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THE SITUATION ROOM

Kansas Complains About Lack of Equipment; Fort Dix Attack; World Bank Panel's Verdict; Mysterious Infections in Iraq; Melamine Found Again

Aired May 8, 2007 - 1900   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks very much, Lou.
Happening now, the Midwest slammed by killer tornadoes, now facing damaging floods. Is it getting the federal help it needs? The governor of Kansas doesn't think so. We're going to hear from the White House this hour.

They're accused of conspiring to kill as many American troops as possible right in the middle of New Jersey. Were Islamic radicals targeting a training base, plotting to kill American soldiers?

And from Hillary Clinton's southern drawl to John McCain's vow to follow Osama bin Laden into the, quote, "gates of hell", I'll ask the comedian Bill Maher about the candidates and the race for the White House.

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

Parts of the Midwest under water this evening -- the same storm system that spun off last weekend's killer tornadoes now bringing massive flooding. In the midst of all of that, as Kansas tries to dig out of its tornado rubble, a dispute over disaster relief between the governor of Kansas and the White House.

Let's go to CNN's Brian Todd. He's watching this story for us. What's the latest on this dispute, Brian?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this dispute is now about the governor of Kansas wanting to make a point about the National Guard and her state being short on resources. Sticking to that point but being very careful about how she says it. It is also about the White House determined not to be accused of a sluggish Katrina-like response to this disaster.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TODD (voice-over): The White House takes the Kansas governor to task for her claims that resources sent to Iraq have slowed the recovery effort for tornado victims in her state. Press secretary Tony Snow says White House Homeland Security Adviser Fran Townsend asked Governor Kathleen Sebelius three times today if Sebelius had the resources she needed.

TONY SNOW, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Fran said that it was her understanding that we've met every request the governor has made and have moved resources proactively into Kansas into the region to anticipate requests.

TODD: The dispute began Monday when Sebelius, a Democrat, complained that much of the equipment they could be using in Greensburg had been sent with Kansas National Guard units to Iraq.

GOV. KATHLEEN SEBELIUS (D), KANSAS: We're missing front loaders and dump trucks. We're missing back hoes. We're missing bulldozers. We're missing Humvees to move people around. We're missing Blackhawk helicopters that could do aerial surveillance and move heavy and awkward equipment.

TODD: Snow ticked off what he says Kansas did have access to in state and elsewhere after the storm hit.

SNOW: There are, in fact, enormous resources available to the state if they do need them. In terms of 83,000 National Guard units, hundreds of trucks, thousands of lift vehicles, helicopters.

TODD: Snow says Governor Sebelius should have found whatever gaps there were in the response and gone to the feds and local governments as well as outside vendors for help.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: Contacted by CNN, Governor Sebelius said she appreciates the help from the White House but she's not backing down -- Wolf.

BLITZER: What is the National Guard saying about the situation, Brian, on the ground?

TODD: I spoke with a Kansas National Guard official a short time ago. He said right now they're doing just fine. They have front end loaders, heavy trucks, helicopters, all the equipment they need in Greensburg, but he does say if another storm happens in the coming days, they'll be stretched thin.

BLITZER: All right, Brian, thank you very much. Brian Todd watching this story.

A town in ruins and the federal government accused of dropping the ball diverting vital resources to Iraq. I raised those complaints from Kansas with Fran Townsend, the president's homeland security adviser.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

FRANCES TOWNSEND, W.H. HOMELAND SECURITY ADVISER: I talked to Lieutenant General Blum of the National Guard Bureau at the Pentagon. We've made clear to the governor, if she's got needs, we'll meet those needs with National Guard resources, but I would also point out the National Guard is not the only tool at her disposal. Through the emergency management assistance compacts we can move resources between the states. And so we have police and firemen, there's equipment that we can move. She also has 53 additional -- 5,300 additional Guard members at her disposal in Kansas. BLITZER: She also said to me yesterday that she would like to be able to go to some other National Guard units in neighboring states, but they don't have the equipment either. They're strapped because their equipment is in Iraq as well.

TOWNSEND: Well, that's not exactly right, Wolf. She can get equipment from surrounding National Guard units and, in fact, her (UNINTELLIGIBLE) General Bunting has already called around and said do you have equipment in case I need it and he's been told yes. In the long term, the president shares the concern about reequipping the National Guard and has made an unprecedented investment commitment of $26 billion over six years to increase the capability and capacity in terms of equipment of the National Guard.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: And here's the statement that we just received from the governor of Kansas, Kathleen Sebelius. She says this.

I have said for nearly two years and will continue to say that we have a looming crisis on our hands when it comes to National Guard equipment in Iraq and our needs here at home. The equipment shortage will likely slow long-term efforts to recover and rebuild in Greensburg -- that statement coming in from the governor of Kansas.

Satellite pictures, by the way of Greensburg, drive home the scope of the tornado devastation. Take a look at our touch table. This is the town before the storm. You can see some of the homes, other buildings. And this is after the tornado. Check this out -- lots of blank space.

Let's take a closer look at 12 city blocks -- the before and the after. Take a look at this. Zooming in even more, the satellite image before the tornado and the devastation after -- horrendous, horrendous situation in Greensburg, Kansas.

The flooding in Kansas is only adding to the storm misery there and in other parts of the Central Plains. Thousands of people have been forced to flee rising waters. Rain soaked Oklahoma is under flash flood warnings as a new line of thunderstorms pushed water levels even higher. Missouri officials are preparing for new flooding expected to hit tomorrow or Thursday. Some levees along the Missouri River already have given way. The tiny town of Big Lake in northwest Missouri is set to be completely underwater.

Other news we're following, a huge story, an alleged plot to kill maybe hundreds of American troops -- the target -- a U.S. military base in New Jersey. Federal authorities say they foiled a terror plot by alleged Islamic radicals who trained with firearms in the mountains of Pennsylvania.

Let's go straight to our justice correspondent Kelli Arena. She's watching this story, part of our CNN security watch. What do we know right now, Kelli?

KELLI ARENA, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, officials say that the men were determined to kill as many U.S. soldiers as they could. One knew of them knew Fort Dix very well. He used to deliver pizzas there. Now these men are described as Islamic extremists. And the FBI has been watching them for 16 months. Five of the men are accused of surveilling targets, collecting weapons and training to shoot them, and a sixth man is charged with trying to help the others get the weapons.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

J.P. WEIS, FBI: Today we dodged a bullet. In fact, when you look at the type of weapons that this group was trying to purchase, we may have dodged a lot of bullets. We had a group that was forming a platoon to take on an army. They identified their target, they did their reconnaissance, they had maps and they were in the process of buying weapons.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ARENA: Investigators say that three of the men were in the United States illegally, but the group has no connection to any known terrorist group. They were allegedly inspired by jihadist videos that they watched on the Internet, Wolf.

BLITZER: What do we know about the process of them getting caught? How were they caught?

ARENA: Well officials say that one of the defendants actually brought a video of the group to a video store to be copied. Now investigators say that the men were shooting assault weapons on this tape and calling for jihad. So the store notified the local cops, who in turn called the FBI and an investigation was opened.

BLITZER: Kelli Arena watching this story for us, a major mobilization and training center dating back to World War I. Fort Dix now serves as the U.S. Army Reserve and National Guard station. As such, still one of the busiest mobilization stations in the country. It's trained and mobilized 98,000 military personal since 9/11. Troops are deployed to Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantanamo Bay and Cuba and many other places around the world.

We're watching this story for you. Let's go to New York and Jack Cafferty. He's got "The Cafferty File". This is pretty disturbing stuff, if in fact this plot were really, really about to be implemented.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, it's terrifying. The only comfort is, as stupid as these guys sound like they were, they might not have been able to find Fort Dix. I mean they took a video of themselves yelling jihad and dressed up in combat gear and firing assault weapons in to be copied to a commercial video copy place?

BLITZER: Pretty stupid.

CAFFERTY: Yes. I mean you got parts on order that are lost in transit. It looks like President Bush is standing by his man again. This time the guy is Paul Wolfowitz, the president of the World Bank. An internal bank panel has now found Wolfowitz guilty of violating staff rules in arranging a promotion and pay raise for his girlfriend. But White House spokesman Tony Snow says the president supports Wolfowitz, although he's not getting personally involved in it.

Snow said this -- "I think it's proper to let the process work itself out rather than try to insinuate ourselves in it." That's a quote. Say what? Didn't the administration insinuate itself in it by nominating Wolfowitz to run the World Bank? Wolfowitz has been given a few days to respond to this report. Ultimately, the 24-member World Bank board will have the final say on what happens to him.

And judging by some of the initial responses, our advice might be rent, don't buy, because you ain't going to be there long. Many European officials want Wolfowitz to resign. They're worried that the controversy could hamper the World Bank's ability to raise billions of dollars to help poor nations.

The Dutch finance minister says the institution needs a president with quote, "a good reputation and integrity". And Bloomberg reports Germany's World Bank director is under orders from his government to press for Wolfowitz ouster. So here is the question.

Why would President Bush continue to support Paul Wolfowitz as head of the World Bank when the bank has found him guilty of ethics violations? E-mail CaffertyFile@CNN.com or go to CNN.com/CaffertyFile -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thank you, Jack. We'll get back to you soon.

Coming up, the satirist Bill Maher on politics with an accent.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't think as a Democrat, you can win the White House unless you have a southern drawl or in some way sound like you just fell off a turnip truck.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Bill Maher shares his take on everything from Hillary Clinton's drawl to royal advice for President Bush.

Plus infectious violence. U.S. troops facing a growing danger on the battlefield in Iraq. Are attackers trying something new?

And is the fish you eat a threat? Like killer pet food that was recalled.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: A dramatic strike in southern Iraq today. A parked car bomb explodes near a prominent Shiite mosque. Sixteen civilians are dead. Dozens more injured. Here in the United States, the American public is divided about the next moves in Iraq after President Bush's veto of a war funding bill. Our new CNN Opinion Research Corporation poll shows 57 percent, 57 percent of Americans support a new Iraq war- funding bill that includes a timetable for withdrawal. Slightly more Americans, 61 percent say they support another option, a war-funding bill that includes benchmarks for the Iraqi government to meet but no withdrawal timetable.

Bombs, some laced with poison, are taking a huge toll among U.S. troops long after the explosions and far from the battlefield. Let's go to our Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr -- Barbara.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, military doctors have a new worry about badly wounded troops.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

STARR (voice-over): Hundreds of wounded troops from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are facing a growing threat -- dangerous and sometimes deadly infections.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're seeing more of it now than we did at the beginning of the war.

STARR: As body armor improves, more troops are surviving the massive injuries caused by IEDs. But those wounds are becoming a breeding ground for drug-resistant infections. Researchers say the infections are often so bad troops may require more surgery or, in some cases, even amputation of arms or legs.

COL. GLENN WORTMANN, WALTER REED ARMY MEDICAL CENTER: Because they're surviving with these tremendous wounds that allows an environment for these bacteria to flourish. And, therefore, I think our infections are worse than you would see on the civilian side.

STARR: Infections in hospitals are nothing new, but one of the bacteria now showing up, acinetobacter, is resistant to almost all antibiotics.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I can tell you here between 15 and about 20 percent of patients that come in the door are colonized or infected with the organism.

STARR: Researchers also say some infections occur because of natural bacteria in the soil. Wounds are contaminated when there is an IED attack. There are also cases where IEDs have been deliberately filled with chemicals and animal waste, a deadly mix for open wounds.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

STARR: And it all may get worse. Researchers say the bombs are getting bigger, the injuries are becoming more severe, and the wounds are becoming more quickly contaminated -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Barbara, thank you for that story.

The investigation tracking the chemical culprit linked to the massive pet food recall of recent weeks is now expanding to the human food supply, specifically fish.

Let's go to CNN's Mary Snow. She's in New York. Mary, what happened?

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, there's a new twist. Health officials are zeroing in on farmed fish intended for humans to eat. They say those fish were fed with meal contaminated with melamine, that's a chemical usually found in pesticides and plastics. What's unclear at this point is whether any of this fish made its way into the food supply. That is something now being looked at. FDA officials say at this point they don't believe this poses any significant health to humans but of course it is raising a lot of questions.

BLITZER: One of the questions raising the tainted pet food apparently came from China. What about the fish that we're now worried about?

SNOW: Well the tainted food that's being fed to the fish is also being traced to China, meaning that melamine. And this is the same thing that was in the case of the tainted pet food that killed and sickened cats and dogs. That triggered an investigation back in March. This probe just recently expanded to human food when it was learned that melamine was contained in scraps being fed to hogs and poultry.

This is the third instance now where this is being traced. Federal health officials say that they had been looking at wheat gluten and rice protein concentrate that they now say was mislabeled. They say what it really was, was wheat flour containing this melamine.

BLITZER: Mary Snow, we'll watch this story with you.

Still ahead tonight right here in THE SITUATION ROOM, Bill Clinton explaining how his life helped prepare him to witness death.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I hung around hospitals. I was watching surgery by the time I was 12 and not getting sick at the sight of blood.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: An exclusive interview with the former president on the deal he made in the war against Aids. You're going to want to see this.

And when politicians attack. A brawl seen around the world. Yes, these are supposed lawmakers. We'll tell you what's going on.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Carol Costello is monitoring some stories including a fire out in Los Angeles. What do we know about this, Carol?

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, Wolf, we've been watching this for a few hours now. Seems it's really picked up steam, we're sad to say. This is in Los Angeles, this Griffith Park. It's a sprawling park. We believe about 100 acres are on fire. This is a big brush fire.

One hundred and twenty firefighters are fighting this thing, some from the air. They're dropping water out of helicopters on to this. Authorities have already evacuated the Autry Museum, two golf facilities and also they've evacuated the Los Angeles Zoo, so it's pretty serious. They do have a suspect in custody. He's in the hospital now suffering from burns. Don't know who he is or why he would start this fire. We'll continue to keep an eye on it.

Also in California, police say they've nabbed a college student suspected of killing a man in a fight over a video game. He is 19- year-old Jonquel Brooks, a criminology major at Fresno State University. The shooting at an apartment complex catering to Fresno State students left two other men wounded. Brooks was taken into custody after a manhunt and intense negotiations with police, his parents and an attorney.

Texas Governor Rick Perry says it is time to move the issue of cervical cancer vaccines from the political arena to the court of public opinion. Perry issued an executive order mandating the vaccines for all sixth grade girls. Well state lawmakers responded with a bill to block that order and Perry says he acknowledges their disdain for his vaccine program, and he will not veto their action, which means, of course, his program will not go forward.

And talk about your political differences. Take a look at this on the wide screen. Verbal arguments gave way to an all-out brawl on the floor of Taiwan's legislature today. Rival lawmakers came out with fists swinging. They climbed on each other's shoulders. They jostled for position on the dais today. Members of Taiwan's two main parties came to blows over an electoral reform bill. Police were there, but they did not intervene, Wolf. They just let them fight it out. I'd kind of like to see that here in the United States.

BLITZER: They take their politics seriously over there, Carol.

COSTELLO: And physically.

BLITZER: Yes. That's tough politics. Thanks.

Just ahead, what does a rapper have in common with President Bush?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't think Jay-Z has to look over his shoulder because George Bush is coming up in the rear view mirror.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: The comedian Bill Maher makes an unlikely comparison. He'll be here to tell us what he means.

And a woman hopes to be the first president of her nation but loses. Might what happened in France serve as a warning to Senator Hillary Clinton?

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

Happening now, a Texas judge has dismissed an immigration fraud indictment against Luis Posada Carriles. He's the 79-year-old Cuban exile militant accused of bombings in Cuba and elsewhere back in the 1990s. Posada can now return to Miami. The judge says the government engaged in, quote, "fraud, deceit and trickery" and called government tactics, and I'm quoting once again, "grossly shocking".

One good meal deserves another. Right now the Queen of England hosting a dinner for President and Mrs. Bush one night after they hosted her at the White House. This dinner tonight is over at the British Embassy here in Washington. The Queen and her husband will fly back to England after the dinner.

And could this be the tomb of the Jewish king who ruled the holy land when Jesus was born? Some archaeologists believe it is. Today they announced it's the tomb of Herod the Great. Other experts say they need more evidence.

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

We're going to be speaking with Bill Maher in just a moment, but first there are some interesting correlations being made today about the French presidential election and the U.S. election coming up here next year.

Let's go back to Carol in New York. Carol, what's this all about?

COSTELLO: Well, Wolf, it's about riding on a winner's coattails and using that other guy's win to deflect criticism from yourself.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COSTELLO (voice-over): Who knew a French politician could so inspire an American candidate for president?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All right, Rudy. Rudy...

COSTELLO: But there was Rudy Giuliani reveling in a tabloid comparison to Nicolas Sarkozy.

RUDY GIULIANI (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I was particularly interested in this column in the "New York Post." A French Rudy? You see this?

(APPLAUSE)

GIULIANI: I thought it was a good omen.

COSTELLO: Bet you didn't know Giuliani was following the French race for president so closely, but he was.

GIULIANI: I kept my support for him very quiet.

COSTELLO: And when a law and order plain talking conservative candidate wins, French or not, some say Giuliani could not resist.

CHRIS SMITH, "NEW YORK" MAGAZINE: I mean, (A), he's eager to talk about anything other than abortion. Associating himself with a winner, everybody loves a winner.

COSTELLO: But can what happened in the French election mimic our own race for president? There are similarities. A conservative strong on security kind of guy running against a liberal woman. Sound familiar? And if you're a competitive conservative candidate, could you resist pointing out that the liberal woman lost?

HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Hi, everybody.

COSTELLO: And some politicos say the joke may be on the Democrats, pointing out the new French president had been expected to lose.

DAVID GERGEN, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL ADVISER: But when it came down to the one on one, people took a look at the two candidates and said, you know, we sort of like the conservative better. And he won a handy election. So that's quite interesting. I would think it would give some pause to the Democrats.

COSTELLO: But the Clinton camp doesn't appear to be worried telling us, other than the fact that they're both women, they don't have much in common.

Still Royal's failed campaign is sure to provide fodder for those who want American voters to mirror the French.

(END VIDEOTAPE) COSTELLO (on camera): In fact the French candidate Royal wanted to visit Senator Clinton during her run for president of France. As a symbolic gesture, two women running for president for first time in their countries, but Senator Clinton declined to meet Royal because her views were at odds with the senator's. Wolf?

BLITZER: Sarkozy did come and meet with President Bush. He was happy to see him. All right, Carol, thanks very much.

The candidates are off and running, elbowing one another and stumbling a lot as they race for the White House.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Let's turn to a veteran of a late night TV talk show circuit for his take on the presidential campaign and everything else.

Joining us now, Bill Maher, the host of HBO's "Real Time With Bill Mahr."

Bill thanks for coming in.

BILL MAHER, HOST, "REAL TIME WITH BILL MAHER": Hey, Wolf. How you doing?

BLITZER: I should say HBO, a sister network of ours.

What do you think of this comparison, the election in France, where you had a liberal woman running against a conservative man, and the implications for Hillary Clinton and Rudy Giuliani?

MAHER: Well, I don't think there are any implications at all. I know the right wing thinks everything is about us, but it's not.

It was the French election, with French issues and French candidates. Not everything is about America. And if he is a French Rudy, I hope he's a more effective French Rudy than the Rudy we have.

BLITZER: Hillary Clinton caused some laughs the other day when she said this -- I'm going to play this little clip. I want your reaction. Listen to Hillary Clinton.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I lived about a third of my life in Arkansas. And I lived about a third of my life in Illinois. And I've lived about a third of my life on the East Coast. And I think America is ready for a multilingual president.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right, Bill. Here is the question: Which accent do you like the most?

MAHER: Which what? BLITZER: Which accent? Hillary Clinton accents -- her southern accent, her New York accent, her Chicago accent. Which one do you like the most?

MAHER: I love a southern accent. I'm a sucker for sweet-talking southern belle. And if anyone fits that description, it's Hillary Clinton.

BLITZER: So, you would recommend to her she put on that southern drawl a little bit more often?

MAHER: Yes. First of all, I don't think as a Democrat you can win the White House unless you have a southern drawl, or in some way sound like you just fell off a turnip truck.

BLITZER: If you look at Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, they were both former southern governors and they got elected as Democratic presidents. So you make a good point.

I want to play this other clip from John McCain at the last Republican presidential debate out at the Reagan library in California. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: On the subject of Osama bin Laden, he is responsible for the deaths of thousands of innocent Americans, he is now orchestrating other attacks on the United States of America.

We will do whatever is necessary. We will track him down. We will capture -- we will bring him to justice, and I will follow him to the gates of hell.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right.

MAHER: Ooh.

BLITZER: What do you think about McCain's campaign right now?

MAHER: Oh, it just sent a chill up my spine, Wolf, that he would follow him to the gates of hell. That's what we need, more tough talk. Except that, you know, we didn't really follow him to the gates of hell. We didn't even follow him to where he lives, did we?

I mean, we went off to Iraq. We're basically fighting them where they aren't.

I know Bush likes to think that he's on the offensive, and guys like Giuliani and McCain say, that's what we've got to do, is stay on the offensive. But we're not really on the offensive.

We diverted to the war to some place where the people that attacked us aren't. And now, of course, we've opened up another war -- another front in the war on terror and created more terrorists there.

But if we really wanted to get the people who attacked us, we knew where they were. They are still there today. But we don't seem to want any part of that.

BLITZER: Along the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan, in that tribal area around there. That is what you are alluding to?

MAHER: Yes. That's right.

BLITZER: Yes. People have a good sense of where they are, but it's a rugged terrain over there, as you well know.

MAHER: I know. But aren't we the tough guys who were going to follow them into the gates of hell?

I mean, this is John McCain, right, who said that he was able to walk down the streets of Baghdad just the way you and I can on a Sunday in Indiana? You know, with just Kevlar and 101st Airborne overhead. Just like any other Sunday in Indiana. Or maybe that was the other guy who said that.

BLITZER: Yes, that was Mike Pence, who was with him in Baghdad at that time, a congressman from Indiana. But McCain made a similar kind of point.

Let's talk about Tommy Thompson, the former secretary of Health and Human Services, the former governor of Wisconsin. He caused a stir at that Republican debate by suggesting that private employers who are opposed to gay rights could fire gay workers.

And later he came on your show, Friday night, "Real Time," and you asked him about that. And this is what he said. I'll play the clip.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TOMMY THOMPSON (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: My hearing aid was not working, and I did not hear it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right. What do you think? What did you think about that whole exchange, Tommy Thompson, what he originally said, and what he told you?

MAHER: Well, as you well know, Wolf, I do ask the questions of the guests, but I never listen to the answers. I mean, HBO pays me the same whether I listen to their answers or if I don't, so, it's BS, BS, my line. So I -- that didn't -- I don't even need a hearing aid.

No, you know, actually, we were talking about that after the show. I didn't know whether he was serious or not. It's so hard to tell when a politician is making a joke, because they are generally so bad at doing that. So does Tommy Thompson really have a hearing aid?

BLITZER: Well, maybe he was referring to...

MAHER: Do you know that?

BLITZER: I don't know if he does or he does not, but, you know, when you have to listen to questions sometimes in the ear piece that they give you -- and you have an ear piece on right now so you can hear me. Maybe he was referring to that.

MAHER: Oh, right.

BLITZER: I'm not sure if he has a hearing aid. But he did come out -- and you made a good point on your show. He did come out and say flatly, I made a mistake. I totally oppose any kind of firing of anyone based on their sexual preference or their...

MAHER: Yes. Right.

BLITZER: ... or any discrimination along those lines. And he acknowledged that, and did point out accurately that he has a good track record on those issues, as well.

MAHER: Maybe he was waiting for the translation, like at the U.N. from Chris Matthews. But, you know, there were 10 of those guys on the stage there at the Republican debate in Simi Valley. And, of course, in the Republican Party, their idea of diversity is they let an Italian in.

But three of them raised their hand when the question was, "Do you not believe in evolution?" So, you know, given that this is who we are dealing with on the Republican side, I think Tommy Thompson is light years ahead of some of the people who are bringing up the rear in that party.

BLITZER: By the way, I'm told by one of my producers that he does have a real hearing aid. So he has -- that he does have a hearing aid.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Coming up, more of my interview, more "Real Time with Bill Maher." He sounds off on Queen Elizabeth II and more. Also, Bill Clinton on Bill Clinton.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAM J. CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT: One of the most successful thing is did as president, I don't know if I or more sadly, Al Gore, made any votes out of it, was the reinvent government initiative.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: The former president talks about his proudest presidential moments, plus his important new project, our exclusive interview with Bill Clinton. That's coming up. Dr. Sanjay Gupta spoke with him today. And life's short. Get a divorce. That's the exact text that one billboard that's raising a lot of controversy. Jeanne Moos with that story. Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: From the candidates to the queen, more now of my interview with the comedian Bill Maher, host of HBO's "Real Time with Bill Maher."

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Let's talk a little bit about Queen Elizabeth II. I assume that's going to be a subject you are going to be dealing with on your show Friday night. Is it?

MAHER: Well, as a comedy show, Wolf, we do like to talk about queens whenever they are in the news.

BLITZER: And Queen Elizabeth II certainly in the news this week. She's pretty popular right now. But you and I remember after the death of Princess Diana, she wasn't necessarily all that popular then.

MAHER: But of course she doesn't need to be popular, you know. She's not running for anything. She's got the gig whether they love her or they hate her. Those walls at Buckingham Palace are high.

BLITZER: Yes. She had a lovely time here in Washington, and all of us were very happy she was here.

I'm going to leave you on this note, because I know you have some thoughts on this subject. I don't know if you can see it here, but we're going to show you the president, that moment when he was dancing at the White House. You've seen it many times.

What do you think about the president -- it was for a good cause, obviously, but he really -- he really let himself go.

All right. You want to comment on that, Bill?

MAHER: Well, of course, I can't see it sitting here in my office in Hollywood, but I think I do remember what you are talking about.

You know, I don't think Jay-Z has to look over his shoulder because George Bush is coming up in the rearview mirror, but, you know, presidents, world leaders are often from time to time thrust into these kinds of situations where they have to make a fool of themselves for some reason. And I don't know why that is.

I don't -- I don't remember seeing a lot of other world leaders have to do that. There's something in the American character that wants to see our leaders humiliated from time to time, debased, especially when they are running.

I mean, they are always flipping hamburgers, or, you know, they constantly are getting out of a limousine and walking 10 feet, and then milking a cow or something. You know, I just hope that when we go to the polls next time, that we understand that we conducted a grand experiment the last eight years with George Bush. We elected a guy we wanted to have a beer with, a guy who was one of us, and maybe we need somebody who's better than us, you know?

"Elite" is not a bad word. Let's find an elite candidate, not one of us.

BLITZER: Bill Maher's problem, "Real Time with Bill Maher," airs on our sister network, HBO, Friday nights, 11:00 p.m. Eastern.

Bill, thanks for joining us today.

MAHER: Always a pleasure, Wolf.

BLITZER: Thank you.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: And still ahead still ahead, our exclusive interview with former President Bill Clinton. You'll find out who some of his earliest role models were and how it is making all of the difference in the world right now for him and a lot of people. Sanjay Gupta spoke with him today.

Plus President Bush is standing by his man as that man takes flak over issues regarding his girlfriend. Jack Cafferty wants to know what you think about the work and the romance controversy involving World Bank president Paul Wolfowitz.

And why is one law firm trying to drum up business by telling people to get a divorce? Jeanne Moos has this "Moost Unusual" story. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Today Bill Clinton announced he's helped negotiate a deal with drug companies to lower the price of high cost AIDS drugs for millions of people around the world. Our chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta sat down with the former president for an exclusive interview.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: A lot of people watching think AIDS is a death sentence still. How effective are these pills?

CLINTON: Very.

We know that -- from our experience in the United States, that, if we can get people on medication when they need it, even if they are very young, and they have proper nutrition, and live a healthy lifestyle, they can have virtually a normal lifespan.

Of course, they will have to change so as not to infect other people. But they can have a normal lifespan. And that's what's so tragic about all these people still dying in poor countries around the world.

GUPTA: A lot of this has been focused on the cost of these medications. How do you determine a good price point? I mean, the per capita income in a lot of these places is still around $700 to $800 a year. This is $350 or so. Can they afford it?

CLINTON: Well, it's still a lot of money, but it's easier to take. The three-in-one pill is so much easier to take, that we wanted to get down the price as low as we could. And I think a lot of middle-income countries like Brazil, Thailand, Mexico, a lot of those countries will buy this pill.

And, it will -- because we cut the price by about -- this is about a 50 percent price cut for them. And most of the pharmaceutical companies that have been selling this did sell it for less in Sub- Saharan Africa, but, still, it's a big price cut there, too. So, more people will be able to use it. But keep in mind, we still can sell the regular first-line drugs at about $130 a person a year. So that's much, much less expensive.

GUPTA: What in your life has prepared you for this, for working with AIDS, doing this sort of work that you're doing now?

CLINTON: Well, I have always been interested in health care, ever since I was a little boy.

Even my mother was a nurse-anesthetist. And a lot of my adult role models were doctors when I was a kid. I hung around hospitals. I was watching surgery by the time I was 12 and not getting sick at the sight of blood.

And, when I was governor of a state that was both small, but had a limited per capita income, I devoted an enormous amount of time to thinking about efficiency. Keep in mind, one of the most successful things I did as president -- I don't know that I or, more sadly, Al Gore, ever made any votes out of it, but one of the best things we did was the reinventing government initiative.

I mean, government was smaller when I took office than it had been since the last months of Dwight Eisenhower's presidency. The Social Security Administration won an award for being the most efficient consumer-oriented business in America in serving people. We totally redid the veterans health care system.

I was used to trying to organize and direct under-funded markets for what I would call public goods. That's what the Empowerment Zone Program was all about, the new markets initiative, trying to get people to invest in poor areas.

I think, very often, the lives of people who don't have enough investment or health care or education not only suffer from too little investment money, but a total lack of organization, a lack of effective systems.

So, I figured, since I didn't have the money of the Gates Foundation, what I could do is organize these markets for public goods, and try to then attract investment because they were organized and you could get a high return for the dollar you put in.

And I have just been doing it ever since I got in public service.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: The deal, by the way, that former President Clinton helped negotiate will cut prices for AIDS drugs in 66 developing countries. That could help nearly 500,000 people. Jack Cafferty is joining us in New York. That's a pretty important project he's undertaking.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: It is. And I just was wondering, you don't suppose that kind of stuff accrues to the benefit of his wife who is trying to become the Democratic nominee, do you?

BLITZER: I'm sure it does. He says he'll be a special envoy.

CAFFERTY: You look at something like that and you say, hey, if we vote for her, we get him back. So you know, that's -- but no, it's good work he's doing. And necessary and good for him.

The question this hour is why would President Bush continue to support Paul Wolfowitz as head of the World Bank when the bank has found him guilty of ethics violations?

Terry in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, "The president is consistent. He stays the course when supporting the war and his friends. I don't see him admitting a mistake in either case. As for Mr. Wolfowitz, enough already. Go home."

Frank in Colorado, "If guilt mattered to George Bush, the White House would be a ghost town."

Michael in Atlanta, "Why would the president support Wolfowitz? Because the president of this country could not for the life of him ever admit that he's once made a mistake. Gonzales, Libby, Rumsfeld, Brown? Please, the question you ask is so obviously absurd."

Well, you don't have to get upset.

Nick in Mount Carmel, Pennsylvania, "Bush has his own agenda, which I don't think even he fully understands. Clearly ethics aren't part of it."

Jay says, "I believe Bush is standing by Wolfowitz because it is only an ethics violation. With an operation as large scale as the World Bank, I would say it is luck that a bigger mistake hasn't been made."

Michael in Redwood City, California, "Wolfowitz was a co- conspirator in the lead up to the Iraq War. He knows what went on behind the scenes. You don't want to anger someone who knows where the bodies are buried, so to speak, because when they get mad, they write books."

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

BLITZER: See you tomorrow, Jack. Thank you. Let's go to Paula in New York to see what is coming up right at the top of the hour.

Paula?

PAULA ZAHN, CNN HOST: Wolf, thanks. We're going to show you children's TV like you've never seen before. The cartoon-like characters chant anti-American slogans and it gets a whole lot worse than that. You've got to see it to believe it.

Also, would you mind if a mosque moved next door? We'll go to a neighborhood where people are saying, not in our backyard, and debate it with a bunch of really smart folks. That's all "Out in the Open" tonight coming up at the top of the hour. Wolf?

BLITZER: All right, Paula, thank you.

Still ahead here in THE SITUATION ROOM, gutsy advertising or over the line? This billboard has Chicago talking. CNN's Jeanne Moos has the story. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: The message is simple, life's short, get a divorce. CNN's Jeanne Moos reports on a "Moost Unusual" billboard.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): You know how they say ....

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You may now kiss the bride.

MOOS: Kiss her good-bye if you believe this billboard. Life's short, get a divorce. Bosoms galore and washboard abs await you. The all female Chicago law firm that put up the ad views it this way.

CORRI FETMAN, DIVORCE ATTORNEY: Gutsy, unique, outcome oriented.

MOOS: Passers-by chose somewhat different words.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Disgusting.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think it's ludicrous.

MOOS: And no one seems more irritated than other attorneys.

RAOUL FELDER, DIVORCE ATTORNEY: This looks like they're advertising an escort service. It doesn't look like for a law firm.

MOOS: The eye-catching cleavage graces an area known as the Viagra triangle for its trendy upscale singles bars.

FETMAN: Typically law firm advertising is lawyers in suits. We wanted something that was going to provide hope and fantasy, hope gets you through the darkest times.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think it's saying give up on your marriage if you can find something a little more exciting.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's encouraging divorce?

FETMAN: We don't cause divorce. People cause divorce. Lawyers don't.

MOOS: Just as guns don't kill people. As for the killer abs ...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: These muscles I like, very handsome.

MOOS: The abs belong to the personal trainer of the lawyer behind the billboard.

(on camera): Life's short, get a divorce.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes! Life is too short to waste your time.

FELDER: It looks like it is a Victoria's Secret ad.

MOOS (voice-over): his from a divorce attorney who surrounds himself with slogans.

(on camera): Didn't you hand out pens -- you still hand out.

FELDER: Yes.

MOOS: Do you have them now?

FELDER: It's a joke. It says, "Sue someone you love." It's a joke. I don't have a pen with one of the things with a nude person on it where you turn it upside down and the clothes fall off.

MOOS: (voice-over) The billboard could be worse. A few years back a British divorce lawyer put up these ads in London rest rooms. They got tons of publicity, which is exactly what we're giving this.

These two aren't ditching anybody. They've been married going on 47 years.

(on camera): Your slogan would be, life's short, stick together?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Right.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Life's short. Fix it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Take this ring.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: With this ring, I thee wed.

MOOS: That's wed, not shed. Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE) BLITZER: Enough said. Let's take a look at some of the hot shots this hour. In Mongolia, a woman riding a bike wears a scarf to shield her from strong winds. In India, a worker carries a basket of pebbles. In Switzerland, a Sotheby's employee models a tiara for auction. And in Paris, outgoing French President Jacques Chirac waves to the crowd. That's him, waving from the limousine. Jacques Chirac.

We'll see you tomorrow here in THE SITUATION ROOM. Let's go to Paula in New York.

Paula?

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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