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The Situation Room

Implementing the New War Plan; Baghdad Security Chief Fired; Pakistan: Five Arrested Are Missing Virginia Men

Aired December 09, 2009 - 17:00   ET


BLITZER: And thank you, Christiane.

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

Happening now, breaking news -- a twist in the case of five missing Virginia men. We've now learned they're under arrest in Pakistan. They're suspected of plotting terrorist acts. We have the latest.

Also, as world leaders gather in Copenhagen to talk climate change, the man who made it an international cause talks one-on-one with CNN. This hour, Al Gore's urgent call to action.

Plus, two scientists debate the controversial science behind global warming.

And arsenic, bacteria, even uranium -- what's in the water that you drink?

There's new concern and growing doubts the government is even capable of cleaning it up.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.


One-on-one today with the man in charge of implementing President Obama's new Afghan war strategy. That would be General Stanley McChrystal.

Our chief investigative correspondent, Christiane Amanpour, as you saw live here in THE SITUATION ROOM, has just wrapped up her in depth interview with the U.S. commander.

Let's talk about it with our Pentagon correspondent, Chris Lawrence, and our senior political analyst, Gloria Borger.

The general at least comes across as totally on board the president's decision to escalate and then start to withdraw.

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: That's right. But some of the things, Wolf, when he talked about do the soldiers -- Christiane asked him if the soldiers like the job they're doing there trying to reconcile with some of the Afghan people and like that. And she specifically brought up something Condi Rice said about the 82nd Airborne, that they don't escort kids to school. I was with the 82nd Airborne down in Kandahar and a lot of them were somewhat frustrated with having to do this extensive training of the Afghan police, who a lot of them felt just weren't up to snuff. They felt that it was a little bit frustrating and would like to be more involved in -- in more of a fight, so to speak.

BLITZER: It's a...


BLITZER: It's a stiff challenge.

But go ahead.

BORGER: Oh, it is a stiff challenge. What was interesting to me was hearing him talk about the insurgency, because Christiane asked about how strong it was.

And what he said was there's a division in the insurgency, which is that the leadership seems to feel very confident, but the rank and file at the lower level seem to be frustrated and unsure. And it's clear to me that our policy is to deal with the folks in -- the insurgents in the rank and file, because that's our opportunity.

And he also made the point nothing succeeds like success. If they see us succeed, then we will be able to succeed even more.

BLITZER: If you listened carefully, he was very precise in his words. And he's obviously a very intelligent guy. The U.S. wants to destroy, crush Al Qaeda, but not necessarily the Taliban.

LAWRENCE: That's right.

BORGER: Right.

LAWRENCE: In fact, he said, you know, a lot of their fighters are -- are tired. A lot of them made extensive overtures to reconcile. I don't know if I'd qualify that as a lot of the Taliban have made those overtures. I don't know if that necessarily reflects the reality there on the ground. But, yes, he is clearly separating the Taliban and clearly giving the message, which we've seen echoed by Eikenberry and others, that, hey, if you're Taliban and you're not Al Qaeda, you may be OK with us.

BLITZER: Eikenberry, the U.S. ambassador in Afghanistan, the former military commander himself.

I want to just get you to react to these polls that we have, these CNN/Opinion Research Corporation polls. On the most likely outcome for the United States in Afghanistan, only 29 percent believe victory is the most likely outcome. Fifty-seven percent believe stalemate is the most likely outcome. Twelve percent believe defeat is the most likely outcome.

Should there be -- will there be a stable government in Afghanistan? Thirty-three percent say that's likely. But 66 percent say unlikely.

And will Afghanistan be able to prevent terrorists from using their country as a base of operations?

Thirty-six percent say that's likely. But 63 percent say that's unlikely.

If you add up those three poll questions, Gloria, you've got a lot of pessimistic Americans.

BORGER: Oh, very pessimistic Americans, a majority of whom don't approve of the war in Afghanistan. And I think that's what General McChrystal was trying to do today, essentially, in his interview with Christiane, was to sell the war to the American people and to say, look, the real way to success here is through the Afghan people. We will work with the Afghan people to achieve success. They're quite aware of these kinds of polls. And they also understand why Americans are frustrated, because they don't see results.

So what they're going to try and show us back here is the results that they're achieving over there, in a relatively short period of time.

BLITZER: He's not the only general trying to sell the war, General McChrystal...

LAWRENCE: He sure isn't.

BORGER: Right.

BLITZER: ...the Defense secretary, Bob Gates, they're all trying to sell this new strategy.

LAWRENCE: And -- and something just plain off what Gloria just said, General Petraeus, you know, during his testimony, specifically said,. You're going to see a rise in violence...


LAWRENCE: -- in the spring. You may even see a more destabilized central government as they root out some of the corruption. It will start to come together this time next year.

So he's preparing Americans, this next year may look even worse than it does now, but check back with us in a year and we think we'll be on the right track.

BLITZER: All right, guys. We're going to continue this conversation.

Thanks very much for that.

Meanwhile, there's some new fallout from those suicide car bombings that have killed at least 127 people in Baghdad. The attacks cost the man in charge of security there his job. Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki has replaced him, as Iraqi lawmakers demand answers about how terrorists managed to infiltrate some of the most secure parts of the Iraqi capital.

The bombings targeted two government ministries and a courthouse, as well as the university and a police patrol. More than 400 people were hurt. Some say more than 500 people were hurt.

Let's go to Jack Cafferty.

He as The Cafferty File -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: Did you watch that interview?

BLITZER: I certainly did.

CAFFERTY: Pretty good stuff, huh?

BLITZER: He's a smart guy. Obviously, he knows the -- knows the business. But he's a difficult...

CAFFERTY: He's a smart guy...

BLITZER: He's got a diff challenge -- a difficult challenge.

CAFFERTY: And she's just terrific. I mean the questions she asked were -- were absolutely the right ones. It was a -- I was a fascinating 25 minutes or so. I enjoyed it.


CAFFERTY: Congress and the American public, for that matter, would like to know how uninvited guests can simply walk into the White House and attend a state dinner hosted by the president of the United States.

It seems like a reasonable question.

The trouble is, nobody wants to tell them, except for the Secret Service, who willingly have admitted their role in the screw-up.

The intruders -- they weren't guests, the Salahis, well, they don't want to talk. They may have to, though. Congress voted today to subpoena them. The Salahis say they plan to invoke the Fifth Amendment. That's the one that protects you against self- incrimination.

Well, if, as they claim, they were invited -- they weren't -- then why would they do that?

The bigger question, though, from my point of view, is why the White House is providing cover to the social secretary, Desiree Rogers.

The president cites executive privilege in saying this woman, who was in charge of the dinner -- that's her job, dinner -- doesn't have to testify. Now, we're not talking about a key policy adviser to the president here. We're talking about a secretary whose job was to be in charge of stuff like dinner that night. It's not like she has access to the nuclear launch codes, if you know what I mean.

But the president doesn't want Rogers to have to go in front of Congress and explain why she didn't do her job.

Did I mention her job was dinner?

Why not?

People have been fired for less. But she's being shielded from any embarrassment, not because of executive privilege, but because she's an old buddy of Obama's from Chicago.

This is change.

Here's the question -- does President Obama remind you of President Bush when he allows social secretary, Desiree Rogers, to avoid testifying before Congress?

Go to and post a comment on my blog.

The same old stuff -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, even Paul Begala, who's a Democratic strategist, our

CNN contributor here yesterday, he thinks the White House is making a major blunder. Let her go up, explain what happened and -- and move on.

CAFFERTY: Well, yes. I mean what's she -- go there, say I made a mistake, we're -- we're going to correct it, it won't happen again and next. In the meantime, you don't have guys like me throwing brick bats at them.

BLITZER: Yes. Well, you know, people have to live and learn.


BLITZER: Jack...

CAFFERTY: And I -- and I need this gig, so I appreciate their lack of cooperation.


BLITZER: Thank you.


BLITZER: Jack Cafferty will be back shortly.

We're following the breaking news -- Americans arrested in Pakistan and accused by police there of plotting terrorist attacks. We're getting new information is coming into THE SITUATION ROOM. Stand by for the latest.

And Al Gore talks to CNN about global warming and we put the science to the test as two experts debate whether climate change is real.

Plus, an American accused of taking part in the Mumbai terror attacks has a day in court. Details of his plea -- that's coming up.


BLITZER: We're following the breaking news involving five missing Virginia men. Police in Pakistan say they've arrested them and they tell CNN the men were planning terrorist attacks.

Our homeland security correspondent, Jeanne Meserve is watching this story. So is Brian Todd.

We'll start with you -- Jeanne, what are we picking up right now?

JEANNE MESERVE, HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, one of the five young Muslim men who disappeared late last month from Northern Virginia left behind what's being described as a disturbing farewell video. But U.S. officials say they still cannot confirm that those men are the five Americans that were arrested by -- by Pakistani police.

A Pakistani official, however, tells CNN he is confident that they are one and the same and that they were planning terrorist acts. The deputy superintendent of police in the town of Sargodha, Pakistan, where the arrest took place, says a preliminary investigation shows that the men tried to link up with two militant organizations, but they were unsuccessful.

The five, including one Howard University student, left Virginia late last month. A Pakistani official says they arrived in Karachi, traveled on to Lahore and then Sardona, where they -- excuse me, Sargodha, where they were arrested in a raid on a house.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton refused to comment on the specifics of the case, but did talk about concerns about domestic radicalization.


HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE: It's always been a concern. We have been well aware of the threats that we continue to face, along with friends and allies around the world. We know that much of the training and the direction for terrorists comes from Pakistan and the border area with Afghanistan.


MESERVE: Clinton specifically messaged the case of Najibullah Zazi, who allegedly received bomb making training in Pakistan and then came back to the United States, authorities say, to conduct terrorist attacks. Others have mentioned possible similarities to the young Somali Americans who left Minneapolis and other cities to wage jihad in Somalia.

But the FBI is saying very little as it tries to establish if the five arrested in Pakistan are, indeed, the five who disappeared from Northern Virginia and tries to establish if they are, what exactly they were doing in Pakistan -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jeanne, stand by a moment.

Brian Todd has just emerged from a news conference here in Washington.

Tell our viewers where you are and what happened -- Brian.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we're at the headquarters of the Council on American-Islamic Relations. It's a prominent Muslim-American group that's headquartered here in Washington.

The officials here have just given a very compelling account about how some of the key information regarding this case was passed along to the FBI and to other U.S. authorities.

Essentially, it went like this, that they were approached by the leaders of certain mosques in the Northern Virginia area. The families of the five missing men had gone to those mosques. The leaders of the mosques had come here. They had relayed the concerns about the five missing young men. At that point, this organization, also known as CAIR, relayed that information to U.S. law enforcement authorities.

We just -- held a news conference here, the CAIR leaders held a news conference here a short time ago, where they relayed some of that and laid out how the families had come to them with their concerns on December 1st, just about a week ago.


NIHAD AWAD, COUNCIL ON AMERICAN-ISLAMIC RELATIONS: They expressed concerns that their five young sons, ages between 19 to 25, had been missing since the weekend under mysterious circumstances. They pieced the information together. They were not given reasons why they were from home. And they discovered that the five men were overseas.

A video was left by the five men. I have seen the video and I was disturbed by the content of it. One person appeared in that video. And they made references to the...


AWAD: ...yes. You know, the ongoing conflict in -- in the world and that young Muslims have to do something. I recall the video is about 11 minutes. And it's like a farewell. And they did not specify what they will be doing. But just hearing and seeing videos similar on the Internet, it just made me uncomfortable.

(END VIDEO CLIP) TODD: As Jeanne Meserve alluded to a moment ago, U.S. authorities are not confirming that the five men arrested in Pakistan are the same five that went missing here in Northern Virginia. But Jeanne mentioned a Pakistani official is confident that they are the same five. Also, the officials here at CAIR are confident that they are the same men who went missing from Northern Virginia. We can also confirm from one of the Muslim leaders that was here that at least one, possibly more of these men, worshipped at what is called the Islamic Circle of North America. They have a chapter in Alexandria, Virginia. We were there earlier this afternoon. No one there would talk to us on camera. We're going to go back there in a short time to see if anybody from that chapter of that organization knew any of these men -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Was there any indication, Brian, that they had been radicalized over recent years?

TODD: As a matter of fact, Wolf, the leader of CAIR, Nihad Awad, said that they had no indication from these families that any of them were -- were what he called outwardly radicalized. And then he said he saw this video, of course, and it really drew his concerns. He said he saw some very disturbing images on that video about conflict, about other things. And, as you saw him say, it appeared to be a farewell video, according to him.

BLITZER: So basically what I hear you saying, Brian, is that fare -- a farewell video -- Jeanne suggested it earlier -- they may have just been getting ready for some sort of suicide activity and they were saying good-bye.

Is that the assumption that these folks at CAIR are suggesting?

TODD: The people at CAIR are saying essentially that it did seem like a farewell video, that he was saying good-bye. And this was a -- this was a video where just one of the young men appeared in it. We have to clarify that -- just one of the young men appeared in this video. And, yes, it sounded -- it seemed to Nihad Awad, the leader of CAIR, that this young man was saying good-bye. And he put that together with all the other disturbing images in that video you can kind of draw your own conclusions from that.

We're also told by people here that the five men did know each other, that the five families were acquaintances of each other.

BLITZER: All right, Brian.

We're going to stay on top of this story.

Brian Todd and Jeanne Meserve working it.

We're going to get back to them when they have more information.

A Pulitzer Prize winning columnist says when it comes to climate change, he's "doing the Cheney thing." We're going to explain what he means.

Also, a major debate coming up on the science behind global warming. Two experts standing by live.

Details of major changes in store for breakfast cereal -- is yours one of them?


BLITZER: Take a look at the this picture of the nation's capital, as the sun goes down here in Washington, D.C. Really a nice, beautiful shot of Washington, D.C.

Deborah Feyerick is monitoring some top stories coming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now -- Deb, what's going on?

FEYERICK: Well, hey there, Wolf.

Well, David Headley, the only American accused of playing a role in last year's deadly Mumbai terrorist attacks, is pleading not guilty to all 12 counts against him. Headley faces charges of helping plan those attacks, which left 160 people dead; as well as attacks in Denmark, which were not carried out. Now, this weekend, CNN goes inside the Mumbai massacre. You will hear chilling words spoken by the terrorists themselves. "Terror in Mumbai" airs this Saturday and Sunday, 8:00 p.m. Eastern.

And the controversy surrounding Tiger Woods is having an impact on his TV commercials. Media tracker Nielsen indicates the last ad featuring Woods aired on November 29th, about 10 days ago. Analysts say some sponsors indicated they would hold back on airing the spots, at least for the next few weeks, despite continuing their relationship with Woods. Other partners have not yet commented.

And there could be less sugar in your next bowl of cereal. General Mills says it is to reducing this to single digits -- the number of grams of sugar in the cereals it advertises to children, like Trix and Cocoa Puffs. The company's Web site tracks the decreasing sugar levels in some cereals. It also includes those cereals that are already at the single digit level.

And this just might be the luckiest dog in all of Baghdad. Liza survived yesterday's deadly bombings that killed more than 150 people. She was found chained to a ledge on top of her owner's demolished home. The dog's owner was thought to have been killed in the blast, but rescued the dog earlier today. He and all of his family survived.

You want to hold onto that dog -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, a lucky dog. Not so many lucky people there, but a lucky dog, indeed.

All right, thanks very much, Deb.

FEYERICK: Exactly.

BLITZER: What's in stake at the Copenhagen conference on climate change?

We're going to hear from Al Gore. And I'll be joined by two leading climate scientists on differing sides of the issue.

Republican Senator Orrin Hatch is a Mormon, but his effort to honor an important Jewish holiday is getting a lot of attention online on this day. We're going to bring it to you here, right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


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

Happening now, President Obama heads to Norway to accept the Nobel Peace Prize. Advisers say in accepting the award, he'll talk directly about his decision to expand the war in Afghanistan.

Also, more fallout from the Tiger Woods scandal -- are advertisers pulling back from one of their premier pitchmen in sports?

And less than 24 hours after senators struck a deal on health care reform, there are reports of powerful new opposition. We're going to tell you about the big hurdles still ahead.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.


The former vice president, Al Gore, is urging delegates at the international climate change conference in Copenhagen to take quick action to slow global warming.

Gore appeared on CNN's "AMERICAN MORNING" earlier today.


AL GORE, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The North Polar icecap is melting before our very eyes. It's been the size of the continental United States for most of the last three million years and now, suddenly, 40 percent of it is gone and the rest of it is expected to disappear within five, 10, 15 years.

The mountain glaciers all over the world are melting -- many of them at a greatly accelerated rate, threatening drinking water supplies.

We've had these record storms, record droughts, floods, giant fires -- unprecedented -- all -- all over the world.

The evergreen trees of the American West are dying by the millions because the warming trend is making them vulnerable to pests that they could resist in -- in the colder weather in which they evolved.

And climate refugee flows are beginning and could reach the hundreds of millions, destabilizing political systems around the world.

Sea levels are rising. The -- these changes are now beginning to unfold right in front of our eyes. And the fact that they're distributed globally causes this problem to masquerade as an abstraction. It's not an abstraction for those who are being affected nor would it be for our children and others, who -- who will be affected unless we take action now.


BLITZER: An animated Al Gore making his case.

So is global warming fact or fiction?

Let's get to a debate.

John Christy is professor atmospheric science at the University of Alabama Huntsville and Gavin Schmidt is a climate scientist at the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies.

Gentlemen, thanks very much for coming in.

John Christy, you're a skeptic. You disagree with Al Gore. The disappearance, as he says of the polar icecap. How do you explain that?

JOHN CHRISTY, UNIV. OF ALABAMA, HUNTSVILLE: Well, the polar icecap has been melting for the last several years, but if you look at the South Pole, you'll find that Antarctic sea ice is increasing, but I would say as someone who actually builds climate data sets, I could take Mr. Gore to task on all of his assertions there.

BLITZER: Well, give us one example, because we have a limited amount of time.

CHRISTY: In terms of storms and droughts and floods, those things have always been with us and they are not outside the range of natural variability as we have found in looking very closely at the data sets that we can build these days.

BLITZER: All right. Gavin, what do you say?

GAVIN SCHMIDT, CLIMATE SCIENTIST: The changes that we're seeing in the climates are outside of what we would expect under natural circumstances at the moment. The causes that humans have put into the atmosphere, carbon dioxide, aerosols, the other greenhouse gases, do have a noticeable effect on the climate. We've detected it in fingerprint studies, we've looked at it all over the world and these things are really happening now. The issue is not whether these things have ever happened before, but whether we're causing them. The presence of natural forest fires doesn't mean that arson doesn't exist. We can still be attribute -- we can still attribute our role in climate change even though back in the Cretaceous period, it was much, much more warmer than it is now.

BLITZER: Do you believe that man is playing a role in global warming, John Christy? CHRISTY: I think man has a partial role in what is going on, but let me add what is being referred to here is being assumed from climate models.

SCHMIDT: That's not true.

CHRISTY: Let me tell you, as someone who builds data sets to compare with climate models and the fingerprint strategies and so on, what we find is that I am underwhelmed, as someone would say, with what we see in the ability of climate models to prove anything. They really can't prove anything.

BLITZER: Can they, Gavin?

SCHMIDT: Climate models are a tool that allow us to understand why climate changed in the past, why it's changing now and what it might immediate for the future. They're just tools, they don't prove anything, but they do provide us with very good evidence that what we're seeing now is in fact caused by the things that we know that we're doing to the atmosphere.

BLITZER: John Christy, do you accept the notion that most scientists around the world agree with Gavin Schmidt and disagree with you?

CHRISTY: I would say it's been decades since I decided to leave the popular majority, but I just wanted to find out what the climate was doing. That's why I went into the business of actually building for myself the data sets that describe the climate system.

BLITZER: I want to be precise, because a lot of people out there always assume that someone who disagrees, for example, with Al Gore on these issues is on the payroll of big oil, the big energy companies. You are not, are you?

CHRISTY: That's right. I do not take any money from centering companies or oil companies or any of those.

BLITZER: Gavin, Tom Friedman, who obviously agrees with you, he wrote this in the "New York Times" on this e-mail -- they e-mails that were leaked, what's called climate-gate. He wrote this, even though he strongly agrees with you, "If we don't prepare and climate change turns out to be real, life on this planet could become a living hell. And that's why I'm for doing the Cheney-thing on climate, preparing for one percent" but he does go on to say he was very upset about those leaked e-mails. He says, "Frankly, I found it very disturbing to read a leading climate scientist writing that he used a trick to hide a putative decline in temperatures or was keeping contradictory research from getting a proper hearing." A lot of people are outraged when they go back ten years and read that and believe that legitimate scientists were trying to suppress other information.

SCHMIDT: Well, that's just not true. The words that you've quoted there are out of context, if read in the proper context, the trick is just meaning a technique, just a way of doing a smooth when you've got a time series that ends in the middle of where you want to do the smooth. It's nothing nefarious. It's nothing sneaky. The decline they were talking about is in --

BLITZER: Let me interrupt for a second, Gavin, because I take it the individual, the scholar at the head of this institute has now stepped down because of all of this?

SCHMIDT: Well, he stepped aside while the university is looking into these things, and I think that's perfectly appropriate. People should be able to investigate these things outside the media storm that's been created over these e-mails, and let me tell you, if you had had 13 years of your e-mails poured over by people who are extremely hostile to you, I don't think anybody would survive that unscathed. This has been a very devastating for the people involved, and it's a huge invasion of their privacy, and I don't think we should forget that these e-mails were stolen, these are not government employees, not things that were released under a freedom of information act, they were hacked from a mail server, and released completely illegally. I don't think that's something you should be encouraging and I don't think that anybody here would really want that even to happen to their worst enemy.

BLITZER: Let's let John Christy respond to that.

CHRISTY: As someone who is derided in any of those e-mails, I completely disagree with what Gavin has said. When they say hide the decline that's what they were trying to do. It even is in the computer code.

SCHMIDT: That's completely wrong, John. That's not true.

CHRISTY: I think what this shows is our ignorance of the climate system is enormous and our policymakers need to know about that.

SCHMIDT: Our ignorance of that climate system is very large, but we do know some things. We do know that greenhouse gases are increasing because of human activity. We do know the planet is warming. We do know warming for the reasons that basic physics tells us that's it's warning. There are lots of details and lots of issues that we need to work on. Obviously we're all scientists and we're working on the things that are uncertain. No scientist makes a living by going around agreeing with everybody else's work. We are looking for the places is uncertainty. That's where scientists look, but when you do that, you can't forget that science is built on a foundation that goes back to the 19th century. The shape of buildings, the whole edifice is not being changed because people are arguing about one or two bricks at the stop and which is the best record or not.

BLITZER: Let me wrap it up, John Christy, go back to the first question I asked you, the disappearance of the polar icecap, how do you explain that?

CHRISTY: Well, the north pole has warmed in recent years, as I've said, but when we look at the entire climate system, there is so much, not just details, huge uncertainties about how the system reacts and no one can prove that greenhouse gases or the extra gases that we are putting in the atmosphere is causing all or part of it. BLITZER: We'll leave it on that note. Hopefully we'll continue the discussion, because the subject is not going away. The president will be in Copenhagen next week at this international global warming climate change conference. Appreciate it very much. John Christy and Gavin Schmidt.

This important programming note to our viewers at 8:00 p.m. eastern, what's the truth about global warming? A special edition of Campbell Brown looks at the science, the skepticism and secrets surrounding global warming. Trick or truth? That's tonight at 8:00 p.m. eastern here on CNN.

Residents of one town are horrified about what was found in their drinking water.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I have four children and I have to worry about, and me and my husband. I don't want to drink it.

BLITZER: It's not an isolated case. Millions of Americans may be in the same situation. What's in your water?

And he pens one for Hanukkah. Is it a new holiday classic? You decide right after the break.


BLITZER: Deborah Feyerick is monitoring our top stories coming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now.

Deb, what's going on?

DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well Wolf, a proposed law in Uganda that could impose the death penalty for gays and lesbians sparking outrage among human right groups, HIV prevention agencies and a wide variety of other critics. The law mandates a minimum of life in prison for any homosexual act and those convicted of engaging more than once could be executed. The measure is backed by many religious leaders in the country. Critics say it will result in a witch-hunt for homosexuals and will make anti-HIV efforts all but impossible.

Former Georgia State Senator Kasim Reed will be Atlanta's next mayor. City councilwoman Mary Norwood conceded a runoff election after a recount netted her only one additional vote, leaving her about 700 votes behind Reed. In the initial vote, Norwood received about 45 percent of the vote to Reed's 37 percent. A candidate must receive 50% of the vote to avoid a runoff.

And score one for actress Sandra Bullock and her reality TV star husband in their ongoing custody with the husband's former wife. A California judge is refusing to allow Janine Lindmultier, former porn star, extended visitation rights. She's permitted to see her five year old daughter during daytime hours only. The custody battle began when Lindmultier served a short prison sentence for tax evasion. Wolf?

BLITZER: Deborah Feyerick, thanks very much. The two things you may not know necessarily about Senator Orrin Hatch, the Utah Republican is a songwriter on the side. And he also has a great love for the Jewish people. Put all this together and you have potentially an instant Hanukkah classic. Let's go to our Internet reporter, Abbi Tatton.

It's getting a lot of buzz. Where can we hear it?

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: It's on the website of Jewish magazine "The Tablet "which is operating so slowly. The magazine is admitting the absurdist quality, a Hanukkah song written by Mormon Senator Hatch, performed by Arab vocalist. Take a listen.

I don't know if you caught the senator unbuttoning his shirt there. He was showing off the pendant contain ago Hebrew prayer that he wears around his neck. He wrote the song to reflect a heartfelt desire to reach out to the Jewish people, but you'll only catch him singing backup vocals. While he's been writing songs for 15 years, he once told our Larry King you wouldn't want to hear me sing.

BLITZER: Do you Adam Sandler's song from a few years ago?

TATTON: You'll have to remind me.

BLITZER: Listen to this one, another former senator, John Ashcroft. A lot of us remember this song.

That's music there, Jack Cafferty. Every time we play that song for you, it brings a smile to your face.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: He's got a nice voice. You may not be aware of this, but Wolf also likes to sing and does so sometimes during the commercial breaks on this program, and it's horrible. It's just awful.

BLITZER: I admit, I do like music, though.

CAFFERTY: But you do, you like to sing.

BLITZER: I like to sing.

CAFFERTY: All right. I'm just going to read this stuff, because I can't sing. The question does President Obama look like President Bush when he allows social secretary Desiree Rogers to avoid testifying before congress?

Peg in New York writes, "Desiree Rogers should have complied. President Obama looks questionable by allowing her to not testify. She should know her place at these functions. She is not an invited guest, she is a paid employee. She should have been working the front lines along with the secret service, not attempting to be a guest. She must be getting calluses on her hands from social climbing."

Steve in Pennsylvania, "The white house refusal to allow Desiree Rogers to testify does indeed bear a striking resemblance to the Bush administration with one notable exception, one always suspected Bush invoked executive privilege to shield his staff from the exposure of illegal activity. In the case of the Obama white house, it seems more like they're shielding Ms. Rogers against the exposure of incompetence."

Chris writes, "Obama is using executive privilege to keep a secretary from being the victim of a witch hunt over a hyped story. Bush used it to keep his lackeys from having to answer for torture. Comparing the two is absurd."

Renay writes, "Ms. Rogers was so busy being a designer clad guest at the state dinner she simply didn't have time to do her job. Perhaps congress should ask her if she understand the difference between guest and planner."

Larry in Torrance, California, "If Desiree Rogers is about dinner, it's long past time she should be toast."

And Brian in Seattle writes, "Allowing Desiree Rogers to testify in front of Congress risks making many highly guarded state secrets a matter of public record. Do you have any idea what sort of chaos America will be subjected to if al Qaeda gets the presidential meat loaf recipe?"

If you want to read more on this stuff, and I know you do, go to my blog at Wolf?

BLITZER: Will do, Jack. Thank you.

Listen to this, Jack. As you know, we're on twitter right now. You can follow my tweets on twitter, but tore night I'll be having a lot of fun, guest tweeting for the NBA as my Washington Wizards take on the Boston Celtics. I'll be at the game, and you can watch the game on TNT, but you can get my tweets at Tomorrow night, tweeting from the game.

President Obama prepares to accept an award he says he doesn't deserve. We're going to tell you what he's going to say to the committee.

Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Blizzard conditions, freezing temperatures and canceled flights, and it is not officially winter. Our meteorologist Jacqui Jeras is tracking it all at the CNN severe weather center.

What is the latest, Jacqui?

JACQUI JERAS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Well, we are looking at conditions crippling the upper Midwest at this hour, but blizzard conditions should waning down within the next hour, and winds are continuing to stay strong from Iowa over to Chicago and Milwaukee with sustained winds there somewhere around 25 miles an hour, and gusts are still going well beyond that. Our storm system heading eastward with strong winds through the Ohio valley and great lakes and northeast is going to kick off tonight and through tomorrow. What is left in the wake is bitter cold wind chills. Check out the pictures we got from Rochester, Minnesota, some of the worst conditions in the country. 16 inches of snow fell, and officials are advising people to stay off of the streets tonight. The winds could drift snow banks up to 8 to 15 inches overall. Check out some of to other snowfall totals from across the region. Madison, Wisconsin, more than 17 inches for the first time in over ten years, UW Madison has been closed, and we have had a foot in Des Moines, Iowa. If you have been trying to travel, incredibly difficult with hundreds of flights canceled. Look at the plethora of flights canceled from Boston to Philadelphia, and you can't take off in those cities. We expect it to be a problem throughout the day tomorrow as wind advisories stretch from New England all of the way down to the deep south. Wolf?

BLITZER: Well, Jacqui Jeras has the magic map down cold. Thank you. Our I-reporters are sending in the images and videos of the major winter storm. We will bring back Abbi, and where are they coming from?

TATTON: We are getting a lot of them from Madison, Wisconsin, and some of that is because the classes at University of Wisconsin at Madison are canceled. They are out enjoying the snow and this is a city with 17 inches out there. I want to show you the video of the giant snowball which was shot at 2:00 a.m. this morning by Chad Krueger on campus here as he watched a rather excitable group of students who had a massive snowball which were pushing around the campus, and so massive that the police ended up coming, because they were worried it would block an intersection.

Also, in Wisconsin, we are going to Cottage Grove, Wisconsin, here to this video from Nicolas Ring working at home and staying at home with his dogs, because he says that the roads around there are absolutely impossible. A lot more snow it sounds like to come with the blizzard conditions. Going back to the University of Wisconsin, there is a Facebook group today trying to arrange the biggest snowball fight ever and they have 6,000 members, so we will have to see how it turned out this afternoon. No classes, so having fun.

BLITZER: Enjoy. Thank you.

Something disturbing in the water and millions of Americans drink with no easy solution.

Plus, the breaking news we are following with five Virginians accused of plotting terrorist attacks are now under arrest in Pakistan.


BLITZER: Officials from the EPA, the environmental protection agency, are vowing tougher enforcement to ensure safer drinking water, but they are met with skepticism by some in congress. We go to CNN's Mary Snow who is taking a closer look at the issue.

A lot of people are concerned about the tap water they are drinking, Mary. How concerned should they be? MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, it depends where you live, because it is a case-by-case basis. There are tens of thousands of water supply systems in the country, and the EPA is admitting that the biggest challenges are in smaller communities where they have the most health violations, and that is something that it is now targeting.


SNOW: Dishes, yes, but Gina Barbara says she will not use tap water from the faucet for drinking.

GINA BARBARA, RAMSEY, NEW JERSEY RESIDENT: I have four children to worry about and me and my husband and I don't want to drink it.

SNOW: Barbara lives in Ramsey, New Jersey, a town who had to install this system to remove arsenic from the town's water supply after levels exceeded the state levels. Arsenic is a natural compound that can enter the water supplies through natural deposits as well as agricultural and industrial practices, and it has been linked to cancer. But they say that since the filter system is in place, they now comply with the federal guidelines.

MAYOR CHRISTOPHER BOTTA, RAMSEY, NEW JERSEY: Certainly as a father, as a resident of the community, I'm concerned about our water. I am doing everything to make sure that the residents have safe water.

SNOW: But Richard Wiles of the Environmental Working Group, an advocacy group that educates the public about health risks, says that arsenic should be avoided at any level.

RICHARD WILES, ENVIRONMENTAL WORKING GROUP: The problem is that it costs a lot of money to clean the arsenic out of tap water, and consequently federal standards allow what we feel and most experts I think would feel is not a safe amount of arsenic, but it is an amount of arsenic that is a balance between the cost of cleaning it up and the health risk to people who drink the water.

SNOW: But Ramsey's problems are just part of a much of a bigger issue. "The New York Times" reports that its nationwide analysis of federal data shows that since 2004, the water supply provided to 49 million people has contained illegal amounts of substances including arsenic and chemicals such as uranium, and bacteria. On Capitol Hill, lawmakers on the senate environment and public works committee question EPA officials about the lack of enforcement.

CYNTHIA GILES, EPA ASST. ADMIN. FOR ENFORCEMENT: The vast majority of American public receives safe and clean drink water, but we have challenging noncompliance problems that require attention particularly in small systems and with new regulations.

SNOW: The EPA officials told the lawmakers they have a plan to toughen enforcement in January aimed at improving drinking water in schools and smaller communities where they say that 96% of the violations occur.