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THE SITUATION ROOM

Cover-Up in Pat Tillman's Death?; Gonzales Speaks Out

Aired March 26, 2007 - 16:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, HOST: Happening now, the top military brass called on the carpet three years after a friendly fire fiasco.
Was there a cover-up in the death of football star turned Army Ranger Pat Tillman?

The Pentagon about to reveal the findings of its lengthy investigation and we're standing by for that.

Also this hour, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales speaking out as more Republicans turn against him.

Will testimony from his former chief of staff do him in in the fired prosecutors scandal?

And Elizabeth Edwards brings her story of hope and heartbreak to the heartland. We're on the campaign trail with Mrs. Edwards as she faces questions about her cancer and presses on with her husband's presidential campaign solo.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Up first this hour, new information about who bungled the initial probe into the friendly fire death of Army Ranger and former football star Pat Tillman.

We're standing by for a news conference over at the Pentagon and the findings of a new investigation. Is expected to recommend that nine officers, including four generals, be held accountable.

Dozens of soldiers reported Tillman was killed by members of his own platoon in Afghanistan back in April, 2004. But for five weeks after his death, the U.S. Army insisted Tillman was killed in a conventional ambush.

The news conference, I think, is beginning. But let's hold off for a second.

The new investigation focused on who, at the highest levels, knew Tillman's death was caused by his comrades and why it took so long to get the facts out to his family and to the public.

Let's go to the news conference right now over at the Pentagon.

Let's listen in.

THOMAS GIMBLE, ACTING INSPECTOR GENERAL, DEFENSE DEPARTMENT: ... coordinated reviews of the events before and after the death of Corporal Tillman.

The Army inspector-general, as well as several members of Congress, asked my office to review the circumstances of Corporal Tillman's death.

We in the DOD-IG determined the most efficient way to accomplish the review was to separate it into two parts. We asked the Army CID to determine the facts up to and through the incident itself, while we reviewed the events after the incident.

We, in our review, focused on three areas -- adequacy of the investigations, notification of the next of kin and accuracy of the documentation to justify the award of the Silver Star.

Now I would ask General Johnson of Army CID to present the results of their work and then I'll come back and present the results of our review.

General Johnson?

BRIG. GEN. RODNEY JOHNSON, U.S. ARMY CRIMINAL INVESTIGATION COMMAND: Sure.

Good afternoon.

I'm Brigadier General Rod Johnson, commanding general of the United States Army Criminal Investigations Command.

And with me today is Special Agent Scott Godwin, who has worked this case since CID assumed jurisdiction.

On 6 March 2006, at the request of the DOD-IG, CID opened an investigation to determine if there was any criminality involved in the death of Corporal Tillman or the other -- or the Afghanistan soldier and then the wounding of two additional U.S. soldiers.

The purpose of this brief is to inform you of the results of that investigation.

At the conclusion of this briefing, we will provide you with a complete redacted copy of the investigation, as well as a copy of all the slides and graphics that we use up here this afternoon.

This is the agenda that I will follow during the briefing.

As you're well aware, Corporal Pat Tillman was killed in action on 22 April 04.

As background information, a number of other investigations were completed prior to our CID investigation. At the direction of his battalion commander, a captain assigned to the 2nd of the 75th Ranger Regiment invested a 15-6 investigation on 23 April 04, the day following Corporal Tillman's death.

This 15-6 investigation made it to a final draft status. The Regimental commander of the Ranger regiment terminated this 15-6 investigation and then appointed the regimental executive officer, a lieutenant colonel, to conduct a second 15-6 investigation.

The lieutenant colonel invested his investigation -- basically a continuation of the initial 15-6. The lieutenant colonel's 15-6 findings were classified and found the death to be by friendly fire.

On 08 November 04, Brigadier General Jones invested an additional 15-6, portions of which were classified. Brigadier General Jones' investigation also found the death to be as a result of friendly fire.

And, finally, on 03 March 06, CID was tasked to investigate possible criminality surrounding the death of Corporal Tillman.

Thus, there were two ongoing investigations into the circumstances surrounding the death of Corporal Tillman, the death of the Afghan soldier and the wounding of two additional U.S. soldiers. The DOD-IG investigated the administrative issues following the death of Corporal Tillman and CID was to determine if criminality was involved in this incident.

The following slides will outline in an automated -- in an animated format, an account of the events that occurred starting the day prior to Corporal Tillman's death and ending when the troops reported contact.

I will go into quite a bit of detail in the next few minutes, but I need to because I want to make it very clear exactly what happened.

As I go through the account, you will see how rugged the terrain was in the area and why communications was lost between the two serials.

During my description of the events, you will also hear me refer to a locally hired jingle truck. Now the picture shown here, while not the exact vehicle in question, is a good representation of what type of vehicle that is.

I will also describe the actions of the soldiers in the lead vehicle of Serial Two. Again, this is not an exact replication of the Ranger vehicle in question, but it does give you a good visual of the type of vehicle that I will be discussing.

At approximately 16:00,21 April 04, the platoon leader received orders to conduct an over watch near the village of Mana, Afghanistan. 2nd Platoon A Company, 2nd of the 75th Ranger Regiment was at border control point, or BCP 5, when they received the orders.

The platoon had been attempt to repair disabled vehicles. Repair supplies were flown in, but the vehicle could not be repaired on site.

At approximately 06:40,22 April, the platoon arrived in the vicinity of the village of Magara. It was at this point that the disabled vehicle being towed by another unit vehicle was further damaged to the point where they were no longer able to tow it with the internal assets.

The platoon leader attempted to get the vehicle air extracted, but was unsuccessful.

At approximately 13:10,22 April, the company commander, back at the tactical operations center, or the TOC, ordered the splitting of the platoon into two serials. Serial One was instructed to carry on the mission of over watch before nightfall and Serial Two was instructed to carry the vehicle to the coast highway where the Ranger Maintenance Platoon would link up and take possession of the disabled vehicle.

Serial Two would then rejoin Serial One.

At approximately 13:30,22 April, the serials depart with a locally hired jingle truck towing the disabled vehicle behind it.

Serial One takes a westerly route to get to the area of Mana and Serial Two takes a northerly route, separate from Serial One, to get to the coast highway.

Shortly before entering the village of Teet (ph), the jingle truck driver reports the route that they are embarking on is too treacherous to continue towing the vehicle.

BLITZER: All right, we're going to stay on top of this story.

Brigadier General Rodney Johnson briefing reporters. He's providing a lot of background on the tragic incident back in Afghanistan where U.S. Army Ranger Pat Tillman was killed in a horrible friendly fire incident.

We're going to get back to the Pentagon as soon -- we're going to get back to the Pentagon as soon as we get some more specific information on what the ramifications, the implications for current and former U.S. military personnel are.

We'll go back to the Pentagon as we get more.

But let's go to CNN's Carol Costello -- there's another story that we're following in New York, Carol, involving this Korean jetliner that has just landed.

Update our viewers on what we know.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We don't know too much, Wolf.

But what we do know, the plane has landed and about 85 people on board the plane are complaining of flu-like symptoms. The hospital in Newark, University Hospital in Newark, to be precise, has an EMS crew on the scene. We don't know yet if any of those passengers are being treated or being transported to the hospital. But that EMS unit standing by to see these passengers who are complaining of these flu- like symptoms. We do believe the plane is from Korea.

When I get more information -- and believe me, they're working behind me -- I will pass it along to you.

Back to you -- Wolf.

BLITZER: We'll stay on top of this story. We'll stay on top of the Pat Tillman investigation over at the Pentagon.

Let's move on to some other important news we're following here in THE SITUATION ROOM, including the growing firestorm surrounding the attorney general, Alberto Gonzales, and the firing of those eight federal prosecutors.

Gonzales is speaking in Texas this hour and we're going to get his remarks brought into THE SITUATION ROOM. We'll share them with you once we get them.

Right now, though, his Republican -- yes, Republican support -- seems to be eroding. Potentially damaging testimony in the Senate is only days away and the threat of a constitutional showdown between the Congress and the White House could become a red hot reality.

Our White House correspondent, Suzanne Malveaux, is standing by.

But let's get the latest from our Congressional correspondent, Dana Bash -- Dana.

DANA BASH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the issue for Republicans here has never been whether it was right or wrong for these federal prosecutors to be fired. The mounting GOP frustration is that they think that the Justice Department just can't get their story straight as to why the prosecutors were fired. And that -- some Republicans are now even more frustrated, upset, because they say, once again, the Justice Department's story has changed.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

BASH (voice-over): At the White House, a fresh defense of the embattled attorney general. But also this...

DANA PERINO, DEPUTY WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The attorney general knows that he has work to do on Capitol Hill.

BASH: That is an understatement.

Republican Senator Charles Grassley tells CNN he is troubled by inconsistent statements from Alberto Gonzales about the fired federal prosecutors.

SEN. CHARLES GRASSLEY (R), INDIANA: You shouldn't have conflicting statements coming from somebody who is a top law enforcement officer in the United States. You ought to get a consistent story, and I would expect it to be the truth.

BASH: Grassley's frustration adds to the growing GOP chorus of concern about the attorney general's credibility.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: He has said some things that just don't add up. I like him as a person. I really do like Attorney General Gonzales.

But he has been wounded.

SEN. ARLEN SPECTER (R), PENNSYLVANIA: We find he has not been candid and truthful. That's a very compelling reason for him not to stay on.

BASH: The attorney general's latest problem is this memo, released late Friday night, which shows he attended a meeting to talk about the federal prosecutors 10 days before they were fired. That appears to contradict what Gonzales said two weeks ago.

ALBERTO GONZALES, ATTORNEY GENERAL OF THE UNITED STATES: But that is, in essence, what I knew about the process. I was not involved in seeing any memos, was not involved in any discussions about what was going on.

BASH: Administration officials argue there's no inconsistency, saying the attorney general meant he wasn't involved in the details of the plan to purge the prosecutors, but has acknowledged he gave the final go-ahead.

The White House points to this CNN interview.

GONZALES: I did sign off on those names. Understand that these were -- these were names that had been vetted throughout the department.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

BASH: Now, the attorney general certainly does not have a lot of vocal support here on Capitol Hill among his Republican colleagues, Wolf. But there are some GOP senators speaking out in favor of him, in support of him. Orrin Hatch -- Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah is one. He said that all the attorney general needs to do is just get out there and explain himself to Congress and to the American people.

He is now going to come to Congress, though, Wolf, for three weeks. He won't be here until April 17th.

BLITZER: But this Thursday, Kyle Sampson, his former chief of staff, will be testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee in open session. He'll be sworn in. He'll testify under oath in front of the cameras, no immunity granted to him.

What do we expect?

BASH: Well, you know, if you listen to Democrats, they say that they think that Kyle Sampson is the fall guy for all of this. It sounds as though they are expecting, maybe even hoping, that Kyle Sampson could back up their allegation that this was all political, all these firings were political, and there's a lot -- that there's a lot more to it than what we know.

But talking to several of Kyle Sampson's friends and former colleagues here on Capitol Hill and elsewhere in the administration, what they say -- there's one word they use to describe him, Wolf, and that is loyal. Sampson worked for the attorney general since he was at the White House Counsel over at the White House. He is somebody who, we are told, does not look at himself as a fall guy, somebody who is going to come before the committee and tell the truth, but is not going to be out gunning to essentially attack the attorney general or anybody else inside the administration.

And, also, we're told that he is actually somebody who believes that what they did inside the administration in firing these prosecutors was the right thing to do, even though they may have exercised it rather not in the most precise and perhaps the best way possible.

BLITZER: Dana, stand by.

We're just getting word here -- we've confirmed here in THE SITUATION ROOM, CNN has confirmed that another top Justice Department official, a current official, will not -- will not agree to testify before the U.S. Congress.

Monica Goodling, who is a senior counsel to the attorney general, Alberto Gonzales, as well as a Justice Department liaison with the White House, according to her attorney, will only -- will plead the fifth -- will refuse to answer questions when called before Congress to discuss the firing of these eight federal prosecutors.

This is a potentially very significant development -- the first senior administration official now to formally plead the fifth -- her rights under the fifth amendment to the constitution against self- incrimination -- and will not volunteer, not go before any of these Congressional committees to testify.

We're going to see what the U.S. Congress is going to do involving Monica Goodling, a senior counsel to the attorney general and a liaison to the White House.

In addition to defending Gonzales, the Bush administration is defending itself in the face of a possible constitutional showdown with the Congress. The White House, though, is fighting fire with fire -- or, rather, fighting transcripts with more transcripts.

Let's go to our White House correspondent, Suzanne Malveaux.

Tell us about this latest development -- Suzanne.

This story is by no means going away.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely not, Wolf. And I have to say, it's very interesting here because the White House is essentially saying Alberto Gonzales, the attorney general, is telling the truth and that his statements are not inconsistent.

But what they're saying today is just look at the transcripts.

Yes, we're talking about transcripts here -- we heard from Dana Perino, White House spokeswoman, who said, look, even if there was a meeting that took place with Gonzales and his aids over the firing of these U.S. attorneys, she says the statements are consistent that he made at a press conference on March 13th and public statements he made to CNN the following day. And she points to the transcripts here.

Now, all of this quite ironic, as you know, Wolf, because while the Justice Department is allowing Alberto Gonzales to go before cameras, will provide a transcript of his testimony, the White House has refused to allow top officials to have these interviews on the record with these transcripts, something that Democrats and Republicans say is key to proving that these are not inconsistent statements that are being made.

And no one has really missed the irony of what is happening here at the White House, including Dana Perino.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PERINO: I understand the inconsistency of my own statement, of referring back to a transcript of March 14th.

However, these meetings are not hearings. They are not interrogations.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MALVEAUX: So, Wolf, nevertheless, Dana Perino saying that they are not going to provide those transcripts, that this is still an offer, that it's a take it or leave it offer here, and that that is not negotiable.

Also, she says the president has yet to invoke executive privilege, but don't be surprised if that's later on down the road -- Wolf.

BLITZER: It's this whole new development that we've just confirmed, Suzanne, Monica Goodling, a senior counsel to the attorney general, Alberto Gonzales, the liaison to the White House, now saying she's refusing to testify, pleading the fifth amendment to the constitution against self-incrimination.

This raises the stakes because she's not a White House official, she's a Justice Department official, current official, who's sitting there at the Justice Department and for her to plead the fifth all of a sudden is going to raise all sorts of new questions that certainly the White House is not happy about.

MALVEAUX: Well, you're absolutely right, because so far the Justice Department has been very cooperative in saying that they will voluntarily go ahead and testify here. It's really been given political cover and even some wiggle room here for the White House that has automatically said, look, we're not even going to go that far here, but we are putting out. These Justice Department officials were being very cooperative. They'll answer all of your questions.

It's given some political cover here for the White House, which ultimately says that those discussions between the president and his top advisers are privileged, are private conversations, certainly hoping that the Justice Department will be as forthcoming as possible.

It is an argument and a case that they have made time and time again, before the Democrats and before their critics, saying, look, you've got all the information you need, look to the Justice Department.

So this is going to complicate the situation.

BLITZER: Seriously -- a serious complication, indeed.

Suzanne, stand by.

Suzanne Malveaux, Dana Bash -- both part of the best political team on television.

And remember, for the latest political news at any time, check out our Political Ticker at cnn.com/ticker.

Jack Cafferty has got The Cafferty File -- it's been a while, Jack, since we've heard of sitting officials now plead the fifth. It doesn't happen every day, as you well know.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: No, it doesn't, but my hunch is, as we move along over the next couple of months, it's going to start to happen more often.

On another front, there is a very powerful Republican senator who is suggesting that President Bush may be impeached. Republican Chuck Hagel of Nebraska said in a television interview that some lawmakers who complain that the president is ignoring Congress and the public with his Iraq policies are considering impeachment as an option.

Hagel, who is a frequent war critic and a potential presidential candidate himself, and that's important to note, stopped short of calling for Mr. Bush's impeachment himself.

But in an interview in "Esquire" magazine, Hagel said this: "Bush is not accountable anymore. Which isn't totally true. You can impeach him. And before this is over, you might see calls for his impeachment. I don't know. It depends on how this goes."

So here's the question -- what does it mean if Republican Senator Chuck Hagel is using the word impeachment when it comes to President Bush?

E-mail us at caffertyfile@cnn.com or go to cnn.com/caffertyfile -- Wolf.

BLITZER: It means it's not good for President Bush, to put it bluntly. It's one thing for -- for some on the fringes to be talking about impeachment. It's another thing for a senior Republican senator from Nebraska to even mention the "I" word.

CAFFERTY: And a consistent critic of President Bush's. This isn't something that suddenly reared its head because he's considering a White House run. He's been firmly opposed to the war in Iraq and the reasons for it for a good long while. So this is really nothing new as far as the posture of Senator Hagel. But that's a really big word to come out of his mouth.

BLITZER: You're absolutely right, Jack.

Thanks very much.

Coming up, the battle for campaign cash and big name endorsements.

Which candidates are doing well, which are running into trouble?

Bill Schneider keeping score.

Also, Elizabeth Edwards out on the campaign trail today by herself. We're going to go live to Cleveland, Ohio, where Edwards was campaigning for her husband while battling her cancer.

Plus, more on Alberto Gonzales. He faces increasing frustration from Congressional Republicans.

Can the attorney general hang on?

Donna Brazile, Terry Jeffrey -- they're standing by live for today's Strategy Session.

Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: There is a worrisome story we're following over at Newark International Airport in New Jersey, just outside of New York.

Carol Costello is in New York.

We're watching this story, this Korean jetliner just landed.

Update our viewers on what we know -- Carol.

COSTELLO: Well, I know a little bit more about the flight, Wolf.

It departed Hong Kong at 11:00 a.m. this morning, 272 passengers on board. And apparently a flight attendant -- there was a lot of people ill on board the flight. At least 80 people showing flu-like symptoms.

So she called ahead to the United States, to the Centers for Disease Control, and reported this.

That made the University Hospital of Newark send an EMS unit to the airport and when this plane landed at 2:00 this afternoon, they decided to check out these passengers.

Now, the CDC has also sent someone to the airport, so they're represented there. Apparently all of these 80 people were tourists who sailed on a river cruise somewhere in Asia, so they were altogether at one point and they're all showing these flu-like symptoms.

As I said, they're still being checked out. We still don't know if any of them have been transported to the hospital. Of course, we'll keep you posted.

Back to you -- Wolf.

BLITZER: So it's a Continental flight, not a Korean airliner?

COSTELLO: Yes. It came from Hong Kong, Continental.

BLITZER: All right. So Korea was not involved in this at all?

COSTELLO: Not as far as we know, but we don't know everything yet.

BLITZER: All right.

OK, all right, well, we got some conflicting information earlier.

Thanks, Carol.

Stay on top of this story.

We're going to get back to you.

Also coming up, a new show of support for Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign.

Is she the top point scorer in the presidential race right now?

Bill Schneider has the play by play.

Also, the autopsy results are now out in the death of Anna Nicole Smith. We'll have the results for you. That's coming up, as well.

Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Happening now, Iraq's cauldron of violence continues. Clashes, car bombings, other attacks leave at least five dead. That enduring violence has lawmakers concerned for U.S. troops, with many in Congress wanting to bring them home soon. Today, the Senate debates a war spending bill with a non-binding goal of pulling out U.S. troops by March of next year.

Also, she's not letting cancer stop the campaign -- Elizabeth Edwards, the wife of the Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards. She's giving her first speech since announcing her cancer has come back. You'll hear what she's saying.

And one actor's anger -- that would be Sean Penn -- the Oscar winner lashing out on the war and the Bush administration. We're going to tell you what Sean Penn had to say.

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

A potentially big name endorsement topped today's look at where the candidates are on the campaign trail.

As CNN first reported on Friday, Senator Hillary Clinton this morning picked up the support of the former Iowa governor, Tom Vilsack. The two-term Democratic governor himself was a presidential candidate for a while. He dropped out last month.

The senator from New York did raise $2 million in California over the weekend and has brought it more than $6 million over the past seven days alone.

Senator Barack Obama is headed to Atlanta this evening for a fundraiser of his own. Wednesday, the senator from Illinois will be right here in THE SITUATION ROOM. It's an interview you're going to want to see, Senator Obama here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

And Senator -- former Senator John Edwards, that is -- is in San Francisco today, talking to voters about his plans to battle global warming.

Meanwhile, his wife is on the campaign trail in Cleveland. We're going to have a live report on Elizabeth Edwards. That's coming up in a few moments.

On the Republican side, Senator John McCain's raising campaign cash in Texas today. Over the weekend, Senator McCain tried to lower expectations about how much money he'll raise this first quarter. Tomorrow, by the way, the senator from Arizona will be among our guests here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

And Rudy Giuliani appears to be the toast of the summit -- Summit County, that is, in Ohio. The former New York City mayor won a straw poll of a few hundred Republican voters there this weekend. McCain came in second, followed by former Senator Fred Thompson, who himself is not even a presidential candidate. Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich round out the top five.

It's March madness in the 2008 presidential race. We may not be down to the final four, but there are some new signs emerging today about who's got game.

Our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider, is keeping score, as he always does -- Bill.

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Wolf, what's the score? That's easy to tell in a basketball game. It's a little harder in this year's invisible primary, where nobody is voting yet. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER (voice-over): How do you keep score in a political race where nobody will be voting for nearly a year? We have got polls, of course. But do they really mean much?

THOMAS MANN, SENIOR FELLOW IN GOVERNANCE STUDIES, BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: Poll ratings largely respect -- reflect sort of public standing, visibility, name recognition, while -- while fund-raising indicates their ability to put together a substantial organization.

SCHNEIDER: The first quarter totals will be out next month. Hillary Clinton is reported to have raised nearly $10 million just in the past week.

On the Republican side, John McCain tried to lower expectations. "We started late, our money-raising, and we're going to pay a price for it, " McCain told reporters. McCain's advisers tried to pump up expectations for rival Mitt Romney by suggesting that Romney's fund- raising might outpace McCain's.

But a Romney aide stated flatly, McCain will be in first.

There's a question how much money really matters in the early states.

GORDON FISCHER, FORMER IOWA DEMOCRATIC PARTY CHANGE: You can get around and campaign in Iowa fairly inexpensively. and, so, I don't know that money is all that important.

SCHNEIDER: The key indicator in Iowa may be endorsements. Senator Clinton got a big one on Monday, when former Iowa Governor and presidential candidate Tom Vilsack endorsed her. The Vilsack endorsement could bring organization.

FISCHER: We have over 2,000 precincts in Iowa. And he was to the point where he was naming precinct chairs. So, he was far, far ahead of any of the other candidates in terms of organization.

SCHNEIDER: Clinton may be getting a big endorsement, but Barack Obama is drawing big crowds. Do crowds matter? Maybe not.

FISCHER: I would much rather, you know, appear in 500 different living rooms than have 500 people in -- in one crowd.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER: Polls, money, endorsement, organization, crowds, they are all different ways of keeping score before the race actually begins, because the scoring next year will come early, and it will come very fast -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Bill Schneider keeping track of this for us -- thank you, Bill.

Coming up: Elizabeth Edwards going solo and under scrutiny. Is she helping her husband's presidential bid by campaigning with cancer?

Donna Brazile, Terry Jeffrey, they will be part of our "Strategy Session." That's coming up.

Stick around.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Let's go back to Carol Costello in New York. She's monitoring some other stories here in THE SITUATION ROOM -- Carol.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Wolf.

Hello to all of you.

Drugs used to treat anxiety, a large amount of sleeping medication, even one drug that can used for weight control, all of those drugs and more were found in Anna Nicole Smith's system. In Florida, the judge -- the just-released autopsy shows nine prescription drugs. It was a fatal combination. But police do not suspect foul play.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHARLIE TIGER, SEMINOLE, FLORIDA, POLICE CHIEF: We are convinced, based on the extensive review of the evidence, that this case is an accidental overdose, with no other criminal elements present.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COSTELLO: CNN's Susan Candiotti got an exclusive interview with the Broward County medical examiner.

Regarding questions about whether Smith committed suicide, he had this to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DR. JOSHUA PERPER, BROWARD COUNTY, FLORIDA, CHIEF MEDICAL EXAMINER: The fact that there was so many other medication against depression and anxiety, but not in any toxic level, only in a therapeutic level. When somebody wants to commit suicide, they usually take insurance and take more than one drug.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COSTELLO: The medical examiner says Anna Nicole Smith did not suffer. Instead -- quote -- "She went to sleep" -- back to you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Carol, thanks very much.

Susan Candiotti is down there in Florida. And we are going to go to her in the next hour for some more on what happened, what we learned today. Let's bring in our Internet reporter, Abbi Tatton. She's getting some new details on those sick passengers, just landed at Newark International Airport.

This Continental Flight 98, what do we know?

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, we are picking up some more from the Continental Web site about this flight. We know that it left Hong Kong earlier today. It left just after 11:00 a.m. Hong Kong time, arriving this afternoon at Newark Airport.

Now, what we know is that somebody, the crew of this Continental flight, contacted the Centers for Disease Control because several passengers appeared ill on this flight. And think about how long ago that was, just after takeoff in Hong Kong. This is a flight that's listed on the Web site as almost 16 hours long.

We now know from a Continental spokesman, David Messing, that it's believed that the ill passengers were amongst a group of more than 80 tourists who sailed together on a river cruise in Asia. That's what we're picking up right now, the details, from the Continental Web site -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, we will stay on top of this story, together with you. Thanks, Abbi.

Coming up: Elizabeth and John Edwards standing together, now that her cancer has come back. But, today, she's going out on the campaign trail alone, trying to help him win the White House. We're there. Mrs. Edwards has been speaking. We will tell you what she's saying.

And Senator and presidential hopeful Chris Dodd hitting back at the Bush White House over Iraq and the fired prosecutor probe. Is he part of what Mr. Bush is calling political theater? The Democrat is standing by to join us live in the next hour right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Elizabeth Edwards says living with cancer on the campaign trail is easier when people are cheering for you. The wife of presidential candidate John Edwards got a rousing show of support in Cleveland today. It was her first solo appearance since revealing last week that her disease is back and incurable.

Mary Snow is on the scene for us. She's joining us now from Cleveland with more -- Mary.

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, Elizabeth Edwards spoke less today about politics and more about coping with cancer. She said, last week, she spoke with cyclist Lance Armstrong, a cancer survivor, and said, while people are supporting him, she, too, feels that same support.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SNOW (voice-over): She was greeted with a standing ovation at the City Club of Cleveland. Elizabeth Edwards, in her first public speech since announcing her breast cancer had spread, joked about all the media attention on her.

ELIZABETH EDWARDS, WIFE OF JOHN EDWARDS: I can't turn on the television without seeing me or open a newspaper without seeing me. And, honestly, I'm sick to death of me.

(LAUGHTER)

SNOW: With questions from the audience came comments, including one woman who said she was tired of hearing the talk about how Mrs. Edwards' health will affect her husband's presidential campaign.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think you are one wonderful woman, and go get them, and set the standard for Americans.

SNOW: Asked what she hoped would come out of the awareness of her stage four breast cancer, Mrs. Edwards said, she hoped cancer would be seen as something to live with, not die from, and she said she hopes people will think about their own mortality.

E. EDWARDS: Maybe this conversation about -- about our own mortality allows us to think about how -- how it is we want to use that unknown number of days each of us has.

And, if that conversation starts and people start thinking about, you know, how is it that I can do something better for my family, do something better for my community, do something better for my country in those days, instead of what -- what we can accumulate in our lifetime.

SNOW: Some in the crowd said support for Elizabeth Edwards does not automatically mean they will support her husband, John Edwards, for president.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hey, I'm OK.

SNOW: Fifty-five-year-old Susan Hershman, who is getting treatment for breast cancer, is a Democrat who says she will support him if he's the nominee. But she says, first and foremost, Elizabeth Edwards is bringing health care into focus.

SUSAN HERSHMAN, CANCER SURVIVOR: When she can get across a message about health care, and -- and not be afraid to talk about her personal issues, and the inspiration that she brings to other people, I think it's a tremendous help.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SNOW: Here in Cleveland, tonight, Elizabeth Edwards is scheduled to attend a fund-raiser for her husband's campaign. Then, she said, later this week, perhaps early next week, she will be meeting with her doctors to see what's next in terms of her treatment -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Mary, thanks.

Mary is going to have more on this story in our 7:00 p.m. Eastern hour right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

There's a developing story up on Capitol Hill.

Our congressional correspondent Andrea Koppel is following it.

What do we know about this incident earlier today?

ANDREA KOPPEL, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, what we know is that, earlier this morning, an aide to Senator Jim Webb of Virginia was arrested by Capitol Police as he tried to come into the Capitol with a loaded handgun and two loaded magazine clips.

These guns were not registered in the District of Columbia. The man was arrested. We have also learned from Senator Webb's office, which just put out this statement. They said: "To our knowledge, this incident was an oversight by the senator's aide Phillip Thompson, who is a former Marine and is a long-term trusted aide of the senator. We're still awaiting the facts."

We also know, Wolf, that Senator Webb himself is not in town. And, as you, I'm sure, are aware, in Virginia, you can carry a weapon, an unconcealed weapon. But, in D.C., it is illegal -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thank you, Andrea -- Andrea Koppel reporting.

Andrea Koppel, Mary Snow, as you saw earlier, Bill Schneider, they are all part of the best political team on television.

And, remember, for the latest political news at any time, check out our Political Ticker at CNN.com/ticker.

Up next: Republicans vs. the attorney general, Alberto Gonzales.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. CHUCK HAGEL (R), NEBRASKA: The attorney general is dealing with a cloud hanging over his credibility, and the president is going to have to deal with that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Can the White House erase the cloud created by the fired prosecutor scandal? Donna Brazile and Terry Jeffrey, they are standing by for our "Strategy Session."

And we have been monitoring that Pentagon news conference on the friendly-fire death of U.S. Army Ranger Pat Tillman. Will any top brass pay a price? We're going to have a live report. That's coming up in our next hour.

Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: An embattled attorney general, the president standing by his man, and one Justice Department official pleading the Fifth -- so, we want to talk more about the controversy involving Alberto Gonzales and growing calls that he step down.

Let's go to our "Strategy Session."

Our CNN political analyst and Democratic strategist Donna Brazile is here. And Terry Jeffrey, he's the editor at large of "Human Events."

Monica Goodling is the senior counsel to the attorney general, Alberto Gonzales, also the liaison to the White House. She's been asked to testify before Congress. Her lawyer has just released the statement, among other things, saying this: Ms. Goodling will not answer questions before the committee or its staff under these circumstances. The potential for legal jeopardy for Ms. Goodling from even her most truthful and accurate testimony under these circumstances is very real. One need look no further than the recent circumstances and proceedings involving Lewis Libby," the former chief of staff to the vice president."

Terry, when -- when a top sitting official in the Justice Department is asked to testify before Congress, doing its oversight responsibilities, and pleads the Fifth, that can't be good for the Bush administration.

TERRY JEFFREY, EDITOR, "HUMAN EVENTS": Well, it's not good.

Apparently her lawyer is trying to suggest they are building a perjury trap for people in the Justice Department. But the truth is, Wolf, Congress, its Judiciary Committees, they have oversight over the Justice Department. It's inexcusable for people in the Justice Department to take the Fifth Amendment to avoid testifying in Congress. People there must go testify. There's no question about it.

BLITZER: It's one thing for White House officials, under executive privilege, to decline invitations to go testify, because there are constitutional questions there about executive -- about the White House and the privacy of the president's conversations there.

It's another thing for a sitting official in the Justice Department or any other executive branch agency to refuse to testify.

DONNA BRAZILE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, once again, it calls into question the attorney general's credibility, because he said he would make available his staff and other officials to help clarify the story, to correct the record.

So, I would hope that this official would reconsider. Perhaps there are other circumstances that will prohibit her from testifying. But I think, for now, that this is a bad move on their part.

BLITZER: And, yesterday, on the Sunday talk shows, we heard from at least three Republicans, raising some questions about the attorney general, whether it was Chuck Hagel, or Arlen Specter, or Lindsey Graham.

Listen to this clip from Arlen Specter, the former chairman of the Judiciary Committee, the ranking Republican.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "MEET THE PRESS")

SEN. ARLEN SPECTER (R-PA), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE RANKING MEMBER: We have to have an attorney general who is candid, truthful. And, if we find he has not been candid and truthful, that's a very compelling reason for him not to stay on.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Terry, what do you think?

JEFFREY: Well, I think, right now, that Attorney General Gonzales is hemorrhaging politically. He's got to stop the bleeding.

And I think the only way he can do that, Wolf, is by going to the Senate Judiciary Committee, testifying, answering all the tough questions that senators throw up at him. His problem right now...

BLITZER: He's supposed to do that, I think, April 17.

JEFFREY: Well, that's his problem. It's three weeks away. That's too far. He could die a death by 1,000 cuts between now and then.

He -- I think they need to accelerate it. He needs to get up there. He needs to tell his story fully, under oath, to the committee. And it needs to be compelling.

BLITZER: You have advised administrations in crisis mode on these kind of matters. What would be your advice?

BRAZILE: No question. I would try to get up there, in fact, before Kyle Sampson testifies this Thursday.

BLITZER: He's the former Gonzales...

BRAZILE: Chief of staff.

BLITZER: ... chief of staff, who has volunteered to go up there and testify on Thursday. He resigned a few weeks back.

BRAZILE: Once again, this is -- this is the credibility of the chief law enforcement official in the country. And, the longer he waits, more e-mails will surface. And, again, he will have to clarify all of the contradictions that are out there now.

BLITZER: Let -- let me read to you from Chuck Hagel's interview in "Esquire" magazine.

Referring to the president and oversight, "The president says, 'I don't care.' He's not accountable anymore, which is isn't totally true. You can impeach him. And, before this is over, you might see calls for his impeachment. I don't know. It depends how this goes."

To hear Chuck Hagel even raising the impeachment word, even though he's not calling for impeachment -- and, certainly the Democrats, at least Nancy Pelosi and the leadership are not calling for impeachment. But you hear it from fringe elements. It's another thing to even hear it from Chuck Hagel.

JEFFREY: Well, I think Senator Hagel was engaging in hyperbole there.

And -- and, by the way, I think he was talking in the context of the Iraq war. And the truth is, the president has constitutional authority and the Congress has constitutional authority. And, ultimately, if the Congress wants to take the funding route to -- trying to affect the president's policy on the Iraq war, the Constitution gives the president a veto, which he's vowed to use.

And, in all of those circumstances, Wolf, the president is acting wholly within his legitimate constitutional power -- no possible basis for an impeachment there.

BLITZER: And a lot of rank-and-file Democrats out there are upset that Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, they have taken impeachment off the table, that the mainstream, the leadership of the Democratic Party, and the Democratic presidential candidates are not even discussing it.

BRAZILE: Well, they are focusing on the other I, which is, they are investigating the Bush administration to look at excesses, abuse of power, eroding civil liberties.

So, while the other -- the big-I word is not on the table, now, look, the Democrats are focused on getting things done for the American people. They have accumulated a great record over the last 100 days. And I think we need to just wait and see what happens in -- with this attorney general purging.

BLITZER: We will see what happens, indeed.

Donna, Terry, thanks for coming in.

This note to our viewers: Two senators, both front-runners in the race for the White House, will be here in THE SITUATION ROOM. Tomorrow, the Arizona Republican John McCain will be joining us. Wednesday, the Illinois Democrat Barack Obama will be here. Both of these interviews, you will want to see.

And, also, coming up in our next hour, Chris Dodd, another Democratic presidential candidate, he's joining us today.

Even some Democrats are refusing to use that I-word about President Bush, the impeachment word. So, what does it mean when a Republican uses that word in discussing President Bush?

Jack coming back with "The Cafferty File" -- right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Let's check back with Jack for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: The question this hour is: What does it mean if Republican Senator Chuck Hagel is using the word impeachment when it comes to talking about President Bush?

David in New York writes: "What does it mean, Jack? It means the Democrats are such wimps that it took someone with a big fat R next to his name to use the word everyone has been dying to hear since the day after Election Day."

Ralph: "Means he's running for president, and he reads the same polls the rest of us read."

Greg in Massachusetts: "This means the impeach-him train has officially left the station, and the engine is being stoked by both Republicans and Democrats. The end of Bush II is a lot closer than it was even a month ago. It took a white-collar Justice Department hoodwink scheme. Who would have guessed that armed aggression in a foreign country and falling short as commander in chief wouldn't have done it?"

Audley in Texas: "Impeachment of George W. Bush may be the only option remaining open to America. God knows he deserves it every bit as much as Bill Clinton or Richard Nixon ever did."

"You are correct," writes Ed in Nebraska. "It is a big deal when a Republican senator uses the I-word in connection with the president. But it's important to remember that all Senator Hagel said was that some other lawmakers might some day consider whether it should be considered. Hagel said the obvious in terms of the revelatory. It was good that someone finally took Nancy Pelosi's impeachment-is-off- the-table nonsense off the table."

Ivary in Houston: "That we shall soon see" -- let me try that again.

(LAUGHTER)

CAFFERTY: Ivary in Houston: "That we shall soon see terrible revelations about Hagel being leaked to the media. The swift-boat- for-Hagel committee forms to the right."

And Patrick in Manhattan Beach: "It means the metamorphosis of Chuck Hagel is almost complete in his quest to become Hillary's running mate" -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jack, thank you.

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