the storm impacts and goes through Florida.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Just a short while ago, and you can see it live, NASA decided Ernesto isn't a threat to the space shuttle as previously feared. It stopped moving Atlantis into its hanger and began rolling the shuttle back to its seaside launch pad at the Kennedy Space Center.

Our Zain Verjee joins us now with a closer look at other stories making news. Hi, Zain.

ZAIN VERJEE, CNN VERJEE: Hi, John.

He says he's a man of God, but police says he set up all the men with underage girls and illegal marriages. Now the man with many wives is sitting in a Nevada jail. Polygamist Warren Jeffs was arrested last night in Las Vegas. He had been on the FBI's most wanted list. Jeffs is the leader of a sect that broke away from Mormonism. One official talked about what the arrest actually means.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MARK SHURTLEFF, UTAH ATTORNEY GENERAL: He's been so prolific in tearing families apart. And now his ability to do that is substantially altered.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VERJEE: We're going to bring you a full report on this arrest in the next hour.

And officials say he sincerely believes he killed JonBenet Ramsey, and police once believed him. But now they're having to explain how such a high-profile, trans-Pacific capture ended up with the wrong man. The Boulder, Colorado district attorney says they needed to bring John Mark Karr from Thailand to the U.S. to obtain DNA samples directly from him.

That DNA is what later cleared him of involvement of the 1996 killing of the young beauty contestant. But the Colorado district attorney says Karr still believes that he killed JonBenet Ramsey, even though there is no physical evidence linking him to the crime -- John.

KING: Zain Verjee, see you a bit later. Thank you, Zain.

And time now for "The Cafferty File." Jack Cafferty, of course, joining us from New York.

Hi, Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: How you doing, John? Fighting words out of Iran today just two days before a U.N. Security Council deadline for that country to stop enriching uranium. The country's president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has indicated he's not going to listen. No surprise there, I guess. Ahmadinejad has indicated he's not going to listen. No surprise there, I guess. Ahmadinejad went on to question the authority of the U.N. Security Council, as well as the motives of the United States and the United Kingdom.

And he later challenged President Bush to a live televised debate so the two could focus on global affairs. Well, the White House shrugged it off, called the proposed debate a diversion. But "The Cafferty File" was intrigued by this idea.

Here's the question. Who do you think would win in a debate between President George Bush and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad? E-mail your thoughts to CaffertyFile@CNN.com, or go to CNN.com/CaffertyFile -- John.

KING: Maybe...

CAFFERTY: I'd buy a ticket to that, I think.

KING: I was going to say, maybe that's why Wolf is out. Maybe he's negotiating to moderate.

CAFFERTY: He could be the moderator.

KING: He'd do a fine job, but you'd do a fine job, too, Jack.

CAFFERTY: Oh, stop trying to suck up to me.

KING: All right, I just stopped.

If you want a sneak preview of Jack's questions, plus an early read on the day's political news and what's ahead here in THE SITUATION ROOM, sign up for our daily e-mail alert. Just go to CNN.com/situationroom.

Coming up, John McCain turns 70 today. If the senator from Arizona does jump into the race for the White House as expected, will his age, and his health, be a major factor?

Plus, he was the first fall guy from the Katrina debacle. Former FEMA director Michael Brown speaks out on what the government did right and wrong in the wake of the storm, and what he thinks needs to be done before the next hurricane hits.

And later, new developments in the CIA leak case point to a former top State Department official.

Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: This is a big day for Senator John McCain: his 70th birthday. That, of course, raises the question that could be crucial to his future in presidential politics. Does age matter? Let's talk more about McCain's milestone and whether it could keep him from the White House.

Our senior medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, is here, but first, our congressional correspondent, Dana Bash.

DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, Senator McCain is spending his 70th birthday in Montenegro as part of a five- country, ten-day trip with Senate colleagues. And it's that kind of image -- someone who is always on the go -- that McCain is eager to cultivate as he gears up for a probable presidential run and faces questions about whether he's up to the challenge.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BASH (voice-over): Just how old is John McCain? Get used to hearing this ...

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: I am older than dirt, I have more scars than Frankenstein, but I have learned a few things along the way.

BASH: One lesson, try to turn a potential liability -- age -- into a self-deprecating punchline, much like the role model he'd like to replace in the history books.

RONALD REAGAN, FMR. PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I am not going to exploit for political purposes my opponent's youth and inexperience.

BASH: Ronald Reagan was 69 years, 349 days old, when he took office in 1981. McCain would be 72 years, 144 days old, on Inauguration Day 2009. Reagan's former chief of staff says judge McCain by how he acts, not his age.

KEN DUBERSTEIN, FORMER REAGAN CHIEF OF STAFF: You don't all of a sudden start covering yourself with a blanket and having tea at 2:00 in the afternoon just because you are 70 years old.

BASH: McCain goes out of his way to come off more Gen-X, than geriatric.

MCCAIN: Congratulations.

BASH: Appearing in movies like "The Wedding Crashers" and hosting Saturday Night Live.

MCCAIN: (SINGING).

BASH: Aides played down the significance of 70 by playing up his tireless pace in the Senate and on the trail for GOP candidates.

SEN. SUSAN COLLINS (R), MAINE: I have traveled with Senator McCain to the far corners of the world. And I like to think I have a lot of stamina: he leaves me in the dust. BASH: But anyone McCain's age faces higher risks. The government says 88 percent of those over 65 have at least one chronic health condition. One in four older Americans suffer from a decline in cognitive health. McCain's personal history adds to the challenge -- multiple bouts of skin cancer and invasive surgery to remove it.

MCCAIN: My health is excellent.

BASH: A top aide insists McCain is now cancer-free and tells CNN he's checked at the Mayo Clinic every three months. They are preparing for the scrutiny that comes with a bid for president.

SCOTT REED, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Part of the campaign strategy will be to put out the health records, probably have a more aggressive schedule of going to doctors, but open the book and show everything.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BASH: Six years ago, McCain released some 1,500 pages of medical records in an effort to prove the former prisoner of war was physically and psychologically fit to be president. Aides say they'll have to do that again, but when it comes to the age factor, John, what you hear from his aides over and over again is one simple message -- in a post-9/11 world, they believe that voters will buy the fact that life experience matters.

KING: That is what they want. Dana Bash, stay with us.

I want to bring Dr. Gupta back into the conversation. She pointed out, anyone his age is at risk; what are we looking for?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: A couple of things to keep in mind. We don't measure age in years so much, as doctors. We look more at physiological age. So someone can be 50, have the body of an 80-year-old, and vice-versa as well.

Also, the type of illness matters, as you might predict, John. For example, President Eisenhower had a heart attack when he was in office -- people sort of forgave that. But when he had a stroke that affected his thinking, dementia-sort-of-like symptoms, they weren't so forgiving.

McCain comes from a very strong family history, a history of military men. His mother is 95 years old, so he's got good genes in his family as well, and he's shown that he can, you know, rebound pretty quickly from this melanoma diagnosis.

KING: You say rebound pretty quickly. When you talked to the campaign age, they say five years cancer-free. They think that's the major threshold. When it comes to melanoma, is that true?

GUPTA: Well, you know, it's interesting with him in particular, because two separate diagnoses of melanoma, '93 melanoma, and then five years later, '98, his doctor comes out and says he's essentially cured, mainly because he hasn't had a recurrence. Not so. As we found out, in 2000, another case of melanoma. It's an important point, because a lot of people who have melanoma out there, you might not having anything for several years, and then it could come back up. There was seven years in between there, John. So, you know, we're at 2000 now. Seven years from then would be 2007, so could it happen again? Sure.

KING: You saw the scar on his face in Dana's piece. He was in pretty bad shape after that. You say it could come back again. Is it something that you are looking at his face, looking at his skin, or could it hide and go somewhere else on your body in five, seven, 10 years later?

GUPTA: For the most part, it's usually going to appear on the skin first, but it's a good question. It could appear on other organs, such as the lungs. It could appear on the liver as well. There are very good treatments for this, but one of the sort of hallmarks for this is to examine the skin.

He's also -- because of his previous diagnosis, he's going to get the rest of his body checked as well, so he'll get chest x-rays and scans of his abdomen and stuff like that, just routine sort of follow- up.

KING: And he's a 70-year-old man. He will be 71, almost 72 as he runs for the presidency. Let's assume he's in very good health. He's still going to have to go to the doctor from time to time. Things will happen to him that don't happen to a man who's 40, correct?

GUPTA: Absolutely. And, you know, besides the melanoma which everybody is focused on, you still have to think about the common things being common. Heart disease certainly more common. Dementia -- again, that's a big concern in someone who is older. The numbers go exponentially higher. You worry about things like Alzheimer's. He's going to need to get the preventative screenings that any older American would get.

KING: And you say, from a political standpoint, they're prepared to talk publicly about that as he goes through this process.

BASH: They know they're going to have to, but they also say that they understand that the candidate is what he is, essentially, and that as much as they want to talk about fact that he's healthy, that they're going to have to wait and see what happens, and they are going to try to let his pace speak for itself and his health speak for itself.

KING: And talk about how that's different, publicly. As a doctor and as someone who's watched this, candidates now are under a lot more pressure than candidates, say 25 years ago, to lay it all out.

GUPTA: It's remarkable. And, you know, we did a documentary called "The First Patient," actually looking at the list of the events that a president has to do, and a candidate as well. I mean, just the number of stair they are climbing every day, the amount of walking they have to do, the amount of content they have to keep in their brains from meeting to meeting, it's remarkable and it goes exponentially higher as you well know, John, as the campaign goes on. So is that harder on an older person? I think absolutely, and I think even his camp would admit that, but you know, very doable as well.

KING: Up and down the bus. But Senator McCain would find the White House complex is a lot more flat than the Capitol complex. Dana can tell you that as well.

BASH: A lot more flat.

KING: Dana Bash, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, thank you very much.

GUPTA: Thank you.

KING: And up next, he was the first political casualty from Hurricane Katrina. Now one year later, I will ask the former FEMA director, Michael Brown, if the government is ready to handle another devastating hurricane.

And later, Jesse Jackson in the Middle East, will he be able to convince Hezbollah to free the Israeli soldiers it's holding? Stay right with us. You are in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Welcome back to THE SITUATION ROOM. I'm John King in Washington.

On this first anniversary of the Katrina catastrophe, President Bush is promising that if and when there is a next time the federal government will do better. The Federal Emergency Management Agency, of course, was a top target of criticism under its then-director Michael Brown. Mr. Brown joins us live in just a moment, but first, is FEMA ready now? Here's our homeland security correspondent, Jeanne Meserve.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Katrina destroyed lives, property and the reputation of FEMA. A year after the storm, the agency is still a punch line.

JON STEWART, HOST, "THE DAILY SHOW": Don (ph), the bombing campaign has not only seemingly failed to weaken Hezbollah, you're actually saying it's made them stronger.

DON, ACTOR: That's right, Jon. From what I hear, they're very keen to take on their next project, the reconstruction of New Orleans. Hezbollah may be a rag-tag group of undereducated Islamic extremist militiamen, but at least they're not FEMA.

MESERVE: FEMA's director says Katrina's lessons have been learned.

DAVID PAULISON, FEMA DIRECTOR: What we don't want to do is let all of that suffering, those fatalities, all of that damage go in vain. Shame on us if we do that.

MESERVE: Critical shortages of food and water are hopefully a thing of the past. FEMA says it has stockpiles to feed a million people for a week. And unlike last year, contracts for other critical items have been negotiated ahead of time. No more idling of supply trucks hundreds of miles from where they are needed, officials say, though a logistics system to track them is still a work in progress.

MICHAEL CHERTOFF, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: Eventually we'd like to have a system that could literally track packages the way FedEx or UPS does. We weren't able to get there in one year, but where we've gotten takes us very, very far ahead of where we were previously.

MESERVE: But a new report from the Department of Homeland Security inspector general says many of FEMA's urban search and rescue teams are ill-prepared because of funding and personnel shortages. And some feel the agency as a whole is not ready for the next big storm.

LEO BOSNER, FEMA EMPLOYEE: I feel our preparedness has gone down.

MESERVE: Bosner, a long-time FEMA employee and union representative, says government planning documents make bad assumptions and are too complex.

BOSNER: The plan to this day is incomprehensible. Nobody understood it under Katrina and nobody understands it today.

MESERVE: Former FEMA officials say sapped morale has led to a wave of retirements. And despite a recent hiring push, 15 percent of FEMA jobs are unfilled. Some state emergency managers worry about the agency's lack of bench strength.

COL. JEFF SMITH (RET.), LOUISIANA HOMELAND SECURITY OFFICE: But they really lack the depth of core people that are highly experienced in program management at this point.

MESERVE (on camera): No one believes FEMA is completely fixed. Many experts predict the agency will overcompensate for its past failures and try to use the next storm to repair what was damaged in the last one: its image.

Jeanne Meserve, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KING: And joining us now, the man who was at the helm of FEMA after Katrina, and who later took the heat, and the fall, Michael Brown.

Mike Brown, thanks very much for joining us from New York.

MICHAEL BROWN, FORMER FEMA DIRECTOR: My pleasure, John.

KING: I want to begin with something you said this morning that I found quite interesting. On the "Today" show on NBC this morning, you said this: "You want to protect the president, because you're a political appointee, so you're torn between wanting to tell the absolute truth, and following those stupid talking points. To this day, that is my biggest regret."

Mike Brown, tell us on this day as the country reflects on Katrina, what is the truth about the president and his role in all of this that we don't know, that you have been reluctant to tell?

BROWN: Well, I think the administration, John, is now reaping what it sowed for the past three-and-a-half, four years with the Department of Homeland Security. All the public has to do is go back and look at the memos that I wrote in 2003 and again in 2005 warning that this was going to happen.

I think Jeanne's report that your viewers just saw is absolutely right on point. You know, it is crippled, it has suffered from the money that's been taken by Homeland Security, by the fact that, you know, Secretary Chertoff and Secretary Ridge just flatly refused to do catastrophic disaster planning. And we are now reaping the problems of that.

KING: Have they learned the lesson from that? Is there more money going into the planning now? Or do you think they are just papering this over?

BROWN: Well, that's -- I think that's going to be the role of you and me and everyone in the media and the American public, to watch and really hold their feet to the fire, that it's not just, again, talking points, that Secretary Chertoff doesn't come on and just talk about, you know, we are doing all of these things, which I hope he's doing. But we have got to hold their feet to the fire and make sure they really do implement those reforms.

KING: Many people watching this are probably asking the question, why should I listen to this guy? This is the guy who was running FEMA when this all happened.

Now, I know you think there is plenty of blame to go around. But Congress did look into it. And we had a conversation yesterday with Senator Susan Collins. She's the chairwoman of a Senate committee that looked into all this. And she says at the top of the blame list, in her view, is a guy named Michael Brown.

I want you to listen to Senator Collins.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. SUSAN COLLINS (R), MAINE: Well, I was very disappointed in the federal response. It was hesitant and halting, when it should have been crisp and competent. I think the person who is the biggest failure in this was Michael Brown, the director of FEMA, who failed to take control and deliver essential services.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Is she right, Mike Brown?

BROWN: Isn't that amazing, that the senator who oversees FEMA, the one that I went to for two years, and said, Senator, these -- this is not working; we need these things; isn't that amazing, that she now tries to deflect that blame back to the one guy who was saying, all along, we need to fix these things?

It's the same old Washington politics. And I would say to Senator Collins; Come on, Senator. Get real about this.

KING: Well, let me ask you this, and play devil's advocate. She's not here.

She's from the state of Maine. It's not going to get hit by a hurricane any time soon, or certainly not by a high-force hurricane. She is also someone who has sparred with this president and administration from time to time. She is known as a maverick. Why wouldn't she stand up and say, "I think Mike Brown is to blame, but I also think, in the year after, they haven't done X, Y and Z," if she really feels that way?

BROWN: Because I think we are too close to the '06 and the '08 elections. I think that's exactly what's going on.

And no one wants to -- look, this is all part of, as long as we can continue to blame Mike for everything that went wrong, literally for everything, then, that's the mantra they are going to stick to.

Look, when she talks about, "Why didn't he get stuff down there; why didn't he take charge?" I tried, for the first five days, to take charge. I couldn't get a unified command established, because there was this fear of, well, if we come in and federalize this, how is that going to look, if we federalize a white female Democrat governor and we don't federalize a white male Republican governor, referring to Governor Barbour in Mississippi?

It's just politics at its absolute worst.

KING: Well, then, let me go back to the first point, then.

You say that you are reluctant at times. It appears -- now, tell me if I am mischaracterizing what you are saying -- that you are reluctant to be more honest about the president and his role in all this, because you want to stick to the talking points; you want to be a loyal political appointee.

At that moment, when you are trying to get federalized, why didn't you just go to the president of the United States, say, "Damn it, Mr. President, we need to do this, or else we are in serious trouble"?

BROWN: And that's what your viewers need to know, John, is, that is exactly what I did. I did that on numerous occasions.

Prior to the storm, I did it. Everyone remembers the famous "Heck of a job, Brownie" phrase. I had spent about three or four minutes with the president prior to that, telling him exactly how bad things were throughout the Gulf Coast region.

KING: And what did he say?

BROWN: There was just this amazing, you know, well, keep trying, and we're going to keep doing -- you know, talk to Joe and talk to Andy and the other people on the staff, and we will make things work.

I talked to him again on Tuesday morning, immediately following landfall, and said, "Mr. President, that we have lost at least 80 percent of the population of New Orleans."

And there was this astonished gasp from everybody on the conference call about, are you kidding me?

And that's astonishing to me, because we had talked about it for two days prior to landfall and during landfall, and the next day.

KING: Well, let's look forward now.

And, from your perspective -- and, again, fairly or unfairly, I think many people out there will say, "Why should I listen to this guy? But give us, from your perspective, the one or two things you think the president should be doing, and any mayor should be doing, whether that is a mayor watching Ernesto tonight, a mayor knowing that there will be a hurricane a week or month down the road from now. What is the one or two recommendations Mike Brown would make on this day?

BROWN: Well, first of all, let me actually agree with Mayor Nagin on something.

I heard Mayor Nagin on the news show earlier today and yesterday, talking about, if a storm begins to approach, he is going to use every available means to get all of the people out of New Orleans. If he had done that last year, we wouldn't be having this problem. We would still have the devastation, but we wouldn't have the deaths.

I saw on the news today Governor Bush down in Florida asking people to leave. He's doing exactly what mayors and governors and leaders should be doing in times of disaster like this. And I think it's incumbent upon us, as the public, to make certain that it's not just the fluff and the talking, but are they really doing what they are saying? Are they putting the money, the personnel, and the resources into these plans?

KING: Michael Brown, the former director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, thank you for joining us today, on what has to be a momentous day for everybody, but especially for you, the one-year anniversary of Katrina.

Michael... BROWN: Thank you, John.

KING: Michael Brown, thank you very much.

And coming up: new developments in the CIA leak case. We will tell you what they are when we come back.

And later: Iran's president challenges George W. Bush to a debate. Next hour, we will go live to Tehran for the story behind the story.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: We have new information this hour about the leak that rocked Washington, the outing of CIA operative Valerie Plame Wilson.

Our Brian Todd is here with the new details -- Brian.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John, two sources familiar with former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage's role in the CIA leak investigation confirmed to CNN that Armitage was the source for Robert Novak's column that revealed the identity of CIA operative Valerie Plame.

Now, Plame's identity was disclosed in a Novak column in 2003. Her husband, Joe Wilson, alleged the leak was part of a coordinated White House effort to undermine critics of the Iraq war, like him. The White House denies the claim.

And sources say Armitage revealed Plame's role at the CIA almost inadvertently in a casual conversation with Novak. It's not clear that Armitage even knew that Plame's identity was classified at the time.

In a new book entitled "Hubris," authors Michael Isikoff and David Corn write that Armitage told former Assistant Secretary of State Carl Ford -- quote -- "I'm afraid I may be the guy that caused this whole thing." According to Isikoff and Corn, Ford does not describe the disclosure as a planned leak. They quote Ford saying, "My sense from Rich is that it was just chitchat."

Calls today from CNN to Armitage and Carl Ford were not returned. Very important to note here, Armitage was not indicted by special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, who has been investigating this matter -- John.

KING: Brian Todd with new details -- Brian, thank you very much.

We will continue to track this.

And coming up here: Ted Kennedy asks President Bush for help. We will tell you why the senior senator from Massachusetts is urging Mr. Bush to get involved.

A suspect on the FBI's most wanted list is behind bars this hour. But what's next for polygamist Warren Jeffs? A full report just minutes away.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: And our Zain Verjee joins us now with a closer look at other stories making news.

Hi, Zain.

VERJEE: Hi, John.

An explosion that ends in tragedy, and an intense firefight that ends in executions, and hopes that all the violence will end with the rule of law. Today, in Iraq, 62 people died in a massive explosion at an oil pipeline 100 miles south of the capital.

Also, some Iraqi soldiers who recently fought followers of radical Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr may have been executed. An official says, they were captured, then killed, execution-style.

Meanwhile, U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales visited Baghdad today. He met with Justice Department employees in Iraq to help rebuild the country's legal system and infrastructure.

The leader of the United Nations and leaders in Israel are not seeing eye to eye. U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan met with Israeli Defense Minister Amir Peretz today in Israel. Now, Annan is insisting that Israel lift its air and sea blockade of Lebanon. But Israel is insisting that it will only end the blockade once it feels sure that forces deployed on the Lebanese border can stop Hezbollah from importing more weapons. Annan stopped in Israel as part of an 11-day tour of the Middle East.

Meanwhile, another sticking point, in that three Israeli soldiers are still being held -- still being held captive. Two were captured by Hezbollah, and one was kidnapped by Hamas-linked militants on the 25th of June. Civil rights leader Jesse Jackson, on a mission to win their release, says that he was told the soldiers were all alive and well. Jackson says that came during meeting in Damascus with Syria's president, Bashar al-Assad, and a Hamas political leader -- John, back to you.

And I -- I shouldn't eat Twizzlers before I read.

(CROSSTALK)

KING: It's in the manual. It's right here in the manual: Do not eat Twizzlers before you read.

(LAUGHTER)

KING: Thank you. Thank you, Zain.

A quick check of our "Political Radar" this Tuesday. It turns out, not everyone in Kenya is thrilled with Senator Barack Obama's visit to his father's homeland. Today, a spokesman for the Kenyan government is quoted as blasting Senator Obama's claim that corruption has left the African nation in crisis. But another high- level Kenyan official suggests that Obama's speech is evidence that Kenya is a more open society.

Back here in Washington, a new warning today about the future of immigration reform -- Democratic Senator Edward Kennedy says legislation will not be able to get through the Congress, unless President Bush becomes more involved in negotiating a compromise. Those negotiations are at an impasse over the House enforcement-only bill and a Senate measure that gives some illegal immigrants a path to citizenship.

New evidence today that national Democratic leaders are throwing their support to Senate nominee Ned Lamont in his bid to unseat incumbent Joe Lieberman -- Senator Chuck Schumer, who runs the Senate committee -- Campaign Committee -- says he will meet with Lamont next week to discuss how that committee can help his campaign.

Lieberman lost the Democratic primary in Connecticut to Lamont -- Lieberman now running as an independent.

The idea: a searchable public database that anyone could use to review how the federal government has spent $2.5 trillion. Sounds like a good idea -- the problem, someone has put a hold on it. Who is the secret senator?

Our Internet reporter, Abbi Tatton, is following the search online -- Abbi.

TATTON: John, a Google for government spending, that's how the bill's co-sponsor, Senator Tom Coburn, describes this initiative.

It's a bill that has bipartisan support in the Senate, and also support of a broad range of groups on the left and right, who say that it will increase government transparency. But it has hit a roadblock.

A spokeswoman for the Senate majority leader's office confirms to us that a hold has been put on this bill. Any senator can put a hold on legislation anonymously, preventing a vote. The spokeswoman said, unless the senator comes forward, the public won't know who it is.

Well, not if the blogosphere has anything to do with it. The search is on online for the so-called secret senator. At the conservative-leaning anti-government-waste site Porkbusters, they have been urging their readers to contact their Senate offices and demand that these senators fess up and tell them if it's them or not.

Also, at the liberal TPMmuckraker site, they are hot on the trail as well. There are even photos posted at Porkbusters of all these senators who they say are in the clear, based on their own readers' inquiries. We cannot confirm the accuracy of those. They are readers' inquiries. And, as of today, this senator is still secret. A spokeswoman for the Senate majority leader's office says, Senator Frist does want to move forward with this legislation. And they hope to address all this when the Senate gets back into session -- John.

KING: So, the liberal blogosphere agrees with the conservative blogosphere. That's breaking news animation right there.

(LAUGHTER)

KING: Abbi Tatton, thank you very much.

Up next: Who do you think would win in a debate between President George W. Bush and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad? Jack Cafferty is standing by with your answers.

And Ernesto closes in on Florida, but where will it hit? We are tracking the storm and awaiting a brand-new forecast from the National Hurricane Center.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Here's a look at some of the "Hot Shots" coming in from the Associated Press, pictures likely to be in your newspaper tomorrow.

We begin in the Middle East. A woman walks past the wreckage and rubble left behind in the suburbs south of Beirut.

Diwaniya, Iraq: Iraqi soldiers conduct a patrol from the back of a pickup truck.

New Delhi, India: a bizarre scene. Activists from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals protest outside a livestock convention.

And, in Davie, Florida, a frustrated man shares some choice words with a gas station attendant. Gas lines are long, as Floridians gear up for Tropical Storm Ernesto.

And that's today's "Hot Shots," pictures often worth 1,000 words.

Another man who has 1,000 words -- maybe more -- is back with us now, Jack Cafferty and "The Cafferty File."

CAFFERTY: Not nearly that many.

I saw you had on the picture of the wall of Ahmadinejad, the president of Iran. He was talking with the press today. And he suggested that he would like to participate in a live television debate with President Bush.

The White House immediately shrugged off the challenge, called it a diversion. But "The Cafferty File" thought it was kind of a cool idea. We asked, what would you think -- who would win a debate between these two, President Bush and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Mary writes from Florida: "Neither one would win. By definition, a debate is a -- quote -- 'contention by words or arguments.' Neither Bush, nor Ahmadinejad, has shown the ability to defend his policies with cogent reasoning and clear language. Both are blind ideologues, driven by religious fanaticism that blinds them to reality, and controlled by more powerful and sinister forces behind the scenes."

That's a little serious for our tastes there, Mary.

Ben in Washington: "Would the outcome of the debate matter anyway? The liberal media hates Bush more than they hate Ahmadinejad. They would naturally spin it to make Bush look like an drooling idiot and Ahmadinejad a genius in all matters."

Oz writes from Washington: "The major problem with a debate like this is that one of the leaders can't make himself understood in English, and the other is Iranian."

Tom in New Jersey writes: "Talk about reality TV. This would easily outdraw 'Survivor.' My money is on the Iranian president, after the way he controlled Mike Wallace last week."

And Maurice, Two Rivers, Wisconsin: "Questions this stupid don't deserve a reply, Jack. Go back on vacation." OK.

(LAUGHTER)

CAFFERTY: Maybe next week.

(LAUGHTER)

KING: Paid vacation, right?

CAFFERTY: Right. Well, let's hope.

(LAUGHTER)

KING: Well, Jack Cafferty, thank you very much.

And still to come here: President Bush is still trying to recover from the failures after Hurricane Katrina. We will examine that defining moment for him and other snapshots that forever mark the president's past.

And, a year after Katrina, a tropical storm is heading for Florida. In our next hour, we will discuss storm threats then and now with the National Hurricane Center director, Max Mayfield.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: New information just into CNN on the path and the risks from Tropical Storm Ernesto.

Let's go straight to Jacqui Jeras in the CNN Hurricane Center -- Jacqui.

JACQUI JERAS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Well, John, despite being over warm water, Ernesto has not gained strength today. Winds are still at 45 miles per hour. And the window of opportunity for this storm to get stronger is starting to shrink down quite a bit.

Also, hurricane watches have just been posted for about the central coast of Georgia, all the way up to Wilmington, North Carolina, because we are expecting this storm to pull offshore and strengthen here into the Atlantic, and maybe making a second landfall then. And that would be happening some time on Thursday afternoon.

Also, a tornado watch has just been issued for parts of central and southeastern Florida. And that will last throughout the evening hours, as well as into the overnight -- a lot of new information coming in on Ernesto. We will give you the latest and give you a tour of some of the heaviest bands that are moving into South Florida. That's all coming up in the next hour -- John.

KING: Looking forward to that, Jacqui. We will see you in just a few minutes.

JERAS: Yes.

KING: Thank you very much.

Now, when it comes to a president's legacy, major accomplishments sometimes pale in comparison to the power of a single image. President Bush knows that all too well, as he marks the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina.

Here's our senior analyst, Jeff Greenfield.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEFF GREENFIELD, CNN SENIOR ANALYST: John, the president's travels to the Gulf this week are designed, in part, to replace lingering images from a year ago, images that inflicted real political damage. It's a reminder of just how often a single image can, fairly or unfairly, all but define a president.

BUSH: I can hear you.

GREENFIELD (voice-over): Here's how millions of Americans saw President Bush after September 11, comforting the fallen, vowing to strike back.

Here's how the White House tries to ensure that the public literally sees the message the president is delivering, with the theme of the day spelled out behind him. But, in the first days after Katrina struck last August, all the images seemed to be the wrong ones: a president detached, literally above the suffering, the president joking about his hell-raising partying days in New Orleans. BUSH: To enjoy myself, occasionally too much.

GREENFIELD: And, of course:

BUSH: And, Brownie, you are doing a heck of a job.

GREENFIELD: It's not as though presidential imagery began in the television age. A century ago, Theodore Roosevelt's White House welcomed press coverage of his hunting and camping trips. It underlined his youth and energy.

In the depths of the Depression, President Franklin Roosevelt was very conscious of the need to appear confident, buoyant, optimistic. He once said to Orson Welles, "You and I are the two best actors in America."

Jimmy Carter's post-Watergate anti-imperial presidency was symbolized by denim.

But, sometimes, imagery can undermine a president. Gerald Ford's occasional missteps turned one of our most athletic presidents into a bumbler, as well as making Chevy Chase's career.

When President Carter collapsed into the arms of Secret Service men during a marathon in 1979, it seemed to symbolize weakness. A much more serious image emerged in April 1980, after a failed hostage rescue mission in Iran. The crippled helicopters were a powerful image of American impotence.

And it was an inauspicious start to a reelection year in January 1992, when the first President Bush threw up on the Japanese prime minister during a state dinner.

(on camera): So, yes, these images really do matter, which is why every White House spends so much time and trouble shaping them. But it's also worth noting that, if a president's policies and programs are working well, maybe a lot of that image-shaping might not be so necessary -- John.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KING: Thank you, Jeff.

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