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Cheney Arrives In Baghdad To Deliver Warning To Iraqi Leaders To Solve Issues Quickly;

Aired May 9, 2007 - 17:00   ET


JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR, THE SITUATION ROOM: ... he made charitable donations with the cash he earned working for the hedge fund.
And Ed in Nashville, Tennessee writes, "To claim one worked for a hedge fund outfit to study the markets effect on poverty is like saying you visited a massage parlor to get a back rub. It's possible, but I don't believe it."



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

Happening now, the Pentagon tells Congress how much progress it might take to bring U.S. troops home, or keep them in Iraq. And Vice President Cheney visits Baghdad with a tough message for Iraqi leaders.

It's either too wet or desperately dry, but both spell disaster; with floods in the heartland and wildfires on both coasts.

And did Democrat Al Sharpton make an anti-Mormon comment or is Republican hopeful Mitt Romney simply trying to manufacture a controversy?

I'm Wolf Blitzer, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

And explosion rocked Baghdad's green zone during his drop-in visit and he was burned in effigy by Shiite militants. But the vice president, Dick Cheney, wasn't deterred today, telling Iraqi leaders it is time to start making progress. Hugh Riminton is in the Iraqi capital -- Hugh.

HUGH RIMINTON, CNN INT'L. CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, a surprise visit to Iraq from Mr. Cheney just at a time when frustration is building to an absolute crescendo, both in Washington, but also here in Iraq, with signs of paralysis in the Iraqi government.


RIMINTON (voice over): This is only Dick Cheney's second visit to Iraq since the invasion he helped engineer. The message now, it's game time.

DICK CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There's a lot going on obviously. It's a very important time, and there's a lot to talk about.

RIMINTON: The talking began with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, whose national unity government faces a walkout by Sunni Arabs lawmakers as early as next week over a constitutional wrangle.

The senior Sunni politician, Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi (ph), was one of those Mr. Cheney got to meet, as he urged all the major players to find ways to work together.

CHENEY: I do believe that there is a greater sense of urgency now than I'd seen previously.

RIMINTON: Also raised, the two-month summer vacation being planned by the Iraqi parliament. Mr. Cheney says that is a sovereign Iraqi issue, but --

CHENEY: I did make it clear that we believe it's very important to move on issues before us in a timely fashion. And that any undue delay would be difficult to explain.

RIMINTON: The U.S. vice president says on key benchmark issues like a new oil law, provincial elections, and constitutional reform, he expects the Prime Minister Maliki to make a formal statement next week.


RIMINTON: While Mr. Cheney was in Baghdad, a mortar round landed in the green zone, just a further reminder of just how volatile this place remains, Wolf.

BLITZER: Hugh Riminton in Baghdad for us.

While Baghdad today was once again the scene of bombings and drive-by shootings, Kurdish areas of northern Iraq, including regional capital of Irbil have been generally quiet. But that quiet was shattered today.

A suicide bomber blew up his truck outside the Kurdish interior ministry building in Irbil, killing 14 people, wounding dozens more. Police say the vehicle was packed with 1700 pounds of explosives. This is a significant development since Kurdistan, the northern part of Iraq has been relatively quiet, relatively peaceful, at least until today.

So, how successful must the U.S. troop buildup be in order to justify a continuation of the current Iraq strategy? The Defense Secretary Robert Gates was on Capitol Hill once again today and he actually seemed to be lowering -- lowering the bar. Let's go live to our Senior Pentagon Correspondent Jamie McIntyre.

Looks like they are digging in for the long haul over at the Pentagon, Jamie?

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SR. PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, if you thought the measure of success of the new strategy in Iraq was a dramatic lowering in the levels of violence, well, you'd be wrong.


MCINTYRE (voice over): The new Baghdad security strategy has yet to produce any measurable decline in violence, despite the fact that four of five additional U.S. combat brigades are now in place. That has the Pentagon lowering expectations for what will constitute progress when the strategy is reviewed at the end of the summer.

ROBERT GATES, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: The goal in September is not whether the violence has been significantly reduced, or stability has been brought, and it seems to me, but rather whether it has been reduced to a level that the political reconciliation process is moving forward, in some meaningful way.

MCINTYRE: So with no requirement for stability, or a significant reduction in violence, almost any trend could be seen as justification for keeping the 30,000 extra U.S. troops in Iraq. And even as Gates promises an honest evaluation of the plan, which he says could set the stage for a U.S. troop reduction the number two U.S. commander in Iraq Lieutenant General Raymond Odierno, is quoted by "The Washington Post" as saying "The search needs to go to the beginning of next year for sure."

SEN. JUDD GREGG (R-NH): How do those two positions correlate?

GATES: I think the candid answer is, they don't.

MCINTYRE: Contacted by CNN, General Odierno insists he was misquoted. That the latest rotation plan simply gives commanders the ability to maintain elevated troop levels through April, if that's the decision.


MCINTYRE: Now, Wolf, Gates said later this afternoon that whatever the decision is in September, whether the strategy is working or not, it will not lead to, in his words, a precipitous decision. But, he says, it will likely point in a new direction -- Wolf?

BLITZER: So bottom line, what does all this mean for the troops, in other words, even if the strategy seems to be working, that doesn't necessarily mean they are coming home all that quickly.

MCINTYRE: That's right. They may decide to keep the extra troops there to build on that momentum. And if the strategy is not working, they may decide that they want to give it more time. The main thing is Secretary Gates is not showing the way he's thinking about this.

BLITZER: Jamie McIntyre is watching all of this at the Pentagon.

The government calls them Islamic radicals, accusing them of plotting to kill as many American soldiers as possible at a U.S. military base in New Jersey.

Now, their supporters are speaking out. Our Senior Correspondent Allan Chernoff is joining us in New York with the latest.

What is the latest, Allan?

ALLAN CHERNOFF, CNN SR. CORRESPONDENT : Well, Wolf, in these criminal complaints, yesterday, the government made it's charges, but this is only the beginning of a very long legal process.


CHERNOFF (voice over): The mother of one of the alleged plotters says her son Mohammed Abraham Schnuer (ph) couldn't have planned a terror attack.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He didn't have anything to do with, believe me. He worked all night and come here, like, in the morning, sleep and go back to work. This is his life.

CHERNOFF: Indeed, Schneur (ph), his court-appointed attorney says he will definitely enter a not guilty plea. The lawyer also told CNN, yesterday's publicity could hurt his client's chances for a fair trial.

Quote, "This is a one sided initial presentation, in which nobody has tested these allegations. I am concerned about the degree of detail the jury pool taint is a concern."

On Friday defense attorneys will have a chance to ask that bail be set. The government intends to argue the six still pose a danger and are a flight risk, and therefore should be held without bail.

The New Jersey U.S. attorney's office also says it will move expeditiously to present the case before a grand jury to get an indictment.

Only at that point would the defendant's appear in court to enter pleas. For now, the six are being held at a federal detention center in Philadelphia.


CHERNOFF: Sidar Hatar's (ph) father, who runs a pizzeria near Fort Dix told "The New Jersey Star Ledger", "I am not a terrorist. My son is not a terrorist."

CNN called other attorneys representing the defendants, and we are still waiting to hear back from them -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Do they have public defenders or have they been able to hire their own attorneys?

CHERNOFF: From what we understand these are all court appointed attorneys, private attorneys who have been appointed by the courts.

BLITZER: All right, we'll watch this story. Thank you very much, Allan for that.

Jack Cafferty is in New York with "The Cafferty File."


CAFFERTY: Wolf, here's something to consider when it comes to the war in Iraq. Insurgencies usually last more than 10 years, according to a study commissioned by the Defense Department. The Iraq war is now in its fifth year. The report, by an outfit called the Dupree (ph) Institute is due out in September.

But "USA Today" has some of the findings in it's the paper today, including these: Insurgents lose more often than they win. The chances for stopping an insurgency improve after 10 years. And not all insurgencies are quagmires.

In compiling the report, the researchers looked at 63 post-World War II insurgencies, including Vietnam, and the Soviets in Afghanistan. But one expert warns that each conflict unique.

He tells "USA Today", quote, "War cannot be reduced to a formula. War is an art as much as it is a science."

So, here's the question is it worth spending 10 years to defeat the insurgency in Iraq? E-mail your thoughts to Cafferty file, or go to -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Jack, thank you.

Up ahead, as the vice president drops into Baghdad, a key Democrat here in Washington drops one on the vice president.


REP. CHARLIE RANGLE (D-NY), CHMN., HOUSE WAYS & MEANS CMTE.: I think that Dick Cheney's probably the only friend the president has on this war. The American people have spoken.


BLITZER: I'll be speaking with the House and Ways & Means Committee Chairman Charlie Rangel, right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Parts of the Midwest are under water right now, but in Florida and Southern California, it's tinder dry with frightful results.

And she went back to Iran to visit her mother. But has Tehran tossed her into prison? Iranian-Americans caught up in a game of international intrigue. Stay with us. We're watching this story. We'll be right back.


BLITZER: Wild weather from one end of the country to the other.

In California, fire in Los Angeles' historic Griffith Park has scorched hundreds of acres. Major flooding has swamped much of northwestern Missouri, to say the least, and the water still rising. Wildfires know no boundaries at the Georgia/Florida border, where flames have charred 200-plus square miles. And off the southeastern coast, early bird subtropical storm Andrea is chugging toward land, more than three weeks before the official start of the Atlantic hurricane season.

Let's go to Missouri first. The town of Big Lake, north of Kansas City is largely under water, right now. Levees have broken, or been breeched. Hundreds of homes have water, and the water is still rising. CNN's Ed Lavandera is joining us now live from Big Lake.

What's it like right now, Ed?


Just a few moments ago, we got off a boat. Two officers with the Missouri State Water Patrol had taken us out into this area that you see behind me, just beyond that red barn that you see right there is where the regular part of the lake, of what is Big Lake, once stood. It is clearly out of its banks.

We went on about a 45-minute boat ride, a tour of the area, about a mile north of here. And what we saw were the several hundred homes, most of them under -- at least partially submerged in about three to four feet of water in many places. Some worse than that, some a little bit better off.

But this is a village that described itself as a vacation village. As a weekend getaway type of the place here in northwest Missouri and much of it is under water tonight.

Most of the people have evacuated. There is still one elderly gentleman that refuses to leave and is living on the second floor of his house right now.

BLITZER: When is the water expected to recede so people can go back to their homes?

LAVANDERA: It's a difficult situation. Because many people here remember the flood that happened back in 1993, which is what people talk about so much here, but this could take several days. The water hasn't quite crested yet. There have been water pouring in from the north side of the city, and water continues to pour in, although it's been kind of slow moving at this point. Many people here say it could take several days; it could be Monday before they see all this water disappear.

BLITZER: Ed Lavandera in Big Lake, Missouri.

Firefighters have been working desperately to save hundreds of homes in the hills above Los Angeles. Those efforts may have paid off, at least for now. Let's go live to CNN's Peter Viles he is in L.A. with more.

This has been a big fire, but what's going on now, Peter? PETER VILES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Extremely scary last night, Wolf. On live television here in Los Angeles homes were threatened.

The good news, the firefighters won that fight last night. The mayor just announced a little while ago that he says this fire is under control. It's 50 percent contained. That means they have a line around 50 percent of it. But they think they will have it 100 percent contained within 24 hours.

So very good news about a fire that really caught this city's attention, because it was so big, and so erratic into the evening hours last night, Wolf.

BLITZER: Griffith Park, tell our viewers how close it is actually to the populated parts of Los Angeles.

VILES: This is an urban park. Just like Central Park in New York. It is surrounded on three sides by heavily populated suburbs, and on one side by interstate, Interstate 5. But you have Glen Dale, Burbank, Los Filas (ph) and the Hollywood Hills to the other sides to this park. Houses right up against the edge of this park. That was the fight last night that the firefighters won, to keep the fire in the park.

BLITZER: Peter Viles in L.A. for us. Good news on that front, thank you, Peter, for that.

Still to come. Is Iran involved in attacks against U.S. troops in Iraq? There's a disturbing increase in attacks using bombs that can blow up heavily armored U.S. military vehicles. And U.S. officials say Iran is behind many of them.

And a prominent reverend says something about a well-known Mormon. Now Al Sharpton's words have some asking if he's questioning presidential candidate Mitt Romney's belief in God. We'll have all sides of this story. Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


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

Carol, what do you have?

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN NEWS ANCHOR: Well, let's start in London, Wolf.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair is expected to lay ground work tomorrow for his departure from office. Mr. Blair's spokesman says the British leader will announce his intention to step down as Labour Party chief. That announcement will touch off a leadership contest to succeed him as party leader, and prime minister, in about seven weeks. Mr. Blair celebrated 10 years as prime minister on May 1.

A spokesman for Chevron Oil Company says four U.S. citizens working off the coast of Nigeria were kidnapped overnight. They were working on a construction barge, laying pipes for an area oil field. This is the latest in a wave of abductions of foreign workers in the oil-rich Niger Delta since late 2005. Almost all of the captives have been later released unharmed.

News affecting the bottom line, the Consumer Federation of America says African-Americans are generally subject to higher interest rates on car loans than other American borrowers. The consumer group says blacks paid an average of 2 percent more on loans for new and used cars than Americans overall. The report is based on data collected for a federal survey in 2004.

Yet another record high for the Dow Jones average. Despite a brief sag on news the Fed left interest rates unchanged, the Dow gained almost 54 points to close the day at 13,362. The S&P 500 was up almost 5 points and the tech-heavy Nasdaq added 4.5.

So, I leave you with good news, Wolf.

BLITZER: Quite a ride on Wall Street. Thank you, Carol, for that.

France's president-elect Nicolas Sarkozy is grabbing headlines today in the French press. Sarkozy's luxurious post election Mediterranean get away drawing some sharp criticism from his political opponents. Why are we not surprised? Let's go to our Internet Reporter Abbi Tatton.

What specifically, Abbi, is causing the uproar?

Wolf, it's Sarkozy's decision to spend a couple of days preparing for the presidency here, on board a 200-foot luxury yacht currently in the Mediterranean. Paparazzi have captured images of Sarkozy and his family on board the yacht, The Paloma, which yachting websites report is equipped with everything from scuba diving equipment to a karaoke machine and rents for $250,000 per week.

Sarkozy's socialist opponents have slammed the trip as ostentatious and offensive to those people in France who have trouble making ends meet. The papers have been having a field day with this story. Some of the headlines: "Sarkozy's Vacation Making Waves", "The Sarkozy Era Is Bling Bling."

Sarkozy is reported as saying, I have no intention of apologizing -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thank you for that, Abbi.

Pope Benedict the 16th, today is in Brazil where he will meet with Latin America's bishops on just this sixth trip he's made outside of Italy since becoming the pontiff.

Now, the pope's first trip was to Cologne, Germany in August 2005, to commemorate World Youth Day. He returned to his native Germany in September, 2006. His second trip in May of last year, was to Poland, where he visited Warsaw, Krakow, and the World War II concentration camps at Auschwitz/Birkenau.

In July, the pope visited Spain. The Spanish royal family in Valencia for the Fifth World Meeting of Families and the pope's final 2006 voyage was to Istanbul, Turkey, where he visited the Blue Mosque, sparking protests in the street.

Wish him a safe journey on his trip now.

Florida is suffering from what could be its worst drought in recent history. The impact is already devastating. CNN's John Zarrella is in Lake Okeechobee.

John, fires are popping up all over the state. I assume they are the result of this drought.

JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: No question about it, Wolf. In fact, right now, there are 200 fires burning across Florida; 54 of the 67 counties in Florida are recording fires. The governor, Governor Charlie Crist, just completed a tour of some of the hardest-hit areas.

And, in fact, new fires are breaking out all the time. We had fire break out on Alligator Alley this afternoon, near Collier County. Another one break out on the Florida Turnpike. So, every day, new fires breaking out, as a result of the drought, Wolf.

BLITZER: It's interesting, where you are now. Show our viewers the signs of drought in Florida, because you are in a specific location.

ZARRELLA: Yeah, this is an extreme example of what is happening in Florida. I'm literally standing on Lake Okeechobee bottom. In a normal season, this would be all under water, Wolf. This is grass growing in some of this Everglades muck that you find on the bottom of Lake Okeechobee.

What we have here, all behind me should be under water. Right now, serious water restrictions in place, in all of south Florida. More intense water restrictions going into place next week. Some well fields being closed down on the East Coast of Florida. And they're saying, if we don't get some rain very, very soon, all outdoor watering will have to be stopped in south Florida.

And right now, no rain on the horizon, Wolf.

BLITZER: Hopefully that will change. Let it rain, let it rain, let it rain. John Zarrella in Florida for us, thank you.

Coming up the campaign for president and New York state. Congressman Charlie Rangel handicaps the race.


RANGLE: If she can't beat Giuliani in Carrick (ph), forget about the democracy that we know.


BLITZER: We're talking about Hillary Clinton. I'll ask him if he agrees with Senator Clinton on de-authorizing the war in Iraq.

Also, explosive devices in Iraq are becoming more powerful than ever. Barbara Starr has some troubling new information. You're going to want to see this. Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM. Happening now: The main control tower over at Dulles International Airport, outside Washington, is back in business after fumes forced controllers to evacuate for several hours today. The fumes came from demolition work in the basement. Officials say impact was minimal.

There was a fierce and lengthy battle today in southern Afghanistan. Afghan troops, advised by U.S. special forces, clashed with Taliban fighters for 16 hours. One coalition soldier was killed.

And a new warning today to Iran from a senior U.S. diplomat. Stop enriching uranium, or face another round of United Nations' sanctions. The Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burn says if Iran refuses to negotiate, the U.N. Security Council will impose new sanctions next month. Western powers plan to meet to discuss Iran tomorrow. We'll stale on top of that story.

I'm Wolf Blitzer, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Made in Iran: The U.S. military says high-tech explosives provided by Tehran are helping Iraq's insurgents take a growing toll on American troops. Let's go live to our Pentagon Correspondent Barbara Starr.

Barbara, tell our viewers what you are hearing.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, top U.S. military commanders say Iran's influence and efforts in Iraq are on the rise.


STARR (voice over): Attacks against U.S. troops in Iraq with powerful Iranian weapons reached an all-time high last month, according to top U.S. commanders. Lieutenant General Raymond Odierno, commander of the multinational corps, and in charge of day-to-day operations, confirmed to CNN that in April, there were 69 attacks, using explosively formed projectiles, EFPs. It's nearly double over March, which saw 38 EFP attacks. The April spike killed 14 U.S. troops and wounded 47.

GEN. PETER PACE, JOINT CHIEFS CHAIRMAN: There were more explosively-formed projectiles this month than any month in the past. To the best of our knowledge, all of them are manufactured in Iran. So, that's not a good -- a good trend.

STARR: Until now, Odierno notes, such attacks had been dropping.

The U.S. intelligence community believes Iran is the source of many EFPs, advanced bombs that can penetrate U.S. armored vehicles, far more sophisticated than the improvised devices used by most Iraqi insurgents.

U.S. commanders say Iran's Revolutionary Guard is mainly responsible for shipping the advanced weapon into Iraq. Some captured weapons show Iranian markings. The U.S. has stopped short of holding the Tehran regime directly responsible.

Odierno also confirmed that suicide bomb attacks have increased dramatically. Forty-seven attacks in April, compared to 22 in January. Still, there are some indications attacks are easing up in Al Anbar province, where Sunni tribesmen have been fighting against al Qaeda.


STARR: And Wolf, explosive devices have now killed more than 1,500 U.S. troops and wounded more than 15,000 since the war in Iraq began -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And there's another potentially very disturbing development, Barbara. As we know, U.S. intelligence has been saying for a long time that Iranians are supporting Shiite militants, some of the groups in Iraq, but now what are you hearing about Iranian support for Iraqi Sunni militant groups?

STARR: Well, Wolf, that is a disturbing new trend that top commanders are making note of. They say they have intelligence information that Iranian elements are now supporting some Sunni extremist groups, and that would be a significant expansion of Iran's efforts to influence events inside of Iraq.

Why are the Iranians doing this? Well, the U.S. military believes that the Iranians are doing this simply to cause mayhem, and to further try to destabilize the very fragile Iraqi government -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And to embarrass the United States, clearly, as much as they possibly can.

Barbara, thank you very much.

Barbara Starr, doing good reporting for us, as she always does.

House Democrats are considering a new Iraq spending bill that would fund the war only into the summer. The White House already vowing another veto. So, does that set the stage for round two?


BLITZER: Joining us now from Capitol Hill, chairman of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, Representative Charlie Rangel, Democrat of New York. He's also of the new book "And I Haven't Had a Bad Day Since."

Congressman, thanks for coming in. REP. CHARLIE RANGEL (D), NEW YORK: Always good to be with you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Let's talk about the Iraq war funding legislation. The president vetoed it the other day. Now you are trying to come up with some sort of compromise.

The vice president, Dick Cheney, is in Baghdad, even as we speak. And this is what he said today.

Listen to this.


RICHARD CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: They do believe we are making progress. But we've got a long way to go.


BLITZER: He's suggesting that this new strategy, the so-called surge, as he calls it, is working.

What do you say?

RANGEL: I think that Dick Cheney is probably the only friend the president has on this war. The American people have spoken, they're making it abundantly clear that surge, no surge, get the heck out of Iraq. And no matter what it takes, we've got to keep sending that message.

I tell you this: There are many, many Republicans that are ready to break with the president. So, the president better get the message so that we can do this in a unified way, and make certain that our troops leave in the safest way possible.

BLITZER: I spoke with the House minority leader, John Boehner, the top Republican in the House, and like the White House, they're rejecting one Democratic proposal to fund the war through the end of July, and then take up the funding bill once again later. They say that's a nonstarter, you can't treat U.S. military men and women as if they are teenagers, and fund them partially for good behavior.

What do you say to their rejection of this proposal?

RANGEL: It's just a question of time. The American people have spoken. By the time they listen to their constituents, they will find language that they feel comfortable with.

But the American people should know, as you know, it's not really the technical language that's in this bill. It's how many times does it take for us to send a message to the president to force him to sit down and to change the course/ And, so, it doesn't bother me that the Republicans don't like this, but if you take a look at the president's polls, and take a look at the concerns that Republicans have in getting re-elected, it's just a question of time and how we do it. BLITZER: The Iraqis themselves are appealing to you in Congress to give them some more time. The national security adviser of Iraq, Mowaffak al-Rubaie, he's quoted in "The New York Times" today as saying this: "I know they are running out of patience, and I understand this very well. And we have to play the political game. But I feel we are on the last mile of a walk toward success, and if they let go and don't take our hand, I feel that we are going to lose everything."

He's appealing to you, Congressman, to help him in what he says is the final stretch.

What do you say?

RANGEL: Well, he calls it a political game. But the families of the 3,500 people who died and the thousands that have been wounded, they don't think this is a political game. They think it's serious.

I would tell them that there's no question that America and democracies around the country should want to be of some assistance in bringing peace to this area. But what about the Jordanians, what about the Saudi Arabians, what about the Egyptians? If they cannot convince their own neighbors to participate in helping them to bring peace, then I don't know why it should be America that puts up the blood and the rest of them don't even hold our jackets.

BLITZER: Your colleague from New York State, Hillary Clinton, the junior senator, she's being criticized severely by the former House speaker, Newt Gingrich, on her proposal with Robert Byrd in the Senate to de-authorize the original -- the operation, the military operation in Iraq.

Listen to what Gingrich said.


NEWT GINGRICH (R), FMR. HOUSE SPEAKER: But this middle ground of politically beating up the American government, making us look weak in the world, undermining the morality of the American troops, while young men and women are risking their lives every day, strikes me as the worst of all possible worlds. And I think it is a great disservice to the country.


BLITZER: He's clearly going after Hillary Clinton for this proposal.

You like her idea?

RANGEL: Well, I don't know. Hillary Clinton has some political problems because of her initial vote, and if Senator Byrd and she believes that once again, they're sending a political message to the White House, I have no objection.

The whole idea of thinking that this is going to happen, I don't -- I don't think that really is a reality, but I think what we all are trying to do, especially Senator Clinton, is respond to the voters. And even though the president, as commander in chief, as it relates to the military, we have the responsibility to provide the oversight for what is going on here. And we're doing just that.

Nothing is going to stop us.

BLITZER: Do you still support Hillary for president?

RANGEL: You bet your life. Well, I think she's the best qualified candidate. I only hope I can get some support for Giuliani and Kerik on the other side. Make it a New York thing.

BLITZER: But you would want Hillary Clinton to beat Rudy Giuliani?

RANGEL: If she can't beat Giuliani and Kerik, forget about the democracy that we know.

BLITZER: As far as we know, Bernard Kerik is not running for anything. You are obviously trying to make a point, though.

RANGEL: Oh, he can be drafted. What the heck. They're inseparable. They are joined at the hips. They've been together for years.

This is no time to give up on your friends.

BLITZER: Charlie Rangel, Democrat, New York, thanks for coming in.

RANGEL: Good to be with you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Bernard Kerik, Giuliani's former police commissioner in New York who got himself into a lot of trouble in more recent years.

Still ahead, a U.S. scholar has been arrested in Iran after meeting with Iranian intelligence officials. Brian Todd has this case of international intrigue. We'll tell you what's going on.

Also, Al Sharpton has never hesitated to call someone a bigot if he thinks that's warranted. But Sharpton himself is now being accused by Mitt romney of making a bigoted statement about Mormons. You are going to want to see this. This is a dustup.

We're going to have both sides of the story.

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


BLITZER: And Iranian-American is missing, facing prison, and perhaps worse, in the international power play between Washington and Tehran.

CNN's Brian Todd is watching this story. Brian, what's it all about?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, one of these cases is an indication of the razor-sharp tension between the U.S. and Iran. A scholar who has dual citizenship tries to visit her elderly mother in Tehran. More than four months later, she's placed in a notorious prison and her family is appealing for help.


TODD (voice over): Haleh Esfandiari lives in Maryland. She took time away from her job as a Washington think tank to visit her elderly mother in Tehran. She has spent years trying to build bridges between her two countries, the U.S. and Iran. Now she may be caught in the middle of the tension standoff.

In December, she was prevented from leaving Iran when she tried to return to her home in the U.S. She was detained and questioned for weeks about her work at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. Her husband, a professor at George Mason University, is very concerned that she's been sent to a prison known for rough treatment.

SHAUL BAKHAS, HUSBAND: She's a very plucky and a very strong woman. And if they imagine that by unpleasant interrogation and even jailing they are going to get her to make false confessions, they are very wrong.

TODD: The U.S. State Department says Esfandiari is one of three Iranian-Americans now being held inside Iran, and that this is about people, not politics.

SEAN MCCORMACK, STATE DEPT. SPOKESMAN: We don't want to weight down these cases with -- or freight these cases with some of the other baggage in the Iranian-U.S. relationship. This is about people, and people that should be allowed to return back with their families as soon as possible.

TODD: Of course, the U.S. is trying to pressure Iran on a variety of fronts. The U.S. claims the Iranians are moving deadly bombs and fighters into Iraq. And the U.S. and its allies want Iran to halt its nuclear program. Iran is suspicious of a U.S. program to promote democracy, claiming its real goal is to undermine the government.

Experts say the arrests of Iranian-Americans are an ominous sign of what Tehran is thinking.

KARIM SADJADPOUR, CARNEGIE ENDOWMENT: Over the longer term, they simply undermine themselves, because they eliminate people like Haleh, who are voices of moderation, and they are increase voices within Washington who say this regime is too cruel to be engaged.


TODD: A State Department official said they won't speculate on Iran's motivation for holding Esfandiari. He says she poses no national security risk to Iran. But Lee Hamilton, who runs the Wilson Center, says during her interrogations, Iranian officials suggested that she and the center were involved in subversive activities -- Wolf.

BLITZER: How did Haleh Esfandiari, Brian, come to the attention of Iranian officials?

TODD: It seems to be happenstance. Lee Hamilton says it started when her taxi was stopped on the way to the airport back in December apparently by criminals. They robbed her at knife point, took both her passports, then when she went to get them replaced, Hamilton says Iranian intelligence officials took her in for questioning.

They kept bringing her back for months. Then this past Monday, they threw her in prison.

BLITZER: Let's hope she's out soon. Thank you, Brian, for that story.


BLITZER: Still ahead here in THE SITUATION ROOM, an Arabic- speaking network backed by U.S. taxpayer dollars. Now, there are concerns that Al Hurra may be going anti-American.

We'll have a full report coming up in our 7:00 p.m. Eastern hour.

And coming up next, the war of words between a vocal civil rights leader and a Mormon who would like to become president of the United States.

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


BLITZER: Civil rights leader Al Sharpton is doing some damage control today in the wake of a comment he made during a debate this week. It has the Mitt Romney presidential campaign bristling.

CNN's Carol Costello joining us with more on this story.

What's going on here, Carol?

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, wolf, it could get pretty nasty. It's actually turned into a he said-he said.

Al Sharpton is accused of being a bigot, a hypocrite who maligned Mitt Romney's religion. As for what Sharpton says, he says he didn't mean it.


COSTELLO (voice over): He led the charge against Don Imus.

REV. AL SHARPTON, NATIONAL ACTION NETWORK: Yes. I think that this is sexist, first. And I think racist equally.

COSTELLO: That was Al Sharpton last month as he put pressure on NBC and CBS to drop the talk show host after Imus used an ethnic slur to describe the Rutgers women's basketball players. But now Sharpton is in the line of fire himself for comments he made about Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney.

SHARPTON: As for the one Mormon running for office, those that believe in God will defeat him anyway. So Don't worry about that. That's a temporary -- that's a temporary situation.

COSTELLO: The civil rights activist and former presidential candidate made the comments Monday while debating religion and politics with atheist author Christopher Hitchens, who is on a tour promoting his new book which rejects God. Much of the debate revolved around Hitchens saying he doesn't believe in God.

Sharpton says his words were taken out of context and denies he was questioning Romney's believe in God. He tells The Associated Press, "What I said was that we would defeat him, meaning as a Republican. A Mormon by definition believes in God. They don't believe in God the way I do, but by definition they believe in God."

Sharpton says his comments were directed at Hitchens, not Romney.

Radio talk show host and CNN contributor Roland Martin says Sharpton was taken out of context.

ROLAND MARTIN, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: The problem with this story is we don't have the proper context. First and foremost, this was a religious debate that took place.

COSTELLO: Minutes before the comments in question, the idea of a Mormon running for president was discussed. Then the conversation moved to faith in politics.

Romney spoke out this morning, saying...

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It shows that bigotry still exists in some corners, and I thought it was a most unfortunate comment to make. Reverend Sharpton's comment was terribly misguided.

COSTELLO: Sharpton counterattacked, saying, "... This is a blatant effort by the Romney campaign to fabricate a controversy..."

If elected, Romney would be the nation's first Mormon president. The former Massachusetts governor frequently talks about his faith. .

ROMNEY: This is a nation, after all, that wants a leader that's a person of faith, but we don't choose our leader based on which church they go to.


COSTELLO: So, are Americans listening? Do Americans consider Mormons Christians? A CNN-Opinion Research Corporation poll from last year found Americans split over the issue. But more than 70 percent of those questioned in February in a Gallup-"USA Today" survey said they were comfortable voting for a Mormon for president -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Carol Costello reporting for us.

And we're going to have more on the story coming up in the next hour.

You just heard Lou Dobbs say Christopher Hitchens will be one of his guests. That's coming up in the next hour. And Al Sharpton himself will be on "PAULA ZAHN NOW," tonight, 8:00 p.m. Eastern.

We're watching this story for you.

Still ahead here in THE SITUATION ROOM, is it worth spending 10 years to defeat the insurgency in Iraq? Jack Cafferty wants your opinion. He's got your e-mail. He'll read some of them when we come back.


BLITZER: Let's go back to Carol. She's monitoring some other stories incoming to THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Thank you, Carol, for that.

Left's go back to New York with Jack Cafferty -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: The question this hour: Is it is worth spending 10 years to defeat the insurgency in Iraq?

Cy in Virginia writes, "Ten more years of dying, of the Iraqi middle class fleeing, of the Iraqi elected government asking us to leave, of plan B, C, D...X, Y, Z, of Russia and China exerting influence in the rest of the world while we outspend the entire planet so we can continue to be targets in Baghdad, of borrowing money to spend on destruction in Iraq instead of building defenses against terror at home, of bleeding the National Guard until no one joins and no one's left to help in times of national disasters, I'm sorry, what do we win if we stay?"

James writes, "It's worth it, Mr. Cafferty. It cost millions of lives to defeat the Nazis. Stalin and Mao killed millions. Islamic fascism is as dangerous as those enemies. Creating a peaceful, stable, democratic Iraq will be a huge defeat for Islamic fascists. They must be defeated or they'll visit (ph) horrors upon my children and grandchildren. Therefore, victory in Iraq is worth thousands, perhaps millions, of lives over any duration whatsoever."

Frank in Ohio, "Absolutely not. It's obvious our military presence fuels the insurgency. If we stay 10 years in hope of containing it, it will probably go on for 20 years. The idea is insane."

Marilyn in South Carolina, "Worth being there for 10 years? Anyone with any biblical knowledge knows they have been fighting there since before Christ. What makes Bush think he can change that?"

Bill in Maryland, "The question should be: Is it worth five more years of U.S. casualties to end the insurgency in Iraq? And the answer is no. While conceding that this war, Bush's war, was the immediate cause of the insurgency, the U.S. has invested more in blood and treasure than Iraq and all it's oil will ever be worth. The only winner in Iraq will be Iran."

And Gregg in New York, "Jack, it's probably worth it for the Iraqis. But not for us."

If you didn't see your e-mail here, you can go to We post more of them online. There are also video clips of "The Cafferty File" -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Very popular, those video clips.

Jack, see you back here in an hour.

We're in THE SITUATION ROOM weekday afternoons, 4:00 to 6:00 p.m. Eastern, back at 7:00 p.m. Eastern for another hour.

Until then, thanks for watching.

Let's go to Lou Dobbs. He's in New York.


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