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Paula Zahn Now

House Speaker Vows Not to Resign; Condoleezza Rice Visits Iraq; Conservatives React to Foley Scandal

Aired October 05, 2006 - 20:00   ET


PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you all for joining us tonight.
Tonight, we go in-depth on the top stories of the day, starting with the Capitol Hill scandal.

Today, House Speaker Dennis Hastert took the spotlight, vowing not to resign, in spite of the growing criticism over his handling of the Mark Foley scandal. And the House Ethics Committee, meanwhile, has launched a full-scale investigation. Dozens of members of Congress and their staffers could soon be subpoenaed.

There's also some big news out of Iraq tonight. Secretary of State Rice is in Baghdad, but she got there late. Her plane's landing had to be delayed because of what the State Department calls indirect fire at Baghdad's airport.

We're tracking all the big, fast-moving developments tonight.

We start on Capitol Hill with congressional correspondent Dana Bash.

What's the latest from there tonight, Dana?

DANA BASH, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: You know, Paula, even in talking to Republicans around town and around the country about how Denny Hastert, the speaker of the House, and his top aides, have been handling this Foley crisis since it began, they have been openly frustrated, saying that each time it seems that, though they try to control the damage, they make it worse.

Well, this time, today, the speaker and his aides tried something new.


BASH (voice-over): It's a time-tested political tactic. When you're in trouble, do something dramatic.

REP. DENNIS HASTERT (R-IL), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: I'm deeply sorry that this has happened. And the bottom line is that we're taking responsibility, because, ultimately, as someone has said in Washington before, the buck stops here.

BASH: But the House speaker did not get all the bang for the buck he had hoped for. He had planned to make a high-profile announcement: Former FBI Director Louis Freeh would head a security review of the page program. He didn't, because Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi objected. She says rules to keep pages safe are already in place.

The speaker continued to insist he did nothing wrong and won't resign, despite intense criticism from conservatives for not doing enough to stop Mark Foley's inappropriate conduct with pages. Hastert said again he only learned about Foley's behavior last Friday.

As for others?

HASTERT: I don't know who knew what, when. We know that there are reports of people that knew it and kind of fed it out or leaked it to the press. You know, we -- that's why we've asked for investigation.

BASH: Even as Hastert spoke in Chicago, Mark Foley's former chief of staff was in Washington, talking to the FBI. Kirk Fordham says he warned the speaker's office more than two years ago about Foley's inappropriate conduct with pages.

Back in Chicago, Hastert took a swipe at Fordham, questioning his credibility.

HASTERT: Kirk Fordham also said, the latest -- just about three or four days ago, that he worked for this guy for 10 years and he never did anything wrong.

BASH: But also said, if his aides did anything wrong, there will be consequences.

HASTERT: If it's members of my staff that didn't do the job, we will act appropriately. If it's somebody else's staff, they ought to act appropriately as well.

BASH: Some answers could come from the House Ethics Committee, which began its investigation of the Foley matter by issuing four dozen subpoenas for documents and witnesses, including lawmakers and staff.

REP. DOC HASTINGS (R-WA), ETHICS COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: The American people, and especially the parents of all current and former pages, are entitled to know how this situation was handled.

REP. HOWARD BERMAN (D), CALIFORNIA: We are looking at weeks, not months. I want to reemphasize the point that the chairman made, that we will go where the evidence takes us.


BASH: The speaker got another boost of support from the president today, who called him for the first time since the Foley scandal broke. And the speaker also got some fresh statements, saying that they support him from members of his own leadership team.

But, across the country, in talking to Republicans, it seems as though it's really unclear at this point whether what the speaker tried to do today is going to really have an impact on the already difficult season it is for Republicans this election year, especially given this Foley scandal.

ZAHN: Well, Dana, we have got a lot more to talk with you. We're going to come back to you in just a moment. Thanks.

(AUDIO GAP) this scandal has spread from just one congressman with a problem to the entire Republican leadership in crisis, so many names, so allegations, so many denials.

So, senior national correspondent John Roberts is here to take us step by step through who knew what and when.

There are so many contradictory facts out there. What's the truth?


ZAHN: What can we confirm?

ROBERTS: There's so many layers, and the circle just keeps widening every day.

But here what we know at this point: 2005, former Florida Congressman Mark Foley sends e-mails to a 16-year-old Louisiana boy who had been a page in the House of Representatives. Soon after that, the boy contacts Congressman Rodney Alexander of Louisiana, who is the congressman who sponsored his application to be a page in the House.

Congressman Alexander is concerned enough about these e-mails that he contacts the boy and his parents.

ZAHN: Concerned enough, what does that mean? What did he see in this e-mail that was so troubling?

ROBERTS: E-mails that apparently were -- quote -- "overly friendly," which raised a red flag with him.

So, after Congressman Alexander talks to the boy and his parents, he starts to run things up the flagpole. The office of House Speaker Dennis Hastert's office is contacted in September of 2005. Alexander's chief of staff makes a call to a staff member in Hastert's office, informing him about the e-mail exchange, but doesn't really get into the details, the text of what the e-mails were all about.

All of that, then, is brought to the attention of the chairman of the Page Board, Representative John Shimkus of Illinois, and, as well, to the clerk of the House, who's responsible for the page program.

Shimkus then calls a meeting with Foley. He gets together with Foley and the clerk of the House. They meet with Foley and say, to avoid any -- any appearance of impropriety here, and at the request of the boy's parents, you should stop sending these e-mails. Foley claimed all the time that the communications simply were innocent. And soon after that, a staff member for Dennis Hastert is told that corrective action had been taken. They believe it's all cleared up at that point.

ZAHN: But you now got a former congressional aide who has come out and said that Congressman Hastert knew about this long before fall of 2005.

ROBERTS: Yes. And here's where the story takes a real divergence and gets deep into the realm of he said/she said.

Kirk Fordham, who was the chief of staff to Congressman Foley up until 2004, and just resigned this week as chief of staff to Congressman Tom Reynolds, who's also the head of the Republican Congressional Campaign Committee, said he informed Hastert's office while he was working for Foley -- so, this would have been before early 2004 -- about these concerning communications -- he called them worrisome conduct that Foley was -- was demonstrating toward these pages -- and asked for people at the highest leadership, the highest levels of the House, to intervene.

Now -- now, here's a really interesting piece of information coming from Fordham, because Hastert claims that he only ever learned of the content of these e-mails from Congressman's Reynolds' office in the spring of 2006.

And, for what it's worth, Hastert's chief of staff, who apparently was the one who was informed by Fordham, came out on Wednesday and said, anything that Fordham has said about this didn't happen.

ZAHN: Meanwhile, the House speaker is saying: I'm not going anywhere. I'm not resigning. And, oh, by the way, it's Democratic...


ZAHN: ... political operatives out there that withheld the dumping of these e-mails until a real crucial time, leading up to a midterm elections.

ROBERTS: Yes, blame the Democrats.

But, if Republicans wanted to get this off the radar screen, they could have come out with the content of the e-mails a year ago, at least a year ago, taken corrective action back then, and everybody would have forgotten about it by now.

ZAHN: John, thanks so much.

We're going to bring in the rest of our "Top Story" political panel right now, congressional correspondent Dana Bash, back with us from the Hill, chief national correspondent John King in our Washington bureau, and, of course, John Roberts, still sitting here side by side on the set with me.

Good to see all of you. So, Dana, let's talk about Speaker Hastert's allegation, that, in some way, Democratic operatives and ABC News are behind the dumping of the documents, even going so far to say that Bill Clinton had something to do with this. Is there any proof of that?

BASH: No, there isn't any proof of that.

And the -- the speaker's office is saying that they -- they haven't been able to back that up. He also went after George Soros as well. George Soros, in the last campaign, did a lot of funding for Democratic causes and campaigns.

Essentially, what he is trying to do, and what he did today, Paula, as you mentioned, is take it to a whole 'nother level, is throw red meat to the Republican base. He even said today, point blank, that, when the base finds out who's feeding this monster, they're not going to be happy.

So, he's trying to -- to -- to say: Look, don't be mad at me. You know, it -- it's not necessarily us. It's the -- the Democrats who are trying to raise this at this time, in order to -- to hurt us in the election.

Having said that, I talked to several Republicans today, who said that might be a good argument, but it shouldn't be coming from the speaker himself. That really is not necessarily going to play well, especially with some conservatives, who say: Look, the bottom line is, you didn't do enough to -- to protect young boys, essentially, on Capitol Hill.

ZAHN: Sure.

BASH: And that's what matters here.

ZAHN: And -- and, John King, what about that? Because that's the key issue here, the issue of accountability, and whether the speaker of the House knew about it last year, or three years ago, as some aide has suggested. They can't completely bury that issue, can they?


You hit it on the head with the word accountability. The way a senior Republican strategist put to me earlier today was, the masses had gathered in the court a few days ago, looking for a body. They wanted the speaker to say: I found out my chief of staff did something wrong. Somebody on my staff screwed up. He's fired.

They haven't gotten that body from the speaker. And the way this strategist put it is, now, they're so impatient, they want the body. They want the speaker himself to go.

Even what the speaker did, even though there's a great affection for the speaker in the Republican Party, they simply say, no one has been held accountable. Somebody knew. Somebody did something wrong. That person needs to be held accountable. Who is it?

The Republicans say the speaker hasn't done enough yet.

ZAHN: We don't really know who it is, based on -- on your reporting, John, do we?


ZAHN: I mean, it's all over the place about who knew what, when.

KING: Well, but that's the problem. The facts are going to take some time to sort out. John Roberts was just talking about it.

Either the speaker's chief of staff is not telling the truth, or Mr. Foley's former chief of staff, Mr. Fordham, is not telling the truth. We don't know who is doing that yet. It will take at least a few weeks for the Ethics Committee to investigate, probably months for the FBI to investigate.

And guess what? There is an election a little more than a month from now. The perception has taken hold that the leadership didn't handle this right. Anyone can define this any way they want. That's the problem for the speaker.

ZAHN: So, does this become a defining issue for the midterm elections, or do Americans really care?

ROBERTS: Well, it certainly is the issue for this week, and probably into next week as well.

Whether or not the Republicans can get it off the radar screen and get back to the issues of -- of the war on terror, economy, taxes, national security, that type of thing...

ZAHN: How could they get it off this in a -- in a week or two?

ROBERTS: Well, you know, America has got a very short attention span.

A lot of it also hinges on what happens with Hastert. And -- and, you know, what John King said is -- is true among some Republicans. But the opposite is true among other Republicans. They're beginning to look like the Democrats. There's so many different opinions in the Republican Party.

One senior -- one senior strategist I talked to today said the Republicans never get credit for sacrifice, not from DeLay, not from Newt Gingrich, not from Trent Lott. So, they don't want Hastert to go. They think that that would harm the party, that the party is weaker without these people who have resigned. And, so, why should Hastert go, they say?

The trick is now, in the coming weeks, is to attack, attack, attack, and not -- quote -- "capitulate to a mob."

ZAHN: Well, we saw a preview of that today, didn't we? ROBERTS: We did.

ZAHN: John Roberts, John King, Dana Bash, thank you -- part of the best political team on TV.

Beyond the political fallout from the Foley scandal, a criminal investigation is under way, as John King just mentioned. Coming up next: why the FBI wasn't on the case months ago.

And millions of talk radio listeners are chatting about the scandal. Coming up, just how angry is conservative America? We will check the pulse.


ZAHN: Another "Top Story" we're following tonight: the bloody streets of Iraq. Will today's surprise visit from a top U.S. official do anything to stop the violence?

Our "Top Story" coverage of the spreading scandal on Capitol Hill continues now.

Tonight, government sources confirm the FBI has been talking to pages beyond just the initial two that we have previously talked about. And the pages describe electronic conversations in which former Congressman Mark Foley talked about sexual acts.

Justice correspondent Kelli Arena has the very latest on that for us tonight.


KELLI ARENA, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The e-mails and instant messages sent by former Congressman Mark Foley may be disgusting, but not necessarily illegal.

MARK RASCH, FORMER JUSTICE DEPARTMENT PROSECUTOR: You know, as a general rule, we prosecute these kind of cases when there's real danger to the child. Mere speech probably doesn't rise to that level.

ARENA: Government sources say prosecutors are looking at the evidence, but still have not launched a full criminal investigation.

ALBERTO GONZALES, ATTORNEY GENERAL: Let us get the facts, before we make, you know, an announcement about -- about possible crimes. That would be great.

ARENA: The law is by no means clear.

First, it's not a federal crime to have sexually explicit conversations with children over the Internet. That's because the Supreme Court ruled in 2003 that it's free speech, protected by the Constitution.

To prove a crime, investigators would need more than just talk. They would have to uncover evidence that Foley actually tried to get a minor to meet him for sex.

RASCH: You have to engage in some kind of an affirmative act towards meeting him, buying a plane ticket, arranging a place to meet, something like that. And it has to be explicit.

ARENA: According to government sources, at least one former congressional page alleges Foley discussed the possibility of getting together to engage in a sexual act. We do not know whether he has the documentation to back up that claim.

But, as shocking as that sounds, even that isn't a legal slam- dunk. The age of consent in D.C. is 16, and all of the pages in question were at least that old. If any of the pages were not in D.C. at the time of the e-mail exchanges, then state laws may apply. And, in some places, the age of consent is higher. Investigators continue to interview former pages and others who knew Foley, including his former chief of staff, Kirk Fordham.

TIMOTHY HEAPHY, ATTORNEY FOR KIRK FORDHAM: He will continue to be completely forthcoming. But because there's an ongoing investigation, he can't comment any farther.

ARENA: And discussions continue regarding access to Foley's computer and other files in his Capitol Hill office.

(on camera): But even that isn't straightforward. Now that Foley is no longer a member of Congress, one of the issues is who owns that computer and who can give consent for a search.

Kelli Arena, CNN, Washington.


ZAHN: So, even now, the FBI's investigation is only, as you can see, into its first stages. And that raises a very big question: Why didn't the FBI get involved months ago, when it got some of the questionable e-mails from Mark Foley to an ex-page, the source, a government watchdog group.

Investigative correspondent Drew Griffin has that angle for us tonight.


DREW GRIFFIN, CNN INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This is a copy transcript of the now famous e-mail sent to the FBI on July 21, 2006.

According to the FBI, the exchange between a congressman and a page didn't rise to the level of a crime. And the FBI says its investigation was hampered because the group that provided the e-mail wouldn't name the page and edited the messages.

That group's president, former Assistant U.S. Attorney Melanie Sloan, says the FBI is wrong.


On July 21, 2006, I sent to the FBI the e-mails. They were not redacted in any way, like they're claiming now. The kid's name is on the e-mail, his full name and his e-mail address, as well as the name of the congressional staffer to whom he was sending the e-mails.

GRIFFIN: Sloan is president of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a group that's been criticized for being anti- Republican. Conservatives charge that CREW and its Democratic supporters held back the memo until just before November's election.

Sloan, a former prosecutor, says she sent the e-mail to the FBI as soon as she got it, because she was concerned for the safety of the pages.

(on camera): Did this rise to the level of something you thought needed to be investigated?

SLOAN: It absolutely did. The statement that the -- the e-mails themselves didn't -- didn't contain criminal activity right on the face of them, that's true. There's nothing sexually explicit in the e-mails themselves. The problem with the e-mail is that they suggest criminal activity. They suggest that this is a man who might be involved in making improper sexual advances toward minors.

We thought it was very important that the FBI take a look at these and start investigating. But, then, we found out this past Monday, because the FBI announced it was going to start a preliminary investigation, that they must not have engaged in any investigation over the past couple of months.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): CNN asked other law enforcement agencies what action they might have taken based on the initial e-mails.

The New York police told CNN: "In principle, a complaint such as the one that was lodged against Representative Foley, for example, from a parent would result in an online investigation. That might have included having a police officer pose as a minor to set up a sting online."

The Peachtree City Police Department in suburban Atlanta specializes in tracking down suspicious e-mails adults send to children, aiming to arrest would-be predators.

JIM MURRAY, PEACHTREE CITY, GEORGIA, POLICE CHIEF: We issue subpoenas for their -- for their e-mail address and who they are and who they're registered with, and then we find them.

GRIFFIN: The FBI declined to comment on camera to CNN.


GRIFFIN: Also declining to comment, Paula, was the actual agent who got that e-mail back in July. CNN learned the name of that agent and called her up, and asked her to comment. We didn't get a call back from her yet. But government sources say three squads here at the FBI, including the cyber squad, had access or saw that e-mail, and apparently, Paula, did nothing.

ZAHN: Well, let me ask you this. Do we know if the FBI followed up at all with this watchdog group?

GRIFFIN: According to Melanie Sloan, the president of CREW, the only response they got from the FBI when they sent over the e-mail was, thank you very much. There was no follow-up.

And, again, Melanie Sloan says that e-mail contained the full name of everybody involved.

ZAHN: All right, Drew Griffin, thanks so much.

We are going to move on now -- more "Top Story" coverage in just a moment.

But, first, let's check in with Melissa Long, who is in our Pipeline studio, with our countdown -- Melissa.

MELISSA LONG, CNN PIPELINE: Good evening, Paula.

Millions of people wanted to read about a very lucky couple in Iowa. They are $200 million richer tonight. They won the Powerball jackpot last month, and finally stepped before the cameras this week.

Story number nine out of Texas: A 14-hour standoff between police and a man accused of shooting three people ends at dawn. A young boy the suspect had taken hostage was released unharmed.

And story number eight: "Star Wars" creator George Lucas says he's creating a new animated version of his series "Clone Wars" for television. He's hoping to get it on the air by next year -- and also in the news for that recent donation to USC, his alma mater, of 175 million bucks -- very generous.

ZAHN: Yes, that is a very nice thing to do.

LONG: Mmm-hmm.

ZAHN: Thanks, Melissa. See you in a little bit.


ZAHN: With less than five weeks to go until Election Day what are conservative Americans saying about the Foley scandal? Are they angry enough about what's going on to vote Democratic? I'm going to ask some conservative talk radio hosts next.

And another "Top Story" tonight: the heartbreaking U.S. casualty count in Iraq. Why is this month off to such a deadly start?


ZAHN: The Mark Foley page scandal has Republican leaders on the offensive.

Our "Top Story" coverage turns now to House Speaker Dennis Hastert's full-court press to try to shore up the conservative base by blaming liberals and the news media for, as he suggests, leaking the damaging Foley e-mails this month.

Here's what Hastert told "The Chicago Tribune": "When the base finds out who is feeding this monster, they are not going to be happy. The people who want to see this thing blow up are ABC News and a lot of Democratic operatives, people funded by liberal activist George Soros."

Financier George Soros has denied Hastert's accusation. Hastert has been making the rounds on conservative talk radio shows.

And to learn how their listeners are responding, we called in a "Top Story" panel from conservative talk radio, Lars Larson, host of "Right on the Left Coast" from Portland, Oregon, Neal Boortz, whose syndicated columnist talk show airs from Atlanta, and, in Seattle, syndicated talk show host Michael Medved.

Glad to see all of you.


ZAHN: I'm going to start with you, Michael, since I introduced you last.

Are you going to tell me tonight that your listeners really think that Bill Clinton and a bunch of Democratic operatives are responsible for leaking these e-mails and that that the House leadership shares no accountability here with their actions?

MICHAEL MEDVED, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: No, I'm not going to tell you that.

But I am going to tell you, the base is extremely angry, and the listeners are extremely angry, at the timing of this whole thing, which is very suspicious. When it becomes clear that the FBI and "The Saint Petersburg Times" and "The Miami Herald" and ABC News heard about this almost a year ago, and then decided to hold it, to hold the story until a month before the election, that's highly suspicious.



MEDVED: ... there is a Democratic pattern.

ZAHN: Hang on. Let me ask you this.

Do your listeners not accept what some Republicans have told me today, that the Republicans, if -- if they didn't know about this a year ago -- someone is even suggesting they knew about this three years ago -- they could have gotten ridden of -- they could have gotten rid of this. They could have defused it by approaching it then.


LARSON: They could have gotten rid of it, if they had known about it.

But the e-mails they had been shown were relatively innocuous.


LARSON: And for all those people who say, well, they should have investigated further, that's ridiculous. We don't go probing into people's personal lives that way, not if they have done nothing wrong.

ZAHN: Neal, how do your listeners feel about that?

NEAL BOORTZ, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: Well, first of all, this libertarian is proud to be on the air with those two conservatives.


BOORTZ: But, for one thing, my listeners, yes, they do think that there's an element of a little bit of Democratic chicanery with the timing of this thing.

But, at the same time, they also believe that, if the Republican leadership had grabbed this thing a year ago, or whenever they first found out about these e-mails, and had handled it then, instead of worrying about saving a seat in Florida, that this whole thing wouldn't have happened in the first place.

ZAHN: All right. But -- but, Neal, you heard what Lars just said.

They didn't have the goods. They didn't know what the tone of these e-mails would turn out to be, or these I.M. messages.

BOORTZ: Oh, wait -- wait a minute. Wait a minute. Dennis Hastert is an educator. I believe he has a masters in education.

Now, are you going to tell me that, in any school in this nation, if you find out that one of your teachers is sending e-mails to 16- year-old students, saying, "Hey, how about sending me a picture?" especially if you knew that teacher was gay, that you're not going to look a little bit further into the situation?

I'm sorry. I'm not buying the fact that there weren't red flags flying all over the story a year ago.

ZAHN: All right, but I've got to tell you Neal, some people listening to you are thinking, making this enormous leap and it's not fair just because someone is gay or perceived as gay, even though he wasn't out of the closet at this point.


LARSON: And Paula, if I may jump in here?

BOORTZ: It won't be the first time people thought I wasn't fair.

MEDVED: OK, but I think what is fair is to recognize that one of the charges against the Republican Party has been that we are homophobic, that we're always on witch hunts against gays. Trying to imagine what would have happened if one of the very few gay Republicans in Congress, who by the way had never publicly acknowledged that he was gay -- if all of the sudden there was a full investigation and an announcement and people are looking, people would have screamed bloody murder, the log cabin Republicans and the ACLU.

And people who said you're violating Mark Foley's rights. Why should he be under special suspicion just because he's gay? I think he got kid glove handling precisely because he was gay.

LARSON: Medved's right. He's absolutely right that he got kid glove treatment because of that. Most people these days are afraid to question somebody's sexuality if they're gay or who they're looking at for fear of hitting that stereotype. But who we really ought to be focusing on is who held this information back. Somebody has known for a long time that this particular former congressman was a danger to kids and didn't bring it forward until it worked well for the Democrat Party. And that's the only group it works well for.

ZAHN: A very quick closing thought from all three of you because a former congressional aide to Mark Foley said that the House leadership had this information as long as three years ago -- Michael Medved?

MEDVED: Well they didn't have information about sexually explicit material. The "New York Times" on the front page today interviewed Mr. Kirk Fordham and he said specifically no, he didn't tell Hastert, Hastert had no way of knowing that there had been a specific sexual come-on on the e-mail or on any other forum.

ZAHN: Neal?

BOORTZ: I think that what's bothering a lot of my listeners is that the Republicans are usually or purport to take the high moral ground are acting like Democrats.

ZAHN: Ouch, Lars.

LARSON: 20-20 hindsight to say we said something about him. Yes, we all had suspicions. The fact is, if somebody didn't bring forward this specific information, the House leadership didn't have the information to act on, it's unfair to now say you should have known that he was pervert because he was gay and had too much interest in young boys.

ZAHN: Well, I hate to leave it on that inflammatory note, but I've got to. Lars Larson, Neal Boortz, Michael Medved, thank you all.

We're going to continue our top story coverage in just a minute. Right now, let's quickly go back to Melissa Long for the rest of our countdown -- Melissa?

LONG: Paula, a couple has been indicted for kidnapping their pregnant daughter. The story from Maine, No. 7 tonight. Prosecutors say they took her across the state line to New Hampshire and then tried to force her to have an abortion. Their lawyer denies the charges.

Story No. 6: Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones now says he was sitting on a tree stump when he fell and hit his head in Fiji last April. There were rumors circulating that Richards was climbing a palm tree when it happened.

And North Korea's threat to test a nuclear weapon brings a strong warning from the U.S. State Department officials say the United States will not live with a nuclear North Korea -- Paula?

ZAHN: Melissa, thanks so much. See you in a little bit.

We're going to move on to tonight's other top stories. Coming up next from Baghdad, why this month is off to such a brutal and bloody start in Iraq. Plus what Congress was thinking when it set aside millions of dollars to celebrate the war's end. Plus, the startling reality of a place where thousands need urgent medical care. And they're not.


ZAHN: Coming up in this half hour of our top story coverage, outrage over millions of your tax dollars set aside to celebrate the end of wars that aren't over. All week long my colleague Anderson Cooper has been showing us the astonishing reality of life in Africa's Congo. Tonight from his reporter's notebook, a very personal reaction.

Coming up at the top of the hour on "LARRY KING LIVE," a former president's forceful defense of his son's record.

Meanwhile, our top story coverage moves on to the outburst of new violence in Iraq. Just hours ago, we learned that two more U.S. marines died in enemy action bringing the American death toll to 21 in only five October days. If that continues, this could become the worst month ever for American casualties.

Also today, Secretary of State Rice made an unannounced visit to Baghdad, but her arrival was delayed by an eruption of mortar or rocket fire near the airport.

Michael Ware joins us now from Baghdad. So Michael, does anybody think that Secretary Rice's unannounced visit will make any difference on the amount of violence on the ground?

MICHAEL WARE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Paula, to be frank the answer is no. I mean, on one level, people would say from the military and the Iraqi government well, everything that we can do we're doing. I mean we just heard the Iraqi prime minister announce his new four-point plan to bring about reconciliation and to curb some of the sectarian strife, a plan that by and large is -- constitutes establishing new committees.

We see the ongoing battle of Baghdad with tens of thousands of American and Iraqi troops attempting to reclaim the capital from insurgents, militias and death squads. So Secretary Rice is not going to impact the actual fight on the ground. What it looks like she was here with some of the tougher language we heard from her as she was coming into Iraq and while the secretary was here.

It seems to have been to read a bit of the riot act to Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki. The U.S. has invested all of its eggs in his basket. They need him to succeed. They need to give him some kind of power against the militias and Iranian back parties that by and large control this government. But he's just not delivering, and it's difficult to see how he could. And that seems to be what Secretary Rice was really here to do, hammer him home -- Paula?

ZAHN: Michael, let's come back to those depressing numbers, 21 American soldiers killed so far this month. We said if that pace continues, it could become one of the deadliest months on record. What is the expectation here? Were these random acts of violence or a sign of things to come?

WARE: Oh, Paula, look, this is far from random acts. I mean there's two things to consider here. One, we are currently in the grip of the fourth holy month of Ramadan offensive. This is the Islamic holy month where each year the insurgents have vowed to launch a massive campaign, particularly against U.S. forces. Every year they vow it. We see them follow through on it. We have that.

Secondly, this is the business of war in Iraq, Paula. We saw more than 72 U.S. troops killed last month alone. The insurgents are at a very strong point right now, and this is what the U.S. troops will have to continue to combat. Paula.

ZAHN: Michael Ware, thanks so much for the update, appreciate it.

We're going to get back to our top story coverage in just a few minutes. First though, let's go back to Melissa Long with our countdown, Melissa.

LONG: And one of this hour's top stories ranks fourth on the list. The House speaker Dennis Hastert saying he's sorry about the Mark Foley scandal but that he will not resign.

Story number three, there are some new clues in a history of a lost U.S. submarine. The U.S.S. Grunyan went down off the coast of Alaska during World War II. The Navy has never been able to find out exactly where it sank or why. But now new sonar images may lead to an expedition next Summer to try to piece together this 64-year-old mystery and the relatives may finally have some answers of 70 crewmen died when that submarine went down.

ZAHN: We hope they get those answers. Melissa Long, thanks so much. See you in a little bit.

We're going to move on to our Biz Break.


ZAHN: We move onto a different top story from Capital Hill. Some people are outraged that Congress has set aside millions, tens of millions let's make it, to celebrate victories in Iraq and Afghanistan. What victories? Coming up next what were they thinking?


ZAHN: So, it might have been lost in all the Mark Foley headlines, but Congress has finally finished work on a massive $532 billion defense spending bill. It funds the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and a whole lot more. Now tonight $20 million of that money is a top story because it has a lot of people outraged.


ZAHN (voice-over): Tucked inside the military spending bill, just approved by Congress, is a line that's getting lots of attention. It set aside $20 million to be spent next year on what the bill calls a commemoration of success in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Lawmakers originally intended to spend the money this year, but things in Iraq and Afghanistan haven't quite worked out that way. No problem, Congress simply moved the 20 million from this year's defense budget into next year.

Of course, while everyone's waiting for the commemoration to begin, the military could be spending the $20 million on other more immediate needs. For example, based on U.S. army estimates, the $20 million will buy 12,500 bulletproof vests for our soldiers to wear. Or 55,555 fully padded helmets or it could buy more than 80 fully armored humvees for them to ride in. $20 million would pay disability benefits for at least 454 wounded soldiers for one full year.

At a time when the Bush administration is proposing cutting $13 million for research into artificial limbs, that $20 million could greatly improve the quality of life for soldiers returning home. The Defense Department estimates its spending $100,000 a minute in the Iraq conflict. So $20 million would keep the war effort funded for only about three hours and 20 minutes.


ZAHN: We have put together a top story panel to consider whether that $20 million could be better spent. Paul Rieckhoff is an Iraq war veteran. His book, "Chasing Ghosts," is about his experiences. He's also the founder of the group Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. Democratic Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez of California is a member of the House Armed Services Committee. Good to see both of you.

Congresswoman can you explain to me why Congress would unanimously agree to set aside $20 million for a victory fund for wars that everyone agrees are very far away from being called victories? REP. LORETTA SANCHEZ (D), CALIFORNIA: Well, Paula, this actually goes to the process of how a law is made in the Congress. In the House, where I serve, unfortunately, the Republicans don't allow debate, many times we don't get to read the bill. We have to take their word for what is in the bill. They give it to us, printed, as required, at the start of the debate. The debate is only one hour long, and we have to vote. So none of us get to actually see the bill most of the time.

ZAHN: All right, so in this case --

SANCHEZ: It's very difficult to see what gets tucked in there.

ZAHN: All right, so are you telling me, in this case, you had no idea that $20 million was set aside for a victory fund?

SANCHEZ: I had no idea that it was in there. No idea because the Republicans are the last ones to do the bill and put it before for a vote. And many times, like this past week, as they were trying to get out on Friday, they put in a rule, in the House, called marshal law, which means the required 24 hours between when the bill comes out of the rules committee and goes to debate on the floor was done away with so they could come straight out, they would print it up and they would start debate.

They usually only give us an hour, and we have to vote on it and we can't get our hands, there's not even a copy of it. There's one copy that we're desperately trying to look through to see if the major agreements are actually in there, because most of the time they break their agreements and they try to put in things that are wrong.

ZAHN: All right, Mr. Rieckhoff, I know you're not a political analyst here, but as a veteran, you have a very strong feeling about this issue. You've just heard the congresswoman saying probably a lot of people voted for this bill and they had no idea this $20 million was tucked in there.

PAUL RIECKHOFF, IRAQ WAR VETERAN: It's absolutely outrageous.

ZAHN: Do you think it's true, what she just said?

RIECKHOFF: It may be. But I took the time to read my enlistment contract when I joined the military and I think the people in Congress could take the time to read the legislation about the most important issue facing our country, war. There's no more important decision than sending people to war and we need money for things like traumatic brain injury research.

We need money for care coming home at the V.A. We need money for equipment, for translators. We don't need money for a victory party right now. What's going on in Congress? Where are their priorities right now? All I hear is excuses time and time again. We need action. We need results that impact the lives of veterans, troops and their families immediately.

ZAHN: Let me read to both of you what Senator Mitch Mcconnell had to say about the controversy. He said, quote, "This measure passed unanimously when it was considered as part of the FY 2006 Defense Authorization Bill. But now, less than a year later, some Democrats, who initially supported this amendment, seem hostile to the idea of publicly thanking our troops for their bravery upon their return home. The Democrats seem to have been for it before they were against it.

RIECKHOFF: This is politicians playing politics with the war and the troops again. We've seen it throughout this war. The Democrats, the Republicans, both of them throw the war back and forth like a political football. They love to stand up next to the troops and a wall of camouflage when they're up for reelection, but when it comes to really supporting the troops, putting their money where their mouth is, making tough decisions in an election year, they're invisible. This is just more excuses. We need action. This is rhetoric. And it's really unacceptable.

ZAHN: Congresswoman Sanchez, do you concede that it is both sides that are using the war as a political issue?

SANCHEZ: I would say that if we didn't have the House and the Senate and the White House all controlled by the same party we would have some balance to what is going on. Either the Senate controls or the House controls, for example, by the Democrats would allow us to say no, you can't bring that bill forward until we have a chance to read it. You can't just push it through the way you've been pushing through everything. That's what we would be allowed to do. But in the House we have no shot at that. We don't have a choice. I would say to Paul, we don't have a choice on when we vote. They tell us when we vote.

ZAHN: Paul Rieckhoff, obviously she's not willing to concede the Democrats bear any blame for this. Just a quick final thought and then we move on.

RIECKHOFF: It's a lot easier than getting shot at in Baghdad. I mean, I hear this rhetoric all the time about how tough it is for politicians. It's tough for 140,000 troops in Iraq right now and for their families. We need the leaders in Washington to step up.

ZAHN: Paul Rieckhoff, Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez, thank you for both of your perspectives tonight. Appreciate it.

This week my colleague Anderson Cooper has given us a rare, in depth look at some of the world's crises. Nest, live from the Congo his personal reaction. We'll be right back.


ZAHN: Welcome back. I want you to think about this. What would you do if you suddenly retired tomorrow? Well Valerie Morris found a man whose unexpected retirement was just the beginning of a passionate pursuit. Here's tonight's Life After Work.


CLARENCE WILDES, MOTORCYCLE INSTRUCTOR: The thing we want to work on is using your brakes to slow before entering the turn.

VALERIE MORRIS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Slowing down is the last thing on the mind of 57-year-old Clarence Wilds. He's finally living his dream, sharing his passion for motorcycles.

WILDES: I got interested in riding motorcycles when I was 18. My cousin had one. I wasn't allowed to have one, but I was allowed to ride his.

MORRIS: Clarence had an early retirement package when his job as an engineering manager was eliminated. He then took a substantial risk to finance a new business.

WILDES: I used some of what was left in my 401(k), which by then was a 101(k). A lot of it was on a wing and a prayer.

MORRIS: He and his wife Pat opened Rolling Wheels Training Center in Kansas City, Missouri with just one student. After that, all the classes reached capacity. There are plans to open a second school in Florida, but Wildes insists it's not about the money.

WILDES: If I wasn't retired we wouldn't be able to live off what we're making here. The passion drives us more than anything else. It keeps me wanting to come back. When you're working on your passion, that's really what it's all about.

MORRIS: Valerie Morris, CNN.


ZAHN: And we're going to quickly check back in with Melissa Long. She finishes off our countdown, Melissa.

LONG: Paula, married for seven years and then battling for six. Actress Kim Basinger will go on trial in a child custody case. She's pleaded not guilty to ignoring court orders concerning her ex-husband, Alex Baldwin's visitation rights of their ten-year-old daughter. She faces 60 days in jail and a $12,000 fine if convicted.

And 20 million readers today wanted to read about the four victims of the shooting at the Amish schoolhouse. The four girls have been laid to rest. A procession of 34 buggies and carriages carried people to a cemetery near Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania. The fifth little girl will be buried tomorrow Paula.

ZAHN: Melissa thanks. Our top story at the United Nations tonight, the U.S. call for action over the Sudan crisis. Since 2003 violence in Sudan has killed 200,000 people and left more than 2 million homeless. And now Sudan's government says it will treat any U.N. peacekeeping mission as a hostile invasion. The U.S. wants urgent Security Council consultations on Sudan's warning.

Anderson Cooper, meanwhile, has been reporting from Africa all this week on the Darfur crisis and more. Tonight he joins us from the Democratic Republic of Congo. Anderson, with all of the violence and bloodshed in the region, what kind of medical care is getting to the victims?

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Very little, if any. I mean two thirds of the people here in the D.R.C. have no access to medical care. That means you get shot, as we saw a soldier who got shot today, and you very often end up dying or wasting away in a hut somewhere. Luckily for the soldier we saw today, French relief group Doctors Without Borders was here, but I mean the needs of Central Africa are overwhelming right now. It is a crucial time.

Three to four million people have died here due to war and war- related causes in the last ten years, Paula. Women are getting raped, tens of thousands, maybe even hundreds of thousands of women have been raped in this country alone over the last several years and there is absolutely no justice for the men who commit these crimes. They act with impunity and they continue on. They're often the soldiers here, the police here. It is unfathomable and unconscionable that situations like this just continue on and it seems like there's no solution in sight, Paula.

ZAHN: All right Anderson Cooper, see you for more at 10:00 tonight. That wraps it up for all of us here. Thanks so much for joining us. Have a good rest of the night. Hope to see you back here tomorrow.