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Saddam's Supporters Take to Streets in Iraq; Don't Ask, Don't Tell Revisited?

Aired January 2, 2007 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM where new pictures and information are arriving all the time. Standing by, CNN reporters across the United States and around the world to bring you today's top stories.
Happening now, why was Saddam Hussein taunted at his execution? And who put out a cell phone video of his final minutes? The prime minister of Iraq is now taking action to try to find out. As Saddam Hussein's enraged supporters take to the streets in big numbers to express their disgust.

Meanwhile, is the president of Iran using Saddam Hussein's execution to drum up more anti-American sentiment? Mahmoud Ahmadinejad accusing the United States of wanting to use the hanging as a way to divide Iraqis.

And don't ask, don't tell. Might is ever become acceptable for gay service members to tell all? One major military figure now says gays and lesbians openly serving in the military would not hurt the armed forces. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Moments before Saddam Hussein was put to death, he was taunted and told to go quote, "straight to hell." Now, the prime minister of Iraq demands to know who tormented Saddam Hussein. Today, Nouri al Maliki ordered an investigation into what happened at Hussein's hanging and who leaked a cell phone video of it.

Also, today's "Wall Street Journal" reports the Iraqi prime minister was at his son's wedding just before the hanging but that he left to make sure Saddam Hussein would not live another day. Meanwhile, in a recent interview, the "Journal" reports that al Maliki says he is growing tired of the exhaustive demands of his job, reportedly saying, and I'm quoting now, "I wish I could be done with it."

And despite the constant violence in Iraq, al Maliki reportedly says the country is not, not in a civil war. Yet, the violence continues. Today, 15 bullet-ridden bodies were found behind a mosque in Baghdad. And a roadside bomb exploded in the capital, killing three civilians. We'll have much more on Iraq and the fallout from Saddam Hussein's execution just a few moments from our Arwa Damon in Baghdad.

But all of this come as President Bush is desperately trying to come up with a new strategy to try to turn around the war in Iraq. Among the options under consideration, a surge of troops to quell the violence rocking Baghdad and the country at large. Our White House correspondent, Suzanne Malveaux is joining us now live with more on what she's picking up. Suzanne?

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, you may recall President Bush on Thursday said a number of things have to happen before he unveils any change in tactics regarding his Iraq policy. Consultations with Congress and consultations with Iraqi officials. Well, we have learned that the president will begin to take some of those steps in the coming days. First sources telling us that tomorrow President Bush will invite and host the leadership both in the House and Senate, Democrats and Republicans, here to the White House. In what is being called kind of informal discussions, a reception.

And they will talk about the way ahead. The year ahead. And they will also talk about those deliberations involving the Iraq policy.

Secondly, Bush administration officials say while their constant consultations going on with the Iraqi government and officials here, that the president would reach out to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki about this plan before he unveils it to the nation. That, Wolf, has not yet happened. And third, sources are saying expect the president to address the nation, not this week, but in all likelihood, early to mid next week.

Again, sources also saying the president has not signed off on anything regarding troop levels or any other decisions. But one source saying that they are driving toward a conclusion. Wolf?

BLITZER: Could we assume that the president will make that address from the White House? Is that what you're hearing? Or is another venue anticipated?

MALVEAUX: Wolf, so far, they haven't worked out any of the details about how this is actually going to happen next week. But they do say they expect it to happen early next week. Not this week. And a lot of other things have to be put in place before that actually happens.

BLITZER: We're going to watch every step of the way, including the consultation tomorrow, Suzanne. Thank you very much for that.

Meanwhile, there is execution outrage, as it's being called. Days after Saddam Hussein was put to death, many of his supporters now taking to the streets of Iraq in anger. CNN's Arwa Damon is in Baghdad with more.


ARWA DAMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, as the celebrations after Saddam's death wind down, the demonstrations and support of Iraq's former leader are gaining momentum.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) DAMON (voice-over): At the modest grave site of Iraq's once terrifying leader, tears flow freely. Grief which turned into outrage with the all too familiar chants of, "With our blood and our soul we will sacrifice for you, Saddam."

In front of the glistening golden dome of the al-Askari Mosque in Samarra, one of the holiest Shia shrines, the image of Saddam Hussein displayed by angry Sunni demonstrators. Crowds here carry a mock coffin and photos of their former leader, parading through the courtyard of the shrine still showing scars of a bombing in February, an attack by Sunni extremists that catapulted sectarian violence to a new level.

In the days after Saddam's death, outrage is only increasing as more details as to what really happened in that execution chamber come to light.

The day of the execution, Iraq's national security adviser who was present as Saddam tumbled to his death told CNN ...


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There was absolutely no humiliation for Saddam Hussein when he was alive and after he was executed.


DAMON: But then this cell phone video appeared on the Internet, uncensored images fully portraying the chilling scene of the gallows. Showing Saddam being taunted in his final moments with cries of "Muqtada, Muqtada, Muqtada," a reference to Muqtada al Sadr, the radical Shia cleric whose Mehdi militia is believed to be behind much of the sectarian violence.

The images confirming Sunni fears that the execution of Saddam by Iraq's Shia-led government was a sectarian affair. A U.S. warning to Iraq's government that it avoid giving the perception of a rush to judgment fell on deaf ears. With an aide to Iraq's prime minister saying that Nouri al Maliki was determined to put Saddam to death before the end of the year.

The government has said it will launch an investigation as to how the cell phone was snuck into the gallows, and footage was shot, obviously, in plain view of the authorities who were present.

Munqith Faroon, perplexed and disturbed by what happened, was one of the 14 people present in that room.

MUNQITH FAROON, CHIEF PROSECUTOR (through translator): We were searched one by one before going into the room. They had a box to place phones in. How these phones were snuck in, I don't know.

DAMON: A mistake the government is already paying for.

(END VIDEOTAPE) DAMON (on camera): With Shia chants defining Saddam Hussein's final moments, turning his execution into an act of Shia revenge, it risks driving even moderate Sunnis further bay from the Shia-led government which they already have little faith in, and rather than uniting Iraqis, it's further dividing them.


BLITZER: Arwa Damon reporting for us. Arwa, thank you. Arwa is in Baghdad. Meanwhile, a key leader in the region whom everyone seems to be watching these days is now reacting to Saddam Hussein's hanging. Let's turn to CNN's Brian Todd for details. Brian?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, growing signs now at that handling of Saddam's execution is in fact becoming a regional problem. Today at two locations near the border, Iraq's powerful and some say dangerous neighbor spoke out about the event.


TODD (voice-over): In the boiling aftermath of the death of his country's bitter enemy, Iran's president jumps right into the fray. Before crowds in southern Iran, a region near the Iraq border and populated heavily by Arabs, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad also directs his words towards Arabs next door in Iraq, with his take on America's role on Saddam Hussein's execution.

MAHMOUD AHMADINEJAD, IRANIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): They even want to use Saddam's execution as a tool to create dissension. The world should know that sooner or later the occupiers, under pressure from the Iraqi nation will leave that country.

TODD: CNN and other news organizations reported that U.S. officials actually tried to delay Saddam's execution and prevent dissension. But analysts say Ahmadinejad and Iran's religious leaders are using this event to send a broader message about America.

AFSHIN MOLAVI, AUTHOR, "SOUL OF IRAN": It's not just Ahmadinejad that is trying to portray the United States as a cut-and-run power, the Islamic Republic political establishment, through its speeches, through its diplomacy, is also trying to portray the United States as a cut-and-run power.

TODD: But one analyst believes that beyond telling Iraqis that Iran will be there for them when the divisive, scheming Americans leave, there's a more ominous message in Ahmadinejad's words.

TRITA PARSI, NATIONAL IRANIAN-AMERICAN COUNCIL: What he's telling to the Sunnis is, if you take out the anger in the Shiites, remember, the Shiites are here permanently, the Americans are not. So when the Americans aren't there to protect you, obviously, you'll be finding yourself in more difficult position.


TODD (on camera): Another analyst said the Iranian president would not dare incite the Iraqi Sunnis any further with such a warning. But Ahmadinejad is trying to counter Saudi Arabia's growing influence on the Sunnis in Iraq at a time when this messy handling of Saddam's death puts tensions between Sunnis and Shias there at a boiling point. Wolf.

BLITZER: Boiling point, I think, an accurate phrase. Brian, thank you very much for that.

And we're just getting this in from the Capitol Hill producer Ted Barrett, he's now reporting to us that the incoming new chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Senator Carl Levin has tentatively scheduled an Iraq hearing for next Thursday, January 11th. The defense secretary, Robert Gates, the sole witness. The emphasis being on tentative, because the president has not yet announced to the American public his new Iraq strategy that hearing could be delayed. Right now, Levin planning on holding a hearing with the new defense secretary as early as next Thursday, January 11th.

We're also told by Ted Barrett that Senator Joe Biden, the incoming chairman of the Senate Relations Committee expected to hold separate hearings before that panel with secretary of state Condoleezza Rice, expected to testify. All of that expected to occur right after the president announces the new strategy.

Other news we're following, the long time mayor of Jerusalem Teddy Kollek has died. Kollek spent more than three decades in office and was in charge during the turbulent years after the city was reunified under Israeli control. He was an outgoing liberal and secularist, often at odds with other Israeli leaders. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert remembered Kollek as builder of the new Jerusalem, as he called him, and said his name will be forever part of the city.

Teddy Kollek, 95 years old.

Let's go to Jack Cafferty. He's in New York with "The Cafferty File". Jack, we missed you. Welcome back.


Remember all that talk of partisanship after the midterm elections? Well, it's not going to happen. The "Washington Post" is reporting that the Democrats are planning to mostly sideline Republicans when they get down to business this week. What's the old saying? Payback is a bitch? In the first 100 hours, the new majority party plans to pass legislation on ethics reform, the minimum wage, stem cell research and cutting interest rates on student loans.

But they say they will use House rules to prevent the Republicans from offering up alternative measures, the same House rules that were used against the Democrats when the Republicans had the majority, no love lost there. House Republicans are complaining, of course, that the Democrats are backing away from their promise to work together, bipartisanship. Democrats say the rules will be relaxed for the Republicans once the agenda for the first 100 hours have been passed.

So here's the question - is it a good idea for the Democrats to sideline Republicans as they start business in the new Congress? You can e-mail your thoughts on that to Or go to Wolf?

BLITZER: Jack, thank you. And still to come here in THE SITUATION ROOM, ceremonies honoring the late President Gerald R. Ford moving to his hometown of Grand Rapids, Michigan. We're going to take you live to his presidential museum where people are now lining up to pay respects.

Also, a call to end the so-called don't ask, don't tell policy on gays in the U.S. military. The call coming from a surprising source. We'll have details on what a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is now saying.

Plus, Oprah Winfrey fulfilling a long time wish and the wishes of so many others in the process. We're going to show you what she's doing right now. Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: The body of former President Gerald Ford is back in his hometown of Grand Rapids, Michigan this afternoon. He'll be buried there at the presidential museum tomorrow following a public viewing. CNN's Jeanne Meserve is there. She's joining us with more with what's going on, Jeanne?

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, they just set up the rope lines here. Shortly, they're going to allow the public to enter this museum where Gerald R. Ford's body lies now in repose. This was very definitely a homecoming from the University of Michigan band that played the University of Michigan fight song at the airport, to the Eagle Scouts that lined the motorcade route, to the high school chums that appeared here at this ceremony, a very simple ceremony at the Gerald R. Ford Museum.

It was a ceremony that celebrated the roots and values of this city, Grand Rapids. The values that Gerald Ford, they say, took to the Oval Office. The values of hard work and discipline. Often the Ford family motto was cited, it was to tell the truth, work hard and be on time to dinner. They say Gerald Ford did all of those things. The governor of Michigan, Jennifer Granholm was among those who spoke here today. She said he was not just the nation's president but our president. He was Michigan's president. She and others said with heartfelt feeling, welcome home, Mr. President. Wolf, back to you.

BLITZER: And the services will continue tomorrow, is that right, Jeanne?

MESERVE: That's right. Tomorrow, the body will be taken from here over to the church where Gerald and Betty Ford were buried (sic). And there will be a small private service over there. Then the casket will be brought back and it will be interred here behind the museum. At that point, we'll have a twenty-one gun salute. We will have a flyover as well. Wolf?

BLITZER: Jeanne, thank you for that. Jeanne Meserve reporting. President Bush has declared today a national day of mourning in honor of President Ford's passing. Federal government offices are closed, as well as the financial markets. All of them will reopen tomorrow.

Coming up, how will Saddam Hussein's execution impact the war in Iraq? We're going to talk about it with our world affairs analyst, the former defense secretary, William Cohen. Plus, new measures impacting millions who do their banking online. Our Internet reporters are going to show you what you need to know. Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Mary Snow is in New York with a closer look at some other important stories making news. Hi, Mary.

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi there, Wolf. One year ago today, an explosion rocked the Sago coal mine in West Virginia. By the time the search ended three and a half days later, 12 of the 13 trapped miners had died. Family and friends placed flowers and they also lit candles at the Sago mine opening today. But no official ceremonies marked the anniversary. Only Randal McCloy survived the ordeal. The accident triggered sweeping changes in U.S. mine safety laws.

Spain's government says Saturday's car bombing in Madrid's airport has ended the country's peace process. The blast was blamed on Basque separatists better known as ETA. ETA has not claimed responsibility but police say one of the three people who placed anonymous warning calls identified him or herself as another member.

Rescuers believe Saturday's attack killed two men. They're trying to find the bodies in the rubble.

The new secretary-general of the United Nations is on the job and setting his agenda. South Korean Ban Ki-Moon arrived at the UN this morning to assume his leadership post. In his first news conference, Ban vowed to end mistrust of the world body. He also called for action to tackle crises in the Middle East and Darfur, Sudan and to cut extreme poverty in half by 2015.

And Palestinian security forces in Gaza are still searching for Jaime Razuri, the Peruvian photographer who works for the French news agency AFP. Razuri was kidnapped yesterday while entering the AFP office in Gaza City. The office of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas condemned the abduction and called for Razuri's freedom. No one has claimed responsibility for his kidnapping. Wolf?

BLITZER: Let's hope they find him soon and in good shape. Appreciate it, very much, Mary, for that.

Coming up, a former Joint Chiefs chairman now says it's now time to rethink the ban on openly gay men and women serving in the United States military. We're going to have details of why he thinks the time is right to make the change now. And we'll talk about the controversy with our world affairs analyst who is a former defense secretary himself, William Cohen standing by to join us live. Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM where new pictures and information are arriving all the time. Happening now -- fresh fallout from Saddam Hussein's execution now widening Iraq's ethnic divide and posing new problems for Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki who aides say ignored warnings from the United States about a hasty execution. And is now facing new criticism over sectarian taunting aimed at Saddam Hussein in his final moments.

Also, Oprah Winfrey fulfilling what she says has been a long-time wish and changing the lives of others in the process. She's opening a school for disadvantaged girls in South Africa. We're going to take you there.

And six days of mourning for former President Gerald Ford now in their final hours. His body now back in Michigan where thousands are expected to pay their respects in the coming hours. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

There are now growing calls to lift the controversial ban on openly gay men and women serving in the United States military. Now a very prominent former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is among those who says it's time to revisit the so-called "don't ask, don't tell" policy.

Let's turn to CNN's Kathleen Koch. She is joining us from the Pentagon with details. Kathleen?

KATHLEEN KOCH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the personal change of heart on this issue came about gradually. But the general says, the policy change is inevitable.


KOCH (voice-over): It was a dramatic about-face. The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in the U.S. military in 1993 adopted the "don't ask, don't tell" policy now advocating it be dropped. In a "New York Times" editorial, General John Shalikashvili says, quote, "I now believe that if gay men and lesbians served openly in the United States military, they would not undermine the efficacy of the armed forces.

DAVID HALL, FORMER AIR FORCE STAFF SERGEANT: I kind of felt, why didn't he say this earlier

KOCH: David Hall served five years in the Air Force before he was discharged under the "don't ask, don't tell" policy. He's one of 12 veterans suing the Defense Department to be reinstated.

HALL: For them to disenroll me for something so stupid, it just didn't make sense. So I wanted to voice my opinion and say, you know what, this is not right. This is not the way our country should be treating Americans.

KOCH: More than 11,000 service members have been discharged since the policy was put in place. Critics argue these are valuable personnel the overstressed military can no longer afford to lose.

C. DIXON OSBURN, SERVICEMEMBERS LEGAL DEFENSE NET: They're just barely meeting their recruiting goals right now, and yet, they're kicking out qualified people just because they're gay.

KOCH: Still, supporters of the policy warn changing it will lower morale and hurt unit cohesion.

ANDREA LAFFERTY, TRADITIONAL VALUES COALITION: I think there will be a morale issue. We've got young men and young women overseas. We've got young men in foxholes. And it creates a very difficult, uncomfortable situation. Frankly, foxholes shouldn't be a place for dating.


KOCH: The Pentagon has consistently refused to comment on "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" since the policy was put into action by Congress. But some acknowledge that an editorial from such a well respected military leader could be just what it takes to start a new national debate on ending an old and some say flawed policy -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Kathleen, thank you.

Let's talk a little bit more about this sensitive issue, gays in the military.

Joining us, the former defense secretary, William Cohen. He's our world affairs analyst. He's also the chairman and CEO of The Cohen Group here in Washington.

You know General Shalikashvili, a very formidable military man, a hero in many respects. What do you make of his article today suggesting it's time to do away with this "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy?

WILLIAM COHEN, CNN WORLD AFFAIRS ANALYST: Well, I thought it was a very thoughtful piece that he wrote, but I think we have to also take into account the full article. It was almost as if St. Augustine declaring to God, "Dear God, give me chastity, but not just yet." And in the Shalikashvili piece, he said it's time to start rethinking this policy.

And I think it's important he also said don't put this at the top of the agenda just yet, make sure we do something about our Iraq policy first. We've got gays in the military we've had from time in memorial. They're over there now, they're fighting and they're dying on behalf of this country.

So it's not the issue whether you're gay or not. It's the question about conduct. Does it undermine good order and discipline? Well... BLITZER: Well, what do you think? Does it? Because you studied this...

COHEN: I did.

BLITZER: ... when you were a defense secretary for a long time.

COHEN: What I'm saying is Chairman Shalikashvili has put it right, that this is something that's going to change, it's going to evolve. It's time to start thinking about it and starting to discuss it. But do not make this at the top of the agenda until we get the Iraq strategy under way.

I think it would be important that military people raise the issue rather than political leaders, because this will become another "wedge issue." And I can see it taking place now.

If any of the political candidates, presidential candidates were to make this, as Bill Clinton did, one of his top issue, right away it becomes a political issue. And it undermines and it divides the country at a time when we need to have some kind of cohesion about where are we over there right now because we've got so many fighting and dying?

So I think it's going to come about. I think it's important that we have hearings at some point. I think that Chairman Levin and others will ask for hearings, listen to testimony. But I think it's really important that the initiative come from within the military because the military is the one that has to question whether or not it will be divisive in terms of really undermining good order and discipline. And that has to be key.

BLITZER: Correct me if I'm wrong, but when you were defense secretary during the second part of the Clinton administration, you thought about making a change. You canned this opinion.

What did you hear from within the Army, the Navy, the Air Force, the Marine Corps?

COHEN: I think what we're hearing from within the military is what we're hearing from within society, that we're becoming a much more open, tolerant society for diverse opinions and orientation. And so I think it is evolving.

Much as we have seen "Mother is the necessity of all invention," it's a necessity here that's also requiring us to say, let's take a look at our policy of discrimination. And frankly, any time you draw a distinction, you are discriminating. And the question is, is there a reasonable basis?

Here, the issue is, is it reasonable under these circumstances? Will this undermine good order and discipline? I think the policy is changing from within because it's reflecting changes within society itself.

BLITZER: General Shalikashvili in the article in "The New York Times" made the point that other major military forces do allow openly gay men and women to serve, including the army of Britain and Israel. And they don't have a problem. And as a result, he doesn't think the United States military would have a problem when all is said and done.

What do you think?

COHEN: And I think that will be taken into account. That's the kind of discussion and debate we ought to have.

And Shalikashvili points out -- I keep calling him Shali because he was such a close friend -- as he points out, this must be handled with great sensitivity, because it still a politically-charged issue.

So we ought to have discussions, some hearings, but don't put it at the top of the agenda yet. Let's get Iraq straight first, if we can, because there are too many people who are fighting and dying on our behalf over there. And the country really is not fully engaged in that.

We've got a few people doing it. We need to have more Americans. We ought to have people saying -- have a president, for example, or presidential candidate saying it's time to serve, call up for service, as well as other activities. Go serve.

BLITZER: One final question on this sensitive issue. You say wait until there's an Iraq strategy in place. That could be a long time given -- given what's happening in Iraq right now.

COHEN: It can't afford to be a long time. We've had four years of this war to date, and things have not been improving.

The president can't afford to wait much longer before he puts forth a plan that can, in fact, attract both Republicans and Democrats who support it. Without that, we're going to see more divisiveness, we're going to see the country polarized. We're going to see more presidential candidates making an issue and yet not solving the problem. So he can't afford to wait much longer. I would say time is becoming overdue right now.

BLITZER: Mr. Secretary, as usual, thanks for coming in.

COHEN: A pleasure to be here.

BLITZER: William Cohen is our world affairs analyst.

Still ahead, Oprah Winfrey delivering news that will change the lives of dozens of young women. We're going to show you what she's doing right now. She says she's fulfilling a long-time wish.

Plus, presidents past and present pay tribute to Gerald Ford at his state funeral.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: People in Michigan now lining up to pay their respects to the former president of the United States, Gerald R. Ford. His body lying in repose at the presidential museum in Grand Rapids, Michigan, his hometown. You see two Boy Scouts just saluting that flag-draped coffin.

Welcome back to our continuing coverage.

Earlier in the day, there was a memorial service here in the nation's capital.

Chief National Correspondent John King was there.

You were at the National Cathedral, John.

Very emotional on this national day of mourning.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It is a very emotional day, and we see now the former president, the 38th president of the United States, back home in Grand Rapids, Michigan, the people he represented for a quarter century in the Congress. And this day began right outside the House chamber, where Mr. Ford had his highest ambitions in Washington before fate changed his own history.


KING (voice over): The last day in Washington began in the rotunda of the House. To remember a man is to retrace his steps in history, and the gentleman from Michigan searched here for a quarter century.

GEORGE HERBERT WALKER BUSH, FMR. PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I watched from the back bench, I watched this good man. To political ally and adversary ally, Jerry Ford's word was always good. To know Jerry was to know a Norman Rockwell painting come to life.

KING: Across the Capitol to the Senate. Vice presidents also serve as president of the Senate. It was not a job he wanted.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: When President Nixon needed to replace a vice president who had resigned in scandal, he naturally turned to a man whose name was a synonym for integrity, Gerald R. Ford.

KING: He was vice president just eight short months.

Son Steve wiping a tear for retracing his father's most important steps, down Pennsylvania Avenue to the White House.

HENRY KISSINGER, FMR. SECRETARY OF STATE: Propelled into the presidency by a sequence of unpredictable events, he had an impact so profound it's rightly to considered providential.

KING: In Washington's majestic National Cathedral they gathered to remember the unassuming son of a broken family who held a nation together after its president resigned in disgrace. G. W. BUSH: And when he thought that the nation needed to put Watergate behind us, he made the tough and decent decision to pardon President Nixon, even though that decision probably cost him the presidential election.

KING: The only man to serve as vice president and president without being elected to either job. Just two and a half years in the Oval Office, yet days of considerable consequence, surviving the stain of Watergate and the humiliation of defeat in Vietnam.

G. H. W. BUSH: For this and for so much more, his presidency will be remembered as a time of healing in our land. History has a way of matching man and moment.

KING: Mr. Ford's impact hardly ended when he left the White House. Vice President Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld are among the many old Ford hands who have had major roles in the current administration. Humor was one of Mr. Ford's favorite political tools, and this self- deprecating man would have enjoyed one more laugh at his expense.

G. H. W. BUSH: "I know I'm playing better golf," President Ford once reported to friends. "Because I'm hitting fewer spectators."

KING: And after a few last steps, and "Hail to the Chief" in a blustery breeze, what he would have cherished most, his beloved Betty looking on, making sure he was settled in comfortably on the final trip home.


KING: And you see the picture there, Wolf. The former president back home in Grand Rapids, Michigan, the district he represented in the Congress for a quarter of a century.

BLITZER: What a day. Tomorrow, he will be buried at that presidential -- presidential museum in Grand Rapids, Michigan. As you saw the powerful of Washington, Democrats and Republicans, get together, bitter opponents on so many issues, they united almost to a person in that National Cathedral today to express their support and their tribute to Gerald R. Ford.

KING: They did, and it is the strength of America that people can come together and do that. It is a sign of the enduring and how the presidency and the democracy survives its most difficult challenges.

But we heard the word "civility" and "decency" quite a bit today in the tributes. We don't hear them much, honestly, in Washington these days when it comes to discussing politics. And it will be interesting if the spirit we saw today can survive many days of the change of power, the Democrats taking charge here. We are about to see in Washington already the partisan divide taking shape.

A time-out right now to remember the former president, but we'll see how long the bipartisan spirit lasts. BLITZER: And it's interesting to see those Boy Scouts saluting the coffin. He was an Eagle Scout, Gerald Ford. And has often been pointed out, the only Eagle Scout ever to become president of the United States.

John, thanks very much for that.

And as you just saw, the former President Bush was among those paying tribute to President Ford. He drew some laughs with his eulogy, noting how both he and President Ford became fodder for "Saturday Night Live" comedians.


G. H. W. BUSH: He had a wonderful sense of humor, and even took it in stride when Chevy Chase had to make the entire world think that this terrific, beautifully coordinated athlete was actually a stumbler. And Ford says it was funny. He wrote that in his memoir.

I remember that lesson well, since being able to laugh at yourself is essential in public life. I'd tell you more about that, but as Dana Carvey would say, not going to do it, wouldn't be prudent.


BLITZER: You saw Bill Clinton getting a good laugh. A lot of people getting a good laugh from the former president, George Herbert Walker Bush.

Other news we're following today.

In Africa, a generous gift from one of America's richest and most famous women. It's a $40 million act of goodwill to underprivileged girls in South Africa.

CNN's Africa correspondent, Jeff Koinange, has some details -- Jeff.

JEFF KOINANGE, CNN AFRICA CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, you know how U.S. talk show host Oprah Winfrey is always trying to fulfill people's dreams? Well, today it was her turn.

The official opening of the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls right outside Johannesburg, 52 acres housing 28 buildings. Everything from a library with a fireplace to a kitchen with marble tabletops, dormitories, a gym, audio-visual center, tennis courts. You name it, Oprah spent $40 million, and this, according to her, is the fulfillment of her dreams.


OPRAH WINFREY, TALK SHOW HOST: This has been the most fulfilling, the most rewarding experience of my life. It has filled me up. So today I stand before you a full woman. My cup runneth over with love for these girls.


KOINANGE: And indeed, her cup does runneth over.

And on hand to help us celebrate on this day, a whole host of Hollywood's finest, from both the movie and music industries. Everyone from Tina Turner, to Mary J. Blige, to Mariah Carey, to Usher. Everyone from Chris Rock, Chris Tucker, Sidney Poitier, Quincy Jones, all on hand to witness this day. A little history in the making.

According to Oprah, it was not about celebrities and stars, it was about the future of this country and this continent -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Jeff. Thanks very much.

We saw president Nelson Mandela there as well.

Lou Dobbs getting ready for his program that begins right at the top of the hour. Lou's standing by to tell us what he's working on.

Hi, Lou.

LOU DOBBS, HOST, "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT": Hi, Wolf. Thank you, and Happy New Year.

Coming up at 6:00 p.m. Eastern here on CNN, tonight we're reporting on a major new threat to our middle class. One of the biggest automobile companies in the country helping China sell Chinese cars to Americans. What America needs, another foreign car maker.

We'll have that special report.

And communist China also challenging U.S. policy and defying U.S. law. Forming an energy alliance with Iran, one of the country's most dangerous enemies. We'll have that story and what the New York Stock Exchange is doing about it.

And new evidence that illegal immigration is preventing legal immigrants from assimilating and succeeding in this country. The author of a provocative new study on Hispanic education in this country, (INAUDIBLE), a former congressman, is among our guests.

Three of the nation's leading talk radio show hosts from Washington, Denver and Phoenix join us here tonight. We hope you will as well.

All of that and more coming up at the top of the hour. Please join us.

Back to you, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Good to have you back. Happy New Year to you, too, Lou. We'll see you in a few moments right here on CNN.

New federal guidelines go into effect this week to help protect the estimated 40 million consumers who banked and paid bills online. But with Internet scam artists only a mouse click away, how can you be sure which new security measures are really legitimate?

Let's turn to Jacki Schechner once again. She has the story -- Jacki.

JACKI SCHECHNER, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Well, Wolf, first and foremost, you don't answer an e-mail that asks for your personal information. We cannot reiterate that enough.

But federal regulators have decided that all online banks need an extra layer of protection or security for people who are doing their banking online. That's taking it one step further than just your user name and your password.

Now, some of these changes are ones that you'll be able to see, like Bank of America, who uses a site key where you pick an image and a phrase when you go to the Bank of America Web site. If you see that image and that phrase, you know that it's legitimately the site, it's OK to put in your personal information.

Wachovia is making its changes behind the scenes. You'll just put in your user name and your password, but behind the scenes they're doing more on the back end to confirm you are who you say you are.

This is all in an effort to fight identity theft, much of which happens by phishing. We're all familiar with that by now. That's when somebody sends you an e-mail that looks a heck of a lot like your bank and they ask you for personal information.

It will look something like this. And we always tell you, don't click on the link in these e-mails, don't send them your personal information. Instead, you go to the URL of the bank itself and go directly from there -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Jacki. Good advice as usual.

Up ahead, Jack Cafferty's question of the hour. Is it a good idea for Democrats to sideline Republicans as they start business in the new Congress? He'll have your e-mail.

And later, cell phones, love them, hate them, but can we live without them?

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


BLITZER: There's a developing story just coming into THE SITUATION ROOM.

Let's check in with Mary Snow. She's got some details.

Mary, what are we seeing?

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we're getting these pictures in from our affiliate here in New York, WABC, of a fire that is burning in an apartment complex in Hewlett, New York. This is an area on Long Island which is a suburban area outside New York City.

WABC reporting this fire as out of control. No word on injuries just yet -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. We'll continue to watch it with you, Mary. Thanks very much.

In the meantime, let's check in with Jack once again for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: Democrats are planning to mostly sideline the Republicans when they get down to business this week, although they say things will be more open after their agenda for the first 100 hours has passed.

The question we asked is, "Is it is a good idea for the Democrats to sideline the Republicans as they start business in the new Congress?"

Joel writes from Prescott Valley, Arizona, "If the Democrats learned anything from the years of being bullied around on Capitol Hill, they would involve the Republicans in as many decisions and committees as possible so that when things turn sour the Republicans can't say that it was all the Democrats' fault. We need a united Congress. They can disagree on things, but they need to work together because they work for us."

CT, Bartlett, Illinois, "The big-headed Republicans had 12 years, 12 years to get things done and did nothing, nada, zippo. We voted for the Democrats so they could get stuff done. They'll use the rules the Republicans used. Hey, who hasn't wanted to tell a Republican to sit down and shut up? Give Pelosi a chance and see what she can do."

Tom in Maine writes, "Jack, it's not a matter of the Democrats sidelining the Republicans. It's a matter of not allowing the Republicans to derail the Democrats' campaign promises. The Democrats need to enact crisp, clean legislation. The minimum wage law, for example, must not be tied to the elimination of an inheritance tax that serves to slow an aristocracy of the enormously wealthy. We need clean bills coming out of the Congress."

Adams writes. He says he's watching us live in Germany. "Dear Jack, Pushing away Republicans, even in the first 100 hours, will do nothing but further demonstrate the intentions of the left wing of the Democratic Party to impose their liberal ideas on moderate Democrats and Republicans. Let's not forget many members of the new Democratic Congress won by running on centrist, if not conservative, platforms."

And John in Wilmington, "What a lame question!"

Jeez, John. I mean, not "Welcome back from vacation," not "Happy New Year."

"What a lame question! It's pretty clear the Democrats simply want to get the ball rolling in the right direction by moving on a first 100-hour agenda that they announced during the campaign. What's the mystery? To pretend the Democrats are abandoning bipartisanship by doing so is disingenuous. Come on, Jack, stop spinning."

If you didn't see your e-mail here, you can go to, where you'll see some more of them online -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks, Jack, for that. See you back here in an hour.

Up next, our love-hate relationship with cell phones. Can't live with them. Sure can't throw them away either.

Jeanne Moos standing by.



BLITZER: It's supposed to make your life easier, but used one way it could certainly make your life a nightmare. We're talking about a gadget that just a few years ago few people had, but that virtually no one can live without.

Here CNN's Jeanne Moos.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): If "TIME" magazine can nominate you as "Person of the Year," then we can nominate the cell phone as gadget of the decade. It was probably a cell phone camera that let us walk up the stairs to the gallows, let us listen to the taunts of Saddam Hussein's hanging.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Muqtada, Muqtada, Muqtada!

MOOS: It was a cell phone that recorded the N-word rant.

MICHAEL RICHARDS, COMEDIAN: It's uncalled for for you to interrupt my ass, you cheap...

MOOS: It was a cell phone that captured Mel Gibson partying before his ring.

(on camera): True, most of what most of us shoot with our cell phones is less than momentous.

(voice over): A dip in the tub. A friend scaling fish. But the cell is celebrated with cell phone film festivals and cell phones dancing to their own vibrations on the Web. And as they got smaller and smaller, size became...


MOOS: ... a "Saturday Night Live" joke.

Which makes us all the more nostalgic for these old dinosaurs, from "Wall Street"...


MOOS: ... to "Lethal Weapon:...


MOOS: ... they now look like lethal weapons.

The Motorola researcher credited with making the first cell phone call in 1973 looks as if it took all of his strength just to lift it. But there's something comforting about these clunkers, especially when you notice them in documentaries like "The War Room"...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE, "THE WAR ROOM": You've had it your way.

MOOS: ... or seen them in films. Julia Roberts' phone must have taken up every inch of her tiny purse.

JULIA ROBERTS, ACTRESS, "MY BEST FRIEND'S WEDDING": George, I didn't tell you my dress was lavender.

DOUGLAS, "WALL STREET": This is your wakeup call, pal.


MOOS: They don't call them bricks for nothing. And on Web sites like Retro Brick, you can buy second-hand or pre-loved cell phones for a hundred bucks or so. A new box set will set you back about $300.

Some, like the brains behind, seem to hate all cell phones.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Kill all the phones! Kill all the phones!

MOOS: They apparently dressed up as cell phones, grabbed other people's cells and trashed them.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Run! Keep running!

MOOS: The new year is a time for nostalgia.


MOOS: So are these.

Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.


BLITZER: That's if for us. We'll be back here in one hour.

Let's go to "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT." Lou's standing by in New York.


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