Return to Transcripts main page

THE SITUATION ROOM

"There is No Security Anymore;" Sympathy for the Taliban; Terror Arrests in Chicago; Swine Flu Skeptics

Aired October 27, 2009 - 17:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, what was so interesting to me, Wolf, is that this is as candid as I've heard him speak, specifically about the cost issue. Wolf, you and I have talked about this idea when talking about health care reform, distilling it down, it's about increasing access and decreasing costs.

I asked him very specifically about the cost side of it. Everyone knows, I think, that Massachusetts has one of the highest rates of insured now -- about 97, 98 percent. But they never dealt with this cost issue. That is simply not a luxury that the -- at the national level, people have. You have to deal with cost and access.

So he had some very specific ideas about how to do both. But he was very clear and, I think, candid that Massachusetts -- they haven't dealt with the cost maybe the way that he would have liked to have done or the way we -- the way they would at a national level.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Sanjay, thanks very much.

We'll see you back here in our 600 p.m. Eastern hour.

Don't forget Sanjay's weekend show here on CNN Saturday and Sunday mornings, "HOUSE CALL." You'll want to see that, 7:30 a.m. Eastern.

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

Happening now, new surveillance video of two powerful explosions that have thrust Iraq back into the grip of terror. Dramatic new images of twin terror attacks that have Iraqis laying blame, this time, though, not with the United States.

A stunning verdict -- a controversial church convicted of organized fraud -- what impact will it have on Scientology and its followers around the world?

I'm Wolf Blitzer.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM. We begin this hour with horrifying new video of the deadliest terror attacks to strike Iraq in more than two years. Surveillance cameras captured the twin blasts outside two government buildings on Sunday that killed at least 155 people, including dozens of children on a bus, and injured more than 500 people. The carnage is reawakening the gnawing fear that many Iraqis hoped was part of their hope. Now, they are once again living in terror and many of them are blaming their own government. CNN's Mohammed Jamjoom is in Baghdad for us, watching what's going on -- I know, Mohammed, you've had a chance to speak with some of the survivors. The pictures are so devastating.

Tell us what you're seeing and -- and hearing.

MOHAMMED JAMJOOM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, while Iraqis here are questioning if their government is going to be able to effectively protect them, the politicians here have started spreading the blame around.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JAMJOOM (voice-over): The force of the blast threw Rawnaq against the wall of her office at the ministry of justice. She instantly thought of her two children in the day care center just two floors below.

RAWNAQ, MOTHER OF WOUNDED CHILDREN (through translator): I rushed downstairs and found all the children under the rubble. My daughter, Tabarek (ph), was standing near the stairs; my son, Hamudi (ph), outside. Me and a colleague, we took them out, running.

JAMJOOM: Tabarek (ph) is only three years old. She suffered severe head and back injuries. Tabarek (ph) will need some surgeries, but she'll be fine. She is one of the lucky ones.

Four children died in the ministry's kindergarten, 20 children overall, when the two suicide trucks exploded nearby -- the deadliest attacks in Iraq in more than two years. The second truck bomb destroyed the offices of the governor of Baghdad, who played security camera video today, showing suspect vehicles approaching the ministry of justice just seconds before the blast.

He didn't hesitate to point finger at political opponents.

SALAH ABDUL RAZZAQ, GOVERNOR OF BAGHDAD (through translator): If this was complacency, let's all those responsible for this be held responsible.

JAMJOOM: Already, there have been calls for the sacking of senior security officials.

RAZZAQ (through translator): I just got word that the provincial council met today and voted for a demand to fire the interior minister and the Baghdad operations commander.

JAMJOOM: With national elections scheduled to take place in less than three months, politicians are eager to blame each other for the lack of security. As with the attacks in August, the Islamic State of Iraq, the umbrella group for Al Qaeda in Iraq, has taken credit for the devastation, showing they are still capable of terrorizing the country.

RAWNAQ: We are afraid that if we go back to work, they will target us again. How can I take my daughter back with me to day care?

She survived this time. She may not survive the next one.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

JAMJOOM: We have spoken to so many traumatized Iraqis since these attacks. They are just simply outraged. And they keep asking the same question -- if their government can't even protect the heart of Central Baghdad, of the government district here, how is it going to protect the rest of the country -- Wolf?

BLITZER: Mohammed, is there any indication that this violence -- this terrorism that we've seen explode over these past few days, is going to have an effect on the schedule of the U.S. troop withdrawal from Iraq?

JAMJOOM: Wolf, that's the question that everybody is asking here. You know, when we were out at scene of the blast shortly after it happened, we saw American troops there. They had been called off their bases. They were back in the city. They were trying to help with the forensic investigation. That was at the request of the Iraqis.

Now, we've gotten no indication from the Americans that the troop drawdown schedule will be affected in any way. But we spoke to the foreign minister last week -- and this was before the blast. And he said to us, look, if there is political violence and chaos here and the situation is deteriorating, we can't believe that the Americans would leave us in a bad situation -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Lots of folks are really worried about what's happening in Iraq right now.

Thanks very much, Mohammed.

Be careful over there.

In what was already the deadliest year for Americans in Afghanistan, October has now become the deadliest month, with eight more U.S. troops killed by roadside bombs today. President Obama is weighing a request by the top U.S. military commander in Afghanistan for tens of thousands of additional troops. And supporters of a surge say the latest casualties underscore the urgency of the situation. They're pressuring the president to make a decision and to make that decision soon.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: First of all, I think it's vitally important -- and the tragic loss of young Americans at highest level in this entire war in the last couple of days should emphasize to anyone the importance of moving rapidly with the decision-making process. Every day that goes by without that decision being made, the more days there are where young Americans are unnecessarily in harm's way, in my view. So the events of the last couple of days, I believe, lend some urgency to this process. And so I hope that the president will make the decision as rapidly as possible.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: As the Obama administration mulls its next move in the troubled war, Afghans have their own thoughts on the situation, including considerable sympathy right now for the Taliban.

Our Pentagon correspondent, Chris Lawrence, is in Kabul.

He's watching this -- Chris?

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT:

Wolf, with so many voices arguing whether we're going to send more American troops and how many, this may be the most important voice we hear -- the Afghan people themselves, their feelings about the country and foreign forces.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LAWRENCE: (voice-over): A rumor that U.S. troops burned a Koran set off angry anti-Western demonstrations that lasted for days.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We do not have any proofs that the Americans have burned the Koran.

LAWRENCE: We sat down with the governor of the province where it allegedly happened. He blames insurgents spreading lies.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Enemies of peace, security and stability, and enemies of democracy, is behind spreading the rumors.

LAWRENCE: The non-incident shows how tenuous public opinion can be. But when it comes to what Afghans really think, a sweeping new poll reveals some surprises. The Asia Foundation interviewed more than 6,000 Afghans across every province. Forty-two percent of respondents think the country is moving in the right direction -- slightly up from last year. And although some American and European officials may not be willing to cut deals with the Taliban, a lot of Afghans are.

(on camera): More than 70 percent support the Afghan government's efforts to negotiate and reconcile with insurgents in order to improve the security situation here.

(voice-over): This may explain why. Well over half say they can somewhat sympathize with the insurgents' motivations. NATO's eventual exit strategy is based on Afghans taking over their own security. More than 90 percent of those polled say the Afghan Army is honest and fair. But nearly 70 percent say it can't operate without foreign troops. And if NATO commanders want to win hearts and minds, they might consider starting with Kunar Province, where one in five victims of violence say they were injured by foreign troops.

(END VIDEOTAPE) LAWRENCE: Very few people in the northern and central part of the country blame foreign forces for violence. That is a completely different story down in the southwestern part of the country -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thank you very much for that.

Chris Lawrence on the scene for us in Kabul.

Let's go to Jack Cafferty right now.

He's got "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: The next time your cell phone rings, ponder this -- an international study is expected to show that people who use cell phones frequently face a higher risk of getting brain tumors.

The British newspaper, "The Daily Telegraph," reports on a 10 year long study of 13,000 people in 13 different countries overseen by the World Health Organization. According to the paper, the report says a definitive link couldn't be proven, but several of the studies conducted seemed to show an increase in various kinds of brain cancers.

The report is due out before the end of this year. But lawmakers here in the U.S. are already focusing on this issue. Democratic Senator Tom Harkin has said that he's concerned that no one has been able to prove that cell phones don't cause cancer and promises his committee will take a look at that question. Harkin says it reminds him of the nation's experience with cigarettes and how long it took -- decades -- to prove that they, in fact, caused lung cancer.

Now, if the lobby for the wireless phone companies is as powerful as the tobacco lobby, well, then this could be a very long debate, couldn't it?

And cell phones are much more widely used than cigarettes. It's estimated 275 million people in the United States use them; four billion people worldwide. But so far, research hasn't established a definitive link between cell phones and different kinds of cancer, including brain tumors. But "The Telegraph" says this study contains evidence that there is, in fact, a link.

So here's the question: How concerned are you about possible health risks associated with cell phone use?

Go to CNN.com/caffertyfile and post a comment on my blog.

That's a pretty exhaustive study, Wolf -- 10 years, 13 countries, 13,000 people. They ought to have a pretty good storehouse of data.

BLITZER: Yes. A lot of people are concerned on this, there's no doubt about that.

And, Jack, have you seen, since you've come back from a few days off, the new and improved CNN.com Web site? CAFFERTY: I have.

BLITZER: It's pretty good, isn't it?

CAFFERTY: It's pretty cool.

BLITZER: Yes, it's great.

CAFFERTY: If you go to CNN Pulse -- is it news pulse or...

BLITZER: Yes.

CAFFERTY: That's -- and it -- and it gives you the top most popular stories of what's going on in all kinds of categories, whether it's world news, national news, sports, enter whatever you like. It's -- it's a very user friendly Web site. And on the...

BLITZER: And a lot of video.

CAFFERTY: And on the CNN politics page, there is a whole box devoted to The Cafferty File.

BLITZER: Well, that's one of my -- that's one of my favorite parts of CNNPolitics. It's a great Web site.

Guess how many followers I now have on Twitter, Jack?

CAFFERTY: I -- I couldn't begin to...

BLITZER: I'm over...

CAFFERTY: ...to come up with the right number.

BLITZER: I'm over 100,000 since we started just about a month or so ago.

CAFFERTY: Wow! That's good, right?

That's...

BLITZER: Yes, that's a lot. Yes, there it is -- Twitter.com/wolfblitzercnn.

CAFFERTY: And what did you tell them today on -- in your Tweets?

BLITZER: I told them about the Energy secretary, Steven Chu. I told them about Joe Lieberman. I told them that our CNN International viewers -- I was getting a lot of Tweets from our viewers around the world, the 600 p.m. Eastern hour of THE SITUATION ROOM is simulcast on CNN International, so it goes out all over the world, except this week. This week, for some time zone differences, they're not doing it. It will be back on CNN International next week.

But I was bombarded with Tweets from viewers all over the world saying, where's THE SITUATION ROOM?

Where's THE SITUATION ROOM?

CAFFERTY: Where are you?

BLITZER: Yes. So...

CAFFERTY: Sure.

BLITZER: So I -- I alerted them. I said don't get nervous, it's only this week, but we're there for you.

CAFFERTY: Well, and -- and let's let CNN International know that we're not happy about this and not to make a habit of preempting us during the 6:00 hour.

BLITZER: Well, you know, they've got stuff they've got to do sometimes.

CAFFERTY: (INAUDIBLE)...

BLITZER: But...

(CROSSTALK)

CAFFERTY: I don't want to hear that.

BLITZER: All right.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: I know. A lot of viewers didn't want to hear it, either, Jack.

CAFFERTY: OK.

BLITZER: Thank you, Jack.

Good to have Jack back.

A terror arrest in Chicago -- details of an alleged terror plot and what prosecutors say is a direct link to Al Qaeda.

Also, fears of the swine flu vaccine -- some people are refusing to get it.

Are their health concerns really justified or not?

We'll have a reality check.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: In our CNN Security Watch, two men are arrested on terror charges in Chicago. One of them is accused of meeting with a top Al Qaeda leader in Pakistan.

Our homeland security correspondent, Jeanne Meserve, is working the story for us -- Jeanne, what do we know? JEANNE MESERVE, HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the two men now arrested and charged were allegedly involved in a plot code named the Mickey Mouse Project. But authorities say there was nothing funny about it.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MESERVE: (voice-over): The Muslim world exploded with protests after a Danish newspaper published cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad in 2005. David Headley allegedly posted the comment: "I feel disposed toward violence for the offending parties for making fun of Islam."

Authorities allege he tried to follow through, planning terror strikes against the newspaper and later against an editor and the cartoonist, whose depictions, experts say, are still being used to inflame anti-Western sentiment.

FORNIA YOUNIS, FORMER FBI SPECIAL AGENT: The various jihadi groups have taken these cartoons and they are using the fact that Western media published these cartoons as a way to get Muslim people to fight against the West.

MESERVE: Court documents say Headley has admitted traveling to Denmark to do surveillance. He also allegedly traveled to the federally administered tribal area of Pakistan to meet Ilyas Kashmiri. A U.S. counterterrorism official describes Kashmiri as a key member of Al Qaeda and a leader of a Pakistani terror group known as HuJI. He is so important, he reportedly was the target of a drone attack earlier this year. He apparently survived.

Headley also allegedly admits working and training with a group responsible for the Mumbai terror attacks, Lashkar-e-Taiba.

PETER BERGEN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: This group, which was previously sort of a Kashmiri militant group with a focus on India, has now seen itself more as part of Al Qaeda's global jihad. The fact that these individuals are alleged to have made contact with them is pretty sobering.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MESERVE: Also charged, Canadian citizen Tahawwur Rana, who runs an immigration service in Chicago. He allegedly facilitated Headley's travel and helped conceal its purpose. He was arrested at his home. Headley was arrested earlier this month at Chicago's O'Hare Airport as he was embarking on another trip to Pakistan. According to court documents, his name was once Daoud Gilliani (ph). But he changed it around 2006 to raise less suspicion when he traveled.

And, also, Wolf, this late note. We reached Rana's attorney, who said his client is a well-respected businessman who adamantly denies the charges against him -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All these arrests we've seen in recent weeks -- very recent weeks, Jeanne, in New York and Colorado, Texas, Chicago, are they isolated?

Are they related to each other?

MESERVE: They do not appear to be related to one another. However, terrorism experts with whom we spoke today are very concerned. They say this is reflecting that there's a larger domestic terrorism problem than had previously been suspected.

BLITZER: Jeanne Meserve reporting for us.

Thanks very much.

Skeptics about the government-declared swine flu emergency protested outside a fundraiser attended by President Obama yesterday.

Mary Snow has been looking into their claims that the swine flu threat is being exaggerated, that the vaccine may actually be dangerous -- all right, Mary, update our viewers.

What do we know?

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, we've talked to some doctors who are telling us the same thing. Despite all the public assurances, there's still a lot of anxiety among their patients about the H1N1 vaccine.

So we took a look at some of the most common fears about the vaccine and tried to get some answers.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SNOW: (voice-over): It's clear many people do want the H1N1 vaccine, willing to stand in line for hours to get it. But there's still a significant number of people who don't want it. A recent CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll finds 43 percent of those surveyed don't think the swine flu vaccine is safe.

Count 24-year-old Chantal Boyd (ph) in that camp.

CHANTAL BOYD: My biggest problem with the vaccine is I don't know what the side effects of it are and so I don't want to take something I don't know what might happen to me.

SNOW: Health officials say they see no proof of any damaging side effects, although they do say there may be a sore arm after the shot.

Colombia University's Dr. Irwin Redlener adds...

DR. IRWIN REDLENER, COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY PUBLIC HEALTH: It's as safe as a vaccine can possibly be. And the risks of getting ill far outweigh the risks of anything that might be seen with the vaccine itself.

SNOW: Some question how the vaccine was made, including Jennifer Lipman (ph). JENNIFER LIPMAN: I do, because it was so hastily made and it hasn't been really tested yet.

SNOW: Not true, say health officials, who are repeatedly asked about the clinical trials and manufacturing.

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: We make vaccine every year for seasonal flu. So it's a time-honored process. So the vaccine that we're having this year, in many ways, is very similar in how you make it -- in fact, identical to what we've been doing over decades and decades of seasonal flu.

SNOW: And among pregnant women, a concern is taking a vaccine with Thimerosal, an additive containing mercury found in some, but not all vaccines. Questions have been raised about possible links to autism, although repeated studies have found no proof of that.

Dr. Jacques Moritz has had seasonal flu shots that don't contain Thimerosal and is hoping to soon get the H1N1 made without it, as well.

DR. JACQUES MORITZ, DIRECTOR OF GYNECOLOGY, ROOSEVELT HOSPITAL: I don't think a lot of pregnant women are going to accept the Thimerosal containing one. Even though there's no proof that it does anything, they won't take chances with their child.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SNOW: And when Thimerosal is in a vaccine, it's usually found in multi-dose vials, not in single dose vials. And if you're not pregnant and you have concerns about it, the other alternative, Wolf, is a nasal spray.

BLITZER: Lots of concern out there, lots of interest. By the way, as you know, Mary, on our new and improved Web site, CNN.com, we have a lot more information, including some interactive maps where it's most prevalent right now, the H1N1. Lots of useful information for people who need to know this kind of stuff.

Thanks, Mary, very much.

His attacks terrified the entire Washington, D.C. Area. I remember it personally. Now, an execution date has been set for the convicted sniper, John Allen Muhammad.

Plus, cameras roll as a near disaster strikes -- a helicopter crash caught on tripe.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

BETTY NGUYEN, CNN ANCHOR: Hey, there, Wolf. Well, John Allen Muhammad is scheduled to be executed by lethal injection on Scientology 10. Mohammed was behind a series of sniper attacks that just terrified the Washington, D.C. region back in 2002. And police say that along with his teenage accomplice, Lee Boyd Malvo, who is already serving a life sentence, Muhammad shot 13 people, killing 10 of them. Muhammad's lawyers say they plan to appeal the execution.

And you've got to check this out -- an incredible picture here for you. While the bands played at a military parade in Quito, Ecuador, a helicopter flying above was in desperate trouble, with fire breaking out in the rear. The chopper slammed to the ground -- you see it right there. But, amazingly, no one was seriously injured.

And more dramatic video for you. This fire was the result of a collision between a Japanese military destroyer and a South Korean cargo ship. Look at that. It happened overnight under a bridge connecting two major Japanese islands. Again, despite flames engulfing both ships, only three sailors on the destroyer were slightly injured. None of the South Korean crew members were hurt -- Wolf?

BLITZER: Wow! OK, thanks, Betty.

NGUYEN: Yes, incredible.

BLITZER: Yes.

Thank you.

Some prominent Republicans say it's a fight for the direction of the party. We'll update you on one of the most closely watched races this election season.

Also, President Obama signs a law giving federal hate crime protection to gays and lesbians. But for some, it comes too late. We'll speak to members of one family and hear their tragic story.

Stick around.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

Happening now, Matthew Hoh is taking a stand. The State Department diplomat and former Marines Corps officer, he quit this week, saying he couldn't support the war in Afghanistan. Brian Todd asked him the key question -- why.

And breaking news in the case of the two wayward pilots -- the two who overshot their landing by 150 miles. Let's just say it will be a long time before they do it again. We'll have the whole story.

And Mitt Romney put health care reform in place when he was governor of Massachusetts.

Is it working in that state and what does it tell us about a national plan, if anything?

Our Sanjay Gupta gets the answer.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

It's an international mystery straight from the high seas -- a man and a woman have vanished, but how and why are unclear. And yet there are reports they could be caught up in a huge nightmare.

BLITZER: Phil Ray Smith of ITN reports.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PHIL RAY SMITH, ITN CORRESPONDENT: It's now been four days since Paul and Rachel Chandler were last heard from. That's were they sent a distress signal from their yacht in waters off Somalia. Now there are unconfirmed reports pirates have admitted seizing the vessel. Rachel's brother says her family are concerned but any hopes the pirates may have of earning a ransom are ill founded.

STEPHEN COLLETT, RACHEL'S BROTHER: My sister and brother-in-law certainly are not a wealthy couple and everything they have are invested in their boat and if they have been captured the pirates have the boat which is as much as they are going to find really.

SMITH: The couple who have been sailing on their 38-foot yacht for several years and have documented their travels on an online blog. Their last post on the day they disappeared simply reads says please ring Sarah. A map shows they were heading to Tanzania and had given Somalia a wide berth but its known pirates are now operating further out in the Indian Ocean since naval patrols have been stepped up nearer the coast. At the headquarters of the EU naval force, they are coordinating a search for the couple but liken it to finding a needle in a haystack.

COMMANDER JOHN HARBOUR, BRITISH ROYAL NAVY: It's hugely difficult and, of course, where do you start in the original beacon position was 50 miles west of the Seychelles. That was quite a few days ago. The blog the couple were using shows they were going to Tanzania directly west. There's the stronghold where perhaps they have been taken is northwest.

SMITH: Pirates tend to keep their captives healthy in the hope of a ransom but until the couple are found nothing can be taken for granted.

Phil Ray Smith, ITN News.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: In France, just a short time ago, a judge handed down a long-awaited verdict in a case against the Church of Scientology. Our senior international correspondent Jim Bitterman is here with details.

JIM BITTERMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, months after the evidence was heard, the principal players in the scientology case, a woman who claims she was defrauded, the leaders of scientology in France and lawyers for all sides returned to court to hear the verdict, guilty of organized fraud. The penalties are stiff. The six accused leaders in the church will have to pay $1 million in fines and four of the six accused were handed suspended jail sentences ranging from ten months to two years. The church said it would fight the verdict.

ERIC ROUX, SCIENTOLOGY SPOKESMAN: Of course we're going to appeal and we will fight for our rights to practice our own religion and then what I can tell you is that it's not going to -- even to slow down the religion in France.

BITTERMAN: Even if scientology can continue to operate in France, today's decision includes a provision that the organization publish in a number of national and international magazines the results of today's verdict, something that a judge says would serve to warn people who are looking to join the organization. A judge called it an instructive decision that he meant to carry a message well beyond French borders. We're not asking to send scientologists to prison, but we were just saying the methods use were fraudulent and weak persons can be taken in and lose money. It was scientology's fund-raising methods that the three-judge panel found contravenes French law and the presiding magistrate wants to make clear that anyone can believe anything they want in France. A scientology spokesperson said the court ruling would have no impact on the organization's operations here which consists mainly of a celebrity center and a book store. The church claims it has 45,000 members in France and operates without problems in several other European countries, but in France the church spokesman said the courts had now conducted a modern inquisition -- Wolf?

BLITZER: Jim Bitterman in Paris for us, thank you.

It's a closely watched race that could have a major impact on the future of the Republican Party. Why there's so much at stake in this election one week from today.

And Chris Rock, Jerry Seinfeld and the members of his TV family all paying tribute to Bill Cosby. I was there last night at the Kennedy center. Stick around. We'll tell you what they said and why.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: With Election Day just a week away, one of the most closely watched races in the country is in upstate New York. Some say it could have a major impact on the future direction of the Republican Party. Our senior political correspondent Candy Crowley is here. She's been following it because that's what she does. She's our senior political correspondent. This is a fascinating race, candy.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Totally fascinating race, and I don't know if it will say anything about which direction the Republican Party is going, but it certainly will send a message one way or the other. What we are finding here is that we are about a week until the off-year elections for governor of Virginia and New Jersey, two races that will be scrutinized, likely overscrutinized about what they say about President Obama's political fortunes, and then there's what may turn out to be the most interesting race of the night, at least for political junkies, the special election to fill a U.S. Congressional seat in New York's 23rd district and what that outcome may say about the Republican Party.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CROWLEY: If the Republican Party could take a picture of its problem, this would be it.

DEDE SCOZZFAVA, DEMOCRATIC CONGRESSIONAL CANDIDATE: It's been a long campaign.

CROWLEY: That's Dede Scozzafava, the establishment backed Republican running for Congress in a reliably Republican district in New York. Behind her supporters of her conservative Republican challenge, Doug Hoffman who argues she's too soft on spending.

DOUG HOFFMAN, CONSERVATIVE CONGRESSIONAL CANDIDATE: Sending an Albany politician to Washington would be like throwing gasoline on a fire. The voters deserve a candidate who believes deficits are wrong and that deficits bankrupt government.

CROWLEY: New York's 23rd district is this year's petrie dish for a Republican Party in search of itself.

STU ROTHENBERG, THE ROTHENBERG POLICIAN REPORT: There is an ongoing battle between conservatives and pragmatists and it's playing out here and it may well -- this may well be an indication of what's going to happen in the next presidential race as, again, the party has another battle between conservatives and pragmatists.

CROWLEY: Finding the heart and soul of a party is messing business. GOP establishment money, in this case the national Republican Congressional Committee, has sided with Scozzafava but Hoffman has the support of Club for Growth, a fiscally conservative politically powerful put your money where your mouth is kind of group and for foot soldiers it's hard to find more passion these days than the tea party movement which has also lit up cyberspace for Hoffman's election. Hoffman has also racked up endorsements from 2012 often mentioned like Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty and ex-Alaska Governor Sarah Palin and also on board tea party big wig Dick Armey, social conservative Gary Bauer and one-time presidential hopeful Fred Thompson.

FRED THOMPSON, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Doug is like us, a concerned neighbor who has had enough. He's a principled conservative and will come home when the job is done. We can send Washington a message.

CROWLEY: It's been a lively intraparty dispute. The question is whether it will also be deadly because in the end the winner in this race between a Republican and a more conservative Republican could be a Democrat.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When I was a captain here at Plattsburg air force base before they close it had down. Since then I've worked to redevelop the base.

CROWLEY: If Democrat Bill Owens is able to run up the middle of the divide between his two Republican opponents he would be the first Democrat to win in this region in a century. Now there's a message.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CROWLEY: It is hard to overestimate how important this is to some Republicans, particularly to the tea party movement. Dick Armey we mentioned before is quoted in a local people as telling a crowd there in New York's 23rd district you are sitting right in the eye of the storm. The country is at a crossroads. This is the game-changer.

BLITZER: I'm familiar with this district, not far from my home town of Buffalo, New York. This is up in Watertown, New York's very Republican area. It would be huge if this Democrat Bill Owens could beat these two Republicans, but if they divide up the Republican vote, he would have an opening.

CROWLEY: Right up the middle, yes. There's a pathway for him to win and we saw a poll that was taken up there that our pollster said this is a legit poll and at the moment the Democrat is leading so that would be huge and also sort of frames the Republican party problem which is, sure, let's all have this big debate. Well, when you have the big debate, what happens, the Democrat right up through the middle so you can't have that debate too publicly because you can lose elections that way if that happens.

BLITZER: Something similar shaping up in Florida right now. The Republican Governor Charlie Crist wants to run for the Senate seat and there's a conservative Marko Rubio who is challenging him right now and a lot of conservatives don't think Crist is conservative enough.

CROWLEY: And we're seeing it play out in Texas as well, a little bit mushier but Kay Bailey Hutchison against Governor Rick Perry seen as the more conservative of the two. This will play out in a lot of different places but this is the first test of the divide in the Republican Party.

BLITZER: We'll watch it all together with you because you have no choice. You have to. Thanks.

Tomorrow, President Obama will sign a Bill expanding federal hate crime laws to include sexual orientation and gender identity. It's a major victory for gay rights advocates across the country who have sought federal protection for so many years, but for some of the families who are celebrating, the law comes too late. Our senior White House correspondent Ed Henry is joining us now with more.

Ed, you had a chance to speak with one family directly impacted by all of this. ED HENRY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. This new law is going to be named for Matthew Shepard, a gay college student who you'll remember was brutally murdered, but there are so many other families who have faced severe hardship, hate crimes and the like, and I spoke to one of those families who said that this is a big, big development for civil rights.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

HENRY: It's been 12 years since the pain of young artist Jimmy Wheeler's suicide, though family snapshots still bring joy to his mother Susan and sister Elizabeth.

SUSAN WHEELER, MOTHER OF JIMMY WHEELER: There's Jimmy right there. Jimmy always had a tremendous blond head of hair.

HENRY: In middle school Jimmy told his family he was gay and dyed his blond hair orange red, Ronald McDonald orange red.

WHEELER: We all got pretty much a big kick out of it actually. We all laughed and enjoyed it because it made him happy and it was part of his flair.

HENRY: But many of Jimmy's classmates in conservative central Pennsylvania did not appreciate his flair or sexual orientation so they taunted and bullied him.

ELIZABETH WHEELER, SISTER OF JIMMY WHEELER: He was peed on in the locker room at high school in gym class by football players and, no, he didn't tell anybody in our family. We found out when it was read in his poetry and it breaks my heart. It does. It's horrible that people can be that cruel.

HENRY: It only got worse in high school when he came out in an emotional poem, "Jim in Bold," later the title of a documentary about his life and death.

JIMMY WHEELER: Thank you Mohammed for publishing my profile, for printing Jim, Jim in Bold.

WHEELER: He had the guts and the courage to come out with Jim in Bold and proclaim to the world I'm a gay person from central Pennsylvania. I'm proud of who I am. I want you to respect me.

HENRY: The Wheelers will be at the White House Wednesday when President Obama signs legislation extending federal hate crimes law to cover crimes motivated by a person's sexual orientation. The law would not have prevented Jimmy Wheeler's suicide, but it may have been a deterrent for the attacks that led to his death.

WHEELER: I feel like this is a triumph for not just members of the gay community but for us as a civilization. It shows that we value all life.

(END VIDEOTAPE) HENRY: Now Susan Wheeler told me she realizes the president has taken a lot of heat from the gay community for not doing more in terms of reform and stepping up, but she said she believes he's got a full plate right now, and this is a major step forward, Wolf.

BLITZER: Are they going to do a major signing ceremony tomorrow or a modest signing ceremony early in the day, late in the day? A lot of people will be looking to try to read between the lines.

HENRY: I believe it's early afternoon. They are going to get it out there, because in this case politically the White House does want show to the gay rights community that they are stepping up here. You'll remember a couple weeks ago the president gave a speech over the weekend to the human rights campaign. He was warmly received there, but in the aftermath a lot of people in the gay rights community were saying, look, a speech is one thing but we want to see action. This will be concrete action. The White House wants to highlight that, but there's still many in the community who want him to overturn don't ask, don't tell so gays can openly serve in the military, for example, so there's a lot more that they are going to be pressuring him on but this is a big step forward in their ice, Wolf.

BLITZER: Any indication of when they might raise that issue don't ask, don't tell? They have been studying it now for a while.

HENRY: They have. Indications out of the pentagon that it could come quote, unquote real soon and nobody has put a real timetable on what that means. The expectation on capitol hill, because ultimately it's got to be a law that's passed, not just an executive order by the president, the expectation is it's got to be done early next year. Otherwise you get into the mid-term elections of 2010 where it becomes a political hot potato so if they are going to do it they will probably do it early next year.

BLITZER: Thanks very much. Ed Henry will cover the signing ceremony for us tomorrow.

He's believed to be the first U.S. official to resign in protest over the war in Afghanistan. You'll hear why in his own words. Brian Todd caught up with him outside his home here in the Washington, D.C. area.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Let's get right back to Jack Cafferty for the Cafferty File. Is it the Cafferty File or the Jack Cafferty File?

CAFFERTY: It's whatever you want it to be.

BLITZER: I'm going to call it "The Cafferty File."

CAFFERTY: OK. Are you baseball fan?

BLITZER: I love baseball. I love basketball. I love football. I love hockey. I love them all.

CAFFERTY: World Series starts here in New York tomorrow night. No love lost between the New York sports fans and the Philadelphia sports fans, and the Phillies, the defending champions, will play the Yankees, game on the World Series. In the interest of keeping everybody's blood boiling, here's the front page of the "New York Post" today. It reads Gotham trembles. It says the Frillies are coming to town. And they've got a picture of Phillie slugger Shane Victorino in a dress. And inside they do a whole bunch of comparisons between New York and Philadelphia. The most famous quotes, in New York, give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses, yearning to breath free, the inscription on the Statue of Liberty, the most famous quotes in Philadelphia from the movie Rocky, "Yo Adrian." It just goes on. It's very funny.

The question this hour is: Are you concerned about the possible health risks associated with cell phone use?

And Scott writes from California: "I am very concerned, especially when I consider my young 12 and 14-year-old nieces are using cell phones all the time."

Chandler in Rockaway, New Jersey: "There will be nearly 1.5 million cases of cancer diagnosed in the U.S. this year; only 22,000 will be brain cancer according to the American Cancer Society. So even if cell phones cause a small increase in one kind of cancer, it's a misdirection of resources to focus on just a tiny fraction of the problem."

D says: "My father was a Crackberry addict. He was diagnosed with the worst type of brain tumor possible last July and died in December. The tumor was located just behind his ear where he used the phone day and night. Having worked for major mobile manufacturers for the last 14 years, one thing I'm aware of is how the lawyers get very, very nervous about where people store their phones and how close to their bodies they are."

Karen writes: "Jack listening to the experts will cause stress. This will lead to high blood pressure and a possible stroke or heart attack. Give me a break. Some of us are old enough to remember when we rode bikes without helmets, rode in cars without car seats or seat belts and now we're baby boomers really started to enjoy life. I'm using my cell phone where and when I want." Well I do now ride my bike with a helmet.

James in Georgia says: "I want to see a more significant link in research before I become overly concerned. But I don't want to be the statistic that provides further evidence."

Charlie in Washington: "What doesn't give you cancer these days?"

Donald in Tampa: "None at all, Jack, of course that may be because I'm 84 years old."

If you didn't see your e-mail here, there's lots more on my blog at CNN.com/Caffertyfile. The Frillies are coming to town. BLITZER: They give those New York and Philadelphia newspapers and Philadelphia is going to get even with them, you know that.

CAFFERTY: We should look up the Philadelphia Enquirer paper tomorrow and see what they have to say.

BLITZER: All right Jack. Thanks very much.

By the way to our viewers, we have a new way, relatively new, for about a month, we have been online on twitter.com. You can get behind the scenes information on what's going on in THE SITUATION ROOM. you can read my tweets at WolfblitzerCNN.

A respected U.S. diplomat quits his job in protest to the war in Afghanistan.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I believe that the people we are fighting there are fighting us because we're occupying them, not for any ideological reasons, not because of links to al Qaeda, the only reason they're fighting us is because we're occupying them.

BLITZER: That's just the beginning of what he thinks is going wrong in Afghanistan. He speaks candidly to Brian Todd.

And why some of the biggest names in comedy turned out to honor Bill Cosby last night at the Kennedy center in Washington.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Some of the biggest names in comedy were here in Washington, D.C. last night to help honor the great Bill Cosby. I was at the Kennedy center, it was a fabulous, fabulous evening, Bill Cosby received the Mark Twain prize for American humor. Here are some of the evening's lights.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHRIS ROCK, ACTOR: It's supposed to be funny.

JERRY SEINFELD, ACTOR: People are going to say I thought those two guys would be funny together. But we're not.

ROCK: But we're not.

SEINFELD: No, we're not.

ROCK: Not compared to Bill Cosby.

SEINFELD: No, not compared to Dr. Bill Cosby.

PHYLICIA RASHAD, ACTRESS: We really did come to that place where we didn't have to finish the sentences, we could complete each other's sentences.

STEVEN WRIGHT, COMEDIAN: Bill Cosby is three things, he's a funny man, he's a funny person, and he's a funny guy. CARL REINER, DIRECTOR: Sheldon and I went back to the office and Sheldon said to me, I'll never forget this. He said, can he act? And I said can he act? He just didn't know it.

MALCOLM JAMAL WARNER, ACTOR: Mr. Cosby is a champion in the advice giving department, whether you want to hear it or not.

BILL COSBY, COMEDIAN: I turned the radio on and there's Ray Charles singing, the night time is the right time and I get what my wife says is -- I get beamed. That's what she thinks, about my ideas, she thinks of spaceships. Beam me. Tonight is a great night for myself and my family. I think for you people and the people who couldn't get in tonight who purchased all those albums, who enjoyed all those performances, and I just want you to know that each and every time I plant my feet, if it is to perform for you, you're going to get everything I have.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: It was a great night, congratulations to Bill Cosby, well deserved. Past recipients of the award, include George Carlin, Billy Crystal, Steve Martin and Whoopi Goldberg.