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The Situation: Tuesday, January 10

Editor's Note: The Situation Report is a running log of dispatches, quotes, links and behind-the-scenes notes filed by the correspondents and producers of CNN's Washington Bureau. Watch "The Situation Room" with Wolf Blitzer on CNN 4 p.m. ET to 6 p.m. ET and 7 p.m. ET to 8 p.m. ET weekdays.

Iran nukes






Supreme Court
Capitol Hill
Sam Alito

Posted 2:48 p.m. ET
From Pam Benson, CNN America Bureau

A former Iranian opposition leader in Washington Tuesday accused the Iranian regime of violating its agreement with the international community to freeze its uranium enrichment program.

Alireza Jafarzadeh claimed Iran has secretly produced 5,000 centrifuge machines and is rapidly constructing centrifuge cascade platforms at its underground facility at Natanz. He said the platforms could be completed by this summer. If Iran possesses the operational knowledge, the centrifuge machines, once mounted on the platforms, could be used to produce highly enriched uranium, which could be used in a nuclear weapon. Once the 5,000 machines are fully operational, Jafarzadeh said, the Iran regime would be "only months away from having enough fissile material for at least one nuclear bomb."

Jafarzadeh offered no proof of his accusations, saying only that the information came from a reliable source inside the Iran regime.

Secret production of additional centrifuges would be in violation of the agreement Iran made with European negotiators and presented to the International Atomic Energy Agency. The IAEA has been aware of construction activities at Natanz that do not violate any agreements.

Jafarzadeh is calling for an emergency meeting of the IAEA board of governors to send the issue of Iran's non-compliance to the U.N. Security Council.

Nuclear terror

Posted 12:40 p.m. ET
From Mike Ahlers, CNN America Bureau

The United States lacks a systematic approach to preventing terrorists from using nuclear weapons, according to the Homeland Security Advisory Council, which suggested as a first step elevating the advisory council so that it would be "on par with" the vaunted National Security Council, which advises the president on national security issues.

At a meeting of the homeland security council Tuesday, Lydia Thomas, chairman of a task force looking at "weapons of mass effect," said terrorists are not likely to obtain or detonate nuclear weapons, but the enormous impact of such an event should make it imperative that the government adopt a systematic approach to preventing it. Instead, she said, responsibility for deterring a nuclear attack is "spread across the federal government, spread across state and local government" and across international organizations. There was also "inadequate engagement of our foreign partners," Thomas said.

Thomas said there is also a lack of urgency in developing technological innovations to detect and deter a terrorist nuclear strike. "When the country decided to go to the moon, we did it. This mission is much more important, perhaps, in many of our minds," she said.

In response, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said President Bush has already taken steps to create a National Counterproliferation Center and asked the task force to see if the new entity "essentially achieves the goal that you are after."

The Morning Grind

Posted: 9:30 a.m. ET
From Mark Preston, CNN Political Unit

The questioning begins

Nearly half of all Americans believe the Senate should vote to approve Judge Samuel Alito to the U.S. Supreme Court, but support for his confirmation drops significantly if people think he would vote to outlaw abortion, a new CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll shows.

The Senate Judiciary Committee opened hearings yesterday on his nomination, giving Alito as well as Republican and Democratic panel members the opportunity to make opening statements that set the tone for what is expected to be a contentious nomination process. While Republicans praised him for his service as a federal appeals court judge, Democrats expressed concerns that his views were out of the mainstream.

CNN's Bill Mears reports that Alito tried subtly in his remarks to deflect criticism he would be a rigid conservative on issues such as abortion, saying, "Good judges are open to changing their minds," based on the facts presented to them or from comments of their colleagues. But Alito gave no specific indication how he would respond to questions from lawmakers. This phase of the hearings begin today at 9:30 a.m. ET.

The poll, conducted over the weekend, shows that 49 percent of all Americans support Alito's nomination, while 30 percent oppose it. But when asked if the Senate should confirm Alito if he would overturn Roe v. Wade, only 34 percent responded yes, while 56 percent said no. And just over half of all Americans, 53 percent, described themselves as pro-choice, compared to 42 percent who said they were pro-life, the poll showed.

While President Bush's nominee to the Court is being questioned on Capitol Hill, Bush will speak on his administration's efforts to fight the "Global War on Terror" in 10:15 a.m. ET remarks at the Omni Shoreham Hotel. Later in the day, Bush takes photographs with the 2005 Little League Softball World Series Champions and then signs into law the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2005.

House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Illinois) announced yesterday that Bush will deliver his State of the Union speech on Jan. 31 at 9 p.m. ET. A senior House Republican aide said Bush will touch on boiler plate issues such as Iraq and the need for fiscal restraint, but suggested the President is likely to introduce a "bold, new initiative on the domestic front."

"Something he can use to guide (the remainder of) his term," said the aide, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Meanwhile, Acting House Majority Leader/Majority Whip Roy Blunt (R-Missouri) and Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio) continue to solicit support from GOP colleagues in their bids to replace Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas) as majority leader. Blunt has been serving temporarily in the position since late last year when DeLay was forced to step down after being indicted in Texas for conspiring to break state campaign finance laws. Republican Reps. Eric Cantor (Virginia), Mike Rogers (Michigan), Todd Tiahrt (Kansas) and Zach Wamp (Tennessee) are vying to replace Blunt as majority whip. Leadership elections are scheduled for early next month when the House reconvenes for the second half of the 109th Congress.

While not named by federal investigators as a target in the ongoing Jack Abramoff scandal, the close relationship DeLay and several of his former staffers had with the disgraced lobbyist eventually forced DeLay to abandon plans to reclaim the majority leader post. Today, the Campaign for America's Future and Public Campaign Action Fund will announce that they will begin running television ads against DeLay in his district charging he is part of the corruption problem in Congress. In Ohio, the two groups will also run radio advertisements against Rep. Bob Ney (R-Ohio) as well as post a billboard linking him to Abramoff. The total ad buy for the two states is over $100,000.

Even though DeLay is facing primary opposition back home, it appears the GOP establishment in his district remains solidly behind him. The Fort Bend County (Texas) Republican Party will put forth a resolution at its Jan. 12 executive committee meeting to express its "Support of Congressman Tom DeLay."

So far, the Abramoff scandal remains an inside the Beltway topic of discussion with 49 percent of all Americans saying they are not following the case closely, the CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll indicated. And as Democratic and GOP operatives work feverishly to assess blame for the "culture of corruption" in Washington, 38 percent of Americans believe that Republicans will be hurt the most by the Abramoff case. In contrast, only 6 percent of Americans said Democrats would be hurt the most and 43 percent predicted that both parties will be equally harmed by Abramoff.

Meanwhile, not everyone remembers having such a negative working relationship with the disgraced lobbyist, who bilked tens of millions of dollars from his clients. Screenwriter Arne Olsen, who worked with the high flying lobbyist during his stint as a B-movie producer, said he remembers a tough but "gentlemanly" Abramoff. Olsen wrote and collaborated with Abramoff and his brother, Robert, on the 1989 film "Red Scorpion" starring Dolph Lundgren.

Reached in Vancouver, B.C., Olsen told CNN's Sasha Johnson he clearly remembers Jack as the "tougher of the two brothers," a "disciplined" and "aggressive" guy who had a "producer personality" and refused to "take no for an answer." Traits, Olsen noted, that are essential for successfully navigating Hollywood and skills that obviously proved useful (for a while at least) years later in the nation's capital. The "anti-Soviet" "very Republican" bent of "Red Scorpion" matched Jack's personal politics which he didn't hide, said Olsen, who added he walked away from the project "impressed."

Political Hot Topics

Posted: 9:30 a.m. ET
From Stephen Bach, CNN Washington Bureau

"A JUDGE CAN'T HAVE ANY AGENDA": Stressing his humble roots, Judge Samuel A. Alito Jr. said yesterday before a Senate committee deciding his nomination that he would come to the Supreme Court without a political agenda. He also vowed to apply the law equally to all before the court. In his first appearance before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Alito made an 11-minute opening statement in which he described how his father's life as an Italian immigrant -- and his personal journey from a working-class childhood in Trenton, N.J., to his nomination by President Bush to serve on the nation's highest court. This experience, Alito said, was the foundation of his belief in fairness, opportunity, and equal justice. Boston Globe: Alito tells panel he has no agendaexternal link

PRESIDENTIAL POWER TAKES TOP BILLING AT HEARINGS: The opinion is more than 50 years old, and it is not even binding precedent. But just minutes into the Supreme Court confirmation hearings of Judge Samuel A. Alito Jr., it took center stage and seemed to lay the groundwork for the questions he will face concerning his views on the limits of presidential power. The 1952 opinion, a concurrence by Justice Robert H. Jackson, rejected President Harry S. Truman's assertion that he had the constitutional power to seize the nation's steel mills to aid the war effort in Korea. Whether and how Justice Jackson's analysis should apply to broadly similar recent assertions by the Bush administration, notably concerning its domestic surveillance program, will plainly be a central theme when questioning of Judge Alito begins Tuesday morning. New York Times: Focus of Hearings Quickly Turns to Limits of Presidential Powerexternal link

ALEXANDER STRATEGY GROUP TO CLOSE: One of Washington's top lobbying operations will shut down at the end of the month because of its ties to disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff and former House majority leader Tom DeLay. Alexander Strategy Group, which had thrived since its founding in 1998 thanks largely to its close connections to DeLay (R-Tex.), will cease to operate except for a relatively small business-development division, Edwin A. Buckham, the former top DeLay aide who owns the company, said yesterday. Buckham said in a telephone interview that the company was fatally damaged by publicity about the ongoing federal investigation into the affairs of Abramoff, who pleaded guilty last week to fraud and conspiracy charges. Washington Post: Lobby Firm Is Scandal Casualtyexternal link

COURT REFUSES DeLAY APPEAL: The state's highest criminal court refused Monday to intervene in the prosecution of U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay on money-laundering charges. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals denied DeLay's motions without comment two days after the Sugar Land Republican announced that he was abandoning his efforts to reclaim the job of House majority leader. DeLay had been pressing for a dismissal of the charges or an immediate trial, hoping to regain the job he had to give up when he was indicted last fall. DeLay's lead lawyer, Dick DeGuerin, said his client's announcement might have prompted the court's action. "I'm sure the events of the weekend have something to do with it," DeGuerin said. "There's not the time crunch there was." Now that DeLay is no longer trying to reclaim the leadership post before Congress convenes Jan. 31, his trial is likely to be postponed for weeks, if not months. Austin American-Statesman: Appellate court turns down DeLay appealexternal link

MOST AMERICANS THINK CORRUPTION IS WIDESPREAD IN CONGRESS...: The [latest Washington Post-ABC News poll] found that 58 percent of Americans believe the Abramoff case is evidence of "widespread corruption in Washington," while barely a third -- 34 percent -- say it is limited to just a few individuals. The public thinks corruption is far more prevalent in Washington than it is in their state or local governments. Although Abramoff has been most closely identified with GOP candidates and interests, neither party is seen as being particularly virtuous, even by its own partisans. Nearly three in four -- including majorities in both parties -- say there "isn't much difference" between the level of ethics and honesty of Republicans and Democrats. Washington Post: In Abramoff Case, Most See Evidence of Wider Problemexternal link

...AND IT'S GONNA HURT IN NOVEMBER: Americans are paying close attention to the lobbying scandal in the Capitol and say corruption in government will play a big role in their vote for Congress in November more important than Social Security, taxes, abortion or immigration. A USA TODAY/CNN/Gallup Poll taken Friday through Sunday signals a perilous year for incumbents. Views of whether most members of Congress and the respondents' own representatives deserve re-election have sunk to levels not seen since 1994, when Democrats lost control of both houses... Most Americans say they're following news of the Abramoff scandal closely, and 53% call it a major scandal. Just 9% see it as "not a serious matter." Corruption will be a voting issue in November, they say. Only the war in Iraq, terrorism and health care are cited more often as "extremely important" issues this year; 43% describe "corruption in government" that way. In comparison, 38% call the economy an extremely important issue. USA Today: Most consider lobbying scandal a big deal, poll showsexternal link

JOHN A$$$HCROFT'S NEW JOB: Less than three months after registering as a lobbyist, former Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft has banked at least $269,000 from just four clients and appears to be developing a practice centered on companies that want to capitalize on a government demand for homeland security technology that boomed under sometimes controversial policies he promoted while in office... While Ashcroft's lobbying is within government rules for former officials, it is nonetheless a departure from the practice of attorneys general for at least the last 30 years. While others have counseled corporate clients or perhaps even lobbied in a specific case as part of law firm business, Ashcroft is the first in recent memory to open a lobbying firm. Chicago Tribune: Lobbyist Ashcroft pulls in $269,000external link

SIDECAR SAVES FAT-LIPPED GOV FROM TICKET: Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has been riding his motorcycle without the proper license for years but was operating within the law Sunday, when he was in a crash, his spokeswoman said Monday. The spokeswoman, Margita Thompson, said the governor does not hold an M1 endorsement on his driver's license, which is required for operating a motorcycle. "He acknowledges he needs to get one," Thompson said. But on Sunday, the governor was saved by a sidecar, Thompson said. Schwarzenegger was riding his Harley-Davidson with his 12-year-old son, Patrick, in the sidecar when they were hit by a car pulling out of a driveway in the 2100 block of Mandeville Canyon Road in Brentwood. The presence of the sidecar made the bike a three-wheeled vehicle, which Schwarzenegger was entitled to drive with his regular Class C driver's license, Thompson said. Los Angeles Times: Loophole in License Law Saves Gov.external link

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