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CNN WOLF BLITZER REPORTS

Search Continues for Kidnapper of Philadelphia Girl; Wall Street Makes Dramatic Rebound

Aired July 24, 2002 - 17:00   ET

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


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Now on WOLF BLITZER REPORTS: bound, blindfolded and locked in a basement, a kidnapped 7-year-old frees herself.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OFFICER MICHAEL HARVEY, PHILADELPHIA POLICE: Erica did the work. I mean, she really did. She deserves all the praise.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Now the search for her abductor.

A raging wildfire closes in on a national treasure, 1,000-year- old sequoias.

An anniversary attack? New York's security concerns ahead of this coming September 11th.

The Coast Guard on guard: We're live on the scene as a new anti- terror team trains to protect tankers, ports and nuclear plants.

And walking out of "The West Wing": Why Rob Lowe is leaving his commander-in-chief.

It's Wednesday, July 24th, 2002. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.

We'll get to all of those stories in just a moment, including the dramatic escape by a kidnapped 7-year-old little girl.

But first, a dramatic rebound on Wall Street today. The Dow soared to its second-largest point gain ever, almost 500 points. And on top of that, the big board volume set a one-day record of some 2.7 billion shares. Let's get some insight and perspective on what all of this means. For that, we turn to the best in the business, Lou Dobbs. He's the anchor and managing editor of LOU DOBBS MONEYLINE.

Before that, Lou, this breaking news that Judy Woodruff just reported, that the SEC has now launched an investigation into the accounting practices of our parent company, AOL Time Warner -- what does that mean?

LOU DOBBS, HOST, "LOU DOBBS MONEYLINE": That the SEC is examining the accounting irregularities that were first brought to light by "The Washington Post" in a series of reports last week effectively alleging that the AOL unit of AOL Time Warner, preceding the merger, effectively constructed revenue -- that is, it's debatable as to whether or not it's revenue. And the SEC's going to look into those allegations.

And as yet, Wolf, I have not had time to talk with any of the top management of AOL Time Warner to get their side of it. We have a statement in which the company says, "The AOL Time Warner auditors stand behind the accounting," and of course, AOL Time Warner's top management saying they will cooperate fully with the SEC investigation.

BLITZER: All right, we'll continue to watch that story, as well. But what does it mean today, our viewers are asking. Five hundred points -- almost five hundred points, after all these weeks of bad, bad, bad steady decline, and all of a sudden, this huge lift today. What does it mean?

DOBBS: It means that, first, there is a ray of hope out there, after just weeks and weeks of nothing but terrible news on the market, that the market can actually move higher. And it means that, in point of fact, that a trend has been reversed, at least for one day. There's an old saying on Wall Street that one day does not make a trend, but one day certainly can break one. And I think today that we have a lot of indications that some good things are possible.

And what is really important today, in my opinion, Wolf, is that it comes on the day in which the Justice Department saw to it that executives of Adelphia, the five men who are accused by the Justice Department of defrauding public investors, were led away in handcuffs rather publicly -- certainly, a public spectacle, and I'm sure, in part, staged for the benefit of public investors. But it also sent a strong signal there will be accountability. And it came on a day, as you know, in which the Senate and House agreed on the corporate responsibility law. So a very important number of symbolic events I think led to this extraordinary rally today.

BLITZER: Is it premature to say that investors think that the market has sort of bottomed out, that there are a lot of bargains out there right now, it's a time to jump right back in?

DOBBS: It is always premature to judge whether a market is at a top or bottom. No one can effectively do that, and investors should be very cautious here. Even though we see extraordinarily low prices, these indexes remain near five-year lows. The fact that they're at lows doesn't suggest that they're great buys. Investors are very smart, and investors -- the reason we're at these low levels is because public investors, the average investor in this country, is saying, "Show me the earnings. Show me profits. I don't want to hear your silly forecast. I don't want to hear about `surprising results,' and I don't want to hear about Wall Street expectations. Show me the money. Show me profits, and I'll be an investor."

BLITZER: All right. Lou Dobbs will, of course, have more in less than an hour. Please be sure to join Lou at the top of the hour, "LOU DOBBS MONEYLINE." And get this. Lou's special guest tonight, appropriately enough, the treasury secretary, Paul O'Neill. We haven't heard much from him lately.

Lou, thanks for joining us on our program, as well.

In other business-related news, the chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission, Harvey Pitt, is again under fire. The White House press secretary, Ari Fleischer, says Pitt was acting on his own in asking Congress for a promotion and a pay raise. Pitt reportedly requested a 21 percent raise to almost $167,000 a year. The House Speaker, Dennis Hastert, call Pitt's move a non-starter, and the Senate majority leader, Tom Daschle, says it's further proof of why Pitt should resign.

Let's move on now to another important story, what's now being called the "great escape" in Philadelphia. Police are calling 7-year- old Erica Pratt an amazing little girl. What started as the story of a frightening crime has turned into the tale of a dramatic dash to freedom.

Let's get some details. CNN's Jason Carroll has that.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JASON CARROLL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Erica Pratt shied away from cameras outside her home in Philadelphia Wednesday afternoon, glancing at one point with a smile, before covering her face with a stuffed animal. Her shyness belies her inner strength, proven in the way she survived and escaped a kidnapping.

JOSEPH MOORE, ERICA'S UNCLE: The emotions of today, the emotions of yesterday -- I don't know the words to describe it. It was a very empty and lonely feeling to have one of ours taken from the nest. But we have her back, and that's our concern, that we have her back and she's safe.

CARROLL: Two men abducted Erica on Monday night when she was walking home with a friend. Police say they drove up and pulled her into their car. This is where they kept her, an abandoned house about 20 minutes away. Erica was bound with duct tape in the basement, but this determined 7-year-old girl chewed her way through the tape, broke through a door and a window and screamed for help. Several children heard her calls and found police.

OFFICER MICHAEL HARVEY, PHILADELPHIA POLICE: With everything that she's gone through, she had tremendous composure. Whether that was from shock or not, I'm really not sure. She did not cry during the whole encounter with police. She answered our questions clearly. She spoke very normal. I mean, she -- I give her all the credit in the world. She's a brave little girl.

CARROLL: Police have named two suspects, Edward Johnson and James Burns. Both from Philadelphia. Both have criminal records, but police refused to detail them. Detectives say the motive for the kidnapping -- money. The family received a call for $150,000 ransom just 20 minutes after Erica was abducted and several more calls after that.

INSP. WILLIAM COLARULO, PHILADELPHIA POLICE: Our number-one priority was finding Erica. Nothing else mattered up to that point. Today now we're going to go after the bad guys, and we're going to put the rest of the puzzle together.

CARROLL: Erica's family not wanting to answer questions about the kidnapper's motives. Instead, they only wanted to enjoy having Erica back in their arms.

MANWELL GLENN, FAMILY SPOKESMAN: This little heroine saved herself, did things that many adults probably couldn't have done.

CARROLL (on camera): As for Erica, her family says she's doing well. She spent much of the rest of her afternoon like any other 7- year-old, eating ice cream and playing on the front porch.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

Definitely nice to see that. Police say that their investigation is heightening. They've received numerous calls about two men who underestimated one fortunate and strong little girl.

Wolf?

BLITZER: Jason Carroll in Philadelphia, thanks for that report.

And while Erica Pratt is indeed safe, the search continues for the men accused of abducting her. Joining us now to discuss the case is Inspector William Colarulo of the Philadelphia Police Department.

Inspector, thanks for joining us. First of all, these two individuals you want for questioning -- are they the suspects believed to have kidnapped little Erica?

COLARULO: Yes, that's correct, Wolf. And thank you and thank your entire staff for the coverage that they gave us. We all know throughout the country we have these tragedies in these other cities. This turned out to be a positive story, but without the media getting the message out, we would really be lost.

Not only were they suspects, we have an approved arrest warrant for Edward Johnson, charging him with kidnapping, robbery, false imprisonment, luring a child and other related charges. We're actively pursuing him right now. The FBI and the Philadelphia Police Department are working in unison with other law enforcement agencies to find him, and we're working on getting an affidavit approved for this second individual.

BLITZER: Do we -- do you know this motive for the kidnapping?

COLARULO: We still believe the motive was greed. Right after Erica was kidnapped, the family started to get phone calls, about 15, 20 minutes later, Wolf, asking for money. We have no indication other than the greed factor of that being the motive. BLITZER: So with the exception of this little girl being terrified and held in this incredibly difficult situation for 24 hours, this was not, as far as you know, a case of sexual abuse or molestation or anything like that?

COLARULO: Absolutely not. And needless to say, that was our biggest fear. I'm sure that was the entire nation's biggest fear, based on what we've been through for the past couple of months. It seems to be a new national epidemic, and we were concerned about that. But she was checked out medically. Everything is fine. And to tell you the truth -- you use the word "terrified" -- I've never seen a 7- year-old with such great composure and calmness as she had last night in the hospital. I don't know of adults in my 21-year career as a police officer that would have handled the situation the way Erica did.

BLITZER: Had they just left her alone in the abandoned building over a period of time that enabled her to sort of claw her way through that tape?

COLARULO: Yes, Wolf. In fact, immediately after she was abducted, the perpetrators duct-taped her eyes. They wrapped duct tape around her entire head. In fact, you saw in the video that she still had the duct tape when she was taken to the hospital last night because she wasn't able to remove that. Once they put her in that cellar of that abandoned house, they duct-taped her hands and her feet together. She was able to chew through that duct tape. She was left virtually alone for almost 24 hours.

The utilities weren't working. She was in complete darkness, no food or drink. But she was able to climb through that basement, kick the door open and break a window and scream for help, and she's a 7- year-old girl. Truly amazing.

BLITZER: It is amazing. Thank God for that. Inspector, thanks for joining us today with that update, and let's hope you catch these guys very, very quickly.

Meanwhile, thousands of mourners are expected to attend the funeral this evening for little Samantha Runnion, the 5-year-old girl who was kidnapped and killed in California last week. CNN's David Mattingly is in Garden Grove, California, where the service will be held.

Give us a little bit of the preview, the emotion. What's going on there now, David.

DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, you might be able to hear the organ music cranking up right now. They're preparing about two hours from now, funeral services for little Samantha Runnion to be held in Garden Grove, California. That is just outside of Stanton, California, where Samantha once lived. We've been told that the services held here at the Crystal Cathedral. It is a place known to audiences around the world as the home of the Sunday Morning program, "The Hour of Power." The order of service has been passed out to us. During the services, we will be hearing from Samantha's mother, Erin Runnion. We will also hear from Orange County sheriff Mike Carona, who led the manhunt for Samantha's killer. He got very emotionally involved in this case, if you remember, at one time saying Samantha had become his little girl, as well. Now, we're expecting quite a crowd here tonight, her death touching the lives of so many people.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN CHARLES, CRYSTAL CATHEDRAL MINISTRIES: I think if you just look at a picture of Samantha, she was a sparkling, beautiful little girl. You could just tell in her eyes that she just exuded energy and love. And I think it's a community hurt. Not only is the family hurting, but everyone's hurting for the family.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTINGLY: This cathedral holds about 3,000 people. That's a huge place, and they're expecting an overflow crowd tonight, possibly as many as 5,000 people.

Wolf?

BLITZER: David Mattingly, thank you very much.

And this important programming note. CNN's Aaron Brown will anchor live coverage of Samantha Runnion's funeral tonight, 10:00 PM Eastern, 7:00 PM Pacific here on CNN.

Let's turn now to the explosive situation in the Middle East, a very explosive situation indeed. The United States consulate in Jerusalem is urging all United States citizens to exercise a high degree of caution, as the militant group Hamas vows revenge for Israel's killing of a top commander. Americans are urged to vary their driving routes and to be very wary in patronizing cafes, malls, restaurants, theaters. Discos, clubs and downtown areas are already off limits to American consulate employees in Jerusalem.

Meantime, Israel's deadly air strike in Gaza is raising new doubts about efforts to restart peace talks. More now from CNN's Chris Burns in Jerusalem.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CHRIS BURNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The bodies of Palestinian children are still being pulled from the rubble of a Gaza apartment building bombed by the Israelis to kill one man, Hamas's military chief, Salah Shehadeh. More than a dozen civilians, most of them children, are dead. About 150 are injured. Leftist activists say Prime Minister Ariel Sharon again sabotaged efforts to stop the violence.

GALIA GOLAN, PEACE NOW ACTIVIST: There was some kind of a chance for a cease-fire. Now that chance has virtually been destroyed. One wonders if it wasn't intentional. BURNS: On the street, Israelis have split feelings.

UNIDENTIFIED ISRAELI: I'm happy the guy -- the guy is killed. I'm really happy. I'll sleep better at night. But I also do think a lot about the children, women and innocent people that were killed there.

BURNS: Foreign Minister Shimon Peres criticizes the bombing, but he's backed what Israel calls "our targeted killings of militants," including Shehadeh.

SHIMON PERES, ISRAELI FOREIGN MINISTER: Shehadeh is a local bin Laden. He's responsible for the killing of over 200 persons in our country. He was continuing to plan bloodshed.

BURNS: Despite the attack, Peres says he hopes to restart talks with the Palestinians in the coming days, aimed at easing Israel's clamp-down on the occupied territories. He told CNN Israel is going ahead with plans to unfreeze $45 million in Palestinian tax revenue withheld since the intifada began. That's 10 percent of the total. Israel will also allow thousands more Palestinians to work in Israel, and it's offering to withdraw from some West Bank cities if the Palestinian authority can guarantee security, efforts that were under way last week.

SAEB EREKAT, CHIEF PALESTINIAN NEGOTIATOR: I was meeting with Mr. Peres 48 hours before the attack in Gaza. I think we had a very serious meeting. We have submitted to them a whole comprehensive plan, including the security obligations. We had urged the Israeli side to refrain from assassinations or what they call "targeted killings" or the closure (ph) and the siege and the rest, to give our endeavor the chance it deserves because we know that such acts will just fuel the fire.

BURNS: Fire from Qassam rockets, like these, shot by Palestinians into southern Israel hours after Shehadeh was killed.

(on camera): And Hamas says more attacks are on the way, that all Israelis are now targets, that in the wake of Shehadeh's death, the Palestinian authority has no business speaking with the Israeli government.

Chris Burns, CNN, Jerusalem.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: The September 11th anniversary is fast approaching. Could it be the day of the next big terrorist strike? I'll talk to one of the nation's foremost counterterrorism officials.

Plus: It may not be the end of the world, but it could be -- an asteroid headed for earth. Will it really hit in 17 years? A top astronomer joins us live.

And doctors prescribe morphine, Valium and other hard drugs, but should they be allowed to give marijuana to their patients? We'll hear from both sides of this debate.

We want to hear from you, as well. We want to hear what you think. Go to my Web page. Log on to cnn.com/Wolf. That's where you can weigh in.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back. Are terrorists watching the calendar? As we get closer to the next September 11th, concerns are growing about the next attack.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

(voice-over): In exactly seven weeks, America marks the one-year anniversary of the worst terrorist attack ever on U.S. soil. September 11th, 2002, will be filled with somber ceremonies and those horrifying images burned in our memories from that day. But it is also a day that brings considerable anxiety to the intelligence community and to those charged with protecting the American homeland. Some, including members of the House Intelligence Committee, are openly worried about a symbolic attack on America around that time.

REP. SAXBY CHAMBLISS (R-GA), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: The terrorists like to pick special targets -- monuments or some piece of history of the United States -- to go after, or some symbol of some greatness in America. And the same is true with particular dates.

REP. JANE HARMAN (D-CA), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: We have three events very close to each other. Labor Day, when so many Americans travel. Then the Jewish New Year is the weekend between Labor Day and September 11th. And then we have September 11th. So I'm very concerned.

BLITZER: But most U.S. counterterrorism officials insist there is no hard evidence pointing to a specific threat or attack at the one-year anniversary of September 11th. And homeland security director Tom Ridge told me this week that Usama bin Laden and al Qaeda do not always think in terms of symbolism in deciding when to strike.

TOM RIDGE, HOMELAND SECURITY DIRECTOR: Bin Laden and the terrorists and the terrorist community generally are strategic actors. I don't think they'll be driven as much by the date as to when they either perceive there is a vulnerability or a weakness, and then match that up with their ability to strike at that time.

BLITZER: Under the new threat advisory system put in place after September 11th, the nation is currently at threat level yellow, meaning there is an elevated, or significant risk of terrorist attacks on America. There are two levels higher, two lower. And Ridge says if there is credible information about a particular target, America could go to the next level, orange, or the highest level, red, at any time.

But some top officials, including Attorney General John Ashcroft, have been criticized, even from within the Bush administration, for overstating the al Qaeda threat against the United States. Many Americans are growing more confused and frustrated by the government issuing all these warnings.

But some local and federal officials say they're taking no chances. At a special summit in Manhattan today, leaders pushed for all 70,000 law enforcement officers in New York state to take a new course they're rolling out on counterterror training.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

For more on that summit meeting and the possibility of attacks linked to the coming September 11th, let's turn to James Kallstrom. He's a former assistant FBI director. He's now the counterterrorism adviser to the New York governor, George Pataki.

Mr. Kallstrom, thanks for joining us, as usual. Is there a reason to be a little bit more concerned as we approach the first-year anniversary of September 11th?

JAMES KALLSTROM, NEW YORK STATE SR. ADVISER FOR COUNTERTERRORISM: Wolf, I think we need to be concerned every day. We're at war with the radical fundamentalists. They're here among us. We don't know who they are or where they are. We know people that support them. We know people that talk out of both sides of their mouth about their support for terrorism. It's something the American people need to realize is something that's going to go on for a long time.

Today we had all the police officials, corporate security directors in a room, in two venues in New York City and in Albany. We had the sheriffs, we had members of the business community here in New York City and their corporate security directors so they can better understand what's in the terrorists' minds...

BLITZER: What do you...

KALLSTROM: ... so they can better understand -- so police can better understand what they're seeing and what they're hearing out there on the street.

BLITZER: But you want to retrain a lot of these individuals, these 70,000 law enforcement personnel in New York state. What are they not getting yet? What do they need to know that they don't yet know?

KALLSTROM: Well, Wolf, it's been a continuing process. I mean, under Governor Pataki's leadership, you know, for the last -- ever since 9/11, actually, soon after that, you know, we figured that one of the highest priorities here is to get state and local law enforcement, the first line of defense in the United States, you know, better equipped, get them back in the kind of terrorism business. They've been out of it for 25 years.

They're the ones that are going to see these folks. They're the ones that are going to, hopefully, pick up, you know, the idiosyncrasies, the modus operandi, the body language, the way they operate, the way they live, the way they engage our society. So this is just an ongoing process, and every now and then, you got to keep priming the pump to make sure that you're being successful in this education.

BLITZER: Are you getting the help from the federal government, the information, the guidance that you, need or are you getting a lot of confused information, conflicting information that we seem to be getting? When I say "we," I mean the public at large.

KALLSTROM: Well, first off, there is not a whole lot of information, so there will be some conflicting information in that void. Our relationship here, my relationship, my office's relationship with Governor Ridge, has been splendid. I think we're on the right track. We're all -- we all want it to move faster. We all want, you know, the seamless transition, you know, from Governor Ridge, from the FBI director, from the CIA director right down to the two-man police department, you know, be it in New York state or be it elsewhere. You know, that is going to help protect the citizens of this great state and this great country.

BLITZER: James Kallstrom, as usual, thanks for joining us today.

KALLSTROM: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: And there's been some interesting developments today in the case of Omar Shishani. He's the man arrested last week in Detroit carrying some $12 million in counterfeit cashier's checks. You may recall he was on a U.S. watch list because his name was found during raids on al Qaeda in Afghanistan.

Our justice correspondent, Kelli Arena, has been covering this. She's got some late-breaking developments.

Kelli?

KELLI ARENA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Shishani says he is not a terrorist, but according to a government document presented in court today, Shishani told FBI agents, in effect, "If you want to know about terrorism, I can help you with that." Now, Shishani also said that he believed his business associate, a man by the name of Baharuddin Massemay (ph), may belong to al Qaeda. Now, Massemay's name appeared on the counterfeit checks that Shishani was holding. Shishani says that Massemay has made pro-al Qaeda statements and even named his daughter al Qaeda.

Shishani pled not guilty in court to charges of possession of counterfeit securities. He's being held without bond because the government considers him a flight risk. And his lawyer contends the counterfeit checks found on Shishani were part of a business deal gone bad. Again, Shishani faces no terrorism charges, but the investigation into him continues.

Back to you, Wolf.

BLITZER: OK. Very important information. Kelli Arena, thank you very much.

And after September 11th, the U.S. Coast Guard began preparing for the next terror threat, setting up quick-reaction teams to guard the nation's almost 100,000 miles of coastline. CNN's Brian Cabell joins us now live from Wilmington, North Carolina, where the newest so-called SWAT-type unit is showing off what it's learned.

Tell us all about it, Brian.

BRIAN CABELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) -- is vulnerable to possible terrorist attacks, so the Coast Guard has stepped forward. It's setting up some teams. This is the second of two teams so far that's been set up and now engaged in training. In fact, it's engaged in an exercise that will end tomorrow morning.

Let me set the scenario for you. We are on board a naval supply ship that is unloading munitions, arms, missiles and the like. And down on the water here, down on the Cape Fear River, we have the patrols taking place. They are patrolling the river around the -- this particular ship. They are looking for any breaches in security. In fact, back over there by this bridge, you might see that is a secondary target that they are looking at, as well, a possible place where any bad guys -- and the bad guys, in this particular case, are being played by the instructors -- people who are trying to breach the security around this perimeter.

Also over here, we have some tanks, fuel tanks, as well as toxic chemical tanks, another possible secondary target for any bad guys, any terrorists. This is Wilmington, North Carolina.

But again, the primary target here is this naval supply ship. It is only an exercise, but very soon for this team, it will be real life.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

(voice-over): Officially, they're known as Maritime Safety and Security Teams, or MSSTs, but you can think of them as Coast Guard SWAT teams, on the lookout for terrorist threats to critical locations on the American coast.

UNIDENTIFIED TEAM MEMBER: It could be a nuclear power plant by a river. It could be a ship designated as a high-valued asset. It could be a moving ship. It could be a static ship. It could be a port. It could be a pier.

UNIDENTIFIED TEAM MEMBER: Move out of the area! Clear out of the security zone!

CABELL: This is training for the second MSST. It'll be stationed at Hampton Roads, Virginia. The first team was commissioned earlier this month. It's now based in Seattle. Within a year, the Coast Guard hopes to add at least four more units to help guard the nation's 361 ports. Each team, with about 100 Guardsmen and six boats, could be deployed within 12 hours to anywhere along the coast.

CHIEF PETTY OFFICER PUGH, U.S. COAST GUARD: I picture myself as a -- as a lifesaver and -- and if we can stop a terrorist from doing something, then we saved some lives. CABELL: The MSST Concept grew out of the September 11 terrorist attacks, when so many Americans felt vulnerable, for the first time, on their own shores.

CT. CMDR RODRIGUEZ, U.S. COAST GUARD: I never did myself, just like all other Americans who have -- we felt pretty comfortable at home. We never really thought that this could happen here at home, but it did. And it sort of changed the way we play our game.

CABELL: It's hardly a game. Here, in training, along the North Carolina coast, the sharpshooters used rubber bullets on the so-called terrorist boat. When they're commissioned for duty, the MSST's will be armed to head off any possible terrorist threats.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All right. He's coming to the left! Coming to the left! Coming left! Coming left! Coming left!

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CABELL: See that bridge over there, the one leading over to Wilmington? We were over there earlier this morning, about six or seven hours ago. And one of the boats with the bad guys, the potential terrorists, actually approached one of the abutments and actually got an explosive device on to the base of the abutment and left. They were not stopped, but we were told afterwards by a commander that they were spotted by a nearby building. It was reported to someone and in real life that would have been reason to close down the bridge. But they were a little disappointed that they were not actually stopped.

What they have learned today, Wolf, is that they can't stop everything. They can try to see everything, but they can't stop everything. And above all, their protection is for this particular ship, which as I say it is unloading munitions, arms, and missiles and the like -- back to you.

BLITZER: Brian Cabell, thank you very much for that report from the scene, appreciate it very much.

When we return, what some call refer madness -- the debate over medical marijuana. Should there be a national law to make it legal? Plus, from the brat pack to the West Wing. Find out why Rob Lowe is calling it quits. But first, our news quiz.

"West Wing" star Rob Lowe made his debut on the big screen in which Francis Ford Coppola production? "Apocalypse Now," "The Godfather Part III," "One From The Heart," "The Outsiders?" The answer, coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to CNN. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. Coming up, what some lawmakers are doing to make medical marijuana available in every state, but first, a look at some stories making news right now. Hundreds of firefighters are locked in a desperate battle to save giant sequoias in California. The wildfires blackened more than 50,000-acres, half of that inside the Giant Sequoia National Monument. Flames got within two miles of a grove of sequoias today. And officials say the wind may push the fire closer to the century's old trees. Officials say they're looking for a woman who may -- repeat, may have started the fire on Sunday.

The Reverend Al Sharpton is suing HBO for $1 billion; accusing the cable network of "defamation with malice and gross irresponsibility." The focus of the suit is an FBI surveillance tape, which aired last night on HBO. CNN's Michael Okwu has more now from New York.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MICHAEL OKWU, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Sharpton filed the billion-dollar defamation suit against "HBO Real Sports," HBO, and parent company, AOL Time Warner.

REV. AL SHARPTON, NATIONAL ACTION NETWORK: If they thought that they were covering something that would not end in a battleground, they're mistaken.

OKWU: The suit, stemming from HBO's Tuesday night broadcast of a 1983 FBI surveillance tape that shows Sharpton discussing a drug deal with an undercover federal agent.

SHARPTON: What kind of time level we doing it with?

OKWU: The grainy footage reveals Sharpton in cowboy hat, an unlit cigar in his mouth, engaging the agent in an exchange about the amount of cocaine involved and his potential profit. Sharpton said the conversation was taped as part of a federal probe on boxing promoter, Don King's, possible ties to organized crime.

HBO aired it within a segment about Michael Francese, a former Colombo crime family captain, who fixed professional games and organized gambling for pro athletes. Sharpton, who's been considering a presidential run, said HBO defamed his character by not airing additional tape in which he says he unequivocally turned down a deal.

SHARPTON: But I wanted to act tough, to get this guy off of me. And I wanted to do whatever I could to protect my family, to scare him back off us. And now, everyone seems to want to forget those stories and those -- and that tape. I will not bend or buckle or bow to a smear campaign.

OKWU: HBO issued a statement, saying -- "The tape we aired last night is an integral part of the story we presented. We asked Mr. Sharpton for his response and we showed his position. Viewers can judge for themselves. As to Reverend Sharpton's claim that there is a second videotape that exonerates him, we indicated to him that we would welcome the chance to see it. The lawsuit is so silly that it is unworthy of comment." (on-camera): Francese is also named in the suit, along with Bernard Goldberg, the reporter who assembled the segment. Always ready with a colorful quote, Sharpton did not disappoint, saying that he was eager to find out why HBO went to such great pains to sanitize a mobster while criminalizing a civil rights activist. He said the only thing that he was embarrassed about was having to explain to his two teenaged daughters why he was wearing such a cheap looking cowboy hat.

Michael Okwu, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: The hot debate over using marijuana in certain medical cases just got hotter. Democratic Congressman Barney Frank, today, introduced legislation that would repeal federal restrictions on medical marijuana. Federal law now prevents states from allowing marijuana to be used to ease pain in terminally ill patients and other cases. Joining us with their opposing views on this issue, Kevin Zeese is president of Common Sense For Drug Policy, and Ken Connor is president of the Family Research Council.

Gentlemen, thanks for joining us. Let me begin with you, Kevin. Why should this federal law, this proposed bill, be enacted?

KEVIN ZEESE, PRESIDENT, COMMON SENSE FOR DRUG POLICY: Because the federal government is blocking the voter's decisions in nine states. Overwhelming numbers of voters have voted for medical marijuana. The research shows marijuana works as a medicine. Patients need it desperately and the federal government is wasting precious resources prosecuting seriously ill people. We're seeing federal prosecutions of nonviolent medical marijuana cases at a time when we're on terror alert. It's a waste of resources.

BLITZER: Ken, if someone is terminally ill and going through chemo and suffering and this medical marijuana might ease that pain somewhat, what's wrong with letting a doctor give that kind of prescription?

KEN CONNOR, PRESIDENT, FAMILY RESEARCH COUNCIL: Because there are approved alternatives, which the Food and Drug Administration, Wolf, has already passed on. And when you smoke marijuana, you actually ingest about 500 other compounds besides THC, which is then refined in federally approved form, in pill form, and will soon be available in the form of suppositories and inhalers as well. The effect of these other compounds, which are inhaled or ingested by the patient, can react negatively with other drugs or with other conditions.

ZEESE: The problem is that research that compares the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) pill with smoked marijuana and they show the same thing. Marijuana is safer and more effective for the patient. The reality is these approved medicines don't work for a lot of patients. There was testimony today on Capitol Hill from patients who have tried the legal drugs. They didn't work. These people are suffering now. You're talking about coming up with progress within 10 years... CONNOR: The reality...

ZEESE: There's going to be people suffering while you do it.

CONNOR: Wolf, it's a stalking horse for the drug legalization law because...

BLITZER: It is a slippery slope, is that what you said?

CONNOR: It absolutely is.

ZEESE: Well, I'll tell you...

(CROSSTALK)

CONNOR: These folks want to legalize...

ZEESE: What you're doing is you're putting...

BLITZER: One at a time. One at a time.

CONNOR: They're using the plight and problems of people who are suffering. They're exploiting them in a way to advance a political agenda. The reality of it is that there are federally approved alternatives that can provide palliative relief.

ZEESE: The reality is...

(CROSSTALK)

ZEESE: ... you're the one playing politics with this issue, unfortunately. Voters are voting for this issue in overwhelming numbers. We've never lost a vote around the country. People are suffering while you are propping up the drug war with this fight against medical marijuana.

CONNOR: Science doesn't support...

ZEESE: Seventy-three -- the science does supports it. In fact, the science supports it very strongly. There's overwhelming evidence in the science on this. Seventy-three percent of the public, according to a number of polls recently, support medical marijuana.

Who are you to block -- I mean this is democracy. Get out of the voter's way!

CONNOR: Wolf, The Institute of Medicine said we shouldn't do this. This...

ZEESE: The Institute of Medicine said the opposite.

CONNOR: It's not good for patients.

ZEESE: The Institute of Medicine said, "make marijuana available." CONNOR: There are alternatively -- there are alternative forms that are available that can provide palliative relief. This is just a stalking horse for drug legalization and Mr. Zeese is in the forefront of that battle.

ZEESE: I'm -- the reality is that people are suffering today and you're standing in their way. These other medicines don't work for everybody and we need to make a medicine available that does work. It takes a decade...

BLITZER: But...

ZEESE: It takes a decade for a new medicine to come to the market. And during that decade, people will suffer.

BLITZER: Kevin, what guarantees would there be that Mr. Connor and his associates might be reassured with that this would be strictly for medical purposes, that it is not the beginning of the legalization of marijuana?

ZEESE: The best guarantee is to allow marijuana to be available by prescription like any other medicine. Cocaine is available by prescription. Morphine is available by prescription. We're not...

(CROSSTALK)

ZEESE: There's no...

(CROSSTALK)

Well, it's much more dangerous than marijuana.

CONNOR: Look what's happened in Oregon with respect to those who applied for IDs to use miracle -- medical marijuana. Forty percent of the applicants were awarded IDs and prescriptions by a 78-year-old physician, most of which came over the phone, many of which -- including, for...

ZEESE: Do you know why that is?

CONNOR: ... instance a 14-year-old little girl.

BLITZER: What's the answer?

CONNOR: The reality is there is no quality control.

ZEESE: The reason why there is is because the federal government is threatening doctors. You need a doctor who has not got nothing to fear. A 78-year-old doctor with that many years of experience is not afraid of the federal government so he has more guts than most of us who are threatened by...

CONNOR: The reality is people are using it on a pretext because they want to smoke pot...

ZEESE: Make it available by prescription and you avoid that. CONNOR: ... instead of using it as medical marijuana.

BLITZER: We have to leave it, unfortunately, right there. We'll see if this legislation does get enacted. Thank you very much.

ZEESE: Thank you very much.

CONNOR: Thank you.

BLITZER: This debate is obviously going to continue.

And here's your chance to weigh in on this very important story. Our "Web Question of The Day" is this -- should the federal government legalize medical marijuana? Go to my web page, CNN.com/Wolf. That's where you can vote. While you're there, let me know what you're thinking. Send me your comments. I'll try to read some of them on the air each day at the end of this program. That's also where you can read my daily online column, CNN.com/Wolf.

An asteroid heading straight for Earth by the year 2019. Are we on a collision course with disaster? We'll go live to NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. And Rob Lowe says goodbye to "The West Wing." The inside scoop still to come.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: The show goes on at Hawaii's Kilauea volcano, with lava pouring down to the mountain and to the sea. The current eruption is in its nineteenth year and has added more than 560 acres of land to the Big Island. Kilauea has been active since it first formed, between 300,000 and 600,000 years ago. And that's a long time ago.

Professional and amateur astronomers around the world are watching a newly discovered asteroid that potentially could hit Earth in 17 years, although the odds are very slim. Don Yeomans is the head of the -- of NASA's Near Earth Object Program. He joins us now from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

Mr. Yeomans, thanks for joining us. So is this so far farfetched or -- that we shouldn't even be thinking about it or discussing it?

DON YEOMANS, NASA NEAR EARTH OBJECT PROGRAM: Well, it's an interesting scientific situation. It's not something that's for public concern. It's a newly discovered asteroid. The orbit is not yet well determined. And at the moment, we can't rule out this Earth collision, although even now, the probability is just a one in a million.

BLITZER: Why is this -- why are you even focusing on this one particular asteroid right now?

YEOMANS: Well, it's a large asteroid, about two kilometers in diameter. And among the asteroids that we've studied in the last couple of years, this one has the so-called highest risk level. Having said that, it's still only at the background level of objects of this size that we know about and don't know about striking Earth. So it's not really that big a deal.

BLITZER: How many such asteroids -- how rare is it to see this kind of asteroid, two kilometers or so, with the kind of dimensions, the kind of directions it's going? How rare is it to see it?

YEOMANS: Well, this is an unusual object in the sense that it's highly inclined with the plane of the Earth's orbit. So it was very difficult to find and -- hence, it explains why it wasn't found until recently. It's unusual in the sense that it's large and it does -- its orbit intersects the Earth's orbit rather closely. But that's not the same thing as saying that the asteroid will intersect the Earth itself, of course.

BLITZER: Well, God forbid, but what would happen to Earth if that asteroid were to hit?

YEOMANS: Well, asteroids of this size, they're not expected to hit but every few million years. So if, in another million years or so, we are threatened by an object of this size, it would be a global catastrophe, not nearly as bad as the one that took out the dinosaur 65 million years ago, but a serious global catastrophe.

BLITZER: What would affect the course in which it's traveling right now?

YEOMANS: Well, of course, the nearby planets affect its course, but we take that into consideration if indeed we had to modify the path of an object that was not an Earth-threatening trajectory. If we found the object soon enough, in 10 or 20 years before the impact -- or predicted impact, we could actually change -- slow the asteroid down a little bit, less than a centimeter a second or speed it up so that in 20, 30 years, it would actually miss the Earth. We have the technology to do it. All we need to do is find them in time.

BLITZER: Have you given this particular asteroid a name yet?

YEOMANS: No, it only has a designation. It's 2002-NT7, which means it was discovered at a certain period of time in 2002.

BLITZER: And the curiosity factor, how many people -- how many people around the world really spent much time looking at this asteroid, studying it, wondering what it might do?

YEOMANS: Well, the community of people who are actually looking for these objects is fairly small, on the order of a dozen or so. And the community of folks, like myself, who actually study their motions, is even smaller. But there is a serious group of amateur astronomers out there who are very instrumental in providing data once these objects are discovered. So we rely on the serious amateur community to provide us with much of the data that we use.

BLITZER: You're the head of NASA's Near Object -- Near Earth Object Program. What else are you looking for? What are you studying out there?

YEOMANS: Well, we had a -- we have an asteroid coming by on August 19, within one-and-a-half lunar distances. It's not a threat, but it's an interesting object. It'll be observable in small telescopes and binoculars. It's about 600 meters in size. So we're discovering these objects more and more frequently as these NASA supported search facilities become more and more efficient.

BLITZER: Don Yeomans of NASA, thanks for helping us understand, calming a lot of our concerns, appreciate it very much.

And the White House deputy communications director is actually upset that the president got a raise. That's at least what's unfolding behind the scenes on the NBC hit series, "The West Wing." We'll tell you what the future holds for actor, Rob Lowe.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: The makers of NBC's hit "The West Wing" say the original cast member, Rob Lowe, is leaving the show apparently over some disputes involving salary. Let's bring in reporter, Michael Fleming, of "Variety." He joins us from Babylon, New York.

Is it appropriate to say you have the Lowe down, Michael?

MICHAEL FLEMING, "VARIETY": Well, we -- I think we had the Lowe down today. The -- you always hear about these situations and you wonder whether it's posturing. But it looks like; in this case, he's actually leaving.

BLITZER: Why?

FLEMING: Well, it's a complicated thing. I think he finds himself between a rock and a hard place. When he was signed, he was the biggest name in the cast. Martin Sheen was not a regular at the time. And what happened was -- what happened was, he came in at a higher salary level than the four other players who've grown in prominence. Martin Sheen has pretty much become the show and so, they had to pay him a lot of money. And what happened is, you know, they don't -- they feel -- I guess they feel they don't need him.

BLITZER: How much -- how far apart are they, do you know, as far as money is concerned?

FLEMING: You know it didn't even come to that. Rob is making about 75,000 a show. And I don't believe that they even left open the possibility that they could renegotiate.

BLITZER: Because in terms of money, it sounds like relatively modest sums given the enormous amount of money that show makes for NBC.

FLEMING: Well, I'm sure that's how Rob feels and I also think -- I also think that he felt he was due a raise. Everyone else got one. The four cast members were raised from about 35,000 to 70,000 a show. And Martin Sheen had just had his salary tripled to 300,000. Rob's making 75,000. It seems like a lot of money, but he could certainly make that much if he did a movie or two.

BLITZER: All right, thanks for the update. Thanks for breaking the story in "Variety". Michael Fleming, appreciate it very much.

FLEMING: Sure.

BLITZER: And you still have two minutes to weigh in on our "Web Question of The Day" -- should the federal government legalize medical marijuana? The results, immediately when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We have some breaking news we're following now from out in California. A woman accused of starting that wildfire that we reported about earlier in this program, has been arrested, a wildfire that threatens the sequoia trees out in that ancient monument. The woman was apprehend by a Forest Service law enforcement officer around 1:00 p.m. local time. No immediate details, other details are available. Firefighters, as you know, have been battling the unpredictable conditions in an effort to contain part of the blaze. It's already being called the McNalley fire. It began on Sunday afternoon and some 50,000 acres in the Sequoia National Forest already have been charred. We'll have more details on this story as they become available.

Let's move on to something a lot lighter. Toby Keith, as our viewers will recall, now has the number two song on the Billboard country chart, but the controversy surrounding it is stealing the spotlight. Keith says he was confirmed to sing "Courtesy of The Red, White and Blue" on the ABC July Fourth special. But he says the anchorman, Peter Jennings, deemed the song "too angry." Keith was dropped. The network denies he was confirmed. Now, some radio stations are protesting. They're collecting hundreds of pairs of boots to send to Peter Jennings. Keith says he has nothing to do with it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "FOX & FRIENDS")

TOBY KEITH, MUSICIAN: It went on radio in Dallas, Texas. You can blame that on me, too. So I challenged him on Wolf Blitzer's show. I said, "Hey, anybody out there that can find that I had anything to do with that, bring it on."

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hey, wait a minute, wait a minute. You were on the Wolf Blitzer show?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Uh-oh, that's the enemy. Did anybody...

KEITH: Is that the bad word, the "W" word?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, that's all right. That's all right.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: To our friends at Fox, eat your heart out. Toby Keith, of course, is the guest tonight, at least one of the guests on CNN's "CONNIE CHUNG TONIGHT." That's at 8:00 Eastern, 5:00 Pacific. That's all the time we have today. I'll be back tomorrow at 5:00 p.m. Eastern. Until then, thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. "LOU DOBBS MONEYLINE" with a special guest, the Treasury secretary, Paul O'Neill, begins right now.

TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com



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