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The Situation Room

Bush Suggests U.S. Troops May Be in Iraq Through 2008; Interview With Helen Thomas

Aired March 21, 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. Are U.S. troops in Iraq for the long haul? President Bush suggests they'll be there longer than he'll be in the White House.

It's 7:00 p.m. here in Washington. She's covered nine presidents. What does she have to say about this one? What does she have against him and what does he have against her?

I'll ask columnist Helen Thomas about today's clash with the president.

And it's 7:00 p.m. in New York. Who's in charge in the Clinton family? Is the senator telling the former president what he can say and do in public?

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

President Bush has been making the rounds trying to make his case for staying the course in Iraq. Today he called a surprise news conference and hinted that United States troops would be staying the course in Iraq for quite a while to come.

Let's go live to our White House Correspondent Elaine Quijano -- Elaine.

ELAINE QUIJANO, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, what officials here are saying is that the president in responding to that question about U.S. troop levels in Iraq was simply allowing for the possibility that a small number of U.S. forces might remain there beyond his term.


QUIJANO (voice over): He said before he refuses to set a time frame for withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq. But at his news conference, President Bush seemed to suggest one.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Will there come a day -- and I'm not asking you when, I'm not asking for a timetable -- will there come a day when there will be no more American forces in Iraq?

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: That, of course, is an objective, and that will be decided by future presidents and future governments of Iraq.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So it won't happen on your watch?

BUSH: You mean a complete withdrawal? That's a timetable. You know, I can only tell you that I will make decisions on force levels based upon what the commanders on the ground say.

QUIJANO: With the Iraq war now in its fourth year, the president also rejected calls for Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to step down, saying he was doing a fine job.

BUSH: I don't believe he should resign.

QUIJANO: At the same time, President Bush acknowledged the U.S. military's tactics in Iraq have not always worked. But he insisted his administration's overall strategy would prevail.

BUSH: If I didn't believe we could succeed, I wouldn't be there. I wouldn't put those kids there.

QUIJANO: His news conference marks the fourth day in a row the president has pushed his "stay the course" message on Iraq. His tone, a cautious and some say much needed mix of realism and optimism.

BUSH: There's going to be more tough fighting ahead. No question that sectarian violence must be confronted by the Iraqi government and a better trained police force. Yet, we're making progress.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What's important, the president continues to show a real world analysis of what's going on. And again, this level of engagement, this level of emotion, this is what people want to see out of their leader.


QUIJANO: Now, the president acknowledged that he is spending his political capital on the Iraq war. But he maintains that he doesn't think it is costing him on other issues -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Elaine, thanks very much.

President Bush walked into that briefing room today with the weight of the Iraqi mission and dwindling public support bearing directly down on him. He had a room full of reporters scrutinizing his every word and his every move.

Let's bring in our senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley -- Candy.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SR. POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, there is no mistaking that this president is in a full-court press on Iraq policy. He's trying to regain control not just with words but with actions, both big and small.


BUSH: Good morning.

CROWLEY (voice-over): Sometimes, and this is one of those times, there is substance to the style. A president in free-fall in the polls needs to be and look and sound in charge.

BUSH: And I'm never going to forget the vow I made to the American people.

CROWLEY: And a president depicted as isolated from criticism needs to seek it out.

HELEN THOMAS, REPORTER: You'll be sorry.

CROWLEY: Veteran newswoman Helen Thomas had not been called on in three years.

BUSH: No, hold on for a second, please. Excuse me. Excuse me. No president wants war. Everything you may have heard is that, but it's just simply not true.

CROWLEY: He's begun to do a lot more of this lately, going before not entirely friendly audiences, with not entirely scripted questions, trying to counter the image of a president detached from reality, allergic to challenge. The White House says the president is best in these public forums, and yesterday in Cleveland he responded to the criticism and showed some game.

QUESTION: Mr. President, the Cleveland Hungarian community is planning a major event in Cleveland in October.

BUSH: You got to seize the moment, you know. I'm not sure what I'm doing in October. Put me down as a maybe. .

CROWLEY: But at today's news conference, for all the dogged determination and the attempted camaraderie, and the relaxed body language, the seemed both frustrated and dismissive of the forum.

BUSH: Let's see here. They've told me what to say -- David.

CROWLEY: There was a tension, a testiness from a president under siege.

BUSH: I'm going say it again, if I didn't believe we could succeed, I wouldn't be there. I wouldn't put those kids there.


CROWLEY: The truth is this is not a president who likes news conferences. He is there because they are necessary. He needs to use every forum, every tool at his disposal to convince an increasingly unconvinced public. No less than the war in Iraq and his legacy are at stake and he has to put himself out there -- Wolf. BLITZER: Candy, thanks very much.

And as Candy just noted, one veteran reporter who had a particularly scrappy exchange with the president was Helen Thomas, who flatly asked the president -- and I'm quoting here -- "Why did you really want to go to war?"

In a few minutes, Helen Thomas will be here in THE SITUATION ROOM. My interview with her coming up.

Right now there's word that before the war in Iraq, a key member of Saddam Hussein's regime was doubling as one of his closest advisors and, get this, working as a secret source for information that was passed on to the CIA.

Let's get some details now from our national security correspondent, David Ensor -- David.

DAVID ENSOR, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the man in question is Naji Sabri, formerly known as Naji al-Hadithi. He was Iraq's foreign minister at the time U.S. forces went in.

And sources confirm to CNN that for a short time before that he was supplying information to French intelligence, which was then passed on to the CIA. The sources say -- tell CNN that Sabri was paid about $100,000, paid through a third party.

As first reported by NBC News, Sabri said Iraq had no nuclear weapons program worthy of the name and no significant active biological weapons program. But he did say that Iraq had stockpiled chemical weapons and had poison gas left over from the Iran-Iraq War. And, of course, those last assertions turned out to be wrong.

There have long been questions, though, as to why Naji Sabri was not included among the deck of cards put out by the Pentagon showing the most wanted top Iraqi officials after the U.S. moved into Baghdad. Former director of Central Intelligence George Tenet referred in a speech two years ago to a top source close to Saddam Hussein and other officials, other former officials have suggested that that person was indeed Naji Sabri.

Sabri now lives elsewhere in the Middle East. Some officials complain that the original NBC report last night may have endangered his safety or that of his family. NBC News said the network "was concerned for Sabri's safety and that of his family. We found him in the Middle East, but the piece purposefully did not mention where he is living to protect his security."

NBC said in its report that it tried multiple times, but Sabri would not comment. CNN is also trying to contact him. And State Department and CIA officials, Wolf, they also had no comment on this story.

BLITZER: David, this whole issue of outing a CIA informant or operative, we know the Valerie Plame issue that's come up over the past few years. Supposedly, it could endanger the life of this person.

What's the thinking now in the intelligence community? Is Naji Sabri -- is he in danger right now because of this report?

ENSOR: I have talked to sources, Wolf, who believe that he may be, or more likely that members of his family in Iraq may be. But that is simply their conjecture. They are not sure about it -- Wolf.

BLITZER: David, thank you very much.

David Ensor reporting.

Zain Verjee joining us right now from the CNN Center in Atlanta with a closer look at some other stories making news -- Zain.

ZAIN VERJEE, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, Iran's supreme leader is okaying proposed talks with the United States about Iraq. But Ayatollah Ali Khamenei says Washington better not try to "bully Tehran."

This is the first time he's expressed his approval of the discussions. His opinion's really key because it effectively holds the final say on all state matters in Iran. Khamenei's comments today came just hours after President Bush also spoke in favor of those discussions.

A former roommate of confessed al Qaeda conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui says Moussaoui urged him to prepare for jihad, or holy war. Hussein al-Attas (ph) testified by videotape at Moussaoui's sentencing trial in Alexandria, Virginia, today. He shared an apartment with Moussaoui back in 2001.

Al-Attas (ph) testified that Moussaoui encouraged him to go to Pakistan for jihad training. He also said Moussaoui requested a visa application for him from the Pakistani embassy.

And a former teacher says she is very remorseful about her involvement in an alleged sex scandal involving a 14-year-old student. Prosecutors in Ocala, Florida, today dropped remaining charges against Debra Lafavre. They say that they wanted to spare the boy the emotional turmoil of testifying at her trial.

Lafavre still faces three years of house arrest after pleading guilty to lewd behavior in a related case. She says that she's now undergoing some therapy for bipolar disorder -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Zain, thank you very much.

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

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Hillary Clinton's apparently laying down the law to husband Bill. If she's going to be the president, he's going to have to keep his mouth shut.

In an exclusive report in "The New York Daily News" this morning, the story says that Bill has agreed to let his wife have the last word in order to avoid hurting her chances of winning the White House in 2008. The senator's handlers don't want a repeat of the situation like the couple's conflicting roles in the Dubai ports deal.

The senator's aides deny that her husband's comments have been a liability, but they concede that she is calling the shots. One longtime aide quoted in the "Daily News" piece says, "If he said the sky was blue and she said the sky was purple, then the sky was purple."

So here's the question: When it comes to the Clintons, do you think Hillary has the last word?

E-mail us at or go to

BLITZER: Jack, thanks very much.

And we're going to have a lot more on what Jack was just talking about. That's coming up. We're going to tell you more about what aides to the Clintons are saying about their communications policy and whether one Clinton really has control over the other Clinton. That's coming up.

And does Senator Clinton have one less possible rival to worry about? We are going to take a closer look at what Al Gore is now saying about his future in presidential politics and whether he means what he says.

And you heard her grilling the president today. I've got some tough questions for the veteran White House correspondent Helen Thomas. Is she taking criticism of Mr. Bush too far? She's here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

So are you.


BLITZER: As Jack Cafferty just told us, tonight there are new questions about whether Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton is clamping down on her husband's public comments as she prepares for a Senate and possible presidential race.

Our Mary Snow has been looking into this story. She's joining us now live from New York -- Mary.

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well Wolf, former President Bill Clinton and Senator Hillary Clinton have been known to differ on opinions from time to time. But with the senator gaining more attention as she runs for reelection in New York, the question is whether there's now an effort to keep their message on the same page.


SNOW (voice over): On "The New York Daily News" front page, "Zip It." The paper says Senator Hillary Clinton has the final word over what former President Bill Clinton says and does in public. KENNETH BAZINET, "NEW YORK DAILY NEWS" REPORTER: And the final decision goes to Senator Clinton. But that's not really, you know, a strong veto or edict as you might think. President Clinton is perhaps the wisest mind in the Democratic Party. He's well aware that this is Senator Clinton's time.

SNOW: Representatives from both camps deny the story saying, "The story is not true. The anonymous sources are anonymous for a reason. They are wrong."

But reporter Kenneth Bazinet defends the story, saying it's based on three dozen interviews since November. President and Senator Clinton have stood united in public, and they've had differences. One example, the Dubai Ports World deal. Senator Clinton opposed any ports deal with a foreign government.

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D), NEW YORK: Port security is too important an issue to be treated so cavalierly.

SNOW: At the same time, officials from Dubai Ports World called President Clinton to discuss the issue.

On Iraq, Senator Clinton voted to authorizize the war. Listen to President Clinton in THE SITUATION ROOM last August.

WILLIAM JEFFERSON CLINTON, FMR. PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, at the time, Wolf, I thought that we should not have gone in there until we let the U.N. inspectors finish their job.

BAZINET: It's definitely tempering your words, be careful what you say. Let's stay on the same message. Let's try to stay on the same page.

SNOW: Bill Clinton said he will work to get his wife reelected in New York. But a Democratic strategist doubts the former president is taking orders.

HANK SHEINKOPF, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: It's hard to imagine Bill Clinton being told by anybody how to behave. And it's even more ridiculous to think that the senator is going to tell the former president what to say and what not to say.


SNOW: And some political observers also say it's difficult to control what the former president says since he has so public in his life after the White House and is often asked about a host of issues all the time -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Mary, thank you very much.

Mary Snow reporting.

There's new disappointment tonight for fans of the former vice president, Al Gore. He says he's not planning to run for president again in 2008. But before you count Gore out, you may want to hear from our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider. He's joining us now live -- Bill.

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: Wolf, one of the country's best-known Democrats took himself out of the running for '08 yesterday. Or did he?


SCHNEIDER: Civil war hero William Tecumseh Sherman is said to have made the definitive Shermanesque statement. "If nominated, I will not run. If elected, I will not serve."

By the standard, Al Gore's statement in Tennessee Monday was not Shermanesque.

AL GORE, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT: I'm not planning to be a candidate again.

SCHNEIDER: Not planning? That's not definitive. If there's a ground swell for Gore, he might reconsider. A groundswell for Gore, is that possible?

In the year since 2000, the former vice president has been busy reinventing himself. He has developed a following among on-line liberal activists by being more and more outspoken in his anti-war, anti-Bush sentiments.

GORE: The president of the United States has been breaking the law, repeatedly and insistently.

SCHNEIDER: Gore's lecture on global warming, which sounds pretty dull, electrified the Sundance Film Festival and is being released as a feature film this spring. His Hollywood producer says...

LAWRENCE BENDER, FILM PRODUCER: ... He's strong, he doesn't equivocate, he's great on all the issues. And he's passionate, he's funny, and he's grounded.

SCHNEIDER: But is there room for Gore in the '08 Democratic race? There are three parts opening up in that drama, Hillary Clinton is one. Then there's the un-Hillary, a moderate alternative who can claim to be more electable. Right now, former Virginia Governor Mark Warner is a hot prospect for that role.

Then there's a part for the left alternative to Hillary. Many Hollywood liberals and on-line activists consider Hillary Clinton too moderate. They want a more outspoken choice like Senator Russ Feingold or maybe Al Gore.

Is Gore electable? His enthusiasts say he's already been elected, at least in principle in 2000.


SCHNEIDER: Al Gore could play any of the three roles. He was once a moderate new Democrat. Now he's moved to the left and he has as much claim as Hillary Clinton does to be the bearer of the Clinton legacy -- Wolf.

BLITZER: As a long-time Gore watcher, I can say this -- I could be wrong -- he looks like he's gained a few pounds lately as well. Al Gore, in that case.

Bill Schneider, thanks very much for that.

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

CNN, America's campaign headquarters.

Still to come tonight, the veteran White House correspondent Helen Thomas goes head to head with the president. I'll ask her about her tough questioning of the president, her tough criticism of him as well.

And is a routine presidential nomination being held up because of the way pet rescues were handled after Hurricane Katrina? We're investigating that situation right here.

Stay with us.


BLITZER: Let's go right back to Zain at the CNN Center for a quick look at some other stories making headlines around the world -- Zain.

VERJEE: Wolf, Liberia's new president says her country cannot move beyond years of civil strife until exiled former dictator Charles Taylor has his report. Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf made the comments after a White House meeting with President Bush today.

The Harvard-educated economist is Africa's first democratically- elected head of state. She wants Nigeria to hand over Taylor. He's been indicted by a U.N. tribunal on charges of crimes against humanity.

An Afghani man could face execution for converting from Islam to Christianity. Afghanistan's foreign minister says the Afghan embassy in Washington has received hundreds of concerned messages from Americans about the arrest and prosecution of Abdul Rahman.

He also says the Afghan government has nothing to do with the charges against Rahman. He was arrested last month after family members accused him of becoming a Christian and rejecting Islam.

Israeli police say they averted a major attack planned ahead of this month's national elections. They chased down a vehicle on a Jerusalem highway today that they say was carrying explosives, including a 15-pound bomb. Ten Palestinians in the van were arrested. Police have put up spot checks and roadblocks after being placed on high alert about a possible bomb attack -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Zain, thanks very much. Just ahead, she's covered the White House for half a century. But today, she became part of the story. I'm going to ask columnist Helen Thomas about her showdown with President Bush today.

And a cold wartime capsule. Our Jeanne Moos takes us under the Brooklyn Bridge to a forgotten fallout shelter that's crammed with survival gear.




BLITZER: President Clinton once said of her -- and I'm quoting now -- "Presidents come and go, but Helen's been here for 40 years now." And that was back in 2000. The veteran reporter Helen Thomas has covered every president since John F. Kennedy, and they've all faced her no-nonsense questions, including President Bush today.


BUSH: Helen, after that brilliant performance at the Gridiron, I am...

HELEN THOMAS, REPORTER: You're going to be sorry.


BUSH: Well, then let me take it back.

THOMAS: I'd like to ask you, Mr. President, your decision to invade Iraq has caused the deaths of thousands of Americans and Iraqis, wounds of Americans and Iraqis for a lifetime. Every reason given, publicly, at least, has turned out not to be true.

My question is, why did you really want to go to the war? From the moment you stepped into the White House, from your cabinet -- cabinet officers, intelligent people and so forth, what was your real reason. You have said it wasn't oil, quest for oil. It hasn't been Israel or anything else.

What was it?

BUSH: Yes, I think your premise, in all due respect to your question and to you as a lifelong journalist, is that I didn't want war. To assume I wanted war is just -- is just flat wrong, Helen, in all due respect.

THOMAS: Every...

BUSH: No, hold on for a second, please. Excuse me. Excuse me.

No president wants war. Everything you may have heard is that, but it's just simply not true. I -- my attitude about the defense of this country changed on September the 11th. We -- when we got attacked, I vowed then and there to use every asset at my disposal to protect the American people. Our foreign policy changed on that day, Helen. You know, we used to think we were secure. Because of oceans and previous diplomacy. But we realized on September the 11th, 2001, that killers could destroy innocent life. And I'm never going to forget it.


BLITZER: Helen Thomas is joining us here in THE SITUATION ROOM on today's exchange she had with the president. Helen, thanks for coming in. What, it's been about three years since he agreed to answer or take a question from you. Is that right?


BLITZER: What do you think the reason was? Because I know you've been a fixture for decades at these presidential news conferences. Americans have grown up watching you ask questions. What happened?

THOMAS: Well, I didn't merit a first or second question because that's a tradition for the wire services. And I was no longer in the wire service.

BLITZER: You used to work for UPI. That's why you always got the first or second question. But you left UPI a few years ago. Now you are a columnist for Hearst.

COLLINS: That's right. Well he wasn't calling on me because I think he was avoiding what he considered very tough questions that I would be asking. I don't blame him for that. That's his privilege.

BLITZER: You did say in January of 2003, this is the worst president ever. He is the worst president in all of American history.

THOMAS: I never said that on the record. But it certainly got out.

BLITZER: It got out.

THOMAS: Yes. I think that there's room for improvement.

BLITZER: You can't really blame him if you are calling him the worst president for saying I'm not going to call on you?

BLITZER: I agree with you. I wasn't surprised that he didn't call on me.

BLITZER: So what do you think happened today? Why do you think? I know you were at The Gridiron. I was at the dinner and you did a nice performance. Skits. Satirical skits on the president and the vice president and everybody else. And you did an excellent job as you always do singing and dancing. But what happened? What do you think happened? THOMAS: Well I think we smoked the peace pipe. I think there's a different rapport now. Which is good.

BLITZER: Did you talk to him privately or something? Did you meet him?

THOMAS: No, not really. But I sort of felt bad for the things that I had said that were not supposed to be seen. I sort of apologized.

BLITZER: You did? So he called on you today.

THOMAS: Very nice of him to call on me.

BLITZER: And you asked him a tough question. Did you accept his answer? Namely that he didn't come into the presidency believing he was going to go to war against Saddam Hussein. But after 9/11, his world view changed?

THOMAS: It doesn't parse (ph). Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11. It was secular, it was not tied to al Qaeda. I think he wanted to go into Iraq. He had all the neoconservatives advising at the top of their agenda for project for new American century. First Iraq then Iran then Syria. And so forth.

BLITZER: So you believe even before 9/11 he wanted to take out Saddam Hussein?

THOMAS: Oh, I think it's very clear. You couldn't sit in that press room day after day. Every time, every time it was mentioned by Ari Fleischer or Scott, they would say in one breath, 9/11, Saddam Hussein. 9/11, Saddam Hussein. I don't blame the American people for thinking there was a tie.

BLITZER: So you didn't accept his answer today? You think that he was still spinning? Is that what you were suggesting?

THOMAS: It wasn't that. I think he -- maybe in his own mind he didn't. But I think that everybody knows. Everybody who was in the know knows that Iraq was on target. It was on the radar screen from the moment he came into office. Treasury Secretary said it. People in CIA say it and so forth. Nothing would deter him. It was a very big goal.

BLITZER: You are thinking of Paul O'Neill the former Treasury Secretary. Richard Clarke, who was one of the counter terrorist advisers, who have made those kinds of suggestions.

Let's get back to this issue of being the worst president ever. And you've covered a lot of presidents going back to President Kennedy. Worse than Richard Nixon?

THOMAS: Well I think what this president has done is really struck a match to the tinder box that we all know is the Middle East. And I think that Nixon's crime, so called, was the abuse of government power. In this case, in the case of the president and his cohorts, I think they have really spread war throughout the Middle East. They have really encouraged all of the horror that's going on. We have killed so many innocent people.

BLITZER: But you can't forget 9/11, 3,000 people were killed.

THOMAS: But the Iraqis didn't do it. I mean -- why don't you go bomb some other country? If you have no reason. This is -- I don't believe in preemptive war and it certainly is against international law. It's against the U.N. Charter. It's against Geneva and it's against Nuremberg.

BLITZER: Tell our viewers what you are up to nowadays. How you feel and what your goals are right now?

THOMAS: My goals are to seek the truth wherever it leads me. And I do think that's the goal of journalists. And I think we fell down on the job.

BLITZER: The news media in general? That we weren't -- what?

THOMAS: Come back. All is forgiven.

BLITZER: You are going to forgive us? You are part of the news media too.

THOMAS: Right.

BLITZER: We sat in those briefings for a long time together.

THOMAS: You ask very tough questions.

BLITZER: I'm trying to did the best I can, like you.

THOMAS: You asked President Clinton why he wouldn't resign.

BLITZER: I asked him some tough questions. But that's another time and this is another story. Right now, it's always good to have you here. Especially in THE SITUATION ROOM. Helen, we hope you are asking many presidents down the road tough questions to come.

THOMAS: Thank you very much.

BLITZER: Is the news media in the crosshairs now of the Bush administration as it tries to bolster public support for the overall U.S. mission in Iraq. Jeff Greenfield is taking a closer look. Jeff?

JEFF GREENFIELD, CNN SENIOR ANALYST: Well, Wolf. Yes, why has public support for the president's handling of Iraq fallen so sharply? From some in the administration, and from some of its supporters, the answer is the media.


(voice-over): On "Face the Nation" Sunday, Vice President Cheney said the good news from Iraq has been obscured by the media focus on more dramatic events. DICK CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: That there is a constant, sort of perception, if you will that's created because what's newsworthy is the car bomb in Baghdad. It's not all the work that went on that day in 15 other provinces in terms of making progress towards rebuilding Iraq.

GREENFIELD: In the Sunday op-ed piece in The Washington Post, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld wrote, "Fortunately history is not made up of daily headlines or blogs on Web site and the latest sensational attack."

And at his press conference today, President Bush, while not criticizing the media, noted pointedly that the insurgents have press coverage clearly in mind.

BUSH: They are capable of blowing up innocent life so it ends up on your TV show.

GREENFIELD: And Bush left no doubt about the administration's keyword about Iraq.

BUSH: Progress, progress, progress, progress in Iraq.

GREENFIELD: On the today show this morning, conservative commentator Lauren Ingraham went one step further.

LAURA INGRAHAM, TALK SHOW HOST: To do a show from Iraq means to talk to the Iraqi military. To go out with Iraqi military. To actually have a conversation with the people. Instead of reporting from hotel balconies about the latest IEDs going off.

GREENFIELD: The death of some 80 journalists in Iraq and the near fatally wounding of ABC's Bob Woodruff might make the last one questionable. But what about the bigger issue. There is no doubt that the media are always drawn to visually compelling images. And that there have been optimistic or at least hopeful assessments from columnists in the Washington Post and on blogs like Len Reynolds' Instapundit.

But consider, some of the bleaker assessments have come from conservative voices such as columnist George Will and Bill Buckley. Or military men like General Eaton, who trained Iraqi troops after the invasion and who called on bush to fire secretary Rumsfeld. And from general Bernard Trainer, whose new book charges that a whole series of false assumptions drove the Iraq policy.


Now given the fact that the president's conservative base holds the media in what we might call minimum high regard, it probably makes good political sense to point to the media as a key source of Mr. Bush's difficulties. But the more conservative voices and military voices raise strong objections to Bush's policies, my guess is the less effective that argument becomes. Wolf?

BLITZER: Jeff Greenfield, thanks very much. Why is one senator holding up the confirmation of the president's pick for Coast Guard commandant? And do pet rescues after Hurricane Katrina have anything to do with it? We are taking a closer look.

And a relic from the past found inside The Brooklyn Bridge. We are going to reveal it to you for what's going on there. Right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Right now in the Senate, a routine presidential nomination is on hold. That's not necessarily a surprise, but the possible reasons behind the hold-up might surprise you. Let's get some details.

CNN's Brian Todd joining us right now -- Brian.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we have gotten strong indications from one side about those reasons, and outright denial from the other. As we all wonder who to believe, a highly-respected admiral is kept waiting.


TODD (voice-over): When Coast Guard Vice Admiral Thad Allen replaced embattled FEMA director Michael Brown, he had the president's support.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Admiral Allen is our man on the ground. Admiral Allen speaks for the administration.

TODD: Now President Bush wants Allen to become Coast Guard Commandant, and Homeland Security officials say it's critical Allen take that position before June so he can head up search and rescue operations for the coming hurricane season. But Allen's nomination is being held up by Republican Senator John Ensign of Nevada.

Senate tradition allows a single senator put a hold on any confirmation. We called Ensign's office to ask why the nomination is being held up, and were told he could not release details. Ensign's press aide first said he would forward to CNN a lengthy questionnaire the senator sent to Admiral Allen, then said he could not release it until it became public record.

An official at the Homeland Security Department tells CNN they strongly believe the Coast Guard's efforts to rescue animals after Katrina is holding up this nomination. But those with access to the questionnaire say it doesn't touch on pet rescues and the senator's office denies that pet rescues have anything to do with the nomination.

Senator Ensign, a veterinarian, did go to Louisiana to assess pet rescue efforts during the recovery. His aide says he had concerns about how the effort was going at first, but came away satisfied that it was improving. A top city official in New Orleans says Allen served the city well. OLIVER THOMAS, NEW ORLEANS CITY COUNCIL PRES.: I thought the animal rescue went a lot better than the human rescue. It seemed to be a lot more efficient. It seemed to be a lot more organized.


TODD: Admiral Allen is not speaking publicly about his nomination, but Coast Guard officials tells CNN they'll work with senators to answer any questions they might have. Senator Ensign's aide says if we are connecting this nomination with the pet rescue issue, we are misleading our viewers. But right now we are left with the nomination of a widely-respected admiral being held up and we are not being told why -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Brian, thanks very much.

On Thursday, the IRS will place on the auction block some of the lavish items Congressman Randy "Duke" Cunningham -- we should say former Congressman -- accepted as bribes. Let's head over to our Internet reporter, Abbi Tatton -- Abbi.

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, the rows of piles of oriental rugs and antiques that the public are glimpsing for the first time today look at -- give us an idea of the extent of the former Congressman's crimes. They're part of 2$2.4 million worth of bribes that Cunningham said he accepted.

They are now being publicly auctioned and you can look at them online and see exactly what you could be buying. There are candlesticks, armoires, a selection of black marble-top commodes, all sorts of other things, over 30 items here. The proceeds of the sale will be split between the FBI and the IRS -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Abbi, thanks very much.

A developing story that we are following tonight, a story that will affect almost everyone watching this show, Microsoft announcing a major decision on the release of its new Windows operating system.

Ali Velshi joining us with "The Bottom Line." Ali, what's going on?

ALI VELSHI, CNN ANCHOR: Well, Wolf, this is the first major overhaul of the Windows operating system in five years, and Microsoft has just announced it's going to be delayed. The next generation operating system -- it's called Vista -- will not reach consumers until 2007.

Now, Vista was expected to be released later this year, but the replacement for this, the current XP operating system, is not ready. The business version of Microsoft Vista will now be released in November. The consumer version won't be out until January.

Now, that means that anybody who was planning to buy a new computer for the holidays is going to have to wait if they want one with the new system, Vista, instead of this, Windows XP. The Windows operating system is in 573 million computers worldwide. That's 90 percent of all personal computers.

Upgrades to the operating system are periodically issued by Microsoft, but every few years, the company releases an entirely new operating system. Most new computers sold after Vista is released will come with that new operating system.


BLITZER: All right, Ali. Thanks very much.

Up ahead, a bridge to the past. Deep under the Brooklyn Bridge, workers make a surprising Cold War-era find.

And who's the boss? A new report says Senator Hillary Clinton is taking charge of what her husband, the former president, publicly says and does. Jack Cafferty has your e-mail.


BLITZER: During the height of the Cold War, many Americans feared a nuclear war between the Soviet Union and the United States, and they took precautions, stockpiling supplies they believed would keep them alive. Now there's new evidence of that in an unlikely place. Here's CNN's Jeanne Moos.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The atomic bomb explodes. Duck and cover!

JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): More than half a century later, duck and cover was dust covered. It was as if a fallout shelter had fallen out of a time capsule.

(on camera): We are hot on the trail of the Cold War.

(voice-over): In a dark, dirty arched chamber under the Brooklyn Bridge, workers stumbled on barrels of evaporated drinking water, paper blankets, medical tags for the injured.

(on camera): So they actually tied these to people's toes?

(voice-over): The water barrels were to serve double duty.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: To be used as commodes.

MOOS (on camera): I was going to ask if there was a restroom.

(voice-over): No restroom. But plenty of crackers: 350,000 crackers, manufactured in October, 1962.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is how it looked in October 1962.

MOOS: The Cuban missile crisis. The country was freaking out.

(on camera): What this thing is...

(voice-over): So they filled bomb shelters with bandages.

(on camera): Put other side next to wound.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Duck and cover! That a boy, Tony. That flash means act fast.

MOOS (voice-over): But Tony couldn't have acted fast enough. Historian Mike Wallace says evacuation plans and fallout shelters were propaganda designed to make Americans feel safe.

MIKE WALLACE, DIRECTOR, THE GOTHAM CENTER: It's a colossal placebo. You know, it's like this -- it's like this effort to convince us that it's just four or five days, and then you'll come up and you'll take a bath and wash off the radiation. And you know, you'll have a few crackers, and you're home free.

MOOS: As for those crackers -- what would they taste like after 44 years?

(on camera): Should I?


MOOS: This is probably going to get me faster than the radiation would have.

(voice-over): New York City's transportation commissioner concurred.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is the worst-tasting cracker I've ever tasted in my life.

MOOS: When it comes to 44-year-old crackers, duck and spit.

Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.


BLITZER: Jack Cafferty, you have got a tough act to follow.

CAFFERTY: You know, my concern is, I live in New York, and those crackers and stuff were put in there in 1962, and they just found them now in 2006, raising the question how often do they inspect the dang bridges around here?

BLITZER: Not very often.

CAFFERTY: Not very often.

"The New York Daily News" says that Bill Clinton has agreed to take a backseat to his wife, Senator Hillary, as she gets ready to, perhaps, try to become the president of the United States in 2008. They've sort of, according to "The Daily News," come to some sort of an agreement.

The question is, when it comes to the Clintons, do you think that Hillary has the last word? Which is a silly question. And a lot of you pointed that out, and just deal with it. I do the best I can here.

Janet in Los Angeles writes -- "As a lifelong liberal democrat, small d, I personally think both of them are useless. So who cares?"

Jerry in Soldotna, Alaska. "Yes, Hillary has the last word. Always. It's usually a stupid last word, which involves her own interest, but nonetheless, it is the last word."

Sandy in Pittsburgh writes -- "Bill and Hillary Clinton are partners in every sense of the word. Each chooses to stay in the relationship as long as they can each benefit from the relationship. Their marriage is a well-oiled machine."

Marcel in White City, Oregon. "Hillary and Bill are doing what many married people do: Tit-for-tat. She gave up a lot for his political career, and now it's his turn."

Erol in Portland, Oregon. "This is just a maneuver for public consumption. In reality, I think Hillary respects Bill's opinion. She just has to play to the media and seem in charge."

And Dennis writes from Indianapolis: "Of course Hillary gets the last word. Anything he says after that is a new argument." Wolf.

BLITZER: Jack, I'll see you tomorrow. Thanks very much.

Let's find out what's coming up at the top of the hour. Heidi Collins filling in for Paula -- Heidi.

HEIDI COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: Hi there, Wolf. Well, tonight we are exploring some problems our grandparents really never had to worry about. People are working such long hours, their most significant relationships may actually be at the office instead of at home. Is there an office husband or office wife in your family? Is it dangerous, or good for you?

And we've all coped with jetlag, but why do some people have a permanent case of it? Can anything fix a body clock gone haywire? Join me at the top of the hour.

BLITZER: Thanks, Heidi. We certainly will.

Still ahead here in THE SITUATION ROOM, fashion and function in the future. Get this: Could the very clothes you wear keep you in style and in good health? We'll be right back.


BLITZER: Now to our series "Welcome to the Future." Where will the next breakthrough in medicine come from? As CNN's Miles O'Brien shows us, it could be inside something you wear.


DR. JAMES MIN, CARDIOLOGIST: I went into the field of cardiology to make patients better. I didn't go into cardiology to collect data.

Right now, a good deal of our time during the day is spent monitoring our patients. It would be great if we could monitor our patients in a more effective manner. If we could come up with a more automated process, that with a press of a button somebody could get all of the data that you need, without having to hook people up to EKG leads. So the time isn't spent collecting data, but the time is talking about the data and making our patients better.

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): When they happen, heart attacks seem so sudden. But usually an ailing heart is sending out warning signs. You may not be aware of them, or you may be ignoring them.

So is there a better way to watch for trouble?

This is Georgia Tech professor Dr. Sudorasaen Jeeram (ph), and this is a piece of clothing that could save your life.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This (INAUDIBLE) has the ability to monitor vital signs, such as your heart rate, your body temperature, your pulse optometry (ph).

O'BRIEN: These electronic textiles have censors embedded within the fabric, wired to this PDA-like device, which in turn transmits it to a doctor's office, all in real time.

The next step: To create an interactive system that not only monitors a person, but also plays doctor as well, giving shots or medication when needed. And in the future, your gadgets and your clothes may become interwoven. You might one day be wearing your iPod.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You can put anything you want on it. One thing, you can plug in an mp3 player or a mobile phone. It will become an integral part of everybody's life.


BLITZER: And don't forget, we're here in THE SITUATION ROOM weekdays 4:00 to 6:00 p.m. Eastern, 7:00 p.m. Eastern as well. Tomorrow, Bob Dole here. Heidi Collins filling in for Paula right now.