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Anderson Cooper 360 Degrees

Do-Nothing Congress?; Civilian Trucker Describes Deadly Ambush in Iraq; White House Linked to Abramoff Lobbying Scandal?

Aired September 28, 2006 - 22:00   ET


JOHN ROBERTS, CNN ANCHOR: Well, good evening again, everyone.
No shortage of breaking news tonight on terror, corruption, and some of the fiercest wildfires on record. There's all that and more, including a trucker who makes the wrong turn -- a really wrong turn.


ANNOUNCER: Ambush in Iraq.

PRESTON WHEELER, CIVILIAN CONTRACTOR: They just killed him. Oh, my God.

ANNOUNCER: In the crosshairs, civilian truckers -- and a survivor says their military escort cut and ran.

A corrupt GOP lobbyist, the most powerful in years, Jack Abramoff, the White House says they barely knew him. A new bombshell report says they did, big time.

He called our president the devil. Now Hugo Chavez is catching hell, not from the White House, even worse. From 7-Eleven. And get this. 7-Eleven is packing a billion-dollar punch.


ANNOUNCER: Across the country and around the world, this is ANDERSON COOPER 360.

Sitting in tonight for Anderson, and reporting from the CNN studios from New York, here's John Roberts.

ROBERTS: And thanks for joining us tonight.

We begin with a view of Iraq seen through the eyes and the camera lens of a man who once held one of the riskiest jobs on the planet, not a Green Beret, not an airborne, not even Army ordnance. He was a trucker, a civilian contractor. Nearly 600 have been killed in Iraq since the war began.

Preston Wheeler was nearly one such casualty. He watched three of his buddies die. But he and his remarkable video survived to tell the story.

More now from CNN's Jamie McIntyre.


JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SENIOR PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The video starts off showing a supply convoy, a dozen trucks and five military vehicles, heading out from a U.S. base north of Baghdad. It was a routine mission, until some Iraqi men started throwing rocks.

Civilian contractor Preston Wheeler was driving with one hand and holding his video camera in the other, when things got really ugly.

PRESTON WHEELER, CIVILIAN CONTRACTOR: God damn! IED on the left side, two IEDs, gun five -- truck five.

MCINTYRE: The convoy had turned wrong way down a dead end road, and a bullet came through the windshield.

WHEELER: I got it on video, by God.

MCINTYRE: A subsequent military investigation blamed faulty maps. But the wrong turn forced the trucks to backtrack, right into a deadly ambush. Insurgents opened fire on the convoy. Wheeler's truck was disabled by one of the RPGs.

WHEELER: Jesus Christ.


WHEELER: I am -- truck five cannot move. Please help me.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Where you at? Where you at?

WHEELER: I'm taking fire. Ten-four. Come back.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE) taking fire. Please help.

WHEELER: I'm fixing to get killed, God damn it!

MCINTYRE: The video shows a military Humvee leaving the scene.

WHEELER: Somebody get their ass back here now, please.

MCINTYRE: Wheeler hid in the cab of his truck and watched insurgents shoot one of his fellow truckers in cold blood.

WHEELER: They just killed him. Oh, my God.

MCINTYRE: Three truckers, all employed by the Halliburton subsidiary KBR, were killed that day. The aftermath was caught on tape by a U.S. spy plane, showing Iraqis stripping and stoning one of the victims.

WHEELER: You're damn right I'm scared. I'm going home when this (EXPLETIVE DELETED) is done.

MCINTYRE: Alone, with no gun and two AK-47 bullets in his arm, Wheeler says he feels he was abandoned by the very soldiers who were supposed to protect him, and that he waited 40 minutes before an Army Black Hawk came to his rescue.

WHEELER: Why didn't the gun truck behind me stop and the gun truck in front of me stop and secure that area? Them guys would not have been executed if the military had followed their protocol, which they call it.

MCINTYRE: However, a formal investigation by the U.S. military conducted a month after the attack found the soldiers did follow their training not to stop until they could safely counterattack: "They didn't leave the scene. They pulled up out of the kill zone and established a security defensive line, so they could continue to fire and protect the convoy," a spokesman for U.S. forces in Iraq told CNN.

It was, she said, all by the book.

WHEELER: Well, if they was doing it in a textbook fashion, they must have been writing it down, because they wasn't -- they wasn't securing my area where I was at.

MCINTYRE: But military investigators concluded, the soldiers' actions saved the lives of two contractors, including Wheeler, by laying down more than 500 rounds of suppressive fire and directing an armed Humvee to the trucks.

Investigators found no fault with the soldiers' reaction, in fact, recommended one for an award, praising his remarkable courage under fire.

(on camera): The investigation also found that the number of armed Humvees, or gun trucks, as they're called, was appropriate to the threat, and that the fatal mistake was the bad maps, which led to the confusion that took the convoy on its deadly wrong turn.

Jamie McIntyre, CNN, the Pentagon.


ROBERTS: More now from the man at the center of it all then and now.

Preston Wheeler sat down with me earlier today.


ROBERTS: Preston, we here at CNN have had this particular videotape since April. But you -- you haven't talked about it until now. It has been a -- a little more than a year since the original incident. Why did you decide to come out now?

WHEELER: I decided not to air it when I first, you know, got home with the video...

ROBERTS: Mmm-hmm.

WHEELER: ... because I was thinking of the families of...


WHEELER: ... the people that was killed, you know?

ROBERTS: Were you told not to talk to the press?

WHEELER: Yes, I was told not to talk to the press. They tell you that in Houston...


WHEELER: ... not to talk to the press.

ROBERTS: When we look at the narrative of the videotape, the story that is being told, it's -- it's almost as seen through your eyes. I mean, you were incredibly brave.

Let's -- let's roll this little piece of videotape here, and I want to get you to respond to it.


WHEELER: I'm fixing to get killed, God damn it!


ROBERTS: So, there you are. Your truck is disabled. It can't move. You're on the radio, pleading for somebody to help you, say, "I'm fixing to die here."

What was going through your mind?

WHEELER: I was wanting my military.

You know, I was looking for them. They're supposed to be there. And my truck got hit with an RPG round.

ROBERTS: Mmm-hmm.

WHEELER: And the drivers behind me, you know, they are wanting me to move. And that's highly understandable in the circumstances we was in.

And, you know, they're in a panic, also. Anybody who is in that convoy that says they wasn't scared is a liar.

ROBERTS: Did you think about running?

WHEELER: Oh, yes. I thought about running, but it would have been suicide to jump out of the truck and run.


WHEELER: They're everywhere. ROBERTS: Now, the military, Mr. Wheeler, says that it was just following protocol, and that the military protocol is to push through the danger zone, to get out of line of fire, set up a perimeter, and then call in for a rescue. The rescue did come. You were rescued by people who came in a Black Hawk helicopter. Did the military not do what they were supposed to do?

WHEELER: No, they didn't do what they was supposed to do.

If their protocol was to secure the area, when they realized we went down a wrong road, they made the wrong turn, their maps were wrong...

ROBERTS: Mmm-hmm.

WHEELER: ... we was at the Tigris River, at a dead end, open area. They could have secured zone right there, until they got some more help in. But they decided to push through, and things went bad.

ROBERTS: Right. Did -- did you have maps yourself?

WHEELER: No. They don't issue us maps. They don't -- no GPS, nothing. In fact, the soldiers said they was trying to get sheriff on the phone.

ROBERTS: Mmm-hmm.

WHEELER: I guess that would be QRF or somebody at the base. And they wasn't getting no response.


WHEELER: God damn!


ROBERTS: You took a couple of rounds when -- when you were trapped there from an AK-47 in your arm. Are you all healed up now? Are you better?

WHEELER: No, I'm not healed up yet. I had a bone graft of about four inches. I got a titanium rod in my right arm, from my elbow to my shoulder, got a scar the same length.


WHEELER: And I don't know how much use I have got out of my arm.

ROBERTS: KBR says that you were put on 60 days leave after that -- that accident. What happened after those 60 days?

WHEELER: Well, I got terminated.

ROBERTS: For what?

WHEELER: You know, I had no idea I was going to be terminated. ROBERTS: What did they terminate you for?

WHEELER: The first response, failure to return from R&R, which I had just returned from R&R 11 days prior to this incident.

ROBERTS: Mmm-hmm.

WHEELER: And I called them about it and asked them. And they said that they made a big mistake. They would correct it.


WHEELER: And their correction was to send me another sheet of paper stating that I was terminated for health reasons and personal injury on the job.


WHEELER: You're damn right I'm scared. I'm going home when this (EXPLETIVE DELETED) gets done.


ROBERTS: We -- we hear you say on the tape, if -- if I get out of here, I'm -- I'm going home. I'm -- I'm done.

Did -- did you ever have any intention of returning to KBR?

WHEELER: I thought about it, but the more I thought about it, just it would have been a mistake. They don't no more care about me...

ROBERTS: Mmm-hmm.

WHEELER: ... than they care about a dog walking on the road.

ROBERTS: Have you thought about suing them?

WHEELER: I thought about it. I can't find anybody to help me.

ROBERTS: You can't find an attorney?

WHEELER: No, I can't find an attorney. Apparently, it's too big for some, and -- which is understandable. They're a multibillion- dollar corporation.

ROBERTS: Well, Preston Wheeler, I -- I can't imagine what it must have been like that day. And thanks for sharing part of that story with us.

Appreciate it.

WHEELER: Oh, you're welcome.

(END VIDEOTAPE) ROBERTS: Today, in Baghdad, police found 60 more bodies, all showing signs of torture. The U.S. military says these killings, and many more like them, are the result of fighting between religious groups.

But a good number of Americans believe something else is happening. According to a new CNN poll, nearly two-thirds of Americans believe Iraq is in a civil war.

For the latest on what's happening there, we turn now to CNN's Michael Ware. He's in Baghdad.

Michael, first thing I wanted to ask you about was this new audiotape message from the new leader of al Qaeda in Iraq, Abu Ayyub al-Masri, very chilling, talking about kidnapping Americans, and also try to recruit nuclear scientists.

What is that all about?

MICHAEL WARE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, this is the new leader who stepped into the shoes of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the famous al Qaeda leader, who was killed in a U.S. airstrike in June, making his own mark.

This is essentially the first chapter of his manifest -- his manifesto, putting his imprint on the organization. And he's begun with a call to arms. It's a reversion, perhaps, back to a bit more classic style al Qaeda. But he says that he's now launching a military campaign to uproot the infidel. He's called on the free mujahedeen to take Western infidel as a prisoner, hopefully in exchange for the blind Muslim cleric being held in New York for the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.

And he calls for these scientists. So, really, he's taking things up a notch, saying, we want to go on the offensive.

ROBERTS: Yes, this -- this -- trying to recruit nuclear scientists, this -- this would seem to be the ultimate nightmare that this administration keeps talking about. Is that just him trying to be bigger than life? Or do you think he's got some chance of actually recruiting one of these scientists?

WARE: Well, there certainly are a number of weapons scientists floating around this country.

In the wake of Saddam's WMD program or weapons program, whichever way you want to look at it, there certainly is a degree of expertise in this country. Now, I know that some of that expertise has bled into the insurgency. And U.S. military intelligence picks up some of these people or see signs of their work.

We have also known that the insurgency has dabbled with very crude chemical weapons. So, we do know that they -- they have had an interest in this. However, I -- I really think this is more rhetoric than anything else. They definitely will pick these people up, though. ROBERTS: You know, we mentioned some polls at the top of this, Michael. And there are new polls out there that would seem to find support for what al-Masri is talking about. There is support for attacks against American-led forces -- a majority of Iraqis now favoring them.

And, also, about three-quarters of Iraqis believe that U.S. forces are provoking more conflict than they are preventing in Iraq, and should be withdrawn within a year.

So, is that really the case, Michael? Is that what you are picking up on the streets there, that the majority of Iraqis are saying, United States, it's time to get out of Iraq?

WARE: Well, people back home need to -- need to realize that U.S. forces are simply unpopular in this country. They have been since the very beginning.

In the wake of invasion, people said, OK, you removed Saddam's regime. And, almost immediately, they were then asking, so, when are you leaving?

And middle Iraq, the ordinary people of this country, in the beginning, they gave the U.S. forces and the U.S. mission a chance. They were looking for prosperity, development, reconstruction, and a whole new way. But they said: I gave you one. I gave two three years. I have given you three. It's gotten worse, not better, and I still have no services.


And, then, there are people, of course, Michael, who are predicting that, when the U.S. pulls out, that the whole place will devolve into civil war.

Michael Ware, in Baghdad, thanks very much.

Back to where we started, and here's the "Raw Data" on private contractors in Iraq. There are about 25,000 of them currently. That's according to the special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction. At least 575 have been killed since the war began.

And straight ahead: a question that you have probably had the occasion to ask, especially with elections coming up. Just what is Congress up to? What have your elected representatives accomplished since you last elected them? We're going to have a report card tonight.

Also, how close a relationship did the White House have with disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff? He's at the center of the biggest corruption scandal that Washington has seen in decades. The White House says he was barely on the radar. But do the results of a new investigation prove otherwise?

And, later on, we're on the fire lines, where it's a race against the weather to save hundreds of thousands of acres out West. From New York, you are watching 360.


ROBERTS: New developments tonight in one of the biggest corruption scandals that Washington has ever seen -- Jack Abramoff used to be a beltway power broker. Everybody wanted to know him. That's the way it works there.

But, when you're out -- and Abramoff is as about as out as it comes now now -- it's, Jack who? Abramoff pleaded guilty this year to three corruption charges, and is being questioned about everything from bribing congressmen to the gangland slaying of a business associate.

As you might imagine, he is, as they say in Washington, radioactive. As you might also imagine, White House spokespeople have knocked themselves out saying, Jack who?

Now a new congressional says something else.

CNN's Joe Johns and Suzanne Malveaux are working the story. They join us now from Washington.

Joe Johns, this report is coming out of the House Government Reform Committee tomorrow. What are the highlights of the report? It would seem to suggest that perhaps there were far more contacts between Jack Abramoff and the White House than the White House has thus far admitted.


It's a report -- still a draft report, we're told -- on Jack Abramoff's dealings with the White House, and suggests that the now- disgraced lobbyist, who has already pled guilty to mail fraud, tax evasion, and conspiracy, had much more extensive contact with the White House than was first thought.

Instead of a few contacts, the implication is, there were hundreds of contacts. It suggests there were more than 400 instances where time was billed for lobbying work, most of which apparently involved White House officials who were not mentioned by name. Many appear to have been for meals and drinks.

A few officials are mentioned by name in the report, including top White House lieutenants Karl Rove and Ken Mehlman, both of whom have denied having a close relationship with Abramoff. There were nine alleged instances when Abramoff or members of his firm, Greenberg Traurig, had contact with adviser Karl Rove in one meeting. Most of those contacts were fund-raisers and sporting events, according to the investigation.

This draft report by the House Government Reform Committee is the result of a six-month investigation. We're told the committee looked into more than 14,000 pages of billing records and e-mails. There is a big caveat here. The problem with the billing records and e-mails is that this is all incomplete information. The reliability of it is just not clear.

The report also suggests that, while there may have been a lot of contacts, it's not at all clear that Abramoff succeeded in influencing the administration in any dramatic way. For example, it suggests Abramoff advocated on behalf of more than 20 individuals for administration jobs. Of those, only one job was actually approved.

Still, Democrats are expected to use this information to try once again to stir up concern about Abramoff and his role in Washington, as the midterm election approaches -- John.

ROBERTS: Yes. Let's talk in a second, Joe, about the potential impact of this report.

But, Suzanne, what's the early reaction from the White House on this?

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, a White House counsel and a legislative aide, they actually took a peek at this report late yesterday.

And I got a chance to talk to Deputy White House Press Secretary Dana Perino. She has not seen the report. She is not able to confirm the contents. But she has had a meeting with White House counsel. She has been briefed on this.

And, essentially, what she is saying, many White House officials, is look, they vehemently deny that Abramoff was able to curry favor or influence policy in any way with White House officials. She bluntly stated tonight -- I'm quoting -- "The report is based on billing records that are widely regarded as fraudulent, in how they misrepresent Abramoff's activities and level of access. So, there is no reason why they should suddenly be viewed as credible."

She goes on to say, John, essentially, that Abramoff was a -- an admitted and proven liar, who was -- had a penchant for exaggerating the kind of influence that he had with White House officials to his billing clients.

ROBERTS: How -- how aggressively is the White House pushing back on this report so far?

MALVEAUX: Well, you know, it -- it's funny, because this report has not even officially been released, and, already, we have a White House response ready to go here. So, that speaks volumes.

ROBERTS: Mmm-hmm.

MALVEAUX: What we do know is that Secret Service logs put Abramoff at the White House at least seven times. We know that the White House officials have said he has been to a couple of holiday parties. President Bush says he does not remember Abramoff.

There are some photos from "TIME" magazine that show that he was at the White House. But, you know, Bush says he doesn't remember...

ROBERTS: Mmm-hmm.

MALVEAUX: ... necessarily meeting him, no one-on-one meetings.

But they do go through very specific parts of this report to distance Abramoff from Karl Rove, one of those examples saying, "The idea that Abramoff ingratiated himself to Rove by sending him a bottle of wine at a restaurant is ridiculous, and underscores just how little he knew Karl, because anyone who knows Karl that he doesn't drink alcohol."

ROBERTS: Yes. The -- the six-and-a-half years I spent at the White House, never saw Karl with a drink in his hand.

Joe Johns, the report says, and this is -- it's written in such a way that it really gives the White House the benefit of the doubt here, saying -- quote -- "Only scant and circumstantial evidence that Abramoff's efforts had an impact on administration policy," just sort of paraphrasing the last bit of that.

But, as Congress prepares to get out of town for the campaign, what kind of an impact is this expected to have?

JOHNS: Well, that's the thing.

A lot of Democrats know that this Abramoff case was thought a few months ago to be an issue that everybody was going to be talking about on Election Day. It just hasn't turned out that way. Many people are saying that the Abramoff effect never happened.

Now, perhaps, Democrats can think there is one last chance to -- to try to push this. But it's not necessarily true that voters are going to care about it. What they're cared about -- they're caring about right now is things like energy, the economy, and so on. People just haven't gotten into the Abramoff story.

ROBERTS: And certainly Iraq as well.

Joe Johns and Suzanne Malveaux, thanks very much.

While the Abramoff report was landing, senators were passing a landmark bill on terrorism. The legislation, which is supported by the White House, puts the congressional stamp of approval on military tribunals for trying terror suspects. It prohibits interrogation that causes permanent physical or mental damage, but does not bar specific techniques that many have called torture.

It also bars detainees from petitioning federal courts to demand a reason for their detention. Those petitions -- petitions, rather -- which are called writs of habeas corpus, date all the way back to the 13th century Magna Carta.

Today's bill passed 65-34. The House approved similar legislation yesterday. The president now -- the bill now goes to President Bush for his signature. We can expect that there is going to be a large ceremony tomorrow at the White House.

The passage of the terrorism bill is the final note in what critics say is a lackluster year for Congress, so, few meetings, so many bills still on the table. But is this really a do-nothing congress? We will investigate.

Also ahead: You can guzzle Slurpees, but you can't pump Citgo gas. 7-Eleven is dropping the Venezuelan brand. So, should you? We will tell you how boycotting Citgo could hurt Americans -- when 360 continues.


ROBERTS: A shot of the Capitol, live from Washington, a dark and stormy night there, though the Capitol looks beautiful.

Normally, in life, if you want something bad enough, you will work hard to get it. And with this being an election year, you would think that lawmakers on Capitol Hill would be putting in the extra hours, taking on the extra votes, just to show that they are working hard for their constituents.

But critics say, that's not the case. In fact, this Congress has met for so little time this year, it has developed a reputation of doing nothing. But is that criticism warranted?

CNN congressional correspondent Dana Bash takes a look for us.


DANA BASH, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): One last time before Election Day, the president came to Capitol Hill, looking for an 11th-hour victory on his signature issue, national security.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The American people need to know we're working together to win this war on terror.

BASH: This time, Mr. Bush got what he wanted, bipartisan approval of a bill allowing tough interrogations of terror suspects. Yet, a slew of other priorities will be left undone by the GOP Congress, and Republicans head to campaign battling this Democratic mantra.

SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MINORITY LEADER: Like the do-nothing Congress of 1948, it's very difficult to get anything out of this Republican Congress.

BASH: In 1948, the year Harry Truman made an election issue of what he called the do-nothing Congress, the Senate was in session just 114 days. This year, the Senate is scheduled to meet a few more, 126. But, in 1948, the House was in session 110 days. This year, they're scheduled to meet only 93, before campaigning.

NORMAN ORNSTEIN, AMERICAN ENTERPRISE INSTITUTE: We have seen a Congress with fewer real hearings, fewer oversight hearings, less serious work and legislating to fulfill major issues, more show and less work, than any I can remember.

BASH: Republicans insist they have sent the president significant legislation, a prescription drug benefit for Medicare, a bill making it harder to declare bankruptcy, a measure to protect pensions.

And Congress has approved billions to fund disasters, like Katrina and wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. But major Bush priorities have stalled in the Republican-run Congress -- perhaps the most stinging loss, creating private accounts for Social Security, which the president spent months trying to sell -- another, lobbying reforms promised in the wake of the Jack Abramoff scandal.

Then, there's comprehensive immigration reform, pushed from the Oval Office in prime time...

BUSH: Therefore, I support a temporary-worker program.

BASH: ... killed by fellow Republicans. GOP leaders blame Democrats for obstructing.

REP. DENNIS HASTERT (R-IL), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: So, you know, they have blocked the legislation that we would like to finish.

BASH: But some Republicans, like Congressman Ray LaHood, admit, internal party squabbles cost them crucial achievements.

REP. RAY LAHOOD (R), ILLINOIS: So, there are big divisions within our own party and, in some cases, within the leadership of the House and Senate that are both governed by Republican leaders. So...

BASH: LaHood is disappointed they didn't get more done, but says sometimes doing nothing is not so bad.

LAHOOD: I think lowering gasoline prices has done more for us. And the fact is, we didn't have a dang thing to do about it.

BASH: Dana Bash, CNN, Capitol Hill.


ROBERTS: As the old joke goes, do nothing, do no harm. Right?

President Bush is certainly doing something when it comes to this year's election. He has been busy stumping for his party. And today, he took one of his strongest shots yet at the Democrats.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Five years after 9/11, worst attack on American homeland or history, the Democrats offer nothing but criticism and obstruction and endless second guessing. The party of FDR and the party of Harry Truman has become the party of cut and run.


Joining me now to talk politics from Washington, Republican strategist Cheri Jacobus and Democratic strategist Anna Greenberg. Well, there you have it. The president let loose with both barrels, kicked off the campaign today. And there's your theme.

Anna, Democrats soft on terror again. Rerun of 2004 going on here.

ANNA GREENBERG, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: And rerun of 2002, I'm sorry I'm laughing. It's just hard. I think that it's pretty clear that over the last three weeks and certainly leading up to 9/11 the president has tried to turn this election into a referendum on the war on terrorism, but it's pretty clear he's not been successful.

If you look at overall approval ratings, he's still at 40 percent. If you look at what's going on in competitive races, they're still extremely competitive. Democrats are probably going to pick up 15 seats they need for the House.

ROBERTS: Cheri Jacobus, the party of FDR and the party of Harry Truman has become the party of cut and run. Can the president rewind and rerun that movie against successfully?

CHERI JACOBUS, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, that's pretty much been his message all along. He's been selling his program of the war on terror ever since we've had to start this war on terror in a very serious way.

And I think that we all know and the polls do show that this is something the American people care about a lot. The Democrats have done an awful lot of criticizing. They have not come up with any solutions. And some of them do know that it's hurting them, but still, all they can do is criticize.

I think that's why we're seeing former President Bill Clinton come out in his purple rage, being somewhat shrill. I think he's trying to just get something out there to make it seem like the Democrats can be tough. And I don't think that's working.

But the president has been very, very consistent in his message. And to say that this is being done just because it's six weeks prior to the election really doesn't ring true, since we've been hearing this from him for a very, very long time. He's been very direct with the American people.

ROBERTS: But Anna, there's been a huge shift in the polls on Iraq since the president first rolled out this theme in 2004. Are the numbers against him this year?

GREENBERG: They are. If you look at the issues that concern people most, the No. 1 issue is the war in Iraq. The No. 2 issue is jobs and the economy. And when you look at the people who say those issues matter to them, they are voting Democratic. The third issue is the war on terrorism. The people who care about that are leaning Republican.

But the overall issue of environment does not favor this president. That's why he's trying to move it to the terrain of the war on terrorism which worked so well for him in 2004 and 2002.

The thing I was I would say that's really different about this year, is that Katrina really exposed the failings of this administration when it comes to planning for things like homeland security, dealing with disasters.

And I think that the critique that Democrats offered this year is much more plausible if you look, because they can see the failures themselves.

ROBERTS: Let's get back to where we started here. This idea of a do nothing Congress. We have a poll out recently: are you satisfied with what Congress did? Twelve percent said yes. Wish that they had done more? Eighty-four percent said yes, they wish they had done more.

Dana Milbank, my buddy from "The Washington Post", had a great article today talking about the do nothing Congress, saying, well, they did confirm two Supreme Court justices.

Cheri, is it -- is it fair to say that this was one of the biggest do nothing congresses in the history of these United States?

JACOBUS: It depends how you look at it. Do nothingness is in the eye of the beholder. Are we looking at quality or are we looking at quantity?

The Senate tonight is moving on immigration reform, I think, as we speak on points that everybody can agree with, certainly of building the fence.

So they haven't done as much, certainly, as some people would like, but again, as Congressman Ray Lahoud said, sometimes that's a good thing.

I think that we have a lot of members who feel very strongly about certain issues, and if they can't get close to what they want, they would rather shelve it for now.

However, I don't think the Democrats are going to pick up the house. They could pick up a few seats, but I don't think they'll win the House.

And the Senate, you know, we've heard a lot about how close that is, that Democrats have to pick up pretty much every seat that's competitive. They have to win everything. They have to win six seats.

And you know, we're not taking anything for granted. Certainly, Republicans want to fight for every vote. No one is sitting comfortably, but at this point, I think Republicans have a little bit to be optimistic about. ROBERTS: Right. Well, it certainly is becoming a more interesting race.

And Cheri, we've got to point out here just before we let you folks go that building a fence isn't necessarily immigration reform, and it's only an authorization bill. There's no money to pay for it.

JACOBUS: But they're moving on it before they go home, and that's what people will remember.

GREENBERG: You know what matters? It doesn't matter what we think. What matters is what the voters think. And if you look at the voters, they think this Congress has done nothing. The numbers are about 1994 numbers, and we know what will happened in 1994. The Democrats lost 40 seats.

JACOBUS: They still like their own congressman, though.

ROBERTS: Got to go, folks. Anna Greenberg, Cheri Jacobus. Thanks very much. Appreciate it.

Voters also have gasoline prices on their minds, and some people still fuming at what Venezuela's president said about President Bush at the United Nations.

Coming up, 7-Eleven stores are ending a long time deal to offer Venezuela's Citgo fuel at its pumps. And it looks like the devil is in the details.

Plus, one of California's biggest and longest burning wildfires, why fire crews are having such a tough time fighting this one. When 360 continues.


ROBERTS: Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez is back home now, but waves caused by his remark during his recent U.S. visit to the United Nations are still leaving a wake on our shores.

7-Eleven Incorporated says it will no longer offer Citgo fuel at its more than 2,000 convenience stores. Citgo is Venezuela's oil company.

That's an estimated 2 billion gallon a year loss for the Venezuelan-backed oil company.

Tom Foreman explains how the deal went down.


TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): After months of worry about gas prices and international tension, the Venezuelan president's assault on America put a bull's-eye on an unexpected target.

The Venezuelan oil industry is being hammered by Internet commentators, especially conservative ones, ramping up calls for a boycott of Citgo gas, which is owned by the Venezuelan government.

DONALD WILDMON, AMERICAN FAMILY ASSOCIATION: This man has vowed to bring down the United States this century. If you're go to take this man seriously, and I think we should, I don't see why we should be aiding and abetting him. So what can you do? You can simply refuse to buy Citgo gasoline.

FOREMAN: 7-Eleven this week is ending 20 years of selling Citgo gas. The move was agreed upon by both companies months ago; nothing to do with politics, 7-Eleven says.

But 7-Eleven has issued a statement: "We can sympathize with many Americans' concern over derogatory comments about our country and its leadership recently by Venezuela's president, Hugo Chavez."

Citgo's web site wishes 7-Eleven good luck and makes much of Citgo's commitment to American communities. We called for further comment, without luck.

On the street, anger at Chavez smolders.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: If he wants to be -- to have a war or something?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Absolutely ridiculous what he said about our president of our country, and we should boycott it as American citizens, in my opinion.

FOREMAN: Would a full-fledged Citgo boycott really hurt Chavez? Venezuela is the fourth largest foreign oil supplier, filling six percent of America's daily need. And if we don't buy it, economists say China will.

Americans could be hurt, too. Most Citgo stations are owned by Americans. Even 7-Eleven points out those folks would lose money.

(on camera) On top of which, oil industry officials say foreign oil is so mixed up in the production process, you never really know the source of the gas you're buying.

(voice-over) Chavez' critics don't buy that.

WILDMON: If we hit the Citgo outlets, then that will be felt in Venezuela. Divide it any way you want to. A dollar is a dollar.

FOREMAN: Maybe they can't force him to take a big gulp, but they would at least like a boycott that was hard for him to swallow.

Tom Foreman, CNN, Washington.


ROBERTS: So is 7-Eleven drafting off the publicity generated by what looks like a slap in the face from Hugo Chavez to President Bush? And what, if anything might the lost deal mean to the Venezuelan economy? I talked about that earlier with our own Lou Dobbs.


ROBERTS: Lou, this line from 7-Eleven that it dropped Citgo as a supplier because of Chavez, do you buy that?

LOU DOBBS, HOST, "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT": In point of fact, I do, John. They had a 20-year contract. I do think that that 20-year contract perhaps might have been renewed if it weren't expiring, had Mr. Chavez decided not to call the president the devil and generally make a fool of himself on an international stage.

I think that -- I think 7-Eleven did the right thing.

ROBERTS: Now 7-Eleven has also said that one of the reasons it dropped Citgo was because it wants to develop its own brand of gasoline, wants to have more than one supplier.

Did Chavez's speech at the United Nations also provide an opportune public relations moment for 7-Eleven?

DOBBS: I don't think there's any doubt about it. It provided an opportune public relations moment for lots of folks, including the administration, various officials calling, you know, responding to his name calling.

It provided an opportune moment for a lot of folks with left wing exuberance to meet down in Harlem, with Chavez promising to give away fuel and make some big, as they saw it, political statement. So I mean, a lot of P.R. and a lot of nonsense.

The fact of the matter, John, is, as you know, the takeaway for me, at least, from all of this nonsense, is that the United States doesn't have a strategy right now for Central and South America. We desperately need one. And we need to be building very solid, affirmative relationships with the nations in this region.

And the Bush administration would be well advised to do so, because it's a very critical gap right now in our foreign policy.

ROBERTS: So, Venezuela is the fourth largest supplier of crude oil to the United States. People have said and there have been analysis done by the Government Accountability Office, which said that if there were to be a six-month disruption in the flow of Venezuelan crude, price for gasoline would go up to $11 a gallon here. Over a six-month period it would cost American economy $23 billion.

Is this country betting too much on a guy who obviously wants to make trouble for President Bush?

DOBBS: I don't think we're betting as much as we should be. In point of fact, I don't think we're putting forward enough respect for a lot of the nations in the region.

At the same time, you know, I don't buy those estimates, John, by the way, about what would happen to the price of gasoline.

But the essential point is this. We cannot afford to be dependent on Saudi oil. We can't afford to be dependent on Venezuelan oil. This country has to reach energy independence.

And we've got to look at all our other dependencies as well, John. I mean, they go -- our dependency on foreign producers goes from oil to consumer electronics to computers, computer technology. This is -- and clothing itself. This is a dependent nation now.

And we have got to insist that both political parties take up this issue and tell us how they're going to deal with it.

ROBERTS: But who knows what those Nebraska corn farmers would be up to if they got the power.

Lou, thanks very much, appreciate it.

DOBBS: You know what, John? I'll take those Nebraska farmers every time.

ROBERTS: There you go. Thanks, Lou.

DOBBS: Thank you, John.


ROBERTS: Fighting fire both here and in Iraq. In southern California, one of the largest wild fires in the state's history has firefighters wondering if it will ever end.

And in Iraq, troops taking enemy fire on the ground don't have time to consider politics as they battle al Qaeda insurgents. We'll take you into the battle zone.


ROBERTS: Massive wildfire burning in Southern California is turning into one for the record books. Locals call it the Day Fire, because it started nearly a month ago on Labor Day.

But weary firefighters have taken to calling it the day after Day Fire, because it just won't seem to quit.

Peter Viles met up with some of the nearly 5,000 firefighters trying to outsmart fire that seems to have a mind of its own.


PETER VILES, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): For 25 days it has outfoxed the firefighters, shifting in one direction then doubling back. But it's when the wind blows that it gets downright mean.

A fire tornado, two of them, broke out Tuesday.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Two of them, two of them! Oh, one next to it!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They merged. They merged. It came out the back.

VILES: Roughly 200 feet high, the tornado jumped fire lines, threatening the mountain village of Lockwood Valley.

STEVE MUELLER, CALIFORNIA DEPARTMENT OF FORESTRY: It picked up cardboard boxes, chairs and other items. And stuff was just flying a round. I've never seen anything like that.

VILES: Many residents packed up and left their homes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I just hope it's here when we get back.

VILES: The village was spared, but the Day Fire, so-called because it started on Labor Day, has now blackened a wilderness area the size of Chicago and is still less than 50 percent contained.

(on camera) The biggest challenge in fighting this fire has been the terrain. It is so steep and so rugged up in these hills that when fire flares like it is right now behind me, it's almost impossible to get in here with a fire engine or a bulldozer to fight these flames.

(voice-over) When winds are calm, firefighters attack from the air, dumping water, even using a DC-10 to spread fire retardant. On the ground, hot shots, specially trained ground crews, are doing what they can.

CHERYL GOETZ, CALIFORNIA DEPARTMENT OF FORESTRY: Right now we're flying crews in, dropping them in. They call it coyote and out. They stay in for three or four days. They live off of the supplies that are dropped there.

FOREMAN: But when the fire jumped line this week it ran into valleys where firefighters had to fight back with hoses and bulldozers.

More than 4,000 firefighters are now battling the blaze. This group just checked in from New York City.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So dry out here. This stuff won't go out.

VILES: On day 25, the fire itself was hard to find. But these firefighters know the Day Fire is not done.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're a little tired. The fire lays down and it picks back up again. So, it has been a long ordeal.

VILES: And ordeal with no end in sight.

Peter Viles for CNN, Lockwood Valley, California.


ROBERTS: Straight ahead, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is pledging more support for the war in Afghanistan. More U.S. troops are heading there. We'll tell you just how many coming up.

Plus, with a fragile truce holding in the Middle East, Hezbollah is gaining strength without using guns. And that's making the United States very concerned. We'll take you there when 360 continues.


ROBERTS: A movie star gets turned away from the White House. It's our "Shot of the Day", coming up.

But first Erica Hill from Headline News joins us now with a "360 Bulletin".

ERICA HILL, HEADLINE NEWS ANCHOR: John, an extra 12,000 U.S. troops will be under NATO command in Afghanistan within weeks. Defense Secretary Rumsfeld made the announcement today. The troops have already been on the front lines under U.S. command and will join some 2,000 Americans already serving with NATO.

To Bailey, Colorado, now where today police said 16-year-old Emily Keyes sent one last text message to her family just about two hours before she was shot to death by a gunman in her school. That message read, "I love you guys."

Police have identified the killer as 53-year-old Duane Morrison. At one point, Morrison was holding six female students hostage before letting most of the them go. Investigators say he also sexually assaulted some of them. The motive at this point still a mystery.

In Lakeland, Florida, today, a huge manhunt is on for a man suspected of shooting two sheriff's deputies. One was killed, along with his police dog. The other has a leg wound. It all happened after the suspect was pulled over for speeding.

And from the Mars rover Opportunity, some pretty incredible new pictures of the red planet. The robot has reached what geologists called a dream location. That dream location is Victoria Crater, half mile wide, 230 feet deep.

This is where NASA could find the best evidence that water, along with life, once existed on Mars.

What's also pretty amazing that the rover was only built to last 90 days, but it is now 900 days into its mission, John. That's some pretty big staying power.

ROBERTS: That's the way automobiles should be built, Erica.

HILL: Wouldn't that be nice?

ROBERTS: To last 10 times long as they were planned to.

Hey, time for our "Shot of the Day". Check this one out. You're going to like it. Are you a fan of Borat?

HILL: He's quite a guy. ROBERTS: Yes, the fictional TV reporter from Kazakhstan, couldn't get past the gates of the White House today. No surprise.

HILL: Unbelievable.

ROBERTS: Borat, who's actually comedian Sacha Baron Cohen, got turned away by the Secret Service. But he tried to invite Premier George Walter Bush, his words, to a screening of his new movie.

Also invited, Mel Gibson, O.J. Simpson and other American dignitaries.

HILL: Quite a cast of characters. Did you get an invitation, John?

ROBERTS: Not yet. No, but I'm sure I will.

I love this guy. He's great.

The stunt came a day before the Kazakh president, Nursultan Nazarbayev, who is no fan of Borat because of what he says about Kazakhstan, will visit the White House.

The president, Nazarbayev, that is, is trying to raise his country's profile in the west so that Americans don't think that his country is full of anti-Semites who treat their women worse than their donkeys, no matter what Borat has to say.

HILL: No matter what his character says. Exactly.

ROBERTS: But it's true, as Borat says, though, that women no longer have to sit on the outside of the bus in Kazakhstan since the Nazarbayev reforms.

HILL: It's a welcome change, yes.

ROBERTS: Thanks, Erica. We'll see you next hour.

HILL: See you later, John.

ROBERTS: Well, nothing fictional about what's coming up. Nothing funny about it either. Inside the cabin of a supply truck in Iraq under fire with nowhere to hide.

Plus, a man who believes that he is God and the followers who treat him that way.

Across the country and around the world, this is 360.


ROBERTS: Good evening again, everyone.

Tonight, the war in Iraq will come home to you like never before.

ANNOUNCER: Ambush in Iraq, caught on tape. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Our military took us the wrong way. We're going back through hell.

ANNOUNCER: Unarmed civilian contractors executed, and a survivor says U.S. troops cut and ran. Tonight, the man who videotaped the attack talks with 360.

Southern California inferno burning out of control, scorching an area the size of Chicago. Firefighters have never seen anything like it. Tonight, we take you to the front lines.

And he's a former criminal who now claims to be greater than Jesus.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I won't die. I won't die. Even if you tried to kill me, I won't.

ANNOUNCER: His message is unusual.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You don't need ...

ANNOUNCER: And thousands eat it up.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The manifest king is here among us.

ANNOUNCER: Tonight, why some call it a cult, and the church denies it.

Across the country and around the world, this is ANDERSON COOPER 360.