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CNN NEWSROOM

Basra Success?; British Withdrawal Plan; Out In The Open; Gerri's Top Tips

Aired February 21, 2007 - 10:00   ET

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


TONY HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: This morning and stay informed. Here's what's on the rundown.
British troops. Iraq in their rearview mirror. Prime Minister Tony Blair calling hundreds of his soldiers home from war.

FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: The Iraq War. One study says it's creating a new generation of terrorists. Adding up attacks since the invasion.

HARRIS: Credit counselors. Some help you out of debt, others only dig you in deeper. Personal finance editor Gerri Willis is here with the bottom line on Wednesday, February 21st. You are in the NEWSROOM.

WHITFIELD: Our top story this hour, pulling out of Iraq. A large part of the British contingent slated to come home. British Prime Minister Tony Blair laid out his plans this morning to bring home around a quarter of the British troops now in southern Iraq, paring down the roughly 7,000 soldiers to 5,500 by mid year. And for those remaining troops, a mission change.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TONY BLAIR, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: The British forces that remain in Iraq will have the following tasks -- training and support to Iraqi forces, securing the Iraq-Iran border, securing supply routes and, above all, the ability to conduct operations against extremist groups and be there in support of the Iraqi army when called upon. Over time, and depending naturally on progress and the capability of the Iraqi security forces, we will be able to draw down further, possibly to below 5,000 once the Basra palace site has been transferred to the Iraqis in late summer. We hope the Masan (ph) province can be transferred to full Iraqi control over the next few months and Basra in the second half of the year.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WHITFIELD: Blair went on to say that the next chapter for Basra will be written by the Iraqi troops. So Tony Blair touting British success in Basra and turning over control to Iraqi troops. So why hasn't the supposed success in Basra translated to the rest of Iraq? CNN's Barbara Starr joins us now from the Pentagon.

And how do you even measure this success, Barbara?

BARBARA STARR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Fred, you know, Basra, being part of southern Iraq, of course, it is different than the rest of the country. This is a largely Shia portion of Iraq. There has been less sectarian violence in this part of country. So the British can legitimately say, according to their government, that there is more peace there. They are able to turn it over to the Iraqi forces and they can reduce their own footprint. But once they leave, that will be the real question, will the Iraqis be able to hold on to that success.

WHITFIELD: And so how concerned is the Pentagon about that because, obviously, if the Iraqi troops can't handle it, then that means adding more pressure to the U.S. military presence, right?

STARR: It does possibly mean that. At this point, the U.S. position, the Pentagon position, is that Iraqis will take over the security role in the south and that they will be capable of doing it.

But Basra is a strategic area, Fred. The port is there. Oil moves through there. Of course, it is the major south north road. So a lot of goods and services, a lot of trucks, a lot of convoys. It's going to be very important to Iraq's economic future to keep that area peaceful and keep those roads open. It's going to be the Iraqi's job now. It remains to be seen if they can pull it off.

WHITFIELD: So you have to wonder if there's any kind of back room strategizing going on that the U.S. is thinking about, well, if the Iraqi troops can't keep that very vital region secure, then it may mean reorganizing our own troop there's.

STARR: Well, the White House certainly hopes it doesn't come to that. Very clearly, the message point from the White House today is that this is all about success. That the British have been successful there, so they can leave. That there is relative peace now in this region.

But whether that message point actually holds and is reality over the long term, certainly remaining to be see. Because if it is not, there will have to be more troops put into the region, possibly U.S. troops. At this point, the White House certainly hopes that doesn't become the case.

WHITFIELD: Barbara Starr at the Pentagon. Thank you.

HARRIS: And let's stay with Basra here for a few moments. A British success story back home and in Iraq definitely more successful than what we've seen in Baghdad. Joining me now to talk about this, Michael O'Hanlon. A senior fellow at a Brookings Institution.

Michael, great to see you again.

MICHAEL O'HANLON, BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: Good morning.

HARRIS: Hey, Michael, what is the Basra story here? Is it truly a British success story? Was it over as challenging, per say, as the mission of the U.S. forces in, say, al Anbar province in Baghdad?

O'HANLON: No, it was never quite as hard. And certainly much easier now because, as you know, Basra is almost entirely Shia. So there are different Shia groups contend for power. There is a concern about Iran's influence.

But there is not the problem you're seeing in Baghdad and surrounding areas of civil war between Sunni Arabs and Shia Arabs. There is not that problem. And, therefore, it can be, I think, an easier environment.

And some of the Pentagon's rhetoric about this being at least a partial success is probably true. It doesn't, however, give you any great reason to think that Baghdad can be stabilized in the same way. That's a whole different kind of mission.

HARRIS: What happens when -- it's not a total withdrawal that we're talking about of British forces, but what happens when the signal is received that British troops are moving out? What happens on the ground, in your estimation, after that?

O'HANLON: Well, I don't think that there's going to be a huge concern here. I think there will be some reason to worry and I think Barbara Starr was correct to say we're going to have to watch carefully to see what the Iraqis can do. But I just think it's fundamentally easier in Iraq today to handle regions of relative ethnic homogeneity.

Of course, Kurdistan is far more secure than any other part of Iraq. Obviously Basra is not that secure. But I still think its problems are of a whole different magnitude and of a lesser magnitude than those around Baghdad. So it's possible to have a tactical success in Basra and yet not to have big progress on the number one challenge in the capital city.

HARRIS: Hey, Michael, is that an argument for partitioning the country?

O'HANLON: I think so. I think this is actually one of the stronger arguments that, if you ever got to a point where you could move populations around enough that they were relatively homogeneous in certain areas, that, yes, you would have an easier job ahead of you.

Now the real problem, of course, is that Basra is already Shia. Already homogeneous. If you tried to apply this concept to Baghdad, you'd have to find some method of helping people relocate to create these kind of regions of relative stability and then you could police across these cease-fire lines, essentially, the soft partition lines. But, yes, I think it is, overall, a reason to consider that kind of an option in the coming months.

HARRIS: Does Iran move in, in a more overt way?

O'HANLON: Well, Iran has a challenge here. They're not that well loved by Iraqis. And if they go and destabilize a Shia region of Iraq, they're essentially weakening their own brethren in religion. And so while Iran certainly would like to see us continue to have trouble in Iraq, I'm not sure Basra's the place they're going to try to exercise maximize leverage. They will certainly want some kind of influence with any groups that become powerful there. But I'm not sure they're really going to try to stoke up additional conflict. I think that kind of thing they're likely to do more where they've been doing it around Baghdad.

HARRIS: Hey, Michael, listen to British Prime Minister Tony Blair this morning talking about Baghdad.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TONY BLAIR, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: It is the capital of Iraq. Its strategic importance is fundamental. There has been an orgy of terrorism unleashed upon it in order to crash any possibility of it functioning. It doesn't much matter if elsewhere in Iraq, not least in Basra, change is happening. If Baghdad cannot be secured, the future of the country is in peril.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARRIS: Do you agree with that, Michael?

O'HANLON: Absolutely. It's Blair at his best, getting right to the point and not taking over credit, not taking excessive credit for what his troops have accomplished in Basra, which, while useful, does not really wrestle with the big problem. In fact, the overall point I take away from this whole British redeployment is, you know, we really could have used the extra help in Baghdad.

HARRIS: Well, there you go.

O'HANLON: Yes, right.

HARRIS: Yes, and why aren't these troops just simply moving north to take a bit of the load off of U.S. forces?

O'HANLON: The bottom line has to do with British politics more than anything else. We know the war there is even less popular than it is here. Tony Blair's stature as prime minister has been severely compromised in his waning months in office. And I think he feels he just can't do it.

Part of the problem, of course, is the British military is strained like ours because they're also in Afghanistan. But, frankly, the level of strain they're under is no greater and probably slightly less than that of our own Army and Marine Corps. So I think it has to do, first and foremost, with British politics.

HARRIS: Michael O'Hanlon with the Brookings Institution.

Michael, as always, great to talk to you.

O'HANLON: Thank you.

HARRIS: And here's a breakdown of the total commitments in Iraq. The U.S. has right around 141,000 troops in Iraq. As for coalition partners, Britain has 7,100 right now. But we know that number is going down. Other contributors include South Korea with 2,300 troops, Poland with 900 and Australia with 850. That leaves about 3,000 troops from 16 other countries.

WHITFIELD: Once again, Iran thumbs its nose at the United Nations. Tehran ignoring a deadline to freeze its uranium enrichment program or face more sanctions. As today's deadline approached, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad vowed to press ahead with his country's nuclear plans and he says Iran will not bow to western intimidation.

Those comments as U.N.'s nuclear watchdog agency gets ready to report to the Security Council on Iran's nuclear program. That report expected a short time from now. It's expected to say Iran is pursuing uranium enrichment despite pressure to stop. Iran says its program is strictly peaceful.

The U.S. and its allies believe otherwise. They accuse Iran of trying to build nuclear weapons. For a closer look at the standoff with Iran, you can go to our website, cnn.com, for a behind the scenes story from Christiane Amanpour. Iranian sources tell her cooperation, not conflict, is the desire of key leaders in Iran, including Supreme Leader Ali Khamani.

Let's check in again. Severe weather out there. Fog has been a big problem. Chad Myers is joining us now.

(WEATHER REPORT)

HARRIS: And still to come in the NEWSROOM. It is up to the jury. Scooter Libby's fate deliberated today. We'll highlight closing arguments in the NEWSROOM.

WHITFIELD: Also, if you shop at one of the nation's major wholesale clubs, listen up. An E. Coli scare connected to a popular food. Details straight ahead in the NEWSROOM.

HARRIS: And social commentary or simply anti-social behavior? Hip- hop music out in the open and under the microscope.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I never had any aspirations to be in it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARRIS: CNN's Paula Zahn joins us. A closer look, next in the NEWSROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WHITFIELD: This being Black History Month, CNN is devoted to special coverage of many of the issues that affect black America and all Americans. Among them, one of the most controversial forms of expression today -- hip-hop. CNN's Paula Zahn is live from our New York studio with more on your look this evening.

Good morning to you, Paula. PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: Hi, Fredricka. Always good to see you. Don't get to see too much of you these days.

But, as you know, hip-hop is everywhere and it is much more than rap music. And for some, it's an entire lifestyle. Of course, there are tremendous concerns about how hip-hop treats women, particularly as sex objects. And so we have taken an extensive look at this issue. And we asked Jason Carroll to bring it all out in the open. We warn you, some of these images may be offensive to you.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JASON CARROLL, CNN CORRESPONDENT, (voice over): Since she was five years old, Celestina Henry dreamed of being a serious dancer. But her professional debut came in an hip-hop video with 50 Cent. It involved a lot of exposure.

CELESTINA RAE, ACTRESS: I never had any aspirations to be in a video. I had aspirations to be a dancer, aspirations to be an actress. And I thought about different ways of getting exposure.

CARROLL: Celestina changed her name to Celestina Rae after her performance, which was mild by standards of some hip-hop videos. Critics say these portray a negative image of black women, even calling it porn for beginners.

JERMAINE DUPRI, RAPPER/PRODUCER: If people don't like it and they think - you can always turn it offer. You know what I mean. So people act like they can't turn it off. You don't got to watch the booty videos, but the people that talk about it, they're so intrigued they want to see it.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WHITFIELD: So, Paula, Jermaine Dupri, pretty powerful in the music industry, saying if you don't want to watch it, you know, then that's your way of saying, I don't like it. But then there's the other argument that begins with this question, which is, what is this doing to black culture, to identity?

ZAHN: Well, it's a very good question. And you get different answers depending on who you pose that question to. Tonight, Public Enemy's Chuck D will be joining us and he thinks that hip-hop has strayed far too -- way to too far from its original roots and that it's having a tremendous impact on black youth. He thinks it promotes violence against men and women. And he's particularly outraged at these white -- predominantly white record companies continue to make billions of dollars off this.

The question is, Fredricka, what you do about it because there are people we will hear from tonight who strongly defend what the message is in this music and they say it is a true reflection of real life in the ghetto. And who are whites, in particularly, to criticize them for what is in these songs.

WHITFIELD: Well, it's a great argument and one that definitely needs to be exhausted.

Paula Zahn, thanks so much.

ZAHN: Thank you, Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: And again, it is a Paula Zahn now special "Out In The Open." A special report, "Hip-Hop: Art or Poison." That's tonight at 8:00 Eastern. And you can vote on that very question on our website. Just go to cnn.com/paula.

HARRIS: Bowing to pressure. A major drug maker gives up its campaign to make a cervical cancer vaccine mandatory. Find out why in the NEWSROOM.

And CNN personal finance editor Gerri Willis is with us this morning. If you get to a place in your life where you need a little credit counseling, you just hope that you find someone who is reputable.

GERRI WILLIS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Tony.

It's a big problem. Lots of you out there drowning in debt. Credit counselors say they can help you survive the deep end. What you need to know about using a credit counselor. That's coming up next in the CNN NEWSROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HARRIS: And let's take you to Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, right now. Testimony continuing today in the ongoing battle over Anna Nicole Smith's body. That is Anna Nicole Smith's mom right there, Virgie Arthur.

The contest, as you know, is between Smith's former companion, the man who also claims to be the father of Smith's baby girl, Howard K. Stern, and Virgie Arthur, right there on the witness stand right now being questioned by the judge.

There was a critical moment yesterday in the testimony when Virgie Arthur was asked what caused the rift between mother and daughter that lasted for years. Fred, Arthur was pretty quick with a response. The answer was drugs.

Question at hand, will Anna Nicole be buried in the Bahamas with her son or in her native Texas and when. That is what this hearing is all about. If you would like to follow this hearing right now, just go to cnn.com/pipeline and you can follow it throughout the morning.

WHITFIELD: And, Tony, of course, we're also minding your business. Let's take a quick look at the numbers today with the Dow down about 52 points. And the Nasdaq down about three points. Hopefully by the end of the day we'll see some more positive numbers.

HARRIS: Yes.

WHITFIELD: But that's it for now. HARRIS: Owe to much to too many people? You may be thinking about credit counseling. But some shady counselors may put you, well, actually deeper into debt to your creditors. CNN personal finance editor Gerri Willis joining us this morning from New York.

Gerri, great to see you.

GERRI WILLIS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good to see you, Tony.

HARRIS: Hey, offer us some help here. If you don't want to find yourself in a situation where you need this kind of help, but it's good to know it's out there, but you have to be careful.

WILLIS: That's right. Let me give you a staggering number first. American consumers owe nearly $2.5 trillion. Yes, that's a lot of dough. And, of course, credit counselors are a solution if you're drowning in debt. If you are, here's what you need to know.

First up, you want to make sure you do your research on these folks. Look, good counselor will advise you in managing your money, offer solutions to your current financial problems, help you develop a plan to get and stay out of debt. To find a reputable one, go to Department of Justice's website. It's www.justice.gov and search for their list of approved credit counseling agencies.

Then you want to narrow that list by calling your state attorney general, the Better Business Bureau to ask about individual firms. And remember, Tony, hey, just because a company is a non-profit, that doesn't mean it has a squeaky clean reputation. You've really got to do your research on these.

HARRIS: Oh, that's a good heads up.

What about red flags? Are there things we should particularly look out for? Things we should listen for when we're having conversations with these outfits?

WILLIS: Yes, you know, you really want to avoid agencies that have only been in business for a short period of time. And if the counselor gets a commission for putting you on a particular plan, walk away. You're better off with an agency that charges you a flat fee for its services. And those fees shouldn't be significantly higher than $75 for signing up and $50 monthly for managing the program.

Also, ask whether the firm has financial ties to creditors. If they do, steer clear, Tony. Some of these are actually sponsored by credit card companies. You want to avoid that.

HARRIS: Well, how about options? When you make a contact and you're trying to sort out who you go with, they often times offer a list of options. Help us sort through that.

WILLIS: Well, a lot of them are going to push debt management plans in which they serve as an intermediary, taking in your payments and disbursing them to creditors. Now this option is great if you have severe debt problems and are constantly hounded by creditors. If not, you may be better off simply getting some solid financial advice because, look, it is cheaper and you will be in charge of your own situation. If you do go with a debt management plan, get all the details in writing. You can't be too careful about that.

HARRIS: Talk to us about the importance of follow-up, Gerri.

WILLIS: Yes, well, look, no matter which route you take to pay off your debt, make sure there are no gaps in payments because ultimately you're responsible for that debt. So if you're using a counselor, check up on their work and then, remember, stick with your plan for the long run. Promise yourself that you're never going to get into this kind of debt again.

And, Tony, just to remind your viewers, send us your questions to toptips@cnn.com. We love to hear from you. You ask the best questions. We come back here on Friday and answer them right here.

HARRIS: What was that debt number, in the trillions?

WILLIS: Yes.

HARRIS: That is astounding.

WILLIS: Yes, it's ugly. And, you know, people don't know how to get out. If you need help, ask for it. But just go to the right place.

HARRIS: Gerri Willis, great to see you. Have a great day.

WILLIS: Thank you, Tony.

HARRIS: See you tomorrow.

WHITFIELD: All right, back to Florida now. The contentious battle over Anna Nicole Smith's body. Virgie Arthur, her mother, is on the stand. Let's listen to her testimony.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But let me ask you this. What were you told -- when you went into a court proceeding and the matter was resolved against you, like you had a traffic violation, what were you trained to do at that moment when you walked out of that courtroom?

VIRGIE ARTHUR, ANNA NICOLE SMITH'S MOTHER: You didn't show emotion. You just -- it was just another day. Catch up again next time. That's as a police officer. But I'm here today to be her mother. I am her mother.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Let me ask you. You were up in the middle of the night -- let's assume you got up at 4:00 this morning.

ARTHUR: Let's assume I didn't sleep.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you could have done one thing differently with your daughter, what would you have done?

ARTHUR: When I knew that she was really deep into drugs, I would have went and kidnapped her. I would have done everything I could possibly do to try and -- I mean, I went with her to the Betty Ford Clinic.

You know, I come down one time, her attorneys in Houston said, Virgie, there's something wrong down there. She's in California and she's really sick. She's in the hospital. And she never went in the hospital under her name. Never. It was always another name. And so they told me the name and, you know, I got on a plane and I come down here. I took a week off of work to stay with her.

I come down here. When I walked in the hospital in her room, the doctor was in there and there were two guys in there with her. You know, her helper or her driver, whatever they were. And the doctor said, who are you? I said, I am her mother. And he looked at both the guys and he said, these guys told me that she didn't have a mother. That her mother was dead. I said, well, they're lying. I'm her mother and I'm here to help.

So I sat with her in that hospital for over a week and talked her into going into the Betty Ford Clinic. So we took her there, her, me and the driver. We took her to the clinic and she didn't stay long enough to get help. But she was there. And I took her. I helped sign her in myself.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm turning the witness over. Your lawyer is going to ask you some questions.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Virgie, I have a couple of housekeeping matters I'd like to (INAUDIBLE).

Virgie, let me show you what we have had marked as exhibit D for identification, and ask you if you, as my client, directed me to submit this --

WHITFIELD: So you've been listening to Virgie Arthur talk about what she felt her responsibility as a mother to Anna Nicole Smith has been over the years.

Well, understandably the two have been estranged for quite some time but people haven't had a clear view as to why Anna Nicole and her mother have been estranged. Well apparently Anna Nicole Smith did conduct an interview with "Entertainment Tonight" a few months ago and this is how she explained their relationship.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When was the last time you spoke with her?

ANNA NICOLE SMITH, DECEASED: The last time I spoke with her or the last time she beat me? The last time I got a beating from my mother, I think I was 21-years-old. And before that there was a big gap. I left home when I was 15 and she came to me to live in one of my houses because her husband, I don't know which number. She's been married about 20 times.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So you have no relationship with her at all?

SMITH: No relationship. I left home when I was 15-years-old. I don't know her. She doesn't know me.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WHITFIELD: So hopefully you were able to read the transcription there. Anna Nicole saying that she doesn't hope to ever see her mother again. That interview being taken by "Entertainment Tonight" and that an interview that found its way into the court yesterday as the two sides, Virgie Arthur, the mother of Anna Nicole and Howard K. Stern, the partner of Anna Nicole, try to duke it out over who will take possession of the body and where Anna Nicole Smith will be buried.

We're going to continue to follow the development there's out of Ft. Lauderdale in Florida. And of course when we get more any more information, we'll be able to bring that to you.

ANNOUNCER: Live breaking news, unfolding developments, see for yourself in the CNN NEWSROOM.

HARRIS: And welcome again, everyone. Welcome back to CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Tony Harris.

WHITFIELD: And I'm Fredricka Whitfield in today for Heidi Collins.

British troop draw down in southern Iraq. White House reaction and the political implications -- what's the reality on the ground? We're covering all the angles in the NEWSROOM.

HARRIS: Also containing or creating terrorists? A new report on Iraq suggests the fly paper theory play not be sticking. We explore that in the NEWSROOM.

WHITFIELD: And it will soon be up to the jury. Scooter Libby's fate expected to be deliberated today. We'll highlight closing arguments in the NEWSROOM.

HARRIS: And the smallest baby beating the biggest odds. Our Dr. Sanjay Gupta looks at what little Amelia Taylor may face when she's home.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HARRIS: A successful operation in southern Iraq. British Prime Minister Tony Blair touting his troop's mission in Basra as an opportunity, an opportunity to pull some 1,600 British troops out of Iraq and to change the focus on those left in place.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TONY BLAIR, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: The next chapter in Basra's history can be written by the Iraqis. I've discussed this with Prime Minister Maliki and our proposals have his full support and we represent his wishes.

Already we have handed over prime responsibility for security to the Iraqi authorities in Armatura (ph) and Daika (ph). Now in Basra over the coming months, we will transfer more of the responsibility directly to Iraqis.

I should say that none of this will mean a diminution in our combat capability. The actual reduction in forces will be from the present 7,100, itself down from over 9,000 two years ago and 40,000 at the time of the conflict, to roughly 5,500.

However, with the exception of forces which will remain at Basra palace, the British forces will be located at Basra air base and be in the support role.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WHITFIELD: Blair's plans still leaves some 5,500 British troops in place, a fact not lost on Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CONDOLEEZZA RICE, SECRETARY OF STATE: Remains intact and, in fact, the British still have thousands of soldiers deployed in Iraq, in the south, and any decisions that they make are going to be on the basis of conditions.

But it is the plan that as it is possible to transfer responsibilities to the Iraqis, that there would be -- that coalition forces would no longer be needed in those circumstances.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WHITFIELD: And so here now is a breakdown of the total commitments in Iraq. The U.S. has around 141,000 troops in Iraq. As for coalition partners, Britain has 7,100 right now. But we know that number is going now. Other contributors include South Korea with 2,300 troops, Poland with 9,000. Australia, 850. That leaves about 3,000 troops from 16 other countries.

In the war zone, bombs today kill at least 15 more Iraqis. The bloodiest attack was in the holy city of Najaf. A suicide car bomber hit a police checkpoint killing at least eight people, including civilians.

Meanwhile several attacks in Baghdad including mortar blasts, roadside bombs and a car bomb laced with poisonous gas.

HARRIS: Jurors are scheduled to begin deliberations this morning in the trial of former White House aide Lewis Scooter Libby. CNN's Brian Todd recaps closing arguments.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The prosecution delivers a blistering account of a vice president and his chief aide on a mission, a mission to blast back at criticism of the administration's case for war from former Ambassador Joe Wilson. Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald says between Dick Cheney and "Scooter" Libby quote, "there was an obsession with Wilson."

To make the case that Libby lied to the FBI and the grand jury, prosecutor Peter Seidenberg (ph) ticks through several conversations he says Libby had with eight different people about the covert CIA identity of Wilson's wife, some of the conversations with reporters. Most of which Libby told investigators he didn't remember. The prosecution's strategy, according to one expert...

RICHARD SMITH, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: To get the jurors to understand how can you claim you forgot something when it was your task to try to deal with a political crisis and you're the key person to try to discredit the key critic of this.

TODD: The defense counters attacking the credibility of the reporters who testified against Libby. Lead defense attorney Ted Wells spends an hour trying to tear down star prosecution witness NBC's Tim Russert who rebutted Libby's claim that Libby first heard about the CIA officer from Russert. With charts, TV clips and picture after picture of Russert, Wells seeks to portray a famous newsman with a bad memory and a bias against Libby, dramatically telling the jury you can't convict Mr. Libby solely on the word of this man. It would just be fundamentally wrong.

SMITH: Any chink in Mr. Russert's armor helps the defense. So what they're doing is trying to take the government's case piece by piece and attack those points that are the most damning to the defendant in this case.

TODD (on camera): Another big confrontation in these arguments, Libby's Ted Wells repeatedly claiming that Libby was scapegoated by the Bush White House to protect political adviser Karl Rove. Prosecutors telling the jury there was no evidence of that. Scooter Libby's fate in the hands of the jury on Wednesday. Brian Todd, CNN, Washington.

HARRIS: And right now let's get you back to the Severe Weather Center. Chad Myers -- well, you know what, it's interesting, Chad, because we've got some warmer temperatures in parts of the country. So we're seeing a lot of rain in areas, but I can still see some pretty cold temperatures behind you there on the map.

(WEATHER REPORT)

WHITFIELD: Well a not so welcoming place for wounded soldiers. Are problems at Walter Reed becoming problematic for the president? That's straight ahead in the NEWSROOM.

SUSAN LISOVICZ, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: I'm Susan Lisovicz at the New York Stock Exchange. When NEWSROOM returns, we'll talk about healthcare spending. In less than 10 years, it could consume one-fifth of America's GDP. I'll have the latest projections. You're watching CNN, the most trusted name in news.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WHITFIELD: So they're a mainstay in salads, soups, sauces, everything. Today a new concern however about mushrooms. BJ's Wholesale Club recalling packages of fresh mushrooms. An inspection turned up the possible presence of the deadly E. Coli bacteria. The product, Wellsley Farms brand fresh mushrooms bought between February 11th and 19th.

Officials with BJ's say they have not received any reports of illnesses, that's the good news. And right now they're running tests on the mushrooms. As a precaution, however, the company has pulled the product from its shelves. It's asking people who bought the mushrooms to return them for a refund.

HARRIS: A major drug maker caving to pressure over a cancer vaccine. Merck suspending a controversial lobbying campaign involving its new vaccine against cervical cancer. The company through a third party was trying to persuade state legislatures to require 11 and 12- year-old girls to get the vaccine as a requirement for school attendance. But some parents and conservative groups complained they objected because the vaccine Gardasil protects against a sexually- transmitted disease that causes cervical cancer. They claimed it would encourage premarital sex.

WHITFIELD: New government figures are heating up an already hot debate in Washington and raising new questions at how we pay for our ever-rising medical bills. Susan Lisovicz is at the New York Stock Exchange with more on that. Hi, Susan.

(BUSINESS HEADLINES)

WHITFIELD: So containing or creating terrorists? A new report on Iraq suggests the fly paper theory may not be sticking. We explore that in the NEWSROOM.

And a not-so-welcoming place for wounded soldiers -- are problems at Walter Reed becoming problematic for the president? That's straight ahead in the NEWSROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WHITFIELD: We're continuing to monitor the developments out of South Florida in a courtroom there where two sides, at least two sides, are trying to resolve who gets custody of the body of Anna Nicole Smith. Well, her mother, Virgie Arthur, is still on the stand there, testifying, talking about her relationship with her late daughter.

Meantime, the judge has just said moments ago that he will make a decision by Friday as to who gets the custody of Anna Nicole Smith's body. This after yesterday hearing from the medical examiner, the chief medical examiner of Broward County, saying that the body is quickly deteriorating, and that this proceeding should not go on past Saturday. So it sounds like the judge is heeding that warning, and now saying that he's going to make a decision over the custody of the body of Anna Nicole Smith by Friday.

HARRIS: Problems uncovered at one of the Army's preeminent hospitals, Walter Reed army Medical Center. Those discoveries now putting pressure on the president.

CNN's White House correspondent Susan Malveaux has the story.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): President Bush uses his frequent visits to Walter Reed Army Medical Center to turn stories of pain and despair into recovery and hope.

GEORGE BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Every time I come to Walter Reed, I am moved by the courage and bravery of the people I meet.

MALVEAUX: His meetings with the soldiers are private. The pictures are few. But he uses these occasions to deliver powerful stories of war resolve, not only from the wounded, but from the hospital staff, as well.

BUSH: You're saving the lives of liberators. You're helping the defenders of our country. You're comforting the champions of freedom.

MALVEAUX: But reports now of alleged neglect, despair and mismanagement at this top medical facility have left the White House with little to say.

TONY SNOW, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I would refer you, Bill, to the Department of the Army, which runs the Walter Reed Army Medical Center. This is something that's an action item over at the Department of Defense and the people who are responsible for getting to the bottom of it work on the other side of the river.

MALVEAUX: So while those on the other side of the river investigate what kind of care our wounded soldiers are really getting, President Bush's commitment to them is now put to the test.

BUSH: We owe them all we can give them, not only for when they're in harm's way, but when they come home, to help them adjust if they have wounds or help them adjust after their time in service.

(on camera): This controversy is just another embarrassment for the White House, which is trying to convince the American people that this war is worth it.

Suzanne Malveaux, CNN, the White House.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

HARRIS: And we will hear more about the conditions of Walter Reed at a Pentagon briefing just a few minutes from now, 11:00 a.m. Eastern Time.

Again, CNN live coverage in the NEWSROOM 11:00 a.m. Eastern.

WHITFIELD: And drawdown in Iraq. Many British troops may soon be coming home. Is Prime Minister Tony Blair re-examining his commitment to the war and to President Bush. That's straight ahead in the NEWSROOM.

Defiance in the face of a deadline -- Iran's president stands firm as the U.N. awaits a major report on Tehran's nuclear program, the latest in the NEWSROOM.

And he's known as a the hardest-working man in radio. But Tom Joyner is also working hard to help college students. The fly jock joins us straight ahead in the NEWSROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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