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THE SITUATION ROOM

Controversy Over Concrete Wall in Baghdad; Interview With Harry Reid

Aired April 23, 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: And to our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Happening now, can it keep out suicide bombers?

A concrete barrier raises controversy in Baghdad and there's more controversy from the Democratic Senate leader, Harry Reid. He says the president is in denial over Iraq. We'll ask about his showdown with the White House. That's coming up.

There were many stumbles along the way, but his mix of courage and charisma helped lead Russia away from communism and toward democracy. A look at the late president, Boris Yeltsin, this hour.

And when worlds collide -- global warming leads to a heated encounter between pop star Sheryl Crow and White House adviser Karl Rove.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Iraqis may feel like no one is safe. Insurgents struck at will once again today. A suicide car bombing at one restaurant killed 20 people. A suicide bomber walked into another restaurant, killing seven more. Bombers also attacked a Sunni mosque in Baghdad.

The U.S. military now hoping a concrete wall can help. It's going up in the Baghdad neighborhood of Adhamiya, but residents there not happy at all.

Let's go live to our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr with the very latest -- a very sensitive and very delicate issue unfolding in the streets of Baghdad, Barbara, right now.

BARBARA STARR, PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Indeed, Wolf.

U.S. and Iraqi troops plan to wall off up to 10 neighborhoods across Baghdad. It's the kind of gated community we've never seen.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

STARR (voice-over): In the Baghdad neighborhood of Adhamiya, residents are protesting the new security barrier aimed at keeping out suicide bombers and explosives. People here worry, though, that they're being forcibly shut off behind a 12-foot wall.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): The aim of this wall is to isolate Adhamiya. It is a step we think that is not for the good of the people, but is to isolate them.

STARR: Adhamiya is a Sunni stronghold surrounded by Shia neighborhoods, a flashpoint for sectarian violence.

Could a barrier help?

ANDREW EXUM, WASHINGTON INSTITUTE FOR NEAR EAST POLICY: If you're just trying to stop the violence, if you're trying to reduce the amount of killing that's taking place, then it certainly may be a short-term fix that's worth exploring.

STARR: But Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki stopped construction. He said there will have to be other ways to protect neighborhoods. He warned this is a reminder of other walls -- a not so veiled reference to the fence dividing Israel and the West Bank.

In Israel, the fence has worked. Attacks there have dropped. But in Iraq, there may be a longer-term price to pay.

EXUM: Because it underlines in a very concrete way -- literally concrete -- it underlines the fissures in Iraqi society between Shiite and between Sunni. And, in a lot of ways, it hardens the ethnic and sectarian divisions that have emerged in Baghdad, really, over just the past two years.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

STARR: Now, Wolf, U.S. commanders say they're a bit surprised by Maliki's objections. They say the Iraqi government was very aware of these plans all the way along and the U.S. still believes that this may be the best way to try and stop some of this terrible suicide bomber violence that is going all across Baghdad, trying to isolate those neighborhoods -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, we're going to have more on this story coming up.

Barbara, thanks very much.

Other important news, though, that we're following today involving the attorney general, Alberto Gonzales. He vowed to stay on the job once again today, his first public comments on this issue since his appearance last week on Capitol Hill, where he got some poor reviews.

But President Bush is giving two thumbs up. He says the testimony increased his confidence in Gonzales.

Let's go to our Justice correspondent, Kelli Arena -- does this mean, Kelli, that Gonzales is here to stay?

KELLI ARENA, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, in a word, yes, I mean at least for now. And that is pretty shocking to a lot of folks on Capitol Hill and even within the Justice Department.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

ARENA (voice-over): Some called Alberto Gonzales a dead man walking. But today, he got an eleventh hour reprieve.

GEORGE BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This is an honest, honorable man in whom I have confidence.

ARENA: The president says that his good friend, the attorney general, will keep his job, despite his poor handling of the firing of eight federal prosecutors.

BUSH: As the investigation of the hearings went forward, it was clear that the attorney general broke no law. He did no wrongdoing.

ARENA: But there are still questions about how effective Gonzales can be, in not only advancing the administration's priorities but in his day to day responsibilities.

SEN. PATRICK LEAHY (D), VERMONT: I am not confident in his ability to run the Department of Justice.

ARENA: Republicans, too, admit that Gonzales has lost credibility. One of them, sass, the ranking Republican on the key Judiciary Committee.

ALBERTO GONZALES, ATTORNEY GENERAL OF THE UNITED STATES: I will stay as long as I feel like I can be effective. And I believe I can be effective. Obviously, we're going to be working with the Congress to reassure them that we've identified the mistakes that have been made here and we are taking steps to address them.

ARENA: Some Justice insiders say that Gonzales just hasn't accepted political reality. But maybe he's just used to beating the odds.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

ARENA: Now, the son of Mexican migrants, Gonzales climbed out of poverty to become the first Hispanic attorney general and it's a job he's apparently not willing to give up that easily -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Kelli, thanks very much.

Kelli Arena watching this important story for us.

Courageous and controversial, he took to the streets to confront communist diehards and steered Russia over a very rough road toward democracy and reform.

We're speaking about the former president, Boris Yeltsin, who died today at the age of 76.

CNN's Jill Dougherty is a former Moscow bureau chief and she's joining us now live -- whatever his faults, Jill, Boris Yeltsin -- he seems to have been on the right track in those critical years leading to the collapse of the Soviet Union and the start of a new democracy in Russia.

JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You'd have to say that, Wolf. Definitely. At least in the beginning.

But then things changed as he went on in his presidency. And, really, everything about Boris Yeltsin was huge -- the man himself, his role in history and the controversy over his role in history.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

DOUGHERTY (voice-over): This is the Boris Yeltsin the world will long remember. August, 1991 -- astride a tank, the president of Russia, facing down a coup against Mikhail Gorbachev, president of the Soviet Union.

BORIS YELTSIN, FORMER PRESIDENT OF RUSSIA (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): At that time, I had only one thought -- to save Russia, to save this country, to save democracy in the whole world.

DOUGHERTY: But this, too, is Boris Yeltsin.

October, 1993 -- troops, on order of Yeltsin, opened fire on the parliament house, the very building where he had made his stand two years before.

YELTSIN (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): This group is pushing Russia toward an abyss.

DOUGHERTY: For Gorbachev, long his nemesis, Yeltsin had revealed his true colors.

MIKHAIL GORBACHEV, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE SOVIET UNION (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): The first freely elected parliament in Russia in 1,000 years and he fires on it with tanks.

DOUGHERTY: For Boris Yeltsin, conflict and survival were the main themes of his life.

Gorbachev brought him to Moscow, making him party chief.

In 1987, he fires him.

In 1990, deposed from the Politburo, Yeltsin quits the Communist Party. For Boris Yeltsin, it is the first of many rebirths.

Two years later, he is elected to parliament, becomes its chairman.

Then, in June, 1991, the first democratically elected president of Russia.

As Russia celebrates, the Soviet Union is disintegrating. Yeltsin helps to speed up the process. Gorbachev resigns December 25th, 1991. Six days later, the USSR officially is dissolved. After 70 years of a Soviet planned economy, Yeltsin's shock therapy -- raising prices to world levels all at once -- hits average Russians with a vengeance.

As the presidential election of 1996 draws closer, Yeltsin seems certain of losing. But once again, Boris Yeltsin, Phoenix like, rises from the ashes.

But Boris Yeltsin never really begins his second term. Aides say he has a cold. In reality, it's a heart attack. In November, 1996, he undergoes a quintuple heart bypass operation, followed by pneumonia.

December 31, 1999, Boris Yeltsin shocks the world with the announcement that he is stepping down as Russian president, handing the reigns of power to Vladimir Putin.

To the end, Boris Yeltsin remained a study in contrasts -- a communist who helped destroy communism, a democrat who called himself a czar.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

DOUGHERTY: And in a sign of the controversy over the ultimate understanding of what his role was in history, just listen to what Mikhail Gorbachev, the former Soviet president, said today about Yeltsin. He called him "a man of great deeds and serious errors" -- Wolf.

BLITZER: You know, the relationship between Yeltsin and his successor, Vladimir Putin, I know there were strains. He helped get him into power.

But what was that relationship like over these more recent years, Jill?

DOUGHERTY: You know, it's amazing that it remained quite acrimonious. I spoke with Mr. Gorbachev several times in the past few years and he was always very, very critical of Boris Yeltsin and it never ended. And you can hear it in his comments today.

BLITZER: Jill Dougherty, our former Moscow bureau chief, now here in Washington.

Thank you, Jill, very much.

DOUGHERTY: OK.

BLITZER: Let's go to Jack Cafferty in New York -- you know, Jack, speak about Boris Yeltsin, I remember when I was in the then Soviet Union in August, '91, when there was a failed coup.

I went back at the end of the year, when the Soviet Union collapsed and Yeltsin took over. It was done peacefully, ending 74 years of communist rule and the collapse of the Soviet Union, one of the major events of the 20th century. Yeltsin deserves a lot of credit for that.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, he does. On the other hand, one could ask, in light of recent events, how far the -- the light of freedom has actually shone into the heart of mother Russia.

A lot of people suggest that Vladimir Putin is in the process of consolidating his power and returning that country very much to an autocratic form of government.

But for a brief moment or two, hope did spring eternal.

In light of the Virginia Tech massacre and renewed debate about gun control, consider this. Twenty-five years ago, a town called Kennesaw, Georgia passed a law that requires all heads of household to own a firearm and ammunition -- a gun in every home.

An editorial in the "Washington Post" at the time called Kennesaw "the brave little city soon to be the pistol packing capital of the world."

Well, it hasn't quite turned out that way.

Since the law was passed, the crime rate in this town of 28,000 has declined -- declined by more than half. We talked this afternoon to Police Lieutenant Craig Graydon in Kennesaw. He told us since the gun ownership law became mandatory there, there have only been "two or three shooting deaths in the last 25 years." A town of 28,000.

There are exceptions to the law for convicted felons, conscientious objectors and those who cannot afford a gun, and no one in Kennesaw has ever been prosecuted for not owning a firearm.

On the other hand, there were 32 deaths from gunshots on the campus of Virginia Tech University in just a few minutes. Virginia Tech is a gun-free zone and no one was armed -- except the killer.

So here's the question -- why would a town where every household is required to be armed have just two or three shooting deaths in 25 years?

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

BLITZER: Jack, you're going to get a lot of e-mail on this question.

We'll be anxious to hear what our viewers think.

Thank you.

Up ahead, the war of words escalating as Congress nears a showdown with President Bush over Iraq.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) DANA BASH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You, in the past, have called President Bush a liar. You've called him a loser. And just today, just a few minutes ago, you said he is in a state of denial.

This is becoming personal, isn't it?

SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MAJORITY LEADER: No, not at all.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

BLITZER: The Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, standing firm, refusing to blink, issuing his own challenge to President Bush.

Also, details of a surprising new twist in the crash that almost killed the New Jersey governor.

What role might a love affair involving the driver have played?

Plus, we investigate the gap that allowed a mentally ill student to go ahead and buy guns, prompting the Virginia Tech massacre.

Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: A bell tolled 32 times and 32 white balloons soared into the sky -- one for each of the dead. With that show of unity and with much lingering sorrow, classes did resume this morning at Virginia Tech, one week after the worst shooting rampage in modern American history.

How did the obviously disturbed Virginia Tech shooter, Seung-Hui Cho, slip through the cracks? How was he able to purchase weapons?

Let's turn to CNN's Brian Todd.

He's getting more information.

What are you learning -- Brian.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we know that while Seung- Hui Cho got past Virginia's safety net, he should not have been able to slip past the federal government's.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

TODD (voice-over): Under U.S. law, this man should never have been able to buy a handgun. The law says anyone deemed a danger to himself or to others because of mental illness is prohibited from buying a gun.

More than a year ago, a Virginia special Justice determined Seung-Hui Cho to be an imminent danger to himself as a result of mental illness.

That would have placed him in the federal government's background check system, called NIC.

REP. CAROLYN MCCARTHY (D), NEW YORK: Unfortunately, that information never got into the NIC system, so he was able to buy a gun.

TODD: Cho's information didn't get into the NIC system because Virginia officials didn't notify the feds of his mental status.

Why not?

Joe was never involuntarily committed to a mental institution, and in Virginia, that made the difference, allowing Cho to make the purchase.

ROBERT MCDONNELL, VIRGINIA ATTORNEY GENERAL: It was clearly authorized by state law. We're taking a good look at whether the federal law would have been an absolute disqualifier and they're -- but the gap clearly is there in the state and federal law.

TODD: Gap or no gap, every state is required to notify the feds when someone is deemed mentally ill so it can be seen on a federal background check.

Only around 20 states do it because, legal experts say, it costs money to train people and put the computers in place to share the information. Some states cite privacy reasons, as well.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

TODD: Of those states that do put mental status entries into the federal background check system, the ATF says, ironically, Virginia leads the way -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Are there other loopholes, as well, Brian?

TODD: Yes. Experts say even if Cho had been denied a gun at a licensed gun shop, he likely could have bought one at a gun show or maybe from some private seller. Many estimates say about half the guns sold in the U.S. each year are private sales.

BLITZER: Brian Todd reporting for us.

Brian, thank you.

He survived the campus massacre only to die days later in a car crash. The Virginia Tech freshman, Jeff Soriano, left the school the day after the shootings and returned to his family's home in Chesapeake, Virginia. He died three days later in a single car crash.

Soriano was a student in the engineering school, where most of the shootings took place. Our deepest condolences to his family.

Coming up, a tough sell for the defense secretary, Robert Gates. We're going to show you why he's in Russia right now and facing some stiff resistance to a controversial U.S. plan.

Plus, details of a dinner smack-down pitting Karl Rove against Sheryl Crow.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Our Carol Costello is monitoring some other stories coming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now -- Carol, what do you have?

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Incoming right now, Wolf, Washington has a new representative at the United Nations. Zalmay Khalilzad officially takes over as ambassador today. He was formerly the U.S. ambassador to Iraq and he replaces John Bolton. A spokesman says Khalilzad will focus on Iran, Lebanon, Sudan and U.N. reform. But his first task -- a mission to Kosovo. And that will start tomorrow.

In southeast Georgia, firefighters are using bulldozers to widen fire breaks in an effort to control a blaze that's been burning for a week now. Fifty-five thousand acres have burned so far. Eighteen homes have been destroyed. Some schools in the area now closed because of the smoke, we have been detected more than 300 miles away.

The cause of the fire?

A fallen power line.

And the bottom line on Wall Street, the Dow's winning streak comes to an end. After three straight record closes, the Dow lost more than 42 points today. The Nasdaq and the S&P also were down slightly.

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

BLITZER: Thank you, Carol, for that.

Coming up, the battle lines are drawn over Iraq.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REID: General Petraeus has told him that.

BASH: How has he said that?

REID: He has said the war can't be won militarily. He said that. And he said it. He's the commander on the ground there.

BASH: But certainly there's a difference between that...

REID: Are they critical of him?

BASH: ... and saying the war is lost, don't you think?

(END VIDEO TAPE)

BLITZER: We'll hear from the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, on his showdown with the White House. Also, the pop star Sheryl Crow in a showdown of her own with the White House political adviser, Karl Rove.

What made their worlds collide?

Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

Happening now, the defense secretary, Robert Gates, in Moscow, trying to sell Russian leaders on a U.S. plan to build a missile defense system in Eastern Europe. He's trying to sweeten the deal with offerings of data sharing and joint testing. But the Russians remain highly skeptical.

Also, embattled World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz fighting to keep his job, now hiring some high profile help -- the attorney, Robert Bennett. Wolfowitz is under fire for arranging a high paying job for a female companion. Bennett says his client acted in good faith.

And trustees for Social Security and Medicare are now saying the funds that back the programs will last about a year longer than previously thought, with Social Security running out of money in the year 2041 and Medicare going broke in 2019.

The reason?

Small changes in projected benefits and tax collections.

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

The battle over a time line for withdrawal from Iraq now approaching the final showdown.

The Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, saying Congress will pass legislation within days requiring U.S. troops to end their combat role in Iraq by next April, despite a fresh veto threat from the White House.

Harry Reid spoke with our Congressional correspondent, Dana Bash, about the showdown and his controversial assessment of the war.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

BASH: The phrase "the war is lost" really touched a nerve.

Do you stand by that -- that -- that comment?

REID: General Petraeus has said that only 20 percent of the war can be won militarily. He's the man on the ground there now. He said 80 percent of the war has to be won diplomatically, economically and politically. I agree with General Petraeus.

Now, that is clear and I certainly believe that.

BASH: But, sir, General Petraeus has not said the war is lost.

I just want to ask you again...

REID: General -- General Petraeus has said the war cannot be won militarily. He said that. And President Bush is doing nothing economically. He is doing nothing diplomatically. He is not doing even the minimal requested by the Iraq Study Group.

So I -- I stick with General Petraeus. I have no doubt that the war cannot be won militarily, and that's what I said last Thursday and I stick with that.

BASH: Arlen Specter, a Republican, but somebody who, in many ways, is like you, a critic of the president's Iraq policy. He said this. He said: "For men and women who are over in Iraq to have somebody of Senator Reid's stature say that the war is lost, it is just very, very demoralizing and not necessary."

Is there something to that, an 18- and 19-year-old person in the service in Iraq who is serving, risking their lives, in some cases losing their life, hearing somebody like you back in Washington saying that they're fighting for a lost cause?

REID: General Petraeus has told them that.

BASH: How has he said that?

REID: He said the war can't be won militarily. He said that. I mean he said it. He's the commander on the ground there.

BASH: But, sir, there's a difference...

REID: Are they critical of him?

BASH: ... between that and saying the war is lost, don't you think?

REID: Well, I -- as I said, maybe it's a choice of words. I mean General Petraeus has said the war cannot be won militarily.

Doesn't every soldier going there know that he's said that?

I think so.

BASH: You talked several times about General Petraeus. You know that he is here in town. He was at the White House today, sitting with the president in the Oval Office and the president said that he wants to make it clear that Washington should not be telling him, General Petraeus, a commander on the ground in Iraq, what to do, particularly, the president was talking about Democrats in Congress.

He also said that General Petraeus is going to come to the Hill and make it clear to you that there is progress going on in Iraq, that the so-called surge is working. Will you believe him when he says that?

REID: No, I don't believe him, because it's not happening. All you have to do is look at the facts.

The factors are this has been going on for three months. American deaths are at the highest they've been in two years. We have -- it's like a balloon.

Things have quieted down a little in Baghdad, but just a little bit. They've even moved up in the Kurdish area now. Have tremendous explosions up there, killing two dozen people today. The situation in Iraq is not getting better, and it won't until we change course.

BASH: You in the past have called President Bush a liar. You've called him a loser. And just today, just a few minutes ago, you said he is in a state of denial.

This is becoming personal, isn't it?

REID: No, not at all. I'm a trial lawyer. I've tried over 100 cases to juries. I have never had a case where I had held any ill will toward the opposing lawyer.

In this situation, I have is a job to do. I represent the people of the state of Nevada. I represent this country.

The president is part of the executive branch of government. I'm part of the legislative branch of government. And for his six years as president, he has not had to deal with us. This is a new experience for him, but the Constitution that I have right here in my pocket calls for us being equal to him.

BASH: But if I sat here, which I would never do, and said words like "loser" and "liar" to scribe you, or that were you in a state of denial, would you take it personally?

REID: If you lied to me, I would call you a liar. He lied to me. He lied to people in the state of Nevada. I don't back off that at all.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Let's get some reaction now from the White House.

Brett McGurk is the director for Iraq over at the National Security Council.

Mr. McGurk, thanks very much for coming in.

BRETT MCGURK, DIRECTOR FOR IRAQ, NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL: Thanks, Wolf. Glad to be here.

BLITZER: Well, those are tough words from the Senate majority leader. What's your response when he says that the president has lied to the American people? MCGURK: I listened to those comments. My main response to what I just heard Senator Reid say is the way he was characterizing General Petraeus' comments.

I just, Wolf, returned from Iraq last week. We got full briefings from General Petraeus, General Odierno, General Gaskin in the west, out in Falluja, about that they're seeing. And Senator Reid makes the point that the long-term solution is a political solution. We all agree with that, General Petraeus said that, and President Bush said that.

But General Petraeus has also testified and explained -- and he'll (ph) have the opportunity to speak with Harry Reid this week -- that you need a baseline of security to get that political solution in place. And what this strategy does is fundamentally different on the diplomatic line, on the economic line, on the security line, and on the political line, and it does two things. It provides space for the Iraqi political leaders to pursue reconciliation at the national and local level, and it also provided room to increase the capacity and effectiveness of the Iraqi security forces. And that's critical.

BLITZER: This is -- you heard Senator Reid, and in his speech earlier in the day over at the Wilson Center, he totally disagrees. He says the new strategy has been under way for a couple months already. He says American casualties are increasing, not decreasing. He says untold thousands of Iraqi civilians have died. Two million, he says, have fled the country as refugees over the past four years.

He says militias have not been disbanded, they're continuing to cause terror. And he goes on and on and on, saying that the Iraqis themselves are not doing what the United States clearly would like them to do.

MCGURK: Wolf, let's back up and look at where we are.

At the end of last year and in the fall we did a comprehensive reassessment of the situation and concluded that the strategy we had in place simply was not effective in post-Samarra, Iraq. Senator Reid seems to be addressing a situation mainly for his prescriptions for what to do in the pre-Samarra world.

President Bush has said, he said last week, we hope to substantially be reducing our troops at this time, and we thought we would be doing so. But post-Samarra, with the rise of sectarian violence and what was happening in the capital city, it was impossible to prosecute other missions. That included going after al Qaeda, that included training Iraqi security forces, that included advancing the political reconciliation process.

And the unanimous conclusion was we had to get the level of sectarian violence in Baghdad down, we had to get the effectiveness of the Iraqi security forces up, and we had to give breathing space for the Iraqi political leaders to pursue reconciliation. That's happening now.

Now, General Petraeus said yesterday the situation in Iraq is severely challenging, and there are disappointing days, such as the day we had last Wednesday with the suicide bombs in Baghdad. When the president, though, spoke to the American people on January 10th, he said even if the strategy works exactly as it is designed to work, we are still going to see days like we had last Wednesday.

Al Qaeda strategy is spectacular attacks to demoralize the American people, to wreck the political reconciliation process. And that is exactly what they're trying to do.

BLITZER: Listen to -- listen to this little clip from Democratic Congressman John Murtha. I interviewed him in the previous hour. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JOHN MURTHA (D), PENNSYLVANIA: We're going it redeploy sometime this year, and the president better start planning for it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Is he right?

MCGURK: Well, the decision on troop commitments in Iraq will be made, as they should be and as the president's always said, by the commanders on the ground in Iraq. And we got briefings on this, and when I was in Iraq last week and Secretary Gates got briefings on this, we're going look at a variety of factors, and that will include the effectiveness of the Iraqi security forces, their ability to independently handle operations. That will include what the enemy is doing, it will also include the level of progress on the political front.

Let me address one more thing that Senator Reid said. He keeps saying it's a political solution, not a military solution. And yet, the bill in the Senate cuts $243 million from key programs that are part of the strategy to advance political reconciliation. That includes building up local governance capacity, it includes our PRT efforts.

And one more thing, Wolf. He also says nothing is happening on the diplomatic front.

Next week, in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, there will be two ministerial-level conferences, one a neighbors conference, plus the P- 5, plus the G-8, one a conference with the U.N. in the lead and Iraq for a five-year program by which Iraq becomes a self-sustaining economy in exchange for financial commitments from the international community. These are things you have to take into account, give the strategy a fair shake.

And I would ask Senator Reid to work with us, stop the political charade, and let's get a bill that we can sign to get our troops in the field and our civilians in the field the resources they need to advance the strategy.

BLITZER: Brett McGurk is the director for Iraq at the National Security Council.

We're happy you're back safe and sound from Iraq and back at the White House. Thanks very much for coming in.

MCGURK: Thanks for having me, Wolf.

BLITZER: And still ahead here in THE SITUATION ROOM, heated words over global warming at the White House Correspondents Dinner Saturday night. Mary Snow is standing by. She'll tell us about the dustup between Karl Rove and some showbiz activists. That's coming up next.

Also, did a heated text message contribute to the accident that severely injured the New Jersey governor, Jon Corzine? Carol Costello is looking in to that story.

Stay with us. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: The worlds of politics and show business colliding in more ways than one at this weekend's White House Correspondents Dinner here in Washington. People are still talking about a heated confrontation between top presidential adviser Karl Rove, singer Sheryl Crow, and Hollywood insider Laurie David.

Let's go live to CNN's Mary Snow. She's in New York.

What prompted all of this, Mary?

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, first some context.

You could describe this annual dinner in D.C. as a sort of political prom. The president, politicians, journalists, celebrities all mingling. But when the issue of global warming came up, there were some unexpected fireworks.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SNOW (voice over): In one corner, rock star Sheryl Crow and global warming activist Laurie David. In the other, President Bush's most trusted political strategist, Karl Rove. Their worlds collided at the White House Correspondents Dinner, and when their words over global warming clashed, the political Web site "The Politico" captured the moment.

LAURIE DAVID, PRODUCER, "AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH": It was odd, because he got immediately hostile and very combative, and, you know, the conversation went downhill from there.

SNOW: David is the producer of "An Inconvenient Truth," featuring Al Gore. She and Crow detailed their conversation on "The Huffington Post" Web site, describing Rove as a spoiled child throwing a tantrum.

Their account, David and Crow were working to raise awareness about global warming and seized the opportunity to talk to Rove. They say things got testy when Crow touched his arm.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There was exchange to the extent of the two of them saying, "Hey, you work for us." Karl Rove saying, "No I work for the American people," and walking away.

SNOW: Crow then apparently said, "We are the American people." Fallout from the Rove row continues at the White House.

DANA PERINO, DEPUTY WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: And I just wish that they would channel some of that Hollywood energy into something constructive rather than baseless finger-pointing.

SNOW: And, the White House spokeswoman added...

PERINO: I think Karl Rove just wanted to have some fun on Saturday night, and I think he wasn't the only one.

SNOW: Sound familiar? They strike a similar cord to lyrics of a popular Sheryl Crow tune.

SHERYL CROW, SINGER (SINGING): All I want to do is have some fun. I've got a feeling I'm not the only one

SNOW: Team Crow and David aren't laughing about the matter.

CROW: I thought it was very disappointing, because you want to -- with leadership you want to be able to engage. Because we're all Americans here and we all have the same concerns. And to be shut down was -- it was very disappointing.

DAVID: Yes.

SNOW: At the dinner, Rove was a guest of "The New York Times". Crow a guest of Bloomberg News. And David and husband Larry sat with CNN.

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: I'm sure Hollywood sees it as the people versus the powerful, which is the way it was deliberately staged.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SNOW: And a moment of drama is continuing. A big topic on the Web. Today Sheryl Crow is being targeted. An idea she proposed to reduce toilet paper used to help the environment has now become fodder for ridicule -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Thank you very much.

Mary Snow reporting on that story.

Let's move on.

It's the sun like you've never seen it. NASA taking a high-tech three dimensional look at the sun.

Let's bring in our Internet reporter, Abbi Tatton.

Abbi, why are scientists looking at the sun now in 3D?

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, they hope these images will help them better understand the weather in space. Twin spacecraft that launch in October are now in position to beam the 3D images of the sun back to Earth, recording solar storms that can disrupt satellites and power grids on Earth, so scientists can figure out why they happen.

These images you're seeing right now in color are the regular 2D pictures. It you happen to be watching CNN right now in 3D glasses, take a look at this. This is a 3D version, a close-up of active regions on the sun.

These and many other images available at the NASA Web site. And there's also a special section on how to make some 3D glasses so you can properly appreciate what you're looking at -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thank you, Abbi, for that.

Let's go to New York. Lou Dobbs getting ready for his program that's beginning right at the top of the hour.

What are you working on, Lou?

LOU DOBBS, HOST, "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT": Wolf, thank you very much.

We're reporting tonight on the escalating confrontation between President Bush and Senate majority leader Harry Reid over the conduct over the war in Iraq. The showdown could reach a pivotal point this week.

We'll have live reports for you from the White House and Capitol Hill.

Also, rank-and-file Border Patrol agents have had a belly full of the Border Patrol chief, David Aguilar, voting a no confidence in him and rejecting the administration's amnesty agenda. Leaders of those agents unanimously passing a historic no-confidence resolution because they say Aguilar is failing to stand up for his own agents.

We'll have that report.

And the outspoken mayor of San Francisco, Gavin Newsom, is flaunting his contempt for this nation's immigration laws. Newsom refusing to allow anyone's on the city pay roll to help federal agents enforce immigration law.

We'll have that story and the likely consequences.

Please join us for all of that, all the day's news, and much more.

Wolf, back to you.

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

Up ahead here in THE SITUATION ROOM, allegations of a love affair may have distracted the driver only moments before the crash that critically injured New Jersey's governor.

And Jack Cafferty will be back with your e-mail. He wants to know why would a town where every household is required to be armed have two or three shooting deaths in 25 years?

We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: A love affair exposed? Could that have been the indirect cause of the crash that almost killed New Jersey's governor?

CNN's Carol Costello is watching this story. There's some surprising new twists, new allegations.

Carol, what's this all about?

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Oh, it's so strange, Wolf. You know, it's turning into a tawdry soap opera here in New Jersey.

Investigators are still trying to piece together who was at fault for a terrible crash on the Garden State Parkway involving Governor Jon Corzine and his security detail. And now ugly details of alleged adultery have come out.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COSTELLO (voice over): It was a horrendous crash, one that put the governor of New Jersey on a ventilator for a week. Today the crash investigation took an odd turn.

Investigators say they're now looking in to the mental state of the trooper who was driving the vehicle to determine whether e-mail exchanges could have contributed to the accident. "Was Trooper Robert Rasinski distracted by love?"

That's what a blogger, reportedly a police officer, wrote to a local New Jersey paper's Web site. He claims Trooper Rasinski had been having an affair with his wife and that he confronted him via e- mail just before the governor's car hit the guardrail.

"I did send him an e-mail minutes before the crash. I also spoke to him the prior Tuesday, and exchanged text messages on Wednesday and Thursday morning. I hope it didn't cause the crash, but no man in his right mind could have been thinking clearly with the affair exposed."

DAVID JONES, STATE TROOPERS FRATERNAL ASSOCIATION, NEW JERSEY: This is just, you know, scorned lovers' stuff.

COSTELLO: David Jones is president of the union that represents Trooper Rasinski. He says the implication the trooper read an e-mail or a text message while driving the governor at a high rate of speed is ludicrous.

Still, New Jersey State Police who are investigating the crash told us, "We are aware of the allegations and there is an internal investigation opened."

Investigators are also looking into allegations the trooper was driving 91 miles per hour, that he had been working more than 12 hours, and had driven 340 miles before the crash. Oh, and the governor was not wearing a seat belt.

As of now, no tickets or charges have been issued. The investigation continues.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COSTELLO: The best news coming out today, the governor has been moved out of intensive care. As for Trooper Rasinski, he was injured. He's at home, and according to the union boss, Rasinski doesn't own a Blackberry and he didn't even receive these e-mails until after the accident, when he got home from the hospital -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Carol. Thank you very much.

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

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, Kennesaw, Georgia, why would a town where every household is required to have a gun have just two or three shooting deaths over a period of 25 years?

Chris writes from Smyrna, Georgia, "I grew up in Kennesaw. I went to the state university there. I'll tell you that having to sign an affidavit to have a gun in your home when you buy a home in Kennesaw does tend to make you mention it to your friends, who then tell everyone else they know. And I think it's caused people in surrounding areas to think twice before committing a crime against a resident in town."

John writes, also from Georgia, "Kennesaw has become an affluent community full of upper middle class families looking to leave downtown Atlanta for better schools and safer streets. Putting this law into a formula for more guns equals less violence is a gross misuse of facts. The removal of guns in European countries has had the exact same affect of reducing crime in much more diverse and less affluent areas than the upper middle class haven of Kennesaw, Georgia."

Raleigh, North Carolina, Michael writes, "Three words I'm sure we're all familiar with: mutually assured destruction. The knowledge that there's 100 percent certainty that there will be someone nearby with the stopping power necessary to take out a criminal shooter would be, to me at least, a significant source of security and reassurance for law-abiding citizens, as well as an immense deterrent for the bad guys."

Susan in Michigan writes, "Jack, I visited some friends in Kennesaw last year. That was told to us then. What it does is it let's people know if you cross the line a bullet might be waiting for you. With all the violence going on, it's a good feeling to know that at least you have a chance to fight back. I'm not for guns, don't get me wrong, but it especially tells everyone at this point after Virginia Tech that it is so easy to be so vulnerable."

Em writes, "While it may seem like more guns are the reason for the lower crime in Kennesaw, I feel a more likely explanation is that Kennesaw is a thriving suburb where the standard of living has increased dramatically in the last 25 years. As a town becomes more wealthy, violent crime goes down."

And Chris writes from Udall, Kansas, "Even most crazy people will think twice before committing a crime against someone that might have a gun. Crazy doesn't always mean stupid."

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

BLITZER: All right, Jack. Thank you.

And still to come, the who's who of Washington. CNN's Jeanne Moos with the highs and the lows of a most unusual night out.

Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: It's an annual gathering of strange bedfellows, with a healthy dose of Hollywood thrown in to boot.

CNN's Jeanne Moos takes a most unusual look at the White House Correspondents Dinner.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): It's an event where all the strange bedfellows leave you craning your neck.

There's Condi. Wait, there's Larry. Helen Thomas here. Larry David there.

LARRY DAVID, "CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM": Oh, we've got good seats.

MOOS: And the biggest hubbub of all, the Sanjaya sighting. Even dead presidents were here.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Who the hell are you people?

MOOS: These people are the White House Correspondents Association, plus politicians, plus guests.

JAMES DENTON, ACTOR, "DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES": It's just nice to get out of Hollywood and come to a place where, you know, real important things happen. MOOS: The only important thing this night was deciding whether Rich Little bombed a little or a lot.

RICH LITTLE, COMEDIAN: You thought Colbert was bad.

MOOS: That would be last year's main attraction, whose performance bombed in the room but became a hit on YouTube and beyond, dissing the press and the president.

STEPHEN COLBERT, COMEDIAN: Because he stands for things. Not only for things, he stands on things, things like aircraft carriers.

MOOS: This year, the president of the Correspondents Association played it safe by choosing Rich Little, who opted to do impersonations.

For instance, Andy Rooney.

LITTLE: If your vacuum cleaner sucks, is that a good thing?

MOOS: One of the good things about last year was George Bush appearing with George Bush.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Nuclear proliferation.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Nukier proliberation (sic).

MOOS: But this year, on account of the shadow cast by the Virginia Tech shootings...

BUSH: I decided not to be funny.

MOOS: Some say Rich Little did likewise. Take his Arnold impression.

LITTLE: Do you know what I prefer to be called? President Arnold Schwarzenegger. That's what I want.

MOOS: "Vanity Fair" writer Christopher Hitchens called the event "... so lame and mediocre that it is beyond parody."

LITTLE: The event went terrific. I'm very happy it's over.

MOOS: It was a tough crowd, Little said. But the secretary of state and the first lady seemed amused, even when Little impersonated President Bush.

LITTLE: When this war-a-thon thing against all extremenistic fractions is concludified. Take a look. It the president laughing?

MOOS: Oh, he was. Though the biggest laughs came in the Letterman top ten most memorable Bush moments between the president spitting, bumping his head, getting his left and right wrong.

BUSH: The left hand now knows what the right hand is doing. MOOS: And there was Sanjaya marveling, and got to rub shoulders with the political elite.

SANJAYA MALAKAR, FMR. "AMERICAN IDOL" CONTESTANT: It was really a life-changing experience. I mean, I've never done anything like that.

MOOS: And while Sanjaya partied in Washington, he was parodied on "Saturday Night Live."

(VIDEO GAP) at least Rich Little didn't reduce anyone in his audience to tears.

Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Remember, we're here weekday afternoons from 4:00 to 6:00 p.m. Eastern. We're back in one hour at 7:00 p.m. Eastern. Lots more news coming up.

Until then, thanks very much for joining us.

I'm Wolf Blitzer, right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

"LOU DOBBS TONIGHT" starts right now.

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