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CNN NEWSROOM

Iraqi President Disapproves of Baker-Hamilton; Hezbollah-backed Protests Resume in Lebanese Capital; New Report Says U.S. Intelligence Bugged Princess Di's Phone

Aired December 10, 2006 - 16:00   ET

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


FREDRICK WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Next in THE NEWSROOM, a shocking revelation about the night Princess Diana died. A new report claims U.S. intelligence eavesdropped on her phone conversations hours before the fatal accident.
Chilean dictator, Augusto Pinochet, known as the man that saved the country from communism, then ushered in a period of abuse and corruption is dead today.

Plus, the Iraq study group report could play a role in the 2008 race for the White House. We'll tell you how.

Hello, and welcome to the CNN NEWSROOM. I am Fredricka Whitfield. We start with a quick check of other headlines.

(NEWSBREAK)

WHITFIELD: Diana, Princess of Wales, dead nearly a decade. And the debate over how and why and who is amazingly still very much alive. The British newspaper "The Observer" is reporting that a U.S. intelligence team was bugging Diana's phone on the day she died. To London now and CNN's Alphonso Van Marsh -- Alphonso.

ALPHONSO VAN MARSH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right. Those shocking revelation in "The Observer" today. But it is important to mention that we do not have independent confirmation of what was reported in "The Observer." However we did speak with a spokesman for one U.S. intelligence agency flatly denying that report saying that he couldn't comment on that.

Now this report from "The Observer" is one of many leaks in the British press coming ahead of a report, an official government report due Thursday on the circumstances leading to Diana, Princess of Wales', death in 1997.

Now as I mentioned, this report is suppose to come out Thursday. But these details are coming out bit by bit, very intriguing, very interesting. It is expected, according to some of the leaks, that this report will say that Diana was not pregnant at the time of her death and that there was no plan for her to marry her companion Dodi al-Fayed.

Now what's really interesting here in Britain, is tonight on the BBC there's supposed to be a documentary coming on talking about some of these leaks, some of these details coming out in the report including talking to one of the top French investigators that was involved in the investigation. This is what she told the BBC.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): There was a horde of photographers who were following the couple and they were very close to the Mercedes when the accident happened. Obviously this causes annoyance and stress. But it is not the only explanation. The driver also lost control of the car. That's obvious.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VAN MARSH: Now she is referring to Henri Paul, the driver of the vehicle. We're also hearing details of what is expected to be in this report on Thursday, that Mr. Paul was technically three times over the French drunk driving limit.

These details coming out, if they are indeed true, will do little to stop the conspiracy theories, at least in this part of the world, over Diana's death, primarily coming from Dodi al-Fayed's father, Mohammed al-Fayed, the well known businessman here, of Egyptian descent. He is still sticking to his belief that Diana's death was part of a cover-up because officials did not want to see the Princess of Wales marry an Egyptian Muslim.

He put out a statement this weekend, him, saying that some of the leaks, these details that have come out are part of a cover-up and that the BBC in essence had been duped. It will be very interesting when we see this official report come out on Thursday.

WHITFIELD: And Alfonso, does the British newspaper, "The Observer" explain in any detail whatsoever, why the U.S. intelligence would be tapping her phone, according to their reporting?

VAN MARSH: Well, according to "The Observer" they spend a little bit more of their time mentioning if indeed this is the case, what does that say about intelligence sharing between the U.S. and Britain -- these great allies as it were. We're getting some details, trying to figure out exactly how is "The Observer" sourcing this. And again, it is important to mention there is no independent confirmation of this report so far widely being attributed to, or only reported, by "The Observer."

I believe as Monday comes along and people start really sinking into this story, wanting to get more details, we expect perhaps a few more details on how "The Observer" sourced this story will eventually emerge, Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: Anphonso Van Marsh from London, thanks so much.

Iraq's president has nothing good to say about the American report on the war in his country: dangerous, unfair, disrespectful and he was just getting started. Those were his words. CNN senior international correspondent Nic Robertson is in Baghdad.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (on camera): Well, the statements by Jalal Talabani occurred coming as somewhat of a surprise, he has been in the past, a staunch ally of the United States. This seems to be an about-turn on that support.

Saying that the Iraq study group's report undermines the sovereignty of the Iraqi army. He says that is because as leaving, the report proposes, so many U.S. military trainers embedded in the Iraqi army undermines its sovereignty, undermines the sovereignty of Iraq.

He described the report as unfair, unjust and even dangerous.

JALAL TALABANI, IRAQ PRESIDENT: I think that Baker-Hamilton is not fair, is not just and it contains some very dangerous articles which are undermining the sovereignty of Iraq and the constitution.

ROBERTSON: President Talabani's rejection comes hard on the heels of the rejection of the Iraq study group by another leading Kurd. He has said that what the Iraq study group sets out to do, or proposes, is to take control away from the regional governments and place it under -- place the country more under central control from Baghdad. And he says that would undermine the Kurds' ability to control their oil revenues from Kurdish oil fields. He says that's something that is allowed for in the constitution.

The Kurds have always wanted more independent, some more autonomy inside Iraq. And it appears that the Kurds now feel that this study group's report would undermine their independence, undermine their access, independent access to those oil revenues.

This comes at a time when defense secretary -- outgoing Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld visited Iraq. He went to a number of bases, the al-Asad Air Base, a big air base in the west of Iraq. He also went to the very large, and sprawling Balad Air Base, about 50 miles, 80 kilometers north of Baghdad.

There he met with troops. He met -- he dined with troops, met with some of the commanding officers. He also came to Baghdad. Did the same again: met with troops, met with some of the commanding officers. It was a very private visit. It was shrouded in secrecy.

The U.S. military spokesmen here weren't able to tell us in advance, weren't able to give us much information while the secretary of defense was here.

This has generally been the case because of the high degree of security around leading U.S. figures when they visit Iraq. But there seems to have been a personal visit for the outgoing defense secretary to thank personally, the troops from the commanding officers for all their work here.

Nic Robertson, CNN, Baghdad.

(END VIDEOTAPE) WHITFIELD: The authors of the Iraq study group report knew it wouldn't sit well with everyone. James Baker himself called it a tough sell. The president has so far choosing his word carefully. But plenty of Washington insiders are not so reserved.

White House correspondent Elaine Quijano reports.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ELAINE QUIJANO, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The Iraq study group believes talking to Iran without precondition is worth a shot to try to improve the situation in Iraq.

LEE HAMILTON, CO-CHAIRMAN IRAQ STUDY GROUP: We're not arguing that we give up anything or concessions, but they're big players, let's bring them into the action. How do you solve problems with people unless you talk to them?

QUIJANO: That recommendation has unleashed a wave of blistering criticism from those who argue it would weaken what has been the U.S.'s non-negotiable position: that Iran should not have nuclear weapons.

ELIOT COHEN, JOHNS HOPKINS UNIVERSITY: One of the things profoundly unrealistic about the report is the idea you are going to have a negotiation with Iran where somehow the nuclear issue is off the table and we're not going to deal with that. Well -- I'm sure that's not the way the Iranians are going to approach it.

QUIJANO: Just this weekend, Iran's president has said his country had begun installing 3,000 centrifuges in an expansion of its uranium enrichment program. All along, Iran has insisted it's develops nuclear technology for peaceful energy purposes. But with a country awash in oil, the Bush administration and some lawmakers remain skeptical.

SEN. TRENT LOTT, (R) MISSISSIPPI: I think Iran is a serious problem. They continue to thumb their nose at the world. And go forward in developing nuclear weapons capability.

QUIJANO: Yet the co-chair of the Iraq study group insists the panel isn't recommending the U.S. give Iran a pass.

JAMES BAKER, CO-CHAIRMAN, IRAQ STUDY GROUP: We take the nuclear issue and set it off to the side and we say this cannot be a part of that dialogue.

QUIJANO: Still, even incoming head of the Senate foreign relations committee concedes Iran isn't the answer.

SEN. JOE BIDEN, (D) DELAWARE: Iran cannot solve our problem for us in Iraq. If we worked it out they could stop doing bad things but they're not likely to be able to do good things that will fundamentally alter the circumstance in Iraq.

(END VIDEOTAPE) QUIJANO: Now, President Bush has showed no signs of backing away from insistence that Iran must verifiably suspend nuclear its uranium enrichment program before coming to the negotiating table.

As for his Iraq policy, this week he'll take part in briefings from officials at the State Department, the Pentagon and via video conference from commanders in Iraq -- Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: Elaine Quijano at the White House. Thank you.

Assassination attempt in Gaza: Palestinian security forces are still looking for gunmen who opened fire on a convoy carrying the interior minister through Gaza City. Sayed Saiam (ph) survived the ambush. No word on the identity of the attackers. The interior ministry has recently cracked down on gangs, car thieves and drug dealers.

Some witnesses say it was the biggest rally in Lebanese history: thousands, hundreds of thousands in fact, people, packing Central Beirut and speaking with one voice. Their message: the pro-west prime minister must go.

CNN's Beirut bureau chief, Brett Sadler was there.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BRETT SADLER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): So loud is the noise coming out of these protests in downtown Beirut that I am having to use a special microphone to make myself heard.

This has been the largest gathering, called by the Hezbollah-led opposition since protests to try to topple the government began some ten days ago.

Now hundreds of thousands of people, Lebanese, carried on a sea of Lebanese flags converged on the capital in response to calls by the opposition to make a real attempt to show the government how serious the opposition is in maintaining a campaign to change the status quo here: either to create a national unity government of consensus and renewed consensus, which has been refused so far by the government, or to basically topple the government and call for new elections.

These are critical times for Lebanon.

Now the western-backed prime minister Fouad Siniora remains inside the prime ministry complex. Again, we saw some unprecedented security measures around the prime minister and his cabinet colleagues Sunday when the armed combat troops from Lebanese army units and armed police units put extra layers of coiled barbed wire around important positions in central Beirut.

For the past ten days, there's been a very heavy security presence despite the fact that these protests have mostly been colorful and today certainly jubilant and peaceful protests.

But quite clearly from the speeches we heard today, there is no doubt in the minds of the opposition and those who have been urged to distrust and despise the western backed government of Fouad Siniora, to expect escalating protests possibly within government institutions to try to perhaps paralyze road links in this country, to perhaps try to stop or disrupt the workings of the international airport, or the Beirut port where the shipping and economic lifeline to the country has been continuing.

But that could be targeted, according to some newspaper reports, as early as next week.

Many pointing to the fact that this ongoing crisis here, Lebanon in limbo with two rival camps in entrenched positions, is really fracturing along potentially dangerous sectarian lines. Very difficult days ahead for Lebanon.

Brett Sadler, CNN, Beirut.

END VIDEOTAPE)

WHITFIELD: Former dictator Augusto Pinochet has died. We'll look back at his record of human rights abuses and examine what impact he had on Chile and the rest of South America.

Also, the wife of a poisoned Russian spy talks to London's "Sunday Times." You'll hear what she is saying about her husband's death. And this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: When is it going to be we'll take the wreath down? When is it going to be holly comes down?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WHITFIELD: Find out the latest place to take Christmas out of the holidays. You're in the CNN NEWSROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WHITFIELD: The death of a former strong man in Chile, Augusto Pinochet, passed away today a week after a heart attack. He was 91.

Our Rilitza Vassiliva, looks back at his rise and fall from power.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RILITZA VASSILIVA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): He was the most controversial and notorious of the old Latin American military dictators. General Augusto Pinochet came to power on September 11, 1973 in a bloody military coup that overthrew Chile's democratically elected Marxist president Salvador Allende (ph). Pinochet was hailed by some as the man who rescued Chile from chaos.

UNIDENTIIFED FEMALE (through translator): He is the one who saved chile from communism without him we would be another Cuba. RILITZA VASSILIVA: The general always insisted he was forced to intervene.

AUGUSTO PINOCHET (through translator): Chile was on the way to self destruction. Chile's armed forces were obliged to put their patriotism before any other consideration.

RILITZA VASSILIVA: One of the considerations he was widely accused of putting aside was human rights. During his 17-year rule, thousands of real or suspected opponents were tortured, executed or disappeared.

CARMEN VIVANCO, MISSING PERSON'S ASSOCIATION (through translator): A hero? Pinochet? A hero of what? Of death?

RILITZA VASSILIVA: Asks Carmen Vivaco who lost five members of her family after the coup.

Pamela Constable who wrote a book about Pinochet says he tried to eliminate his political opponents.

PAMELA CONSTABLE, AUTHOR: He basically set about systematically and immediately trying to wipe out the left, physically wiping it out. He was responsible for terrible torture, and abuses, and what came to be called disappearances of people in Chile. Thousands and thousands of people were badly abused and killed.

RILITZA VASSILIVA: Although Pinochet is credited with laying the ground work for Chile's modern market economy, he was criticized worldwide for his disdain for human rights.

PINOCHET (through translator): Human rights? That's an invention of the Marxist he once told CNN.

RILITZA VASSILIVA: Amid growing popular pressure, in 1988, he lost a referendum in which Chileans were allowed to vote for a return to Democratic rule. A decade later, he retired as commander-in-chief of the powerful army to become under the terms of the constitution he had written himself, a senator for life with immunity from prosecution.

His victims, friends and families however could not forget the past. In October 1998, Pinochet was put under house arrest while in London for an operation pending an extradition from a Spanish judge, investigating crimes against humanity committed during his dictatorship.

His health failing, he was eventually allowed to return to Chile only to see his immunity lifted so he would have to face charges of murder and torture at home.

Even more humiliating for a man who had always boasted he was free of corruption, in August 2004 it was discovered he had several secret multimillion dollar bank accounts in Washington, D.C.

Georgetown University's Arturo Venezuela says the corruption allegations cost Pinochet most of his right-wing support.

ARTURO VALENZUELA, GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY: If there was one thing wioth Chileans, particularly on the right who supported him always said was that, Chile was different. Chile was not a banana republic. That our military officers, they would say, are austere and patriotic and it turned out to be perhaps the greatest crook in Chilean history.

RILITZA VASSILIVA: In a strange twist of fate, disillusionment with Pinochet helped bring past supporters closer to his victims.

In 2006, a victim Michelle Bachilet (ph), a victim of Pinochet's dictatorship, was sworn in as Chile's president. Bachilet's (ph) father, a Pinochet opponent, died in prison. She and her mother were held briefly and tortured.

As president, she is setting Bachilet (ph) is setting the example for Chile to put the past behind.

VALENZUELA: This was done by a recognition of the mistakes that have been made in the past, by the fact that the courts are now trying people for those violations. And this allowed her then to sort of say, and with authority, because she had lost her own father, to say that in fact, this is now of the past and this means that we can then build for the future.

RILITZA VASSILIVA: In the end, only his declining health saved him from being tried on both human rights and corruption charges. The once powerful Pinochet, who could draw thousands to his rallies, died in seclusion as the world passioned him by with minimum pomp and circumstance. A sad end for a man who hoped to go down in history as Chile's savior.

Rilitza Vassileva, CNN, Atlanta.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WHITFIELD: And it's still two years away, but Iraq is likely to dominate our next presidential election. Who will it help? And who will it hurt? You are in the CNN NEWSROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WHITFIELD: A big win in Louisiana for William Jefferson, the Democratic congresman won a run-off election yesterday, beating his opponent by a big margin. Jefferson won a 9th term even though he's the target of a well publicized FBI investigation.

Our Gary Nuremburg has more on Jefferson's comeback.

GARY NUREMBURG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well Fredricka, Democrats who recaptured congress in a campaign that focused in part on a promise to rid Capitol Hill of corruptino are not exactly thrilled to see someone who is the apparent subject of a federal criminal probe return to the House of Representatives.

Jefferson's supporters say he has been charged with nothing, convicted of nothing and should be considered innocent until a jury says otherwise.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

REP. WILLIAM JEFERSON, (D) LOUISIANA: And we love you. We truly do.

NUREMBURG: Forced into a run-off. William Jefferson won his congressional election easily Saturday despite being the subject of a federal bribery investigation that has been public for more than a year-and-a-half.

Federal agents raided Jefferson's home and said they found $90,000 in cash in his freezer. Jefferson's congressional office was raided as well. His opponent made corruption a key part of her campaign.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The biggest difference is ethics, and honesty and integrity and restoring public trust back in public office.

JEFFERSON: Thank you. Take care.

NUREMBURG: But Jefferson was able to capitalize on his long history with his district's voters.

JEFFERSON: It's been a long time I have been in public life, 26 years. There are lots of folks during that time I touched and who have worked with. And who I believe love me and I love them completely and totally.

NUREMBURG: A love that may not be reciprocated by Democratic leaders in in Washington.

MARK PRESTON, CNN POLITICAL EDITOR: Well, quite frankly what you will see, Democratic leaders are probably going to avoid Mr. Jefferson.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

NUREMBURG: That was Mark Preston, the CNN political editor. He says he believes that the Democratic leadership will simply avoid Jefferson, keep its distance in case there is an eventual indictment. But it's important to say again, despite this very public investigation, Representative Jefferson has been charged with no wrongdoing -- Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: Gary Nuremburg, thanks so much. Out of Washington.

(NEWBREAK)

WHTIFIELD: And what role will the recommendations of the Iraq study group play in the upcoming presidential elections? We'll take a close look.

And later, not many votes for the presents this elf is delivering this holiday season? Why? His story later in THE NEWSROOM. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WHITFIELD: Half past the hour. Here is what is happening right now. According to British newspapers, "The Observer" that is. It wasn't only the paparazzi bugging Princess Diana, the paper says a new government report found U.S. intelligence was eavesdropping on Diana's phone calls hours before her fatal accident back in 1997. CNN has not independently confirmed this report but we continue to try to verify the story.

Out going defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld makes a surprise visit to U.S. troops in Iraq this weekend. A Pentagon spokesman says Rumsfeld wanted to express his appreciation to the troops without a whole lot of fanfare. The secretary steps down from his post a week from tomorrow.

The crew of the shuttle "Discovery" is enjoying the start of its 12-day mission. Last night's launch went off without a hitch. Now the astronauts are bound for the International Space Station where they will be doing some electrical work.

Well she is not pointing the finger directly at the Russian President Putin, but the wife of poisoned ex-spy Alexander Litvinenko does blame the Kremlin for his death. Marina Litvinenko says her husband criticized former KGB colleagues and accused them of murder and kidnappings and she feels that's not something they would likely forgive and forget. Her husband died last month in London of radiation poisoning.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MARINA LITVINENKO, WIDOW: He said, Marina, I feel like people who was poisoned, you know because, they started, and they got some symptoms. But of course I told him, it's unbelievable. I can't -- I can't believe what happened. And my opinion he was just like half, one side, it was unusual, but he tried to believe it's not poisoning. You know it. It's very difficult to believe somebody poisoned you.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WHITFIELD: Marina Litvinenko says she trusts British authorities to investigate her husband's death but she insists she won't cooperate with Russian investigators.

The calendar says 06, but the campaigning says 08. Illinois Senator Obama is in New Hampshire today for several events. The first term Democrat says he is mulling a possible run for president and also doing a meet and greet in the granite state Indiana Democrat, Senator Evan Bayh. He has filed for presidential exploratory committee but hasn't formally announced a run. Meanwhile, Arizona Republican Senator John McCain is in New York he is scheduled to deliver the convocation at the annual Chanukah dinner.

One topic sure to figure in the next election, what the U.S. should do in Iraq. The just released Iraq Study Group report suggests that 79 ideas. But few find unanimous support among American and Iraqi politicians. CNN's John Roberts has more on the reports end game.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOHN ROBERTS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): If there were any lingering doubts about how bad things are in Iraq, they were pretty much erased.

LEE HAMILTON, IRAQ STUDY GROUP CO-CHAIR: We believe that the situation in Iraq today is very, very serious. We do not know if it can be turned around.

ROBERTS: The Iraq Study Group in perhaps the most anticipated report since the 9/11 Commission issued a harsh critique of administration policy.

JAMES BAKER, IRAQ STUDY GROUP CO-CHAIR: We do not recommend a stay the course solution. In our opinion that approach is no longer viable.

ROBERTS: Instead the ten member bipartisan committee offered up some alternatives, 79 in fact. One of the top recommendations is a version of what the White House ridiculed as cut and run. To pull back most U.S. combat troops by early 2008 and instead focus on accelerated training for Iraqi forces. Another big idea launch an intense diplomatic mission to find a political solution including unconditional talks with Iran and Syria.

HAMILTON: You cannot look at this area of the world and pick and choose among the countries that you are going to deal with.

ROBERTS: It is a notion that President Bush has rejected. But one his father's former secretary of state suggests he should embrace for the sake of trying to save Iraq.

BAKER: For 40 years we talked to the Soviet Union during a time when they were committed to wiping us off the face of the Earth. So, you talk to your enemies not just your friends.

ROBERTS: The study group acknowledged their plans aren't perfect. But in another apparent shot at the White House's Iraq policy insists there is a better way forward.

BAKER: If we do what we recommend in this report it will certainly improve our chances for success.

ROBERTS: While there is nothing to suggest the president will adopt any of the recommendations, the Iraq Study Group cautioned him against cherry picking the report. If Iraq is to be pulled back from the brink of failure, they said it needs a comprehensive rescue mission and one with bipartisan political support here at home.

LEON PANETTA, IRAQ STUDY GROUP MEMBER: We have made a terrible commitment in Iraq in terms of our blood and our treasure. And I think we owe it to them to try to take one last chance at making Iraq work. And more importantly to take one last chance at unifying this country on this war. ROBERTS: As much as the Iraq Study Group disagreed with the current administration policy on Iraq there was common ground on one important issue. No immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops. Lee Hamilton put it bluntly when he said a precipitous withdrawal of U.S. forces would likely result in a bloodbath.

John Roberts, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WHITFIELD: So how might this ISG report play out in the next presidential campaign? Professor Steven Livingston of Georgetown University has a few ideas. He joins us live from Washington. Professor Livingston good to see you.

PROFESSOR STEVEN LIVINGSTON, GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY: Good to see you.

WHITFIELD: Well no matter who throws their hat into the ring does every presidential candidate need to have a specific plan on Iraq?

LIVINGSTON: Yes, I think so. One of the things that is most interesting right now in this political environment over the weekend are those few occasions where someone hasn't weighed in with a clear sense of where they might go. Governor Romney for instance comes to mind. But my reaction to the Iraq Study Group and its political consequence so far is to marvel at how clearly it is brought out into sharp relief, divisions that have been in place for some time within the GOP, within the Republican Party.

Between the neo conservatives, more idea logically oriented, moralistic oriented aspects of the Republican Party and the old guard realist, pragmatist, such as former Secretary of State Baker, General Scowcroft and others. There is a clear divide emerging within the GOP that I think is going to end up affecting presidential politics into 2008.

WHITFIELD: Well I wonder in what way may this splintering of the party impact who throws their hat into the ring, what they're likely to say, what kind of support they might get from the party as a whole?

LIVINGSTON: Well even across, both parties I mean I think that the question of Iraq is going to end up affecting the way in which we understand and perceive the eligibility if you will of the candidates. I think that, certainly Iraq is going to be a front burner issue for all of us for over the next year and a half, two years. And we're going to begin raising questions about the, the capabilities and experiences of all of the potential leading candidates. Do they have what it takes in order to address the tough questions that are still and will remain before us over the next two years?

WHITFIELD: And perhaps one of at least the GOP candidates John McCain, he has already come out very strongly saying he doesn't like this report. That he is not siding with it. So how pivotal is it for a candidate such as McCain or anybody else to be outspoken about the dislikes or the likes of this report specifically?

LIVINGSTON: In the case of Senator McCain interestingly enough of course given his military background. He would be understood to be one of the presidential candidates coming out here early on who has the experience, the background, the wisdom, presumably in order to lead the country into these difficult times even after 2008.

What is interesting to me about McCain, Senator McCain's position is that, it sort of gives him an out. He can say if for instance if we withdraw the troops, say for instance the war continues to degenerate badly. He can say well if you had only followed my advice. Things would be different. In a sense he is inoculating himself to that potential criticism.

WHITFIELD: I wonder if something else that may have set the tone of this week, we heard from, the new Pentagon Chief Gates say this about whether the U.S. is winning the war in Iraq.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERT GATES, DEFENSE SECY, DESIGNATE: We are not winning but we are not losing. But I want to make clear that pertains the situation in Iraq as a whole.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WHITFIELD: Is this setting the tone, perhaps even a level of acceptance?

LIVINGSTON: Yes, I think it is. And I think that not only was, now Secretary of Defense Gates' testimony a wake-up call that there needs to be a new sense of reality about Iraq, but also I think the American voters brought that home very clearly to the administration and to Congress with the outcome of the congressional elections. So this is a time for all of the American people and also the leadership to take stock of where we are.

But you know despite the fact that the Iraq Study Group report was lauded as a bipartisan effort. What is clear though is the degree to which it stirred up political differences and again we have to go back and look at the GOP itself if we just look at the responses Rush Limbaugh in his talk program referring to it as "stupid." And a whole other series including the "Wall Street Journal" editorial page describing it as "tragically muddled." I think again what we are doing is we are drawing some interesting new lines that are particular challenge to the GOP given its sense of historical mission as being the party most capable of leading the country in war.

WHITFIELD: All right. We'll make that the last word. Professor Steve Livingston of George Washington University. Thank you for joining us from Washington.

LIVINGSTON: My pleasure.

WHITFIELD: Well it is beginning to look a lot less like Christmas at the Seattle Airport at least. We'll tell you why straight ahead. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WHITFIELD: Bonnie Schneider in the Weather Center. Yesterday Bonnie we talked about burr almost everywhere. Now I understand it will get cozy in some places.

BONNIE SCHNEIDER, CNN METEOROLOGIST: It is. You know ten degrees, 20 degrees, makes a world of difference. First we are starting off in the Midwest and temperatures there, now in the mid to upper 40s. That may sound cold to you but believe me it is a major improvement. Days ago Chicago had a wind-chill factor of 5 degrees. So getting up to 41 feels a whole lot better. It also feels a whole lot better in the southeast, temperatures are really warming up just a couple days ago in Atlanta for example it only got up to 42 degrees for a high. Now looking at 60 that is the current temperature. Likely to warm up even further in South Georgia. And then we are looking at temperatures in the Carolinas right in the low 50s on the way up the day isn't over yet. So we'll get even warmer. That's the good news for the southeast.

The bad news, well let's take a walk over to the next monitor and we'll show you. It has to do with our cold and flu report. As we take a look at the national picture. Where we are seeing the most widespread or local activity is right here in the southeast. Change in temperature can't help things. But we are looking at regional outbreaks across areas to the south. Including Florida right now. With the west looking pretty good so far. Through the center of the country no activity reported. So once again monitoring that as we start getting into the cold weather.

But it is not going to be cold much longer. We have this area of high-pressure right here. You can see it moving across the southeast. Bringing in the milder air for a good portion of the eastern half of the country. Eventually as we work our way towards tomorrow we're going to see some even more improvements in the forecast. Let's take a look at the big picture now for Monday for those of you that are planning. The milder air continues to work its way eastward. So we will look for that. We are also watching for some stormy conditions across the Pacific Northwest. And a little bit of rain towards Texas.

But temperatures will be warm for Monday, climbing all the way up to 73 in Houston, 70 in Dallas. And as we look towards Denver a high of 48 degrees. But notice the warmer weather through the northeast, 54 degrees in New York City, and 55 tomorrow for Washington. Certainly looking a whole lot better. Well stay tuned; we will have another check of your headlines coming up next on CNN NEWSROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WHITFIELD: Controversy at Sea-Tac Airport. Christmas trees have been disappearing from the property. Angering many people. The man who triggered the removal says it was the last thing he wanted. Joshua Levs has the story.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) JOSHUA LEVS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Seattle Tacoma International Airport, Christmas time imagery. But the trees have been taken down. It started with this rabbi's complain. But this is not what he wanted.

RABBI ELAZAR BOGOMILSKY, CHAI CENTER OF GREATER SEATTLE: The Jewish community at large is offended by the removal of the Christmas trees.

LEVS: What he wanted was for something to be placed along side one of the trees a Menorah. He said the Chanukah symbol as seen in other public displays represents triumph of freedom over oppression.

BOGOMILSKY: It is not just a message for Judaism. It is a message of hope for everyone.

LEVS: But he didn't just ask, he threatened a lawsuit. And the commission that oversees the airport said there was no time to reach a resolution.

PATTY DAVIS: Frankly we are faced with the choice of either spending unknown amounts of the public's dollars and countless hours of litigation or trying to figure out how to accommodate all the cultures all at once. When we were under way, trying to bring a half a million people through the Sea-Tac Airport in the busiest possible season.

LEVS: So the trees came down and tempers went up.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's sad that we have to do that now. It seems to try to please everybody.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Take away the Christmas tree to me is saying that Christmas doesn't count when it is an aspect of Christmas.

LEVS: Airport employees are angry too.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Everybody has been outraged enough they're going to bring in their own solution tomorrow. And to demonstrate, I suppose and they are going to bring their own Christmas trees. We're going to display them at the ticket counters.

LEVS: The rabbi is saying that he wants those Christmas trees back up there too. So why doesn't the airport just put back up the trees, add a Menorah and everybody goes home happy. Here is what the folks around the airport are saying. They feel that if they add that Menorah they have to start to be concerned about representing every culture that is out there. And what they saying, Fred is that now they just don't feel they have enough time to take care of everybody.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WHITFIELD: Interesting. So why the lawsuit?

LEVS: Yes, that is the big step here that triggered all this action. Here's what we know. The Rabbi was on CNN's air this morning. He has said there are more than 20 of these Christmas trees at the airport. Why not add one Menorah. He said there are public displays of Menorahs in various cities. Given all that. His viewpoint it is only fair that there be one. Evan still, talking legal action a very serious threat. What the airport folks said they have to take that very seriously, they have to protect the airport legally. To them in this case they felt the only thing they could do was actually taken down all the trees.

WHITFIELD: So I wonder if this is going to eventually open the doors for everybody else having the same kind of dispute in public places.

LEVS: That is something to watch. Will there be ripple effects around the country.

WHITFIELD: All right. Joshua thanks so much.

LEVS: Thank you.

WHITFIELD: Well beware of this elf. He isn't delivering much holiday cheer this year. You are watching CNN the most trusted name in news.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WHITFIELD: He's not exactly the Grinch, but a Florida plan for busting speeders has some motorists seeing red, we are not talking Rudolph's nose. Jeanne Moos explains.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Jingle bells, jingle bells. Jingle all the way

JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): It's bad enough getting a ticket. But getting nabbed by this.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Middle lane, silver Nissan.

MOOS: This deputy is dashing all right in his tights and pointy shoes. Instead of wearing a gun.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My wife put the bells on it.

MOOS: His fellow officers in the Orange County Florida sheriff's office have a name for the guy manning the radar. But the speeders deputy elf is catching aren't laughing all the way.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Christmas guy. Oh. That's pretty messed up.

MOOS: The sheriff's office admits it is a gimmick. But in almost three hours they pulled over 150 vehicles. Deputy elf had 20 motorcycle cops. Lying in wait for his instructions.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Inside lane, inside lane, a white SUV. MOOS: Fifty-six in a 35-mile per hour zone. One motorist called the sheriff's office says it is despicable to use an icon like Santa to catch speeders.

CMDR. KEN WYNNE, ORANGE COUNTY SHERIFF'S DEPT: That's why we didn't choose Santa. An elf is known for their impish behavior.

MOOS: Well even Santa has exhibited some odd behavior lately, driving an eel rather than reindeer in a Japanese aquarium and last December, robbing this Texas bank. Here is the 911 call.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He put his hand in his pocket, did not show a weapon. He was dressed in a Santa Claus suit. Hat pulled down over his face.

MOOS: Then there was the store Santa who became famous on the Internet for tackling a guy being chased by security. Not only did Santa tackle the suspect. He gave him a kick. At least the Orange County elf patrol isn't kicking motorists. Mostly they just caught speeders.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, I saw the elf. I think that's called entrapment. What are you going to do?

MOOS: The elf suit isn't much help. Since most speeders are clocked before they see the officer with a radar gun.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Middle lane 56, silver -- can't tell what it is. That's the correct one.

MOOS: So what if he missed the make. He's making spirits bright.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What fun it is --

MOOS: Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WHITFIELD: Well you have seen the popular CSI programs featuring behind-the-scenes looks at crime scenes. Well next a look at evidence from the Oklahoma City bombing.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh

WHITFIELD: Plus the race for the coveted Oscar is officially underway. Frontrunners, long shots, all next in THE NEWSROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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