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THE SITUATION ROOM
Ohio Swamped by Rising Floodwaters; Iraq & Vietnam Lessons; Hillary Clinton: Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki Should Resign
Aired August 22, 2007 - 16:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, we're following breaking news, a state of emergency in Ohio, swamped by rising floodwaters. We have some brand new video of communities turned into lakes and the rush to rescue trapped residents.
Also, Hurricane Dean strikes again. Its second blast across Mexico threatens to unleash mudslides and flooding.
We're live in the storm zone and watching where Dean heads next.
President Bush connects the dots between the wars in Iraq and Vietnam, but he gets sidetracked by trying to clarify his support for Iraq's prime minister. This hour, a top Democrat joins calls for Nuri al-Maliki's ouster.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
But up first, the breaking news out of Ohio. The governor there declaring a state of emergency in nine counties, where residents are navigating waters that are waist deep or worse. Heavy downpours in the area have left Ohio soaked and in danger by the deepest floodwaters in nearly 100 years.
We have some dramatic new pictures just coming into THE SITUATION ROOM of the watery nightmare as it's unfolding.
Let's turn to CNN's Carol Costello.
Carol, you're from Ohio. You know these areas. Give us a sense of what is going on.
CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the pictures we're looking at right now, Wolf, are from Findlay, Ohio. My in-laws live nearby in Toledo. Findlay is in the northwest corner of the state, and as you can see, the floodwaters are very deep here. Nearly every street, every home, every business flooded here.
The Blanchard River runs through Findlay, Ohio. It's already seven feet above flood stage. And they're expecting more rain. That means that river is going to go up another half a foot. And you can only imagine, Wolf, what that will do.
Findlay is very flat. So there's not many places for the water to go. It just sort of stays there.
The ground is already saturated because it has been literally raining for days in Ohio. Cemeteries are flooded, gas stations are flooded.
As you can see, they're rescuing people by boat. From what I understand, they've had to rescue at least 100 people by boat.
They've opened up shelters. They've bused people to nearby towns just to get them out of their homes. But what a mess this is going to be -- Wolf.
BLITZER: The area -- this is a major metropolitan area. We saw earlier flooding in Oklahoma and Minnesota. Now yesterday it started coming down majorly in Ohio. But these are areas where there are lot of people affected.
COSTELLO: Yes, a lot of people. This is a medium-sized city, I would say. And other parts of Ohio have been flooded as well.
Mansfield, Ohio, you heard the governor declare a state of emergency in at least nine counties. Ohio is a very large state.
I understand the National Guard is now helping out in some areas to get these people to safety. And, you know, they're just wondering, when will this end, because they're expecting more rain.
BLITZER: You know, I want to show our viewers some of the pictures to give us a sense. The aerial photography that's just coming in, the sense of the scope of the flooding, Carol.
Take a look at this. You see almost rivers. These are streets and these are people standing outside right there about knee deep. But clearly, this is an area, as you can see from these aerial pictures, that are just coming into THE SITUATION ROOM, you see a car under water over there, virtually.
That shows the scope of this flooding.
COSTELLO: And you know what -- what's really sad about this, this is a working-class city. And this particular part of Ohio, the economy is not so good. So these people are strapped already.
In Toledo, which is about, I would say, about 40 minutes away, it's situated right on Lake Erie. So you can only imagine how high that Lake Erie is going to get. So I'm sure they're really nervous there as well.
BLITZER: What a horrible August.
Stand by, Carol. Tom Foreman is here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
And you're going to give us a little closer look now of this area, Tom.
TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Carol describes it very accurately.
This is a working-class town in Ohio. Let's zoom in and take a look at this. Findlay really is really the biggest thing down in this area. Very much a center for folks who work at normal jobs, normal things.
Marathon Petroleum has a big operation there. It used to be their headquarters. Now it's in Houston.
This is the Blanchard River that runs right through town. There are about 40,000 people living in Findlay. Outside it's mainly farmlands, so the flooding out there isn't as big of an issue in some ways. But boy, this is an area that just doesn't get flooded.
And oddly enough, Wolf, I actually have relatives who live in Findlay who we were talking to this morning. And people there have never seen anything like this. More than 100 years since they've had this kind of flooding all out into these neighborhoods.
There's been a lot of growth on this side of the town. New neighborhoods out there. All of these places are watching this water and wondering where it's going to go. But look at the flood warnings that they're facing in this area.
That's where Findlay is. All of this is under a flood warning or a flash flood warning, all the way up toward Toledo. All out in this area.
Again, not as many bigger areas over here as there is in Findlay, but you can see what they're worried about and why so many people there are shocked to see this. Many of them clearly, clearly, having been in this area less than a year ago, nobody would expect flooding here. It's flat land. It doesn't look like...
BLITZER: Especially in August. Who would have thought?
FOREMAN: And the Blanchard River? The Blanchard River is something that just looks like a meandering, quiet little river running right through the middle of town.
Oddly enough, you may remember a very, very old song, "Down By the Old Mill Stream". It was written in Findlay by a guy sitting by the side of the Blanchard because it was considered so tranquil.
BLITZER: These are streets. These are not rivers that we're seeing.
Stand by, Tom.
I want to go to a woman who is trapped in the floodwaters. Her name is Donna Zoll. She's one of our I-Reporters. She's joining us on the phone from Findlay, Ohio.
Donna, where are you right now?
DONNA ZOLL, FINDLAY RESIDENT: I am sitting in my home at my front window on the south side of Findlay.
BLITZER: And what's going on outside of your home? ZOLL: Well, I have some neighbors outside, and a few cars have been trying to make it down the street. In front of my house, there's water at the curbs. It's not in my driveway anymore, but the further up the street you go, it's still flooded.
BLITZER: And a lot of these homes, your neighbors' homes, have they already been flooded?
ZOLL: Yes, sir. Yes. The fire department was down here yesterday evening evacuating those who wanted to leave. We chose to stay.
BLITZER: Well, what's the -- what's the status of your home right now?
ZOLL: We are dry.
BLITZER: You're dry? So you're one of the lucky ones. Are you elevated? Is that the reason?
ZOLL: Just a tad bit. Our garage got water and my husband's work shop out back was flooded, but our house stayed dry.
BLITZER: And the street outside you say is pretty flooded where you are?
ZOLL: Yes, sir.
BLITZER: And how wide of an area -- I mean, you're seeing these floods. Is it just a few blocks or is it a big chunk of Findlay?
ZOLL: It's a big chunk of Findlay, yes. Most of Findlay.
BLITZER: And you've lived there a long time? You've lived there a long time?
ZOLL: Yes, sir. My whole life.
BLITZER: These are some pictures, by the way, you've sent us courtesy of CNN's I-Report. We are looking at it. I assume this is the patio outside. And we can see some flooding. This is from outside your window, is that what we're seeing?
ZOLL: Yes. That's right outside our sunroom.
BLITZER: And the -- the back yard, the pictures that we're seeing where the water is?
ZOLL: Yes. That water came up last night as well.
We were concerned with the front, with the street. And I happened to look out back outside the sunroom and saw just a river of water coming our way. And I knew that we were in trouble when I saw that.
BLITZER: These other pictures you've sent us as well, Donna, this is a little boat that's in the area now?
ZOLL: Yes. That was my husband and my sons on our dinghy out front, yesterday evening.
BLITZER: And they're actually using it to get around. Is that right?
ZOLL: Yes. We were trying to help as many neighbor as we could to try to help evacuate, help the firemen evacuate some of the elderly and those who wanted to leave the area.
BLITZER: And Donna, one final question. Do you still have some power there, electricity?
ZOLL: Yes, we do. We are doing great today.
BLITZER: So you're lucky.
Donna Zoll is one of our CNN I-Reporters. She's in Findlay, Ohio.
Good luck to you, Donna. Good luck to all of our friends there.
ZOLL: Thank you, Wolf.
BLITZER: Thank you.
I want to go to our Internet reporter, Abbi Tatton. She's watching what's going on as well.
You're getting some more video, more pictures coming in, Abbi.
ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, I just got off the phone with Sarah Gonzales (ph), who is in Findlay as well and sent in this picture. Take a look at downtown Findlay.
This is the picture there this morning when she ventured out. She's in a hotel in that area.
She said that most of the streets around her area were like this, flooded. Even the ones that weren't flooded, if you looked down them you could see water at the end.
And I asked Sarah (ph) if this was normal and she said, well, she doesn't know. She just got there yesterday, because she's transferred to school there.
So, Sarah Gonzales (ph) right now sending these pictures in from downtown Findlay. All of these being sent in to CNN.com/ireport -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Abbi, and if viewers, people out there want to send in their pictures, the first thing we always tell them is be careful. Don't do anything dangerous. But it's not a complicated procedure for them to send in their I-Reports. TATTON: Two ways to do it, Wolf. You can either go to the Web site, CNN.com/ireport. Or if you're sending something directly from your cell phone, the information is there on the site. You can send it straight from your phone. And like we always say, be careful.
BLITZER: OK. Thanks very much, Abbi, for that.
How far could these waters actually rise? And when will this storm system move on?
To help us answer those questions, we're joined now by our meteorologist, Jacqui Jeras, at the CNN weather center.
All right. What are the answers, Jacqui?
JACQUI JERAS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Well, Wolf, the rain is right up right now. You can see the radar picture is pretty dry, but look how things are trying to get started here on off to the west. And we are expecting more rain to push into the area later on tonight, a 70 percent chance. And we could see anywhere between a half of an inch to an inch of additional rain.
There you can see Findlay, a little rain shower trying to get started. That, of course, would be insignificant. But the rainfall has just been incredible since Monday.
And this is a Doppler radar image. It's an estimate of the rainfall that has come down since Monday. And right here you see this bright pink and purple swath of six to 10 inches. And when that comes down in a short period of time, you know those rivers are going to be on the rise.
Now, this is a graphic from the USGS. And it shows you the stream flow as we go on in time.
And here we are at 2:00 on Monday afternoon. Down well -- low, actually. Watch how the river just spikes on up.
And here's where our current point is today. At 1:00 in the afternoon was the most recent measurement at 18.46 feet. The record flood is 18.5. So we're just shy of that.
This is expected to crest right around record levels overnight tonight. Then it's going to take a little while for the river to recede and get back within its banks.
Right around here is flood stage. And that's not going to happen until overnight, Thursday. So we've got at least a good day to go.
The river continues to be on the rise, and this is such a widespread event. This shows you all of the blues and the black dots where things are well above average. The red dots and the yellow dots show where things are dry. And look how this spreads from the Dakotas, through Minnesota, northern Illinois, southern Wisconsin, where they have extreme flooding there, into lower Michigan and on into parts of Ohio -- Wolf. BLITZER: And I assume that system is going to continue to move easterly?
JERAS: Yes. It's been a real slow-moving system. We've had a frontal boundary just stalled out there over the last couple of days. Unfortunately, it looks like we'll have to wait until the weekend before things are much, much drier. And the Northeast getting wet today in all that rain heading in their neighborhood.
BLITZER: All right, Jacqui. Stand by, because this is a busy weather day for all of us.
We're going to have a lot more on this story, a lot more on the hurricane that's made a second hit just a couple hours ago in Mexico. All of that coming in.
Let's check in with Jack Cafferty right now. He's got "The Cafferty File".
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, I have nothing that pertains to the weather, but here is an interesting little factoid.
Liberals read more books than conservatives. An AP-Ipsos poll found that while 22 percent of liberals and moderates say they have not read a single book in the last year, the number jumps up to 34 percent for conservatives.
Perhaps more troubling is the fact that one in four Americans say they haven't read any books in the last year, but that's not what we're here to discuss.
The poll found that among people who read at least one book a year, liberals typically read nine books. Conservatives, eight. Moderates, five.
The head of a book publishing industry trade group offers this explanation. Pat Schroeder says, "The Karl Roves of the world have built a generation that just wants a few slogans. Things like 'No new taxes.'"
No surprise here. Schroeder was a formerly liberal member -- a former member of Congress who is a liberal. She says liberals can't say anything in less than a whole paragraph.
Mary Matalin, who is a Republican strategist, says that conservatives don't read less. They just get their information from different places, such as magazines or the Internet.
So here's the question. Liberals read more books than conservatives. Why?
E-mail us at caffertyfile@CNN.com or go to CNN.com/caffertyfile -- Wolf. BLITZER: We know liberals and conservatives will be reading your new book, Jack, once it comes out. We mentioned it's coming out September 10th.
CAFFERTY: September the 10th. "It's Getting Ugly Out There".
I was hoping you'd go there. It's available for preorder on all of the Internet Web site, like Amazon and places like that. There is a picture of it right there.
BLITZER: Nice handsome shot.
CAFFERTY: Well, liberals and conservatives and moderates, go buy the book. You'll learn something.
BLITZER: Thanks, Jack. Thanks very much.
BLITZER: President Bush talks of Vietnam and Iraq. And Hillary Clinton drops a new Iraq bombshell.
Also coming up ahead, there's new reason for Democrats in Congress to feel down in the dumps. We have brand new poll numbers, job approval ratings for Congress. And guess what? It isn't pretty.
Also coming up, it's called Coconut Road. And government watchdogs say it amounts to legalized bribery. We'll tell you what's going on.
And Fred Thompson opens fire at Rudy Giuliani over gun control. And the Republican race gets a new dose of nastiness.
Lots of news happening right now, right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Let's get to the Iraq war now.
President Bush is trying a new tact in promoting his "finish the job" strategy. He's turning comparisons between Iraq and the Vietnam War on their head. He's also finessing his latest remarks about the Iraqi prime minister.
We'll go to our White House correspondent, Ed Henry. He's traveling with the president in Kansas City -- Ed.
ED HENRY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, with critics charging that there's no hope for victory in Iraq, the president tried to use historical comparisons to show the experts can be wrong. But he got sidetracked a bit by a new controversy.
HENRY (voice over): Damage control from the commander in chief one day after expressing frustration with Iraq's prime minister.
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Prime Minister Maliki is a good guy, a good man with a difficult job. And I support him.
HENRY: The clarification came after Maliki lashed out at what he called petty politics from the American administration. And President Bush is clearly sensitive to criticism over U.S. interference in the Iraqi government, which could undermine his claim the war has brought freedom to that nation.
BUSH: And it's not up to the politicians in Washington, D.C., to say whether he will remain in his position. That is up to the Iraqi people, who now live in a democracy and not a dictatorship.
HENRY: The Maliki controversy took the president off message from his effort to tout early success from the surge in advance of a crucial September progress report.
BUSH: And as they take the initiative from the enemy, they have a question. Will their elected leaders in Washington pull the rug out from under them just as they're gaining momentum and changing the dynamic on the ground in Iraq?
HENRY: Before the Veterans of Foreign Wars convention, the president argued the nation now needs the same perseverance that won World War II and the Korean War.
BUSH: The shadow of terror will never be lifted from our world and the American people. We'll never be safe until the people of the Middle East know the freedom that our creator meant for all.
HENRY: After previously running from comparisons between Vietnam and Iraq, the president tried to draw an analogy, claiming a quick pullout from Baghdad could bring a familiar slaughter.
BUSH: One unmistakable legacy of Vietnam is that the price of America's withdrawal was paid by millions of innocent citizens whose agonies would add to our vocabulary new terms like "boat people," "reeducation camps," and "killing fields".
HENRY: Democrat John Kerry said the real lesson from Vietnam is that the U.S. needs a change in strategy, not just a change in rhetoric. But Mr. Bush gets a chance to frame the debate again next Tuesday when he addresses the American Legion -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Ed Henry reporting.
Thanks, Ed, very much.
While the president is trying to sound more upbeat about the Iraqi prime minister, the Democratic presidential front-runner now says it's time for him to go.
Our congressional, Jessica Yellin, is getting this information. It's just coming in to CNN.
Jessica, what are you picking up?
JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, CNN has learned that Senator Hillary Clinton is calling for the ouster of Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki. She joined Senator Carl Levin, who made headlines with a similar pronouncement on Monday.
In a statement, Senator Clinton says that the "... The Maliki government is nonfunctional and cannot produce a political settlement because it is too beholden to religious and sectarian leaders." She goes on to call for Iraqi parliament to replace him with a more unifying and less divisive figure.
And today, Senator Clinton is one of many Democrats who were critical of the president's speech to the VFW.
YELLIN (voice over): It's a familiar message from President Bush.
BUSH: Our troops are seeing the progress that is being made on the ground.
YELLIN: Democrats are pouncing on those words. While they acknowledge the surge has had some military success, they insist the president is missing or avoiding the larger point.
Says Senator Hillary Clinton, "The surge was designed to give the Iraqi government time to take steps to ensure a political solution to the situation. It has failed to do so."
Senator Ted Kennedy agrees. "... political reconciliation continues to elude Iraq's leaders."
And Majority Leader Harry Reid adds, "It's time to change direction in Iraq and Congress will again work to do so in the fall."
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If we pull out now, everything I've given in sacrifice will mean nothing.
YELLIN: This comes as a new conservative action group unveils a series of ads targeting wavering Democrats and Republicans.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're starting to see results. The price is being paid. Don't give up.
YELLIN: Part ofen effort to stymie Democrats' chances of building a consensus for a drawdown.
YELLIN: And Wolf, those ads will run in dozens of congressional districts for five weeks, through General Petraeus' testimony and the debate that will follow here on the Hill -- Wolf. BLITZER: But the headline, Hillary Clinton now saying, as Senator Carl Levin, the chairman of the Armed Services Committee, saying a few days ago, it's time for the Iraqi prime minister, Nuri al-Maliki, to go. This on a day the president says he supports Nuri al-Maliki.
Jessica, thanks very much for that.
Democrats, meanwhile, are rethinking their message on Iraq. Is the troop buildup there backfiring on a push for a withdrawal? J.C. Watts and Paul Begala, they're standing by for our "Strategy Session".
And another reason for members of Congress to think twice. Americans are judging them poorly.
Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: We're learning now that while Hurricane Dean is losing some strength as it moves over land, the total size of the storm is actually growing. That means even more people could be in danger from the storm's strong winds and rain that could trigger flooding and mudslides.
Our severe weather expert, Jacqui Jeras, once again joining us. She's monitoring all of these developments from the CNN hurricane headquarters.
So how dangerous, Jacqui, is this storm right now?
JERAS: Well, the wind threat still remains pretty considerable at this time. It's still a Category 1 hurricane, and that can cause a fair amount of damage, can do things like tear some shingles off parts of your roofs and also bring some pretty big tree branches down. But probably won't uproot a tree.
The biggest concern now in the coming hours, Wolf, is the threat of rainfall. And look at this big purple area still to the southwest of Poza Rica. You're going to get several inches per hour of rain in this area.
The winds are at 85 miles per hour, maximum sustained. We'll watch those to continue to go on down.
This is a radar picture, a composite, out of Brownsville, Texas. And look at how far south it reaches. It shows you some of these outer rain bands coming in all across northern parts of Mexico. And we're even getting some rain in southern Texas, expecting to see some high surf and maybe a little bit of beach erosion here.
The storm should continue to weaken this evening and overnight tonight, come down to a tropical storm, and eventually to a tropical depression. But it's the mountainous regions, those populated cities, that we're most concerned about that could receive five to 10 inches of rain, possibly as much as 20 -- Wolf. BLITZER: And we're going to have a lot more on this hurricane later here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Jacqui, thanks very much.
Government watchdogs, meanwhile, say they smell pork, and it's coming from a place called Coconut Road in Florida.
We'll tell you what's going on.
And it's Fred Thompson versus Rudy Giuliani as the Republican presidential candidates take the gloves off.
Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Happening now: a state of emergency in Ohio, as rising floodwaters swamp whole communities and leave many residents trapped. Rescue efforts are now under way. We will have a live update.
Also, has the Bush administration abandoned one of its main goals for Iraq? Our Michael Ware has a new report on a major aspect of America's plan in Iraq now in crisis.
Plus, Russia's president is talking tough about beefing up his country's military. What is the new flexing of muscles from Moscow mean to America and its allies? We will discuss that with the former Defense Secretary William Cohen.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
When Congress returns from its summer break, Democratic leaders may be in for a rude awakening. This hour, we have a brand-new report card on Congress from the American people.
Let's turn to our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider. He's here.
Has disillusionment with Congress, Bill, set in?
WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Wolf, with breathtaking speed, and mostly among Democrats.
SCHNEIDER (voice-over): Eighteen percent, that's the latest job rating for Congress reported by the Gallup poll, tied with the lowest ever recorded for Congress in 1992, when voters were angry over the lousy economy and the check-bouncing scandal. Then term limit fever swept the country and a major third-party movement broke out. Are we seeing signs of voter discontent this year?
STUART ROTHENBERG, EDITOR AND PUBLISHER, "THE ROTHENBERG POLITICAL REPORT": Candidates are talking about change, whether they're Republicans or Democrats. And we're seeing primary challenges to incumbent sitting members of Congress.
SCHNEIDER: But not as intense.
ROTHENBERG: There's no evidence that there's a political revolution taking place, the way it seemed for a while in '92 and '93.
SCHNEIDER: Why not? Here's a clue. Disillusionment with Congress has set in fastest among Democrats. Republicans didn't have any illusions to begin with. Back in 1995, when the Republicans took over Congress, power seemed to pass to the legislative branch, to the point where President Clinton had to complain:
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The president is relevant here.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCHNEIDER: But, when Democrats took over Congress this year, President Bush was defiant.
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I have committed more than 20,000 additional American troops to Iraq.
SCHNEIDER: And Democrats in Congress could not muster the votes to stop him. Democratic voters see a new option, the presidential campaign.
ROTHENBERG: I think it's reasonable to believe that, as we head toward November of 2008, and the Democrats have a nominee who is attacking the president, the Republicans on the war, that Democrats will start to feel good about their party, and their Congress, frankly.
SCHNEIDER: Polls show Democrats are excited about the presidential race and optimistic about winning the White House.
SCHNEIDER: So, instead of a voter revolt, like we saw in 1992, what we're seeing is a presidential race that's starting earlier than ever and drawing a lot of interest from voters eager to move beyond this president and this Congress -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Thank you, Bill Schneider, our senior political analyst.
Part of the reason so many Americans say they are angry at the Congress is waste, so angry that now one Florida county is questioning a $10 million earmark they say they don't need.
John Zarrella is watching this story for us.
John, this money was -- is supposed to build a road there. They say they don't need it. So, how did it end up in the federal budget? JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN MIAMI BUREAU CHIEF: Wolf, that is the unanswered question. Back in 2005, Congress approved $91 million for improvements in widening on Interstate 75 in Florida. Ten million of it was going for a highway widening in southwest Florida. But, somewhere along the line, that $10 million went somewhere else.
ZARRELLA (voice-over): This is Coconut Road in Fort Myers, Florida. About half-a-mile away, through those trees, is interstate 75. Two years ago, a federal transportation bill included $10 million to start work on a new interchange, linking the road and the highway.
Sounds great, right? But here's the problem. County planning officials never asked for the interchange. And it's not what Congress voted for.
Carla Johnston chairs the county planning organization. She charges something fishy happened after Congress passed the bill.
CARLA JOHNSTON, CHAIRMAN, METROPOLITAN PLANNING ORGANIZATION: Some time between then and when the president signed it, somebody tampered with the bill.
ZARRELLA: In the bill passed by the House and the Senate, the $10 million goes for -- quote -- "widening and improvements for I-75 in Collier and Lee counties. But, in the final version the president signed, the language was changed, says Johnston. The money was now going to -- quote -- "Coconut Road Interchange I-75, Lee County."
Alaska Congressman Don Young was chairman of the House Transportation Committee. It was his bill. When contacted by CNN, Young's office could not immediately say who made the change or why it was made.
Citizens Against Government waste calls it:
TOM SCHATZ, PRESIDENT, CITIZENS AGAINST GOVERNMENT WASTE: Legalized bribery is exactly what it sounds like. It's a form of providing money in exchange for a project. And, in this case, it's totally legitimate.
ZARRELLA: At about the same time the bill was making its way to the president, Young attended a campaign fund-raiser at a hotel on Coconut Road, where local business leaders gave his campaign $40,000. One of them was Joe Mazurkiewicz.
JOE MAZURKIEWICZ, LOCAL BUSINESS LEADER: And the public perception, the spin of this whole story has been, it's been a political payback. And I just don't see is that way.
ZARRELLA: You don't see it as a political payback?
MAZURKIEWICZ: No. I don't see it as -- I see it as really proper planning. ZARRELLA: Mazurkiewicz says Young spent much of the day assessing the area's transportation problems, highway gridlock, and the need for more hurricane evacuation routes. Young also met with and was briefed by local university officials, whose independent studies concluded an interchange, along with highway widening, would relieve congestion.
But, last Friday, two years later, the county, while agreeing to keep the money, voted overwhelmingly not to use it for Coconut Road.
JOHNSTON: I think that this is not only a local issue. This is a national issue. I mean, we can't have the constitutional process hijacked. And this is hijacking the constitutional process.
ZARRELLA: Congressman Young's office did issue a statement to CNN regarding the interchange, saying, Young was just trying to help -- quote -- "When they saw a need for a hurricane evacuation route, Representative Young helped them fill it. If they no longer see the need, then that is their choice" -- end quote.
ZARRELLA: Now, the county planning officials say they have absolutely no intention to give the money back. What they want Congress to do now is to go back and reinsert the original language back into the bill, so that they can spend the money on what they say it was originally intended for, which is widening and improvements of Interstate 75 -- Wolf.
BLITZER: And you have got to believe this isn't the only such example of a story like this in a massive transportation budget as we have.
John, good work. Thanks very much for that report.
President Bush has visited every state in the United States, except one state. We're going to tell you which state Mr. Bush has been avoiding and why. John King standing by for that.
And John Edwards takes a new shot at Hillary Clinton over Iraq, even as she takes a new stand on ousting the Iraqi prime minister -- the latest jabs for Paul Begala and J.C. Watts. They will be here in our "Strategy Session."
Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: The Republican presidential race is getting nastier. As is often the case, it's the front-runner who is the prime target. In this particular case, that would be Rudy Giuliani.
Let's go to Mary Snow. She's watching this story for us.
Who's firing away now, Mary? MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, it's Fred Thompson. And he's offering more proof he's serious about running for president by taking a direct shot at Giuliani's record as New York mayor.
SNOW (voice-over): Fred Thompson says he spent a lot of time in New York during his acting stint on TV's "Law & Order." He says he likes the city, but says he doesn't like its gun control laws.
On his Web site, the former senator blasts a recent court ruling against gunmakers, writing that "The same activist judge who provided Mayor Giuliani's administration with the legal ruling it sought to sue gunmakers has done it again." And Thompson charges New York tries to "force its ways on the rest of us."
The Giuliani camp fired back by posting this video online...
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RUDOLPH GIULIANI (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The Constitution of the United States says that you have a personal right to carry arms, to have arms. And that personal right is as strong as the right of free speech.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SNOW: ... and by issuing this statement: "Those who live in New York, in the real world, not on TV, know that Rudy Giuliani's record of making the city safe for families speaks for itself. No amount of political theater will change that."
Giuliani's dig at Thompson's work as an actor brings to mind another Republican performer who went on to win the White House, Ronald Reagan. Then again, Thompson's slap at Giuliani is a clear violation of Reagan's so-called 11th commandment: Thou shalt not speak ill of a fellow Republican.
SNOW: And Mitt Romney is also breaking that rule. He's now running a radio ad attacking New York City's immigration policies and, by implication, Giuliani -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Getting a little rough out there. All right, good. Thanks, Mary, for that.
Vermont was the first state to outlaw slavery. It was the last state to get a Wal-Mart. And it is the only state in the union not to have been visited by President Bush.
Let's bring in our chief national correspondent, John King.
Is this a snub or an oversight, John?
JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I think you could safely say snub, Wolf.
And let's look at this way. The president was in Missouri today. He's been there more than 30 times since being elected president -- zero in Vermont. Didn't always used to be that way. Twenty-seven consecutive presidential elections, from the 1850s through 1960, Vermont voted Republican, but not anymore.
KING (voice-over): It is picture-perfect, its covered bridges, rivers, and mountains a draw to some 10 million visitors a year. Yet, Vermont is the forgotten place in the crowded travelogue of George W. Bush, the only state he's failed to visit in his presidency.
REP. BERNIE SANDERS (I), VERMONT: If he comes up in the fall, he could see the changing of the leaves. He will have a good visit.
KING: Senator Bernie Sanders, a self-described socialist, all but dares Mr. Bush to visit, saying he would benefit from sitting down with his critics, whether the issue be Iraq, the economy, or climate change.
SANDERS: You might be able to learn something. This president will probably go down in history as being the least popular president in the history of this country. He should go forward and find out why that is so.
KING: But University of Vermont political science professor Garrison Nelson sees no upside for the president.
GARRISON NELSON, PROFESSOR, UNIVERSITY OF VERMONT: It's a photo opportunity he does not need. I cannot imagine any assemblage in the state of Vermont that would give him an unalloyed positive reception.
KING: Montpelier is the state capital, Governor Jim Douglas a throwback to the moderate breed of Republicanism that once thrived across New England.
GOV. JIM DOUGLAS (R), VERMONT: He is more than welcome. I have extended that invitation to him.
Douglas notes, the first President Bush visited Vermont last among the 50 states, and predicts the son will do the same, despite his low popularity.
DOUGLAS: But he can take it. He's certainly taken a lot of hostility and tough questions. And I'm sure he can do that here.
REGINA GILBERT, MOTHER OF KYLE GILBERT: He asked something that surprised me, and, "Does it ever get easier?" And I just looked at him and I looked at my husband, and I said, "Absolutely not." I said, "This is a hole in my heart, and it's always going to be here."
KING: Regina Gilbert traveled to Fort Bragg, North Carolina, to meet the president. Her only child, Kyle, was killed in Iraq four years ago. Vermont has lost 18 soldiers in Iraq. Forty-one states have lost more, but, because it is so tiny, Vermont has the highest per capita death toll, more than enough reason, Regina Gilbert says, for the president to visit.
GILBERT: Hopefully, we're making strides. But I want to hear something good about it, so my son can look down and say, see, "Mom, I told you."
But I'm still waiting for that day. So, I hope he does come to our little state, because I think we have -- we have -- like I said, we have stepped up. And I'm hoping he -- he will reflect and step up as well.
KING: Seventeen months left in the Bush presidency, Wolf, plenty of time for the president to visit Vermont.
Asked at the White House for a yes-or-no answer, most senior aides say, probably.
BLITZER: Did Bill Clinton, during his eight years in the White House, visit all 50 states?
KING: Nebraska was his Vermont. He didn't visit it until the very last month of his presidency, but he wanted to be able to say, I hit all 50. So, he hit Nebraska in the last month.
BLITZER: I suspect President Bush still has some time to visit Vermont.
KING: He does.
BLITZER: And he probably will.
BLITZER: Thanks, John, very much.
Up next here in our "Strategy Session": President Bush invokes lessons from Vietnam.
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BUSH: Here at home, some can argue our withdrawal from Vietnam carried no price for American credibility. But the terrorists see it differently.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: But will memories of Vietnam help or hurt President Bush's case for the war in Iraq?
And sharp barbs from candidate John Edwards for front-runner Senator Hillary Clinton over the war in Iraq. He wants to know what her position is -- all that coming up for Paul Begala and J.C. Watts. They're standing by right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: President Bush today suggested that a quick withdrawal from Iraq could lead to the same kind of bloodbath that took place in Vietnam and neighboring Cambodia after the Vietnam War.
It's a comparison that's already triggering loud protests.
Joining us now in our "Strategy Session," our CNN political analysts Democratic strategist Paul Begala, former Republican Congressman J.C. Watts
This is a risky strategy, some would suggest, for the president, all of a sudden, now to be making comparisons between the war in Iraq and Vietnam.
PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Extraordinarily risky and I think really unwise.
I mean, historians will parse what they're already saying is the bad history in the speech today. So, let me leave that to them. But look at the theatrics of it. He's saying, essentially, that 58,000 dead in Vietnam weren't quite enough, that maybe we should have twice as big a tragic memorial on the Mall.
And who's saying it? A man who chose not to serve, took steps, used family friends to get out of serving in Vietnam, didn't even show up for his own Guard duty, so that better, braver men could fight that war. He stood before those better, braver men today a coward in the company of heroes.
And then he turns, as a politician, and attacks Vietnam heroes like John McCain, John Kerry, Max Cleland.
So, if -- if -- I can't imagine who is advising the president -- maybe it's Dick Cheney, who has a similar war record -- who is advising him to invoke Vietnam, when he has so -- so lacking in any moral standing to do so.
BLITZER: Because, as you know, J.C., for a long time now, the critics have been making comparisons between the war in Iraq and the war in Vietnam. And, all of a sudden, today, the president decides he's going to invoke Vietnam.
J.C. WATTS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think it's safe to say that Paul doesn't like this president or this vice president.
BEGALA: I have never disliked him more. I have never...
BEGALA: This is why he's held in contempt by his fellow Americans and loathing by the world. This is the worst day of his presidency.
WATTS: But, you know, Paul, I think that's pretty ugly, I mean, to -- to...
BEGALA: It is.
WATTS: ... to go after the president like that. And I think he...
BEGALA: I'm getting ugly?
WATTS: I think he went into that speech today, you know, trying to visit with some -- some great Americans there and tell his side of the story.
And I think that's what he did. Now, making comparisons to Vietnam, you know, Wolf, I -- I think the seriousness of this moment, I think he's got plenty of facts and plenty of data to make the argument that leaving Iraq -- forget about Vietnam, World War I, World War II -- he's got enough data, enough information to make the argument to say, if we leave, not only will we lose in the Middle East; they will follow us home, which will be bad for Americans, for the Begala kids, for the Watts kids.
So, I think the president had plenty -- he's got plenty of ammunition to make the argument that leaving Iraq is a bad deal.
BLITZER: And -- and -- but his point was, as John McCain makes the point, unlike Vietnam, the enemy in this particular case is going to try to follow the United States back to U.S. soil.
BEGALA: Like they don't have GPS? I mean, that's so -- I'm sorry. That sort of "Hansel & Gretel" strategy is moronic.
You know, Mr. bin Laden found his way to New York City to attack the World Trade Centers. Even though Mr. Bush was warned about it, bin Laden determined to strike, Mr. Bush went off on vacation. OK? So, they can find America. They found America on September 11 in 2001. And George Bush did very little to prevent that. So, I think that is kind of a specious argument for him to make.
WATTS: Well, will you give this president any credit that we haven't been attacked since September 11?
WATTS: And to say that it's all this president's fault that we got attacked on September 11...
BEGALA: I didn't say it was all... (CROSSTALK)
WATTS: ... Paul, when we had a president -- when we had a president...
BEGALA: What did he do?
WATTS: ... we had a president prior to Bush 43 that could have done something about bin Laden. I mean, the...
BEGALA: Like launch cruise -- like launch 65 cruise missiles at him, while the right wing said that was wag the dog and was bad? He did that.
WATTS: You hit an aspirin -- you hit an aspirin factory that probably only impacted the janitor.
BEGALA: That's actually what bin Laden says. Americans believe that that was a chemical weapons plant.
But, more importantly, our president was warned that bin Laden was determined to strike America. It was this month of August in 2001. They struck, in fact, in September. And he did nothing to protect us.
BEGALA: And, so, for him to invoke 9/11...
WATTS: But the bottom line is, bin Laden didn't just organize that 30 days prior to the strike.
BLITZER: All right, guys...
WATTS: And, so, to say that the Clinton administration doesn't have any blame in this matter...
BEGALA: Everything is blamed by -- everything on the right, you blame Bill Clinton for.
BLITZER: Let's -- let's forget about history for a moment. Let's talk about -- let's talk about some news...
WATTS: Plenty of blame to go around. BLITZER: ... that was made today by Hillary Clinton.
Jessica Yellin, our congressional correspondent, broke this story. Hillary Clinton, on this day that the president reaffirms his support for the Iraqi prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, Hillary Clinton, the Democratic front-runner, is saying, he must go.
BEGALA: I think it's a big -- it's a big break. It's a big story.
It began with -- with Senator Carl Levin, a very respected Democrat on Capitol Hill, respected in both parties, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee. Now Senator Clinton is saying this. I have talked to politicians who have been there. I have talked to soldiers who have been on the ground who are just coming back.
And they all say the same thing. They say the military is doing their job, that, yes, militarily, where we have put in 30,000 more troops, it has had a big impact. And God bless those soldiers. Nobody ever doubted that.
But the theory of the surge was that our soldiers would -- would buy some breathing space for Maliki. They would risk their lives, and some of them lose it, so that Maliki and the rest of these clowns in Baghdad could make peace and reconcile. They haven't done that. So, he should go.
BLITZER: All right.
J.C., what do you think of the strategy from Senator Clinton?
WATTS: Well, to say that Maliki should go, I think I have heard the Democrats say -- and, Paul, we have even said on this show -- I have heard you say on this show that we can't have the kind of democracy in Iraq that we have in the United States. We can't force our kind of democracy on the people in Iraq. And I think that's true.
I disagree with some of the things that al-Maliki has done. I think it was a stupid decision to say that certain people in Iraq should be off limits because of political reasons or religious reasons. And they were bad people. We should have gone after them.
So, to say that he should go, I disagree with a lot of the things that he's done, but the -- the people in Iraq chose him. And I think we have to accept that.
BLITZER: All right, guys, we have got it leave it right there.
Paul Begala, J.C. Watts, in our "Strategy Session," thanks a lot.
BEGALA: Thanks, Wolf.
BLITZER: Liberals apparently read more books than conservatives. Jack Cafferty is standing by with your e-mail on why you think that may be the case. Plus, mine boss Bob Murray tears up after the plight of those trapped miners and a business in ruins. An emotional interview with Bob Murray coming up here.
And, after all the time, the troops and the bloodshed, will Iraq ever be a democracy? Our Michael Ware reports on the best hopes and the worst fears.
Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Let's check back with Jack. He's got "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, a recent AP/Ipsos poll found that liberals read more books than conservatives. We asked why that is the case.
Hugh writes from Vero Beach, Florida: "Speaking as a conservative, can you really believe a study that was likely researched and concluded by liberals? Impossible to concretely determine who reads more. Granted, except for the newspaper and the Internet, I probably don't read as much as I should. Of course, that will all change now with Jack's new book coming out."
Nice letter, Hugh.
Brandi writes: "My mother is conservative. She tells me the only book worth reading is the Bible. So, is it any wonder I read more books than she does?"
Paul in Ohio: "Liberals read more books because they read fiction only. Conservatives are too busy reading lengthy nonfiction dealing in facts."
Ron in San Francisco: "Unlike conservatives, liberals tend to get all the information we can to make up our own minds. And, yes, that includes reading books. I can't imagine having Rush Windbag, Ann Coulter, and/or the rest of the residents of 'Wing-nuttia' telling me what to think. The idea of blindly buying ideology and not challenging what you're told is disgusting."
Brian writes: "Because conservatives are out working for a living, while liberals are living off the dole in one form or another and have plenty of time to read."
And Karl in Virginia writes: "Conservatives reads fewer books than liberals since there are fewer books in the conservative library. Books on the natural sciences, histories more than 6,000 years old, evolution, liberal opinion, stem cell research, non-Christian religions, racy novels, and biographies -- biographies of liberal politicians and thinkers are nowhere to be found on conservative bookshelves."
Some hostility in the two camps out there -- Wolf. BLITZER: I sense there is. Thank you very much, Jack, for that.
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