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Disaster Along the Mississippi; Torture Report Alleges War Crimes; Candidates and National Security

Aired June 18, 2008 - 17:00   ET


Happening now, homes and farms under water in America's heartland. Dozens of square miles flooded and a desperate effort to save more communities from the raging Mississippi.

Will the levees hold?

We'll go there live.

He spent years as a prisoner in a war that did not end well for the United States. An on-the-scene look coming up on how Vietnam shaped John McCain's views on America's security. Our own John King reports from Hanoi.

And Michelle Obama shares her views as a guest host on "The View." Why she wears her heart on her sleeve and why she wrote a note of thanks to Laura Bush, that's coming up.

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

But we begin with the natural disaster in the Midwest. For some, it's a race against time trying to hold back a rising river. For others, it's already way too late. Stunning images of devastation along the Mississippi -- homes and farms under water as far as the eye can see. And that water is up to the rooftops, giving us an extraordinary picture of farm animals clinging for their own lives.

The river spilled over two more levees today. And the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers says 20 to 30 more may be at risk. And the devastation could become a whole lot worse.

CNN's Reynolds Wolf is standing by at one of those levees in Quincy, Illinois.

But let's begin with our senior correspondent, Allan Chernoff. He's watching all this in Oakville, Iowa right now.

Allan, you went out on a boat in that flooded farmland. And it's so, so devastating.


The community here worked very hard building a levee several miles back, along the Iowa River. It failed on Saturday. And by Sunday morning, all of these corn fields were under water.


Farmer Richard Siegel's (ph) home is in 10 feet of water.

RICHARD SIEGEL, FARMER: It's unbelievable. Unbelievable. I never thought this would ever, ever happen.

CHERNOFF: He's lived and farmed this land in Southeastern Iowa for 47 years -- until the Iowa River broke through a levee on Saturday. All of Richard and Thelma Siegel's (ph) positions are in their son's basement, garage and a semi-trailer in his front yard.

(on camera): The flood zone here encompasses 21 square miles, including more than 100 farms. And we're not even close to either river. The Mississippi more than two miles in that direction. The Iowa River seven miles down that way.

(voice-over): Kirk Siegel, who runs the farm now, had invested more than $1 million planting and fertilizing corn and soybeans.

KIRK SIEGEL, FARMER: That's basically like losing your job and not knowing when you're going to get back.

CHERNOFF: Kirk and his dad emptied their grain silos to save last year's harvest. But now they can't sell it, because the Mississippi is shut down for shipping, so processors aren't buying. It's revenue Kirk desperately needs to pay off bills, bank loans and the loan that helped him buy this brand new tractor, which now sits idle.

K. SIEGEL: I've still got to feed the family and things continue to -- we have to have gas for our vehicles and electricity for my house and education expenses for my kids in college.

CHERNOFF: It's a financial squeeze so tight that Kirk Siegel says this winter, he might have to find a job to replace some of the income he was counting on his farm to provide.


CHERNOFF: But there is no way a job is going to replace all the income he would have received from this flooded farm. Indeed, he's saying that his losses could amount to more than $1 million -- Wolf.

BLITZER: What a sad story. Allan, thank you.

All along the river, desperate efforts to defend towns and homes and farms from these floodwaters.

Let's go to our CNN meteorologist, Reynolds, Wolf.

He's at one of those levees in Quincy, Illinois, where I assume, Reynolds, they are taking all sorts of steps that may or may not prove to be productive.

How worried -- how bad is the situation where you are?

REYNOLDS WOLF, CNN METEOROLOGIST: The situation here in Quincy is actually pretty good, Wolf. As you know, the City of Quincy is actually built up on a block. A great situation for many people. The city is again out of harm's way.

However, the people here are very concerned about people north and south of the city right along the Mississippi.

Now, this present location where I am happens to be a sandbag center -- kind of a staging area.

And if you like numbers, like all weather people do, like I sure do, you'll like these -- one million. One million sandbags have been made, produced in this area since just as of Friday the 13th. At the same time, this place is averaging around 5,000 -- 5,000 sandbags moved per hour. It is an amazing effort.

If you look behind me, you can see people -- you've got folks in the Amish community, people of all ages. You've got young kids, you have older people, members of the National Guard. People from the Air Force reserve are here. It is a team effort.

And one of the most amazing things about this is that many of these people do not have a dog in this hunt. They have nothing at stake here. They're doing this because it's just the right thing to do. And we're going to back out of the way.

Watch out fellows. Let's get out of the way.

What you're seeing, Wolf, is you've got these big front end loaders that come in. What they do is they actually load up with the sandbags and they move these out.

Now, on the other side, I want you to notice right over here, you've got this truck that's coming in that's filled in with plenty of sand. Now, that's going to back up. They're going to dump this. And then you're going to see people, like ants, jump on that sand and they're going to start scooping it up and putting it into bags. And then the bags are shipped out.

It's just a never-ending battle trying to stem the tide, stem the rising waters of the Mississippi. Again, it's just an amazing thing to see. We're talking about cities up and down the Mississippi that are going to be affected. Floodwaters that, as we speak, continue to rise in some places. Farther to the north, they're beginning to drop a little bit. But still, the battle is on and there are millions of people that will be affected.

Let's send it back to you in Washington.

BLITZER: All right. We'll stay on top of this story, Reynolds.

Don't go very far away.

The world -- the word levee comes from the French word "to raise." It is a built up embankment that keeps a body of water from overflowing. A levee is often nothing more than simply a dirt mound that runs in a long ridge, sometimes for miles.

Most of the levees along the Mississippi River, for example, or 10 to 20 feet high and stay dry until the river floods in the spring. Then water can overflow the levees. Or, if the levee actually breaks, the river flows through the breach and can flood a huge area. And we've seen that now over the past few days.

We're also getting hundreds of I-Reports of the flooding in the Midwest.

Let's turn to our Internet reporter, Abbi Tatton, because some of these pictures are really amazing -- Abbi.

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, we've just seen the scene there from Quincy, Illinois. But what we're getting in at is scenes like that going on up and down the Mississippi River.

And what we can do now is fly down from Quincy and have a look at Hull, Illinois here. These are pictures from Scarlett Meyer. She says she's been working for four days now on the levee there, sandbagging. She says she was 15 at the time of the 1993 floods and she was determined to help again. She's been in a team of about 30 people. And they've had the National Guard helping them, as well.

We can also look, with our I-Reporters' help, across the river onto the Missouri side here. We're going to Hannibal, Missouri, pictures from Rosalind Whiteside. She's on the south side of town there. And what we're going to see from her pictures is her house, which is right near the river.

And, as you can see, in front of the river there, this is a park area in front of the house. Now it looks like a lake. She says that she's been ever so worried watching the waters rise just since last night.

It's now -- if we can advance that picture -- this is her sitting on her front step. She says her basement already flooded, the water already up to her third step. And she says she just has to wait it out. She has nowhere to go and they're expecting it to rise up until Friday.

BLITZER: How scary is all of that?

Now, in Iowa, I know you're looking at the aftermath of what we've seen in some of those areas in Iowa.

TATTON: People returning to their homes. And let's go up now, go up, fly up to Iowa City, where people are going back to their homes -- some of them canoeing back to their homes at this point, because that's the only way they can get in. A video here from Andrew Sherburne, which shows him, first of all, canoeing up to his house and then looking around his house. He's got about two feet of water. They said they just have no time at all to get their belongings out. If you look at that video, which you can see at, their belongings piled onto furniture. Some of it they're putting up in the attic, because they only had about a couple of hours before the mandatory evacuation to get whatever stuff they could.

BLITZER: And we're getting a lot of these pictures coming in. You're going to go through more and show us some more later.

TATTON: Absolutely. Right.

BLITZER: OK. Abbi, thanks very much.

Jack Cafferty is joining us right now with "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: You know, it occurred to me just watching Abbi's stuff, the dimensions of this story didn't really dawn on me until like the last day or two. I mean it's sort of crept up on everybody. Ah, there's a river here, it's over the bank, there's a little flooding there. This thing is huge now I mean...

BLITZER: Yes. And it's billions and billions of dollars and homes and people's lives -- tens of thousands of people evacuated. And by all accounts now, Jack, this is the worst natural disaster in our country since Katrina.

CAFFERTY: That's incredible. And, of course, these family farms that operate literally on a shoestring sometimes, they count on the harvest in the fall to be able to buy the fertilizer and the seed so they can plant in the spring. And there's not going to be any harvest this fall because the crops have been wiped out. So, I mean these families are really under the gun out there and my heart goes out to them. That's horrible stuff.

Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton -- remember them?

They're going to get together, appear with each other next week in Washington side by side. It will be the first time since that primary battle finally came to an end. It's an important moment. Some Democrats are still bitter about the way the primary fight ended. The two will meet and try to get some of Clinton's top supporters to support Obama.

Some of Clinton's supporters say that fundraisers have complained because they don't think their concerns were being heard during meetings with the Obama camp. The donors want to make sure that Obama knows he needs to help Clinton pay down her campaign debt -- a staggering $20 million plus -- if he wants their support.

Other Clinton backers are steamed that Obama hired ousted Clinton campaign manager Patti Solis Doyle to be chief of staff for his eventual vice presidential nominee -- a not so subtle message, I would think, about Hillary Clinton's chances of being on the ticket.

More tensions boiled up yesterday at an Obama rally when former Clinton supporter and Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm mentioned Clinton's name and drew loud boos from the pro-Obama crowd. Obama shut that down quickly and made very clear to the 20,000 people at that rally that Senator Clinton deserves respect.

Aides say Obama and Clinton have not met or spoken since that private meeting at Diane Feinstein's house in Washington a couple of weeks ago. But the campaigns are reportedly cooperating, as Obama gears up for the general election. One Clinton fundraiser suggests that there is no rift and it will just take some time to heal from the primary.

So here's the question -- what do Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama need to do in that joint first appearance in order to unite the Democratic Party?

Go to and post a comment on my blog.

Hillary just plain dropped out of sight after this thing was over. Nobody's seen or heard a word from her in a couple of weeks -- Wolf.

BLITZER: She took a few days off. She wanted to go on a little vacation, which she rightfully deserved.

CAFFERTY: I would think they were both exhausted.

BLITZER: Yes, they were exhausted.

CAFFERTY: What an ordeal.

BLITZER: All right. Thanks very much, Jack.

Medical evidence of torture and scathing allegations of war crimes all contained in a damning new report about how the U.S. military treated detainees. We're going to show you what's inside.

Also, could offshore oil drilling bring us relief at the gas pump?

John McCain and now President Bush both say yes. We're going to have a reality check.

Plus, some advice for John McCain on Iran, a vice president and a lot more. Our CNN contributor, Bill Bennett -- he's standing by live to join us right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: It's a damning report with a scathing introduction by a retired U.S. Army general who accuses the Bush administration of nothing short of war crimes. And that's just the preface to a document that says there's medical evidence innocent people were tortured by the United States military.

Let's go to our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr. She's working this story for us.

All right, give us the details, Barbara, of this report.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, it is a tale of allegations of torture and abuse. But the Pentagon says it wasn't their doing.


STARR (voice-over): Major General Antonio Taguba, who led the Army investigation into the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal, is accusing President Bush of war crimes, writing, "The commander-in- chief and those under him authorized a systematic regime of torture of detainees."

Now retired, Taguda's charge comes in the preface to a report by Physicians for Human Rights. The group evaluated 11 prisoners once held in Iraq and Guantanamo Bay and says it found U.S. troops engaged in torture and sexual abuse of prisoners.

LEONARD RUBENSTEIN, PHYSICIANS FOR HUMAN RIGHTS: They all experienced a kind of horrible stew of pain, degradation and enduring suffering. They were subjected to long-term isolation, very severe humiliation. Two of them were raped.

STARR: A man, identified as Yasser in the report, was detained in Iraq. When interviewed by the group, he sobbed uncontrollably, as he reported that he was sodomized on about 15 different occasions by U.S. personnel. Another man, identified as Amir, also held in Iraq, says he was forced to lay face down in urine, was sodomized and told to howl like a dog while a U.S. soldier urinated on him.

There have been similar charges, but this report is based on each man's medical evaluation by health professionals after the men were released.

The Pentagon insists the policy is to treat detainees humanely, any abuse was not sanctioned.

But Rubenstein could not disagree more.

RUBENSTEIN: It wasn't the one place in Abu Ghraib. We saw it at Baghdad International Airport. We saw it at Kandahar. We saw it at Bagram Air Force Base. We see it at Guantanamo. There's a kind of consistency that it's -- it doesn't allow you to conclude it was a few bad apples.


STARR: None of the men who reported abuse were ever charged with a crime. And, Wolf, this comes as Congress, of course, is continuing hearings into whether top administration officials authorized those so-called harsh interrogation techniques that many now believe amounted to torture -- Wolf.

BLITZER: What are they saying at the Pentagon about this, Barbara? STARR: Well, what the Pentagon says is what it has continued to say publicly for many years now, which is there is no government policy that authorizes any abusive techniques or any torture, that if any of this did, in fact, take place, it would have been by individuals who should be held accountable under the law.

But of course, to date, no one of a senior level has ever been held accountable, other than some low level soldiers held to charges during the Abu Ghraib scandal period -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And we've heard these charges so many times. But every time we hear them, Barbara, it's just shocking to hear that U.S. military personnel allegedly could have committed these kinds of atrocities.

All right, Barbara, thanks very much for that.

Both President Bush and John McCain are now calling for new offshore oil drilling to ease soaring gas prices. But even if Congress lifts its ban on offshore drilling, can it really make a difference for all of us at the pump?

Let's bring back Brian Todd. He's got a reality check on this sensitive and important subject.

What are you picking up, Brian?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, with prices so high, oil companies may be quick to act on the idea of offshore drilling, if they're given the chance. But considering the time it takes to find the oil, pump it and refine it, relief may not be just around the corner.


TODD (voice-over): Summer driving season is in full swing and still no break for Americans at the pump. Gas prices of $4 a gallon or higher in 29 states and Washington, D.C. forcing the hand of politicians. They're talking again how America can produce more oil.

One possible source -- the Outer Continental Shelf or OCS. It's off America's East and West Coasts, but has been off limits from drilling since 1981.

President Bush believes the time has come to change that and wants Congress to lift the ban.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Experts believe that the OCS could produce about 18 billion barrels of oil. That would be enough to match America's current oil production for almost 10 years.

TODD: Drilling in deep water can be difficult and there's no guarantee that oil would be found.

But if the president's estimates prove true, could permission to begin drilling soon bring relief from high gas prices?

HARRY TCHILINGUIRIAN, OIL ANALYST: Realistically, before we tap any oil from that area, we're looking at 10 years from now. So, in the short-term, this is not going to impact the market much.

TODD: Other analysts say it could be sooner, within five or seven years, if the oil prices stay high and demand keeps growing. Still, that's only if Congress passes this proposal. Critics are concerned about the impact on wildlife and beaches and the risk of spills.

REP. ED MARKEY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: They're insisting that we should go to places that should be preserved forever -- the most pristine wilderness and shoreline that we have in the United States.

TODD: But one top oil executive tells CNN he believes it could be done without hurting the environment.

DAVID O'REILLY, CHEVRON CEO: Europeans, who are very environmentally conscious -- the British, the Norwegians, the Danes, the Dutch -- they can allow sensible offshore production from their -- from their oceans.

Why can't we?


TODD: Now, even if it takes years for the oil to come online, the decision to lift the ban soon on offshore drilling could still have an immediate impact on oil prices. One expert says just the psychological effect -- that promise of future supplies -- could drive prices down soon -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Brian, thank you.

Brian Todd with a reality check for us.

It's an ordeal few of us can imagine. So how did John McCain's POW experience influence his views on national security?

We're going to Hanoi, the scene of McCain's nightmare. Our John King is on the scene for us. We'll talk to him. That's coming up.

Also, a rare appearance -- Fidel Castro on Cuban TV. We'll show you who he's with and what they're talking about right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Carol Costello is monitoring some other important stories incoming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now.

Carol, what's going on?

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, more people are now confirmed dead in that horrible car bombing in Baghdad. The toll stands at 63 now, including nine women and children. A spokesman says the U.S. military now thinks it was the work of Iranian-backed militants with an ulterior motive. Investigators think the militants tried to make the attack look like the work of the mostly Sunni Al Qaeda in Iraq, hoping to incite Shiite violence against the Sunnis.

We haven't seen him since January, but here he is, former Cuban President Fidel Castro. Cuban television showed him standing and talking with his successor, his brother, Raul Castro, and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. Cuban news reports say the men were discussing energy and food shortages and the flooding in the U.S. Midwest.

It's described as crusty and stiff and bleached out.

So how much would you pay for this old life jacket? Well, what if I told you it came from the Titanic?

It's actually expected to fetch as much as $80,000 when Christie's auctions it off later this month. I bet it will go for more -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Carol, for that.

Carol Costello reporting.

They were backing Hillary Clinton now there's an unusual effort to get her supporters though throw their votes to John McCain.

What's going on?

We're going to show you.

And how should Senator McCain deal with Iran?

Our political contributor, Bill Bennett, has some ideas. He's standing by live. He's got some advice for John McCain. That's coming up.

Plus, Michelle Obama guest host on "The View." Find out if it's part of an image makeover.

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


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

Happening now, from a Hanoi prison possibly to the Oval Office -- you're going to find out how John McCain's POW nightmare is part of his national security history and what it could mean for the country if he's elected. We're watching this story.

Also, a follow-up to a story of outrage. Millions of dollars worth of aid for Hurricane Katrina victims finally about to be delivered after -- repeat after our own Special Investigations Unit exposed another FEMA embarrassment. And another stunning twist in one of the biggest contracts in U.S. history, military history specifically. We're going to show you what's happening.

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

Part of the battle for the White House is the fight over national security. The presumptive nominees have made it pretty clear where they stand. How did John McCain's experience as a POW influence his views? Our chief national correspondent John King has gone to Vietnam to find out.


JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: To visit the National Military History Museum here in Hanoi is to be reminded of the sense of humiliation and defeat that John McCain carried home from Vietnam and that has consistently shaped his world view since he entered politics a quarter century ago.

Here in the courtyard, trophies of the North Vietnamese victory, downed Navy and Air Force fighter planes, an Army helicopter, machine guns and personnel carriers. McCain returned home after five-and-a- half years as a prisoner of war here in Vietnam, convinced the civilian leadership in the United States never committed enough troops to Vietnam, and never had a clear strategy for victory.

And the legacy of those memories has been evident throughout his political career. Early on in the House, for example, back in 1983, then freshman Congressman John McCain opposed a Republican president, Ronald Reagan, when Reagan sent a modest number of U.S. Marines into Lebanon.

More recently of course those views have been evident in the debate over the Iraq War. Now McCain's supported the invasion and has consistently rejected Democratic comparisons of the war in Iraq to the quagmire here in Vietnam.

But he was an early critic of the Bush administration, especially then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, believing the Rumsfeld Pentagon was ignoring the most important lesson of Vietnam in McCain's view. That lesson conveyed powerfully by the wreckage of the downed U.S. aircraft here.

That if U.S. forces are to be sent overseas, that should be done with overwhelming force to guarantee a decisive victory, and a clear exit strategy.

John King, CNN, Hanoi.


BLITZER: After a bruising, often nasty Democratic primary campaign, it seems some Hillary Clinton supporters have gone over to the other side. That would be the Republican side. Carol Costello is working this story. What is it all about?

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Well, you know, Wolf, there is a certain amount of buzz that Hillary Clinton supporters are now supporting John McCain. Never mind his positions aren't exactly Democratic-friendly. Still the buzz persists. But is it true?


COSTELLO (voice-over): Hillary Clinton has become a tool in a GOP game plan. Republicans are using her to malign him. Think Barack Obama's irresponsible when it comes to national security? McCain supporters Rudy Giuliani says even Hillary Clinton said that.

RUDY GIULIANI (R), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The words that were used by some of the commentators are no different than Hillary Clinton said.

COSTELLO: McCain himself has talked glowingly of Clinton, talking up their mutual respect, not so subtly making a grab for women voters bitter at her loss. Is it possible that the strategy is working? Some Democrats appear to be jumping on the McCain bandwagon.

Texas rancher Ed Hale (ph), that's him on the tractor, has created a Web site called Hillary Clinton Supporters for John McCain.

ED HALE, HCSFJM.COM: I've always felt that there was a line that divided the Democrats and the Republicans. John McCain is a little bit to the right of that line. Hillary Clinton is a little bit to the left of it. Barack Obama, he's the far off to the left we can't even find him.

COSTELLO: Hale also dislikes Obama's stand on national security. He claims millions have visited his Web site, donating a total of $5,000 to help pay for a full page ad to run in a Chicago newspaper. But detractors wonder about his motives.

The liberal blog The Daily Kos writes: "Hale has never even donated to Clinton, but now he's an ardent supporter? Why is this farmer suddenly getting politically active? Or is he just a body that the Republicans are using?"

The Texas Democratic Party did say confirm Hale voted Democratic in the 2000, 2004, and 2008 primaries, and elected to the Texas Democratic Party Convention. Hale himself denies he's a plant.

The bigger question, though, is whether any of this is working.

DAVID MARK, POLITICO: If you think about it, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton agree on just about every issue. They had very few disagreements. However, they disagreed with John McCain stridently on almost every issue.

COSTELLO: And the numbers bear that out. A CNN/Opinion Research poll two days before Clinton withdrew from the race shows only 17 percent of Clinton backers would support McCain, but 60 percent support Obama.


And analysts say it's important to remember Democrats have only started efforts to unify their party. That should start an earnest when Hillary Clinton reappears, Obama by her side.

BLITZER: Carol, thanks very much. What a story. Thanks very much. Carol Costello reporting.

There's so much happening out on the presidential campaign, and John McCain is certainly running a -- he says he's running as the underdog right now. Let's discuss what's going on with our CNN political contributor Bill Bennett. He's the host of the national radio talk show "Morning in America." He's a fellow at the Claremont Institute.

Bill, thanks very much for coming in. You've got some advice for John McCain. You like John McCain, you support John McCain.


BLITZER: You want him to be the next president of the United States. What's the single most important thing he needs to do right now to make himself electable?

BENNETT: Go on offense, go on offense...

BLITZER: But he is doing that.

BENNETT: ... in the way that defines the major differences with him and Barack Obama. Yes, he did with the gasoline business, the offshore drilling.

BLITZER: But also on Gitmo, on Guantanamo Bay. The Supreme Court decision, 5-4 decision last week. He said one of the worst ever. Barack Obama says it was a good decision.

BENNETT: That's two. Now go to foreign policy. Talk about Iran.

BLITZER: Like, what do you want him to say on Iran?

BENNETT: Obama said he will sit down with Ahmadinejad with no preconditions. Maybe some discussions, but no preconditions. John McCain should take a very different tack and say, look, we haven't done enough now enough Iran. By the way, by saying that he differentiates himself from Bush.

What he can do is fall under the mantle of Ronald Reagan and say, I want to do to Iran what Ronald Reagan did to the Soviet Union.

BLITZER: Destroy it?

BENNETT: Yes, delegitimize it, absolutely. It should come apart. BLITZER: That's going to scare a lot of people that the U.S. is going to go to war with another country.

BENNETT: No, no, we're not going to go to war, as Ronald Reagan didn't go to war with the Soviet Union. But you can support the dissidents that are there. You can point out every day that Iran is developing these missiles. That it's sending materiel into Iraq. That it's funding Hezbollah. And it says Israel and the United States should not exist.

The Iranian people, as you know, are more pro-American even than the Iraqi people were. So there's a lot he can build on, by saying I will do everything in my power to delegitimize that terror regime, I think he can do a marked contrast and do a very smart and sensible thing.

BLITZER: What about the whole issue oil drilling off the coasts of Florida, of California, California may not be reachable in the Electoral College for Senator McCain, but Florida certainly is. And you know, there are going to be a lot of people in Florida, the beaches in Daytona, along the coast who are going to say, I don't want oil rigs off the coast for fear there could be spills and could be damaging those beaches.

BENNETT: I think there will be a lot of people in Florida who will want it, too. You noticed, Charlie Crist, who is the governor of Florida...

BLITZER: He has flipped on this issue, too.

BENNETT: He was there with John McCain. A lot of Americans have changed their minds on this.

BLITZER: Because of the high price of oil.

BENNETT: Gasoline is $4. And when people look to the record of the oil companies in terms of these offshore drilling, it's really very good.

BLITZER: Because Bill Nelson, the Democratic senator in Florida, and others in Florida say, you know what, that state depends so much on tourism...

BENNETT: That's right.

BLITZER: ... and if you had a spill, and that would hurt some of those beaches, that could dramatically affect Florida's economy as well.

BENNETT: Sure, but look what happened with Katrina. I mean, all of the disasters in Katrina, all of those rigs, there was no oil. There was no major oil spill. And again, the price of oil is something, I think it's a political winner. And I think it's the right thing to do. I just wish he would go a little further to ANWR as well.

BLITZER: He opposes drilling in the Alaskan National Wildlife Refuge...

BENNETT: Yes, he compared it to the Grand Canyon, but there are some real differences.

BLITZER: Pristine, he talks about.

BENNETT: Pristine...


BLITZER: So that's one area where you disagree with him.


BLITZER: All right. Let's talk about a potential vice presidential running mate. Who do you like out there as potential McCain running mates?

BENNETT: Wolf, I like an economic hawk. I think he needs some strengthening on the economy. I think if he had a Mitt Romney, I think that would be fine. My choice is the young Paul Ryan, you know Ryan from Wisconsin? Wisconsin is one of those states that...


BLITZER: Not exactly a household name.

BENNETT: Not exactly a household name, but give him a little TV time. He's a terrific guy. He knows economics. He's very strong, Wisconsin matters.

BLITZER: I want to interrupt for a moment and go to the Kennedy Center here in Washington. Bruce Springsteen, via satellite is singing right now in memory of our friend Tim Russert.


BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN, MUSICIAN: Tim, all our love, God bless, we're going to miss you.

BLITZER: Well said. Tim Russert loved Bruce Springsteen. Made that a point, going to his concerts all the time. Only fitting that Bruce Springsteen performing at this memorial service for Tim Russert over at the Kennedy Center.

Bill Bennett, we're going to miss Tim Russert, no matter what your political views, he was a unique institution here in Washington.

BENNETT: He was something. You know, we Irish Catholics think we go right up, you know. And I can see it now, heavenly father, you said on August of 2003, let's let the audience take a look at what you said, do you still believe that today? Tim will be asking the tough questions.

BLITZER: For the full hour.

BENNETT: Yes, no commercials.


BLITZER: As Luke said earlier today at the funeral Mass which I attended. All right, Bill, thanks very much.

BENNETT: If I weren't here, I'd be there, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. We'll take a quick break. We're going to be hearing from Bill Richardson, the former energy secretary, the governor of New Mexico and a lot more coming up right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

BLITZER: It's a story that sparked outrage across the country. A story first uncovered by "CNN SPECIAL INVESTIGATIONS UNIT," $85 million worth of brand-new household supplies meant for Hurricane Katrina victims, found stashed in warehouses, more than two years after the disaster.

And now our report is prompting some dramatic action. Let's go to our "SPECIAL INVESTIGATIONS UNIT" correspondent Abbie Boudreau. She broke this story for us.

You've got an update because there's new information coming in based on your report.

ABBIE BOUDREAU, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely, Wolf. Since this story first aired last week, state and federal agencies have been scrambling to find where the household supplies ended up, and to figure out exactly what went wrong.


BOUDREAU (voice-over): At a news conference, top Louisiana officials blasted FEMA for not telling them that $85 million worth of supplies meant for Katrina victims existed, sitting in warehouses for the last two years unused.

(on camera): When you found out that those items were just sitting in the warehouses for two years, what was your reaction?

GOV. BOBBY JINDAL (R), LOUISIANA: Well, obviously this is another ridiculous example of the bureaucracy not working the way that it was supposed to.

BOURDREAU (voice-over): U.S. Senator Mary Landrieu says her office took action right after seeing our investigation last week.

SEN. MARY LANDRIEU (D), LOUISIANA: Two truckloads are now on its way to Louisiana. I don't know what FEMA was thinking when it gave away $85 million of taxpayer items. They need to start thinking straighter about this.

BOUDREAU: Here are some of the items that are on the way as we speak, scheduled to arrive by Friday. They've been given to Texas, one of 16 states that got the supplies but still had some sitting in a warehouse. Earlier this year, one Louisiana agency was asked if it wasn't the supplies and said no. But that agency didn't share the offer with the other state officials.

The head of Louisiana's Recovery Authority acknowledges a breakdown in communication.

PAUL RAINWATER, LOUISIANA RECOVERY AUTHORITY: There's enough blame to go around. But at the end of day it's about getting the things down to the folks in Louisiana.

BOUDREAU: Senator Landrieu says with the flooding disaster in the Midwest what happened in Louisiana is a wakeup call for FEMA.

LANDRIEU: It's another example of FEMA and the Department of Homeland Security not being ready for primetime. Now I hope they get ready, because there are levees breaching all over America. There are cities now under water. I hope that this doesn't happen again.


BOUDREAU: Now just a few hours ago, FEMA issued a news release that stated even though Louisiana originally passed on the supplies, the agency will once again reach out to the Louisiana officials to offer more items.

Now also U.S. Senator Landrieu's office sent a letter today to all of the federal agencies that received this merchandise, hoping more of these departments will step up just like Texas did and hand over the supplies to Louisiana. So we are definitely keeping our eye on this one -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Because a lot of those victims, they could badly use those supplies, even two years later. Thanks, Abbie. Good work. Thanks for reporting it. Stay on top of the story for us.


BLITZER: There's a dramatic development, an important development involving North Korea that's coming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now. Our Christiane Amanpour is joining us on the phone. She has got some details.

What do we know, Christiane?

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Wolf, has today talked to the Heritage Foundation in Washington, the conservative thinktank, saying that in fact North Korea is expected to give a full accounting of its nuclear declaration of all its nuclear activities soon, she said.

And after that, North Korea would be removed from the U.S. state sponsors of terrorism list and that sanctions under the Trading with the Enemy Act would be removed. That apparently would have no immediate practical effect because there are other sweeping sanctions that the U.S. has in place under different legislation. But certainly this is what we've been covering, and following since we were in North Korea in February with the philharmonic, and also getting a virtually exclusive tour of the Yongbyon nuclear facility. And when we were there talking to the senior, we had an exclusive with the chief North Korean nuclear negotiator who said they want to see this issue resolved and they were working full tilt towards it, they said, with the United States.

BLITZER: Christiane, I know you're going to stay on top of this story for us. Thanks very much. Important develop happening. Christiane Amanpour, thank you.

A candidate's wife gets a chance to bond with a television audience. Michelle Obama plays guest host on a talk show. Did she show off her softer side?

And it was billed as a battle over U.S. jobs. Now months after a stunning decision on a big U.S. Air Force contract, there's a stunning new development. We'll tell you what's going on right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: She has been a lightning rod for some criticism, but now Michelle Obama has had a chance to show off her lighter side. Let's go to Mary Snow. She is watching this story for us.

She was on TV today, Mary. What happened?

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, she made an appearance on "The View." And this is all part of a push to get to know Michelle Obama better.


SNOW (voice-over): Michelle Obama guest hosting on ABC's "The View." She gave her now famous fist bumps with her co-hosts, mocking scrutiny Obama faced when the gesture was distorted. Her appearance is part of the campaign's effort for people to get to know her. But it denies it's an effort to soften her reputation as The New York Times reports.

On the show, Michelle Obama was asked about negative perceptions.

MICHELLE OBAMA, WIFE OF BARACK OBAMA: The challenge that I have to the extent that it's a strength or weakness is that I wear my heart on my sleeve. Just like all of you guys. And at some level, when you put your heart out there, there's a level of passion that you feel. And it's a risk that you take. But one of the things I'm counting on is that people will see through it.

SNOW: She defended this comment that made her a lightning rod for conservatives.

M. OBAMA: Let me tell you something, for the first time in my adult lifetime, I'm really proud of my country. SNOW: Michelle Obama said she wrote a note of thanks to first lady Laura Bush for defending her.

M. OBAMA: Of course I'm proud of my country. Nowhere but in America could my story be possible. I mean, I'm girl who grew up...

BARBARA WALTERS, CO-HOST, "THE VIEW": Give people a little bit of...


M. OBAMA: I'm a girl that grew up on the South Side of Chicago. My father was a working class guy, worked a shift all his life.

SNOW: What did those in the mostly female audience think of her appearance?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Before the show I thought that she was haughty. And after seeing her on the show, she was just very nice.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She has just come across as a wife and a mom and just someone who just cares about what's going on, and just might be very passionate about it.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Before seeing her, I kind of thought she was hard, where I felt today she was much more approachable.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She just wanted to show the full part of who she is. And I think she did a great job with that.


SNOW: Michelle Obama has some words of praise for Hillary Clinton, crediting her with breaking down barriers with women -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Mary, thanks very much. Mary Snow reporting.

He opposes offshore drilling, so what will Barack Obama do to bring down soaring gas prices? I'll talk about it with a former energy secretary, the governor, Bill Richardson, who's a major support. He'll be here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Let's check in with Jack Cafferty for the "Cafferty File" -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: Got that big joint appearance coming up next week. The question is, what do Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama need to do in their first joint appearance since the end of the primaries in order to unite the party?

Donna Rice from Colorado Springs: "I think Obama and Clinton need to back off for a while and let things cool down. The sore losers that belong to Clinton need to get over their anger and logically look at the alternative. Is it really worth having another four or eight years of Bush by voting for McCain?"

Susan in Pennsylvania says: "If Obama's campaign wants Hillary's people onboard, they need to get over themselves and not be vindictive. Nobody put up with more abuse from all sides than Hillary. She got a lot of votes, votes that Obama needs. So respect her for the fight for doing what she did for women of all ages and welcome her people with open arms. He's going to need the help."

Dan in Phoenix says: "Hillary got in debt without help, she should pay her own bills, and Obama shouldn't contribute anything. In regard to her own ego, she has helped to destroy the party and Obama should just ignore her."

Emma in San Jose, California, says: "Focus extensively on the negative effects of Bush and McCain's policies. Also, Hillary should encourage her supporters to refrain from voting for John McCain."

Erica in Texas says: "Hi, Jack. I think the best way for them to show unity is to come out with Bill, Chelsea, Michelle and the kids all holding hands. Then Senator Obama could give Hillary a kiss on the cheek and a hug. She could use one."

And Patrick writes: "Unite, the Democrats unite. Surely you jest. Remember this? 'I belong to no organized party. I'm a Democrat.'"

If you didn't see your e-mail here, you can go to my blog at, look for yours there among hundreds of others -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jack, thanks very much. Jack Cafferty with the "Cafferty File."

And to our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM. Happening now, their fight over your security. The presidential candidates stepping up their sparring over the war on terror even as they find an hour- and-a-half today to sit together right here in Washington. Stand by for details on what happened.

Plus, a shift in the landscape of McCain versus Obama. New battleground state polls are now out. And we're making a big change in CNN's electoral map, allocating a crucial toss-up state to one of the candidates. You're going to want to see what's going on.

And Barack Obama apologizes to members of the Muslim community. We're taking a closer look at an incident involving women in head scarves that prompted a civil rights group to complain.

All of that and the best political team on television. I'm Wolf Blitzer, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.