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THE SITUATION ROOM

Another American Helicopter Down; Private Security Guards at Risk in Iraq

Aired February 7, 2007 - 19:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks very much, Lou. Happening now, down in flames, another American helicopter lost in Iraq. Are U.S. forces now very vulnerable, not only on the ground, but in the air? And private security guards even more at risk, sent to insurgent territory without proper arms or armor.
President Hillary Rodham Clinton, that may be conservatives' biggest nightmare for 2008. The former House majority leader, Tom DeLay, says it's not just a bad dream. And you won't believe what he says about some of his fellow Republicans.

And she's second in line for the presidency, entitled to take an Air Force jet on visits back to her district. But is House Speaker Nancy Pelosi flying too high?

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

Another devastating blow for U.S. military forces in Iraq today, a Marine Corps helicopter down in flames in Iraq's al Anbar Province, killing all seven Americans on board. Insurgents say they shot it down. The U.S. military hasn't ruled out mechanical problems. It's the fifth helicopter lost to the United States within the past three weeks alone.

Are U.S. forces now fighting a new war, a war in the air? Joining us now from Baghdad, our correspondent Michael Ware. Michael, we've all known for years now how dangerous it is for U.S. military and civilian personnel to drive around Iraq with the improvised explosive devices and the gun fire. But in the last few weeks, we've seen how dangerous it is to fly around Iraq as well. And the ramifications are enormous. Talk a little bit about that.

MICHAEL WARE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, since the invasion back in 2003, more than 50 helicopters have come down from Iraq skies, as many as half of them from hostile fire. Indeed, we saw during the invasion itself, an Apache strike on one of the southern cities, a stronghold of the Republican Guard was beaten back. So this airborne warfare has been a factor from the beginning.

Now what we've been seeing is the insurgents learning how to mask their fires so that these helicopters are flying into walls of lead. We're also hearing lots of reports about missiles coming in. We don't know exactly what the cause is so far. Five choppers down in two and a half weeks, it's still too early to call it a patent or a new phenomenon, but it certainly raises questions, particularly given the military says four of those five came down as a result of hostile fire.

BLITZER: It's going to make it more difficult. I assume the insurgents, the terrorists, the enemy in this particular case, whoever they may be are improving their capabilities in dealing with these choppers and other U.S. aircraft.

WARE: Absolutely, as they are in almost all areas of the warfare at play here. I mean everyone from President Bush himself to American commanders in the field have repeatedly called this a thinking adaptive enemy. Every time the Americans introduce a new tactic, the insurgents adjust. One of the interesting things about these helicopter strikes is that at least two of the recent five, and perhaps we'll find out more, have been claimed by al Qaeda. The Islamic state of Iraq claiming it's now set up air defense battalions. That in fact may be a propaganda stretch. But maybe we're seeing al Qaeda honing a new technique.

BLITZER: Michael, thanks very much for joining us.

WARE: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: And I got a firsthand exclusive look at just how dangerous it is for American helicopters flying over Iraq back in March 2005. During that trip, I took a flight from Kuwait, over the desert, throughout the Persian Gulf, eventually winding up in the southern Iraqi port city of Umm Qassar. After we lifted off in a U.S. Navy helicopter, we flew very low to the ground. So low -- check this out -- you could actually see our shadow on the ground, flying over here.

Flying that low, of course, makes you more vulnerable to machine gun and small arms fire, even RPGs. As we approach the Iraqi coastline, you can also see ground and sky. Look at how close we were flying that low. That's because the pilot taking dramatic evasive maneuvers, flying low and fast, zigzagging, to avoid sniper fire, the type of fire they may have been responsible for the recent downings of those American helicopters.

And you can also see here -- take a look at this -- as I sat right next to one of the two gunners. And what makes this flight even more nerve-racking is that the helicopter doors are wide open, so are the windows -- the gunners constantly scanning the ground looking for insurgents who might try to take a shot at the chopper. The gunners, by the way, they keep their fingers on the triggers ready to open fire literally at any moment.

Often the chopper will bank sharply and get this, falling out of those open doors is a real possibility, except for the safety straps worn by the crew. This is what U.S. helicopter crews face day in and day out. Flying over what has now become extremely hostile territory. By the way, a lot more dangerous today than it was back then, when I flew over Iraq.

We went to Falluja, went to Mosul, Balad, Baghdad. I can testify personally it was quite nerve-racking then. I can only imagine how much more dangerous it is now. Closer to home here in Washington, significant new developments today in the trial of Lewis "Scooter" Libby, the former top aide to Vice President Dick Cheney. We're hearing for the first time what Libby actually told the grand jury that indicted him in his own words. And it gives us a new window into the White House trying to get out its message on the war in Iraq.

Let's turn to CNN's Brian Todd. He's outside the federal courthouse here in Washington. What a dramatic day of developments, Brian.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Very dramatic, Wolf, and a very uncommon occurrence in court. We heard more than eight hours of Lewis "Scooter" Libby talking to a grand jury, audio tapes that his attorneys didn't want to be played at this trial.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TODD (voice-over): For the first time in his own voice, we hear Dick Cheney's former chief of staff tell a grand jury his version of conversations with reporters about the wife of administration critic Joe Wilson and her job at the CIA.

LEWIS "SCOOTER" LIBBY'S GRAND JURY TESTIMONY: I told reporters what other reporters had told us. I didn't see that as a crime.

TODD: That excerpt, part of more than eight hours of audio tapes just released by the court, from Lewis "Scooter" Libby's grand jury testimony in March 2004. Libby grilled with surgical precision by prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald about key events and conversations. One crucial date, June 12, 2003, when Libby claims he first heard that Valerie Plame Wilson worked for the CIA.

He heard it, he says, from his boss, Dick Cheney.

LIBBY: Well I didn't think it was under the super, super secret categorization...

TODD: Libby told the grand jury he forgot about that conversation with Cheney and claims when he heard about Plame's status a month later from Tim Russert of NBC News, he believe he was hearing it for the first time.

LIBBY: He said, you know, did you know that this -- excuse me. Did you know that Ambassador Wilson's wife works at the CIA? And I was a little taken aback by it. And I said -- he may have said a little more, but that was -- he said that. And I said, no, I don't know that.

TODD: But Russert rebuts Libby, telling the court today he never said anything about Joe Wilson's wife to Libby. Russert says Wilson's wife never came up in that conversation. Russert, a star witness for the prosecution as it tries to prove Libby lied to investigators about what he told reporters about Plame and when he told them.

(END VIDEOTAPE) TODD: "Scooter" Libby, of course, denied that he intentionally misled investigators. He claims that he simply forgot about key conversations and dates. But Tim Russert's reputation is also on the line as defense attorneys try to punch holes in his memory and in his credibility, Russert is one of the prosecution's final witnesses, still to take the stand, we believe, for the defense, possibly Vice President Cheney, possibly "Scooter" Libby himself -- Wolf.

BLITZER: We'll stay on top of this story. Thank you Brian.

Let's take a closer look at some of Vice President Cheney's involvement in this controversy. There's no evidence or even a suggestion that the vice president did anything illegal. But it does appear he was unusually attentive to pushing back against war critics like Ambassador Joe Wilson after Wilson publicly accused the Bush administration of twisting information to justify the Iraq invasion.

We also learned from the trial that Cheney directed the administration's response to the criticism and that "Scooter" Libby carried out those directions. But there's no evidence the vice president told his chief of staff to leak Valerie Plame's name. Amid the growing controversy, reporters began asking many questions and former vice presidential press officer, Cathie Martin, has how testified that Libby told her how to respond, based on talking points dictated to Libby by the vice president himself.

We also know that Cheney personally instructed Libby to deal directly with selected reporters. Afterwards, Libby did in fact speak with Judith Miller of "The New York Times" and Matt Cooper of "TIME" magazine. Over at the White House, does the president still have support for his Iraq war strategy?

We spoke with one U.S. senator -- Democrat turned independent Joe Lieberman, who is a vocal backer of the president. We spoke about that here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: I'll ask you a question a lot of your constituents and others are asking. Presumably, how much longer do you give the president to get it right in Iraq? How much more time realistically do you think he has before even supporters like you start to back Away?

SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN (D), CONNECTICUT: Well, look, the important thing to say here, Wolf, is that how we end Iraq is going to be very important to our security and our progress in the war against the Islamist terrorists who attacked us on 9/11. So I'm supporting this latest plan, the new plan with a new general, a new secretary of defense, because I really do think it has some significant hope of working.

And I'm not planning for failure. General Petraeus told us when he was before the Armed Services Committee that he thought by this summer, we'd have the beginning of an idea about whether this was working or not. I just -- I'm going to do everything I can to support it. And I hope it does work. And that we won't have to think about what's next.

BLITZER: So you're willing to give it at least another six months, maybe a year, maybe even longer? I don't want to put words in your mouth.

LIEBERMAN: Yes, no. I think here's the important point. I want to see progress. I don't think any of us should hold out the hope that we're going to see an end to all violence in Iraq anytime soon. But I want to see progress, which means that our forces and the Iraqi forces will make Baghdad more secure so that people can go back to their normal lives.

And that the government can stand up and take responsibility. That's the key. In the end, we all know that it's not we Americans who are going to make Iraq a successful state defending itself. It's the Iraqis. And we're trying to give them some opportunity to do that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Senator Joe Lieberman speaking with us earlier today right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Let's go to Jack Cafferty. He's in New York with "The Cafferty File". One thing about Lieberman, Joe, he's been very consistent from day one.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Indeed he has. Except in terms of what political party he belongs to these days. Finally something both Democrats and Republicans can agree on Wolf. Politico.com reports members of both parties are complaining about the five-day workweek. Imagine that. One Democratic senator described it as a bipartisan uprising to get rid of the longer workweek.

What longer workweek? I don't think they've worked five days yet since the new session started. Some are suggesting a schedule that would let them work three weeks and then take a week off. Put me down for that schedule. I'd like that too.

Many members don't think they actually need five days to do all the work that they do in Washington. They say it takes away from what they described as valuable work they could be doing in their home districts. You know, golf, cocktail parties. Leaders in both Houses say the schedule is set and it's being set by the Democrats. We'll see if that changes as the 2008 election draws nearer.

And half the Senate is running for president. Five-day workweek that Democrats promised before taking control of Congress has so far been pretty much hypothetical anyway. Things like college football games and holidays have kept that from becoming a reality. But they still feel overworked.

The question is this. Should members of Congress get one week off every month? E-mail us at CaffertyFile@CNN.com or go to CNN.com/CaffertyFile. Session is what, four weeks old, five weeks old? They're already whining that they're overworked. It's amazing. Isn't it, Wolf?

BLITZER: Tough job here in Washington. They got to work for a living. Jack, thank you for that.

Coming up, the House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, she's caught up right now in a controversy over her use of U.S. military planes. Critics charging she's trying to fly in luxury at our expense.

Also, former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay gives an urgent warning to fellow Republican about Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton. You're going to want to hear what he has to say, not only about Senator Clinton, but the two Republican frontrunners for the presidency. I got to tell you it's not pretty.

Also, an exclusive report from one of the world's most dangerous regions. We're going to go in search of mysterious rebels fighting for control of billions, billions of dollars worth of oil. This is a story you'll see only here.

And we're also keeping a very close eye on a fire in Missouri, a potentially dangerous situation after an explosion in a chemical plant.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We're about to show you a story you will see only here on CNN, shocking video as the CNN crew comes face-to-face with mysterious men in hoods carrying guns. This is happening in Africa, where heavily armed rebels are now fighting for control of some of the world's richest oil deposits. What you're about to see is exclusive.

And we turn to CNN's Jeff Koinange in South Africa, where he's just returned from Nigeria -- Jeff.

JEFF KOINANGE, CNN AFRICA CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, a CNN exclusive from deep in the heart of the Niger Delta in Nigeria where a rebel army calling itself the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta or MEND has been raging a war against the Nigerian government and rich oil multi nationals for some years. And now, they say, they're ready to take their struggle to a whole new level.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KOINANGE (voice-over): To see for ourselves what is happening in the Delta, we first needed permission from a mysterious rebel leader named Jomo who communicates via e-mail and whose heavily armed and fierce men are fighting for control of the Delta and the oil. Jomo agreed to have us come by. But he wrote, there's a snag, I don't do audio or video interviews.

Days later, we were on a speedboat to meet the phantom Jomo. We were an hour and a half up river from the Delta town of Warri when suddenly out of nowhere masked gunmen in powerful speedboats surrounded us, shooting over our heads and demanding to know who we are.

(SHOTS)

KOINANGE: Their weapons, impressive. Small machine guns. A boat-mounted 50-caliber and grenade launchers, far more fire power than I'd ever seen in the Delta. Simply put, in their black outfits and black ski masks, these guys were terrifying. And that's exactly what it's become, Nigeria's worse nightmare. Their goal they insist is to mend what they say is the unequal distribution of the vast wealth reaped from Nigeria's oil bonanza.

These murky waters contain some of the richest oil deposits and ironically, some of the poorest people in the world. The rebels say they are like Robin Hood. And it's a matter of taking back the oil money from corrupt politicians, a corrupt military, and the oil companies and giving it to the people who live here.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KOINANGE: No one really knows how serious the men's threats are or how far they're prepared to take their fight. Or indeed, what kind of numbers they have. But what we discovered when we were down there, is that they are willing to die for what they feel is their rightful cause. Namely, the equal distribution of the country's rich oil wealth, a country which pumps close to three million barrels of oil each day which at today's oil prices comes to about $200 million a day, very little of which makes it back to the Niger Delta -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jeff Koinange, thanks very much. One of our courageous reporters on the scene in Africa to bring you this story. And by the way, you can get more of Jeff's exclusive report on the mysterious men bringing terror and death to Nigeria, that will air tonight on "AC 360", "Sea of Oil, River of Blood", 10:00 p.m. Eastern, 7:00 Pacific, as we said, only here on CNN.

Up ahead tonight here in THE SITUATION ROOM, Republican critics on the attack against House Speaker Nancy Pelosi over the military plane she's planning to use. They say she wants to fly in luxury. She says it's about security. We've done some reporting. We have the details.

Plus Democrat John Edwards hires some new staff for his presidential campaign. We're going to show you why one conservative is calling them, and I'm quoting now, "trash-talking bigots".

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: The private American security guards being sent to Iraq's cauldron of violence are supposed to protect others, but are they in need of protection? Yes, say families of guards who were killed back in 2004. And today, those loved ones told disturbing stories to U.S. lawmakers.

Let's go to our congressional correspondent Andrea Koppel -- Andrea.

ANDREA KOPPEL, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, there are tens of thousands of them operating in Iraq. And as part of a week's worth of oversight hearings in the House, this was the first attempt by Congress to bring about some accountability into the murky world of private military contractors in Iraq.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KOPPEL (voice-over): March 31, 2004, a pivotal moment in the Iraq war. Four American contractors working for a private security firm are ambushed, burned and strung up on a bridge in Falluja. One of them, 32-year-old Scott Helvenston like his comrades a former Navy SEAL and father of two. In emotional testimony, his mother told the committee she believes the firm, Blackwater USA failed to provide the men the security they had been promised.

KATHRYN HELVENSTON-WETTENGEL, MOTHER OF STEPHEN HELVENSTON: I was told he was still alive when they tied him to the back of that truck and drug him through the streets of Falluja, and that what before they decapitated him, dismembered him, and torched him.

KOPPEL: Helvenston and other family members told lawmakers they had been forced to sue Blackwater in hopes of finding out what happened.

DONNA ZOVKO, MOTHER OF JERRY ZOVKO: The simple plain truth (inaudible). This is what happened.

KOPPEL: Chairman Henry Waxman read aloud an e-mail from Blackwater's operations manager in Baghdad, complaining about poor security. The e-mail was sent just one day before the Falluja ambush.

REP. HENRY WAXMAN (D), CALIFORNIA: Quote, "I need new vehicles. I need new coms," which means communications devices. "I need ammo."

KOPPEL: Waxman then turned to Blackwater's chief counsel Andrew Howell.

WAXMAN: When Blackwater sends private forces into a war zone, do you have an obligation to equip them adequately. And I assume you would have to say yes. And then my next question is did Blackwater meet this obligation in Falluja?

ANDREW HOWELL, BLACKWATER CHIEF COUNSEL: Yes, we did.

KOPPEL: Jeremy Scahill has written a book on Blackwater.

JEREMY SCAHILL, AUTHOR, "BLACKWATER": It's like the OK Corral in Iraq right now. You have these unregulated, unchecked armies running around the country. Many of them are just soldiers for fortune. They hire Special Forces operators from around the world. What are they doing in Iraq?

(END VIDEOTAPE) KOPPEL: Since 2004, some 30 Blackwater employees have been killed in Iraq, most recently just last month when five Blackwater guards were killed when the helicopter they were in was shot down in Baghdad -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Andrea Koppel on the Hill for us. Thank you.

And just ahead, is Hillary Clinton unstoppable in the race for the White House? The former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay is blunt. He says she may be unstoppable. He's calling on the GOP to act right now. A surprising interview coming up with Tom DeLay.

Also we have some new details of that uproar involving the House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's use of U.S. military planes and why some Republicans now accusing her of splurging on luxury.

Stay with us. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM. Happening right now, an explosion and fire at a chemical plant in Missouri. It was so violent -- look at this -- it kept firefighters at bay. There are no injuries or fatalities reported. Officials looking into what happened right now.

And it's a love triangle that has many asking, what were they thinking? New concerns tonight about what's going on in an astronaut's head. NASA says it will rethink the way it screens an astronaut's mental health. This amid allegations that astronaut Lisa Nowak tried to kidnap and murder a woman she believed to be a rival for another astronaut's affection.

I'm Wolf Blitzer and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

The House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is coming under fire from Republican critics, who accuse her of first-class ambitions when it comes to using U.S. military planes. Let's go back to CNN's Carol Costello. She's in New York and she's been investigating -- Carol.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I have, Wolf. Ever since 9/11, the House speaker has been authorized to fly on military aircraft for security reasons. So Speaker Nancy Pelosi is entitled to fly on the taxpayer dime from D.C. to her home state of California, just as her Republican predecessor did to his home state of Illinois.

The controversy -- did Pelosi ask for the most expensive plane in the fleet? The speaker says no, but the accusations continue to fly.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COSTELLO (voice over): The charges against Nancy Pelosi are strong -- an abuser of power who desires a luxury taxpayer-funded Pelosi One to ferry her family and friends. They are so loud, the speaker spoke out.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), HOUSE SPEAKER: It has nothing to do with family and friends and everything to do about security.

COSTELLO: But her words did not quiet Republican Congressman Adam Putnam, who has accused Pelosi of wanting not only a military plane that could fly coast to coast without refueling, but the most luxurious plane in the Air Force's fleet, the C-32, which boasts a private bed, an entertainment center, and a crew of 16.

REP. ADAM PUTNAM (R), FLORIDA: There are corporate-sized aircraft that exist that can serve this same function. So why does she need 42 seats? Why do we need an airplane that costs $22,000 an hour to operate?

COSTELLO: That bit of info came from the conservative "Washington Times" through unnamed congressional sources. Critics wondered why Pelosi couldn't use the planes her predecessor, Republican Dennis Hastert, had used, the smaller C-37A or C-20. Both planes are capable of flying coast to coast without refueling under optimal conditions.

Pelosi says the debate has been mischaracterized.

PELOSI: The only misrepresentations could be coming from the administration, and one would only have to wonder why.

COSTELLO: But her ally in Congress, John Murtha, says he does know, telling us off camera the Pentagon is leaking information to "The Washington Times," saying, "... they're making a mistake when they leak it because she decides on the allocations for the Department of Defense."

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COSTELLO: We wondered how Mr. Hastert used military aircraft. Well, the 89th Airlift Wing tells me between January '06 and January '07, Hastert used the smaller planes to fly during the legislative session 41 times. The vast majority of the time, he flew back and forth from Illinois -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Carol, thank you. A military spokesman, by the way, tells us the House speaker is authorized to use planes in the 89th Airlift Wing. They include the C-32, the military version of the Boeing 757. It has a range of 5,500 nautical miles. The C-40, which is based on Boeing's popular 737, that plane can fly up to 5,000 nautical miles. And then there are two smaller planes, the C-20, which is equivalent to a Gulfstream 3, which is the plane the former House Speaker Dennis Hastert usually flew. It has a range of almost 3,700 nautical miles. And then there is the C-37a, which is the military version of the Gulfstream 5. It can fly up to 5,500 nautical miles. In theory, each of these planes could fly coast to coast without refueling, but that would depend on multiple factors, including winds, payloads, reserve fuel requirements.

The speaker of the House, a constitutional job, second in line to the presidency after the vice president himself. That's why the speaker gets special security considerations. Let's move on to the shock of November's elections. It may be wearing off, but for some conservatives, they're already having nightmares about 2008. Those nightmares involve a Hillary Rodham Clinton presidency.

One key Republican left Capitol Hill as a scandal overtook his party, but can the man they used to call the Hammer now launch a conservative comeback? That would be the former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Thanks very much for coming in.

TOM DELAY (R), FORMER HOUSE MAJORITY LEADER: My pleasure, Wolf.

BLITZER: Appreciate it very much.

Hillary Clinton -- you fear she may, may be unbeatable right now, is that right?

DELAY: Absolutely.

BLITZER: Why?

DELAY: Well, if you -- if you study the opposition, as I do, you know that the -- those that worked in the Clinton White House didn't just go away. When they left the White House in 2001, they went to work and they've built the biggest, most powerful coalition that I've ever witnessed in my lifetime.

And they used that coalition in the last election. And that coalition is available to Hillary. A lot of money, a lot of coordination, coalitions of different groups working together, very well coordinated, a lot of good strategy.

(CROSSTALK)

DELAY: ... from the right.

BLITZER: Some talented staff who have been through it...

DELAY: That's right. That's right.

BLITZER: ... getting a president elected on two earlier occasions.

DELAY: That's right.

BLITZER: You're quoted as saying this in thepolitico.com: "If the conservative movement and Republicans don't understand how massive the Clinton coalition is, Hillary Clinton will be the next president.

DELAY: That's correct.

BLITZER: All right, so what do you think your fellow conservatives in the GOP need to do to stop Senator Clinton?

DELAY: Well, first and foremost, they need to go back and show their base that they haven't lost their principle, they haven't lost their way, that they will fight for what they believe in. That will energize the base.

Obviously, Hillary being nominated will energize the base. And, at the same time, they have to build and bring people together to fight for what they believe in.

BLITZER: Who in the Republican that can generate, that can mobilize that force best?

We've seen in the polls the two frontrunners are John McCain and Rudy Giuliani.

Can they do it?

DELAY: Well, I don't know. We're going to have to wait and see.

BLITZER: You know both of these men. What do you think of them?

DELAY: The party is crying for leadership.

BLITZER: Do these -- is one of these two guys, the leader the party is crying for?

DELAY: Well, certainly -- certainly Giuliani is a leader. He's already demonstrated that. And I've also seen that he's sort of got the Ronald Reagan syndrome, that if you are a leader and people perceive you as a leader, they will forgive you of some of the things that they may disagree with you about.

BLITZER: On some of the social issues like...

DELAY: Exactly.

BLITZER: ... gay rights or abortion rights.

DELAY: Exactly.

BLITZER: Or gun control?

DELAY: I won't. I won't.

BLITZER: You could...

DELAY: I want...

BLITZER: Could you see yourself supporting Rudy Giuliani if he becomes the Republican nominee?

DELAY: I can't vote for somebody that's for abortion. I just -- I never have and I never will.

BLITZER: So you could never forgive him on that, even though he says I abhor, I hate abortion, but he believes in a woman's right to have an abortion?

DELAY: Well, he and I disagree fundamentally -- and that's fundamental with me.

BLITZER: And that issue is overarching, as far as you're concerned?

DELAY: Absolutely.

BLITZER: What about other social conservatives or conservatives in the GOP? Could he overcome that hurdle with them, because you like his stance, presumably, on fighting terrorists and the war in Iraq?

DELAY: Well, I don't like his gun control. I don't like his approach to gay marriage.

BLITZER: He says he opposes gay marriage, although he supports gay rights.

DELAY: Now he does. He didn't just a year ago. So -- but, he shows leadership and others -- I mean, I'm not the majority, although I think half of our party votes for someone that's pro-life and will not vote for someone that's not.

BLITZER: So you think it's unlikely he could get the Republican nomination?

DELAY: I don't know. I think it's way too early. It's also a situation of if not Giuliani, then who?

BLITZER: Well, I heard...

DELAY: As compared to what?

BLITZER: I heard you say that Giuliani is a leader, even though you disagree with him on several of these social issues.

What about John McCain?

I didn't hear you say he was a leader.

DELAY: Well, John McCain certainly is -- is leading right now in our -- in our primary. I don't think he'll get very far because he is not -- does not reflect the vast majority of the party.

BLITZER: On what issue?

DELAY: On many issues. You name it. He also -- there's a lot of conservatives that fault him for our situation right now...

BLITZER: Well, give us...

DELAY: ... because of McCain-Feingold. And...

BLITZER: The campaign financing...

DELAY: Yes. The lack of understanding of what the Constitution guarantees and what rights it guarantees.

BLITZER: So is it just that or is there something else you don't like about him?

DELAY: No. I just -- it's not that I don't like it about him...

BLITZER: No, no, no, he's...

DELAY: There's...

BLITZER: ... on the issues. On the issues.

DELAY: Well, there's a lot of them that are running, and it's way too early, particularly on our side. I don't think it's too early on the Democrats' side.

BLITZER: It's a wide open race right now.

DELAY: It's wide open.

BLITZER: Who do you like? Who's -- who do you feel comfortable with, that can fit the description of being a leader and also you feel comfortable with on the issues?

DELAY: Well, Mitt Romney is a leader. But I want to make sure that what he now says he believes is fundamental to his world view.

BLITZER: Because he's accused of flip-flopping.

DELAY: Exactly. I want to see -- I want to see action, not words. I want -- I like -- Governor Mike Huckabee is my favorite. I've known him for 20 years. I know what kind of man he is. He's an incredible leader and was a great governor in Arkansas. And his world view is almost identical to mine.

BLITZER: So you like -- would you think that -- because there's been a lot of buzz about Newt Gingrich, the former speaker, the man you worked with for many years.

Do you think, A, he will get into this race; and, B, if he does, could he get the Republican nomination?

DELAY: I think he could get the Republican nomination. I think Newt is a brilliant man. His speaking ability is so far above and beyond anybody else's. He can stimulate a crowd of people to march out of that room and fight the battles in the streets. And he has that great gift of ideas.

BLITZER: Would you like him to run?

DELAY: I like all of them.

BLITZER: You like some more than others.

DELAY: Some more than others. You know, it's sort of -- it's going to be damned if you do and damned if you don't. If Hillary actually becomes president of the United States, it may be the best thing that happened to the Republican Party.

BLITZER: Explain.

DELAY: Well, it was the best thing that happened to the Republican Party that Bill Clinton was president of the United States. We were able to get the majority and hold on to it for many, many years.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: The former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay. By the way, he also says he doesn't blame President Bush over the predicament the Republican Party finds itself in right now. He says Republicans simply lost their way and not able to communicate their message with the American people.

Still ahead tonight, they work for the Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards. But some Catholics now are calling the workers, and I'm quoting now, "anti-Catholic bigots". We're going to tell you what this controversy is all about.

And you know the story of the so-called astronaut love triangle that's made headlines across the country. Jeanne Moos is standing by with her take on this story.

We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Right now, Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards is taking some heat over Internet bloggers on his payroll.

Our Internet reporter Jacki Schechner standing by.

But let's go to Mary Snow in New York. She's following this story -- Mary.

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, everybody believes the bloggers are provocative, as many political bloggers are. But one Catholic group says they go too far. And it's calling on John Edwards to fire them, not for what they said during the campaign, but in their past jobs.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SNOW (voice-over): On John Edwards' own Web site, it's called the first big test of the campaign. A conservative Catholic group took aim at two bloggers who work for Edwards, calling them anti- Catholic, vulgar, trash-talking bigots.

The blogs in question were written before the two joined Edwards' campaign. One of the postings that angered Catholic League president William Donahue said the church's opposition to birth control forces women to -- quote -- "bear more tithing Catholics." WILLIAM DONAHUE, PRESIDENT, CATHOLIC LEAGUE: Don't use insulting language like this. This is incendiary. It's inflammatory. It's scurrilous. It has no place being a part of any kind of someone's resume who's going to work for a -- a potential presidential contender.

SNOW: Donahue points to blogger Melissa McEwan, who makes reference to President Bush's "wing-nut Christofascist base," and blogger Amanda Marcotte's entry on the pope and fascists.

Also gaining notice, Marcotte's writing that sarcastically chides the news media's coverage of the Duke lacrosse players who were accused of sexual assault. Her entry read -- quote -- "Can't a few white boys sexually assault a black woman any more without people getting all wound up about it? So unfair."

DONAHUE: It should be a message to everybody, in -- Republicans and Democrat alike. You had better carefully go through these kinds of things. Otherwise, you are going to get burnt in the end.

SNOW: Now, more than ever, bloggers are playing a big role in presidential campaigns.

K. DANIEL GLOVER, "THE NATIONAL JOURNAL": They're passionate. That's what they're known for. And that's why the campaigns are hiring them. They want people who will defend the candidate and -- and be the voice for them, and to -- and to have a strong message and a strong voice.

SNOW: And blog watchers say, with those strong opinions, expect to see controversy surface in other campaigns in the 2008 race.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SNOW (on camera): We tried to contact the bloggers at the center of the story, but we were unable to reach them. And a spokeswoman for the Edwards campaign also declined comment -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Mary. Thanks.

Let's get some context from our Internet reporter Jacki Schechner -- Jacki.

JACKI SCHECHNER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, political campaigns want to hire the most experienced bloggers. But the more information bloggers have online, the more information there is for other people to scrutinize. Senator Hillary Clinton has hired Peter Daou, a prominent blogger, to be her blog advisor. And Senator John McCain uses Patrick Hynes, another big online name, as his e-consultant. Neither campaign would talk to us today about the process they use to vet their hires.

But the bottom line online is that bloggers on both the right and left are disappointed in what they see as an Edwards campaign lack of research. Some are wondering now if this is going to make it for difficult for bloggers to get jobs in political campaigns or if political campaigns are just going to stay away from bloggers altogether.

But there is a big call tonight on the left. Liberal bloggers are saying this is a huge moment for Edwards, that he should stand behind these woman and that would show a true commitment to the net roots that he is trying to reach out to -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jacki, thank you.

And still ahead tonight, Jack Cafferty wants to know should members of Congress get one week off every month?

Plus, the story of the astronaut love triangle gone wrong. CNN's Jeanne Moos with the headlines some media simply couldn't resist.

We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Let's check back with Jack Cafferty for the "Cafferty File" -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: The question, Wolf, is should members of Congress get one week off every month?

Ed in Virginia City, Nevada: "Are you crazy? Only one week? These people have to meet with lobbyists, then they have to try to understand the bill the lobbyist has written for them. They have to chase the pages through the halls. They have to figure out ways to convert their campaign contributions to personal use. They need to make certain that they prevent the opposition party from accomplishing anything substantial, while at the same time making certain their party does nothing substantial but looks good doing it."

Michael until Phoenix: "As much as we tend to despise our elected officials, I think they should be allowed more time with us, their constituents. They're so busy being corrupt that perhaps a month off in the presence of 'we the people' might correct their behavior."

Paul in Dallas: "Members of Congress should get one week off a month. They are elected to represent their districts, and they need the opportunity to spend time in their districts. Let them have their weekends with their families."

We need to check to see if Paul is a member of Congress.

S.T., Lexington Park, Maryland: "No weeks off for the already rich and famous. They were elected to serve, not take."

Aldon writes, "I believe it is an insult that any member of Congress would mention time off when American men and women are fighting in Iraq 24 hours a day, seven days a week."

And Dave in Pennsylvania says, "I couldn't figure this one out by myself, so I asked my boss if he would give me one week of every month. I got my answer. Do you have any openings in the SITUATION ROOM?" If you didn't see your e-mail here, you can go to CNN.com/caffertyfile and read more of them online.

You know, you've got to remember, talking about these weasels taking all this time off, they're not in session but about a third of the year. I mean, they're always off. They're off the summer. They're off for the fall. They're off for Christmas, Thanksgiving. You know, they're always off.

BLITZER: Well, we work hard in the SITUATION ROOM.

CAFFERTY: Very hard. Tough, this live TV show.

BLITZER: Jack, we'll see you tomorrow. thank you.

Let's find out what's coming up at the top of the hour. Paula is standing by.

Hi, Paula.

PAULA ZAHN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You work hard, Wolf, because there are no weasels in the SITUATION ROOM, according to Jack.

BLITZER: That is correct.

ZAHN: That was one of his favorite mornings when we did the -- or favorite phrases when we worked on the mornings together.

Coming up in just about eight minutes, we're going to bring these stories out in the open. Some brand-new studies show that police stop and search people of color much more often than whites. We're going to look at whether racial profiling can ever justified.

Also, some of the secrets that the fashion industry doesn't want you to know, a shocking look at what it really takes to be a size 0 fashion model.

Tonight, Wolf, we talk to a woman who was expected to stay at 115 pounds. Guess how tall she was? Five feet, 11 inches. And it's not pretty how they do it. Just ask some of the janitors who are describing what the bathrooms smell like at the fashion shows.

BLITZER: Terrible.

ZAHN: No, it's really terrible. You're talking about these models putting their lives on the line.

BLITZER: All right, Paula. We'll stay with you at the top of the hour.

Thank you for that.

And still ahead, should the U.S. get closer to Cuba? Americans speaking out in a new poll, and you might be surprised at what people have to say.

Plus, the charges are serious. But some of the headlines are not. CNN's Jeanne Moos on the astronaut love triangle.

We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: There's some other important stories coming into the SITUATION ROOM right now. Let's check back with Carol -- Carol.

COSTELLO: Yes, Wolf, a mistrial declared in the case of an Army officer who refused deployment orders for Iraq. Lieutenant Ehren Watada was preparing to testify when the judge ruled Watada had failed to understand that some of his pretrial statements amounted to a confession. Lieutenant Watada says the war is illegal. He's to face court martial again next month on the same charges of missing a troop movement and conduct unbecoming to an officer.

Tension tonight along the Israeli-Lebanese border. Troops from both sides, as you hear, exchange gunfire as Israeli forces dug for bombs possibly planted by Hezbollah guerrillas. Lebanese sources charge the Israeli contingent actually crossed the border. At this time, neither side is reporting casualties. But the Lebanese sources say the situation is very tense.

And after all of these years, most Americans still possess a dim opinion of Cuban President Fidel Castro. While 64 percent say their view of Castro is unfavorable, 62 percent think that the United States should re-establish diplomatic ties. Those numbers are contained in an A.P.-Ipsus poll.

Headlines right now, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Thanks, Carol, for that.

The love triangle. Let's get Jeanne Moos' take on that.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Like the runaway bride, the out of this world astronaut is hiding her face. You'd hide, too, if you're called names like this.

"Astro-nut" is a favorite in the tabloid press. As puns go, "News Day's" "2007: A Space Oddity" is mild.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The "Post"...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's so bad.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... says "Lust in Space".

MOOS: And none of this is lost on comedians.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I guess what happens in space doesn't stay in space.

MOOS: Letterman illustrated his top-ten list with the shuttle. DAVID LETTERMAN, HOST, "LATE NIGHT WITH DAVID LETTERMAN": Top ten signs an astronaut is trying to kill you. She poisoned your Tang.

MOOS: And when the first words out of Leno's mouth are...

JAY LENO, HOST, "THE TONIGHT SHOW": Houston we have a problem.

MOOS: You know you really do have a problem if you're the butt of this joke or this headline.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: "Dark Side of the Loon".

MOOS: As "People Magazine" editor Larry Sutton notes...

LARRY SUTTON, EDITOR, "PEOPLE MAGAZINE": It's a cheap laugh, but, you know, it's part of the reason we're attracted to the story.

MOOS: Even the straight news reporters can't resist the space word play.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... who was once on top of the world...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: ... and whether she'll ever be able to escape this atmosphere again...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: ... re-entry probably never looked so bad...

MOOS: But there's one word in particular that has captured the public's attention.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... but if you have a diaper on...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... special space diaper...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: .. and in a bizarre display of NASA ingenuity, diapers...

MOOS: A columnist for the "Detroit Free Press" writes, "The diaper did it. It's the diaper that will turn this tale into one of 2007's top jaw droppers."

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She wears Depends diapers because she's going to drive 900 miles.

ROSIE O'DONNELL, HOST, "THE VIEW" OK, wait, that, to me, was the first sign of "Warning, Will Robinson! Danger!"

MOOS: On "The View", Barbara Walters jumped in to sort of defend what apparently suited-up astronauts do.

BARBARA WALTERS, HOST, "THE VIEW": ... that when they wear those suits, you know, they cannot go to the bathroom. So they wear a kind of diaper thing that they're used to.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So she's used to that? MOOS: But on this subject...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: By the way, Bush, maybe you can hook me up with one of those heavy-duty astronaut diapers.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Depends.

MOOS: One joke led to another.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The astronaut drove 900 miles wearing a diaper so she wouldn't have to stop. What kind of car gets 900 miles to a tank of gas?

MOOS: Looks like there's a lot more mileage left in this story.

Jeanne Moos. CNN, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: That's it for us. Let's go to Paula in New York -- Paula.

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