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Walter Reed Scandal Grows; National Guard Stretched Thin; Battle Over Iraq; Enterprise Recovers from Deadly Tornado; Students, Driver Killed in Bus Crash; Marijuana Gaining Potency?; Giuliani Greeted Warmly at Conservative Conference; Army Sergeant Honored for Iraq Service

Aired March 2, 2007 - 18:00   ET


KITTY PILGRIM, HOST: Tonight, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales refuses to be held accountable for his department's failure to give justice to two former Border Patrol agents sent to prison for doing their jobs.
Also, the Bush administration pushes ahead with its so-called free trade agenda, despite the loss of millions of American jobs.

We'll have a special report.

And "The War Within," disturbing new evidence that drug cartels are using genetic engineering to make marijuana more dangerous than ever.

All of that and much more, straight ahead.

ANNOUNCER: This is LOU DOBBS TONIGHT, news, debate and opinion for Friday, March 2nd.

Sitting in for Lou Dobbs, Kitty Pilgrim.

PILGRIM: Good evening, everybody.

Army secretary Francis Harvey today abruptly resigned amid the rising anger about poor conditions at Walter Reed Medical Center. The resignation comes one day after the Pentagon fired the general in charge of Walter Reed.

Meanwhile, there's a stunning warning that the National Guard is unprepared to carry out vital missions such as disaster relief. A congressional commission says nearly 90 percent of National Guard units in this country are rated not ready.

Andrea Koppel reports on startling new developments in the scandal at Walter Reed.

Kathleen Koch reports on the bleak warning about the readiness of the National Guard.

And Dana Bash reports on Democratic efforts to relaunch their political offensive on the war in Iraq.

We turn to Andrea Koppel first -- Andrea. ANDREA KOPPEL, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Kitty, the warning came from Major General George Weightman, who was the commanding officer at Walter Reed until yesterday. Now Democrats are subpoenaing the general to testify at a hearing next week.


KOPPEL (voice over): Just one day after the commanding general at Walter Reed was removed from his post, House Democrats released a possible smoking gun -- this internal memo from Major General George Weightman's deputy to the Army's medical command.

Dated September 2006, the memo describes how the Army's recent decision to privatize support services at Walter Reed had sparked a exodus of "highly skilled and experienced personnel." And as a result, Weightman's deputy warned that Walter Reed's "... base operations and patient care services are at risk of mission failure."

Democrats investigating the situation say the Army awarded the five-year, $120 million contract in January 2006. At that time, they claim Walter Reed had over 300 federal employees in support services. By February 2006, a year later, that number had dropped to under 60.

Democrats say the company that took over, IAP Worldwide Services, was among the companies that had problems delivering ice during FEMA's response to Hurricane Katrina. The CEO of IAP, Al Neffgen, is a former senior Halliburton official.

In a letter to General Weightman, Congressman Henry Waxman says it would be "reprehensible if the deplorable conditions (at Walter Reed) were caused or aggravated by an ideological commitment to privatize government services..." Even before news of this memo broke, Democrats were already calling for more heads to roll.

SEN. PATRICK LEAHY (D), VERMONT: We have the secretary of the V.A. come up here and say, all is doing well, we have all of these programs. Baloney. Baloney. The programs they have he would never accept for himself or his family.

We ought to be looking at a whole lot of people to be fired in this thing.


KOPPEL: Now, since Senator Leahy's remarks this afternoon, another head did roll. The Army secretary, Francis Harvey, abruptly resigned, Kitty, and that's all before the congressional hearings get under way into Walter Reed next week -- Kitty.

PILGRIM: Thanks very much, Andrea Koppel.

President Bush today ordered a top-to-bottom review of medical care for our wounded troops. The president, in his weekly radio address, says substandard conditions for our wounded warriors are "unacceptable". The president said a bipartisan panel will carry out the review. A congressional commission says the readiness of National Guard units in this country has never been lower. The commission says nearly nine out of every 10 guard units are unready to carry out critically important missions. Those units lack vital equipment because of the stress of fighting the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Kathleen Koch reports.


KATHLEEN KOCH, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): They are supposed to respond in the wake of deadly natural disasters, like the tornadoes that just swept through the southeast, to other incidents, like terror strikes and nuclear accidents. But a new report has found 88 percent of National Guard units are so short on equipment, they're not ready to do their jobs.

MAJ. GEN. ARNOLD PUNARO (RET.), COMMISSION CHAIRMAN: The equipment readiness of our Guard and Reserve today is totally unacceptable.

KOCH: The Commission on the National Guard and Reserves found more is being asked of the Guard and Reserves than ever before, but funding and equipment isn't keeping pace. A shortage of high-water vehicles to evacuate citizens has left the Guard in Louisiana unprepared to face another Hurricane Katrina.

LT. COL. PETE SCHNEIDER, LOUISIANA NATIONAL GUARD: No. Absolutely not. You know, Katrina, catastrophic event, and by its nature completely overwhelmed the state resources and the local resources. We are down equipment. We need to be fully equipped.

KOCH: The Virginia National Guard, too, has a long list of shortfalls.

COL. ROBERT H. SIMPSON, VIRGINIA NATIONAL GUARD: Wheeled vehicles, generators, night-vision goggles, radios, some engineering equipment, those are the things that we use in almost every kind of disaster.

KOCH: Colonel Robert Simpson says the deficit leaves his forces unable to respond adequately to a major chemical, biological or nuclear incident in the nation's capital.

SIMPSON: In a major disaster, that's correct, we could not. We would need help from our sister states.

KOCH: Some lawmakers believe it's time the National Guard was made a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.


KOCH: But that hasn't happened yet. The lawmakers do argue that that would at least give the Guard a seat at the table and some clout to argue for the funding and equipment it needs. Now, the congressional panel said if major changes don't come soon, the ability of the National Guard and Reserves to respond will continue to deteriorate and American citizens will be left at greater risk -- Kitty.

PILGRIM: Kathleen, this is just a really shocking report. What's being done about this?

KOCH: Well, again, there are some in Congress who say there -- if you would just give the Guard, make it one of the members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, that would help. There are other suggestions, they say in a report, that state leaders and the federal government need to work together more to figure out who needs what, make sure these Guard units get their funding.

But it's going to take a while to resolve. And clearly, these guardsmen, reservists, don't have a lot of time.

PILGRIM: Yes. Thanks very much, Kathleen Koch.

The military says insurgents in Iraq have killed three more of our troops, two soldiers and a Marine. Now, two of our troops have been killed so far this month, 81 in February.

3,166 of our troops have been killed since the war began. 22,785 of our troops have been wounded, 10,355 of them so seriously they could not rush to duty within three days.

Insurgents in Baghdad today killed at least 10 people in a used car lot. Another 17 people were wounded in the explosion in Sadr City. Separately, the bodies of 14 Iraqi police officers have been found north of Baghdad. Those officers were kidnapped Thursday.

Senate Democrats tonight are making a new effort to come up with a strategy to oppose the president's troop buildup in Iraq. Democratic leaders in the Senate, like their counterparts in the House, are struggling to maintain their party's unity on the issue of Iraq.

Dana Bash reports from Capitol Hill -- Dana.


Well, you know, there are 16 senators, Democrats, still serving in the Senate who voted in 2002 against the Iraq war. And as we reported earlier this week, many of them heard that their leaders were planning on trying to force a change in Iraq policy by reauthorizing the war and saying, wait a minute, we didn't vote for the war to begin with, and we're not going to support any kind of approval of the mission now.

So what Senate Democratic leaders had to do all week was basically go back to the drawing board and find out how they can write this language to appeal to these Democrats. And what CNN is told is that what they are going to try to do is stay away from the term "reauthorizing," and instead try to simply define the mission, make it clear it is about transitioning out of Iraq.

I spoke earlier today with one of the Senate Democrats actually trying to rewrite this language, Senator Jack Reed, and asked him just how the mission is going to be redefined.

Let's listen.


SEN. JACK REED (D), RHODE ISLAND: Training Iraqi security forces, providing counterterrorism operations against al Qaeda to the real international terrorists that are there, and also helping to maintain the territorial integrity of the country. Those are very specific missions that can be planned for, can be resourced, and I think are consistent with our long-term objectives in the region.


BASH: Now, the other thing we're told, Kitty, that Senate Democrats are going to try to do to put language in this to make it clear -- to give a date, a deadline, for U.S. troops to start coming home from Iraq -- Kitty.

PILGRIM: Dana, what's going on with Democrats in the House of Representatives?

BASH: Well, you know, there is just as much, if not more, division in the Democratic ranks in the House as there is in the Senate. But in the House, what they are trying to do is try to force a change in policy through the $100 billion Iraq war funding request. And what Democratic leaders say they are coming together on is a broad approach to say, along with that funding request, they are going to do a few things.

One is set benchmarks for the Iraqi government. Also, require the U.S. military to meet readiness standards. And also set a deadline for the end of the mission.

But here's the thing -- they apparently have not come up with exactly how they are going to enforce all of those things. So it's unclear how this is going to pan out, especially since, Kitty, House Democrats have now made clear they are not going to go along with Congressman John Murtha and his plan, and that was to say that this funding will simply not go through if the conditions or these requirements on the military or the Iraqi government are not met -- Kitty.

PILGRIM: Thanks very much, Dana Bash.

Well, still to come, more on the politics of the war in Iraq with our political panel.

And two former Border Patrol agents are in prison for doing their jobs, and incredibly, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales believes that's just fine.

We'll have a report.

Also, outrage over a massive new transportation project in Texas. A project that could be the first step in a superhighway from Mexico to Canada.

And harrowing stories of survival after killer tornadoes tore through small communities in Alabama and Georgia.


PILGRIM: U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales today defended the prosecution of former Border Patrol agents Ignacio Ramos and Jose Compean. Incredibly, Gonzales claims the agents had the opportunity to present the facts of their case to a jury. But as Casey Wian reports, the jury never heard all of those facts.


CASEY WIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales says he supports the Border Patrol.

ALBERTO GONZALES, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: Let me just say, border agents, they do a tremendous job for the American people. Securing our borders under very difficult circumstances, and they should be applauded.

WIAN: But apparently not these Border Patrol agents. Ignacio Ramos and Jose Compean were prosecuted by the Justice Department for shooting and wounding Oscar Aldrete-Davila, an illegal alien Mexican drug smuggler. Aldrete-Davila was given immunity by a Gonzales subordinate, Texas U.S. attorney Johnny Sutton, to testify against the agents.

GONZALES: I have a great deal of confidence in the federal prosecutor to handle this case, Johnny Sutton, who worked with Governor Bush back in our days in Texas.

WIAN: Congressman Ted Poe is a former Texan judge.

REP. TED POE (R), TEXAS: It's always a truism at the courthouse, when the prosecution makes deals with criminals, their testimony is suspect.

WIAN: Sutton's prosecutors prevented the jury from hearing evidence that Aldrete-Davila had a history of drug smuggling, evidence that could have damaged the credibility of the prosecution's key witness against the agents.

REP. DANA ROHRABACHER (R), CALIFORNIA: Sutton chose to disregard the information, despite the evidence provided by the DEA. Sutton's continuous attempts to paint a benign picture of the drug smuggler is not only disingenuous, but it amounts to misleading the jury and the public.

GONZALES: There's a lot out there, a lot of misinformation out there about what happened in this particular case, but the agents had the opportunity to present the facts to a jury in Texas, and the jury concluded that, in fact, these two agents broke the law. And people in law enforcement who break the law should be held accountable. No question about it. And that's what's happening here.

WIAN: Gonzales refused to take follow-up questions on why his prosecutors kept key information from the jury, including the Aldrete- Davila's drug-smuggling history, escalating violence on the Mexican border, and other evidence that could have helped exonerate agents Ramos and Compean.


WIAN: Congressman Duncan Hunter's bill to pardon the agents now has 90 co-sponsors, including four Democrats. The latest Democrat to sign on this week is Lincoln Davis of Tennessee -- Kitty.

PILGRIM: So that effort is gaining momentum, Casey?

WIAN: It absolutely is gaining momentum. There's a lot more pressure from many members of Congress to hold hearings, to investigate the many questions in this case.

Senator Dianne Feinstein, on the Senate side of California, another Democrat, wants to hold hearings on this case. We don't have a date yet, but her office says those hearings will come.

PILGRIM: Thanks very much, Casey Wian.

Opponents of a proposed superhighway from the Mexican border through Texas today held a major protest. Now, the highway would speed trucks from Mexico into the heart of this country. Critics say it's a threat to our national security. It's part of a plan for a North American integration being carried out by government and corporate elites without congressional or voter approval.

And as Lisa Sylvester reports, Texans aren't giving up without a fight.


LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Not a sight you see every day, farm tractors rolling down the streets of Austin to the Texas capital. A diverse coalition marched opposing the Trans-Texas Corridor.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They're selling out our infrastructure, and it's really about a part of the NAFTA superhighway creating Mexico, the United States and Canada. It's the first piece.

SYLVESTER: The proposed Trans-Texas Corridor would be a patchwork of superhighways and railroads stretching 4,000 miles from the border of Mexico, cutting through Texas, to Oklahoma.

DAVID STALL, CORRIDORWATCH.ORG: We'll lose control of public infrastructure. We will continue a trend of losing transparency and accountability in government. I think it will set a tone that we'll all come to regret.

SYLVESTER: The Texas Transportation Department says the corridor will improve mobility and safety, create jobs for Texans, and inject billions of dollars into the state's economy. But at a hearing, there were loud complaints from residents. State lawmakers looking at other toll projects, like the Chicago Skyway and the Holland Tunnel, worry that their tolls were increase to a staggering level based on contract formulas.

ELIOT SHAPLEIGH (D), TEXAS STATE SENATE: You're looking in this situation. If you had a $19.27 (ph) toll at one, you get to $185. I think many of us at this table would not be elected if we let that happen.

SYLVESTER: Lawmakers also expressed concern over another road project. A lease has been signed that would make Texas Highway 121 a toll road. A private Spanish company won the bid to billed and collect the tolls for the next 50 years. These deals with private companies are being negotiated largely in secret, and many state lawmakers are worried taxpayers are being solid down the road.


SYLVESTER: In 2003, the state senate gave the Texas Transportation Commission the authority to enter into these agreements with private contractors. Now some state lawmakers believe they gave up too much authority. One bill proposed calls for a two-year moratorium on these new toll roads -- Kitty.

PILGRIM: Thanks very much, Lisa Sylvester.

And that brings us to the subject of tonight's poll.

Should foreign companies be allowed to control vital transportation infrastructure in this country? Yes or no?

Cast your vote at We'll bring you the results later in the broadcast.

Even today, highways are the primary way drugs are smuggled into this country from Mexico. The State Department's international narcotics report says legitimate commercial traffic provides ample opportunity for smugglers to move drugs across our borders.

Coming up, "The War Within." Marijuana, by far the most abused drug in America. Today it is even more potent than ever.

We'll have a special report.

U.S. policies with communist China could cost you your job. And the administration's harsh word for its citizens, not the Chinese government.

We'll have a report.

And a deadly bus crash in Atlanta, it devastates an Ohio college baseball team, and we'll have the latest on that.

Stay with us.


PILGRIM: Millions of U.S. jobs have been lost due to trade agreements with communist China, and even though the Bush administration admits it has problems with China's policy, the U.S. continues to push free trade.

As Bill Tucker reports, the results are devastating to America's besieged middle class.


BILL TUCKER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Treasury Secretary Paulson doesn't suffer his critics lightly. On the eve of his trip to Asia, where he's scheduled to meet with China to discuss trade, he lashed out at the growing discontent.

HENRY PAULSON, TREASURY SECRETARY: They try to convince workers and families that we're getting a raw deal when it comes to trade. At best, that's bad economics. At worst, it's demagoguery.

TUCKER: The secretary's problem is over three million jobs have been lost. The trade deficit with China last year topped $232 billion, which is almost three times greater than the deficit just five years ago when it was $83 billion.

REP. STEVE KAGEN (D), WISCONSIN: This nation is hemorrhaging our jobs. They are bleeding overseas. You can't fix that with a Band- Aid.

He needs to stand up, put his foot down, and say, look, you can't undervalue your currency. You should not be illegally funding your corporations and your businesses with grants and illegal subsidies.

TUCKER: While billions of dollars of our economy have been shipped overseas and jobs lost, the administration's line on the eve of its next visit to China remains the same.

PAULSON: We must redouble our effort to demonstrate the benefits of trade to our standard of living and make clear that retreating to economic isolationism would mean fewer jobs, lower incomes, and lower standards of living in the United States.

TUCKER: While admitting there are problems, he reminded his audience, America and China are talking.

PETER MORICI, UNIVERSITY OF MARYLAND: We've been talking for five years now through three Treasury secretaries. The Chinese are very happy to talk about this issue, because the longer this goes on, the more factories they can move from Indiana and Michigan to Shanghai.

TUCKER: The critics would like to see less talk and more action. (END VIDEOTAPE)

TUCKER: And today, the strongest action the Bush administration has seen fit to take is to file a complaint with the World Trade Organization, saying it thinks China's trade policies amount to illegal subsidies to Chinese businesses -- Kitty.

PILGRIM: Thanks very much, Bill Tucker.

Time now for some of your thoughts.

And Craig wrote to us from Florida, "Why are the Democrats divided? We, the voters, told them we wanted out of Iraq, closed borders, no amnesty. What do we get? A non-binding resolution. What will it take for politicians to listen to the people?"

And we heard from Don in Colorado. "The special interests do not want immigration laws enforced. And as long as we allow them to buy Congress, those laws will never be enforced. Democrat or Republican, they're bought and paid for. Sad, isn't it?"

And we also heard from Edwin in Texas. "Businesses should be required to transport Mexican nationals across the border to and from their workplace, have the responsibility to register them, pay for all of the public services, like medical care and education, and be liable for any illegal acts they commit. American citizens shouldn't have to pay the costs of illegal immigrant workers while businesses reap the benefits."

E-mail us at We'll have more of your thoughts a little bit later in the broadcast.

And each of you whose e-mail is read here will receive a copy of Lou's new book, "War on the Middle Class."

Coming up, a bus carrying a baseball team plunges off a highway, killing six people in Atlanta.

We'll have a report on what may have caused that accident.

Plus, eyewitness accounts of the killer twister that demolished a school in Alabama.

And "The War Within." Pot is not as harmless as some people think. The government says marijuana is becoming more pototent.

We'll be right back.


PILGRIM: Emergency workers continue to sift through the rubble one day after killer tornadoes swept through Alabama and Georgia. This is the incredible devastation in southern -- southeastern Alabama. That's after a deadly twister touched down, killing nine people. Eight of those victims were killed when the tornado hit a high school in Enterprise. The twister knocked down the walls. It collapsed ceilings. It also completely flattened homes, overturned cars.

Now, President Bush will tour areas devastated by the storm tomorrow.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Now, tomorrow I'm going down to Georgia and Alabama. I go down with a heavy heart. I go down knowing full well that I'll be seeing people whose lives were turned upside down by the tornadoes. I'll do my very best to comfort them. I ask our nation for those who are prayerful to give a prayer for the victims of the storms. And ask for the blessings that can come upon people in the comfort necessary to deal with the recent tragedy.


PILGRIM: For more on the victims of the deadly tornado, we go to Susan Roesgen in Enterprise -- Susan.

SUSAN ROESGEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Kitty, there are still construction crews out here, people picking up debris, people trying to restore the power, but in all the tragedy of this high school, we found the story of a hero.


ROESGEN (voice-over): Tim Jackson is a parent who is both proud and grieving. Grieving because his son, A.J., was one of the eight students who died. But proud because he knows his son saved another student's life.

TIM JACKSON, FATHER OF VICTIM: One of the rescuers, one of the guys that were there had said that A.J. had kept a concrete beam from falling on a girl to save her life and that she survived. I don't know who the girl is. But that sounds just like A.J. With a smile on his face, he would do it again.

ROESGEN: The students were huddled in the hallways when the tornado struck, and A.J., a 16-year-old junior, made a split-second decision.

MARK SHELDON, RESCUER: He was in where the walls were collapsing, and he helped basically, jumped -- got himself in front of a wall before it landed on her, and unfortunately, the wall landed on him. And she slid out of the way, so she could get to safety, and we dragged her out of the building and then want back in and got more.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He'll be in a better place.

ROESGEN: Tim Jackson spent the day making funeral arrangements. His son was a school cheerleader. JACKSON: He was a wonderful, wonderful young man, and he's in a better place. And he's up there in heaven doing stunts right now. And I can't wait until I get up there to see him again.


ROESGEN: Kitty, some people have questioned the school's decision not to release the students early. They were waiting, huddled in the hallways for two hours before the tornado actually struck, but the school staff, the mayor, and a lot of the parents here say that it was actually the safest place for them to be. Nobody expected the high school to take a dead-on hit -- Kitty.

PILGRIM: Thanks very much, Susan Roesgen.

Georgia's governor, declaring a state of emergency in six counties after deadly twisters roared into the southern part of that state. At least nine people were killed. Several homes were damaged. The powerful storm also forced the evacuation of the main hospital in Sumter County.

A deadly bus crash in Atlanta, Georgia, early this morning. A charter bus carrying a college baseball team traveling on its way to Florida, plunged off a highway. Four students, the bus driver, and his wife, were killed.

For more on the condition of the survivors and more details on the accident, we go to Amanda Rosseter, live at Grady Hospital in Atlanta -- Amanda.

AMANDA ROSSETER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Kitty, this all happened at about 5:30 this morning, just before day break. This was a tour bus, carrying the Bluffton University baseball team from Bluffton University in Ohio, just outside of Toledo.

They were headed to Sarasota, Florida, for their spring tournament. There were 35 people on board, including the players and the coaches. Twenty-nine were injured. Two are still in very critical condition. Four are in serious condition, and as you mentioned, six people now confirmed dead, including the driver and his wife.

The pictures from the scene from this morning were just horrific. What we understand is that they were traveling south on I-75, to Florida. The driver had just made a shift change. So he was fresh on his shift this morning at about 5:30.

But it's our understanding that he may have become confused about the HOV lane, that he was traveling in an HOV lane that runs off the left-hand side of I-75 south, went up onto the overpass and, instead of going left or right at the top of the overpass, he instead went straight across it, barreled through the concrete wall and through that guard fence.

The bus landed on its side on the highway below. And the students say that many of them were ejected when that bus hit the highway.

We recently spoke with the Grady doctors here. They say they still have three in very serious condition.


A.J. RAMTHUN, CRASH SURVIVOR: All I remember as I woke up, I woke up as soon as the bus hit the overpass's wall. And that's when I waked up. And the bus landed on the left side, which is the side I was sitting on. And I just looked out and saw the -- the road coming up after me.


ROSSETER: That was A.J. Ramthun. He was one of the survivors. He earlier said that he was also looking for his brother, who had been on the bus, who had been pinned under the side of the bus, and he didn't know -- did not know his condition.

We now know that his brother is OK. He has hip injuries.

And again, we spoke with the doctors here, and they tell us they are tracking two very critical patients.


DR. JEFFREY SALOMONE, GRADY MEMORIAL HOSPITAL: The two that are most critically injured are very seriously injured and the next couple of days are going to tell here.

We'd love to be able to tell you that -- that we're hopeful for full survival, full recovery, but at this point in time, it's one of those too early to know situations.

Many of them are very solemn at this point in time, as you would imagine having gone through, and many of them are beginning to understand the -- the severity of the situation that they've gone through.


ROSSETER: And, again, Kitty, we heard from the doctors that they are taking the 16 students and coaches who are still here, who are in good condition, and they are joining them all in one wing of Grady Memorial here and letting their families come in. So they think that that's helping them emotionally with this very traumatic situation, as their parents trickle in here, most of them flying in from Ohio.

The NTSB also on the scene here and gathering evidence to investigate a little bit more -- Kitty.

PILGRIM: Thanks very much. Amanda Rosseter.

Tonight, "The War Within", our special report on America's battle against drug and alcohol abuse. Marijuana is the most widely abused illegal drug in the United States. Close to 100 million Americans have tried the drug at least once. Christine Romans is here to tell us about concerns the drug may be more potent than ever before -- Christine.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Kitty, some 4,000 metric tons of marijuana is smuggled into this country every year and the government says domestic production may rival that amount.

In its yearly report to Congress on the drug trade, the State Department says of particular concern is what the government calls high-potency indoor grown cannabis, produced on a large scale in Canada, with elevated levels of THC, the chemical that creates the high.


MICHAEL VIGIL, FORMER DEA DIRECTOR OF INTERNATIONAL OPERATIONS: BC, or British Colombia bud, is genetically engineered, and it is highly addictive. And it has become a significant problem here in the United States.

ROMANS (voice-over): Canadian marijuana production uses specialized timers, ventilation, moveable lights on tracks, nutrients sprayed right onto exposed roots and fertilizers that juice up THC levels. The result is a drug the government calls powerful, dangerous and addictive.

An estimated 800 metric tons of marijuana, like this, is smuggled out of Canada each year. But most comes from Mexico, carried across the border through legitimate commercial traffic. A lesser amount from Colombia and Jamaica, even possibly Nigeria, feeding an estimated 20 million users in this country.

Pot advocates concede that marijuana today is more potent than a generation ago, but they say not nearly as much as law enforcement claims.


ROMANS: The more potent the pot, they claim, the less it takes to get high, and the less damage to the lungs. Well, that's a message that child health advocates and anti-drug campaigners say undermines their attempts to keep kids from trying marijuana in the first place.

And they also say Baby Boomers should not feel hypocritical about talking to their kids about marijuana, Kitty.

PILGRIM: That argument sounds likes a rationalization to me.

ROMANS: The idea that if you're ingesting less, if it takes less to get high, you're ingesting less in your body and so at least the lung damage would be less. That is the argument.

PILGRIM: Thanks very much, Christine Romans. Still ahead, Republican presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani, courting the heart of the Republican Party today. He says conservatives should look at his record as mayor of New York. But his record may be his problem. We'll have that story.

And he's one of our country's true heroes. We'll introduce you to an Army reservist who was honored for his service in Iraq.

Those stories, and more, when we come back.


PILGRIM: The conservative political action conference is under way today in Washington, and after the Democratic victory in Congress last year, activists are looking for a candidate who will be a flag carrier for the conservative agenda in 2008.

As Bill Schneider reports, one candidate received an unexpected reception.



BILL SCHNEIDER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST (voice-over): He got a noticeably warm reception from conservative activists who were supposed to be his critics.

GEORGE WILL, COLUMNIST: The man for whom pugnacity is a political tenacity, Rudolph Giuliani.

SCHNEIDER: "I'm one of you," Giuliani told the crowd.

GIULIANI: We really represent a new generation of the Reagan revolution. I consider myself very, very fortunate to be part of that.

SCHNEIDER: What about those pesky social issues?

GIULIANI: Ronald Reagan used to say, my 80 percent ally is not my 20 percent enemy. What he meant by that is, we don't all see eye to eye on everything.

SCHNEIDER: Giuliani is the security issue. Tough and decisive, 9/11. He's also the social issues, abortion rights and gay rights, New York City. If social issues trump security, he's got trouble.

DAVID KEENE, AMERICAN CONSERVATIVE UNION: The overriding issue has to be security, because that's what he's going to run on. And if he can make that work, then he's -- then he's credible. And if he -- if they say, yes, but, then he's got a problem.

SCHNEIDER: But security may trump social issues.

MICHELLE MEAD, CPAC DELEGATE: Everyone I've talked to today says, you know, I don't agree with him on such and such, and such and such, but -- and I think it's the "but" that's going to carry him.

SCHNEIDER: It seems to be working.

GIULIANI: Abraham Lincoln actually didn't have to listen on polls on CNN.

SCHNEIDER: Here's one Giuliani might want to listen to. He's gaining support among Republicans. John McCain is not. Some conservatives are saying, "Welcome to the fold."

GROVER NORQUIST, AMERICANS FOR TAX REFORM: The Roman Catholic Church maintains market share by accepting converts, and they don't go around saying, "Five years ago you were a pagan." They say, "Glad you're with us."


SCHNEIDER: One more thing: McCain has a history of picking fights with conservatives. Giuliani does not -- Kitty.

PILGRIM: Bill, you know, he seems to take a little bit of a dig at you. Did Giuliani talk about the war in Iraq at all?

SCHNEIDER: Well, he hardly mentioned Iraq, except once by implication. It was interesting. Giuliani described the Battle of the Bulge of 1944, as, he said, an intelligence failure, and the worst mistake of World War II.

But he also said it was a mistake made by some of the greatest Americans, like General Dwight Eisenhower. Hmm?

PILGRIM: All right. The war of words continues. Thanks, very much, Bill Schneider.


PILGRIM: I'm joined now by three of the country's best political analysts, Reverend Jesse Jackson, founder of the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition, Michael Goodwin, of "The New York Daily News" and Democratic strategist Robert Zimmerman. Gentlemen, thanks for being with us.

What do you think about the -- let's start with the Giuliani stuff. Is there a Republican candidate that will please conservatives? And do you think these voters really count in this election -- Robert?

ROBERT ZIMMERMAN, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well, you know, what's intriguing about this conservative convention is that it really reflects the complete collapse of the conservative philosophies' electable tool.

And by that I mean, none of the Republicans who came before this conservative convention were aligning themselves with George Bush. In fact, you saw Rudy Giuliani refer to Ronald Reagan.

And, in fact, the only real conservative in the outfit, John McCain, chose not to appear in front of them.

And so I think what you really have is an issue about whether they represent, the conservative gathering represents an electable movement.

REV. JESSE JACKSON, RAINBOW/PUSH COALITION: And what you see is that the Republicans that made a lot of gays, guns and Bible verses, the issue now is Iraq, Iraq, Iraq, and veterans, and the issues of stuff. How we treat American veterans.


JACKSON: And losing this war, has kind of put their social agenda on the back burner even for them.


MICHAEL GOODWIN, "NEW YORK DAILY NEWS": I do think the report was correct in that leadership ultimately will be the issue of the campaign. Don't forget, we're now still almost two years away from the voting for the public to see who will be the next president.

And it's very unlikely that Iraq will be settled by then. It's very likely that there will still be problems with Iran and with Afghanistan, Pakistan. Who knows where else and what else?

So I think that leadership is going to be the issue. Terrorism is still going to be a big deal in that campaign, as it must be. And I think the social issues are receding for these -- for these larger reasons.

I would also make just one more distinction. I think among the social issues with Giuliani, one is more important than the others for Republicans voters, and that is abortion. I think gun control and gay rights issues are easily kind of explained, finessed and hairs can be split.

But I think abortion, if you're pro-choice, as he is, as he said he is, that's the difficult one, because not since Gerald Ford have the Republicans nominated a pro-choice candidate.

PILGRIM: No, I would say...

JACKSON: One of the biggest things, they have a net loss of jobs. They're going from the textile industry through the high-tech industries. On the boarders, down and around Charleston, South Carolina, you have the problems with the port security issue.

I mean, I think once you get past the kind of beauty contest stage, the issues of port security, the issues of trade policy, and the issue of how veterans are treated, these issues are substantive, that will take front and center.

ZIMMERMAN: But that's the real test here, because ultimately, in the early caucuses, the early caucuses in Iowa and Nevada and, of course, in the first primaries in New Hampshire, the social issues and the true -- true conservative Republicans have always been the dominant force.

Now, are they going to respond to the mainstream issues of what's impacting middle class America? Or is the Republican Party going to be held captive to the extreme conservative wing? That's the challenge facing the Republican Party.

JACKSON: If the questions come back to haunt them, are you better off eight years later? You look at losing the war in Iraq, losing money and lives and honor and losing the middle-class jobs, and the answer is a resounding no. And that, between the loss, losing the war in Iraq and losing our jobs, is kind of trumping other concerns.

GOODWIN: But I do think those will be big issues in the general election. I think George Bush is clearly a drag on any Republican nominee. But I think within the Republican primary system right now, those issues are not as important, which is why I think Giuliani is doing so well, incredibly well.

PILGRIM: Incredibly well.

GOODWIN: In the Republican primaries.

PILGRIM: You know, he did make a comment about Iraq, and let's just listen to it for a second. I believe we have it.


GIULIANI: This war is over when they stop planning to come here and kill us. When that ends, the war is over.


PILGRIM: Now, that is classic Giuliani. That is the sort of tough Giuliani that he -- the image that he brings to...

JACKSON: Except for Iraq didn't hit us in New York. The Taliban hit us in New York. And we're left bin Laden and gone to kill Osama -- kill Saddam Hussein. And we're less safe, less secure, and less transparent in the handling of our resources. And so it's a kind of bluff issue.

ZIMMERMAN: It's interesting -- interesting, too, watching this conservative conference play out their message. Ultimately, very few were standing up in support of the Bush strategy to fight terrorism.

I think what was most interesting here is the fact that Iraq has now emerged obviously as an -- as a colossal misjudgment that has to be managed so that we can move on to fighting the war on terrorism.

JACKSON: Also, they didn't mention the Iran-Syria factor now...


JACKSON: ... which cannot be -- is lurking in the shadows. It cannot be gotten around. You cannot resolve that crisis independent of the neighbors of Iraq. PILGRIM: Well, after this week, it will not be an avoidable topic.

GOODWIN: Right, right, right. And I think as Reverend Jackson pointed out there, it's a slogan to say, "We'll stop if they stop trying to kill us." In fact, if they want to kill Israel, is that OK?

I mean, I think there are a lot of -- we have a lot of interests in that region that don't directly affect us being attacked. Oil is a clear interest in our economy and our way of life. So I don't think it's a simple way to unwind what's going on over there.

ZIMMERMAN: I think the real message coming out of that conservative conference is that the Bush foreign policy agenda is not one that can elect a Republican president, and for that matter it's not a credible agenda to try to bring a resolution -- to try to bring an effective battle against the war on terror.

PILGRIM: You know, I really want to turn to another topic, because we're going to run out of time, the Walter Reed situation and the whole debacle over the condition of this facility. What's your view on this? Do you think that this will gain momentum and be pushed into a political arena?

ZIMMERMAN: Walter Reed has become a symbol, actually. It's become a tragic symbol of, once again, the Bush administration's failure to plan an effective war, again, on terror.

For example, when there -- when the Bush administration did not plan for the number of combatants that were required in Iraq to handle the insurgency, they, of course, didn't plan for the number of casualties as a result of that.

And furthermore, they're dealing with an administration that has not chosen to make veterans' issues a priority. Just last year in the Senate...

GOODWIN: But I think that's too far afield. II think the issue here was clearly an administration one in terms of privatization, and the report showed it may have been the real issue. I think other shoes are going to drop. We don't know the whole story yet.

I am -- I will say one thing. I think Robert Gates, the new secretary of defense, has moved very quickly and very forcefully, and I think that's a clear departure from what the defensiveness that Donald Rumsfeld would...

JACKSON: The issue right now -- Walter Reed may be the Katrina of this crisis, because the veterans hospitals around the country, we've cut the veterans' budget, while demanding more of veterans. We are still demanding more National Guard units and have less of them.

So in some sense our military, the infrastructure is collapsing. And to think that Walter Reed is just symbolic, almost a metaphor for other veterans hospitals. Veterans, in fact, are without hospital care, without jobs and homeless. ZIMMERMAN: That's why I've got to respectfully disagree with Michael, because now last year the Republican Senate cut $16 billion from the veterans affairs budget. That left our veterans hospitals without the proper equipment and supplies they needed.

We sent soldiers into battle without providing them the proper care when they came home. So Walter Reed has become a symbol for an administration that has failed the American veteran.

PILGRIM: Fair point.

JACKSON: And dealing with the Walter Reed contracts is dealing with Halliburton. And it just kind of began -- it does not pass the smell test.

GOODWIN: I don't think we know the whole story yet, and I think it's going to get worse instead of better. I think we're going to find a deplorable state of affairs, probably lots of corruption and waste.

PILGRIM: Top-to-bottom review.

GOODWIN: And when you have the secretary of the Army resigning this quickly into something, that tells me there's a lot going on that we haven't yet seen.

PILGRIM: Gentlemen, we have to call it there. Thank you very much. Robert Zimmerman, Michael Goodwin, and Reverend Jesse Jackson, thank you.

Coming up at the top of the hour, "THE SITUATION ROOM" with Wolf Blitzer -- Wolf.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks very much, Kitty.

We're going to have a lot more on the scandal at Walter Reed. Who is to blame for the awful conditions there? I'll ask former Democratic senator, Max Cleland. He was treated there as a Vietnam War veteran. He's very angry.

Also, showdown in Selma. Democratic presidential hopefuls, senators Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, along with former President Bill Clinton, they will all be in town this weekend.

And it's not your run-of-the-mill help-wanted ad. We're going to tell you how billionaire Warren Buffet is seeking his successor.

All that, Kitty, coming up right here in "THE SITUATION ROOM".

PILGRIM: We look forward to it, Wolf.

Coming up, "Heroes", our salute to the men and women who serve in this country in uniform. Tonight, the story of an Army sergeant honored for his service in Iraq. Stay with us for that.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) PILGRIM: Now, "Heroes", our salute to the men and women who serve this country in uniform. Tonight, the story of Army Reserve Sergeant Beonko Sampson. He was honored for his service and dedication while serving in Iraq.


SGT. BEONKO SAMPSON, U.S. ARMY: I trying to bring understanding. I try to get people to understand other people. You know, there's a whole world out there. Everybody's different, but everybody's the same at the same time.

PILGRIM (voice-over): Beonko Sampson isn't merely waxing poetic about the world from his patrol car on the campus of William and Mary. It's a perspective he gained by teaching Iraqi soldiers basic Army skills.

The road to graduating the academy's first class, however, was anything but basic. He was told the complex was nearly operational, but in reality, was a bombed-out agricultural university in the middle of a wheat field.

Without receiving a direct order, Beonko took it upon himself to organize the school's construction, curriculum and discipline.

SAMPSON: I said, I'm going to do this. We need an organization of structure. Once you said you was going to do it, nobody came behind you and asked you. It was kind of you and, you know, sticking to your guns and sticking to your word and do it.

PILGRIM: Military service runs in the Sampson family. His grandfather fought in Europe during World War II.

For Beonko, receiving the Bronze Star was an experience that connected him straight back to the person he idolized as a child.

SAMPSON: I accepted the award on behalf of my grandfather, not because of what I did, but because of what he did. It for him and what he instilled in me and what he did for his country. You know, I just felt like I just did my job.

PILGRIM: When he's not patrolling campus, Beonko is a student himself, at Ft. Eustice in Virginia, where he's taking classes for a degree in criminal justice.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Then why do they want to set precedents?

SAMPSON: Pattern of behavior.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Patterns of behavior, exactly.

PILGRIM: Eventually, Beonko hopes to return to Louisiana and work with disadvantaged youth in his hometown.

SAMPSON: I want to become somebody in the community that can erect change in the behavior and the attitudes of young men. You know, I don't want to be the one that's pointing the finger and saying, "Look at that kid."

I want to be the one holding my hand out saying, "I want to help that kid."


PILGRIM: With seven years of reserve duty left to serve, Sampson would like to attain the rank of sergeant-major before retiring.

We'll be right back.


PILGRIM: The results of tonight's poll. Ninety-nine percent of you say foreign companies should not be allowed to control vital transportation infrastructure in this country."

Time now for two last e-mails.

Rod in North Carolina: "This administration labels anyone who challenges their policies as unpatriotic and unsupportive of the troops. Yet, this same administration allowed two Border Patrol agents to go to prison for doing their jobs. Who is unpatriotic and unsupportive now?"

And Jim in Florida wrote to us, "If Mexico is such a good ally of the United States, how many soldiers have they sent to Iraq and Afghanistan? They seem to do just fine fighting our Border Patrol."

Thanks for being with us tonight. Please join us tomorrow. Good night from New York. "THE SITUATION ROOM" starts right now with Wolf Blitzer -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Kitty.


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