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THE SITUATION ROOM

Should More Troops Be Sent to Iraq?

Aired December 21, 2006 - 19:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks very much, Kitty. And to our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM where new pictures and information are arriving all the time. Standing by CNN reporters across the United States and around the world to bring you tonight's top stories.
Happening now, as U.S. Marines are charged with the murder in the deaths of two dozen Iraqi civilians, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice says Iraq is worth the investment. Does that mean the U.S. should send more troops in?

His plans to use the Koran in the swearing-in ceremony have touched off a raging controversy. One soon to be colleague now wants to keep Muslims out of the country. I'll have an exclusive interview with Congressman-elect Keith Ellison, the first Muslim elected to the U.S. Congress.

And it all started with Miss USA going into rehab, now it's a knock-down, drag-out war of words between Rosie O'Donnell and Donald Trump. We'll tell you what they're fighting about -- all that coming up.

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

The U.S. Marine Corps today charged four of its own with murder. Four more Marines, all officers are charged with failing to investigate the deaths of 24 Iraqi civilians last year in Haditha. It's one of the most serious allegations of misconduct to arise from the bloody war in Iraq.

CNN's Thelma Gutierrez has the story from Camp Pendleton in California.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

THELMA GUTIERREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Haditha, Iraq, November 19, 2005. It's 7:15 in the morning. The fourth armored vehicle carrying four Marines hits a powerful explosive 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 claimed 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 victims caught in the crossfire or victims of cold-blooded murder as Iraqi eyewitnesses and the coroner in Iraq allege?

Videotape 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.

COL. STEWART NAVARRE, U.S. MARINE CORPS: Based on the findings of the investigation, various charges 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 De La Cruz, Lance Corporal Stephen Tatum, and Lance Corporal Justin Sharratt. The news has weighed heavily on his family.

DARRYL SHARRATT, FATHER OF MARINE: 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. All I can say is Justin will be exonerated in these charges.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: That was Thelma Gutierrez reporting for us from Camp Pendleton in California.

Meanwhile, the defense secretary, Robert Gates is getting a first-hand look at the situation in Iraq. He's hearing first hand what some think he should do about it. When he met with a group of American soldiers over breakfast today, the troops asked him to send more troops into Iraq.

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

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SR. PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: The question is how much say should frontline troops have in whether the U.S. pursues an option of surging tens of thousands of additional troops into Baghdad? That was a question that came up at a breakfast meeting between Robert Gates, the new defense secretary, and a small but representative sample of U.S. soldiers here in Baghdad. When Gates asked them the question, would you like to see more U.S. troops in Baghdad; the answer was a resounding yes. Specialist Jason Glenn's answer was typical.

VOICE OF SPEC. JASON GLENN, U.S. ARMY, DEPLOYED TO IRAQ: I really think we need more troops here. I really think we need more troops in Iraq. I'm just thinking that maybe more presence on the ground, more troops 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: Other soldiers quickly chimed in that they would also like to see more U.S. troops here. When Gates asked how the Iraqi troops were doing, one soldier said they are doing OK, but they need to get better. Another said that they thought having more troops here would give the U.S. more time to integrate troops into the Iraqi units and strengthen them, as well.

The attitude of the troops here is they would like to stay and succeed rather than leave. And that might require more troops. Now, Gates went on from that breakfast meeting to meet with Iraqi leaders. He's looking from them for some kind of commitment of what they would do to take advantage of a lull in the violence if the U.S. were to surge troops in to bring the violence down. And then Gates will factor all of these decisions, the recommendations of the commanders, the sentiments of the troops, the promises of the Iraqi government when he makes his recommendation to President Bush likely some time next week.

Jamie McIntyre, CNN, Baghdad.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice says the war in Iraq has been longer and tougher than she ever anticipated, but she says the U.S. can still win there, telling The Associated Press that Iraq, and I'm quoting now, "is worth the investment in American lives and dollars." And in a subsequent television interview, Secretary Rice says that President Bush remains firmly committed to the war.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CONDOLEEZZA RICE, SECRETARY OF STATE: There is no doubt that the president went into this phase with the same conviction and the same commitment that he's held throughout this war. And that is that the decision to go into Iraq was because it was in the interest and security interest of the United States to do so, and the failure in Iraq would have grave circumstances, grave consequences for American interests, for the interests of our friends and allies in the region, and indeed for global security. So that's not going to change.

That conviction, that commitment is not going to change. The president has been very open to all kinds of suggestions as to how to meet the commitment to help an Iraqi government be able to sustain itself and defend itself and govern. And I would just note it's very interesting when the Baker/Hamilton Commission came out, that was the same conviction, that very illustrious group of Americans held that we can't afford to have a failure in Iraq. And so I've noticed, Margaret, that really the Baker/Hamilton Commission, but also since the elections, a renewed spirit by Americans, whatever their views of the decision to go to war, a renewed spirit in the Congress, among outside experts, that the real issue is how do we succeed under the circumstances.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: The secretary interviewed on the "NEWSHOUR" with Jim Lehrer.

Let's check in with Jack Cafferty for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: You remember before we invaded Iraq the Bush administration said that the war wouldn't cost very much? Initially I think they were suggesting somewhere around 50 billion, $60 billion tops. Now almost four years later with 3,000 U.S. service members almost killed, 20,000 U.S. service members seriously wounded, the cost of this war is at $350 billion and climbing. Well guess what?

The Associated Press is reporting the Pentagon wants another $100 billion to fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan this year. That would bring the cost of those wars just for this fiscal year to $170 billion. That is more than $3 billion a week. Gee, it's not like we couldn't use the money around here in the states, right? They said it would cost about $2 billion to build a fence along 700 miles of the Mexican border. Less than one week expenditure for war, fence built.

If approved, the total cost of the war in Iraq will be close to half a trillion dollars so far and there are a lot of people who would love to know exactly what it is we have bought with all that money besides grief and bloodshed as far as the eye can see. The question this hour is this.

Should another $170 billion of your money be used to finance another year of war? E-mail your thoughts to CaffertyFile@CNN.com or go to CNN.com/CaffertyFile -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Did you notice that the additional request was for $99.7 billion? Not $100 billion, 99.7. It's sort of like when you go to Sears and they are advertising something for $99 as opposed to $100. It makes you feel well I'm not spending 100, maybe it's less.

CAFFERTY: Yes, but I guess when you are up there -- that far up into the stratosphere the differences are very slight I think.

BLITZER: I think you're probably right. I know you're right, Jack. Thanks very much -- 99.7, not much different from $100 billion.

Let's check in with Carol Costello. She's in New York, but she's following this blizzard, these blizzard conditions out in the Denver, Colorado area, also other parts of the Midwest as well, the Rocky Mountain area. What's going on, Carol? CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Well these pictures are from Denver Colorado. We pulled this off the satellite and take a look. Keep in mind Denver is in a state of emergency. The National Guard has been called out. It's very difficult to get through the streets. And imagine if this happened in your home -- these poor guys shoveling snow on the roof to try to put out this fire.

The roads in Denver virtually un-passable, that's got to have an effect on the fire trucks getting there. Who knows if they have phone service or electricity, but things are very tough in Denver, Colorado, tonight. In fact, the airport is still closed. Thousands of flights have been canceled, just a terrible situation out there. And gees, it might not be over for a couple of days, although the snow seems to have stopped coming down, for the time being at least, Wolf.

BLITZER: And they're saying they're not going to open up the Denver International Airport, at least until noon tomorrow, Friday. We will stay on top of this story. A pretty horrific situation over there and clearly firefighters having a difficult time getting through the streets to get there and help these poor individuals try to put out that fire. Thanks Carol for that. Carol will stay on top of this story for us.

Coming up, Laura Bush speaking out about her skin cancer -- the first lady explaining why she didn't go public sooner. Plus, is the Bush dynasty coming to an end? Find out why Jeb Bush, the Florida governor, says he has no political future.

And fighting words -- Rosie O'Donnell and Donald Trump trading nasty insults over Miss USA. Find out why the real estate mogul is now threatening to sue. CNN spoke to him today. You're going to hear what he had to say.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: First Lady Laura Bush speaking publicly now about her skin cancer scare. She's talking about when she first noticed it, the treatment she underwent, and why she didn't go public with the news when it happened last month.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LAURA BUSH, FIRST LADY: It never occurred to me to make it public. It was very minor. I thought it was an insect bite actually when I first got it and then it just didn't get well and so we had it biopsied before the election and found out that it was squamous cell carcinoma, which is not a very serious -- not a serious skin cancer like melanoma would be. So it just didn't occur to me to announce it.

Also, of course, I am a private citizen. I mean I have to say that, as well. I don't release the results of my regular physicals like the president does, of course. And so it just never really occurred to me. But I'm glad it's out because I'm glad that I think people will pay attention. (END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: The first lady speaking very, very candidly about a potentially serious problem. Thank God it's not very serious. They caught it in time.

The outgoing Florida governor, Jeb Bush, is as popular in the Sunshine State as polls show his brother is unpopular with voters nationwide. But does that necessarily translate into a possible, possible run for the White House?

CNN's Mary Snow is in New York with the story -- Mary.

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, political observers say that having the last name Bush in 2008 won't be a good thing, but some say the idea that Jeb Bush is done with politics for good is far-fetched.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SNOW (voice-over): Whatever the language, Republican Florida Governor Jeb Bush insists the message is the same. Asked by Spanish- language reporters Wednesday about his political future for 2008, Bush said, "No tengo futuro (ph)" -- "I don't have a future."

Questions have been asked for years about whether Jeb Bush would try to follow in the footsteps of his father and brother to the White House. This was Governor Bush in 2004.

GOV. JEB BUSH (R), FLORIDA: I'm not running for president in 2008.

QUESTION: Might you change your mind between now...

J. BUSH: No.

(LAUGHTER)

J. BUSH God.

QUESTION: Why not?

J. BUSH: This is -- why -- why am I not believable on this subject? This is driving me nuts.

SNOW: It may have been driving him nuts, but, in an interview with Larry King last year, his own father, former President Bush, said he would like to see his son run for president.

LARRY KING, CNN ANCHOR: Would you want Jeb to run? He says no.

GEORGE H.W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Someday, I would, yes.

SNOW: The elder Bush also said the timing is wrong in 2008 for his son. TOM DEFRANK, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, "NEW YORK DAILY NEWS": And I do believe that, in '08, there's still going to be some Bush fatigue, or as a Republican governor of Texas recently said to me, Bush burnout.

(CROSSTALK)

SNOW: While the president's popularity has been hard-hit, a poll in Florida shows his younger brother still remains popular, despite the controversies of his two terms, one of them being the 2000 presidential recount. And the other is his interference in the Terri Schiavo right-to-die case.

As Jeb Bush's term expires, it has been an emotional time for the Bush family, as evidenced at a recent event in Florida, when former President Bush began crying while paying tribute to his son.

G.H.W. BUSH: We love this guy.

(APPLAUSE)

SNOW: And some say, while Jeb Bush may not run for office in 2008, they don't believe the Florida governor is through with politics.

DEFRANK: Some of the perspective nominees in 2008 have all floated Jeb's name as a possible vice presidential running mate. That's testament, I think, to the fact that he's very popular and viewed very, very highly in the Republican Party.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SNOW: Veteran political reporter Tom DeFrank says he expects the Republican Party may one day talk to Jeb Bush, but not in 2008 -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Mary, thank you for that.

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

Also, a Koran controversy in a growing war of words -- a Republican congressman refusing to back down from remarks about Muslims many people are saying are totally offensive and more lawmakers weighing in now on plans by one by congressman-elect to take his oath on Islam's holy book. We're going to speak with the first Muslim elected to the United States Congress, Keith Ellison. Our exclusive interview on all of this, that's coming up.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We are learning new details of what one official is calling an outrageous deception, a controversial incident in which the former national security adviser, Sandy Berger, illegally removed classified documents from the National Archives.

Our justice correspondent Kelli Arena is joining us now with the latest -- Kelli.

KELLI ARENA, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf you know this report was prepared back in 2005, but it just became public. And the new tales in it -- the new details in it are really pretty embarrassing.

(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 (voice-over): 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 he's pleased to have moved on -- Wolf.

BLITZER: You remember, Kelli, back in July 2004 when you were first reporting about all of these allegations, you were pretty widely criticized -- I don't know how widely -- but you were criticized by some of the liberal bloggers for going too far and buying into the White House spin. Do you remember that?

ARENA: You know how can I forget that, Wolf?

BLITZER: Clearly now with hindsight, certainly and even then your reporting was right on as it always is. Kelli Arena reporting for us as she always does, first-class reporter. Thanks Kelli for that.

ARENA: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: And just ahead, an incoming congressman planning to take the oath on the Koran. It's sparking a huge controversy that's growing tonight. I'll talk about it with Keith Ellison. He's the first Muslim ever elected to the U.S. Congress.

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

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, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice saying the war in Iraq is worth the investment in American lives and dollars. She tells The Associated Press the U.S. can win in Iraq, although she concedes the war has been longer and more difficult than she expected.

Also Denver, Colorado, paralyzed tonight once again by a huge snowstorm. The airport closed until tomorrow, affecting tens of thousands of travelers nationwide -- road travel not much easier with some roads closed by deep drifts.

And New Jersey tonight becoming the third state to offer same-sex couples civil unions. Governor Jon Corzine signed the legislation today, but leaving many wanting. Gay marriage supporters say it's still not full equality, while opponents vow to push for an amendment to the state constitution banning gay marriage.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM. Controversy growing tonight over the use of the Koran or a congressional swearing-in and one lawmaker, Virginia Republican Virgil Goode, is coming under attack for remarks many people find 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. We're going to be speaking with Keith Ellison in a moment. But first, let's get some background. What happened today?

We will turn to CNN's Brian Todd. He's joining us from Goode's home district in Rocky Mount, Virginia -- Brian.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we came down to this small town today to see if Representative Goode could clarify any of his recent remarks that have stirred up so much controversy. Well he certainly did clarify them. He's not only unrepentant, he's outright defiant.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TODD (voice-over): Congressman Virgil Goode is proud to have the 10 Commandments on his office wall. He's not about to take back what he wrote about an incoming Muslim Congressman, no matter who is offended.

REP. VIRGIL GOODE (R), VIRGINIA: No. I do not apologize and I do not retract my letter. The letter stands for itself.

KEITH ELLISON (D), MINNESOTA CONG.-ELECT: My name is Keith Ellison, I'm running for United States Congress.

TODD: The letter was about incoming Democratic Congressman Keith Ellison of Minnesota, the first Muslim elected to Congress, who plans to use the Koran at his unofficial swearing in.

Responding to letters from constituents, Goode wrote back, "I do not subscribe to using the Koran in any way. 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."

When we pressed Goode on whether he's against Ellison using the Koran at his swearing in...

GOODE: That's the call for the voters in that district in Minnesota on whom they elect.

TODD: ... but then he got to his broader concern.

GOODE: I fear that in the next century, we will have many more Muslims in the United States if we do not adopt strict immigration policies.

TODD: Reaction is blistering, especially from Muslim groups.

NIHAD AWAD, COUNCIL ON AMERICAN ISLAMIC RELATIONS: We were shocked to learn that Congressman Goode holds these kinds of view against Muslims and immigrants, in general. It's appalling to see an elected official to a national office to hold such bigoted and intolerant views.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: Now, that official from the Council on American Islamic Relations is calling for the House Republican leadership to repudiate Mr. Goode's comments. We've been trying all day to reach the press secretaries of outgoing House Speaker Dennis Hastert and outgoing House Majority Leader John Boehner. They have not returned our phone calls and e-mails -- Wolf.

BLITZER: We invited Representative Goode to be here in THE SITUATION ROOM tonight. He declined our invitation. Thanks, Brian, for that.

So what does Congressman-elect Keith Ellison think about the escalating Koran controversy? He joined me from Minnesota just a short while ago for an exclusive interview.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ELLISON: 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 that 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 elected 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: Do you think he's a bigot?

ELLISON: You know what? 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 that 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'm officially sworn in, I will do it the same, exact way as every other Congressperson-elect who is sworn in. We will all stand up and, in unison, lift our hand and swear to uphold that Constitution.

And then 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 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 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 swear to uphold that Constitution.

BLITZER: You know, I'm sure, what the radio talk show host Dennis Prager said at the end of the November that caused 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 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, that we should know that the basis of our democracy is the Constitution which expressly prohibits the application of a religious test to hold elected 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 of 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'm not angered 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 Natchitoches (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.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Other lawmakers also weighing in on the Congressman- elect and the controversy over the Koran, including the outgoing chairman of the House Armed Services Committee and presidential candidate Duncan Hunter. I asked him for his reaction to the controversy.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. DUNCAN HUNTER (R), CALIFORNIA: I would simply say this, that 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 on 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 that 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 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 to 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 agree that an officer of the United States government should hold out anything other than the Bible to be sworn in on.

BLITZER: What he's saying, and he's being very specific, when all of the new members come to Washington and are 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 in a...

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: 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 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 am 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 New Hampshire. And it's a lot of fun, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right.

We will be speaking often. Duncan Hunter, thanks for coming into the SITUATION ROOM.

HUNTER: Thank you.

BLITZER: And still ahead tonight, it all started with a controversy over a beauty queen but now it's getting very ugly. You won't believe that Donald Trump and Rosie O'Donnell are saying about each other.

Also, Harry Potter's secret. J.K. Rowling lets the cat out of the bag on the final book.

Stay with us.

You're in the SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: The war of words between Donald Trump and Rosie O'Donnell is escalating and it's getting very personal. It's getting very, very ugly.

Let's turn to CNN's Carol Costello. She's in New York with round two of this battle -- Carol.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, sometimes two people disagree. They call other names. But this is no standard war of words. This is a celebrity smackdown.

(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 (on camera): OK. Barbara Walters, the head honcho of "The View," who was out of the country, sent us this statement.

"Donald Trump is a personal friend of mine," she says, "and has been a good friend to "The View" for many years. I'm sorry there is friction between Donald and Rosie. That said, I do not regret for one moment my choice to hire Rosie O'Donnell as the moderator of "The View". I certainly hope and expect that this tempest will pass quickly."

There you have it.

BLITZER: I suspect it won;t.

Thanks very much for that.

I want to just let our viewers know if you want more on the story, here's what you've got to do: watch "LARRY KING LIVE" tonight. Donald Trump, among Larry's guests tonight. "LARRY KING LIVE" airs 9:00 p.m. Eastern. I think you're going to want to tune in for this.

And there's another twist to this story involving a contender for next year's Miss USA title. Pageant officials today fired -- yes, fired -- Miss Nevada. This comes after some racy photos of Katie Rees, the now former Miss Nevada, appeared on the Internet. They show her kissing women and partly disrobing. Rees' attorney says his client was only 17 years old when the photos were taken and what I'm quoting now, "had a lapse in judgment".

Author J.K. Rowling has announced the seventh and final book in the Harry Potter series. But instead of just telling you, why not discover the name for yourself?

For that, we'll turn to our Internet reporter Abbi Tatton. She has the secret website -- Abbi.

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, J.K. Rowling made Harry Potter fans work for this piece of information, launching this game on her website at 7:00 a.m. today. Fans had to discover first of all how to open this door. When they managed to do so, they were taken to a game of Hangman. Then when they got the Hangman game, they had to work out the title of the book. It didn't take them that long. The name was discovered within 40 minutes and posted on fan sites.

I'm going to show it right now, so if you don't want to know it and play the game yourself, look away.

There it is. I'm not saying the name.

But the name's out, but there's still waiting to be done -- publisher Scholastic says that there's no publication date as yet. They don't even know when they're going to get the manuscript -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thank you for that. I think a lot of our viewers are going to want to go to the website and play that game.

Up ahead, three billion dollars a week. Three billion dollars a week. That's the proposed spending plan in Iraq for this fiscal year.

Jack Cafferty wants to know if it's worth it. He's taking your e-mail.

Plus, a flaming Christmas competition. Jeanne Moos on the high- def Yule log.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Let's check back with Jack for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: It's hard to say this number without choking. The question is, should another $170 billion of our taxpayer money be used to finance yet another year of the war?

Jason in Scottsdale, Arizona. "$170 billion could go to hire more teachers, build more schools, fix our broken borders, and help those in the Gulf states rebuild their lives. What is the purpose of this war again? Wasn't it to find WMD?"

Elizabeth in Ohio. "Jack, I can think of a dozen ways to spend $170 billion, none of which involve a war in Iraq. But the president isn't interested in the opinions of a housewife from Ohio, just in keeping the ultra-conservative base of the Republican Party off his neck for the next two years. So instead of building homes for the refugees from Hurricane Katrina, or saving lives threatened by HIV/AIDS in Africa, he'll keep throwing money down the deep, dark hole that is Iraq. What a legacy."

Jarrod in Alabama: "If it takes another $170 billion to keep our country safe from extremists and Islamic fascists, I'm all for it. I'm one who looks at the big picture, and that picture shows me that if we don't win this war against these horrible terrorists in their part of the world, then they'll be knocking on our doorsteps again. We have to win this war at all costs. I just wish the cost was not $170 billion."

Gary in Beacon, New York, "I don't feel any of us, other than the top 1 percent of the income earners, should be financing Halliburton at all and the rest of Dick Cheney's cabal. Bring the troops home now, and start the impeachment proceedings."

And Michael in Arlington, Virginia, "Not until every home in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast is rebuilt."

If you didn't see your e-mail here, go to CNN.com/caffertyfile, where you can read more of these online -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thank you, Jack, for that. I want to find out what's coming up at the top of the hour on "PAULA ZAHN NOW." John King filling in for Paula tonight -- John.

JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks, Wolf. At the top of the hour, some troubling effects of the Iraq war here on the home front. We are going in-depth on the alarming increase in violence, even suicide among both men and women who are veterans.

Tonight's top health story is about an ingredient in red wine that can help you live longer. There is a way to get it without the alcohol. All that at the top of the hour, Wolf.

BLITZER: Thank you very much, John, for that. We'll be watching.

Up ahead, fighting fire with fire. A Christmas tradition goes high-tech for some hot competition. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: A Christmas day tradition is getting some heated competition. It's the cozy, familiar, televised yule log versus its fired-up high-tech challenger. CNN's Jeanne Moos has our "Welcome to the Future" report.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Talk about fighting fire with fire. A televised yule log for those who don't have a real fireplace. The question is, which fire brings more joy to the world?

In this corner, the original, the WPIX yule log.

JULIE O'NEIL, WPIX PROGRAM DIRECTOR: You have to admit it's pretty mesmerizing.

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

O'NEIL: The world's first music video.

MOOS: It had some bizarre touches, like the creepy doing.

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

MOOS: In 1999, the fire spread to the Internet. This log has its own fan Web site.

O'NEIL: Really sucks you in, doesn't it?

MOOS: But now it's being sucker punched.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: On December 25th, the yule log is back.

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

JASON PATTON, INHD: We are taking the yule log to a new level.

MOOS: This yule log even crackles. An all-HD network called INHD made what amounts to a designer yule log video.

PATTON: We went to Ron Roy in California. He does mood videos.

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

O'NEIL: No one seems to get it right. I mean, honestly, they don't have the andirons.

PATTON: 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 INHD version is a 45-minute loop, with shots from various angles.

PATTON: Here is your extreme close-up. Don't singe your hair. MOOS: Don't burn yourself.

PATTON: We debuted this on our network in 2003.

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

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Burning all Christmas day.

O'NEIL: Personally, I think that three hours is enough log.

MOOS: But you are the Grinch who stole the yule log.

PATTON: Maybe I stole it, but we made it better.

O'NEIL: I say thank you for trying to imitate the original.

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

(on camera): A big log?

O'NEIL: A really big log.

MOOS (voice-over): So how do the logs stack up?

(on camera): It's about 13 and a half.

Yes, 23.

(voice-over): Yes, but it's the old flame you never forget.

Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: That's it. Remember, we are in THE SITUATION ROOM weekday afternoon 4:00 to 6:00 a.m. Eastern, back for another hour at 7:00 p.m. Eastern. Thanks for watching.

Up next, "PAULA ZAHN NOW." John King in for Paula tonight -- John.

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