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THE SITUATION ROOM
Hayden Testifies on Capitol Hill; A Closer Look at Condoleezza Rice
Aired December 11, 2007 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
BLITZER: An inside look at one of the world's most influential and mysterious women -- the secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice. Her complex relationship with the president revealed in a brand new biography.
I'm Wolf Blitzer.
You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
The head of the CIA on Capitol Hill this afternoon, facing what are no doubt pointed questions about those destroyed videotapes of harsh terror interrogations. That closed door hearing comes as a former CIA officer speaks out about waterboarding. He says it probably saved lives.
Our White House correspondent, Ed Henry, is joining us now from the White House -- Ed, what can you tell us about these closed door hearings with General Hayden up on Capitol Hill?
ED HENRY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, it only lasted about 90 minutes, because General Hayden was not the CIA director when these tapes were made or destroyed. But he emerged from this meeting saying he will send up a lot more CIA officials to answer these tough questions -- questions that are mounting because of what this other former CIA official is now saying.
HENRY (voice-over): Behind closed doors, the CIA's director, General Michael Hayden, was grilled on Capitol Hill for the first time about those destroyed videotapes.
GEN. MICHAEL HAYDEN, CIA DIRECTOR: I'm very delegated to come on down and lay out the facts as we know them. And we'll be very happy to let the facts take us where we will.
HENRY: But a new fact emerged that may explain why the CIA did not want the public to see those tapes -- a former CIA officer revealing the agency did use waterboarding -- which simulates drowning -- on Abu Zubaydah, an Al Qaeda suspect shown wounded after his capture in this photo obtained by ABC News.
JOHN KIRIAKOU, RETIRED CIA AGENT: With Abu Zubaydah, they worked very well. And we were able to cooperate the information that he provided after the waterboarding and it turned out to be accurate. HENRY: John Kiriakou believes the tactic provided intelligence that prevented terror attacks in America. But he now feels the tactic did amount to torture.
KIRIAKOU: I struggled with it morally. And it's easy to say -- and it may even be a little hypocritical, but it was an important -- waterboarding was an important technique, but I personally didn't want to do it. I didn't think that it was right in the long run.
HENRY: Different from how President Bush presented it last year, when he publicly confirmed Al Qaeda captives were in CIA custody and subjected to alternative interrogation techniques.
GEORGE BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I want to be absolutely clear with our people and the world, the United States does not torture.
HENRY: At the White House Tuesday, spokeswoman Dana Perino struck to that line.
DANA PERINO, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: All interrogations have been done within the legal framework that was set out after September 11th. And they are measures that have been tough and limited. They are safe and they've been very effective in helping preventing terrorist attacks on this country.
HENRY: Even when confronted with the contradiction from the former CIA officer.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're saying waterboarding is legal?
PERINO: And I'm saying I'm not commenting on any specific technique. I'm not commenting on that gentleman's characteristics of any possible technique.
(END VIDEO TAPE)
HENRY: Just breaking on the Internet now, the president has repeated to ABC News in an interview that he only found out about the tapes last week and said he's basically not going to comment much beyond that because of all of these investigations that are going on -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Ed Henry.
Thanks very much for that.
And, meanwhile, a massive terrorist bombing and a branch of Al Qaeda claiming responsibility. It happened today in Algeria. Here are the latest developments that we know. Two car bombs exploded 10 minutes apart in the Algerian capital. One of the targets was the United Nations headquarters there. The exact death toll unclear. At least 22 people were killed, including five U.N. staffers.
Let's go to CNN's international security correspondent, Paula Newton. She's watching all of this unfold in London.
Which is the group that's claiming responsibility -- Paula?
PAULA NEWTON, INTERNATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: It is Al Qaeda North African wing. It's al Qaeda and the Islamic Maghreb. And right now on the ground in Algeria, Wolf, the grim search continues, as Al Qaeda's African wing strikes again.
NEWTON (voice-over): The targets high profile, the bombs high impact. Both hit within minutes of each other this morning -- one targeting Algeria's supreme court and its constitutional council that oversees elections; the other, United Nations buildings in Algiers. Tragically, a bus filled with people took the full force of one of the bombs. Within seconds, there was panic in the streets. Electric and phone lines were down and the injured filled up hospitals still stunned by the magnitude of the blast.
This man was headed to his office. "As soon as I sat down," he says, "the walls started to cave in."
This is the kind of attack the Algerian government fears most -- mass casualties in the heart of the capital. Algeria's interior minister saw the devastation for himself and said: "What we do know for certain now, he says, is that these were car bombs and here at the U.N. location, it seems the car was driven by a suicide bomber."
A few hours later, a claim of responsibility on the Internet by Al Qaeda's North African arm -- known as al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. Also on that Web site, pictures of the man it said carried out the attacks.
There is now a deep sense of loss and dread here, as Algeria stubbornly remains on the front line of a destabilizing terror campaign. This spring, militants released this stunning video -- a step by step show and tell on how suicide bombers prepared for another devastating attack that killed 33 people in Algiers on April 11th. It is also the handiwork of Al Qaeda -- determined to create an Islamic state in North Africa -- now infused with hundreds of battle-hardened Algerian guerrilla fighters and emboldened by its branding and tactics. Counterterrorism chiefs throughout Europe also worry they are also poised for attacks in their country.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): Let's not forget that Europe is receiving masses of immigration from these countries. And it's clear that in these countries, there are great deficiencies in terms of their state structures.
NEWTON: As a new wave of fear now grips Algeria, there seems little defense against these small but determined brand of terrorists.
(END VIDEO TAPE)
NEWTON: And the date today, December 11th -- no coincidence, Wolf, as this wing of Al Qaeda says they will continue to do the work of their leader, Osama bin Laden -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Thanks, Paula, for that.
Today's attacks are renewing fears that Al Qaeda is opening up this new jihadist front in North Africa. The Algerian government has been fighting a bloody insurgency by Islamist radicals since 1992. But it took a new turn when militants joined with Al Qaeda earlier this year. Calling itself the al Qaeda Islamic Maghreb, the group has tried to kill Algeria's president and prime minister, and has claimed responsibility for a string of attacks that left dozens of people dead, including today's bombings.
Let's turn now to the economy here in the United States. Stocks plunging on Wall Street after major news from the Federal Reserve.
CNN's Ali Velshi is watching all of this unfold.
So what's going on -- Ali, explain this complicated situation to all of us.
ALI VELSHI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's interesting, Wolf.
The Fed did what most people expected them to do -- they cut interest rates by a quarter of a percentage point. And the thanks they got for it -- check this out -- a plunge in the Dow. At one point, it was down more than 300 points and closed very close to that.
Well, maybe because the Fed didn't cut rates half a percentage point, as some people wanted, or maybe because the statement that the Fed released along with that interest rate cut says they think "economic growth is slowing" in the United States.
Well, that's what a lot of us think, including economists. Some Wall Street investment banks, Wolf, are now saying there will be a recession in the United States in 2008.
In fact, a new CNN/Opinion Research poll shows that 26 percent of Americans think we're headed for a recession. And more than double that number, Wolf -- a whopping 57 percent -- think the U.S. is already in a recession.
Those numbers are playing out at shopping malls across the country, because sales are much lower than expected. And even those expectations, Wolf, are modest.
BLITZER: I assume the housing mess out there -- the bubble that burst with these subprime mortgages -- I assume that's still playing a significant roll.
VELSHI: Yes, Wolf, it's probably the main reason that people are pulling back on their spending. Today, the CEO of Fannie Mae said he doesn't expect a real turnaround in home prices across the nation until some time in 2009. So that is some interesting food for thought. The good news, Wolf, is that everyone out there who has a loan got a cut in their interest today. The prime rate, which so many loans are tied to, also went down a quarter of a percentage point. It's now 7.25 percent. So, hopefully, you've got a few more bucks in your pocket today.
BLITZER: Ali, thanks very much.
Ali Velshi watching all of this for us.
Let's check back with Jack.
He's got The Cafferty File in New York -- Jack, I know you understand this financial stuff really, really well. I don't. They dropped the interest rates, the market collapsed. I still don't understand why that happened. You'd think that that would propel these investors to go ahead and see the stocks go up.
CAFFERTY: They wanted a bigger cut. They wanted a half a point cut because of the things Ali was talking about. They're afraid that the economy is slipping into recession and a half a point cut would supply twice as much liquidity to the capital markets as a quarter point cut does. The capital markets are a little thirsty for that liquidity. So Wall Street was disappointed. It dries up investment capital. They didn't like the move.
Republicans in search of inspiration, apparently. A new poll shows that with three weeks to go before the Iowa caucuses, an overwhelming majority of Republican voters across the country say they have not made a discussion yet about whom to support.
It's according to a "New York Times"/CBS News poll, suggesting none of the Republican candidates is viewed favorably by even half of Republican voters. Rudy Giuliani gets a 41 percent favorable rating. McCain is favorably viewed by 37 percent; Romney, 36; Huckabee, 30.
According to the poll, 76 percent of Republicans -- 76 percent -- say they could still change their mind about who they're going to support. That compares with 23 percent who say they've made up their minds.
The Democrats, on the other hand, appear to be more satisfied with their choices and more settled with their discussions. Hillary Clinton retains a strong lead nationally. Democrats see her as far more electable in the general election than Barack Obama and John Edwards. And they think shed do a better job at bringing the country together than Obama would.
So the question this hour is what's the message when no Republican candidate gets a 50 percent approval rating from his own party?
E-mail caffertyfile@CNN.com or you can post a comment on my blog. Go to CNN.com/caffertyfile and click on "add a comment". That's all there is to it -- Wolf.
BLITZER: I love the fact that you have a blog now , Jack.
CAFFERTY: Yes, I do, too.
BLITZER: Thank you for doing that.
All right, we're about to get some new insight into Condoleezza Rice and her role in the lead-up to the war in Iraq.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ELISABETH BUMILLER, AUTHOR, "CONDOLEEZZA RICE": In December 2002, when she was in the Oval Office with the president one day, he turned to her and said, "Should we do this?"
And she said, "Yes."
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Coming up, how Secretary Rice's relationship with the president potentially could have undermined her ability as national security adviser, later secretary of state. Details you haven't heard before from the author of an important new book.
Plus, serious allegations against a major American company because of what a female employee says happened to her when she was working in Iraq.
And a major agreement today in China -- could it make things safer here in the United States for all of us?
You're going to find out how it will work. That's coming up.
You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: She is certainly one of the most influential women in the world, but she's still a mystery to a lot of Americans. But now a new book is putting a new spotlight on the complex personality and the relationships of the secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice.
Carol Costello is here with a little bit of a preview in this book.
So what's in it?
CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's pretty interesting, Wolf.
I mean this author spent hours talking with Secretary Rice. And she's talked to 150 others about a woman many would like to know better.
Elizabeth Bumiller talks about what makes Rice tick and her close relationship with President Bush -- one that may be too close for the good of the country.
COSTELLO (voice-over): There is an aura of mystery surrounding Condoleezza Rice -- admired by many, even pushed by some to run for president. With 13 months to go in office, her life has become an open book -- three this year, to be exact.
The latest, "Condoleezza Rice: An American Life," by "New York Times" reporter Elizabeth Bumiller, details her close relationship with President Bush -- calling her his confidant, friend, soother and protector -- "a relationship almost unique in modern history," Bumiller writes, "that did not serve the best interests of the nation."
The president's feelings about Rice were obvious. But the new book says: "White House advisers came to see that Bush, because of his affection for Rice, did not make more demands on her and push her to do the job he needed."
Bumiller writes: "Rice repeatedly asked the president to intervene in her now legendary battle for power with Vice President Dick Cheney. Rice had to go to Bush to stop Cheney from grabbing a major part of her job, running National Security Council meetings in the president's absence. Rice was especially upset at a speech Cheney gave in 2002, before any official decision was made to go to war with Iraq."
DICK CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction. There is no doubt that he is amassing them to use against our friends, against our allies and against us.
COSTELLO: Rice did advise the president to go to war. Bumiller writing: "She embraced Bush's democracy agenda for Iraq because of what she experienced growing up in the South, where blacks were told they weren't ready for democracy under segregation.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, 2002)
CONDOLEEZZA RICE, SECRETARY OF STATE: When America's founding fathers said "We, the people," they didn't mean me. My ancestors were treated as property -- just three fifths of a man.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COSTELLO: Bumiller's book is rich in insight, as are two other books published this year about Rice. Still, uncovering who Rice is remains a mystery.
Glenn Kessler wrote "The Confidante".
GLENN KESSLER, AUTHOR, "THE CONFIDANTE": In terms of trying to peel away the layers and find out the inner core of Condoleezza Rice, it's difficult.
(END VIDEO TAPE)
COSTELLO: But all three authors agree Rice is concerned with her legacy, hoping her latest efforts at creating peace in the Middle East will lead to a Palestinian state, thanks, in part, to her efforts in Annapolis not so long ago.
BLITZER: All right, we'll see what happens on that front.
Carol, thanks very much.
BLITZER: And joining us now, Elizabeth Bumiller.
She's the author of this important new biography, "Condoleezza Rice: An American Life".
Elizabeth, thanks very much for coming in.
BLITZER: Thanks very much for writing this book.
The unique relationship that developed over these years between the president and Condoleezza Rice, it's fascinating to read the details here -- the friendship and how that affected their professional life.
Talk a little bit about that.
BUMILLER: That's true. They were intensely close. And I argue that they're a lot alike, that they're both products -- elite Bush from the old East Coast establishment, Condoleezza Rice from the Southern black professional class. And they had -- they're very self- confident on the surface, but they harbor a lot of resentments underneath.
And so Condoleezza Rice, like the president, has been underestimated her entire life as a woman, as an African-American...
BLITZER: Is she still being underestimating right now, do you think?
BUMILLER: Less so right now. But there was a lot of -- it was a very close personal bond. And it made the president unwilling to push her to do the job that he -- that she needed to do. And it also made her less willing to challenge him at crucial points in our -- in our history.
BLITZER: Her job as national security adviser was to protect the president from foreign policy and national security blunders.
On that level, the war in Iraq, did she fail miserably?
BUMILLER: Well, there is no evidence that she raised any serious questions about the war in Iraq. And, in fact, she was all for it. In December, 2002, when she was in the Oval Office with the president one day, he turned to her and said, "Should we do this?"
And she said, "Yes."
Now at that point, you can argue, the war was inevitable. But she was completely behind it. And her job really would have -- should have been to raise red flags, to bring the president competing views. And she did not do that.
BLITZER: The exchange I had with her back in September of 2002, when she was making the case for the war -- and I'm going to play that little clip, what she told me on "LATE EDITION" that Sunday. This is in September 2002. Remember, the war started the following March.
Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, 2002)
RICE: The problem here is that there will always be some uncertainty about how quickly he can acquire nuclear weapons. But we don't want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: All right, now, that made the case for the war. People are thinking a nuclear bomb that...
BLITZER: ...Saddam Hussein had. And, arguably, as you point out in this book, that set the stage for the -- the main reason for going to war.
BUMILLER: That's right. And, you know, she had picked up that phrase in a White House meeting about a week earlier. I think Michael Gerson, the chief speechwriter, had mentioned it. And Condi Rice liked it.
BLITZER: So she bought the whole thing about the weapons of mass destruction. And she was firmly convinced that there was no doubt that Saddam Hussein had biological, chemical weapons and was working on a nuclear bomb?
BUMILLER: That's what she thought, that -- she believed the information from the CIA. And the other thing that you have to remember -- she talks about this a bit in my book is how much the 9/11 attack kind of fried their brains. I mean she said, no -- when I asked her, do you blame yourself for what happened on 9/11? She said, no. What you do is you make sure it never happens again. And they were living in a real -- people -- I don't think people realized they were living in a very intense state of psychological fear. This could never again happen on their watch.
BLITZER: And that colored every...
BUMILLER: It colored everything.
BLITZER: ...every decision that they made.
Give us an anecdote, a story, something that you learned about Condoleezza Rice in researching and writing this book that you want to share -- maybe the most startling or the most fascinating little nugget that you want to share with our viewers out there.
BUMILLER: Well, I think there's two things. One is football players. She dated a lot of football players when she was in college. And...
BLITZER: Because we see here with Gene Washington now and then.
BLITZER: a great football player -- obviously, no longer a football player.
BLITZER: she shows up at a lot of events with him.
BUMILLER: Right. And he comes and visits on weekends and goes -- has been with her at Camp David over Thanksgiving. She also -- she was madly in love with a player for the Denver Broncos when she was in graduate school.
The other surprising thing, I think, is her willingness to talk about her substantive differences with the vice president. Here she is, the sitting secretary of state, talking on the record about, you know, real squabbles she has had with the vice president.
For example, from the earliest days of the administration, she had to go to the president and really, you know, get her job back. Cheney had gone to Bush very early on and said he wanted to run National Security Council meetings in the president's absence. That had always been the national security adviser's job. And she had to go to the president and say no, Mr. President, this is my job.
So I found it rather unusual that she was talking so openly.
BLITZER: It's -- and she won that argument. The president sided...
BUMILLER: Well, right. She told me...
BLITZER: ...obviously -- the president obviously sided with her. And there's another story that's fascinating you write in the book. She had been warned -- don't let Hamas participate in these Palestinian elections because, you know what? They might win.
BLITZER: and she basically disregarded that advice.
Who was giving her that advice, first of all?
BUMILLER: Well, I think there's an -- actually, you talk about an interesting moment. The night of the election in the Palestinian Territories, in January of 2006, she had been assured by Elizabeth Cheney, the daughter of the vice president, who was overseeing democracy in the Middle East, that things were looking OK. Hamas was having a strong showing, but they would be OK in the morning. And...
BLITZER: The more moderate Fatah would win?
BUMILLER: Right. Yes. Yes. And so Condi Rice went home and was exercising on her elliptical trainer the next morning at 5:00 a.m. and saw the crawl across the bottom of the screen -- perhaps the CNN screen -- and saw that Hamas had won. And she was so flabbergasted, she assumed it was wrong. And she continued exercising and finally got off the elliptical trainer and called the State Department and said what happened?
And they said, Hamas won. And she said, oh, my goodness, Hamas won. That was how surprised she was.
BUMILLER: She told me that story, by the way.
BLITZER: But then she went on and did what after this tumultuous development that could reshape the Middle East?
She continued her exercise.
BUMILLER: That's -- well, yes. It was very Bush administration about policy, I would say. She got -- she figured that, well, you know, this is going to be a very long day. I might as well finish exercising. And it was, in fact -- that prediction was correct. It was a very long day.
BLITZER: As Maureen Dowd later wrote in writing about your book -- that was her priority, at least then.
Very quickly, she's got, what, 13 months left?
BLITZER: Is there going to be anything -- any legacy, any achievement that she'll be able to emerge from the State Department and say, I did something?
BUMILLER: Well, she hopes so. She's is hoping for some kind of a deal on the Middle East -- at least some kind of progress, where she can say we have turned this over to the next administration in decent shape. She also -- there also might be more hope on some kind of a deal with North Korea. I think that one is looking somewhat better right now.
BLITZER: If she can do those two deals, she will have left something for her legacy. We'll see what happens.
Elizabeth Bumiller's book is entitled "Condoleezza Rice: An American Life".
Elizabeth, thanks for coming in.
BUMILLER: Thanks for having me.
BLITZER: She says she was gang-raped in Iraq by her own coworkers -- all of them employees of a major U.S. contractor. And now, there are allegations of a cover-up. We're standing by for details.
Plus, the Joint Chiefs chairman visiting Afghanistan.
Is violence there surging?
Details of new concerns about the Taliban.
Stay with us.
You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Happening now, nearly 20,000 inmates could be getting out of jail sooner than expected. The U.S. Sentencing Commission has voted unanimously to make it reduced sentences for crack/cocaine offenders retroactive.
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad telling CNN's Aneesh Raman that Iraq's talks with the U.S. on Iraq will continue. At a news conference today, the Iranian president also called the U.S. Intelligence Estimate that Tehran shelved its nuclear weapons program back in 2003 a "positive step forward."
And a dangerously close call this morning for a US Airways passenger plane and a business jet. The FAA says the two planes came too close to each other over North Carolina because of an air traffic controller's error. Luckily everyone's OK.
I'm Wolf Blitzer.
You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Let's get to Afghanistan right now and the fight against the Taliban. Coalition and Afghan forces are gaining ground in a crucial part of the country. But the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff is warning that the Taliban's new generation of leaders is seeing surging support.
Let's go straight to our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr.
She's watching this story for us -- Barbara, this is a significant story because the Taliban seems to be making a major comeback.
BARBARA STARR, PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, indeed, Wolf.
Admiral Mullen today testifying before Congress. The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said violence increased some 30 percent in Afghanistan in just the last year. And a lot of questions about whether there are enough U.S. troops there.
(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)
STARR (voice-over): In Southern Afghanistan, Afghan and NATO troops finally recaptured the town of Musakal (ph), long held by Taliban fighters. Violence in Afghanistan has been on the rise. Attacks are up in the south and east.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE:. In Helmand Province alone, violence has risen more than 60 percent. And according to a recent poll, 23 percent living in the southwest say people in their area support the Taliban -- triple what it was just three years ago.
STARR: Just back from Afghanistan, Defense Secretary Robert Gates assured Congress he's pressuring NATO to send more troops and helicopters, and is calling for a new effort on reconstruction.
ROBERT GATES, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: Strong civilian representative is needed to coordinate all nations and key international organizations on the ground.
STARR: Economic progress is crucial to counter what the U.S. military says is an emerging, vicious generation of Taliban leaders. One of the most notorious is Suraj Hakini (ph), said to have ordered assassinations, suicide attacks and the beheadings of women. With a $200,000 reward on his head, Suraj has backing from Al Qaeda in Pakistan and financing from Middle Eastern countries.
Some Congressional members worry that Taliban strength may only grow.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When talking to various, you know, military personnel over there, there's no question that they believe we do not have enough troops over there. We do not have enough troops to pursue the Taliban when they pop up out of their holes.
STARR: But Mullen noted Iraq may be part of the problem.
MULLEN: In Afghanistan, we do what we can. In Iraq, we do what we must.
STARR: So, what about Osama Bin Laden? Both Gates and Mullen said the hunt for him goes on that it's a priority to find him but they declined to offer any specifics in an open session. Wolf?
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: All right, Barbara, thanks very much. Meanwhile, there was a show of force today by Israel in Gaza. Israeli tanks and bulldozers backed by military aircraft pulled through the southern and northern Gaza. They were targeting Palestinian militants. Six militants reportedly were killed in this, the largest operation in the area since Hamas forces seized control back in June. This comes on the eve of the first formal peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians since 2001. The Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and the Palestinian authority President Mahmoud Abbas agreeing to the talks at last month's U.S. hosted Middle East peace conference in Annapolis, Maryland.
A landmark journey today for the two Koreas; a 12-car freight train journeyed from South Korea to North Korea. It's the first such trip in more than half a century. The train delivered construction material to an industrial zone in the north that's jointly operated by the two countries. The train will make a round-trip run every week day. It's only about ten miles, but an important, symbolic move as the two Koreas try to reestablish ties.
Chinese products have been under scrutiny, but now there's a deal to try to ensure the safety of items coming into the United States. CNN's John Vause is joining us in Beijing with details. John.
JOHN VAUSE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, many of the final details are still to be worked out, but what's most striking in this agreement is that U.S. officials will be allowed to inspect Chinese factories.
VAUSE: It's taken six months but officials from both China and the U.S. believe they now have a way to ensure the food that leaves these shores is safe.
MIKE LEAVITT, HEALTH & HUMAN SERVICES SECRETARY: We're putting into place safeguards that have not existed before because this problem has not existed in the way that is now exists worldwide.
VAUSE: China's food producers will be required to register with the government. Their exports electronically tracked from farm to factory, all they way they'll have to meet U.S. standards. Factories will be inspected not only by Chinese authorities, but officials from the U.S. Health Department and FDA will also be allowed to make random checks with just five days' notice.
We will punish those whose products have problems. We will put them on our black list warned this Chinese official who added there'll be substantial fines as well. But initially these new regulations will only apply to a few exports, like seafood. Certain fish and shrimp were banned earlier this year from the U.S. because of high levels of antibiotics and cancer causing chemicals, as well as pet food and ingredients like wheat gluten, which is where all this began in March when dogs and cats in the U.S. became sick and died because their feed had been spiked with melamine, a chemical used to make plastics but is also a cheap way to fake high levels of protein.
CARLOS GUTIERREZ, COMMERCE SECRETARY: This is a watershed moment for China. Their economy is growing on the basis of exports. We are their number one customer.
VAUSE: There is much at stake for China. Last year alone, it sold $4 billion worth of food to the United States.
VAUSE: And the agreement puts responsibility on the American side, as well. But it is clearly the Chinese who have the most to do and the most to lose. Wolf?
BLITZER: All right, John. John Vause reporting from Beijing for us.
An American woman working in Iraq says she was raped and held against her will. She says her employer, a major American company, was part of the problem. The details coming up, this is a truly shocking story.
Plus, winter weather causing a major problem on the campaign trail today. What if it happens on the day of the Iowa caucuses?
Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Carol's monitoring some other important stories coming in to THE SITUATION ROOM right now. Carol, what's going on?
CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Couple things, Wolf; in Colorado, new details in the weekend shootings at two religious institutions that left five dead, including the gunman. During Matthew Murray's rampage at the New Life Church, a volunteer female security guard shot him several times, but a coroner's office said Murray died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound and they're calling it a suicide. Also, Murray apparently posted an online warning about his intentions 90 minutes before the church shooting.
Still reeling from last week's storms, Oregon got battered again today. A mudslide covered highway U.S. 30 and careened into at least two homes. Fortunately, no one was hurt. But authorities evacuated the area and have now closed the highway. They warn debris is building under a railroad bridge and it showed signs of giving way.
A fierce ice storm is being blamed for at least 23 deaths in the Midwest. Hundreds of thousands of people are now without electricity. States of emergency have been declared in Missouri, Kansas and Oklahoma. FEMA is sending in dozens of generators and truck loads of bottled water to blacked out areas.
That's a look at the headlines right now, Wolf.
BLITZER: All right. Carol, thanks very much.
Right now, it's the campaign issue in Iowa. Candidates and their surrogates are canceling appearances right and left because of icy weather. CNN's Jessica Yellin is joining us now deep in Iowa. It's pretty cold out there, Jessica. You should be wearing a hat. But tell our viewers how this sort of impacts on this presidential contest.
JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf with the democratic race so tight in this state, turnout on caucus night is everything and that means that who wins could be determined by the weather.
YELLIN: Bad weather in December in Iowa is not usually newsworthy, but it's so bad some hardy Iowans are staying home. The airport mostly shut down, schools are closed and campaigns in crunch time canceled events, including appearances by John Edwards, Romney, Mike Huckabee and Bill Clinton who had to scratch two planned stops.
Weather matters for these candidates. With the democratic race in a virtual dead heat, a winter storm could determine who wins the Iowa caucuses. Because it could determine who comes out to vote. Only the most dedicated are likely to turn out.
David Yepsen is the dean of the Iowa Political Press Corps and he says bad weather benefits Barack Obama.
DAVID YEPSEN, DES MOINES REGISTER: Because of the strong support he's getting from younger voters. There's a lot of energy in his campaign and among, particularly some of his younger backers. I think their dedication would enable them to easily brave a little bad weather.
YELLIN: He says the candidate it hurts the most is Hillary Clinton.
YEPSEN: She's actively trying to recruit older women to vote for her. And elderly women in this state don't like to go out in this awful weather.
YELLIN: And for John Edwards, it's a net benefit.
YEPSEN: He's got some of the most regular caucus attendees of any of the big candidates. His people have been there before and he should be okay.
YELLIN: But it could all come down to which campaign has the most organized ground operation to get their voters out in any kind of weather.
YELLIN: And weather has made a difference in the past. In 1972, there was an ice storm during the caucuses and Muskie's voters figured, he'll win. We don't have to turn out in large numbers. So, Muskie did win in the end, but McGovern's fervent anti-war supporters turned out in large numbers. They braved the storms. That showed the press and the rest of the nation how passionate they were and the rest for McGovern is history, Wolf. BLITZER: Nice little historical nugget there. Thanks very much, Jessica Yellin in Iowa for us.
Coming up next, a new CNN poll with some surprising results for John McCain. You're going to hear what's going on.
Also, serious allegations against a major American company working in Iraq. A woman says she was gang raped, but wait until you hear what she says happened to her after the attacks.
Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: The nightmare of war allegedly compounded by a brutal gang rape and now the woman who said she was assaulted in Iraq accuses a major contractor of allowing a sexually charged atmosphere to unfold in the workplace.
CNN's Brian Todd is joining us now. Brian, I know you have been doing some serious reporting on this. What are you discovering?
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: A truly bizarre set of claims in this case, Wolf. A congressman even says at one point, he had to intervene in the hours after this alleged assault.
TODD: Jamie Lee Jones was only 20 years old and in Iraq only a few days when she claims her nightmare began. Jones was an employee of Kellogg, Brown & Root, one of America's best-known private contractors in Iraq, a former subsidiary of Halliburton. She claims several men, firefighters who also worked for KBR, drugged and gang raped her at her -- in a lawsuit against KBR, she claims the attack never would have occurred but for the boys will be boys attitude at its workplace in Iraq.
Jones' attorneys told CNN that when she reported the incident to her bosses at KBR, they held her without food or water for 24 hours. The lawsuit also alleges KBR did not let her call anyone, that she convinced one of her guards to let her call her father, who frantically called his Congressman, Ted Poe of Texas.
REP. TED POE (R), TEXAS: At the time that she called, she was in one of these large sea going steel containers that we've all seen, shipping containers and that she says she was held hostage in this environment.
TODD: Poe called the State Department. He says they sent people to get Jones out of the container. KBR officials would not go on camera with us but in a letter to the government provided to CNN, KBR says the holding area was "a secure unlisted living container where she could rest" and that another KBR employee did ask her if she would like to call her family and offered counseling. The company says it did give her food and water. KBR also denies Jones' claims of sexual harassment prior to the alleged rape and disputes her allegation that they allowed a sexually charged environment.
Neither Jamie Lee Jones or her attorneys would go on camera, but her lawyers gave us permission to use her name and pictures. The State Department says it investigated and passed its findings onto the justice department. But despite more than two years passing since the alleged rape, no criminal charges have been filed.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What has happened? Where are the people who allegedly did this to her? Let's get some resolution to this.
TODD: Justice Department officials tell us this case is still being investigated, but no charges are imminent. In speaking with Jamie Lee Jones' attorneys and one other lawyer, we have been told that other women are coming forward with similar lawsuits against KBR. Wolf?
BLITZER: Did KBR, Brian, investigate itself, discipline any of its workers?
TODD: The company says it did start an investigation but was instructed to stop that because the government was taking over. When I asked if any of the accused were disciplined, a company official would not comment on that, but she did say none of those accused work for them any more.
BLITZER: Brian, thanks very much.
And as Brian just reported, KBR was formally Kellogg, Brown & Root, a subsidiary of Halliburton. KBR provides logistical services to U.S. troops around the world including food, housing and laundry. It's one of three companies awarded a ten-year, $150 billion contract for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. KBR has 56,000 workers around the world.
Jack Cafferty wants to know, what is the message when no republican candidate gets a 50% approval rating from his own party? Jack and your e-mail, that's coming up.
Also, is Mike Huckabee the republican to beat in Iowa? We're going to show you a new ad taking direct aim at him.
Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: In a day and age where personal information can be easily collected online, one search engine is launching a new feature right now in an effort to protect the personal privacy of its users.
Let's bring in our Internet reporter Abbi Tatton. She's watching what's going on. What is ask.com, Abbi, calling for?
ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, this is a new feature from ask.com and once you've turned it on, any records of online searches you're doing on this site will be erased. The company won't simply keep that information about what you were looking for on their servers. Now that's different from other search engines. Google keeps that information at their company for 18 months. Now compared for these big sites, ask.com is really just a bit player. Only four percent of online searches happen at this web site but this new measure is coming at a time when online privacy has been in the news. You remember last month the social networking site facebook.com faced an outcry from some of its members who discovered that what they were doing on outside websites was being blurted out to all their friends. Facebook has since backed down on that. Now, ask.com is trying to appeal to those people online who want their online searches kept private. Wolf?
BLITZER: Thanks very much, Abbi, for that.
Let's go back to Jack. He has the Cafferty file in New York. You look puzzled, Jack.
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's just I was born with that look on my face.
My daughter, Leslie, works for IAC Interactive Corporation. They own ask.com and Leslie is the corporate communication manager for that company. I'll have to get off the air and tell her that they just got a little blast on THE SITUATION ROOM and she'll be delighted.
The question this hour, what is the message when no republican candidate can get a 50% approval rating from his own party?
Jenny writes, "As a woman who has for the most part voted republican for years, I can speak with authority about what's wrong with the Republican Party, the stronghold of religious fanatics. I am appalled and frightened at the state of this grand ole party today. They wiggle out of difficult situations, they conflate truth with fiction and then they wonder why they're losing those of us who have traditionally voted for them."
Dax writes, "It might be we still have 11 months to go, Jack. Give the people a little time and do their research. The holidays are kind of in the way, too. Patience, my friend, patience. P.S., in a better world you'd already have an answer but I'm not going to mention a certain candidate who's perfect for the job. You probably hear enough from his supporters already. Well, have a great Ron Paul day, Jack."
Annie writes, "The president is single handedly destroying the Republican Party and there's only one person, Chuck Hagel, the senator from Nebraska, who has the back bone to stand up and say so. He's bailing. Who wants to back a bunch of spineless yes men without guts and vision enough to take the country beyond the current mess?"
Jim in Virginia, "When will the Republican Party wake up and realize the vast majority of voters support the traditional republican fiscal conservatism, an equally vast number are horrified by their continued kowtowing to the religious right. My wife and I held our noses, voted for Bush, despite his slavish devotion to voters who think the earth is 6,000 years old. Now, give on the party's record of spending like the preverbal drunken democrat, I see no reason, whatsoever, to vote republican.
And A. writes, "It means that people want a stronger candidate, one that will actually stand a chance against Hillary in the elections. Volunteers, anyone?" Wolf?
BLITZER: Jack, thanks very much. See you in a few moments.
Coming up, the poll that may send a chill through most of the republican presidential candidates, including the rising star Mike Huckabee. We're going to show you how he and his republican rivals fare in a head-to-head match up with the democratic front runners.
Plus, a former CIA officer speaking out now about waterboarding. He says it was used on a top terror suspect, but it helped save lives. He'll be joining us live right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Lou Dobbs getting ready for his show that begins in one hour, 7:00 p.m. eastern. He's joining us now to talk a little bit about this immigration debate, this battle that has developed in recent days between Romney and Huckabee. It's getting pretty intense.
LOU DOBBS, CNN ANCHOR: It's pretty intense; both of them going after one another and, in a sense, at least, in the case of Huckabee, but certainly the case of Romney, trying to demonstrate that they're tough on border security and that they are moving ahead against illegal immigrants. I can remember, Wolf, I am sure you can, it was just two years ago when it was a sure thing in the minds of the elitist sons of a guns in Washington who we had elected to office there. They were going it have something called comprehensive immigration reform. They weren't going to worry about borders. They certainly weren't going to worry about port security. We've come quite a ways, haven't we, Wolf?
BLITZER: Is it a problem for Huckabee, you think, that when he was governor of Arkansas he supported tuition breaks for children of illegal immigrants, kids who had grown up in Arkansas?
DOBBS: Sure it's a problem for him. It's a problem for most Americans. Poll after poll shows that Americans have just about had a belly full of people trying to put others ahead of the line or giving opportunities to those who are not even citizens, opportunities that are not given U.S. citizens. I mean it's a very difficult case to be made. Huckabee's going to have a lot of explaining to do. But for that matter, every one of the democratic candidates is in exactly the same boat. So is, of course, Romney, so, of course, is Giuliani.
BLITZER: Lou is going to have a lot more coming up this exactly in one hour on his show. Lou, thanks very much.
DOBBS: Great to be with you, Wolf.
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