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U.S. Puts Pressure on Pakistan; William Jefferson Appointed to Homeland Security Committee

Aired February 28, 2007 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, HOST: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Happening now, could the next 9/11 be launched from the territory of an ally.

The U.S. puts pressure on Pakistan to crack down on al Qaeda, but could America be pressing too hard?

One's taking heat for a nuclear program, the other for what's called genocide. Now, a U.S. foe finds a new friend and together they thumb their noses at the world.

And he's been on the hot seat because of allegations surrounding the cold cash he kept in his freezer. Now the congressman is getting a new seat on an important committee.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.


Is an American ally harboring one of America's greatest enemies?

The new U.S. intelligence chief lays out a scenario in which Osama bin Laden's network could launch an attack against this country from bases in the rugged mountains of Pakistan that may have led Vice President Dick Cheney to lay down the law this week in a visit to the president of Pakistan, Pervez Musharraf.

But who actually has the upper hand?

Let's turn to CNN's Brian Todd.

He's watching this story for us -- Brian.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, that's a question that's at the heart of a lot of tension right now between the U.S. and Pakistan, tension that has some experts warning about the dangers of pushing Pakistan too far into a corner.


TODD (voice-over): Pakistan's leadership under extreme pressure to fight harder against terrorism, now fighting back at America's intelligence chief, who says Pakistan is a breeding ground for terror. MAHMUD DURRANI, PAKISTANI AMBASSADOR TO U.S.: With great humility, I would like to disagree with him.

Why would it come from Pakistan? Why not from Afghanistan? Why not from Iraq?

So I think these are guesses and this is what the problem is.

TODD: The problem may be made worse by U.S. efforts to make Pakistan get tough.

Listen to a former CIA officer who once headed the unit searching for Osama bin Laden.

MICHAEL SCHEUER, FORMER CIA OFFICER: If the Americans cut off aid to Pakistan, the Pakistanis stop helping us. It's Pakistan that has the whip hand here.

TODD: Michael Scheuer warns Pakistan may, if squeezed too tight, become a hard-line Islamist nation, and it already has nuclear weapons.

Pakistan's ambassador tells CNN cooperation works better than criticism.

DURRANI: We will win this war. But if we are throwing bricks at each other, we'll never win this war.

TODD: But what if there is no change in the status quo?

Listen to this exchange in the U.S. Senate.

SEN. JACK REED (D), RHODE ISLAND: If you had to establish the probability of a successful attack being organized and directed against the United States, would it emanate from Pakistan, with this newly revised al Qaeda leadership or would it come out of Iraq?

ADM. MIKE MCCONNELL, DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: My belief is that attack most likely would be planned and come out of the leadership in Pakistan.


TODD: At least one major recent terrorist operation did come from Pakistan. U.S. intelligence officials and terrorism experts say the foiled plot to bring down several U.S. airliners over the Atlantic last summer was directed by al Qaeda in Pakistan -- Wolf.

BLITZER: So what do Pakistani officials, Brian, tell you that they're actually doing to try to crack down on terrorists inside their sovereign soil in west Pakistan?

TODD: Well, they reject any criticism outright that they're not doing enough in that very volatile Waziristan region along the border with Afghanistan. The Pakistani ambassador told us just today that recently they took out two terrorist camps along in that border region, with the help of U.S. intelligence officials.

The ambassador tells us look, whenever you share intelligence with us, whenever you help us out here, we can take out these camps, we can work together and do this. But don't criticize us for not doing enough.

BLITZER: Thanks for that, Brian.

Brian Todd reporting.

Other news we're following, openly gay Americans are barred from the nation's armed services. The military calls that rule "don't ask, don't tell."

Now, a Marine Corps veteran who made a sacrifice for his country on the battlefield has decided to tell.

Let's go to CNN's Brianna Keilar.

She's watching this story -- Brianna.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, for the last 14 years, "don't ask, don't tell" has been the law. The feeling being that gays in the military harms morale.

But now, with the military stretched, are the times finally changing?


KEILAR (voice-over): Eric Alva was one of the first to be wounded in the Iraq War, when he stepped on a land mine and lost his right leg. Four years later, he wants to be something other than just a disabled vet.

STAFF SGT. ERIC ALVA (RET.), U.S. MARINE CORPS: Who would have ever guessed that the first American wounded was a gay Marine?

KEILAR: Back in 2003, Alva thought he lost more -- a sense of who he was.

ALVA: I remember, you know, thinking, you know, crying and just thinking, you know, like I don't want to be like this, god.

KEILAR: After months of recuperation and even a visit from President Bush, the Marine staff sergeant came to terms with his disability and retired from active duty.

But now Alva wants to be known as a gay man who served his country.

ALVA: I am an American who fought for his country for the protection and the rights and freedoms of all American citizens, not just some of them, but all of them.

KEILAR: Alva publicly announced he was gay for the first time at a press conference aimed at changing the "don't ask, don't tell" law, which prohibits openly gay men and women from serving in the military.

ALVA: I ask that you give them the chance to serve openly, to have the opportunity to be judged for who they are.

KEILAR: There's no indication the Bush administration supports a change. In 2005, more than 700 service members were thrown out of the military because of their sexual orientation. But some are having second thoughts.

Retired General John Shalikashvili was chairman of the joint chiefs of staff in the Clinton administration. Shalikashvili wrote that after meeting with combat veterans, he felt "gays and lesbians can be accepted by their peers."


KEILAR: But even General Shalikashvili acknowledged change will come slowly to the U.S. military -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Brianna Keilar reporting.

Thank you, Brianna.

Some Iraqi officials are now retracting a claim that a car bombing killed a number of boys yesterday on a soccer field in Ramadi. Other Iraqi officials, though, aren't so sure, as the fog of war descends over a city that may be -- may be even more dangerous than the Iraqi capital itself.

Joining us now from Baghdad, our correspondent Jennifer Eccleston -- Jennifer, a lot of confusion about what's happening in Ramadi right now.

What do we know?

JENNIFER ECCLESTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: A little less confusion now, Wolf. And that's because two senior officials, one with the Health Ministry, one with the Defense Ministry, told CNN that yesterday's alleged car bombing in Ramadi that reportedly killed 18 people, most of them children, is, in fact, false. And they say that the incident was confused with a bombing that actually happened there on Monday, where women and children had, indeed, died.

And that reversal is consistent with American reports that there were no car bombs that took place in Ramadi on Tuesday.

However, Wolf, they did confirm that there was a controlled detention by U.S. forces. The force of that blast was bigger than expected, and, as a result, several people -- a couple dozen people were wounded, including children.

But another odd development here is that the Ministry of Interior still maintains that there was, indeed, a car bomb on Tuesday and that alleged attack was condemned by Iraq's president, Jalal Talabani, from Amman, and also the prime minister, Nouri Al-Maliki, who called it "a terrorist strike against Iraq's children." And so far, Wolf, there has been no retractment of those statements.

BLITZER: There are some who suggest that as dangerous as the situation is in Baghdad right now, it's even more dangerous in Ramadi.

Give us some perspective.

ECCLESTON: Ramadi could be described as a war within a war. And with that, because it is so dangerous, because it is run -- it is very much a tribal situation, it is infiltrated with insurgents, many of those loyal to al Qaeda. And then you have the added element of U.S. forces.

Because it is so dangerous, it is very difficult to do any news gathering out of Ramadi. Therefore, we don't get a clear picture of what is taking place on a day to day basis.

Because of that violence, there is also the issue of infrastructure. The infrastructure is absolutely debilitated. There are no phone lines. There are no cell connections. All -- any way to operate there has to be conducted via the satellite phone, which -- which are not easily accessible and, of course, very expensive.

So even the local officials on the ground, the Iraqi police, have a very difficult time getting in touch with their superiors here in Baghdad to get the right information and once a rumor starts there, it tends to snowball. And that's also an added element to what was going on with these reports out of Ramadi -- Wolf.

BLITZER: What about Jalal Talabani, the president of Iraq?

We know he was rushed to a hospital in Amman, Jordan.

What's the latest on his health?

ECCLESTON: According to his doctor, one of his doctors in Amman, he's doing much better. He's feeling better. He has been receiving a number of dignitaries. He was also able to talk on the phone with the Iraq's national soccer team, who were playing a game tonight.

His spirits were high. But they do say he is -- is still going through with some tests and he will only be released once those tests are completed and he receives the appropriate treatment. And only at that time will we see him back in Iraq -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Well, we wish him a speedy recovery. Jalal Talabani, the president of Iraq.

Jennifer, thanks very much.

Jack Cafferty is off today.

Up ahead, objection -- Republicans have a problem with putting this congressman, alleged to have stashed $90,000 in cash in his freezer, on a new committee. We're going to tell you what's going on. And we'll also take you inside the threat of war with Iran and the debate over whether the U.S. should go on the attack.

And millions take their vitamins every day to help them live longer. But now a new study says they might be having -- get this -- the opposite effect. We'll update you on what's going on. This is information you need to know.

We'll be right back.


BLITZER: The House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, has a new headache, this time over a committee assignment and ethics allegations against a fellow Democrat.

House Republicans are vowing to fight the appointment of William Jefferson to the Homeland Security Committee. Pelosi appointed him to the panel despite bribery allegations hanging over his head and the fact that Pelosi previously booted him off another influential committee.

Let's go to our Congressional correspondent, Andrea Koppel.

She's got details of this latest controversy -- Andrea.

ANDREA KOPPEL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, and Republicans are saying that they oppose this decision, a move that they call both baffling and troubling.


KOPPEL (voice-over): Just weeks after FBI agents raided the Congressional office of Louisiana Democrat William Jefferson in May of last year, alleging they'd found $90,000 in bribes stuffed in his freezer, Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi had had enough.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: Our House Democratic caucus is determined to uphold a high ethical standard. We said it and now we are doing it.

KOPPEL: What she did was to force Jefferson to forfeit his seat on the powerful tax writing Ways and Means Committee.

The Louisiana lawmaker denied the allegations and said he'd been unfairly singled out.

REP. WILLIAM JEFFERSON (D), LOUISIANA: It is more of a scapegoat, I think, for the convenience of an argument that Ms. Pelosi wants to make to gain the advantage in a political debate.

KOPPEL: That was then, this is now. The FBI's investigation continues and Congressman Jefferson has since been reelected to a ninth term. Nancy Pelosi is speaker of the House and has just given Jefferson a new assignment on the Homeland Security Committee, where we found him Wednesday. Unapologetic about the apparent flip-flop, Pelosi explained Jefferson is from Louisiana, hit hard by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

PELOSI: But I removed him from the Ways and Means Committee that had something to do with the accusations made against him. Homeland Security does not.

KOPPEL: Republicans aren't buying it.

REP. ROY BLUNT (R-MO), MINORITY WHIP: And the idea that Homeland Security is somehow less important than the tax writing committee, I think, is a ludicrous idea.

KOPPEL: A Pelosi deputy, South Carolina's Jim Clyburn, defended the move and said Jefferson has not been charged with a crime.

REP. JOHN CLYBURN (D-SC), HOUSE MAJORITY WHIP: There are still allegations here. And how many allegations have been leveled against Republicans that they don't seem to be removing from any committee?


KOPPEL: Now, Republicans say that Jefferson, as a new member of the Homeland Security Committee, will have access to both sensitive and highly guarded intelligence, something that they question, Wolf, something that they also say, in their words, is at best inconsistent, as far as Speaker Pelosi is concerned.

BLITZER: Always something going up on Capitol Hill, Andrea.

Thank you for that.

Some investors are still waiting to exhale. But Wall Street is breathing a little bit of a sigh of ruling today.

U.S. stocks bounced back a bit after yesterday's breath-taking plunge.

Let's go back to CNN's Susan Lisovicz.

She's joining us from the New York Stock Exchange with the bottom line -- tell our viewers who are just tuning in, Susan, what happened today.

SUSAN LISOVICZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, I guess you'd have to say, if you were going to talk about what happened, you would have to start in Shanghai, China, because that's really where the precipitous selling started. The Shanghai Composite dropped 9 percent. It was just a monumental plunge. And it really just shook investors throughout the world because just about everybody is putting money into China one way or another.

So it precipitated this big plunge worldwide. The Dow lost, you know, the biggest one day point drop since 9/11, since the markets reopened. And then Shanghai recovered half of its losses. And that, you know, that really reassured investors here. But, you know, it should also be noted, Wolf, that there are a lot of concerns about the U.S. economy. We got a disturbing report an hour before the opening bell yesterday and there were more signs of -- that the U.S. economy is slowing down. We got the housing -- new home sales last month, a big drop, 17 percent, worse than expected. And that was the biggest one month drop in 13 years.

We got the GDP, which is the broadest measure of the U.S. economy, for the fourth quarter, and that was revised lower.

So, you know, there's still a lot of questions in -- in the marketplace and the Dow did not close anywhere close to its highs on the day -- Wolf.

BLITZER: The chairman of the Federal Reserve helped the markets today by uttering some important words.

LISOVICZ: That's right, Wolf. There's no question that he reassured investors today when they were asking him, after his prepared testimony on Capitol Hill. He said the financial markets worldwide appear to be performing as expected and he said his -- his fundamental view of the U.S. economy has not changed.

So that was helpful. And the Dow, in fact, hit its high when Ben Bernanke was speaking to lawmakers.

BLITZER: When the Federal Reserve chairman speaks, the markets listen.

All right, thanks for that, Susan Lisovicz.

Coming up, how many detainees is the CIA holding at secret prisons overseas?

One group is asking the Bush administration to come clean with details.

And war with Iran -- could the U.S. be headed in that direction?

We'll ask an expert on Middle East intelligence.

All that coming up right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Let's check back with Fredricka Whitfield for a closer look at some other important stories making news -- Fred.


Landmark talks between the U.S. and North Korea. The State Department says lead negotiator, Christopher Hill, will meet with his North Korean counterpart in New York Monday and Tuesday for talks on normalizing relations between the two countries. There are part of the deal that calls for North Korea to dismantle its nuclear weapons program in exchange for aid. The group Human Rights Watch is calling on President Bush to account for all prisoners secretly held by the CIA. In a new report, the group says there are 38 people held, or believed held, by the agency whose whereabouts are now unknown. Last September, President Bush announced the last CIA details had been transferred to Guantanamo Bay.

And new signs of trouble for the U.S. housing market. The sale of new homes plunged in January, down more than 16 percent from December. And the glut of new homes is causing prices to fall. The median price of a new home was down more than 2 percent from the year earlier.

And Home Depot is struggling along with the housing market and forecasting a rough year ahead. The nation's second largest retailer says it expects earnings this fiscal year to fall 4 to 9 percent. But Home Depot still plans to open more than 100 new stores this fiscal year -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Fred, thanks for that.

Coming up, could your daily vitamins actually be harming you?

You may be surprised to hear the findings of a new report.

And is the U.S. to blame for the mess in the Middle East?

That's the criticism coming in from overseas. We're going to tell you who's saying what.

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


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

Happening now, an explosion tearing through a Baghdad marketplace, killing at least 10 people and wounding 21. Witnesses report flames and debris shooting two stories high. The attack comes in the third week of the U.S.-led security crackdown in the Iraqi campaign.

Also, the Iraqi government calling for an international conference March 10th on the security crisis. The U.S. obviously invited to take place, but so are Iran and Syria. The White House says there will be no direct talks with those two countries.

And a federal judge has just ruled that accused al Qaeda operative and American citizen Jose Padilla is competent to stand trial. His lawyers argued that more than three years in government custody have left Padilla unfit for the proceedings. That trial now scheduled to begin in Florida, April 16th.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM. They're getting the cold shoulder from much of the international community, but the leaders of Iran and Sudan today closed ranks in a warm embrace.

Let's turn to our State Department correspondent, Zain Verjee.

She's watching this unfold.

The Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, in Sudan -- Zain, what's the latest?

ZAIN VERJEE, CNN STATE DEPARTMENT CORRESPONDENT: It's essentially a two day visit to Sudan. It's significant, really, for any head of state. Africa hasn't really been a priority for Iran, though, in any substantive way. Experts say Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, is there in a sort of Third World solidarity way. He's been going to countries, as you know, that are anti-U.S. like Venezuela, for example.

Both Sudan and Iranian, though, Wolf, are under some really strong pressure from the U.S. Sudan over the Darfur conflict and Iran over its nuclear program.

So Sudan's president and Iran's president are basically supporting each other and lashing out, criticizing the U.S. Analysts also say that Ahmadinejad wants to show that he's not totally isolated, that he's got some sort of support at an international level. They also add that his wings have been fairly clipped at home since Iranian leaders, Wolf, haven't all liked Ahmadinejad's inflammatory comments, like wiping Israel off the map. And they're giving him a hard time at home.

So he's going on a lot more foreign trips like this one to Sudan, Wolf, just to get away, they say.

BLITZER: So, what are officials in the State Department, Zain, saying about all of this?

VERJEE: Well, the State Department says that Ahmadinejad's basically trying to look for support where he thinks he can get it. They say who knows what kind of support he can generate from Sudan. And the number of countries anywhere to which he can travel and try and get support for his policies, the State Department says, is limited -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Zain, we'll watch this story.

Thank you.

The Bush administration has kept up a steady drumbeat of warnings about Iran's nuclear programs and lately its malicious meddling, administration officials insist, inside Iraq.

Now, with two U.S. aircraft carrier battle groups in the region, is there a growing chance the United States could find itself at war with Iran? Joining us now, retired U.S. Army Colonel Pat Lang, former chief of Middle East intelligence at the Pentagon.

Pat, thanks for coming in.

COL. PATRICK LANG, U.S. ARMY (RET.): My pleasure.

BLITZER: Take us behind the scenes right now, all of the saber rattling. The leaks we're also seeing -- the Seymour Hersh article in "The New Yorker" magazine.

What's going on, in your assessment, behind the scenes?

LANG: Well, a lot of this, of course, is intended to reach the ears of the Iranians. You know, it's -- it's quite a good idea, in a lot of ways, to make sure the Iranians know the United States is very serious about the concerns about them and if they aren't careful, they could end up in big trouble with us.

At the same time, I think that you have to understand that there is -- there is intensive planning for how you would execute an operation against the Iranians going on in the military, in response to a direction by the president.

These are contingency plans and when they say -- when the White House says that we do not plan to attack Iran, what they really mean is that they haven't made a decision.

But the planning for the operation, I think, is well advanced.

BLITZER: Because in the build-up to the war with Saddam Hussein in Iraq, for months administration officials were saying they're not planning on attacking and there's been no orders given or anything like that, when we know that the planning had been very, very intense.

LANG: Yes. And that is undoubtedly going on right now. And the level of ambiguity that's being projected by the administration over this is probably quite productive in terms of getting people in the region in the state of mind in which they would like to talk, if the administration really would like to talk to them.

BLITZER: But I take it, and correct me if I'm wrong, you're hearing from some inside the Pentagon, some top generals, others, that there's no great desire to actually start a war with Ahmadinejad in Iran?

LANG: Oh, I think at the present time, there's a very strong grouping of people at the top, both in the uniform military and within the civilian part of the Bush administration, who absolutely think this would be a terrible idea. And they insist their voices will be heard. So I think there's -- you'd have to say there is a very active dialogue about this, seeking the attention of the president.

BLITZER: But if the president, the vice president gives the order to go ahead -- and Sy Hersh in "The New Yorker" says that within 24 hours the plans could be implemented. I don't know if he's right or wrong on that. But if they give the order, these military officers will salute and begin the process.

LANG: Well, and there's no reason why an operation couldn't be launched within 24 hours from the order to go because this is mostly going to be air and naval business, if it were conducted that way. There is no real tradition in the American armed forces of officers resigning rather than obeying an order they think is wrong. But in this case, I think the issues are so great and the pressures are so high that this is under active consideration, and that's been mentioned in a few places.

BLITZER: You think top U.S. generals would actually resign rather than go forward and implement a decision like this?

LANG: I think the issue is certainly on their minds. It is, yes.

BLITZER: And what -- tell me why they would be so concerned.

LANG: Because, in fact, this is -- the United States, as everyone know, is vastly overextended. And we have a great many more issues to take care of in other parts of the world involving the jihadi international terrorists and things of that kind. And we really can't afford another war.

BLITZER: Here is what the Pentagon said the other day, even in anticipation of the Seymour Hersh article in "The New Yorker." "The United States is not planning to go to war with Iran. To suggest anything to the contrary is simply wrong, misleading and mischievous."

LANG: Well, I think that's the prudent thing for them to say. It's what I would expect for them to say. And as I said, what it indicates is the fact that when they said we're not planning to go to war, it means we have no intention at this time to launch an operation. It doesn't mean the plans aren't being made or haven't been made.

BLITZER: Two U.S. aircraft carrier battle groups are now in the region, the Stennis, the Eisenhower. People hear about an aircraft carrier going in, but when they go in, they go in with a lot of support, a lot of other battleships and destroyers, submarines. That's a lot of power that the U.S. is projecting in that part of the world.

LANG: It certainly is. Besides the carriers and their air groups themselves, a lot of these -- the screen vessels for the carriers are missile shooters that shoot surface-to-surface missiles, cruise missiles, things like that. They pack a tremendous wallop. Then you could fly sorties from around the world with American strategic bombers.

BLITZER: So what's the point of doing this?

LANG: Well, I think it is -- it has two purposes.

The first purpose is to make sure that you have the Iranians' attention and that they are willing to listen to the United States when we say, in fact, that we want -- we know what we want you to do and we think you should do it. And the other purpose is that, if all else fails and a decision is made to do something, you are in position to do it.

The conference in March, I think, is a fascinating thing.

BLITZER: The conference in Baghdad.

LANG: That's right.

BLITZER: That the U.S. will attend the various neighbors, including Iran and Syria will attend. This is an Iranian -- excuse me -- an Iraqi invitation to all of the neighbors, including the U.S., some others, to come in and talk about the situation in Iraq.

LANG: Yes. Britain, France and Russia will probably also attend. And I think this is a step in the right direction, because the Middle East is kind of like a Chinese puzzle. You know, you've got all these pieces in there that have to be lined up in order to make the thing work correctly. And the Iranians, the Syrians and all the different players in the region are all part of that pattern.

And you have to work on getting these pieces lined up. Some of the way, to beat them with a hammer in order to get some productive results out of this. This is a good first step, I think.

BLITZER: So, if the U.S. secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, is there, the Iranian foreign minister is there, the Syrian foreign minister, will this be an opportunity to sort of break the ice and get into serious discussions?

LANG: It certainly is an opportunity if we wish to take that opportunity. I hope that what we don't do is go there and tell the Iranians, for example, that all we want to talk about is what we don't want you to do to in Iraq, rather than discussing the whole range of our issues, issues between us and them across the region. Because if all we do is tell them, this is what we want you to do, are you going to do it, they're going to go away and keep on doing what they are doing.

BLITZER: But the administration's position all along has been the U.S. is more than happy to talk to the Iranians, the Syrians at the highest levels. From Iran's point of view, they first have to stop enriching uranium.

LANG: Yes. Well, that's just the general pattern of the Bush administration's diplomacy, which is to tell people generally, we know what you should do and we want you to tell us you are going to do it. And that will begin the process of negotiation.

In fact, these countries in the region think they are bigger than that, and they're not going to surrender to what they think are their valid interests unless there is some sort of dialogue that involves bargaining. These countries are the world's biggest deal makers, and they're just not going to go for a completely one-sided thing.

BLITZER: They know how to negotiate.

LANG: You bet.

BLITZER: All right, Pat. Thanks very much for coming in.

Pat Lang, he used to be in charge of Middle East intelligence over at the Pentagon.

Appreciate it very much.

Up ahead, details of a stunning new study that could change the way all of us think about vitamins. Can they really help us live a longer, healthier life or not?

Plus, El Nino on the way out, La Nina on the way in. We'll show you what it could mean for the next hurricane season.

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


BLITZER: Let's check back with Fred for a closer look at some other important stories making news -- Fred.


BLITZER: The weather system known as El Nino is fading, and its sister, La Nina, may soon be here. But will a more intense Atlantic hurricane season come along with it?


BLITZER: Still ahead in THE SITUATION ROOM, we're going to have an amazing story, a truly amazing story of a reunion between an American Olympic athlete and the father who lost him.

Also, a top Republican now calling for Congress to rethink President Bush's war powers. My interview with Senator Arlen Specter, that's coming up next.

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


BLITZER: Congress gave President Bush the authority to go to war in Iraq. Now a prominent Republican is joining those who want Congress perhaps to reconsider.

Joining us, Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania. He's the ranking Republican of the Judiciary Committee, the former chairman.

Senator, tell us about the letter you wrote to Senator Leahy, the chairman of the committee, asking him to hold hearings on this.

SEN. ARLEN SPECTER (R-PA), CHAIRMAN, JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: I believe we need substantially more study to understand where the congressional constitutional authority ends on the power of the purse on appropriations, contrasted with the president's power as commander in chief. I do not believe, for example, Wolf, that Congress can micromanage the war.

We can cut off funding, although nobody would even consider that to jeopardize the troops. So these are complex issues.

Congress cannot pass a law, for example, that curtails the president's constitutional authority because constitutional authority trumps a statute. Now, we have...

BLITZER: Well, let me interrupt, Senator, and just press you on this point. Congressman John Murtha, Pennsylvania-- you are a Pennsylvanian yourself -- he says maybe go ahead and pass some legislation that would require the Pentagon only to deploy troops to Iraq who are rested, who are fully trained, and who are fully protected with the armor, the equipment that they need.

Is that constitutionally appropriate?

SPECTER: I have grave reservations as to the constitutionality of such a provision because it starts to move into the field of micromanagement, and it is a congressional enactment, a statute, as opposed to a curtailing of funds. But these are...

BLITZER: But Senator, you know, you have a constitutional responsibility, the legislative branch, to have oversight as well.

SPECTER: Well, we do. And we have a constitutional authority which stands on a par with the president's constitutional authority as commander in chief on the power of the purse. But I have grave doubts that we can star to condition what the president is going to do so that you move into what is realistically micromanagement.

What I'm saying here, Wolf, is that we are in very deep water. And we oughtn't to go off halfcocked. And we ought to be very careful that we don't set a precedent now which will bind some future president to the detriment of the country.

It's a matter which requires a lot more thought than has been given to it so far. And that's why I want the hearings with the experts to study the precedence and to get very deeply involved so that we know what we are doing.

BLITZER: Is Senator Leahy, the chairman, is he ready to comply?

SPECTER: Oh, I think that Senator Leahy will probably be willing to do that. He's very concerned about these constitutional issues, and he and I have a very close working relationship from the days last year when I was chairman.

BLITZER: Here is what Senator Lieberman, Independent but leaning Democrat, clearly, wrote in "The Wall Street Journal" on Monday. "The Senate and House of Representatives are bracing for parliamentary trench warfare trapped in an escalating dynamic of division and confrontation that will neither resolve the tough challenges we face in Iraq nor strengthen our nation against its terrorist enemies around the world."

Do you agree with Senator Lieberman on this?

SPECTER: I think he sounds like a Republican there, Wolf. I just left the Senate floor where we are voting, and I discussed that possibility with him.

Listen, I can't give you a sound bite on a complex question that Senator Lieberman -- or a complex statement he just proposed. But I do think he raises very important issues. And I think we need to deliberate about them to earn our title as the world's greatest deliberative body.

BLITZER: On some issues you take a fiercely independent stance from the administration. Specifically, very recently, on whether the U.S. should engage in high-level direct talks with leaders in Syria and Iran. You say yes. They say there has to be conditions. They have to -- the Iranians have to stop enriching uranium, the Syrians have to stop meddling in Lebanon.

Now the secretary of state is ready to participate in a conference in Baghdad in which Iranian and Syrian officials will also participate.

Who blinked here?

SPECTER: Well, I think that the administration wisely has rethought the proposition. I made an extensive floor statement on this last July, published an article in the current issue of "The Washington Quarterly" urging that there be dialogue and direct bilateral talks. And yesterday, when I was questioning Secretary of State Rice on the North Korean situation, she conceded that there had been authorization for Christopher Hill -- our chief negotiator -- to engage in direct bilateral talks with North Korea.

Wolf, I think that's what did it. If we talk to the Syrians, if we talk to the Iranians, show them a little dignity, a little respect, and that we are not trying to put a lot of preconditions on our talking to them, I think we can solve the problems.

I'll tell you this, Wolf -- if we don't talk to them, we certainly won't solve the problems. If we do, we have a good chance to solve the problems.

BLITZER: One final question, Senator Specter, on your old friend Joe Lieberman. You said he sounds like a Republican.

Do you believe knowing the senator as long as you have, there is a chance he might bolt from the Democratic side of the aisle and join you on the Republican side?

SPECTER: I think it's highly unlikely, but I thought it was highly unlikely that Senator Jeffords would change from Republican to Democrat.

BLITZER: We'll see what happens in Washington. Arlen Specter, thanks for coming in.

SPECTER: Nice to be with you, Wolf. Thank you.

BLITZER: Thank you.

Let's move on to something else, a very important story we are following. It involves what a lot of us take every day, namely vitamins. Take vitamins and live longer.

Lots of people believe that equation and regularly use the supplements. But there's some surprising new research that is just coming out that could force a lot of us to rethink what we do about vitamins.

Let's go to CNN's Mary Snow. She is in New York with details -- Mary.

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, antioxidant vitamins like A and E are the ones in question. It seems to be contrary to popular wisdom. But researchers say they may do more harm than good.


SNOW (voice over): For Lisa Giorgeti (ph), taking antioxidants like beta-carotene is a daily routine. Like millions of Americans, she takes vitamin supplements to fight aging and live healthier. But could these supplements have the opposite effect and be harmful? Some researchers say yes.

DR. CHRISTIAN GLUUD, COPENHAGEN UNIVERSITY HOSPITAL: Beta- carotene, vitamin A and vitamin E all significantly, and to our surprise, increased mortality.

SNOW: Dr. Christian Gluud is the senior author of a new report in the "Journal of the American Medical Association." His team of researchers analyzed a total of 68 studies, concluding the only effects they found were harmful. But they also say they can't determine the cause of increased mortality because many of those in the trials they examined had pre-existing conditions like cancer and heart disease.

While they say their findings are solid, critics of the study, including the trade group that represents makers of these supplements, dismiss the results.

ANDREW SHAO, COUNCIL FOR RESPONSIBLE NUTRITION: This particular analysis has some important flaws. Almost as if it's a conclusion in search of a method to support it.

SNOW: Representatives of the multibillion-dollar vitamin industry insist supplements are safe and provide benefits.

SHAO: The concern here is that consumers will be unjustifiably confused and alarmed over this report. SNOW: Some nutrition experts say there is no cause for alarm. They say while some people are advised by their doctors to take them, for others...

ALBERTO ASCHERIO, HARVARD SCHOOL OF PUBLIC HEALTH: For most people there is no reason to take antioxidant vitamin supplements and there are many reasons to increase the consumption of fruits and vegetables.

SNOW: Lisa Giorgeti (ph) says she's not fazed by the news. She says firsthand experience of what supplements have done for her is proof enough.


SNOW: And because supplements are not regulated, consumers and researchers can't be exactly sure what it is in all of the supplements -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Talk about being confused. I'm totally confused right now.

Mary, thanks very much. I know you spoke with some other doctors about this because, you know, the notion of vitamins actually hurting -- I've heard over the years they might not help but they certainly won't hurt. This study says they actually, at least some of these vitamins, could actually hurt you.

SNOW: Yes. I talked to a number of doctors who are saying, you know, wait on -- hold off on throwing out all your vitamins, these antioxidant vitamins. But they do say that there has been research done showing that these supplements don't really do all that much. That according to some of the doctors I spoke with. So they do seem to think that, especially in excess of these supplements, are certainly not good.

BLITZER: It reminds me of the old Woody Allen movie "Sleeper," where a character comes back in 100 years and he -- people aren't smoking. And he says, "Don't you know that prolongs life, smoking?" So I guess these scientists, they always come up with new studies, new information.

We'll continue to watch this one.

Mary, thank you for that.

Up next, a tearful reunion involving a U.S. Olympic athlete, his father who lives in another country. This is a story I think you are going to want to see.

Stay with us. We'll be right back.


BLITZER: Achieving one dream inadvertently led to fulfilling another for one American Olympic champion. CNN's Sohn Jie-ae has the story from Seoul, South Korea.


SOHN JIE-AE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): The resemblance between father and son is uncanny, but apparently not good enough. More than 25 years ago, Kim Jae-su lost his 3-year-old son Pumtuk (ph) in a crowded South Korean market and was never able to find him again. Until now.

Through his tears, Kim keeps saying, "I'm sorry." His biological son, now named Toby Dawson, is a 29-year-old U.S. citizen and a U.S. Olympic skier.

TOBY DAWSON, OLYMPIC SKIER: (SPEAKING KOREAN) -- which I believe means I have been waiting a long time. And I told him that I was happy to be able to meet him and that -- that he was -- that he didn't need to cry, and to be strong, because this should be a happy day.

SOHN: From a South Korean orphanage, Dawson was adopted by a couple of ski instructors in Colorado. At the 2006 Turin Olympics, Dawson was the only American to win a medal in freestyle skiing, catching the eye of many in the country of his birth, South Korea.

Dozens came forth claiming to be his parents. But eventually DNA analysis would show Kim Jae-su to be his biological father. After the tearful reunion in Seoul, the father and son begin the process of getting to know each other again.

DAWSON: I guess I have always grown up with pretty long sideburns. And looking at him now, I can see where these sideburns have come from.

SOHN (on camera): At the press meeting with his biological father, Dawson talked about another issue that was close to his heart -- helping other Korean adopted children find answers as to why they were sent abroad and to prevent others from following the same path.

(voice over): Dawson says a foundation set up in his name will keep others like him from being caught between two different cultures and not knowing what their biological family looks like.

Sohn Jie-ae, CNN, Seoul.


BLITZER: Father and son reunion.

Thanks for that.

Remember, we're here in THE SITUATION ROOM weekday afternoons from 4:00 to 6:00 p.m. Eastern. We're back in one hour, 7:00 p.m. Eastern.

Until then, thanks very much for joining us.

I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.

"LOU DOBBS TONIGHT" starts right now. Kitty Pilgrim sitting in for Lou.


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