Al-Zarqawi was a Sunni militant and protege of Osama bin Laden.
Al Qaeda leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was killed in a coalition airstrike, it was announced this morning, bringing an end to the search for the most wanted terrorist in Iraq.
"Today, Zarqawi has been killed," said Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki at a news conference where he was flanked by the U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad and Gen. George Casey, the highest-ranking U.S. commander in Iraq. The announcement was greeted by cheers and applause.
Just hours later, President Bush appeared before the cameras and said, "Zarqawi has met his end, and this violent man will never murder again."
News of al-Zarqawi's death is expected to give a boost to the new Iraqi government that is trying to establish itself. Al-Zarqawi is blamed for orchestrating a web of violence and killings throughout Iraq as he sought to undermine the coalition's efforts to help establish a post Saddam Hussein government in that country.
"There's a special place in Hell reserved for him," said Sen. Joe Biden (D-Delaware), the senior Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. "What Zarqawi did, he killed everybody indiscriminately. He killed Sunni, Shia. He was trying to foment the civil war, which he got going. So, what he would do, he would kill Sunnis and that would get blamed on the Shia, and then he killed Shia, and then he killed Kurds. He killed anybody at all."
While Bush said al-Zarqawi's death gives "renewed confidence in the final outcome of this struggle," he noted that it is not over and asked for the "continued patience of the American people."
***DELAY LEAVES CONGRESS WITH 'NO REGRETS':
Former House Majority Tom DeLay (R-Texas) says he does not "have any regrets" and believes it is now "time for me to go" as he prepares to end his 20-plus year career in Congress.
Speaking to CNN's Candy Crowley on the eve of his resignation, DeLay displayed an aura of a man just getting started rather than a person who reluctantly came to the realization that he was becoming a distraction and a liability to the political party he helped build.
"It became quite evident to me that I could be more effective outside the House than in it now," DeLay said in an interview that will air this afternoon on the Situation Room. "I had stepped down from my leadership position. I would have been locked in to a re-election in the 22nd District of Texas and that is not what I ought to be doing.
"I ought to be out helping elect Republicans, helping to defeat Democrats, talking about the conservative view and where we want to take the country," he added.
DeLay was forced to step down from his post as majority leader last year after he was indicted in Texas for allegedly breaking state campaign finance laws. DeLay denies any wrongdoing and is fighting the charges. He also has been scrutinized for his close relationship with disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who has pled guilty and is working with federal officials in a wide ranging government corruption probe. Two of DeLay's former aides have also copped pleas and are also cooperating with the Justice Department. DeLay has not been charged with any crime, and he claimed in the interview that this has been a 10 year effort by Democrats to try and bring him down.
"I would be stupid if I did anything wrong," he said. "I mean this effort by the Democrats started in 1995 with my first frivolous ethics charges. Don't you believe that I have had lawyers and accountants and experts watching my every move for the last 10 years?"
Reflecting on his Congressional career, DeLay said he is most proud of "pushing the conservative cause" and bringing the "conservative worldview into the mainstream." And he vowed to continue promoting this line of political thinking, as well as being active in the midterm elections.
"All I know right now is that I am supposed to push the conservative cause, support Israel and that is just about the extent of it," he said. "I am sure I am going to be traveling a lot and talking about conservatism and the conservative worldview. We need more voices doing that."
And he offered a parting shot about his counterpart, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-California), noting that her "hatred (of him) is amazing."
DeLay is also expected to give his final speech from the House floor today. To see more of what DeLay had to say as he prepares to leave Congress, tune into the Situation Room this afternoon.CNN's Mike Roselli contributed to this report.
***HOUSE LAWYERS CALL FBI SEARCH OF REP. JEFFERSON'S OFFICE UNCONSTITUTIONAL, CONCEDE SUCH SEARCHES ARE OK UNDER SOME CIRCUMSTANCES:
House lawyers asserted Wednesday that the FBI raid of Rep. William Jefferson's (D-Louisiana) Capitol Hill office was unconstitutional, but conceded such searches could be allowed under certain circumstances.
The lawyers stated the House's position in a brief filed on behalf of the Republican and Democratic leadership, and noted that it is not the leadership's position that Jefferson or any other lawmaker "is above the law or immune from prosecution," CNN's Terry Frieden reports.
"We think it is possible for the Justice Department to execute a search warrant on a congressional office to secure evidence that is relevant to a legitimate criminal investigation, provided the warrant is executed pursuant to protocols and procedures that are pre-established -- either by agreement between the House and the Justice Department, or by legislation -- and consistent with the requirements of the Constitution," the lawyers stated in the court filing.
Jefferson is being investigated for allegedly accepting bribes, but has not been charged yet with any crime. Several weeks ago, the FBI executed a weekend raid of his Capitol Hill office in search of evidence. Jefferson has declared his innocence.
While acknowledging that the FBI has a right to pursue an investigation, House lawyers said it is the leadership's position that lawmakers must be allowed to be present and able to remove paperwork that is protected by the "speech and debate" clause of the Constitution. This clause gives lawmakers immunity in the performance of their legislative duties. The Justice Department had no comment on the matter, but a senior law enforcement official, requesting anonymity, said such a request is a non-starter.
"The argument that members should be informed before a search takes place is a scenario which, in law enforcement's view, is a non-starter and contrary to how every other search is conducted," the official said. "That argument would place a member of Congress above the law."
The House lawyers contend that if the search isn't ruled unconstitutional, then it will be a "grave threat" to the balance of powers between the three branches of government.
"It will reduce Congress to a subordinate branch of government by opening the door to unchecked executive branch overreach and abuse that could, among other things, obstruct and chill Congress' oversight function," the House stated in its brief.
The raid has strained relations between Congress and the Justice Department and forced President Bush to step in and put a 45 day freeze on the FBI's ability to review the material seized from Jefferson's office while a resolution is worked out.
***DEAN DEFENDS GORE:
Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean is defending former Vice President Al Gore, who is coming under attack from critics for his new movie on the dangers of global warming. Dean blasted out an e-mail to Democrats yesterday asking them to sign an online note to Gore to express their support for his efforts to bring attention to the issue.
"Enough is enough and people know it," Dean wrote in the e-mail. "Al Gore is demonstrating exactly the kind of courage and moral clarity that Democrats will bring when we take back Congress and win elections up and down the ballot this year."
Dean specifically singled out recent comments by two critics who compared Gore to Adolf Hitler and Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels. The former Vice President's movie, "An Inconvenient Truth," opened last month.