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THE SITUATION ROOM

Rutgers Women's Basketball Team Agrees To Meet With Imus; Are U.S. Forces Making a Difference in Baghdad?

Aired April 10, 2007 - 17:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And to our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Happening now: Shocked and stunned by the shock jock's racial remarks, the Rutgers women's basketball team agrees to meet with Don Imus. But can that make things right? I will speak with their coach.

U.S. forces may finally be making a difference in Baghdad. But, while Iraqi casualties are down, there's a rising toll on U.S. troops. Are they paying a heavy price for success?

And Newt Gingrich versus John Kerry. A heated showdown on global warming sends the temperatures soaring up on Capitol Hill. I'm Wolf Blitzer, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

They're angry, they're hurt and they're speaking out publicly now for the first time. Members of the Rutgers University women's basketball team breaking their silence on the stunning insult that's resulted in a two-week suspension for Don Imus. And now they're agreeing to meet with the talk show host face to face. CNN's Mary Snow is joining us from New York. Mary, first of all, what do we know about this meeting?

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we do know that the meeting is going to be private, away from cameras. Exactly when it will happen is unclear. Members of the Rutgers team say they hope something positive will come from meeting with Imus, after his sexist and racist remarks.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SNOW (voice-over): These are the women of the Rutgers Scarlet Knights, and they say they are ready to confront Don Imus for this.

DON IMUS: That's some rough girls from Rutgers. Man they got tattoos and that's some nappy-headed hos there I'm going to tell you that now.

KIA VAUGHN, RUTGERS BASKETBALL PLAYER: I'm a woman and I'm someone's child, and it hurts a lot. It does hurt.

HEATHER ZURICH, RUTGERS BASKETBALL PLAYER: What hurts the most about this situation is that Mr. Imus knows not one of us personally.

SNOW: But he soon will. The team has agreed to meet with the talk show host at what's being called an undisclosed location, that's something Imus requested after publicly apologizing for his comments and getting suspended for two weeks. For now, team members are stopping short of joining others asking for his resignation. And the coach of the team says the issue does not stop with Imus.

VIVIAN STRINGER, RUTGERS WOMEN'S BASKETBALL COACH: To utter such despicable words are not right, whether spoken by a black, white, purple or green, male or female, tall or short, skinny or thin, fat, whatever. It is not right.

SNOW: The captain of the team, a junior, Essence Carson said she is glad to have the opportunity to speak up. And she answered a question about the demeaning language found in rap and hip hop music.

ESSENCE CARSON, RUTGERS BASKETBALL TEAM CAPTAIN: I know that rap, hip hop, and any other music of that genre has desensitized America and this world so some of the words that they choose to use in their lyrics. I understand that but that doesn't make it anymore right for anyone to say it. Not only Mr. Imus, but if I were to say it, it doesn't make it anymore right.

(END OF VIDEOTAPE)

SNOW: As for Imus' apology for a number of offensive comments made on his show last week, a team member says his apology has not served justice to what he said. Wolf?

BLITZER: Mary Snow reporting. We're going to have a lot more on this story coming up. Mary, thank you very much.

My interview, by the way with the head coach of the Rutgers University women's basketball team, that's coming up, as well this hour here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

We'll move on to some other news though first. U.S. troops may be making life safer for Baghdad residents, but that crackdown in the Iraqi capital is coming at quite a price, a sharp increase in American dead and wounded. Let's go live to our senior Pentagon correspondent Jamie McIntyre. Jamie?

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SENIOR PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well Wolf, you know the success of the so-called surge is still a matter of debate. But what is not in question is that U.S. troops are paying a heavy toll for that operation.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MCINTYRE (voice-over): Eight weeks into the Baghdad security plan, one trend is clear. The so-called surge is producing a surge in American casualties, which one U.S. commander tells CNN is the price of success.

MAJ. GEN. WILLIAM CALDWELL, U.S. ARMY: I was just down in Baghdad two days ago walking through the city, and I can tell the difference from two months ago to today, in terms of the environment. You can just sense and feel there is a difference. MCINTYRE: The new U.S./Iraqi offensive has transformed Baghdad into the front lines and consequently put more American troops in the cross hairs. Numbers for the first quarter of 2007 show that for the first time since the war began, U.S. military deaths have been 80 or more for three consecutive months. And April is on track to exceed 100. But the flip side is that Iraqi civilian deaths are declining, down 27 percent last month, according to the U.S. military, which after all, is one of the goals of the crackdown. But the larger goal is to create a period of peace in which the Sunni and Shia can figure out how to stop fighting each other. And that goal remains elusive.

ALI ALLAWI, FORMER IRAQI CABINET MINISTER: It's helping in the sense that it's establishing helping the central government to establish security where it matters, in Baghdad. But not where it also matters, which is outside of Baghdad.

MCINTYRE: The U.S. military attributes its higher casualties to its more aggressive patrols and to the response by insurgents who appear to be increasingly targeting Americans in an effort to weaken U.S. resolve.

(END OF VIDEOTAPE)

MCINTYRE: One other trend is also clear, U.S. commanders want to keep up the pressure and that means likely maintaining the surge well into next year, and that could result in as many as 15,000 troops now serving in the deadliest part of Iraq having their tours of duty extended by up to four months. Wolf?

BLITZER: Jamie, are the casualties for American troops higher only in the Baghdad area or all over the country?

MCINTYRE: Well, it's mostly in the Baghdad area, although some places, north and south of Baghdad, too, where there's been heavy fighting. But obviously the casualties are coming where the surge is, where they are surging and confronting the enemy. And so, yes, it's mostly in that central part of Iraq.

BLITZER: Jamie McIntyre at the Pentagon, thank you.

And there was a very dramatic example of the new surge in American casualties today, right in the heart of the Iraqi capital.

Joining us now, our correspondent in Baghdad, Michael Ware. Michael, as we're speaking now, it looks like there's been some sort of incident or maybe even a significant battle right in central Baghdad. What do we know?

MICHAEL WARE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, welcome to the war, Wolf. What we know, at this stage, from the U.S. military is that at about 7:00 a.m. this morning, local time, here in the Iraqi capital Baghdad, U.S. and Iraqi forces were conducting what the military said was a routine cordon and search. That means they surround an area and then go essentially knocking door-to-door, searching, looking for weapons, bad guys, that sort of thing. Now, at some point a group of insurgents opened fire on these American and coalition Iraqi forces with small arms. By the end of the battle, there was four Iraqi soldiers dead, and only three insurgents dead, but in the meantime, 16 American soldiers had been wounded. Now, we don't know how bad, if any of them are critical. But 16 American soldiers, two more Iraqi soldiers wounded, and reports of a child who was wounded. Helicopters were called in for help. They got shot up a little bit, had to go home and land, and then they took to the air again. I mean, this is happening in Iraq. It just happened right in the center of the capital and it couldn't be missed.

BLITZER: And also happening today, a suicide bombing, this one involving an Iraqi woman. What do we know about this incident?

WARE: Well, we've seen this before, unfortunately, I mean, it's an infrequent phenomenon, but it's certainly not unheard of, the use of female suicide bombers. Now American soldiers are constantly trying to maintain their guard, one can't help but be less suspicious of a woman, given that most of the hostilities here are conducted by the men. What we know is that this woman with explosives strapped to her body walks into a crowd of men who have come to join the police in the province of Diyala, just north of the capital here in Baghdad, in a small town known as Muqdadiya. Muqdadiya used to be a fairly mixed Sunni Shia kind of place. But I haven't been there for some time. My friends who are still there tell me that most of the Shia have been driven out. Why? Because like much of Diyala, it's become an al Qaeda stronghold. So this looks like al Qaeda hitting back at anyone who dares to join the police and work with the occupier.

BLITZER: Let's go to Jack Cafferty, Jack Cafferty is in New York. Michael Ware, he's got a unique perspective. You know why, because he's been there for four years. Can you imagine, Jack, risking your life for four years to bring readers, first for "Time" magazine, now for our viewers around the world, these incredible stories.

JACK CAFFERTY: No. And I got a chance to meet him when he was on break here a while ago and he came by New York and in addition to being a good reporter, he's a terrific guy, a nice man. Got a young son that he's absolutely devoted to, and he's bringing us, I think, probably the best coverage of the war in Iraq, of anybody in the, at least in the broadcast media. My humble opinion.

BLITZER: I agree.

CAFFERTY: Yeah. One California newspaper has dubbed it the Robin Hood approach to global warming. Democratic state assembly men in California introducing something called the clean car discount bill. Here's how it would work. It would make drivers who buy these new gas guzzling vehicles like the big Hummers or Ford Expeditions, pay a fee between $100 and $2500. Conversely, people who buy the more fuel efficient vehicles like a Toyota Prius or a Ford Focus would get rebates of between $100 and $2500. The idea is to charge those whose vehicles emit high levels of greenhouse gases and get the so-called dirtier vehicles off the road. It's a bill that would be effective if it passes and is signed with the 2011 models. The Assembly Transportation Committee has approved it. It also has the support of most of the major California environmental groups. But the governor, Arnold, has not taken a position on this, as yet. A lot of the car dealers don't like it. They say it unfairly targets large families, farmers and ranchers. And they say it amounts to a tax on the large vehicles. So, here is the question, "Is it a good idea to penalize drivers who buy gas-guzzling vehicles?" Email caffertyfile@cnn.com or go to cnn.com/caffertyfile. Wolf?

BLITZER: Jack, thank you for that.

Still ahead, speaking for the team, the head coach of the Rutgers University women's basketball team speaks candidly about Don Imus' slur.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STRINGER: I was personally hurt because my young ladies, who, I've been entrusted to protect, love, discipline, and prepare for life, were so badly hurt.

(END OF VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: You're going to want to hear what else she has to say, the coach, Vivian Stringer, she's joining us here in THE SITUATION ROOM, this hour.

Also, face-off, John Kerry versus Newt Gingrich. Just how heated did their global warming debate up on Capitol Hill get today? We're going to show you.

Plus, Halliburton pulling out of Iran. But what was Vice President Cheney's old company doing there in the first place? Stick around you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: The Vice President Dick Cheney's old company Halliburton says it's finally wrapping up its work in Iran, years after the government began investigating a possible violation of a U.S. ban on any such activity in Iran. CNN's Tom Foreman is joining us. Tom, you've been looking into this what are you learning?

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Halliburton said yesterday that they have finished phasing out their work in Iran. The big question of course is, what were they doing there in the first place?

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

FOREMAN (voice-over): American companies and citizens cannot legally do business with Iran. It is forbidden under the U.S. government's economic sanctions against that country. But Halliburton got around that problem by using a foreign subsidiary which they own, and that's why critics say Halliburton was relying on a loophole.

CHARLIE CRAY, DIR., CENTER FOR CORPORATE POLICY: Well, Halliburton set up this bogus brass plate subsidiary in the Caymans in order to effectively say that they had this company that was incorporated offshore. FOREMAN: Halliburton was subpoenaed by the government in 2004 over transactions with Iran. Its subsidiary provided about 30 to $40 million worth of services to Iran each year. But Halliburton says that's only 1 percent of its overall business. It maintains the subsidiaries work in Iran, complied with U.S. law, and was carried out by non-American personnel. Halliburton has not reported any further investigative activity. But at least one senator still wants to close the loophole that Halliburton used.

SEN. FRANK LAUTENBERG, (D) NEW JERSEY: This should have been done some time ago. During the time that they were helping Iran increase its revenues, helping them produce their oil.

FOREMAN: The issue has become political, in part, because when Vice President Dick Cheney was head of Halliburton, he opposed the sanctions on Iran, saying, quote, "We're kept out of there primarily by our own government. I think that's a mistake." But asked about it in a 2004 debate, the vice president seemed to reverse himself, saying, he supports U.S. sanctions on Iran.

CHENEY: At the time, I was talking specifically about this question of unilateral sanctions.

(END OF VIDEOTAPE)

FOREMAN: Halliburton has one fewer headache lately. As of last week they say they're finished splitting off Kellogg Brown & Route, the KBR unit which the Pentagon's inspector general accused of mishandling government contracts in Iraq. Wolf?

BLITZER: Correct me if I'm wrong Tom, but that was the largest U.S. contractor in Iraq, so, why are they spinning that off?

FOREMAN: Well, there are several possibilities here. One, are these questions about the Iraq contract. Certainly, that's a headache to them. Questioned about whether or not these no-bid contracts were proper, whether or not they were over billing or getting the job done in some cases. These are things which Halliburton has said all along, look, we did the job, we did it gladly, because our troops needed it. And frankly they say they're a company that nobody else could do it. But, on the line, really what Halliburton has said, they want to get back to their core business, which is oil. Kellogg Brown & Route can continue to do this kind of work as a separate company, but Halliburton itself says, we're an energy company, that's what we made our money in, that's what they want to make their money in, so that's what they're getting back to. Wolf?

BLITZER: And I know that investigators on Capitol Hill are still looking into the decision by Halliburton to move their chairman and CEO, their offices from Houston to Dubai. They want to see what that specifically will mean. We'll get to that down the road. Thanks very much, Tom Foreman reporting for us.

John Kerry versus Newt Gingrich, would be and maybe a wannabe. Their showdown on the environment sent the temperature rising up on Capitol Hill today. Let's turn to our national correspondent Bob Franken. How did it go Bob?

BOB FRANKEN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well you have Newt Gingrich and you have John Kerry. It sounds like great political theater. But the two had the audacity to throw in some substance.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

FRANKEN (voice-over): There was more similarity between the two than just their big hair. Both agree that global warming is a crisis. But then as one might expect, the two parted ways.

NEWT GINGRICH, (R) FORMER HOUSE SPEAKER: We're not arguing over whether it should be urgent, we're arguing over whether bureaucracy and litigation is a better way to be urgent, or whether science and technology translated by entrepreneurs into products is a better way to be urgent.

FRANKEN: Indeed they were arguing about that.

SEN. JOHN KERRY, (D) MASSACHUSETTS: You can't just sit there and say, oh, let the market respond. And that's like saying, Barry Bonds, go investigate steroids. Or like saying, Enron, you take over the pensions for America. Not going to happen.

FRANKEN: But this was Kerry versus Gingrich. Couldn't we have some conflict for crying out loud? Some pain, some pleasure? Sure we could.

GINGRICH: What you want to do is create a level of pain sufficiently great that in order to avoid the pain, they'll go raise the capital. What I want to do is create a level of pleasure sufficiently great that in order to have the pleasure, they'll go ahead and build the plant.

KERRY: On the contrary. There's no level of pain. Either way, it's a question of how you distribute the benefit. The benefit is that you're going to reduce the carbon and preserve the plant. Now, if you call that pain, I call that upside benefit.

(END OF VIDEOTAPE)

FRANKEN: Are we talking sparks or what? At one point, Kerry referred to this as the environmental version of the Lincoln/Douglas debate. It was not a line that got the slightest bit of applause.

BLITZER: Bob Franken reporting for us, thanks Bob. Bob reporting from Washington.

Coming up -- his show is a favorite campaign stop for many. So are politicians now distancing themselves from Don Imus? We're going to show you who is, who is not. Plus --

My interview with the House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, he has a special message for President Bush about the showdown over Iraq war funding and a timeline for a withdrawal. Stay with us, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Our Carol Costello is monitoring stories incoming into THE SITUATION ROOM. Right now some dramatic developments happening out in Chicago Carol.

CAROL COSTELLO: Yeah, we have incredible pictures to show you right now. There is a huge apartment fire right now in the city of Chicago, let's take a look. You can see the firefighters actually battle, they're on the roof. This looks like a house, not an apartment building. They have cut a hole in the roof to let some of the smoke escape, it appears, and of course more firefighters are probably on the ground. We don't know much information about this fire. When I get more I'll pass it along.

Also in the news this afternoon suicide terror bombings thwarted in Morocco. Officials in Casablanca say three men blew themselves up as police closed in on them. One officer was killed, a child injured in the explosions. Officials say one of the bombers was the brother of a man who launched a suicide attack on an Internet cafe just a few weeks ago.

New problems from the sinking of that Greek cruise ship, a growing oil slick off the island of Santorini. Officials now say they plan to use an unmanned submarine to assess the problem, they will also search for the bodies of those two missing passengers as well as the ship's data recorder.

And remember those massive marches last year for immigrant rights? Organizers want to do it again. They're planning what they call the Great American Boycott II, now scheduled for May 1st. Last year's demonstration drew more than a million people to the streets of Los Angeles, Chicago, Miami and other cities. That's what's happening right now. Wolf?

BLITZER: Carol, thank you for that. We'll stay on top of that story in Chicago, as well.

Coming up, the Rutgers women's basketball team, planning to confront Don Imus in person about his racially charged insult.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STRINGER: I am anxious for Mr. Imus, you know, to present himself, and I'm particularly anxious to allow our young ladies to meet him face to face.

(END OF VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: So what will the coach Vivian Stringer have to say to him? Is she ready to offer forgiveness? I'll ask her, that's coming up this hour.

Plus, the political fallout from the controversy and what are lawmakers and candidates saying. Will they continue to appear on Don Imus' program? Stick around, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

A possible hijacking averted. A Turkish airliner making an unscheduled landing in the country's capital after a man tried to approach the cockpit. Witnesses say he claimed to have something in his belt and wanted to fly to Iran. The suspect now in custody, no one was hurt.

Also, the Iranian military announcing plans for a book and -- for some new details about the capture of those 15 British sailors and marines. That would be a book and CD that's coming out. This a day after the British military did an about face and barred the former captives from selling their stories to the media. Iran, letting a book and CD come out on that.

And a congressional hearing now scheduled on the way the military handled the news of Pat Tillman's death to friendly fire and the rescue of Private Jessica Lynch. The House Oversight Committee will look into whether there was a plan to mislead the American public and drum up support for the military. I'm Wolf Blitzer, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

My interview with the head coach of the Rutgers University women's basketball team, on the Don Imus uproar, that's coming up shortly. But let's move on to another important story we're following right now. President Bush still doesn't have the emergency war funding he wants from Congress. That's because lawmakers in both houses have attached timetables for an Iraqi pullout. Something the president has said he will veto. Mr. Bush now says he's ready to talk things over, Democrats are saying, he better be ready to compromise on this issue. Joining us now is the House Majority Leader, Congressman Steny Hoyer of Maryland. Thanks very much for coming in.

REP. STENY HOYER (D-MD), MAJORITY LEADER: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Listen to what the president said today about reaching out to the majority -- that would be the Democrats -- in the House and Senate.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: It's time for them to get the job done. So I'm inviting congressional leaders from both parties, both political parties, to meet with me at the White House next week.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Is there a compromise in the works here, Congressman?

HOYER: Well, I hope so. I think that's a positive step that the president has taken. But his language wasn't very positive when he said, in effect, he's inviting us down to tell us what he will do. What we really need to do, and I think we are certainly willing to do, and go down to the White House and discuss what we together as policymakers need to do, A, to support the troops. As the president knows, we've given him all the money he asks for in our bills. In fact, we gave him more money for fighting terrorism in Afghanistan than he asked for, and the bill does not in any way impede the strategy or tactics that commanders on the ground in Iraq might want to use to be successful.

What the question really is, is, are we going to have a new direction in Iraq? Our old direction hasn't been successful. We need a new direction.

We need the Iraqis to step up. We need to reach out to neighboring states as the Iraq Study Group said. So, yes, we are willing to sit down with the president. We want to see the troops funded.

BLITZER: Let me just press you on this point, though, Congressman. Is there any way you would agree to remove that timeline, that timetable from funding legislation?

HOYER: Well, I don't want to prejudge what we will agree to. That would not be wise on my part. I don't want to negotiation with myself. But certainly, we want to talk about how we pass legislation, have the president sign it, make sure that we have the funds sufficient to support our troops in harm's way.

BLITZER: All right.

HOYER: Let me take an observation, though, Wolf. Last year, when the Republicans were in charge of the House, when the Republicans were in charge of the Senate, it took them 114 days to pass the president's request for a supplemental appropriation. We are now at about half that time now, so, it's not that we're delaying this piece of legislation.

BLITZER: All right. Let's talk a little bit about the president's strategy in Iraq. He has a line, he says it often, he said it once again today in his speech in Virginia. I want to play it for you because I want to ask you a specific question to this.

Listen to what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: I made a decision to remove a dictator, a tyrant who was a threat to the United States, a threat to the free world, and a threat to the Iraqi people. And the world is better off without Saddam Hussein in power.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right, so the question is this: Is the world better off? Is the United States better off in the Middle East right now without Saddam Hussein, or is it worse off right now four years later? HOYER: Well, I don't think it's better off, that's for sure. Was it worthwhile removing Saddam Hussein? Yes. Seen on its own, I think the answer to that is yes. The ramifications of that have, however, been pretty dire.

I noticed that an Iraqi businessman or person in business, a small businessman, was quoted yesterday in the paper as saying, "When you removed Saddam Hussein, I was ecstatic. Right now, I think we'd probably would be better off with Saddam Hussein back." What he meant, of course, was stability back, security back, not having car bombs in the plazas, not happening.

I think the president certainly is right in the abstract, but in the -- in the administration of this policy, he has not been successful, our efforts have not been successful. We need a new direction.

BLITZER: We don't pay enough attention to what's happening in Darfur. You were just in that region, in Africa. Did you come back encouraged or discouraged?

HOYER: Well, I certainly wasn't encouraged by the government of Sudan's actions. Clearly, I was encouraged when you have some very conscientious people on the ground, not only in terms of the African Union's force that's about 5,800 people on the ground -- they need closer to 25,000. They're badly undermanned, they're under-supplied and under-gunned. The rebels have far more forces, and obviously the government of Sudan does, as well.

It also appears the government of Sudan is not -- not appears, it's self-evident that the government of Sudan is not helping the peace effort, and not helping the African Union troops on the ground.

In addition to that, I was discouraged when I talked to the NGOs who were delivering humanitarian flood, clothing, medical services to those ravaged by this terror, and murder, and rape, in Darfur, in saying that the government of Sudan is undermining their efforts to move around the country, undermining their efforts to come in and out of the country. I just talked to the deputy secretary of state about this issue, and I know that he will follow up on it.

BLITZER: I know you will as well.

Mr. Leader, thanks very much for coming in.

HOYER: Thank you, Wolf. Good to be with you.

BLITZER: Appreciate it.

Today, by the way, Google is using its top flight technology to raise awareness in the crisis in Darfur. They are teaming up with the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum right here in Washington.

Let's bring in Jacki Schechner now.

Jacki, how does this program work? JACKI SCHECHNER, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, the crisis in Darfur is now automatically part of Google Earth. And that program has been downloaded more than 200 million times.

If you zoom in, you can see high-resolution images of the more than 1,600 villages that have been damaged or destroyed, like Shate (ph). The black circles are former homes. If you click on the fire icon, it tells you nearly 700 structures have been destroyed there.

Fly out and over to Cama (ph), a refugee camp that now houses more than 90,000 people. You can see the white tents. Again, here in high resolution.

The map is a collection of images, videos and personal stories. The Holocaust Museum says part of its memorial mission is to draw attention to and prevent feature genocide. It says more than 300,000 people have been killed and 2.5 million people displaced in Darfur in the conflict that started back in 2003 -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Good work going on over there on that front. A horrible situation, though.

Jacki, thank you.

Up ahead, the Don Imus racial insult scandal poses a new dilemma for politicians. Should they keep appearing on his radio show, if, in fact, he continues to have a radio show?

The coach of the Rutgers University women's basketball team is standing by. We'll be speaking with her about this uproar.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Let's get some more now on our top story, the controversy over Don Imus's racially-charged insult of the Rutgers University women's basketball team.

CNN's Carol Costello is getting reaction from presidential candidates and others.

Carol, what are they saying?

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, finally, they are saying something, Wolf. And that's what got people really upset, is their slow response.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DON IMUS, RADIO HOST: So, I watched the basketball game last night between a little bit of Rutgers and Tennessee, the women's final.

COSTELLO (voice over): He's been condemned throughout the country. Al Sharpton calling him a sexist, a racist. Journalist Gwen Ifill, once a target of Imus, describing his Rutgers slur as "... a shockingly concise sexual and racial insult, tossed out in a volley of male camaraderie by a group of amused, middle-aged white men."

So, why the long silence by some of those men and women running for president?

We did hear from John McCain.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: He has apologized. He said that he's deeply sorry. I'm a great believer in redemption.

COSTELLO: But although I asked for comments from the Obama, Clinton, Edwards, Biden and Giuliani camps...

IMUS: I did a bad thing.

COSTELLO: ... it was only after Imus's suspension that I started getting responses.

Barack Obama saying, "The comments of Don Imus were divisive, hurtful and offensive to Americans of all backgrounds."

And Hillary Clinton?

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D), NEW YORK: You know, I've been on the receiving end of a lot of his barbs, so, you know, I understand I'm a public figure, but it just went way over the line.

RUDY GIULIANI (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: He seems sincerely sorry about it, and he seems like someone who endeavor not to do that again, and I'll take him at his word.

COSTELLO: Some say while the candidates comments are welcomed, they should have called for Imus's dismissal. In the Newark, New Jersey area, where some of the Rutgers players are from, Councilwoman Mildred Crump is not happy.

MILDRED CRUMP, NEWARK, NEW JERSEY, CITY COUNCIL: The presidential candidates need to step up to the plate and acknowledge the fact that they don't support him.

COSTELLO: Some say the slow response is, well, politics. What candidate wants to get caught up in an ugly controversy? And, hey -- it's hard to diss Imus. His show draws millions.

But, for Newark, and its mayor, Cory Booker, well, you won't catch him on "Imus".

MAYOR CORY BOOKER, NEWARK, NEW JERSEY: It's not something I'm interested in doing. I have not seen the kind of contrition that would be satisfactory to me personally. And seeing the impact of his words within my community, within young people in my community in particular, and how hurtful it is, and how severe it is, it's just something that I wouldn't choose to do, no.

(END VIDEOTAPE) COSTELLO: Another example of how big this controversy has become, the Democratic National Committee has released a statement condemning Imus's remarks, but Wolf, it is not calling for his resignation.

BLITZER: Carol, thanks very much for that.

The head coach of the Rutgers University women's basketball team is also speaking out.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

WOLF BLITZER, HOST: And joining us now from the campus of Rutgers University, the basketball coach, Vivian Stringer.

Coach, thanks very much for doing this.

First of all, congratulations on an amazing, amazing season. You and your young women did what a lot of people thought was impossible. And what a horrible, horrible way to see all that success undermined by what Don Imus did.

What was the immediate reaction, Coach, of the young women who played for you, a lot of them, I think, half of them freshman, when this uproar developed.

VIVIAN STRINGER, RUTGERS WOMEN'S BASKETBALL COACH: Wolf, first of all, thank you very much for your congratulatory notes. We were very, very hurt, angry, dismayed. In a nutshell, stunned by what we perceived as sexist and racist remarks made by Mr. Imus.

BLITZER: Did you have any idea of what a huge controversy this would cause?

STRINGER: Well, you know, I think that based on how I received it, I took it as an affront to all women. And I would hope that all people, period, be they black, white, purple or green, that in this year, or in this century, the 21st century, that anyone would be subjected -- and we're talking about young women between the ages of 17 and 22, young women who have done nothing more than to be stellar students in the classroom and outstanding basketball players and representatives of their state.

But to be subjected to those kinds of racial and sexist remarks were beyond -- beyond any level of comprehension. And yes, we're hurt and we're angry, and -- but I was very proud of the way our young ladies conducted themselves in light of all of this.

BLITZER: And they were amazing today at that news conference, which a lot of us watched.

I want to go back to Don Imus specifically. I assume you had heard of him and his radio show, but had these young women on your team, did they know who he even was when they heard of these words?

STRINGER: I would venture to say that 99 percent of them never heard of Don Imus. I, as a listening adult from time to time, had heard him, and I did understand the nature of his show. Not that I appreciated it much, but nonetheless, did hear it, and there had been some good things.

But was totally stunned and hurt to understand where these kinds of remarks came from. And it was totally abominable, despicable, and I was personally hurt because my young ladies, who I've been entrusted to respect, love, discipline and prepare for life, were so badly hurt by an adult.

It's hard for me to understand how any network or any people, any group of people could listen to a person who takes pleasures in hurting young people, our future. That I don't understand.

BLITZER: He's been apologizing, as you know, over the past couple days. I want you to listen to what he said on NBC's "Today" show earlier today, specifically referring to your team.

Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

IMUS: I'm going to serve it without whining because, as bad as I feel, I don't feel as bad as those young women at Rutgers do.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: He was referring to the two-week suspension he got from CBS Radio and NBC.

What do you think? Has he done enough? Are you ready to forgive and forget?

STRINGER: At this point, particular point, I'm not ready to make a judgment at all. I think that it's extremely important that our players, parents, as well as coaching staff, has an opportunity to look Mr. Imus in the face and have dialogue with him.

I think that any good conscience-level people would do that. And we certainly intend to give him that opportunity. And I think that after that we will determine what we perceive as his sincerity and what attempts are going to be made to rectify, or better still, address these situations.

I think that we've all gained as a society if we learn from this. I think that had this perhaps not happened, and while I could have felt bad about our loss in the national championship game, if we've learned and gained a lesson in life that's going to benefit everyone, then all is not lost. Because I think that these young people continue to show us as adults what it means to have a moral fiber, how to conduct themselves, and how to be the right people.

So, I am anxious for Mr. Imus, you know, to present himself. And I'm particularly anxious to allow our young ladies to meet him face to face. And perhaps some good can come of this, and I sincerely hope and pray that it does. BLITZER: What will you say to him, in a nutshell, Coach? What's the basic message you want to convey to Don Imus?

STRINGER: Well, I think that as with all things, I think that, you know, people should always reserve judgment until they have seen for themselves and they know, because you don't make statements and you don't make judgments. And of course that is something that he would know and could tell me that himself. But also, you know, the power of the mouth and the airwaves that allow impressions to be made or heard.

We have an awesome responsibility. And any time that we are before a camera or we have the opportunity to speak to literally millions of people and shape ideas, that he and all of us, as adults, need to do the positive thing and the right thing.

You know, I wonder, because I have two sons myself who, you know, represent so much of this world, and I want them to learn about respect and equality and dignity. And I want my daughter to be respected in that same way.

And I think that - what can he do to make sure that this world is a better place and a society? And it starts with him, it starts with each and every one of us. He's given a time for all of us to reflect on this, and so what he can do specifically, I'm not sure. I think that I'm going to leave that more to the young ladies that represent us so admirably here at Rutgers University.

BLITZER: Coach, you've got a terrific team, they're great students, they're great athletes. Most important, they are great young women. And they've got a great role model in you to look up to.

Thanks very much for doing what you're doing.

STRINGER: Thank you so very much, Wolf.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(NEWSBREAK)

BLITZER: Up ahead, is it a good idea to penalize drivers who buy gas-guzzling vehicles?

Jack, with "The Cafferty File," is coming up.

Also, who fathered Anna Nicole's child? There are answers today in that paternity case.

We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Let's go back to Jack Cafferty in New York -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: Wolf, I'll try to get through this quickly so we can find out who fathered Anna Nicole's baby. The question this hour is: Is it a good idea to penalize drivers who buy gas-guzzling vehicles? They've got a proposal out in California that would -- that would do that. And then it would give the money they'd find -- people that buy the gas-guzzlers, they'd give that money to people who bought cars that get better mileage.

Chris in New Jersey writes, "It's a great idea, Jack, but I'd take it a step further. Do it at the pump. If your car gets 15 miles to the gallon, you pay twice as much for gas as someone whose car gets 30 miles to the gallon."

Suzie in Georgia, "The question is too broad. What are they driving? Is it an old van belonging to a guy who paints houses and it's what he uses for his work, or is it a truck that's used to transport materials for a business, or is it a Hummer or a huge SUV used by a mom who could just as easily use a station wagon or a green hybrid mini SUV?"

Gabrielle in Baltimore, "If the Europeans can demand the car manufacturers produce cars that get 45 miles to the gallon, then so should we. It would release our dependence on OPEC, get us out of the Middle East. Why not tax the car industry until they comply with the standards that can make America a more self-sufficient and cleaner place for all?"

Marshall in San Diego, "yes, it is. They pollute, they're hard to see around when you follow them. If you get hit by them, they damage all in their way. There's no need for these vehicles. They are the chariots of gluttony and waste."

Dave in Point Pleasant, New Jersey, "Jack, my wife and I have eight children. My gas-guzzling Toyota Tundra four-door pickup doesn't hold the whole family. We still have to bring two vehicles when we all go out together. Aren't we being punished enough?"

Jim in Arroyo Grande, California, "The Queen Mary-sized SUV crowd is to gasoline what two-pack-a-day smokers are to medical insurance. Their stupidity and selfishness drive up costs for everyone. They should all be required by law to commute on hot-pink Vespas for atonement."

And Rick in New Mexico writes, "Jack, I've been out working in the yard all afternoon. Could you please advise me of the situation?"

If you didn't see your e-mail here, you can go to cnn.com/caffertyfile, where we post more of them. Also video clips of "The Cafferty File" -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jack, thanks very much.

Up next, there's been a development in the battle over Anna Nicole Smith's baby. We now know who the father is.

And coming up in our 7:00 p.m. Eastern hour, a presidential countdown like no other. It's the Bush backwards clock, and our Jeanne Moos will take a most unusual look. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: The mystery behind who's the father of Anna Nicole Smith's orphaned child has been resolved.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LARRY BIRKHEAD, FATHER OF ANNA NICOLE SMITH'S BABY: Everybody, well, I hate to be the one that told you this, but I told you so.

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Larry Birkhead, once a boyfriend to the late Anna Nicole Smith, is the father of her 7-month-old daughter. That's what a judge in the Bahamas ruled after DNA test results.

Smith's live-in companion, the attorney Howard K. Smith, also had claimed to be the father.

And that's it for us. We're here weekday afternoons from 4:00 to 6:00 p.m. Eastern, back in one hour at 7:00 p.m. Eastern.

We're going to have a lot more on the Don Imus uproar. Today we heard for the first time from the women's basketball team at Rutgers University. We'll have a lot more on that story coming up 7:00 p.m. Eastern.

In the meantime, let's go to Lou Dobbs in New York.

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