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THE SITUATION ROOM

Interview With John McCain; U.S. Conducts War Games Near Iranian Territory

Aired March 27, 2007 - 19:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks, Kitty.
Happening now, the U.S. Senate is sending a stunning message to President Bush about the war in Iraq and Senator John McCain here in THE SITUATION ROOM has a strong message for me when it comes to the war. It's an exchange you don't want to miss.

Also a massive show of U.S. military might, war games in striking distance of Iran. Is the U.S. sending a signal and is Britain now sounding a warning?

Also, could a movie star pull off a White House surprise? He's not even in the race but Fred Thompson has just leapfrogged over a top Republican candidate.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Tonight, the United States Senate is sending its most forceful message yet to President Bush to bring U.S. troops home from Iraq. Senators voted just a short while ago to keep a target date for withdrawal in a war spending bill. The squeaker was 50-48 in defiance of a presidential veto threat.

Our White House correspondent, Suzanne Malveaux is standing by, but let's go to our congressional correspondent Dana Bash first. What's the significance of what has today happened in the U.S. Senate?

DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this is the first time since Democrats took control of the Senate that they've been able to get a majority of support for a timeline to withdraw troops from Iraq. It was very, very close, just a two-vote margin, but Republicans failed in their attempt to pull out the Democrats' plan, which is essentially to bring U.S. combat troops home from Iraq by about a year from now. So what this means is when this actually clears the Senate at the end of this week, both chambers, the House and the Senate will say to the president yes, we'll pass $100-plus billion to fund the war, but not without a deadline for troops to come home.

BLITZER: Dana, how did the Democrats pull this off?

BASH: Well they -- the same exact vote, Wolf, happened just 12 days ago and Democrats failed. What they did is they got two senators to switch their votes, Democrat Ben Nelson of Nebraska, Republican Chuck Hagel of Nebraska both switched their votes, voted with Democrats this time. And that's really the strategy Democrats have to keep taking these votes and to pick off senators one by one, but their victory really is short lived here, Wolf. Because they know full well this is going to go to the president's desk and as soon as he gets it he is going to veto it. And they don't have the votes to actually override any veto from the president.

BLITZER: Dana Bash on the Hill. Let's get some quick reaction from the White House. Our correspondent, Suzanne Malveaux is standing by there. What is the White House saying about this Democratic-led charge in the U.S. Senate?

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, White House aides slammed this legislation and they promised the president would veto this legislation. Now so far the White House is not concerned as long as this is veto-proof legislation, but if they see Republicans jumping ship here that's when you're going to see the rhetoric heat up here at the White House. The strategy so far despite the fact it will be the president who will veto the legislation, is to paint this as a battle between the Democrats and U.S. troops, Wolf.

BLITZER: What about the White House? They're under enormous amount of pressure right now and it's almost eyeball to eyeball chicken.

MALVEAUX: And absolutely. I mean this is really a big symbolic blow to the White House but symbolism is very important. There was high drama here at the White House. There was a call that came in from Republican leadership 5:00 to Cheney's office that said look, you need to get down here right away. It looks like the vote is going to be very, very close, very tight. His motorcade sped away, he was on the Hill. As being president of the Senate, he was there for the tie- breaking vote. He did not need to cast that vote, because obviously there was that two-vote spread, so it made it a moot point, but very clearly every step of the way is important to this administration.

BLITZER: Suzanne Malveaux reporting from the White House.

And as Congress and the White House square over this war in Iraq, what's the reality on the ground right now. CNN's Michael Ware is in Baghdad.

What about this vote, the tug in war, the political battle unfolding here in the Senate and the House of Representatives calling for some sort of time line for withdrawal of combat forces. How does this play out in Baghdad. What are people there where you are, Michael, say about this?

MICHAEL WARE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, on the ground, it barely passes without a flicker. Of course people take note of the domestic politics backing D.C. in the United States. But honestly, that seems so far removed from the reality here on the ground. People are still dying in their dozens every single day. There may be a security crackdown but al Qaeda's suicide car bombers are still getting through.

And we're still finding 20, 30 tortured executed bodies on the streets of the capital every morning. And American troops continue to die every day. And just this afternoon, we've seen a double suicide truck bomb attack, followed by a ground infantry assault by al Qaeda launched against an American position. Now that was repelled, but eight American boys were wounded in the process.

Do you think anyone enduring that is paying attention to artificial deadlines that are going to get vetoed by the president and even if they were to pass through the legislative process would only serve al Qaeda and Iran, America's enemies? No, people are focusing on the near game -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And coming up, more of my interview with Michael Ware.

Also, Senator John McCain sharing his thoughts on what is going on, on the streets of Baghdad -- this is something you're going to want to see and hear.

Americans, meanwhile, are sending a mixed signal tonight to the attorney general, Alberto Gonzales, and whether he should resign over the firing of eight federal prosecutors. A fire storm some allege was politically motivated.

In a "USA Today"/Gallup poll, 38 percent say Gonzales should step down while 38 percent say he should stay. But 68 percent favor forcing White House officials to testify before congressional investigations, 24 percent oppose issuing of those subpoenas.

These results come just as a top Justice Department official now refusing to testify. Monica Goodling is invoking the Fifth Amendment. So who is she and what might she know?

CNN's Brian Todd is joining us live. What have you found out about Monica Goodling, Brian?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we found out that this 33- year-old counsel to Alberto Gonzales, also the Justice Department's point person to the White House, is a plugged in aide who dealt closely with the dismissals of those U.S. attorneys and who's had a laser-like focus throughout her career.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TODD (voice-over): She's at the center of the U.S. attorney firing scandal, but Monica Goodling seen here in pictures from a law school reunion has apparently gone under ground.

ALBERTO GONZALES, ATTORNEY GENERAL: I'm not going to comment on the decision by an employee at the department to exercise her constitutional rights.

TODD: Goodling's decision to take the Fifth has angered the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

SEN. PATRICK LEAHY (D), VERMONT: She feels that what she has to tell us would subject her to criminal prosecution; well that raises some really serious questions. TODD: Goodling's attorney cautions taking the Fifth could also be intended to protect her innocence. That's all we hear from Goodling or her attorney. Neither returned our calls. Who is this woman?

No traces of Goodling at her suburban Virginia home. Neighbors say they don't know her. But a former colleague at the Justice Department tells CNN no one outworked Monica Goodling. That person was part of what's described as a core group of Goodling's close friends.

Other current and former Justice Department colleagues describe a woman who was abrupt, who ruffled feathers among U.S. attorneys and others. But a close friend at Justice said that's because Goodling was unfailingly honest and might have sometimes been too direct. As for her earlier career, classmates at Messiah College in Pennsylvania describe her as relentlessly hard working, driven, a loner. Goodling, seen here in the college yearbook, became editor of that publication by her junior year, at one point writing in a thank you passage to colleagues, you guys more than anyone felt my anal retentiveness for perfection and quality.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: From there, it was on to Regent University Law School in Virginia, the first Bush campaign and the press office at the Justice Department. Her upward arc from there according to colleagues was meteoric -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Brian Todd reporting for us. Thank you.

This political fire storm now consuming Washington has been in the making for years. Let's walk through how we got here.

Back in January of 2005, the first administration e-mails were exchanged discussing the possibility of firing some or even all U.S. attorneys. Nearly two years later in December 2006, the shakeup actually went down. The prosecutors were asked to hand in their resignations.

In January of this year, senators asked Attorney General Alberto Gonzales about the prosecutor firings. He testifies under oath that he would never, ever fire U.S. attorneys for political reasons. And then now in March, in fact this coming Thursday we're going to find out if Gonzales' former chief of staff, Kyle Sampson will contradict his ex-boss when Sampson testifies on Capitol Hill.

Lots coming up -- Jack Cafferty is joining us now from New York with "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Well and if you're not discouraged enough about the goings on in the Justice Department, try this one on. The United States cannot account for more than 600,000 fugitives. This is according to a report by the Homeland Security Department's own inspector general. That report says that teams assigned to make sure foreigners ordered out of the country actually leave have a big-time back log. They say they're slowed down by things like not enough beds to detain fugitives, along with an inaccurate database and insufficient staffing, this despite the fact that more than $200 million has been provided for 52 fugitive operation teams since 2003.

The inspector general found the backlog of these fugitive alien cases has increased every single year since the Special National Fugitive Operations Program was created five years ago. Estimates put the number of illegal aliens in this country at about 12 million. And around 5 percent or 600,000 of them are thought to be fugitives.

So here's the question. How can the government not know where 600,000 fugitives are? E-mail your thoughts on that little beauty to CaffertyFile@CNN.com or go to CNN.com/CaffertyFile. Kind of makes the phrase homeland security pretty much meaningless, don't you think, Wolf?

BLITZER: It also raises the question there's obviously a lot the government doesn't know.

CAFFERTY: Yes. Yes. Indeed. We don't have time to go into all of it. It's only a three-hour show.

BLITZER: We'll be back shortly with you.

Coming up, Senator John McCain fires back at me among others for some tough questions about the war in Iraq.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: You know that's where you ought to catch up on things, Wolf. General Petraeus goes out there almost every day in an unarmed Humvee. I think you ought to catch up.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Is the presidential candidate's views of Iraq too rosy? Is it hurting his presidential campaign? You're going to want to hear more of what Senator McCain has to say.

Plus, two U.S. aircraft carriers move into striking distance of Iran, two carriers. Is it a war game or is it a war threat?

And he played a president in the movies, now he's making surprising new gains in the race for the White House even though he's not actually even running.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Is Britain now sending a warning to Iran? A dramatic new shift today in the standoff over those 15 British sailors and marines seized at sea by Iran's Revolutionary Guard. British officials have been holding urgent talks with Iranian officials but now there is some very tough talk from the very top.

CNN's Robin Oakley is in London -- Robin.

ROBIN OAKLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Tony Blair today is giving the Iranians a sharp dig in the ribs.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I hope we manage to get them to realize they have to release them. If not, then this will move into a different phase. But at the moment what we're trying to do is to make sure that that diplomatic initiative works.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OAKLEY: What that doesn't mean, I'm told by Downing Street officials, is any dramatic expulsion of Iranian diplomats from London. It certainly doesn't mean military action. But what it could mean is dragging into the public domain the private arguments Britain has been having with the Iranians -- back to you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Robin thanks for that.

So has the standoff with Iran reached the crisis stage? Take a look at this. It started Friday when 15 British marines and sailors set out from their war ship and rubber boats and boarded a vessel suspected of smuggling into disputed waters. Patrol boats from Iran's Revolutionary Guard quickly surrounded and seized the British troops and hauled them off to Iran.

Moving on, in Tehran hard-liners pushing to prosecute the British forces for espionage, Iran last week actually -- last time they seized British service members was back in 2004. This is what they looked like in captivity at that time. Iran released those troops a short time later after a few days in captivity, something the country has not been able or wanted to do yet.

War games just miles off the coast of Iran in a massive show of American force. Fighter jets are screaming off the deck of two, two U.S. aircraft carriers carrying out mock attacks on enemy ships and planes in the Persian Gulf.

Let's go live to our senior Pentagon correspondent Jamie McIntyre. Jamie, what's the message behind these war games?

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SR. PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, the message is that the U.S. Navy is still a powerful force in the Persian Gulf. Those two aircraft carriers were ordered there two months ago. They are now there. More than 100 planes are taking part in this exercise, 13 escort ships. And again, the U.S. says it's not looking for war with Iran but it is trying to send a strong message.

BLITZER: And is there a connection between these war games and the seized British sailors and marines?

MCINTYRE: Well the U.S. Navy said that these aircraft carriers were dispatched well before that. But it's also the case that these exercises weren't planned until just a couple of days ago after the sailors were taken. Clearly if it's a strategy to get them back, it's a difficult one to pursue but the U.S. again does want to send a signal that they're a force to be reckoned with in the Persian Gulf.

BLITZER: Jamie McIntyre at the Pentagon.

Still ahead tonight here in THE SITUATION ROOM, our man in Baghdad wonders if Senator John McCain is living in Neverland.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WARE: To suggest that there's any neighborhood in this city where an American can walk freely is beyond ludicrous. I'd love Senator McCain to tell me where that neighborhood is and he and I can go for a stroll.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: CNN's Michael Ware gives us a reality check about the violence in Iraq. You're going to hear Senator McCain's defense of his support for the war in my one-on-one interview -- all that coming up.

And is the Pentagon finally telling all about that friendly fire death of Pat Tillman? Angry words coming from the family of the Army Ranger and former football star.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Our Carol Costello is monitoring stories coming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now. Carol, tell us what you have.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Hi, Wolf. Hello to all of you.

The mother of former NFL star and Army Ranger Pat Tillman angry and speaking out tonight. She accuses the Pentagon of still lying about the 2004 friendly fire death in Afghanistan. A new military investigation finds no rules of engagement were broken. But Mary Tillman accuses the military of spinning the story to promote the war and increase recruitment. Mary Tillman is calling for a congressional hearing on her son's death to, quote, "have it all aired out."

We just learned a short time ago that Miami Beach police are reopening the scene of what they call is a very bazaar bank robbery. They captured a suspect shortly after the morning heist, but a series of phone calls from a possible accomplice prompted them to evacuate the area and lock down two nearby schools. The caller claimed to be the robber's brother-in-law. The search for that man continues tonight.

New developments in that giant pet food recall, a national veterinary group says a small survey of its member show 104 dogs and cats have died from kidney failure after eating the tainted food. The maker, Menu Foods, is still reporting only 16 deaths. Scientists say the pet food was likely contaminated with rat poison but it's still not clear exactly how rat poison got in the food -- back to you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Carol thanks for that.

Let's go to our Internet reporter Abbi Tatton. Abbi, I understand you're getting some extraordinary pictures coming out of New York from CNN's I-Report. What's going on?

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, this was seen in midtown Manhattan earlier on today. Sergio Cesario says he was talking down the street and heard an explosion and recorded these scenes. This is at 53rd and Madison at a construction site. What he described as a huge fireball. New York Fire Department said this was a site under construction, so no buildings had to be evacuated. And firefighters that you can see there on the screen quickly extinguished this fire -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Abbi doing some good reporting for us and our I-Report reporters doing some good reporting for us as well.

Just ahead, Senator John McCain puts it all on the line.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCCAIN: If I'm wrong, you've got a lot more problems than anything it does to my political reputation.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: The Republican presidential candidate is making a huge gamble and he'll be here to tell us why and what is going on. And the White House is heartbroken over some very, very sad news. It concerns a familiar face from the White House, a familiar disease, and a sadly all too familiar reoccurrence.

We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

Happening now, fears of conflict with Iran rock the oil market. Prices have briefly shot up to their highest level since September which was $68 a barrel before pulling back. Should the FBI still be able to rifle through some American's phone, e-mail and financial records without a judge's approval? Some senators aren't so sure.

They drilled the FBI director today after his agency abused some powers it got under the Patriot Act. And a federal judge drops the case against Donald Rumsfeld. It involved alleged torture of prisoners by American troops that oversees military prisons like the ones at Abu Ghraib. The judge says Rumsfeld cannot be held personally responsible for actions related to his government service.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Tonight, Democrats say they're taking a new step toward bringing U.S. troops home from Iraq. The Senate voted 50-48 in support of a timetable for withdrawal of the U.S. forces in defiance of a presidential veto threat, but some Republicans calling it a surrender date. The debate is weighing very heavily on the race for the White House and Republican Senator John McCain. I pressed the Arizona Republican about his support for the president's troop buildup and Democrats demands to begin a pullout.

But the Democrats, or at least some of them are saying, you know what, let's say you're right. Maybe you give them another year, the Iraqis -- it's now year five of this war -- give them another year to get their act together, strengthen their military, strengthen their police force, strengthen their whole political environment there and then you begin to leave. Do you think they can get their act together over the next year?

MCCAIN: I'm sure. I'm confident that they can to a large degree, but that's like saying after the Korean War, after we had a cease-fire that we would immediately pull out. We kept our troops there and we keep them there as a stabilizing force. I think that there's no doubt that we may require troops there for a long period of time, a long period of time, but at the same time we can achieve success and American troops withdraw from the front battle lines...

BLITZER: How much time do you think, Senator, the Iraqis need to be really in charge of their own security?

MCCAIN: I don't know the answer to that. And when I venture a guess, then we have a date for withdrawal. What I'm saying is we are achieving success. The key to it is not U.S. presence. It's U.S. casualties and if we can keep U.S. casualties down as we did after the Korean War, obviously, Americans won't mind that and Americans have got to understand the consequences of failure.

Failure is catastrophe. Failure is genocide. Failure means we come back. Failure means they follow us home. The consequences of failure that one of the most disingenuous -- two disingenuous aspects about the Democrats' position -- one is what do you do if we leave? What do you do if Iraq deteriorates into chaos? And second of all, if you really feel this way, if you really feel it, then bring them home tomorrow. That's the intellectually honorable thing to do.

BLITZER: Here's the latest poll in the "USA Today"/Gallop poll asked about setting a timetable for withdrawal by fall of 2008. Sixty percent say they favor such a timetable. Thirty-eight percent say they oppose it. You would be in the 38 percent. Why is the American public or at least the majority of the American public disagreeing with you?

MCCAIN: Because the American public is frustrated and angry and saddened by our failure and mismanagement of the war for nearly four years. And they would like to see us be out of there, but they also want us to succeed. You know better than I do, it's how you ask the questions in a poll. If I ask the question, if I can show you a path to success that involves maintaining a U.S. presence there for an extended period of time, you have 80 percent of the American people say yes, if we can show them path for success. And Joe Lieberman could never have been reelected in Connecticut if it was as clear cut as some describe it that Americans just want us out. Because his opponent, clearly that was his position.

BLITZER: If the situation a year from now, Senator, is what it is basically today, what will that say to you?

MCCAIN: It won't be. It won't be. It will be better or worse. No military person...

BLITZER: Well, what if it is worse?

MCCAIN: Then obviously we are going to have to examine a set of bad options. But I'm confident it won't be. I'm confident hell won't freeze over. I'm confident we can succeed if we stay with this strategy. And if I'm wrong, we have got a lot more problems than anything it does to my political reputation.

BLITZER: Here's what you told Bill Bennett on his radio show on Monday. "There are neighborhoods in Baghdad where you and I could walk through those neighborhoods today. The U.S. is beginning to succeed in Iraq."

Everything we hear, that if you leave the so-called Green Zone, the international zone, and you go outside of that secure area, relatively speaking, you're in trouble if you're an American.

MCCAIN: You know, that's where you ought to catch up on things, Wolf. General Petraeus goes out there almost every day in a non-armed Humvee. I think you ought to catch up. You see, you are giving the old line of three months ago. I understand it. You certainly don't get it through the filter of some of the media.

But I know for a fact that much of the success we're experiencing, including the ability of Americans in many parts. Not all. We have got a long, long way to go. We have only got two of the five brigades there to go into some neighbors in Baghdad in a secure fashion.

BLITZER: Let me refer to a few of your colleagues in the Senate and the House. Chuck Hagel, John Murtha, former Senator Max Cleland, the current Senator Jim Webb, they're all like you, Vietnam War veterans. You say this is potentially a worse situation if the U.S. were to withdraw from Iraq as opposed to when the U.S. withdrew from Vietnam.

Why are -- because they're saying, just get out, basically, and you're saying you have got to say. Why do you think these Vietnam War veterans, decorated just as you are, disagree?

MCCAIN: Well, because I hope that all of our experience, knowledge, background and decision-making is not driven by the experience of the Vietnam War. I hope it's an accumulation of all the training, experience and knowledge I had, including 22 years in the military and 24 years in the Congress and the Senate. But, look, don't take my word for it that they'll follow us home. Look at what they say. Look what bin Laden says. Look what Zarqawi says. Look at what Khalid Sheikh Mohammed said at his tribunal down in Guantanamo. They all say the same things. Go on their Web sites. They'll tell you. They want to follow us home. We're their enemy. They're the ones we want to destroy.

They win in Iraq the way they won in Beirut and the way that they won in Somalia, then they will be following us home.

Again, it's not my stated -- not from anything I've written or said. It's what they're saying and writing.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: So is Baghdad really getting safer? A very different view of the reality there from our own reporter on the ground who says Senator McCain couldn't be more wrong. Let's go back to CNN's Michael Ware.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Michael, you've been there, what, for four years. You're walking around Baghdad on a daily basis. Has there been this improvement that Senator McCain is speaking about?

MICHAEL WARE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, I'd certainly like to bring Senator McCain up to speed, if he ever gives me the opportunity. And if I have any difficulty hearing you right now, Wolf, that's because of the helicopter circling overhead and the gun battle that is blazing just a few blocks down the road.

Is Baghdad any safer? Sectarian violence, one particular type of violence, is down. But none of the American generals here on the ground have anything like Senator McCain's confidence.

I mean, Senator McCain's credibility now on Iraq, which has been so solid to this point, has now been left out hanging to dry. To suggest that there's any neighborhood in this city where an American can walk freely is beyond ludicrous. I'd love Senator McCain to tell me where that neighborhood is and he and I can go for a stroll.

And to think that General David Petraeus travels this city in an unarmed Humvee? I mean, in the hour since Senator McCain has said this, I've spoken to some military sources and there was laughter down the line. I mean, certainly, the general travels in a Humvee. There are multiple Humvees around it, heavily armed. There are attack helicopters, Predator drones, sniper teams, all sorts of layers of protection.

So, no, Senator McCain is way off base on this one -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Michael, when Senator McCain says that there are at least some areas of Baghdad where people can walk around and whether it's General Petraeus, the U.S. military commander, or others, are there at least some areas where you could emerge outside of the Green Zone, the international zone, where people can go out, go to a coffee shop, go to a restaurant, and simply take a stroll?

WARE: I can answer this very quickly, Wolf. No. No way on Earth can a Westerner, particularly an American, stroll any street of this capital of more than 5 million people.

I mean, if al Qaeda doesn't get wind of you, or if one of the Sunni insurgent groups don't descend upon you, or if someone doesn't tip off a Shia militia, then the nearest criminal gang is just going to see dollar signs and scoop you up. Honestly, Wolf, you'd barely last 20 minutes out there.

I don't know what part of Neverland Senator McCain is talking about when he says we can go strolling in Baghdad.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: And we have just learned that two Americans were killed tonight in the heavily fortified Green Zone in Baghdad.

Still ahead tonight here in THE SITUATION ROOM, a politician turned actor gaining support as he weighs a White House run. We're going show you what may be behind former Senator Fred Thompson's growing popularity.

And White House press secretary Tony Snow fighting a new battle. His cancer is back. We'll find out what doctors are saying about his prognosis. Stay with us, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: He's shaking up the presidential contest and he's not even running. That would be the Republican, "Law & Order" actor, Fred Thompson. Check these USA Today/Gallup poll numbers of Republicans and those leaning Republican, about six weeks ago Rudy Giuliani polled at 40 percent. John McCain was at 24 percent. There were similar numbers March 4th. But add Thompson to the equation right now and he gets 12 percent. Thompson slices into Giuliani's support, bringing his number down 13 points from the last poll. CNN's Mary Snow is looking into all of this.

Mary, what is Thompson's appeal?

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, you know, when you talk to Republicans who say they're excited about Fred Thompson, They say, one, they like the fact he's a conservative, and some say it also doesn't hurt that he has star appeal.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM "LAW & ORDER")

FRED THOMPSON, ACTOR: That will the DOJ's attention every time.

SNOW (voice over): Has Fred Thompson, the man who plays a prosecutor on TV's "Law & Order" made his case for a presidential run? Roughly two weeks ago, the former senator and current actor said he's considering a run for president. Since then, Thompson has skyrocketed out of nowhere to rank third among GOP White House hopefuls in a new poll. He has even surpassed former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney.

And Thompson hasn't yet formally announced.

KEATING HOLLAND, CNN POLLING DIRECTOR: One way to read these numbers is that there's a lot of Republicans that are still shopping around for a candidate.

SNOW: Why are Republicans shopping around? Republican strategist David Winston, who's not affiliated with any campaigns, says a key title has eluded candidates Rudy Giuliani, John McCain and Mitt Romney.

DAVID WINSTON, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: What has not occurred is someone has not grabbed the sort of conservative mantelpiece, the person who's identified as the lead conservative candidate. And that has been sort of bouncing around, and a lot of the candidates have been sort of jockeying for that, with no one succeeding.

SNOW: Why hasn't a single candidate pulled ahead with conservatives? Strategists say McCain hasn't gained overall momentum; Giuliani supports abortion and gay rights; and although Romney is now viewed as a conservative, that wasn't always the case.

WINSTON: The one thing that this poll would certainly suggest is Fred Thompson getting in the race, the candidacy that gets hit the hardest will be Romney.

SNOW: Many now see an opening for Fred Thompson among Republicans. Thompson calls himself pro-life and opposes same-sex marriage.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SNOW: Now Thompson hasn't said when he'll make a decision about running but he has said he wants to see how other Republican candidates do before jumping in -- Wolf.

BLITZER: It's getting a little late on the key issue of raising money. The other Republicans, they have raised millions. If he jumps in, is it going to be too late for him to get the cash he needs?

SNOW: Well, you know, that's one thing that everyone says is going to be a big hurdle. But what they say working in favor of Thompson is the fact that he has such wide name recognition and also because of the fact that people see him on television helps remind people who he is.

BLITZER: A lot of Republicans, a lot of other Americans remember another movie star who wound up becoming president of the United States as well. Mary Snow, doing some good reporting for us.

It is not the news anyone wanted to hear out of the White House. A spokeswoman announcing that the press secretary, Tony Snow's cancer returned and spread to his liver. Snow was first treated for colon cancer back in 2005. CNN's Carol Costello is joining us now from New York.

Carol, you've spoken to doctors over at Sloan Kettering in New York, a leading cancer center, what did you find out?

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Well, Wolf, as far as the prognosis is concerned, it depends. Like Elizabeth Edwards' cancer, it is not good that Snow's cancer has spread. But there is hope.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COSTELLO (voice-over): Cancer again, this time it's Tony Snow. Snow's boss, the president, is urging him to stay strong.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: His attitude is one that he is not going to let this whip him. And he's upbeat. My attitude is that we need to pray for him.

COSTELLO: Just last week it was Elizabeth Edwards' cancer that had come back and spread. People kept talking about it even as she hit the political road snow.

ELIZABETH EDWARDS, WIFE OF JOHN EDWARDS: I'm sick of death of me.

COSTELLO: These high-profile cancer comebacks are reminders of just how tough it is to beat the disease.

DR. ALLYSON OCEAN, COLORECTAL ONCOLOGIST: Patients that are diagnosed with stage three colon cancer have about a 50 percent chance of it coming back.

COSTELLO: Snow, like Edwards, says he'll beat it again, and come back to work.

DANA PERINO, DEP. WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECY.: I do know that Tony Snow loves this job. He says it's the best job he has ever had in his life. He in fact has called it communications Disneyland. So he loves the job and I think his intention of course is to come back.

COSTELLO: And doctors say there are reasons for him to feel optimistic.

DR. CHARLES FUCHS, DANA-FARBER CANCER INSTITUTE: Patients are indeed living longer with these cancers, we're curing more patients. And as a result there are a greater -- there is a greater prevalence of people living with cancer in this country.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COSTELLO: And another note to tell you. It used to be when someone got cancer for a second time doctors would give them two years to live. But today instead of concentrating on curing the cancer, doctors are treating it as a chronic disease and have had much success -- Wolf. BLITZER: Well, we open for only success for Tony Snow. Carol, thank you. According to the American Cancer Society, cancer kills more than half a million Americans every year. Lung cancer is the single deadliest form, claiming more than 160,000 lives each year.

Second is colorectal cancer, the type that Tony Snow has, it is responsible for more than 52,000 deaths each year. That is followed by breast cancer, claiming more than 40,000 lives annually, and pancreatic cancer responsible for more than 33,000 deaths each year. But heart disease is still the leading killer of Americans, causing more than 654,000 deaths each year. Cancer claims the second-highest number, stroke is third.

Up ahead, Jack Cafferty wants to know, how can the government not know where 600,000 fugitives are? Jack standing by with "The Cafferty File."

Plus, why you might want to think twice before lending a friend your million dollar Ferrari. Ooh, stay with us, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Let's check in with Jack Cafferty in New York for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: Latest estimates are there are 12 million illegal aliens in this country, and roughly 5 percent of those, or 600,000, are thought to be fugitives. The latest report by the inspector general, the Department of Homeland Security, has that number, 600,000 fugitives. It also says the government doesn't know where they are.

The government is supposed to find them, round them up and send them out of the country, deport them. The government doesn't know where they are. So we asked how can the government not know where 600,000 fugitives are? And don't you know we got some interesting mail?

Bill in Michigan writes: "It's easy. They're getting paid to look the other way. Just think, ahead, a head of lettuce could cost another 25 cents and all it costs the taxpayers every year is $7 billion more to keep the services going. I've never done the math myself, but Washington tells me this is a good deal."

Al in Washington writes: "Of course they know where they all are. The welfare rolls are crawling with them."

Richard in Tennessee: "They can't find WMD or pallets full of billions of missing dollars in Iraq, or any semblance of Iraqi freedom, I guess 600,000 fugitives fall into the same category. I miss the days when missing in action only referred to the troops."

John in New York writes: "It's an easy one, Jack. The government is too busy keeping track of the rest of us. That's a lot of personal files to look through, a lot of phone calls to listen to. It leaves no time for tracking fugitives." Bob in Illinois writes: "There's a huge difference between not knowing due to negligence and intentionally not knowing. This administration has a long history of refusing to enforce many of the laws that they swore to uphold, especially when the subject of those laws is illegal aliens."

Bryan in Berkeley Heights, New Jersey: "I don't know, Jack, but I know for a fact they're not in Mexico."

And Frank in Maine writes: "While not confined to this administration, our government seems to have a hard time finding people. Maybe I should stop paying my taxes, see if they can find me." I bet they can.

If you didn't see your e-mail here, you can go to cnn.com/caffertyfile. We post more of them there along with video clips of this portion of the program -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jack, see you tomorrow. Thanks for that.

And tonight a new take on Lou Dobbs' special series "Broken Borders." "Border Betrayal." Federal agents doing time for doing their jobs. And coming up at the top of the hour, a very special program, Lou Dobbs is standing by in Yazoo City, Mississippi.

"Border Betrayal," what's on the agenda, Lou?

LOU DOBBS, HOST, "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT": Tonight we're be looking for answers. We're outside of the federal prison here in Yazoo City, Mississippi. And tonight at the top of the hour we'll be bringing you our special report, "Border Betrayal." We're looking into the truth behind the investigation and the prosecution and ultimately imprisonment or two former Border Patrol agents Ignacio Ramos and Jose Compean.

Ramos is serving his sentence right here. Compean is in an Ohio prison. These two former agents are serving harsh sentences because they wounded a Mexican drug smuggler who was in this country illegally with almost a million dollars in drugs.

The Justice Department gave that smuggler immunity in return for the drug smuggler's testimony against these two former Border Patrol agents. We want to know why, and tonight we'll to get those answer. We'll hear from the agents, their families, and the man who prosecuted them, U.S. Attorney Johnny Sutton.

We hope you'll be with us at the top of the hour for our special report "Border Betrayal" -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Lou Dobbs and Johnny Sutton, the U.S. attorney who prosecuted these agents. That could be a lively discussion, Lou.

DOBBS: I can't imagine it being anything but lively. We are very serious about getting answers. As you know, I've called for congressional hearings into this investigation and prosecution of these agents, and giving immunity to a drug smuggler. It's a remarkable case from what nearly everyone that I've talked with call simply an outrageous miscarriage of justice. Hopefully we'll begin to get those answers right here tonight.

BLITZER: All right. In a few minutes, CNN's primetime special, "Border Betrayal," hosted by Lou Dobbs. That's coming up live from Mississippi. Lou, thanks very much.

DOBBS: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: And up ahead here in THE SITUATION ROOM, a defense contractor facing a hefty fine. Find out what the company now admits to doing with night vision technology that the Pentagon relies on.

Plus, a very costly crash in a borrowed car. We're going to show you why friendship and a Ferrari make for a bad combination, a very bad combination. Stay with us, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Let's check back with Carol to see what's incoming right now from our feeds, our wires, coming in from around the world -- Carol.

COSTELLO: Hi, Wolf. Hello to all of you. A major U.S. defense contractor faces a $100 million fine. ITT Corporation makes night vision gear for the Pentagon but admits sending classified information to China, Singapore and Britain without government's permission. Under an agreement, ITT must invest half the fines, $50 million, into developing new night vision technology.

Hollywood and Washington insider Jack Valenti is recovering from a stroke. The 85-year-old is said to be resting comfortably at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. Valenti worked for presidents Kennedy and Johnson before serving as president of the Motion Picture Association for more than four decades.

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney is using a unique approach to recruit college students to his campaign, fund raising commissions, that is what he is calling them. Students who raise at least a thousand dollars for Romney get to keep 10 percent of it. A spokesman says the campaign hopes to appeal to students who, quote: "Don't want to spend their summer painting houses."

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

BLITZER: Carol, thanks, see you tomorrow. It's a million dollar oops. A fast car slows down the hard way.

Here's CNN's Jeanne Moos.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Did you ever borrow someone's car, then die of mortification because you scratched it? Now magnify that mortification, because what just crashed is a million dollar-plus Ferrari driven by comedian Eddie Griffin. EDDIE GRIFFIN, COMEDIAN: I just need driving lessons.

MOOS: Griffin was practicing for a charity race to promote his new movie when he decided to take one more spin. At least he didn't get the photographer. The comedian was unhurt, but the Ferrari was totaled, the $1.2 million Ferrari owned by the producer of Griffin's new movie.

DANIEL SADEK, MOVIE PRODUCER: I'm speechless about that, because I really liked the car. But it is what it is.

MOOS: It is what it was. Another actor practicing from the charity race was Jackie Chan who couldn't hind the smirk in his voice as he viewed the crash video.

JACKIE CHAN, ACTOR: Oh, $1.2 million.

MOOS: People seemed to get some weird kick out of seeing ultra- expensive Ferraris bite the dust. YouTube has a comprehensive selection of Ferrari crashes. The Ferrari's demise is celebrated in movies, for instance when a rich kid and his friends used his parents' car and then tried to turn back the odometer.

People take pleasure in the Ferrari's pain, or even the drivers, drivers showing off for a leggy girl.

This was a cigar commercial.

At least Eddie griffin didn't hurt his head, just his pride as he tried to salvage by joking about one of his movie roles, "Undercover Brother."

GRIFFIN: It is good to know Undercover Brother is good at karate and all of the rest of that. But the Brother can't drive.

MOOS: But even in his movie, he spun out, but at least the Brother's beverage never spilled. You never want to spill anything in a Ferrari.

Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Let's take a look at some of the "Hot Shots" coming in from our friends at the Associated Press.

On the West Bank, a Hamas military points his weapon during a graduation ceremony at a training base.

At the World Swimming Championship in Australia, USA's Michael Phelps reacts after setting a world record in the men's 200-meter freestyle.

In India, a man dressed as a demon performs during a religious process commemorating the birth of a Hindu god.

And in Germany, a girl plays with a giant spider made of Legos.

And that's some of the hour's "Hot Shots," pictures often worth a thousand words. Thanks very much for joining us. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. Tomorrow, among my guests, my one-on-one interview with Democratic presidential candidate Senator Barack Obama. He is here in THE SITUATION ROOM tomorrow. Until then, thanks for joining us.

Up next, Lou Dobbs, live from Mississippi with a CNN special, "Border Betrayal."

TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.voxant.com

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