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Fourth Year of War in Iraq Begins; Could Democrats Launch Impeachment Campaign Against Bush?

Aired March 20, 2006 - 19:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And to our 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 tonight's top stories.

Happening now, it's 3:00 a.m. in Baghdad, where the fourth year of the war begins with more bombings and more bodies in the streets. President Bush admits it's been tough but vows to finish the fight. At the same time, other say Iraq is already in the midst of a civil war.

It's 7:00 p.m. here in Washington, where there are only whispers so far. Could Democrats really launch an impeachment campaign against the president?

And it's 4:00 p.m. in Hollywood, where the creators of "South Park" are admitting a defeat to Scientology. But they haven't stopped making fun of the church known for celebrity members like Tom Cruise. We're following new charges and counter-charges.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

The war in Iraq enters its fourth year with bombs, bullets and more sectarian slaughter. As the death toll mounts in Iraq, the President Bush travels to Cleveland, defending the war and calling on Americans to see it through with him.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The last three years have tested our resolve. The fighting has been tough. The enemy we face has proved to be brutal and relentless.

We're adapting our approach to reflect the hard realities on the ground. And the sacrifice being made by our young men and women who wear our uniform has been heartening and inspiring. The terrorists who are setting off bombs in mosques and markets in Iraq share the same hateful ideology as the terrorists who attacked us on September the 11th, 2001.


BLITZER: At the same time, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has also been strongly defending the war. But did he go too far with some of his most recent comments?

Let's go live to our senior Pentagon correspondent, Jamie McIntyre.

Jamie, what are they saying at the Pentagon as far as some of Rumsfeld's most recent comments are concerned?

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SR. PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, it's kind of Rumsfeldian. Rumsfeld was noted during the war of saying that, you know, life is untidy. A Pentagon spokesman says no analogy is not perfect.

The reference, of course, is to Rumsfeld writing in "The Washington Post" over the weekend that handing -- "Turning our backs on Iraq," he wrote, "would be the modern day equivalent of turning postwar Germany back to the Nazis."

That drew fire from some of Rumsfeld's critics, including Congressman John Murtha, a Democratic congressman who called the comparison "irresponsible," noting that U.S. troops in Germany were facing no resistance after the war, while U.S. troops in Iraq, he says, are essentially, in his view, caught in a civil war.

This comes basically the same way, the same time when a retired two-star general, Paul Eaton, who was at one time in charge of training Iraqi troops, wrote an op-ed piece in "The New York Times" calling Rumsfeld incompetent and saying he should step down.

There's no indication, though, that Rumsfeld is going to do that -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Any direct reaction at the Pentagon to that suggestion he resign?

MCINTYRE: Well, they said that the retired major general is entitled to his opinion, but that Rumsfeld serves at the pleasure of the president.

BLITZER: Jamie, thanks very much.

The fourth year of the war in Iraq started out looking like the year gone by. There were more bombings in Baghdad today. And police say they found nine more bodies, all shot to death execution-style. That brings the count to 186 bodies found in the capital in just over a week.

Is the war in Iraq now a civil war?


BLITZER: Joining us now live from Baghdad is Michael Ware, the Baghdad bureau chief of our sister publication, "TIME" magazine.

Michael, thanks very much for joining us.

Ayad Allawi, the former interim prime minister, says, you know what? A civil war is now under way already, no ifs, ands or buts about it.

You're there on the scene. What do you see?

MICHAEL WARE, BAGHDAD BUREAU CHIEF, "TIME" MAGAZINE": Well, I'd have to tell you, Wolf, many Iraqis would agree with him. In fact, many of them do. They tell me this daily. I mean, let's look at it.

There are dozens of bodies that are showing up on the streets and in the morgue every day. And it's been this way for over a year.

Another indicator is, let's have a look at the Al Qaeda in Iraq group of terrorist leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. In July last year, he felt there was enough public support amongst his constituency to publicly announce the creation of a Sunni death squad brigade.

So many people believe that we have been in an undeclared, covert civil war for a long, long time now. And what we're seeing is it escalate.

U.S. military intelligence disagrees. They say that the violence has not yet found its own momentum, it still requires prodding from people like Zarqawi. And until that changes, this is not actually civil war.

BLITZER: Listen to what General George Casey, the U.S. military commander in Iraq, told me yesterday. Michael, listen to this.


GEN. GEORGE CASEY, U.S. ARMY: I do not believe that civil war in Iraq, one, has started. And then, two, nor is it imminent or inevitable.


BLITZER: Is it a matter of semantics? Because everyone agrees the sectarian violence has escalated, but there's a lot of resistance to calling this a civil war.

WARE: Well, that plays directly, Wolf, into the propaganda game that all sides have been following in this war. I mean, that's a certain symbolic term.

It's a real trigger for this to be declared a civil war. I mean, that bears heavily on the state of the U.S. mission.

I mean, the fine details of the formula to be applied to determine civil war belongs in a political science class. But it's certainly true that a lot of people are dying here in Iraq every day for sectarian reasons.

When there is enough dying for whatever reason to make a civil war, that's hard to say. But for many people here on the ground, it feels like one, particularly given that right now, as I stand here in a darkened capital, there are death squads out there roaming the streets. BLITZER: The president and top Bush administration officials say the U.S. will step down in Iraq as Iraqi troops step up and are ready to take over. Are you seeing tangible signs that the Iraqi military and police forces are getting ready to take over in order to enable U.S. troops to withdraw?

WARE: There are signs of steps forward. In some cases, it's one step forward, two steps back.

We're seeing more and more areas of Iraq battle space being given to Iraqi army units and Iraqi police units. However, even the Iraqi commanders will tell you, we cannot hold this ground without the massive support and infrastructure of the U.S. military.

So whilst they can maintain a certain veneer of control, they really cannot do it on their -- on their own. When the time comes that they can, that's really, really hard to say right now. And there's no pulling out for U.S. forces now. In for a penny, in for a pound.

If they stay, that perpetuates the anti-American support for the insurgency. If they leave, it just leaves the door open for the terrorists and those militias backed by Iran.

BLITZER: Well, what are the consequences? Elaborate a little on a quick U.S. withdrawal.

WARE: What we would see is a descent into absolute chaos. We would see real conflict. Civil war perhaps on a grander scale with real regional implications.

You would see Iran making a play, Turkey, Syria, perhaps even Jordan and others. This would provide the chaos that allows al Qaeda to thrive. In some parts of this country that would not be under Shia or Kurdish control, we would see al Qaeda and other terrorist camps flourish.

At the same time, we would see the consolidation of Iranian influence, a stated member of what President Bush called the axis of evil here in Iraq. It is definitely a failure for the U.S. mission if that situation occurs, and that is almost certainly inevitable if there was a quick and rapid withdrawal -- Wolf.

BLITZER: You've done excellent reporting on the insurgency. Is it your sense the insurgency is getting stronger, or is it getting weaker?

WARE: Look, one of the things about this insurgency, one of its most significant characteristics, is its enduring quality, its ability to regenerate. No one from military intelligence to Iraqi commanders disputes the fact that since the early stages of this insurgency, until now, they are able to put as many as 15,000 to 20,000 fighters in the field on any given day. That hasn't changed.

As quickly as insurgents are arrested or killed, they seem able to regenerate, to recruit again, or to import. That's from rank and file all the way up to top leaders.

BLITZER: Michael Ware back in Baghdad.

Be careful over there, Michael. We'll speak early and often. Appreciate your work. Thanks very much for joining us.


BLITZER: And let's go to New York now. Jack Cafferty is standing by with "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.


The House of Representatives is on track to spend a grand total of 97 days in session this year. That's it, 97 days. That's fewer than the 108 days Congress was in session in 1948 when President Truman called them the "do-nothing Congress."

They're off this week for St. Patrick's Day, which was last week. And they'll be off for two weeks in April and a week in May and a week in July. And they'll take off the whole month of August.

Now, the idea is to give members time to meet with their constituents back home.

House Majority Leader John Boehner says, "This is an election year, and people want to see more of their constituents."

Given Congress' approval rating, what makes them think anybody wants to see them?

Here's the question. Should the House of Representatives be in session for more than 97 days a year?

E-mail us at or go to

I suppose you could argue they should be in session less, because if they're not in session, they can't do any harm to this great republic of ours. Right, Wolf?

BLITZER: I've heard that argument often.


BLITZER: Thanks, Jack. See you soon.

Coming up, why would some Republicans want to encourage talk of impeaching President Bush? We're listening to the buzz here in Washington and the motives behind it.

Plus, is the president's party giving Hillary Clinton a free pass in New York?

Hot political questions tonight for the Republican Party chairman, Ken Mehlman. And it's no laughing matter for some members of the Church of Scientology stunned by a spoof on the cartoon "South Park." What prompted Comedy Central to pull the controversial episode? We're going to investigate.



BLITZER: Tonight, what they call the "I" word, impeachment. It's being whispered here in Washington. Is it a serious move against President Bush, or is it simply election-year tactics by some not-so- likely suspects?

Our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider, joining us with more -- Bill.

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: Wolf, the philosopher George Santayana wrote, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." But sometimes that happens with those who remember the past all too well.


SCHNEIDER (voice-over): Senator Russ Feingold's motion to censure President Bush raises a question. If he believes the president broke the law, why isn't the senator proposing impeachment?

SEN. RUSS FEINGOLD (D), WISCONSIN: It might not be good for the country to try to remove the president from office, even though he's surely done wrong. But what we can't do is just ignore it.

SCHNEIDER: Democrats have not forgotten what the Republican Congress did to President Clinton. Gary Trudeau's Doonesbury cartoon shows a college instructor asking students to consider the case of two presidents. Quote, "the first president initiates a bloody, costly, unending war on false premises and approves covert policies of illegal detentions, kangaroo courts, extraordinary renditions, torture, and warrantless wiretapping of thousands of Americans. The second president lies about hooking up with an intern. Question, which one should be impeached?"

Congressional Democrats are not rushing to endorse impeachment. Senator Dick Durbin, for instance, was noncommittal.

SEN. DICK DURBIN (D), ILLINOIS: I'm not ruling it in or out at this point in time.

SCHNEIDER: If Democrats are responding cautiously to the talk about censure and impeachment, there are some conservatives who say, bring it on. Like this "Wall Street Journal" editorial claiming that Democrats are all but certain to impeach the president if they win control of Congress this year. "Let's have this impeachment debate before the election, so voters can know what's really at stake."

(END VIDEOTAPE) SCHNEIDER: Some Republicans want to make this year's midterm election a referendum on impeachment. They believe it will rally conservatives to support their beleaguered president. And they remember what happened to them at the polls in 1998 when they proposed impeaching President Clinton.

But public support is unclear.

One poll taken in January showed 52 percent of Americans wanted Congress to consider impeaching President Bush if he wiretapped Americans without a court warrant. Now, the latest "Newsweek" poll finds just 26 percent who feel Congress should take action to impeach the president and consider removing him from office -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Bill, thanks very much.

Bill Schneider reporting.

Impeachment is not a word that members of either party tend to take lightly, especially in an election year. I asked the Republican Party chairman Ken Mehlman about that and more here in THE SITUATION ROOM just a little while ago..


BLITZER: Correct me if I'm wrong. There's been a sense that I'm getting that you and other Republican leaders like this talk because you think it's going to really energize your base.

KEN MEHLMAN, REPUBLICAN NATIONAL COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: Wolf, the talk originally came up from a number of different people, including John Conyers, a gentlemen who if the Democrats took control would be the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. And what I think it's important for people to understand is this is their agenda.

BLITZER: But are you worried about that talk?

MEHLMAN: I certainly think it's important for the American people to understand what folks would do if they in fact took control and what they're thinking about. And I think one of the critical questions is do you believe the president ought to be, whether it is censured, whether it is impeached -- should he be encouraged or should he be punished for using every legal tool at his disposal to win the war on terror?

BLITZER: But how worried are you that this talk of impeachment could really get going?

MEHLMAN: I'm concerned that there are people who would like to be the leaders in Washington who believe that rather than giving the president every tool he needs to win the war on terror, they're making comments like impeachment and like censure. I think the American people need to understand that choice on election day.

BLITZER: Here's looking beyond 2006 to 2008 and Hillary Rodham Clinton, the junior senator from New York. Here's what Republican strategist Ed Rollins said last month. He said, "Either we bog down Hillary Clinton in 2006 in New York or we give Hillary a free pass, let her build up chips around the country by helping other candidates and walk out of New York with a big win and become unstoppable for 2008."

Are you giving her a pass? You can barely find a candidate to run against her in New York?

MEHLMAN: Wolf, I'm focused on the 2006 elections. I'm focused on doing what we can to make sure we keep Republican majorities in the House and the Senate, win Republicans in governor's races. That's where I think our focus ought to be. Ultimately, Hillary Clinton will have a voting record and she will have a history of voting with the American people will consider should she decide to run in 2008.

BLITZER: Is there any Republican in New York State that can beat her this year?

MEHLMAN: Well, there are a number of candidates who have announced. There are others who are looking at running. I am not going to predict that. That's something that New Yorkers will make the decision about. Obviously, she is in a very strong position to win reelection in New York.

BLITZER: And how worried are you about her in 2008?

MEHLMAN: Whoever the Democrats nominate in 2008, I believe, will be a formidable candidate. The country is closely divided.

But the most important thing we've got to do now is to make sure we have a president and we have a Congress that are committed to doing everything possible to win the war on terror, not saying anything possible to win the next election, not trying to play political games to exploit things, and certainly not talking about censuring a president who legally made sure that we intercept foreign terrorists before they hit the United States.

BLITZER: Ken Mehlman thanks for joining us.

MEHLMAN: Thanks a lot.


BLITZER: For more on how impeachment talk is playing out among Republicans online, let's bring in our Internet reporter, Jacki Schechner -- Jacki.

JACKI SCHECHNER, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, the Republican National Committee is using their Web site and an e-mail campaign to reach out to their core constituents. Part of their message is that impeachment is the natural progression from censure, and if Dems win control of the House, do you really want your president embarrassed for the last two years of his term?

Now, this is resonating, they tell me, with their base. They know it well. They say this is not a strategy that bubbled from the Internet up. But at the same time, it is conversation that we've seen in the conservative blogs as they talk about censure.

You can see here at Captain's Quarters they link the words "censure motion" with "impeachment." We're seeing the same thing over at the very conservative Blogs for Bush.

Also, further discussion of impeachment as strategy at the right wing, talking about how that's not going to work for the Democrats.

Wizbang talking about impeachment, keeping Republicans in power is the way to fight that.

So it's absolutely on track with what the RNC was thinking they would resonate with.

As for the Democratic Party online, they are continuing to push Bush's plummeting poll numbers and dissatisfaction with the war in Iraq -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Jacki.

And to our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM, where political news is arriving all the time.

CNN, America's campaign headquarters.

Still to come here, it slammed into the coast of Australia with winds up to 180 miles an hour. The impact has been likened to an atomic bomb and officials say this cyclone may just be the start.

And she just jetted around the world as secretary of state, but could Condoleezza Rice give it all up for her real dream job?

Stay with us.


BLITZER: There she is, Zain Verjee, standing by with a closer look at some other stories making news.

Hi, Zain.


New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin has a plan to rebuilding the city, even neighborhoods destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. Nagin's unveiling the plan right now. It was devised by a special advisory committee. Under the proposal, Nagin's expected to clear the way for residents to rebuild anywhere, but for homeowners in flooded-out areas it would be at their own risk.

As we told live about six hours ago, four people died when their twin-engine plane crashed in Branson, Missouri. The Piper Seneca bound for Lubbock, Texas, went down shortly after takeoff from nearby Point Lookout. Witnesses say it circled, dropped quickly, and then crashed into a building containing rental storage units. No one on the ground was hurt. Federal investigators are expected to arrive tomorrow.

Could Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice be dusting off her resume? Well, she learned today that Paul Tagliabue has announced plans to retire as commissioner of the National Football League at the end of July. The 65-year-old Tagliabue has served in the position since late 1989.

Secretary Rice, Wolf, as you well know, has often said that her dream job is to be NFL commissioner -- Wolf.

BLITZER: It would anybody's dream job. What could be better than that, Zain?

VERJEE: Great point, Wolf.



BLITZER: That's another dream job. Thanks, Zain, very much.

Just ahead, the president remains positive about the Iraq war and its outcome. But public opinion polls don't necessarily mirror the president's optimism. How might Americans voice their concerns over Iraq in this year's midterm election?

And the president has often expressed confidence in his defense secretary. Some Democrats now say Donald Rumsfeld's missteps over Iraq should lead to his firing. That will be our debate right here in "The Strategy Session."

Stay with us.


BLITZER: Back now to our top story, the third anniversary of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. Many members of Congress are all too aware that by Election Day, November 7, U.S. troops could be well into their fourth year of the mission.

Let's bring in our senior analyst, Jeff Greenfield -- Jeff.

JEFF GREENFIELD, CNN SR. ANALYST: Well, Wolf, the question is simple: how will the public's current unhappiness over Iraq play out politically? The answer is also simple: we don't know since the election is seven and a half months away.

What we do know is how Iraq and the broader terrorism issue played out in the last two elections. And there's an intriguing clue there.


GREENFIELD (voice over): In the wake of the September 11 attacks in 2001, President Bush became the leader of nation at war.

BUSH: I can hear you.

GREENFIELD: Or at least a nation at war with the perpetrators and enablers of those attacks.

BUSH: Either you're with us or you are with the terrorists.

GREENFIELD: That frame turned out to be a big political asset to Republicans in the 2002 midterms, where terror, not Iraq, was dominant.

In Georgia for instance, Saxby Chambliss won a Senate seat from Democrat and Vietnam War Purple Heart winner Max Cleland by suggesting that Cleland's opposition to the rules governing the Homeland Security Department weaken the fight against Osama bin Laden.

That issue also helped Republicans capture Democratic seats in Missouri and Minnesota, and with them, capture control of the Senate. By the 2004 presidential race the public had already turned negative on the Iraq war, but still gave Bush high marks on the war on terror. In their first debate, Kerry tried to separate the two.

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Saddam Hussein didn't attack us. Osama bin Laden attacked us.

GREENFIELD: But the Bush campaign hit hard at Kerry as inconsistent. A flip-flopper, using his windsurfing hobby as a metaphor and throwing Kerry's own words back at him.

ANNOUNCER: He bragged about voting for $87 billion to support our troops before he voted against it.


GREENFIELD: Even if we don't know the answer about this Fall's vote, we do know one key question, will the public's negative views on the President Bush war on Iraq erode his once high marks on the war on terror. If so, can the Republicans change the debate to focus more on the social issues that will fire up the GOP base.

BLITZER: Joining us now, our political analysts. Democratic strategist Paul Begala and former Pentagon spokeswoman Torie Clarke. Three years ago, almost exactly to the day Torie, you were the Pentagon spokeswoman, and on that day, March 22nd, 2003, you said this.


TORIE CLARKE, FORMER PENTAGON SPOKESWOMAN: We've said from the very beginning, well before the start of military operations, there are a lot of unknowns. A lot of bad things that can happen. And we'll it take one day at a time. And, the only thing that's of great certainty is what the outcome is, the end of this regime.

(END VIDEOTAPE) BLITZER: Did you ever think then, that three years later, this would be going on?

CLARKE: I honestly didn't know. Absolutely telling the truth that there were many unknowns. There were plenty of knowns.

BLITZER: Was there discussion, you were inside the inner- circles, was there a discussion of an insurgency exploding and potentially a civil war erupting.

CLARKE: There was a very rigorous going over of the many bad things that can happen when you take action. You weigh the potential bad things happening against the risk of inaction. We decided because of the pattern of abuse, because Saddam Hussein had used weapons of mass destruction, because he was consorting with terrorists of all sizes and shapes, the president made the decision to go to war.

BLITZER: Here's what Donald Rumsfeld wrote yesterday, Paul, in The Washington Post, "Turning our backs on post-war Iraq today would be the modern equivalent of handing post-war Germany back to the Nazis. It would be as great a disgrace as if we had asked the liberated nations of Eastern Europe to return to Soviet domination because it was too hard or too tough or we didn't have the patience to work with them as they built free countries." Does he have a point?

PAUL BEGALA, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: No. The only person who believes that is Donald Rumsfeld and the president and the vice president. I saw a different op-ed yesterday. I want to read you quote from it. Martin Van Creveld is a military historian at Hebrew University. He is one of the most esteemed military historians in the world. In fact, he's required reading for our American troops. Here's what he wrote yesterday.

"This is the most foolish war since Emperor Augustus in 9 B.C. sent his legions into Germany and lost them." That's what military historians think. The soldiers fighting this war, 72 percent in a Zogby poll say they want our presence there ended within in a year. The historians have weighed in saying it's a debacle. The troops say it's debacle. American people no longer trust anything that Mr. Rumsfeld, that President Bush or Mr. Cheney say. It's a complete disaster for our country.

BLITZER: There is an increasing drumbeat that your former boss Donald Rumsfeld should either be forced to resign or should step down. I asked Senator Joe Biden, the ranking Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee about this yesterday/ Listen to what he said.


SEN. JOE BIDEN: Imagine what would happen if announced tomorrow in the headlines of the papers in America and throughout the world that Rumsfeld was fired. It would energize, energize the rest of the world to be willing to help us. It would energize American forces. It would energize the political environment. Yes he should step down.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BLITZER: Is Rumsfeld that despised around the world?

CLARKE: I disagree completely with you characterization. I don't think there is an increasing drum beat about this. The president gets to decide whether or not Rumsfeld stays or goes. The president has said repeatedly he's thinks he is doing a very good in very difficult circumstances and wants him to stay.

What kind of signal would it send, by the way? This is tough stuff, no two ways about it. There have been good things that have happened. There has been important progress made in Iraq. Nobody seems to focus on the positive. They only focus on the negative. People on the ground understands how tough this is, understands that this secretary has backed them up completely with what they needed, when they needed it, what they want.

BLITZER: Torie makes a point, Paul. What kind of signal would it send to al Qaeda and the terrorists, the insurgents, if Rumsfeld was forced out?

BEGALA: It would send a signal to our soldiers that incompetence would be punished. When Les Aspen was secretary of defense for President Clinton, he was asked to send armor in to Somalia. He declined to do so. Eighteen rangers were killed. It became "Black Hawk Down." Les Aspen lost his job for that. He made an enormous mistake. Men died because of that mistake. He was fired because of that.

Secretary Rumsfeld has made much larger mistakes and many more people have died. He overruled his military commanders who said they need 300,000 troops to peacefully occupy this country. Now people are dying because of Mr. Rumsfeld's incompetence. We have to show there is price to be paid for incompetence.

By the way, if President Bush put Joe Lieberman, who is a Democratic senator from Connecticut, the strongest supporter of the war, it would begin to form a bipartisan in this foreign policy that has been grossly lacking.

CLARKE: In the past, Paul has trashed Senator Lieberman for his stand on this war and for saying he thought it was the right thing to do. Now he wants him to the be the secretary of defense. There is an urban legend that Rumsfeld has overruled the military leadership. Nothing could be further from the truth.

By the way, it is an insult to people like Abizaid and Casey and Franks who have 30 to 40 years in uniform to suggest something like that. It is an insult to them. You're insulting them when you're saying they're not getting what they need when they needed it.

BEGALA: Shinseki was the Army Chief of Staff, the number one general in America. He testified under oath that we needed hundreds of thousands of troops. Mr. Rumsfeld and this pinhead Professor Wolfowitz who worked for him, publicly insulted him and trashed him and effectively relieved him from his duty. CLARKE: Urban legend. Months before General Shinseki testified and said it would take several hundred thousand troops, months before it was publicly known that Shinseki was not coming back. Do not propagate the myth.


BLITZER: We're going do some fact-checking on this and get back to both of you on this, maybe tomorrow. Good discussion

Up ahead -- a developing story we're following. Witnesses say it looks like the aftermath of an atomic bomb. Australians familiar with Hurricane Katrina are now dealing with their own storm. There's another one, a big one on the way

A South Park spoof on scientology causing a big stir and prompting cast member Isaac Hayes to resign. Are big Hollywood studio bucks at stake as well. We're following new developments tonight.



BLITZER: Now, a developing story we're watching. Winds of rage and fury that eerily remind many of us of America's most devastating storms.

Let's bring back Zain Verjee at the CNN Center. She is tracking a cyclone.

What is going on Zain?

VERJEE: Wolf, Australians know how violent storms can be and that may be the reason why some Australians decided to just get out before Cyclone Larry hit.


VERJEE (voice over): Witnesses tell the media, it looks like the aftermath of an atomic bomb. Damage and devastation remained after a massive cyclone named Larry tore through northeastern Australia. The Category 5 storm released its wrath today.

Wind gusts topping 180 miles per hour nearly ripped trees from their roots, splintered wooden homes, tore metal roofs off structures and tossed boats around like toys, sending even this boat into a garden.

Cyclone Larry is the most powerful to strike Australia in 30 years. One area hardest area is Innisfail, a community of nearly 9,000 people. Local resident described the cyclone before and during its visit.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was just like a noise like a train was coming. And the engine was roaring. And the wind was just unbelievable. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We were really scared for our life. At one stage we were starting to feel sick just through worry over whether we were going to get through the night.

VERJEE: While just over two dozen people suffered minor injuries and there are no reported of deaths, officials say the economic disaster could be staggering.


VERJEE: Wolf, they call it a cyclone. We call it a hurricane. But right now some 50,000 people are without power. And an unknown number of people are homeless. Meanwhile, forecasters are warning that another potentially devastating cyclone is brewing in the sea, and it could hit Australia later this week -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks very much Zain.

Let's get a better sense now of where cyclone Larry hit.

Joining us here in THE SITUATION ROOM, CNN's Tom Foreman -- Tom.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: If you're worried about family or friends on vacation over there or you're going on vacation, don't worry too much. Because they are not likely to be in this area. This is the northern part. If you look at the path of the storm, it comes cutting in right off this northern part.

But you can worry about what you might see in the supermarket because of this place right here, Innisfail, the town that she mentioned, the hardest hit area, about 8,000 people there. But this is a major area for the growth of sugarcane and bananas. And these rivers coming in here with all the water that dumped in created massive flooding throughout this area. And that will affect their harvest. Some people think a lot of it may be completely lost.

Nonetheless, it goes a lot beyond Innisfail. If you go to the entire area hit by the storm, look at this -- all the way out, covering that much of this great continent of Australia. And, as we said, another storm possibly on the way.

BLITZER: Let's hope it doesn't hit.

Thanks very much, Tom, for that.

Still ahead here in THE SITUATION ROOM, the church of scientology is known for celebrity members like Tom Cruise. Now the creators of the cartoon "South Park" are admitting a defeat to the church, but they haven't stopped making fun of it. We are going to tell you what is going on.

And Kentucky Fried Chicken serving up a new way to stop TIVO users from ignoring the commercials. We'll have "The Bottom Line." Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: Welcome back. A major computer maker expanding its workforce aboard. And a fast-food restaurant creating an ad many want to watch.

Ali Velshi is joining us now with "The Bottom Line" -- Ali.


There are some jobs being announced by computer maker Dell, but they are not here in the United States. Dell has four call centers in India. And it plans to double its work force there from 10,000 to 20,000 workers over the next three years. Now, the jobs won't just be for call centers, but also for product testing and maybe even a manufacturing plant.

Now, you were talking about fast-food. It looks like Colonel Sanders has cracked the TIVO code. All it seems to take is some free food. KFC trotted out an ad that was designed not only to make viewers watch it, but to rewind it and study it. The ad -- you see -- contained a hidden message, which you had to advance frame by frame. Hopefully, if you had a TIVO or a DVR or even a VCR.

If you did that, you would find the code, which you would then use to get a free buffalo snacker sandwich. Well, the plan worked. Over 100,000 people redeemed the coupons off of KFC's web site, which saw a 40 percent jump in traffic.

Markets are mixed today, Wolf, after a powerful week last week. The Dow closed actually a few points lower to 11,274. The Nasdaq gained about 7 points, as you can see there, to 2,314 -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks Ali, very much.

He can turn lack-luster movie into a Blockbuster at the box office. So when Tom Cruise jumps many people notice how high, but he may not be jumping on any couches over a cartoon spoof that lampoons a religion that Cruise feels strongly about.

Details now from CNN'S Chris Lawrence. He's standing by live in Los Angeles -- Chris.

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, this is a show that once had Jesus Christ fight Santa Claus over the true meaning of Christmas. Black, white, Muslims, Jews, they have skewered everyone. Now "South Park" creators have declared war on scientology in their own tongue in cheek way.


LAWRENCE (voice over): A scientologist has been the voice of a regular character on the show for years. But Isaac Hayes quit last week, specifically because he said "South Park" crossed the line from satire to religious bigotry.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Scientology is just a big fat global scam.

LAWRENCE: This episodes spoofs the church and shows an animated Tom Cruise locking himself in the closet.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Tom Cruise still will not come out of the closet.

LAWRENCE: It was supposed to re-run last week. But Comedy Central pulled it. This gets complicated. But industry sources say it's because the network and Tom Cruise's current movie studio are both owned by the same corporation. Cruise is a scientologist. And some speculate he threatened to not promote "Mission Impossible 3."

Cruise's manager says he never contacted the network. And Variety managing editor Michael Speier says it wouldn't make sense for him to hurt his own movie.

MICHAEL SPEIER, VARIETY MAGAZINE: That said they did pull the episode for a reason.

LAWRENCE: Comedy Central says it had nothing to do with Cruise. They wanted to replace the episode with one that prominently featured Isaac Hayes's character. Speier says the network may have had other considerations.

SPEIER: A. We should be just very nice here and just bow to the fact that it is not nice, but that does not ring true because they made fun of everything or the other side of the coin is they did get pressured.

LAWRENCE: The "South Park" creator sarcastically said, "So, Scientology, you may have won this battle, but the million-year war for Earth has just begun." They signed it, servants of the dark lord Xenu, using the religion's own terminology to mock them.

Now the question is, do they back off Scientology or ridicule it even more?

SPEIER: I think it depends on what the studio kind of strong- arms them or doesn't strong-arm them into doing. One is, look, we pulled it, deal with it, and please move on. And the other one is, you guys have some fun with this because this is what you do best.


LAWRENCE: The church of Scientology says artists find in the religion practical answers, which allow them to take full control of their own lives. They wouldn't comment specifically on this issue, but we should add there's no evidence that the church itself had anything to do with that episode getting pulled. And, you know, this wouldn't be the first time or first religion to end up at odds with "South Park." Wolf?

BLITZER: Chris, thanks very much. Let's get a little bit more on this controversial episode. For that, we'll turn to our Internet reporter Abbi Tatton -- Abbi?

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, whatever the reason for Comedy Central pulling that episode from television last week, that's not the case of their Web site. Clips like this one, featuring Tom Cruise, parodying the actor, along with Scientology are available online. That' actually one of four clips there at the Web site. So if you want to check out what all the commotion is about, about this episode, it's all there online. Wolf?

BLITZER: I suspect a lot of people will go there. Thanks, Abbi, very much. Jack Cafferty is in New York. He's got "The Cafferty File." Jack?

CAFFERTY: We'll be checking that out in the office online tomorrow, actually. What was the line, Tom Cruise refuses to come out of the closet?

BLITZER: I don't know.

CAFFERTY: Yes, it was, that was the line in the "South Park" episode. The House of Representatives is on track to spend a grand total of 97 days in session this year. That's fewer than the 180 days Congress was in session in 1948, when President Harry Truman called them the do-nothing Congress. The idea is to give members more time to meet with their constituents back home, assuming their constituents are interested in meeting with them.

The question of the hour is should the House of Representatives been in session for more than 97 days a year?

Terry in Castle Rock, Colorado: For as much oversight as this Congress has done, they might just as well stay home. The majority has delegated their job to K Street anyhow.

Gabriella in Massachusetts: 97 days, how do they do it, the poor little dears? The representatives need their rest for their golf outings and lobbyist wining and dining. It is very tiring robbing the American people blind.

Lonnie in Baltimore who writes a little like a congressman says: Saying that the House is only in session 97 days and thus implying they aren't doing their work is misleading. It is imperative that these leaders be given a lot of time to leave Washington to travel both home and abroad to see the world, so they can make more informed decisions on the votes they make on our behalf.

Like I said, reads like it was written by a congressman.

Kitty writes: Hey Jack, are you crazy? Let sleeping dogs lie. They do enough damage in 97 days. They don't need any more days.

Larry in Lincoln, Nebraska: How long does it take to cook up some pork and vote yourself a raise? Ten days out to do it if you miss the Sunday morning talk shows.

And David in Marion, Indiana: Jack, the only person that has a better job than those in the House is you. The only thing you do is ask stupid questions and read stupid e-mails like this one. I don't know why I waste my time. You don't even have a book to give out like Lou Dobbs. BLITZER: Very clever viewers we have out there.

CAFFERTY: They're great.

BLITZER: Love those e-mails. Let's find out what's coming up at the top of the hour on "PAULA ZAHN NOW," Heidi Collins filling in for Paula. Hi, Heidi.

HEIDI COLLINS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Wolf, thanks a lot. At the top of the hour, more than a thousand people may be at risk. Either they weren't screened for deadly diseases or they received worthless injections, all because of one man, who authorities say practiced medicine without a license. We'll tell you about him.

Also, amazing pictures from security cameras. What should you do in the same situation? We'll have an expert's advice that could save your life. It's all coming up at the top of the hour, Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Heidi, for that. We'll be watching.

Still to come here in THE SITUATION ROOM, want to fit even more into your busy schedule? Say hello to hologram and welcome to the future. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Thanks very much. You're back in THE SITUATION ROOM. Looking for a better way to balance the time you spend at work and at home? In today's edition of "Welcome to the Future," CNN's Miles O'Brien shows us how technology might help.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I do get to work from home, but then I wind up having to leave for days at a time. I work in a virtual company. Sure it's cool that I'm always talking to my coworkers on the computer and being able to just shoot instant messages out, but at the same time, there's something lacking about that. To be able to effectively communicate, you need to be able to see people's reactions. So it would be wonderful if I could just spin my chair around, and suddenly be seeing everybody that I'm trying to communicate with. And so if I could do that without traveling, then that would be fantastic.

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: So what if Phillip (ph) could beam himself to a meeting instead of having to travel to it? Is this the future or has Phillip (ph) seen one too many movies?

Hollywood has taken the hologram out of the world, like this scene from "Star Wars: Episode III." But how close is this to reality?

MICHAEL KLUG, CO-FOUNDER, ZEBRA IMAGING: The vision of "Star Wars" is something that can be achieved. But the means by which to achieve it will not be what's represented in the movies.

O'BRIEN: MIT grad and co-founder of Zebra Imaging, Michael Klug has mastered the art of creating these larger-than-life holographic images. Boiled down, they are three-dimensional pictures projected with a pair of lasers. But Klug says interacting with these 3D figures still presents a challenge.

KLUG: The hologram is not something that can occupy space without having some piece of film somewhere between your eye and the holographic image.

O'BRIEN: However, Klug believes we could still see a version of holographic virtual meetings come to life within the next decade.

KLUG: Once we get those basic technologies out and demonstrated, the sky's the limit.


BLITZER: And that's it for us, thanks very much for joining us. Let's head over to Heidi Collins, filling in for Paula. Heidi?