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THE SITUATION ROOM

Cheney's Doctors Find Blood Clot; Interview With Veterans Affairs Secretary Nicholson

Aired March 5, 2007 - 19:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks very much, Lou.
Happening now, heartbreaking stories from wounded troops about the horrors at the U.S. Army's top hospital. They put their lives on the line for our country. Is our country now letting them down? I'll speak with Veterans Affairs Secretary Jim Nicholson.

A new health problem for Vice President Dick Cheney after a long trip overseas -- doctors find a potentially dangerous blood clot. He's back at work, but is he at risk?

And she's attacked everyone from liberals to 9/11 widows. Now she's used an anti-gay slur against the Democratic presidential candidates. Have Republican candidates now had enough of Ann Coulter. We'll have that plus Jack Cafferty is back.

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

Tonight, U.S. troops wounded in the Iraq war are demanding accountability after being neglected and let down by the country they serve. The House panel heard horror stories today about nightmares at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center right here in the nation's capital. Two Iraq war veterans and the wife of a third described unsanitary and unfit conditions at the nation's top Army hospital. And they accuse the U.S. military of turning a deaf ear or not caring at all. In fact, one soldier testified the high-level resignations aren't enough to ease his anger.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STAFF SGT. JOHN DANIEL SHANNON, U.S. ARMY: Now, I don't know how things work in Washington, D.C. But in combat, we don't get to resign when bullets are flying and people are dying.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Our senior national correspondent John Roberts has more on the heartbreak, the blame and whether enough heads have actually rolled. I know you are looking carefully into this, John.

JOHN ROBERTS, CNN SR. NAT'L CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf, the Walter Reed scandal has claimed two victims so far, the civilian secretary of the Army and the general in charge of the hospital. But these are problems that have gone on for years. Where is the accountability and how far up the chain of command should it go? (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ROBERTS (voice-over): The problems at Walter Reed didn't happen overnight. Yet only one commander has come forward to say I'm responsible.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You have called this a failure of leadership.

MAJOR GENERAL GEORGE WEIGHTMAN, FORMER COMMANDER, WALTER REED: I agree. Mistakes were made, and I was in charge.

ROBERTS: Major General George Weightman who ran Walter Reed for just the past six months was fired last week. A scapegoat, absolutely said Staff Sergeant Daniel Shannon and Annette McLeod who testified today about conditions at Walter Reed.

ANNTTE MCLEOD, WIFE OF INJURED SOLDIER: Mr. Weightman in my opinion he was just shoved into a situation that was already there. And because somebody had to be the fall guy, he was there.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't think he should have been fired.

ROBERTS: Should other heads roll? What about Lieutenant General Kevin Kiley? Now the Army's top medical commander, he oversaw Walter Reed from 2002 to '04. CNN military analyst Spider Marks knows both Kiley and Weightman.

BRIG. GEN. JAMES "SPIDER" MARKS, U.S. ARMY (RET.): Well I think everybody -- of course, I think everybody should raise a hand and say look, I was present when this was a problem.

ROBERTS: But rather than accept any blame, when the scandal broke, Kiley downplayed the problems.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They weren't serious, and there weren't a lot of them.

ROBERTS: Even at today's congressional hearing, he deflected pointed questions.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So, what went wrong?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sir, I don't -- I can't explain that. I -- as been pointed out I live across the street, but I don't do barracks inspections at Walter Reed in my role as med com commander.

ROBERTS: The conditions at Walter Reed were a failure of command, no question. But were they also an institutional failure. Two years ago the hospital was targeted for closure. Set to shut down in 2011.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ROBERTS: So what does that mean? Phillip Coyle, a member of the Base Realignment and Closure Commission told me today, quote, "it's quite common that once a facility is selected for closure, the Army or Navy or Air Force begins to let it run down. Instead, it would rather invest in the future. Anthony Principi, the former secretary of veterans' affairs who shared that commission told me, despite that tendency to let a base targeted for closure languish, there is no excuse for what happened at Walter Reed -- Wolf.

BLITZER: A lot of angry people out there and I suspect there are going to be a lot more. Thanks very much, John for that reporting.

Coming up, are wounded vets who served our country being poorly served by their country? I'll ask the Veterans Affairs Secretary Jim Nicholson here in THE SITUATION ROOM. He's a West Point grad, a Vietnam veteran himself.

Other news, tonight, the Vice President Dick Cheney being treated with blood thinners after doctors found a clot in his left leg. This new ailment may fuel fresh concerns about Dick Cheney's health and whether he's up to the job including his latest travel overseas.

Let's go to our White House correspondent Suzanne Malveaux. She has got an update on the vice president's condition -- Suzanne.

SUZANN MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well hello, Wolf. We saw the vice president leave the White House about 45 minutes ago. He was walking to his car. It was a long shot, but we did get a shot of him. Now his aides say that he was able to complete his day that he was fine. But of course he did have that health scare earlier today.

One of his spokespersons saying that 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 from both his 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 had mentioned, Cheney had just returned from really kind of a whirlwind trip, if you will. Some 25,000 miles aboard Air Force Two, about 65 hours in his plane. Now he's got a history of heart problems and concerns. Four heart attacks, the first one at age 37, so Wolf, you can bet, you can believe that they are keeping a very close eye on this.

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

So does a blood clot, this kind of blood clot specifically, pose a serious threat for Vice President Dick Cheney? I asked CNN's chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN SR. MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Probably not that serious, Wolf, as long as it is caught early and it is treated early. The big concern with these deep venous thromboses, 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 a pulmonary embolism and that can be very serious, but again if it's seen early and treated early, probably not going to be a problem.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: We certainly wish the vice president a speedy recovery. Dr. Gupta, by the way, also notes though that deep vein thrombosis sometimes can be a killer if untreated, as was the case with NBC News correspondent David Bloom. You may remember David developed a blood clot in his leg while reporting from inside a cramped Humvee in Iraq during the early days of the war, and he died.

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

CNN's Jennifer Eccleston went out on a patrol today with some of them -- Jennifer.

JENNIFER ECCLESTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, U.S. and Iraqi forces conducted large scale door to door operations, a major sweep in a Shia stronghold of Sadr City. It's 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 Mehdi 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 and it's due to the presence of their security forces, who are the lead force. Still, others say it's because the Mehdi Army has gone underground avoiding a confrontation with U.S. troops for now -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Jennifer, thank you. Jennifer Eccleston in Baghdad. Very happy to report Jack Cafferty is back with us in New York for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack, welcome back.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Well thank you, Wolf. There is no plan B for Iraq. That's what a group of governors took away from their meeting last week with President Bush and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Peter Pace. Tennessee Governor Phil Bredesen told "The Washington Post", quote, "Plan B was to make Plan A work", unquote -- very reassuring.

Meanwhile, even if the White House isn't talking about back-up plans to its troop increase troop in Iraq, several national security experts are. There's a range of ideas floating around out there. Most of them involve partial or complete U.S. redeployment from Baghdad and other urban centers.

This would be followed by containment then of the civil war within Iraq's borders. Another option under consideration, redeploy U.S. troops to more peaceful regions of Iraq where they can then focus on fighting al Qaeda. And then there's the idea of replacing regular troops with more Special Forces who would then concentrate on fighting the terrorists.

White house Press Secretary Tony Snow was asked today if there's a plan B. He quoted Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice who said the real secret now is to make Plan A work. Snow added, Plan A is barely under way, and it would be silly for the administration to talk freely about a Plan B.

Here's the question, then. When it comes to Iraq, what kind of Plan B should the United States have? E-mail your thoughts to CaffertyFile@CNN.com or go to CNN.com/CaffertyFile -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thank you, Jack, for that.

Coming up here in THE SITUATION ROOM, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs, Jim Nicholson, can he say anything to reassure wounded troops that they'll be cared for? I'll ask him about the Walter Reed Army Hospital scandal. That's coming up.

Also, the first test of the so-called Bill Clinton factor. Is he helping his wife score presidential campaign points with a key group of Democrats?

And a conservative pundit uses a very bad word to attack Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards. Now can Senator Edwards cash in on the controversy?

Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: She's certainly famous for bashing liberals. She's even bashed 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.

Let's turn to our Brian Todd. He's watching the story and the fall-out -- Brian.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the shock value may not even be shocking anymore, but Ann Coulter's latest salvo is surprising in one way. It's drawing condemnation from her own 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 presidential candidate John Edwards. But it turns out that you have to go into rehab if you use the word faggot, so...

TODD: Ann Coulter, one of the right-wing's favorite commentators for her never-concealed disdain of Democrats drew tears 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. 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, quote, "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.

RUDY GIULIANI (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: 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 both 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 and e-mails to Ann Coulter were not returned but she reportedly tried to clarify her remarks to "The New York Times" in an email saying quote, "come on, it was a joke. I would never insult gays by suggesting that they are like John Edwards. That would be mean" -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Brian, thank you, and following her controversial comments, are major companies now pulling their Internet advertisements from Ann Coulter's Web site.

Let's check in with our Internet reporter Jacki Schechner. She's following the story -- Jacki.

JACKI SCHECHNER, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Well Wolf, CNN has confirmed tonight that at least three companies have pulled their advertisements from Ann Coulter's Web site, AnnCoulter.com -- Verizon, Sallie Mae and NetBank, a Georgia-based bank have all pulled their advertisements that appeared on the Web site.

They all say that they bought bundled ads from a third party and didn't know that their ads had ended up the political sight. They say that customers called and sent e-mails after Coulter's comments. We know at least one big liberal blog that was posting advertiser contact information.

Verizon says that it wasn't supposed to be on Web sites with extreme political views in the first place. Sallie Mae says that it was not supposed to be on political sites at all. And NetBank says that Coulter's site is not the type of site they want to be on. We did reach out to Ann Coulter for comment and she didn't respond to us either -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thank you, Jacki.

Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney comes out on top of at a straw poll of conservatives at an influential gathering this weekend here in Washington. But Romney has been criticized by some conservatives for changing his positions on abortion and gay rights. I asked Republican Congressman Mike Pence of Indiana if he believes Romney's change of heart is sincere.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

REP. MIKE PENCE (R), INDIANA: You know I do. I'd take -- I've had a chance to sit down with Governor Romney personally. And I think his decision on embracing the sanctity of human life was a deeply personal decision. And however recent, I think I'm a part of the pro- life movement that welcomes people coming to the moral rationale...

BLITZER: So you think his change is sincere?

PENCE: I really do. And obviously you know this is an area where there's going to be a wide range of opinions. John McCain's great advantage on this particular issue is while he's alienated conservatives on a few things like campaign finance reform and other issues, this is an issue on the right to life where John McCain has always been -- with very few exceptions, rock solid.

BLITZER: Why is his campaign not generating the excitement among conservatives that clearly it's not, given these most recent numbers?

PENCE: Well, look. I have great respect for Senator McCain, but you know better than almost anybody in the media that John McCain is a maverick. And he has -- whether it be his opposition to President Bush's tax cuts early in this administration or his advancement of the McCain/Feingold legislation...

BLITZER: The campaign finance reform...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: A lot of conservatives hated that.

PENCE: Well I...

BLITZER: And you were one of them.

PENCE: I was the House plaintiff in the lawsuit that was Senator McConnell went all the way to the United States Supreme Court challenging that on First Amendment grounds. And recently, his partnership with Senator Kennedy on immigration...

BLITZER: What about Rudy Giuliani? Because on major social issues like abortion, gay rights, gun control, his stance is very, very different than yours historically speaking.

PENCE: Well, that's right. And...

BLITZER: Could you vote for him if he were the Republican nominee?

PENCE: Well, let me say, you know what I'm waiting to hear from Mayor Giuliani as a pro life conservative is sure, I know that on a personal basis he endorses abortion on demand. But what I'm hearing -- waiting to hear from him who has a very conservative record as a prosecutor, a very conservative record as a mayor and virtually every other respects is what will be his criteria for appointments to the federal bench. Now he's indicated that he's looking for judges like Justice Scalia and Justice Alito.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Mike Pence speaking with me earlier. By the way, Romney won that straw poll here at that C-PAC conference with 21 percent of the vote. Rudy Giuliani was second with 17 percent. John McCain, by the way, came in fifth with only 12 percent. He did not attend the conservative political action conference here in Washington this weekend.

Still ahead here tonight in THE SITUATION ROOM the civil rights activist Al Sharpton is on a new journey. He's tracing his ancestry. He's paying an important visit. We are going to tell you what he's doing now to connect to his past.

Also, does Rudy Giuliani have a presidential campaign problem within his own family? Coming up, the father, the son and the fall- out from divorce.

We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Carol Costello is in New York monitoring all the satellite feed, all the stories coming into THE SITUATION ROOM. What's crossing the wires, Carol?

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Got it right here, Wolf. The Reverend Al Sharpton was in South Carolina today to see where his roots intersect with those of the late senator and former segregationist Strom Thurmond. Sharpton visited the grave of Thurmond relative who held Sharpton's great grandfather as a slave. The civil rights leader also visited a slave cemetery where the graves are unmarked. Sharpton recently learned of his link to Thurmond and now wants DNA testing to confirm it.

Wal-Mart has fired two employees it says recorded conversations between a company P.R. person and a "New York Times" reporter. Wal- Mart says the recordings weren't illegal but they were unauthorized. Still federal authorities have launched an investigation. "The New York Times" says it's troubled by the news and waiting for more information from Wal-Mart. And more airline horror stories wouldn't you know it. U.S. Airways says it's working to repair a glitch in some of its check-in kiosk that created long lines for thousands of travelers over the weekend. The problems happened in Charlotte, in Philadelphia, Boston and Las Vegas, creating delays of up to 90 minutes for passengers. The airline says it hopes to have the problem fixed by the end of the day, which would actually technically be now.

Back to you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Like so many other things, when they work, they are great. When they don't work, not so great.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: All right, Carol. Thanks.

Just ahead my interview with the Secretary of Veterans Affairs. I'll ask Jim Nicholson about the horrible conditions reveled at the U.S. Army's top hospital.

Plus, the race to the White House. Former President Bill Clinton on the campaign trail with his wife for the first time. Will we be seeing more of what some say is her campaign's most formidable weapons? Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

Happening now, a beautiful young girl in perfect health, that's how a minister today remembered one of the eight students killed when a tornado slammed into their high school last week in Enterprise, Alabama. It was the first of the funerals to be held. The school will remain closed all week. Our deepest condolences to the families.

A fresh round of appeals today from detainees at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. Lawyers for 13 terror suspects want the U.S. Supreme Court to let the men challenge their detention in federal court. An appeals court ruled against them last month.

And the U.S. and North Korea this evening beginning historic talks aimed at establishing diplomatic relations. The two sides meeting in New York City. The move follows a commitment by the north to give up its nuclear program in exchange for lots of U.S. and other international assistance.

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

Let's get back to our top story. Wounded troops and their families getting a chance to air their grievances today, describing sub-standard conditions at the U.S. Army's top hospital, saying it's a nightmare. Lawmakers getting a firsthand look at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center. With one calling the neglect there and I'm quoting now, "just the tip of the iceberg".

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

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SR. PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well Wolf, members of that House sub committee went up to Walter Reed today to get a firsthand listen to some of the horror stories.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SHANNON: 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 they can get on with their lives.

MCLEOD: 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 Francis 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.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'd just like to apologize for not meeting their expectations, not only 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 which you shouldn't have to do. I promise we will do better.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MCINTYRE (on camera): When asked point blank why Congress should believe that anything's really going to change the outgoing chief of staff of the army, General Peter Schoomacher who by the way, younger brother Eric is now in charge at Walter Reed, General Schoomacher said it will change because we will change it, Wolf? BLITZER: Thank you, Jamie, for that. So all these unsanitary conditions. The crumbling infrastructure, the nightmarish bureaucracy. Wounded combat veterans telling their horror stories today. We just heard the stories about the Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

But here's the question. How widespread is this problem?

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Joining us now. The veterans affair 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, "Business Week" put us on the cover -- I still worry there are those cases where these things are not happening the way they ...

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.

BOB WOODRUFF, ABC NEWS: If you're got TBI and at 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.

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. He 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.

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.

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: I appreciate that. 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 us 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: 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 hope you guys come through. Appreciate it.

NICHOLSON: Yes, sir.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: A story just coming in to THE SITUATION ROOM, a very disturbing story out of New York City. Let's go to New York. Carol Costello is watching this for us.

Carol? CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: It is a disturbing story, Wolf. An inmate at Riker's Island have been arrested for trying to hire someone to kill the police commissioner Ray Kelly. Apparently this man, David Brown, wanted Ray Kelly to be beheaded. And then he wanted to bomb the New York police headquarters. The total cost for that he was willing to pay $65,000. Again, he has been placed under arrest.

He said he did it, this is what he told the undercover officer who he thought was a hit man. He said he was fed up with the case of a police shooting here in New York where police fired 50 shots. And you remember a few months back. Undercover officers fired 50 shots at some unarmed men in a car. One of those men were killed the day before his wedding. It's a case that caused much racial strife here in New York City. But again, they caught this guy, police say, he has been placed under arrest. Back to you.

BLITZER: Thank you for that Carol Costello in New York.

Still ahead here tonight right in THE SITUATION ROOM, the former president of the United States Bill Clinton. Is he helping or hurting his wife's chances for the White House? We're going to have details of his first campaign appearance together with her.

Also, a Giuliani family feud goes public. The Republican presidential candidate's son speaks out about their troubled relationship. Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Tonight, there is new speculation about the role Bill Clinton would play in a Hillary Clinton administration if, and it's still a very big if, if she is elected president. Yesterday the former president offered a glimpse of his skills as a first spouse and as a campaign partner. Our senior political correspondent Candy Crowley kept watch of the Clintons' appearance down in Selma, Alabama.

Candy?

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, if ever there was a place where Bill Clinton could count on a warm, rousing reception, it's in the African American community.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: If you can look at me right now and see who I'm holding hands with. I'm going to say that God is good.

CROWLEY (voice-over): But if Bill Clinton went to Alabama with his presidential candidate wife because he wanted some of his popularity to rub off, it was a subtle performance.

BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT: All the good speaking has been done by Hillary and Senator Obama today already. I'm just sort of bringing up the rear.

CROWLEY: He gave just one public speech in Selma at his induction to the Voting Rights Hall of Fame. It didn't come close to her speech, which can't be a coincidence. And when an audience member suggested he run again, the former president passed the baton.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You should run again!

B. CLINTON: Wait a minute. Well I can't, you need to think about someone else.

CROWLEY: Something else acknowledged his presence in Selma if not at the church where she gave her big speech.

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON, (D) NY: And my husband who sends greetings to all of you today ...

CROWLEY: Bill in the backseat, little seen and barely heard. Just like a political spouse. This double Clinton thing is a high wire act. Well before she announced, pundits were figuring the equation.

DONNA BRAZILE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Bill Clinton, there's no question that people will say that this is the third coming of Bill Clinton.

CROWLEY: Given he had a 60 percent favorable rating since last September. That is not a bad thing if you are Hillary Clinton. On the other hand, he hasn't been out there campaigning for her yet. Still, she can hardly run a campaign as though he doesn't exist.

H. CLINTON: I know that my eight years with my husband in the White House gave me a perspective about how to deal with some of the tough challenges facing us.

CROWLEY: And he can hardly act as though he has no vested interest in her future, and he doesn't.

B. CLINTON: I was glad when Hillary decided to throw her hat in the ring because for 35 years, long before she ever thought about running for office, she was trying to figure out how to solve problems.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CROWLEY (on camera): Hillary Clinton told Iowa radio today that campaigning with her husband will be a rarity. But she says they'll do it when they can because she likes having him around. Wolf?

BLITZER: Thank you, Candy, for that.

Meanwhile, he's a leading contender for the Republican presidential nomination. But some have said former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani is vulnerable when it comes to family issues. Now there are some new developments underscoring potential problems he might face on that front. Let's go back to Carol once again in New York for details. Carol?

COSTELLO: Well, 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)

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.

RUDY GIULIANI, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: These problems with blended families, you know, are challenges. Sometimes they are. And the challenges are best worked on privately.

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

JONATHAN GRELLA, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Unlike a barb from Senator McCain or Governor Romney. He 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 feature 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: My wife Judith is a loving and a caring mother and stepmother.

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

RICK BELTRAM, SPARTANBURG CO., SC GOP CHAIRMAN: We want security. We want to be safe. My children need to be safe.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COSTELLO (on camera): Now Andrew Giuliani did tell ABC News he loves his father, and that he would make an effective president, but Wolf, he just would not be campaigning for him. BLITZER: Thank you, Carol for that. And also want to thank not only Carol but Candy Crowley, remember they are part of the best political team on television.

Still ahead, a reporter who watches Russia very, very closely dies a mysterious death. Was it foul play?

Plus, Jack Cafferty wants to know when it comes to Iraq, what kind of plan B should the Bush administration have? He'll be back with your e-mails. Stick around.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Let's check in with Jack in New York. Jack?

CAFFERTY: Wolf, the question this hour is when it comes to Iraq, what kind of plan B should the United States have in the event of this troop surge or plan A doesn't work?

Linda writes from Brisbee, Arizona, "Jack, if they had a realistic plan A they wouldn't need a plan B. Since they did not we have an impossible situation now. There is no solution to this mess except continuing loss of life and money."

Pierre in Miami, "Jack, plan B should be the immediate removal troops to an over the horizon location. Way over the horizon. Like Denver or Omaha."

Richard in Los Angeles, "Plan B should be to impeach both Bush and Cheney and then pull the troops out."

Jeff in Queens, New York, "I think we should send some of the soldiers home, keep some of them on ready alert in Kuwait and keep some specialized troops in Iraq to oversee the Iraqi Army's operations."

Dave in Pennsylvania, "Plan B. Get out immediately. Plan C. Get out immediately. Plan D. Get out immediately. If plans B, C and D fail, then get out immediately."

Nonnie in Sunrise, Florida, "I prefer plan I as in investigate, impeach and indict."

Jean in Columbus, Ohio, "Since I am a mother of a daughter with her boots on the ground in Iraq, I think they should bring our children home. That should be plan A."

And Tony in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, "Yeah, Jack. I got a plan B for Iraq. We need to B getting out of there."

If you didn't see your e-mail here, you can go to cnn.com/caffertyfile where we post some more of these online for your reading pleasure.

Wolf? BLITZER: A pleasure hearing from you again, Jack. Thanks very much. See you tomorrow. Here in THE SITUATION ROOM, let's check in with Paula to see what's coming up right at the top of the hour. Paula?

PAULA ZAHN, CNN HOST: Thanks. Wolf. Coming up. Out in the open tonight some pictures you are not going to believe. What kind of dopes would teach little children to smoke pot? A two-year-old and a four-year-old. And videotape themselves doing it?

Also, a very happy couple that says they just want to be left alone to have more children. But they happen to be brother and sister and their relationship is against the law. They have taken their case to the highest court in the country. And believe it or not, there are several countries where incest is legal. It's all out in the open tonight. Coming up at the top of the hour, Wolf.

BLITZER: We'll be watching, Paula, thank you. And still ahead here in THE SITUATION ROOM, pesos and pizza. A restaurant refusing to back down from the immigration wars despite some death threats.

And do Hillary Clinton and other presidential candidates actually speak differently when they are down in Dixie or in front of black audiences? Jeanne Moos listens to the Democrats' drawl. Stick around.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Check back with Carol, she is monitoring stories coming in from around the world. Carol?

COSTELLO: Hi, Wolf. Hello to all of you. Russian officials investigating the death of a prominent journalist who covered the country's military. Ivan Safronov died in a fall from a fifth story window in the stairwell of his Moscow apartment building. He was a vocal critic of Russia's Federal Security Service which suspected him of revealing state secrets. Some Russian news media are suggesting Safronov was murdered.

A Dallas-based pizza chain that sparked outrage by accepting Mexican pesos as well as U.S. currency now says that it is making the policy permanent. Pizza Patron says it has received hate mail and even death threats when word of the policy first got out. But says its customer base is 60 percent Hispanic and wants to reinforce its niche in the pizza industry.

NASA says it has the ability to track almost all of the 20,000 asteroids that could pose a threat to the earth. That's the good news. The bad news is, NASA says it doesn't have money to do it. A report due out this week estimates the cost at $1 billion. Back to you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Thank you, Carol. Thanks very much. And as the saying goes, when in Rome, do as the Romans do. Apparently some presidential candidates are using that logic in the way they talk. Here's CNN's Jeanne Moos. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): What seemed to overcome both Senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama was a more down home drawl of an accent.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA, (R) IL: Don't tell me I'm not comin' home when I come to Selma, Alabama.

MOOS: Here's Obama in front of a mostly white crowd in New Hampshire.

OBAMA: There's nothing we can't do.

MOOS: And here he was at a black church in Selma, Alabama.

OBAMA: We got too many daddies not acting like daddies.

MOOS: And here's Hillary speaking at a different black church.

H. CLINTON: That pulse that you found so faint, you have brought back to life.

MOOS: Her delivery led the drudge report to dub her "Kentucky Fried Hillary." Though the example everyone's been citing was actually Senator Clinton quoting James Cleveland's freedom hymn. Doesn't seem quite fair to portray a soulfully-delivered quote as an acquired accent.

H. CLINTON: I come too far from where I started from.

MOOS: Still, Hillary's modified her delivery before in front of a black audience.

H. CLINTON: It has been run like a plantation, and you know what I'm talkin' about.

MOOS: Someone asked John Edwards the other day how he'd win a couple of Southern states.

JOHN EDWARDS, (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, it helps to talk like this.

MOOS: Even presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich was inspired at a Jesse Jackson event to sing that old spiritual ...

REP. DENNIS KUCINICH, (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Sixteen tons and what do you get, another day older and deeper in debt.

MOOS: Dialect instructor Sam Chwat coached Robert De Niro in "Cape Fear."

ROBERT DE NIRO, ACTOR: Big, friendly, shaggy.

MOOS: He says politicians make a strategic choice to adapt. So the audience feels he or she is one of us. Even if Barack Obama is already black on his father's side.

OBAMA: Get some of that Oprah money.

MOOS (on camera): The dialect coach we spoke with said Oprah, for instance, has three accents. One for whites, one for blacks, and one for the Academy Awards.

(voice-over): And critics malign Madonna for affecting an accent on Oprah's show.

MADONNA, SINGER: It's pretty shocking.

MOOS: There's even a medical condition called foreign accent syndrome. This woman suffered a stroke and came out of it with a British accent.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I felt like I was going bloody crazy.

MOOS: But she's an American who has never been to Britain. But there's one politician who never changes his accent.

RICHARD CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT: With George Bush as our leader ...

H. CLINTON: I don't believe he brought me this far.

MOOS: It's no wonder politicians adopt an accent.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Have a little talk with Jesus.

MOOS: Wonder what accent Jesus would adopt. Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Thank you, Jeanne. Let's take a look at some of the hot shots. Pictures coming in from our friends over at the Associated Press. Pictures likely to be in your newspaper tomorrow. In Uganda, a woman jumps out of a bus after it was tear gassed by anti-riot police.

In India, children wearing face paint danced during a Hindu festival heralding the arrival of spring.

In Jerusalem, ultra-Orthodox Jewish men dressed in costume to celebrate the holiday of Purim which commemorates the rescue of Jews from genocide in ancient Persia.

And a yellow lab leaps for distance into a poll at a boat, sports and fishing show in Birch Run, Michigan. Some of this hour's hot shots, pictures often worth a thousand words.

That's it for us. See you tomorrow. Let's go to Paula in New York. Paula?

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