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THE SITUATION ROOM
Domenici Breaking with Bush on the War in Iraq. State Department's Massive Backlog on Passports is Jeopardizing Travel Plans for Thousands. A New Terror File is Raising New Concerns about Possible Plots. Palestinian Sources Saying at Least Eight Hamas Militants Killed Today. Interview with Fawaz Gerges. Telemundo Mirthala Salinas, Who Was Involved with the L.A. Mayor, On A Leave of Absence, Pending a Review. Marines Under Investigation for Possible Civilian Deaths in 2004
Aired July 5, 2007 - 1900 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Thanks, Kitty.
Happening now, a new GOP defection on Iraq -- a third Republican senator breaks with the president and urges a change of course. Will it make an impression on the White House?
Passports to payoffs, summer travel plans are at risk for thousands of people and they are angrily pointing fingers at the State Department.
And a turf war over a movie premier. Senator Ted Kennedy joins the animated fray and makes Homer Simpson proud.
Wolf Blitzer is off today.
I'm Suzanne Malveaux and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Tonight add a third Republican to the list of senators breaking ranks with President Bush on Iraq. It is part of a drip-drip of GOP frustration that is further eroding support for Mr. Bush and the war. Here is our congressional correspondent Andrea Koppel.
Andrea, who is the latest defector?
ANDREA KOPPEL, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well Suzanne, it is New Mexico Republican Pete Domenici.
KOPPEL (voice-over): And then there were three.
SEN. PETE DOMENICI (R), NEW MEXICO: We need a new strategy for Iraq that forces the Iraqi government to do more or else.
KOPPEL: New Mexico Senator Pete Domenici a veteran Republican lawmaker and now the third senior Republican senator in recent weeks to publicly break with President Bush over Iraq, joining Indiana's Richard Lugar and Ohio's George Voinovich.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm unwilling to continue our current strategy when the Iraqi government fails to advance the interest of the Iraqi people. We can make modest progress towards self-sufficiency.
KOPPEL: Still Domenici said he did not support an immediate withdrawal from Iraq or a cut in funding for U.S. troops. Instead the New Mexico lawmaker threw his support behind the bipartisan Iraq Study Group, which calls for U.S. combat troops to leave Iraq by March 2008. Why now? Domenici told reporters a recent phone call with a father who lost a child in Iraq convinced him that time had come for him to speak out.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: One father said, yes, you were right, Senator, my son wanted to be in that war. He wanted to fight. But now I'm speaking for me, his father, said he, I'm asking you if you couldn't do a little extra, a little more, to see if you can't get the troops back.
KOPPEL: But the six-term Republican who was last elected with 65 percent of the vote is also up for reelection in 2008 in what is considered a battleground state.
KOPPEL: And he's not alone. Over 20 Republican senators are also up in 2008. A soft spot, Democrats plan to use to their advantage next week when they resume their focus on Iraq with votes scheduled on a number of amendments that will force Republicans to choose sides to either join Democrats in opposing the war or to stand alongside an increasingly unpopular president -- Suzanne.
MALVEAUX: Looks like it is bad news for President Bush. Thank you so much, Andrea Koppel.
And thousands of people out raged at the State Department. Their summer travel plans now in serious jeopardy all because of new passport rules and a massive backlog of applications, as many as half a million.
CNN State Department correspondent Zain Verjee joining us now live. How is the State Department coping with all of it, Zain?
ZAIN VERJEE, CNN STATE DEPARTMENT CORRESPONDENT: Well Suzanne, the State Department is coming under heavy criticism for this big mess-up but it says it's taking solid steps to get passports back to Americans as soon as possible.
VERJEE (voice-over): Long lines, short tempers.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I pay taxes. I deserve better.
VERJEE: All around Roberta Herndon (ph), they are lining up outside to line up inside. Jacqueline White (ph) from North Carolina wants to visit her father in Indonesia this summer but may not get her passport on time.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Not see my dad for another year. It's kind of sad.
VERJEE: This father and son, a school trip is on the line.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I applied on St. Patrick's Day actually to get it by next Monday and we still haven't gotten anything.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I was just telling him that it better be a darn good trip given how much it cost and how much waiting we've been doing.
VERJEE: Behind the scenes the backlog is ugly. The State Department says half a million applications held up. They are under the gun to fix it.
WANDA NESBITT, DEPT. ASST. SECRETARY OF STATE: Our goal is to make sure that no one misses their trip. We want to be sure we that get passports in people's hands and I want people to know that we're doing everything within our power to make sure that we get the backlog down.
VERJEE: Call centers beefed up, more volunteers, new hires, teams of passport experts working overtime even pulled out of retirement. And just this week about 200 new State Department employees ordered to passport centers in New Orleans and New Hampshire, places with the biggest backlog.
NESBITT: This is an unprecedented situation.
VERJEE: The State Department underestimated the surge of passport applications. After 9/11 new security measures were put in place requiring passports for travel to Mexico, Canada, Bermuda and the Caribbean starting this year. They were so swamped they had to change the rules again. More frustration, confusion, delays so bad that hours before her daughter's holiday flight this woman drove hundreds of miles to Washington's passport office.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well they hung up on us three times. And they gave us an appointment but they didn't give us a number. And I don't think it is working.
VERJEE: There are three million passport applications in the system in total right now. The State Department says if you submit a passport application today it will take about 10 weeks to get it back. They say they are aiming to get it down, Suzanne, to eight weeks or lower by September.
MALVEAUX: So Zain, what if you have an emergency and need your passport right away.
VERJEE: Well the State Department is saying if there's an emergency travel need just keep calling them. Get on the phone. Call over and over again or just e-mail them and make sure that they know your case. But the problem for a lot of people that we spoke to down at the passport office is that they are really down to the wire. They are desperate to get their passport to travel tomorrow, on the weekend or next week. One person, Suzanne, even told us that they postponed their travel only to get kicked to the bottom of the pile after it all.
MALVEAUX: So it sounds like it's still a very big problem. OK. Thanks, Zain.
In Britain a terror trial is raising new concern about possible plots including one against a U.S. target and teams of Islamic doctors, whose alleged priority is killing, not healing.
CNN's Brian Todd joins us live now. Brian, what are we learning from this case?
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Suzanne, officials in Britain and the U.S. are cautioning not to read too much into every nugget of information we get on the recent terror plots and the links to doctors. And they say in this story there's no discernible link but some chatter on a convicted terrorist hard drive just divulged in a court case is fraying nerves again in Britain.
TODD (voice-over): In a country already on edge over terror plots allegedly involving doctors a haunting line on an extremist computer brings more jitters. British officials say the posting from 2005 references doctors talking about car bombs. A report in the London "Daily Telegraph" says one of the messages read the first target which will be penetrated is the naval base which gives shelter to the ship Kennedy.
This is thought to be a reference to the now de-commissioned U.S. aircraft carrier John F. Kennedy based in Florida. British and U.S. officials say there's no evidence this was a credible threat. No evidence of a link to the recent terror plots in Britain and they cannot confirm that the people saying it were doctors.
But the men who owned the computer has just been handed a long prison sentence in Britain for inciting terrorist attacks using the Internet. Experts say Younis Tsouli was a notorious Web operator linked to al Qaeda.
LAURA MANSFIELD, TERRORISM ANALYST: He actually was one of the first to really get out there and really make extensive use of the Internet. He used it for recruiting. He had a great personality in terms of being able to communicate with the other jihadists.
TODD: Some experts believe al Qaeda has recently stepped up efforts to recruit doctors because of their expertise with chemicals, language skills, ability to travel easily. But so far it's not clear whether Tsouli networked to bring doctors together for any plots and one analyst lends this perspective.
SAJJAN GOHEL, ASIA-PACIFIC FOUNDATION: There's a little mass hysteria in this as well. I think after what happened in London and Glasgow with the attacks being so botched, al Qaeda may think twice before they want to recruit doctors again.
TODD: But recruiting Web masters is another story. Analyst Laura Mansfield says Younis Tsouli is now being held as a hero on jihadist Web sites she believes someone else with his skills will soon emerge -- Suzanne.
MALVEAUX: Brian Todd, thank you so much.
And coming up we are looking beyond the carefully crafted images of the first lady's trip to Africa. I went along and captured some behind the scenes surprises.
And a new clash with Israeli troops but Hamas is keeping the lid on in Gaza. Can it clean up its image?
And the scandal surrounding the mayor of Los Angeles keeps getting more complicated. Tonight the other woman is paying a price.
You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
MALVEAUX: There was a bloody clash in Gaza today between Israeli troops and Hamas gunmen and Palestinian sources say at least eight Hamas militants were killed. The Israeli military says the troops had entered Gaza to hunt for tunnels and rocket launch sites. Among Palestinians in Gaza there has been relative quiet since Hamas took a firm grip on power and began demonstrating it -- CNN's Cal Perry reports.
CAL PERRY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A military takeover June 14 by Hamas. Gunmen ushered in a new era for Gaza and provided Hamas with a great photo opportunity, posing for pictures inside the Fatah presidential compound. The green flags of Hamas waved with pride.
Hamas promised law and order and vowed to take resolve the Alan Johnston situation. The BBC reporter kidnapped by Palestinian militants believed to be member of a little known terror group Army of Islam. On Wednesday, Hamas made good on its promise, forcing Johnston's release and parading him in front of the cameras creating yet another photo opportunity. Even Johnston himself was quick to credit the Hamas takeover for his freedom.
ALAN JOHNSTON, BBC CORRESPONDENT: The change in Gaza when Hamas took control that changed the atmosphere completely. Hamas has a huge law and order agenda. They wanted to stop the kidnapping and the kidnappers were nervous from that point on. It was at that point they began to -- that they made me make the video in which I was put on this explosive vest.
PERRY (on camera): Of course Palestinian society is in the midst of a power struggle, politics is everything and the Fatah party which is at odds with Hamas was quick to question their motives.
RIYAD AL-MALKI, PALESTINIAN JUSTICE MINISTER: It's very clear that you know we do believe that Hamas stands behind his abduction and his release. Hamas used its own proxies to abduct him and to use his -- him as a bargaining card to gain political gains.
PERRY (voice-over): Hamas has another potential bargaining card, Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier kidnapped over a year ago.
GHAZI HAMAD, PALESTINIAN GOVT. SPOKESMAN: We are interested now to release Gilad Shalit, but also we want to release our Palestinian prisoners, because we have 10,000 Palestinians in Israeli jail.
MARK REGEV, ISRAELI FOREIGN MIN. SPOKESMAN: Israelis understand the pain of having a hostage, one of our servicemen is being held hostage by Hamas for more than a year. And just as we hoped for Alan Johnston's safe release we hope that our own serviceman held now for more than a year will be released shortly, safely back to his family and friends.
PERRY: By engineering Johnston's release, Hamas demonstrates its control of Gaza unknown as yet whether it will use this control to offer Israel a deal for Gilad Shalit's freedom.
Cal Perry, CNN, Jerusalem.
MALVEAUX: After last month's brutal factional fighting, Hamas may be cleaning up Gaza but can it clean up its image. Middle East analyst Fawaz Gerges is a professor at Sarah Lawrence College.
Professor, I want to start off by noting that Johnston was released by Hamas. Does it score any political points with the United States, European allies or Israel?
PROF. FAWAZ GERGES, SARAH LAWRENCE COLLEGE: Well I think Hamas since its takeover of Gaza about two weeks ago has exercised a great deal of restraint and control. It has -- it played a pivotal part in the release of the BBC correspondent. It promised to end the state of chaos and lawlessness in Gaza and also it promised to end kidnapping foreign correspondents and others.
And I think Hamas is trying to project a different image, a positive image. An image that says we control Gaza. We are willing to deliver if the international community is willing to engage us. I think this is a very important start on the part of Hamas.
MALVEAUX: There are some reports that Hamas is linked to this group that kidnapped Johnston, the Army of Islam. Is this true to your knowledge? Does this seem to be some sort of show?
GERGES: No, Suzanne. Based on everything we know, the so-called the ultra (ph) militant group, the so-called Islamic Army that kidnapped Johnston (UNINTELLIGIBLE) is not part of the Hamas leadership. In fact, in the last few weeks the situation was extremely volatile between this particular tiny faction and Hamas.
And Hamas -- the Hamas leadership made it very clear that unless Johnston was released it was going to take military actions against this Islamic Army. I think I would argue that the role that Hamas played in the release of Johnston is part of a new image, is part of a new message that Hamas is trying to send to the international community.
We are a power to be reckoned with. We must be taken seriously. We are willing to deliver. On many fronts of the international community is willing to engage us, we are the power that matters in Gaza.
MALVEAUX: How sincere would Hamas be in projecting the image beyond the image, if you will, I mean they could have released Johnston 114 days earlier, could they have not?
GERGES: Suzanne, of course, we are all speculating on the intentions and the strategies of Hamas, but let me make some points very clear. Hamas is not a monolith. There are some major differences between the military wing of Hamas and various political elements within Hamas. (UNINTELLIGIBLE), the prime minister that was attacked by the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is considered a highly moderate and compromising political leader as opposed to (UNINTELLIGIBLE), the overall political leaders in Damascus.
And this is really what we need to address here is that if we look at Hamas as a highly complex social movement, I would argue based on my interviews with the rank and file that Hamas is willing to make a historic compromise. The challenge facing the international community particularly the United States and Israel are they willing to engage the moderate and the mainstream political elements within Hamas. This is really the critical question.
MALVEAUX: And surely Professor, another critical question is Hamas willing to recognize Israel as part of that image change, if you will? What do you think?
GERGES: Well I think, Suzanne, I mean this is really the challenge facing Hamas. I agree 100 percent and this is why I believe that engagement rather than exclusion is the way to go. Let's engage Hamas and see whether Hamas is willing to really make a historic compromise. And I think as you know the Bush administration and Israel and even the international community after last year elections they took the decision and boycotted Hamas and look where we are today...
MALVEAUX: Final question, if I could, Professor.
MALVEAUX: Do you think Hamas should still be on the U.S. terror list, State Department terror list?
GERGES: Well this is why it is part of engaging Hamas. I believe that the rank and file and the political leadership of Hamas is willing to basically take a different journey, a journey out of violence and arms struggle into political compromise. And this is why both sides must make compromises engagement again, engagement not seclusion is the way to go.
MALVEAUX: Thank you, Professor Gerges. Appreciate it very much.
Up ahead tonight in THE SITUATION ROOM, an update on Al Gore's son after his arrest on drug charges -- his dad speaks out on his son's predicament.
And a job on the line in the scandal involving the Los Angeles mayor -- we're following the fallout.
MALVEAUX: New developments in that sex scandal involving the Los Angeles mayor and a television news reporter who covered City Hall. Let's go live to CNN's Ted Rowlands in L.A.
Ted, just when we thought the story was going to go away a new development today.
TED ROWLANDS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, some fallout for the other woman in this scandal. This week Antonio Villaraigosa, the mayor of Los Angeles, came out and announced that indeed he was having a relationship with this television news anchor and reporter.
She has not covered politics, according to her and her station, for the last year since her relationship became close. However, what is causing a lot of controversy is a newscast that she anchored last month. Basically she was on the news telling everybody in Los Angeles that the mayor had filed for separation with his wife of 20 years.
The problem is she didn't tell the people that were watching her that she was part of the reason why. There's been a lot of fallout from this, a lot of criticism and today the station gave this announcement saying given the seriousness of the allegations that have been made, we have decided to conduct an internal review of the decision and events that led us to where we are today.
In the meantime, Mirthala Salinas has been placed on a leave of absence from her duties pending this review. We will conduct this investigation with the utmost respect to personal privacy and journalistic standards. And those standards are the problem. A lot of people think that she shouldn't have been reporting on the mayor or if she was that she should come clean as to her situation with the mayor. Of course, whether or not Antonio Villaraigosa will suffer any job problems, we'll have to wait a couple of years for that when he's up for reelection, but the other woman facing some problems tonight in Los Angeles -- Suzanne.
MALVEAUX: And Ted, how is this playing in Los Angeles, Los Angeles area?
ROWLANDS: Well, as you might expect some people say what the mayor does on his personal time is his personal time. They don't seem to hold it against him, but then you talk to other people and they're infuriated by that because of the way that he produced -- or he promotes family and throughout his election his wife was right by his side and family seemed to be very important to him, so now people think that that just doesn't jive.
And they may hold him accountable, but again it will be a couple of years and we have seen this before. Politicians seem to come clean and seem to survive a lot of these things. We'll have to wait and see in this case.
MALVEAUX: And Ted, so far we have not heard from the ex-wife.
ROWLANDS: No, she did file for divorce after -- just after the separation but no, she has not come out publicly since this came out. She is keeping a very low profile throughout all of this.
MALVEAUX: OK. Thank you so much. Ted Rowlands.
And just ahead, the son is in trouble, but what does the father think? You'll here Al Gore talk about those drug charges his son faces.
And why does Senator Ted Kennedy want Bart, Homer and the other Simpsons to come to Massachusetts? We'll explain.
MALVEAUX: You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Happening now, a sizzling heat wave is baking cities out West. In Las Vegas, temperatures are expected to reach a record high of 116 degrees. And parts of the southern California desert are forecast to top 115 degrees.
Outrage in Columbia -- thousands take to the streets in cities and towns in protests -- they marched against leftist rebels accused of killing 11 lawmakers they've been holding hostage.
And a standoff continues in Pakistan. Radical Islamic students are holed up inside a mosque in Islamabad. They have exchanged gunfire with government forces. Those inside the mosque offer to surrender if they're not arrested, but the Pakistani government rejects that.
Wolf Blitzer is off today.
I'm Suzanne Malveaux and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Tonight Pentagon officials confirm to CNN that several U.S. Marines now are the focus of an investigation into allegations that civilians may have been killed intentionally in Iraq. At issue, a November 2004 offensive in Falluja. Our senior Pentagon correspondent Jamie McIntyre is on the phone with this developing story -- Jamie.
JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SR. PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (via phone): Well Suzanne, you may recall that in December of 2004 Falluja was the site of a major offensive, some very brutal urban combat. And what's happened now is some allegations have surfaced years later that suggest some Marines may have killed some prisoners that they captured when they were under pressure to move on instead of holding them in custody.
Nobody has been charged in this investigation, but one official told CNN it is based on credible allegations from a former Marine who apparently volunteered the information during a polygraph test that he was administered by the U.S. Secret Service when he was seeking employment with the Secret Service.
Now the Naval Criminal Investigative Service is actually investigating the allegations that first surfaced on a website called defendourmarines.com. Posted Nathaniel Helms (ph), he's a military journalist, who also wrote a book about the marines in Fallujah. His web posting includes an account from one marine who alleges that eight captured Iraqis were gunned down after they were found hiding after a fire fight and then the marines moved on to their next objective.
Again, nobody has been charged in this investigation, but these allegations are being taken seriously because obviously, under both U.S. military law and the international law of armed conflict it is -- you cannot kill unarmed captured prisoners whether or not you determine that they are enemy combatants.
Again, we'll just have to see where this investigation leads, but the allegations are being taken quite seriously.
MALVEAUX: Thank you.
Jaime McIntyre on the phone with the very latest. Thanks, Jamie.
A new sign tonight that U.S. troops won't be withdrawing from Iraq in any significant number this is year. A top ground commander tells CNN that hard fought gains in Iraq, will require 30,000 additional U.S. forces to stay put for the time being.
I asked Senator John Tester of Montana how that squares with the Democrats push for a pull-out.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SENATOR JOHN TESTER, (D) MONTANA: We're caught in the middle of a civil war there. I think that Iraq is a big country. And the reports that I received, is they have had successes here and there in Iraq. And I think that speaks well of the military. But overall, I don't think we're making the kind of strides we need. And I think it's time the Iraqis take over their own -- the responsibility for their own government and their own security. And we bring our boys and women in the field home. Really focus on the war on terror, which is Afghanistan. The war we have forgotten about and redouble our efforts there. Because they are starting to regroup and reequip there. I think it's important that we stay focused on the war on terror. But Iraq I think, we have done our part. It's time to move on.
MALVEAUX: Now, Senator you have called for deauthorizing the war as opposed to defunding. Because you say it hurts the troops. But, ultimately, Congress could end this war now. Secretary Gates has said so if you just pull funds. Why not do that?
TESTER: Well, I mean, we pull funds and then what happens? The funds taken from somewhere else? I think the best thing to do is what I've requested the president to do for a couple years now. And that is to develop a plan that works for Iraq and for this country. And that is resulted in an escalation policy. I really think that, you know, we have done our part. I'm not going to undermine troops by undermining their funding. We'll deauthorize the war hopefully, if Congress will do that. Make the president come and state his case again, come October of this year as to why it's important, we need to be there, what we're going to accomplish when we get done there. And I can tell you this, that I think from my perspective, we've accomplished what we need to accomplish in Iraq. And it's really time to refocus on the real war on terror and move forward from there. That doesn't mean we forget about Iraq. No, I think we need to maintain a flyover operation there to make sure the terrorists don't re-establish, but overall, I think we're done. I think we've accomplished the mission. I think it's time to bring our folks home.
MALVEAUX: And, Senator, why not take the option here of defunding this war on a scale, eventually. Where you have month by month and you can assess what is happening on the ground without hurting the troops? That is something, obviously Congress could do.
TESTER: I'm not sure that the president would do that. I would be concerned that he would trim funds for training. Trim funds for armored vehicles and body armor before he really started to de- escalate the war.
MALVEUAX: But couldn't you just wind down those funds if he decides he's going to take it from different places? Pull more money?
TESTER: Well, I -- you know, the military budget is a huge budget. As has been pointed out to me, there's plenty of places to pull money from here or there if you want to keep our troops in Iraq. And the president has stated previously, that they are going to be there until after he's gone in the presidency.
So, my idea was you know take the authorization and reverse it. And make the president come back. If he can't, the troops come home.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MALVEUAX: Tonight Al Gore's 24-year-old son is undergoing treatment after his arrest on drug charges in Los Angeles yesterday. A short time ago, CNN's Larry King asked the former vice president about his son.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LARRY KING, CNN HOST "LARRY KING LIVE": How is your son doing? AL GORE, FMR. U.S. VICE PRESIDENT: Oh, thank you, Larry. He's doing very well. We're treating it, of course, as a private family matter.
We're very happy that he's sought and is getting the treatment that he needs. And beyond that, we appreciate the good wishes that have come our way and we're treating it as a family, a private family matter.
KING: One other thing and then I will leave it alone. Have you spoken with him ...
GORE: Of course.
KING: ... and how is he doing, you know, emotionally?
GORE: Oh, he's doing fine, thank you.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MALVEUAX: Larry also asked Gore the question many Democrats keep asking, will he jump into the 2008 presidential race?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KING: When people say to you, Al, you have such strong feelings. You had the most votes last time, why not consider it? I mean, it's kind of an obligation, you're so involved, why not?
GORE: Well, I appreciate it when people say that. I ran for president twice. I've kind of fallen out of love with politics, as I told you, Larry. But I deeply respect those who are involved in the political game. But what politics has become, is something that requires a tolerance for these sort of spin messages that I don't think I'm very good at.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MALVEUAX: You can see all of that interview with Al Gore tonight on "Larry King Live." That's at 9:00 p.m. eastern, 6:00 pacific, right here, on CNN.
And up ahead tonight, picture perfect. It take as lot of work to make things look so natural at events for first lady. We will take you behind the scenes to a highly orchestrated affair.
Also, Ted Kennedy and the cartoon. We'll tell you how the senator is going after a visit from Bart, Homer and other Simpsons.
MALVEUAX: We told you earlier this week about the director of the National Hurricane Center in Miami, coming under fire from the brass in Washington. Well now it looks like there are those inside the Forecasting Center who would like to see him replaced. Joining us by phone CNN's John Zarrella in Miami. John, I understand there's some developments.
JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Suzanne.
Late developments this evening. I received a statement from the National Hurricane Center and members of the staff, including four of the five senior hurricane specialists. The statement basically says that an unfortunate public debate is now occurring over the ability of the national hurricane center to meet its mission.
The undersigned staff of the National Hurricane Center concludes that the center needs a new director. With the heart of the Hurricane Center fast approaching, urges the Department of Commerce to make this happen as quickly as possible. Twenty-three signatures appeared on this statement.
Now, I talked to James Franklin, just a little while ago, he's a senior hurricane forecaster who signed on to the initial cover letter. And he told me that they need to make this change now. And these people are asking that the change be made. They did not send the letter, as I say, to the Department of Commerce. But they did send it to NOAA Public Affairs shortly before they distributed it to others of us in the news media.
Now, I tried to reach Bill Proenza, the Director of the Hurricane Center for his comments. But he's not available, I can't reach him on his cell phone. Now Proenza came under fire earlier in the year, because he had come out very strongly publicly that a satellite that's up there called Quikskat needed to be replaced. The new version needed to be put on line. And that not enough was being done by NOAA and the Department of Commerce to make that happen.
But his staff members had told me privately, several of the hurricane forecasters, that he had not consulted them about this. That would not be one of their priorities, so there is a great state of concern and certainly, a lot of problems right now at the National Hurricane Center.
So again, this development, and I've been covering, Suzanne, for 30 years nearly, the National Hurricane Center, and I have never seen anything like this happen before. Where you have publicly, 23 signatures, including the four senior hurricane specialists calling for the removal of the new director who took over in January, when Max Mayfield (ph) retired.
MALVEAUX: John, obviously, this is unprecedented and they say that they object to the complaints he made about the equipment. Is there anything else underlying here particularly with the staff, that they are unhappy with? Or is that the only reason here?
ZARRELLA: No. I think there are other issues as well. Privately, in conversations I had with sources at the National Hurricane Center, they told me things are just not good there. According to -- one of them they told me, they have never seen so many closed doors, ever, in the past. And that's from people who have been there two and three decades telling me that. So there are other issues besides this satellite issue. But the problem they see is the mission of the Hurricane Center as they told me, is being undermined. That the public, they believe, is losing confidence in the ability of the National Hurricane Center because so much of this laundry has been aired publicly that they are afraid that there will be a loss of confidence by the public which ultimately could result in people not taking them seriously when evacuation orders are issued, when they say there's something that the folks need to do to prepare for a hurricane. And that is the biggest concern that the public does not respond. So that's why they are calling for the change.
MALVEAUX: OK. Thank you so much John, for the update there. John Zarrella.
And in late June, First Lady Laura Bush travelled to several African nations. Her diplomatic mission focused on programs addressing HIV/AIDS, education, clean water and malaria. I was the journalists following the first lady, and there was just as much activity behind the cameras as in front of them.
(voice over): The first lady's mission to Africa to deliver the picture perfect moment of America's good works. Our mission is to capture it. It's a highly orchestrated affair.
From the moment we leave Washington, we become a part of Mrs. Bush's entourage. And that means no matter where she is, we're not far behind. In Senegal we raced to get into position to set up for Mrs. Bush's first event.
Omar, our escort, cuts as path down a one-way street into ongoing traffic to make good time, only for us to be refused at the Senegaleze president's gate.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hey, Claude! Claude, can we just get out? Go through the gates? This one over here?
CLAUDE: You were supposed to go through a little pass and around the corner in the back.
MALVEAUX: The most important moments to capture every country is the greeting. Mrs. Bush's aides herd us into position. We get ten seconds to get that all-important shot.
For this one, the first ladies prompt each other to make sure it's just right.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Are you smiling?
LAURA BUSH, FIRST LADY: Yes, we are smiling. Are you smiling?
MALVEAUX: Each event is orchestrated down to the minute. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Total participation I would think more than eight minutes, but the actual statement would be less.
MALVEAUX: Traveling in Mrs. Bush's motorcade, her aides brief us on what to expect and then they deliver. Mrs. Bush and her daughter Jenna will proceed this way. They will be picking vegetables right here.
MALVEAUX: There's a lot crammed into each day.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Come on! We need you to hurry, please!
MALVEAUX: The White House advance team is eager to position us for the next show and tell.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What is going to happen is when she arrives at the playground, she and a few students and couple others are going to push this.
MALVEAUX: But things don't always go according to plan. There are constant negotiations going on. Involving nearly everyone. We, the press, fight for access. The Secret Service try to keep people at bay, as African officials jockey for control.
Before Mrs. Bush arrives anywhere, there are last minute makeovers. At this school, it is down to the wire. For some kids, waiting for the first lady, gives way to mischief.
Covering this visit is very much like watching a play. It's a carefully orchestrated collaboration where everyone has a part in creating the picture that says America cares.
(on camera): And we brought along our own hand-held camera for that trip, which allowed us to get some of the behind the scenes shots.
First Lady Laura Bush follows in the tradition of many of her predecessors taking on diplomatic duties by traveling overseas. But she is not the most world traveled first lady by any means. According to the National First Lady's Library, that record belongs to Hillary Clinton. She logged more than 35 trips abroad during her time in the White House and prior to Mrs. Clinton, the record belonged to Pat Nixon. Mrs. Nixon most notably accompanied her husband, President Richard Nixon, to China in 1972.
And up ahead, several cities are clambering to be the center of attention. It all has to do with Homer Simpson. We'll explain.
Plus, stereotypes shot down. Find out who really has the gift of gab. Men, or women, or both. Stay with us. You're in the SITUATION ROOM.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) MALVEAUX: There are 14 cities spread across the country, each unique but with two things in common. They all share the same name and they all want the host the premiere of what promises to be a summer blockbuster movie.
CNN's Jason Carroll has the latest in the battle over the Simpsons.
JASON CARROLL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well the movie that's getting all the attention, is the Simpsons. Some of these cities trying to win this competition are so small, they don't even have a movie theater. But that's not going to stop them from trying to bring a summer blockbuster to their town.
NED FLANDERS, THE SIMPSONS: Look at that. You can see the four states that border Springfield, Ohio, Nevada, Maine and Kentucky.
CARROLL: It could be one of the summer's hottest movies, the television series the Simpsons is about to hit the silver screen. But don't look for a Hollywood premiere. The Simpson's, which is based in a fictional Springfield USA, is looking for a real Springfield to roll out its red carpet.
Bart, not the show's character, but the Deputy Mayor of Springfield, New Jersey, hopes his city will be chosen.
DEPUTY MAYOR BART FRNAKEL, SPRINGFIELD, N.J.: My name is Bart. My wife's name is Lisa. We put up with comments about that for years so now it's time to capitalize on that. And get everybody to vote for us as the Springfield of the Simpsons.
CARROLL: There are 14 Springfields in the United States, vying for the opportunity to host the premiere.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Welcome to Springfield, Louisiana.
CARROLL: Twentieth Century Fox asked each city to submit a video, explaining why it should be chosen.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Our search brings us to Portland, Oregon, hometown of series creator Matt Groening. Following the route Matt took to reach Hollywood, Matt passed through only one Springfield.
CARROLL: Senator Ted Kennedy personally pitched Springfield, Massachusetts.
SEN. TED KENNEDY, (D) MASSACHUSETTS: Join us in Springfield, Massachusetts. Just think, after 400 episodes, you'll even be able to enjoy some real chowder.
CARROLL: True to Simpson form, people in Springfield, Tennessee, relied on self-deprecating humor to sell their town.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Those Simpsons. All they do is cut down government employees.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There's hardly enough time to get the paperwork processed, get the paperwork in.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Let alone find time to land a man.
CARROLL: Jokes aside, the mayor in Springfield, Illinois, says a win could translate into tourist dollars for the chosen city.
MAYOR TIM DAVLIN, SPRINGFIELD, ILLINOIS: So if it adds a million, if it adds 2 million, if it adds $500,000. The fact is, that it's more money to be able to do things we want to do in Springfield.
CARROLL: Fans can vote online at usatoday.com for their favorite Springfield. As for the fictional Springfield, it hits theaters July 27.
HOMER SIMPSON, THE SIMPSONS: That will teach you to laugh at something that's funny!
CARROLL (on camera): Voting for this competition ends on 9th and the winner will be chosen on July 10.
MALVEAUX: And the 14 Springfields fighting over the Simpson's premiere are only a fraction of the cities with that name. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there are 46 cities, towns, townships and other populated areas that have Springfield in their name.
And up ahead, a look who is talking more. Are men or women more likely to gab on and on? It's a mouthful, even for our Jeanne Moos.
MALVEAUX: Here's a look at some of the hotshots coming in from our friends at the Associated Press. In Venezuela, army reserve soldiers participate in an Independence Day military parade.
In China, a local resident carting a passenger on a tricycle wades through a flooded street.
In Phoenix, a truck driver takes a water break after stacking bags of ice on to a loading dock during a continuing heat wave.
And in Los Angeles, a pair of chimpanzees lounge in the heat of the day at the zoo.
And that's this hour's hotshots, pictures often worth a thousand words.
More now on the ongoing conversation about conversation. Are men or women the bigger chatterboxes? CNN's Jeanne Moos followed up on a new study that got a most unusual result. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)
JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yak, yak, yak. Who do you think talks more, men or women?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, women, definitely, are you kidding me? Like no contest, women.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Women.
MOOS: Why do you think that?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Because I'm married.
MOOS: So is the author of the new study in the "Journal of Science," entitled "Are Women Really More Talkative Than Men?"
Were you surprised?
VOICE OF PROF. MATTHIAS MEHL, UNIV. OF ARIZONA: I was surprised.
MOOS: Psychology Professor, Matthis Mehl, at the University of Arizona says almost 400 male and female college students wore a voice recorder, like this one, that sampled sound for several days, picking up casual conversation.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's like they are really nice.
MOOS: When researches extrapolated the number of words spoken per day it was almost the same for men and women.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Wow, 16,000.
MOOS: Actually, men spoke about 500 word as day less. But the researchers called that statistically insignificant.
MEHL: One person the most talkative participant, who happened to be male, he used 47,000 word as day.
MOOS: Wow. He never shut up. And here you thought men only used their mouths to eat and drink and talk to the TV.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All the talking is really starting to drain me. And now I'm going to have to watch the highlights later to see what I missed here.
MOOS: And now we find out men gab just as much as women.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I got to cut you off now. Hold on.
MOOS: Who talks more, men or women?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I certainly do, in my family.
MOOS: If this sounds like the opposite of what you heard before, maybe you're thinking of the "Female Brain." That book quoted statistics showing women spoke 20,000 words versus a mere 7,000 for men. But the author now says her numbers were not based on reliable data.
Do you think you talk a lot?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Definitely.
MOOS: Do you think you talk a lot?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No.
MOOS: Do you talk a lot?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Trust her.
MOOS: Most folks we talked to, didn't trust the new study. How many word as day do you think she is?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, definitely 55,422.
MOOS: Her nickname is FM because she talks all the time, like a radio.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And you can't fight with him. He just switches off.
MOOS: Do you think you talk a lot?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't think so, but a lot of men think I do.
MOOS: Took her ten words to say yes. Stereotyping starts young. Who do you think talks more, you or your mom?
UNIDENTIRIED MALE: Mom.
MOOS: Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.
MALVEAUX: And thanks for joining us. I'm Suzanne Malveaux, in for Wolf Blitzer.
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