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THE SITUATION ROOM
Earthquake in Guatemala; White House Insiders Slapped with Subpoenas; Interview with Shibley Telhami; White House Counselor Replacement.
Aired June 13, 2007 - 19:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, HOST: Happening now, Middle East meltdown. Deadly new explosions of violence in Iraq, and in Lebanon, and among Palestinians. Tonight, growing fears of a region engulfed by civil war.
Also this hour, two former White House insiders slapped with subpoenas. Congress wants answers about the firing of those federal prosecutors. E-mails are offering a new glimpse of anger and anxiety when the scandal broke.
And grounded. Major flight delays caused by storms may just be the tip of the iceberg. Will it be a frustrating summer for air travelers?
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Tonight, many people in and involved with Iraq are very, very worried. They fear a new tidal wave of retaliation and revenge killings could come after a repeat of one of the most provocative acts in Iraq. A revered Shiite holy place was bombed once again today, possibly locking Shiites and Sunnis into a deadly new embrace of violence.
CNN's Paula Hancocks is in Baghdad -- Paula.
PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, there's a curfew in Baghdad and in Samarra tonight, the Iraqi government's attempt to try and calm an increasingly tense situation after one of the holiest Shiite Muslim shrines has been bombed for a second time.
HANCOCKS (voice-over): This is all that remains of the Askariya Mosque in Samarra. An early morning attack reduced the two minarets to rubble -- militants forcing their way into the compound and detonating their explosives.
The Golden Dome of this holy Shiite shrine destroyed in a similar attack in February of last year. That assault sparked 16 months of intense sectarian violence in Iraq. Tens of thousands of Iraqis have been killed since.
The fear now is that today's attack will make a desperate situation worse. Iraqi and U.S. officials have been quick to blame Al Qaeda. NOURI AL-MALIKI, IRAQI PRIME MINISTER (through translator): We should have a reaction, and we must have a strong reaction. But it has to be against those who stand with the Saddamists, the terrorists and Al Qaeda organization. And that the hands of all of the civilians should be with the security forces in order to face all of the challenges ahead of us.
HANCOCKS: But according to U.S. General Benjamin Mixon, some of those security forces were likely involved in the attack. The general told CNN it looks like an inside job, the explosives smuggled in. Fifteen members of the Iraqi security forces have been arrested.
Iraq's most prominent Shia cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al- Sistani, condemned the attack, urging Iraqis not to respond with violence. Muqtada al-Sadr, the radical Shiite cleric, also called for calm, but added: "The invisible hand of the occupiers was to blame."
The streets of Baghdad are nearly empty -- a curfew in place both here and in Samarra to try and control the tension.
HANCOCKS: There's already been some sign of retaliation. The Interior Ministry tells us that there have been three Sunni mosques attacked in and around Baghdad -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Paula Hancocks in Baghdad, thanks.
Then and now, the destruction of the Samarra shrine may symbolize what has happened to Iraq over the past few years. Here, you can see the Askariya mosque's Golden Dome as it stood in February 2004.
Here is what was left back in February 2006, after the first attack, which accelerated Iraq's sectarian slaughter. Two minarets, or towers, were left standing, along with the watchtower, highlighted here.
And here is what the shrine looks like after today's bombing. You can see that watchtower is the only part left standing. The shrine, one of Shia Islam's holiest, has existed since the 10th century. Its mausoleum houses the remains of revered imams, both said to be direct descendants of the Prophet Mohammed.
Tonight, President Bush is condemning a new explosion of violence in Lebanon and vowing the U.S. will stand behind the government in Beirut. A Lebanese lawmaker, very prominent lawmaker, was killed along with nine other people in a massive blast in western Beirut. The anti-Syrian parliament member apparently was the target of assassins.
CNN's Brent Sadler is in Beirut -- Brent.
BRENT SADLER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, a powerful blast shook the mostly Muslim sector of West Beirut, killing a strident voice in the anti-Syrian block of parliamentary majority leader Saad Hariri, whose own father, Rafik Hariri, a former five-time prime minister, was killed in a similar-style attack two plus years ago.
Lebanese MP Walid Eido, the chairman of the Parliamentary Defense Committee, died with his son and two bodyguards, along with many others in what security sources here say was an exploding four-wheel drive vehicle packed with explosives, detonated by remote control.
The aftermath of the explosion was a shocking reminder of the Hariri assassination itself. Vehicles ablaze, charred bodies lying in the wreckage, while bloodied victims were carried away by rescuers.
It was the deadliest bomb attack in Lebanon since Hariri's assassination, although a series of less lethal blasts have hit Lebanon this past month alone.
Eido was the third anti-Syrian MP to be killed in a bomb attack like this over the past 18 months or so, and his killing was quickly condemned by the White House, which strongly backs the government of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora.
In a news conference, Saad Hariri said the assassination was carried out, quote, "by the same evil fingers and same evil apparatus," end quote, that killed his father and the other anti- Syrian lawmakers.
Meanwhile, many Lebanese express deepening fears here that Lebanon is in the grips of violence that could escalate still further and on multiple fronts -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Brent Sadler in the Lebanese capital for us, situation heating up dramatically there as well.
Let's go to New York and Jack Cafferty for "The Cafferty File."
This region seems to be exploding in a really, really awful way, Jack.
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: It's a little scary to think about where this could lead if it really gets out of hand.
Meanwhile, back here at home, the investigation into the firings of those eight U.S. attorneys, the federal prosecutors, was ratcheted up a notch today. The Senate and House Judiciary Committees are now issuing subpoenas for Harriet Miers, the former White House counsel and President Bush's former personal lawyer, and Sara Taylor, the former political director and key deputy to Karl Rove.
You may recall a while back, the committees tried to get both Rove and Miers to testify at hearings, but the White House instead refused, and one of them interviewed in private, without being under oath and without a transcript. This is the Bush administration's definition of government transparency.
A White House spokeswoman, Dana Perino, says the committees can get the information they want by, quote, "accepting our offer for documents and interviews," unquote. She added that Senator Leahy and Representative Conyers are, quote, "more interested in drama than facts."
Well, it doesn't look like Leahy or Conyers, the chairmen of the two Judiciary Committees, are going to back down. Leahy said this: "The White House can't have it both ways. It can't stonewall congressional investigations by refusing to provide documents and witnesses, while at the same time claiming nothing improper occurred."
And Conyers said this investigation will not end until the White House complies with the subpoena requests.
Meanwhile, two Democratic congressional sources told CNN today they have not subpoenaed Karl Rove yet, because they want to hear first from less senior witnesses, get information from the bottom up, so to speak.
So here is the question. Where will congressional subpoenas of Harriet Miers and the top White House political adviser ultimately lead? Email caffertyfile@CNN.com or go to CNN.com/caffertyfile. The drama is increasing, Wolf.
BLITZER: It certainly is, Jack. Thank you, Jack Cafferty. We'll get back to him shortly.
Coming up, more on the situation in the Middle East as a cauldron of civil war. Has the Bush administration contributed to the crisis?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There was a strategy to weaken central authority of governments we didn't like. And that has unleashed anarchy.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: We're going to discuss a region in turmoil and the stakes. There are enormous stakes for the United States.
Plus, as Jack just mentioned, two former White House aides subpoenaed by Congress. As the federal prosecutor flap intensifies, we're getting new glimpses into the Bush administration's anxiety.
And massive raid. Targeting illegal immigrants and the company they work for. Is it a victory for homeland security or is it a tragedy? Stay with us here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Congressional investigators today stepped up the pressure on the White House in connection to the firings of those eight U.S. attorneys. They issued subpoenas for former White House Counsel Harriet Miers, the former White House political director Sara Taylor. The administration says it's nothing more than political theater and that newly released e-mail there show there was no wrongdoing.
Let's get some more, though, from Brian Todd. He is combing through all of these e-mails. Brian, what have you found?
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we get a new window into White House anger and anxiety as the attorney firing scandal was revealed to the public.
(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)
SARA TAYLOR, FORMER WHITE HOUSE POLITICAL DIRECTOR: My running mate when I ran for...
TODD (voice-over): The e-mails show then White House political director Sara Taylor, a key deputy of Karl Rove's, furious over one exchange in Senate testimony when Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty answered a question about the firing of Arkansas U.S. Attorney Bud Cummings.
SEN. CHARLES SCHUMER (D), NEW YORK: Bud Cummings has said that he was told he had done nothing wrong and he was simply being asked to resign to let someone else have the job. Does he have it right?
PAUL MCNULTY, DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL: I accept that as being accurate, as best I know the facts.
TODD: Days later, Sara Taylor fires off e-mails to Kyle Sampson, then chief of staff to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.
"Why would McNulty say this?," Taylor writes. "This has been so poorly handled on the part of DOJ. McNulty refuses to say Bud is lazy, which is why we got rid of him in the first place."
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: At a minimum, these e- mails suggest that the White House was intimately involved in damage control once the U.S. attorney fallout started to hit. They also suggest that the White House was involved in deciding who got fired and why.
TODD: A White House spokesman says the e-mail doesn't show any more White House involvement than it's already divulged, and there's no evidence of any wrongdoing.
Contacted by CNN, Bud Cummings said he's never even met Sara Taylor and...
BUD CUMMINS, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY, ARKANSAS: I may be dumb, but I'm not lazy. Nobody had ever brought an issue like that to my attention about me or the office.
TODD: Experts say the Justice Department should have stuck to one explanation -- these were political appointees and the White House wanted a change.
NOEL FRANCISCO, FORMER ASSOCIATE WHITE HOUSE COUNSEL: Once they moved beyond that, to actually starting to criticize these individual attorneys, these attorneys had no choice but to speak out and but to respond. And that's when you really started to see the problems arise. (END VIDEOTAPE)
TODD: Bud Cummings was removed as U.S. attorney in Arkansas to make way for Tim Griffin, another former aide to Karl Rove. In one of those e-mails, Sara Taylor accuses Justice officials of hanging Griffin out to dry, saying it's not good for his long-term career.
Tim Griffin has since left that job in Arkansas -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Brian Todd, thanks very much.
And tonight, by the way, there is some striking new evidence of a nation disillusioned by government and anxious, very anxious, about the future.
Take a look at this. A new NBC News-"Wall Street Journal" poll that's just come out shows only 19 percent of Americans say the country is on the right track. That's nearly a 15-year low. President Bush's approval rating is down to 29 percent. That's the lowest level ever for this survey. Posters say more Republicans now are abandoning the president.
But the Democratic-led Congress, get this, has an even lower approval rating. It's plummeted to just 23 percent in this new poll.
There are also some new questions about Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama's ties to a Chicago developer. Tony Rezko is a former Obama supporter and donor now under federal indictment. A published report says Obama once wrote letters in support of Rezko development, while Obama was serving in the state Senate.
CNN's Keith Oppenheim is watching this story for us. Keith is joining us now live.
Keith, update our viewers who are not familiar with what's going on. What's going on? Because in Chicago, at least, this has been an uproar of sorts.
KEITH OPPENHEIM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It has. And really -- there are a couple of possibilities as to what this could mean for Obama's campaign. One is that all this about Tony Rezko and his connections to him just may be a slight tarnish to Obama's reputation, if at all. But a bad scenario for Senator Obama is that this story could be an ongoing liability, one that could really put the candidate's credibility into question.
OPPENHEIM (voice-over): In Chicago politics, Tony Rezko has been someone to know, a player in real estate. He has known Barack Obama for 17 years and contributed thousands to his numerous campaigns.
Last year, Rezko was indicted by a federal grand jury, accused of demanding kickbacks from companies that want to do business with the state. Rezko pleaded not guilty. But while Rezko was under investigation, Obama bought a house in Chicago in a sliver of the property next door owned by Rezko's wife. Jay Stewart is the director of a Chicago watchdog group called the Better Government Association.
JAY STEWART, BETTER GOVERNMENT ASSOCIATION: That raised a lot of eyebrows. Not the transaction itself, but the fact that at that point, everybody in Illinois knew Tony Rezko was being looked at by the federal government.
OPPENHEIM: Obama tried to put the matter to rest last December, when he told the "Chicago Tribune," regarding Tony Rezko, "I've never done any favors for him."
Today, "The Chicago Sun Times" produced a 1998 letter which the paper said suggests otherwise. Obama, who was then a state senator, wrote to city officials on behalf of one of Rezko's real estate deals to build a senior citizens complex on Chicago's South Side. Campaign press secretary Bill Burton told "The Sun Times", "This wasn't done as a favor for anyone. It was done in the interest of the people in the community, who have benefited from the project."
Burton told CNN, "The fact of the matter is, Obama has led a career fighting for the toughest possible ethics reforms in government. This sort of thing isn't a worry to us."
The question is, is there more to Obama's relationship with Tony Rezko that could become a distraction?
OPPENHEIM: Wolf, Senator Obama has been trying pretty hard to distance himself from Tony Rezko. Last week, his campaign donated $23,000 in charity -- that's money that came from three of Rezko's business associates. Now, last year, the campaign donated $11,000 in charity. That's money that came directly from Tony Rezko. Back to you, Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, thanks very much, Keith Oppenheim, watching this story in Chicago for us.
Still ahead tonight, right here in THE SITUATION ROOM, a massive earthquake strikes near Guatemala, and it's raising fears of devastation and disaster. We're going to have a full report.
And before you take your next flight, you're going to want to see this story. Experts now fear various problems could cause some of the worst flight delays ever. Mary Snow is watching this story. We'll be right back.
BLITZER: A major earthquake struck just off the coast of Guatemala late this afternoon. We're closely monitoring the aftermath. Our Meteorologist, Chad Myers, is following it for us. Chad? CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Wolf, a very strong earthquake, 6.8. But the good news is, this earthquake was, in fact, very deep as well. Almost like shouting through a pillow. It doesn't come out quite as strong as if it would have been right up at the surface. Most of the most deadly and tsunami producing earthquakes are closer to the surface of the ocean and then obviously, you get a bigger shake.
It was also offshore, about 70 miles from Guatemala City. Right there, that little orange dot. That was this day, a couple of hours ago. As it was shaking, there we go, U.S. geological survey, 6.8 offshore of Guatemala. And San Jose, right there.
Take you to another place, this is Midway Island. You have to think, this is thousands of miles away. But this earthquake actually shook the recorder at Midway Island. Now, it shook the recorder somewhere after 3:30, even though the earthquake was 3:29. Because it took a long time to get all the way across the Pacific before the shaking was felt. And you could see it off the chart. Wolf?
BLITZER: That's amazing stuff and I were going to be getting some pictures presumably, fairly soon on what happened in Guatemala. We will share them with you once we get them. In the meantime, let's bring in Carol Costello, she's monitoring some other stories incoming into the SITUATION ROOM. Right no, what do you have, Carol?
CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, there's a new member of the White House inner circle, Ed Gillepsie is replacing Dan Bartlett as White House counselor. He's a high-profile lobbyist and the former head of the National GOP. He will begin his new job on June 27th.
Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign is picking up some Hollywood star power. Film Producer and Director, Steven Spielberg announced today he is endorsing Hillary Clinton. Spielberg has been a supporter and contributor to senator Clinton in the past. But, his support for her presidential bid wasn't always certain. Back in February, he co-hosted a fund raiser for Barak Obama.
Work on a solar wing for the international space station is finished for the day. During a space walk, the Atlantis astronauts helped put a 115 foot solar wing away in a storage box. The solar wing needs to be folded to make way for a new set of solar panels that will generate electrical power for the space station.
And two escaped inmates are back in custody in northwestern Montana. And one of them, Kelly Frank, was once accused of plotting to kidnap Talk show Host, David Letterman's son and his nanny, in a ransom scheme.
Frank was arrested today at a house along a highway after six days on the run. Several hours later, a Mesula (ph) county SWAT team arrested the other fugitive, William Willcutt. Back to you, Wolf.
BLITZER: Thank you, Carol. Check back with you shortly.
Just ahead, a very dire assessment of the war.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If I were an American policy maker today, I would say our chances of success in Iraq are very close to zero.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
That coming from Middle East expert Shibley Telhami, at the Brookings Institution. I'll speak with him. And pulled from work and facing deportation, a fresh chapter in the emotional battle over immigration reform.
And why is Dan Rather speaking out against his former employer? Howard Kurtz standing by with a report on that. Stay with us. You're in the SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: To our viewers, you're in the SITUATION ROOM. Happening now, the U.S. accuses Iran of funneling weapons to the Taliban inside Afghanistan. A U.S. diplomat says the evidence is, quote, "irrefutable."
New numbers on the dangers of being an Iraqi police officer. An estimated 8,000 to 10,000 Iraqi police are believed to have been killed in the line of duty. Another 13,000 are unaccounted for or have deserted the force.
And learning the lessons of the Virginia Tech shootings, a new government report says a web of privacy laws and red tape make it extremely hard to keep tabs on potentially dangerous students. The report calls for better information sharing among schools and government agencies. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in the SITUATION ROOM.
The bloody factional fighting in Gaza shows no signs of easing. Islamic militants from Hamas took control of the southern town of Haunas (ph) today after detonating a one-ton bomb underneath the security headquarters of the rival Fatah group. And as Hamas launched a furious offensive in Gaza City, Palestinians took to the streets demanding an end to the fighting. Gunmen opened fire on them. At least 15 people were killed in the various incidents today. Let's bring in our State Department Correspondent, Zain Verjee. Zain?
ZAIN VERJEE, STATE DEPARTMENT CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, three conflicts could be headed to three civil wars.
(voice over): Hamas using its fire power in an apparent power grab for Gaza. Seizing its Fatah rivals, loyal to President Mahmud Abbas. As Palestinian on Palestinian bloodshed increased, the U.S. is squarely backing one side.
SEAN MCCORMACK, STATE DEPT. SPOKESMAN: We are continuing to support President Abbas. VERGEE: The State Department says the U.S. is giving Abbas around 60 million in military training and equipment to beef up his forces in his struggle against Hamas.
Some Mid East experts say Washington's support has fuelled tensions among Palestinians. Others say the right moves by the U.S. could help its damaged image worldwide.
AARON DAVID MILLER, WOODROW WILSON INTL. CTR.: The administration really decided to be tough and smart, at least on the Arab Israeli issue, I think they could change much of that. But it would require an enormous amount of will and leadership.
VERGEE: Palestinian leaders fear their conflict will fuel a series of civil wars brewing in the Middle East.
SAEB ERAKAT, CHIEF PALESTINIAN NEGOTIATOR: What's happening in Gaza could be part of what we are about to witness, the eye of the storm coming to this region.
VERJEE: Underlined by today's deadly bombings in Beirut and Samarra.
AARON DAVID MILLER, WOODROW WILSON INTERNATIONAL CENTER: I've never seen the situation more grim than it is today. Everything, almost in every corner of this region seems to be heading south in a way that will bring consequential changes, which will damage American interests.
VERJEE (on camera): The State Department spokesman says whether it's Iraq, Lebanon or the Palestinian territories, U.S. policy is to fight people who want to destroy democracy and freedom. Wolf?
BLITZER: Zain Verjee, reporting from the State Department. And amid the violence, a secret report critical of U.S. involvement now revealed.
According to the British newspaper "The Guardian," it was written by the United Nations Middle East Alvaro de Soto, reportedly says U.S. involvement has reduced UN's role as a partial Mid East negotiator.
His report also calls Middle East negotiators from the U.S., the European Union and Russia and the UN a, quote, "side show." Alvaro recently left his job at the United Nations. This was his final report. The UN Secretary General Ban-Ki Moon says the report only reflects de Soto's personal views and not those of the United Nations.
BLITZER: Joining us now to talk about the various hot spots in the region is Shibley Telhami of the University of Maryland and the Brookings Institution. He's the author of the book "The Stakes: America and the Middle East".
That's what I want to talk to you about, Shibley, the stakes, because the stakes for the United States are enormous right now.
A lot of people around the world like to blame the United States to begin with. But how much blame should the U.S. have for the violence not only in Iraq, but in Lebanon, in Gaza, and elsewhere in the region? How much can you pin on the U.S., as opposed to what these people are simply doing to themselves?
SHIBLEY TELHAMI, BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: Look, the Bush administration did say from the beginning when it went to Iraq there's going to be huge impact across the region. There's going to be a domino effect.
They were saying that there were going to be a linkage of issues, that other countries were going to be affected. They just predicted the wrong way.
And so this is not surprising that people are saying in large part this is because of Iraq. It's not so much directly out of the Iraq situation. It is that there was a strategy to weaken central authority governments we didn't like, and that has unleashed anarchy in many places.
BLITZER: So when anti-Syrian parliamentarians in Lebanon are assassinated, whether Rafik Hariri, or just another one today, I'm having trouble understanding the jump from what's happening in Iraq to what's happening internally in Lebanon.
TELHAMI: No, let's get straight here. There are regional issues that have nothing to do with the U.S. Within the Palestinian areas, Hamas and Fatah have been in conflict from the beginning, frankly. Certainly in Lebanon there's been civil conflict. They've had a civil war in the past.
In Iraq there's sectarianism. Maybe it's been in house, but there was always some sectarianism, not on this scale.
The question isn't that. The question is, why does this go into head-to-head conflict? Why does it succeed? Why does it intensify at some points in history?
And that has to do much more with the permissiveness of this system, the permissiveness of the structure. So we've had a situation in the Palestinian areas where, sure, the Palestinians are responsible for what's happening on their own territory. But frankly, the options have been extremely limited, particularly after the election of Hamas, which the U.S. helped engineer, anyway.
BLITZER: By letting Hamas run in those elections.
TELHAMI: Run in those elections. The elections were held at a particular time.
Well, if you're going to do that, then you have to have a strategy to deal with Hamas winning. And the immediate strategy was, instead of giving them space to be tested to see if they could moderate, to see if a national unity government could emerge, the immediate strategy was to bring them down. And this de Soto report obviously is in part tied to that because the frustration has been that the Europeans jumped on that bandwagon of cornering Hamas, and what you have is something that was almost inevitable.
BLITZER: Because he writes, Alvaro de Soto, the outgoing U.N. Middle East envoy, he says, "The fact is that even-handedness has been pummeled into submission in an unprecedented way since the beginning of 2007."
I take it you agree with him?
TELHAMI: Well, I don't know whether it's a direct impact of the -- I think there's no question that the quartet has been marginal. There's no question that the European role has been marginal.
BLITZER: When you say the quartet, you mean the U.S., Russia, the EU and the U.N.
TELHAMI: Yes. And the central flare in all of this has been the United States of America from the beginning, in part because the Israelis are responding only to the United States, and the Europeans have not asserted themselves in a very effective way.
Now, it is true that the European position has converged with the American position after the election of Hamas. There has not been much daylight between the two positions on the issue of Hamas. And what the reason for that is has to be outlined.
BLITZER: So the bottom line, when King Abdullah of Jordan said not that long ago he fears there could be three civil wars -- a civil war in Iraq, a civil war in Lebanon, and a civil war within the Palestinian territories -- that fear right now looks like it's materializing.
TELHAMI: I wouldn't call them all civil wars. There's no anarchy conflict. It's not all about societal divisions.
There is a situation of sometimes militias, sometimes absence of central authority. But I would say even more than that, I think the king of Jordan said that his own country faces prospects of violence. His own country is in jeopardy if the Iraq civil war expands and you have that intrude into Jordan.
So I think the chances -- in fact, if I were an American policy maker today, I would say our chances of success in Iraq are very close to zero, maybe a little bit higher than zero. But what we need to do at the moment is prevent the situation from Iraq from ...
BLITZER: Can the U.S. stop it from escalating, deteriorating in the region?
TELHAMI: It means a policy that is far different from what the U.S. has pursued. It means reshaping American priorities in the region beyond Iraq itself, looking at Iraq as a place that you cannot win, and the American strategy would have to be, how do I prevent it from spilling over to other parts of the Middle East? BLITZER: Shibley Telhami of the University of Maryland.
Shibley, thanks for coming in.
TELHAMI: My pleasure.
BLITZER: And earlier, we were told by the top U.S. military spokesman in Baghdad, Brigadier General Kevin Bergner that U.S. forces did manage to kill a top al Qaeda leader in Mosul in northern Iraq. Kamal Jalil Bakr Uthman was in the house. U.S. forces went in. He ran in the bedroom underneath the mattress. They say there was a suicide vest, he wanted to blow them all up, but they shot him before he could to reach that suicide vest.
That coming into THE SITUATION ROOM just a little while ago. He apparently controlled, according to General Bergner, he controlled 100 foreign fighters in Mosul.
Up ahead tonight, a huge round-up of illegal immigrants working for an American company. So why isn't anyone at the company being held accountable? Carol Costello is watching this story.
And air travel delays, experts say they could be worse this summer than ever, ever before. But the FAA says it has a plan. Will it work? You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: While President Bush pushes Congress to move forward with immigration reform, immigrants are on the move praying and protesting.
In Los Angeles, the Roman Catholic Cardinal Roger Mahony gave a send-off to one group headed to Washington to lobby for action. But immigrants are facing a different kind of action as well. Shockwaves in Portland, Oregon, today, where federal agents yesterday raided the offices of a food processing plant. Let's bring back Carol Costello. She is watching this story for us. What's the latest on these workers, Carol?
COSTELLO: Well, Wolf, some of them appeared in court today. And while the illegals are the most visible targets of this case, consider this, 90 percent of the workers chopping up vegetables for Fresh Del Monte were there illegally. Hence the question, who was really to blame?
COSTELLO (voice-over): One by one, hands shackled, workers alleged to be illegals were taken from Fresh Del Monte Produce and put on buses. Destination? Jail. Punishment? Federal authorities say deportation. Homeland security calls this a victory. But those who represent the workers call it a tragedy. BEN NELSON, LABORERS' NATIONAL UNION: We need real, fair comprehensive immigration reform, a real vertical movement for immigration reform that celebrates the work people do, not criminalizes it.
COSTELLO: And the feds don't rule out involvement by Fresh Del Monte. They say of the 180 workers in the Portland plant, only about 20 were in this country legally.
NANCY FORMAN, IMMIGRATION AND CUSTOMS ENFORCEMENT: ICE goes after what we refer to the egregious violators, those in the streets, those individuals who build their business model hiring illegal aliens.
COSTELLO: But immigration says it's tough to prove that companies like Fresh Del Monte were involved or duped themselves. Federal authorities say the company didn't directly hire the workers. It paid an employment agency, called American Staffing Resources, to recruit workers to cut up its fruits and vegetables. The Feds say nine out of 10 of those workers had phony Social Security numbers. American Staffing Resources did not return our calls, but told the "Oregonian" newspaper it denies the charges, saying, "We run an ethical lawful business. We are as interested in bringing these people to justice as they are.
But the feds say something different and will not rule out anything, including possible involvement by Fresh Del Monte. Pro- immigration reform groups, while not citing a particular company have long claimed middle men are used to acquire cheap labor.
JACK MARTIN, FEDERATION FOR AMERICAN IMMIGRATION REFORM: We have to think about the unemployed Americans and Americans looking for their first jobs and Americans who are working alongside of the illegal workers, who are in effect getting depressed wages, because employers are able to get away with paying lower wages.
COSTELLO: As for what happens next, authorities say the illegal immigrant workers will be held at a detention facility. Three managers from American Staffing have been charged criminally. As for Fresh Del Monte, the feds say the investigation isn't over yet.
COSTELLO (on camera): Again, Fresh Del Monte has not returned our calls, but it told several newspapers it is not a target and is cooperating with federal officials. Wolf?
BLITZER: All right. Carol, thank you very much. I want you to stay on top of that story for us. There's another story we're watching right now. And this is a story you're going to want to see, especially before you take your next flight.
Experts fear various problems could cause some of the worst flight delays in this country ever. Let's bring in CNN's Mary Snow. She's watching this story for us. What's contributing to these enormous problems, Mary? MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, one big factor right now is the sheer number of passengers. It's supposed to hit a record high this summer.
SNOW (voice over): New York's JFK Airport Tuesday night, a scene of frustration and confusion. Bad storms forced cancellations of more than 300 planes at area airports.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Nobody's doing anything. Nobody knows anything. It's a chaos.
SNOW: In Atlanta Wednesday morning, long lines snake through Hartsfield airport after severe storms grounded planes Tuesday night.
These are the kinds of delays the Federal Aviation Administration is hoping to crack down on this summer, as it expects more travelers than ever to take to the skies. The FAA announced in May it was ramping up a program to cut delays due to summer storms. It's called the Airspace Flow Program, and it gives airlines as choice of accepting the delays or taking a longer route to avoid storms.
MARION BLAKEY, FAA: This year we're expanding it. Not just with an eye to the weather, but also with an eye to the congestion that we're seeing in the airspace.
SNOW: The program's been in place for two summers in the Northeast. Critics at LaGuardia say it's not much help.
DAN HORWITZ, NATIONAL AIR TRAFFIC CONTROLLERS ASSN.: From a LaGuardia perspective, we have been there almost four years now, about three and a half years. And I have not seen very much change in how we do business.
SNOW: The FAA says the program is working, reducing delays by nine percent last year. But even supporters of the program say it's just a small glimpse of a bigger problem.
JAMES MAY, PRESIDENT, AIR TRANSPORT ASSOC.: I think this summer will be a bellwether for how bad the system can get, unfortunately.
SNOW: Industry watchers say the system is getting squeezed by more passengers, more planes, equipment in need of overhaul, and air traffic controllers who say they're overtaxed.
BEN MUTZABAUGH, AIRLINE BLOGGER, "USA TODAY": We're pretty much at a saturation point. And at this point we're just trying to find Band-Aids to help make the situation better instead of actually fix the problem.
SNOW (on camera): And the Air Transport Association says also adding to the skies, corporate jets, which numbered about 1,800 in 1970 to currently 18,000 and climbing. Wolf? BLITZER: Quite an increase, Mary. Thank you very much.
The numbers show what a headache air travel has become for many Americans. During the first four months of this year, almost 25 percent of the flights were delayed. Last year, the figure was about 21 percent. Almost three percent of the flights were canceled. That's more than 69,000 flights, about twice as many as the same timeframe last year.
In April, get this -- in April alone, mishandled baggage reports were up by more than 65,000 over last year.
Still ahead, here in THE SITUATION ROOM will congressional subpoenas in the probe of those fired federal prosecutors lead anywhere? Jack Cafferty and your e-mailm that is coming up.
Also, former CBS News anchor Dan Rather unloads on his former boss.
And "The Sopranos" finale, why some fans days afterwards are obsessing and others are laughing. Jeanne Moos with her "Moost Unusual" report.
BLITZER: Tonight a media smackdown between ex CBS News anchor Dan Rather and his former bosses.
Let's go to Howard Kurtz of CNN's RELIABLE SOURCES. Howie?
HOWARD KURTZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Dan Rather was the CBS News anchor for 20 years. Katie Couric has had the job for nine months. But with Couric struggling in the ratings, Rather is unloading on his successor.
KURTZ (voice-over): In an interview with MSNBC, Rather issued this indictment of the "CBS Evening News."
DAN RATHER, FORMER CBS NEWS ANCHOR: The trend line continues of, as I say, dumbing it down, going to celebrity coverage, rather than war coverage.
KURTZ: Tarting it up? Perhaps that wasn't the ideal verb in discussing the first female solo anchor of a network newscast. When CBS chief executive Les Moonves accused Rather of making a sexist remark, the veteran journalist turned on his former boss.
RATHER: They know about entertainment, but don't know about news.
We've shared a lot in the 24 years we've been meeting here each evening.
KURTZ: The back story is that Rather resigned the anchor job under pressure in early 2005. Six months after apologizing for a report on "60 Minutes" Wednesday that used disputed documents to accuse President Bush of having received favorable treatment in the Air National Guard. Rather stayed on as a "60 Minutes" correspondent. But when his contract expired, Moonves let him go. And Rather signed up with a startup digital channel called HD Net.
Rick Kaplan, Couric's executive producer and a former president of CNN says it took CBS time to recover from Rather's Memogate scandal and that criticizing also worked for him when he anchored the broadcast.
KURTZ (on camera): Rather's criticism might have made more sense six month ago when Couric's newscast was carrying more features and less traditional news. But under Kaplan the "CBS Evening News" has returned to a hard news format. It's still number three in the ratings, just as it was during Rather's last 15 years as anchor. Wolf?
BLITZER: Howie Kurtz reporting for us. Thanks, Howie. Let's go to Jack in New York for the "Cafferty File." Jack?
CAFFERTY: Pretty low of Rather to do that. He cashed a lot of checks over at that place that had an eye on him for a lot of years. Show a little class and go quietly.
The question. Where will congressional subpoenas of Harriet Miers and a top White House political advisor ultimately lead?
Nick in Mount Carmel, Pennsylvania. "Jack, we all know where it will lead. Absolutely nowhere. We need you to update us on the latest episode of the soap opera 'As the World Burns' starring our Congress and White House. They're so caught up in their own agendas and cover-ups they don't seem to have time to address the explosion of violence across the entire Middle East which concerns me a lot more than where a subpoena will ultimately lead."
Shirley in Colorado. "Probably nowhere or perhaps to the Supreme Court where the good ol' boys in robes will cover for Bush and his gang."
Marilyn in California. "Investigations will lead directly to the White House. Bush is in the position of a losing not-so-clever chess player who is down to his last bishop - Gonzales - and queen - Cheney. He has lost his army of loyal liars and will now stonewall to the end. He is facing checkmate and will hold his place as long as he can."
Lee in Minnesota writes, "Very simple. The Bush clan delivers or impeachment must start. Enough is enough."
Don in Louisiana, "Jack, it will lead to the same place as any other investigation into this administration. George Bush will be one busy guy on his last day in office signing presidential pardons. None of his lemmings who follow him blindly off any cliff will suffer."
And Eric in Navarre, Florida. "Mr. Cafferty. I cannot recall the answer to that question."
If you didn't see your e-mail here go to cnn.com/caffertyfile. We post more of them online along with video clips of the "Cafferty File," which Wolf watches when he gets home every night. Don't you, Wolf?
CAFFERTY: I certainly do, Jack. Thanks very much.
See you tomorrow right here. In the meantime, let's go to Paula in New York to see what's coming up right at the top of the hour. Hi, Paula.
PAULA ZAHN, CNN HOST: Tell Jack not to take it personally. That isn't what I do when I go home, but I like him just the same. Thanks, Wolf.
Coming up just about seven minutes from now, we're going to take you to a hospital where a bleeding woman died on the emergency room floor. Her relatives say she was simply ignored to death. You will hear absolutely chilling 911 calls. How was she left to die?
Plus, almost 10 years after her death, some new secrets about Princess Diana are out in the open. You know, Wolf, there's thousands of books on her out there, and Tina Brown's new one has some real doozies.
CAFFERTY: It's getting good reviews, too. I'll be watching that show. Thanks very much, Paula, for that.
Still ahead here in THE SITUATION ROOM, the HBO series "The Sopranos" is now over. So why is the talk over the ending not ending? Stay with us. We'll be right back.
BLITZER: The screen went black on America's TV mob family but that didn't stop the talk. Here is CNN's Jeanne Moos.
JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): If you're too sad to contemplate never again riding through the Lincoln Tunnel with Tony, if you're still pondering why a guy who was always on the Jersey Turnpike never got Easy Pass, then you're probably still obsessing over the onion ring filled ending.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The season finale sucked!
MOOS: But hate it or love it ...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I went wow!
MOOS: Cut to black in the middle of that song by journey made for a cliff hanger. A cliff hanger that left folks hanging forever.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My brother and I were on the phone together and we had a collective ahh.
MOOS: This guy lives in a six-story building with about 20 apartments.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I could hear my entire building scream when the screen went to black.
MOOS: To get over the pain, we recommend laughter.
JAY LENO, "TONIGHT SHOW": And people were really furious about the ending. They were even debating in the Alabama senate.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: See "The Sopranos" last night? That isn't the way to end a show. Why wasn't somebody whacked?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I liked the way they ended it.
MOOS: And Jon Stewart worked "The Sopranos" into news on the immigration bill killed by a procedural vote.
JON STEWART, "THE DAILY SHOW": Could you make that any more anti-climatic?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: On this vote, the yays are 45 ...
MOOS: "The Sopranos" cut to black was memorialized in the "New York Times" art section with the caption, "the climactic moment." It reminds us of tourists atop a fogged in Empire State Building taking pictures of nothing.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You'll remember it forever.
MOOS: On YouTube, jokesters were making alternate endings to "The Sopranos" finale, adding dialogue.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Am I dead? Man, those onion rings were good.
MOOS: As for Soprano's creator David Chase, he got whacked in the headlines. He got whacked by the "New York Post" cartoonists, who showed fans getting whacked and Chase literally got whacked online.
David Letterman worked "The Sopranos" into his top 10. Showing this photo of roller coaster riders caught upside down in a power outrage.
DAVID LETTERMAN, "LATE NIGHT": And number one thought going through those people's minds, this isn't as disappointing as "The Sopranos" finale. There you go.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Have you ever seen a show all of the sudden just go blank and that's it? Never?
MOOS: The closest thing is Looney Tunes and Porky Pig's slogan now applies to "The Sopranos."
PORKY PIG, CARTOON CHARACTER: That's all, folks. MOOS: Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.
BLITZER: I loved that final episode. Let's go to Paula in New York. Paula?
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