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The Administration is Lowering the Bar on Expectations in the Iraq War. Latest Developments on the Controversy Over the Director of the National Hurricane Center

Aired July 9, 2007 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, HOST: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Happening now, Congress waiting for a report card on the president's Iraq War strategy. But the White House and the Pentagon already downplaying any expectations of early success.

Will bad grades, though, lead to new pressure for a troop pullout?

Burying a long standing racial slur -- a leading civil rights organization holds a symbolic funeral for the "N" word.

Is it easier said, though, than done?

And he says America's health care system is "Sicko".

Does the filmmaker, Michael Moore, think any of the presidential candidates can fix it?

I'll ask him this hour.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.


He's watched several key Republicans wash their hands of his Iraq policy. Now President Bush must give Congress an update on how that policy is doing. And like a student expecting bad grades, the White House playing down expectations.

At the same time, the Pentagon is lowering the bar for measuring success in Iraq.

Our senior Pentagon correspondent, Jamie McIntyre, is standing by.

But let's begin our coverage this hour with our White House correspondent, Suzanne Malveaux -- Suzanne, what exactly are administration officials saying?

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, in speaking with people here and outside of the administration, what they are focusing on inside of this building is what is the alternative policy if this one does not work. We know that Secretaries Rice and Gates have put out the idea, in the future, of troop withdrawal, of redeployment here. But as one official put it, they said the concern now is the ability of the United States to manage the war. Somebody else also said that no one wants to lose control to Congress.

That is what the discussions are focused on here at the White House, as the president faces greater pressure to bring U.S. troops home.


MALVEAUX: (voice-over): There is robust debate and questions within the Bush administration over what's next in Iraq if, come September, the so-called U.S. troop surge doesn't bring peace.

But aides deny there is debate over whether to start withdrawing U.S. troops.

TONY SNOW, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: There is no intensifying discussion about reducing troops.

MALVEAUX: But President Bush is running out of time to prove his Iraq strategy is working. He's got until week's end to submit a progress report to Congress. And the news looks grim. Even the White House seemed to concede the Iraqi government's report card for meeting its political goals will be disappointing.

SNOW: I'm not sure everybody is going to get an A on the first report.

MALVEAUX: Lawmakers, including those in the president's own party, are running out of patience. A handful of prominent Republicans have recently publicly turned against the president's Iraq strategy.

But the White House said the president will not hint of any timetable to withdraw troops.

SNOW: You won't have to, you know, go out and buy new watches this week or set your calendars. There will be no red squares on the calendar at the end of this week.


MALVEAUX: Now, Wolf, we're told the president is not going to make any kind of formal address to the nation this week. They didn't rule out the possibility of -- rather, next week. We do know that the president will take some questions in kind of a forum tomorrow when he travels. So perhaps he'll take the opportunity to emphasize the policy here.

One official saying, look, they have not figured out what this alternative policy would be. There are no specifics if this does not work. And the problem here that they have is they're feeling the pressure. They thought that the president had until after Congress' August recess. They are now looking at a timetable that is much more accelerated -- Wolf.

BLITZER: What are they saying over there at the White House about this "New York Times" report, Suzanne, that basically there are two camps emerging within the inner circle -- a pragmatic camp, Bob Gates, the defense secretary, for example, among others, Condoleezza Rice, saying that it's time to start thinking about a withdrawal; as opposed to the hard-liners, who are holding firm right now?

MALVEAUX: Well, Wolf, what they're saying, talking to multiple people here, is that this is a debate that has gone on for some time now. It's not a new debate. But they also say it's a little bit murkier than how that is portrayed in the "New York Times," that you have Secretaries like Gates and Rice going ahead and saying, look, what happens if we redeploy troops? What happens if we withdraw those troops?

You've got President Bush, they say, who's taking a very pragmatic view of all of this.

But the bottom line is, is that they are quite concerned that there is not an alternative policy if this so-called U.S. troop surge does not work. And that is what they're discussing here.

BLITZER: Suzanne Malveaux reporting from the White House.

Suzanne, thanks for filling in for me last week right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

You did an excellent, excellent job.

MALVEAUX: My pleasure.

BLITZER: The Pentagon is minimizing the importance of the Iraq progress report, even as there are fresh signs of the war's impact on Army recruiting.

Let's go to our senior Pentagon correspondent, Jamie McIntyre -- Jamie, what are you hearing?

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SENIOR PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, you might think that the lack of progress in Iraq would argue for a change of course. But the Pentagon is circling the wagons around the so-called surge strategy, at least for now.


MCINTYRE: (voice-over): Defense Secretary Robert Gates went ahead with a planned appearance in Tampa at the headquarters of the Special Operations Command to install a new commander but then rushed back to Washington, canceling long-scheduled travel to South America.

A terse Pentagon statement said Gates was needed for policy meetings on Iraq in advance of the July 15th benchmark report, even as his own aides down played the report's significance.

"It will be a snapshot at the front end of the surge," said Pentagon Spokesman Bryan Whitman, "and I don't think anyone expects all the benchmarks to be met at the front end."

The Pentagon is acknowledging there's little to show for the effort so far. While there are a lot of technical successes -- insurgents killed, arms caches found, small towns secured -- the big goals -- bringing down the level of violence and fostering political reconciliation -- remain elusive.

BOBBY GHOSH, "TIME" MAGAZINE: Prime Minister al-Maliki is too weak. He's surrounded by politicians who have other agendas. And they're never going to be able to meet the targets.

MCINTYRE: The bad news from the front is affecting recruiting. In June, the Army missed its enlistment goal by more than 1,300 soldiers, after falling short of 400 in May.

The big problem?

Long tours coupled with parents who are dead set against their kids signing up.

SEN. JAMES WEBB (D), VIRGINIA: This deck of cards is coming crashing down. And it's landing heavily on the heads of the soldiers and the Marines who have been deployed again and again, while the rest of the country sits back and debates Iraq as an intellectual or emotional exercise.


MCINTYRE: Wolf, the Pentagon has enough troops to maintain the current higher troop levels through April of last year. And, realistically, that's when the administration will really be under pressure to start bringing the troops home -- Wolf.

BLITZER: So, Jamie, what's the bottom line of the defense secretary, Robert Gates, canceling a visit to Latin America, a four day visit this week, to help prepare this interim report due to the Congress that's due this weekend?

MCINTYRE: Well, one of the things that occurred to me is that Secretary Gates might be consulting with some members on Capitol Hill, since he's one of the members of the administration, as you noted, that's seen as pragmatic and forthright.

But at last check with his office, we're told that, at this point, he's not scheduled to make any calls upon Capitol Hill. So he'll be working behind the scenes in those meetings.

BLITZER: Jamie McIntyre at the Pentagon.

Thanks, Jamie, very much.

Let's go to Jack Cafferty in New York.

He's got The Cafferty File -- Jack, yesterday the Iraq national security adviser told me that the Iraqi parliament is no longer going to take two months off, July and August, vacation. They're only going to take one month off, the month of August. They're going to work through the end of this month. I just wanted you to know that.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I feel better knowing that.

Thank you, Wolf.

I know that they're on the job at least for part of the time. It's unbelievable. Our kids are over there dying. We're spending all of our money on this effort to bring them democracy and they're going to take a month off?

The "help wanted" sign is out at the Department of Homeland Security. Almost one fourth of the top jobs at DHS are unfilled, according to a new Congressional report. That translates to 138 vacancies out of 575 top positions as of May the 1st. The report calls it "a gaping hole in the nation's readiness for a terrorist attack or other threat."

No kidding?

The areas hurting the most -- policy, legal and intelligence, along with FEMA, immigration agencies and the Coast Guard.

The Department of Homeland Security is challenging the report, telling "The Washington Post" that it's skewed by a sudden increase in the number of top management jobs this spring. It says before then, only 12 percent of the positions were unfilled.

But the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, Congressman Bennie Thompson, says these vacancies have weakened morale and show an over-reliance on civilian contractors.

The report also finds an unusually high number of key positions filled by political appointees.

That's never happened before, has it?

Thompson says: "Homeland Security was bruised when the country learned that Michael Brown, an Arabian horse aficionado, was running FEMA.

But what's worse than a Homeland Security organization with poor leadership is a Homeland Security organization with no leadership."

That's a quote.

So our question is this -- what does it mean if one fourth of the top positions at the Department of Homeland Security are unfilled?

E-mail your thoughts to or go to

They haven't secured the borders and 25 percent of the jobs at the top of that huge, huge government bureaucracy, Wolf, are going begging at this point, apparently.

BLITZER: Jack, thank you for that. Still ahead, here in THE SITUATION ROOM, a career casualty in a storm rocking storm rocking the National Hurricane Center. We're going to show you why the director is now stepping down, right in the middle of the hurricane season.

Also, an unusual funeral for a hateful word.

Will it have any real impact when it comes to one of the most derisive slurs?

Plus, the filmmaker Michael Moore is standing by to join us live to defend his new movie "Sicko".

Is he fudging the facts, as some critics claim?

Stay with us.



BLITZER: There's a new development happening now in that storm that's been battering morale over at the National Hurricane Center.

The embattled director says he's stepping down amid all the criticism from many, including some of the country's top forecasters.

Let's go straight to CNN's John Zarrella.

He's joining us now in Miami with the latest.

What do we know about this development -- John?

JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, you know, for weeks, the center -- the eye of the hurricane has literally been at the National Hurricane Center here in Miami.

And what we know is this, that this afternoon, the employees at the National Hurricane Center were informed by letter that Bill Proenza was no longer the director of the National Hurricane Center. He had only been in place for about six months, replacing Max Mayfield, who resigned.

We do not know whether Proenza resigned or was forced out, because of government privacy rules and laws. We're not being told exactly how it transpired.

The bottom line in this, Wolf, is that it started months and weeks and months ago. Proenza was very critical of his bosses in Washington over parties they were planning to throw for NOAA's 200th anniversary celebration rather than spending money on hurricane research. He was critical of the fact that a NOAA weather satellite had outlived -- was aging -- and there were no immediate plans to replace it.

At the same time, last week, half of his own staff asked for his resignation, saying that he didn't listen to them and he was wrong on the satellite issue.

Proenza told me in an interview last Friday, at the time, that he was not going to immediately resign, but he was going to leave the door open.


BILL PROENZA, FORMER DIRECTOR, NATIONAL HURRICANE CENTER: Working for the American people, I will do what is in their best interests. And if it involves me moving on, I will do so. When the time comes, I will do it smoothly and I will do it genuinely in a way that supports the new incoming director.


ZARRELLA: And that new incoming director, at least on a temporary basis, is Ed Rappaport. He has been the longtime deputy director here at the National Hurricane Center. And he is now stepping in on an interim basis to get the Center and the nation through what could very well be a long hurricane season -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And we remember Max Mayfield, who retired this year. He had become such a familiar face for all of us during these hurricane seasons.

John, thanks very much.

Hot weather on both coasts, some of it likely to break records. But it's especially a problem out in the West, where wildfires are burning out of control right now from Utah and Wyoming all the way to California and Oregon.

One of the most critical, the so-called Milford Flat Fire in Western Utah. It's threatening more than just buildings with more than 300,000 acres burned so far.

Coming up, a funeral for the "N" word. We're going to show you who's behind it and what they're hoping to accomplish.

Plus, a former dictator about to be released from a U.S. prison.

Will Manuel Noriega become a man without a country?

Stay with us.



BLITZER: Carol Costello is on assignment.

Brianna Keilar is monitoring stories incoming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now -- Brianna, what do you have?

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, Iran is apparently extending a hand to the U.S. to help stabilize Iraq. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is quoted by state run news media as saying he's ready to hold more talks with Washington about the crisis in Iraq. The two sides held groundbreaking talks at a summit in Baghdad in May.

And news from Virginia Tech. The university has a new emergency alert system almost three months after a student gunman killed 32 people in a campus massacre there. The school says 4,300 students and faculty have signed up for the system, which sends out emergency notices by phone, e-mail or instant message. The university was already looking into such a system when the massacre happened.

And here's some rare positive news about tobacco use. A review of almost a dozen studies over the last four decades appears to confirm that smokers are less likely to develop Parkinson's disease than people who don't use tobacco. No one is quite sure why, but a leading theory is that agents in tobacco protect and promote survival of neurons that produce dopamine -- Wolf.

BLITZER: They might not get Parkinson's, but they could get lung cancer, heart attacks and a lot of other diseases if they smoke.

Is that -- is that what we're suggesting?

KEILAR: Quite a tradeoff, you have to admit there.


The best idea -- don't smoke.

Thanks very much, Brianna, for that.

It sounds like the plot of a suspense novel, spiced with revenge and back room deals. One side alleges political spying. The other side charges abuse of power. It's a political brawl that seems to be escalating by the moment.

Let's go to CNN's Mary Snow.

She's watching all of this unfold in New York.

What's going on -- Mary?

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, it's an unusual political fight in New York State. It's gaining attention for its bitterness. And today, a state lawmaker upped the ante by asking the state's attorney general to investigate whether the governor's office was involved in a conspiracy.


JOSEPH BRUNO (R), NEW YORK STATE SENATE: Does he follow me on a personal basis?

For political advantage?

What country are we in?

What state are we in?

We're not in a Third World country.

SNOW: (voice-over): It's Albany, New York, to be exact, and the center of a bitter political feud that's locked in a standoff.

State Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno, the state's top Republican, is accusing the state's top Democrat, Governor Eliot Spitzer, of political espionage.

Their spat been splashed across New York papers and gotten so ugly that the "New York Times" reported the governor described Bruno as old and senile, something the governor denies.

GOV. ELIOT SPITZER (D), NEW YORK: I have not and will not let this become a personal battle between me and Joe Bruno.

FREDRIC DICKER, "NEW YORK POST": I've covered Albany for some three decades and I've never seen anything as bad as this.

SNOW: It all started when the "Albany Times Union" questioned whether Bruno used state resources improperly by using state helicopters and state police to travel to New York City, where he also attended political fundraisers.

Bruno says he did nothing wrong and was on state business in addition to those fundraisers, and claims the governor conspired to leak the story.

BRUNO: He, with the people that support him and his staff, have asked the district attorney to investigate my movements with state aircraft, have asked the A.G. To investigate me on a personal basis for criminality. That's very personal.

SNOW: That is something Spitzer denies. He says his office was asked to produce the travel logs in response to a Freedom Of Information Act request. When the documents were reviewed, he says, he then alerted the attorney general and district attorney.

SPITZER: This is a matter of substance, not personality. I like Joe. We can disagree on substance, but let's do it in a civil way.


SNOW: Now, this political drama has put the New York state attorney general in an odd position. He's been asked by both sides to investigate the other. His office says it's reviewing all the information -- Wolf.

BLITZER: A little drama in Albany.

Thanks very much, Mary, for that.

Coming up, his new movie "Sicko" healthy over at the box office.

But what, specifically, does Michael Moore have to offer as far as fixing America's health care system?

He's standing by live. We'll speak with him this hour.

Also, he's a convicted criminal and a prisoner of war. Now, after two decades in American custody, the former dictator, Manuel Noriega, is due to be released.

But where can he go?

Stay with us.



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

Happening now, President Bush invoking executive privilege as he refuses Congressional demands for testimony from two former aides about the firings of those eight federal prosecutors. Democrats on the Hill are demanding an explanation. White House lawyers refusing to provide one, at least for now.

Also, a government shutdown in Pennsylvania. The Democratic governor, Ed Rendell, put about 24,000 state workers on a one day furlough as he battles Republicans in the statehouse for a ninth day over a budget.

And negotiations underway right now to try to end the tense standoff over at the so-called Red Mosque in Pakistan's capital. Islamic scholars and a former prime minister are talking by loudspeaker and cell phones to hard-liners holed up inside who want to impose strict Islamic law in the country.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.


Is Iran taking new steps to protect its nuclear program from a possible air attack?

Satellite photos suggest work is now underway on a new tunnel inside a mountain near the key Natanz nuclear facility. And that could raise the stakes farther in Iran's standoff with the U.N. Over its uranium enrichment activities.

Joining us now to discuss this and more, our world affairs analyst, the former defense secretary, William Cohen. He's chairman and CEO of The Cohen Group here in Washington.

Thanks very much for coming in.

We've seen these pictures now, these satellite pictures, images, and it's obviously hard for us amateurs to discern what exactly they mean.

But you've had a chance to look at this, study it.

Does it suggest the worst case fears of the U.S. and others that Iran is getting closer and closer to building a nuclear bomb?

WILLIAM COHEN, FORMER DEFENSE SECRETARY, WORLD AFFAIRS ANALYST: I think it does suggest precisely that, that they're moving slowly but predictably ahead. They're anticipating that the United States or Israel, or some combination of both, might, in fact, launch any kind of a strike against them and they are taking measures to prevent that.

I think we're only suggesting at this point. You're going to need hard evidence on the ground to see whether that's taking place. But I think it's a fair assumption that they're going to do whatever they can to protect their development of nuclear weapons.

BLITZER: Because for a long time everyone has assumed the Iranians learned the example from 1981, when the Israeli Air Force bombed the Iraqi nuclear reactor at Osirak, which was above ground. They've constructed a lot of their projects deep underground.

COHEN: Deep underground. And they're also watching what we say. To the extent that they feel that there are suggestions coming out of the White House or elsewhere that they will not be allowed to go forward, they're going to take whatever measures they can to prevent that, if they can. So it's something that we have to be concerned about.

At the same time that they're conducting -- what appears to be conducting these underground tunnel operations, they're also slowing down their enrichment process, giving the U.N. At least some note of optimism.

But I think what we have to see, is we have to see the U.N. Continue to move forward, imposing greater sanctions until such time as Iran sees the wisdom of not moving ahead with this nuclear program.

BLITZER: But do you see the Russians and the Chinese cooperating, because the Chinese get a lot of oil from Iran?

Iran is a major source of Russian exports, especially in the military and nuclear area. And there's deep concern that these two countries alone could scuttle that kind of pressure.

COHEN: They could scuttle that. But then China and Russia have to face the consequences; namely, what will be the consequence of Iran going forward with a nuclear weapons program?

Will that stabilize the region or destabilize it?

Will it make war more likely or less likely?

Will that add to their supplies or reduce their supplies?

So this is something they have to take into account. It requires real intensive negotiations, diplomacy on our part, dealing both with Russia and with -- and with China, as well. BLITZER: All right, Secretary Cohen, thanks for coming in.

COHEN: Nice to be with you.

BLITZER: Toppled by U.S. troops in 1989, the former Panamanian dictator, Manuel Noriega, was jailed in the United States on criminal charges. But according to a judge's ruling, Noriega is also a prisoner of war.

He's due to be set free, but in this case freedom is a relative term.

Let's go to CNN's Brian Todd.

He's watching this story.

Give us an update -- Brian.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, Manuel Noriega is set to be paroled two months from today, after nearly two decades in U.S. custody. It turns out that this man, who was one of America's chief enemies before Saddam Hussein ever was, still presents a diplomatic challenge in Washington.


TODD (voice-over): Manuel Noriega, described by a U.S. district judge as a prisoner of war. Behind bars nearly 18 years in Miami for racketeering and drug smuggling. Now a born again Christian, he wants to return quietly to Panama when he's released in September. But at least three governments are weighing in.

SEAN MCCORMACK, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESMAN: That's something that we would take a look at. I know that there are other extradition requests for him. That are pending.

TODD: France reportedly wants to extradite Noriega to jail him on money laundering charges. Noriega's attorney says he'll fight that. A Panamanian official tells CNN if he goes back to his homeland he'll be jailed for 20 years. Panamanian authorities convicted Noriega in absentia on murder charges, human rights violations and extortion. A Justice Department official familiar with his case in the U.S. won't comment on what happens next saying it's too early.

Noriega's attorney tells CNN the former general wants what he calls a real trial in Panama, believes he has the right to one and says the former dictator just wants to spend time with his grandchildren.

FRANK RUBINO, MANUEL NORIEGA'S ATTORNEY: He wants to return to Panama not -- and I overemphasize this -- not reengage in politics or any kind of a public life.

TODD: We asked a former State Department official, could Noriega be a power to be reckoned with in Panama now? PETER DESHAZO, DIRECTOR, AMERICAS PROGRAM: The economy is going well. The president is popular. And Noriega could only count on support of very minority groups within the -- his old party.


TODD (on camera): In fact, the one entity in Panama where Noriega could have won some support back has already been co-opted. The notorious Panamanian Defense Force which he once controlled has been dissolved, replaced by a civilian police agency. Wolf?

BLITZER: Brian, thank you. Brian Todd reporting.

The U.S. military launched an invasion of Panama to oust Manuel Noriega, 25,000 troops were involved and it cost the lives of two dozen American troops. Hundreds of Panamanians in the process. Noriega didn't go easily. He fled to the Vatican mission in Panama City and U.S. psychological warfare units played loud, very loud rock music in an attempt to force a surrender. After 10 days, Noriega gave up.

Still ahead, Michael Moore's critical look at the healthcare system now in theaters. But does he play fast and loose with the facts? You'll get the diagnosis just ahead from our senior medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta. And then I'll speak live with Michael Moore. That's coming up.

This hour also, an unusual funeral for a hateful word. Will it have any real impact, though, when it comes to one of the most derisive slurs? Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: A symbolic funeral for one of the most derisive racial slugs (ph) in the English language, what's come to be known as the N word. Let's go to CNN's Jason Carroll. He is watching this unfold in New York. Jason, what's behind this symbolic move?

JASON CARROLL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's the NAACP, Wolf. The organization says this is not an issue of free speech, nor do they say is this an attack on hip-hop or young people. The organization wants to put an end to the use of the N word, so today they decided to bury it. And, Wolf, we have to warn you that some of the language that you're about to hear you might find offensive.


CARROLL (voice-over): The pallbearers carried on their shoulders a wooden casket, but the weight of what they were really carrying could not be measured. The NAACP held this symbolic funeral for the N word.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Nigger has terrorized us. But he has not beaten us. We have overcome him and we celebrate the end of his existence in our community. We officially declare him dead. CARROLL: The word, considered a slur, has been used by some of hip-hop's biggest selling artists. Rappers like 50 Cent make no apologies for using it.

50 CENT, RAPPER: Sure the music is a mirror and hip-hop's a reflection of the environment that we grew up in. It's the harsh realities.

CARROLL: The N word has become so common on the streets, it's often used as a noun replacing the word for best friend or buddy. Do you use the word?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you're in a professional business setting, you don't use the word nigger. But if you're with your friends, you going to say, what up, my nigger?

CARROLL: Most people we spoke to in Harlem don't believe a funeral is the force to create the cultural shift needed for change.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The way people use it today in the streets they're still going to use it. I don't think a funeral is going to have any impact on the word itself.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We must use a funeral as a stepping stone to provide an outlet for the music industry to stop making the artists say that.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't believe it's in the word because we have to change our mindset.

CARROLL: The backlash against Michael Richards' use of the word during an onstage rant wasn't enough to start a street wide movement against it. So can burying it?

JULIAN BOND, NAACP CHAIR: It doesn't mean that we think that automatically people are going to stop using this offensive word, but we want the world to know that it is offensive and it doesn't matter who says it, whether it comes out of black lips or white lips.

CARROLL: Cultural critic Michael Angela Davis says the NAACP, while well intentioned, may be too out of touch to tackle the issue.

MICHAELA ANGELA DAVIS, CULTURAL CRITIC: I think that energy spent should be more resurrecting their image with young people than burying words.


CARROLL (on camera): The NAACP says it does have young people in their leadership and they would like to have even more. Whether this burial ends up being a publicity event that just ends up making the news of the day or ends up growing into something more, Wolf, at this point it's just too early to tell.

BLITZER: All right, thank you, Jason, for that. Jason Carroll reporting.

Still ahead, he says America's healthcare system is "Sicko." Does the filmmaker, Michael Moore, think any of the presidential candidates can heal it? I'll ask him. She's standing by live.

And she has coming into stinging criticism but has Katie Couric now delivered a stinging slap of her own? Out Jeanne Moos takes a closer look. That's coming up in our 7:00 p.m. Eastern hour right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Millions of Americans are filling theaters across the country to see Michael Moore's controversial look at the U.S. healthcare system. "Sicko" was number nine at the top 10 box office draws this weekend, but the movie is being criticized by some who accuse Moore of playing loose with the facts. Michael Moore standing by to join us here in THE SITUATION ROOM in just a moment. But first a reality check from our CNN chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's not on, right?



SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): "Sicko" throws some hard punches at the United States healthcare system, and it seems just about everyone has something to say.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Plays fast and loose with the facts.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Michael Moore was spot on.

MICHAEL MOORE, FILMMAKER: The facts, I think, support what I believe.

GUPTA: And Moore presents a lot of facts throughout the movie. But do they all check out? Keeping them honest, we did some digging and we started with the biggie. The United States slipped to number 37 in the world's healthcare systems. It's true. Thirty-seven is the ranking, according to the World Health Organization's latest data on 191 countries. It's based on general health level, patient satisfaction, access and how it's paid for. France tops the list. Italy and Spain make it into the top 10. The United Kingdom is 18.

MOORE: Hello!

GUPTA: Moore brings a group of patients, including 9/11 workers to Cuba, and marvels at their free treatment and quality of care.

But hold on. That WHO list puts Cuba's healthcare system even lower than the United States, coming in at number 39. Moore asserts that the American healthcare system spends $7,000 per person on health, whereas Cuba spends $25 per person. Not true. But not too far off. The united states spends $6,096 a year per person versus $229 a year in Cuba.

And astronomically more money doesn't mean far better outcomes. In fact, Americans live just a little bit longer than Cubans on average. So Americans do pay more.

But the United States also ranks highest in patient satisfaction. And Americans have shorter wait times than everyone but Germans when seeking non-emergency elective procedures like hip replacement, cataract surgery or knee repair.

That's not something you'll see in "Sicko" as Americans tell their tales of lack of coverage and suffocating red tape.

It's true that the United States is the only country in the Western world without free universal access to healthcare. But you won't find medical utopia elsewhere. The film is filled with content Canadians and Brits sitting in waiting rooms, confident care will come.

But in Canada, you can be waiting for a long time. A survey of six industrialized nations found that only Canada was worse than the United States when it came to waiting for a doctor's appointment for a medical problem.

PAUL KECKLEY, DELOITTE HEALTH CARE ANALYST: That's the reality of those systems. There are quotas. There are planned wait times. The concept that care is free in France and Canada and Cuba, and it's not. Those citizens pay for health services out of taxes. And as a proportion of their household income, it's a significant number.

GUPTA: It's true that the French pay higher taxes, and so does nearly every country ahead the United States on that list. But even higher taxes don't give all the coverage everyone wants.

KECKLEY: Fifteen to 20 percent of the population will purchase services outside the system of care run by the government.

GUPTA: So there's no perfect system anywhere. But no matter how much Moore fudged the facts -- and he did fudge some facts -- there's one everyone agrees on. The system here should be far better. Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN, reporting.


BLITZER: And Michael Moore is joining us now live from Detroit. Michael, thanks very much for coming in. You want to respond to anything ...

MOORE: First of all, Wolf, yeah, well -- yeah, I'd like about 10 minutes to respond to what was said.

BLITZER: Give us a couple of headlines, what you'd like to say. MOORE: I don't talk in sound bites. So -- that report was so biased. I can't imagine what pharmaceutical company ad's coming up right after our break here.

But why don't you tell the truth to the American people? I mean, I wish that CNN and the other mainstream media would just for once tell the truth about what's going on in this country, whether it's with healthcare -- I don't care what it is. I mean, you guys have such a poor track record.

And for me to come on here and have to listen to that kind of crap. I mean, seriously, I haven't been on your show now for three years. The last time I was on, you ran a similar piece about "Fahrenheit 9/11" saying this can't be true what he's saying about the war, how it's going to be a quagmire, the weapons of mass destruction.

You know, and -- why don't you start off actually with my first appearance back here on your show in three years and maybe apologize to me for saying that three years ago, because it turned out everything I said in "Fahrenheit" was true. Everything has come to happen.

Everything I said. I mean, I was -- I took you in that film to Walter Reed Hospital and it took three years before you or any of the rest of the mainstream media would go to Walter Reed Hospital and see what was happening to our troops. So for me to have to sit here and listen again to more crap about socialized medicine or how the Canadians have it worse than us and all this, all the statistics show that we have far worse healthcare than these other industrialized countries.

We're the only ones that don't have it free and universal. And, you know, there's a -- there's a -- you said that Germany was the only one that was better than us in terms of wait times. The Commonwealth Fund last year showed of the top six countries, we were second to last, next to Canada. It showed that Britain, for instance, 71 percent of the British public, when they call to see a doctor, get to see the doctor that day or the next day. It's 69 percent in Germany. It's 66% in Australia. And you're the ones who are fudging the facts. You fudged the facts to the American people now for I don't know how long about this issue, about the war.

And I'm just curious when are you going to just stand there and apologize to the American people for not bringing the truth to them that isn't sponsored by some major corporation? I mean, I'll sit here for as long as it takes, if you can do that for me.

BLITZER: Just in fairness, we had a lot of commercials for "Sicko" that we've been running on CNN as well. So we have commercials. This is a business, obviously. But let's talk a little bit about ...

MOORE: You have a nightly medical report. You have something called "The Daily Dose." I watch CNN. You have it every day. "The Daily Dose" sponsored by -- fill in the blank. And you are funded by these people day in and day out. Don't even compare that to my movie being out for a couple of weeks and a couple of rinky-dink ads for 15 seconds. Come on. Come on, Wolf!

BLITZER: No, no -- I don't know if you're familiar with Dr. Sanjay Gupta's record, but I would stack up his record on medical issues with virtually anyone in the business.

MOORE: All right. So when I -- when I now put on my Web site, as I will do tonight, how his facts were wrong about the $7,000 that we spend, it's actually -- I've read one report now, it's even more than $7,000 that we spend per person each year in this country. I'm going to put the real facts up there on my Web site so people can see what he said was wrong.

BLITZER: Well, if we get that confirmed, obviously, we'll correct the record. Sanjay - but I'm just saying ...

MOORE: Oh, you will? You'll be getting it.

BLITZER: Sanjay Gupta is not only a doctor and neurosurgeon, but he's also an excellent, excellent journalist. Look, I saw the film, and it's a powerful, powerful ...

MOORE: I saw Dr. Sanjay Gupta over there embedded with the troops at the beginning of the war. He and the others of you in the mainstream media refused to ask our leaders the hard questions and demand the honest answers. And that's why we're in this war -- we're in the fifth year of this war because you and CNN, Dr. Gupta, you didn't do your jobs back then and now here we are in this mess.

What if you'd actually done the job on that? That's why anybody who hears anything he anything of what you say now about universal healthcare should question what you're saying, what you're putting out there. You didn't do the job for us with the war. You're not doing it with this issue. And I just -- I just wonder when the American people are going to turn off their TV sets and quit listening to this stuff.

BLITZER: Sanjay Gupta did an excellent job covering that war. He was with the Navy's medical doctors and he went in and risked his life and actually performed neurosurgery on the scene.

MOORE: You have the questions. Why are we here? That's the question. Why are we here in this war? Where's the weapons of mass destruction? Why didn't you -- why did it take you so long, Wolf, to finally take on Vice President Cheney? It took you to 2007 before you made the man mad at you.

BLITZER: Those are fair questions.

MOORE: Four years!

BLITZER: Let's talk a little ...

MOORE: Where were you?

BLITZER: Let's talk about "Sicko." That's the film that you're here to talk about. MOORE: Yeah, let's forget that. Yeah, OK.

BLITZER: There's plenty to talk about the war. There's plenty to talk about with "Sicko."

MOORE: I just haven't seen you in three years, so I was wondering how you felt for three years of not seeing me after you trashed "Fahrenheit" and said that I was wrong about, oh, yeah, this war was -- come on, I'm just waiting for an apology.

BLITZER: Michael, we've invited you on numerous occasions. Unfortunately, you've declined our invitations the past three years but there are plenty of times we asked you to come on the show and plenty of times you've declined.

MOORE: Really? And you wanted to apologize? Why did you want to talk to me?

BLITZER: No, we wanted to interview you. That's what we do on television. Let's ...

MOORE: You don't have to apologize to me. Maybe just apologize to the American people and the families of the troops for not doing your job four years ago. We wouldn't be in this war. If you had done your job. Come on. Just admit it. Just apologize to the American people.

BLITZER: Which of the presidential candidates who are out there right now do you think would do the best job fixing the nation's healthcare system?

MOORE: Well, the Democrats have to be asked some very specific questions. Too many of them are saying, well, they're for health care for all people. Very few of them are being as specific as Mr. Kucinich is in saying, well, I support the Conyers bill in Congress HR-676. That's what we need to hear.

And I would like to hear what these other Democratic candidates are going to say and do in specifics in removing the private insurance companies from the equation. We shouldn't have profit involved when we talk about taking care of people's health.

BLITZER: Is there a candidate, though, you think -- is Dennis Kucinich your candidate? Who do you think -- I know in the film you go after Hillary Clinton. And you're very, very bipartisan in your criticism in the film, Democrats and Republicans.

MOORE: Yeah. When you say I go after, let's be clear. I actually think she did a very brave thing to try and address this issue 14 years ago. And they stopped her cold. They went after her with the same kind of, you know, trash pieces I just had to watch.

And so that stopped her. And now we've had to suffer through 14 more years of having no universal healthcare in this country. Our own government admits that because the 47 million who aren't insured, we now have about 18,000 people a year that die in this country simply because they don't have health insurance. That's six 9/11's every single year.

If you times that by 14 since Mrs. Clinton was unceremoniously removed from the agenda here, she hasn't been able to talk about this. She hasn't really put forth her specific plan. I'm hoping that the people have gone to my movie, the people that are concerned about this issue, will write to Mrs. Clinton and say, please, universal healthcare that's free for everyone who lives in this country. It will cost us less than what we're spending now ling the pockets of these private health insurance companies, of these pharmaceutical companies. So there's still some chance to have an effect on people like her.

And of course, there's one candidate who isn't even in the race yet. I don't know if he will be. But he was right about the war before it began, unlike CNN -- did I mention that?

BLITZER: You did.

MOORE: And -- and he's right about global warming and he's right on this issue, too.

BLITZER: Al Gore. The Democrats, by and large, most of them support some major health reform, including universal healthcare, which is what you support. I want you to listen to what Rudy Giuliani, the Republican front-runner said at the Republican debate that I hosted up in Manchester, New Hampshire. Listen to this.



RUDY GIULIANI, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Free market principles are the only things that reduce cost and improve quality. Socialized medicine will ruin medicine in the United States.


BLITZER: All right. What do you say to Mayor Giuliani?

MOORE: So he's saying that he hates Medicare?

BLITZER: He's saying socialized medicine will ruin medicine in the United States.

MOORE: That's what we have. Ask a doctor if they'd rather have a Medicare patient or somebody who has got a lousy HMO, because they know at least Medicare -- the government will pay them, send them a check and not have to fight an hour on the phone just to get a $15 office visit paid for.

I mean, seriously, we have one of the largest socialized medicine systems in this country. It's called Medicare and Medicaid. And while it's underfunded and too much of the control of it has been handed over to private companies, we've already proven we can do things like that, and Social Security and other things very well. So I hope that he wasn't attacking help for senior citizens, because that's what it sounded like to me.

BLITZER: I've got a whole bunch of questions. Unfortunately, we're out of time. But if you stick around ...

MOORE: We're out of time! I'll see you in three years.

BLITZER: No, no, stick around. We'll tape some more. We'll run it tomorrow. We want to make sure you get your chance to ...

MOORE: Oh, no, see, that's the deal, Wolf. There's no taping with me. As you know, it's rare that they put me on live. And to your credit, thank you for doing that. You can see why. They generally don't like to have me on live because, you know, a lot of that would have been cut out.

BLITZER: Well, no ...

MOORE: Thank you for having me on. I really appreciate it.

BLITZER: We're not going to cut a second of it out if you want to tape something.

MOORE: Run it unedited?

BLITZER: Run it unedited.

MOORE: And people can ...

BLITZER: And people going to your Web site, it's a free country, they can find out the truth, about what it is.

MOORE: The facts about Sanjay Gupta, they can find out about his facts, right? We can find that out, right?

BLITZER: Absolutely. Michael Moore.


BLITZER: Thanks very much. Stand by. Michael Moore has got a new film called "Sicko."

Let's check in with Lou Dobbs to see what's coming up at the top of the hour. Lou what are you working on?

LOU DOBBS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, are you having fun with Michael Moore?


DOBBS: He's more of a left wing promote than Hugo Chavez, for crying out loud. He has to love profit. What's he talking about? We'll find out later. How about at 7:00?

At 6:00 p.m. Eastern we'll be reporting on the dangerous heat wave scorching much of the country from coast to coast. Triple digit temperatures, record drought leading to some of the biggest wildfires ever. We'll have the latest video for you.

Senator Hillary Clinton facing charges she's selling out our middle class to boost her presidential ambitions. Is she putting the interest of India and this country's powerful Indian lobbyists ahead of working Americans? That report and communist China preparing to launch an all-out assault against what's left of this country's automobile industry and our middle class helped by one of the country's biggest car makers.

We'll have that special report and three of the country's best political analysts and strategists join me to discuss what is an escalating political showdown over Iraq and executive privilege. Please join us at the top of the hour for all of that and much more. Wolf, back to you and Michael.

BLITZER: Thank you, Lou. We'll be getting back to you in a moment.

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

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Right at the top of the hour will be Lou Dobbs. After watching that Michael Moore interview, I've decided whatever CNN is paying you, it ain't enough. The question this hour is what does it mean if a quarter of the top positions of the Department of Homeland Security are not filled?

Terry in North Carolina -- Michael Moore used up a lot of my time, by the way. Terry in North Carolina, "Jack, like rats jumping a sinking ship, one fourth of the department has left for greener pastures. This department has failed at everything they're accountable for and nobody wants anything to do with it.

Jonathan in New York. "It's a good thing, Jack. The taxpayers saving a lot of money on a department that's not doing its job in the first place. It saves an incompetent Congress the job of withholding funds from an incompetent department which more than almost anything symbolizes the total incompetence of the Bush regime. So when can I expect my tax refund?"

Curtis in Philadelphia. "It means homeland security is no longer the top priority for the wartime decider and his administration. So what's important to the decider? How about ignoring subpoenas from Congress, commuting prison sentences of cronies and continuing to lie to the American people that progress is being made in Iraq."

Dick in Miami writes, "Try recruiting waiters, entertainers and administration employees aboard the Titanic. No one wants to work for a sinking ship. It's a short cruise to nowhere."

Dave in Seattle writes, "Well, Jack, it appears there is a limit to the number of George W. Bush cronies and sycophants."

Steve in Tennessee. "Homeland Security with 25 percent of its positions unfilled means that we don't have to fear that these positions will contain someone like Michael Brown or the cadaverous Mr. Chertoff. We have to be thankful for the small things, Jack."

And Nancy in Grand Ledge, Michigan. "It means it will cost us less to do nothing."

If you didn't see your e-mail here go to where we post more of them online along with video clips of "The Cafferty File." Wolf?

See you in an hour, Jack. Thanks. Let's go to Lou. He is in New York. Lou?