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Anderson Cooper 360 Degrees

Bush Takes on Congress Over Iraq War Funding; Nancy Pelosi Visits Syria; Poisoned Pet Food Investigation Leads to China

Aired April 03, 2007 - 22:00   ET


JOHN ROBERTS, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening again, everyone -- John Roberts, in for Anderson Cooper, tonight.
And tonight: a new look at how faulty intelligence on nuclear materials made it into President Bush's case for war with Iraq, and why it stayed there, even though some people had grave doubts about it early on.

Also: getting to the bottom of the pet food poison mystery. We're learning which Chinese company supplied the tainted ingredient. There's also the question of whether any of it got into the human food supply.

We begin, though, tonight with a question that only sounds simple: Should the United States talk with countries that sponsor terrorism? And, if so, who should do the talking?

The Constitution says one thing. Years of history, as well as the elections last November, say quite another.

Today, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi arrived in Syria, a country the State Department calls a sponsor of terrorism. Tomorrow, she meets with dictator Bashar al-Assad. Her delegation includes a Republican from Ohio.

But, today, in the Rose Garden, President Bush put it plainly: Democrat or Republican, lawmakers talking to Assad is a bad idea.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's one thing to send a message. It's another thing to have the person receiving the message actually do something.

So, the position of this administration is that the best way to meet with a leader like Assad or people from Syria is in the larger context of trying to get the global community to help change his behavior. But sending delegations hasn't worked. It's just simply been counterproductive.


ROBERTS: Well, we ought to mention that Speaker Pelosi is not the first lawmaker to take a controversial trip overseas. And President Bush is not the first president to complain about it. This goes way back. With some of that in mind, perspective now from Faiz Shakir of the Center For American Progress, and Brian Darling of the Heritage Foundation.

Good evening to both of you.

Let me start with you, Brian.

First of all, do you think that this is a public-relations victory for Assad?


I mean, we have the president of the United States leading our country. He's the commander in chief of our armed forces. He's the chief diplomat. And now you have Speaker Pelosi traveling to Syria, and trying to engage in diplomacy. It's inappropriate. It's a bad idea. As a nation, we need to speak with one voice. And, today, we are not speaking with one voice.

ROBERTS: Faiz, you agree with that?

FAIZ SHAKIR, CENTER FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS: Well, it would be one thing if that one voice was succeeding. But President Bush has had a failed policy for three or four years now in the Middle East.

And it's a -- it's kind of a welcome development here that somebody is courageous enough, in this case, Speaker Pelosi, although there have been plenty of other Republicans, to go to Syria, and say that this actually needs to be part of the agenda. We need to talk to this regime if we're going to make them part of the solution, which they should be.

ROBERTS: Brian Darling, what is wrong with talking to Syria?

DARLING: Well, Syria is a terrorist state. It's one of the few states listed by the State Department as a state sponsor of terrorism.

It's supporting insurgent elements in Iraq. It's supporting and giving weapons to the individuals that are fighting our men and women in Iraq today. Why would we be supporting and talking to a government and giving it the imprimatur that it's OK to go talk to these nations that are supporting our opponents?


DARLING: It's inappropriate, and especially for the speaker of the House, who is not the commander in chief of our armed forces, is not the secretary of state. It's very inappropriate that the speaker is going to Syria to talk to Assad.

ROBERTS: Well, why, Brian, did the United States talk to North Korea recently, then? It's part of the axis of evil.

(CROSSTALK) DARLING: That's right. And it's a decision the president of the United States made, not the speaker of the House.

And, when the president decides that he's ready to talk to Syria, and try and convince them not to support terrorist elements throughout the globe, it just sends an inappropriate message when the speaker does that. What does it say to our friends, Israel, Lebanon, and the leaders in Iraq that are trying to provide a stable democracy, when we allow these things to happen?


ROBERTS: And Faiz...


ROBERTS: Go ahead, Faiz.

SHAKIR: It's not just -- it's not just North Korea that the administration talked to who was on the terror list. It was also Libya. They conducted negotiations with Libya.

ROBERTS: Very quietly. Very quietly.

SHAKIR: And they were -- and they were successful negotiations. And they brought about the nuclear disarmament of that regime.

So, here, we have a model for how this can actually come about. And, to those who are skeptics and say, there is no use talking to Syria, we have already got models that prove that there is at least a hope of something coming about. And, the more you isolate this regime, the less they're going to want to talk to you, the less they're going to want to help you, and the more they are going to want to be a destabilizing force in Iraq and elsewhere.

ROBERTS: But, Faiz, is it also possible that Bashar al-Assad is using Nancy Pelosi to drive a wedge between the White House and the American people? And is it possible, too, that this could undermine U.S. foreign policy, as the president has charged?

SHAKIR: No, I don't think it's undermining U.S. foreign policy. Everyone understands that the -- President Bush remains the commander in chief for the next two years.

But what Speaker Pelosi is doing is putting out an alternative agenda, which says that -- that engaging with Syria is a productive step that can help address a lot of the problems that we have experienced in Iraq.

For instance, Brian mentioned that they have been very unhelpful to us in Iraq. And I agree with everything he said there. But, if you are going to want to address that, what do you need to do? You need to talk to this regime. You need to say that these are our concerns, and, if you don't address them, we are going to come after you in different ways.

ROBERTS: Speaker Pelosi addressed the criticism that President Bush leveled at here. And here is a quick look at what she said.


REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: We think it's a good idea to establish the facts, to hopefully build some confidence between us. We have no illusions, but we have great hope.


ROBERTS: Brian Darling, so far, trying to force Syria to change hasn't worked. Why not confidence-building measures, and eventually dialogue?

DARLING: Well, look, Speaker Pelosi supports a plan to start the withdrawal of troops in Iraq in 120 days, and have a complete withdrawal by March 31 of 2008. That ties the hands of the president to fight the war.

And going and speaking to Syria serves no purpose, because she's the speaker of the House, not the secretary of state. We have Condoleezza Rice to do that. And, when this administration is ready to talk to Syria, they will do so. And they clearly are not ready. And they're very unhappy with the activities of the speaker of the House. And they stated that today.

ROBERTS: Faiz, let me finish up with you. Quick answer, if we could.

What about that point, that Speaker Pelosi doesn't carry the weight of diplomacy in the United States, and, therefore, this visit is really meaningless?

SHAKIR: No, it's not meaningless.

Look at what's going on right now. We're talking about the fact that we need to engage with Syria. This is what her trip has done. And we haven't even talked about the fact that Republicans have been over there, Arlen Specter has been over there, that there is a majority of all the American people and Congress now, I think, who want to do this. And it's -- the question should be, why isn't Condi Rice out there? Why isn't President Bush taking these steps?

ROBERTS: Well, it certainly got us talking.

Faiz Shakir, Brian Darling, thanks very much. Appreciate you being with us.

SHAKIR: Thank you.

DARLING: Thank you.

ROBERTS: Today's tiff over Speaker Pelosi's visit was merely the latest skirmish in a long-running battle between Congress and the White House over Iraq.

Yesterday, the Senate majority leader signed on to a bill that would cut off funding for combat operations -- Democrats saying they're ready to pull the trigger on that one.

Today, President Bush hit back hard.

More on that now from CNN's Ed Henry.


ED HENRY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The president cast the battle over the war budget as a matter of flesh and blood, not dollars and cents.

BUSH: Congress' failure to fund our troops on the front lines will mean that some of our military families could wait longer for their loved ones to return from the front lines, and others could see their loved ones headed back to the war sooner than they need to. That is unacceptable to me.

HENRY: With Vice President Dick Cheney looking on from behind a shrub, the president lambasted Congress for going on spring break before delivering war funding bills which Democrats insist will require that U.S. troops start leaving Iraq.

BUSH: If Democrat leaders in Congress are bent on making a political statement, then they need to send me this unacceptable bill as quickly as possible when they come back. I will veto it, and then Congress can get down to the business of funding our troops without strings and without delay.

HENRY: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid shot back that it's the president who is not doing business.

SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MAJORITY LEADER: Well, the president has a swagger, and he has -- he's been very uncompromising. And that's the reason we're in the quagmire we're in, in Iraq. He should become in tune with the fact that he is president of the United States, not king of the United States.

HENRY (on camera): In fact, Senator Reid charged, the president is misleading the country. Reid insists U.S. troops would not run out of funds until July. And the senator also vowed that he will force an end to the war.

REID: I do not believe there should be a single drop of American blood, additional blood, shed in Iraq. I do not believe there should be another head injury in Iraq of an American soldier. Let the Iraqis handle their own country.

HENRY (voice-over): But the president said the U.S. is not done with its mission, saying, less than half of the 30,000 additional troops headed to Baghdad have made it there.

BUSH: I believe, not only can we succeed; I know we must succeed. And, so, I decided to -- at the recommendation of military commanders, decided to send reinforcements, as opposed to leaving Baghdad and watching the country go up in flames. HENRY: The president stopped short in demanding that Congress end its vacation and come back to work. Perhaps that's because the president himself is spending Easter weekend at his Texas ranch. So, the budget battle both sides say is so urgent will have to wait.

Ed Henry, CNN, the White House.


ROBERTS: Joining me now is former presidential adviser David Gergen.

And, David, critics have been hitting the Democrats pretty hard in the last couple of weeks, saying, you're dealing with all the smoke and mirrors, in terms of the bills that you're putting before Congress. If you really had some guts, you would go for this issue of funding.

Now Harry Reid is saying he just might do it.

DAVID GERGEN, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL ADVISER: Well, I was surprised by that. And, actually, it's a little discouraging to hear people on both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue in the last 24 hours, John.

It seems to me that we're clearly heading for a showdown over this -- this bill, and then a veto that will be sustained in the Congress. But what's dismaying is that both sides are hardening up about what will happen after the veto, how -- normally, in Washington, when statesmanship is sustained, each side lays out what its views are, and then they try to find out, OK, is there a middle ground? Is there some way we can sort of agree on it, because it is foreign policy; our troops are in harm's way?

And, instead, here, each side is ratcheting it up. So, I thought the president was way too confrontational today.

But I must say, Harry Reid, in my judgment, it was a political blunder to say, well, if he doesn't do what we want to do, we're just going to pull the plug on the whole darn thing and just pull out. I was really surprised.


ROBERTS: How politically perilous is this? Democrats cut off funding during the Vietnam War, but most of the U.S. troops were already out of Vietnam. No Congress has ever cut off funding during a war.

GERGEN: It would be unimaginable for the Democratic Congress, after pledging in this last election campaign and saying after the election campaign that's exactly what they would not do. They would not pull the plug. It would be unimaginable if they did that, where troops were on the ground over there.

I will bet what happens is that they find a way to keep the funding going. But it would be so helpful, John -- I think they owe it to the troops -- if the two sides could now sit down together and say, OK, we have our big disagreements, but let's see if we can reach common ground on how we proceed from here, because this is going to get very, very messy, if they don't reach common ground soon.

ROBERTS: Another member of the former presidential adviser club, Dick Morris, had an interesting comment, an interesting analysis of this. He said that he predicts that the president is going to win this battle, because the Democrats will be forced to back down. Nancy Pelosi is going to have to agree to some sort of funding bill that does not include a troop deadline. She is going to lose the liberal wing of the party. Because of that, she's going to have to forge alliances with Republicans to get the bill passed. And they're going to make her beg for every vote.

Morris is saying that this could shatter the Democratic Party.

GERGEN: Oh, I don't think that's right.

You know, Dick -- I have a lot of fun with Dick.


GERGEN: And he's gotten a very negative view of the Democratic Party these days.

I have to tell you, I think that the Democrat -- what's more important than whether the Democratic unity is national unity and this question of whether the Democrats can find common ground. There is a way to -- there is a compromise here.

And that is, the Democrats say, look, we're not going to pull the plug in the next six months. You have six months to prove, as your people say, that you can -- this surge will work. If it doesn't work in six months, you agree now, up front, it doesn't work in six months, come October, then you agree we begin looking toward the exits and we commit ourselves to that.

It seems to me, that's not an unreasonable compromise on both sides. And I'm sure there are other, more imaginative compromises.


ROBERTS: But, if there isn't a compromise, do you think that Harry Reid will pull the trigger on this threat?

GERGEN: No, I do not. That's political suicide for the Democrats.

And I just don't think that they're going to go for an instant withdrawal. That's not what the country, by the way, supports. There's never been even a large minority who say they want an instant withdrawal. People do want to do this in a reasonable way.

And just to pull the plug -- and, you know, what -- what the Democrats would be putting themselves in position of is not only putting troops in harm's way, but they will then walk away being blamed for the loss. And that's exactly the trap they don't want to fall into.

ROBERTS: Yes. And that's exactly the trap the president would like to push them into.

David Gergen, as always, thanks.

GERGEN: Exactly.

ROBERTS: We will let you go home and get some sleep.

GERGEN: Thank you, John.

ROBERTS: Appreciate it.

GERGEN: OK. Take care.

ROBERTS: If President Bush vetoes the Iraq spending bill, it will be just the second veto of his presidency, the first one dealing with funding for embryonic stem cell research. Here's the "Raw Data" on how that stacks up against other presidents.

Since 1789, presidents have used the veto pen at least 2,550 times. Congress overrode 106 of those. President Franklin Roosevelt, America's longest serving president, had the most vetoes, 635. President Grover Cleveland comes in second, with 414, followed by President Harry Truman, with 250 vetoed bills. Seven presidents didn't use the veto pen at all -- all of that, though, before 1881.

Straight ahead, some raw data that turned out to be wrong data about Iraq: nuclear materials and, ultimately, war.


ROBERTS (voice-over): Sixteen words that led to war...


BUSH: The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.


ROBERTS: ... words based on phony evidence, how did it get into the president's speech, and why did the administration keep using intelligence that wouldn't even stand up to a quick Google search?

Also: What's killing our pets? Tracing the poison in the pet food all the way to China. But who knew what and when? And that's not all. Some of the poison could be in the human food supply -- tonight on 360.



ROBERTS: Washington has gone pink, and Al Gore is going green, green, green. That's the beginning and the end of our "Raw Politics" segment tonight.

Here's CNN's Tom Foreman.


And you know it's springtime in Washington when the flowers are blooming, the sun is shining, and the politicians are swinging at each other. The cherry trees are in blossom, but the president is giving his opponents the pits on Iraq. Democrats are heaving pies over his plans to scuttle their legislation to pull back from the war.


SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D), NEW YORK: The president has said he will veto that. And I challenge him to reconsider that. You know, this is vetoing the will of the American people.


FOREMAN: What will the American people make of presidential contender Bill Richardson now? The Democratic governor of New Mexico has signed legislation that allows the limited use of medical marijuana.

Doctors in the land of enchantment can now prescribe pot to help seriously ill patients manage pain and nausea. Such programs tend to run into trouble with federal drug law and the courts. We will see if it means trouble for Richardson. Stay tuned on that.

On the campaign trail, John and Elizabeth Edwards campaigning together again for the first time since she announced the return of her cancer, that's a good sight, no matter which party you like. Congratulations to them.

Republican Mitt Romney is getting skewered for his shifting political views by "Doonesbury." That's a comic, kids. And, like Woodward and Bernstein, its best work is in the past.

California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to the rescue -- a little girl passes out during one of his speeches. She recovers. And so does he.


GOV. ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER (R), CALIFORNIA: All right. She's fine. She's walking again.



FOREMAN: Out on the red carpet, the president under arrest. Actor Martin Sheen, who played the president on the TV show "West Wing," was nabbed during a nuclear protest. Don't worry. It's happened before, and he's got the time. The show was canceled last year. And, speaking of Hollywood, movie mogul and former Vice President Al Gore is one step closer to living the dream, cutting down his $1,200 dollar monthly electric bill. He wanted solar panels on his 10,000-square-foot house in Tennessee, but he ran into an inconvenient truth. They're illegal in his neighborhood. He's convinced the city to change the rules. It's not exactly like winning the presidency, but it's a start.

And that's the end of "Raw Politics" -- John.

ROBERTS: Tom, thanks very much.

Glad to see that that appearance in "Kindergarten Cop" for Schwarzenegger finally paid off.

FOREMAN: Yes. He got the -- got the chops there, and he delivered them today. The crowd loved it.

ROBERTS: Hey, back to -- back to Bill Richardson. The White House is sending him to North Korea. Are they just trying to keep him off the campaign trail, or is something else at work here?

FOREMAN: Well, you know, Bill Richardson, as you know, John, has been around a long time. He is a much-respected politician. And he has got some chops in that part of the world.

He's had a lot of work in diplomacy and knowing about things over there. So, the White House, I think, is much preferring someone like Bill Richardson going as part of a bipartisan group that they can agree to, as opposed to what Nancy Pelosi is doing over in Syria right now. And it has to do with soldiers who are missing in action over there, the return of remains from some of these folks.

That's something that a lot of people in Washington can unite around.


FOREMAN: So, he's doing some unusual moves with his campaign, but he's still a guy to watch, because he's a seasoned politician, who certainly has many, many smooth moves up his sleeve that we will see as the time goes on.

ROBERTS: Richardson also a person who is supportive of the new White House policy toward North Korea, where many Republicans aren't.

And, by the way, Tom, thanks for showing the shot of me in the leather vest last night on...

FOREMAN: Oh, you looked great there. It was fabulous.

ROBERTS: Still trying to live that one down.

FOREMAN: You looked like part of a singing group.

(LAUGHTER) FOREMAN: I just loved it.

ROBERTS: Yes, like I needed that.

Thanks, Tom.


FOREMAN: You're welcome, John.

ROBERTS: See you.

From "Raw Politics" to raw intelligence -- coming up, new details on how bogus evidence of Iraq's nuclear ambitions became the lynchpin of President Bush's case for war.

Also: how poison got into the pet food, where it came from, and what's being done to keep your dogs and cats safe.

A break first -- you're watching A.C. 360.



BUSH: The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.


ROBERTS: Yellowcake, the word at the center of a controversy that continues to dog the Bush administration. It's the nuclear material that apparently wasn't bound from Niger to Iraq, but, nonetheless, found its way into a State of the Union speech in the run-up to the war.

That's the focus of a new book titled "The Italian Letter: How the Bush Administration Used a Fake Letter to Build the Case for War in Iraq.

Earlier tonight, I talked with one of two authors, Peter Eisner of "The Washington Post."


ROBERTS: Peter, the book really is sort of one-stop shopping to more fully understand the story that's been going on for a number of years now.

But there was at least one piece of business that I wasn't aware of before. And that was the real rocky relationship between Karl Rove and Dick Cheney that really came to a head back in 2004, prior to the election. What did you find out about that in your research?

PETER EISNER, CO-AUTHOR, "THE ITALIAN LETTER": We found out that, as a result of Cheney's role in developing the march toward war in Iraq, Rove started to question, has he gone too far; is he a little bit too much out there for us for running again in 2004?

So, Rove started to talk to people, particularly Grover Norquist, and, in turn, to conservative financial backers, just gently, to say, do we really want him on the ticket? It's an outrageous thing to say. And it really upset Cheney, when he found out about it. And it was squelched quickly. But the bad blood between Rove and Cheney, as a result, exists to this day.

ROBERTS (voice-over): The Rove-Cheney drama is just the latest revelation in a complicated story that began more than four years ago and continues to this day. But how did we get here?

One of many key players in the run-up to the war, the White House Iraq Group -- its mission, claims Eisner, to sell the war in Iraq to the American public by whipping up fear about Iraq's nuclear program. In 2003, what looked like the perfect smoking gun emerged, a letter now known as the "Italian letter," supposedly documenting Niger's intentions to sell uranium to Saddam Hussein.

The only problem, the letter was a fake.

(on camera): How easily could this document have been proven to be a fake, Peter?

EISNER: Well, the Italian letter itself, which is a letter purported to be from the president of Niger to Saddam Hussein, for starters, has a large mistake in it in which the so-called president of Niger says that he's using his powers under a constitution that no longer existed, so that anybody, for instance, that, if they didn't know about Africa, didn't know about Niger, could simply go to the Internet and find out that that wasn't the ruling constitution, for instance.

But other documents also showed wrong dates, impossible names, misspellings, and things that were just easy to find. And, in fact, the Italian journalist, Elisabetta Burba, realized quickly that there were some problems here.

ROBERTS (voice-over): Italian journalist Elisabetta Burba was given the documents by an old source. Eisner and others believe he got the doctors from Italy's intelligence services.

Suspicious of their authenticity, Burba took them to the U.S. Embassy in Rome for confirmation. She never heard back, but later discovered on her own that the documents were fraudulent. The CIA also dismissed the documents initially. And, yet, the administration went on to use them to make this now familiar case for war in the 2003 State of the Union address.


BUSH: The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.

(END VIDEO CLIP) ROBERTS (on camera): Peter, how important was this document, this Italian letter, to going to war in Iraq? Had it not existed or had been proven to be a fake, do you think the U.S. still would have gone to war in Iraq?

EISNER: Can't say for sure. We can't predict.

But the Bush administration knew that the one thing that would make the difference for Congress and for the American people was the threat of a mushroom cloud, that there was an imminent danger from Saddam Hussein, not from vague biological or chemical weapons, but from nuclear weapons.

And this was tailor-made for the Bush administration to say, there is evidence to show that Saddam Hussein has tried to obtain uranium in Niger, even though it was absurd in many different ways.

ROBERTS (voice-over): The thought that she gave the United States a fake document that helped make the case for war now haunts Elisabetta Burba.

(on camera) How does Elisabetta Burba feel about all of this now?

EISNER: She feels embarrassed and misused. She wished that she had been able to write a story ahead of time saying that this all was a fraud, and that there was a great mistake and that there was no evidence of Iraqi uranium purchases.

But she was blocked from doing that until months after the Iraq war and as a result, she feels like at least she was scooped but at most she unwittingly participated in helping the documentation that fed the war.

ROBERTS (voice-over): It was also the document that led to former ambassador Joe Wilson's trip to Niger, the outing of his wife as a CIA officer and then recently the felony conviction of the vice president's chief of staff.

(on camera) You suggest in the book it would have been very easy for the White House to avoid Joe Wilson, Valerie Plame, Scooter Libby if they had just done a little bit of research?

EISNER: An easy Google search on one document that showed that the dates were wrong, the names were wrong, that it was impossible would have made it impossible in return for the United States to carry this information about Niger to saying that mushroom clouds were on the horizon.

And as a result, we never would have heard of Joe Wilson. We never would have heard of Valerie Plame. And likely Scooter Libby might not be convicted and could still be in office.

ROBERTS: And at almost every step along the march to war, says Eisner, was one man, Vice President Dick Cheney.

(on camera) Was Dick Cheney really the man behind the curtain here, and to what degree did he believe intelligence that might have been suspect? Pat Lang, the former Middle East chief for the Defense Intelligence Agency, was quoted in your book as saying that Cheney really was delusional on this idea of the intelligence as it pertained to Iraq.

EISNER: Pat Lang worked closely with Cheney in a previous incarnation, and he was not alone in saying that this was not the Dick Cheney that he knew. Dick Cheney that was measured in his analysis and what they called an excellent consumer of intelligence. He knew how to analyze the information, and he knew what the incoming information meant.

Many of the intelligence sources that we spoke to, not only unnamed, but people like Pat Lang, also Larry Wilkerson, Colin Powell's former chief of staff, they said Cheney was at worst leading a kind of second tier that was operating in various parts of the government that was pushing the United States toward war with scant evidence.

ROBERTS: Peter, since the end of 2003, when David Kaye came back and said no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, the American people have wondered, who is to blame for going to war in that country on faulty intelligence? From your research, from what you found from this book, who do you believe is to blame?

EISNER: The Bush administration pushed the envelope and could have given a more measured look at what was going on with this intelligence. The intelligence was, as they say, cherry picked to make the worst possible case, because they wanted to go to war anyway.

ROBERTS: Peter Eisner, thanks very much. Appreciate it. Good book, good read.

EISNER: Thanks a lot.


ROBERTS: And the book is "The Italian Letter: How the Bush Administration Used a Fake Letter to Go to War in Iraq".

Incidentally, AC 360 asked the White House to respond to Peter's assertion that Karl Rove was exploring the possibility of dropping Cheney from the 2004 ticket. A White House spokeswoman says, quote, "I can just tell you I think that's ridiculous. It's not true."

Just ahead, they're not the front runners, but they've certainly got the buzz. Barack Obama, John Edwards and some new polling in New Hampshire. That's coming up.

And so is this.


ROBERTS (voice-over): What's killing our pets? Tracing the poison in the pet food all the way to China. But who knew what and when? And that's not all. Some of the poison could be in the human food supply. Tonight, on 360.

And turning spring break from this to this. Inside a growing movement, college kids on the beach not doing what comes naturally. When 360 continues.



ROBERTS: "Please investigate Menu Foods and their flagrant negligence to issue the pet food recall sooner. This would have probably saved many lives. My sweet dog passed away a week ago from eating this tainted food." Cheryl Wilson in Louisville, Kentucky.

A grieving pet owner seeking the truth. Just one of hundreds of e-mails that we've received about the growing scandal surrounding poisoned pet food. Well, just who is responsible?

CNN's Joe Johns has been doing some digging and is "Keeping Them Honest".


JOE JOHNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In terms of sheer scale, the nationwide impact of the contaminated pet food problem is enormous: 10,000 complaints yet to be verified. The recall of 60 million cans and pouches of pet food.

But to get a real feel for how this thing is affecting people, you have to take it down to the individual household. Alexander Nunez had a French terrier named Bam-Bam.

ALEXANDER NUNEZ, DOG DIED FROM EATING TAINTED FOOD: I feel like my dog was taken from me and he was murdered.

JOHNS: The dog had just gotten a clean bill of health from the vet when he started eating wet pet food from a batch that had been recalled.

NUNEZ: The kidney failure was so bad the doctor recommended that I put him to sleep.

JOHNS: How nearly 100 brands of pet food got contaminated is a scientific detective story, and there's a lot we still don't know.

(on camera) Among the obvious questions, as always, who knew what and when? Six weeks ago, on February 20, Menu Foods, the company at the white hot center of all of this because it supplies almost 100 pet food brands, got the first warning: complaints from owners whose pets were getting sick or refusing to eat.

The company started testing animals a week later, and some of them died.

(voice-over) But the Food and Drug Administration apparently wasn't told about the problem until much later and still has not been able to confirm how widespread it may be. In Congress, some are already calling for hearings.

SEN. DICK DURBIN (D-IL), MAJORITY WHIP: I think when you have a company that discovers a problem that's killing animals and they don't report it for three weeks to the Food and Drug Administration, it is, at best, gross negligence.

JOHNS: Menu has said it delayed the recall to try to confirm whether the food was the source of the problem and not something else.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We were testing the wheat gluten. We were testing the finished product to try and find something wrong.

JOHNS: It turns out the source of the contamination is not rat poison, as was originally suspected, but apparently wheat gluten, which is used basically to make gravy. It contained a chemical called melamine. Melamine is used in plastics and pesticides.

A veterinarian and toxicologist who works for the ASPCA, which by the way, was the first to discover the toxic chemical was not rat poison, says melamine may be even more of a danger to cats than to dogs like Bam-Bam. Cats seem more sensitive.

STEVE HANSEN, ASPCA ANIMAL POISON CONTROL CENTER: The feeding trial was done in which several cats died. That's very important information. We know it's something in the diet that's causing death in cats and the kidney failure is the result.

JOHNS: So how and where did melamine get mixed into the wheat gluten and then get mixed into the pet food? Right now that's the mystery.

What we know is that the wheat gluten went from manufacturer in China to a plant in Kansas City owned by a company called Kimnutra (ph) that has recalled products containing wheat gluten from the Chinese supplier.

Kimnutra (ph) earlier had sent some of the suspect products to two Menu Foods plants, one in Emporia, Kansas, the other in Pennsauken, New Jersey.

If you're wondering whether it could have gotten into the human food supply, too, FDA says there's no indication of that, but the investigation is ongoing. Kimnutra (ph) says it did not ship to facilities that manufacture food for human consumption.

Legal experts say, though pet owners may be able to recover some of their vet costs, there is little that can be done for their grief and emotional distress.

ANDREW POPPER, LAW PROFESSOR: It's direct out of pocket costs. It's veterinary, animal hospital related expenses plus the loss of direct value of the animal itself.

JOHNS: For now, though, it's the scientific investigation that matters most to keep this from happening again. Though that's little comfort to the families that have lost their beloved pets. Joe Johns, CNN, Washington.


ROBERTS: Christie Keith that been investigating this story from the very beginning. She is a contributing editor for And she joins us now from San Francisco.

Christie, the FDA has said that 15 pets died from the tainted food. The veterinarian information puts the number at somewhere just over a hundred. But how many do you think have actually been attributed to this or could be attributed, at least, to this poisoned food?

CHRISTIE KEITH, PETCONNECTION.COM: Well, I think that the real issue is that we truly don't know, which underscores what I see as the biggest problem here, which is that there is no system to track animal deaths, even when there might be a link to human health issues, that there's no system to report them. It's a matter of investigating and trying to put pieces together.

It would be extremely unlikely, based on the data that we do have coming out of places like Veterinarian Information Network, public health veterinarians, that it is -- that the numbers are anywhere near 15. Those are mostly just the animals who died in Menu's test.

ROBERTS: How high do you think it could go? What's been reported on your web site?

KEITH: We've had a total number of reported affected animals just over 9,000.


KEITH: Now, these are self-reported cases. These are not by any stretch of the imagination confirmed. They are pet owners reporting on their own volition. However, we do ask them to provide veterinary contact information and confirm that they were feeding their pets food on the recall list.

Our exact numbers on the dogs as of today at 7 p.m. was 1,434 dogs dead, 1,751 cats.


KEITH: And a total reporting of 9,092.

ROBERTS: Do you think that the FDA or Menu Foods had of acted sooner, that there would have been fewer pet deaths?

KEITH: Without question. We've heard stories on from our readers, heart-breaking stories of people who -- whose pets went do kidney failure, who put them in the hospital, who spent sometimes thousands of dollars getting them well, bringing them home and feeding them the same foods that had made them ill. Because they had no idea that that was what was a threat to them. And those pets then died.

Certainly, any pet who died subsequent to the initiation of the feeding trials, the first reported deaths, could have been avoided if there had been some better notification or system in place to alert veterinarians and bring them into the process so that they could advise their clients and monitor their patients appropriately.

ROBERTS: Well, Christie, you've been really following this closely. Keep up the good work. Thanks for being with us tonight.

KEITH: Thank you.

Coming up, that polar bear cub, Knut -- don't worry, this is good news -- would you believe he's getting even cuddlier? And you can take him home.

Also, how abstinence makes the heart grow fonder. That's the message from one Christian to another in a place saturated with sex. From Cabo to Miami Beach, this is 360.


ROBERTS: As AC 360 looks at Christianity this week, millions of college students are on spring break. This year, though, some evangelical students are bringing a very different message on vacation to compete with the siren song of beer and bikinis.

CNN's Joe Johns reports.


JOHNS (voice-over): The day is for drinking in the sun and the booze. The night is for cruising the strip. College students flock to the white sands of Florida's Gulf Coast beaches to live out a rite of spring, if not a rite of passage. It's been called Satan's playground. But this spring, the devil's got company.

Young evangelical Christians, 400 strong, powered by an unusual spring break message, abstinence. That's right, don't do it. Resist the pressure and urge to have sex before marriage. They preach it's the only way to keep your body safe and your soul pure.

Not exactly an easy sell here, and the evangelicals know what they're up against.

ANGEL ELLIS, BEACH REACH ORGANIZER: We've asked students before who are down here to party, what is your purpose in life? And I had a girl say to get drunk and to get laid by the hottest guy on the beach. That was her goal for the week.

JOHNS: At a free pancake breakfast put on by the evangelicals, college juniors Mike and Jake say they appreciate what the Christian kids are trying to do, but it's just that the temptation is so strong.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All's you got to do is take that camera and you walk down that beach where those stages are... UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... you see all those girls, whose daddies would be so proud.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They keep throwing it in your face, and eventually, you're going to take the bait.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The toughest fish in the sea. You keep dangling that -- you keep dangling that squid in front of his face, he goes. Is he going to get it? And that's what we do, we go get it.


JOHNS: So what drives the evangelicals to head out night after night against almost impossible odds?

Lacey, Jeremy, Tara and Erica, and the others all belong to a Christian outreach ministry called Beach Reach. They're spending their spring break offering free bus rides. It's a way for them to corral the party people and deliver their message.

Like millions of American teens, these kids have signed abstinence pledges.

ERICA MITCHELL, BEACH REACH PARTICIPANT: We did this program called True Love Waits, and I took a pledge then. And we got purity rings and everything.

JEREMY WARREN, BEACH REACH PARTICIPANT: And we're going to stay pure until we say "I do."

JOHNS (on camera): Is it hard so far?


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Abstinence for young people is the only certain way to avoid sexually transmitted diseases.

JOHNS (voice-over): The Bush administration has doubled funding that promote abstinence as the only way to prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. The programs now get $204 million a year.

But critics argue abstinence only programs are not realistic. They do not provide kids with the facts with things about like condom use, and this could leave the kids naive about protecting themselves if they do have sex.

In fact, one Yale University study shows nearly nine of 10 teenagers who sign the pledge will break it. An alternative, teaching abstinence, but as a part of a comprehensive sex ed. program. HEATHER BOONSTRA, GUTTMACHER INSTITUTE: The evidence is very strong. Those programs result in delay more in sexual initiation, result in fewer sexual partners, result -- result in, you know, less frequency in sex, more contraceptive use, more condom use overall.

JOHNS: How to use a condom and other such lessons don't sit well with these kids, though. And the Beach Reachers are determined to walk the straight and narrow.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I never want to go down the road that I've seen people going down.

JOHNS: The path to purity, she says, leads to a much brighter future, no matter what temptation paves the way.

Joe Johns, CNN, Panama City Beach, Florida.


ROBERTS: And that's just a sampling of two special reports this week here n AC360. "What is a Christian?" airs tomorrow and Thursday at 10 p.m. Eastern.

It's usually April 15, but this year it's April 17, and with that coming up, we've got news of a major tax prep company in trouble with the law. Details next.

Also, how can you make polar bear Knut even cuter and cuddlier? It's our 360 "Shot" when -- when we continue.


ROBERTS: Well, who could forget Knut, that irresistible baby polar bear that we've been following at the Berlin Zoo? I mean, he just redefines the word cute, doesn't he? Well, now you can cuddle with a cute Knut of your own. It's our "Shot of the Day", coming up in just a minute.

First, though, Erica Hill from Headline News joins us with a "360 News and Business Bulletin".

ERICA HILL, HEADLINE NEWS ANCHOR: John, new hope tonight for an early release of the 15 British captives in Iran. Prime Minister Tony Blair is now calling for direct, bilateral talks on the standoff. The announcement closely follows the sudden release of an Iranian diplomat kidnapped two months ago in Iraq. That release raising speculation the crisis might end in a prisoner exchange.

Meantime, here in Atlanta, deadly gunfire hitting much too close to home. It happened this afternoon at CNN's center near the entrance to our dot com newsroom in the Omni Hotel. Police say a couple were seen arguing when the man shot the woman dead. A CNN security guard then shot him the armed man, critically wounding him.

On Wall Street, the Dow soared 126 points back into positive territory for the year. So what's behind the surge? Analysts say investors rallied on word of an uptick in home sales and a dip in oil prices. They also warned the market may be vulnerable, due to the shaky subprime lending market.

Also on shaky ground, the nation's second largest tax preparer. With just two weeks to go till tax day, the government trying to shut down more than 125 Jackson Hewitt tax stores across four states. The Justice Department accuses the stores of bilking the government out of more than $70 million.

Accusations include cooking up bogus W-2 forms and deductions. Not what you want to do, John.

ROBERTS: Not exactly. Not for a tax preparer.

HILL: I know. Crazy stuff.

ROBERTS: Erica, check this out. It's our "Shot of the Day". It seems that folks just cannot get enough of Knut, that irresistible little polar bear that made his public debut at a zoo in Berlin last month.

HILL: He is a munchkin.

ROBERTS: He is just the cutest little thing, isn't he? Soon, there's going to be a chance for everybody to curl up with a Knut of their own. Yes. Get one of these for Westin.

HILL: Exactly.

ROBERTS: The polar bear spawning a whole industry of souvenirs and these cuddly little dolls to -- wouldn't you know it -- T-shirts bearing his image. Bearing his image. You got that? The toy doll is made by the -- the toy doll is made by the teddy bear maker Shteif (ph). The company says the Knut toy will be available on its web site shortly.

HILL: How about that? You know, I guess we should have known that they would have been making a little bit more money off of him, but that bear is really stinking cute.

ROBERTS: He is just deadly cute. You know, I saw that "Planet Earth" that was on Discovery, and they had polar bear cubs. But they were not as cute as Knut.

HILL: Well, apparently, he just defies all odds.

ROBERTS: The problem is, though, is that it's going to be a very short marketing window, because Knut will soon be very big.

HILL: Indeed he will.

ROBERTS: Big teeth. And...

HILL: And big claws. Yes.

ROBERTS: Thanks, Erica. HILL: Get him while you can. Thanks, John.

ROBERTS: See you soon.

And a reminder that we want you to give "The Shot" a shot. If you see some amazing video, tell us about it at We will put some of your best clips on the air.

And still to come tonight, the environment versus the economy. How a landmark Supreme Court case could change the way we work and breathe.

And new polling in the race for the White House. We'll crunch the numbers for you, next.