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THE SITUATION ROOM

Iraqi Insider Accuses Bush Administration of Ignorance, Arrogance; Imus Apologizes for Racially Charged Remarks

Aired April 9, 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.
And it's happening now, four years after Baghdad fell, U.S. troops may soon be getting orders for a much longer stay in the combat zone as an Iraqi insider is now accusing the Bush administration of ignorance and arrogance in handling the war.

The talk show host Don Imus says he's sorry and now he's being suspended, but will that make up for racially charged remarks? I'll speak with the Reverend Al Sharpton who wants him fired.

And he's raising money and raising his profile. Barack Obama in Hillary Clinton's backyard -- is this the start of a turf war?

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

It's -- thousands of Iraqis took to the streets marking four years since the fall of Saddam Hussein by protesting the American troop presence. Back then Iraqis celebrated by toppling that statue of the dictator. Now some American troops are finding out they may have to stay in Iraq much longer than they expected.

Our Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr -- Barbara.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, CNN has learned that the Pentagon is now reviewing a request from commanders in Iraq that could extend the tour of duty for up to 15,000 combat forces now on the ground, working the search, trying to improve security in that country. The order is being reviewed. It could be signed by Defense Secretary Robert Gates as early as this week. It could extend the tour of duty for those 15,000 troops by up to four months -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And this might not be the end of it. There could be more of these decisions down the road, is that what you're hearing, Barbara?

STARR: Absolutely, Wolf. The reason they're extending these troops of course is to try and keep enough troops on the ground to keep that so-called surge going. And as it goes on, our sources are telling us, you will see more of these announcements, more extensions, more troops returning to Iraq, troops returning to Iraq without even having spent a year at home with their families. It's going to be a growing problem to find the combat troops to go to the front lines as this all goes on -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Not exactly what these troops or their families want to hear -- Barbara, thanks very much.

And there were powerful pictures today of anti-American anger in Iraq. Thousands of Shiite protesters marched in the holy city of Najaf, marking four years since the Iraqi capital fell to U.S. forces. The demonstration was called by the radical anti-American Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. He appears to be taking some dramatic new steps to try to stir up more Iraqi hatred of the United States.

And joining us now, our correspondent in Baghdad, Michael Ware. Michael Ware, the comments come from Muqtada al-Sadr, these purported statements coming from him urging his followers -- and we know there are plenty of Shiite followers of this radical Shiite cleric -- to not fight Iraqis, but to fight to resist the occupiers. That's a clear reference to the United States. What's going on?

MICHAEL WARE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well this is Muqtada politically...

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WARE: ... a good spin on this. They say this is a mark of democracy. This is what we came here to let them do, to have freedom of speech. But this is freedom of speech, a gathering, by thousands of supporters of an armed anti-American militia backed by Iran -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Michael Ware reporting for us from Baghdad. Thank you, Michael.

Iran's leaders, meanwhile, are proclaiming what they're calling a national nuclear feast day to celebrate a major milestone in the program to enrich uranium, but it may also mark an ominous new turn in the effort to build a nuclear bomb. Is Iran now making any progress -- are they closer to making such a nuclear device?

Let's go to our homeland security correspondent Jeanne Meserve -- Jeanne.

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the Iranians say they have the technology to enrich nuclear fuel, but the timetable depends on how quickly they can get it working reliably.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MESERVE (voice-over): Iran's president makes a showy announcement on his country's nuclear program.

PRES. MAHMOUD AHMADINEJAD, IRAN (through translator): Iran has succeeded in the nuclear fuel cycle development to attain production at an industrial level.

MESERVE: How much closer to a nuclear weapon could this bring them?

CHARLES FERGUSON, COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS: I think in terms of worst case estimate, I think 2009 is the year to watch out for, but I think it's likely that it probably will -- the schedule will slip a bit.

MESERVE: At this facility in Natanz, Iran is testing and installing a chain of centrifuges. They spin at high speeds to separate the heavier uranium molecules from the lighter ones. The more centrifuges you have, the faster you can enrich fuel.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think they're pretty much the level at about 1,000 or more centrifuges right now. But once you get up to beyond 1,000, you cross the level of concern from the weapons standpoint.

MESERVE: Experts tell CNN 3,000 centrifuges spinning perfectly for a year might produce enough material for one nuclear weapon. But first, Iran would have to get these very sensitive devices working. And based on what weapons inspectors have seen, Iran is not there yet.

JON WOLFSTHAL, CTR. FOR STRATEGIC & INTL. STUDIES: The centrifuges that they have installed tend to fall apart or even explode after a couple of weeks when you need centrifuges to operate for years flawlessly in order to be reliable.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MESERVE: Iran says its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes. The problem is the same equipment that enriches uranium for power plants can also enrich it for use in weapons. It is hard to know what Iran is up to when international inspections are limited -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jeanne Meserve reporting -- thank you, Jeanne.

Let's go to Jack Cafferty. He's in New York. He has "The Cafferty File" -- hi, Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, 20 minutes or so ago Brian Williams announced on the "NBC Nightly News" that NBC has suspended radio personality Don Imus for a period of two weeks over the remarks he made a few days ago about the Rutgers University women's basketball team. I've known Don Imus for 30 years. In the late 1970's, the two of us worked together at 30 Rockefeller Plaza here in New York.

He worked for WNBC radio, I worked for WNBC television. I used to interview him once in a while on a local news show here in New York called "Live at Five". He's a good guy. He was tough to be around back when he was drinking and drugging, but hey, who isn't? Now calling the Rutgers' women's basketball team "nappy-headed hos" was stupid. No question about it. He's apologized.

Imus has walked the edge of acceptable commentary and humor on his radio program for three decades, perhaps more successfully than anybody ever has, but every day isn't perfect and the other day he crossed the line with the Rutgers remark. However, that said, to have Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson condemn him for it is a bit hypocritical. Al Sharpton was up to his ears in the Tawana Brawley rape hoax in Rockland County, New York a few years ago.

It was a complete hoax, a total fabrication and Sharpton knew it. He ruined one sheriff deputy's life over it and tore this city to pieces along racial lines for weeks. And then the Reverend Jesse Jackson once called New York City "Hymietown," a reference to the Jewish population here. Who are these two to judge anyone?

And while we're on the subject, have you listened to any rap music lately? If you remove the words like bitches and hos from the lyrics, all the songs would be less than a minute long. It doesn't make what Imus said right, on the contrary, but there's a bit of a double standard here.

So here is the question. Does Don Imus deserve to be fired for his comments about the Rutgers University women's basketball team? E- mail your thoughts to CaffertyFile@CNN.com or go to CNN.com/CaffertyFile -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Jack. Thanks. And I want our viewers to know we're going to be hearing directly from the Reverend Al Sharpton. That's coming up this hour.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What we're talking about is public policy. There's no way the air waves should be used to allow people to call people "nappy-headed hos".

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Al Sharpton, he spoke with Imus today on his own radio program. We're going to find out why he still thinks Imus should be fired.

Plus, Barack Obama on Hillary Clinton's home turf. Find out what he's got planned.

And Senator John McCain, he was once extremely upbeat on this program about the security situation in parts of Baghdad. Now he's backpedaling to a certain degree. You're going to hear what he's saying right now. All of that coming up right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Another day of damage control for Republican presidential candidate Senator John McCain. He's still trying to explain his take on the security situation in Iraq and why he's now had to backpedal from some overly upbeat remarks.

Here is our congressional correspondent Andrea Koppel -- Andrea.

ANDREA KOPPEL, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, McCain's strategy is to take his case directly to the American people and lay out his vision not just as to why the war in Iraq is winnable but why it must be won.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: I am not saying that there are a few dead-enders or that we're in our last throes. I am saying that it is hard and tough and long and very, very difficult, but we are making some small progress.

KOPPEL (voice-over): Back from his fifth trip to Baghdad, Arizona Republican John McCain has launched a full court press, the subject -- Iraq. The goal -- damage control following comments McCain made in recent weeks in which the presidential hopeful misspoke and was criticized for painting a rosy picture of security in Baghdad. Just listen to what he told Wolf Blitzer on March 27 about how the U.S. commander in Iraq gets around.

MCCAIN: You know, that's when you ought to catch up on things, Wolf. General Petraeus goes out there almost every day in an unarmed Humvee.

KOPPEL: McCain has since admitted there are no unarmored Humvees. And at a press conference during his latest trip to Iraq, April 2, McCain was criticized again for overselling the state of security in Baghdad.

MCCAIN: I have been here many years, many times over the years, never have I been able to drive from the airport, never have I been able to go out into the city as I was today.

KOPPEL: What McCain failed to mention was that he had had lots of heavily armed U.S. soldiers protecting him throughout his trip, something he told CBS News, he regretted not mentioning.

MCCAIN: Of course I'm going to misspeak and I've done it on numerous occasions and I probably will in the future. I regret that.

KOPPEL: McCain has staked his campaign on success in Iraq. In an op-ed Sunday, the headlines said it all. McCain believes Americans don't know about the progress that's being made because he claims the media aren't reporting it.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KOPPEL: And McCain will highlight this progress again on Wednesday, when he delivers what his aides are describing as a major speech on Iraq at the Virginia Military Institute. It will be his first major speech on Iraq since the fall of 2005 -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Andrea Koppel on the Hill for us. Thanks very much.

A turf war in the race for the White House. Senator Barack Obama spending this evening on Senator Clinton's home turf raising money and making a very high profile TV appearance.

Let's go to our senior correspondent Allan Chernoff -- Allan.

ALLAN CHERNOFF, CNN SR. CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Barack Obama will be appearing on "The Late Show with David Letterman" this evening. It will be a chance for Americans to get to know the candidate and for the candidate to potentially attract more political donors.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CHERNOFF (voice-over): Barack Obama arrives on Hillary Clinton's turf as more than a political sensation. He's proven that he's a heavy hitter in the all important fund-raising race.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: New York City!

CHERNOFF: And he's hoping New York Clinton country will be fertile territory for more cash to come.

DOUG MUZZIO, POLITICAL SCIENTIST, BARUCH COLLEGE: Everybody -- you have to, you have to raise the bucks here, if you have any shot at winning.

CHERNOFF: Nationwide, Senator Obama raised $25 million during the first quarter, nearly as much as Senator Clinton's 26 million.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He can raise the bucks, the fundamental element of politics, the mother's milk of politics. He's got gallons and gallons and gallons of it.

CHERNOFF: And delivering those gallons? About twice as many donors as Hillary Clinton had, important in presidential primaries because of a $2,300 per person donation limit. That means Obama has more donors than Clinton who have yet to top out.

LARRY SABATO, UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA: He can go back to those people again and again because they've given less. There's a lot of room between where they've given and the ultimate limit.

CHERNOFF: But Hillary Clinton has the ultimate Democratic cash cow of fund-raising in her camp, husband Bill Clinton who will be shaking hands on behalf of his wife later this week. The race for cash in New York is more competitive than the race for votes.

Recent polls show Clinton at least 30 percentage points ahead of Obama among registered Democrats in New York State, whose primary has now grown in importance.

OBAMA: Thank you very much New York City.

CHERNOFF: Governor Eliot Spitzer today signed a bill moving the primary date up to February 5.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CHERNOFF: Obama had one fund-raiser before taping the show, and as soon as he's finished chatting with Dave, Barack Obama has a full evening, three fund-raising parties at private homes, including one co-sponsored by Bob Pittman, the former chief operating officer of CNN's parent, then known as AOL Time Warner -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Allan, thank you for that.

And tonight the home state of Hillary Clinton and Rudy Giuliani, by the way, has more early clout in the 2008 presidential primary. As Allan just noted, the New York governor, Eliot Spitzer today signed into law a bill that moves the state's presidential primary up to February 5. New York now joins California and nine other states for a coast-to-coast super duper Tuesday primary.

If you add up all the states with contests that day, you have almost 27 percent of the country's population. But that's not all. Get this -- 15 other states are thinking about moving their primaries or caucuses up to February 5.

And still ahead tonight here in THE SITUATION ROOM, punishment for Don Imus after his racially charged remarks. We'll have late details of a major new development.

Plus, a secret White House e-mail account revealed, but is it against the law? Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: The number of severely obese Americans grew 50 percent between 2000 and 2005. That's despite the dramatic rise in the number of surgeries to cut obesity.

An advocacy group for farm workers says McDonald's has agreed to pay a penny more per pound for Florida-grown tomatoes and the extra money will go directly to farm workers to boost their wages. McDonald's says it will not pass on the extra cost to you.

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

BLITZER: All right, Carol, see you back here in a few moments.

Just ahead, Don Imus is asking for forgiveness, but this apparently is not his first time making some racially charged remarks.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And she was referred to on the show at one point when we were married, they played "Jungle Fever". She was referred to as "brown sugar". Another host who has appeared on Imus' show had referred to us as Mandingo.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: William Cohen and his African American wife have clearly been criticized on the Imus Radio Show. We're going to get the former defense secretary's reaction to the current flap.

Also hidden messages and a secret e-mail account now being revealed, all involving White House officials. Do they have something to hide? Details of that coming up as well.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM. Happening now, the fourth anniversary of Baghdad's fall to U.S. forces. Today thousands of Shiite protesters gathered in Najaf demanding that U.S. troops leave Iraq. The radical anti-American Shiite cleric, Muqtada al-Sadr, calling the demonstrations anti- American, saying he wants more.

Also, pirated music, movies and books in China. The Bush administration trying to put a stop to them. It is filing two new trade cases against China. The U.S. challenging China's efforts -- China's enforcement of intellectual property rights that leads to such things as pirated DVDs and its challenging barriers that makes it difficult for U.S. companies to sell movies, music and books in China.

And in Britain all military service members are at least temporarily barred from selling stories of their military experiences to the news media. This after some of those 15 British sailors and marines recently freed by Iraq were allowed to sell their stories. That caused some outrage in Britain, and now Britain is reviewing its policy in this area.

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

Just a short while ago, we learned that NBC is suspending the radio talk show host Don Imus for two weeks for his racially charged remarks about college women basketball players at Rutgers University. That new development comes after repeated apologies by Don Imus, which many are refusing to accept.

Let's go back to Carol Costello in New York. First of all, Carol, what do we know about this suspension?

COSTELLO: Well, you know, here's the thing, Wolf. NBC said it would no longer simulcast Imus' radio show on MSNBC because of Imus' racist abhorrent comments, but he gets to come back if he changes his discourse. Interestingly enough, CBS radio is not suspending Imus, so his radio broadcast will still be heard by millions of people.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's being suspended.

COSTELLO (voice-over): It took NBC five days, but it finally reacted. Imus' punishment announced by Brian Williams, a frequent guest on Imus' show. It comes after Don Imus' painful forgiveness tour. First stop, Al Sharpton's radio show.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She is not a nappy-headed ho. She's my daughter. Do you think it's funny to call people nappy-headed hos?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, I don't.

COSTELLO: Imus has been trying for days to explain exactly what he was thinking when made those remarks about the Rutgers women's basketball team. And last when his executive producer referred to them as jiggaboos and wannabes, saying on his own show Monday morning... UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm sorry I did that. I'm embarrassed that I did that. I did a bad thing. But I'm a good person. And that will change.

COSTELLO: Later telling Sharpton's largely black audience jiggaboos and wannabes were expressions from a Spike Lee movie, "School Daze".

(MUSIC)

COSTELLO: Spike Lee was not amused saying I came up with jiggaboos and wannabes for something very specific. Imus don't know what he's talking about with "School Daze". Others, mostly African Americans agree, picketing Imus' show in Chicago, not buying Imus' argument those references were meant to be funny.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We don't have an agenda. Our agenda is to try to be funny.

COSTELLO: That's not to say that Imus doesn't have his supporters. Journalist Tom Oliphant comforted Imus on his radio show Monday morning.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Good morning, Mr. Oliphant.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Good morning, Mr. Imus, and solidarity forever, by the way.

COSTELLO: But in the end, solidarity didn't prevent NBC from suspending Imus. Still, he'll be back in two weeks, certainly not satisfactory for those who want Imus gone for good.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COSTELLO: Well you heard Jack Cafferty's question, this controversy certainly is complicated. Imus also brought up the fact women are called hos in well some rap music videos. Sharpton agreed, saying, that's wrong, too. Imus has also reached out to Rutgers players. They have not decided whether to talk to him yet -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Carol, thanks for that. After Don Imus spoke with Al Sharpton, the Reverend Sharpton spoke with us. That was before the NBC suspension, but he made it perfectly clear what he thought of Imus' words and exactly what he thinks should happen. Reverend Sharpton.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Reverend Sharpton, thanks for coming in.

REV. AL SHARPTON, CIVIL RIGHTS ACTIVIST: Thank you.

BLITZER: All right, so, did he reassure you, or you still want him fired?

SHARPTON: Oh, no, we want him fired. I think that it is clear that we're not just talking, Wolf, about his personal beliefs or feelings, or even his being contrite. What we're talking about is public policy.

There's no way the airwaves should be used to allow people to call people nappy-headed hos. That's what he called these people. And, for him to say that, and to just walk away like, I'm just sorry; I made a mistake, would then mean that the FCC, who regulates everything on the airways, and who sanctioned people, as far as Janet Jackson, with a wardrobe malfunction, has no purpose at all.

BLITZER: Did you get the impression he was sincere in his anguish? You sat just across the table from him during your radio program.

SHARPTON: I got the impression he was sincere. Whether he was sincere about keeping his job or sincere about what he did, I don't know him well enough to make that determination.

The real question is whether the stations he worked for are sincere about upholding a standard. The real question is whether the FCC is sincere about having regulations that operate the same for everyone. And, when you see some hardworking young ladies who excelled academically to go to Rutgers University, and fight their way to the championship, being reduced to being called nappy-headed hos, the humiliation they feel and a lot of young women -- I had my daughter in the studio today.

How do they feel? And, if nothing is done about this, if there's no punishment, what message are we sending to this country?

BLITZER: That exchange that you had with him, with your daughter there, I want to play -- I was listening to your radio program today. I want to play that little exchange, Reverend Sharpton.

Stand by for a moment.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "THE AL SHARPTON SHOW")

SHARPTON: You see this young lady here? Where is she at? You see this young lady?

IMUS: Yes, sir.

SHARPTON: This young lady just graduated (INAUDIBLE), went to Temple. She is not a nappy-headed ho. She's my daughter.

IMUS: I think what makes a difference in this context, and I -- you can still call for me to be fired, that's fine. But I think what makes a difference -- a crucial difference is what was my intent?

Am I some rapid racist, vicious person who is on a rampage screaming and got on the radio and turned on the microphone and said, here is what I think these woman are. That is not what I did. What I did is repugnant and repulsive and horrible.

And you know what is horrible about it? It's here are these young women who, at the pinnacle of their life and their athletic accomplishment, they played for the national championship in basketball.

SHARPTON: And really suffered to do that. Worked hard to do that.

IMUS: And I ruined it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHARPTON: I think he was a little taken back. And I think he understood why the impact of this is a lot more than just something that should be argued in the boardrooms of some radio station.

He hit a lot of us where we live. And a lot of us that have condemned a lot of the language in gangsta rap and a lot of the language on radio, and said to kids, you have got to quit using negative words, how do we go back to tell our kids to clean up their words, when you can call some exemplary young women this, and we say nothing and extract no punishment to protect their integrity and their self- esteem?

BLITZER: John McCain just said, only a few moments ago, that everyone deserves a chance at redemption. He's willing to give Imus another chance. James Carville, here in THE SITUATION ROOM, said he has been on his program for many years. He has been a friend of his. He's going to give him another chance, will continue to go on his program.

Do you think big-name celebrities, whether politicians or media stars or others, should continue to be guests on Imus' radio program?

SHARPTON: I think that if there is no punishment, if there is no policy enforced, to continue to go there is to endorse the policy. That it doesn't matter how vile you get and who is violated, that an apology will do. It's strange to me that none of them have stopped to talk about the offended. It is easy for people that have not been offended to forgive people that didn't offend them. I think that is arrogant and insensitive.

I would think that everyone, especially those running for president, would first say, wait a minute, has there been some punishment and acknowledgment by those who were offended here? How can I forgive somebody for something they didn't do to me?

BLITZER: What about all the good work he has done over the years? He has got a program at his ranch, as you know, out West. He brings sick children there, including a lot of minority kids. He gives them a chance to be out West.

What about all the good work, the millions he has raised for these young kids?

SHARPTON: I don't think anyone discounts that. I think that that is good. And he ought to be applauded for that. But I don't think that answers the point that he himself said, that he did a repugnant, racist act. And I think that, if someone is accused of something, sure, you weigh their background. But you still do not say that that totally means that you have immunity from behaving in a great way -- or in a way that is a great insult and a great offense to people.

I mean, if you go to all of those disc jockeys that have been fired for saying offensive things -- look at Al Campanis. He did things in his community. He was fired -- Jimmy "The Greek," fired.

Are we now going to get to the 21st Century, and you have somebody say something more repugnant than Campanis, more repugnant than Jimmy "The Greek," and say, all you have got to do is say I'm sorry and have a few of your big-shot friends come out and say they forgive you, when you didn't do anything to them in the first place?

BLITZER: The Reverend Al Sharpton. Thanks very much for coming in.

SHARPTON: Thank you.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: And there's more developments right now happening on this whole Don Imus controversy. Let's go back to Carol Costello in New York -- Carol.

COSTELLO: Well, Wolf, CBS Radio is now weighing in. It is going to join NBC and suspend Don Imus for two weeks. I'm going to read you the statement they just sent us moments ago. It says: "Due to the events of the past week, CBS Radio will suspend Don Imus and the broadcast of his show for a period of two weeks, effective Monday, April 16th. The program will continue to broadcast this week due to WFAN's previously scheduled on-air charity fundraiser on Thursday, April 12th and Friday, April 13th."

As you know, Don Imus raises money for sick children. But his radio show will be suspended for two weeks on CBS, it will also be suspended on MSNBC, so you won't be seeing any new episodes of Imus on radio or television for two weeks.

BLITZER: All right. Good, thanks for that update. Appreciate it very much. Don Imus' racially charged remarks hit very close to home for the former defense secretary and CNN world affairs analyst William Cohen.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: I want to pick your brain on the whole Don Imus controversy that has now erupted, because I know your wife Janet, she had an incident, she wrote about it in her first book involving the Imus radio program.

WILLIAM COHEN, CNN WORLD AFFAIRS ANALYST: Well, actually, we had hoped we might even go on the Don Imus show. BLITZER: In promoting your most recent book, "Love in Black and White".

COHEN: Right, to talk about racial issues and the hatred that this country has experienced, and how blacks have been discriminated against historically, and what that has meant. Basically...

BLITZER: And Janet, I want to remind our viewers, is African- American.

COHEN: She is a black woman. A very proud, intelligent, dignified, extraordinary woman.

And she was referred to on the show at one point when we were married -- they played "Jungle Fever." She was referred to as "brown sugar." Another host who has appeared on Imus' show had referred to us as "Mandingo."

So, what we wanted to do was to say, you know, words do wound. That the old adage about sticks and stones may break our bones, words will never hurt us, words can hurt. And I think that's what we wanted to talk about.

And we hope that we can continue to the talk about this issue. And we will speak whenever we can.

But I think that Don Imus, we watch him. We're not friends, but certainly we've been fans of his. We've been entertained. We've also been offended.

And I think what has happened in this particular case is that we need to get back to talking to each other with respect, looking at other people, embracing their diversity, respecting their diversity, and not simply mocking people.

I think that when we allow the crudity of language, and, I might say, going beyond the Don Imus situation, when you have a former speaker of the House of Representatives refer to Spanish as the language of the ghetto, that also hurts.

So we have to just take care that we treat people with respect. And Don Imus I think has indicated he is truly anguished about this. And I think it's sincere, from what I've witnessed on it. And I hope we all learn a lesson from this experience.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: One note, we invited Don Imus to come on this program tonight. He declined our invitation. If he changes his mind, he's welcome to come in for an interview.

Coming up tonight, does Don Imus deserve to be fired for his comments about the Rutgers women's basketball team? Jack Cafferty with the "Cafferty File." That's coming up.

Also a shadow e-mail account and a trail from the White House to some of the hottest political controversies. Is there something top Republicans are trying to hide? Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: One secret e-mail account is now at the heart of new allegations the White House may have been trying to hide information about some of the biggest scandals it's now facing. Let's go to our national correspondent, Bob Franken. He's joining us live.

Why would this e-mail account possibly, possibly be illegal, Bob?

BOB FRANKEN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, it's part of the Presidential Records Act. And it requires that presidents and information of and about presidents be kept permanent.

Now, the problem is it was written during the Nixon administration when there were so many issues about that administration, but now there are issues with the Bush administration.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

FRANKEN (voice-over): Like so many of us, top White House officials seem to be all thumbs, constantly dealing with the blur of e-mail. But now there are charges they may have been trying to illegally hide some of it.

MELANIE SLOAN, CITIZENS FOR RESPONSIBILITY AND ETHICS: They wanted to make sure that no record could ever be found of what they were really up to in the White House.

FRANKEN: At issue, a non-official Republican National Committee e-mail account called gwb43.com, where private sector and congressional investigators say they've found communications from top White House aides dealing with official matters. Matters like the firings of U.S. attorneys. There is traffic about that to Kyle Sampson, who has now resigned as chief of staff to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.

There are also messages to and from lobbyist Jack Abramoff, now in prison. At one point, according to investigators, after an e-mail was apparently sent by accident to the White House account of an assistant to Karl Rove, Abramoff fired another one saying: "Damn it, it was not supposed to go in the White House system."

Neither administration aides nor Republican Party officials would agree to be interviewed on camera after repeated requests from CNN. But a White House spokesman, Scott Stanzel, in a statement, called the use of different computers to have the separate e-mail account for political activities, "appropriate, modeled after the historical practice of previous administrations."

But this is different, says the chief of staff from the Clinton administration.

JOHN PODESTA, CENTER FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS: It doesn't appear that they were doing what we did, which was to segregate political activity using political systems from official activity. FRANKEN: The Democratic chairman of the House Government Reform Committee is demanding access to gwb43.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

FRANKEN: Reportedly though, many messages are automatically purged after 30 days. And, Wolf, there's no penalty for violating the Presidential Records Act except maybe another political penalty.

BLITZER: All right. Bob, thank you, Bob Franken, staying on top of this story for us.

President Bush went to Arizona's border with Mexico today, low on political capital and without much good will from the Democratic- controlled Congress. He's trying to jumpstart the push for immigration reform despite his own baggage in the very complicated and emotional politics of the border wars.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's a matter of national interest and it's a matter of deep conviction for me. I've been working to bring Republicans and Democrats together to resolve outstanding issues so that Congress can pass a comprehensive bill and I can sign it into law this year.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: It's going to be a complicated process. Illegal immigration foe and Republican Congressman Tom Tancredo, by the way, is fighting to keep TV's popular "Dog the Bounty Hunter" from being sent to Mexico to face charges there. Now Tancredo is making Dog's plight part of his upstart presidential campaign. Let's go to our Internet report, Jacki Schechner.

Why is he speaking out right now, Jacki?

JACKI SCHECHNER, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, simply put, in large part because he's a fan of the TV show. Congressman Tom Tancredo has spoken about "Dog the Bounty Hunter" on the floor of the House on several occasions. He sent letters to the State Department, Department of Justice, the Attorney General's Office.

And now he has got a letter to the Mexican government that he's posted on his presidential campaign Web site. He wants supporters to go to the Web site to sign a petition in support of the letter and in support of "Dog the Bounty Hunter."

See, Dog and his posse went down to Mexico in June 2003 to bring back a California man who skipped bail. And the Mexican government ended up detaining him on a charge called deprivation of liberty. Tancredo would like to see him free -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jacki, thank you for that. Still ahead, why an Olympic gold medalist could be heading to jail.

Also, he's being suspended, but should Don Imus be fired? Jack Cafferty going through your e-mail, all that coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Let's go back to Jack in New York for the "Cafferty File" -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: Both CBS Radio now and MSNBC have announced they're suspending Don Imus' morning radio show for a period of two weeks. The question we asked is, does Don Imus deserve to be fired for his comments about the Rutgers women's university basketball team?

Ted in New Jersey writes: "There's little that I can add to your wisdom-filled comments. Reverends Sharpton and Jackson hands are not clean enough in this for them to be going around using their rather talented mouths to condemn others. Yes, Don Imus' words were stupid and insensitive. He needs to control his mouth. But his good works far outweigh the stupid things, as he says, at times."

Cliff in Massachusetts: "Hell, yes, Imus should be fired and you too, for defending him." I wasn't defending him.

Jim: "I don't listen to Imus. Never have. I think he's too abrasive for me. However, I think you're right on target. The chorus of 'fire Imus' coming from people who won't even consider the cleaning up of rap music because of their right to sing it sickens me. Too bad more talking heads can't tell it like you have."

James writes: "Yes, you made some good arguments about Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson. And guess what, I agree they're all hypocrites and I lost respect for them as well years and years ago. Imus should know better. And we've had 15 minutes too long of him, Jesse and Al."

Bryan in New Jersey: "No, Imus should not be fired. This is what he does. He called Vice President Cheney a war criminal, and then had Cheney on his show. Jesse Jackson should not be one to talk about ruining the lives of NCAA athletes. At this time last year, he was down in Durham, North Carolina, ruining the lives of members of the Duke lacrosse team, who have now had most of the charges against them dropped."

Robert in Indiana: "This is not his first time. It's time for Imus to go. It's past time."

And Chris in Flemington, New Jersey: "No, he doesn't deserve to be fired for his remarks. He deserves to be fired for wearing that stupid hat every day on national television."

If you didn't see your e-mail here, you can go to cnn.com/cafferty file. We post more of them online along with video clips of the "Cafferty File" -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks, Jack. I'll see you here tomorrow. Jack Cafferty in New York. Let's stay in New York. Paula Zahn is standing by to tell us what's coming up right at the top of the hour.

Hi, Paula.

PAULA ZAHN, HOST, "PAULA ZAHN NOW": Hi, Wolf, thanks so much. Coming up in about eight minutes from now, we'll continue following tonight's breaking story, Don Imus suspended. I will get exclusive reaction from the Reverend Al Sharpton right after this news came down.

Also an African-American employer's controversial decision to hire more Latinos than blacks. He says Latinos work harder. Is he discriminating against his own?

And we are starting an important week-long series tonight, how colleges profit from exposing students to mountains of credit card debt, sometimes with tragic results. All that's "Out the Open" coming up at the top of the hour -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Paula, sounds good. We'll be watching. Thank you.

Up ahead, the Pentagon considers new marching orders in Iraq. That move could affect thousands of U.S. troops.

Plus is being sorry and a suspension enough? Jack Cafferty's question, should Don Imus be fired? You heard Jack Cafferty and the e-mail. But we're going to have more on this story. That's coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Carol Costello is monitoring stories incoming to THE SITUATION ROOM right now. Carol is standing by to tell us what has happened -- Carol.

COSTELLO: A couple of things to tell you, Wolf. CNN has learned that U.S. commanders are asking the Pentagon to extend the tour of duty for some 15,000 troops in Iraq. If approved they would have to stay an extra four months as part of the current troop increase. Military sources say the request is being considered and that Defense Secretary Robert Gates should sign the order as early as this week.

An Olympic gold medalist likely heading to jail. Tim Montgomery, who was once considered the fastest man in the world, pleads guilty in a bank fraud and money-laundering scheme. He's accused of depositing bogus checks worth $750,000. He faces up to 46 months in prison when he is sentenced later this year.

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

BLITZER: Carol, thank you. The radio host Don Imus is following a tradition of famous people who make infamous comments. They find they can't say sorry enough. Here's CNN's Jeanne Moos.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): His show may be called...

UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS: "Imus in the Morning."

MOOS: More like "Imus in Mourning" as he apologized over and over, often using the same words.

IMUS: I'm a good person. But I said a bad thing. I did a bad thing. But I'm a good person. Because I'm a good person who said a bad thing.

MOOS: An abject Imus spent most of his show saying sorry to the Rutgers basketball team.

IMUS: To see if these young women will allow me to come apologize to them and their families.

MOOS: So now Imus joins the apologizer hall of fame.

KOBE BRYANT, BASKETBALL PLAYER: I'm so sorry.

MICHAEL RICHARDS, COMEDIAN: I'm really busted up over this.

MEL GIBSON, ACTOR/DIRECTOR: I'm ashamed that that came out of my mouth.

MOOS: What came out of the I-man's mouth was in his opinion supposed to be funny.

(on camera): He called them "nappy-headed hos."

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You're kidding.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My God, that's awful.

MOOS: Should he stay or should he go?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think he should go.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think he should stay.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think he should stay.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're gay, so we call each other (expletive deleted) sometimes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, I do not call you that.

MOOS: Should Imus stay or should Imus go?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, he should be fired. I mean, to make comments like that in 2007, I think that's disgusting.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I couldn't say that at my job. They'd fire me in a heartbeat if I referred to a co-worker that way.

MOOS (voice-over): Imus promised to change the climate of his show and reinforce the idea with music as he went to break.

UNIDENTIFIED SINGER: Some people change.

MOOS: The question is, can Imus change fast enough to satisfy those who want his head?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Imus must go!

MOOS: For now Imus' show has been suspended for two weeks, on Al Sharpton's radio show, Reverend Al pointed out someone working there.

SHARPTON: You see this young lady?

IMUS: Yes, sir.

SHARPTON: She is not a nappy-headed ho. She's my daughter.

MOOS: Imus was mostly repentant but occasionally feisty.

IMUS: I'm not going to sit here and let you insult me. Do not get into my face about this. I didn't come here to get slapped around, I'm not going to get slapped around.

MOOS: But slapped around is what he's getting. On Reverend Sharpton's show, one black listener came to Imus' defense for helping African-American causes. But when Imus used slang to refer to himself...

IMUS: Some old cracker on the radio.

MOOS: ... Reverend Sharpton even slapped him for that.

SHARPTON: I would appreciate it if you'd respect your own race on my show.

MOOS: In the race to apologize...

IMUS: I'm embarrassed that I did that.

MOOS: ... add the I-man to our sorry state of affairs.

OPRAH WINFREY, HOST, "THE OPRAH WINFREY SHOW": I am deeply sorry about that.

HUGH GRANT, ACTOR: I need to suffer for this.

JIMMY SWAGGART, TELEVANGELIST: I have sinned against you, my lord.

MOOS: Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: And we'll leave you this hour with a much happier item. Some viewers in THE SITUATION ROOM got a payoff this weekend. If you happened to be doing The New York Times crossword puzzle on Saturday, you saw this, the clue on 21 across was "Situation Room" airer, A-I-R- E-R. Of course, if you are watching us right now, you probably guessed the answer. Three letters across. That would be C-N-N. The rest of the puzzle you are on your own. Let's go to Paula in New York.

TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.voxant.com

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