Skip to main content


Return to Transcripts main page


Denver Airport Reopens; Will U.S. Bring Back the Draft?

Aired December 22, 2006 - 19:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Kitty, thank you very much. 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 -- a holiday travel nightmare from snow-covered runways to flooded roadways, millions of Americans are affected by winter weather. We're live on the scene tonight in Denver.

During the last unpopular American war, protesters burned their draft cards. A generation later, will the government try to bring back the draft to build a bigger military?

And a dramatic turn of events in the Duke University lacrosse scandal -- rape charges against three players are now dropped, but very serious accusations remain. We're going to tell you why defense attorneys right now are furious.

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

Happening right now, millions of Americans trying to get home for the holidays only to find the weather making it extremely difficult, if not impossible -- air travel, a nightmare for many tonight in snow- covered Denver and far beyond. Our meteorologist Rob Marciano is joining us now live from the Denver International Airport where there's -- it's been reopened but there's a huge backlog. We see those long lines behind you, Rob.

ROB MARCIANO, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Yes, the lines have been amazing, Wolf, all day long. They have decreased a little bit as we get later on in to the day, and one of the reasons is that the airlines specifically frontier made an announcement about an hour and a half ago, they said if you don't have a confirmed ticket today, go home. We cannot help you any longer.

As you can imagine that led to some frustration, but it wasn't a surprise to many folks either. The one line you do want to be in, that has been anywhere from an hour and a half to two hours long, is the line behind me. And you know you wouldn't hear this too often, but it's the security line. And even though folks have been waiting an hour and a half, two hours to get through security, they have been the happy ones. They have been the lucky ones.

They're the ones who have confirmed tickets, confirmed seats, checked bags and are on their way to the gates where their airplanes wait for them to load and finally take off. This airport closed for almost 48 hours, hasn't been closed since the blizzard of '03. And this latest blizzard really shut it down dramatically. Earlier today, lines to check in almost two hours long, lines if you got booted from a flight and you had -- you didn't have a confirmed seat, needed to rebook, that line was three and a half hours long and we followed one young lady up to the front to see just what it takes to get to where you need to be, and this is what she went through.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hi. I'm hoping you can get me to Jacksonville. I can do Tampa, Gainesville, Orlando. Are you printing something? When I think -- OK, please, even if I can get to Georgia or somewhere close, I can rent a car and take the rest of the way by myself. So...

I'm even willing to fly half way and then wait until the following day after that to fly if I need to, if I can get out of here today or (UNINTELLIGIBLE) tomorrow.



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Out of Washington Dulles, back through Chicago. From Chicago to Jacksonville.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: However, getting to you Dulles today.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So let's look at that.


MARCIANO: Getting her to Dulles today but she had to fly standby just to get to Dulles to stay overnight there, to get up tomorrow morning, go from Dulles to Chicago and then Chicago to Jacksonville. The question is did she make that standby flight? We're just getting word she didn't. But she's confirmed on a later flight. She's going to see her dad in Jacksonville.

She just wanted it get there for Christmas. One of the many good stories we've heard, Wolf. Some folks, you know they just know you can't fight Mother Nature. They just want to get to where they need to be for the holidays no matter how long it takes, two, three, up to four segments. That's not the only story we heard.

Word of advice, if you have to come out here tomorrow, folks have been missing their flights because they haven't come -- they've come two hours ahead of time. You've got to be out here three hours ahead of time to really make sure you get on your flight -- Wolf.

BLITZER: What a nightmare because of the weather. Rob thank you very much for that.

Meanwhile, astronauts aboard the space shuttle Discovery also had their travel schedule thrown off because of bad weather. But Discovery was able to land in Florida less than two hours ago safely, but a little later than originally planned.

CNN's John Zarrella is at the Kennedy Space Center tonight. He's on the phone with us with more. It was touch and go. The weather was not great, but in the end, it worked out beautifully, John.

JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (via phone): That's right, Wolf. You know in fact it's that same weather system that Rob Marciano is stuck in out there in Denver making its way across to the East Coast that caused a lot of the consternation here for NASA today. The vehicle on the ground right now, but we weren't sure they would be coming back to the Kennedy Space Center earlier today. At first it looked they might be going to Edwards Air Force Base, then crosswinds at Edwards Air Force Base threw the monkey wrench in to that plan.

The other option was White Sands in New Mexico. But NASA opted late this afternoon to come on in to the Kennedy Space Center, give it a go here. The weather was going to be just good enough to get them in here to Kennedy Space Center. So the commander, Mark Polansky, lined the shuttle up with the runway. On his heads-up display you could see through the clouds down here to north/south landing at the landing strip here. Brought the vehicle in, flared it out over the runway and, of course, the drag shoot deployed bringing the vehicle in to a nice, clean stop here right down the center line of the runway, and bringing to an end a 13-day mission, a very exciting mission for NASA, very important mission.

Of course, it was extended a day because of the addition of the fourth space walk on Monday in order to retract a bulky solar array on the international space station. But that, of course, reduced the number of options they had for landing days from three to two, because they extended the mission, which really made it critical for them to get home today, and fortunately, the weather here at the Cape was just good enough, barely, to allow for a landing here which is where they wanted to come home to, back here to Kennedy, where the families of the astronauts, of course were waiting for them, and we are still now waiting for the astronauts to come out of the shuttle Discovery and put a complete end to this very successful mission for NASA -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Especially complete on the eve of Christmas and New Year, a lot of happy families out there where you are. Thanks, John, very much.

Also at this hour, the defense secretary Robert Gates is headed home from Iraq where he met with American troops and their commanders along with Iraqi officials.

CNN's senior Pentagon correspondent Jamie McIntyre has been the only television correspondent traveling with the secretary.

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SR. PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Defense Secretary Robert Gates wrapped up his three-day tour of Iraq and headed back to Washington, armed with conflicting military assessments about the advisability of a surge of additional U.S. forces to bring violence here in Baghdad under control. Gates found popular support for the idea from a select group of low-ranking U.S. soldiers who serve on the front lines, and CNN has learned at least some mid-level commanders support the idea as well.

One American Army general told CNN in private quote, "It would make a real difference in Baghdad. It would help set conditions for a political solution." The officer who commands troops in Baghdad said the option currently getting serious consideration calls for five U.S. brigades and three Iraqi Army brigades to be sent in to Baghdad early next year. That would provide a surge of roughly 30,000 troops including the several thousand Iraqi army troops.

The most senior commanders here continue to express reservations about the concept fearing unless a surge is linked to a clear military objective that helps Iraq take control it will only be a temporary success and ultimately counter productive. Gates said he never discussed specific troop numbers with Iraq's Prime Minister Nouri al- Maliki and insists he hasn't made up his mind if a surge is the way to go, but Gates will be able to report to President Bush that opposition to the surge option is not universal among U.S. commanders and that if the president adopts it he can say what he's doing is what some generals think is best -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jamie McIntyre in Baghdad for us. Thank you.

And as the Bush administration weighs a change of course in Iraq, the president will hold a high-level huddle over at Camp David in Maryland tomorrow morning.

Let's go straight to our White House correspondent Suzanne Malveaux. Walk us through what happens next, Suzanne.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, they're really not wasting any time. This is happening tomorrow morning at Camp David and the president is going to meeting with his Secretary of Defense, Bob Gates. Gates is, of course, going to brief him on his trip to Iraq, the two-day trip, when he talked to commanders on the ground as well as those troops.

Also in this high-level meeting his national security team, Secretary Rice, national security adviser Stephen Hadley, all of them will put their heads together and listen about what Gates has to say about his trip. We understand after Christmas as well it's going to be a similar meeting that's taking place at the Crawford ranch. Now Wolf, everybody says here it is still in consultation mode.

There are no decisions that have been made, but certainly there is that strategy that they are seriously considering the surge of U.S. troops into Baghdad while the Iraqi government tries to get its political house in order. Now the president is going to come back to the White House January 1 and then we've been told they hope -- they hope -- the first week, perhaps it will spill into the second week, he'll address the nation about his new plan -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Suzanne at the White House. Thank you for that.

Iraq, by the way, isn't the only burden on the president right now. As this year draws to a close, a majority of Americans also are voicing deep concerns about his character. In our new poll, 61 percent of those surveyed say Mr. Bush does not inspire their confidence. Fifty-nine percent say he doesn't share their views on the issues and 55 percent say the president does not share their values.

Coming up, lawyers for members of the Duke University lacrosse team say they're still frustrated even after rape charges against their clients were dropped -- tonight, new developments in the case that shocked the university and the nation.

Plus, critics accuse him of being bigoted against Islam but the people in his hometown see Congressman Virgil Goode very differently. We'll examine the roots of a religious controversy.

And they're still at it -- Rosie O'Donnell versus Donald Trump. What more could these feuding celebrities say to slam one another? Find out -- all that coming up right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Looking at some live pictures we're getting from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Members of the crew, seven astronauts arrived about almost two hours ago at the Kennedy Space Center. Space shuttle Discovery, they're being received now by authorities there, family members, friends, obviously all smiles -- a very, very happy development at the Kennedy Space Center.

There are some new developments tonight in the Duke University lacrosse scandal. Rape charges against the three accused players have now been dropped. CNN's Jason Carroll has been covering the story since it broke.

He's joining us from New York with details. The rape charges may have been dropped, but other serious allegations remain, Jason.

JASON CARROLL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Most definitely. And at this point, defense attorneys are trying to determine for that reason exactly what they're next move is going to be, Wolf, but at this point they say these most recent developments prove what they've been saying all along. That is basically that the prosecution has no case.


CARROLL (voice-over): They are no longer accused of rape. This after the alleged victim now says she can't be certain former Duke University lacrosse players, Reed Sullivan, Collin Finnerty and Dave Evans raped her during a party last March. The Durham District Attorney Michael Nifong dropped the rape charges following an interview with the accuser on Thursday. He would not speak about the case but in court documents filed Friday, Nifong wrote -- she initially believed that she had been vaginally penetrated by a male sex organ. She can no longer testify with certainty. Since there is no scientific or other evidence independent of the victim's testimony, the state is unable to meet its burden of proof.

JOE CHESHIRE, ATTORNEY FOR DAVID EVANS: These boys are absolutely innocent. They never touched her. They were never alone with her together in any place. So it's not possible that they kidnapped her, touched her, raped her, assaulted her or did anything else to her.

CARROLL: Defense attorneys say this most recent development leaves them enormously confident but frustrated that the D.A. did not drop all the charges. The three former players still face first- degree sexual offense and kidnapping charges.

WADE SMITH, ATTORNEY FOR COLLIN FINNERTY: Mr. Nifong, if you are listening do the rest of this. Do the honorable thing. End this case, because there isn't a case to bring. And those are my thoughts.

CARROLL: Defense attorneys point to what they say are several flaws in the prosecution's case. First -- two DNA tests showed no match between the alleged victim and the Duke Lacrosse players. Second -- they say a timeline will show at least two of the players were not at the party when the accuser says the assault took place. They also take issue with how the D.A. had the accuser identify her attackers.

This video of the lineup shows part of the process during which the defense says she was only shown pictures of lacrosse players. Typically in a lineup, dummy pictures are also used for a more accurate result. The most serious charges being dropped in this case was welcome news to Collin Finnerty's father.

KEVIN FINNERTY, COLLIN FINNERTY'S FATHER: The boys are innocent. Again, this is long overdue. It's a great first step.


CARROLL: The defense is also questioning why it apparently took the district attorney so long to formerly interview the accuser, of course, the D.A. not offering his opinion on that. Defense attorneys hoping at this point he takes this one step further and drops the entire case -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jason, thank you very much -- Jason Carroll reporting new and important developments in that story.

Republican Congressman Virgil Goode of Virginia is sticking to his guns but is his district sticking with him? Goode has sharply criticized Congressman-elect Keith Ellison of Minnesota for planning to use the Koran in his private swearing in ceremony.

CNN's Brian Todd had a chance to check the fallout in Goode's home district in Virginia -- Brian.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we just got back to D.C. from Virgil Goode's hometown in southern Virginia, but not before spending some time with his constituents, most of whom are standing by their controversial lawmaker. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TODD (voice-over): A congressman under fire for words he has no intention of taking back.

REP. VIRGIL GOODE (R), VIRGINIA: 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: Republican Virgil Goode dubbed a bigot by "The Washington Post" for slamming the Koran after incoming Congressman Keith Ellison said he'd used the Muslim holy book at his unofficial swearing in. Another member of Congress calls Goode's statements reckless. Drive four and a half hours south from Washington, and they're having none of that.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I support him 100 percent.

TODD: In Goode's hometown of Rocky Mount, Virginia, nearly everyone we spoke with stands by Virgil Goode. Does that make them racist? Not necessarily. But their comments reflect the gray areas of race, religion and demographics in small town America.


TODD: At the Hub Restaurant, the place for breakfast in Rocky Mount, this man says he went to high school with Virgil Goode, says Goode is no bigot. On Keith Ellison...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm not against the Muslim faith but I just don't -- I'm against him forcing his rules, his opinion upon us.

TODD: Congressman-elect Ellison may not be forcing anything on anyone. But this woman does not believe Ellison should use the Koran at his swearing in.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I like King James Version bible. And I think Virgil does, too, and I think that's what should be used.

TODD: Even if you're not of the same faith?


TODD: From our discussions, even from the bill of fair, we get the impression many here don't have a particular problem with Islam. They just may not come in to contact with it much.

(on camera): The menu here for the Hub Restaurant is pretty standard fare, homemade biscuits, pancakes, eggs. On the back they offer prayers before the meal for different faiths, Protestants, Jewish, Catholic, nothing for Muslims.

(voice-over): In the kitchen, owner Butch Wilcox takes a break from making butterscotch and chocolate pies to explain.

BUTCH WILCOX, RESTAURANT OWNER: That was started 33 years ago and I really didn't know much about Muslims back then -- I really did not. Like I said about status quo I just keep that on the back of the menu. I've printed them probably a couple dozen times, been a couple of years since I have printed them.

TODD: But it's not meant to discriminate against...

WILCOX: Absolutely not. There would be no future in that here.


TODD: Virgil Goode certainly got a future at least politically. He was just reelected by a wide margin. The local newspaper editor tells us they've received no calls of complaint against Goode since this controversy erupted. Goode's office tells us their calls and e- mails are overwhelmingly positive -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thank you Brian -- Brian Todd reporting for us.

And still to come tonight right here in THE SITUATION ROOM new reasons to wonder if the military draft might actually make a comeback. We're going to tell you what's behind the speculation and get a reality check from the Pentagon.

And one of America's most famous battles seen through the enemy's eyes. In the film "Letters from Iwo Jima", another hit for -- is it another hit for the director, Clint Eastwood or do some see it as an outrage?

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


BLITZER: Carol Costello is joining us now for a closer look at some other stories making news -- Carol.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Hi, Wolf. Hello to all of you.

We're just getting word of a tiger attack at the San Francisco Zoo. Officials there are confirming that a female worker was attacked apparently during some sort of exhibition involving the tiger. No word yet on the extent of her injuries.

Just hours after charges were filed against a Kansas doctor for allegedly performing illegal late-term abortions those charges have been dismissed. The state's attorney general is an outspoken abortion opponent who lost a reelection bid and is leaving office next month. He filed the charges earlier today. And the Sedgwick County D.A. asked that the charges be dismissed and just a short time ago a judge did just that, dismissed the charges.

It's been more than 17 years since the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska and Exxon/Mobil is still arguing with some 34,000 fishermen and other Alaskans over monetary damages. A federal appeals court today ordered that a $5 billion jury award for punitive damages be cut in half. Exxon argues that it should not have to pay more than $25 million. The company reported a record $36 billion in earnings last year.

That's the headlines right now, Wolf.

BLITZER: Thank you Carol for that. We'll get back to you shortly.

Just ahead, new questions about the vulnerability of New York's tunnels under the Hudson River. We're going to tell you about a disturbing new report.

Also, he's just back from a trip to Syria that has the Bush administration steaming mad. Democratic Senator Bill Nelson, he's standing by. He's here in THE SITUATION ROOM after the break.


BLITZER: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM where new pictures and information are arriving all the time. Happening now -- the United Nations is nearing a vote on the nuclear standoff with Iran. Tomorrow the U.N. Security Council expected to consider a resolution to impose sanctions on the government of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Cuba's National Assembly closes a one-day session without an appearance of the ailing President Fidel Castro. The Cuban leader has not been seen in public since late July raising even more questions about the state of his illness and the future of Cuba's government.

President Bush says he was moved by his holiday visit to wounded troops at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center here in Washington. It's an annual tradition coming in the midst of Mr. Bush's efforts to retool his Iraq policy.

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

Could the Bush administration bring back the military draft? That may be a way to build a bigger military, the bigger military the president says may be needed for the global war on terror. Would Congress, would the American public, though, go along? Suddenly there are a lot of additional questions being asked about reviving the draft.

Let's get some answers from our Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr -- Barbara.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, more than 30 years after the draft ended, it's a subject that just doesn't seem to go away.



STARR (voice-over): It's an enduring symbol of the Vietnam War -- protesters burning their draft cards.

Could the draft now be coming back?

The secretary of Veterans Affairs has some people worried.

JIM NICHOLSON, VETERANS AFFAIRS SECRETARY: That is a real advantage of the draft, because it does bring people from all quarters of our society together in the common purpose of serving for a while in uniform.

STARR: Nicholson says he isn't calling for a draft, but the Selective Service announced it will test the national system for running a draft to ensure it can readily locate all draft eligible men aged 18 to 25.

The military insists no draft is planned. A Pentagon spokesman says this statement, by then Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, still holds.

DONALD RUMSFELD, FORMER SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: There is no need for it at all. The disadvantages of using compulsion to bring into the armed forces the men and women needed are notable.

STARR: Experts say a draft leads to troops who don't want to be there, who will only stay for a short time, and be poorly trained.

Since the draft ended in 1973, and the military became an all- volunteer force, enough people, experts say, have volunteered for duty so that a draft simply isn't needed.

But Congressman Charles Rangel says a draft would make rich and poor alike share the sacrifice of going to war.

REP. CHARLES RANGEL (D), NEW YORK: If we had a draft, when the president made the decision to go to war, he wouldn't have made it because there would have been a protest. He would never be able to say "bring 'em on" with other people's children.

STARR: Even the Selective Service says its test, scheduled for 2009, is uncertain.

DICK FLAHAVAN, SELECTIVE SERVICE SPOKESMAN: Now, depending on between now and then whether the budget is cut or staff is seriously curtailed, then the whole thing may be canceled.


STARR: Because of all the press reports, the Selective Service finally posted a statement on its Web site saying that no draft is being planned, and that quote, "the public should not be alarmed" -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thank you, Barbara, for that. Barbara Starr reporting.

Syria is on the U.S. list of states that sponsor terrorism, and it's also accused of allowing aid to Iraq's insurgents. Three leading Democrats have defied the Bush administration by traveling to Damascus. Senators John Kerry and Chris Dodd met with the Syrian president following on the heels of Florida's Senator Bill Nelson. The White House is not pleased.

And joining us now from his home state of Florida, Democratic Senator Bill Nelson. He's just back from a visit to the Middle East. Senator Nelson, thanks very much for coming into THE SITUATION ROOM.

I know you've been a member of the Armed Services Committee, the Foreign Relations Committee, but there's word you might be joining another important committee as well. What are you hearing?

SEN. BILL NELSON (D), FLORIDA: I was in the middle of this nine- country, two-week visit over in the Middle East and Central Asia, and Harry Reid called me and said he wanted me to go on Intelligence.

BLITZER: So you're going to be a member of the Intelligence Committee as well. A lot of responsibility, a lot of hard work for you.

Let me get, first of all, your reaction to this suggestion that maybe it's a good idea, given the fact that the president now wants a bigger Army, a bigger Marine Corps, that it's time to think about reinstating the military draft. What do you think?

NELSON: I don't think so. In the kind of 20,000 or 30,000 increase in the entire armed services, we can do that without a draft. The question is, let's make sure we can get reenlistments. Let's make sure that they can get the original enlistments. If so, then we can have the all-volunteer army that we need.

BLITZER: All right. Let's talk about your trip to the region. There was some controversy when you went to Syria, met with Bashar al- Assad, the president. Listen to what the White House press secretary Tony Snow said on December 14th.


TONY SNOW, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: A lot of times, you know, a member of Congress may think, well, I'm going to go there and I am going to tell them exactly the same thing, I'm going to take a tough line.

You can take a tough line all you want, but the Syrians have already won a PR victory.


BLITZER: That's a pretty strong accusation against you. We're showing our viewers a picture of you and Bashar al-Assad. Freelance diplomacy, that's what they're suggesting.

What was your thinking? Why did you decide to go to Syria, despite the White House's recommendation not to do so?

NELSON: What's at stake here is stabilizing Iraq. And 140,000 Americans over there, some of whom are getting killed every day. And the Iraq Study Commission, Jim Baker and Lee Hamilton, came out and said we ought to pull out all the stops, and that includes all of those nine countries that I visited, trying to get them to help us, including Syria.

Now, I've been to Syria three times, and the last time I was there three years ago I talked to Assad about cooperating with the Americans on the control of the border. Indeed, there was the cooperation after that visit, albeit sporadic, and it lasted up to the time of the assassination of Rafik Hariri in Lebanon, and then cut off.

So if there is any chance that what he said to me this time was true, a crack in the door, that he wanted to cooperate with the Americans and/or the Iraqi army to control the border -- which, by the way, would include the Damascus Airport -- then it was clearly worth it.

BLITZER: Do you believe him, Senator?

NELSON: Well, I don't know what to believe, because he lies in so many ways, and, indeed, lied about Hamas and Hezbollah, that he supports. Indeed, we had a sharp difference of opinion about Lebanon and the Siniora government.

But is it worth the chance of going to see about a crack in the door? I think it was. I reported to the State Department.

And by the way, Wolf, you know, naturally, the White House wants to have a monopoly on foreign policy, and they have had in the last several years with a compliant, partisan Congress. But it hasn't worked, and the commission said, let's have fresh ideas. Let's have some bipartisanship. And that's the spirit in which I took off on this trip.

BLITZER: You think it's appropriate to have a surge in the number of U.S. troops in the Baghdad area, in the Al Anbar province, 20,000, 30,000 additional troops going in, as some are recommending?

NELSON: In Anbar province, yes. According to our military commanders I met with two days ago out in Falluja and in other places in Anbar province, an increase there would help us. That's all Sunni, and the enemy there is al Qaeda.

But it won't help us in Baghdad to put additional American troops, because the Iraqis are going to have to stop the sectarian violence between Sunnis and Shiites. They're going to have to figure out how they can get some kind of agreement, and no amount of additional American troops there are going to change that.

BLITZER: Senator Bill Nelson, welcome back. Good to have you back here in the States. Thanks very much for coming in.

NELSON: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: And still ahead tonight -- disturbing new questions about what might happen if terrorists attack train tunnels into Manhattan. We're going to tell you about a nightmare scenario that is being reviewed right now. Then, Jeanne Moos speculates on what holiday greetings between Rosie O'Donnell and Donald Trump might be like. You're going to want to see this. Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: In our CNN Security Watch, could train tunnels between New Jersey and Manhattan be targets for terrorists? Could a relatively simple attack have devastating results? There's a new report that looks at all of those concerns.

Let's turn to CNN's Mary Snow. She's in New York with details -- Mary.

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRSESPONDENT: Well Wolf, there are new questions about just how vulnerable commuter line in New York and New Jersey is to a bomb blast. Authorities didn't intend to make the results public, but they were reportedly leaked out of concern that information wasn't being acted upon.


SNOW (voice-over): The Path Train (ph) commuter line running beneath the Hudson River linking New Jersey and New York has been named in the past as a terror target, most recently in July. Now, a report leaked to the New York Times concludes that the Path Train (ph) system is more vulnerable than believed. That quote, "a relatively small amount of high explosives could cause significant flooding of the rail system within hours."

A spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security calls the release of the document unfortunate, saying disclosing sensitive information can compromise public safety. The DHS declined to confirm the specifics of the report. The Port Authority which oversees the rail line also declined to discuss it.

ERNESTO BUTCHER, COO, PRORT AUTHORITY OF N.Y./N.J.: If we knew of any imminent danger would would certainly take action to prevent that.

SNOW: Since the subway bombings in London and the Madrid train bombings, security officials say a number of reports have been commissioned to outside contractors to assess the risk of bomb attacks.

In the United States, authorities say they disrupted a plot in July by terrorists overseas to set off explosives in backpacks as trains passed through the four path tubes. The Times said the report was leaked by an official who was concerned that the latest findings questioning the vulnerabilities of the Path trains was not being shared.

CNN security analyst Pat D'Amuro.

PAT D'AMURO, CNN SECURITY ANALYST: What's concerning is that original estimates seem to be miscalculated in that now it is believed that smaller amounts of explosive material could cause severe damage to the Path trains.

SNOW: The Port Authority says in recent weeks bag searches have been stepped up and an additional $180 million was allocated this month to improve security.

Ernesto Butcher of the POrt authority says the vulnerability of all train systems is a matter of concern.

BUTCHER: They were not desisigned to withstand the kinds of issues that we're facing today.


SNOW: Officials don't want to divulge exactly how they are increasing security, but say they are trying to strengthen the structures of the tunnels and increase surveillance. One thing is certain, the Path system is a source of concern -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Mary, thank you for that. Mary Snow reporting.

There's also new cause for concern about security at major airports in France, and in turn aboard flights heading from Paris to the United States. CNN's Jim Bittermann is in Paris with more on a TV documentary that's fueling fears.


JIM BITTERMANN, CNN CORREPSONDENT (voice-over): In several different scenarios secretly taped by the French public TV program, "Viesa Condiction" (ph) or "Incriminating Evidence," there are clear indications that security at Paris' main airports is far from perfect.

In the past month, one of the program's reporters working with a private consultant to test airport security for the government, successfully sneaked box cutters and fake bombmaking materials aboard flights leaving from Charles de Gaulle and Orly airports.

In one scene, the consultant was shown passing through the security checks having hidden two boxcutter knives in his luggage, the same kind of weapons used in the September 11 hijackings. As his bags go through an X-Ray machine, the operator, whose identity has been obscured, is distracted in conversation with another security agent never spotting the knives in his TV monitor.

Aboard the plane, a Delta airlines flight to New York, a security consultant proves he's smuggled the weapons onboard.

In a second scenario, the consultant boards an Air France flight with a simulated block of plastic explosives and a fake detonator clearly marked as such. Once onboard, he demonstrates exactly how easy it would be to assemble a bomb in the plane's bathroom. A bomb, reporter says would have been more powerful than the one used to blow up a Pan-Am 747 over Lockerbie, Scotland.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: As a passenger, I was really surprised. It was really amazing for me, because I never inmagined that it was so easy to come in a plane with 340 grams of syntax.

BITTERMAN: When confronted with a story, an official charged with airport security seemed dumbfounded and was at a loss of words. The Paris Airport Authority and other government security agency were withholding comment.

LAURENT RICHARD, DOCMUENTARY REPORTER: The French administration doesn't want to admit that it's -- the safety procedures in France haven't working there about.

BITTERMANN (on camera): Richard says that three years ago the same security consultant put the airports through the same tests, and the reporter says in the three years since, nothing has changed -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jim Bittermann in Paris for us. That's pretty scary stuff.

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

Still ahead, the story of one of the most brutal battles of World War II told from the other side. "Letters from Iwo Jima" director Clint Eastwood tells us what compelled him to make it.

Plus, coming soon to an iPod near you, Britain's Queen Elizabeth. Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: It's the story of one of the most infamous battles of World War II, but told from a point of view few Americans have ever seen. CNN entertainment correspondent Sibila Vargas is in Los Angeles with more on "Letters from Iwo Jima" -- Sibila.

SIBILA VARGAS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Clint Eastwood's combat story is not you're typical Hollywood fare. The film is getting plenty of attention for a number of reasons, including its unique take on one of the most famous battles in his history.


KEN WATANABE, ACTOR: The United States is the last country in the world Japan should fight.

VARGAS (voice-over): In "Letters From Iwo Jima" Clint Eastwood ventures into unusual territory for an American filmmaker, the director tells the story of the famous World War II battle from the vantage point of the enemy.

(on camera): An unusual perspective.

RICHARD SCHICKEL, TIME MAGAZINE: A Japanese language film taking the Japanese point of view in World War II. I mean, I think it's unique. I don't know of anything quite like it. VARGAS (voice-over): The film depict a Japanese general's desperate effort to defend the island and one conscript who wanted nothing more than to get out alive.

CLINT EASTWOOD, DIRECTOR: And you start reading as much as you can on the Battle of Iwo Jima and how tough it was, and pretty soon you start getting curious about, well, I wonder what the defenders were like?

VARGAS: "Letters From Iwo Jima," which is almost entirely subtitled, is a companion piece to Eastwood's other World War II film, "Flags Of Our Fathers," which opened earlier this year and was told through the eyes of the American forces.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The heroes of Iwo Jima!

VARGAS (on camera): But it's Eastwood's Japanese account that is not only receiving the most accolades, but it's also gaining recognition in Japan.

NAOKO KIMURA, JAPANESE MOVIE CRITIC (through translator): We find young audiences reacting to this very plain movie very positively. This movie tells a different message in a different way that people understand.

VARGAS (voice-over): The film opened atop the box office in Tokyo, and drew tears from audience members at its premiere. The praise is echoed by Japan's consul general in Los Angeles.

KAZUO KODAMA, JAPANESE CONSUL GENERAL IN L.A.: I was truly touched by the film itself.

VARGAS: The famous battle for Iwo Jima has long been considered a symbol of victory and patriotism for Americans. Eastwood's latest big screen combat account may provide a more complete view of one of the most storied battles in history.

KODAMA: I think Clint Eastwood produced this film as a -- what I called a requiem for the repose of souls of the war dead, including both the Japanese as well as U.S. soldiers who fought on the island of Iwo Jima.


VARGAS: Besides getting the National Board of Review's highest honor, best film, "Letters From Iwo Jima" recently received a Golden Globe nomination for best foreign picture and is being touted as a possible Oscar contender. It's out in theaters now.

Wolf, back to you.

BLITZER: Thank you, Sibila, for that. Sibila Vargas reporting from Los Angeles.

Let's find out what's coming up at the top of the hour on "PAULA ZAHN NOW." John King sitting in for Paula tonight -- John.


We're going in-depth tonight on that surprising new news today in the Duke lacrosse case, dropping some charges against some ex-members of the lacrosse team. We'll take an in-depth look at it. Among our guests here, Robert Bennett, who has representing some university supporters who think they are getting a raw deal.

Also tonight, a controversial video featuring military officers in uniform promoting a Christian evangelical group. Critics say it tramples the separation of church and state. All that right here, Wolf, at the top of the hour.

BLITZER: All right, John. Sounds good. Thank you very much.

A British holiday tradition is going high-tech and it's available to you. That means you. CNN's Carol Costello is joining us from New York. She has details in our "Welcome To The Future" report -- Carol.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: I know you're going to run to your computer after this story, Wolf.

You know, usually her majesty the queen delivers her Christmas message the old-fashioned way, via TV and radio. But this year, the queen gets a little jiggy with it.


COSTELLO (voice-over): Nelly has one. So does Mr. Sexy back himself, and now -- well, she is putting the queen in the queen of hip.

QUEEN ELIZABETH II, ENGLAND: The wisdom and experience of the great religions point to the need to nurture and guide the young and to encourage respect for the elderly.

COSTELLO: Don't let her tone fool you. She's hip to the net now offering her Christmas message in a podcast. It's an attempt to draw in the youth culture, much like the very popular podcast, ask a ninja.


COSTELLO: In case you didn't know, the ninja is the Ann Landers of the podcast set. Ask him anything and he knows the answer, which is how some feel about the queen.

QUEEN ELIZABETH II: The older generation are able to give a sense of context.

COSTELLO: Her majesty taped her podcast at Southwark Cathedral, in front of a cast of children who listened raptly as she tells them to respect their elders. And while her Christmas message may not be as exciting as downloading a podcast of Fergie and The Black Eyed Peas, it is an attempt to talk to young people how they like to listen. If you would like to hear the rest of the queen's message, go to her Web site on Christmas day and download it for yourself.


COSTELLO: Not the most hip message, you know, listen to your elders but the queen hopes her podcast draws young and old together in understanding -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks very much for that. Carol Costello reporting.

Up ahead, no tidings of comfort and joy between Rosie O'Donnell and Donald Trump. CNN's Jeanne Moos has more on their celebrity smackdown and the Christmas fallout. Stay with us. We'll be right back.


BLITZER: There's an important development happening at the White House. I want to bring in our White House correspondent Suzanne Malveaux.

I take it, Suzanne, there's been an important meeting there involving Fidel Castro?


The Bush administration is preparing for Cuba's post-Fidel Castro regime. It was Thursday, administration aides tell us, that the president's top advisers met here at the White House for a 90-minute session discussing on how they would handle the scenario.

The meeting was chaired by national security adviser Stephen Hadley, attended by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, White House counsel Harriet Myers, as well as chief political adviser Karl Rove, all of them talking about the anticipation, the wave of Cuban refugees that would go to the United States through Miami after that event that -- in the event, the case that Castro dies.

This is something that they have been engaged in, they've been looking at and focusing on. Obviously a priority for the administration, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, we'll watch it together with you. He hasn't been seen publicly at least since July. Suzanne Malveaux at the White House.

On a very, very different note, Rosie O'Donnell and Donald Trump are exchanging insults instead of presents this holiday season. We all know that. So what might their Christmas cards actually look like?

CNN's Jeanne Moos has a few ideas, and a musical montage of all the mud-slinging.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: 'Tis the season of peace, love and joy. So naturally our thoughts turned to those venomous exchanges between Rosie and the Donald, and we got to wondering what sort of Christmas cards would those two exchange?


DONALD TRUMP, REAL ESTATE DEVELOPER: Rosie O'Donnell is disgusting, I mean, both inside and out.

ROSIE O'DONNELL, TALK SHOW HOST: There is, hair looping, going everyone deserves a second chance.


TRUMP: You take a look at her, she's a slob.

O'DONNELL: I just think he's a bag of wind.


TRUMP: Well, Rosie's a loser. She's always been a loser.

O'DONNELL: He's the moral authority. Left the first wife, had an affair, left the second wife, had an affair.


MOOS (voice-over): Did they say Rosie?

TRUMP: She's basically a disaster.

O'DONNELL: This man is like, sort of, one those, you know, snake oil salesman in "Little House on the Prairie."


TRUMP: She ought to be careful, because I'll send one of my friends to pick up her girlfriend.

O'DONNELL: Look who's here today. Kelly. I was afraid to leave her home in case somebody with a comb-over came and stole her from me.


TRUMP: Can you imagine what Kelly has to put up with, living with this person (ph).


TRUMP: She can't be thrilled kissing Rosie O'Donnell. Can you imagine that? What's worse than that?


O'DONNELL: Frankly, here's her comment to him.

TRUMP: I'd like to take some money out of her fat-ass pockets.


TRUMP: You know, taking money out of her big, fat ass would be probably something that's very easy.


MOOS: Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.


BLITZER: And thanks very much for joining us. Merry Christmas to all of our viewers. We'll be back Sunday for a special edition of "LATE EDITION," our year-ender program. Among other things, my interviews this past year with President Bush, Condoleezza Rice, George Clooney, a lot more. Sunday, 11:00 a.m. Eastern for two hours. Until then, thanks very much.

"PAULA ZAHN NOW" starts right now, John King sitting in for Paula -- John.


© 2007 Cable News Network.
A Time Warner Company. All Rights Reserved.
Terms under which this service is provided to you.
Read our privacy guidelines. Contact us. Site Map.
Offsite Icon External sites open in new window; not endorsed by
Pipeline Icon Pay service with live and archived video. Learn more
Radio News Icon Download audio news  |  RSS Feed Add RSS headlines