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THE SITUATION ROOM

Are U.S. Troops are Gaining Ground in Iraq? The Latest Developments in the Nuclear Standoff Between the U.S. and Iran.

Aired June 22, 2007 - 17:00   ET

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


CAFFERTY: Peggy in Missouri Dr. Blitzer, are you the oldest or youngest in your family, by the way?
WOLF BLITZER, HOST: Not -- I have an older sister.

What about...

CAFFERTY: Is she...

BLITZER: What about you?

CAFFERTY: Is she smarter than you are?

BLITZER: Yes, she's much smarter than I am.

CAFFERTY: I'm the oldest, but my baby brother is much brighter than I am.

BLITZER: All right.

He must be a genius.

CAFFERTY: He is.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Jack, for that.

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

Happening now, U.S. troops on the move against Iraq's insurgents. One commander says they're moving closer to a homecoming.

But do the troops face a new challenge?

We have some exclusive new video we're about to show you -- video of rockets aimed at Baghdad's Green Zone. The U.S. military telling us these rockets came from Iran. Stand by for that.

Skeletons kept in the closet for decades -- assassination attempts, kidnappings, domestic spying. Now the CIA is revealing some of its dirtiest secrets.

And rescue workers who say they became ill after 9/11. The "Sicko" director -- that's the name of this film -- Michael Moore, took them to Cuba for medical treatment. Now they fear the U.S. government will give them the treatment for breaking an anti-Castro embargo. I'm Wolf Blitzer.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

U.S. forces are on the offensive right now against insurgents in Iraq and according to top commanders, the troops are gaining ground. One general sees some light at the end of the tunnel -- a still distant drawdown of U.S. troops.

But is Iran causing new problems for the troops?

Let's go live to our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr.

She's watching all of this -- Barbara, what are you hearing?

BARBARA STARR, PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, today there was a promise -- but -- a hint, but not a promise -- from a top U.S. commander.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Go on (INAUDIBLE)!

STARR (voice-over): Even as combat operations continue, once again a top U.S. commander is racing to prospect that some of the 160,000 U.S. troops now in Iraq could come home.

LT. GEN. RAYMOND ODIERNO, MULTI-NATIONAL CORPS-IRAQ: I think if everything goes the way it's going now, there's a potential that by the spring, we would be able to reduce forces in Iraq. Security forces could take over.

STARR: But it's a big if. First, Lieutenant General Raymond Odierno says, Iraqi troops must handle security in key areas of Baghdad, as well as Baquba and elsewhere in Diyala Province, where U.S. troops are battling insurgents and Al Qaeda. The upcoming September security assessment may be the first sign of whether a drawdown is feasible. And there is more evidence that Iran has increased weapons shipments, training and support for extremist groups in Iraq over the last three months.

ODIERNO: I think maybe Iran decided to surge more money, conduct a bit more training and surge a few more weapons into Iraq.

STARR: The U.S. military expects to unveil new evidence in the days ahead, but Odierno offered some initial details.

ODIERNO: We have found a few people that were Shia extremists that were connected to -- had some training in Iran, those mostly being the mortar and rocket teams inside of Baghdad.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

STARR: And, Wolf, General Odierno points out that these current combat operations are, in part, some of the effort to try and cut off that flow of weapons from Iran to Iraq. But if they are not successful in cutting off that flow, there's no prediction when there might be enough security for U.S. troops to come home -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And, Barbara, what are you hearing about the U.S. actually arming some of these Sunni groups out there, former insurgents, as they've been described?

STARR: Well, you know, General Odierno was asked about that, because it's been a very controversial proposition, whether the U.S. military is providing arms directly to Sunni extremists who may now have turned against Al Qaeda, but may have at one point, in fact, fought against the United States and been responsible for the death of U.S. troops.

General Odierno was adamant. He said the U.S. military is not providing weapons to Sunni extremists, but some other types of support -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks for that.

Barbara Starr at the Pentagon.

Iran may be getting closer to a weapons ready uranium stockpile, even as it engages in some critical negotiations with the West.

CNN's Aneesh Raman is in Teheran -- Aneesh.

ANEESH RAMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Iran late today denied comments that had earlier been attributed to the country's interior minister over its nuclear program. Earlier today, a semi-state run news service had quoted the interior minister as saying Iran had right now, in storage, just over 200 pounds of enriched uranium.

Analysts suggest Iran would need about five times that amount to produce one small nuclear weapon and that Iran could do that within a year.

Now, Iran vehemently denies it's pursuing a nuclear weapon, denied the comments that were attributed to the interior minister.

But the reason it caused such a stir is that the comments that were originally reported came just ahead of talks on Saturday between Iran's chief nuclear negotiator and the E.U. Those talks are seen as a last chance to forge some diplomatic breakthrough and prevent a third round of sanctions over Iran's nuclear defiance that now seems all but inevitable -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Aneesh Raman reporting for us from Tehran.

thank you.

Meantime, a top U.S. envoy has ended two days of meetings in North Korea. The assistant secretary of state, Christopher Hill, is upbeat about the chances of getting North Korea to live up to the agreement to dismantle its nuclear program.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) CHRISTOPHER HILL, ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF STATE: This is a long process, step by step. I mean what was encouraging was the fact that the North Koreans are prepared to move ahead and shut down the reactor. They're also clearly prepared to disable the reactor, break the thing, so it can't be brought back online. But, you know, we've got a long way to go.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Chris Hill is the most senior official to visit Pyongyang in five years.

There has been new talk in the Bush administration about closing the detention camp for terrorist suspects at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. But that's easier said than done.

Let's go live to our White House correspondent, Elaine Quijano.

She's following this story for you.

A lot of talk, at least behind the scenes, but what's the action -- Elaine.

ELAINE QUIJANO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the detention facility, of course, at Guantanamo, as you know, Wolf, remains open. But behind the scenes, White House officials are insisting they are actively working to try to change that.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

QUIJANO (voice-over): President Bush has said he wants to shut down Guantanamo.

GEORGE BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And we will move toward the day when we can eventually close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay.

QUIJANO: But the White House is careful to steer clear of promising that will happen during George W. Bush's presidency.

DANA PERINO, DEPUTY WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: But while the president has said we want to make sure that we close this facility as quickly as possible, he's not put a deadline on it because they're complex issues.

QUIJANO: Inside the White House, officials say they continue to tackle those complex issues, including convincing other countries to repatriate dome detainees while receiving arcs of humane treatment and that they won't be released prematurely.

There are also the hurdles of readying a new prison in Afghanistan that could house many of the rest and the possibility of military tribunals.

White House officials cancelled a Friday meeting regarding the future of that detention facility after word of the meeting leaked, but insisted that reports of a plan were overblown.

PERINO: But what I can tell you is that meeting was not a decisional meeting. There was nothing imminent coming out of that meeting.

QUIJANO: Some conservatives say the administration may publicly talk of closure, but knows privately the prospect of that any time soon are slim.

DAVID RIVKIN, FORMER REAGAN JUSTICE OFFICIAL: I think the majority of the people in the administration believe that while it is difficult and contentions, we have no choice but to go on.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

QUIJANO: Now, some in the Bush administration are opposed to closing the facility, believing that would require moving at least some of the detainees onto U.S. soil. And that would result in more legal complications for a White House already facing sharp criticism for holding terror suspects without charges in the first place -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Elaine.

Thanks very much.

Joe Biden, by the way, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, himself a Democrat presidential candidate, has just issued a statement saying Guantanamo Bay has became the greatest propaganda tool that exists for recruiting terrorists around the world. He says simply: "Close it. Close it now. Close it forever."

Let's check in with Jack Cafferty.

He's got The Cafferty File -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, THE CAFFERTY FILE: Wolf, the vice president of the United States is a public servant. However, it seems like the current vice president, Dick Cheney, is keeping a lot of information back that he doesn't want us, the public, to know about.

The House Oversight Committee says that Cheney's office refused to comply with an executive order for overseeing classified documents for the last four years.

The reason?

Cheney says the office of vice president is not part of the executive branch of government.

You know, the stuff these people try to get us to swallow borders on ludicrous at times.

After getting several requests to comply, the vice president then suggested we should just abolish the National Archives office, do away with the National Archives. Where would Sandy Berger go for lunch?

Interestingly, Cheney's office didn't deny that yesterday. But today, an administration official says the allegation that someone inside the vice president's office wanted to abolish the National Archives is false.

This isn't the first time Cheney's secrecy has been called into question. Ever since he became vice president, Cheney's gone out of his way to keep things out of public view -- things like the names of the industry executives who advised his energy task force, the costs and other details of his travel, and Secret Service logs showing who visits his office and, perhaps more importantly, his official residence.

And when it comes to classified information, Cheney's office has been very much in the spotlight before. After all, "Scooter" Libby, Cheney's former chief of staff, convicted of perjury and obstruction of justice relating to the CIA leak case.

So here's the question -- Vice President Dick Cheney has gone out of his way to keep things from the public.

What ought to be done about that?

E-mail caffertyfile@cnn.com or go to cnn.com/caffertyfile -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thank you, Jack, for that.

Still ahead here in THE SITUATION ROOM, we have some exclusive video we're about to show you -- rockets in a school yard aimed at Baghdad's Green Zone. The U.S. military saying those rockets came from Iran. My interview with a U.S. general on Baghdad. That's coming up.

Also, CIA secrets revealed -- dirty deeds kept hidden for decade decades. Now the skeletons are being let out of the closet.

And presidential candidate John Edwards promoting his efforts to fight poverty.

But was his anti-poverty organization more active in promoting Edwards?

Stay with us.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: U.S. troops are taking a fight to insurgents on the offensive in several key locations in Iraq. But the troops may be facing a stepped up threat right now -- new weapons coming in from Iran.

Joining us now in Baghdad, Brigadier General Kevin Bergner, the chief U.S. spokesman for the Multi-National Force in Iraq.

General, thanks very much for coming in.

Some new video, pretty alarming video, that you've made available to us now.

I want to show it to our viewers.

But set the scene. Tell us what we're about to see.

BRIG. GEN. KEVIN BERGNER, MULTI-NATIONAL FORCE-IRAQ: Wolf, what you're going to see is a line of rockets that are -- that are laid out in a schoolyard in the southern part of Baghdad. And you'll notice that they're under tarps, they're under cover to try to keep them from being detected by coalition forces or Iraqi forces.

They're positioned in a built up area, where those who put the rockets in were clearly trying to use the local population as a shield and even further than that, as I mentioned, they're actually in a schoolyard.

BLITZER: And these rockets were going to be launched against targets in the so-called Green Zone, the international zone, where most of the American diplomats, most of the Americans are, and the top Israeli -- excuse me -- the top Iraqi leaders are, as well?

BERGNER: That's right. It's where the government of Iraq's offices are. It's where a lot of the Iraqi people work. And, as you mentioned, it's where those of us who are trying to help the government of Iraq are also located.

What happened was our -- our intelligence and surveillance capability allowed us to see the rockets. And we saw, as you see, a young man walk out and rearrange the camouflage that's covering one of them. We were able to direct a ground force to that location, where we were able to interdict the rockets before they were launched. And were also able to detain those who were involved in trying to target the Iraqis and the international zone.

BLITZER: Did you determine who was responsible for this operation?

Was it Al Qaeda, Iraqi insurgents?

Who did it?

BERGNER: Wolf, we're still -- we're still doing the tactical interrogations, the questioning and so forth. One of the things we did learn, though, after we -- after we interdicted that operation was that the rockets that you see in that photograph, our explosive ordinance experts tell us have Iranian markings on them. And so the source of those appears to have been from some sort of Iranian weapons supplier that provided those to this group here in Iraq. And so we continue to be very concerned about the flow of weapons and munitions of other sources of support that are destabilizing Iraq.

BLITZER: How worried are you, General, about the continued toll, the death toll on U.S. troops, even in the midst of this new strategy?

And you're making a major offensive in the Baghdad area, the al- Anbar Province and other provinces. Americans, you know, on this side over here, you know, we hear what's going on and this nearly daily drumbeat of death continues to be announced. And it's very disturbing.

What do you say about that?

BERGNER: Well, Wolf, it has been a tough few days. And it's one of those periods of time that just takes the air out of all of us. We're -- and the memories of our troopers and their families are always in our hearts. We're humbled by their sacrifice and we're just honored to serve with them.

But we're continuing our operations here with a clear focus on restoring population security and helping the Iraqi people step up to the terror and the insurgent activity that has captured some of their neighborhoods. And we are seeing progress in that regard. And we're seeing the people of Baquba, who are working very closely with our forces there, and with the Iraqi security forces that are -- that are at the center of that operation.

And we're seeing the same kind of results south of Baghdad, where Major General Lynch and his operations are now making very deliberate clearing efforts, being welcomed by Iraqi people who are asking questions like where have you been? We're glad you're here. When can we get our schools reopened?

They're looking to return some normalcy to their lives. And so we do see signs of progress, although this is a tough fight and it's likely, as our commanders have been saying, going to get harder again before it gets easier.

BLITZER: Well, General Bergner, good luck to you.

Good luck to all of the troops over there.

Thanks very much for joining us.

BERGNER: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: They've sat empty since Katrina. Now some of the government's notorious hurricane trailers may get a new lease on life. Stay with us. We're going to tell you who's going to live in them.

And you have to watch this -- Secret Service agents getting ready to protect a near record field of presidential candidates. Our John King continues his exclusive series.

That's coming up.

Stay with us.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: Carol Costello is monitoring some other stories incoming into THE SITUATION ROOM.

We'll turn to her -- Carol, what's going on?

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, there's a developing story out in Las Vegas, Wolf.

For the second time this week, there is a huge fire. And you can see thick, black smoke from the Las Vegas Strip. Take a look at this. This is a junkyard. It's a large junkyard fire at Craig and Nellis. And you can see several of those cars are on fire. So this thing is going to burn a long time. Of course, firefighters are on the scene battling this blaze. We'll keep you posted.

Also this afternoon, a smooth landing for the Space Shuttle Atlantis. The shuttle touched down at Edwards Air Force Base in California after a two week mission to the International Space Station. NASA decided to use the backup landing site after a second day of rainy and cloudy weather prevented a landing in Florida. And you can see the astronauts coming off the shuttle shaking hands. Mission accomplished. Of course, they'll have to undergo medical tests and all of that other stuff before they can be reunited with their families.

An emotional tribute to the nine firefighters who were killed on Monday in a fire at a furniture store in Charleston, South Carolina. A memorial was held today. Thousands of firefighters from across the nation were there to mourn their fallen colleagues. The mayor of Charleston praised the firefighters for their bravery and service. He said they ran toward danger without flinching.

Checking the bottom line for you now, another devastating day on Wall Street and the worst week since a global sell-off in February.

The Dow plunged more than 180 points.

The Nasdaq dropped 28 points.

The S&P fell almost 20 pounds.

The downturn sparked by fears that trouble at two Bear Stearns hedge funds may signal that worse problems lie ahead for credit markets.

That's what's happening now -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Carol, thanks very much for that.

Still to come here in THE SITUATION ROOM, some CIA secrets are being declassified. We're going to tell you what we're learning.

And people who were involved with Michael Moore in making his new film, "Sicko," are worried that the federal government will go after them. We'll tell you what's going on on that front, as well.

Stay with us.

We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

Happening now, something that would have been unthinkable some 35 years ago. Take a look at this -- the president of communist Vietnam being warmly welcomed over at the White House. President Bush says he wants warmer relations, but warned the Vietnamese leader that Hanoi must improve its human rights record.

My interview, by the way, with the Vietnam president will air Sunday on "LATE EDITION."

Muslim protestors target Saudi Arabia. Some 200 demonstrators rally at the Saudi embassy here in Washington. They're calling for the Saudis to root out clerics and members of the Saudi government who either directly or indirectly support Al Qaeda and terrorism.

And after standing vacant for almost two years, government trailers originally ordered for the victims of Hurricane Katrina will finally become homes. The government is giving 2,000 trailers to Native American tribes across the country.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

These days, there's an international debate over CIA activities such as abductions of terror suspects. A generation ago, illegal CIA activities in this country grabbed headlines. Reforms were made, but records of abuses were secret. Now they're being declassified.

Let's turn to CNN's Brian Todd -- Brian, what are you learning?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the records are formally released next week, but we already have a preview summary. It provides a list of what the CIA called skeletons.

How serious were they?

In 1975, the CIA director reported to the president that in previous decades, the agency "did some things it shouldn't have."

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

TODD (voice-over): Wiretapping, surveillance, break-ins, opening mail, infiltrating dissident groups -- the CIA is prohibited from those actions, but did so anyway in the 1960s. CIA Director Michael Hayden says next week he will declassify and make public more than 700 pages of old internal documents called "The Family Jewels."

TOM BLANTON, GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY: This is the CIA's internal assessment, written by the senior CIA officers, of what might have been illegal, what crossed the line, what was over edge, what was outside the charter.

TODD: Among the activities they found -- wiretapping and several journalists, including Brit Hume in 1972, when he was a researcher for investigative reporter Jack Anderson.

PETER EARNEST, INTERNATIONAL SPY MUSEUM: They use the phone, they see people, they travel about, they drive their cars. So at any given time, they're exposed to circumstances in which their phones could be tapped, their movements monitored.

TODD: Other illegal activities exposed in the documents -- the infiltration of anti-war groups, opening mail to Americans from the Soviet Union and China, including four letters to Jane Fonda.

EARNEST: It was doing what it believed to be what it was being directed to do by the executive office. And by that I mean the White House.

TODD: A front page story in 1974 on eavesdropping prompted an internal review by the CIA director at the time. But the agency kept the lid on "The Family Jewels" for 30 years.

Then National Security Adviser and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger argued in a 1975 meeting: "If they come out, blood will blow."

For example, Robert Kennedy personally managed the operation on the assassination of Castro. The plot never came to fruition and political assassinations are now counter to U.S. policy.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: Current CIA Director Michael Hayden said he's working to make the agency as open as possible. Today there is far more oversight from Congress. And the debate over privacy and intelligence is more public but seems just as controversial -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Well, given the current debate, Brian, how do experts feel the CIA now compares to the CIA then?

TODD: Well, Tom Blanton at GW pointed out that these days some of the same topics are in the news, and they really are. Kidnappings overseas and eavesdropping on Americans. But Peter Earnest, the former CIA officer, says that now the agency has so much Congressional oversight, and of course, so many lawyers on hand, that he is concerned that their hands are being tied.

BLITZER: Brian, watching this story. And we'll have full coverage next week when all of those documents are actually released. As we just heard, reports of CIA domestic spying led to urgent huddles over at the White House in early 1975. Transcripts now show top officials weighing the possible fall-out, worried about a possible Justice Department investigation of the spy agency.

Henry Kissinger warning the president, and I'm quoting now: "When the FBI has a hunting license into the CIA, this could end up worse for the country than Watergate."

There are 18 declared presidential candidate right now. Others may jump into the race before some drop out. That's creating some major headaches potentially for the Secret Service. Let's bring back our chief national correspondent, John King. He has been reporting on an exclusive behind-the-scenes look -- you've had, John, at this agency.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: And earlier in the week, Wolf, we showed you some of the training that goes on out at suburban Washington to get these agents ready for the unprecedented campaign work ahead. It's remarkable work, it's important work. And it doesn't come cheap.

((BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KING (voice-over): It's already a high-stress job, all the more so now because of the strain of an unprecedented presidential campaign challenge. So Secret Service Deputy Assistant Director Don Coyer finds a little humor comes in handy.

DON COYER, DEPUTY ASST. DIR., SECRET SERVICE: We're lucky. We -- you know, you elect them, we protect them. That's my motto.

KING: Getting it right carries a significant price tag in both money and manpower. These agents being trained for campaign details are from Secret Service field offices across the country. Being on the road with candidates means time away from counterfeiting, cybercrime, and other investigative duties.

TERRY SAMWAY, RETIRED SECRET SERVICE AGENT: So the strain is really that we have now had to doing something to do this.

KING: The service also is asking other agencies for help. The Transportation Security Administration, for example, will assist screening event crowds for weapons. from the obvious...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You think you're going to see this?

KING: ... like this blade in an umbrella handle. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement also is being asked to help, although an initial idea to borrow 2,000 ICE agents has been trimmed back to 200.

COYER: We layer these events with security and they play roles. I don't think we have put them into anything that they're not prepared to do.

KING: The close in protection falls exclusively to Secret Service agents. This training, designed to test reaction to potential threats on the campaign trail, maybe gunfire or a knife attack along a rope line.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The shift alerts, they're going to pinch between the protecting and the problem and become a human shield. The detail leader is going to spin the protectee away and actually shield the protectee with his back. KING: These SUVs soon will be spread across the country for campaign use, but with some of the $110 million the Secret Service anticipates spending this cycle on candidate protection, nearly double the previous record of $65 million. But that cost could go even higher.

Senator Barack Obama picked up Secret Service protection in May, a full eight months before training supervisor Renee Triplett anticipated deploying new campaign details.

RENEE TRIPLETT, SPECIAL AGENT IN CHARGE: A little bit of a challenge, but nothing that we weren't prepared for. So it worked. We just had to implement it a lot quicker.

KING: In questioning whether the service needs more money, the House Homeland Security Committee put the cost of protecting Senator Obama at $44,360 a day, or approximately $6.7 million through October, the end of the current budget year.

In response, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said any proposed funding modifications for the Secret Service would be sent to Congress later this month. One of the calculations is when additional candidates will come under the watchful eye of the campaign details now in training.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KING: But when that will happen, Wolf, the Secret Service can't say for sure. Senator Clinton, Senator Obama now get Secret Service protection. The Secret Service doesn't anticipate picking up any other candidates until a bit later this year, perhaps not even until early next year. But they do expect to get at least one or two more Democrats, one or two more Republicans. And once that happens, of course, not only do those details go up, but the cost to taxpayers go up as well.

BLITZER: You and I have seen a lot of these agents at work from our years covering the White House, but you were right in the middle of that training exercise over there when they snatched you away. Tell our viewers what was going on.

KING: They offered me a chance to see the simulation, how it would work in a rope line. How they pinch in and grab you. So I went in as the candidate, essentially. And so you're going along and you're shaking hands. And they don't tell you exactly where it's going to come from.

But you know there is an attack going to come at some point, and a guy pulls out a knife. The knife is real. Lunges forward as if he's going to come. And you saw what happened. The two agents in front pinch in, that's their job, take the gun bullet, take the knife if necessary, and the lead agent behind me grabbed me around the waist, gave me a good handy tug, turned me around. I'm not that easy to move, but he moved me quite fine.

BLITZER: But they were ready to take that knife in their own chest. Aren't they -- they wear protective gear, though.

KING: Obviously that's a simulation. And most -- yes, in most situations. Not always, they're not always wearing bullet-proof vests out every day guarding a candidate, but their job is if they hear a gunshot, that's what is so different about it. A police officer, you hear a gunshot, you're trained to take cover and return fire. Secret Service agent, go toward it and block the person you're protecting.

BLITZER: President John King.

KING: Not likely.

(LAUGHTER)

KING: Thanks very much. Up ahead, John Edwards' banner cause is fighting poverty. But did a nonprofit organization related to Edwards have something else in mind. Our Mary Snow has been digging for some answers. That's coming up.

Also, the latest wrinkle in the "Sicko" saga. This time 9/11 rescue workers who traveled to Cuba with filmmaker Michael Moore to get medical treatment might be in some trouble with the U.S. government. Carol Costello working that story. Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: As he makes his second run for the White House, John Edwards proudly calls attention to an issue that isn't often mentioned in presidential campaigns. That would be the fight against poverty. Mary Snow is checking out some new questions though about Edwards' priorities.

Mary, what are you learning?

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, those questions center on a nonprofit center Edwards created after losing the 2004 elections when he ran for vice president. One of the center's main goals was to fight poverty. What is being asked is whether it largely helped him keep a high profile.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SNOW (voice-over): For Democratic presidential hopeful John Edwards, fighting poverty is a constant theme on the campaign trail.

JOHN EDWARDS (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Having 37 million people in the richest nation on the planet wake up every day worried about feeding and clothing their children is wrong.

SNOW: But what he did to promote his public stance on poverty prior to announcing his candidacy is now under scrutiny. The New York Times first reported on a nonprofit organization that Edwards he founded called the Center for Promise and Opportunity, questioning how much of a role it played in keeping Edwards in the public eye. Tax filings showed the group raised $1 .3 million in 2005 and listed several officers who also had worked on his prior political campaign. Some of the money spent was listed for retreats and seminars held with foreign policy experts to discuss Iraq and national security.

Watchdog groups say there was nothing illegal about it, but the center wasn't held to the same rules as a presidential exploratory committee would have been. For example, the organization didn't have to disclose donors.

MEREDITH MCGEHEE, CAMPAIGN LEGAL CENTER: He found a way to recreate a base where he could create the staff, the policy work, and the profile to insure that he could continue to run for president in the next election.

SNOW: On why money was set aside to talk about Iraq, an Edwards campaign spokesman says: "The Center for Promise and Opportunity was formed to focus on ways to move the country forward and address issues like poverty across the globe and security in the world."

The campaign said no one from its staff was available for an on- camera interview but provided a college student who worked through Edwards' organization to help rebuild New Orleans after Katrina.

BRYAN THOMAS, EDWARDS CAMPAIGN VOLUNTEER: There were 700 college students, and our purpose in going down there was to rebuild homes.

SNOW: One watchdog group says while Edwards is credited for his work in fighting poverty, the public needs to accept a political reality.

MCGEHEE: He's a politician, and he was trying to find a platform. And that's the stark reality here.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SNOW: Now, the policy director of the nonpartisan Campaign Legal Center you just saw there says the lines can sometimes be fuzzy when it comes to politics and policy, but she says the most important thing is that the public is aware of political reality -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Mary Snow, thanks very much. The next presidential debate to be featured on CNN will be here on July 23rd. We're teaming up with YouTube. It will be the first debate where all of you can submit your questions to the candidates online.

Lou Dobbs getting ready for his show that is beginning right at the top of the hour. Lou, what are you working on?

LOU DOBBS, HOST, "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT": And we're almost ready, Wolf. Thank you. Coming up at the top of the hour tonight, we're reporting on the rising furor over the role of talk radio in our politics and society. Is talk radio out of control or is talk radio a bastion of free speech? We'll have complete coverage for you tonight. Also, outrage in Congress over efforts by unscrupulous employers to abuse guest worker programs, those lawmakers, some of them are furious that businesses are hell bent on displacing American workers, but not many of them. We will have that story.

And the Senate next week could decide the future of the so-called grand compromise on amnesty, fewer than 20 senators could determine the outcome of the battle. We'll have that report. And three of the country's best political analysts join me tonight to assess why the president and the Congress both have historically low approval ratings. I have got a few thoughts. I'm sure you do, too. We'll see what they are thinking. Please join us for all of that and more at the top of the hour.

Wolf, back to you.

BLITZER: Thank you very much, Lou, for that. We'll be watching.

Filmmaker Michael Moore seems to love making trouble. Part of his newest film focusing in on 9/11 rescue workers. Coming up, why that is upsetting the U.S. government.

Plus, your thoughts about Vice President Cheney's preference to keep secrets. Get ready for Jack Cafferty and some smoking e-mail. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: If it's Friday, it must be the latest wrinkle in the saga "Sicko," the Michael Moore film that takes on the health care industry. Let's go back to Carol Costello. She's keeping an eye on this for us.

What is Moore up to right now?

COSTELLO: Well, it's the documentary that keeps on giving, Wolf. Michael Moore is now under investigation for traveling to Cuba illegally. We have told you about that. Now those who he brought along with him to get medical care for his documentary fear they will go down, too.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM "SICKO")

MICHAEL MOORE, DIRECTOR, "SICKO": Permission to enter. I have three 9/11 rescue workers.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COSTELLO (voice-over): Michael Moore and his documentary "Sicko" traveling to Cuba, onboard, three 9/11 rescue workers who say they became ill after working at Ground Zero who traveled to the land of Fidel Castro to get medical treatment.

REGGIE CERVANTES, 9/11 RESCUE WORKER: I would have gone to the moon. I don't care where it is. If there is another possibility of getting the available treatment that I need right now, I will go.

COSTELLO: Reggie Cervantes and John Graham (ph) have lung problems. Bill Mahr (ph) has stress-related tooth grinding. Now they worry the federal government will go after them for traveling to Cuba illegally.

CERVANTES: To tell us that we can't go 90 miles off the shore of Miami to participate in not only a film about health care, but if we needed it, to get health care.

COSTELLO: Their lawyer says the trio hasn't received any notice from the government as to whether they're being investigated. This news conference is a preemptive strike. There are strict rules prohibiting most travel to communist Cuba. You can apply to go to Cuba as a journalist. That's what Michael Moore did. But the 9/11 responders did not apply for any licenses. They depended on Moore.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Did Michael Moore tell them they had to apply for a license?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He never said?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He never said, you have to apply for the license.

COSTELLO: The rescue workers wouldn't tell me how they got to Cuba without the proper papers, but in the movie, they did receive medical care. Mahr, who had virtually no teeth left, got a new set. None of them paid a dime, they say. But now if they are convicted, they face fines up to $65,000. Their lawyer says they could also face jail time.

As for whether any of them blame Moore for possibly using them.

JOHN GRAHAM, 9/11 RESCUE WORKER: I just have to tell you, I feel like Michael Moore is like a first responder now. He responded to us, and he's being treated poorly.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COSTELLO: The U.S. Treasury Department, which investigates these matters, will not comment on the investigation, but did tell us granting a license to Cuba for medical care is not something it would normally approve -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Carol, thanks very much.

How well does your hospital treat its patients? For the first time ever, the government is releasing information on certain types of patient care, and making it searchable to the American public. Our internet reporter Jacki Schechner is watching this story for us.

What health problems are we talking about right now, Jacki? JACKI SCHECHNER, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Well, specifically, Wolf, we're talking about mortality rates for patients who suffer from heart attacks or from heart failure. The government is making this information public. The national death rate from heart attacks is 16 percent, and the death rate from heart failure is 11 percent. So you can compare your local hospitals and find out whether they are above, below, or match the national average.

Now chances are your hospital is going to fall within that middle range because only about 50 of the 4,500 hospitals were above or below that middle ground. For example, the Cleveland Clinic, which is one of the foremost heart institutes in the country, actually was no different than the national rate.

We spoke to them today and they say that there are a lot of shades of gray within that middle ground. They're actually very happy with where they ranked and they say that this is a good first step in government transparency.

Wolf, the Department of Health and Human Services says go to their Web site. They have other factors to help you rate your local hospitals.

BLITZER: And a baby aspirin a day is often a good idea as well. Thank you very much for that.

Jack Cafferty is joining us for the "Cafferty File." I take one of the baby aspirins a day. Do you, too?

CAFFERTY: No, I don't, Wolf. But if you think I should, I'll start.

BLITZER: I think you should.

CAFFERTY: Fine. Tomorrow will be soon for you?

BLITZER: Check your cardiologist, see what he says.

CAFFERTY: Speaking of government transparency, Vice President Dick Cheney has gone out of his way to keep things from the public. And we ask this hour, what ought to be done about that?

Jeremy in Miami: "Democrats need to stand up to this administration, start investigations and hearings into many of the details the administration has kept hidden from the public. Cheney should be impeached. The rule of law must be enforced. The Constitution must be protected."

Karen in California: "Cheney can't have it both ways. He's either part of the executive branch and must report to the National Archives, or he's not and he cannot claim executive privilege."

Robert in Houston: "Cheney obviously came into office with the intention of increasing the power of the executive branch enough to make Napoleon jealous. I would say impeach him and Bush. But then we would be left with what, President Pelosi? Good lord. It's not the Islamic terrorists that scare me, it's the leaders we have in public office these days."

Gavin in Florida writes: "Nothing. Why should Cheney have to tell anything to anyone? It's not like this is a democracy or anything."

Rita in Seattle: "Cheney chose to forget that he works for we, the people, a long time ago. No amount of secrecy can cover up the stench of corruption surrounding the office of the vice president. It's time for every member of Congress with a trace of ethics or loyalty to the Constitution to sign on to the Kucinich articles of impeachment against Dick Cheney."

And Paul in Brooklyn, New York, writes: "Jack, if only there was only a constitutional remedy for executive high crimes and misdemeanors."

If you didn't see your e-mail here, go to cnn.com/caffertyfile. We post more of them online, along with video clips of the "Cafferty File." And tomorrow, we'll have a picture of the baby aspirin prescribed to me by Dr. Blitzer.

BLITZER: Thank you. A tiny little aspirin, thank you, Jack. See you later.

Up next, flying fish taking revenge on all those who try to lure them to the dinner table. Our Jeanne Moos takes a "Moost Unusual" look.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: They burst from the water like submarine launched missiles, but they're fish. And they might just target anyone with a fishing pole. Watch this. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: An update now on a story we reported earlier here in THE SITUATION ROOM about presidential candidates who attended today's memorial service for the fallen Charleston, South Carolina, firefighters. We reported that an aide to Senator Barack Obama told The Hill newspaper: "Any presidential candidates who attended today's memorial service for the fallen firemen would be engaging in a pretty craven political act."

Senator Joe Biden now taking issue with a comment, saying: "The Obama campaign's lack of familiarity with Senator Biden's longstanding personal relationship with firefighters is no excuse for such a cheap shot and a great example of new politics."

The Obama staffer did qualify in the original Hill newspaper article that the other candidates would not be politically craven if they had been invited to the event. And another Obama campaign spokesman said that the staffer's comment did not reflect the sentiment of the Obama campaign. Senator Dodd's campaign contacted CNN to say that he had been personally invited. Both Biden and Dodd, by the way, are co-chairman of the Senator Fire Services Caucus. By this time on a Friday afternoon, most of official Washington has hung out the "gone fishing" sign. But in some places, the fish are going after the humans. CNN's Jeanne Moos has a fish story that is "Moost Unusual."

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRSPONDENT (voice-over): 'Tis the season for flying fish. Trouble is, they don't just fly, they land.

DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Whoa!

MOOS: And they landed on CNN's David Mattingly repeatedly. Grazed once on the leg, whacked on the arm, and slammed in the chest. The chest hit left a bruise the size of a tennis ball. And all of this fish smacking was caught from several angles. You didn't have to be an angler to appreciate it.

MATTINGLY: That hurt. Knocked the breath of out of me.

MOOS: It seems like flying fish are getting a lot of coverage. Sure, getting smacked by a fish is funny. Take Monty Python's fish- slapping dance.

But getting smacked can also be serious. This Florida woman lost one finger and had three reattached after she got hit by a flying sturgeon while on a jet ski.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: A Mack truck hit me.

MOOS: Flying fish, flying anything can be dangerous. Remember when Fabio got hit in the face by a bird while riding a roller coaster? Well, it cuts both ways. It was no feather in his cap.

Pitcher Randy Johnson struck a bird instead of throwing a strike.

And birds can drop a bomb, even on the president. Watch the sleeve screen-right.

But bird droppings are expected. Fish aren't supposed to fly. This guy doubled over after getting hit by a fish in the privates.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right in the mommy-daddy button.

MOOS: Boat engine vibrations tend to get them jumping. So does this device that delivers a small electric shot.

MATTINGLY: Holy cow!

MOOS: Sometimes used by biologists to stun fish so they can be gathered for study.

(on camera): And you know that expression, shooting fish in a barrel? Well, with flying fish, who needs a barrel?

(voice-over): Here on the Illinois River, an outfit called Brackett Outdoors specializes in extreme bow fishing, $1,000 for four people, the arrows are attached with line. They even do it at night with illuminated arrows. Some wear helmets or shield themselves with garbage can lids, but fearless David Mattingly was unprotected.

MATTINGLY: Oh! Did you get that?

MOOS: Oh, he got it. At least fish magnet Mattingly looked better than the fish did.

Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Remember, we are here weekday afternoons from 4:00 to 6:00 p.m. Eastern. We are back for another hour at 7:00 p.m. Eastern. Coming up an hour from now, the 40-year-old embargo against Cuba, should it be lifted? There is a new push here in Washington. We will see you then. Let's go to Lou in New York.

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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