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THE SITUATION ROOM
Search for Three Soldiers Continues. Iraq offer Rejected Again. Hamas Rockets Create Carnage in Israel. Escapee Brings New Hope. Immigration Bill is Facing Opposition.
Aired May 18, 2007 - 1900 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks very much, Lou.
Happening now, another family feeling the grief from a bloody ambush as the search goes on for those Americans missing in Iraq's so- called "Triangle of Death".
For decades, Americans have had doubts about the assassination of President Kennedy. A new study is out. Can modern science disprove the official version of what happened?
And first he was told he can't deploy to Iraq, now Britain's Prince Harry is told he can't deploy to London's hot spots.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
As U.S. troops search desperately for three comrades missing in Iraq's "Triangle of Death", four soldiers were killed in last weekend's ambush. We now know the identity of the final victim. When news reached his family, it was a devastating, truly devastating blow, but they remember him with pride.
Let's turn to our senior Pentagon correspondent Jamie McIntyre -- Jamie.
JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SR. PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the U.S. Army knew that it had the remains of one of the four missing American soldiers and just didn't know which one. After the DNA tests, one of the families got the word last night.
MCINTYRE (voice-over): According to his step dad Anthony Schober joined the Army after September 11 and never looked back.
EDWARD SCHOBER, SON KILLED IN IRAQ: At the age of 17 he came to me and said he wanted to join the Army. He was affected by the 9/11 incident. I asked whether he really was sure about this and really wanted to do it. He says yes, so I signed the papers. When he came home from basic training, advanced training, I noticed a huge difference in him. He truly changed from a boy to a man.
MCINTYRE: After four tours in Iraq Schober had risen to the rank of sergeant, and was considering the military as a career.
E. SCHOBER: When his deployment was going to be finished he was going to be stationed over in Italy. He was looking forward to it. Not once did he mention he wanted to leave the military, not once.
MCINTYRE: Sergeant Anthony J. Schober was from Carson City, Nevada. Besides his mother and step parents he had two younger sisters. He was 23.
MCINTYRE: And Wolf, the search goes on for the three missing soldiers. A U.S. military official tells CNN that a uniform found may hold some clues to their whereabouts, but that piece of evidence is still being examined, and, Wolf, as of tomorrow, this search will have stretched into a full week -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Let's hope they find those three guys. Thanks, Jamie, very much.
The deaths of five more American soldiers were reported today in Iraq. The U.S. military says three died from an explosion in Diyala province. Two others were killed in separate attacks in southern Baghdad -- 3,409 Americans have been killed in Iraq since the start of the war.
And tonight it's back to the drawing board once again in the search for an Iraq war funding compromise. A high-level bargaining session between White House and congressional power players ended ugly today and without any agreement. Democrats say administration officials said no to everything they offered, including a timeline for withdrawal, that President Bush would be allowed to waive. The White House says democrats are stuck on the timeline idea that Mr. Bush has already vetoed.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MAJORITY LEADER: To say I was disappointed in the meeting is an understatement. I expected, I really did expect, that the president would accept some accountability.
JOSH BOLTEN, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: It was not the exchange we had hoped for. Democrats seem to be dug in on precisely the same approach that resulted in the president's veto before that was sustained in the House and I think would have been easily sustained in the Senate as well. Timelines for withdrawal are just not the right way to go, and that cannot be the basis for funding our troops.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: John Roberts of CNN's "AMERICAN MORNING" interviewed one of the negotiators in that meeting, the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi.
JOHN ROBERTS, CNN'S "AMERICAN MORNING": I sat down with her for about 20 minutes, talked about a lot of things, the immigration bill; of course the war spending bill was right at the top of the agenda. Going into that meeting this morning with White House and Republican officials she said that she was absolutely certain that she would have what the troops needed by the Memorial Day weekend, and of course everybody came out and said I'm disappointed at this.
I'm disappointed at that. They want timetables. They're not taking responsibility. They don't want to be held accountable. And I asked her are you still optimistic you can get it done and she was. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), HOUSE SPEAKER: We'll be able to pass something that will support our troops, and we'll do it before we leave for the Memorial weekend.
ROBERTS: But you know what the president is saying. No timelines. He's also saying no hard and fast benchmarks. Are you going to have to capitulate?
PELOSI: Well I know what the president is saying. What the president is saying is I don't want any accountability. Just give me a blank check for a war without end. Don't have the Iraqi government held accountable for not having political solutions while our young people die.
That's what the president is saying. I hear it very clearly. We'll have a proposal that supports our troops, and we'll have it in a timely fashion, but we'll also have it in a way that holds the president much more accountable than he wants to be.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ROBERTS: I also asked her, Wolf, I said all of this talk about re-proposing timetables even though they could have waivers to them and Josh Bolten standing up saying they're giving us timetables again, is that all just to tell your base we've done as much as we possibly could before we have to give into the president. She insisted it wasn't, but I mean there's certainly a lot of political theater...
BLITZER: There's a lot of posturing going on. Did you have a chance to also discuss the new immigration reform package that came out of the Senate yesterday? The president strongly supports it.
ROBERTS: I did, and she said that as proposed it's not -- it's a bill that she's got concerns with. The particular part that she's got concerns with, because this is coming from the liberal wing of the party, is this idea of families being able to bring family members across the border. Of course, the bill as proposed by the Senate right now would end what's called that chain immigration, and that's a real concern, but I think when it comes to the immigration bill in the House, you know, Nancy Pelosi, Rahm Emanuel today as well saying the president has got to bring 60 or 70 votes to the table, otherwise it's not going to pass.
BLITZER: Republican votes.
ROBERTS: Republican votes. I think that they've got more problems with the Democrats than they do with Republicans on this particular issue. There are more Democrats who are saying they don't like the bill than Republicans.
BLITZER: Of course it's got to get through the Senate and then the House can take it up -- John, thanks very much.
And you can catch John Roberts' full interview with Speaker Pelosi on Monday on CNN's "AMERICAN MORNING". It all begins 6:00 a.m. Eastern only here on CNN.
Israel launched more air strikes against Hamas targets today in Gaza. Palestinian sources say three militants were killed when their car was hit in Gaza City. The air strikes come amid a violent Palestinian power struggle and Palestinian rocket barrages into Israel.
CNN's Ben Wedeman reports from Jerusalem.
BEN WEDEMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Pandemonium and panic after another rocket attack from Gaza. The Israeli town of Sderot has been the target of hundreds of Hamas' crude Kassam (ph) missiles in recent days.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (UNINTELLIGIBLE)
WEDEMAN: Crude or not, the Kassams are wreaking havoc on Sderot's residents.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (UNINTELLIGIBLE)
WEDEMAN: Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert came to see the damage Thursday night and extend his sympathies, but in a town where patience is all but exhausted, sympathy is no substitute for action. With each new rocket that crashes into Sderot and each new civilian casualty, pressure mounts on Olmert and his government to hit back hard.
EPHRAIM SNEH, ISRAELI DEP. DEFENSE MINISTER: We should break this wave of rockets. This may take some time, but through pinpoint attacks of the perpetrators, on the planners, we should break it.
WEDEMAN: Israel has already carried out a series of air raids in Gaza, striking Hamas targets, while the latest truce between Hamas and its arch rival Fatah is barely holding. Hamas leader and Prime Minister Ismail Haniya is appealing for calm.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE)
WEDEMAN: Since yesterday, he says, I've been calling on all security services, on all gunmen to withdraw from the streets, to return to their positions in barracks and homes. The men with the guns, however, don't seem to have received his call. They still rule the roads, the gunfire still echoes over Gaza's deserted streets, leaving the civilians caught in the middle in increasingly dire straits.
The refrigerator is all but bare at the home of Gaza taxi driver, Hanoui Salafede (ph), the family virtual hostages in their own home.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE)
WEDEMAN: All the stores are closed, so there's no way to get food, says Hanoui (ph). On every street there are masked gunmen asking who you are, where you're coming from, where you're going.
WEDEMAN: At Gaza's Shifa Hospital it's hard to say which is busier, the emergency room or the morgue. Soon they may both be even busier. Israel is beefing up its forces around Gaza. It may be only a matter of time before Gaza feels the full weight of Israel's military might.
(on camera): But Israeli military officials worry that Hamas is ready for, indeed, eager for a ground invasion. First because it would help reunite the Palestinians and second because it would give Hamas the opportunity to put into practice lessons learned from Hezbollah in last summer's Lebanon war.
Ben Wedeman, CNN, Jerusalem.
BLITZER: Jack Cafferty is off today. He and "The Cafferty File" will be back on Monday.
Coming up much more of our coverage, including new encouragement for conspiracy theorists about the assassination of John F. Kennedy -- we're going to tell you about a brand new high-tech study.
Plus, an escaped hostage tells horror stories and provides clues about the fate of Americans held captive for a record amount of time.
And opposites collide -- Rush Limbaugh's run-in with Bill Clinton at a steak house.
Stick around for all of that. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: This is truly a heartbreaking story. They have been held captive by rebel fighters in Colombia for more than four years. Their families have kept their stories alive, and this week they got a piece of hope. It comes from a man who literally walked and crawled and swam his way out of the jungles of Colombia.
CNN's Randi Kaye is joining us with more. Randi, tell our viewers what's going on.
RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this is a tragic story. Imagine not hearing a word about your loved ones for four years and then all of a sudden a man you've never met reports they are alive. The story IS unfolding deep in the Amazon jungle in Colombia. There, the U.S. is financing a campaign to help fight the drug war and put the Colombia rebels out of business, but in doing so innocent American civilians have become pawns in the drug war.
KAYE (voice-over): He emerged from out of nowhere, a gaunt shadowy figure from the Amazon jungle who holds clues to three missing Americans. He brought hope, all soured by a tale of terror.
JHON FRANK PINCHAO, ESCAPED HOSTAGE (through translator): They would chain us to each other's necks to sleep. There were months when we had to wear them for 24 hours. Most recently we only wore them for 12 hours.
KAYE: After nearly nine years in captivity Jhon Frank Pinchao says he slipped off his chains when the guards weren't looking and then walked 17 days through the jungle before police picked him up.
KAYE: He was held captive by a group called the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia known as FARC. FARC has been at war for decades with the Colombian government. It's blamed for the kidnappings of hundreds including police, politicians and U.S. civilians. Just weeks before escaping, Pinchao says he caught a glimpse of these men, the longest held U.S. government hostages ever, seen here in this proof of life documentary by a Colombian journalist, captured in February 2003. They have been working for Defense Department contractor Northrop Grumman surveying fields of cocoa, a key ingredient for cocaine when their plane crashed.
MARC GONSALVES, FARC HOSTAGE: I love you guys, and I'm just waiting to come home.
KAYE: This video was taken only months after Marc Gonsalves, Thomas Howes and Keith Stansell were kidnapped. Until now, it's been the only solid evidence they were taken alive.
JO ROSANO, MOTHER OF HOSTAGE: I have other evidence from God. He tells me every day in my heart that he's alive and he'll be home.
KAYE: And if Marc Gonsalves' mother, Jo Rosano, needs more proof it may be this e-mail, sent from another hostage's brother just before Mother's Day. She believes this part is from her son.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You have the complete adored mom security, and in any moment we are -- we are going to reunite. For that reason you must take care of one self. I read it over and over and over.
KAYE: Rosano says she has visited Colombia three times to urge the government to find her son.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I look around, and I see all these mountains, and I say my son is somewhere up there. And I'm getting no help at all from this government. No help at all.
KAYE (on camera): Have you contacted President Bush? Have you attempted to reach him about this?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, my gosh. I e-mailed him about 50, 60 times, and all I got was an automated e-mail.
KAYE: FARC considers the men political prisoners and says they will only be released in an exchange for FARC prisoners held by U.S. and Colombian governments, but the U.S. does not negotiate with terrorists and FARC in the eyes of the federal government is a terrorist group.
(voice-over): A rescue attempt, it seems, could be too dangerous.
PINCHAO (through translator): They told us that their responsibility was to keep us alive, but that the minute a rescue attempt was made and we can not extract them all alive we'll have to kill you.
KAYE: Northrop Grumman released this statement Thursday. Northrop Grumman continues to work on efforts to secure the safe, timely release of all three employees. We are deeply concerned about news reports of a possible health issue involving one of our employees.
Pinchao says Gonsalves has hepatitis. His mother worries he won't survive. She also fears he will be punished for Pinchao's escape.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): I ask God to protect them. I hope they are not paying the price because of me, but I imagine they are.
KAYE: The U.S. State Department is again promising action.
SEAN MCCORMACK, STATE DEPT. SPOKESPERSON: We want to see three returned to their families safely and as soon as possible and we are going to do whatever we believe is appropriate to make sure that that happens.
KAYE: Until then Jo Rosano will continue to pray hoping somebody hears her...
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you, Lord...
KAYE: ... hoping her son, too, might some day simply appear out of the jungle.
KAYE: And Wolf, a senior State Department official tells us this is a very sensitive issue but the goal, of course, is the safe return of these men. Now as I said, the U.S. does not swap prisoners but the Colombian government has been trying to strike a humanitarian agreement as it's called with the rebels. If that is reached, the U.S. has said, Wolf, the American hostages must be part of that deal.
BLITZER: You mentioned, Randi that FARC is holding on to hundreds of these prisoners. One of them is a former politician who is running for the presidency of Colombia. I remember interviewing her shortly before she was taken. What have you learned about her?
KAYE: Well as you know then, Wolf, her name is Ingrid Betancourt. She has dual Colombian French nationality and was seized by the rebels in February of 2002 along with her running mate. They were campaigning there in southern Colombia. Her running mate, by the way, according to Pinchao, the police officer has given birth to a child fathered by one of the guerrillas in that hostage camp.
They are still being held there. Pinchao says Betancourt has to sleep with chains around her neck, punishment apparently for having tried to escape numerous times and for Betancourt's mother this is the first person who has actually seen her daughter alive, as he says, since she was kidnapped. FARC sent her mom one of those proof of life videos back in 2002, but she has not heard a word since.
BLITZER: She was here in Washington. I remember interviewing her and then she was going back to run for the presidency and the next thing I knew she was kidnapped and still being held. Randi thanks for bringing us this story. Let's hope she is released and all of them are released, the Americans as well very, very soon.
Still ahead tonight here in THE SITUATION ROOM, John F. Kennedy's assassination revisited. There's a new ballistic study and it's trying to poke some new holes into the single shooter theory.
And Iraq apparently isn't the only place Britain's Prince Harry isn't going.
Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: It's a bipartisan effort and now the Senate immigration reform bill that was unveiled yesterday is facing bipartisan opposition on Capitol Hill. The measure offers a path towards citizenship for illegal immigrants which critics call amnesty, but even among those not completely opposed to the measure, the devil is in the details and congressional passage at this point far from assured.
At the center of the storm an estimated 12 million undocumented workers here in the United States who face major hurdles under the bill, if they want to become legal. So what do they think about all of this, those illegal immigrants right now? CNN's Thelma Gutierrez has been getting reaction out in Los Angeles. What are they saying to you, Thelma?
THELMA GUTIERREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, some of the undocumented workers that we spoke with today told us they are optimistic that finally there may be a way that they can continue to live and work in this country legally, but they are also concerned about some of the hurdles outlined in the bill that they will have to overcome.
GUTIERREZ (voice-over): On a day when hundreds took to the streets of Los Angeles to march for immigrant rights, word came from Washington that legalization might be in sight -- sweet news to Chuy Arias, who's waited years to come out of the shadows.
CHUY ARIAS, UNDOCUMENTED WORKER: I'm happy for the fact that I've been here for 12 years and now finally I'm going to be able to legalize my status.
GUTIERREZ: Miguel Lopez says it's all he's ever hoped for, the chance to work legally and support his family, but legalization for Lopez and others like him won't happen overnight. Those who were here before January 1 of this year will be eligible for a four-year renewable visa, but they will first have to pass a background check and take English classes.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think it's a wonderful idea, not just for the United States but for us.
GUTIERREZ: They will have to pay $5,000 in penalties and fees and the head of household will have to return to their country of origin to register there as well.
MIGUEL LOPEZ, UNDOCUMENTED WORKER (through translator): I think it's impossible to go back. How will we return? How much will it cost to go back and forth? If we leave, what will happen to our jobs? That part will be difficult for us.
GUTIERREZ: Armando Rodriguez welcomes the news, but says it raises many fears about losing his job if he must return to Mexico to register and fears about whether he'll be allowed back into the United States once he leaves.
ARMANDO RODRIGUEZ, UNDOCUMENTED WORKER (through translator): We will do what they ask so that we can have this opportunity.
GUTIERREZ: Under the bill, heads of household who return to the country of origin to register will be guaranteed the right to reenter the United States, but one employer told me today that if his worker leaves the job, there's absolutely no guarantee they will be employed when they return, so if other employers have the same policy, many of the workers say they may not want to take that risk -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Thelma, thank you. Thelma is out in Los Angeles.
Just ahead here in THE SITUATION ROOM, there are new questions tonight about the assassination of JFK. We're going to have details of some high-tech new research raising questions about whether there was really only just one gunman. Plus, a surprise meeting between Rush Limbaugh and one of his favorite targets, Bill Clinton -- we're going to tell you what happened.
Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Happening now, the government says poultry and fish exposed to feed tainted with the same chemical that prompted that massive pet food recall is safe to eat -- officials now clearing 80,000 birds being released and processed.
Also gasoline prices hitting a record high today for the sixth day in a row, almost $3.13 a gallon, and a national retail group is now reporting a ripple effect with many consumers saying they are spending less because of the price of gas.
Costa Rica says it will stop sending its police to a U.S. training academy. The announcement came after the country's president met with activists who say training at the school of The Americas at Fort Benning Georgia has led to human rights abuses in Central America.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
New research is raising new doubts about the theory that President John F. Kennedy was killed by a lone assassin. CNN's Brian Todd has been looking into this new study and Brian is joining us. Brian, what are you learning?
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the authors of this new finding are careful to say that their research just points to the possibility that Lee Harvey Oswald wasn't the only shooter that day in Dallas. To get there they say look at the bullets.
LEE HARVEY OSWALD, ACCUSED OF ASSASSINATING PRESIDENT KENNEDY: But I emphatically deny these charges.
TODD (voice over): For more than four decades, the government's official finding has said Lee Harvey Oswald fired three bullet at John F. Kennedy and two of them hit the president. But the authors of a new study claim the modern science they used may disprove that.
PROF. CLIFF SPIEGELMAN, TEXAS A&M UNIV.: There is no scientific evidence to support the claim that there are only two bullets from two groups. And...
TODD: Texas A&M University professor Cliff Spiegelman, and his research team that includes a former FBI forensics expert, say the old finding that bullet fragments found at the assassination scene in Dallas could have come from only two bullets because no two bullets are identical is flawed. The team acquired other bullets from the same batches that Oswald used, chemically tested them against data from the fragments at the scene.
SPIEGELMAN: One of our 30 bullets matched the assassination fragment.
TODD: That means, this new study says, three or more separate bullets could have struck the president. And if that's the case, a second assassin is likely. That's because only three casings were found near Oswald's rifle, and any additional bullet couldn't be traced to him.
But before all the conspiracy theories and references to the grassy knoll are rekindled, one researcher says hold on. Former prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi, out with a new book on the assassination, says the theory of other bullet matches is not new. He doesn't discount that it's possible, but says that it doesn't translate into another gunman.
VINCENT BUGLIOSI, AUTHOR, "RECLAIMING HISTORY": No bullets other than the three ejected from Oswald's rifle has ever been found and linked with the assassination. No weapon other than Oswald's Mannlicher-Carcano weapon has ever been found and linked with the assassination.
What I'm saying is that you have to look at the totality of evidence.
TODD (on camera): Bullet fragments found at the scene to be re- analyzed directly using modern techniques. The down side to that, Spiegelman says modern chemical testing will destroy those fragments, historical evidence gone forever, Wolf.
BLITZER: Why did the professor Spiegelman and his team, Brian, get into this new investigation in the first place?
TODD: He said he had researched testimony more than 30 years ago before the House Committee on Assassinations, testimony given by another professor who used old techniques and concluded that no two bullets are identical. He says based on modern research you can't say that with certainty anymore and now he believes he's proven that.
BLITZER: Brian Todd reporting for us. Many Americans are still pre-occupied by the murder of the 35th president and don't seem to take the official version of his death at face value. Hundreds of books have been written about the Kennedy assassination. Seventy to eighty percent of Americans believe president Kennedy was killed as a result of a conspiracy.
The accused gunman himself may have suggested something bigger. Lee Harvey Oswald screamed out, and I'm quoting, "I'm just a patsy," as he was led past reporters in the Dallas police building right after the arrest.
BLITZER: Joining us now is the presidential historian Robert Dallek. He's the author of a number of books, including a biography of John F. Kennedy entitled "An Unfinished Fife". His latest bestseller is entitled "Partners in Power: Nixon and Kissinger".
An excellent, excellent book.
Professor, thanks for coming in.
ROBERT DALLEK, PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: Good to be with you, Wolf.
BLITZER: All right. You've studied this about as closely as anyone. What do you think about this notion out there that there was a conspiracy, it wasn't just Lee Harvey Oswald?
DALLEK: Wolf, this has been going on for, what, 43 years now. And nobody, nobody has ever been able to prove that there was a conspiracy.
I don't believe there was one. I think Lee Harvey Oswald was the only killer. This recent Bugliosi book, 1,612 pages. He delved into every aspect of this assassination.
What interests me more is the question of why people are so wedded to this idea that there was a conspiracy.
BLITZER: And what's the answer to that?
DALLEK: My answer to it is that they can't accept the proposition that someone as inconsequential as Oswald could have killed someone as consequential as Kennedy. But also, I think, reflects the climate of suspicion, the feelings about deception on the part of the government, which not only goes back to the Kennedy assassination, but then, of course, to the Vietnam War, feelings that we were deceived, that Lyndon Johnson misled us. Feelings that Richard Nixon was, of course, so secretive and so deceptive, so manipulative.
And now, of course, we're back in this frame of mind with this Iraq War and all these feelings about the...
BLITZER: It's just a skepticism in government and official accounts.
BLITZER: But when he screams out "I'm just a patsy!" as he was being led past reporters in Dallas, what are we to take -- what are we to mean of that?
DALLEK: Well, the man was not a very stable human being. He was pretty irrational. And to have done what he did seems to me to suggest that he was less than rational.
And he was also very paranoid, full of conspiracy ideas himself. He had lived in the Soviet Union for a while. He was full of regard for Castro and Cuba.
He may have thought he was doing Castro's bidding. There's no evidence at all that Castro or the Cubans had anything to do with the assassination. He may have thought that, and so could have said, well, I'm a patsy, you know? It's really Castro and the Cubans who were behind this.
But who knows what he believed, and who can accept what he believed? He seemed to be such a deranged individual.
BLITZER: The obsession with JFK all these years later, a new study comes out like this one, and we're still obsessed by it. Why?
DALLEK: Right. Because I think, Wolf, the country has such a yearning for a John Kennedy. It has such an eagerness for hope, for a better time, and Kennedy kind of gives that to them. You know, it's so interesting. When you ask people in this country who are the greatest presidents, they tell you Washington, Lincoln, FDR, Kennedy and Reagan. And I think Kennedy and Reagan are there not because they were truly great presidents, but because they continue to give the country a kind of hope, a kind of optimism, and people regret the fact that Kennedy's life was cut short and he's a blank slate.
Tabula rasa, you can write anything on it that you want, and he died so young. He's frozen our minds at the age of 43 -- 46, rather. He remains a kind of heroic figure. And we can't let go of this somehow.
And it's sad in a way because it, I think, says a lot about our contemporary political mood rather than about the realities of the assassination.
BLITZER: So, bottom line, you're prepared to accept the official Warren Commission report, as opposed to subsequent studies, including one from members of the House Judiciary Committee that came many years later that couldn't rule out some sort of conspiracy?
DALLEK: Very good work by a man named Max Holland on the Warren Commission report. There are flaws in it. There are defects. But, by and large, the basic assumption, as Bugliosi argues, is accurate that Oswald was the only killer.
BLITZER: And that his motive was?
DALLEK: Well, his motive was who knows? He thought he was doing some kind of service for the country. He thought he was doing some kind of service for his radical vision of the world.
So who can ever know what an assassin's motives truly are? They seem to be so deranged.
BLITZER: I guess one of the reasons that so many of those of us who lived through that period are still obsessed with it was because he was himself gunned down only a few days later. And this notion that he was going to be silenced for whatever reason, that has resonated with a lot of people out there, because there was a bigger story, potentially, out there.
DALLEK: Yes. Well, that's a big part of this story, that Jack Ruby -- who was Jack Ruby? Why did he kill him?
BLITZER: And his connections -- his own connections with the mob or whatever.
DALLEK: Right, exactly. But you know, Wolf, what it reveals is the old adage that history is argument without end. People are going to be arguing about this conspiracy business in relation to Kennedy 100 years from now.
It will just go on and on because there are uncertainties that we can't pin down. Like, as you said, the killing of Oswald and Ruby's connections.
BLITZER: Robert Dallek's got two excellent books. He's got many excellent books. Let me give them both plugs.
The book on John F. Kennedy, "An Unfinished Life: John F. Kennedy, 1917-1963," and his new book, "Partners in Power: Nixon and Kissinger".
Thanks very much for coming in.
DALLEK: My pleasure. Thanks.
BLITZER: Still ahead tonight, candidate spouses on the campaign trail. We're going to show you how they differ and what they have in common and the increasingly important role they play. And guess what, one of those spouses had a surprise run-in with one of his most vocal critics. That would be the former President Bill Clinton and rush Limbaugh. What happened? Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Many of the presidential candidates' spouses are spending more and more time out on the campaign trail. That's often for better or sometimes though for worse. Our Mary Snow is joining us. Mary, there's sort of an informal audition out there for becoming what they are calling first spouse, isn't there?
MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf, and kind of like an audition with little room for error. Spouses of '08 candidates are a diverse group with a potential to make a big impact.
SNOW (voice-over): One is a former nurse and another a former president. Two are juggling high-powered careers and two are battling a serious disease. They are the other halves of the '08 presidential front-runners. They are stepping into new roles treading carefully.
RUTH MANDEL, EAGLETON INST. OF POLITICS, RUTGERS: It has a lot of power or potentially has a lot of impact, that if you make a misstep your husband has to answer for it or the campaign has to answer for it or the campaign has to answer for it.
SNOW: That's something the Clintons learned firsthand in 1992 when then candidate spouse Hillary Clinton brought unwanted attention to her husband's campaign.
HILLARY CLINTON, BILL CLINTON'S WIFE: I suppose I could have stayed home and baked cookies and had tea.
SNOW: Years later and a lot of experience behind them their roles have changed, and as Bill Clinton flexes his political muscle for his wife's campaign he's competing with other '08 spouses, all of them women.
MICHELLE OBAMA, BARACK OBAMA'S WIFE: My husband, the next president of the United States, Barack Obama.
SNOW: Michelle Obama, a Harvard Law graduate and mother of two young girls just recently scaled back on her high-paying Chicago based job to ramp up her campaign duties for husband, Demcorat Barack Obama.
Cindy McCain is also splitting time between jobs as CEO of her family's beer distribution company and aid to husband Republican Senator John McCain. Judith Nathan, wife of Republican Rudy Giuliani, was getting paid, say aides, by her husband to write speeches and prepare for public events before he announced his candidacy.
Now she's doing it for free. Putting a family face behind candidates, say observers, is important to voters.
MANDEL: We want to know who the candidates are married to. We want to have a feel for their families. We want them to present an image of a family.
SNOW: In the case of Democrat John Edwards, his wife Elizabeth Edwards is sharing her personal battle with cancer while still campaigning and Ann Romney's fight against multiple sclerosis hasn't stopped her from fund-raising and campaigning for her husband, Republican candidate Mitt Romney.
SNOW (on camera): While voters are interested in the spouses, political observers say the cardinal rule for the spouses is to never overshadow the candidate. Wolf?
BLITZER: Thank you, Mary. Mary Snow reporting. He's one of Bill Clinton's harshest critics, so you might be startled at how Rush Limbaugh is describing a surprise meeting with the former president. Let's bring in CNN's Tom Foreman. He's here in THE SITUATION ROOM. Tom, tell our viewers how this all unfolded.
TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It was like the "Clash of the Titans," and it happened in a restaurant in New York where this unlikely dynamic duo wound up at the same place at the same time.
FOREMAN (voice-over): Restaurants make for strange bedfellows or was that politics? Conservative talk radio host Rush Limbaugh used to make acid jokes about the Clintons. When Bill Clinton was president Rush belittled daughter Chelsea's appearance and later when Rush fans wondered if Hillary could rise beyond her Senate seat. Rush said, "I'm not worried about Hillary. She puts her pants on one leg at a time like every other guy does."
Since then, the Billary industrial complex has risen to new heights. Hillary is running for president, and Rush is gushing over a casual encounter with Bill at New York's Kobe Club steakhouse, even though he acknowledged his listeners might read it as dining with the enemy.
RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: What am I supposed to do, Folks, when he comes to my table? Am I supposed to stand up and leave?
FOREMAN: Rush said on his show he shook the president's hand and they exchanged pleasantries. The pair didn't eat together, but Rush said they acknowledged their live-long battle of the bulge.
LIMBAUGH: "You're looking great. You're tan, fit. You look very good out there."
And I reach out my hand, "Mr. President, it's a pleasure to meet you."
We shook hands and so forth. And he -- he hung around for, I guess, two or three minutes, maybe five. I asked him what he had to eat.
He said, "Well, I had chicken. I had fish. That's what we had."
FOREMAN: Rush's rendition of the dining encounter wasn't without its digs. Alluding perhaps to Clinton's tarnished reputation over his extramarital affair, Rush recounts the following.
LIMBAUGH: At some point during conversation with the mayor, I looked to my left, and the former president was intently chatting up the woman that I was sitting with. He had leaned down and his elbows and arms were on the railing of the booth. And they were in intense conversation.
FOREMAN: At the Kobe Club, employees say they caught the East meets West encounter, and that Clinton started the chitchat.
JEFFREY CHODOROW, OWNER, KOBE CLUB: I think it was very cordial. And then he went back to his table. And then at some point later he came back.
FOREMAN: And at the end of the night, Limbaugh returned the pleasantries.
CHODOROW: Rush Limbaugh went out -- you know, left and went outside, and I guess the president was standing there. And so he went over to say goodnight to him.
FOREMAN (on camera): No comment from the Clinton camp on this big meeting, this big summit in the restaurant, but what are you going to do? You get a chance to meet an ex-president and you ask him if he had the fish. That seemed like -- I would ask something else.
BLITZER: You know, that's always interesting to see Rush Limbaugh, Bill Clinton, they have a little chance encounter and that's the story.
FOREMAN: Polite conversation. You know, you see that around Washington and around New York a lot more than people might think. A lot of people who are really pretty big professional enemies personally can be pretty cordial to each other.
BLITZER: You see it in Washington all the time because this is basically a small town. Saturday night, 7:00 p.m. Eastern, THIS WEEK AT WAR, give us a very brief preview.
FOREMAN: We've got a terrific look with three top ex-generals, former generals, at what is happening in Iraq right now and where we need to go in this. THIS WEEK AT WAR really is a terrific show this weekend.
BLITZER: 7:00 p.m. Sunday night, replays Sunday afternoons, 1:00 p.m. Right after LATE EDITION.
FOREMAN: There you go.
BLITZER: Thanks very much. We'll be watching.
Up ahead. Barred from Iraq and now barred from bars, find out why Prince Harry's partying days may now be over, at least for the time being. Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Another setback for Prince Harry. Now he's told he can't deploy to London's hot spots. CNN's Jim Boulden is in London. Jim?
JIM BOULDEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, first Prince Harry is told he can't go to Iraq, and now he's told he can't go nightclubbing. That's according to the "Sun" newspaper which has the headline "Harry in Clubs Ban."
The paper says the Ministry of Defense has told Prince Harry it would not be a good idea seen leaving some of London's top night clubs in the early hours of the morning while his men are fighting in Iraq. The "Sun" paper also says that Prince Harry is likely to be given ceremonial duties while his squadron, the Blues and Royals, are away. That could have him protecting his grandmother.
So now we know what the spare to the throne will be doing on his on hours. It's just not clear what he'll be doing during the off hours when his men are in Iraq for six months. Wolf?
BLITZER: Jim Boulden watching this in London for us.
Other news we're following. She's a well-known academic here in Washington, an Iranian American who went back to Tehran for family reasons and is now in prison. She's not the only American in trouble there. CNN's Jill Doherty has the story. Jill?
JILL DOHERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, she's being held in the notorious Evine (ph) prison in Iran where others have been tortured and died. Ironically her supporters say Haleh Esfandiari is a bridge- builder between Iran and the United States.
SHAUL BAKHASH, HUSBAND: Hello, hi, yes.
DOHERTY (voice-over): For four months Professor Shaul Bakash was sure he'd soon get a call saying his wife was finally free.
HALEH ESFANDIARI, IRANIAN AMERICAN DETAINED IN IRAN: And today he's going to speak ...
DOHERTY: Haleh Esfandiari, a prominent Iranian American scholar had flown to Iran to visit her 93-year-old mother. On the way back to Tehran airport three masked men brandishing knives stopped her car and stole her luggage and documents including her passport. Iranians officials wouldn't replace it. Instead, they subjected her to six weeks of interrogation. May 8, the 67-year-old Esfandiari was arrested and imprisoned, allowed only a few brief phone conversations with her mother.
BAKHASH: We do not know what's going on behind the prison walls. We must judge by little things like the tone of her voice. That's very little to go on.
DOHERTY: Iranian officials say Esfandiari is being arrested for crimes against national security. Her husband calls that a complete falsehood.
(on camera): Much of the questioning in prison centered on Esfandiari's work as the head of the Middle Eastern Program here at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for scholars in Washington, DC.
(voice-over): Esfandiari's arrest is the latest in a series of detentions of intellectuals, journalists and Iranian American visitors orchestrated by the hard-line government of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Experts on Iran say the Ahmadinejad government is paranoid about the United States' intentions towards Iran, including U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's comments about a $75 million U.S. program to promote democracy in Iran.
AFSHIN MOLAVI, NEW AMERICA FOUNDATION: They feel that the United States wants to engage in regime change in Iran. They see this money that the United States has pledged for supporting dissidents and supporting dissidents and supporting democracy in Iran as interfering in their internal affairs.
BAKHASH: This is my wife.
DOHERTY: So Professor Bakhash waits. He says his wife is a strong woman. He's written to the Iranian president. There's been no reply.
BAKHASH: It's my hope that he will come to the conclusion that continuing to hold Haleh and not allowing her to come home really damages not only my wife but also Iran itself.
DOHERTY: Professor Esfandiari asked that the renowned Iranian lawyer Shirin Abadi (ph), a Nobel Peace Prize winner, serve as her lawyer but the Iranian government is still not allowing this and still is not explaining why Esfandiari is being held. They also are refusing to let her 93-year-old mother see her. Wolf?
BLITZER: Jill Doherty reporting for us. Let's hope she's out soon. Let's go to New York. Paula Zahn is standing by with a preview of what's coming up out the top of the hour.
PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: Hi, Wolf. Thanks.
We have a very special hour coming up for all of you focusing on the mortgage crisis tonight. Millions of Americans who should never have qualified for sub prime mortgage loans are now in danger of losing their homes. How did this crisis happen? Who is to blame? Is it the unethical brokers or the consumers who haven't educated themselves, and how can you save yourself from going under? We're going to have all those answers coming up for you in our special hour, "Debtor Nation: the Mortgage Mess." Wolf?
BLITZER: We'll be watching. Thank you, Paula.
Up ahead, here in THE SITUATION ROOM, tear gas, Aztecs and a gorilla on a rampage. "Hot Shots" coming up next.
BLITZER: Here's a look at the "Hot Shots" coming 234 from our friends at the Associated Press, pictures likely to be in your hometown newspaper tomorrow. In Colombia an officer throws tear gas during a protest with the free trade agreement with the United States. In Virginia, a man dressed in traditional Aztec garb dances with students during a powwow.
In Mexico City a street performer applies silver paint to his body before beginning his act as a human statute. In the Netherlands, a family flees for safety after a gorilla, concealed by the plant, escaped from his enclosure causing chaos at the zoo. Some of this hour's "Hot Shots," pictures often worth a thousand words.
Don't forget to join us this Sunday, 11:00 a.m. Eastern for LATE EDITION, for the last word in Sunday talk.
Among our guests this Sunday, the homeland security secretary Michael Chertoff. And the commerce secretary, Carlos Gutierrez. LATE EDITION airs Sunday morning for two hours, 11:00 a.m. Eastern. Until then thanks for watching. Let's go to Paula in New York. Paula?
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