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THE SITUATION ROOM

Iranian Hostage Crisis Escalates; Interview With Jack Murtha

Aired March 29, 2007 - 17:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, HOST: Washington can be a very serious city, but not necessarily last night. At the Radio Television Correspondents Dinner, presidential adviser Karl Rove was a good sport at poking some fun at himself. You have to watch it to believe it.
Take a look at this little clip.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... suckers don't get the jitters. But he's a man, he's a treasure trove. Tell me what is your name?

KARL ROVE, SENIOR WHITE HOUSE ADVISER: M.C. Rove.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's going cause he's shooting quail. This man will never stop. Look at him jumping up and down and ready to hop. He's got so much to prove.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Coming up in our 7:00 p.m. Eastern hour here in THE SITUATION ROOM, our Jeanne Moos will put her own spin on this hilarious skit involving Karl Rove.

And to our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Happening right now, they're at it -- at it again. Iranians parading new pictures of America's allies kidnapped and held captive. Now, a new letter may be the ultimate insult.

Is it an ultimatum to get out of Iraq?

The president's biggest critic on the war says the "G" word. Why Congressman John Murtha says there's already genocide in Iraq and why he's calling for a military draft back home.

And could it happen to you, the health condition that could get you kicked off an airline?

I'm Wolf Blitzer.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

All that coming up.

But let's begin with that story involving a passenger jetliner making an emergency landing without its front landing gear. It's a developing story we're following out of Orlando in Florida.

Let's go to CNN's Carol Costello.

She's got the video that a lot of people are going to be talking about -- Carol.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it's pretty dramatic video, Wolf.

We know a little more about what happened. This is an Allegiant Air jetliner. It was Flight 758. It's an MD-80. The pilots noticed they had trouble with the front landing gear while in the air. This was a plane on its way from New Hampshire to Orlando.

So they flew around for a time in the air, burning off fuel, so they could make a safe landing because they knew they weren't going to get that nose gear down.

They decided to land and let's watch it and see what happened.

(VIDEO CLIP OF PLANE LANDING)

COSTELLO: As you can see, the plane was on the ground and the front of the plane is scraping the ground. You can see the smoke and sparks coming up. But the pilots did a very good job, Wolf. This plane landed safely.

During the landing, officials say no one on board this plane was hurt. One hundred fifty-seven passengers and crew on board.

Now, during the emergency deplaning -- you know, when the ramp comes down and the passengers get off that way -- officials say they don't know of any passengers getting hurt. There may have been. We're still awaiting word on that.

But it looks right now like it was a pretty happy ending.

BLITZER: It looks like a happy ending. You can see the tail -- the nose down right now.

I want to play that landing once again for our viewers and we'll talk a little bit about what's going on.

You can imagine, Carol, if you're a passenger inside that airliner and you obviously have been told by the captain, the flight attendants, get down in that emergency situ -- position.

COSTELLO: Oh, and, you know, any time that the plane is flying around when you know you're supposed to land, it makes you pretty darned nervous. But evidently all was fine aboard that plane. And when they landed, the passengers were OK.

BLITZER: I was once on a flight that had to make an emergency landing like that, coming into Dulles Airport, and I can tell you, in the seconds before you actually touch down, you can -- you can really get nervous wondering what's going on, especially when you see the fire engines and you see all the emergency vehicles begin to come up next to you.

COSTELLO: I know. And you can just imagine what -- what it was like for the passengers as the plane landed. Usually people clap during a rough landing. This was a really rough landing, so I'm sure the pilots got a standing ovation.

BLITZER: I would hope so.

Let's speak to Diane Crews.

She's the vice president of administration over at the Orlando Sanford International Airport.

Diane, what can you tell us about what happened?

DIANE CREWS: Well, this afternoon we had a flight coming in from Portsmouth, New Hampshire. The air carrier was Allegiant Air. And the aircraft experienced a problem with -- a hydraulic problem with its front nose gear. The nose gear was not coming down.

So they circled around for about an hour, trying to get the nose gear to drop. And they finally had to land without it. It was just a wonderful landing. The pilot was -- did a fantastic job. We had 147 people on board the aircraft. There was some sparks and a lot smoke. No flames.

Upon, you know, as soon as the aircraft stopped, they deployed the emergency chutes and passengers were taken off the plane. We had one only very minor injury. That was a twisted ankle. They refused treatment and walked off. And all the passengers have been taken back to the terminal.

It was -- we had a lot of response from the local rescue teams, through the county and the city. It was a great exercise in seeing the right way to do things, and we were very fortune that we had no injuries.

We have -- we owe -- all owe a big round of applause to the pilot of that aircraft.

BLITZER: And obviously they did an excellent job. And they train for these kinds of emergencies.

Has this ever happened, as far as you know, at your airport before?

CREWS: This has not happened in the five-and-a-half years that I've been here.

BLITZER: So this is a pretty extraordinary development, even though we've all heard about these kinds of things.

You train, I assume you have your -- your fire engines and your emergency personnel on the ground to deal with the situation. You have some advanced word that this is about to happen. CREWS: Right. We were staged as soon as we got the alert, too, that the aircraft was having problems. We immediately started staging on the air field.

as, you know, the gravity of this situation increased, we got back up reinforcements from other agencies outside the airport's rescue teams. And, just like I said, a fantastic response, a great landing and we have a lot of people who are glad to be on the ground.

BLITZER: I'm sure you do.

And a lot of family members.

Thanks very much.

Diane Crews joining us from the airport in Orlando.

CREWS: Thank you.

BLITZER: A happy ending to what could have been a bad, bad situation. Obviously trained pilots succeeding in bringing that plane down without the front landing gear.

Other stories we're following, we're getting word of what may be an ultimate insult. Iran just put its captured British sailors and marines in the spotlight once again. And in a cruel twist, releasing a letter that's telling America's ally to get out of Iraq.

Let's go live to CNN's Robin Oakley.

He's in London -- Robin, it looks like this crisis is escalating once again.

ROBIN OAKLEY, CNN EUROPEAN POLITICAL EDITOR: Well, both sides in this crisis, Wolf, say that they don't want the diplomatic spat to intensify. But that isn't how they're acting, and especially not Teheran, which, in the last few hours, has introduced some new video footage.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

OAKLEY (voice-over): Whose boats were where?

The standoff between Britain and Iran Thursday became a battle of maps, pointers and global positioning devices. The Iranians released new pictures of the capture of the 15 British sailors and marines. Then they showed a briefing from a naval commander, who claimed the British had not only strayed into Iranian waters last Friday, but had done so several times previously.

(VIDEO OF IRANIAN NAVAL COMMANDER SPEAKING IN FARSI)

OAKLEY: Leading Seawoman Faye Turney has become the public face of the standoff between Britain and Iran.

FAYE TURNEY, BRITISH SAILOR: Obviously, we trespassed into their waters. They were very friendly, very hospitable, very thoughtful, nice people.

OAKLEY: Now Teheran has released a letter, apparently in Turney's handwriting, in which she asks why the British government let the British sailors enter Iranian waters. It also calls for British forces to leave Iraq.

British ministers' suspicions of coercion will be redoubled.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

OAKLEY: With Britain working to intensify international pressure on Iran, it seems that things are likely to get hotter still before they cool down -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Robin Oakley outside Number Ten Downing Street in London for us.

Robin, thanks.

There's a new twist, by the way, to this developing story. We've learned today that American forces tried to help when the British crew was captured last week.

A senior U.S. military official says a Navy patrol craft and helicopter were called in when contact was lost with the British sailors and marines, but the Americans were not able to find them or communicate with them. The official says the British military received a broken radio communication after the crew disappeared with an Iranian voice indicating the crew was "taken to a safe place."

Another developing story we're following, he used to be the top aide to the attorney general of the United States. And today Kyle Sampson told the Senate what he knows about his former boss's role in the firings of those federal prosecutors.

The testimony may have left Alberto Gonzales even a little bit more on shakier ground.

Let's go to our justice correspondent, Kelli Arena -- Kelli, how did this play out today?

KELLI ARENA, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, Sampson -- Kyle Sampson has been on the hot seat all day and the folks over at Justice really have to be squirming. This ought to sum it up for you, Wolf. Senator Chuck Schumer says the attorney general's credibility was shattered by what happened in that hearing room today.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

ARENA (voice-over): Kyle Sampson didn't fall on his sword, he swung it. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales' ex-chief of staff told a hostile Congress that his old boss was wrong to claim he wasn't involved in discussions about the fired U.S. attorneys. In fact, Sampson said he talked it over with Gonzales from the get go, in early 2005. KYLE SAMPSON, FORMER GONZALES CHIEF OF STAFF: He and I had discussions about it during the thinking phase of the process. Then after the sort of more final phase of the process, in the fall of 2006, began, we discussed it.

ARENA: Keep an eye on the time line here. Sampson says Gonzales was involved in discussions about the firings back in 2005.

But here's what Gonzales said about his role just two weeks ago.

ALBERTO GONZALES, ATTORNEY GENERAL OF THE UNITED STATES: I was not involved in seeing any memos. I was not involved in any discussions about what was going on.

ARENA: Gonzales clarified that several times after admitting having limited discussions about the firings, but even that is a far cry from what his former chief of staff said today.

SAMPSON: We had talked over the course of a couple of years about the strengths and weaknesses of U.S. attorneys.

ARENA: And Sampson had another dagger to toss at his old boss. He said Gonzales was flat wrong when he blamed Sampson for inaccurate testimony on the matter by other Justice officials.

Gonzales has insisted Sampson didn't share vital information.

Sampson says...

SAMPSON: I shared information with anyone who wanted it. I was very open and collaborative in the process.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

ARENA: Wolf, senators can't wait to get their hands on Gonzales. He is scheduled testify on April 17th. As one lawmaker put it, they'll finally get to deal with him eyeball to eyeball.

BLITZER: What did Sampson, Kelli, say about the actual firings, whether he believes they were appropriate?

ARENA: Well, Wolf, on that point, Sampson agrees with his old colleagues. He says that no one was fired for improper reasons. He says that he just basically lacked the foresight to understand how some firings would look after the fact. But he insists the U.S. attorneys were let go because they were not in line with the president's priorities, and not because of any investigations that their offices were conducting.

BLITZER: Kelli Arena reporting for us, watching this important story.

The attorney general may be the primary focus of the hearings, but Democrats are also digging in to see what role, if any, the White House adviser, Karl Rove, played.

CNN's Brian Todd is picking up that part of the story -- why all the interest, Brian, in Karl Rove?

At least what are the Democrats saying?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, you get a sense that Democrats on the Judiciary Committee want to put more pressure on the White House to buckle and make Rove testify under oath.

But so far, Karl Rove has only talked about this case on his terms.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

TODD (voice-over): He joked about the U.S. attorney story the night before.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We just want to ask you some questions about -- we -- we...

ROVE: Lots of people want to ask me questions.

TODD: Hours later, Senate Democrats, clearly frustrated they couldn't question Karl Rove, grilled former Justice official Kyle Sampson about him, zeroing in on e-mails, meetings, trying to discover whether Rove's fingerprints were on the firings of eight U.S. attorneys.

Sampson is asked did he collaborate with Rove to get former Rove aid Tim Griffin appointed to one of those posts.

SAMPSON: I don't remember Karl Rove ever talking to me in person or on the phone. I don't remember anyone telling me that Mr. Rove was interested in Mr. Griffin being appointed.

SEN. TED KENNEDY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: Then do you know why you would mention it in your e-mail, where you have said that was important to Harriet and Karl if there was no reason? Do you know -- do you have any idea why you would write that?

SAMPSON: As I said, that was based on an assumption. I knew it was important to Sara Taylor and to Scott Jennings, both of whom reported to Mr. Rove.

TODD: Sampson, pressed on an e-mail he sent last November to White House lawyers.

The subject?

The U.S. attorney replacement plan.

SEN. PATRICK LEAHY (D), VERMONT: You told Miss. Miers and Mr. Kelley that you had not informed anyone in Karl's shop, which you considered a "pre-execution necessity."

By Karl are you referring to Karl Rove?

SAMPSON: Yes. TODD: Sampson says the plan was circulated to Rove.

Why are the senators targeting the president's top political adviser?

BRUCE FEIN, FORMER ASSOCIATE DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL: By insinuating that it's Karl Rove who has the clearance here, it's insinuating that it's a partisan process, not a non-political or politically even-handed application of uniform standards of law enforcement.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

TODD: Bruce Fein says the insinuation of partisanship in the firings doesn't imply that Rove did any illegal, but he says it could erode the public's confidence in who President Bush placed in those U.S. attorney jobs -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Brian Todd watching this story for us.

Thanks, Brian.

Let's go to New York and Jack Cafferty for The Cafferty File -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Here's one of those that will just make you shake your head in disbelief.

Illinois one step closer to allowing illegal aliens on its roads legally. The House in Illinois passed a bill yesterday that would offer driving certificates to people who don't have a Social Security number and can't get a regular driver's license. These permits would let them drive and buy car insurance, but they could not be used as official I.D.

To get one, people would have to show a photo I.D. like a passport, from their native country, and give fingerprints. They'd also have to prove they have insurance after a month or the permit would automatically be canceled.

The legislation is on its way to the Senate. It's expected to pass. Then it goes to the governor. He's indicated he'll sign it.

There are seven other states that grant driver's licenses without asking for proof that the recipients are here legally. Utah gives driver privilege cards instead of licenses for illegal aliens. And Tennessee tried a program similar to the one being suggested in Illinois, but it was suspended because of fraud and forgery.

Supporters of the Illinois bill point out there are 250,000 uninsured drivers in the state without Social Security numbers and they say this legislation would make the roads safer.

But the critics say how can you have laws against illegal immigration and then pass other laws to make it easier for illegal aliens to violate the nation's laws against illegal immigration? Are you following this?

Here's the question -- should illegal aliens be able to drive legally in the United States?

Sure, why not?

They can do just about everything else, can't they?

E-mail your thoughts to caffertyfile@cnn.com or go to cnn.com/caffertyfile -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks, Jack.

CAFFERTY: OK.

BLITZER: Up ahead here, a decorated veteran and outspoken Iraq War critic returns fire after being harshly criticized by President Bush.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

BLITZER: He says no strings attached and he says you're trying to pull those strings.

REP. JOHN MURTHA (D), PENNSYLVANIA: Hey, let me just say something, Wolf. We have an obligation to make sure that the troops are fully trained, fully mission capable, before they go into combat.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

BLITZER: Democratic Congressman John Murtha doesn't stop there. Why he's now advocating the return of the military draft -- yes, the draft. My interview with John Murtha. That's coming up.

Also, a key U.S. ally in the Middle East calling the Iraq War an illegitimate occupation.

What impact might that have on a crucial relationship?

And Senator Joe Lieberman agreeing with his colleague John McCain that the situation in Baghdad is showing initial signs of improvement. Michael Ware is on the scene for us. We'll get a reality check from him.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: A catastrophic day in Iraq, with a death toll well -- well into the hundreds. Car bombs killed at least 43 people in Diyala and at least 76 people were killed in a Shiite marketplace in Baghdad.

This, as politicians debate whether there's been a letup in the carnage. Joining us now, our correspondent in Baghdad, Michael Ware -- Michael, walking around Baghdad, it's become a sensitive over the past few days because of various comments.

I discussed it earlier in the day today with Senator Joe Lieberman, your description of what's going on there on the scene.

Listen to what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LIEBERMAN: But I'll tell you most significantly, the American soldier is more confident walking the streets of Baghdad today. And that's a very important change.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: You speak to American soldiers all the time.

Are they more confident walking the streets of Baghdad today?

MICHAEL WARE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, they're certainly never fully confident.

But do they see that there has been some kind of adjustment in the broad climate?

Absolutely, as has been well noted by these soldiers' U.S. commanders. Their enemies, the insurgents and the Shia militias, are, by and large, laying low at the moment, waiting to get the shape of this surge.

Nonetheless, in one of these areas that has been so prominently second by the U.S. military and its Iraqi partners, where U.S. troops are now basically patrolling all the time with this great confidence, an area that had been controlled by the Mahdi militia, today more than 70 people died when two men detonated themselves in a busy market.

And don't forget, we're looking across the country at about 80 American soldiers, sailors and Marines being killed. In March, we're approaching that number again, the third month in a row.

So are the soldiers seeing changes?

Yes, sure.

But are the fundamental dynamics altering at all?

No, not really, not yet. There's a chance, but far too early to tell -- Wolf.

BLITZER: A year ago, the president said this, referring to the situation in Tal Afar.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) GEORGE BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm going to tell you the story of a northern Iraqi city called Tal Afar, which was once a key base of operations for al Qaeda and is today a free city that gives reason for hope for a free Iraq.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: That was a year ago. The situation had calmed down. But today it looks like all hell is breaking loose in Tal Afar once again.

You've been there. You've covered this story.

What's going on?

WARE: Well, Wolf, I was actually in that battle to reclaim Tal Afar, this city on the Syrian border, from al Qaeda. I was with the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment. I was with American Green Berets and I was with the Iraqi troops, the Kurdish Peshmerga, as they battled al Qaeda and took that city back.

Whilst that had a huge impact on al Qaeda's operations there, no one for a minute believed that that was going to remove them.

The suicide bombings continued, a much lower rate, but no one imagined that al Qaeda would disappear.

What have we seen now?

We've seen al Qaeda hit yet another market, killing too many people. And then what we saw later that night is essentially Shia police from another Islamic sect go into a Sunni neighborhood and all but execute entire families.

So, honestly, the dynamics, the fundamental underlying schisms, what's really driving this war all over the country, are not yet being addressed. We're only talking about the surface.

BLITZER: Michael Ware reporting for us from Baghdad.

Michael, thanks.

WARE: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: And coming up, the showdown between Congress and the White House over an Iraq withdrawal time line. One leading war critic issues a warning.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

BLITZER: And what do you say to President Bush, Congressman?

MURTHA: I say to President Bush, if he vetoes this bill, he's the one that's cutting off the money to the troops.

(END VIDEO TAPE) BLITZER: My interview with war veteran and Democratic Congressman John Murtha. That's coming up.

Also, devastated by a killer tornado, a town is torn apart.

And if you're just joining us, a roller coaster ride on a Florida runway just a few minutes ago. We have the extraordinary pictures of an emergency landing of a commercial jetliner landing without its front landing gear. We'll update you on what happened.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Carol Costello is monitoring stories coming into THE SITUATION ROOM from around the world.

What do we have right now -- Carol.

COSTELLO: Well, Wolf, this is the video that everyone is talking about this afternoon. An Allegiant Air MD-80 making an emergency landing in Orlando, Florida without its front landing gear. The plane skidded hundreds of yards down the runway on its nose -- you can see it there -- before it finally came to a stop.

Passengers scrambled to evacuate using those emergency slides. One minor injury as a passenger slid off the emergency slide. She sprained her ankle. She refused medical treatment, but this landing was absolutely perfect -- as perfect as can be without any front landing gear.

The pilot did a fantastic job. All of those passengers OK this afternoon.

Look at this. Two unfinished tunnels running under the U.S.- Mexican border near San Diego. Federal officials discussed them this week not far from the Otay Mesa border checkpoint. They're about 130 feet apart, each roughly three feet high. The tunnels both reach several feet across the border into the United States.

Four people are dead in three states after a series of tornadoes swept across the Western Plains. These pictures show the power of the storm that touched down in Holly, Colorado, in the remote southeast corner of that state. A 29-year-old woman died there after winds slammed her and her 3-year-old daughter into a tree. Doctors say the girl is expected to recover.

And it's just now high winds that posed a threat. In some regions, softball-sized hail has been reported.

Take a look at the headlines right now -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Carol, thank you.

We're getting some powerful firsthand accounts from people on the ground through CNN's I-Report.

Our Internet reporter, Jacki Schechner, is here with some incredible images of these tornadoes that have occurred -- Jacki.

JACKI SCHECHNER, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, our first I- Reporter is Connie Barrett. She is an area called Lockney, Texas. She sends us these photographs. She says she's an amateur photographer. That's why she took the pictures from her front porch yesterday. She says she got about 10 photos, until she had to go into her basement.

She says that the tornado was about eight to 10 miles northwest of Lockney, Texas. She says she saw a couple of other tornadoes later, but was not able to get out to photograph them.

We have two more I-Reporters here, Ariel Cohen and Mike Coniglio. They are storm chasers. Ariel is a grad student at Oklahoma University. They were taking these shots about 6:45 Central time last night in the Texas Panhandle. They say these were about 10 miles west of Memphis, Texas.

Of course, we always encourage you to send your photos in to us here at CNN, cnn.com/ireport.

But if you're going to chase down wicked weather, please be careful in doing so -- cnn.com/ireport -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jacqui, thanks.

And to our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Happening now, the International Red Cross staying silently on that controversial video of British sailors and marines seized by Iran. That kind of propaganda is illegal under the Geneva Conventions, although the U.K. and Iran are not at war.

A spokesman says the International Red Cross is not involved in the issue and has no comment, at least not now.

Also, word of a massive data theft involving almost 46 million credit card numbers. The parent company of T.J. Maxx, Marshall's and other discount retailers now says that information was stolen from company computers over a total of some 18 months.

And he may be sick and out of sight, but Fidel Castro is still taking swipes at the U.S. In an article in Cuba's official communist newspaper, Castro citizens President Bush for promoting the use of alternative fuels made from corn and grain. Castro says they should be used to feed the hungry instead.

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

A slap in the face from Saudi Arabia -- King Abdullah saying America is in Iraq illegally. And that's just the latest move from an old ally leaving the Bush administration reeling.

Is Saudi Arabia moving from friend to foe?

CNN's Aneesh Raman is in Riyadh -- Aneesh. ANEESH RAMAN, CNN MIDDLE EAST CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, from the Saudi king, some unwelcome words for President Bush.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RAMAN (voice over): It's a claim often made by Iraqi insurgents, but now a long-time friend of President Bush is saying it, too, calling the Iraq war an illegitimate occupation.

KING ABDULLAH, SAUDI ARABIA (through translator): And in our beloved Iraq, the blood among brothers are shed in the shadow of the illegitimate foreign occupation, and the repulsive sectarianism threatens civil war.

RAMAN: The statement by Saudi King Abdullah came at the start of an Arab summit here in Riyadh and put the State Department on defense.

NICHOLAS BURNS, UNDER-SECRETARY OF STATE: I will admit we were a little surprised to see those remarks. We disagree with them. We're under -- the United States military forces are in Iraq under United Nations authority. And the United Nations votes every year to authorize that mission.

RAMAN: It's the latest hit to this close alliance. Just late last week, the Saudi king canceled a trip to the White House set for next month. The reason, according to analysts here, is that the timing just wasn't right.

So why the emerging strain? As American influence in the Middle East has waned, and as Iran's influence has gained, the Bush administration has pushed Saudi Arabia to be more active in Middle Eastern affairs. But not all the Saudi steps have been welcomed by Washington.

Last month, the Saudis brokered a deal between Palestinian factions to form a unity government, a deal the U.S. and Israel say fell short of meeting international demands on Hamas. Shortly after came this visit to Riyadh by Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, showcasing, at least for the cameras, all sorts of affection.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

RAMAN: Nobody here thinks the U.S.-Saudi relationship has suffered any real blow. But almost everyone here agrees that for the Saudi king to push for peace in the Middle East, he has to push back away from President Bush -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Aneesh Raman reporting for us from Riyadh.

Thanks.

So, has the violence in Iraq reached the point of genocide? Should all Americans be prepared to serve in the U.S. military? Some very tough talk from a top critic of the war in Iraq.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) BLITZER: And joining us now from Capitol Hill, Democratic Congressman John Murtha of Pennsylvania.

Congressman, I heard you utter the words "a military draft" earlier today. A lot of our viewers are going to hear that and they're going to say, what's going on? They're going to start getting nervous.

REP. JOHN MURTHA (D), PENNSYLVANIA: Yes. Well, Wolf, I voted against the volunteer Army because I felt if we ever had a war, we wouldn't be able to sustain this war. I said a couple years ago, we would never have enough troops.

This is one of the smallest armies we've had since World War -- before World War II, right before the Korean War. And they just can't sustain this deployment.

What they have to do is take people back before they should, extend people, call people back from the -- from the deep reserve. Those are the kinds of things that happen.

And I think also, everybody ought to be able to serve in this country. I think we ought to not just have a select few who volunteer. I think everybody ought to be obligated to serve.

We do it by lottery and we call everybody up. I think we have a citizen's Army is what it ought to be, not just a volunteer professional Army.

BLITZER: But, you know, most members of Congress don't like this idea. The military says they prefer an all-volunteer service. Public opinion polls say the American public doesn't want to bring the draft back. But you say it's needed?

MURTHA: Yes, I think it's absolutely needed. I think one of the things that I've been predicting is our strategic reserve is going to be gone because we'll be using up the equipment and the troops. We would have to send them back before they had time at home.

All these kinds of things.

This -- this president, this Bush White House, has forced the military to break all their guidelines because they don't have enough troops. And they rejected our effort to put more troops in the system just a couple years ago.

We put 30,000 or 40,000 troops in two years in a row. We said, you need more? They rejected it, we put them in any way. And it's a good thing we did, because it's helping to solve some of the problems. But they have to recruit.

Another thing that came up in the hearing this morning, Wolf, was the fact we've got 126 contractors over there.

BLITZER: 126,000 contractors. MURTHA: 126,000 contractors, and here we are with 140,000 or 150,000 troops, 126,000 contractors who are getting paid substantially more than troops. So they're moving money around and not telling us about it.

So we really have some work to do to get this thing under control.

BLITZER: The president says what you and other Democrats and a few Republicans in the House and the Senate want to do, as far as imposing a deadline on the withdrawal of troops, in effect, will undermine the troops and make their lives more miserable.

Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We stand united in saying loud and clear that when we have got our troop in harm's way, we expect that troop to be fully funded. And we've got commanders making tough decisions on the ground. We expect there to be no strings on our commanders.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: And he says what you're doing is trying to pull those strings.

MURTHA: Yes. Well, Wolf, I went to Iraq a couple years ago, and I found we had 44,000 troops without body armor. I found that they didn't have adequate numbers of up-armored Humvees.

I found they didn't have the jammers, the things that jam the signals that come in for the IEDs. I found all kinds of shortages.

What hurts the troops is these deployments, these continual deployments. We put every cent the president asked for and then some. We put an extra $4 billion into this budget, we put money in for a strategic reserve to start to rebuild the strategic reserve.

Somebody went down to the White House the other day, some of the members of Congress -- they call them Blue Dogs -- and so they asked a question, when the guy was ranting about the bill. They said, "Did you read the bill?" He said, "Well, I haven't read it yet, but a lot of people briefed me on it."

In other words, they're saying they're going to veto the bill which this guy who was trying to convince the Blue Dogs, which are members of Congress, that they should vote for...

BLITZER: But he says no strings attached and he says you're trying to pull those strings.

MURTHA: Hey, let me just say something, Wolf. We have an obligation to make sure that the troops are fully trained, fully mission capable before they go into combat. And the benchmarks we've set says the Iraqis have to take this over.

In the past, what's happened is the Iraqis don't step up to it, so the Americans come in. The British leave and we come in. The Polish leave, we come in.

So the Americans are bearing the brunt. We're caught in a civil war. It's time for Congress to exert its influence. We have an obligation to exert our influence. This is about strength.

BLITZER: So what do you say to President Bush, Congressman?

MURTHA: I say to President Bush, if he vetoes this bill, he's the one that's cutting off the money to the troops.

BLITZER: Here's what Joe Lieberman, a Democrat, Independent in Connecticut, said in response to what you had said earlier in the day today -- I pointed out some of your earlier comments to him.

Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN (I), CONNECTICUT: Well, I respectfully disagree.

Look, John's right that mistakes were certainly made in the prosecution of this war, and that the military is under stress because it's working so hard to succeed in Iraq. But I totally disagree with him that our cause in Iraq is hopeless.

Do we want to turn Iraq, the Middle East and our future over to fanatics like that if we have a chance to stop them? And, of course, my answer is no, because I believe we do have a chance to stop them.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right. So that's Lieberman.

MURTHA: Yes. See, I disagree completely with Joe. And he's a good friend of mine. And, you know, he and I agree with an awful lot of things. But here's what he's saying.

He's saying the course which has not worked for four years is going to continue to work. Another fifth year and give them more time.

That's not the problem. The problem is we need to redeploy, we need stability. All of us want stability. All of us want to solve the problem in the Middle East.

But, Wolf, you can't solve the problem going forward as they are. And I'm trying to protect the troops.

I'm saying these troops shouldn't be deployed, they should be combat ready before -- fully combat ready before they go into combat, and they should give the Iraqis the incentive. The Iraqis are the only ones that can -- the secretary of defense said this morning in the hearing, you heard him say, "We can't win this militarily."

I've said this over two years, we can't win it militarily. It has to be diplomatic effort and redeployment. It's the first step to stability in the Middle East.

BLITZER: When I interviewed Senator McCain earlier in the week, he said if your plan is implemented -- in other words, U.S. combat forces out in a year -- there could be genocide that begins in Iraq.

MURTHA: Well, Wolf, there's genocide already.

They're going -- the Shias are going into the hospitals and getting rid of all the Sunnis. They're getting all the Sunnis out of the Shia areas. They're already working -- if it's not genocide, they're getting them out of the area, so they're changing the pattern of what's going on in Iraq.

The thing I measure progress by is oil production, electricity production, unemployment and incident. All those are going the wrong direction, so we have to change the direction. That's what we're trying to convince the president of.

BLITZER: Congressman Murtha, thanks very much for coming in.

MURTHA: Nice talking to you, Wolf.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: And still ahead, we're following some breaking news. Very dangerous weather. Check it out.

We're getting these live pictures in from Oklahoma City, thanks to our affiliate, KWTV. These are really, really nasty weather pictures we're getting.

We're going to go live to CNN's weather center. It looks like a tornado is touching down near this city out in the Midwest, in Oklahoma City. We're watching this very, very closely.

Let's just watch this a little bit. Let's go to our affiliate and see what they're saying.

Actually, Rob Marciano, from the CNN weather center.

(WEATHER REPORT)

BLITZER: Also coming up, kicked off a plane for coughing. Stunning details of what happened to one passenger.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: It's been a very, very busy afternoon here in THE SITUATION ROOM. First, we showed you that emergency landing down in Orlando. The jetliner landing without its front landing gear. The same time, a little bit after that, and you just saw it a few moments ago. Fortunately, everybody on that plane is OK, one person slightly, slightly injured, but it was dramatic landing.

And only a few moments ago, we showed you live pictures of a tornado touching down near Oklahoma City. There you see the funnel cloud in the middle of the screen. You saw it live here in THE SITUATION ROOM. We're still watching that story unfold out in Oklahoma.

Other news following.

She was about to head home from a spring break trip from her class, but she never got off the ground, ejected and abandoned by the airline when she started a coughing fit. Did the pilot go too far?

CNN's Carol Costello once again from New York with more on this story.

What's it all about, Carol?

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, you know, Continental says it's a very tough decision, one that's left up to not the FAA or the TSA, but the pilot. Yes, the captain of the ship is the decider when it comes to booting sick passengers.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RACHEL COLLIER, CONTINENTAL PASSENGER: Every time we'd laugh we'd both start coughing.

COSTELLO (voice over): Rachel Collier had the dreaded uncontrollable cough. A 16-year-old who wasn't feeling well seated on board a Continental flight from New York to far away Hawaii.

COLLIER: I woke up and I was coughing. And I think I kind of panicked because I couldn't breath.

COSTELLO: Collier, who had been enjoying the beauty of Washington, D.C., and New York on a class field trip, caught some kind of bug. Her excessive coughing seemed so severe on board that plane, the pilot ordered her to get off.

COLLIER: The captain said I had to get off the plane and I started crying.

COSTELLO: Continental says it is the pilot's decision whether to eject a passenger, and that "Continental's first priority is the health and safety of all its passengers and crew members."

Rachel's dad is not happy.

RANDY COLLIER, RACHEL COLLIER'S FATHER: I was pretty angry. When you get a call at 8:30 in the morning saying -- from a crying daughter, basically, you kind of get a little freaked out, go, "What's going on?"

COSTELLO: So, when is a cough so severe it will get you kicked off a plane? A couple of days ago, a whole group of coughing passengers boarded another Continental flight in Hong Kong. Fifteen hours later, it landed at Newark.

SUSAN BLAIR, CONTINENTAL PASSENGER: I heard some people coughing and thought, well, that doesn't sound good. But I don't know if they were really sick. They just -- you know, it sounded like a deeper cough than a normal cough.

COSTELLO: The Centers for Disease Control says those passengers were allowed to fly even though they were exhibiting flu-like symptoms when they boarded in Hong Kong. When they became sicker in the air, Continental notified health officials of the problem.

All 272 passengers were detained on the ground in Newark until doctors decided they had nothing more serious than the flu.

As for Rachel, she made it back to Hawaii Wednesday, and she's feeling just fine.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COSTELLO: Yes, she is.

Now, Continental says they called paramedics for Rachel and left her in the care of a teacher. Now, keep in mind, Wolf, these are difficult decisions for pilots. They are responsible for the safety of all on board their plane.

BLITZER: Thank you, Carol, for that.

Up ahead, does Bill Clinton help or hurt his wife's campaign for president? Our Bill Schneider has the poll numbers that shows some decisive answers. That's coming up in our 7:00 p.m. Eastern hour right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Also ahead...

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (SINGING): ... 'cause he's shooting quail. This man will never stop. Look at him jumping up and down and ready to hop. He's got...

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: A whole new meaning to the term "dinner dance".

Coming up, Jeanne Moos and the high-powered political operative. That would be MC Rove.

You're going to want to see this.

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Let's check in with Jack Cafferty in New York -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: The question is, should illegal aliens be allowed to drive legally in the U.S.? Illinois is working on a bill that would let them do just that. There are six or seven other states that do.

Doug in Utah writes, "How can someone drive legally if they're illegal to begin with. To heck with flight school. Let's make everybody a pilot? Who needs med school? Let's all play doctor. Isn't there something a little wrong with this picture?"

Jaegan writes, "If an illegal immigrant hits your car in any of the states you mentioned, your first question will not be whether he/she is an illegal immigrant, but whether he/she is insured. The obvious motivation behind this kind of legislation is damage control. Being given driving privileges allows for an illegal immigrant to drive insured, thereby protecting the rest of us."

Dicky in Texas writes, "I think you're barking up the wrong tree on this. I think we'd want all drivers on the road to be fully licensed and insured regardless of where they come from or where their citizenship is."

Dave in California, "Jack, they should be given a restricted license that allows them to drive only from point A to point B. Point A is wherever they are. Point B is Mexico."

Lydiah in Georgia, "I want to know one thing. If they can't read, write or comprehend English, how are they going to pass a driver's test? And how are they going to understand what our signs mean as they travel our roads?"

Ray in Las Vegas, "Hell, yes, give them licenses. They can't be any worse than the drivers in New Jersey."

And Dennis in Colorado, "Is this some kind of news man's Friday afternoon joke? By all means, let's give them driver's licenses. I'm sure the main topic in our prisons is how hard it is for criminals to get a driver's license. I know all my friends who rob banks complain about this all the time."

"It's all right, Jack. All of us get a little goofy from time to time."

If you didn't see your e-mail here, you can go to cnn.com/caffertyfile. There are more of them online there, along with video clips of "The Cafferty File" -- Wolf.

BLITZER: See you in an hour, Jack.

Thank you very much.

Who knew Karl Rove, campaign architect, political lightning rod, and rapper?

Our Jeanne Moos looks at Rove unplugged during a night of dinner, dancing and comedy with the commander in chief.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Viewer discretion advised. This is presidential adviser Karl Rove as you've never seen I him.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (SINGING): But he will rap it when you give him a chance. Look at him move, doing the rapping dance.

MOOS: Rapping Karl Rove, AKA...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (SINGING): Tell me, what is your name?

KARL ROVE, PRESIDENTIAL ADVISER: MC Rove.

MOOS: ... was the hit of the Radio and TV Correspondents Dinner, the kind of dinner where well-known media types rub shoulders with major newsmakers.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: A year ago, my approval rating was in the 30s and my vice president had shot someone. Ah, those were the good old days.

MOOS: You get to see normally buttoned-down folks, like the White House deputy press secretary showing some skin. You also get to glimpse the president himself in unguarded moments, saluting and chewing and laughing and rubbing and waving and waving and waving, as people interrupt his meal to say, "Look over here, Mr. President," so they can snap his picture.

And if you sit next to the president, maybe he'll wipe your mouth. They debuted the new JibJab video at the dinner, targeting the press.

But even JibJab was over shadowed by Karl Rove, plucked out of the audience from comedians from the show "Whose Line is it Anyway?"

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (SINGING): He would do it, without fail. Get out his gun, 'cause he's shooting quail.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, no. Don't do that.

MOOS: We got some guys with a little street cred to critique MC Rove.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (SINGING): This man will never stop, look at him jumping up and down and ready to hop.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, no, no, no. He needs to stop it.

MOOS (on camera): What's the problem?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He needs to stop it. He can't dance.

MOOS (voice over): MC Rove even gave multitasking a new dimension.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (SINGING): ... for doing the dance, the Karl Rove dance...

MOOS: ... whipping out his phone...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's not in touch with hip-hop. Anybody who has the guts to do that, I show them a lot of respect.

MOOS: Rove has been called Bush's brain. Just be glad he's not Bush's rhythm.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (SINGING): Give it up for MC Rove in the house!

MOOS: Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: A good time was had by all. Who knew?

Remember, we're here in THE SITUATION ROOM weekday afternoons from 4:00 to 6:00 p.m. Eastern. We'll be back in one hour, 7:00 p.m. Eastern.

Until then, thanks very much for watching.

I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.

"LOU DOBBS TONIGHT" from Washington, that's coming up right now.

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

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