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Benazir Bhutto's Secret Files; Final Push in Iowa

Aired January 1, 2008 - 17:00   ET


BLITZER: And to our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Happening now, Benazir Bhutto's secret files --claims that Pakistani authorities planned to use violence, fraud and U.S. money to rig elections. We have what Bhutto planned to hand over to U.S. lawmakers on the very day she died. This is a CNN exclusive.

An all out final push in Iowa. Two days before the caucuses and both races are dead heats. Last minute appeals and promises --you'll hear from the candidates themselves.

And dozens of people burned alive in a church. At least 150 others killed in post-election violence. Thousands of people desperately seeking shelter right now. It's all happening in what had been a favorite destination for a lot of Western tourists.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.


A shocking new image may offer some new insight into the assassination of Benazir Bhutto. New audio may offer a hint at who was behind the killing, and there's new controversy over the investigation itself.

Our senior international correspondent, Matthew Chance, is in Islamabad --Matthew.

MATTHEW CHANCE, SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, new and disturbing images of a man Pakistani authorities believe could have been one of Benazir Bhutto's assassins. Investigators posted a reward and have launched a nationwide appeal for information that could identify two suspects believed to be linked with Al Qaeda who both died in the attack on former Prime Minister Bhutto last week.


CHANCE (voice-over): It could be the remains of Benazir Bhutto's assassin --grisly images of a suspect's decapitated head splashed across Pakistan's newspapers. It's believed he was the clean shaven figure picture pictured here in dark sunglasses, appearing to fire shots at her car before a suicide bomb ripped through the crowd. Pakistani authorities have posted a reward of more than $165,000 for information on the suspected killer. But controversy continues to overshadow the investigation, especially over the cause of Benazir's death. Government officials say new forensic evidence should be considered if it emerges, but that claims Benazir was shot dead are still not proven.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The shots have been fired from the left side. The explosion takes place from the left side. But she receives an injury on her skull on the right. And, you know, I think with that force of the blast, you know, she might have, you know, gone on to the right and maybe hit that place. That was the initial investigation that has come up.

CHANCE: There are other strands of investigation, too. On the Pakistan Information Ministry's Web site, what it says is an audio file of a pro-Taliban tribal warlord, Baitullah Mehsud, speaking to an associate after Benazir's killing.



They were our men?



UNIDENTIFIED MALE (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): There was Saeed, there was Bilal from Badara and Ikramullah.


Ikramullah and Bilal did it.



CHANCE: Camera shy Mehsud has reportedly denied involvement, saying the audio is faked.


CHANCE: Well, all this comes at a time of mounting pressure on the Pakistani authorities amid bitter accusations that enough was not done to ensure Benazir Bhutto's security. Pakistan is reeling from its latest political killing back to you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Matthew Chance in Islamabad for us.

Thank you.

Did Benazir Bhutto have evidence of a plot by Pakistani authorities to rig the upcoming parliamentary elections?

Just ahead, we have a CNN exclusive. We have Bhutto's secret file, her secret report and the stunning allegations she planned to deliver to two United States lawmakers. That report is coming up.

Other important news we're following. A U.S. diplomat working to try to restore peace in Sudan is shot dead in New Year's Eve.

Was he a target of terrorists or simply a victim of random violence?

Jeanne Meserve is following this story for us --Jeanne, what are you learning?

JEANNE MESERVE, HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the shooting took place not in Sudan's violence-racked Darfur region, but in the capital, Khartoum.


MESERVE (voice-over): On the road, grisly evidence of the shootings of American diplomat John Granville and his Sudanese driver. The

Sudanese government says the shootings were not political, but the result of a quarrel on a crowded street. But the U.S. is investigating the possibility it was an act of terrorism.


At this point, you know, we're not ruling anything out, but we don't know.

MESERVE: Sudan was once a haven for Osama bin Laden and the most recent State Department advisory says the U.S. has received indications of terrorist threats aimed at Americans in Sudan, advising them not to travel there.

Just Monday, a joint African Union-United Nations peacekeeping force took over in Darfur to try to end the fighting and humanitarian crisis there. But Granville was far away, in Khartoum. Thirty-three- years-old, he worked for the Agency for International Development. He had spent much of the past 10 years in Africa and he knew the dangers, telling his mother, "Mom, if anything happens to me over there, just know that I was doing what I loved in helping those people."


MESERVE: There have been no arrests, but both American and Sudanese officials are promising a thorough investigation. The FBI will be assisting --Wolf.

BLITZER: Our deepest condolences to the Granville family in Buffalo.

Thanks, Jeanne Meserve, very much.

The first U.S. ambassador --he was not an ambassador, he was a senior diplomat, Mr. Granville, who was just killed in Khartoum.

We're watching other stories right now, including in Kenya. Kenya is now reeling from the worst political violence it's experienced in decades. Among the latest victims, dozens of people believed burned alive in a church. Foreigners are being warned to avoid traveling to Kenya.

Tim Hewitt of Britain's ITN is there.


TIM HEWITT, ITN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This was the latest eruption of violence in Kenya --armed police crashed with rioters in the impoverished shantytown of Nataria, on the outskirts of the capital, Nairobi. It shattered hopes that, for a time, at least, there might be calm. And this was not the worst of it. To the north, in the town of Eldoret, buildings lay in flames. This was the scene of an appalling massacre --the worst single act of violence since the trouble began. Dozens of people who had sought shelter in a church. But they were hunted down by youths who overpowered them and set the church on fire.

The violence here, as elsewhere, is largely tribal. The victims in Eldoret were mostly Kikuwu --the same ethnic group as President Mwai Kibaki.

And in the town of Kisumu, one British resident told ITV News about the terror spread by rampaging mobs.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It was (INAUDIBLE) the sounds of the gates being pushed by many, many people outside, that it was extremely frightening. We had all these children in the house. They climbed trees --the children --to try and hide from this angry mob outside. Meanwhile, we managed to get in touch with the police and they managed to come down with some tear gas and frightened them off --away before they broke the gate down.

HEWITT: Meanwhile, the conduct of the election that returned President Kibaki to power has been criticized by official monitors.

ALEXANDER GRAF LAMBSDORFF, EUROPEAN UNION MONITOR: We are faced with a combination of verified irregularities, a lack of transparency and some questions that still need to be answered. You will understand that, for these reasons, we continue to have our doubts about the accuracy of the result of the presidential elections as announced by the ECK.

HEWITT: As the injured are treated in hospitals, there are fears that there is worse to come. The authorities are trying to ban a protest rally on Thursday. The opposition say a million people will turn out. Tim Hewitt, ITV News.


BLITZER: Until now, Kenya had been a role modal for East Africa, with a history of successful democratic elections, no military coups and a growing middle class. It also is a regional economic powerhouse, with billions of dollars invested overseas and a buoyant stock market. Instability in Kenya is especially troubling because the country shares a long border with Somalia, where Islamic radicals are fighting for control right now. Kenya has served as a buffer to the radical threat, but its current crisis could cripple that ability.

We're watching this story closely.

A last ditch effort to come out ahead in the dead heat race -- make that two dead heat races. The candidates are out in force. They're speaking out two days before the Iowa caucuses. You're going to hear what they had to say today.

Also, hostages held for years in the jungles of Latin America --a delicate negotiation involving a top Hollywood director and America's arch foe, Hugo Chavez. Now a standoff.

And e-voting gets an F. Several states find their electronic voting machines are not accurate and not secure.

Are we headed back to the days of the hanging chad?

Stay with us.



BLITZER: The final push in Iowa --White House hopefuls are blanketing the state, with the nation's first caucuses only two days away. In just a moment, we'll hear what the Democrats are saying today.

But first, the Republicans. The candidates are stumping everywhere, from big rallies to people's living rooms.


MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The challenge of health care --47 million people without health insurance. It's not good for them. It's not good for you. It's not good for them, of course, because if they get sick, they don't have a primary care physician to care for them, they have to go to the hospital to get care.

It's not good for you because guess who's paying for it if they don't have insurance?

You are. And so we need to find a way to get everybody insured, but not with government insurance, but, instead, with private, free market insurance. Not with socialized medicine, not with Hillary care. That's not the right course for this nation.



MIKE HUCKABEE (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The people of Iowa have a right to know the truth. The people of America have a right to know the truth. They need to know if we're at war, why. They need to know how we're going to win it. They need to know that if our borders are broken, why are they broken? Why is it our government hasn't done one thing to fix those borders in over 20 years and who is going to fix it and how and when?

You have a right to know that.



REP. DUNCAN HUNTER (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think I still have a chance to win this thing. I think there's some daylight out there because nobody has surged to a commanding lead. And so even though we've been outspent, probably, by the next guy, by 10 to one, and probably by people by Governor Romney by 300 or 400 to one, we've got a great message. And I think the first 10 debates we that we did do have been very good for me. I've gotten a good bump out of those debates. A lot of people know me who didn't know me six months ago. So I'm optimistic.



SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I believe that I have the knowledge and the background and the experience and the judgment to lead this nation in very challenging times. And every time I'm around the young men and women who are serving this country, I know we will win. I know we will win. We will never ever surrender and they will. But it means leadership and not on the job training.


BLITZER: And coming up, we'll hear what the Democratic candidates had to say today. That's coming up.

Let's check in with Carol once again.

She's monitoring some other important stories incoming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now --Carol, what's going on?

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, at least 32 people are dead after a suicide attacker detonated an explosives rigged vest at a Shiite funeral in Baghdad. The funeral was for a retired army officer who was killed Friday in a car bombing in Baghdad, along with 13 other people. Today, Iraqi police fearing another attack surrounded the funeral bombing site, while the wounded were carried away in ambulances.

Police in the Big Apple taking a big bite out of crime. Preliminary figures show there were 494 homicides in New York City in 2007. That is the lowest number since police began keeping track 44 years ago. And it's a big change from 1990, when more than 2,200 homicides earned New York City the "murder capital."

Dozens of gay and lesbian couples in New Hampshire are entering into civil unions this New Year's Day. A new state law that legalizes the partnerships took effect after midnight. The civil unions law gives same sex couples all the rights, responsibilities and obligations that married couples have, but the unions are not called marriages.

Emergency room doctors are prescribing strong narcotics to whites more frequently than to minorities. That's the finding of a new study in tomorrow's "Journal of the American Medical Association". Prescribing narcotics to emergency rule patients who say they're in pain rose from 23 percent to 37 percent over 37 years. But the gaps between whites and non-whites appeared not to close at all.

And the FBI is trying again to identify the mysterious skyjacker who became known as D.B. Cooper. He commandeered a Northwest Airlines flight in 1971, saying he had dynamite. He demanded and he got $200,000 and four parachutes and demanded to be flown to Mexico. He jumped out of the plane over Washington State with two of the chutes and vanished. Yesterday, the FBI released drawings that it says are probably close to what Cooper probably looked like --back to you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks very much for that.

I remember that story well.

Carol will be back with us shortly.

Major concerns about voting machines --the first balloting of the primary season now only two days away. We're going to show you why some machines are being declared unfit.

Plus, Hugo Chavez's deal to free Colombian hostages --you're going to find out why it collapsed as the world watched and waited.

Stay with us.



BLITZER: Our new poll shows Mike Huckabee still leading the Republican pack in Iowa, although losing some ground to Mitt Romney.

Our Congressional correspondent, Dana Bash, is out covering Huckabee on the campaign trail.

So what did he do today on this, the day before --actually, two days before the caucuses?

DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Mike Huckabee had two events here in Iowa. The last one was here in Cedar Rapids. And you remember, of course, yesterday, Wolf, this controversy, really, about what Mike Huckabee did. He had a press conference saying that he was about to release a negative ad against Mitt Romney and then said he was going to pull it back, but then played the ad anyway.

Mike Huckabee did talk about that a little bit today, saying that --admitting that the pundits were sort of on him about that, but then pleading with voters to understand what he is trying to do, that he is trying to run a positive campaign.

But, you know, Wolf, when he was at --he did not mention Mitt Romney's name at all today. He was true to that. But if you listen to what his answer was when he was asked point blank, what is your closing argument for Iowa voters, there is a very subtle dig there at Mitt Romney.



HUCKABEE: They need to decide who best represents not only their values, but who also do they really trust to tell them the truth, not just about my record, but about the future of this country. And they'll have to ask themselves this question --do I trust this guy to be honest with me about what he really believes and what he would really do and is it consistent what with what he has done and what he has said?


BASH: Now, that is definitely a variation of what Mike Huckabee was saying 24 hours ago about Mitt Romney, that he simply does not think that he is appropriate to be the president because he doesn't think he's honest. That is Mike Huckabee's closing argument, even as he closes saying that he's going to campaign in a positive way.

Meanwhile, as for Mitt Romney, he spent the day going to people's living rooms here in Iowa --a classic campaign day, if you will, talking to very small groups of people. And although he has been quite negative when it comes to Mike Huckabee, attacking his record on immigration, on taxes, on spending, he has decided to close out truly talking about himself, talking about his biography and why he should be president.


ROMNEY: I'll just ask you to consider the fact that I've spent my life not as a politician, but as someone who has lived in the private sector. I know how to create jobs. I know why jobs come and why they go. I know how to keep us strong. I've led things. I've run things. And I've got great friends like you helping me.


BASH: Now, these two men, Mike Huckabee and Mitt Romney, are absolutely neck-and-neck. Nobody knows who is going to prevail here on Thursday in the caucuses. Right now, the name of the game for both of them is to make sure that every single person who has said that they are going to caucus for them, that they get them out to the caucus.

It's the same on the Democratic side. No question, it is the very same thing on the Republican side. And it's very hard, Wolf, because there are still a lot of undecided voters. We met a lot of them right here at this Huckabee event this afternoon.

BLITZER: Non-stop campaigning up until the bitter, bitter end. We have taken a picture -- a live picture of Mitt Romney campaigning right now out there.

All right, thanks very much.

Dana Bash out in Iowa.

BASH: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: The secret dossier Benazir Bhutto was about to hand over to two U.S. lawmakers when she was assassinated -- CNN has now obtained a copy. We're going to show you what's inside.

Also, new fears of tainted elections in the United States. You're going to find out why some people are saying hundreds of electronic voting machines simply can't be trusted.

Plus, stunning, stunning disappointment -- a plan to free hostages free for years falls through at the very last minute. We'll show you why.

Stay with us.



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

Happening now, a last minute snapshot of the race in Iowa -- it's simply too close to call.

Our new CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll shows that both the Democratic and Republican presidential nomination races are tied at the very top.

Also, a winter wallop for parts of the Midwest. The New Year's snowstorm dumping up to 16 inches of snow in parts of Michigan. The flakes falling at a record rate -- up to four inches an hour. The storm is now blanketing New England -- bracing for up to a foot of snow there.

And President Bush wishes Americans a happy and healthy new year as he boarded Air Force One to return from his Texas ranch to Washington. The president said he's ready to get back to work.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.


Just days after the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, with Pakistan rocked by unrest, parliamentary elections have been postponed. Officials say they need another month to try to arrange what they're calling "free and fair elections." But stunning new claims in a secret file say Pakistani authorities have conspired to rig those elections. That file was head by Benazir Bhutto and was meant for U.S. lawmakers.

Let's go to CNN's Brian Todd.

He's watching this story for us -- Brian, what can you tell us about this secret report?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the file contains some serious allegations about attempts to rig that parliamentary vote that you mentioned -- charges that take on enormous weight now in the aftermath of Bhutto's death and have the government on the defensive.


TODD (voice-over): Ready to challenge her opponents to the very end -- sources close to Benazir Bhutto tell CNN that on the day she died, she was preparing to give a document to visiting U.S. congressmen detailing alleged efforts by Pakistan's intelligence services to rig parliamentary elections.

CNN has been shown the document by a top Bhutto adviser who helped write it. Among its key allegations: "Where an opposing candidate is strong in an area, they have planned to create a conflict at the polling station -- even killing people, if necessary, to stop polls at least three to four hours."

The government denies this.

CNN analyst Peter Bergen says this is not a shocking development in Pakistani politics.

PETER BERGEN, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: Certainly, Pakistani politicians and those people in power have tried to rig Pakistani elections.

TODD: The report also accuses the government of planning to tamper with ballots and misuse American-made equipment to monitor communications of opponents. One Bhutto source says the document was compiled at her request and claims the information was given to her party by sources inside the police and intelligence services.

Two Pakistani diplomatic services say this dossier is baseless and President Pervez Musharraf's spokesman also fired back.

RASHID QURESHI, MAJOR GENERAL MUSHARRAF SPOKESMAN: And I think they are just a pack of lies.

TODD: Even if the information is legitimate, observers say, there's no evidence of a connection between the documents and Bhutto's death.

BERGEN: There's no reason to believe that she was killed because of this dossier because the people behind her killing almost certainly are Al Qaeda and the Taliban. And they've got nothing to do with the election or vote rigging or anything else in this dossier. (END VIDEO TAPE)

TODD: Now, that U.S. Congressional delegation which Bhutto was going to share her information with was led by Republican Senator Arlen Specter. After repeated calls to his aides, we were told late this afternoon the senator is still overseas and would have no comment. The State Department would also not comment -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Democratic Congressman Patrick Kennedy was with him on that mission, as well.

TODD: Right.

BLITZER: What are you hearing about this notion that Benazir Bhutto was also planning to share this secret file with some of the U.S. presidential candidates?

TODD: Well, a source close to Bhutto says after she showed it to Specter's delegation, she had plans to give it to Democratic Senators Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton. It obviously never got that far and their aides today would not comment on this dossier.

BLITZER: Brian Todd, thanks very much.

A senior Pakistani official is flatly dismissing allegations of a vote rigging plot by the government, but suggests Benazir Bhutto's death was the result of a Taliban or Al Qaeda plot.

Retired Pakistani Major General Rashid Qureshi is the top spokesman for the president, Pervez Musharraf.

General Quireshi, we've now obtained a copy of this 60-page secret report that Benazir Bhutto had prepared, made available to some local politicians and supposedly was planning on making available to two U.S. lawmakers the next day, the day after she was killed and it makes some very serious charges that the government of Pakistan was working to undermine any free and fair elections. First of all, have you seen this dossier, as it's called? Are you familiar with the charges it includes?

RASHID QUIRESHI, SPOKESMAN FOR PRES. MUSHARRAF: No, I'm not. Frankly, this the first time that I'm hearing of it.

BLITZER: In this dossier it says among other things that the government of President Pervez Musharraf and you're the chief spokesman for the president, was ready to fire at polling stations to drive voters away, to even kill people if necessary, to stuff ballot box, to intimidate opposition candidates, to tamper with voter lists and that it was, in fact, using some of the money that the U.S. has provided Pakistan to achieve these goals. I wonder if you want to respond. These are very serious allegations.

QUIRESHI: They are and I think they're just a pack of lies. I cannot imagine President Musharraf who has been trying for the last so many months for a national reconciliation, for political reconciliation and national consensus and that is the reason and that is how Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif came back to Pakistan and that's why the elections were being held.

And frankly, the president has said time and again that what Pakistan faces today as the greatest crisis and security is terrorism and extremism, for which the nation, the whole country doesn't unite to fight against this scourge. Pakistan will be in trouble. That is in issue the president has been dealing with. I think it's laughable. It's ridiculous.

BLITZER: Can you clarify what the position is on the investigation into the cause of the Benazir Bhutto?

QUIRESHI: Although in the attempts that were made on the life of the president himself, Pakistan did not involve any foreign country. However, he will address the nation tomorrow. That is on Wednesday evening and I think he will answer these questions then for the whole of the nation to hear.

BLITZER: What about the killer or killers of Benazir Bhutto? Baitullah Mehsud, the Taliban leader in Pakistan, you've pointed the finger directly at him. What other evidence do you have that this was a Taliban or al Qaeda-related assassination?

QUIRESHI: What I've heard is what you may have heard. The ministry of interior, which is responsible for the investigation, said that they have intercepts of communications in the Pashto language where Baitullah Mehsud is talking to some person who talks about two individuals who took part in this assassination. I haven't gone into details frankly because we'll only be able to get the complete picture once the investigation is complete. But I have heard of various intercepts that were made which point to Baitullah Mehsud and his cronies.

BLITZER: One final question, is the government of Pakistan backing away from an early assertion that the actual cause of death was a fracture when she hit her head on that sunroof, the lever in that automobile, that van? Are you now open to this notion that she was actually killed at point blank range by gunfire?

QUIRESHI: I don't think any conclusion has been reached so far. However, in the allegations that the Pakistan People's Party and other people have been making, the government has offered to have the body exhumed and a post-mortem carried out. That will ensure that one is 100 percent sure as to what exactly was the wound, the injury that she suffered. There was part of the scalp that was injured and I think after the government offered this, the other people seem to hesitate, which clearly indicates that they do know the fact. However, people keep distorting them to the political advantage.

BLITZER: Major General Rashid Quireshi is the chief spokesman for President Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan. General Quireshi, thanks for joining us.

QUIREHSI: Thank you very much, Wolf.

(END VIDEOTAPE) BLITZER: Last-minute promises and appeals for support. Candidates making a final push in Iowa only two days before the caucuses. You're going to hear more of what they had to say today.

And are we headed back to the days of the hanging Chad? Several states finding serious problems with their electronic voting machines. They're scrambling right now to come up with alternatives. We'll update you.

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


BLITZER: Now more on the final push in Iowa where the nation's first caucuses are only two days away. Earlier, we heard from some of the republican candidates. Here's a closer look at the democrats in their own words on the campaign trail today.


SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Oil is moving quickly toward $100 a barrel. Global warming is happening, despite the denial of our current president. And we know that not only are those problems and others that we can talk about awaiting our next president, but, as in life, there's all the unexpected and unpredictable challenges and opportunities, as well. We need a president who is ready on day one.

GOV. BILL RICHARDSON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I have been a negotiator with countries like North Korea, Iran, Cuba, Iraq. I've got hostages out. I've gotten peace agreements, cease-fires that I can negotiate with diplomacy to resolve our problems. Our big problems today, you mentioned Pakistan. You mentioned Iran. The Middle East peace crisis. Iraq, I think I can negotiate a resolution to the Iraqi issue with democracy, not with force. And that's what I think I bring to the table.

SEN. CHRIS DODD (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We hear a lot of talk about firing people up and who can turn up the heat and who will fight harder than the next person. I admire people who want to fight, but at the end of the day people want to know if you can produce results at the end of those fights. We had enough of that, demo demonizing each other, blame game going on and the American people are sitting back and wondering if anybody can get anything done again here.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Our retirement system is in tatters leaving seniors insecure. In this defining moment, we cannot afford to wait. We can't wait to provide health care to people who need it. We cannot wait to provide good jobs and good wages and a pension you can count on. We cannot wait to fix our schools. We cannot wait to halt global warming. We cannot wait to bring an end to this war in Iraq. We cannot wait!

JOHN EDWARDS (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It's not complicated. The biggest companies in America, their profits are through the roof. The richest Americans are getting much richer. At what cost? At what cost? The cost is damage to the middle class. The cost is killing the promise of America, for our children and for our grandchildren. We can't stand idly by and let this continue to happen. We can't. It's time for us to speak up. It is time for us to stand up. It is time for us to say enough is enough.

SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'd like people to know that all the years I've been in politics, my republican colleagues and my democratic colleagues have never questioned my word. Never questioned that I do anything other than I say and I mean what I say, I decided when I ran this time to say exactly what I would do, lay out like I have in the war in Iraq and Pakistan and the only one that has laid out a position, the detailed position on each of the major crisis facing the country.


BLITZER: Senator Barack Obama is in a statistical tie right now with Senator Hillary Clinton, according to our brand-new polling, as well as a separate Des Moines Register poll.

Let's go out to Iowa. Our Congressional correspondent, Jessica Yellin, is standing by. Let's talk a little bit about what Obama was doing today. What was he doing?

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Wolf. Well, Obama was driving home his message he is the candidate who can bring change.

The most recent Des Moines Register poll paper that carries enormous weight here in Iowa showed that most voters, democratic caucus goers here, value change even above experience as the number one motivating factor in their vote or who they will cast their caucus ballot for and that works to Senator Obama's advantage. And still why Obama was way ahead in the Des Moines Register poll, he is not necessarily ahead in other polls.

The campaigns at this point are spinning like crazy because, you know, it wouldn't be crunch time without campaign spin. What we're seeing on the trail is all three democrats pushing as aggressively as ever. John Edwards on the stump on a 36-hour barn storming tour of the state; he'll be holding rallies as late as midnight tonight and beyond. Senator Clinton also on the trail promoting her message that she has the track record of creating change and that should make voters believe she will make good on her promises and then Senator Barack Obama on the trail with his wife and kids at one point. He got an unexpected boost today when Congressman Dennis Kucinich also in this race asked his supporters, Kucinich supporters, to make Barack Obama their second choice on caucus night. That matters here and could deliver Iowa to Obama. We'll see.

These voters are still hearing from all the candidates. As the campaigns organize their precinct leaders to get out the vote, it could be the most aggressive voter turnout effort the state has ever seen and the largest turnout this state has ever seen. Barack Obama, in particular, is counting on a massive turnout to deliver him a victory but really, no one knows at this point who will win. Really, it could go to anyone and it is such a wide-open fluid race with so many undecided voters at this point that it looks like it will be right down to the wire caucus night. Wolf?

BLITZER: A cliffhanger indeed. All right. Jessica, thanks very much. Jessica will be staying out in Iowa for us.

A mission to rescue hostages held out in the jungle for years. Taking part, Venezuela's Hugo Chavez, and a famous Hollywood director but now, something has gone very wrong.

And democratic presidential candidate John Edwards laying out his plan for his first few days as in an Edwards' presidency; we're going to have my one-on-one interview with John Edwards. That's coming up right here on THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Hostages held for years in a South American jungle. A delicate negotiation involving a top Hollywood director and America's arch foe Hugo Chavez and now a rescue effort put on hold.

Let's get the latest from CNN's Deborah Feyerick. She's watching the sad story unfold for us. What's the latest, Deb?

DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well Wolf, many people in the international community had high hopes that releasing some of the hostages might actually trigger the release of others, including three Americans who have been held by Colombian rebels for almost five years. Those hopes were shattered and, once again, the fate of the missing remains uncertain.


FEYERICK: The mission was all arranged. Fly to Columbia, wait for word from guerilla fighters deep in the jungle, then rescue three hostages. The deal brokered by neighboring Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez consisted of trading hostages for rebels jailed in Colombian prisons. But the deal fell apart. And the delegation led by Chavez and including U.S. filmmaker Oliver Stone, left empty handed.

OLIVER STONE, FILMARKER: I think the Colombian government doesn't have any interest in making this happening. There is no motive. They have no motive not to let go of these hostages.

FEYERICK: In a letter FARC, short for the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia, blamed government military operations in the area saying, "To persist with this under such conditions could be to put the lives of the people to be released and all our other prisoners of war in grave danger."

Under the deal, the rebels were to release two politicians, former Congresswoman Consuelo Gonzales and former V.P. candidate, Clara Rojas, both held for about six years. They also agreed to release Rojas's now 3-year-old son fathered by one of the rebels. Colombian president, Alvaro Uribe, accused the rebels of lying saying the deal fell apart because the rebels do not have Rojas' little boy, who he claims was turned over to social services when he was an infant.

The rebels are holding more than 40 other high-profile hostages; among them, three American contractors working for the Pentagon who were tracking cocaine laboratories when they were captured. And Ingrid Betancourt, a dual French Colombian nation who was running for president of Columbia when she was kidnapped in 2002.


FEYERICK: Now, more than 20 hostages have been killed since May of 2003. They include soldiers, provincial lawmakers, even a former defense minister. Two people did manage to escape this year. The rebels reportedly have standing orders to kill hostages if government security forces launch an attack or try to rescue any of the hostages.

And the animosity runs deep, Wolf. The Colombian government ordered the army to try to capture the rebel delegates who were on their way to President Chavez to begin talking about this negotiated release. Wolf?

BLITZER: Deb Feyerick, thanks very much for that update.

The year 2007 brought with it the promise that North Korea might voluntarily give up its nuclear ambitions but the new year has rekindled suspicions the secretive Stalin estate might be back to its old days, its old tricks of stalling and stalling and covering up. Our senior Pentagon correspondent Jamie McIntyre takes a closer look back and a look ahead. Jamie?

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SENIOR PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf three months ago, North Korea promised as a first step toward giving up nuclear weapons to disable three key nuclear facilities and its aging Yongbyon nuclear reactor where it had produced weapons' grade plutonium. Under the deal, it was supposed to provide proof by the end of 2007 that Yongbyon was shut down as well as provide a declaration outlining the full extent of all of its nuclear program.

In return, the energy starved country was to get 1 million tons of oil from the United States, South Korea, China and Russia. Already about 150,000 tons of that oil have been delivered.

But that December 31st deadline came and went without the regime of Kim Jong-il providing any formal documentation or a deadline. Over the weekend when it was clear that no declaration was forthcoming, the U.S. State Department released a statement expressing disappointment, but downplaying the delay. According to Deputy Spokesman Tom Casey, "It is unfortunate that North Korea has not yet met its commitments," but he added, "The U.S. will continue to work with our close allies as we urge North Korea to deliver a complete and correct declaration of all its nuclear weapons programs."

The United States suspects that North Korea is not coming clean about its past nuclear efforts. For instance, it denies having had a secret uranium enrichment program, something that the U.S. intelligence community disputes.

Another sticking point is Kim Jong-il wants the U.S. to remove North Korea from list of terrorist sponsors. President Bush insists that the promises must be kept first.

You know, for years the Bush administration dealt with North Korea by issuing non-negotiable demands but since the north tested a nuclear device back in 2006, the U.S. has been relying more on offers of aid and political concessions and that has resulted in what the White House says is significant progress. Wolf?

BLITZER: Well, let's see if they live up to their commitments. Thanks very much, Jamie, for that.

Only days before the first voting in the race for the White House, could your blackberry actually taint an election? There are some serious new problems emerging with electronic voting machines. We're watching this store for you.

Plus, critics call them the angry candidate and John Edwards is responding. He's here in THE SITUATION ROOM with me.

Stay with us. We'll be right back.


BLITZER: As primaries draw near, some states are finding serious problems already with their electronic voting machines and they're ready to give e-voting a grade of "F." Let's go back to Carol. She is watching it for us. Carol, what are you learning?

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know Wolf you would think after all the problems we had with hanging Chads in 2000 and voting machine malfunctions in 2004 and 2006, voting machines across the country would work by now. But a few days before caucuses and primaries get under way, they're not.


COSTELLO: An accurate, trustworthy election. It's something Americans feel they are entitled to but fear they will not get, a full seven years after Florida's voting debacle. Listen to this undecided democratic voter in Iowa.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I want to know if we have another dirty election and you're the candidate, if you think it is dirty, I want to know, will you back off, like our other two, Gore and Kerry did, or will you fight?

OBAMA: Well, let me tell you this. First of all, I intend to whoop them so good that it won't even be close and they can't steal the election.

COSTELLO: Obama's tone was light and concerns among voters, democrats and republicans, are valid. In December alone, election officials in Ohio and Colorado declared widely used brands of electronic voting machines unfit. Ohio holds its primary in March.

JENNIFER BRUNNER, OHIO SECRETARY OF STATE: They have done the job in the past with difficulty and I could probably best analogize it to a vehicle with a bad axle that at some point the wheels are going to fall off and we're just going to be hopeful that in using them for one more election that we'll be able to get through.

COSTELLO: And these electronic machines were supposed to be fail proof. You touch, you vote, no paper, no hanging Chads, no Florida 2000 deja vu. But Colorado secretary of state says there's a big problem with the machines used there. They aren't secure. A magnet can shut them down. A blackberry or a trio can corrupt the system.

MIKE COFFMAN, COLORADO SECRETARY OF STATE: At the end of the day, what I think is most important is that the voters have confidence that this equipment is secure from being tampered with and that their votes could be accurately counted.

COSTELLO: To assure that, Coffman will meet with the machines' manufacturers to persuade them to fix the problems. He maintains all will be well by Colorado's August primary. If not, all joking aside, it could get ugly.

OBAMA: If, for any reason this thing is close, we will fight it tooth and nail until the end because too much is at stake in this election.


COSTELLO: It's scary, isn't it? Some states are actually thinking of going back to paper ballots like Ohio. Do keep in mind, there is no documented evidence of election tampering using these disputed electronic machines and the people who make them have faith in them, saying individual states have their own certification standards, which complicates things for the manufacturers. Wolf?

BLITZER: Sounds like a mess in the happening. All right. We'll watch this story with you, Carol. Thanks very much.