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Is Halliburton Bailing on the United States?; Sharpton's Beef With Obama

Aired March 12, 2007 - 19:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks very much, Lou.
Happening now, a major defense contractor being accused of insulting American troops and taxpayers, is Halliburton bailing on the United States? Tonight the firm once headed by the vice president, Dick Cheney is under fire.

Also this hour, stinging words from one leading black politician to another -- what is the Reverend Al Sharpton's beef with Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama?

And a Republican presidential front-runner losing more steam. We have some new poll numbers and new signs that GOP voters want more White House options.

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

A huge Texas oil services company about to pack up and move its headquarters to the Middle East, not just any oil company, this one is Halliburton once headed by the vice president, Dick Cheney, now heading toward Dubai. With billions in profits, some from no bid Pentagon deals in Iraq.

Let's turn to CNN's Brian Todd. He's looking into the story. Brian?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the announcement has some Democrats in Congress outraged and at least two of them are delving into this deal.


TODD (voice-over): American taxpayers are spending billions of dollars for Halliburton to provide logistics for the military in Iraq. Now, as the company once headed by Dick Cheney, trying to avoid U.S. taxes by moving its headquarters and current CEO to Dubai? That's what the chairman of the House Government Reform Committee is asking. Henry Waxman's been looking into Halliburton's dealings since the war began.

REP. HENRY WAXMAN (D), GOVT. REFORM & OVERSIGHT CHMN.: We're looking very carefully at this move and what it may mean for national security for American taxpayers, for even with countries where we have a ban on trade and I've asked my investigative staff to find out the answers to these questions, what it's going to mean with this move of Halliburton to Dubai.

TODD: Waxman may hold hearings into Halliburton's move and Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy, who calls it an insult to U.S. soldiers and taxpayers, will likely address it in a hearing next week. We asked an industry analyst about the tax question.

TOM WALLIN, ENERGY INTELLIGENCE: There's little or no tax for operating in Dubai. Also there's a very light regulatory regime for business, so it's probably going to be beneficial from a tax perspective, but you know, the fact is that Halliburton is going to remain a U.S.-registered company. It is going to continue to have significant operations in the U.S., so it's not going to be able to completely avoid its tax obligations by doing this.

TODD: But Waxman's concerns also branch into national security.

WAXMAN: They're so intimately involved in the logistics with our military; they know everything about our military, and where they're positioned and all of that. What does it mean if they become a Dubai corporation, a foreign corporation?


TODD: We got an e-mail from a Halliburton spokeswoman a short time ago saying quote, "Halliburton is and will remain a U.S. corporation, incorporated in Delaware, with its principal executive office in Houston, Texas. "As such -- the spokeswoman says -- "we anticipate absolutely no tax benefits from this decision." Halliburton ha said it's making the move to help its growing business in the Middle East -- Wolf.

BLITZER: If it's based in Dubai, Brian, what about subpoena power if Congressman Waxman or any other member of Congress wants to hold hearings, will they be able to avoid the subpoenas?

TODD: That's something that Mr. Waxman himself is looking into. He told me at one point that because Mr. Lesar, the CEO of Halliburton is an American citizen and this company is technically an American company that they're still not out of the reach of U.S. subpoenas. But even Mr. Waxman admitted if that CEO is based overseas it would be very hard to serve him with a subpoena.

BLITZER: All right, Brian. Thanks very much. We'll stay on top of this story.

President Bush, meanwhile, continues his tour of Latin America. He's trying to showcase U.S. efforts to fight poverty, but he's not getting a lot of love on the ground and every step of the way he's being stalked by his regional rival, Venezuela's president, Hugo Chavez.

Let's turn to our State Department correspondent Zain Verjee. Zain?

ZAIN VERJEE, CNN STATE DEPARTMENT CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, it's a battle of ideas and egos, for the hearts and minds of Latin America. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

VERJEE (voice-over) President Bush has stiff competition, Hugo Chavez. The Venezuelan leader is roaring through Latin America, a counted tour to the president's trip.


VERJEE: He's trashing President Bush, shouting "Gringo, go home" and grabbing the headlines.

DAN RESTREPO, CENTER FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS: Chavez is a showman. He's won in the sense that's he's injected himself into this story.

VERJEE: The Bush administration isn't taking the bait. It's focused on the message.

TOM CASEY, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESMAN: The important thing for us is that the president move forward, have a good trip and be able to work on our positive agenda for the hemisphere.


VERJEE: Chavez calls the U.S. capitalist agenda the road to hell, and he's courting socialist leaders in the region to counter Bush's influence. While President Bush was talking trade and aid with close ally Colombian President Alvaro Uribe, Chavez was cozying up to U.S. foe Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua. As President Bush flew to Guatemala, another jab by Chavez, Chavez popped up in Bolivia, with leftist leader Evo Morales, giving flood victims 10 times more aid than the U.S. and wearing a wreath of cocoa leaves which Bush says fuels the drug trade. Experts say one-upsmanship won't win the battle of ideas in Latin America.

RESTREPO: The long-term consequences really depend on what the president does when he comes home. The president has always talked a good game on Latin America.


VERJEE: President Bush is unpopular in Latin America, so the U.S. hopes with a trip like this, it could help the U.S.'s image. Wolf?

BLITZER: Zain thanks very much -- Zain Verjee reporting for us from the State Department.

Let's check in with Jack Cafferty. He's reporting for us from New York -- hi, Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: The presidential wannabes, the whole lot of them, might want to listen up here for a minute. People care more about a candidate's character than they do about issues. A new AP/Ipsos poll shows 55 percent of those surveyed say character matters with honesty being the single most important trait mentioned. Only one-third of respondents singled out a candidate's stance on the issues and even fewer mentioned things like leadership qualities, experience or intelligence. The voters' focus on honesty is an interesting one, especially when you consider the results of a new CNN Opinion Research Corporation poll. More than half of those surveyed in this poll say they don't consider President Bush honest and trustworthy.

Any coincidence that that's what more people are looking for in the next president? I think not. Here is the question then. Is a candidate's character more important than his position on the issues? E-mail your thoughts to or go to -- interesting, Wolf.

BLITZER: Did you hear Brian Todd's report leading this broadcast about Halliburton, Jack, moving to Dubai, at least a major part of its corporate headquarters -- you're smiling. You're chuckling. Tell our viewers what you think about this.

CAFFERTY: Well, I just, you know why wouldn't they? In light of everything that's gone on for the last six years, why wouldn't they?

BLITZER: It's a lovely place Dubai, you know. I've been to Dubai.

CAFFERTY: I know. I remember you went over there when they were trying to give control of the ports to some outfit that was owned by the United Arab Emirates. I remember your clip over there. That's where they have that big indoor ski thing. Maybe the Halliburton executives can learn how to do the giant slalom.

BLITZER: Listen to this. Senator Hillary Clinton just reacted to this decision by Halliburton. I want to play a little clip of what the junior senator from New York had to say.

CAFFERTY: Go ahead.


HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D), NEW YORK: I think we're going to be looking into that in Washington. I think it's disgraceful that American companies are more than happy to try to get no-bid contracts like Halliburton has and then turn around and say, but you know, we're not going to stay with our chief executive officer, the president of our company, in the United States anymore.


BLITZER: Tough words from Senator Clinton.

CAFFERTY: Yes, in Halliburton's defense, it's probably an important distinction to make is that they will continue to be a U.S. corporation in corporate -- articles of incorporation filed in the state of Delaware, and their headquarters, I think, are still going to be in Houston, Texas. They're just -- they're transferring the CEO and some of their high-powered execs to Dubai. I think that's the way it goes, isn't it?

BLITZER: Something like that, yes Jack.

CAFFERTY: Yes. I mean they'll still be an American corporation...

BLITZER: Thanks very much.


BLITZER: Jack Cafferty in New York reporting for us.

Coming up here in THE SITUATION ROOM, is Senator John McCain in trouble? The latest results of a CNN poll, a shocking prediction from our own James Carville on who will lead the race, who will enter it. You're going to want to hear what James Carville has to say.

Plus -- mental breakdown, an epidemic affecting one in three U.S. troops coming home from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. A comprehensive look at the crippling effects of war that goes on long after the fighting has stopped.

And stop what you're doing and look at this. This woman being attacked is 101 years old. The thug hitting her is on the loose right now. New York City wants your help in finding this guy.

Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Tonight the Republican presidential contenders are on a roller coaster of new twists, turns and teases. Our brand new CNN Opinion Research Corporation poll shows Senator John McCain losing more ground to former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani. Take a look at this.

Back in January our poll showed Giuliani leading McCain by six percentage points among registered Republicans nationwide. Now our survey shows Giuliani has a 16-point advantage, mostly because McCain's support has slipped. Our CNN political analyst James Carville and J.C. Watts have been studying the numbers.

You have your own theory on what may be going on, on the Republican side.

JAMES CARVILLE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, first of all, it was great dissatisfaction with the Republican field. Every poll shows that and I don't think Senator McCain, I don't think he has his heart in this and I think the poll numbers reflect that. I would not be surprised if he's not a candidate when the Iowa caucuses go.

He seems tired. He seems like he's playing a role that he's not accustomed to playing. He's trying to be the party establishment candidate. He's not an establishment guy and his numbers keep fading in every poll that I see and there's great dissatisfaction with Senator McCain within the Republican Party (inaudible) and I just detect a real -- this is no inside information. This is strictly just watching him on television, he looks like a man who is tired and doesn't have his heart in this race.


J.C. WATTS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well I would obviously disagree with that. I think John has a challenge of trying to be a senator as well as a presidential candidate and being a senator in a time that we have got a lot of consternation concerning the war, trying to keep the economy on the right track, which we've done a pretty good job of, but this war thing drains a lot of energy.

But I can tell you that travel around the country John McCain has a real presence. Throughout the country he has got good organization. He's raising good money. John McCain said himself, he said I'd rather lose an election than lose a war, and I think if there is some division, it's because he is focused on trying to do the right things in Iraq and get us out of there.

CARVILLE: Again, I'll point to these poll numbers are consistent with everything I've seen. He just doesn't seem to really have his heart in this race and that's just an observation from an old political guy...

BLITZER: You think he could actually drop out?

CARVILLE: I do think so.


CARVILLE: And I also think that there's a good chance that the Republican nominee is not even in the race yet.

BLITZER: So give me some names.

CARVILLE: Jeb Bush. He's the only person I know that could unify the Republican Party. Giuliani, it's impossible for him to unify the Republican Party. The same is true I suspect with Romney. Why are you seeing Fred Thompson talking about getting in? Why are you seeing Ron Paul get in? Why are you seeing Chuck Hagel talk about getting in the race? Why are you seeing Newt Gingrich? Because these politicians, there's a political market.

They see that there's great dissatisfaction with this field and each one of them thinks he can fill a void. I don't see a unifying force within the Republican Party right now that can run for president other than Jeb Bush. That's why I think in the end the party will turn to him.

WATTS: Wolf, this is typical primary politics. I think on the Republican and the Democrat side, I could say the same thing for Democrat candidate, but it doesn't mean that the Democrats are not going to be united when they get a candidate. And I think the Republicans are going to be the same way.

(CROSSTALK) CARVILLE: Democrats are satisfied -- by and large are satisfied with their choices. Republicans are dissatisfied with their choices.

BLITZER: James Carville and J.C. Watts. Rudy Giuliani's positions on some social issues may hurt him among conservatives and YouTube isn't helping. Today one of Giuliani's past statements on abortion showed up on the Web site. As all of the GOP front-runners work to win over conservatives, their old words are coming back to haunt them online.

Abbi Tatton has a closer look -- Abbi.

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, this is the post posted yesterday but date stamped 1989.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There must be public funding for abortions for poor women.

TATTON: It's one of a growing list of videos featuring Giuliani on YouTube, designed to challenge his conservative credentials. A couple of weeks ago in advance of a speech to conservative activists, this one showed up, a compilation of sound bites from Giuliani over the air on gay marriage, on abortion, but it's not just Rudy Giuliani being targeted by this archival footage on YouTube.

Mitt Romney, 2002, in this clip saying that he's devoted to abortion rights. Mitt Romney, 1994, with similar comments, and Senator John McCain hasn't escaped either. This clip here shows his past criticisms of the religious right. On each of these videos here, there is no name.

We've reached out to each of the people, but we haven't heard anything back and there's no indication of how the footage was acquired. There are their own channels on YouTube for the '08 hopefuls where they can put their own official video but frequently it's the unofficial anonymous post, the ones that are delving way back into the archives that are getting the attention -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thank you, Abbi for that.

More politics in the race for the White House tonight, growing tensions between a leading civil rights activist and the man who wants to be the nation's first African American president. The Reverend Al Sharpton is asking some tough questions about Senator Barack Obama and political journalists are asking some tough questions about Al Sharpton's motives right now.

Let's go to our Carol Costello. She's following this late- breaking story for us in New York. Carol, strong words from Al Sharpton.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Strong words, tough words. In fact, Al Sharpton is on the attack. In fact, reports say he's accusing Obama of being a candidate driven by white leadership, and it was just eight days ago they stood together in Selma, Alabama. Tonight, Sharpton told WCBS in New York, "Why shouldn't the black community ask questions? Are we now being told you all just shut up? Senator Obama and I agree the war is wrong, but then I want to know why he went to Connecticut and helped Joe Lieberman, the bigger supporter of the war."

Sharpton went on to say "I'm not going to be cajoled or intimidated by any candidate, not for my support." Sharpton's comments come after a nasty article in the "New York Post" accusing of him being jealous of Obama's success as a presidential candidate. As you know, Sharpton ran for president himself in 2004 with not so great results and he was thinking of running again in '08 or reaching out to Barack Obama's campaign. Right now, waiting for a response. We'll let you know when they call back, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. As soon as you get that response we'll put it on the air. Thanks very much, Carol, for that.

Coming up, a war in Iraq, TV confrontation, if former Senator Max Cleland could actually sit down face-to-face with Vice President Dick Cheney, what would Cleland say?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Where the hell were you in the Vietnam War? If you had gone to Vietnam like the rest of us maybe you would have learned something about war. You can't keep troops on the ground forever. They got to have a mission. They got to have a purpose. You can't keep sending them back and back and back with no mission and no purpose.


BLITZER: The former Vietnam veteran also had some very tough words for President Bush. Max Cleland, he's coming up right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Also, former President Bush passes out on the golf course. We're going to tell you what happened and how he's doing right now.

Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: There she is, Carol Costello. She's monitoring stories coming into THE SITUATION ROOM from around the world -- Carol.

COSTELLO: Hi, Wolf. Hello to all of you. From the hospital to the podium, former President George H.W. Bush is expected to give a speech in Los Angeles tonight, one day after he fainted while playing golf in Palm Springs, California. The 82-year-old father of President Bush was taken to the hospital, where he stayed overnight for observation. His chief of staff says Bush became dehydrated in 93- degree heat, but was discharged this morning. He's doing fine, so he's going to give that speech. New Mexico may be the next state to require sixth grade girls to be vaccinated against a sexually transmitted virus that causes cervical cancer. Lawmakers approved the bill yesterday mandating the vaccine. Spokesman for Governor Bill Richardson says he will sign it. Texas is the only state right now to require the vaccine, but others are considering similar moves.

Authorities suspect arson caused the wildfire that scorched more than 2,000 acres in Anaheim Hills, California. Fire officials said a stolen car was intentionally set on fire, and nearby brush ignited. It's not clear if it was done to hide the car or start the wildfire. Lighter winds have helped firefighters battle the flames, it's now about 80 percent contained. The fire has damaged two homes.

In north Texas authorities are letting fires that erupted after a gas line was ruptured burn themselves out. They say all workers have been accounted for. No injuries are reported. The flames shot several hundred feet into the air after a backhoe operator working on one pipeline hit another (inaudible). The rural area is about 30 miles west of Ft. Worth.

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

BLITZER: All right, Carol. Thanks very much.

Just ahead, a former senator's tough words for the president of the United States. Max Cleland pulling absolutely no punches. Take a listen to this.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You screwed up royally when you said four years ago major combat over, mission accomplished, bring them on. That means you should have gone to Vietnam and learned that you don't challenge guerillas that way.


BLITZER: And Senator Cleland does not stop there. You're going to hear more of his fiery words. Stick around for that.

And dare to compare. What do you think Hillary Clinton has in common with the late President John F. Kennedy? We're going to tell you what she thinks.

Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


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

Happening now, for ending its nuclear arms program, Libya's president wants rewards for his country, now it appears he's going to get some. According to Libya's news agency, Libya will sign a nuclear power deal with the United States. The news agency says the deal would help Libya generate nuclear electricity. They're suspected of helping to plan 9/11. Today the Pentagon said they underwent closed hearings over the weekend at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. At issue, if they should be classified as enemy combatants that would make them eligible for a military trial.

And another head rolls over scandalous conditions at the Army's top medical center. A senior Pentagon official tells CNN Lieutenant General Kevin Kiley, the Army's surgeon general, has been fired. Officially the Army says Kiley is retiring. Kiley is the third person forced out amid outrage over those deplorable conditions at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

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

A stunning new medical study that's out tonight with some very disturbing findings. Almost one-third, one-third of returning war veterans are suffering from mental illnesses or related disorders.

Let's go live to our senior Pentagon correspondent, Jamie McIntyre -- Jamie.

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SR. PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the good news in the study, if there is good news, is that the mental disorders of returning veterans are being detected early. The bad news is there are quite a few of them to detect.


MCINTYRE (voice-over): Calling the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan the most sustained combat operations since Vietnam, the study concludes the conflicts have produced an epidemic of mental illness -- the kind that can sometimes kill. Take the case of Jason Cooper, profiled by CNN last year. The young soldier hanged himself after returning from combat. His mother says he was never the same.

TERRI JONES, JASON COOPER'S MOTHER: Soldiers are in distress, they're taught to be tough, and they're taught to go into combat and when the tears come, they're not taught how to survive that.

MCINTYRE: The primary factors say the studies' authors U.S. troops are subjected to multiple tours of high-intensity guerilla warfare and faced a constant threat of death or dismemberment from improvised bombs. According to a review of more than 100,000 veterans of Iraq or Afghanistan, who were seen at V.A. hospitals between 2001 and 2005, it's taking a heavy toll.

One-quarter, 25 percent have been diagnosed with some form of mental disorder, includes psychosocial problems such as domestic violence and the percentage jumps to almost one-third. Not surprisingly younger troops 18 to 24-year-olds, who often draw the deadliest front line duty, are the most at-risk.

Post traumatic stress disorder is the biggest problem. Diagnosed in 13 percent of returning veterans, followed by anxiety, problems adjusting, depression and substance abuse.

More than half of the 100,000 suffered two or more problems.


MCINTYRE: The biggest difference between now and the Vietnam War is that, in Vietnam, the problem was not so much the traumatic brain injuries that are being suffered now. In fact, it's being called the signature wound of the Iraq War. It causes not just physical damage, but mental illness as well. Wolf?

BLITZER: We're going to speak about this later this week with Bob Woodruff of ABC News who has written a lot about it, suffered some major injuries himself covering the war last year. Jamie, thanks very much.

Outrage now aimed at the president and the vice president over the war and what it's doing to American troops. Max Cleland is a triple amputee veteran of Vietnam, a former Democratic senator and before that, head of the Veterans Administration.


BLITZER: What do you make of this study? Very alarming numbers, maybe as many as a third of the veterans coming home from service in Iraq and Afghanistan are suffering from some sort of mental problem. You've been there. You understand what's going on. Give us your thoughts.

MAX CLELAND, (D) FORMER U.S. SENATOR: This is what happens in war. I mean, this is war. This is the price of war. You can't send young Americans to place like Iraq and Afghanistan, especially over a period of four years and keep sending them back and back and back and expect them to come home and just fit right in.

I mean, they bring that trauma with them and that trauma stays with them most of the time, the rest of their lives. That is why it is so important to intervene quickly with PTSD counseling and particularly those in the holding pattern in Walter Reed, those thousand there, they're suffering emotionally as well as dealing with their physical wounds.

So they're going to go into the Veterans Administration and the Veterans Administration is not prepared to deal with it either. We have to have a wholesale systematic approach here that works for the massive amount of emotional casualties that are coming back from this war.

BLITZER: Can you just explain, senator, what PTSD counseling is?

CLELAND: Post traumatic stress disorder, PTSD or better yet post war trauma. You go to war, you bring it home. Duh!

I mean, you know, that's what Walter Reed is set up to deal with but they're overwhelmed. That's what the Veterans Administration is set up to deal with but they're overwhelmed.

BLITZER: But a lot of times these are invisible, these problems. These guys come back and they seem to be healthy and normal but what these studies are showing there's some invisible strains there that they're returning home with.

CLELAND: Yeah, the deepest wounds of war, having lost both legs and my right arm, I'll tell you, and struggling with PTSD myself, I can tell you the deepest wounds and scars of war are internal. They're psychological. They're mental and emotional. It's what you carry to your grave.

So the fact that when we send young Americans abroad to war, we ought to understand that we better plan for these casualties when they come back and that's exactly what did not happen in terms of the Iraq War.

BLITZER: And you've gone through, like so many other veterans, major depression. This is something that people should anticipate these veterans coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan right now.

CLELAND: And if you don't intervene with the emotional aftermath of the war up front and early, it can slide down a precipitous path to hell. In many ways PTSD can turn into alcoholism, drug addiction, depression, suicide. I mean, that's why it is so important. If you figure say 30, 33 percent of the Iraq veterans or Afghan veterans coming home suffer with this emotional aspect of the troubled war, that's over 300,000 people out there, male and female, all ranks, all walks of life.

We have a major challenge in this country to get on top of this. That's why it's so important to fix Walter Reed. That's why guys like Jack Murtha willing to put as much money into this thing as possible and others calling into Congress calling for deep improvements, serious improvements in the whole system of how we care for our injured.

I will say this. That, you know, Colin Powell's remarks to the president, Mr. President, do you understand the consequences of invading Iraq? If you break it, you own it. If we break young people in war, we own them for the rest of their lives and that's why it's important to fix Walter Reed and eventually square away the Veterans Administration.

BLITZER: And you've been very critical of the administration's policies in Iraq. I want you to listen to what the vice president said earlier today, because he has once again insisting that if your advice or the advice of other Democrats, other critics of the president's strategy are implemented, al Qaeda wins. Listen to the vice president.


RICHARD CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT: When members speak not of victory but of time limits, deadlines or other arbitrary measures, they're telling the enemy simply to watch the clock and wait us out.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BLITZER: Senator, if you could sit down with the vice president and have a direct one on one meeting with him, what would you say to him?

CLELAND: Where the hell were you in the Vietnam War, if you had gone to Vietnam like the rest of us, maybe you would have learned something about war.

You can't keep troops on the ground forever. They've got to have a mission. They've got to have a purpose. You can't keep sending them back and back and back with no mission and no purpose. As a matter of fact, the real enemy is al Qaeda. It's al Qaeda, stupid. It's not in Iraq. That's why we have to withdraw the ground forces there, settle Iraq with a diplomatic solution and go after al Qaeda. That's what we should have been doing for the last four years.

Instead this administration and this vice president and this president wants to send more troops to Iraq. Unbelievable.

BLITZER: What would you say to the president?

CLELAND: You screwed up royally when you said four years ago major combat over, mission accomplished, bring 'em on. That means you should have gone to Vietnam and learned that you don't challenge guerillas that way. People who want to blow themselves up just to take you out. That's exactly what we got going on in Iraq, that's what we've got going on in Afghanistan, we're in deep trouble and we're not even chasing the enemy. We're just bogged down in Baghdad with no hope of getting out under this administration.

BLITZER: Finally, your Democratic colleagues here in Washington, they seem to be divided over what to do next. Some really pushing hard for a cutoff of funding. Others saying you can't do that. What advice do you have for them?

CLELAND: Keep on pushing. Because the right thing to do is to withdraw the ground forces from Iraq and settle this thing about the stability of Iraq, the future of Iraq by diplomatic means. Then you focus your American military on going after al Qaeda go after them in Afghanistan, after the northwestern Pakistan, go after them where they are. They're working in 16 different nations around the globe.

That's why it's so erroneous strategically be bogged down in Baghdad now after four years, we won World War II quicker than we're dealing with this situation here. We're in a deep mess and it's time to get out of it.

BLITZER: Senator Cleland, thanks for coming in.

CLELAND: Thank you.


BLITZER: And the Veterans Administration sent us this statement, let me read it to you. "V.A. and the administration are firmly committed to providing veterans with the world class care they deserve. V.A. has a nearly $3 billion budget for mental health services alone and the agency is the country's largest provider of mental health care."

The statement goes on to say this, "We have taken and will continue to take steps to make certain our veterans receive comprehensive, accessible and compassionate care for their mental health concerns."

Up ahead tonight, has Senator Hillary Clinton done an about face on Iraq? We're tracking her latest remarks about a withdrawal deadline and what it means for her campaign.

Plus New Yorkers are outraged by a mugger and astonished by the resilience of two of his victims. Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: With an eye toward the 2008 campaign, Democrats of Congress are said to take significant steps this week toward setting a deadline for all U.S. combat troops to leave Iraq. Meantime, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton is raising some eyebrows with her latest comments on a timetable for withdrawal. As if that weren't enough, the Democratic presidential front-runner really got some people buzzing by likening herself to the late President John F. Kennedy.

Let's go to our congressional correspondent Andrea Koppel. Andrea?

ANDREA KOPPEL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, for months Senator Clinton resisted setting a deadline for withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq. Well, not anymore.


KOPPEL (voice-over): In between hugging babies.

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON, (D) NY: We're going to be here week after week after week.

KOPPEL: And courting Democratic bigwigs in New Hampshire, Senator Clinton explained why she believes Congress must now set a deadline, March 31st, 2008, as a goal for U.S. combat troops to leave Iraq.

CLINTON: A goal to try to move the president to understand what needs to be done, in order to change the mission in Iraq, and begin to bring our troops home.

KOPPEL: Clinton says her position has not changed, but just listen to what she told CNN in January.

CLINTON: I am not advocating a date-certain and immediate withdrawal from Iraq.

KOPPEL: Last month, Clinton was criticized by some in New Hampshire for refusing to apologize for voting to authorize the war in 2002 as John Edwards has done.

Independent voter Matt Van Wagner says that still bothers him but he appreciates the senator is now taking a stand.

MATT VAN WAGNER, NEW HAMPSHIRE VOTER: Whether it's the right stand or not, at this point, I'd almost just assume the military guys tell us when we should come and when we should go.

KOPPEL: This was Senator Clinton's first visit to the Granite State as a presidential candidate, but for the first time during a sold-out speech at the state Democratic Party's premiere fundraiser, she made a direct comparison between her candidacy and John F. Kennedy's.

CLINTON: A lot of people back then said well, you know, America will never let a Catholic as president. So when people tell me or one of the pundits says it, I don't think a woman can be elected president, I say we'll never know unless we try.


KOPPEL (on camera): Clinton aides say the reason she made the comparison was that the group she spoke to, the New Hampshire 100 club, was established back in 1959, to help the candidacy of JFK. Wolf?

CLINTON: Andrea, thank you.

Republicans meanwhile are buzzing about a potential new contender for the White House. The former U.S. Senator Fred Thompson says he's considering running for the nation's highest office in 2008 and late today, he received the public backing of the former senator majority leader, Bill Frist. Here's CNN's Mary Snow.


MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, some Republicans say Thompson's mix of Hollywood and Washington could make him a formidable candidate.


SNOW (voice-over): Fred Thompson looks comfortable in the Oval Office.

FRED THOMPSON (R), FORMER SENATOR: Watch this. I don't want him sitting on our butts if something is about to happen.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Absolutely, sir.

THOMPSON: Anything else I should know?

SNOW: But this is just fiction or is it?

SCOTT REED, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: There is a lot of tongues wagging today. SNOW: Republicans say conservatives are particularly interested in Thompson's possible presidential run. So was conservative talk radio's Rush Limbaugh.

RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: He is thought to be authoritative, a lot of presence and so forth and so on. So it gets more and more interesting out there.

SNOW: Thompson, a former senator from Tennessee who made a name for himself in the 1970s, as the co-counsel for the Senate committee investigating Watergate says voters may be look for another option in the Republican field, currently dominated by Senator John McCain, Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney.

THOMPSON: I think they're looking for maybe something a little different in politics nowadays. I think there's a lot of cynicism out there, unfortunately.

SNOW: Some Republican strategists see Thompson's conservatism the main draw, he is against abortion, opposes same-sex marriage and gun control and supports president Bush's increase in troops in Iraq, even supports a pardon for Scooter Libby.

REED: There's a feeling now that there's a void, that there is something missing in the race, and Fred Thompson could fill that void because he has these amazing communicating skills, almost Reaganesque.

SNOW: And just like Ronald Reagan, Thompson has made a name for himself in acting, in TV shows such as "Law and Order."

THOMPSON: In this job, never give anybody the benefit of the doubt.

SNOW: And films such as "Die Hard 2."

BRUCE WILLIS, ACTOR: Things just get better or worse?

SNOW: Strategists say his name recognition, coupled with the fact he's been visibly out of Washington could work to hits benefit.


SNOW (on camera): But working against the former senator, his bank account. Strategists say the longer he waits to announce his candidacy, the harder it may be to raise the millions of dollars he'll need to compete with candidates already tapping republican donors. Wolf?

BLITZER: And we're going to be hearing a lot from Fred Thompson, hearing a lot from him in the coming weeks. He's going to be filling in for radio personality Paul Harvey. Thanks very much for that, Mary.

Senator Chuck Hagel is putting off a decision on whether he'll jump into the Republican presidential race. Hagel held a news conference in his home state of Nebraska today and hints that he might indeed run. He says any decision will come later this year.

Up ahead, a story that has much of Washington DC on edge right now. Has a former madam with her list of clients gone public?

And which is more startling, the pictures of a mugger punching an elderly woman or her courage? Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: New York papers are calling him a spineless bandit and public enemy number one, we're talking about the man shown in this surveillance tape beating and robbing a 101-year-old woman. He's also suspected in another attack on an 85-year-old victim, both women are inspiring everyone with their bravery. Let's go back to Carol. She is following the search for this suspect. Carol?

COSTELLO: You know, Wolf, despite hundreds of tips, still no monster in custody. Police just can't track this guy down. Even though he was caught on tape and riding a pink bicycle.


COSTELLO (voice-over): Rose Morat, a spry 101 years old is one amazing lady, fighting off a mugger one day, becoming the talk of the nation the next. On "The View" it was clear, Ms. Morat is America's latest lesson in courage.

ROSIE O'DONNELL, "THE VIEW": Rose, if you're watching this, we love and adore you and want you to come and be a co-host. Would you, Rose?

COSTELLO: Morat, now a minor star, is avoiding the media, while millions marvel at her moxie. Take a look at the surveillance tape. She was on her way to church when a young man attacked her, punching her in the face, stealing her purse.

ROSE MORAT, ATTACKED BY MUGGER: I'm 101 years old. How are you going to run after a mugger?

COSTELLO: Instead she reached for her purse and the mugger knocked her off her walker.

MORAT: I got a little angry and I said that "Oh that so and so, I hope you get caught."

COSTELLO: She was not the only victim that day. Police say the same man attacked 85 year old Solange Elizee who has Parkinson's disease, as she came home from the grocery store. The mugger followed her to her apartment door.

SOLANGE ELIZEE, ATTACKED BY MUGGER: I was closing my door and he pushed me, closed the door, began to beat me in my face, give me, oh, and then he say, I get you.

COSTELLO: He got away with 45 bucks and Elizee's wedding ring, one she'd worn for 60 years, it's the kind of thuggery that lights up the phones at the police station. The commission alone has received more than 1,000 calls.

HELEN MARSHALL, QUEENS BOROUGH PRESIDENT: Every person that talks to me stops me and says Marshall, I wish I could get my hands on that guy. Pick on me. I'm his size that kind of thing. People are very outraged about it.

COSTELLO: So take another look. If you know him, call New York City police.


COSTELLO (on camera): I know it's tough to identify because it's a blurry picture but police need your help and by the way, rose suffered a fractured cheekbone. Solange, a split lip. Both checked out at the hospital and Wolf, both are doing just fine tonight.

BLITZER: Thank God for that. Could have been so much worse. Thanks very much, Carol. You'll stay on top of the story for us.

Let's find out what's coming up right at the top of the hour, that means Paula is standing by. Hi, Paula.

PAULA ZAHN, CNN HOST: Hi, Wolf. Thanks. Out in the open tonight, a college sorority that kicked out women who just happened to be minorities or overweight, and you just showed the video of that mugger beating up a 101-year-old lady named Rose. We've got surveillance video of another guy hitting a store clerk. Well, guess who's charged with a hate crime?

It's all out in the open, coming up the top of the hour and more too on the controversy over soldiers coming back home and the mental health problems they're suffering and whether the government's doing enough to help them, Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks, Paula. We'll be watching.

Up ahead here in THE SITUATION ROOM, in the race for the White House, does a candidate's character count more than the issue? Jack Cafferty with your e-mail when we come back.


BLITZER: An alleged madam whose little black book may include names of high powered customers right here in the nation's capital has reportedly agreed to hand over all of her records to a news organization. Let's go back to Carol. She is watching the story for us. What do we know, Carol?

COSTELLO: Well, I imagine there a lot of nervous people in DC. Court proceedings have been under way for Deborah Jean Palfrey (ph) who allegedly ran a multimillion-dollar escort service by keeping quiet about her clients' confidences. Now WTOP Radio in Washington says Palfrey decided to reveal all phone records, logs and invoices including those unknown to the government, in an e-mail to the station she says the records will go to a quote, "reputable and respected investigative news organization."

She doesn't say which one will get what she calls her 46 pounds of records, but it sure sounds like she's setting a price on the information, and there may not be many news organizations that will pay. Palfrey says she respected each and every clients' confidentiality but we don't know who might be named in her records and whether any of the names she might disclose belongs to movers and shakers in Washington.

But it is going to all come soon, Wolf.

BLITZER: I suspect some nervous people here in Washington. Thanks very much, Carol, for that.

Let's check in with Jack for "The Cafferty File." Jack?

CAFFERTY: Leaving no high quality story uncovered, let the record show "The Cafferty File" did the story about that Washington madam last week.

The question this hour is, Is a candidate's character more important than his position on the issues?

Charles in San Francisco, "I'd be hard-pressed to find a presidential candidate with whom I agreed 100 percent on the issues and thus character, world view and intelligence are items I assess when choosing a leader. I don't agree with Chuck Hagel very often on social issues but I like his character and I'm a John Edwards Democrat."

Mike in Maryland writes, "Perhaps a better question is, how does a candidate's view of the issues affect one's perception of his character? After all, if a candidate reflects what you believe is the correct stance on any given issue, wouldn't you be prone to give greater credit to his character."

Navid in Murietta, California. "A president's character should be important but certainly not as important as the issues that guide his ideology. Although the people want a leader with good character, they also want a leader that can act on certain issues. The current administration conveys what happens when none of these factors is present."

Melody in Georgia. "A candidate's stand on the issues often reflects his character. As for their morals, that issue is a private one and has no bearing as long as they are doing their job. Not everyone is a bible-thumping Christian, a monogamous spouse or a heterosexual. That doesn't mean they can't be a good politician."

Troy writes from Fairmont, West Virginia. "Worrying about so- called character is what got us into this mess with the neocons in the first place. The only character we need to worry about is if a candidate will do what he says he's going to do in office and puts the interests of the American people first."

And Tony in Kentucky writes, "The question isn't even relevant. You have to find a candidate with character first. It's like asking about a nine-legged dog."

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

BLITZER: Jack, see you tomorrow. Thanks very much. Let's wrap up with some of the hot pictures coming in from our friends over at the Associated Press, pictures likely to be in your hometown newspapers tomorrow.

In Baghdad, a woman grieves for victims of a suicide car bomb attack where more than 30 people were killed.

In French Guiana, a rocket carrying two British and Indian satellites blasts off into space.

In Madrid, a model wears a creation made out of rolls during the International Bakery, Pastry and Related Industries Show.

And in Montana, look at this, a duck cruises on a wind-driven wave. Some of this hour's "Hot Shots," pictures often worth a thousand words.

We'll be back tomorrow. Don't forget, 4:00 to 6:00 p.m. Eastern, back at 7:00 with Senator John Edwards. Until then, thanks for watching. Let's go to Paula in New York. Paula?


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