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Iran's Role in Iraq; Will Georgia Execute an Innocent Man?

Aired July 16, 2007 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, HOST: And to our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Happening now, Iran's role in Iraq and a disturbing warning of trouble to come as the outgoing Joint Chiefs chairman arrives in Baghdad.

Our Pentagon correspondent is the only TV reporter traveling with him.

Also, a Georgia man facing execution in only a few hours for a crime he may not have committed. Key witnesses are now taking back their testimony. We're going to show you why the law says it may be too late.

And some of Hollywood's biggest stars opening their wallets for White House hopefuls. We're show you which ones are backing which candidates -- sometimes more than one.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.


The Joint Chiefs chairman, General Peter Pace, is on the ground and running for the future in Iraq. General Pace and other top military brass arrived today amid news of a growing and unwelcome presence in the Iraqi conflict.

Our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr, is the only U.S. broadcast journalist traveling with General Pace -- Barbara.

BARBARA STARR, PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, General Pace arrived here in Baghdad for a series of meetings. He and General David Petraeus took a helicopter ride around the city to have a look at what's going on before they settled down for their talks.

But there is disturbing new information emerging here that Iran may be about to cause major trouble before the September 15th progress report is due.


LT. GEN. RAYMOND ODIERNO, U.S. ARMY: We're seeing an increase in investment. We're getting reports that, in fact, they're trying to export more EFPs in here over the next 60 days -- as many as they possibly can -- and get them in the hands of these Shia extremists. STARR: (voice-over): Lieutenant General Raymond Odierno also told CNN in an exclusive interview there is mounting evidence that insurgents loyal to Iran are deliberately stepping up their attacks against the highly secure Green Zone.

ODIERNO: It is clear to me that not only are the rockets and mortars being used, but that these individuals who are shooting them were trained in Iran, I believe, with the Quds force, probably in the February-March time frame, have come back in -- because we've seen an increase in their capability over the last 60 days to be more accurate and to be more timely in their execution.

STARR: Still, General Pace is doing the initial planning for three scenarios after the September 15th report is delivered.

Maintain the surge. That's going to be tough. A lot of impact on soldiers and families.

Add more troops. Not something anybody wants to see.

Or reduce the number of troops here in Iraq. There is growing political pressure, of course, to do just that -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Barbara Starr.

She's covering General Pace's visit to Iraq.

Stay with CNN for complete coverage of her exclusive reports.

Meanwhile, waves of visitors washing into the United States this summer and growing fears Al Qaeda operatives potentially could be among them. Details of the threat are expected in a key intelligence report that's due out tomorrow.

Let's get some details.

Our justice correspondent Kelli Arena is watching all of this for us -- so how much concern, based on everything you're hearing, Kelli, is there?

KELLI ARENA, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, it's a big concern. And it's expected to be raised in the National Intelligence Estimate. That report is expected to highlight al Qaeda's increased effort at getting operatives inside the United States. And many intelligence experts say that it's very likely to turn to Europe, where violent extremism is growing.


ARENA: (voice-over): Madrid, 2004.

London, 2005.

Glasgow just two weeks ago.

Europe is now one of the most important battlegrounds in the war on terror. And extremists there may be heading here.

MICHAEL CHERTOFF, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: As we've seen over the past couple of years, an increase in homegrown terrorism in Europe, that has given us some cause for concern.

ARENA: The threat is expected to be outlined in stark detail in the National Intelligence Estimate. The report is expected to show that Al Qaeda is more determined than ever to get operatives inside the United States. And most officials predict that they will come from Europe.

Reports show that in 2006 alone, European countries arrested more than 200 Islamic terror suspects. The Jihadi movement is definitely growing. But Europe's ability to fight it is uneven.

MICHAEL JACOBSON, WASHINGTON INSTITUTE NEAR EAST POLICY: There are some governments in Europe such as the U.K. France, Spain, which recognize a terrorist threat, have taken a variety of steps to combat it. But there are a lot of other European countries, particularly some of the new members, that are not as focused on the threat and don't have the same type of capability.

ARENA: Another concern -- it's easy for Europeans to travel here. Most don't need a visa, which means less scrutiny.

CHERTOFF: What we'd like to do is get more information on everybody who travels under the program than currently do. We would then be able to check who we think needs to be interviewed before they got in an airplane.


ARENA: Since 9/11, Al Qaeda has dispatched an operative with a European passport, Richard Reid. You remember him, the so-called shoe bomber. And he wasn't successful, Wolf. But Al Qaeda has shown a remarkable capacity to learn from its mistakes.

BLITZER: Do analysts -- and I know you've been speaking with a lot of intelligence analysts, Kelli -- think that the release this weekend of this new Al Qaeda videotape, including that 40 second mention of Osama bin Laden, represents any sort of signal?

ARENA: Wolf, I asked Secretary Chertoff that question and he admits that there's a view that messages may predicate an attack. But he's seen no intelligence to back it up. And he suggests that this could just mean that Al Qaeda has found an easier pipeline to get their propaganda out.

BLITZER: Kelli is watching this and we'll watch it tomorrow when this declassified NIE, this National Intelligence Estimate, comes out.

Let's check back with Jack Cafferty for The Cafferty File -- hi, Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: What if they closed the Mexican border, where 3,000 people a day come across illegally? I wonder if that would do it.

BLITZER: They've been trying that a long time. They haven't met with a whole lot of success yet.

CAFFERTY: Trying it?

Who's been trying it?

BLITZER: Well, sort of trying.

CAFFERTY: Yes, right.

"There is no chance that the Iraqi forces could take over any time, or certainly by the first of the year." So says Lee Hamilton. He's the former co-chair of the Iraq Study Group. Hamilton says he is extremely doubtful that Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki will be able to secure the country and let U.S. forces leave time soon.

Now, this comes after an interview in which al-Maliki said Iraqi forces will be ready to secure the country on their own by the end of this year and, "American forces can leave any time they want."

Well, Iraqi and Bush administration officials have since backed off of those comments because they're just stupid.

Nevertheless, Hamilton's not too confident in Nouri al-Maliki. He says he's had quite a bit of time now, he's known exactly what he's had to do, he hasn't done it. His rhetoric is pretty good. His performance is pretty bad.

Meanwhile, the U.S. military's top general says that the Joint Chiefs of staff is considering a range of possible options in Iraq, including -- including an even bigger troop buildup if President Bush decides that's necessary.

Gee, have we heard this before?

Here's the question -- a former chairman of the Iraq Study Group says he is extremely doubtful that Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al- Maliki will be able to secure the country and allow American forces to leave there any time soon.

Is he right?

E-mail or go to -- Wolf.

BLITZER: They're still going to take that month of vacation, though, the Iraqi parliament. I don't know if you heard about that. It's very hot in Baghdad right now, so they're going to take a month off.

CAFFERTY: Yes, we did that question in The Cafferty File about three months ago and burned up a couple of computer servers handling the outrage from the viewers who watch this program and pay the taxes and the tab for the war in Iraq. That's --

BLITZER: You know, they do have air conditioning --

CAFFERTY: That's pretty disgusting.

BLITZER: -- in that parliament. But the troops out there, who are walking around with 60 pounds worth of equipment, they don't have air conditioning in Fallujah or Ramadi or areas like that.

CAFFERTY: Well, why, you know, why doesn't President Bush pick up the phone and say, hey, dummy -- I mean, excuse me, Mr. Prime Minister -- this looks really bad on the world stage. You're going to take a month off while our troops are over there getting killed and blown up and killing themselves for your people every day?

You're going to take a month off?

Why don't you stay and work?

BLITZER: Jack, thanks very much.

CAFFERTY: My pleasure.

BLITZER: Jack Cafferty doing some reporting for us.

Still ahead, Americans detained in Iran seen for the first time since they were detained and making some stunning statements on Iranian TV.

Also, the senator linked to a prostitution scandal -- he's about to go public for the first time since it broke.

Will he resign?

What's next for David Vitter?

We're about to hear.

And Hollywood cash flowing into White House campaigns. We're going to show you which stars are helping out which candidates.

Stick around.



BLITZER: For the first time American citizens held in Iran have been shown now on Iranian television. But the display is raising new questions and deep concerns about their situation.

Let's go to our State Department correspondent, Zain Verjee.

She's watching all of this unfold -- Zain, what do we see in this new video?

ZAIN VERJEE, CNN STATE DEPARTMENT CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, Iran is not out for TV ratings. It's sending a specific message.


VERJEE: (voice-over): Captured on camera for the first time -- images of two detained Iranian-Americans aired on state television, apparently admitting they were involved in plans to undermine the government.

U.S.-based scholar Haleh Esfandiari and urban planning consultant Kian Tajbakhsh are seen separately wearing civilian clothes, talking about their connections with political foundations in America.

Esfandiari's husband says she may look comfortable in these pictures but --

PROF. SHAUL BAKHASH, GEORGE MASON UNIVERSITY: This is a mockery of the fact that she's been in solitary confinement for 70 days with no contact with us, with her lawyers or with the outside world.

VERJEE: One Iran watcher in Washington says he's not buying the confession.

TRITA PARSI, NATIONAL IRANIAN AMERICAN COUNCIL: Looking and listening to the sound bites, they seem to be talking about other things. And they're portraying it as if it is a confession.

VERJEE: Iran is promoting these images now ahead of a documentary airing on Wednesday called "Fudged As Democracy."

PARSI: The purpose of it seems to be to portray to the Iranian people that the U.S. and other forces are really working inside Iran to destabilize the country and that they're doing so in the name of democracy.

VERJEE: The short sound bites are spliced with images of the revolutions that ended communist rule in Europe. Iran has alleged the U.S. is using intellectuals to bring about a Velvet Revolution there.

BAKHASH: She is shown as saying that she or somebody was involved in the Velvet Revolution in Georgia. But, clearly, they're splicing and cutting her remarks in such a way that is patently dishonest.

VERJEE: Analysts say there could be a glimmer of hope in these images. Ramin Jahanbegloo, a Canadian-American scholar, also seen in this clip, was detained by Iran last year, but released soon after he made a TV confession.


VERJEE: There are two other Iranian-Americans being held in Iran -- Wolf.

BLITZER: What is the State Department, Zain, saying about this?

VERJEE: Well, they basically said that Iran should immediately release all four detainees, saying that they're not doing anything to destabilize Iran. In fact, these are people that were building bridges with Iran. The State Department is saying they should be released immediately and reunited with their families -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Zain, stay on top of this story for us.

An important story here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Meanwhile, President Bush is announcing major Middle East peace initiatives, including a U.S.-led conference between Israeli and Palestinian leaders, and a new injection of cash for the Palestinian Territories.

Let's go to our White House correspondent Suzanne Malveaux.

She's watching this.

The president delivered a strong message on this Israeli- Palestinian issue today -- Suzanne.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: He certainly did, Wolf. And what he's trying to do is trying to refocus back to the Middle East peace process. He was on the phone with several leaders, the leaders of Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt, as well as the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas.

He is trying to get them all involved in these talks.

But the big question here, Wolf, is whether or not he has the political clout, the credibility, to pull this off.


MALVEAUX: (voice-over): Five years ago, President Bush laid out his vision for Israelis and Palestinians to live side by side in peace.

GEORGE BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Things must change in the Middle East.

MALVEAUX: But today, a sobering assessment from the visionary himself.

BUSH: As I said in the Rose Garden five years ago, a Palestinian state will never be created by terror.

MALVEAUX: With nothing to show for it and time running out in his presidency, Mr. Bush is offering a plan once again to jump start the peace process.

BUSH: Recent days have brought a chapter of upheaval and uncertainty in the Middle East. But the story does not have to end that way.

MALVEAUX: Mr. Bush is trying to bolster the Palestinian government of President Mahmoud Abbas, who controls the West Bank, by infusing $190 million of aid and calling for an international peace conference.

At the same time, he is trying to isolate Hamas, considered a terrorist organization, which controls the Gaza Strip. The Bush administration says backing Abbas' Fatah Party is the best chance for Israelis and Palestinians to create two states living in peace.

But the president's plan is already drawing criticism as too little too late.

DAVID SCHENKER, WASHINGTON INSTITUTE FOR NEAR EAST POLICY: This, I think, if not is not significant and I think it's even counter- productive. Basically the decision we've made is back to the hilt Fatah. Fatah is the organization that failed miserably over the past eight, 10 years.

MALVEAUX: One failure -- alleged corruption.

SCHENKER: Money is not going to solve Abbas' problems. He can't purchase support. He's going to have to earn it through good governance.

MALVEAUX: Mr. Bush is also going to need the Israeli prime minister, Ehud Olmert, to make concessions by pulling out of unauthorized areas of the West Bank. But this could further weaken his position in his own country.


MALVEAUX: And, Wolf, as you know, President Bush's own status has weakened since his vision that he first laid out five years ago from the failures of the Iraq War.

Now, tomorrow, President Bush is going to be meeting with the U.N. secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, here at the White House to discuss both -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And I noticed the president made a strong point in his speech of saying Condoleezza Rice, she will chair this meeting in the fall where the Israelis, the Palestinians, other Arab countries, others involved will be attending, presumably -- not Tony Blair, who is now the special envoy in charge of the Middle East portfolio, if you will. This is really a big opportunity for Condoleezza Rice. It might be her last chance to have any sort of lasting legacy as secretary of state.

MALVEAUX: It certainly will be, if there is something that's accomplished there. She has taken numerous trips to the region. So far, they have not produced a lot of results. They are certainly hoping that this is something where they think -- they think they finally have a chance here to have a Palestinian government that they can work with and one that the Israelis, as well, will see as a true partner -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks very much.

Suzanne Malveaux reporting from the White House. Coming up, he's just hours away from dying for a crime he may -- repeat -- may not have committed.

Will his last chance though, come through?

Also, some of the biggest names in Hollywood voting with their wallets. Find out which candidates from which party they're backing.

Stick around.



BLITZER: There are new numbers out on campaign contributions and they show a steady stream of money flowing from Hollywood wallets to this season's White House contenders. Let's check some of them.

Among Democrats, Hillary Clinton took in $43,000 -- Tom Hanks, Pauly Shore, Paul Newman among others. Newman, by the way, also donated to Barack Obama and Bill Richardson.

Obama got $42,000 from stars, including Jamie Foxx and Will Smith.

John Edwards raised about $9,000 from celebrities, including Ben Stiller, who also contributed to Senator Clinton.

And Dennis Kucinich got about $4,200 from stars, including Alexandra Paul of "Baywatch".

On the Republican side, Rudy Giuliani raised $5,600 from actors Tony Sirico of "The Sopranos" and Melissa Gilbert of "Little House on the Prairie."

John McCain got $2,300 from a single actor. That would be Hunter Gomez, who has appeared on ABC's "According To Jim."

The next presidential debate, by the way, only one week away.

Next Monday night, CNN is teaming up with YouTube. It will be the first debate where all of you can submit your questions to the candidates online.

Let's go back to Carol Costello.

She's monitoring some other incoming stories to THE SITUATION ROOM right now -- Carol.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, I have a little more information on that developing news out in Colorado. In fact, a news conference is ongoing right now.

I'm talking about that unsettling event just outside the offices of Colorado Governor Bill Ritter. It happened at the state Capitol in Denver this afternoon. Troopers shot and killed a man carrying a gun and declaring, "I am the emperor. Officials say the unidentified man refused orders to drop his gun. Now, it's unclear where Ritter was at the time of the shooting but, of course, we're monitoring that news conference and I'll give you more info when I have it.

From a judge in Los Angeles today, a formal stamp of approval for the $660 million settlement to be paid in the Roman Catholic archdiocese sex abuse case. The unprecedented payout will go to more than 500 alleged victims of abuse by clergy, some of them dating back several decades. In giving his approval, the judge called the settlement "the right thing to do."

Washington D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty says the District will take the battle over handguns to the Supreme Court. The District hopes to reverse a lower court decision overturning its ban on handguns inside the home. The 2-1 decision in March said the D.C. Gun rules were invalid. It said under the second amendment, individuals, not just militias, have the right to bear arms.

Japanese officials are taking stock of damage from a powerful earthquake that rocked northwestern Japan. At least seven people died in the magnitude 6.8 earthquake. The quake also triggered an automatic shutdown of three nuclear reactors. Officials say water containing a small amount of radioactive material leaked from one of those reactors. They say it was not enough to impact the environment. A second, deeper earthquake of equal magnitude struck a few hours ago. No injuries or damage reported from that second event.

That's a look at the headlines right now -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, thanks very much, Carol.

We're going to get back to you soon.

Coming up, a newly released tape from Osama bin Laden. But experts say it contains old clips. Find out what that may be telling us about the world's most wanted terrorist.

Plus, a growing number of accidents blamed on drivers distracted by text messaging. We're going to show you which states are trying to ban it.

Stick around.



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

Happening now, China's official news agency say Chinese food inspectors have banned meat products from seven U.S. companies. It says the imports contained a range of contaminants discovered during tests of shipments Saturday.

Senator David Vitter standing by to hold a news conference in New Orleans. He's expected to discuss his admission last week that he patronized the escort service run by reputed D.C. Madam Deborah Jeane Palfrey.

Our Susan Roesgen standing by with that story.

Also coming up, more staffers have left Senator John McCain's presidential campaign. Five members of his press team resigned their posts today. Their resignations coming less than a week after senior staff members stepped down when the Arizona Republican decided to restructure his operation.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.


Pakistan launching what it says is an aggressive new effort to find Osama bin Laden and his top deputy. But it's off to a deadly start and being complicated by a series of crises.

Let's go to CNN's Brian Todd.

He's watching this story -- what do U.S. officials Brian -- and I know you're speaking with them -- make of this new effort to find Osama bin Laden?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, they're taking a very cautious approach given Pakistan's track record in this regard. Still, Pakistani officials do say there's new urgency to the hunt for Osama bin Laden and they're feeling considerable external and internal pressure to step it up.


TODD: (voice-over): Pakistani intelligence sources tell CNN they're going after Osama bin Laden and his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, more aggressively now, pouring new resources and manpower into the search. The new urgency, we're told comes after tapes of both Al Qaeda leaders were released in recent days, saying things they've said before.

OSAMA BIN LADEN, AL QAEDA LEADER (through translator): Happy is the one who is chosen by God as a martyr.

TODD: While this tape was newly distributed, a U.S. counterterrorism official and our own experts say the clip appears to come from a 2002 tape.

PETER BERGEN, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: It's clearly not a new quote-unquote "tape." I think it's puzzling we haven't heard from bin Laden since July of 2006, the last time we had an audiotape from him. On the other hand, I think he has made the calculation that every time he releases a new tape, it means that he's perhaps open to being detected.

TODD: U.S. officials believe bin Laden is still alive and is somewhere along Pakistan's border with Afghanistan. In recent days, suicide attacks on the Pakistani side killed nearly 80 people, many of them Pakistani troops. Pakistani officials tell CNN this will not deter their new crackdown.

But a U.S. counterterrorism official says it's too early to tell how extensive this Pakistani campaign will be or how effective in pressuring al Qaeda. Terrorism experts also skeptical.

PAUL CRUICKSHANK, NYU CTR. ON LAW AND SECURITY: There's a difference between what they say and what they do, as we've found out in the last years. United States officials are very frustrated with Pakistan over its inability to capture and kill key al Qaeda militants in the border area with Afghanistan.


TODD: Still, a top Pakistani official told me they'll pursue this new campaign until the militants are defeated. But now that Pakistan's 10-month truce with Taliban sympathizers in that area has broken down, Pakistani and U.S. officials are concerned there will be more suicide attacks possibly in Pakistan's larger cities -- Wolf.

BLITZER: What about the possibility of stepped-up U.S. intelligence military operations in that area?

TODD: Well, U.S. officials are drawing the line on that right now, saying they have the capability to go into those areas, into Pakistan to search for bin Laden. But as one intelligence official said recently, they've chosen not to do so without permission of the Pakistani government.

But as President Bush told you, yourself, not long ago, Wolf, that equation can change in about a second if they get a hard lead on Osama bin Laden.

BLITZER: Yes, that's what he said, if they had really hard information, that they knew precisely where bin Laden was, he wouldn't hesitate in ordering that he be killed. Thanks very much, Brian Todd, reporting for us.

What does the head of Homeland Security make of all of this? Our justice correspondent Kelli Arena asked Michael Chertoff in an exclusive one-on-one interview.


MICHAEL CHERTOFF, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: I think it's good news that we see stepped-up enforcement activity. The name of the game for us first and foremost is to keep the enemy so busy defending itself they don't have the time or ability to plan to attack us. So that to the extent the moment is shifting now in the direction of enforcement activity over there, I think that's a positive development.


BLITZER: Chertoff also says he's concerned by reports al Qaeda has a relatively safe environment in which to train in Pakistan's western tribal regions. Joining us now to talk a little bit more about this, our world affairs analyst, the former defense secretary William Cohen. He's chairman, CEO of the Cohen Group here in Washington.

What do you make of this development? It looks like President Pervez Musharraf has decided in the aftermath of that Red Mosque incident only in the past couple of weeks that he's going to start getting tough with the Taliban in that section of Pakistan, Waziristan, along the border with Afghanistan.

WILLIAM COHEN, CNN WORLD AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: I think that was a turning point for him. As you know, he has been under enormous pressure coming from the United States and others that he hasn't been sufficiently dedicated to eliminating al Qaeda operatives and insurgents in that region.

The comeback of the Taliban and al Qaeda in that region has been of concern to U.S. intelligence analysts and others. And so I think this was a situation where he's saying that the time has come to take much more aggressive action.

It also, as you've just pointed out, may unleash additional attacks within Pakistan itself directed at President Musharraf. So he's in a very difficult position. But I think he has been a force certainly for moderation. He has been a strong supporter of the United States' effort and the allied effort to deal with terrorism.

During the time when I was at the Pentagon, he was very helpful. And so I think that this is something that he has got to deal with and he understands the kind of pressures coming externally from the U.S. and others. But also internally he has got to cope with that as well and I think he's prepared to try and do that.

BLITZER: Not that the U.S. has an abundance of troops ready to move in. But what's standing in the way of a large number of U.S. forces actually going into Pakistan, into those tribal zones, and trying to find Osama bin Laden and remnants of his al Qaeda and Taliban?

COHEN: I don't think we should ever be in the position of going into a country without the support or permission or collaboration of the president of that country, even though he's a military dictator as such. He is one who is a supporter of us.

For us to simply go in and say, we're taking over now and going in and we'll collect the intelligence and launch the attacks, without President Musharraf being a part of that, I think that would do more to undercut his viability and maybe even his life than anything we could do.

So I think as long as we're doing it in conjunction with him at his invitation and his level of cooperation, that's one thing. If we had instant intelligence that was really highly reliable and we couldn't get in touch with him, that might present an interesting situation. But I think that's probably the exception, and I would suggest that what we do is stay in very close touch with him and make sure that we coordinate whatever we do rather than simply saying, time for us to move in and take over.

BLITZER: On the Israeli/Palestinian front, Mr. Secretary, here's what the president said earlier today in announcing his new initiative that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will lead. Here's what he said about Hamas.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: By its actions, Hamas has demonstrated beyond all doubt that it is devoted to extremism and murder than to serving the Palestinian people. This is a moment of clarity for all Palestinians. And now comes a moment of choice.

BLITZER: Is this mission impossible for the secretary of state?

COHEN: Well, I think for us to suggest this is going to be her make or break legacy effort I think is wrong. I think this -- anyone who has been dealing with the Middle East, and you certainly have over the years, understand this is a long process.

And so I think that what the president is saying is this is the time for choice, but there's a time for choice for Mahmoud Abbas, whom we haven't empowered enough in the past, a choice for him and his government, the Fatah, as well.

Because there has been a reputation, well deserved, for corruption, a lack of providing services and human needs of the Palestinian people. So Fatah and Mahmoud Abbas has a choice to make as well.

This is why Hamas was so successful in Gaza. They were providing human services, health needs, other types of needs of the Palestinian people. And that's why it came to such a surprise to Western observers. So what Fatah has to do, what Mahmoud Abbas has to do is to certainly devote himself to that objective.

Final point on this is, we have to be careful that this isn't seen as empowering Mahmoud Abbas as a U.S. and Israeli empowering him. This has to be indeed regional, that the Saudis, the Egyptians, the Jordanians and others have to endorse this.

Otherwise it looked as if Mahmoud Abbas was simply a tool of the United States and that won't win him votes in the West Bank or throughout the Palestinian territories as well.

BLITZER: Our world affairs analyst Secretary Cohen. Thanks very much for coming in.

COHEN: Pleasure being with you.

BLITZER: And still ahead, a convicted cop killer makes a last ditch plea to avoid being executed only a few hours from now. Is it a case of mistaken identity? The Georgia Pardons and Parole Board debates the live of Troy Davis.

And texting and driving can be a very deadly combination. Did it contribute to the crash that killed five New York cheerleaders? Mary Snow watching this story. Stay with us, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: A man on Georgia's death row is set to die a little more than 24 hours from now for a murder his attorneys insist he did not commit. The Pardons and Parole Board is hearing his case. And this afternoon the state supreme court received an appeal of last week's denial on his motion for a new trial. Let's go to CNN's Rusty Dornin. She's following the case of Troy Davis for us.

What is the latest on this case, Rusty?

RUSTY DORNIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, we are awaiting word from the Georgia State Parole and Pardon Board deciding the fate of Troy Davis. They could commute his sentence to life without the possibility of parole or they could allow his execution to proceed tomorrow night at 7:00.

Now what has brought this all up to the forefront and has made it worldwide headlines really is that there are seven out of nine witnesses that have recanted or contradicted their own testimony. Some of them had said that Davis confessed to them that he killed the cop in 1989. Now they're saying that they were coerced by police and that Davis did not tell them that he had killed him.

There were no actual eyewitnesses to that crime that had recanted their testimony. Police are saying there are still two rock solid witnesses they say that believe that Davis was the killer in this case. And of course this afternoon, we're just awaiting word on their decision -- Wolf.

BLITZER: So is -- what are the chances? What are experts saying about the decision by the Parole Board?

DORNIN: Well, the thing that's interesting is since 1977, there have been 47 of these hearings and only eight people have had their sentences commuted. So it is very rare in Georgia to have a death sentence commuted, but certainly it is possible.

BLITZER: All right. Rusty, we'll watch this story with you. Thank you very much.

Since 1973, by the way, 124 prisoners on death row in the United States have been found innocent. Since 1976, 229 death row inmates have been granted clemency. There are 38 states that currently allow the death penalty, although some of them have imposed moratoriums on executions. Thirty people have been put to death this year here in the United States.

Let's go to Lou Dobbs. He's getting ready for his show that begins right at the top of the hour -- Lou.

LOU DOBBS, HOST, "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT": Wolf, thank you. Coming up at 6:00 p.m. Eastern here on CNN, we'll be reporting on the escalating invasion of this country by Mexican drug cartels. Those drug cartels have built armed camps in our national parks, growing marijuana. The federal government says our public land is, quote, "under attack."

Also tonight, the Bush administration defying the will of the people and the Congress on the issue of food safety. The Bush administration refuses to implement rules to identify the national origin of food imported. We'll have that report.

And some members of the illegal alien open borders lobby are wearing masks, as you see there, good-looking fellow, those masks of me, of course, pressing their case for amnesty and open borders. I'll be joined tonight by one of their leaders, Christine Newman-Ortiz. She's among our guests here tonight.

We'll also be examining racism and sexism in our society and the role of hip-hop music. Please join us for all of that coming up at the top of the hour. All the day's news and a lot more.

Wolf, back to you.

BLITZER: A full hour with Lou coming up. Thanks, Lou, very much.

Still ahead, a U.S. senator implicated in a prostitution scandal. He has been in seclusion, but now he's about to speak for the first time. What's he going to say? We're going to go live to New Orleans.

Also, details of new crackdowns on drivers who text message, some with very deadly consequences. Stick around, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: We're only minutes away from a news conference by a conservative U.S. senator who admits his phone number turned up in that so-called D.C. madam's phone list. Louisiana Republican David Vitter has been in seclusion. Is he coming forward now to step down? Let's go to our Gulf Coast correspondent Susan Roesgen. She's standing by in Metairie, Louisiana.

He's about to make a statement where you are, Susan. What do we know?

SUSAN ROESGEN, CNN GULF COAST CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, we don't really know what he's going to say yet. That's the big question here, what will Senator Vitter say? Even the reporters around me are taking bets on it because this is the first time that he has talked publicly to the news media since the allegation surfaced that his cell phone number was on the so-called D.C. madam's phone list.

The general consensus here, Wolf, is that the senator will not resign, that instead he is going to use this opportunity to speak to his constituents here in Louisiana and say, yes, I'm going to get back to work in Washington tomorrow, which is what his staff has been saying all along.

I have learned, however, Wolf, that not only will the senator be speaking here, but his wife, Wendy, is going to come here. And she's going to be making some remarks to the media. So it should be a very interesting news conference -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And do we know if they're also going to take questions or only make a statement?

ROESGEN: We don't know, but you can be sure that I will be asking questions, whether they take them or not. We'll just have to see.

BLITZER: All right. Susan, thank you very much. Only minutes away from that. We'll watch it together with you.

A car crash that killed five teenagers in New York State last month highlights a move to ban text messaging while driving. New York State Police suspect texting played a role in the accident. Several states are trying to pass new laws to stop it. CNN's Mary Snow is joining us now right now.

What are you learning, Mary?

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, we already know that one state has already banned DWT, that's' driving while texting. A number of others are now looking to follow.


SNOW (voice-over): It was a heart-breaking accident is that killed five cheerleaders just days after their high school graduation. And now police believe text messaging may have contributed to the SUV crashing head-on into a tractor trailer in Upstate New York. They say the driver's cell phone showed a message was sent out shortly before the crash and another message was received just 38 seconds before the first call to 911.

SHERIFF PHILIP POVERO, ONTARIO COUNTY, NEW YORK: The records indicate her phone was in use. We will never be able to clearly state that she was the one that was doing any text messaging.

SNOW: But the tragedy underscores the growing concern of texting while driving. AAA says it has no hard numbers on how many accidents are caused by texting while driving because it's a relatively new problem. But AAA says a recent survey of 1,000 teen drivers found nearly half text message while behind the wheel.

JUSTIN MCNAULL, AAA: For teens, text messaging while driving is just as commonplace as talking on the cell phone is for them, which just for a lot of adults is just mind-boggling.

SNOW: But it's not just teens who are distracted. Washington recently became the first state to outlaw text messaging by all drivers after lawmakers cited a five car pileup caused by a driver using a BlackBerry device.

Now at least six other states are considering legislation, but some say there is reluctance on the part of legislator to pass hasty laws.

MATT SUNDEEN, NATL. CONF. OF STATE LEGISLATURES: Certainly there is opposition to taking away those types of devices both within the legislature and in the public at large.

SNOW: Now some say new laws are needed, that there should be more of an emphasis on educating drivers, how dangerous it is to be distracted not just by cell phones but by anything -- Wolf.

BLITZER: How steep are the penalties for doing this?

SNOW: You know, at this point, not so steep. In Washington State where the law is enacted January 2008, the penalty is about $100. And some are saying that because there's no clear consensus on how to deal with this problem, that that's why these penalties aren't so steep.

BLITZER: And this is not only idiotic, but it's very, very dangerous. Don't text message while you're driving. The AAA 17 magazine survey, by the way, that Mary just mentioned also tells us about other risky teen behavior behind the wheel. Thirty-five percent of all teens say they drive with their friends in the car, 24 percent exceed the speed limit by 10 miles per hour, even more, and 7 percent admit to using alcohol or other drugs before getting behind the wheel.

Up next, a former co-chairman of the Iraq Study Group says he's extremely doubtful that the Iraqi prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, will be able to secure the country and allow American forces to leave any time soon. Is he right? Jack Cafferty with your e-mail when we come back. Stick around.


BLITZER: Call it the YouTube factor. It's the power to make or break a political candidate. Our Internet reporter Jacki Schechner is here to tell us how it's all working -- Jacki.

JACKI SCHECHNER, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, it's amazing to think how powerful YouTube has become in such a short period of time.


GEORGE ALLEN (R), FMR. VIRGINIA SENATOR: This fellow here over here with the yellow shirt, "macaca" or whatever his name is.

SCHECHNER (voice-over): It was one of the most talked about moments in last year's campaign, Senator George Allen's controversial remark to a young campaign aide working for his opponent. It was caught on camera and it was a hit on YouTube and Allen lost his seat in the pivotal Virginia race that helped Democrats win control of the Senate.

MARK PRESTON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: If it wasn't for YouTube, it's conceivable that today George Allen would be one of the front runners for the Republican presidential nomination.

SCHECHNER: The presidential campaign has had it's own share of YouTube hits.

SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN (D-DE), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You cannot got to a 7-Eleven or Dunkin' Donuts unless you have a slight Indian accent. I'm not joking.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: That old Beach Boys song, "Bomb Iran"? Bomb, bomb, bomb...

SCHECHNER: And YouTube is forcing presidential hopefuls to explain past positions by giving old debate clips new life.

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I believe that abortion should be safe and legal in this country.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Thompson, do you support or oppose laws that prohibit abortions for convenience?

FRED THOMPSON (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I do not believe that the federal government ought to be involved in that process.

AMY WALTER, HOTLINE: Has it had an impact? Of course. But I think, to me, what's more interesting is from the strategists' point of view, which is when to react and when not to react to YouTube.

SCHECHNER: Candidates are also learning how to harness the power of YouTube.


SCHECHNER: The site spotlights one candidate each week and they can ask anything they want.

CLINTON: What do you think our campaign song should be?

SCHECHNER: And users can talk or sing back.


SCHECHNER: The Obama campaign wasn't behind this video but the buzz probably didn't hurt.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (singing): I've got a crush on Obama.


SCHECHNER: YouTube is empowering average Americans to impact the political process like never before. Candidates no longer have total control over their message, and that's forcing them to change the way they campaign -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jacki Schechner reporting for us. Thank you. And don't miss a special YouTube debate preview tonight, 8:00 p.m. Eastern with John Roberts and Kiran Chetry. Of course, our CNN/YouTube debate airs next Monday Night, one week from today. Just go to to submit your questions.

Let's go back to Jack Cafferty for now with the "Cafferty File" -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: I'll tell you how desperate they are for material at YouTube. I was watching an interview that I had done with David Letterman in 1986 this afternoon sitting in my office, that was back when we both had hair.


BLITZER: It might have been a little darker.

CAFFERTY: Yes. Question this hour, former chairman of the Iraq Study Group, Democrat Lee Hamilton, says he's extremely doubtful that Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is going to be able to secure the country and allow American forces leave any time soon. Do you think he's right is the question?

Jenny writes from New York: "Probably, but Bush's only way out of Iraq is to take al-Maliki at his word and bring our troops home. They are a sovereign nation, you know. And Bush has said if they ask us to leave, we'll leave."

Mike in El Cajon, California: "The Iraqis will never be able to go it alone, no more than the South Vietnamese could back in the war I got to fight in. Same situation, same result."

Z in Atlanta: "It's obvious to me the troop level in Iraq is insufficient if we are to succeed in any amount of time. Either get the troops out of harm's way or declare a national mobilization, reinstate the draft and get the damn job right. That includes taking out Iran's nuclear program. What would George Patton say?"

Diane in New York writes: "The prime minister of Iraq can't secure the country and the Americans can't secure the country. What was the question again?"

Willie in New York: "Al-Maliki and company should cancel their vacation immediately. Bush should announce the phased withdrawal will begin now over the next three months if he doesn't. Let al-Maliki and his overfed crew put on the heavy uniforms and control their own streets."

Carl in Connecticut writes: "The timing of the final U.S. withdrawal from Iraq will be the major issue in the presidential campaign... of 2012 or 2016."

And Suman writes: "When has a Democrat been wrong in the past eight years. And no, Lieberman doesn't count." If you didn't see your e-mail here, you can go to where we post more of them along with video clips of the "Cafferty File." And there's also a bunch of these on YouTube, since we're talking about YouTube. A lot of these.

BLITZER: And when you say, a bunch of what on YouTube?

CAFFERTY: These "Cafferty File" things that I do.

BLITZER: Well, they're very popular.

CAFFERTY: There are like dozens of them there.

BLITZER: And viewers like to see them.

CAFFERTY: Well, I hope so.

BLITZER: All right, Jack. Thanks very much. We'll see you back here in an hour. While we're waiting, let's take a look at some of the "Hot Shots," pictures coming in from the AP. On the West Bank, a man and his daughter watch President Bush during a televised speech calling for a Middle East peace conference.

In San Antonio, Texas, airmen run through a tactical course during Air Force boot camp.

In Afghanistan, pro-Taliban men in handcuffs stand under arrest next to confiscated mines. And in Germany, two bikini-clad women throw back their hair in unison while cooling off from the heat.

Let's go to Lou Dobbs in New York -- Lou.

DOBBS: Thank you, Wolf.