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Suspicious Objects Found in U.S. Airports; How Should U.S. Presidents Deal With Dictators?

Aired July 25, 2007 - 17:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, HOST: And to our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Happening now, suspicious objects meant to mimic bombs are found in U.S. airports.

Is it part of a dry run for a terror attack?

Why authorities across America are being warned to keep their eyes open right now.

And should a U.S. president deal with dictators?

Candidates Clinton and Obama dueling over whether to talk with some of the less savory characters on the world stage.

And it's not just a matter of diet -- exercise. There is a stunning new study that's being released this hour. It shows if a friend becomes overweight, your own risk of obesity rises dramatically. And get this -- that friend could actually live a thousand miles away.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Well, we begin this hour with some suspicious material seized at the nation's airports and they're raising new terror concerns. Federal authorities have warned local police across the country to be on the alert for possible practice runs by terrorists training to strike at America.

Let's begin with our correspondent Brian Todd -- Brian, tell our viewers what's raising the alarm bells right now.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, four incidents over the past year turning up some dangerous looking objects, which security experts say could have been designed to test the detection and response capability at America's airports.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

TODD (voice-over): U.S. officials say these items, blocks of cheese inside bags, two found with an electrical switch, wires and batteries, may be a dry run for a terrorist attack. The objects discovered in checked or carry-on bags at four U.S. airports this past year.

RAFI RON, AIRPORT SECURITY CONSULTANT: I think that they were testing our detectors' capability.

TODD: CNN has learned investigations are ongoing, but at this time...

CHARLES ALLEN, DHS ASSISTANT SECRETARY FOR INTEL: At this time, there's no -- we cannot attribute a terrorist intent to this.

TODD: Which raises questions about the timing. The leak of the security alert comes hours after President Bush's speech mentioning Al Qaeda 95 times.

GEORGE BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Al Qaeda, Al Qaeda, Al Qaeda.

TODD: And two weeks after this warning from the homeland security secretary.

MICHAEL CHERTOFF, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: All these things give me kind of a gut feeling that we are in a period of increased vulnerability.

TODD: But behind the scenes, the Transportation Security Administration is said to be furious with this leak, which was meant for law enforcement ears only.

Aviation security expert Peter Goelz says this isn't about political cover but...

PETER GOELZ, AVIATION SECURITY CONSULTANT: You don't want to be accused of not connecting the dots and at the same time you've got to keep a certain level of confidentiality so that your intelligence is -- is useful and effective.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

TODD: In fact, just posing the question of political cover got us an emotional response from a homeland security spokesman, who says the suggestion is totally off base -- Wolf.

BLITZER: The people who were seized in connection with these suspicious items, Brian, were they U.S. citizens?

TODD: In three of the four cases, they were citizens. And the government is being tight-lipped about the fourth case. TSA officials say their explanations for these items were questionable, but so far no arrests.

BLITZER: Brian Todd watching this story.

Thanks very much.

Before past attacks, terrorists have gone on dry runs, as they're called. U.S. authorities say that in June 2005, operatives practiced a mock attack while riding the London subway shortly before the July 7th bombings, which killed 52 people.

A decade earlier, in 1994, convicted terrorist Ramsey Yousef carried out a dry run for Operation Bojinka -- the simultaneous bombing of airliners over the Pacific. The plot was foiled, but in a practice run, Yousef planted a time bomb under an airline seat that exploded on a later flight, killing one person.

And in 2001, months before the 9/11 attacks, the hijackers rehearsed their plan aboard airliners. During these dry runs, the ringleader, Mohamed Atta, found he could bring box cutters on board and decided the best time to storm the cockpit.

Let's go back to Carol Costello.

She's watching a developing story -- a little worrisome -- here in Washington on Capitol Hill -- Carol, what are you picking up.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, whenever you hear these kinds of stories, Wolf, you always get a little worried. Not far from the Capitol, which you are you're looking at right now, two Senate Office Buildings have been evacuated, the Dirksen and the Hart. Now, we don't know exactly why, but everyone has been taken out of those buildings. We believe it might be because of a fire alarm going off. But that's really the limited information that I have to share with you right now.

All I know is those two buildings have been evacuated. There are lots of fire trucks around those buildings. We're trying to get down there to see for ourselves what's going on. And, of course, as I get more information I'll pass it along.

Back to you -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Carol, thanks for that.

You'll update us in a few moments.

Nearly six years after the 9/11 attacks, an outburst of anger today in Congress over the U.S. failure to hunt down Osama bin Laden and his top lieutenants. That comes amid word of an Al Qaeda comeback.

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

She's watching this -- what's behind the flash of tempers, Barbara, on Capitol Hill, today?

BARBARA STARR, PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, it was just pure outrage.

How is it that Al Qaeda appears so safe and secure inside Pakistan?

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

REP. ELLEN TAUSCHER (D), CALIFORNIA: What is it that has caused us to not find and kill Osama bin Laden? STARR (voice-over): Congressional fury that Al Qaeda leaders appear to operate freely in Pakistan's remote tribal mountains, along the Afghan border.

TAUSCHER: We have watched them hop, skip and jump pretty much with the freedom and ability to reconstitute, from Afghanistan to Pakistan urban areas, to South Waziristan, to North Waziristan. They can move pretty much where they want in that whole entire area.

STARR: Intelligence estimates show Al Qaeda is not on the run. Rather, leaders feel safe enough in their mountain hideouts to plan more attacks.

REP. MIKE THOMPSON (D), CALIFORNIA: We took our eye off of them and allowed them to relocate, regroup and now replenish.

EDWARD GISTARO, NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE OFFICER: Sir, I think an alternative way to look at that is we took away the safe haven in Afghanistan. They went to urban areas in Pakistan. With -- working with the Pakistanis, we pushed them out of the urban areas of Pakistan.

STARR: Across the border in Afghanistan, the U.S. is trying to catch the growing number of Al Qaeda foreign fighters.

MAJ. GEN. DAVID RODRIGUEZ, U.S. ARMY: It's increased probably 50 to 60 percent over what it was last year.

STARR: The number of attacks on the Afghan side has been running double what they were last year. The hope is the new Pakistani military crackdown in the tribal region will bring the violence down throughout the mountains.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

STARR: Wolf, just how determined are some of the fighters?

Well, U.S. soldiers tell CNN that they have come across dead fighters on the Afghan side of the border with syringes and bottles of epinephrine -- adrenaline. These fighters are shooting up with drugs before they go into battle -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Barbara Starr, thank you for that.

What a story.

Along with the rise in foreign fighters, a sharp increase in suicide attacks. Suicide bombings were once very rare in Afghanistan. Two -- only two reported in 2003. There were six a year later. The number jumped to 21 in 2005 and Human Rights Watch says that last year, there were 136 suicide bombings, in which more than 800 Afghan civilians were killed or wounded. U.S. military commanders expect the number of suicide attacks to rise once again this year.

Let's go back to Jack Cafferty in New York for The Cafferty File -- Jack, that's pretty worrisome stuff. CAFFERTY: Yes, that whole situation over there is bad. We talked about it the other day. We've got 160,000 or so troops in Iraq. We've spent $500 billion plus. If we had committed that kind of money and that kind of manpower to Afghanistan and the hunt for Osama bin Laden, I wonder if we'd even be talking about him today.

Two senior White House aides, one current, one former, have now been cited for contempt of Congress for failing to cooperate in the investigation into the firing of several U.S. attorneys. The House Judiciary Committee voted the contempt citations against White House Chief of Staff Josh Bolten and President Bush's former lawyer, Harriet Miers.

These two failed to comply with subpoenas for documents and testimony. They were instructed not to cooperate by President Bush.

Yesterday, during Attorney General Alberto Gonzales' testimony before a Senate committee, Republican Arlen Specter told Gonzales to consider getting a special prosecutor to investigate the firings of those U.S. attorneys and then recuse himself from the case.

It's not likely to happen.

"The Washington Post" reports that House Democrats have put out a report suggesting that administration officials may have broken several laws during the firings of those U.S. attorneys, including obstruction of justice. They cite evidence that some of the U.S. attorneys were picked because of how they handled vote fraud allegations or other cases that could affect the outcome of close elections.

The report also says Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and top Justice Department aides appear to have made false or misleading statements to Congress.

So the question then is this -- is it now time to appoint a special prosecutor to look into the role of the White House and Justice Department officials in the firings of the U.S. attorneys?

E-mail caffertyfile@CNN.com or go to CNN.com/caffertyfile.

It's getting good on this U.S. attorneys thing -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes. It's going to get a little bit more intense, I suspect, in the next few weeks.

CAFFERTY: Yes.

BLITZER: Thanks, Jack, for that.

Up ahead, a brief moment of rare joy in Baghdad as Iraqis celebrate a spectacular soccer victory. Then the bombers strike.

A new inquiry into the friendly fire death, it's called, in Afghanistan of former football star Pat Tillman. Why a powerful Congressman wants to question White House aides. And in baseball, Barry Bonds closes in on a record. Critics closing in on his alleged use of steroids.

Stay with us.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: A developing story on Capitol Hill unfolding right now.

Dana Bash, our Congressional correspondent, is outside one of the office buildings, Congressional office buildings, that appears to have been evacuated -- Dana, what can you tell us?

DANA BASH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Wolf.

Well, I'm standing outside the Dirksen Senate Office Building. And this is one of two office buildings that have been evacuated. And I can tell you that I know the reason why it's been evacuated, because I can smell smoke coming out of the building.

Now, there is no visible sign of smoke that I can see and none that the police officers here are telling us that anybody here can see. But you can definitely smell smoke coming from the Dirksen Senate Office Building. And that is the reason why this has been evacuated.

That's about all we have right now. There are fire trucks on the scene, as you can imagine.

As soon as we get more information, Wolf, we'll get it right to you.

BLITZER: And the other Senate Office Building, the Hart Senate Office Building, Dana, has that been evacuated, as well?

BASH: It has. There are three -- for our viewers who aren't familiar with the Capitol complex -- there are three Senate office buildings. One is Dirksen, where I am right now. The other is Hart. Those two have been evacuated. There is a third, the Russell Building, that has not been evacuated. The Senators and staff who are in that building, they are -- have not been asked to leave. And the same goes for the U.S. Capitol -- Wolf.

BLITZER: BLITZER: All right, Dana.

Thanks.

When you get more information, let us know and we'll let our viewers know, as well.

For a brief time today, Iraqis were united in ecstasy, pouring into the streets to celebrate as their national soccer team scored a stunning victory. Then, just as quickly, the bombers struck, leaving at least 50 soccer fans dead, more than 130 wounded.

CNN's Arwa Damon is in Baghdad -- Arwa.

ARWA DAMON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, it was such a moment of rare joy for Iraqis across the entire nation as their team won the semifinal match in the Asia Cup, beating South Korea in a penalty shootout, 4-3.

This is the first time that the Iraqi team advances to the finals.

And as that winning goal was scored, within seconds the capital erupted in gunfire and Iraqis across the entire country poured into the streets in unmasked joy, celebrating, chanting, singing, dancing. It really felt like the Iraq of better days, when everybody could be happy and could really go out in masses in these crowds.

Many of the Iraqis that we spoke to saying that they really couldn't remember the last time that they had this much fun or the last time that they felt this happy.

But it did not take long for that bubble to be burst in Baghdad. A number of explosions caused casualties, driving home the reality that is Iraq today. One Iraqi we spoke to saying it was too good to be true for today's joyous moment to last -- Wolf.

BLITZER: A sad story, what's going on there.

Arwa, thank you.

And while members of Congress here in Washington and many of the presidential candidates are calling for a troop pullout sooner rather than later, the U.S. military may be planning to stay in Iraq for a much longer haul.

And joining us now from Tikrit, north of Baghdad, the commander of U.S. and multinational forces in the northern part of Iraq, Major General Benjamin Mixon.

General, thanks very much for joining us.

I wonder if you could comment on that story that appeared in the "New York Times" this week that the U.S. military is basically working under the assumption that the troop level is probably going to have to be sustained at its current level through 2009.

Is that the assumption that you, as a commander on the ground, are working under?

MAJ. GEN. BENJAMIN MIXON, U.S. ARMY: Well, those plans are being worked by General Petraeus and his staff. But as I look at my area, I certainly can see that we will need some level of troop presence well into 2009. The numbers will depend on the situation.

BLITZER: How many troops are under your direct command, north of Baghdad all the way up to the Turkish border, right now?

MIXON: I have about 23,000 coalition forces under my command. BLITZER: And you think that to maintain the current level of security, you're going to need, basically, that number for the foreseeable future?

MIXON: Well, I don't think that I will need that number into the latter part of 2008. The security situation has improved in Nineveh Province. We see some increasing enhancements to the security forces on the Iraqi side in other provinces. So as the situation develops, I can see that in certain provinces we might be able to reduce those forces. They could be available for other portions of -- of Iraq or could be worked into a normal drawdown. Those decisions will be made outside of my level of command.

BLITZER: You've got the Nineveh Province. I believe you also have the Diyala Province under your command, which has been one of the most violent in recent months.

Have you seen any -- any discernible improvement in the Diyala Province, where the sectarian violence has been brutal?

MIXON: Yes, Wolf, significant province over the last 30 days in Operation Arrowhead Ripper. We have taken Baquba back from the enemy. We have pushed them into the Diyala River Valley and are continuing to attack them throughout the Diyala River Valley.

As recently as today, we had a significant meeting with over 100 Sunni and Shia sheiks in Diyala and got agreements with them to fight Al Qaeda.

We're seeing essential services return to Baquba.

We have a long way to go, but we are seeing significant progress in Diyala.

BLITZER: It is -- the main problem you have, the Al Qaeda in Iraq element or is it the sectarian violence, the Shiite militias, the Sunni militias, who are really going after each other?

What's the big -- the biggest problem you face?

MIXON: It is Al Qaeda in Iraq, which is exclusively Sunni-based and it is principally Iraqis, with a very small number of foreigners that are leading and misleading the Iraqis, that are participating in the insurgency.

BLITZER: Are you doing, in your area, what's being done elsewhere, namely, strengthening some of those Sunni warlords or those sheiks who are promising to go after Al Qaeda even though some of the Shiite leaders are very nervous about that?

They're worried that you're simply strengthening their potential Sunni enemies.

MIXON: I am not allowed to arm any particular group, but we do work with the sheiks to gather information from them as to enemy locations. And that alone is very powerful in our ability to deal with, locate and then to kill the enemy.

BLITZER: How confident are you?

How much confidence do you have in these guys?

MIXON: Well, I will tell you that in some of them I have a great deal of confidence. But I'm not going to be Pollyannaish about this. I know there are other issues that they are working. So we will work with them as long as they cooperate with us and as long as they support the central government of Iraq.

BLITZER: General Mixon, good luck over there.

Good luck to all the men and women you command.

We know you have a tough assignment.

Thanks very much for coming into THE SITUATION ROOM.

MIXON: Well, thanks for allowing me to come in, Wolf.

Good luck to you.

BLITZER: Dealing with dictators -- Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama pick up their debate clash over whether an American president should talk with foreign foes.

And powerful explosions tear through Dallas, Texas, sending debris flying and closing down two interstates.

All that coming up and a lot more.

Stay with us.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Our Carol Costello is monitoring stories incoming into THE SITUATION ROOM -- Carol, tell us what you have, starting with an update on that little scare over at the Senate office buildings here on Capitol Hill.

COSTELLO: And, Wolf, luckily that's all it was, a little scare. We understand that people are being let back into the Dirksen and Hart Senate Office Buildings.

You heard Dana Bash saying she smelled like an electrical fire sort of smell?

Well, firefighters suspect that's exactly what it is. They're inside the Dirksen Office Building now kind of checking things out to see where that smell is coming from. But right now, everybody is going back into the buildings, so all of those lawmakers can get back to work. A faulty connector is being blamed for a string of powerful explosions that rocked a district near downtown Dallas, Texas today. Tanks containing an industrial gas blew up in secession. The blast injured at least three people and sent debris flying like missiles onto highways. Stretches of two interstates were sealed off, snarling traffic for miles. Crews from the Environmental Protection Agency are assessing the impact.

A federal judge is ordering Sudan to cough up almost eight million bucks and hand it over to the families of sailors killed in the attack on the USS Cole. The families had been seeking $105 million. Seventeen sailors died in the attack on the Cole in 2000. The families had accused Sudan of providing support to the al Qaeda terrorists who bombed the destroyer in the harbor of Aden, Yemen.

Watch this -- the heart-stopping rescue operation and rushing floodwaters in Southwestern China. Two boys -- you saw them there -- clinging for their lives to two small rocks. Dozens of rescue workers rushed to their aid. After two failed attempts, a police officer hooked himself to a safety line and worked his way out to the boys. And you can see the result there. He brought them in one at a time, and to great applause. Everyone is A-OK right now.

Back to you -- Wolf.

BLITZER: A pretty strong and a pretty courageous rescue worker there.

COSTELLO: Yes.

BLITZER: Good work in China.

Thanks very much, Carol, for that.

Still ahead, Senators Clinton and Obama come to verbal blows over foreign policy. It's the he said/she said world of presidential politics.

But whose approach might actually work?

Our Zain Verjee is standing by to sort it all out.

And he's been called the Prince of Darkness -- a great title for a book. I'll go one-on-one with the longtime commentator, the journalist and now the author, Bob Novak. He's here live in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

Happening now, bigger benefits for families of wounded veterans, easy Web access to medical records and an overhaul in the veterans' disability payment system. A commission led by former Senator Robert Dole and former Health & Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala released the recommendations today. The panel was formed after major shortfalls were exposed at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center here in Washington.

The House Oversight Committee chairman, Henry Waxman, wants to interview four former White House aides about the friendly fire death of Corporal Pat Tillman. His committee wants to talk about when and how the Bush administration knew the former football star was killed in Afghanistan back in 2004.

And Secretary of state Condoleezza Rice says she hopes to visit Libya soon. Her comments came in the wake of the release of six non- Libyan medical workers convicted of infecting hundreds of children with HIV. Their case had stalled resumption of relations between Libya and the U.S.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have found something to pick at each other about. The two have come to verbal blows over foreign policy differences, with some unflattering adjectives as part of the discourse.

Let's go to our State Department correspondent Zain Verjee.

She's watching all of this unfold for us -- Zain, the big question is did either candidate's policy actually -- is it actually viable for the U.S. right now?

ZAIN VERJEE, CNN STATE DEPARTMENT CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's what we asked a number of foreign policy experts, Wolf. And, really, also, we asked if you were president, would you just come out of the gate and meet with leaders the U.S. doesn't like?

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

VERJEE (voice-over): Iran, Syria, Venezuela, Cuba, North Korea -- countries the U.S. calls rogues.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Actually, answer the questions that are posed to you tonight...

VERJEE: Senator Barack Obama says if he was president, he'd meet their leaders in his first year without preconditions.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D), ILLINOIS: And I think that it is a disgrace that we have not spoken to them.

VERJEE: Senator Hillary Clinton says not so fast.

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D), NEW YORK: I don't want to be used for propaganda purposes.

VERJEE: After CNN's YouTube debate, the sparks flew. Clinton called Obama's response "irresponsible and naive." But Obama says pushing for diplomacy doesn't mean he would invite them over for coffee. Still, is talking to leaders the U.S. doesn't care for naive or practical foreign policy?

CHARLES KUPCHAN, COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS: Talking face to face with a head of state, even if that state is a rogue nation, doesn't mean that you give any ground. It is simply a way of opening the corridors of communication.

VERJEE: Secretary of State Madeleine Albright flew to Pyongyang and met North Korea's leader Kim Jong-il. Wendy Sherman, a top adviser to Albright and a Clinton supporter says, engage but lay the groundwork first.

WENDY SHERMAN, THE ALBRIGHT GROUP: We have to all be for engagement, but how one engages matters a great deal, whether you ever get to success.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

VERJEE: Wolf, on this very specific question, meet with these leaders the U.S. doesn't like, immediately and with no preconditions, foreign policy experts we spoke to said that Senator Hillary Clinton was right -- Wolf.

BLITZER: The Bush administration has sort of changed its strategy lately. It's engaging much more right now, isn't it, Zain?

VERJEE: Yes, early on the Bush administration was reluctant to engage countries directly like Iran, like North Korea, but they have been driven to reverse that policy and they are engaging simply because of the realities on the ground.

BLITZER: Zain Verjee, reporting for us, thank you, Zain.

He is known as "The Prince of Darkness," conservative and controversial, the political Bob Novak has been covering Washington for half a century. His new book about those 50 years is called what else "The Prince of Darkness" And the prince, Bob Novak is here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Congratulations, Bob, on writing this book.

BOB NOVAK, AUTHOR, "THE PRINCE OF DARKNESS": Thank you very much, Wolf. Thanks for having me back. Nice to be back at CNN.

BLITZER: It's good to have you back here. And let's talk a little bit about some of your thoughts in the limited amount of time we have. You were really opposed to this war in Iraq from the start, and that put you on the outs as far as some of those inside the Bush administration.

NOVAK: Including George W. Bush. I tell in the book how he had me in with a bunch of other conservative journalists just before his 2003 State of the Union. He said he hadn't made up his mind whether to go to war. I knew he had made up his mind. I thought it was a mistake and I wrote it. And somehow, Wolf, I haven't been invited back.

BLITZER: But why did you know that this was a mistake and they thought it was a great idea?

NOVAK: Well, just reading -- I didn't have my own intelligence agency, but just talking to the inspectors and people who had been on the spot, I was sure, I was positive he didn't have any weapons of mass destruction. But I also knew from my reporting that these were people who were very difficult and it would be very difficult to govern that country without a dictator like Saddam Hussein.

BLITZER: Your subtitle is "50 Years Reporting in Washington." You have covered a lot of presidents, you covered Nixon, for example. In the book, you say "he was a poor president, a bad man who inflicted grave damage on his party and his country."

Give us your report card, your ranking of the current president, President Bush.

NOVAK: I think he's mediocre. I think he's very disappointing. I don't think he's a bad man as Nixon is. I think he means well. He made a terrible mistake on Iraq. But I thought he was the first conservative Bush. I thought he was a real Texas conservative. It turns out he's like his grandfather, who I covered, a Connecticut liberal.

And what he is, he has put in all of these spending programs, so I think he has been a failure as a president because he hasn't done a thing I think every great president has to do, and that is lead his party.

BLITZER: Here's another line from page 7, Karl Rove. "Karl Rove and I had grown close since he began plotting Bush's path to the White House as early as 1995. In four decades of talking to presidential aides, I never had enjoyed such a good source inside the White House." Even though the president didn't like your thoughts on Iraq, did he stay a good source, Karl Rove, to you?

NOVAK: He did until the Valerie Plame case, when it was developed and, of course, he revealed it that he had been -- I had counted -- I had regarded him as one of my confirming sources. And because of the legal troubles, he was afraid he was going to be indicted, he cut off all relations with me.

We're talking again. It is not like it used to be, though.

BLITZER: It's not like the old days. Talk a little bit about, you know, your sense of where this country is moving right now, looking ahead to the presidential election of next year. Do you think, for example, Hillary Clinton has got this Democratic nomination pretty much sewn up?

NOVAK: I don't believe it's sewn up. I think she is way ahead. But anybody who regards the polls now as decisive is not very realistic. I think Obama could overtake her. The question is, what kind of a general election candidate is she? Because all the factors are running in the favor of the Democrats, Republicans should lose this election but there's something -- she's not a very likable woman. She's trying her hardest to be likable, and I wonder whether she can win a general election.

BLITZER: Because Newt Gingrich implied that the Republican field right now, in his words, were a bunch of "pygmies," "trained seals," he didn't say that directly but he gave that analogy, and some suggesting that there's still an opening for him if he wants to jump in. What do you think?

NOVAK: Yes, well, don't hold your breath on that one. I think there is -- I don't see any support, any desire for Newt Gingrich out there. I think that Mitt Romney, if he can get over this religious prejudice about him being a Mormon, could be a viable candidate and, of course, the mystery candidate is Fred Thompson. Is he...

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Well, what do you think? Do you think he is the real deal? Because his supporters say he's the next Ronald Reagan.

NOVAK: Well, he's not...

BLITZER: He's a movie star.

NOVAK: Not even Ronald Reagan will be the next Ronald Reagan today because he has been so deified. But he is a movie star. I always say that he has done a good job as district attorney of New York, he should get a chance at the presidency.

But I think that it's going to -- we're going to see whether he -- when he actually announces how he does in that field. He could be the man who could beat Hillary Clinton.

BLITZER: And, Giuliani, can he get the Republican nomination?

NOVAK: I still can't see it happening. I'm amazed he has hung in there that long, but pro-choice, pro-gay rights, pro-gay marriage, pro-gun control, it's really hard to imagine it.

BLITZER: I think this book "The Prince of Darkness," is going to be must reading for a lot young aspiring journalists because you really open up and you really go into your gut, your heart, you tell the stories as you saw them over these 50 years.

Let me read from page 58, because this will -- for newer journalists, this is going to be, I guess, a lot different than the era that you got involved in. "It would be hard for today's ultra serious journalists to imagine what fun it was on the campaign circuit then. A poker game most nights and drinking around the clock. Everybody started the morning with a Bloody Mary. Near the end of the trip, when Eastern Airlines ran out of Vodka, reporters nearly rioted. Flight attendants solved the problem by mixing the Blood Marys with gin. Nobody complained."

It was really a different era here in Washington, covering politics in the '50s and the '60s, as it is today.

NOVAK: A lot more booze. A lot more fun. But I'll tell you something, Wolf, in those 50 years I have had a ball. I've been blessed to be able to do this and I hope people reading the book get some idea of what a joy it has been for me and how great it is to be in America and be a journalist.

BLITZER: Well, that jumps out on virtually every page in the book. The book is entitled "The Prince of Darkness: 50 Years Reporting in Washington," Robert D. Novak, thanks for coming in.

NOVAK: Thank you very much, Wolf.

BLITZER: Up ahead, slugger Barry Bonds is closing on Hank Aaron's home run record, but more talk about possible steroid use is closing in on Barry Bonds. Carol Costello, she has the latest allegations, that's coming up next.

Also, the cyclist Lance Armstrong riding along the campaign trail. We're going to show you how he's using the '08 presidential race to fight cancer. That's coming up in our 7:00 p.m. Eastern hour right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: San Francisco Giants slugger Barry Bonds keeps inching toward that golden number, 756, breaking Hank Aaron's longstanding career home run record. But the controversy around Bonds and his major league feat just won't go away. Let's go back to Carol. She's watching the latest developments in this.

Who's talking about Barry Bonds right now, Carol?

COSTELLO: Well, Wolf, the guy who actually created "the Clear," you know, it seems every time you turn around, Bonds keeps on swinging and those around him keep on singing.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COSTELLO (voice-over): The latest to unload on Bonds, chemist Patrick Arnold, who reportedly created the Clear, a previously undetectable steroid. Arnold worked for Victor Conte, who owned BALCO, the San Francisco lab that provided professional athletes with steroids. Arnold told HBO Sports he believes Bonds was using the Clear in 2001 when he hit a record-breaking 73 home runs.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM HBO SPORT'S "COSTAS NOW")

PATRICK ARNOLD, CHEMIST: I've never met Barry Bonds, I never talked to him on the phone. All I ever heard was Victor telling me how great Barry is doing, how Barry's on the program. And his reaction time is better than ever, and how he feels great.

BOB COSTAS, HOST: When Conte told you that Barry is on the program, was there any doubt in your mind that that meant he was taking steroids of some kind?

ARNOLD: I have a very strong feeling about it since he was on the program, and, like everyone else, the program consisted of the Clear.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COSTELLO: Both Conte and Arnold went to prison for conspiring to distribute illegal steroids to athletes. Conte disputes Arnold's story, saying: "The program I created for Barry had nothing to do with the Clear or any other anabolic steroids."

And it has been widely reported Bonds told a grand jury, he never knowingly used steroids, and there are no eyewitness accounts that we know of to dispute that.

MELISSA SEGURA, SPORTS ILLUSTRATED: And that has sort of been the entire situation with Barry Bonds all along, is, it has always been, we hear, but we have never seen.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COSTELLO: We hear, but have never seen. Now what makes Arnold's allegations so intriguing is he went to prison, as I told you, but he went to prison in a plea deal. And according to The New York Times, he was under no obligation to supply names of coaches or athletes to whom he supplied the drugs.

In short, Wolf, he had nothing to gain by giving that interview to HBO.

BLITZER: He's playing tonight, right, Carol?

COSTELLO: Barry Bonds is playing. He is playing against Hank Aaron's old team, and that would be the Atlanta Braves.

BLITZER: Carol Costello, thanks very much.

Fair or not, some of the suspicion of Barry Bonds is rooted in the fact that he is one of those rare athletes who has gotten better and bigger with age. The Giants' equipment manager says Bonds' hat and shirt sizes have expanded since joining the team back in 1993. Even his feet have gone from a size 10 1/2 to size 13.

And a quick check of the numbers shows that from 1986 to 1996, his first 10 years in the league, Bonds hit a home run once every 16 or so at bats. From 1997 on he hit a home run once every 10 at bats. Bonds turned 43 yesterday.

An extraordinary new research study, it shows that if your friend is overweight, you run a much higher risk of obesity even if that friend lives very far away.

And the firings of those U.S. attorneys, Jack Cafferty wants to know if it is time for a special prosecutor to look into the role of the White House and the Justice Department top officials. Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: An ominous turn today in a mass kidnapping in Afghanistan. One of 23 South Koreans taken hostage has been killed. Police in Ghazni province say they found the victim's bullet-riddled body, and a Taliban spokesman tells CNN others could be executed in the coming hours if demands aren't met. The South Korean official says eight of the hostages have been released.

The Koreans, most of them female, are members of a church group on a medical aide mission. This is not the first time South Korean missionaries have been abducted in a war zone. Seven were seized and then released in Iraq back in 2004. South Korea is second only to the United States in the number of missionaries sent abroad.

Last year more than 16,000 Koreans were dispatched to 173 countries. And they have a reputation for aggressive proselytizing in some of the most unlikely corners of the world.

Let's check in with Lou Dobbs to see what is coming up right at the top of the hour -- Lou.

LOU DOBBS, HOST, "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT": Wolf, thank you very much. Coming up at 6:00 p.m. Eastern here on CNN, tonight we're reporting on the damning new charges of misconduct by the federal government in the prosecution of former Border Patrol agents Ramos and Compean.

Congressmen today producing evidence that the federal government made it easier for the drug smuggler who was given immunity to testify against those agents to bring in more drugs across our border. We'll have that report.

Also tonight, one of this country's most powerful pro-illegal alien groups, La Raza, insist that a "wave of hate," not the will of the American people, killed the Senate's amnesty legislation. The president of La Raza, Janet Murguia, joins me.

And new accusations tonight that the Bush administration's obsession with so-called free trade is threatening the safety of our food supply and American consumers. Food imports are soaring, food inspections are plummeting. Senator Sherrod Brown today demanding tougher inspections. He is our guest tonight as well.

Please join us for all of that, all the day's news at the top of the hour. Wolf, back to you.

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

A new study shows that if your friends are obese chances are higher you will be as well. Let's go back to Mary Snow, she is watching this story.

It sounds like a fascinating study, Mary. What's it all about?

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, it's research that could dramatically change the way you view obesity.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) SNOW (voice-over): A new study says obesity is socially contagious. Researchers say if your friend becomes obese, it increases your risk of becoming obese by 57 percent.

JAMES FOWLER, UNIV. OF CALIF.-SAN DIEGO: We know, for example, that your genes have an impact on whether or not you are obese, but this really suggests that your social environment might matter even more.

SNOW: Researchers looked at data from more than 12,000 people and published their findings in The New England Journal of Medicine. Doctors say behaviors like overeating can spread among friends, but friends can also affect your view of being fat.

DR. NICHOLAS CHRISTAKIS, HARVARD MEDICAL SCHOOL: So what happens is, as you look around you at the people to whom you're connected, and you see that they are gaining weight, and so you start changing your ideas about what is an acceptable body size.

SNOW: But it's not just your friends who may affect your perceived body image. If your sibling is obese, your chances of being obese go up 40 percent. If your husband or wife is, it's 37 percent.

CHRISTAKIS: Men are much more likely to be influenced by the weight behaviors of men to whom they are connected, whether it's their friends or their brothers, than they are to be influenced by the weight behaviors of the women to whom they are connected.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SNOW: Now the bottom line, researchers say, just as obese people can influence their friends and family, so can people who are thin. So understanding more about how these social circles work could help reduce the obesity epidemic -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And does it matter, Mary, how far away your friends live?

SNOW: No, that's one of the fascinating parts. It doesn't. Researchers say a friend who lives 1,000 miles away can have a bigger impact on you than an obese neighbor who lives just right next door. So it all comes down to those who have the greatest sway over you.

BLITZER: What a study. Thanks, Mary. That study just released this hour.

There are new developments in the tobacco wars today. Cigarette packs could soon carry very graphic warnings that illustrate the health risks of smoking. The warnings would resemble these already required for years in Canada. That's in a provision added today to a landmark bill pending in a Senate committee. The legislation would for the first time give the FDA authority to regulate tobacco products. The bill has broad support in the U.S. Senate.

Smoking has been banned for years in movie theaters. Now, the Walt Disney Company is banning it on the screen. Disney today became the first major Hollywood studio to forbid depicts of smoking in its family-oriented films carrying the Disney brand. And it says it will discourage smoking in films distributed by its other labels. Studies show that most films now depict smoking and that onscreen smoking is a big influence on children who eventually become smokers.

Up next, Jack Cafferty is wondering if it's time to appoint a special prosecutor to look into the role of White House and Justice Department officials in the firings of those U.S. attorneys. Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: One California organization is asking for money to help Senator Barack Obama get elected president. On its Web site you can donate money, book a star-studded cruise, even buy campaign memorabilia. But the Web site with Obama's face and name on it has not contributed one cent to the actual campaign. Let's go to our Internet reporter Jacki Schechner. She is watching all of this.

How is this all possible, Jacki?

JACKI SCHECHNER, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Well, Wolf, we actually have spoken to an expert who tells us that it appears to be legal although the site is misleading. Californiansforobama.com is a Web site, it's an independent committee registered with the Federal Election Commission, which means it is not affiliated with the Obama campaign.

But it says that its goal is to get Obama elected, and it is certainly raising money. In fact they have raised some $10,000 in the past year and not a single dime has been contributed to the actual campaign. We spoke today to founder Emmett Cash (ph) who says that this is a grassroots movement. The idea is to get the word out about Barack Obama, the money goes towards printing fliers, getting the word out, that sort of thing.

But he admits they haven't given any money to the actual campaign. And this is not clear on the Web site. It is certainly not clear on the advertisement for a cruise which boasts certain celebrities may be participating, celebrities like Eartha Kitt, whose publicist tells us today that she wasn't even invited.

Now Cash says to us that while he backs Obama, he personally has not donated any money. And he also let us know that he was actually a registered Republican until about a month or so ago. The Obama campaign has sent a letter to Emmett Cash asking him to cease and desist, to shut this all down. And he says he just might do that. He says he may even cancel the cruise.

Now, our advice when you're donating money to a campaign online, whether it is Obama's or anyone else's, the best way to know that your money is actually going to the campaign is to do it through the official presidential campaign Web site -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Good advice. Thanks, Jacki, for that.

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

CAFFERTY: You and I should start one of those things.

BLITZER: Which one?

CAFFERTY: I mean -- one of those Web sites, collect money to get somebody elected. I mean, they've collected $10,000. They've given no money to the -- is America a great country or what?

BLITZER: It is a great country.

CAFFERTY: And you really want to go on a cruise with Eartha Kitt? I mean, come on.

(LAUGHTER)

CAFFERTY: The question is, is it time to appoint a special prosecutor to look into the role of White House and Justice Department officials in the firings of those U.S. attorneys?

Barry writes from Palm Desert, California: "It is long past time, Gonzales is a joke, a very bad joke. The sorry punch line to what has become of justice in this nation under the Bush regime."

Janet in Washington: "Time? By now we should have had the special prosecutor, the trial, the judgment, and be on our second or third appeal before heading to a visit with the Supremes. The people know they are criminals. What's the matter with the Congress?"

Kirk in Minnesota: "Let's not waste our tax money. Even if they were brought before a jury and convicted before Bush leaves office, he would just commute their sentences or pardon them."

Nat in North Carolina: "Jack, would somebody please make him stop, please. Just tell Alberto Gonzales we don't need him to do anything else for this country. Nothing. We are even willing to pay him to go home, willing to erase the videotapes of his testimony, willing to give him a Medal of Honor, anything, just get him to go back to Texas and stay there. The man is worse than George Bush, what does that say?"

Henry in North Carolina writes: "Gonzales is shameless, people were laughing at him today while he was making noises under oath. There needs to be a special prosecutor to investigate him and others for obstruction of justice and perjury."

Larry in Safford, Arizona: "Jack, isn't it time for Congress to stop their endless witch-hunts trying to bring down the Bush administration? There are so many problems, they ought to be spending their time on, like immigration, health care, Social Security reform, the list goes on and on."

And Kelley writes: "Jack, short of leaning on the Sopranos, there is nothing to do. The Bush junta has total power."

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

I'm still laughing about that Web site.

BLITZER: Yes, take a cruise, Eartha Kitt.

(LAUGHTER)

CAFFERTY: Yes, well, that sounds like fun.

BLITZER: Thanks, Jack, very much. See you back here in an hour.

We are in THE SITUATION ROOM weekday afternoons from 4:00 to 6:00 p.m. Eastern, back at 7:00 p.m. Eastern. Lots more coming up then. Until then, thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT" starts right now -- Lou.

DOBBS: Thank you, Wolf.

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