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War Funding Bill Passes; Continued Iraq Violence

Aired May 25, 2007 - 19:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, HOST: Happening now, both fighters, a radical cleric and a deadly mission. Tonight, we have new details on how Iran is training secret cells of kidnappers and killers in Iraq.
Also this hour, the no votes echoing on the presidential campaign trail. Senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama try to bolster their anti-war credentials, but leave themselves open continually open for attack.

And now that Congress has passed a war funding bill, where is the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, going?

It's sure not Disneyland. The surprising answer coming up.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.


Houses set on fire, bodies found in the streets and mortars killing innocent civilians. Tonight, Iraq exploding with violence. At least 14 people are dead from attacks and officials found 20 other bodies in Baghdad. The British military says Iraqi special forces killed a top member of the Mahdi Army. That's the fourth loyal to the radical anti-American Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.

He actually reemerged today after months out of sight.

As this happens, there are now fresh worries of just who's backing brutal death cells in his military force.

Let's bring in CNN's Brian Todd.

He's joining us -- Brian, there's indications that Iran is involved very deeply in all of this.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, U.S. military officials say they have evidence that Iran is playing a role here. And they say it goes well beyond giving money and moral support.


TODD (voice-over): A calculated, deadly infiltration -- gunmen disguised as Americans penetrate a U.S. Compound in Karbala, Iraq, kidnap and kill five Americans. Now U.S. military officials give stunning new detail on who was behind the January attack and the planning. MAJ. GEN. WILLIAM CALDWELL, MULTI-NATIONAL FORCE, IRAQ: We know that they had built a mock facility in Iran and, in fact, had helped conduct the training and planning over there before they came back and executed that here in Iraq.

TODD: Part of a broader, chilling pattern, U.S. military officials tell us, of secret, lethal cells within Muqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army being trained and funded inside Iran.

Their handlers?

The Quds force, an elite unit of Iran's intelligence service, which reports over the head of the president, directly to Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

CALDWELL: These secret cells have been receiving a considerable amount of money -- I mean literally in the hundreds of thousands of dollars -- on a regular basis to fund their efforts both to work the kidnappings, the assassinations and some mass murders that have gone on here in Iraq.

TODD: U.S. military officials say they don't know whether Ayatollah Khamenei personally authorized the training or not. And although General David Petraeus called these cells Sadr's special ops, U.S. Officials cannot say if Sadr was involved.

An Iranian official at the United Nations tells CNN: "U.S. Officials are scapegoating us, trying to blame others when they fail to stabilize Iraq."

The charges come just ahead of unprecedented U.S.-Iranian talks scheduled to begin Monday in Baghdad.

MICHAEL O'HANLON, BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: These are going to be tough talks. This is going to be more of an argument than a negotiation. And the two sides are going to lay it on the line a bit and perhaps see if they can ultimately work towards some common ground.


TODD: Ratcheting up the pressure even more at those talks, the trump cards that each side now appears to hold. Iran still detaining five Iranian-Americans. And General Caldwell tells us the U.S. military has seven Iranian intelligence agents in its custody -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And the U.S. military intelligence also believes the Iranians aren't just supporting Shiite militias in Iraq, but other militias, as well?

TODD: That's right, Wolf.

General Caldwell said today U.S. Forces have captured Sunni extremists, also funded and trained by that Quds force.

BLITZER: Now, the Iranians are Shia. They've been supporting Shia militants in Iraq.

Why would they be supporting Sunni when there is this tension between Sunni and Shia?

TODD: It's a difficult question. But experts say Tehran is playing a very risky game here, supporting groups that have been its enemies, like the Sunnis.

What they say Iran wants here is some instability in Iraq to make the Americans appear to have lost and make the Americans pull out, but not a completely failed state on its borders. This is a very dangerous gamble at the moment for Tehran.

BLITZER: Brian Todd watching it closely.

Muqtada al-Sadr is a young man but very influential and he's a Shiite cleric.

He's believed to have been born around 1973.

His father, Grand Ayatollah Mohammed al-Sadr, was killed by Saddam Hussein's forces in 1999.

The younger al-Sadr was accused in the 2003 murder of a rival moderate cleric and Iraqi officials put out a warrant for his arrest. And by the year 2004, the U.S. military had its sights set on al-Sadr.


GEN. RICARDO SANCHEZ: The mission of the U.S. Forces is to kill or capture Muqtada al-Sadr.


BLITZER: General Ricardo Sanchez mincing no words then. But the U.S. Position has changed, in part because of al-Sadr's influence within the Iraqi government. And American commanders now hope al-Sadr can facilitate a dialogue between the United States and Iraq's Shia factions.

Iran, meanwhile, is reportedly detaining another Iranian- American. That, according to the group Human Rights Watch. If confirmed, this would be the fifth dual citizen taken into custody by the Iranians, as tensions between Washington and Tehran increase.

CNN's Aneesh Raman is the only American television reporter in the Iranian capita -- Aneesh, what's this latest American being detained by?

ANEESH RAMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, his name is Ali Shakeri, a California businessman, and according to Human Rights Watch, the latest American to go missing in Iran.


RAMAN (voice-over): In what's become a disturbing trend, at least five Americans are now allegedly being held in Iran.

Robert Levinson, missing since early March, is feared to be in Iranian custody, though the government here denies it.

Journalist Parnaz Azima had her passport taken in January and now cannot leave the country.

Two other Americans, including Kian Tajbakhsh, have reportedly been detained.

And then there is Haleh Esfandiari, recently imprisoned on suspicion of working to undermine the regime.

Few people in Iran will talk to us about her.

But Sadeq Zebakalam, a professor at Tehran University, did.

SADEQ ZEBAKALM, TEHRAN UNIVERSITY: I really can't understand, I cannot visualize, I cannot imagine how on earth she could have been described as someone that was involved in some plot, in some conspiracy against the Islamic state.

RAMAN: Zebakalam, who met Esfandiari twice at academic conferences, says she didn't just like Iran, she loved it. But now in Iran, Esfandiari is being interrogated and is being represented by Nobel Peace Laureate and Iranian human rights lawyer Shirin Ebadi, who herself has been jailed in Iran.

SHIRIN EBADI, NOBEL PEACE LAUREATE (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): I have been imprisoned in that cell. So have my two other colleagues who are representing Haleh. This is a small room with cement walls and no windows. There is a fluorescent light that's on 24 hours.

RAMAN: The arrests are, analysts suggest, part of something bigger. It was here in Iraq in January that five Iranians were taken into U.S. military custody. The U.S. Calls them nationals and claims they came to foment violence.

Iran, though, says they are diplomats and is demanding their release.

The detention of Americans, Zebakalam suggests, is meant to send this message to the U.S.

ZEBAKALM: You haven't charged them, you haven't said what they were against, you haven't done -- you haven't said anything that -- what was the wrong thing that they were doing?

You're saying that you are investigating, you are investigating, you are investigating.


RAMAN: The U.S. And Iran are set to talk in Iraq next week, but both sides are saying they do not plan to raise this issue -- Wolf. BLITZER: Aneesh Raman is the only American television reporter in Iran right now. Meanwhile, the stage is now set for more U.N. Sanctions against Iran for refusing to scrap its uranium enrichment program.

The International Atomic Energy Agency has sent a report to the U.N. Security Council stating that Iran is expanding its enrichment activities, while cutting back access for international inspectors to its nuclear facilities.

Iran insists its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes.

Let's go to Jack Cafferty.

He's in New York with The Cafferty File.

Why are you chuckling, Jack?

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: A lot of good news, huh, tonight, to report?



CAFFERTY: I mean, wow!

BLITZER: It goes from bad to worse.

CAFFERTY: It just does. It really does.

Ah, here's some -- here's some good news, though.

Our beloved Congress is going to take yet another recess and head home for the Memorial Day weekend. In fact, they're probably already gone.

Once you get past the increase in the minimum wage, which was tacked onto the Iraq War funding bill, there's not a whole lot for them to be proud of or to brag about.

The war drags on, killing our soldiers, depleting our military, draining our national treasury. Some experts are saying $4 gasoline is just right around the corner, right as the busiest driving season of the year gets underway.

Members of Congress have come up with something they're calling immigration reform, which is just a joke, and has managed to make just about everybody angry. Nothing has been done about our open borders or the millions of illegal aliens who have been allowed into this country in violation of the existing law, but we're going to pass some more laws.

Suffice it to say these representatives or senators could get an earful when they get back to their home districts.

So here's the question -- if you run into your congressperson over Memorial Day, what would to say to him or her?

E-mail or go to

We've already gotten several responses to this, Wolf, which are not permitted on a family program such as this.

BLITZER: It helps explain why some of those members aren't going to go to their home districts. They're going overseas to do some fact finding.

CAFFERTY: Maybe they'll get lost and just stay over there.

BLITZER: All right, Jack, stand by.


Coming up, an agony and anticipation no parent should ever have to go through.


MARIA DURAN, JIMENEZ'S MOTHER: This is terrible. And -- and Alex is a wonderful, wonderful son.


BLITZER: A family prays for the safe return of one of those American troops still missing in Iraq.

And they might have some explaining to do. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, we're referring to. It concerns their votes on the war funding bill and how supporters and critics are responding.

And with this warm holiday weekend, why is Nancy Pelosi going someplace where it's really, really cold?

Stay with us.



BLITZER: Tonight, Democrats are scrambling to explain their votes on the war funding bill the Congress delivered to the president earlier today. In fact, he has it now, we're told, at Camp David. Expected to formally sign the legislation shortly.

Perhaps no one has more explaining to do than various presidential candidates, including Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.

Let's go to our Congressional correspondent, Dana Bash.

What kind of fallout are these two Democratic presidential candidates likely to get?

DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, no surprise, Wolf, they're already getting praise from the left, anti-war groups like, and they're getting rapid fire criticism from Republicans. And it's that kind of political pickle that made these two senators so skittish about how they would vote.


SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I), VERMONT: The yeas and nays are ordered.

BASH (voice-over): Seventeen minutes into the war funding vote, nearly every senator had voted. But no sign of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, the two everyone was waiting for.

Finally, Senator Obama entered the chamber.


Mr. Obama -- no.

BASH: Fifty-nine seconds later, so did Senator Clinton.


Mrs. Clinton -- no.

BASH: Both presidential candidates voted against funding the war and, for the first time, stood exactly where many Democratic primary voters want them. Cutting off funding is something both had vowed not to do.

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D), NEW YORK: I am not prepared to vote to cut funding to American troops.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D), ILLINOIS: Democrats aren't interested in playing chicken with the troops, and we're absolutely committed to making sure that the troops have the equipment they need.

BASH: Changing their positions is sure to help in the short term with staunchly anti-war voters both need to win the '08 Democratic nomination. They're hoping it may even help in the general election, since the vast majority of Americans now oppose the war.

ANDREW KOHUT, PEW RESEARCH CENTER: The Democratic candidates now come closer to the way the middle of the country thinks about the war in Iraq than do Republican candidates.

BASH: Potential Republican rivals moved to test that, and it got ugly fast.

Mitt Romney issued a statement saying, "Clinton and Obama's vote serve as a glaring example of an unrealistic and inexperienced worldview."

John McCain called it "the height of irresponsibility."

Senator Obama fired right back at both, saying, "Romney and McCain clearly believe the course we are on in Iraq is working. I do not."

Then, rapid response from McCain, mocking Obama's experience: "Two years in the U.S. Senate certainly entitle him to vote against funding our troops."


BASH: Now, both Clinton and Obama are already gone from here. They're already out on the campaign trail and they're already, Wolf, defending their votes.

Let's take a listen to what they said late today on the campaign trail.


OBAMA: John McCain and Mitt Romney thought they could score some political points. They said I don't support the war on terror. And what I know is that what our troops deserve is not just rhetoric. They deserve a new plan.



CLINTON: The best thing we can do for our troops right now is to get them out of the middle of this sectarian civil war in Iraq.


BASH: So there you hear, Wolf, both of the senators saying that it's because of their support for the troops that they voted to try to cut off funding for the troops, cut off funding for the war. Very different from what they said just a couple of minutes ago.

I guarantee you this is not the end of -- of what we're hearing from both sides of the aisle about these two senators' votes -- Wolf.

BLITZER: I think you're right, Dana.

Thanks very much.

Dana is on the Hill.

Senators Clinton and Obama, by the way, aren't the only Democratic presidential candidates serving in Congress who voted against the war funding bill. Senator Chris Dodd and Congressman Dennis Kucinich also voted against it.

Republican Congressman Ron Paul joined those Democrats in opposing the bill.

These presidential candidates voted for war funding: Democratic Senator Joe Biden and Republican Senator John McCain.

GOP Congressman Duncan Hunter and GOP Tom Tancredo also voted for the bill.

Republican Senator Brownback did not vote.

One consequence of the vote is the minimum wage. It's going up for the first time in 10 years. It will be phased in from $5.15 an hour, which is the minimum wage right now, to $7.25 an hour over next two years. Currently, 1.7 million workers make no more than the prevailing minimum wage of $5.15. Another four million or so already make between $5.15 and $7.25 an hour. Once the new $7.25 hourly wage takes full effect, full-time workers would make approximate three $4,000 more per year, going from $10,000 to almost $14,000 or $15,000 a year.

Up ahead tonight in THE SITUATION ROOM, dire predictions that appear to have come true -- pre-war intelligence warning of chaos in Iraq after an invasion. Details of the now declassified report. That's coming up.

And there are two tell-all books coming out about Hillary Clinton.

Will readers learn anything they don't already know?

Carol Costello is looking into this story.

Stay with us.



BLITZER: The House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, leads a delegation this weekend to one of the iciest countries on the planet to learn about global warming.

CNN's Kathleen Koch is joining us with more -- Kathleen.

KATHLEEN KOCH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, since becoming speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi has been getting increasingly involved in world affairs. Her most recent trip was focused on diplomacy; this one, literally, on saving the planet.


KOCH (voice-over): When it comes to her Congressional holiday recess, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is going from the frying pan into the freezer. Her last holiday break in the Middle East drew heated condemnation for her controversial visit with Syria's president.

Now Pelosi and other House members will be cooing their heels on the ice-covered island of Greenland.

First stop for the group -- a research station camped out on a massive ice sheet. Their host at Swiss Camp told us via satellite phone that the lawmakers will get plenty of help dealing with the frigid weather. KONRAD STEFFEN, DIRECTOR OF CIRES: So they do get parkas. They do get surround boots, special boots for the snow. And wind trousers; certainly big mittens and big hats.

KOCH: It is so cold, the group could get snowed in on the ice sheet.

STEFFEN: In case of emergency, we are prepared to host them overnight. I would prefer this is not the case, but we have very good food. We have enough espresso to keep them awake.

KOCH: And there will be a dozen sleeping bags on hand in case they doze off.

Pelosi's delegation is visiting Greenland to see firsthand the effects of the Earth's rising temperatures on the ice sheets.

BRENDA EKWURZEL, UNION OF CONCERNED SCIENTISTS: If you want to go and find where global warming, the impacts of global warming are happening on the ground in a dramatic way, a trip to Greenland is certainly at the top of anyone's list.

KOCH: Professor Steffen says his visitors will witness some dramatic scenes.

STEFFEN: The whole region is broken up. It's like a big chaos. Currently, the ice that is dropping into the fjords every day is approximately the volume of fresh water that the city of New York uses over one year.


KOCH: After their visit to Greenland, Pelosi and members of the Select Committee on Global Warming head to Europe to meet with government leaders in London, Germany and Brussels. The trip is laying the groundwork for a major energy bill Pelosi wants to introduce in the House before July 4th -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Kathleen Koch reporting.

Let's get some more on Greenland.

It's the largest non-continental island in the world. Greenland, which is 80 percent or so ice covered, contains 10 percent of the world's total fresh water reserves. And if the entire giant ice sheet that covers Greenland were to melt, scientists say sea levels could rise up to 20 feet, displacing hundreds of millions of people around the world.

Let's go to Carol Costello. She's monitoring some other stories incoming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now -- Carol, what do you have?

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: A couple of things to tell you, Wolf.

The first of several U.S. military flights carrying various types of ammunition landed in Lebanon today. Officials say the military will help Lebanese armed forces battle an Islamic militant group. This is Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah. He warned the Lebanese government against storming the Nahr el-Bared refugee camp.

Police in Phoenix, Arizona says the man whose body was found in an air conditioning duct at a local elementary school had probably tried to break in. The body was discovered by a plumber investigating an odor detected earlier in the day. Police think the man got stuck in the duct work and died there.

The astronaut who's considered the object of affection in a NASA love triangle is leaving the space program. A Johnson Space Center spokeswoman says William Oefelein will leave NASA, effective June 1st. Authorities say it was his romantic involvement with fellow astronaut Lisa Nowak that apparently drove her to attack a perceived rival this year.

Back to you -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks, Carol.

We'll check back with you in a moment.

Just ahead, the family of a missing American soldier in Iraq waiting in anguish.


M. DURAN: I say, god, I putting my son your hands. You have the power. You can do everything.


BLITZER: The parents of Army Specialist Alex Jimenez share the prayers for their son that they hope will be answered.

And a disturbing warning about a military threat and a delicate balance of power that could be disturbed.

Stay with us.



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

Happening now, the Pentagon warning of China's growing military might. In a report to Congress, it says China's increasingly sophisticated arsenal could tip the military balance of power in Asia.

Also, new tension on the Korean Peninsula. North Korea test firing guided short-range missiles into the Sea of Japan as South Korea launches its most advanced destroyer ever, armed with a high tech American defense system. And President Bush visiting wounded U.S. servicemen and women at the Naval -- the National Naval Medical Center here in Bethesda, Maryland, just outside Washington. He awarded five Purple Hearts before heading to camp David in Maryland for the holiday weekend.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.


There's no let up in the U.S. military's search for these two remaining soldiers kidnapped by militants in a May 12th raid. Thousands of troops maintain their relentless hunt for clues to the whereabouts of Specialists Alex Jimenez and Byron Fouty.

CNN's Arwa Damon has the latest from Iraq -- Arwa.

ARWA DAMON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, these soldiers of the 123 Stryker Battalion are just back from their mission that lasted about 10 hours. Two companies air assaulted into an area about 11 miles south of Yusufiya. There they searched fish farms and found 3,000 pounds worth of explosives and ammunition, much of it be buried in 55 gallon drums. This was an intelligence-driven operation.

In a separate intelligence-driven operation, elements from the 4th Battalion 31st Infantry Regiment, along with Iraqi Army soldiers, searched the banks of the Euphrates River some two miles south of where the May 12th attack took place. They detained 22 individuals bringing them in for further questioning, the U.S. military saying that they are continuing to systematically put together the pieces of the puzzle, exactly what happened that morning and where their two still missing soldiers might be -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Arwa Damon, embedded with U.S. troops in the so-called "Triangle of Death," searching for those two soldiers.

And while the search goes on, a world away the family of Specialist Alex Jimenez keeps vigil in his hometown, that would be Queens, New York. Let's bring in our senior correspondent, Allan Chernoff. He visited with the family earlier today.

Allan, how are they holding up?

ALLAN CHERNOFF, CNN SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this is extremely, extremely difficult for the family. We can only imagine what it's like to have a child missing in action.


CHERNOFF (voice-over): The anguish of a mother worried for her son missing in Iraq.

MARIA DURAN, JIMENEZ'S MOTHER: This is terrible. And Alex is a wonderful, wonderful son.

CHERNOFF: Maria Duran's son, 25-year-old Army Specialist Alex Jimenez, has been missing in Iraq since May 12th, his father's birthday. Ramon waited all day for the birthday call that never came. The Pentagon says Alex's unit was ambushed 20 miles south of Baghdad. As American forces conduct an intensive search for Alex, his family and friends hold prayer vigils every day.

M. DURAN: I say, God, I put in my son your hands. You have the power. You can do everything.

CHERNOFF: When the body of a third missing soldier was found earlier this week in Iraq, Maria feared it could be her son.

M. DURAN: When I saw the tattoos, I said, God, thanks. It's not him. It was terrible.

CHERNOFF: Family and neighbors describe Alex as mentally and physically tough, a man who grew up with the goal of joining the military.

MICHAEL VIAS, JIMENEZ'S NEIGHBOR: He was kind of gung-ho, you know?

CHERNOFF (on camera): He always wanted to be a soldier?

VIAS: Oh, yes.

CHERNOFF (voice-over): If Alex is being held captive, Maria Duran has a message for his kidnappers.

M. DURAN: Don't do anything bad to him. Please, please, save me my son, Alex. I miss you, Alex.


CHERNOFF: Alex was scheduled to return home from his second tour of duty in Iraq in August -- Wolf.

BLITZER: I hope he comes home very, very soon, together with that other American soldier. Allan, thank you.

And tonight, the psychological wounds of war. Do the kinds of problems uncovered at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center exist at the military's mental health facilities? CNN's Tom Foreman is here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Tom, some red flags being raised on this issue? What's going on?

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely, Wolf. This week, congressional investigators reported on the situation in Fort Carson, Colorado, after investigating accusations that soldiers with mental health problems were not getting the care they needed.

In a letter to the secretary of defense, they said that they found a system facing significant challenges. I spoke about this with Bobby Muller, the head of Veterans for America. And he confirmed the problems at Fort Carson and said this is only the tip of the iceberg with Iraq and Afghanistan in the works. A recent study found nearly half the Guard and Reserve and a third of the active Army have mental health problems and the military is not ready to deal with them.


BOBBY MULLER, VETERANS FOR AMERICA: It's not what I'm saying. It's what the Department of Defense's own mental health task force has said. We do not have the capacity and the numbers of clinicians. And the clinicians today oftentimes lack the training to deal with posttraumatic stress and the other signature injury out of this war, which is traumatic brain injury.


FOREMAN: What we're talking about is often posttraumatic stress disorder and this problem is not going away. Bobby Muller served in Vietnam. He points out that many cases of PTSD don't show up for years, even decades. And we're already seeing as many problems now from Iraq and Afghanistan as we did in all the years since Vietnam.

Part of the problem, Wolf, is the fighting environment. There is no front line. There is no back line. There is no safe place. So the young people we send over there are under constant, constant threat and stress.

BLITZER: This is a shocking story. I know you're going to have a lot more on "THIS WEEK AT WAR" coming up, Tom. Thanks very much.

And this note, please be sure to watch Tom Foreman, he anchors "THIS WEEK AT WAR." It airs Saturday nights, 7:00 p.m. Eastern, Sundays replayed 1:00 p.m. Eastern right after "LATE EDITION."

BLITZER: And up ahead tonight, will their pages offer anything new about Hillary Clinton? Two new tell-all books on the presidential candidate are coming out in the coming days.

And what would you say to your congressional representative if you were to run into them over this holiday weekend? Jack Cafferty and your e-mail. All that still to come.


BLITZER: Tonight, new tell-all books on Senator Hillary Clinton are about to hit bookshelves and they also have pages that hit the presidential candidate where it hurts. Let's go back to Carol Costello, she is watching this.

Carol, based on what we know, any nature bombshells likely to emerge?

COSTELLO: Well, you could say that, Wolf. Serious talk of divorce, and it did not come from Mrs. Clinton. This is just a tidbit from a 640-page tome from famed journalist Carl Bernstein.


COSTELLO (voice-over): Hillary Clinton, whether she wins the Democratic nomination or not, is a political star. Love her or hate her, Clinton is the stuff bestsellers are made of. There are, count them, three new books about Senator Clinton vying to make a splash.

One, "Her Way: The Hopes and Ambitions of Hillary Rodham Clinton,: by New York Times reporters Jeff Gerth and Don Van Natta.

Two, "The Extreme Makeover of Hillary Rodham Clinton," by Bay Buchanan.

And three, "A Woman in Charge: The Life of Hillary Rodham Clinton," written by famed Watergate reporter Carl Bernstein. He calls Clinton one of the most interesting figures in recent American history and says he answers the question, what is her character?

Peter Baker is one of the few reporters to get his hands on Bernstein's book. Today in The Washington Post, he and a colleague write the account as not unsympathetic but include some damning observations.

PETER BAKER, THE WASHINGTON POST: Well, there are a lot of things in the book that that jump out at you.

COSTELLO: Like Bernstein's assertion Bill Clinton wanted to divorce Hillary Clinton in 1989 because he was in love with another woman.

BAKER: When Bill Clinton is thinking about divorce back in this period prior to his presidency, he was consulting with other governors about what divorce meant to their careers politically.

COSTELLO: The Clinton camp wouldn't comment on specific allegations in the book, but calls Bernstein's book and others "nothing more than cash for rehash."

Ultimately, there was no divorce, but according to Bernstein's book, there were continuing problems for the Clintons. A source close to the book says both Clintons went to great lengths to keep the lid on his infidelities, even hiring lawyer to make sure women stayed quiet about the affairs, hoping Bill Clinton's run for president would change things.

BAKER: Running for office, running for the White House would be a good thing because, you know, in the White House, surrounded by all of the press corps and Secret Service and so forth, you know, and the majesty of the office, that these would, you know, discourage her husband from the kind of philandering that he had done in Arkansas.

COSTELLO: As we all know, it didn't. Bernstein's book also quotes former associates like Mark Fabiani, a former Clinton white house counsel. He defended the Clintons in the Whitewater scandal. Fabiani is quoted as saying: "When I say there was a serious fear she would be indicted, I can't overstate that." He also said Clinton was so tortured by the way she'd been treated, that she would do anything to get out of the situation.

In the meantime, the Clinton camp says another book about the Clinton's personal life, adding, "is it possible to be quoted yawning?"


COSTELLO: Now, we did talk to a source close to Bernstein's book who confirmed all of the information in The Washington Post story. You can buy your very own book in June -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Coming up very, very soon, thanks very much, Carol, for that.

And many people here in Washington are talking about the impact of these new books. Joining us now in our "Strategy Session" are CNN political analyst Paul Begala, a Democratic strategist; and CNN contributor Bill Bennett, the Washington fellow at the Claremont Institute.

Guys, thanks very much for coming in. Carl Bernstein of Woodward and Bernstein, Watergate fame, he has got a book coming out, maybe as early as next week. Jeff Gerth, Dale (sic) Von Natta of The New York Times, they have got another book coming out.

What do you think? You saw this story on the front page of The Washington Post today that has got -- they have got some tantalizing little nuggets in there.

PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, precious few, actually, Wolf. I was surprised. You know, these are big-name journalists, as you point out. They have had years. I think Bernstein has had something like eight years, 10 years working on this book.

And all I know is what I read in The Washington Post, which I'm a little suspicious of. But, according to The Washington Post, the big news is, get this, the Clintons are ambitious, and they have had a complicated marriage. Oh, my God. That's shocking.

I mean, look, Rudy Giuliani, he is ambitious, and he has had three complicated marriages. I mean, there's -- the thing with Hillary is this. We know all the bad we're ever going to know about her. She's the most investigated woman in the history of the world.

But we don't know all of the good. And, so, new information that we learn about Hillary is actually more likely to be good than bad. Other candidates, really almost of them, we know a lot of the good and not all of the bad. And that's usually how most politicians start out.

Hillary starts out in the reverse. But it's not a terrible position to be in. I think these books look like kind of a nothing to me.

BLITZER: What do you think, Bill? BILL BENNETT, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, as we say in talk radio, dittos, except...


BENNETT: ... I'm a little softer on The Washington Post than you are.


BENNETT: Anyway, no, look, there's not much new here, from what I can tell. It should be said, in fairness, this is not the vast right-wing conspiracy, not with Carl Bernstein and two New York Times writers.

But I don't see much new here. I haven't read the books. But, to tell me that Hillary Clinton is ambitious, occasionally brilliant, was hurt by her husband's infidelity, again, it isn't news.

I'm more interested in Hillary Clinton's policies. And, in general, I think this is a better way to debate things. Obviously, you want to know about people's character. But I think Paul is right. There's very little, I think, about the Clintons' character that we don't know.

BLITZER: What about Rudy Giuliani, Bill? Because, the way I see it, he has got a double problem in terms of what they call opposition research. He has got a lot of Republicans who are looking to hurt him because they see he's the front-runner right now.

So, they are looking for damage -- damaging stuff in his background. But, potentially, he has also got Democrats looking for it, because a lot of them see him as potentially the biggest threat in a general election because of his moderate views on some of the social issues.

How worried should Rudy Giuliani be that Republican opposition research, Democratic opposition research is going to combine to undermine him?

BENNETT: He should be worried some, obviously. He should be ready for a siege. And I think the siege has already begun. But he has got a couple of advantages. One, he's from New York. He's used to this kind of hardball politics. I mean, there's no tougher politics than New York politics.

The second thing is, this is not a guy who has presented himself as, you know, part of the Christian right, as a paragon of all things great and exemplary. And he has admitted to being a very flawed figure, a very flawed character.

Now, it depends, of course, on what it is people talk about. But, if you push too far on this stuff, either with Rudy Giuliani or Hillary Clinton, I think the public reacts. If you can come up with some felony, fine. You are talking serious stuff. But to find out about personality problems, marriage problems, you know, short of major things you don't know about, then, I think it backfires.


BEGALA: Yes, ditto.



BEGALA: ... use that word, but...


BEGALA: Well, here's, I think, the dichotomy. I think Republicans are going to go after -- if they're smart, go after his issue positions. They are going to follow Bill's advice, if they are smart. The personal stuff never works. It didn't work against Clinton, for goodness sakes. It's not going to work against Rudy.

But there are issue positions where Giuliani has been pro-choice on abortion. He has been pro-gay rights, pro-gun control. That will hurt him with Republicans. Democrats, I suspect, will go after Giuliani Inc., again, not his personal life, his business, where he was in business with some pretty controversial characters, including Bernie Kerik, who is the now infamous man that President Bush...


BLITZER: The former police commissioner.

BEGALA: The former New York police commissioner.


BEGALA: President Bush, for a time, considered him to be the first secretary of homeland security, a pretty controversial figure. And a lot more, I think, in Giuliani Inc., that's going to bother voters a lot more than any personal attacks on Rudy.

BLITZER: Paul Begala and Bill Bennett with the me.

Up ahead, why were warnings of chaos in Iraq ignored?

Also, Rosie O'Donnell's dates on "The View," are now more numbered than anyone realized. We'll be right back.


BLITZER: Tonight, President Bush has just signed the Iraq War funding bill. Also tonight, we revisit the dire warnings of chaos in Iraq issued months before the 2003 U.S.-led invasion. Our congressional correspondent Andrea Koppel has new details.


ANDREA KOPPEL, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Iraq, torn apart by violence, warring factions, terrorist attacks. But even before the war, intelligence officials were already predicting the worst.

Still two months away from invading Iraq, the U.S. intelligence community sends top secret reports to dozens of policymakers, including key people responsible for briefing President Bush. The reports include dire warnings about challenges the U.S. could face in post-war Iraq.

John McLaughlin, now a CNN contributor, was then the deputy CIA director who approved the report.

JOHN MCLAUGHLIN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: It says this is a highly divided society. There will be a lot of score-settling. Al Qaeda will have the opportunity to take advantage of any situation that involves chaos and discontent on the part of the Iraqi population.

KOPPEL: The reports also warned a U.S. occupation of Iraq would boost proponents of political Islam and would prompt calls from Islamists to unite against the West.

CNN's Ed Henry asked President Bush about the reports Thursday and why he didn't heed the warnings.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Ed, going into Iraq, we were warned about a lot of things, some of which happened, some of which didn't happen. And, obviously, I made a decision, as consequential as that, I weighed the risks and rewards of any decision.

KOPPEL: But John Rockefeller, the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, which unveiled the reports today, said the president's refusal to listen to these warnings had led to tragic consequences, for which the nation is paying a terrible price.

But Missouri's Kit Bond, the committee's ranking Republican, directed his criticism at Democrats, accusing them of partisanship, and failing to present a balanced picture.

SEN. KIT BOND (R-MO), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: And the report's conclusions highlight with the benefit of hindsight only issues from the intelligence assessments that seem to be important now, which distorts a picture of what was actually presented to policymakers in 2003.

KOPPEL (on camera): But two other Republicans on the committee, Maine's Olympia Snowe and Nebraska's Chuck Hagel supported the Democrats' conclusions. Chuck Hagel saying the report was, quote, "fair and objective."

Andrea Koppel, CNN, Capitol Hill.


BLITZER: Let's check in with Jack Cafferty. He's got the "Cafferty File" -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: So the intelligence agencies warn the president this could be a very bad idea, the president does it anyway and now four- and-a-half years later, Kit Bond says it's the Democrats' fault? These guys are amazing.

The question this hour is, if you run into your congressperson over the Memorial Day weekend, you know they're going on recess, what would you say to him?

Richard in Backus, Minnesota: "Thank you, Mr. Oberstar, you voted against the war from the start. You have voted against illegal immigration. You are one of the few good congressman in Washington."

Valerie in Raleigh, North Carolina: "Senator Dole, North Carolina, Senator Burr, North Carolina, can't wait 'til the 2008 elections, hope you have some other kind of work lined up."

Patricia in Bath, Pennsylvania: "I'd like to ask him how he sleeps at night. His children are tucked in their beds at night. My son is in Iraq. Will it only matter when it is his children that are in harm's way?"

Roger in South Lake Tahoe, California: "My congressman's name is Doolittle. How appropriate is that?"

Trinity in Fresno, California: "Jack, you media types may run into a lot of congresspeople, but I have never in my life met one anywhere. I know they have offices and phone numbers and can be found under rocks and in front of cameras, but I don't think one has ever actually been spotted in my neighborhood."

Darren in Michigan: "My representatives actually vote the way the majority of their constituents wish. So I would shake their hands, wish them a safe and happy holiday and tell them to keep up the good work.

Sandra in Texas: "Nothing. My congressman is a Republican. There is no point in wasting the time or energy."

And Michael in California: "Oops, I'm sorry, I didn't see you. You really should use the crosswalk."

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.

Wolf, have a good weekend.

BLITZER: Very, very popular feature. Have a great weekend yourself, Jack, thank you.

Let's find out what's coming up right at the top of the hour. Kyra Phillips is filling in for Paula tonight.

Kyra, what have you got? KYRA PHILLIPS, GUEST HOST, "PAULA ZAHN NOW": Hi, Wolf. Well, at the top of the hour, the results of a CNN special investigation, are the profits from slot machines on military bases worth of risk of addicting even one soldier?

Also, secret pot farms in places you'd never suspect, suburban homes. We'll have it all at the top of the hour -- Wolf.

BLITZER: We'll be watching, Kyra, thank you.

Coming up next here in THE SITUATION ROOM, get this, Rosie O'Donnell springs one last surprise for "The View." We'll be right back.


BLITZER: Traffic getting intense already for the Memorial holiday weekend. Don't forget to buckle up.

Fans awaiting Rosie O'Donnell's last day on "The View," guess what, they already missed it. Let's go to CNN's Sibila Vargas. She is joining us.

Sibila, tell our views what has happened.

SIBILA VARGAS, CNN ENTERTAINMENT CORRESPONDENT: Well, there has been plenty of drama on "The View." But the latest feud between Rosie O'Donnell and Elisabeth Hasselbeck may have been the straw that broke the camel's back. Wednesday started as a typical day on "The View." Four women sitting around the table discussing the hot topic of the day, then the conversation got political, personal and ugly.


ROSIE O'DONNELL, CO-HOST, "THE VIEW": You just said "our enemies in Iraq." Did Iraq attack us?

VARGAS (voice-over): Four women, each having their own view is the theme of the popular chat-fest. But then the subject of the Iraq War came up and known for their opposing opinions, Rosie O'Donnell and Elisabeth Hasselbeck got into a big argument.

ELISABETH HASSELBECK, CO-HOST, "THE VIEW": Defend your own insinuations!

O'DONNELL: I defend my thoughts!

HASSELBECK: Defend your own thoughts!

VARGAS: The heated debate actually started last week when O'Donnell said 655,000 Iraqi civilians had died and asked, who are the terrorists? This week, Hasselbeck asked her to clarify her statement.

O'DONNELL: Do you believe I think our troops are terrorists, Elisabeth?

HASSELBECK: I don't think that you...

O'DONNELL: Yes or no? Do you believe that, yes or no?

HASSELBECK: Excuse me. Let me speak.

VARGAS: Yesterday, O'Donnell had a scheduled day off for her partner Kelli's birthday. And that's it. She's gone. It was announced that O'Donnell will not be back on "The View." The host did not renew her contract for a second season but had been scheduled to work until June 20th.

The show creator, Barbara Walters, and ABC released a statement saying that O'Donnell asked for an early leave and they are wishing her well.

Well-known for her blogging, O'Donnell replied: "When painting, there is a point you must step away from the canvas as the work is done. Anymore would take away."


VARGAS: Well, since Rosie's arrival, "The View's" ratings have swelled. But it has been a season of drama and change. Last June, Star Jones Reynolds left with a bang, followed by Meredith Vieira and now Rosie. So again, there are two seats open and now many are wondering what the fate of the morning show is going to be. What a difference a year makes.

Wolf, back to you.

BLITZER: Any quick word on what she's going to do, Rosie, next?

VARGAS: We're not quite sure. But you know she is going to have definitely a future in television. And there has been a lot of speculation, but we are not certain yet.

BLITZER: Sibila, thanks very much. Sibila Vargas reporting for us.

And remember, we're here in THE SITUATION ROOM weekday afternoons from 4:00 to 6:00 p.m. Eastern, back for another hour every weeknight at 7:00 p.m. Eastern.

I'll be back on Sunday for "LATE EDITION." Among my guests, Congressman Charlie Rangel and Congressman Duncan Hunter. "LATE EDITION," the word in Sunday talk, 11:00 a.m. Eastern.

Let's go to Kyra, sitting in for Paula -- Kyra.

PHILLIPS: Thanks, Wolf.


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