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LOU DOBBS TONIGHT
Chopper Down in Iraq; Political Battle Over Iraq; Iraq Fraud Charges
Aired February 7, 2007 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
LOU DOBBS, HOST: Tonight we'll be reporting on another U.S. helicopter crashing in Iraq. Seven of our troops killed. Why are so many of our helicopters now being shot down in Iraq?
We'll have that special report, and what the military is doing about it.
Also tonight, the Department of Homeland Security now admits it lied in the case of two U.S. Border Patrol agents sent to prison for doing their jobs. One of those agents severely beaten in prison. Leading members of Congress are furious.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. DANA ROHRABACHER (R), CALIFORNIA: Mr. President, if these men, especially after this assault, are murdered in prison, if one of them lose their lives, there's going to be some kind of impeachment talk in Capitol Hill.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
DOBBS: And a blistering assessment of the leadership and management failures at the Department of Homeland Security. Government auditors now say the federal government has left gaping holes in our defenses against radical Islamist terrorists.
We'll have that special report, the day's news, a great deal more, straight ahead here tonight.
ANNOUNCER: This is LOU DOBBS TONIGHT, news, debate and opinion for Wednesday, February 7th.
Live in New York, Lou Dobbs.
DOBBS: Good evening, everybody.
All seven people aboard a U.S. Marine Corps helicopter today were killed when their Sea Knight crashed in Al Anbar Province. The military says it is still investigating the cause of the crash. Four other helicopters have been downed in Iraq over the past three weeks. All of them as a result of enemy fire.
Meanwhile, Democratic congressmen are pushing forward with plans to hold a full-scale debate on the president's conduct of this war. Those congressmen are furious at the Senate's failure to hold a debate on the president's Iraq policy. Barbara Starr tonight reports from the Pentagon on the rising threat to our helicopters in Iraq.
Dana Bash reports from Capitol Hill on the political battle over Iraq.
And Lisa Sylvester reports from Washington tonight on a multimillion-dollar fraud scandal in Iraq.
We turn first to Barbara Starr at the Pentagon -- Barbara.
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Lou, a full military investigation under way now into what is happening, what is bringing down U.S. helicopters over Iraq.
STARR (voice over): A fifth helicopter down in Iraq in just over two weeks. This time, a Marine Corps CH-46 in Al Anbar Province. Military officials say it may have been mechanical failure. This, after four shoot-downs and the military trying to figure out if there is a new enemy threat against its helicopters.
GEN. PETER PACE, JOINT CHIEFS CHAIRMAN: At this point in time, I do not know whether or not it is the law of averages that caught up with us, or if there had been a change in tactics, techniques and procedures on the part of the enemy.
STARR: January 20th: Twelve soldiers killed when an Army Black Hawk crashed.
January 23rd: Five civilians killed when a small private helicopter was brought down.
January 28th: An Apache gun ship is downed. Two crewmen killed.
February 2nd: Two more Apache crewmembers killed north of Baghdad.
With Iraqis roads becoming IED killing zones, transport helicopters are increasingly relied on to move troops. Apaches provide vital airborne defense for troops in combat on the ground.
U.S. military helicopters often are large, slow-moving targets vulnerable to attack by shoulder-fired missiles, rocket-propelled grenades, and small arms.
MAJ. GEN. DON SHEPPERD (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: In fighter aircraft, pilots have the opportunity to pull up and away and eject. In a helicopter, the only thing you can do is land.
STARR: The threat is readily seen in Baghdad. Helicopters fly low and fast, zigzagging across the city to avoid some threats.
BRIG. GEN. DAVID GRANGE (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: High altitude is more susceptible of surface-to-air missiles taking them down. Low altitude, it's better for small arms fire to take on a helicopter.
STARR: Lou, military investigators say so far there is no pattern to the attacks. They're all different. They are all taking place in different parts of Iraq. And they do not think at this point that there's some new enemy weapon inside of Iraq.
So the question is, are insurgent tactics getting better?
DOBBS: And the fact that it's been three weeks of these shoot- downs is alarming in that we do not know the answers, do not yet -- have not yet established cause and effect here.
And Barbara, quickly to another reference in your report, and that is to IEDs, we were told a year ago that the U.S. military was coming up with a counter-IED approach and technology to be deployed.
What has happened?
STARR: Well, Lou, it's a matter of mathematics at this point. Actually, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff told Congress yesterday the number of IEDs being placed on the roads in Iraq is doubling over the last several months.
Now, the U.S. is finding more of them, able to disarm them. But the Iraqis are putting them out there faster and faster, more IEDs, very difficult for the U.S. to keep up. They are looking at new technologies, but still, tragically, IEDs are accounting for well over half of some of the fatalities that we're seeing in Iraq -- Lou.
DOBBS: Thank you very much.
Barbara Starr reporting from the Pentagon.
The military still has not confirmed whether all seven people killed on that Marine Corps helicopter were servicemen and women. As a result, the number of American troops reported killed in this war remains the same as before the crash.
Twenty of our troops have been killed so far this month. An increase of two over the past 24 hours. 3,103 of our troops have been killed since the beginning of the war. 23,417 wounded, 10,397 of them wounded so seriously they could not return to duty within three days.
The families of four private security contractors killed in Iraq strongly criticize the men's employer, Blackwater USA. Family members today told a House panel that Blackwater failed to provide armored vehicles and other protective equipment.
The four Blackwater employees were killed in Falluja, west of Baghdad, three years ago. The families are suing Blackwater. Blackwater says the case should be decided in a court of law, not in Congress. Democratic leaders in the House of Representatives are planning a full-scale debate on the conduct of the war in Iraq next week. Congressional Democrats are moving ahead with their plans after the Senate failed to hold a debate. Republicans and Democrats blame one another for that stalemate in the Senate.
Dana Bash reports from Capitol Hill.
DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): It's now clear the Senate will not vote on Iraq anytime soon, but the debate is as heated as ever. Not about the president's Iraq policy or plan, but about who should pay the political price for the Senate deadlock.
SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MAJORITY LEADER: Soldiers are being shipped as we speak without the Senate having to take a vote on whether or not that surge should take place. So in that respect, they're stalling has probably benefited the president.
BASH: Democrats argue Republicans are on the wrong side of public opinion, pointing to polls like this which show 64 percent of the public wants Congress to vote for a resolution opposing more troops in Iraq. And, CNN has learned, Democratic campaign officials are likely to run radio and newspaper ads targeting Republican senators up for re-election like New Hampshire's John Sununu and Oregon's Gordon Smith, saying they stood in the way of an Iraq vote.
Senate Republicans are waging their own public relations effort to get their side of the stalemate out.
SEN. PAT ROBERTS (R), KANSAS: We are not stifling or shutting down debate. They are.
Hello up there? Is there anyway that you can discern that?
BASH: Arguing that Democrats are responsible for the standoff because they won't let Republicans vote on a resolution promising to fund troops in Iraq.
SEN. JUDD GREGG (R), NEW HAMPSHIRE: It is literally impossible to address the debate on Iraq without addressing the most fundamental issue, which is whether or not our troops are going to be supported when they are asked to defend us.
BASH: And, Lou, tonight there is new evidence that some Republicans are feeling the pressure of public opinion. Seven GOP senators wrote a letter just tonight to Senate leaders saying that the current stalemate on Iraq is unacceptable. These seven Republicans oppose the president's plan to send more troops to Iraq.
Some of them like Senator John Warner of Virginia voted against the procedural measure that would have started debate this week. But now he's saying that that should not be seen as lessening of our resolve. And he and other senators who wrote this letter say that they are going to try to force a vote as soon as possible on this issue -- Lou.
DOBBS: Dana, is there any sense there in the U.S. Senate that it is very likely most Americans think both parties and that entire body of senators are simply pathetic in their inability to debate one of the most critical issues of our time -- that is the conduct of this war?
BASH: Well, I know if you just -- the answer to that question is it will be probably pretty hard to get them to admit that publicly. But I think the answer is, if you watch them, and watch really what they did all day today, Republicans and Democrats, scrambling to try to explain their actions or, more importantly, their inaction, that probably could answer your question.
DOBBS: Thank you very much.
Dana Bash from Capitol Hill.
Anti-war protesters today tried to disrupt testimony on Capitol Hill by Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Joint Chiefs chairman General Peter Pace. Those protesters were clearly visible behind General Pace as he testified before the House Senate Armed Services Committee. Capitol Police made no effort whatsoever to remove the protesters.
A spokesman for the House Armed Services Committee said the police took no action because those protesters did not cause a physical or active disturbance.
The Justice Department today announced that five people had been indicted in a huge money laundering and bribery scandal in Iraq. Three of those charged are former officers in the U.S. Army Reserve. The husband of one of those officers and a civilian contractor have also been charged.
Lisa Sylvester has the report from Washington.
LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): A federal grand jury indicted a former U.S. Army Reserve colonel who was the second highest-ranking official in the U.S.-run Coalition Provisional Authority in the south central region. According to federal investigators, U.S. Army Colonel Curtis Whiteford, Lieutenant Colonel Debra Harrison, a former comptroller, and Lieutenant Colonel Michael Wheeler, an adviser on Iraqi reconstruction projects, helped funnel $8 million in contracts to a U.S. reconstruction company. In exchange, they received over $1 million in kickbacks.
PAUL MCNULTY, DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL: These individuals used the CPA funds as their own personal ATM machines. They allegedly stole millions of dollars from the CPA and rigged valuable reconstruction projects, all while helping themselves to cash, SUVs and luxury cars.
SYLVESTER: Harrison allegedly swiped $300,000 from CPA funds and used part of it to build a deck and a hot tub on her New Jersey home. Congress has been scrutinizing the rampant fraud and abuse after the fall of Baghdad -- $12 billion, money from Iraqi oil revenue, cannot be accounted for.
REP. HENRY WAXMAN (D), CALIFORNIA: Was it spent responsibility? Was it misspent? Was it wasted?
Did it go off to pay --- did it go to pay off corrupt officials? Or, worst all, did some of this money get in the hands of the insurgents and those who are fighting us today in Iraq?
SYLVESTER: At the same time billions were missing or stolen, a Department of Defense inspector-general report found U.S. troops went without basic needs.
REP. LOUISE SLAUGHTER (D), NEW YORK: From the outset, they have been sent into battle without the proper equipment, without proper communication, without proper weapons. Certainly without the proper armor.
It is a scandal, and of major proportions.
SYLVESTER: In total, the special inspector-general on Iraq reconstruction is investigating more than 80 cases of fraud and abuse.
SYLVESTER: The owner of the reconstruction company that received the rigged contracts, Philip Bloom (ph), pleaded guilty to charges of conspiracy, bribery and money laundering. He's scheduled to be sentenced next week -- Lou.
DOBBS: This case, $8 million, $12 billion still unaccounted for. And that's just the most recent accounting. A further accounting may reveal even more.
This is an absolutely deplorable situation.
SYLVESTER: This is indeed just the tip of the iceberg. We will be seeing many more of these news conferences where federal investigators highlight just cases of abuse and fraud. It is fairly outrageous -- Lou.
DOBBS: It is. It is that.
Thank you very much, Lisa.
Lisa Sylvester from Washington.
Iran is defying the United States, supporting insurgents in Iraq and escalating its nuclear weapons program despite U.N. sanctions. The Iranian military has now test-fired its new anti-aircraft missiles supplied by Russia. Moscow sold Tehran 29 of the missile systems despite objections from the United States. Iran is expected to deploy those missiles near its nuclear facilities.
Russia itself today announced its biggest military buildup since the Cold War ended. The Russian defense minister said Russia will replace nearly half its military equipment over the next eight years. The program includes the deployment of 84 new intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of striking targets in the United States. More than half those new missiles will be deployed on mobile launchers which can be hidden from U.S. spy satellites.
Coming up next here, the Department of Homeland Security admits it lied in the case of two Border Patrol agents sent to prison for doing their jobs.
We'll have a special report on why the Department of Homeland Security lied to the United States Congress.
Also, scathing criticism of the Department of Homeland Security for its repeated management and leadership failures.
And a rising number of states resisting efforts to introduce a national driver's license, a key measure to counteract terrorism. The author of the Real ID Act, Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner, is among our guests here tonight.
Stay with us.
DOBBS: More outrage tonight over the prison beating of former Border Patrol agent Ignacio Ramos. Members of Congress are now demanding an investigation into that attack.
In addition, damaging new information tonight showing that the Department of Homeland Security lied to Congress, information contradicting the Bush administration's version of events and the stated reason for prosecuting those two Border Patrol agents.
Casey Wian has our report.
CASEY WIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Congressional Republicans are again demanding that President Bush intervene on behalf of former Border Patrol agents Ignacio Ramos and Jose Compean, now serving 11 and 12 years in prison for shooting and wounding a Mexican illegal alien drug smuggler. As we've reported, Ramos was beaten severely in prison over the weekend by men yelling insults in Spanish.
ROHRABACHER: If these men, after -- especially after this assault are murdered in prison, if one of them lose their lives, there's going to be some kind of impeachment talk in Capitol Hill.
WIAN: Supporters of the former agents delivered nearly 300,000 petitions to Congress Wednesday, demanding they be released. Eighty lawmakers, all Republicans, are sponsoring a bill that would pardon Ramos and Compean. So far, President Bush has refused to even consider the idea.
REP. WALTER JONES (R), NORTH CAROLINA: This decision is up to one person, the president of the United States. I don't know how many letters individually and collectively we have all sent and signed. And yet, the indifference by this White House is unacceptable.
Let's not wait too long with that sober look before you do what is right. And doing what is right is to return these men to their families and let the families understand that justice still prevails in America.
WIAN: At the same time, lawmakers released a long-awaited report on the case from the Homeland Security Department's Office of Inspector General. It fails to answer several key questions, including, why did the Justice Department prosecute the agents before the report was complete? And why did homeland security investigators tell several members of Congress they had evidence the agents were out to shoot Mexicans when Inspector General Richard Skinner admitted to lawmaker this week that was not true.
REP. JOHN CULBERSON (R), TEXAS: I asked Inspector General Richard Skinner, "Where are those statement and are they true? These statements that were made by your investigators, sir, are they true?" And he said under oath, "I'm sorry, Congressman, we misled you. Those statements were not true."
WIAN: Culberson is now demanding the resignation of three Homeland Security Department investigators. The key question remains: Why did U.S. attorney Johnny Sutton choose to vigorously prosecutor two Border Patrol agents for actions resulting from their pursuit of a drug smuggler, yet grant immunity, medical care and a temporary border crossing card to an admitted illegal alien drug smuggler?
WIAN: Sutton's ties to President Bush date back to at least to the mid-1990s, when he served as chief criminal adviser to then-Texas Governor Bush -- Lou.
DOBBS: And it's clear this prosecution originated in Washington, D.C. The inspector general's report, the idea that to hear Skinner, the IG, sit there and just blithely, we lied to you, Congress -- we've been reporting on this broadcast from the outset, and we were the first to do so, that this thing didn't make any sense from the very beginning.
Why in the world is the White House, why are the Democrats in Congress not responding on this issue?
WIAN: The Democrats in Congress are really silent on this issue, and it is, as you say, Lou, quite surprising. We talked to staff members of Duncan Hunter, who's the sponsor of that bill that would that pardon the agents. DOBBS: Right.
WIAN: They say they hope to have Democratic support for that bill soon. But in reality, he said -- the source that I spoke with said he thought maybe the Democrats are thinking this is a Republican issue and they don't want to sign on to it at this point. He thinks when enough public pressure is put on the Democrats, enough outrage from constituents -- and it's not just people who live in Republican districts who are outraged about this case -- that then they'll start seeing some Democrat sign on to this effort, and fairly soon -- Lou.
DOBBS: I mean, this is outrageous. They actually prosecuted this case before the investigation was completed.
WIAN: And it's one of the -- one of the unanswerable at this point questions about the timing of all this.
You know, as we've been reporting for several days, the fact that Johnny Sutton has said they couldn't go after the drug smuggler because they didn't have enough evidence to prosecute him for smuggling 750 pounds of marijuana into the United States, well, the OIG report clearly states -- it's out, it's public today -- it clearly states that a Border Patrol agent knew 16 days in advance of his decision to grant immunity to that drug smuggler, that in fact the smuggler admitted that he was on a drug-smuggling mission when he was shot.
DOBBS: And the further fact is, this drug smuggler, this illegal alien drug smuggler that became the darling of Johnny Sutton and his prosecutorial team in Texas, he, in point of fact, had been arrested subsequently for then $1 million in drugs for a second time and they held that away from the defense and from the jury.
WIAN: A lot of information was held from the defense and the jury. You know, we've talked about the trial transcripts we're still waiting to receive. And that's going to shed a lot more light on this case -- Lou.
DOBBS: Yes, it can. And, you know, one thing that I think a light that needs to be shined is on the U.S. Justice Department, the attorney general of that department, and the Department of Homeland Security, because this is just -- as Congressman Rohrabacher said, something smells here and it smells very badly.
Casey Wian, thank you for your outstanding reporting on this from the very beginning. We appreciate it. Thank you, sir.
DOBBS: That brings us to the subject of our poll. Do you believe that DHS officials should be held accountable for lying to Congress about Border Patrol agents Compean and Ramos? Yes or no?
Please cast your vote at loudobbs.com. The results coming up here later. Coming right up, a blistering assessment of management and leadership failures at the Department of Homeland Security. That special report.
And then, are you fed up with Washington? A third political party appears to be in the making. We'll tell you about Unity '08.
And a deadly arctic blast is gripping this country, and it is expected to worsen. More than five feet of snow fell in the East, and subzero temperatures are stretching across the Midwest.
All of that and more as we continue here.
Stay with us.
DOBBS: On Capitol Hill today, harsh accusations about the state of the Department of Homeland Security -- mismanagement, poor leadership, a host of loopholes leaving this country and its citizens at risk.
Christine Romans reports.
CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): A withering assessment of leadership and management at the Department of Homeland Security. The government's own watchdog, the Government Accountability Office, calls the DHS transformation from 22 agencies into one department high risk. "Failure to effectively address its challenges could have serious consequences for our homeland security."
DAVID WALKER, GAO: While they've made some progress, they've got a long way to go.
ROMANS: GAO director David Walker chronicled a long list of challenges to overcome -- cargo and passenger screen, visitor tracking, employment of illegal aliens, outdated Coast Guard assets. To say nothing of poor marks for leadership and accountability at the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
And according to the GAO, the department can't pass a routine financial audit. Essentially unable to account for the taxpayer money its been given to spend.
A spokesman for DHS called the report a rehash of four years of GAO criticism of the department. "We are moving at an astronomical rate here to bring together 22 agencies, while at the same time, protecting the nation."
But security experts say DHS must move faster and better.
DANIEL PRIETO, THE REFORM INST.: In my view, the window of opportunity to get things right is closing. We can't afford to have the Department of Homeland Security fail on this mission. We can't afford to have the Department of Homeland Security become, in effect, the DMV of the federal government, an organization that's viewed as inefficient and ineffective.
ROMANS: He says it will take more money and better leadership.
ROMANS: For every example of progress, government auditors find another half-dozen loop hopes that yet need to be closed, still leaving this country at risk -- Lou.
DOBBS: Yes, and that we didn't even get into the issue of the fact this our ports are still not secure. No reference to borders over which a million or more illegal aliens cross every year.
The idea that someone at DHS could refer to this as simply a rehash of four years of charges against the management of DHS? That's spectacular.
ROMANS: There have been four years of very sharp criticism, and the GAO has not been able to take this agency off -- this department off the high-risk list.
DOBBS: And I love the attitude, a rehash. I wonder if it occurs to anyone at DHS that -- the fact that there's some repetition in this is because they're not solving the problems and doing what they're supposed do for American -- American citizens?
You are, Christine. Thank you very much.
Time now for some of your thoughts.
Jim in Texas wrote in to say, "I've been a fan of yours ever since you started to take notice of the things that really matter to the middle and working class. I know that what I'm about to ask is akin to asking a dog to voluntarily leave a butcher shop, but here goes. Since I can see no value beyond the titillation factor in the story about Lisa Nowak, why not do the right thing and stop the wall- to-wall coverage of it?"
You may have noticed there is no coverage of that particular story on this broadcast tonight. And I love your metaphor.
Craig in Texas, "What is happening to the two Border Patrol agents Ramos and Compean is simply outrageous. Johnny Sutton and Alberto Gonzales are guilty of protecting the illegal Mexican drug smuggler over two fine law enforcement officers. Sutton never had to prosecute this case and Gonzales darn well could have stopped it So who are the real criminals here?"
And Donald in Wisconsin: "The White House and Mr. Johnny Sutton are sending the message to all law-abiding Border Patrol agents that the mission ahead is to safeguard drug smugglers and their way of life."
Send us your thoughts at loudobbs.com. More of your thoughts coming up here later. Each of you whose e-mail is read here receives a copy of my book, "War on the Middle Class."
Up next, the prosecution's star witness takes the stand in the CIA leak trial of Scooter Libby. We'll have the very latest.
And is a three-party system what America wants and needs? Is it the cure that Washington needs? Stay with us for that and a great deal more.
DOBBS: Thirteen deaths are now being blamed on snow and the bitter cold in the east and Midwest. The freezing weather has led to school closings, flight cancellations, and car accidents from Minnesota to West Virginia to New York. Parts of western New York, in fact, are buried under more than five feet of snow tonight.
Freezing temperatures are likely to keep a firm grip on the Midwest and Northeast tonight, the forecasters say. Overnight lows will hover around zero from North Dakota to northern Illinois. Michigan and western New York can expect more lake-effect snow tomorrow. And another storm system moving onshore will bring rain and snow to the Pacific Northwest and Northern California.
Today on Capitol Hill, lawmakers heard from voter activists and others about how to make electronic voting systems work, with former Florida congressional candidate Christine Jennings in the audience. Members of the Senate Rules Committee pressed witnesses on how to avoid a repeat of the disastrous Sarasota, Florida election in which 18,000 votes cast on touch-screen machines were considered by Jennings to be simply lost. Witnesses appeal for mandatory voter verified paper audit trails, and more extensive volunteer training for future elections. Still, they warned, some problems may be unavoidable.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BRIT WILLIAMS, KENNESAW STATE UNIVERSITY: By the time you go through your procurement, get the machines in, get your poll workers trained, you know, 2008 is going to be here. So the bad news is that for the next election, we're probably going to be have to dance with then what brung us.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
DOBBS: Well, Senator Feinstein said she would call for a federal audit of Sarasota's electronic voting machines.
NBC's Tim Russert today disputed a claim that Lewis "Scooter" Libby heard about an exposed CIA operative from him. Russert, who is recovering from a broken ankle, is the star prosecution witness in the perjury trial. That's because Scooter Libby told investigators that Russert was his source for the leaked information. A number of witnesses have testified that Libby knew the CIA agent's identity before he talked with Russert.
Libby now acknowledges that, but says he forgot, and learned it again from Russert as if new. Voters may have more choices in the upcoming presidential election. A new political party's been formed by a group of people who say they're fed up with politics as usual. Our senior political analyst Bill Schneider has our report.
BILL SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST (voice-over): Let the politicking begin.
SAM WATERSTON, ACTOR: Today is a great opportunity for everybody to register and become a delegate to the virtual convention on the Internet.
SCHNEIDER: Say, isn't that Jack McCoy from NBC's "Law & Order?"
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's not true. I did it.
WATERSTON: Insurance fraud, payoffs, finally murder! All crimes of opportunity.
SCHNEIDER: Yes, but right now, actor Sam Waterston is concerned with political wrongdoing.
WATERSTON: The way we nominate people burdens them with debts to partisans and to money interests.
SCHNEIDER: Waterston's promoting Unity08.com, an online nominating process. It's for people who believe politics is the enemy of problem solving, like Waterston and many Americans.
WATERSTON: Every day when you pick up the newspaper, there's an article that makes you think, gee whiz, wouldn't it be great if there was a way to just put this straightforwardly in front of the people?
SCHNEIDER: Like, say, the Iraq war issue, which can't even come up for debate in the Senate because of a partisan impasse.
Unity08.com is asking ordinary citizens to help break that impasse.
WATERSTON: We're saying, help us define what the major issues are. And then we will bring those issues to the table.
SCHNEIDER: Unity08 intends to get on 50 state ballots and find candidates -- draft them, if necessary -- someone with bipartisan appeal. Maybe New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a Democrat turned Republican. Or anti-war Republican Senator Chuck Hagel. Will it work? We'll let Jack McCoy answer that.
WATERSTON: Let's do what we think is appropriate and let the chips fall where they may.
SCHNEIDER: Unity08 intends to stay in business just long enough to bring the two parties back to the middle. Now, they'll provide a platform and ballot access for any candidate who wants to step forward and say, I can bring this country together. Any takers? Lou?
DOBBS: Thank you very much, Bill. Bill Schneider, reporting from Washington.
And coming up here, Miguel Perez, Jesse Jackson, Michael Goodwin. They'll be answering Bill's question and dissecting the stalemate in the Senate over the Iraq resolution, and all of the week's political developments.
There's also open rebellion over a new law requiring a national driver's license. Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner calls this revolt a threat to national security. He's among our guests here. Stay with us.
DOBBS: The Real ID Act, intended to help prevent another terrorist attack, introducing a national driver's license. Now, at least seven states have begun efforts to avoid that law. And joining me now, the author of the Real ID Act, Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner.
Congressman, good to have you here.
What do you -- what is your reaction to those states who are trying to exempt their residents from the Real ID Act?
REP. JAMES SENSENBRENNER, (R) WISCONSIN: Well, they say it's a national driver's license and it's not.
SENSENBRENNER: It's optional amongst the states. If the states want to have their driver's licenses be valid for federal ID, they've got to do a couple of things.
One is to make sure that the people they issue those licenses to are legally present in the count. And secondly, they've got to check to make sure that somebody does not have a valid driver's license issued by another state.
This is not just an anti-terrorism action. We do know that the 9/11 hijackers had multiple driver's licenses from five states. But it's public safety as well because if you're up to 11 points on your driver's license, without the Real ID Act, you can use your cousin's address in the next state and get a clean license and continue to be a bad driver on the road.
DOBBS: One of the things I was impressed with, Congressman, in my state -- I live in New Jersey, the state actually sent me a note saying we're concerned about your Social Security ID matching up with your driver's license. I thought, my gosh, I've had this driver's license forever. I called up and they're doing a very good job of checking to make certain that people and their Social Security numbers and their driver's licenses are all valid and legal. SENSENBRENNER: The Real ID Act, Lou, actually prevents a national ID card...
SENSENBRENNER: ... because if we didn't use state driver's licenses to prove our identity, then there would be pressure on the federal government to have all of us carry a national ID, just like they do in continental Europe. That would that be a bad move. And I've been strongly opposed to having a national ID card for a whole number of reasons.
DOBBS: Let's turn now to the -- to the border, the border fence. I'd like to share this with all of our viewers and Michael Chertoff, the homeland security secretary, who was just blasted today by the General Accountability Office for further issues and problems and failures in management and leadership. But here's what he says about that fence. He says, quote, "We are committed to the right fencing in the right place at the right time."
Is there no end to the blather and nonsense and obfuscation emanating from the executive branch on the issue of border security?
SENSENBRENNER: President Bush signed the Secure Fence Act. That means that the fence has to be done in the 700 miles where it's appropriate to use a fence by the end of next year, and to put in high-tech equipment to detect people who are illegally entering the country in places where a fence won't work. He ought to read the law. He ought to support the law. And he ought to support appropriations to allow his department to get it done on time.
DOBBS: All right. Let me read you what new chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, Congressman Benny Thompson says.
"I plan to revisit the border fence idea. I spoke to several border town mayors. These mayors -- which included Republicans and Democrats -- told me what a bad idea the fence would be for their communities."
Well, how about that?
SENSENBRENNER: Well, how about that? Everybody tells Congress that securing our borders is a national responsibility. Congress stepped up to the plate and exercised this responsibility, not just in passing the law that the president signed, but increasing the appropriations for DHS by over $2.5 billion to make sure that the law is implemented.
DOBBS: It's truly remarkable. Congressman Sensenbrenner, we thank you for being here.
SENSENBRENNER: Thanks, Lou.
DOBBS: Appreciate it.
A reminder now to vote in our poll tonight. The question is, do you believe that DHS officials should be held accountable for lying to Congress about Border Agents Compean and Ramos?
Yes or no. Cast your vote at loudobbs.com. We'll have the results coming up here in just a few minutes.
Just ahead our political round table: Miguel Perez, Jesse Jackson, Michael Goodwin. They will assess the presidential hopefuls based on new polls and, of course, their insight and experience.
Stay with us.
DOBBS: Joining me now syndicated columnist Miguel Perez; columnist of the "New York Daily News", the Pulitzer-winning Michael Goodwin; and from Washington, D.C., founder, president, Rainbow/Push Coalition, Reverend Jesse Jackson.
Gentlemen, good to have you wish us.
Let me start with you, Michael. We've got -- there's a flood of candidates here. Does our cup runneth over or do we need to add a few more?
MICHAEL GOODWIN, "NEW YORK DAILY NEWS": No, I -- well, it's interesting. The unity idea is kind of fascinating, given what's happened in the Senate week. So, I -- look, I think this has a long way to go and the front-runners have a long time to stay in front. So it's dangerous to be in front this early in the race, as history would show us.
On the other hand, I think that the barriers to entry are so high, in terms of the cost, the name recognition...
DOBBS: They're estimating $100 million, Miguel. I mean this is crazy. Let's turn to the Senate. The Senate can't figure out a way to debate the most important issue facing the nation?
MIGUEL PEREZ, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: No, they're actually debating about how and when to debate.
DOBBS: It's just...
PEREZ: It's absurd. It is absurd. But I also like the idea of unity. I think the extremists on both ends in Congress have to be brought together to some kind of middle bound so they can agree on something.
DOBBS: The Republican National Committee and the Democratic National Committee right now are shaking in their boots when they hear you say that.
PEREZ: I love it, that's great.
DOBBS: Well, actually so do I.
Jesse Jackson, what do you think? JESSE JACKSON, RAINBOW/PUSH COALITION: Well, I think that the crowded field has got about a 14 month period between now and the 1st. And actually I think there's a benefit for those who have less known names. I think that to be out front that long means a lot of people have a target on your back.
DOBBS: Let's take a look at the most recent poll. And this shows -- CNN, WMUR New Hampshire presidential poll -- Republican primary voters choice for nominee, McCain 28 percent -- if we can see that. Do we have that? There we go -- McCain 28, Giuliani 27. Then it's Romney, Gingrich, others undecided. Undecided doing pretty well at this early stage, Michael.
GOODWIN: yes. Good to be undecided.
DOBBS: Is this --- does it look like there's any surprise here? Or is that pretty much what you would have expected?
GOODWIN: Look, I have said all along I think Giuliani and Clinton will be their parties' nominees. They are presumably the frontrunners now. I do think, though, Lou, one of the just the horse race issues is how early the states are now stacking up. So that's where you're going to need so much money to get through the big states very early on.
DOBBS: Let's take a look at Democrats. And again, it's WMUR/CNN New Hampshire presidential primary poll. Clinton, as you see there, she has a strong lead over Obama. And I will say, I mean, Obama wasn't even around six months ago. So for him to be there, I think is remarkable. Edwards, of course, is doing better. Gore, others undecided. Undecided doing even better with Democrats.
Jesse, what's your reaction?
JACKSON: Well, Obama can only go up. He has a very strong appeal to undecideds, a very strong appeal to independent voters. And if -- it is to his advantage for the race to remain crowded. I remember coming into New York, if it had been Gore and Dukakis, I probably could have won in a three-person race. In a two-person race, of course, it became different. So a crowded field gives Obama, I think, frankly, some -- even more advantage.
DOBBS: Jesse, I've never asked you this. How do you feel when some young people and some people who haven't read much say, "You know, it would be really neat to have our first African-American candidate for president?"
How does that make you feel?
JACKSON: Well, I think it's a big un-historical. But the good news is it seems it me is that you think now about a woman out front -- and it was a big deal to get Ferraro 20 years ago, now a woman is out front -- to get legitimate candidates and Richardson from New Mexico. I think that this field is the most diverse and it represents 42 years of struggle since the Voting Rights Acts of 1965.
GOODWIN: Could I make one point?
GOODWIN: I think what's going on in the Senate does show why it's very hard for a sitting senator to get elected president. They're...
DOBBS: Because of the company they keep?
GOODWIN: Well -- but also having to take votes which can be used against you. And, I mean, you know, John Kennedy was the last sitting senator to be elected president. And I think that's how -- it backfired on John Kerry...
DOBBS: You what's interesting, though, people forget this. Part of his popularity and note came out of a book that he wrote, "Profiles in Courage" gave him a standing that was not really accorded to him until he had done that. Obama's book, "The Audacity of Hope" and a runner away bestseller, a real phenomenon. So that may play into this as well.
Miguel, this -- today, DHS accused of just being complete idiots, basically, by the General Accountability Office. We still don't have secure borders. We still don't have secure ports. What in the heck are we doing in this country?
PEREZ: Well, you know, first of all, it's just a lack of leadership on both sides of aisle here and, especially, President Bush. When I see President Bush in the State of the Union talking about when we need reform without animosity and without amnesty, he's playing both sides of the fence. He has to show some kind of...
DOBBS: No pun intended on that. NO pun intended...
GOODWIN: You know, I would respect the guy... Yes, the Mexican border. No, but seriously, I mean, this guy has to show some -- I would respect him more if disagrees with me and takes up a real position on this once and for all. It's just like he's trying to play both sides constantly for years now.
DOBBS: And the issues of -- and I've got to turn to this -- the issue that we're looking at in this country right now in terms of public education, you mentioned 1965, Jesse. The progress that we've made in this country, race relations in a host of other areas, we still have issues that we have to confront in our principle -- our major cities in this country, all sorts of economic policies, immigration policies. Give us a quick view. And we're going to wrap it up here, Jesse.
JACKSON: Well, we've basically neglected urban policy. We had Leave No Child Behind in the budget and we left them behind. We've left -- adequate housing, we left that behind. Of course, driving the gin (ph) tonight is this war. And so its outcome will determine the fate in some sense of Senator McCain. I think to end the war with dignity and then to focus on domestic trade policy might be the issues that begin the cut.
PEREZ: Not only have we ignored, you know, urban policy, we have ignored the rest the world. We've ignored Latin American. We have ignored -- you know, we're just so concentrated on what's going on out there in Iraq and the Middle East, and that's it. That's all we concentrate on at the White House. And it's got to stop.
DOBBS: You get the last word, Michael.
GOODWIN: Well, I think one of dangers, Lou, is after this debate is over, however Iraq ends, there still a larger war on terror issue that we've got to confront. And I'm afraid that Iraq is sapping all of the energy, not only out of all these other issues, but out of this larger war on terror, which could be the end of us.
DOBBS: And I suppose my two cents on this would be that our leadership has so little energy, I worry about sapping any of it in this country.
Jesse Jackson, Miguel Perez, Michael Goodwin, thank you very much.
Coming up in just a few minutes, the "SITUATION ROOM" with Wolf Blitzer -- Wolf.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks very much, Lou.
Another American helicopter down in Iraq, the fifth time in less than a month, and this time killing all seven on board. An Iraqi insurgent group claims credit for the kill. We're going to have the latest details.
And Former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay has a warning for his Republican brethren. He says Hillary Clinton is virtually unbeatable in her march towards the White House. And wait until you hear the swipes he takes at two of the presidential front-runners in his own party.
Plus, Air Pelosi, the House speaker in a high-flying controversy over what kind of plane she's entitled to use. Is she trying to go First-Class on your dime? We have the latest details on this story, Lou, all coming up right at the top of the hour.
DOBBS: That's a great story, Wolf. Go get 'em.
DOBBS: A reminder now to vote in tonight's poll. Do you believe that DHS officials should be held accountable for lying to Congress about Border Patrol Agents Compean and Ramos?
Yes or no. Cast your vote at loudobbs.com. Results upcoming.
And we'll have more of your thoughts right after this quick break. Stay with us.
DOBBS: The results of our poll tonight. They are dramatic. For the first time in the history of LOU DOBBS TONIGHT and hundreds and hundreds of polls, we have reached agreement. One hundred percent of you say the Department of Homeland Security officials should be held accountable for lying to Congress about Border Patrol Agents Compean and Ramos.
Unanimity of you is a wonderful thing. Congratulations. We're excited about it. This is an historic moment.
Time now for more of your thoughts.
Mark in New York: "I am disgusted by the groups that say vaccinating a teenage girl against a sexually transmitted disease is an endorsement of sex... teenage sexuality is a reality and nearly a statistical guarantee. No matter how far you stick your head in the sand, parental denial won't protect a young adult from HPV and the cancer it causes. This vaccine will."
Bernadette in Connecticut: "I am outraged that the HPV vaccine is being mandated by the government. This a parent's decision. And, why must only the girls get vaccinated for HPV? Boys ARE spreading HPV to girls. Why shouldn't boys be mandated also?"
We love hearing from you. Send us your thoughts at loudobbs.com.
And we thank you for being with us tonight. Please join us here tomorrow, when, among our guests, Michael Eric Dyson, author of the new book, "Debating Race". Also, two of the congressmen demanding justice for two Border Patrol agents.
For all of us, thanks for watching. Good night from New York.
The "SITUATION ROOM" begins now with Wolf Blitzer -- Wolf.
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