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THE SITUATION ROOM

Twelve U.S. Soldiers Killed in Iraq in 48 Hours; Guantanamo Bay May Close; Hamas rules as Islamic Militants run Gaza; Top U.S. Envoy Makes a Surprise Visit to North Korea; Americans Disillusioned with Congress; How and Why did Bin Laden's Family Leave America After 9/11; Study Shows Why the World Trade Center Collapsed; Waxman Charging Cheney is Abusing Power by Keeping Secrets; Is Nader Considering Running for President?

Aired June 21, 2007 - 1900   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks very much Lou.
Happening now -- U.S. troops are on the offensive, taking the fight to the insurgents. But the insurgents are taking a very heavy toll. As American forces go on the offensive, commanders are warning of very, very tough days ahead.

Some critics still call him the spoiler, saying he drew votes from Democrats in the past. Is Ralph Nader planning another presidential campaign? I'll ask him.

And how did Osama bin Laden's family flee the United States in those chaotic days right after 9/11? Who helped them? There are new FBI documents that have now been released. We're taking a second look.

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

Twenty-one days into June, dozens of American troops have died in Iraq. And tonight, top military officials are bracing for more American deaths. Expect the summer days to bring a lot of deaths, in fact. Let's go straight to CNN's Hala Gorani in Baghdad. Hala?

HALA GORANI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, 12 U.S. soldiers were killed in Iraq in the last two days. A single roadside bomb attack killed five American troops, three Iraqi civilians and an interpreter in Baghdad. The latest deaths in Iraq come as the so-called troop surge reaches its peak here.

Meanwhile, the large U.S. military offensive dubbed "arrow head ripper" continues north of Baghdad in Diyala province. The top U.S. military commander in Iraq, General David Petraeus told reporters he expects al Qaeda insurgents to continue to respond to this American troop buildup with deadly attacks, and has repeatedly warned this could be a difficult summer for American troops. Meanwhile, elsewhere in Iraq, 15 people were killed in a single truck bomb attack in the northern part of the country. Wolf?

BLITZER: Hala Gorani in Baghdad for us.

Since Tuesday, 12 U.S. troops killed in Baghdad, another two Marines killed in the al Anbar province. The latest casualties bring the U.S. military death toll since the start of the war, more than four years ago, to 3,545.

There's another important story we're following tonight. The Associated Press reporting the Bush administration is nearing a decision to actually shutdown the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. Let's go to our White House correspondent, Suzanne Malveaux. She's been looking at this story. What are you hearing from officials at the White House and elsewhere, Suzanne?

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, the official statement from the White House, National Security Council spokesman Gordon Johndroe says the president has long expressed a desire to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility, and to do so in a responsible way. A number of steps need to take place before that can happen, such as setting up military commissions, the repatriation to their home countries, the detainees who have been cleared for release.

These and other steps have not been completed. No decisions on the future of Guantanamo Bay are imminent, and there will not be a White House meeting tomorrow. Wolf, can I tell you, senior administration officials behind closed doors are saying, look, there are a lot of high level meetings that have been taking place, with the principles, not necessarily with the president, they say with the intention of closing Guantanamo Bay. It is simply a matter of getting there. How do they do that?

A number of things are holding them up, but these are the things they are looking at. Specifically building a prison in Afghanistan, removing some of those detainees from Guantanamo to Afghanistan. They say if that happens, they'll go from 375 detainees to less than 100. That is a good number for them. They say then they can look at some of those military commissions, getting them up and running, as well as trying to arrange these agreements with other countries to hand over those detainees, those that will treat them humanely and will not release them very quickly. All of these decisions they say are complicated and complex. That is why, they say this is a decision that's not going to be imminent, but these are the things that they are working on behind closed doors to make it happen. Wolf?

BLITZER: Suzanne, stand by. There is another story you are following at the White House for us, as well. That will come up shortly.

After bloody fighting which has left Palestinians battered and divided, a Middle East summit is now in the works to try to boost the moderate forces. The Egyptian president, Hosni Mubarak, has invited the leaders of Israel, the Palestinian Authority, and Jordan to a four-way meeting. Not on the list, the Islamic militants from Hamas who now run all of Gaza. Our Ben Wedeman is there.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Sergeant (UNINTELLIGIBLE) has a daunting task. To teach Gaza's troublesome donkey cart drivers, and unruly motorists a bit of manners.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE)

WEDEMAN: Cooperate with us, he tells a driver.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE)

WEDEMAN: This is the executive force; a militia formed by Hamas, now effectively the local police force. In recent years, Gaza became synonymous with chaos, a place where respect for the law was optional. Now that's set to change.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE)

WEDEMAN: Sergeant (UNINTELLIGIBLE) explains to watermelon vendors to move their goods off the road.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE)

WEDEMAN: I'm writing this down in my book, he says. You need to do it today. When I come back later, I want all of this out of here. Vendor (UNINTELLIGIBLE) tells me he's happy to obey the new sheriff in town.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE)

WEDEMAN: Before, there was no security, he says. Now, thank God, there is, and we're happy. In America, it's doughnuts. In Gaza, a cup of coffee helps win over the cops.

(on camera): This is law and order in the new Gaza, men who a week ago were busy in battle are now trying to remind the people of this city of long forgotten traffic rules.

(voice-over): And in a place where guns and lots of them were regularly paraded and fired in the streets, these men say they are trying to change old ways.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE)

WEDEMAN: We have orders to stop and arrest anyone with weapons in the street who is not a policeman, says Sergeant (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE)

WEDEMAN: But this is the easy part. A terrorist organization in the eyes of the United States and Israel, Hamas now has to organize life for the 1.5 million people living here.

Ben Wedeman, CNN, Gaza.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: The top U.S. nuclear envoy makes a surprise visit to North Korea today, which has still not pulled the plug on its nuclear program, despite a deal loaded with incentives. Let's go to our State Department correspondent Zain Verjee. Zain?

ZAIN VERJEE, CNN STATE DEPARTMENT CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, remember how North Korea agreed to shutdown its nuclear reactor in exchange for international aid? Well, that shutdown never happened. But North Korea got something anyway, a high level visit.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We got the message on Monday.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And we had to work fast.

VERJEE (voice-over): A last minute invitation from North Korea delivered to U.S. envoy Chris Hill while he was in the neighborhood, trying to jump start stalled North Korean nuclear talks. President Bush, Secretary Rice, and U.S. allies told him, go for it. So, for the first time in five years a top U.S. official flew to Pyongyang, North Korea's capital.

CHRISTOPHER HILL, ASST. SECRETARY OF STATE: We hope we can make up for some of the time that we lost this spring.

VERJEE: There had been a break-through deal earlier this year, but it fell apart over a financial standoff. The U.S. froze $25 million in North Korean funds at a bank in Macau, a bank the U.S. said was involved in counterfeiting. North Korea refused to shutdown its nuclear reactor until it got its money back, so the U.S. gave it back, but still no nuclear shutdown. Now, the U.S. says, no excuses. Let's get back to business.

SEAN MCCORMACK, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESMAN: We are testing the proposition that North Korea has made that strategic decision to abandon its nuclear weapons programs and to abandon its nuclear program.

VERJEE: But one of President Bush's former top advisors on Asia wrote a scathing op-ed column, accusing the U.S. of rewarding bad behavior, undermining a policy of isolation, he says was working. It is therefore perplexing to see the U.S. now take a series of unilateral steps to unravel this policy and reward North Korea for doing well nothing. But Michael O'Hanlon with the more left-leaning Brookings Institution says the gesture could pay off.

MICHAEL O'HANLON, BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: A visit from an assistant secretary of state to Pyongyang can help grease the skids, maybe it helps the North Koreans with a little bit of face.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

VERJEE: Michael O'Hanlon says the key is to make sure North Korea delivers on its promises, and the U.S. doesn't make anymore concessions. He says the U.S. shouldn't allow North Korea to play a game of brinksmanship that it is so famous for. Wolf?

BLITZER: Zain Verjee at the State Department. Thanks, Zain, for that.

Let's go to Jack Cafferty in New York for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, dead last is how our Congress rates among the people of this fine country. A new Gallop poll ranks Americans confidence in 16 institutions, and Congress is dead last. Before we get to the numbers, it is worth noting that Americans are becoming increasingly disillusioned about a lot of things they used to put a lot of faith in.

For example, 25 percent of those polled only one in four say they have a great deal or quite a lot of confidence in the presidency, and that's the highest number. They go down from there. Twenty-three percent feel that way about television news, 22 percent about newspapers. Nineteen percent of Americans feel confident in the criminal justice system. Just 18 percent give that response for big business. Fifteen percent a high level of confidence in HMOs and a measly, crummy, lousy 14 percent feel that way about their Congress -- 14 percent.

Wait a few days, number could drop. There's no shortage of reasons why Americans might feel that way. The ongoing debates and resolutions about the never-ending war in Iraq, the inability of the Democrats to end the war, the on-again, off-again amnesty bill for illegal aliens -- the list is long. The question is not so long. It's short.

What will it take for Americans' confidence in Congress to rank higher than their confidence in the presidency, the media, big business, HMOs, and the criminal justice system? E-mail CaffertyFile@CNN.com or go to CNN.com/CaffertyFile. People are not real happy these days, Wolf.

BLITZER: No, they certainly are not. Jack, thanks very much.

Coming up, Osama bin Laden's family members fly out of the United States right after 9/11 and now there are new FBI documents are fueling some conspiracy theories. We're going to try to set the record straight on what's going on and what happened.

Plus, Ralph Nader, he says he's seriously thinking about another run for the White House. Will he be a spoiler? Will he be a spoiler again? I'll ask him.

Plus, Israel's sexy P.R. campaign, former soldiers showing some skin, but the new efforts to boost terrorism in Israel is being called pornographic by some people in Israel.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Thousands of people dead, U.S. landmarks destroyed or shattered. Amid the shock and chaos after the September 11th attacks, how did Osama bin Laden's family flee America? Let's go to CNN's Brian Todd. Brian?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, in those frightful days after 9/11, U.S. intelligence dealt with a fog of information, and these newly released documents seem to add to the confusion.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TODD (voice-over): More than a week after the attacks, a couple of days after more than 100 Saudi nationals, including members of Osama bin Laden's family, are flown out of the U.S. on chartered flights, an FBI document mentions one of the flights.

Quote -- "the plane was chartered either by the Saudi Arabian royal family or Osama bin Laden. The plane in question left on September 19. The FBI document was written on September 21. Was the FBI still not sure if bin Laden was involved in arranging a flight carrying his family members even after it had left? The bureau is eager to clarify.

RICHARD KOLKO, FBI SPOKESMAN: By the time that flight ever left the U.S., we knew (A), for a fact that Osama bin Laden had nothing to do with it, and (B), the people on that flight had no information pertinent to the investigation.

TODD: Still, observers say this about the documents seeming second-guessing.

CRAIG UNGER, "VANITY FAIR": What it suggests is a sloppiness of the FBI's records, of its documents.

TODD: How did that get into the FBI's records at a time they knew bin Laden wasn't involved? An FBI official says it got caught up in a swirl of information circulating at the time.

KOLKO: And what is in that report filed by an FBI agent from Los Angeles is information that he had gathered from the airport. We were able to quickly determine that it was not Osama bin Laden that had chartered that flight.

TODD: The group, Judicial Watch, which requested the documents be released, also questions whether the FBI adequately screened everyone on a flight carrying some members of bin Laden's family. FBI officials say they did. We asked a member of the 9/11 Commission.

TIM ROEMER, 9/11 COMMISSIONER: We were satisfied that they did that. That they were very concerned about who was on these fights, and who was leaving the country, and that they did a good job on that front.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: So who did arrange for those chartered flights of Saudi nationals? The 9/11 Commission report says an official at the Saudi embassy made some of the contacts, and a member of the Saudi royal family, the former ambassador to the U.S., Prince Bandar bin Sultan, has said that he called the FBI and top U.S. counter terrorism officials to make the request. Wolf?

BLITZER: Brian Todd reporting.

Osama bin Laden was granted an award today. Get this. A group of hard-line Pakistani Muslim clerics says it's bestowing upon bin Laden, the title -- and I'm quoting now -- "Sword of God", for, quote, "serving Muslims by waging jihad against infidels". The move is a protest against Britain's decision to grant a knighthood to the author Salmon Rushdie, accused of insulting Islam in his novel, "The Satanic Verses". The knighthood has led Pakistani protesters to burn the British flag and to bun Rushdie in effigy.

One of the most popular videos online right now is an animated version of the September 11 attacks. The simulation is the result of two and half year study that examined how the World Trade Center actually collapsed. Let's go to our Internet reporter Jacki Schechner. She's watching this. What does the video show, Jacki?

JACKI SCHECHNER, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, this is the video right here, and you can take a look at it for yourself. The animation shows the first plane crashing into the north tower, slicing through it, and breaking into pieces. Researches say the plane, packed with fuel, moved through the building like a quote, "hot and fast lava flow".

They say the weight and energy of the plane's 10,000 gallons of fuel stripped fireproofing material off of the towers steel columns and eventually led to the tower's collapse. They say when developers first designed the World Trade Center, they anticipated the possibility of a crash but they never anticipated this kind of fire. Engineering professors and computer scientists at Purdue University spent two and a half years creating this 3-D simulation. They posted it on YouTube and it's now been viewed more than half a million times. The researchers say they hope this project helps engineers design safer buildings and possibly, Wolf, save lives in the future.

BLITZER: Let's hope something comes out of this. Thanks very much for that, Jacki Schechner.

Still ahead here in THE SITUATION ROOM, keeping secrets secret. You are going to find out why the Vice President Dick Cheney is now claiming his office is not, repeat, not a part of the executive branch of the U.S. government.

And should pet owners be required to have their pets spayed and neutered -- a drastic measure in California that could be a first in the nation. We'll tell you what's going on out there.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: It's a stunning charge. A top House Democrat claiming the vice president, Dick Cheney, often does not want the American people to see what his office is doing. And Henry Waxman also claiming the vice president takes drastic steps to keep things from public view. Let's go back to our White House correspondent Suzanne Malveaux. What's going on, Suzanne?

MALVEAUX: Wolf, this feud is a little bit different. It is not about actually classified information protecting that information, but rather, it's about the public's right to know just how much the vice president keeps secret.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MALVEAUX (voice-over): The vice president's office is keeping a secret. The secret is over how many secrets it keeps. An order by President Bush requires Cheney's office to tell the National Archives how many documents it classifies or declassifies each year. For years, the vice president's office has refused.

Now, an explosive charge -- the vice president's solution to the dispute? Abolish the office asking for the records. That's according to Congressman Henry Waxman, who heads the congressional committee investigating the matter. He warned Cheney in a letter that his actions could be downright criminal, saying I question both the legality and wisdom of your actions.

A Cheney spokeswoman would neither confirm nor deny whether they sought to abolish the National Archives office seeking the vice president's records. But she did respond to Waxman's accusations, saying we are confident that we are conducting the office properly under the law. That executive order Mr. Bush signed in 2003 requires all agencies or any other entity within the executive branch to report its record for classifying top secret documents.

But according to Waxman, the vice president's office is now claiming it is not an entity within the executive branch. That's because, as vice president, Cheney also serves as the president of the Senate, which means he's in the unique position of straddling the executive and legislative branches.

STEVEN AFTERGOOD, FEDERATION OF AMERICAN SCIENTISTS: It is transparently silly. If it were true, then we would have to rewrite all of the textbooks that we all grew up with. It's obvious that the vice president's office is part of the executive branch, and to claim otherwise is preposterous.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MALVEAUX: And Wolf, the vice president's office really has a pattern of secrecy was back in 2001, as you recall, they did not release the name of energy executives that the vice president met with. More recently as well they tried to deny access to some of the visitors' logs of his residence -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Suzanne, some inconsistencies. Critics are saying that the White House now is showing inconsistencies in this latest argument.

MALVEAUX: Well, it is very interesting, because the Bush administration, on numerous occasions cites the reason why they are going to keep things quiet, this information secret, is they cite executive privilege, executive power, so, it would seem very inconsistent now that the vice president's office is claiming that he now holds this unique position -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Suzanne, thanks very much.

Just ahead, will he or won't he? Ralph Nader wants you to know his intentions about the race for the White House. He'll join us here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

And a whole new meaning to the term out of uniform -- some of Israel's former female soldiers are now serving their country in another way. Carol Costello is standing by to show us what is going on.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

Happening now -- the Senate has approved new fuel economy standards. They would require that all new cars, pickup trucks and SUVs must average 35 miles a gallon of gas by 2020 -- this, the first major boost in demands of automakers in 20 years.

Israeli police nabbed an Orthodox Jew carrying a small homemade bomb in Jerusalem today. His detention came as about 2,000 Israelis marched in support of gay rights. Gay pride marchers had been the subject of threats from religious Jews prior to the parade.

And Jason Giambi says he will meet with the baseball steroid scandal investigator, George Mitchell. The New York Yankee is the first active major leaguer known to cooperate with the former Senate majority leader. Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig has requested the meeting.

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

Ralph Nader could jump into the presidential race, but some say he will only play the role of spoiler once again. CNN's Mary Snow is following these latest developments for us. Mary, what is Nader's motivation potentially to run this time?

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well Wolf, Independent Ralph Nader still has a long-standing gripe with the two-party system and wants to push a progressive agenda, but he's also being motivated by the candidate viewed as the Democratic front-runner.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SNOW (voice-over): Ralph Nader's chances of ever winning a presidential election are slim. But he tells the political Web site, the Politico, he has seriously considered running yet again, because the current crop of eight Democrats, 10 Republicans and a list of maybes that could include Mike Bloomberg as an Independent offer little real choice. His staunchest criticism is aimed at Democratic presidential hopeful Senator Hillary Clinton, calling her a political coward. It's a theme he's been hammering away at for months. Here is Nader in February.

RALPH NADER (I), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: She is pandering and flattering her way around the country as if she's moving to a coronation.

SNOW: The Clinton camp declined comment. But a former campaign staffer for Al Gore says it's vanity behind Nader's possible run.

CHRIS LEHANE, FORMER GORE CAMPAIGN SPOKESMAN: Nader by campaigning against her and trying to make her his target, I think, is only trying to create a dynamic, or a system, where he could indeed play the spoiler role.

SNOW: He was dubbed the spoiler in 2000, when Nader won nearly three percent of the vote. Many Democrats blame him for taking votes away from Al Gore, causing Gore

LEHANE: ... his target, I think, is only trying to create a dynamic, or a system, where he could indeed play the spoiler role.

SNOW: He was dubbed the spoiler in 2000, when Nader won nearly three percent of the vote. Many Democrats blame him for taking votes away from Al Gore, causing Gore to lose key states to George Bush. By 2004, support for the long-time consumer advocate dwindled to four tenths of one percent. While his numbers may be small, political observers say candidates, such as Nader, add substance.

LARRY SABATO, UVA CENTER FOR POLITICS: They contribute to the debate. They force some of the major party candidates to discuss issues they would prefer to ignore entirely.

SNOW: But when it comes to votes, some Democrats worry in a tight race, even small numbers can make a big impact.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

(on camera): And some observers say the progressives Nader is trying to target by criticizing Senator Clinton, are the same ones still bitter about Al Gore's loss in 2000. Wolf? BLITZER: Mary Snow in New York for us, thanks, Mary.

The idea of Ralph Nader running for president, once again, likely to cause deep anxiety among some of the candidates.

Ralph Nader is joining us here in the SITUATION ROOM. Let's talk about it. Thanks very much for coming in.

RALPH NADER, FMR. GREEN PARTY PRES. CANDIDATE: You're welcome.

BLITZER: Are you running for president?

NADER: It is too early to say. And the reason why I say that, is it is too early. I mean, the others are getting in the race, because they have to raise hundreds of millions of dollars. We have to raise thousands of volunteers. And unless we have a lot of volunteers, to overcome the Democrats prospective efforts to get us off the ballot, you can't run.

BLITZER: But you are certainly, at least have been saying things over the past day or two that would suggest you are giving this really serious thought. That in 2008, once again, you are going to be a candidate for president.

NADER: There are serious issues they are not addressing. They don't -- they still don't do anything about ...

BLITZER: When you say they, who?

NADER: Both parties.

BLITZER: The Democrats and the Republicans.

NADER: They are not cleaning up the political system, the election rackets and the monies that's involved. They haven't touched the horrendous tax system, the military budget is out of control. Waste, fraud, abuse, documented by their own Congressional investigations. The GAL and Pentagon audits. They are thumbing their nose at the workers. Look, this is the 60th anniversary of the worst law, the Tackt Tartley Law (ph), shackling American labor, and the Democrats will not make an event out of it.

BLITZER: But you heard the Democratic debate, the one we did in New Hampshire, the Republican debate that followed. If you listen carefully, not even all that carefully, there were significant differences between the Democrats and the Republicans as to how to end the war in Iraq, on health care, on tax cuts, on whether gays should be allowed to serve openly in the military. There were two very different positions. When you say there are no real differences, between Democrats and Republicans, there are significant difference.

NADER: There are significant differences, but not enough. Because there is a whole spectrum of issues. Like who is making solar energy conversion as a national mission in our county? I mean, Gore is talking about it. But who in -- they are tiptoeing here and there and they avoiding some very important issues that we call concentration of power issues.

Giant corporations have absolutely too much power in this country. And they have too much power to abandon this country with their factories and with their jobs.

BLITZER: If Michael Bloomberg ran as a third party candidate, would that satisfy you? Would you then step aside?

NADER: That would make it very interesting.

BLITZER: Why? Why do you like him so much?

NADER: One, he will turn into a three-way race. Clearly, even more than Perot. Number two, he has a spectrum of issues coming from his New York City background, and experience, and managerial experience that the other two can't match.

I mean, I don't think we would have the post-Katrina situation if we had some sort of managerial competence running the federal government.

BLITZER: And his business background, you like that?

NADER: Yes. You know, I was in Bloomberg News getting interviewed, and he called me over. Before he ...

BLITZER: When was this?

NADER: This was before he announced for mayor.

BLITZER: This was years ago.

NADER: Yes. And he said, you know, I'm just going to tell you, tomorrow I'm going down and switching my registration from Democrat to Republican. I said, he's running for mayor.

BLITZER: Yes.

NADER: He know has switched from Republican to Independent. He is seriously considering it. He looks at the field. He's not impressed. You know, a lot of the Republicans, they are all pro-war. This country is not going to come close to electing a pro-war Republican. He's saying, look, this could be a three-way race. My prediction is, that he's going to go in. He doesn't have to go in early, because he has so much money. He can go in late.

BLITZER: He can go in and get on all the ballots.

NADER: Yes.

BLITZER: And if he does, that would reduce the incentive for you to get in?

NADER: It would make it all the more interesting.

BLITZER: You would still ... NADER: Then it wouldn't just be just a two-party elected ...

BLITZER: And that would reduce your incentive?

NADER: No. No. It would make it more interesting. Because it would open up to the American people more voices, more choice.

BLITZER: Well, I'm a little confused. If Bloomberg runs as a third party candidate, will Ralph Nader, that would be you. Will you run as a fourth party candidate?

NADER: I said before, it's too early to say.

BLITZER: But your -- but the ...

NADER: In answer to your ...

BLITZER: But does the Bloomberg decision effect your decision?

NADER: It makes it more interesting and more useful. You know why? Because you reduce the political bigotry against a small party candidate. Because you have a got three-way race, it's more mixed, more diverse, and there will be otherwise preoccupied, shall we say, with Michael Bloomberg.

BLITZER: So, as much as you say you like some of the things he stands for, even if he ran, you might still run anyhow?

NADER: Yes.

BLITZER: Alright. I just want to be clear on that.

NADER: I haven't made the decision at all.

BLITZER: Let's talk ...

NADER: I said, you can't -- you can't run a locomotive without fuel. The fuel are pro-bono lawyers and thousands of volunteers to overcome the Democratic move to get us off the ballot.

BLITZER: I ...

NADER: It's a big issue.

BLITZER: I saw this quote the other day, I want to make sure it ...

NADER: Yes.

BLITZER: ... accurately conveys your attitude towards Senator Clinton. Senator Hillary Clinton. If Senator John F. Kennedy's best- selling book, "Profiles in Courage" was updated, nothing Hillary Clinton has done in the Congress would come close to being a footnote. You don't -- is that an accurate quote?

NADER: Yes. BLITZER: You don't like her?

NADER: It isn't a matter of liking her. It's a matter of -- she has great name recognition, she's got a terrific political machine. She's not using her political capital to shift power, to challenge abuses of power. Done nothing on the bloated wasteful Pentagon budget. She's on the Senate Armed Services Committee. Nothing on these huge subsidies going to corporations. She hasn't even done anything for the ghettos, in terms of, you know, the serious economic exploitation in the inner city. Not to mention, asbestos and lead in children's bodies. I mean, she knows all about this.

BLITZER: But you know Republicans would be salivating if you decided to jump in, because they feel, correctly or incorrectly, you would be taking votes away from a Democratic candidate.

NADER: Well, that's because they are themselves inhibited. If they saw what we were doing, they would say, hey, let's grab issues ourselves, like a real living wage, an authentic health insurance plan, a real reform of the tax system, public funding of public campaigns, you know, public transit. There are a thousand issues they are shying away from because they are dying for the same corporate dollars as the Republicans are dialing for. By the way, it's amazing how they never look at my critique of Bush in 2000, 2004.

BLITZER: Well, you were very critical of Bush.

NADER: [inaudible]

BLITZER: But to this day, it is something you have had to live with all these years, since the Florida recount down in 2000, Ralph Nader effectively got George W. Bush elected president.

NADER: Factual errors. You see, it's the dynamic before election day you have to look at. Pushing Gore to more progressive positions actually got him more votes. Twenty-five percent of my vote, according to the Democratic exit poll, would have gone to Bush. I was very, very critical of Bush. I think Gore won. And by the way, I've spoken to him, I think he knows he won in Florida, it was taken from him. From Tallahassee to the Supreme Court, before, during, after, election day. But let's get over that because we all have equal right to run for election. We are either all spoilers of one another, trying to get votes from one another, or none of us are spoilers. Let's go to the American people with so many wonderful solutions to the problems that as are on the shelf, but not being deployed on the ground.

BLITZER: Ralph Nader, thanks for coming in.

NADER: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: And still ahead tonight, Israel's racy campaign to try to boost tourism. Some former soldiers showing some skin to help the nation's image.

And California. Maybe be the first in the nation to force pet owners to fix their dogs and cats. You are going to find out why some folks right now are fighting right back at that measure. Stay with us. You're in the SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: As soldiers, they proudly wore the uniform of the Israeli army. Now, they are wearing bikinis, posing as pinups in a men's magazine. Their images, all designed to boost Israel's image.

Let's go to CNN's Carol Costello. Carol, all right. Tell us what is behind all of this.

COSTELLO: Well, Wolf, Israel says it is misunderstood. It's hip, it's fun, and it wants to attract a whole new crowd: Those young men who like sexy girls.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COSTELLO (voice over): They're drop dead gorgeous and military trained. The girls in "Maxim" are former Israeli soldiers, who know how to wield a weapon. Take Yardin (ph). She loved taking apart her M-16. Or Gal, who was in charge whipping Israeli soldiers into shape.

GAL GADOT, FMR. ISRAELI SOLDIER/MODEL: It was great, the service in the military. I contributed to my country. It was a great experience.

COSTELLO: It's the sort of thing you usually see in "Playboy," with features like the "Women of Enron", and the "Girls of 7/11", photo spreads not endorsed by their respective companies.

But the "Maxim" spread is different. It was orchestrated by the Israeli government.

ARYE MEKEL, ISRAELI CONSUL GENERAL: Israel is always mentioned in context of war and terror, you know? And we're trying to change that. We're trying to create a situation where you think about Israel in a different way.

COSTELLO: The ambassador says tourism in Israel is steady, but it should be higher. Pictures of violent attacks in the Middle East are part of the problem. He wants young tourists to know Israel is hip, sexy and fun.

"Maxim's" party celebrating the soldiers' spread was packed. That's Gal Gadot with the Israeli ambassador, surrounded by Israeli media.

When word hit the street there, it wasn't completely embraced as a brilliant idea. The former Counsel General Colette Avital calls the campaign "pornographic" and wonders if the best way to encourage tourism is by advertising sex.

MEKEL: Oh, these days we're trying to use new tools in order to reach new audiences.

COSTELLO: And what about the image of the Israeli military, which took a hit during last year's conflict with Hezbollah in Lebanon? Critics call the campaign inept and ineffective. How could this possibly repair the damage?

GADOT: We don't walk around with Uzi guns in Israel. We lead a normal life. We're going out, we're having fun.

COSTELLO: Whatever effect the "Maxim" spread has on Israel's image, "Maxim" the magazine is thrilled. Sexy soldiers and its young male readership certainly mesh nicely.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COSTELLO: Oh, boy, they do. Now, Ambassador Mekel told me it was "Maxim's" idea to use female soldiers. As for how the campaign is working, well, it will certainly get a lot of attention from "Maxim's" 2.5 million young male readers. Hopefully, they like to travel, Wolf.

BLITZER: I suspect there will be some increased tourism to Israel in the process. Carol, thanks very much.

Up ahead, some people in one U.S. state say they are fed up with an exploding pet population. So, they proposed a radical idea: A first-in-the-nation proposal to limit new pet births. We're on top of the story.

And how low will it go? Your confidence in Congress has simply collapsed to its lowest level in decades. We have some fresh poll numbers. Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Lawmakers in California are considering a proposed law with a lot of bite. It's aimed at reducing the staggering overpopulation of cats and dogs. It would require -- require pet owners to fix or be fined.

CNN's Kara Finnstrom is in Los Angeles with details -- Kara.

KARA FINNSTROM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, we are with Cha- cha (ph) here at the Sepuldin Basin (ph) dog park, which claims to be the biggest dog park in the country, and all of the pet owners we spoke with here today not only know about this bill, they have got some strong opinions about it.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) FINNSTROM (voice-over): Cats and dogs, overwhelming shelters. Now in California, fierce debate over proposed solution: A first-in- the-nation law that would impose fines on most dog and cat owners who fail to get their pets fixed.

MICHAEL HALE, DOG OWNER: I think that it's a responsibility of any pet owner, based on the fact that there are so many unwanted animals.

FINNSTROM: Some at California dog parks support the bill. Others think the government is going too far.

Assembly member Lloyd Levine wrote it.

LLOYD LEVINE (D), CALIFORNIA STATE ASSEMBLY: We have a huge problem with pet overpopulation. We have nearly one million animals each year going into animal shelters, and over 50 percent of those being euthanized. That is costing California taxpayers over $300 million a year.

FINNSTROM: Under the bill, if you don't spay or neuter your pets by the age of four months, you'd be ticketed and could be fined $500.

The bill is based on a Santa Cruz ordinance enacted in 1995. Since then, officials there say they have seen a 65 percent drop in the number of animals in the county shelter, with none now being euthanized.

Opponents say dog owners have the right to keep their dogs unaltered. The bill would exempt breeding, rescue, law enforcement, guide and show dogs, but critics say that provision is far from foolproof.

DOUGLAS SURBER, BILL OPPONENT: Anything that restricts the gene pool at an earlier age may eliminate a particularly valuable dog from the breeding population before he or she is identified.

FINNSTROM: Opponents also worry that mutts, as we now know them, would be all but doomed.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

FINNSTROM: Douglas Surber founded the group that's opposing the bill. That bill narrowly passed the state assembly last week, and is now in the Senate -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Kara Finnstrom reporting for us, thanks.

The Humane Society, by the way, estimates that animal shelters in the United States care for 6 million to 8 million dogs and cats each year. According to the group, 3 million to 4 million of those animals are euthanized.

BLITZER: The Humane Society, by the way, estimates that animal shelters in the United States care for six million to eight million dogs and cats each year.

According to the group, three million to four million of those animals are euthanized. Seventy percent of owned dogs are spayed or neutered. Eighty-six percent of owned cats are spayed or neutered. Cats are generally a bigger problem for shelters than dogs. That's because there are more of them.

Let's go to Jack Cafferty once again. He's in New York with the Cafferty File, Jack.

CAFFERTY: The other thing is they make better pets when you get them neutered. They are just better animals to have around, I know. I have got them all over the house.

The question: What will it take for Americans' confidence in Congress to rank higher than their confidence in the presidency, the media, big business, HMOs and the criminal justice system? All held in higher esteem than Congress.

Dwain in Texas, "The only the Congress ever had to do to keep their approval rating where it was when they won the last election was to not fund George Bush's war anymore; instead they decided to roll over.

William, "It's time we take the government back from the lobbyists and their paid politicians. The best way is to refuse to reelect every incumbent regardless of party affiliation."

Mike in L.A., "A four letter word, Jack ... I-R-A-Q. If we got out yesterday, it would not be fast enough. Thinking about why Congress is so far behind the American people on this issue gives me a headache."

Suzette in Tennessee, "The Congress can't do anything they've promised as long as they refuse to impeach a president who makes Watergate look like child's play. As long as Bush can veto everything ... the Democrats are rendered useless. Nancy Pelosi erred in taking impeachment off the table, and now they are all paying for it."

Pat in Florida "Congressional approval will rise when they do what their constituents want. Stop funding the war in Iraq, stop yapping about amnesty and close the boarders."

Patrick in Tennessee, "I think what would restore faith in Congress would be for them to do what the majority of Americans elected them to do. Stand up to George Bush and the Republican party instead of watching them run away with our country. Make America look like a democracy again."

And finally, Terry in Illinois, "Jack, this is the easiest one you've asked in a long time. Five-hundred-thirty-five new faces would do it for me."

Me, too. If you didn't see your e-mail here, go to CNN.com/caffertyfile, we post more of them online, along with clips of the Cafferty File. Wolf?

BLITZER: Jack Cafferty, with the Cafferty File, Jack, thanks very much.

CAFFETY: OK.

BLITZER: I want to go back to our White House Correspondent, Suzanne Malveaux, she's on the phone right now. Suzanne, at the top of this hour, we are reporting, the Associated Press suggesting that a meeting was about to be held tomorrow at the White House to deal with the issue of shutting down the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay. You are getting some new information. I want you to share it with our viewers.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Right, Wolf.

Well the spokesman for the National Security Counsel, Gordon Jondro (ph), says that this is a meeting that is no longer on the schedule for tomorrow. He won't go into the details in terms of why this meeting isn't taking place, but it certainly reflects a certain eagerness on the part of this administration to move forward. And try to move forward quickly as possible, in shutting down this facility. The president has stated his intentions before, and we know that Secretary Rice, we know that Secretary Gates, as well as many other administration officials have been pushing for this to happen. And so, it is clear that these are high level meetings that are taking place, that will take place in the future, and they have already started to talk about some real possibilities of making this happen.

BLITZER: In an earlier statement he put out, he tried to suggest the AP story was simply not true, saying there was no meeting planned for tomorrow. But now, we know there was a meeting, but it's been delayed or changed or moved. Was that because of the Associated Press story?

MALVEAUX: You know, I'm not sure whether or not if it was because of the news that broke about this story. The wording from the White House was very careful, if you note. They said there will not be a White House meeting tomorrow. Which, there is a little wiggle room there, in terms of whether or not, if there was something that was on the schedule for that meeting. We now know that there was something that was scheduled for tomorrow that is no longer taking place.

BLITZER: All right, whatever's happening, looks like they are making some decisions, presumably on what to do with Guantanamo. It's caused an enormous public relations headache for the U.S. around the world. Thanks very much, Suzanne for that.

Let's check in with Paula, and see what's coming up right at the top of the hour. Paula?

PAULA ZAHN, HOST: Thanks, Wolf.

We start off tonight in Iraq, where ten soldiers and two marines have lost their lives just over the last two days.

And then, we're going to move onto a very scary warning. Did you know that the caller I.D. on your phone can lie? I'm going to show you what thieves are now doing to steal your identity, and in a lot of cases, committing fraud.

Plus, a school with rules against holding hands, hugging and every form of touching. Are the kids out of control or are the rule makers? That means when someone wins a basketball game, there are no high fives, Wolf.

BLITZER: Paula, thanks very much. We'll be watching.

Coming up here, the former Majority Leader of the House of Representatives, Tom Delay, takes a look at the GOP field of presidential candidates. That's coming up next, right here in the SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: The former House Majority Leader Tom Delay, the man once known as the hammer is sounding off on the current crop of presidential candidates. I spoke with him earlier about his possible favorites.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TOM DELAY, (R) FMR. MAJORITY LEADER: I have no idea, Wolf. I think it's way too early. We have so many good candidates running as Republicans. Let them take the next few months to work this out. I'm like 50 percent to 60 percent of those Republicans who are going to vote in the primary. I'm waiting to see.

BLITZER: What about Newt Gingrich, the former speaker?

DELAY: Well, I wrote a column this week, saying he would be a great candidate. He's probably the smartest person in the field. He has a sense of history unlike anybody I've ever known. He would make a great candidate.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right, let's check in, one more time with Carol Costello. She's monitoring some other stories incoming into the SITUATION ROOM. Carol?

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I am, Wolf, thanks.

A hacker has penetrated the Pentagon computer system, disrupting e-mail traffic in the defense secretary's office. The infiltration forced the shutdown of e-mail service to a third of Secretary Robert Gates' staff. The e-mail in question was unclassified and not related to military operations.

And an attorney representing an American Muslim convicted of plotting to kill President Bush says his conviction should be overturned. Ahmed Omar Abu Ali claims Saudi security officials tortured him into giving a false confession. His case was argued before the fourth U.S. Circuit Court of appeals.

And aggressive efforts to curb smoking in New York City are having a big impact. The CDC says just 17.5 percent of adults in New York smoked last year. That's down from more than 21 percent in 2002. The decline comes after the city established higher cigarette taxes and smoke free environments.

Back to you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks, Carol, very much. Carol Costello, she's here in the SITUATION ROOM everyday together with us. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. Let's got to Paula Zahn in New York right now.

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