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Did Taliban Target Dick Cheney?; Dow Drops 400 Points

Aired February 27, 2007 - 19:00   ET


Happening now, did the Taliban target Dick Cheney, a suicide bomber strikes a U.S. base during the vice president's visit. Did U.S. troops now strike back across the border in Pakistan?

Plus, perilous plunges on Wall Street, the DOW drops more than 400 points. What put the markets in a freefall?

And he saw gold at the Oscars, but is Al Gore green enough. Critics say it takes a lot of energy to heat his mansion. What is he doing about it? And what can you do to lower the global temperature?

Wolf Blitzer is off today. I'm John King. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

There was a massive sell-up on Wall Street today. The DOW Jones Industrial Average plunged 416 points, its worse one-day loss since the market reopened after 9/11.

CNN's Ali Velshi will have much more on that coming up. But first, Vice President Cheney was on the front lines of the terror war today and suddenly may have become a target. Cheney was at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan when a suicide bomber struck. Fifteen people were killed, including a U.S. service member. The vice president suggests the bomb was meant to question the authority of the Afghan government.

The Taliban though say the bomb was aimed at Mr. Cheney. The U.S. military says the blast was a mile away. That was close enough. Vice President Cheney says he heard a loud boom, sirens began blaring, and the Secret Service rushed him to a bomb shelter as his plane was quickly ready for takeoff. So should U.S. troops cross the border and go after Taliban and al Qaeda die-hards in Pakistan?

Here's CNN's Brian Todd -- Brian.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John that may be the most contentious argument right now between U.S. and Pakistani officials. And with this latest incident involving Vice President Cheney, Pakistan's president may face more pressure to allow U.S. forces in.


TODD (voice-over): A deadly strike in Bagram close enough to a visiting U.S. vice president to make security forces twitch. Military experts concerned about something else nearby, something Dick Cheney went there to address.

BRIG. GEN. JAMES MARKS (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: What is significant is the proximity of Bagram Air Base to Pakistan, which is only as the crow flies, about 70 miles, as you can see right here from Bagram to Pakistan. This is Pakistan, is only about 70 miles. This region right here is called Waziristan. That is the root of the challenge.

TODD: A Pakistani region that U.S. officials say not only supports and trains anti-American militants in Afghanistan, but is also the hide-out of the most notorious militant of all.

ADM. MIKE MCCONNELL, DIR. OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: To the best of our knowledge, the senior leadership, number one and number two, are there, and they're attempting to reestablish and rebuild and to establish training camps.

TODD: U.S. officials are pressing Pakistan to crack down on the border crossings, but they say militants continue to pass. What can America do?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We could never politically, we certainly could militarily, but we would never politically violate the sovereignty of that nation and go after those training camps.

TODD: Although U.S. forces have struck militant targets in Pakistan from the air, but another obstacle, finding the camps.

PETER BERGEN, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: They're not (UNINTELLIGIBLE) everything you can see from satellites from the air, but there are compounds where 10 or 20 people are learning bomb- making. They're do exercises.

TODD: One option, a joint strike.

MARKS: A joint operation in Pakistan could take any number of forms. I mean it could be an air strike. It could be a precision guided munition. It could be led by intelligence sources on the ground, either Pakistani with U.S. support. It could be a special operations raid. It could be very precise.


TODD: But any U.S. military operations in Pakistan, even with permission, are fraught with political complications and personal dangers. Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf has already survived two assassination attempts -- John.

KING: Brian Todd, a difficult story. Brian thank you very much.

So could the United States -- excuse me -- help bring an end to the violence in Iraq by sitting down with some of its arch foes? That theory may soon be put to the test. Here is our State Department correspondent Zain Verjee.

ZAIN VERJEE, CNN STATE DEPARTMENT CORRESPONDENT: John, the State Department says it's not a change in policy, but it is a change.


VERJEE (voice-over): Talking to the enemy, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice says the united states will sit at the table with Iran and Syria to discuss how to improve the situation in Iraq.

CONDOLEEZZA RICE, SECRETARY OF STATE: Success in Iraq requires the positive support of Iraq's neighbors. This is one of the key findings, of course, of the Iraq Study Group.

VERJEE: That report recommends talking to Iran and Syria rather than continuing to freeze them out. The Bush administration has been under pressure since then to engage its adversaries. U.S. officials have accused Iran of playing a destabilizing role in Iraq by arming militias. At the Senate hearing, Secretary Rice says she hopes Iran and Syria's participation in the conference will help.

RICE: We hope that all governments will seize this opportunity to improve their relations with Iraq and to work for peace and stability in the region.

VERJEE: But Iraq, not the united states, will host the conference next month for its neighbors and will set the agenda. U.S. officials say this meeting is a discussion, not a negotiation. But will there be one-on-one talks with Syria or Iran? A senior U.S. official tells CNN we're not ruling it out, but we're not ruling it in.


VERJEE: Officials acknowledge U.S. support for this conference is also to satisfy critics both at home and abroad. The Bush administration wants to show that it is doing diplomacy and it is engaging. John?

KING: And so will these talks be neighborly? Could they really help end the violence? Let's get the view now from the ground in Iraq.

Joining us now from Baghdad our correspondent Michael Ware. Michael, let's break down this regional conference. More discussion today of getting Iran, Syria, and Iraq and the United States at the table to talk about the future of Iraq. The administration has resisted for a long time talking directly to Iran and Syria.

Let's take the United States first. What could be gained, if anything, for the Bush administration, besides simply being able to tell its critics, be quiet? We finally sat down with them.

MICHAEL WARE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, there's obviously a symbolic gesture or symbolic nature to this. It shows there's a degree of reproach from the U.S. both in a militarily, politically, and indeed diplomatically here in Iraq, looking to reach out to all parties regardless of any differences on other issues. The focus being Iraq, Iraq, Iraq.

However, beyond the symbolism of this approach, there is little, I would imagine, to really be gained. I mean the back channel communications between the U.S. and Iran are already open. The primary conduit of course being the Iraqi government, an entity both Tehran and Washington essentially share.

I mean it was two years ago I had a U.S. diplomat tell me that the Americans assume anything they tell the Iraqi government ends up directly in Tehran anyway, so more than anything this is a symbolic gesture trying to rally international support for what could be a new diplomatic push.

KING: Imagine a table that has the government of the united states, the government of Iraq, and the government of Iran, Iran certainly could say this is proof we are a player in the region. What else would Tehran want at such a meeting?

WARE: Well, I mean, I think that apart from that kind of public acknowledgment, that endorsement of the regional role that they have in fact been displaying here, not just in Iraq, but of course, also in Lebanon through Hezbollah, one of its other beneficiaries of its military intelligence and political support. I mean it's been inflicting a lot of muscle in the region, so this really would be an endorsement.

However, what it would be looking for will not be happening at the negotiating table. What it will be looking for is real concessions from the U.S. to pull back Iran's military efforts in this country. It's not going to do that cheaply. It's going to want something real, and we're not going to see that openly dealt with on the negotiating table -- John.

KING: And Michael, in closing you sound a tad pessimistic. If you're the average Iraqi and what you care most is being able to walk to the market, an end to the endless car bombings, an end to the sectarian violence, putting all these diplomats at a table, do you expect anything in the near term if this -- even the pre-meeting can be brought about?

WARE: No, not the slightest thing, John.

KING: Michael Ware for us in Baghdad today. Michael, thank you very much.

WARE: Thank you.

KING: Jack Cafferty is off today.

Coming up, a glitch or a sign of worse things to come, we'll have a live report on the plunge in stock prices and what could happen next.

Also ahead, inside Mitt Romney's presidential campaign, leaked documents highlight a hair problem and a flip-flop problem.

And Americans who oppose the war have been focusing much of their anger on President Bush. Are they starting to take it out on the Democrats, too?





KING: Back now to that bomb attack at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan, where Vice President Cheney was visiting. The Taliban said Mr. Cheney was the target. Was he ever in danger?

Joining me now, the White House deputy press secretary Dana Perino. Dana, thank you for joining us in THE SITUATION ROOM. Let's go straight to that question. Was this sort of a show and tell piece of bravado by the Taliban or was the vice president at risk?

DANA PERINO, WHITE HOUSE DEP. PRESS SECRETARY: It's hard to say. You know I think that the forensics experts are going to have to do their own analysis and try to let us know. But what I can say is that the vice president is safe. They say -- the Secret Service says he was never in any danger. It's a serious situation there in that part of the world. It's a dangerous place, and the vice president was there, stopping off in Pakistan and Afghanistan to talk about our need to continue to stay on the offensive against these terrorists.

KING: Well let's move to that bigger question. The purpose for the trip, surprise visits not on the public schedule, when he went especially to Pakistan -- let's talk about that. Clear signals from the vice president himself publicly and from what we're hearing privately from administration officials that he was going to give a tough message to President Musharraf that al Qaeda and the Taliban are increasing their activity up in those remote areas of Pakistan and that you, President Musharraf, must do more.

This is a president who after 9/11, President Bush said whatever it takes to get al Qaeda and those responsible. Al Qaeda and the Taliban are up there. President Musharraf is not doing enough. Where is the line for the United States to do it itself (UNINTELLIGIBLE)?

PERINO: Well I think that the purpose of the trip and this is reiterated by a senior administration official that was on the trip today was to go and -- to reaffirm our joint commitment to aggressively work to tackle and dismantle the Taliban and al Qaeda. It's serious business. And we all think that we can -- we have to continue to do more and better.

We know that spring is coming. We know that we're going to be on the offensive going against them. Pakistan has done a lot. President Musharraf has worked tirelessly. And he's had attacks on his own life and so he's very motivated. And we were there to talk jointly with our allies about the upcoming offensive and to make sure that they know that you know we're just as committed as ever these five years after 9/11.

KING: You say he's done a lot. Our own terrorism analyst Peter Bergen says the plotters of that -- the plane attacks that were thwarted in recent months that was plotted in Pakistan, so you say he has done a lot. Many would say, even allies of the administration that he hasn't done enough. Understanding the limits on him, the tough local politics, if you will, on President Musharraf, what more does he need to do?

PERINO: Well I think he has to -- if you go back to that bomb plot back in August, you have to remember that we were the ones -- we got the intelligence from out of Pakistan in order to help us disrupt that plot. And so the war on terror is one that you fight on multiple fronts, both on the Intel side of things as well as militarily, and at the same time, helping Pakistan to improve their economic and political situation so that more people can feel that they don't want to not go on the side of the terrorists but stay as part of the freedom loving or peace loving people.

And so, Pakistan has done a lot, Afghanistan has done a lot. And we've got a long way to go. This war -- that the president has said repeatedly to set people's expectations, this is going to be a long war. And so, we can't let down our guards. We have been successful so far in preventing another terrorist attack in America. But that is not necessarily just hard work and luck. It's a combination of many different factors including Intel.

KING: Deputy White House Press Secretary Dana Perino -- Dana, thanks so much for your time today.

PERINO: Thank you.

KING: Thank you.

It's the worst one-day sell off on Wall Street since after the 9/11 attacks. Stock prices plunged today across the board and around the world. The DOW Jones Industrial Average was down about 416 points at the closing bell. And at one point it fell unusually fast, in part because of a computer glitch.

CNN's Ali Velshi is in New York with more on what is driving the market down. Ali, one of the big facts this was a big drop in China overnight that caused the U.S. market to drop. The Asian markets now beginning to open for the next day there. Are we seeing anything that should comfort us or things that should alarm us?

ALI VELSHI, CNN ANCHOR: No, in fact, we should probably be a little bothered. Tokyo opened 15 minutes ago. We're now getting word that that market is down almost 4 percent now, so we're feeling the reverb of what started in Asia back in Asia. Within an hour and a half we'll see Shanghai open again, which is where this started and then in two hours, we'll see Hong Kong, then in a few hours, London, Frankfurt, and we'll be back to U.S. markets.

What we have here is a combination of forces that drove the market down for the first several hours of the day. It was no surprise, John, all the evidence or economic numbers. There was a sell-off in China. We expected the market to be lower, but then all of a sudden, at about 2:59 p.m., we went from a 300-point loss, which was a big deal anyway, to a 400-point loss within a minute, and then a 500-point loss, all the way to 546 points.

This all happened inside of three minutes. At the close of the markets at 3:59, at 4:00 there was widespread booing on the floor of the exchange. You can hear it there. These are traders who said something was wrong. This is not a normal sell-off. Within an hour, we had acknowledgment from the DOW Jones and the New York Stock Exchange that there was some kind of glitch.

Now we don't know whether that glitch was in the counting or in the trading, but it seemed to have accelerated the effect of today. What we're ending up with there, as you can see, is a 416-point loss at the close. It's a mash major loss for the DOW. The thing that we're watching for is whether this continues to have an effect around the world or whether this gets moderated. At the moment, the news's isn't good. Tokyo is open with almost a 4 percent loss -- John.

KING: And Ali, you say we don't know a lot about this glitch. Have we heard from market officials? Are they confident that they have at least figured out to a degree that if it's another tough day tomorrow we won't have another glitch?

VELSHI: Well we've -- what they're confident of is that there was definitely a glitch in the tabulation. They couldn't keep up with the trade so what happened is at one point, the DOW Jones, which is not the New York Stock Exchange, they tabulate the results. The DOW decided to switch to its backup system.

And in doing so all of that trading that was happening caught up to it and you saw this drop within three minutes. They're saying the drop should have happened over 40 or 50 minutes. It happened over three minutes. What we're not clear on and we're pressing for an answer from the New York Stock Exchange, was there a trading problem? Was there a computer glitch that caused the acceleration of this sell- off? It's very unusual to see a four and 500-point drop on the DOW Jones without very clear evidence that there's a problem in the economy. We don't have that evidence, John.

KING: We will continue to ask the questions of the Exchange...


KING: ... and we'll also continue to watch the international markets overnight. Ali Velshi for us -- a lot of help today in New York. Ali, thank you very much.

And up ahead tonight here in THE SITUATION ROOM candid conversations inside Mitt Romney's presidential campaign now made public in a leaked document. We'll have details of what it says about his potential rivals and even President Bush.

Plus, space shuttle Atlantis pummeled by hail. We'll show you the damage. Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


KING: Carol Costello is in New York City monitoring stories from around the world. Carol, what's crossing the wires?

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Got it right here John and hello to all of you. A stunning new statistic from the CDC on cervical cancer -- the agency says almost 27 percent of U.S. women age 14 to 59 are infected with HPV. That's the virus responsible for most cases of cervical cancer. Now the report comes amid growing debate over vaccine for the virus. The government is recommending it and some states want to require all young girls to get vaccinated, but some conservatives argue that would encourage sexual activity.

A deal tonight between British social workers and the mother of an 8-year-old who weighs more than 200 pounds. The government has agreed not to remove Connor McCreaddie from his home in northwest England if his mother helps him to lose weight. The story has made national headlines in Britain where news footage showed the bow gorging on fatty foods.

NASA is assessing damage to the space shuttle Atlantis tonight. Golf ball-size hail pounded Atlantis while it was on the launch pad yesterday. It was supposed to blast off next month, but the mission has been postponed until late April at the earliest. Atlantis will have to be rolled back to the assembly building for a top-to-bottom inspection.

That's a look at the headlines right now, John.

KING: More tough new for the shuttle program -- Carol thank you very much.

And just ahead, Democrats divided over Iraq. Is it taking a toll on the new congressional majority? Our senior political analyst Bill Schneider shows us the impact.

Plus Al Gore's own inconvenient truth. You might be surprised at how big his energy bills are.

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



Happening now, the Pentagon could run out of money for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan by April if Congress doesn't act. That's what the secretary of defense says. Robert Gates today urged congressional approval of the Bush administration's nearly $100-billion war spending plan.

Stocks see the worst day of trading since the day after 9/11. The DOW Jones Industrial Average tumbled over 400 points. Declining markets in China and Europe sparked a massive stock sell-off here. At one point, the DOW seemed to instantly slip 200 points, but a DOW official says that was due to a computer glitch. In the CIA leak trial the jury is gone home without reaching a verdict, but the jury did send a note to the judge containing a question. We don't know what that question is, but the judge says he'll address it in court tomorrow morning.

I'm John King. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Tonight, a new Senate debate on the Iraq war is on hold, probably for at least two weeks. Democratic leaders say the Senate will deal first with a bill implementing the 9/11 Commission's recommendations, but the delay may also stem from Democrats' division on Iraq, including disagreements about a measure to repeal the 2002 authorization for the war. Now are Democrats starting to pay a price for failing to set limits on the president and his Iraq policy.

Here is our senior political analyst Bill Schneider with more -- Bill.

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: John, the war is -- in Iraq is taking a political toll on whom? Well, it looks like on everybody.


SCHNEIDER (voice-over): Support for the war in Iraq continues to drop, according to a new poll by "The Washington Post" and ABC News. Nearly two-thirds of Americans now say the war was not worth fighting. Two-thirds oppose sending additional troops, and the toll on President Bush, two-thirds disapprove of his handling of Iraq, but President Bush is not the only one hurt.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: We've got to sell it and it's got to be done. And we've got to explain better the consequences of failure.

SCHNEIDER: John McCain is also paying a price. Forty-four percent of Americans in a "USA Today"/Gallup poll say they are less likely to support McCain because of his support for the war. Twenty- five percent say it makes them more likely to support him. Some congressional Democrats are calling for enforcing the rules on troop training and rest time in order to limit the number of troops available for duty in Iraq. Does the public support that? Yes.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D), ILLINOIS: When we begin a phase redeployment, I call for it to start on May 1 of this year, to have all combat troops out by law by March 31 of next year.

SCHNEIDER: Does the public support a deadline for withdrawing U.S. forces from Iraq? Yes. Democrats are cautious about cutting funding for the war.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Our troops will be funded.

SCHNEIDER: Does the public want Congress to restrict funding for the war? They're split, like Congress. The Democrats' inability to act is taking a toll on them, too. In January, 60 percent of Americans said they trusted the Democrats in Congress more than President Bush on Iraq. Most still do, but the number is now down to 54 percent.


SCHNEIDER: The number who trust President Bush has not changed much. What we're seeing is more people who say they don't trust either one. John?

KING: Interesting development, troubling for the Democrats. Bill Schneider, thank you very much. The Democrats can't agree on how far they should go to oppose the president's Iraq strategy and Republicans must decide if they're standing with Mr. Bush or running from him.

A leading Republican defender of the president, House Minority Whip Roy Blunt, joined us in THE SITUATION ROOM a bit earlier today.

I want to start by getting your reaction to something the speaker, Nancy Pelosi said in an interview with our Larry King that will air tonight, criticizing the president and the vice president when it comes to the war. Let's listen to Speaker Pelosi.


REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), HOUSE SPEAKER: The president and the vice president are living in an illusion that is quite different from the reality on the ground in Iraq.


KING: When you go into the closed door meeting with your fellow House Republicans, do they agree with that, that the president and the vice president are living in an illusion when it comes to Iraq?

REP. ROY BLUNT (R-MO), HOUSE MINORITY WHIP: You know, I actually think the president is very realistic about what is happening in Iraq.

I have -- I have talked to him about this often in the last several weeks. And I think he understands that the Iraqis have to step up, that we have to have some better results for Iraq. I think he is very realistic. I think General Petraeus is very realistic.

And I think there's a real chance that what they are trying to do is going to make the Iraqis understand it's time to really step up for their part of the -- to share their part of the burden, and, ultimately -- and, hopefully, quickly -- to share all the burden of their own country.

KING: Help me then. If the president is realistic and his new commander, General Petraeus, is so realistic, why have they so lost the faith of the American people?

And, in asking the question, I want to show you these numbers. This is "The Washington Post"/ABC News poll, the new one just out today. Should the United States set a deadline for withdrawing forces from Iraq? December 2005, only 39 percent of Americans thought that. By June 2006, it was up to almost half, 47 percent. Now, February 2007, a clear majority, 53 percent of the American people, say set a deadline for withdrawing forces from Iraq.

I know you think that's the bad idea. The president thinks that's a bad idea. But, if he is more realistic now about what to do in Iraq, why is he failing to convince the American people to come with him, if you will?

BLUNT: Well, I think what I believe, and I suspect what the president believes, is, what we really need for the American people to change their view of Iraq is for the situation to change.

The Iraqi government has to step up. They have to take the majority of responsibility for stabilizing their own country. They have just passed some legislation out of the proper committees to the legislature to figure out how to divide up the oil revenue, which is a way that the country can stay together.

And we need to see some results, frankly, in Baghdad. We don't need to see every day this continued level of violence that appears to be Iraqi-on-Iraqi violence.

KING: You're watching the Democrats debate amongst themselves at the moment what they want to do. And I assume you're enjoying that, to some degree, politically, watching the Democrats a little bit in disarray about deciding should they cut off money, should they reauthorize the war, but limit troops to a support role, not a combat role.

I want to set that aside for a second. When you go into the Republican caucus, and Republicans, who many have said they are unhappy with the way this war has been managed -- they might support this or that, but they're -- they have questions themselves. And they're getting an earful back home.

What changes do Republicans want when it comes to whether it's timetables, benchmarks, a message to the president?

BLUNT: Well, you know, on the House side, our leader, John Boehner, and I had proposed an alternative, where we would begin to set some benchmarks.

I think that's where the country would like to be. I think that's where our members would like to be. We would like to see things like this oil issue solved, the Iraqis themselves doing the frontline work of the effort -- clearly, movement quickly now of their troops into Baghdad, as we place the forces there that General Petraeus thinks we need there, and to see some results.

I really do think that, no matter how great a speech anybody gives, no matter what we say about this -- this, in the context of the global struggle we face, that we have to have some better results for -- from Iraq before people are going to feel good about Iraq. At the same time, John, on the debate we had right before we left here, we went from where the Democrats expected to get 40 to 60 Republicans voting with them, to where, ultimately, 17 Republicans agreed with them. Two of the Democrats voted with us.

And I think the context of this war is an important one. The same polling that indicates people would like to see a deadline over and over again indicates that people don't want to face the consequences of being driven out of Iraq and what that does to encourage these Islamic totalitarians.


KING: An eye-opening new glimpse into Republican Mitt Romney's presidential hopes and his fears.

Portions of an internal campaign document were published today.

Our Mary Snow has the revealing details from New York.

Hi, Mary.


Those details are in a sensitive document obtained by "The Boston Globe." And among the concerns listed for Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney, everything from hair that is too perfect to nicknames, like "Flip-Flop Mitt."


SNOW (voice-over): "The Globe" says it's an internal campaign 77-slide PowerPoint presentation.

Republican opponent Senator John McCain, for example, is labeled a mature brand.

SCOTT HELMAN, "THE BOSTON GLOBE": There's a few mentions in here of whether or not he is -- he is, frankly, up to the task, that he is not -- that he is not too old.

SNOW: On Rudy Giuliani, the document questions whether his moderate stand on abortion and gay rights could -- quote -- "destroy the GOP brand."

HELMAN: So, it sort of questions, if Rudy is our nominee, how can the Republican Party ever sort of claim that conservative mantle again?

SNOW: On President Bush:

HELMAN: It sort of talks about, how can Romney differentiate himself from Bush? And, at one point, it just says "intelligence."

SNOW: "The Boston Globe" didn't elaborate on how it obtained the document, but says it is very confident it is authentic. When contacted by CNN, a spokesman for Mitt Romney said: "We cannot verify any document that does not contain a Romney for President, Inc. marking. Outside consultants routinely offer input and analysis, both solicited and unsolicited, on the dynamics of a political campaign."

Some Republican strategists say they don't see the document as being damaging.

GREG MUELLER, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: I think maybe they need to reconsider ever putting anything on paper they don't want out in the public.

SNOW: On the public issue of Romney's change in abortion stance -- he now calls himself firmly pro-life -- "The Globe" says Romney doesn't want to spent 2007 facing skepticism about his conservative message.


SNOW: Now, the document also lists adversaries that Romney plans to target, among them, Democratic presidential hopeful Senator Hillary Clinton and the Washington establishment -- John.

KING: The Washington establishment? God forbid.


KING: Mary, it's a document that lays out how he might go up against other Republican candidates. What is their biggest internal fear, if you will?

SNOW: Well, one of the big fears, the wild card, will be the question of whether or not former House Speaker Newt Gingrich enters the race.

And, in talking to the reporter who obtained this document, he said that seems to pose a real threat to the Romney camp.

KING: Interesting to keep watching.

Mary Snow with something we're not supposed to see -- Mary, thank you very much.

KING: And up ahead tonight: what is called Al Gore's own inconvenient truth. You might be surprised at how big his energy bills are.

Also, were they spying on Cuban exiles in Florida for Cuba? A man and his wife now facing prison time -- we will have the details.



KING: Just in to CNN: words from a world leader whose health has very much been in question in recent months.

For the latest now, live to New York and Carol Costello -- Carol.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: When you think he's disappeared for good, we're now getting some information. It's just coming in about the Cuban president, Fidel Castro.

CNN has confirmed that he did speak live a short time ago on a radio show hosted by his close ally, Venezuela President Hugo Chavez. Now, Castro hasn't appeared in public for six months. He's been recovering from what Cuban officials say was some kind of stomach surgery.

But his absence from the public eye has fuelled speculation that he is seriously ill. But, once again, we have confirmed he did a live radio call-in with Hugo Chavez.

Of course, we're trying to get ahold of that tape to find out what he said. And, as soon as we find out, we will pass it along to you -- back to you, John.

KING: We will keep an eye on that, the State Department's favorite couple there.

Carol Costello, thank you so much.

A Florida couple is facing years in prison tonight for their roles in a spry scandal targeting their fellow Cuban exiles.

CNN's Brianna Keilar joins us now live with the very latest -- Brianna.


This couple are U.S. citizens, as well as Cuban exiles. And the U.S. attorney's office in Miami says the husband here served as a spy for the Cuban government for almost 30 years, from 19 -- or -- pardon me -- 1977, all the way through 2005.


KEILAR (voice over): He was one of their own, or so they thought. In South Florida, Cuban exile and college professor Carlos Alvarez sentenced to five years in prison for conspiring to act as a spy for the government of Fidel Castro -- also sentenced, Alvarez's wife, Elsa. She got three years for concealing his activities.

Both worked at Florida International University, he as a psychology professor and she as a counselor. But federal prosecutors say, for decades, the couple had a secret job, funneling reports on prominent Cuban exiles from their South Florida home to the Cuban intelligence service.

The Alvarezes were facing up to 10 years in prison before they entered a plea bargain. The couple's lawyers say they were only trying to foster communication between the U.S. and Cuba and find ways to ease the trade embargo.


KEILAR: The U.S. attorney's office in Miami said Alvarez's job as a professor put him in a position where he could talk to people who the Cuban intelligence service wanted him to get information on.

And, John, this also apparently afforded him the opportunity to travel to Cuba, so that he could report that information to Cuban officials.

KING: An intriguing spy drama.

Brianna Keilar, thank you very much.

And up ahead: in San Francisco, a landslide. Rocks and mud roll down. There were even boulders the size of small cars. We will tell you just what is going on.

And can the leader of the free world also dribble with the best of them? Our Jeanne Moos takes a look at President Bush's basketball- handling skills. You won't want to miss it.

Stay right here. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


KING: We're following a developing story in San Francisco, where a landslide has an apartment building on the brink of tumbling down. It's forced evacuation of four buildings in all, and left more than 100 people temporarily homeless.

CNN's Dan Simon is standing by live for us in San Francisco with the latest.

Hey, Dan.


Well, we're still getting some rain here, so there's a concern that it could make the situation even worse. We're in a section of town known as North Beach. This is a place known for its tourism, a lot of restaurants here, a lot of nightclubs. You can see some of the affected buildings behind me.

But the real concern is the hillside, and those buildings on the hillside, the hillside that just seemed to crumble away. It happened about 3:00 in the morning. Everybody was asleep. About 100 people were immediately evacuated.

John, seven buildings have been red-tagged. This is a serious deal. When you talk about red-tagged, it means that those buildings are uninhabitable. The Red Cross is assisting folks who need it.

In terms of how folks deal with this, engineers are going to have to assess and figure out how to rebuild that hill. It can be done. But, just from past experience, it takes a long time. It's extremely expensive. So, residents can expect to be away from their homes for the immediate future -- John, back to you.

KING: And, Dan, when you say immediate future, do we have any idea, or is it too early to define just what that means for those families?

SIMON: It -- well, it can be several months.

You know, first of all, they have to figure out how to stabilize it, so those buildings don't come down. So, right now, it's a precarious situation. It's going to be at least -- John, I'm just speculating here, but probably a few months.

KING: Dan Simon for us live in San Francisco, remarkable pictures -- Dan, thank you so much.

And he's one of the most prominent proponents of efforts to cut carbon emissions. But with new details out about his own energy consumption, some people are asking, just how green is Al Gore?

Let's go back to CNN's Carol Costello. She's in New York with what you might find surprising -- oh, I'm tempted to say enlightening -- information.


KING: Carol.


COSTELLO: That was so bad, John, enlightening.


COSTELLO: But you're right. Some folks are saying, he talks the talk, but doesn't exactly walk the walk.



COSTELLO (voice-over): Al Gore on Oscar night.

GORE: My fellow Americans...


COSTELLO: Feeling the love, winning a gold statue for his global warming documentary, "An Inconvenient Truth."

But dare we say it? Kermit did.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR (singing): It's not that easy being green.

COSTELLO: No, it isn't, because the Tennessee Center for Policy Research has dug up a few inconvenient truths on Al Gore.

DREW JOHNSON, PRESIDENT, TENNESSEE CENTER FOR POLICY RESEARCH: The word hypocrite certainly seems fitting.

COSTELLO: TCPR bills itself as a nonprofit, and says the perceived greenest guy in America guzzles electricity and natural gas at an alarming rate in his Nashville mansion. In an average month, Gore paid a whopping $2,439 for electricity and natural gas. In total, the Gores paid $30,000 in 2006.

JOHNSON: I don't have a problem with anybody in the world having a $30,000-a-year electric bill, except for Al Gore, because Al Gore is coming -- coming to us, saying, here is what you should do in your home to reduce your energy consumption.

COSTELLO: Gore did respond through a spokesperson, who didn't dispute the costly bill, but said, "Every family has a different carbon footprint, and what Vice President Gore has asked for is for families to calculate that footprint and take steps to reduce and offset it."

Translation: It's OK to have a gigantic house. Just offset the energy costs. Gore offsets his footprint by purchasing electricity from the Tennessee Valley Authority. It produces some so-called green electricity with wind, methane gas, and water, sells it to local utilities, who then sell it to customers like Gore.

Also, the Gores say they are installing solar panels and using fluorescent lights.


COSTELLO: And, in case you're wondering about green electricity, consumers pay more for it, but, according to the EPA, the electricity is made in a more environmentally conscious way.

If everyone used the cleaner fuel, it would be a lot easier on the environment, since it uses wind and water, in addition to coal, to generate electricity.

But, John, critics say it's just not good enough, because Al Gore walks an awfully green line.

KING: Al Gore said he wanted to prompt this debate. I think he has helped his own cause, you might say.


COSTELLO: I think so.

KING: Thank you, Carol.

And, so, what is your carbon footprint? It's based on two main factors, first, your home energy use. That's comprised of the number of people in your home and the kinds of energy you use, such as natural gas, heating oil, propane. The other main factor is your transportation, what kind of car you drive and how often, as well as your air travel.

When you add it all together, the annual average carbon footprint for each American is 19 tons, roughly twice the size of the average Briton's carbon footprint.

Now, there are a number of Web sites devoted to helping people reduce their so-called carbon footprint.

Our Abbi Tatton has more on just what you can do -- Abbi.

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: John, these sites allow you to calculate your own carbon emissions, the use of your car, your air travel, and then counterbalance that amount by donating to clean- energy projects.

Here is one of them. This is Native Energy, where, at their site, you can work out a round-trip air travel. Air travel across the country is going to cost you there $24, that made payable to your choice of renewable energy projects.

This is a company that partnered with the makers of the documentary "An Inconvenient Truth" in order to off set their carbon emissions and also Al Gore's travel associated with making that movie. There are a number of these different sites out there. Environmentalists stress that it's not just offsetting your carbon emissions. It's reducing those, also -- John.

KING: Abbi Tatton -- Abbi, thank you very much.

And let's now find out what -- up ahead here in THE SITUATION ROOM: President Bush drops the ball, gives a whole new meaning to the search for political bounce.


KING: A lighter moment here: When you're the leader of the free world, what happens when the ball just doesn't bounce your way?

Here's CNN's Jeanne Moos.



JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The good thing about being president is, you get to do fun things, like invite the NBA champs to the White House, so you can gawk at Shaquille O'Neal.


MOOS: But the bad thing about being president is that every little thing you do is recorded for posterity.

(LAUGHTER) MOOS: So, President Bush's bad bounce will bounce badly over and over again. The embarrassment of, say, tripping is something we, at least, experience privately, but not the president. Every awkward move he makes is magnified...

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There you go, trying to give you an example.


MOOS: ... by equally awkward journalists like me. Boy, you never get to see our bad moves.

Who hasn't done this?


BUSH: I was trying to escape.


BUSH: It didn't work.

MOOS: When he falls off a Segway, when something goes down the wrong pipe...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Gagged on a pretzel he was eating.

DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: We hear he chocked on a pretzel.

MOOS: ... it's practically breaking news. We in the press scrutinized his face for the bruise he got falling on the White House floor.

BUSH: Always chew your pretzels before you swallow.


MOOS: And when he does something graceful, like handling a power saw, that's not the thing you will see ad infinitum on the news. The exception was when the president threw a perfect strike at the World Series shortly after 9/11.


MOOS: But what is a strike, when we have slightly mortifying foul footage of a president swiveling, dragged on stage by Ricky Martin, clapping out of sync.


MOOS: But, when you're president, that's just the way the ball bounces.


MOOS: Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.


KING: Just in to CNN, new developments tonight, after a closed- door meeting of House Democrats on Capitol Hill to discuss their next move in the Iraq war funding debate.

Dana, what are you hearing?

DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, what we understand, John, as you -- as you know, we have been reporting for the past couple of weeks that House Congressman John Murtha has been pushing an idea to try to set conditions to the president's $100 billion war funding request, conditions like to make sure military troops have the proper training, to make sure that they are in the United States for a year, as is required by -- by the military.

But now it appears that House Democrats are backing off of that plan, or at least are going to pursue what appears to be a watered- down version of the Murtha plan -- John.

KING: So, Dana, if they're backing away from cutting off funding, what are they going to do?

BASH: Well, what happened tonight is, House Democratic leaders had a meeting with the entire House caucus.

And what they said is that they are going to move forward with giving the president all the money that he wants. But what they are going to try to do is, along with that funding, say that the president must make sure that certain requirements are met, and not only of the U.S. military, but of the Iraqis as well.

And, if the president doesn't meet those, he's going to have to sign a waiver, essentially explaining to the American public and to Congress why not.

Essentially, what you're seeing here, John, is the House Democrats trying to -- to have that -- that fine line, that -- that balancing act, to say that they understand that there are people in the Democratic caucus who want to cut funding altogether, and there are those who say that they don't want to touch the funding, because that's political dynamite.

So, what they're tying to do is walk the fine line. But it appears that, for now, they are moving back from the idea that John Murtha we had all been talking about had been pushing, which would be to set specific conditions on funding for -- for Iraq, or that funding would not go through to the president.

KING: And one more question, Dana: As the Democrats try to turn this back on the president to get a consensus among themselves, you're talking about the House Democrats tonight. Are they now more in sync with where the Senate Democrats are?

BASH: No, it doesn't seem that they are at all. In fact, you know, the Senate Appropriations chairman, Robert Byrd, he is somebody who has been against the war for some time. His spokesman told us today that he is against any kind of conditions at all, whether this or any other, in order to make sure that -- he says it's important, imperative for our troops to have their funding, no matter what.

KING: Dana Bash with the latest tonight, new developments on Capitol Hill, as the Democrats decide what next on Iraq -- Dana, thank you very much.

And Carol Costello is in New York monitoring stories from around the world.

Carol, what is the latest right now?

COSTELLO: Have it right here, John.

Hello to all of you.

In the fight against bird flu, evidence suggests the first vaccine up for government approval would not protect most people. But federal health advisers want it approved anyway. They recommend the bird flu vaccine be approved by the government as a stopgap measure, saying it's both safe and effective.

Polls close in Chicago at the top of the hour. And we could soon know if Mayor Richard M. Daley will serve a sixth full term, making him the city's longest serving mayor. But the quest for that title is a family affair. Currently, the longest serving mayor is his father, Richard J. Daley, who died in office, after serving 21 years.

The younger Daley needs to get more than 50 percent of the vote to avoid an April runoff election.

And cigar aficionados are heading to Havana for the country's ninth annual Cigar Festival. Cuba makes what are regarded as the world's finest cigars, 150 million of them, hand-rolled each year, generating some $200 million for the country's economy. But, as any cigar lover will tell you, you cannot get them into this country, because of the trade embargo.

But we all know, John, that many get in anyway.

KING: A cigar fan, Carol?


COSTELLO: No, but I know people who are. And they can be very tricky.

KING: Tricky, tricky, tricky.

Carol Costello...


KING: ... for us in New York -- Carol, thank you very much.

That's all the time we have today. Thanks for joining us in THE SITUATION ROOM. I'm John King.

Up next: "PAULA ZAHN NOW."

PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: Of course, John has never gotten any of those back from any of his trips from Cuba. Nor have I.


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