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U.S. General Wounded in Iraq; Former First Lady Wins Presidential Election in Argentina

Aired October 29, 2007 - 17:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks, Jack, for that.
To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Happening now, a United States general wounded by an IED -- believed to be the highest ranking U.S. military officer wounded in the war so far, even as U.S. troops experience a dramatic drop in casualties.

Young children forced to work brutal hours in a back alley sweatshop sewing clothes for a top U.S. retailer.

Are corporate executives really feeling their pain?

And a first lady, now a senator, wins the presidential election in Argentina.

Is Hillary Clinton taking notes?

I'm Wolf Blitzer.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

He's said to be the highest ranking U.S. military officer hurt in the Iraq War. A U.S. Army brigadier general today was wounded in a bombing north of Baghdad. He had just taken command of the Army Corps of Engineers there less than two weeks ago.

Let's go live to our senior Pentagon correspondent, Jamie McIntyre -- Jamie, what are you learning?

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SENIOR PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, Brigadier General Jeffrey Dorko, who is the top Army Corps of Engineers general in Iraq, was in a convoy about 9:40 this morning north of Baghdad when an explosive device went off near the convoy. General Dorko and his -- and a fellow soldier were injured. He was evacuated. And, once again, Wolf, it underscores that even as the U.S. troop casualties' numbers are coming down, Iraq remains a very deadly place.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

MCINTYRE (voice-over): The numbers may be coming down, but many parts of Iraq remain a deadly combat zone. Just ask Army First Lieutenant Ryan Miller (ph), who's recovering in Germany after his Stryker fighting vehicle took a direct hit from an armor piercing EFP.

RYAN MILLER: We were driving by and then all of a sudden -- boom! And that was it -- an EFP. And I could tell right away. And I was in, you know, the back of that truck, which was basically the closest thing you can get to hell on this Earth.

MCINTYRE: These days, Miller has a lot of company at the Landstuhl Medical Center, where wounded American soldiers are first taken, including now the most senior U.S. officer injured in an IED attack. Brigadier General Jeffrey Dorko, whose Army Corps of Engineers convoy, protected by private contractors, was attacked Monday. General Dorko's shrapnel wounds, like Lieutenant Miller's, are not life- threatening, but another soldier in Miller's vehicle was Northeast of the almost three dozen U.S. deaths in Iraq this month -- a dramatic drop since the peak month of the surge, when more than 125 Americans were killed.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

MCINTYRE: And, Wolf, just so you know, we've checked and we are told that General Dorko's wound, while serious, are not life- threatening. In fact, he may have suffered a collapsed lung at one point. But we're told he's doing OK, now. And in case you were wondering, the private security firm that was protecting his convoy was not Blackwater -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Very interesting. And it's good to see that number -- the numbers of U.S. military casualties going down. But even today, what, about 35 Iraqi civilians -- mostly police officers -- were killed in some terrorist bombings in Baquba and elsewhere.

What about among Iraqi civilians?

Are there reliable numbers about the casualties that they're enduring, even as U.S. military casualties go down?

MCINTYRE: Well, the numbers are not as reliable, but there are numbers indicating that Iraqi civilian casualties are coming down, as well.

But the big debate is, what does it mean?

Does it mean that there's a long-term trend?

Or does it just mean that there's, essentially, ethnic cleansing going on, where the parties are separating themselves and, therefore, not engaged in as much violence?

BLITZER: All right, shocking numbers. In fact, the Iraqi police say they found 20 headless bodies near Baquba, northeast of Baghdad, today, a few hours after a suicide bomber killed 28 policemen not far away.

All right, still a very, very dangerous situation, as Jamie accurately points out. A U.S. Embassy shuts its doors -- the target of a terror plot. U.S. citizens advised to keep their heads down. It's happening in a strategic hot spot -- the former Soviet Republic of Azerbaijan.

Let's go straight to our State Department correspondent, Zain Verjee -- Zain, explain what's going on.

ZAIN VERJEE, CNN STATE DEPARTMENT CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, it was part of a wider plot, really, that targeted the U.S. Embassy, diplomatic missions, as well as government buildings.

Now, U.S. officials have told us that if that were successful, it would have been a large scale terror attack. Now, it's unclear what the specific threat to the embassy was, but officials that we've talked to said that the threat was actually related to an operation that was conducted over the weekend. And what basically happened was that an army officer basically went to a military facility and stole things like hand grenades, AK-47s and ammunition and stashed a little bit outside the city.

Security guards hunted him down. There was a big shootout and one person was killed, but two people picked up. And the thing is, is that they were going to use those very weapons to conduct a terrorist attack, Wolf.

Azerbaijan and U.S. officials have said that the officer who stole it was connected to a radical Islamic group -- Wolf.

BLITZER: How big is the U.S. Embassy in Azerbaijan?

VERJEE: Well, you know, it's actually one of the smaller embassies, Wolf. There are about 40 staff. But they've been reduced now in operation, both today and tomorrow, only to essential staff -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Zain Verjee that State Department for us.

Thanks, Zain.

U.S. officials are furious that an anti-terror ally may have let a terror mastermind off the hook. That has U.S. officials wondering just what side Yemen is now on. The immediate result -- a freeze on $20 million in U.S. aid to Yemen.

Let's go to our justice correspondent, Kelli Arena.

She's watching this story for us -- what's this all about -- Kelli?

KELLI ARENA, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this is about one of the masterminds of the attack on the USS Cole back in 2000. Now, he should be behind bars facing a death sentence, but U.S. officials don't know exactly where he is.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE) ARENA (voice-over): This is one of the men behind the deaths of 17 sailors -- Jamal al-Badawi, described as a high level al Qaeda operative who helped plan and carry out the deadly 2000 USS Cole bombing. Former FBI Agent Ali Soufan, who won't show his face for security reasons, helped to interrogate al-Badawi in 2001.

ALI SOUFAN, FORMER FBI AGENT: He gave a full confession about his relationship with the Cole attack. He confessed to the fact that he facilitated that attack. He purchased the boat that was used in the attack.

ARENA: It was a high point of cooperation between the U.S. and Yemen. But now the al-Badawi case is straining relations -- his death sentence slashed to 15-years. Al-Badawi escaped twice from a high security prison in Yemen. And about two weeks ago, he voluntarily turned himself in. There were reports that he was released from custody. Yemen will only say that he "remains detained."

U.S. officials believe that he may now be under house arrest -- not much of a punishment for a man who murdered 17 Americans.

SEAN MCCORMACK, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESMAN: I can't say that we have a firm understanding of exactly what the situation is with respect to this individual.

ARENA: Yemen's location on the southern tip of the Arabian peninsula makes it an important ally.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's at the key Bab el-Mandeb Maritime Straights, where the United States simply has to have a relationship with the ruling authorities so they can protect vital national interests.

ARENA: It's a tough problem. Put too much pressure on Yemen to punish al-Badawi and risk alienating a key ally. But to al-Badawi's interrogator, it's not even a close call. He believes given a chance, al-Badawi will kill again.

SOUFAN: I think this individual is extremely dangerous. You're talking about a man who recruited his own brother to be a suicide bomber.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

ARENA: Even if al-Badawi is placed back in prison, given Yemen's track record, it's not clear he'll stay there.

He was also indicted in the United States, but with no extradition treaty, he is unlikely to ever face justice here -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Kelli Arena, thanks very much.

Kelli Arena reporting very disturbing news.

Let's go to Jack Cafferty in New York -- all right, so October, 2000, seven years ago exactly, he participates in killing, what, 17 American sailors aboard the USS Cole -- a brutal, brutal act. And he does everything that Kelli is alleged -- saying in her report and they let him go. This is a friendly country, Yemen, that says, you know what, you can go visit your relatives, have a good time?

CAFFERTY: Well, I mean, look at the relationship we have with Saudi Arabia, Wolf, and the schools that operate in that country that teach hatred and suicide bombings to children. And Saudi Arabia has been a friend, an ally, a business partner. And we just look past a lot of this stuff for, I guess, strategic reasons. I don't know, that's why I'm here and not in the State Department, I guess.

Remember, the war in Iraq?

Let's go down memory lane here. Almost five years, $650 billion, 3,841 dead Americans, almost 30,000 more seriously wounded, but for some reason we're not hearing about the war in Iraq these days, are we?

All eyes are on Iran. With 15 months until the end of President Bush's term in office, the bellicosity of the president and Vice President Cheney continues to get louder.

Meanwhile, our military staggers under the load of 15-month combat deployments. The number two battle casualty coming out of Iraq theater -- mental illness. And we have a Veterans Administration here in the U.S. willfully ill equipped to deal with the thousands of our nation's returning war wounded. To say that our troops have performed heroically is an understatement, but we'd better begin listening to what some of them are starting to say. The "Washington Post" had a terrific piece over the weekend about a battalion of soldiers serving in a southwestern part of Baghdad. They had been deployed for 14 months in a district torn apart by increasing levels of sectarian violence, and some of them are downright tired, weary, bitter and skeptical.

When one of them was asked if the U.S. effort in Iraq was worth their sacrifice, he said this: "I don't think this place is worth another soldier's life."

That's a quote.

Twenty soldiers from that kid's battalion have been killed in Baghdad.

So here's the question -- what does it say about the conflict in Iraq when troops there are saying things like, "I don't think this place is worth another soldier's life."

Our soldiers are saying that stuff. E-mail caffertyfile@CNN.com or go to CNN.com/caffertyfile -- Wolf.

BLITZER: I read that piece in the "Washington Post". That was an amazing, amazing story.

CAFFERTY: Yes.

BLITZER: All right, Jack, thanks very much.

Up ahead, the latest fiasco from FEMA -- a fake news conference with questions planted by agency staffers. Now, what the agency is doing to clean house.

Also, sweatshop labor -- young children forced to work long hours under brutal conditions turning out clothing destined for a shopping mall near you.

Also, he wanted to see Dick Cheney dumped from the GOP ticket in 2004 and he thought Bill Clinton was a sex addict. The late President Gerald Ford speaking from the grave -- stunning revelations in a brand new book by a Washington insider.

Stick around.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: There's fresh fallout and outrage over a FEMA news conference where the questions turned out to be fake.

Let's go to homeland security correspondent Jean Meserve.

She's joining us now with more on this story -- all right, Jeanne, a lot of our viewers over the weekend heard about this, but there's new information coming out today. Update them on what's going on.

JEANNE MESERVE, HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Yes. It's the same group that brought you the flawed Katrina response. It's another FEMA fiasco.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

MESERVE (voice-over): It looked like a press conference, sounded like a press conference. Only problem -- there wasn't any press.

FEMA staffers asked the questions.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you -- are you happy with FEMA's response so far?

HARVEY JOHNSON, FEMA DEPUTY ADMINISTRATOR:

I'm very happy with FEMA's response so far.

MESERVE: The Society of Professional Journalists calls it a blatant abuse of public trust. They aren't alone.

STEPHEN HESS, BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: This is a blot. This is a stain on government, public affairs.

MESERVE: The White House distanced itself. DANA PERINO, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: It is not a practice that we would employ here at the White House and we certainly don't condone it.

MESERVE: The secretary of homeland security expressed disgust.

MICHAEL CHERTOFF, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: I think it was one of the dumbest and most inappropriate things I've seen since I've been in government.

MESERVE: And now, an apology from the head of FEMA. David Paulison called CNN to say the press conference was "ridiculous, not acceptable and it won't happen again."

Now, a subplot. One of the staffers asking questions left FEMA last Thursday.

Fallout from the press conference?

Nope. Pat Philbin had already been tapped for an even more important job -- heading up public affairs for the director of National Intelligence. Sunday the DNI's office confirmed Philbin's move, but Monday this statement: "We can confirm that Mr. Philbin is not, nor is he scheduled to be, the director of public affairs for the DNI."

It is not clear if Philbin offered his resignation or was fired before he began.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

MESERVE: Other FEMA employees have been reprimanded and may face disciplinary action. The agency is already paying the price. On the mend from Katrina, its name has again been dragged in the mud -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Jeanne, thank you.

An update now on those California wildfires. Seven of them still burning right now in four counties -- all at least 50 percent contained, while five of last week's fires are fully contained. More than half a million acres have burned, along with more than 2,700 structures. Seven deaths and 98 injuries are directly blamed on the blazes and more than 1,400 evacuees are still out of their homes.

Young children forced to work brutal hours in a filthy sweatshop -- making clothing for a leading U.S. retailer. Abuses at the bottom of the labor market -- anxiety at the top of the corporate ladder.

Let's go to CNN's Brian Todd -- Brian, tell us about this story.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, it's forced a major U.S. company to engage in heavy damage control and to frantically try to rescue a few dozen young boys half a world away.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE) TODD (voice-over): Kids as young as 10 toiling in a back alley sweatshop in India's teeming capital. Some say they work 16 hours a day for no money. They're stitching together blouses -- the label clearly visible -- Gap, one of America's most popular brands.

MARKA HANSEN, PRESIDENT, GAP NORTH AMERICA: It's an absolute horror. You know, it's -- it's sickening.

TODD: That reaction from the president of Gap North America to an investigative report by Dan McDougall of the British newspaper, "The Observer."

In this sweatshop in New Delhi, McDougall photographed hallways soiled with excrement from a flooded toilet and asked these boys how they were punished if they didn't work.

DAN MCDOUGALL, "THE OBSERVER": Well, one of the boys, in particular, said that he had an oily rag stuffed in his mouth and -- because he tried to escape and also that, you know, it's quite common for the children working in sweatshops generally to be, you know -- be beaten and to be treated badly, and this was no exception.

TODD: McDougall also reports these children slept on the floors and on the roof.

HANSEN: And it's deeply, deeply disturbing to all of us. So I feel violated and I feel very, very upset and angry with our vendor and the subcontractor who made this very, very, very unwise decision.

TODD: Marka Hanson says Gap's contract with that subcontractor is terminated, that the company is investigating all its facilities in that region and that these clothes will be destroyed.

Industry observers say Gap actually has a good track record working against child labor.

But should Westerners be shocked at these practices when they demand lower prices for high quality goods?

ZAMA COURSEN-NEFF, HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH: Allegations like this are nothing knew. And consumers should be shocked if they're purchasing garments that have the handprint of small children on them. But at the same time, it doesn't really cost that much more for consumers to purchase quality garments that are also made in compliance with fair labor standards.

TODD: But that tide won't be turned easily. The U.N. says child labor accounts for about 20 percent of India's gross national product.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

TODD: It's illegal, in fact, in India, for children under 14 to work. But an official with Human Rights Watch says the Indian government does not have the political will to enforce that law. An official at the Indian embassy here in Washington told us they go after companies that force children to work, but could not comment on this specific case -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Brian, is Gap doing anything to help those young boys in that report?

TODD: Human Rights Watch ways Gap is required by Indian law to rehabilitate children found in these sweatshops and a Gap official told us they are doing just that -- giving them money, access to school and job training, getting them jobs, of course, in better conditions when they're eligible. Those boys are actually now in the custody of the local government there.

BLITZER: All right, Brian, thank you.

Brian Todd reporting.

Up ahead, another Middle Eastern country planning to go nuclear, but in this case, the Bush administration isn't batting an eyelash. We're going to tell you what's going on.

Plus, the pope getting involved in medical care. His message to some health care providers and how it could impact you.

Stick around.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: There were tears today in Karbala in Iraq, as the U.S. Army handed over security of that province to the Iraqi military. The Shiite region is now the eighth province officially transferred to the Iraqis. The prime minister, Nouri Al-Maliki, saying the handover was late in coming and that the Iraqi military must assume responsibility for more of the country. Today, Karbala is considered to be more peaceful than any other section of the country with, of course, the northern part in Kurdistan, obviously, an exception. But in the past, Shiite civilians have been targeted by suicide bombers. During a pilgrimage back in August, clashes left at least 52 people dead.

Let's turn to Carol Costello.

She's monitoring some other stories incoming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now -- Carol.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hello, Wolf. Hello to all of you.

The pope is telling pharmacists be careful what prescriptions you fill. Pope Benedict XVI told a group of Catholic pharmacists they should be conscientious objectors when asked to dispense drugs for what he calls "immoral purposes," including abortion in euthanasia. He also called on the group to raise people's awareness about this issue.

Almost two decades after the Exxon Valdez oil spill, the Supreme Court will decide whether punitive damages in the case are excessive. Exxon was initially ordered to pay $5 billion, but a federal court cut that in half. The company says it's already paid more than $3 billion in cleanup costs, compensation and fines, and that punitive damages are no longer warranted.

Lead-tainted toys, talking toothpaste, cardboard food -- now China is taking action to calm international alarm over the quality and safety of its products. The government says it's arrested almost 800 people in a nationwide crackdown on substandard goods -- part of a high profile quality control campaign that started over the summer as news of problems with Chinese goods started making headlines.

And that's the headlines right now -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Carol, thank you.

Still ahead, lashing out from beyond the grave -- the late president Gerald Ford. Find out what he said off the record about Dick Cheney, Rudy Giuliani and Bill Clinton.

Plus, some people are calling her the Hillary Clinton of Latin America.

Can Hillary Clinton do what she has just done?

Stay with us.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

Happening now, a record oil price -- topping $93 a barrel -- and gas prices following suit, about 10 cents in the last two weeks, up, likely, to $3 a gallon before the spike is over.

Also, all eyes in the Caribbean right now are on Tropical Storm Noel, already blamed for at least 20 deaths in the Dominican Republic, the result of up to 20 inches of rain.

And a candlelight vigil is scheduled tonight at the University of South Carolina. Six of its students among seven people killed in a beach house fire. The seventh victim was from Clemson University.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Stunning revelations from beyond the grave, as the mild-mannered late President Gerald Ford pulls no punches about some top political figures. It's all in a new book entitled, "Write It When I'm Gone." And one of those mentioned is Vice President Dick Cheney.

Let's go to our White House correspondent Ed Henry -- Ed.

ED HENRY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, CNN has learned that allies of Vice President Cheney have been concerned about what this new book says about him. And there also are some tantalizing insights about the two frontrunners in the 2008 presidential race -- Rudy Giuliani and Hillary Clinton.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

HENRY (voice-over): In the 15-years before his death, former President Gerald Ford had off-the-record talks with reporter Tom DeFrank, on the condition they be kept under wraps until he was gone. Now, the secrets are spilling out, including the revelation that in 2004, Ford thought Vice President Dick Cheney, his former chief of staff, should be dumped as President Bush's running mate.

THOMAS DEFRANK, AUTHOR, "WRITE IT WHEN I'M GONE": He did say I'm apprehensive as to Cheney's value to the ticket in 2004.

HENRY: DeFrank says Ford suggested Rudy Giuliani should have been the new vice presidential nominee in 2004 and that the former New York mayor would be the Republican's best bet to beat Hillary Clinton in 2008.

DEFRANK: He also said once she's tougher and stronger than her husband and she's got stronger convictions. He was very admiring of her political skills.

HENRY: The former president was more conflicted about Bill Clinton, who awarded him the Medal of Freedom.

DEFRANK: He thought Bill Clinton was the best pure politician he'd ever been around, but he also had serious reservations about Bill Clinton's personal side.

HENRY: Influenced by his wife's own battle with addictions and her work at the Betty Ford Clinic, Gerry Ford privately felt Bill Clinton needed therapy for sex addiction.

DEFRANK: He thought President Clinton had a serious addiction here and he needed help and Gerry Ford didn't have a vengeful bone in his body and I think his comments about the addiction business were heart felt on his part.

HENRY: Now, Tom DeFrank knows he'll face criticism for keeping these conversations secret. He says it weighed on his conscious that he may have been used by Gerald Ford to spin his own view of history but DeFrank says Ford never would have cooperated if his comments were made in real-time. So the author believes history is richer for having these insights now out in the public domain.

Wolf.

BLITZER: Ed Henry, thanks very much.

We asked the vice president's office for any reaction to this bombshell, this information that the former president wanted Cheney dumped from the 2004 ticket. No comment coming from the vice president's office. Joining us now is the author of this new book, Tom DeFrank, "Write It When I'm Gone." Tom DeFrank, an old friend of all of us, thanks very much for coming in.

DEFRANK: Always a pleasure, Wolf.

BLITZER: Were you conflicted as a journalist about the ground rules that you had to keep all this stuff secret until he died?

DEFRANK: Well, I was conflicted up to a point because, as we both know, Wolf, every reporter wants to use his best stuff right there and then. But on the other hand, this was not his suggestion. This was my suggestion. I went it him in the summer of 1991 and made this proposal. So he wasn't to the extent that I was being used. I'm the guy who set it up that way. But I thought he would be more candid and he was more candid. If you take a look at his memoir and take a look at this book, I think you see the candor level is dramatically different.

BLITZER: Very candid on Bill Clinton, suggesting that he was a sexual addict. Now, Betty Ford has a clinic that deals with all sorts of addictive problems, but how did that come up? Give us a little background.

DEFRANK: We were talking in 1999 and actually we were out in Colorado, my wife and young son were actually with the Fords. It was Super Bowl Sunday of 1999 and he said to me at some point in a social conversation, have I ever told you about my conversation with Bill Clinton? And then he told me about this extraordinary story about them trying to negotiate a way where Ford could helped Bill Clinton avoid being impeached or being convicted by the Senate and then he just volunteered this business about he felt like he knew something about addiction. Betty Ford had her own problems with alcohol abuse and prescription drug addiction and he said he thought President Clinton could use some help here. It came out, not in a vengeful way, as Henry made this point very well, but just kind of on a human standpoint. He had lived with an addict. He lived with a woman that had addiction problems and I think Ford was into the culture of addiction. That was the context.

BLITZER: He understood that whole issue. And he was also a pretty good pundit in assessing Hillary Clinton's potential for becoming president of the United States.

DEFRANK: That's right. I mean he was very admiring of Bill Clinton's political skills. He thought he was the best politician he had ever been around. As a matter of fact, he said to me one day, this guy is so good, he can sell 3 day old ice, that's how good he is. But he also thought Hillary Clinton was going places. He said to me in 2002, he thought she would run for president in '04 or '08 and he expected that she would win the nomination. He was very complimentary of her political agility and her political skills.

BLITZER: Given the relationship that Gerald Ford had with Dick Cheney, Dick Cheney was a very young White House Chief of Staff when Gerald Ford was president of the United States. How surprised were you when he suggested that President Bush would dump him as his running mate in 2004?

DEFRANK: I was really surprised because Gerry Ford loved Dick Cheney. He loved Dick Cheney until the day he died. He was always very proud. He considered Cheney his star protege.

But it was really interesting and the way this came up was President Ford said to me that a lot of his old friends were calling and asking whether he felt there need to be a change on the ticket and he said they were basically saying it me, will you help us dump Vice President Cheney from the ticket and he said, absolutely not. I would not be a party to that. And he was not interested in that. But I asked him, well, do you feel that he's a liability to the ticket and Ford said, well, let me say, I don't think he's been the asset that he needed to be. I prefer to be affirmative about it.

BLITZER: And it was interesting that he also thought that the former mayor of New York Rudy Giuliani would be an asset for that re- election for that ticket and he assessed the very strong possibility that it could be Giuliani versus Hillary Clinton in 2008.

DEFRANK: He did in this 2004 conversation and in the last interview we ever had in May of 2006; he said a race between Hillary and Rudy would be an unbelievable race. That would really be two superstars.

BLITZER: The book is entitled "Write It When I'm Gone," remarkable off the record conversations with Gerald R. Ford. The author is Tom DeFrank. Good work, Tom. Thanks for coming in.

DEFRANK: Thanks very much, Wolf.

BLITZER: A democratic presidential candidate cuts loose. We're going to show you why Barack Obama may have good reason to celebrate.

And Egypt about to go nuclear. Why Washington doesn't seem to care.

Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: All right. That's pretty good. Ellen DeGeneres dancing with Barack Obama on the "Ellen Show" today. Wait until I go on that show and I dance with Ellen, then you'll really see something pitiful, maybe.

Let's discuss what's going on. Our senior political analyst Gloria Borger. He is a good dancer.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Waiting for you, Wolf.

BLITZER: I know but he's good. I'm going to have to go out to training to surpass that to see how he's doing.

BORGER: We'll have a contest. BLITZER: All right. Let's take a look at the latest numbers we're getting from the University of Iowa Hawkeye Poll. We'll put them up on the screen right behind you. If you look at those numbers, and we're going to get those up there. They are Hillary Clinton 29 percent, Obama 27 percent, 20 percent for Edwards. Everybody down single digits. How important is Iowa for Obama?

BORGER: I don't think you can overstate the importance, Wolf, of Iowa for Obama. He's got it win, he's got to beat somebody. He doesn't have to come in first, but it would be really nice if he was very close to Hillary, as he is in this poll or if he beat Edwards because he has to show some strength somewhere to his supporters. They have to have a sense he could win. I was talking to people in the Obama campaign today and they say in their internal polls when they put up Barack Obama to Hillary Clinton to those voters who know both of them, he does very well. They want to keep him out there in the state because they think the more people see him, the more they're going to like him.

BLITZER: What about Edwards? How important is Iowa for John Edwards' campaign?

BORGER: Again, another place where you can't overstate the importance of Iowa. I think if John Edwards doesn't come in first or second in Iowa, you can honestly say that his campaign is almost over. He's campaigned in each of 99 counties in the state of Iowa, Wolf. He knows it, too.

BLITZER: Let's talk about the Republicans now. If you look at the Republican poll and the same poll, Mitt Romney doing incredible well, 36 percent for Mitt Romney and everybody else down. Giuliani and Huckabee at 13 percent; Fred Thompson 11 percent. Why is he doing so well, Mitt Romney in Iowa, doing very well in New Hampshire, as well?

BORGER: Well, first of all, spent a lot of time there. He spent a lot of money on television ads there but people in his campaign said there was a decision made early on, Wolf, and that was the decision to participate in that straw poll in Ames, Iowa in mid-August. There were some folks in the campaign who said, don't do it, you're going to waste your money, you're going to waste your time. And now the folks who said do it because people in Iowa will notice you and get to know who you are and they now have been proven correct. They're happy they did it.

BLITZER: All right, Gloria. Thanks very much, Gloria Borger here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

And all eight major Republican presidential candidates have now signed on for our next CNN You Tube debate. That will be right here on CNN November 28th. Earlier, though, on November 15th, I'll be in Las Vegas, Nevada, a key western state, to moderate a debate among the Democratic presidential candidates. That's coming up December 15th.

A first lady and a sitting senator wins the presidential race in Argentina. The similarities between that country's president-elect and Hillary Clinton are striking. CNN's Carol Costello is joining us with more on this story.

Was this victory by Cristina Kirchner a surprise, Carol?

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: No, Wolf it really wasn't. She won by a landslide and voters in Argentina get a package deal. Her husband is Argentina's president. Both campaigned on the economy stooping. Sound familiar? It is positively eerie.

Some call her the Hillary of Argentina, except she's already won. Cristina Kirchner has become Argentina's first female elected president, a former lawyer, senator and, yes, a former first lady. Her credentials are startlingly Clintonesque. Her rhetoric decidedly every woman.

CRISTINA KIRCHNER, ARGENTINEAN PRESIDENT-ELECT (through translator): We all know that life is difficult, but as a woman life is more difficult as a professional at work, in politics. It is always more difficult.

COSTELLO: Kirchner met her husband in law school and he as a sitting president helped her campaign and the similarities to Hillary Clinton don't stop there. Andres Oppenheimer who's written frequently on Latin America issues.

ANDRES OPPENHEIMER, MIAMI HERALD COLUMNIST: Both are very strong and both are very ambitious and both are at least believed by some people to be as smart as their husbands.

COSTELLO: But part of Mrs. Kirchner's appeal is her undoubted glamour.

SALLY QUINN, AUTHOR AND JOURNALIST: The interesting thing about Cristina is that she's a babe and that she wears makeup and shops and dresses and is very feminine and has really always emphasized her femininity and it will be interesting to watch Hillary Clinton now and see if she goes more in that direction.

COSTELLO: Of course, Kirchner leads a country that loved a former first lady Eva Peron who was so sexy, beautiful, powerful she was played by Madonna in "Evita." But Quinn says Clinton has already moved in a more feminine direction, switching from dark pant suits to brightly-colored suits, slowly getting voters to accept a feminine- looking leader, even so.

QUINN: My feeling is that most Americans would prefer a politician, a woman politician who's older and less sexual that there's something threatening to American men about women who are sexual in power.

COSTELLO: But politically one of the most important factors in both women's success are the men they married. Kirchner won in part because her popular husband, the Argentinean president, gave her campaign financial and political backing and few doubt that Bill Clinton is an asset in his wife's run for the White House.

Some other tricks out of Kirchner's playbook, she rarely gave TV interviews, does not trust the media. She didn't even participate in political debates, yet she won. And by the way, many in Argentina think she's a whole lot smarter than her husband.

Wolf.

BLITZER: Well, congratulations to Cristina Kirchner. Thanks very much, Carol, for that.

Argentina is a key U.S. ally in South America. The State Department notes that the two countries share strategic interests including counterterrorism, counter-narcotics and non-proliferation. Back in 1998 Washington officially designated Argentina as a major non-NATO ally and defense officials from both of these countries meet annually.

Lou Dobbs getting ready for his program that begins right at top of the hour. He's standing by to give us a little preview.

Hi Lou.

LOU DOBBS, CNN ANCHOR: How are you doing?

That's an interesting report on Cristina Kirchner, remarkably bright, attractive woman. You would think she would have any trouble getting elected in the United States?

BLITZER: She looked like she's pretty formidable. You never know.

DOBBS: Absolutely. And whoever decided that American men are somehow intimidated by strong, attractive, intelligent women is meeting some men I don't know.

But anyway, Wolf, thank you.

Coming up tonight, we're reporting on a startling reversal by New York's Governor Eliot Spitzer on the issue of drivers' licenses. He wanted to give those away to illegal aliens; he's going to still do it, but he's going to kind of do another deal with the Homeland Security Department. We'll be taking a look at what he's up to this time. The new plan has a lot of people confused, some of them angry. We'll be talking to a few. Socioethnocentric special interest groups stepping up their legal assault against states now trying to combat illegal immigration. We'll be talking about that. We'll have a special report.

And members of Congress, well, they're ignoring their ethics reform promises, lawmakers circumventing rules designed to stop special interest groups from paying their travel expenses. Yes, I know it is a different Congress, but the same policies, apparently.

And new questions about U.S. policy to stop Iran from developing nuclear weapons. And one of the world's leading authorities on Islam and the Middle East, Fouad Ajami. Professor Ajami joins us. We hope you will, too, at the top of the hour for all that news and a lot more. Wolf, back to you.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Lou. See you in a few moments.

Up ahead, Jack Cafferty, he's asking what it means when troops in Iraq are saying things like, I don't think this place is worth another soldier's life.

And behind the photo ops and the public statements, the State Department lets you talk back.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: With tensions already sky high over Iran's nuclear program, Egypt today announced its own plans to go nuclear. President Hosni Mubarak says the goal is nuclear power for peaceful purposes meant to save Egypt's oil and gas reserves for future generations. The Bush administration immediately welcomed the Egyptian plan, a far cry from its stance on Iran which it accuses of secretly working to develop nuclear weapons.

Let's go to Jack Cafferty for the Cafferty file.

Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I wonder how come it's OK with them if Egypt does it, but they don't think it's OK for Iran.

BLITZER: They trust the Egyptians. They don't trust the Iranians.

CAFFERTY: OK. The question this hour is what does it say about the conflict in Iraq when troops there are saying things like, "I don't think this place is worth another soldier's life?" That's a quote from one of our soldiers in a piece that was in the "Washington Post" over the weekend.

We got this from Mikal, who's the mother of a soldier, she writes from Pasadena, Texas, "The only ones it's worth it to are the CEOs of Halliburton, Exxon and other corporations getting filthy rich off this war and a president and vice president who refuse to admit they were wrong and desire to pass this problem on to the next president. Meanwhile our loved ones die while we have to listen to propaganda like I'd rather fight them over here than over here. Notice the people saying that are not over there."

Dan in Brooklyn writes, "The comments from the soldiers in Iraq sound almost the same as what I heard the entire time I served in Vietnam."

Thomas in Florida writes, "It says some people are soldiers, some are politicians, some are generals. I doubt in the history of conflict if there's ever been a war fought where all involved were unanimous on its fundamental value or wisdom." Douglas in Rhode Island writes, "It tells me the head nitwit in Congress, Nancy Pelosi, ought to forget her statement about impeachment being off the table. Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney should be charged with high crimes and misdemeanors and removed from office and our troops should come home."

Jake writes from Idaho, "The Iraq war is not worth another soldier's life. It is however worth billions to the private contractors. Who is watching out and thinking about the welfare of the contractors?"

And Jay writes, "Speaking as a veteran, I'm for pulling our troops out of Iraq. They're serving a country that cares more about the rights of illegal immigrants than the welfare of our troops. We have poor families and veterans in this country that could use some of the tax money that's being poured into that huge sand box."

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

Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks, Jack, thanks very much.

Up ahead your chance to talk back to the U.S. government.

Plus, one of the world's most famous paintings like you've never seen it before. We're going to show you what new technology is doing for the Last Supper.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Theories about the hidden messages that may be behind this. I am guessing this is a pretty popular place to look here. The figure next to Jesus, the apostle John, according to scholars, all if you believe Dan Brown's blockbuster, "The Da Vinci Code," it's Mary Magdalene. There are plenty more conspiracies out there.

Earlier this year, an amateur scholar created a publicity storm when he said superimposing the Last Supper image on top of a mirror image of another one revealed a woman holding a child and then there is the "South Park" episode where they said, no, if you look beneath the paint what it really reveals is the Easter bunny. No sign of him in the original, which is now online, but it is there for you to look at, all 16 billion pixels of it, Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks very much for that, Abbi.

So what are U.S. diplomats up to abroad? Americans are getting the chance to go behind the photo ops and the official statements. Once again, let's go to our state department correspondent Zain Verjee. This digital diplomacy, tell us about it.

ZAIN VERJEE, CNN STATE DEPARTMENT CORRESPONDENT: Well Wolf, have you ever really wondered what happened beyond Secretary Rice's smiles and waves? Well, the State Department is telling Americans online. For most Americans U.S. diplomacy is shrouded in mystery, but, now, the State Department's cracking open the window at foggy bottom by going digital, giving people an inside look at what they do. Just click.

Spokesman Sean McCormack faces tough questions each day and is now getting them in the Blogosphere.

SEAN MCCORMACK, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESMAN: All about letting people into our world and hopefully they'll let us into their world a little bit.

VERJEE: Diplomats are sharing their world through the web with a new blog called Dipnote. Here, one staffer in Saudi Arabia describes what it is like to be a woman there. "I attended a meeting with some men who declined to shake my hand." Another desk officer in Lebanon describes what it was like when a popular politician was assassinated. "We started to get reports of a massive explosion in Beirut. In just a few minutes, we identified the target of the attack." Not into blogging? Download pod casts. Or go to You Tube.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So for kids who want to be Cal Ripken ...

VERJEE: During the summer passport backlog, state posted a video to help people figure out how to navigate the mess.

JAMES LEWIS, CTR. FOR STRATEGIC & INTL. STUDIES: This isn't going to be the dignified diplomatic exchanges that state is used to.

VERJEE: James Lewis used to work on technology issues at the State Department and says blogging brings new hurdles because it's a two-way street and the public's free to comment.

LEWIS: The state has to figure out a way to filter that enough that damaging things are kept out, but not so much that it looks like they're censoring every kind of comment and that will be hard for them because people are going to write mean things about the United States.

VERJEE: Like John in Hawaii who writes, "How sad. A complete avoidance of what's racking our nation, Iraq." Or Dave in California who mocks U.S. policy in the U.S. says, "Too bad state continues to shank diplomatic crises worldwide. Say, fellows, how is that road map working out?"

The State Department has rules. No swearing or personal attacks, but even the department admits.

MCCORMACK: This can't be about reciting talking points because people will tune out.

VERJEE: Wolf, it's been out about a month and there have been over 200,000 hits on Dipnote.

Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Zain, thanks very much, Zain at the State Department for us.

Mark your calendars, starting November 5th, a week from today, that's one year from Election Day, THE SITUATION ROOM will be on for three hours back-to-back from 4:00 to 7:00 p.m. eastern. Lou Dobbs will air at 7:00 p.m. eastern. All that changes a week from today.

See you in one hour from now. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.

Let's go to Lou in New York.

Lou.

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