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The Situation Room

First Look Inside Utah Mine; Military on Hurricane Alert; Karl Rove Resigns

Aired August 13, 2007 - 19:00   ET


JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: And happening now, new pictures from inside the caved-in mine in Utah. A week after six miners were trapped, a crew armed with cameras and drills only comes up with clues.
Also this hour, shamed into suicide. A toy recall proves deadly with pressure building on China to make its products safe.

And robots armed and dangerous, could they be the U.S. military's secret weapon in Iraq?

Wolf Blitzer is off today. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

For the first time tonight we're getting a look deep inside the Utah mine where six men have been trapped for more than a week 1,500 feet down. Engineers will drill a third hole to try again to find the missing miners as that camera shoot may offer some cause for hope but also more concern.

CNN's Brian Todd is in Huntington, Utah.

Brian, where do things stand at this hour?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John, a day of real contradictions here. At the same time that officials are showing progress in this search, like spotting a trapped miner's tool bag, they're also very upset that this rescue effort has not gone faster.


TODD (voice over): A slow grind toward the six missing miners has rescuers and officials frustrated.

BOB MURRAY, PRESIDENT & CEO, MURRAY ENERGY: It's heartbreaking. It's actually heartbreaking that we haven't found them alive.

TODD: They have found a chamber more than 300 feet from where the miners may be trapped, captured by a special camera lowered into a drilled hole.

ROBERT MOORE, V.P. MURRAY ENERGY GROUP: Here you can see the roof is intact and competent. Again, it's holding.

TODD: A third hole was to be drilled toward a possible chamber where rescue teams believed the miners might have retreated if they survived the collapse a week ago. But that hole took most of the day to get started because heavy machinery had to be moved.

Why can't rescue teams drill several holes simultaneously?

MURRAY: The drilling rigs are sitting on a very steep mountainside. We have to build the roads for each drill hole. And you can have that hole down by the time you could get another drill rig up there. There's no advantage to it at all.


TODD: But they still intend to drill more holes, including a fourth that's in the planning stages right now. And Murray Energy CEO Bob Murray points to three things that he says are reasons to hold out hope.

He says the roof walls are holding up, essentially the ceilings of these chambers and several key pockets holding up. He says there is breathable air down there in some key areas and he says there is drinkable water in some very important areas of this mine -- John.

KING: And so Brian, how is the digging progressing this late afternoon, your time out there in Utah?

TODD: That's another part of this that's very frustrating for officials here. It's going very, very slowly. They get set back by so-called bumps in the earth. The earth's shifting. They're about 650 feet in from where they started. That's in eight days' time.

KING: Brian Todd for us on the scene in Huntington, Utah.

Brian, thank you very much. We'll check back as developments warrant.

There's a state of emergency on the big island of Hawaii as a powerful storms races across the Pacific Ocean. Hurricane Flossie is a Category 3 storm with sustained winds of 125 miles an hour. It's expected to pass south of the islands but should make its presence felt there by sometime tomorrow.

Meantime, the U.S. military is already on alert.

Let's go live now to our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr.

Barbara, are American ships and planes at risk from Hurricane Flossie?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, a hurricane, John, is something the U.S. military does not wait around for and wait for it to come to them. They leave town before it gets there.

Now, the U.S. Navy at Pearl Harbor already tonight has its ships in hurricane readiness condition 4. What does that mean? It means they expect the possibility of destructive winds within 72 hours.

They are reviewing their plans and procedures for getting under way and going out to sea. And if this path continues, that is very likely what they will do.

They will put the helicopters and aircraft in hangars or fly them off the islands of Hawaii to another location. The ships will put out to sea and they will go early because they will want to be far beyond the storm when it gets to the island.

Of course, all of this is to protect very expensive equipment and keep people from getting hurt. So, keep an eye out by morning. We may know more -- John.

KING: And Barbara, you said we may know more by morning. What is the scope of the potential operation? If they think these planes and ships are at risk, how many personnel and how much equipment are we talking about?

STARR: Well, normally what happens is they do try and crew the ships with as few as possible so people can stay with their families. Obviously a lot of concern on Hawaii near Pearl Harbor. Many military families live there.

One of the good pieces of news is there's a major naval exercise under way very far away to the west in Guam, so there's a number of ships out there. But they are basically counting up now. They're going to start making the arrangements if they have to. What they're doing tonight though is looking at their procedures, looking at their plans, trying to make a decision about what to do next -- John.

KING: Barbara Starr for us at the Pentagon.

Barbara, thank you very much.

Tonight, Karl Rove on his way out of the Bush administration and he's taking his political baggage, some might say, with him. The deputy White House chief of staff and so-called "architect" of the president's election victories is resigning.

Let's bring in our White House correspondent, Suzanne Malveaux.

A significant departure for the president, right?

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, really, John, it can't be overstated just how important this is.

We have been told that Karl Rove was thinking about this. He approached the president nearly a year ago in the Oval Office to try to figure out a way out here. But he was really nudged by chief of staff Josh Bolten recently, who said, look, if you're going to stay after Labor Day, you will be here for the duration of the term, so make your decisions and make your plans. But Karl Rove today telling us that this really was a struggle for himself and his family.


MALVEAUX (voice over): After 34 years by George W. Bush's side, his closest political adviser and friend is calling it quits.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We've been friends for a long time. And we're still going to be friends.

KARL ROVE, SR. WHITE HOUSE ADVISER: It has been the joy and the honor of a lifetime.

MALVEAUX: Karl Rove first met Mr. Bush in Texas in 1973, and 20 years later he ran his campaign for Texas governor. As an astute political operator, Rove was responsible for the hardball tactics that led to that win in 1994 and subsequently the White House in 2000 and 2004.

He is the last member of Mr. Bush's inner circle to leave the White House. One of three Texas loyalists who helped launch his political career.

ROVE: Through it all you have remained the same men. Your integrity, character and decency have remained unchanged and inspiring.

MALVEAUX: His fingerprints are on just about everything -- the successes and the failures. He is credited for making national security the defining issue that sealed Mr. Bush's re-election win in 2004. He is also praised for promoting the Republican base's so- called "compassionate conservative" agenda.

But Rove failed to deliver key legislation at the heart of Mr. Bush's domestic policy -- reforming Social Security and immigration. As the president faces increasing pressure to bring U.S. troops from Iraq, some see Rove's departure as a significant blow.

WAYNE SLATER, CO-AUTHOR, "THE ARCHITECT": This is the end of the Bush presidency, absolutely. All lame ducks are lame ducks. This one with Karl Rove now turning out the lights is the most lame duck we've seen in a long time.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If he's so smart, how come you lost Congress?

MALVEAUX: During the course of the past year, Rove has faced a number of setbacks, including losing the Republican majority in Congress, being identified as one of the leakers of CIA operative Valerie Plame Wilson, although he was cleared of any wrongdoing, and more recently becoming the focus of Democratic-led congressional investigations.


MALVEAUX: And John, I asked Rove in an e-mail exchange earlier today how does he respond to those who say he's being chased out of town, run out of town? Karl Rove, in kind of his typical humor, his dry wit, he said -- and I'm quoting here -- "That sounds like the rooster claiming to have called up the sun."

Now, Chief of Staff Josh Bolten, we are told, is leaning towards not replacing Rove but rather giving his job among a staff of people. And Rove was asked earlier today whether or not he's going to formally have some sort of role in the presidential campaign, helping the candidates. He said no, he isn't. He has friends with many of the GOP campaigns, but he says that they all have his phone number, as well as the president's, so if they need or need his advice, he's available -- John.

KING: I suspect we have not heard the end of Karl Rove.

Suzanne Malveaux at a busy day at the White House.

Suzanne, thank you very much.

And Jack Cafferty joins us now from New York.

Hi, Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: John, the latest poll numbers show that Senator Hillary Clinton has widened her early lead in the 2008 Democratic presidential race, but that doesn't mean that her fellow Democrats are lining up to support her for the party's nomination. In fact, a growing number of Democratic candidates, as well as party consultants, are quietly expressing concern that putting Clinton's name on the 2008 ticket could actually hurt their chances of wining their own regional elections.

The Associated Press interviewed more than 40 party players around the country who pointed to strong negative feelings toward Clinton in regions that have key congressional races coming up. Many are afraid that she's too polarizing. A lot of people who can't stand are -- and there are a lot of them -- may just come out to vote so they can vote against her. And if a lot of those folks happen to be Republicans, well, it could cause big trouble for Democrats in races all over the country.

So here's the question: Is Hillary Clinton a liability for the Democratic Party?

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

KING: Looking forward to those answers. We'll see you in a little bit, Jack. Thank you.

Vice President Dick Cheney on the possible effects of invading Iraq.


RICHARD CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, once you got to Iraq and took it over, and took down Saddam Hussein's government, then what are you going to put in its place? It's a quagmire if you go that far and try to...


KING: The 1994 interview that's creating tons of buzz on the Internet. We have the video that seems to put the vice president at odds with himself.

Plus, toy recall suicide. A Chinese CEO takes his own life when his product gets pulled from American shelves.

Also, baseball ambassador. Cal Ripken joins the Bush administration. Zain Verjee will tell you what he'll be doing.

Stay right here. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


KING: Vice President Dick Cheney is of course one of the Iraq war's most adamant defenders, but in a 13-year-old interview now surfacing on YouTube, Cheney says that invading Iraq would lead to a quagmire. That video now has more than 250,000 views.

Let's go to our Internet reporter, Abbi Tatton.

Abbi, what exactly did then citizen Cheney say back then?

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: John, this is Dick Cheney in 1994, on the risks involved in going into Baghdad. Watch the clip now in the context of 2007 and you'll see why it's one of the hottest videos on YouTube.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you think the U.S. or U.N. forces should have moved into Baghdad?



CHENEY: Because if we had gone to Baghdad we would have been all alone. There wouldn't have been anybody else with us. It would have been a U.S. occupation of Iraq. None of the Arab forces that were willing to fight with us in Kuwait were willing to invade Iraq.

Once you got to Iraq and took it over and took down Saddam Hussein's government, then what are you going to put in its place? That's a very volatile part of the world.

And if you take down the central government in Iraq, you could easily end up seeing pieces of Iraq fly off. Part of it the Syrians would like to have, the west. Part of eastern Iraq the Iranians would like to claim. Fought over for eight years.

In the north, you've got the Kurds. And if the Kurds spin loose and join with Kurds in Turkey, then you threaten the territorial integrity of Turkey. It's a quagmire if you go that far and try to take over Iraq.

The other thing is casualties. Everyone was impressed with the fact that we were able to do our job with as few casualties as we had, but for the 146 Americans killed in action and for the families it wasn't a cheap war. And the question for the president in terms of whether or not we went on to Baghdad and took additional casualties in an effort to get Saddam Hussein was, how many additional dead Americans is Saddam worth? And our judgment was not very many, and I think we got it right.


TATTON: That video is from C-SPAN. The complete 1994 interview has aired several times in the last month, and it's also on C-SPAN's Web site.

But the clip getting the buzz online was posted on YouTube by a user who superimposed a reference to his own anti-administration Web site, Grand Theft Country. He didn't disclose his name but says in an e-mail he posted the video to, in his words, show the hypocrisy.

We asked for comment from the vice president's office. They haven't gotten back to us. But in February of this year, Cheney was asked in an interview with ABC News about similar comments he made in 1991. The vice president's response, "Look what's happened since then. We had 9/11."



KING: Joining us now, our political analysts, Democratic strategist Donna Brazile, former Republican congressman J.C. Watts.

J.C., let's start with the clip from the vice president there. In his defense -- and I've talked to him about these issues -- he says back then when he was defense secretary it was the pre- 9/11 world. You have to think very differently post-9/11, perhaps take more risks, as we are seeing.

But his use of the word "quagmire," if you're an administration critic, you can't help but love that piece of tape.

J.C. WATTS (R), FMR. U.S. CONGRESSMAN: Well, that's true, John. But I also think that some of the quagmire that's been created here, I think it was the right cause, poor execution, and I think much of the quagmire has been created because I think there was some underestimations. I think they underestimated on several different fronts.

John McCain was saying at the outset we need more troops. They finally put in more troops. That seems to be, you know, having a little bit of success there.

So I think some of these quagmires, I think, we created simply because we did not, I think, assess the situation properly. And we find our ourselves in the position that we're in.

KING: Candid perception there from J.C.

Is it unfair for Democrats to jump on this? This is something he said 13 years ago. We could go back in any politician's file and find something they said 13 years ago.

DONNA BRAZILE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Absolutely not. Look, given the way in which the administration has conducted itself, the way the administration went after critics of the war, it's fair to say once again that the vice president had it right back then and he has it wrong now.

This is the wrong war, wrong time. Those who perpetrated 9/11, we should have finished the war in Afghanistan and went after bin Laden. This war was a distraction and now the American people must, you know, come to the conclusion that it's time for us to bring our troops home. So...

WATTS: And John, let me say -- and I think, you know, when you make a decision to go to war, there's always going to be criticism. And I think some of the criticism is fair and some of it is unjust and unfair. But I think the vice president said to you -- I think he made a very profound statement when he said, "We did not have 9/11 staring us in the face in 1991 or in 1994." And those are the two time frames that we're looking at.

BRAZILE: But Saddam had nothing to do with 9/11. That's the problem with this one.

WATTS: It's a totally different world. It's a totally different world in terms of security when that interview was done in 1994.


KING: Still to come here, killer robots in Iraq. The future is now in combat. High-tech soldiers that could save American lives.

Plus, a man who apologized for raping a woman is about to walk free after only six months in prison. Carol Costello talks to the victim.

Stay right here. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


KING: Astronauts left the shuttle Endeavour today for a delicate and dangerous job -- replacing a 600-pound gyroscope used to steer the International Space Station. But a more crucial repair job could be just ahead on the shuttle itself.

Let's turn to our space correspondent, Miles O'Brien.

Miles, what's the latest?

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN SPACE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, talk about delicate and dangerous, John, take a look at this gouge in the heat shield of the space shuttle Endeavour. NASA just released some 3D imagery which they captured just over the weekend.

And when you look at it, it looks like the Grand Canyon, if you will, but it's not quite as big as it seems. Nevertheless, it has the engineers' attention.

Let's see if we can show that imagery. I'd be happy to explain to you what we're talking about.

OK. Apparently, we don't have the picture.

Well, imagine, if you will, a gouge in the base of the space shuttle Endeavour. There you see imagery from -- that we have been showing people all day.

Here we go. Here we go into it now. This is what we're talking about here.

Using laser devices and a high-optical, high-resolution camera, they came up with good imagery which gave them a sense of how deep this gouge is. And what concerns them the most, John, is it goes right down to the felt which covers over -- the thin piece of felt which covers over the space shuttle's aluminum skin.

It happened on Wednesday, 58 seconds after launch. A piece of foam about the size of a softball fell off that external fuel tank. You see it kind of spraying there as it comes across here. It caused some -- actually four dings, but this is the one that is the one that is most in question.

NASA is considering the possibility and is moving forward with a plan for a repair for this. They have three options that they can deal with, three possibilities for repairing.

They can use what amounts to kind of a heat resistant shoe polish to cover over the gouge. They can actually fill it up with kind of a caulk-like material that hardens and is heat resistant as well, or use, more or less, sheet rock to cover it over and bolt it in. So it's either paint, it's caulk, or it's sheet rock, to use terms you would use around the house.

Here's what they are thinking about as they make this decision. This was damage from way back in 1988, Discovery, the first flight after Challenger. Actually, worst damage that we see now. Discovery was fine. They lost -- they had to fix six tiles, but the skin was just fine.

Having said that, they know about it this time. And they have some techniques for repairing it. And while they say it is not anything that would cause the loss of the vehicle or the loss of the crew, it could cause some damage to the orbiter and to the vehicle. And thus, if they can come up with a simple repair, they may just do it.

Well find out on Wednesday -- John.

KING: We'll keep watching and keep coming back to you, Miles.

Miles O'Brien, thank you very much.

Toy recall suicide. A CEO is found dead in China.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's a part of the world where you don't know if people jump from planes or are pushed from planes, hang from ropes or are put in ropes.


KING: The crisis over tainted toys and a new recall of toothpaste found in high-end hotels.

And Fidel Castro is a no-show on his 81st birthday. We'll take you to Havana.




Happening now, the man accused of gunning down three people in a Missouri church is pleading not guilty. Police say the suspect burst into a church service yesterday, shouted, "Liar! Liar!" and opened fire. When the shooting stopped, five others were wounded.

The Taliban have released two South Korean female hostages in Afghanistan. Nineteen other hostages though remain in captivity. The Taliban are demanding Afghanistan free militant prisoners.

And a city councilman once thought to be the frontrunner to become New Orleans' next mayor has resigned in a bribery scandal. Oliver Thomas pled guilty today to taking $15,000 from a local businessman five years ago over a city parking contract. He could face 10 years in prison.

Wolf Blitzer is off today. I'm John King.


Toothpaste made with a poisonous chemical distributed here in America the latest recall of a product made in China. It comes amid new shock waves from a massive toy recall as a Chinese executive takes his own life.

Here's CNN's Keith Oppenheim.


KEITH OPPENHEIM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John, the suicide of a Chinese CEO may be a sign of a troubled individual, but it may also be a sign of trouble in the balance between product safety and production in Chinese manufacturing.

(voice over): In China, there is now a clear connection between the manufacturing of toys and tragedy. A state-run newspaper reports Zhang Shuhong, the co-owner of a company that made some plastic Fisher-Price toys in the form of Big Bird and Elmo, committed suicide. The company called Lee Der was under a recall of nearly one million toys and a temporary ban on exports because the toys contained lead.

Zhang, the CEO, was known to be under pressure because of that recall.

MIKE O'NEAL, "CHICAGO TRIBUNE": To one extent it's a culture response to shame, is what it seems to be.

OPPENHEIM: Mike O'Neal is a reporter for the "Chicago Tribune" who co-wrote an investigative piece last week about lead paint in Chinese toys. O'Neal says this death in a sense symbolizes growing pressure on Chinese officials and executives to fix safety problems and perceptions with their products.

O'NEAL: I think they are scared. I think, you know, their first response was, we're not doing anything wrong. And you know, since then, they've really come around on this. And I think that they're very concerned that the great economic engine that has powered that country for the last, you know, 20 years, a decade, is definitely, you know -- that this is a threat to that.

OPPENHEIM: The toy story shared a headline today with toothpaste. Gilchrist & Soames, an Indianapolis-based company that makes toiletries for high-end hotels, is recalling small tubes of toothpaste made in China. After reports some toothpaste from China contained a chemical used to make anti-freeze, Gilchrist & Soames ordered testing on its own products. Lab tests showed evidence of the toxin which can be damaging to the liver, kidneys and central nervous system.

KATHIE DE VOE, CEO, GILCHRIST & SOAMES: Anybody who has the toothpaste, our brand or others on this recall list, should not take any chances and dispose of the product.

OPPENHEIM: That's what Gilchrist & Soames did. And if they hadn't done their own tests, the tainted toothpaste would still be found in your hotel room.

(on camera): Mike O'Neal of the "Chicago Tribune" points out that sometimes in Chinese manufacturing quality and safety problems can have to do with a company's lack of experience. For example, lead paint is widely sold through Asia, but the company that doesn't change it paint for U.S. products can obviously run into big trouble -- John.


KING: Joining me now is Ted Fishman. He's the author of the book "China, Inc."

Ted, let's start with the basic question. Americans certainly are outraged when they hear these reports about paint on toys or poisons in toothpaste, but how much should they be outraged at China and to what degree should they maybe be looking in the mirror?

TED FISHMAN, AUTHOR, "CHINA, INC.": Well, the mirror is the place to start. You know, there have been -- every multinational company in the world is now manufacturing in China, if they do manufacture. Consumer products that are sold in American pharmacies, big box stores, toy stores.

And they make regular requirements of their Chinese suppliers to lower costs, to up production, and they are going to China because China lacks the standards that they are -- have to abide by at home: labor standards, environmental standards, safety standards.

And when you tell your suppliers to lower the cost, they also lower oversight. They go to cheaper materials. And this is all done with a wink and a nudge from their multinational customers.

And when those things come back to us and we put them in our mouth and they have what we don't like, you know, we should probably wonder whether we aren't part of the cause of this ricochet of poor products that is coming back into our country.

KING: And so, in your view, the average American consumer should wake up tomorrow morning and do what?

FISHMAN: Well, what we have to do is we really have to be vocal on the safety standards. We have very lax enforcement of -- there are very few industry standards where industries really do 100 percent inspection on their products.

Customs officials are very undermanned in looking at products, not just for safe products that we think are essential, like medicines and drugs, but as the toy example shows, you know, even small things that we don't give a second thought to are mission critical in our lives because we put them in our mouths. If we give them to our children, they put them in their mouths.

And when things fail, even if they are -- seem like peripheral objects to us, then we suffer. And if we don't have those standards, if we insist as consumers that we also need the lowest cost on everything and aren't willing to pay either as consumers or as citizens, then we are going to suffer the problems of poor products coming back here.

KING: The Chinese government obviously is under a great deal of media pressure, a great deal of political pressure. I want your sense of how much you trust the Chinese government.

And before you answer, here's a quote from The New York Times on Friday, when essentially the question was put to the Chinese government, what will you do about it? And a government official was quoted as saying: "The government will never tolerate, but crack down firmly on individual cases of making exports in violation of the law."

So the Chinese government saying, don't worry, trust us, we will find the problem and crack down. Do you trust them?

FISHMAN: No. You can't trust the regulatory regime in China. There are structural problems. The regulators are the very same people who are the regulated. Corporate structures there are very much intertwined with government structures. Financing is, ownership is. And you can't drive a wedge of regulation in that ownership structure. The Chinese government always says they're vigilant, and yet there are always problems. You have to have a culture of compliance among the suppliers that are serving their multinational consumers. And until there's a culture of compliance there, then we won't get any satisfaction on safety in China.

KING: We have heard in the Chinese media of executions of officials of companies involved in this, suicides of officials of companies where the finger has been pointed at them. Take us inside the culture of China, if you will, as to how this will play out as this -- more and more reports of tainted products.

FISHMAN: You know, it's impossible to divine what are the motives behind any particular punishment. Sometimes it's the, you know, kill one rooster to scare all the monkeys. You know, that's -- make an example of people, and sometimes it's a little more mysterious.

What looks to us like swift justice often in China, let's say a speedy execution, might, in fact, be a way to keep the person who is under the spotlight from naming names of others. Things that look like a suicide may or may not be a suicide.

You know, it's a part of the world where you don't know if people jump from planes or are pushed from planes, hang from ropes or are put in ropes. You just will never know. And that is very hard to divine.

What you really have to do is focus on the compliance of the people who are bringing this quarter of a trillion dollars worth of Chinese goods into this country. And if they don't comply, you will get no satisfaction from regulators in China.

KING: So you don't trust China. Let me ask you in closing, that a consumer in this country should do what of its -- should demand what of the corporations? You say they're looking for lower costs, if they are to blame for this, how does a consumer put pressure on corporations to be the police?

FISHMAN: It's very, very hard to put pressure on those companies unless it is a very kind of public pressure, where you become a kind of citizen capitalist, where the demands are vocal, where, you know, you make those demands known at the store fronts, to the managers.

Companies respond to public pressure. They respond forcefully to public pressure. And yet, because of the migration of manufacturing over to China, in a way we've become anesthetized to the manufacture of things. We don't look closely at the way, you know, our companies make things and send them back to us.

Maybe we have to apply the kind of pressure we used to apply in the United States when goods were made here and we could go to the shop door and peer into the window and talk to the workers. Try talking to a worker in China; you will never get in the gates.

KING: Ted Fishman, author of "China, Inc." Ted, thanks for your time today. FISHMAN: Thank you.


KING: Killer robots in Iraq. The U.S. military goes high tech in combat to try to save American lives.

Plus, missing birthday boy. We're taking you to Havana where Fidel Castro is a no-show on his 81st birthday.


KING: They're armed with machine guns and their aim is deadly. Many robots could become U.S. troops' newest weapon in the war in Iraq. Let's go once again to CNN Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr for the details.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: John, the military has long used robots to keep soldiers safe and out of the line of fire. But this is this is the latest development. Look at this. It's called SWORDS. It's a little mini robot, if you will, armed with a light machine gun. They're on a trial period. There have been a couple of them in Iraq, but they haven't used the machine gun yet. They haven't fired in combat.

But as you can see from the video provided by the contractor working for the military, this is an idea whose time may have come. This little robot with its machine gun could go up and down streets, up and down dangerous areas in Iraq, search out and look for snipers before they attack U.S. troops, make it safer for U.S. troops to go into a contested area.

Now there are a lot of problems with this, of course. It has to be technically reliable. There are a lot of ethics questions. Is the U.S. military really ready to have a robot pull the trigger? But they have used robots a lot. They are using them to go in and detonate IEDs when they find them. They use them to handle hazardous materials. Robots have been very effective.

So this little robot called SWORDS is on trial. It's a concept that they're looking at. It's a peek into the future but the future could be pretty darn soon -- John.

KING: Barbara Starr at the Pentagon. We'll continue to keep an eye on that, thank you, Barbara.

Fidel Castro is celebrating his 81st birthday. Fireworks lit up Havana Bay in tribute to the ailing leader. But Castro himself has been out of sight. Let's go to Morgan Neill now in Cuba's capital.

MORGAN NEILL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, John. It's Fidel Castro's 81st birthday and the second in a row since he turned over leadership of the country to his brother Raul as he recovers from intestinal surgery. Now celebrations have been fairly subdued. There were fireworks that were set off above Havana's seawall last night to mark the end of carnival that just happened to coincide with Fidel Castro's birthday.

But there have been no official celebrations. What we have seen are tributes in the state-run newspapers like this one that reads: "Untiring gladiator for the truth." And another state-run newspaper, we saw letters printed from five men jailed in the U.S. on espionage charges. Those men known here in Cuba simply as the "cinco heroes (ph)," or the five heroes.

But as I say, Fidel Castro himself has made no appearance either in video, photos or otherwise. And unlike last year when many people were hoping that maybe he could rebound quickly from surgery and make a dramatic reappearance, this year nobody was really expecting to see him -- John.

KING: Morgan Neill, for us in Havana. Morgan, thank you very much.

Baseball hall-of-famer Cal Ripken Jr. is, you might say, stepping up to the plate again. The Bush administration has appointed the former Baltimore Orioles slugger to be a goodwill ambassador around the world.

CNN State Department correspondent Zain Verjee has more on Ripken's new government gig.

ZAIN VERJEE, CNN STATE DEPARTMENT CORRESPONDENT: John, he will be traveling overseas with a new mission.


VERJEE (voice-over): Batter up. Cal Ripken is playing for a new team, the Bush administration.

CONDOLEEZZA RICE, SECRETARY OF STATE: He truly exemplifies America at its best, our aspirations to be a better nation and to help build a better world.

VERJEE: The Baltimore Orioles legend suits up as a goodwill ambassador, stepping up to the plate for America.

CAL RIPKEN JR., PUBLIC DIPLOMACY ENVOY: I know that sports is magical. And you can actually break down any sort of barriers.

VERJEE: The U.S. is hoping the baseball great will help improve America's battered image overseas.

KAREN HUGHES, UNDERSECY. OF STATE FOR PUBLIC DIPLOMACY & PUBLIC AFFAIRS: I was hoping a little of that -- the magic that Cal talked about, involved with sports, will rub off on the rest of our public diplomacy efforts.

VERJEE: Among other ambassadorial athletes, skater Michelle Kwan. And American wrestlers went to Iran earlier this year in the midst of a face-off over Iran's nuclear plans. The U.S. has youth camps teaching science, arts, and sports in 13 predominantly Muslim countries, as well as the West Bank and Gaza. Ripken is likely to travel to the Middle East.

The State Department says it only foots the travel bills of its star envoys.

RIPKEN: I was looking for a baseball salary.


HUGHES: We don't have those in government.


VERJEE: One possible handicap, aside from Japan and parts of Central America, baseball is virtually unknown overseas. Even so, Ripken says, the love of sport always breaks the ice.

RIPKEN: You should be received with some warmth and some -- and some openness that you might not otherwise be received with..


VERJEE: But sporting diplomacy doesn't necessarily always work. Political tensions can get in the way. Most famously, the U.S. boycotted the Moscow Olympics when the Soviets invaded Afghanistan.

More recently, though, the U.S. invited Iranian wrestlers to come to train and visit this country, but Iran said no -- John.

KING: Zain Verjee, at the State Department. Thank you, Zain.

Apology for a rape. He confessed and apologized for a crime committed two decades ago. Now he's about to go free after serving just six months.

And they call him President Bush's brain. Karl Rove is the man liberal critics love to hate. What will they do now that he is leaving the White House? Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


KING: When is an apology enough? A man who told his victim he was sorry for raping her years after the assault will be set free soon. The woman he admitted to assaulting has plenty to say about it. CNN's Carol Costello has that unusual story.

What is this all about?

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: It is an unusual story. You know, Liz Seccuro's story was big news. It isn't often a victim of an unsolved rape gets a letter from the man who assaulted her, apologizing. Seccuro thought finally, justice. Well, tonight she's still fighting for it.


COSTELLO (voice-over): William Beebe confessed to sexual assaulting Liz Seccuro more than two decades ago. But he'll soon be a free man after serving only six months.

LIZ SECCURO, ASSAULT VICTIM: I'm not bitter or angry. I'm just in shock. How does this happen? Who makes these decisions?

COSTELLO: Seccuro, who is avoiding cameras now, did agree to talk with me on the phone. These pictures were taken by CNN last year after she got a letter from Beebe apologizing for the attack. Since going public, she has received hate mail and death threats from those who feel Beebe's apology was enough.

SECCURO: I'm sorry. If you went and committed something heinous upon another person, does "I'm sorry" cut it?

COSTELLO: It was September 8, 2005, when Seccuro received a letter from Beebe at her home. It read in part: "In October 1984 I harmed you. My prayer is that you be free and happy in your life."

The letter frightened Seccuro and vindicated her. She was 17 and a freshman at the University of Virginia when she says she was drugged and attacked at a fraternity party by a man she had rejected.

SECCURO: Door closed, he shut the lights, ripped my clothes off, threw me on the bed. It was that fast.

COSTELLO: Seccuro woke up wrapped in a bloody sheet. She went to authorities, but by that time William Beebe had disappeared. Twenty-one years later, that letter.

It led to charges and a sentence of 10 years for Beebe. All but 18 months suspended and returned for information from Beebe that more than one man had assaulted Seccuro that night. But there have been no more arrests. So why Beebe's early release?

His attorney tells me his sentence and parole were calculated according to rules in existence when the crime committed. And she says: "The fact that Mr. Beebe has followed the rules and served his time should not be held against him."


COSTELLO: Now, Beebe did give prosecutors information on others who attacked Seccuro, but it wasn't enough to make any arrests. That investigation remains open.

As for how this 1984 formula shaved so much time off of Beebe's sentence, well, time for good behavior and time served were factored in. The Charlottesville, Virginia, prosecutor is now trying to determine if anything can be done about it.

KING: Carol, thank you. We'll keep track of this one. Thank you very much. And Jack Cafferty joins us now from New York.

Hi, Jack.

CAFFERTY: I'm sorry and he's out after, what, six months? What is that? The question this hour, is Hillary Clinton a liability for the Democratic Party?

Bob writes from Liberty, Missouri: "Is she a liability, no. There has been no other opportunity in our history for the "litmus test": Can a woman be president? With the level of incompetence of this administration, no one could do any worse. It has to get better."

Neal in Oregon writes: "I'm a Democrat and frankly I'm getting fed up with the cannibalistic tendencies toward the inevitable candidate of my party as of late. They're acting like Republicans. How about we let the primary process work as it should, without selling Hillary short."

Mike writes from Florida: "Hillary Clinton is a liability to the Democratic Party only if you believe the desperate cries of Republicans who face a catastrophic 2008 general election. People who didn't like Hillary before she was a candidate wouldn't vote for her or any other Democrat. The key question is, how many people in this country want to remain stupid another four years under any Republican administration."

Carol in Coulterville, California, we always get these: "Not for all Democrats, only insecure men would think so."

Walt in Roseville, California: "I'd be more inclined to say the present Democratic Party is a liability to Hillary Clinton."

Florence in Overland Park, Kansas: "Can you imagine the American people allowing four more years of Hillary and 'Slick Willie' in the White House? There wouldn't even be carpeting and drapes when they were finished."

And Jean Claude in Sewickley, Pennsylvania: "That name might be a deal-breaker if it weren't George W. Bush who is being replaced. Competence, albeit served up with a frosty bedside manner and humorless 'wonkiness' will likely carry the day."

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

KING: People are never shy when it comes to Senator Clinton.

CAFFERTY: I love these people.

KING: And they love you, Jack Cafferty. Jack, thank you very much.

And let's go right now to Rick Sanchez to find out what's coming up next hour on "OUT IN THE OPEN."

Hi, Rick.

RICK SANCHEZ, CNN ANCHOR: He did say he loves those people, right?

KING: He did.

SANCHEZ: It's a direct quote. All right. Thanks a lot, John.


SANCHEZ: Well, hey, you know, we're going to talk, John, to the man who wrote "Bush's Brain." We're going to be talking to him here.

And of course, the very latest from that Utah mine rescue that we've been following. And we're going to diagram it for you and show you what is actually going on there, and talk to people who can tell us what it's like down there at this time for those miners.

Then, I'm going to go on a journey for you. An illegal immigrant, I found, who is a convicted criminal, he has managed to sneak into the United States seven times. And he keeps coming. So I follow him to Honduras to find out how the system is supposed to work to catch people like him so they don't end up like the case that you've been talking about in New Jersey.

And then a chilling attack. Some wild dogs right in the middle of a city. This happens at a television station, by the way. We're going to be bringing that out too. So all of this "OUT IN THE OPEN."

John King, back to you.

KING: See you in just a few minutes, Rick. Thank you.

Critics deride Karl Rove as President Bush's brain. Now that he's resigning, can liberals get the political guru off their minds? Jeanne Moos has thoughts on that. Stay right here. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


KING: Our Carol Costello is here with the latest stories incoming to THE SITUATION ROOM.

Carol, what do you have?

COSTELLO: News from the "Queen of Soul." She is singing the blues over the heat. Aretha Franklin canceled an outdoor concert in Detroit this weekend because of heat exhaustion. She plans to reschedule. In a statement, Franklin says the temperatures at recent shows have been sweltering and all but overwhelming. She adds she is exhausted and she cannot perform in these conditions.

France's first lady is facing flap over her no-show at the Bush compound in Kennebunkport, Maine. French President Nicolas Sarkozy said his wife had a sore throat and could not attend Saturday's luncheon with President Bush and first lady Laura Bush. But some eyebrows are being raised after Cecilia Sarkozy was spotted shopping with friends both the day before and after Saturday's get-together. One French news anchor says Mrs. Sarkozy set a new record for making a swift recovery.

Ever wonder what seven, count them, seven double espressos will do to you? Well, wonder no more. In Britain, coffee house worker Jasmine Willis had to be rushed to the hospital. She told The Daily Mail she started burning up and hyperventilating, and started laughing and crying for no reason. She's OK now and telling others, too much coffee can be a really, really bad thing.

KING: There's a difference between too much coffee and too, too, too, too much coffee, one would think.


COSTELLO: Wow. I do that after three cops of coffee. Seven double espressos.

KING: My limit is four. We'll stop right there, Carol Costello. Thanks very much.

President Bush famously dubbed Karl Rove "the architect." Critics called Rove a lot of names. Some worse than others. CNN's Jeanne Moos finds the hoopla over Rove and his exit "Moost Unusual."


JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Doing the news isn't brain surgery, but suddenly news people sure sounded like neurosurgeons dissecting Karl Rove.



T.J. HOLMES, CNN ANCHOR: Brain drain.

BILL BENNETT, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Rove's brain mattered.

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST, "HARDBALL WITH CHRIS MATTHEWS": Generally where there's brains, there's Rove.

MOOS: For liberal blogs, it was a red letter day.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, we don't know the real story as to why he's leaving.

MOOS (on camera): Oh, you think there's some kind of hidden agenda?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There always is, isn't there?

MOOS: When Karl Rove got emotional announcing his resignation...

KARL ROVE, DEP. WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: We've been at this a long time.

MOOS: ... it didn't take long for the Huffington Post to headline "Quivering Farewell" seconds after a soulful embrace. One newsman bellowed, if he's so smart, how come you lost Congress?

Rove is man of nicknames. The president calls him "the architect" or "boy genius." And then there was his rap name.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (rapping): ... one more time, what's your name?

ROVE (rapping): M.C. Rove!

MOOS: The title "Bush's brain" metastasized after it became the title of a book and a documentary. Even non-human comedians had a field day like Triumph the Insult Dog.

TRIUMPH THE INSULT DOG: Oh, it's Karl Rove. It's the brains. You're Bush's brains, Karl. I was expecting a much smaller man.


TRIUMPH: (INAUDIBLE), I'm a dead man.

MOOS: Rove apparently appreciates a joke. He dressed up as a hunter for Halloween to mock John Kerry's public display of hunting prowess. And Rove say down on the tarmac in front of Air Force One in a private joke with the president. He's man his critics love to hate.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (rapping): Don't lose your snarl. Hit me back, what up, Karl?

MOOS: The "I Love Karl Rove" Web site mocks him every holiday, from Groundhog day to Thanksgiving. But that's nothing compared to the very special nickname the president has for Rove, "turd blossom."

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But I would get rid of the blossom.

MOOS: When "Doonesbury" used the nickname in comic strips, a few newspapers refused to run them. But it is good enough for the president.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Why would he call him that if he helps him so much?

MOOS (on camera): It's a Texan, supposedly, expression for a flower that grows out of cow dung.


MOOS: Well, something good that comes out of something...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, I see. As a fertilizer, you mean.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (singing): Where is my turd blossom?

MOOS (voice-over): This one may be too much for even Bush's brain to make sense of. Lucky for the president they don't call Rove "Bush's rhythm."

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (rapping): Look at him jumping up and down ready to hop!

MOOS: Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.


KING: OK. Goodbye, Karl. Thanks for joining us. We're on every day from 4:00 to 6:00 and again at 7:00 p.m. Eastern, right here. I'm John King in for Wolf Blitzer today.

Up next, Rick Sanchez with "OUT IN THE OPEN."

SANCHEZ: Hey, thanks so much, John.