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The Situation Room

THE SITUATION ROOM For August 3, 2007, CNN

Aired August 03, 2007 -   ET


Happening now, they've rescued the ones they could and they comforted those they couldn't save. First responders are now talking about their last moments with victims of the Minnesota bridge collapse.

Working virtually blind, feeling their way through treacherous waters, divers searching for victims of the bridge collapse at great risk to their own lives.

And he's convinced Barry Bonds took steroids. Now he's taking heat from the soon to be homerun king. I'll speak this hour with HBO's Bob Costas.

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

Tonight, a nightmare is getting worse, the death toll rising after the Minneapolis Bridge collapse. Here's the latest that we know. Five people are now confirmed dead. We're just learning the identity of a 51-year-old man recovered yesterday from a tractor- trailer that had been engulfed in flames. There are conflicting estimates of the number of people missing.

Police have estimated up to 30. But the county sheriff now says the number could be as low as eight. Officials say one person feared missing actually turned up safe at work. Officials also say one part of the bridge shifted as it collapsed, the southern span, and that could provide very, very important clues.

The people trying to find the bodies are risking their own lives. Crews are now diving through broken glass, twisted metal, jagged concrete and gas. Let's go straight to Brian Todd. He's in Minneapolis watching this recovery operation go forward. Brian?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, one local official put it best. He said this city has been cut in half. Well, today we were down to the point right where it was cut in half and the recovery work is slow and very treacherous.


TODD (voice-over): From rescue to recovery.

SHERIFF RICH STANEK, HENNEPIN COUNTY, MINNESOTA: It's a terrible mess, quite honestly. We don't know how many cars were up on the bridge when it collapsed. We don't know how victims many were in the vehicles themselves.

TODD: Divers carry out the grim tasks of searching for bodies and sunken cars in the Mississippi River. A mission described by the sheriff in charge of operations as treacherous.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Conditions on the river, even more treacherous than yesterday. We've got the water coming out of the lower lock. You've got the current. You've got the debris. The divers will be taking extreme caution.

TODD: The injured continue to pour into area hospitals. One hundred people treated in the past two days. Doctors say many didn't realize they were injured until the adrenaline rush of catastrophe wore off.

DR. JOHN HICK, HENNEPIN COUNTY MEDICAL CTR.: The forces that affected these folks on the bridge, you know, forward, backward, up and down, you're going to have a lot of muscular injuries in addition to bony injuries to the spine, the neck, and so a lot of folks think you know, I'm OK. I'm doing all right. They're adrenaline surge and they go to bed. They get up the next morning and they're just stiff as a board.

TODD: But they survived. Some knew they would not. One man who was crushed in his car sent a final message to his family through rescue workers.

CHIEF TIM DOLAN, MENNEAPOLIS POLICE: He obviously very, very seriously injured, very -- died, passed away at the scene there. There was no -- he was in a very, very dangerous position to try to get into that vehicle and remove him. They decided to leave him there. As well as several others we knew where they were and we made sure that they were watched through the night. We had people that were assigned to watch them specifically at these scenes to make sure nothing was tampered with.

HICK: There's nothing harder in emergency medicine than actually talking to somebody, and then either having them die or finding out later that they died, it's jus the most powerless feeling in the world. You know I'm glad that in that situation there was able to be a little bit of closure you know provided you know by the person being able to speak and being able to communicate with the paramedics and thoughts that he wanted to pass along.


TODD: But amid that heartbreak and all the confusion over how many people are missing, there is some good news. One woman who had been reported as missing was later found safe and sound at her desk at work. Wolf?

BLITZER: Brian, thank you. There are hundreds of bridges across the United States that have a similar design as the Minneapolis Bridge that collapsed. That design is called a steel deck truss construction. A truss is a ridge of skeletal structure that helps hold the bridge up. You see it here in yellow. It's often based on a triangle shape design. The truss bridge can handle heavy weights and span long distances. According to the Department of Transportation, there were 760 deck truss bridges in the United States as of last December. Two hundred and sixty-four of them are considered structurally deficient. Ohio has the most deck truss bridges of any state, 191.

And of those, 64 are considered structurally deficient -- 54, I should say, 54 are considered structurally deficient. There are incredible stories coming out of the Minnesota bridge collapse. A car plunged into the Mississippi River, quickly becoming submerged, but the woman behind the wheel refused to die.

Let's go back to Minneapolis. Mary Snow is standing by with her incredible tale of survival. Mary?

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf, it really is an unbelievable story, the story of Alicia Babatz. She said that she really saw her life flash before her eyes. She said the fact that she's alive today to tell about it is really a miracle.


SNOW (voice-over): The scars from her seat belt are still raw, 22-year-old Alicia Babatz still can't believe she was able to get out of her car alive.

ALICIA BABATZ, SURVIVED BRIDGE COLLAPSE: I thought I was going to die, leaving family behind. But then when I realized I was in the water, I was still alive. And then it went up over my head and it was like, oh, no, not this way. And I just kind of -- I saw my family.

SNOW: Babatz says she remembers hearing cars crash around her, driving off the bridge and her car filling up with water. She is in disbelief as she watches footage of her from the side of the river, waiting for help.

(on camera): Your car filled up with water. Tell me what's going on at that point.

BABATZ: Again, I thought that for sure I thought I was going to drown. I thought I was going to sink with my car. I had my seat belt on, as you can see. But somehow I -- that's the only thing that I don't know is how I got out. I felt my hand above the water. I tried to get out and I was kind of stuck. I made one movement, and before I knew it, I was on top of the water and I just started swimming.

SNOW (voice-over): Babatz considers herself a good swimmer. She guesses she swam about 20 feet.

(on camera): And were you in a lot of pain?

BABATZ: Excruciating pain, I was crying for help, but there were cries for help all around me. So I just -- there was another guy who was in his car. I didn't know if he was stuck. And I just kept saying, help, I don't know if I can make it. But I made it. And I just made it to his car. By the time I made it to his car, it was a little bit closer to the other side of the river.

SNOW (voice-over): Babatz is looking forward to marrying her fiance Randall (ph) and raising their 2-year-old daughter and says this will forever change her life.

BABATZ: It makes me grateful for every second.


SNOW: And Alicia Babatz, we caught up with her earlier today at the University of Minnesota Medical Center at Fairview, she was treated for a fracture to her back and a concussion. But the good news tonight, Wolf, is that she is home with her family and once again saying that she considers herself just so very lucky.

BLITZER: Lucky indeed. How does Alicia think she got out of that car?

SNOW: That's really the amazing part of this story, too, is she said that she had the windows up, because she had the air conditioning on. So she thinks that perhaps her window or the windshield smashed when her car first crashed before it went into the water.

BLITZER: Interesting. All right, well she's a lucky lady indeed, thank you, Mary -- Mary Snow reporting from Minneapolis. Mary and Brian Todd have done excellent reporting for us over these past couple days. They're always good reporters, but especially good on this story.

Let's go to Jack Cafferty in New York. And I know you'll second that notion.


The best way to deter a nuclear attack on U.S. soil is to threaten to retaliate by bombing Islamic holy sites like Mecca and Medina (ph). Those are the words of Republican presidential hopeful Tom Tancredo. The Colorado congressman says he thinks a terror attack here could be imminent. He said the U.S. needs to quickly find a way to stop it.

He said of a threat to attack these holy sites, quote, "that's the only thing I can think of that might deter somebody from doing what they otherwise might do. There have to be negative consequences for the actions they take. That's the most negative I can think of", unquote. Tancredo insists the harsh approach is necessary in order to prevent a worldwide collapse.

An Islamic advocacy group is calling his statements unworthy of anyone seeking public office in the United States. But Tancredo's campaign says he stands by what he says. In fact, it isn't the first time he said this stuff. A couple of years ago Tancredo received international criticism when he told a radio host you can take out Islamic holy sites if terrorists ever launched a nuclear attack against the U.S. So here's the question. Republican presidential hopeful Tom Tancredo says the best way to deter a nuclear terror attack on U.S. soil is to threaten to retaliate by bombing Islamic holy sites. Got a better idea? E-mail or go to -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Jack. Thanks very much.

In the seconds following the awful bridge collapse in Minneapolis, a man rushes to the scene and becomes an accidental hero.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Immediately to my right, there was a young woman who was yelling that her mother was trapped inside of the car, so rather than go straight towards the river I went that way.


BLITZER: You're about to hear his story, fast-thinking and incredible bravery. Plus, very treacherous mission, search and recovery in the murky Mississippi, we'll talk to the head of the dive team.

And Bob Costas here in THE SITUATION ROOM. Find out why he says he's absolutely 100 percent certain that Barry Bonds used steroids. He's not afraid to say so.

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


BLITZER: Amid the horror of the Minneapolis Bridge collapse there were many acts of kindness and heroism. Greg Bernstein rushed to the scene and followed the cries for help, doing what he could to try to help strangers in need.

Walk us through those moments, those split-second decisions you made when you simply instinctively rushed to the scene.

GREG BERNSTEIN, HELPED BRIDGE VICTIMS: I came down an embankment that was near the bridge and kind of fell out of the bushes. And immediately to my right there was a young woman who was yelling that her mother was trapped inside of the car, so rather than go straight towards the river I went that way, which was behind a large embankment and was able to talk to the mother.

I pulled the window, I couldn't open the door, but I pulled the window out, and the doorframe of the window, and I was able to talk to her, so I just as quickly as I could I decided well she's breathing. I don't see blood pouring. I just said -- you know I asked the daughter to just talk to her for a second and I moved on a little bit farther around the perimeter.

Kind of remembered a triage unit I had taken as a ski patroller, you know, about 20 years ago and it just -- all I could think of was airway, breathing, circulation, imminent danger, move on and the people that I came across I tried to make sure those things were intact and then I moved to the next person. I came to one person who, there was a truck that was kind of upended near him, and I didn't want to move him because I knew his back was pretty severely injured, but decided that if the bridge shifted, which I didn't really know where I was in context to the whole thing, so we just kind of quickly decided we were going to move him out of the way. I don't know if that truck ever fell or not. But I hope Hector (ph) is OK.

BLITZER: I hope so, too. I don't know if you appreciate the fact that a lot of us consider you a hero, even though I'm sure you're much more modest when it comes to the use of that word.

BERNSTEIN: Yes, it -- I'm sure there were people over on the other side that were in the water and dealing with some much more dangerous situations than I was.

BLITZER: Were you ever scared?

BERNSTEIN: You bet. There was gas flowing out of cars and cars smoking near me. And I've seen enough TV to know, you know, bad stuff. So -- and actually the thing I was most concerned about was that one truck and maybe that the bridge would shift. So, as I was moving around I was just trying to make sure I was someplace that at least something easy wouldn't fall on me.

BLITZER: Well, Greg, you ran to the scene. A lot of other people would have simply run away to try to save themselves. But let me just thank you very much for all of our viewers because your instincts, your desire to get to the scene really paid off. And you helped a lot of people in the process. Thank you, Greg.

BERNSTEIN: Thank you.

BLITZER: The body of the fifth person known to have died in the Minneapolis Bridge collapse now has a name. He was Paul Ikestad (ph). All we know at this moment is that he was a 51-year-old tractor- trailer driver and lived in Mounds View, Minnesota. We do know a little bit more about the other four people who lost their lives.

Sixty-year-old marketing director Sherry Engebretsen was the mother of two daughters, adopted from Columbia's infants. Her husband, Ron, says she usually didn't take the I-35W Bridge to come home. Thirty-six-year-old Patrick Holmes was going home from his job as an exercise therapist. He married his high school sweetheart 12 years ago. He leaves her behind, along with a 6-year-old son and a 4- year-old daughter.

Artemio Trinidad-Mena was a 29-year-old Mexican citizen living in Minneapolis. He was a vegetable salesman with four children, ranging in age from 11 years to 2 months. And 32-year-old Julia Blackhawk was the mother of two boys, 8 and 9. She was studying to work in a beauty salon. A friend says as she left for home Julia said this -- have a nice day -- our deepest condolences to all of those families.

Rescue and recovery, the waters of the Mississippi are so murky that divers have to read license plates of submerged cars by feeling them with their fingers. It's dirty, dangerous work. We're going to show it to you up close.

Baseball's all-time homerun record is about to be broken. But would it have ever happened without steroids? It's a question the famed sportscaster Bob Costas is raising. His take on the controversy is outspoken. The controversy surrounding Barry Bonds, that's coming up right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: The I-35-W Bridge in Minneapolis is hardly the only one deemed deficient by inspectors. Tens of thousands of bridges have the very same designation, yet they remain in operation right now.

Let's bring in Carol Costello. She's here in THE SITUATION ROOM. Are these bridges generally safe? What's going on?

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Well you know it really depends on who you talk to. The feds say labeling a bridge deficient does not imply it will collapse. But some civil engineers say standards are too low. And money is to blame.


COSTELLO (voice-over): The 35 West Bridge has been on Minnesota's radar for years, rated structurally deficient since 1990. A definition that hung in the air as First Lady Laura Bush tried to ease the pain here by thanking rescue workers.

LAURA BUSH, FIRST LADY: This just gives me a chance to tell all of you thank you...

COSTELLO: Amidst the comfort, hard questions, like why wasn't the bridge closed to traffic? The Department of Transportation defines structurally deficient as meaning there are elements of the bridge that need to be monitored or repaired, but does not imply that it's likely to collapse. The Minneapolis Bridge was also rated a four on a zero to nine scale with nine meaning excellent. It's a rating that would merit a C or lower in any classroom. Yet more than 100,000 cars a day and some 5,000 trucks passed over the 35-West Bridge. Some engineers feel it's time to improve standards.

CHONG FU, UNIV. OF MARYLAND CIVIL ENGINEER: Always, I would say, you see the infrastructures in the civil engineers, we say, OK, bridges only rank C-plus. And this is not acceptable. But we have to tolerate that because back to the money issues now.

COSTELLO: And money is an issue. In 2003, 27 percent of the nation's bridges were rated structurally deficient. To fix them all, it would cost taxpayers $9.4 billion per year for 20 years. That's according to the American Society of Civil Engineers. The chairman of the NTSB says he believes the disaster in Minneapolis was an anomaly, and drivers should not worry about similar catastrophes. But the tragedy has gotten the attention of federal officials, who say they are reviewing the bridge inspection process. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Something happened there in Minneapolis. We don't yet know what it was. But I can assure you that I will get to the bottom of it. We will get to the bottom of it and we will take corrective action immediately.


COSTELLO: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) immediately. If you're wondering if there is any move to close bridges until safety standards are reviewed, don't hold your breath. We don't know why the 35-W Bridge fell. And it's impractical, there are too many bridges deemed deficient to close them down, because you know what that would do with traffic. How would you reroute it...


COSTELLO: ... especially in a city like Washington.

BLITZER: It would be horrendous, but here's a hypothetical. Could the NTSB investigation lead to a change in that kind of thinking?

COSTELLO: It is possible. But it can only do that as it investigates, and that could take weeks, months or even up to a year.

BLITZER: Yes and they are suggesting it could take as long as a year. Thanks, Carol, very much.

Collapsing bridges, exploding streets, is America's infrastructure crumbling beneath us? And how safe are we really? Our special correspondent Soledad O'Brien investigates, "Road to Ruin, Are We Safe?" That's right here on CNN at the top of the hour, 8:00 p.m. Eastern.

They're risking their own lives to find bodies. Crews diving into the Mississippi River, twisted steel, sharp glass, and jagged concrete everywhere. I'll talk about those hazards with the man in charge of the divers.

And then there's this.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There is no conclusion other than that. That any reasonable person could possibly reach, if you gave him the benefit of every doubt, there is no longer any doubt to give him the benefit of.


BLITZER: Bob Costas is saying that he believes baseball player Barry Bonds used steroids. I'll ask Costas why he feels that way when he joins us right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: These are pictures right behind me of the I-35 Bridge, what remains of that structure, trying to find victims of the Minneapolis Bridge collapse. Divers are basically working blind, carefully probing the twisted debris in the Mississippi River, the risk to their own lives, tremendous.

Let's go back to Brian Todd. He's in Minneapolis. How dangerous, Brian, is this recovery operation?

TODD: Incredibly dangerous, Wolf, compounded by the fact that this is a very temperamental river. Just below me the water is slow moving and shallow, but just behind me at the collapse point, divers are facing much different conditions.


TODD (voice-over): An inch at a time, under swirling, murky water, looking, grasping for submerged cars, dive team leaders now tell us they've identified a few more vehicles, but no victims inside them. Working in teams of three, they can only safely send one diver in the water at once, tethered to the other two. One dive team leader told me there's virtually no visibility. They've got sonar, but they also have to use what they call the Braille method.

CAPT. KEN SCHILLING, DIVE TEAM COMMANDER: If we're able to obtain a license plate off, read that, relay that back to the surface to the investigators for identification purposes. And then they will go around and they will try to breach or gain access to the passenger compartment so that they can search and survey by feel, primarily, you know the whole interior of the passenger compartment.

TODD: The current's not as strong before, since the Army Corps of Engineers lowered the water level by about two feet. The danger now, falling debris from parts of the collapsed bridge above them, even worse the possibility of getting pinned inside a car or under heavy blocks of concrete or twisted metal.

CAPT. BILL CHANDLER, HENNEPIN COUNTY MINNESOTA SHERIFF'S DEPT.: We're keeping the divers out of the heavy debris, so we're bringing them up to the deck of the highway, but we are not penetrating or going underneath any open areas.

TODD: After battling obstacles and currents, finding a car doesn't always mean success.

SHERIFF RICHARD STANEK, HENNEPIN COUNTY MINNESOTA: One of the vehicles is below another vehicle, meaning one on top of the other. That vehicle is crushed and sitting on the bottom. We are not able to clear that vehicle. We will have to do it later, using heavy equipment.


BLITZER: And joining us now, the man you just saw in that piece from Brian Todd, the man in charge of the divers in this extremely dangerous recovery operation, Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek. Sheriff, thanks very much for coming into THE SITUATION ROOM. We've heard some really emotional, poignant stories about some of those who didn't make it but who were reaching out in their last seconds, literally, of life, speaking to some of the first responders. Can you share with our viewers out there what they were saying, these people who were pinned in their cars?

STANEK: You know, during the rescue operations on Wednesday night, there are many hero citizens on their way home from work, citizens who were on the bridge themselves, other people who were trapped or able to get out and help their fellow citizens, just good people all the way around.

It was very chaotic, a lot of things going on, a lot of fear. The people overcame that, helped each other. That truly is not just the Minnesota spirit, but the American spirit.

BLITZER: And -- but because we've heard stories about people who were dying, but were saying things to some of the divers who came out there, some of the first responders. I wonder if you could share with us some of what they were saying.

STANEK: Wolf, I don't know the exact words. But I can tell you that on a number of them, you know, people were asking for assistance. And in one case, a cell phone was provided to someone, and they were able to make a phone call to their loved one. The last call that they made before they expired.

And, you know, that's what happens, and these emergency workers that night dealt with some very trying circumstances, saw a lot. And now during the recovery efforts, we're trying to reunite loved ones with the victims.

BLITZER: In addition to the emotionally trying moments, physically they were deeply endangered themselves. You've spoken to your colleagues, some of your fellow divers out there. What were some of the most harrowing moments that they experienced?

STANEK: Well, I think just if you take a look at the collapsed structure, it's just catastrophic proportions. Cars were dangling on the edge, cars in the water. People were thrown from their vehicles. There was fire, smoke. I got here just, you know, a short time after the bridge collapsed itself down on the river in a boat, watching the rescue operations, participating.

And I can tell you that these folks did some very heroic and phenomenal things, things that we've never seen before. And that truly, you know, speaks to the character, truly speaks to what it is that they were facing. And we're fortunate we did not have more fatalities of that night. We're hoping that the death toll will remain low. But we'll see that in the days and weeks to come at this point.

BLITZER: By all accounts, these are incredibly devoted rescuers. For you personally, Sheriff, what was the hardest moment? STANEK: You know, I think the hardest moment, honestly, was going over on Wednesday night, late into the evening, to the victim assistance center, meeting with the families who then started to gather. And they had some very tough questions about their loved ones.

Again, there was a lot of chaos. They had a lot more questions than I had answers. My job was simply to provide them some solace and comfort and tell them, you know, we care, we're going to be here, we're going to continue our mission, which was to find and account for everyone that's reported missing.

That's what we've been doing over these last 48 hours. It seems like a long time, but I can tell you, Wolf, the time has gone by very fast. It has been very tense. We'll continue on the job until we finish it.

BLITZER: What's the latest estimate right now? What are you looking for in those murky waters?

STANEK: You know, in the last day-and-a-half, we've recovered 12 vehicles submerged that have come off the bridge that fell. Some of them have been totally crushed, others totally submerged.

We continue to look for vehicles that are submerged within the river, check them for victims. And then come the hard task of actually removing the tons and tons of concrete and rebar, debris and seeing what we find under that.

And I'm hopeful, again, that the death toll will remain low. That all we've seen thus far is the extent of it. But I can't be absolutely certain. All I can do is pray for that.

BLITZER: Well, we're all praying together with you. Sheriff, thanks very much for coming in.

STANEK: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: The Hennepin County sheriff, Rich Stanek.

We want to make sure you are aware of a CNN initiative that puts you, the viewer, in a position to try to impact your world. If you want to know how to make a difference in the aftermath of the bridge collapse, you can go to

Tens of thousands of bridges are in bad condition all across the United States. Let's get a closer look now at some of them, starting with Dave Summers of our affiliate WKYC.


DAVE SUMMERS, WKYC REPORTER: Wolf, this is the Interstate 90 bridge. And every day more than 100,000 motorists cross it to get in and out of Cleveland, Ohio. It's a similar design to that which collapsed in Minnesota. It is a steel deck, arched truss bridge. Now on a scale of zero to nine, which is the federal scale, this rates a four, which makes it a deficient bridge. But the Ohio Department of Transportation says deficient doesn't necessarily mean dangerous.

It's harsh climate here in Cleveland. We get a lot of snow. But Clevelanders don't like snow any more than anyone else so we throw a lot of salt, as a result, you can see the rust on the steel beams underneath the bridge. You can see the concrete crumbling.

Of course, motorists are aware of it and so is the state. So what is being done? In 2014 this bridge is scheduled for a complete overhaul. In 2010, the state is going to begin construction on a second bridge right next to it to alleviate some of the heavy traffic on this bridge.

Now what ODOT is telling us is that it inspects bridges around the state once a year, even though federal requirements are once every two years.

I'm Dave Summers with WKYC here in Cleveland -- Wolf.


BLITZER: Thank you, Dave. Let's go to the situation in San Diego right now, here's Sharon Chen of our affiliate XETV.


SHARON CHEN, XETV REPORTER: In San Diego County, transportation officials have deemed 87 bridges structurally deficient. Topping the list is this one. The North Torrey Pines Bridge. The 74-year-old bridge spans just over 550 feet.

Now, in October, Caltrans inspected the bridge. Out of a maximum sufficiency score of 100, this bridge only got a 15. A score below 80 makes this bridge eligible for rehabilitation. Below 50, it's a complete replacement.

It's the combination of age and salt air from the nearby ocean that have corroded these pillars. Now it is estimated 20,000 vehicles use this bridge daily. And while Del Mar officials do have plans to retrofit or replace the bridge, they deem that it's safe for now.

Wolf, back to you.


BLITZER: Thank you, Sharon. There are almost 600,000 U.S. highway bridges. And according to the federal government, close to 74,000 of them are structurally deficient. That means they need significant maintenance, rehabilitation, or replacement. The most recent figures show the nation's bridges are in bad shape.

And we crunched some of the numbers. There are six states where more than 20 percent of the bridges in those states are deemed deficient. Oklahoma leads with 29 percent of its bridges in bad shape, Rhode Island close behind, followed by Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Iowa, and Missouri.

The best bridges, at least in the states, are in Arizona, where only 2 percent are structurally deficient, followed by Florida and Nevada where 3 percent are structurally deficient.

He says it should be obvious.


BOB COSTAS, HOST, "COSTAS NOW": It's incredible to believe that someone who is as meticulous as Barry Bonds is known to be about his workouts and every aspect of nutrition would just blithely take something, put it under his tongue, rub it on his body and not know what it was.


BLITZER: You're about to find out why Bob Costas says he absolutely believes baseball player Barry Bonds used steroids.

And get this, callers are trying to corner O.J. Simpson during a live Internet chat. They ask him clearly uncomfortable questions about his wife's murder. Jeanne Moos with this "Moost Unusual" story. That's coming up here in THE SITUATION ROOM as well.


BLITZER: Steroids and Major League Baseball. Dogfighting in professional football. What's wrong with those phrases? I can think of one sports commentator who's very happy to tell us.


BLITZER: And joining us now, Bob Costas from HBO's "Costas Now," our sister network HBO.

Bob, thanks for coming in.

COSTAS: Hi, Wolf.

BLITZER: Do you believe Barry Bonds used steroids?

COSTAS: Absolutely. There is no conclusion other than that, that any reasonable person could possibly reach. If you gave him the benefit of every doubt, there is no longer any doubt to give him the benefit of. Absolutely he did.

BLITZER: Here's a reasonable person who was on our show last week, Willie Brown, the former mayor of San Francisco, who said this. Listen to what he said.


WILLIE BROWN, FMR. SAN FRANCISCO MAYOR: It's difficult to disprove a lie. I believe he has not used steroids because, one, he says so, and number two, he has taken every possible test and he has passed every test.


BLITZER: What do you say to Willie Brown?

COSTAS: With all due respect to Willie Brown, who is a charming man, that is nonsensical. People who are guilty of things say they didn't do it all the time. He has passed every possible test, baseball had no significant tests until 2003. And then they upped it in subsequent years. Most of the juicing that Barry Bonds did, which is specifically incredibly detailed in the book "Game of Shadows," took place prior to that, as did his greatest seasons.

And he maintained some of the benefit into 2003 and 2004. So the fact that he took and passed tests later in his career, tests which still have holes in them, and there are no tests for HGH, and other possible designer steroids, proves very little.

BLITZER: What about the argument that he has made that, you know, he doesn't know -- he may have inadvertently taken some steroids, but he never deliberately steroids?

COSTAS: Yes. That's what he told the grand jury. And even if you leave that aside, as has been detailed elsewhere, there were other performance-enhancing drugs that there is credible evidence that he used. Plus, it is incredible to believe that someone who was as meticulous as Barry Bonds is known to be about his workouts and about every aspect of nutrition would just blithely take something, put it under his tongue, rub it on his body, and not know what it was.

BLITZER: So if he breaks -- let me rephrase it -- when he breaks Hank Aaron's home run record, does he deserve to have an asterisk after his name?

COSTAS: Well, I don't know that you can put an asterisk in the record book. Because other players who are not as great and did not accomplish as much as Barry Bonds were also users. And I don't know how many of the home runs exactly could be discounted. But I think there's a figurative asterisk in the minds of knowledgeable and fair- minded baseball fans.

Barry Bonds was, through the late '90s, a great, great player. Should have been a first ballot hall0of-famer. I would still vote for him if I had a vote -- broadcasters don't. It's only baseball writers. I would still vote for him because before there was any credible evidence that he used performance-enhancing drugs, he was a truly great player.

But he went from a great player to a super human player. When you take a look at his statistics, and I'm not going to bore you with all the numbers, but he was a lifetime .290 hitter who had higher than .312 once in his career. At the age of 38, he then hit .370, he hit .340 and over.360 in the next two seasons. He had a lifetime slugging percentage, which is basically a combination of power and average, of .556 through 1998. He then slugged over .800 twice and over .700 twice, in a four-year stretch in his late 30s or early 40s. These are numbers that are almost cartoonish.

And it makes absolutely no sense, that a player, no matter how great, could maintain his previous level of performance in his late 30s or early 40s, let alone take such a quantum leap. There is no other possible explanation.

BLITZER: So just to be precise, when he retires, does he deserve to be in the Hall of Fame?

COSTAS: I think so. Because I put him in a different category from some other known or suspected steroid users, because he was a great, great player, if he never took anything more potent than a protein shake in his daily vitamin.

BLITZER: What about Michael Vick? Let's change from baseball to football. There has been some concern he has been convicted in the arena of public opinion. He has been indicted. But he claims he didn't do anything wrong.

The NAACP, president in Atlanta said this the other day, he said: "If Mr. Vick is guilty, he should pay for his crime. But to treat him as he is being treated now is also a crime. Be restrained in your premature judgment until the legal process is completed."

He's charged -- he's accused of being involved in dogfighting.

COSTAS: Well, I would agree with the person from the NAACP about that. The system will run its course, unlike Barry Bonds, who may or may not be charged with perjury, but who is not going to stand trial on all the specifics of what most of us know, or believe we know about him.

This case is going to be tried in a court of law. And regardless of what people are inclined to believe, I think it makes sense to withhold final judgment until this plays out in a court of law. But I will say this, if all or most of what's alleged in the indictment is true, it's terribly damning.

BLITZER: What about the argument that what's happening to Michael Vick happened to the Duke University lacrosse players, and obviously they were proven to be totally innocent when all the dust settled? Is there a railroad going against Michael Vick right now, similar to what happened to the Duke University lacrosse players?

COSTAS: We will see. But there is specificity in the indictment which Mike Nifong never had in his charges against the Duke lacrosse players. In fact, there was exculpatory evidence that almost immediately came forward. The charges were questionable. We'll see if the defense can punch holes in the government's case here.

But it appears, and I underline appears, that this case is more solid than the one against the Duke lacrosse players, which was non- existent.

BLITZER: Bob Costa, thanks very much for coming in to THE SITUATION ROOM.

COSTAS: Wolf, thanks for having me.


BLITZER: And in addition to having the former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown defend Barry Bonds, insist he never used steroids, we certainly would welcome Barry Bonds coming here into THE SITUATION ROOM to answer these questions as well.

Should America threaten to bomb Mecca and other Islamic holy sites? One Republican presidential candidate says yes. Jack Cafferty is wondering if you have any better ideas.

Jack with your e-mail, that is coming up.

And Internet users get their chance to cross-examine O.J. Simpson. There was "Moost Unusual" questions and answers, Jeanne Moos is standing by with a closer look.


BLITZER: Our Carol Costello is monitoring stories incoming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now.

Carol, what do you have?

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Well, Wolf, Ford is recalling more than 3.5 million vehicles because of fire concerns. The company says none of the vehicles involved in the recall have experienced an abnormal number of fires, but they contain a cruise control switch associated fires in other vehicles. Vehicles involved in the recall include the Ford Bronco, Ranger, and Explorer, the Lincoln Town Car, Mercury Grand Marquis. The model years range from 1992 to 2004.

Police in Los Angeles are reporting that dogs apparently belonging to "Mission Impossible" star Ving Rhames killed a caretaker at the actor's home. No word yet on the identity of the victim, who was found dead on the lawn of the house in the exclusive Brentwood neighborhood. Four dogs were taken into custody by animal control officers.

And the Coast Guard says three people were arrested after they were seen in an odd submersible, an inflatable boat near the Queen Mary 2 in New York's East River. It turns out the vessel, if you can actually call it that, is a replica of the 18th Century-era submersible known as the Turtle.

That's a look at what's happening now -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Not something I want to get into. Thanks, Carol, very much.

Jack Cafferty is in New York. Have you ever been in one of those submersibles, Jack?

CAFFERTY: What was it, the queen was approached by a turtle? Was that what she was saying?

BLITZER: Yes, something like that.


CAFFERTY: Kinky. The question, Republican presidential hopeful Tom Tancredo says the best way to deter a nuclear attack on U.S. soil is to threaten to retaliate by bombing Islamic holy sites. Can you think of a better deterrent?

Karen in Michigan writes: "I'll be the brave soul and put this out there, remember World War II in Japan? Answer, point, set, match. Done. Silence."

Sylvia in Denver: "Tom Tancredo is off the wall almost all the time. He is of the same mind as the terrorists themselves, bombing civilian religious sites. He is not playing with a full deck and he is an embarrassment to Colorado."

Gary in Wisconsin writes: "I don't have a better idea other than to say yes, tough talk and action are needed to deter future attacks. The terrorist problem will not fade away. And terrorist groups have no diplomats and no desire to partake in diplomacy. The Pollyanna ideal of some Americans that war is never the answer only works on a bumper sticker."

Jari, who is a U.N. peacekeeper, retired now: "So when U.S. has bombed the holy sites, what other deterrent is there after that? The extremists would have nothing to lose and more to fuel the their anger. It's the most short-sighted and stupid suggestion I've ever heard."

Morley writes: "The only thing I might do with Mr. Tancredo's idea is to refine it a little bit. Threaten to bomb Qum, and Iran will stop being the power behind terrorists. Medina and Mecca are holy to all Muslims, peaceful and otherwise, don't alienate the peaceful ones in order to punish the guilty."

Steve writes: "I'm embarrassed to admit this man is my representative. I think he needs to do some homework on the collective psyche of Islamic fundamentalists. The theme of honor killing and revenge is so among them, violence doesn't stop violence. I think he's just trying to appeal to a macho base."

And finally, Joe writes this: "Tom Tancredo has picked up on an idea I had immediately after 9/11. I call it grab them by their Mecca and Medina and their hearts and minds will follow. Maybe then the so- called Islamic moderates will get their wild dogs on a leash."

If you didn't see your e-mail here, you can go to We post more of them online along with video clips of the "Cafferty File" -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Have a great weekend, Jack.

CAFFERTY: You, too.

BLITZER: Thank you.

It was billed as a chance to ask O.J. Simpson about absolutely anything.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you think it was a bigger feat to break 2,000 yards in one season or slice two necks in one night?

O.J. SIMPSON: I'm having a little trouble, Kevin, hearing you.


BLITZER: There were no guarantees the football star turned pariah would answer any questions. Jeanne Moos standing by with a closer look at a "Moost Unusual" Internet chat session. We'll be right back.


BLITZER: During a live Internet chat sessions this week, O.J. Simpson found himself confronted by some "Moost Unusual" questions.

Jeanne Moos reports.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Want to call in a question to O.J.? OK.


SIMPSON: OK. We lost Jim.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: All right. We lost Jim. Hey, Dennis.

SIMPSON: I think Dennis is gone.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We might have a caller or two, just go to it.

MOOS: Complete with technical snafus, it was live and on the Internet.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: O.J. takes the stand.

MOOS: The head of says O.J. came to them looking for an unedited, unfiltered forum. Oh, it was unfiltered all right. Wait until you hear the first crank call.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you think it was a bigger feat to break 2,000 yards in one season or slice two necks in one night? SIMPSON: I'm having a little trouble, Kevin, hearing you.

MOOS: The head of Market News First was unamused.

ANDREW COFFEY, MARKET NEWS FIRST: First off, it's not a crank question. That's a stupid joke that the caller called in.

MOOS: True, there was plenty of serious conversation about O.J.'s hunt for the real killer.

SIMPSON: There's one guy I think could have been directly involved. But, you know, I've got to wait for that.

MOOS: About that Bronco chase?

SIMPSON: Who knows. I mean, I was on so much medication at the time.

MOOS: Some of the crank callers could use a little medication.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Remember when you were traded to the 49ers?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. Did you kill Bill Walsh?

SIMPSON: I'll tell you, I had a tough day yesterday concerning Bill Walsh.

MOOS: Walsh was a former coach of the 49ers who died earlier this week of leukemia. O.J. kept his cool. It was the head of Market News First who fired back.

COFFEY: Yes, because they're freaks. They're like, the cult of O.J. has arrived.

MOOS: O.J. got no money for doing four of these one-hour interviews.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hi, O.J. I was just wondering, how is your cocaine usage? What would you consider your average usage would be a day?

SIMPSON: I never had a drug problem, or cocaine problem. The only drug that I used continuously over the years was Vioxx for my bad knees and stuff.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hey, O.J., who are you leaning toward in the next presidential election and why?

SIMPSON: Hillary Clinton, yes, she has got my vote. I don't know if I've helped you, Hillary. You probably have no chance of winning now.

MOOS: Don't expect to see that endorsement on her Web site. Even candidates don't face this kind of killer questions. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Or slice two necks in one night?

MOOS: Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.


BLITZER: See you Sunday on "LATE EDITION," 11:00 a.m. Eastern. Among my guests, the NTSB chairman, Mark Rosenker. Until then, thanks for watching. Up next, Soledad O'Brien investigates "Road to Ruin: Are We Safe?".