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THE SITUATION ROOM
Democrats Debate in Iowa; Terror Trial Collapses
Aired December 13, 2007 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, HOST: The Democratic presidential candidates go toe to toe in Iowa -- their last debate before the country's first caucuses.
Did any of them manage to break ahead of the pack?
And a major terror trial simply collapses. Seven men accused of plotting to blow up Chicago's Sears Tower -- one is now acquitted and there are mistrials for the others.
Where did the federal government -- the prosecutors -- go wrong?
I'm Wolf Blitzer.
You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
It's a lineup no baseball player wants to be part of -- a major report linking some of the biggest major league names to steroid use. It's a hall of shame rocking the sports world and threatening the legacies of some of the game's most heralded players.
Brian Todd is here in THE SITUATION ROOM watching all of this.
Give us the roster.
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, some you might expect, including Barry Bonds. Star pitcher Roger Clemens on the list. This report more than 400 pages, including details of players being injected, checks, shipping orders for steroids -- a problem that its author says stretched back two decades and touched every team.
TODD: Bob anticipated for months, names dropped in advance, the report is still jarring -- a who's who of superstars.
The naming of Roger Clemens -- one of baseball's most dominant pitchers for more than 20 years -- and his New York Yankee teammate, pitcher Andy Pettitte -- led one observer to call this a tough day in the Bronx. Former MVPs Barry Bonds and Miguel Tejada and nine time All Star Gary Sheffield also make George Mitchell's list of dozens of major league baseball players linked to the alleged use of performance enhancing drugs.
GEORGE MITCHELL, MLB STEROID INVESTIGATOR, FORMER SENATE MAJORITY LEADER: The use of steroids in major league baseball was widespread. The response by baseball was slow to develop and was initially ineffective.
TODD: Mitchell also levels blame on the players union for first opposing random testing and for a lack of cooperation with his inquiry.
MITCHELL: Each of the players was invited to meet with me so I could provide him with information about the allegations and give him an opportunity to respond. Almost without exception, all current players declined my invitation.
TODD: Mitchell recommends year-round unannounced testing, the results open to the public, and says baseball should outsource the testing program to an independent person with real authority. But he says baseball's commissioner should not punish players for past violations unless they're so serious that the integrity of the game is on the line. The commissioner indicates that he may be inclined to punish some.
BUD SELIG, MLB COMMISSIONER: I will deal with the active players identified by Senator Mitchell as users of performance enhancing substances. I will also review the comments made by Senator Mitchell about club personnel and will take appropriate action.
(END VIDEO TAPE)
TODD: We've been seeking comment -- we've been seeking comment from some of the players named in that report. We have not been able to reach representatives for Miguel Tejada and Gary Sheffield. My calls to the agent for Clemens and Pettitte have not been returned. A spokesman for the New York Yankees would only say: "We are reviewing the report and have no comment" -- Wolf.
BLITZER: What did Senator Mitchell say about the general use or alleged use of steroids in major league baseball right now?
TODD: Well, he says that since they instituted mandatory random testing in 2002, the detectable steroid use has gone down. But he says that the use of human growth hormone, which is also banned in major league baseball, has risen because you cannot detect that with urine testing. And Bud Selig promises they're going to do something about that.
BLITZER: Thanks very much.
Brian Todd reporting for us.
And you can see the entire baseball steroid report on our Web site, CNN.com. And the man behind it, the former senator, George Mitchell, he's standing by to join us live right here in THE SITUATION ROOM. We'll talk about it -- he'll talk about it with me in just a few minutes.
One terror defendant acquitted, a mistrial declared for six others all accused of plotting with al Qaeda to blow up Chicago's Sears Tower.
Our homeland security correspondent, Jeanne Meserve, is joining us now live with more on this story.
This looks like a huge embarrassment, a huge blow for federal prosecutors who went all out to convict these individuals and they came up short.
JEANNE MESERVE, HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, a big disappointment. The government had portrayed this group as homegrown terrorists seeking help from Al Qaeda to blow up Chicago's Sears Tower and FBI offices around the country. But the jury was not convinced, as you mentioned. Today, one of the members of the so-called Liberty City 7 was acquitted. A mistrial was declared for six others when the jury deadlocked after nine days of deliberations.
The seven men part of a religious group called Seeds of David, operated out of a warehouse in Miami's impoverished Liberty City neighborhood. For help with their plot, prosecutors said, they turned to a man they believed to be a member of Al Qaeda. A key piece of their evidence -- FBI videotapes of the men allegedly plotting and one of them taking an oath of loyalty to al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden.
But the man they thought was an Al Qaeda operative was, in fact, an FBI informant.
Defense attorneys say the leader of the so-called Liberty City 7 made up the Sears Tower plot only to bilk the informant out of money.
As you mentioned, Wolf, the Bush administration had touted the arrest of the men as a success in its effort to infiltrate and stop terror plots before they come to fruition. This evening, the Justice Department says the case will be retried in January -- Wolf.
BLITZER: What an embarrassment for the federal prosecutors.
All right, thanks very much for that.
Jeanne Meserve with the story.
Let's go back to Jack.
He's got the Cafferty File in New York -- Jack.
CAFFERTY: Well, it's been quite a year. Here we are a little more than a week to go now before the Democratic-led Congress adjourns and gee, what a surprise -- they don't have much to show for themselves.
First, House Democratic leaders have caved in to President Bush's spending limit on a massive domestic spending bill. Now, they're vowing that they're going to shift funds away from the president's priorities to theirs, but this is a huge political victory for President Bush.
Next, what started out as an ambitious agenda a year ago has been reduced to finger-pointing between House and Senate Democrats. They're calling each other names. "The Washington Post" reports Congressman Charlie Rangel came up with, arguably, one of the funnier lines. He's accusing Senate Democratic leaders of developing Stockholm Syndrome -- that they're showing sympathy to their Republican captors and giving in on all sorts of legislation. Rangel suggests that if Republicans want to filibuster a bill, then Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid should keep the bill on the floor and make the Republicans talk it to death. I wonder how anxious they'd be to filibuster if it started to run into the Christmas holiday.
For his part, Reid says he can't control Speaker Pelosi, that she's a strong Independent woman who runs the House "with an iron hand." And in case that's not enough, there's a possibility -- a possibility the government could actually shut down if some of this stuff isn't resolved. It's no wonder so few Americans approve of the job these people do.
Here's our question -- one year later, how would you rate the performance of the Democratic-led Congress?
E-mail your thoughts to caffertyfile@CNN.com or go to CNN.com/caffertyfile or you can post a comment on my blog, which is at the same address. You just click on the part that says "add a comment" -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Thanks, Jack, very much.
Coming up, a baseball bombshell.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MITCHELL: Steroid use appears to have declined, but the use of human growth hormone has risen.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Former Senator George Mitchell -- he's standing by live to talk about the shocking findings of his investigation into performance enhancing drugs in major league baseball. He'll join us just ahead.
Also, at a hearing on charities that are supposed to help veterans, one expert describes their spending practices as grotesque. We're going to have details.
And Democratic candidates take their face-to-face shots at each other in Iowa. We'll break down today's debate and a lot more.
Stay with us.
You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Returning now to one of our top stories -- the report on baseball's so-called steroid era that rocked the sports world today. It implicates some of the biggest names in the game, including some potential Hall of Fame players.
For more on that, let's go straight to the source -- the former U.S. senator, George Mitchell.
He authored the report after conducting a 20-month investigation.
Here's joining us live from New York.
Senator, thanks very much for coming in.
MITCHELL: Thanks for having me, Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, we just heard from Bud Selig, the baseball commissioner, saying he was going to take some steps.
But let's look back.
How much responsibility does he share because of what has happened under his watch?
MITCHELL: The players who illegally used steroids and other substances obviously bear responsibility for their actions. But they didn't act in a vacuum. The commissioners, the club officials, the players association and the players all share in the responsibility for the steroids era. They didn't recognize the problem as it emerged and take steps to deal with it early on. The important thing now is to look to the future -- to get everybody together ask come up with a meaningful, well executed program that will hopefully end this era and prevent a recurrence of another era in the future.
BLITZER: Well, if Bud Selig failed to do enough over these past several years when this was allegedly going on, why should fans have confidence in him now that he's about to change his ways and will take charge and get enough done now?
MITCHELL: Well, first off, Wolf, I think you have to recognize that all of this is in collective bargaining. The commissioner does not have the authority to adopt any program he wants. He needs the agreement of the players association.
Secondly, they did adopt a program in 2002 -- a mandatory random drug testing program that has been effective in reducing the use of detectable steroids.
Thirdly, they've made improvements in the program as they've gone along to deal with new problems and issues as they arose. Many of them occurred right while I was conducting this investigation. So I don't think it's quite fair not to recognize what they have done in the past.
BLITZER: So you have confidence in him?
Should he -- should he stay on the job?
BLITZER: And I ask you the question even though he appointed you, in effect, to go ahead with this commission.
BLITZER: You're working, in effect, for major league baseball, this work that you've done for nearly two years.
MITCHELL: Yes. Yes, I do.
BLITZER: All right, so you say he should stay on the job.
Let's talk about this...
MITCHELL: And he's already committed to implement the recommendations that I've made. And I hope he will carry through on that, as I expect that he will.
BLITZER: Let's talk about the players themselves. You named dozens of players. They each -- each and every one of them had a chance to respond to you. But I take it a lot of them didn't want to come forward and talk to you. Is that right?
MITCHELL: That's right. Almost without exception, current players refused my invitation to meet with me. We did talk with many former players.
BLITZER: You spoke with former players. But current players, by and large, said -- you told them we're going to go ahead and name names. We're going to mention your names, allegedly linked to steroid use or other banned substances.
And they still declined to talk to you, to deny it or anything like that?
Because some people are raising questions, why would George Mitchell, in this report, go ahead and name all these names knowing that, in effect, you're going to ruin their careers and question marks are forever going to be asked about what they did as Major League players.
MITCHELL: That's correct. I notified each player about whom I received an allegation through their bargaining representative, the players association, that I had received allegations and I invited each player to meet with me. I wanted to convey to them the information that I had received, give them a chance to hear the allegations, to see whatever documents I had and to give them a chance to respond.
Almost without exception, all current players declined my invitation and refused to meet or talk with me.
BLITZER: And the allegations that were forwarded to you from other players, from trainers, from people who worked in the clubhouses, how reliable did you feel those allegations were?
Because to name a name -- a great baseball player, let's say, like Roger Clemens, and to go forward with publicizing this allegation -- and you, as a former judge, you make it clear that these are allegations. These are not necessarily the final word. It's still a big deal because the average fan out there is going to say these guys are guilty.
MITCHELL: Well, we made every effort to corroborate the testimony that we received. Keep in mind, Wolf, that several of the witnesses came to us through federal law enforcement agencies. And they were warned by the federal agencies that if they did not tell the truth, they would face criminal prosecution for making false statements. We told them simply I we wanted the truth. That's all I wanted. I said look, don't exaggerate, don't minimize, just tell us the truth. That's all we want.
In that context, they have overwhelming incentives to tell the truth and overwhelming disincentives to not tell the truth, because if they didn't tell the truth, they themselves are subject to criminal prosecution.
BLITZER: So what do we tell the children now?
What do we tell them about their heroes?
How do we go forward, Senator?
MITCHELL: Well, I think you touched on what is one of the most important issues that I learned through this investigation. And I hope the American people will now become concerned about. There are right now, Wolf, hundreds of thousands of American youth of high school age who are using steroids. And I think it's a national problem -- a very serious one -- our children. And when a teenager uses steroids, they place themselves at a much greater risk than an adult, because their bodies are already going through serious hormonal changes, physical risks, psychological risks and others.
BLITZER: Senator, thanks for your work.
Thanks very much for joining us.
MITCHELL: Thank you, Wolf.
BLITZER: Steroids aren't the only problem plaguing major league baseball. It's also losing its TV audience. Look at the numbers of viewers this year's -- at this year's World Series compared to the Super Bowl and the college football Bowl Championship Series. The Super Bowl had an audience four times larger. Baseball does come out ahead of NASCAR's Nextel Cup and the NBA finals. But, clearly, baseball has a problem right now. Let's hope they can fix it.
A 90 minute face-off in Iowa. The Democratic presidential candidates -- emotional at times, subdued at others. We're going to get an insider's take from one of them. Senator Chris Dodd joins us in THE SITUATION ROOM.
And he's one of the most talked about maybe candidates.
So what will the impact be if -- and it's a huge if -- if the New York mayor, Michael Bloomberg, should decide to run for president?
We're going to show you. Stay with us.
You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Carol Costello is monitoring some other stories incoming into THE SITUATION ROOM -- Carol, I take it it's snowing.
It's lovely up in New England and the Northeast.
What's going on?
CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Oh, it's terrible, especially in Providence, Rhode Island and Upstate New York. There's heavy snow, also, in Boston. There are winter storm warnings posted pretty much from New York all the way up the coast.
You know that big storm in the Midwest?
Well, maybe it's in the Northeast right now. Ice and snow in New York City. I guess the rain -- or the snow has turned to sleet and freezing rain. So all I have to say is be very careful if you're traveling this afternoon.
Also in the news, an 18-year-old man suspected in a shooting at a school bus stop in Las Vegas is now in custody in Denver. Nicco Tatum was arrested as he got off a bus bound for Chicago from Las Vegas. He's accused of shooting and wounding six people on Tuesday. Police say they believe the shooting stemmed from a fight over a girl. They are still looking for a second suspect.
Today in the House, a hearing about charities that are supposed to help veterans. A leading watchdog group says millions of dollars given to some charities is not reaching vets. The American Institute of Philanthropy says eight charities gave less than a third of the money raised to their causes. And that is making some members of Congress angry.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Just that consumers should remember from this testimony is that whenever they wish to donate to a charitable organization, they should become informed about the charity's operations by doing some homework. More specifically, they should research the charity to determine if the majority of the money raised is going to its charitable purposes.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COSTELLO: One expert on non-profits calls the spending decisions of some charities "grotesque."
In news affecting small business, the Commerce Department says retail surged 1.2 percent in November. Now, that is the largest gain in six months and it's twice the gain that economists had expected. Half the increase comes from a spike in gas prices. Still, the remaining .6 percent reflects an across-the-board increase of sales from department stores to appliance stores.
That's a look at the headlines right now -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Thanks, Carol, very much.
Carol Costello will be back shortly.
Coming up, the former vice president of the United States, Al Gore. He's under fire for criticizing the United States.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
AL GORE, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: My own country, the United States, is principally responsible for obstructing progress here in Bali.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: We're going to tell you what else Al Gore is saying and how the White House is reacting.
Also, a dire warning about the overall U.S. mission in Afghanistan in an exclusive interview with the former top NATO commander.
Plus, the surprise reaction to Oprah Winfrey's rallies for Barack Obama. You're going to find out why some of her fans are now so upset.
You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Happening now, contempt of Congress -- the Senate Judiciary Committee votes to cite the White House chief of staff, Josh Bolten, and the former Bush adviser Karl Rove for refusing to cooperate with an investigation into the firings of eight U.S. attorneys last year. The recommendation now moves to the Senate floor for a vote.
A new bill in the House would eliminate slot machines for U.S. troops overseas. The Defense Department uses gambling profits to help fund welfare and recreation programs. But the bill's sponsor says the risk of addiction is simply too great.
And centralizing power at the European Union -- leaders of the 27-nation bloc are agreeing to create a long-term presidency and to streamline decision-making.
I'm Wolf Blitzer.
You're in THE SITUATION ROOM. The Iowa caucuses exactly three weeks away from today. And just a couple of hours ago, the Democratic presidential candidates -- six of them -- had their final debate in Iowa.
CNN's Jessica Yellin is over there where it happened, in Johnstown, Iowa -- so, Jessica, give our viewers an update.
How did it go?
JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, there were no fireworks in this debate. You could you call it the make nice debate. The only real opportunity for the candidates to draw distinctions came when both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama each tried to argue that they're the ones who could reform Washington the most.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We can only do it if we have the courage to change, if we can bring the country together, if we can push back against the special interests and if we level with the American people about how we're going to solve our problems. That's the kind of campaign I've tried to run and that's the kind of president I intend to be. I ask that all of you caucus for me.
SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Everyone wants change. Well, everybody on this stage has an idea about how to get change. Some believe you get change by demanding it. Some believe you get it by hoping for it. I believe that you get it by working hard for change. That's what I've done my entire life. That's what I will do as president. I will end the war in Iraq and bring our sons and daughters home. I will get quality, affordable health care for every single American. And I will not rest until every child has a chance to live up to his or her God-given potential.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
YELLIN: So, did you get that, Wolf?
They both want change. That's right. It's an argument that's worked, actually, more effectively lately for Obama than for Senator Clinton, because she's also been arguing that she's the one with the most experience. And it can be tricky to say that you're both the insider and you're the outsider who can change the system.
She is currently honing that message, are you concerned hear there. Expect that more in the next couple of weeks. And don't expect, I'd say, as much handholding, good vibe, "Kumbaya" on the trail as this goes right down to the wire -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Three weeks to go.
You know, in our focus group -- an unscientific look at where undecided unregistered Democrats were moving -- John Edwards came out on top, ahead of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama and the others.
He's still very much a factor in Iowa, isn't he? YELLIN: He really is. And we all focus, often, on the Obama/Clinton struggle. But Edwards is right up there in this state. And he has been fighting hard.
Here's something that he said that I found interesting in this debate.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN EDWARDS (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm going to make absolutely certain that our three branches of government are in fact co-equal. We don't have a royal presidency. We don't have a king of the United States of America. Whatever George Bush thinks, he's not king.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
YELLIN: What I found interest being that, Wolf, is that although right here in this building, a number of republicans were here competing to be the presidential candidate for their party. The democrats have made it clear that no matter who gets that nomination, come the general election, they will be running against George Bush and his past record, not only against the current candidate. Wolf.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: John Edwards will be joining us Sunday on "LATE EDITION" as well. Thanks very much, Jessica. Jessica reporting from Iowa.
What did it look like from on stage? We talked to one of those six presidential candidates immediately afterward.
BLITZER: Joining us, one of the six men and women on that stage. That will be Senator Chris Dodd. He is a democratic presidential candidate, the senator from Connecticut. Senator, thanks very for coming in. First of all, I want your reaction. It got emotional at times today. It was a very subdued debate. I thought it was very, very polite. Didn't get bitter at all. What did you think?
SEN. CHRIS DODD (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, you know, I think people are -- what I said all the way along in this campaign, Wolf, and that is that's the last thing Americans want to see at this point. We've had a diet of that constantly for the last six or seven years. And they are anxious for some adults, with some maturity that are going to confront these issues. How hard we are going to fight is not the issue. Can you get any results done for the American people? People woke up this morning and did not wonder whether they were a democrat, republican, conservative or liberal. They wondered whether they had a job, if they got sick, would their health care be there for, were their kids safe, getting a good education and can anybody lead this country by bringing us together. That's what they are anxious for and I suspect some of the tone of this debate for some candidates has been rather sharp in the past are finally getting the message that the Americans don't want to hear that kind of talk. Tell us what you have done and tell us what you can do.
BLITZER: Your other colleague, Hillary Clinton, she apologized to Barack Obama on the tarmac at Reagan National Airport today for what one of her co-chairman in New Hampshire, Bill Shaheen, suggested to a reporter in "The Washington Post" by saying this. I will read it to you. He said, "It'll be when was the last time? Did you ever give drugs to anyone? Did you sell them to anyone," referring to the use of drugs as a teenager that Barack Obama wrote about in his autobiography years ago. He's formally apologized now himself, Bill Shaheen, the husband of the former governor of New Hampshire, Jeanne Shaheen, saying he was not speaking on behalf of the campaign. What about the charge, though, that republicans would use this against Barack Obama if became the democratic nominee?
DODD: The republicans don't have to do anything here. This is not new. Just ask John McCain what they are out to do. What he went through in South Carolina four years ago. So I -- trying to define what some of these people will do. There are no limits apparently. Again, I come back to the point I made earlier, Wolf, and that is this kind of campaigning what America is sick of. They are nauseated by it. They want to know exactly tell me where you've been, what you've done. How can you help us get back on our feet again at home? Make a difference to the nation around the world. You start dwelling on the side issues here I think it is -- some may think it is great politics. I think it is dangerous politics and I think it will be rejected by the American people.
BLITZER: You suggested, and correct me if I am wrong Senator, education would be your top priority and if you were president of the United States. Is that right?
DODD: Well, I have been asked over the years what's the single most important issue. It is a tough question to answer. I get asked all the time. And you can make Iraq or health care, energy policy. But education is central, Wolf, to us here. Our constitution is a document that requires an educated population to support it. Economically to grow and prosper in the 21st century. Every issue you can raise with me here, I would point to education. A good, well- educated --
BLITZER: Because your critics will say the country is at war right now. Isn't war and peace a higher priority for a new president than education, as important as education is?
DODD: Well - education is the underlying issue. To convince people we need to do something else, depends upon an educated population. It is the issue that transcends all other issues in my view in this country. Jefferson said it better than I could ever say it 200 years ago. He said any nation that ever expects to be ignorant and free, expects what never was and never possibly could be. That was in 1804. That was true at the beginning of the 19th century. Think how much more true you can say that in this in the outfit of the 21st century.
BLITZER: How well do you have to do in Iowa to keep your campaign going? DODD: Very well. And what I like about Iowa, Wolf, and you know this as well. You covered this a long time. Iowans make up their minds late in the process. Tom Harkin this morning, I was talking to him on the floor of the senate before we came out for the debate. He said this is wide open. He said anyone that tells you otherwise doesn't know my state, does not know Iowans here. They are sitting back. They are taking a good calculation of where things are. And they are shopping. They are shopping beyond the so-called two or three leading candidates here. The national media hardly talks about anyone else. Local media and Iowans talk about much deeper candidacies than just those top three. I feel very good about where. We have a great staff. We've got 13 offices open. I have family and friends from Connecticut, across the country out here campaigning for us. We have a good message that resonates with Iowans and I'm very confident we are going to do very well January 3rd.
BLITZER: All right. Good luck, senator. Thanks very much for coming in.
DODD: You bet. Thanks, Wolf.
BLITZER: European nations are clashing with the Bush administration over global warming. Over at a United Nations conference on climate change in Bali today the European delegates threatened to boycott U.S. sponsored climate talks next month. They object to Washington's hard lined stance against specific targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The former U.S. vice president and Nobel peace prize winner, Al Gore, was a featured speaker at the Bali conference today and he had some very blunt words for the Bush administration.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
AL GORE: I'm not an official of the United States and I am not bound by the diplomatic niceties. So I am going to speak an inconvenient truth. My own country, the United States, is principally responsible for obstructing progress here in Bali. We all know that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Delegates in Bali are trying to hammer out an agreement on opening negotiations to replace the Kyoto protocol on climate change which expires in 2012.
Six years of progress in Afghanistan apparently now in jeopardy because of opium. The former top NATO commander, an American four star general, gives a dire warning in an exclusive interview with our senior Pentagon correspondent Jamie McIntyre. Jamie.
JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SENIOR PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Defense Secretary Robert Gates is in Scotland for two days of meetings with NATO allies pressing them to do more in Afghanistan. This comes as the former top NATO commander tells CNN exclusively, he is disappointed with what's happened since he left and he sees a real risk of backslide.
MCINTYRE: When I accompanied General James Jones on his final inspection tour of Afghanistan a year ago, the top NATO commander was upbeat, insisting the potential for success was high.
One last quick question. Are you winning?
GEN. JAMES JONES, FORMER SUPREME NATO COMMANDER: I think we are. I think we are moving in the right direction in certainly a lot of areas.
MCINTYRE: Now a year later, it is a far different story.
JONES: I'm a little disappointed in some of the things that I have seen in the last six or seven months.
MCINTYRE: Afghanistan is no longer moving in the right direction. And the reason in a word is drugs. Almost nothing has been done to stop the flourishing opium trade fueled by another bumper crop of poppies.
JONES: Afghanistan and -- if it is not a narco state it is heading that way.
MCINTYRE: Should the drug problem in Afghanistan become a NATO priority, a NATO mission? It wasn't when you were in charge.
JONES: My friends over there won't like this but I do think that if we fail in Afghanistan, NATO will be -- will be viewed as having failed.
MCINTYRE: Jones admits some NATO allies feel taken that they signed up for peacekeeping and are now embroiled in an all-out war.
JONES: I think we are on a risk of backsliding. And coupled with the failure of the Pakistani strategy with regard to the tribal areas.
MCINTYRE: That strategy was to cut a deal with Taliban sympathizers in a return for a promise not to interfere in Afghanistan. Jones was told about it in one of his last meetings with senior Pakistanis.
JONES: My answer to them was good luck. It sounds like wishful thinking to me and it turned out to be absolute will wishful thinking.
MCINTYRE: In his Congressional testimony this week, Defense Secretary Gates said it is patently obvious the counter-narcotic efforts in Afghanistan has failed. He says only the United States wants to use aerial spraying to wipe out the poppy crop. None of the allies and not even the Afghan government wants to confront the drug lords in Afghanistan so directly. Wolf? BLITZER: Thanks very much, Jamie, for that.
The State Department, meanwhile, is downsizing its out posts around the world. The union representing Foreign Service officers says diplomatic positions are being cut by 10%. Right now they are about 6,500 of them with 75% based overseas. But of all the U.S. embassies and consulates only the embassies in Iraq and Afghanistan are fully staffed. The union is concerned the pending cuts will impact regions of critical concern including in Africa, India and Brazil.
By appearing with Barack Obama, Oprah Winfrey is hoping to attract supporters to his campaign. Her work for the candidate may also be having an unintended and unwanted effect. We're going to explain.
They are calling it a "Huckaboom." Republican candidate Mike Huckabee is surging and not just in the polls. We will tell you where else the candidate is attracting a lot of support.
Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Oprah Winfrey is facing a backlash from some of her fans for lending star power to Barack Obama's presidential campaign. She drew thousands of people to rallies for the democratic presidential candidate but now she's drawing angry e-mail. Let's bring in Carol Costello. She's here in THE SITUATION ROOM. Why are some of these fans apparently angry?
CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, keep in mind Wolf, these fans were commenting online. And let's face it, people just let it all out in the heat of the moment. Their comments are telling about how many Americans feel about African Americans, even those popular among all races.
OPRAH WINFREY, TALK SHOW HOST: Barack Obama!
COSTELLO: Who knew that Oprah Winfrey, super celeb, might suffer the same fate as mere mortal celebrities, backlash. Fans writing into her web site are angry she has gone political. Angry she is campaigning for Barack Obama. Oprah says one, count me as tuned out for now. Another says, "It is a turnoff for a lot of your fans." Another says, "Oprah has crossed a line and lost my trust completely." We asked people in South Carolina if they agreed.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: As a private citizen she can be involved. To try to promote a politician, I don't think the involvement is need.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't think any celebrity should go public with their views.
COSTELLO: What's especially interesting about reading Oprah's website, though, is why many online fans are upset. Some say it seems she is pitting white against black because of how she stumped for Obama.
WINFREY: You know Dr. King dreamed the dream. But we don't have to just dream the dream anymore. We get to vote that dream into reality.
COSTELLO: Some reaction. "Winfrey has artfully begun her stump speeches alongside Obama with a negative racial tone. Don't pit blacks against whites." And this one. "This is getting so tiring. Are we voting for Obama because he's black?" That's something Winfrey rejected on "GOOD MORNING AMERICA."
WINFREY: To think that I would just be inn support of somebody because of the color of their skin would mean we hadn't moved very far from Dr. King's speech in 1963 saying we want people to be judged by the content of their character and not the color of their skin.
COSTELLO: Winfrey also told us she weighed carefully whether she should get involved in politics. Asking herself, "Am I going to lose viewers? I made the decision that I have the right to do it as an American citizen."
COSTELLO: And Oprah says she welcomes all comments. It's good to vent. It provokes conversation and debate about things we all really need to think about.
BLITZER: Interesting. Fascinating stuff. Thanks very much Carol for that.
Not only is republican Mike Huckabee surging in the polls but the former Arkansas governor is also a rising star on the web. Something that the campaign is calling -- I'm quoting now. A "Huckaboom." Let's go to our internet reporter, Abbi Tatton. She's watching the "Huckaboom." Where is the online popularity coming from, Abbi?
ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, first of all, if we're talking about 2007 as a whole, the most Googled presidential candidate is Ron Paul. As the year comes to a close, the hottest website in terms of these candidates is that of Mike Huckabee. For the first time last week, he's topping the charts, democrat or republican in terms of web traffic. This is a site that certainly has its unique features. Huckabee explains here.
MIKE HUCKABEE (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Two words. Chuck Norris.
TATTON: In addition to Norris, this site has been praised for using supporters' ideas. The company that compiled the data called Hit Wise points to another reason for this lead, voter curiosity. As Huckabee's visibility rises, most of the people going to this website are going there for the first time. It is an online supporters and are celebrating the lead. Though they may want to look out for this, that's the Ron Paul blimp that we heard about last week. Supporters hope to launch it, weather permitting, tomorrow. It is emblazoned with the words "Google Ron Paul." Wolf.
BLITZER: All right. Publicity for Google, too. Thanks very much for that.
He has repeatedly dismissed the notion but always seems to leave the door slightly, slightly open. Right now, there's some new rumblings the New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg may be getting serious about a presidential run. What if he does? Frank Sesno standing by to take a closer look.
And now that he is a real contender, the heat is turning up on Mike Huckabee and his record. We are going to separate fact from fiction.
Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: According to an article today in "The Wall Street Journal," people close to Mayor Bloomberg say be may be moving to running for president. Our special correspondent Frank Sesno is here. Frank, what would it do if Bloomberg decided to run? How would that change the dynamics of this race?
FRANK SESNO, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: A lot. Let's do a little test first though, Wolf. Over to wall here. You see four people there. The question is -- you see Bloomberg among them. What do they have in common? What do you think?
SESNO: What if this democrat turned republican turned independent billionaire decides to run for president? Prediction one, he will make Ross Perot's 1992 independent bid with he got 19% of the vote look like amateur hour. That's because Bloomberg would not only be able to spend his own fortune, he might actually be a credible candidate. He built a global business, run a city, confronted big unions and turned deficit into surplus. He would likely play the competence card. They can talk about climate change and energy policy, he might say, but he's taking New York City green.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Michael R. Bloomberg.
SESNO: What if he jumps in? Prediction two, he will be a New York-sized headache for the major party candidates, some of whom know something about New York headache. Bloomberg's political strategy will be to go after the 40% or so of voters who identify themselves as independent, the 70% who think the country is on the wrong track. The one-third or more who say there is no way they would vote for any of the existing front-runners. What if he waits until the big primaries and caucuses shake out? That could be early February, March 5th if he wants to see Texas vote. With plenty of money, there will be plenty of time confidants say to organize nationally. Get on stage ballots and buy the media he needs. No cake walk though. This New York state of mind might be a hard sell in the hinder lands. He's pro-choice, gay rights, gun control and has raised taxes. And third parties aren't easy. Ralph Nader got less than 3% of the vote in 2000. Ron Paul wouldn't share this stage if he were a libertarian. But neither of them is mayor of 8 million people or worth more than $11 billion. Quite a combination and America still has the best politics money can buy.
SESNO: Think of it this way. Some people say he may be worth as much as $20 billion. If he dropped $700 million of his own bucks on this it would be like have you a $20 bill and you take 70 cents to run for president. That's what it would be, Wolf.
BLITZER: All right. We will watch and see what he does. Michael Bloomberg, he is a phenomenon. We've got to say that. Thanks very much, Frank, for that.
Let's go back to Jack. He has the Cafferty file in New York.
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Question this hour is one year later, how would you rate the performance of the democratic-led Congress?
Amy writes, "It's too bad that any progress the Democrats in Congress have tried to make, such as passing children's health insurance or federally funded stem cell research, has been vetoed by the president, and held up by Republican members of Congress who just do whatever Bush tells them to do. Those Republicans are obviously unaware of how unpopular the president and his policies are but they'll find out in November."
Steve writes, "Performance? What performance? The Democrats are too busy trying to make the Republicans, especially Bush, look bad to actually get something done."
Linda in Virginia, "The performance of the Democratic-controlled Congress has been abysmal. They have spent the entire year unsuccessfully trying to bring to an end the war in Iraq, and accomplished almost nothing else. Their only domestic achievement of note raising the minimum wage for which there was widespread bipartisan support."
Christopher writes, "Calling this veto-whipped, filibustered Congress 'do-nothing' is like blaming a kid's face for bruising a bully's fist. Put the blame where it belongs, on an obstructionist Republican minority and a corporate-run president who thinks the constitution is an obstacle. If you want forward motion, give the Democrats a real majority and/or get rid of this White House."
Bobby in Studio City, California, "Simply put, Jack, the Democrats, not Major League Baseball, are in need of "performance- enhancing drugs."
Ken writes, "In a word, pathetic. They have become masters of the news conference and then follow up with inaction. I realize they don't have the super majority they need to force legislation but would it kill them to take a stand and fight once in a while." And Bill writes, "They are just like the Miami Dolphins, 0-13."
BLITZER: Jack, thanks very much for that. Stand by. We're going to get back to you in a moment.
It is heating up in Iowa with Mitt Romney stepping up attacks on the rival who surged ahead of him. That would be Mike Huckabee.
Plus, rating the debate. We ask undecided democrats who they would vote for after the final Iowa presidential debate. Their answer and Lou Dobbs coming up.
BLITZER: Let's check in with Lou to see what's coming up in one hour, 7 p.m. eastern. Lou, I know you are going to be talking about baseball. A huge story today. Give us your immediate reaction to what happened today, this George Mitchell report.
LOU DOBBS, CNN ANCHOR: Well, the reality is that this is a bigger scandal for baseball, in my opinion, than the Black Sox scandal of just about 90 years ago. The reality is, however, everyone, you and me and just about everyone watching of a certain age group, knew that Mark McGwire and Jose Canseco were taking steroids. Major league baseball certainly did. There is no surprise in any of this. The reality is that this is an expose of super athletes taking illegal drugs to enhance their performance. It is also just a great scandal for major league baseball itself and what it has permitted. The networks and all associated with major league baseball who knew precisely what was going on and now are clucking like, you know, aging hens at these transgressions. We should be all ashamed. It is a reflection on our broader society. And certainly, you know, obviously, a black mark against these athletes in the sport. But we all bear immense responsibility for the hypocrisy that permitted it to go on and to continue to go on I'm sure for some time to come.
BLITZER: Lou will have a lot more on this coming up in one hour on "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT." Lou, thanks very much.
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