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The Situation Room

Is U.S. Pressing Pakistan Too Hard?

Aired February 28, 2007 - 19:00   ET


Happening now, does the next attack on America come from the territory of an ally? The United States pressing Pakistan to crack down on al Qaeda, but is it pressing too hard? The Bush administration raises its rhetoric and deploys a pair of aircraft carriers in the Persian Gulf region. Is a war with Iran really so unthinkable?

And a medal-winning Olympic skier raised in the slopes of Colorado reunited with a father who lost him long ago in the crowded streets of South Korea.

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

Is an American ally harboring one of America's greatest enemies? The new U.S. intelligence chief lays out a scenario in which Osama bin Laden's network could launch an attack against this country from bases in the rugged mountains of Pakistan that may have led Vice President Dick Cheney lay down the law this week in a visit to President Pervez Musharraf, but who actually has this upper hand? The stakes are enormous right now.

Let's turn to CNN's Brian Todd. He's watching the story unfold -- Brian.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, that's a question that's at the heart of a lot of tension right now between the U.S. and Pakistan, tension that has some experts warning about the dangers of pushing Pakistan too far into a corner.


TODD (voice-over): Pakistan's leadership under extreme pressure to fight harder against terrorism, now fighting back at America's intelligence chief who says Pakistan is a breeding ground for terror.

MAHMUD DURRANI, PAKISTANI AMBASSADOR TO U.S.: I would like to disagree with them. Why would it come from Pakistan? Why not from Afghanistan? Why not from Iran? So I think these are guesses and this is what the problem is.

TODD: The problem may be made worse by U.S. efforts to make Pakistan get tough. Listen to a former CIA officer who once headed the unit searching for Osama bin Laden. MICHAEL SCHEUER, FORMER CIA OFFICER: If the Americans cut off aid to Pakistan, the Pakistanis stop helping us. It's Pakistan that has the whip hand here.

TODD: Michael Scheuer warns Pakistan may, if squeezed too tight, become a hard-line Islamist nation and it already has nuclear weapons. Pakistan's ambassador tells CNN cooperation works better than criticism.

DURRANI: We win this war, but if we are throwing bricks at each other, we never win this war.

TODD: But what if there's no change in the status quo? Listen to this exchange in the U.S. Senate.

SEN. JACK REED (D), ARMED SERVICES CMTE.: If you had to establish the probability of a successful attack being organized and directed against the United States, would it emanate from Pakistan with this newly revised al Qaeda leadership or would it come out of Iraq?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My belief is the attack most likely would be planned and come out of the leadership in Pakistan.


TODD: At least one major recent terrorist operation did come from Pakistan. U.S. intelligence officials and terrorism experts say the foiled plot to simultaneously bring down several U.S. airliners over the Atlantic last summer was directed by al Qaeda in Pakistan -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks, Brian, for that -- Brian Todd reporting.

Tonight the war in Afghanistan is producing something relatively rare here in Washington, an actual show of bipartisanship. Congressional leaders emerged from talks with President Bush and other top administration officials, sounding as though they're on the same page, even as though they argue over the strategy in Iraq.

Let's go to our White House correspondent Suzanne Malveaux -- Suzanne.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, it really was a meeting that was the first of its kind, we saw the president, the vice president, as well as the leadership, Democrats and Republicans all alike, meeting in this room here, of course, to talk about the war on terror, specifically, Afghanistan.

It's a group that was formed after the State of the Union address, for better consulting between the White House and members of Congress. Now, as I mentioned, of course, it was not about Iraq, controversial subject, of course, but Afghanistan. And really, the mission five years later, a mission that requires more American dollars, as well as troops, and President Bush is asking Congress for some $12 billion over the next two years for that mission. That price tag alone, that figure really reflecting the serious concerns, the problems that the U.S is facing there. And namely, a Taliban resurgence that's expected to get worse with the coming of the spring, a dramatic increase in the number of suicide bombing, as well as troop shortages, and which is leading to some sort of division within NATO itself.

Now having said that, it is a mission, however, that Democrats, as well as Republicans, who I talked to today, say that it is a very defined mission and a defined enemy. One they can get around.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R), MINORITY LEADER: We didn't talk about -- you know, as Senator Lott indicated, obviously this is a NATO mission. They've done an excellent job there. The NATO countries continue to be committed to the effort in Afghanistan, and NATO has a big stake in showing that it can be successful out of area. And so far I think they've done very well.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), HOUSE SPEAKER: The president and the spirit in which he opened the meeting of hoping that we can work together in a bipartisan way was the spirit in which the meeting was conducted and I think a good start to a dialogue with the president that had been absent, quite frankly, in sharp contrast to what is happening in Iraq.


MALVEAUX: And Wolf, as you know, it's far from clear whether or not they're going to be able to get that bipartisanship together when it comes to dealing with Iraq, all of those resolutions on the table very much struggling, the Democrats, as well as the Republicans to try to express some of their frustration with the president's plan -- Wolf.

BLITZER: I wouldn't expect that bipartisanship to last too long, but we'll see. Thanks very much, Suzanne, for that.

Openly gay Americans are barred from service in the United States armed services. The military calls that rule, "don't ask, don't tell". Now, a Marine Corps veteran who made a sacrifice for his country on the battlefield has decided to tell.

Here CNN's Brianna Keilar -- Brianna.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, for the last 14 years, don't ask, don't tell has been the law -- the feeling being that gays in the military harms morale. But now with the military stretched, are the times finally changing.


KEILAR (voice-over): Eric Alva was one of the first to be wounded in the Iraq war when he stepped on a land mine and lost his right leg. Four years later he wants to be something other than just a disabled vet.

STAFF SGT. ERIC ALVA (RET.), U.S. MARINE CORPS: Who would have ever guessed that the first American wounded was a gay Marine.

KEILAR: Back in 2003, Alva thought he lost more, a sense of who he was.

ALVA: I remember you know thinking, you know crying, just thinking you know like I don't want to be like this God.

KEILAR: After months of recuperation and even a visit from President Bush, the Marine staff sergeant came to terms with his disability and retired from active duty, but now Alva wants to be known as a gay man who served his country.

I'm an American who fought for his country and for the protection and rights and freedoms of all American citizens. Not just some of them. But all of them.

ALVA: I'm an American who fought for his country and for the protection and the rights and freedoms of all American citizens, not just some of them, but all of them.

KEILAR: Alva publicly announced he was gay for the first time at a press conference aimed at changing the don't ask, don't tell law, which prohibits openly gay men and women from serving in the military.

ALVA: I ask that you give them the chance to serve openly to have the opportunity to be judged who they are.

KEILAR: There's no indication the Bush administration supports a change. In 2005, more than 700 service members were thrown out of the military because of their sexual orientation. But some are having second thoughts. Retired General John Shalikashvili was chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in the Clinton administration.

Shalikashvili wrote that after meeting with combat veterans he felt, quote, "gays and lesbians can be accepted by their peers".


KEILAR: But even General Shalikashvili acknowledged change will come slowly to the U.S. military -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Brianna, thank you for that. Jack Cafferty is off today.

Coming up, a major presidential candidate making it official -- we're going to tell you who that is and a surprising forum for this presidential announcement.

Is the security crackdown in Baghdad actually working? The number two U.S. commander in Iraq tells us when he expects to know if this is a success or a failure.

Plus, Iran's anti-American president finds a new ally in his defiance. We'll tell you who that is, what's going on.

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


BLITZER: One of the top tier presidential hopefuls has just made the announcement many people have been waiting for. Tonight, a surprise declaration in a surprising place, David Letterman's late night talk show. Listen to this.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: That I will be a candidate for president of the United States.



BLITZER: It's official, John McCain now formally in. Let's bring in our senior political correspondent Candy Crowley and our senior national correspondent John Roberts. Guys, thanks very much for coming in.

Candy, I think all of us knew he was running. We certainly knew he was going to be making a formal announcement. We didn't know he would be making that announcement in the taped David Letterman show that's going to air later tonight, but they tape it earlier in the day.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SR. POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: The forum is unusual. It isn't unprecedented. We also had Chris Dowd announcing on "Imus" -- I believe is who did that on "Imus". But look, what's interesting is the need to do this right now. They're going to do something else in the spring, but they had always intended to wait until the spring to do a formal announcement, if you can call this a formal announcement. The question is how much of this was pushed by Rudy Giuliani's continued increase in the polls.

BLITZER: And I want to pick up with that. John, take a look at this ABC/"Washington Post" poll. Back in January, it's only a few weeks ago, Giuliani was ahead of McCain, 34, 27 percent. But look at this, Giuliani is ahead of McCain right now 44 to 21. He's got almost twice as much support among registered Republicans and independents who lean Republican, maybe Candy has got a point that the pressure is mounting on Senator McCain to do something.

JOHN ROBERTS, CNN SR. NAT'L CORRESPONDENT: Candy always has a great point. I've got to give her this. She always has a great point. I always learn a lot from her. But here's what's also interesting about Giuliani, Wolf, is that he is picking up support among Christian evangelicals. Now this was an area of the Republican Party where people were predicting he was going to have a really difficult time because of his stances on abortion, gay marriage or gay rights. Gun control, he's got a whole another set of issues on. But people didn't think that he would be able to break through that voting block. So now conservative Christians are coming to his side. And if they're coming to his side at this point, that means that either there's a problem with the other candidates who are out there or they're really believing that Giuliani has got a chance to make it. I talked with John Weaver who is one of McCain's chief advisers just on the way up to the sit room here, and he said yes, they officially announced it today on "Letterman", but that sometime in early April they're going to have the big official rollout.

It's kind of unusual as Candy said that they would choose this forum to do it. I had talked with them earlier and they said, believe me, when we are set to announce, we're going to charter a plane, and you'll all be invited to come along and so suddenly now they're doing it this way...

BLITZER: They're moving quickly. We'll watch this story with you guys and all of our team. Thanks very much.

Let's turn to Iraq right now. In Baghdad today, police say at least a dozen more people were killed by bomb attacks. But authorities say some progress is being made in the security crackdown in the Iraqi capital. Still the number two U.S. military commander in Iraq says it will take months before we know if the crackdown is a success. Earlier today, I spoke with Lieutenant General Raymond Odierno.


So when you say it will take months to really determine whether this new security plan is going to work. Can you be a little bit more specific? Six months, 10 months, four months?

LT. GEN RAYMOND ODIERNO, MULTINATIONAL CORPS-IRAQ: Sure. Well, I don't really know -- I really don't, and that's because it's conditions-based. But let me explain why I'm saying that. We could maintain security here; we could have things look good for one or two weeks. That's what we've done in the past. But when we've done that, we've always had some problems in not maintaining it.

So the key to this is being able to show that we can maintain the security in Baghdad over a long period of time -- six, seven months -- which enables the Iraqi government to mature, it enables the Iraqi Security Forces to continue to mature and take control of this. The key is we're doing this jointly. Iraqi-led coalition forces, Iraqi Army forces, Iraqi police -- we stay together until we get the right level of security, and then we turn it over to the Iraqi Security Forces.

I think that will take some time. I don't want to put an exact time on it, but a minimum of six to nine months.

BLITZER: Who is more deadly, who's more dangerous to American troops, multinational forces in Iraq right now, Shiite extremists or Sunni extremists? ODIERNO: Well, throughout the entire fight, it's clear that the Sunni extremists conduct about 70 percent of the attacks, and others, about 30 percent. What has gotten some attention about the Shia extremists is the fact that they've used these explosively-formed projectiles, which, per event, are the most deadly that we've had. There's a lower number of those that occur, but per event, they're more deadlier. So, that's how I would explain it.

BLITZER: And these new explosive devices that are coming in, the more sophisticated ones, are you 100 percent convinced they're coming in from Iran?

ODIERNO: I am convinced that they are coming in from Iran. I believe that -- we have tried to see people replicate them here in Iraq, and they have not been able to do it. The machining required, the materials that are required, we think absolutely are coming from Iran, and you saw the big cache we found just the other day -- almost 140 of these could be produced from that cache that we found.

BLITZER: But you don't know if this is authorized at the highest levels of the Iranian government, or it may be coming in from local leaders or tribal leaders, or what? Is that right?

ODIERNO: What we -- I don't know if it's to the highest level of the government. What I do know is, we believe there's involvement of the Quds force, some relationships that they've developed with some Shia extremists and networks that they've developed over time, and we believe it's like a supply network that's coming in from Iran, of both money and supplies.

BLITZER: If you see -- if you see these supplies crossing the border from Iran into Iraq and bad guys going back into Iran, does the multinational force, the U.S. force in Iraq have authority to cross into Iran to deal with these guys?

ODIERNO: We will not go into Iran to deal with them. What I worry about is I will deal with them inside of Iraq. If they come into Iraq, and we believe they are acting against the government of Iraq, we'll take action, no matter who it is. And so, that's what I focus on.

BLITZER: How many Iranians are being held by U.S. authorities right now?

ODIERNO: I don't know the exact number. We have some in custody. I would leave that up to General Petraeus, when you have a chance to talk to him.

BLITZER: What about the Saudis right now? We've heard that they're providing financial assistance to some of the Sunni leaders, the Sunni tribal leaders, in the al-Anbar province, maybe elsewhere, to try to convince them to get tough with the Sunni insurgents. I assume this is something the U.S. supports.

ODIERNO: We are finding -- we are having some great success right now in al-Anbar province, and it has to do with the tribes. We are working extremely close with the tribes. I think a couple of things they have realized -- I don't know if they're being funded by the Saudis or not. I don't know.

What I do know, though, is they understand that they do not want to be associated with al Qaeda, and al Qaeda-associated organizations. Through the last several months, when they were working with them, in some cases, they found them to be -- they were extremely lethal against their own families.

They raped their children, the women; they punished the children; they would intimidate their families. They would take away any economic ability that they had. And they realized that they could not -- they would not live like that. And they realized that they'd like to come in with the coalition and work with the coalition forces to defeat and go against al Qaeda.

And we've seen a significant movement in al-Anbar province over the last three or four or five months, and it's continuing to move forward. We still have a threat out in al-Anbar province, but we believe now we have a good way ahead, working with these tribal leaders. We're getting -- we've had -- over the last three months, we've had the largest recruiting months we've ever had -- over a thousand each month -- joining the Iraqi army and the Iraqi police in al-Anbar.


BLITZER: And General Odierno also says the U.S. military is closely tracking the readiness of these Iraqi forces. So much of what's going to happen in Iraq with this new strategy depends on the readiness of those 18 Iraqi battalions now deployed or on the way to the Baghdad area as part of the current security crackdown. If the Iraqis are not ready, this strategy presumably will fail.

General Odierno says that seven of those battalions are now between 55 and 65 percent ready. Seven others are at 65 to 85 percent strength. And he insists at least four of those Iraqi battalions are almost at full readiness at more than 95 percent strength. Once again, he says it will take six to nine months from now to know whether this new strategy is working.

Up ahead in tonight here THE SITUATION ROOM we're going to take you inside the threat of war with Iran and whether the U.S. might decide to attack. A military insider tells us what he knows.

And the secrets to a new success for Barack Obama's presidential campaign. Can he close the gap with his Democratic rival, Senator Hillary Clinton?

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


BLITZER: Fredricka Whitfield is monitoring all the feeds coming into THE SITUATION ROOM from around the world. Let's check some other headlines right now. Hi, Fred. FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, Wolf. A federal judge has ruled that accused al Qaeda operative and American citizen Jose Padilla is competent to stand trial. His lawyers argue that more than three years in government custody have let Padilla unfit for the proceedings. That trial is now scheduled to begin April 16.

A toxic chemical spill in the Ohio River between Illinois and Kentucky. The Environmental Protection Agency says as many as 8,000 gallons spilled from a barge that struck a lock wall. Officials say the petroleum-based substance does not appear to pose a serious threat to residents or marine life.

And a small rebound on Wall Street. Stocks gained some of yesterday's heavy losses. The Dow Jones Industrial Average was up more than 52 points closing at 12,268. The NASDAQ and the S&P, rather, also posted some gains -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks, Fred, for that.

Still ahead here, first, it was Afghanistan, then Iraq. Could Iran be next? We're going behind the scenes of the war scenarios being debated over at the Pentagon. Also on Iran, what's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad doing in Sudan right now? The Darfur conflict rages. He's there. Zain Verjee is standing by with a report.


BLITZER: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Happening now, allegations he stashed $90,000 in bribery cash in his freezer caused him to lose a seat on a key House committee. Now Democratic Congressman William Jefferson's new seat on the Homeland Security Committee has cost some House Republicans to question the ethics of House Democrats. Jefferson is calling the rancor, and I'm quoting now, "politics as usual."

The king and the Congress -- Jordan's King Abdullah will address a joint meeting of the U.S. Congress next Wednesday. Statement says the king will discuss the need for peace in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict and the need for stability in Iraq.

And no verdict yet in the CIA leak trial, but today jurors answered a question they had posed to the judge on their own. It concerned one of the counts in the grand jury's indictment.

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

They're getting a cold shoulder from much of the international community, but the leaders of Sudan and Iran today closed ranks in a warm embrace. Let's turn to our State Department correspondent Zain Verjee -- Zain.

ZAIN VERJEE, CNN STATE DEPARTMENT CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Iran's president wants to show that he's not out in the cold.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) VERJEE (voice-over): It's a two-day visit to Sudan, significant for any head of state. Africa's not been a priority for Iran in any substantive way, but President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is there. Experts say he's there in a third world solidarity way. He's been going to countries that are anti-U.S., like Venezuela. Both Sudan and Iran are under strong pressure from the U.S. Sudan over the Darfur conflict, Iran over its nuclear program. So Sudan's president and Iran's president are supporting each other and criticizing the U.S.

PRES. OMAR EL-BASHIR, SUDAN (through translator): The attempts by countries possessing nuclear weapons to deny Iran its right to the peaceful use of nuclear energy reflects a double standard.

VERJEE: Analysts also say Ahmadinejad wants the world to know that he's not alone.

CLOVIS MAKSOUD, FMR. ARAB LEAGUE AMBASSADOR: He probably wants to show that he's not totally isolated. And that he he's having a sort of support on the international level. It is not as significant as he might want to project it is, to his own people.

VERJEE: And he needs help with his own people. Since Iranian leaders haven't liked Ahmadinejad's inflammatory comments like "wiping Israel off the map". And they're giving him a hard time. So he's going on more foreign trips just to get away. The State Department shrugged off Ahmadinejad's trip.

SEAN MCCORMACK, SPOKESMAN, U.S. STATE DEPT. Suffice it to say, the number of countries to which he can travel and try to generate some sort of support for the policies of his regime it's a pretty small group.


VERJEE: President Ahmadinejad will deliver a lecture in the capital Khartoum, and Iran will sign trade agreement with Sudan while Iran's president is there -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Zain, thank you for what that.

The Bush administration has kept up a steady drum beat of warnings about Iran's nuclear program. And lately officials speak of Iran's malicious meddling in Iraq. Now, with two U.S. aircraft carrier battle groups in the region, is there a growing chance the United States could find itself at war with Iran?


BLITZER (on camera): Joining us now retired U.S. Army Colonel Pat Lang, former chief of Middle East intelligence, at the Pentagon.

Pat, thanks for coming in.

COL. PAT LANG, U.S. ARMY (RET.), FMR. CHIEF OF MID-EAST INTEL: My pleasure. BLITZER: Take us behind the scenes, right now. All of the saber rattling, the leaks we're also seeing, the Seymour Hersh article in "The New Yorker" magazine. What's going on, in your assessment, behind the scenes?

LANG: A lot of this, of course, is intended to reach the ears of the Iranians. It's quite a good idea in a lot of ways to make sure the Iranians know the United States is very serious about it, concerned about the concerns with them. And if they're aren't careful they could end up in big trouble with us.

At the same time, I think you have to understand there is intensive planning for how you would execute an operation against the Iranians, going on at the military, as a response to direction by the president. These are contingency plans.

When the White House says we do not plan to attack Iran, what they really mean is, they have not made a decision. But the planning for the operation, I think, is well advanced.

BLITZER: Because in the buildup to the war with Saddam Hussein, in Iraq, for months an administration where officials saying, they are not planning on attacking. And there's been no orders given, or anything like that. When we know the planning had been very, very intense.

LANG: That is undoubtedly going on right now. And the level of ambiguity that's being projected by the administration over this is probably quite productive in terms of getting people in the region in the state of mind in which they would like to talk, if the administration really would like to talk to them.

BLITZER: But I take it, and correct me if I'm wrong, you're hearing from some inside the Pentagon, some top generals, others -- that there's no great desire to actually start a war with Ahmadinejad in Iran?

LANG: I think at the present time, there's a very strong grouping of people at the top, both in the uniform militarily and within the civilian part of the Bush administration who absolutely think this would be a terrible idea. And they insist their voices will be heard. You have to say there's a very active dialogue about this, seeking the attention of the president.

BLITZER: But if the president, the vice president, give the order to go ahead and Sy Hersh in "The New Yorker" says that within 24 hours the plans could be implemented. I don't know if he's right or wrong on that, but if they give the order, these military officers will salute and begin the process.

LANG: Well, there's no reason why an operation couldn't be launched within 24 hours, from the order to go, because it's mostly going to be air and naval business if it were conducted that way. There's no real tradition in the American armed forces of officers resigning, rather than obeying an order they think is wrong. But with this case I think the issues are so great and the pressures are so high, that this under active consideration and that's been mentioned in a few places.

BLITZER: You think top U.S. generals would actually resign rather than go forward and implement a decision like this?

LANG: I think the issue is certainly on their minds. It is, yes.

BLITZER: And what is -- tell me why they would be so concerned.

LANG: Because, in fact, this is -- the United States, as everyone knows, is vastly overextended. And we have a great many more issues to go take care of in other parts of the world, involving the jihadi international terrorists and things of that kind. We really can't afford another war.

BLITZER: Here's what the Pentagon said the other day, even in anticipation of the Seymour Hersh article in "The New Yorker". "The United states is not planning to go to war with Iran. To suggest anything to the contemporary is simply wrong, misleading and mischievous."

LANG: Well, I think that's a prudent thing for them to say. It's what I would expect for them to say. And as I said, what it indicates is the fact that when they say we're not planning on going to war, means we have no intention, at this time, to launch an operation. It doesn't mean that the plans aren't being made, or haven't been made.

BLITZER: Two U.S. aircraft carrier battle groups are now in the region, the Stennis, the Eisenhower. People hear about an aircraft carrier going in, but when they go in, they go in with a lot of support, a lot of other battleships, and destroyers, submarines. That's a lot of power at that U.S. is projecting in that part of the world.

LANG: It certainly is, besides the carriers and their air groups themselves, a lot of screen vessels for the carriers are missiles shooters that shoot surface-to-surface missiles, cruise missiles things like that. They pack a tremendous wallop. Then you can fly sorties from around world with American strategic bombers.

BLITZER: What's the point in doing that?

LANG: I think it has two purposes. The first purpose is to make sure that you have the Iranians' attention and that they're willing to listen to the United States, when we say, in fact, that we want -- we know what we want you to do. We think you should do it. The other purpose is that if all else fails and a decision is made to do something you're in a position to do it.


BLITZER: Retired U.S. Army Colonel Pat Lang speaking with me earlier.

Still ahead tonight, here in THE SITUATION ROOM: How popular is a major African-American presidential candidate with African- Americans? We have some new poll numbers on Democratic Senator Barack Obama.

And might those vitamins all of us are taking turn out to be a hazard to our health? Millions take vitamin supplements every day to stay healthy. But a new study says they might be having -- get this -- the opposite effect. Mary is Snow taking a closer look.


BLITZER: New ups and downs in the presidential race. In a Republican contest, a new "Washington Post" poll shows former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani's lead over Senator John McCain has widened to a 2-1 margin. As we told you earlier here in THE SITUATION ROOM, McCain was officially announcing his bid tonight on the "Letterman Show".

As for the Democrats, the polls show Senator Barack Obama narrowing the gap with Senator Hillary Clinton. He's now trailing her by 12 points. Our Senior National Correspondent John Roberts is back with a little bit more on --

Could we call it an Obama surge?

JOHN ROBERTS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, you can certainly call it a change among a certain voting block. You know, the knock on Barack Obama has been that he pulls much higher among white voters than he does among blacks. In fact, it's made African-Americans downright suspicious of him.

Why is he so much more popular than they believe they are as a community? But there are signs that things are beginning to change.


ROBERTS (voice over): In terms of turnarounds, it's not just significant, it's more like stunning. In December/January, a "Washington Post"/ABC News poll had Hillary Clinton leading Barack Obama, among black voters, 60 to 20 percent. But look at the numbers now. It's Obama out front, 44 to 33 percent.

AMY HOLMES, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: It is a striking turnaround. He's proving himself to be a very formidable candidate. I think right now he still has that fresh face-factor that voters, black and white, are getting to know him. And he's been able to project himself as a man of principle.

ROBERTS: The reversal took even his campaign by surprise. A sign, they hope, that his message is beginning to resonate with black voters. Here is Obama in a radio interview earlier today.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think I would be very interested in having a civil rights division that is serious about enforcing civil rights laws. I think that when it comes to an issue like education, for example, I feel great pain knowing that there are children in a lot of schools in America who are not getting anything close to the kind of education that will allow them to compete.

ROBERTS: While more black voters are warming to Obama, some remain skeptical. The Reverend Al Sharpton, for one. Sharpton, a past presidential candidate who backs Hillary Clinton says, Obama has to pull 90 percent of African-American voters if he hopes to make it.

REV. AL SHARPTON, (D) FMR. PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If I were Senator Obama's campaign people, I would be happy -- and concerned about the latest poll. Happy that he's gone up in the black vote, but I be a little questioning that with all the favorable publicity he's gotten he's still not at 50 percent of the black vote.

ROBERTS: Support among black voters is critical to winning the presidency, but what effect does it have in the primaries? Well, in the first three states, Iowa, Nevada and New Hampshire, literally, none.

But look at this, the next contest, South Carolina, a potential make or break state, 47 percent of primary voters in 2004 were black. In Florida, which may go on the same day, it was 21 percent. And a new primary schedule could add in early February states like Alabama, Arkansas and North Carolina, all with substantial African-American populations.

It could be the most important year for black voters since Bill Clinton courted them to win the nomination in 1992.

PAUL BEGALA, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Barack seems to be the most viable African-American candidate we've put up -- and yet, I think Hillary Clinton is going to fight him tooth and nail for African- American vote.


ROBERTS: Obama's campaign acknowledges that the senator still has a lot of work to do to win over African-American voters. Black support, they say, is not monolithic. But they are encouraged. A campaign spokesman told me just a little while ago, no one could have predicted it would move this far, this fast -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Very impressive, so far. We'll see what happens, John. Thank you.

Up ahead, reunited: How an Olympic medal led one American athlete to something else he'd be looking for his whole life. This is an emotional story you're going to want to see.

And market mania: Is there anything really funny about yesterday's slide? Jeanne Moos taking stock. Stay with us.


BLITZER: Take vitamins, live longer, lots of people believe that equation and regularly use supplements. But there's some surprising new research that's just coming out that may change the way a lot of us think about vitamins. Let's go to CNN's Mary Snow; she's in New York with details.

It's a pretty surprising study, Mary.

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It really is, Wolf. And it certainly seems contrary to popular wisdom. But researchers caution that some anti-oxidant supplements may do more harm than good. The ones in question, vitamins, A, E and beta-carotene.


SNOW (voice over): For Lisa Georgetti (ph) taking anti-oxidants like beta-carotene, is a daily routine. Like millions of Americans she takes vitamin supplements to fight aging and live healthier.

But could these supplements have the opposite effect and be harmful? Some researchers say yes.

DR. CHRISTIAN GLUUD, COPENHAGEN UNIVERSITY HOSPITAL: Beta- carotene, vitamin A and vitamin E, all significantly enter our surprised increased mortality.

SNOW: Doctor Christian Gluud is the senior author of a new report in the "Journal of the American Medical Association". His team of researchers analyzed a total of 68 studies, concluding the only affects they found were harmful. But they also say they can't determine the cause of the increased mortality, because of many of those in the trials they examined had pre-existing conditions, like cancer and heart disease. While they say their findings are solid, critics of the study, including the trade group that represents makers of these supplements, dismissed the results.

ANDREW SHAO, COUNCIL FOR RESPONSIBLE NUTRITION: This particular analysis has some important flaws, almost as if it's a conclusion in search of a method to support it.

SNOW: Representatives of the multi-billion dollar vitamin industry insist supplements are safe and provide benefits.

SHAO: The concern here is that consumers will be unjustifiably confused and alarmed over this report.

SNOW: Some nutritionist experts say there's no cause for alarm. They say that while some people are advised by their doctors to take them. For others --

ALBERTO ASCHERIO, HARVARD SCHOOL OF PUBLIC HEALTH: For some people there's no reason to take anti-oxidant vitamin supplements. And there are many reasons to increase the consumption of fruits and vegetables.

SNOW: But Lisa Georgetti (ph) says she's not fazed by the news. She says firsthand experience of what supplements have done for her is proof enough.

(END VIDEOTAPE) SNOW: So the bottom line for people who take vitamin A, E or beta-carotene, it seems clear, there are two divided camps. Some people swear by these supplements. But several doctors we spoke with today say a healthy diet will provide enough anti-oxidants for most people and that they don't need pills -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, a lot of confusion out there. We'll continue to watch that story, Mary. Thank you for that.

Achieving one dream inadvertently led to fulfilling another for one American Olympic champion. CNN's Sohn Jie-Ae has this remarkable story from Seoul, South Korea.


SOHN JIE-AE, CNN INT'L. CORRESPONDENT (voice over): The resemblance between father and son is uncanny, but apparently not good enough. More than 25 years ago Kim Jae Soo (ph) lost his three-year- old son, Pung Suk (ph), in a crowded South Korean market, and was never able to find him again -- until now.

Through his tears Kim keeps saying, "I'm sorry." His biological son, now named Toby Dawson, is a 29-year-old U.S. citizen, and a U.S. Olympic skier.

TOBY DAWSON, U.S. OLYMPIC SKIER: (speaking Korean) Which I believe means, I've been waiting a long time, Father. And then I told him that I was happy to be able to meet him. And that he was -- that he didn't need to cry, and to be strong, because this should be a happy day.

SOHN: From a South Korean orphanage Dawson was adopted by a couple of ski instructors in Colorado. At the 2006 Turin Olympics Dawson was the only American to win a medal in freestyle skiing, catching the eye of many in the country of his birth, South Korea.

Dozens came forth claiming to be his parents, but eventually DNA analysis would show Kim Jae Soo (ph) to be his biological father. After the tearful reunion in Seoul, the father and son begin the process of getting to know each other again.

DAWSON: I guess I've always grown up with pretty long side burns. Looking at him now, I can see where theses sideburns have come from.

SOHN (On camera): At the press meeting with his biological father, Dawson talked about another issue that was close to his heart, helping other Korean adopted children find answers as to why they were sent abroad, and to prevent others from following the same path.

(Voice over): Dawson says a foundation set up in his name will keep others like him from being caught between two different cultures and not knowing what their biological family looks like. Sohn Jie-Ae, CNN, Seoul.

(END VIDEOTAPE) BLITZER: Let's find out what's coming up right at the top of the hour on "Paula Zahn Now." That means Paula is standing by.

Hi, Paula.


"Out In The Open" tonight, a place where young people are killing each other at such an alarming rate, even actor Bill Cosby has gotten involved. It's happening in his native city of Philadelphia, which these days people are calling Murder City.

Also an Asian newspaper columnist touches off furor in San Francisco by daring to write a story called, "Why I Hate Black People". We'll look at some of the fall out from that, and many other stories "Out In The Open" tonight. Coming at you in just about eight minutes from now.

BLITZER: Paula, we'll be there. Thank you very much.

Still ahead here in THE SITUATION ROOM, we're going to bring you an update on a major announcement in the race for the White House.

And there were a lot of losers in yesterday's stock market slide. It's no laughing matter -- or it is? Jeanne Moos with that, when we come back.


BLITZER: Let's check back with Fredricka Whitfield for a closer look at some other important stories -- Fred.


The battle over Anna Nicole Smith's body is over. An attorney for her estranged mother tells CNN that Virgie Arthur will not appeal today's ruling that cleared the way for Smith's burial in the Bahamas.

Arthur did appeal the first ruling that gave custody of the body to the guardian of Smith's infant daughter. But today a three-judge appellate panel ruled against her.

And former Ohio Republican Congressman Bob Ney heads to prison tomorrow starting a 30-month sentence for corruption. Today he sent an e-mail to supporters thanking them and saying, quote, "Am I sorry for things that happened? Absolutely. And I will pay the price, but I am grateful for many good people in our office that helped the district and grateful for a free nation, the men and women that protect it, and a wonderful constituency in the district that I used to serve", end quote.

Arizona Senator John McCain makes it official, he's announcing on the David Letterman show that he is seeking the Republican nomination and running for president. One of his top advisers says there will be a more formal announcement later on -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thank you, Fred, for that.

As 2008 candidates, like John McCain, join the presidential horse race, they're also joining websites like Myspace and Facebook. But are politicians, like McCain, ready for social networking. Let's go back to CNN's Jacki Schechner; she has more -- Jacki.

JACKI SCHECHNER, CNN INTERNET CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, some candidates might find that it is a little bit harder than it looks. Senator John McCain's e-campaign tried to set up a Myspace account for him. They wanted to use that address They found out that that address was already taken by somebody else who had put some sexually explicit content on the page.

So, the McCain people reached out to Myspace and asked if they could take over the page. And Myspace, I guess, misunderstood. There was a miscommunication from the McCain campaign, they say and they ended up removing all of the pro-Senator McCain profiles on Myspace; all of them off the social networking site.

The McCain campaign takes full responsibility for the miscommunication. They've apologized and offered to help people to set those profiles back up again. Right now, the McCain campaign has 72 friends. We'll see if that picks up, Wolf.

BLITZER: We'll see, thank you, Jacki.

When it comes to losing money on Wall Street, as many Americans did yesterday. Ignorance may truly be bliss. Here's CNN's Jeanne Moos.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): They say money talks, but not the people who have it.

(On camera): Did you lose much money yesterday?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I choose not to answer.

MOOS: But I'm going to take that as a yes!

(Voice over): Some folks were specific.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And I'm down about $10,000 or $12,000.

MOOS: Some were vague.


MOOS: And most were unconcerned.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I didn't see any of it. I just turned it off. I said wait a week, it will be back up again. So what?

MOOS: Some of the headlines were downright scary, especially when accompanied by photos of traders looking like they are about ready to jump out a window. Except for the conservative "New York Sun" which took the glass half-full approach.

When it comes to checking the damage, my motto is don't look now.

(on camera): Personally, I haven't looked.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No, neither have I. Nor did I call my broker in a panic to say, Oh, my god, what are we going to do now? Because it was silly.

MOOS: For comedians, those in the stock market were laughing stocks.

JAY LENO, THE TONIGHT SHOW: Quick question: How many of you have money in the stock market?


LENO: Not anymore!

CRAIG FERGUSON, THE LATE LATE SHOW: I don't even know who Dow Jones is. That's the guy that married Star Jones, I think.

MOOS: One trader told the "New York Post" the market was about as stable as Britney Spears. Even the experts got caught up in it.

(On camera): Did you lose any money yesterday?

SUZE ORMAN, PERSONAL FINANCE EXPERT: Actually, I lost about $20,000 in the stock market. But I gained $20,000 in the bond market. I'm not buying or selling. I'm holding right now.

MOOS (voice over): Some had nothing to hold.

(On camera): It's 400 points down.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you serious?

MOOS: Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Damn, I lost -- their money!

MOOS: You're money?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, I mean -- not my money!

DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR, NEWSROOM: It's 1:30 p.m. Eastern, do you know where your investments are?

MOOS: This guy didn't want know.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No because I didn't pay attention to how much I lost. I only paid attention to what I could buy.

MOOS: I bought Starbucks yesterday, apparently. That's what my broker said to do. And then after the crash happened, he said to go out and buy a latte. (Voice over): It was a day of vente, even grande heartburn. Unless you're blissfully unaware.

(On camera): Do you know if whether you're in sort of balance, or aggressive, what are you in?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't even really know. I think I'm moderately balanced.

MOOS: Hey, can we ask a quick question?

Watch it, Ken.

Did you lose much money in the stock market yesterday?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, I really wasn't -- no.

MOOS: But for rich passengers, it was a stretch hummer-dinger of a day. Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.


BLITZER: That's all the time we have. We'll see you back here tomorrow in THE SITUATION ROOM. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. Paula Zahn Now starts right now -- Paula.