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President Bush: I am Decision-maker on Iraq; U.S. Troops May Target Iranian Agents in Iraq; Four U.S. Soldiers Captured, Killed; Four People Killed in Beirut Riot; Iran Meddling in Iraqi Conflict?

Aired January 26, 2007 - 1900   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks very much, Lou. 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, who is the decider on Iraq? President Bush makes a bold statement about calling the shots. But top Democrats in Congress also are girding for battle and ready to test Mr. Bush and their own war powers.

Also this hour, a capture and kill mission inside Iraq. The Bush administration saying it's about protecting the troops. Critics, however, fear the White House is banging war drums at Iran.

And a chilling effect in the culture wars. It may be freezing outside but the debate over global warming is red hot in the classroom and Al Gore's movie is at the center of it all.

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

Tonight, President Bush has his dukes up ready for a knock down fight with Congress over his Iraq strategy. At the same time, we now know more about his plans to meet a threat from Iran head on. And we have new details about a deadly and deceptive attack on America.

Our senior Pentagon correspondent Jamie McIntyre is standing by so is our White House correspondent Ed Henry. But let's begin with CNN's Brian Todd -- Brian.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, it's getting more contentious by the hour here in Washington. The president's opponents on this plan are hammering away and the White House is giving it right back.


TODD (voice-over): Hunkering down for a tough fight in Iraq. In a bold statement reminiscent of his I'm the decider remark, the president takes on those in Congress slamming his new plan.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm the decision-maker. I had to come up with a way forward that precluded disaster.

TODD: But opponents on Capitol Hill are relentless. A Democrat with designs on the White House makes an open challenge.

SEN. CHRISTOPHER DODD (D), CONNECTICUT: If the president refuses to listen it's going to take a Congress that is prepared to legislate (UNINTELLIGIBLE) force the president to change this disastrous course.

TODD: That says Senator Chris Dodd means no more blank checks from Congress for the mission. The vice president has already brushed off threats of congressional interference.

RICHARD B. CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: They have the right obviously if they want to cut off funding. But in terms of this effort, the president has made his decision.

TODD: But opponents in Congress are determined to make this politically painful for the president and his allies. Next week the Senate will test a resolution saying the troop increase is not in the national interest. The Senate majority leader has a warning of his own for Republicans who vote against it.

SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MAJORITY LEADER: There are 21 Republicans up for reelection this time. If they think this is going to be a soft vote for them, they have got another thing coming.


TODD: Some Republicans are hedging their bets. Senator John McCain, who supports the president's troop increase, is nonetheless preparing a resolution with a set of 11 benchmarks the Iraqi government must meet. But the current draft of his plan does not spell out consequences if they're not met -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Brian thanks very much. Let's immediately go to the White House where there's a new kill order to kill Iranians who may be working against the U.S. in Iraq.

Ed Henry is on the scene for us. This is a major new development in this whole potential war and a lot of fear of an escalation -- Ed.

ED HENRY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Good evening, Wolf. That's right. White House aides say what the president is trying to do here is defend U.S. troops by really turning up the heat, trying to capture or kill Iranians who are fighting in Iraq. These Iranians are providing some of the most sophisticated and deadly IEDs, those improvised explosive devices that are killing and maiming so many U.S. troops in Iraq.

This of course allows the president, who today was in the White House with his new commander on the ground in Iraq, General David Petraeus, newly confirmed by the Senate. It allows the president to try and achieve two goals. Number one, improve security on the ground in Iraq, but number two, also go after, get tough on Iraq. Experts say they have over 100,000 agents on the ground in Iraq and they're also moving ominously close to getting a nuclear weapon. Here's the president.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Makes sense that if somebody is trying to harm our troop or stop us from achieving our goal or killing innocent citizens in Iraq that we will stop them. It's an obligation we all have is to protect our folks and achieve our goals.


HENRY: Top Democrats may think that what this is all about is the president prepping to go to war with Iran. But the president himself insisted today that any suggestion that he wants to expand the war in Iraq beyond the borders into Iran is just not true -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Does the president have anything special planned over the weekend or in the next few days to try to generate some support for his new initiative?

HENRY: We haven't heard about anything specific. But as you know, the pressure is building on him both on the Iraq front as well as the Iranian front. Specifically, what Democrats are privately saying on the Hill is they think the president is prepping for war with Iran to divert attention from the fact that maybe the strategy in Iraq, even the latest one, may not be working, that he wants to start another war.

The White House insists that it's nonsense, as you heard the vice president in an interview say just not true. And what the White House also says the president is still determined to solve the Iranian crisis diplomatically, but as you know, the diplomatic moves have not worked so far, Wolf.

BLITZER: Ed Henry at the White House for us. Thanks.

Some of the president's toughest congressional critics on Iraq are in Baghdad right now. The House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is leading a delegation of mostly Democratic lawmakers. Pelosi says they came away from their talks with the Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki convinced that a political solution is necessary in Iraq instead of an additional troop buildup.

Also in Iraq, some U.S. soldiers targeted in a recent Trojan horse style ambush were kidnapped and killed. They were first thought to have died on the scene.

Let's get some specific new details from our senior Pentagon correspondent Jamie McIntyre -- Jamie.

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SR. PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well Wolf, last week when the U.S. military first acknowledged this attack, they said that five American soldiers were killed repelling in attack by armed gunmen who were disguised as American soldiers. But in details released today the U.S. military now reveals that four of the five were actually abducted by the militants who passed through Iraqi checkpoints in American vehicles, carrying American weapons, speaking English and wearing American style uniforms. The attack was so well coordinated it included a diversion in which they blew up some American Humvee inside this Iraqi government compound. That gave them time to get away. They eventually aroused suspicion of Iraqi police when they passed through another checkpoint who tailed them to Babil Province some distance away. There the Iraqi police found the vehicles abandoned with two American soldiers handcuffed together in one vehicle that had been shot.

Another U.S. soldier found shot dead on the ground and a fourth with a serious gunshot wound to the head. He died on the way to the hospital. Now the U.S. military is conducting a full investigation of what is a major breakdown of Iraqi security. And the main question they want to know is how did these gunmen seem to know exactly where the Americans were and did they get any help from either the Iraqis at the checkpoint or inside the compound -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Because there's a widespread suspicion, as you know, that there was an inside job here. They got some help from supposed allies of the United States to let them do this. And that raises all sorts of alarm bells given the heavy dependency of U.S. forces that they have on Iraqi troops.

MCINTYRE: Absolutely. And that's why there's so much effort now going into this investigation.

BLITZER: All right. Jamie thanks very much. Jamie is at the Pentagon.

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

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, I think I missed the coronation. Did we somehow become a monarchy in the middle of the night and I just slept through it? You know it was bad enough when President Bush announced to the world he's the decider. That remark has followed him ever since it came out of his mouth.

To many it symbolized the arrogance of our president. You know my way or the highway, bring them on, wanted dead or alive, mission accomplished, Bush. Well guess what? He's right back at it again. Today the president said I'm the decision-maker. When it comes to sending more troops into Iraq he also said I've picked the plan that I think is most likely to succeed.

This follows by less than a week that rather artificial State of the Union address when he paid lip service to things like bipartisanship, cooperation and humility in the wake of the devastating loss he and his party suffered in the midterm elections. He couldn't even carry it off for a week. Maybe somebody should read President Bush his latest poll numbers.

His job approval rating is approaching the levels that Richard Nixon descended to before he finally resigned the presidency in disgrace. And in addition, Congress is working on resolutions designed to tell him what a crummy job people think he's been doing. And it's not just the Democrats who ready to vote against him. The parallel universe that our president seems to inhabit a good part of the time is beginning to resemble the twilight zone. Here's the question.

What message does President Bush send by saying he's the decision-maker? E-mail your thoughts to or go to -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Earlier he said he was the decider. Now he's the decision-maker. Sounds like the same thing.

CAFFERTY: That would be my interpretation, yes.

BLITZER: Me too, can't read too much into that. Jack thanks very much.

Coming up, could Iran have a nuclear bomb in two years or sooner? We're going to have details of what some are calling ominous new signs of the country's nuclear ambitions.

Also, exclusive new video of a very disturbing story. Authorities in the former Soviet Republic of Georgia say it shows a man taking weapons grade uranium out of his pocket. We're going to show you what's going on.

Plus, details of what one lawmaker is calling to recommend, actually a ban, to ban the congressional black and Hispanic caucuses. Find out why he says they're hypocritical.

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


BLITZER: A radioactive element that could be used to make a bomb and new fears over what can happen when it falls into the wrong hands. That's at the heart of a controversial case in the former Soviet Republic of Georgia.

Our Ryan Chilcote is in the capital of Tbilisi with exclusive pictures -- Ryan.

RYAN CHILCOTE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, you may have seen his photo. Now CNN has obtained exclusive video of the man convicted here in the former Soviet Republic of Georgia of smuggling weapons grade uranium. Still unknown, where did the uranium come from?


CHILCOTE (voice-over): The grainy images videotaped by detectives in Georgia show convicted Russian uranium smuggler Oleg Khintsagov (ph) just moments after his arrest. Georgian authorities say Khintsagov (ph) was taking just 100 grams of weapons grade uranium out of his coat pocket when they caught him. Authorities here say Khintsagov (ph) kept the uranium in two plastic baggies and was planning on selling it to a Middle Eastern buyer from, quote, "a serious organization, for $1 million".

Instead, he ended up the target of a more than a year-long sting operation. What the Georgian authorities are now trying to find out is where the highly enriched uranium came from. They say that to their knowledge it came from Russia.


CHILCOTE: Georgian officials have been researching Mr. Khintsagov's (ph) past and believe he may have had ties to Russian Secret Services. Russian authorities will only say that Mr. Khintsagov (ph) is a Russian citizen and that they can't establish the origin of the uranium from the small sample they received from Georgia -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Ryan -- Ryan Chilcote in Tbilisi, Georgia.

In Lebanon, meanwhile, one day after deadly clashes spilled blood in the streets, the situation appears somewhat different today. Our senior international correspondent Nic Robertson is in Beirut with details -- Nic.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SR. INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, it was much calmer today, security very tight on the streets. Hezbollah's anti government rally into its 56th day behind me. Noisy protests there, only a handful of people attending. The security on the streets very tight, particularly around the funerals of some of the people killed in the violence at the university Thursday.



ROBERTSON (voice-over): Carried shoulder high to his freshly dug grave, the body of Adnan Shimas (ph), one of four people killed in Sunni, Shia pro and anti government clashes at Beirut's Arab University Thursday.


ROBERTSON: At the gravesite his wife cried about his unborn son.


ROBERTSON: Calling for revenge against pro-government gunmen she blames for the killings. Shimas' (ph) death cut deep into this pro Hezbollah Shia community. Several thousand turned out, many chanting in support of Hezbollah...


ROBERTSON: And calling for death to America and death to Lebanon Sunni prime minister.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) ROBERTSON (on camera): Lebanon's leaders are appealing for calm but the country has never been so divided since the end of the civil war in 1990. The tensions that are highest now are not just political, they're sectarian, too.

(voice-over): Around the university where the violence flared, security is tight and there is relative calm. But passions in this Sunni, predominantly pro-government community, are high.


ROBERTSON: What did we do? We didn't go into Hezbollah suburbs and destroy anything, he says. It's them that came here and fought us. Fears of a return to civil war days are real for Sunnis here, even among the many who still value unity.


ROBERTSON: It's the way people talk about the tensions now not in pro and anti government terms, but in terms of Sunni and Shia that really give the best indication of just the sectarian way that this violence and tension is turning right now -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Nic Robertson on the scene for us in Beirut. We're going to stay on top of this story for you. Meanwhile this note, the Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora today is back in Lebanon after visiting Paris for a donor's conference that netted billions of dollars for his country. He's urging an end to the political deadlock, calling the current situation, in his word, frightening. And an ally of the prime minister, the Sunni leader Saad Hariri (ph), says he's ready to try to resolve the situation as well.

Up ahead, Iran said to be on the verge of taking a critical step that could, could lead to a nuclear bomb, some say in as little as two years. We're going to show you just what Iran is doing that's raising concern in Washington and beyond.

And in the culture wars a chilly reception for a hit movie on global warming. We're going to have new details of a controversy over Al Gore's film, "An Inconvenient Truth".

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


BLITZER: Carol Costello is in New York monitoring stories coming into THE SITUATION ROOM from around the world. What's crossing the wires? What's making news right now, Carol?

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

There is a new development in the aftermath of the Hurricane Katrina disaster. A federal judge today rejected a settlement, calling for State Farm t reopen and possibly pay thousands of previously denied claims in Mississippi. The minimum $50-million deal would have stopped a state investigation of the insurance company's claims practices after Katrina. Well, the U.S. district judge says he doesn't have enough information to determine if the agreement is fair. He did leave the door open for a new settlement agreement to be submitted. We'll keep you posted.

A public apology today from Canada to Syrian-born Canadian Maher Arar -- Prime Minister Stephen Harper said Arar will be compensated almost $9 million for Ottawa's role in his deportation to Damascus. Arar was imprisoned there and tortured for almost a year. An investigation determined he was wrongly labeled an Islamic fundamentalist to U.S. authorities who then saw to his deportation to Syria. Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy has sharply criticized Attorney General Alberto Gonzales for his administration's handling of the case. Leahy's office says he and Senator Arlen Specter expect a briefing on the case next week.

Baseball's Nolan Ryan is in the hospital tonight. A statement released said the Hall of Fame pitcher was admitted to a hospital outside of Austin, Texas for recurring symptoms of a pre-existing condition. It did not say what the condition is but does say that all preliminary evaluations were normal and Ryan is stable. Ryan underwent a double bypass surgery in April of 2000.

New research released today ties income level to skin color or more precisely skin tone. A Vanderbilt University professor says she found that light-skinned immigrants in the United States made more money on average than those with darker complexions, up to 15 percent more. Her review drew from a government survey of more than 2,000 legal immigrants from around the world. The study also found that height matters, now with each extra inch equaling a one percent increase in pay.

Those are the headlines right now, Wolf.

BLITZER: Very interesting. We'll take a look at that study. Thank you, Carol.

Just ahead, a Republican eyeing the White House breaks ranks with President Bush on Iraq. The former New York Governor George Pataki will be my guest.

Also the insurgency in Iraq, is it being fueled from within or from the outside? CNN's Zain Verjee is standing by. She is taking a closer look at State Department efforts underway right now to try to make the Iran connection.

And later, a congressman from Colorado throws down the gauntlet to ethnic political caucuses. He said they should go. Is this any way to set up a White House bid?

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


BLITZER: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM where new pictures and information are arriving all the time. Happening now, fighting words from the new Pentagon chief to members of Congress. Robert Gates says a resolution opposing a troop buildup in Iraq undercuts U.S. commanders and I'm quoting now, "emboldens the enemy."

The president green lights a capture or kill mission targeting Iranians on the attack in Iraq. The new military order is aimed at protecting U.S. troops and it's sending a get tough message to Iran.

And a court-martial is ordered in the Abu Ghraib Prison scandal. Lieutenant Colonel Steven Lee Jordan faces arraignment Tuesday right here in Washington. He's the only officer charged with a crime in the Abu Ghraib case.

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

The Bush administration says it's gathering evidence right now that will prove, prove Iran's involvement in fomenting (ph) chaos in Iraq. Our State Department correspondent Zane Verjee has details of a dossier that's certain to come under strong scrutiny -- Zain.

ZAIN VERJEE, CNN STATE DEPARTMENT CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, accusations that Iran is playing dirty in Iraq, but so far there's been no proof. The Bush administration may change that.



VERJEE (voice-over): For the United States, one of the main culprits for the chaos in Iraq, Iran.


VERJEE: Iran's response, prove it. The U.S. says it can. And says it will clearly connect to the dots to show Iran's meddling in Iraq.

SEAN MCCORMACK, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESMAN: A mountain of evidence, yes, indeed. A substantial body, convincing, clear evidence.

VERJEE: The U.S. says Iran is providing Iraqi insurgent networks WITH technology to build lethal explosive devices where U.S. troops are often the victims.


VERJEE: Washington says it will compile this evidence and show it to the American public and the world. It's moving ahead but cautiously. The State Department was burned back in February 2003.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Less than a teaspoon of dry anthrax, a little...

VERJEE: And then Secretary of State Colin Powell embarrassed. His dramatic presentation to the United Nations on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction was used to justify the U.S.-led invasion but proved bogus. Officials say the Iran dossier may take a while because the administration is working on declassifying information first. MCCORMACK: At the end of the day you have to make a determination as to exactly how useful the information is that you are able to declassify. There are certain restrictions. You don't want to blow your sources and methods.


VERJEE: When or if an Iran dossier emerges, the international community will likely hold the U.S. to a higher standard of skepticism and scrutiny, especially after the loss of credibility over Iraq -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Zain Verjee at the State Department for us.

Meanwhile, there's new information tonight indicating Iran could -- could -- have a nuclear bomb by the year 2009.

Let's turn to CNN's Brian Todd. He's investigating this part of the story -- Brian.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, at the same time Iran bans dozens of U.N. inspectors from entering the country, Tehran makes another bold move that a former weapons inspector says could lead to a military confrontation.


TODD (voice-over): A diplomat close to the nuclear watchdog agency tells CNN Iran's government is set to take a key step toward making a nuclear bomb.

Citing reports from Iranian officials and U.N. inspectors in Iran, the diplomat says, next month, Iran will start installing modules at its underground facility at Natanz, each capable of housing 3,000 centrifuges. What makes 3,000 an ominous number?

DAVID ALBRIGHT, INSTITUTE FOR SCIENCE & INTERNATIONAL SECURITY: It could use that set of centrifuges to make enough highly enriched uranium for one or two nuclear weapons a year. And it could start to do that on fairly short notice.

TODD: Former U.N. inspector David Albright says, with this move, it could take Iran just over two years to produce a bomb, though technical problems could push it back several years.

Still, a U.S. official is angry enough to call this a major miscalculation by Tehran.

NICHOLAS BURNS, UNDERSECRETARY OF STATE: If Iran takes this step, it's going to confront -- confront universal international opposition.

TODD: An Iranian official at the United Nations tells CNN those machines at Natanz cannot produce the grade of uranium needed for a bomb, and he repeats his government's assertion that its nuclear program is for civilian energy. David Albright says the machines are flexible enough to do both.

The U.N.'s top nuclear official wants everyone to cool down.

MOHAMED ELBARADEI, IAEA DIRECTOR GENERAL: I call on all parties to take a simultaneous time out, Iran take a time out from its enrichment activities, the international community takes time out from application of sanctions. Go immediately to the negotiating table.


TODD: David Albright says, that makes sense, at least in the short term. But he doesn't think that's going to happen. What makes the situation so dangerous now, says Albright, is that U.S. forces are now confronting Iranian agents inside Iraq -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Brian, thank you -- Brian reporting for us.

And, as we reported earlier, President Bush has now formally authorized U.S. military forces in Iraq to either capture or kill any Iranian agents found in that country, if there's intelligence showing they're actually planning to attack U.S. or coalition forces.

I talked about it earlier with retired U.S. Army Colonel Pat Lang, the former Pentagon chief of Middle East intelligence.


BLITZER: Well, what would happen if the U.S. does kill these Iranians and the president has signed off on it?

COLONEL PAT LANG (RET.), U.S. ARMY: Well, if he has signed off on it and intelligence is developed that indicates that what he says it's true, then they will in fact eliminate the people.

The problem is, is that the Iranians will then have to make a decision as to how they're going to retaliate for that.

BLITZER: Well, how could they retaliate?

LANG: They could retaliate against U.S. forces in Iraq in a big way.


BLITZER: How could they do that?

LANG: They have hundreds of thousands of people from the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence and the Revolutionary Guard corps already in Iraq.

BLITZER: Hundreds of thousands?

LANG: Oh, yes. That's -- that's a well-established figure that's though to be true across the community of people who look at this. And they're there as liaison personnel with the various Shia militias and things like that. And, if they get sufficiently angry with us, they can start retaliating directly against our forces.

BLITZER: And, in terms of in the past, Iranians, at least according to U.S. officials, have been accused of using terror organizations as sort of a cover for what they're plotting.

LANG: The Islamic Republic of Iraq (sic) has been the principal international sponsor of Islamic terrorism, both Sunni and Shia, ever since its foundation after the revolution against the shah.

They're very skilled at this. They have done it all over the world. And they would be -- they would be right in character with the way they do things to start using terrorism as an instrument of retaliation.

BLITZER: You're referring to Iran right now?

LANG: I'm referring to Iran. That's right. And they could do it anywhere in the world, not just in Iraq.

BLITZER: So, basically, there is potential here for what is a really bad situation getting increasingly worse?

LANG: Yes, there's a cycle of escalation going on right now between -- certainly on our side. The Iranians, on their side, have kind of hunkered down and are acting stubborn about things, in the way that people in the Third World sometimes do when their ambitions are interfered with.

But I don't see any tendency to a de-escalation.

BLITZER: You have studied Iraq for a long time. Is it going to make a difference?

LANG: Well, in the overall situation?


LANG: I don't think it will, because the force is too small in the Baghdad area, and it relies too heavily on Iraqi efficiency in carrying this out. And we're going to have a lot of people scattered in little penny packets all over the city, packed with Iraqi forces.

And I doubt if that's actually going to have the clearing effect in Baghdad that we expect it will have.

BLITZER: So,what's going to happen over the next six months?

LANG: Over the next six months, I think the United States government will come to the realization that Prime Minister Maliki cannot deliver on the some of things that he has in fact told them he's going to be able to do, and we might well have change of government in Iraq.

BLITZER: A change, would that be good?

LANG: It's probably another government which also cannot deliver on promises it might make the United States, because any government there that is Shia in character has to depend on the Shia parties and militias for its support. So, they can't fight these people in the long run.

BLITZER: What the American public wants to know is, the vulnerability, what's going to happen to 160,000 or so American troops in Iraq over the next six months to a year?

LANG: Over the next year, I would say that we're going to have a situation which will not improve markedly. But we will still have approximately the same number of people in Iraq.

And, a year from now, say, in the middle of '08, we will be facing a situation in which that things will not have greatly improved.


BLITZER: Retired U.S. Army Colonel Pat Lang speaking with me earlier.

Up ahead tonight: He once was an ardent defender of President Bush's war in Iraq. Now he's breaking ranks and may be eying the White House -- the former New York Governor George Pataki here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

And the Academy Awards may love Al Gore, but not one Seattle school district that slapped a ban on his global warming film, a chilly reception -- ahead in culture wars.

We will be right back.


BLITZER: The CNN Political Ticker always has the latest political news -- tonight, the ticker reporting that the former New York Governor George Pataki is breaking ranks with President Bush when it comes to Iraq.

We talked about it just a short while ago right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: So, are you breaking ranks with the president right now and splitting with him on this troop surge, this buildup?

GEORGE PATAKI (R), FORMER NEW YORK GOVERNOR: I'm offering a different path. And I just saw where there's anti-war protests. There are Democrats saying, get out now. The president says we need to surge.

What I am trying to do is offer a way forward that can bring Americans together. We are facing a very, very important global struggle, the Islamic jihadists who have attacked us in the past and want to do it again. We can't disengage from this war without raising the risk of more attacks here in America.

So, what I, in my speech today, talked about are the two different battles we are in, in Iraq, one, after the al Qaeda jihadists. We have to...

BLITZER: Which, you support that one. But...

PATAKI: ... we have to stay and we have to be...

BLITZER: ... but you don't think the other one is winnable; is that what you're saying?

PATAKI: Well, the second is to create that stable representative democracy based in Baghdad.

Of course we want that to happen. We hope it happens. But, before we commit more troops in the middle of the sectarian violence, we have to have more than hope.

BLITZER: This is what you said at the Republican convention in New York in 2004, because I want to see this transition from...


BLITZER: ... where you were then to where you are now. Listen to this.

PATAKI: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.


PATAKI: With supreme guts and rightness, President Bush went into Iraq. The U.S. had asked for peace, went to the U.N. time and again, asked Saddam to step aside. But Saddam would not be moved.

So, President Bush moved him. Some people have called this an abuse of power. I call it progress.



BLITZER: Knowing what you know now, knowing what's happened over the past three-and-a-half years, more than 3,000 deaths, thousands of others maimed, $400 billion, is this still progress? Was this a blunder?

PATAKI: Well, when I spoke then, we were fighting against Saddam, and we had defeated Saddam, and we had taken away the ability of anyone to use Iraq as a platform to attack America.

Today, as I said, we have gone from fighting that war against al Qaeda -- which is still ongoing in Anbar and over other parts of Iraq -- to being in the middle of what is essentially a religious war between Shia and Sunni extremists.

BLITZER: It's a civil war, some say.

PATAKI: Well, whether or not it's a civil war, it's one over -- that isn't directly related to...

BLITZER: This is not what you bargained for.

PATAKI: This is not what I think the American people expected. I don't think it's what the administration expected.

They thought -- and with some justification -- that you create the climate for change, you have free elections, you create a government that moderate Sunni, moderate Shia, Kurds, could come together behind that government.

But the government itself has not gone after Shia extremists led by al-Sadr. They have not provided security in Sunni areas. Many of the Sunni think that it's a Shia government that is not acting not only to protect them, but is actively against their interests.

And what I am saying is, we want to see a successful government in Baghdad. But they have got to take concrete steps to show that they're part of -- part of the solution, and not part of the problem...

BLITZER: Where do...

PATAKI: ... before we commit more troops.

BLITZER: You're way down, at only 3 percent; Giuliani at 32; and McCain at 26. You have got to get in there and you have got to start fighting pretty soon if you really want to be president of the United States.

PATAKI: Wolf, what I want to see right now is our country have policies that bring us together and that allow us to confront the challenges we face head on. In Washington, we need less of the politics, less of the partisanship, and more of the principled policies that we need.

And that's what I tried to outline today, a policy for Iraq that Republicans and Democrats, the administration and Congress, could get behind.

BLITZER: So, give us -- I'm going to let you go -- but give me a time frame. When do you think you will make your mind up?

PATAKI: Oh, I still want to focus on policy for a while. I will make a decision some point in the near future.

BLITZER: The next few weeks?

PATAKI: In all likelihood.

BLITZER: If you run, do you think you could beat Hillary Clinton?

PATAKI: You know, everybody runs against people. What I'm trying to do is advance policies.


BLITZER: And Governor Pataki has a very personal stake in what's going on in Iraq. He has a son who serves in the United States Marine Corps.

And there's also this: more competition coming for Governor Pataki, if he decides to run for the White House -- an adviser to former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee telling CNN, Huckabee will fire papers next week to form a presidential exploratory committee, possibly as soon as Monday.

This additional note: CNN is co-sponsoring the first presidential debates, with both Democratic and Republican candidates, on April 4 and 5 of this year in New Hampshire. You're going to want to see those.

Up ahead: Another candidate eying the White House has a controversial way to get your attention. Will it help or hurt Republican Congressman Tom Tancredo's presidential run?

And not everyone is impressed with Al Gore's global warming movie, "An Inconvenient Truth." We are going to tell you why one school district is fiercely debating whether or not to let the students see it.

Stay with us. We will be right back.


BLITZER: Colorado Congressman and possible presidential candidate Tom Tancredo is causing some new controversy.

He's calling for the Congressional Black Caucus and similar ethnic and race-based groups in the Capitol to simply be abolished.

Let's go to CNN's Carol Costello. She's joining us from New York with details -- Carol.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, Wolf, Tom Tancredo is kind of Tom Terrific at getting attention. He's already called President Bush tone-deaf. And he's called the city of Miami a Third World country. This times, he calls Congress hypocritical for sanctioning racially exclusive clubs.


COSTELLO (voice-over): Presidential hopeful Tom Tancredo minces no words. He calls Congress hypocritical for sanctioning race-based caucuses, like the Black and Hispanic caucuses.

He says, "If we are serious about achieving the goal of a colorblind society, Congress should lead by example and end these divisive race-based caucuses."

Sour grapes, says the Black Caucus. And some analysts say insincere from a man who called Miami a Third World Country.

MARIE HORRIGAN, "CONGRESSIONAL QUARTERLY": What he's really hoping to do is drive the debate on the immigration issue rightward.

COSTELLO: But some say he's doing that by picking on a nonissue.

According to House rules, congressional caucuses are voluntary groups of like-minded people. They are not taxpayer funded.

And there are dozens of other caucuses, like the Immigration Reform Caucus, of which Tancredo is a member. But some analysts say, he's picking on an issue that sends a message to his conservative base.

HORRIGAN: He doesn't care. He has his agenda. His agenda is to make illegal immigration a very black-and-white issue in the national debate. And that's really all he cares about. Whether or not people think he's racist is not of import to him.

COSTELLO: One Republican pollster says Tancredo is taking a cue from Senator Strom Thurmond, who, in 1948, ran for president on a segregationist platform that guaranteed defeat, but spoke so loudly to his base in South Carolina, he remained in Congress for 48 years.


COSTELLO: All of this outrage over race-based caucuses coming a day before Tancredo travels to New Hampshire to pitch his longshot presidential bid -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thank you for that, Carol Costello, reporting.

Frigid weather gripping much of the Northeast today -- the cold snap comes during an otherwise relatively warm winter that's been fueling the controversy over global warming. And that debate, by the way, is flaring right now in one school district.

CNN's Mary Snow is joining us from New York with more on this latest front in the so-called culture wars -- Mary.

SNOW: Well, Wolf, on the same day that Hollywood announced an Oscar nomination for Al Gore's "An Inconvenient Truth" this week, a school board in the state of Washington was waging an intense debate over whether the movie should be shown to students.


SNOW (voice-over): Is Al Gore's movie, "An Inconvenient Truth," the next chapter in the debate pitting God against science in the classroom?

Ask this parent, Frosty Hardison, who has protested to a Seattle suburb school board, demanding his 13-year-old daughter not be shown what he calls the propagandist Al Gore video on global warming.

FROSTY HARDISON, PARENT: It's not that we don't believe global warming is an occurrence, is happening. In fact, it says so in Revelations. We have been expecting it for, what, 3,500 years now?

SNOW: Hardison argued that the world is under a curse of God and said other explanations for global warming, not just within the movie, need to be taught. The school board put a moratorium on the film, citing political concerns.

DAVE LARSON, FEDERAL WAY SCHOOL BOARD: There shouldn't just be one source information, especially when the person that is presenting it is a political partisan.

SNOW: The moratorium was later lifted, but only if another point of view is taught in class. The question we posed to scientist: What is an alternative view?

PHIL ARKIN, UNIVERSITY OF MARYLAND: I don't think there is legitimately an actual opposing viewpoint to the "Inconvenient Truth" film.

SNOW: Other scientists says it's almost like asking for an opposing point of view to the fact the Earth is round.

And the flap has stung producer Laurie David, who says the film is required viewing for students in Scotland, Sweden and Norway.

LAURIE DAVID, PRODUCER, "AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH": My reaction is that it's completely outrageous, really. And, you know, this movie is based on fact. It's based on science. And there's really nothing controversial about science.


SNOW: Now, the film's producer says she was also stunned when the National Science Teachers Association turned down 50,000 free DVDs of the film. The organization said it doesn't endorse films, and that, too, set off a heated debate -- Wolf.

BLITZER: In that school district, Mary, the alternate theories that some of them wanted to present, what were they?

SNOW: Well, that's the murky thing, Wolf.

When I asked the school board about that, they really didn't have any theories set forth. They said, going forward, if this film is shown in the classroom, then, the principal must OK the alternative theories that are presented, but that the teacher has to come up with them. So, it was very murky policy.

BLITZER: All right, Mary -- Mary Snow reporting for us.

Ever wondered exactly what a senator does all day? Well, you're about to get a peek. Montana Freshman Senator Jon Tester has taken the unprecedented step of posting his entire schedule online.

Our Internet reporter, Abbi Tatton, standing by with some details -- Abbi. ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, Senator Tester promised to do this early on in his campaign. And, now that he's in the Senate, his entire schedule can be found, posted at the end of the day, on his Web site.

You can track a lot of things here, like how often the senator goes to the gym, to the names of every single person that the senator is meeting with during his workday.

Now, there's been an effort brewing for more information of this kind to be put on the Web. The Sunlight Foundation is a group that pushes for greater government transparency. And, last fall, they were offering members of the public up to $1,000 cash if they managed to persuade a member of Congress or a candidate who was running to post their schedules online.

Well, no sitting member agreed to do it at that point, but 93 candidates did. And one of them, at least, got elected. That was New York's Kirsten Gillibrand. And there is her schedule, posted on her Web site.

Now, all of this information is being archived at the site Congresspedia. And, so, if you want to go on and find out just exactly the kind of people that these politicians have been mixing with, it's all online -- Wolf.

BLITZER: I remember that interview. It was a nice interview with Senator Tester. I think he's on to something. We're going to see more of this.

Abbi, thank you.

Let's check in with Paula to see what's coming up right at the top of the hour.

Hi, Paula.


Coming up just about six minutes from now, we shine a light on America's hidden secrets, bringing intolerance out into the open.

Tonight: verdicts in a case that sparked racial tension in an upscale Southern California neighborhood. Nine African-American girls and a boy were accused in a brutal Halloween attack on three white women. Just a short time ago, with a crowd of about 100 people outside of the courthouse, nine of the 10 were convicted.

We're going to have a whole lot more on that story coming up at the top of the House, as well as some other stories I think people will be interested in tonight, as we close out the week here -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Sounds good. Paula, thank you very much.

Jack Cafferty wants to know: What message does President Bush send by saying he's the decision-maker? Jack standing by with "The Cafferty File."



BLITZER: Here's a look at some of the "Hot Shots" coming from our friends over at the Associated Press, pictures likely to be in your hometown newspapers tomorrow.

In Wisconsin, a snow kiter takes advantage of the wind and the snow to go airborne.

In Colorado, firefighters discuss strategy for an upcoming competition at a ski resort.

In Virginia, a sheep finds the grass greener on the other side of the fence.

And, in Paris, a model wears a bizarre creation by designer John Galliano.

And that's some of this hour's "Hot Shots," pictures often worth 1,000 words.

Jack Cafferty, he's joining us once again this week for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.


The question this hour is: What message does President Bush send when he says he's the decision-maker?

Mary writes from Sebastian, Florida: "I love this country, probably as much as you do. However, whenever I hear, 'I am the decision-maker,' I cringe. This confirms his arrogant, stubborn personality, and serves no American citizen well. What a total waste of time and taxpayer money the James Baker study was -- so very sad."

Gloria in Lehighton, Pennsylvania: "I think it's time for the people of this country to send a message to Mr. Bush and enlighten him that we are the ultimate decision-makers and we should demand his resignation or impeachment."

Joe in Wilkinson, Indiana: "Jack, the first clue would be that George Bush is our president. That includes the title commander in chief. What part of that do you not understand?"

Mike in Saint Paul, Minnesota: "The message I get is that President Bush acts as though he were appointed, and not elected."

Tony in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania: "Sorry to disagree with you. The idiots that voted for him were the decision-makers. Unfortunately for the world, we, as a country, have made that choice."

And Don in Maitland, Florida: "When President Bush says he's the decision-maker, it's called accountability. I'm sick of your constant criticism of him. It must be nice to get paid just for complaining every evening."

If you didn't see your e-mail here, you can go to, or you can read some more of these online -- Wolf.

BLITZER: You know, there's going to be a major demonstration, anti-war demonstration, here in Washington tomorrow, including some movie stars, politicians, others.

When all is said and done, though, do you think that is going to make much of a difference?

CAFFERTY: Probably not.

But I remember, during Vietnam, that it wasn't until the people began to take to the streets, as it were, and -- and do some demonstrating and protesting, that it seemed to -- to start registering with the people who were orchestrating the -- the war in Washington, D.C.

There are also some active-duty members of the military that are supposed to show up for this thing tomorrow.

Is it going to make a difference? Probably not. It will -- part of it will depend on how much coverage it gets from the media, I suppose, and whether the story gets legs through the weekend or not.

BLITZER: It will get some coverage, I'm sure.

Jack, see you on Monday. Have a good weekend. Thanks very much.

CAFFERTY: You, too, Wolf. Thanks.

BLITZER: I will be here Sunday for "LATE EDITION" -- among my guests, Senators Jay Rockefeller and Jon Kyl -- Sunday, 11:00 a.m. Eastern, "LATE EDITION," the last word in Sunday talk.

That's it for me. Let's go to Paula in New York -- Paula.

ZAHN: Thanks, Wolf.


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