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THE SITUATION ROOM

Walter Reed Horrors: Smoking Gun?; Giuliani Courts Conservatives; Deadly Friday in Iraq

Aired March 2, 2007 - 17:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Happening now, the National Guard stretched to the breaking point. A new report warning that the war on terror is taking a serious toll on terror is taking a seriously toll on units already overworked, lacking gear and ill-equipped to handle disasters here at home.

Also, major new developments in the growing scandal over deplorable conditions at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center here in Washington. The secretary of the Army now stepping down and a possible smoking gun emerging in Congress.

And double disasters in the South -- a bus carrying a college baseball team plunging off an Atlanta freeway overpass, killing six people just hours after the tornadoes killed at least 20 people in three states.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

First, the breaking news this hour. Fresh fallout from the scandal over poor conditions over at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center. More heads rolling right now.

The defense secretary, Robert Gates, announcing just about an hour ago that the Army secretary, Dr. Francis Harvey, is resigning.

Let's go straight to CNN's Kathleen Koch.

she's joining us at the Pentagon with more.

There are startling developments involving this horrendous condition at the Walter Reed Hospital -- Kathleen.

KATHLEEN KOCH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And it was a very stunning announcement from a very angry defense secretary. Again, announcing that Francis Harvey was going to be resigning effective immediately.

And a senior Pentagon official, speaking on condition of anonymity, explained to me that this decision came because the defense secretary was displeased with the announcement yesterday that after the head of Walter Reed was removed, Major General George Weightman, he would be replaced by Army Surgeon General Kevin Kiley. Numerous family members, veterans and veterans organizations had pointed out Kiley had been in charge of Walter Reed four times as long as Weightman had. Many of them said they had pointed out to Kiley these very problems that Weightman was being held responsible for and they felt he was not a good choice.

So, again, that is one of the reasons, I am told, that the defense secretary did go ahead and ask Harvey to step down.

The taking the role now of head of Walter Reed will be Major General Eric Schumacher. Right now, he is chief of U.S. Army medical research and material commander at Fort Dietrich, Maryland. He is the brother of the Army chief of staff, Pete Schumacher, who recently resigned -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Kathleen, we're going to have a lot more on this story coming up.

We'll also be speaking with former Senator Max Cleland, who is directly involved in what's going on over there. He's been watching the situation at Walter Reed for a long time, specifically since he came back from the war in Vietnam.

Moving on to other news we're following, over stretched, over worked, dangerously thin and seriously ill-equipped -- a new report warning the war on terror and recent disasters have left the National Guard in an unsustainable situation, one that's likely to deteriorate unless something is done and done soon.

Let's turn to CNN's Brian Todd.

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

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the man behind this report says nearly 90 percent of the National Guard units stationed right here in the U.S. are not ready for a hurricane or terrorist attack. And much of that stfl is pinned squarely on deployments overseas.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

TODD (voice-over): In combat, they look, talk and fight like active duty soldiers. But many of these front line fighters are supposed to be part-timers, now pushed into a category the Pentagon calls "operational reserves."

MAJ. GEN. ARNOLD PUNARO (RET.), COMMISSION ON NATIONAL GUARD & RESERVES: It's a predominantly part-time force, but it is being used on a day to day basis. And those that are not being used need to be ready to be used on a day to day basis.

TODD: From a commission led by Retired Marine General Arnold Punaro, a sobering picture of a National Guard stretched thin at home because it's stretched to capacity in Iraq and Afghanistan.

A National Guard official tells CNN more than a third of the total U.S. force now in Iraq and Afghanistan is made up of Guardsmen and Reserves. Many of them have been deployed in combat zones repeatedly.

BRIG. GEN. JAMES MARKS (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: What previously existed is a National Guard or a Reserve unit had up to five years, and within that five year period, you'd generally see one deployment.

What has happened is the Army has gone back and said those rules were much too restrictive. We need to have access to those units more frequently and get them back into combat.

TODD: What does that mean for Guard units back home if they're needed after a natural disaster or terrorist attack?

PUNARO: Eighty-eight percent of those units are not ready due to equipment deficiencies.

TODD: Top Pentagon officials say it's just not practical to transport equipment back and forth overseas to make sure Guard units at home are fully stocked. And Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Army and Guard commanders told him this recently about Guard units in hurricane vulnerable states.

ROBERT GATES, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: And the Guard in those states had 100 percent of the equipment they need in order to be able to respond in the event of a disaster.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

TODD: But manpower may be another matter. General Punaro says fewer service members are willing to go into the Guard or Reserves once they leave active duty, concerned they'll be sent right back into combat. A Guard official told us today, four more brigade sized Guard units, at least 3,000 soldiers each, may soon be deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan and one Guard brigade now in Iraq has just been extended for up to four months -- Wolf.

BLITZER: A very worrisome situation.

Thank you, Brian.

And all of this could have a huge and very direct impact on you if a disaster were to hit your area.

Let's go back to Kathleen Koch at the Pentagon for this part of the story -- Kathleen.

KOCH: Wolf, you know, that report that Brian mentioned, its findings really don't come as a surprise to many local and state officials. They realize that with the National Guard and the Reserves, so many of them over extended, deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan, that there is just no way that they could be really truly ready to handle disasters here at home.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

KOCH (voice-over): They're supposed to respond in the wake of deadly natural disasters like the tornadoes that just swept through the Southeast, to other incidents, like terrorist strikes and nuclear accidents.

But a new report has found 88 percent of National Guard units are so short on equipment they're not ready to do their jobs.

PUNARO: The equipment readiness of our Guard and Reserve today is totally unacceptable.

KOCH: The Commission on the National Guard and Reserves found more is being asked of the Guard and Reserve than ever before, but funding and equipment isn't keeping pace. A shortage of high water vehicles to evacuate citizens has left the Guard in Louisiana unprepared to face another Hurricane Katrina.

LT. COL. PETE SCHNEIDER, LOUISIANA NATIONAL GUARD: No, absolutely not. You know, Katrina, a catastrophic event by its nature, completely overwhelmed the state resources and the local resources. We are down on equipment. We need to be fully equipped.

KOCH: The Virginia National Guard, too, has a long list of shortfalls.

COL. ROBERT H. SIMPSON, VIRGINIA NATIONAL GUARD: Wheeled vehicles, generators, nigh vision goggles, radios, some engineering equipment. Those are the things that we use in almost every kind of disaster.

KOCH: Colonel Robert Simpson says the deficit leaves his forces unable to respond adequately to a major chemical, biological or nuclear incident in the nation's capital.

SIMPSON: In a major disaster, that's correct. We could not. We would need the help from our sister states.

KOCH: Some lawmakers believe it's time the National Guard was made a member of the joint chiefs of staff.

SEN. PATRICK LEAHY (D), VERMONT: This way, they could say, yes, we're ready to go.

Where's our share of the equipment?

And that's not a -- that's not a turf thing, that's a life and death.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

KOCH: The report authors warned that if major changes aren't made soon, that the ability of the National Guard and Reserves to do their job will continue to deteriorate and American citizens, Wolf, will continue to be at greater risk.

BLITZER: Kathleen Koch following two important stories for us today.

Thanks for the double duty, Kathleen, over at the Pentagon.

KOCH: You bet.

BLITZER: Now to the aftermath of that deadly weather system that swept across the Southeast. Right now in Georgia and Alabama, they're mourning the dead while searching for more possible victims after tornadoes flattened buildings, ripped trees from their roots and tossed around cars. Ten are dead in Alabama, nine in Georgia, one in Missouri.

Today, President Bush commented on the tragedy.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Tomorrow I'm going down to Georgia and Alabama. I go down with a heavy heart. I go down knowing full well that I'll be seeing people whose lives were turned upside down by the tornadoes. I'll do my very best to comfort them. I ask our nation, for those who are prayerful, to give a prayer for the victims of the storms and -- and ask for the blessings that can come upon people and the comfort necessary to deal with the recent tragedy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Nature's unimaginable wrath hit Enterprise, Alabama very, very hard.

Our Gulf Coast correspondent, Susan Roesgen, is there for us with more -- Susan.

SUSAN ROESGEN, GULF COAST CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the National Weather Service believes that the tornado that his this high school had winds of 150 miles an hour. But in the tragedy here is the story of a hero.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

ROESGEN (voice-over): Tim Jackson is a parent who is both proud and grieving, grieving because his son A.J. was one of the eight students who died. But proud because he knows his son saved another student's life.

TIM JACKSON, FATHER: One of the rescuers, one of the guys that was there had said that A.J. had kept a concrete beam from falling on a girl to save her life and that she survived. I don't know who the girl is, but that sounds just like A.J. With a smile on his face, he would do it again.

ROESGEN: The students were huddled in the hallways when the tornado struck and A.J. a 16-year-old junior, made a split second decision.

MARK SHELDON, RESCUER: He was in where the walls were collapsing and he held -- basically jumped, got himself in front of the wall before it landed on her. And unfortunately the walls landed on him. And she slid out of the way. So she could get to safety, and we dragged her out of the building and then went back in and got more.

JACKSON: He's in a better place.

ROESGEN: Tim Jackson spent the day making funeral arrangements. His son was a school cheerleader.

JACKSON: He was a wonderful, wonderful young man. And he's in a better place. And he's up there in heaven doing stunts right now. And I can't wait until I get up there to see him again.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

ROESGEN: Wolf, you mentioned the National Guard earlier. There are 150 National Guard troops here tonight, securing the area. And the commander of this particular unit says he has experience in this kind of thing. His last mission was in Hurricane Katrina -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Our heart goes out to all the families of these devastated, devastated communities.

Thanks, Susan, for that.

Jack Cafferty is off today.

Up ahead here in THE SITUATION ROOM, shock and grief after a bus carrying a college baseball team takes the deadly plunge.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

A.J. RAMTHUN, BLUFFTON BASEBALL PLAYER: This is something that's not going to leave the guys who were on that bus this morning. This is going to be with us forever.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Coming up, the latest on the accident and the injured and what went so awfully wrong.

Also, more heads rolling in the growing scandal of deplorable conditions at the Army's top medical facility. I'll talk about it with former Senator Max Cleland, himself a former patient at Walter Reed.

And White House hopeful Rudy Giuliani now courting conservatives here in Washington. You might be surprised at the reception he's receiving.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: So what caused this awful tragedy?

Right now, officials in Atlanta are studying what happened after a bus full of college baseball players from Ohio on a road trip plunged off a highway ramp to an Interstate below. The crash literally shocked some of the players from their sleep. And in the nightmarish aftermath, people trapped in the twisted wreckage crying out for help. Rescuers trying to save them. Six people are dead, 29 people are hurt.

Our Chad Myers is at the CNN Center in Atlanta with more on what we know -- Chad.

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Wolf, behind me, what you're seeing here on the right, I-75 southbound. This is the northbound side. I-75 in Atlanta has an HOV lane -- high occupancy vehicle lane. It's the left most lane, like where that car is right here in this file picture.

Now, up until this point, all of the exits for 75 southbound have been on the right side. So you have to get over, get over, get over and then exit.

This is the very first exit where there is an exit to the left. The bus driver accidentally stayed to the left of that barrier, ran up the exit ramp here. Rather than being under the bridge and driving down the HOV lane into Atlanta, he rode up the bridge, and at this point saw a small stop sign right there. And at that point had nowhere to go, couldn't turn left, couldn't turn right and couldn't stop in time, before this bus went over the bridge and onto the roadway below -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Chad.

What a tragedy, a tragedy, indeed.

Our chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, in addition to working here at CNN, is also a neurosurgeon, among other things, over Atlanta -- at Atlanta's Grady Hospital.

He's joining us from there right now -- Sanjay, what happens at an emergency room at a hospital like the one you're at right now, when there's a sudden arrival of a large number of patients?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, there's a lot of pieces that come into place all at once, Wolf.

First of all, you have, obviously, the paramedics on the scene who are immediately trying to evaluate the situation, determining how many people are critically injured, how many people need to come straight to the hospital and get C.T. scans and be in the operating room. Those are decisions made pretty quickly.

Immediately, as they're putting patients on ambulances, radioing back to the hospital, which is right behind me, and then bringing the patients here, communicating a patient's vital signs or blood pressure, their heart rate, their level of consciousness, of the injuries that they can see.

And as soon as they get through these doors over there, behind me, through those ambulance bays, they actually decide right away if they're going to put someone in a C.T. scanner and evaluate their brain, their chest, their abdomen, their pelvis.

My service, the neurosurgery service, is called, often, to help take care of some of those patients, as well.

It's a fast process, Wolf. You've heard several times, probably, that paramedics were on the scene within 10 minutes. They talk a lot about a golden hour. The real goal is to get all these parts moving as quickly as possible. It's like this organized chaos to get the patients treated as quickly as possible -- Wolf.

BLITZER: How does a hospital like Grady, where you are right now, Sanjay, also prepare for this kind of contingency?

They bring 20 or 30 badly injured people from a bus crash like this.

How do they get ready for something like this?

GUPTA: It's not easy, Wolf.

A lot of the hospitals, especially level one trauma centers like this, have built in reserve. And what you mean by that is they have trauma bays ready to go in the emergency room. Standing by, they have nurses available, doctors, trauma surgeons are always in the hospital, always on site here. Neurosurgeons and orthopedic surgeons are within 20 minutes. That's what qualifies it to be level one trauma center.

They also have an operating room standing by, again, with nurses ready to go, all the equipment open and ready to go. And perhaps sometimes most importantly, they have between 10 and 20 units of what's known as O negative blood. It's the blood that you can give anybody. It's the universal donor blood. They have that ready to be able to transfuse people.

Again, a lot of these decisions are getting made as a result of several different parts coming together. Paramedics constantly on the scene, radioing the doctors and saying we think this person is losing blood, have the blood ready to go. They're drawing blood as soon as patients get into the hospital, checking their labs and everything.

And it's a hospital that just keeps moving. Even as I was standing here, Wolf, an ambulance drove by again. There are other patients, other traumas they continue to take care of, in addition to the patients of this bus crash.

BLITZER: Sanjay Gupta reporting for us.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta.

He's also a neurosurgeon.

Sanjay, thanks very much for what you do.

GUPTA: Thank you.

BLITZER: Thank you. Coming up, replacing a billionaire -- how does Warren Buffett go about finding a successor for himself?

The answer might surprise you.

And an update on astronaut Lisa Nowak.

Will she face the charge of attempted murder?

We'll have an update on what's going on with -- involving this astronaut.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Carol Costello is monitoring all of the feeds coming into THE SITUATION ROOM.

She's checking the wires.

What's making news right now -- Carol?

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Wolf.

Hello to all of you.

Outrage is growing over comments from Japan's prime minister about World War II sex slaves. Speaking in Washington a short time ago, South Korea's foreign minister said anyone who doubts that the Japanese Army forced Asian women into prostitution should "face the truth."

Yesterday, Japan's prime minister said there is no proof of that. Lawmakers and women's groups in South Korea, China and the Philippines are condemning the remarks.

An airline worker in Nashville will be required to retake a security training course after helping former Vice President Al Gore bypass screeners. Airport officials say the American Airlines employee used her security badge to take Gore and two associates through a secure turnstile. When the breach was discovered, the three were required to pass through screening just like you and me.

A spokeswoman says the former vice president did not know any procedures were being violated by the worker.

Checking the bottom line, federal health officials are launching a review of children's cold and cough medicines. The FDA said today that the new probe was prompted by a citizens' petition. It follows a report from the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention which blamed the medications for overdoses in infants in 2004 and 2005.

All the major stock indices fell sharply today, ending the worst week for the markets in four years. The Dow Jones Industrial Average was down about 120 points, or 1 percent. On the week, blue chip stocks slipped 4 percent.

The S&P 500 Index also lost about 4 percent on the week, while the tech heavy Nasdaq was down almost 5 1/2 percent.

That's a look at the headlines right now -- Wolf.

BLITZER: It's a week a lot of investors would like to forget.

COSTELLO: Yes.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Carol, for that.

Coming up, Rudy Giuliani makes the tough sell to a room full of conservatives.

Did he convince them he's one of them?

We'll let you know what they're doing, how they're reacting to Rudy Giuliani.

And more heads rolling in the growing fiasco at the Walter Reed Medical Center here in Washington.

Are changes coming too little too late?

The former U.S. senator, Max Cleland, he's joining us live. We'll discuss this situation when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

Happening now, France reportedly warning attacking Iran would have a negative ripple effect. According to Reuters, the French prime minister, Dominic De Villepin, tells a London-based Arabic newspaper that a military strike against Iran would destabilize the region.

The U.S. government one step closer to building the first new nuclear weapon since the end of the cold war. Today, the Bush administration chose the design for new nuclear warheads. Officials stressing this is not the start of a new arms race. Instead, the new weapons would replace existing ones.

And get well soon hopes for Fidel Castro. Cuba's foreign minister says not only is the Cuban president doing well in his recovery from a stomach illness, but that Castro could be back soon to work. The official did not say when that might happen.

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

New developments and fresh fallout from the scandal over poor conditions at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

The defense secretary, Robert Gates, announcing just a little bit -- a little while ago -- that the Army secretary, Dr. Francis Harvey, is resigning, effectively fired, one day after the general in charge of Walter Reed also lost his job.

That comes as we learn of a warning some six months ago that the facility was heading for "mission failure."

Our Congressional correspondent, Andrea Koppel, is joining us now with more on what is going on -- Andrea.

ANDREA KOPPEL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And, Wolf, that warning coming from the commanding officer at Walter Reed, who, as you pointed out, was forced to resign his post, yesterday. And as Democrats are now issuing a subpoena to Major General George Weightman to come and testify on Capitol Hill.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KOPPEL (voice over): Just one day after the commanding general at Walter Reed was removed from his post, House Democrats released a possible smoking gun -- this internal memo from Major General George Weightman's deputy to the Army's medical command.

Dated September 2006, the memo describes how the Army's recent decision to privatize support services at Walter Reed had sparked a exodus of "highly skilled and experienced personnel." And as a result, Weightman's deputy warned that Walter Reed's "... base operations and patient care services are at risk of mission failure."

Democrats investigating the situation say the Army awarded the five- year, $120 million contract in January 2006. At that time, they claim Walter Reed had over 300 federal employees in support services. By February 2006, a year later, that number had dropped to under 60.

Democrats say the company that took over, IAP Worldwide Services, was among the companies that had problems delivering ice during FEMA's response to Hurricane Katrina. The CEO of IAP, Al Neffgen, is a former senior Halliburton official.

In a letter to General Weightman, Congressman Henry Waxman says it would be "reprehensible if the deplorable conditions (at Walter Reed) were caused or aggravated by an ideological commitment to privatize government services..." Even before news of this memo broke, Democrats were already calling for more heads to roll.

SEN. PATRICK LEAHY (D), VERMONT: We have the secretary of the V.A. come up here and say, all is doing well, we have all of these programs. Baloney. Baloney. The programs they have he would never accept for himself or his family.

We ought to be looking at a whole lot of people to be fired in this thing.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KOPPEL: Now, since Senator Leahy's remarks this afternoon, we know another head did roll. The Army's secretary abruptly resigned.

And Wolf, all of this before Congress gets under way with its hearings investigating Walter Reed next week -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Andrea. Thank you.

The former Democratic senator Max Cleland of Georgia knows Walter Reed Army Medical Center very, very well. He received extensive treatment for the injuries he suffered in Vietnam there. More recently, he's visited U.S. troops there recovering from injuries sustained in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Max Cleland joining us now from the CNN Center in Atlanta.

Senator, thanks very much for coming in.

Given your personal history, were you surprised by what is happening, what has happened over these past few weeks, what we're learning now about the Walter Reed Army Medical Center?

MAX CLELAND (D), FMR. U.S. SENATOR: Well, about a year ago, in my visits to Walter Reed, I came across an employee who said, "We are drowning in war." And I think in the words of W.C. Fields, the great comedian, we have to take the bull by the horn and face -- take the bull by the tail and face the situation. We've got to face the situation that there were two massive strategic errors that has produced this situation.

First, the commander in chief, the president, stood up three weeks into this war and said "Mission accomplished," "Major combat over." "Bring 'em on." That was an indication that neither he or his team really were planning for casualties, especially the size of casualties that we have now.

Secondly, that this administration signed off on closing Walter Reed. That meant -- that meant that they were going to be at the bottom of the list when it came to maintenance and repair. And now to see them privatizing key services, this has meant an attrition at Walter Reed for being able to do the job.

I don't blame the staff there. I blame the higher-ups that planned this war, a war with no end and with no real strategy to win. And they planned the whirlwind, and that's what we're seeing right now. We're reaping the whirlwind from the errors of the last three to four years.

BLITZER: You're referring to that base closure commission recommendation that Walter Reed be shut down. Clearly, they did not do that. But what you're saying is that because it was on that hit list, if you will, they didn't get the job, they didn't do the repair work, they didn't upgrade it and do the work they should have been doing.

CLELAND: Right. Exactly.

And I agree with Congressman Murtha, who says we need to take Walter Reed off that base closure list. It's not just another base. It's the mother ship of Army medicine in the world. And to see what's going on there breaks my heart. I came through there as a patient in '68. I know a lot of the problems there. But now, to have a thousand young men and women just out there in a holding company, not knowing which way they're going -- are they going back to Iraq, are they going to get disability, or what's going to happen to them? And to have those conditions that have been revealed, it's really frightening.

And the American people deserve better, these soldiers, servicemen and women deserve better. But, you know, firing a two-star general and firing maybe a three-star general, maybe the head of the Army, that's not going to get to it. And quitting (ph) three commissions in three weeks, that's not going to get to the heart of it.

The president of the United States has got to stand up and take responsibility for the troops, and the Congress has got to do the same and make sure they get the money to fix Walter Reed and the V.A. at the same time.

BLITZER: I want you to listen, Senator, to what the new defense secretary, Robert Gates, says about all of this.

Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERT GATES, DEFENSE SECRETARY: I think that certainly everybody in the Army -- and I believe everybody in the Department of Defense at this point -- understands what I mean about accountability, and that I don't have very much patience with people who don't step up to the plate in terms of addressing problems that are under their responsibility.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Now, he's only been on the job since he replaced Rumsfeld a few months ago.

Is he doing the right thing? Do you have confidence in the defense secretary?

CLELAND: Well, I've got confidence that he's trying to shake things up. But the real authority here lies with the president of the United States. And the real authority for funding lies with the Congress, whether it's funding or unfunding the war, or funding and unfunding Walter Read and the Veterans Administration hospital system.

Keep in mind, we're now going into the fourth year of this war, which has produced more than one million veterans, and 30,000 wounded. This can't -- this could not have been a surprise. And we've got to address this now. We can't let this linger, because it's really tearing up the morale of our troops, especially those young men and women laying in beds at Walter Reed.

BLITZER: I heard Jim Nicholson, the secretary of Veterans Affairs, say that of those million-plus who have actually served over the past years in Iraq and Afghanistan, maybe as many as 200,000 have asked for at least some treatment at the various veteran hospitals, at the military hospitals across the country. That is a huge percentage who have come back at least requiring some medical treatment.

CLELAND: And there are 500,000 cases requesting help for PTSD in the Veterans Administration that have not yet been adjudicated.

So, what we're seeing at Walter Reed is a microcosm of the problems when you don't plan for casualties in a war, when you let it just go on and on. And can you believe now that this administration, this president, wants a surge in more troops? Unbelievable.

That means more problems at Walter Reed, more problems in the Veterans Administration. The president and the Congress have to stand up, not pawn this off on two or three commissions, not pawn it off on a two- star, not pawn it off on a three-star, and say, "I am the responsible officer in this government. I will take responsibility for this mess, and let's get it fixed."

BLITZER: Have they ask asked you, have they consulted with you to be a member of one of these commissions? And would you if they asked?

CLELAND: Well, General Weightman called me personally the other day -- unfortunately, it was the day that he was fired -- and said, "What would you do?" I gave him four names. Not a bunch of admirals and generals and former secretaries of the Army, but of people who know the ground truth of what's going on at Walter Reed, the ground truth of what's going on in the V.A.

And the four people I gave to General Weightman I think will help out tremendously. And I'll help out as a volunteer any time.

BLITZER: And if they asked you, you would be ready to come and participate?

CLELAND: I'll help out any time. I go over to Walter Reed -- I've been going over there for two years now. And I just love those troops. They've got so much bravery and courage about them, and they deserve better from the bureaucracy not just in the Army, but this whole federal government -- the Department of Defense and the total focus of this president and this Congress on getting their needs met.

If you're going to support the troops, now is the time to do it.

BLITZER: Is this is an isolated problem at Walter Reed, or are there similar physical problems at other military medical facilities and bureaucratic nightmares that are a problem cross the country?

CLELAND: Yes. The whole thing of outpatient status or boarding in or boarding out of the Army is army-wide. It's DOD-wide, quite frankly. Not just covers Walter Reed, but Bethesda and other facilities.

So, you've got a bureaucratic nightmare here where you're creating casualties. Three planeloads a week come in at night and send patients mostly to Walter Reed and certainly some to Bethesda. Now, somebody has got to deal with those. Those wonderful doctors at Walter Reed and nurses stay up all night caring for these patients. But after a while, they've got to move those patients out of those beds to make room for more casualties coming in from Iraq and Afghanistan.

And they don't know how long this is going to be. So they put them in a holding status. Well, that's a bureaucratic nightmare, as we have now discovered. And it's Army-wide and it's system-wide.

So, we've got a real problem her. And we need the president to pull the rope, not just push it, not pawn it off on a commission, and we need the Congress to stand up and give Walter Reed and the V.A. the full funding that it needs to get this thing taken care of.

BLITZER: Senator Max Cleland, thanks very much for coming in on this very important issue.

CLELAND: Thank you.

BLITZER: And still to come up here in THE SITUATION ROOM, is he their man? That would be Rudy Giuliani. He faces conservatives at a key convention here in Washington. It's happening right now. Was it a warm reception, a chilly reception?

We'll have an update.

And need or want a new job? How about running a $132 billion company? The billionaire Warren Buffett has a want ad that's out there for help.

We'll explain.

Stick around. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Rudy Giuliani is a Republican who supports abortion rights and gay rights. So what do Republican opponents of those rights think of the former New York City mayor?

Let's turn to our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider -- Bill.

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: Wolf, Rudy Giuliani speaks to a convention of conservatives. Now, is that like a vegetarian speaking to a convention of cattle ranchers? No.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RUDY GIULIANI (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Thank you.

SCHNEIDER (voice over): He got a noticeably warm reception from conservative activists who are supposed to be his critics.

GEORGE WILL, COLUMNIST: The man for whom pugnacity is a political philosophy, Rudolph Giuliani.

SCHNEIDER: I'm one of you, Giuliani told the crowd.

GIULIANI: You really represent a new generation of the Reagan revolution. I consider myself very, very fortunate to be part of that.

SCHNEIDER: What about those pesky social issues?

GIULIANI: Ronald Reagan used to say, "My 80 percent ally is not by 20 percent enemy." What he meant by that is, we don't all see eye to eye on everything.

SCHNEIDER: Giuliani is the security issue -- tough and decisive, 9/11. He's also the social issues -- abortion rights and gay rights, New York City. If social issues trump security, he's got trouble.

DAVID KEENE, AMERICAN CONSERVATIVE UNION: The overriding issue has to be security, because that's with he's going to run on. And if he can make that work, then he's -- then he's credible. And if they say, yes, but, then he's got a problem.

SCHNEIDER: But security may trump social issues.

MICHELLE MEAD, CPAC DELEGATE: Everyone I've talked to today says, you know, I don't agree with him on such and such and such and such, but -- and I think it's the "but" that's going to carry him.

SCHNEIDER: It seems to be working.

GIULIANI: Well, Abraham Lincoln actually didn't have to listen to polls on CNN.

SCHNEIDER: Here's one Giuliani might want to listen to. He's gaining support among Republicans. John McCain is not. Some conservatives are saying, welcome to the fold.

GROVER NORQUIST, AMERICANS FOR TAX REFORM: The Roman Catholic Church maintains market share by accepting converts. And they don't go around saying, "Five years ago, you were a Pagan." They say, "Glad you're with us."

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER: One more thing. McCain has a history of picking fights with conservatives. Giuliani does not -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Bill. Thank you. An important story we'll continue to watch.

Up ahead, she drove from Texas to Florida wearing a diaper to confront a woman she said was a romantic rival, but should the former astronaut face attempted murder charges? We'll update you on that case, a case that made headlines.

And coming up in our 7:00 p.m. Eastern hour, Hillary Clinton cashing in on her husband's clout for the first time on the campaign trail. But can the Clinton duo keep the hearts and minds of the African- American community with them?

Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Friday is the Muslim holy day, but it brought no relief from the relentless sectarian violence in Iraq.

CNN's Jennifer Eccleston is in Baghdad with the latest -- Jennifer.

JENNIFER ECCLESTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Iraqi civilians, security services and American forces under attack this Friday. A bomb exploded at a popular used car lot in Baghdad's Sadr City, killing 10 people and wounding 17 others, according to Iraq's Interior Ministry.

Meanwhile, Iraqi officials also say the bodies of 14 police who went missing Thursday were found Friday in Baquba, in north of Baghdad.

And also today, the U.S. military announced two American soldiers and an interpreter died, and a third U.S. soldier was wounded when a roadside bomb exploded northwest of the capital. Those soldiers were on a routine clearance patrol northwest of Baghdad -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Jennifer. Thank you for that.

Carol Costello once again taking a closer look at some other important stories.

(NEWSBREAK)

BLITZER: Up next, seeking a successor. The billionaire investor Warren Buffett shopping for a real-life apprentice.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWSBREAK)

BLITZER: FEMA is dispatching 14 emergency teams to assess the storm damage. Here with some new images of the aftermath is our Internet reporter, Abbi Tatton -- Abbi.

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: And Wolf, we are getting pictures coming into CNN from all across the region.

For the second day in a row, going to Enterprise, Alabama, where these pictures are coming in. This again from warrant officer Eduardo Alomar. He is based at the Army's Ft. Rucker, just very close by to Enterprise, took these pictures today as he and some of his colleagues are taking time off to help the local community. You can see trees uprooted, buildings damaged there in Enterprise.

And this is a storm system that also brought a tornado to Columbus, Georgia. And we're going there now to these pictures from lifelong Columbus resident Adam Warren.

You can see the damage there. There's been buildings destroyed. There have been abandoned vehicles. These are from this morning.

And there's another building site here that was under construction. Heavily damaged there. You can see this is a tornado that tossed trailers into the air and dumped them down wherever they wanted to, and this is just a tornado that ripped everything in its path, as you can see from that McDonald's sign there -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Our heart goes out to all of those people, Abbi. Thank you very much.

Let's switch gears now. A billionaire looking for an apprentice, but it's not Donald Trump and his hit reality TV show. It's the man known as the "Oracle of Omaha." Investment guru Warren Buffett looking for someone to take over his huge financial empire.

Let's go back to Carol Costello. She's got this story -- Carol.

COSTELLO: Well, you know, Wolf, at 76 years old, he feels fine. He owes it all to Cherry Cokes and hamburgers. Still, he is preparing for his inevitable last transaction in a way only he could.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COSTELLO (voice over): How does Warren Buffett replace Warren Buffett? A business whiz who runs Berkshire Hathaway, one share of his holding company, just one share, will cost you $107,000. Does he go the flashy way, a la Donald Trump?

DONALD TRUMP, "THE APPRENTICE": You're hired.

COSTELLO: No, Buffett does "The Apprentice" Buffett-style, just as public, but more Nebraska humble than New York flashy. He, in essence, put a want ad in his annual report to shareholders seeking a "... genetically programmed independent thinker who could run a $132 billion company, one who is emotionally stable and can avoid risks."

ANDY SERWER, "FORTUNE": it's totally not normal what he's doing. I mean, it's totally different. No one puts a "help wanted" sign in their annual report.

COSTELLO: Usually companies hire big-time Madison Avenue executive search firms. But not Buffett.

SERWER: He's really literally saying, hey, you know, come send me an e-mail, send me a letter.

COSTELLO: And unlike Donald Trump, Buffett isn't looking for an e- mail from his own genetic creations.

WARREN BUFFETT, CEO, BERKSHIRE HATHAWAY: I do not believe in inheriting your position in society based on what womb you come from.

COSTELLO: No, not one of Buffett's three kids will take their father's place.

Remember last year when he gave away most of his $44 billion fortune to the Gates Foundation? His kids didn't get a nickel to enhance their personal wealth.

Buffett believes his money and his company should benefit others. So perhaps it's fitting that whoever he chooses to replace him at Berkshire will be hard to keep. Even Buffett admits, "... he or she could leave and make much more money elsewhere."

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COSTELLO: Thrifty until the end.

Now, this is why Buffett wants somebody really good to take over -- if you invested $100,000 in Berkshire Hathaway in 1965, when Buffett bought the company, you would now be worth nearly $650,000. It's a great company, Wolf.

BLITZER: It's a great company, a lot of money.

Carol, see you in an hour.

We'll be back 7:00 p.m. Eastern.

Let's go to "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT," starting right now. Kitty Pilgrim sitting in for Lou.

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