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THE SITUATION ROOM

Keith Ellison Interview; Robert Gates In Iraq Hearing From U.S. Military Commanders And Troops Themselves; Criminal Charges Filed Against Eight Marines Involved In Haditha Incident; Duncan Hunter Interview

Aired December 21, 2006 - 17:00   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 today's top stories.
Happening now, a Koran controversy and a growing war of words -- a Republican congressman is refusing to back down from remarks about Muslims many people are saying are simply offensive. And more lawmakers are now weighing in on plans by one congressman-elect to take his oath on Islam's holy book.

Also, a former national security adviser stealing and destroying documents from the National Archives. Now we're learning some more new details of how Sandy Berger actually did it.

And Defense Secretary Robert Gates in Iraq hearing from U.S. troops themselves, as he weighs a massive new deployment.

Can more U.S. soldiers turn around the war?

I'll ask the chairman of the House Armed Services and possible presidential candidate, Duncan Hunter.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Controversy growing over the use of the Koran for a Congressional swearing in and one lawmaker, Virginia Representative Virgil Goode, coming under fire for remarks that many people are saying are personally very offensive.

At issue -- plans by Muslim Democratic Congressman Elect Keith Ellison of Minnesota to take the oath of office on the Koran in his private ceremony. Now other lawmakers are weighing in.

Let's turn to CNN's Brian Todd.

He joins us from Rocky Mount in Virginia.

That's Goode's district.

I take it -- Brian -- Goode, only moments ago, spoke with reporters. What did he have to say?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, he essentially did not back down one iota from his letter of a couple of weeks ago. He said he still stands by that. He's not sorry for what he said. He owes no apology to anyone. He will not apologize. And he still believes that he -- in his words, he said it again, he does not subscribe to using the Koran in any way.

However, when we asked him if he was against Mr. Ellison using the Koran, he really danced around the question, didn't answer it directly to me.

Here's a little about what Mr. Goode had to say just a moment ago.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. VIRGIL H. GOODE, JR. (R), VIRGINIA: And my view is that I don't subscribe to the Koran and I will be using the Bible when I take the oath.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TODD: Now, that is what he said in the letter. That is what he's been saying all along, since this letter was issued. We pressed him repeatedly -- does he favor the immigration of Muslims legally to the United States?

That was a question he also would not answer. He went on and on about illegal immigration. He does not favor Muslims entering the country illegally. He did not favor other groups entering the country illegally.

He stuck to that message. He really seemed to at least back off slightly from his outright condemnation of Mr. Ellison and his use of the Koran.

I pressed him over and over again, do you or do you not favor Mr. Ellison using the Koran in his swearing in?

He did not answer the question -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Brian, thanks very much for that.

I want to bring in Keith Ellison.

He is the Congressman-elect from Minnesota.

He joins us from his home state right now, a Democrat.

Keith Ellison, you're the first Muslim elected to the United States Congress.

Thanks very much for coming in to THE SITUATION ROOM.

KEITH ELLISON (D), MINNESOTA CONGRESSMAN-ELECT: Real pleased to be here, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, let me read for our viewers, who may not be all that familiar with what Virgil Goode actually wrote to his constituents back on December 7th. Among other things, he said: "If American citizens don't wake up and adopt the Virgil Goode position on immigration, there will likely be many more Muslims elected to office and demanding the use of the Koran."

And you just heard our Brian Todd. He's on the scene. He says Virgil Goode is not backing away from that at all.

What's your reaction?

ELLISON: My reaction?

BLITZER: Yes, what's your reaction, Congressman-elect?

ELLISON: Oh, yes. Well, Wolf, I think that, you know, diversity of our country is a great strength. It's a good thing that we have people from all faiths and all cultures. They come here and we all support one constitution. One constitution that upholds our right to equal protection. One constitution that guarantees us due process under the law. One constitution which says that there is no religious test for elective office in America.

So the document that is the bedrock of our democracy expressly prohibits applying any religious test and I think that diversity in our nation is a great thing and we should embrace it, not be afraid of it.

BLITZER: So if you had a cup of coffee or you sat down with Virgil Goode -- in the next several days you're going to be coming to Washington, you'll be sworn in in the next couple of weeks, what would you say to him specifically on his point, he wants tighter immigration restrictions in order to keep Muslims out of the country and if -- because if they're kept out of the country, obviously, they won't be elected to Congress?

ELLISON: Well, what I'd tell him is that, you know, there might be a few things about Muslims that he might want to know. He might want to know that Muslims, there are about five million in the country, that they're here to support and strengthen America, that they are nurses, doctors, husbands, wives, kids who just want to live and prosper in the American way and that there's really nothing to fear.

And that all of us are steadfastly opposed to the same people he's opposed to, which is the terrorists. And so there's nothing for him to be afraid of. And that what we should do is to tell our constituents that we should reach to each other, not be against each other, and we should find ways for common ground.

I would urge Congressman Goode to have his congregation reach out to a synagogue or a mosque and start some interfaith dialogue so that we can increase understanding among each other as Americans of different faiths. That's what I'd tell him.

BLITZER: Well, do you think he's a bigot?

ELLISON: You know, and I don't know the fellow and, you know, I'd rather just say that he has a lot to learn about Islam and, you know, we all have a lot to learn. I don't know him. I look forward to meeting him. I'm not afraid of being frank about my views about him, but I simply haven't gotten a chance to get to meet him, so I don't want to start any name calling.

BLITZER: What's been the reaction in general to your election making history, becoming the first Muslim elected to the U.S. Congress, specifically your decision in your personal private ceremony, you want to be sworn in on the Koran?

ELLISON: Well, Wolf, I'm glad you made that distinction, because when I am officially sworn in, I will do it the same exact way as every other Congressperson elect who was sworn in. We will all stand up and in unison lift our hand and swear to uphold that constitution.

And then in a later, in a private ceremony, of course I'll put my hand on a book that is the basis of my faith, which is Islam, and I think that this is a -- this is a beauty. This is a wonderful thing for our country because Jewish members will put their hands on the Torah, Mormon members will put their hand on the Book of Mormon, Catholic members will put their hand on the book of their choice and members who don't want to put any book -- their hand on any book are also fully free to do that.

That's the American way.

But I think that we need to not focus on what religious text any Congress member might want to use. Let's focus on the text that binds us together. That's the constitution. That's a great document and I'm looking forward very much to raising my hand and swearing to uphold that constitution.

BLITZER: You know, I'm sure, what the radio talk show host, Dennis Prager, said at the end of November, and it caused quite a stir. He said this, among other things, and I'll read it: "America should not give a hoot what Keith Ellison's favorite book is, insofar as a member of Congress taking an oath to serve America and uphold its values is concerned, America is interested in only one book, the Bible."

Do you want to react to that?

ELLISON: Well, I thought -- well, I think, again, you know, we need to dust off the constitution and actually read it. It says specifically, explicitly, that there is no religious test for elected office. You don't have to use any book at all.

I think that, you know, if we are going to call ourselves patriots -- and I certainly do; if we're going to talk about how much we love America -- and lord knows I do; then we should know that this, the basis of our democracy is the constitution, which expressly prohibits the application of a religious test to hold elective office.

I just think we, you know, this is an opportunity for us to have a little civics lesson in America and to help people really understand the underpinnings of our great country.

BLITZER: You were born in Michigan. You converted to Islam while you were in college. But you can trace your ancestry back to the 1700s, I take it, here in the United States.

ELLISON: That's right.

BLITZER: So when you hear comments like Virgil Goode's, I suppose -- you've reacted in all your public statements, as well as here, really taking the high road. But I assume inside it's really irritating you.

ELLISON: Well, Wolf, you know, my reaction externally and internally is the same. I can honestly say that I am not angered by Mr. -- by Representative Goode's comments. I just think it's a learning gap we have to close and, you know, it's true that I do find my ancestral roots back in Nakadish (ph), Louisiana; Cane River, Louisiana; 1742. I go back -- I'm about as American as they come.

BLITZER: Well, thanks very much for coming into THE SITUATION ROOM and giving us your side of the story.

Keith Ellison elected to Congress, making history.

We hope you'll be here in person in THE SITUATION ROOM once you arrive in Washington.

Thanks very much.

ELLISON: I look forward to it, Wolf.

Thanks again.

BLITZER: Thank you, Keith Ellison.

We're going to speak later this hour with Republican Congressman Duncan Hunter. He's the outgoing chairman of the House Armed Services. He's also exploring the possibility of running for president. We'll get a -- we'll ask him what he thinks about this controversy, as well.

That's coming up later this hour.

In the meantime, let's check in with Jack Cafferty.

He's in New York with "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: The United States, Wolf, and Britain, are going to start moving more warships into the Persian Gulf soon. It's a way of sending a warning to Iran as the United Nations debates sanctions. The "New York Times" reports that Defense Secretary Robert Gates is expected to approve a request by commanders for a second aircraft carrier battle group to be stationed in the Gulf by early next year.

The British Navy plans to add two mine hunting vessels to its ships that are already on station there.

Senior U.S. officers say this should not be viewed as preparations for an attack against Iran, but they admitted that Iran might see this as provocative.

Gee, you think?

Other reasons for the buildup could be to make it easier to enforce any potential U.N. sanctions. And it could be a way to stop Iran from blocking oil shipments through the Persian Gulf.

Meanwhile, a setback for the Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. In recent local elections, he got his clock cleaned. The moderate conservatives were the big winners there, not his guys, suggesting that he's not a whole lot more popular at home than he is in Washington, D.C.

Anyway, here's the question -- how do you think Iran would react to a buildup of U.S. and British military forces in the Persian Gulf?

E-mail your thoughts to CaffertyFile@CNN.com or go to CNN.com/CaffertyFile -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Jack, thank you for that.

And still ahead, classified government documents hidden under a construction trailer by a former national security adviser. We'll have the surprising new details of Sandy Berger's crime.

Also, Denver snowed in still -- the airport closed at least until tomorrow, affecting tens of thousands of travelers right in the middle of the Christmas crunch. We'll take you live to the Mile High City.

And Defense Secretary Robert Gates in Iraq hearing from U.S. troops themselves as he weighs a massive new deployment.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: The new defense secretary, Robert Gates, is in Iraq hearing from U.S. military commanders and the troops themselves, as he weighs whether deploying more U.S. forces can actually help turn around the troubled war.

Our senior Pentagon correspondent, Jamie McIntyre, is the only television reporter traveling with Gates.

Jamie is joining us from Baghdad with details -- Jamie. JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SENIOR PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, when it comes to deciding whether the U.S. should pursue this option of surging tens of thousands of additional troops into Baghdad, how much say should the front line soldiers have?

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, why don't we get something to eat and then we can sit down and have a conversation?

MCINTYRE: On his fourth day in the job, the second in Iraq, America's new defense secretary invited a small group of 15 front line troops to breakfast. While he didn't call it a surge, Gates asked a cross-section of soldiers what they thought about sending more troops into Baghdad. To a man, and a woman, they said bring it on -- just the opposite of what top commanders have advised until now.

Specialist Jason Glenn's response was typical.

SPEC. JASON GLENN: I really think we need more troops here. I really think we need more troops in Iraq. I'm just thinking that maybe with more presence on the ground, more troops, we might be able to hold them off long enough to where we can actually get some of the Iraqis trained up strong so they can hold it themselves.

MCINTYRE: When Gates went around the room, there seemed to be general agreement -- more would be better.

To surge or not to surge is the main question Gates is trying to resolve on his whirlwind visit, so the views of the grunts could carry considerable weight.

How do you say no when the troops you command say they need help?

ROBERT GATES, INCOMING SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: They were not hesitant about giving it. I think like most people on the front lines in a battle, they'd always like to have more forces.

MCINTYRE: General John Abizaid argued forcefully in recent months that pouring more U.S. troops into Baghdad would only slow Iraqi progress. Other commanders say to surge for the sake of surging would do little but to run-up the U.S. body count while providing only temporary relief from the violence.

So in meetings with the Iraqi prime minister, Nouri Al-Maliki, and other members of his government, Gates wanted to find out what Iraq would do if the U.S. buys it more time with an infusion of fresh combat forces.

GATES: One of the strong messages that I received today was the desire of the Iraqi government to take a leadership role in addressing some of the challenges.

MCINTYRE: Following the meetings, Gates said no specific troop numbers were discussed, only broad concepts.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MCINTYRE: Robert Gates told the soldiers he talked to here in Baghdad that he didn't come back to public life to play politics. He said he's looking for a package of new ways to do things that would include the focus on the economy, on reconstruction and primarily ensuring that the Iraqi government doesn't fail -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jamie, thanks very much.

Jamie McIntyre reporting for us from Iraq.

Meanwhile, there are new developments in the killings of 18 Iraqi civilians in the town of Haditha last year. Eight U.S. Marines are now charged in connection with that incident.

CNN's Thelma Gutierrez is joining us now live from southern California's Camp Pendleton with the latest.

It's all come down in the last couple of hours or so -- Thelma.

Update our viewers on what we know.

THELMA GUTIERREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, I can tell you that this is the culmination of a very long investigation that began nearly a year ago. A short time ago, as you mentioned, officials here at Camp Pendleton announced that criminal charges had been filed against eight Marines involved in the Haditha incident. Four of those Marines have not been charged with murder.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GUTIERREZ (voice-over): Haditha, Iraq, November 19th, 2005 -- it's 7:15 in the morning. The fourth armored vehicle carrying four Marines hits a powerful exclusive buried beneath the asphalt. The Humvee is ripped apart and a popular Marine, 20-year-old Lance Corporal Miguel Terrazas of Kilo Company is blown in half.

What happens over the next several hours in one neighborhood in Haditha is now the subject of one of the largest criminal investigations to come out of the war in Iraq.

According to Marines on the ground that day, immediately following the explosion, they came under enemy fire. They say that following the rules of engagement, they shot and killed four young men in a taxi, and the driver, when they failed to lie on the ground as ordered. But eyewitnesses say the occupants were pulled out of the taxi and shot.

The Marines then claim they pursued the enemy house to house. By the end of the day, 24 Iraqis are dead, nine of them women and children.

Were the civilians innocent civilians caught in a crossfire or victims of cold-blooded murder, as Iraqi eyewitnesses and the coroner in Iraq allege? Videotapes shot in the aftermath of the incident by an Iraqi journalism student and human rights worker was turned over to "Time" magazine. "Time" presented the video and the details they dug up on Haditha to the military, who then opened an investigation.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Based on the findings of the investigations, various charged have been preferred against four Marines relating to the deaths of the Iraqi civilians on 19 November, 2005.

GUTIERREZ: The squad leader that day, Staff Sergeant Frank Wuterich, is charged with 12 counts of murder, including one count of murder for ordering the other Marines to kill six people. The others charged with murder are Sergeant Sanick Dela Cruz, Lance Corporal Stephen Tatum and Lance Corporal Justin Sharatt.

The news has weighed heavily on his family.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We've been living on pins and needles. Our life hasn't been the same. This being here today shows our life hasn't been the same. We're upset and we have a great lawyer and all I can say is Justin will be exonerated in these charges.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

GUTIERREZ: Now, the defense attorney for Staff Sergeant Frank Wuterich says that it is very significant that the Marines were not charged with premeditated murder, contradicting stories that they had gone on a murderous rampage and that they had killed in cold blood. Also, he says that his client still lives on base, he still holds a job here at Camp Pendleton and that he is awaiting the birth of his third child at any time now.

All the Marines, we are told, are free to move about, Wolf, and they will continue to do so until the trial and the court proceedings, which should begin some time in the spring.

BLITZER: Thelma, thanks very much.

Thelma Gutierrez reporting for us from Camp Pendleton in southern California.

We'll stay on top of this story for you.

Coming up, it was a stunning crime -- a former national security adviser to the president of the United States stealing classified papers from the National Archives. And now there are some additional new shocking details of how he did it.

And the Mile High City paralyzed under feet of snow. Roads are closed, the airport shut down, thousands of travelers stranded. We'll take you there live.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We'll be watching the Carol Costello for a closer look at some other stories making news -- Carol.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, Wolf, a bit of news just in from Britain.

Remember those five prostitutes murdered in Ipswich?

Well, police have now charged a man, 48-year-old Stephen Wright, with murder. This is according to Reuters. He's the 48-year-old man -- remember, they arrested a man before him who was 37. Apparently police have let him go pending further questions. But they have charged this man, Stephen Wright, 48 years old, with the murders of all five prostitutes. We will know more, of course, we'll pass it along.

Also in the news today, new numbers show long-term mortgage rates edging slightly higher for the second week in a row. But 30-year fixed rate mortgages are still down from a year ago. Analysts say this could help spur a rebound in the housing market.

And new research shows that teenagers are increasingly saying no to so-called street drugs but more and more are abusing prescription medicines instead. The National Institute on Drug Abuse announced today that a small but growing number of teenagers report using drugs like Oxycontin, Vicodin, Ritalin and even cough medicine to get high. But the agency says that drug abuse among teens overall is on the decline.

A bit of a tease for Harry Potter fans today. Just hours ago, author J.K. Rowling announced the title of the seventh book in the series, perhaps a sign that it's almost complete. But if so, that also means Harry Potter's adventures are soon coming to an end. She's already said the seventh book will be the final one in the series. For the record, it will be called "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows."

There you have it -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, a lot of people will be happy to see that.

Thanks, Carol, for that.

Still to come, should thousands more U.S. troops be sent to Iraq to help calm the violence and to stop the insurgents?

I'll speak live with the outgoing chairman of the House Armed Services Committee and potential presidential candidate, Duncan Hunter. I'll ask him what he thinks about this and a lot more. That's coming up.

Also, Donald Trump fires right back at Rosie O'Donnell and it's getting very personal and it's getting ugly. "The Donald's" no holds barred comments about "The View's" co-host. That's coming up, as well.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM, where new pictures and information are arriving all the time. Happening now, four U.S. Marines are charged with murder in the killings of 24 Iraqi civilians. Four other U.S. Marine officers also face charges they failed to investigate the 2005 Haditha massacre. It's the biggest U.S. criminal case involving civilian deaths in the Iraq War.

A winter whiteout in Denver. Thousands of holiday travelers are stranded for a second straight day at the Mile High City's airport after a winter blizzard dumped two feet of snow. The soonest the airport may reopen could be noon tomorrow.

And NASA is closely watching the weather as Space Shuttle Discovery prepares to return home tomorrow. But showers and clouds in Florida and winds in California could force a detour to New Mexico.

I'm Wolf Blitzer and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

He's only been on the job for a few days, but new Defense Secretary Robert Gates is facing the daunting task of coming up with a plan to try to turn around the U.S. mission in Iraq, a task even more complicated than anyone can imagine.

Our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr, is joining us now live with details -- Barbara.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, Defense Secretary Robert Gates is finishing up his first week on the job, what is going to be the first of many trips to Iraq, he is now a man in a hurry.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

STARR (voice-over): Under pressure to quickly make recommendations to President Bush on how to fix the war in Iraq, Defense Secretary Robert Gates already is finding out reality on the front line is different when you are in charge.

ROBERT GATES, DEFENSE SECRETARY: I think, perhaps, the study group was here a short enough time that perhaps we didn't have the opportunity to explore in the kind of depth I have today. What struck me today was the amount of planning, the amount of thinking, the amount of coordination that had gone on, on the Iraqi side.

STARR: First up -- Gates must quickly decide whether he will overrule the Joint Chiefs and support a temporary increase in combat troops.

GEN. GEORGE JOULWAN (RET.), FORMER NATO COMMANDER: I think you're going to see some decisions in the next 30 to 45 days on what needs to be done in terms of if there is going to be an increase.

STARR: Gates also has to shepherd a $100 billion war spending request through Congress this winter. And make plans to permanently increase the size of the Army and Marine Corps. Plus, he had to recommend a new military team. John Abizaid, the top Middle East commander retires in March. George Casey, the top general for Iraq is also due to leave. Joint Chiefs Chairman General Peter Pace may be replaced when his term is up in September. While many credit Gates' managerial skills and good intentions, experts say the honeymoon inevitably will end.

COL. DOUG MACGREGOR (RET.), U.S. ARMY: This is now as being assigned as the captain of the Titanic long after it has struck the iceberg and began to sink.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

STARR: And Wolf, if all of that about Iraq wasn't enough, there is also of course Afghanistan. Mr. Gates has already expressed his concern that progress in that country also is at risk -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Lots going on, Barbara. Thank you very much. So are more troops the answer to turning around the war in Iraq? Congressman Duncan Hunter is the outgoing chairman of the House Armed Services Committee. He's also eyeing a possible presidential run in 2008. Duncan Hunter, Republican of California, is joining us live from his home district of beautiful San Diego, a good place to be, Congressman. Thanks very much for coming in.

REP. DUNCAN HUNTER (R-CA), HOUSE ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: Hey, good to be with you, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, here's what Ike Skelton, your colleague, he's going to be the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said the other day about the surge, 20,000, 30,000, maybe more troops going in to try to turn things around in the Baghdad area and the Anbar province.

Listen to Ike Skelton.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. IKE SKELTON (D), ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE: I don't think it will change a thing. It could actually exacerbate the situation even further. And I'm very concerned about the additional burden on the Army and Marine Corps.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: You've worked closely with Congressman Skelton for a long time. What do you make of his rejection of this notion which the president clearly is considering?

HUNTER: Well, Wolf, first, we've got all opinions and recommendations on this subject. I've recommended to the president that he does send in 27 additional battalions into Anbar, the Sunni triangle and Baghdad. The difference in my recommendation is I think we should take Iraqi battalions that we have trained and equipped which are in the nine provinces which are peaceful where nothing is going on who have already been trained by the American taxpayers. And rotate them into combat in Baghdad, Anbar and the Sunni triangle before we send in more American troops. That is going to develop their chain of command. It will develop unit cohesion. It will mature them. And the best thing to -- the best way to mature a combat force is actual military operation. So I agree that we need to have more people, more personnel in the Baghdad area, in the triangle and in Anbar. Let's take the Iraqis that we've already trained and equipped, some of which are 50 miles away and move them in, get them into the fight.

BLITZER: So you're not ready to support another 20 or 30,000 addition U.S. Marines and soldiers going in right now from outside of Iraq?

HUNTER: Well, I would -- let's send in the Iraqis first and see how much of this burden they can bear. But I would say this, Wolf, this president has gotten advice from all quarters. I joked to him the other day, you don't have enough advice, the study group. You've gotten it from Congress. You've got it from the Pentagon.

The president is going to come out with his adjusted Iraq policy. More than ever, it's important that the American people, and that means Democrats, and I say underline that Democrat leaders and Republicans say this is our president. We elected him. We stand behind him.

And our new policy should go from our shores with one voice, not with people picking the plan apart and saying they didn't take my recommendation. So when the president comes up with a recommendation and he moves out as commander in chief, I'm going to support him and I hope Ike Skelton and the Democrats do also.

BLITZER: Here's one the problems a lot one of your colleagues are concerned about, the Army chief of staff testified about it the other day, the Army, the Marine Corps simply on the verge of being broken right now, given the demands on these troops. Not enough overall strength in the Army and the Marine Corps, given the assignments, the missions that are currently under way. Do you agree there has to be a much bigger Army and Marine Corps?

HUNTER: Well, Wolf, we've put in, we've added over the last four years -- I've added with the great John McCuen (ph), personnel subcommittee, hask (ph), Ike Skelton and lots of others, 30,000 Army troops and 5,000 Marine troops to the force that we had four years ago. Now we did a committee defense review that we finished about two weeks ago that recommends that we add nine Marine battalions. And that we add eight Army combat brigades to the present force.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: How many additional troops -- how many specific troops would that be equivalent of?

HUNTER: That takes us from about -- from an authorized strength of 512,000 Army personnel to about 463 Army personnel in the active component, if you split that down the middle and you don't use as many guardsmen. And it would take us in the Marines from 180,000 Marines which we have today, a little under 180,000, to 188,000 Marines.

BLITZER: Do you think that's enough to get the job done?

HUNTER: Well yes, I think it's enough to get -- depending on what kind of exigencies we have over the next five, 10, 20 years, Wolf, it's enough to fight the war against terror and to carry on two conflicts that are large conflicts and right now the two conflicts that we're carrying on are Afghanistan and Iraq. Our committee defense review analyzed the two conflicts, Iraq and Afghanistan, and against that backdrop on the war against terror, we analyzed that we need to have those increases, nine Marine battalions and eight Army combat brigades.

BLITZER: All right, let me switch gears, Congressman, because it's causing a bit of a stir. Your colleague from Virginia, Virgil Goode, Republican, wrote a letter to his constituents back on December 7. Among other things, he said this, referring to this incoming member of Congress from Minnesota, Keith Ellison, the first Muslim elected to the United States Congress.

Virgil Goode wrote this. If American citizens don't wake up and adopt the Virgil Goode position on immigration, there will likely be many more Muslims elected to office and demanding the use of the Koran in his personal private ceremony. He wants to be sworn in on the Koran. What's your reaction to this exchange involving Goode and Keith Ellison?

HUNTER: Well, first, Wolf, I think I'd like to exchange 15 Democrat members of Congress, not just the gentleman that Mr. Goode is referring to. Exchange those for Republicans and then I can continue to be the chairman of the Armed Services Committee because Republicans would have a majority. But I haven't seen the letter that you're referring to.

I would simply say this, if it's an official ceremony, when we all get sworn in, actually nobody, unless it's an independent, individual member who gets sworn in an a special election, we all simply raise our right hands, and we are sworn in by the speaker.

So nobody, virtually, nobody, unless it's a ceremonial swearing- in, has a Bible. But I would say since the days of George Washington, the common bond between the people of the United States when that Supreme Court justice holds that Bible out for the president or the Speaker of the House in an official ceremony, or anybody right down through our townships and our states holds out a Bible, that Bible is a common bond of commitment and faith, not only for the person receiving the office, who is dedicating himself, but for the people of the United States, and that's been -- that's been the common bond of commitment and faith since our country started.

Now, the Koran may be a common bond of commitment and faith for individual members. But it is not the common bond of commitment and faith for the United States of America. So if it's an official ceremony where you have an officer of the United States swearing someone in, I would think the proper thing to swear them in with is a Bible. Now, understanding that if they don't have that as their faith, they don't have to swear themselves in on any religious document or text. They can simply raise their right hand. And they can be sworn in. But I would not -- I would not agree that an officer of the United States government should hold out anything other than the Bible to be sworn in on.

BLITZER: No, what he's saying, and he's being very specific, when all of the new members come to Washington, and they're sworn in by the speaker, he's not going to have a Koran, he's not going to have a Bible. They're just going to raise their hand and do the traditional swearing-in ceremony. But later...

(CROSSTALK)

HUNTER: That always happens.

BLITZER: Yes. In a private ceremony, instead of putting his hand on the Bible, he's going to put his hand on the Koran. And specifically, do you have a problem if he does that in his personal private ceremony?

HUNTER: Well, as long as it's not an official act of the United States government, this is -- people are certainly free to put their hands on any document they want to. The official action is the one that I think invokes the use of the Bible that we've used since the days of George Washington.

BLITZER: Duncan Hunter is the outgoing chairman of the House Armed Services Committee. He's running for president -- you're actually running for president, right?

HUNTER: You know, Wolf, I am. I'm going to be filing very shortly. And I've been out -- just got back from Iowa. We've done a lot of South Carolina and a little of New Hampshire. And it's a lot of fun, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, we'll speaking off and Duncan Hunter, thanks for coming in to THE SITUATION ROOM.

HUNTER: Thank you.

BLITZER: And up ahead, classified documents stolen from the National Archive, hidden under a construction trailer by a former national security adviser. We're going to show you new details of what some are calling outrageous deceit by Sandy Berger.

Plus, Rosie O'Donnell and Donald Trump squaring off in a celebrity smack down -- the insults are flying. We're going to have the detail.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We're learning new details of what official is calling an outrageous deception, a controversial incident in which former National Security Adviser Sandy Berger illegally removed classified documents from the National Archives.

Let's turn to our justice correspondent Kelli Arena. She has the latest -- Kelli.

KELLI ARENA, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: You know, Wolf if we didn't have a copy of this report in black and white, you might not believe what I'm going to tell you. It's just that shocking.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SANDY BERGER, FORMER NAT'L SECURITY ADVISER: When I was in the archives looking -- reviewing documents, I made an honest mistake. It is one that I deeply regret.

ARENA (voice-over): Former National Security Adviser Sandy Berger, before he pled guilty to mishandling classified documents. But, boy, mishandling doesn't begin to describe his actions, detailed in a report by the National Archives inspector general just made public.

CHRIS FIELD, MANAGING EDITOR, "HUMAN EVENTS": It's just outrageous the extent of the deception from, you know shocked and amazed from somebody from the Clinton administration coming up with this level of deception.

ARENA: In 2003, Berger snuck papers out of the Archives building. All of them describing the Clinton administration's reaction to a terrorist plot to attack in 2000. He was preparing to testify before the 9/11 Commission, and anticipating tough questions about the Clinton White House's handling of terror. In an interview with the Archives' inspector general, Berger explained how he got away with the papers.

(on camera): He says he walked out of the National Archives building with the documents stuffed in his pockets. It was dark, and he headed this way. He looked up and down the street, and then back at the windows of the National Archives building, then at the Department of Justice, which just happens to be across the street.

There was some construction going on right about here. Berger says that he went through the security fence, and he placed the documents under a construction trailer. Then he made his way back into the building to continue his work.

FIELD: He took classified documents out. And didn't just take out classified documents, but stuck them in the dirt under a construction trailer. I think that's probably the most outrageous.

ARENA: When Berger got the documents home, he cut three of them into small pieces and put them in the trash. Two days later when he was confronted about the missing documents, he says he tried to find the trash collector but had no luck. At first, Berger said he must have removed the documents accidentally or inadvertently, later on, he came clean. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If it had happened to them or anybody else, they would not have gotten away with this without having spent some serious time in jail.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ARENA: In a statement, Berger's lawyers say that he considers this matter closed and is pleased to have moved on. But the image, Wolf, of a senior public servant stuffing papers under a trailer, well that could stick with him for life.

BLITZER: Certainly could. Thanks very much, Kelli, for that -- Kelli Arena reporting.

Up ahead, the verbal battle between Rosie O'Donnell and Donald Trump. It's getting very ugly.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Round two today in the battle between Rosie O'Donnell and Donald Trump. Our Carol Costello is joining us now with this extraordinary, extraordinary exchange -- Carol.

COSTELLO: Remember when your mom told you if you can't say something nice, don't say it. Well, Miss O'Donnell and Mr. Trump are not taking mom's advice.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COSTELLO (voice-over): It's like rock 'em, sock 'em robots, now with Rosie O'Donnell imitating Trump's comb-over.

(APPLAUSE)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She deserves a second chance.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And I'm going to give her a second chance.

COSTELLO: And Donald Trump hitting Rosie below the belt.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Rosie's a looser.

COSTELLO: And to think all of this ugly stuff started with beautiful Miss USA and her tearful thanks to the Donald not dumping her ultra-skinny person because she was more party girl than Miss Wholesome USA.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. Trump, I want to thank you.

COSTELLO: On "The View" Rosie O'Donnell wasn't buying it, calling Trump the equivalent of a snake oil salesman and well, a hypocrite. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He's the moral authority. Left the first wife, had an affair. Left the second wife, had an affair. Had kids both times, but he's the moral compass for 20-year-olds in America.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

COSTELLO: She also accused Trump of using his daddy's money to bail him out of bankruptcy. It was more than Mr. Trump could take.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Rosie is really somebody that she's unattractive in every sense of the word. From a physical standpoint, she looks like hell. Inside, she's far worse than she is on the outside.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you plan to follow through with your threat to sue her?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well you know taking money out of her big fat ass would be probably something that's very easy and we probably will follow through with it, yes.

COSTELLO: And even though it is true some of Trump's businesses have gone temporarily bust, the Donald fired back by repeatedly calling O'Donnell fat and a slob.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can you imagine what Kelli has to put up with living with this pig face?

COSTELLO: Well Mr. Trump has made his business to oversee what beauty is. He's famous for not just running the Miss Universe pageant, but managing her morals and her weight, putting Miss Universe 1996 on a diet, whatever. The very public tit for tat has many of us tittering. As for where Trump versus O'Donnell goes now, Trump says he's filing a lawsuit, something O'Donnell expected.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I just think he's a hot bag of wind.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COSTELLO: Wolf, what more can you say?

BLITZER: Nothing. We're not going to say anything else. What we're going to do is we're going to bring Jack Cafferty in for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: The question this hour is how do you think Iran will react to a buildup of U.S. and British military forces in the Persian Gulf? We heard from Ed in Illinois.

I think the coalition would be playing right into their hands. Iran has no benefit in the reduction of sectarian violence in Iraq and it will directly result in Iran widening the funnel of money, guns and ammunition to the insurgence. It will be a long season of "Open Hunting" of American troops. It will pale in comparison to the current rate of violence. John in Connecticut, why any commander in chief in his right mind would want to cram another carrier battle group into a confined waterway like the Gulf is beyond me. It's like walking through a school yard with a kick-me sign on your back.

C.J. in Orange, Texas, the same way the U.S. would react if they moved into the Gulf of Mexico or the Caribbean. It amazes me the people running this country seem to think they have license to do as they please regardless of the rest of the world's concerns.

Michael in New Jersey, who cares how Iran reacts. Iran is an enemy and either the U.S. or Israel will have to ultimately take out their entire nuclear program. Iran is a dangerous country, much more so than Iraq.

And Joseph in Montana writes, Iran's president will give some paranoid accusation and blame all the ills in the Middle East on the United States. Pretty standard stuff. He will find some way to blame it on Israel. Pretty standard stuff. Get ready for Holy Jihad. Pretty standard stuff.

You want to really get under his skin? Send him a Christmas card. If you didn't see your e-mail here, you can go to CNN.com/CaffertyFile and read more of these online -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jack thank you for that.

Up next, the battle of the Yule logs, the high tech trying to extinguish the competition. We'll tell you what's going on.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: It's the battle of the televised Yule logs. Here's CNN's Jeanne Moos with our "Welcome to the Future" report.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Talk about fighting fire with fire...

(MUSIC)

MOOS: ... a televised Yule log for those who don't have a real fireplace. The question is which fire brings more joy to the world?

(MUSIC)

MOOS: In this corner, the original, the WPIX Yule log.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You got to admit, it's pretty mesmerizing.

(MUSIC)

MOOS: This blazing Yule was dreamed up in 1966 by the general manager of New York City station, WPIX.

(MUSIC)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The world's first music video.

MOOS: It has some bizarre touches like the creepy dog.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't understand why you would hang a small child over a fireplace.

MOOS: In 1999, the fire spread to the Internet.

(MUSIC)

MOOS: This log has its own fan Web site.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Really sucks you in, doesn't it.

MOOS: But now it's being sucker punched.

(MUSIC)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: On December 25, the Yule log is back!

MOOS: Say it ain't so, Santa! This Yule log's in high definition.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are taking the Yule log to a new level.

MOOS: This Yule log even crackles and all HD network called INHD made what amounts to a designer Yule log video.

JASON PATTON, INHD: We went to Ron Roy in Chicago, he does mood videos.

MOOS: But it hasn't blackened the mood of the original Yule loggers.

JULIE O'NEIL, WPIX PROGRAM DIRECTOR: No one seems to get it right. I mean honestly they don't have the end irons.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Theirs is like 30 years old. It's been the same thing over and over.

MOOS: The original Yule log is a six and a half minute loop. The NHD version is a 45-minute loop, which shocks from various angles.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Here's your extreme close up. Don't singe your hair.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Don't burn yourself.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We debuted this on our network in 2003.

MOOS: So which log is hotter? Well, if you can find NHD way up in the nosebleed channels, it's a 24-hour log.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Burning all Christmas Day. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Personally, I think that three hours is enough log.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: But you're the grinch who stole the Yule log.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All right, maybe I stole it, but we made it better.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I say thank you for trying to imitate the original.

MOOS: The folks at WPIX fear that since NHD is geared towards man, the competition's fire would be bigger.

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: A really big log.

MOOS: So how do the logs stack up? About 13 and a half.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, 23.

MOOS: Oh, but it's the old flame you never forget.

(MUSIC)

MOOS: Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Jeanne Moos, thanks very much. And remember we're here in THE SITUATION ROOM weekday afternoons from 4:00 to 6:00 p.m. Eastern, back for another hour at 7:00 p.m. Eastern. That's one hour from now. Until then, thanks for watching.

"LOU DOBBS TONIGHT" starts right now. Kitty Pilgrim is sitting in -- Kitty.

TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.voxant.com

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