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Interview with Senator Barack Obama; Advertisers Dropping Imus; Duke Lacrosse Players Charges Dropped

Aired April 11, 2007 - 17:00   ET


DODD: -- doesn't make any sense to any one at all. I believe you can do both. End the policy and provide for the safe redeployment of our forces on the ground there.
BLITZER: Senator Dodd we have to leave it there, we'll listen to your speech tonight in Iowa. Thanks very much for coming in.

DODD: Thank you Wolf.

BLITZER: And to our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM. Happening now, a shocking conclusion to the sexual assault case against three Duke University lacrosse players, why prosecutors now say the athletes were innocent victims of a rush to accuse.

A longer haul in Iraq. Active duty U.S. Army soldiers getting extended tours of duty as the U.S. military says Iran is killing American troops.

And presidential contenders clash over the war. John McCain says Democrats are being reckless, Barack Obama says McCain is fantasizing. I'll speak with the senator from Illinois. I'm Wolf Blitzer, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

A truly stunning end to a case that made headlines and sparked controversy, North Carolina's attorney general announcing he's dropping all charges against three Duke University lacrosse players accused of assaulting an exotic dancer. And within the last hour, those players spoke out in an emotional news conference. Take a listen.


DAVID EVANS, CHARGES AGAINST HIM DROPPED: These allegations are false, these charges were false and should never have been brought. We fully cooperated from the beginning. There was never a blue wall of silence. Look at the facts of the case and you will see that.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: At points it was tough to see the light and even imagine a day without this weight on our shoulders. Knowing I had the truth on my side was really the most comforting thing of all throughout the past year.


BLITZER: Let's go straight to CNN's Jason Carroll in Raleigh, CNN's legal analyst Jeff Toobin, he's in New York. What do we expect, Jason, to hear now from the accuser?

JASON CARROLL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well we've actually already reached out to the accuser and her family, and her family obviously now says that they're extremely disappointed by what the attorney general said. They're also angry at the attorney general insinuating in some way shape or form that this young woman is mentally distraught in some way. So they are angry about that. You even heard the attorney general at one point Wolf say that this young woman wanted to pursue charges, and that those thoughts have not changed from her point of view.


ROY COOPER, NORTH CAROLINA ATTORNEY GENERAL: Other evidence contradicts her story. She contradicts herself. Next week, we'll be providing a written summary of the important factual findings and some of the specific contradictions that have led us to the conclusion that no attack occurred.


BLITZER: I want to go to our legal analyst, bring in Jeff Toobin. It's pretty extraordinary, Jeff, when you think about it, the way this case unraveled, and what we learned today.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Just, really, almost unprecedented in my experience, because, what the attorney general said was not simply that there wasn't enough evidence to proceed. He said, based on the investigation that his office had done, these three young men were innocent. Period. And that's something prosecutors almost never say, and that just shows the magnitude of the vindication they got today.

BLITZER: The prosecutor who was dumped from this case, Jason, what happens to him now?

CARROLL: Well, a couple of things are going to happen. At this point, at this point right now, Michael NiFong, the Durham district attorney who used to be charged with this case is being investigated by the state bar for ethics violations. He's being charged with withholding exculpatory evidence, for mishandling the case. A hearing on that is set to happen this Friday. Defense sources tell me Wolf that they plan to pursue civil charges against Michael NiFong, possibly against Duke University, but they also tell me that they will probably not seek those types of civil charges against the accuser in this case. They refer to her as a troubled young woman and they just don't see the point in doing that.

BLITZER: Any reaction from the university yet, Jason?

CARROLL: We are awaiting reaction from the university. They're in the process of formulating some sort of a response. But I have to tell you, just from listening to some of the players, and hearing from the players and their families and the defense attorneys, over a period of time Wolf, they are very disappointed in the way that Duke University handled this. BLITZER: I want to play for our viewer's part of the statement that Reade Seligmann read at this news conference. Listen to this.


READE SELIGMANN, CHARGES AGAINST HIM DROPPED: This entire experience has opened up my eyes up to a tragic world of injustice I never knew existed. If police officers and a district attorney can systematically railroad us with absolutely no evidence whatsoever, I can't imagine what they'd do to people who do not have the resources to defend themselves.


BLITZER: Toobin, is this an isolated case of a district attorney run amuck, if you will, or does this kind of stuff go on all the time around the country?

TOOBIN: Well, it does go on. I wouldn't say it goes on all the time. And I was very moved by what Reade Seligmann said right there because that's certainly what occurred to me. These folks are upper middle class kids who hired the best attorneys in North Carolina, who did a fantastic job for them. But there are innocent people in prison in this country, and they don't all have those kinds of resources, and it's just our job as journalists and lawyers and citizens, to limit that as much as possible. But he's right. I mean this does go on and it is chilling to think about what people without these sort of resources can do about it.

BLITZER: Stand by guys for a moment. We are now getting a statement in from the university, Abbi Tatton is picking it up online. What are you getting Abbi?

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, it's just been posted in the last couple of minutes, a statement from Duke University President Richard Broadhead. What he's saying is that he welcomes that these remaining charges against the three men have been dropped, he goes on to say that this was an extraordinarily painful year for those three young men and their families. Broadhead saying from the outset, I have been careful to note that these students were entitled to the presumption of innocence and I looked to the legal system to determine the merit of the charges. What Broadhead is saying today, this is the Duke University president, is that he hopes this starts a new day for all those involved. Wolf?

BLITZER: A stunning development today in North Carolina. Abbi thank you very much for that, we'll have more on this story coming up.

But there's been another important development today, it involves the war in Iraq. Hard pressed to find enough troops to fight two wars, the Pentagon is now ordering U.S. Army soldiers to stay longer in the combat zones. Let's go live to our senior Pentagon correspondent Jamie McIntyre. It's going to be a long haul for a lot of U.S. soldiers, Jamie. Tell our viewers what happened today.

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SENIOR PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: That's right Wolf. The long war has gotten a lot longer for about 125,000 U.S. soldiers in a combat zone, as well as an equal number of replacements who will be replacing them in the months ahead.


MCINTYRE (voice-over): The enduring wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are now requiring even more sacrifice by active duty American soldiers. The Pentagon has approved a plan to increase the standard tour of duty for the active army in both combat zones from 12 months to 15. Without that plan, Defense Secretary Robert Gates would be forced to deploy five brigades to Iraq early, and extend other brigades on short notice in the coming months.

ROBERT GATES, DEFENSE SECRETARY: I strongly believe that we owe our troops as much advance notice as possible, and clarity on what they and their families can expect. In other words, predictability.

MCINTYRE: The three-month extension applies to all active duty army soldiers deployed in the U.S. Central Command area. That includes over 100,000 army soldiers of the 145,000 U.S. troops currently in Iraq, and about 20,000 soldiers of the 47,000 NATO and U.S. forces in Afghanistan. While the active duty troops will deploy for 15 months, they would get 12 months at home. Guard and reserve troops would still serve a year on and get five years at home, as Secretary Robert Gates promised back in January. And most Marines whose deployments are tied to Navy ship movements, will still serve seven month tours with a six-month break. The army says the extensions were the best way to provide the 20 combat brigades U.S. commanders say are needed to maintain the Baghdad security plan known as the surge for at least a year.

GEN. PETER PACE, JOINT CHIEFS CHAIRMAN: This decision today does not predict when this surge will end. What it does is it allows us to provide to the nation, if needed, the amount of force that's currently deployed for a sustained period of time.


MCINTYRE: U.S. commanders say despite the discouraging news about longer deployments, that U.S. military morale remains high, and that the army while stretched is not broken. As evidence, they point to the latest recruiting figures and retention figures that show the active duty army exceeded its goal both for signing up new soldiers and reenlisting old ones. Wolf?

BLITZER: Jamie McIntyre reporting, thanks Jamie.

Meanwhile, there was a very close call today off the coast of Israel. An American airliner was intercepted by fighter jets over the Mediterranean, and the alert reached the highest levels of the Israeli military. Let's go to CNN's Kathleen Koch, she's been monitoring this. How close of a call was this Kathleen?

KATHLEEN KOCH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well Wolf, there were some very, very harrowing moments today for the 251 passengers on board Continental flight 90 as they were some 40 miles off the coast of Israel. Four Israeli Air Force combat jets intercepted what they were told was an unidentified aircraft entering Israeli airspace. A military spokesman says it, quote, "Did not properly contact Israeli authorities." Now, Continental has a different story. Airline spokesman Dave Messing saying that as the plane was heading to Tel Aviv from Newark, New Jersey. There was a temporary loss of communication between the aircraft and air traffic control as it was being transferred from one sector to another. Messing says no one knows why communications broke down, but they're certainly going to find out. Wolf?

BLITZER: So what happens next Kathleen?

KOCH: Wolf, the airline insists that the Continental pilot did the right thing, made all the necessary contacts according to normal arrival procedures. Quote, "Why the local authorities reacted the way they did needs to be looked at more thoroughly in Israel", according to Continental spokesman Messing. And he added quote, "I don't think anyone thinks they were close to pulling the trigger." As for the Israelis, the military spokesman says that the Continental pilot only contacted aviation authorities after the aircraft was intercepted by Israeli jets and identified ad a civilian passenger plane. It was escorted to the ground around 4:30 this afternoon. Everything's fine, the passengers deplaned normally. Israeli Defense Forces, the chief of staff there, was notified as this incident was playing out, so, everyone's taking this seriously. A joint inquiry has been launched by Israeli aviation and military authorities. And Continental for its part plans to review the incident to make sure that nothing like this ever happens again. Wolf?

BLITZER: All right. A close call, but fortunately it didn't end in disaster. Thanks very much Kathleen Koch reporting. Jack Cafferty is in New York with "The Cafferty File." Jack?

JACK CAFFERTY: There's a job opening in the administration, and there don't seem to be any takers. The White House looking for a high powered war czar to oversee operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. This person would report directly to President Bush, of course, and the National Security Advisor and would coordinate policy between agencies like the Pentagon and the State Department. Just what we need, right? Another layer of bureaucracy to mismanage the mess that is the war in Iraq. The Pentagon, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the secretaries of all the various service branches, that's not enough. We need a war czar. Well so far, three retired four-star generals have said no thank you. One of them, retired Marine General Jack Sheehan told the "Washington Post," quote, "The very fundamental issue is, they don't know where the hell they're going. So rather than go over there, develop an ulcer and eventually leave, I said, "No, thanks." I love the marines. Sheehan said Vice President Cheney holds more sway in the administration than those who are looking for a way out of Iraq. A White House spokeswoman says the administration is considering a wide range of options but she said there's no job description as yet. Here's the question, "What does it mean if the White House cannot find anyone willing to take the job of "war czar." E-mail us at or go to Wolf?

BLITZER: You like that title, "war czar," Jack? CAFFERTY: It just boggles my mind. What are they doing?

BLITZER: What a title. All right, Jack, thanks very much.

Up ahead, two leading presidential contenders trading fire over the war in Iraq.


BARACK OBAMA: I have enormous respect for John McCain, but I think he is flat wrong on this issue. And I think he's been wrong for some time.


BLITZER: Find out what else Senator Barack Obama has to say about his rival. My one-on-one interview with the Democratic presidential candidate, that's coming up this hour.

Also, serious new allegations about Iran's role in Iraq. I'll talk about it with the top spokesman for the U.S. and multinational force in Iraq Major General William Caldwell in Baghdad.

And new fallout from Don Imus' infamous slur. Advertisers fleeing his show, find out which ones. Stay with us, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Fresh allegations today, Iran is waging a proxy war in Iraq. And other fresh allegations that Iran is behind the deaths of U.S. troops there.

And joining us now in Baghdad, Major General William Caldwell, the chief spokesman for the U.S. and Multi-National Forces in Iraq. General Caldwell, you say you have new information, new evidence that Iranians have been providing assistance to certain elements in Iraq to kill American soldiers, as recently as within this past month. What is that evidence?

MAJ. GEN. WILLIAM CALDWELL, MULTI-NATIONAL FORCE-IRAQ: Well, once again, Wolf, two days ago here in Baghdad, based on a tip from a local Iraqi, we found another weapons cache at a home. And going in there and uncovering that we found once again munitions that were manufactured in Iran in 2005 and 2006, still showing up here in the Baghdad area. Mortar rounds and some other type equipment like that.

BLITZER: What's the evidence though that the Iranian government is directly involved in making these munitions available to insurgents or terrorists or others in Iraq?

CALDWELL: Well, I think we'll real carefully continue to say its Iranian intelligence agents that are associated with this effort to provide munitions which are then smuggled into Iraq and then used against the Iraqi security forces and our coalition forces. BLITZER: What's your latest assessment, how many American troops have been killed directly as a result of Iranian supported operations or equipment?

CALDWELL: Wolf, that's a tough thing to make a direct correlation from, but obviously, the reason we talked about explosively formed penetrators or EFPs, about two months ago is because we do in fact know that those are manufactured in Iran, and that there is training that is conducted there with Iraqi extremists, so that they can learn how to take and bring those pieces of equipment back and employ them against coalition forces and Iraqi security forces. And they are deadly.

BLITZER: How many Iranians is the U.S. military in Iraq holding right now?

CALDWELL: We have in our detention right now seven Iranian intelligence officers.

BLITZER: And are you debriefing them, you're interrogating them?

CALDWELL: We have continued with the debriefing, especially these five that we picked up in January.

BLITZER: You made some other suggestions that Syria was also directly involved in helping this insurgency, some of these terrorist operations in Iraq. What's the latest information that you have?

CALDWELL: Well, what we do know is that there still is a continual flow of foreign fighters that make their way into Syria, and then from Syria into Iraq of about 40 to 60 every month. And the Syrian government has not interdicted and stopped that flow or prevented them from getting in. But we also in the last 48 hours conducted operations inside of Baghdad and in the debriefings that have gone on with some of these Sunni extremists that we have picked up, they have been talking about training they received in Syria.

BLITZER: General Caldwell, you've made available some dramatic video that I want to show our viewers, but explain what we're seeing, we're about to see a truck, a chlorine truck, but pick up the story so that our viewers understand what they're about to see.

CALDWELL: Wolf, we've been taking a real effort to go after these car bomb makers and we've done intelligence that they were taking a huge dump truck and making it into a massive car bomb and putting chlorine tanks on it. So two F-18 aircraft were called in and you're going to see their laser guided munitions being dropped in right on top of that dump truck. But what's important to see is, once you've seen that explosion, if you continue to watch, you're going to see a massive secondary explosion which is all of the other explosives that were associated with that car bomb that they undoubtedly would have put a suicide driver in and have taken to -- attempted to have killed an inflicted as many casualties as they could, against innocent Iraqi civilians.

BLITZER: General Caldwell thanks for joining us. CALDWELL: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: General Caldwell also told me, by the way, that up to 200, maybe 300 casualties could have resulted from that kind of chlorine truck bombing.

Coming up, new developments in that recall of killer pet food. What one company executive reportedly did at the last minute.

And also find out how Don Imus' controversial remarks are now hitting his bottom line. Stay with us, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Our Carol Costello is monitoring stories incoming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now. Carol, what's coming up?

CAROL COSTELLO: Well let's start with this, Wolf. The chief financial officer of the pet food company behind that massive recall sold a big chunk of its stock just weeks before word of the tainted food got out. That is according to the "Associated Press" and is based on Canadian trading reports. But Menu Foods says the timing was merely a coincidence and that the executive had a limited window in which he could sell his shares.

The country's largest bank is looking to improve its bottom line. CitiGroup announcing it's cutting 17,000 jobs, that's about 5 percent of its workforce. The New York based bank also says it moved almost 10,000 jobs to what it calls lower-cost locations. The company hopes the moves will save it $10 billion.

And the bottom line on home prices, they're going to fall, according to the National Association of Realtors. It's forecasting the median price of existing homes to drop 7/10ths of a percent this year, that's down from the group's earlier forecast of 1.2 percent. Back to you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Carol, thanks very much. Coming up, my interview with Democratic presidential candidate Senator Barack Obama. How far is he willing to go to end the war in Iraq?


OBAMA: I am not yet at the point where I am prepared to say that I'm going to cut off funding.


BLITZER: You're also going to want to hear what Senator Obama had to say about his verbal sparring with Senator John McCain about the war.

Plus, he's too hot for many advertisers to handle. Find out which ones are dumping Don Imus. Stay with us, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


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

Happening now, there's new controversy over lawmakers as diplomats. The White House urging members of congress not to visit Iran, that's in response to Congressman Tom Lantos who says he's been trying to visit Iran to meet with leaders.

A group linked to al Qaeda claiming responsibility for bombings in Algeria's capital, including one at the prime minister's headquarters. At least 24 people are dead.

And the first independent review is in on conditions at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center. Cites money problems and Pentagon neglect as contributing factors. I'm Wolf Blitzer, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

There's also new fallout from Don Imus' racially charged insults of the Rutgers University women's basketball team. His popular show now losing some key advertisers, but will they stay away once the controversy dies down? Let's go back to CNN's Carol Costello, she's in New York. How badly is this hurting Imus right now? The bottom line at least, Carol?

COSTELLO: Talking about the bottom line, Wolf, "The Imus in the Morning Show" has lost millions of dollars in advertising because of Don Imus' racial slur. And keep in mind, his show is a money maker for MSNBC. Last year Imus pulled in $8.3 million.


DON IMUS: It isn't whether I should have known better. I did know better.



COSTELLO (voice over): But the Imus who keeps on saying he doesn't need a Jesus moment may want to pay. Some advertisers who buy commercial time on his TV show are bailing. And you know what they say -- money talks.

In just one half hour on Imus this morning, 19 different companies, including Buick, Shell, Crest, L'Oreal and Liberty Mutual ran commercials. By afternoon, at least eight big companies pulled their advertising.

Genworth Financial Services telling us, "... We see no point in continuing. Imus's comments were offensive and abhorrent."

Add Staples, Smith & Wollensky and Bigelow Tea to that list. And Procter & Gamble, who told us, "We are accountable first to our consumers."

JAMES WHEATON, ADVERTISING AGE: I'm not that surprised that they're pulling out given the media coverage of this.

COSTELLO: James Wheaton, editor of "Advertising Age," says right now the negative press is deafening. Civil rights leaders are calling for Imus's firing. Rallies are held in support of the Rutgers basketball team. And those pictures of the smart, eloquent young women themselves, they easily trump the big names defending Imus as a good guy who said a bad thing.

Still, Wheaton doesn't believe the partial ad blackout will continue if after Imus's two-week suspension his audience stays with him.

WHEATON: Al Sharpton carries a lot of weight. But I don't know if he covers, you know, enough weight to give up a multimillion-dollar show.

COSTELLO: And if you look closely at Procter & Gamble's written statement, it appears it's left the door open for a possible return, saying they pulled their advertising effective April 6th, ".... Until we can evaluate the situation further."

As they say, money talks.


COSTELLO: It certainly does. American Express, GlaxoSmithKline have also suspended their advertising on "Imus". And General Motors has pulled out of not just "Imus," but all of MSNBC's programming until its media standards are met.

BLITZER: Carol, thank you for that.

Carol Costello reporting for us.

And as Carol just mentioned, some advertisers are jumping ship. But many political and media figures don't seem ready, at least not yet, to cut their ties to Don Imus. Here's Howard Kurtz of CNN's "RELIABLE SOURCES" -- Howie.


HOWARD KURTZ, HOST, "RELIABLE SOURCES": Wolf, whether you like Don Imus or think he should be kicked off the airwaves, no one can doubt that he's been influential.

IMUS: Please, stop it. Stop talking. Go home. Get on the bike, go wind surfing, anything.

Stop it. You're going to ruin this.

KURTZ (voice over): When John Kerry got into trouble over a botched joke about Iraq days before the midterm elections, it was Don Imus who told him to zip it. And the Massachusetts senator took the advice.

Kerry has been appearing on the syndicated radio show for years, along with other past presidential candidates such as Joe Lieberman and Bill Bradley. But now that CBS Radio and MSNBC have hit Imus with a two-week suspension over his awful racist crack about the Rutgers women's basketball team, for which he's repeatedly apologized, the question arises: Why do some politicians tolerate such a locker room atmosphere, and will they come back?


KURTZ: Ever since Bill Clinton joked around with Imus during the 1992 campaign, politicians have seen the program as a chance to soften their image with some friendly banter and grab plenty of air time to talk about their issues.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... a full-fledged candidate for the presidency. It's a big step...

KURTZ: This time around, Chris Dodd declared his candidacy on "Imus in the Morning". John McCain, a longtime guest, says he will continue to appear, as has Rudy Giuliani.

Hillary Clinton hasn't appeared, not surprisingly, since she was hardly thrilled with Imus making sexual jokes about her husband at the Radio TV Correspondents Dinner back in 1996.

The Imus program also draws much of its cache from A-list media guests, including current and former network anchors Dan Rather, Tom Brokaw, Bob Schieffer, Charlie Gibson and Brian Williams.

BRIAN WILLIAMS, NBC NEWS: Many of us at NBC News are frequent guests on the Imus show.

KURTZ: Why is it so beneficial? Imus is a force of nature when it comes to helping journalists, including me, sell books, or promote their magazine, or column, or broadcast, or just seem like a certified member of an insiders' club.

Some of the media people who refuse to go on may find themselves being mocked by Imus. And critics say the journalistic guess (ph) out of self-interest have given Imus a pass on his raunchier humor.

The regular guest list includes NBC's Tim Russert and David Gregory; "Newsweek's" Howard Fineman and Jonathan Alter; and "New York Times" columnist Frank Rich. Not to mention commentators who appear regularly on CNN, including Paul Begala and James Carville, who are standing by their man.

JAMES CARVILLE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I'm a friend of his, and I'll take all the blame for the kind of crude things they do. But give Don Imus half the credit for the literally tens of hundreds of millions of dollars he's raised. And he is a man that sometimes has a foul mouth, but he has a good heart.

KURTZ: Longtime CNN analyst Jeff Greenfield, who recently joined CBS News, called Imus's program yesterday and chatted the host and himself. JEFF GREENFIELD, CBS NEWS: ... that maybe there is an enormous disconnect between how people who have grown up with you and listened to you regard your show, even when you do, you know, cross a line, and people who are just tuning in based on this remarkably stupid comment.

KURTZ (on camera): I've enjoyed being on Imus. It's a chance to loosen your tie and have a little fun talking about the news. And yes, promote yourself and your projects.

I don't believe he's bigoted, but he has said some bigoted things that more of us should have objected to. Imus is now promising to clean up his act, and a number of journalists say that if he does, they'll be back -- Wolf.


BLITZER: Howard Kurtz reporting for us.

Thank you, Howie.

Up ahead, the war on the campaign trail about the war in Iraq. Senator Barack Obama reacts to Senator John McCain's broadside. That's next. Senator Barack Obama will be speaking to us here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Also, on the road to the White House, another potential candidate says he has cancer. We're going to tell you who that is, how serious doctors say it is.

Stay with us. We'll be right back.


BLITZER: Republican presidential contender John McCain today tried to inject some momentum into a campaign that stumbled lately over Iraq. In a major address over at the Virginia Military Institute, he took the gloves off and took on anti-war Democrats, saying they are on a reckless course.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (RR-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: When the president vetoes, as he should, the bill that refuses to support General Petraeus' new plan, I hope Democrats in Congress will heed the advice of one of their leading candidates for president, Senator Obama, and immediately pass a new bill to provide support to our troops in Iraq without substituting their partisan interests for those of our troops and our country.



BLITZER: And joining us now, the senator mentioned by John McCain in that little clip, the Democratic presidential candidate, Senator Barack Obama of Illinois. Is he accurately representing your position, Senator?

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: No, I think John was misquoting me a little bit there. What I said was that Democrats aren't interested in playing chicken with the troops, and that we were absolutely committed to making sure that the troops have the equipment they need in order to come home safely.

But what I also said was is that this president should, in fact, adopt a sound plan that's already been presented by Congress. It's a plan that is reflective of a plan I put forward back in January that calls for a phased redeployment, having our troops out by March 31st of next year.

If he decides to veto it, I think the president is the one who is putting troop funding at risk. My advice at that point to Democrats will be to try to ratchet up the pressure, to shape a series of other conditions that can somehow reign in to be what I consider a continuation of a disastrous course on the part of this administration.

BLITZER: Let me try to pinpoint your position.

Senator Harry Reid, the majority leader, Russ Feingold of Wisconsin, they say cut off the funding if necessary to end this war. Senator Carl Levin, the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, on the other hand, doesn't go that far.

Where do you stand in terms of this debate among Democrats?

OBAMA: I am not yet at the point where I am prepared to say that I'm going to cut off funding, partly because I spend a lot of time in Iowa and Illinois, in small communities where every town hall meeting I have, I meet with a mother whose son or daughter is in Iraq, and they are concerned not only about getting them home, but also concerned about getting them home safely, and making sure they have got the night vision goggles and the armor and so forth.

Now, I think Harry Reid is exactly right that if anybody is putting troops at risk, it is this administration, who is now calling up troops that aren't properly trained, sending them over there on rotations that are too frequent and too long, and that the Democrats have acted in a very responsible fashion. I don't think we're yet at the point where we have to immediately cut off funding.

What I do think we have to do is to continue to put the pressure on the president and get more Republicans to listen to their constituents, who are suggesting that, in fact, it's time for us to bring this war to a close.

BLITZER: In the statement you released earlier in the day, reacting to Senator McCain's speech on Iraq, some of the references you make to ideological fantasies. You said, "What we need is a surge in honesty."

It looks like you are directly going after Senator McCain's credibility on this issue.

OBAMA: Well, look, the -- I have enormous respect for John McCain, but I think he is flat wrong on this issue. And I think he's been wrong for some time.

What we have continued to see, over the last four to five years, is the constant presentation by the administration and prominent supporters like John McCain that we are making progress and that things are terrific in Iraq. And that's not the case.

It is belied by every bit of information that comes over CNN and every other newscast, and by people who are on the ground, and by those of us who make visits to Iraq. The fact of the matter is, is that we have a sectarian civil war. We may temporarily put the lid on some of the violence by sending additional American troops there. The price for that is additional American casualties.

But what we haven't done is change the fundamental dynamic on the ground. And that is going to require that Shia, Sunni and Kurds come to a political accommodation and we generate the kind of regional diplomacy that has been absent for the last several years.

BLITZER: We're out of time, Senator, but a quick reaction to the Don Imus uproar. Do you believe he should be fired?

OBAMA: I believe that NBC should not be having hosts like Don Imus who are making derogatory statements towards and women and minorities. I've got two young daughters who I hope will be athletes. And, you know, the notion that somehow they would be degraded and insulted, and that that would pass as humor, and that NBC would be running that over the public airwaves I think is atrocious.

BLITZER: Senator Obama, thanks very much for coming in to THE SITUATION ROOM.

OBAMA: Thank you.


BLITZER: And we also invited Senator John McCain to come in to THE SITUATION ROOM as well to speak about his strategy as far as the war in Iraq is concerned. He declined today. We hope he'll come back soon.

Up ahead, cancer makes another appearance in the presidential campaign. New word about the health of a possible presidential candidate. That would be former senator Fred Thompson.

And war czar wanted. There's a job opening in the administration. Jack Cafferty wants to know why the White House can't seem to fill it.

We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: Cancer and the presidential campaign back in the spotlight with word that possible Republican presidential candidate former senator Fred Thompson was treated for lymphoma.

Our national correspondent Bob Franken is joining us.

What do we know about the former senator's condition, Bob?

BOB FRANKEN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, first, we have to deal with the fact that he's chosen to announce. And as a source close to Thompson told CNN, he wouldn't be telling us about the cancer if he wasn't serious about running.


FRANKEN (voice over): Fred Thompson's announcement? He's had non-Hodgkins lymphoma for the last two and a half years.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Anything to tell us, Senator?

FRANKEN: In his statement, Thompson says, "My life expectancy should not be affected."

He goes on to say that he's been free enough of any symptoms to consider a regular schedule of shooting new episodes of "Law & Order" while he contemplates still another episode in his life.

FRED THOMPSON, ACTOR, "IN THE LINE OF FIRE": If you'll excuse me, I'm in the middle of a campaign here.

FRANKEN: At least far enough along to allow his doctor to go public.

DR. BRUCE CHESON, GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY HOSPITAL: Today, as a result of effective therapy, he is in remission from the slow-growing disease. We are unable currently to detect any evidence of lymphoma either by physical examination or by imaging studies.

FRANKEN: The disclosure comes after a "New York Times"-CBS poll of Republican voters last month found 57 percent who said they wanted more choices. Two of those who are already choices, John McCain and Rudy Giuliani, have both had their own bouts of cancer.

MARK PRESTON, CNN POLITICAL EDITOR: There is a real hunger right now on the Republican side for a true conservative in this race. And many people think that that is Fred Thompson. At the end of the day, I don't think this is going to hurt him.

FRANKEN: Next week, Thompson returns to Washington to be hailed in a series of events on Capitol Hill, where he worked before "Law & Order".

THOMPSON, "LAW & ORDER": Fund-raisers over there might not be too pleased. What do you think?

(END VIDEOTAPE) FRANKEN: Well, by that time, we'll have a better idea what everybody thinks about Thompson's announcement he has cancer. His decision whether to run for president, Wolf, was already complicated. For instance, the show would need to find another D.A.

BLITZER: I suspect they could probably do that eventually.

Why do we think he is making his announcement today, Bob?

FRANKEN: Well, it's pre-emptive. His people tell us that he wanted to control the conditions at which point the announcement came. He wanted to make sure he got his story out, and hope in that way it doesn't undermine what seems to be a campaign that's going to be announced soon, probably pretty soon.

BLITZER: Bob Franken, thank you.

Thompson went on a popular conservative Web site today to talk about his cancer.

Let's bring in our Internet reporter, Abbi Tatton.

What is he saying to his online supporters, Abbi?

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, he's telling them he's had no illness or even any symptoms since his diagnosis. And this is the post here -- "What You Need to Know About My Cancer," from Fred Thompson on the conservative site RedState, assuring readers that really he's feeling fine.

Thompson's popular online. The DraftFredThompson Web site plentiful. And this is the second time in a week that he's put a post online reaching out to online conservatives.

This post here about Iran fueling speculation about a presidential bid over the weekend. Thompson supporter, former Tennessee senator Bill Frist, is also blogging about this disclosure today, saying, in his view, it indicates his seriousness as a potential candidate. And Frist is urging his readers to keep on sending in messages of support and encouragement for a Fred Thompson presidential bid -- Wolf.

BLITZER: A Tennessee group supporting him already.

Thank you, very much, Abbi, for that.

We're just getting in a statement from John McCain's presidential campaign, reacting to some of the criticism being leveled against Senator McCain from Democratic politicians, including other Democratic presidential candidates. Let me read the statement from McCain's staff.

"If Senator Obama and former Senator John Edwards want to end the war in Iraq, they should cut off funding tomorrow and bring our troops home. The reality of the situation is that both are playing politics with our troops and security, because neither is willing to explain the catastrophic consequences of surrendering."

That statement from the McCain campaign.

Up next, Jack Cafferty is wondering why the White House can't seem to fill its latest job opening, a high-powered war czar to oversee operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Stay with us.


BLITZER: Let's go up to New York and Jack Cafferty for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: The question is, what does it mean if the White House can't find anyone willing to take the job of a war czar? So far, three retired four-star generals have told President Bush, no thank you.

Holly writes, "It means that, like the rest of us, the generals who have been asked know that the real job is 'war patsy,' not war czar. The administration is looking for someone with whom to leave the mess and the blame."

Joe in Michigan writes, "As I understand it, the war czar will be charged with overseeing the operations of both wars. Sorry, Jack, forgive me if I'm wrong, but isn't that the president's job? I thought that's what commander in chief meant."

Kelly writes, "It means that none of our military officials are stupid enough to become Bush's fall guy."

Roger in Ontario, "Whatever happened to warmonger? When the Bush administration has to resort to Russian vocabulary, we're all in trouble."

Janet in Washington, "It means Bush has given up on this job just has he has every other job in his life. Cheney's tired, and they're trying to palm the failure off on someone else who so far is too smart to take it."

Jay in Vermont writes, "President Bush needs a czar. He needs help. Let's face it, with a czar we'd be in great hands. We'd have a king and a czar. How cool is that?"

And Roseanne in New York writes, "This reminds me of a piece in the November issue of 'The Onion' back in 2005. It read, 'In response to increasing criticism of his handling of the war in Iraq and disaster in the Gulf Coast, as well as other issues, such as Social Security reform, the national deficit and rising gas prices, President Bush is expected to appoint someone to run the United States as soon as Friday.'"

If you didn't see your e-mail here, you can go to We post more of them online, and there are also video clips of "The Cafferty File" as well -- Wolf. BLITZER: All right, Jack. See you back here in an hour.

Let's wrap it up right now though with some of the "Hot Shots," pictures coming in from our friends over at The Associated Press.

On the West Bank, a Palestinian jumps over a burning tire during an Israeli army operation searching for militants.

In India, a horse gets unruly as supporters of a political party campaign on horseback for state assembly elections.

In the Philippines, women place candles to commemorate soldiers fallen in World War II during Philippine Veterans Week.

And in Turkey, a visitor in an art museum walks past modern art.

Some of this hour's "Hot Shots".

Let's go to Lou in New York.


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