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Tale of Two Iraqs; Did Explosion Release Asbestos Into New York City Air?

Aired July 19, 2007 - 17:00   ET


JOHN KING, HOST: Jack, thank you very much.

Happening now, a tale of two Iraqs. Lawmakers getting conflicting briefings from Baghdad on a military mission gaining ground and a country falling into chaos.

Also, growing fears that a steam pipe explosion may have spewed a cloud of cancer causing asbestos into New York City's air. We're standing by for a live news conference this hour.

And pro-football player Michael Vick -- should he be allowed to keep playing despite charges of taking part in brutal illegal dog fights?

I'll ask hip-hop music mogul Russell Simmons.

Wolf Blitzer is off today.

I'm John King.


We're standing by this hour for a news conference by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg on that blast from a ruptured pipe that injured dozens of people and apparently triggered one woman's fatal heart attack. It also left a giant crater in the street and several city blocks around the site are closed off amid growing concern over the known cancer-causing asbestos.

CNN's Mary Snow is there for us live this hour -- Mary, what are officials saying about this asbestos threat?

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, officials are saying that they have found some asbestos in the debris, but not in the air. And this is an intense cleanup is underway.


SNOW: (voice-over): In the hours after a huge plume of steam and debris shoot into the air, the city sealed off several blocks and began testing for contaminants and -- for good reason. New York's underground pipes are old and many are insulated with asbestos. MAYOR MICHAEL BLOOMBERG (I), NEW YORK: We have water mains in this city that are 150 years old. So that's one of our problems in this city.

SNOW: And the city knows from experience. In 1989, a strikingly similar steam pipe explosion killed three. Back then, asbestos was spewed into the air, but for several days that information was not made public and people were told the air was safe to breathe.

Fast forward to the present. Yes, officials are saying asbestos was found in debris, but not in the air. Some experts say the city isn't out of the woods yet, but tests need to be conducted for weeks.

DR. IRWIN DEDLENER, COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY PUBLIC HEALTH SCHOOL: I think we have to be concerned when there's discrepancies that immediately after it happened between what was in the air and what was in the debris. After all, in order to get into the debris, a lot of that debris was up in the air and then has gradually settled down.

SNOW: The debris settled on buildings, streets, even people's clothes. New Yorkers caught in the dust cloud are being encouraged to drop their clothing from Wednesday at a special Con Ed site for decontamination.

Many of the city's emergency rooms, who know all too well the dangers of being exposed to contaminants, are wearing these filtration masks. Asbestos is considered dangerous and medical experts say the risk of illness comes with long-term exposure.


SNOW: And what many are pointing out is this is not just a problem for New York City, that many cities face these kinds of problems because of their aging infrastructures -- John.

KING: And, Mary, at least so far, a remarkably low injury toll, if you will.

Any way for the city, as yet, to put a price tag on this?

SNOW: No price tag, yet. But in terms of the cleanup, that's something that Con Ed right now is trying to figure out. I talked to a representative earlier and what they're doing is they're accepting claims for cleanup. Now, a lot of these buildings affected are commercial buildings, so it's really hard to tell at this point what the price tag will be.

KING: Mary Snow for us in New York.

Mary, thank you.

And we remind our viewers, we're standing by for that news conference from the New York City mayor, Michael Bloomberg. We will go to it as news warrants. Again, we'll monitor that event for you.

Now, New York City's network of steam pipes is the largest in the country. It dates back to 1882. It's made up of more than 100 miles of mains and service pipes carrying millions of pounds of 400 degree steam every hour. About 1,800 customers in Manhattan use it for heating, hot water and air conditioning. Some of the city's most famous landmarks rely on that system, including the Empire State Building, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the United Nations.

Now, Congress is hearing two very different accounts of the situation in Iraq today, with a top general citing progress from troop increase and the top U.S. diplomat in Baghdad saying the country is wracked by fear.

CNN's senior Pentagon correspondent, Jamie McIntyre, joins us -- Jamie, what have you learned from these briefings today?

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SENIOR PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, one thing we've learned, John, is that CNN has confirmed that 2,200 Marines and sailors will be extended in Iraq by 30 days in Anbar Province. They'll be there until November. It's another sign that U.S. commanders believe the surge needs more time.


LT. GEN. RAYMOND ODIERNO, MULTI-NATIONAL FORCES IN IRAQ: The hope is that the policymakers and everyone else -- the public within the United States listen and hear what we're saying, because there is some progress being made.

MCINTYRE: (voice-over): The growing disconnect between Baghdad and Washington was symbolized during the Senate testimony of U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker when his video link from Iraq dropped unexpectedly.

SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN (D-DW), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Baghdad, can you hear the U.S. Senate?

MCINTYRE: It was a light moment in a deadly serious debate. And from Ambassador Crocker came the sober admission the Iraqi government faces, in his words, considerable difficulties meeting the benchmark of political reconciliation by September.

RYAN C. CROCKER, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO IRAQ: There is one word that I would use to sum up the -- the atmosphere in Iraq. That would be fear.

MCINTYRE: The fear of the General Odierno, second in command in Iraq, is that hard won gains of the past 30 days will fall victim to the growing disillusionment in Congress. And he says Al Qaeda In Iraq is just waiting for the U.S. to give up.

ODIERNO: What I've learned in the last four years here is they're extremely savvy. They understand what's going on in September.


MCINTYRE: And the chairman of that committee, Joe Biden, made it clear that Congress is losing its patience. He lectured Ryan Crocker at the end of his testimony saying, "We are not staying. Those benchmarks need to be met." -- John.

KING: And, Jamie, another lawmaker I spoke to last hour, Congressman Chris Shays, he says everyone at the Pentagon knows they cannot sustain this force level indefinitely.

But you talk about these Marines being extended, if they do believe the surge is working in some ways, how long -- how long can they sustain the current level of U.S. troops in Iraq?

MCINTYRE: Well, you know, Congressman Shays is exactly right. They cannot really extend it beyond April without extraordinary measures. But the other flipside of that is they can keep going until April without doing anything.

So all signs point to a report in September that's going to call for more time, into the spring of next year.

KING: Jamie McIntyre for us.

A fascinating day at the Pentagon.

Jamie, thank you very much.

And Jack Cafferty is in New York standing by with The Cafferty File -- hi, Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John, a watchdog group is suing for access to Hillary Clinton's records from her years as first lady. They want to see things like her calendars, phone logs and office diary.

These records currently are held at the Clinton Presidential Library at Little Rock, Arkansas. The conservative group Judicial Watch filed the suit against the National Archives because that's the organization that has legal custody of the Clinton White House documents.

The group says it filed a request for these records under the Freedom of Information Act more than a year ago, but the request has been ignored.

Although Mrs. Clinton did not have an official position in her husband's White House, she was considered an influential power, to say the least. Judicial Watch says they think there will be good information in these documents, like who went into and out of her office. They say that considering that her status as a presidential candidate, the public interest and her tenure as first lady is "undeniable."

So the question is this -- should the Clinton Presidential Library have to release Senator Hillary Clinton's records from her first time as first lady?

E-mail your thoughts to or go to -- John.

KING: And Dick Cheney would say no.

CAFFERTY: Well, Dick Cheney says no to everything.

KING: Jack, thank you very much.

Up ahead, hunting down Al Qaeda and Taliban militants. We'll have details of what may be a new crackdown and why some U.S. officials are skeptical somewhere.

Also, hip-hop pioneer Russell Simmons -- does he think Michael Vick should play pro-football while accused of animal brutality?

And what if John Edwards wins?

We'll show you what you can expect in our special series on the 2008 candidates.

Stay with us.



KING: In Pakistan, almost 50 people were killed in bombings and suicide attacks across the country as radical Islamists challenge President Pervez Musharraf and his vow to crack down on that. And now we're learning of a possible new offensive in the country's largely outlaw northwest region, where Taliban and Al Qaeda militants are hiding.

We get details now from CNN Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr.

She's the only U.S. television reporter traveling in the region with the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Peter Pace.

BARBARA STARR, PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: U.S. military officials here in Afghanistan tell CNN they see extensive preparations by the Pakistani military for a new offensive in the tribal regions of Pakistan, just east of the border with Afghanistan.

Now, there are already a significant number of Pakistani military troops in that tribal region. But more troops are said to be pouring in. This is part of President Pervez Musharraf's promise to the Bush administration, officials say, to crack down on Al Qaeda, Taliban and other foreign fighters and insurgents in that area.

But make no mistake, U.S. officials here in Afghanistan are very skeptical. They've seen the Pakistani government make this effort before. It has not worked. General Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, traveling in the region, made it clear that while there is still plenty of public support for the Pakistani leader, it is also clear that more needs to be done.

The Bush administration is increasingly concerned about the Al Qaeda safe haven in Pakistan, even to the point of worry that it could be a staging area for an attack against the United States. GENERAL PETER PACE, JOINT CHIEFS CHAIRMAN: Are we not going to be being attacked for a couple of more months? Yes, but all we know for sure is they are plotting against us.

STARR: The Afghan government asked General Pace for an additional 3,000 troops. That's a request that is not likely to be granted anytime soon. In fact, the U.S. troop commitment here in Afghanistan is at an all time high. There are more than 20,000 U.S. combat forces in Eastern Afghanistan battling Taliban and other elements along that border region.

Barbara Starr, CNN, Kandahar, Afghanistan.


KING: former British Prime Minister Tony Blair is in Portugal for talks on Middle East peace. Top diplomats are among those hoping he can breathe new life into the process.

CNN European editor Robin Oakley is following it all.

ROBIN OAKLEY, EUROPEAN POLITICAL EDITOR: John, three weeks ago, Tony Blair was Britain's prime minister. Now, he's taken on an even more daunting role. As the representative of the quartet -- that's the United States, the United Nations, the European Europe and Russia -- he's tasked with reforming the finance and institutions of the Palestinians to push on the Middle East process.

Given his assistance to George Bush over Iraq and his delay of condemning the Israeli bombing of Lebanon last summer, Mr. Blair isn't the most popular man with the Palestinians. Only 7 percent of them reckoned him the right man for the job.

He'll have difficulty, too, getting results without talking to Hamas, who now control Gaza. But the quartet won't have anything to do with Hamas until it forswears violence and recognizes Israel.

Condoleezza Rice, though, still says Mr. Blair will breathe new life into the peace process. And the man who brought a settlement to Northern Ireland says he'll do everything he can for the most important peace and security issue in the world. He's nothing, he says, if not an optimist -- John.

KING: Robin Oakley.

That optimism will be needed.

Thank you, Robin.

And coming up, Fidel Castro locked in a standoff with Washington over visas. We'll show you why it's putting the future of thousands of Cubans in doubt.

Plus, the reporter who exposed Chinese dumplings made of cardboard detained by police. We'll show you why.

Stay with us.



KING: A reminder to our viewers, we're still standing by for Mayor Michael Bloomberg and other officials in New York City for an update on that steam pipe explosion that opened a crater in the streets of New York at rush hour yesterday in midtown Manhattan. We will get you to that news conference when the mayor appears.

Moving on, though, in the meantime, Fidel Castro and the Bush administration are pointing fingers at each other in a growing spat over visas for Cubans who want to come to this country.

CNN's Morgan Neill is in Havana to show us who's really being hurt in all this.

MORGAN NEILL, HAVANA BUREAU CHIEF: John, this latest conflict centers on the number of visas granted to Cubans looking to emigrate legally to the United States. But neither side has to look too far into the past to see just what could happen if this dispute gets out of control.


NEILL: (voice-over): This is a scene both Cuba and the United States say they want to avoid repeating -- 1994, with economic conditions on the island nation deteriorating and President Fidel Castro declaring an open emigration policy. Tens of thousands of Cubans took to the Florida Straits in barely seaworthy rafts, a crisis that led to rare example of cooperation. The U.S. and Cuba signed accords under which the U.S. agreed to grant at least 20,000 visas each year to Cubans looking to emigrate.

But this year, the United States won't meet that number. It won't even come close. With less than three months left, it processed little more than half the quota.

Cuba says it's a scheme to destabilize the island by encouraging illegal immigration. Washington says Cuba is to blame for blocking the personnel and material it needs to keep its diplomatic mission in Cuba, known as intersection, functioning effectively.

SEAN MCCORMACK, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESMAN: Cuban officials continue to refuse to allow U.S. Intersection to hire local staff to replace those who have resigned or retired. For over a year, the government of Cuba has held at least 28 shipping containers at the port and the airport combined.

NEILL: Caught in the middle of this dispute, tens of thousands of Cubans hoping to leave.

(on camera): In this square, you'll always find a crowd. This time of day, mid-morning, they're all waiting on friends or relatives inside that imposing building over there -- the United States Interest Section, where they're going through the interview process in hopes of getting a visa.

Rafael, here with his wife, is dismissive of the latest dispute. "That's a problem of those in power who have this spat," he says.

Pablo, whose wife is inside, seems resigned. "They'll just have to wait until they resolve the problem," he says.

And that seems to be the overriding sense here. Those most affected by this conflict feel they have the least power to do anything about it.


NEILL: Now, as you heard in the piece there, Cuba is accusing the United States of encouraging illegal immigration by granting fewer visas. But we actually talked to the U.S. Coast Guard and they say they've intercepted fewer rafters this year than last year at this point -- John.

KING: Morgan Neill in Havana.

Morgan, thank you.

And our Carol Costello is monitoring stories incoming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now -- Carol, what do you have?

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, just hours ago, a federal judge threw out a lawsuit against Vice President Dick Cheney and other top Bush administration officials by Valerie Plame Wilson. She's the former CIA operative whose identity was revealed in 2003 after her husband, a former ambassador, challenged the case for the invasion of Iraq. The judge says the suit raises important questions, but does not belong in federal court.

A ground crew at San Francisco's International Airport made a grim discovery during a post-flight inspection of a commercial jet just in from Shanghai, China. They found a dead man lodged in the plane's wheel well. Authorities say the body is apparently that of a stowaway.

Controversy swirling around actor Tom Cruise and his new film set in Nazi Germany. Cruise was in Germany and production has just gotten underway. But the government is refusing to grant permission for scenes to be shot at a key historic site. Some suggest that Cruise's membership in the Church of Scientology led to that decision. The German government considers Scientology a commercial enterprise that preys on vulnerable people.

In news affecting small businesses, officials in storm damaged parts of Louisiana say federal red tape is discouraging contractors from bidding on reconstruction projects. I know that surprises you. Many contractors who helped with the cleanup of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina say they're still owed money by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA. Some companies and parishes are suing to force FEMA to release those funds. State officials say the whole region now has a bad reputation among contractors. That's a look at the headlines right now -- John.

KING: Carol Costello.

Carol, thank you.

And coming up, top secret nuclear data stolen. Find out how the accused thief allegedly got the classified papers and how the FBI caught him.

Plus, a battle of the candidates' spouses. Bill Clinton defending his wife against the wife of John Edwards. We'll show you who said what.

Stay with us.



KING: Happening now, a man accused of stealing secrets about uranium enrichment and selling them abroad says he's not guilty. A former contractor at a Tennessee nuclear site was arrested after allegedly stealing and trying to sell the equipment to undercover FBI agents. Today he was arraigned in a federal court.

Russia is expelling four British diplomats. It comes just days after Britain announced four Russian diplomats were being sent home from London. The diplomatic spat revolves around Moscow's refusal to hand over a suspect in the poisoning death of a former KGB spy.

And Iran's president is warning so-called enemies of the Middle East to abandon their "hostile plans for the region. He made those comments following talks with Syria's president in Damascus.

Wolf Blitzer is off today.

I'm John King.


Hillary Clinton stood by her man. Now, he's standing by her. The former president defending his would be president wife, firing back at remarks by the wife of one of her leading rivals.

CNN's Brian Todd joins us now live to connect all the dots.

Tell us the latest -- Brian.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, we're getting more indications that a trend that's been developing over decades of highly educated, high profile spouses taking huge roles in politicians' careers seems to be exploding in this campaign.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE) TODD: (voice-over): Spouse versus spouse on the campaign trail. First, Elizabeth Edwards questions Hillary Clinton's commitment to women's issues, telling "Salon" magazine: "Sometimes you feel you have to behave as a man and not talk about omen's issues. I'm sympathetic. She wants to be commander-in-chief."

Then Mrs. Clinton's husband, who knows something about that job, fires back on ABC.


BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I don't think she's trying to be man. I don't think it's inconsistent with being a woman that can also be knowledgeable on military and security affairs and be strong when the occasion demands it. That's -- I don't consider that being manly. I consider that being a leader.


TODD: The former president was also outspoken about George Bush's handling of the Iraq War in that same ABC interview.


CLINTON: There's no evidence that whether we have a good or bad day in a particular community or region in Iraq, that we have either the political reconciliation process within the country working or any diplomatic process that's got a chance to help with the neighbors.


TODD: Analysts say Bill Clinton can be an effective cheerleader for Mrs. Clinton's campaign, but that his problem will come in being careful not to overshadow her.

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Americans believe -- want to believe, always, that a president is his or her own person. So while they may find Bill Clinton's role reassuring, they don't want to believe that he will be the real president. And I think she'll make it clear that he won't be.


TODD: Still, whatever Bill Clinton says will surely carry more weight than other spouses on the campaign trail.

But the White House not taking the bait for the moment. When we asked about Bill Clinton's remark that there is "no military victory here" in Iraq, a White House spokesman said they would rather not weigh in on this, since it's part of a political campaign -- John.

KING: And in the political campaign, Brian, if you ask people to stack it up, how does Hillary Clinton fare against John Edwards on women's issues?

TODD: Well, very, very strongly. CNN's most recent poll of Democratic women voters shows Mrs. Clinton far ahead of John Edwards. So Mrs. Edwards' shot at Hillary Clinton could possibly be seen as a calculation to try to make up some ground there.

KING: Brian Todd, thank you very much.

We're going to take you now live to New York, where Mayor Michael Bloomberg is briefing reporters on the investigation into that steam type blast yesterday in midtown Manhattan that caused traffic chaos and several injuries.

Let's listen.

BLOOMBERG: But I wanted to take the opportunity to first thank everybody, not just the commissioners, but all the people who are really working and have been working since this accident occurred to make sure that everybody stays safe and that we get the cleanup done as expeditiously as possible. And I did want to update you on the progress that we've been making.

As you know, the steam pipe exploded just about 24 hours ago right now. It was a frightening and a serious incident and, tragically, one woman died of a heart attack as she fled, 45 were injured including two who remain in critical condition. This woman worked for a company who the chairman of the board did call me earlier. We've been playing telephone tag, but I will talk to him later on. Our prayers go out to her and her family. Many others who weren't hurt were understandably worried, not only about terrorism, but about the possible --

KING: Having a technical problem there with the audio from Mayor Michael Bloomberg in New York. We'll try to fix that problem and get back to it. The mayor briefing reporters surrounded by city officials there on that steam pipe explosion yesterday. We'll get back to that news conference as soon as we correct our technical issues and as news warrants.

Now we've been looking at the Democratic and Republican White House hopefuls here in THE SITUATION ROOM and what we can expect from their potential presidencies.

Joining us with this week's "what if" segment, our special correspondent Frank Sesno. Frank?

FRANK SESNO, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: Hey John. Well, we return to our presidential series of what ifs this week. But for this, some numbers are really important so we'll test your knowledge about this if you're willing. Let's go first, how many Americans are uninsured John, 26, 47, or 80 million.

KING: From those numbers I think B, about around 47 million.

SESNO: B, 47 million Americans walking around without health insurance. Next question, what's the median family income for family of four in this country, 46, 55, 62?

KING: I was refreshed on this because of the Edwards poverty tour, it is A.

SESNO: There you go, $46,000 a year. And finally this question John, also about the Edwards poverty tour, how many Americans living in poverty, 25, 37, or 46 million Americans?

KING: About 13 percent of the population I guess that would be "A."

SESNO: You say "A", it's 37 million. And these are the things, these are the issues that John Edwards hopes will help him break through.


SESNO (voice-over): What if John Edwards won? His presidency would reflect this fact. His politics are built far more on personal experience than political breeding. Son of a textile worker, first in his family to go to college. But he broke out and made his fortune as a personal injury lawyer. But tragedy has been a companion, too. His son Wade was killed in a car accident at the age of 16. Edwards' wife Elizabeth was diagnosed with cancer at the end of his last campaign and announced a recurrence in the middle of this one. So what if it were President Edwards, insiders say he'd reflect his intensely personal often painful history, focusing on health care that was the first big announcement of his campaign. Labor issues, minimum wage and taxes. The rich should pay more, he says, to fund the rest. Edwards was on a poverty in America tour just this week. A populous? Well, maybe. There were those expensive hair cuts, but he certainly made some in the corporate crowd nervous. During his last one, one business leader accused him of conspicuous hostility to manufacturing and business.

And Iraq, as a senator he voted to go in. As president, he'd get out. But then what? Regional diplomacy, he says, wishful thinking say the critics. But the biggest what if in John Edwards' life revolves around the health of his wife. They know the cancer is incurable but insists they can handle it. He said if you're not able in a focused thoughtful way to deal with this kind of pressure, you're not ready to be president.


SESNO: So what if he's president, you know folks around him say, first things he'd do, get on a plane, go and re-engage the world from Iraq beyond he has to do more of that. Second thing he'd do, get corporate and lobbying interests out of Washington, maybe another case of wishful thinking but he certainly can set a tone. And finally, re- engage the congress, try to get things done. He says not enough has been done. But it's tone thing, John, it's his whole populism thing, that's what he's hanging his hat on.

KING: As we ponder the what if thought, there has to be some frustration in the Edwards campaign. He was the vice presidential nominee last time, do you think that would give him a leg-up. But so far overshadowed by Senator Clinton and Senator Obama. How do they break through? SESNO: In fact and in the polls he's running number three in all the polling. But the money, you know, that stuff does matter. Take a look at this. Total raised, Edwards, $23 million, on hand $13 million. The others out raising him, they out bank him and that matters too. So the what if is still down the line.

KING: What if down the line I assume he things all this leg work, the poverty tour, just keep working hard.

SESNO: Well he thinks he's establishing a niche for himself and that it's going to connect with people. And that this is an issue that's got a moral calling and has relevance to Americans who think it's been neglected far too long.

KING: Frank Sesno, "what if" of John Edwards. Thank you very much.

SESNO: Thanks John.

KING: And not surprisingly presidential candidates closely monitor the number of visits to their websites. So if every click equaled a vote, who would win the nominations? One website takes a look and for more let's bring in our Internet reporter Jacki Schechner, Jacki, who wins?

JACKI SCHECHNER, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Well John it depends. But according to this website, if parties assign delegates just by web traffic alone, then Barack Obama would win the Democratic nomination and Mitt Romney would win on the Republican side. If you compare them head to head, you can see that Barack Obama's campaign site gets more traffic than Mitt Romney's, considerably much so. But this according to the website is true of all the Democratic candidates. Here you can see Clinton and there you can see Rudy Giuliani. This is from a website called They're a web research company. They say they track some 2 million people as they surfed over the past six months. This is not obviously an official poll, but it is an interesting snapshot of web traffic.

KING: And what have we learned Jacki from looking at it, it's if campaign cash is one of the key viability tests right now. Equate web traffic to web fundraising?

SCHECHNER: Interesting that the mats do seem to match up. If you take a look at the FCC website and where the money is coming from, from Mitt Romney's his big donations come from California, from Utah, from Massachusetts. Obama gets them from California, from Illinois, from New York. That is the same on the web traffic amounts that were put together by John?

KING: It's about money and a whole lot more. Jacki Schechner thank you very much. Now the next presidential debate to be featured on CNN will be right here Monday night, it will be hosted from the citadel in Charleston, South Carolina. We're teaming up with YouTube. It will be the first debate where all of you can submit your questions to the candidates online. Hurry up if you haven't yet. Up ahead here, hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons is talking tough about the dog fighting charges against NFL star Michael Vick. Russell Simmons joins me in THE SITUATION ROOM next. Also, following the report of food made out of cardboard, China takes action. Not what you might expect, though. It arrests the journalist who reported the news. John Vause will explain, stay with us, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


KING: Outrage is growing over dog fighting allegations laid out in a federal indictment against Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick. Now animal rights advocates and a prominent entertainment executive are speaking out.

Russell Simmons thank you for joining us today here in THE SITUATION ROOM. I want to start with a letter you wrote to the NFL and to those who use Michael Vick to sponsor their products, to endorse their products, about his arrest. You wrote this. "Today, we sound a clarion call to all people: Stand up for what is right, and speak out against what is wrong. Dogfighting is unacceptable. Hurting animals for human pleasure or gain is despicable. Cruelty is just plain wrong."

And, sir, in that letter to the NFL and Michael Vick sponsors, you said they should, quote, take appropriate action. Is Michael Vick innocent until proven guilty, or should he be suspended and his endorsements suspended until this case is resolved?

RUSSELL SIMMONS, HIP HOP MOGUL: Michael Vick is innocent until proven guilty, that's a fact. But the other fact is that there's such a -- he's almost a blessing because there's so little dialogue about this despicable crime. The fact that we're having this discussion now and it's on the front page of the newspapers allows us to promote a different consciousness. The suffering of animals, not only dogfighting is something that needs to be on the front page. And so this letter was written as part of -- maybe the best thing could happen is that Michael Vick, instead of being fully prosecuted, he can turn into some kind of a person who promotes something different. He's a role model. It's very important that young people know that dogfighting is unacceptable. That's my goal is to get young people and other people, maybe fans to know that -- and the first thing I think we did was reach out to him and ask him to denounce the idea. Because the important thing is that people learn from this experience. Prosecuting one more celebrity on this issue is not the answer. The answer is to remind all Americans that we have to step up and change the mind-set that promotes dogfighting.

KING: Well let me step in on that point. You say not prosecuting just one celebrity. As you know, there are some in the African-American community who suggest Michael Vick is being picked on because he is young, because he is black and because he is rich and sometimes controversial. Do you lend any credence to those allegations?

SIMMONS: Well I think that anyone who is a celebrity, and who promotes something that really is harmful to society becomes a person who could then set a different example. So it's important, whether he's a celebrity or not, he should be, of course, stand up to the law, but he shouldn't be singled out. I'm not suggesting he's singled out or not but I do know that because of him, this dialogue is on the front page of newspapers.

KING: I want to change the subject, sir, and take the opportunity since we have you here in THE SITUATION ROOM today to ask you about the state of play in the 2008 presidential race. There are some who say with the first African-American candidate with a real chance to be president of the United States, perhaps there should be a great sense of excitement in the community. And yet if you look at our own polling, our most recent poll, among African-Americans Senator Clinton and Senator Obama essentially running equal. Senator Clinton, 43 percent, Senator Obama, 42 percent. Is that a reflection of Senator Obama needing to prove himself more in the community or is it in your view a reflection of the fact that Hillary Clinton was first lady for eight years, an administration that had very good relationships through President Clinton in the African-American community and therefore is well-known and well liked?

SIMMONS: Well, my opinion is that, whoever is going to look to change the condition of suffering of many in our communities is the leader. In other words, those who want to fight poverty and ignorance and those who want to get equal high-quality education, those who might want to really address poverty in a meaningful way, for me, that's the concern. Senator Obama has talked a great deal about poverty, for that, I applaud him. John Edwards has said a lot of very important things about poverty. So it's important that we talk about lifting people up. I think America can survive. It's going to suffer even greater than it has been if we don't start to lift the people from the bottom up. The fact that there's so much corporate welfare and so much support for the rich getting richer and so little support for poor people getting an opportunity, that's a sad state that we're in, in America. And I'm very afraid, also, our foreign policy where we promote so much abuse to so many people. Maybe Obama can travel around the world with the image that he has, since he is a person of color and apologize for the abuse that we cause all over the world. That might be helpful as a start.

We found our military might is weak. We know in this day and age, we can't knock someone out for three generations. We have to promote love. We spend so much money promoting anger and the cycle of violence is so strong that to continue to promote it is fruitless and we're in a very scary time. The world is smaller. We cannot just abuse people and take advantage of them and expects that we can continue that process and that this generation or the next generation will be ok and we'll deal with it later. It comes up immediately. We have to worry about those 5,000 Africans that died in the last few hours. Pointless people who died, preventable deaths. We have to worry about the 200 and some odd thousand Iraqis that are dead. We have to worry about the abuse all over the world that our corporations are causing and our government is supporting. We have to worry about the poor here in America who don't have a chance to lift themselves up because we're not giving them the proper education. We have to change the American mind-set to be more compassionate towards ourselves and towards others. That's the only way this country will survive.

KING: Russell Simmons, we thank you for your time today here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

SIMMONS: Thank you.

KING: We want to go live now quickly to our Mary Snow who is just out of that news conference in New York City by Mayor Bloomberg and other top officials about the steam pipe explosion yesterday and the ramifications of it. Mary, what's the latest?

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well John, Mayor Bloomberg saying that tests on air samples have all come back negative for asbestos. He did say that some of the debris that's been tested has come back positive for asbestos. The cleanup continues. But he also added that it's in his words very unlikely that there are any health problems for anyone exposed to that asbestos yesterday after that explosion. John?

KING: Mary Snow with encouraging news so far at least from New York City officials. Mary, thank you very much.

Lou Dobbs is getting ready for his program right at the top of the hour. Lou, what are you working on?

LOU DOBBS, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you John. Tonight, we're reporting on rising anger on Capitol Hill over the employment of illegal aliens by U.S. government contractors. Incredibly, those contractors are not required to verify the status of their employees. Even those employees working in sensitive government facilities. We'll have that special report.

Also tonight, more evidence of the complete failure of congress to stand up to the powerful lobbyists and special interests on the issue of food safety for American consumers. Some of those lawmakers, in fact, are even helping those lobbyists block the implementation of a law passed five years ago to protect American consumers from dangerous food imports. We'll continue our special reports.

And the nation's wildfire crisis is worsening. The fire alert level now at the highest level possible after a devastating drought across the western United States.

Troubling new charges tonight of incompetence and bungling in the war against radical Islamist terrorists. Rowan Scarborough is the author of "Sabotage", America's enemies in the CIA. He's here among our guests tonight. We hope you will be as well. Please join us at the top of the hour. John, back to you.

KING: Lou, we'll be watching, thank you very much.

Up ahead here, flashing before your eyes. We'll show you newly released video from Brazil of that airline crash and the huge explosion that followed.

And Chinese authorities are cracking down in response to food safety concerns. But are they taking actions against the right people?


KING: Just released video from here from the plane crash that killed nearly 200 people in Sao Paulo, Brazil Tuesday. After the plane skids off the runway, you see a flash, from a massive explosion. Pilots complain that the runway is short and becomes extremely slick when wet. And now we're getting word that just a short time ago, another jetliner pulled out of an attempted landing at the airport. And government prosecutors want a court order to shut down the entire airport. It is Brazil's busiest, until an investigation is complete.

China takes action following a report, a popular food there was made with cardboard. But you might be surprised just what action is being taken. CNN's John Vause reports from Beijing.

JOHN VAUSE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John, police have confirmed to CNN, the journalist behind the expose is now being held waiting trial. But there's no word on the charges. Beijing television which first aired the story, made a very public apology to viewers on Wednesday night, saying the story was staged, it was a hoax and allegedly an attempt by this reporter to get higher ratings numbers. The station says all those involved will be punished. This hidden camera investigation showed cardboard being used as the main ingredient in a very popular snack called bowsers. They're like dumplings and are normally stuffed with meat, usually pork. Now after this story went to air, an investigation by police apparently found no evidence of any such wrongdoing, and there are accusations that the reporter gave the bowser maker the cardboard which was then used in his report. When the story first broke, it caused shock and outrage across China. It was widely reported in the United States and many other countries as well and it caused a great deal of embarrassment for authorities here, just as they are trying to convince the world that products and especially food from China is safe. But some analysts believe the government is trying to discredit this journalist and his work. John?

KING: John Vause in Beijing, a story we will keep tracking. And up next, Hillary Clinton's calendars and other documents. Should the Clinton library release them? Jack Cafferty has your email.

And giving thanks to the gift of laughter. We'll show you some very, very unusual pictures. Stay with us.


KING: And now, some of the most interesting pictures of the day. In Mexico City, clowns take Holy Communion at the basilica of the Lady of Guadeloupe, Mexico's patron saint. They explained they were giving thanks for the opportunity to make people laugh.

Checking more of the day's best video, in Colorado no one was seriously injured when this vintage plane went down in flames. Authorities say the Korean war era plane appeared to have engine trouble.

And in Washington State, it's a big day for the western pond turtle. Once nearly extinct, biologists from Woodland Park Zoo are releasing about 50 of the turtles back into the wild.

There's outrage among some in Israel of the new Harry Potter book. Not because of what's in it but because of when it's scheduled to be released. CNN's Carol Costello has more. Carol?

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well John, religious conservatives don't want the book released on Saturday which is the Jewish Sabbath. Stores by law are required to be closed. But so far some bookstore owners say well I'll be damned.


COSTELLO (voice-over): Potter mania is not a U.S. saying, it's a worldwide phenomenon. "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows" will debut simultaneously in bookstores worldwide. And that has pitted bespectacled Harry against bespectacled Eli Yishai, a lawmaker who belongs to the ultra orthodox party Shas. He doesn't want the "Deathly Hallows" released on the Jewish Sabbath to cause bookstores to defy Israeli law by staying open. He's threatening to fine bookstores that do, and he has support.

AVRAHAM RAVITZ, ISRAELI KNESSET MEMBER: It's one of the most important days by Jewish people of all our history. And I think it's a little chutzpah of them to open the stores just to make money and a lot of money.

COSTELLO: Chutzpah, some Israeli book sellers have it. Vowing to open their doors despite threats from lawmakers. They say their contract with the Potter publisher requires them to. And besides, Israeli kids are clamoring for Harry ASAP.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's great that they open Friday and Saturday, because it's a global, they sell it all over the world at the same time. So I think that our friends are addicted to the books should buy it when everybody else in the world buys it.

COSTELLO: So Harry versus Eli, let the countdown begin. Early Saturday, Israel. Potter wins.


COSTELLO: You know, it's interesting, when the first Harry Potter book came out, some conservative Christian groups wanted it banned because they felt the Potter series promoted pagan imagery and promoted witchcraft. But times of changed in that world. In Britain, the bishop of Oxford described JK Rowling as a great story teller John, who demonstrates how young people make moral choices. So Harry Potter is having an effect on cultures across the world.

KING: One thing that hasn't changed is those books and movies make a lot of money. Carol Costello, thank you very much. It's time now to check back in with Jack Cafferty. Hi Jack.

CAFFERTY: John, should the Clinton presidential library have to release Senator Hillary Clinton's records from her time as first lady. There's a lawsuit asking that that be done. Patrick writes from Maryland, "For years people have tried to access Governor George W. Bush's files from his time as governor in Austin. They're locked away safe and sound in George Herbert Walker Bush's presidential library. How's about we let Hillary's files see the light of day after we see what Bush has been hiding?"

Stan writes, "Jack I'm a retired librarian, I can't see any way the archives can withhold the Hillary Clinton files. It's a no win situation. If they were to succeed in withholding the files, Clinton's opponents would constantly be asking, what's she hiding? With the implication that their might be some dirt there. The legality of whether they, she can withhold the files is separate from the issue of being backed into a corner."

Kate in Concord, New Hampshire, "Judicial Watch will not have access to the personal records of any other presidential candidate. And it does not sound like they have any particular reason for seeking hers other than fishing for dirt. The freedom of information act is not supposed to rob citizens of their personal privacy."

Richard in Louisiana, "Jack not at all. If Bush and Cheney won't give us their information, why should President and Mrs. Clinton? What happened in her office eight years or more ago is no one's business."

Janet in Washington writes, "First ladies have always had influence of lesser or greater degree, but until it becomes a paid position answering to the taxpaying and voting public, the answer has to be no."

Spike writes, "Hillary's files should be released at exactly the time and place that shifty Dick's files are released." That would be Cheney I think. And Chris in East Hampton, New York, "If Hillary Clinton's files are under the control of the National Archives then they should certainly be released to the public. Unless of course they've already been disposed of by Sandy Berger." If you didn't see your email here you can go to where we post more of them online along with video clips of "The Cafferty File." Sandy Berger, he who took some stuff out of the National Archives in his socks.

KING: He who did. You've got some funny friends out there.

CAFFERTY: These are my people and we're very close.

KING: Jack Cafferty, thank you very much. And remember, we're here every weekday afternoon from 4:00 to 6:00 eastern and we're back at 7:00 p.m. eastern, just one hour from now. Until then, I'm John King in THE SITUATION ROOM, "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT" starts right now. Lou?