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Vick Speaks Out; Gonzales Resigns

Aired August 27, 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, Michael Vick says his controversial crimes were the immature acts of a person who needs to grow up after admitting he helped kill dogs in a brutal dogfighting ring, Vick now wants your forgiveness.
Hillary Clinton wants a ban on something millions of Americans do to help people try to stay alive. Find out just what she wants to declare war on.

And it's eerily similar to the international uproar over Elian Gonzales -- a fight putting some people here in the United States against the father who wants his child back in Cuba.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

A guilty plea, a public apology -- now all that's left for Michael Vick is to find out his punishment. The fallen Falcons quarterback had his day in court today and now faces an uncertain future.

Let's turn to CNN's Carol Costello.

She's watching the story for us.

He's got a lot to lose, this guy, and he's losing it quickly.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): He's going to lose his freedom quickly, Wolf.

That is now up to a Virginia judge, who could send Vick to prison for up to five years. But Vick has lost so much more than just his freedom. He's lost his job, millions of dollars and his reputation. And today he publicly turned to Jesus and swore he would redeem himself.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

COSTELLO (voice-over): Jeers and cheers for Michael Vick as he walked into a Virginia courtroom to plead guilty to a single federal dogfighting conspiracy charge. After facing a judge, a football career in question, along with his multi-dollar salary, he faced the nation and spoke of redemption. MICHAEL VICK, SUSPENDED ATLANTA FALCONS QUARTERBACK: Dogfighting is a terrible thing and I didn't reject it. I've upset myself. And, you know, through the situation I found Jesus and, you know, I asked him for forgiveness and has turned my life over to God. I think that's the right thing to do as of right now.

COSTELLO: He told the nation he badly wanted to redeem myself, was immature and a liar.

VICK: I want to personally apologize to Commissioner Goodell, Arthur Blank, Coach Bobby Petrino and my Atlanta Falcon teammates, you know, for our -- for our previous discussions that we had and I was not honest and forthright in our discussions.

COSTELLO: For that, that the NFL has suspended Vick without pay. He'll lose his $6 million salary this year and perhaps a $22 million signing bonus. But not necessarily his career. Vick, Atlanta's franchise player, who draws sellout crowds, might play football again.

ARTHUR BLANK, ATLANTA FALCONS OWNER: After Michael pays his debt to society and what he does to proper self-reflection, maybe he'll have the opportunity to play again in the National Football League.

COSTELLO: It's what Vick is praying for. He's taking advice from, among others, civil rights activist Andrew Young.

ANDREW YOUNG, CIVIL RIGHTS ACTIVIST: I told him, don't give up. Don't lose heart. You've made a dreadful mistake, but you're young. And sometimes, as you did on the football field, when you get knocked down, you have to get up and figure out where the next play is going to be.

COSTELLO: But others say Vick and others of his generation have a long way to go to deserve another chance. One former teammate, all pro-defensive end, puts it this way.

CHUCK SMITH, FORMER NFL PLAYER: The reason a guy like Michael Vick, who has $130 million and a $100 million contract is doing what he's doing is the same reason Paris Hilton is driving around drunk, the same reason Lindsay Lohan had to go to jail.

COSTELLO: And that, Smith says, is that sense of entitlement, that if you're young, rich and famous, there are no consequences. Vick is now learning the hard way if you play that game, you pay.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

COSTELLO: Now it is important that Vick appear contrite and sorry for his crimes. That Virginia judge will be weighing his sincerity when he makes his decision on a punishment for Vick, and that will come, Wolf, on December 10th.

BLITZER: And when he was make that statement, you watched it carefully, he was just speaking. He wasn't reading some sort of document, although I'm sure he and his attorneys went through carefully what he was going to say. COSTELLO: You know, in talking to some of the people that were listening to his news conference, when he mentioned that he had turned to Jesus, a lot of people laughed and did not believe he was sincere.

Now, Andrew Young says he thinks he's sincere and the football player that I interviewed says he's sincere. I guess we'll just have to see.

BLITZER: He's going to have a lot of time right now to think about it and see what he can do.

COSTELLO: Yes.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Carol, for that.

There are personal ramifications to Vick's case and there are also legal ramifications.

Let's turn to our senior legal analyst, Jeff Toobin.

He's in Richmond, Virginia, where Vick entered his plea today -- Jeff, what can Vick expect right now in terms of jail time?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, the most likely scenario is that the federal sentencing guidelines will say that he is -- the range is 12 to 18 months. The government has agreed to recommend the lower end. So the most likely outcome is a sentence of about a year, but there's no guarantee and Judge Henry Hudson could sentence him to up to five years. But a year is about the most likely.

BLITZER: And there's obviously going to be at least some jail time. There's no possibility -- here's a question -- that he'll get no jail time?

TOOBIN: Well, there is a slight possibility. If the government is so impressed by his cooperation, if the government says to the judge, he was remarkable and you should really reward him and the judge then does reward him, he could knock the sentence down. But there's no real apparent likelihood that Vick has any great cooperation to give the government since he's the biggest fish in the case. There's no -- he has no one, really, to give up. It's very unlikely either that the government will ask for a lower sentence or that the judge will give him one.

BLITZER: He's confirming now that he did do all these horrible things to these dogs. This after he lied to a lot of people about his role in all of this. And I assume that's going to hurt him a great deal, the fact that he misled authorities at the beginning and the commissioner of the NFL, the owner of the Atlanta Falcons, among others.

TOOBIN: The most important person he lied to was Roger Goodell, the chief -- the commissioner of football, because he's the person who is responsible for deciding whether Michael Vick ever gets back in the game. So I think that's the one Michael Vick would really want back at this point, because it probably won't be for some time, until after Michael Vick is out of prison. He's going to have to go back to Roger Goodell and say, look, I've changed, I feel remorse, I've corrected my life. And he's the one who Michael Vick, really, the jury of one who really matters to Vick at this point.

BLITZER: He pleaded guilty today. He's going to accept the punishment. He's expressing his remorse. But from a legal standpoint, what if he would have held out and gone to trial?

How strong of a case did the prosecution have against him?

Could he have convinced his attorneys, could they have convinced a jury that this man is not guilty?

TOOBIN: Well, you never know for sure what a jury will do. But in this case, he had three co-defendants all pleading guilty, all agreeing to testify against him. In a case involving this kind of horrible conduct, it's very hard to see how he could have gone to trial and won.

I think he and his lawyers made the right choice in pleading guilty very quickly, as they did today.

BLITZER: Jeffrey Toobin joining us from Richmond.

Thanks, Jeff, very much.

Now that Michael Vick has submitted his guilty plea, what about the dogs?

They're in the custody of the U.S. Marshal's office. Approximately 50 dogs were seized from Vick's property. They're being held in various shelters in Eastern Virginia. A team from the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals will evaluate the dogs and make recommendations. The Humane Society is recommending that all dogs bred and trained for fighting be euthanized.

In another major story we're following today, critics say he lacked judgment, even "the spine to say no to Karl Rove."

Now some say relentless attack on Alberto Gonzales have driven him out of office. He's resigning as the attorney general. While some applaud President Bush -- some applaud that decision, President Bush says an honorable man's name was dragged through the mud.

Let's go to our White House correspondent, Ed Henry, joining us from Bellevue, Washington -- Ed, a difficult, difficult decision for the attorney general, obviously, but it did come as the surprise this morning when we woke up and shortly heard that he was finally doing what so many have been calling on him to do for months.

ED HENRY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, that's right, because the president is so loyal to his friends from Texas. But that inner circle, as you know, is now shrinking. Alberto Gonzales leaving just days after Karl Rove's abrupt exit.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE) HENRY (voice-over): A president who hates giving in grudgingly bowed to the political reality. It was time for his close friend to go.

GEORGE BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Al Gonzales is a man of integrity, decency and principal, and I have reluctantly accepted his resignation.

HENRY: But not before one final blast at the critics who drove his attorney general out of office.

BUSH: It's sad that we live in a time when a talented and honorable person like Alberto Gonzales is impeded from doing important work because his good name was dragged through the mud for political reasons.

HENRY: In an ironic twist, the president flew from Texas to New Mexico to raise money for Senator Pete Domenici, who is at the center of the U.S. attorney controversy that engulfed Gonzales.

For months, the president dug in.

BUSH: This is a man who has testified. He sent thousands of, you know, papers up there. There's no proof of wrong.

Why would I hold somebody accountable who has done nothing wrong?

HENRY: But the attorney general grew tired of being a punching bag and after a month of soul searching with his wife, decided to go, secretly phoning the president Friday.

Mr. Bush promptly invited the couple to his ranch for a quiet farewell Sunday, the attorney general visibly relieved.

The president had a wide grin, too. This gives him a fresh start as other problems mount -- from difficulties in Iraq to subpoenas flying from Capitol Hill.

Even Mr. Bush acknowledged for the first time the controversy had become a problem.

BUSH: After months of unfair treatment that has created harmful -- a harmful distraction at the Justice Department, Judge Gonzales decided to resign his position.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

HENRY: Now, there have been reports that the president did not initially accept the resignation on Friday, but White House officials insist the president did not try to talk Gonzales out of it on Sunday, that this really was just a farewell meeting.

Meanwhile, names being floated about potential successors include Michael Chertoff, the Homeland Security secretary, as well as Ted Olson, the former solicitor general. But officials say the president does not seem to be in any hurry to get this done quickly. Obviously, Congress away on recess. But once they come back, they are likely to have a very big confirmation battle -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Ed Henry traveling with the president.

Ed, thanks very much.

Let's check in with Jack Cafferty.

He's in New York with The Cafferty File -- hi, Jack.

CAFFERTY: Wolf, according to Fred Thompson, it's getting ugly out there. And if you didn't recognize that, it's a shameless plug for my new book.

Thompson's a potential Republican presidential candidate and he issued a dire warning in a speech in Indiana.

According to Politico.com he said this: "I simply believe that on the present course that we're going to be a weaker, less prosperous, more divided nation than what we have been. I don't say that lightly, but I think it's truth and I think the American people are ready for the truth."

Thompson pointed out to three major challenges he sees facing the country -- national security, the economy and polarization and the incompetence of the federal government.

He said: "People don't have any confidence about what's being said or who is saying it."

And he's right. The former senator and television actor didn't offer any solutions. Instead, he talked about what he calls first principles, things like the importance of the constitution, federalism, the rule of law, the market economy, respect for private property, free trade, blah, blah, blah. Nothing, though, nothing in the way of concrete solutions.

Despite the gloomy predictions, Thompson is hopeful that we can right this ship and, of course, he hopes the Republican Party is the one to do that. His advisers think the party understands the difficulties it's facing and wants somebody who won't sugar coat things.

So here's the question -- Fred Thompson says the United States is going to be a weaker, less prosperous, more divided nation.

Is he right?

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

Hasn't his party been in charge of things for the last, almost seven years, Wolf? BLITZER: Yes, a lot of the party was in charge. That's correct.

CAFFERTY: Yes.

BLITZER: And it's getting ugly out there. For our viewers who don't know, Jack's new book is coming out September 10th. We're counting down to "It's Getting Ugly Out There" -- the frauds, the bunglers, the liars, the losers, all of Jack's favorites, they're going to be in the book.

Jack, thanks very much.

CAFFERTY: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: Up ahead, Hillary Rodham Clinton wants to take on a killer.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D), NEW YORK: It's an addictive, deadly substance and we need to regulate it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: The presidential candidate advocates a ban on something many Americans do every day. We're going to tell you what it is and why.

Also, at one point U.S. troops may have come amazingly close to finding the world's most wanted terrorist, Osama bin Laden.

How did they end up empty-handed?

And there's been no sighting of him in over a year. Some Cubans cheering rumors that he's dead. But Fidel Castro does something to try to show he's still very much alive. We'll update you on what's going on in Havana.

We'll go there.

Stick around.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: There are new questions today regarding the hunt for Osama bin Laden. Disputes over his whereabouts, his movements and whether U.S. forces missed any serious chances to get him.

Let's turn to CNN's Brian Todd.

He's following this story for us -- Brian, what can you tell us?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, those questions come as U.S. officials are again on the definitive over their intelligence on bin Laden and how he's being protected.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

TODD (voice-over): Despite a trail that appears to have gone ice cold, a U.S. counter-terrorism official describes the pursuit of Osama bin Laden and his top lieutenants as relentless.

U.S. officials have recently made very clear where they believe he is.

JOHN KRINGEN, CIA DIRECTOR FOR INTELLIGENCE: We continue to assess that he's probably in the tribal areas of Pakistan.

TODD: An assessment refuted by Pakistani officials. A former CIA officer who once ran the agency's bin Laden unit tells CNN, he's probably living in house or compounds in Pakistan; staying in one place for long periods for fear of being spotted.

Current U.S. officials have a different take.

FRANCES TOWNSEND, WHITE HOUSE HOMELAND SECURITY ADVISER: You can assume, just based on the sort of operational security behavior, that he's moving around, he doesn't make it easy, he doesn't have a lot of contact and he is in a very remote area that is not easily accessed, certainly by Americans, and, frankly, by the Pakistanis themselves.

TODD: But "Newsweek" magazine reports a U.S. military patrol did almost stumble onto bin Laden in one of his hideouts along the Pakistan/Afghanistan border nearly three years ago. The magazine quotes a senior Al Qaeda operative saying bin Laden's bodyguards nearly acted on a plan to kill bin Laden and then kill themselves. But "Newsweek" says the Americans, not realizing bin Laden was there, turned away.

U.S. officials we spoke to say they've not heard of any such incident. But analysts say this about bin Laden's security detail.

STEVE COLONEL, NEW AMERICA FOUNDATION: The former bodyguard to Osama says that when he was in Osama's employ, just before 9/11, that Osama authorized him to take Osama's life in the event that he faced imminent capture and that he had a particular gun that he planned to use.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

TODD: So is bin Laden alive now?

He's not been heard from on audiotape for more than a year and not made a video in nearly three years. U.S. officials say they do believe he's alive, and analysts say even if his aides wanted to keep his death a secret to keep the mystique going, they probably wouldn't be able to keep it for very long -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Brian, thanks very much,

Brian Todd watching that story. The United Nations office on drugs and crime released its annual opium survey today, with some startling news about Afghanistan's opium cultivation. Land used for poppy fields in Afghanistan regions in -- red right here on our map -- now exceeds cocoa cultivation in Colombia, Peru and Bolivia combined. Helmand Province alone in Afghanistan has become the world's largest source of illicit drugs, surpassing the output of entire countries.

The Taliban, incidentally, have reversed their 2000 edict against poppy cultivation and are now profiting from the opium trade. According to this report from the U.N. what used to be considered a sin is now encouraged.

It's a major issue that whoever becomes president will have to worry about -- the state of health care here in the United States. And one part of that worry will be the fight against cancer.

Right now, some of the presidential candidates are talking about how they declare a war against the disease and they're talking about that with the cancer survivor and cyclist, Lance Armstrong.

Our senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley, is here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

She's watching this story, as well.

A lot of these candidates attending this forum today -- Candy.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: About half the Democratic field appeared. They appeared separately before this forum, but they nonetheless found a way to tangle.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

LANCE ARMSTRONG, FORMER TOUR DE FRANCE WINNER: The first ever Live Strong presidential cancer forum in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

CROWLEY (voice-over): A forum on cancer would not seem like the place for a political disagreement, but this is Iowa, it's election season, John Edwards needs some traction and he thinks Hillary Clinton is vulnerable for taking campaign contributions from pharmaceutical companies.

JOHN EDWARDS, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think if you give drug companies, insurance companies and their lobbyists a seat at the table, they'll eat all the food.

CROWLEY: Clinton says she believes in working with everybody and being influenced by nobody.

Leading in national polls by a healthy margin, she has no interest in elevating any of her Democratic rivals with a fight. She favors bigger targets.

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D), NEW YORK: The president of the United States has been leading an assault on science and research. CROWLEY: Four of the eight Democratic presidential candidates appeared at the cancer forum, with words and promises tailor made for the crowd on hand. All promised better health care.

REP. DENNIS KUCINICH (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm the one candidate for president who is prepared to break the hold which these insurance companies have on our political process.

CROWLEY: And each vowed to spend more on the war against for cancer.

GOV. BILL RICHARDSON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: How do you pay for it?

That's an essential question.

Here's how I would pay for it. One, you know, nobody asked about how much we spend on the war in Iraq, $450 billion. That would go to domestic needs, health care education, cancer research, number one.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

CROWLEY: After the forum, world class biker and cancer survivor Lance Armstrong said that he was disappointed with the no-shows, including Barack Obama, who this afternoon put out a statement praising Armstrong for his efforts and promising more money for cancer research -- Wolf.

BLITZER: The whole notion, what's going on right now, the -- Clinton's appearance specifically. She made this point of saying there should be no smoking at all in any of these public places.

CROWLEY: She was asked specifically if she -- would it be a good day when smoking was banned in all public places?

And she said yes, it would. But she also went on to say that she thought the proper format for doing that would be exactly what it is right now, which is localities, cities, states taking the lead on that, because there are zoning issues and that sort of thing.

BLITZER: Candy, thanks very much for that.

Some Cubans cheering the rumors of his death. But Fidel Castro wants people to know he's still very much alive.

We're going to tell you what Castro is doing, even though he's not been seen publicly in more than a year.

And towering walls of fire cause worried residents to run for their lives. We're going to tell you about devastating fires in Greece that have killed dozens of people.

Stick around.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: So where is Fidel Castro?

What's more, how is he doing?

New questions and there are new rumors now flying about the ailing Cuban president.

It started in South Florida over the weekend. Then yesterday, a newspaper column attributed to the reclusive leader appeared.

Let's go to CNN's Morgan Neil.

He's in Havana with details -- Morgan.

MORGAN NEILL, HAVANA BUREAU CHIEF: Wolf, Cuban newspapers this weekend published a new essay by Fidel Castro, amid rumors in Miami that ailing 81-year-old leader had died.

Castro hasn't appeared in public for more than a year. It was in early June the last time we saw a new video of the ailing president. Now in the latest essay published in "Juventud Rebelde" or "Rebel Youth," Castro talks primarily about a Cuban politician from the 1950s. He makes no mention of his own health.

But the timing of the essay is important. It comes just two days after the latest round of rumors swept the exile community in Miami into a frenzy.

Now, just last week, Cuba's foreign minister said Castro was doing well and that he was being very disciplined in his recovery. Cuban officials have consistently said that his recovery is going well, but have avoided questions about when or even if he could reassume his powers as president -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Morgan Neil, our man in Havana.

Morgan, thanks very much.

President Bush says Alberto Gonzales' name was dragged through the mud. After months of speculation, the embattled U.S. attorney general announced today he's quitting.

We're going to take a closer look at who could take over his job.

And speaking of Cuba, remember the Elian Gonzales custody fight?

Get ready for another one. A Cuban girl caught in a legal battle between her dad in Cuba and the U.S. sports agent who wants to adopt her.

Stick around.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Happening now, new evidence, the scale is tipping in the housing market. Sales of existing homes slipped .2 of a percent while number of single family homes soared to its highest level in more than 15 years.

The Federal Aviation Administration is ordering the inspection of wing slats on all newer Boeing 737 jetliners. The directive comes in the wake of a fire that destroyed a China Airlines 737 in Japan last week. Everyone aboard evacuated the plane safely, moments before it exploded.

And evidence that Americans keep getting fatter. Researchers say obesity rates rose in 31 states last year. Not a single state showed a decline. Mississippi was the fattest state. Colorado, the leanest.

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

Today President Bush hailed what he sees as a positive political step in Iraq. It involves the announcement by Iraqi leaders they've agreed to push for provincial elections. The leaders have also agreed to ease the ban on public jobs for former members of Saddam Hussein's political party. President Bush says this about what he sees as some promising signs.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's in our interests that we help the Iraqi people succeed. Success in Iraq will be a major blow to the extremist and radicals who would like to attack America again. That's why the United States will continue to support Iraq's leaders.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: The president also reiterated his support for the Iraqi prime minister, the embattled Nouri al-Maliki. This amid wide spread criticism of Maliki, even some calling for him to step down.

President Bush says unyielding criticisms of his attorney general drove him out.

More now on one of our top stories, the decision by the Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to resign. Now that he'll leave, some are mentioning a few names as possible replacements.

Let's go to our justice correspondent, Kelli Arena. She's joining us now.

Kelli, whoever becomes the next attorney general is going to inherit a department that's got a lot of problems right now.

KELLI ARENA, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. Gonzales's former number two, Paul McNulty has resigned. His replacement, Craig Morford, just started and hasn't been confirmed yet. The number three person at justice is leaving. The head of the civil rights division just announced his departure last week. That's not to mention, Wolf, a bunch of mid-level people left. So staffing, morale, organization definitely an issue, Wolf.

BLITZER: Did it come as a surprise, the resignation of the attorney general to top officials at the justice department?

ARENA: You know, interestingly, yes, Wolf. According to the people that I spoke with, it was a very, very closely held secret. Some officials very sold just this morning. But obviously, Wolf, this was not totally unexpected. Congress was threatening even more investigations into whether Gonzales committed perjury, that on top of investigations already on going. This just was not going to stop, Wolf.

BLITZER: So talk a little bit, Kelli, about the challenges the next attorney general, whoever that might be, will face upon coming into the justice department.

ARENA: Well, first, fixing the relationship with Capitol Hill, very poisoned right now. As I said before, improving morale at the justice department. Dealing with the on going terror threat. We're supposed to be in a very high threat environment. Rising violent crime is an issue. So whoever it is, Wolf, is going to have to hit the ground running. That's for sure.

BLITZER: Our justice correspondent, Kelli Arena, thanks. Kelli, let's get more now on this story.

Joining us is Ed Gillespie. He's counselor to President Bush. He has a tough job over there and only on the job about for a few months.

Ed, thanks very much for coming in. Why did Alberto Gonzales resign this weekend?

ED GILLESPIE, COUNSELOR TO PRESIDENT BUSH: Well, Wolf, during the quiet of the summer recess when there was a cessation of all the hearings and all of the accusations, apparently he spent some time thinking about what was in the best interest of the department. He obviously could have and would have been right to stay and fight as he was doing and was doing very well in that regard.

I mean after all of those hearings, no one demonstrated wrongdoing on the part of the attorney general. In fact, the constitution remains as it was when he began. The attorney general has the prerogative and the president has the prerogative to hire and fire U.S. attorneys. But I think he concluded it had become a distraction and it was in the best interest of the department for him to resign.

It's worth noting and should be noted, Wolf, that after 2 1/2 years as attorney general he had a distinguished record, had put -- had a major impact on important piece of legislation. While he was White House counsel as well, he made a priority of protecting children from internet predators and cracking down on corporate scandal and public corruption that he emphasized the importance of civil rights laws and helped to confirm two Supreme Court justices. So two and a half years of very solid work on top of a long distinguished career of public service.

BLITZER: While you say that, did the president try to talk him out of it?

GILLESPIE: My understanding of the conversation is that the attorney general called the president on Friday, told him that this was his judgment. And the president accepted it, as he has since he tapped Alberto Gonzales and recruited him from one of the most prestige use law firms in Texas when President Bush was then Governor Bush, first newly elected, and asked him to serve as his general counsel. He has relied Alberto Gonzales's judgment and counsel ever since. And I think when the attorney general came to him and said I think it's in the best interest of the department that I leave at this time, for me to resign, the president accepted that judgment.

BLITZER: Listen to Chuck Schumer, a member of the judiciary committee. Listen to his reaction. Among other things, he said this --

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D), NEW YORK, JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: I hope that this is the dawn of a new era for the Bush Administration. With Rove and Gonzales leaving, and with Josh Bolten and Ed Gillespie seeming to have the upper hand, maybe there will a new attitude, one that entails cooperation, working together for the good of the country rather than just partisan fighting.

BLITZER: We're going to get a quick signal on that next step by the person the president nominates to replace Alberto Gonzales. A lot of people recommending you find someone above the fray, if you will. Give us a sense when the president will make this announcement.

GILLESPIE: The president -- there's kind of competing demands here, Wolf. The fact is this is a very important position in our federal government. At a time when we are engaged on a war on terror, we do need to keep America safe as Alberto Gonzales has during his tenure. And so it is important we get someone in that position and get that person nominated and confirmed in a timely manner.

At the same time, it's a very important position. And you want to weigh the nomination carefully and make sure that you're putting forward the best-qualified nominee for consideration for the position. So I'm hopeful.

You know there is a list. We are taking calls. We are making calls here. Both sides of the aisle, on and off the judiciary committee, in the leadership hearing from people about ideas of who would be a good potential nominee. We'll weigh those and pair down the list the president will consider and hopefully have a nominee soon for consideration that we get in place for the rest of the term.

BLITZER: When you say soon, are we talking days, weeks, months?

GILLESPIE: I don't think months. I don't think days. You know, somewhere in between days and months.

BLITZER: You got a nice plug there from Chuck Schumer, Ed Gillespie. You're probably a little surprised by that.

GILLESPIE: Well, the fact is, and, while I appreciate the senator's mentioning me, this is a decision that was made by the attorney general. It's his decision. There's only two people here involved. The one person decides whether or not to offer a resignation and the other person decides to accept it.

Alberto Gonzales came to the conclusion it was in the best interest of the department for him at this moment in time to step aside. The president reluctantly, as he said today, accepted that judgment. And it is sad that someone who has been so distinguished and has risen the way Alberto Gonzales is truly a moving and compelling American success story. Grew up in a family of ten in a two-bedroom home in Humboldt, Texas, built by his father, no hot water, no telephone, rose to be the attorney general of the United States, the first Hispanic ever to hold that job and politics being what it is, you know, had his name dragged through the mud. The president was glad to hear him make that point today because I think it's resonate with a lot of Americans.

BLITZER: Ed Gillespie, former chairman of the Republican Party, now counselor to the president at the White House. Ed, thanks for coming in.

GILLESPIE: Thank you for having me, Wolf.

BLITZER: A father says he wants to take his daughter home to Cuba. The problem, a U.S. couple seeking to adopt the girl says she's already at home. Right here in the United States. It's a custody battle that could have international repercussions.

And battling an inferno spreading across Greece. Ferocious fires have killed dozens of people and swallowed entire villages in a wall of flames.

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

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BLITZER: A showdown over a 4-year-old Cuban girl is creating fireworks in a Miami court as her Cuban father tries to regain custody of her. It's also triggering memories of a similar bitterly-fought case several years ago. Let's go to our national correspondent Susan Candiotti. She's in Miami.

SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: All right Susan. How does this case compare with the well-known case of Elian Gonzales?

Well, it's a long, long story, Wolf. But suffice it to say that a trial now underway in Miami, and it could take a few weeks, will decide whether a father can return home to Cuba with his daughter. The case does have some similarities to the case of Elian Gonzales, but without all the media hoopla. It's hard not to draw comparisons to Elian Gonzalez when one of the main players in the custody battle is the man seen here tossing a baseball to then 6-year-old Elian. Former Miami sports agent Joe Cubas and his wife are foster parents to a little Cuban girl who, at the request of a judge, the media has agreed not to identify. Unlike Elian, the girl's Cuban father didn't object when his daughter moved with her mother and 13-year-old brother to Miami in 2005. But soon after arriving the mother attempted suicide. And the state of Florida judged her unfit to be a parent. The mother lost custody of both children. Ever since, the girl's father, a farmer in Cuba, has been fighting to take his daughter home and won a visa just as Elian's father did, to wage his battle in person.

I am her father and adore my daughter very much, says Rafael Izquierdo. He adds, I'm a father who's proven his love for his daughter. Of course I believe the children belong with their parents. While foster parents to the girl, Cubas and his wife already have adopted the girl's half brother. They argue the children should not be split.

JOE CUBAS, FOSTER PARENT: I don't believe this is a matter of where their better life could be provided. More important issue is these two children have been together their entire lives.

CANDIOTTI: Cubas won fame for helping Cuban baseball players to defect including Yankee pitchers Orlando and Livan Hernandez. The little girl's father says politics and fame aren't the issue. Bloodlines are.

And anonymous American donors are paying for the father's trip here from Cuba. By the way, the mother says she thinks the children ought to go home to Cuba, too. And in fact she says she wants to return there because she's disenchanted with life here. And by the way Wolf, we asked a prominent Cuban-American congresswoman from here in Miami what she thinks about the case and she said, I'm not weighing in on this one.

Back to you, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Stay on top of it. Our viewers will also be anxious to know what eventually happens. Susan, thank you very much.

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

Welcome back Lou.

LOU DOBBS, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you Wolf.

Coming up at 6:00 p.m. Eastern, the number four man at the justice department will be serving as acting attorney general after Alberto Gonzales steps down next month. The number two and three post at the justice department, they're vacant. We'll report on how open positions throughout the Bush Administration are affecting the federal government's ability to operate. And one city's mayor wants top new rules for checking the immigration status of criminal suspects. We'll find out what he wants to do and how some are objecting venomously to that plan.

And Communist China, hundreds of billions of dollars to spend, expressing interest in another U.S. company and there could well be national security concerns. The U.S. government this time is actually concerned.

We'll have that report, a great deal more, all of that at the top of the hour. Please join us.

Wolf, back to you.

BLITZER: Lou, thank you. Lou Dobbs coming up in a few moments.

Destruction in Greece. The country's worst wildfires in decades have claimed the lives of dozens of people. Some trapped in their cars as they try to flee. The flames even threatening the birth place of the Olympic Games.

And a test for Madonna, while she'll have to prove she's a suitable parent for the little boy she wants to adopt.

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

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BLITZER: Carol Costello is monitoring some incoming stories to THE SITUATION ROOM right now.

Carol, what do you have?

Well Wolf, a close call for a popular ski lodge in Ketchum, Idaho. More than 1400 firefighters managed to keep the sprawling Castle Rock fire from destroying the Bald Mountain ski area. The blaze burned more than 54 square miles near Ketchum. Strong winds are making the firefighters' job even tougher.

A Hollywood mystery, movie star Owen Wilson is in an L.A. hospital and his publicist is not saying why the actor was taken to the hospital by ambulance yesterday. He's said to be in good condition. In a statement, Wilson asked the news media to leave him alone so he can heal in private during this difficult time.

Lunar eclipse fans are in for a rare treat. The earth's shadow will creep across the moon's surface early tomorrow and then blot it out. It all starts at 4:51 a.m. Eastern time. You'll see it in the North and South America, the Pacific Islands, Eastern Asia, Australia and New Zealand. The moon will have already set in Europe, Africa and in the Middle East.

Pop star Madonna is getting a key visitor from Malawi next month. The official was appointed by the Malawi court to determine whether Madonna and her husband are suitable parents to adopt a Malawian boy. His visit will last for about two weeks. Madonna received an 18-month custody order from Malawi last October allowing her to take the child home with her to Britain.

That's it for the headlines right now, Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks Carol very much.

Let's check back with Jack Cafferty. He's got the Cafferty File.

Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the question this hour, Fred Thompson says the United States is going to be a weaker, less prosperous, more divided nation. Pardon me. Is he right?

Patrick writes from North Carolina, "It's hard to call this a nation. We're not a tribe anymore. Half the population are foreign citizens. We have no sovereign borders nor do we have a government of the people. What we are now is a territory comprised of law-abiding patriots and bourgeois on one side and the aristocracy that has taken our government and left us with a shell of a nation."

Joan in Illinois writes, "I wonder why Thompson says going to be. It is already is thanks to the government we've had for the last 20 or 25 years. Maybe he needs to get out more. We're headed to being a third world country. The good jobs are shipped overseas, illegals come in and get the rest of the jobs and China is sending us poisoned food. And we just sit back and worry about who is going to be the next "American Idol."

Ron in Canton, Georgia, "All Thompson said is what American people have been saying for years. It's nice to hear a politician catch up with the public for a change but he's not the guy that produced the shining city on the hill. There are more important issues than abortion and gay rights."

Dennis in Colorado, "You can't slip anything by those right wing Bush republicans. We've been in a tailspin for 6 1/2 years and all Fred says, we're headed for trouble. Makes you feel warm and fuzzy inside knowing our politicians are up to date and right on top of things."

Dick writes, "Jack, Fred's wrong. He's trying to scare the voters, a typical republican tactic. Fred is full of rhetoric. He had a poor record as a member of the Senate. He was much better as a lobbyist and just so-so as an actor. Fred Thompson is nothing but a pretty face no, ideas. Well, maybe not a pretty face."

Tony in Wilton, Maine, "Only if we elect a tall Reagan clone whose greatest achievement to date is memorizing a few lines."

And Janice writes, "Where in the hell has he been for the last 7 1/2 years?"

If you didn't see your email here, you can go to CNN.com/CaffertyFile where we post more of them online along with video clips of the Cafferty File.

Wolf, has the box up. Don't you Wolf?

BLITZER: Of course. I watch it every single day, Jack. Thanks very much.

We'll take a quick break. When we come back, there's a developing story we're watching right now involving a republican U.S. senator. We're going to go to Capitol Hill.

Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

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BLITZER: This story is just coming into THE SITUATION ROOM. Senator Larry Craig has pled guilty to disorderly conduct after being arrested in an airport restroom. The Idaho republican was arrested in a Minnesota airport back in June.

Let's go to Carol Costello. She's watching this story for us. Based on the documents, the information we're getting, Carol, what prompted the arrest?

COSTELLO: Well, Wolf, the Capitol Hill publication Roll Call is reporting that Senator Larry Craig was arrested at a Minnesota airport back in June with connection in investigation into lewd conduct complaints in a men's public restroom. A search by CNN uncovered Hennepin County district court records, that's in Minnesota, that showed the Idaho republican pleaded guilty to misdemeanor disorderly conduct earlier this month. He also paid more than $500 in fines, a 10-day jail sentence was stayed and he was given a year probation.

Roll Call says it obtained the arrest report by a plain clothed officer seated in the bathroom stall next to Craig. The officer describes how Senator Craig allegedly made hand gestures similar to those used by people wishing to engage in lewd conduct. Roll Call quotes a spokesman for Craig as describing the incident as a he said- he said misunderstanding.

CNN has repeatedly asked for a response from Senator Craig's office but our calls have not been returned. Of course, we will continue to follow this story and bring you information as soon as we get it.

Wolf.

BLITZER: We'll have a lot more coming up 7:00 p.m. Eastern, here in THE SITUATION ROOM an hour from now.

Carol, thanks for that report.

In Greece, meanwhile, dozens of people are dead. More than two dozen villages are being evacuated. And giant swaths of forests and form land are scorched. Walls of flame and plumes of smoke so big they could be seen from space stretching from Greece's northern border with Albania to the southern island of Crete. It's country's worst wildfire disaster in memory. The Greek government has declared a state of emergency and suggests the fires that may have been deliberately set.

Let's bring in our internet reporter Abbi Tatton. She's got I- reports on this horrendous situation in Greece.

Abbi.

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, by the latest reports say more than 100 fires are currently burning around Greece. We've got a look at a lot of them from I-reports sent in. This is what it looks like from above from Matt Barrett flying out of Athens Airport this weekend. This is looking northeast towards Evia but also right across the mainland as well, on the western side. This is the view there. Matt says that he has friends on the ground right now, villages who are trying to fight the blazes themselves as they head towards houses. And a view from the ground here from Mona Tranoy who she headed out this weekend to the countryside. She said the cars were stopped because the wildfires were burning. The smaller ones, she said, there were no fire trucks around. It was villagers filling their cars and tractors with water tanks to try and tackle the blaze themselves and hot, dry winds have been pushing this to the outskirts of Athens. This video we just got in from earlier today which is sent in. These pictures you can actually see the Olympic stadium there in the foreground as it skirts Athens. People sending in their reports Wolf and saying in Athens it's hard to breath now because of the smoke.

BLITZER: What a story and a lot of tourists there feeling that pain as well in Greece. Thanks very much Abbi for that.

We're back here in one hour. Much more coming up on the Larry Craig story. This republican senator from Idaho apparently involved in some -- something wrong out in Minnesota. Much more coming up on that.

Let's go to Lou in New York.

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