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Congress Set to Pass Iraq War Funding, Bush Still Threatens Veto; George Tenet Denies U.S. Tortures; '08 Hopefuls Spar Across Party Lines

Aired April 25, 2007 - 19:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, a frightening scenario, a claim Osama bin Laden had his sights set on the vice president, Dick Cheney. But it is true?
Also this hour, a powerful defense of extreme interrogation tactics. The former CIA director, George Tenet, says that the U.S. is getting results, but is it torture?

And a Republican candidate's warnings about electing a Democratic president. 9/11 hero Rudy Giuliani predicts consequences for the U.S. in the war on terror.

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

First tonight, the House is hearing a new showdown vote on Iraq right now. It's part of the bitter partisan battle over funding and ending the war. The top U.S. military commander in Iraq walked right into the middle of the fight today on Capitol Hill. General David Petraeus he gave lawmakers a progress report on the troop buildup and the new strategy.


GEN. DAVID PETRAEUS, MULTINATIONAL FORCE IRAQ: What I did highlight was one of the areas in which there has been progress, and that is in the reduction of sectarian murders in Baghdad, which is about one-third now of what it was in January.

That's an important development because the sectarian murders can be a cancer in a neighborhood, it is something on which our commanders and the Iraqi commanders have focused quite a bit. And it's an area in which, as I say, there has been progress.

Having said that, the ability of al Qaeda to conduct horrific sensational attacks, obviously, has represented a setback and is an area in which we're focusing considerable attention, as you might imagine.


PETRAEUS: No. That -- really, trends was what I was talking about.


BLITZER: Let's bring in our congressional correspondent Dana Bash.

Democrats about to push through, by all accounts, legislation to increase the funding for the war in Iraq, but to set some time lines, some time constraints on the president's strategy. Are you getting any sense that the briefings that General Petraeus provided Democrats and Republicans really changing anyone's mind?

DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: In a word, no, Wolf. In fact, Senator Carl Levin, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, came right out and said almost exactly that. That this -- he did not think this changed anybody's minds.

And really the truth is, nobody expected this to changed people's minds, at least on the Republican and Democratic side. For the most part, their minds are pretty much hardened in terms of what the perspective is on what should be done right now in Iraq.

Democrats are still maintaining even after they heard from the general that it is important to set a deadline for troops to come home in order to send a signal to the Iraqi government that the U.S. isn't there forever.

Republicans still came out of that briefing and their perspective was that the general made it clear that that particular timeline would send exactly the wrong signal to U.S. troops and the wrong signal to the enemies.

So we heard pretty much after the briefing what we heard before the briefing in terms of the political statements -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And very quickly, Dana, the House narrowly passes it tonight. The Senate presumably passes it tomorrow. Then the president vetoes it, even though the withdrawal of combat forces is now a goal, a non-binding goal as opposed to hard and fast commitment. Is that the strategy that the White House has, to go ahead and veto even though that there's a goal as opposed to a legally binding withdrawal?

BASH: Absolutely. The president has made it abundantly clear that the bill that the House will like -- almost definitely pass tonight, the Senate tomorrow, he's going to veto it, because no matter what, it does, as he says, tie the hands of his generals and send the wrong signal to the enemy. So that's why he says he is going to veto it.

The big question now comes, what happens after that veto? That is the second debate that's going on. It's actually already going on behind the scenes here -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Dana, thanks very much. We'll continue to watch this, and if there's -- the vote happens this hour, we'll of course share the results with you right away.

The Iraqi government, headed by the prime minister, Nouri al- Maliki, seems to be weakening right now. How long can it survive? The New York Times Pulitzer Prize-winning Baghdad bureau chief John Burns, he's here in THE SITUATION ROOM. We'll be speaking with him this hour.

Moving on, was Osama bin Laden directly involved in an attempt to kill the vice president of the United States? That stunning claim from the top ranks of the Taliban, along with word that bin Laden may actively be planning other attacks as well. Let's go straight to CNN's Brian Todd who has been watching this story.

What are we hearing now from this leader of the Taliban?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this very feared and respect Taliban commander says bin Laden's involvement in that February attack went well beyond inspiration.


TODD (voice-over): Did the world's most wanted terrorist have Vice President Cheney in his sights in Afghanistan? A top Taliban commander speaks out about Osama bin Laden's connection to an attack at Bagram Air Base in February.

MULLAH DADULLAH, TALIBAN MILITARY COMMANDER (through translator): This operation was the result of his blessed planning. He's the one who planned the details of this operation and guided us. And the operation was successful.

TODD: But in his interview with Al Jazeera, the Taliban commander known as Mullah Dadullah offered no proof of bin Laden's role in the suicide bombing, which killed more than 15 people.

Is bin Laden capable of planning an attack like this? U.S. intelligence officials say he's not involved in much of al Qaeda's current operational planning, and they say it's difficult for him to send messages to others.

But terrorism experts say Dadullah's claim that he has got a regular line of communication with the al Qaeda leader is feasible.

PETER BERGEN, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: Not directly personally, but certainly through intermediaries, al Qaeda and the Taliban have increasingly morphed together ideologically and tactically.

TODD: But a U.S. intelligence official questions bin Laden's role in the February attack, saying it was the Taliban, not al Qaeda, that claimed responsibility at the time. U.S. officials and journalists who traveled with Cheney point out the vice president's visit to Bagram was unscheduled, unannounced until he was on the ground, making it difficult for terrorists to plan in advance.

But it was reported that Cheney's departure from Bagram was delayed by a snowstorm. He was on the base for more than 12 hours and stayed overnight, ample time to mobilize a suicide bomber.


TODD: Other claims by that Taliban commander, bin Laden is still alive, he says, and is involved in al Qaeda's operations in Iraq as well as Afghanistan -- wolf.

BLITZER: Mullah Dadullah may simply be boasting as well. Brian, thanks very much. Brian Todd reporting.

A former director of the CIA defending America's use of sleep deprivation, maybe water-boarding, other controversial means of extracting information from terrorism suspects. George Tenet ran the agency during the harrowing months after 9/11 when the Bush administration launched the war on terror.

He says the techniques have yielded stunning results. Let's go to the Pentagon. CNN's senior Pentagon correspondent, Jamie McIntyre is watching this story for us -- Jamie.

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SENIOR PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, former CIA Director George Tenet really came out swinging, trying to rebuild his reputation tarnished by that famous assessment that the intelligence Iraq was a "slam dunk." He has got a new book out. And listen to this spirited exchange with CBS "60 Minutes" correspondent Scott Pelley about the so-called high-value detainee program which used, as you said, enhanced interrogation techniques, which, as you will hear Tenet say, he insists is not torture.


GEORGE TENET, FORMER CIA DIRECTOR: The image that has been portrayed is, we sat around the campfire and said, oh, boy, now we go get to go torture people. We don't torture people. Let me say that again to you, we don't torture people.


TENET: We don't torture people.

PELLEY: Khalid Sheikh Mohammed?

TENET: We don't torture people.

PELLEY: Water-boarding?

TENET: We do not -- I don't talk about techniques and we don't torture people. No, listen to me. I want you to listen to me. So the context is, it's post 9/11, I've got reports of nuclear weapons in New York City, apartment buildings that are going to be blown up, planes that are going to fly into airports all over again. Plotlines that I don't know -- I don't know what's going on inside the United States, and I'm struggling to find out where the next disaster is going to occur.

Everybody forgets one central context of what we lived through, the palpable fear that we felt on the basis of the fact that there was so much we did not know.


MCINTYRE: And again, that exclusive "60 Minutes" appearance part of a promotional book tour that George Tenet has embarked on. He has written a new book called "In the Center of the Storm" about his seven years as the CIA director. His first-hand account.

And, Wolf, you can bet, it's going to be on a lot of people's reading lists next week.

BLITZER: A lot of people are going to be watching. He's going to be here in THE SITUATION ROOM on May 2nd. Jamie, thanks very much, for that report.

Let's two to New York and Jack Cafferty for the "Cafferty File." Spirited statements from George Tenet in that "60 Minutes" interview, Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: What's the message there, that the ends somehow justify the means?

BLITZER: He says it wasn't torture but it was tough interrogation to protect the American people.

CAFFERTY: I wonder if George Tenet has ever been water-boarded. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice could soon be facing a subpoena. The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee voted today to force Rice to testify under oath.

They want to find out what she knew about those pre-war claims that Iraq was trying to get to uranium from Niger. President Bush included that claim in his 2003 State of the Union Address, remember? And it was a key part of the administration's case for invading Iraq.

At the time, Rice was the president's national security adviser. So presumably she would have known about this stuff. Committee Chairman Henry Waxman has said Rice did not adequately answer his questions in a series of letters, questions like, who at the White House kept pushing the disputed uranium report even after the CIA kept it out of a presidential speech in 2002?

According to the State Department, although Rice can be called to testify about matters relevant to the State Department, the White House has said it will not allow current or former staff to testify about internal White House matters.

Since when is the intelligence used to justify the United States invading a sovereign nation an internal White House matter? Here 's the question. Should Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice be forced to testify about pre-war intelligence on Iraq? E-mail caffertyfile at or go to -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jack, thanks very much. Coming up, playing the terror card. Rudy Giuliani predicts dire consequences if a Democrat were to win the White House. Will the fear factor help him win votes?

Also, smoked out. A manhunt for a suspected cop-killer ends in flames.

And sex, marriage and the Koran. Meet the so-called Dr. Ruth of the Middle East. Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: New poll numbers just coming out tonight, capturing the mood of a nation very weary of war and a presidential race in flux. Our CNN political analyst Bill Schneider is joining with the new numbers.

First of all, Bill, what does this latest poll tell us about the views of the American public as far what the country is experiencing right now?

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: They say change. They say the Americans want change in the country, particularly on the war in Iraq. When you ask people, do you think the country is headed in the right direction or off on the wrong track? Only 22 percent say America is heading in right direction. That is the lowest number to say that since President Bush's father was in office. And we know what happened to the first President Bush.

Then it was the economy, stupid. Now it's Iraq. Can the United States win the war with Iraq? Fifty-five percent of Americans say no, we can't win. Remember the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, got a lot of criticism for saying the war is lost. But it looks like a lot of Americans are reaching that same conclusion. And by about the same margin the poll shows Americans side with Congress over President Bush over establishing a time line for withdrawal.

BLITZER: In this NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll that has just come out, Bill, what about the presidential race, the Democrats and the Republicans?

SCHNEIDER: And the answer there is both races are in flux. On the Democratic side, look at the front runners, Hillary Clinton, still. But 36 percent, there has been some slippage, and Barack Obama just behind her at 31 percent, within the margin of error. John Edwards has gained a little bit, 20 percent. It well may be that the anger at President Bush in the war in Iraq is driving Obama's numbers up. They have been going up all year. He opposed the Iraq War, of course, from the start. And he appeals to the sentiment for change.

On the Republican side, also some evidence of flux. Rudy Giuliani, the front-runner with just 33 percent of the vote, he slipped a bit since the poll included Fred Thompson, a man who is not yet -- and may not be, we don't know, a candidate for president. But he shows himself to be pretty strong there, 17 percent, coming in third behind Rudy Giuliani and John McCain. Ahead of Mitt Romney, who led the Republican field in fund-raisin fund-raising -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Bill, thanks very much. Bill Schneider reporting for us.

Republican presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani outraging many Democrats right now by suggesting that if one of them were to be elected president, the country would be at greater risk for another terror attack. Democrats firing right back. They're angry. CNN's Mary Snow is joining us from New York right now.

How are they responding to Giuliani's charge, Mary?

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, with fury. That is how they are responding. Democrats are striking back, accusing Giuliani of using fear to score political points. Now this comes after Giuliani suggested Republicans are better suited to stop a terrorist attack against the U.S.


SNOW (voice-over): Republican presidential hopeful Rudy Giuliani is drawing fire for warning of consequences in the war on terror if a Democrat is elected president. His message? The country will be safer in Republican hands.

RUDY GIULIANI (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: And make no mistake about it, the Democrats want to put us back on defense.

SNOW: Going on the defense, says Giuliani, means more lives lost and a prolonged war against terrorism. He faults Democrats for trying to set a timetable for withdrawal from Iraq and says if they win the White House...

GIULIANI: We're going to cut back on electronic surveillance. We're going to cut back on interrogation. We're going to cut back, cut back, cut back and we'll be back in our pre-September 11th mentality of being on defense.

SNOW: Three top Democratic presidential contenders fired back with strong words for Giuliani. Senator Barack Obama saying: "Rudy Giuliani today has taken the politics of fear to a new low."

Senator Hillary Clinton said: "It shouldn't be a Democratic fight or a Republican fight."

And former Senator John Edwards saying: "Rudy Giuliani's suggestion that there is some superior Republican way to fight terrorism is both divisive and plain wrong."

Taking aim at Democrats on security, some say, carries risks.

DOUGLAS MUZZIO, BARUCH COLLEGE: Sure he risks backlash, because in fact, the only 9/11 attack has occurred during a Republican administration.

SNOW: Other political say Giuliani is appealing to Republican primary voters, as he stakes his candidacy on security and capitalizes on his days as New York City mayor during 9/11.

STUART ROTHENBERG, THE ROTHENBERG POLITICAL REPORT: I think this is red meat for Republicans. If you're a Republican activist in New Hampshire, you do believe that the Republicans are the safer choice to conduct the war against terror.

(END VIDEOTAPE) SNOW: Rudy Giuliani is not backing down. On a radio interview earlier today, he was asked about criticism from Democrats, Giuliani stuck by his comments, saying, it's position he has held for a long time -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Mary, thanks very much. Mary Snow reporting on a very sensitive political subject.

Still ahead tonight here in THE SITUATION ROOM, the Pat Tillman family deeply insulted. An Army investigator accused of calling the Army Ranger, and I'm quoting now, "worm dirt" after his death. We'll tell you why.

And look at this, President Bush gets his groove on for a good cause. He's dancing at the White House. We'll tell you why. Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Our Carol Costello is monitoring stories incoming to THE SITUATION ROOM right now.

Carol, what do you have?

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: A couple of things to tell you, Wolf. There is a massive fire at an Upstate New York farmhouse surrounded by law enforcement officers. They're looking for a cop- killer who they believe is in inside. A state trooper was killed by gun fire and a second was wounded yesterday. The suspect is identified as 23-year-old Travis Trim. But we don't know yet if he has been found inside of that house.

Officials in southern Texas have spent much of the day searching for tornado victims. It now appears the final death toll will remain at 10, including a family of five. The deaths a result of that twister that swiped the Texas/ Mexico border near the town of Eagle Pass. At least 80 people were injured.

Virginia State Police say Seung-Hui Cho used 170 rounds to kill 30 people at Virginia Tech's Norris Hall before killing himself. At a news conference today, the official leading the probe says it remains a mystery why Cho shot and killed two students in dormitory before he moved across campus to carry his mass slaughter. Those are the headlines right now -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Carol, thanks. We'll check back with you shortly.

Just ahead, insult added to unbearable loss. We'll have details of a very controversial remark about the late football star turned U.S. Army Ranger Pat Tillman.

Plus, we'll be joined by The New York Times Pulitzer Prize-winner journalist John Burns to get his insight into the mounting crisis threatening to topple the Iraqi government. Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

Happening now, a Wall Street milestone, the Dow Jones Industrial Average closing above 13,000 today for the first time. The blue chip benchmark gaining 135 points, propelled by positive earnings reports.

Also, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger threatening to sue the Environmental Protection Agency. California moved back in 2005 to enact tougher regulations than the federal government on greenhouse gases, but is still waiting for EPA approval.

And the United Nations out with a very grim new assessment tonight on the situation in Iraq. But it lacks one key piece of data, the civilian death toll in Iraq. The U.N. says the Iraqi government simply refused to provide it. The Iraqis are slamming the report, saying they have major reservations about this report.

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

Their son died in the war, the details were kept secret. Now Pat Tillman's family is further insulted by one U.S. military commander's apparent comments. Let's bring back our senior Pentagon correspondent Jamie McIntyre.

Jamie, what is going on here?

MCINTYRE: Well, it was one of those moments, Wolf, it happened about halfway into yesterday's testimony when Mary Tillman, Pat Tillman's mother, dropped a bombshell.


MCINTYRE (voice-over): It came as a shock to members of Congress probing the Pat Tillman death that one Army investigator was quoted making remarks that Tillman's family found highly insulting.

MARY TILLMAN, PAT TILLMAN'S MOTHER: He said that we were -- we would never be satisfied because we're not Christians. And that we're just a pain in the ass, basically.

He also said that it must make us feel terrible that Pat is worm dirt.

MCINTYRE: The offending comments, suggesting the Tillman family's dissatisfaction with the Army was due, in part, to a lack of religious faith, was posted on last summer. It quoted Lieutenant Colonel Ralph Kauzlarich, who conducted the second investigation into Tillman's death as saying...

LT. COL. RALPH KAUZLARICH, U.S. ARMY: Well, if you're an atheist and you don't believe in anything, if you die, what is there to go to? Nothing. You're worm dirt. So for their son to die for nothing, it's pretty hard to get your head around that.

REP. HARRY WAXMAN (D), CALIFORNIA: Did you examine these comments as part of your investigation?

THOMAS GIMBLE, DEFENSE DEPARTMENT: We did not investigate those comments. I saw the comments in the paper and, frankly, I was shocked by them, too. But we didn't investigate.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sir, I don't know of any regulation prohibiting that, but I find it totally unacceptable.

WAXMAN: Is there anything such as a conduct unbecoming a member of the United States armed services?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There is such a charge as conduct unbecoming an officer, yes, sir.

WAXMAN: Yes, well that sounds like it's a pretty unbecoming statement for an officer to have made.

MCINTYRE: At Pat Tillman's memorial service in 2004, his younger brother acknowledged Tillman was not a religious man. But the Army would not say if he had ever declared himself an atheist.


MCINTYRE: :Lieutenant Colonel Kauzlarich is now a battalion commander in Iraq and could not be immediately reached for comment in the war zone. The Army also would not reveal his religious affiliation, but did say he didn't face any discipline for these remarks -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Jamie, thank very much. Jamie McIntyre at the Pentagon.

Let's get some more mow on our top story on Capitol Hill. We're watching for a major move on Iraq. The House of Representatives expected to vote very soon on a war funding bill with a timetable for a pullout.

The "New York Times" Baghdad bureau chief John Burns has covered this war from the start. He joined me a short while ago. We spoke about one critical factor affecting the Bush administration administration's Iraq plan.


BLITZER: As you know, John, so much of this new U.S. strategy depends on cooperation from the Iraqi government of Nuri al-Maliki. But there's a lot of questions about this government.

What do you think? Can this government, which is pretty weak, survive?

JOHN BURNS, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Difficult to say, Wolf. The president, President Bush, came to Baghdad not quite a year ago, looking for a partner, as he put it. "I'm going to look him in the eye," he said, speaking of Maliki, "and see if I've got a partner." He's never really had a partner. The government is incoherent. There is really no effective government in any of the departments of state.

Maliki doesn't seem to be able to marshal his government to take any effective action on the issues that the United States believes are essential, concomitant of this military surge. He's got to deal with militias, he's got to deal with amnesty, he's got to deal with the oil law, with terrorism, and so forth.

BLITZER: Well, so far, John -- so far, he hasn't disbanded, disarmed the militias. He hasn't changed, ratified or revised the constitution. Hasn't worked out a plan for oil sharing. So many of the benchmarks that the U.S. and others would like to see them undertake, they are simply not doing it.

BURNS: They're not doing it. It's not clear, though, who, if anybody, could be his successor.

I think if the United States could see somebody that they believe could marshal a majority in the Iraqi parliament, and could move on these issues, bring the Shiites, the Sunnis and the Kurds together, I think they would then move to get Maliki out of that job and put him in there. It is just not clear who that man might be.

There's a lot of sentiment in Iraq for Iyad Allawi, the prime minister, the first of the three Iraqi prime ministers since Iraq resumed sovereignty, but he carries a lot of baggage, too. He has a lot of enemies, and his government was very corrupt.

BLITZER: What is the goal, the strategy right now of these insurgents, or the terrorists, whatever you want to call them. What are they trying to do right now?

BURNS: Well, these are people, as one U.S. military officer put it to me, who will trade space for time. That's to say they -- when the surge began about two months ago, additional U.S. troops coming in to Baghdad, many of them just melt away.

They went out into the provinces, and we've seen increased levels of violence, sharply increased levels of violence, as you know, northeast of Baghdad, in Diyala, and Mosul in the north, and Tal Afar in the northwest, and Diwaniyah in the central south. These are intelligent -- what the American military calls a learning enemy.

Why should they stay in Baghdad and fight there when they can go and cause mayhem elsewhere at higher cost to the U.S. military? That's what they have been doing.

BLITZER: The president said last night to Charlie Rose, he said that by September, General Petraeus thinks he will know whether or not this surge is working.

You think -- what do you think? Look down the road. You spent four years there. You've been there since Saddam Hussein.

In September, is there going to be a significant difference than what's going on right now?

BURNS: Difficult to say. General Petraeus himself has said there are some trends that are encouraging, but nothing on which to predicate real, real progress. It's going to take time.

Only three of the five American brigades that have been assigned to this surge have so far been deployed. So it's an early stage yet, but there are some discouraging signs.

As you know, suicide bombings are up. Sectarian killings, which are down by about 25 percent in Baghdad, appear to be beginning to rise again. So it's a very confused picture at the moment.

But one thing that is true, Wolf, is you put extra American boots on the ground in a particular neighborhood, you do achieve a stabilizing effect. The problem is, are 28,000 enough? Probably not.

BLITZER: But what about the -- what about the Iraqis? They have hundreds of thousands, nominally, of troops. They have police forces. Why can't they go protect themselves?

BURNS: Well, it's, as you know, an army that was rushed into being. Many of their units are as much as 50 percent under strength.

They tend to perform well when they have American troops with them. They have been performing a lot better. They perform a lot less well when they are on their own. And one of their complaints is that they are so poorly equipped relative to the Americans.

So ...

BLITZER: But they're a lot better equipped than the insurgents are, or the terrorists.

BURNS: Well, you know, what's the -- what's the insurgent weapon? The insurgent weapon is bombings, which kill large numbers of people, ambushes, beheadings. The insurgents do not need sophisticated weapons to create absolute mayhem.

But there's no doubt that the Iraqi army is improving. It's probably not, in my judgment improving, fast enough. And, of course, there's always the risk that, under strain, it can begin to disintegrate into sectarian factions, particularly if there's a mandated American withdrawal and Iraqis begin to assume that this is going to be settled by violence in an all-out civil war.

BLITZER: John Burns is the Baghdad bureau chief of "The New York Times".

As usual, John, thanks for helping us better understand this complicated, pretty awful situation.

BURNS: Thank you, Wolf.

(END VIDEOTAPE) BLITZER: And tonight Senator John McCain trying to make a second first impression on voters. The Republican officially launched his presidential campaign in New Hampshire, after running for months and more recently stumbling. Our senior political correspondent Candy Crowley reports from Portsmouth, New Hampshire.


CANDY CROWLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, it may seem to you that John McCain has been running for president for some time now and you would be right but it never hurts to go at it again, especially if your campaign is in need of some juice.


CROWLEY (voice-over): Unsteady in the first quarter of this year, John McCain is looking for terra firma -- planting himself firmly atop his resume -- 25 years in Congress, five years as a prisoner of war in Vietnam, an expect on military and defense affairs.

"I am not the youngest candidate in the race," he said, "but I am the most experienced."

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I know how to fight and I know how to make peace. I know who I am and what I want to do.

CROWLEY: In a speech half practical and half prose, McCain sought a balance somewhere between the ills of the country and its hopes, between supporting the war and criticizing its conduct, somewhere between not dissing the president and getting some distance -- no names mentioned.

MCCAIN: They won't accept the government's failure to deliver bottled water to dehydrated babies or rescue the infirm from a hospital with no electricity. They won't accept substandard care and indifference for our wounded veterans. That's not good enough for America and it's not good enough for me.

CROWLEY: Consistently running second in the polls and third in the money race, McCain often seems stuck in the middle between conservatives, who think he is too much of a maverick to be trusted, and moderates, who wonder where the maverick went.

His task is to define himself.

MCCAIN: When I'm president, I'll offer common sense, conservative and comprehensive solutions to these challenges. Congress will have other ideas and I'll listen to them.

CROWLEY: It is a long way from now to November of 2008, but there are only so many restarts a campaign can have. McCain strategists say they're not worried. "It's a marathon, not a sprint," said one. But as a supporter put it, "McCain needs to get in the game, show he actually wants to win this."


CROWLEY: When John McCain's 2000 insurgent campaign was the talk of town, he described it as catching lightning in a bottle. The question is whether he can catch it again? Wolf?

BLITZER: Candy, thank you.

John McCain, by the way, will be a guest tonight on LARRY KING LIVE. He tells Larry Alberto Gonzales, the attorney general should -- should step down.


LARRY KING, CNN HOST: What do you make, Senator McCain of attorney general Gonzales issue? Many of your former Republican members of the Senate have expressed that he ought to leave. Should he?

MCCAIN: I'm very disappointed, disappointed in his performance. I think loyalty to the president should enter into his calculation.

KING: Did you say you think Gonzales should leave?

MCCAIN: I think out of loyalty to the president that would probably be the best thing that he could do.


BLITZER: This is an interview you're going to want to see at 9:00 p.m. Eastern Time on LARRY KING LIVE.

Still ahead here in THE SITUATION ROOM. Rosie O'Donnell bailing out on "The View." Donald Trump speaking out. You're going to want to hear what he has to say. Also -- the Dr. Ruth of the Middle East. That's what she's called. She's breaking down barriers by talking about sex, marriage and the Koran.

Plus -- movie critic Roger Ebert going public after being disfigured during his battle with cancer. This is an emotional story that Carol Costello has. Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: It's not quite as racy as "Sex in the City," but it is raising a lot of eyebrows in a place not accustomed about open discussions about marital relations. A TV show that pushes the sexual envelope but not past the point limited by religion. CNN's Aneesh Raman is joining us from Cairo, Egypt. Aneesh?


ANEESH RAMAN, CNN MIDDLE EAST CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, it is a first in the Arab world, a talk show with a surprising focus.

KOTB (through translator): Don't be afraid. Join me to talk about sex without shame. RAMAN (voice over): She's called the Dr. Ruth of the Arab world, a veiled host who leaves little uncovered.

KOTB: We talk about masturbation. We talk about the e-sex -- you know, the electronic sex that's over the Internet. We've talked about sex and Ramadan.

RAMAN: It took three years for Dr. Heba Kotb, a Cairo sexologist, to get her TV show, "The Big Talk," on the air. Only succeeding because she only talks about sex allowed in the Koran between husband and wife. The advice is always blunt, especially for the men.

KOTB: You have to foreplay her, you have to get frequently with her.

RAMAN: Once an aspiring surgeon, when the 39-year-old Dr. Kotb became a mother she switched gears to sexology, eager in part to tear down taboos. It was no easy choice. When she first opened her clinic five years ago...

KOTB: It was a mess. I was receiving, like, one or two patients per week.

RAMAN (on camera): And now?

KOTB: Now, thanks God -- well, I'm booked, like, for three months.

RAMAN (voice over): Which is surprising, since sex remains a highly sensitive topic in the Arab world. In downtown Cairo, no woman would talk to us about the show, and the few men who would were less than enthusiastic.

"There is no reason to talk about sex on TV," Falshi (ph), a shopkeeper, told me. "Our society doesn't need something like this."

But for Dr. Kotb, there is no regret, and no turning back.

KOTB: She was a mother of my friend, my girlfriend. And when she first knew that I'm working upon this career, it's like five years before, she just looked at me, "Oh, my God, are you teaching people how to sleep with each other?" You know?

RAMAN: And what do you answer?

KOTB: I said, "Yes, I do." And this is the truth, OK?


KOTB: And I'm very proud of doing this.


RAMAN: And Doctor Kotb isn't done yet. She just signed with a new production company that will give her even wider distribution in the Arab world. Wolf.

BLITZER: Aneesh Raman in Cairo for us. Thank you.

CNN has confirmed that White House press secretary Tony Snow plans to return to work Monday. He has been away for several weeks being treated for a recurrence of his colon cancer.

We wish Tony only the best. That news by the way comes as another person that we have regularly been seeing on TV is now going public about his cancer battle, that would be the film critic Roger Ebert. Let's go to CNN's Carol Costello. She is in New York with this story. It's a pretty emotional story, Carol.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: It's a very emotional story, Wolf. Maybe many of you didn't know, Roger Ebert has been battling cancer for years. He's out of the hospital. And like Tony Snow is battling his disease publicly and courageously.


COSTELLO (voice-over): This is what someone recovering from cancer looks like. It's what film critic Roger Ebert wants us to see. In his "Chicago Sun-Times" column, he writes. "I was told photos of me in this condition would attract the gossip papers. So what? I have been very sick, am getting better, and this is how it looks.'

ROGER EBERT, FILM CRITIC: Thumbs up or thumbs down.

COSTELLO: Ebert, who has been critiquing films for the "Sun- Times" is a familiar face on television. Clearly he's not ready to give up his career or his life. Eight months after the doctors removed a cancerous growth in his mouth, which required the removal of part of his jaw and left him unable to speak, Ebert will appear in public at a Chicago movie festival. In his sometimes column he writes, "I have received a lot of advice that I should not attend the festival. I am told that paparazzi will take unflattering pictures, people will be unkind, etc. Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn. So let's talk turkey. What will I look like? To paraphrase a line from 'Raging Bull', I ain't a pretty boy no more."

And his appearance will be likely unexpected for fans who remember him like this, but his determination is inspiring.

PAUL FARHI, "WASHINGTON POST" FILM CRITIC: The pictures aren't going to be very pretty, but that's the reality of someone who has been battling cancer for five years. And he's not trying to hide that. It's very honest and frankly courageous thing he's doing.

COSTELLO: Ebert's struggles bring to mind others who refused to hide while they fight cancer.

ELIZABETH EDWARDS, JOHN EDWARDS' WIFE: I expect to do next week all the things I did last week.

COSTELLO: Like Elizabeth Edwards' battle with breast cancer. And Senator Arlen Spector, who stayed on the job while battling Hodgkin's disease. As Ebert put it so succinctly in his column, "We spend too much time hiding illness. Being sick is no fun, but you can have fun while you're sick."


COSTELLO (on camera): And, Wolf, that movie festival has begun. And we're hearing Roger Ebert did make an appearance and when we get video of that you will see it on CNN as Roger wished.

BLITZER: Carol, thank you very much.

We wish Roger only the best as well.

Still ahead tonight -- Jack Cafferty with this question -- should secretary of state Condoleezza Rice be forced to testify about prewar intelligence on Iraq?

And look at this. President Bush gets funky for a very good cause. You're going to want to see what he's up to, we'll be right back.


BLITZER: Let's check in with Jack Cafferty in New York for the "Cafferty File."


JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Looks like Congress is going to subpoenaed secretary of state Condoleezza Rice.

So we ask this hour, should she be forced to testify about prewar intelligence on Iraq?

Paul from New Orleans writes, "Of course. I would like to know the truth about why I was sent over there along with my fellow Marines. Was it to make a certain select few very rich? Was it to free the people of Iraq? Hardly.

"The people who don't want to testify are the same ones who have never picked up a rifle. I really don't understand why it's so hard to tell the truth on an issue when countless military personnel have died so far."

Everett in Virginia, "Absolutely, Jack. I would very much like to see this lady squirm in her seat before Congress, wondering if she'll lie for her master and maybe go to jail or tell the truth and send him his impeachment papers."

Dan in California, "Jack, of course she shouldn't testify. You idiot. How many times does the same question need to be investigated before you barking dogs lap up your bowl of milk and go to sleep? Get a life."

Another Dan in Colorado, "Yes, Dr. Rice should have to testify before Congress but only if there is a photo op involved. Dr. Rice does nothing where she can't get a nice photo for her scrapbook."

Ed in St. Louis, "Ms. Rice won't recall 70 or 80 times."

Art in Florida, "Secretary of state Rice should be made to testify about prewar intelligence, and if she is aware of any form of administration intelligence currently being used to make decisions."

And Mike in South Carolina. "Jack, I know I'm cynical but I doubt if secretary of state Rice's memory would be any better than Attorney General Alberto Gonzales'. But I bet if we let George Tenet ask her like he did Khalid Sheik Mohammed, she'd talk in a New York minute."

If you didn't see your e-mail here, you can go to where we post more of them online along with video clips of "The Cafferty File." Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Jack, thank you very much.

Let's check in with Paula and see what's coming up right at the top of the hour. Paula?

PAULA ZAHN, CNN HOST: Hi, Wolf, thanks.

We're following that vote on the funding on the war in Iraq. But also out in the open at the top of the hour, he National Rifle Association, the NRA, breaking its silence on the Virginia Tech massacre, what it's saying about gun control may turn some heads.

Also, a baby on life support. And a mother in court fighting to keep him alive. What would you do if doctors decided to pull the plug against your wishes?

Well, that is exactly what she faces tonight. We'll have more on that coming up at the top of hour, Wolf.

BLITZER: Thank you, Paula, for that. We'll be watching.

Up ahead here in THE SITUATION ROOM, Rosie O'Donnell leaving "The View" and Donald Trump weighing in.


DONALD TRUMP, ENTERTAINER: She abused Barbara Walters. She made Barbara Walters into a lap dog. She made Barbara Walters look like a jerk.


BLITZER: Jeanne Moos takes a most unusual look at the change of view.

And President Bush like you've probably never seen him before. The commander in chief cuts loose for a good cause. We'll tell you what it is.


BLITZER: Rosie O'Donnell confirming weeks of rumors confirming today that she's leaving "The View." CNN's Jeanne Moos takes a most unusual look.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): In true Rosie fashion, she first took out her gum before making the announcement.

ROSIE O'DONNELL, "THE VIEW": Hey, big news, breaking news. Breaking news. Did you hear it's on CNN as breaking news?

FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Well, Tony, here's something that's going to probably knock you off your seat.


WHITFIELD: Brace yourself.

O'DONNELL: I've decided that we couldn't come to terms with my deal with ABC, so next year I'm not going to be on "The View". However, I will be coming back and guest-hosting ...

MOOS: Guest-hosting? What are those of us who thrive on controversy going to do? No more hung over Danny DeVito in her lap. No more arguments with "The View's" young Republican.

O'DONNELL: And just one second. Radical Christianity is just as threatening as radical Islam.

MOOS: No more ethnic imitations that spark complaints.

O'DONNELL: You can imagine in China it's like, ching-chong.

MOOS: But most significantly...

JOY BEHAR, "THE VIEW": ... who's really sad?


BEHAR: Donald Trump. Donald Trump. He's on a ledge right now saying, how am I going to resuscitate "The Apprentice" now?

MOOS: If Donald is on a ledge, it's to push Rosie off. It was in the holiday season that the feud got hot.

DONALD TRUMP, REAL ESTATE MOGUL: I would like to take some money out of her fat ass pockets.

O'DONNELL: There he is, hair looping, going...

TRUMP: She ought to be careful, because I'll send one of my friends to pick up her girlfriend.

O'DONNELL: Look who's here today, Kelly. I was afraid to leave her home in case somebody with a comb-over came and stole her from me.

MOOS: But don't worry. Rosie's announcement that she's leaving "The View" just reopened the wounds.

TRUMP: Rosie's basically a loser. I believe ABC wanted her out and they wanted her out badly and fast. She made statements the other day at the Waldorf-Astoria that were absolutely outrageous, where she grabbed her crotch and said things that were just terrible.

I mean, she's a slob.

MOOS: As for those lined up to see "The View"...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think she spiced up the show.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She said whatever she thought.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think she's opened my eyes up to certain things about the war in Iraq.

MOOS: Even as she announced she was leaving, Rosie was still saying impeach President Bush.

O'DONNELL: I know. But I think '08 is too late. Get him out now.

OK. We're going to take a break.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Over-zealous attitude. I just don't like her.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think that show's going to be lost without her.

MOOS: And is the show's creator lost?

TRUMP: Barbara is very happy to be rid of Rosie.

BARBARA WALTERS, "THE VIEW": I am sad. OK? I am sad.

TRUMP: She abused Barbara Walters, she made Barbara Walters into a lap dog. She made Barbara Walters look like a jerk.

MOOS: Rosie may be leaving, but she wasn't leaving behind whatever she found on Barbara's lip.

O'DONNELL: And off. Thank you. Look what I got from you.


MOOS: Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE) BLITZER: And we leave you know with this video. Something that you don't see every day. Here is the president of the United States on malaria awareness day at the White House. Watch and listen.

And there's the First Lady. She's dancing as well. The Bushes at the White House for a very good cause.

That's it for us. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. Let's go to Paula Zahn. She is in New York. Paula?


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