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THE SITUATION ROOM

Iran Celebrates Nuclear Milestone; Obama Raising Money in New York State

Aired April 9, 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: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Happening now: Is it a big step toward producing nuclear power or a nuclear weapon? As Iran celebrates, America may have cause to worry.

Four years after Saddam Hussein was toppled, we have learned that thousands of U.S. troops could be in Iraq a lot longer than they had planned. And you will learn why an Iraqi insider is now accusing the Bush administration -- and I'm quoting now -- "of monumental ignorance."

Plus, Barack Obama in Hillary Rodham Clinton's backyard raising money and raising his profile on late-night TV. Could he really make a dent in New York?

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

Iran is calling it a national nuclear feast day, celebrating a major milestone in the program to enrich uranium. Does it also mark an ominous new turn in an Iranian effort to build a nuclear bomb?

Let's turn to our homeland security correspondent Jeanne Meserve. Jeanne, how close are the Iranians apparently to getting a nuclear device?

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the Iranians say they have the technology to enrich nuclear fuel, but the timetable depends on how quickly they could get it working reliably.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MESERVE (voice-over): Iran's president make as showy announcement on his country's nuclear program.

MAHMOUD AHMADINEJAD, IRANIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): Iran has succeeded in the nuclear fuel cycle development to attain production at an industrial level.

MESERVE: How much closer to a nuclear weapon could this bring them?

CHARLES FERGUSON, COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS: Well, I think in terms of worst case estimate, I think 2009 is the year to watch out for, but I think it's likely that it probably will, the schedule will slip a bit.

MESERVE: At this facility in Natanz, Iran is testing and installing a chain of centrifuges. They spin at high speeds to separate the heavier uranium molecules from the lighter ones. The more centrifuges you have the faster you can enrich fuel.

FERGUSON: I think they're pretty much at the level of about 1,000 or more centrifuges right now. But once you get up to beyond 1,000 the cross the level of concern from the weapons standpoint.

MESERVE: Experts tell CNN 3,000 spinning perfectly a year might produce enough material for one nuclear weapon, but first, Iran would have to get these very sensitive devices working, and based on what weapons inspectors have seen, Iran is not there yet.

JON WOLFSTHAL, CENTER FOR STRATEGIC AND INTERNATIONAL STUDIES: The centrifuges that they have installed tend to fall apart or even explode after a couple weeks when you need centrifuges to operate for years flawlessly in order to be reliable.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MESERVE: Iran says its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes. The problem is the same equipment that enriches uranium for power plants can also enrich it for use in weapons. It's hard to know what Iran is up to when international inspections are limited. Wolf?

BLITZER: Jeanne, Iran also today suggested it might quit the international nuclear non-proliferation treaty. What would be the impact?

MESERVE: As you know, Wolf, Iran was caught red handed a few years ago with a secret program in violation of that treaty. Right now they're in partial compliance, but if they quit the treaty and kick out all the inspectors, the West would have even less intelligence about what they're doing.

Wolf?

BLITZER: A serious subject indeed. Jeanne, thanks for that.

The British government today is reversing course and now says military service members may not receive payment for talking to the news media. That follows criticism of an earlier decision to let those 15 sailors and marines sell their stories of detention in Iran to the news media. The ban won't apply to those that had already signed such deals, including Faye Turney.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

FAYE TURNEY, RELEASED BRITISH SAILOR: I was offered a lot of money for this kind of, my story. I've not taken the biggest offer. I've gone down, because I wanted to speak to the "Sun" because I knew my point would be put across.

I want everyone to know my story from my side, see what I went through. When it comes to money, the ship, HMS Cornwall is getting a percentage of that money to go towards hoping the personnel on that ship and their families.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Iranian state television aired this video of the detainees smiling and playing games during their time in custody saying it refutes claims they were subjected to psychological pressure after being seized during a patrol in the Persian Gulf.

Four years after Baghdad fell to U.S. forces, some American troops may be in the combat zone for much longer than they expected. Let's go to our Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr who has got some more tough news for troops in Iraq.

Barbara?

BARBARA STARR, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Wolf, tough news indeed. The Pentagon, CNN has learned, is now reviewing a request from commanders in Iraq that it would extend the tour of duty for up to 15,000 combat forces there now. Four ground combat brigades and an aviation brigade.

This request is being looked at in the Pentagon and it may go to defense secretary Gates for signature by the end of the week. Why are they doing this? Because they've got to find a way to keep those troop levels up.

There are signs that the so-called troop surge is working. So they want to keep those troop levels at the higher level, at least through fall of '07, they tell us. The way they have to do it, extend some of the troops already there, perhaps, Wolf, for up to 120 days.

BLITZER: But is this it, Barbara? Among the troops who are already there or are more extensions expected?

STARR: Well, every source we have talked to said, no, don't bet that this is it. This is going to about problem now as long as they want to keep the higher troop levels there, we're going to start seeing these types of announcements almost every couple of weeks now, we are told.

Either troop extensions, more troops going, troops returning that didn't expect to return. Even troops as we saw just about a week or so ago going back to Iraq after only spending nine months at home.

They are really trying to scrape together how to assemble the troop levels that they need in Iraq, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Barbara, thanks for that information.

A new round in the fight over immigration reform here in the United States. President Bush today visited a Border Patrol post in Arizona. While praising a crackdown on illegal migrants he's also calling for a temporary worker program. Our White House correspondent Ed Henry is traveling with the president. Ed? ED HENRY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, it was back to the future for the president, returning to Arizona to inspect the new border fence, to try and show that he's cracking down on illegal immigrants, but it's also clear that president is straddling a political fence.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

HENRY (voice-over): Eleven months after touring the border in Yuma, Arizona, the president found himself in the same spot. Literally and figuratively.

GEORGE W. BUSH, U.S. PRESIDENT: We need a comprehensive bill, and that's what I'm working with members of Congress on. A comprehensive immigration bill, and now's the year to get it done.

HENRY: Echoes from last year.

BUSH: And I'm looking forward to working with the United States Congress to get something done.

HENRY: But since last May, the president has gained little, if any, ground for his plan to tighten border security, plus provide a temporary worker program for the 12 million illegal immigrants already here. When it comes to putting illegal immigrants on a path to U.S. citizenship, conservative outrage is still smoldering.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In the Republican Party, the idea of creating new benefits, which will cause a rush for the border while you have this very porous 2,000 mile border has no enthusiasm.

HENRY: That's why the president said he came back to Yuma, to highlight progress and apprehensions. Thanks to this massive pile driver helping to build a new border fence and stadium lights to catch illegals at night.

BUSH: We're saying we're going to make it harder for you. So don't try in the first place.

HENRY: Ironically, the president's plan has a better chance ever passing in a Democratic Congress. But CNN has obtained a copy of a PowerPoint presentation the White House is using privately to sell its plan, with details that are non-starters for Democrats.

Like a provision hitting illegal immigrants with a $2,000 fine, and $1500 processing fee to obtain visas to stay in the country. Democrats say that's too expensive for temporary workers, but the White House PowerPoint says, quote, "large penalties are important to putting sneak entry at a disadvantage to legal entry. Penalties are also the difference between amnesty and restitution."

(END VIDEOTAPE)

HENRY: The president is insisting he's not for amnesty to try and move to the right, but that only endangers support on the left, which is why the odds of actually getting a reform signed in to law are long. Wolf? BLITZER: All right, Ed. Ed Henry reporting from Yuma, Arizona.

The Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, by the way, has scheduled time for immigration debate in May, he is setting aside two full weeks and will probably need it, because there's no consensus at all on this hot button issue. We'll watch it very closely.

Jack Cafferty is in New York with "The Cafferty File." They're going to discuss immigration reform, make a push for it. We'll see how far it gets, Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Why don't they just enforce the immigration laws we have? I mean, six and a half years in to his presidency, and, you know, he's talking about fences and getting tough and this and that. We have laws against these 12 million people being here and nothing's being done about it.

It's getting harder to know whom to trust when it comes to finding out hats really going on in Iraq. A new Pew Research poll shows most Americans have little or no confidence in what they're hearing, either from the military or the media. That would be us. When asked if the U.S. military is giving the public an accurate picture how the war is going, 52 percent of those surveyed said they have little or no confidence in what the military is telling them.

And it's even worse for the press. Sixty percent say they have low levels of confidence in the media. That would be us. The news media. What is that?

These numbers are up sharply from the start of the war, when only 11 percent of Americans felt that way about the military and 15 percent felt that way about the media.

The poll also reflects a partisan gap, more Republicans trust what the military says, more Democrats trust the press. Here's the question.

When it comes to getting the real story about Iraq, whom do you trust more? The media or the military?

E-mail caffertyfile@cnn.com. Or go to cnn.com/caffertyfile, Wolf.

BLITZER: Jack thanks for that. Up ahead, a secret e-mail account for White House officials revealed, but is it against the law? Find out the role it played in some of the biggest scandals the administration is now facing.

Also, Barack Obama in Hillary Rodham Clinton country. He is dropping in on some big-name New Yorkers. But will it help him in an increasingly close race?

Plus a scathing critique from the war from a highly placed Iraqi insider. You're going to be surprised whom he's holding accountable. Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: The turf war in the race for the White House. Senator Barack Obama spending today on Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton's home turf, raising money and making a high-profile TV appearance. Here is CNN senior correspondent Allan Chernoff.

Allan?

ALLAN CHERNOFF, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Barack Obama will be appearing on "The Late Show with David Letterman" this evening. It will be a chance for Americans to get to know the candidate and for the candidate to potentially attract more political donors.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CHERNOFF (voice-over): Barack Obama arrives on Hillary Clinton's turf as more than a political sensation. He's proven that he's a heavy hitter in the all-important fund-raising race.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA, (D) ILLINOIS: What's happening in New York City?

CHERNOFF: And he's hoping New York Clinton country will be fertile territory for more cash to come.

DOUG MUZZIO, POLITICAL SCIENTIST, BARUCH COLLEGE: Everybody comes. You have to. You have to raise the bucks here. If you have any shot at winning.

CHERNOFF: Nationwide, Senator Obama raised $25 million during the first quarter. Nearly as much as Senator Clinton's $26 million.

MUZZIO: He can raise the bucks, the fundamental element of politics, the mother's milk of politics. He's got gallons and gallons and gallons of it.

CHERNOFF: And delivering those gallons? About twice as many donor as Hillary Clinton has. Important in presidential primaries, because of a $2,300 per person donation limit. That means Obama has more donors than Clinton who have yet to top out of.

LARRY SABATO, UNIV. OF VIRGINIA: He can go back to those people again and again because they've given less. A lot of room before where they've given and the ultimate limit.

CHERNOFF: But Hillary Clinton has the ultimate Democratic cash cow fund-raising in her camp, husband Bill Clinton who will be shaking hands on behalf of his wife later this week. The race for cash in New York is more competitive than the race for votes. Recent polls show Clinton at least 30 percentage points ahead of Obama, among registered Democrats in New York State whose primary has grown in importance.

OBAMA: Thank you very much, New York City.

CHERNOFF: Governor Elliot Spitzer today signed a bill moving the primary date up to February 5th. (END VIDEOTAPE)

CHERNOFF: Obama had one fund-raiser before taping the show. As soon as he's finished chatting with Dave, Barack Obama has a full evening. Three fund-raising parties at private homes, including one co-sponsored by Bob Pittman, the former chief operating officer of CNN's parent, then known as AOL-Time Warner. Wolf?

BLITZER: Thanks for that, Allan Chernoff reporting from New York.

One secret e-mail account at the heart of some new allegations that the White House may have tried to hide information about some of the biggest scandals it's now facing. Our national correspondent Bob Franken is standing by live.

Bob, why would this e-mail account possibly, possibly, be illegal?

BOB FRANKEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, it's about the Presidential Records Act, which requires the preservation of all official records of and about the president.

It was passed during the Nixon administration and it is becoming an issue for the Bush administration.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

FRANKEN (voice-over): Like so many of us, top White House officials seem to be all thumbs, constantly dealing with the blur of e-mail. But now there are charges they may have been trying to illegally hide some of it.

MELANIE SLOAN, CITIZENS FOR RESPONSIBILITY AND ETHICS: They wanted to make sure that no record could ever be found of what they were really up to in the White House.

FRANKEN: At issue, a non-official Republican National Committee e-mail account called gwb43.com, where private sector and congressional investigators say they've found communications from top White House aides dealing with official matters. Matters like the firings of U.S. attorneys. There is traffic about that to Kyle Sampson, who has now resigned as chief of staff to attorney general Alberto Gonzales.

There are also messages to and from lobbyist Jack Abramoff, now in prison. At one point, according to investigators, after an e-mail was apparently sent by accident to the white house account of an assistant to Karl Rove, Abramoff fired another one saying, "Damn it, it was not supposed to go in the White House system."

Neither administration aides nor Republican Party officials would agree to be interviewed on camera after repeated requests from CNN. But a White House spokesman, Scott Stanzel, in a statement, called the use of different computers to have the separate e-mail account for political activities, "appropriate, modeled after the historical practice of previous administrations."

But this is different, says the chief of staff from the Clinton administration.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It doesn't appear they're doing what we did, which was to segregate political activity using political systems from official activity.

FRANKEN: The Democratic chairman of the House Government Reform Committee is demanding access to gwb43.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

FRANKEN: Reportedly, though, many messages are automatically purged after 30 days and there is no penalty for violating the Presidential Record Act, except for maybe another political penalty. Wolf?

BLITZER: So, Bob what are you learning from your Republican sources on this?

FRANKEN: They say this was appropriate, that it was not being abused, that there had to be something to stop a violation of the Hatch Act, which would be using official resources for political reasons. They say, in fact, the Clinton White House did basically the same thing, which as you heard, the Clinton White House denies.

BLITZER: All right, Bob. Thank you. Bob Franken reporting.

Coming up, Senator John McCain in full-scale damage control mode. We're going to show you how the Republican presidential candidate is now dealing with the fallout from those controversial remarks he made right here in THE SITUATION ROOM about Iraq.

And new fallout as well from the dramatic sinking of that cruise ship in Greece. Did the crew wait too long before evacuating passengers? Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Carol Costello's monitoring stories incoming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now. What's the latest, Carol?

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Well, let's start with this office shooting, Wolf, and high-speed chase in suburban Detroit. Police finally caught their suspect on Interstate 75. The man, 38-year-old Anthony LaCalamita, believed to have shot three people and killed one at the accounting firm where he was fired last week.

Under scrutiny, the captain and crew of that Greek cruise ship that sank dramatically of the island of Santorini last week. Investigators are looking in to whether the evacuation of the ship was delayed and mishandled. The captain and five others have already been charged with negligence and two passengers remain missing tonight.

News impacting McDonald's bottom line, an advocacy group for farm workers says the fast food giant agreed to pay a penny more per pound for Florida-grown tomatoes and the extra money will go directly to farm workers to boost their wages. McDonald's says it will not pass on the extra cost to you.

And, the bottom line on Wall Street. A mixed day for stocks. The Dow was up almost nine points. The S&P 500 gained less than one while the NASDAQ lost just over two points. Back to you.

BLITZER: Thanks, Carol, for that.

Coming up, seeking forgiveness and trying to save his career.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DON IMUS, TALK SHOW HOST: I've heard people say, I don't know what's in his heart, and I don't know -- I've never listened to his show, but I want him fired. That's an ill-informed decision.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Will Don Imus' latest apology for his racially charged remarks appease those calling for him to be fired?

And Republican presidential candidate Senator John McCain also in damage control mode. We'll have the latest fallout from his remarks about Iraq. Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM. Happening now -- 12,000 National Guard troops getting noticed to prepare to deploy to Iraq. Among them, units from Arkansas, Oklahoma, Indiana and Ohio. It's the second tour of duty for most of them. Part of a regular rotation, not the troop increase in Iraq.

The New Mexico governor and Democratic presidential candidate Bill Richardson meeting with North Korean officials who say it will be very difficult to shut down their main nuclear reactor by the Saturday deadline called for in its disarmament deal.

And the legendary football coach Eddie Robinson honored in Louisiana's capital. Thousands of people coming to Baton Rouge to view this casket. The former Grambling State coach and role model for generations of African American men died last week at age 88.

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

Can Senator John McCain undo the damage? The presidential candidate was a navy flier, a Vietnam War hero but he's taking a lot of flak over his comments on the war of Iraq. Much of that damage, self-inflicted. Let's turn to our congressional correspondent Andrea Koppel. What's he trying to do today, and the rest of this week, for that matter, Andrea, to turn things around?

ANDREA KOPPEL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, he's trying to take his case directly to the American people, to lay out his vision. Not just as to why the war in Iraq is winnable, but as to why it must be won.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, (R) AZ: I am not saying that there are a few dead-enders or that we're in our last throes. I am saying that it's hard and tough and long, and very, very difficult. But we are making some small progress.

KOPPEL (voice-over): Back from his fifth trip to Baghdad, Arizona Republican John McCain has launched a full-court press. The subject, Iraq. The goal -- damage control following comments McCain made in recent weeks in which the presidential hopeful misspoke and was criticized for painting a rosy picture of security in Baghdad.

Just listen to what he told Wolf Blitzer on March 27th about how the U.S. commander in Iraq gets around.

MCCAIN: You know, that's what you ought to catch up on things, Wolf. General Petraeus goes out there almost every day in an unarmed Humvee.

KOPPEL: McCain has since admitted there are no unarmored Humvees and at a press conference during his latest trip to Iraq, April 2nd, McCain was criticized again for overselling the state of security in Baghdad.

What McCain failed to mention was that he had had lots of heavily armed U.S. soldiers protecting him throughout his trip. Something he told CBS News he regretted not mentioning.

MCCAIN: Of course, I'm going to misspeak and I've done it on numerous occasions and probably will in the future. I regret that.

KOPPEL: McCain has staked his campaign on success in Iraq. In an op-ed Sunday, the headline said it all. McCain believes Americans don't know about the progress that's being made because he claims the media aren't reporting it.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KOPPEL: Now, this progress is something that McCain is going to be laying out again in what his aides are billing as a major speech on Iraq on Wednesday at the Virginia Military Institute, Wolf. It will be the first major speech that Senator McCain has given on Iraq since the fall of 2005.

BLITZER: Andrea, what are some of the examples of the progress he's claiming to have witnessed during this trip he just had to Iraq?

KOPPEL: Well, for example, Wolf, he went up to Al Anbar Province and said that he met with a Sunni sheikh who is among those who've now said that they are signing on with the U.S. and Iraqi forces to fight al Qaeda. He also cites the fact there are at least 50 joint U.S. and Iraqi forces, these teams that have been set up in Baghdad -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Andrea Koppel on the Hill for us. Thanks, Andrea.

That statue of Saddam Hussein was toppled in Baghdad four years ago today, but as we told you, some U.S. troops may be looking at extended combat tours in Iraq.

Could Americans be there for years to come?

Joining us now, our world affairs analyst, the former defense secretary, William Cohen. He's the chairman and CEO of The Cohen Group here in Washington.

Before we get to that, this strategy of John McCain -- and you speak as a former U.S. senator, Republican senator yourself -- and effectively to double down on Iraq right now, what do you think of that?

WILLIAM COHEN, FMR. DEFENSE SECRETARY: Well, I think it's an example of John McCain doesn't want to see the United States "lose this war," because he's focused on what the consequences are going to be if we should leave prematurely. So, I think it's an example of John McCain trying to lead the forces, saying stay with it until such time as it's clear, nothing more can be done. And that's just who John McCain is.

You can disagree with him, perhaps, but I think he speaks not because he's trying to appeal to President Bush's base. This is something he deeply believes in. And we'll see whether or not he can persuade the American people that progress is being made or whether or not it's beyond our grasp.

BLITZER: How stretched is the U.S. Army? Forget about the Marine Corps, the Air Force, the Navy. The U.S. Army right now, given these extended tours in Iraq and the notion that this deployment could go on for a long time to come?

COHEN: Well, there's no question it's stretched. The Army's in a very difficult position now, because we don't have sufficient manpower. We need to add more if we're going to have these kind of deployments.

And so, as a result of that, you're going to see people called upon to stay longer and go back to those deployments sooner than they should. Otherwise, they're not having that one year of rest. So, it's stretching them. And the question will be, how much more can we stretch them over how long a period of time?

BLITZER: Because "TIME" magazine's cover story says the Army effectively is broken -- at least is on the verge of being broken.

COHEN: I talked to many senior military officials, many of them retired as well, who have indicated to me that they're really worried that the Army is reaching that point of no return in terms of breaking them.

BLITZER: And in the midst of all this a major threat from Iran. I want you to listen to what the Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, said today on the nuclear program there.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MAHMOUD AHMADINEJAD, IRANIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): The goal of progress for Iran is irreversible.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right. What he's suggesting is that they're going ahead with this new nuclear enrichment of uranium, this program. They're denying it's for a bomb. It's for nuclear reactors. But a lot of experts, at least here, don't believe it.

COHEN: I think we should look at the taking of the hostages, or the captives, however you define it. That's the shape of things to come. We're going to see an Iran that's more and more confident in itself, pretty -- even arrogant, because they feel that nothing can be done to stop them.

This is really a call to the United Nations Security Council as to whether they're going to insist on really cracking down on the sanctions on Iran to say, if you decide you're going to go forward with this program, there are serious consequences that follow. We are going to impose greater and greater sanctions. This will undermine not only your credibility, but your economic viability, and we intend to do this.

If we don't do that, then they're going to go forward, others will follow suit -- Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, UAE. We'll see the spread of nuclear weapons throughout much of the region.

BLITZER: If you believe the statements coming out of Iran, potentially they could have a nuclear bomb, given the ability to enrich uranium, within a year.

COHEN: Time is not on our side. I think that we have to intensify those sanctions as quickly as possible and not delay on that.

BLITZER: How worried should the American public be about a preemptive strike against Iran, whether a U.S.-led preemptive strike or an Israeli preemptive strike or some combination thereof?

COHEN: I think the diplomatic preemptive strike should be taken right now, that we ought not go along with simply the slow-rolling of the United States and the United Nations by Iran. They have been delaying, delaying.

A year ago we were talking about, well, submit your plan, we'll review it and then we'll see whether we want to abide by it. I don't think that we can afford to let them continue the way they've been going.

BLITZER: I want to pick your brain on the whole Don Imus controversy that has now erupted, because I know your wife Janet, she had an incident, she wrote about it in her first book involving the Imus radio program.

COHEN: Well, actually, we had hoped we might even go on the Don Imus show.

BLITZER: In promoting your most recent book, "Love in Black and White".

COHEN: Right, to talk about racial issues and the hatred that this country has experienced, and how blacks have been discriminated against historically, and what that has meant. Basically...

BLITZER: And Janet, I want to remind our viewers, is African- American.

COHEN: She is a black woman. A very proud, intelligent, dignified, extraordinary woman.

And she was referred to on the show at one point when we married -- they played "Jungle Fever". She was referred to as "brown sugar". Another host who has appeared on Imus' show had referred to us as "Mandingo".

So, what we wanted to do was to say, you know, words do wound. That the old adage about sticks and stones may break our bones, words will never hurt us, words can hurt. And I think that's what we wanted to talk about.

And we hope that we can continue to the talk about this issue. And we will speak whenever we can.

But I think that Don Imus, we watch him. We're not friends, but certainly we've been fans of his. We've been entertained. We've also been offended.

And I think what's happened in this particular case is that we need to get back to talking to each other with respect, looking at other people, embracing their diversity, respecting their diversity, and not simply mocking people. I think that when we allow the crudity of language -- and, I might say, going beyond the Don Imus situation, when you have a former speaker of the House of Representatives refer to Spanish as the language of the ghetto, that also hurts.

So we have to just take care that we treat people with respect. And Don Imus I think has indicated he is truly anguished about this. And I think it's sincere, from what I've witnessed on it. And I hope we all learn a lesson from this experience.

BLITZER: Well said.

William Cohen, thanks for coming in.

The talk show host Don Imus, by the way, he is anguished, clearly. Some say he's groveling right now. Is the Reverend Al Sharpton buying it? Listen to what he said here in THE SITUATION ROOM just a few minutes ago.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

AL SHARPTON, CIVIL RIGHTS ACTIVIST: How do we go back and tell our kids to clean up their words when you can call some exemplary young women this and we say nothing and extract no punishment to protect their integrity and their self-esteem?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Carol Costello is going to be back in just a few moments to tell us more about this verbal battle, what it's all about.

Also, what went wrong in Iraq? From a unique perspective, we're going to hear an Iraqi insider in his own words. You may be surprised what he has to say.

We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Apology not accepted. Critics are stepping up their calls for the talk show host Don Imus to be fire for racially-charged remarks he made about college women basketball players.

Let's go back to Carol Costello in New York.

Carol, tell us about the latest fallout.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, Wolf, Al Sharpton is not the only voice calling for Don Imus to be fired. The National Association of black Journalists said he should be out, as well as the NAACP and other civil rights leaders.

The question now, can groveling save Imus' job?

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COSTELLO (voice over): Under fire, Don Imus is on a forgiveness tour. First stop, Al Sharpton's radio show.

SHARPTON: Do you think it's funny to call people "nappy-headed hoes"?

DON IMUS, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: No, I don't.

SHARPTON: So, you thought it was funny Wednesday morning?

IMUS: I don't know if I thought it was funny or not, but...

COSTELLO: Imus has been trying for days to explain exactly what he was thinking when he made those remarks about the Rutgers women's basketball team and then laughed when his executive producer referred to them as "jigaboos" and "wannabes".

He told Sharpton those were expressions from a Spike Lee movie called "School Daze". Spike Lee was not amused, saying, "I came up with jigaboos and wannabes for something very specific... Imus don't know what he's talking about with 'School Daze."

Others, mostly African-Americans, agreed, picketing Imus' show in Chicago. That's not to say Imus doesn't have his supporters. Journalist Tom Oliphant comforted Imus on his radio show Monday morning.

TOM OLIPHANT, JOURNALIST: Good morning, Mr. Imus, and solidarity forever, by the way.

COSTELLO: It makes you wonder if any other regular guests will do the same, because the controversy will likely grow if the tone of Sharpton's radio show is any indication.

SHARPTON: Here's what I hear you saying, Mr. Imus. It's repugnant, it's unbelievable, but let's get past that and go on to the next commercial, and I live to curse another day.

IMUS: I didn't say that.

SHARPTON: What are you saying?

IMUS: I didn't say anything.

SHARPTON: That's exactly right.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COSTELLO: Imus says he really hasn't thought about what the exact punishment, if you will, will be. Imus has reached out to the Rutgers players. They haven't decided whether they'll talk to him yet.

As for Imus' past political guests, didn't hear back from Clinton, Dodd, Giuliani or Biden. McCain said today -- at least he intimated he would go back on Imus' program. Barack Obama's camp did get back to me, saying they go didn't get my e-mail in time. Senator Obama is due to be on the David Letterman show tonight.

BLITZER: Does the FCC, the Federal Communications Commission, have a role in all of this right now based on your reporting, Carol?

COSTELLO: Well, I talked to the FCC this afternoon, Wolf. One complaint will get them to open up a process to decide whether there should be an investigation.

Now, Al Sharpton said he called the FCC and issued a complaint. So, supposedly, the FCC is now investigating whether a process should come up to start such an investigation. But as you know, any finds levied would be on the broadcast outlet, not on Imus himself. It would be up to the broadcast outlet, you know, whether to fire Imus or not.

BLITZER: The radio stations that would be.

All right, Carol. Thanks for that. And once again, coming up in our 7:00 p.m. Eastern hour, the interview, my interview with the Reverend Al Sharpton. That's coming up, 7:00 p.m. Eastern.

Up ahead, an Iraqi insider has some very harsh words for the Bush administration, and even Iraqis themselves. We're going to have details of a controversial new book from an unlikely source.

And we're also following a developing story, a huge fire in Florida's Alligator Alley. Thousands of acres burned. We'll have the latest for you.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWSBREAK)

BLITZER: There's a fire in Florida that's burning right now in Alligator Alley. Carol Costello is monitoring this for us.

The pictures are very dramatic, Carol.

COSTELLO: Yes. You know, this fire has been burning since Saturday. Ten thousand acres along Florida's Alligator Alley have now burned.

In case you're wondering where that is, it runs east-west along where Naples is. Big Cypress Swamp is near there. There's lots of marshland with alligators and other wildlife.

Ten percent of this fire is contained. And we're talking, as I said, 10,000 acres.

The Division of Forestry working on this, along with firefighters. It's moving towards Interstate 75, Wolf. So far, traffic hasn't been affected but, of course, police are keeping a close eye on it.

Back to you.

BLITZER: All right. Thank you, Carol. We'll stay on top of this.

A member of Iraq's inner circle has some very harsh words for his U.S. counterparts. In a new book, he's accusing the Bush administration of, in his words, arrogance and monumental ignorance.

Our Brianna Keilar is standing by with this story.

Some tough talk, Brianna, from a former cabinet minister in Iraq.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Tough talk. And Wolf, what makes this book particularly interesting is it's the first to look to the run-up to the invasion of Iraq and the war from the perspective of an Iraqi insider. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KEILAR (voice over): A train that needs to be stopped, that's how Ali Allawi, cousin of Iraq's former prime minister, describes the situation in Iraq.

ALI ALLAWI, FMR. IRAQI CABINET MINISTER: The whole litany of inappropriate, incoherent and, frankly, inexplicable policies that were pursued caused what could have been a reasonable chance, I think, to secure a good outcome. It turned in to what is now being recognized as a major, major disaster.

Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen.

KEILAR: Since 2003, Allawi had served at various times as minister of trade, defense and finance. He currently lives in London and occasionally advises Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, mainly on economic matters. In this book, "The Occupation of Iraq," he says the United States was generous with its money but short on foresight.

ALLAWI: It was terribly managed and chaotically managed. And in some cases, managed, again, in an inexplicably offhanded way. So the end result of this was, as you say here, a little bang for your dollar.

KEILAR: He also says, "The billions that America had spent went unrecognized, and therefore not appreciated. Iraqis heard about the billions, like some memorable banquet to which only a few are invited. But what they experienced was the daily chaos, confusion, shortages and the stark terrors of life."

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KEILAR: Allawi told me it would be sill to blame only the United States. He also points to the Iraqi political system as a whole, and in his book he calls some members of the government dishonest and egotistical -- Wolf.

BLITZER: What kind of timeline does he think is going to be necessary to stabilize his country?

KEILAR: Well, Allawi told me about two to three years, but he said that's only if the current strategy in Iraq takes a complete U- turn. He said what he envisions is an international congress, one that includes Iraq's Middle Eastern neighbors, one that would have a coherent plan for Iraq. But also, he said it must have the complete support of the U.S. And he admits, with the partisan climate here in Washington, that could be impossible.

BLITZER: And bottom line, though, as far as the future of Iraq, it sounds pretty depressing?

KEILAR: I asked him about that, is it pessimistic? And he said that generally Iraqis are holding on to a sliver of hope, but he did say in his book that they are very close to what he called a terminal breaking point. BLITZER: Thanks for that.

Brianna Keilar reporting for us here in Washington.

Republican Congressman Tom Tancredo is fighting to keep TV's popular Dog the bounty hunter from being sent to Mexico to face charges there. Now Tancredo is making Dog's plight part of his upstart presidential campaign.

Let's bring in our Internet reporter, Jacki Schechner.

Why is he doing this, Jacki?

JACKI SCHECHNER, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, he's a fan of the show, that's part of the reason why he's doing it. Congressman Tancredo has spoken out on the floor of the House on several occasions about Dog the bounty hunter. He's also written letters to the State Department, the Department of Justice and the U.S. Attorney's Office.

Now he's got a letter drafted to the government of Mexico, and he's put that letter online on his presidential campaign Web site. He wants people to sign a petition in support of this letter and in support of Dog the bounty hunter.

See, Dog and his posse captured a wanted California man back in June of 2003. And after that happened, Mexico arrested Dog on a charge of deprivation of liberty.

He's now out on bail, but he faces extradition. And Tancredo wants the government to drop that extradition.

Dog has said in support of Tancredo, he appreciates the support of the congressman. And a spokesman for Tancredo says the two men have never met but they have spoken on the phone -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks for that.

Jacki Schechner reporting.

Up ahead, jack Cafferty and your e-mail that's coming in. His question of the hour: When it comes to getting the real story about Iraq, whom do you trust more, the media or the military?

And coming up in our 7:00 p.m. Eastern hour, Jeanne Moos takes a most unusual look at Don Imus' repeated apologies for those controversial remarks.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWSBREAK)

BLITZER: Let's go to Jack Cafferty in New York -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Richard Gere would make a good running mate for Dennis Kucinich, don't you think?

The question this hour is: When it comes to getting the real story about Iraq, whom do you trust more, the media or the military?

Larry writes from Illinois, "I believe the media. The top military officials talking to the press are put there by Bush and Cheney. They want to keep their jobs. According to the military, there was no surge needed until after President Bush said it was needed. Then we had all new military staff in Iraq."

Sandra in Texas, "As someone old enough to remember Vietnam very vividly, I'd tend to say I trusted the media more. However, that was before Iraq. The media has and continues to give Bush and company a pass on almost everything, including Iraq. One of the main reasons we're in this mess is because the media didn't do their job at the beginning."

Troy in Florida writes, "Frankly, why does the public need to know everything that's happening? I firmly believe that the press should not be in a war zone reporting. The military has a job to do and is seriously handcuffed when they have to worry about nosy reporters. War's not pleasant. Let them do their jobs with no second-guessing from the arm chair generals."

John writes, "No offense, but this is a truly ridiculous question. Americans only hear the military through the media."

Russ in Kent, Washington, "Trust the military for accurate information, Jack? Two names for you: Jessica Lynch and Pat Tillman."

Steve in Pennsylvania, "Jack, it's gotten so the only reporter I trust for news on Iraq is CNN's Michael Ware. His willingness to refute Senator McCain's absurdly optimistic reports on the progress of the surge proves that he has the journalistic cajones to speak truth to power. When I'm in the mood for nothing but sugar-coated news reports about Iraq, I flip to the FOX News Channel."

If you didn't see your e-mail here, you can go to cnn.com/caffertyfile, where we post more of them, along with video clips of "The Cafferty File".

BLITZER: He developed quite a reputation for himself, our Michael Ware, Jack.

CAFFERTY: Well, it's richly deserved. He is arguably the best reporter in that part of the world. I mean, he's just terrific.

It wouldn't matter whether he's covering the war in Iraq or Wall Street. The guy's just a great journalist and he has tremendous on- camera presence. And I like him a lot.

BLITZER: I think a lot of our viewers do. And I do as well. He's very courageous.

Jack, see you in an hour.

Let's go to Lou in New York.

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