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THE SITUATION ROOM

Barack Obama Prepares to Address Illinois; Internet Video Claims to Show American Helicopter Being Shot Down; Update on Anna Nicols Smith's Death

Aired February 9, 2007 - 16:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks very much, guys.
And we're going to have a lot more on this story coming up.

Also happening right now, we're watching Barack Obama. When he talks, virtually everyone in the political world will be listening. The Democratic senator, he's the man who may want to run for president. He's expected to finally say he will run tomorrow. We're going to be live in Springfield, Illinois, where tomorrow Barack Obama certainly will be center stage. We'll set the stage for you.

Also, was it shot down or did it accidentally come down?

An American helicopter crashed in Iraq Wednesday. The U.S. military says it believes it was downed by mechanical failure. But a shocking Internet video from an al Qaeda linked group claims to show the helicopter being shot down. We'll show it to you.

And more on Anna Nicole Smith. Death of a movie star and TV star -- Anna Nicole Smith -- there are new details about her death and there are new developments regarding the men -- repeat, men who claim to the be the father of her infant daughter.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Tomorrow, a lot of political eyes are going to be all over him. That would be the Democratic senator, Barack Obama.

From his home state of Illinois, he'll make a major announcement regarding his presidential plans. We expect him to say he's officially in this, wants to be president. Obama will be speaking from a place rich with history and well known. We're expecting one of America's most well known presidents.

We're also going to be getting to CNN's Candy Crowley.

She's on the scene for us right now, in fact, with the latest on Barack Obama -- there's little doubt, if any, Candy, that he's going to officially make it known tomorrow he's in this to win.

CANDY CROWLEY, SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: He's -- he's in this race. There are going to be a lot of surprised people here, I tell you, Wolf, if he doesn't announce that he's going to run, because from here, he's off to Iowa and then New Hampshire.

So very little doubt, no doubt, in fact, that he will announce tomorrow.

Now, as you know, Obama has made quite a splash on the national scene over the last two years. Still, he does not have the kind of name recognition that Hillary Clinton has. And that's what tomorrow is all about, to begin to kick off his getting to know you with America.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D), ILLINOIS: The time for waiting in Iraq is over.

CROWLEY (voice-over): He opposes the war in Iraq and favors the Bush-backed immigration bill. He is against same-sex marriage but supports civil unions. He favors universal health care.

REV. ALVIN LOVE, LILYDALE 1ST BAPTIST CHURCH: I've known Barak for 20 years and I'm not sure that I know whether he's a liberal or a conservative. I really think sometimes it depends on the issue.

CROWLEY: Republicans describe Obama as a pragmatic left of center politician who works both sides of the aisle to get things down -- sunup past sundown.

KIRK DILLARD (R), ILLINOIS STATE SENATE: Senator Obama had the social skills that helped him as a legislator. In Springfield, he played basketball. He played poke with a number of legislators from downstate Illinois after hours. He would have an occasional drink. He would smoke a cigarette, bum a cigarette, from legislators.

CROWLEY: He spent eight years in state politics, the last two in national politics. It is, in the end, the biggest question on the Barack Obama bandwagon -- is that enough to be leader of the Western world?

(END VIDEO TAPE)

CROWLEY: Now, part of the symbolic answer to Barack Obama's experience is right here, at the old state capital in Springfield, Illinois. This is where Abraham Lincoln gave his "A House Divided Against Itself Cannot Stand" speech. Abraham Lincoln -- and this is not a coincidence -- had about eight years experience in the state legislature in Illinois, two years of experience in the U.S. Congress, before he became president -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Very similar to Barack Obama, in fact.

So he makes the big announcement tomorrow in Springfield, Illinois.

Then what? where does he go from there?

CROWLEY: Well, the usual places, Wolf. From here, he goes to Iowa to do about a day-and-a-half of events there. Then back to Chicago. And on Monday, he is off to New Hampshire.

BLITZER: What about his rival for the Democratic presidential nomination, Hillary Rodham Clinton?

She's got a big weekend ahead of her, as well.

CROWLEY: Yes. It's part of what makes it a great weekend for political watchers. Senator Clinton will be in New Hampshire, her first trip there since before the 2004 elections. So she will get a lot of play, even as Barack Obama gets his day in the sun.

BLITZER: Candy, we'll be watching, together with you.

And stay with CNN tomorrow for that speech. Barack Obama will be announcing he's running for president in Springfield, Illinois.

Senator Clinton, by the way, says that regardless of when New Hampshire holds its primary, she will be there. The Granite State is thinking of moving up its contest now that national Democrats are allowing Nevada to hold its caucus before New Hampshire, which traditionally goes second, right after the Iowa caucuses.

The Democratic Party, though, is telling candidates that they'll lose their delegates if they campaign in states that are bucking this system. But in an interview today with the "New Hampshire Union Leader," Senator Clinton says she'll compete in the primary whenever, whenever it is held.

And remember, CNN is a partner with WMUR Television and the "New Hampshire Union Leader" for the very first presidential debates of this current campaign season. That will be on April 4th and 5th of this year, the first debates in the leadoff presidential primary state of New Hampshire.

Cash is king in any presidential contest, but so is congeniality. All of the presidential hopefuls are expected to shake a lot of hands and, of course, kiss a lot of babies. They'll be doing much of that this weekend.

On the Republican side, Rudy Giuliani goes west, delivering the keynote address at the California Republicans' annual convention in Sacramento. That's tomorrow. Senator Sam Brownback of Kansas talks to Michigan Republicans at their convention in Grand Rapids, also tomorrow. And former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee headlines a Republican event in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, another early state in these primaries.

Turning now to the gruesome claim by a group linked to al Qaeda. It concerns Iraq and the recent deaths of seven Americans.

And joining us now, our military analyst, retired U.S. Air Force Major General Don Shepperd.

General, thanks very much for coming in.

Check out this video that some terrorist organization put out on the Internet, supposedly showing a U.S. Marine Corps CH-46 Sea Stallion helicopter being shot down by insurgents.

First of all, does it look credible to you?

MAJ. GEN. DON SHEPPERD, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Some parts of it look credible.

First of all, it is a CH-46 Sea Stallion helicopter. There, the credibility ceases. You can't tell whether there's any gunfire involved. There does not appear to be any missiles. The Defense Department says that this may be mechanical malfunction.

What we see first is a black plume coming out of the back of the airplane. That's where the engines are. So it could be an engine malfunction that started this crash. It could also be caused by ground fire that we didn't see. But you can't tell from this video.

BLITZER: You certainly can't tell from that.

All right, take a look at the vast expanse of Iraq over here on our touch table. This is a huge area, about the size of California. Six helicopters have gone down, U.S. helicopters, in the past three weeks alone.

There's deep concern that perhaps the insurgents, the enemy, they've improved their capabilities to shoot down U.S. helicopters.

The investigations are continuing.

You've studied this problem for a long time.

What do you think?

SHEPPERD: Yes, I have, and I've spent a lot of time in helicopters, both in Iraq and in my career. I would be very cautious about drawing those conclusions. Sometimes you lose airplanes. I lost three airplanes in five days once. So they gang up on you.

but the other thing is there is no similarity. These airplanes are not the same type, they didn't go down in the same area, they weren't doing the same thing. So it's prudent to ask what's going on -- what tactics are we using, what time of day are we flying, what routes are we doing, and look at all of that to see if we need to alter anything, but be very careful about assuming that these are due to increased enemy tactics or equipment.

BLITZER: Here's the problem, because the Black Hawk helicopters, the Army helicopters, a lot of helicopters, they fly low to try to avoid the shoulder-fired missiles. At the same time, they become more vulnerable to ground fire, if you will, and that's a problem.

Why not simply fly at really high altitudes, thereby you avoid the ground fire, you avoid the threat of Stingers or shoulder-fired missiles?

SHEPPERD: Yes, in the words of Napoleon, the soldiers ride to the sounds of gun. The action takes place down low. That's where soldiers fight, where you transport them, where you resupply them, where you have to provide them with fire support, if you will.

That takes place down low and the helicopter has to be there. And it's going to be vulnerable.

The more troops we put in there, the more helicopter flights, the more helicopters we're going to lose. It's a fact of life.

BLITZER: An unfortunate fact of life.

General Shepperd, thanks very much for coming in.

BLITZER: Let's go to New York and Jack Cafferty for The Cafferty File -- hi, Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, if you tuned into THE SITUATION ROOM at 4:00 yesterday afternoon, you were informed that Anna Nicole Smith had died. And that's all. That's the only story we reported for two solid hours. And we weren't the only ones. Other cable news channels also opting for continuous coverage.

A lot of you wrote to me to complain, saying that we overdid it. I happen to agree with you, but I just make the sandwiches around here.

You wanted to know why there was no coverage of the war in Iraq and the deaths of seven or our troops there the day before? Or the Libby trial? Or the threat from Iran to strike American interests around the world if it was attacked?

Those are all valid questions.

Because of the eccentric and troubled and highly public life she led, as well as her overt sexuality, her death was tabloid gold and apparently we just couldn't help ourselves.

So here's the question -- how would you characterize the television news coverage of the death of Anna Nicole Smith?

You can tee it up and fire a high hard one at us if you're so inclined. E-mail your thoughts to caffertyfile@cnn.com or go to cnn.com/caffertyfile -- Wolf.

BLITZER: I know a lot of people are complaining about that, Jack.

But a lot of people are also watching and there's a fascination, there's an interest. And all of this reminds me of the fascination with the O.J. Simpson trial, which got saturated coverage, as well.

People complained that we were doing too much about it.

But you know what? They were watching in huge numbers.

CAFFERTY: Well, people watch a lot of things. That doesn't make them worthwhile events. You see a traffic accident on the side of the road -- people stop and look at that, too. It doesn't mean it was a worthwhile happening.

BLITZER: Well, I'm interested to hear what our viewers -- I've got a ton of e-mail on this.

I'm sure you did, as well.

We'll hear what they say later this hour.

And coming up, for those of you who really do care about the death of Anna Nicole Smith, there are some brand new developments that are occurring now.

How did she die?

We're going to have a live report from Fort Lauderdale on the autopsy results. That's only minutes away.

Plus, Anna Nicole is dead but her legal fight is very much alive. Jeffrey Toobin, our senior legal analyst, will join us to take a closer look at the court battle over the millions of dollars at stake, as well as the custody of that little baby girl.

And later, a tough grilling for Condoleezza Rice -- is the secretary of state's star falling?

Zain Verjee watching this story.

Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: There is new information, new developments in the sudden death of Anna Nicole Smith. We heard from the coroner's office just a short time ago. You may have seen it live here on CNN. And there are legal wranglings, also, that are continuing, legal wranglings that marked her life, they're escalating now in the wake of her death.

Our senior legal analyst, Jeff Toobin, is standing by.

But let's go to South Florida.

Our Susan Candiotti is on the scene -- update our viewers who may just be tuning in right now, Susan, on what we heard from the police and the coroner's office just a little while ago.

SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, after an autopsy that took nearly six hours to complete, the Broward County Medical Examiner's Office examiner says he still doesn't know what caused Anna Nicole's death -- Anna Nicole Smith's death.

He did say that he did not find any major sign of trauma, except for a minor bruise. She suffered from a fall just a few days ago. He did say that they recovered prescription drugs and over-the-counter medications from the hotel room. He did not disclose what those prescription drugs are, but CNN has learned from a law enforcement source that they were valium and some antibiotics. Remember, she was suffering from a flu.

The prescription drugs were in the name of her partner, Howard K. Stern, according to our law enforcement source.

The medical examiner also said that he also found a small amount of blood in her stomach.

And here's how he explained that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DR. JOSHUA PERPER, BROWARD COUNTY MEDICAL EXAMINER: ... a mass quantity means a large amounts of pills. When somebody takes a large amount of pills and dies as a result of it, usually you found some of the pills still in the stomach. We did not see any intact pills in the stomach. We saw only a small amount of blood, which we believe is due to terminal shock.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CANDIOTTI: So this means, from here on out, the doctors office here will be awaiting toxicology results. That could take anywhere from three to five weeks before they get information back on that.

What will they be looking for?

They'll be looking for any kind of drug inaction in her body, any chemical reaction in her body to determine whether she died from natural causes or a combination of natural causes and drugs, as well.

The police chief from the Seminole Police Department that handles the hotel where she died said that at this time, they have absolutely no evidence of any crime -- Wolf.

BLITZER: This coroner -- this medical examiner, Dr. Joshua Perper, he basically said there were right now, based on his initial review, three possible causes of death, as you point out, natural causes, medication or some...

CANDIOTTI: I can't hear you anymore.

BLITZER: ... or chemicals.

CANDIOTTI: Lost our connection.

BLITZER: Susan, unfortunately, can't hear me -- or -- let me update our viewers -- he basically said there were three possibilities for the cause of death -- natural causes, medication, a result of chemicals in the body, or some sort of combination of natural causes and medication.

We're going to continue to watch the medical part of the story.

But let's go now to the legal questions that are involved in this situation.

Joining us from New York, our senior legal analyst, Jeff Toobin.

There's a couple of legal issues, at least two, probably a lot more that I want to review.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: A lot.

BLITZER: First of all, the question of custody of the little girl who's five months old, the little daughter that she had back in the Bahamas.

What's the latest on that front?

TOOBIN: Well, today, Larry Birkhead, who was a photographer, an entertainment reporter who has claimed to be the father of Dannie Lynn, the little girl, he went to court and he said I want a DNA test. I want to be established as the father of this baby.

The judge said not so fast. We want to take this procedure in an orderly way and ordered the body of Anna Nicole Smith preserved at least until February 20th, when there will be the next hearing.

But certainly it seems that there will be DNA tests done and paternity will be established with certainty. That's probably the only thing that will be established with certainty in this tangled situation.

But sooner or later, that's going to be done.

BLITZER: Because her long time companion, the man she married -- but there are some questions about the legality of that marriage in the Bahamas -- Howard K. Stern, he says he's the father. This photographer says he's the father. And now the husband of the actress Zsa Zsa Gabor, Prince Frederick von Anhalt, he claims to have had a longstanding affair with Anna Nicole Smith and he says he is actually the father.

TOOBIN: Yes, well, Wolf, when I saw that come across the wire today, I was fairly certain that was a parody of what was going on here. But apparently it's true. He says that he is the father. All the more reason to establish with DNA tests who the child's father is.

BLITZER: And how does all of this impact the other legal question, the big legal question, the money -- not just tens of millions of dollars, but potentially hundreds of millions of dollars in that estate from her late husband, that has been contested now for many years?

TOOBIN: Right. Well, you have to take the questions in order, because there is a lot of complexity here.

The first question is did Anna Nicole Smith leave a will, because that would certainly be the first thing to look at in terms of allocating money that she either had or had coming to her. She was only 39 years old. Most people in their 30s don't have a will. She didn't lead an especially orderly life. It seems unlikely that she did have a will, but that's obviously one question you want to ask.

The second question you want to ask is was she married? Because she and Howard K. Stern described themselves as husband and wife, had some sort of ceremony in the Bahamas, but whether that was, in fact, a legal marriage will be very important in allocating her assets and her rights following her death, because spouses have certain automatic rights.

If there's no will, if there's no marriage, then the question becomes who are her heirs and is there anyone except this little baby girl, who is five months old and obviously can't assert any legal rights on her own?

A court will have to appoint a guardian for her. That's where you probably going back to the question of paternity. And the likely guardian will be her father, whoever he may be.

BLITZER: All right, Jeff, you're going to stick around because there are a lot of additional legal questions we're going to go through.

Jeff Toobin helping us better understand the legal complexities of this case.

We'll have more on this story coming up in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Also coming up, an ancient place with some very modern troubles. Up next, we'll tell you about a very violent day in the holy city of Jerusalem.

And later, when it comes to the race for the White House, is it back to the future?

Our Bill Schneider standing by to explain.

Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Carol Costello is keeping an eye on the wires. She's checking all the video feeds coming into THE SITUATION ROOM from around the world.

She's joining us now from New York with a closer look at some other important stories -- hi, Carol.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Wolf.

Hello to all of you.

A violent clash today near the Al Aksa Mosque in Jerusalem, a site sacred to both Muslims and Jews. Thousands of Muslim worshippers hurled stones, bottles and trash. They were upset about Israeli renovation work nearby.

The Israeli police fired stun grenades and tear gas. Fifteen police officers and 15 Palestinians were wounded. Israeli police say about 17 Palestinians were arrested.

The U.N. atomic watchdog agency says it is suspending nearly half of the technical aid it provides to Iran. That action is intended to punish Iran for its nuclear defiance. The move still must be approved by the IAEA's 35-nation board next month.

Encouraging news from the North Korean nuclear talks in Beijing. Negotiations -- negotiators haggled today over details of the initial steps to disarm the communist country of any nuclear bombs it might have. But the main U.S. envoy says he is encouraged by agreements on broad principles.

Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill says the remaining issues to be resolved are contained in a single paragraph of a Chinese draft. He says it's being reworked to address North Korea's concerns.

And a follow-up to Jeff Koinange's amazing and dramatic story we showed you yesterday in THE SITUATION ROOM on the kidnapping in the Niger Delta. The Philippine government strongly hinted today it would approve the payment of ransom to win the freedom of 26 Filipino hostages missing or kidnapped in Nigeria. In the meantime, Nigerian security agencies have been investigating what they call subversive activities by some foreign correspondents.

Nigeria's information minister issued a statement aimed in part at Koinange's report. The official denounced what he calls the stereotypical apocalyptical pictures Western media construct of Nigeria and Africa.

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

BLITZER: He did some amazing reporting these last several days, Jeff Koinange, for us. If our viewers didn't see those reports yesterday and the day before, they missed out on some excellent journalism.

Thanks very much, Carol, for that.

Jeff Koinange, a great reporter doing -- risking his life to bring us the news in a remote part of Africa.

Up next, Condoleezza Rice on the hot seat.

With Donald Rumsfeld gone, is the secretary of state becoming the administration's new punching bag?

Zain Verjee has been looking into this story. She'll join us.

Plus, in the race for the White House, why are the top candidates, at least several of them, simply saying no thanks to free money?

Bill Schneider has the answer.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Happening now, former presidential nominee Al Gore speaking out about another possible White House bid and fellow Democrat, Senator Barack Obama, poised to make a major announcement about his presidential campaign. We're going to talk about these subjects in our Strategy Session.

Also, an internal Pentagon report very critical of the Department's own pre-war intelligence assessments on Iraq. One lawmaker calling it -- and I'm quoting now -- a devastating condemnation. I'll talk to the man who's -- was in charge of the intel, the former Pentagon policy chief, Doug Fife. He'll join us live here in THE SITUATION ROOM in the next hour.

And a state of emergency has affected Upstate New York, which is simply buried under mounds of snow. Almost 90 inches falling on some towns. That's more than seven feet, so bad that ambulances are getting stuck. Snow plows are having to lead the way for vehicles responding to emergency calls, and there are a lot of them.

I'm Wolf Blitzer and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is expected to meet with both Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and the Israeli prime minister, Ehud Olmert, later this month.

As America's top diplomat, Secretary Rice is widely received by many international VIPs on the world stage. But how is she being received here at home right now?

Our State Department correspondent, Zain Verjee, has more -- Zain.

ZAIN VERJEE, CNN STATE DEPARTMENT CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Condoleezza Rice came to the State Department a star, but is that star dimming?

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

(CROSSTALK)

SEN. RUSS FEINGOLD (D), WISCONSIN: That's not what I asked.

(CROSSTALK)

FEINGOLD: I asked if we're better off since...

(CROSSTALK)

CONDOLEEZZA RICE, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: Senator, not every...

FEINGOLD: ... since the intervention in Iraq. VERJEE (voice-over): With Donald Rumsfeld gone, it's Condoleezza Rice's job to sell the Iraq war. And, like Rumsfeld, she is taking the heat he used to bear.

SEN. CHUCK HAGEL (R), NEBRASKA: That's just not true. That is not true.

RICE: Well, Senator, if you will -- Senator, if you will allow me to finish, I think...

VERJEE: More and more lawmakers are critical of the administration's Iraq policy, some calling it:

SEN. CHRISTOPHER DODD (D-CT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: A fool's paradise.

VERJEE: Her predecessors aren't pulling any punches either, saying, Rice should talk to America's enemies, Iran and Syria.

MADELEINE ALBRIGHT, FORMER U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: Talking to governments about hard problems is why diplomacy matters.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's what we hire a secretary of state for.

VERJEE: It wasn't always this hard. Two short years ago, Rice arrived at the State Department a celebrity, bringing both substance and style. She's been praised for engaging Europe over Iran's nuclear program and Asian allies on North Korea -- then, a grand vision for a democratic Arab world.

RICE: What we're seeing here, in a sense, is the -- the growing -- the birth pangs of a new Middle East.

VERJEE: But the new Middle East lost out to ancient rivalries. Sectarian and strategic fault lines exploded because of the war in Iraq.

After Rice waited, then tried and failed to stop the fighting between Israel and Hezbollah, the U.S. lost credibility in the region. It was then forced to turn to authoritarian regimes, like Saudi Arabia, for help.

CHARLES KUPCHAN, SENIOR FELLOW AND DIRECTOR FOR EUROPE STUDIES, COUNCIL ON FOREIGN AFFAIRS: I think her star has fallen, in part because the Iraq war has gone very badly, and it's difficult to find any ray of light.

VERJEE: Still, she is the most popular official in the administration, her numbers higher than the president.

And she is trying to turn things around with a new push for progress in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and uniting Arab allies on Iran's threat.

KUPCHAN: My sense is that Secretary Rice wants to give diplomacy a chance. (END VIDEOTAPE)

VERJEE: The question is, does she have enough weight within the administration to push for dialogue, say, with Iran? Experts say, so far, the answer is no -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Zain, thank you.

Meanwhile, in presidential politics: Can you spare $1 billion? Those who want to be president may have to raise $1 billion in the next campaign, possibly making it the most expensive presidential race ever.

Our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider, is joining us now with more.

What a sum of money, Bill.

(LAUGHTER)

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: It certainly is.

And, you know, the campaign finance system that's been in place for presidential elections for over 30 years may be collapsing. So, why are where are we headed?

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: How far are you going?

MICHAEL J. FOX, ACTOR: About 30 years.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCHNEIDER: Could campaign finance be headed back to the future? It's expected that 2008 will be the first presidential election since 1972 where both party nominees will reject public funding. Instead, they will raise private money and spend as much as it takes.

Fred Wertheimer, president of the reform group Democracy 21, remembers the days before campaign finance reform.

FRED WERTHEIMER, PRESIDENT, DEMOCRACY 21: Huge sums of money were being raised, and government decisions and government jobs were being provided in return. I mean, the government was for sale.

SCHNEIDER: Wertheimer describes what was going on in President Nixon's reelection committee.

WERTHEIMER: You know, and everyone wanted to give cash then. I mean, they were flying in from all over the country, with -- literally with satchels of cash.

SCHNEIDER: Why cash?

WERTHEIMER: You could literally bribe someone with cash. If the person got caught with the cash, they would just say, it's a campaign -- it was a campaign contribution. And, since they didn't have to disclose it, you couldn't refute it.

SCHNEIDER: Could it happen again?

REP. MARTIN MEEHAN (D), MASSACHUSETTS: Even the conservative estimates are that you have to raise $100 million to enter the stakes. I think that opens all kinds of possibility for special-interest money that may have an effect, ultimately, on a candidate.

SCHNEIDER: Now you can no longer give $1 million, but you can raise $1 million by bundling together small contributions. The names of individual contributors have to be disclosed. The bundlers do not.

WERTHEIMER: If I am responsible for providing $1 million to you, you don't care whether it's my money or someone else's money. It's $1 million. It's $1 million worth of influence.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER: Measures are already being proposed to fix the campaign finance system. But they would not take effect until after the 2008 election -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Interesting. Thank you for that.

Bill Schneider, and, as you saw earlier, Candy Crowley, they are part of the best political team on television.

And, remember, for the latest political news at any time, check out our Political Ticker at CNN.com/ticker.

Meanwhile, there are some new developments involving Al Gore. He was recently overseas, where he made a major announcement.

CNN's Richard Quest is in London, where he caught up with the former vice president -- Richard.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RICHARD QUEST, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Al Gore was in London with the Virgin boss, Sir Richard Branson, to announce a competition with a prize of $25 million.

It goes to anyone who can come up with a way to remove damaging carbon dioxide from the Earth's atmosphere. Mr. Gore admitted there was absolutely no guarantee of success in the venture.

Afterwards, in an interview, I asked him whether, as the world's elder statesman on the environment, he considered this subject to be his true life's work.

AL GORE, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I guess. I think that it's the most serious crisis civilization has ever faced. And, if I can play a useful role in communicating effectively about this crisis in ways that help to speed up the -- the formation of a political consensus worldwide, and particularly in my country, which needs to be a leader in solving this crisis, then, I think that's a -- a good use of my time and energy.

QUEST: Now, on the hot-button issue of whether Al Gore will run in 2008, he said he didn't really have that much interest in that regard. And anyone in the room at the time was left in little doubt that that wasn't his number-one priority at the moment -- Wolf.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Richard, thank you -- Richard Quest doing his reporting in London.

Coming up: Upstate New York is digging out from under a ton of snow, and there's more to come. We're going to have a report.

Plus, in the next hour: Did a handpicked group of Pentagon intelligence analysts cook the books to make their case against Saddam Hussein? We will ask former Undersecretary of Defense Doug Feith. He will join us live right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: The snow is really piling up in Upstate New York. In Oswego County, for example, there have been -- been reports of snow topping actually more than 100 inches.

CNN meteorologist Rob Marciano is right in the middle of it all.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ROB MARCIANO, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Here, along the frozen shores of Lake Ontario, the wind is whipping and the snow is falling once again.

But look at these huge mounds of ice that have developed over the past couple of weeks, as this arctic outbreak has literally pushed this cold water, with ice, onto shore, and piling up, almost like huge sand dunes.

And it's like a surreal sight here. The wind whipping that snow looks like a winter sandstorm -- blinding visibilities at times, feels like needles across your face -- windchills well below zero.

And, then, beyond those dunes, you can actually see chunks of ice floating and rolling in the waves, as they come onshore -- and, beyond that, big breakers. It looks like an angry Atlantic Ocean, with whitecaps, waves 10, 12 feet at times.

But it's that water, at about 37, 38, 39 degrees, contrasted with this bitterly cold air, that is making for this lake-effect snow event. And it's expected to continue right through the weekend, up to eight feet in spots, another two feet possible. Lake-effect snow warnings remain in effect until Monday morning.

Rob Marciano, CNN, Oswego, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Let's go to Carol Costello. She is monitoring a lot of developments.

First of all, Carol, 100 inches in Upstate New York. I grew up in that part of the country.

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: That's a lot of snow, by anyone's definition.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Even by your definition...

BLITZER: That's right.

(LAUGHTER)

COSTELLO: ... used to all that stuff?

BLITZER: That's right. I remember it, many years ago...

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: ... but not 100 inches in a few days.

COSTELLO: Makes you glad you're living in balmy Washington, D.C., now...

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: Yes. You're right.

(LAUGHTER)

COSTELLO: ... comparatively.

And the headlines this afternoon: The chief executive of the Cartoon Network is resigning, after a guerrilla marketing scheme that led to a major bomb scare in Boston. Jim Samples says he regrets the negative publicity and expense to the company caused by this campaign.

Light boards with the outline of a cartoon character were placed throughout Boston and nine other cities. Someone in Boston reported one of the devices as a suspicious object, setting off a bomb scare. The Cartoon Network is a sister network of CNN.

New findings about lung cancer -- a new study from Stanford University finds that up to 20 percent of women who develop lung cancer have never smoked. The study suggests that secondhand smoke may be to blame. The researchers also found that just 8 percent of men who get lung cancer are nonsmokers. The study is published in today's issue of "The Journal of Clinical Oncology."

And the woman who claims to be James Brown's fourth wife has reason to feel good. A judge ruled today, she will be allowed to return the home she shared with the singer to retrieve her belongings. She says she has been locked out of the home in Beech Island, South Carolina, since Brown died on Christmas Day. She says she and Brown were indeed married. Brown's attorney disputes that.

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

BLITZER: All right, thank you, Carol. We're going to get back to you shortly.

Up next, in our "Strategy Session": the Barack Obama factor. He is set to take the big step into the race for the White House tomorrow. What does it mean for the rest of the Democratic field?

And how would you characterize the television news coverage of the death of Anna Nicole Smith? That's Jack Cafferty's question. He is going through your e-mail -- Jack and "The Cafferty File" also coming up this hour.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Democratic Senator Barack Obama expected to formally announce tomorrow he is running for president -- not a big surprise.

Questions, though, are being raised about how his candidacy will impact the campaign of his key Democratic rival. That would be Senator Hillary Clinton.

Joining us now in our "Strategy Session": Democratic strategist Donna Brazile, and the president of the American Cause, Bay Buchanan.

Guys, thanks very much.

Donna, I'm going to put some numbers up on the screen -- our latest CNN/WMUR New Hampshire presidential poll. Among Democratic potential primary voters, Clinton gets 35 percent, Obama, 21 percent, Edwards 16 percent, Al Gore, who is running -- at least not yet -- 8 percent.

When he announces tomorrow he is in it to win -- she has announced that already -- what happens to this race?

DONNA BRAZILE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, look, I think, tomorrow, we will see a huge ripple effect.

Senator Obama has enjoyed a lot of media coverage. He has been, you know, the poster child of just a lot of good, happy talk over the last couple of months.

But, now, the rubber hits the road. Senator Obama must add a little bit more meat to the bone, put some policy stuff out there, get his organization up and running in those key early states.

(CROSSTALK)

BRAZILE: But, ultimately, this is going to be an exciting race. It's not a coronation. It's going to be a contest.

We have many good, incredible candidates, including those top- tier candidates. But I -- I will not rule out some of those second- tier candidates, who may also hit their stride.

(CROSSTALK)

BAY BUCHANAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: No question.

BLITZER: It's still very, very early in the process.

He is going to come under incredible scrutiny, now the he is a formal presidential candidate. The honeymoon from the news media, for example, from his Democratic opponents, his potential Republican opponents, certainly going to end very quickly.

So, what does that mean?

BUCHANAN: Well, you know, Obama does add enormously fascinating suspense to this whole race, because he comes in as, first of all, very fresh. He's the new face.

But, in addition to that, not only is he bright, which everyone knows. He is a very disciplined mind, Wolf. And he's a thoughtful person. And he introduces ideas that are kind of new and fresh. And you can see he is thinking about it. That's unusual for a candidate.

But I will tell you what it does. It will unnerve Hillary Clinton, because she has this enormous sense of entitlement. And it will trigger that. She feels that she has a right. She's been there 35 years, she said the other day, in this battle: Who is this fellow who thinks he can just jump in?

That will make her an angrier, a testier person, which will bring out the worst in her. I think this combination will be most fascinating.

BLITZER: I think it's fair to say, on the issue of the war in Iraq, she has been forced to move further to the left.

BRAZILE: Well, yes, no question that Senator Clinton has been forced to speak out, and speak out in ways that allow people to understand her position on Iraq.

But let me just say this. Senator Clinton is a hardworking senator. And, while Senator Obama has received a lot of nice press coverage, make -- make no mistake. This is going to be a real good, exciting race on the Democratic side. And I think Senator Obama will go out there tomorrow and begin to register people, will energize and expand the electorate.

And he has a real shot at becoming the first African-American president.

BLITZER: he -- he thinks this is his moment, and he is going to try for it.

Here is what Mike Allen -- he's a very good political reporter -- wrote on the new Web site the Politico: "Some top Republicans think the party would have a better chance with Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-New York, as the nominee, since she is a known quantity, while Obama can try to define himself as anything he wants."

You agree with Mike Allen?

BUCHANAN: I -- I don't -- I -- this is what I think.

Hillary has lost a real vision. She basically is run and determined by the polls. I mean, look at her position on the war. She's had every single position. She's now come full circle. She's back to being anti-war.

So -- so, what does he do? He has been consistent. He doesn't have that record. He can say, "Look it, I was always against the war" -- exposing her more and more to being somebody who doesn't have that vision.

So, I think the idea is, he gets the energy and excitement of the people, because he is -- he can be trusted. His position can be believed.

BLITZER: But do you think these -- these Republican -- Republican strategists are right when they say they think they would have a better shot at beating Hillary Clinton than Barack Obama?

BUCHANAN: Yes.

BLITZER: What do you think?

BRAZILE: Well, I think, look, they're going to have trouble beating any Democrat in 2008, unless we -- the -- the administration can get us out of the war.

But I do believe that Senator Clinton is going to be very tough on -- on -- on the battlefield. But Senator Obama, as well as -- you know, I'm not ruling out the other candidates. And, of course, you know, I keep the door ajar for Al Gore as well.

BLITZER: Yes, Al Gore hasn't completely ruled it out -- John Edwards very much in it...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: ... as well as a bunch of others, including Senator Chris Dodd and Joe Biden, just to...

BRAZILE: And Bill Richardson...

BLITZER: ... to name a few. BRAZILE: ... and Governor Vilsack, and Wesley Clark, and...

BLITZER: Let's talk about money for a second.

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: Everyone is involved. A former Federal Election Commission commissioner said this to "The New York Times" the other day.

He said: "Top-tier candidates are going to have to raise $100 million by the end of 2007 to be a serious candidate. We are looking at a $100 million entry fee."

That's an enormous sum of money. These guys are going to be so busy simply raising money.

(LAUGHTER)

BUCHANAN: Well, I don't agree with him that they all have to raise that money.

They have to raise enormous sums of money. But the key is -- what some of them will do, such as Hillary, is, she will raise, and she will say: See, can I do it. Therefore, I can win.

But that can undercut her own credibility, because others will say: Well, I have got the message.

And an Obama, I think, could win this because of the energy and excitement -- win the nomination -- if he can stay -- if he can be, indeed, prime-time ready, not make any mistakes. I think he will -- he can do it for less money, Wolf.

BLITZER: What do you think?

BRAZILE: While -- while money is very important, Wolf, you also understand -- I mean, Bay understands this as well -- message.

BUCHANAN: Absolutely.

BRAZILE: It's very important to have a strong, compelling message that, you know, connects with the American people, values.

These candidates must, you know, talk about their values, and encourage Americans to look at their record, their personalities, their issues. And, hopefully, they -- some of those individuals who cannot raise $100 million, and come up short, they will have a strong and compelling message.

BUCHANAN: Energy is worth a lot of money.

BRAZILE: And passion.

BLITZER: And all of us remember a whole bunch of guys who had millions and millions of dollars that they spent, wound up with half- a-delegate at a -- at a convention...

BUCHANAN: Absolutely.

BLITZER: ... if that.

BUCHANAN: And let's hope that is still possible, because it's a sad day when it takes $100 million, the only way you can become president.

BLITZER: We have got to leave it there, guys. Unfortunately, we're out of time.

Donna and Bay, thank you.

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: Let's get an update now on John Edwards.

The presidential hopeful has decided not to fire two liberal bloggers for controversial religious comments they made prior to his join -- prior to their joining his campaign. The Catholic League has called the bloggers -- quote -- "anti-Catholic, vulgar, trash-talking bigots."

Our Internet reporter, Jacki Schechner, is joining us now with more on this controversy -- Jacki.

JACKI SCHECHNER, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, the two bloggers in question have statements on John Edwards' blogs. And both say that they didn't mean to offend anybody's personal beliefs.

Now, John Edwards also put his official statement on his blog. And he says that, while he did find the comments that the women posted on their personal blogs offensive, and he wouldn't tolerate this kind of language on his campaign, he does believe in giving people a fair shake.

So, without actually coming out and saying it, the women were not fired.

Liberal bloggers were happy about this. This is the decision that they wanted Edwards to make, although a lot of them wondered why it took so long. There was more than a 36-hour decision-making process there.

Well, we spoke to the Edwards campaign today. And they said that Edwards on the road, and he wanted to speak to the women personally before he made any decisions. And they also said there is no truth to the rumors, or the reports, that they were actually fired, and then rehired.

The Catholic League and conservative bloggers helped push this story into the mainstream media. And, today, the Catholic League says it is outraged. Some conservative bloggers are saying that Edwards is going to regret this decision. But there's other bloggers who say this is actually a good thing for bloggers, that it might actually set a nice precedent for bloggers who want to work for political campaigns in the future -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jacki Schechner, thank you.

Jacki Schechner, Donna Brazile, Bay Buchanan, they are all part of the best political team on television.

And, remember, for the latest political news at any time, check out our Political Ticker. Go to CNN.com/ticker.

Still to come in the next hour: In the run-up to the war in Iraq, did a group of Pentagon intelligence analysts cook the books, in order to make their case to overthrow Saddam Hussein? We will speak live with the man at the center of this controversy.

But, up next: "The Cafferty File." How would you characterize the television news coverage of the death of Anna Nicole Smith? Jack has your e-mails right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Jack Cafferty has got "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: The question is: How would you characterize the television news coverage of the death of Anna Nicole Smith?

Curtis in Philadelphia: "Jack, the coverage of this non-event is over the top, as was Anna Nicole Smith herself. But, still, this doesn't make it right. The real problem is, everything is now over the top. We live in an age of extreme sports and TV shows where there's no end to what some jackass will try in order to get his or her 15 minutes of fame. Imagine the coverage when somebody really important dies, like Britney Spears."

D. writes: "Jack, multiply Anna Nicole Smith by 3,000, and you have got a worthwhile news story. CNN should be above this slop. Try leading, instead of following, CNN. The argument that people are watching is crap. People watch what you put on."

Steve: "I entirely agree with Mr. Cafferty. The report of her death was a two-line story, at most. Great novelists, composers and painters don't even get that from CNN, and these are people who have actually done something."

Carmen in Muskogee, Oklahoma: "It doesn't take a rocket scientist to see why the whole world seems to be losing respect for the U.S., a country that ousts the good guys and gives Medals of Freedom to the screwups. And how about this 24/7 coverage of who's the father of an ex-stripper's baby?"

Jay writes: "Watching THE SITUATION ROOM cover Anna Nicole Smith was like watching Louis Armstrong play the kazoo. Sure, it's possible, but it's painful to watch, because so much talent is being squandered."

Rory in Winona, Minnesota: "I think it's totally appropriate to give U.S. viewers non-stop, wall-to-wall coverage of Smith's death. After all, this is a country where people like Paris Hilton are worshipped. And, unlike other places, where people wait in line for food, we wait in line and fight others for our chance to get the latest PlayStation. In the U.S., we know what is important."

And Charles in Fremont, Indiana: "Jack, the coverage of Anna Nicole Smith was a godsend for NASA. Now we don't have to hear about grown astronauts wearing diapers, so they don't have to take a bathroom while driving 900 miles" -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jack, thank you for that.

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