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Bomb Plot Foiled; Loose Nukes Over America

Aired September 5, 2007 - 19:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, an alleged plot, car bomb attacks on Americans at discos, airports and U.S. military facilities abroad. That scenario sketched out by prosecutors after the arrest of alleged Islamic militants and the seizure of powerful explosives. Loose nukes over America a B-52 flies across the country loaded with nuclear warheads, the crew had no clue. How did this happen?
And he was rocked by a sex scandal during his White House years. Now you're about to hear how former president Bill Clinton responds to the sex scandal involving one of his biggest critics.

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

The weapons, powerful explosives; the motivation, hatred; the target, Americans -- in our CNN security watch, German authorities announce the arrest of suspected Islamic militants who allegedly were planning massive and imminent attacks with powerful explosives. Those are their words.

The suspects are set to have eyed facilities frequented by Americans and officials say the targets may have included the U.S. Air Base at Ramstein and nearby Frankfurt International Airport.

Let's go live to CNN's Frederik Pleitgen. He is joining us in Frankfurt with more on this developing story. What is the latest, Frederik?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, one of the things that German investigators are saying, they say said that had these terrorist attacks in fact succeeded, that the explosions could potentially have been even more devastating than the ones that we saw a couple years go in Madrid and in London.

And certainly German authorities are saying that this is an unprecedented terror threat that they're dealing with now. Here is what happened today.


PLEITGEN (voice-over): This is one of the three suspects arrested in the alleged terror plot. The federal prosecutor says two of the three suspects are Germans who converted to Islam and one is Turkish. All are in their 20s and were detained in a raid in central German Tuesday. Officials say they believe the suspects received training in camps in Pakistan run by a group called the Islamic Jihad Union and that the attacks were ordered directly by al Qaeda leadership.

JOERG ZIERCKE, GERMAN FEDERAL POLICE (through translator): The main motive was hatred of American citizens. The main targets were U.S. bases. Possible scenarios included multiple car bombs, also known as simultaneous terrorism.

PLEITGEN: Officials would not name those installations and said other targets could have included discos, pubs, and airports frequented by Americans. Prosecutors say the three men had stored 1,500 pounds of hydrogen peroxide, which if mixed with other ingredients could have produced massive explosive power. German police have been monitoring the group since the end of last year after police noticed them scouting out American installations in Germany.

WOLFGANG SCHAUBLE, GERMAN INTERIOR MINISTER (through translator): They did not get to a very dangerous stage because happily they -- at an early stage, they attracted the attention of our officials in our country.


PLEITGEN: And Wolf, one thing that a source tells CNN is that officials found very sophisticated military detonators with one of these suspects. They say that these military detonators are very, very sophisticated and can very exactly detonate these bombs, very lethal there of course. Now one of the things the German prosecutors office says it's very concerned about it says that all of these suspects potentially went to terrorism training camps in Pakistan that were run by al Qaeda -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Frederik Pleitgen reporting for us from Frankfurt -- Frederik, thanks very much.

And joining us now, Tom Foreman; he's here in THE SITUATION ROOM. Tom, how bad could this have been?

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We know, Wolf that there could have been an awful lot of targets involved. This is Berlin over here in Germany, but let's look Ramstein down here, one of the potential targets. This is the cornerstone for a huge military community in this country. We have about 12,000 troops based here, about 7,000 Department of Defense employees. When you include all of their families and all of the other militaries that serve with us there and work with us there, you're talking about 53,000 people throughout the country of Germany connected to this base.

Let's go over and take a look at the airport over here. Frankfurt International is a big hub for travel in Europe. If you go in and out, there's a very good chance you will go through this airport. It has about 50 million people traveling through it every year. It's one of the top 10 airports in the world.

And if you just look at the people who work here, running the airplanes, running the shops, doing all of that, you're talking ability 65,000 employees. That's the largest single employer in the entire country of Germany, obviously, Wolf, an awful lot of places where terrorists could hit there.

BLITZER: Tom Foreman thanks very much. And stay tuned to CNN day and night for the most reliable news about your security. A major security breach in the skies over America, nuclear warheads loaded aboard a B-52 bomber on a cross country flight and the crew had absolutely no clue.

Let's go to our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr. Barbara?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, there's nothing more serious in the military than a problem with nuclear weapons.


STARR (voice-over): Military officials tell CNN it's an unprecedented mistake with nuclear warheads, the most secure weapon in the U.S. arsenal. Last Thursday, a B-52 took off from Minot, North Dakota loaded with six cruise missiles. When it landed three and a half hours later in Barksdale, Louisiana, ground crews were horrified to discover the missiles had nuclear warheads. The pilot and crew had no idea they had been carrying nuclear weapons.

GEOFF MORRELL, PENTAGON PRESS SECRETARY: Secretary Gates was quickly informed of this incident. He was called I believe early Friday morning and he has been receiving daily briefings.

STARR: One squadron commander has been relieved of duty. Several airmen reassigned. An inventory of all U.S. nuclear weapons was quickly ordered. The story was first published by "The Military Times" newspapers, a private publishing company. Military officials say the warheads were not armed, there was no risk of a nuclear explosion, but experts say that's not the issue.

MAJ. GEN. DON SHEPPERD (RET.), U.S. AIR FORCE: There was no way that the weapons could have been used on a nuclear weapon detonated, but it was still a major screw-up and a major, major concern. You don't want any screw-ups, none, when it has to do with nuclear weapons.

STARR: For the Bush administration already trying to convince allies that Iran and North Korea pose a nuclear threat, this could not be more embarrassing.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This will require a flurry of diplomacy in many places to reassure our allies where nuclear weapons are.


STARR: President Bush was informed within hours of the incident. Results of the Air Force investigation into what went wrong are expected as soon as next week -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Barbara Starr at the Pentagon for us. Thank you.

So what if the B-52 had gone down with its nuclear weapons? It's actually happened before. Back in 1966, a U.S. B-52 collided with a tanker during mid-air refueling. All four of its hydrogen bombs were released during the explosion. The igniters on two bombs detonated on impact, spreading radioactive material over the Spanish countryside.

A third bomb was recovered relatively intact. The fourth landed in the Mediterranean Sea, and the U.S. military took almost three months to find and recover that device -- scary stuff indeed.

Let's go to Jack Cafferty for "The Cafferty File" in New York -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: It's not good, is it?

New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin may be about to kick it up a notch. A member of Nagin's inner circle has told AP last month that Nagin plans to announce his run for governor of Louisiana shortly after Labor Day. That would be now.

The sign-up period for the October election ballot opened yesterday and it runs through tomorrow. Nagin has already taken some fund-raising trips. He's secured the Internet address Of a potential run for the statehouse Nagin says this.

Quote, "the only way I would do something like that is if I thought it would help this recovery", unquote. And then there's the sticking point, a big one. Critics point to the condition of the mayor's city, New Orleans, two years after Hurricane Katrina. Large parts of the city is still empty, there is a high murder rate, a sluggish recovery at best.

A recent poll put Nagin's disapproval rating at 65 percent. But Nagin, who after Katrina insisted New Orleans would be a chocolate city, highlights areas where he thinks he has made a positive difference. Things like the population's rebounded to 60 percent of its pre-Katrina level, the biggest police recruiting class since that killer storm, and a new garbage contract that has cleaned up the French quarter.

The mayor still has almost three years left on his term as mayor. So here is the question. Would New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin make a good governor for Louisiana? E-mail or go to I don't guess he could be much worse than that woman who has been running things down there for the last couple of years or so.

BLITZER: Kathleen Blanco. I'm interested especially in what our viewers who e-mail you from Louisiana have to say on this question. We'll check it out, Jack. Thanks very much.

Bill Clinton suggests some people are determined to destroy him and his wife.


BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: From the day I took the oath of office, I never got a honeymoon. They tried to undermine the legitimacy of my presidency and they took that from her, too.


BLITZER: And why does he think his wife engenders so much hate in people? You're going to hear Bill Clinton's answer in a Larry King interview. That's coming up this hour.

We also have some new details about the missing aviation adventurer Steve Fossett. And our Brian Todd flies a plane similar to the one that Fossett went missing in. How safe is this aircraft?

Oprah Winfrey is cranking up her support for Barack Obama. You're about to find out how she is taking it to the next level.

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


BLITZER: He captured the world's attention with his around the world exploits, now friends and admirers hope the adventurer Steve Fossett comes through again. A massive air search for him in the rugged western Nevada desert has so far turned up nothing, but a civil air patrol spokesperson says it's a large hay stack, and Fossett's plane is a very small needle.

CNN's Ted Rowlands is following the Nevada search for us. He's joining us live from the scene. Ted, what's the latest?

TED ROWLANDS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, unfortunately, Wolf, as the search starts to wind down for today, there's no news as to where Steve Fossett is or where the wreckage of his plane is or where his plane is. This despite some very, very excited -- a very, very excited atmosphere earlier here this afternoon.


MAJOR CYNTHIA RYAN, CIVIL AIR PATROL: We thought we had it nailed. Unfortunately, it turned out to be one of many dozens of unmapped wreck sites from previous years. We found that out by sending in a helicopter and they put a man on the ground and verified that it was not the target that we were looking for. It was not Mr. Fossett or his aircraft.


ROWLANDS: That happened today. The weather was perfect for searching today. They thought they had spotted Fossett and the aircraft. It turned out to be old wreckage, as you heard there, so a bit of bad news here this afternoon. We just got our last briefing of the day and the tone was subdued. They're going to be at it again tomorrow, but the bottom line, the headline here, Wolf, no sign of Steve Fossett.

BLITZER: And Sir Richard Branson says if anyone can survive this kind of ordeal, it's Steve Fossett. Stand by because as we get more information, Ted, we're going to come right back to you. The plane Fossett took off in was a single-engine aircraft fueled for a few hours of flight. It's the sort of plane one uses for fun, not high adventure. CNN's Brian Todd went up in a similar plane in an airfield in Ridgely, Maryland.

Brian is joining us now live from Ridgely. Give us a little sense of what could have gone wrong with the aircraft that is right behind you, Brian.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, going up in one of these planes, you really get the feeling that the possibilities for some kind of catastrophic accident in this case are really pretty limited.


TODD (voice-over): George Rousseau flies a Super Decathlon at least once a week from an airstrip near his home on Maryland's eastern shore. He's logged about 1,500 flight hours in the same model plane that Steve Fossett went missing in. He says this is a fundamentally safe aircraft that pilots often learn how to fly aerobatics in.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't think a pilot like Steve Fossett would need any of these instruments to fly the plane with authority.


TODD: It's a single engine tandem seat plane, one seat in front of the other. When we first go up, I'm shooting video from the back while George pilots. Then it's my turn. We land. Switch seats. And after take-off, I sit at the controls steering the plane. It feels very stable. At one point, I'm instructed to bank left hard.



TODD: This plane can turn completely upside down, and its engine won't stall. We can't completely invert on these runs because we're not wearing parachutes, but with Rousseau at the controls again, we take some steep pitches at nearly 90-degree angles, sometimes pulling four out of the maximum six G's.




UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's some serious G's.

TODD: Like Fossett's, this plane is equipped with an emergency locator transmitter, a beacon designed to go off if there is impact. Why didn't Fossett's beacon go off?

GEORGE ROUSSEAU, SUPER DECATHLON PILOT: It could be that it was damaged either before or after the landing. It could be that it was -- it was inoperative. That's kind of rare, but it's hard to say why.

TODD: Our landings are smooth, but George Rousseau says this is sometimes where this plane runs into trouble, in windy conditions because its steering mechanism is toward the tail.

ROUSSEAU: The center of gravity sits right behind the pilot and so that when it starts to -- if it starts to swerve a little, it wants to continue to turn. And so you sometimes get some low-speed accidents with this type of airplane in landings.


TODD: So what does George Rousseau think happened to Steve Fossett? Well he says it could have been some kind of mechanical failure, he could have run out of gas, or he could have had some kind of a problem with that tail steering mechanism possibly in windy conditions near the ground, but Wolf, he says, frankly, none of that could have thrown off a pilot like Steve Fossett. He says Fossett could have landed this plane if the engine had completely failed.

BLITZER: Because they say, Brian, those winds in the Nevada desert, the canyons over there, they're really, really treacherous, a lot different than anything, for example, on the eastern shore of Maryland where you are.

TODD: That's right. We didn't have any problem with the wind here. He says that the wind there is much stronger, especially toward the ground when you're landing. This plane does have a bit of a problem with that goes into some tail spins. He says he could have run into that problem, but he really believes Fossett should have been able to handle all of that.

BLITZER: Let's hope and pray for the best. Steve Fossett, we're thinking of him. Thanks very much, Brian Todd, with that report. Fossett's dangerous adventures aloft have almost cost him his life on more than one occasion. Back in January of 1998, his attempt to fly solo around the world in a balloon was cut short when he crash-landed in Russia.

August that same year brought a most spectacularly dangerous close -- his dangerous most spectacularly close call yet. Fossett almost died when a storm shredded his balloon and he plunged five and a half miles into the Coral Sea. During yet another around the world balloon attempt back in 2001, bad weather forced him to land on a cattle ranch in Brazil. Once again, we hope he's OK.

Coming up, it is Bill Clinton's very revealing personal admission.

So what is so important for the former president, why is he promising never to do this again? He's going to confess to our own Larry King. That's coming up. We have excerpts from Larry's very revealing interview.

And a senator busted in a men's room leaves an embarrassing voice mail. You're going to want to hear what Senator Larry Craig had to say and we'll tell you how members of his own party are now wishing he would simply go away.

And fresh reports are emerging right now on Luciano Pavarotti's condition. They're not positive.

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


BLITZER: Our Carol Costello is monitoring stories incoming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now. Carol, tell our viewers what we have.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: A couple of things, Wolf. Italian news agencies are reporting the health of renowned opera singer Luciano Pavarotti is deteriorating significantly and that he is now in serious condition. The 71-year-old Pavarotti is suffering from pancreatic cancer. His spokesman is not denying the report.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I am empty because all of my energy, physical and emotional.


COSTELLO: Luciano Pavarotti, of course, an amazing tenor, he was actually practicing for a comeback, but now he is gravely ill in the hospital.

Three senior Marine officials are being punished for their actions or inaction in the wake of an alleged massacre for Iraqi civilians by American troops in 2005. An investigation found that they failed to show, quote, "due diligence" in the follow up to the killings of 24 Iraqi civilians in the town of Haditha. The three will receive letters of censure. That is the highest administrative punishment an officer can receive.

And federal regulators say you should expect more Chinese-made toys to be recalled in the coming months. Yesterday's recall by Mattel of nearly 850,000 toys manufactured in China with toxic lead paint was the third such recall by the toymaker this summer. Now a top official at the Consumer Product Safety Commission says it's clear the problem is not isolated to Mattel and that she'd bet on more recalls. We'll keep you posted -- back to you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks, Carol, very much.

A recent study found recalled products actually turning up on Now lawmakers are trying to make sure that all recalled toys stay off the online auction site. Let's go to our Internet reported, Abbi Tatton. Abbi, what have you found when you have looked at this site?

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, take this Fisher Price toy. It was on one of Mattel's recall list last month because of a lead paint hazard. Well today look at eBay and you'll find a toy with the same serial number showing up there, starting bid, $9.99. Now this is contrary to eBay's policy.

The site clearly states that items identified as hazardous by the Consumer Product Safety Commission must not be sold there, but a recent study found that some of these are getting through. And now three senators have written a letter to eBay's president asking what the company is doing about it.

We spoke to an eBay spokesman today who told CNN the company works closely with the CPSC and relies on the eBay community to flag items that shouldn't be on there. The spokesman accepted though that with so many recalls, some products and some of the items are slipping through -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Abbi thanks very much.

Does Bill Clinton, the former president of the United States, want payback now against Senator Larry Craig?


LARRY KING, "LARRY KING LIVE": Did you get any sense of satisfaction since he was such a critic of yours during the impeachment thing, using terms very demeaning about you?


BLITZER: You're about to find out if Bill Clinton is enjoying the misfortune of one person who vilified him during the Monica Lewinsky scandal. Stand by for that.

Oprah Winfrey is taking her support for Barack Obama to a new level. We're going to tell you what's going on.

And he'll be a no-show at a big Republican debate, but Fred Thompson will be all over the airwaves. And he has a message for you about the fate of the world.

Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: An extremely embarrassing scandal won't go away as some would like. After saying he intends to resign, the senator busted in a men's room at an airport now wants to keep his job, and some Republicans are simply furious about that. Just a short while ago, the Senate Ethics Committee refused Larry Craig's request to throw out a complaint against him, rejecting his claim the committee doesn't have jurisdiction.

Our congressional correspondent Dana Bash is up on Capitol Hill watching the story for us. How are lawmakers, Dana, responding to all of this?

DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well CNN has learned Wolf that there was a spirited and passionate debate inside a closed door Republican meeting today. We're told that some Republican senators stood up and accused the leadership of rushing to judgment on Senator Craig, but others, most senators said that they were quite pleased. In fact, they applauded what the leadership did in their swift rebuke.


BASH (voice-over): Larry Craig may be having second thoughts about resigning, but his own Republican leadership sure isn't. First they pushed, now a shove.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MINORITY LEADER: My view remains what I said last Saturday. I thought he made the correct decision, the difficult, but correct decision to resign. That would still be my view today.

BASH: Senate Republican leaders have been boasting about their swift success in pressuring Craig to resign. Now, GOP leadership aides tell CNN top Senate Republicans are furious that Craig is keeping the tabloid like scandal alive.

DAN WHITING, SPOKESMAN FOR SEN. LARRY CRAIG: He's innocent and he believes he eventually will have this charge overturned.

BASH: Craig may now reconsider resigning on September 30th if he's able to overturn a guilty plea by then, one he signed admitting to disorderly conduct in a men's room. Most legal experts say clearing his name will be extraordinarily hard.

TIM HEAPHY, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: It almost never works. It's an extremely high uphill climb for Craig.

BASH: But Craig's change of heart was prompted by GOP Senator Arlen Specter, who encouraged him to fight. Craig discussed his decision on a voice mail message obtained by "Roll Call Newspaper," left shortly before his news conference on Saturday.

SEN. LARRY CRAIG (R), IDAHO: Arlen Specter is now willing to come out in my defense, arguing that it appears by all that he knows I have been railroaded and all that. Having all that, we have reshaped my statement a little bit to say it is my intent to resign on September 30.

BASH: Meanwhile, Craig's attorney asked the ethics investigators not to investigate as the Senate Republican leadership wanted them to, but this was something that was rejected, really out of hand, by the Senate ethics committee. They say they do in fact have a right and really a responsibility to investigate a senator regardless of whether or not any misconduct happens here in Congress or is directly related to his or her responsibilities.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Dana, thanks very much. Former President Bill Clinton sat down for an interview with CNN's Larry King today. That interview in full will air at 9:00 p.m. eastern tonight.

The president had some striking things to say about topics ranging from the presidential campaign of his wife to the scandal surrounding Senator Larry Craig of Idaho. In tonight's strategy session, we're going to discuss this interview that the president gave to our Larry King.

Joining us now from Chicago, Democratic Strategist, James Carville, and here in Washington, Republican Strategist, John Feehery.

Gentlemen, I want to first play this exchange that Larry had with President Clinton on the Larry Craig scandal. Listen to this exchange.

LARRY KING, CNN ANCHOR: Did you get any sense of satisfaction since he was such a critic of yours during the impeachment thing and using terms very demeaning about you?



CLINTON: No, because when it was going on, I knew that, you know, a lot of them were out at for hypocrisy long before this. And everybody knew that every serious student of the constitution knew that the whole thing was bogus and that they were just jumping on a terrible personal mistake I made, but one of the things I did to try to get through that period was to think long and hard about times in my past when I had judged people too harshly because they had a problem I didn't have. And I promised myself that I'd never that again. I'm trying to keep that promise, so I honestly didn't feel any great joy.

BLITZER: All right. Let's go to James Carville. You worked for Bill Clinton for a long time. You know this man very well.

Give us your thoughts on how he responded to Larry King on this whole Larry Craig scandal.

JAMES CARVILLE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: I think he's very consistent. I mean President Clinton is not someone who takes much joy in the pain of others. I think at some level, I know I said on Sunday morning TV, I sort of identified as a human being with the guy. I mean, I clearly don't agree with him. I don't wish him well politically, but he's got a wife. He's got children. He's obviously a man who's gone through a terrible time of torment in his life. And I think what President Clinton said is very consistent with the President Clinton that I know both in public and in private. I think he probably did feel empathy with Senator Craig.

BLITZER: John, you used to work for the Republican leadership in the House of Representatives for long time, including during the whole impeachment process. What do you think of the response? JOHN FEEHERY, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well I don't think that Bill Clinton feels sorry for Larry Craig. I think he kind of feels sorry for himself. If you look at the entire interview, it's really all about Bill Clinton. I don't know if the Hillary Clinton campaign really wants President Clinton out there you know feeling sorry for himself and talking about the good old days when he was being abused by the Republicans. I'm not sure if that's the right message for the Clinton campaign going into the primary election.

BLITZER: All right. Well, we have another exchange that Larry King had with Bill Clinton specifically on the point you that just raised involving his wife's campaign for president. Listen to this.

KING: Why do you think she engenders so much hate in people too? In other words, she has a high favorable standing and a high unfavorable standing. How do you explain that?

CLINTON: Well, some of that may be she's the strong person and the first person ever in her gender ever to be considered seriously as a presidential possibility. But I think most of it is frankly is that she took a lot of hits along with me beginning in 1992, when we threatened what the Washington Republican right wing thought was their permanent hold on the white house from the day I took the oath of office, I never got a honeymoon. They tried to undermine the legitimacy of my presidency, and they took half of her, too. She had nine years of that and then six years in the senate of that. A lot of what people think and don't like or think they don't like about her, is either consciously or subconsciously effected by all those 15 years, 16 years now of hits.

BLITZER: James, go ahead and respond to John's point that here we have Bill Clinton, whining, if you will, complaining once again about the right wing conspiracy.

CARVILLE: First, I don't think that it's a whine. Secondly, it is now a historical fact that is agreed on by every historian that there was a vast right wing conspiracy. There's very little doubt about it. And I think he was just stating a fact. He was asked a question, and there's no doubt that the right wing propaganda machine has been savaging Clinton forever. And I think Democrats, if anything, that's one of the reasons she's popular. The idea that they're not going to vote for her because you have a bunch of right wing losers flapping their jaws for 16 years or so is not going to be a determining factor in a democratic nomination. Of course, he's going to say that. Because she's been proven historically absolutely correct as well as he.

BLITZER: All right. John.

FEEHERY: Well obviously, I have a different opinion of that. I would say once again Bill Clinton thinks it's all about him. Actually a lot of people form their opinions outside of Bill Clinton and they don't like Hillary Clinton for a variety of different reasons. She's popular with a lot of people but she's very unpopular with the republican base and a lot of folks. That's because what she tried to with Hillary health care and a wide variety. A lot of people see her as a policy radical and they're very concerned about a Hillary Clinton presidency.

Now she's popular undoubtedly with the democrat base. That's why she's going to win the election. I would say that President Clinton is wrong. He said she's going to have a harder time in the primary than in the general election in an interview on "Roll Call," I think. And I actually I think she's going to have a much harder time in the general election.

BLITZER: All right guys. I want to play yet one more clip from Larry's interview with Bill Clinton. This on whether or not there should be a troop withdrawal from Iraq this year. Here is what Bill Clinton said.

CLINTON: I don't see any alternative consistent with the responsibilities for the national security to substantial withdrawal of troops this year because the military is so overstressed.

If we had a big national security emergency now, we would be virtually compelled to meet it with naval and Air Force forces because the Army, the Marine Corps, the National Guard, the Reserves, they're all overstretched, all deeply stressed. Given the problems we've got in Afghanistan with the resurgent Taliban and the al Qaeda and the imperative of defeating them there, I still believe that we'll have to have a substantial draw-down of troops this year.

BLITZER: He's really reflecting what most Democrats, James, are saying, that despite some progress, let's say on a security front in the al Anbar front, the U.S. this year has to start a substantial troop withdrawal.

CARVILLE: Again, he's just stating a fact. We do not have sufficient brigade to reserve. The Marine Corps and Army are completely overstressed. Everybody knows that. Everybody in the Marine Corps and Army knows that and the point that he's making is a 100 percent valid point that the world is a dangerous place, and it's a dangerous place in places other than Iraq, and that the United States is going to have to start getting people and equipment out of there because it may very well be that we're going to have to use it somewhere else. Everybody knows the war in Afghanistan has turned into a disaster. Everyone but this administration and right wing Republicans understand that the world is a very dangerous place and they need a strong U.S. military and particularly a strong army and a strong marine corps to meet these challenges, not one that is overstretched in Iraq. So what he's saying is absolutely correct.


FEEHERY: Well, the military actually doesn't want us to present a withdraw from Iraq right now. They think that would be a disaster. I think it's interesting that President Clinton would say that because he put our troops into the former Yugoslavia and Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo and if we had have pulled our troops out of there too quickly and our troops are still there, it would have been a disaster. And it's the same kind of disaster in Iraq if we move too quickly to withdraw our troops. I think that General Petraeus, the pentagon, they know what they're doing. I think they know what they're doing a lot more than former President Clinton does.

BLITZER: James Carville and John Feehery, thanks to both of you for coming into THE SITUATION ROOM, a good discussion. Once again to our viewers, you can see Larry King's full interview tonight with Bill Clinton. That starts 9:00 eastern here on CNN. We just touched the surface. This is a powerful interview. You're going to want to see Larry's show tonight.

Coming up, Fred Thompson, the actor and former senator is about to upstage all of the Republican candidates. Is he? We're about to hear what he plans to do.

And Oprah Winfrey, the talk show diva knows how to sell books, but can she also sell Barack Obama?

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


BLITZER: A report on Iraq says some security forces there are so ineffective, entire units should be scrapped and started all over again.

Let's get some more from our congressional correspondent, Jessica Yellin. She's joining us now from the hill.


JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the members of this commission are touting their extensive experience. The 20 members say they have more than 500 years of military experience, 150 years of law enforcement experience, and now some very critical findings.

The president has made it clear.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Our strategy can be summed up this way. As the Iraqis stand up, we will stand down.

YELLIN: Now, a commission headed by General James Jones, former top commander of U.S. forces in Europe, reports Iraqi forces are not ready to stand on their own. It finds the national police are operationally ineffective and should be disbanded and reorganized. The interior ministry vital for support of the police is dysfunctional and sectarian and that the border security forces are generally ineffective and riddled with corruption.

The study does offer significant praise for the army, saying it's gaining size and strength, with soldiers willing to fight against enemies of the state. But it adds they will not be ready to fulfill their security role within the next 12 to 18 months without significant coalition support. Democrats say that's evidence of a failed policy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Every one of these reports and it's not (UNINTELLIGIBLE) every one of these reports noted the political failure of the Iraqis to find reconciliation. And until that happens, there is no treasure, no blood, no reputation that we can spend that will bring stability to Iraq.

YELLIN: The report includes some recommendations. Among them, that the U.S. break up its massive footprint in Iraq and that U.S. forces could start adjusting their role in early 2008. Clearly, the report offers ammunition for both sides in the Iraq debate.


BLITZER: Jessica Yellin reporting for us, thanks Jessica.

Troubling weather. There is new weather action going on off the east coast. We'll have details.

Also, Oprah's clout. She's diving into politics in a way she never has before.

And the controversial New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin. Is he eying higher office? Jack and your e-mail. All that coming up.


BLITZER: Right now, Republican Fred Thompson is not yet an official presidential candidate, but that will change in a matter of hours. Let's go out to our Chief National Correspondent, John King. He's reporting from Iowa tonight.

Sort of a risky strategy for Senator Thompson, John?

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It is, Wolf. The other republican candidates will be in New Hampshire debating tonight and they will say of course if Fred Thompson wants to be a candidate, he should be there will them answering the question but look, this is a guy with considerable Hollywood training. He knows when you're making an entrance, you want the spotlight to yourself.

Technical problems with the piece there, Wolf.

Senator Thompson is right now sitting down with Jay Leno out in California. He will say that he is running for president, although he'll stop just short of declaring his official candidacy. That will come just after midnight tonight on his website where he will post about a 15 minute video officially declaring his candidacy for president. As you know, he has been testing the waters for several months now, the former senator from Tennessee, better known perhaps as an actor including his most recent role in the NBC drama, "Law and Order." Then Senator Thompson, after making that midnight announcement on his website, will come here to Des Moines, Iowa, for his first official campaigning as a presidential candidate. Speeches here in Des Moines tomorrow, then a bus tour throughout Iowa, two days in Iowa, then two days in New Hampshire, two days in South Carolina. Many of the other campaigns, Wolf, already saying Senator Thompson is too late to the race, that he peaked months ago while exploring it but the Thompson campaign believes that the conservative base of the Republican Party has not coalesced around a front runner and in his view, the timing is just right to get in and without a doubt, he will shake up the presidential race.

BLITZER: We're going to be hearing a lot more from Fred Thompson in the coming days and weeks. John, thanks very much. John's out on the scene in Iowa for us.

The talk show diva Oprah Winfrey is uncharacteristically throwing her considerable clout behind a presidential candidate.

Let's go to our Senior Political Analyst, Bill Schneider. He's watching all of this for us. She can certainly, Oprah, sell books. But what about a candidate?

BILL SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, that's about to be put to the test, Wolf. This year, Oprah Winfrey is doing something she's never done before.

KING: Have you endorsed a candidate before?


SCHNEIDER: She's endorsing Barack Obama for president. She's hosting a fundraiser for Obama in California this weekend. But she doesn't just bring in money.

WINFREY: I think that my value to him, my support of him is probably worth more than any check that I can write.

SCHNEIDER: Oprah Winfrey has more than an audience, she has a following.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think what Oprah can do is potentially bring out the congregants in the church of Oprah. She's a charismatic leader of a lay congregation.

SCHNEIDER: Oprah's core audience is women. Her endorsement could help Obama compete with Hillary Clinton for women's votes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: One of his campaign officials in California told me Oprah is everything.

SCHNEIDER: Oprah's relationship with her audience is personal. So is her relationship with Obama.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They met way back here in Chicago in sort of the African American social circuit.

SCHNEIDER: Obama's campaign message is not ideological. It's personal.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think what he's trying to sell is a hope and an optimism and a message that a new day can come. We can change things for the better.

SCHNEIDER: With Oprah Winfrey tells the audience she likes him and trusts him, she's helping him sell his political message.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She can make the case as Obama makes that it's not about experience. It's about judgment.

SCHNEIDER: A source close to the Obama campaign tells CNN that there's a chance Oprah might take a more visible role in the presidential campaign. Although, there are no definite plans at this point. Might we be seeing Oprah Winfrey at Obama campaign rallies, in TV ads? She is after all the second most admired woman in America, according to a December Gallup poll. Now who is the first? Hillary Clinton.


BLITZER: All right. Fair enough. Bill Schneider reporting. Thanks.

Let's go right to Rick Sanchez. He's standing by to tell us what's coming up at the top of the hour.

Hi, Rick.

RICK SANCHEZ, CNN ANCHOR: I'll tell you what we're going to do, Wolf. We're going to be really doing a lot of information on this terror arrest. We're going to try to drill down on it as much as we can.

We'll tell you about a perfectly legal invasion from Mexico as well and then why are doctors letting cosmetic surgery patients jump in the front of the line of people who may have life threatening diseases. It's a medical outrage. We're going to bring it out in the open and we'll have it for you right here.

Wolf, back to you.

BLITZER: That's coming up at the top of the hour. Rick, sounds good.

Concerns are raised this week about potential dangers of an ingredient in microwave popcorn. Now, word that it has been linked to lung disease and somewhat beyond the factories. Stand by for that.

And the next big storm is taking shape in the Atlantic. Where is it headed?

Lots more coming up right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Carol Costello is monitoring some other stories incoming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now.


CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hello Wolf. Hello to all of you.

An update on a story we've been following. The nation's largest maker of microwave popcorn says it's taking steps to remove a chemical linked to lung disease in factory workers from its formula. ConAgra Foods says it will phase the ingredient out of its Orville Redenbacher and Act II brands over the next year. In the meantime, the only documented case of a consumer being affected by the butter flavored fumes from that chemical is pretty extreme. Doctors who had diagnosed a man's lung disease say he popped the corn every day for ten years and inhaled the aroma from the bag and from that he developed this disease, this lung disease.

Meteorologists at the National Hurricane Center say a new hurricane may be forming off the east coast. They are keeping a close eye on the storm system that many models show could grow into Hurricane Gabriel and make landfall along the east coast somewhere between New York and South Carolina this weekend. We'll keep you posted on that.

Back to you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Carol.

Let's go back to Jack Cafferty. He's in New York with the Cafferty File.


JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Would New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin make a good governor for the state of Louisiana? Somebody in his office told AP that Nagin may run for governor.

Jim in Florida writes, "Shades of Huey Long! Put Nagin in charge of Louisiana? He couldn't even get his people out of the city while there was still time! It's a big question: who fouled up New Orleans the most? Bush or Nagin? I wouldn't trust him to run a grocery store, much less a state."

M. in New Orleans writes, "If Bush can be re-elected president, then it follows that Nagin, possibly the most inept mayor New Orleans ever had, would be a shoe-in for governor."

Debrina, Baton Rouge, Louisiana, "Well, of course he wouldn't make a good governor. Not even a mediocre governor. He's a complete idiot and please don't say that that seems to be the only qualification required to be the governor of Louisiana. Insert Kay Blanco joke here."

Mike in Boston, "Why not? I like his passion and his anger on the issues. Now I can't speak to the horrors of the people of New Orleans have suffered and his competency, only they can do that. But what I see so far, I like."

Matt in Shreveport, Louisiana, "Are you kidding? Electing Ray Nagin governor would be like deciding that cyanide is a good seasoning for my sandwich. I think I'll pass. The idea he could win is preposterous, which means he could likely win. This state's crazy, you know, in case you haven't noticed."

And Shonna, Winnfield, Louisiana, "That woman? That woman? I have never heard you refer to a male governor as that man. Why didn't you refer to Nagin at that black man? For your information, Kathleen Blanco has increased infrastructure at least twofold in Louisiana as governor. It's always been said Huey Long built every road Louisiana. Now Kathleen Blanco is four-laning them."

For the record, I think Nagin would be a terrible governor. I couldn't remember her name. That was the reason I said that woman.

If you didn't see your e-mail, you can go to where we post more online along with video clips of the Cafferty File.


BLITZER: Let's not forget, next Monday, the big book comes out, "It's Getting Ugly Out There." Let's put it up on the screen, Jack Cafferty's new book. I think our viewers are going to be interested especially your fans and there are a lot of them out there. "It's Getting Ugly Out There," Jack Cafferty's book in book stores Monday.

Jack, see you tomorrow. Thanks very much.

Let's go to Rick Sanchez. He's in New York.