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THE SITUATION ROOM

Don Imus Apologizes; Will Dick Cheney Run?; Interview with Charlie Rangel

Aired April 6, 2007 - 19:00   ET

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


SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Thanks, Kitty.
Happening now, first she refused to testify, now a top aide to the attorney general is quitting -- tonight the mystery behind her exit. Could Alberto Gonzales be next?

Also this hour, harrowing accounts of mistreatment and mind games -- British sailors and marines speak out about their captivity in Iran. Were international rules broken?

And frightening flashbacks to the "Titanic" -- dramatic scenes and stories from a sinking cruise ship.

Wolf Blitzer is off today. I'm Suzanne Malveaux, and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

A surprise exit from the Justice Department now adding to the suspense about whether the attorney general can keep his job -- Monica Goodling resigned late today from her post as counsel to Alberto Gonzales, this on the heels of her refusal to testify before Congress about the firing of eight U.S. attorneys.

Also tonight, Attorney General Gonzales is in the midst of a new confrontation with Senate Democrats. At stake, documents related to the federal prosecutor shakeup.

Our White House correspondent Ed Henry is following the latest developments from Crawford, Texas. Ed, did the White House see this resignation coming?

ED HENRY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: No, they did not. Good evening, Suzanne. You know what's interesting is the irony here is that over the course of the last 24 hours, I had spoken to a couple of top advisors to the attorney general and they had been saying they thought like maybe things were calming down. They acknowledged that he was not out of the woods yet, but they felt like his political health was relatively good, that no other shoes dropped in the last couple of weeks and then bam, you have this one-two punch, first of all the resignation and secondly, as you noted, now a new subpoena threat from Democrats on the Hill -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: And Ed, did the Democrats pounce on this?

HENRY: Oh, absolutely. You know it's interesting. Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer noting that this is the second aide to resign, the first one Kyle Sampson, and of course if you look in the wall there, that statement coming out pretty quickly from Senator Schumer, quote, "Attorney General Gonzales' hold on the department gets more tenuous each day." As you know there's an old adage in Washington if you have bad news put it out on Friday night so it'll get less media attention. That's starting to get to be a habit at the Justice Department, Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: And Ed, I know Gonzales is scheduled to testify later in the month. How involved is the White House in his preparation?

HENRY: Well, the White House says they are steering clear and there may be one big political reason for that. They had some distance from the attorney general in that case. They say they have confidence in him still, that the president still has confidence. But basically, if you remember the president at the beginning of this said Al has a lot of work to do up on Capitol Hill, and basically if he gets the job done on April 17 in his testimony, if he's seen as answering the questions well, the White House can come out and say, look, we told him he had work to do and he got it done, but conversely, if he does not get it done, then they can say look the president said he needed to get it done. He didn't and then you may see him go -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: And Ed, as we both know, he serves at the pleasure of the president and the president is the one person who can make sure he keeps his job. So, we'll pay close attention...

HENRY: Absolutely.

MALVEAUX: Thanks again, Ed.

And is Monica Goodling's resignation the final straw that breaks Alberto Gonzales's tenure at the Justice Department? I asked CNN contributor and member of our "Strategy Session", William Bennett.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MALVEAUX: Do you think that Alberto Gonzales should keep his job?

WILLIAM BENNETT, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: For the moment. One more and I think he's gone.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MALVEAUX: We're continuing to work this story right now and we'll bring you new details and reaction as we get it.

Mind games, isolation, aggressive interrogations, those British sailors and marines held captive in Iran are giving new details of their ordeal; much more frightening than anyone realized, with some saying they feared the worst at the hands of the Iranians.

CNN's Brian Todd joining us live. Brian, does any of this treatment violate international law?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, we spoke to several experts on military law today, Suzanne. They are really torn whether Iran crossed any legal lines. From the British accounts you do get the impression the Iranians seemed to know just how far they could go.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Again, I deeply apologize for entering your waters.

TODD (voice-over): They make claims of interrogation, mind games, overall stark treatment at the hands of their Iranian captors.

LT. FELIX CARMAN, BRITISH ROYAL NAVY: We were blindfolded at all times and kept in isolation from each other.

TODD: An Iranian official we contacted denies the charges, says these British sailors and marines were not held in isolation, but if true, military law experts say Iran may have at least skirted the brink of violating Article III of the Geneva Conventions prohibiting outrages upon personal dignity, humiliating and degrading treatment. Isolation would violate the conventions, one expert says, but only if it was for more than a day at a time and if they were deprived of food. The British say they were fed. On this claim...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We were put up against a wall, hands bound, blindfolded and that people were cocking weapons in the background.

SCOTT SILLIMAN, DUKE UNIVERSITY LAW SCHOOL: If in fact the cocking of the weapons was meant to be a threat, that unless they talked they would be killed then I think that would be a clear violation of Common Article III. If in fact that was just the cocking of weapons, it was not in any way tied or a threat with regard to the questioning, then it might not be a violation.

TODD: Would this have crossed the line?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We were stripped and then dressed in pajamas.

TODD: Not a violation if they were just told to change clothes, says an expert and if it wasn't done to humiliate them. The British say the only woman among them, Faye Turney, was isolated and tricked right after their capture.

CAPT. CHRISTOPHER AIR, BRITISH ROYAL MARINES: She was told shortly afterwards that we had all been returned home and was under the impression for about four days that she was the only one there.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: One expert says even that kind of trickery does not violate the Geneva Conventions, but if the Iranians got overly physical with any of their captives they would have crossed the line. So far none of the British service members has claimed to have been beaten or physically coerced -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: And Brian, what about the threats that the Iranians made to the British? Would that be a violation of the Geneva Conventions?

TODD: It could be. One of the British sailors said that they were told that if they admitted that -- if they admitted that they had crossed into Iranian waters, they would have been sent home sooner, but if they did not they were threatened with a seven-year prison sentence. That does violate one clause of the Geneva Conventions against threatening a captive soldier with prison time or anything like that, but that clause only applies if this is a formal international armed conflict which by some accounts this is not.

MALVEAUX: Brian Todd, thank you so much.

And those former British captives held for almost two weeks by Iran are giving even more details about the ordeal and the violent way that it began.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CAPT. CHRIS AIR, BRITISH ROYAL MARINES: They rammed our boats and trained their heavy machines guns, RPG and weapons on us. Another six boats were closing in on us. We realized that our efforts to reason with these people were not making any headway nor were we able to calm some of the individuals down. It was at this point that we realized that had we resisted there would have been a major fight, one which we could not have won and with consequences that would have major strategic impacts. We made a conscious decision not to engage the Iranians and do as they asked. They boarded our boats, removed our weapons and steered the boats towards the Iranian shore.

LT. FELIX CARMAN, BRITISH ROYAL NAVY: We were kept in isolation until the last few nights and we were allowed to gather together for a few hours in the full glare of the Iranian media. On day 12 we were taken to a governmental complex, blindfolded and given three-piece suits to wear. We watched the president's statement live on television, and it was only then that we realized we were to be sent home. It goes without saying that there was a great deal of elation at this point.

We were made then to line up and meet the president one at a time. No one individual should be singled out, but we're now very aware of the special treatment singled out to Faye Turney. Faye is a young mother and a wife. She volunteered to join the Royal Navy and is very proud to continue to serve. She's a highly professional operator, and we're incredibly proud to have her as a member of our team.

The fact she's a woman has been used as a propaganda tool by Iran. This is deeply regrettable. She is coming to terms with what has happened to her. And not only Faye and her family, but all of us are finding the press focus very uncomfortable, difficult and we specifically request you give all of us the space and privacy we need when we return to our homes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MALVEAUX: The woman he is speaking about, the lone female captive, Faye Turney, did not take part in today's news conference.

Jack Cafferty now joins us from New York. Jack, what do you have on file this hour?

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Attorney General Alberto Gonzales has a homework assignment and it's due two days before his scheduled April 17 testimony to Congress. The chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Patrick Leahy, has asked Gonzales for a written account of his role in last year's firings of those federal prosecutors and Leahy wants details.

Unless he resigns before then, which is a distinct possibility, Gonzales' testimony could determine whether he keeps his job. Earlier statements made by the attorney general have been contradicted by e- mails later released by the Justice Department and by testimony from his former chief of staff, Kyle Sampson.

Gonzales was supposed to testify next week for another hearing in front of an Appropriations Subcommittee, but that budget hearing has been postponed because the chairwoman says the uproar over the fired federal prosecutors has made it too tough to focus on the department's budget. Meanwhile, Gonzales has gone to the mattresses in preparation for his upcoming war with Pat Leahy.

He's cancelled a family vacation and he's said to take part in mock question and answer sessions next week. Gee, if he's been telling the truth all along, why would he have to go through all this? Here's the question.

If you were on the Senate Judiciary Committee, what would you want to know from Attorney General Alberto Gonzales? E-mail your thoughts to CaffertyFile@CNN.com or go to CNN.com/CaffertyFile -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: Jack, a lot of people want to know. Thanks, Jack.

Coming up, I go one on one with Democratic Congressman Charlie Rangel, and he takes on Dick Cheney.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MALVEAUX: If the vice president is listening to you now, what would you say to him?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Get a life, Mr. Vice President. The American people want out.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MALVEAUX: Congressman Rangel lets loose about the Iraq war and the Bush administration's policy. That interview is just ahead.

Plus, radio host Don Imus is no stranger to controversy, but did he go too far this time? You'll want to hear for yourself why he's apologizing.

And a new test of America's missile killer system. We'll show you if it works, and why some critics are so skeptical.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MALVEAUX: Thoughtless and stupid, that's how radio talk show host Don Imus is now describing some controversial comments he made about a college women's basketball team, comments that are drawing strong condemnation.

CNN's Mary Snow is live in New York. Mary, is this Imus apology going to be good enough?

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Not so far, Suzanne. At least one group says Don Imus' bigoted comments need explaining, and they intend to turn the pressure up on him and his nationally syndicated show.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SNOW (voice-over): Don Imus is apologizing for what he calls an insensitive and ill-conceived remark, but some say his apology falls short. It all started after Tuesday's NCAA women's championship game between Tennessee and Rutgers. Take a listen for yourself what Imus said about the Rutgers team during a conversation with sportscaster Sid Rosenberg and the show's executive producer, Bernard McGuirk.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's some rough girls from Rutgers. Man, they got tattoos and some hard-core "hos". That's some "nappy-headed hos" there. I'm going to tell you that now.

SNOW: Imus' comments were met with shock and disgust by the National Association of Black Journalists.

BARBRA CIARA, NATL ASSN. OF BLACK JOURNALISTS: We don't understand that a long-term veteran broadcaster wouldn't think that it would hurt the feelings of student athletes. We're talking about girls, college girls who tried their best to win a championship and he degrades them by calling them "nappy-headed hos".

SNOW: Imus issued an apology saying, quote, "it was completely inappropriate and we can understand why people were offended. Our characterization was thoughtless and stupid and we are sorry."

MSNBC, which simulcast the "Don Imus Show" every morning for three hours, tried to distance itself saying the "Imus Show" is not produced by the network and apologized for quote, "offensive comments." Following Imus' apology, Rutgers and the NCAA issued a joint statement to what they said were the insults directed toward the Rutgers Women Basketball Team, saying it is unconscionable that anyone would use the airways to utter such disregard for the dignity of human beings who have accomplished much and deserve great credit.

But the National Association of Black Journalists is not satisfied, and is calling for a boycott of the "Imus Show" and for Imus to be fired, if he doesn't take more action.

CIARA: Just, you know, saying I'm sorry is not going to do it. He needs to outreach. He needs to reach out to those student athletes. He needs to have a larger statement regarding what he said.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SNOW: And we did try reaching Don Imus and the others who were on his show when the controversial comments were made, but we were unable to reach them, and we were referred to the apology that was issued today -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: And Mary, do we know where this is going from here?

SNOW: Well, the National Association of Black Journalists say he really needs to explain why he made these comments. Otherwise, they can't really trust anything he says going forward, and they say he really needs to also talk to the players on the team, and until that happens they say they are going to call for a boycott and they would want him to be fired. They say it doesn't have to happen, but they will call for that, if he doesn't take more action.

MALVEAUX: Mary Snow, thank you very much.

His poll numbers are low. Criticisms are high, but who needs lots of supporters to run for president? As our Gary Nurenberg tells us, one newspaper is urging Vice President Cheney to seek a job promotion.

Gary, with the variety of Republican contenders out there, why are they looking at Cheney?

GARY NURENBERG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well maybe, Suzanne, because so many Republicans seem to be humming that old song, the one that goes is that all there is?

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

NURENBERG (voice-over): Vice President Cheney was only teasing last Monday.

RICHARD B. CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Reception like that it's almost enough to make me want to run for office again.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We think he'd be a good president if he actually won.

NURENBERG: In an editorial entitled "Cheney's Chance" "The New York Sun" compared the vice president to announced Republican candidates, writing Mr. Cheney is so much more experienced and shrewd a figure and managing editor Ira Stoll (ph) says Cheney would say what other candidates aren't saying.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: President Bush hasn't been perfect, but he's actually been a really good president.

NURENBERG: Cheney has said repeatedly he will not run, but Republicans don't seem fired up about those who are running. Republicans have contributed $50 million to presidential hopefuls so far, Democrats, 77 million. A CNN Opinion Research Poll last month shows little more than a third of registered Republicans have made their mind up about a presidential choice. Sixty-two percent said they could change their mind.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They reflect the discontent at this time with the top tier, McCain, Giuliani and Romney.

NURENBERG: Presidential scholar Stephen Hess.

STEPHEN HESS, THE BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: It's not that they are not catching fire. They are all flawed candidates from the Republican activist point of view.

NURENBERG: Which is why maybe possible candidates Newt Gingrich and Fred Thompson are making such broad hints.

FRED THOMPSON (R), FORMER U.S. SENATOR: There's always room for one more.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

NURENBERG: Does that include Dick Cheney? It would be a heck of a campaign but to quote Mr. Hess it ain't going to happen. The talk though does point to a Republican hunger for something new and something new in the Republican race could very well happen -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: And what about some talk of those others who are already in the campaign?

NURENBERG: Well, Fred Thompson, for example, said his intentions will quote, "be made clear later in the year". We may know a little more in two weeks when he talks to a group of Republicans here in Washington. Newt Gingrich has said later in the year, earlier this week he said September 29 when he's doing this Internet conference of his, may be the date that he will look at the presidential race once that September 28, 29 date has come and gone.

MALVEAUX: Well talking to the vice president's office, they say it ain't going to happen with Cheney, but the speculation is quite entertaining.

NURENBERG: It's fun.

MALVEAUX: Thanks, Gary.

And up ahead tonight in THE SITUATION ROOM, are U.S. forces facing a new generation of al Qaeda terrorists hardened and tested in the Iraq war? Disturbing new accounts from the war zone.

And the Reverend Jerry Falwell has been known to mix religion and politics, but you'll be surprised to hear what he's saying now about the kind of leader he wants in the White House.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MALVEAUX: Our Carol Costello is monitoring stories coming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now. Carol, what are you working on at this hour?

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Well, Suzanne, a devastating day for a family in Polk County, Florida. Take a look at this. A tractor- trailer slamming into their house this afternoon, causing as you're about to see, some major damage. A man and a toddler were inside. They did not get hurt. Police say the truck ran a red light, hit an SUV, flipped on to its side and slid into the home. Police now investigating the accident. Of course, at this point the truck driver has not been charged.

Another deadly attack in Iraq involving toxic chlorine gas, the ninth since January. In western Ramadi today a suicide bomber detonated a truck carrying chlorine gas cylinders, at least 25 killed, more than 30 others injured. The victims included women and children. The attack took place near a police checkpoint.

Radical Islamic students in Islamabad are making their voices heard. Students set fire to hundreds of DVDs, video cassettes and VCRs today. Crowds gathered around the blaze, shouting God is great. The burning took place in front of the Red Mosque (ph), which is said to be spreading a radical version of Islam. A cleric at the mosque says the group wants Pakistan to become ruled by Islamic law.

And Afghan President Hamid Karzai is admitting for the first time that he's met with Taliban militants to try to bring peace to Afghanistan. The discursion today was immediately rejected as false by a Taliban spokesman and it came as a suicide car bomber killed four people in Kabul. In the past, Karzai has offered without success to hold talks with the fugitive Taliban leader Mullah Omar.

That's a look at the headlines right now, Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: Thanks. Carol Costello in New York.

One of the country's most outspoken Democrats has some hard questions about the Iraq war.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How many Americans have to die? How many innocent people have to die before the president gets it? You can't compromise on how many you're willing to sacrifice in a war where there's no victory in sight.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MALVEAUX: Congressman Charlie Rangel has a lot on his mind. My blunt conversation with him just ahead in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Later a tense search for people missing after a holiday cruise ship goes down. Hear from survivors in their own words.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) MALVEAUX: You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Happening now, another person resigns in the storm over those eight fired U.S. attorneys. Monica Goodling is leaving the Justice Department effective tomorrow. In a letter to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales she did not give a reason. Goodling is the official who refuses to testify before Congress over the controversy invoking the Fifth Amendment.

Birthday and get-well wishes for Betty Ford. The former first lady turns 89 Sunday. Today she remains hospitalized in California after undergoing surgery for unspecified reasons. Many people are sending her birthday messages and get well cards.

And he carries the cross. Pope Benedict XVI holding up a cross in Rome to mark Good Friday, two days before Easter.

Wolf Blitzer is off today. I'm Suzanne Malveaux, and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

An unprecedented deployment. An Army National Guard unit about to go back to Iraq for the second time. That's a first for the Guard and a possible sign of the growing strain the war is putting on the U.S. military.

CNN Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr joining us with the very latest -- Barbara.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Suzanne, more than 12,000 Army National Guard troops have now gotten the word they will be going to Iraq for a tour of duty beginning early next year, but this is a very unusual event. This is the first time the Army National Guard will be returning to Iraq for a second combat tour of duty.

This isn't part of that so-called surge, any increase in the overall troop levels on the ground in Iraq. This is a scheduled rotation. This is part of the military's effort to identify enough units, enough troops, to keep the required combat levels of force in Iraq through at least the year 2010. But the question that is emerging, of course, is can the military keep up this prolonged pace of activity.

Top commanders say yes. But they do acknowledge, equipment is worn out; the troops are tired.

One Army active-duty unit is headed back to the front lines after just nine months at home. Still, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said he wanted to make it clear to America's enemies, the U.S. military, he says, it trained and ready for any threat that might emerge. There are still, he says, 2.4 million troops on duty -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: Barbara Starr at the Pentagon.

President Bush and congressional Democrats still are at loggerheads over Iraq war funding, with Mr. Bush vowing to veto any bill that includes a deadline for withdrawal.

I spoke with a leading Democratic critic of the president's Iraq policy, Congressman Charlie Rangel. I asked him if Democrats could offer any compromise.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

REP. CHARLES RANGEL (D-NY), HOUSE WAYS AND MEANS COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: We were elected as the majority because Americans -- most Americans -- wanted us to get out of Iraq and their total displeasure with the way the president has been handling this.

I don't think there's too many Americans that want our troops over there supporting a surge, when nobody knows what the surge is all about.

These people have been fighting each other for hundreds and thousands of years, and they don't need United States troops placed in danger while they try to settle their sectarian differences.

MALVEAUX: Do you think that there's a compromise? Obviously, there will be a lot of back-and-forth here with the legislation. Are the Democrats willing to give up anything from that bill that they have already put forward?

RANGEL: You know, first the president has to admit that he's either changing the course or he made a mistake, call in some of our allies, get our so-called friends in the Arab world -- Egypt and Saudi Arabia and Jordan -- and really try to see how we can work this thing out.

These terrorists not only got the United States and Israel on their hit list, but a lot of countries in the world. And, so, this military thing without a military victory doesn't make sense. The question has to be, how many Americans have to die? How many innocent people have to die before the president get it?

You can't compromise on how many you're willing to sacrifice in a war where there's no victory in sight. And you can't even describe what a victory would be. If, tomorrow, the terrorists wanted to give up, where would we take the papers for them to sign the surrender?

MALVEAUX: Congressman, I want to read real quick an excerpt from your book here that I read.

You say: "At this point, a great many Americans just don't believe the president, period. I think we have reached the point now, with the war, the incompetence, and the lies that have been told, where the people are ready to listen to another version and another vision of the American dream."

Do you believe that President Bush can restore his credibility with the American people, the people that you're talking about here, in some way?

RANGEL: Well, I think, whether you're individual or an entity or a president, you have to say you made a mistake, that, let's turn it around; let's do it a different way.

But, if you say, stay the course, and you need more troops to accomplish something that you have no clue as to what it is -- or at least you have an inability to share it with the American people -- no, I don't think you can restore your integrity and credibility, unless you change the course.

And the American people wants it done. And that's why you find the House and the Senate, the representative of the American people, pushing the president toward that goal.

MALVEAUX: And, obviously, the administration pushing back. I want to play a quick sound bite from the vice president and how he is framing the debate.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICHARD B. CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There's no way you can segment out and say, well, we will fight the war on terror in Pakistan or in Afghanistan but we can separate Iraq. That's not really, in any way, shape or form, related.

That's just dead wrong. Bin Laden himself has said, this is the central battle in the war on terror.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MALVEAUX: Do you buy into the administration's -- the line that they are telling the American people, that there are threats around the world, that they do have to confront them, and that that's why American soldiers need to stay?

RANGEL: Well, less than 30 percent of the people have confidence in what the president has to say. And less than that have confidence in what the vice president has to say. And it's abundantly clear, from his five deferments, that he's not too familiar with military fighting.

There may be problems around the world, but what's to say that they're our problems? If we really exercise the leadership that we should, we would be bringing in people to see how, collectively, we can try to help these people to resolve their problem.

But people aren't going to sleep at night wondering whether the Shiites or the Sunnis are going to win. We have got to get out of there. The world problems may be visionary in Cheney's mind, but they're not in most Americans' minds.

MALVEAUX: If the vice president is listening to you now, what would you say to him?

RANGEL: Get a life, Mr. Vice President. The American people want out.

MALVEAUX: Congressman Rangel, thank you so much for joining us here on THE SITUATION ROOM. RANGEL: Thank you.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MALVEAUX: And now the Republican side.

Earlier, I also spoke with Congressman Duncan Hunter. He is the ranking Republican on the House Armed Services Committee and a presidential candidate.

Regarding war funding bills and Democratic efforts to get U.S. troops out of Iraq, Hunter has this message.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. DUNCAN HUNTER (R-CA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: There's a lot at stake here. And I would just hope that the Democrats would go back to the great Democrat statesmen, like Senator Jackson, who said that, in national security, the best politics is no politics.

I think the Democrats had a big political victory as a result of the war that dampened the vote, the enthusiasm for the Republican vote. And I think they see political gain here. Now is not the time to harvest political gain.

You have to let the president run this war. He's the commander in chief.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MALVEAUX: Regarding his own bid to be commander in chief, Hunter uses the words true conservative to describe himself.

One of the Pentagon's most complicated projects has just been put to the test. Next, see what happened when a missile tried to shoot down a target that was speeding faster than a bullet.

And what would Jesus think about the war on terrorism or gay marriage? Some of America's top Christian leaders tell us how Jesus might answer today's hottest issues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MALVEAUX: It's described as being like a bullet hitting a bullet -- the Pentagon investing heavily in its interceptor missile defense system, and now word of another success. But critics are not impressed.

CNN special correspondent Frank Sesno has details -- Frank.

FRANK SESNO, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: Suzanne, call it missile defense, call it Star Wars. The real question is, does it work?

Well, yesterday, there was a successful test of one component in a very complicated system.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SESNO (voice-over): Against the night sky, a kill vehicle shoots up to knock out a pretend enemy missile.

JOHN PIKE, GLOBALSECURITY.ORG: What's happening is that the kinetic kill vehicle is actually colliding with the incoming reentry vehicle. It's being destroyed on impact. The fireworks that you're seeing are the fragments of the warhead and the kill vehicle scattering all over the place.

SESNO: Critics say the tests in this series are too easy. But defenders say, to test one component, all the other intricate components need to work.

MAJOR GENERAL DONALD SHEPPERD (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: It's a bullet hitting a bullet. And, so, any time you have a successful test, I say it's a step in the right direction.

PIKE: This program started out stumbling. Then they crawled. Now I think at last they're walking. They're not quite ready to run.

SESNO: This missile defense, called THAAD, is meant primarily to hit an incoming war head when it's already within 100 miles. It's designed to defend American troops overseas and population centers.

To defend the U.S. homeland against long-distance missiles, the best defense is to intercept further out, midcourse, over the ocean. That would be the job of the longer-range missile shield, like the one planned for Alaska.

How is that coming along?

PIKE: I don't think we're going to be terribly reliant on the midcourse interceptor in this decade, maybe at some point in the next decade, but not soon.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SESNO: In the meantime, advocates say, in the event of attack, a local interceptor that works is better than nothing -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: Frank, thank you so much.

More and more, U.S. forces seem to be going up against a new version of an old enemy, al Qaeda.

CNN senior national correspondent John Roberts has been looking at where the terrorists are learning their deadly lessons -- John.

JOHN ROBERTS, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Suzanne, are we facing a new al Qaeda, a new generation of terrorist leaders, hardened in battle against American and British troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, and given intensive training in the tribal areas of Pakistan?

Two experts that I spoke to today said, yes, we are. Former CIA analyst Robert Baer spoke of this new face of al Qaeda, a very different group than the Saudis and Egyptians who plotted the attacks of 9/11.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "THIS WEEK AT WAR")

ROBERT BAER, FORMER CIA OFFICER: Indonesians, a lot of Muslims from South Asia, some converts from France, for instance, Europe, they are very difficult to follow now, because what's happening is, these guys are getting recruited, or they are recruiting themselves in Europe, going to Iraq, going to Afghanistan, getting training, and then coming back. And we don't know who they are.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: CNN terrorism analyst Peter Bergen is on the scene in Kabul, Afghanistan, and he talked to me how difficult, how frustrating it is for anti-terrorism units who are trying to kill or capture these new al Qaeda leaders and their allies, like Taliban head Mullah Omar.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "THIS WEEK AT WAR")

PETER BERGEN, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: Just today, U.S. military officials said that they know where Mullah Omar lives, that they have coordinates of a compound in Quetta where he comes and goes from, Quetta being a city in southwest Pakistan.

So, it's not for a lack of knowledge. It's a problem of Pakistan will not, for domestic political reasons, let U.S. military, in any great numbers, go into Pakistan. And, while that continues to be true, this problem, I think, will continue to fester.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: And with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf now engulfed in escalating protests against his government, it's not likely that he will be able to take the tremendously unpopular step of allowing foreign troops into the remote areas of his country to fight al Qaeda any time soon -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: John -- thanks, John Roberts.

And you can see more of John's analysis of new al Qaeda on "THIS WEEK AT WAR." See it tomorrow at 7:00 p.m. Eastern or Sunday at 1:00 p.m. Eastern.

The Reverend Jerry Falwell has been known to mix religion and politics, but you will be surprised to hear what he's saying now about the kind of leader he wants in the White House.

Also ahead: incredible pictures of the last minutes before a disabled cruise ship sinks. Did everyone get off alive?

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MALVEAUX: Now to the Reverend Jerry Falwell, who had some surprising comments on who he would accept in the White House when it comes to the war on terror.

CNN's Roland Martin has a CNN special report tonight called "What Would Jesus Really Do?"

Roland, what did Falwell tell you? A lot of people might be surprised.

ROLAND MARTIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, it actually was very surprising.

He said that he knows lots of people who are Sunday school teachers, and they may not work well in the White House, because they don't understand national security. I mean, one of the things that he said was, very simply, that, if there was an atheist and he was sick and on the hospital emergency room, and they were the best, he said, start operating.

And, so, he said a Christian litmus test is not necessary for president -- very surprising from Reverend Falwell.

MALVEAUX: And, based on the interviews that you have done, do you think they will change the national agenda among the Christian leaders of -- the fact that you're now coming up, the primary, in about a year or so?

MARTIN: You have more folks who are focusing on that.

And, of course, Rick Warren invited Senator Sam Brownback, as well as Senator Barack Obama, to his church back in December for World AIDS Day. And, so, he's trying to get other evangelicals to say, look, our agenda goes beyond abortion, it goes beyond gay marriage, although he's against those.

His point is very simple. We need to broaden it to focus on poverty, homelessness, global warming, other issues, and not just those two hot-button issues.

MALVEAUX: And what's the most interesting thing, fascinating thing, that you heard out of your special reports?

MARTIN: I would say their response to, why is Jesus and the Easter Bunny hooked up on the same weekend?

(LAUGHTER)

MALVEAUX: Why? Why? Why?

(CROSSTALK)

MARTIN: It was one of those issues that was bugging me. And I said, wait a minute. Jesus and the Easter Bunny same weekend. So, we asked everyone the same question. And, trust me, they were all thrown off by it.

MALVEAUX: OK. So, that's a big tease.

(LAUGHTER)

MALVEAUX: I guess we have got to watch, then. All right.

MARTIN: There you go.

MALVEAUX: Coming up in just a few minutes.

Thanks, Roland Martin.

Be sure to tune in, "What Would Jesus Really Do?" Again, that special report is coming up at top of the hour, 8:00 Eastern, 5:00 Pacific, right here on CNN.

Jack Cafferty now joining us live with "The Cafferty File" from New York.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: If you were on the Senate Judiciary Committee, what would you want to know from Attorney General Alberto Gonzales?

Jenny in New York: "I would want to know if he was getting a hankering to spend more time with his family."

Ross in L.A.: "I would like to ask Gonzales why Mrs. Goodling feels that she must resign, rather than tell the truth to Congress. Did he have conversations with her about the firing of the prosecutors?"

Scott in Missouri: "Who do you work for, the people or the president?"

Paul in Tennessee: "My question is, when is he going to resign due to his conducting of illegal wiretaps and persecution of those two convicted border agents, while leaving our borders and American citizens defenseless?"

Anthony in Connecticut: "Why the hell didn't you just tell them right in the beginning: 'I fired them; I had the right to do so; get over it'?"

Scott in Fort Lauderdale: "Where do you want your last paycheck sent?"

Lynn in Connecticut: "How about something completely different for this administration, the complete, unvarnished, swear-on-the-Bible truth?"

D. in Kansas: "What do people think of the way the U.S. treats prisoners, Abu Ghraib, Gitmo, et cetera?"

And Steve in San Diego: "What sort of a going-away party would you like?"

CAFFERTY: If you didn't see your e-mail here, you can go to CNN.com/CaffertyFile. We post more of them online. There are also video clips of this, which you can use to frighten little children off your front porch over the Easter weekend.

(LAUGHTER)

CAFFERTY: Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: Jack Cafferty, thank you so much -- Jack out of New York.

A holiday cruise comes to a shocking end. Stay with us for incredible pictures and the very latest on the search for missing passengers.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MALVEAUX: A new climate report from the United Nations warns that millions of people will go hungry, thirsty and suffer disease as the world's temperature rises, if the world doesn't act.

The report warns of rising sea levels swallowing up some coastal cities like New York. Scientists say that climate change could mean a new dust bowl, bringing on drought in the Southwest, and making it even hotter, and bring on a wave of animal extinction. Experts say polar bears could vanish this century, because they live on ice that will melt.

Our Carol Costello is monitoring all the stories.

What do you have for our viewers at this hour?

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: A couple things to tell you about, Suzanne.

A dramatic arrest caught on camera -- take a look. New Jersey State Police say, just before this morning's capture of a bank robbery suspect, the man begged them: "Please shoot me. Please kill me." Of course, they didn't. They arrested him.

An FBI agent died in a shoot-out yesterday when two other suspects were arrested. He apparently was hit by a bullet from another agent's gun.

Checking the bottom line now, a disturbing theory is surfacing in the ongoing recall of tainted pet food. A veterinarian with the Food and Drug Administration says someone may have intentionally added a chemical to a pet food ingredient to increase the protein level and to raise prices. Unfortunately, the chemical is also poisonous and suspected of killing dozens of dogs and cats.

Presidential candidate Barack Obama has an idea. He says he will introduce a bill to create a housing program for veterans, and he will do that on Monday. The Illinois Democrat says the government is short-changing veterans, causing some vets to end up on the street and homeless.

Hillary Clinton is off the campaign trail this holiday weekend, getting some R&R from her busy campaign schedule. The Democratic presidential front-runner is heading to a resort in the Dominican Republic. She will be joined by her husband, of course, the former President Bill Clinton, and their daughter, Chelsea, at the home of fashion designer Oscar de la Renta.

Much stronger job growth than expected last month -- new Labor Department figures show a net gain of 180,000 jobs. That's up from February's net gain of 113,000. Last month's unemployment rate dipped to 4.4 percent, matching a five-year low. That is down from the 4.5 percent figure reported in February. The stock market was closed for Good Friday, giving investors limited ability to react to this good economic news.

So, I guess, Suzanne, we will have to wait until Monday.

MALVEAUX: OK. Well, we will see you on Monday, then, Carol. Thank you so much.

COSTELLO: Sure.

MALVEAUX: It's a frightening thought for anyone who has ever taken a cruise: your ship crashing, then sinking. That happened in Greece.

Yesterday, the Sea Diamond slammed into rocks near one of Greece's most popular tourist destinations, and it sank today, 18 hours after it sent out a distress signal. Many on board were Americans. And, while survivors are happy to be alive, many are having to relive the nightmare.

Here's CNN's Diana Magnay.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DIANA MAGNAY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Dramatic nighttime pictures of the doomed Greek cruise ship the Sea Diamond -- rescue workers still circling long after they had evacuated those on board, at this stage, powerless to prevent the inevitable.

And here, just before 7:00 in the morning, 15 hours after she began to take in water, it's all over -- all 22,500 tons of this enormous ship now lying on the seabed near the Greek island of Santorini.

The Sea Diamond was carrying almost 1,600 people when she scraped a reef. Passengers said it all happened very suddenly.

TOM GATCH, PASSENGER: I heard the noise. And it was a loud noise, of course. And then I stepped outside of my cabin and looked, and the water was coming down the hallway. And I thought, I have to go back inside to get my life jacket, but I get the -- open the door. And I didn't have time, because now the water was up over my ankles.

KATIE SUMNER, AUSTRALIAN PASSENGER: We heard a big shudder. And then the whole boat started to tilt. All of our glasses were sliding everywhere. And our warning that the ship was sinking was of the staff running down the corridor, screaming out "life jackets" and banging on doors.

MAGNAY: Military and commercial vessels took part in the three- hour rescue operation, and local fishermen rushed to help, while tourists on Santorini watched as this ship built as the ultimate in luxury took on more and more water.

But, on Friday, the Greek tourism minister announced that two passengers were still missing.

FANNY PALLI-PETRALIA, GREEK MINISTER OF TOURISM (through translator): The mother told me that it all happened within a few seconds. While one of the two children was upstairs on the deck, the rest of the family was in the cabin, which suddenly filled with water. They managed to open the cabin door, and the mother dived and got out. She doesn't know whether her husband and her daughter managed to follow her.

MAGNAY: In September 2000, more than 80 people drowned when the Express Samina ferry hit rocks and sank off the Greek island of Paros.

Greece has since worked hard to improve its safety record. The cruise operator says it has already launched an investigation into how this latest disaster was allowed to occur.

Diana Magnay, CNN, London.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MALVEAUX: At last check, many divers are still searching for those missing French tourists. When it sailed at sea, the Sea Diamond was 469 feet long. And the bed of rocks it struck was formed by a massive volcano eruption more than 3,500 years ago.

And here's a look at some of the "Hot Shots" coming in from our friends at the Associated Press, pictures likely to be in your newspaper tomorrow.

In the Vatican, Pope Benedict XVI lies on the ground before the altar during a Good Friday ceremony.

In Uruguay, a cowboy falls from his horse during a rodeo.

In Seattle, a scientist holds a 38-inch ruler to a giant rockfish. The 60-pound fish was estimated to be at least 90 years old.

And, in the Florida Keys, a diver dressed as the Easter Bunny scares away a school of fish, as he hides Easter eggs for an underwater Easter egg hunt.

And that's this hour's "Hot Shots," pictures often worth 1,000 words.

We're here in THE SITUATION ROOM every weekday from 4:00 to 6:00 p.m. Eastern, and back again at 7:00 p.m. Eastern.

Monday, President Bush tackles immigration reform.

But, first, join Wolf Blitzer this Sunday for "LATE EDITION" -- among Wolf's guests, Senator Joe Lieberman and Arlen Specter. "LATE EDITION" starts at 11:00 a.m. Eastern, 8:00 Pacific.

I'm Susanne Malveaux.

Up next: a CNN special, "What Would Jesus Really Do?"

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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