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Syria Nuke Charge Backlash Hits Bush Administration; Tony Snow Joins CNN; NYPD: Not Guilty After 50 Shots; Clyburn Criticizes the Clintons

Aired April 25, 2008 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And, to our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Happening now, sewing the seeds of doubt. John McCain associates Barack Obama with a group considered terrorists by the U.S. and Israeli government. That would be Hamas. We're going to show you why it's an attack to which Obama may have left himself open, to a certain degree.

Also, the nation's highest elected African-American says blacks are incensed by Bill Clinton. We are going to show you what his beef is with the former president and the Clinton campaign.

Plus, an unarmed man killed in a hail of police bullets. Now the verdict is in. The outrage is spiking, and the controversy is far from over.

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

The politics of terror is fueling suggestions by Republican John McCain that Democratic rival, Barack Obama, may be soft on threats to national security -- an allegation the Obama camp says is anything but straight talk.

Let's go back to CNN's Brian Todd. He's following this story for us.

Brian, what is this all about?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, John McCain is clearly starting to go after Barack Obama where he feels Obama may be vulnerable.


TODD (voice-over): John McCain seems to think Barack Obama has admirers in all the wrong places. In a phone call with bloggers, McCain said it's clear who the Palestinian militant group Hamas wants to be president. McCain went on to say, "I think that people should understand that I would be Hamas's worst nightmare. If Senator Obama is favored by Hamas, I think people can make judgments accordingly."

McCain was later pressed on those remarks by reporters.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It's just a fact that Hamas -- apparently, their North American spokesperson is endorsing Senator Obama.

TODD: Hamas is considered a terrorist organization by the U.S. government. Just two weeks ago, in an interview with ABC Radio, a Hamas official said: "We like Mr. Obama," and he compared him favorably to John Kennedy.

But in speaking about former President Jimmy Carter's meetings with Hamas, Obama made his views clear.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Until Hamas clearly recognizes Israel, renounces terrorism and abides by or believes that the Palestinians should abide by previous agreements that have been entered into, I don't think conversations with them would be fruitful.

TODD: Obama's campaign responded to McCain's comments in an e- mail to CNN: "We want to take Senator McCain word that he wants to run a respectful campaign, but that is becoming increasingly difficult when he continually tries to use the politics of association and makes claims he knows not to be true to advance his campaign."


TODD: But McCain's advisers tell CNN this is a fair issue for the American people to think about if Barack Obama becomes the Democratic nominee. They say the reason the Hamas leader made those comments in the first place about Obama because of Obama's policies -- specifically his willingness to talk to Iran -- Wolf.

BLITZER: But Obama makes a major distinction between Iran and Hamas.

TODD: He certainly does. He says that the difference here is that Iran is a nation state. And even though their leaders are accused of sponsoring terror and talked about Israel's destruction, he believes it is worth engaging Iran because they are a nation state. Hamas clearly does not have that status.

BLITZER: Thanks, Brian.

Brian Todd reporting.

Meanwhile, Israel's ambassador to the United Nations is blasting former President Jimmy Carter for his meetings with Hamas leaders on his latest Middle East police.

Listen to what the ambassador, Dan Gillerman, said at an event marking the 60th anniversary of modern Israel's founding.


DAN GILLERMAN, ISRAEL'S AMBASSADOR TO U.N.: But I think it's a shame to see that person who may not have been one of the greatest presidents this country had, but for a while was a very, you know, decent former president and did good things, turn into what I believe to be a bigot and someone who went to the region with soiled hands and came back with bloody hands.


BLITZER: We've asked Jimmy Carter to respond to the ambassador's remarks. We don't have a comment from him yet. But the former president will be our guest next Tuesday right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

The Bush administration is facing fallout from its allegation that Syria built a nuclear reactor that was within weeks -- perhaps months -- of firing up before being destroyed by Israel last year. As the world pores over the evidence presented as a so-called smoking gun, some say the U.S. may have jumped the gun a little bit.

Let's go to our State Department correspondent, Zain Verjee. She's watching this story for us.

And you're getting reaction from outside, independent observers. What are you learning?


Well, there are photographs the world is still digesting -- some accepting, some protesting the U.S. case against Syria and North Korea.


VERJEE (voice-over): The U.S. insists these photos show a nuclear weapons reactor in Syria secretly built with North Korean help. Weapons expert David Kay led the search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and found none. He gives the Syrian photos mixed reviews.

(on-camera): Did the administration provide a smoking gun with these pictures?

DAVID KAY, FORMER U.N. WEAPONS INSPECTOR: Well, as far as photos go -- and there's a limitation there. This looks like a compelling case for having been a nuclear reactor built on the unique North Korean design. It's a photo. It's not empirical, on the ground evidence.

VERJEE: What do you think is the most compelling piece of evidence in these photos?

KAY: I think the most compelling is, in fact, this one, where the interior design of a facility being built in Syria matches exactly with one that is in North Korea and has been highly inspected -- the same number of channels, the same design.

VERJEE (voice-over): One knowledgeable official we talked to contradicted the claim made Thursday by U.S. intelligence that the Syrian reactor was close to being operational.

KAY: That's one of the questions -- where are -- would the uranium be coming from, where are the fuel rods that would have gone in it and is there a reprocessing plant somewhere else?

VERJEE (on-camera): It shows North Korean and Syrian officials together and the same official at six party diplomat talks.

KAY: Well, I'm afraid for most people in these days, that's probably not as compelling as you would think. In the world of PhotoShop, putting bodies and heads together is, unfortunately, very easy.

VERJEE (voice-over): Syria repeatedly denies any nuclear facility.

BASHAR JA'AFARI, SYRIAN AMBASSADOR TO U.N.: Syria builds many buildings all over the country. Does that mean that any building we build should be a project or a design to be a nuclear -- for a nuclear reactor building?

VERJEE: And the U.S. faces criticism from the head of the U.N. nuclear monitoring agency, upset over being kept out of the loop until now.

The U.S. response?

SEAN MCCORMACK, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESMAN: We believe that it is a case that merits investigation and follow-up by the IAEA.


VERJEE: The U.S. does have a harder case to make after its WMD claims in Iraq proved false.

On a separate note, North Korea has kept quiet -- at least for now. It's unclear whether its silence means that it's a denial or an acknowledgement -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Well, as you noted, the Israelis bombed that suspected site last year.

What's their reaction to the decision by the U.S. government -- by the Bush administration yesterday to release this evidence?

VERJEE: There are different views. Many in Israel are upset that they decided to do that. Many say that it's actually a good sign, on the other hand, because it really shows the U.S. and Israel are working together with -- against counter-proliferation. And there's also a lot of concern that this could increase tensions between Syria and Israel.

BLITZER: Yes. I have been told that the Israelis tried to discourage the Bush administration from releasing this information precisely because of the fears this could escalate tensions.

All right. But we'll see what the fallout will be.

Zain, thanks very much.

Let's go back to Jack. He's got "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: The Iraqi government -- the Iraqi government keeping thousands of dead, injured and missing soldiers and policemen on the payroll.

Let me run that by you one more time. The Iraqi government is using your money to pay thousands of dead, injured and missing soldiers and policemen as a way of compensating or caring for their families. This totally outrageous news comes from a report by the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction. It also says Iraqis have a shortage of officers. They still rely on coalition forces for substantial logistical support.

The Iraqi Army was supposed to be able to stand on its own two years ago, remember?

We're now being told they might get around to that by September of 2009.

This program to train the Iraqi soldiers and continue to pay the dead and missing ones costs the American taxpayers $20 billion. The report comes as Congress gets ready to take up President Bush's request for another $108 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan -- money I guess we'll have to borrow from the Chinese.

The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff today is accusing Iran of increasing arms and training support to insurgents inside Iraq. These news items were not known when a new "USA Today"/Gallup poll was taken that shows 63 percent of Americans say the United States made a mistake sending troops into Iraq. It's the highest mistake percentage that Gallup Poll has ever recorded for an act of war that involved the United States. Only 61 percent of Americans in May of 1971 said the Vietnam War was a mistake.

Here's the question: Are the presidential candidates going to have to start spending more time talking about the war in Iraq?

Go to You can post a comment on my blog -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jack, thank you.

Outrage over the acquittal of three detectives in the shooting death of an unarmed man.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The judge is more culpable than the actual people that fired their weapons. He is going to rot in hell and burn in a hotter fire than the people that actually fired.


BLITZER: But the verdict may not necessarily be the end of the case. We're going to tell you why. Also, tension with vice president Dick Cheney -- you're going to find out how it might be impacting John McCain's campaign. We'll talk about that and more with our newest political contributor, the former White House press secretary, Tony Snow. He's standing by live here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Plus, new details of a deadly shark attack in Southern California, where miles of beaches are closed right now.

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


BLITZER: Republican presidential candidate John McCain distancing himself from President Bush yesterday.

When he was in New Orleans, he blasted the response to the Katrina disaster.

Let's talk about this and more with our newest CNN political contributor, the former White House press secretary and old friend, Tony Snow.

Tony, thanks for coming in.


BLITZER: I'm glad you're here.

Let's talk politics first. What do you think about McCain's decision yesterday -- never again? He was very forceful in making it clear he did not like the Bush administration's handling of Katrina.

SNOW: Of course, he also doesn't know a lot about a lot of things that went on behind-the-scenes. But, look, you expect that. You've got somebody who's running for a nomination. The president's popularity ratings are low. He's going to place some distance between himself and the president.

Everybody, you know, says well, we hate what happened in Katrina, including, by the way, the president. So it's a pretty easy critique to make.

BLITZER: Do you think he'll be doing more of this distancing himself on other specific issues?

SNOW: I think he'll do it when it's easy. But, on the other hand, there are some things, like the war, where he has agreed with the president. I suppose, in some sense, it would be easy to disagree with the president, but McCain's been pretty firm on that.

But, look, he -- you look at any person who is trying to get the nomination -- who is getting the nomination and trying to run when you've got an incumbent president, whether it's Al Gore saying I want to be my own man; George Herbert Walker Bush talking about a kinder, gentler America after the Reagan years. You're always going to look for some way to distance from your predecessor so that you have an independent identity.

Right now, Democrats have made it pretty clear that they don't have any issue other than fact they're not George Bush.

What McCain wants to be able to do is to say well, neither am I.

BLITZER: Well, the Democrats are also trying to make it clear that if you vote for John McCain, that's a third term for George W. Bush.

SNOW: Right. And it's kind of a stretch if you look at the relationship over the years between the two guys. But then it's...

BLITZER: They had a rough relationship back in 2000, as all of us remember.

SNOW: Exactly.

BLITZER: Dick Cheney is going to be going to a fundraiser in North Carolina for John McCain, for other Republicans.

Is that going to be smart, for McCain to be associated with Dick Cheney?

SNOW: Yes, I think so. Look, it's not going to be smart if you are trying to get Nancy Pelosi's vote. But if you're trying to make sure that you've got the Republican base on your side, absolutely. You know, Dick Cheney is somebody who still really has earned the respect and admiration of a lot of Republicans. You'll see a lot of people out making speeches. I may get some speeches for McCain, who knows?

But the fact is that you've got a lot of Republicans out there who now have a vested interest in getting a Republican president. And McCain will have to sort of sort through the folks who he wants to have speaking on his behalf.

BLITZER: All right.

So let's talk a little bit about your health, because we had a little scare this week. You know, you were starting. You were on "LARRY KING" the other night.

SNOW: Yes.

BLITZER: The next thing I said -- I want Tony Snow on my show, but you were all of a sudden -- you got sick.

SNOW: Well, I had a bowel obstruction. It sometimes happens if you've had multiple operations on your insides. Every once in a while, they get sticky and sort of like the tubes kink up like a garden hose. And that's what happened. So you have to just wait for it to unkink. It wasn't pleasant, but it's over.

BLITZER: Is it -- but now you're feeling better? SNOW: Oh, yes.

BLITZER: So you just need to rest a little bit.

SNOW: Trust me. Yes. Well, they also pump your stomach, which is -- we don't need to get into the details.

BLITZER: No, we don't have to get into the details, as long as you're feeling better.


BLITZER: What's it like to be on the outside right now of the White House, at this moment?

Does it feel better, does it feel worse?

Do you miss that White House briefing?

SNOW: I -- look, I loved being the president's press secretary. I love the president. It was an honor to work for him. The most fun I've ever had. If I could have afforded it, I would have stayed until the final day.

Having said that, I love what I'm doing now. It's a lot like what I've done in the past. I'm giving a lot of speeches. I'm doing radio. I'm doing Bill O'Reilly's radio on Fridays.

BLITZER: You mean he hasn't cut you off because you're working with us now?

SNOW: No, no, no. You know, I've still got lots of friends at Fox. I've got a lot of friends at CNN. Glad to be here. You know, I'm working on a couple of book proposals. I'm going to be setting up an office in town. So there's a lot of stuff going on.

BLITZER: So you're going to be busy?

SNOW: I'm ridiculously busy.

BLITZER: And we're going to keep you busy here at CNN.

You're going to back later in THE SITUATION ROOM with Jack and Gloria.

We'll talk about what's happening in the world of politics.

SNOW: All right.

BLITZER: Tony, thanks very much for coming in.

SNOW: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: And coming up, calls for calm after police are acquitted of killing an unarmed man. But it's doing little to calm the fury. You're going to find out why the verdict may not necessarily be the final word.

Plus, soldiers accused of crimes -- is justice being delayed so they can fight in Iraq?

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


BLITZER: The verdict is in, but the controversy is far from over in the case of Sean Bell, an unarmed black man shot and killed by New York City detectives on the eve of his wedding. Their acquittal has stunned Bell's family and their supporters. They are now vowing the fight will continue.

Let's get to latest from our own Debra Feyerick. She's in Queens watching this reaction to what's going on.

Deb, what is the latest?

DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, while these detectives named have been cleared of the criminal charges, federal prosecutors are now looking to see whether the detectives violated the men's civil rights when they opened fire.


FEYERICK (voice-over): Immediately after the verdict, cries of disbelief and anger. Police formed a human chain protecting Sean Bell's fiance, his parents and supporters as they left the courthouse.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Back it up. Back it up. Please, just let them get to their car.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have zero confidence in the criminal justice system.

FEYERICK: The three detectives were found not guilty on all charges, including manslaughter, assault and reckless endangerment in the shooting death of Sean Bell and the wounding of his two friends following Bell's bachelor party at a Queens strip club. Those friends, who had testified during the trial, angrily left the court. But the detectives called the verdict fair.

DET. GESCARD ISNORA, ACQUITTED NYPD OFFICER: First and foremost, I would like to think the Lord, Jesus Christ, for bringing this all to fruition. For my family, now who's here. Secondly, to the Honorable Judge Cooperman for his fair and accurate decision today.

FEYERICK: Judge Arthur Cooperman said he did not believe prosecution witnesses. Two of them were in the car with Bell when police opened fire some 50 times. The judge cited what he called inconsistencies, contradictions and the possibility some of the witnesses had motive to lie. The judge said the detectives responded to a perceived threat after hearing one of Bell's friends say he was going to the car to get a gun and that prosecutors had not proven the detectives were wrong in shooting when the car began moving and it appeared one of the passengers was reaching for a weapon -- though none was later found.

The Reverend Al Sharpton supported the victims' families throughout the trial.

REV. AL SHARPTON, CIVIL RIGHTS ACTIVIST: What we saw in court today was not a miscarriage of justice. Justice didn't miscarry. This was an abortion of justice.

FEYERICK: The one detective who faced only charges of wreckless endangerment apologized for the shooting.

DET. MARC COOPER, ACQUITTED NYPD OFFICER: I'd like to say sorry to the Bell family for the tragedy.


FEYERICK: And right after the verdict, the fiance, Nicole Bell, went to Sean Bell's grave site and spent some time there. She has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against these detectives. And, also, the NYPD still has to weigh in. They're going to take a close look to see whether any procedures were violated -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Deb. Thank you.

Deb is in Queens.

The Democratic presidential candidate, Barack Obama, was asked to respond to the acquittals while he was out on the campaign trail in Indianapolis.

Here's what he said.


OBAMA: Obviously, there was a tragedy in New York. I said at the time that without the benefit of all the facts before me, it looked like a possible case of excessive force. Now the judge has made his ruling. And, you know, we're a nation of laws. And so we respect the verdict that came down.

I think the most important thing for people who are concerned about that shooting is to figure out how do we come together and assure that those kinds of tragedies don't happen again.


BLITZER: Let's go back to Carol Costello.

She's monitoring some other important stories incoming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now -- Carol.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, how about this?

A Marine biologist says it was almost certainly a great white shark that killed a man off the Southern California coast this morning. Sixty-six-year old retired veterinarian Dave Martin was attacked while swimming with eight other people at Solana Beach. Martin was badly bitten across both legs. His companions pulled him to the shore, but he bled to death. A 72-hour swim advisory is now in place along an eight mile stretch of beach.

The Food and Drug Administration is considering stronger warnings about the risk of LASIK eye surgery. The agency heard testimony today from patients who report years of pain and blurred vision after the procedure. One father testified that his son was driven to suicide. An estimated 7.5 million people have had the procedure. Five percent report dissatisfaction. The FDA wants a major study to determine who's had bad outcomes and why.

NBC isn't committing on reports that Jimmy Fallon is on the brink of signing to succeed Conan O'Brien as the host of "Late Night". The "Hollywood Reporter" and "Variety" reported yesterday that Fallon has either signed or is about to sign a deal with the network. The former "Saturday Night Live" regular would take over for O'Brien sometime next year. O'Brien was named in 2004 as Jay Leno's successor when Leno leaves "The Tonight Show."

You know, Wolf, Jimmy Fallon was like the co-anchor of the news with Tina Fey on "Saturday Night Live."

BLITZER: I knew that.

COSTELLO: You did?

BLITZER: Yes. Of course.

COSTELLO: Good for you.

BLITZER: Thank you.

He's a superdelegate who's mightily peeved right now at the Clinton campaign, at the former president, Bill Clinton, in particular. We're going to tell you what has the most powerful African-American in Congress so angry.

Plus, former Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee -- he shares his thoughts on the flap over the Obama pastor, the Reverend Jeremiah Wright, from a preacher's perspective.

And convicted of a crime but still on the front lines -- duty in Iraq puts punishment on hold.

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


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

Happening now, Barack Obama fires back. The Democratic candidate is taking on criticism that he can't attract blue collar voters. We're going to tell you what he says are the key issues right now.

Also, tough politics -- I'll speak to the Clinton campaign official who specializes in strategy, in North Carolina specifically. Some insiders say his name strikes terror into opposition politicians. They call him "The Closer." We'll find out why.

And Iran's influence in Iraq -- the Pentagon now says it has new evidence that Tehran is even more involved with supplying weapons to militants than previously believed.

We have new details. Stay with us.

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

Sharp criticism for the Clinton campaign and for the former president, Bill Clinton, in particular, from the country's most senior elected black lawmaker. He says their actions are creating a rift that could be permanent.

Let's go to CNN's Jessica Yellin. She's watching the story for us.

All right, Jessica, what's the latest?

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we'll hear from Senator -- I'm sorry, from Representative Clyburn, in just a moment. I just spoke with him. And he tells me he's concerned about the tone of this race and whether the Democratic Party will come together in November.


YELLIN: Barack Obama says there will not be a racial breach in the Democratic Party.

OBAMA: I never believe in irreparable breaches. I'm a big believer in reconciliation and redemption. People are going to be excited about taking on John McCain in November.

YELLIN: The comments come after "The New York Times" quoted representative Jim Clyburn, the most powerful African-American in Congress, saying he believes the Clintons are committed to doing everything they possibly can to damage Obama to a point that he could never win, calling Bill Clinton's conduct during the campaign "bizarre" and saying "black people are incensed over all of this."

It's not the first time he's scolded the former president.

REP. JAMES CLYBURN (D), MAJORITY WHIP: Well, I think he really, as they would say in country, he needs to chill a little bit.


YELLIN: Now, Representative Clyburn told me he thinks the president still could stand to chill a little bit. He's some of what he told me in an interview moments ago, Wolf.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) CLYBURN: Really believe that we have to bring everybody together at -- after this process is over. We have to have -- if Hillary Clinton is the nominee, then we've got to have Barack Obama and everybody else out there helping us to bring this party back together. I think the most important person in this process is going to be the person that finishes second.


YELLIN: And he said he's deeply concerned that African-Americans will feel marginalized by the tone of the campaign and every effort needs to be made to make sure they come out and vote in November.

Now Wolf, as you know, Bill Clinton says that he feels a racial controversy has been stirred up by the Obama campaign and the Clinton campaign says Bill Clinton has a long record of working for civil rights and African-American issues and we should stay focused on the issues at the heart of this campaign -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks very much for that, Jessica. Certainly Congressman Clyburn's comments are railing some people out there, specifically Clinton supporters.

Let's discuss this and more with three guests. The former Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk, he's an Obama supporter, the Democratic strategist Steve Elmendorf, he's a Clinton supporter and Republican strategist Alex Castellanos.

Guys, thanks very much for helping us.

First of all, Mr. Mayor what do you think? Do you really believe that Bill Clinton is a racist?

RON KIRK, OBAMA SUPPORTER: Absolutely not. I mean, nothing in his background, nothing in his body of work would suggest that he's a racist. But you don't have to be a racist to do things that -- that necessarily aren't viewed as in your best interest. And there's no question that the president's conduct and his comments on race as it relates to this campaign are simply befuddling to a lot of people including African-Americans.

But I think the best counsel that we could take was that that Representative Clyburn gave the president which seems like months ago in that we just need to all chill out and get back to those issues that really do define the difference between both the Democratic candidates in this race and John McCain so that we have the best chance of electing a Democrat in November.

BLITZER: Steve, what do you think?

STEVE ELMENDORF, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: I agree with what Barack Obama said in your earlier clip. The party is going to come together whoever the nominee is. There's going to be a lot of dust ups through this primary season but at the end of the day, Democrats really want the White House back. And I think Bill Clinton's record on civil rights and his record for the African-American community is really unchallenged. I don't think it's going to be a problem to unite the party.

BLITZER: As a Republican looking at this little fight that's going on, Alex what do you think?

ALEX CASTELLANOS, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: It's a shame to see a fight like this on the other side, Wolf.

No, I think the Clintons have never been known for moderation. I don't think this is a racial issue for them. I think this is just relentless ambition. This is the thing they wanted most, the presidency, to have the presidency again. And the question is are they willing to burn the village to save the village.

If Hillary Clinton has a strong fourth quarter and beats Barack Obama, has a better fourth quarter but is still behind in the game overall in the end and she snatches the nomination away from Barack Obama, I think you're going to see a lot of -- basically the Democratic Party, young people, black Americans, very upset.

BLITZER: Do you agree with that, Mayor?

KIRK: I think that could be an issue. But one I'm more hopeful than that. Because one, Wolf, I look back from when he started a year ago. I don't believe anybody would have believed Barack Obama would be in the position we're in.

And I kind of liken this to the New York Giants going up against the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl. We were the underdog and here we are in the fourth quarter with more delegates were more excitement, more money, having won more states, more of the popular vote and we've got the ball.

We're going to two states. We're going to be very competitive. I'm still hopeful and very much of a belief that America is tired of the same old do anything to win politics and they want a fresh, inspiring voice like Barack Obama. And we're going to do very well in these upcoming primaries. Hopefully we'll be able to move on from then.

BLITZER: Steve, is Obama's pastor of what some 20 years, the Reverend Jeremiah Wright, now doing him a favor by going out and giving this interview to PBS to Bill Moyers, to be speaking in Detroit at an NAACP meeting, on Monday he'll be here in Washington speaking to reporters at the National Press Club, is this good strategy? Is this helping or hurting Obama right now for this issue once again to be raised by the pastor himself?

ELMENDORF: Well, I don't know if it's a strategy on anybody's part. I think it's a free country and people have a right to go make their voices heard. And the Reverend Wright does.

I think what's despicable is how the Republican Party in North Carolina has run ads highlighting that issue and trying to divide people. The Democrats aren't interested in being divided. The Democrats are gong to end up united. Somebody's going to get 2,024 delegates. They're going to be the nominee. It's going to happen shortly after June 3. We're going to march to victory against John McCain.

BLITZER: Do you think it's despicable what the GOP in North Carolina is doing running a supposedly this ad linking Democratic candidates in North Carolina, not only to Barack Obama, but to the Reverend Wright?

CASTELLANOS: I think there's frankly a little hype going on here. There's nothing in that ad that hasn't run on every news network in America, including this one, time and time again. Senator McCain nevertheless has said no, it shouldn't be in the campaign.

I think the question it really raises is are the people that you find in Barack Obama's life, are they the same kind of people you'd find in a Barack Obama administration. That's, I think, a question of judgment. That's a fair question to be asking Barack Obama.

BLITZER: You're shaking your head there.

KIRK: That's the most ridiculous thing I've heard. I mean, Barack Obama, first of all, I think has spoken forcefully and honestly to this. And we've talked about it before, Wolf.

Many of us attend churches for reasons quite frankly that have very little to do with the pastor. Sometimes it's where our family was, where we grew up, our denomination. We like the church's ministry or their health care or their outreach. There are a number of reasons that Barack and Michelle Obama have, good reasons, to stay committed to that church.

And he is running for president because he realizes that we're not going to be able to address the problems of bringing jobs home to America, bringing our troops home --

BLITZER: But Mayor would you be happier if Reverend Wright right now simply disappeared as opposed to having these high profile he's going to have over the next few days?

KIRK: You know I don't know. I think Reverend Wright has absolutely within his right to step up and say, America, at least I want you to see all of me if you're going to try to make a judgment on me. And there's nothing we can do to control that. I'm much more comfortable that it's happening with an environment with someone that's thoughtful as Bill Moyers.

The worst that can come out of it is people are going to see Reverend Wright in the eyes that so many African-American dos. But more importantly, Barack Obama is the person who's going to be on the ticket, not Reverend Wright.

BLITZER: Steve, button this up for us.

ELMENDORF: Well, I agree with Mayor Kirk. I think what the American people want to hear about is the economy, what they want to hear about is what you're going to do to get out of Iraq, they want to hear about health care, and they want to hear these two candidates debate.

I think it's been very good for the Democratic Party. It's brought a lot of new people into the system. And I think at the end of the day, this race will have been a net positive for all of us.

BLITZER: Good discussion, guys. Thanks very much for coming in.

KIRK: Thanks very having us.

BLITZER: American military officials say they're more sure than ever that Iran is helping to kill American troops in Iraq. We're going to tell you about what they say is damning new evidence.

But first, convicts on the battlefield. You'll find out how the U.S. military is pressuring judges to allow criminals to be deployed to Iraq to fight for the U.S.

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


BLITZER: How far should the U.S. military go to keep good soldiers out there on the battlefield? We know the U.S. military is waiving criminal records to allow more people to serve in Iraq. Tonight, the U.S. Army has gone one step farther. It's intervening in the criminal justice system.

Let's go back to Carol. She's here to explain what's going on.

What is going on?

COSTELLO: What is going on is, well, the U.S. Army appealed to prosecutors in Baltimore, Maryland, to dismiss gun charges against two U.S. soldiers. It's a very unusual step. And it was taken to make sure those soldiers could go back to Iraq to fight.


COSTELLO: Baltimore is a city struggling with gun violence. Its murder rate is among the highest in the country. So get caught carrying a gun illegally here and you're in trouble.

JOE SVIATKO, BALTIMORE PROSECUTOR'S OFFICE: We have a zero tolerance policy. So we prosecute those cases to the fullest extent of the law.

COSTELLO: That could mean several years in prison. But that's not what happened to Private First Class Denario Wesson (ph) or Army Specialist Private Joshua Johnson. Both Private Wesson and Army Specialist Johnson admitted they were carrying guns illegally the night they partied at a Baltimore nightclub.

Wesson also admitted to using his gun, firing off two shots above a crowd of people he says was threatening him. Wesson didn't hit anyone. Both soldiers were arrested. Wesson charged with discharging a weapon, possession of a handgun and reckless endangerment.

It wasn't long after that the Baltimore City prosecutors starting feeling the heat. Both soldiers were about to be deployed to Iraq. The soldiers' attorneys sent letters accusing prosecutors of an "apathetic attitude towards the duties these men are about to face in Iraq." The attorney went on to say, Baltimore must delay the trial "for the good of the country."

And in an unusual move, the U.S. Army also intervened. Because it said, Specialist Johnson was a "phenomenal soldier." And it said the loss of Sergeant Wesson would be "truly damaging to the overall integrity of our unit."

SVIATKO: The military did ask us to dismiss the case and then they also asked if we would consider postponing it for 18 months.

COSTELLO: That would enable the soldiers to deploy as scheduled to Iraq. Some military experts are surprised at the level of intervention in this case, especially the U.S. Army's.

LAWRENCE KORB, FORMER ASST. DEFENSE SECRETARY: That just goes to show you, I think, the desperate situation the army's in to get people to fight a war that the American people have turned against.

COSTELLO: The prosecutor resisted the military's request and the soldiers did go to trial in Baltimore. Both pleaded guilty. The judge sentenced them to probation, but, also suspended the sentence so that they could go to Iraq and serve their country.


COSTELLO: Now, once the soldiers finish their tour of duty, they will appear again before that Baltimore judge for final sentencing. Right now though both are at Ft. Hood preparing to leave for service in Iraq -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks, Carol, for that.

Military recruiters, by the way, are also increasingly making exceptions for convicts who already have served their time. The Marines issued 350 felony waivers, as they're called, last year, up from about 200 a year earlier.

The army issued more than 500 felony waivers last year. That's more than double the number from 2006. Among the crimes with a significant jump in the waivers, assault with a dangerous weapon, maiming, armed robbery, and drug possession.

Killing Americans. The Pentagon says it has new evidence that Iran is more involved right now with the Iraqi insurgency than previously believed.

And a new poll shows that more Americans than ever believe it was a mistake to send troops to Iraq. Now Jack Cafferty is asking if the presidential candidates are making a mistake by not talking more about the war.

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


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

CAFFERTY: The question this hour is: Are the presidential candidates going to have to spend more time talking about the war in Iraq? We learned today the Iraqi government is keeping thousands, thousands of dead, wounded and missing soldiers and policemen on the payroll, which you and I are paying for in order to support their families. Ain't that swell.

Praetorian in Ft. Meyers, Florida: "The last thing Clinton and Obama want to talk about is Iraq. As Commander in Chief, their stance will have to be much different than on the campaign trail and they don't want to make any promises to the audience that as president he or she won't be able to keep. They're very happy allowing Mr. Bush to take all the heat."

Courtney writes from South Windsor, Connecticut: "Of course. Many of the current issues facing our nation can in some way be associated with the debacle in Iraq. The candidates alone are not to blame. The press have started to gloss over the horrific events taking place there. Agenda setting does take place in the media and I'm baffled at how moronic debate questions have usurped the importance of American lives overseas."

Ralph in New York writes: "Only in terms of bringing our troops home, spending no more money there and showing the Iraqi government we won't be handling their responsibilities."

Patricia writes: "If we're getting facts from all angles, like this story, we'd remain interested in the details of the war and not reach brain freeze when the topic comes up. Sadly, it's human nature the lose interest in a problem the more it's in the press."

Rosalynd in Florida writes: "One, presumptive nominee Obama would be happy to discuss Iraq. Two, loser Clinton wants to wine about more debates and loses on the issue of Iraq with her vote for the war. Three, McCain would surely want to skip this discussion since he and Bush are tied at the hip on the war in Iraq."

If you didn't see your e-mail here, you can go to my blog at Look for you e-mail there among hundreds of others -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Jack, for that. See you in a few moments.

You hear it from air travelers all the time. Flying is just not what it used to be. Lines are long, service is poor and on-time arrivals seem to be increasingly unusual.

And joining us now for our "What If" segment, our special correspondent, Frank Sesno.

We're talking airlines today.

FRANK SESNO, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: We are and I want to see how good you are at trivial pursuit right out of the airlines - right out of the sky. All right. Altogether, how many flights did American airlines cancel due to the recent maintenance issues, fewer than 400, about 1,200, about 2,000, more than 3,000?

BLITZER: I'm guessing somewhere between 2,000 and 3,000. I'll guess C, about 2,000.

SESNO: Actually, it was more than 3,000 flights.

BLITZER: Really? OK.

SESNO: That's why it was such a mess. Next question, let's check this out. What will passengers bumped from their flights be eligible for under new Department of Transportation rules if it's a substantial delay, meal vouchers and 250 bucks, an overnight stay in an airport hotel, full fare up to $800 or a first class upgrade.

BLITZER: I'm going to guess A, a meal voucher and $250.

SESNO: Guess what? Full fare up to $800.

BLITZER: Really? That's good.

SESNO: And finally this last one for you, a passenger bill of rights. If we could get it would require which of the following, full constitutional protection for travelers, food, water and bathrooms, access to bathrooms in planes stuck on the tarmac for a long time, streamlined service and security checks or a special traveler's blog.

BLITZER: I'll guess B, food water and bathrooms.

SESNO: Exactly. You know those Jet Blue fights that were stuck with those ice storms up to 10 hours, people were confined to their seats, not a lot of fun.

Friendly skies, I don't think so.


SESNO: Let's face it. This is a lousy time to fly. High fuel prices, jammed seats, late flights, missed connections, lost baggage. It's enough to make you want to walk and it's taking a toll.

Aloha has said goodbye, it is out of business. Frontier crossed a new frontier, bankruptcy. And Delta's flying north by Northwest because the urge to merge is downright Darwinian.

Soaring fuel prices are a big part of what's endangering this species. Continental's costs were up 53 percent in the first quarter of the year. American lost more than $300 million during that time. United just announced a domestic fuel surcharge of 10 to 20 bucks per round trip. It was the 12th time this year an airline tried to raise prices.

What if this turbulence continues? No one will be free to leave their seats any time soon. Expect fewer flights, more crowds, more mergers. There's talk United and Continental could be next. Experts say fewer airlines could mean less competition, fewer flights, and you guessed it, higher prices. And more of those pesky new add-on fees for things like checked baggage, on board meals, and even seats.

Want to sit up front in economy class? It'll cost you. U.S. Airways announced this week an extra $5 to $30 for an isle or window seat in the forward zone.

The airlines say it's about survival. Passengers can be excused for saying the same thing.

What if we end up with just one big airline? It could be known as American North South United West Delta. Or maybe we just call it Greyhound.


SESNO: But people don't want to take the bus. They want to fly in an airplane. What they want most is to arrive safely, of course, and on time.

Wolf, take a look at this February results arriving on time. You see quite a range. American arrives on time about 62 percent of a time up to a high for Delta. What that means a third to a quarter of the flights are arriving late. They've built so much pad into it that time now that even a arriving late isn't what it used to be. It's just taking longer to get from one place to the next. People don't want to be herded. They want to respected and they want a decent experience out of it.

BLITZER: Trust me, I do a lot of flying. I appreciate those late arrivals.

OK. Frank, thanks very much.

SESNO: My pleasure, Wolf.

BLITZER: Getting the goods on Iran. We have new details of what the Bush administration officials say is new evidence showing Iran's interference in Iraq goes farther than anyone knew.

Plus, Hillary Clinton's not so secret weapon in North Carolina. We're going to talk to the man some say can terrify the opposition.

Plus, the plan to crack down on illegal workers that could wind up costing employers more than $1 billion. Lou Dobbs standing by to discuss that and more right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Lou Dobbs getting ready for his program in one hour. He's here to discuss this latest study. I guess it's coming out from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.


BLITZER: It says that the government's plan to crack down on illegal workers, I'm reading right now, could cost employers more than $1 billion a year and legal workers billions of dollars in lost wages. What do you make of this study?

DOBBS: I think the U.S. Chamber of Commerce ought to just apologize to the American people for forgetting that it is its responsibility to represent corporate citizens in the country, not simply multinationals. This is a silly study suggesting that it's concerned about worker pay. Without even mentioning, for example, professor at Harvard University, his study showing that wages are depressed by $200 billion a year for excessive immigration into this country.

The study is silly. It's trying to block. It's not about illegal workers. It's about illegal employers.

The reality is if there were no illegal employers in this country which would be the case if we could combine social security numbers with IRS numbers and social security numbers and report that to the Department of Homeland Security, we wouldn't have a problem with illegal immigration in this country at all. That is the issue they're trying to block. They should be ashamed of themselves.

BLITZER: Most countries in the world have a national ID that people have that people get. It's the same all over the country, not for states. Is that something the U.S. should do because as you know, there's been concern about privacy rights over the years that historically there's been a lot of opposition to that.

DOBBS: First you tell me what privacy we have left, would you? If you could tell me what our rights of privacy are, I'd be a little more excited about. I'm a little more concerned about the security of 300 million Americans and you're exactly right. We have to have bonafide real I.D. in this country and you're seeing it being blocked by the same groups, the same nonsense.

Whether it's the airline industry treating us like cattle, whether it is corporate America simply looking at us as units of labor or consumers before they'll look at us as citizens, we're being treated like the fools we're acting as. We need to stop and say we're going to be citizens and this is going to be a nation, first and foremost.

BLITZER: Lou, see you in one hour.

DOBBS: You've got it.