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THE SITUATION ROOM
American Helicopter Shot Down in Afghanistan. White House says the U.S. May Need to be in Iraq for a Long Time. Russia Unhappy About the Missile Defense System U.S. to install in Europe. Castro claiming Bush Ordered a Hit on him. Congressman is Reconsidering the Cuban Trade Embargo. Iran Arming the Taliban with Weapons. Actor Considering a Run for the White House
Aired May 30, 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 right now, a U.S. chopper down in Afghanistan, apparently the target of enemy fire -- tonight there are late-breaking details on the deadly crash followed by an ambush.
Also this hour, Fidel Castro's provocative new claim that President Bush gave an order to kill the Cuban leader. Is there a shred of evidence to back that up?
And health officials keep searching for dozens of airline passengers possibly exposed to a fierce strain of tuberculosis. We're hearing now for the first time from the man who knew he was infected and decided to fly anyway.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
But we begin with the grim breaking news out of Afghanistan. An American Chinook helicopter apparently shot down. U.S. and NATO officials reporting five military crew members, two military passengers have been killed.
Let's go straight to our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr. She is watching all of this. Barbara, what are you picking up from your sources?
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the military now confirming it happened about 9:00 at night on the ground in Afghanistan, about 300 miles southwest of the capital of Kabul.
STARR (voice-over): The U.S. Army CH-47 helicopter went down in southern Afghanistan's Helmand province where NATO and U.S. troops have been battling Taliban fighters for weeks in the rugged terrain. Initial reports indicate the transport helicopter similar to this one was brought down by a rocket-propelled grenade.
The entire five-man crew was killed as well as two other military passengers. The helicopter had just dropped off other U.S. Army troops on the ground. According to a NATO statement, another unit responded to the scene of the crash but was ambushed by enemy fighters. An air strike was then called in to stop the attackers.
Chinook helicopters are the Army's work horse used daily to ferry equipment and troops. Helicopters flying in Afghanistan are particularly vulnerable when they travel through steep mountain passes or when they operate low to the ground in open areas.
STARR: Now these insurgent tactics of attacking rescuers at crash sites is something that has been seen in Iraq of course, Wolf, now seen in Afghanistan, obviously a matter of great concern to the U.S. military, Wolf.
BLITZER: There have been a whole series of attacks against U.S. helicopters in Iraq and Afghanistan but specifically in Afghanistan given the history in the '80s when the Taliban was fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan, they know how to shoot down helicopters.
STARR: Well, Afghanistan has a long history, of course, of being a country where there are thousands, if you will, of shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles, something the Afghan fighters used very successfully against Soviet helicopters during that war. It's a constant threat to U.S. helicopters as well as NATO helicopters in that country and the investigation into this particular incident, of course, remains ongoing.
BLITZER: All right, Barbara, thanks. Barbara is watching this at the Pentagon.
The White House, meanwhile, raising eyebrows tonight suggesting thousands, maybe tens of thousands of U.S. troops could be in Iraq for decades to come, citing the U.S. presence in South Korea as a possible model for the future of the U.S. mission in Iraq.
Let's go straight to our White House correspondent Ed Henry. What exactly is the White House saying tonight, Ed?
ED HENRY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, it's interesting. You know critics like to compare Iraq to Vietnam. The White House saying tonight they think a better comparison is Iraq to South Korea. But even that argument seems to be boomeranging.
HENRY (voice-over): While he has less than two years in office, the president is thinking about the U.S. staying in Iraq for a long time, modeled after America's troop presence in South Korea for the last 50 years.
TONY SNOW, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The United States there in what has been described as an over-the-horizon support role so if you need the ability to react quickly to major challenges or crises you can be there, but the Iraqis are conducting the lion's share of the business as we have in South Korea where for many years there have been American forces stationed there as a way of maintaining stability. HENRY: The point is the White House believes it may be easier to sell the American people on the idea that with continued help, Iraq could become a stable democracy like South Korea instead of the next Vietnam. But with the majority of the public already sour on the mission in Iraq, Snow backpedaled when pressed on whether he was suggesting U.S. troops will be in Iraq for decades.
SNOW: I don't know. I don't know. It is an unanswerable question, but I'm not making that suggestion. No, what I'm saying is you get to a point in the future where you want it to be purely a support role.
HENRY: But given the fragility of Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al- Maliki's government, the president has no idea when that will happen.
SNOW: You don't have a crystal ball. What you do hope is that you get to that point where the United States moves away from primary combat roles as swiftly as possible.
HENRY: Now the president's problems in Iraq put him on the defensive in advance of next week's G-8 summit in Germany. That's why this week the president has been trying to showcase America in a positive light. Today saying and committing that he would double the amount of U.S. money going to combat global HIV/Aids but even those kinds of efforts, it's still going to be difficult despite that for the U.S. to overcome the anti-American sentiment that's built up in recent years, Wolf.
BLITZER: Ed Henry at the White House for us.
The United States, by the way, currently has about 28,000 troops in South Korea. There are some 50,000 Americans deployed still in Japan and about 66,000 U.S. troops remain in Germany, this 60 years or so after the end of World War II.
Once warm relations between the U.S. and Russia have cooled considerably. At issue, missiles and missile defense -- sound familiar? The secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, is in Germany right now for talks with G-8 partners. Our State Department correspondent Zain Verjee sat down with the secretary in Berlin for an exclusive interview -- Zain.
ZAIN VERJEE, CNN STATE DEPARTMENT CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the United States says this is not the Cold War but it's getting very chilly between the U.S. and Russia.
VERJEE (voice-over): Russia flexes its muscle firing a rocket loaded with test warheads that it says can destroy missile defense systems like the one the U.S. wants to build in Eastern Europe. Russia doesn't want it in their backyard. In an exclusive interview with CNN in (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Germany, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice says it's not a threat to Russia. CONDOLEEZZA RICE, SECRETARY OF STATE: This is against smaller but nonetheless potentially very deadly threats of places like Iran.
VERJEE: She calls Russia's fierce ludicrous, but Russia's Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov hits back with a warning saying there's nothing ludicrous about it. The arms race is starting again.
(on camera): Are you being perhaps a little bit dismissive of the Russians' fears? Perhaps there's an action that you can take that would allay their fears and make them a little more comfortable.
RICE: Well you can't have it both ways. You can't on the one hand say it's a threat to Russia and on the other hand say that you can overwhelm it. Of course they can overwhelm it. That's the point that we've been making.
VERJEE (voice-over): Lavrov's comeback: "I hope no one has to prove Condi right". Russia and the U.S. are also locking horns over Kosovo and a plan to make it an independent country, the U.S. backs it, Russia doesn't. Secretary Rice says President Bush will host Russian president, Vladimir Putin in July in Kennebunkport, Maine, a more relaxed atmosphere where the recent barbs are less likely to fly.
VERJEE: At another press conference sitting side-by-side the arguments continued, this time over Lebanon. Lavrov warned that U.S. weapons shipments to Lebanon were destabilizing, Rice responded saying the U.S. was helping Lebanon defend its sovereignty -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Zain Verjee in Berlin for us, traveling with the secretary of state.
Let's go to Jack in new York. Zain is getting around on her new beat over at the State Department, Jack.
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: That's part of the job description, I assume.
BLITZER: A lot of travel.
CAFFERTY: Yes -- obesity, Wolf, is a big problem in this country and a growing one, pun intended, in states like New Jersey. According to the Centers for Disease Control, 23 percent of New Jersey residents, almost a quarter of the population, are considered obese, not fat -- obese. Another 37 percent are overweight and the problem begins at an early age, more than 17 percent of children under the age of 5 are overweight or obese.
That's the highest percentage of any state in the nation. So the New Jersey State Health Department is creating an office of nutrition and fitness believed to be the first of its kind in the United States to help stamp out obesity. Got a problem? Create a government agency to deal with it. The state hopes to use education, support groups, and encouraging physical activity to fight the battle of the bulge.
This agency was one of many recommendations in the New Jersey Obesity Prevention Action Plan which was written by a large task force which was established by the state legislature and of course paid for with New Jersey residents' money. So here's the question.
What does it say about our country when a state government sets up an anti-obesity agency with taxpayer dollars? E-mail CaffertyFile@CNN.com or go to CNN.com/CaffertyFile -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Thanks, Jack. We'll check back with you shortly.
Coming up, why does Fidel Castro think President Bush wants him dead? He claims the president has ordered him, and I'm quoting now, "to be killed."
The "Law and Order" actor taking steps towards a White House run and that frightens several of the other Republican presidential candidates.
And the man with that rare and potentially deadly form of tuberculosis, he's now giving his account of what happened.
Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Cuba's ailing leader is making a shocking new claim alleging President Bush himself ordered his assassination. Let's go to CNN's Carol Costello. She is watching this story.
What do we know about this allegation from Fidel Castro because on the surface it's obviously stunning.
CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: It is stunning, but let's face it, it's hard to tell if Fidel Castro is really telling the truth or is full of fluster.
COSTELLO (voice-over): Cuba's Fidel Castro may be struggling with an illness that forced him temporarily to hand over the reins of power last year, but he's still out there making headlines. Just this week he wrote a front-page essay in Havana's newspapers that President Bush wants him dead.
Castro writes "I am not the first nor will I be the last that Bush has ordered to be killed." Today the White House just blew it off.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (UNINTELLIGIBLE)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Any concern about these remarks?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's Fidel Castro.
COSTELLO: Bush has certainly never had much sympathy for Castro. GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I strongly believe the people of Cuba should be free from the tyrant.
COSTELLO: But while there is solid evidence the CIA plotted several times to assassinate Castro in the 1960s there is no evidence that Bush or any previous U.S. president ever gave the order that Castro should be killed. Back in the '70s the church committee said the CIA was a very busy place, plotting not only to kill Castro but overthrow South Vietnam's Diem (ph), Dominican Dictator Trujillo (ph) and Congo's leader Lumumba (ph).
All three eventually were assassinated though there was no evidence linking the CIA to their deaths. In the wake of the church committee's report, both Presidents Ford and Regan issued executive orders banning political assassinations, even so when U.S. jets bombed Tripoli in 1986, the targets included Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi's compound. At a U.S. strike on Baghdad in 2003 was aimed at a building where Saddam Hussein or possibly his sons was believed to be.
COSTELLO: President Ford's ban on political assassination remains in place, but after 9/11 President Bush did issue a finding that made an exception of known terrorist leaders and the man at the top of that list, Wolf, was Osama bin Laden.
BLITZER: Carol, do we know why Castro is making this claim right now?
COSTELLO: Well you know, we can only guess. He's been rarely seen in the past 10 months after his intestinal surgery. Some say this is a way to get his voice back into the international debate.
BLITZER: Carol Costello watching the story for us. Meanwhile, the longtime U.S. trade embargo against Cuba is being reconsidered by some people including an unlikely figure, a conservative congressman.
CNN's Morgan Neill is in Havana with details -- Morgan.
MORGAN NEILL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, here in Cuba just about any visitor from the United States is unusual but this week is a congressional delegation here alongside U.S. food producers trying to sell their goods. One visitor in particular stood out.
NEILL (voice-over): Congressman Jack Kingston seems an unlikely visitor to Havana. The conservative Georgia Republican has long supported the U.S. trade embargo but he now sounds like a man open to persuasion.
REP. JACK KINGSTON (R), GEORGIA: Yes, I have been supporting the embargo but I wanted to come down here and learn more, I sense that as time has gone by that the tensions have eased and that the countries probably need to talk now more than ever.
NEILL: Kingston is one of two Republican members of Congress visiting Cuba this week along with three congressional Democrats. Their visit comes as Cuba negotiates new contracts with U.S. food producers.
NEILL: Despite the trade embargo, food sales to the island have been allowed on a cash only basis since the year 2000. U.S. products you can find in Cuba range from apples to crackers to baby food. U.S. food exports peaked at $390 million in 2004 but dropped the next two years to 340 million in 2006.
KIRBY JONES, U.S.-CUBA TRADE ASSOCIATION: I think part of the reason it hasn't been increasing is because of the current restrictions, which make carrying this trade out very difficult.
NEILL: U.S. firms are required to receive payment often through letters of credit before shipping goods to Cuba. One U.S. representative here says that makes it hard on small businesses.
JACK MCGANN, INTERNATIONAL TRADING GROUP, INC.: You're a small supplier, for instance one container, it can add as much as $2,000 to the price, which takes the competitive edge out and makes it extremely difficult.
NEILL: For those here hoping to make sales, there's no hand wringing over easing the U.S. embargo. If they can sell to Cuba, they will. But Congressman Kingston has long supported the embargo as a way of pushing for change in Cuba's government and he's now openly reconsidering.
KINGSTON: From an economic standpoint, it's a no-brainer. From a human rights standpoint, an open market's a little more discussion is needed.
NEILL: This afternoon the round of trade talks officially comes to an end but the debate over the embargo and its effects is likely to be with us for years -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Our man in Havana, Morgan Neill -- Morgan, thank you.
And still ahead tonight right here in THE SITUATION ROOM, Iran and the Taliban. They've been longtime enemies but now they're believed to be teaming up. Is their hatred of the U.S. drawing them together in a deadly new alliance?
And YouTube star graduates from the U.S. Air Force Academy. CNN's Jeanne Moos takes a most unusual look.
Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Let's get some more on our top story right now. The breaking news we've been following an American military helicopter apparently shot down in Afghanistan by a rocket-propelled grenade. U.S. and NATO officials say all seven people onboard are dead. That comes amid new concerns that two longtime enemies are actually teaming up in Afghanistan right now. They're united by their hatred of America. That would be Iran and the Taliban.
Let's go to CNN's Brian Todd. He's looking into this story. Brian, what are you finding?
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we're told that Iran despite its hatred of the Taliban is now willing to arm that group in an effort to strike a blow against the United States.
TODD (voice-over): A U.S. official tells CNN Iran is now providing limited support including weapons to its longtime foe the Taliban, the hard line Islamic militia that is battling U.S. and NATO- led forces in Afghanistan.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (UNINTELLIGIBLE)
TODD: Contacted by CNN about reports that British troops have intercepted sophisticated Iranian weapons headed for the Taliban, the British defense ministry said we know about illegal movements of munitions across the border from Iran to Afghanistan destined for the Taliban. We are concerned that some of these munitions are of Iranian origin. A former U.S. intelligence official calls this a very disturbing development.
BRUCE RIEDEL, FORMER NSC OFFICIAL: That suggests that the Iranians are now going to start turning up the pressure on the NATO forces in Afghanistan. Since Iran has one of the most extensive intelligence networks in the entire country, they would have enormous capability to cause mischief.
TODD: An Iranian official at the United Nations denies his country is giving the Taliban weapons, points out the Iranian government has long supported Afghan President Hamid Karzai and has always seen the Taliban as an enemy. U.S. officials and outside analysts say Iran simply wants to make the U.S. bleed in Afghanistan, does not want the Taliban to gain too much strength there.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Iran and the Taliban nearly went to war in 1998 over the killing of 11 Iranian diplomats in Afghanistan and the Taliban are also virulently anti-Shiite, so if these allegations are true, Iran is playing a very dangerous and delicate game.
TODD: A game of what one analyst calls managed chaos, just enough to bloody America's nose in Afghanistan. Now some analysts believe this may not be coming from the top, possibly from rogue elements within the Iranian regime, but a U.S. official tells us that they believe Iran's supreme leaders certainly have knowledge about these operations and would stop them if they wanted to -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Cause a lot of damage for American and NATO forces in Afghanistan. Brian Todd reporting for us.
There's another story coming in right now from Cuba, from the U.S. base at Guantanamo Bay. Let's go back to Carol Costello in New York. Carol, what's going on?
COSTELLO: Yes, Wolf, just getting word of this. Apparently a Saudi Arabian detainee at Cuba's Guantanamo Bay has committed suicide. The detainee, who was not named, was found unresponsive in his cell by guards. They administered lifesaving techniques but the man died.
Now we don't know exactly how he committed suicide but we know back in June three detainees committed suicide by hanging themselves with clothes and bed sheets, two of them were Saudi Arabian, one was from Yeoman. When we get more information on this incident of course we'll pass it along and of course there is an investigation ongoing now at Guantanamo.
BLITZER: All right, Carol. Thanks very much.
Just ahead, you know his face but you probably don't necessarily know how he became famous. Now that "Law and Order" actor Fred Thompson is a step closer to running for president, we're going to take a closer look at his past.
And his rare and potentially deadly form of tuberculosis has sparked an international health scare. That infected air traveler is now giving his account of the events.
Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Happening now, President Bush says he'll ask Congress for three times the original amount of money to help fund the Bush administration's fight against Aids worldwide. He'll also seek to extend the program another five years.
The United Nations Security Council votes to form an international court to prosecute the assassination of the former Lebanese prime minister -- prime minister that is Rafik al-Hariri. The Lebanese prime minister (UNINTELLIGIBLE) praised the vote at the U.N. Syria condemning it.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
He's played a president in movies. Now Fred Thompson appears to want that job in real life. The "Law and Order" actor and former U.S. senator from Tennessee will take a major step toward a possible run for the White House, sources telling CNN. They say he'll start raising money and hiring staff as early as this Friday. While many Americans know Thompson's famous face, they may not necessarily know what made him so famous.
CNN's Brianna Keilar tells us -- Brianna.
BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Thompson was elected twice to the U.S. Senate, but his political star power stems much more from his acting career and his role in a seminal moment for the Republican Party.
KEILAR (voice-over): This was Fred Thompson's first important role on national television. He was co-chief counsel to the Senate Watergate Committee in the early 1970s. Thompson posed a critical question during the hearings that helped expose the depths of the Watergate scandal and ultimately led to President Richard Nixon's downfall.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (UNINTELLIGIBLE), are you aware of the installation of any listening devices in the Oval Office of the president?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I was aware of listening devices, yes, sir.
KEILAR: Thompson's next claim to fame also involves scandal and paved the way for his film and TV career. He was asked to play himself in the movie "Marie," about a Tennessee Prison Board case he tried that toppled the governor on charges of selling pardons.
THOMPSON: Do you think she lost her job for the reason they gave, or do you think it was because she just didn't play ball?
KEILAR: Thompson became a quintessential character, the face and voice moviegoers recognized in films such as "The Hunt for Red October and "Days of Thunder" even if they weren't sure of his name.
THOMPSON: Russians don't take a dump, son, without a plan.
KEILAR: Big screen recognition was a big asset when Tompson returned to the political arena. He easily won in 1994 special election in Tennessee to finish out Vice President Al Gore's term in the Senate. Thompson was handily re-elected in 1996. While Thompson cast a striking figure in Washington, he was known more for his high profile than for his legislative accomplishments.
When he decided not to run for re-election in 2002, he quickly returned to the entertainment industry.
Thompson landed the role of the new district attorney in the long-running TV series "law & Order." In addition, he's been cast more than once as a president.
KEILAR (on camera): Thompson clearly knows a lot about being in the spotlight, but the red-hot glare of being a presidential candidate is a whole different beast and, as he jumps deeper into the White House race, his political credentials will be put to the test in ways they haven't been before. Wolf?
BLITZER: Brianna, thanks very much. Brianna Keilar reporting. Let's talk more a little bit more now about Fred Thompson and how his potential candidacy is already unsettling some Republicans and some Democrats as well. Joining us now is our chief national correspondent John King. He is in Manchester, New Hampshire. First of all, John, what's the immediate impact of Thompson's deciding to go and run for president?
JOHN KING, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the immediate impact, Wolf, he's trying to put together a campaign team. We are told there was a meeting in Washington, DC, today of what you might call his Washington brain trust, they are putting together a finance operation. They will file the papers for that committee on Monday, we are told. We also are told they are planning as early as July 5th, right after the Fourth of July, for Senator Thompson to declare his candidacy unless for some reason he is convinced not to run.
It is an interesting mix of people, Wolf. You have Mark Carala (ph) who worked with John Ashcroft at the Justice Department, Ken Reits (ph) who goes back to the George H. W. Bush and the Ronald Reagan days, also our old friend at CNN, Mary Matalin was at the meeting today. She is a friend and supporter, but as of now she won't say whether she will have any official role in a Thompson effort.
And also here in New Hampshire, Wolf, supporters of Lamar Alexander, remember he ran for president when he was the governor of Tennessee before he was elected to the United States Senate, he is a Tennessean like Fred Thompson. And former Alexander supporters here in New Hampshire say they are getting calls from supporters of Fred Thompson, so they are clearly trying to move forward as quickly as possible.
BLITZER: He's done relatively well in the national polls even without actually running. Who's hurt the most potentially among the Republican frontrunners?
KING: Each Republican campaign gives you a different answer, Wolf, when you ask. Although some of the top fundraisers for Senator John McCain acknowledge his fundraising, which has been hurting to begin with, would be hurt in the short term at least if Fred Thompson gets in. The other campaigns also say Rudy Giuliani could suffer somewhat because he has been the star of this campaign, if you will, the former mayor of New York, with the 9/11 star quality to him.
But also many in the pro-family, the social conservative movement who have begun to move towards Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney say they're not convinced that he is certainly with them on those issues and they're looking for somebody else. So the McCain camp thinks that Romney will suffer. It again depends on who you ask. But there is no question it would shake up a republican race that has 10 candidates, Wolf, and is likely to get one more pretty soon.
BLITZER: And maybe Newt Gingrich is waiting down the road as well. We'll see what he decides to do in the next few months as well. John is already up in New Hampshire. Thanks, John, very much. It's the most wide open early starting thriller of a presidential race at least in recent memory.
Many voters are eager to have their voices heard loud and clear. Our Dana Bash has been talking to people in the leadoff primary state in New Hampshire. She is on the scene for us. Dana, what do they say?
DANA BASH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the first thing voters do, Wolf, is remind you there are still seven months until the first in the nation primary here in New Hampshire. In the next breath it'll talk to you about what they think because here in New Hampshire it is never too early to talk politics.
(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)
BASH (voice-over): Spring in New Hampshire, fans out to cheer on their minor league baseball team. Talk to anyone in the stands here, and you will also find an expert on the sport of politics.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I like Mitt Romney.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hillary.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Giuliani.
BASH: What issues are most important?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The war in Iraq.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The war.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Iraq war.
BASH: But there's also this.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm as ambivalent about the war as everyone else is. We're sort of dulled to it now. It is what it is. We have to be there. We will be there as long as it takes.
BASH: And this.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you are any viable candidate, you're going to be against the war in Iraq. Otherwise, you're going to lose a lot of votes.
BASH: And you're a Republican.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm a registered proud-to-be Republican.
BASH: More and more, New Hampshire voters are concerned about the home front, like health care. This father of five is uninsured.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I, myself, have experienced, you know, getting ready to get operations and not being able to get the operation because of lack of insurance, not being able to come up with several thousand dollars to pay up front.
BASH: This mother of two worries about affordable education.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: State schools, especially in New England, are like -- something like $15,000 to $20,000 for your child to go to college. I mean, that's ridiculous. I mean, I make very good money, but that will still be tough on my income to send two kids to college.
BASH: Which candidates do they like? Most Democrats say they're still shopping, but impressed with their options.
As for Republicans, a national CNN/Opinion Research poll showed only one in five Is very satisfied with GOP candidates.
It's not unusual to hear this.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm rooting for Fred Thompson to get in there, I think.
BASH: No matter the party, Granite State voters are looking for a winner.
And, here, they found one -- the New Hampshire Fisher Cats.
BASH (on camera): And spring and summer baseball will, of course, give way to winter by the time the New Hampshire primary rolls around and any seasoned voter here will tell you anything can alter the political universe between now and then, Wolf.
All right, Dana, thanks very much. We'll see you in a couple of days up in New Hampshire. Don't forget we're gearing up for big debates there in the Granite State. CNN, WMUR and "The New Hampshire Union Leader," we're sponsoring back-to-back debates next week. The Democratic candidates square off this Sunday, June 3rd, 7:00 p.m. Eastern. The Republicans go head-to-head Tuesday, June 5th, 7:00 p.m. Eastern. Each debate two hours uninterrupted by commercials. You won't want to miss either one.
Still ahead tonight, the man at the center of the T.B. scare in the skies and the patient who may have exposed dozens of fellow passengers is now telling his side of the story.
And it's graduation time for an Air Force cadet who danced his way into the hearts of many video fans. Stay with us.
BLITZER: We're learning new details tonight about the Georgia man with a severe drug resistant form of tuberculosis who flew to Europe and back, possibly infecting fellow passengers. Right now he's being held in isolation in Atlanta under federal law and he's also speaking out, though, publicly for the first time with his side of the story.
Jeanne Meserve is watching part of the story, she's here in Washington. There are serious ramifications as far as homeland security is concerned. But let's go to Mary Snow first with some new details. What are federal officials, health officials, Mary, saying?
MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, about his condition, health officials are saying the T.B. patient is said to be feeling well with no symptoms and it's believed he is not highly infectious. Now they are also differing on some of the details of what the patient says led him to sneak back into the United States.
SNOW (voice-over): The tuberculosis patient currently in isolation isn't identifying himself. He told "The Atlanta Journal- Constitution" in a phone interview that health officials preferred he didn't travel but ...
ALISON YOUNG, "ATLANTA-JOURNAL CONSTITUTION": He says they told him prior to the call in Atlanta no one had told him to take precautions or to isolate him seven.
SNOW: The Centers for Disease Control disputes that and so does the medical director of the Fulton County Health Department who told CNN that ...
DR. ERIC BENNING, FULTON COUNTY, GEORGIA HEALTH DEPT.: We did tell him in no uncertain terms he should not travel and we told him the reasons why. And we concurred in that with his personal physician.
SNOW: The infected man flew through Paris to Greece to get married and went on to honeymoon in Rome. It was there he said that the CDC told him to turn himself over to Italian health authorities.
YOUNG: He was very concerned that this would make it impossible for him to have some cutting edge treatment in Denver that was planned and he said he feared for his life and so he ran.
SNOW: He told the "Atlanta Journal-Constitution" he fled because he was on the no-fly list and didn't think he could get on a plane bound for the U.S. The article quotes him as saying the CDC didn't have a money to provide a jet. The CDC says talks were under way about his return.
DR. MARTIN CETRON, CENTERS FOR DISEASE CONTROL: That would require some time. We indicated a couple of places where he could reach out and get some assistance including the American Embassy.
SNOW: But the man left for Prague and got on the flight to Montreal, Canada, drove into the United States and went to Bellevue Hospital in New York City before being transported to Atlanta.
SNOW (on camera): And health officials say his next stop will be in Denver where he's expected to undergo treatment at a specialized medical center. Wolf?
BLITZER: Mary, what about the passengers who were on those flights? What's their status?
SNOW: Well, the CDC says it's just now beginning to find those passengers. It says it's really looking for about 80 people who are believed to be most at risk, even though this patient took seven flights. The CDC is focusing on two flights that lasted more than eight hours because they feel those people are most at risk.
BLITZER: Mary Snow is watching this part of the story. Meanwhile, there are serious new concerns tonight about how that man managed to slip back into the United States undetected despite federal efforts to track him down. Let's bring in our homeland security correspondent Jeanne Meserve. Jeanne, what are they saying?
JEANNE MESERVE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, Customs and Border Protection knew authorities were on the lookout for the man infected with tuberculosis but he re-entered the U.S. undetected and, as you mentioned, it raises questions about border security.
MESERVE (voice over): The man with tuberculosis slipped out of Rome on Wednesday, May 23rd. He tells the "Atlanta Journal- Constitution" he intentionally alluded authorities after being told his name was on the no-fly list and his passport flagged. Health authorities say they immediately tried to find him.
DR. MARTIN CETRON, CDC: We reached out on Thursday afternoon to federal partners to see what options there were to get help in identifying where the individual may be, and what we could do to alert potentially folks at international airports so they would let us know if they had found him.
MESERVE: But it was too late. The individual was already on a Czech Air flight from Prague to Montreal.
He then traveled by car from Montreal to the Champlain border crossing in New York. But the man had bought another airplane ticket on a later June 5th Air France flight from Europe to Atlanta, according to a homeland official.
Based on that, Customs and Border Protection had already been asked to look out for the individual and isolate him. Although the information had been disseminated to all air, land and sea ports of entry, including the one in Champlain, the man was not stopped.
MESERVE (on camera): A U.S. citizen doesn't have to show a passport when crossing the U.S.-Canadian border and homeland security officials say the T.B.-infected man might have willfully deceived border officials, but they are also investigating whether a CBP officer messed up and the matter has been referred to DHS internal affairs, and the department's inspector general. Wolf?
BLITZER: So based on what we know now, Jeanne, is this man in any legal trouble? MESERVE: Well, the CDC says they're not viewing this in legal terms and the Department of Homeland Security won't even consider that question yet. They are still trying to dig to the bottom of exactly what happened here.
And they aren't the only ones looking at it. The House Homeland Security Committee says it will be holding a hearing next Wednesday to ask questions about how this man entered the country.
BLITZER: Lots of good questions that have to be asked. Jeanne, thanks for that report.
Up ahead here in THE SITUATION ROOM, battening down the hatches. The threatening storm of the '07 hurricane season takes aim at a popular resort.
And later, off he goes into the wild blue yonder. The dancing cadet gets his marching orders as Jeanne Moos will show us, he's a "Moost Unusual" military graduate. Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Carol Costello monitoring stories incoming to THE SITUATION ROOM right now. Carol joining us again. Carol, what do you have?
CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: A couple of things, Wolf. Tropical Storm Barbara is swirling toward Mexico. The National Hurricane Center in Miami expects Barbara to reach hurricane strength within two days. It was expected to hit Acapulco but now it's expected to hit further south on Monday. Of course we'll follow this.
Federal investigators say faulty maintenance and weak government oversight are to blame for a Florida seaplane crash that killed 20 people in 2005. A Chalk Ocean Airways lost its right wing on takeoff for the Bahamas from Miami. Investigators say they detected numerous maintenance related problems on the plane and another aircraft. Their report also says the Federal Aviation Administration failed to detect the maintenance shortfalls.
California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger is in Canada on a three-day trade mission. He met in Toronto today with Ontario premier Dalton McGinty. The pair signed an agreement to coordinate policies to reduce greenhouse gases from cars and trucks. They also signed a pact supporting stem cell research.
Schwarzenegger flies to Vancouver, British Columbia tomorrow.
And after more than two weeks in the Sacramento River, those two lost whales are nowhere to be found and that is a great thing. Scientists hope they slipped back into the Pacific Ocean overnight. The mother humpback whale and her calf have not been seen for a full day. They had wandered from the ocean as far inland as 90 miles. Rescuers feared that if they could not be coaxed back to sea, they would die. But it appears, Wolf, they're somewhere out there in the Pacific.
BLITZER: Let's hope they are and let's hope they have a good time out there. Carol, thanks very much. Jack Cafferty is in New York. I know you were worried about those two whales, weren't you, Jack?
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Let's just hope we don't hear anymore about them. I'm tired of hearing about the whales. I hope they're happy, I hope they're back in the Pacific, and we can find -- stop that. Just stop that.
BLITZER: A lot of viewer interest in those whales.
BLITZER: A lot of people were interested in those whales.
CAFFERTY: Fine. Well, it's over now. So deal with it.
CAFFERTY: Our question this hour is what does it say about our country when a state government sets up an anti-obesity agency using taxpayer dollars? He tried to say.
Doug writes from Georgia, "It means the government is addressing a serious health problem. I thought that's the kind of thing governments are supposed to do."
Alex in Michigan. "I can think of no better investment than a state agency to combat obesity. Obesity contributed to over 300,000 deaths in the U.S., one of the leading preventable causes of death and disability in the United States. The New Jersey agency will cost probably less than one hour of the misguided debacle in Iraq."
Derek in Houston, "When a state government uses taxpayer dollars to fund an anti-obesity agency," why can't I say obesity? "Obesity agency, we're looking straight ahead to freeing parents from their basic responsibilities of taking care of their kid's health."
Bob in Georgia. "Jack, this has nothing to do with our health. The insurance companies don't want to pay for the health problems that come with obesity so they greased the right palms with enough money to get the government involved. It's just like the seatbelt laws. No one cares about you personally, just about how much they might have to spend on you."
Tony in Pennsylvania, "It says the government is trying to help the people of the state. Unfortunately it's doomed to failure. Until scientists come up with a cure for laziness which will get people off their duffs, the population of the U.S. is going to continue getting fatter and fatter. The people in this country have simply gone soft."
"Taxpayer dollars," writes Nora in New York, "would be better spent to fight poverty. The poorer the people, the more obese they are. It's cheaper to buy fast food than good, nutritious low-fat food. It's the well-to-do that work out in health clubs. Let's fund anti-poverty programs and low cost childcare to fight obesity."
Chip says, "I'm OK with the idea as long it's just a room, a coffee make and some chairs. You know, like an AA meeting."
And Haakon in Yokosuka, Japan. "Mr. Cafferty, when the government sets up an anti-obesity program, that fat has come full circle, as our bloated, pork-laden government becomes ever more representative of the bloated, pork-laden people."
Of course I could get down a bit more myself. If you didn't see your e-mail here, go to cnn/caffertyfile where we post more of them along with video clips of the "Cafferty File" and absolutely no video of those insipid whales.
BLITZER: It's interesting. It's great our viewers in Japan -- we're seen in Japan on CNN-J they're writing to you, watching. We're happy about that.
CAFFERTY: We are happy about that. We encourage viewers wherever we can get them. We're not too proud to grovel and we invite those of you in Japan to go knock on your neighbor's door and urge them to watch THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: And I could be wrong but I don't think they have the obesity problem there that we have here.
CAFFERTY: Why is that? Fish diet maybe? But that's absolutely true. They don't have that. They don't have the fast food, I guess, that we have here.
BLITZER: Jack, see you tomorrow. Thanks very much.
BLITZER: Let's check in with Paula to see what's coming up right at the top of the hour. Hi, Paula.
PAULA ZAHN, CNN HOST: Hi, Wolf, thanks. Appreciate it, coming up I'm going to be talking with one much the passengers who was on the same plane as the man who is now under quarantine for a deadly form of tuberculosis.
Also "Out in the Open" tonight presidential candidate Hillary Clinton in tonight's hottest party for Hollywood's A-list. Does Hollywood have too much political clout? Well, a new survey out has some surprising numbers about that, Wolf. We'll share that with you at the top of the hour.
BLITZER: Sounds good, Paula. Thanks very much. PAULA ZAHN NOW. That starts right at 8:00 p.m. Eastern. Up ahead here in THE SITUATION ROOM, he became famous as something of a dancing fool. Now he's a U.S. Air Force Academy grad who is proud of his YouTube moves. You're going to want to see this. Jeanne Moos with a "Moost Unusual" report.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: A dancing cadet caught the attention of the secretary of defense today over at the U.S. Air Force Academy's graduation. CNN's Jeanne Moos has this "Moost Unusual" look.
JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): On graduation day at the Air Force Academy, you'd think this would be the climax for every cadet. But for one cadet, now second lieutenant, this was the climax. Even the secretary of defense, Robert Gates, brought it up in his commencement address.
ROBERT GATES, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: To learn about the dangers of dancing alone in your dorm room and, yes, I've seen the video.
MOOS: That would be this video.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Just about every day it seems I walk into this room and catch my roommate dancing to some retarded song.
MOOS: Back when they were sophomores Brian Stoopes installed a hidden camera in his dorm room to capture his roommate's gyrations when he thought he was all alone.
Jeff Pelehac boogied his way to Air Force Academy immortality. Everyone said to him ...
JEFF PELEHAC, DANCING CADET: You're the dancing cadet.
MOOS: He became a smash hit on YouTube. He made the news repeatedly, he even made it on to the "Maury Povich Show."
MAURY POVICH, TALK SHOW HOST: Everybody dance now.
MOOS: The audience loved him. No need to blur his face anymore. Jeff is practically famous.
PELEHAC: It's two years later and I'm still having fun with it.
MOOS: The head of the Joint Chiefs gave Jeff and Brian medallions for improving academy morale. It was named best viral video of 2005 by salon.com. For some, the best part was when the jig was up.
One viral video breeds another. This is the Air Force Academy's mascot. While most of the graduates Wednesday were jumping for joy and enjoying cigars, Second Lieutenant Jeff Pelehac was taking no offense to the words of the defense secretary.
GATES: Don't give up your day job.
MOOS: While on YouTube his moves are appreciate. "White boy actually ain't bad" is a typical comment.
(on camera): So the next time your mirror beckons you to bust a move, remember the Dancing Cadet. (voice-over): Jeff plans to be a civil engineer. So while he may never be a top gun, he'll forever be top fun. Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.
BLITZER: Congratulations to all the graduates. Let's go to Paula in New York. Paula?
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