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The Situation Room

Dozens of Iraqis Dead in Insurgent Bloodbath; Capitol Hill v. White House?

Aired May 30, 2006 - 19:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: 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. Dozens of Iraqis die in an insurgent bloodbath. But did U.S. troops create a bloodbath of their own? I'll ask Iraq's new ambassador here to the United States and Congressman John Murtha about an alleged marine massacre.

It's 7:00 p.m. here in Washington. Did the raid on a congressman's office rip apart the fraying ties between Capitol Hill Republicans and the Bush White House?

And it's 6:00 p.m. in New Orleans, after FEMA's failure he led the fight against Hurricane Katrina. Is New Orleans ready for the new storm season? I'll ask the new Coast Guard commandant, Admiral Thad Allen.

I'm Wolf Blitzer, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

In Iraq today nothing less than a slaughter. Police now say insurgent attacks killed at least 47 people, wounded more than 100 others. Most of the carnage came from three bombings in Baghdad and in Hilla to the south. And it came as President Bush welcomed Iraq's new ambassador over at the White House, saying Iraqis have endured difficult times.


GEORGE W. BUSH, U.S. PRESIDENT: I'm impressed by the courage of the leadership, impressed by the determination of the people and want to assure you, sir, that the United States stands ready to help the Iraqi democracy succeed.


BLITZER: But the White House today is promising a full public accounting of another case of carnage. Last November's killing of some two dozen Iraqi civilians, an alleged massacre by U.S. marines. Iraq's ambassador has his own allegations about the Haditha violence hitting very close to home for him. My interview with him is coming up. First, though, half a year after the Haditha killings, one marine is struggling with the fallout. We must caution you that some viewers may find parts of our report disturbing. CNN's Brian Todd is joining us. He has the story. Brian?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this marine's mother says he has been questioned by investigators once and likely will be again. So the haunting memories of what this young man saw in Haditha not likely to fade soon.


TODD (voice-over): Marine Lance Corporal Ryan Briones has already given one emotional account after what happened after the alleged massacre in Haditha last November when he says he was assigned to take pictures and clean up bodies.

Briones told the "Los Angeles Times" quote, "they ranged from little babies to adult males and females. I will never be able to get that out of my head. I can still smell the blood."

His mother, Susie Briones relays a more graphic description to her son gave her to CNN.

SUSIE BRIONES, MOTHER OF LANCE CORPORAL RYAN BRIONES: When he had to carry, since he was part of the cleanup crew, was carry that little girl's body and her -- her head was blown off or something, her brains splattered on his boots and that's what affects Ryan the most. He had to pick up this child's body to put her in a body bag. And that happened. That her -- her head -- things fell out of her head

TODD: Investigators believe the alleged killing of unarmed civilians may be been triggered when Lance Corporal Miguel Terazas (ph) was killed by a roadside bomb. Susie Briones says her son, Terazas' best friend, had to help recover the body.

BRIONES: Pick up the pieces. Pick up his arm.

TODD: Briones says he gets calls from her son at 4:00 in the morning saying he can't sleep. She is sure he has post traumatic stress disorder. Asked if Ryan's gotten adequate care from the military?

BRIONES: They have not. All they did was give him sleeping pills and antidepressants. And his first psychologist to see him will be June 6th. He was back April 2nd. He asked for help over there right after and they didn't offer that.

TODD: Veterans' advocate Rick Weidman says that problems like this are still very common.

RICK WEIDMAN, VIETNAM VETERANS OF AMERICA: They're not getting the help they need because the military system medical system does not have the organizational capacity. Not enough psychologists, psychiatrists and clinical social workers to provide it. That's in number one. Number two is if they go on sick call, they believe despite, quote unquote, "reassurances," that that's the end of their military career.


TODD (on camera): Contacted by CNN, an official at U.S. Marine Corps Central Command responded in an email, quote, "while it would be inappropriate and a violation of privacy rights protected by law to discuss a service member's medical concerns, I can tell you that medical professionals and marine leadership regularly educate marines on how to obtain assistance and there is no stigma attached for doing so."

He says the investigation is ongoing and investigators will conduct the necessary interviews in order to ensure a thorough investigation. Wolf?

BLITZER: Brian Todd reporting. Brian, thanks.

Iraq's new ambassador here in the United States has a very personal connection to the carnage in Haditha and his own family is living with a nightmare.


BLITZER: And joining us now, Iraq's new ambassador here in Washington, Samir al-Sumaidaie. Mr. Ambassador, welcome to Washington. Good to have you here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: What do you know about what happened at Haditha?

SUMAIDAIE: Well, I heard the report very soon after the event in November from some relatives and as it happened, my own security detail comes from that neighborhood. And his home is hardly 10 yards from the home which was hit. And he was in touch through the Internet with his folks and neighbors. And the situation which he reported to me was that it was a cold-blooded killing.

BLITZER: By whom?

SUMAIDAIE: By the marines, I believe. Now at that time, I dismissed the initial reports as incredible. I found it unbelievable, frankly.

BLITZER: You were at the United Nations at the time.

SUMAIDAIE: I was at the United Nations and I found it unbelievable that the marines would go in and kill members of families who had nothing to do with combat.

But I was under pressure by my friends and relatives to raise this issue. Without any evidence in my hand, I didn't really want to make any claims that I could not substantiate. That was, remember, before any video came out. There was just word of mouth people telling me what happened. And I know the power of the rumor and the power of allegations without foundation. But in this case, it was more than that.

BLITZER: You didn't raise it?

SUMAIDAIE: I did not raise -- I noted it but I did not raise it. I raised it unofficially through private conversations.

BLITZER: Before even months before the incident in November, you lost a cousin at Haditha in a separate batting involving United States marines.

SUMAIDAIE: That was not a battle at all. Marines were doing house to house searches and they went into the house of my cousin. He opened the door for them. His mother, his siblings were there. He let them into the bedroom of his father. And there he was shot.

BLITZER: Who shot him?

SUMAIDAIE: A member of the marines.

BLITZER: Why did they shoot him?

SUMAIDAIE: Well, they said that they shot him in self-defense. I found that hard to believe because A, he is not at all violent. I know the boy. He was in second year engineering course at the university. Nothing to do with violence all his life has been studies and intellectual work. Totally unbelievable.

And in fact, they had no weapon in the house. They had only one weapon which belonged to the school where his father was a headmaster and it had no ammunition in it. And he led them into the room to show it to him.

BLITZER: So what you are suggesting, your cousin was killed in cold blood by, is that what you're saying, by United States marines?

SUMAIDAIE: I believe he was killed intentionally. I believe he was killed unnecessarily. And unfortunately, the investigations that took place after that, sort of took a different course and concluded that there was no unlawful killing.

I would like further investigation. I have in fact asked for the investigation which was a criminal investigation, by the way. General Casey is aware of all the details because he's kept on top of it. And it was he who rejected the conclusions of the first investigation. I have since asked formally for the report, but it's been nearly two months and I have not received it.

BLITZER: Did you raise these concerns you have with the president today when you were at the White House presenting your credentials?

SUMAIDAIE: No, I did not because I didn't want to bring in a personal note into a much wider brief that I have here.

BLITZER: But what I hear you saying, and I don't want to put words in your math is there may be, in Haditha, at least, a pattern, what happened to your nephew and what happened apparently in November when these other marines went in. Are there any other examples of cold-blooded murderer that you're familiar with in Haditha?

SUMAIDAIE: I'm familiar with at least one other killing of three youths which happened very soon after the killing of my cousin. They were in a car, they were unarmed, I believe, and they were shot. Now, in that case, there could be possible excuse or explanation that the marines were afraid, they were approaching them too fast or whatever.

But the details as they were related to me were such that there was no possibility of misunderstanding. But in all these situations, you have the word of the community, people around, civilians around and you have the word of the individuals in the marines.

And when it comes to comparing these two sources, if my uncle whom I have known all my life since childhood and I know he would not make up stories and I know he would not lie. I know what's at stake is the life of heir grandson, then I know which word to take.

BLITZER: Do you have confidence that the U.S. military will do a thorough investigation?

SUMAIDAIE: Ultimately, possibly yes. But in situations like this the same as in Abu Ghraib, the ramifications are so profound that they would initially take the attitude that they hope this will go away. If it can be swept under rug, it would. But when it goes up into the higher in the hierarchy, there's people that represent the potential damage of cover-up and there is a better possibility of it being opened up.

BLITZER: So you are concerned there could be a cover-up?

SUMAIDAIE: There's always a concern of cover-up. But let me say this, Wolf, events like Abu Ghraib and killing, intentional killing like this do -- I believe as I said in my statement at the time in July of last year, they are a betrayal to the American people. They are a betrayal to what the marines are doing and what the American army is doing.

On the whole, the United States and the military are doing an honorable job on an honorable project which is of immense potential benefit for the United States and for us. Such crimes detract from that.

The focus in all of the international media has been on these thing and not on the good things. And I do believe that for every bad apple, bad marine, there are thousands and thousands of good ones. Doing good job, doing the best they can under difficult circumstances. However, it is absolutely imperative that we remove the bad apples and expose them and we don't try to cover them up.

BLITZER: On that note, Mr. Ambassador, we'll leave it. Thanks very much for coming into THE SITUATION ROOM.

SUMAIDAIE: Thank you. Thank you, Wolf.


BLITZER: Marine Corps officials say they will not comment on the Haditha investigation until it's completed and the report is made public. As for the ambassador's own allegations leveled last July that U.S. troops intentionally killed a relative, the commander of the multinational force - West, said this, let me quote it directly. "We take these allegations seriously and will thoroughly investigate this incident to determine what happened."

On Ambassador al-Sumaidaie's third example, the unarmed young people, three of them allegedly shot in a car in cold blood, we're waiting for a response from U.S. military officials in Iraq. Jack Cafferty is standing by with the "Cafferty File." Jack?

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: There is a fascinating interview. Very articulate gentleman.

BLITZER: Incredibly blunt. Today is his first day, really, as the accredited Iraqi ambassador to the United States and he spoke so openly.

CAFFERTY: Amazing what freedom of speech will do when it is given to somebody. They will come right at you.

From one very articulate and well-spoken gentleman to one certifiable nutcase. The president of Iran is at it again. In an interview with a German magazine, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has repeated his doubts the Holocaust ever happened.

He says, quote, "I only accept something as the truth if I am truly convinced of it."

He adds to Jews should be moved from Israel back to Europe and Germans should no longer feel guilty over the Holocaust. When asked if he wants nuclear weapons, Iran's president said his country doesn't need any weapons, that they are a quote "civilized, cultured people," unquote, who have never attacked another country.

Here is the question. What does it mean when Iran's president continues to question whether the Holocaust ever happened?

Email your thoughts to or go to Wolf?

BLITZER: Jack, thank you.

And coming up, the raid on Congress and the widening split between Republicans. Where's all the anger coming from? Jeff Greenfield standing by.

Plus, he was one of the few who won praise for his response during Hurricane Katrina. Does the Coast Guard commandant, Thad Allen, think that America's is now ready for this hurricane season only two days away?

And the president's choice to be the next treasury secretary. We're following his money trail and why the timing of the nomination is raising some questions about Mr. Bush. Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Tonight the House speaker Dennis Hastert wants justice officials to come to Capitol Hill as soon as next week to discuss a process for any future FBI searches of lawmakers. A House committee held a hearing today on the controversial raid of Congressman William Jefferson's office.

It proved to be a showcase for the panel's chairman's view that the search violated the Constitutional separation of powers and that helped to drive more of a wedge between Republicans.

Our senior analyst Jeff Greenfield has more on the politics at play. Jeff?

JEFF GREENFIELD, CNN SR. ANALYST: Wolf, when Republican committee chair asks if the FBI raid on a congressman's office last week, quote, "trampled the Constitution," you can safely conclude that there's some anger at work here.

But the bigger story is that the unhappiness of a Republican Congress at a Republican White House has been building almost from the beginning of the President Bush's second term.


GREENFIELD (voice-over): All through his first term, President Bush enjoyed remarkable support from Capitol Hill Republicans. That's how he got most of his domestic programs, like the tax cut, through an almost evenly divided House and Senate.

BUSH: Not over my dead body will they raise your taxes.

GREENFIELD: But his second term has been a dramatically different story. First there was Social Security reform. The keystone of his 2005 domestic program, a idea that withered and died with barely a whimper. Then came the Supreme Court nomination of Harriet Myers which inflamed conservatives, the ports deal with the Dubai company reflecting what even some of his supporters said was a tin ear for the political consequences.

The response to Hurricane Katrina and growing anger among fiscal conservatives over spending especially for like pork barrel projects like that Alaska bridge to nowhere.

Grassroots anger with business as usual spending was dramatically demonstrated two weeks ago in Pennsylvania when primary voters threw out 15 incumbents, including both top leaders of the Republican controlled state Senate. Nothing like that had happened in some 40 years.

House speaker Dennis Hastert is said is to be furious with the White House over its summary dismissal of CIA director and former Republican Congressman Porter Goss.

And nothing has more dramatically illustrated the divide between President Bush and congressional Republicans than the immigration issue. Top Republican Party officials have been arguing that polls show Americans want a comprehensive solution to the issue, combining border security, guest workers and paths to citizenship.

But that is clearly not where congressional Republicans are. Nearly two-thirds of GOP senators voted against the comprehensive Senate bill. House Republicans seem to want a deal that deals mostly with enforcement.

And in what might be the most conservative congressional district in America, Utah Republican incumbent Chris Cannon runs a real risk in being unseated in a Republican primary by a staunch restrictionist candidate.


GREENFIELD: Now, maybe this is the traditional second term overconfidence that tends to afflict White Houses. Maybe it's just a run of bad luck. But of all the troubles afflicting this White House, the gap between the two ends of Pennsylvania Avenue is the one that most is looking like a self-inflicted wound. Wolf?

BLITZER: Jeff Greenfield with that. Jeff, thank you.

Let's check back with Zain Verjee. She is joining us from the CNN global headquarters with a quick look at some of the other important stories making news. Hi, Zain.

ZAIN VERJEE, CNN ANCHOR: Hi, Wolf. Anyone who drives a Toyota may want to get it checked.

The Associated Press says Toyota is recalling nearly 1 million cars in the U.S. and around the world. The A.P. says the recall affects 10 models, including the popular Prius hybrid.

Toyota officials apparently say the recall is to replace faulty parts that could cause drivers to lose control of the steering wheel. Toyota says owners should be notified within the next few weeks.

The end of a real life "CSI." After two weeks of digging and 31 years of searching and an unknown cost to taxpayers, the FBI says that they're calling off the search for Jimmy Hoffa. The FBI had hoped to crack a cold case but instead agents didn't find Hoffa's body on the Michigan horse farm that they have been searching.

The U.S. Supreme Court sends a message to wood be whistle blowers. Just because you expose something doesn't mean you're protected. In a five to four decisions the Supreme Court ruled that government workers who blow the whistle on alleged illegal conduct do not deserve first amendment protection as an automatic shield from their bosses. Writing for the majority, Justice Anthony Kennedy said the First Amendment does not protect every statement public employees make while doing their jobs. Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito sided with the majority.

She's said to be moving her toes and opening her eyes. A U.S. official says badly hurt CBS correspondent Kimberly Dozier is doing as well as can be expected. Dozier is now recovering at a U.S. military hospital. That's in Germany after being critically injured by a roadside bomb in Iraq yesterday. Two other CBS journalists, a U.S. soldier and an Iraqi translator were killed.


BLITZER: We hope she makes a speedy recovery, Zain. Thank you very much. Still to come tonight in THE SITUATION ROOM, what really happened in Hadithah. We will have a report from Iraq on the horror story and the graphic images. And Congressman John Murtha, himself a retired U.S. Marine Corps colonel weighs in on the allegations of a massacre by some marines in Iraq and a possible cover-up.

And he weathered the Katrina storm better than most. Now the Coast Guard commandant, Thad Allen answers a life and death question, is FEMA ready for this hurricane season which officially starts Thursday. Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Welcome back to THE SITUATION ROOM. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. Let's get back to our top story. The alleged massacre by U.S. marines last November in the Iraqi town of Haditha. Two dozen civilians were killed after a roadside bomb ripped through a U.S. Marine Corps convoy.

We must caution that some viewers may find parts of our report disturbing. As investigations intensify, CNN's Ryan Chilcote takes us back to the scene.


RYAN CHILCOTE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): There's plenty of evidence that civilians were killed in Haditha. Twenty-four bodies were counted.

At the morgue, women and children among the dead. Many images too graphic to show. But the dead can't speak. So at CNN's request, a human rights organization went back to Haditha with a camera to interview survives. The interviewer found three, all children.

For each, the story begins here where a roadside bomb struck a humvee carrying American marines, killing one of them. It was 7:30 in the morning.

Twelve-year-old Safa Younis (ph) was getting ready for school. She said she was the on survivor in her house. Eight relatives killed.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): A bomb exploded on the street outside. We heard the sound of the explosion and we heard shouting. We were inside the house when the U.S. forces broke into the door. They killed my father in the kitchen. The American forces entered the house and started shooting with their guns. They killed my mother and my sister Nour (ph). They killed her when she shot her in the head. She was only 15 years old. My other sister was shot with seven bullets in the head and she was only 10 years old.

And my brother Muhammad was hiding under the bed when the U.S. military hit him with the butt of the gun and the started shooting him under the bed. The U.S. military then shot me and I was showered in blood. We couldn't leave the house because the U.S. military surrounded the area with a large number of soldiers.

CHILCOTE: Safa's cousins, eight-year-old Abdul Rahman Walid (ph) and nine-year-old Iman Walid (ph) were next door in the first house entered by the marines. They say seven were killed in this house.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): They entered the house. They burned the room and my father was inside the room. Then they attacked my grandmother and my grandfather and they threw a bomb. Me and my brother Abdul Rahman were injured. I saw how they killed my mother Asma (ph) and I saw how they killed my grandmother. I saw Hiba (ph), she is my aunt taking little girl Issa (ph) and running away outside the house.

CHILCOTE: Iman is initially poised. She has clearly told the story many times. She needs no questions to prompt her.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): My grandmother, she decided to open the kitchen door. Before she did she said maybe they will break it otherwise. I wish she hadn't.

CHILCOTE: Iman's brother, Abdul Rahman doesn't say much. The interviewer asked him to show his wounds.

Off camera, a voice in the room is heard asking, he didn't have a weapon. What danger did he pose?

But there is an intriguing variation in Iman's account the third time she tells it. She says she was expecting the bomb.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): I was planning to go to school. I was about to go out of bed. I knew the bomb would explode so I covered my ears. The bomb exploded. The bomb struck an armored vehicle. I don't know if it was a humvee or an armored vehicle. When the bomb exploded, they came straight to her house.

CHILCOTE: The question is, was her expectation of the explosion a premonition, a fear based on the sound of the of the passing convoy, or was it based on some knowledge? The interviewer does not follow up. He says the nine-year-old got confused and got her story mixed up.

All three children were wounded. Amman and Abdur Akham (ph) were treated at a U.S. hospital in Baghdad. Safa Una (ph) says she wants tough justice for those who killed her family. SAFA UNA: I want them to be tortured and killed and I want them to leave our country.

CHILCOTE: The people in these houses were not the only ones to have been killed. Others died in this house, too, but the survivors here did not want to talk.

Ryan Chilcote, CNN, Baghdad.


BLITZER: Many are already wondering if the Haditha incident will be the equivalent of the My Lai massacre that turned so many Americans against the Vietnam War. It certainly providing some new fuel for those who already believe that the U.S. mission in Iraq should end.


BLITZER: Joining us, a leading critic of the war in Iraq, Congressman John Murtha, Democrat of Pennsylvania, himself a 37-year veteran of the United States Marine Corps.

You have suggested, Congressman, that there was a cover-up of this incident that actually occurred back in November. Specify what you have learned, what you have been told.

REP. JOHN MURTHA (D), PENNSYLVANIA: Well, what I worry about, Wolf, is that this happened six months ago and nothing -- you heard nothing about it. As a matter of fact, the original story was that an IED killed these 15 people. It became very confusing to the public. "Time" magazine came out with an article, and they still tried to cover it up.

Now, there were payments made to victims, which aren't made unless we kill them, one way or the other. And, secondly, they knew about it the day afterwards. So, there's no excuse for not having this be more open and know exactly what -- and the longer it goes, the worse it is for us, because it looks like it's the policy of our troops to do something like this.

But the Marine Corps itself told me there were 24 people killed. There was no other enemy action, except the one explosive device. Now, they are under tremendous pressure, Wolf. You have heard me say this before. They are stressful. They go out every day. They see arms blown off, legs blown off. There's inadequate number of forces.

So, I understand what happened. But you can't excuse it, and the cover-up is inexcusable. So, the chain of command, the chain of command, somebody in the chain of command said, we don't want to talk about this. It's so devastating that we don't want it to be made public.

Well, it's going to be made public at someplace. The Iraqis already knew about it. The Marines knew about it. It was going to come out and they should have been very open about this from the very start. BLITZER: Here's what the chairman of the Joints Chiefs, General Peter Pace, himself a Marine, said yesterday on CNN's "AMERICAN MORNING."

Listen to this.


GEN. PETER PACE, JOINT CHIEFS CHAIRMAN: To my recollection, the first we knew about it back here in D.C. was around the 10th of February and the very next day is when the investigations began. So, from my perspective, as soon as we found out that there were allegations, the investigations began.


BLITZER: What do you think about that, Congressman?

MURTHA: Well, I will tell you, that's a pretty flat statement there. It seems to me something as horrendous as this should take a little something in the statement. I mean, you know, this is a terrible event, a tragic event. It affects the troops. It affects our morale. It affects the ability of them to recruit against us.

And just say, well, it is going to start as soon as February, it should -- and even that was too long a period of time. They should have known about it before then, if they didn't know about it.

It's a failure of leadership when they didn't know about it. When other Marines knew about it, when the Iraqis knew about it, when they made payments about it, and they didn't know about it in Washington? I mean, I think we have to find that out. Senator Warner said he's going to have hearings, and he ought to have hearings. He ought to find out who knew what when.

BLITZER: There are some who are already making comparisons between Haditha and My Lai in Vietnam, the massacre in which hundreds of Vietnamese civilians were killed, an incident that you well remember.

Is that a fair comparison, a fair analogy?

MURTHA: Well, I think it's a fair analogy, except for the numbers. There was about 124, I think, in the My Lai incident. And then there was 24 here.

But it's the same thing, overstressed, these troops going out every day, IEDs go off. Some of them have seen 30 IEDs go off without being -- all at once. They're killed or one of their friends is killed. So, the pressure is tremendous.

It's one of those things where we have become the enemy. The Iraq -- there's only 1,000 al Qaeda, as I have said over and over again. There's no progress. Since I made my statement November 17, was two days before this happened, and it's worse today than it was then. There was 500 incidents at that time in a week, and now there's 1,000 incidents a week. So, it has gotten worse during that period of time. And these troops are under tremendous stress. And we ought to redeploy as quickly as we can and let the Iraqis handle this themselves.

BLITZER: What about President Bush? While this investigation continues, what, if anything, should he say about it?

MURTHA: The president should say that anybody that is involved in this, if they are found guilty, ought to be punished severely, because this helps recruit terrorists.

If there's anything that is going to recruit terrorists -- he finally admitted Abu Ghraib was a mistake. He finally admitted he had untrained soldiers there, unsupervised, and undisciplined. And that was a tremendous public-relations problem for the United States. We started to lose credibility then.

We're fighting for the ideals of democracy. We're fighting for the ideals of America, and when something like this happens, and then you try to cover it up, it makes it look like the United States doesn't stand for those.

Wolf, even when he signed the paper on torture and said we're going to make an exception to torture, when both houses -- both chambers passed that -- against torture, that's the kind of stuff that hurts us and unites the Muslims against the United States.

BLITZER: John Murtha is a Democratic congressman from Pennsylvania.

Congressman, thanks very much for joining us.

MURTHA: Good to talk to you, Wolf.


BLITZER: And just ahead, another shakeup in the Bush administration, this time a new treasury secretary. So why did the president lead us to believe just only a few days ago that nothing was going on?

Plus, Mount St. Helens is blowing off some steam. Our Internet reporters are following the situation online. They will show us what they found. Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Tonight, a new treasury secretary nominee and a new controversy over the president's candor. Mr. Bush today tapped Goldman Sachs CEO Henry Paulson to replace John Snow. Paulson appears to be headed, at least at this early stage, for a relatively speed confirmation. But questions are being raised about the president's apparent denial just last week that Snow's exit was imminent, despite widespread reports that he was expected to resign. Listen to what Mr. Bush said then and how the White House is explaining it now.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He has not talked to me about resignation. I think he's doing a fine job.

TONY SNOW, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: It's no, he's not talked to me about resignation. That doesn't mean that there were not other discussions. It was artfully worded. On the other hand, the one thing you don't want to do in a situation like this is to start speculating about changes before the changes are ready to be made. Those do have impacts on markets and you have be responsible and cautious in the way you deal with them.


BLITZER: Let's bring in our Ali Velshi. He's got the bottom line on the president's choice to be the next treasury secretary. Ali.

ALI VELSHI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Like 12 other secretaries of the Treasury this century, Henry Paulson is making a move from Wall Street to the White House. He's going to take a huge pay cut. But is he going to tackle the big issues.


(voice-over): What's better than making millions on Wall Street? How about being the guy who gets to sign his name on every dollar printed in the country. Henry Paulson comes from Goldman Sachs, the gold standard of success on Wall Street. So he comes from good business stock. He has a big job in front of him.

The U.S. economy is healthy by most measures, but Americans are feeling shaky. High gas prices are taking a toll. Jobs are still being outsourced and China nipping at America's heels.

HENRY PAULSON, TREASURY SECRETARY NOMINEE: Mr. President, if confirmed, I look forward to working with you, your administration and the congress to help keep the American economy strong and competitive.

VELSHI: One way to do that is stop trying to keep the U.S. dollar strong against other currencies. While it may wreck your overseas vacation, a weaker dollar makes American products cheaper to buy overseas.

(on camera): There's nothing quite as American as apple pies made with good old fashioned American apples. America grows seven percent of the world apple supply. China grows five times as many.

(voice-over): So the U.S. and China compete to sell all those apples on the world market. But a strong dollar means that while they may look and taste the same American apples cost more. A weaker dollar also makes goods imported into the United States more expensive to American buyers.

The end result is that it will force Americans to buy American because imports could get expensive.


VELSHI: I don't know if he will do anything about apples, but Paulson does know a think or two about the dollar. Last year he saw 38 million of them in total compensation from Goldman. If he is confirmed, he will earn about $175,000 as Secretary of Treasury.

BLITZER: Nice little pay cut, $38 million. Not bad. Thank you, Ali, for that.

We're reporting some new activity in Mount St. Helens in Washington State. The volcano shot a steam and ash plume more than 16,000 feet into the air yesterday. It's the most activity that the scientists have seen over the past year. Let's get some more from our Internet reporter, Abbi Tatton.

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, here's the plume of steam rising above Mount St. Helens yesterday. Scientists had reported a small earthquake nearby. The USGS reports dozens of these smaller quakes in the region. This one was a little bit bigger, it was 3.1 magnitude.

Scientists say it brought with it an associated large rock fall which in turn brought with it that steam and ash rising above the volcano. It became active again in the Fall of 2004 when volcano cam captured these live pictures back from the end of October.

If you look at that volcano cam right now, you will see a decidedly quieter Mount St. Helens. The advisory is right now orange. That means a heightened concern but not for people or property.

BLITZER: Thank you, Abbi, for that. Up head tonight, the U.S. Coast Guard Commandant, Admiral Thad Allen will join us in THE SITUATION ROOM to talk about preparations for the hurricane season only two days away.


BLITZER: Thursday marks the official start of the new hurricane season and many Gulf Coast residents are bracing for the worst. With memories of Katrina clearly still fresh in their minds. Admiral Thad Allen wound up being the principal federal official in charge of the government's Katrina response. Now he is the Coast Guard Commandant.


Thanks very much for coming in. Coast Guard, by all accounts performed brilliantly in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. FEMA did not. What do you think going into this new hurricane season? You work in the same Department of Homeland Security, is FEMA ready this time?

ADM. THAD ALLEN, COMMANDANT, U.S. COAST GUARD: I think we are. The Coast Guard has predesignated principal federal officials to work with the department. We actually have done joint training with FEMA officials over the last two to three weeks. I was even involved in that training.

We are leaning very far forward and we're much better off this year than we were last year.

BLITZER: Here's what Susan Collins, the Republican chair of the Homeland Security Committee in the senate, said. FEMA has become a symbol of a bumbling bureaucracy in which the American people have completely lost faith."

The word FEMA itself generating a lot of angst, especially going into this new hurricane season. You understand that?

ALLEN: I do. When I was a principal federal official down there, I saw a lot of FEMA employees who were just giving it all for the country down there. There are a lot of highly motivated people in that organization. They have some things that need to be fixed. The secretary is about that. We're working side by side with them.

BLITZER: Was it smart to bring the Coast Guard and FEMA into this new Department of Homeland Security? A lot of second guessing in the aftermath of Katrina last year that that was not the best way to handle response to a disaster like this?

ALLEN: I worked with FEMA before we moved to the new department and I worked with them since then. I think this is a perfect marriage. We prescript mission assignments now so we are ready to act further in advance than we ever had before. The joint training between the Coast Guard and FEMA people has been extraordinarily useful.

BLITZER: Max Mayfield, the director of the National Hurricane Center, he said this the other day. He said, "Katrina was a national wake up call, but it seems too many residents are still asleep." Is that your fear right now going into this new hurricane season? People still are lethargic about another hurricane?

ALLEN: I certainly hope not. I think people in this country need to understand that preparedness is a multi-level responsibility. Federal, state and parish and county responsibilities. People need to be able to exist in their house and take care of themselves for 48 to 72 hours after an event because it may take that long to get help to them. I think there is individual responsibility that has to be considered.

BLITZER: Dealing with a hurricane is only one responsibility of the Coast Guard. There are a lot of other responsibilities including port security. There is a lot of fear right now that our ports are not secure, only a small percentage of cargo is inspected. What is the Coast Guard doing?

ALLEN: Well, we take a broader view of port security in that we look at risk, threat, and vulnerability in our ports. And we have assessed all the major ports in this country since 9/11, both for threat and vulnerability.

And you can't protect everything at any time. What you have to do is allocate your sources to the highest threat and risk areas, based on that methodology. And we do that in every port.

BLITZER: Sounds like the Coast Guard has got a full agenda, and you're the man to lead it. The commandant of the Coast Guard, Thad Allen. Thanks for coming in.

ALLEN: Thank you, Wolf.


BLITZER: And up ahead, what does it mean when Iran's president continues to question whether the Holocaust happened? It's our question of the hour. Jack Cafferty standing by with your email.


BLITZER: Jack is in New York with the "Cafferty File" -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: Thanks, Wolf. The question this hour -- what does it mean when Iran's president continues to question whether the Holocaust in fact ever happened?

Marion in Arcadia, Florida writes -- "It means he's in control, because, one, we are listening to him; two, he knows where our buttons are; three, he knows how to push our buttons; four, the more he pushes them, the more attention he gets; and five, go back to number one and continue.

Bill in Villa Park, Illinois. "It means you've questioned the one thing in our world that is off limits. It means you've crossed the line and the powers that be will have your head unless they can marginalize you. The Holocaust is the only event in all of history which is given this special protection. Why is that? Is it because it would wilt under closer inspection? The power of what Norman Finkelstein has termed "the Holocaust industry" is frightening."

Steve in Montgomery, New York writes: "Jack, in this day and age, the only reason to deny the Holocaust happened is anti-Semitism. It's that simple. Anyone who argues that point has either no grip on history or is bent on committing another Holocaust."

Ernie in Ocala, Florida. "It means we have a certifiable psychopath trying to acquire nuclear weapons, and makes clear who his first target will be. And while we, meaning the United States, are now impotent against the true threat to world peace due to our fiasco in Iraq, Israel won't lie still. It's their lives which are more directly at risk than our own."

Tom in Tulsa, Oklahoma: "It is certain proof there are more horse's rear ends in the world than horses. Honestly, I've worn neckties with higher IQs. Talking to or even about this guy goes against an old adage: Never try to match wits with a half-wit."

And finally, John in Frankford, Delaware: "It means that when Iran plays Mexico in the World Cup, I will root for a draw" -- Wolf.

BLITZER: That game coming up, Jack. Thank you very much. See you tomorrow.

Let's find out what's coming up right at the top of the hour. That means Paula is standing by. Hi, Paula.

PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks, Wolf. That will be in about four and a half minutes for those of you counting. Coming up, more on the allegations that U.S. forces massacred Iraqi civilians. We will also be following critically wounded CBS correspondent Kimberly Dozier's journey from Iraq to a hospital in Germany. Her doctors say at one point, after she was wounded yesterday, Dozier didn't have a heartbeat at all.

And our nationwide epidemic of disease caused by obesity. Can you believe that some people are actually calling for a tax on fat? Can you imagine what that would be like shopping at the grocery store these days, Wolf? It would make things a whole lot more complicated, but some people think that's the only way we will all stop eating bad food.

BLITZER: OK, Paula, thank you very much.

ZAHN: Thank you.

BLITZER: Still ahead here in THE SITUATION ROOM, Iraq then and now. We're going to hear what the vice president, Dick Cheney, was saying exactly one year ago. Did his prediction come true? You'll have to judge for yourself. We have the videotape. Stay with us here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: On a day when the past and current carnage in Iraq is making headlines, it's worth remembering what Vice President Dick Cheney told our Larry King exactly one year ago about the state of the insurgency in Iraq. Listen to this.


RICHARD B. CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think we may well have some kind of presence there over a period of time, but I think the level of activity that we see today from a military standpoint I think will clearly decline. I think they're in the last throes, if you will, of the insurgency.


BLITZER: That was said exactly one year ago today. A year after the vice president said that, the U.S. military has announced today it's moving an extra 1,500 troops into Iraq from Kuwait. The Pentagon says the troops are on a short-term deployment to help Iraqi forces work towards securing the volatile Anbar province.

That's all the time we have. I'll see you tomorrow. Paula Zahn standing by to pick up our coverage -- Paula.