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THE SITUATION ROOM

More Iraq Violence; Castro Back in Power?; Wolfowitz Scandal

Aired April 13, 2007 - 1900   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, Kitty.
Happening now, the civilian death toll skyrocketing in the Iraqi provinces as U.S. troops help save civilian lives in the Baghdad area -- shocking new figures coming in right now from the war zone.

Castro is back, sort of. Venezuela's Hugo Chavez says his friend is now playing a key role in running Cuba after an illness that kept him out of sight since July.

And he took heat as an architect of the Iraq invasion, now he's accused of unethical behavior over at the World Bank -- a controversy with roots and romance, money and war.

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

Stunning new numbers from the war in Iraq, while the security crackdown in Baghdad is reducing the number of civilian deaths in the capital area, at a steep price for American troops, The Associated Press now reporting that outside of Baghdad some 1,500 civilians died in the past two months alone, a 50 percent increase from the previous two months.

Let's turn to our senior Pentagon correspondent Jamie McIntyre. Jamie, does this track The A.P. numbers with what you are hearing?

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SR. PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, it's certainly not a surprise. U.S. commanders have said all along that they believe as the security crackdown in Baghdad goes on, it will simply push the insurgents outside of the city, and this seems to be evidence of that. But it also underscores the really difficult mission that the U.S. and Iraqi forces are going to have bringing real stability to the area.

BLITZER: If the issue is moving troops around, Jamie, does it mean that once U.S. troops are out of the Baghdad area, the violence will once again rise there?

MCINTYRE: Well it's certainly possible, but in theory, no, the whole idea is by that time Iraqi forces backed by the U.S. will be in control of the city. That's the theory, but today the number two commander in Iraq said it's going to be the end of August before he'll be able to make any judgment about whether the surge is really working.

BLITZER: All right, Jamie. Thanks very much. In Iraq, meanwhile, shockwaves still are being felt after the suicide bombing on Baghdad's heavily guarded parliament -- the images as stunning as the attack. Remember, take a look at this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE)

(SOUNDS)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Now, on a day after, the hunt is on for those behind this attack, and the suicide truck bombing which brought down a key bridge over the Tigris River.

CNN's Kyra Phillips is in Baghdad.

I assume that they've dramatically increased security inside that international zone, inside that security zone based on what happened yesterday?

KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They sure did, Wolf. You know, it took twice as long to get through the checkpoints today; it took twice as long to get out. And there were more people at the checkpoints, everybody was frisked, everybody had to go through the metal detectors, everybody was looking for two forms of I.D. It was intense, but the point is they can't continue to do that.

They have to be able to develop a system where they can have less people manning those checkpoints, and at some point not even have to have those checkpoints at all, and U.S. troops, they're not going to get back involved. They're not going to increase the number of U.S. troops to help the Iraqis out. Leading commanders in this fight have told me the Iraqis have to learn for themselves. They've got to figure out how to do this so U.S. troops can slowly pull out and leave this country to the Iraqis.

BLITZER: As devastating, Kyra, as that attack was on the parliament building in the green zone, I'm told that the destruction of that one key bridge in Baghdad may in the long term even be demoralizing, because it united various parts of the city, makes it more difficult, and people are now deeply worried about the other key bridges in Baghdad. What's been the fallout on that front?

PHILLIPS: I'll tell you, Iraqis, in addition to U.S. military, both told me this was a huge coupe for the insurgency, for the extremists I should say. This was a main bridge where Iraqis traveled every single day. This is how they got back and forth. This is how they got to visit their families. This is how they got to get to their jobs, get to school, and to take out a main bridge like that is devastating not only economically but mentally.

There's a lot of history in that bridge. It goes back decades, so it shook the city. As a matter of fact, Wolf, even some Iraqis said to me they were more devastated by that bridge getting blown up than the attack on the Iraqi parliament.

BLITZER: Kyra Phillips doing an outstanding job reporting for us from Baghdad. Be careful over there, Kyra. We'll talk to you soon.

He took heat for helping steer the United States into the war in Iraq as the deputy defense secretary. Now Paul Wolfowitz is over at the helm at the World Bank, and he's in very, very hot water right now for steering his girlfriend into a top job.

Let's turn to our State Department correspondent Zain Verjee -- Zain.

ZAIN VERJEE, CNN STATE DEPARTMENT CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, he has got plenty of critics that want to take him down. They may have found a reason to say gotcha.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

VERJEE (voice-over): Paul Wolfowitz has given his enemies a gift they've been waiting for.

PAUL WOLFOWITZ, WORLD BANK PRESIDENT: I made a mistake for which I am sorry.

VERJEE: The controversial World Bank president has confessed to promoting his girlfriend, Shaha Riza (ph), to the State Department and then onto a U.S. funded foundation. She's been kept on the World Bank payroll at a tax-free salary of about $194,000, that's more than the secretary of state makes.

BEA EDWARDS, GOVT. ACCOUNTABILITY PROJECT: It is simply embarrassing and inappropriate for the president of the bank to use the resources of the bank to fund the lavish lifestyle of his girlfriend.

VERJEE: He was already unpopular when he arrived to lead the World Bank. He was the number two at the Pentagon, a hawkish architect of the Iraq war. And now World Bank employees say Wolfowitz has destroyed the staff's trust in his leadership. He must act honorably and resign. His supporters say this is not about his love life; it's just an excuse to dump a tough administrator.

His management style and his fierce anti-corruption drives in developing countries have frustrated old hands. A "Wall Street Journal" editorial says the real fight here is over his attempts to make the bank and its borrowers more accountable for results. Despite questions about unethical behavior, President Bush is fully backing the man he put in the job.

DANA PERINO, WHITE HOUSE DEP. PRESS SECY.: The president has full confidence in Paul Wolfowitz. He's done a remarkable job at the World Bank where they are working to lift people up out of poverty from around the world.

(END VIDEOTAPE) VERJEE: This is all erupting as the World Bank holds its annual spring meeting. Meanwhile, the woman at the center of all of this, Shaha Riza (ph), says she's been a victim here. She says that she never reported directly to Wolfowitz and she never really wanted to leave the World Bank in the first place. She says the episode has affected her professionally, personally and psychologically -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Zain, thanks for that -- Zain Verjee reporting.

And as Zain notes, Paul Wolfowitz obviously no stranger to controversy, as deputy defense secretary he helped lead the United States into the war in Iraq and his pre-invasion comments have often come back to haunt him.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WOLFOWITZ: The notion that it will take several hundred thousand U.S. troops to provide stability in post-Saddam Iraq are wildly off the mark. The oil revenues of that country could bring between 50 and $100 billion over the course of the next two or three years. We're dealing with a country that can really finance its own reconstruction and relatively soon.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Iraq is, once again, making money from oil, but its infrastructure remains crippled and Iraq has not managed to spend those revenues on rebuilding. U.S. costs so far in the hundreds of billions of dollars.

Other news we're following. His supporters say he'll soon be well enough to unleash even more anti-U.S. speeches. That would be Fidel Castro. He's said to be getting stronger and likely ready to resume full control of running Cuba.

CNN's Morgan Neill is joining us from Havana. Who is saying this about Castro, Morgan?

MORGAN NEILL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, this is coming from a source that we're starting to get used to, that is information about Cuban President Fidel Castro coming from Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. Speaking in Caracas earlier today, Chavez said his close friend and ally was getting stronger every day.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PRES. HUGO CHAVEZ, VENEZUELA (through translator): Almost totally recovered is the very reliability information that I keep receiving. By now, Fidel has resumed a good part of his duties, though not formally.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

NEILL: Now from Cuba's government, we've gotten no comment on this, but President Chavez's comments are very much in line from what we've heard from Cuban officials over the last few months. The party line in this case, and it really is the party line, is that the president's recovery is going well. He's expected to return soon, although dates are never mentioned.

Now what we do have to go on is very little. In the last couple weeks we've seen three articles said to be from the president in the state-run newspaper "Granma". They seem to show a president that is certainly on top of world affairs, more and more assertive with the passage of time, but as to his health, again we're in this almost bizarre position of getting information in Cuba from Venezuela -- Wolf.

BLITZER: We'll hear how credible a source Hugo Chavez really is. Morgan Neill, our man in Havana -- thanks, Morgan, for that.

Let's go to Jack Cafferty in New York for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Presidential candidates from both major parties may want to take note of this. More Americans identify themselves as independents than as either Democrats or Republicans. There's a new Gallup poll out that shows for the first quarter of this year, 33 percent of those surveyed said they're Democrats, 28 percent said they're Republicans, 38 percent said they're independents.

It's the highest level of Americans identifying themselves as independents in more than seven years. It just might indicate some kind of general dissatisfaction on the part of the public with politicians of all stripes. And it's about time. Not that surprising, really, when you consider the fact that they all behave pretty much alike, for the most part abominably.

Once they get to Washington, you can't really tell the difference between a Democrat or a Republican. They all love pork and lobbyists and being reelected and the American voter who elected them seems to fade quickly from their memory.

So here's the question. What does it mean when more Americans identify themselves as independents than as Democrats or Republicans? E-mail CaffertyFile@CNN.com or go to CNN.com/CaffertyFile -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jack, thank you.

Coming up, New Jersey's governor on a breathing tube right now after a car crash, a new report, he wasn't wearing a seat belt.

Missing White House e-mails, one lawmaker comparing it to Watergate, but can the White House ride out this latest storm? David Gergen is standing by to join us live.

Also, sexual politics, a congressional study pouring cold water on what's called abstinence education. Is it really worth the $176 million price tag for U.S. taxpayers?

Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Just getting word of a disturbing development out near Fort Worth. A tornado is now down and heading toward the Dallas/Fort Worth airport. Reynolds Wolf is watching all of this for us. What do we know, Reynolds?

REYNOLDS WOLF, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Wolf, the latest we have from the National Weather Service is that tornado warning for parts of the Fort Worth area. We've got it marked for you just north of parts of I-30. This tornado actually has been -- we've been observing this over the last 10 to 20 minutes. It continues its march to the east- northeast.

We've had reports already of downed power lines and wind (UNINTELLIGIBLE) 120. Telephone poles down. We've had reports of tennis-ball-sized hail, this storm veering off to the east and northeast, not far from the Dallas/Fort Worth airport, so that is one thing we're greatly concerned about. This may be a large tornado, one of many that may spawn in parts of north Texas, as we make our way into the early evening hours, as well as the overnight hours.

We've had reports of course of deadly lightning forming around the city area. Also a little bit farther to the north we have more action that is taking place, some strong storms in that area as well. But it's really the Fort Worth area that we're most concerned with at this point. If you happen to be tuning in from that area, we want you to get to the lowest floor in whatever structure you may be in. If you have a storm cellar, maybe a basement, you need to get there immediately, interior rooms away from outside walls and away from windows.

We're going to stay on top of the situation for you and if we get more information, we'll certainly send it on to you, Wolf.

BLITZER: A lot of people potentially affected in that area right now. We just saw some of the numbers, almost half a million people affected. These are projections when this tornado will hit Central Time Zone, 6:20 p.m. Central Time as opposed to 7:20 Eastern Time, but what, almost 455,000 people right now potentially in the path of this tornado.

WOLF: Absolutely, Wolf. We're looking at nearly as you mentioned nearly half a million people in places like Arlington, 6:20 local time, Grand Prairie, the tornado may affect people in Arlington, southward to Cedar Hill and Duncanville just really in a very short time. So we're just urging people to take cover immediately. And of course, this is going to be an explosive situation, and we're going to see as many places in north Texas, as well as just the Central and Southern Plains, as we make our way through the rest of the week and we may see more of the severe weather in the Southeast as well as parts of the Eastern Seaboard...

BLITZER: Reynolds...

WOLF: We're going to stay on top of it for you.

BLITZER: All right, Reynolds, we're going to get back to you. We'll watch this very, very closely, a really serious problem out in the Dallas/Fort Worth area.

Let's move on to some other news we're following. The man charged with executing New Jersey's laws appears not to have been following one of them. The governor, Jon Corzine, was involved in a bad car crash yesterday in New Jersey. We reported on that here in THE SITUATION ROOM. Right now he's in the hospital.

Our Carol Costello is joining us. What's the latest first of all, Carol, on the governor's condition, and what do we know? How did it happen?

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Well, apparently he was not wearing his seat belt, Wolf. Governor Corzine is in bad shape. And I'm telling you, he's lucky he didn't suffer brain damage. He is a little better tonight, but do not expect him to govern for at least another week.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COSTELLO (voice-over): State police aren't confirming it, but his staff is. Governor Jon Corzine was not wearing his seat belt and he was in the front passenger seat when his SUV crashed on New Jersey's Garden State Parkway.

TOM SHEA, CORZINE CHIEF OF STAFF: If he was not, he certainly should have been and we would certainly expect and encourage the state police to issue a citation to him for not having done that, to be quite honest with you.

COSTELLO: That's against the law in New Jersey. Penalty for that could be 40 to 50 bucks, but that's the least of Governor Corzine's problems.

DR. STEVEN ROSS, COOPER UNIV. MEDICAL CENTER: He remains on the ventilator, on the breathing machine, heavily sedated in order to treat the pain from this chest fractures.

COSTELLO: Corzine is in severe pain, his thighbone popped through his skin. He has multiple injuries in his upper body, including several broken ribs, a broken sternum and a broken collarbone. It makes breathing difficult. Holding on to the reins of New Jersey's government right now is State Senate President Richard Codey.

RIHARD CODEY (D), ACTING N.J. GOVERNOR: I'm going to stand in until Jon can get better and can run the state. Obviously he's not going to be able to run the state (UNINTELLIGIBLE) for a while.

COSTELLO: Codey is a familiar face in this role. He served acted as acting governor for 14 months after disgraced Governor James McGreevey resigned from office in 2004. The governor's office says Corzine won't be able to resume his duties for at least a week. As for the accident itself, the governor's two-car motorcade was heading from Atlantic City to the governor's mansion in Princeton where the governor was to host a meeting between former radio host Don Imus and the Rutgers women's basketball team. The meeting went on without him. (END VIDEOTAPE)

COSTELLO: State police are looking for a red pickup truck. Witnesses say someone was driving that truck erratically and probably caused this accident. Police want to question that driver -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Any explanation they're giving why he was not wearing his seat belt?

COSTELLO: I don't know if there's any excuse, but Corzine's chief of staff said he usually wore one, and when asked why the state trooper driving Corzine's car didn't the governor to put it on, Tom Shea said, the governor is not always amenable to suggestions.

BLITZER: Here's a suggestion to all of our viewers. You wear a seat belt whether you're in the front seat or the back seat or the middle seat, any seat, wear a seat belt. It's a good idea. Carol thanks very much.

Meanwhile, Corzine's accident marks the third straight time one of the state's governors has broken a leg. The former governor, James McGreevey, did so in 2002 while walking on a beach. Before him, Governor Christine Whitman broke a leg skiing in the Swiss Alps. That was back in 1999. We wish Governor Corzine a very speedy recovery.

Up ahead tonight here in THE SITUATION ROOM, those missing e- mails may have mushroomed, get this, not to one million, two million, but five million, five million missing e-mails? The White House concedes it does have a problem. And if Democrats can connect presidential adviser Karl Rove to that problem, it may have an even bigger problem.

And terror-fighting dolphins -- the Navy unveils an underwater weapon.

Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Let's go back to Carol once again. She's monitoring stories incoming into THE SITUATION ROOM. What's the latest, Carol?

COSTELLO: A couple of things, Wolf.

Just hours ago a disciplinary committee rejected a request to dismiss ethics charges against a prosecutor who filed rape charges against three former Duke University lacrosse players. The charges were dropped by North Carolina's attorney general this week. Durham District Attorney Mike Nifong now says the players were wrongly accused and is apologizing for what he calls misjudgments. He's accused of withholding evidence and lying to the court.

The Navy is drafting dolphins and sea lions into the fight against terrorism. And you're looking at some of the first pictures to come out of a training facility at a base in San Diego. A squad of 100 of the animals is learning to detect mines and underwater intruders. Last week the Navy announced that some of the animals would soon be sent to guard nuclear submarines in Washington State.

New research shows students who took part in sexual abstinence programs are just as likely to have sex as those who don't. The study ordered by Congress also found that students who attended one of the four abstinence classes reviewed reporting having similar number of sexual partners as those who did not take the classes.

A weather system packing extremely high winds is moving across the country, bringing with it the potential for all sorts of severe weather and related problems this weekend. And you've just heard a tornado touched down north of Fort Worth, Texas, heading towards the Dallas/Fort Worth Airport. Now this weather system all started yesterday with this -- wild fires in southern California that led to power outages in several areas around Los Angeles. At last report more than 70,000 households are still without electricity. More than 15 acres were torched around Beverly Hills, and three homes in the area were destroyed.

Now moving east across the Rocky Mountains into the Great Plains, heavy snow is possible in Colorado and western Kansas as well as thunderstorms, hail and tornados farther south. Tomorrow could bring more of the same dangerous winds and storms across the Southeast, and by Sunday the storm system will have moved into the Northeast where it is expected to bring heavy rain and possible coastal flooding.

(UNINTELLIGIBLE) Wolf.

BLITZER: What a mess out there. All right, Carol. Thank you.

Just ahead, the White House is dealing with a growing controversy about potentially missing e-mails. We'll be joined by former presidential adviser David Gergen to discuss how the Bush administration has dealt with past -- this administration is dealing with this controversy, as compared to other controversies dealt with by previous administrations.

And the highest-ranking African American in the Bush administration weighing in on Don Imus tonight -- find out what Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has to say.

Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

Happening now, they want an appeal. Lawyers for former vice presidential chief of staff Lewis "Scooter" Libby, they've decided against filing a motion for a new trial and will instead challenge Libby's convictions on appeal, court documents showing today.

The vice president is second in command to the president, but his family's first when it comes to income. Both families have filed their income tax returns. President and Mrs. Bush paid just more than $186,000 in federal taxes last year on income of about $765,000. The Cheney's report income of just more than $1.6 million, they paid about $413,000 in taxes.

And it took 18 years and $20 billion. Now the military's V-22 Osprey is headed to Iraq this year, this despite earlier versions being involved in accidents that killed United States Marines. It flies like a plane, lands, takes off like a helicopter. The military says it can take on weapon attacks better than ever before. We'll see what it does in Iraq.

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

But we start with breaking news this hour. That tornado in the Dallas area, Reynolds Wolf is watching it. What is the latest on this very worrisome tornado in a very populated area, Reynolds?

REYNOLDS WOLF, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Oh, absolutely. Right now, Wolf, in downtown Dallas we have got tornado sirens that are going off across the Metroplex.

We have a possible tornado going into downtown Dallas itself. We're going to zoom in a couple of locations. We've got Irving in one area, just a little bit farther to the west in Yulas (ph), we have again some heavy rain coming down, possible tornado moving in the direction of the northeast, about 30 miles-an-hour, getting very close to DFW, a major airport, of course.

No, we're not talking about fields, we're talking about DFW. From Grand Prairie northward to about Trophy Club (ph), we've got some heavy rain coming down, baseball-size hail reported, reports of downed power lines.

There is going to be quite a bit of damage from this as this rolls from the southwest to the northeast. That is the latest we have for you.

And I'm going to tell you, if you happen to be in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area, what you want to do again as I've mentioned, take cover immediately. Get in the lowest floor of whatever structure you might be in.

If you happen to have a root cellar, maybe a basement, you need to get there immediately. This is going to affect well over half a million people. The tornado warning remains in effect until about 7:15 local time for all of Dallas. This area is also under a tornado watch until 1:00 in the morning, local time. Places like Cockrell Hill, downtown Dallas, the storm should be moving right through there around 6:49 p.m. So this is an explosive weather situation. That is the latest that we have. Again, these times we've shown you, Central time.

BLITZER: Reynolds, we almost always hear about these tornadoes in relatively remote areas, rural areas, trailer parks, if you will, but in a major urban area like Dallas, that could cause extensive damage.

WOLF: No question about it. What we're just seeing is all the components coming in together to create this explosive severe weather event. And the problem is, it is in a densely populated area. An awful combination and one we're going to watch for you very carefully.

BLITZER: Stay on top of this. We'll get back to you when we get more information. A very worrisome development indeed, a tornado right in Dallas. Right now we're watching this story.

Other news we're watching tonight, growing questions about whether the Bush administration, and top adviser Karl Adviser are hiding something. Critics are pouncing on that possibility, the possibility that millions of White House e-mails may be missing, many more than originally thought.

With Rove's name attached to this controversy, it's obviously becoming red meat for Democrats. Let's go to our White House correspondent Ed Henry. Ed, we're learning more about these missing e-mails.

ED HENRY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. It turns out it's not just Republican political e-mail that's disappeared, and that's ratcheting up pressure on this White House.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

HENRY (voice-over): Even as Democrats have Karl Rove in their sights over Republican National Committee e-mail that may have disappeared, fresh signs there could be a much bigger problem -- missing e-mail from the White House itself. A new report by a liberal watchdog group charges that over a two year period, official White House e-mail traffic for hundreds of days have simply vanished, in possible violation of the federal Presidential Records Act.

MELANIE SLOAN, CITIZENS FOR RESPONSIBILITY & ETHICS: There were, between March of 2003 and October of 2005, apparently over five million e-mail that were not preserved. And these are e-mail on the regular White House server.

HENRY: White House Spokeswoman Dana Perino stressed there is no indication the e-mails were intentionally lost. But she was careful not to dispute the group's allegations.

DANA PERINO, DEPUTY WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I'm not taking issue with their conclusions at this point. We're checking into them. And, again, you know, there's 1,700 people in the executive office of the president. Allegations that there could be days -- whole days missing -- and what I'm saying is we're looking into that.

HENRY: In fact, Patrick Fitzgerald, the special prosecutor in the CIA leak case, disclosed last year that some White House e-mails in 2003 were not saved, as standard procedure dictated. In a January 2006 letter to the defense team of former White House aide Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Fitzgerald wrote: "We advise you that we have learned that not all e-mail of the office of vice president and the executive office of president for certain time periods in 2003 was preserved through the normal archiving process on the White House computer system.

Democrats charge this raises questions about whether the public has gotten the full story on everything from the CIA leak case to the fired U.S. attorneys controversy.

SLOAN: Here is a White House that is deliberately violating an existing statute that requires them to preserve all records. And we have significant evidence now, both from the RNC e-mail and the White House e-mail that are missing, that the White House was using every means possible to avoid complying with the law.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

HENRY: Now, Robert Luskin, Karl Rove's personal attorney told CNN told that his client always believed the RNC was archiving its e-mail and that he did nothing wrong. But as for White House e-mails, Luskin said he believes the special prosecutor in the CIA leak case that there was in fact a gap in White House e-mail, and obviously that could be a problem for the White House, Wolf?

BLITZER: Ed Henry at the White House for us.

Let's talk more a little bit more about the uproar over those missing e-mail and other major controversies for the Bush White House. We're joined by David Gergen. He's been an adviser to four presidents over the years, going back to Richard Nixon. You served during those tumultuous times of Watergate as well.

DAVID GERGEN, PRESIDENTIAL ADVISER: And people up on the Hill are talking about the missing tape and missing 18-minute gap, all of that rhetoric is being revived.

BLITZER: One of those guys talking about that is Patrick Leahy, the chairman of the judiciary committee. Listen to what he said, listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. PATRICK LEAHY (D), JUDICIARY CHAIRMAN: Those e-mails are there, they just don't want to produce them. It's like the famous 18- minute gap of the Nixon White House tapes. They say they had been erased or misplaced. They're there, they know they're there, and we'll subpoena them if necessary and we'll have them.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Give us some perspective from your vantage point, unique vantage point. How big of a deal potentially is this?

GERGEN: It's politically it's a big deal. I think legally, criminally, it is not. One big difference, we have to keep remembering this, there is no indication, none so far that Karl Rove or anyone around the White House has actually done anything illegal.

This all has to do with the firing of the U.S. attorneys and the stories they've been telling about how this all occurred. But it's not challenging the underlying legality, whereas in Watergate of course, there was real criminality underneath all of the missing tape and so forth, so you have to remember that. But from a White house point of view, from a political point of view, it's extremely dangerous. Wolf, as you know, one of the things you do not want to do at the White House is get a scandal-type story on the one hand and then another scandal type story and have them coming together and then you have a real conflagration. And that's what happening, because we're having the Gonzales question of the firing of the attorney and the way they mishandled the telling of that, and the deception and possible lies they've been telling about what happened.

Now the question of, as they've been trying to get to the bottom of it, what about these e-mails? And what were they communicating about? And there's a real mystery and at the middle of this is Karl Rove.

BLITZER: And also hovering over all of this is the war in Iraq right now. Listen to the Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, because he's making a similar point to a lot of other democrats right now.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HARRY REID (MAJORITY LEADER): The president is as isolated, I believe, on the Iraq issue as Richard Nixon was when he was hunkered down in the White House.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Do you agree with him?

GERGEN: No, I do not. I understand why they're going to the Watergate comparison, I understand why, but there's a real difference between the criminality there and what we see here.

What I do think is going on here though Wolf is the Democrats are really hopped up because Karl Rove in their mind has become the Rasputin, the sort of evil genius of this administration. And you remember when Rasputin was advising the Soviet czar, he died nine times before he they could finally get him, and Karl Rove keeps on going through these episodes where people are out to get him and they think they may have him in their sights now. They could bring him down, it would be the final denouement of this administration.

BLITZER: What about Alberto Gonzales? He's going to testify next Tuesday before the Senate Judiciary Committee, a lot of people say this is his last chance to make his case why he should stay on the job. Give us your thoughts.

GERGEN: My sense now, Wolf, is there are a growing number of people that think Gonzales is gone and they're looking at bigger targets, they're looking for bigger game than Karl Rove. They're going to go through the motions, but they think he probably cannot save himself next week, as critical as his testimony is.

There's so much mystery now surrounding, and so much -- such a lack of credibility regarding Gonzales, I don't think he can talk himself out of this hole. But I think the Democrats are now setting it up for the larger game, and that is can they get Karl Rove to come up there and testify and what's going to be a big whoop dee doo, and just - and because the e-mail issue, this has a lot of legs now as a story. It will go on and on and on, and from the president's point of view, from a Republican's point of view thinking about '08, this is very dangerous territory.

BLITZER: Not only for the president, but especially for the Republicans, a lot of them who are up for reelection. All right David, thanks very much, always good to have you here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

GERGEN: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: And up ahead, we're going to follow the breaking news up ahead out of Texas. Tornado warnings right now in the city of Dallas. That's a major city, more than half a million people right now watching this tornado warning. Tornado sirens are blaring. We're going to have the latest information.

Plus, we'll also tell you how Arnold Schwarzenegger is raising some eye brows, and maybe some environmental awareness by appearing on a hit TV show and it's called - what's the name of that show? "Pimp my Ride." I'm not making this up. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN Breaking News.

BLITZER: Tornado warnings in Dallas. Reynolds Wolf is tracking this storm. These pictures, these live pictures we're seeing from Dallas are really, really worrisome, Reynolds. Update our viewers.

WOLF: The latest we have for you, Wolf, as you mentioned, we've got tornado sirens that are screaming across much of the Dallas/Ft. Worth/Metroplex. Here's the reason why.

Just this explosive weather situation, a possible tornado moving into the downtown Dallas area. We have again, the whole area lit up like a Christmas tree, heavy rain, large hail.

In fact the local National Weather Service office describes it as a teacup-size hail as the storm rages on through. As we speak, the entire Dallas/Ft. Worth area really, really should take cover at this time.

You're looking at some video that we have compliments of KDAF in Dallas, Texas, showing some of this coming through. Another shot we have compliments of WFAA shows a line coming through, skies ominous, parts of it dark, others just black, quite frankly.

And we can anticipate this to last for the next 30 minutes in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area. Let's zoom in if we can, show you some of the people affected in downtown Dallas. Well over half a million people, the storm expected to be moving right into downtown Dallas at 6:45.

Hutchins by 6:51, Mesquite around just before 7:00 and shortly after in Seagerville (ph). Right along I-35 eastbound you're also going to notice some pink that is popping up. That is the indication of some very large hail. As I mentioned, the local National Weather Service office has been saying some of this hail the size of teacups.

I think that would indicate at least baseball-sized hails, a testament to the strong updrafts that are feeding into these huge storms. Here's Irving a little bit off to the west. Conditions are improving there, but in downtown Dallas, you need to take cover immediately, lowest floor away from the windows and the outside walls, the best place we have.

BLITZER: Hold on a second, Ed Lavandera is on the phone for us. He's in Dallas right now. Give us a little flavor of what's going on, Ed. I think we just lost Ed Lavandera. Reynolds Wolf, let me come back to you for a second. People who are in Dallas -- we look at this live picture, courtesy of WFAA, it's so dark right now, the times you're mentioning are central time zones. People are preparing for these tornadoes, what should they do? What's the advice?

WOLF: Well the best thing you can do, the best advice I can possibly give you is to get indoors. The biggest danger if these storms is not the wind itself, but it is the debris, the stuff it's picked up, where a small thing like a pebble can be a deadly projectile. So what you want to do is quite honestly take shelter. The best place to be is underground, perhaps a basement. If you don't have a basement, just an interior room inside of any structure on the lowest floor is the best buy.

If somebody were listening to radio on satellite radio in their car, the best thing you can possibly do, if you happen to see a tornado and you can't escape it, you're better off actually getting outside in a ditch and lying flat on the ground.

BLITZER: All right Ed Lavandera, I think we have established contact. Give us a flavor of what you're seeing and hearing in Dallas. You're right in the middle of all this.

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (on phone): Right, Wolf, I was just leaving the office in downtown Dallas and there's an ominous line of clouds rolling through the downtown buildings as we speak, and right behind it, a lot of lightning, the rain is starting to pick up and the wind is starting to pick up as well.

It is a dark, dark scene that's rolling through downtown Dallas. And the eerie thing about it is there's kind of like a greenish hue, color to the sky, which having grown up here in Texas, some people always tell you that's one of the things to look out for before the really dangerous stuff starts coming through.

BLITZER: Are people out there? I assume everybody is inside and they've taken cover.

LAVANDERA: Well, there are more people out on the street than you might suspect. In fact, there were a lot of people trying to scramble, leaving work this afternoon, trying to scramble to get to their cars, kind of a mad rush to get out of downtown as quickly as possible.

BLITZER: Because these picture are so worrisome. It's not supposed to be this dark out in the central time zone right now. But it looks like you guys are about to get a major, major tornado there, Ed.

LAVANDERA: Yes, I'm telling you Wolf, this looks -- I haven't seen it like this in quite a while in Dallas. And this is a -- you know, definitely a scene that has a lot of people worried. This one line that's passing through, I think maybe once it comes through, things will lighten up a little bit. I've been watching a lot of the local weather casts here, they've been going nonstop here for the last hour and a half or so. And hopefully we can get through this line safely, things may let up a little bit, but it looks really ominous right now.

BLITZER: We're showing our viewers different live pictures, different satellite feeds we're getting in. This one clearly not as ominous as the other one, I guess various parts of Dallas are facing different kinds of threats right now from these tornadoes. I don't know if we can determine, Reynolds Wolf, if you're still with us, do we need the speed, the size of these tornadoes?

WOLF: The size of these tornadoes, we're not really sure. I would say these definitely no question an event that we're taking, following very carefully.

We just got a piece of information that just came in, Wolf. At the airport, we now have reports of hail of two and a half inches in diameter. Some may be a little bit bigger, some smaller.

But I'm saying that is going to cause some significant damage to plains out on the runway and the tarmacs that are still there. At this time, from what we're seeing on the radar behind me, is we're seeing conditions really improve in places like Ft. Worth, but Dallas is getting the worst of it as we speak, from University Park southward along the I-35 east corridor, just east of Grand Prairie in Dallas itself from say Dealey Plaza (ph) eastward to about the 635 interchange.

It is going to be just monstrous over the next 20 minutes or so. We're talking about very, very heavy rainfall, damaging winds, of course, and Ed moments ago talked about the greenish hue that he was seeing in the skies above. That could be an indicator of some large hail moving into his area.

What we're going to be seeing with this storm, is the possible tornado moving into the downtown area northward into University Park. We're seeing some pink pop up, pink and purple on the radar. That indicates, again, at times, very large hail. People affected again as we've also mentioned, about a half a million in Mesquite. The storms should be rolling through at 7:01, Seagoville about 7:06 and then Heath and Forney, about 10 minutes past the top of the hour, that is 7:00 local time. That's the latest we have for you. Let's send it back to you in Washington.

BLITZER: All right Reynolds, stand by. Ed Lavandera who is in Dallas, I want him to stand by as well.

Jason Lammers is joining us on the phone, public information officer in Ft. Worth. What's the problem in Ft. Worth? We see ominous pictures in Dallas, which is not that far away.

JASON LAMMERS, FT. WORTH PIO (on phone): Yes, Wolf, there's a storm system passed very, very quickly through us. I'm just passing Texas Motor Speedway right now on I-35, and everything seems to be OK.

We have some reports of a tornado down in southeast Tarrant County, as well as close as coming close to TMS, Texas Motor Speedway. But everything seems to be fine right now as I can see.

Reports are very sketchy at this time, but we've had reports of large hail, golf ball-sized throughout Tarrant County, and we had had reports of rotation and even a touchdown of a tornado maybe in Hotham City (ph), northeast portions of Tarrant County. And possible in Benbrook (ph) as well, which would be southeast. So that's what we're doing right now, basically addressing and assessing the degree of damage.

BLITZER: What we're hearing, Jason, is it's really heading towards downtown, if you will, Dallas itself and maybe out toward the airport, Dallas Ft. Worth Airport. These are heavily populated areas. I don't know how long you've been in Texas, but this is extraordinary -- an extraordinary situation.

LAMMERS: Yes, and I can see it just right now to our east, and it has moved through very, very quick, so everybody needs to -- if they're in path of the storm, they need to take cover. I know that we had the sirens go off.

There's hundreds of -- there's thousands of people at the Texas Motor Speedway, and I know they heard the alarms, and it seems like everybody's doing OK, but yes, people do need to take shelter. These are some serious storms. But everything seems - from what I can tell right now is OK, we're still assessing the damage right now and I'm sure we'll find something, but no reports of injuries at this time.

BLITZER: We'll stay in touch with you, Jason Lammers, helping us, a public information officer in Ft. Worth.

Let's go back to our own Ed Lavandera, he's in Dallas, he's watching all of this. Once again Ed, set the scene for our viewers who may just be tuning in. What is going on in Dallas, Texas?

LAVANDERA: Wolf, it was an eerie sight about 4:00 this afternoon, you could see actually the sun shining in parts of downtown Dallas, and then all of a sudden you saw this line of storms start moving our way.

And the upside to this is it seem like this storm is moving incredibly fast because now I'm stuck in an intense rainstorm, a little bit of hail starting to fall and the wind has really picked up dramatically. But the good thing, at least it seems to be moving through, at least from what you can tell in the clouds, it's rolling by rather quickly and hopefully it continues to do that.

BLITZER: But Ed, you have covered a lot of tornadoes over the years. You know we never really know the extent of the damage until these tornadoes have rally moved on and individuals, rescue workers, can go in and check the damage, check the casualties.

So at this point we have no idea of how extensive the damage could be. Ed, are you still there? I think we're losing Ed Lavandera because of the spotty communications there. Jason, are you still with us?

LAMMERS: I'm right here.

BLITZER: Jason Lammers, talk to us a bit about how long it would take normally in this kind of a situation, because you've lived through these kinds of tornadoes to move on and so that rescue workers, emergency personnel can assess the damage.

LAMMERS: They moved very quickly. Right now it's not raining and there's actually, ironically there's a beautiful full rainbow right to my east. The sunlight is in my west. So it's moved through very, very quickly and like I said, it is over Dallas County, it is headed that way at least. Right now I'm not seeing any hail, I'm not seeing any rain. Right now it's definitely wet, but there's no rain where I am on I-35 in Tarrant County.

BLITZER: You're in Ft. Worth, which is not Dallas. It looks like Dallas is in the bulls eye right now. All right, guys, thanks very much. We're to get back to you, all of you, Ed Lavandera, Reynolds Wolf, Jason Lammers, a public information officer out in Ft. Worth. We're keeping an eye on this storm that's moving through Dallas right now. We'll update you when we get some more information.

Also Jack Cafferty, he's sticking around as well. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: All right, we've been following this tornado, the tornado warnings in the Dallas area specifically very ominous situation unfolding right now. Jacki Schechner is watching all of this for us. We've got an i-Report already from one of our viewers, Jacki.

JACKI SCHECHNER, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Yes, I want to show you this. This is i-Reporter Lee Bendix. He is in a place called Saginaw, Texas. This is the golf-ball size hail we've been talking about. He also described it as about half the size of a baseball. You could hear it there. He was a student, he was just walking around, he heard the sirens go off, jumped out, took this video. Again, just 20 minutes ago you can see and hear the hail. This is i- reporter Lee Bendix this is about 30 miles from Dallas in Saginaw, Texas, north of downtown Ft. Worth, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, let's get an update from Reynolds Wolf at the CNN Weather Center. Reynolds, what's the very latest. WOLF: The very latest we have now is the heart of this system is now moving east of the downtown area of Dallas, however the storm is still very strong, possible producing one or two tornadoes and again large hail moving to the northeast as we speak. We'll watch it for you as long as it takes.

BLITZER: Just want to make sure our viewers stay with us throughout the night for all the latest information. Jack Cafferty is in New York. Pretty scary stuff, Jack.

CAFFERTY: I lived in Kansas City and Des Moines for a time. Ed Lavandera was talking about the sky turning green. It turns as green as your lawn, and it is very scary. The clouds get very low to the ground and it actually just kinds of rolls through. You get these squall lines and it gets a greenish hue to it. It's very frightening.

So it this - well maybe not so frightening. Maybe it's encouraging. More Americans identify themselves as Independents than as Republicans as Democrats. We asked you what you thought that meant.

Frank in Pennsylvania says: "It means most of us realize the world is more complex than simply all red or all blue. That, and we don't want to elect people to be led around on a nose ring by party leadership."

John in Virginia: "You're seeing more voters call themselves Independents because there is a disconnect between the two major parties and the will of the people. To get elected, a candidate has to pay homage to the ideological base of their party, or else they'll not receive the required funding and support."

Martha in Pennsylvania: "It means folks are getting better and informed and smarter. Let's face it, who wants to associate themselves with a bunch of self-serving losers, no matter what label they hang on themselves."

Francis in Escondido, California: "It might mean that people are fed up with illegal aliens, and they don't think either major party will uphold the law and protect our borders from invasion from another country."

Mike in Boston: "It means that it is time for a third, maybe a fourth party, Jack. They will never get the point until the Republicans and Democrats come in last in an election. I'm a lifelong Democrat and I'm horrified what our blessed electoral process has degenerated into."

And Mary in West Virginia: "It means a whole lot of us have decided we don't want to hold our noses anymore in order to vote."

If you didn't see your e-mail here, go to CNN.com/CaffertyFile. We post more of them there, along with video clips of "The Cafferty File." Wolf?

BLITZER: Jack, have a great weekend. I'll be back Sunday on CNN'S "LATE EDITION." Among my guests this Sunday, Senators Jim Webb and Jon Kyl. "LATE EDITION," the last word in Sunday talk. We go on the air at 11 a.m. for two hours. See you then. Until then, thanks for watching. Let's go to Paula Zahn in New York -- Paula?

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