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THE SITUATION ROOM

NASA Astronaut Charged With Attempted Murder

Aired February 6, 2007 - 16:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, HOST: And to our viewers, thanks for joining us.
Mission out of control -- it's happening right now. A NASA astronaut charged with attempted murder after a bizarre cross-country journey involving an apparent love triangle and another astronaut.

Also, did billions of your dollars meant for Iraq wind up wasted, or even worse, in enemy hands?

A Democrat says over 360 tons of cold cash airlifted on pallets to Iraq at the start of the war are simply unaccounted for.

Also, regarding the war's early days, stunning new images of a deadly incident nearly four years ago. It involves American military planes accidentally opening fire on a convoy of British tanks, killing a British soldier.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

We'll have much more on the billions, billions of dollars unaccounted for in Iraq.

But first, an astronaut who just last year was flying a shuttle mission now accused of wanting to kidnap and kill another woman. We're waiting for Lisa Marie Nowak's expected appearance in court this hour. It could happen momentarily.

Police say the lovelorn astronaut drove some 900 miles from Houston to Orlando, that she wore diapers to reduce the number of stops along the way, all because, officials say, she wanted to confront a woman she believed to be a rival for another astronaut's affection.

Police say Nowak intended to kidnap the woman, Air Force Captain Colleen Shipman. This, after Nowak allegedly followed Shipman to a parking lot at Orlando's airport and pepper-sprayed her.

Now, Nowak also faces charges of attempted first degree murder, attempted kidnapping, battery and attempted vehicle burglary with battery.

Let's get more from our space correspondent, Miles O'Brien.

He's joining us from New York -- Miles, first of all, did you know this woman, because I know you know a lot of these astronauts.

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, I've had an opportunity to meet her and see her in some training before that July mission, Wolf, and had a -- or an opportunity to interview her.

As a matter of fact, I believe it was the first time she had ever done a TV interview, was sitting down with me. She was a bit nervous about it.

At the time, it was very interesting, she was a rookie and there always is concerns about how well rookies will do in space. Her primary mission on that July mission was to run the robotic arm on the international space station and conduct a series of important and delicate moves in order to continue with that project of building the space station.

And, by all accounts, she not just rose to the occasion, she did a good job in space. So she succeeded on every level, was new to space flying, but like a lot of astronauts, had been in the astronaut office for quite some time, since 1996.

Typically, they spend a lot of time training before they ever get a chance to fly.

BLITZER: All right, let's listen in.

This court appearance, her second of the day, now underway after the second charge of attempted murder has come forward.

DONALD LYKKEBAK, DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Your Honor, it appears that your understanding is correct. The $15,500 bond was arranged and the bondsman representing the insurance company posted the bond. She was ready for release. Orlando Police Department was waiting for her to make this subsequent arrest based on the same facts that you had reviewed at approximately 9:00 in the morning.

I would submit that the police department is seeking a second bite of the apple today. And we would ask the court to review the new affidavit, recognize that this is based upon the same incident and allegations. It alleges the same basic facts.

What this is, is another conclusion drawn from the same facts. And to find no probable cause as to this additional, more aggravated charge and allow for her release, as you ordered this morning, and the $15,500 number.

JUDGE MIKE MURPHY: Miss Cowan?

AMANDA COWAN, ASSISTANT STATE ATTORNEY: Judge, the court is very familiar with add-on charges. A defendant will get arrested for an initial set of charges and subsequent investigations cause the subsequent add-on charges.

That is what has happened in this case. Upon review of the entire -- or the -- all of the circumstances from beginning, when it was discovered that Miss. Nowak had printed out the map that she got from the Internet -- that was dated January 23rd -- through and including her driving from Texas using diapers to allow her to avoid stopping and slowing down, as she traveled from Texas to Florida.

All of the facts, upon further investigation, led to these add-on charges, and that's what they are. It's not a second bite at the apple. It's add-on charges based on further investigation.

MURPHY: Mr. Lykkebak, you would agree that although, obviously this is based upon the same circumstance as the case that we had addressed this morning, you'd agree that there are additional facts that are listed in this narrative that were not listed in the narrative this morning...

LYKKEBAK: There is...

MURPHY: Or do you not agree?

LYKKEBAK: ... elucidation on the interview, Your Honor. The Orlando police officers took my client into custody at approximately 4:00 in the morning. They held her at their facility out at the airport area from 4:00 in the morning until approximately 6:00 or 7:00 last night.

So they had custody of her for 14, 15 hours. And during which time, they subjected her to continued interrogation.

Now, they had all of this information yesterday when they prepared their arrest affidavit. At 2:30, I was contacted with reference to representation of this client. At 2:30 in the afternoon yesterday I called the Orlando police in question, Detective Beckton (ph). I told him my identity as attorney for Lisa Nowak. I told him that further interrogation should cease and I asked him what was the status, why she wasn't at booking by this time.

She had been in custody since 4:00 a.m. It was 2:30 in the afternoon. She was not at booking.

He told me then, he says, I'm putting the last touches on my arrest affidavit. I've got 45 minutes to go and then she'll be at booking. Well, that was at 2:30. She didn't make it to booking until 6:00 or 7:00.

They kept custody of her, they kept her incommunicado, they kept her away from her attorney. They did not inform, as I requested Beckton, that she -- they did not inform her that she was represented by counsel. She had no idea that she did have an attorney.

And this goes on for hours. They have spent a massive amount of time yesterday working on this case. I don't see anything new in this, other than the officer, Detective Beckton, now, you know, flushing out a few more things that he alleges that this accused said.

And what are those things?

Well, in the second paragraph on page two, what he says is, "She wanted to talk to Ms. Shipman, that Miss. Nowak wanted to use the B.B. gun to force Ms. Shipman to talk to her."

Now this is what Beckton says. But this is the facts he's put in front of you -- to talk to her, to scare her. That's what Beckton says.

I'm not adopting it, but that is the facts that he's put in front of you. Not that she would kill her, but that she wanted to talk to her.

If she had said to Beckton, "I came here to kill her," I'm sure he would have put that in the facts before you. But that's not what she said.

Now, what they've charged is attempted premeditated murder, which requires a premeditated design to take the life, that she intended to kill her when she saw her at the airport.

Well, what she did was spray her with pepper spray and no more. No more. That is the fact. She sprayed through the car window some pepper spray.

COWAN: Judge, could...

LYKKEBAK: That it what is alleged.

COWAN: I'm going to object. I'm sorry to interrupt, but this is first appearance. It's a non-adversarial proceeding and I don't think Mr. Lykkebak has responded to your question yet.

MURPHY: Mr. Lykkebak...

LYKKEBAK: If I haven't responded, judge, please tell me and I will be more specific. But I'm looking at the -- at the -- the allegation -- and I see here "to talk to her."

MURPHY: So the answer to the question was, yes, there's some more information, but you don't think it's aggravated information?

LYKKEBAK: I don't think it is, judge.

I mean they make a big deal out of this mallet, this B.B. gun, well -- by the way, they don't mention that this B.B. gun didn't have a CO2 cartridge and, therefore, wasn't operable.

But...

MURPHY: But I'm con...

LYKKEBAK: ... I just...

MURPHY: I'm constrained to the report here.

LYKKEBAK: Hmmm?

MURPHY: I'm constrained to the report.

LYKKEBAK: All right.

So what it says in the report. But what is important about these things is these things were in the duffel bag and they didn't leave the duffel bag. Those are the facts. They didn't leave the duffel bag. They weren't used on Miss. Shipman.

I don't -- so, given the facts, what we have appears a desperate woman who wants to have a conversation with the other woman. She goes to have a conversation with the other woman. But she doesn't shoot her, she doesn't stab her. She doesn't do anything and there's no evidence that she intended to do anything other than have a talk.

I submit to you how a talk would be reasonable. They don't like her explanation because it doesn't fit within their imaginary aggravated circumstances here.

But having a talk with the other woman would be reasonable. And that is what she told them she was doing. That is the only thing they have with reference to her intent, what she was intending, is what she told them. She told them, according to them, she wanted to talk. Not to do anything more than that.

So I -- I don't follow where we can keep jacking this case up every three hours to something more aggravated. I think what we have here is, judge, frankly, they didn't like your ruling this morning. Now, we're not talking about the state, we're talking about the Orlando Police Department, didn't like your ruling this morning. And we all understand, as lawyers -- and you, Your Honor -- that if you don't like a ruling, one has ways of addressing a ruling you don't like -- filing a motion with the trial court, filing a notice of appeal.

But you don't just go out and arrest the person again for the same facts and then say oh, by the way, I think -- I failed to mention -- let me put another spin on the ball. You didn't like what I said this morning, let me put another spin on the ball this afternoon.

And that's what I'm hearing with this. That's what this is about. It's the same episode.

Now, my client is -- doesn't live here in Orange County. She's -- when she's released, she's going back to -- to Texas. She has people there at the Johnson Space Center who are concerned about her, who are going to attend to the situation.

And this is what this case requires -- for her to leave, to leave today, to go back to her command, to go back to the Johnson Space Center. And then we can sort this thing out in the ensuing weeks or months.

MURPHY: All right, thank you.

Miss. Cowan, with regard to this case, even if I find probable cause for the charge here, the next question is whether or not the defendant is entitled to pretrial release. And the only way that they wouldn't be entitled to pre-trial release would be if the presumption is -- the proof of guilt is evident or the presumption is great.

Other than the charging affidavit that's been presented to me in this case, is there any other additional information that you have in the form of either testimony or affidavits or transcripts that you're prepared to offer to address that aspect?

COWAN: Judge, the -- the state can provide testimony if needed. However, this charging affidavit that's before the court for the attempted first degree murder with a deadly weapon, which is a life felon which is punishable by life and therefore would have a no bond status -- what's before the court in this charging affidavit is the additional information that the defendant, at the time she approached the victim, while the victim was in her car, the defendant had in her possession a black bag which possessed -- possessed the steel mallet, the buck knife that measured four inches in length and solid on -- half of the blade was solid, the other half of the blade was serrated -- and the B.B. gun.

Mr. Lykkebak said something about a CO2 cartridge...

MURPHY: Well, that's not in the report, so as far as for purposes of probable cause...

COWAN: Yes...

MURPHY: ... I don't need to consider that.

COWAN: OK.

As far as I can tell, it says the B.B. gun was loaded with B.B. pellets and it was set to fire. The safety was off. The -- during the investigation, the defendant could not provide a reasonable explanation for possessing these weapons. She had obtained the information about the flight plans for the victim without authorization from a computer of the man that she and the victim have a common interest in.

And it's not brought out as -- as sharply as it could be, but I would like the court to note that Miss. Nowak's car was -- which she did consent to have searched -- was parked at a hotel miles from the airport and miles from the satellite parking lot, where she was arrested.

By inference, the court can find that the defendant's plan was to get into the victim's car with the victim. And I think that that adds a great deal of credibility to this charge of attempted murder, because she did have the weapons in the bag; she had the -- in addition, she did have the -- I believe it said somewhere she had a map to the -- to the victim's house.

So I -- just the charging affidavit alone, I think, provides the court with probable cause for this punishable by life felony. If additional testimony is needed, that can be provided.

MURPHY: Well, it's not that I'm saying it's needed or not needed. If you want to, not on the issue of probable cause, but on the issue of whether the person -- the proof of guilt is evident or presumption is great, if you believe you need to present testimony, that's your decision if you want to present that, because under the Rule 3.131, the rule says unless charged with a capital offense or an offense punishable by life imprisonment and the proof of guilt is evident or the presumption is great, every person charged with a crime or a violation, they're entitled to pre-trial release.

So just finding probable cause that the offense occurred would not be sufficient to deny the defendant the right to pre-trial release.

COWAN: Judge, I think that that might -- I would take issue with that interpretation. It's "or," that's -- that's the...

MURPHY: Well, it says "unless charged with a capital offense or an offense punishable by life" -- which was what you said...

COWAN: Right.

MURPHY: ... this is an offense punishable by life imprisonment and the proof of guilt is evident or the presumption is great."

So that language about "proof of guilt is evident" or "the presumption is great" would clearly apply to punishable by life imprisonment. And the reason why this case would be punishable by life is the attempt knocks down the charge to a first degree felony and then the weapons statue increases it back up, obviously, to punishable by life.

COWAN: Correct.

MURPHY: So it's -- it's up to you if you want to present evidence in addition to what's included in the charging affidavit. That's your decision as a lawyer. If you think I'm wrong and if I ultimately grant pre-trial release, then the state can always take a petition for writ of certiorari up to the 5th DCA.

It's up to you how you want to proceed from here.

COWAN: I'm not sure what your finding at this point, judge.

MURPHY: No, I'm not -- I'm not finding anything yet. I'm asking you if the state wants to try to present any testimony with regard to whether or not the proof of guilt is evident or the presumption is great.

COWAN: The state's presentation is this is sufficient. This provides the court with probable cause for this charge and for the reasons stated.

MURPHY: OK.

So at this point in time, you would wish to present any testimony with regard to, under Rule 3.131A?

COWAN: No, sir. MURPHY: OK.

Mr. Lykkebak, I'll ask you if you wish to present any testimony under 3.131A?

LYKKEBAK: No, Your Honor.

MURPHY: All right.

I will find there's probable cause to believe that the offense was committed, based upon the affidavit. The determination for probable cause, as has been stated before, is a non-adversarial proceeding.

There is probable cause but although the report establishes probable cause, the interpretation of the phrase "proof of guilt is evident" or "the presumption is great" has been repeatedly held by courts as to be showing stronger than required to establish proof beyond a reasonable doubt.

So therefore I'm not going to find that the state has established proof -- that the "proof of guilt is evident" or "the presumption is great."

Now, the next issue is determine -- that doesn't mean -- well, now, we get to the stage of what appropriate condition of release is. So first I'll hear from the defense, then I'll hear from the state and then I'll hear from the defense again.

LYKKEBAK: Well, Your Honor, we were satisfied with the court's special conditions, the GPS monitor. That had already been arranged for. It was all ready to go on today at noon. And I think that very adequately covers the situation.

I mean we have to remember this is a member of the armed forces on active duty assigned in Texas. So we're not going to have a problem with her being back here. And so we don't need any special conditions.

I think that the $15,500 required is already way more than really is necessary. I mean this is a person who is not going to be able to go anywhere and hide. Now, we don't contemplate that, I don't believe. I mean the truth of the matter is, is that this mistake has caused great notoriety, in addition to the -- some measure of fame which she enjoyed before this mistake.

And so this isn't a person that can go anywhere and hide. She's no flight risk. The family is retaining me and so they are making an investment in her defense and we intend to vigorously defend the case.

The only time she would have to be in Orange County is when she needs to be here for a hearing or to assist me in some way.

So a modest monetary -- I think some monetary requirement is required by the rule, but I think something modest, Your Honor, is sufficient in this case. MURPHY: Miss. Cowan?

COWAN: Judge, for the purpose of determining the conditions of her release, I would ask the court to set aside your awareness that she is an astronaut and that she is an active duty, able to easily go from Texas back to Florida for court hearings.

I would ask that you consider her as any other defendant charged with this crime and leave her bond at none. I would just point out that she had a -- a mission that she was very determined to carry out and that mission did -- was not for the good of this victim.

You haven't heard from the victim. I think but for the victim's awareness of her surroundings and her quickness in getting into her car, it could have been a very different outcome.

So I'd ask that the courts leave it at none, that there is evidence and presumption that murder was the plan and it just was not able to be carried out.

MURPHY: Thank you.

Mr. Lykkebak?

LYKKEBAK: Your Honor, I think we just heard some more speculation from the state. That's what their assertions are, simply speculation. And I take particular objection to the suggestion that we should forget about someone's past record, their history of accomplishments, their lack of criminal history and the like.

When a person stands before a magistrate such as yourself, his or her past record and history are exceptionally important in considering (AUDIO GAP) such as bond.

If your good work doesn't come to help you now, when does it?

Well, I think, as I suggest, Your Honor, something reasonably modest, in addition to the GPS requirement that you've already imposed, is going to take care of the needs of justice in this case.

MURPHY: Very well.

I'm going to set the bond. It is -- I'm discounting it. It's $10,000 plus the GPS monitoring through the Court Program Incorporated state.

You are going to not give the clerk's office the telephone number to reach the victim, Miss. Shipman.

It's also no contact with Miss. Shipman.

They can device -- they can set that device such that in the event that the defendant even comes into the state of Florida that the device automatically telephones Miss. Shipman so that Miss. Shipman will know that the defendant is in the state of Florida. It's not a condition that she not come in the state of Florida, but if she -- the word will be that the Court Programs Incorporated will -- will notify the victim if the defendant either tampers with the device or enters the state of Florida, just so the victim at least knows that the person is in the state of Florida.

Obviously that's -- it's not a condition that the defendant not come into Florida, but at least the victim will know that she's in the state of Florida such that I think that will adequately protect her.

COWAN: Judge, the victim's phone number was...

MURPHY: You don't need -- OK...

COWAN: ... on the charging affidavit from this morning.

MURPHY: OK.

COWAN: So I'm assuming that the court services people...

MURPHY: Let me take a look at this one. The one that's -- the affidavit in this case here, it just says "care of Patrick Air Force Base."

COWAN: OK.

MURPHY: So if you don't want her telephone number to be on the court paper...

COWAN: (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

MURPHY: OK.

COWAN: (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

LYKKEBAK: I'd suggest not disseminating that in any way to the clerk's office.

MURPHY: Yes, if you don't want -- I mean I can order that the state provide it to the Court Programs Incorporated and there's a representative out there and you can give it to them and that way you do not have this information on a public record, if it's not already there, so that other people don't try to call her.

COWAN: Yes, that's probably a better idea. I would ask the court not to...

MURPHY: OK. I'll just say the state to produce it within 24 hours. Now, that's not going to hold up the defendant if they can post the other $10,000. But the sooner you want her to know -- and the disposition will also reflect that, obviously, she can leave the jurisdiction of the court pending the case -- while the case is pending. There was some question earlier whether or not -- to myself...

LYKKEBAK: (UNINTELLIGIBLE). MURPHY: ... whether or not I needed to put it in there so that the people at the airport will realize you have this device that you can be there.

All right, is there any...

LYKKEBAK: No, that's a good question about that device, Your Honor.

So let's just say we're at OIA and you've got the device on and you're on the airplane and the airplane takes off.

MURPHY: If the airplane...

LYKKEBAK: It banks hard over Brevard County.

Is it going to go off?

MURPHY: It could go off.

LYKKEBAK: It could go off.

MURPHY: All right.

I contemplated whether I needed to put a mile per hour movement OK, but I don't think that's going to be appropriate. I think if it's on...

LYKKEBAK: They do that?

MURPHY: The GPS device, they can watch it on the map. It's obvious where it's going. So if it starts from OIA and -- because it also has the altitude on it.

LYKKEBAK: It takes off at about 500 miles an hour, they'll know.

MURPHY: All right, anything further?

COWAN: Nothing from the state.

MURPHY: All right.

Thank you very much.

LYKKEBAK: Thank you, Your Honor.

BLITZER: And so there you have it.

Lisa Marie Nowak, a captain in the U.S. Navy, an astronaut, will be allowed out on bail in connection with these charges that have been leveled against her.

Let's bring in our senior legal analyst, Jeffrey Toobin -- Jeff, you're standing by.

Miles O'Brien is also standing by. But let's get your legal analysis now on what we have just seen.

And for our viewers who may just be tuning in, this is a complex alleged love triangle that was involved. This woman, Captain Lisa Marie Nowak, allegedly involved with William Oefelein, a Navy commander, an astronaut. Also, there was a third woman, allegedly, Colleen Shipman, and she is alleged to have gone after attempted kidnapping and now attempted murder of this other woman, Colleen Shipman, in Orlando.

Drove all the way from Texas to Orlando in order to engage in these alleged crimes.

Give us your analysis of what has happened now.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, this was unusual because that was the second hearing of the day in the same case.

What happened was Captain Nowak was arrested two days ago.

This morning, she was arraigned on charges of battery and attempted kidnapping and was just about to be released on $15,500 bond.

The police and the prosecutors weren't happy about that. They thought that those conditions were too easy. They wanted her held on bond.

So they went, in the middle of the day, and filed additional charges of attempted murder, a much more serious crime.

This, moments ago, was the bail hearing on that second charges, on the attempted murder charges, where the prosecutor said in light of these new charges, she needs to denied bail.

What happened moments ago is that the defense won. The defense was allowed to have bail continued. What the judge did is, he added $10,000 to the $15,000 bail he set earlier in the day, but, clearly, that is going to be something that Captain Nowak can meet. And she is undoubtedly going to be released promptly with an ankle bracelet that will allow the government to monitor her -- her whereabouts.

But the bottom line is, she is going to be released on bail, probably today. So, the defense won the first round here.

BLITZER: And, Miles O'Brien, give us a little prospective from the history of the U.S. astronauts over these years. I suspect we have never seen anything like this in all the years that our men and women have been going up in space.

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN SPACE CORRESPONDENT: Yes.

Wolf, this is unprecedented, an active astronaut facing felony charges, much less attempted murder. That's a first for the space program. But I can certainly tell you that they're not all choir boys and haven't been from day one, choir boys and choir girls, but certainly choir boys in the initial stages.

I think there were a lot of cases in the early days, the Mercury 7 days, "The Right Stuff" days, when people sort of looked away, as -- in a boys-will-be-boys kind of way, if you will, in the context of the times. But this, however, there's nothing that comes even close.

BLITZER: And she's got, by all accounts, an exemplary record, a graduate of the Naval Academy, a married woman, three kids. There's nothing in her past that would seem to suggest this kind of behavior, very bizarre behavior, to put it mildly.

O'BRIEN: Yes.

Now, it's interesting, Wolf. I was talking just a little while ago with a man who was in charge of the psychological screening for the astronaut corps for 36 years, the Mercury 7 days well into the shuttle program. And I was asking him about this, how they do their psychological screening.

And he said, you know, really, by the time they get to the astronaut office, most of them have a military background. They are already the absolute cream of the military, the top of the top percent. And, really, as he put it, we are taking the creme de la creme.

This is a process which really began at the beginning of their careers. They are looked at. They are evaluated time after time. The pilots, the commanders, they all universally almost come from test pilot schools, where there is a lot of scrutiny about what they do, a lot of pressure, a lot of stress situations, where they are constantly being watched.

So, when they finally get to that astronaut interview, there is a test that they take, which is a personality test, which tends to identify psychological disorders. And then there is an hour-long sit- down with a psychologist and a psychiatrist, where they look not so much for what they say verbally, but the body language and the expressions and the all the subtle things, that whole second level of communication, to determine if there is something that hasn't gotten that far.

But the fact is, by the time they get to that interview, these people have been through a psychological wringer, and have come out with flying colors. So, what is interesting is what happens after they get in the astronaut corps.

There is no proactive way that NASA checks on their mental health. They check on their physical health every year, but, as far as mental health, it is up to the astronaut to go and seek out that kind of help from a mental health professional.

And the fact is, they are loathe to seek out help from any medical personnel, because they don't want to be disqualified for a flight.

BLITZER: Jeffrey, I want you to weigh in on this notion that -- this is already obviously a very high-profile case. Does it make a difference, from the standpoint of the law, how the judge behaves, how the prosecutors behave, the defense attorney, the fact that she's an astronaut, and that all of us are so interested in this alleged love triangle, and now what the prosecution is alleging, not only attempted kidnapping, but attempted murder?

TOOBIN: Absolutely, it makes a difference, particularly in something like what happened today, because bail is a question where a judge asks himself two questions: Is this person a risk of flight, and are they a danger to the community?

And the bizarre conflict in -- in Captain Nowak's liven life was on display here today. You have someone who was an astronaut, who's a graduate of the Naval Academy, married with three children. In our sort of everyday culture, an astronaut is the definition of a stable, reliable person.

At the same time, you have the bizarre facts of this case, you know, driving 900 miles with the now famous diaper, with a B.B. gun, with a great big hunting knife. So, you know, a judge has to weigh; Is this the astronaut, or is this what could be a deranged potential killer?

Today, he -- I thought the judge made a reasonable accommodation of those two facts. He said: Look, I'm going to let you out. I'm going to trust that you are going to be the astronaut that I know you to be, but I want you out of Florida. I want you nowhere near the alleged victim in this case -- which seems like an appropriate reaction.

But, you know, that -- the two sides of her character are going to be at the core of this case as it proceeds.

BLITZER: All right, Guys, thanks very much, Jeff Toobin, Miles O'Brien.

We are going to continue to follow this very, very bizarre story, but one that has obviously captivated a lot of our interest on this day.

Guys, thanks very much.

And we are going to have a lot more on this story. Coming up later tonight on "LARRY KING LIVE," we will hear from one of America's most famous astronauts. Buzz Aldrin will be among Larry's guests tonight. "LARRY KING LIVE" airs 9:00 p.m. Eastern.

And coming up here in THE SITUATION ROOM: What happened to $12 billion of your taxpayer dollars shipped off to Iraq? Is the money simply missing? Find out next.

Also: It was anything but a warm welcome today, as the defense secretary, Robert Gates, testified on Capitol Hill. We're going to tell you what happened.

Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Today, some Democrats in Congress asked the president's former top man in Iraq to show them the money.

That would be Paul Bremer. He ran Iraq just after the U.S. invasion. During that time, he was supposed to dole out, literally, billions of U.S. dollars in cash to try to help the Iraqi people. One Democrat said it was $12 billion airlifted to Iraq on pallets weighing over 360 tons, all $100 bills, and that the money is now simply unaccounted for.

Let's get some more from our congressional correspondent, Andrea Koppel. She's on Capitol Hill.

What a shocking allegation this is, Andrea.

ANDREA KOPPEL, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It is, Wolf.

And, as you know, former Ambassador Bremer was the one who called all of the shots in Iraq, from basically May of 2003, when Saddam fell, until June of 2004, when he handed over the reins of power to an interim Iraqi government.

Now, during today's first oversight hearing of the administration's Iraq policy by this Democratically-controlled Congress, Democrats wanted to know what happened to that billions of dollars in cash.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KOPPEL (voice-over): Democrats wasted no time putting the former top U.S. official in Iraq on the spot.

REP. HENRY WAXMAN (D), CALIFORNIA: Who in their right mind would send 360 tons of cash into a war zone? But that's exactly what our government did.

KOPPEL: Chairman Henry Waxman said, during Paul Bremer's 13 months in charge, as these photographs released by the committee show, the U.S. Federal Reserve had flown in planeloads of cash, totalling nearly $12 billion, money Waxman accused Bremer and his colleagues of then handing over to Iraqi ministries, without proper oversight.

WAXMAN: To go -- to pay off corrupt officials, or, worst of all, did some of this money get in the hands of the insurgents and those who are fighting us today in Iraq?

KOPPEL: Bremer responded, his mandate in post-Saddam Iraq made oversight next to impossible, and said most of the money went to, among other things, paying civil service salaries and pensions.

PAUL BREMER, FORMER U.S. ADMINISTRATOR IN IRAQ: As so often in Iraq, the ideal clashed with the reality we faced. We had to find a way to get the Iraqi people's money working quickly for them rebuilding their country. KOPPEL: And Republicans also pointed out, that money came from sales of Iraqi oil and frozen Iraqi assets, not U.S. taxpayers. But Democrat Diane Watson wasn't buying it.

REP. DIANE WATSON (D), CALIFORNIA: We do not have a paper trail. I think that's absolutely unacceptable, at a time we're asking for a surge of troops and we're asking for hundreds of billions of dollars to be sent down that gopher hole that apparently was not accounted for in the past.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KOPPEL: And we can expect several more days of these oversight hearings tomorrow. Tomorrow, Chairman Waxman's committee is going to delve into the murky world of military contractors in Iraq -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And, clearly, that was not Congressman Darrell Issa that we just fonted incorrectly.

Thank you, Andrea, for that. We are going to stay on top of this story.

I suspect all of this investigation, now that the Democrats control the House and the Senate, their respective investigations of the money, the money -- the money -- allegedly abused in Iraq, is only just beginning.

Meanwhile, Paul Bremer wasn't the only person grilled on Capitol Hill today. The defense secretary, Robert Gates, was also asked some very tough questions about Iraq by lawmakers.

Let's go to our White House correspondent, Ed Henry -- Ed.

ED HENRY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, that's right.

In fact, under that sharp questioning, the defense secretary, Robert Gates, made a surprising declaration.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

HENRY (voice-over): Defense Secretary Robert Gates repeatedly hinted at a timetable for when U.S. troops would start leaving Iraq.

ROBERT GATES, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: If the plan to quiet Baghdad is successful and the Iraqis step up, and successfully assume the leadership in trying to establish order and then beginning their political -- or further carrying out their political reconciliation process, I would hope that we would be able to begin drawing down our troops later this year.

HENRY: Skeptical Democrats on the Senate Armed Services Committee said, they have heard rosy scenarios before. So, Gates was pressed to push the Iraqi government harder.

SEN. EVAN BAYH (D), INDIANA: Many of us have concluded, Secretary, that the moment of truth has arrived, and we have got to have a pretty direct dialogue with them and actually lay out some specific consequences that will matter to them.

HENRY: While Gates insisted, this is not the last chance in Iraq, he did admit, the administration has started planning for the possibility of failure.

GATES: I think that if this operation were not to succeed -- and we clearly are hoping it will succeed, planning for it to succeed, allocating the resources for it to succeed -- but I would tell you that I think I would be irresponsible if I weren't thinking about what the alternatives might be if that didn't happen.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

HENRY: Now, administration officials privately insist this was not a trial balloon to start laying the groundwork for pulling out of Iraq. Instead, they say that Iraqi officials have repeatedly said they want to take over the bulk of security by November. And U.S. officials want to start holding them to that -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Ed, thank you very much.

Plan B, as they say, we will see what unfolds on that front.

Up next: our "Strategy Session." Donna Brazile and Michael Steele, what do they think of Rudy Giuliani's presidential candidacy?

Plus: Mitt Romney gets ready to make it official. But do conservative voters have problems with him and the other two Republican front-runners in the presidential race?

Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Mitt Romney is planning to formally jump into the race for the White House next Tuesday. A campaign source tells CNN, Romney will make the announcement in Michigan, the state where his father served as governor back in the '60s. Romney will then make the rounds in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, all crucial early caucus and primary states.

The former Massachusetts governor currently ranks fourth in the latest CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll of registered Republicans. But Romney, along with front-runners John McCain and Rudy Giuliani, may all have some other problems courting crucial conservative voters.

Our senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley, is joining us now with more on this part of the story -- Candy.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, in the Republican Party, presidential contenders almost always have to begin at the beginning. And the beginning is party conservatives.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) CROWLEY (voice-over): Start naming names in the top tier of Republican presidential candidates, and, somewhere, you will hear a conservative object.

Rudy Giuliani: for a woman's right to choose, gay unions and gun licensing.

TONY PERKINS, PRESIDENT, FAMILY RESEARCH COUNCIL: If you have a Giuliani, who is pro-abortion, who is for gun control, is pro- homosexual, stacked up against Hillary Clinton, who is pro-gun control, pro-abortion, pro-homosexual, for redefining marriage, what is the difference?

CROWLEY: Mitt Romney: for a woman's right to choose, until a relatively recent conversion.

PERKINS: He's saying a lot of the right things, but a lot of things coming out about him that are troubling. It appears that maybe his campaign, his whole cycle, could be like a Chinese water torture. I mean, one news item drips out after another, and it's going to drive people crazy.

CROWLEY: And, though anti-abortion, John McCain favors some legal rights for same-sex couples, but he draws fire from the right for seeking compromise on Senate battles over judges and authoring campaign reform that limits third-party advertising.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP, "JERRY JOHNSON LIVE")

DR. JAMES DOBSON, FOUNDER & CHAIRMAN, FOCUS ON THE FAMILY: The McCain-Feingold bill...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.

DOBSON: ... kept us from telling the truth right before elections. And there are a lot of other things. And I pray that we won't get stuck with him.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

CROWLEY: The top three Republican candidates for president, and not a purist among them.

TERRY JEFFREY, EDITOR, "HUMAN EVENTS": I think there is some anxiety among Republicans, that there are problems with each one of these candidates.

CROWLEY: The objections are less vocal about Mitt Romney than about McCain or Giuliani, but talk with conservatives in South Carolina, and you will hear Romney between the lines.

State Senator Kevin Bryant backs Kansas Senator Sam Brownback.

KEVIN BRYANT (R), SOUTH CAROLINA STATE SENATOR: In my opinion, he's a true conservative. He's the same now as he was several years ago. We see a very clear, constant record on the conservative issues. CROWLEY: It is an article of faith that no Republican candidate can get through the primary season without the support of social conservatives. It helps explain Senator McCain's attempts to patch up relations with Jerry Falwell after a nasty dispute in 2000. And it explains why Rudy Giuliani touts other parts of his resume, and why Mitt Romney explains.

MITT ROMNEY (R), FORMER MASSACHUSETTS GOVERNOR: On abortion, I wasn't always a Ronald Reagan conservative. Either was Ronald Reagan, by the way. But, like him, I learned with experience.

CROWLEY: Conservatives insist, there is no way the party will ever nominate a candidate who favors abortion rights. To do so, said one, is to invite a third party.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CROWLEY: But other Republicans argue, the half-a-loaf scenario, that, even if a candidate does not fit the usual Republican mold, conservatives will go for him, provided they are convinced he can win -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Candy, thank you.

So, is former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani reaching out to conservatives? The potential Republican presidential candidate has been known for his pro-abortion rights, pro-gun control stance. Is that changing, though, right now, as he seeks the Republican presidential nomination?

Joining us in today's "Strategy Session," CNN contributor and Democratic strategist Donna Brazile and GOPAC chairman Michael Steele. He's also the former lieutenant governor of Maryland, a Republican.

Thanks, guys, very much for coming -- coming in.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: I watched Rudy Giuliani make his statement last night that he is in it; he's in it to win. He was on FOX, interviewed by Sean Hannity. And he clearly was reaching out to the conservative base of the party.

Although he said he still supports abortion rights for women, he also said: "Where I stand on abortion is, I oppose it. I don't like it. I hate it. I think abortion is something that, as a personal matter, I would advise somebody against."

He said he supports gun control in New York City, not necessarily out West. He said this: "I understand the Second Amendment. I support it. People have the right to bear arms."

And, as far as gay marriage, gay rights, are concerned, he opposes any discrimination against gays and lesbians. But he also says, "Marriage should be between a man and a woman. It should remain that way." Here's the question: Will this satisfy the religious conservative base of the Republican Party?

MICHAEL STEELE, GOPAC CHAIRMAN: Not the hard-core side of that -- that scenario.

But it will begin to move people in a direction to pay closer attention to Rudy. I think, when you see a George Will coming out and supporting Rudy Giuliani, it tells you that he's -- his message is beginning to resonate, because of this reality, Iraq.

And the fact is, at the end of the day, the -- the issues that are going break in this campaign are not going to be necessarily the social issues, although important. But where we are in this country in prosecuting this war and ending this war will be the ultimate determinative. And that's a problem for the Dems, as well as for the Republicans.

BLITZER: By courting the religious right, does he, though, risk alienating the moderate independent voters, who are -- who have always, Donna, been very attracted to Rudy Giuliani, whether in New York City or elsewhere?

DONNA BRAZILE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: And, you know, he is also risking reaching out to independents, who are very prominent in the New Hampshire primary, by, you know, alter -- altering his position.

Look, Rudy's -- Rudy's challenge, of course, is to play down all of these issues that divide him with the conservative base, and to emphasize issues like crime, tax cuts, perhaps judges, where he can perhaps make a more of a natural connection with the conservatives.

I'm not a Republican. I'm not a conservative. But, clearly, these issues, gay rights, abortion rights, have divided the electorate over the -- over the years. And, because he has been such a strong supporter, I'm sure that Democrats and independents will continue to point out that he's been on our side on these issues.

BLITZER: He -- he did point out, also, in the course of that interview that, on -- on the issue, sensitive issue, of abortion rights, for example, he very much likes Chief Supreme Court Justice John Roberts. He likes Antonin Scalia, Samuel Alito, and, if he had the opportunity, he would appoint jurists...

STEELE: Like that.

BLITZER: ... along those lines, which, presumably, would be appealing to the social conservative base of the party.

STEELE: Again, I think that is -- that is the point, is that it's -- it's not just where you stand on the issues, but how you go about, as an executive leader, putting in place the foundations for your administration, judicial appointments being a part of that.

And, while he said he had no litmus test, he liked those -- those jurists and their positions, in terms being arbitrators of the Constitution, and not sitting and legislating.

BRAZILE: Well, when you run for the presidency, character matters.

And Mr. Giuliani has made all sorts of comments about judges. And, of course, he said favorable things about Ruth Bader Ginsburg. So, while he is trying to make himself over as a conservative, somebody who is acceptable, one has to look at his entire record, his pre-9/11 record, as well as his record since leaving office...

(CROSSTALK)

STEELE: Yes.

BRAZILE: ... including all of his...

BLITZER: He -- he is...

(CROSSTALK)

BRAZILE: ... his lobbying contacts...

BLITZER: He is...

BRAZILE: ... and everything else.

BLITZER: He is an ardent supporter of the president's Iraq strategy...

STEELE: That's right.

BLITZER: ... has been from the beginning...

STEELE: That's right.

BLITZER: ... continues to support the increase in U.S. troops heading over there right now.

You think that's going to be a popular issue?

STEELE: Which -- which gets -- which gets me back to my initial point: All things lead to Iraq. Whether in politics or in -- in terms of policy for the war, that's going to be determinative and where he stands. If this surge is a success, then, Rudy and others will be OK. If not, they will have a lot of explaining to do.

BLITZER: Is he, though, the Republican Democrats fear the most in an ultimate presidential contest?

BRAZILE: No, I don't think so. There are many Republicans that I think will, you know, stir up and perhaps galvanize the conservatives.

I think, for now, people are just looking everyone over. They're on the shopping spree, like we are on the Democratic side.

STEELE: Right.

BRAZILE: But for -- for this -- this guy, once again, I mean, what he has going for him right now is strong name I.D., celebrity status, and the ability to raise money.

But Democrats will look at his record. I'm sure the Republicans will, his opponents. And he has a pre-9/11 record. I -- I saw Al Sharpton on your show yesterday. I didn't get to watch that other network.

And Al Sharpton and many others in New York, who know Rudy Giuliani, will also point out some of his shortcomings.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Well, and I'm sure there will be not shortage of that.

Guys, we have got to leave it there, because we're all out of time. But we will continue this conversation -- a lot of time to -- to go.

Donna Brazile, Michael Steele, thanks for coming in.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: And up next: What has gotten the Texas Republican governor, Rick Perry, in hot water with the conservative base of his party? Mary Snow is standing by with a special report.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Texas Governor Rick Perry is defending his order to require young girls to be vaccinated against the virus that causes cervical cancer.

But some GOP lawmakers want him to rescind it. They are worried, requiring the vaccine could promote promiscuity and step on parental rights.

Let's go to CNN's Mary Snow. She is following this controversy -- Mary.

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, debate has spread to nearly two dozen other states now considering measures similar to the one in Texas. Many say the vaccine can save lives. But critics say, it's sending the wrong message.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, MERCK AD)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Each year, in the U.S., thousands of women learn they have cervical cancer. I could be one less.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SNOW (voice-over): The ads tout a Merck vaccine to prevent a sexual transmitted virus known as human papillomavirus, or HPV, that causes most cervical cancer cases.

Texas just made it mandatory for 11- and 12-year-olds to get the vaccine. And, now, more than 20 states are considering legislation surrounding the vaccine.

While many applaud this decision...

DR. LOUIS COOPER, NATIONAL NETWORK FOR IMMUNIZATION INFORMATION: I want my granddaughters to receive the vaccine. I can't think of a reason not to have this vaccine.

SNOW: ... conservative activists say, they have reason to oppose mandating the vaccine. For one thing, they say, it would promote promiscuity.

CAROLE GRIFFIN, EAGLE FORUM: If we would preach the abstinence method to the young girls, that would be the healthy choice, because, then, they don't have to worry about catching this virus. It -- it's more economical than giving all these vaccines to these 11- and 12- year-old girls.

SNOW: Proponents of the vaccine say young girls are targeted since the HPV vaccine does not cure HPV, only prevent it. And they say there's a difference between ideology and science.

DR. BETH JORDAN, MEDICAL DIRECTOR, FEMINIST MAJORITY FOUNDATION: I think that, if we know that people -- that most people are sexually active before they're 20, if 80 percent of all people will go ahead and develop some form of HPV, you know, we can't afford, from a public health or an individual perspective, to keep our head in the ground.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SNOW: Now, in Texas and in other measures being considered, parents have the choice of opting out of getting the vaccine for their daughters, if they object. Critics, though, say, it should be the other way around, that they should be able to opt in -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Mary Snow, reporting for us, thank you.

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