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Case Against Ramos, Compean Could Crumble

Aired December 3, 2007 - 19:00   ET


LOU DOBBS, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, thank you.
Tonight the case against former border patrol officers Ramos and Compean could be crumbling as an appellate court today says it seems the government overreacted in its prosecution of the two men. We'll have that story.

And two congressmen instrumental in the fight to have this miscarriage of justice overturned join us here tonight. And another liberal establishment newspaper the "Los Angeles Times" making unfounded, outrageous accusations against me and this network. We'll let them know just how wrong they are. And by the way, this newspaper wants to be a partner with this network. All of that, all the day's news and much more straight ahead here tonight.

ANNOUNCER: This is LOU DOBBS TONIGHT: news, debate, and opinion for Monday, December 3rd. Live from New York, Lou Dobbs.

DOBBS: Good evening, everybody. New information tonight that Iran stopped its nuclear weapons program in 2003. The national intelligence estimate contradicts Bush administration assertions that Tehran was moving ahead with development of a nuclear weapon. The revelations could undermine U.S. efforts to convince other nations that Iran poses a serious global threat and that tighter sanctions are in order.

Ed Henry has our report from the White House -- Ed.

ED HENRY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Lou, this new report is a blow to the White House's potential efforts to either build a case for new sanctions or even war with Iran.


HENRY (voice-over): A new Bush administration report finds Iran actually halted its nuclear weapons program four years ago, raising questions about why President Bush has been so aggressive about declaring Tehran an imminent threat.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If you're interested in avoiding World War III, it seems like you ought to be interested in preventing them from having the knowledge necessary to make a nuclear weapon. I take the threat of Iran with a nuclear weapon very seriously.

HENRY: National security adviser Stephen Hadley denied the president was hyping the threat. But told reporters that aides recently went to Mr. Bush to warn him to stand down because of the new intelligence assessment. Later however Hadley backtracked.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He was not told to change what he says about it. What he was told was we have new information, it is interesting. It is going to take us some time to understand it.

HENRY: Despite the fluidity of the intelligence, the president and Vice President Cheney have continued to make bold charges that Iran has been pushing for nuclear weapons.

RICHARD B. CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Our country and the entire international community cannot stand by as a terrorist-supporting state fulfills its most aggressive ambitions.

HENRY: The new national intelligence estimate does declare Iran is still enriching uranium and could restart a nuclear weapons program, which is why the White House is still talking tough.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If we want to avoid a situation where we either have to accept Iran on a road to a nuclear weapon with a path to a nuclear weapon or the possibility of having to use force to stop it with all the connotations of World War III, then we need to step up the diplomacy, step up the pressure to get...


HENRY: Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid said the report shows the intelligence was wrong again, just as it was in the run-up to the war in Iraq and he said it is time for the White House to refocus even more on diplomacy and less on rhetoric -- Lou.

DOBBS: Well rhetoric no shortage of it in the fair city in which you are laboring. But the reality is that this new NIE, what gives us any reason to be more confident in it than any of the previous intelligence estimates?

HENRY: A very good question. The intelligence has bounced around so many times, who knows if this time it is for real. It may be a year or two years from now, we may hear just the opposite from the intelligence community. What Democratic Senator Jay Rockefeller, though said tonight is he believes it is a good sign, at least that the intelligence community appears to be more independent than it was in the run-up to the war in Iraq in that it is now saying this report something different from what the president has been saying.

And that maybe that is showing that this -- these really are the facts and maybe this is showing there is more independence in the intelligence community. Obviously, time will tell, but that's one early sign he sees -- Lou.

DOBBS: Well there is also the issue that the NIE is also contradicting previous NIEs on this very same issue not only the administration and this president.

HENRY: That's right, 2005, the intelligence community said just the opposite as it is saying now and that is certainly why a lot of people may be wondering who do you really believe -- Lou.

DOBBS: Well at this point I think it would be prudent for all of us to be extremely skeptical of any intelligence and any sort of conclusion from any American intelligence agency until at lest one of them demonstrates a greater connection to the reality that exists. Thank you very much, Ed Henry from Washington, D.C.

Today's intelligence estimate shows that Iran's nuclear weapons program faces significant technical challenges, but the report does say even with those challenges Iran could have a nuclear weapon within a few years. Jamie McIntyre has our report from the Pentagon.


JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SR. PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The new national intelligence estimate that Iran halted its weapons program in the fall of 2003 underscores an argument Bush administration critics have made for years. Iran does respond to international pressure and there's no reason to threaten an attack.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What it means is that this is not a nuclear bomb crisis. It's a nuclear diplomacy crisis.

MCINTYRE: The report's key judgments also conclude Iran is less determined to develop nuclear weapons than was judged back in 2005 and more vulnerable to influence on the issue. Iran's decisions it says are guided by a cost benefit approach rather than a rush to a weapon irrespective of the political, economic and military costs.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I would never take the military option off the table.

MCINTYRE: As recently as last month, Pentagon planning has been based on the previous intelligence estimate from 2005. It concluded Iran was determined to develop nuclear weapons and could produce enough fissile material by the end of this decade.

In stark contrast, the 2007 report says Iran is keeping open the option of developing nuclear weapons but that producing enough fissile material by late 2009 is very unlikely. One big problem the report notes is that Iran can't get sophisticated centrifuges to work in its facility in Bushehr, which Tehran insists is for peaceful power generation, but could also provide fissile material for a future bomb.


MCINTYRE: One big question raised by nuclear experts and others, Lou, is why now. Why is the U.S. just now revealing that four years ago Iran may have stopped its nuclear program? Well the answer according to senior intelligence officials who briefed anonymously here in Washington today is that the best intelligence on this just came in over the last several months. Initially some skeptics in the intelligence community didn't even believe it -- Lou.

DOBBS: Well, I would say that if ever there were a town in which one should be skeptical of just about everything, it would be the town in which you and Ed Henry are working. Thanks very much, Jamie McIntyre from the Pentagon.

President Bush today again blasting Congress for dragging its feet on legislation, as the White House put it. Senate majority leader -- Senator Harry Reid shooting back at the White House saying the delay is the president's fault and the level of rhetoric just continues to rise and rise in Washington D.C.

Jessica Yellin reports now from Capitol Hill.


JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Congress is back and the fight is on.

BUSH: The end of 2007 is approaching fast and the new Congress has little to show for it.

SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MAJORITY LEADER: President Bush is unreasonable. The Republicans I think feel that way also.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MINORITY LEADER: It's time to stop the political show. It's time to focus for once on the fundamentals.

YELLIN: They're brawling over a long to-do list with just three weeks to go until Congress leaves for the year. The president says their first priority should be new funding for the war.

BUSH: Unless Congress acts, the Army will run out of operations and maintenance money in February. Unless Congress acts, the Marine Corps will run out of similar funds in March.

YELLIN: But Democrats don't agree on the urgency.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The president is not leveling with the American people.

YELLIN: They insist the situation is not dire. And they say the president will get new money by the time it is needed early next year, though not without changes to his Iraq policy.


YELLIN: Another priority, a fix to the tax code. Now both sides agree this must get done otherwise 21 million middle class Americans will get hit with higher taxes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Should have done this months ago, months ago. We now have a genuine crisis.

YELLIN: But Congress has yet to decide how or whether to pay for this fix.


YELLIN: And the clock is ticking. The longer they delay, the longer early filers will have to wait for refunds, even if Congress passes this at the end of this session, the Treasury Department says 15.5 million refunds will be delayed that is worth $39 billion dollars. Oh and Congress has 11 government spending bills to get through. Now Republicans charge this backlog is proof Democrats have bungled their leadership.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I just really think this has been a disappointing first session.

YELLIN: But Democrats counter Republicans are to blame for the gridlock.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This isn't normal obstruction. This is obstruction on steroids.


YELLIN: And also on their to-do list, Lou, there is the government terrorist surveillance program, the energy bill, the farm bill, and those 11 government spending bills, all to get done before December 22 -- Lou.

DOBBS: Well with all the cute rhetoric emanating from both brilliant leaders on all sides in Washington -- that is from 1600 Pennsylvania over to Capitol Hill with Speaker Pelosi and Majority Leader Reid, what is the reality? Is there some excuse for this Democratic leadership to have waited this long to get the peoples' business done?

YELLIN: Well I'll tell you even as the president today is threatening Congress or challenging Congress to finish their business, at the same time a member of his White House has threatened that the president is considering a veto of one of the pieces of legislation Congress could get done before the end of the year, the energy bill, so there really is this ongoing standoff...

DOBBS: Well God knows we don't need an energy bill in this country. Everything is working brilliantly, but that really isn't what I was getting to, Jessica. I mean that's just politics and a threatened veto. Is there some reason that this Senate majority leader and this Speaker of the House cannot move legislation through their respective Houses?

YELLIN: Well their argument is that are -- they move it through the House and then it gets vetoed or they move it without a big enough majority for it to be -- for them to override the veto. They say they need a larger majority in both bodies to get more done quickly.

DOBBS: Oh, so government doesn't work now. I mean this is unbelievable. The rhetoric that we get to report emanating from these just colossal iconic political leaders that we have absconded in Washington from the president to the speaker to the Senate majority leader. Jessica, you must be thrilled each evening as you go home to have the opportunity to report on them. Thank you very much, Jessica Yellin from Capitol Hill.

In Russia, President Vladimir Putin won a landslide victory for his ruling party. No surprise there. His ruling party doing very well, but observers and Russian opposition groups condemn the election as unfair. The White House tonight is urging Russia and officials to investigate those claims. What do you suppose the odds are of that and Putin's victory will likely raise tensions between Russia and the U.N. The U.S. and Russia have major recent disagreements over Iraq, the Pentagon's proposed missile defense shield among other little minor issues.

And in Venezuela anti-American President Hugo Chavez suffered a stunning surprising defeat in a referendum that was designed to extend his hold on power. Venezuela celebrated in the streets after weeks of bitter political battles and battles with police in the streets. The controversial referendum would have allowed Chavez to become president for life, giving him the ability to create a socialist government, a permanent socialist government in the oil-rich state. Chavez saying he was humbled by the entire episode.

Coming up here next, the government's conviction of agents' Ramos and Compean could be somewhat shakier today. We'll tell you about that. Casey Wian reporting on an appellate court hearing from New Orleans -- Casey.

CASEY WIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Lou, a federal appeals court judge today said he believes prosecutors overreacted in the case that sent former border patrol agents Ramos and Compean to prison. We'll explain why their supporters now believe the agents may finally receive some justice -- Lou.

DOBBS: Thanks. Looking forward to that, Casey.

Also Washington may finally recognize the crisis facing America's middle class, but will our government do anything to fix it? We'll have that special report.

And confronting questions about faith, presidential candidate Mitt Romney addressing the topic head on this week. We'll have a report.

And the newspaper of the liberal West Coast establishment, the "Los Angeles Times" have some outrageous criticism of CNN and me, what their so-called media critic called a corrupt news network. Well it is -- does work out as an acronym, but that's about it. I'll let the good Tim Rutten know what I think of him and just exactly where he went really wrong a little later here. Stay with us. I can't wait to have that opportunity.

We're coming right back. Stay with us.


DOBBS: Tonight we can report significant new developments in the case of imprisoned former border patrol agents Ignacio Ramos and Jose Compean. A federal appellate court today heard oral arguments in the case. A case that we called here from the outset an outrageous miscarriage of justice and the majority of those judges today were critical and skeptical of the government's prosecution of the agents as they questioned the government.

As Casey Wian reports now from New Orleans, supporters of Ramos and Compean firmly believe those two agents should receive a new trial.


WIAN (voice-over): At a hearing of the Fifth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in New Orleans, supporters of imprisoned border patrol agents Ignacio Ramos and Jose Compean finally heard encouraging words. Appellate Judge Grady Jolly declared it does seem to me like the government overreacted here, speaking of prosecutors decision to charge the agents under a federal law requiring a ten-year mandatory sentence for using a gun to commit a crime. The agents were convicted and sentenced to 11 and 12 years in prison for wounding an illegal alien drug smuggler on the Texas border in 2005.

DAVID BOTSFORD, RAMOS' APPELATE ATTORNEY: I think it's difficult for anybody not to feel that there was overreaction, but whether or not overreaction by the government justifies a new trial, that's up to the court. There are discernible legal issues here.

WIAN: Issues including the efforts by prosecutors to hide Osvaldo Aldrete Davila's drug smuggling history from the jury that convicted the agents. Davila claimed he was unarmed and that he didn't know the packages in the van he was driving contained 743 pounds of marijuana. Attorneys for the agents argue Davila perjured himself during the trial. Appellate Judge Patrick Higginbotham stated the government's claim that Davila was an inexperienced low-level drug mule quote, "Defy common sense in the real world."

PATTY COMPEAN, JOSE COMPEAN'S WIFE: The judges are really pounding on the attorney general (UNINTELLIGIBLE), so that's great news.

WIAN: In fact, prosecutors knew Davila allegedly continued to smuggle marijuana while he was under U.S. government immunity from prosecution to testify against the border patrol agents.

MONICA RAMOS, IGNACIO RAMOS' WIFE: It's plain the see that my husband did not receive a fair trial.

T.J. BONNER, PRES., NATL BORDER PATROL COUNCIL: I was extremely encouraged by the fact that they focused on those questions and made very supportive statements indicating that they will overturn the convictions of agents Ramos and Compean.

WIAN: Supporters were also encouraged by U.S. Attorney Mark Stelmach's admission that Davila quote, "told some lies to prosecutors". U.S. Attorney Johnny Sutton, whose office prosecuted the agents and gave the drug smuggler immunity and a border crossing card attended the hearing but refused to speak with reporters. Sutton released a statement saying "some in the media and on the Internet have tried to portray agents Compean and Ramos as heroes but that narrative is false. The actions of Compean and Ramos in shooting an unarmed fleeing suspect destroying evidence and engaging in a cover-up are serious crimes."

But Compean's attorney sees the case differently.

BOB BASKETT, JOSE COMPEAN'S ATTORNEY: I was a police officer having to do my duty under the cloud that this case has raised I would be reluctant to act. Sometimes it might cost myself my life or fellow officers, something like that, so the line needs to be drawn and maybe this case will do it.

WIAN: A ruling on the motion for a new trial is expected in six to ten weeks.


WIAN: Judge Jolly also stated that he believes the agents would not have been charged with any crime if they had properly reported the shooting and that Lou, is exactly what supporters of Ramos and Compean have been saying all along.

DOBBS: This is outrageous and the repetition of the statement then to these agents fired at an unarmed fleeing suspect; suspect they knew perfectly well that he was driving that vehicle. The reality is that that is the very issue that's in contention and the Justice Department decided to take the word of this illegal alien drug smuggler who they knew at the time of that trial had in fact been arrested again for transporting drugs.

WIAN: Absolutely. Not only did they take the word of the drug smuggler over the word of the trained law enforcement officers, they prevented the jury from hearing details as we reported of the drug smuggler's extensive past history of smuggling drugs and evidence that could have undermined his credibility and shown that he perjured himself on the stand, Lou, so that's the basis or one of the many basis for this appeal.

DOBBS: You've been reporting on this story from the outset. We've been calling for these agents to receive justice. We have said point blank, even before we knew what was going on with this illegal alien drug smuggler that it was an outrageous prosecution. But at this juncture, why in the world should it take as much as ten weeks for the appellate court to act. I mean these men have been in prison for almost a year. It is outrageous. Can't they move -- these men should be free right now in my opinion awaiting the disposition on this case.

WIAN: We don't know for sure that it's going take that long for the appellate court to act. That is what attorneys who have experience with this court say is their past experience. That it is expected to take somewhere between six and ten weeks. Judging by the harsh criticism that they had for the government's arguments today, it could happen much sooner, Lou. There is just no way to tell right now.

DOBBS: Well I must say these judges have given everyone who has been following this case and who are concerned about Ramos and Compean and their families and the state of American justice in this country given all of us some hope that there can be a resolution that is fair and just. Casey, thank you very much. Casey Wian reporting tonight from New Orleans. We'll have more on this trial. I'll be talking with two congressmen who have been fighting to free these agents here later.

Let's turn now to tonight's poll question. Do you believe former border patrol agents Ramos and Compean should be released immediately pending a new trial? Yes or no. We'd love to hear your thoughts on this. Cast your vote at We'll have the results here later as always.

Time now for some of your thoughts; Bobbi in Illinois said, "Wouldn't it be great if Ramos and Compean were home for Christmas as free men? We hope justice will finally prevail for these brave men."

And from Nevada, Bob, "Lou, could someone please tell that idiot ACLU attorney that as an American citizen I'm happy to be burdened with proving my citizenship to any employer who asks for it. Who needs three months? It will take me five minutes to pull out my birth certificate. P.S. If you read this, don't bother sending me your book. I was the first in line to buy it." Well we'll send you something anyway.

And J.P. in New York, "I would ask the ACLU just what part of rule of law does illegal alien fall under."

We'll have more of your thoughts coming up here later in the broadcast. Each of you whose e-mail is read here receives a copy of my book, "Independents Day: Awakening the American Spirit" available for purchase for your entire family, all your friends and your entire neighborhood at a bookstore near you.

Coming up next, increasingly ugly between Senator Clinton and Senator Obama. It feels right, doesn't it? She says he's short of experience and long on ambition. We'll tell you what he says about her. It's just great national politics, isn't it?

And the federal government finally waking up to the financial crisis that is facing our middle class. Where however is the help? We'll have a special report.

And later, one of the country's most liberal newspapers, the "Los Angeles Times" accusing CNN of using the illegal immigration crisis to increase my ratings. Well that media critic -- was a media critic, but he's really an activist. He just doesn't have the guts to declare himself. I'll set him straight and the record straight with him next.

Stay with us.


DOBBS: A troubling new report concluding that the very federal agency that is supposed to be protecting you is actually putting you at risk. A scathing report compiled by an advisory committee of the Food and Drug Administration's own science board. That report concluding that the FDA simply does not have the money or the scientists that it needs to protect you from a flood of toxic toys, dangerous medicine and unsafe food. The chairman of the committee reporting this country's food safety is a quote, "state of crisis", something we've been reporting to you for quite some time here.

There are new accusations and indications tonight that this country is heading toward recession. And as Christine Romans reports, that news could have a disastrous effect on this nation's middle class.


CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Bank repossessions last month up 35 percent; in the past year gas prices up 34 percent; home heating up 38 percent; tuition rising more than 6 percent; food up 4.5 percent; 47 million are without health insurance. In Washington a growing realization of what some are calling a war on America's middle class. Democratic Senator Ted Kennedy called it the new economic reality.

SEN. EDWARD KENNEDY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: The state of our economy in terms of working families has put working families in a good deal of fear.

ROMANS: Fear, he says, as too many struggle with credit card debt, watching their high-risk mortgages balloon out of control, and wondering what they'll do if their children become ill or their jobs are sent overseas.

The value of their biggest asset, their home, is falling. Housing expert Robert Shiller.

ROBERT SHILLER, YALE UNIVERSITY: Historic evidence suggest that we could be in for a phase of years of declining home prices.

ROMANS: As the Federal Reserve chairman put it, "uncertainty surrounding the outlook is even greater than usual." Economist Mark Zandi.

MARK ZANDI, MOODY'SECONOMY.COM: My view is I think the economy is contracting. If we have a few more months of what we got in October and November, it will be deemed a recession, we're right there.

ROMANS: A recent report by Demos, an advocacy group for the middle class, says two out of three middle class families are on shaky financial ground, more than half have no net financial assets whatsoever. And a quarter is at risk of slipping out of the middle class although altogether. At the same time, wages are stagnant or up just slightly. It's a well established trend.

According to the Bipartisan Economic Mobility Project, inflation adjusted wages for men in their 30s have fallen 12 percent over the past 30 years.

(END VIDEOTAPE) ROMANS: Now corporate profits have remained strong amid all this and a weak dollar has helped export for some companies, but there is some concern that companies will start to cut back on hiring to control costs if the domestic economy continues to slow. Already, Lou, discount retailers have been reporting for weeks that their customers who are living paycheck to paycheck are already absolutely strapped.

DOBBS: Well and this administration, until this announcement this week has been focused on a 75 to $100 billion super fund for money center banks as a response to the mortgage crisis. Now trying to make some sense but good lord knows how long it is going to take Secretary Paulison and his economic counterparts in this administration to come up with a solution. The idea that the gentleman from Moody's would be talking about a recession when we're coming off a quarter in which we experience 3.9 percent GDP growth, somebody needs to do some fine tuning on the definition of recession.

ROMANS: In the next quarter, they're looking for barely any growth if anything at all some of these economists so they're worried not about what's already happened but what's going happen next.

DOBBS: And Ted Kennedy, my goodness.

ROMANS: Lou he sounded like you today. I listened to him on the floor of the Senate where he stood there with his posters. He went through all of these numbers from all kinds of different sources, and he sounded like you on the war on the middle class. He's really concerned about working families and what they're facing.

DOBBS: Well and to the senator's credit, he has been worried about working people in the country for a long time. But focusing on the middle class is something new to the gentleman and I welcome him aboard because the middle class is what makes this country work, working people. They have been strapped here for years now. I was being somewhat factious about 3.9 percent GDP growth. The reality is that American families have been hitting some awfully tough pressures over the course of the past four or five years now. We're moving towards a result. But as you can see and I hope that everyone watching this broadcast tonight noticed is we saw in that report of yours, the experts offering up their blathering pontifications on the quality of the state of this economy, the quality of the future of this economy. They obviously are at sea and do not understand what is happening around us.

ROMANS: Let me tell you what the folks at demos, that middle class think tank I was telling you about, what they're concerned about that people are getting into the middle class and slipping out too easily. It's not a safe harbor anymore that you get there and you can move along and that's what a lot of folks have been really studying is, is it a place that you can stay once you get there?

DOBBS: What I hope is that this government, I'm not hopeful of this, but I hope nonetheless given the Bush administration's track record, that they will focus on the people of this country, rather than the institutions and those elites that lead those institutions, which seem to be George W. Bush's good buddies, cronies, and fellow elitists that deserve a good smack across the face for leading the country in the direction they have economically. Thank you very much, Christine Romans. I appreciate it.

Up next here, the two leading democratic presidential candidates, well they're just having a hissy fit with each other a month before the Iowa caucuses. We'll have that for you.

And republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, well he's going to tell us all about Mormonism.

And I have a few choice words of my own, nothing to do with faith, all about fact on an article in the "Los Angeles Times," that liberal establishment organ and its columnists, its media critic. There's a media critic. Imagine that and his unfounded scoreless attacks on me. Can't let that lie. We'll be right back with a little response for the gentleman. He's no gentleman. He's a media critic. Stay with us. We'll be right back.


DOBBS: "The Los Angeles Times" this weekend published a personal, elitist, out-of-touch column by a hack liberal advocate posing as a media critic. The headline on the "L.A. Times" column read, "CNN: Corrupt News Network." And its author, Tim Rutten, obviously apoplectic that CNN actually brought up the issue of illegal immigration in a presidential debate. Imagine that. We offended that little liberal lily.

Not only was Rutten apoplectic that presidential candidates would actually have to deal with the issue of illegal immigration, but Rutten's tortured mind crushed his own sense of reason and managed to conclude that CNN focused on illegal immigration to create a larger audience for me.

Did Rutten notice I was not involved in that debate? The candidates get a little nervous if I'm in the same building.

Rutten cited a Pew survey poll that claimed that Americans just don't care about the issue of illegal immigration. That may surprise you, but not elitist Rutten. Hack Rutten neglected to mention, however, that 65 percent of Republican voters in the very same Pew survey that he reported on said that immigration is very important to their presidential vote. And guess what? The vituperative media critic neglected to point out to his readers that in the most recent "New York Times"-CBS Poll 86 percent of Iowa Republicans and 62 percent of New Hampshire Republicans consider illegal immigration either a very serious or somewhat serious problem for the nation.

Last month -- Mr. Rutten, please pay attention, these are called facts -- a media critic doesn't have to deal with them often; I understand you're in alien territory here -- last month, a "Wall Street Journal"-NBC poll showed that 81 percent of its respondents said finding a way to reduce illegal immigration is a major important element of change needed in this country. You with me, Mr. Rutten? And the most recent CNN poll shows 61 percent of all respondents believe illegal immigration will be extremely or very important to their vote for president. That's just about the same level of importance as these survey respondents ascribed to gasoline prices, taxes and poverty.

Rutten, you either either don't know how to read a survey, a poll, or you have no interest in the facts. Or you're just another elitist partisan, and that explains why the "L.A. Times" continues to lose readers. You're a lousy media critic -- we all knew that -- but now you've stepped into advocacy and you're even worse at that.

And you don't even have the guts to come on this broadcast and discuss your corrupt reasoning and partisan activism disguised as media criticism.

Too bad. We would have loved to have discussed the issues with you. But you're not really interested in reality or truth. You're a media critic, of sorts. But more activist, I think we can establish rather clearly.

And just a little footnote, folks: "The Los Angeles Times" has joined with CNN to host two important presidential debates. will also be joining in the Republican debate on January 30th, the Democratic debate on January 31st, coming just days before super Tuesday, when 21 states will hold their primaries and caucuses. And we are delighted to welcome Tim Rutten and all of his friends at "The L.A. Times" into the debate. You can imagine what a powerful, powerful contribution such a fine media critic as Tim Rutten will make to the political process. Ah, it is really heartwarming.

Coming up next, the political infighting in Iowa escalating. The race is getting closer. We'll have that special report.

And the dangers of giving legal driver's licenses to illegal aliens. Well some states are figuring that out that it's not just a great idea. We'll have that story and a great deal more.

Stay with us. We're coming right back.


DOBBS: Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney preparing to make the speech of his life this Thursday. Romney will be speaking on faith in America, trying to answer voter concerns about his Mormon faith. The planned speech drawing media comparisons to 1960 when John F. Kennedy confronted questions about Vatican influence on a Catholic president.

Well, we're one month away from the Iowa caucuses and politics there are about to become a bit more unsettled and a lot more interesting. A new CNN - rather a new "USA Today" Gallup poll shows the leading candidates of both parties are losing ground; Clinton dropping 11 points, Giuliani losing nine points. The tightening race among democrats have them trading punches with just a month to go. Candy Crowley has the report.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) JOHN EDWARDS (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You can feel the caucus is coming because it's getting cold. We know where we are.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: One month out from the caucuses, Iowa is beginning to see the beginning of winter and the suggestion of a changing political dynamic.

BARACK OBAMA (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It's amazing how you go from being DOA to being a genius in about three weeks.

CROWLEY: He was never dead on arrival in Iowa and while front runner overstates the case for what's essentially a three way tie, Obama, Clinton, Edwards; Obama is atop the state polls now. It gives him mojo in this final month and threatens her aura of invincibility.

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: So you decide which makes more sense, to entrust our country to someone who is ready on day one to make the decisions and the changes we need or to put America in the hands of someone with little national or international experience that started running for president as soon as he arrived in the United States senate?

CROWLEY: He's the front-runner and the target.

OBAMA: I think what people need to focus on is that all these accusations that are starting to come out seem to correspond to shifts in political fortune.

CROWLEY: While Obama and Clinton go at it, Edwards often Clinton's roughest critic is counter programming going positive.

JOHN EDWARDS (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Voters are going be focused on who's ready to be president, who's ready to bring the change this country needs to fight for that change.

CROWLEY: Still working the living rooms and diners of Iowa and New Hampshire is the second tier; Richardson, Biden, Dodd, hoping for a miracle or more realistically, a surprise showing, big enough to propel them into New Hampshire.

CLINTON: It's close, it's tight. It's going be a race to the finish line.

CROWLEY: After 11 months of campaigning, the beginning is near.


CROWLEY: Now Lou, tis the season here in Iowa for not a single word to go unresponded to. The Obama campaign has set up an e-mail address so their supporters can write them if anything negative about Obama comes through the email or the snail mail and in fact, both Obama and Clinton have set up websites for instant responses. Lou.

DOBBS: All I can say is good grief. This is what American politics has wrought. CROWLEY: Well, I tell you, over the weekend, there was an entire exchange when Barack Obama said he's not one of those people that thought about being president for years and the Clinton campaign put out a press release and cited some passage in a book that said well when Obama was in the third grade, he wrote a paper about how he wanted to be president. So there's been some interesting exchanges.

DOBBS: Well I just want to make it clear. In the third grade, I was hall monitor and I want that very clear. Who cares about the third grade for crying out loud? This country is losing its collective mind when it comes to national politics. You probably noticed that though Candy. I won't put words in your mouth but you may have noticed that. Thank you very much.

CROWLEY: It's interesting.

DOBBS: It's interesting. I like that. Thanks very much. And as you say, things are getting close. We're now a month away. Candy Crowley, thank you very much.

Coming up at the top of the hour, "OUT IN THE OPEN" and that means Rick Sanchez. Rick.

RICK SANCHEZ, CNN ANCHOR: Hey Lou. We're at the Orange Bowl. This is where the Dolphins have played. This is where the Miami Hurricanes have played and this is where Sean Taylor became a super star in his own right before he was murdered. This is an unbelievable story that we're following not only here in south Florida but really all over the country. First of all, the details, we're being told now by police that the four suspects, Lou one of these guys was 17 years old, 17 years old, Eric Rivera is his name and they're saying right now, police are intimating that he may have actually been the trigger man, that he may have been the guy who had the gun when they went in there supposedly to rob, not to murder but it turned out that way. And by Florida law, by the way, if there's a murder and you were in there to rob, it doesn't matter. They're still going be charged with murder all four of them most likely. So this is a very serious case.

But then there's something else that's going on, Lou. And this is a discussion you may have seen in some of the Sunday talk shows and some of the shows on some of the sports shows as well. It has to do with whether athletes in the United States are now being targeted or are they inviting the targeting because of their life style, because of the way they live their lives, because they stay out at clubs until the wee hours of the night, because they have four or five kids out of wedlock. I mean it's an interesting question. We want to know what you think. Are athletes being targeted or are they inviting the crime? Just go to We'd like to hear from you. And there is a bevy of information on this story tonight and by the way, at the funeral today, I went there, Jesse Jackson, Andy Garcia, O.J. Simpson showed up Lou. A lot of people here. Some 2,000 to 3,000 people attending that thing.

DOBBS: Rick, thank you very much.

A reminder now to vote in our poll. The question tonight is do you believe former border patrol agents Ramos and Compean should be released immediately pending a new trial? We'd love to hear from you, yes or no. Cast your vote at We'll have the results here in just a few minutes.

Up next, lawmakers in New Mexico outraged that their state is handing out driver's licenses to illegal aliens.

And a break in the case of the imprisoned border patrol agents Ramos and Compean? We'll find out. I'll be joined by two of the congressmen among the agents' biggest supporters.

Stay with us. We're coming right back with that.


DOBBS: More now on the case of Ignacio Ramos and Jose Compean, two former border patrol agents prosecuted in what I and lots of other people think is an outrageous miscarriage of justice. Former Texas judge, Texan Ted Poe, Congressman from Texas filing a friends of the court brief in today's appeal for those two imprisoned border patrol agents. Another strong supporter, Congressman Walter Jones from North Carolina joining us. Gentlemen, good to have you with us. All right. Let me ask you first Congressman Poe, if based on what you heard from the questions by these appellate judges if you are encouraged?

REP. TED POE (R), TEXAS: Very encouraging. Especially the judges went straight to the issue. The U.S. attorney's office tried to make this drug dealer, this informant a choir boy. He's not a choir boy. He's a smuggler. And the judges thought that the jury should have heard about that. And that jury should have known all along that this drug smuggler was habitually bringing drugs into the country and used that to judge his credibility as a witness. So that was very encouraging comments by the judges in this case.

DOBBS: And Congressman Jones, I mean you don't have to be a lawyer to know that this is just outright unfair and the fact that the U.S. attorney's office, the deputy U.S. attorney prosecuting this case knew darn well what was going on and still hid the reality from the jury.

REP. WALTER JONES (R), NORTH CAROLINA: Well Lou, you're exactly right. I want to thank you and your staff for being on this over a year now and just very quickly when Judge Grady said and I quote, it does seem to me that the government overreacted here. For some reason this one got out of hand it seems to me and Lou, that's why I'm going to do everything I can, working with Ted Poe and many others to make sure that we go to John Conyers, the chairman of the judiciary committee, and say that we need to see why in the world this ever got into a courtroom.

DOBBS: Well I think that's a wonderful idea but I have to say too the Republican Party has not been immensely supportive of your efforts and those of some of your fellow congressmen and the Democrat Party has been absolutely AWOL in behalf of these two agents.

POE: That's true and it's very unfortunate. But anyone looking at this case from a legal point of view realizes that when the U.S. attorney's office made a deal with this individual and gave him immunity, when that happens you usually get the testimony you want and you pay. That's what seemed to happen in this case. We're going to just be relentless in making sure that justice does prevail in this case for these two border agents at the end of the day.

JONES: Lou, I will tell you along with Ted, we have sent to the president over nine letters, five to Gonzalez and two to Mukasey and when the president can find it in his heart to let Scooter Libby give him commutation and will not even answer our letters about these two border agents, there's something wrong all the way to the White House.

DOBBS: I wish this was the only evidence that there's something wrong in this government all the way to the White House. It is just simply additional evidence in my opinion. The fact that this president has been so and this justice department, you mentioned five letters to former attorney general Alberto Gonzales. I mean that's unconscionable, the prosecution. You know it. I know it. Every American who's paid attention to this case know those two border patrol agents were just simply wronged by particularly a U.S. attorney's office that frankly was party to lies and the suggestion that there was racism involved. I mean it's just remarkable.

Let me give you just a quick, a want your comment on this. Sutton's statement today. "Some in the media and on the Internet have tried to portray Agents Compean and Ramos as heroes but that narrative is false. The actions of Compean and Ramos in shooting an unarmed, fleeing suspect, destroying evidence and engaging in a cover-up are serious crimes." Your reaction?

POE: Well, first of all, the only person that said the drug smuggler was unarmed was the drug smuggler. There's not other evidence of that. Both the border agents said that he was armed. And of course, the U.S. attorney's office has gone on a nationwide slick PR campaign trying to justify this prosecution. It's just not going to float. I think this statement which seemed to be prepared before even the arguments this morning is just trying to justify something that most of us realize that the government was on the wrong side of the border war.

JONES: Truthfully, justice will prevail because what happened to these two border agents was an example of an injustice.

DOBBS: Absolutely. Congressman Walter Jones, thank you very much. Congressman Ted Poe, we thank you being here.

JONES: Thank you.

POE: Thank you, Lou.

DOBBS: Up next, the state of New Mexico under fire for giving driver's licenses away to illegal aliens. Stay with us. We're coming right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) DOBBS: The state of New Mexico one of several states that issues driver's licenses to illegal aliens. There is rising outrage among that state's republican lawmakers over that give away of driver's license. The lawmakers want the practice stopped, citing national security concerns and worsening fears of voter fraud throughout the state. Bill Tucker has our report.


BILL TUCKER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: If you're an illegal alien without a passport, the only identification you need to get a driver's license in New Mexico is an individual taxpayer number and an I.D. card issued by the Mexican consulate. The state Republican Party is sued to obtain a list of all the non-citizens granted driver's license so they could compare them to voter registration rolls. The administration of Governor Bill Richardson refuses to release the list.

NAZARENA MARTINEZ, NEW MEXICO REPUBLICAN PARTY: We would think that he would want to know if there are non-citizens that have registered to vote and if they are voting.

TUCKER: New Mexico courts have agreed with the governor and that decision is being appealed. Officials say 3.6 percent of licenses issued in the state go to non-citizens and it is not known how many are illegal aliens. Governor Richardson, a democratic candidate for president, proudly stands behind his state's practice of handing out driver's licenses to illegal aliens.

GOV. BILL RICHARDSON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: What we need is public safety, a reduction in traffic fatalities. We wanted more people to be insured. When we started with this program, 33 percent of all New Mexicans were uninsured. Today it's 11 percent.

TUCKER: What the governor didn't say was that the state has completely overhauled and computerized its insurance database, an action that the state's own DMV says is the primary reason for the drop in the uninsured. Critics point out that insurance is not a condition of driving

BRIAN ZIMMER, COALITION FOR A SECURE DRIVER'S LICENSE: The concept that you need to get a driver's license for insurance is itself an unsound assumption or advocacy item for those who support this premise.

TUCKER: As for highway fatalities, they have declined since the state began granting driver's licenses to illegal aliens but safety experts say the biggest reason that there's been is there's much tougher fines and enforcement against drunken drivers. Now as for the issue of voter fraud, it seems to be an issue of don't look, don't find. Well, just next door in Texas, it was found earlier this year, Lou, that more than 300 illegal aliens had successfully registered to vote in just one county in that state.

DOBBS: Well, let's make it clear. Governor Bill Richardson is being disingeneous when he says that he doesn't want to permit that list to be turned over for comparison with the voter rolls. The state court is being disingenious at best. It's absolute complicity in, in my judgment, in voter fraud. There is no rational reason on Earth not to make that comparison. Dispense with the issue if it's not an issue. Demonstrate.

Oh, boy. This is - I'll tell you, some little beauties in this country. Thank you very much, Bill Tucker.

Well, the results of our poll tonight: Overwhelming. 98 percent of you say former Border Patrol agents Ramos and Compean should be released immediately, pending a new trial. Let's hope that is what turns out to be the case.

Time now for some of your thougths. Anna in Oklahoma said: "Lou, I've been watching you for over a year now. You pulled the wool away from my eyes. I can now see that for the people, by the people means nothing to our current elected officials. They have sold my vote for the last time. I'm voting independent this year."

Thank you and good for you. And good for the country.

Dean in Arkansas: "Dear Lou, you are making a difference. I'm now buying products made in the USA when available, at which time I call the company and let them know my primary preference for their product was based on the label "made in the USA." Keep up your great efforts.

Each of you whose email is read here receives a copy of my new book, "Independents Day: Awakening the American Spirit."

We thank you for being with us tonight, and we hope you'll join us here tomorrow. For all of us, thanks for watchign. Good night from New York. "OUT IN THE OPEN" with Rick Sanchez begins right now - Rick.