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Will Blair Announce Major Troop Withdrawal From Iraq?; Iran Tests Waters in Persian Gulf

Aired February 20, 2007 - 19:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks very much, Lou.
Happening now, he's been President Bush's closest ally in Iraq, but has Britain's Tony Blair had enough? There's word tonight he's about to announce a major troop withdrawal from Iraq as the U.S. sends more troops in.

From war games to war, Iran tests the waters in the Persian Gulf. Is it also testing America's military might?

And let's call it the Hollywood primary, the stars turning out for rising political star Barack Obama. He's battling Hillary Clinton for the entertainment dollars.

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

He stood by President Bush from the very start of the war in Iraq. But even as the Bush administration boosts the U.S. troop presence there, there's word tonight that British Prime Minister Tony Blair is about to order a major pull-out. Will President Bush soon be standing alone?

Our Suzanne Malveaux is standing by over at the White House, but let's go to number 10 Downing Street in London for the latest from Robin Oakley. Robin, tell us what we expect to hear from the British prime minister tomorrow.

ROBIN OAKLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: What we expect, Wolf, widely reported in the British media from unnamed government officials is that Tony Blair will say 1,500 British troops due to rotate out of their duty in April will not be replaced. They'll be pulled back to barracks initially to see how the situation goes, but the aim is to get 3,000 of the 7,000 British troops in Iraq out by the end of the year, Wolf.

BLITZER: This is a major decision on the part of the British. They presumably could have sent those troops to where they're badly needed, for example in the al Anbar Province or in Baghdad itself where the U.S. is sending another 20,000 or so troops. Why are they simply leaving and almost half of their troop presence will be out of there by the end of the year?

OAKLEY: It was never on politically, Wolf. This is a prime minister who is being forced out of office early because of his policies on Iraq. A prime minister under massive pressure to get reductions in the British troop levels in Iraq as early as possible. We have had hints from Margaret Beckett, the foreign secretary, over recent weeks it was going to happen. It's happened a little bit earlier than we'd expected. Possibly because this week the opinion polls here in Britain have given Tony Blair's new Labour government the worst rating that they've had in the nearly 10 years they have been in office -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Robin Oakley on the scene for us in London. We'll stand by for the prime minister's remarks tomorrow before the parliament in London.

Suzanne Malveaux is over at the White House. Suzanne, this must be a stinging rebuke over at the White House, a major disappointment.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well you know the White House is really trying to paint this as a success story. This is a plan, Wolf. That would involve consolidating bases in Basra, handing some of those over to Iraqi authorities, also reducing battle groups from six to five during the next troop rotation in May.

What this means essentially is reducing British troops by 7,200 deployed to 5,500, but also keeping a substantial force in Iraq. That is that they're not going to withdrawal British troops from southern Iraq, and that they're also going to maintain the same current combat capability. All of this taken together presented to President Bush by British Prime Minister Tony Blair, part of this plan that the two discussed early this morning.

The White House saying that this is simply a success, a sign that things are working in Basra. I spoke with Gordon Johndroe, NSC spokesperson who put it this way, saying the president is grateful for the support of the British forces in the past and into the future, while the United Kingdom is maintaining a robust force in southern Iraq, we're pleased that conditions in Basra have improved sufficiently that they are able to transition more control to the Iraqis.

The United States shares the same goal of turning responsibility over to the Iraqi security forces and reducing the number of American troops in Iraq. Now I pressed Gordon Johndroe on that. Does it cripple the U.S. mission to go after al Qaeda as well as the insurgents? He says no. He thinks that 5,500 is certainly a robust presence, but Wolf it really does beg the question here, a lot of pressure on President Bush now. What does this mean for American troops? When do they get to come home? Gordon Johndroe and other U.S. officials saying look, it all demands on the conditions on the ground, not in Basra, but in Baghdad -- Wolf.

BLITZER: The White House clearly trying to put their best face forward on what clearly is a difficult situation. Thanks Suzanne very much.

So what does this mean for President Bush and the war in Iraq? I asked David Gergen, a former adviser to both Republican and Democratic presidents. DAVID GERGEN, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL ADVISER: That sound we're hearing is the cracking of the alliance. It means that Britain is starting to go its own way now and will leave President Bush more isolated. It will increase the pressure on President Bush here in the United States to begin pulling back American troops, too, sooner rather than later. It underscores how much the politics back home is beginning to affect decisions with regard to troop deployment on the ground in Iraq.

BLITZER: Tony Blair has been such a staunch friend and ally of President Bush, but I take it even that friendship and that alliance is not able to withstand the domestic uproar within Britain.

GERGEN: Absolutely. No friendship in international affairs I'm afraid has infinite limits. It often -- and we have seen this in the past in U.S./British relations, even during World War II, there were times when we were not necessarily on the same page. But I can't tell you how symbolically important this will be, even though as we've just heard, most of these troops, these British troops are in the south, in Basra. We just saw yesterday that American troops were vulnerable outside Baghdad because our forces are so thin in some places outside Baghdad. We're concentrating so much on Baghdad that we're leaving ourselves more vulnerable.

BLITZER: Here is what some military analysts have said to me over recent weeks and months. If the British pull out of the south, it won't take very long for a vacuum to be created there, and the relative peace and stability that we see in Basra and Umm Qasr and some of the other places in the southern part of the country, that could explode even then, once the British are gone. This could potentially be a significant problem for the U.S. and its Iraqi allies.

GERGEN: It could be a problem, not only a problem politically for George W. Bush in Washington, because it will increase the sense of his own isolation and the Congress will be even more rebellious, but on the ground, as you suggest, we have seen instances in the past when the British have pulled out of some places in the south. And when they pull back, what we have often seen is an outbreak of Shia upon Shia fighting and the factions that are necessary to hold together the national government, if they start going at each other in some of these areas that could be very dangerous.

You know the fear all along has been that we would have this surge on the U.S. troop part, that we would keep the Brits in there, but that -- and everything we could get to relative quiet, but as soon as we started pulling back, they would be at each other's throats again. And if we see that starting to happen in the south as the British pull, if that's what they do, if we start to see that, it's going to reinforce the sense that even with a surge bringing some quiet in Baghdad, that is no guarantee that the moment we start to leave, we won't see a slaughter.

BLITZER: David Gergen joining us from Boston. David thanks very much.

GERGEN: Thanks very much, Wolf. Take care.

BLITZER: Could Iran's war games lead to war? A top U.S. military commander says Iran is now pushing the limits even as America builds up its own military might in the Persian Gulf region.

Our Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr has the story -- Barbara.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, tough new language from the U.S. Navy on the question of Iran's intentions.


STARR (voice-over): Just as Defense Secretary Robert Gates has been trying to ratchet down tensions with Iran...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are not planning a war with Iran.

STARR: ... a senior military commander may be on a different page than his civilian boss. Vice Admiral Patrick Walsh, the top U.S. Navy commander in the Persian Gulf, told reporters Iran's recent naval exercises near the Strait of Hormuz, are an effort to intimidate the Gulf states and show it could shut down the waterway.

Walsh was not diplomatic saying specifically the concern with Iran is the combination of the rhetoric and the exercises have taken on a very bellicose and pugnacious tone. The exercises themselves, the ones that focus on the Strait of Hormuz are the ones that are my greatest concern. This week, a second aircraft carrier arrived in the North Arabian Sea, within striking distance of Iran.


STARR: Walsh said Iran recently launched missiles into the Gulf and demonstrated use of mines at sea. Here is what Walsh said he thinks about the message Iran is sending.

It's one that I think is provocative and intimidating.

But salty language is not what Walsh's boss wants. Defense Secretary Robert Gates earlier this month was asked his reaction to Iran's announcement it could hit war ships in the Gulf.

ROBERT GATES, DEFENSE SECRETARY: Obviously, when it comes to things like these tests, we watch them closely. And other than that, I think it's just another day in the Persian Gulf.


STARR: Navy officials say the last thing anybody wants is any misunderstanding what the Iranians at sea that could lead to an unexpected, unwanted shooting war -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Barbara thank you for that. Jack Cafferty is off today. Coming up here in THE SITUATION ROOM, we're going to show you some shocking conditions at one of the best medical facilities for treating wounded soldiers. We're going to take you inside a part of the Walter Reed Army Hospital here in the nation's capital that people rarely see.

Plus, the legal fate of a former White House insider now up to a jury, blistering closing arguments in the trial of Lewis "Scooter" Libby.

And I'll ask the Massachusetts governor, Deval Patrick, why there are so few like him, African Americans, who hold the highest office in the country. Is he setting an example for presidential hopeful Barack Obama?

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


BLITZER: Tonight, it's going to a jury. The legal battle that has some of Washington's most powerful political and media figures on edge. That would be the trial of former vice presidential aide Lewis "Scooter" Libby.

Our Brian Todd is standing by outside the federal courthouse here in Washington with the latest on the CIA leak trial -- Brian.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, a great snapshot of these arguments came at the very end. Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald telling jurors "Scooter" Libby made up his story and stuck to it. Defense attorney Ted Wells saying there's no smoking gun to show his client lied to investigators, the end of a very intense tug of war in this courtroom.


TODD (voice-over): The prosecution delivers a blistering account of a vice president and his chief aide on a mission, a mission to blast back at criticism of the administration's case for war from former Ambassador Joe Wilson. Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald says between Dick Cheney and "Scooter" Libby quote, "there was an obsession with Wilson."

To make the case that Libby lied to the FBI and the grand jury, prosecutor Peter Seidenberg (ph) ticks through several conversations he says Libby had with eight different people about the covert CIA identity of Wilson's wife, some of the conversations with reporters. Most of which Libby told investigators he didn't remember. The prosecution's strategy, according to one expert...

RICHARD SMITH, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: To get the jurors to understand how can you claim you forgot something when it was your task to try to deal with a political crisis and you're the key person to try to discredit the key critic of this.

TODD: The defense counters attacking the credibility of the reporters who testified against Libby. Lead defense attorney Ted Wells spends an hour trying to tear down star prosecution witness NBC's Tim Russert who rebutted Libby's claim that Libby first heard about the CIA officer from Russert. With charts, TV clips and picture after picture of Russert, Wells seeks to portray a famous newsman with a bad memory and a bias against Libby, dramatically telling the jury you can't convict Mr. Libby solely on the word of this man. It would just be fundamentally wrong.

SMITH: Any chink in Mr. Russert's armor helps the defense. So what they're doing is trying to take the government's case piece by piece and attack those points that are the most damning to the defendant in this case.


TODD: Another big confrontation in these arguments, Libby's attorney Ted Wells repeatedly claiming that Libby was scapegoat by the Bush White House to protect political adviser Karl Rove. Prosecutors telling the jury there is no evidence of that. "Scooter" Libby's fate will be in the hands of the jury tomorrow -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right Brian. I know you'll be staying on top of this story. Thank you.

So have the prosecution and the defense effectively made their cases? Let's bring in our senior legal analyst, Jeff Toobin. He's joining us with some insight. This has been a very closely watched trial. What does your gut say? I know you have been following it closely right now. It's going to up to these 12 men and women in the jury.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SR. LEGAL ANALYST: You know I think this was a classic white-collar crime summation from both sides. The prosecution was saying look this case is simple. Libby testified in the grand jury that Tim Russert told him about Valerie Wilson. Russert denies it and eight other witnesses in nine other conversations denies it. That's all you need to know.

The defense says no, no, no, it's not simple. It's complicated. All these witnesses have told multiple stories, have different agendas and I think given the number of witnesses and the -- how quickly the case went, and I think the prosecution really has done better certainly than I expected in what I thought would be a more complicated and longer case.

BLITZER: But what is the burden of proof? You have to show intent, criminal intent I take it in these perjuries, obstruction of justice charges. Has the prosecution effectively shown that?

TOOBIN: The whole defense here is an intent defense, as you point out. It's no crime to be mistaken in front of the grand jury. It's no crime to have a faulty memory in front of the grand jury. The only crime is intentionally lying. And a big part of the defense has been saying, look how busy "Scooter" Libby was. Look how many different responsibilities he had. Perhaps Russert's testimony is accurate. Perhaps these journalists did have these conversations with him, but he simply didn't remember it the way they did. The problem with that, and I think this was very effective in Patrick Fitzgerald's rebuttal summation is when he said, look, this wasn't just any old issue.

You had the vice president of the United States writing out talking points. You had the president of the United States declassifying evidence on the fly for the first time in the administration. This wasn't some thing that just passed like a million other things across his desk. This was a big deal, so you bet he'd remember. That, I think, is going to be a powerful argument.

BLITZER: What about the fact that neither the vice president nor "Scooter" Libby testified during this trial? What if anything will that say to these 12 men and women of the jury?

TOOBIN: See I think those two things are somewhat different. I think it was clearly a smart decision by the defense to keep the vice president off the stand. He couldn't say what Libby remembered or not. He couldn't say that he authorized Libby to lie to the grand jury because of course he has no legal authority to do that, so I think that was clearly the right decision.

The tougher call was keeping the defendant off the stand because it's one thing to tell the jury in the abstract that someone didn't remember. But in that kind of defense, almost always, you want the defendant himself saying, look I was busy. I was racking my brains. I tried to remember this, and maybe other people saw it in good faith differently.

I think it shows how many witnesses they had lined up against Libby, why he didn't take the stand because he would have been confronted with witness after witness who had a different memory. And that would have been very tough for him to answer.

BLITZER: We'll be watching the deliberation. We'll see how long this jury decides before they come out and make us all aware of what they decided. Thanks very much, Jeff, for that. Jeff Toobin, our senior legal analyst.

And still ahead tonight right here in THE SITUATION ROOM, are wounded U.S. troops getting the care they need? CNN is there when a top U.S. Army official gets his first glimpse at the conditions inside Building 18 and their horror.

And in a Florida courtroom Anna Nicole Smith's companion takes the stand in a legal battle over her body. And he's making claims about Smith's life and plans for her death.

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


BLITZER: Let's check in with Brianna Keilar for a closer look at some other important stories making news -- hi, Brianna. BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Hi, there, Wolf. A CEO punished for DUI. The head of U.S. Airways is sentenced to one day in prison. Doug Parker's punishment is for driving under the influence in Phoenix. In a statement U.S. Airways says their CEO is accepting full responsibility for the DUI charge, and he in addition to spending 24 hours in jail, Parker was fined more than $1,600 and ordered to undergo alcohol screening.

Meanwhile, the Justice Department Inspector General is taking issue with the way terror statistics are reported. His report says the department is half-hazard with the numbers, at times overstating successes in the war on terror and other times understating the facts. And it says the department lacks quote, "adequate internal control." The Justice Department says it has already fixed its reporting practices.

U.S. civilian courts have no jurisdiction when it comes to detainees being held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. That's the ruling from the U.S. Court of Appeals here in Washington. The two to one decision is a boost for President Bush's antiterrorism policies. Some human rights groups are condemning the ruling, but all sides agree, Wolf, the case is likely to wind up before the Supreme Court.

BLITZER: All right Brianna. Thank you for that.

A few facts about that U.S. Naval base at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. It's located near the southeastern tip of the island, about 500 miles from Miami. The Pentagon tells us that right now there are approximately 395 detainees there being held at Guantanamo. That's down, by the way, from the peak population of about 750 men.

And they come from all over the world. The majority though are from Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen. The vast majority are men between 20 and 40 years old.

Just ahead, we'll have more on the breaking news we're following this hour, the fact that British troops are about to be leaving Iraq, an announcement apparently coming from the British Prime Minister Tony Blair tomorrow. I'll speak about it with CNN military analyst, retired Brigadier General David Grange. We'll talk about the development, the start of a British withdrawal from Iraq.

And are you in a forgiving mood? JetBlue effectively says it's sorry for the nightmare its customers recently endured. And to prove it, they're essentially putting their money where their mouth is. We're going to tell you what's going on.

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


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

Happening now, Iraq's insurgents are getting even more creative in their killing, unveiling a terrifying new tactic today. Officials say insurgents exploded a tanker carrying chlorine gas, which sent up a cloud of poison gas. At least six people died with more than 100 others hurt or sickened.

The commander in chief praises a top employee; President Bush saying the new spy chief understands the threats the nation faces, that at the ceremonial swearing-in of retired Admiral Mike McConnell as the next director of national intelligence. McConnell was officially sworn in last week after Senate confirmation.

And today we learned that Senator Tim Johnson was released from the hospital on Friday. Statement from his office says the South Dakota Democrat has entered a private rehabilitation facility. Johnson is recovering from a brain hemorrhage and surgery. We wish him a speedy recovery.

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

Let's get back now to our top story, the breaking news out of Britain, word that the British Prime Minister Tony Blair will soon announce a major troop pullout from Iraq. News outlets in London saying he'll tell the parliament 1,500 troops will be brought home within weeks, and that half, about half, almost half of Britain's 7,000 strong force will be home by the end of this year.

Joining us now by phone, CNN military analyst retired Army Brigadier General David Grange. There's some concern I have heard, General Grange that the withdrawal of these British forces from Basra and other areas in the south could create a vacuum, a vacuum that would result in Shiite perhaps versus Shiite battling for control of that area.

BRIG. GEN. DAVID GRANGE, U.S. ARMY (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST (via phone): Well I think that's a great possibility because it's all about who is going to take over power in the different sectors within Iraq as different coalition forces do pull back. It would be the same in the Anbar Province or Baghdad for U.S. forces. It's more of a benign area where the Brits work, but it could in fact cause a vacuum, just as you stated.

BLITZER: Here is the area we're talking about, the southern part of Iraq over here, Basra. That's where the British are based right now. They've kept the situation under relatively stable conditions. Is it just for political reasons or is there a military reason why the British can't move some of those troops to the al Anbar province or Baghdad, where the U.S. clearly needs help right now?

GRANGE: Well, I think that would be the choice of the United States. No doubt about it, Britain is a very reliable -- our most reliable ally on operations past and present and most likely into the future. And for them to pull out before we pull out is a concern, there's no doubt about it.

Now, it's more of a benign area, but it has a lot of Iranian influence. In fact, some may say they are already under the control, some of that area, of Iran.

BLITZER: General Grange, thanks very much for that analysis.

David Grange, joining us.

Only weeks ago, by the way, the Prime Minister Tony Blair actually told Parliament a timetable for any British troop withdrawal would be in his word, "disastrous".

Our Abbi Tatton has Blair in his own words -- Abbi.

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, back to January 24th, prime minister's question time in the House of Commons, Tony Blair answering calls then for a timetable for withdrawal in Iraq.


TONY BLAIR, PRIME MINISTER OF GREAT BRITAIN: Let me just tell him this. For us to set an arbitrary timetable -- and that is what it is. It's arbitrary. It's not attached to the conditions in Iraq. It's simply saying that we will pull British troops out in October come what may. That would send the most disastrous signal to the people that we are fighting in Iraq.


TATTON: That, in response to a proposal from the opposition Liberal Democrats just a month ago -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Abbi, thank you for that.

Abbi, with some history, some perspective as this new development unfolds.

Meanwhile, is America letting down its wounded troops? They risk their lives on the battlefield and return with shattered bodies. Now do they face neglect or even worse at a top U.S. military facility right here in the nation's capital?

Let's turn to our senior Pentagon correspondent, Jamie McIntyre -- Jamie.

JAMIE MCINTYRE CNN SENIOR PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, behind me is Building 18, an outpatient facility here at Walter Reed that has become a monument to bureaucratic ineptitude.


MCINTYRE (voice-over): Walter Reed Army Medical Center is considered one of the best medical facilities in the world for treating soldiers wounded in combat. But this is another part of Walter Reed, a part many people don't often see -- Building 18. It's a rundown hotel now used to house wounded veterans who are well enough to leave the main hospital, but still too sick to go home.

(on camera): This is the inside of Building 18. It's become a symbol for a bureaucracy that's not working.

(voice-over): As revealed in a story first reported by the "Washington Post," Building 18 has serious problems, including pest infestations, mold and faulty plumbing. CNN got a firsthand look.

(on camera): So this is the day room. They have pool tables. They've got a flat screen TV. But even here, you can see on the roof they've got water damage.

(voice-over): Top Army leaders said they were unaware of the problems until they read about them in the paper. They were shocked and after a tour, told CNN in an exclusive interview there would be quick action.

GEN. RICHARD CODY, VICE CHIEF OF STAFF, U.S. ARMY: I have never come to this place. I wish I had. I'm somewhat disappointed in myself not understanding. I was briefed that it was in pretty good condition. It's getting better today.

FRANCIS HARVEY, SECRETARY OF THE ARMY: It's all about leadership. It's all about seeing a problem, getting an action plan together and then following up to ensure that the actions are taken.

MCINTYRE (voice-over): Dozens of wounded troops have been living here for months as they go through out patient care. Veterans' groups blame military bureaucracy for the rundown conditions.

FRANK YOAKUM, ENLISTED ASSN. OF THE NATIONAL GUARD: The commander of the hospital has deemed the condition to be quote/unquote "problematic". And they were in a process to get things fixed.

However, calling something problematic and actually doing something about it are two different things.


MCINTYRE (on camera): In that exclusive interview with CNN, Army Secretary Francis Harvey said the Army would look at the conditions at facilities, not just here at Walter Reed, but also at other facilities around the country. And the Pentagon has announced a separate independent board of review to take a look at conditions here at Walter Reed and at Bethesda Naval Medical Hospital as well -- Wolf.

BLITZER: That's truly shocking stuff. Thank you very much, Jamie, for bringing it to us. Thanks to "Washington Post" also to bringing it to all of our attention four years into this war that this is still going on right now.

Still ahead tonight, some call it the Hollywood primary. We're going to tell you what's happening tonight in an epic battle for presidential campaign cash. It's pitting Barack Obama against Hillary Clinton.

Also, America's second black governor since Reconstruction, Deval Patrick of Massachusetts. I'll ask him why he's still a rarity in U.S. politics.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: We're here at CNN and we're uncovering parts of America. It's an ongoing look at issues of race in America.

Today, we want to talk about the potential for campaigns, candidates and elected officials like Senator Barack Obama to help promote what many people are calling a color-blind society.

Let's turn to our Mary Snow. She's joining us from New York with more -- Mary.

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, two prominent black politicians seem to transcend the racial divide in the United States. Is it just the start of big changes?


SNOW (voice-over): Can politics lead the way in erasing the racial divide in America? Some say yes.

DOUGLAS WILDER, (R) FORMER VIRGINIA GOVERNOR: This is the new level where the fight is to be fought for the advancement of mankind. And in this process, people of color can come to the front and be measured as any other Americans.

SNOW: Douglas Wilder became the nation's first elected black governor in 1989. It took almost two decades before a second black governor was elected in Massachusetts. Deval Patrick was sworn in this January.

GOVERNOR DEVAL PATRICK, (D) MASSACHUSETTS: I am descended from people once forbidden their most basic and fundamental freedoms, a people desperate for a reason to hope and willing to fight for it.

SNOW: Patrick won in a predominantly white state. His campaign style is compared to that of his friend, Democratic presidential hopeful Senator Barack Obama.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA, (D) ILLINOIS: We borrow ideas from each other. I think he's trying to do a similar thing in Massachusetts as I want to bring to the whole country.

SNOW: Can Obama win over America and its white voters the way Patrick did in Massachusetts?

RONALD WATERS, UNIVERSITY OF MARYLAND: They're a post-civil rights generation was threatening. That civil rights generation was somewhat threatening to whites.

SNOW: Compare a Gallup poll in 1958, when 54 percent of people questioned said they would not vote for a black president, to this year, when just five percent hold that view.

Some political observers are skeptical of those polls and think the popularity of Obama and Patrick taps into something specific.

WILDER: I think it has to do more with the moment and the fact that they seem to have captured the spirit of the American people for change.


SNOW: When it comes to politics being colorblind, former Virginia Governor Douglas Wilder, now the mayor of Richmond, says Americans should be blinded to color as a factor in voting, but should cherish their cultural identity -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Mary Snow in New York, thanks for that.

Meanwhile, right now, as Mary just said, one man is just one of two to earn a very special distinction.


BLITZER: Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick is joining us now from Boston.

Governor, first of all, congratulations.

GOV. DEVAL PATRICK (D), MASSACHUSETTS: Thank you, Wolf. It's great to be with you.

BLITZER: It's -- it's pretty shocking to think that there's -- you're the only second African-American governor in our country since Reconstruction. I know you have thought about that. Why is it?

PATRICK: Well, I think there are probably lots of reasons. Some of them have nothing to do with race. I mean, the whole idea of throwing your lot in and -- to a political race, especially a statewide one, that are frequently bitter -- ours was unusually nasty, I think -- and exposing yourself and your family to all that much of a nonsense is something, I think, gives a lot of people pause.

But I think, here in Massachusetts, people saw my race. And I'm proud that they saw my race. But I'm also proud that they saw more to me than -- than the fact that I'm a black man. They saw a range of experience, including government service, and -- and business leadership, and nonprofits, and so forth. And they also saw a vision they shared that was a common vision for how to move our state forward.

BLITZER: There are a lot of African-American mayors of major urban centers across the United States. And that's been pretty obvious the past 30, 40 years.

Why is it, if -- if African-Americans really can get elected in all sorts of major cities, they're still not getting elected governor?

PATRICK: Well, there are not a lot of them who have run for governor. So, I think, probably, if you took the -- the numbers who have run for governor versus those who have -- who have won, that ratio would be pretty -- pretty good.

I hope there will be more candidates of color for all kinds of offices. In fact, I want more people who are, like me, new to -- to electoral office, to step forward, because we have got to take our rightful place in -- in -- in helping to shape the kind of society we want to live in. And being active in political campaigns and as candidates is a part of that.

BLITZER: We heard Barack Obama say he's your friend.

PATRICK: He is, indeed.

BLITZER: I -- I'm sure he's -- you're his friend as well. But are you supporting him?

PATRICK: I -- listen, I think he is a fabulous candidate. And I have relationships with other candidates, including Senator Clinton.

I do expect to get involved in the race, including in the primary, but, for the time being -- I have been in office less than two months -- I have got to concentrate on my knitting right here.

BLITZER: Who has a better chance of becoming a -- a president in this country right now, an African-American, like Barack Obama, or a woman, like Hillary Clinton? And you worked in the Clinton administration, so I know you're close to her as well.

PATRICK: Yes. I think -- I think the world of her.

I think the one who will win this presidential election in the general election is the one who has the clearest and most hopeful vision, a willingness to go directly to people, where they live and where they work, all around the country, and ask them to see their stake in that vision, and who conveys a willingness that they believe in something enough they're willing to lose over it.

I think that's what -- the kind of leadership that people all over the country are hungry for right now.

BLITZER: Governor Deval Patrick of Massachusetts, thanks very much for coming in.

PATRICK: Great to be with you, Wolf. Thank you.


BLITZER: And tonight, Hollywood takes a break from its pre-Oscar hoopla to help Senator Barack Obama take on the role of a lifetime. The big guns behind Dreamworks Studios holding a fund-raiser tonight for Obama's presidential campaign.

We'll turn to our senior political analyst Bill Schneider. He's out in California watching the story unfold. They call it the Hollywood primary, Bill.

BILL SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: They certainly do. And here in Hollywood, you need a hot concept -- a high concept to make a movie. So how is this? A political star is born.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) SCHNEIDER (voice-over): First stop, the streets of Los Angeles to say, show me the love. Then to Hollywood, to say, show me the money.

MARTIN KAPLAN, DIRECTOR, NORMAN LEAR CENTER: Obama has something that Hollywood is uniquely qualified to recognize, and that's star power.

SCHNEIDER: Barack Obama is supposed to be the outsider, the scrappy kid who appeals to young people and political newcomers.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I kept saying over and over again that, you know, I'm hoping. We're not sure yet, but you know, hoping that Barack is going to run. But for me, like he's the one that sort of embodies that spirit of Bobby Kennedy of hope and inspiration.

SCHNEIDER: But he's drawing the ultimate A-list Hollywood crowd to his fundraiser here, which is sponsored by three of the most powerful figures in the movie industry.

LAWRENCE BENDER, PRODUCER, "AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH": The amount of money they're raising is equivalent to what a president comes into town and raises, not someone who's just announced.

SCHNEIDER: Think of it as Oscar week for politicos. There is a huge amount of money for politics here. Congress is in recess. Washington is frozen over. The primary schedule is earlier than ever, and an important deadline looms.

KAPLAN: The more dough you can show on the first quarterly filing on April 15th, the more credible a candidate you are. And the more you can attract the big glitzy names who used to go with say, Hillary Clinton, the more formidable a contender you seem to be.


SCHNEIDER: So is Hollywood saying it's over, Hillary, you're box office poison? Not at all. They're spreading the money around. They're giving to lots of candidates. After all, if you mix a new face in with some old stars, you could end up with a better picture. Wolf.

BLITZER: And let's not forget Al Gore. He could be out there getting an Oscar in the coming days as well. We haven't heard the last from him, presumably.

Bill Schneider, thanks very much for that.

Up ahead, he says it was among her dying wishes. Howard K. Stern, the long-time companion to Anna Nicole Smith, tells a courtroom Smith made it clear just where she wanted to be buried.

Also, an all-too-public way to say you're sorry. The CEO of JetBlue has seen his airline blasted in the media. Now, he's taking to the airways with words of regret. Our Jeanne Moos will take a look. Stay with us. We'll be right back. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Today, Anna Nicole Smith's loved ones took their battle over her body back to court. And there were some surprising words from the man who says Smith meant so much to him.

Our national correspondent Susan Candiotti is joining us from Ft. Lauderdale with more. Dramatic stuff going on in that courtroom behind you, Susan.

SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's true, Wolf. Yes, at a time, Howard K. Stern was covering his face with his hands as he tried to convince the court that he knows what Anna Nicole Smith really wanted, while testimony is just starting to heat up.


CANDIOTTI (voice-over): Before he took the stand, the judge asked Howard K. Stern to write down the name of the baby daughter Stern claims is his, Dannielynne. The judge explained he wanted to get the spelling right.

Then Stern spoke of his decade-long relationship with Anna Nicole. It became intimate, Stern said, but not exclusive. He admitted she had other boyfriends and he wanted her to be happy.

HOWARD K. STERN, SMITH'S COMPANION: She was my best friend, my lover, the mother of my daughter, everything to me. Literally, everything, my whole world.

CANDIOTTI: Stern testified Smith asked him to buy burial plots in the Bahamas so she could be close to her son, who was buried there in October.

STERN: On the day that Daniel died, Anna honestly was never the same. I mean, I would say that physically she died last week, but in a lot of ways, emotionally, she died when Daniel died.

CANDIOTTI: Smith's mother also took the stand and admitted they were estranged. But she has not yet talked about why she deserves to have her daughter's body.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you have one regret with your daughter, what would it be? One regret?



ARTHUR: That I was not able to get her away from drugs. One regret.

CANDIOTTI: At the end of the day, a stunning round of applause outside the courthouse for the man who has not yet taken the stand, Smith's ex-boyfriend Larry Birkhead. He also claims he's Dannielynn's natural father. LARRY BIRKHEAD, SMITH'S EX-BOYFRIEND: You know, I finally got a judge's attention. We've been fighting for months. And so, since I've got a judge's attention, I'm here for the long haul. And if I have to move here while I have his undivided attention, I'm staying.


CANDIOTTI (on camera): Now, at one point in court, Stern's attorney accused Birkhead's attorney of telling Stern in court that he killed Anna Nicole Smith. It's the kind of sideshow that keeps creeping into the proceedings inside and outside the courthouse -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Susan. Thanks very much.

Susan will watch the story for us.

Let's find out what's coming up right at the top of the hour on "PAULA ZAHN NOW".

Kyra Phillips, filling in for Paula tonight.

Hi, Kyra.


Well, at the top of the hour, we're going to be keeping an eye on Barack Obama's foray into Hollywood.

Also, out in the open tonight, is everyone who flies the Confederate flag a racist? Hillary Clinton has some advice for South Carolina. But should they listen?

And have you done your taxes yet? There are some tempting offers out there for instant refunds. We're bringing the real cost of the fast cash out in the open at the top of the hour -- Wolf.

BLITZER: We'll be watching, Kyra. Thanks very much.

Kyra, filling in for Paula.

Still ahead here in the SITUATION ROOM, we're just getting new video coming into CNN. We're going to show you what's going on. Rescuers desperately pulling people from a collapsed building. Pictures are pretty shocking. We're going to show you what's going on.

Also, how many times can you say you're sorry? CNN's Jeanne Moos on the JetBlue apology that doesn't seem to end.

Stay with us. We'll be right back.


BLITZER: There's a developing story we're following in Turkey.

Brianna Keilar, update our viewers. What do we know? What are we seeing?

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we're following this story in Istanbul. A five-story building there has collapsed. We have some new video in. You can see a lot of police as well as emergency workers on scene. They've been taken injured and putting them in ambulances. Just exactly how many continues to develop.

But the Associated Press quotes officials as saying one person is dead and at least 16 are reported injured. The AP saying the building's foundation may have been weakened by a nearby construction project.

And JetBlue Airways is making a promise to passengers that the meltdown the airline experiences in the past week won't happen again. The airline says it's flying a full schedule today after storm related complications cost the company about $30 million. And JetBlue is introducing a customer bill of rights. It promises vouchers to passengers who suffer through those delays -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Brianna, thanks very much.

For all of the airline's recent woes, a government review of 20 airlines showed JetBlue ranked no. 1 at the end of 2006 for fewest flights canceled. In that same report JetBlue ranked second in the fewest number of mishandled bags and it ranked no. 3 for the fewest passenger complaints.

But on delays, JetBlue had a problem even before the Valentine's Day Meltdown.

Take a look at this.

The Air Travel Consumer Report said JetBlue ranks near the bottom of the pack -- that would be 16th of 20 -- for on time arrivals.

JetBlue's CEO is singing the blues over the airline's winter weather meltdown.

Here's CNN's Jeanne Moos.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Gone are the days of exuberant posing on the wing of a JetBlue plane. Got to say one thing for chairman and CEO David Neeleman. He sure knows how to grovel with dignity.

DAVID NEELEMAN, CEO, JETBLUE: There's no excuse. We have learned a painful lesson.

MOOS: He groveled on every network. He groveled on JetBlue's website.

NEELEMAN: ... will never happen again.

MOOS: He groveled in the strongest terms. NEELEMAN: It was horrifying.

MOOS: He suffered personally.

NEELEMAN: I didn't eat for three days. I lost seven pounds.

MOOS: Remember the good old days of JetBlue's launch?

Back then, the big topic was color.

NEELEMAN: How about baby blue?

How about a marine blue?

Navy blue?

We're getting close.


MOOS: Now the airline has to contend with word play like Jet Blues and Jet Blew It. On the airline's website, Neeleman calls passengers...

NEELEMAN: My dear JetBlue customers...

MOOS: Those dear JetBlue customers were practically blue in the face.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It was ridiculous.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Nobody gave us any answers.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I will never fly them again.

MOOS: CEO Neeleman has won respect for sitting in the hot seat, not hiding.

(on camera): You don't want his head?

AMY SCHULMAN, CNN PRODUCER: I don't want his head.

MOOS: What do you want?

SCHULMAN: I want my money.

MOOS (voice-over): She'll probably get it. Amy Schulman (ph) is a producer for CNN "SHOWBIZ". She got hung up for the better part of two days at JFK as she tried to fly to California to be a bridesmaid in a wedding. I invited her to join me for a conference call JetBlue set up for reporters.

(on camera): You want him to grovel. What do you want him to say?

SCHULMAN: I am so sorry that you had to sit in dirt and filth for two days.

MOOS (voice-over): Neeleman announced a passenger's bill of rights. Say you're grounded for more than four hours, you get a free round-trip ticket. The airline chief told the "New York Times" he was mortified and humiliated.

SCHULMAN: I want to see the chief crying over what he put his passengers through.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was, you know, the worst possible thing imaginably.

MOOS: Amy had little sympathy when Neeleman mentioned how little he slept during the crisis.

SCHULMAN: Please. Who cares?

MOOS (on camera): He lost seven pounds.

SCHULMAN: I lost weight, too. That wasn't a bad thing.

MOOS (voice-over): These days, passengers are weighing apologies, not just luggage.


MOOS: Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.


BLITZER: Tomorrow, from NBA All-Star to Alabama's governor. Does that sound out of the question? Maybe not if you're Charles Barkley. He's here in the SITUATION ROOM.

Let's got to "PAULA ZAHN NOW", Kyra, sitting in -- Kyra.


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