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THE SITUATION ROOM

New Concerns About Vice President's Health; Interview With VA Secretary Jim Nicholson

Aired March 5, 2007 - 17:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, HOST: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Happening now, new concerns today about the vice president's health as doctors find a potentially dangerous blood clot. We're going to have the latest.

Also happening now, wounded troops telling heartbreaking stories about horrors at the Army's top hospital as lawmakers listen.

Are those who served their country being poorly served by their country?

And I'll ask the Veterans Affairs secretary, Jim Nicholson, what is going on.

It's been one of Baghdad's biggest trouble spots.

But are U.S. troops suddenly making a big difference in Sadr City?

Our Jennifer Eccleston goes along on a security sweep.

And Rudy Giuliani is running for the White House.

But will he be hurt by his long running problems in his own house?

An estranged son speaking out.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

But first, a new health problem for Vice President Dick Cheney after a long trip overseas. Doctors today found a blood clot in his leg, but the vice president's office says he's on medication and he's already back at work.

Let's go straight to our White House correspondent, Suzanne Malveaux for what we know -- Suzanne.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, we have been told the vice president has resumed his schedule, he's back at the White House, that he is OK. But certainly a health scare earlier this afternoon.

His spokeswoman saying, Megan McGinn, saying: "The vice president experienced mild calf discomfort today. In light of his recent prolonged air travel, he visited his doctor's office at the George Washington University Medical Faculty Associates this afternoon. An ultrasound revealed a deep vein thrombosis, DVT, or blood clot in his left lower leg.

His doctors will treat him with blood thinning medication for several months, but the vice president has returned to the White House to resume his schedule."

Now, as you have mentioned, Wolf, Cheney had just gotten back from a very long, exhausting trip, some 25,000 miles aboard Air Force One, about 65 hours aboard his plane. And he has had a history of heart problems. As you know, four heart attacks, his first one at age 37. So they're keeping a very close eye on this situation -- Wolf.

BLITZER: I assume this will cut back on his travel plans, at least in the near term.

Thanks, Suzanne, very much.

So how serious is the vice president's blood clot, especially for a long time heart patient?

Let's bring in our chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta.

How serious of a problem is this for the vice president -- Sanjay.

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Probably not that serious, Wolf, as long as it is caught early and it is treated early. The big concern with these deep vein thrombosis, which is essentially a clot in one of the veins in your leg, is that sometimes it can break off and actually travel through your blood vessels and end up in your lungs.

That's called pulmonary embolism, and that can be very serious.

But, again, if it's -- it's seen early and treated early, it's probably not going to be a problem.

Now, there are some things to look out for and Suzanne sort of outlined the fact that he had this long travel, then he was having some pain in his legs, some mild discomfort. You can also have some swelling, some redness, those sorts of things will sort of tip you off that you might have one of these clots.

But it sounds like it's you could tell, from what we can tell -- Wolf.

BLITZER: We know that our friend, David Bloom, of NBC News, he died from deep vein thrombosis. He had a blood clot in his leg. He was cramped in that Humvee in the early days of the war in Iraq. Apparently it was not treated and he -- and, according to some estimates, as many as 200,000 Americans every year die from complications from DVT.

So this is a serious issue?

GUPTA: Yes, it can be a serious issue, and certainly with David Bloom it was -- it was -- I was out in Iraq at the same time. I still remember that very well. It was difficult to get him treated. You know, he had one of these things that actually broke off and went to his lungs. And that's actually what caused the problem.

What happens, though, Wolf, is you put someone on blood thinners, it slowly breaks up the clot. So you don't have the likelihood, anyways, of the clot actually breaking off.

But you're absolutely right, Wolf, I mean Vice President Cheney is someone who's had a longstanding history of problems with his blood vessel system, if you will.

In 1978, the first time he had a heart problem -- a heart attack. And he was 37 years old. He's had three heart attacks since then. He's had angioplasty. He's actually been on blood thinners in the past, as well, to try and take care of some of these things.

You can take a look at the list there, Wolf. We've put it together, his health history. Most recently, he also had some aneurysm repair on the back of his legs, on the arteries, in 2005.

So, yes, I mean I think the doctors certainly need to be very cautious. But blood thinners are the way to sort of treat this and to keep it from becoming a larger problem -- Wolf.

BLITZER: But if he's already on blood thinners, wouldn't that have helped in this situation?

GUPTA: Yes, I think that he was on the blood thinners at that time, during -- around the time he had the angioplasty. I'm not sure he was still on the blood thinners now, two years later. So -- but, again, he's resumed the blood thinners, I should have rather stated.

BLITZER: Sanjay, thanks very much.

GUPTA: Thank you.

BLITZER: Let's move on.

Wounded troops and their families got a chance to air their grievances today, describing substandard conditions at the Army's top hospital as a nightmare.

Members of Congress got a firsthand look at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center, with one lawmaker calling the neglect there "just the tip of the iceberg."

The White House today promised an investigation, saying it's time to shine a bright light on the entire system.

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

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SENIOR PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the members of Congress went to Walter Reed today to hear the horror stories firsthand and they got an earful about substandard housing and an uncaring bureaucracy.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I want to leave this place. I've seen so many soldiers get so frustrated with the process that they will sign anything presented to them just so that they can get on with their lives.

ANNETTE MCLEOD, WIFE OF INJURED SOLDIER: My life was ripped apart the day that my husband was injured. But then having to live through the mess that we lived through at Walter Reed has been worse than anything I've ever sacrificed in my life.

MCINTYRE: There was plenty of scorn for the now notorious outpatient barracks known as Building 18.

SPEC. JEREMY DUNCAN, WALTER REED OUTPATIENT: The conditions in the room, in my mind, were just -- it was unforgivable for anybody to live. It wasn't fit for anybody to live in a room like that.

MCINTYRE: Under fire for much of the day was the Army surgeon general, who used to be in charge of Walter Reed back in 2004 and who complained about "Washington Post" articles suggesting he may be partly to blame.

LT. GEN. KEVIN KILEY, U.S. ARMY SURGEON GENERAL: There was a follow-on article later that was focused on me that I had some concerns about and did say in a private conversation to the secretary that I thought it was yellow journalism.

MCINTYRE: So when Army Secretary Frances Harvey decided to put Kiley in temporary charge of Walter Reed, sources say Defense Secretary Robert Gates decided to request Harvey's resignation.

As for the commander Harvey fired, two star General George Weightman, he drew praise for his six months at the helm from some families. Some members of Congress suggested Weightman is being made a scapegoat. But he offered no excuses and apologized directly to the patients and their families.

MAJOR GENERAL GEORGE WEIGHTMAN, FORMER COMMANDER, WALTER REED: I'd just like to apologize for not meeting their expectations, not only in -- in the care provided, but also in having so many bureaucratic processes that it just took your fortitude to be an advocate for your husband that you shouldn't have to do. I promise we will do better.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

MCINTYRE: And some members of the families pointed an accusing finger at General Weightman's predecessor, Major General Kenneth Farmer, who retired last August. He was in charge of Walter Reed for the two years leading up to that time -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Indicate -- are there indications that this is the tip of the iceberg, that other military hospitals, V.A. hospitals, face similar problems?

MCINTYRE: There's a lot of anecdotal evidence that that is the case. In fact, these complaints at Walter Reed are starting to open the floodgates to a lot of people who have complaints about their treatment by the system -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Jamie, thank you for that.

We're going to stay on top of this story.

It was a bloody day in parts of Baghdad once again today. But in the sprawling Shiite district of Sadr City, a long time hot spot, American troops are helping to keep the peace, at least for the time being.

CNN's Jennifer Eccleston went along on a patrol with them earlier today -- Jennifer.

JENNIFER ECCLESTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, U.S. and Iraqi forces conduct large scale door-to-door operations, a major sweep in the Shiite stronghold of Sadr City. Is the first large scale American presence in Sadr City in over two years, a move to secure this neighborhood, a stronghold of anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and his Mahdi Army.

We spent eight hours on patrol with a joint Iraqi-American patrol. Not a single shot was fired. In fact, residents say they've never felt this safe. But it's due to the presence of their security forces, who are the lead force.

Still others say it's because the Mahdi Army has gone underground, avoiding a confrontation with U.S. troops for now -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Jennifer, thank you.

Jennifer Eccleston in Baghdad.

There was a bloody attack today in another part of Baghdad. Police say a suicide bomber blew up a car outside an historic book market right in the center of the capital. Twenty-eight people were killed, dozens more were wounded.

Jack Cafferty is with us in New York once again for The Cafferty File -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Thanks, Wolf.

The 2008 presidential wannabes are reaching out to one group of voters who may or may not reach back. I'm talking about young people.

The candidates trying desperately to influence 18 to 24-year-olds through things like Web blogs, Face Book profiles and college rallies.

The concern is that this important voter bloc, very enthusiastic at the beginning of the campaign, but they don't always show up when it matters, on election day.

Another problem with them is that they are much more mobile than the rest of us, and it's sometimes hard to reach them.

Research shows that more than half of the young people eligible to vote are typically no shows on election day. That compares to about 70 percent of people over the age of 45, who do vote.

Recent trends show some improvement. In 2004, 47 percent of 18 to 24-year-olds showed up to vote, and that was up from 36 percent in the year 2000.

Nevertheless, the question persists, what is the best way to increase voter turnout among young people?

E-mail your thoughts on that to caffertyfile@cnn.com or go to cnn.com/caffertyfile -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Jack, thanks very much.

I hope that our viewers can come up with some answers.

Up ahead, President Bush heading to South America as one leader there accuses him of plotting his assassination. We're going to get the latest from the White House.

Also, more on today's stunning hearings on conditions at the Army's top hospital. I'll talk about it with the secretary of Veterans Affairs, Jim Nicholson. He's standing by live.

Plus, new fallout from Ann Coulter's anti-gay slur against a Democratic presidential candidate.

Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: The Bush administration took another verbal blast today from Venezuela's president, Hugo Chavez, who says he's the target of American death plots. This comes as President Bush calls Latin America's desperate poverty a scandal, just ahead of a visit to the region.

Once again, let's go to our White House correspondent, Suzanne Malveaux -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: Well, Wolf, today President Bush said the focus was about health care, education, lifting people out of poverty. It is a busy itinerary. Just take a look at the wall, the map there. He's first going to Brazil on Thursday, then Uruguay, Colombia, Guatemala and Mexico.

But, Wolf, a lot of attention being paid to the one place he is not going, and that is Venezuela.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The president of the United States.

MALVEAUX (voice-over): In anticipation of President Bush's trip to Latin America, Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez accused the U.S. of plotting to kill him, calling the new deputy secretary of state, John Negroponte, a professional assassin.

PRES. HUGO CHAVEZ, VENEZUELA (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): And they have assigned special CIA units and real assassins, not only in Venezuela, but in Central and South America, as well.

MALVEAUX: The White House says that claim is baseless. Chavez has made a name for himself with his occasional barbs aimed at President Bush.

CHAVEZ (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): Yesterday, the devil came here, right here.

MALVEAUX: Oil is the one thing that keeps these two leaders tied to each other. The U.S. gets up to 15 percent of its oil supply from Chavez. So the president is going to South America, pitching the trip, in part, as a path to making Americans less dependent on foreign oil.

MICHAEL SHIFTER, INTER-AMERICAN DIALOGUE: And so the U.S. is vulnerable. And I think that the U.S. has been -- this, in part, has stimulated an effort to try to focus more on alternative energy and energy independence.

MALVEAUX: So the Bush administration is partnering with Brazil to increase both countries' production of the alternative fuel, ethanol. Seventy percent of the world's supply of ethanol comes from these two countries, produced from corn in the United States and from sugar cane in Brazil.

But it's Chavez's oil, some given away to his South American neighbors, that has made Mr. Bush's nemesis increasingly powerful and popular in the region.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

MALVEAUX: And Chavez is not stopping with South America. He has subsidized some oil sales for states in this country, Wolf, states that are dependent on oil to heat homes -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Suzanne, thank you.

Is the United States caught up in an arms race with China?

With a booming economy, Beijing is going on a spending binge and retooling its armed forces.

China is boosting its defense budget by almost 18 percent. It has already tested a satellite killer and is seeking to build up its navy and air force.

So how big of a threat is this to the United States?

Joining us now, our world affairs analyst, the former Defense Secretary William Cohen.

He's the chairman of CEO of The Cohen Group here in Washington.

What's the answer?

How big of a threat is this arms race, if it is that, with China?

WILLIAM COHEN, FORMER DEFENSE SECRETARY, THE COHEN GROUP: Well, I think it's too soon to say they're engaged in an arms race. They are building up their military and fairly significantly. The sums that we've seen cited in public are estimated to be at least two or three, or maybe even more than that, times what they've disclosed.

So it's a significant build-up on their part.

Clearly, what they're seeking to do is to build a capability to go against Taiwan should they ever have to go militarily. We are, of course, committed to helping Taiwan defend itself. And so that may be an area, the biggest area, that we have to be concerned about.

But I think what China has to be worried about, as well, is the more that they spend on defense capability, the greater the fear it's going to be, or apprehensions, by Japan, India and other countries.

And so it may, in fact, work against their interests by building up, without having a full disclosure and transparency, as -- as others are calling for right now.

BLITZER: This U.S.-Chinese relationship is very complex. The military relationship, on one hand, the fear of Taiwan obviously being overrun by China. But now the United States needs China to influence North Korea. Tonight, there are going to be these talks, U.S.-North Korean direct talks in New York on North Korea's nuclear program.

But China is a pivotal player in that.

COHEN: They are a pivotal player and that's the reason why we have to constantly engage with China. We have to engage them on a wide variety of issues. They need to be helpful to us in North Korea. They also can be very helpful to us in dealing with Iran.

They play a key role in the Security -- the U.N. Security Council resolutions.

So we have to deal with them. It's part of the diplomacy. On one hand, we recognize they need to be working with us and they may be competing against us on other issues.

So what we want to do is see as they modernize their military, to do so in a way that doesn't build up these apprehensions, that sets off an arms race in the region with Japan also increasing its military spending; with India also building up its military.

So they have a lot at stake, and we do, as well. We have to deal with them as -- respect their -- their position in the world. They're a growing power. They're going to be a growing power. We want to see that that power is channeled in a way that's internationally compatible with our best interests.

BLITZER: And speaking of Iran, this weekend, the president of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, was in Saudi Arabia meeting with King Abdullah, a very important meeting, because the Saudis supposedly were very frightful of this Shia -- this Shia rise based in Iran. And all of a sudden, they're receiving Ahmadinejad in Saudi Arabia.

What's going on?

COHEN: Well, it may be that they're also sending a signal to Ahmadinejad that perhaps he has to lower his rhetoric and to change his positions as far as having this nuclear power/weapons program of his going locomotive without any reverse gear and no brakes. That's been his latest statement.

I think the Saudis are also sending a signal that he should be careful about that. There is growing discontent within Iran itself. And the fact is that there is a solution to Iran's quest for nuclear power, but not nuclear weapons. The Saudis can play a key role in that.

So they're talking to the Iranians, but they're also very skeptical and apprehensive about what Iran might be seeking to do as far as being a hegemon in the region, spreading Shia radicalism. That's something they're very concerned about.

BLITZER: But from the U.S. perspective, how much concern should there be, is there, that Ahmadinejad -- he's being well received in an important capital of Saudi Arabia at a time when the U.S. is working to diminish him, make him look weak, make him look like an increasingly bad person for Iran itself, if they're hoping that he could be removed?

COHEN: Well, again, it's -- the countries who are in the region have to live with Iran. It's a growing power. They're concerned about the threat that that power may present to them. They have to deal with that leadership.

Also, I think, they're sending other signals that we may not be seeing, that they have to change that policy and that there is an agreement that can be reached. There's a way that Iran can have its nuclear power but not nuclear weapons.

And hopefully China, Russia, also, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, all of the Gulf countries can play a major role, along with the United States, to bring that about.

BLITZER: The former Democratic Senator, William Cohen.

Thanks for coming in. COHEN: It's a pleasure to be here.

BLITZER: Coming up, a Giuliani family feud going public. The Republican presidential candidate's son speaking out about their troubled relationship. We're going to show you why he says he won't be campaigning for his dad.

Plus, is John Edwards trying to capitalize on some nasty name calling by controversial conservative commentator Ann Coulter?

Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Carol Costello is monitoring all the feeds coming into THE SITUATION ROOM, all the other news coming in, and she's joining us once again with some headlines -- hi, Carol.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Wolf.

A former top aide to Saddam Hussein is denying that the regime systematically killed tens of thousands of Kurds.

Tariq Aziz? Remember him, once Iraq's foreign minister and deputy prime minister?

Well, he is now on trial for the 1988 poison gas attack that killed an estimated 5,600 Kurds. He says there was no genocide and that Iraq didn't even possess the kind of gas that was used. He says Iran was behind that attack.

Checking the bottom line now, Wal-Mart says it's fired an employee who recorded conversations between a company public relations person and a "New York Times" reporter. The company says the recordings were not illegal, but they were not authorized by Wal-Mart. In a statement to CNN, the "New York Times" says it's troubled by the tapings and trying to get more information about the facts.

Another down day on Wall Street. The Dow, the Nasdaq and the S&P 500 all losing ground as investors worry about global markets. The Nasdaq was hardest hit, falling 1.2 percent. The declines continued last week's massive sell-off, which marked the worst week on Wall Street since 2003 -- and, Wolf, that is today's bottom line.

BLITZER: All right, thanks very much, Carol, for that.

Coming up here in THE SITUATION ROOM, pressuring prosecutors -- did the Bush administration fire some U.S. attorneys over politically charged cases?

It's a growing controversy with an unlikely senator right at the center of it all.

Plus, new hospital horror stories come to light as Congress hold hearings on conditions at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center. I'll talk about that and more with secretary of Veterans Affairs, Jim Nicholson. He's standing by live right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

Happening now, the highest level talks between the U.S. and North Korea in seven years starting this hour at the U.S. mission over at the United Nations. The meeting will be followed by a working dinner, the first step toward normalizing relations after North Korea agreed to dismantle its nuclear weapons program in exchange for lots of aid.

Also, the U.S. military investigating reports of Afghan civilians accidentally killed by American forces. They include an incident last night in which a U.S. air strike north of Kabul reportedly killed a family of nine. A coalition spokesman says the U.S. forces were targeting insurgents.

And new struggles for jurors in the latest of former top Cheney aid, Lewis "Scooter" Libby, now in the ninth day of deliberations. Today, they've sent yet another note to the judge, on top of an earlier one asking for clarification of reasonable doubt and humanly possible.

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

Now to our top story, the scandal at the Army's top hospital here in Washington, where wounded troops and veterans have been exposed to unsanitary conditions, crumbling infrastructure and a seemingly uncaring bureaucracy.

A House panel today heard the horror stories and heard no excuses from an ousted commander.

Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WEIGHTMAN: It is clear mistakes were made and I was in charge. We can't fail one of these soldiers or their families, not one, and we did.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: So how widespread is this problem?

Joining us now, the Veterans Affairs secretary, Jim Nicholson.

Thanks very much, Mr. Secretary, for coming in.

JIM NICHOLSON, SECRETARY OF VETERANS AFFAIRS: Sure.

BLITZER: Can you assure the American people, who are very outraged right now with what's been going on at Walter Reed, that similar problems don't exist at the various veterans hospitals across the country? NICHOLSON: Well, as a Vietnam veteran myself and one who cares so deeply about veterans, I can tell you how concerned we are for veterans. And as good as, you know, some people say the V.A. system is -- and we've gotten accolades last year from the annals of internal medicine, Harvard twice recognized us, "BusinessWeek" put us on the cover -- I still worry there are those cases where these things are not happening the way they are.

BLITZER: So what are you doing about that?

NICHOLSON: Well, we're taking drastic steps.

BLITZER: Just now, or have you been doing that?

NICHOLSON: Well, we have been. Just a few weeks ago I met with a group of families down in San Antonio to talk to them not just about the care that they're getting, but about how it is for them, you know, dealing with...

BLITZER: Because the bureaucracy supposedly is a nightmare, as you know.

NICHOLSON: It is -- it can be a nightmare, and one of the things that I have done is that I have put out an instruction to hire 100 new case advocates, and those people's job is going to be nothing else, and they're going to be veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan. Their job is to attach themselves to those most seriously injured veterans and their families.

They're there 24/7, they're the go-to person if they're having any difficulty with the bureaucracy and the system, and suffering anxiety and anger as a result. They're the people to work their way through the system, be their advocate. Is that is not enough, we're going to hire more.

BLITZER: All right. Here's an exchange that you had with Bob Woodruff of ABC News. He, himself, was badly injured, as you know, a year ago. He had this documentary on ABC last week. A lot of us watched it.

I want to play this exchange he had with you and get your reaction.

Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BOB WOODRUFF, ABC NEWS: If you're got TBI and you're one of these smaller V.A. systems, is it much more difficult to get help for TBI?

NICHOLSON: No, it wouldn't be much more difficult.

WOODRUFF: I'll tell what you one doctor told us, that they're not completely prepared.

NICHOLSON: I don't agree with him.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: TBI, traumatic brain injury. And he did some research, he went out to various smaller veterans hospitals, and they weren't getting the treatment, the veterans who were suffering from TBI, as they would in a major hospital facility.

You want to correct your statement?

NICHOLSON: Well, no. What I said was correct.

The problem, Wolf, is not those people that are seriously, traumatically injured or suffering from brain injury. They're being well taken care of in these traumatic centers.

BLITZER: But if they go back to their small towns, they're not going to get the treatment that they could get in Washington or someplace else.

NICHOLSON: That is correct, and if they're not able to go back, then they shouldn't be sent back. A lot of them want to go home. It's natural, they want to get back to their community just as quickly as possible.

BLITZER: Because that one incident that we saw in his documentary showed that young soldier suffering, and his problems aggravated once he left the care he was getting here in Washington.

NICHOLSON: He was very well treated at our polytraumatic center in Tampa, Florida. Wanted to get back home to Texas.

He was a soldier, by the way, who hadn't yet been discharged. And there was a snafu with his patient number, which wasn't our system. He was trying to be treated in the civilian sector by Tricare.

But if he had had a patient advocate attached to his hip, that person should have gotten him through all those steps right away. And that's the -- that's the linkage that we've got to make.

BLITZER: In this other exchange you had with Bob Woodruff, I was pretty surprised to hear you confirm that as many as 200,000 veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan have come back to the United States after serving -- more than a million have served there -- have come back and have needed medical assistance, whether at veterans hospitals or U.S. military hospitals. And then you said this. I want to play this little clip of what you said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NICHOLSON: A lot of them come in for dental problems. Others come in for a lot of the -- you know, the normal things that people -- people have. We're providing their healthcare. Some, I suppose, are because of their service over there, but they weren't evacuated for that. (END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: To some, that suggested a sort of a cavalier attitude, that you weren't taking these medical problems of the veterans as seriously as you should. And I want to give you a chance to respond to the criticism that you received from that.

NICHOLSON: Because that was an hour and a half interview. And I gave him a tour of our V.A. hospital.

It is true, 206,000 have actually come back from the war and have come to us for care. And Bob recited...

BLITZER: Which is a huge percentage of all those who served in the war.

NICHOLSON: Yes. They're entitled, including the Reservists and the Guard, are entitled to come to us for 24 months of medical care. And they present themselves to us.

And Bob had some good statistics about muscular-skeletal, neuro problems, and so forth, and I said -- and many come for, you know, common general health things as well. And that makes up that total, and we're there for them.

But I want to get back to the steps that we are taking.

Another thing that we are doing in all of these centers where we see these people that are returning, we are now going to screen them for brain damage. Because many of these people are experiencing the proximity to a blast, but they don't exhibit symptoms of having any brain damage. But we have now conducted a massive training of our clinical staff so that their competent all of our centers, our 155...

BLITZER: But Bob Woodruff, that was his major point in that documentary. He really sensitized a lot of this to the hidden -- the hidden fallout from these roadside bombings, the blasts that occurred, and the potential long-term damage. A lot of these vets, they don't even know they're suffering from a serious problem.

NICHOLSON: That's exactly right. And, you know, we see over a million veteran patients a week in our total system. We're now seeing, as I said, 206,000 so far that have come back from Afghanistan and Iraq.

Most of them do not come in evidencing any symptoms of having brain damage, but we've learned they may have it anyway. So we are doing a very intensive diagnostic look at these people. And if they have, they're exhibiting any of that, we're going right in to treatment for them, because we're doing the same thing, by the way, for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorders, which is often -- also latent. And if we see any of either of these we start treating it immediately, because if you do it early enough you can make most of them well.

BLITZER: I want you to react to Senator Patrick Leahy. He was outraged over all of this. And listen to what he said. We don't have that, but he said, "When you have the secretary of the Veterans Affairs come up here saying all is doing well, we have these problems, baloney, baloney."

He was -- he was pretty angry, I think specifically at the Veterans Affairs Administration and what you're doing.

NICHOLSON: Well, no one is more angry than I am when we have these cases of these individuals who are not getting the best care that they deserve. They raised their hand, they went off to war, in our global war on terror. They deserve absolutely the best.

And we're a big and many say the best system, but we're not -- we're not perfect. And I feel terrible. It's heartbreaking to me.

I know a lot of these veterans, and I know a lot of their families. And I know what they go through, and it's just -- it's just heart-wrenching to me, and we are taking the steps, you know, now that are required to fix this system.

We're going to attach these patient advocates, we're going to do the screening of every patient. If they come in to us for, you know, an ingrown toenail, we're going to screen them for the possibility of having a brain blast injury while in the combat zone.

BLITZER: Well, nothing could be more important. These troops who come back from the war, they deserve only the best.

NICHOLSON: Exactly right.

BLITZER: And I know the focus, the spotlight's going to be on the military hospitals, the Veterans Affairs hospitals, and let's hoe hope you guys come through.

Appreciate it.

NICHOLSON: Yes, sir.

BLITZER: One by one, U.S. attorneys, federal prosecutors are losing their jobs. Is the Bush administration playing politics with justice, as some are charging?

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

DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, Democrats allege that the Bush administration fired eight of the president's own appointed U.S. attorneys because they were too soft on Democrats and too hard on Republicans in corruption cases. Now, this has been bubbling here on the Hill for a few weeks, but now one GOP senator not known as a political firebrand is at the center of it.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SEN. PETE DOMENICI (R), NEW MEXICO: And I have nothing further to say... BASH (voice over): New Mexico GOP senator Pete Domenici acknowledges that one before November's election, he called his state's U.S. attorney to vent displeasure with a slow pace of a corruption investigation involving Democrats but says he did not cross the line.

"In retrospect, I regret making that call and I apologize," the senator said, but insisted, "I have never pressured him nor threatened him in any way."

Former U.S. attorney David Iglesias has said phone calls from Domenici and one other lawmaker did feel like political pressure and alleges the Bush administration fired him for not indicting state- level Democrats before last fall's congressional elections, where corruption played big.

DAVID IGLESIAS, FMR. U.S. ATTORNEY: Obviously, I tripped some wire that caused there to be pressure to ask me to step down.

BASH: The Justice Department insists Iglesias was fired because of performance, not politics. In fact, Justice officials say Senator Domenici called the attorney general four times to complain Iglesias wasn't up to the job.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BASH: But House and Senate Democrats allege that politics is exactly what caused the Bush administration to fire not only Iglesias, but seven other U.S. attorneys across the country. And as we speak, Iglesias and some of those other U.S. attorneys are making their way here to Washington to tell their stories. They're going to be here on Capitol Hill testifying before hearings in the House and Senate tomorrow -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Dana watching the story for us.

Thank you, Dana.

Up ahead, Rudy Giuliani's family feud. His son is now speaking publicly about it. Will it hurt his White House chances?

Also, she's infamous for lobbing verbal bombshells, but this time the pundit Ann Coulter has even offended some of her fellow conservatives.

Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: He's a leading contender for the Republican presidential nomination, he's got lots of momentum now, but some have said the former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani is vulnerable when it comes to so-called family issues. Now there are some new developments underscoring potential problems he possibly could face on that front.

Let's go to Carol Costello. She's back in New York with details -- Carol.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, Wolf, it's got to hurt when your own son says something potentially damaging to your presidential campaign. But Giuliani's little boy has grown up, and he has issues.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RUDY GIULIANI (R), FMR. NEW YORK MAYOR: I, Rudolph William Giuliani...

COSTELLO (voice over): Andrew Giuliani showed the love during his dad's run for mayor. Dad Rudy eager to show him off, boasting about how involved he was in his children's life. But, oh, how a nasty divorce changes everything. Andrew is now 21 and a sophomore at Duke.

ANDREW GIULIANI, RUDY GIULIANI'S SON: Hello. My name is Andrew Giuliani.

COSTELLO: And he's on the golf team. In "The New York Times" he says there's a problem between him and his dad's new wife, and you won't see him campaigning for dad this time.

He said, "I'm going to be focused on my golf for the next bunch of years. So I'm not going to have time to even if I wanted to be in the campaign."

On the campaign trail in California, his father responded.

R. GIULIANI: These problems with blended families, you know, are challenges. Sometimes they are. And the challenges are best worked on privately. In other words, the more privacy I can have for my family, the better we're going to be able to deal with all of these difficulties.

COSTELLO: Good answer, because some say it's something that could hurt him.

JONATHAN GRELLA, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: When the toughest shots are coming from your own corner, they're difficult to respond to, because unlike a barb from Senator McCain or Governor Romney, he really can't -- really can't push back on his son too hard.

COSTELLO: But Giuliani must have expected this. His Web site is sans children but does features his third wife, Judith. So far, she's the only Giuliani to publicly show the love, saying in "Harper's Bazaar," "Rudy's a very, very romantic guy. We love watching 'Sleepless in Seattle.'"

And he is quick to defend her.

R. GIULIANI: As I said, my wife Judith is a loving and caring mother and stepmother. She's done everything that she can.

COSTELLO: Perhaps the best news for Giuliani, some conservatives just don't seem to care. In today's world, security trumps family.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We want security. We want to be safe. My children need to be safe.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COSTELLO: And that South Carolina GOP official surveyed his local party in South Carolina, mind you. The war on terror was on top, followed by border security, fair trade, and keeping the Bush tax cuts -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Carol, good report. Thank you very much for that.

(NEWSBREAK)

BLITZER: Coming up in our 7:00 Eastern hour, by the way, sounding like a local. Are some candidates deliberately adopting regional access to win votes? Jeanne Moos listens in.

And still ahead this hour, conservative commentator Ann Coulter using a slur against a Democratic presidential candidate. We're going to show you how it could be backfiring on her and helping him.

Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: She's famous for bashing liberals, even some 9/11 widows. Now conservative commentator Ann Coulter is stealing headlines once again. This time using an anti-gay slur against a Democratic presidential candidate.

CNN's Brian Todd is joining us with the story and the fallout.

And the fallout continues -- Brain.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely, Wolf. And what appears to be different this time is that Ann Coulter has gotten not only Democrats to respond to her, but also people on her side of the political divide.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TODD (voice over): A conservative shock maven strikes again.

ANN COULTER, CONSERVATIVE COMMENTATOR: I was going to have a few comments on the other Democratic president's candidate, John Edwards, but it turns out that you have to go into rehab if you use the word "faggot'". So I'm...

(LAUGHTER)

COULTER: So, kind of at an impasse...

TODD: Ann Coulter, one of the right wing's favorite commentators for her never-concealed disdain of Democrats, drew cheers at that conservative event. But is that response any more surprising than the one from Coulter's target? On one hand, John Edwards says this...

SEN. JOHN EDWARDS (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, I think it's important that we not reward hateful, selfish, childish behavior with attention.

TODD: But Edwards also posts the video of Coulter on his Web site and asks people to donate money to his campaign, what he calls "Coulter Cash" so the campaign can "fight back against the politics of bigotry."

JONATHAN MARTIN, POLITICO.COM: Like a good politician, Senator Edwards is trying to figure out a way to exploit something for his advantage and to try and make some political hay out of this.

TODD: Almost immediately, condemnation for Coulter from some top Republican candidates.

R. GIULIANI: The comment was inappropriate, unnecessary, rude.

TODD: Contacted by CNN, David Keene, chairman of the American Conservative Union, sponsor of the event C-PAC, where Coulter spoke, issued this statement: "Ann Coulter is known for comments that can be provocative and outrageous. But as a point of clarification, let me make it clear that ACU and C-PAC do not condone or endorse the use of hate speech."

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: Our calls to Ann Coulter were not returned, but she reportedly tried to clarify her remarks to "The New York Times" in an e-mail saying, "Come on, it was joke. I would never insult gays by suggesting that they are like John Edwards. That would be mean" -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. I suspect this is going to continue for a little while.

Thank you, Brian, for that.

And as Brian noted, Edwards is using Ann Coulter's controversial words to try to raise some campaign cash.

Let's go to our Internet reporter, Jacki Schechner -- Jacki.

JACKI SCHECHNER, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: That's right, Wolf.

John Edwards' campaign put Ann Coulter's video on the front page of its Web site. They also sent out an e-mail over the weekend asking people to contribute, as Brian mentioned, what they're calling "Coulter Cash".

The goal, the campaign says, was to raise $100,000 over the course of the week. And they tell me today that they have far exceeded their expectations already.

But I asked the campaign, "Why is it that you would draw more attention to Ann Coulter by putting the video on your Web site or asking for money?" And they said the reason why was to show the right wing "that Americans will support people who call them out when the they start spreading hate."

Ann Coulter did address the Edwards e-mail in a short little blurb on her Web site, saying, "I'm so ashamed I can't stop laughing" -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thank you for that, Jacki.

Up ahead, Jack Cafferty wants to know what's the best way to increase voter turnout among young people? Jack's standing by with "The Cafferty File."

And you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Checking in with Jack Cafferty once again for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, more than half the 18 to 24- year-olds in this country who are eligible to vote are typically no- shows on Election Day. So the question we asked is: What's the best way to increase voter turnout amongst the young?

Mike in Ohio, "The candidates ought to do what Bill Clinton did. Go on the late night shows. Go on 'SNL' or 'The Daily Show'. Hit MTV or VH1. Talk to the young people on their turf."

Jane in Appleton, Wisconsin, "Why would anyone want to increase voter turnout among young people? From what I've seen, most young people have no clue about politics in this country. All they need is to have someone like P. Diddy, Bruce Springsteen or Ben Affleck tell them who to vote for, and they will. It's kind of scary."

David writes, "As a member of this youth voting bloc, I can tell you why we don't vote much. We're never told the truth. Certainly not by the politicians, and less and less by the sad wreck we call the media. We don't believe voting matters because all we have to choose from is one rich person who doesn't care about our interests versus another rich person who doesn't care about our interests."

Danny in Bluefield, West Virginia, "Dear Jack, American 18-to-24- year-olds are air-headed goof-offs that know all about Britney Spears and nothing else. It's better if they don't vote."

Margaret in Aurora, Ohio, "Make the possibility of the draft a serious issue and they'll come out in droves to make sure opponents of the draft are elected."

Tom in Des Moines, Iowa, "Turn all Starbucks into voting places and all voting places into Starbucks."

Jane in Millsboro, Delaware, "OK, Jack, here's my dirty little secret: I don't often watch THE SITUATION ROOM when you're not there. Sorry. What kind of schedule are you keeping? Are you emulating our beloved Congress? Not only do you get time off, next you'll be telling us you get paid as well."

If you didn't see your e-mail here, you can go to cnn.com/caffertyfile and read more of these online.

I actually was tending to a collapsed right lung in Mountainside Hospital in Montclair, New Jersey. I underwent a little surgery there.

These are terrific people, by the way. If you want to get sick, that's the hospital to go to.

But all is well now. It was just a little unintended and unplanned for bump in the road -- Wolf.

BLITZER: You know, Jack, I'm looking at you as I do every day here in THE SITUATION ROOM. You look fabulous.

CAFFERTY: Somebody wrote and said I was off getting a facelift. Let me tell you something, if I had gotten a facelift and it turned out like this, I would demand my money back.

BLITZER: But we're thrilled you're back, happy and healthy and in rare form. Jack, thanks very much.

CAFFERTY: All right.

BLITZER: Let's go to Lou Dobbs in New York.

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