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Judge in Libby Trial Holds Open Hearing; Presidential Campaign Firestorm Over Iraq; Newt Gingrich Takes Verbal Shot at Hillary Clinton

Aired March 1, 2007 - 16:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, the judge in the Lewis "Scooter" Libby CIA leak trial holding an open hearing only moments from now. This as the jury in this case is now in its seventh day of deliberations. Brian Todd, our reporter on the scene. He'll be attending the hearing. He'll be emerging from that courtroom to give us the latest on this developing story.
Also, a presidential campaign firestorm over Iraq and whether American lives have been "wasted." Newly announced candidate John McCain gets flak from Democrats, but he does find a surprising defender.

Plus, a nasty turn -- the former House Speaker Newt Gingrich takes a verbal shot at White House hopeful Hillary Clinton.

Is it a sign that he's ready to jump into the presidential race?

Also this hour, President Bush is on the hurricane ravaged Gulf Coast for the first time in six months.

Can he convince Katrina victims they haven't been forgotten?

I'm Wolf Blitzer.


But up first this hour, a powerful weather system is moving through the southern part of the United States right now. It unleashed a tornado in Alabama that witnesses are calling huge. The roof of an elementary school in the town of Enterprise was simply ripped off and a 7-year-old girl was killed when a twister struck southern Missouri.

Let's check in with our meteorologist, Reynolds Wolf.

He's joining us from the CNN Severe Weather Center.

These are powerful, powerful tornados -- Reynolds.

REYNOLDS WOLF, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Oh, they really are. And what's really bizarre about these storms, most tornados don't stay on the ground for a very long time. But the tornados that we have had, as you mentioned, in Enterprise, Alabama, are what we refer to as a long track tornado. And we're not done just yet. We're going to zoom in down here, Eufaula, Alabama, where just moments ago we got this from the National Weather Service. A trained weather spotter reported a funnel cloud about nine miles west of Eufaula, moving to the northeast at 35 miles an hour.

That would be this particular cell, the super cell right here, crossing parts of the Chattahoochee River and moving into Georgia. This is just one tiny segment of a huge storm system.

We're going to pull away from this and take you back over to Tuscaloosa, Alabama on the other side of the state. And, Wolf, we've had -- on radar, we've been able to indicate the possibility of three inch to three and a quarter inch hail. We're talking about hail that's the size of softballs, I mean really big stuff that's going to be falling in parts of Tuscaloosa.

So from the, let's see Bryant-Denny Stadium over to about Denny Chimes and out by the quad, near Paul W. Bryant Drive, it's going to be very, very rough for the next couple of minutes.

We've got a possible tornado with this rotating storm as it drifts to the northeast. And this particular storm, Wolf, is flying. It's going about 45 to 50 miles per hour. And as we pull away, you're going to see this is just one, again, as I mentioned, tiny little blip from an immense storm system that stretches from the Gulf of Mexico clear up into the Ohio Valley.

And on the back side of this system, back into the Twin Cities, we're talking about Minnesota -- we're not dealing with storms in terms of thunderstorms and tornadoes. We're talking about snow. Some places possibly up to a foot of snowfall by the time this all dies out.

That's the latest we have for you Wolf -- let's send it back to you in D.C.

BLITZER: And this, Reynolds, this is all part of the same system, including what happened in southern Missouri earlier today?

Because we know a little girl was killed there.

WOLF: Oh, absolutely. This is a deadly system. This is something that people really need to take very seriously. And something else, Wolf, that we need to think about is we can't focus just on the tornadoes. We have to remember, we've got deadly lightning. We've got flooding situations possible with many of these storms as they come on through. Flash flooding is a possibility and damaging winds, not just from tornados, but straight line winds can be just as deadly as any tornado.

So it is going to be a dangerous night in parts of the southeastern U.S. as well as the Ohio Valley and the Midwest, as well -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, stand by, Reynolds.

I want to get back to you.

In the meantime, though, I want to go to Laren Allgood.

She's a reporter with the "Enterprise Ledger" in Alabama.

Only -- how far are you from that school that was hit by the tornado, Laren?

Unfortunately I'm not hearing Laren.

I think we're trying to get connected with her.

We're going to come back and speak to Laren shortly, Laren Allgood of the "Enterprise Ledger."


No, I cannot hear him.

BLITZER: Laren, can you hear us now?

ALLGOOD: I can hear you.

BLITZER: Unfortunately we can't hear -- she can't hear us.

We're going to work out this bug.

But let me just recap. A huge, huge weather system now taking place in big parts of the United States, in the Midwest, all in the South right now. And we're watching this very closely. We'll get more information and stay on top of this story here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Let's move on now to the presidential race.

Republican John McCain is taking back his words. The senator and former prisoner of war now says he regrets saying the lives of U.S. troops killed in Iraq have been, in his words, "wasted."

Some Democrats have been demanding McCain apologize, as Senator Barack Obama recently did after making a similar remark.

But in an unlikely twist, one key Democrat is now defending Senator McCain.

Let's go to our Congressional correspondent, Dana Bash.

She has more on this campaign fallout -- Dana.

DANA BASH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, for all of the bipartisan outrage and growing opposition to the war, the one thing Democrats and Republicans do is bend over backwards not to, in any way, be seen as denigrating the troops fighting the war. And that is why John McCain now is the latest to learn that even one word could ignite a political firestorm.


BASH (voice-over): When John McCain made his bid for president official on "David Letterman," he also said this about Iraq.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: We've wasted a lot of our most precious treasure, which is American lives.

BASH: The Democratic National Committee pounced, demanding an apology.

Hours later, the Vietnam veteran and former POW made clear he regretted using the word "wasted" to describe troops killed in Iraq. "I should have used the word sacrifice, as I have in the past," McCain said. "No one appreciates and honors more than I do the selfless patriotism of American service men and women in the Iraq War."

And guess who came to McCain's defense?

A Democrat running for president.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D), ILLINOIS: John McCain and I may have disagreements. The one area that I don't think he can be questioned is his dedication to American troops. He's been there. He's done that.

BASH: Barack Obama may seem an unlikely McCain sympathizer, but he's still smarting from having to apologize for saying virtually the same thing as he launched his presidential campaign last month: "We now have spent $400 billion and have seen over 3,000 lives of the bravest young Americans wasted," Obama said.

OBAMA: And we have a duty, a scared duty, to make sure that we are honoring their sacrifice by giving them missions in which they can succeed. I'm positive that was the intent in which he meant it. It was the same intent that I had when I made my statement.


BASH: And McCain is making clear he regrets using the word "wasted," but not the sentiment behind it. He is somebody who is a long time supporter of the war, but he is also somebody who has, for some time said he thinks the administration made mistakes in terms of prosecuting the war.

And, Wolf, check out the last quote of John McCain's statement on the wall next to me. He said: "We have paid a grievous price for those mistakes and the lives of the men and women who have died to protect our interests in Iraq" -- Wolf.

BLITZER: The Democratic National Committee issued a statement, Dana.

Among other things, they said this: "How is it John McCain now believes American lives are being wasted, yet he so stubbornly supports the president's plan to escalate the war in Iraq and put more American lives in harm's way." How is the McCain campaign responding to this charge from the DNC?

BASH: Well, you know, Wolf, as you know, John McCain is perhaps the most vocal supporter of sending more troops to Iraq and perhaps has the most riding on it politically, at least on this plan succeeding, than anyone except maybe the president.

But he has said over and over, Wolf -- you hear him in speech after speech, hearing after hearing, that that is going to mean more troops will die in Iraq.

So it is sort of the latest example of how tough a position he is in. He is somebody who continues to support the mission, but still says that mistakes are made in terms of how the administration is prosecuting that mission. A tough political position for him.

BLITZER: Dana, thank you for that.

New fallout today over inadequate treatment for wounded soldiers at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center right here in the nation's capital. The two star general in charge of the facility here in Washington has now been removed from his job.

Presidential candidate Barack Obama jumping into the controversy today. He's co-sponsoring legislation to ensure that wounded service members receive proper treatment, care and services.

Let's bring in our senior national correspondent, John Roberts, who is here with us in THE SITUATION ROOM.

First of all, John, a lot of us wonder, four years into this war, all these wounded troops, how could this situation at Walter Reed have been allowed to develop as it clearly did?

JOHN ROBERTS, SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It looks like it was a combination of a couple of things. It was the incredible toll that this war is taking on soldiers and Marines coming back wounded. Is it really putting a strain on these facilities, turning places that perhaps weren't meant to house soldiers or Marines for a long, long time, being turned into facilities -- this Building 18 is one that comes to mind. And that really is the center of gravity of all of this.

And it also looks like a failure of the chain of command. The latest "Washington Post" article is suggesting that these problems had been brought to commanders for years and they went unattended to.

And so now we see Major General George Weightman losing his job. The secretary of the Army making that decision this morning. The secretary of defense, Bob Gates, supporting that.

But you've got to wonder, is it going to go further up the chain, because Lieutenant General Kevin Kiley was in charge of that facility for a while. He had a house right across the street from Building 18.

How long did it -- did it go past his gaze?

BLITZER: Is the current general who was removed today, is he being made a scapegoat?

I'm sure that will be a question that will be asked.

But there will be, no doubt, political fallout from all of this.

ROBERTS: You mentioned Barack Obama sponsoring legislation to make sure that wounded troops coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan get proper care. There is a call for other investigations in Congress, going forward, most of those coming from Democrats.

In fact, just a few minutes ago, I got this missive from the office of Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton. She wants an independent investigation, not just a Congressional investigation or a Pentagon investigation, but an independent investigation into what senior Army officers knew about the problems here and when they knew it, as well.

So, Wolf, I think we're just beginning to peel back the very first layer of this onion and it's going to go a lot further before people get the answers that will keep them satisfied.

BLITZER: And let's hope it results in some changes, not only at Walter Reed, but at Bethesda Naval, all the military hospitals out there. Presumably there are some serious problems around the country.

ROBERTS: Correct.

And, in fact, my phone is buzzing right now, I think, with an answer to a question that I had, so we'll get back to you a little bit later on with it.

BLITZER: Thank you.

ROBERTS: All right, thanks.

BLITZER: We'll get the news on as soon as you get it.

Let's go back to those tornados, the storm system that's unfolding in the southern part of the country, in the Midwest.

Laren Allgood is joining us now from Enterprise, Alabama.

She's with the local newspaper, "The Ledger."

You're only a block away from the school that was hit by this tornado, Laren?

ALLGOOD: That's correct. We're just within a mile next to the high school that the tornado just went right through the middle of it, demolishing the whole school. The ceilings collapsed. There are, we think, eight students still trapped. They just got one out.

Kids are walking around dazed, cuts, debris from the tornado. Power lines are down. Cell phone towers are out. So parents are panicking. There was a whole line of school buses just in front of the school just demolished. All the school buses are demolished. The cars in the parking lot are upside down, demolished.

It looked like a bomb dropped on the high school.

BLITZER: Where were you when this tornado ripped through Enterprise?

ALLGOOD: We at the newspaper -- of course, the sirens went off about 1:00 in the afternoon Central time. Sirens went off. It was -- we could hear the train, we could hear it outside.

So we were under desks, basically, in a hallway. And then after it happened, it was close to 1:00 when they were to let the students out, and, of course, they couldn't at that point.

So we were heading for, you know, our (UNINTELLIGIBLE) real quick.

BLITZER: What did it feel like, I mean, to live through a tornado like that?

ALLGOOD: It was very scary, to say the least. Of course, electricity went out first. You could hear the train, the sound, the roar of the tornado. You could -- you could -- you just knew something awful was -- was happening out there.

And then when we kind of went outside, we saw the tornados and then we heard the ambulances, you know, go off. All the power lines are down. Right now, they're trying to get extra people to the school to help calm the kids down and get them to the emergency room.

BLITZER: Laren, did you have any warning?

How much time did you have before that tornado hit? In other words, was it five minutes, 10 minutes, a half an hour? Did you know you were in potential danger?

ALLGOOD: Yes, the city of Enterprise is wonderful. They had the alarms go off. We're in downtown Enterprise. You know, we're a small town, population 20,000 plus. The alarms did sound off. We knew to take cover. We didn't know, of course, where -- when it was going to hit, but there was more than one tornado going off in the area.

So we were forewarned, yes, we were.

BLITZER: Laren Allgood,

Laren, good luck to you. Good luck to all the people of Alabama and Enterprise specifically. We're going to continue to watch this story.

In fact, I want to go back to Reynolds Wolf, our meteorologist, right now.

It's a pretty scary situation -- Reynolds, the way she described. There was a little bit of a warning they gave, but all of a sudden she said it was like a bomb came across Enterprise, Alabama.

WOLF: You know, you're absolutely right.

We compare these big storm outbreaks, these big tornado outbreaks, sometimes, to hurricanes.

But the thing that's interesting about a hurricane, as you'll remember, when you see those things in the ocean and they're coming closer to land, we have days and days and days to prepare for them, whereas when you have something like this happen, these tornadoes form so quickly and they strike so hard. These are the strongest winds on the planet.

And one great thing about these storms -- I know you mentioned that -- well, she mentioned that they sounded like -- it was like a roar, like a train, almost like a piercing whistle. One thing that was great in terms of sound was the ability to hear these sirens.

Many people in Enterprise thankfully did have a warning because of the sirens.

Earlier in the day, we also spoke with Jamie McIntyre, who was reporting live from Fort Rucker, which is a helicopter base in southeast Alabama, not far at all from Enterprise. And as he was doing a live report, you could actually hear the tornado sirens in the background.

And I've got to harken back to the situation that happened a few weeks ago in central Florida at The Villages when you had those fatalities due to that tornado outbreak which occurred in the middle of the night.

They didn't have any advanced warning. The people in central Florida had no advanced warning because it took place in the middle of the night and if they didn't have any sirens or they didn't have the television on or have a weather radio, they didn't have any benefit. They had no heads up.

But they certainly did, thankfully, in Enterprise.

And we're not done yet, Wolf.

We still have an intense line, now just south of Montgomery. We see this one large cell that is just between I-65 and I-85, veering off to the northeast. This is Crenshaw County and this one will be in effect until 3:45, 3:45 Central time -- not Eastern time, but Central time.

And as we pull a little bit farther back toward the east, we can just see that area, that large cell that produced that long track tornado. Many of those storms now moving into parts of Georgia, south of Columbus, over toward Americus. Here is the Chattahoochee River. Here is Eufaula, a great fishing area. You've got many of the docks right about here.

Now the storm surging into Georgia, also right along I-85, not far from Garrett-Harrison Stadium or Toomer's Corner in Auburn, Alabama. Hail has been reported, some damaging winds southward to Tuskegee Institute, back over to Union Springs and even into Troy.

Troy State University, I don't know if classes in session, but you have a lot of people there and they certainly need to take -- take caution.

Also, Tuscaloosa, Alabama -- from Dreamland back out to about I- 20 in the main strip in Tuscaloosa, you're going to be dealing with large hail.

On radar, Wolf, we were able to estimate some hail possibly up to three inches in diameter. That's -- that's huge hail. That indicates strong updrafts from these storms, really a testament to how powerful these things have been.

And these rotating storms, you'll notice that you have just not one, but you have one up near Adamsville, one just to the west of Hueytown, one north of Tuscaloosa and yet another one.

So the training effect means we're going to be seeing not only these strong storms, but also potential flooding. It's a big mess -- back to you.

BLITZER: All right.

And it's not over with, as you say, by any means, Reynolds.

WOLF: No doubt.

BLITZER: Thank you.

Reynolds mentioned Jamie McIntyre, our senior Pentagon correspondent, was covering a story not far away from Enterprise, which has been badly hit by this tornado.

Jamie is in Enterprise right now -- paint a picture for us, Jamie, what you see.

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SENIOR PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, we're making our way to the scene of the high school where the -- there's been the most significant devastation. And, you know, as we drove in, we could see the evidence of what was going on.

The lights were out. Police were directing traffic.

And excuse me, Wolf, while I'm talking to you, because I'm going to actually get out of the car and direct a little traffic here so we can get a little closer to the scene.

But the -- by all accts, the devastation at the high school was just terrible. And there have been several fatalities.

Hold on, sir. If you could go ahead and go.

If you could just hold up here. Sorry. I'm just actually directing our CNN vehicle in so we can get a little closer to the scene.

And it's really heartbreaking for this small town in southeastern Alabama to have this tornado really, apparently, just divide the high school. And we're driving down the road now to where the school is located and we'll try to take a firsthand look at how -- how things look -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jamie, once you get there, we'll bring you back here on the air.

Jamie McIntyre is on the scene for us in Enterprise, Alabama.

That part of Alabama -- in fact, large parts of the country right now facing this very serious storm. Tornados in Missouri and Alabama, elsewhere.

We're going to stay on top of this severe weather story here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Also, other news we're following today, Jack Cafferty has the day off.

Coming up, we'll have more on this top story, the deadly weather in the Southeast. We're monitoring the storms. We'll go there live -- the destruction. Clearly there has been some serious destruction, lives lost already.

Plus, the judge in the "Scooter" Libby CIA leak trial holding an open hearing only moments from now. This as jury in the case now in its seventh day of deliberations. Brian Todd will attend the hearing. We'll have the latest on this developing story, what they've got. We're going to go to the courtroom shortly.

But up next, President Bush is back in the Gulf Coast a year-and- a-half after Hurricane Katrina. We're going to go live to New Orleans. It's the first time the president has visited the Gulf Coast Region in six months.

Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: President Bush is in New Orleans right now to get a progress report on hurricane recovery a year-and-a-half after the Katrina catastrophe. He's expected to speak shortly.

This is Mr. Bush's 14th visit to the Gulf Coast since the monster storm hit, but it's his first trip back in six months.

Many New Orleans residents complain rebuilding has been painfully slow and that much of the city remains in ruins. And local leaders still are grumbling that Katrina recovery didn't rate a mention in the president's State of the Union Address. The president's coordinator for Gulf Coast recovery notes that Congress has approved $110 billion in relief aid to the region. He says about half of that money has been spent.

Our Gulf Coast correspondent, Susan Roesgen, is covering the president's visit to the region today.

She's joining us now live from New Orleans.

What's the latest?

The president hasn't started speaking yet, has he -- Susan?


He's apparently at this school now, a good school here in New Orleans, taking a tour. We expect that he will probably say something about that fatal tornado that you mentioned. I'm sure he's been briefed on it.

But the real purpose of this trip, as you mentioned, is to talk about Gulf Coast recovery. And today he got to see some of that recovery along the coast in Mississippi.

This is what the president could have seen from the window in his motorcade in the Long Beach area -- miles of beachfront property, some of it still damaged, but some if it fixed up by homeowners who have received some of that federal money.


GEORGE BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Part of the reason that I've come down is to tell the people here on the Gulf Coast that we still think about them in Washington and that we listen to the governor when he speaks.

The other reason I've come down is I want the taxpayers of the United States to see firsthand what their money has done to help revitalize a series of communities that were literally wiped out because of a major storm.

It's -- this is a hopeful day. There's obviously a lot more work to be done. You can see vacant lots where there's going to be new building.


ROESGEN: The president also pointed out that it's the federal government's job to write the checks, but he says that it's the responsibility of state and local officials to make sure the federal money gets to the people who need it.

And, as you mentioned, Wolf, of that $110 billion that's been promised, less than half has actually gotten to people who need it. And that points to the bureaucratic tie-up, some of it at the state level here in Louisiana, that has just stopped the money from flowing, even 18 months after the hurricane -- Wolf.

BLITZER: What's the most important thing a lot of the residents in the Gulf Coast, Susan, want to hear from the president? Is he there with major new announcements, additional assistance? Is he there with some specific grants that he's about to unveil?

ROESGEN: Well, that would be the hope, Wolf. But I think mostly he's going to say what he said at lunch today in New Orleans, which is I fully understand the frustrations of people in New Orleans.

But he stuck to the same line -- look, we are writing the checks and we're trying to find out why the money hasn't gotten to people who need it.

The big issue here, Wolf, for so many people is still housing. Tens of thousands of people in the New Orleans area alone are still not in their homes because they just aren't getting the federal money that's been promised.

BLITZER: Susan, stick around.

We're going to come back to you shortly and we're going to watch the president's remarks, as well.

We're also watching devastation not very far away from where the president is right now, in parts of the Southern states in the United States. Storms in Alabama. There are deaths already reported there and in Missouri. We're watching these tornados. Serious storms in major parts of the country.

Our Jamie McIntyre is in -- is on the scene for us in Alabama. We're getting fresh video in, as well. And we're going to update you on what's going on.

Also, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney takes some new shots at his rivals. We're following all the presidential candidates on the trail and on the offensive right now.

And harsh words aimed squarely at Senator Hillary Clinton. We'll tell you what the nasty exchange might say about the presidential race.

Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


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

Happening now, the shoe drops on the man in charge of the U.S. Army's top medical center. This just days after stunning revelations that U.S. war veterans were being treated in facilities with moldy walls, holes in the walls and other deplorable conditions. We're going to tell you who's been fired.

Also, it happened with Iraq.

But might it also have happened with North Korea? Did the U.S. government rely on bad intelligence regarding Pyongyang?

We have some startling new revelations. We're on top of this story.

And it appears there will be no more Mr. Nice Guy. Newt Gingrich has previously praised Hillary Rodham Clinton, but now he reportedly calls her, and I'm quoting, "a nasty woman with an endlessly ruthless campaign machine."

Is Gingrich talking more like a possible presidential candidate?

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM -- all that coming up.

But let's update you now on those deadly storms in the southern part of the country, as well as in the Midwest.

Let's go live to Reynolds Wolf at our CNN Severe Weather Center for the latest.

Reynolds, for our viewers who are just tuning in right now, give us the big picture. What is happening around the country right now?

WOLF: Well, let's give you the big picture around the country.

What we have is, we have got a storm system that is stretching from the Twin Cities, back through the western half of the Great Lakes, through the Ohio Valley, and into the Southeastern United States.

And, right now, the most, I guess you could say, tumultuous part is now moving through Alabama. We have already had a large -- actually, a long-track tornado move through parts of south Alabama, starting off in Enterprise, Alabama, now moving into Georgia.

And now the strongest cells we are see forming just to the west of Birmingham, Alabama. I want to show you these very quickly. We are going to zoom in on a couple of areas, mainly west of Gardendale, north of Tuscaloosa -- these -- this storm system producing not only possible tornadoes, but also very large hail.

We had some estimates, at least Doppler radar estimates, that some of these hail storms could be up to three inches in diameter. This is big stuff. It is moving to the northeast at this time, expected to hug right along the I-20 corridor in places like Hueytown, Bessemer, over to Homewood and Hoover.

You don't have any tornado warnings just yet, but you really need to go ahead and start taking cover. From Sloss Furnace, back over to Red Mountain, to Legion Field, places like Mountain Brook and even Brookwood, you definitely want to go ahead and get to the lowest floor of your house, away from windows, certainly would be the best thing you can possibly do, because this entire wall of rough weather is moving your direction.

Now, earlier today, Wolf, the big story that we had was with the cluster of storms mainly in south Alabama, near Enterprise. Now, Enterprise in the clear, but now, south of Montgomery, we have got a couple of spots where we have very, very severe weather, a couple tornado warnings weather in effect, mainly south of the I-85 corridor. In Pike County, near Troy State University, we also have, again, a rotating thunderstorm.

No visual confirmation on many of these, just Doppler-indicated that there is some rotation -- and to give people advance warning, they don't wait for the visual confirmation. If the storm is rotating, they go ahead and they -- they fire off the -- the tornado warning.

We're also seeing much of this now cross from Alabama into Georgia. And places like Atlanta, right now, not a whole lot of activity, but we are expecting more of these storms to shift their way along the 85 corridor, back up towards Peachtree City, places like Thomaston, back over to Warner Robins, even Macon, as we make our way through the evening.

That's the big picture. We have also been able to pinpoint some of the places where it's really heavy. And it's going to continue through the evening, and possibly in the overnight hours.

BLITZER: Because we're...

WOLF: Back to you, Wolf.

BLITZER: We're looking at these pictures of Atlanta, where you are right now. And you say not much activity. It looks dark. It looks very, very ominous in Atlanta.

WOLF: Everything -- yes. It -- it's -- you have got to -- you have got to compare, though. I mean, up here, sure. On any other day, any given day in Atlanta, sure, it's dark. It's ominous. But, farther to the south, it puts things into perspective, doesn't it, especially what we have seen near Montgomery, southwest into Enterprise, Ozark, even in Eufaula.

So, it could get a lot worse, definitely, as the hours wear on.

BLITZER: All right, Reynolds, stand by, because we are going to stay on top of this story, as well. We will get updates as we get them.

Let's move on to some other news we're following.

Is he the Republican other Republicans love to love or love to berate? That depends on whom you ask. One day after Senator John McCain announced his presidential intentions, there is renewed scrutiny at his unique type of conservatism.

Our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider, is joining us with more on this -- Bill.

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Wolf, John McCain and conservatives, it's been an on-again/off-again affair. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER (voice-over): It wasn't so much what John McCain said.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: I am announcing that I will be a candidate for president of the United States.



SCHNEIDER: It's where he said it, on "The Late Show With David Letterman." McCain seemed to be saying: I'm still a maverick, just like in 2000. But is he?

McCain has repaired his relationship with President Bush. He is showcasing his conservative credentials.

MCCAIN: I have always been in favor of overturning Roe v. Wade.

SCHNEIDER: Then, why is McCain the only major Republican candidate who rejected an invitation to speak to CPAC, the Conservative Political Action Conference, this week in Washington?

Conservative activists feel dissed.

DAVID KEENE, CHAIRMAN, AMERICAN CONSERVATIVE UNION: This is saying to these 6,000 people at least, and whatever they may represent: You know, you're really not somebody that I have to pay attention to.

SCHNEIDER: McCain may be trying to have it both ways: mending fences with conservatives, while not getting too close to them. After all, President Bush and the Iraq war are not popular right now.

But here's a surprise. You hear a lot of criticism of President Bush and the Iraq war among conservative activists.

KEENE: There is a split in the movement, as there is in the American public, as to what should be our proper position vis-a-vis the Iraq war.

SCHNEIDER: So, is any 2008 candidate making headway with conservatives? Here's another surprise: Rudy Giuliani. The pro- choice, pro-gay rights former New York City mayor? Yes, him.

GROVER NORQUIST, PRESIDENT, AMERICANS FOR TAX REFORM: He is not as liberal on issues as people assumed because he was from New York. And, as people learn where he is on judges, where he is on some of these other issues, people are: Oh. Well, that's not so bad.


SCHNEIDER: If McCain has moved closer to the Republican Party and closer to President Bush, he could discover that he may not score many points with conservatives -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thank you for that, Bill Schneider, for us.

Up next: The two faces of Rudy Giuliani, 9/11 hero and social moderate, will those dueling images make or break his presidential campaign?

Also, we are watching the storms in large parts of the United States right now. In Alabama, the tornado is already deadly -- in Missouri as well. They're moving towards Georgia right now. We will stay on top of this story.

We will be right back.


BLITZER: Horrible storms affecting big parts of the United States right now, especially in Alabama.

Our senior Pentagon correspondent, Jamie McIntyre, was on assignment elsewhere in Alabama just a little while ago, but he made his way to Enterprise, a small town which has been very badly hurt as a result of these tornadoes.

Jamie, you're there in the middle of Enterprise right now. Tell our viewers what you see.

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SENIOR PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, it's -- it's about as bad as you can imagine.

It was -- as we walked towards the high school here in Enterprise, we began to get a scope of the damage, as we could see houses actually gone, rows of trees that were snapped about halfway up.

And, then, when we finally got to the high school, we could see -- it looks like it's been cut in half by this tornado. There have been a number of fatalities here. In fact, I talked to one bystander, who said he was among the first on the scene. He identified himself as Joe Sinclair (ph).

He said he personally carried the bodies of two young girls out of the high school before some of the rescuers got there to try to sift through the rubble.

I have to tell you, Wolf, you know, if you have any doubt about the power of these kinds of tornadoes, you just have to look around here and see the number of cars that were tossed around, the -- the buildings that are gone, the holes in the roof.

Most of the kids who were in this school have been evacuated to a church right across the street, the Hillcrest Baptist Church. That's where family members are gathering now.

But we're still seeing rescue vehicles come up. And we're seeing Army or military helicopters from the nearby Fort Rucker, as you -- as you know, is a helicopter training base. They have what they call the FLATIRON unit, which is a rescue unit. They have got three Huey helicopters standing by on the athletic field ready to take people away.

But, at the moment, they apparently have no one to take away. It's -- as I just look across the panorama, it's just a scene of utter destruction. No building in this immediate area seems to be unscathed. And some of the buildings that were here are gone. They're mostly brick houses, some churches, and other buildings as well.

So, Wolf, you know, just imagine your worst scene of devastation, and this is it.

BLITZER: And that high school where those kids were killed by these tornadoes, what does it look like now, Jamie?

MCINTYRE: I'm sorry? What -- what does what look like now?

BLITZER: The actual -- the actual high school that was ripped apart.

MCINTYRE: Well, you know, it's hard to see exactly.

You can see two ends of the high school, but the middle of the high school just seems to be gone. It's a twisted wreckage of -- of metal and brick and insulation. I'm looking at right now what was -- what had a sign over it called "Auto Mechanics." It looks like four bays where they had had cars that the students would have been working on.

A pipe is spraying water. You know, there's -- it's just twisted wreckage. You can barely see that there was a building there. So, the ends of the school seem to be relatively intact, but with big holes in the roof. But the middle of the structure -- and this was a sprawling brick high school -- the middle is simply a mass of twisted wreckage.

BLITZER: All right, Jamie, stand by. We're going to get back to you soon.

We are also awaiting the first video to come to us from Enterprise, Alabama. We're going to bring that to you as soon as it -- it gets here to THE SITUATION ROOM. We're watching these horrible storms and the devastation, deadly storms in major parts of the country right now.

Also coming up, more political news -- The two faces of Rudy Giuliani, 9/11 hero and social moderate, will those dueling images make or break his presidential campaign?

Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: For a lot of voters out there, apparently, there is something about Rudy Giuliani. He's a Republican who supports abortion rights and gay rights. But he's also admired for his strong stands against terrorism, and other national security issues.

Let's get a little bit more on Rudy Giuliani's unique problems and his appeal.

Our senior analyst, Jeff Greenfield, is joining us from New York.

You have spent a lot of time watching Rudy Giuliani as the former mayor of New York over the years. Jeff, why does this guy who supports abortion rights for women do so well among registered Republicans and independents who lean Republican?

JEFF GREENFIELD, CNN SENIOR ANALYST: Well, the short answer, obviously, is September 11.

But I think there's more to it than just the fact that he performed heroically, admirably, in the hours and days after 9/11. It gave him a stature that, otherwise, mayors don't have. Mayors almost never get to be presidents. I mean, they never do it directly, because it's considered too small a job. The mayor is the guy that fills the potholes in the streets and picks up the garbage.

But, after September 11, Giuliani was seen as the guy that stood -- stood up to al Qaeda. It gave him an international stature. Whether that is rational or not, he is seen as a much more global figure than just the mayor of the city of New York.

BLITZER: What about the fact that he's from New York, which is not necessarily always seen as a hotbed of Republican or conservative activism? What does that say?


GREENFIELD: Well, that's an understatement, Wolf.

But two things have radically changed. The first was that -- that the -- the attacks of September 11 made New York, if I can put it -- I think I can put it this way -- more a part of America. Some Americans west of the Hudson see it as a different place.

But this was an attack on the United States that took place in New York. It made New York a much more sympathetic place. The Republicans, after all, for the first time in their history, held their national convention in New York, partly to gain political support, but also to show sympathy.

The second thing is, it's kind of a -- of a judo effect. Instead of being hurt by the fact that he's from New York, Rudy Giuliani's argument, if you buy it, is: Look, I brought conservative principles on crime and taxes and welfare into ground zero of the American liberal Democratic big city, and we turned the city around. And, by the way, Republicans, we have had four straight terms of Republican governors -- I mean -- I'm sorry -- Republican mayors.

So, in effect, he can say: You want leadership? And, by the way, it's a subtle way of saying: If you're not that happy with fellow Republican George Bush, because of Katrina and Iraq, the other senators who talk, I'm not a talker. I turned New York around with ideas that you like. And that is more important than what I think about on social issues.

I think that's the argument you're going to hear more frequently as the months go on.

BLITZER: Jeff Greenfield, watching Rudy Giuliani. We will be doing a lot of that in the coming weeks and months. Jeff, thanks very much.


BLITZER: I want to get back to our top story, the devastation, the horrible tornadoes, the storm system that is wreaking a lot of havoc and damage throughout major parts of the country.

You're looking at these pictures we're just getting in now from Alabama. Take a look at this destruction. I'm not exactly sure what town this is in right now, but we know, in Enterprise, Alabama, that school -- and that may be the school in Enterprise, Alabama.

Actually, these are live pictures coming in from Enterprise, we're told, right now. Jamie McIntyre, our senior Pentagon correspondent, happened to be covering a story at nearby Fort Rucker in Alabama, but he's there on the scene in Enterprise.

Look at those cars simply stacked on top of each other. A big tornado like this, it can lift up those cars and simply throw them around, as if they're nothing.

And you see -- you see these live pictures coming in from Enterprise, Alabama. That school, that high school, in Alabama did result in fatalities, we're told from Jamie McIntyre earlier.

As a tornado rips through these kinds of -- these -- these areas, it simply destroys everything, everything in sight.

Reynolds Wolf, our meteorologist, is at the CNN Severe Weather Center.

They are getting ready in Georgia, not far from you in Alabama, for some very severe weather as well.

As you see these pictures, Reynolds, talk a little bit about this destruction, this capability of these tornadoes.

WOLF: Oh, I mean, they are the strongest storms on the planet.

I mean, the -- the winds you have from these tornadoes can be far more -- much more powerful than what you have in a hurricane. And you see the devastation right there. That is in Dale County. And, again, what a huge story that has been -- these storms just ripping through that -- parts of south central Alabama. And you see just the widespread devastation, these trees just snapped apart, a lot of root damage, damage to the stadium, a lot of -- a lot of cars flipped over. It's been just quite a barrage that we have seen from Mother Nature.

Now, I would like to take you back to our weather maps. We have got another possible tornado that is forming now in northeastern Alabama -- rather, northwestern Alabama, near Tuscaloosa.

Well, if we can, let's try to come back to me with our radar. We have got this, folks, that just popped in. This is just north of Tuscaloosa. And the latest we have, Wolf, is the Weather Service Doppler radar continues to indicate a severe thunderstorm, large rotation.

This is a possible large tornado near Tuscaloosa Airport, moving to the northeast at 60 miles an hour. We're now getting something in. It just came in.

Thank you very much, Brian (ph).

Now, this just came in. We now have confirmed damage in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, from this. This is the tornado right there, just the very tip of this, the southern half of the storm, the southeastern corner, western corner of the storm, if you will. That is the tornado itself. Here is Tuscaloosa. Here is Northport -- this moving off to the northeast.

I must remind you, this storm is going to be heading right along parts of the I-20 corridor, moving into Birmingham, Alabama. And, in Birmingham, you see farther here to the east and northeast, a lot of people here in Birmingham, a lot of people over in Graysville, as well as Hueytown.

If you happen to be in the center of Alabama, in the Birmingham area, perhaps in Graysville, even if your -- your community is not under a tornado warning at this time, you certainly want to take action, take cover. This is not the time to go out and about.

Now, Wolf, we are going to be seeing more of these storms, this kind of intensity pop up through the late evening hours, overnight possibly. It should be fizzling out, as much of this carries on into Georgia and the Carolinas through the early morning hours.

That's the latest we have for you. Let's send it back to you in Washington.

BLITZER: All right. We are going to stay on top of this story, Reynolds. Don't go very far away, because I know this storm is far from over right now.

And it's moving north, as Reynolds said earlier, from Alabama, into Georgia -- people in Georgia obviously watching this very closely as well.

We will stick on this story. We're watching other important news, including John McCain's new presidential campaign stumble, as some are calling it. Will his remark about wasted lives make the Iraq war a bigger handicap for him?

Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: We have got some live pictures we're showing you right now from Enterprise, Alabama. This is a town in Alabama severely, severely damaged as a result of this tornado that ripped through the small town. We know there are fatalities at a local high school -- a lot more on this coming up in a few moments.

Let's get to today's "Strategy Session," though, first.

Some Democrats are suggesting Republican John McCain watch what he says -- this after McCain said the lives of American troops killed in Iraq had been -- quote -- "wasted." McCain says he regrets his choice of words. Some Democrats, though, want a full-scale apology.

Joining us now, radio talk show host Bill Press and CNN political analyst Bay Buchanan, also president of American Cause.

He said on "The Tonight Show" -- on the "Letterman" show last night that -- he used the word wasted. He said today he meant to use the word sacrificed.

Given John McCain's record on military matters, the fact that he himself is war hero, is this -- is this over with right now, or is there legs to this uproar?

BILL PRESS, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: Wolf, I don't think you can question John McCain's patriotism or support of the troops. And, frankly, I don't think Barack Obama should have apologized for that word. I don't think John McCain should either.

I don't think "wasted," last time I checked, is not a four-letter word. And I believe that to send an American today, young man or woman over there, to die on the cause of whether the Shiites or the Sunnis end up winning the civil war in Iraq is to waste a life and is to waste American resources.

But I think McCain' problem is, he is trying to have it both ways. He is saying he is for the war. Well, if he is so much for the war, then why is he sending more lives over there, to use his word, to be wasted? I think that is McCain's problem.

BLITZER: What do you think, Bay?


The fact that he is a military hero makes it a worse mistake, because he has such credentials just to be able to analyze and -- and explain to these people who have lost loved ones or who have loved ones over there that this war is serious. And to call it wasted, I think he, obviously, feels terrible about it. It was clearly a mistake.

But I think it's one that is very, very damaging and cuts deeper than if someone else had said it who doesn't have the kind of credentials he has.

BLITZER: Is -- is McCain -- why is McCain -- explain this to me -- unacceptable to so many social conservatives, people on the right?

BUCHANAN: Well, because he has flipped on the issues. He is -- he is not someone we can trust.

And -- and he has spoken out and been very supportive of our issues. And, then, when it comes down to a real tough time, like the judges -- we had an opportunity there, where we were going to be able to get all the judges George Bush wanted, which are good social conservative type -- well, ones that social conservatives would have supported. And he stepped in, with the gang of 14, and stopped that from happening.

That broke our hearts, to be quite honest.

BLITZER: Giuliani is doing really well, almost twice as well in this -- some of these recent polls, than McCain is doing. How worried should Democrats be that Republicans will nominate Rudy Giuliani? Given his track record in New York, potentially, he could be viable in New York state.

PRESS: I think he would be a very powerful candidate, Wolf.

And I think that is why Republicans, frankly -- Bay must feel this, too -- it seems to me, the Republican Party has decided to throw social conservatives overboard, because, if you look at the top three, either McCain or Giuliani or Romney, there is not a real, true social conservative among them.

They have got one issue going, they believe, I think, security. Jeff's report just showed Rudy is strong on security. And I think they are willing to overlook all the other stuff.

BLITZER: Very quickly.


BUCHANAN: No, they're not.

The conservatives are still looking there. And the undecided field, when you see these polls, and they look like Giuliani is high, so-and-so is high, those are name recognition.

The vote from conservatives is extremely soft, easy to move. If you get a strong conservative, they will be able to pick it up.

BLITZER: We have got to leave it there. We have got horrible tornadoes...

BUCHANAN: We sure do. BLITZER: ... that's causing a lot of damage.

Guys, thanks very much for coming in.

Much -- we will have much more on the breaking news we're following out of the South, these deadly tornadoes hammering parts of Alabama. They're moving north, towards Georgia.

We're going to have an update on the storms, the path, the devastation, when we come back.



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