Return to Transcripts main page


Senator Vitter Holds Press Conference; Americans Held in Iran

Aired July 16, 2007 - 19:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now -- a senator and his wife come from the shadows of the "D.C. Madam" scandal. Tonight, Republican David Vitter is going back to work, but will his colleagues, the public and his wife forgive him?
Also this hour, Americans held in Iran, captured on camera for the first time; is the video a confession or a mockery?

And texting, driving and death, after a crash that killed five teenagers, should messaging on the road be outlawed?

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

Tonight, a conservative Republican senator is denying he had relationships with New Orleans prostitutes; David Vitter of Louisiana appeared at a news conference just a short while ago with his wife standing by his side. This, a week after he was forced to admit the so-called "D.C. Madam" had his phone number.

Our Gulf Coast correspondent, Susan Roesgen is joining us now from Metairie in Louisiana. Susan, he came out of hiding a week almost exactly now. Tell our viewers the headlines, what he had to say.

SUSAN ROESGEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the biggest headline of all, Wolf, is that the senator is not resigning. Many people here thought he might actually resign because of the allegation that was revealed a week ago today, but instead he said just the opposite. He said in fact by this time right now he should be on an airplane heading back to Washington, D.C., to get back to work. He had this short, Wolf, but very dramatic news conference in which he apologized for what he said were his past actions, and then his wife said she had forgiven him.


SEN. DAVID VITTER (R), LOUISIANA: I want to, again, after my deep, sincere apologies to all those I have let down and disappointed with these actions from my past. I am completely responsible. I'm so very, very sorry.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: When David and I dealt with this privately years ago, I forgave David. I made the decision to love him and to recommit to our marriage. You know, to forgive is not always the easy choice. But it was, and is, the right choice for me.


ROESGEN: Now, Wolf, it wasn't all just apologies and forgiveness. Senator Vitter also took time to lash out at what he called his political enemies for recent allegations that he had had relations with prostitutes in New Orleans. Senator Vitter says those allegations are not true. Wolf?

BLITZER: How effective can he be now coming back here to Washington from Louisiana, given this history?

ROESGEN: Wolf, you know, I think it can be tough for him. Political analysts have said, look, here is a man who has stood for all the conservative family values, anti-abortion, ant-gay, pro- marriage, even anti-sex education in the schools. And some political analysts say people will snicker now, both in Congress and in the Senate, and his constituents as well if he tries to harp on those same sorts of family value issues.

Also we have to remember that we have the senator now with the shadow of this sin hanging over him as he puts it, at the same time that we have Congressman Bill Jefferson, a senior congressman under indictment. It doesn't look good for Louisiana's political future right now, Wolf.

BLITZER: Susan Roesgen watching this story for us -- thank you, Susan.

And later this hour we're going to play for you the entire statement that Senator Vitter made, that his wife, Mrs. Vitter, made as well. That's coming up later this hour. Also some analysis of what it all means.

Let's move on, though, to some other important news we're watching. For the first time American citizens held in Iran are now shown on Iranian television, but the display is raising new questions and concerns about their situation.

Our State Department correspondent Zain Verjee is joining us with the latest. Zain?

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


VERJEE (voice-over): Captured on camera for the first time. Images of two detained Iranian Americans and 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.


VERJEE: 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 are portraying it as if it is a confession.

VERJEE: Iran is promoting these images now ahead of a documentary airing on Wednesday called "In The Name Of Democracy."

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: 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.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She's 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-Iranian 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. The State Department spokesman Sean McCormack says they should be released immediately and reunited with their families. Wolf?

BLITZER: Zain Verjee reporting from the State Department.

Back in January this was the scene when Iranians were seized by U.S. troops and accused of working for Iran's Revolutionary Guard and plotting a deadly attack against U.S. soldiers in Iraq. Now for the first time diplomats from Tehran have visited those five Iranians being held by the U.S. military in Iraq. Iran's ambassador to Iraq calls this meeting a positive step forward.

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

Our White House correspondent Suzanne Malveaux is joining us. Suzanne, what message is the president sending both sides?

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, essentially he wants people to refocus, to get involved in the Middle East peace process. He was on the phone and working the phones with leaders in the region, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan and even the Palestinian -- Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian leader there, but the question remains, Wolf, is really whether not President Bush has the political capital 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 W. 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, 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 INST. FOR NEAR EAST POLICY: This, I think, is not significant, and I think it's even counterproductive. Basically the decision we've made is to back to the hilt Fatah. Fatah is the organization that failed miserably over the past eight, 10 years.

MALVEAUX: One failure alleged corruption.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Money is not going to solve Abbas' problems. He can't pressure 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, President Bush's own standing has been dramatically weakened since he laid out his vision some five years ago. That's because of the failures of the Iraq war. Now what's happening tomorrow is the president is going to meet with the U.N. Secretary-general Ban Ki-moon here at the White House to discuss both. Wolf?

BLITZER: All right, Suzanne, thank you very much -- Suzanne Malveaux at the White House.

Let's go to Jack Cafferty. He's in New York. Jack?

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, Senator John McCain's presidential campaign is starting to look like a burning building, everybody running for the exits. Following last week's high-profile departures, the campaign took another big hit today. Almost the entire press staff walked out.

McCain has also lost key people in Iowa and in South Carolina, been a tough couple of weeks for the senator, resignations galore. The campaign has also laid off dozens of people because of money problems. They only have about a million and a half dollars to spend. Here's a note to McCain, that won't get you re-elected to your Senate seat, let alone the presidency.

And then there's the senator's slide in the national polls. Partly due to the unpopular positions that he's taken on Iraq and immigration reform, other that, everything's going great. Nevertheless, McCain insists he's not going anywhere. He says only a, quote, "fatal disease would make him withdraw from the race". Want to bet?

Here's the question -- is Senator John McCain's presidential campaign over? E-mail or go to Allow me to answer my own question, Wolf. It's over.

BLITZER: Toast, is that what you're saying?

CAFFERTY: Toast! Stick a fork in him, he's done.

BLITZER: All right. Jack, stand by. We'll get back to you shortly.

Coming up -- a massive earthquake rocks a nuclear plant. A radioactive leak forces three reactors to shut down.

Also, something unusual in the latest tape from Osama bin Laden. Experts say it may reveal important new clues about the world's most wanted terrorist and cheerleader car crash -- find out how text messaging may have caused the wreck that killed five students. Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Only six years since 9/11, Pakistan now saying it's about to launch what it's calling an aggressive new effort to find Osama bin Laden and his top deputy. But it's off to a deadly start being complicated by a series of crises.

Our CNN's Brian Todd is watching this story. Brian, based on all the reporting you're doing, what do U.S. officials make of this new effort to try to find Osama bin Laden?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well Wolf, they are taking a very cautious approach given Pakistan's track record. Still, Pakistani officials do say there's new urgency to the hunt for bin Laden and they are 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 come after tapes of both al Qaeda leaders were released in recent days saying things they've said before.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Happy is the one who is chosen by God as a martyr.

TODD: While this tape is newly distributed, U.S. counterterrorism officials 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's 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. (END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: Still, a top Pakistani official told me they will 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 are you hearing, Brian, about potentially stepped- up U.S. intelligence, military operations in that area, in Pakistan along the border with Afghanistan?

TODD: Well that's very sensitive as you know. U.S. officials are drawing the line on that right now, saying they have the capability to go 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. As President Bush told you not so long ago, Wolf, that equation can change in just a second if they get a hard lead on Osama bin Laden.

BLITZER: If they had actionable intelligence, he said, they would send in a drone or a pilot-less aircraft to try to kill him. That would be controversial, though, with the Pakistani government of President Musharraf. Thanks very much for that, Brian Todd reporting.

CNN's justice correspondent sat down with the homeland security secretary, Michael Chertoff, for an exclusive interview and asked him about the latest bin Laden tape.

Let's go to Kelli Arena. She's watching the story for us. So what did the secretary tell you, Kelli?

KELLI ARENA, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, as you know, this newest al Qaeda tape got a lot of attention because it does include a message from Osama bin Laden. And al Qaeda has been averaging about three messages a week. That's much more than we've ever seen before. Secretary Chertoff says that this and every other tape that has come out has been analyzed, but there is some ambiguity about what it all could mean.


MICHAEL CHERTOFF, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: Certainly could be a sign of kind of raising expectations and that always causes you to ask the question why they're raising expectations. There's another view that sometimes as a predicate to launching an attack, al Qaeda puts that propaganda as a way of justifying what it's doing. But it may also reflect the fact that they've found an easier pipeline to get the propaganda out and therefore they are finding it more convenient to do so.


ARENA: The secretary continues to insist that there's no credible information about attack in the United States but says that there are lots of reasons, and we've heard them all, Wolf, to keep our guard up.

BLITZER: Any more explanation from the secretary, Kelli, about his gut instinct that this summer could see such an attack here in the United States?

ARENA: No. He continues to say that he believes that we are in a vulnerable period, just given the history of recent -- of previous attacks in the summer and all the things that we're hearing about, Brian's report about what's going on in Pakistan, the messages from al Qaeda that continue to come, and just their continued, you know, perseverance in trying to hit the U.S., all told together, makes him concerned, but nothing specific, Wolf.

BLITZER: Thank you, Kelli. Kelli is watching this story for us.

Still ahead tonight here in THE SITUATION ROOM -- a gunman is killed at the governor's office. The man who wanted to take over Colorado state government is taken down at the Capitol.

And presidential Bill Richardson, find out why he is willing to settle for Dick Cheney's job -- that's not correct -- why he's not willing to settle for Dick Cheney's job.

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


BLITZER: Tonight a Democratic presidential candidate is refusing to accept being shunted aside by his rivals or by any job less than that of the chief executive. I spoke earlier with Governor Bill Richardson of New Mexico, a Democratic presidential candidate, and we spoke about the political landscape right now.



BLITZER: You heard the complaints from Dennis Kucinich when Hillary Clinton and John Edwards were talking at least off mike -- they thought they were off mike -- about limiting the forums, limiting the debates. Kucinich saying as a result of that, whispering trying to rig an election and then denying what's going on and making excuses, it all reflects a consistent lack of integrity. Where do you stand as someone who is, shall we say, in the second tier at least right now, according to the polls, of the Democratic candidates?

GOV. BILL RICHARDSON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, I am moving into the first tier and you'll be seeing that in Iowa and New Hampshire, too. I believe for now, Wolf, everybody should participate. We shouldn't limit who participates and who doesn't. Because candidates like Dennis and others have that disadvantage. They don't have the millions the top-tier candidates have.

And, so, this is an opportunity for them to be heard by the public, unfettered, without consultants, without money. So I say leave the debates the way they are. Maybe right before the primary if a major network like yours wants to do another debate, maybe at that time you limit those with the highest poll numbers. But for now, this is six months away from the election. Let all the candidates show their stuff. The best way to do it is unfettered debates.

BLITZER: Here's a question, and I think you're probably not going to like but I'll ask it anyhow. Dana Milbank writing in "The Washington Post" last June 28 said this. He said running for the vice presidency is a delicate operation, but Bill Richardson seems to be getting the hang of it. If Richardson makes it through the campaign without antagonizing the front-runner, he has a decent chance of sharing the stage at the Democratic Convention. What's wrong, Governor, with being vice president of the United States?

RICHARDSON: Well, there's a better job, and it's called the governor of New Mexico. And I've got four years to go. I'm not running for vice president. And I believe that after this debate is over, Wolf, I'm going to win, but I don't want to be vice president. I've got the best job, governor of New Mexico. You say you love New Mexico, too. You know what I mean. I can go ride my horse and be a governor and get into foreign policy, as I've done as a governor.

BLITZER: So just to be clear -- you'd rather be governor of New Mexico than vice president of the United States?

RICHARDSON: Yes. Absolutely. Absolutely.


BLITZER: Governor Bill Richardson speaking with me earlier. There are new numbers, by the way, that are 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 go through some of them.

Among Democrats, Hillary Clinton took in $43,000 from Tom Hanks, Paul Newman, Pauly Shore, among others. Newman 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 "Bay Watch". 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" and John McCain got $2,300 from a single actor, Hunter Gomez, who has appeared on ABC's "According to Jim."

Just ahead, the wife of a senator linked to prostitution takes her pain public.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: In most any other marriage this would have been a private issue between a husband and a wife, very private. Obviously, it is not here.


BLITZER: They're talking about their marriage and his political future. We're going to show you the emotional news conference that just occurred.

Also -- text messaging behind the wheel with deadly consequences. Is your state among those planning a ban?

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


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

Happening now -- the Catholic Church in Los Angeles will pay more than 500 alleged victims of priest abuse. A judge approved a payout of $660 million, the biggest settlement yet in the ongoing clergy-abuse scandal.

At an office for the governor of Colorado, bodyguards shoot and kill a man with a gun. An official says before he was shot, the man says, and I'm quoting now, "I am the emperor and I'm here to take over state government." Governor Bill Ritter was not harmed.

And if your summer travel plans are in jeopardy because of that massive passport backlog, help may be on the way. The House approves a bill to allow the State Department to rehire some retired employees to help out. The bill now goes to the Senate.

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

A conservative Republican senator is coming out of hiding, saying he's going back to work after being linked to a prostitution scandal. A link he now at least, is partially denying. Louisiana's David Vitter held a news conference just about an hour or so ago, with his wife at his side, announcing what he plans to do next.


SEN. DAVID VITTER, (R) LOUISIANA: Good afternoon. Last week Wendy and I thought it was very important to have some time alone with our children, so that's what we did for a few days.

We want to thank the countless friends and fellow citizens who have offered their encouragement and prayers. Those have meant the world to us. I want to again offer my deep, sincere apologies to all those I have let down and disappointed with these actions from my past. I am completely responsible, and I'm so very, very sorry.

No matter how long ago it was, I know this has hurt the relationship of trust I've enjoyed with so many of you, and that I have a lot of work to do to rebuild that. I will work every day to rebuild that trust.

Wendy and I dealt with this personally several years ago. I confronted it in confession and marriage counseling. I believe I received forgiveness from God, I know I did from Wendy. And we put it behind us.

Since then, I've gotten up every morning, committed to trying to live up to the important values we believe in. If continuing to believe in and acknowledge those values causes some to attack me because of my past failings, well, so be it.

Unfortunately, my admission has encouraged some longtime political enemies and those hoping to profit from the situation to spread falsehoods, too. Like those New Orleans stories in recent reporting. Those stories are not true.

Now, having said all this, I'm not going to answer endless questions about it all over again and again and again and again. That might sell newspapers, but it wouldn't serve my family or my constituents well at all. Because we all have a lot of important work to do for Louisiana.

For my part, I'll be helping finalize a crucial water resources bill, to provide much better hurricane and flood protection. I'll be following up on our important defeat of a bad immigration bill by working for good border and workplace security. I'll be fighting the complete I-49 and La-28 and La-1 and much more.

From here I'll go directly to the airport and to Washington for votes, because I'm eager to continue my work in the U.S. Senate to help move Louisiana forward. Thank you.

WENDY VITTER, SENATOR'S WIFE: To those of you who know me, are you surprised that I have something to say? You know, in most any other marriage, this would have been a private issue between a husband and a wife. Very private. Obviously it is not here.

Like all marriages, ours is not perfect. None of us are. But we choose to work together as a family. When David and I dealt with this privately years ago, I forgave David. I made the decision to love him and to recommit to our marriage.

You know, to forgive is not always the easy choice, but it was, and is, the right choice for me. David is my best friend. Last week some people very sympathetically said to me, I wouldn't want to be in your shoes right now. I stand before you to tell you very proudly, I am proud to be Wendy Vitter.

Now, that's not to say that last week wasn't incredibly trying and very sad. Not for our marriage. Our marriage is stronger every day. But for our children. And now I'm going to speak to you as a mother, and I hope you will understand.

It's been terribly hard to have the media parked on our front lawn and following us, every day. And yesterday, the media was camped at our church, at our home and at our church every day. As David returns to work in Washington, we're going to return to our life here. I would just ask you very respectfully to let us continue our summer and our lives as we had planned. Thank you very much.


BLITZER: Let's get some analysis now on what we've just seen. We're joined by our Senior Political Correspondent, Candy Crowley, in New York.

That was powerful for his wife to be standing there next to him, making that very strong statement she made professing her love, her forgiveness. I assume that will have a political impact on the voters in Louisiana.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, certainly in the past we've seen when wives stick up for their husbands. Hillary Clinton stood by her husband in the biggest trauma of that administration. So, what's happening here, I think, as you see the wife standing by his side saying, look, I forgave him. It wasn't easy, but it was my choice. We've moved on. We need to move on without being harassed by the media.

So, I think it's always very powerful to have the wife up there. Because voters look at that and say, well, if she forgives him, you know, then we forgive him.

BLITZER: But you know that neither one of them was willing at least at this news conference to answer any questions. Once he gets back to Washington, he's going to be bombarded by questions from reporters. And I guess I don't know what the right or wrong thing for him to do in a situation like this, assuming he wants to salvage his political career.

CROWLEY: Absolutely. He can't hide. I mean, look, at some point you have to bite the bullet. You step up there. You answer the questions. After a while, you run out of questions. It may take a week. It may take a month. It may take a couple of months, if the story goes away.

Now we don't know what this alleged D.C. Madam still knows, whether they're still going to ask him to come and testify. What he would say to that. Whether they could force him to testify, that kind of thing, which would bring it back up. But it takes a couple of weeks, maybe even more, for this sort of thing to trickle back down. So he's going to need to, at some point, answer questions. Otherwise you can't come to a microphone on Capitol Hill.

BLITZER: He acknowledged the quote "sin" for being on the phone list of the so-called D.C. Madam. But he denied the other allegations in the media in New Orleans and Louisiana about involvement with prostitutes down there. I suspect that's going to fuel investigations, though, to see if he's telling the truth?

CROWLEY: Sure. I mean, and that's -- and one must assume that he wouldn't have done this unless it was the truth and, in fact, there is nothing to these, or at least not exactly what was alleged by the Madam in New Orleans. So, nonetheless, this does sort of keep the story going. And that's sort of the last thing you want. Now, having said that, he has a while until 2010 to go through his term. So, if he's going to stay on and at this point there's every reason to believe he will, since he said so, and they seem sort of full steam ahead. 2010 is a long time, and certainly enough time for voters, at least in Louisiana, to forgive him.

BLITZER: Candy, thanks very much. Candy Crowley's our Senior Political Correspondent.

Still ahead tonight -- here in the SITUATION ROOM.

Text messaging while driving. Many people stupidly do it. Could it kill you? Police officers think the answer is yes. Some people want to ban it. We're going to go in depth on this story.

Also, many are talking about it on YouTube. A mind-altering drug that one woman's says drove her son to kill himself. So why is it legal for people to buy it in many states? Carol Costello is watching this story for us. We will be right back.


BLITZER: A car crash that killed five teenagers in New York state last month is bringing to light a dangerous new distraction with the potential to kill. New York state police suspect text messaging while driving played a role in that terrible accident. Now, several states are trying to pass new laws to stop it.

Let's go to CNN's Mary Snow. She's watching this story for us. What are you learning, Mary?

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, it's an issue getting attention. One state has already banned DWT -- driving while texting. A number of others are looking to follow.


SNOW (voice-over): It was a heartbreaking accident that killed five cheerleaders just days after their high school graduation. And now police believe text messaging may have contributed to their 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, NY: 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 similar legislation, but some say there is reluctance on the part of legislators to pass new laws.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Certainly there is opposition to taking away those types of devices, both within the legislature and in the public at large.


SNOW: Some say new laws aren't 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: Mary, thank you. And the AAA-"Seventeen" magazine survey that Mary 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, or even more; 7 percent admit to using alcohol, drugs before getting behind the wheel.

And there's a new recreational drug to watch out for that could have devastating effects on its users. It's easy to get, and so far, it's legal.

Let's go back to Carol Costello. She's looking into this drug. What is the drug? And what does it do, Carol?

COSTELLO: Well, Wolf, the drug is called Salvia. Many of you probably have never heard of it. Some call it an herb that rocks your world. Others call it a dangerous hallucinogenic drug that can kill.


COSTELLO (voice-over): It's called Salvia, and those who supposedly use it are celebrating their trips online.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All right, I am going to smoke some Salvia.

COSTELLO: We don't know if that's what he and others like him showing up on the Internet are really smoking. But whatever it is, it appears powerful. In case they are minors, we blurred their faces.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's something weird. This is weird. You can't even begin -- everything feels nuts.

COSTELLO: According to the National Drug Intelligence Center, Salvia is an obscure plant, once used by the ancient tribes in Mexico. It can be smoked or chewed. It causes vivid hallucinations and out- of-body experiences, much like LSD. And it's a cinch to order online.

It boasts nicknames like Magic Mint and Designer Sage, and in most states it's perfectly legal.

Steven Martin is co-director of the University of Delaware Center for Drug and Alcohol Studies.

PROF. STEVEN MARTIN, UNIVERSITY OF DELAWARE: It's been particularly found that heavy doses of Salvia can lead to depression, particularly after use of the drug, that it leads to a sort of an after-effect of depression.

COSTELLO: For parents like Kathy Chidester, that's a nightmare. She claims Salvia drove her son to suicide.

KATHY CHIDESTER, MOTHER: He was the model child. And until the time that he started Salvia.

COSTELLO: Chidester offers an essay, the suicide note her 17- year-old son left behind describing his thoughts while on Salvia.

"Salvia," he writes, "allows us to give up our senses and wander into interdimensional time and space. Our existence is in general pointless. How could I go on living after I knew the secret of life?"

CHIDESTER: That's definitely not the attitude that Brett had at all. That just -- that isn't even like him.

COSTELLO: The National Drug Intelligence Center reports police in the Midwest, Pacific and Northeast are becoming increasingly concerned about the substance, and want the Drug Enforcement Agency to make it illegal. The DEA has been in the midst of deciding that for five years now, saying it's a drug of concern, and telling us -- "just because it isn't illegal, doesn't mean it isn't dangerous. You should always be careful about what you put in your body."

But if you believe what these online users say, Salvia is something good, something to be celebrated. And at as little as 15 bucks a pop, if you ask Kathy Chidester, it's a crime that such a substance isn't illegal everywhere.

CHIDESTER: Some days I look back, and I feel like he was murdered. Almost like it wasn't suicide, he didn't kill himself. I almost feel like he was murdered.


COSTELLO: She was saying that, you know, she thought it wasn't suicide, but it was murder. And, you know, while the feds have been passing around this hot potato, at least five states have already made it illegal, so at least they think it's a drug.

As for when the DEA will make its final decision? Wolf, that is anyone's guess.

BLITZER: What a heartbreaking story indeed. My heart goes out to those parents and that family. Thank you, Carol, for that.

Up ahead -- a powerful earthquake rocks Japan, causing a leak at a nuclear plant. And that raised some fears of another Chernobyl disaster.

And people who love Barack Obama versus fans of Rudy Giuliani. It's a fight to the video finish on sites like YouTube. Jeanne Moos standing by with the "Moost Unusual" look.


BLITZER: A few hours ago, a 6.8 magnitude earthquake hit the Sea of Japan. But an earlier quake last night did the most damage. It was also a magnitude 6.8 and killed at least seven people, caused a leak of radioactive water at one of the world's largest nuclear power plants. But we're told that specific leak was contained in the reactor. However, more than 300 gallons of water with radioactive materials leaked into the Sea of Japan. The level of radioactivity is not believed to be large enough to harm the environment.

Let's check back with Jack Cafferty. He's in New York with "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: I mean, you know, not to make the issue, but what are they going to say? The leak wasn't contained and the stuff that got in the ocean is going to kill millions of fish? Of course not. They say the leak was contained and it was no big deal.

The question this hour, is Senator John McCain's presidential campaign over? All his press people, or almost all of them, walked out the door today. He has lost all his key campaign strategists. He's got no money. It's not looking good.

Steve in Montgomery, Alabama: "Jack, with the drumbeat of bad news surrounding Senator McCain's presidential bid, it will be very difficult to regain traction between now and January. I'd hate to say his campaign is toast, but the bread is definitely out of the wrapper."

You are so clever, Steve.

C.T., Bartlett, Illinois: "Time for McCain to deliver the ever popular "spend more time with my family and pursue other interests" speech. I'm sure Bush likes him, though. After all, he's the only political figure that looks more like a buffoon than Bush does."

Seth writes: "Jack, you're wrong, as usual. Senator McCain's campaign never started."

Bob in Florida writes: "Of course it's over. It was never really going anywhere anyway. Amazes me how some people just threw money away thinking he had a chance with his views on the two main political issues of the day -- the war and immigration."

John in California: "McCain's campaign is like an old car. The longer you drive it, parts keep falling off. But McCain keeps going and going. You don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows." I think that's from Dylan. "Say good night, John."

Mark in Staten Island writes: "Jack, McCain's campaign has been over for six months already. He made the decision to become Bush's new sycophant lap dog after Tony Blair gave up the job. It's probably a good thing, because McCain's IQ can't be very high. Good job, John. Smart campaign strategy: Align yourself with arguably the worst and most hated president in the history of this country."

And finally, Betsy in Hobe Sound, Florida: "McCain can still pull this off. He just needs to make some bold moves, expand his appeal to the base. Maybe he should announce David Vitter will be his running mate."

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

BLITZER: A very popular feature indeed, Jack. Thank you very much.

Let's see what's coming up in a few minutes right at the top of the hour. John Roberts and Kiran Chetry. They're standing by in New York. Hi, guys. Tell our viewers what's coming up.

JOHN ROBERTS, CNN ANCHOR: Hey, thanks, Wolf. We're doing something very special this week. We're counting down to the next presidential candidates debate, and it's not going to look like anything that you've ever seen before.

KIRAN CHETRY, CNN ANCHOR: It really won't. That's because the questions are coming from you, the voters. More than 1,000 questions all posted on YouTube. We'll never get all of them in, but this week we're actually going to play some of the best ones. So join us for the CNN/YouTube debate countdown, Wolf.

BLITZER: Sounds good. We will be watching. That's coming up in a few minutes, John and Kiran.

Up ahead, YouTube girl fight. It's a smackdown over Barack Obama and Rudy Giuliani, and only our Jeanne Moos has the story. Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: News into CNN on a planned execution in Georgia. Let's go back to Carol Costello. What's going on, Carol?

COSTELLO: Well, this happened just moments ago, Wolf. Troy Davis had been scheduled to die tomorrow tonight at 7:00 p.m. Eastern Time, but the Georgia Board of Clemency granted him a 90-day stay of execution. His lawyers had argued the evidence just was not there. In fact, powerful representative, you know, the representative from Georgia, John Lewis, had spoken out on Davis' behalf, saying the evidence just wasn't there to kill a man.

So, we'll have to keep you posted. But he has 90 days to prove that those witnesses did, indeed, change their story. So, Troy Davis has been granted a stay of execution. Back to you, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, several of those witnesses are recanting. All right. Thanks very much for that, Carol.

Several weeks ago, we showed you a popular little music video on YouTube featuring the so-called Obama girl. Well, her creators are at it again, and now she has some competition. CNN's Jeanne Moos follows up with a "Moost Unusual" girl fight.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The first one sure clicked with the public.

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

MOOS: So now, Obama booty shorts butt heads with Rudy's booty in a sequel.


MOOS: Hey, if there can be a "Spider-Man 3," why not an "Obama Girl 2?"

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (singing): Everybody get up on the floor, it's Giuliani you adore. I'm gonna be wife No. 4. He warms my globe just like Al Gore.

MOOS: "Cute, but still cheesy," wrote one critiquer.

BEN RELLES: Yeah, I think we were going to cute and cheesy, yes.

AMBER LEE ETTINGER, MODEL: Cute and cheesy, that's the look.

RELLES: Sounds about right.

MOOS: Ben Relles helped create both videos. Amber Lee Ettinger co-stars in them.

You didn't wear your booty shorts, but the next best thing.

ETTINGER: Yes, it's the next business thing. My business suit.

MOOS: Business was so great on their Web site,, that it temporarily crashed just after the new video debuted.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (singing): Obama can't rep the American flag. Nothing is worse than Giuliani in drag.

MOOS: Giuliani girl is played by a model they found on a Web site for models.


MOOS: Eventually, Obama girl and Giuliani girl end up in a pillow fight.

ETTINGER: Actually, Giuliani girl was, like, Amber, stop it, you're hitting me too hard.

MOOS: The Giuliani campaign had no comment on the new video, just as the Obama campaign had no comment on the original video. Just as the Hillary Clinton campaign wouldn't comment on "Hot for Hil," a girl likes girl video unrelated to the other two.

The creators of the Obama versus Giuliani girl video say they were aiming for balance. Sure seems like Obama girl gets off most of the zingers.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (singing): Obama should be out like Tony Blair.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (singing): Rudy has less a chance than hair.

MOOS: Some who take their politics seriously were unamused, calling the video shallow...

RELLES: I don't think it trivializes any more than "The Daily Show" or "Saturday Night Live."

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (singing): Giuliani girl, just stop your fussing. At least Obama didn't marry his cousin.

MOOS: Actually, it was his second cousin once removed, but who's counting cousins amid the battle (inaudible).

Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.


BLITZER: And up next, John Roberts and Kiran Chetry with the CNN-YouTube debate countdown.