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Supreme Court's New Rulings; Cheney Claims He's Not Part of Executive Branch

Aired June 25, 2007 - 19:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks very much, Lou.
Happening now, the United States Supreme Court more divided than ever, some eye-popping new rulings driving home the court in conflict and shifting right.

Also this hour, will Dick Cheney pay a price for claiming he's not part of the executive branch? Tonight, a new Democratic threat and tough scrutiny of the vice president.

And the bizarre $54 million pantsuit thrown out of court, but the case of the missing trousers is still raising serious questions about the state of America's legal system right now.

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

Let's begin with the situation in Iraq. Beefed-up U.S. forces are going after insurgents outside of Baghdad, but a shattering attack in the Iraqi capital today killed at least a dozen people including a number of tribal leaders. The attack on a popular political meeting place sends a very strong signal to U.S. and Iraqi authorities.

And joining us now in Baghdad our correspondent, Michael Ware. Michael, another horrific bombing today at the Monsour Hotel right in the heart of Baghdad just outside of the international zone. Set the scene for us, give us some perspective what happened.

MICHAEL WARE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Well, Wolf, I've just returned from the scene of that blast a few hours ago, and it is shocking. I mean, it doesn't matter how many of these suicide bombings you either witness or see in their aftermath, they're never an easy thing to watch or to look at. What we have is the Monsour Hotel in the center of the capital Baghdad itself just a few hundred yards from the green zone and the U.S. embassy.

A number of organizations stay in this hotel, including the Chinese embassy, some Western organizations. We also have a number of Iraq politicians who reside in this hotel, notably, some politicians who have recently verbalized their opposition to the Maliki government. However, it's also a place where people meet. We know that Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has been conducting a broad program of national reconciliation at the behest of the U.S. mission.

Some of those meetings take place at this hotel. Indeed, a very small one of these meetings was happening when the bomb went off. Right now, one would suggest that the target of this explosion in the lobby of this hotel was a number of tribal sheiks who had met with a government representative to express their support for the Maliki government.

As it stands on its face right now, there's no claim of responsibility, but the M.O., the method, is clearly that of al Qaeda. Until we hear otherwise, the finger certainly points towards that organization.

BLITZER: And it underscores the nature of the violence and the danger in Baghdad despite their recent increase in the number of U.S. troops patrolling the streets.

WARE: Absolutely, Wolf. I mean, this city has been flooded or surged with as many as 30,000 additional U.S. combat troops within the city itself and spanning out to its surrounds. The places from whence the bombs come, the farm lands where the bombs are put together, where the training takes place. So, we're seeing a lot of intense U.S. activity, but the violence continues unabated.

Now, American war planners from General David Petraeus, the American commander in charge of the war, onwards have all said don't expect miracles. This surge is going to take time if, indeed, it works at all. So, it's not surprising to see that the car bombs particularly continue, that the deadly roadside bombs, EFPs, those which U.S. intelligence claims come from Iran, are on the upsurge. We're seeing America's enemies and the enemies of this government surge themselves to use the words of an American general.

BLITZER: Michael Ware reporting for us from Baghdad. Michael, be careful over there. Thanks very much.

WARE: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Meanwhile, a storm of controversy is building over Vice President Dick Cheney's role in the federal government. Our White House correspondent, Ed Henry, is watching this sensitive story for us. The vice president causing huge ripples as a result of his contention that he's not necessarily bound by the executive branch of government because he also serves as president of the Senate.

ED HENRY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. Several days after this controversy first broke out White House spokeswoman Dana Perino today was still dealing with a barrage of questions about this. But the White House is not running from the vice president. Instead, they're digging in.


HENRY (voice-over): Vice president Cheney got a new vote of confidence from the White House over his claim he's not a member of the executive branch. White House spokeswoman Dana Perino seemed to embrace Cheney's unique legal argument by noting the vice president's paycheck comes from his service as president of the Senate.

DANA PERINO, DEPUTY WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I think for the past two centuries the Senate has provided payment to the vice president for his duties as a member of the government. I understand that he has roles in both branches.

HENRY: A shift from last week, when Perino said it didn't matter because the president had never intended for the vice president to comply with an executive order regulating the handling of classified information. Democrat Rahm Emanuel is now threatening to block taxpayer funding for the vice president's official residence and office until Cheney clarifies which branch of government he's in.

PERINO: I don't know. These are not decisions...


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You just don't...


PERINO: The reason I noted that is because I'm trying to illustrate the point that he has roles in both -- in both the legislature and in the executive branch.

HENRY: The controversy comes amid a four-part series on Cheney in "The Washington Post", including the revelation that the vice president had kept then Secretary of State Colin Powell and national security adviser Condoleezza Rice out of the loop for two years on a memo outlining the administration's definition of torture in the handling of terror detainees.

PERINO: People that have strongly held views and they voice them and they voice them loudly, and I am very comfortable with the process that we have in terms of how those debates get settled.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... debate. If the secretary of state and the national security adviser were not involved in...


PERINO: And I'm not commenting on that either way.


HENRY: Now the president also heard some criticism late this afternoon from some presidential scholars that he invited here to the White House to talk about education reform. They handed him this letter, a handwritten letter, signed by about 50 high school students. It says in part, quote, "we urge you to do all in your power to stop violations of the human rights of detainees". We're told that the president did accept this letter and then told the high school students that the U.S. does not condone torture and has not broken the law -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And I just want to be specific. What we're saying is that the president and the vice president knew about this decision but never shared it with the secretary of state, General Colin Powell, or the national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice? HENRY: That's right. This is a specific allegation that's well sourced in "The Washington Post" today. That's what I was asking Dana Perino about. It basically centers on a 2002 memo within the Bush administration about what governs torture. This story lays out very specifically that two years later, when it was reported about in a separate article, the secretary of state, Mr. Powell, and the then national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, were livid within the White House because they did not know for two years that this policy was being articulated privately within the administration. So, it gives you an idea that the vice president was going around two very senior officials -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Ed Henry at the White House. Thanks, Ed, very much.

Let's go to Jack Cafferty in New York for "The Cafferty File". Were you paying attention to that Cheney stuff that Ed was just reporting?

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Well, we had a version of that story in "The Cafferty File" last week, Wolf, about his feeling that he's not subject to the restrictions when it comes to handling classified information that were handed down by George Bush, by President Bush, concerning all members of the executive branch of government, that the National Archives was to oversee the handling of this material. We did this on "The Cafferty File" last week.

People are outraged. I'm sure they're still outraged. It's quite a government we've got running this country these days. There are 18 people running for president so far, 18, and apparently we're a long way from getting an answer. When New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg announced last week that he was no longer going to be affiliated with either the Democratic or Republican Parties, it created a buzz heard round the country.

Bloomberg has repeatedly has said he's not going to be a candidate for president. That doesn't matter. In a new CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll that shows a hypothetical matchup against Hillary Clinton and Rudy Giuliani, Bloomberg finishes third, 17 percent of the votes, a number no doubt the envy of a lot of people already in the race working their butts off to try to get the nomination.

The actor/former senator, Fred Thompson, he's not a candidate either, but in a statewide poll of likely Republican caucus voters in Nevada, Thompson finished first. And perhaps the most telling sign of America's dissatisfaction with the status quo might be this -- in that same CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll, one-third of registered voters say they're seriously considering voting for an Independent. And that's a 50 percent increase from the year 2000.

So, the question is this -- how likely is it America will do something radically different in the 2008 election? E-mail your thoughts to or go to -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jack, thank you for that. Coming up, a mother's anguish over the death of her pregnant daughter allegedly by the father of the young woman's child.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We prayed that it was not him. That's my grandson's father.


BLITZER: Coming up, the latest in the disturbing and emotional case against an Ohio policeman.

Also this hour, burning wild -- a new assault is underway and a raging inferno near Lake Tahoe in California. We're going to go there live.

And tough questions about New York's air quality right after 9/11. A former EPA chief testifies and takes direct aim at presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani.

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


BLITZER: Today, a police officer accused of killing his girlfriend appeared in court in Ohio. It's the latest development in the case of that 26-year-old pregnant woman who had been missing but whose body was found over the weekend. The police officer is now in custody along with another person.

CNN's Carol Costello is in Canton, Ohio -- Carol, you grew up there.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, I did grow up in Canton, Ohio, and I can tell you the whole community is grieving for the Davis family. Bobby Cutts, the man who stands accused, has now been suspended from his job as a Canton City police officer. Disciplinary action may follow. But that is the least of his problems.


COSTELLO (voice-over): Canton police officer Bobby Cutts and his high school friend Myisha Ferrell walked in shackles into the Canton Municipal Court. Police say Cutts murdered Jessie Davis and her unborn child. Ferrell is charged with obstruction of justice.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Cutts charged with two counts of murder.

COSTELLO: Inside the courtroom, Cutts stood quietly as bond was set at $5 million. Davis' mother stood through the proceedings and looked Cutts right in the eye.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Did you want Bobby to see you?

PATTY PORTER, JESSIE DAVIS' MOTHER: Absolutely I wanted him to see me.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And did he look at you?

PORTER: Yes, he did. I believe my whole life has prepared me for this moment, and I'm not sitting down when I see Bobby Cutts. You know we've heard things about our daughter that are just so not her. People who know her know what a wonderful person that she was.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did your client murder Jessie Davis?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm not going to talk about the evidence.

COSTELLO: For the thousands who volunteered to search for Davis' body, it's time for swift justice. One of Cutts' old girlfriends appeared on the "Today" show alleging Cutts had mistreated her.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He continually harassed and assaulted me, threatened me, physically abused me, verbally abused me.

COSTELLO: Nicky Giovassis (ph) says she dated Cutts before he became involved with Davis. They parted bitterly after Giovassis (ph) gave birth to his child and she filed charges to gain sole custody. Cutts fought back, accusing Giovassis (ph) of dragging the child from state to state, also allowing their child to witness her being abused by her boyfriends.

None of that matters now. The judge ordered an end to the custody battle after Cutts was charged with murder. For some who live near Cutts, allegations about his personal life are damning. But his father urged neighbors to pray for my family, pray for Jessie's family, pray for everyone involved. Jean Marie Campbell took that to heart, offering to mow Cutts' lawn.

JEAN MARIE CAMPBELL, BOBBY CUTTS' NEIGHBOR: This is only about extending a drop of grace to some people who others would shun.

COSTELLO: It's something Cutts' father says his son sorely needs.


COSTELLO: Wolf, both of these suspects will be back in court within 28 days. Both remain behind bars right now. Back to you, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Carol. Thanks very much.

She took heat after the 9/11 attacks for saying the air around ground zero was safe to breathe. Now nearly six years later, tempers haven't cooled down at all. At a hearing today on post 9/11 health problems, the former EPA administrator, Christine Todd Whitman, was once again in the hot seat. Could the former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani also feel the fallout?

Let's go to CNN's Mary Snow? She's in New York. Mary, what happened today? MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, today the testimony grew heated, there were angry words, Christie Todd Whitman blasted critics for charging she misled New Yorkers about the air quality around ground zero right after 9/11.


SNOW (voice-over): Christine Todd Whitman on the defense.



TODD WHITMAN: ... called a liar, even in this room today.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Governor, I'm not calling you...


SNOW: With a growing number of ground zero workers getting sick after inhaling the toxic cloud that enveloped the area following the fall of the World Trade Center, some blame her for their exposure to it, scrutinizing Whitman's statements about the air quality. Here was Whitman, September 13, 2001.

TODD WHITMAN: From a real health problem and health concerns, we don't have to worry.

SNOW: On September 18, Whitman released a statement, saying, "I am glad to reassure the people of New York and Washington, D.C. that their air is safe to breathe." Asked if she was premature in making those statements...

TODD WHITMAN: These were not whims. These were not decisions by a politician. Everything I said was based on what I was hearing from professionals. My son was in building seven on that day, Congressman...


TODD WHITMAN: And I almost lost him...

SNOW: The issue not only turned personal, it has also turned political, taking aim at former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani who's largely built his Republican presidential campaign on his handling of the 9/11 attacks. In an interview with WNBC-TV aired over the weekend, Whitman suggested that the EPA's hands were tied in forcing ground zero workers to all wear respirators, suggesting that the buck stopped with the city representatives on site.

The Giuliani camp fired back, saying no one from the city tried to block the EPA, adding, quote, "Administrator Whitman never voiced any of these concerns at the time. Doing so now is revisionist at best." Whitman said at today's hearing she is not blaming the former mayor but added... TODD WHITMAN: We conveyed the information about the importance of wearing protective gear on a regular basis to those who had the most direct oversight of the responders on the pile.


SNOW: Now the pile refers to the area right at ground zero where workers sifted through rubble for months. Whitman is insisting that when she called the air safe, she was referring to the area of lower Manhattan, not the pile at ground zero -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Mary Snow watching this story for us. Thanks, Mary. The World Trade Center health registry tracks information for more than 70,000 people affected by the 9/11 attacks in New York. More than half lived or worked in the area or participated in a rescue and cleanup efforts.

The most common physical health issues related to the attacks are respiratory. With more than half of building survivors reporting new or worsening respiratory problems. And psychological problems are prevalent, as well. More than two-thirds of survivors witnessed three or more very traumatic events such as people jumping from towers.

Up ahead tonight here in THE SITUATION ROOM -- decisions and divisions. We'll read between the lines of striking new rulings by the U.S. Supreme Court and what it means down the road.

Plus, a multimillion-dollar lawsuit over missing pants. There's a new verdict and questions about a legal system gone awry.

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


BLITZER: As you saw, Carol Costello is on assignment in Ohio. Betty Nguyen is monitoring stories incoming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now. Betty, what do you have?

BETTY NGUYEN, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, the federal government is getting a sizable slap on the wrist for its handling of the fight against terrorism abroad. The Government Accountability Office says despite a series of directives from the White House, federal law enforcement agencies failed to coordinate their efforts overseas. The GAO says in at least one unnamed country lack of clarity may have compromised several investigations aimed at disrupting potential terrorist activities.

And the International Atomic Energy Agency says it has been invited to Iran. The IAEA says it will send a team to Tehran to work on a plan to clear up global suspicions about the company's nuclear intentions. A State Department spokesman expressed skepticism, though, that the discussion would produce positive results. Iran is under threat of U.N. sanctions for refusing to freeze its nuclear enrichment program.

Also, investigators in Utah are still trying to figure out how a prison inmate, check him out, got his hands on a gun he used to shoot and kill a corrections officer. The gun belonged to the officer who was killed, and the shooting happened at a university hospital in Salt Lake City where inmate Curtis Allgier was taken for an MRI. Now Allgier fled on foot, stole an SUV and was later captured at a fast food restaurant.

And former first lady, Lady Bird Johnson remains hospitalized in Austin, Texas, but doctors say her temperature is back to normal. The 94-year-old widow of President Lyndon Johnson was admitted to Seton Medical Center four days ago for a low-grade fever. She is said to be resting comfortably. A hospital spokeswoman says the family does not know when she might be released -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Betty, thank you for that.

Still ahead here tonight in THE SITUATION ROOM, it threatens to literally tear the Republican Party apart, the issue of immigration reform. One day before a critical vote in the U.S. Senate. I'll speak with conservative, CNN contributor Bill Bennett.

And as millions of Americans appeal to the government for their passports, the government is making an appeal for help itself. We're going to tell you who is being asked to help clear a massive passport application backlog.

We'll be right back.


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

Happening now, a new air and ground assault against a wild fire blazing near Lake Tahoe in California. We're going to go to the fire zone live. That's coming up shortly.

Also, urgent appeals, very urgent appeals. Hamas releasing an audio message it says is from an Israeli shoulder Gilad Shalit kidnapped one year ago today. In it, Shalit pleads for Israel to help win his release. Also, a kidnapped BBC reporter appears in a new video message. Alan Johnston warns against attempts to rescue him. He was kidnapped in Gaza in March.

And the State Department issuing an urgent appeal for help. It's asking its diplomats worldwide to help clear a backlog of millions of passport applications that have yet to be approved.

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

More stunning sings today that America's highest court may finally be living up to conservatives' dreams and liberals' fears. Has the U.S. Supreme Court taking a swing to the right? Some close and controversial rulings may offer an answer.

Let's turn to CNN's Brian Todd. He's joining us now from the Supreme Court. Brian, what do these decisions announced today mean? BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well Wolf, analysts believe these decisions might mean the signal that the honeymoon period after last year's arrival of two new justices might just be about over.


TODD (voice-over): Three contentious decisions and a window into an increasingly fractious bench. The Supreme Court rules a student's free speech rights were not violated when he was suspended for unfurling a "Bong Hits 4 Jesus" sign outside school grounds. But the justices uphold a free speech clause for sponsors of so-called issue ads that run just before elections and they rule taxpayers cannot challenge the legality of the Bush administration's office of faith- based initiatives. Two of these decisions are 5-4 votes, and we've seen that razor-thin margin now in 20 of the court's 67 rulings so far this term.

TOM GOLDSTEIN, SUPREME CT. LEGAL ANALYST: Lines between the two sides are more sharply drawn now than ever before with conservatives prevailing in the great majority of really important and monumental decisions.

TODD: Analysts say the replacement of moderate conservative Sandra Day O'Connor with stronger conservative Samuel Alito sharpened the ideological divide. The key swing vote now, Justice Anthony Kennedy, who sides more off within the conservative wing.

STEVEN GOLDBLATT, GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY LAW CENTER: It's something that any litigator before the court is going to be thinking about, well, what argument would resonate with Justice Kennedy, what opinions has he written earlier that have relevance here.

TODD: More often recently, close votes have provoked a rarity on this bench -- the losing side reading their dissents out loud. Analysts say that's a sign of frustration. In this atmosphere, the next retirement likely of liberal 87-year-old Justice John Paul Stevens weighs heavily, analysts say, with 2008 looming.

GOLDSTEIN: The stakes in the next presidential election are actually huge because the only likely retirees at the Supreme Court are on the left. So, a Republican president could really swing the Supreme Court in a very significantly conservative direction or a Democratic president could hold the line against further movement to the right.


TODD (on camera): In the meantime, look for more close rulings like later this week when the court's expected to decide whether race can be a factor in public school admissions. One analyst told me he'll be shocked if that's not another 5-4 decision. Wolf?

BLITZER: Brian Todd at the Supreme Court for us, thank you.

Also tonight, striking new proof that the 2008 presidential race is being defined not only by the candidates who are in the race but by those who remain on the sidelines. A new poll gauges the potential support for an independent presidential race by New York mayor and ex- Republican Michael Bloomberg. Let's turn to our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider. He's watching all of this unfold. Is there any support out there for the Bloomberg candidacy?

BILL SCHNEIDER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, our latest poll has the answer. Here's a hint, Wolf -- yes.


SCHNEIDER (voice-over): Michael Bloomberg insists he's not running for president.

MAYOR MICHAEL BLOOMBERG, NEW YORK CITY: We even have two people from New York who are candidates for president of the United States. I'm not sure the state needs a third.

SCHNEIDER: One New Yorker, former Mayor Rudy Giuliani, is the national front runner for the Republican nomination. Undeclared candidate Fred Thompson is now tied with John McCain for second. Another New Yorker, Senator Hillary Clinton, is the Democrats' national frontrunner. Pit the two frontrunners against each other and what do you get? A very close match, Clinton, 49, Giuliani, 48. Is there any room for Bloomberg? The New York mayor does have a message.

BLOOMBERG: It's my perception that government at all levels is becoming more partisan rather than less.

SCHNEIDER: Bloomberg used to be a Democrat. He was elected twice as a Republican. Now he's just declared himself an independent. What does the public make of Bloomberg? Forty percent of Americans have no opinion of him at all. Among those who do, the balance is mildly favorable. And it's about the same for Republicans, Democrats, and independents. Now that he's gotten a lot of attention, Bloomberg's support seems to be on the rise. Seventeen percent in a three-way contest against the two national frontrunners. Seventeen percent nearly matches what Ross Perot got the first time he ran in 1992. Even if he doesn't win, some people think Bloomberg could affect the outcome of the race.

SCOTT REED, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: If he runs, there will be two liberals in the race versus one Republican. So unlike the Perot phenomenon that really hurt Republicans, this has a chance to hurt Democrats.

SCHNEIDER: That's not happening yet. Right now, Bloomberg would take votes about equally from Hillary Clinton and Rudy Giuliani, and the outcome would still be close.


SCHNEIDER (on camera): Bloomberg is not well-known nationally. If he were to run, he could spend an awful lot of money defining himself. And our poll shows a lot of voters would be open to a new choice. Wolf?

BLITZER: Bill Schneider watching the numbers for us. Thank you, Bill.

Here's something you want to post on your presidential campaign calendar. CNN will bring you the final Republican presidential debate before one of the biggest days of the primary season. That would be Super Tuesday next February. The Ronald Reagan Presidential Library Foundation announced today it will host that debate on Wednesday, January 30th, in California. CNN, "The Los Angeles Times," and are all partners in the forum. The former first lady Nancy Reagan is extending invitations to the leading candidates in the GOP race.

Tonight, the U.S. Senate is bracing for yet another showdown over immigration reform. A critical test vote is scheduled for tomorrow. On the latest version of a compromise bill that has the blessings of the White House.

Our new CNN Opinion Research Corporation poll shows 30 percent of Americans favor the bill, 47 percent oppose it, but among that opposition, some say they oppose it because they think it's too tough on illegal immigrants. Some say it's too good for illegal immigrants. Nineteen percent say they don't have a decision, an opinion, on this bill.


BLITZER: Let's go to our contributor, Bill Bennett, he is a former education secretary, and now a fellow at the Claremont Institute here in Washington. Bill, thanks for coming in. The president of the United States is firm. The country needs this right now. Listen to what he said not that long ago.


GEORGE W. BUSH, U.S. PRESIDENT: You want to kill the bill, if you don't want to do what's right for America, you can pick one little aspect out of it. You can use it to frighten people, or you can show leadership and solve this problem once and for all.

BLITZER: All right. You don't agree with the president.

BENNETT: I don't agree with the president. He's in good faith. He's consistent. He hasn't changed his view, but we strongly disagree with the president.

BLITZER: How deeply divided is the GOP?

BENNETT: Well, it's deeply divided but not evenly divided. It's deeply divided about 70/30, maybe 80/20.

BLITZER: In terms of public opinion or actual legislators in the Senate and the House?

BENNETT: No. The legislators in the Senate are probably closer to 50/50 but I think maybe 60/40, but in terms of the base, the Republican Party, I would guess it's 80/20. The RNC had to lay off all these phone operators who were calling to raise money because they were getting responses time after time after time, we're not giving money to this party if it's going to do this bill, if it's going to do amnesty. People are furious about the bill and think it's wrong.

But I tell what they're equally furious about. They're furious about the names they're being called, the stuff about nativism and so on, anti-Mexican. People are furious about this, and there's a sense of disappointment with the president. This will mean big consequences for the Republican Party and for individuals in ...

BLITZER: Here's what -- what irritates the president and other Republicans who support this measure is some of the rhetoric that's coming out from the opponents. I'm going to play you a clip what Pat Buchanan said yesterday, a former Republican presidential candidate. Listen to Pat.


PAT BUCHANAN, (R) FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think this is blanket amnesty for wholesale illegality, and I think it will result in another invasion of the United States that's even greater than this one. I think we're talking about the beginning and possibly the end of the United States if this bill goes through.


BLITZER: Now, you agree with him on that? The beginning and the end of the United States if what the president of the United States supports, what John McCain supports, what teed Kennedy supports, that will be the end of the United States?

BENNETT: I would use different words. But as I said, the issue of sovereignty is real. And what does it mean to be an American? How do you get in? What does it mean to become a citizen? When you get people, as they do, calling my show, talking about how their parents came here, their grandparents came here, these people ran across the border, they're going to get amnesty for that, and people do not think it's right. And I agree with him.

I put it a little differently than Pat. But the name-calling has been intense on the other side. I didn't hear any insult there of any particular person. We have heard that a lot even from conservatives. We heard this from Lindsey Graham who I think is going to be in serious trouble on this. I think John McCain, whom you know I admire enormously, is going to lose his presidential bid on this issue, and the president is going to lose whatever support he has in the base. This is the biggest one I've seen since George Bush came into office in terms of the base.

BLITZER: It's a make or break week, as I said, this week in Washington.

BENNETT: Big week. Absolutely.

BLITZER: Beginning with that debate tomorrow, whether it will be on the Senate floor. Bill, thanks for coming in.

BENNETT: Yes, sir.


BLITZER: And still ahead tonight, you may remember the case of the man who sued his dry cleaners for $54 million for allegedly losing his pants. The verdict now in. We're going to tell you who won.

And an army of firefighters on an all-out assault on a raging wildfire. We'll have the latest on the California blaze that scorched so much earth and forced so many people to flee for their lives. We'll go there live. Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: There's resolution today in a multimillion-dollar lawsuit here in Washington that gained national and international attention largely for its absurdity. It involves a jurist, a dry cleaner and a pair of pants. CNN's Tom Foreman has the outcome. Tom?

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this pant suit set off a firestorm of controversy about frivolous lawsuits. But tonight, at least, the defendants are breathing a little easier.


FOREMAN (voice-over): Relief today for the immigrant family that owns a dry cleaning business in DC sued for $54 million. Owner Soo Chung's daughter-in-law translates.

SOO CHOI, ONWNERS' DAUGHTER IN LAW: It's been such a hard past two years, it's been such a difficult time, all of that emotionally to today. But she's very, very pleased with the results today.

FOREMAN: These are the pants that started the lawsuit. Roy Pearson, a DC judge, said when he got them back from the cleaners they were the wrong ones and the cleaners wouldn't admit it.

Pearson was so steamed he sued the pants off of the owners, the Chungs, saying their sign, "Satisfaction guaranteed," was a fraud. The court agreed that the pants do not seem to match the jacket but said Pearson had not proven fraud under consumer protection laws.

The case has become a focus for outrage about frivolous lawsuits that could take the legal system to the cleaners.

CHRIS MANNING, CUSTOM CLEANERS ATTORNEY: Mr. Pearson cost not only the Chungs but the taxpayers a lot of money.

FOREMAN: No word yet from Pearson on whether he will appeal, but the Chung family is ready to get back to focusing on their work, even for their most controversial customer.

SOO: If he wants to continue to use our services, then, yes, he will accept him.

(END VIDEOTAPE) FOREMAN (on camera): For pressing this suit, Pearson has been ordered to pay all of the court costs. However, a motion to have him pay tens of thousands of dollars to the Chung family attorneys will be taken up later. So we'll have to find out about that. Wolf?

BLITZER: Tom Foreman, thanks very much.

Let's get some analysis now on what this all means. Joining us, Savannah Guthrie from Court TV, a lawyer in her own right. I don't know about you, but a lot of people, including myself, outraged that this could get so far in our legal system. How could this happen?

SAVANNAH GUTHRIE, COURT TV: Well, you know, obviously there have been opportunities for the judge to throw out this case as this has gone over -- gone on over a period of years, but for whatever reason, there had to be a trial to determine some of the factual issues here and now the judge has closed the book on this case and found this plaintiff didn't even prove that these pants were even lost. Can you imagine after the thousands of dollars that the defendants had to spend to defend themselves ...

BLITZER: Tens of thousands of dollars, almost ruined this family. They almost had to shut down their business and go back to Korea because it got so out of hand.

GUTHRIE: Well, the problem here is the price tag, right, $54 million. Those were the damages that this plaintiff was seeking. I don't care what, if the pants were made of solid gold, the lawsuit just didn't make sense. And the problem is, it's getting so much attention and it really highlights the absurdities of the legal process in some cases. And it's just -- it's not a great reflection on the legal system.

BLITZER: People all over the world were laughing at the United States. This caused a huge, huge impact. Now, this judge who filed this suit, I suppose he regrets not taking the $10,000, $12,000 that he was offered by this family just to make the whole thing go away.

GUTHRIE: This has been a legal disaster for him, a personal disaster, and it has the potential to be a financial disaster for him. And apparently he's not a man of great means. He may have to end up paying their attorneys fees which I'm sure is into the thousands of dollars because of this long piece of litigation, all the motions, all the discovery. The defendants have been racking up these bill, and at the end of the day, the plaintiff may be the one who has to pay for them.

BLITZER: And he might lose his job as an administrative court judge.

GUTHRIE: You have to believe that the commission who is looking whether or not to give him a 10-year extension is looking hard at his judgment and why it is he would press a case like this which seems to highlight everything that can be wrong with our legal process.

BLITZER: Savannah, thanks for coming in. GUTHRIE: Sure.

BLITZER: And as we speak, fire crews are waging an air and ground assault on a wildfire raging south of California's Lake Tahoe. More than 2,000 acres are charred, and more than 200 homes and other builds, are destroyed. Let's go live to CNN's Thelma Gutierrez. She's out in the fire zone for us. What kind of progress, Thelma, are firefighters making?

THELMA GUTIERREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, I can tell you that firefighters are very happy that the winds have died down.

They have been -- things have been very calm here most of the day and that has given firefighters the edge that they have needed to try to get the upper hand on this fire.

Now, we are here in the town of Meyers. It's about five miles from South Lake Tahoe. This is the area that was hardest hit. All through the neighborhood, this entire area, you can see smoldering homes, one after another, burned-out cars, this kind of thing. Many of the residents are very anxious to get back into the area.

However, the roads up to this area are completely closed down. Fire officials say it's just not safe enough to allow them to come back into this area, Wolf.

BLITZER: Thelma Gutierrez reporting for us from the scene. Our hearts go out to those people affected by this horrible fire. Thank you.

According to the National Interagency Fire Center, by the way, there have been close to 45,000 wildfires in the United States since the first of this year alone. They've burned more than 1.8 million acres. Among California's 20 most destructive structure fires on record. The worst was in San Diego County, so-called Cedar Fire seen here in October of 2003. It took out almost 5,000 buildings. It also burned more than 273,000 acres and killed 15 people.

Still ahead tonight -- a Spanish serenade from a mystery singer.


BLITZER: Here's a hint. He learned it a long time ago on the campaign trail. Our Jeanne Moos will show you who the singer is.

And 18 candidates and counting. Jack Cafferty wants to know whether America will do something radically different in the 2008 election. Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Let's check in with Jack Cafferty. He's got "The Cafferty File." Jack?

CAFFERTY: The question this hour, Wolf, is how likely will America do something radically different in the 2008 election? James Rice from Pennsylvania, "Actual change on the part of the voters is essential in '08 if we are to save the republic. If we continue to sheepishly vote for one of two parties, our democracy will be over. The two parties have failed us. We absolutely need to add at least one party to the mix in order to maintain our national health."

Anthony in Connecticut writes, "Very likely, the American people have a short memory and are easily strayed by a mainstream press that wants a liberal Democrat in the White House. They will forget the attacks of 9/11, the previous attacks on the World Trade Center in 1993 by an enemy that does not forget. We will vote a Democrat in the White House and after we're attacked, the American flags will fly in front of our homes again until we forget again."

Bob in Idaho Falls. "The only thing radically different will be replacing the radicals in office now."

Patrick in North Carolina. "Jack, short of a position to nuke the world, I don't care what Bloomberg or any other independent candidate's platform is. I will vote for him or her. This country needs another viable party even worse than it needs another president. Republican and Democrat politicians are ethically and philosophically bankrupt. We need new ideas and new people with integrity."

Marilyn in California. "I doubt it. If anything were going to change, people would be demanding the impeachment of Bush and Cheney. I remember Watergate and people raged at the Congress to impeach Nixon. I don't understand why the idea of impeaching Bush/Cheney is played down. Compared to Bush, Nixon looks pretty good. I never thought I'd miss Richard Nixon."

And Mark in Oklahoma City. "Jack, I would consider it to be something radically different if at least 60 percent of registered voters would get up off their lazy behinds and just go vote."

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


BLITZER: Jack, thanks very much.

Let's check in with Paula to see what's coming up at the top of the hour? Paula?

PAULA ZAHN, CNN HOST: Hi, Wolf. Thanks so much. Coming up just about six minute from now, why does becoming pregnant put so many women at risk of being killed by their partners? Some stunning statistics about that tonight as we continue to investigate that Canton, Ohio, killing.

Also, who's behind the latest attacks on Mitt Romney's religion? You might be surprised. And are you ready for free health care? We're going to check out Michael Moore's controversial new film "Sicko," all that coming at you a shade less than six minutes from now, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. We'll be watching. Thanks very much, Paula, for that.

Up ahead, some are wonder if a sitting United States senator is trying out for a talent show. Jeanne Moos with a "Moost Unusual" explanation.


BLITZER: Depending on whom you ask, they're either striking the right note or singing a bad tune. It's what happens when people you'd least expect open their mouths and strange sounds come out. CNN's Jeanne Moos has this "Moost Unusual" story.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): You've heard him speak in that cultivated Kennedy way, but wait till you hear his Spanish serenade.

SEN. TED KENNEDY, (D) MA: I sing my song to you now. Shall I sing my song?


MOOS: His amnesty lullaby. Ted Kennedy sings en espanol.


MOOS: "That can't possibly be real," someone posted. Wanna bet?

EDWUARDO SOTELO, KSCA RADIO DJ: He was so happy, he was feeling so good on the show that he decide to sing.

MOOS: Eduardo Sotelo is the star of America's top-rated morning radio show geared toward a huge Latino audience after a glowing intro ...

ANNOUNCER: Ted Kennedy -- Kennedy -- Kennedy.

MOOS: The senator broke into a song celebrating the Mexican state that's home to the city of Guadalajara.


MOOS: And with that performance, Senator Kennedy joined the ranks of singing politicos like former attorney general John Ashcroft.


MOOS: OK. So not every singing politician soars. Some bomb, literally. SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: That old Beach Boys song, "Bomb Iran"? Bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb Iran.

MOOS: Senator Kennedy's performance didn't quite reach the sear into your memory forever status of Karl Rover.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Because he's shooting quail.

MOOS: Or even Colin Powell during a YMCA spoof for diplomats with backup singers dressed up like the Village People. No, Senator Kennedy didn't go that far.

Hey, at least he knew the words in Spanish. Former House Speaker Dennis Hastert was unsure of these words in English.


MOOS: And no good song goes unpunished if it's a politician singing it.

Of course, if the singing is done in the name of comedy. Even politicians get a pass.

MCCAIN: And for over 20 years, I've had Barbra Streisand trying to do my job, so I decided to try my hand at her job.

At least Ted Kennedy confined himself to the radio so he was heard but not seen. Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.


BLITZER: CNN checked with Senator Kennedy's office, by the way. They say he learned the song when he campaigned for his brother in 1960 in New Mexico and Texas.

Let's wrap it up this hour with a look at some of the "Hot Shots" coming in from our friends at the Associated Press. In Lebanon, Spanish U.N. peacekeepers patrol the streets near the site of an explosion that left six members of that contingent dead.

On the West Bank, activists for Hamas who were detained by security forces of the Fatah movement here through the bars of their prison cell.

In England American tennis player Andy Roddick dives for his shot during the men's singles first round match in Wimbledon.

And in China, a pigeon tries to escape from a tiger at the zoo.

That's it for us. Let's go to Paula in New York. Paula?


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