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THE SITUATION ROOM
Will Alberto Gonzales Keep His Job?; New Debate Over Gays in the Military
Aired March 13, 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, the attorney general of the United States takes blame in the flap over fired federal prosecutors. Was politics behind the shakeup? And will Alberto Gonzales keep his job? Tonight presidential candidate John Edwards is demanding answers and Gonzales' head.
Plus, a fierce new debate over gays in the military -- the nation's top general unleashes the furor by calling gay acts immoral. This hour, Peter Pace and the "don't ask, don't tell" policy are under fire.
And is has the makings of a big screen blockbuster, but an ally of Iran's president calls it propaganda against its people. Will "300" multiply the tensions between the United States and Iran?
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Tonight new ammunition for critics who say eight federal prosecutors were fired for political reasons and that's raising questions about whether the attorney general will survive. Alberto Gonzales is taking blame for mistakes that were made, but he's refusing to call it quits. This even after the Bush administration acknowledged the shakeup was first suggested within the White House by the former White House counsel Harriet Miers.
CNN's Kathleen Koch is following this spreading fire storm for us -- Kathleen.
KATHLEEN KOCH, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this one is a dramatic turnout for the White House, which initially said that it had little involvement in the decision to fire these U.S. attorneys and it was a routine personnel matter handled primarily by the Justice Department, so the administration today did its best to try to explain its actions.
KOCH (voice-over): Revelation one from the White House that counsel Harriet Miers in 2005 suggested firing all 93 U.S. attorneys the administration had named just four years earlier. It was an unprecedented action. Attorney General Gonzales said that was too disruptive, so his chief of staff instead began eyeing prosecutors who they claimed who were weak performers to be removed. ALBERTO GONZALES, ATTORNEY GENERAL: Was not involved in seeing any memos, was not involved in any discussions about what was going on.
KOCH: The White House says President Bush heard complaints about some federal prosecutors but was also out of the loop regarding plans to fire them.
DAN BARTLETT, COUNSELOR TO THE PRESIDENT: At the time the president was not informed of any specific course of action being taken on the removal of those U.S. attorneys.
KOCH: The attorney general's chief of staff, Kyle Sampson (ph), has resigned. It hasn't silenced grilling calls for Gonzales's removal.
SEN CHUCK SCHUMER (D), NEW YORK: Did the attorney general not know that eight U.S. attorney generals were to be fired? If he didn't know, he shouldn't be attorney general, plain and simple.
KOCH: And Democrats have a growing number of administration officials they want to subpoena for questioning.
REP. JOHN CONYERS (D), MICHIGAN: We have about six Department of Justice people and about four administration people, and Karl Rove would be one of them.
KOCH: The association founded to guarantee the independence of U.S. attorneys is stunned by the admission of such high level involvement in the firings of eight prosecutors.
B. MAHLON BROWN III, NAT'L ASSN. OF FORMER U.S. ATTORNEYS: I was in shock and awe. This has never happened before. I think it compromises clearly the integrity of the office.
KOCH: In the ongoing Walter Reed hospital scandal accountability has meant resignations. And some predict it will be tough for the attorney general to weather this controversy.
STEPHEN HESS, BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: He can survive it if the president stands behind him. But this is one massive miscue on the part of this administration.
KOCH: The attorney general today said that he regretted the incomplete information about White House involvement in these firings was given to Congress. Still Gonzales insists that the dismissals, Wolf, were the right decision.
BLITZER: Kathleen thanks for that. We'll have more on this story later this hour.
Meanwhile, a new uproar over the military issue of sex and politics as the country's highest ranking general launches an attack on gays in the military, saying bluntly what he thinks about homosexuality.
For that story let's turn to CNN's Brian Todd -- Brian.
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, don't ask, don't tell is a policy that never really settled in with Americans and the chairman of the Joints Chief of Staff has just pulled this controversy back on to the political firing line nearly 14 years after it was inactive.
TODD (voice-over): America's top military officer draws political fire over a law that's been controversial from the start.
GEN. PETER PACE, CHAIRMAN, JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF: I believe that homosexual acts between individuals are immoral and that we should not condone immoral acts. So the "don't ask, don't tell" allows an individual to serve the country.
TODD: Joint Chiefs Chairman General Peter Pace now says I should have focused more on my support of the policy and less on my personal moral views. General Pace's comments led us to contact the man who enacted don't ask, don't tell. An aide to Bill Clinton tells CNN the former president always felt openly gay people should be allowed to serve in the military.
That he got the best deal he could nearly 14 years ago when against strong opposition he got the compromise passed, allowing gays to serve only if they keep their homosexuality secret. Now the aide says Mr. Clinton sides with his wife who wants that law repealed.
HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D), NEW YORK: We have thousands of loyal patriotic Americans who have been discharged from the military in a time of war. That, to me, doesn't make sense.
TODD: One of the Joint Chiefs chairmen under Bill Clinton, John Shelly Casbealy (ph), supported don't ask, don't tell at the time. Now he says gays should be allowed to serve openly. As for the candidates, Democrat's Barack Obama and John Edwards also want to let gays serve openly. Republican John McCain says military leaders tell him "don't ask, don't tell" is working.
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: And so I think it's logical to leave this issue alone.
TODD: Logical also for Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney. Why have Pace's comments forced their hand now?
JIM VANDEHEI, POLITICO.COM: Remember what season it is. It's primary season. And Democrats are responding to the liberal wing. Those are the activists who turn out and vote. Republicans are responding to the conservative wing. Those are their activists.
TODD: Analysts say the Democratic leadership in Congress has not been eager to take up "don't ask, don't tell" despite a recent move by a Democratic congressman to repeal the law. They say it's unlikely the ban on gays serving openly will be repealed unless and until a Democrat wins the presidency next year -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Thanks, Brian, for that. By the way, the United States is not alone among its NATO allies when it comes to gays serving openly in the military. Greece, Poland, Portugal and Turkey also ban gays from openly serving. But 15, 15 NATO nations don't ask and they don't care. Britain, Canada, France and Germany, all among those who do allow gays to serve in the military. Israel also not a NATO ally allows gays to serve openly in its military as well.
Let's get to the war in Iraq. Almost four years of violent images are seared in the minds of Americans. And they're taking more of a toll than ever. Tonight our new CNN Opinion Research Corporation poll shows public opinion of the war sinking to new lows. Take a look at this.
Back in April 2003, shortly after the war began, 85 percent of Americans said things were going well for the United States in Iraq, but a year later only 35 percent of Americans had an upbeat view of the situation in Iraq and now that number has lunged to an all-time low of 29 percent.
Our senior political analyst Bill Schneider has more on how the public's patience with the war is wearing thin.
WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: The Bush administration and Republican leaders in Congress talk about victory in Iraq.
REP. ROY BLUNT (R), MINORITY WHIP: While they're trying to figure out how to lose, we're talking to General Petraeus about how to win.
SCHNEIDER: How do the American people assess the prospect of victory? Only 29 percent believe the United States is winning the war in Iraq, the lowest number ever. Slightly more, 37 percent believe the U.S. will win the war. Most Americans don't think the U.S. will win. Do people believe the U.S. can win the war? They're split. They have not quite given up on Iraq, but their patience is running out.
SEN CHUCK SCHUMER (D), NEW YORK: The president has the power in terms of military and foreign affairs. But we have one thing on our side, the American people.
SCHNEIDER: What about the president's plan to send more troops to Iraq? When the president announced the plan in January, 66 percent of Americans were opposed. Now, the plan is underway and supporters say...
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: There are small glimmers of success already. Let's give it a chance. SCHNEIDER: It looks like some people are willing to do that. Opposition to the troop buildup is a little less intense now than it was in January. Fifty-nine percent now oppose the plan, but the margin of opposition, 59 to 37 percent remain strong.
One thing working against the administration -- 54 percent of Americans now believe the Bush administration deliberately mislead the public about whether Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. That number has been going up steadily since the war began.
Bill Schneider CNN, Washington.
BLITZER: Jack Cafferty is monitoring developments in New York. He's got "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, just a programming note, Wolf. Chuck Schumer will not be a part of "The Cafferty File" this evening.
Republican voters have doubts about the future of their party. This is according to a new CBS News/"New York Times" poll. Fifty-nine percent of Republicans polled say they see their party as divided. Only 38 percent see it as united. That sounds more like the Democrats to me.
Sixty-five percent say the GOP is drifting from the principles of the late President Ronald Reagan, its most popular figure from the last half century. When asked if they're satisfied with the candidates running for the Republican nomination for president, 57 percent say they wish there were more choices, not exactly great news for John McCain, Mitt Romney and Rudy Giuliani.
And 40 percent of Republicans say they expect a Democrat will win the presidential race. Of course there's still a very long way to go, but it doesn't seem like the Republican base at this point is all that hopeful. So here's the question. What will it take to unite the Republican Party?
E-mail your thoughts to CaffertyFile@CNN.com or go to CNN.com/CaffertyFile -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Thank you for that. Jack Cafferty will be back shortly.
Coming up, when Democrats attack-- tonight Al Sharpton's sharp words for Barack Obama -- find out what's behind this political strap.
Also, John Edwards calls on President Bush to make a high profile firing. He's here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
And take a look at this -- a scene right out of "Moby Dick". A sperm whale that needs to be saved goes actually on the attack and the cameras are rolling.
Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
BLITZER: The Reverend Al Sharpton may not be exactly rushing to endorse Senator Barack Obama's presidential campaign, but he says a newspaper report that he is jealous of Senator Obama has it all wrong.
CNN's Mary Snow looks at the allegations of a growing rift between these two prominent African American leaders.
MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): He's known to stir the pot but the Reverend Al Sharpton insists this time he was provoked.
REV. AL SHARPTON, NATIONAL ACTION NETWORK: This is one time I didn't start the fight.
SNOW: A fight between Sharpton and Democratic presidential candidate Senator Barack Obama? That is in question. The Obama campaign insists there is no rift. Here in Selma, Alabama less than two weeks ago the two men even embraced, but Monday brought a chill when a "New York Post" article claimed Sharpton was trying to tear down Obama because of jealousy. The article quotes an unidentified prominent black Democratic activist supporting Senator Hillary Clinton. Sharpton denies the story and claims the Obama camp planted it as a pressure tactic for his endorsement, which he says he's not ready to give.
SHARPTON: In Selma we started warming up. That's where out of nowhere this kind of article (inaudible). It mystifies me.
SNOW (on camera): When you talk to him, what do you want to say? What...
SHARPTON: I want to say to him that I think that it is important. He's a very impressive candidate. I think he has a lot to offer, but I think that he must answer substantive questions in his own African American community as he does in other communities.
SNOW (voice-over): Some political strategists say when it comes to winning support from African American voters it can't hurt to have Sharpton on board. But the question is how far should Obama go to win Sharpton over?
JAMAL SIMMONS, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Reverend Sharpton can be a pretty polarizing figure. I think Barack Obama's strength is that he's actually a very unifying figure.
SNOW: Sharpton has figured in politics himself. When he sought the Democratic presidential nomination in 2004 he won 10 percent of the vote in South Carolina, a state with a high number of African American voters.
(END VIDEOTAPE) SNOW: Now, Sharpton, for his part hasn't completely shut the door on the possibility he may try to run for president. As for the Obama camp, it says Senator Obama does plan next month to attend Sharpton's National Action Network summit for candidates. It declined further comment -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Are these two men talking to each other based on any information we have?
SNOW: Well you know this afternoon Al Sharpton said that Senator Obama tried today to call him. He called him back. So they are trying, according to Sharpton, to communicate.
BLITZER: Let's hope they do. Thanks very much for that, Mary Snow reporting.
Let's follow up a story we reported on a few weeks back, it was the city hall sex scandal that made headlines nationwide. The San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom admitted to having an affair with his campaign manager's wife, Ruby Rippey Tourk. Now the story is back in the spotlight thanks to some choice words from Newsom's current girlfriend, the actress Jennifer Siebel.
Abbi Tatton is watching this story online for us -- Abbi.
ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, this is Jennifer Siebel, who at 1:24 p.m. yesterday went online to this local San Francisco blog to weigh in on a discussion about herself and about her boyfriend's past affair. In the lengthy post she wrote about Ruby's checkered history, amongst other things, all the time defending her boyfriend Mayor Gavin Newsom, saying he's been so hurt by this all.
Now this is the second day in a row that Siebel's comments on Rippey Tourk had been flying around, following this article, this newspaper article on Sunday in which Jennifer Siebel was quoted as saying the woman is the culprit in reference to that affair. A spokesman for Rippey Tourk and her husband told the "San Francisco Chronicle" that everything Siebel wrote was untrue.
Siebel herself just hours after making those comments online issued an apology saying she was deeply sorry for the statements she made over the past few days. In signing off of this blog post yesterday she had written I hope you will all leave me out of this. But today that is the last thing that's happening -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Abbi, thanks for that.
Up ahead, the political firestorm over fired prosecutors -- will Karl Rove be forced to testify under oath before the Congress?
And blockbuster politics -- we're going to find out why Iran, yes Iran now says the new hit movie "300" is psychological warfare against Iran. Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: Carol Costello is monitoring a lot of stories coming in to THE SITUATION ROOM from around the world. What's crossing the wires now, Carol?
CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Got it right here, Wolf. All right, tell the truth. You're one of those Web surfers who get your "Daily Show" fix on YouTube, right? Well maybe not for much longer. Viacom is suing YouTube and its parent company Google for more than $1 billion. Viacom is ticked at YouTube for what it calls copyright infringement. Google says in effect nah, it removes any unauthorized material as soon as it's asked to do so.
A good ole fashion implosion in Las Vegas, the Stardust Hotel and Casino, the so-called crown of the strip is history. Always fun to see, isn't it? Hundreds of people, some who had gambled at the casino for decades, gathered to say a fond farewell. Stardust opened way back in 1958. Its demise making way for a $4 billion mega resort.
Still buff Rocky star, Sylvester Stallone is in trouble in Australia. He's accused of trying to bring vials of human growth hormone into the country. That's a muscle building substance and it's banned in Australia. Custom officials say they found it when they searched Stallone's bags at the Sydney airport. Stallone's hotel room was then searched too. If convicted, he could pay a hefty fine.
Two of Leonardo DiCaprio's bodyguards were taken into custody for questioning in Jerusalem. This comes after they allegedly clashed with paparazzi trailing the film star and his girlfriend on a visit to the Western Ball (ph). Israeli police say a scuffle broke out between the bodyguards and the photographers. One photographer was slightly injured.
That's a look at the headlines right now, Wolf.
BLITZER: Carol thanks very much for that.
Just ahead here in THE SITUATION ROOM, the presidential candidate, John Edwards takes on the attorney general of the United States.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think Alberto Gonzales ought to be gone. He ought to either be -- he ought to either be removed or he ought to resign.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Senator Edwards dives right into the controversy over those fired U.S. federal prosecutors as a showdown brews between Democrats and the White House.
It's a modern day "Moby Dick" tale of a giant sperm while that gets too close to shore. Tom Foreman has these dramatic pictures. This is a story that takes a tragic turn. Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
BLITZER: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Happening now, do you believe the U.S. can prevail in Iraq? A new CNN poll says a majority of Americans don't. It shows just 46 percent believe the U.S. can win in Iraq. It's the first time that happened in our poll since the war began nearly four years ago.
Also that sinking feeling again, today stocks slumped and the Dow lost 242 points. It's the second biggest drop of the year. The Dow closed at 12,076.
And President Bush says he won't stop trying to pass immigration reform. The president in Mexico, told the Mexican president he'd keep trying to soften immigration laws and keep trying to persuade Congress to allow a guest worker program.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Our lead story tonight, the attorney general, Alberto Gonzales refusing to step down, and the fire storm over the firing of eight federal prosecutors. But some top Democrats are demanding he resign or be fired himself and majority leaders in Congress have their sights on another administration official, the White House deputy chief of staff, Karl Rove. It's a political and constitutional showdown in the making and it's happening right now.
For more, let's go to our congressional correspondent, Dana Bash -- Dana.
DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the anger here on Capitol Hill is palpable, not just from Democrats, but even loyal Republicans who feel they were lied to or at the very least mislead by the attorney general, top justice officials and even the White House. The difference between now and a just few months ago of course is that Democrats are now in charge and have the power to do something about it. Today they made clear they intend to.
BASH (voice-over): A blunt warning from a top Democrat now in charge of the House Judiciary Committee.
REP. JOHN CONYERS (D), JUDICIARY CHAIRMAN: The old days of the previous Congresses are over, Mr. President. And so we'll get to the bottom of this crisis with or without cooperation.
BASH: Congressman John Conyers wants to know if the White House pushed to fire U.S. attorneys for political reasons and plans to question several Bush officials under oath including the president's top political adviser Karl Rove.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have about six Department of Justice people and about four administration people and Karl Rove would be one of them. BASH: Since the beginning of the Bush administration, Democrats have viewed Rove as both political mastermind and master of dirty tricks. With e-mails suggesting he played a role in firing U.S. attorneys, Democrats see an opportunity to finally grill him.
SEN CHUCK SCHUMER (D), NEW YORK: Karl Rove we now know was involved in the firings and lobbied for his own protege to take the spot of a respected U.S. attorney in Arkansas. Karl Rove should not wait for a subpoena. He should come before us immediately.
BASH: The White House says it will consider requests it gets from Congress, but history shows there could be a showdown looming. Rove is a top White House official not confirmed by the Senate and the president could refuse to let him talk to Congress, claiming executive privilege like he did initially when then national security adviser Condoleezza Rice was asked to testify before the 9/11 Commission. Then the White House only gave in after getting assurances from Congress her testimony would not be sited as precedent in the future.
BASH: Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy says first he'll ask Bush officials to come talk to Congress voluntarily. If they refuse he'll hold a vote to issue subpoenas. Even for Karl Rove. Wolf?
BLITZER: All right, Dana. Thanks very much.
Meanwhile, amid claims the dismissal of the prosecutors smacks of politics. How are the presidential candidates responding? Earlier I spoke with one of them. Democrat, John Edwards.
BLITZER: You have issued a statement suggesting Alberto Gonzales, the attorney general, should step down. Correct me if I'm wrong. But do you believe he did anything illegal? Did he commit a crime? Why do you want him to step down?
EDWARDS: No. As I understand the law, what he did is not illegal.
The U.S. attorneys serve at the -- at the pleasure of the president of the United States. But what he did is wrong. And what they did is, they have fired a group of U.S. attorneys for what appear to be blatantly political reasons, particularly because they, Republicans, were complaining they weren't raising enough issues or prosecuting enough people for voter fraud, which, by the way, the subtext of that language, voter fraud, is voter suppression, which is what -- what we sometimes see from -- from the other side in these kind of occasions.
So, I think that what -- what he did was wrong. And I also might add, it's very troublesome that there's this pattern in the White House, that the White House itself and the top levels of the administration don't ever seem to take responsibility for anything. You know, Alberto Gonzales -- there's a problem; his chief of staff resigns. There's a problem in the vice president's office; Scooter Libby takes the fall.
I mean, when is somebody who is actually at the highest level of this administration going to take responsibility for something?
BLITZER: What do you want the president to do?
EDWARDS: I think Alberto Gonzales ought to be gone. He ought to either be -- he ought to either be removed or he ought to resign.
BLITZER: The president should fire him?
EDWARDS: One or the other. He needs to be gone. And either the president should get rid of him, or Gonzales should resign.
BLITZER: Let's talk about politics, presidential politics for a moment. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama in the recent polls, they come out one and two you're coming out a relatively distant third. What do you need to do to break away, get some buzz, as they say, some momentum going?
EDWARDS: Well, first of all, I've been through this before. I know it's a very long process. And the early states I'm doing very well. The public polls have me reading in Iowa which is the first contest. What we are going to learn as we get through the campaign who actually has the transformative ideas to be president of the United States and who has the personal characteristics to be president.
I'm proud of the fact that I'm the only candidate to come out with a truly universal health care plan. And as I go forward I intend to lay out very detailed specific plans not only on health care, but on energy, on global policy what America needs to do both at home and in the world.
BLITZER: Let me read to you what Reverend Al Sharpton said the other day about Barack Obama. "Why shouldn't the black community ask questions?" he said. "Are we now being told you all just shut up? Senator Obama and I agree that the war is wrong but then I want to know why he went to Connecticut and helped Lieberman, the biggest supporter of the war."
Do you agree with Senator -- Sharpton's criticism of Senator Obama? Excuse me. Reverend Sharpton's criticism of Senator Obama?
EDWARDS: Well, first of all, Reverend Sharpton is completely entitled to his opinion. He's been a strong voice for a long time. No, I think what Al Sharpton is saying, we have a very serious issue here, who is going to be president of United States. No one should count on constituency being for them.
I think that's true during the case of Senator Obama and the African American community, it's true in the case of Senator Clinton and with female voters in this country and it's true of me and voters in the South. I think we have to make our case and convince voters about why we're the best candidate and why we believe we'd be best president of the United States. That's what campaigns are for, Wolf.
BLITZER: Senator John Edwards speaking with me earlier.
Up ahead tonight right here in THE SITUATION ROOM, don't ask, don't tell. Find out why one former military man is out campaigning against it. He's a former U.S. Air Force captain, he is the winner of the TV show "Amazing Race."
And it starts out with some fisherman trying to shoo away a whale. And it turns into a very dangerous drama that would rival Moby Dick. These are remarkable pictures. We're going to show you the pictures, the story behind those pictures. All of that coming up.
BLITZER: Let's step back to the attack on gays in the U.S. military from America's top general. The joint chiefs chairman General Peter Pace calls homosexual acts and I'm quoting now, "immoral."
That's reopening the debate on the policy of "don't ask don't tell."
Retired U.S. Air Force Captain Reichen Lemkuhl is the author of a book about his life as a gay man. It is entitled "Here's What We'll Say."
And if he looks familiar, that's because he is also a winner of the TV program, "The Amazing Race.
BLITZER: Tell us your story, because you served in the air force. You obviously knew you were gay, you went along with the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy.
What was it like?
CAPT. REICHEN LEMKUHL, U.S. AIR FORCE, (RET): Well, I mean, it was horrible having to live a double life, having to make sure that everything you did was kept secret. They always talk about the camaraderie that you are supposed to have in the military, and I didn't find that, because I couldn't let anyone into the actual double life that I was living.
I didn't want to go to events with the military, I didn't want anyone to know about my personal goings on. And so, it really, if anything, broke down the kind of moral fiber that's in the military. For me, it was the fact that I had to lie about my sexuality and hide it.
BLITZER: Because the argument has always been, if gays were allowed to openly serve in the military, it would impact negatively on moral of the troops, it would raise questions about good order and discipline, as they say.
Do you understand why they make that argument?
LEMKUHL: Yes, I understand why they make that argument. It's the argument that they made to keep women out of the military, Wolf, and it's the argument they made to keep black people and racial minorities out of the military throughout our U.S. military history, that if we let in the people that -- the people who are prejudiced against them, if we let them in, that it will upset the ones who are prejudiced against them among the ranks.
It's just not a rational excuse. Here we are using it again, against gay people. You know, eventually we evolved and we said, OK, we can't use this excuse against racial minorities, and we can't use this excuse against women, so, we just brought ourselves to that place. But we can't seem to do that with the gay thing.
We're still using the same excuse -- oh, it's going to lower the morale of the troops. And the fact is, as General Shalikashvili just told us, that 75 percent of the troops coming back serving from Iraq are saying that they would have absolutely no problem serving next to service members who are openly gay.
Now we're kicking out two to three, is the official number -- kicking out two to three military people a day because they are gay? And these are people who have signed up to serve and die for our country. This is a national disgrace.
BLITZER: All right. Tell us why you decided to serve in the Air Force, obviously knowing the policy, "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," knowing you were gay.
LEMKUHL: Actually, Wolf, I didn't know I was gay. This goes into the social aspect of whether you know you're gay or not or whether you want to admit it to yourself.
Most people go into the service not even having -- they don't have enough kind of personal -- I don't know, personal character to admit to themselves that they are gay yet. They just go in, and they might think they are gay, but they don't want to admit it.
Then they get in, they get away from home. They are in the military, and they start to build some character up and they realize, gosh, you know what, I'm gay. And what am I going to do about it?
And then they find themselves trapped into a contract and trapped into a system. So, you know, like a lot of other people, I did not admit to myself that I was gay when I was in the military. But once I did, and had the kind of fortitude to do that, I found myself stuck.
BLITZER: Reichen Lemkuhl, thanks for coming in.
LEMKUHL: Thank you so much for having me.
BLITZER: He served, Reichen Lemkuhl, by the way, in the U.S. Air Force from 1996 to 2001, reached the rank of captain.
Up ahead, shocking images as a whale lashes out at a fishermen. What's behind this deadly encounter? You're going to want to see this.
And sick celebrities facing illness with a little sick humor. We're going to hear what Jeanne Moos has been thinking about this phenomenon. Stick around.
BLITZER: A huge whale swims into a bay off Japan. At first onlookers are thrilled to see it, a couple of well meaning fishermen even try to help the giant whale get back to see sea. CNN's Tom Foreman is here now. He tells us what happened and it turned out to be, Tom, a really horrifying tail.
TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, people with absolutely the best intentions wanted to do something good. It did not work out that way.
FOREMAN (voice over): The incident started with the best of intentions. A 30-foot sperm whale, a species rarely seen near shore, strays into a cove, and local fishermen try to shoo it back to open water.
They bang sticks, circle around. "He obviously noticed the sounds, but didn't move," one says.
So, the would-be rescuers press closer, at one point trying to rope the whale and drag it to sea. The whale spouts, appears to grow agitated, then disaster.
In an explosive rush, the whale slams into one of the boats, heaving two men into the water. A third remains on board, but only for a few seconds.
The whale hits again, flipping the boat. As the immense mammal thrashes the water, rescuers cannot even come close. And by the time divers arrive, it is too late. One man has drowned.
Whale experts say the mere fact that this animal was here was a warning sign.
TIM BINDER, GEORGIA AQUARIUM: When they do come in shore, it's because they are ill and they are stranded. So this is an interaction. When an animal like this ends up on the beach, they shouldn't -- you shouldn't be this close to it.
FOREMAN: Specifically, what spurred the attack will remain a mystery, because afterward, the whale simply swam away.
(END VIDEOTAPE) FOREMAN: You have to have a sense of how enormous these critters are. If this were life size this would be a third of a size of a very small sperm whale.
And the big ones are enormous. Look at this. They can be up to 60 feet long, they can weigh 45 tons. That's more than half the weight of an M-1 tank. They have 50 sharp teeth along the bottom jaw, only in the bottom jaw. They are hunting whales. They can dive deeper than any whale out there. And they eat a ton of food a day. These are enormously powerful magnificent animals and of many whale species one that you most would need to stay clear of.
Found in every water in the world except the polar waters north and south.
BLITZER: And after this tragic incident the whale just left?
FOREMAN: Just left. Many people said it didn't look like it was entirely well. There seemed to be something unhealthy about it. I don't know how they know that. But nonetheless, once it was left alone at the end of this, it did leave.
BLITZER: Tom Foreman, thanks very much.
By the way, we have some more pictures that might make you think twice where you might put your hand next. A young Florida man learned that the hard way. He stuck his hand in the mouth of a shark. He and his buddy's reeled it in on Del Ray Beach in Florida. That's when the shark took a bite. Onlookers pried open the shark's mouth and freed the man. Luckily, luckily, he's okay.
A blockbuster movie about a legendary stand of a band of Spartans against the might Persian army. Brought to the screen by our corporate cousin Warner Brothers.
The ancient tale of heroism is drawing complaints from the descendants of the Persians. Let's turn to CNN's Carol Costello. She's watching the story in New York. Carol?
CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: You know, Wolf, this is a big deal in Iran. "300" is a movie meant to attract 14-year-old boys. It depicts an epic battle between Greece and Persia. But Iran, formerly Persia, says it's psychological warfare.
COSTELLO (voice over): Both the Spartans and Persians have chiseled shiny chests. They duel and grunt and die in a fireworks of special affects that are explosive. Just enough theatrics to draw $70 million in ticket sales in just three days.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's much our cultures could share.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I happened to notice we've been sharing our culture with you all morning. COSTELLO: But where U.S. critics scream blockbuster, Iran's top movie critic is crying culture clash. "300" is "... part of a comprehensive U.S. psychological war aimed at Iranian culture." So says the art adviser to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Iran is offended by the tale how of how a couple of hundred thousand of their ancestors were held up so long at Thermopylae by just 300 Spartans. Sure, in the end, the Persians did triumph over King Leonidas and his boys.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We must be diplomatic.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And of course Spartans have their reputation to consider.
COSTELLO: But today's Iran is in a standoff against the United States, so this moment of historical fiction is smelling a bit to them like modern propaganda. They say, "Following the Islamic revolution in Iran, Hollywood and cultural authorities in the United States initiated studies to figure out how to attack the Iranian culture. Certainly, the recent movie is a product of such studies."
UNIDENTIFIED MALE, "300": Submission. Now that's a bit of a problem.
COSTELLO: Gitesh Pandya of boxofficeguru.com says the Iranians shouldn't be so concerned.
GITESH PANDYA, BOXOFFICEGURU.COM: I think they wanted to make a movie that was cool as hell and that every 14-year-old boy would come and buy a ticket for and not wait for on the DVD.
COSTELLO: And Iran had better be ready. Pandya sees "300" becoming an international hit.
PANDYA: Compared to what "Borat" did to people from Kazakhstan, I don't think anyone should be really upset about "300". It's just a historical battle film, and it really doesn't mean much about what race the people are, you know, what country they come from.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE, "300": Remember this day, friends. For it will be yours for all time.
COSTELLO: The movie is a hit here, it is a hit in Greece. It will never be seen on the big screen in Iran but you can bet bootleg DVD copies to turn up on the streets in Iran, because, Wolf, they always do.
BLITZER: They turn up everywhere in the world.
COSTELLO: They do.
BLITZER: Carol, thanks very much for that. Let's find out what's coming up right at the top of the hour. That means Paula is standing by. Hi, Paula.
PAULA ZAHN, CNN HOST: Hi Wolf, thanks.
Tonight, the chairman of the joint chiefs calls homosexual acts immoral. I'll talk with a gay former marine gravely wounded in Iraq and see what he has to say about that. Also a brother and sister who are living together as husband and wife. Their relationship, believe it or not, could rewrite the laws of incest.
And March madness. I will be talking with the man says it's time colleges and universities stopped exploiting student athletes. They would like to see them get paid. All out in the open tonight coming up at the top of the hour, Wolf.
BLITZER: Thanks for that, Paula. We'll be watching. Up ahead, a very funny take on a presidential pass out. Watch this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE H. W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT: I fainted and I was on the floor. And the ugliest part was my dear friend from Las Vegas, Sid Rogich (ph) was giving me mouth to mouth resuscitation.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Former President Bush on his mishap on the golf course. Jeanne Moos on the story. Stick around.
BLITZER: Let's check in with Jack Cafferty for "The Cafferty File". Jack?
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: The question is what will it take to reunite the Republican Party?
Barbara writes from Middletown, New York, "Maybe they need to review what the party used to stand for and stop being led around by special interest groups, corporate America, and the religious right. In trying to appease all the people that are bankrolling them, it's no wonder that they are suffering an identity crisis."
And, in Pennsylvania, "Let see, Jack, the Republicans have Ann Coulter, Rush Limbaugh, Jerry Falwell, the sanctimonious Newt Gingrich, the wonder mayor Rudy Giuliani and of course let us not forget Arnold. Gee, how much more united could they get?"
James in Allentown, Pennsylvania, "Best way to reunite the GOP is to send them all to the same federal prison after they are tried and convicted."
Jeff in Los Angeles. "Does it really matter if they can reunite the Republican Party? Both the Republican and Democratic Parties are full of corporate funded mouthpieces. Bring in the next set of clowns to the circus we call the U.S. government."
Bob writes, "A maypole dance by all the presidential candidates around Jerry Falwell and Ann Coulter."
Larry in Texas, "Why on earth would you want to reunify the Republican Party. Look what happened last time they were unified. I don't think the county could stand another unification."
Mark in Oklahoma City. "Let's see. Reagan and Lincoln are both dead so I really don't see anyone or anything that can unite the party."
Jay in Hershey, Pennsylvania writes, "Hillary."
If you didn't see your e-mail here you can go to cnn.com/caffertyfile and read more of them online.
BLITZER: I think that last e-mail, "Hillary", that could certainly reunite the Republican Party. A lot of people think that is what is going to help Rudy Giuliani the most because even though they don't like him on some of the social issues, he could potentially beat Hillary. That's what they're thinking, Jack.
CAFFERTY: I've read that but we've got a long way to go. We might see Hagel. We might see Pataki. Who knows who will be in this race a year from now when the primaries actually start? It's a telethon with many, many hours to go for Jerry's Kids.
BLITZER: See you tomorrow, Jack. Thanks very much.
You may remember President Bush had a fainting spell Sunday after playing golf in 93 degree heat. That's the former president, the father of the current president. Now he's doing what many famous people do after suffering something that's nothing to laugh about at all. He's making some jokes about it.
Here's CNN's Jeanne Moos.
JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Never mind the cane if you're a former president. Eager to show you've recovered from a fainting spell, try a little faint humor.
G. H. W. BUSH: I was on the floor and the ugliest part my dear friend from Las Vegas Sig Rogitch (ph) was giving me mouth to mouth resuscitation. And he had about six beautiful girls there. And there was Sig ...
MOOS: Here's a guy that likes to prove he's spry by jumping out of planes, even when he lost his lunch at a state dinner in Japan, he didn't lose his sense of humor.
And when talk show host Regis Philbin announced Monday he needs an immediate heart bypass, he knew better than to bypass the jokes, pulling out his nitroglycerin.
REGIS PHILBIN, TALK SHOW HOST: When I get stressed I put one after the show. Excuse me. JEANNE: Members of the audience laughed along but they weren't laughing after the show.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I thought it's horrible. I hate that, thinking that he's sick. He didn't look very bad at all.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I was shocked. Usually, celebrities you see them as perfect.
MOOS: Unless you're a good celeb yourself.
DAVID LETTERMAN, TALK SHOW HOST: Our good friend Regis Philbin this morning on his show announced he's going into heart bypass surgery. You know what that means, facelift.
MOOS: Letterman can joke. After all, Regis welcomed Dave back after his own by-pass surgery.
PHILBIN: It's good to have the big man back, isn't it?
MOOS: Though even funnymen get serious when their lives are at stake.
LETTERMAN: These men and women right here saved my life.
MOOS: And Regis spoke from his heart about how he felt 14 years ago being wheeled in on a gurney to have balloon angioplasty.
PHILBIN: I wished I had been a better person, a better father, husband, and better talk show host.
MOOS: For now, substitute co-hosts are filling in.
ANNOUNCER: And Anderson Cooper.
MOOS: But it was Kelly Ripa who got his last laugh with Regis, saying her new job would be ...
KELLY RIPA, TALK SHOW HOST: Your sponge-bath nurse.
MOOS (on camera): Next thing you know, co-host Kelly is already in her nurse's outfit. A nursey pinup in the pages of the "New York Post."
(voice-over): The moral of the story, there is nothing like a healthy sense of humor to nurse you through bad health.
PHILBIN: Why don't you give me a quick dip before I go?
MOOS: Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.
BLITZER: We wish him a very, very speedy recovery, too. Let's go to New York. Paula Zahn standing by. Paula?
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