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The Situation Room
Bush Threatens to Veto Bill to Stop Dubai Port Deal; New Terror Plot?
Aired February 21, 2006 - 16:59 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: It's 5:00 p.m. here in Washington, and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM, where news and information from around the world arrive at one place at the same time.
Happening now, President Bush defending the deal to hand control of half a dozen American ports to an Arab company, and he's warning he'll veto any move by Congress to block the takeover. While critics say the deal for the ports could harm U.S. security, some Arab Americans say the uproar has more to do with bias and bigotry.
And in Ohio, three men are charged with plotting holy war attacks on U.S. troops in Iraq. But was there a much bigger target right here at home?
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
There's a growing uproar over a deal which would hand commercial control of six major U.S. ports to a state-owned Arab company. In Congress, there are bipartisan moves to try to block the takeover, but President Bush, according to a top aide, wasn't even aware of the deal until the protests began. But now he has made an extraordinary move on his own.
CNN's Brian Todd is standing by in Baltimore. We'll have more on what's happening in that port. But let's go to White House first. Dana Bash is standing by there -- Dana.
DANA BASH, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, President Bush hasn't used his veto pen in five-plus years, but now he's saying he will do it, and he will use it, he said, if he has to against the leadership in his own party on an issue that they have until now really been lockstep on, and that is the issue of security.
Now, the White House has been defending the process that was in place to let this transaction go through, let this Dubai company take over these six ports. But when they got word that the majority leader, the Senate majority leader decided that he was going put out a statement and say that he wanted legislation to block it, that started what had already been a uproar from -- from Republicans.
It made it a lot louder, and the White House realized that they had to do something to explain their position in a very different way. So the president came out, first talking to reporters on Air Force One, explaining his position, digging in. And then, on the White House lawn, on his way back from a trip to Colorado, has said it again. Let's listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think it sends a terrible signal to friends around the world that it's OK for a company from one country to manage the port but not a country that plays by the rules and has got a good track record from another part of the world can't manage the port. And so, look, I can understand why some in Congress has raised questions about whether or not our country will be less secure as a as a result of this transaction. But they need to know that our government has looked at this issue and looked at carefully.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BASH: Now, what you just heard there, according to one senior official, is the president stressing the bigger picture issue that they see here, which is that the United States is trying to make friends, not enemies, right now in the Middle East, and they do consider the UAE a great friend, an ally in the war on terror, and that perhaps for political reasons, they say here, this has become an issue that the president is now having to dealing with.
But as you heard from the president on the issue of legislation, whether or not this should be on hold, essentially what the president said is, bring it on.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BUSH: The transaction should go forward, in my judgment. If there was any chance that this transaction would jeopardize the security of the United States, it would not go forward. The company has been cooperative with the United States government, the company will not manage port security. The security of our ports will be continued to be managed by the Coast Guard and Customs.
The company is from a country that has been cooperative in the war on terror, been an ally on the war on terror.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BASH: Now what you just saw, big picture here, Wolf, is also a White House that seems to be learning from some mistakes in recent past. Even they will tell you are some mistakes in dealing with issues that are coming at them and coming at them hard.
What they have done, obviously, is try to deal with it head-on, put out the president himself and get their message out, explain their position and explain why they're sticking to their position. And we heard over the past couple of days even some Republican lawmakers say that they think the White House is tone-deaf. Well, one senior official said they think that might be the case, but in this case, they said, what would happen if they bowed to political pressure?
They said in this case they believe they are right on principle. That's why they're sticking to it.
BLITZER: And we'll hear more about the president's thinking from his counselor, his top adviser, Dan Bartlett, Dana. That's coming up this hour.
How vulnerable are America's ports? Would security be compromised if a Middle Eastern company takes over commercial operations?
Our Brian Todd is joining us now live from the port in Baltimore, one of those six ports that would be under operational control by this Dubai-based company.
What's the latest there, Brian?
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, first let me give you an idea of the kind of facility that we're talking about here.
This is the Seagirt terminal here at the Port of Baltimore. I'm going to ask our cameraman, Jerry Santos (ph), to pan over. You can see it here.
This is a sprawling facility. It handled more than four million tons of cargo just last year.
It is a huge facility. It is huge business. It also has huge security concerns. And those are concerns that have been the source of some longstanding tension between state and federal officials.
TODD (voice over): Port operations up close. A Panamanian- flagged cargo ship loaded and unloaded at the Seagirt terminal, a facility that handled nearly 300,000 containers of last year, one that under a new agreement may soon be run by a company controlled by the ruling family of Dubai.
(on camera): Officials say this is one of the busiest terminals in the Port of Baltimore. All the cargo that comes through here is x- rayed. But out of every 100 containers, only about six or seven are opened up and physically searched. The responsibility for coming up with a security plan for this facility is up to the operator, which, if this deal goes through, will be Dubai Ports World.
(voice over): Coast Guard officials say they review that plan, then U.S. agencies handle the bulk of security. Most officials believe none of that will change. But Maryland's governor and state security officials are upset because they say they were not consulted in security reviews for the new deal.
GOV. ROBERT EHRLICH (R), MARYLAND: It takes a little added extra diligence, a little extra analysis, a little extra communication from the feds during wartime. In this case, in my view, that was lacking.
(END VIDEOTAPE) TODD: Those complaints were relayed just minutes later to federal security officials at a briefing in Washington. A gentleman named Stuart Baker (ph) of the Department of Homeland Security responded this way, "This was a public process." It was made public he said back in November.
He also said that if any public official at that time or since that time had concerns about this, they could have come forward. He relayed this to the locals. He said, "State and local agencies have authority for security at these ports." He says, "This deal does not override that" -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Brian Todd, in Baltimore.
Thanks very much.
President Bush is clearly drawing a line in the sand over the deal for the ports despite deep concerns voiced by congressional leaders from both parties.
Presidential counselor Dan Bartlett told CNN just the other day that the president didn't even know about the deal until he heard reports of the uproar in Congress. Dan Bartlett is joining us now from the White House.
Dan, thanks very much for joining us.
DAN BARTLETT, WHITE HOUSE COUNSELOR: No problem, Wolf.
BLITZER: The president got involved in this decision at what point?
BARTLETT: Well, over the course over the last few days, as there's been a lot of public scrutiny now on a process that has been reported had started back in November of last year. And as we looked into the details of this, Wolf, I think the American people can be assured by a few basic points.
The port operator that was selling this company was a foreign- based operator out of Great Britain. They were selling this company to another one, the one that is in question. And it's a reputable company that operates all throughout the world.
The Congress understands the sensitivity, as does this administration when it comes to our security, particularly when it comes to our ports. That's why there's a congressionally-mandated process called the CFIUS process. And under this process, officials, career officials, as well as high-ranking officials, look at the national security concerns about a transaction between two private companies to affect our country.
And in this case it was rigorously applied. It was rigorously studied. Safeguards were reassured. And we didn't start from scratch, Wolf, because this is a company that our Homeland Security folks have done business with in the past. As your report just noted, there's a lot of different cargo shipped around the world. Many of it coming to our shores. This company has been involved in that, and we've had some very good working relationships with them.
So I think a lot of this right now that we're looking at is based on a lack of understanding or a knowledge about how the port business works, what the relationship is with our Homeland Security Department. And make no mistake, our Homeland Security Department, the Customs Department and the Coast Guard will be in charge of our port security, not a foreign company.
BLITZER: The difference, they argue, the critics, is that the British firm that operated these ports was a privately-owned British company, as opposed to this Dubai-based company, which is owned by the government, the emir of the United Arab Emirates. And some of the critics -- we hurt Curt Weldon here just in the past hour, this is a country, the United Arab Emirates, that doesn't even recognize Israel.
BARTLETT: Well, in that case, as you know, Wolf, many of the Middle Eastern countries have taken that position because there's not a peace settlement between Israel and the Palestinian people.
Make no mistake about it, the UAE is a strong partner in the war on terror. If you talk to the military, they're talking about the relations between our two militaries is very strong, intelligence- sharing, financial cooperation to cut off terrorist financing.
It's critically important as we fight to win this war on terror that we have strategic partners in the region. People are going to work hand in hand to help us win not only against defeating the terrorists, but the hearts and minds of the people in the Middle East. Taking steps that undermine that, not based on the facts of the process that was adhere to here, would damage that relationship. And that's what the president was talking about, the mixed signal we would be sending, Wolf.
Critically important that members of Congress understand why this transaction went forward. We followed the congressionally-mandated process to adhere to these safeguards that everybody in America and this president would expect, Wolf. And that's what was followed here.
We will continue to work with Congress and other people, mayors and governors, as you sated, to make sure they understand how carefully reviewed this process was.
BLITZER: Here's what Curt Weldon, Republican, the vice chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, said in the past hour here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. CURT WELDON (R), HOMELAND SECURITY COMMITTEE: This White House did nothing to communicate with Congress on this deal. With all the concern about port security going on in America right now at a minimum, leaders of both parties should have been brought in from both houses and had this deal reviewed.
That didn't occur. And it's a little late right now to announce it and say the government's behind it. We're not going to stand for that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: He is pretty angry, as are so -- a lot of other members.
BARTLETT: Well, it's understandable. I know he takes port security really -- it's a top priority for the chairman, as it is for this president.
We've done a lot of things, Wolf, since 9/11 to improve our port security. And there's a specific process that was followed here, Wolf.
And I must remind you, this -- a deal was announced, this transaction was announced back in November. This is not something that just came out of left field in the last couple of days.
And we have followed this very carefully. We have followed the type of safeguards that is mandated by the Congress. My understanding of the law is that if there would have been a denial, that would have been notified directly to the Hill.
But we will work with members of Congress, both parties, to make sure they understand the critical consequences of reneging on a fair process that was followed by the law. And that's why the president feels strongly about this, Wolf.
BLITZER: The Senate majority leader, Bill Frist, earlier today came out against this deal. The House speaker now, Dennis Hastert, one of your most loyal allies on Capitol Hill, he says this in a letter to the president: "I believe there should be an immediate moratorium placed on this seaport deal in order to further examine its effects on our port security. I believe the administration should conduct a more thorough review of this proposal that will more fully assess the risks involved in allowing a state-owned company to provide operational oversight of American ports."
Those are strong words from your best friends on Capitol Hill.
BARTLETT: Well, again, I know people are trying to drive wedges and make this to be a political issue. It's not, Wolf. And we understand there's a lot of facts in better, greater understanding of how deals like this, transactions, particularly that comes to something as sensitive as ports, actually transact.
And what we're going to do is work with leaders both in the House and the Senate to make sure they understand how rigorous as process this was. And again, I must stress, Wolf, this is not a company that we were starting form scratch with. We have worked with this company over the years. They operate ports around the world. We have a strong working relationship with them. So this was not something that was out of left field.
It's a company that we have understandings with. It's a company that we negotiated with in this particular deal to make sure the type of safeguards that American people would expect were in place.
BLITZER: We heard the president volunteer today a veto threat. He has not used his veto in these five years he's been president, but today he said if Congress passes legislation to try to block this deal, he said, "I will veto that," which is an extraordinary statement on its own.
But do you think you have enough votes to prevent an override of that veto?
BARTLETT: Well, again, Wolf, just to clarify the record, that he was asked by a reporter if he would if legislation hit his desk. And I think it would only make sense that if the president feels like this on principle, that this was a sound transaction and one in which the law was followed, that it ought to go forward.
But he does look forward to working with members of both the House and the Senate to ensure that they understand the details and best that we can provide them under the confines of the law, because it is critically important that the Congress understands the law they passed, CFIUS Review Act, that is something that we adhere to, was done so in this case.
And I think we will work with them over the coming days and weeks to ensure them that this process was followed in this case.
BLITZER: Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, said on Sunday, "it's unbelievably tone deaf politically at this point in our history, four years after 9/11, to entertain the idea of turning port security over to a company based in the United Arab Emirates."
Politically tone deaf, that's something you don't normally hear about this White House.
BARTLETT: Well, Wolf, I think the important thing for the public to understand is the president's making these decisions not based on politics, but based on the security of our country and following the law. And I think there's a very good example in his comment.
He said turning over port security to a foreign company like this, when, in fact, they will have nothing to do with the security, the port security is going to enforced by members of the United States government, the Customs Department, Coast Guard. They are in charge of port security.
This transaction doesn't change that one bit, Wolf. And that's what I'm talking about as far as people not quite having a grasp of all the facts in these deals. And once I believe that these come out and people understand the safeguards that are in place, that we will see clearly that not only was the law followed and the procedures followed, but this is important in a broader relationship where our country is not retreating within our own borders, walling ourselves off to the rest of the world, particularly in the part of the world that is desperate for reform, desperate for change. It's partners like the UAE and other governments in that part of the world that are siding with the international community in this fight in the war on terror, and it's critical that we stand up and work with them, not against them, Wolf.
BLITZER: One final question, we only have a few seconds left. How concerned was the president that America's image in the Arab world, the Muslim word, in the Middle East, would suffer if he decided to block this deal?
BARTLETT: Well, it is important, as the president said, that there are mixed signals that could be sent from our country if we make decisions not based upon the fact or whether a company is playing by the rules, but solely based upon where they're from. That's not what our country is all about.
As I said earlier, we're in a process, we're in a war in which we're trying to add partners in the Middle East to our efforts, not subtract them, Wolf. And it's critically important as we look at these details that we do see the bigger picture. But there are consequences for our decision.
But make no mistake, we understand why people at -- on just reading a headline or seeing -- scrolling across the bottom of the channel saying an Arab country is taking over port security. I can see why Americans would be concerned about that. But that's not the case in this -- in this instance.
What we have is a very reputable firm that's going to operate the port and the cargo. The security's going be provided by the United States government. Nothing has changed in that respect. And I think as more people learn the facts, Wolf, people will understand why the administration has taken the position we have.
BLITZER: Dan Bartlett, the White House counselor.
Thanks very much for joining us.
BARTLETT: You're welcome.
BLITZER: Let's go up to New York now. Jack Cafferty is standing by with "The Cafferty File."
So, Jack, are you convinced?
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Well, it doesn't matter if I'm convinced. There are 300 million people in this country that have a vote in this, and it matters whether they're convinced. Based on the e-mails I'm reading this afternoon, they're a long way from being convinced. When President Bush threatened to veto, he said, "I want those who are questioning this to step up and explain why all of a sudden a Middle Eastern company is held to a different standard than a great British company."
How about these.
The United Arab Emirates, which owns the company that would be operating these ports, served as both an operational and financial base for several of the 9/11 hijackers who murdered 3,000 innocent people in this country on 9/11.
Want some more?
The United Arab Emirates served as a transfer point for shipments of smuggled nuclear components that were sent to Iran, North Korea and Libya by a Pakistani scientist.
Great Britain, on the other hand, has been an ally of the United States against people like terrorists and dictators for more than 200 years.
Here's the question: Should a company from the United Arab Emirates be held to a different standard than a company from Britain when it comes to controlling or operating U.S. ports?
E-mail your thoughts to firstname.lastname@example.org -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Jack, thanks very much.
And stay tuned to CNN day and night for the most reliable news about your security
Up ahead, more on this controversy over an Arab company taking control of six U.S. ports. Is there an anti-Islam bias? We'll talk about it with a spokesman from the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
Also, the surprising last-minute developments that postponed a California execution. Will it still take place tonight?
Plus, chilling terror charges in the American heartland. Details of new indictments.
You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Welcome back.
We'll have more on the president's threat to veto any legislation that would block this deal that would allow a Dubai-based company to take operational control of six major U.S. ports. That's coming up.
But let's turn now to terror and our CNN "Security Watch" and some chilling charges right in the America heartland. Three men have now been indicted in Ohio for plotting attacks on U.S. and coalition forces in Iraq. But the alleged conspiracy doesn't stop there.
Let's turn to our Justice Correspondent Kelli Arena -- Kelli.
KELLI ARENA, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, officials say that the three men engaged in a violent jihad, they're charged with conspiracy to commit terrorist acts against Americans overseas and with providing material support to terrorists.
ARENA (voice over): The plot allegedly began in Ohio in late 2004. The plan, to attack U.S. forces in Iraq.
One of the men, Mohammad Zaki Amawi, is also accused of threatening to kill or inflict bodily harm upon President Bush.
ALBERTO GONZALES, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: The three carried out their own jihad military training exercises which included the use of firearms and the shooting of weapons. One sought mortar training.
ARENA: The indictment alleges that the men studied how to build improvised explosive devices and that they downloaded a video like this one to learn how to construct a suicide bomber's vest.
But the indictment doe not specify how far along the plot was or if an attack was imminent.
GONZALES: But clearly, they -- the folks had the motivation. And I think that they demonstrated that they had the means.
ARENA: All three men had ties to the community in Toledo, Ohio. One, Wassim Mazloum, operated a car business there. He allegedly planned to use that business as a cover to travel to Iraq.
When asked if law enforcement was helped in this case by the NSA's warrantless surveillance program, officials seemed to indicate it was not.
GREG WHITE, U.S. ATTORNEY: Information came to the bureau and to the joint terrorism task force in Toledo from the community prior to this investigation being started.
ARENA: Officials say one informant from the community, a man identified in the indictment as "the trainer," was approached by one of the men, Marwan Othman El-Hindi, to help set up a terrorist training center in the Middle East.
ARENA: All three of men pled not guilty in federal court today. If they are convicted, Wolf, they could face life in prison.
BLITZER: Kelli Arena.
Thanks very much.
And stay tuned to CNN day and night for the most reliable news about your security.
Coming up, it may look fresh, but is it only skin deep? Our Ali Velshi with "The Bottom Line" on a quick fix that could mask spoiled meat.
Plus, more on the controversy over an Arab company taking charge of U.S. ports. Would it matter if the firm were Asian or Israeli? Allegations of bias coming up here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Welcome back. We're in THE SITUATION ROOM. I'm Wolf Blitzer reporting.
Our Zain Verjee is joining us now from the CNN Center in Atlanta with a closer look at other stories making news.
ZAIN VERJEE, CNN ANCHOR: Hi, Wolf.
In Mexico, it's been over two days since 65 miners were trapped deep under ground after a mine blast. Loved ones and rescuers don't know if the men are dead or alive. Officials say that they found no sign of the workers. Desperate relatives are hoping for any trace of information.
Meanwhile, rescue workers are fearful that their electric or gas- powered machines could spark more explosions.
Health workers in India are finishing up a massive slaughter of chickens. The World Health Organization says India is one of 14 countries that have reported their first cases of bird flu since the beginning of this month. Other countries include Nigeria and Egypt. Officials are closely watching bird flu cases in those countries because of high population density and because people often keep their birds at home.
And also because of bird flu fears, six ravens at the Tower of London have been taken inside. The move is basically a precaution against the spread of bird flu, which has spread across Europe. Britain has not had any cases. Ravens have used the Tower of London as a home for, oh, about 900 years.
And, in Iraq, 20 people are dead after a car bomb attack in a marketplace in a Southern Baghdad suburb. Officials say 25 people are hurt. The happened after a pair of roadside bombs went off in central Baghdad today. Those attacks left one policeman dead and two civilians hurt -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Zain, thanks very much.
In our CNN "Security Watch" -- the planned commercial takeover of six American ports by a state-owned Arab company. Critics say the deal could jeopardize U.S. security. But some Arab-Americans and others say the criticism stems from bias. Joining us now is Ibrahim Hooper, the spokesman on the -- from the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
Ibrahim, thanks very much for joining us.
IBRAHIM HOOPER, SPOKESMAN, COUNCIL ON AMERICAN-ISLAMIC RELATIONS: Thanks for having me.
BLITZER: You understand why there is all this criticism?
HOOPER: Well, I understand that the whole situation is being mischaracterized.
We -- we have the impression, if you listen to the politicians, that, somehow, you're going to require a visa to get into the Port -- Port of Baltimore now. It's not being turned to an Arab government. The -- the same DHS people are going to screen the cargo. The same longshoremen are going to load and unload. The same Coast Guard is going to protect the coastline.
All that they're going to do is handle some operations within the -- in the port. Very little is going to change. But what we see now is mainly a smokescreen for, I think, anti-Arab, anti-Muslim bigotry.
BLITZER: A lot of people reject that argument.
Listen to what Congressman Peter King of New York, Republican, the chairman of the House Homeland Security, said earlier. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. PETER KING (R), NEW YORK: This has nothing to do with being an Arab nation. It has to do with a country which has really unusual -- has had unusually close ties to terrorism. And it's a risk can we just can't take.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: The -- the argument is that the UAE was one of three countries, for example, that has relations with the Taliban in Afghanistan...
BLITZER: ... before 9/11.
And America brought up Timothy McVeigh and the abortion clinic bomber. And we have had many things here. If you -- if other people judged us by that same standard, nobody would do business with America. So, I think we need to strip away the smoke and mirrors we're seeing here on both sides and see for what it is, that there -- that there's just rank anti-Arab, anti-Muslim bigotry here. If was not an Arab country, we wouldn't have this problem, as we didn't have for six years, when a British company was in -- in control.
BLITZER: But there is a difference between a private British company -- and the United States and Britain are the two closest of allies -- and this company, which is not a private company. It's owned by the emir of the United Arab Emirates. It's a -- it's a government-owned...
BLITZER: ... company.
HOOPER: You go to United Emirates -- Arab Emirates, as I have. It's about business. That's what the UAE is about.
They focus on business. They do it very well. And, as the president said, we have worked with these people before. We have -- we're close allies with this country. There's no reason, other than bigotry, to reject this deal.
BLITZER: Here's what Karen Hughes, the undersecretary of state, just back from the Middle East, what she says: "I don't believe Islamophobia is the case. What I have seen in quotes from our lawmakers are questions about security and concerns in line with the fact that a couple of the September 11 hijackers did come from the UAE."
HOOPER: Well, believe me, the Arab world is watching, and the Muslim world is watching to see what this nation does on this deal.
If we give in to our fears and our prejudices, that will be noticed in the Muslim and Arab world.
BLITZER: With the exception of Haiti, over the past 15 or 16 years -- and I have made a list, because I have covered all these operations -- every time the U.S. has dispatched military troops around the world to get engaged in combat, it has been to help Muslims, going back to liberate Kuwait, in Somalia, in Bosnia, in Kosovo, now in Iraq.
HOOPER: Well, I don't know that I would put Iraq in there, but, yes.
BLITZER: Well, to help Iraqis. They're Muslims, right?
HOOPER: Well, most Iraqis around the disagree with the invasion.
BLITZER: Most -- most Iraqis -- but most Iraqis are Muslims.
BLITZER: So, the question is, why is the United States so despised in so much of the Muslim world right now, when the U.S. has been trying to help Muslims?
HOOPER: Well, it's -- it's a clash of misperceptions.
The -- as you say, the United States feels that it has been a liberating force. And, in the Muslim and Arab world, it's viewed as an overwhelming force that is trying to change cultures, trying to change faith, and sticking its fingers in other people's business.
BLITZER: Ibrahim Hooper of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, thanks for coming in...
HOOPER: Thanks for having me.
BLITZER: ... to THE SITUATION ROOM. We will have you back.
And stay tuned to CNN day and night for the most reliable news about your security.
Coming up, a walkout postpones a controversial California execution -- details of the scramble to carry -- carry it out tonight.
But, next, more on our top story -- how did the decision on port security come about? I will ask an expert to break down the private and controversial process.
Stay with us.
BLITZER: In our CNN "Security Watch" -- the process of picking who runs U.S. ports.
Here to help us better understand this process, our CNN security analyst Richard Falkenrath. He's a member of our CNN Security Council, former homeland security adviser to the president.
This committee for financial investment in the United States, known as CFIUS, talk a little bit about how this process works.
RICHARD FALKENRATH, CNN SECURITY ANALYST: Well, it starts with the law.
Under the law, the president has very broad discretion to block any foreign acquisition of a U.S. company, if he believes it to be contrary to the national security interests of the -- of the country. But the law is ambiguous about how to -- how to enforce that. So, the president has delegated that responsibility to a committee, CFIUS, chaired by the secretary of treasury.
And it's composed of six departments and agencies and six White House offices. What happens is, when a company -- a foreign company -- buys a U.S. company, it -- it may voluntarily notify CFIUS that transaction is either planned or has already occurred. Then CFIUS has a statutory period of time to conduct -- to decide if it wants to conduct an investigation, 23 days.
And, then, it has 45 days to conduct that investigation, if it wants to, after which it can make a...
BLITZER: But this...
FALKENRATH: ... recommendation to the president.
BLITZER: This was the Dubai-based company, Dubai Ports, buying a British company which operated these ports in -- in these six cities.
And, so, either the British company or the Dubai company voluntarily decided to notify CFIUS, which is a pretty smart thing to do, because you don't want to -- the investors to get worried. You want the transaction to go through smoothly.
There's about 80 to 100 CFIUS notifications per year. Only 2 percent get investigated.
BLITZER: And -- and, in terms of -- a veto, or blocking it, does everybody have to agree? Does there have to be a consensus vote, or is it a -- a majority vote in this committee?
FALKENRATH: Well, a consensus can allow the transaction to proceed. To block it, usually, one -- there usually will be some dissent, and...
BLITZER: So, if the Department of Defense, as opposed to, let's say, the Department of the Treasury, says, we don't like this, it violates national security, is it done? Is the deal, then, over with?
FALKENRATH: No, then it goes to president. And the president gets to decide.
He will hear from the different members of his Cabinet, who wants to do it, who doesn't want to do it. And he has to make the decision. And that -- that does happen from time to time.
BLITZER: In this particular case, the president wasn't informed about this at all, we heard from Dan Bartlett, until it became a public issue in the press. So, we assume, as a result, there was a consensus, because it didn't reach him.
FALKENRATH: Absolutely right.
The -- the members got together. They looked at it. They got an intelligence brief. The Department of Homeland Security worked out a few conditions with the company, which is very common in these cases. And, so, at the lower level, they were comfortable with the transaction.
BLITZER: Richard Falkenrath, thanks very much.
FALKENRATH: Thanks, Wolf.
BLITZER: And fears and outrage over who will control these six U.S. ports are being expressed online and they're being expressed worldwide.
For more on that, let's turn to our Internet reporter, Jacki Schechner -- Jacki.
JACKI SCHECHNER, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: We will say, the majority of opinion online, on both the right and on the left, is that Dubai Ports World taking over these U.S. ports is a lousy idea.
But, as the story progresses, over the last couple of days, we're seeing an emergence of a diversity of opinion. For example, over at "The Glittering Eye," they're pointing out a bunch of different points about the facts of the story, not the least of which is that P&O is a foreign-owned company. The company, as we said, is U.K.-based. It's currently operates the U.S. ports.
This is an interesting post by Starling Hunter, who is a MIT professor who's teaching in Dubai. And he says, as far as allies in the Arab world are concerned, Wolf, you couldn't get any better than Dubai. So, there's a diversity of opinions. And the majority, though, say, this isn't a great idea.
BLITZER: Jacki, thanks very much.
And, to our viewers, stay tuned to CNN day and night for the most reliable news about your security.
Lou Dobbs getting ready for his program. That begins at the top of the hour.
Lou, what are you working on?
LOU DOBBS, HOST, "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT": Wolf, as you might suspect, we're working on this port deal, and how in the world did the Bush administration find itself in this political nightmare, this political storm?
President Bush, as you know, Wolf, has never vetoed any legislation in his five years in office. But, tonight, the president is threatening a veto if leaders from his own party in the House and the Senate pass legislation to stop this deal going to the United Arab Emirates, a remarkable development. We will be taking a look at that.
We will be reporting on the Bush administration's stubborn and curious refusal to review the deal. And we will be looking at some curious personal relationships -- imagine that -- that could be involved in this ultimate decision on whether or not we turn over the operation of six U.S. ports to the United Arab Emirates' government.
And we will take a look at this Committee on Foreign Investments, the committee responsible for approving this sale. We will tell you about the secrecy of the committee. And we will show you how many deals they haven't liked. Here's a hint: not many. And a spokesperson for the Dubai Ports World, well, he had some not-so-nice things, Wolf, to say about me and our program.
We will be telling you all about that. We will have all of the day's news. We hope you will join us -- Wolf, back to you.
BLITZER: Sounds like an excellent hour coming up, right at the top of the hour.
Lou, thank you very much.
Still to come, when it comes to controlling American ports, should a company from the United Arab Emirates be held to a different standard than a company from Britain? We are going to hear what you think about that.
And look who will be talking about port security and other subjects, political humorist Bill Maher. He will be joining us in our 7:00 p.m. hour -- Eastern, that is -- right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Time now for Ali Velshi with the "Bottom Line."
ALI VELSHI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Wolf.
Three words for today in business, foiled, spoiled, and oil.
Let's start with foiled. We are talking about the former CEO of Radio Shack, who, after number of things had gone wrong, was forced to resign from his job. The -- the lynchpin seemed to have been something on his resume that claimed that he had a bachelor of science degree, when, in fact, he had a diploma in -- in theology.
Most people wouldn't think that was the biggest deal, but it came after a number of other incidents and a troubled time for company. So, the CEO of -- of Radio Shack now out because of an inaccuracy on his resume.
Let's talk about spoiled for a second, Wolf. I don't buy a lot of meat, but, when I do go looking for meat at the store, this is the kind of thing I look out for. There are some little dark spots here. The meat industry acknowledges that a lot of people like me look at dark spots on meat and think that -- that maybe it's spoiled.
So, what you end up buying is a piece of meat that is a little more like this. It's red and -- and fresher-looking. Well, we have now found out that -- not in case of this meat that I'm holding, but in the case of much of the prepackaged meat that one gets, the industry has been putting carbon monoxide into the packages and sealing them. It apparently keeps the meat for weeks, weeks and weeks and weeks.
The industry acknowledges that people mistakenly look at meat for the color, and they're ending up throwing up a lot of meat that -- throwing out a lot of meat that is not otherwise spoiled.
And, with oil, we are going to be coming back at 7:00 to tell you a little bit about this -- this tour that the president is on to promote more conserve -- to conserve use of energy, to -- to talk about alternative energy.
Want to give you a little history about this administration, and why it's, all of a sudden, all about conversation and alternative energy. So, we will be back with that a little later.
Wolf, we're looking at markets that closed down today. The Dow was down 46 points to 11069, and the Nasdaq, down 19 points, to 22.62 -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Ali, with the "Bottom Line," thanks very much.
Up ahead, a California execution now only hours away -- can a new cocktail of lethal drugs somehow kill condemn prisoners more humanely?
Also, a British company controls American ports, with no complaints. But a planned takeover of those ports by an Arab firm creates an uproar. Is there a double standard at work? We are going to hear your views -- Jack Cafferty standing by.
BLITZER: Let's check back with Zain at the CNN Center with a closer look at other stories making news -- Zain.
VERJEE: Wolf, he was supposed to be put to death this morning; instead, he's set to die tonight.
Michael Morales' execution in California's San Quentin state prison was delayed until 7:30 p.m. Pacific Time, this after two anesthesiologists pulled out on of the execution, basically citing ethical concerns. We're going to bring you a live report from San Quentin in our 7:00 p.m. Eastern hour.
He led ABC News for more than 20 years. Now the street that leads to ABC News headquarters is named in his honor. West 66th Street officially became Peter Jennings Way today in New York. ABC News says -- quote -- "It's a permanent geographical memorial to the man who left such an indelible mark on the landscape of American journalism." Jennings died last August from lung cancer at age 67.
And New York Governor George Pataki is recovering, after doctors performed a second surgery on him today. The procedure was to relieve his blockage in his digestive system. A Pataki official says the surgery was performed without incident. Five days ago, the governor had his appendix removed -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Zain, thank you very much -- Zain Verjee reporting.
Jack Cafferty is in New York, once again, with "The Cafferty File."
I -- I assume you're getting swamped with e-mail, Jack.
CAFFERTY: Over 3,000 in less two hours. Not since Hurricane Katrina have we had this many responses.
When President Bush threatened a veto on this port deal, he said -- quote -- "I want those who are questioning it to step up and explain why, all of a sudden, a Middle Eastern company is held to a different standard than a great British company." That's a quote. He -- he really said that.
That's the question this hour: Why would we have different standard for companies in the Middle East, as opposed to companies in Great Britain?
Rick in Topsail Beach, North Carolina: "Simply put, anything and everybody needs to be done to stop the stupidity. No matter who the other country is, Americans should be in charge of our own ports."
Cheryl in Indianapolis: "Jack, the president told us before that he has investigated something, and we should trust him. So far, we have no weapons of mass destruction; we were not greeted as liberators; and the mission is not accomplished. Why should I believe he has actually done his job this time?"
Erik in Saint Louis, Missouri: "The question should be moot. No company controlled by the United Arab Emirates should be considered at all for such a job. I'm sorry if that sends a 'bad message,' but I think it's just common sense."
Bob in Fort Myers, Florida: "No foreign government or foreign company should run any infrastructure in the United States. Legislation should be put in place to stop it now and in the future. Otherwise, some day, you will be reporting that Syria is running our nuclear power plants."
Bob writes: "Should a British company be held to a different standard than a Saudi company? Let me see. How many of the 9/11 terrorists were British? We have supported this president, despite doubts on several issues, but this is unbelievable."
And Brian in Glen Ellyn, Illinois: "Wouldn't it have been easier during World War II if we had just called the Nazis to negotiate a purchase for the Port of Calais?"
By the way, Wolf, those 3,000 e-mails, I haven't read them all. But I looked through a bunch of them. You could count on one hand the number who have even voiced moderate support for this -- this idea of turning the operation of these ports over to United Arab Emirates.
I mean, this country is -- based on the e-mails I read, they want no part of this thing. And I -- and I think the president's in trouble here.
BLITZER: We are going to have a lot more on this, Jack, coming up, 7:00 p.m. Eastern, here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Up next, though, American athletes take more medals in Torino. We will take you there live for the latest. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: We want to get a quick check on what is happening at Torino at the Olympic Games.
CNN's Larry Smith is there. He's joining us now live with an update -- Larry.
LARRY SMITH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, I'll tell you what.
Sasha Cohen was simply sublime tonight in the short program of women's figure skating, as it got under way. She out-pointed the Russian star, Irina Slutskaya, by three-one-hundredths-of-a-point, to lead after the first night of competition. American 16-year-old Kimmie Meissner stands fifth. Emily Hughes, a 17-year-old, younger sister of 2002 gold medalist Sarah Hughes, stands in seventh.
Free skate is coming up Thursday night. We will see if Cohen can finish out the gold then.
By the way, total medal count now -- USA with 18 overall, seven of them gold.
Let's go back to you.
BLITZER: Thanks very much, Larry. We will check back with you tomorrow.
We are here in THE SITUATION ROOM weekdays, 4:00 to 6:00 p.m. Eastern -- back in one hour, 7:00 p.m. Eastern -- among my guests in one hour, the comedian Bill Maher. We will get his take on lots of good stuff.
Until then, thanks very much for joining us.
"LOU DOBBS TONIGHT" starts right now.
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