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Campaign Updates; Vegas Casino Fire; Saddam Interrogation Details

Aired January 25, 2008 - 17:00   ET


BLITZER: Saddam Hussein himself said his weapons of mass destruction were little more than a mirage. That word now coming from his FBI interrogator, who spent several months with the ex-dictator. We're going to tell you what other secrets Saddam Hussein may have revealed.
And the tale of the text messages. -- Detroit's mayor caught up right now in a very embarrassing scandal, with allegations of an affair and -- and possible perjury.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.


With only hours to go before the South Carolina primary, Democrats are making one last push, as Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama continue to slug it out, John Edwards is reminding voters that there are three candidates in this Democratic race.


JOHN EDWARDS, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The media, from my perspective, has been obsessed with the two glamour candidates, who have over $100 million each. And what I've learned is I'm the underdog and I'm out here fighting in the trenches. And what I have seen over and over -- at the debates, for example -- is when undecided voters watch the debates and they actually hear what I have to say, they almost universally move in my direction.


BLITZER: As far as South Carolina goes, Republicans have been there, done that. They're looking ahead to Tuesday's primary in Florida. The best political team on television will look at both of these contests. Much more on these stories coming up this hour and next.

But let's move to another story that we've been following most of the afternoon -- a stunning sight that shut down part of the Las Vegas strip. Flames shooting from the top of a giant hotel and casino, forcing thousands of people to evacuate. The fire is now out, thank God, but the investigation is only just beginning.

Let's turn to Carol Costello. She's been following the story for us.

What's the latest?

Those pictures hours ago -- only a few hours ago -- were oh so dramatic.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I think it happened at 11:00 a.m. And that would be Las Vegas time. As you said, Wolf, the fire is out, but, boy, was it a bear to fight.

The best news -- everybody got out OK. But what an ordeal. This hotel is 32 stories high. It has more than 3,000 rooms. Maids and firefighters went door-to-door banging on each one shouting, "Fire! get out!" One bride in her wedding dress was seen running from the hotel. This is what firefighters had to say.


ED CAGALO, CLARK COUNTY, NEVADA FIRE DEPARTMENT: High rise fires are never easy to fight. And, as you can see, with it being outside, our firefighters actually had to hang out the windows to try and cut the fire off while we directed our fire streams at an angle where we could make contact with the fire. So it wasn't an easy fire at all.


COSTELLO: It was not, but they got it out. Firefighters aren't sure how much damage was done. It appears that mostly the outside facade of the building burned. And that's a good thing, because the hotel's most expensive suites are on those top floors. No word on what caused the fire, Wolf, but there were welders working up there just before the flames broke out.

BLITZER: Well, when we get some more information, we'll share it with our viewers.

Carol, thanks very much.

Let's move on, though, to other news that we're following right now.

It seems Saddam Hussein may have revealed a number of secrets during his long hours and hours of interrogation -- and including an admission that his arsenal -- his deadly weapons of mass destruction were actually a mirage.

Let's go to Brian Todd.

He's watching this story for us.

What are you learning -- Brian.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, while he was in U.S. custody, Saddam Hussein spent a lot of time with a 36-year-old FBI interrogator named George Piro. What that young agent says Saddam told him throws more cold water on the justification for war.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) TODD (voice-over): War over weapons of mass destruction. But the man who allegedly had those weapons told his interrogator it was mostly smoke and mirrors. FBI special agent George Piro, who questioned Saddam Hussein every day, at least five hours a day for nearly seven months, says Saddam told him he was bluffing about having WMD and didn't expect the United States to invade, but faked a weapons program because he was afraid that Iran would.

A clip of Piro's interview with CBS' "60 Minutes" is on the network's Web site. Another surprise from Saddam, according to Piro, he'd stayed one step of ahead of U.S. forces on the night major combat operations started.

GEORGE PIRO, FBI SPECIAL AGENT: He said that he was at -- at one of the locations. He said it in a kind of a bragging fashion, that he was there but that we missed him. And he wasn't bothered by the fact that he was there. It was more of the fact that he was there, but we still weren't able to -- to get him.

TODD: The full interview with Piro can be seen on "60 Minutes" on Sunday.

We spoke with Ron Kessler, who interviewed Piro for his new book, "The Terrorist Watch." Piro told Kessler Saddam was a neat freak who would wash his hands compulsively if he ever shook yours. "The former Iraqi president also flirted with an American nurse while in custody," writes Kessler, and had plenty of romantic advice for his young FBI handler.

RONALD KESSLER, AUTHOR, "THE TERRORIST WATCH": Saddam said, you know, Arab women are better at a certain age because they'll be loyal to you and American women are too independent.

TODD: The agent told Kessler when it was time to part ways, he smoked Cuban cigars with Saddam Hussein. Then...

KESSLER: They hugged each other in the traditional Arab way, which made George rather uncomfortable. But then -- then Saddam definitely was shaken and teared up.


TODD: George Piro told Kessler he found Saddam Hussein likable, with a good sense of humor. But Piro said he never forgot what an evil man Saddam was and said he felt his conviction and execution were fair -- Wolf.

BLITZER: What other personal information about Saddam Hussein are we learning?

TODD: Well, Kessler writes that Saddam told George Piro that he didn't trust his younger son, Qusai, even though he had groomed Qusai to be a successor. When Piro pressed Saddam on his sons, Kessler writes, Saddam said, "Look, leave me alone. You don't get to pick your kids. You're stuck with what you're given and this is what I had."

BLITZER: Brian Todd, thanks very much.

Fascinating material.

Last night at the Republican presidential debate down in Boca Raton, Florida, all the Republican candidates were asked whether they -- whether the war against Saddam Hussein was actually worth it in terms of blood and treasure, even though the U.S. has never found any weapons of mass destruction.

Here's the gist of what they all said.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It was a good idea. It was not worth the failures that happened, but it is worth it at the end of the day, because we will have peace and success in the Middle East and our men and women will return and return with honor. And they won't have to go back and now fight Al Qaeda there.

RUDY GIULIANI (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm for it not because of polls, but because American is in a war -- an Islamic terrorist war against us. America has to succeed in Iraq. And the goal in Iraq is an Iraq that's stable and an ally of the United States. And to be president of the United States, you have to be able to read polls, but you can't have them push you around.

RON PAUL (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The Al Qaeda wasn't there then. They're there now. They were no weapons of mass destruction, had nothing to do with 9/11. There was no aggression. This decision on policy was made in 1998, under the previous administration, because they called for the removal of Saddam Hussein. It wasn't worth it. And it's a sad story because we started that war and we should never be a country that starts war needlessly.

MIKE HUCKABEE (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Now everybody can look back and say oh, well, we didn't find the weapons. It doesn't mean they weren't there. Just because you didn't find every Easter egg, doesn't mean it wasn't planted. My point is that when the president acted, this country was united in believing it was a necessary thing to do. It's easy to second guess a president. Whoever of us is elected, we'll be second guessed, too. But I hope we have the courage and the resolve, once we commit to something, to make sure we don't back away just because the polls say we should.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Governor Romney, was the war in Iraq a good idea worth the cost in blood and treasure we have spent?

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It was the right decision to go into Iraq. I supported it at the time. I support it now. It was not well managed in the -- after the takedown of Saddam Hussein and his military. That was done brilliantly -- an extraordinary success. But in the years that followed, it was not what -- we were under managed, under prepared, under planned, under staffed. And then we came into the phase that we have now. The plan that President Bush and General Petraeus put together is working. It's changing lives there. And, perhaps most importantly, it's making sure that Al Qaeda and no other group like them is becoming a superpower, if you will, in the communities and having a safe haven from which they launch attacks against us.


BLITZER: So with the exception of Ron Paul, all of the Republican president candidates say the war against Saddam Hussein was definitely, in their opinion, worth it.

A Minnesota flight instructor was awarded $5 million this week. It was a U.S. government award for helping to convict 9/11 conspirator and former flight student, Zacarias Moussaoui.

But were two other tipsters and fellow instructors short-changed?

Let's get some specifics now from our justice correspondent, Kelli Arena, who's watching this story.

What's this all about -- Kelli.

KELLI ARENA, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, one U.S. senator wants to know why two other men didn't get part of that reward for their help in the Moussaoui investigation. Senator Norm Coleman asked the State Department to see what could be done to ensure that they, too, receive the credit that they're due.


ARENA (voice-over): They're good friends -- military veterans who work together at the same flight school in Minnesota. Hugh Sims and Tim Nelson are also the men who alerted the FBI about a suspicious student named Zacarias Moussaoui in August of 2001.

HUGH SIMS, FORMER PAN AM INSTRUCTOR: I explained to them that we had a student at the Pan Am flight academy that I think is asking for training that could become dangerous.

ARENA: In fact, of all the Americans Moussaoui ran into, Nelson and Sims were the only ones known to have called the FBI. In fact, they were recognized by the Senate for their bravery.

So the men were shocked to learn that another flight instructor they worked with was just given a $5 million State Department reward for his help in the Moussaoui case.

TIM NELSON, FORMER PAN AM INSTRUCTOR: I was just totally dumbfounded.

ACOSTA: So just who is $5 million richer?

Officials say it's instructor Clancy Prevost. Prevost also noted something odd about Moussaoui and asked his bosses to call the FBI. But for him, it ended there -- until he testified at Moussaoui's trial.

NELSON: Are we paying people to testify or are we paying people to do the right thing? ARENA: Sims and Nelson went much further. They called the FBI themselves -- bypassing their bosses, who were reluctant to turn in a paying customer -- risking their jobs and reputations. They got nothing.

Prevost could not be reached for comment. The State Department, which awarded Prevost the money privately, would not comment on specifics.

TOM CASEY, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESMAN: The Rewards for Justice program operates on the basis of nominations. So a U.S. law enforcement agency would have made a nomination of this individual.


ARENA: A U.S. official says that it was the FBI that made the recommendation. He says the bureau considered information about Sims and Nelson, but only nominated Prevost. The FBI, Wolf, had no comment.

BLITZER: Kelli Arena, thanks very much for that.

Let's go back to Jack Cafferty.

He's got The Cafferty File -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: It's all about the system, isn't it, when you get to Washington, D.C.?

BLITZER: A little bureau...

CAFFERTY: It doesn't matter...

BLITZER: A little bureaucracy going on.

CAFFERTY: Yes. It doesn't matter whether the right thing is done or not, it's well, we've got this system and this is the way the system handles it so -- so don't ask. Amazing.

John McCain is getting no love from the Republican base. This is according to his 95-year-old mother -- a delightful lady, Robert McCain. She says she's seen her son get no help whatsoever from the Republican base. Nevertheless, Mrs. McCain says that he can go onto win the nomination. She says: "I think holding their nose, they're going to have to take him." You've got to love it.


ROBERT MCCAIN, JOHN MCCAIN'S MOTHER: Now I'm really popping off, but he worked like a dog to get Bush reelected. He ever -- he's backed Bush in everything except Rumsfeld.

Have you heard other senators and Congressmen backing Bush over eight years?

Find me -- give me a name. And I've never seen any public recognition for the work that he's done for the Republican Party. (END VIDEO CLIP)

CAFFERTY: It doesn't get any better than that. I wish she'd run for president.

And when asked about his mother's comments, McCain said that although he loves her dearly, they do disagree on some things. He joked that given his mom's age -- 95 -- she should get a little latitude for her candid remarks. McCain also pointed to the fact that he won more Republican votes than any other candidate in both South Carolina and New Hampshire. He says the support he got from Independents should show conservatives that he's the most electable candidate come the general election.

But his mother might well have a point. Mom knows best, you know, sometimes. McCain has tough critics within the conservative establishment. This includes people like former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, former Senator Rick Santorum and conservative talk show hosts like Rush Limbaugh. A lot of them are disgusted with positions McCain has taken on issues like immigration, campaign finance reform, his decision to work with Joe Lieberman on global warming and his opposition to President Bush's tax cuts.

So here's the question -- John McCain's mother says he has no support from the Republican base.

Is she right?

Go to and post a comment on my blog.

She's terrific, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, 95. God bless her.

Thanks very much.


BLITZER: Jack Cafferty will be back shortly.

We've seen recessions before, but what if the next one -- if there is a next one -- is different?

We're going to show you why some fear the U.S. economy is plunging into some very dangerous, uncharted waters.

Also, you're going to find out why Barack Obama needs to win South Carolina's primary and what his biggest challenge may still be.

Also this -- reports of secret sexy text messages spark a scandal at Detroit's city hall, with the mayor at the center of it all.

Stay with us.



BLITZER: Six hours before their South Carolina primary, the Democratic presidential candidates are making their final push right now. And Hillary Clinton says one issue stands above all the others.


SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think the economy has to be our primary focus right now. We can talk a lot about all kinds of other issues, but if we don't begin to try turn our economy around, so much of what we hope to do will not be possible. And we have some immediate problems because the bad policies -- the failed approaches of President Bush are now coming home to roost. We've got to begin by recognizing people are hurting. This is not an abstraction. This is not a conversation for some kind of talk show.


BLITZER: Wall Street's bulls stopped stampeding today. U.S. markets were down after two big up days. The Dow fell more than 171 points. There's still a lot of fear out there that when it comes to the economy, there possibly -- possibly could be a recession.

And joining us now, our special correspondent, Frank Sesno, with this week's What If? Segment.

What if this potential recession is different?


And you know something?

There's a lot of talk of stimulating the economy.

The question is, what impact does any of this have?

We're up against some powerful forces here -- of course, housing right at the center of it.

Take a look at this. We just learned, for example, that in December, single family home sales dropped 13 percent -- the worst in 25 years. We learned last week that construction on new home -- new home construction dropped 25 percent -- nearly 25 percent -- worst in 27 years. And this. The median price of a single family home down 1.8 percent last year. It doesn't sound like much, but it may be the first time housing prices actually dropped year to year since the Great Depression.

It shows just exactly what we're up against.


SESNO (voice-over): What if this recession everyone keeps talking about -- if there is a recession -- is somehow different?

What if it's not just your run of the mill business cycle, but something bigger?

A housing bubble gone bad piled on top of a credit crisis rolling across a global banking system -- with more damage to come. It means Washington's stimulus package and lower interest rates might not have the impact they once had on the American economy.

GEORGE BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: These challenges are slowing growth.

SESNO: It means construction, mortgage payments, home values, consumer spending and business activity may take longer to turn around.

What if something bigger is going on here?

A lot of people worry about that. It's one reason this roller coaster has throttled to warp speed -- ups and downs all around the world -- and why there's all that high prices hand wringing in Davos, Switzerland, at the World Economic Forum, where some brokers have warned of a wave of defaults -- from car loans to corporate bonds and an end to the global dominance of the dollar, of a prolonged bear market, where there's been talk about new economic order, where China and India are the engines of growth and Kuwait, Singapore and Abu Dhabi the world's big investors.

What if the sky is falling?

It's not. But the game is changing. And this probably isn't just another business cycle. It's boom to bust meets globalization -- and no one knows exactly where we're going to end up.


SESNO: Which is why there's so much heartburn, Wolf.

And take a look at this guy. Look at that expression. A trader on Wall Street. That pretty much says it all.

But I want to ask you, nonetheless -- and Wall Street is taking this chop -- has taken it on the chops. Bonuses are down. See how you do, though.

What is the average bonus on Wall Street last year -- $62,000, $94,000, $122,000 or $180,000?

BLITZER: I'll go with D, $180,000.

SESNO: You're right, Wolf. You hang out with the right crowd, I guess, on Wall Street.


SESNO: $180,000. So even though it was a tough year and bonuses are down, they're still doing $180,000. And that's why there are still houses in the Hamptons that you can rent for $100,000 for a month. So this is a big, powerful economy. A lot of forces at work here. We just really don't know where it's going. That's why the stimulus package matters, but why we don't know what the impact is really going to be.

BLITZER: Frank Sesno, a good report.

Thanks very much.

SESNO: You're welcome.


BLITZER: It's the final push in South Carolina -- a crucial primary for Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama and John Edwards. Only hours away the voting will begin. We're going to show you the challenges the candidates are facing.

Plus, residents claim the road to victory in Florida's primary passes through one retirement community. You're going to find out what people there are saying on this, the day before the vote.

Stay with us.



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

What's the latest -- Carol?

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, birth control pills may do more than prevent pregnancies. They may also provide long-term protection against ovarian cancer. A British study says women taking the pill for 15 years cut their chances of developing ovarian cancer in half. And the risk stays low for decades. Experts estimate oral contraceptives have prevented 200,000 cases and 100,000 deaths.

Prosecutors have now rested their case in actor Wesley Snipes' federal tax evasion trial, but not before an IRS official testified that Snipes told the agency he was a nonresident alien in the United States. That's according to the "Ocala Star Banner." The paper also reports that the official testified that Snipes accused the agency in a letter of lying in order to "terrorize, enslave, rape or pillage taxpayers."

A puzzling revelation in the death of actor Heath Ledger. New York police say the masseuse who found him unconscious spent nine minutes making three phone calls to Ledger's friend, the actress Mary- Kate Olsen, before she finally called 911. And she made another call to Olsen after the paramedics arrived. Police say the calls have no bearing in the investigation because Ledger was dead at that time and they won't be talking to Olsen.

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

BLITZER: Carol, thanks very much for that. We'll check back with you shortly.

Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama each facing hurdles ahead of tomorrow's South Carolina Democratic primary.

We're going to show you what both campaigns are now doing to try to secure a much needed win.

Also, the steamy text messages that you were never to meant to see -- allegedly from a big city mayor to his mistress. We're watching this story.

And they may help decide the winner of Florida's Republican primary. Find out which way they're leaning. We'll tell you what's going on.

All that coming up right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


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

Happening now, violent clashes as Egyptian forces try to keep Gaza Palestinians from crossing the border. Palestinians reacted by using bulldozers to open up new holes in the border wall, which was first breached two days ago. We'll hear what Queen Rania of Jordan has to say about this.

Also, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf says his troops are better able to deal with Al Qaeda and the Taliban than U.S. forces. CNN has learned the Pentagon is reviewing plans that could put U.S. military trainers on the ground in Pakistan. President Musharraf says the U.S. should focus on Afghanistan.

And Lebanon's top terror investigator is among four people killed by a powerful ex-explosion in a Beirut suburb. It's the latest in a series of attacks that have escalated in Lebanon's current power vacuum. The country has been without a president since November.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.


South Carolina may be a critical state for Barack Obama right now. He's making a huge last minute push there, looking for every vote he can get.

Our own Suzanne Malveaux is joining us now from Columbia, South Carolina.

Explain why this is so important, Suzanne, what's going to happen tomorrow.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely, Wolf. This is a critical state for Barack Obama. He is working very, very hard for every vote. He's got a jam packed schedule. We've been traveling with him the whole day. Essentially, he's trying to win over the undecided voters. He's also trying to keep the kind of support he has.

So far the polls are showing he's up ahead from Hillary Clinton, but the one thing the campaign is doing is not taking this for granted. They realized that in the last two states.


MALVEAUX (voice-over): Obama needs this one. Winning South Carolina will put him back on equal footing with Senator Clinton. He needs to prove to voters his Iowa victory three weeks ago was not a fluke.

THOM MANN, BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: To maintain a position of rough parody with Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama needs to win in South Carolina.

MALVEAUX: Obama is talking issues with the folks he's got to work a little harder for, veterans.

BARACK OBAMA, (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I passed legislation to provide them with services.


OBAMA: A lot of the kids are raised by single mothers.

MALVEAUX: Older voters. His grass roots backgrounds have helped him organize college students and young African Americans eager for change. His audiences are usually diverse.

While Senator Clinton and her husband, the former president, have leaned heavily on the black establishment, such as civil rights leaders and pastors for support, most polls show Obama beating Clinton for the African-American vote, an important feat considering nearly 51 percent of South Carolina voters are black. Some polls suggest even if Obama wins the state, he may discover he has a more formidable challenge ahead. A new poll shows Obama leading Clinton by 8 percentage point, Edwards by 19. But Obama gets only 10 percent of the white vote, while Clinton and Edwards evenly split the rest, a potential problem for Obama looking ahead.

MANN: The concern all along has been the possibility of Obama, in spite of his broad non-racial appeal, of running poorly among whites.


MALVEAUX: Now, Wolf, there's one thing you should note about this poll. A note of caution here. 14 percent of the white vote is unaccounted for, undecided. So if they do decide to go for Barack Obama, it could dramatically change the picture.

I also spoke with Obama aides who said South Carolina is not a good litmus test for racial relations. They say look at the role that Senator John Edwards plays. Essentially, this is his home state. He's spent a lot of money and time here. He gets a significant portion of the white vote. They think he's not going to perform as well in further states down the road -- Wolf?

BLITZER: Suzanne Malveaux, watching this contest that will happen tomorrow. Thanks, Suzanne, in Columbia.

On the eve of the Democratic primary in South Carolina, next-door neighbor John Edwards is once again casting himself as the grown-up, pointing to the increasingly nasty campaigns waged by his rivals.


JOHN EDWARDS, (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Senator Clinton and Senator Obama this week have brought their New York and Chicago politics to South Carolina, fighting with each other, tearing each other down. South Carolina deserves better than that. While they're intent on tearing each other down, I'm intent on building up the people of South Carolina.


BLITZER: The two Democratic front-runners are really going after one another in South Carolina. We've seen that all week. Can the third candidate, though, John Edwards, do some real damage?

Let's talk about that and more with our CNN contributor, Carl Bernstein. His latest book now in paperback, "A Woman in Charge," about Hillary Clinton.

Carl, thanks for coming in.


BLITZER: It's pretty depressing for Obama. If he only winds up -- if he gets almost all of the black vote and doesn't get much of the white vote in South Carolina, that would be pretty depressing from his perspective, given the fact that he did so well among white voters in Iowa and New Hampshire where there are very few minorities.

BERNSTEIN: A lot of people in the Democratic Party, including some in the Clinton camp, who tell you that Bill Clinton was set out for just that purpose. That he's in fact played the race card, something a Clinton campaign will deny. The Obama campaign believes it. It's had real effect. There's great furry in the Obama camp at the Clintons, plural. There's real worry among senior Democrats in both camps that Bill Clinton may have hurt himself here. He's hurt his own credibility in the party. He no longer has the stature and admiration throughout the party that he had before he got in here and got his hands so dirty as he has.

BLITZER: You have spent a long time studying both the Clintons. You write about it extensively. When all is said and done though, if the strategy was deliberate, has it worked in helping his wife?

BERNSTEIN: There's no question it's deliberate. There's no question that it worked in New Hampshire. It seems to be cutting into Obama's support in South Carolina.

But Clinton, Bill Clinton is really out here because his wife had a near-death experience after Iowa and in Iowa. And now he's out to kill the other guy's campaign. As happens, when you set out to skill somebody in war, truth is often the first casualty. And so there's been an awful lot of rhetoric thrown around by Bill Clinton, by the Clinton campaign. A little bit back from the Obama campaign.

But I think there's a real feeling among a lot of people in the Democratic party that the Clintons have risked this reputation they have for being fast and loose with the truth in these last two states, and it could come back to haunt them. And at the same time, they try the win, and they seem to be having some effect by using these tactics.

BLITZER: Briefly, Carl, what do you see happening in Florida among the Republicans? They have their own huge contest on Tuesday.

BERNSTEIN: You know, I think speculating about the results of a primary is about the lowest form of reporting. I don't know. I think what's clear is that Rudy Giuliani has failed. That's the real thing. We have a two-way contest between McCain and Romney. It remains to be seen who is going to win that.

And at the same time that McCain has a great advantage that no other candidate has, whether it's Obama, whether it's Romney, whether it's Clinton, and that is that he has the press liking him. It's a huge factor.

BLITZER: Carl Bernstein helping us understand the situation. Carl, thank you for coming in.

Also, this programming note. You're going to want to watch the candidates' battle in California, the upcoming debates. They face off just before Super Tuesday. The Republican debate January 30th. That's Wednesday night. Anderson Cooper will moderate that debate at the Reagan Library. And the Democrats meet the next day. That's Thursday at the Kodak Theater in Los Angeles. I'll be moderating that one. Both of these CNN debates air at 8:00 p.m. eastern right here on CNN.

An alleged affair that could result in perjury charges for a big city mayor. We're going to show you how sexy text messages may have blown the cover.

Is McCain's mother right when she says he has no support from the Republican base?

Jack Cafferty with your e-mail and a lot more, coming up right here in "The Situation Room."


BLITZER: Detroit's mayor is caught up in a very, very embarrassing scandal. It catapults allegations of an affair and possible perjury into the headlines. Let's bring in Carol Costello. She's watching this story for us.

What's this all about, Carol?

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN NEWS CORRESPONDENT: This is such an ugly story involving alleged love messages like, "I've been dreaming about you all day laughing, talking, sleeping and making love." A lot of people in Detroit are mortified by this. The president of the union that represents city workers is calling for the mayor to resign.


COSTELLO (voice-over): Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick is in deep trouble now, possibly facing perjury charges. Last year he denied under oath that he had a sexual affair with his top aide. New evidence has emerged suggesting otherwise.

The evidence is among 14,000 text messages between the very married mayor and his chief of staff, Christine Beatty. This one from April of the 2003. Mayor Kilpatrick, "I'm at a Laker game. The security doesn't think I'm mayor." Beatty, "And did you miss me sexually?" Kilpatrick, "Hell, yeah! You couldn't tell. I want some more. Don't sleep."

The "Detroit Free Press" uncovered the text messages.

M.L. ELRICK, DETROIT FREE PRESS: You don't have to get more than two or three pages into it before you realize that nobody that wrote one of these messages thought any other person would read.

COSTELLO: The Wayne County prosecutor is now opening an investigation into the messages.

KYM WORTHY, WAYNE COUNTY PROSECUTOR: We will not be rushed by anyone or anything. We will only be influenced by the evidence and the facts that develop and nothing, I mean nothing else.

COSTELLO: The "Free Press" obtained the text messages while investigating the aftermath of a $6.5 million judgment against Mayor Kilpatrick and the cash-strapped city of Detroit. A jury found in favor of Detroit's deputy police chief and another officer who claimed they were unfairly dismissed. They have been investigating claims by two former bodyguards of the mayor that he used the security to hide the affair. The mayor denied it and the affair in sworn testimony, was angry when the jury ruled against him.

KWAME KILPATRICK, MAYOR OF DETROIT: I believe the verdict is incredibly wrong and doesn't reconcile at all in my mind with the facts that were presented in the case.

COSTELLO: But one of the text exchanges in September of 2002 reads like this. Kilpatrick, "They were right outside the door. They," (the mayor's bodyguards) "had to have heard everything." Beatty, "So we are officially busted? Laughing out loud." Kilpatrick, "Laughing out loud. Laughing out loud. Damn that. Never busted. Busted is what you see. Laughing out loud." As for what Mayor Kilpatrick is saying now, he issued the statement. "These six-year-old text messages reflect a very difficult period any my life. It is profoundly embarrassing. My wife and I worked our way through these intensely personal issues years ago."


And they are still together. The alleged mistress, Ms. Beatty, will remain on the job. I hear her home is now surrounded by police trying to protect her from the media.

BLITZER: Are all of these text messages kept on a written record?

COSTELLO: It's interesting, isn't it? You know, if you text using a regular phone with a regular service and you zap your text it's gone forever. The problem for Mayor Kilpatrick he used a Sky Writer, which looks like a Blackberry. It was issued to him by the city. It uses a wireless company that provides texting services for city governments. You know what, Wolf? It records each and every message. It keeps it on file with the date and the time.

BLITZER: Which mean if you're going to type it anywhere, be careful what you're typing.

COSTELLO: Yeah, if you use that service.

BLITZER: If you're using that. Probably, just better not to type it on any of these.

COSTELLO: Why take a chance?

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Carol Costello, for that report.

Courting Florida's political savvy seniors, the GOP candidates pay their respects. But they can't take these voters for granted.

And John McCain's 95-year-old mother says he has no support from the Republican base. Jack Cafferty is asking is she right. Stay with us, you're in "The Situation Room."


BLITZER: Florida seniors may hold the key in Florida's Republican primary on Tuesday. One by one the Republican candidates have been coming to visit some of the politically savvy retirees in central Florida and throughout the state. It's a mother-load of registered Republicans, at least in the central part of the state, but their votes certainly can't be taken for granted.

John Zarrella is covering the story for us.

You're in a place called The Villages. Well-known place out there. A lot of referees, a lot of seniors. You know what? They vote. JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Oh, boy, Wolf. They sure do. When you think of huge voting blocks of senior citizens what generally comes to behind are the Democratic retirement communities in southeast Florida. This is central Florida, Republican country. If you're Republican and you hope to win the state of Florida next Tuesday, you better make a pilgrimage to The Villages.


ZARRELLA (voice-over): Wednesday was lady's day on the golf courses. Just down the road, traveled more by golf carts than cars at the town center, the workout is under way.

This is The Villages. 68,000 people live in the well-healed retirement community nestles between Orlando and Ocala in central Florida. About half are registered Republicans. And they know they have clout, says Richard Cole, who heads the local Republican club.

RICHARD COLE, THE VILLAGES REPUBLICAN CLUB: The road to the chorus goes to Florida. The road to Florida goes through The Villages.

ZARRELLA: Cole believes 90 percent will vote. That has not been lost on the candidates. Before Tuesday's primary, all of the Republicans will have paid their respects at The Villages at least once.

SUSAN MACMANUS, PROFESSOR, UNIVERSITY OF SOUTH FLORIDA: One thing we know for sure, they do vote, and they can write a check to candidates.

ZARRELLA: For these seniors, the war and national security were the main issues but. As in most places, the economy is their number one concern right now. Savvy, well informed voters, they expect substance from the candidates.

COLE: We need specifics. And I think just political diatribes about we need this, we need that, yeah, we do. But the candidate who is going to get the votes is the one who is going do say here is my plan to do it.

ZARRELLA: On the other side of the coin, is Paul Collins.

PAUL COLLINS, THE VILLAGES DEMOCRATIC CLUB: We have our social security. We have our Medicare.

ZARRELLA: What Collins, who heads the local Democratic club, doesn't have is very many voters. They are nearly as many Independents as Democrats in The Villages.

PAUL COLLINS: It gives a whole new meaning to the world lonely.

ZARRELLA: Collins says it's been impossible to get candidates here.

COLLINS: Democratic leaders won't come here because they know it's a lost cause.

ZARRELLA: Collins admits this is Republican territory and being lonely is something he and other Democrats here will just have to get used to.


ZARRELLA: What's interesting when you talk to the senior citizens retirees here a lot of them you would think would say social security is important, health care, and certainly those are important issues, but they will tell you that that's an issue that's more important to baby boomers like us because they've got their social security. They've got their retirement pretty much in place, and that we're the ones, Wolf, who need to worry about that.

It's interesting, Wolf, they did a straw poll here, Mitt Romney got 86; Rudy Giuliani 47; McCain 21; Huckabee 2. See how that reflects on Tuesday. If that's any indication -- Wolf?

BLITZER: Excellent report. Thanks very much. John Zarrella, doing great work for us. He always does good work for us.

Let's go to Jack Cafferty. He usually does good work, you know -- yeah.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANALYST: Hey, careful there. I'm very sensitive.

BLITZER: You always do great work, Jack. You know, John Zarrella is an excellent reporter. You know that?

CAFFERTY: He's terrific. I like John a lot.

The question this hour is John McCain's mother says he has no support from the Republican base. She's 95 and she's just delightful. We want to know if you think she's right.

Bob Rice from Louisville, Kentucky: "This begs the question, how do you define Republican base. If it is defined as the extreme, conservative wing of the party, the type of people who listen to Rush Limbaugh, he will not receive the support of the base. If you define it though as those who are supporters of Ronald Reagan, who never did subscribe to the views of those on the extreme right, then she's wrong. This contest for the Republican nomination is much like that between Eisenhower and Taft. In that election, the Republican Party proved that they can reject the candidate of the extreme right and still win the presidency."

Jannan writes: "He's lacks support from the Republican Party now, but you better believe those same people will be standing in line to ride his tailcoat if he comes out the front runner. He's less conservative than the people that criticized him and they can't stand it when he crosses party lines to unify the country."

Dan writes: "Mother McCain is right on the money. Not only about the Republican base liking McCain, but also about being a backer of President Bush. Unfortunately, mom is cutting him off at the legs. Hanging that support of Bush around his neck will destroy him in the general election."

Peter writes: "Considering the Republicans you named who are opposing him, McCain's mother should have said the base Republicans instead of the Republican base."

Evans writes: "I'm a registered Republican, but the way the party is now, to hear John McCain doesn't have the support of the establishment, that only makes me want to vote for him more. Maybe this time I won't regret my vote in four years." -- Wolf?

BLITZER: See you in a few moments, Jack. Thanks very much.

And with Super Tuesday only a week or so away, plenty of political videos from across the country are popping up online. A new site from YouTube helps us sort out all of these videos.

Let's back to our Internet Reporter Abbi Tatton. She's watching this.

What's on this new site, Abbi?

ABBI TATTON, CNN NEWS INTERNET REPORTER: Super Tuesday, February 5th, is when voters across the country get their voices heard in 24 states. We've been talking about online video since the candidates first got into the race. Now from YouTube they're trying to this help you make sense of it all from where you are in the country.

This lets you zoom in on the map. See what the candidates have been saying in your hometown.

This from a John Edwards rally in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.

You can see what the campaigns are doing in terms of web video. The McCain campaign has been very active in this area this week. This is web video from their campaign focusing in on how much his name has been mentioned.

There's a lot happening before February 5th. Notably, tomorrow, the Democratic primary. We're asking for your I-reports if you're in the state, in South Carolina tomorrow -- Wolf?

BLITZER: Abbi, thank you.

BLITZER: John Edwards is campaigning furiously ahead of the South Carolina primary. He's now taking aim at Barack Obama. Stay with us. You're in "The Situation Room."


BLITZER: At the World Economic Forum in Switzerland Becky Anderson sat down with Queen Rania. She expressed growing concern about the crisis along the Gaza-Egypt border and the plight of fellow Palestinians.


QUEEN RANIA: ... nor bombs are not going to bring peace to the region. I think what we're seeing today is just adding another layer of grievances to a situation that has been burdened by tragedy, destruction, death and heart ache. It really is a -- the humanitarian situation is extremely worrying at the moment.

I think what we're seeing here is just an act of desperation for people trying to provide for their children, for old people seeking medical care, seeking supplies. And I think the world attention needs to turn to this crisis. It is a violation of international norms and conventions. I think something needs to be done quickly.

BECKY ANDERSON, CNN NEWS CORRESPONDENT: You've called for support of Palestinians in Gaza. What would you say are the priorities at this point?

QUEEN RANIA: When you look at -- the humanitarian situation is pushed to collapse. A quarter of Palestinians the live in extreme poverty, unable to provide the basic necessities of life, of food, shelters and homes.

The real victims have been the children, who have been growing up now nutritionally stunted because they are unable to eat proper food, emotionally stunted because they're living under tremendous pressure with a threat of destruction and academically stunted because they are unable to study and concentrate under these circumstances.

So it is extremely important for us to reach out to these people, to make sure that we deal with the humanitarian issue, to make sure that we take care of the women and children who have nothing to do with the political processes in the first place. Because no matter how you cloak it, this is collective punishment to an entire population and it's in violation of international law.

ANDERSON: What do you think the international community can do to better help the humanitarian situation there?

QUEEN RANIA: First of all, we have to lift the siege. We have to stop the military aggression. And aid agencies have to be allowed to work there because, by all accounts, hearing from them, the humanitarian situation is extraordinarily terrible there. So aid needs to be allowed to move freely into the area. But most importantly, the real peace will only come once the political situation is settled. And we all know what needs to be done.