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Putin Vows to Go Ahead With Iran Trip; Vatican Sex Scandal Caught on Tape

Aired October 15, 2007 - 17:00   ET


Happening now, Russia's president, Vladimir Putin, defies a reported terrorist death plot and vows to go ahead with a landmark trip to Iran.

Why the United States is worried about that trip.

Is the U.S. military ready to declare mission accomplished in its campaign against Al Qaeda In Iraq?

Our Pentagon team doing a Fact Check.

And caught on tape -- a top Vatican cleric allegedly propositioning a young man. A new sex scandal rocking the Roman Catholic Church right now.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.


A reported death plot by trained suicide attackers. It's not enough, though, to deter the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, from making a history making trip to Iran.

On the agenda, among other issues, Iran's nuclear program. And that has some in Washington worried that it may turn out to be a troublemaking trip.

Let's go to our Brian Todd.

He's watching this story for us.

What is the latest -- Brian?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we were told a short time ago that President Putin delayed his trip to Iran for a day. He'll arrive tomorrow. A Russian official would not give a reason, but even with some ominous rumors circulating around this trip, it's clearly too important for Mr. Putin to cancel it outright.


TODD (voice-over): Russia's president shrugs off a reported assassination plot against him. He says he'll still make a crucial, strategic visit to Iran -- the first for a Russian leader since World War II.

PRES. VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIA (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): If I would react to rumors like this one every time, I could never leave the house.

TODD: Details of the alleged plot are vague and one Iranian official told me reports of a possible suicide attack on Putin are "ridiculous." It would also be bad for business. Russia is building Iran's first ever nuclear power plant. Iran claims its for civilian energy, but U.S. officials are worried it could be used to make nuclear weapons. And the two just completed another huge deal that worries the United States.

CLIFF KUPCHAN, EURASIA GROUP: Russia sold about a billion dollars worth of Tor M1 missile defense systems to Iran over the last year. That has been a real sore in U.S.-Russian relations.

TODD: A former U.N. weapons inspector tells CNN many of those air defense systems are being installed around nuclear facilities in Iran. An Iranian official at the U.N. Would not comment on that. Putin has resisted America's efforts to slap Iran with tougher U.N. sanctions over its nuclear program.

PUTIN: If you think you can get Iran to comply by scaring them, that is not going to work. The government and the Iranian people -- they are not scared, believe me.

TODD: But analysts say there are cracks in this alliance.

ANDREW KUCHINS, CENTER FOR STRATEGIC & INTERNATIONAL STUDIES: The main concern on the Russian part is that they don't want to see Iran become a nuclear weapons state. And they also don't want to see a military conflict in the Middle East. And their concern is that Mr. Ahmadinejad is not going to compromise with the international community on his weapons program, thus increasing the likelihood that conflict could take place.


TODD: In fact, that nuclear power plant the Russians are building was supposed to be up and running two years ago. But it's been delayed repeatedly. And we're told the Russians have almost stop construction completely. Russian officials have said that's because Iran hasn't been paying them on time. The Iranians deny that. Analysts say the real reason is because Putin is in no hurry to be associated with any nuclear program in Iran if tensions boil over to possible military action -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Brian, isn't Putin also selling weapons to another major U.S. antagonist?

TODD: Yes. The Russians agreed to a huge arms sale with Venezuela, Hugo Chavez's country. It's reportedly worth about $3 billion. The Russians have always stressed these are defensive weapons. But, according to "Jane's Defense Weekly," it does include that same air defense system that the Russians are selling to Iran.

BLITZER: Brian Todd watching this story for us.

Thank you.

Iran's president, meanwhile, had some other VIP visitors over the past year. Venezuela's president, Hugo Chavez, showed up in July. He's now considered a key ally of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Syria's president, Bashar al-Assad, already a close ally, paid a visit back in February. And the Iraqi prime minister, Nouri Al-Maliki, went to Tehran only two months ago. Key Iraqi Shiite leaders have close ties to Iran, which is a bitter enemy of Iraq's Sunnis, as most of our viewers know.

Has Al Qaeda in Iraq been crushed?

A CNN Fact Check right now, as a new debate rages over whether the U.S. military is ready to declare a victory over its most bitter enemy.

Let's go right to our senior Pentagon correspondent, Jamie McIntyre -- Jamie, the idea is grabbing some headlines.

But what's the real story?

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SENIOR PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, there's no question that U.S. commanders are happy about some of the success they've seen. For instance, the number of suicide attacks, the signature attack of Al Qaeda, have been cut in half since earlier this year.

But does that add up to victory?

No, according to the facts we checked.


MCINTYRE (voice-over): This cockpit video from an Apache attack helicopter is typical of what the U.S. military is releasing these days. It shows suspected Al Qaeda fighters being taken out after local Iraqis tip the U.S. off as to their whereabouts. That is what the U.S. military says has turned the tide -- as many as 50,000 concerned citizens, local Iraqis, taking their country back one town at a time. And it's why, for the first time in a long time, many U.S. commanders are guardedly optimistic that Al Qaeda in Iraq has been knocked on its heels.


Are they still dangerous?

Absolutely. And certainly they are not destroyed.

MCINTYRE: The military says there's been a cascade effect -- each tip leading to another, each success producing better intelligence. It's how the U.S. says it nailed this man, Abu Osama Al-Tunisi, last month, with a pair of 500-pound bombs from an F-16. The air strike eliminated a possible Al Qaeda number two and leaves number one, Ayyub Al-Masri, as the only senior Al Qaeda leader in Iraq not captured or killed.

But a report in "The Washington Post" suggesting some U.S. generals are ready to declare victory was met with immediate derision by top commander, General David Petraeus. In response to a CNN Fact Check, his spokesman e-mailed: "No one here has proposed a formal or an informal declaration of victory."

While flush would recent successes against Al Qaeda in Iraq, no one wants a repeat of the "mission accomplished" banner that accompanied President Bush's premature declaration that major combat ended. Just because Al Qaeda is on the run doesn't mean it's on the ropes.

CONWAY: I would also add, though, that they have shown an amazing ability to regenerate.


MCINTYRE: Now, "The Post" report cites Lieutenant General Stanley McChrystal, the head of the Joint Special Operation Command Operations in Iraq as the "chief promoter" of the victory declaration idea, who believes, according to "The Post," that Al Qaeda in Iraq has been essentially eliminated.

We contacted a spokesman for General McChrystal who said: "The general does not have a comment on today's article" -- Wolf.

BLITZER: I spoke with a few administration officials today and they're all saying they're staying far away from declaring any mission accomplished, far away from any declaration of victory, because they know Al Qaeda in Iraq, they have to just go ahead with one or two spectacular attacks and then they would look silly.

MCINTYRE: Exactly right -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jamie McIntyre, thanks very much.

Let's check in with Jack Cafferty.

He's got The Cafferty File in New York -- Jack?

CAFFERTY: Congress is gearing up for another fight over the Bush administration's wiretapping and surveillance program. You may remember, before going on vacation this summer, they rushed through a short-term extension of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act that is now set to expire in February.

In an editorial titled "Spies, Lies and FISA," here's what the "New York Times" has to say about this: "As Democratic lawmakers try to repair a deeply flawed bill on electronic eavesdropping, the White House is pumping out the same fog of fear and disinformation that it used to push the bill through Congress this summer. President Bush has been telling Americans that any change would deny the government critical information, make it easier for terrorists to infiltrate, expose state secrets and make it harder to save American lives. There is no truth to any of those claims."

The editorial cites the absolute need for court supervision of any surveillance involving Americans or others in the United States. While the administration says surveillance will be reviewed by the attorney general and the director of National Intelligence, among others, "The Times" insists that is a flawed and dangerous idea. And they add, it may be possible to give phone companies involved in this thing immunity, like the president wants, but the revised law should also allow for lawsuits aimed at forcing disclosure of the administration's actions, along with a full accounting of all surveillance conducted since 9/11.

Good luck getting your hands on that.

So here's the question -- when it comes to updating the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, what kind of powers should Congress give President Bush?

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

BLITZER: All right, Jack.

Thank you.

Up ahead, Turkish troops battling Kurdish rebels on the border with Iraq -- why the U.S. is worried that an invasion could follow and American troops could get caught in the middle.

Also, caught on tape -- a top Republican. Excuse me -- a top Roman Catholic monsignor allegedly soliciting a young woman -- a young man, that is. The Vatican facing a major sex scandal. We'll correct that.

And new safety concerns after a massive pileup and deadly fire on a California freeway. We're watching this story and the ramifications.

Stay with us.



BLITZER: Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice says it's time for a Palestinian state. With only weeks to go before a scheduled peace conference, the secretary traveled to the West Bank today to urge both sides to step up their efforts.

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

She's watching this story for us -- all right, so why is the secretary, Zain, pushing so hard right now? ZAIN VERJEE, CNN STATE DEPARTMENT CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has one eye on the clock and one eye on her legacy.


CONDOLEEZZA RICE, SECRETARY OF STATE: Frankly, it's time for the establishment of a Palestinian state.

VERJEE (voice-over): But time is not a friend to Condoleezza Rice. Fifteen months left in office and just six weeks to a peace conference the U.S. is planning in Maryland, hoping for substance.

RICE: We, frankly, have better things to do than invite people to Annapolis for a photo-op.

VERJEE: This week, she's pushing Israelis and Palestinians to hammer out the outline for a final peace deal.

MAHMOUD ABBAS, PRESIDENT, PALESTINIAN AUTHORITY (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): The business of Dr. Rice here is an indication of the efforts that are being made by the Bush administration.

VERJEE: Palestinians want specifics on major sticking points and a timetable. The Israelis refuse on both.

Mideast pragmatists like analyst Jon Alterman are skeptical about Rice's initiative.

JON ALTERMAN, CENTER FOR STRATEGIC & INTERNATIONAL STUDIES: I think it's very unlikely that this conference can achieve a lot that's new.

VERJEE: Rice is investing her precious little time and legacy on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. But it may not be enough.

ALTERMAN: Without having the president on board and without cashing in that close, personal relationship she has with President Bush to get him to really move this forward, I don't think it can go very far.


VERJEE: A senior State Department official says the Mideast conference is still scheduled. It's still on track. And that formal talks on that outline between the Israelis and Palestinians have started tonight -- Wolf.

BLITZER: It's unclear, I'm told, whether Syria will attend, although U.S. officials, Zain, clearly hoping Saudi Arabia will show up at Annapolis.

But what are you hearing from your sources?

Is it really a good idea to have this kind of conference here in the United States? VERJEE: Well, Secretary of State Rice was asked that very question. And she said, look, you know, you just need to create an opportunity for the region to take advantage. And that's what she's doing.

But from analysts that we've spoken to who have seen this and done this, Wolf, say that it's really risky. And, really, what you don't want is to have a lot of people around a table and then you sit around and go, well, what do we do now?

They have to have a vision, a plan. And the president's backing all the way -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Zain, thank you very much.

Zain Verjee at the State Department.

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency, UNRWA, as it's called, was set up to aid hundreds of thousands of Palestinians displaced by the 1948 War. Generations later, the number has grown exponentially. UNRWA counts almost 4.5 million Palestinians refugees within its area of operations alone. That includes Jordan, Gaza, the West Bank, Syria and Lebanon. The U.N. agency says 30 percent of those refugees still have the status of refugees that are actually living in refugee camps.

The Roman Catholic Church is being rocked by a scandal right now involving a high-ranking priest caught on tape inside the Vatican meeting a young man, allegedly for sex.

Let's bring in Carol Costello.

She's watching this story for us.

All right, so what's the story of this video?

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, it was one of those Italian TV investigations, you know, hidden cameras, a man ready to play along.

But what's on the tape is pretty damming. And if it's true, it begs the question, how many gay men are serving in the Vatican?


COSTELLO (voice-over): These images were captured by a hidden camera. And if they depict what one man alleges, it would mean major embarrassment for the Vatican.

The tape was shot secretly by a young man who alleges Monsignor Tommaso Stenico, a high-ranking Vatican official, propositioned him at this meeting after they communicated in a gay Internet chat room. It was shown on an Italian TV station. And the meeting took place right under the pope's nose.

JOHN ALLEN, "NATIONAL CATHOLIC REPORTER": They arranged to meet in St. Peter's Square in the very shadow of the pope's -- the pope's apartment, went up to the monsignor's office and -- where he apparently believed that there would be a sexual encounter.

COSTELLO: And there is talk of sex on the tape. Stenico can be heard telling the young man he doesn't believe homosexuality is a sin and that he knows many gay priests -- some in the Vatican. That despite the fact just two years ago the Vatican issued strict guidelines saying no man could be admitted to the church if he practices homosexuality or even just supports the gay culture.

DELIA GALLAGHER, VATICAN ANALYST: I think the concern at the Vatican now is not just about what happened in this particular case, but what else is there that they don't know about.

Is there more to come?

COSTELLO: Monsignor Stenico would not comment to CNN, but he did tell an Italian newspaper he is not gay and just pretending to be gay to gather information about homosexuals and how they damage the image of the church.

ALLEN: The big picture here is, I think this a tremendous embarrassment for the church and certainly a tremendous embarrassment for the Vatican.


COSTELLO: Now, it remains to be seen whether the Vatican will investigate others in its ranks or if this monsignor is truly guilty. Sex scandals in the Catholic Church are not new, but never has one emerged so close to the pope himself.

BLITZER: So how did this get to the Vatican's attention?

What happened?

COSTELLO: Well, it's pretty amazing. These pictures appeared on Italian television. And a newspaper published them. And the Vatican was looking at the newspaper pictures and said we know who this. And it says it acted decisively right after it figured out who this monsignor was depicted in the paper.

BLITZER: Carol Costello, thanks very much.

The scandal comes as the Vatican is struggling over what to do about gay clergy. The Roman Catholic Church considers homosexual acts grave sins and back in 1961 officially barred gay men from the priesthood.

But the 2002 priest sex abuse scandal prompted new policies. They state that men with "deeply rooted gay tendencies or those who support gay culture should continue to be bard from the priesthood." But for men who homosexuality is "a transitory problem" can become deacons, if they overcome it.

Up ahead, the former Mexican president, Vicente Fox, calls President Bush a windshield cowboys. We'll talk to some real cowboys to see what they think.

And California governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, weighs in on an unusual immigration issue.

Stay with us.



BLITZER: Carol Costello is monitoring some other stories incoming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now -- Carol, what's going on?

COSTELLO: A couple of things, Wolf.

Senator Larry Craig is trying again to withdraw his guilty plea stemming from his arrest in that airport bathroom sex sting. A county judge said no, so now Craig is asking Minnesota's court of appeals to overrule that. The Idaho Republican continues to say he will not resign since he is not running for re-election.

Severe weather in Texas. Showers and thunderstorms have been pounding the Dallas area since yesterday and fresh downpours only added to the flooding today. Slick highways have resulted in numerous accidents, with at least one death reported. And as many as 20,000 people have lost power.

Dozens of people are taking part in the search for a missing autistic teenager who is believed lost in the West Virginia wilderness. Eighteen-year-old Jacob Allen was hiking with his parents yesterday. They say he got ahead of them and then didn't respond to their calls. Temperatures overnight dropped as low as 38 degrees.

And remember this image unscrambled by international investigators?

Well, they received hundreds of tips and they now say they know who the suspected pedophile is -- an English teacher working in South Korea. He's been the subject of an international manhunt after about 200 pictures were posted on the Internet showing him allegedly molesting boys in Southeast Asia.

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

BLITZER: Thanks, Carol, very much.

Up next, fields set ablaze in northern Iraq -- why the U.S. is deeply worried about a full scale Turkish invasion.

Also ahead, Christian and gay -- why a former presidential candidate and his daughter are going public about her coming out. I'll speak with Dick Gephardt and his daughter, Chrissy.

That and a lot more coming up right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


Happening now, two laptop computers are now listed as stolen from a TSA contractor. Inside, data on almost 4,000 commercial drivers -- including addresses, birthdays, license numbers and, in some cases, Social Security numbers. We're watching this story.

Also, the dawn of an era many are dreading -- the first of the baby boomers now applying for Social Security. Some 80 million more are expected to do the same thing over the next two decades, fueling concern over how the system will pay for them all.

And a gloomy Monday on Wall Street -- all three major indices were down, thanks, in part, to record high oil prices and new worries about the credit market crunch.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.


Tens of thousands of Turkish troops now on the border with Iraq. They're already clashing with Kurdish rebels. And now, as tensions rise with this key ally, the United States is deeply worried about a full scale Turkish invasion and what that would mean for U.S. troops in Iraq.

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

She's watching this story -- how real, Barbara, are all these fears that are out there?

BARBARA STARR, PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, as we speak at this hour, U.S. military officials are growing increasingly concerned about their relationship with a vital NATO ally -- Turkey.


STARR (voice-over): Turkish artillery shells set the hillside on fire in Northern Iraq. Across the border, Turkish villagers run as troops battle Kurdish rebels, who launched cross-border attacks from inside Iraq. The U.S. military fears a deteriorating situation between Turkey, a vital NATO ally, and the largely peaceful Northern Iraqi Kurdish area, home to those rebels.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: Let Iraq fall apart and have a Kurdish separate -- separatist movement in the north, allow a Kurdish independent state in the north, you really will have problems between Turkey and the Kurds in the north.

STARR: U.S. military intelligence shows 60,000 Turkish troops on the border. U.S. commanders hope the Turks won't invade Northern Iraq to chase down the Kurdish rebels, but the U.S. also hopes the Kurds don't plan retaliation.

In the event of all-out war, the U.S. military just wants to stay out of it. Senior Pentagon officials say the only plan is to try to convince both sides to cool off.

There are even more worries. If Congress proceeds with a resolution condemning as genocide Turkish killings of Armenians in World War I, Turkey still threatens to cut vital access to its air space and border crossings.

ROBERT GATES, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: Seventy percent of the air cargo -- of American air cargo going into Iraq goes through Turkey.

STARR: The Pentagon is urgently studying alternatives to Turkish access. But all other options involve longer shipping routes. That means delays and rising costs.


STARR: Wolf, Admiral Michael Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has called his Turkish military counterpart on the phone, as well as members of Congress, to discuss the consequences of a Turkish cutoff of U.S. access. There is a good deal of concern about just how angry Turkey may be and a border war that may be emerging in this very troubled region of the world -- Wolf.

BLITZER: I assume they're thinking of contingencies involving bringing a lot of that stuff up through Kuwait, which is where they were bringing it up over the past four years to begin with. The question is, do they have the capabilities, the logistical capabilities in Kuwait to get the job done?

STARR: That's what this Pentagon study is now looking at. Every option they have looked at, senior commanders' call painful. It requires longer distances, delays in time in getting vital material into the U.S. soldiers already in Iraq and with rising fuel costs, it will also be much more expensive to move material over those longer distances.

BLITZER: All right, Barbara, thanks very much. We'll watch this story closer to home right now.

California landlords are barred, at least for now, from asking perspective tenants about their immigration status. But Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has signed off on the new law, the climax of the latest skirmish over illegal immigration.

CNN's Dan Simon joining us now from San Francisco.

So explain, Dan, what's going on.


This bill came in direct response to a measure passed by the town of Escondido, California. That's a farming community in southern California. Frustrated with an influx of illegal immigrants, the city council there passed an ordinance that required landlords to ask their renters for proof of legal residency. Obviously, the governor's action produced a sharp reaction on both sides of the issue.


SIMON: Escondido, California, a battleground in the war on illegal immigration. Frustrated by the federal government's inability to stem the flow, its city council passed the burden to landlords, requiring them to verify the immigration status of their tenants. Undocumented tenants faced evictions. Landlords faced fines. Many here applauded the controversial measure when it was passed last year.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I like it. We, Escondido, did exactly what they had to do.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Everybody is passionate and angry and this has been brewing for quite a few years and we're just finally fed up with it.

SIMON: But the ordinance was short lived. Faced with a huge confrontation with its Hispanic community and a tough court battle, the city did an about-face. Still the measure had landlords across the state running scared.

MALCOLM BENNETT, APT. ASSN. OF CALIF. SOUTHERN CITIES: We feel that it's not our duty and responsibility to check the legal status of people into the country.

SIMON: So landlord groups help craft California legislation that would prohibit local governments from forcing landlords to check the immigration status of tenants. Governor Schwarzenegger last week signed the bill into law.

BENNETT: We want to verify the identity on people, verify their source of income, previous residences and do all those screening techniques but to verify their right to be in the United States, it's -- we don't feel it's our responsibility.

SIMON: Back in Escondido, council members who voted for the original ordinance blasted the governor's action.

ED GALLO, ESCONDIDO CITY COUNCIL: I'm not going to go over the whole argument there that the federal government is not doing what they're supposed to do, and so it's up to the local jurisdictions to kind of take the ball and run with it and try to do something to protect the citizens of their community.


SIMON: But in California that can no longer happen, not on this issue.

In the past two years, more than 30 towns nationwide have enacted similar kinds of measures that placed a burden on landlords. Many of those towns have come under illegal assault and so far, the courts have come down on the side of the landlords. California's law goes into effect on January 1st.

Wolf, back to you.

BLITZER: All right, Dan, thanks very much. Dan Simon reporting from San Francisco.

Mexico's former president dissing President Bush calling him a "windshield cowboy." Now some real Texas cowboys are weighing in.

And trapped in a tunnel inferno. Three people died in this one. You can find out how you could survive a disaster like this.

That and a lot more coming up right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: All hat and no cattle, a Texas-sized insult. Now the former Mexican president Vicente Fox has some barbs of his own aimed at President Bush.

Here's our White House correspondent Ed Henry.


ED HENRY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: For President Bush, so proud of his Texas ranch where he clears brush and rides his bike, it was a nasty charge from a friend.

LARRY KING, LARRY KING LIVE: You refer to him as a windshield cowboy.

HENRY: In a new book, former Mexican president Vicente Fox claims that unlike say Ronald Reagan, Mr. Bush is better suited for riding a pickup truck than a horse, based on their time together in Mexico.

VICENTE FOX, FORMER MEXICAN PRESIDENT: You can notice when somebody gets near and his hand and the way he touches the horse you immediately know that he's not a cowboy.

HENRY: And their summit at Mr. Bush's Crawford ranch.

FOX: He drives very well, but I don't think he rides horses very well.

HENRY: I'm not a real cowboy, maybe I'm playing one on TV, but I have never ridden a horse until now. I'm in Crawford. Texas, I needed to get the scoop somehow.

White House officials say they don't do book reviews so they're not reacting to Vicente Fox's comments. So we decided to go to a rodeo event near the president's ranch, talk to some genuine cowboys.

JACK SHOAF, BYNUM, TEXAS: You know, cowboys shooting from the hip, riding wild.

HENRY: Jack Shoaf reckons the media likes to play up the stereotypes but says there's no shame in riding trucks instead of horses.

SHOAF: That's what a lot of cowboys, a lot of ranchers use trucks to travel around and check their pastures. It's more economical. It's a sign of the times.

HENRY: Besides said Lee Percivill, the commander in chief is dog gone busy.

LEE PERCIVILL, CHINA SPRINGS, TEXAS: These horses have to be exercised every day and I don't believe the president has a lot of time for that right now. Later on in his life, he probably will have.

HENRY: And for the record, nobody goes calling this gentleman a windshield cowboy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I might have to assume they don't know what they're talking about.

HENRY: Ed Henry, CNN, Crawford, Texas.


BLITZER: In the presidential race, there's new evidence that Hillary Clinton's frontrunner status among the democrats continues. A new poll in New Hampshire shows she's 21 points ahead of her nearest rival Barack Obama among likely primary voters. And in Nevada, Senator Clinton is running 18 points ahead of Obama in the new Mason- Dixon Poll.

Let's bring in senior political analyst, Gloria Borger. She's joining us from New York today.

So what do you make of these latest poll numbers which show Senator Clinton clearly the frontrunner?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: I think what you're seeing on the democratic side of the race, Wolf, is that it's pretty much status quo right now. It seems to be frozen in Hillary Clinton's favor. She seems to be something like 20 points ahead of Barack Obama in a bunch of states and what he's trying to do, particularly in the state of Iowa, is really break through that. That's where they're a little bit closer. He knows he needs to win Iowa if he's going to get any traction or else he's going to continue to trail behind Hillary Clinton.

BLITZER: All right. Let's take a look at the republican side. A couple poll numbers I want to put them up on the screen. In New Hampshire, first of all, Romney at 26 percent, Giuliani 20 percent, McCain 17, Fred Thompson 10 percent. That's in the Marist Poll.

In Nevada, the GOP, look at this, Giuliani's at 28 percent, Fred Thompson 23 percent, Romney 17, McCain down at only nine percent. How is it shaping up on the republican side?

BORGER: Well, it's a little bit more fluid on the republican side, Wolf, particularly in New Hampshire. You see that Romney is still in the lead. You know, it's a neighboring state to Massachusetts, but you see that McCain is inching up. Giuliani is certainly inching up. I think you're going to have more of a horse race there on the republican side and I think you see Fred Thompson is also making some in roads in Nevada. That's because people are just starting to see him out there on the campaign trail. I don't think they made a judgment on him yet, but he's doing well in Nevada, which I think is a reflection of really the weakness of the republican field.

BLITZER: You and I remember a while back the conventional wisdom amongst a lot of pundits was that once the republicans figure it out where Rudy Giuliani stood on a lot of the social issues, whether abortion or gay marriage, they would quickly abandon him, but in the national polls, at least, and in some of the state polls, he is still the frontrunner.

BORGER: They're not abandoning Rudy Giuliani and you have to presume that people know where he stands being pro-abortion rights and that's creating a lot of conversations within the Republican Party saying that these evangelical leaders ought not to say that they wouldn't support Rudy Giuliani because they may be handing the election to someone like Hillary Clinton. They are saying that what Rudy Giuliani is successfully doing is turning terrorism into the issue that attracts republicans, not necessarily those values issues. There's going to be a struggle, Wolf, in the Republican Party, about those two issues.

BLITZER: Gloria, thanks very much. Gloria is in New York today.

So is Lou Dobbs and he is getting ready for his show that begins right at the top of the hour. Tell our viewers, Lou, what you're working on.

LOU DOBBS, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you, Wolf.

Coming up at 6:00 p.m. eastern here on CNN, we'll be reporting on blistering new criticism of New York's Governor Eliot Spitzer's proposal to give drivers' licenses to illegal aliens. An overwhelming majority of New Yorkers opposing the governor but Governor Spitzer of course refusing to back down, plotting ahead. A top New York state lawmaker fighting to kill the plan is among my guests tonight.

Also in California, California's governor Arnold Schwarzenegger apparently can't decide whether illegal aliens are welcome in California or now or just what the heck to do with them. We've got a few ideas for the governor. We'll have that special report.

And the Food and Drug Administration says it doesn't have enough money to protect us from those dangerous food imports. But guess what? Your FDA does have enough money to pay its own top officials bonus money. Oh, yes, federal bonus money to an agency that can't get out of its own way.

And Fouad Ajami, one of the world's leading authorities on the middle east, he'll be here to talk about the rising tensions between this country and Turkey and will help explain why Armenia and World War I are so important to this Congress, if you can call it that.

Stay with us. We're going to have all of that, all of the day's news at the top of the hour. Be with us. Wolf, back to you.

BLITZER: My former professor at John Hopkins School, Ajami. He's a brilliant guy.

All right. Thanks very much, Lou, for that.

Up ahead, Jack Cafferty wants to know, when it comes to updating the foreign intelligence surveillance act, what kind of powers should Congress give President Bush? Jack standing by with the Cafferty file.

And the former House majority leader, Dick Gephardt and his daughter, Chrissy, they're speaking out about her coming out. You're also going to hear why they're now praising, praising Lynne Cheney.

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


BLITZER: The former House majority leader and presidential candidate, Dick Gephardt, is teaming up with his daughter, Chrissy. They're speaking out about her decision to come out. They appear in a new documentary about Christianity and homosexuality.


Joining us now, the former House majority leader Dick Gephardt and his daughter, Chrissy Gephardt. They are involved in a new film that has just come out. Chrissy, it's entitled "For the Bible Tells Me So."

Tell our viewers, first of all, how you got that title.

CHRISSY GEPHARDT, ACTIVIST: Well, the title comes from basically the doctrine of the Bible, tells people, you know, this is how you should live your life. You know, treat your neighbor as you would treat yourself and, so, it basically is talking about how homosexuality in the Bible has been treated and basically it's a sin. So, the movie is about how homosexuality is dealt with in the Bible and how there's all these myths that surround it.

BLITZER: And you're a lesbian and you've been an open lesbian for how long?

GEPHARDT: Well, let's see. That would be going on almost six or seven years.

BLITZER: Why did you decide this was a good idea, Congressman, to make this film?

RICHARD GEPHARDT (D), FORMER HOUSE MAJORITY LEADER: Well, we've always been very open about this fact with Chrissy and we told it, you know, when I was running for president in 2004, we were very open about it. So when we were approached by the producer and director of this film, we thought maybe we could help others deal with this tough set of issues and show how we dealt with it, or tried to deal with it.

BLITZER: Not just politicians, but other parents who have a gay or lesbian son or daughter.

R. GEPHARDT: Exactly. This is an issue that faces a lot of Americans and a lot of Americans don't have an understanding of their religious background or what their religion says about this or how people try to deal with it.

BLITZER: How did you tell, Chrissy, your parents that you're lesbian? Because we're showing our viewers video from your youth growing up. What was it like? Because you were scared.

C. GEPHARDT: I was so scared. I mean I think that, you know, like people talk about the church and how it's, you know, a taboo to come out as gay or lesbian. Well, in a political family it's the same way. You know you have to keep a certain image and, so, when I told my parents I was very worried that they would never speak to me again and that they would not love me any more. But, obviously, that didn't happen and it was quite the opposite.

BLITZER: What was their reaction?

C. GEPHARDT: They basically said, my father said we will love you no matter what. You are our daughter and you always will be.

BLITZER: Were you scared politically this could embarrass you in Missouri, your home state, or nationally?

R. GEPHARDT: I never cared about what people in my district or people generally would think about me because of my family. My family has always been the most important thing in my life. I love my kids. I will love them unconditionally and that, that just doesn't equate for me. It doesn't compute for me.

BLITZER: Let's go through some advice. This is a powerful film. What advice do you have for young people or maybe not so young who want to finally come out and tell their parents or other loved ones they are gay?

C. GEPHARDT: I would say that, you know, you just have to be yourself. And I hope that a film like this gives people the courage to be able to do the same thing that I've done. And I mean the only thing you can do is be yourself because if you keep it inside, it causes a lot of pain for people and it's easier just to tell your, I mean, if your family loves you, which every family should love their children, then it shouldn't be a big deal.

BLITZER: And what advice do you have for parents out there?

R. GEPHARDT: Well, just love your kids unconditionally and try to understand that they have to lead their own life. They have to make their own choices.

I don't believe homosexuality is a choice. I think it is something that is in a person's genes. So, why should you hold it against someone and, also, look for help. There's a group called PFlag all over the country of parents of kids who have come out. They really help other parents who are just finding this out deal with it.

BLITZER: You're a supporter of Hillary Clinton for the Democratic presidential nomination. She stops short of saying she would support same-sex marriage. Is that a mistake?

R. GEPHARDT: Well, she has to take the position that she thinks is right. I think she's undoubtedly for civil unions. I think the whole country is evolving on all these issues. I think as people learn more about all of this, they begin to change their minds. I certainly have through my life. And I think eventually we're going to get to a point where the whole society can accept at least civil unions, if not gay marriages.

BLITZER: Lynne Cheney was on CBS Sunday Morning yesterday, told Rita Braver this. Let me tell you what she said. "I think the society has evolved. I've evolved in my way of thinking, but I think the whole society has evolved. You know my mother had a rule, which was people are just people." Now, in the context of her openly lesbian daughter, Mary Cheney, that's a statement that I thought was significant.

C. GEPHARDT: I think it's very significant. You know, we've heard in the past that they haven't necessarily come out publicly and supported their daughter, but so, I think that's huge and I applaud Lynne Cheney for saying that.

BLITZER: What do you think?

R. GEPHARDT: I think it's great. And I think they can have a huge influence, not only in the whole country, but even in the Republican Party and begin people to take another look at all of this.

BLITZER: Dick Gephardt and Chrissy Gephardt the film is entitled "The Bible Tells Me So." Thanks for coming in.

C. GEPHARDT: Great. Thank you.

R. GEPHARDT: Thank you.


BLITZER: Let's go to Jack Cafferty. He's got the Cafferty File.


JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The question this hour is when it comes to updating the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, what kind of powers should Congress give to President Bush?

Jane writes from Santa Barbara, California, "Congress should give the president exactly the surveillance powers Congress gave the president when it set up the FISA court in the first place to arrange a warrant system in sensitive cases to comply with the constitution. Bush and Cheney don't care about national security, only about increasing the powers of the unitary executive branch with no accountability. They want FISA gone entirely. That's what this is all about, nothing more and nothing less."

Mimi writes from Georgia, "Bush gets everything he wants whether or not the republicans are in office. The democrats are too scared it oppose him."

Lisa in Quakertown, Pennsylvania, "Cafferty, why does your question specify President Bush? This, as well as future administrations, should be able to have the necessary info to combat those who want to kill us. Do you agree? Or are you just one of those naive leftists that don't get it?"

Diane in New Hampshire writes, "It has now been revealed that some telecom companies have been contacted to datamine Americans' communications in February 2001, fully seven months before 9 /11. President Bush should be given absolutely no leeway regarding control over our privacy. He has demonstrated he is unworthy of our trust."

Andy writes, "The only powers the president should get are the ability to magically recoup the lost souls and money that have gone his war and the ability to disappear into thin air."

And Sue Anne in McComb, Mississippi, "Well, they should give him power to get a little intelligence for himself."

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


BLITZER: Jack, thank you.

Up ahead, a fiery crash and a fatal pileup. What you could do to escape a crash like this. You'll find out.

That's coming up here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Here's a look at some of the Hot Shots coming in right now.

In Iraq, a man inspects a hole in his house after a mortar attack 80 miles south of Baghdad.

In Phuket, Thailand, a man at a vegetarian festival covers his ears as fireworks explode around him.

In South Korea, the air force special flight team, the black eagles, flies in formation.

And in Bulgaria, a veterinarian inspects the broken leg of a buzzard in a wildlife rehabilitation center.

Some of this hour's Hot Shots.

California's main north/south highway interstate 5 is open again after a deadly pileup and a fire inside a tunnel. That accident is raising new safety concerns.

Here's CNN's Chris Lawrence.


CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: A massive fire storm erupts inside this California tunnel. 18-wheelers are incinerated. Metal melts and dozens of people are trapped inside. Caltran's engineer, Doug Failing, took us right up to the opening where the temperatures soared well past 1,000 degrees.

Did this tunnel have any sort of escape route?

DOUG FAILING, CALTRANS DIRECTOR/ENGINEER: Both ends. This is a relatively short tunnel so really the escape route is either end of the tunnel.

LAWRENCE: Failing says to even consider installing ventilation systems tunnels have to be at least 1,000 feet long. So, when a tunnel half that size like this one ...

FAILING: I would prefer to be the in the lane furthest to the left so I'm furthest away from the larger trucks.

LAWRENCE: If you were trapped in this kind of fire, Failing says get out of your car as fast as you can and stay low.

FAILING: And if you feel breeze on you, walk towards the breeze because the breeze is pushing the smoke and the heat and the fire away from you.

LAWRENCE: But what about places like New York with tunnels that run for more than a mile underground.

If there's not time to run out one end or the other, is there anywhere you can go in the middle?

FAILING: New tunnel design that's been developed since some accidents that happened in Europe actually would call for us to put in a series of escape passages along the tunnel at various spots.

LAWRENCE: Two years before this fire, state and federal transportation officials visited five European countries to study their tunnels. They found side passages built every 500 feet. Some are like an isolated escape pod with doors that shut, a place to hide from the fire until help comes.

FAILING: And the other one, actually, when you have twin tunnels will take you from tunnel to tunnel.

LAWRENCE: Even the paint used in tunnels is being reevaluated to make sure it doesn't have toxic fumes or accelerate fire but it's unclear if any existing tunnels in the United States have been redesigned with these new safety passages in mind.

Chris Lawrence, CNN, Santa Clarita, California.


BLITZER: And finally, this programming note, mark your calendars. Starting November 5th, just one year from Election Day 2008, THE SITUATION ROOM will be on for three hours back-to-back, from 4:00 p.m. eastern to 7:00 p.m. eastern. Lou Dobbs will air from 7:00 to 8:00 p.m. eastern.

We're back in one hour at 7:00 p.m. eastern.

Let's go to Lou, though, in the meantime.