Skip to main content
U.S. Edition


Return to Transcripts main page


Post of War Czar Filled; Will Convicted Olympic Park Bomber Eric Rudolph Incite New Acts of Terror?

Aired May 15, 2007 - 19:00   ET


Happening now, the new post of war czar filled -- tonight the general tapped to oversee battles in Iraq and Afghanistan and the critics who are wondering if it's too little, too late.

Plus, a convicted killer behind the Olympic bombing sends disturbing messages. Eric Rudolph's victims fear his online postings could now incite new acts of terror.

And the Church of Scientology in an all-out verbal war -- this hour the broadcast behind the controversy involving actor John Travolta and questions about brainwashing.

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

First tonight, the president's new recruit to oversee the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, a job created after years of combat and political conflict. Pentagon and senior administration officials tell CNN President Bush has tapped Lieutenant General Douglas Lute to be his war czar, as the job is being called.

Lute currently is the director of operations for the Joint Chief of Staff. His resume isn't an issue, but the post itself is. Let's bring in our White House correspondent Ed Henry.

Ed, a lot of people asking questions, why the United States need a war czar since it already has a commander in chief?

ED HENRY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. Just in the last couple of moments the White House put out the official statement confirming Lieutenant General Lute will get the job. But you're right; it's hard to understand who the president is going to please with this.

On the left, you have Democrats like Rahm Emanuel saying the commander in chief is outscoring his commander in chief duties to another official. On the right, you have conservatives like Richard Perle charging that this shows dysfunction at the White House and these responsibilities should stay with the National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley. What the White House is saying is ht Hadley has too much on his plate, he's managing two wars, dealing with hot spots like Iran and North Korea, and he needs help. But obviously four years into the Iraq war, a lot of people are scratching their heads wondering why did it take the White House so long to realize Hadley needs some help -- Wolf. BLITZER: Unless he gets a fourth star, he's a three-star general. That could be awkward overseeing a lot of four-star generals including the U.S. commanders in Iraq and Afghanistan and elsewhere. Will he report directly to the president for that authority or does he report to Hadley or someone else?

HENRY: This is significant, you're right. He will be a deputy national security adviser, but will also hold the title of assistant to the president. That's significant because he'll report directly to the president, but as you noted, since he's only a three-star, unless he gets promoted up to a four star, he is going to be outranked by military commanders on the ground. A lot of questions about how effective the czar can really be -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. We'll wait for those answers in the coming days. Thanks, Ed, very much. Thousands of U.S. troops are hunting for three American soldiers missing and believed captured by insurgents tied to al Qaeda. Four other Americans and an Iraqi interpreter were killed in that weekend ambush in Iraq's so-called triangle of death.

CNN's Hugh Riminton is in Baghdad -- Hugh.

HUGH RIMINTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, nightfall once again. After a day of intensified searching through this area around Mahmudiyah to the south of Baghdad, still no signs, certainly nothing that the U.S. military is willing to lead on about. Despite calling in hundreds of people for questioning, many of them just people where they just want to ask them anything that they might know.

But others that they have detained, including some, about four that they say are so-called high value targets as they continue with the search. U.S. military also confirming that special operations forces are in place to assist in any way as soon as they have any information that might lead them towards the location of the three missing men.

All of this coming despite Web site announcements coming from the Islamic State of Iraq, the al Qaeda-linked group saying, warning if you like the U.S. military not to continue the search for the safety of the three men that they claim that they are holding -- the U.S. military making no apologies. This search -- this effort will continue until those three are found one way or the other -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Hugh. Thanks very much -- Hugh Riminton in Baghdad.

Families of the seven dead and missing U.S. soldiers have been notified that their loved ones were involved in that weekend ambush. The troops are from the 10th Mountain Division. That based at Fort Drum in upstate New York.

Let's go there. CNN's Jim Acosta is standing by. What are you hearing where you are, Jim?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, from what we understand, the Pentagon is still right now trying to sort out the names of those missing soldiers, but in the meantime earlier this afternoon, they did identify three of the dead soldiers who were killed in that operation, that ambush that occurred over the weekend in the area known as that triangle of death south of Baghdad.

They've been identified as Sergeant First Class James Connell, a 40-year-old from Tennessee, Private First Class Daniel Courneya, a 19- year-old from Nashville, Michigan, and Private First Class Christopher Murphy, a 21-year-old from Lynchburg, Virginia and the family members of two of those soldiers had already identified these soldiers to the media prior to the announcement from the Pentagon.

One family in particular, Sergeant First Class James Connell's family from Tennessee talked about how he was just home two weeks ago and was recovering from wounds he sustained during his last rotation in Iraq. They say they're proud of his service.


BRYAN CONNELL, SON: (inaudible) one of us a day to school.

COURTNEY CONNELL, DAUGHTER: I'm proud of my dad. He didn't really fight for himself. He fought for the country.

ANGELA REYNOLDS, SISTER: We went there to pick him up at the airport when he landed. And that's what I see when I close my eyes is him walking through that terminal.


ACOSTA: And earlier today, officials here with the 10th Mountain Division here at Fort Drum held a press conference. They said in fact this is the first time for the 10th Mountain Division to have soldiers missing in action in Iraq since the Army was reorganized 22 years ago -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jim Acosta on the scene -- our heart goes out to those families. Our deepest condolences as well -- the U.S. military death toll sin the start of the war now stands at 3,401.

Other news we're following. He was a TV evangelist who helped turn the religious right into a very powerful political force, but to many he was also a powerfully divisive figure. Reverend Falwell died today at the age of 73.

Let's turn to CNN's Mary Snow. Mary, how he is being remembered?

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, whether friend or faux Falwell is being remembered as someone who made a big impact on U.S. politics. He was found in his office at Liberty University earlier today unconscious and without a pulse. He became known nationally in the 1980's as the founder of the Moral Majority and has drawn fire since then for among other things his fight against abortion and gays.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) SNOW (voice-over): He's known as one of the founders of the modern religious right movement, but the Reverend Jerry Falwell was also known for a mix of politics and preaching that made him a lightning rod for controversy. He claimed the 9/11 attacks were punishment from God. Here's what he said on the "700 Club".

REVEREND JERRY FALWELL, CHANCELLOR, LIBERTY UNIVERSITY: I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People for the American Way, all of them who have tried to secularize America, I point the finger in their face and say, you helped this happen.

SNOW: Falwell later apologized, but just last week, here's what he said when questioned again about those controversial remarks by CNN's Christiane Amanpour.

FALWELL: If we decide to change all the rules on which this Judea Christian nation was built, we cannot expect the Lord to put his shield of protection around us as he has in the past.


FALWELL: I stand right by it.

SNOW: Falwell also blamed Aids on gays and at one point he took aim at children's TV character Tinky Winky of the Teletubbies, saying the purple character was promoting a gay agenda.

FALWELL: Parents, be very careful what your children are watching.

SNOW: Despite controversy, Falwell often carried political clout with the religious right. He took credit for helping get Ronald Reagan elected but his influence waned over the years. He did though weigh in on the 2008 race and raised eyebrows last fall when he suggested Democrat Hillary Clinton would energize the conservative base more than the devil.

FALWELL: I hope she's the candidate because nothing will energize my constituency like Hillary Clinton. If Lucifer ran, he wouldn't.

SNOW: Soon after Falwell said those comments were tongue and cheek. He was courted by Republican candidates through the years and into this last election cycle. Just last year, Republican presidential hopeful John McCain spoke at Liberty University to repair a strained relationship he had with Falwell.


SNOW: And this Saturday Republican Newt Gingrich who is considering running for president is scheduled to be the featured commencement speaker at Liberty University -- Wolf. BLITZER: All right, Mary, thank you. When the Reverend Jerry Falwell spoke last week with our own Christian Amanpour at Liberty University, he said he was hoping for a lot more time.


FALWELL: I need about 20 more years to accomplish what my vision for the university is.

AMANPOUR: Twenty years?

FALWELL: I need at least another 20 years, so I'm praying. In the Bible there's a story of a guy named Hezekiah, who was dying and he asked God for 15 additional years and he got it. Well I'm praying the same prayer with an option to renew.

AMANPOUR: And you think you'll get it?

FALWELL: I don't know, but I certainly hope...

AMANPOUR: What do you want to do with those 20 extra years?

FALWELL: Well, we want a huge major evangelical Christian university. We're just starting our (inaudible) school this fall. The law school graduates its first lawyers right now. We are starting a medical school about five years down the road. We have a 5,000 acre campus and when I used the word pit bull I meant tenacious. We want young people to know what they believe, why they believe it. I believe America was built on the Judea Christian ethic. I want to see the nation returned to the Judea Christian ethic.


BLITZER: The Reverend Jerry Falwell speaking with our Christiane Amanpour only, only last week.

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

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: A dire prediction on what will happen if U.S. troops leave Iraq. A leading al Qaeda expert says Iraq will become a terrorist Disneyland where al Qaeda can build up its strength unchecked. Rohan Gunaratna says that Iraq would become a launch pad for international terrorism with more attacks being mounted inside Iraq, as well as attacks on other countries in both Europe and North America.

He also thinks that things would become so bad that U.S. troops would be forced to go back to Iraq within a couple of years. Gunaratna says the epicenter of terrorism is now switched from Afghanistan to Iraq, adding quote, "in many ways the terrorist threat has now shifted 1,500 miles closer to Europe."

Gee, I wonder how that happened. Here's the question. If the U.S. leaves will Iraq become a terrorist Disneyland? E-mail or go to -- Wolf. BLITZER: Thank you, Jack, for that. Coming up, Fred Thompson takes on documentary filmmaker Michael Moore.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mental institution, Michael, may be something you ought to think about.


BLITZER: The smoking controversy over Cuban cigars and political finger pointing. You're going to want to see this.

Plus, the Olympic bomber -- a convicted terrorist sends letters from prison that are now posted on a Web site. Family of his victims say they are being taunted by this killer.

Also Lance Armstrong comes to Washington; he's waging his own war on Capitol Hill right now. The seven-time Tour de France winner is here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Stay with us. We'll be right back.


BLITZER: He's one of the country's most notorious home ground terrorists, but now some say -- some of his victims are saying Eric Rudolph is taunting them and inciting new violence from inside one of the country's highest security prisons.

CNN's Brian Todd is joining us. Brian, what exactly is Rudolph doing?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, he's writing letters from his super max prison that are getting posted on a Web site run by sympathizers. This is a real test of a convicted terrorist's right to free speech versus the security concerns of his victims.


TODD (voice-over): He's considered by the U.S. government a domestic terrorist. He's nearly two years into a life sentence for deadly bombings at the Atlanta Olympics and an abortion clinic. And his victims are upset that Eric Rudolph is allowed to write letters that get posted on the Web site of what the U.S. government considers a terrorist group.

EMILY LYONS, BOMBING VICTIM: You would think that if it was a possibility of a terrorist network receiving information, encouragement to kill, the government would do something about it.

TODD: Emily Lyons permanently maimed in Rudolph's 1998 attack on a Birmingham abortion clinic claims Rudolph's letters posted on the Web site of a group called the Army of God incite others to violence. The anti-abortion group has posted one note from before his sentencing saying force is justified in an attempt to stop abortion. But we found no letters posted since Rudolph has been inside the so-called super max federal prison in Colorado that indicate he's inciting anyone to violence. And the Web site manager denies Lyons' claim that the site solicits donations from the same people who support Rudolph. In one letter from prison, Rudolph taunts Lyons, describing her remarks and gesture to him at sentencing.

It was a great speech. Perhaps they could put it next to MLK's 'I Have a Dream'. They could call it 'I Have a Middle Finger'".

JEFF LYONS, EMILY'S HUSBAND: I sent a letter to the warden basically asking him to help me protect my family from this person.

TODD: Emily Lyons' husband Jeff says he's gotten no reply, but the Bureau of Prisons tells us all letters sent by Rudolph and other super max inmates like convicted terrorist Zacarias Moussaoui and Ramzi Yousef are screened for possible threats, codes and illegal activity.

PAT O'AMURO, CNN SECURITY ANALYST: Absent a threat it's going to be very difficult for the court to stop his communications.


TODD: If they do find evidence of threats, incitements, plots or codes in these letters, prison officials say they limit or cut off communications from inmates like Rudolph. As for the fact that Rudolph sends these letters to a group considered terrorists by the federal government, a Bureau of Prisons official said they don't let inmates post material on the Internet, but they realize that materials often by inmates can be posted by others -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And what about these so-called enemy combatants at Guantanamo, Brian? Are they allowed to send out letters?

TODD: Yes, even the high value detainees like 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed are allowed to write letters that are screened, then they're delivered by the International Red Cross. And like the situation at Rudolph's facility no official will tell us if they have had to limit or cut off any of that correspondence.

BLITZER: Brian Todd reporting for us. Rudolph, by the way, avoided the death penalty by pleading guilty to four bombings. The first at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, followed in 1997 by attacks at a women's clinic and a gay nightclub also in Atlanta and the 1998 bombing of a women's clinic in Birmingham, Alabama. Rudolph is an experienced outdoorsman who spent five years hiding in the North Carolina Mountains before he was captured.

Liberal filmmaker Michael Moore has a new target -- the former senator and possible Republican presidential candidate Fred Thompson. Moore is challenging Thompson to a debate over health care. That's the subject of Moore's newest film.

Let's bring in our Abbi Tatton. What sparked this war of words, Abbi? ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, this has been going on all day. In one corner, Michael Moore who's gearing up for the launch of that new health care documentary and in the other Fred Thompson who has criticized Moore for a recent trip to Cuba he made for that film. Well Moore today says bring it on. Come and debate me on the issue of health care. We'll even let the public decide who the winner is. He accused Thompson of hypocrisy for his reported affection for Cuban cigars. Well Thompson's response came online.


FRED THOMPSON, FORMER SENATOR: You know I've been looking at my schedule, Michael, and I don't think I have time for you. But I may be the least of your problems. You know the next time you're down in Cuba visiting your buddy Castro, you might ask him about another documentary filmmaker, name is Nicholas Guillen (ph). He did something Castro didn't like and they put him in a mental institution for several years, giving him devastating electro shock treatments. Mental institution, Michael, might be something you ought to think about.


TATTON: Michael Moore has now put that video on his own Web site. He says that Thompson is hiding behind his desk -- Wolf.

BLITZER: We'll continue to watch this story unfold, Abbi. Thank you.

Up ahead tonight right here in THE SITUATION ROOM, a startling account of White House pressure on the former attorney general of the United States. John Ashcroft on his sick bed, hanging in the balance, the president's domestic spying program.

Plus, my one-on-one interview with the cycling star, the cancer survivor Lance Armstrong. He's used to winning, but can he get what he wants from Congress?

We'll be right back.


BLITZER: Our Carol Costello is monitoring stories incoming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now. Carol, what do you have?

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Let's start with a couple of shock jocks, Wolf. XM satellite radio announcing a short time ago that it is suspending the radio shock jocks known as openly Opie and Anthony. The company says the two will return to the air in 30 days. They've been under fire for crude comments last week about Condoleezza Rice, Laura Bush and Queen Elizabeth. They later apologized, but yesterday made light of the controversy surrounding them so XM said you are suspended.

Federal health officials say 56,000 pigs fed tainted pet food scraps are safe for human consumption -- the FDA announcing a short time ago that the pigs are being released for slaughter. The agency says testing confirmed that the chemical melamine does not accumulate in pig muscle and that the risk to humans is, quote, "very low".

If you find it difficult to find time to exercise, here's some good news. A new study suggests that as little as 10 minutes of exercise a day, just 10 minutes, can help overweight women live longer. Of course that is significantly less time than recommended by federal health agencies. The study is published in the "Journal of the American Medical Association". An attached commentary says that while even a little exercise is good, more may still be better.

Sylvester Stallone pleaded guilty today to importing banned muscle building drugs into Australia. In a letter to the court in Sydney, the actor says he takes human growth hormone and testosterone because of a medical condition. Says he didn't know he was breaking the law when he brought them into Australia back in February. He doesn't face time but he could be fined thousands of dollars.

That's a look at what is happening now, wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Carol. Thanks very much.

Just ahead, a mysterious site deep in the desert housing sacred scientology text -- is it also a launching pad for a spacecraft from another world?

Plus, cycling champion Lance Armstrong joins us here in THE SITUATION ROOM to talk about a new tactic in his ongoing crusade against cancer.

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


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

Happening now, a new glimpse into the wealth of President Bush and Vice President Cheney -- disclosure reports out today show the Bushes were worth between 7.5 million and $20 million last year. The Cheneys are richer with assets valued between $21 million and around $100 million.

Factional fighting in Gaza is moving into a fourth day and growing more ruthless. Gunmen reportedly shot and wounded a top Egyptian official testing whether a cease-fire between Fatah and Hamas was holding. It wasn't. The violence may be pushing a fragile Palestinian unity government closer to collapse.

Iran's state-run media report the government is charging an Iranian American scholar with security crimes. It comes more than a week after she was imprisoned during a visit to Tehran. Haleh Esfandiari is being held in an infamous Iranian prison which houses many dissidents and political prisoners.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM. A very unusual and highly public battle is raging between the Church of Scientology against the British Broadcasting Corporation -- each side lashing out at the other in dueling documentaries.

CNN's entertainment correspondent Sibila Vargas is joining us now from Los Angeles. Sibila, what are they fighting about?

SIBILA VARGAS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well it all centers around a documentary but it's hard to believe that this kind of exchange is taking place between a church and one of the most respected news agencies in the world. Take a listen to this, Wolf.


VARGAS (voice-over): It's a verbal tirade that's launched a war between the Church of Scientology and BBC.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You were not fair.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You did not (inaudible) or record...


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... all of the interview.

VARGAS: This shouting match featuring BBC correspondent John Sweeney and scientology representative Tommy Davis was one of two posted on the Internet site YouTube. Caught during the filing of a documentary called "Scientology and Me" which aired last night on the British Broadcasting Corporation's "Panorama" program.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Some people say it's a sinister cult.

VARGAS: In a previous altercation, Davis, who had his own crew of scientologists filming had strong objections to Sweeney's repeated use of the word cult.

TOMMY DAVIS, SCIENTOLOGY REPRESENTATIVE: And the reason you keep repeating it is because you wanted to get a reaction like you're getting right now. Well buddy you've got it, right here, right now, I'm angry.

VARGAS: Scientologists are so angry, that not only are there reports of a possible lawsuit, but the church has now put out its own documentary in a retaliation called "Panorama Exposed." The film takes a behind the scenes of the BBC program promising to blow the lid off what it calls show's unethical practices.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Our cameras follow the actions of reporter John Sweeney and reveal a side of the BBC that's both dark and disturbing.

VARGAS: It shows Sweeney interviewing several high profile scientologists asking them if they felt brainwashed and shows the reporter shouting at actor John Travolta at a movie premiere.

Despite the controversy the BBC aired "Scientology and Me" offering links to its footage on its Web site.

VARGAS (on camera): Both "Panorama's" editor Sandy Smith and John Sweeney expressed remorse over the incident with Sweeney adding, quote, "I looked like an exploding tomato and shot like a jet engine and every time I see it, it makes me cringe." And while he says he apologized, he says his outburst was provoked by the constant monitoring he received from scientologist while doing the story, posting this statement online.

"I have been shouted at, spied on, had my hotel invaded at midnight, denounced as a 'bigot' by star Scientologists, and chased around the streets of Los Angeles by sinister strangers."

BRUCE HINES, FMR. SCIENTOLOGIST: I know they do hire private investigators, and I know that they do follow people.

VARGAS (voice over): Former Scientologist Bruce Hines says it's all part of a longstanding tradition.

HINES: Anyone who is critical or attacks the Church of Scientology, they should be attacked back.

VARGAS: But church spokesman Mike Rinder says it's about accountability.

MIKE RINDER, SCIENTOLOGY SPOKESMAN: When someone shows up and he refuses access and he is abusive and offensive to the people that he interviews, we're not just going to stand around and take it.


VARGAS (on camera): And by the way, early reports indicate that the "Scientology and Me" documentary which aired last not on BBC did very well in the ratings. In fact, they say it was one of the show's best performances. So it looks like the controversy swirling around the story did not hurt it one bit.


BLITZER: Sibila, thanks very much. And despite that open confrontation. The Church of Scientology is very secretive about a mysterious desert compound that includes what some say is a signposts for spaceships from another world. CNN's Gary Tuchman gives us a firsthand look.


GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The land is rugged on the south end of the Rocky Mountain range. A panoramic view of northeastern New Mexico under clear skies which makes it easier to see an unusual site.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is it. TUCHMAN: Two large interlocking circles, markings on the desert soil that can't be seen from the ground but can be seen from the heavens.

MICHAEL PATTISON, FORMER SCIENTOLOGY MEMBER: I think they're not designed to be seen by the human beings but by alien beings.

TUCHMAN: Michael Pattison says he was a member of the Church of Scientology for 22 years but now he is a disgruntled ex-member who says the circles are signposts for reincarnated scientologists who come from outer space.

PATTISON: They're markings to show the location of one of the vaults which scientology has prepared to safeguard the technology of L. Ron Hubbard.

TUCHMAN: Hubbard who died in 1986 was a since fiction writer who started the Church of Scientology. And indeed next to the circles and a private runway is a building with a vault built into the mountain. Current scientologists do say archives are held in the vaults just as other religions safeguard their secret texts.

They say the vault is overseen by a scientology corporation called Church of Spiritual Scientology.

(on camera): Church of Scientology officials denied CNN's request for a tour of the compound. They say the markings are simply a logo of the Church of Spiritual Technology and that this is a non- story. But what we've experienced, church officials are extremely sensitive about this non-story.

(voice-over): A pilot we hired to fly us over the compound backed out. Saying he got a call from scientologists asking him not to go with us. Others said they wouldn't fly us because they didn't want to make them angry. But we did finally get a pilot.

What do those circles look like to you form here?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They look like a branding symbol a rancher might have put out there.

TUCHMAN: The closest town to the desert etchings is Las Vegas, New Mexico. The county sheriff there is one of few non-scientologists who have visited the compound. Chris Najar did so just last month the first time.

SHERIFF CHRIS NAJAR, SAN MIGUEL COUNTY, NEW MEXICO: Every time an incident happens. Say for instance Waco or the World Trade Center incident, every time something like this happens, there is some rumbling that it's a training ground for militia, terrorist training ground, that kind of thing. So they've been inviting me out there so we can go out there and try to dispel those rumors.

TUCHMAN: Have you dispelled those rumors?

NAJAR: Well, we went out there. I didn't see anything of the sort.

TUCHMAN: The sheriff said the scientologists told him this is where L. Ron Hubbard's writings saved on titanium plates will be preserved for thousands of years. He said many people were there. Lots of farm animals and a large cache of food supplies ...

Did it strike you as a place for survivalists?

NAJAR: Quite possibly, yes. I definitely want to go there if it hit the fan.

TUCHMAN: If it hits the fan.


TUCHMAN: The sheriff said notion of space craft returning here was not discussed with him. But former members say that's part of scientology teachings.

PATTISON: I know it sounds very bizarre but this is where reality is stranger than victim.

TUCHMAN: So are the circles a landing pad for extraterrestrial vehicles? The church is not commenting to us. Gary Tuchman, CNN, Las Vegas, New Mexico.


BLITZER: And still ahead tonight here in THE SITUATION ROOM, a former top Justice Department official goes public with a stunning allegation. Did the White House try to take advantage of an ailing attorney general on his sickbed at a hospital?

Plus, a couple of familiar Washington faces in a very unlikely setting. Jeanne Moos takes a "Moost Unusual" look. Tony Snow and Bob Schieffer, the battle of the bands. Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: He's a high profile cancer survivor, not to mention a seven-time champion of the Tour de France. Now he's an activist seeking increased funding for cancer research and prevention.


BLITZER: Joining us here in THE SITUATION ROOM, Lance Armstrong.

Lance, thanks very much for coming in.

ARMSTRONG: You bet. Thanks for having me.

BLITZER: You're lobbying Congress today. Tell our viewers what the immediate need is that you're pushing for.

ARMSTRONG: Well, this specific piece of legislation has to do with screening. So just making sure that in many cases -- and, of course, as you know, cancer is harder to treat the further -- the further it gets along. And so one of the most important things we can do is screen people early, diagnose them early, and ultimately, you know, either prevent treatment, extreme treatment like chemotherapy or radiation, but operate early on and just, you know, catch things early. That's ...

BLITZER: And so what you need is the funding for this?

ARMSTRONG: Well, we need funding. Screening costs money. We need funding for that.

You know, unfortunately, the most -- the neediest population in this country is the one that doesn't receive, you know, the proper care, proper screening. So ultimately, their disease is diagnosed late. And as we know, everybody ultimately receives treatment. It just comes too late.

BLITZER: And if you can diagnose it earlier, you have a much better chance not only of surviving, but of beating it.

ARMSTRONG: Exactly. I mean, early diagnosis is one of the most important things.

BLITZER: How much money are we talking about right now? Because we did some research -- $5.5 billion or so in taxpayer money goes to the NIH for cancer research. How much money do you think realistically Congress should come up with now to deal with cancer?

ARMSTRONG: That's a great question. I mean, with this specific piece, the dollar amount is a little unclear.

If you're asking me, what do I think that the NCI actually needs, the National Cancer Institute actually needs to do the best job possible? I mean, I think, number one, we need to make it a priority in this country. So that means leadership.

But then also, once you have leadership in place, you have to fund the war. And it really is a war.

BLITZER: The war on cancer.

ARMSTRONG: This is a war. I mean, to me it's a war.

BLITZER: So how much money are we talking about realistically? A ballpark.

ARMSTRONG: Well, if you get $5.5 billion now, why wouldn't you double it? Why wouldn't you spend $10 billion a year on the number one killer in this country?

BLITZER: A lot of people agree with you. But lawmakers and people in the executive branch, they're going to say, that's fine, but where is the money going to come from? What's going to suffer as a result of that?

ARMSTRONG: Right. And I don't know. I don't know.

My argument would be that, if it kills 600,000 Americans a year, roughly, which it does, then another $5 billion is irrelevant. And if you want to compare and contrast to the actual war, I mean, those numbers are minuscule.

For me, it's a huge issue, and I think it should be an issue for every American. And I think it should be an issue for our president.

BLITZER: And a lot of people are looking at the war in Iraq, and they're seeing how much that costs -- $2 billion a week, $2.5 billion a week. And they're saying, you know what? Take that money from the war in Iraq and devote it to cancer research, education, health care.


BLITZER: And that money might be a lot more useful.

Are you among those who would make that argument?

ARMSTRONG: I would love to have two or three weeks of that money. When you look at $4 billion, $6 billion -- but I don't want to be the person that sits there and says -- you know, I don't want to criticize the current administration, I don't want to say that was a bad idea, I don't want to say it's a waste of money.

I mean, we all make decisions for our own reasons. You know, would we like to have that money? Do I think that that's something that we ought to be spending money on? Absolutely.

But we are where we are. I don't have an answer on how to get out of Iraq.

BLITZER: So you're lobbying specific members of the Senate and the House right now. Do you see a difference on this issue between Democrats and Republicans?

ARMSTRONG: You definitely see -- yes, you definitely see a difference.

BLITZER: What is it?

ARMSTRONG: Well, I mean, typically, the Democrats are more health-oriented in terms of health care. They're much more friendly, they're a much more friendly audience. Republicans would be much more conservative because of the dollar amounts, and they know that we're involved in a war that is costly.

But listen, both sides are affected by the disease. This is not a partisan issue. Cancer affects Republicans, Democrats, Independents, the left, the right, the middle, everybody. Young, the old, the poor, the rich.

This is a bipartisan issue. So we all have to come together to solve it. BLITZER: You went bike riding -- we've got a picture behind you, if you want to take a look right there -- with the president of the United States. Did you lobby him? What did you say to him during that famous excursion?

ARMSTRONG: At this point, he wasn't saying very much.

BLITZER: He was just trying to breathe, probably. Trying to keep up with you.

ARMSTRONG: You know, I have to give it to him. He tried very hard that day. But at the end of the ride and after a bit of time hanging out, I asked him for $1 billion that day.

And we've yet to get the billion, but I think we're making progress. I think if you address all the issues in the continuum, I think we can eventually get to the place we need to be.

And that goes all the way even before screening. I think we have to talk about prevention in this country as well. I mean, in my opinion, the United States of America should be a smoke-free country today.

BLITZER: I mean, we've got to talk about early detection.


BLITZER: Treatment.


BLITZER: And then a cure. And research.


BLITZER: Basically to end cancer.


BLITZER: There is the cervical cancer vaccine, the HPV vaccine. It's become a big issue around the country...

ARMSTRONG: Especially in Texas.

BLITZER: ... especially in your home state of Texas.

Where do you come down on the controversy that those who are saying it shouldn't be mandatory because it would promote sexual activity for young girls?

ARMSTRONG: Right. Yes, I don't -- I have a hard time going with that belief.

I mean, I think that you have a proven method to literally save lives. And I think that if you want to talk about a moral and an ethical issue, I mean, you could also say this with regard to stem cells, too. But if you have something that can save lives today, then it's an ethical issue if you actually don't use that. I mean, I think ...

BLITZER: So you say it should be mandatory.

ARMSTRONG: Absolutely. Absolutely.

BLITZER: There's no doubt about that.

ARMSTRONG: No doubt about it.

BLITZER: Yesterday, Sanjay Gupta, a friend of yours, interviewed the first lady. And she agrees with you. She basically made that point.

ARMSTRONG: And I think if it's about a young lady that certain people would think is going to have -- you know, be more encouraged to have sex earlier, I mean, I think that comes down to the parents. I mean, you have to -- then as a father, I have to sit down and go, what kind of a father am I? What are you teaching your kids?

I mean, we have science to cure people and save people. Let's do it. Let's use it.

And then on the other side, I mean, let's -- you know, let's raise our kids right.


BLITZER: Lance Armstrong speaking with me here earlier in THE SITUATION ROOM. Coming up a startling account of White House pressure on the former attorney general, John Ashcroft on his sickbed. And it's honky-tonk meets White House wonk in a battle of the bands. We'll be right back.


BLITZER: An ex-deputy of the former Attorney General John Ashcroft today going public with a traumatic account. At the center of it all the president's domestic spying program and allegations of pressure tactics carried out at Ashcroft's sickbed. Let's go to our congressional correspondent Andrea Koppel.


ANDREA KOPPEL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Wolf, it had all of the suspense of a John Grisham novel. The former deputy attorney general speaking today publicly for the very first time about a dramatic late night hospital visit.


KOPPEL (voice-over): It was March 2004 and Comey was racing to be at Attorney General John Ashcroft's sickbed before two senior White House officials, Chief of Staff Andrew Card and White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales, showed up. JAMES COMEY, FORMER DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL: I was concerned that, given how ill I knew the attorney general was, that there might be an effort to ask him to overrule me when he was in no condition to do that.

KOPPEL: Although Comey wouldn't publicly confirm it, the disagreement was over the president's controversial warrantless wiretapping program.

COMEY: They came over and stood by the bed, greeted the attorney general very briefly. And then Mr. Gonzales began to discuss why they were there, to seek his approval for a matter, and explain what the matter was.

KOPPEL: Comey, who, at the time, was serving as the acting attorney general while Ashcroft was in the hospital, was refusing to recertify the surveillance program.

COMEY: I was very upset. I was angry. I thought I had just witnessed an effort to take advantage of a very sick man who did not have the powers of the attorney general, because they had been transferred to me.

KOPPEL: Without missing a beat, the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee compared it to one of the lowest points of the Nixon presidency.

SEN. ARLEN SPECTER (R-PA), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE RANKING MEMBER: It has some characteristics of the Saturday night massacre, when the other officials stood up, and they had to be fired.


KOPPEL (on camera): No one threatened to fire Comey or for that matter Ashcroft but both according to Comey men were ready to resign until Comey says President Bush stepped in and ordered that changed be made to the warantless wire tapping program, changes the Department of Justice wanted.


BLITZER: Andrea Koppel on the Hill for us.

The White House press secretary Tony Snow declined to comment on what he said were internal White House deliberations but he noted the terror surveillance program as the White House calls it was constantly reviewed by the Justice Department, the National Security Council and the FISA court. Let's go to Jack Cafferty. He is in New York with the "Cafferty File." Jack?

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: It was also found to be illegal, I believe, by a federal judge out in Michigan a while back. The question, if the United States leaves will Iraq become a terrorist Disneyland?

John writes, "Of course Iraq will become a terrorist Disneyland. The only question is when. This year or 20 years from now. No nation has ever resolved the ethnic, religious, tribal and clan quarrels."

Roger in South Lake Tahoe, California, "I hope so. If we can get them all together in an area the size of Disneyland maybe about three daisy cutters could solve a lot of problems."

David in Washington. "The terrorists are praying we'll stay in Iraq because they know that without American soldiers in Iraq, terrorists will no longer be able to recruit young men to die for their cause. If America leaves Iraq, it's just a matter of time before the terrorists go out of business due to a lack of interest."

James in Louisa Kentucky. "No, the Iraqis will take care of the terrorists as best they can. Terrorism comes from the feeling of helplessness, of not being able to defend yourself and family from whatever threatens you. Right now, that's America. If we leave, they will sort out their own house."

Gary in Illinois writes, "A terrorist Disneyland? Isn't that what it is now? In all reality, I'm sure there would be an escalation of violence though I tend to believe after a few years things will calm down and it will become a vacation spot, much like Vietnam is a vacation spot now."

And Phil in New Jersey weighs in with this. "Dear Jack. If we leave, it will get worse. If we stay it will get worse. There ought to be a lemon law for selling us a bad war."

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

BLITZER: As some people say, it will get worse before he gets worse. Jack, thanks very much. See you tomorrow. Let's check in with Paula to see what's coming up at the top of the hour. Paula?

PAULA ZAHN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Wolf. Thanks very much. It'll be about six minutes from now. We're going to look back on the Reverend Jerry Falwell's legacy, especially what he did in American politics and how he accomplished what he did. Plus innocent people who are sometimes chased and actually beaten just because of their turbans. They are Sikhs and some people think they look like terrorists.

It's all out in the open coming up in the top of the hour. Wolf, we hope you join us then.

BLITZER: All right, Paula. Thank you.

And still ahead here in THE SITUATION ROOM, a famous TV anchorman singing, Bob Schieffer, like you've never heard him before. I suspect. There he is. We'll be right back.


BLITZER: They are two very familiar faces and now they've teamed up in a "Moost Unusual" way. Jeanne Moos tells us about an event that's being called honky-tonk meets the White House wonk.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): You know his face.

BOB SCHIEFFER, CBS NEWS ANCHOR: We'll be back on "Face the Nation."

MOOS: Well, how about face the music.


MOOS: And you always see this guy playing off the press.

TONY SNOW, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: You know that's not going to happen.

MOOS: Now look what he's playing. They called it honky-tonk meets the White House wonk. He's the wonk and he's the honky-tonk singing "Anchorman."


MOOS: It was battle of the bands at a fundraiser for the National Press Club. The government versus the press but the two sure seemed friendly.


MOOS: But who's stuff is hotter? Tony Snow showed up in a shirt adorned with the White House logo will CBS newsman Bob Schieffer dressed cowboy from head to toe and everywhere in between. He even accessorized with a cowbell.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Stravinsky of the cowbell.

MOOS: A guy like this must have his groupies.

SCHIEFFER: Unfortunately some of my groupies are in walkers.

SNOW: We wouldn't do this if we weren't hams.

SCHIEFFER: Tony Snow played the guitar, he played the sax and he earned the nickname, Tony "Jethro Tull" Snow for his flute. The good news is, he didn't do what Ron Burgundy did in "Anchorman."


MOOS: OK, so this wasn't that explosive. There was a vote by applause when the two bands finished.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Tony Snow and Beats Working.

MOOS: Tony Snow's band won. A crawling king snake trophy. But it was close. Schieffer's band, by the way, has a CD called "Roadkill Stew." Schieffer autographed a joke can of it.

SCHIEFFER: We have our own line of food now.

SNOW: About as much fun as I've ever had on stage.

SCHIEFFER: I can't remember when I've had more fun.

MOOS: He sure looked happier facing the crowd than he does facing the nation. Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.


BLITZER: And a good time was had by all. That's it for us. Let's go to Paula. She's in New York. Paula?


CNN TV E-mail Services CNN Mobile CNNAvantGo Ad Info About Us Preferences
© 2007 Cable News Network LP, LLLP.
A Time Warner Company. All Rights Reserved.
Terms under which this service is provided to you.
Read our privacy guidelines. Contact us. Site Map.
Offsite Icon External sites open in new window; not endorsed by
Pipeline Icon Pay service with live and archived video. Learn more
Radio News Icon Download audio news  |  RSS Feed Add RSS headlines