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General Wounded in Iraq; President Ford's Startling Remarks

Aired October 29, 2007 - 19:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks very much, Lou.
Happening now, behind the body count in Iraq, a general is attacked even as the overall death toll goes down. On this bloody day on the battlefield, is the U.S. military really making progress?

Also tonight -- a late president's secrets spilled from the grave. Gerald Ford's startling remarks about dumping Dick Cheney and why he thought Bill Clinton needs therapy.

And sweat shop horrors revealed. New allegations that young children are treated badly and even being beaten to make one of America's most popular brand of clothes.

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

He's the highest ranking U.S. military officer hurt since the start of the war in Iraq. A U.S. Army brigadier general today was wounded in a roadside bombing north of Baghdad, less than two weeks after taking up his command. That came as a pair of bombings left three dozen Iraqis dead. Twenty-eight of them were police taking a training break in Baquba when a bicycle bomber blew himself up in their midst. Despite this latest violence, though, the overall number of American casualties is dropping sharply.

Let's bring in our senior Pentagon correspondent Jamie McIntyre. Jamie, what are you learning?

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SR. PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well Wolf, Brigadier General Jeffrey Dorko was the Army Corps of Engineers top officer in Iraq. He only assumed command October 10th and today his convoy ran smack into an IED. General Dorko's injuries are said not to be life threatening, but the incident underscores that Iraq, while getting safer is still not a secure place.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

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 who is recovering in Germany after his Stryker fighting vehicle took a direct hit from an armor-piercing EFP.

1ST LT. RYAN MILLER, U.S. ARMY: We were driving by and all of a sudden, boom! And that was it (INAUDIBLE) and I could tell right away and I was -- and you know the back of that truck which was basically the closest thing you know you can get to hell, you know, 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 one 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. What's it mean? Some analysts believe it has less to do with the success of the surge and more to do with the facto ethnic cleansing that has resulted from four years of sectarian killing.

KATHLEEN HICKS, CTR. FOR STRATEGIC & INTL STUDIES: What you are seeing is really areas that used to be ethnically divided where the U.S. would take casualties attempting to keep parties apart are now completely unified in their sectarian makeup. So the U.S. isn't any longer keeping parties apart. They are keeping themselves apart.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MCINTYRE: Now the surge was supposed to buy time for political reconciliation so the real test will come to see if the violence level continues to decline as the U.S. draws down its troops, Wolf, in the months to come.

BLITZER: I knew, Jamie, that private security contractors, like Blackwater protected American civilians, diplomats in Baghdad, but a one-star general protected by private security contractors as opposed to the U.S. military? What's that about?

MCINTYRE: Well the U.S. military does use a small number of security contractors, Blackwater is not among them, to protect some of its people. The Army Corps of Engineers is an engineering unit. We're not clear exactly what the mission the general was on when he was moving north Baghdad. But presumably it was a mission that was not a direct combat mission and, therefore, might have been one of those ones where they use a private firm.

And Wolf, by all accounts, this private security firm did exactly what it was supposed to do after the attack and evacuated both the general and another soldier safely to the green zone. The general was then medevaced to Germany, so they did their job the way they are supposed to do it.

BLITZER: All right, Jamie. Thanks very much.

U.S. officials are furious right now that an anti-terror ally supposedly, at least, may have let an al Qaeda bomber off the hook. That has U.S. officials and a lot of other people wondering just which side of this battle is Yemen on, the immediate result, a freeze on $20 million in U.S. aid to Yemen.

Let's go to our justice correspondent Kelli Arena -- Kelli. KELLI ARENA, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this is about one of the masterminds of the 2000 attack on the "USS Cole." He should be behind bars facing a death sentence. But U.S. officials don't know exactly where he is.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ARENA (voice-over): This is one of the men behind the deaths of 17 U.S. 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 Badawi in 2001.

VOICE OF 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, quote, "remains detained".

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.

DAVID MACK, FORMER U.S. DIPLOMAT: Yemen occupies a piece of real estate that is very critical in the war against terrorism. It shares borders with Saudi Arabia. It's right at a strategic location on key maritime straits going into the Red Sea.

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 are talking about a man who recruited his own brother to be a suicide bomber.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ARENA: Even if al-Badawi is back in prison, given Yemen's track record, it's not clear he'll stay there. He was also indicted here in the United States but with no extradition treaty, he's unlikely to ever face justice here -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Kelli Arena thanks very much.

Let's get to a shocking story now about young children forced to work brutal hours at a filthy sweat shop making clothing for a leading U.S. retailer. It's a story of abuses at the bottom of the labor market and anxiety at the top of the corporate ladder.

CNN's Brian Todd is joining us now with more on these disturbing developments -- Brian.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this story has 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 VIDEOTAPE)

TODD (voice-over): Kids as young as 10 toiling in a back alley sweat shop in India's teaming capital. Some say they work 16 hours a day for no money. They are stitching together blouses, the labels clearly visible, Gap, one of America's most popular brands.

MARKA HANSEN, PRESIDENT, GAP NORTH AMERICA: It's absolute horror. You know, it's just, 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 sweat shop 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": One of the boys in particular said that he had an oily rag stuffed in his mouth because he tried to escape. Also, you know, it's quite common for the children working in sweat shops generally to be you know to be beaten, to be treated badly. This was no exception.

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

HANSEN: That'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 Hansen 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 new. And consumers should be shocked if they are 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 VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: Despite the fact it's actually illegal 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 told us they do go after companies that force children to work but he could not comment on this specific case -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Is Gap doing anything, Brian, to help these young boys just seen in that report?

TODD: Human Rights Watch says the Gap is required by Indian law to rehabilitate children found in these sweat shops. A Gap official told us they are doing just that, giving them money, access to school and job training, guaranteeing them jobs, of course in better conditions, when they are eligible. Those boys at the moment are now in custody of the local government there.

BLITZER: Thanks Brian, Brian Todd reporting. And as Brian just noted, Indian law prohibits children like these, those younger than 14 years old from working in any factory or hazardous job. A year ago the Indian government made it illegal for children to work in restaurants, hotels and teashops, among other places. Employers who break those laws face fines or three months to a year in jail.

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

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, they are called dropout factories. That's a nickname for a high school where no more than 60 percent of the students who begin as freshmen make it to their senior year. They drop out. It's a name that applies to about one in 10 U.S. high schools. Analysis done by Johns Hopkins University found 1,700 regular or vocational high schools nationwide fit the category of dropout factory.

Highest concentration in the large cities or high poverty rural areas in the South and Midwest -- or Southwest, excuse me. Most of these schools have a lot of minority students. Florida and South Carolina have the highest percentages of these schools. Utah is the only state in the nation without a single dropout factory. So far, it appears Washington isn't doing enough about these dismal statistics.

For example, "no child left behind" focuses more on younger students. But Congress is now said to be considering several proposals that would put more emphasis on graduation rates. Things like creating strong progress goals or imposing sanctions on schools that miss graduation rates and getting states to build better data systems to keep track of students.

Here's the question. What does it say about the state of U.S. education when 1,700 high schools in this country are considered dropout factories? E-mail your thoughts to CaffertyFile@CNN.com or go to CNN.com/CaffertyFile. You know the real threat to this country is right in that little story there. The fact that we're not educating our kids to keep up and be competitive with other countries whose developing economies and societies are going to take the lead in the 21st Century.

BLITZER: The ramifications of all this enormous for the U.S. Jack thanks very much.

The feds faking news during a disaster...

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was one of the dumbest and most inappropriate things I have seen since I've been in government.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: FEMA tries to control its message with a fake news conference and ends up with a public relations disaster of its own. There are new developments today.

Plus, former President Gerald Ford, words from the grave. You're going to find out why he thought Bill Clinton was a sex addict and Vice President Dick Cheney should have been dumped from the Republican ticket.

And your money -- oil prices topping $93 a barrel. Will it send the economy into a tailspin? Find out what you can do to protect your own cash flow.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: A new record oil price and gas prices almost certain to follow suit with some analysts already predicting $3.50 a gallon in a matter of months. CNN personal finance editor Gerri Willis has details -- Gerri.

GERRI WILLIS, CNN PERSONAL FINANCE EDITOR: Hi, Wolf. Oil prices hit a new record $93 a barrel, but gas prices haven't gone up as much. People are wondering when it's going to hit their pocketbooks.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

WILLIS (voice-over): In the energy markets, oil prices are spiking. At the pump, little change. Gas prices are up a penny this month, down from May. But experts say that higher oil prices will likely lead to higher gas prices, increasing the risks of higher prices across the economy.

FADEL GHEIT, OIL ANALYST, OPPENHEIMER & CO: We are going to see rising prices, rising food prices, rising transportation, costs of airline, gasoline, all these things. But the biggest impact is going to be immediate and basically is going to be home heating bills.

WILLIS: A spike at the pump could happen in just three weeks.

ROBERT SINCLAIR, JR., AAA NEW YORK: Usually when demand is up, prices go up. So we think around Thanksgiving we'll see prices start to go up somewhat.

WILLIS: Mark Zandi of Economy.com says if oil prices remain at $90 a barrel by next spring, gas prices will rise to a record $3.50 a gallon. That will coincide with another blow the economy is taking, less consumer spending because of the housing crisis. Those two factors together will drag down the economy and possibly push it into recession.

GHEIT: Higher oil prices can be tolerated by the economy to a certain extent, but not forever. Eventually, the economy is going to get derailed by higher oil prices. The question is not if. It's when.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WILLIS: You can fight back against higher gas prices, even if you don't own the slickest new hybrid. Buying energy conserving motor oil, it is more effective than conventional oil and really does improve mileage by making your engine parts more slippery. And that means it takes less energy for your engine to operate. Watch out, though, for gadgets that claim to save you on gas, magnets, vortex generators, water injectors. Well they are all a lot of hooey and don't improve your gas mileage. One easy change that can save you money, slow down, don't speed up to traffic lights and don't drive above the speed limits on highways -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Gerri Willis, thank you.

Let's get an update now on those California wildfires. Seven of them are still burning in four counties right now, all at least, though, 50 percent contained while five of last week's fires are now 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 tonight.

There are also new developments and outrage tonight from that fake FEMA news conference about those fires. CNN has now obtained a memo about it by FEMA's Director David Paulison. Let's go to our homeland security correspondent Jeanne Meserve. She's watching this story for us. So what is the director, David Paulison, saying, Jeanne?

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, in this memo to FEMA staff obtained by CNN and written by FEMA Director David Paulison, Paulison says that the staged press conference quote, "represented a breach of ethical practice that tore at the credibility of FEMA." He says there was egregious decision making by his head of external affairs, a man who finds himself without a job tonight.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MESERVE (voice-over): It looked like a press conference.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is the FEMA press briefing.

MESERVE: Sounded like a press conference. Only problem, there wasn't any press. FEMA staffers asked the questions.

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

HARVEY JOHNSON, FEMA DEPUTY ADMINISTRATOR: I am 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.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is a blot. This is a stain on government, public affairs.

MESERVE: The White House distanced itself.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It is not a practice that we would employ here at the White House. 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 have 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 government 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 VIDEOTAPE)

MESERVE: Interestingly, Paulison is bringing in Marty Bahamonde to help revamp Philbin's staff. Bahamonde was the sole FEMA official in New Orleans when Katrina hit. In his dire reports about what was happening there were ignored by his higher-ups. Now he is being tapped to rehabilitate the agency's image after another serious fumble -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Jeanne. Thank you.

A harsh take on Bill Clinton from another former president, new word that the late Gerald Ford thought Clinton was a sex addict.

Plus, she's beating Hillary Clinton at her own game. We're going to meet the former first lady turned senator who already has been elected president of Argentina.

Stay with us. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: In other stories from around the world, while President Bush suggests Iran's nuclear program could trigger, in his words, World War III, the United States is hardly raising an eyebrow at Egypt's new plans to go nuclear. Let's go to our CNN Middle East correspondent Aneesh Raman -- Aneesh.

ANEESH RAMAN, CNN MIDDLE EAST CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, there is renewed talk tonight about a nuclear Middle East after Egypt's president announced plans to build several nuclear power plants. Now this is a big shift for Egypt which two decades ago publicly shelved its nuclear program after the Chernobyl disaster.

The Egyptian president said there is now an urgency for atomic energy in Egypt and said Egypt would work with its international partners. That presumably includes the United States because last year the U.S. backed an idea at the time for Egypt to pursue one nuclear power plant. Here's the question.

Can the U.S. back a plan of this size given the pressure it's putting over Iran's nuclear program? The U.S. says the two are completely different, that Iran is pursuing a nuclear weapon, which Iran denies. But it's a larger issue the Middle East is confronting as Iran forges ahead with its nuclear program. More and more Arab neighbors are talking the same thing, talking about going nuclear -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Aneesh Raman reporting for us from Cairo.

Former President Gerald Ford, his secret thoughts revealed.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He thought President Clinton had a serious addiction here and he needed help.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: You are also going to hear for the first time why the former president thought Dick Cheney should have been dumped from the GOP ticket.

Also, tourist alert, a deadly tropical storm ripping a path through the Caribbean.

And The Last Supper in 16 billion pixels, Da Vinci's secrets up close. Can you find the clues? Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

Happening now, Hillary Clinton's close call, the Democratic front-runner leads Barack Obama by only two points in a new Iowa poll. That's a virtual dead heat. On the Republican side, Mitt Romney holds a hefty 23-point lead in the kick-off caucus state.

It could bring more killer floods. Tropical storm Noel has dumped heavy rains on Haiti and could strike the Bahamas next. Officials in the Dominican Republic say it's killed at least 11 people.

And all children should be screened for autism twice by the age of two. That's what leading pediatricians are now urging. The goal: Help doctors and parents spot autism sooner. There's no cure for autism, but experts say catching it early can make a huge difference.

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 top political figures. It's all in a brand 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 WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, CNN has learned that allies of Vice President Cheney have been concerned about what this new book says about him. And they're also some tantalizing insights about the two front-runners in the 2008 presidential race, Rudy Giuliani and Hillary Clinton.

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.

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

HENRY: DeFrank says Ford suggested Rudy Giuliani should be 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: Barack Obama allies with a popular gospel star and finds himself in the middle of controversy. DONNIE MCCLURKIN, PASTOR & GOSPEL SINGER: I don't speak against the homosexual. I tell you that God deliver me from homosexuality.

BLITZER: The campaign event that's forcing Barack Obama now to explain himself to his gay supporters.

And Argentina's new president. The striking similarities to Hillary Clinton. She's a former first lady, a former senator, who many think is smarter than her husband.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: A new president of Argentina with some striking similarities to Hillary Clinton. Let's bring in Carol Costello. She's been following this story. It's a victory by Cristina Kirchner. I guess was it a surprise?

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Really it wasn't a surprise. I mean she won by a landslide and voters in Argentina get what, a package deal. Her husband is Argentina's president right now. Both campaigned on the economy stooping. Does it 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.

BLITZER: She's 54 years old? I think she looks fabulous. She looks a lot younger than Hillary Clinton who just turned 60 years old if we're making that comparison.

COSTELLO: There are a lot of rumors about botox, but again that's sort of a tradition there, so, it's sort of OK.

BLITZER: Cristina Kirchner, congratulations. Thanks very much.

On the campaign trail, presidential candidate Barack Obama found himself responding to a controversy sparked by a star gospel singer.

Let's bring in CNN's Mary Snow. She's in New York with more.

Mary.

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well Wolf, it was a concert that mixed politics in the pulpit. And its star attraction drew criticism from gay activists.

MCCLURKIN: I don't speak against the homosexuals. I tell you that god delivered me from homosexuality.

SNOW: Pastor Donnie McClurkin has said that homosexuality is a choice and he believes prayer is the reason why he is no longer gay. McClurkin became a lightning rod for controversy at a gospel event supporting democratic presidential hopeful senator Barack Obama in South Carolina. Gay activists demanded Obama withdraw McClurkin as a headliner, denouncing him as anti-gay but Obama left him on the ticket.

MCCLURKIN: Don't call me a bigot or anti-gay when I have been touched with the same feelings.

SNOW: McClurkin is well known. He's a Grammy winner and sang at the 2004 Republican National Convention. Obama says including him at the event was part of an effort to reach out to the African-American church community in South Carolina. But he acknowledged what he called McClurkin's anti-gay views.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D), ILLINOIS: I am disturbed about those views. I said publicly that I disagreed with them. One of the things I also said, though is we have to reach out to those who have a different attitude on these issues to try to teach.

SNOW: But some gay activists didn't buy that argument.

ALVIN MCEWEN, S.C. GAY & LESBIAN PRIDE MOVEMENT: We question the fact that if you are going to call yourself a new kind of candidate for change, you don't exploit people's cynicism. You don't exploit differences between people and that's what's happening.

SNOW: About 20 gays and lesbians held a vigil outside the concert which was small compared to the 2,000-plus church members who attended the event, many who said they agreed with McClurkin's views. While Obama is reaching out to church groups for African-American support in the early primary state of South Carolina, some political observers fault them for inviting such a controversial figure as McClurkin.

PROF. MERLE BLACK, EMORY UNIVERSITY: Put groups that are very important in the Democratic Party, gay activists on the one hand, African-American voters on the other hand, in direct conflict on that issue.

SNOW: And the issue of gay rights, say some observers, overshadowed the focus on Barack Obama. Obama is courting African- American voters who make up a large portion of the primary voters in South Carolina. Support he'll need to win that state.

BLITZER: Mary Snow, thanks very much.

It is a laughing matter, a presidential battle between Stephen Colbert and John Edwards. We'll tell you what's going on.

And the secrets of "The Last Supper," a never-before-seen look at "The Last Supper."

We'll be right back.

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BLITZER: Let's go back to Jack Cafferty in New York for the Cafferty file.

Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the question this hour is what does it say about the state of education in this country when 1,700 high schools are considered dropout factories where the kids never see their senior year?

Elena writes from Monticello, New York, "It says there are a lot of kids left behind and that tenure encourages teachers to slack off. They should be subject to mental and educational recertification. Hairdressers are."

Donnie in West Virginia, "First, you take the law away that they can drop out of school at the age of 16 and then take away their driving privileges until age 21 if they drop out. That would work, by the way."

Rick in Utah writes, "I moved to Utah after 50 years in California. Apparently all the schools here are so bad that there is a referendum on the ballot to fund vouchers for private schools. And Utah's Governor Huntsman is on TV commercials supporting it. How is that for fessing up to failure?"

Rick in Louisiana writes, "It's not the responsibility of the government to see to it that minorities graduate from high school. It's obvious the grandchildren of the "Selma march" don't care about the sacrifices of their grandparents. As Bill Cosby put it, the downfall of the blacks is not the fall of the whites. You have the opportunity and are failing at the family level to instill the want to learn."

Jack in Idaho writes, "If we'd send a few disruptive students out to dig some ditches, the remaining students would do much better and the graduation rate would spike upward."

K. writes, "How the hell does a teacher educate a student who doesn't want to learn? This is a society of entitlements. When they finally understand that living is not free, they often go on to another school. It's called prison."

Laura writes from Florida, "It says we can send the illegal workers home now because America will have plenty of kids without educations who can clean the hotel rooms and mow the lawns."

And Michael writes, "Ask Miss South Carolina."

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

Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks, Jack, very much.

With the help of new technology, one of the world's most talked about paintings is online like you've never seen it before. More than 1,600 photos of Leonardo Da Vinci's "Last Supper" are stitched together to form the largest digital image ever.

Let's go to our Internet reporter Abbi Tatton.

Abbi, what does this painting look like online?

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, it's like turning a microscope on to the "Last Supper." You can zoom in on the painting online and scroll through it for yourself. And given the amount of theories swirling around this painting, I am guessing that web users are going to be starting with this place right here, the figure accompanying Jesus to his right here. Scholars say the apostle John or if you believe Dan Brown's "The Da Vinci Code," it's Mary Magdalene. There are plenty more conspiracy theories about this painting.

Earlier this year, an amateur scholar created a publicity storm when he said that superimposing the last supper with its mirror image reveals the figure of a woman holding a child. And then there was "South Park" who said in one of their episodes, if you look beneath the paint you'll actually find the Easter bunny. Well, we looked there and didn't find anything of the sort. But it's all now online, all 16 billion pixels of it.

Wolf.

BLITZER: That's a lot of pixels. All right, Abbi. Thanks very much.

On our political ticker this Monday, the comedian Stephen Colbert says he brought his mock presidential bid to South Carolina to end what he calls vicious rumors that his campaign isn't serious. The Comedy Central host visited his native state yesterday.

Real life presidential candidate John Edwards doesn't seem to be taking Colbert too seriously. His campaign joked that Colbert's posted his candidacy will be sponsored by Doritos proves the comedian's hands are stained by corporate corruption. And nacho cheese.

And Democrat Barack Obama is shaking it up. Check it out. The democratic presidential candidate appeared on the "Ellen DeGeneres Show" today and fell right into step with a dance-loving host. Ellen told Obama he's the best dancer of the White House hopefuls she's seen so far. He's pretty good. Look at this. But Obama says his rivals have set a low bar and he's pretty sure he has better moves than Rudy Giuliani.

Remember for the latest political news at anytime, you can always check out our political ticker at CNN.com/ticker.

Off with the mike. France's president pulls the plug on questions about his divorce. Jeanne Moos with the greatest hits of interviews gone wrong. That's next right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Maybe it's the fact he's in the midst of a breakup with his wife. The president of France is proving when the going gets tough, an interview subject may decide to get going. CNN's Jeanne Moos says it's most unusual but it has happened before.

JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: When an interviewee wants to turn the tables, he or she can always walk out. French President Nicolas Sarkozy was already calling his press aide an imbecile for scheduling an interview with "60 MINUTES" on a busy day. So it took just one too many questions about his soon-to be announced diverse to get him to walk out.

PRES. NICOLAS SARKOZY, FRANCE (through translator): No comment, thank you.

MOOS: Only five minutes into an expected 45-minute interview, out came the ear piece. The next thing you know he's telling Leslie Stahl, chin up. He was gone. Sort of made it his nostalgic for even more flamboyant walk outs. Take the time comedian Andrew Dice Clay didn't like questions that suggested a slump in his career.

ANDREW "DICE" CLAY, COMEDIAN: Every time I do a an interview, a guy wants to open his ...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you, Andrew.

CLAY: So you know what? (EXPLICIT) The whole network.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We'll go back to talking about Art Carney.

MOOS: Or how about when quarterback Jim Everett got mad at an ESPN host who kept calling him Chris Everett after the female tennis star.

JIM EVERETT, QUARTERBACK: You probably won't say it again.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I bet I do.

Chris ...

MOOS: Interview over. Though it still is seen over and over again.

Remember, if you are ever tempted to storm out of a TV interview, the only thing TV producers like better than a good interview is a good walkout. Or even a good hang-up. For instance, when Yasser Arafat told CNN's Christiane Amanpour to zip it. She refused to shut up. Watch her eyes open up. And then he hung up.

YASSER ARAFAT: Thank you. Bye-bye.

MOOS: But even worse than a hang-up or a walkout is the pass out is the pass out. Now Israeli President Shimon Peres seemed dozy even while speaking. But when it was time for a question, it was naptime. When his eyes fluttered open, an aide offered coffee.

Nothing sleepy about Donald Trump.

DONALD TRUMP: Do this interview with somebody else. You don't need this. Do it with somebody else.

MOOS: The dreaded mike drop, a sure sign that the last view of this interview will be the interviewee's departing back.

Jeanne Moos, CNN. BLITZER: And mark your calendars. A week from today, just a year before Election Day, THE SITUATION ROOM will be on three hours back-to-back from 4:00 to 7:00 p.m. eastern. Lou will start at 7:00 p.m. eastern.

I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.

Up next, Rick Sanchez with "OUT IN THE OPEN."

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