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Defense Secretary Robert Gates Says Iraq Strategy Could Fail But Must Be Given Chance; State Department Says Detained Iranians Do Not Have Diplomatic Immunity; President Bush Will Host GOP Congressional Leaders At Camp David; Mike Nifong Faces Ethics Charges; Senator Hillary Clinton Heads To Iraq; John Burns Interview; Lance Armstrong Interview

Aired January 12, 2007 - 19:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks very much, Lou. And to our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM where new pictures and information are arriving all the time. Standing by CNN reporters across the United States and around the world to bring you tonight's top stories.
Happening now, the Pentagon bosses argue that the new battle plan for Iraq can work but Congress is not convinced. And our new poll shows the American public is not buying what the president is selling.

A stunning new development in the Duke University lacrosse case -- what does it mean for the remaining allegations of sexual assault?

And I'll speak with one of the world's greatest athletes, legendary cyclist Lance Armstrong. Can his heroic battle with cancer inspire others to fight for their own lives?

Plus, a major announcement in the 2008 presidential race -- we're going to have details.

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

The Bush administration deployed its top brass to Capitol Hill today trying to give a boost to its new strategy, a troop boost in Iraq. But there's a growing backlash against the deployment of another 21,000 American forces. The public opposes a troop increase by an almost two to one margin.

According to a new CNN Opinion Research Corporation poll, 66 percent say they oppose the increase, 32 percent say they're in favor. And the public has more confidence now in the abilities of Democrats to handle the situation. Fifty-one percent say they put their trust in Democrats. Thirty-four percent picked President Bush. Not the type of things to inspire confidence in the Pentagon chiefs. But they kept up their push for the president's plan.

Our White House correspondent Suzanne Malveaux is standing by, but let's begin this hour with our senior Pentagon correspondent, Jamie McIntyre -- Jamie.

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SR. PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the Pentagon professes to have high hopes for the new Iraq strategy, but if it doesn't work, Defense Secretary Robert Gates insists the U.S. can't simply throw in the towel.


MCINTYRE (voice-over): In his Senate testimony, Defense Secretary Robert Gates conceded the new Iraq strategy could fail but argued Plan B should not be the phased withdrawal advocated by some Democrats.

ROBERT GATES, DEFENSE SECRETARY: If we talk about the consequences of American failure and defeat in Iraq, then saying if you don't do this we'll leave and we'll leave now does not strike me as being in the national interest of the United States.

MCINTYRE: While a fresh brigade of U.S. troops from the 82nd Airborne Division is moving from Kuwait to Baghdad now, the new strategy won't be put to the test until early next month when the first of three promised Iraqi brigades is scheduled to arrive. As the U.S. flows additional brigades in at the rate of one a month, Gates will be looking at three benchmarks to get a quick read on whether the plan is on track.

The critical indicators will be if all three brigades of Iraqi troops show up as promised -- last time they didn't -- if there's no political interference that frees suspects after they are caught and if U.S. and Iraqi forces have access to all of Baghdad. Gates optimistically predicted that if the strategy shows results he may not send in all the extra troops and could even begin withdrawing forces by year's end.

GATES: If these operations actually work, you could begin to see a lightening of the U.S. footprint both in Baghdad and potentially in Iraq itself.

MCINTYRE: But the problem is success is beyond the control of the U.S. Everything depends on Iraqis doing things that so far they have been unwilling or unable to do.


MCINTYRE: But if the strategy fails, Gates said, honestly, he doesn't know what the consequences are except that the strategy would have to be revisited. And he said in his words the alternatives don't look very attractive right now -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jamie, thank you for that. Jamie's at the Pentagon.

Meanwhile, as officials debate Iraq here in Washington, some lawmakers will be discussing what's happening from Iraq itself. Democratic Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton will be in Iraqi with fellow Democrat Senator Evan Bayh of Indiana this weekend. It will be a chance to access the situation and a chance for the -- for Senator Clinton to address a political problem back home. We're going to have much more on this coming up in a few minutes.

State Department officials, meanwhile, say five Iranians detained by U.S.-led forces in Iraq do not have diplomatic immunity. Iraq's foreign minister says the Iranians were working in a liaison office that was in the process of being approved as a consulate. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack says the building was not a consulate, adding that those detained carried regular passports not diplomatic passports.

The Iranians were seized early yesterday during a raid in the city of Irbil. The U.S. military has said six individuals were suspected of close ties to activities targeting Iraqi and coalition forces. One of those individuals has since been freed. Irbil, by the way, is in the Kurdish enclave of northern Iraq and the incident drew strong protests there.

Over at the White House officials trying to set the record straight about the president's plans for dealing with Iran, as well as Syria. Let's check in with our White House correspondent Suzanne Malveaux -- Suzanne.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, you mentioned that raid that really a lot of consternation over that raid, perhaps just as much as over that as the new Iraq strategy plan. We heard President Bush in his speech in a very explicit way, very aggressive way talking about the struggle with Iran and Syria. And the president simply said that the U.S. would seek out and destroy the networks providing advance weapons and training to U.S. enemies in Iraq.

A lot of political military observers took that to mean a direct threat to Iran and to Syria, that perhaps the U.S. was poised to strike. The Pentagon, as well as the White House today, took very close pains -- really hard pains here to make the distinction here that they are using diplomatic means and they are not poised to strike.


TONY SNOW, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I want to address kind of a rumor and urban legend that's going around and it comes from language in the president's Wednesday night address to the nation that in talking about Iran and Syria, that he was trying to prepare the way for war with either country and that there were war preparations under way. There are not.

GEN. PETER PACE, JOINT CHIEFS CHAIRMAN: We need to take care of the security for our troops by doing the business we need to do inside of Iraq.


MALVEAUX: And, Wolf, we have seen them do that business so far and the Pentagon officials that we spoke to of course say that they will not cross that border into Iran -- Wolf.

BLITZER: The president now, Suzanne as you know, at Camp David. I take it he's invited the Republican leadership to the House and Senate to join him. MALVEAUX: Well, yes, as a matter of fact it's movie night. Though what we understand, this is really a move here to woo and really a charm offensive, if you will, to get the Republicans to try to go along with this Iraq plan. Of course it's being called a social occasion. It's members of Congress as well as their wives at Camp David over the weekend.

But it is very clear the White House, at the very least, wants the Republicans to back him on this or at least smooth over some of those statements that you heard earlier today and yesterday. But White House officials also acknowledge here that the president is not delusional, that he knows this is going to be a very tough sell and that they figure that there are some timetables, some benchmarks where they'll be able to see, determine in a couple months whether or not the Iraqis are going to live up to their end of the bargain. So really what they are trying to do now is simply buy time -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Suzanne. Thanks very much.

This week, by the way, I was over at a White House briefing and I learned that the president, as he's wrestling with the situation in Iraq, he's also reading a book about another difficult war. The book is entitled "A Savage War of Peace" by Alistair Horne. It's about the battle between France and revolutionaries in the former colony of Algeria as it was called at the time.

It describes an unsuccessful war against a bloody terrorist insurgency, an occupation becomes a full-scale civil war between various factions, a costly conflict that becomes very unpopular back home in France as well. And the French eventually, as you know, withdrew and much of the minority in Algeria, the French speaking minority that is, ended up fleeing the country -- the president reading that book right now.

In other news, for months we've heard about alleged rape and scandalous accusations against members of the Duke University lacrosse team. Right now we're following a developing story, a significant development in the case.

Let's turn to CNN's Jason Carroll. He's got the details -- Jason.

JASON CARROLL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, a stunning development in the case. The North Carolina State Attorney General's Office confirms to us this evening that Durham's district attorney, Michael Nifong, has asked to be recused from the case. He has asked for a special prosecutor to take over.

Now, just a short while ago our cameras caught up with Nifong as he left the Durham County courthouse this evening. He would only tell reporters who were waiting for him, I am not talking about the case. You have your sources. Talk to your sources about it.

As you know, Wolf, attorneys for the three indicted players, Reade Seligmann, Collin Finnerty, and Dave Evans, have been extremely critical of Nifong for some time. They say for pursuing a case they feel is extremely flawed. In December, you'll remember, Nifong was forced to drop rape charges against the three players after the accuser decided that she could not say for certain that she had, in fact, been raped.

Not too long ago in an open letter from Duke University, they had asked Nifong to step aside. So they are very happy about this. At this point defense attorneys are waiting to see what North Carolina state attorney general's next move will be -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Mike Nifong gone from this case. Jason, thank you for that.

Let's stay in New York and check in with Jack Cafferty for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: The Iraq war, Wolf, is quote, "being fought on our children's shoulders." That's according to the top Republican on the Senate Budget Committee, and he's right. So far the U.S. has spent about a half a trillion dollars on the war on terror. The Iraq Study Group said the final cost just for Iraq could reach $2 trillion.

That would be more than 30 times what the White House estimated before the invasion in 2003. And unlike almost every other major U.S. conflict in our history, the citizens here at home have not been asked to make a financial sacrifice. In other words, pay higher taxes. President Bush opposes tax increases and is, instead, financing this war on borrowed money.

Maybe that's why the federal debt has increased by almost $3 trillion over the last five years. Not paying higher taxes also means that most Americans don't have to feel a sacrifice at home, the sacrifice that our troops feel on the battlefield. So here's the question.

What does it mean that Americans haven't been asked to pay higher taxes during wartime? E-mail your thoughts to or go to -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Jack, thank you. Jack Cafferty will be back.

Coming up, the road to the White House just might lead through Iraq. At least Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton may be hoping so. We're going to map out the politics behind her travel plans this weekend.

Also, a major presidential primary season announcement in New Hampshire. It will be a first for the Democratic and Republican contenders and for CNN. Stay right here for details.

And Lance Armstrong's race for a cancer cure -- the super star cyclist is pressing Washington to help speed the research along. He joins us right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: As we just reported, Democrat Senator Hillary Clinton is heading to Iraq right now. That she's going to Iraq is not necessarily so surprising. But what is surprising is something very different.

Let's turn to our senior national correspondent, John Roberts -- John.

JOHN ROBERTS, CNN SR. NAT'L CORRESPONDENT: Hey. Good evening to you, Wolf. It's the timing of her trip to Iraq that really got tongues wagging today. Just a day after the president's speech, Hillary Clinton took off for Iraq. Was it a fact finding mission or a necessary ticket punch on the path to the White House?


ROBERTS (voice-over): It's become conventional wisdom for most could be presidential candidates these days. If you want to get here, you've got to go there. And so Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton has embarked on her third trip to Iraq. Her first visit in nearly two years.

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D), NEW YORK: Freedom and democracy in Iraq.

ROBERTS: Clinton will meet separately with Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and President Jalal Talabani. She will receive special intelligence briefings and sit down with the troops. The senator spokesman says the trip provides a fresh opportunity to assess the situation on the ground, but it could help Clinton address an increasingly thorny political problem, her vote to authorize the Iraq war and her generally cautious support for it.

STU ROTHENBERG, POLITICAL ANALYST: This trip does give her an opportunity when she comes back to toughen her rhetoric and her criticism of the president.

ROBERTS: Over the past few months Senator Clinton has turned up the volume, calling for a gradual withdrawal of American troops, urging the Iraqis to take greater control of their country.

CLINTON: It is time to insist that the Iraqis take the lead and demonstrate to the Iraqi people first and foremost that the United States will not be in Iraq permanently, that American troops will not be put in the crossfire of a civil war.


ROBERTS: With Iraq foremost in the minds of voters, almost every aspiring presidential candidate has been to Baghdad. Democrat Barack Obama was in Iraq last January. John Kerry has been five times, Joe Biden, seven. On the Republican side, Senator Sam Brownback spent part of this week in Baghdad. John McCain has logged four trips.

And former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney has been there once. The only top tier candidates who have never traveled to Iraq, John Edwards and Rudy Giuliani. Accompanying Hillary Clinton this time, Indiana Senator Evan Bayh, who recently abandoned his own presidential bid. He's a red state Democrat with a moderate record. Should we read anything into this?

ROTHENBERG: It may be a trial run for the Democratic ticket in 2008.

ROBERTS: Or maybe we're just getting a little ahead of ourselves.


ROBERTS: Maybe, maybe not. Unlike other Democrats, Senator Clinton has not recanted her vote for the war, though she does oppose President Bush's new increase in troop levels. We're going to hear more about her latest thoughts on Tuesday when she and Senator Bayh meet the press here in Washington. She's coming back on Monday -- Wolf.

BLITZER: We'll be covering it closely. Thanks very much, John...

ROBERTS: It will be interesting.

BLITZER: Very interesting. The political race clearly under way and there's an Iraq connection, as we all know.

And tonight, by the way, there's a major development in that 2008 race for the White House. We're announcing the very first presidential debates of the campaign to be held in the lead off primary state of New Hampshire. CNN, WMUR Television and the New Hampshire "Union Leader" will sponsor back to back debates among the Democratic and Republican presidential candidates on April 4 and April 5 of this year.

I spoke earlier with CNN political analyst Donna Brazile and CNN contributor Bill Bennett about the importance of this unprecedented early kick off to a wide-open presidential race.


DONNA BRAZILE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: We have some hot rock stars at the moment, but we also have some good, credible candidates who have not had the type of attention and exposure that they need in order to become top tier candidates, so this will give them an opportunity on both the Republican and Democratic side to see what I believe are some season presidential candidates...

BLITZER: How important -- and I want to ask the same question to the Republican side to Bill -- but how important on the Democratic side is the need for these Democratic presidential hopefuls to show up at an early debate like this?

BRAZILE: Look, I hope they're booking their ticket right now because this is going to be a very important date. New Hampshire is the first primary in the country. These voters will decide ultimately what candidate best represents not just their values but the values of the American people. So I'm hoping that they prepare themselves to get ready and get up to New Hampshire.

BLITZER: What do you think? It's a risky thing for some of these candidates to actually get into a debate with some really smart and articulate opponents.

BILL BENNETT, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: It's moving up. They've got to be there. They're having these private meetings. The public meetings should match the private meetings it seems to me in terms of commitments and positions. Your locution about these things keep moving up. It's like when the White House says mistakes are made.

Who is moving this up? Who is co-sponsoring this debate? Fine with me, but I mean...

BRAZILE: Fine with me.

BENNETT: ... the sooner we find out. This is the most interesting and exciting presidential campaign and consequential that we have seen in a very long time...

BLITZER: Because usually there's a president, a former president...


BLITZER: ... vice president...

BRAZILE: Wide open.

BLITZER: ... or somebody who is going to be running...

BENNETT: But how are you going to pick them by April? What's going to be the criteria? That's going to be really interesting.

BRAZILE: Well I would hope that someone who has filed with the FEC. That's an important criterion.


BLITZER: Real candidates who actually show up...

BRAZILE: Absolutely.

BENNETT: Absolutely. None of this exploratory stuff. Real candidates.

BLITZER: And we'll give them some time...


BLITZER: ... to make their respective cases...

BRAZILE: And it's a good time of the year, April.

BLITZER: Early April in New Hampshire.

BRAZILE: A lovely time of the year.


BLITZER: Beautiful state indeed guys. Thanks very much.

BENNETT: Thank you.


BLITZER: Donna Brazile and Bill Bennett are part of the best political team on television. And don't forget, mark your calendars. The first 2008 Democratic and Republican presidential debates in New Hampshire on April 4 and April 5 right here on CNN.

Up ahead tonight right here in THE SITUATION ROOM, new developments concerning the five Iranians who were detained by U.S.- led forces in Kurdish control northern Iraq. I'll speak with Pulitzer Prize winning journalist John Burns of "The New York Times" about this highly controversial situation.

And it's among every parent's worst nightmare. Two boys go missing, one since 2002. Tonight there are new developments in this story on these two boys from Missouri. The boys were found. Yes, they've turned up alive. This is truly an amazing story. We'll share it with you. We'll be right back.


BLITZER: Turn to Carol Costello for some other important stories making news. Hi, Carol.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, Wolf. Hello to all of you. A double miracle in Missouri. And I'm talking miracle. Officials in Franklin County Missouri say two missing boys have been found alive. One of them vanished in 2002 when he was 11 years old. He's now 15. His parents who have devoted their lives, even went broke looking for the little boy, they are now with him.

Both of those boys were found in an apartment in Kirkwood, Missouri. A 41-year-old man has been charged in the case. Law enforcement not giving much more information at this point. But officials do say both boys appear to be OK, but they still need to be checked more thoroughly. And as I said, both boys have been united with their parents.

Cold and icy -- that's what millions of Americans are facing tonight. It includes a major ice storm stretching from Texas to Missouri. It's already blamed for at least three deaths and it's forecast to spread over the weekend. Many people opted to stock up on groceries and supplies ahead of time, leaving store shelves in some areas almost bare.

Two hundred and fifty million dollars, wow. That's how much English soccer star David Beckham is getting for his five-year deal with the Los Angeles Galaxy major league soccer team. Beckham says he's coming to be part of the team and to raise soccer's profile in the United States, not with an eye on a Hollywood career. Beckham will play his first game for L.A. sometime in July or August. That's the latest from here, Wolf.

BLITZER: And I'm still excited about those two little boys that were found in Missouri. That is an amazing story. It's not often we can report good news. And in this particular case, Carol, things turned out.

COSTELLO: Yes. Yes. You know the interesting thing is, is his parents have developed a Web site. They've devoted their lives to finding other missing children. They've never given up the hope that their son is still alive and tonight suddenly he's found.

BLITZER: You're right, miracles do happen. Thanks very much, Carol, for that.

Just ahead, is Iraq's prime minister on his way out? We'll go to Baghdad for an update on important developments there from Pulitzer Prize winning reporter John Burns of "The New York Times".

Plus, my interview with cycling champion and cancer survivor Lance Armstrong. Find out why he's so frustrated right now with Washington and what he wants to change.

Stay with us. You're THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM where new pictures and information are arriving all the time. Happening now, a stunning request in a highly controversial case. The Duke University lacrosse team sexual assault case, that is. North Carolina's attorney general says the district attorney has asked to be removed from the case. Michael Nifong is not commenting publicly, but he does face ethics charges that could lead to his disbarment.

Also we're tracking what House Democrats have done and plan to do in their first 100-hour agenda. Today they passed a bill on Medicare. It would require the federal government to negotiate drug prices with drug companies to help make prescription medications cheaper.

And CNN remains the place to be for all things political. And now a major announcement. This April we'll be partners in the first presidential debates of the primary season along with WMUR TV and the New Hampshire "Union Leader" newspaper. Those debates taking place in New Hampshire.

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

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is headed to the Middle East where she'll make the rounds pushing the president's plan for Iraq. But that plan is not exactly being celebrated in the Iraqi capital.

And joining us now from Baghdad, the New York Times Pulitzer prize winning correspondent, John Burns. John, the spokesman for Nouri al Maliki, the prime minister of Iraq, had a rather, in your words, tepid response to the president's address to the nation the other night. "What is suitable for our conditions in Iraq," he said, "is what we decide, not what others decide for us." Since so much of the new U.S. strategy depends on cooperation from Nouri al Maliki, what's going on?

JOHN BURNS, NEW YORK TIMES: Well, it's pretty clear that there are contending American and Iraqi agendas here. The United States is looking for a road home, which requires at least a minimal fulfillment of American objectives here.

To accomplish that, they've got to have some kind of healing process amongst Iraqi politicians of different ethnic and religious backgrounds.

Mr. Maliki, on the other hand, is a tribute of Shiite religious interest and as he would see it, of the 60 percent of the population that are Shiites who have waited a thousand years for this opportunity to rule here and they do not intend to be deflected or, if you will, constrained by the United States.

So I think what we're going to see here is a growing contest of wills. And I wouldn't be at all surprised if the loser in that is Mr. Maliki. There's much talk across the river in the Green Zone about easing him out over the next few weeks or months.

So in other words, Nouri al Maliki could be in trouble unless he delivers. Bottom line, do you think he has the guts to go stand up against Muqtada al Sadr and the Mahdi Army, this Shiite militia in Sadr City?

BURNS: You know, I don't think it's a question of guts, I think all these people who went through the fire with Saddam, they're all former exiles, as you know. All of them, Mr. Maliki included, lost large proportions of their family to Mr. Saddam Hussein's gulag.

I think it's a question of will and whether or not Maliki -- Nouri al Maliki can break with 30 or 40 years of commitment in the Shiite religious cause. There's no sign to date that he's been prepared to do that. He makes the right speeches.

He sat across the table from President Bush and said all the right things. He did right from the start when he took office eight months ago. He just hasn't done it. He continues to look for ways around it.

Indeed, at the extreme, he has intervened to persuade the Americans to release captured Iraqis who the American military command has designated as death squad leaders in the Shiite interest. So the signs are not good.

And I think one interpretation you can make of the Bush plan is they've built in assumption in, that Maliki will not fulfill those pledges. He won't meet the bench marks. And the Americans have been working intensively behind the scenes to create a kind of parallel political movement, a moderate political movement, based on factions within the existing Iraqi parliament that could be used as a vehicle for a parliamentary coup against Mr. Maliki.

BLITZER: Fascinating material.

One related question, this U.S. military operation in the northern part of the country in the Kurdish area against these Iranian officials, supposedly diplomats, it's causing some heartburn in the Iraqi government among the Kurds. What's going on?

BURNS: Well, I'm in Baghdad. It happened in Irbil 150 miles north of here. But it seems to me from everything I know about it that it's the straw in the wind. Whatever else it may mean, and clearly the Iranians have been up to no good here. They've been supplying sophisticated weapons, including armor penetrating missiles and rockets to insurgents here. They've been helping to kill American soldiers.

Whatever else it may mean, I think it's part of the no more mister nice guy attitude. I think when you see General Petraeus come here as the new U.S. military commander. There's going to be a lot less patience on the part of the American military command and the American embassy here.

I think there's going to be a lot less niceness about Iraq's so- called sovereignty. I think the line is going to be this is the last chance. We're bringing in 20,000 of our troops. We know more of our boys are going to die. This time we expect you to perform, and we are not going to sit by and see Iranian diplomats or any other kind of Iranian agent in Iraq in effect arm, supply, advise, finance our enemy. So I think it was a signal event.

BLITZER: John Burns, thanks so much for your reporting. John Burns in Baghdad. Appreciate it.

BURNS: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Senator John McCain is rushing to President Bush's defense today on Iraq. In a Senate hearing, the likely GOP presidential contender and supporter of a troop buildup, tried to turn the tables on war critics.

He says Democrats have a responsibility to tell the American people what the consequences of an early withdrawal -- what that would be.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, (R) ARIZONA: Do they not fear Iranian, Saudi and Turkish involvement in Iraq, a wider regional war, a haven for terrorists, a humanitarian catastrophe? Do they truly believe that we can walk away from Iraq?


BLITZER: Democratic party chairman Howard Dean, isn't buying McCain's argument at all. I spoke with Howard Dean right here in THE SITUATION ROOM earlier today and asked him to respond to Senator McCain.


HOWARD DEAN, DNC CHAIRMAN: He sounds very much like Richard Nixon, you know, just stay a little longer, stay a little longer. We'll stay long enough to lose another 5,000 or 10,000 people. It still won't change anything. We never should have gone there in the first place. Senator McCain bears some responsibility for supporting the president when we went. His prescription for getting out is no prescription for getting out.

The American people have already rejected the stay the course position of Senator McCain and of President Bush. We need new leadership in this country and that's what the presidential election is going to be about in 2008.


BLITZER: Governor Dean also acknowledges, though, that Democrats are still debating among themselves a way to bring the troops home in what he calls is a thoughtful, careful way.

Still ahead tonight, Jack Cafferty wants to know what does it means that Americans haven't been asked to pay higher taxes during wartime? Jack with your e-mail. That's coming up in the Cafferty File.

Plus, Lance Armstrong is in a new uphill battle, he's taking on the United States Congress, the administration. He's with us next right here THE SITUATION ROOM. We'll tell you what's going on.


BLITZER: Lance Armstrong knows what it takes to overcome the odds and achieve victory. He beat cancer and went on to win the Tour de France a record seven times. But now as an advocate for increased funding for cancer research and treatment, he's facing an entirely new battle. My interview with Lance Armstrong, that is coming up in a moment. First some background.

We'll turn to CNN's Carol Costello. She's in New York with Armstrong's latest fight for funding -- Carol.

COSTELLO: Lance Armstrong, cancer survivor, world champion, father, celebrity, politician?

Yes, Armstrong is becoming quite the political player, to the delight of cancer researchers everywhere.



COSTELLO (voice-over): Call it a full court press. He's been on TV, an American super athlete who successfully fought cancer providing inspiration for others. And has he ever. His yellow "live strong" plastic bracelets, a symbol of cancer awareness, became so wildly popular, they spawned a whole fashion trend.

But Armstrong is more than just an inspirational figure. He's become a full-time lobbyist for cancer research, able to get the ear of the big guy himself, President Bush, telling him face to face that funding for cancer research is coming up short, something that doesn't please everyone.

DR. RICHARD DARLING, THE FAIR FOUNDATION: Lance Armstrong's efforts are laudable to bring attention to cancer. But his statements that the funding for cancer is not -- that the funding is not fair is not factual.

COSTELLO: But Armstrong and the American Cancer Society don't agree, saying funding for next year has been cut 30 percent because cancer isn't sexy.

ARMSTRONG: When you come along and you talk about cancer and talk about funding, it's not, for lack of a better word, it's not sexy anymore. But, you know, we can all remember the frenzy around the bird flu. We can all remember the frenzy around SARS. People were freaking out. But what we need now is we need people to re-engage in the fight against cancer.

COSTELLO: And that means an Armstrong-led grassroots effort at making the Feds re-engage, like this one on Capitol Hill back in September.

But again those critics, who say celebrity clout sometimes clouds the issue, directing money where it doesn't deserve to go.

Take a look. According to the National Institutes of Health, $5.6 billion federal goes toward cancer research. That compares to $2.3 billion for cardiovascular disease, which kills nearly twice as many people in this country, and $1.1 million for diabetes, a growing health care crisis. And as for HIV-AIDS research, that clocks in at $2.9 billion.

DARLING: We are calling for a redistribution of some of that 10 percent that now goes to HIV.

COSTELLO: But the American Cancer Society and Armstrong say it's not a contest. There is no denying this: 1.3 million Americans are diagnosed with cancer every year.


COSTELLO: And, Wolf, just to show you how much moxie Mr. Armstrong has, when he was biking with the president, he looked over and asked the president for a billion dollars -- Wolf.

BLITZER: That's moxie. Thanks very much, Carol, for that.

So can the Tour de France champion win this uphill race and get the federal government to increase cancer funding?


BLITZER: And joining us now is Lance Armstrong.

Lance, thanks very much for coming in. Thanks for what you're doing.

ARMSTRONG: Absolutely. Thanks for having me, Wolf.

BLITZER: You wrote a piece on this week. It's got an incredible number of hits. Among other things you said is this. "What are we going to do to effectively fight cancer? Millions of Americans with cancer are asking, 'I'm not known for my patience when it comes to cancer, I hope you aren't, either.'"

What's going on? Tell us what your new initiative is all about.

ARMSTRONG: Well, it's -- you know, it's really a 10-year initiative for me. I mean, I was diagnosed more than 10 years ago. And, you know, looking back to that day, if you just said to me at the time, you know, what's cancer going to look like 10 years from now, I probably wouldn't have guessed that it looks the way it does today.

You know, having said that, we've had success stories. I mean, I'm obviously sitting here, came back to win seven tours. You know, there's 10 million cancer survivors in this country.

But the fact of the matter is that we lose 600,000 American lives every year to cancer, and so, you know, that is a huge number. And if that happened on one single day in an act of terrorism, this country would go absolutely crazy.

So, you know, obviously it doesn't happen in one day, but it is -- you know, that breaks down to 1,500 Americans every day. So a 9/11 every two days.


BLITZER: So what do you want the government to do to try to deal with this problem?

ARMSTRONG: Yes, and I just want to be clear. I'm not -- I don't want to get in and start criticizing the government and the administration.

I do think that -- ultimately, I think the onus falls on the American people. I mean, we the citizens, have to sit down or stand up and say, listen, this is what matters to us. Is it terrorism, is it education, is our healthcare, is it cancer research, is it funding, what is it?

And ultimately we're the ones who have to stand up and say this is what we care about, this is what we're voting for, and we would like a change. And, you know, to me it's an old issue and it -- and again, it's our responsibility to stand up and say, you know what? We care about it, we want to make a difference and ultimately we want to end the fight against cancer.

BLITZER: What do you say to those who argue, you know what, there's a limited pot out there, there is a certain amount of money, X amount of money. If you devote more to cancer research, automatically that means less is going to go to heart disease or diabetes or some of the other major killers in the United States?

ARMSTRONG: Yes, I'm very realistic and know that this is a competitive issue. Not only are we competing against a defense budget that's strapped, but we also compete, as you said, against heart disease, diabetes, AIDS, all the other issues that fall under the umbrella of the NIH but I think that we have to look at the ones that are the deadliest to this country.

And even, Wolf, just taking it a step farther, look, we've done a lot of work in cancer, and let's just say we lose 600,000 lives a year. Two hundred thousand of those we could cure today just applying what know and what we've already paid for, what we've already researched and what we've already discovered.

So let's save a full third of these American lives and then let's go for the last two thirds with an increase in leadership and funding and research.

BLITZER: I want to quote to you what Hamilton Jordan -- he was the White House chief of staff under former President Jimmy Carter -- what he said in "Sports Illustrated," get your reaction. Almost -- and he's a cancer survivor, Hamilton Jordan himself.

"Almost half the people alive today will have cancer in their lifetimes. That's a damned epidemic. And what are we doing about it? If you went back and added all the budgets for the National Cancer Institute over the past three decades, we spent as much money on cancer as we spend in Iraq on nine months."

Two billion dollars a week we're spending in Iraq right now. Is that an apt comparison?

ARMSTRONG: Well, I think Hamilton is probably pretty close to accurate when it comes to the sheer numbers and I was watching a program the other night and you realize that the efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan are more than a million dollars every five minutes.

And listen, I'm not here to say that's right or that's wrong. This is basically like a household. And you've got the mom and the dad and the income that comes in and then after that you've got to buy food, you've got to pay the energy bills, you've got to pay for your gasoline.

And at the end of the day you have what you have left and maybe you get to take a vacation.

So our little country club - or this great country is just that. We have a budget to manage and under that we have to pick and choose how we spend the money but, again, it's up to us, the people, to say, you know what, cancer just shouldn't be this way. It's such an exciting time scientifically, let's go out and do the easy things right now.

Let's continue to seek the best leadership, fund the most promising young scientists out there, the guys that are starting to turn away from basic science right now, and give these guys money and give them attention.

BLITZER: Fair enough. Lance Armstrong, thanks for your good work. Appreciate you coming in.

ARMSTRONG: Thank you.


BLITZER: And this note: Lance Armstrong teams up with CNN chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta for a cancer special. "SAVING YOUR LIFE" airing Saturday and Sunday nights at 8:00 p.m. Eastern, something you're definitely going to want to see, especially if you or someone you love has cancer.

Up ahead, Jack Cafferty wants to know, what does it mean that Americans haven't been asked to pay higher taxes during wartime? Jack is standing by with "The Cafferty File."

And what can politicians learn from animals? After a week of intense partisan bickering, CNN's Jeannie Moos has a few ideas. Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


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

CAFFERTY: The question this hour, Wolf, what does it mean that Americans haven't been asked to pay higher taxes during wartime? First time in 150 years.

Burt in Iowa City, Iowa: "It means the national debt is soaring which will inevitably lead to higher interest rates. And the same people getting rich gouging the tax payers with government contracts today will be gouging us again in a few years, loaning our money back to us at 13 percent interest."

David in Shreveport, Louisiana: "I think it means President Bush is trying to get support any way he can. Not asking us to pay higher taxes is about the only way he has left. I support paying higher taxes when the situation calls for it. If the sacrifice is OK for our soldiers, it should be OK for us."

Sandy in Tampa: "We're not paying higher taxes during wartime simply because the president would be impeached in a moment for hosing the American taxpayer to fund his folly. Higher taxes will come when he's out of office and we have to play the bill for his little game of G.I. Joe."

Jack: "Remember, we don't have to pay for the war. The Bush administration sat in front of Congress and said the war would be paid for with the Iraqi oil. Don't you remember?" Brian in San Diego: "Oh, I remember that. That's the old victory tax. The problem is this time, they'll be no victory to tax. Either that, Jack, or you and I are the only ones old enough to remember that."

If you didn't see your e-mail here, you can go to where you can read more of these online -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Jack, good idea. Have a great weekend. Thanks very much.

Let's stay in New York, find out from Paula what's coming up in the top of the hour -- Paula.


We're going to shine a light on America's hidden secrets, bringing intolerance out in the open. Tonight we're covering breaking news in an assault case that has brought racial divisions at Duke University and the surround community out in the open. And now the district attorney says he wants off that case. Why? We'll explore that tonight.

We're also covering the breaking news out of Missouri where two missing boys, one who hasn't been seen since 2002, have just turned up alive. It is an absolutely incredible story.

The parents, Wolf, never giving up hope. And we will have all the details coming at you just about six minutes from now.

BLITZER: I think I speak for all of us, Paula, when I say we're very, very happy for those parents and those boys. Thank you very much.

Coming up here in THE SITUATION ROOM, lessons from a lion could go a long way right here in Washington. CNN's Jeanne Moos with that story when we come back.


BLITZER: Here's a look at some of the hot shots coming in from our friends at the Associated Press.

A peace activist talks with Joint Chiefs Chairman Peter Pace and Defense Secretary Robert Gates in Baghdad.

A man walks to a gas station with canisters to fill with heating oil.

A militant show us off an Israeli surveillance drum that crashed in Gaza.

And in Atlanta, a 4-month-old panda makes her public debut. Some of tonight's hot shots, pictures often worth 1,000 words.

Politicians, meanwhile, might learn a thing or two from that panda.

Here's CNN's Jeanne Moos.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): When Condoleezza Rice walked in to be grilled by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee about Iraq.

CONDOLEEZZA RICE, SECRETARY OF STATE: No, I don't think I ever said it was going great, Senator.

MOOS: It was a little like walking into the lion's den.

SEN. CHUCK HAGEL (R), NEBRASKA: To sit there and say that, Madam Secretary, that's just not true.

MOOS: Well, maybe not this lion's den. We were so blown away by this cross-species embrace that we thought it might offer hope to different species of politicians.

SEN. RUSS FEINGOLD (D), WISCONSIN: That's not what I asked. I asked if we're better off..

MOOS: Maybe they would be better off like Jupiter the lion and his caretaker. The lion sure looks like a great kisser, throwing back his head with abandon, eyes half closed. The woman runs an animal shelter in Colombia, and describes the embrace this way.

ANA JULIA TORRES, VILLA LORENA ANIMAL SHELTER (through translator): I say that this hug is the most sincere one that I have received in my life.

MOOS: And since we're holding up real animals as role models for political animals in Washington...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The House will be in order.

MOOS: ... if you can teach a walrus at SeaWorld to do push-ups, it shouldn't be hard to train House members to behave.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The house will be in order.

MOOS: Sit down. Make that sit-up. The Seahoof (ph), the 29- year-old walrus may end up with better abs than Representative Barney Frank. The animals can likewise teach those of us in the press a thing or two. For instance, Zoo Atlanta's 4-month-old panda cub had her press preview Friday.

In Washington, the press has a field day over a politician's downfall. But when a panda cub falls down, even the media show compassion, though the fall is still what ends up on the news.

(on camera): We noticed one other parallel. Zoo Atlanta's panda-cam has a lot in common with C-SPAN. You'll notice not much happens most of the time. (voice-over): But unlike the napping panda, the new Congress is vowing to get things done.

At the Armed Services Committee hearing on Iraq, a protester introduced herself to the general who's the Joint Chiefs with no war on her back and out of Iraq on her front. They had a brief, non- hostile exchange. They said politics make strange bedfellows but not this strange.


MOOS: Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.


BLITZER: Thanks, Jeanne. Among my guests on "LATE EDITION" this Sunday, the foreign minister of Iraq, Hoshyar Zebari. "LATE EDITION" airs 11:00 a.m. Eastern.

Let's go to Paula in New York -- Paula.