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The Situation Room

Bush Administration Under Fire Over Secret Wiretaps; Manhunt for Accused Rapist; Surviving a Plane Crash; Elton John and Partner Join Civil Union in Britain; Pirro Out of Hillary's Way; Kofi Annan Lashes Out at the U.N.; Hurricane Victims Asked to Leave Hotels

Aired December 21, 2005 - 19:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And to your viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM, where new pictures and information are arriving all the time. Standing by, CNN reporters across the United States and around the world to bring you the day's top stories.
Happening now, it's 3:00 in the morning in Baghdad, where Saddam Hussein sends shockwaves through the courtroom saying he was beaten and tortured while in American custody. Does the U.S. have an answer to him right now?

In Miami Beach, it's 7:00 p.m., new clues in the seaplane crash which killed 20 people. We'll tell you why some crashes may offer you a greater likelihood of survival.

And it's midnight in England where the pop star Elton John and his longtime partner are among hundreds of same-sex couples tying the knot. I'm Wolf Blitzer, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Saddam Hussein is due back in court in only a few hours, but he'll be hard-pressed to top today's sensational session marked by stunning allegations from the former dictator. CNN's Aneesh Raman reports from Baghdad.


ANEESH RAMAN, CNN BAGHDAD CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): He sat in court deceivingly sedate. At one moment praying quietly as a witness testified, but by the end of the session, the old Saddam Hussein, the one who's fought for control of this trial resurfaced with startling allegations.

SADDAM HUSSEIN, DEFENDANT (through translator): I'd like to say, yes, we were beaten by the Americans. And we were tortured. Every one of us.

RAMAN: Saddam's life these days is cloaked with immense secrecy. The only image of him in custody surfaced in a British tabloid earlier this year. It showed him in his underwear.

But today wearing his usual gray suit, an angry Saddam once again tried to put the court and the United States on the defensive, once again tried to force the focus away from the crimes he's accused of committing. The session began with the testimony of Ali al-Haydari, who in front of the cameras detailed torture he says he endured at the age of 14. Ali repeating what he told me in Dujail some weeks ago, that his family suffered greatly after his brother's involvement in the failed assassination attempt of Saddam back in 1982.

ALI HAJ HUSSEIN AL-HAYDARI, WITNESS (through translator): If I said I had a headache, I would be kicked on my head. If I said my abdomen, I would be hit on the abdomen. This is not an exaggeration. I'm not exaggerating.

RAMAN: Later witnesses spoke of their skin being peeled back, liquid plastic being thrown on their wounds. Hidden behind a blue curtain, their identities disguised. And their words clearly had an effect, sparking outrage in the allegations of torture from a dictator turned defendant.

(on camera): The Pentagon says Saddam's claims are, quote, "Simply untrue." The White House calls them "preposterous." But if this trial goes on as it has, with Saddam speaking at will and in detail about his detention, it may not be the first time the United States is forced to make a denial. Aneesh Raman, CNN, Baghdad.


BLITZER: And Bush administration officials were quick to respond here in Washington, as well to Saddam Hussein's charges. A State Department spokesman calls them highly ironic, saying he knows nothing to support the abuse allegations, and adding that the focus should be on Saddam Hussein's victims. The Pentagon spokesman also tells us U.S. policy is to, quote, "Treat all detainees humanely."

Another educated guess, that would be about the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden. The Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld visiting Afghanistan, said, "If the al Qaeda leader is still alive, he's most likely hiding in the area near the Pakistan border."


DONALD RUMSFELD, DEFENSE SECRETARY: I have trouble believing that he's able to operate sufficiently to be a -- in a position of major command over a worldwide al Qaeda operation. But I could be wrong. We just don't know.


BLITZER: Secretary Rumsfeld says the U.S. decision to cut its troop presence in Afghanistan in the coming weeks and months will not weaken the anti-terror campaign.

The Bush administration is still under fire tonight over the president's approval of those secret wiretaps without a court order. There are new developments and they're fueling more questions, more outrage. Suzanne Malveaux is covering the story for us at the White House. Kelli Arena, our justice correspondent, is tracking the story as well. First to you, Kelli? KELLI ARENA, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Democrats in Congress are promising hearings on this issue. Civil liberties advocates insist that the president is breaking the law. And new revelations keep coming out about this program, keeping the president very much on the defensive.


ARENA (voice-over): Attorney General Alberto Gonzales tried his best to keep the focus on the Patriot Act, but it was a struggle.

ALBERTO GONZALES, ATTORNEY GENERAL: This is the last question I'll answer with respect to the matter relating to the NSA.

ARENA: Instead, Gonzales was forced to defend the president's approval of the National Security Agency's secret domestic spying program.

GONZALES: We believe the president has both the statutory authority and the constitutional authority to engage in secret intelligence during a time of war of our enemy.

ARENA: More questions about the program arose after a "New York Times" report saying the NSA accidentally monitored purely domestic conversations. The Bush administration has insisted the program only targets people in the U.S. communicating with others overseas.

SEN. PATRICK LEAHY (D-VT), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: We will have hearings on the legal basis or lack of legal basis for the kind of wiretapping and interceptions that have been described in the press. I have found -- I'm going to say right now, I have found no legal basis for it.

ARENA: The NSA won't comment. White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan would only refer reporters back to comments made Monday by the deputy director of national intelligence, Michael Hayden.

SCOTT MCCLELLAN, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: This is a quote from him. "I can assure you by the physics of the intercept, by how we actually conduct our activities, that one end of these communications are always outside the United States of America.

ARENA: But the program apparently raised enough concerns to cause a federal judge to resign from the secret court housed at the justice department that overseeing intelligence investigations. One of his colleagues tells CNN he believes the judge, James Robertson, quit to protest the NSA program. Robertson refused to comment.


ARENA: In the meantime, intelligence officials are growing increasingly uncomfortable with all the public talk about the program. Wolf?

BLITZER: Kelli Arena, thanks very much. Here in Washington also on Capitol Hill right now, there's a late push to broker a deal and end a filibuster of the USA Patriot Act. Time is quickly running out, though ,with key provisions of the anti- terror legislation set to expire in only 10 days. And with senators very eager to go home for the holidays.

President Bush is warning that national security is at risk right now if that happens. He's so far refused to back a three-month extension of the law: extra time to resolve Democrats' concerns, some Republicans as well, about civil liberties. Our White House correspondent Suzanne Malveaux is standing by. What's the strategy that's unfolding at the White House right now, Suzanne?

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, certainly they are pushing forward the Patriot Act and there are some discussions behind the scenes that it could go through at least fairly soon.

They are keeping a very close eye on this. They say perhaps, issuing a statement, "If there is a vote that happens within the next 24 hours or so." But they say they're not going for the three-month extension. The whole idea is to try to keep that motivation and that momentum within Congress, those senators, to push forward. They are not going to go for that extension, Wolf.

BLITZER: Suzanne, thanks very much. Suzanne Malveaux, keep an eye on what's going on. The Senate is in session right now. If we get a development, we'll come right back to you. Suzanne Malveaux over at the White House.

Ahead, I'll also speak with a key critic of the president's Iraq policy, a war veteran, the veteran Congressman Pennsylvania Democrat John Murtha. That's coming up later this hour.

Zain Verjee is standing by at the CNN Center in Atlanta with a closer look at some other stories making news. Hi, Zain.

ZAIN VERJEE, CNN ANCHOR: Hi, Wolf. Lawyers for John Walker Lindh, the man known as the American Taliban, are asking the Bush administration to reduce his 20-year sentence. Lindh, A U.S. citizen, was captured in Afghanistan in 2001. He pled guilty to helping the Afghanistan's Taliban government, but his lawyers say he never represented a threat to the U.S. They say he was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. His lawyers add another U.S. citizen captured in Afghanistan was freed after less than three years.

Two New Orleans police officers videotaped beating a man in the city's French Quarter, have now been fired. The officers were caught on tape striking 64-year-old Robert Davis last fall. A third officer accused of grabbing a reporter remained suspended for four months. The three have pled not guilty to battery charges. They face trial next month. Davis says he was looking for cigarettes when police grabbed him. He's pled not guilty to charges of public intoxication and resisting arrest.

Baltimore police are trying to figure out why a male and female police officer were shot to death at a suburban townhouse. A third police officer turned himself into authorities shortly after the victims' bodies were found today. Police are questioning him and say they plan to charge him shortly. They say the suspect and the victims knew each other and that it was not a random crime.

And take a look at this, if you will. A massive fire at a warehouse in Los Angeles. Authorities said it initially, after finding about 50 pounds of dynamite hidden in the building. They say the explosives were simply too old and unstable to move safely. So what they did is, they just burned the dynamite in order to keep it from exploding. Police say they don't think the cache of dynamite is linked to terrorism. Three suspects though, Wolf, are in custody.

BLITZER: Zain Verjee reporting for us. Zain, thanks very much. We'll get back to you very soon.

Let's go up to New York. Jack Cafferty is standing by with "The Cafferty File." Hi, Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: So they burned the whole warehouse down, right?

BLITZER: Well, they didn't want to take any chances.

CAFFERTY: Right. Wolf, New Jersey is the first state in the country to authorize mandatory steroid testing for high school students. Acting governor Richard Codey signed an executive order yesterday that requires random steroid testing for student athletes who qualify for post-season games.

Codey, who also coaches a youth basketball team, says that up to eight percent of high school students in New Jersey could be using steroids. Although a legal challenge is unlikely, some critics say the state is treading on ground that should be reserved for the parents.

So here's the question -- should high school students be quested for steroids? CAFFERTYFILE@CNN.COM, or -- Wolf.

BLITZER: You live in New Jersey, so you have an interest in this specific case.

CAFFERTY: I do, and I suppose if you can get these kids turned off of that stuff before they go any farther in their athletic careers, the good side is they don't have a steroid problem. The problem is that I think steroid use is so prevalent in pro sports, that the kids who don't use it perhaps athletically could be at a disadvantage. I don't know.

BLITZER: Let's see -- we'll see what our viewers think and we'll get back to you. Thanks, Jack.

Coming up, an accused serial rapist now on the loose. How did he escape from a Florida jail and who might now be at risk?

Plus new discoveries in that deadly crash of a seaplane. The latest on the investigation and whether the passengers, 20 of them, had any chance of surviving.

And a pre-election victory for Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton. One Republican decides to get out of her way. It's New York politics with implications for the 2008 presidential race, we think. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: He's considered to be armed and very dangerous. That's what Miami police are warning about an inmate who's now on the loose. The suspected serial rapist, Reynaldo Rapalo, escaped from a Miami- Dade County jail last night.

Let's go to Christopher King in our Miami Bureau for more on what's going on, the manhunt. Where exactly, Chris, are you?

CHRISTOPHER KING, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, I'm in the Shenandoah community in Miami. Now, the big question that people around here want to know is just how did he get out? Now, Reynaldo Elias Rapalo -- I should say a manhunt, a massive manhunt is underway for Reynaldo Elias Rapalo. He's accused of raping seven victims, ages 11 to 79. He's also accused of attempting to attack four other would-be victims.

Now, police say Rapalo, age 34, escaped from a the Turner Gilford Knight Correctional Center just outside Miami last night. They say he tied together bed sheets and repelled from the window of the sixth- floor -- from the sixth-floor cell.

Now, he was first arrested back in 2003. He'd been awaiting trial. Officials say he crawled through an air duct to get out of his cell, but they also say it isn't clear how he got free or if he had help. What is clear is that correctional facility officers, or correctional facility officials and law enforcement officials are outraged over this.


KATHERINE FERNANDEZ-RUNDLE, MIAMI-DADE STATE ATTORNEY: Here we are again, looking for someone who is a danger to our community, who has destroyed lives, that to this day cannot find any peace of mind in their lives and now we have a community and a law enforcement community that is turned upside down looking for this person.

But I have faith. Despite the frustration that you may hear in my voice, I have faith in this community. I know this law enforcement community. If he can be caught, they're going to catch him.


KING: Now, police are combing the streets, they're monitoring airports, they're monitoring bus terminals. They want to find this man, but of course, he's not been convicted of these crimes, but police say he is very dangerous -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Christopher King, thanks very much. Christopher King, welcome to CNN, a new addition to our team. Now to new developments on that crash of that small seaplane off of Miami Beach. Two days after its deadly descent that killed 20 people, crews found the plane's cockpit voice recorder. Officials say it's in good condition for analysis.

Also today, crews began to pull pieces of the plane out of the water. Among the pieces, one of the plane's wings. Also Chalk's Ocean Airways is voluntary grounding its fleet for inspection. Earlier I asked the acting chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board about the plane's wings. Listen to this.


BLITZER: There's no doubt that it was the right wing that burst into flames and that wing had the engine attached to it, as well as fuel in the wing. Is that right?

MARK ROSENKER, ACTING NTSB CHAIRMAN: That's correct. It's what we call a wet wing, which means gasoline is in the wing tank in the wing itself. And in reality, we were able to get that. That was the first piece we were able to recover. And that's when we recognized late last night that we had an issue here with fatigue fractures.


BLITZER: Our Brian Todd is joining us now with more details on the investigation and a unique look into the likelihood of surviving a plane crash.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the variable here is a water impact crash. And we wanted to know about the likelihood for survival in those types of accidents.


TODD (voice-over): We brought in Robert Francis, a former vice chairman for the National Transportation Safety Board, and asked him to review two different crashes with very different results. First, the Miami Beach crash, where the wing fell off.

(on camera): Is it the angle of the crash, the speed or both that is causing the fatality?

ROBERT FRANCIS, FORMER NTSB VICE CHAIRMAN: Well, it's both. I mean, if you had been at that speed and the angle had been flat, maybe it would have been survivable, but the combination is a totally out of control plane, and the crash is not survivable.

But the real issue is that the airplane was totally out of control, and it, you know, went almost straight into the water. And that's -- you know, aircraft are built strong, but they're not built that strong.

TODD (voice-over): We also reviewed this November 1996 crash in the Indian Ocean with at least 48 survivors. The Ethiopian Airlines pilot decided to ditch the hijacked plane into the sea after it ran out of fuel, to save lives.

(on camera): Why do people survive this one?

FRANCIS: You'll see the difference here. The aircraft has come in, it's until control until the very end there and it loses a lot of momentum. And more control equals more survivability.

TODD (voice-over): Francis also said where you sit on a plane makes a difference.

FRANCIS: They were near an emergency exit. If when the aircraft broke up -- and this happens quite frequently, when the aircraft breaks up -- if you're near the break, you're more likely to get out than if you're not.

TODD: And on using the plane's flotation devices, Francis says they can hinder your chance of escape if inflated inside the aircraft.

FRANCIS: One accident where they landed in the water, and the problem was that a life raft was inflated and blocked the door, so the passengers couldn't get out.


TODD: The advice from Francis? If you're in a plane about to be ditched in the water, do what the flight attendants tell you to do -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Alright, Brian. Good piece. Thanks very much. I learned something there.

Still to come here in THE SITUATION ROOM, Elton John ties the knot, along with hundreds of other same-sex couples across the United Kingdom. Is the United States ready for same-sex unions. We're going to take a little closer look.

Also ahead, the Democrat leading the charge to bring U.S. troops home from Iraq fast, Congressman John Murtha, he's here in THE SITUATION ROOM. Stay with us.


BLITZER: Welcome back. Time now for a look around the world. Britain's new law allowing civil unions for same-sex couples led to a high-profile tying of the knot earlier today. Let's go to CNN's Zain Verjee, she's got the story from the CNN Center. Zain?

VERJEE: Pop star Elton John and longtime partner David Furnish were among hundreds who took advantage of their new right to a legal status similar to marriage.


VERJEE, (voice-over): The celebrity couple held their ceremony on the first day they could, and they did it openly, not far from the queen's castle in Windsor. Both Elton John and his partner, David Furnish, have made it clear that they want to be seen as role models for same-sex in Britain and elsewhere who still face prejudice.

To onlookers, that message was clear.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Great for him. He looks so happy, and that's what it's all about.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm a big Elton John fan. Also a very historic day for equality and the rights of gay people in Britain.

VERJEE: Britain's Prime Minister, Tony Blair, is the first to agree.

TONY BLAIR, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: I wish him and David very well, and to all the other people exercising their rights under the Civil Partnership law. I think it's a modern, progressive step forward for the country. I'm proud we did it.

VERJEE: Under Britain's new law, homosexual couples have the same property, pension and inheritance rights as married heterosexuals. It's marriage in all but name.

Other countries have gone further. The Netherlands, Canada, Belgium and Spain have all legalized same-sex marriage. Germany, Switzerland and the Scandinavian countries are among those with laws similar to Britain's.


VERJEE (on camera): This country has a patchwork of state and municipal laws governing homosexual rights, partnerships and civil unions. Americans still, though, don't favor granting full legal equality to same-sex marriages.

In a most recent poll back in August, 59 percent said gay marriages should not be recognized by the law as valid with the same rights as traditional marriages; 37 percent said gay marriages should be fully legalized, and four percent, Wolf, had no opinion.

BLITZER: Well, congratulations to Sir Elton in the meantime. Thank you very much, Zain, for that.

Just ahead, Democratic Congressman John Murtha, it's the first time we're hearing from him since the president's recent oval office address. Have the president's appeals for patience in Iraq persuaded the Congressman?

She's a household name, married to one of the best strategists in politics. Now that one of her challenges is dropping out, can anyone beat Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton in New York state? Our Mary Snow is going to be taking a closer look. Stay with us.


BLITZER: He's a Vietnam War veteran and holds a powerful position on the House Appropriation Subcommittee on Defense. He's also been a strong backer of the United States military, but he now finds himself a strong opponent of the president's policies in Iraq.

Just a short while ago, I spoke with Democratic Congressman John Murtha in his first CNN interview since the president's oval office address at the start of the week. He joined me from his home district, Johnstown, Pennsylvania.


BLITZER: Congressman Murtha, thanks very much for joining us. I want to talk about Iraq, but first I want to talk about the domestic spying, the decision by the president right after 9/11 to authorize these secret wiretaps, including of American citizens, without formal court orders.

You have had a few days to think about this. You are very close to the military and National Security Issues. What goes through your mind?

REP. JOHN MURTHA (D), PENNSYLVANIA: I can't believe that they would do something like this after the president said just a year ago, there's always a court order before we spy on Americans. And then they try to deflect the opinion, "Well, Clinton did it." It's not a matter of whether Clinton did it or not -- and I don't think he did. It's the point that it shouldn't be done under our Constitution. They're violating the Constitution and the laws. All they had to do is come to Congress. They asked for I think 15,000 of those and they got refused four or five times, so it's absolutely arrogance of power.

BLITZER: What the administration and their supporters in the House and the Senate argue that the world changed after 9/11. Henry Hyde, a Republican congressman, the chairman of the International Relations Committee, right after that House floor vote, September 14th 2001, right after 9/11, he said that that resolution that had passed -- almost everyone supported it, including yourself, he said this: "The whole point of the joint resolution we are considering this evening is to clear away legal underbrush that might otherwise interfere with the ability of our president to respond to the treacherous attack." Does that make sense to you, that given the nature of what happened on 9/11, the president needed this extraordinary authority?

MURTHA: Wolf, he didn't need any additional authority at all. All he had to do was ask for the court opinion afterwards, so there was no reason in the world for him to do this. They expedite these things. Within 72 hours, he could go to the court after they get the wiretap and get permission. He was only refused five times out of, like, 18 thousand, so this is absolutely absurd.

BLITZER: So are you going to do anything about it?

MURTHA: Yeah, well, we're on the committee that funds NSA, and we're certainly going to look into it. This is something that has to be stopped. We cannot have American presidents spying on American citizens. Under the Constitution, it's illegal. And we're looking at exactly what happened, how many times it happened, and why it happened. BLITZER: Let's talk about Iraq, the elections: 11 million or so Iraqis showed up the other day, they voted, it was relatively peaceful, relatively quiet. The administration is clearly delighted by what has happened; are you?

MURTHA: Well, when you say the administration is delighted, you know, Chalabi has surfaced again. They had him at the White House, they had him with the vice president, they had him with the secretary of State, and he got less than five-tenths of one percent -- he got less than half a percent of the vote. And Allawi, who was their shining star, he turns up getting 8 percent of the vote. Forty-four percent of the vote -- now, these are early returns, but 44 percent went to the clerics. We're going to have a cleric government.

I cannot believe that these folks at the White House didn't understand, if they support somebody, the Iraqis aren't going to support them. The Iraqis don't like us, they're proud people, they don't want to be dictated by the United States, and yet our folks don't understand that.

Remember, I told you a year ago that two years ago I went to Iraq and I asked Ambassador Bremer, "Who's Sistani?" -- actually, one of my guys asked him that, and he turned to his aide and they said it's a minor cleric. Two weeks later the guy had 100,000 people on the street. They don't understand what is going on over there. It's frustrating to realize how bad our intelligence are, or how they're mishandling this situation.

BLITZER: Well, if these clerics, as you call them, the Shiites who are religious and support the Sistanies of this world, if this is what they want in a democratically-held election, who are we to tell them, you know what, you can't have them?

MURTHA: What I'm saying is, anybody the United States support, the Iraqis don't support. I don't know how it's going to work out. What I'm saying is, it's time for us to re-deploy. I got a letter from a young soldier that said, We have no mission, we don't understand what's going on in Iraq. We're targets.

I got a letter from a person that's been over 2 and a half years, working for AID, and he said it's the most mishandled operation he's ever seen. The White House is a disaster in this operation. They actually -- terrorism is more than it would have been if they had handled it right.

So all of these things are coming into place now. And this is a real problem for the United States. In a short time we're going to lose as many in Iraq as we lost in 9/11. If you count the wounded, if you count the people who were hurt and not returned to duty, which are about 7500, we have far exceeded the number of people killed in 9/11. And they're actually diverting attention away from terrorism because this insurgency that's going on, and only the Iraqi people can handle it.

BLITZER: I've heard it said, Congressman, that the big winner in the Iraqi elections may turn out to be Iran. MURTHA: Well, I used to believe that, but I'm beginning to come to the conclusion that Iran is not going to have near the influence they hope they will. They fought Iran for eight years, so I'm convinced the Iraqi people, if we re-deploy as I've suggested, will take care of the terrorists, which are less than 7 percent of the foreign fighters -- or, the insurgency, and less than 3 percent of the insurgency are al Qaeda -- and they'll throw them out. And I don't think they'll pay as close attention to Iran as I used to think.

BLITZER: Well, that's encouraging. Here's the latest CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll: We asked this mid-December -- Does Bush have a plan that will achieve victory for the United States in Iraq? Earlier in December, 38 percent said yes; now the number has gone up slightly to 42 percent. So some of these more recent polls show the American public in the aftermath of all of these presidential speeches giving the president a little bit up tick in these polls.

MURTHA: Wolf, it's even worse that the troops don't know what the plan is. Here's an experienced soldier, according to the letter that I received, that says, We don't know what our mission is. We go out every day and we're targets of the Iraqis and we're not accomplishing anything. And this soldier goes on to say, that the sooner we're out of there, the better off we're going to be. They do not understand the Bush plan.

I don't know of anybody that can tell me what the Bush plan is. Staying the course is not a plan. I believe if we redeployed, the Iraqis will have to settle this themselves. War is a very difficult thing; war is a nasty business. And anybody that's been to war knows it's tough. Killing sears the soul, and nobody likes to be involved in that. But the Iraqis have to settle this themselves. This is a civil war now, and we can't settle it. It shows by the election. If we're for somebody, they're for somebody else. So they've got to settle this themselves.

The quicker we re-deploy, the better off this country will be, the more stable the Middle East will be. And in the end, the United States will benefit from that.

BLITZER: Congressman Murtha, we have to leave it right there. Merry Christmas to you and your entire family. Thanks very much for joining us.

MURTHA: Thanks, nice talking to you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Up next, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton has one less rival to worry about as she runs for reelection and eyes a campaign, perhaps for the White House.

Plus, the United Nations secretary-general, Kofi Annan, lashes out. What made him so mad? We'll show you Annan's remarkable outburst. We'll talk with the reporter who triggered it. That's coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: New evidence tonight that running against Hillary Rodham Clinton is no easy task: a prominent Republican, hoping to unseat the senator, has now bowed out. And Senator Clinton's potential presidential rivals may be watching closely.

Let's go to New York, Mary Snow, she's got the details. Mary?

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, Jeanine Pirro made it official just a few hours ago. She's dropping out of the New York Senate race and will instead run for state attorney general. While Senator Clinton is a formidable opponent, Pirro's campaign had problems right from the start.


JEANINE PIRRO, CANDIDATE FOR U.S. SENATE: For the jobs that we entrust them with. Hillary Clinton...

SNOW: A missing page of her campaign announcement speech left Pirro at a loss for words on day one, and she never really was able to find a political voice. Pirro's candidacy looked good on paper. A high profile, telegenic D.A., a strong woman who Republicans hope could give Senator Clinton a run for her money.

PIRRO: It certainly is a daunting challenge, but I'm really up for it and up to it.

SNOW: Apparently she wasn't. The former first lady held whopping leads in fund-raising and in the polls.

GOV. GEORGE PATAKI (R), NEW YORK: Beyond what any other prosecutor in America is.

NOW: New York's Republican governor George Pataki tried to help by endorsing Pirro. But by last week, state party officials still weren't satisfied. They urged Pirro to drop out of the Senate race and run for a job she had a good chance of winning, state attorney general. At first she said no.

PIRRO: I said from the beginning I'm running for the United States Senate. I am a candidate for the United States Senate.


SNOW: Pirro says her law enforcement background better qualifies her for a race for attorney general rather than Senate. Republican Ed Cox, the son-in-law of the late President Richard Nixon, may decide to get back in the Senate race, but judging from Pirro's experience, he likely finds Senator Clinton very hard to beat -- Wolf?

BLITZER: All right, Mary, thank you very much. Mary Snow, in New York.

Staying in New York, it's been a tough year for the U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan. Today it showed. Annan lashed out at what he calls unfair media coverage of his son's role in the U.N.'s oil-for-food program with Iraq. James Bone of the "Times of London" asked Annan about a Mercedes Benz that his son, Kojo, imported into Ghana using his father's diplomatic immunity. That' when the sparks flew. Take a look at this.


JAMES BONE, TIMES OF LONDON: My question, the Volcker report says the Mercedes was bought in your name. So as the owner of the car, can you tell us what happened to it and where it is now?

Now, my question is, it's true that we missed a lot of stories in the oil-for-food scandal, and the U.N. hasn't made it easy. And even your answer today on the Mercedes so far hasn't made it easy. Some of your own stories, your own version of events don't really make sense.

I would like to ask you particularly...

KOFI ANNAN, U.N. SECURITY-GENERAL: I think you're being very cheeky here.

BONE: Well, let me...

ANNAN: And I have to tell you -- no, hold on, hold on.

BONE: May I ask my question?

ANNAN: Listen, James Bone, you've been behaving like an overgrown school boy in this room for many, many months and years. You're an embarrassment to your colleagues and to your profession. Please stop misbehaving and please let's move on to a more serious...

BONE: My question...

ANNAN: No, move on to a serious -- move on to a serious journalist.


BLITZER: Now we're joined now by the journalist who took that tongue lashing from Kofi Annan, James Bone of the "Times of London." James, thanks very much for joining us. I take it you and the secretary-general have had a long running exchange on this issue of the Mercedes Benz?

BONE: Well, you know, first of all, I've known Kofi for 15 years. And I was slightly surprised and slightly amused by his outburst today. It made me wonder what it is exactly he has to hide. What has been happening is that there's this question about the Mercedes -- just to recap briefly, there was a Mercedes bought on the 26th of November, 1998 with $3,000 from executive of a Swiss firm called Cotecna.

And the rest of the money being paid by Kofi Annan's son, Kojo Annan, who has also been employed by Cotecna. And the Mercedes was apparently bought in Kofi Annan's name, with a diplomatic discount and a diplomatic tax exemption when it was imported to Kofi Annan's native Ghana.

A week later, Cotecna won a large U.N. contract, so this is the context in which we're asking questions about what has happened to this Mercedes. Where is it now? Does the secretary-general still on paper own it?

BLITZER: How do you feel being hit by the secretary-general in a public news conference like that?

BONE: Well, you know, if I were a Freudian analyst, I would say it's a question of displacement. It's not me who's an embarrassment to my profession, it's Kofi Annan, who feels that he's an embarrassment to his profession.

I cover rapists and child molesters and murderers, I'm used to people not wanting to answer questions. As a journalist, it's an occupational hazard, as you know. You don't often get to such an undiplomatic assault from the world's top diplomat. But, you know, it doesn't really phase me at all.

Also, on asking the questions, will I get an answer, I always think of journalism as water to the sea. You can go either through a nice straight channel that somebody makes for you, or you flood a few meadows and break a few dams. But the water always gets there in the end.

BLITZER: I thought you actually asked that question rather politely, but you clearly hit a raw nerve.

BONE: Well, it is a raw nerve for him, but because it involves his son. There are a lot of unanswered questions in the Volcker report. In fact, the question I was going to ask him, which he wouldn't take, was about another aspect of the investigation that leaves open new questions.

When he actually intervened several years after the Cotecna contract in 2002, on behalf of Cotecna with the Ghanan ambassador in New York, when Cotecna wanted to renew its contract in Ghana. And it wasn't clear to me why he would want to do that, when he claimed that he had only met -- originally, he claimed he only met the founder of Cotecna once. And he claimed that he didn't know his son had been employed by Cotecna for several before that point.

BLITZER: James Bone, we've got to leave it right there. But thanks for joining us.

BONE: Thank you.

BLITZER: James Bone of the "Times of London" joining us from New York.

Up next, day two of the New York City transit strike comes to a close. Is there any end in sight? And then, we'll call on our Jeanne Moos to see if there's anything funny at all about a strike affecting seven million people. If there is, you know that Jeanne Moos will find it. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: In New York, they're striking mad. Thousands of angry transit strikers and millions of commuters left out in the cold, the very cold. How are ordinary New Yorkers, tourists, even celebrities faring? Our Jeanne Moos has "The Bottom Line."


JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Little town of Bethlehem it ain't.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We came all the way from Texas to enjoy New York, And what do they do? Tell us walk.

MOOS: But if you drive into Manhattan during the morning rush, you better have at least four people in your car, or you don't get past.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Get back in the vehicle.

MOOS: If you don't know the rules? You must be living under a rock.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you live under a rock?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I live in Westchester.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, really? I mean, come on.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Don't scream at me, I'm just asking for help. Please, somebody help me get to where I need to go.

MOOS: Now, the whole country knows the four-passenger rule.

CONAN O'BRIEN, TALK SHOW HOST: As a result, Donald Trump had to come to work today with three chauffeurs.

MOOS: Conan even ran around in a van offering commuters a lift.

O'BRIEN: I'm going to need to inspect your luggage.

MOOS: A transit strike has strangers cramming into cabs.

DAVID LETTERMAN, TALK SHOW HOST: We're playing, "Would you like to sit in a cab with creepy strangers?"

MOOS: The tabloids, at least, are mad as hell at the strikers, you rats. And Mayor Bloomberg has a favorite phrase.

MAYOR MICHAEL BLOOMBERG (R), NEW YORK: Illegal, selfish strike. This illegal and selfish strike.

MOOS: Which the union says --

ROGER TOUSSAINT, PRES., TWU LOCAL 100: We're called thugs, selfish, greedy, overpaid by a billionaire.

MOOS: The strike rules are so tight, even Santa couldn't get into Manhattan. As for the guy accused of living under a rock, he got in by recruiting three strangers, not to mention a dalmatian. Talk about changing your spots.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Can you say hello to these nice press people?

MOOS: Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.


BLITZER: The transit strike doesn't mean you're out of luck. Our Internet reporter, Abbi Tatton, has discovered one crafty Manhattan Web site with clever ways to help fellow New Yorkers avoid being left out in the cold.

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Tour buses and horse and buggies, not everything is at a standstill in Manhattan. This site, The Gothamist, is helping its readers get from A to B using whatever is available.

We decided to take them on for the challenge. Starting at Times Square, for example, if you want to get to Penn Station, you can use the Gray Lady double-decker tour bus which stops at a couple of sites, it's $49 for a couple days, but you can get on and off as much as you want.

Then from Penn Station, you can go out as far as Queens and beyond on the Long Island Railroad, which is not affected by the strike. If all of that is too much for you, there are other options available. For example, at the Web site, some entrepreneurial New Yorkers are offering their apartments for a one- night stay during the strike. This one could be yours tonight for a mere $300.

BLITZER: Abbi, thanks very much. A lot of crafty, smart people in New York.

There's word that Hurricane Katrina was actually a category three storm when it roared ashore, not necessarily a category four as forecasters first thought. That's from a final report on Hurricane Katrina from the National Hurricane Center.

Meanwhile, some homeless evacuees relying on the federal government for help are caught in a bureaucratic nightmare that may leave them in the cold for the holidays.

Our Susan Roesgen in New Orleans, she's joining us now, live, with more. Susan, what's going on? SUSAN ROESGEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, some 11,000 people in Louisiana are in FEMA-paid hotel rooms. A couple weeks ago, a federal judge extended until February the deadline for them to stay there, but FEMA can't force hotels to provide those rooms. For some people, time's up.


ROESGEN (voice over): Every day for the past month, Wanda Martin has dreaded getting this notice from the hotel where she's been staying since her home was ruined by the hurricane. The notice means she's got to pack up the suitcases for herself, her daughter, and her 80-year-old mother.

WANDA MARTIN FEMA AID RECIPIENT: We can't make someone keep us if they don't want, but we'll have to pack up and go find somewhere, leave New Orleans, I mean, you know? I was hoping I could stay here, get a trailer and get my house fixed. Get back in my own home.

ROESGEN: Wanda's family has been staying in a FEMA paid room in the Aston Crown Plaza while she waits for a FEMA trailer, but the hotel management says other guests, including more sent there by FEMA have made reservations that will push Wanda out.

DON ZIMMER, HOTEL SALES MANAGER: We are sold out really this entire week. You know, and the alternative is we allow the guests to stay, but what about the guest that's coming in for the first time to New Orleans that has a reservation and is expecting a place to stay so they can come in and check out their situation here locally?

Do you turn that guest away?

ROESGEN: A FEMA spokeswoman in Washington said she didn't know that hotels in New Orleans are asking hurricane victims to leave, but now with temporary housing in short supply, just days before Christmas, people who need a place to stay may find there's no room at the inn.


ROESGEN (on camera): Now, Wolf, the woman in that story, Wanda Martin, told me she couldn't get anywhere with FEMA. She called and she called, but she couldn't get any answers. When CNN went nosing around, she got an 11th hour reprieve.

She was supposed to be kicked out of this hotel tomorrow morning. She has another two weeks, but the bottom line for thousands of people across the Gulf South is those FEMA trailers, without them people can't get out of the hotels and, Wolf, they don't have anyplace else to go.

BLITZER: Susan, thanks very much. Susan Roesgen in New Orleans with us.

Still to come, let's find out what's coming up at the top of the hour. Guess what? Kyra Phillips in for Paula Zahn. KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: Hi, Wolf. At the top of the hour we have an important and exclusive story to tell you about, new details in CNN's continuing investigation into whether medical professionals may have resorted to killing patients at a New Orleans hospital after Hurricane Katrina.

Also tonight, an update on the manhunt in Florida, where an accused serial rapist has broken out of jail.

Plus a vivid warning about the dangers about turkey fryers and advise to keep your dinner and your home from going up in flames. I'll see you at the top of the hour, Wolf.

BLITZER: Certainly will. Thanks very much.

Coming up, Jack Cafferty and your e-mails. Stay with us.


BLITZER: Let's go back to Jack in New York. Jack?

CAFFERTY: (inaudible)... the first state in the country to authorize testing high school students for steroids. The acting governor signed an executive order that requires random steroid testing for student athletes who qualify for post-season games.

The question is weather High School kids ought to be tested for the juice.

David in Alexandria, Virginia: "Seems like a good idea to me. After all, kids learn to smoke, drink, and use recreational drugs in High School. All at least in part to emulate their elders. Steroids could well be in that adolescent cocktail. Maybe this is one habit we could head off at the pass.

Joseph in Oceanside, California: "If schools spent as much time educating the students so they could pass tests in English and Math instead of worrying about steroids and drugs, maybe our school system wouldn't come in last in the industrialized world.

Jeff in Indiana: "I work out in a gym three times a week. I see the kids that have been using steroids. It is sad. They are so large, aggressive and abnormal for children their age. If they keep this up they could end up raping or killing someone due to the excessive testosterone in their bodies. They should test the kids."

Chris in Brooklyn writes, "Not only should their be mandatory steroid testing, they should be testing for all drugs. As a college athlete, I can safely say, one of the reasons I never tried drugs was because I knew I could be drug tested at any time."

And Michael writes, "Sure, why not. It's probably the only test some of them would ever pass."

BLITZER: I hope you're having an easy time driving back to New Jersey in the strike, Jack. CAFFERTY: Yesterday wasn't bad. Today was considerably worse. As these things go on they tend to get worse not better.

BLITZER: I hope you give us an eye-witness account tomorrow here in THE SITUATION ROOM. Have a safe drive back. Kyra's in for Paula. Kyra what's coming up?