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THE SITUATION ROOM

Cheney's Message to Pakistan; Interview With Seymour Hersh

Aired February 26, 2007 - 19:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks, Kitty.
Happening now, Vice President Cheney gets tough in the war on terror. Is he playing bad cop with a key U.S. ally? Tonight, Cheney's message to Pakistan. Also, this hour, could the Pentagon be ready to strike Iran at a moment's notice. A Pulitzer Prize winning journalist says the planning is going on right now -- my eye-popping interview with Seymour Hersh of "The New Yorker".

And finding Jesus, a stunning claim about his tomb. It sounds like a chapter from "The Da Vinci Code". Is it an historical revelation or a titanic fraud?

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

Vice President Cheney is on the front lines of the war on terror tonight. Cheney is on an unannounced trip to Afghanistan and Pakistan. He's pressing for a united front against resurging Taliban forces, and he's delivered an unusually tough message to a critical U.S. ally, the Pakistani president, Pervez Musharraf.

Let's go to CNN's Brian Todd -- Brian.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the vice president's meeting with Musharraf comes at a time of some very intense overall scrutiny of the Pakistani leader over just how intently he's pursuing terrorists.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TODD (voice-over): A high stakes visit to a key ally in the war on terror amid reports that the Bush administration is applying pressure on Pakistan's president for better results in his campaign to crack down on al Qaeda, reports that are being downplayed by the White House.

TONY SNOW, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: We have not been saying it's a tough message. What we're saying is we're having -- the vice president is meeting with President Musharraf because we do understand the importance of making even greater progress against al Qaeda, against the Taliban.

TODD: Analysts say the United States has reason to complain about increased attacks in Afghanistan by militants from just over the Pakistani border. PETER BERGEN, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: One of the reasons the situation is deteriorating in Afghanistan, a critical reason is because of what is going on in the tribal areas on the Afghan/Pakistan border where Taliban and al Qaeda are regrouping.

TODD: But Pakistani officials insist they're committed to hunting down the militants in the border areas where they have been supported by local Pakistanis.

MAHMUD DURRANI, PAKISTANI AMBASSADOR TO U.S.: There are problems in Pakistan, we're fighting them. We are fighting it on multiple fronts. I think we need your sympathy other than accusing us of not doing enough. I think they're doing more than anybody else.

TODD: Even if the Pakistanis could be doing more, the political situation is delicate. How much pressure can the United States put on Musharraf without it backfiring?

WILLIAM COHEN, FORMER DEFENSE SECRETARY: He has to walk a pretty fine line. He has to be supportive of cracking down on al Qaeda as possible. At the same time, he has got to watch himself that he doesn't find himself under attack again so we can apply pressure only so much pressure.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: But more pressure will almost certainly be applied if Osama bin Laden or other high value al Qaeda targets are spotted inside Pakistan. There's been tension for months over Pakistan's refusal to allow U.S. forces to cross into Pakistan to pursue bin Laden if he's located -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Brian, thank you.

America's top general, meanwhile, has secretly made an alarming assessment of the U.S. military's ability to carry out its overall mission. Stretched think in Iraq and Afghanistan, are U.S. forces ready to take on another crisis? What if Iran's war games and war of words turned into a shooting war? And what if North Korea resumes its nuclear saber rattling?

Let's turn to our Pentagon correspondent Jamie McIntyre. He's watching this for us. What is the assessment over at the Pentagon, Jamie? How stretched are U.S. forces right now?

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SR. PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well pretty stretched, Wolf and that's an acknowledgment that we see in this assessment from General Peter Pace who still says, just to be clear, he believes the U.S. could meet any challenge militarily that it faces, but it may not be as easy. That was the bottom line of this assessment where they raise the risk of U.S. forces being able to carry out the national security strategy to significant, but again, General Peter Pace, as he has said in public, says he believes if there were a major new threat, the U.S. would be able to bring other forces to bear.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEN. PETER PACE, JOINT CHIEFS CHAIRMAN: If you had to go fight another war someplace that somebody sprung upon us, you would keep the people who are currently employed doing what they're doing and you would use the vast part of the U.S. armed forces that is at home station to include the enormous strength of our Air Force and our Navy against the new threat.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MCINTYRE: Bottom line, Wolf, is the Air Force and the Navy are not as stressed by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The U.S.--the Pentagon believes is in good shape to fight another conventional war, would only be really under the gun if it had to fight another unconventional insurgency, like it has in Iraq, which would require a lot of highly trained ground troops -- Wolf.

BLITZER: I assume that would refer to a scenario, for example, if the insurgents or terrorists took over a friendly country like Pakistan or Saudi Arabia. That would represent a true nightmare for the U.S. military in dealing with that kind of contingency.

MCINTYRE: It would, but you know if there's a real emergency, then the U.S. can basically rally all of its reserves, all of its forces. It could do that. It's just that the U.S. military has been pretty, you know, overworked so far. It would really put a strain on the U.S. if they had to do something like that.

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

U.S. forces in Iraq today showed off another secret stash of weapons they say actually came from Iran. The stockpile includes parts for armor piercing roadside bombs, which have taken a very heavy toll on American troops. But could Iran now be backing off from such activities?

Joining us now from Baghdad our correspondent Michael Ware. Michael, yesterday I interviewed the Iraqi national security adviser, Mowaffak al-Rubaie. He startled me -- he surprised me with these words. I want to play a little clip of what he said that the Iranians now are not doing in Iraq. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MOWAFFAK AL-RUBAIE, IRAQI NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: Recently, the Iranians have changed their position, and we have some evidence that they have stopped applying arms or creating any of these (UNINTELLIGIBLE) mines in the streets of Baghdad.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: And he went on to say that the Iranians now want the U.S. military operation together with the Iraqi military to succeed in bringing stability to the Baghdad area. Have you seen evidence that backs this up? MICHAEL WARE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, you're never going to see evidence that backs this up one way or the other because the way these Iranian forces work, these Quds force offices, these are some of the best covert operators in the world. You'll never see them with their fingerprints on anything, whether they're active or chosen to go inactive.

Now the fascinating thing here is Dr. Rubaie. I know Dr. Rubaie. If you want to talk about a man between a rock and a hard place, it's the national security adviser of Iraq. He has to serve two masters, keeping two powerful forces at bay, both Washington and Tehran.

This is a man who has to live with both of these power blocks. Dr. Rubaie comes from the Al-Dawa party. It's got a long association, not just with Iran, but with its intelligence agency. So he's certainly wired into what they're doing. However, listen to what he said.

There are two things notable about it. One, it's an implicit confession that yes the Iranians have been supplying the EFPs that the U.S. claims have been killing British troops. This is the Iraqi government confirming the Bush administration's claim.

He's now saying, however, that they stopped doing this. That does not change the fact it's around national interest to maintain a presence here. If that presence is changing, we do not know and I suggest neither does Dr. Rubaie.

BLITZER: You said that they were killing the British troops. I think you meant American troops, right?

WARE: Both, actually Wolf. We have seen quite a number of Brits killed by these EFPs and we've seen Americans killed by these EFP explosive devices that punch through heavy battle armor like a fist through a wall. More than 170 British and Americans have died as a result of these weapons.

Don't forget it was the Brits who first encountered them back in May 2004. That's where this technology came in, through the Iranian strongholds in the south. It then migrated north and started hitting U.S. troops in Baghdad through the work of an Iranian backed network run by a man called Abu Moustapha al Shei Barni (ph), the former intelligence chief of one of the political factions that is now in government here in Iraq, Wolf.

BLITZER: Michael Ware reporting for us in Baghdad. Michael thanks.

WARE: My pleasure, Wolf.

BLITZER: Iraq's government has agreed on a plan to divide the country's oil wealth, a necessary step if there is to be an end to the violence. Most of the oil is concentrated in the Kurdish north and Shiite south, raising fears among the Sunnis they will be shut out of the country's wealth. Iraqi officials insist the draft law will make sure all of the oil revenues will be distributed fairly. Jack Cafferty off today.

Coming up, an explosive charge that the U.S. government is using secret caches of weapons against Iran. We're tracking the claims and the money.

Plus, Al Gore's Oscar triumph makes a political statement heard well beyond Hollywood. What does he do for an encore?

And it's being called the lost tomb of Jesus. Could it prove that he didn't rise from the dead, was married, had a child? It's a bombshell for archaeology, for Christianity. We're going in depth tonight.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: The former vice president's documentary on global warming now an Academy Award winner. And presidential campaign watchers are now wondering if Al Gore is a political star reborn.

Turn to our senior political analyst Bill Schneider -- Bill.

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Wolf, before the Oscars, the Al Gore question was, will he or won't he? After the Oscars the question was did he or didn't he?

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER (voice-over): It was Al Gore's night at the Academy Awards. His movie won not one Oscar but two. One for best documentary feature.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And the Oscar goes to "An Inconvenient Truth."

(APPLAUSE)

SCHNEIDER: And best song.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And the Oscar goes to Melissa Etheridge for "I Need to Wake Up" from "An Inconvenient Truth".

SCHNEIDER: This is liberal Hollywood. They love Gore.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Jennifer Hudson was on "American Idol". America didn't vote for her and yet she's here with an Oscar nomination. That's amazing. That's incredible. And then Al Gore is here. America did vote for him, and then...

(LAUGHTER)

(APPLAUSE)

MARTIN KAPLAN, DIRECTOR, NORMAN LEAR CENTER: People think that he's paid his dues. He has had more of an impact on issues that people care about than many people who have been in office.

SCHNEIDER: The big question hanging over the ceremony was, will he or won't he?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I guess with a billion people watching it's as good a time as any, so my fellow Americans, I'm going to take this opportunity right here and now to formally announce...

(MUSIC)

SCHNEIDER: So did he or didn't he?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think the moment has passed now.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Are you completely...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The music cut me off and...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So in the future, in the future...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In all seriousness, I have said before I don't really have plans to run for office again.

SCHNEIDER: The next question is for Democrats. Are we or aren't we happy with what Mr. Gore says?

KAPLAN: On the one hand, people would love to get him into the race. On the other hand, the idea of a race which includes both Gore and Edwards and Clinton strikes everybody as a kind of melodramatic train wreck waiting to happen.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER: Mr. Gore says the moment has passed. But it could come again, especially if the squabbling among Democratic frontrunners gets out of hand -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Bill Schneider reporting for us from L.A. Al Gore and others can now joke about it, but the 2000 presidential election recount in Florida was for all concerned a very difficult moment in American political history. Could there be a replay in 2008? I spoke with the new governor of Florida, Republican Charlie Crist, in THE SITUATION ROOM earlier today.

Let's talk about the 2000 Florida election fiasco. And it was a fiasco, as all of us remember. Have you taken steps to fix the problem? I say this in light of the problem that existed last November in Orlando when some 18,000 ballots weren't really counted. Dianne Feinstein of the Senate Committee on Rules and Administration, she says this.

She says there are those who will say it's impossible to adopt meaningful security and verifiability requirements for the 2008 election, but one only has to look at what happened in Sarasota to see how dangerous it might be to wait. Do you have a paper trail in place now to make sure everyone everyone's vote is really counted? GOV. CHARLIE CRIST (R), FLORIDA: Well, it's ironic you would ask that. Robert Wexler, who's a congressman from South Florida, Palm Beach County, a dear friend of mine...

BLITZER: He's a Democrat.

CRIST: He is. We served in the State Senate together, but we're taking a bipartisan approach to this. And our budget recommendation to the legislature we put in $32 million to make sure that we can have a paper trail so that situations like that don't arise again. The most important thing we can do in democracy is insure the democratic process and the integrity there of. We feel very strongly about that in Florida. As you know, we got the presidential coming up next year. We don't want to have any problems.

BLITZER: But you still don't know what happened to those 18,000 ballots in Orlando in the congressional election -- Sarasota -- excuse me -- you still don't know what happened to those 18,000 votes.

CRIST: Well the concern I have is going forward, Wolf, and I want to do everything I can as the new governor of Florida to make sure that everything that happens on my watch, that we can defend, that we can make sure we have secured the integrity of that process. I want to make sure that Florida voters can have the kind of confidence in their vote that they deserve and that they should expect.

BLITZER: Well let me just press you on this point. In the elections in November of 2008, the congressional elections and the presidential election, will everything be in place so that there won't be any residue of that 2000 fiasco? In other words, will there be that paper trail? What you and Congressman Wexler, want, will that be ready to go for sure?

CRIST: We believe that it will. Now we've got a legislature we have got to work with. I'm not a dictator. We have to work with the legislative branch, and they have done a great job, so I'm very confident that we'll be there.

BLITZER: Charlie Crist, the governor of Florida speaking with me earlier.

Still ahead tonight here in THE SITUATION ROOM, the threat of war with Iran. Just how real is it?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Iranians are digging more holes, moving their leadership into underground bunkers in other places besides Tehran in case of a bombing. They're anticipating the worst.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: The Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Seymour Hersh makes explosive charges about the Pentagon's plans for possible attack. And an unlikely destination for a high-speed car chase, the United States Supreme Court.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Let's check in with Carol Costello. She's monitoring stories coming in to THE SITUATION ROOM from around the world. Carol, what's crossing the wires?

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Here it goes, Wolf. This high-speed police chase is at the heart of the case now before the Supreme Court. The fleeing suspect crashed and was left paralyzed. At issue is whether he can sue the police. Some of the justices indicated they watched the same video. One of them, Antonin Scalia, called this the scariest chase since the one in the movie "The French Connection." Keep you posted.

JetBlue just can't seem to get a break when it comes to winter weather. Snow in the New York metro area forced the airline to cancel 68 flights today. Just two weeks after another storm threw the airline into meltdown with passengers trapped on grounded planes for up to 10 hours. Some reported similar experiences today, although not nearly as long.

Brace yourself for another postal rate hike. An independent commission is recommending the cost of a first class stamp be increased from the current 39 cents to 41 cents. The panel is also pushing the idea of what's being called a forever stamp. It wouldn't have a denomination. You would buy it at the current first class rate, but it would be good forever no matter how much the rate goes us.

That's a look at the headlines right now, Wolf.

BLITZER: Just buy a lot of those stamps and you'll be in good shape I guess.

COSTELLO: I guess so.

BLITZER: That's the theory. Thanks Carol for that.

Just ahead, first Iraq, now Iran?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Inside the military they are planning very seriously at the president's request to attack Iran.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: The Pulitzer Prize winning investigative journalist Seymour Hersh says that includes plans for a bombing campaign. You're going to hear from Seymour Hersh about these explosive charges.

And did these boxes contain the bones of Jesus Christ? There's a huge controversy over one stunning claim.

Stay with us. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Happening now, the White House tells Congress don't micromanage the war. Some top Democrats hope to repeal and rewrite the 2002 authorization for the war. But the Bush administration suggest Democrats hope to micromanage U.S. military commanders in Iraq.

Honoring Vietnam valor. Today President Bush bestowed the nation's highest military honor on Bruce Crandall, 74-year-old received the Medal of Honor for heroics in one of the bloodiest battles in Vietnam. The panel's actions were depicted in the movie "We Were Soldiers".

And another scandal involving the Army's top medical center, Walter Reed right here in Washington. The Army now investigating accusations that charitable contributions intended for wounded troops and families were actually diverted. The staff allegedly gave those charitable contributions to other organizations to which they have family ties.

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

The United States and other major powers met in London today to discuss whether to tighten the screws on Iran because of its nuclear program. But while diplomacy runs its course, is the Bush administration also using covert means to counter Iran's influence in the region?

Let's turn to CNN's Tom Foreman. He's watching the story for us -- Tom.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's an interesting question, Wolf. A new report claims that money is quietly being sent to groups that could be a counterbalance to Iran and Hezbollah, but these groups may not always be as squeaky clean themselves.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

FOREMAN (voice-over): The explosive charge comes from a journalist, Seymour Hersh in "The New Yorker" magazine.

SEYMOUR HERSH, "NEW YORKER" MAGAZINE: We have been pumping money, a great deal of money, without congressional authority, without any congressional oversight, Prince Bandar of Saudi Arabia is putting up some of this money for covert operations in many areas of the Middle East where we think that the -- we want to stop the Shiite spread or the Shiite influence.

FOREMAN: The accusation is this, to keep Iran the big Shiite power under control, money is being secretly funneled to groups in Lebanon who oppose Iran and Hezbollah, even though those groups are Sunni. And in Iraq, it's the Sunnis who have been major opponents to U.S. forces and the main source of recruits for al Qaeda. White House officials declined to comment on the funding claim, but had this to say about the story as a whole.

DANA PERINO, WHITE HOUSE DEP. PRESS SECY.: One thing I can say about Seymour Hersh is that he definitely has a wanton disregard for the truth.

FOREMAN: One member of the Senate Intelligence Committee however wants a hearing on it.

SEN. RON WYDEN (D), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: The suggestion in the article that the administration is planning various covert activities in the Middle East without telling the Congress is extremely troubling.

FOREMAN: The U.S. government can fund groups overseas as long as it follows certain procedures.

BRUCE RIEDEL, FORMER NAT'L SEC. COUNCIL AIDE: It has to get a presidential finding that is a piece of paper on which the president certifies this is in the national interest. And that finding has to be notified to the Congress of the United States.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

FOREMAN: It can be hard to follow all of this, but it's pretty simple to look at it this way. The fundamental question is has the administration quietly been sending money to groups to oppose Iran, a big enemy over in the Middle East, and yet are those groups in fact closely allied with other enemies of the United States. And does that turn into a big time problem somewhere down the line? Obviously congressional aides say these clandestine programs they can't discuss whether they even exist or not -- Wolf.

BLITZER: They're called unintended consequences. We'll watch together with you, Tom. Thank you.

And my interview on "LATE EDITION" with "The New Yorker" magazine's prize winner journalist is making waves today in another area, the allegation that the Pentagon is preparing for another possible war in the Persian Gulf, this one against Iran.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: And joining us now from Cairo, Sy Hersh. The article entitled, "The Redirection."

Sy, let me read one line from it. You write: "The Iran planning group has been handed a new assignment, to identify targets in Iran that may be involved in supplying or aiding militants in Iraq. Previously, the focus had been on the destruction of Iran's nuclear facilities and possible regime change."

Based on all your reporting, how far along are U.S. military plans for a war with Iran? SEYMOUR HERSH, NEW YORKER MAGAZINE: Well, of course, they're very far along. They have been studying this forever. They're constantly redesigning, retooling, but right now, as I wrote, look, it's pretty obvious what's going on.

In the last month or so, the president has been talking more and more about cross-border attacks and more and more about Iranian interference in threatening American lives. So it's not surprising they would fine-tune the targeting to go after suspected training sites, et cetera, across the border and inside Iran. That's just normal, I think.

BLITZER: And you write that already, some special operations forces, some U.S. intelligence forces have crossed the line and have gone into Iran. Is that right?

HERSH: Oh, yes, that has been happening for months. There has been a lot of very aggressive cross-border activity. It's more than just casual. There has been a lot of jumping over the border, chasing bad guys -- or people we think are bad guys. That has been going on quite a bit.

BLITZER: Here is what another line you write about division within the Bush administration over these plans. You say this: "The former senior intelligence official said that the current contingency plans allow for an attack order this spring."

"He added, however, that senior officers on the Joint Chiefs were counting on the White House as not being foolish enough to do this in the face of Iraq and the problems it would give the Republicans in 2008."

Talk a little bit about the divisions you see happening within the administration.

HERSH: Well, I don't think there's any question, but much of the senior military leadership do not think it's the wise thing to do. Of course, if the president orders it, it will happen. But they are very skeptical.

For example, I was told -- I hinted at it in the article -- that we could have a carrier in trouble in the Straits of Hormuz. There's very little room to maneuver, and a carrier, when it's recovering planes that are, you know, landing after attacking and trying to recover the planes, their motions -- their movements are predictable. They have to have the wind in a certain direction. They could be vulnerable to attack.

Iran has hundreds of PT boats they can load up and make them more or less suicide boats. So the Navy is extremely worried about that possibility. We could have some serious damage to our fleet. And also, what's Iran going to do in response?

I will tell you also that there's a lot of evidence -- I didn't get into this that much into the piece, that the Iranians are digging more holes, moving their leadership into underground bunkers in other places besides Tehran in case of a bombing. They are anticipating the worst.

BLITZER: The Pentagon on Friday released a statement, even before your article was released, saying this: "The United States is not planning to go to war with Iran. To suggest anything to the contrary is simply wrong, misleading and mischievous."

"The United States has been very clear with respect to its concerns regarding specific Iranian government activities. The president has repeatedly stated publicly that this country is going to work with allies in the region to address those concerns through diplomatic efforts."

And this is what the new defense secretary, Robert Gates, said on February 15th. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERT M. GATES, DEFENSE SECRETARY: We are not -- you know, for the umpteenth time, we are not looking for an excuse to go to war with Iran. We are not planning a war with Iran.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right, what do you say?

HERSH: Well, I guess Mr. Cheney, the vice president, did not get that message, because the other day in Australia, he once again publicly renewed the fact that all options are on the table and pretty much made another strong threat against the Iranians.

It's very possible, Wolf, that some of this is simply games being played by the administration that is simply designed to increase the political pressure on Iran, to jack it up. And a lot of this may be agitprop, propaganda.

But inside the military, they are planning very seriously, at the president's request, to attack Iran. And as I wrote in the article, one of the assignments they've been given, contingency assignments -- there is no operational order, no order to hit anything -- but one of the contingency assignments would enable the president to at 2:00 in the afternoon say, I want to hit, and within 24 hours, targets would be struck, a 24-hour package.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Seymour Hersh, speaking with me earlier in Cairo. Iran, by the way, once again, calling attention to its own capabilities. The state news agency reporting that Iran has launched its first satellite into space. The homemade satellite system is said to be the first of a series of five aimed at improving telecommunications.

Still ahead tonight here in THE SITUATION ROOM, can't they all just get along? That's the message from the California governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger. He visited Washington today and blasted leaders of both parties for what he calls their divide and conquer approach to politics.

And she's known for putting presidents on the hot seat. Now it's her seat that is in question. The veteran journalist, Helen Thomas, Jeanne Moos will explain what is going on

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: His state is blue. His party pairs with red. But Arnold Schwarzenegger thinks in shades of purple. And today the California governor pushed for more of the nation's leaders to do exactly the same thing. Our senior analyst Jeff Greenfield is in New York to explain -- Jeff.

JEFF GREENFIELD, CNN SENIOR ANALYST: Wolf, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger of California was in Washington today, bringing a message that demonstrates why he's one of the most remarkable and successful figures around. The message of this highly successful politician, stop playing politics.

But it's a message that the governor has not only spoken but delivered on, once and again.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GREENFIELD (voice-over): Schwarzenegger's message was a lament, a lament that Washington was in the grip of partisan gridlock.

GOV. ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER (R), CALIFORNIA: For too long, this town has been about divide and conquer: find an issue that splits our country in half, then crack it just enough so you can come out ahead. It doesn't look like anything has changed here in Washington. The same things are happening all over again.

GREENFIELD: What makes the words resonate is that the governor himself is something of a born-again centrist.

In 2003, after winning a recall election, he sounded strong bipartisan themes.

SCHWARZENEGGER: I have appointed to my cabinet Republicans, Democrats and independents, because I want the people to know that my administration is not about politics. It is about saving California.

GREENFIELD: But, in 2005, frustrated by a Democratic legislature, Schwarzenegger went to war, promoting ballot measures to curb the power of unions, to cap the budget, to change redistricting. All of those measures went down to defeat.

SCHWARZENEGGER: I just made terrible mistakes.

GREENFIELD: So, in a remarkable 180-degree turn, Schwarzenegger began cutting deals with the legislature on education spending, on extending health care to all children, on dealing with a budget deficit and roads through bond measures. That's borrowing.

He has joined Senator John McCain, embracing a massive effort to cut greenhouse gases, something the conservative GOP base is not exactly crazy about. And he has even defended the Republicans' public enemy number one, Senator Hillary Clinton, over her Iraq war vote.

SCHWARZENEGGER: Every human being makes mistakes. And that is why they understand when a politician says: You know, I made a mistake. It's that simple.

Now, with Hillary Clinton, I think that people should -- when it comes to the war, should elevate this whole discussion, and really not, you know, pick on things like that, but, really, try to get along in Washington.

GREENFIELD: He finished his speech in Washington by reminding his audience of the smoking tent he erected in Sacramento outside his office, where legislators can come to smoke a stogie and to schmooze, in his words.

And his advice to President Bush?

SCHWARZENEGGER: Get yourself a smoking tent.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

GREENFIELD: Now a lot of Republicans say that Schwarzenegger's centrism is really an abandonment of core conservative principles. But when you remember that he won his 17-point re-election victory in November, in the nation's biggest state in a big Democratic year, you can understand why for folks like John McCain and Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney, their favorite part of the Constitution is the part that says no foreign-born citizen can run for president -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jeff, thank you for that. And this note, the first lady, Laura Bush will appear on CNN's "LARRY KING LIVE" tonight. Among the topics, she talks about the personal effects of the war in Iraq.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LARRY KING, HOST, "LARRY KING LIVE": Has the war, what's a good term, worn you down? I mean, the public, obviously, more people disapprove than approve. It has hurt the standing of the presidency. What has it done to you?

LAURA BUSH, FIRST LADY: Well, of course, it's wearying. There's no doubt about it. And I understand how the American people feel. And that they feel like things aren't going like we want them to there.

On the other hand, I know how important it is for us to continue to help the Iraqis. And that to leave now would be a serious mistake. And I really agree with the president on that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: And you can see Larry's full interview with the first lady tonight. "LARRY KING LIVE" begins at 9:00 p.m. Eastern. Still ahead here in THE SITUATION ROOM, surprising claims about Jesus and a new documentary, including allegations he may have had a wife and a child. I'll talk about it with a top Catholic theologian and ask him what Christians should make of the controversy.

Plus, she's the grand dame of the White House briefing room, so why is Helen Thomas losing her seat, maybe? CNN's Jeanne Moos on the musical chairs at the White House. Stay with us, you're in "THE SITUATION ROOM."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: It is a very controversial claim that strikes at the heart of Christian faith. Documentary filmmakers now saying they're convinced the tomb discovered in Jerusalem once housed the earthly remains of Jesus and his wife and child. Let's go back to New York and Carol Costello. She has got details -- Carol.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Jesus' wife and child. It all sounds familiar, doesn't it? But if this is true, it would be the biggest archaeological find in history. Who is behind the lost tomb of Jesus, the documentary on Discovery? James Cameron, the guy who won an Oscar for directing "Titanic."

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COSTELLO (voice-over): Depending on who you ask, it's either a serious "wow" factor or seriously bad history.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: A 2,000-year-old tomb.

COSTELLO: Here they are, spotlighted on stage, 2,000-year-old stone caskets. And the claim is they once held the bones of Jesus Christ and Mary Magdalene. If true, it could rock Christianity to its core.

(on camera): This coming on the heels of "The Da Vinci Code." And...

JAMES CAMERON, DIRECTOR: Oh, it's highly suspect. It's highly suspect. I mean, I would be skeptical and say, well, they're just cashing in on "The Da Vinci Code." No, the fact is, we started this investigation a year before "The Da Vinci Code" came out.

COSTELLO: These stone coffins, along with eight others, were found back in 1980. Construction workers near Jerusalem discovered them crammed into a cave in an industrial suburb.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is it.

COSTELLO: Six were inscribed. The documentary called "The Lost Tomb of Jesus" claims the others read "Mary, Matthew, Josa (ph)," which is the name of Jesus' brother, and most controversially, "Judah, son of Jesus."

If you couple this with the DNA evidence they found, the documentary makers say there is compelling evidence that Jesus was married and had a child.

Archaeologist Joe Zias has studied the coffins and dismisses the claim.

JOE ZIAS, ARCHAEOLOGIST: What they try to do is they try to con the public into believing that we're talking about a nuclear family, so it's impossible to go and tell who is related to whom simply on the basis of names.

COSTELLO: Sure you can, say the makers of "The Lost Tomb of Christ." They asked statisticians to come up with the odds that all of those names would be found in one tomb and not be related. The answer, at least 600 to one

But the documentarians do admit nothing is proved.

CAMERON: Archaeology is about a fuzzy picture that gets clearer and clearer and clearer. So, you know, people of deep faith that sort of reject this out of hand, they're on safe ground, because we can never prove it.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COSTELLO: But there is controversy tonight. The Catholic League calls this "laughable" and a "Titanic" fraud. And in case you're wondering why James Cameron is involved in this, well, you know he made the movie "Titanic," but he also made a documentary on Titanic. He says he loves uncovering history -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Carol, thank you. One of the country's top theologians has some very serious problems with all of this. He says it's more hype than substance.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: For more now on the documentary and the controversy surrounding all of these claims, we're joined by the Reverend David O'Connell. He is the president of the Catholic University of America here in Washington.

Thanks very much for coming in, Father.

REV. DAVID O'CONNELL, PRES., CATHOLIC UNIVERSITY: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: So what do you make of all of this?

O'CONNELL: Well, I don't make much of it.

You know, to me, it's the same old story. This great breaking news is about 27 years old. These -- this tomb, the ossuaries, were found in 1980, and it just strikes me as strange that in all of that time serious archaeologists and serious scientists haven't spoken much about them, probably because there's very little credibility to the claims. BLITZER: Because our Ben Wedeman was speaking to some Israeli archaeologists and other archaeologists in Jerusalem earlier in the day, and they were pooh-poohing it as well, suggesting that they're not convinced that these allegations, these claims are authentic.

O'CONNELL: The statistics that they presented, the assertions that they made, giant leaps as far as I'm concerned.

BLITZER: The notion of Jesus being married and having a son, has that been around for a long time, that theory?

O'CONNELL: It's been around as long as the Gospels have existed. And people point to different items of tradition and legend and myth, but there is no evidence of that in the scripture, no evidence whatsoever in the scriptural texts that we have.

BLITZER: And if that -- if somehow DNA or new science could prove that, what would that do, though, to the Christian faith, the pinnacle -- the core beliefs that you have?

O'CONNELL: Well, I don't think that it would be a possibility, because, you know, people say, well, the Bible is not literal, the Bible is not historical. It's the best historical record that we have. And it's not the only historical record we have about the life of Jesus.

I just don't think it's a possibility that that kind of assertion could be proved true.

BLITZER: The fact that these names were on these boxes that were found, and obviously similar names to Jesus and Mary and a potential son?

O'CONNELL: Ancient Semitic language is very, very hard to decipher. And some of the archaeologists are saying that the expression "Jesus" that has been referred to on the caskets may not actually be Jesus, it may be another name.

You know, there are 25, 30 different variations of the name Mary in the Hebrew language and the Semitic languages. So, to make an assertion like they're making is really quite outstanding.

BLITZER: Is there any proof that would convince you that this allegation were true?

O'CONNELL: For 2,000 years we believed that Jesus died, was buried, rose, ascended, and sits at the right hand of the father in heaven. Nothing would convince me otherwise.

BLITZER: Father David O'Connell of Catholic University, thanks very much for coming in.

O'CONNELL: Thank you, Wolf.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Let's find out what is coming up right at the top of the hour on "PAULA ZAHN NOW." Paula is standing by -- Paula.

PAULA ZAHN, HOST, "PAULA ZAHN NOW": Hey, Wolf, thanks. Appreciate it. "Out in the Open" tonight, a sorority's effort to spruce up its image backfires. We're going to hear from some girls who say they were kicked out of the sorority house simply because of the way they looked, either the color of their skin or the fact that they were overweight. They are humiliated. We are going to bring some of the shocking allegations "Out in the Open."

Plus, you were just talking about this, Wolf, the controversy over the book on the Jesus family tomb. What would his claims mean to Christianity. The author is coming on as well as some people who are very, very upset by the hypothesis of the book. It's all out "On the Open" tonight, coming up top of the hour.

BLITZER: Paula, sounds good. Thank you.

And still ahead here in THE SITUATION ROOM, new legal fights over Anna Nicole Smith. There's a twist in the battle over her body. And now the paternity fight over her daughter is reaching a new level. We'll update you.

BLITZER: And Helen Thomas has been a front row witness to history. So why is she about to move to the second row? Will she? CNN's Jeanne Moos has the story. Stay with us, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Let's check back with Carol for some other stories making news -- Carol.

COSTELLO: Hi, Wolf. Iraqi President Jalal Talabani is in a hospital in Jordan. Hospital sources tell CNN he's in intensive care and he underwent a heart catheterization. But his son is denying that. Talabani's private doctor says he is being treated for exhaustion and lung inflammation. They say he is undergoing a series of tests as a precautionary measure.

A jury shake up in the Lewis "Scooter" Libby trial. The judge has dismissed one of the 12 jurors because they say she has been compromised by information on the case from outside the courtroom. The judge is hoping to continue with the remaining 11 jurors because appointing an alternate would mean the panel would have to start deliberations all over again.

The legal battle in the wake of Anna Nicole Smith's death has moved to the Bahamas. Two men who claim to be the father of her infant daughter are fighting to prove paternity. The child could inherit tens of millions of dollars from her mother's estate. In the meantime, a Florida judge has stayed a ruling that awarded custody of Smith's body to her daughter's guardian. So the saga goes on -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Carol, thanks very much for that.

The dean of the White House press corps may be losing her seat. CNN's Jeanne Moos shows us why.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): From celebs in courtside seats to the front row at fashion shows, editors may hide behind sunglasses. But Helen Thomas isn't hiding on the front row of history.

HELEN THOMAS, HEARST COLUMNIST: My question is, why did you really want to go to war?

MOOS: It is not as if she didn't warn the president against calling on her.

THOMAS: You're going to be sorry.

(LAUGHTER)

MOOS: And often they were.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Hold on for a second -- excuse me for a second, please. Excuse me for a second, Helen. Excuse me.

MOOS: She's used to putting them on the hot seat. But now it's her seat that is hot. The legendary reporter turned columnist is losing her front-row perch. The White House Briefing Room is closed for renovations. But when it reopens, Helen will be relegated to the second row.

(voice-over): So who would have the nerve to bump Helen Thomas from the front row? Well, actually, it's us. CNN and FOX News. Both of the networks want to move up. And the only way for that to happen is for Helen to move back.

(voice-over): Since CNN has seniority, we would have probably gotten a front row seat anyway, but for FOX to also get one, Helen had to move. After more than three decades in the front row, is Helen livid?

THOMAS: What I would like to know is why am I the story? There's a war going on.

MOOS: And she doesn't mean a war on her seat.

THOMAS: Are all of these stories untrue? Why...

BUSH: Let me finish? Ma'am, let me -- ma'am, please let me finish the question.

I can't thank the president enough for his hospitality. He didn't need to do this.

THOMAS: Yes, he did.

(LAUGHTER) MOOS: She's used to challenging authority, not seating charts.

THOMAS: I don't belong there in the front row. I can shout from any place.

MOOS: One of Helen's books may need a new title "Second Row at the White House." The White House Correspondents Association determines the seating and its president declares: "We love her and we'll take care of her."

THOMAS: Wowie.

MOOS: She's the only person to have a plaque with her name attached to her seat. President Bush once said of sparing with Helen...

BUSH: It's kind of like dancing together, isn't it?

MOOS: She has danced with nine different presidents and made a cameo and a funny video Bill Clinton made for a press dinner.

BILL CLINTON, 42ND PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Any questions? Helen?

THOMAS: Are you still here?

MOOS: She'll still be here, probably causing a row from two rows away, this cookie...

THOMAS: Let me put my cookie down here.

MOOS: ... doesn't crumble.

Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Let's wrap it up with some of the "Hot Shots" coming in from our friends over at the Associated Press, pictures likely to be in your hometown newspapers tomorrow.

In the Dominican Republic, a police officer launches tear gas at demonstrators protesting against highway conditions.

In Afghanistan, four Afghani men walk through the snow.

In Egypt, a poultry trader force-feeds corn to a turkey even though bird flu has killed 13 people in the country.

And in Las Vegas, a 15-year-old boy practices wheelchair skateboarding in park. Some of this hour's "Hot Shots," pictures often worth a thousand words.

That is it for us. We will see you back here tomorrow. Among our guests, can Republican Whip Roy Blunt save the president's Iraq policy? We will ask him, tomorrow, in THE SITUATION ROOM. Let's go to Paula in New York.

TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.voxant.com

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