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Rescue Operation For Missing Climbers On Mt. Hood Is Now Over; President Bush Pledges To Find New Way Forward In Iraq; Robert Gates On A Surprise Visit To Iraq; Carl Levin Interview; Muqtada al-Sadr Appears On New Tape; Fat Bonuses Paid Out This Year To Investment Bankers

Aired December 20, 2006 - 16:54   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: I want to go out to Mount Hood -- the deputy sheriff, Chris Guertin, speaking now, announcing, the rescue operation for those two missing climbers is now over.
CHRIS GUERTIN, HOOD RIVER COUNTY, OREGON, DEPUTY SHERIFF: We feel that we did an excellent job, with the resources we had and the information we had, looking and trying to locate the climbers.

And, again, we're still going to continue with this, as the weather and personnel allows to us continue this.

Thank you.

QUESTION: Have you spoken to the families?

GUERTIN: I have been in contact with the families, yes.

QUESTION: What is their reaction to your (INAUDIBLE).

GUERTIN: I haven't spoken to the family as of this as of this -- as of suspending the search, so I do not know what their reaction is.

QUESTION: When you say you will continue if the weather gets better, how are you approaching that? Will you still be in recovery mode?

GUERTIN: Well, we still have two climbers that are unaccounted for right now. And, as the weather and resources are available to us, we are going to continue to try to locate those two climbers.

QUESTION: Are there places that you haven't looked, that, if the weather changes, you can look -- or will you -- are you looking for some -- you know, some evidence on the mountain somehow that would lead you to look at a place (INAUDIBLE) back?

GUERTIN: Well, we're always going to be looking for evidence to help point our search teams into the right direction.

I'm comfortable with saying that we have covered the high- probability areas, based on the information that we have had from day one of this search. I do feel comfortable that we have covered all of those areas. We have had weather issues that hampered our search in the beginning. And, so, there are areas that we will be looking at again.

QUESTION: Sheriff, I know that you flew up there this morning. Can you describe the weather conditions?

JOE WAMPLER, HOOD RIVER COUNTY, OREGON, SHERIFF: Yes, we were able to get up, make one more flight, based on some information received last night.

And we contacted Mount Hood Meadows and Timberline, and, what's it doing up there? And, basically, we were between layers and the visibility was good. But we spent about an hour in the White River -- from the White River Glacier down this morning, because someone may have seen some -- a yellow color in the snow. And -- but the -- but we were able to confirm by -- by flying this morning that it was rocks, bottom line.

QUESTION: What about the rescue climbers that were at Cloud Cap? What are -- where -- what of them now?

GUERTIN: Where are they at now?


GUERTIN: Yes. Everyone is down off of Cloud Cap right now.

QUESTION: Can you say now that this is a recovery operation (INAUDIBLE).

GUERTIN: Well, we're still going to be looking for Mr. Cooke and Mr. Hall.

QUESTION: So, does that mean you will have -- if the weather clears, you will put planes up, and you will keep flying around, looking? Or you will put people on the mountain going up and down (INAUDIBLE).

GUERTIN: Well, again, we're going to be looking for any little clues that we can find to help point us in the right direction.

QUESTION: I guess, will those clues just come from, you know, people who were on the mountain? Or will you purposely be sending out people every -- at every opportunity to look?

GUERTIN: We do have some teams on standby for that reason, that we -- if the weather and the conditions allow, to have teams go back out, and recheck some areas, check some new areas, to see if anything else can develop out of this.

QUESTION: What would be the earliest time of the year that you could physically go into this avalanche-prone area, safely, on foot? How many months do you have to wait for that, sir?

GUERTIN: Well, we don't have a whole lot more time left, as far as before we really start getting into the heavy winter season. I don't have a date time for you. But...

QUESTION: No, but, I mean, when does it start melting out, and, you know, and receding to the point you that can walk in?

GUERTIN: In spring, spring.

QUESTION: Sheriff, can you talk about your frustration that this didn't conclude how you hoped and worked for?


WAMPLER: Yes, I'm -- yes, on behalf of Chris and his crew that worked so hard on this thing, working with the families, that was tough.

You know, people came from all over to, you know, be with us. You know, we hoped to give them a good result, you know, at least find everybody. I mean, that -- incidents on the mountain are very unforgiving. And, you know, we know that. We told that -- them that from the beginning.

You know, a week of some of the worst weather we have had all year -- but this is wintertime. Part of, you know -- Chris' team that, you know, is helping me make this decision. You know, and I support their decision 100 percent, based on what they tell me. And that is, this time of year, Mount Hood is a dangerous place to be, based on weather conditions.

And I will help Chris and his crew, you know, every -- now, we're still into a lot of weather windows. You know, we can be up here. You know, we will have a lot of nice days here and there.

But right now, you know, we're going to let everybody go home for Christmas. It's, like I say, you know, we know that a door is going to slam shut on us here for a couple of days. And, you know, that's the end of our, you know, the end of our longest hopeful survival periods based on the conditions on Mount Hood.

And, you know, I think we've, you know -- Chris has given every opportunity for them to come out and, you know, Chris and I are going to be the first ones, you know, if they come walking out of there after we say what we're saying here today, boy, you know, we're taking them out.

But, you know, I'm putting -- I'd wouldn't ever want to ever happen. But, you know, we think this is a valid decision based on the people that are necessary to go up there and do these things and, you know, we flew our last flight out of here this morning. You know, the only thing that brought us back -- we'd still be up there know -- was the weather. It snowed on us all the way back and, as you can see, you know, there's not too many holes to get back into here today. So -- but that's what it's like on the mountain.

So, basically, you know, on behalf of all of us and, you know, the family -- we've talked to them. You know, I've got Chief Deputy Brown down there with them right now telling them what we're doing.

And, for the most part, you know, they understand. They know. These folks are all outdoorsmen. They know. But some are not ready to say no yet. And, you know, I'm with them. But this is something we have to do for all our sake and the safety of the people that are doing this on our behalf. And, so, reluctantly, that's where we're at.

QUESTION: How tough is that decision for you emotionally and how are all your teams doing?

GUERTIN: Well, it's a -- it's a hard decision, because, like I said, I've been with these guys from day one of this and the frustration that I can see with the climbers -- it was hard because they wanted to come up with some results and they gave it everything they had and they tried and tried and tried. And the weather just made this extremely difficult.

And, you know, I was sensing that. The morale was extremely high with our rescue teams. The family was wonderful. The family was sending dinners for our rescuers. I mean it just -- they were -- I mean I can't speak for all of them, but I know most of them were just, you know, frustrated, just like all of us.

QUESTION: How are your teams holding out now?

GUERTIN: Well, I think they're doing well. I mean I think they know that they gave it 100 percent. There's no question about that. You know, we had a team up on the summit and that was an extraordinary feat alone, with, you know, with the helicopter rescue that was done.

So I think that they know that they did everything that they could.

QUESTION: Is it quite a bond that develops between the rescuers and the family over these days?

GUERTIN: Well, I'm sure there -- yes. I mean, I've seen the family shake hands with the rescuers and talk to the rescuers. So I mean I'd have to say yes on that, no questions.

WAMPLER: And a little bit more to that. The summit team that, through a lot of risk -- you know, a lot of these guys are volunteers that are being moved by military helicopters and, you know, we watched that all on TV. That operation was not without risk. And so those folks who did that, they wanted to go see the family, and, for the most part, they did.

And we had to be pretty careful about not making the guys in this field too close to this family because that was kind of going on here. And so, you know, that was part of our management.

QUESTION: Were you guys worried that if they get too close to the family they think (INAUDIBLE)?

WAMPLER: That's right.


WAMPLER: That's right. Exactly. Risks that are too great. And that's the problem. We had people willing to do that, people that did. And, you know, I thought we did a pretty good job of managing those things.

But, you know, a lot of risks were taken during this event and, you know, our job here was to make sure that they were at least an acceptable risk based on every attempt possible to save lives. And, you know, it's an honor for us to work with folks like that.

We appreciate it. You know, one more thing I just want to say is we're kind of new to this. We've had big events, but this is a big deal for us. The media has treated us very respectfully and we appreciate that and -- because that really helped us get our job done. I mean we got a lot of things done this week on -- because of that.

The family, again, with, you know, what they were to us, you know, they kept the momentum going. Every time they saw us have a little hitch -- which we did, you know, we had several -- they did all they could to help us.

So on behalf of the volunteers, the private people that came to our aid, industry, you know, this -- we had calls for that people wanted to give us assistance from Canada and throughout the United States.

I said the other day, you know, our office is, you know, the pizzas from the family were just awesome. And -- but the socks that we received from the local businesses were something we all needed. And, you know, they went up to the guys up there and, you know, these guys have been living out of their pack for a week.

And, anyway, we're going to get out of here today. But I'd just like to let you know that Chris and I, on this particular mission, we are the last two off the mountain.

And, boy, I don't know what to say. You know, when the weather gets better we'll go back up there and try to find those guys. We owe that to the family and we will get that done. So...


WAMPLER: You know, I don't have any information. You know, that was scheduled to be done in Portland and so we don't.

QUESTION: To be clear, did the family -- did you confer with the family before making the decision to call off the search or did you inform them after you had made the decision to call off the search?

WAMPLER: I can probably speak a little -- because I spent more time. Chris was the guy up on the mountain. He was the guy running this thing. I spent a lot of time, you know, every day we allowed them to be with us, and especially these last few days. They kind of saw some guys go home and that made them nervous. But, you know, we convinced them we were still out there, and we were; and, you know, and then spending some time with our leaders and deciding what we were going to do here. So, you know, I was kind of -- you know, we took them for a ride yesterday to really get up close and look and, you know, we wouldn't be doing this today if they hadn't been part of that decision. But like I say, they weren't all ready to do this. But, you know, that's where we have to be the responsible ones. And on behalf of everybody else -- and so that's what we're doing.

QUESTION: What about the lessons -- just maybe a little brief (INAUDIBLE) -- the lessons for climbers, for rescuers?

WAMPLER: A lot of good things -- well, a lot of good things happened this week. I mean we learned a lot of things about the search and rescue. But, first of all, I'd just like to say that search and rescues on Mount Hood, you know, are something that's been going on for a long time and there's literally a playbook.

We got the call last week. We opened the book and started making the calls right out of the book, you know, between Clackamas County and the Clackamas County Sheriff's Office is the -- they have got some wonderful folks.

But between them and us, we opened that book and page by page we went down through there and all that happened this week. And you saw that happen. And it makes us feel good that, you know, all that practice and planning works.

QUESTION: Is there any new information, as rescuers are getting home and sort of evaluating what they saw (INAUDIBLE)?

WAMPLER: Yes, you know, we're guessing on that everyday. Let me mess up here.

The second part of this question over here -- lessons learned. Real quickly, you know, we've got two climbers that supposedly did everything right and there's a real possibility, as of today, not all of them are going to make it off the mountain alive. And, you know, we are thinking that, you know, they all may be dead.

But they did everything right. You know, something happened up there, because, you know, they're not here to tell us. But, you know, I -- if you're going to go to Mount Hood or any other mountain, it has to be well planned. And the time of year has a lot to do with that.

But, you know, never ever -- and we tell people in the gorge this all the time -- never ever go anywhere and just plan on going some place and not be prepared to spend some time out there, because you might get caught. You might have to stay there. I mean that's everything from driving in your car in the wintertime -- I mean if it's just going to be a little day thing, that's just that and that's OK.

But, you know, Oregon, the Northwest is -- any time you get off that highway out here, you're in the wilderness. And, you know, if that's going to be your plan, then you prepare for that. You know, a minimum climb this time of year is three days, not just one day, three days. You plan on having to stay out there in case something happens. It's real important from the sheriff's office's standpoints that you know that in the wintertime we cannot get there from here. If you call me today, I won't be there. I'll be -- you'll be lucky if we can get -- make those arrangements to be there tomorrow.

So you need to know those risks when you get out there.

BLITZER: A sad day, indeed,

Sheriff Joe Wampler speaking to reporters emotionally, choking back tears. He broke down earlier when he acknowledged, when he told all of us that the rescue operation for those two missing climbers has now ended -- Brian Hall, 37 years old; Jerry Cooke, 36 years old.

In part, the weather simply getting really bad right now in the Mount Hood area and no hope left. They consulted with family members. They took the family members on a flight around the mountain yesterday. And today, with the weather clearly, clearly taking a major turn for the worse, the search now over for those two missing climbers.

The other climber, the third climber, Kelly James, 48 years old, his body was found earlier in the week.

We had bad weather not only affecting Oregon, it's also affecting Colorado right now. Word just coming in the Denver International Airport has been forced to shut down.

Let's turn to our meteorologist, Dave Hennen.

This weather condition out there in the Colorado area is getting awful right now. The pictures are very dramatic.

DAVE HENNEN, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yes, they really speak for themselves, Wolf.

We have seen winds this afternoon gusting as high as 56 miles per hour -- that's tropical storm strength -- as this big low pressure area moving out of the Colorado Rockies, moving into the Plains.

These are current winds. Check this out -- 30 to 45 mile per hour sustained winds at Denver International. And then you put that on top of what is about a foot of snow that has fallen, from what we can tell, in the Denver metropolitan area, has closed the airport.

We're going to switch you over to our Flight Explorer source and this is showing all of the planes heading to Denver. Not one flight in the air. There are over 6,000 other flights in the air at this hour, but not one flight on Flight Explorer is showing up heading toward the Denver International Airport.

It's not going to get better either, Wolf. There is no word yet on when Denver will reopen. So this is going to affect a lot of people, we think at least through the night, probably into tomorrow morning -- Wolf. BLITZER: Snow accumulation and poor runway conditions -- that's what the authorities are citing today for the closure of the Denver International Airport.

We'll stay on top of this with you.

Dave, thank you very much.

I want to check in with Jack Cafferty.

He's got "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: President Bush, Wolf, thinks it's time to "reset our military" and he's asked the new secretary of defense, Robert Gates, to come up with a plan to increase the size of both the Army and the Marine Corps.

Mr. Bush tied his decision to the broader war on terror, instead of just to the war in Iraq. And this comes after the Army's chief of staff told Congress last week that the active duty Army "will break" under the strain of the current rotations for the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

And Colin Powell, the former chairman of the joint chiefs, says the Army is already about broken.

The president didn't give any specifics, but some officials say the administration wants to increase the military by as many as 70,000 troops. Now, if it's not possible to meet the goals only using the volunteers, then down the road, I assume it could raise the question of having to resort to a draft.

Here's our question this -- should the U.S. armed forces expand?

E-mail your thoughts to or go to -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jack, thank you for that.

We'll get back with you shortly.

Still ahead right here in THE SITUATION ROOM, the president speaking out on Iraq. He takes stock of what he calls a difficult year in Iraq and says he's open to ideas on how to move forward.

Our Suzanne Malveaux standing by at the White House.

Jamie McIntyre the only television correspondent traveling with the new defense secretary in Iraq right now.

We'll bring both of them into THE SITUATION ROOM.

Also, controversial comments by a Republican congressman about immigration and a soon to be colleague -- a Muslim who wants to take the oath on the Koran. Find out why the representative said that the -- well, what the representative said, and some are calling his words the sign of, and I'm quoting now, an "Islamaphobe."

Plus, Wall Street executives reaping record bonuses this year. We're going to show you who's getting what and why. You'll want to see this.

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Welcome back.

Is President Bush any closer to sending more troops to Iraq. In a review today of his Iraq policy, which veered badly off course this past year, Mr. Bush made it clear he still hasn't decided how to change course in the year ahead. He said he's weighing the options, adding that Democrats are welcome to weigh in, as well.

The new defense secretary, Robert Gates, is now on the ground in Iraq getting a firsthand assessment. He's meeting with top U.S. military commanders, as well as with top Iraqi officials.

CNN's Jamie McIntyre is the only TV correspondent traveling with the defense secretary.

We're going to also hear from our own Brian Todd on a possible setback for one of America's foes in Iraq.

But let's go to the White House.

Our correspondent Suzanne Malveaux with more on the president's news conference -- Suzanne.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, President Bush, facing possible lame duck status, pledged today that he was going to work very hard to get things done the next two years with a sprint to the finish.

But the big question tonight, of course, is he can he turn things around in Iraq and how quickly?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The president of the United States.

MALVEAUX (voice-over): It was the president's attempt at pushing the reset button.

GEORGE BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm going to make you this promise -- my administration will work with Republicans and Democrats to fashion a new way forward that can succeed in Iraq.

MALVEAUX: Mr. Bush presented an ambitious New Year's resolution. But his news conference wrapping up the year didn't have a pretty bow. Faced with soaring violence in Iraq, plummeting support for the war at home and Congress now in the hands of Democrats, this is not the same man who, when reelected, boasted about having "political capital" to spend.

BUSH: But the most painful aspect of the presidency is the fact that I know my decisions have caused young men and women to lose their lives.

MALVEAUX: Mr. Bush also made clear he still believes in his decision to invade Iraq.

BUSH: No, I haven't questioned whether or not it was right to take Saddam Hussein out -- nor have I questioned the necessity for the American people -- I mean I've questioned it. I've come to the conclusion it was the right decision.

MALVEAUX: But the president is no longer claiming the U.S. is absolutely winning the Iraq War, as he did during the campaign just six weeks ago.

BUSH: Victory in Iraq is achievable. It hasn't happened nearly as quickly as I hoped it would have.

MALVEAUX: As his new defense secretary, Bob Gates, embarks on his Fresh Eyes tour in Iraq, Mr. Bush says all options are on the table, including sending more U.S. troops, an unpopular prospect among the joint chiefs of staff.

Laying the groundwork, the president has already called to expand the armed forces overall, a move that appears to reject the vision of his departed defense secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, who advocated for a leaner fighting force.

For a president who does not like to look back, his year ender press conference inspired some nostalgia.

BUSH: We began the year with optimism after watching nearly 12 million Iraqis go to the polls to vote for a unity government.

MALVEAUX: With Iraq now torn by sectarian violence, Mr. Bush resolved to turn things around. But like many of us who make New Year's resolutions, he gave himself an out.

BUSH: I'm not going to make predictions about what 2007 will look like in Iraq.


MALVEAUX: But the president did indicate that the United States is going to be in a long struggle against who he calls extremists and radicals. And, Wolf, he also said the military has to be prepared to be in the fight for what he called "a long period of time" -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Suzanne, thank you for that.

Suzanne is at the White House.

The defense secretary, Robert Gates, certainly hitting the ground running. He's in Iraq right now on a surprise visit aimed at learning all he can about the U.S. mission there.

Our senior Pentagon correspondent, Jamie McIntyre, is the only TV correspondent traveling with the new defense secretary.


JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SENIOR PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Just three days into the job, Robert Gates emerged from a C-17 cargo plane after an overnight flight from Washington and went straight into meetings with his top commanders in Baghdad. The big topic on the agenda -- President Bush's interest in surging tens of thousands of additional U.S. troops to try to bring the escalating violence under control in the Iraq capital.

ROBERT GATES, INCOMING SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: We've discussed the possibility of a surge and the potential for what it might accomplish. I think it's very important, in this case, to hear, above all, from the Iraqis and from the prime minister on how best we can help.

MCINTYRE: General George Casey, the top commander on the ground in Iraq, says he has asked for more troops when he thought he needed them and said he's open to a surge if the reinforcements have a clear mission that can be accomplished militarily.

GEN. GEORGE CASEY, COMMANDER, MULTINATIONAL FORCE: Three or four times I've asked for additional troops, but they've been for a purpose. They've been for an election or to take advantage of an opportunity that was presented as a result of the operations in Fallujah.

So I'm not necessarily opposed to the idea, but that -- what I want to see happen is when -- if we do bring more American troops here, they help us progress to our strategic objectives.

MCINTYRE: Even General John Abizaid, who has been the most adamant opponent of sending more U.S. troops to Iraq, indicated he might go ahead with a surge if that's what the president and the Pentagon wanted to try.

GEN. JOHN ABIZAID, COMMANDER, U.S. CENTRAL COMMAND: I think it's safe to say that absolutely all options are on the table. We're looking at every possible thing that might influence the situation to make Baghdad in particular more secure.

MCINTYRE: Abizaid, who'd been asked to stay on as U.S. Central Commander for another year last spring, is scheduled to retire next March. He's already put his papers in to lead the Army, but insists he's not being pushed aside.

ABIZAID: No decision that anybody makes in a position like this is ever totally their decision. But I think the time is right and it has nothing to do with dissatisfaction.

MCINTYRE: Secretary Gates says he's just now looking at how to increase the size of both the Army and the Marine Corps, something that will take time and is expensive. Adding 10,000 troops adds an estimated $1.2 billion to $1.5 billion to the Army's annual budget.


MCINTYRE: Gates insisted the plan to expand the size of the U.S. military is unrelated to the possible surge of tens of thousands of additional U.S. troops here to Baghdad. But the fact is were it not for the strain that the Iraq War was putting on the U.S. military, the expansion plan would not be the priority it is -- Wolf.


BLITZER: Jamie McIntyre, the only TV correspondent traveling with the new defense secretary.

Coming up, we'll have much more on the war in Iraq. We'll take a closer look at one of America's most dangerous foes in the region.

Plus, that monster snowstorm shutting down Denver, closing the international airport in the mile high city. We're only minutes away from a live report.

Stay with us.


BLITZER: And to our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM, where new pictures and information are arriving all the time.

Happening now, rescue officials in Oregon now giving up hope of finding those two missing climbers on Mount Hood alive. They're switching the mission from a rescue operation to a recovery operation, saying they've done all they can to find Brian Hall and Jerry Cooke.

Also, blizzard conditions pounding parts of Colorado, Kansas and Nebraska. A major storm threatening to dump as much as two feet of snow on the Denver area. The city's airport has just shut down operations and drivers who take to the roads are doing it at their own risk.

And the Pentagon reportedly seeking almost $100 billion extra for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. That according to the at the Pentagon. That would more than double this year's budget for the Iraq mission and bring the total cost to some $350 billion since the start of the war.

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

Winter officially begins tomorrow, but it's already out in force in Colorado. You can see the live pictures coming in behind me. A major storm making travel dangerous, if not impossible. Denver's main international airport has just shut down. Let's get the latest from George Epp, he's with the Colorado Division of Emergency Management, he's joining us on the phone. The pictures look awful Mr. Epp, but give our viewers a sense of how bad it is.

GEORGE EPP, COLORADO DIVISION OF EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT: Well we're well, we're getting hammered pretty good, this is a classic storm where we get the moisture from the gulf, hitting the cold jet stream head on and it just spirals into the front rage of Colorado.

All of the major highways out of Denver, to the east, south and north, are closed. Most every event has been cancelled. We've got Red Cross shelters open in a number of areas and a lot of crews out rescuing stranded motorists.

BLITZER: How well conditioned is the Denver -- the Denver, Colorado area for this kind of blizzard?

EPP: Well, this is nothing new, we've had these types of blizzards periodically over the years. Sometimes, we forget the things that we learned from the last one and we try to pick up where we left off. But overall, we're responding pretty well. People have responded well to our pleas to stay off the highways. And just go some place warm and safe until it's over.

BLITZER: That's a key question, warm and safe. Are there problems with power, with electricity to make sure that people can stay warm and safe?

EPP: So far, we haven't heard of any problems with major power outages. But again, a lot of our citizens are experienced with this kind of thing. And the power goes out sometimes, and they know how to deal with it.

BLITZER: Was there any significant warning or did this just sort of spring up?

EPP: We had pretty good warning from the weather service. We knew this was coming and prepared as best we could.

BLITZER: What are your forecasters telling you? How much longer is the snow going to continue and these blizzard conditions going to be in effect?

EPP: We expect the storm, that it will continue snowing until about noon tomorrow.

BLITZER: George Epp with the Colorado Office of Emergency Management Operations. Good luck to you Mr. Epp, good luck to all of our friends in Colorado as well as Nebraska and Kansas, blizzard conditions affecting big areas of the country out there. Thank you very much.

Coming up -- expanding the U.S. military and moving more troops into Iraq. Options President Bush clearly looking at right now. We'll talk about all of that with Senator Carl Levin, he's going to be the chairman of the Armed Services Committee starting next month.

Plus, what would you do with a $53 million bonus -- bonus. One CEO is facing that dilemma this holiday season and he's not alone. Details coming up, stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: President Bush says he's weighing whether to send more U.S. troops to Iraq. But does the United States have enough troops available? That possible short-term increase for Iraq comes as the U.S. military faces a longer term personnel problem.

Let's turn to our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr -- Barbara.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the military is stretched thin. The troops are exhausted. So it's really no surprise that President Bush and the generals are talking about a larger military force.


STARR (voice-over): It's a question of supply and demand. Not enough troops for the wars being fought. Defense Secretary Robert Gates is in Baghdad getting recommendations from commanders on permanently increasing the size of the Army and Marine Corps. He will report back to President Bush.

BUSH: I'm inclined to believe this is a good idea is because I understand that we're going to be in a long struggle against radicals and extremists. And we must make sure that our military has the capability to stay in the fight for a long period of time.

STARR: The Army is under the most pressure. In the last five years, 25,000 soldiers have been added. But commanders now want to add as many as 50,000 more. It's been a massive decline since the Vietnam years. In 1970, the active duty army had more than 1 million troops. New troops could take years to add.

GEN. PETER SCHOOMAKER, U.S. ARMY CHIEF OF STAFF: Optimistically, we could add 6 to 7,000 soldiers per year in my view.

STARR: But then they must be trained.

MICHAEL O'HANLON, BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: There's maybe 10 to 12 weeks of Boot Camp. Ten to 12 weeks of specialized training in whatever weapons capability one is going to become an expert in.

STARR: And it will be expensive. It costs $13,000 to recruit a single soldier and $1.2 billion a year to pay for salaries and training for every 10,000 troops. No one can predict what it all might cost in new tanks, helicopters and humvees.

SCHOOMAKER: Frankly, we entered this war flatfooted. Investment accounts were under funded in the army by approximately $100 billion resulting in nearly $56 billion in equipment shortages across the army.


STARR: You know, Wolf, during the 1990s alone, the size of the army shrunk by about half a million soldiers. The generals now say that piece dividend is gone, they simply need more troops -- Wolf. BLITZER: Thank you for that, Barbara Starr at the Pentagon.

On Capitol Hill, there are some who are now saying we told you so, following the president's call for a larger military.


BLITZER: And joining us now from Capitol Hill, the incoming chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Carl Levin, Democrat of Michigan.

What do you make, Senator, about -- it seems like a major change in the Bush administration's policy for the president now to support a larger U.S. Army, a larger U.S. Marine Corps, because as you know, the former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld resisted all those appeals over the past six years.

SEN. CARL LEVIN (D-MI), ARMED SERVICES CMTE.: The administration has resisted the appeals, they have even resisted the efforts on the part of mainly Democrats when we tried to increase the size of the Army and the Marines in these annual budgets. We heard from the budget offices that they didn't want to do that.

It wasn't just Rumsfeld, but we have to assume the president himself has resisted increases in the military because perhaps it would have signaled that we weren't doing as well as he was claiming we were doing. But for whatever the reason was, there was resistance, there was that resistance.

BLITZER: He thought that the U.S. could get a lot of the job done with a smaller, leaner, U.S. Army, a smaller, more high-tech Marine Corps. But you were pretty skeptical, I take it, from the beginning?

LEVIN: I think a lot of us felt that particularly as overstretched as the Army and Marines particularly were, and given the missions that they were given, that you just couldn't get this -- in all fairness, accomplish whatever the missions were that they were being undertaken. So we made this effort in the last number of years to increase the size. And just -- we entered this continued stonewall on the part of the administration.

BLITZER: Part of the stonewall was because it's very expensive, as you know, to have thousands of more active duty U.S. armed forces. It's not going to be cheap.

LEVIN: It will not be cheap. On the other hand, if it's needed, we've got to do it. The most important thing I believe we can do is to move our forces, at least some of our forces, out of Iraq. I think that's going to also help reduce some of the pressure on our forces.

But in any event, we can't get by with the current structure that we have. It's just simply too much stress on the men and women of the military and their families. But I also would add to this measure that we've got to find our way out of Iraq, sooner rather than later, for a lot of reasons and cost being one of them. BLITZER: But, you know, some analysts are suggesting that this recognition on the part of the president now, suddenly to go for a bigger Army, a bigger Marine Corps could be linked to what some are calling a surge in U.S. military capability in Iraq. Another 20, 30, maybe 40,000 additional troops and maybe if the president says, you know what, we're going to build up the U.S. Army and the Marine Corps, that will help ease the way for a surge over the next several months. Is that something you would go along with?

LEVIN: Well, I don't support the surge. I think it would be a mistake to get in deeper into Iraq. When General Abizaid was in front of us, he didn't support the reductions which we were proposing in our forces in Iraq. But he also very strongly opposed increasing the number of forces in Iraq because he basically said that would take the pressure off the Iraqis to reach a political settlement, which is the only way in which this violence can end, is through a political settlement on the part of Iraqis. So General Abizaid himself very strongly opposed an increase in the number of forces in Iraq.

BLITZER: Last Sunday, the incoming Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid seemed to suggest that he would go along with it, he would support it if it were temporary for a few months.

LEVIN: He also used the words if it was part of a program, and I think perhaps what he was referring to is that if there's a program, a real program where there's a political settlement which works and which is proven to reduce the violence, that he then, I think he said, would consider a temporary increase in troops, particularly in Baghdad. But he still very strongly believes, and has said so publicly, that we've got to tell the Iraqis that their future is in their hands, not ours, and that they've got to reach a political settlement is the only way to eliminate violence.

He still believes in the formula which we offered -- we Democrats offered to the Congress, and in the Senate, they had a vote on it back in June, which was to tell the Iraqis that we're going to begin to reduce forces in four to six months as a way of forcing them to face reality.

The president has rejected that before the election. I think now there's a lot of people who are telling him, including the Study Group, that we've got to put the pressure on the Iraqis, the onus on them, to form a nation. We can't do it for them.

BLITZER: The number two of al Qaeda, Ayman al-Zawahiri, released another videotape that was on Al-Jazeera today. Among other things, he said this, and I'll read it to you, a translation from the Arabic, Senator: "A message to the Democrats in America, you aren't the ones who won the midterm elections nor are the Republicans the ones who lost. Rather the Mujahedeen are the ones who won and the American forces and their crusader allies are the ones who lost. The Mujahedeen won't stop inflicting losses on you until you leave our lands."

Here's the question, Senator. It's very frustrating more than five years after 9/11, the number two al Qaeda leader, he's still able to go on television, make these statements. The hunt for him, the hunt for Osama bin Laden, based on the information you know, where does that stand?

LEVIN: Well, the hunt goes on, obviously, for them. But this is a much more comprehensive effort than just the hunt for two people. The question here is how do we reduce the threat of terrorism. And unhappily, the way in which the policies have been unfolding and the way they were set has, I think, played right into the hands of the people that want to kill us.


BLITZER: Senator Carl Levin, the incoming chairman of the Armed Services Committee speaking with me earlier.

As the new Defense secretary Robert Gates gets a closer look at the situation in Iraq right now, he's in Baghdad, the world is getting a closer look at one of America's most dangerous foes there. Let's turn to CNN's Brian Todd, he's picking up this part of the story. Brian?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, in public Shia Cleric Muqtada al-Sadr is all about projection, readily displaying his confidence, his power. But there are signs that that power is fraying a bit and that was on vivid display on an extraordinary piece of videotape shot behind closed doors.


TODD (voice-over): His gestures tell only part of the story. On a tape released without his approval, one of Iraq's most feared, most powerful men lashes out at a subordinate.

MUQTADA AL-SADR, SHIITE CLERIC: Enough with the nagging, criticism, criticism.

TODD: Muqtada Al-Sadr, revered by millions for standing up sometimes violently to U.S. forces, for holding sway over the country's prime minister. For commanding a militia which rules much of Baghdad. There are recent indications that al Sadr does not have complete control of his Mehdi army. That several militiamen within that lethal band are going off on their own. This tape posted by the Web site shows that al Sadr doesn't always have control of one of his own spokesmen.

AL-SADR: You don't have the right to ignore my directives or not listen to me.

TODD: It's not clear precisely when this tape was made, but one analyst believes this shows that al-Sadr's attempt to project the stature of his father, a popular martyred Shia cleric is falling flat.

NADIA BILBASSY, AL-ARABIYA: He's not comfortable where he stands. He's insecure. He comes along as somebody who deals with other people in an equal position and not from a leadership position.

TODD: Leadership, clearly an issue with Muqtada al-Sadr as he chides his assistant for the way he spoke about a rival.

AL-SADR: I'm not happy with the fact they used a mosque podium to praise Abdul Aziz.

TODD: He's talking about Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, head of Iraq's largest Shia party. Al-Sadr's show of jealousy comes as CNN gets word that Iraq's top Shia figure, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, is giving indications through his aids that he wants all Shia leaders to show more unity and possibly even reach out to moderate Sunnis and Kurds.


TODD: Would that effort leave Muqtada al-Sadr out in the cold? Not likely. He already controls six ministries and 30 seats in parliament. And observers in Baghdad tell us despite his exasperation on that tape, there is no indication that he's losing any significant amount of power -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And no indication yet that the Prime Minister Nuri al- Maliki is going to go after him directly. We'll watch the story together with you, Brian. Thank you.

There are some new developments in that CIA leak trial. And a high-profile potential witness who doesn't want to testify. We're going to have the latest details. Stick around for that.

Also ahead, big bonuses on Wall Street. Some setting records. You'll be surprised at just how much some CEOs are going to wind up getting. Nice Christmas gifts. Stay with us.


BLITZER: Let's check in, once again, with Carol Costello for a closer look at some other important stories making news -- Carol.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Hi, Wolf. Hello to all of you.

This just in to CNN, attorneys for Joseph Wilson filed a motion this afternoon to quash a subpoena requiring him to testify in a Lewis "Scooter" Libby CIA leak trial. Wilson is the husband of Valerie Plame, he argues he should not have to testify because he has no personal knowledge of the leak. Libby will go on trial in connection with the exposure of an undercover CIA agent. We'll keep you posted.

Also Republican Representative Virgil Goode says he will not apologize for remarks he made about immigration reform and Muslims. In a recent letter to constituents, the Virginia congressman says, without immigration reform, quote, there will be many more Muslims elected to office demanding the use of the Koran.

Goode's spokesman says the letter was written in response to complaints that a new congressman requested to be sworn in with the Koran. Minnesota's Keith Ellison is the first Muslim to be elected to Congress. Goode's spokesman says Goode does stand by his comments. Back to you Wolf. BLITZER: Carol, thank you very much for what. Very happy holidays indeed for some Wall Street executives, enjoying record bonuses this year, including one CEO getting more than $53 million.

CNN's Mary Snow is joining us from New York, she has the story -- Mary.

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, on Wall Street, you could almost imagine the champagne corks popping and on Main Street, don't be surprised to see jaws dropping at the fat bonuses being paid out this year to investment bankers.


SNOW (voice-over): Call it a sign of the times. A bottle of champagne being advertised in New York for $14,950.

MICHAEL AARON, SHERRY-LEHMAN WINE & SPIRITS: We put an ad in the "Times" a week ago because we were reading about all the incredible bonuses coming out of Wall Street.

SNOW: Bonuses like the $53.4 million one going to Goldman Sachs' CEO Lloyd Blankfine. It breaks the record set last week to the $40 million bonus to Morgan Stanley's CEO John Mack.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A hundred thousand is plenty. These guys are millionaires already. They're getting all that money, you know.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's good for everyone. Good for the workers, good for everyone in the country.

SNOW: Opinion is divided on the fortunes being dolled out. Wall Street is estimated to pay out 24 billion. That's billion with a "b" in bonuses this year. That equals the Gross Domestic Product of countries like Qatar and Panama. Gostavo Dolfino runs a recruiting firm that places mid to top level people in the financial industry. For clients like his, he says the average bonus, just the average, is between $4 and $7 million.

GOSTAVO DOLFINO, THE WHITEROCK GROUP: Some people would say it's excessive. But it's not easy to generate this kind of money

SNOW: So you don't think it's excessive?

DOLFINO: No, I think it's well-deserved.

SNOW: Many on Wall Street say profits are fueled by a strong market, mergers and acquisitions and growth in places like Asia. Others question the size of these payouts.

STEVEN PEARLSTEIN, WASHINGTON POST: These kinds of things because they are so large and because they get so much attention, I think call into question whether we want a society in which the very, very top people make so much more than everybody else.

SNOW: Steve Pearlstein of the "Washington Post" asks whether these big profits are a result of the lack of competition. In the meantime, real estate brokers, car salesmen, even a wine salesmen, hoping Wall Street will share the wealth.


SNOW: And rumors have been flying as to how big some of these bonuses actually are. A spokesman for Goldman Sachs pointed out that while the firm doesn't comment on individual bonuses, he said a report of a $100 million bonus was far from the mark -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Mary, thank you for that. Scouring the web for photos could soon become easier thanks to new facial recognition technology.

Our Internet reporter Abbi Tatton is here with our "Welcome to the Future" report -- Abbi.

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, when you're searching for images online, you don't always get what you're looking for. Search "Wolf Blitzer" on Google for example, you'll get pictures of Wolf and Jack Cafferty, even this fish named Wolf Blitzer. Really any image that appears alongside the name.

New search technology from Swedish company Polar Rose aims to change all of that. Letting you search a person's facial features, the new tool uses facial recognition software combined with 3-D imaging to turn this flat photo into a virtual 3-D portrait which is easier to match to any picture. That portrait is used to search through the reams and reams of online photos and recognize the people in them.

Polar Rose's CEO Nicolai Nayhom (ph) acknowledges that 3-D imaging is not completely reliable. There will be false matches. That's why they're relying on user input asking users to confirm the matches are indeed correct. Nayhom says they have strong interest in the technology from photo sharing Web sites, as a way to organize and sort photos online. The technology is set to launch early next year. Soon, you'll be able to ensure that when you search on "Wolf Blitzer," you'll get the man and not the fish -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thank you. I didn't know there was a fish named Wolf Blitzer. But thanks for that Abbi, appreciate it. Up next, should the U.S. military expand? Jack Cafferty with your e-mail when we come back.


BLITZER: Check back with Jack Cafferty for "The Cafferty File." Jack?

CAFFERTY: Have you given any thought to what kind of fish might be named Wolf Blitzer?

BLITZER: A gold fish may be.

CAFFERTY: Maybe a gold fish. The question this hour is, should the U.S. armed forces expand, Ron writes, "Jack absolutely, why not do like other countries do and make all young people, male and female give their country two years of their lives. They enjoy all the benefits of being American so let's make it mandatory for all young people to serve."

Dallas in Sophia, West Virginia, "No, we don't need to expand the military, what we need is people making decisions on when and where to use the forces we have. Iraq sounds more and more like Vietnam. Increase the number of troops there and we'll just get more of them killed."

Kathy in Williamsburg, Virginia, Jack, yes I'm retired military person myself and knew at the time of the downsizing during the Clinton years that we would be paying for it later. Any deployment to any hospital area puts a great deal of stress on the soldiers. Do it three or four times and you're asking for trouble. They're only human and the rubber band has been stretched so far, it's only a matter of time before it snaps."

Chris in Cliftton, Park, New York, "Expand, no. The only reason President Bush wants to expand the military is because of how much it has gotten smaller because of his wrong doings in the Middle East. Bring our troops change. We'll have enough here to take care of ourselves and any terrorist act here."

And George in Crestview, Florida. An overwhelming yes. I was in the army on active duty for 27 years, another 18 as a civilian employee. And I watched as the army went from $900,000 to less than $500,000. There didn't see to be a reduction in missions, just longer hours for the duty day. While there are some really great people serving, you can't just keep running them into the ground as we are doing. I don't particularly agree with what we're doing in Iraq but as long as we're going to do it, we need to add more troops to the army so in a couple of years they'll be more to share that load."

If you didn't see your email here, you can go to, we post some more of them online -- Wolf.

BUSH: Interesting. The president's now ready to expand the active duty army and Marine Corps, right after Rumsfeld leaves.

CAFFERTY: Well, you know, isn't that convenient for President Bush. He can lay off I suppose any negative public opinion on the fact that Rumsfeld didn't want to do it this way. He's in charge as he reminds us almost daily.

BLITZER: We got to leave it there Jack. Thanks very much. Jack Cafferty in New York. That's it for us, let's go to "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT", Kitty Pilgrim's sitting in -- Kitty.