CNN WOLF BLITZER REPORTS
Allegations Delay Vote on Gay Episcopal Bishop; U.S. Troops Face Mystery Illness in Iraq; Does Iran Hold Key to Cracking al Qaeda?
Aired August 4, 2003 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, HOST: We're following a shocking development in a vote that had already threatened to divide the Anglican Church. There are now ugly accusations being hurled against the Reverend Gene Robinson who was on the verge of becoming the first openly gay bishop in the Episcopal Church. We're live in Minneapolis with details.
WOLF BLITZER REPORTS starts right now.
BLITZER (voice-over): Mystery illness, U.S. troops in Iraq face a new foe.
West African peacekeepers land in Liberia, will Americans follow?
Amid signs that a key al Qaeda leader is still a threat, does Iran hold the key to cracking al Qaeda?
He's a teen choice but was it a wise choice for Kobe Bryant to appear in public before he appears in court this week?
ANNOUNCER: CNN live this hour, WOLF BLITZER REPORTS live from the nation's capital with correspondents from around the world. WOLF BLITZER REPORTS starts now.
BLITZER: It's Monday, August 04, 2003. Hello from Washington, I'm Wolf Blitzer reporting.
We begin with a shocking surprise. Late-breaking developments have postponed the final controversial vote on approving the Episcopal Church's first openly gay bishop. The dramatic announcement caps days of emotional debate that some say could split the denomination in two.
Our National Correspondent Susan Candiotti is at the church's triennial convention. She's joining us now live from Minneapolis -- Susan.
SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hello, Wolf.
There are a lot of questions this night about the timing of these last minute accusations that are being made against Reverend Gene Robinson who might have known by this hour, if it were not for these revelations, whether or not he had been elevated to bishop, which is his dream being the first openly gay bishop in the Episcopal Church.
Here's what development just about less than an hour before the voting process was to begin in the House of Bishops. Certain information was revealed involving two things. First of all, they are looking into his alleged relationship to a Web site called outright.org which counsels gay and lesbian youth. Here they are also looking into an e-mail -- accusations contained in an e-mail that was sent to all the bishops late last night.
First, let's show you a bit of the Web site. We will not show you all of its entirety but if you go to it and make a few clicks and then leave the Web site using various links and make a few more clicks you discover an erotica, what is described as an erotica site where you can download or view rather some photographs. Of course you have to pay to see additional photographs.
We have asked Reverend Gene Robinson directly about this and through a spokesman he says that he was not aware that this organization, which he's founded, even had a Web site nor does he say he has had any connection to the Web site, though he continues to promote it.
Also, we have to show you a portion of an e-mail that was sent from a man in Vermont late last night to the bishops and here is an allegation that it contains.
It reads in part: "He put his hands on me inappropriately every time I engaged him in conversation." And then it is printed in capital letters, "NO GAY MAN HAS EVER BEHAVED TOWARDS ME THIS WAY."
Now, this e-mail again comes from a man in Vermont. This was sent to all of the bishops and he claims that this alleged action took place a few years ago at convocation. It is unclear whether this man has any credibility. It is unclear whether this man has ever met Gene Robinson and, it is unclear what kind of conduct he is talking about or whether he has ever made these allegations before.
Nevertheless, we got some reaction from some supporters of Gene Robinson first about the e-mail.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MIKE HOPKINS, INTEGRITY: On my way over here for the vote the bishop of Vermont showed me an e-mail that he'd received that he knew the presiding bishop and Gene were aware of and were working on a response to.
SUSAN RUSSELL, INTEGRITY: I have complete confidence in Gene Robinson and I also have confidence in the process this church has in place. We have a very specific, I'm sure the presiding bishop will speak to it, process on allegations which checked both the allegation, the victim and the person making the allegations as well as the other party and I'm actually convinced that in the light of day there will be nothing to this and that we'll move forward.
(END VIDEO CLIP) CANDIOTTI: One of the most vocal critics against the elevation to bishop of Reverend Gene Robinson has been a group called the American Anglican Council and tonight its leader acknowledged that he believed that some of the members of his group are behind, are some of the people who brought the information to light about the Web site.
We can tell you this. Here's what's happening now. The vote has been delayed. We don't know how long it has been postponed while a special committee has been created to look into the investigation. Just a short time ago I spoke with the bishop of New Hampshire.
That is where Gene Robinson was elected to be elevated as bishop and he called, he described the allegations to me as "slime." He said that he had spoken to Reverend Gene Robinson about them and he said that he is positive. He is being upbeat about it and he welcomes the investigation -- Wolf, back to you.
BLITZER: Susan Candiotti will be standing by to bring us updates. Obviously, this is a fast changing story. Bishop Robinson was elected by New Hampshire Episcopalians to lead their diocese and while his support there is strong it's not necessarily universal.
Karen Anderson of our CNN affiliate WMUR filed this report just before the allegations against Robinson surfaced.
KAREN ANDERSON, WMUR CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): As they worship in Concord, a vote in Minneapolis is on many of these parishioners' minds.
ROBIN BROADMENT, CHURCH MEMBER: I think the people in New Hampshire, the Episcopalians really for the most part want him to be our bishop and I just want him to be my bishop.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm hoping. My fingers are crossed.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's a very difficult time.
ANDERSON: Parishioners at St. Paul's Church in Concord often pray alongside Gene Robinson. Most, including Reverend David Jones, support his election as their bishop but some like Charles Thompson have concerns.
CHARLES THOMPSON, CHURCH MEMBER: It's a struggle for many of us individually.
REV. DAVID JONES, ST. PAUL'S CHURCH: The people on the other side are not bad homophobic reactionaries and we need to remember that.
ANDERSON: Reverend Jones spoke directly about the vote before the service began. He asked both sides to respect each other and his sermon discussed the challenges of change.
JONES: It's hard work to stay together with people you may not agree with but that's what the Christian message says to do so we need to do that.
ANDERSON: Jones says he expects to lose some parishioners no matter what the outcome in Minnesota. Thompson says he will remain in his church whatever the vote.
THOMPSON: Ultimately, we have to look and see what God's will is in this whole thing.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I feel honored to be a part of a Christian community that can take something on like this.
ANDERSON (on camera): Episcopal priests are asking their parishioners not to celebrate but to be humble about the outcome of Monday's third and final vote.
In Concord, Karen Anderson, WMUR, News 9.
BLITZER: Turning now to a new threat facing the United States forces in Iraq and elsewhere in the region, a sever form of pneumonia. The military has sent medical investigators on an urgent mission to find the cause of this mystery illness.
Let's go live to our Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen. She's joining us from the CNN Center in Atlanta. What's this all about Elizabeth?
ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, these two teams that you mentioned have been sent from the United States, one to Iraq and one to the Landstuhl Medical Center in Germany where 15 of the most serious cases of pneumonia were treated. What they're trying to figure out is why would young, healthy people succumb to pneumonia?
Let's take a look at the number -- actually, before we take a look at the number of cases there have been two deaths and one of the deaths has been Army National Guardsman Specialist Josh Neusche and he died in July. He was, like the other cases, a young, healthy person. He became very sick very quickly and we're told went into a coma and then died within just hours of actually having his first set of symptoms.
Let's look at the numbers across the entire theater. U.S. troops who have gotten pneumonia, more than 100 have become sick and it's not just in Iraq. It's also in Qatar. It's also in Uzbekistan so there is a wide span there.
Two, including the gentleman who we just saw have died. Fifteen have required ventilators. The others have not become as ill. Let's see, let's talk about what the military knows and what they don't know.
They know that there's no common infectious agent; in other words, there's not one strain of any one bacteria that seems to be causing these illnesses. Also, as I said, the illnesses are in different locations. They're all over Iraq and in other countries in the theater as well.
They say that there is no evidence that it is SARS or any kind of biological or chemical weapon. They think that there's not any person-to-person spread because there's been such wide geographical spread of these cases and also because the cases have been between March 1 and the end of July.
Some of the questions they'll try to answer is, is sand getting into people's lungs? Is that part of what's causing the pneumonia? Is it something in the water? Is it something in the soil? These are all things that the military is going to be investigating.
One veteran's group says that the CDC and the World Health Organization ought to go into investigate as well. They think the military should not be doing this on their own -- Wolf.
BLITZER: That's probably some good advice. Elizabeth Cohen joining us from Atlanta thanks Elizabeth very much.
U.S. forces in Iraq have been taking the fight to Saddam Hussein's hometown staging a series of raids as they hunt for the former Iraqi leader.
CNN's Harris Whitbeck has the story from Tikrit.
HARRIS WHITBECK, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The U.S. Army's 4th Infantry Division staged a rather large operation in the Tikrit area Sunday night. More than 300 infantrymen, supported by Bradley fighting vehicles, Apache attack helicopters, and fighter jets from the U.S. Air Force fanned out across an area of about one square kilometer of farmland.
They were looking for several members of Saddam Hussein's former regime and they were looking in particular for a meeting of mid-level associates of Saddam Hussein including one of his top lieutenants.
Now, when they got to the site of that meeting nobody was in the house and a search of the area ensued. Lieutenant Colonel Steve Russell who ran that mission said he was very satisfied with the results. He said that lots of information was gathered that will help him to plan further missions that he says will bring him closer to Saddam Hussein.
The heavy firepower involved in last night's mission was used because the U.S. military planners feel that as they get closer to the more "hardcore loyalists" who are still out there, there is a possibility that these loyalists might use firepower to defend themselves as U.S. troops close in.
So, that is why the commanders on the ground here say that from now on in most raids will be carried out with lots of firepower.
Harris Whitbeck CNN, Tikrit, Iraq.
BLITZER: Kobe Bryant playing offense, will his PR campaign help or hurt his case? We'll hear from both sides.
Plus, voice of terror, a new al Qaeda tape threatens the United States, a closer look at how real the risk may be. We have late- breaking developments from the CIA on this tape.
And, caught in midair, find out what happened when this thrill seeking jumper got snagged. Stay with us.
BLITZER: Welcome back.
On Wednesday, basketball superstar Kobe Bryant will be back in Colorado in a court of law. He went there in June for some knee surgery but things didn't work out the way he had planned. Here's a quick look back at the timeline that got him into so much trouble.
BLITZER (voice-over): June 30, Kobe Bryant checks into the posh lodge and spa at Cordillera in Edwards, Colorado. The alleged sexual assault against the 19-year-old woman occurs in his hotel room shortly thereafter.
The next day, July 1, Bryant's accuser goes to the local police and is subsequently examined by a nurse who specializes in sexual assaults.
July 2, Bryant submits to DNA testing in Colorado, checks out of the hotel, and flies back to California.
There is a mysterious incident the next day, July 3, at Bryant's home in Newport Beach, California. Someone places a 911 call from the home but immediately hangs up.
A dispatcher checks the caller ID and returns the call. After speaking with three people, including Bryant, police and paramedics arrive at the home reportedly to check out an unnamed adult woman who is lying in bed but determined there was no crime and no need for medical assistance they leave the home.
The next day, July 4, Bryant returns to Colorado where he's arrested and released on $25,000 bail. Fast forward to July 18, Eagle County District Attorney Mark Hurlbert files a sexual assault charge against Bryant.
MARK HURLBERT, DISTRICT ATTORNEY: This decision came only after reviewing all the evidence, testimonial evidence and physical evidence, after reviewing the relevant statutes, after reviewing the relevant case law, and after conferring with prosecutors from around the state. Then, and only then, did I make my decision.
BLITZER: Later that evening, with his wife Vanessa sitting next to him, Bryant acknowledges he had sex with the 19-year-old but insists it was consensual.
KOBE BRYANT, DEFENDANT: I didn't force her to do anything against her will. I'm innocent.
BLITZER: And, the latest headlines in the case a high profile public appearance and the loss of an endorsement deal.
Our National Correspondent Gary Tuchman is joining us now live from Eagle, Colorado with details -- Gary.
GARY TUCHMAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, I start off this report in an unorthodox fashion by holding a grocery item up. I hold it not because I'm a pitch man, because Kobe Bryant is the pitch man. This is Nutella hazelnut spread and you could see on the side of the bottler it says "try Kobe's favorite."
Well, this company, Ferrero USA has become the first company to drop Kobe Bryant as an endorser. The company says it was going to drop him in January anyway but put out a statement today saying: "Considering the recent development, Kobe's image on Nutella labels and promotional material is being phased out."
So, once again this is the first company to drop Kobe Bryant as an endorser since this all came into the open, the sexual assault case, back on July 4 when he was arrested.
Now, on Wednesday, two days from now, Kobe Bryant will show up in this courthouse behind me for his initial appearance in court. There will be a far different atmosphere from the atmosphere he saw this weekend in California.
TUCHMAN (voice-over): Kobe Bryant received a warm welcome this weekend when he showed up at the taping of the Teen Choice Awards. He also received one of the awards at the California ceremony.
According to "Entertainment Tonight Online" he paraphrased Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in saying: "An injustice anywhere is an injustice everywhere," which sets up this upcoming (unintelligible).
The teen choice show will air on television Wednesday, the same day Bryant will be seen on TVs all over the world sitting in court as a sexual assault defendant.
BRYANT: I didn't force her to do anything against her will. I'm innocent.
TUCHMAN: But, if he's found guilty of this charge, the possible sentence is four years to life in prison. At the very least he would face 20 years probation and have to register as a sex offender for life.
An Eagle County judge will advise Bryant of the charges and his rights and then most likely set a date for another court hearing where, for the first time, prosecutors will have to publicly present their evidence.
PAM MACKEY, DEFENSE ATTORNEY: No prosecutor should file charges unless the evidence is so strong that the case can be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.
HURLBERT: I feel that after reviewing the evidence, after looking at the evidence, that I can prove this case beyond a reasonable doubt.
TUCHMAN: But all the judge will need is probable cause at Bryant's second hearing, a lower legal threshold, which would continue moving this case through the justice system.
TUCHMAN: We had a little wind just blowing the tent down while we're talking to you that we're standing on. We do want to tell you before we go that Kobe Bryant's accuser is said to be on a little vacation right now. We do not expect her to be at this hearing on Wednesday -- Wolf, back to you.
BLITZER: And this hearing is going to be very brief by all accounts, isn't that right Gary?
TUCHMAN: Wolf, we expect it to be no longer than ten minutes unless something unusual happens.
BLITZER: About 48 hours from now we'll all be watching. Thanks very much, Gary Tuchman in Eagle, Colorado.
With Kobe Bryant stepping out with his wife could his very public appearance influence potential jurors against him or in favor of him? We'll have two assessments.
Also, is the U.S. trying to work out a deal with Iran to get its hands on high ranking al Qaeda members?
And, Nigerian troops are on the ground in Liberia, could this bring an end to a bloody 14 years of warfare?
First, though, in case you were out enjoying the days off, here's our Weekend Snapshot.
BLITZER (voice-over): A ferry and a cargo vessel collided nine miles southwest of Eleuthera Island in the Bahamas killing four people. The Coast Guard says it flew 16 people by helicopter to Nassau for treatment of injuries, all reportedly minor.
A thrill-seeking parachutist who jumped from a radio tower in Shoreline, Washington, got more adventure than he had bargained for. The 43-year-old college professor snapped himself on a wire and dangled for more than two hours. Firefighters rescued him at risk of their own lives. He may face charges of criminal trespassing and reckless endangerment.
In Washington, D.C., an out of control car hit a curb, went airborne, and slammed into a living room of a house in the middle of the night. The crash killed the driver. The terrified homeowner broke out his upstairs window, jumped out, fell on his back and died of a heart attack.
Boxer Mike Tyson's lawyer disclosed that the former heavyweight champ has filed for bankruptcy. Tyson was once estimated to be worth at least $300 million.
The Jennifer Lopez-Ben Affleck movie "Gigli" tanked at the box office after a thorough trashing by the critics. It opened in a tie for seventh place in North American box office receipts. "American Wedding" opened at number one.
More than 1,300 picnickers brought their baskets to Manhattan's Bryant Park claiming a place in the Guinness Book of Records for the world's largest picnic, and that's our Weekend Snapshot.
BLITZER: More now on the case against Kobe Bryant and how the real life courtroom drama might unfold in the coming days. I'm joined here in Washington by Bill Sullivan. From Denver, I'm joined by Michael Steinberg. They're both criminal defense attorneys.
Let me begin with you, Mr. Steinberg, and ask you what do you believe the prospect of getting a fair jury in Eagle, Colorado is?
MICHAEL STEINBERG, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: I think under the law, Wolf, it's actually very good. I know that there's been a lot of discussion about the races of the individuals involved but I think the population in Eagle County is unique in the sense that it's a highly educated population and I believe that given Kobe's status as a veritable icon that I believe he will get a very fair trial.
BLITZER: Do you agree with that Mr. Sullivan?
BILL SULLIVAN, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Well, I have no reason to disagree with it. I don't appreciate the profile of the jury pool out there to be anything but fair and reasonable when given the opportunity to voice their views.
I do know, however that there has been large instances of racial profiling in that jurisdiction and some sanctions have been levied against the law enforcement agencies for that purpose, but that does not and should not impugn the integrity of the broad-based community.
BLITZER: Well, do you believe that issue, the profiling, the racial profiling, apparently one of the investigators involved in Kobe Bryant's investigation was involved in an ugly incident a few years back. Should that even be an issue of evidence? SULLIVAN: It shouldn't be an issue of evidence. It's just something for the defense team to consider when viewing the populous at large for purposes of vetting potential jurors.
It's a factor to be considered and, I think, voir dire questions should be geared toward eliminating any prospect of racial bias. But, let me say, I don't have any specific indications that that population in and of itself is to be tagged in that way.
BLITZER: Mr. Steinberg, do you want to weigh in on that?
STEINBERG: I agree. I agree. I think that the focus there is on law enforcement not on the population of Eagle County. I believe that Eagle County will be -- the jurors will be examined during voir dire and their biases and prejudices, if any, will be explored during the voir dire process.
I think the issue is the investigation, the nature of the investigation, the thoroughness of the investigation and the way it proceeded. Those issues of racial profiling go to law enforcement not to the jury pool.
BLITZER: We saw on our timeline, Mr. Sullivan, should it make any difference at all that the accuser in this case waited until the next day to show up at police headquarters?
SULLIVAN: I think that's something that the defense will seek to exploit. You would anticipate that an individual who was violated to the extent that any person who pursues a rape case would be would look for immediate medical consultation and that would be the night thereof or certainly within hours thereof.
I think the circumstances of that delay, particularly coupled with the idea, and I think the evidence exists, that there was at least some consensual undertakings in terms of the young lady showing Mr. Bryant the hotel for purposes of a tour.
There are some suggestions that some type of consensual sexual activity ensued but that she put the brakes on and that, I think, is something to be developed by the defense, coupled with the lateness of the report that suggests that she may be simply having second thoughts as opposed to whether or not lack of consent was, in fact, the case.
BLITZER: In these kinds of cases, Mr. Sullivan, is that usually a factor, a delay in reporting this alleged kind of sexual assault to police?
SULLIVAN: Anything that impugns the credibility of the victim here. A delay would suggest that she wasn't so overwhelmed, so traumatized that she had to go immediately. Someone who is brutally violated, a rape is an act of violence, someone who was hurt in that way emotionally and physically you would expect to go immediately to the police.
However, there are circumstances where because of the emotional trauma associated with this type of crime an individual may be in shock. An individual may not have her perceptions of reality in focus, maybe so concerned and scared having been so violated that she would wait or consult with friends, acquaintances, family. So, it goes both ways but it's something to be explored by the defense.
BLITZER: What about that? Let me bring in our other guest, go ahead.
STEINBERG: Wolf, I disagree with Mr. Sullivan in that regard. I think that the experts will explain the reason for the delay. The delay wasn't that significant in terms of the amount of time that passed.
Clearly, the defense will explore that aggressively and explore the issues for that but there are many experts who have testified and will testify, I believe in this case, perhaps on both sides, as to the reason for the delay and why the victim waited until the next morning, if in fact she was a victim.
BLITZER: All right, unfortunately we're going to have to leave it right there. Mr. Sullivan, Mr. Steinberg, thanks to both of you for joining us. We'll continue this conversation obviously in the coming days.
SULLIVAN: Thank you.
STEINBERG: Thank you, Wolf.
BLITZER: And here's your chance to weigh in on this story. Our web question of the day is this. "Do you think there should be live cameras in the courtroom during the Kobe Bryant trial?" We'll have the results later in this broadcast but you can vote right now at cnn.com/wolf.
While you are there I'd love to hear directly from you. 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, of course, where you can read my daily online column, cnn.com/wolf.
Al Qaeda's looming threat. Osama bin Laden's No. 2 man thumbs his nose at the United States. Is the terror group getting ready to strike again? We have some new information from the Central Intelligence Agency. We'll bring it to you as part of our closer look.
Plus, triple kidney swap. A medical first that may set a new trend in organ donations.
And the flying Elvis. Machines meet gravity at this one-of-a- kind competition.
ANNOUNCER: CNN live this hour, WOLF BLITZER REPORTS, live from the nation's capital, with correspondents from around the world.
Here now is Wolf Blitzer. BLITZER: Welcome back to CNN.
Al Qaeda sends a nasty message. Is it an empty threat or a dangerous promise? We'll take a closer look.
First, though, the latest headlines.
BLITZER: Let's turn now to the war on terror.
There are fresh signs that a key lieutenant of Osama bin Laden is still very much of a threat. And there are signs as well that Iran may have a key role to play if the United States is to crack the al Qaeda terror network.
BLITZER (voice-over): The very top of al Qaeda's leadership, still elusive, still able to tweak their American adversaries. U.S. officials are evaluating the latest audiotape purportedly from Osama bin Laden's right-hand man, Ayman al-Zawahiri. On the tape, the man claiming to be al-Zawahiri threatens retaliation if detainees held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba are tried in military tribunals and face the death penalty.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): The crusader, America, will pay a very high price for any harm that will affect any of the prisoners they are holding.
BLITZER: CNN experts familiar with al Qaeda say it sounds like al-Zawahiri.
PETER BERGEN, TERRORISM ANALYST: I would be surprised if it isn't him.
This is the fourth tape this year we've had either from bin Laden or Ayman al-Zawahiri, so, in a sense, Secretary Ridge -- not particularly surprising that on the tape there are more threats against the United States. Something that seemed odd to me is on the tape bin Laden is not mentioned.
BLITZER: Iran may be holding the key to another top al Qaeda leader. Newspaper and television network reports say Iran sent out feelers about a possible swap with the U.S.: al Qaeda figures being held in Iran in exchange for members of an anti-Iran terrorist group in U.S. custody in Iraq.
One of the people Iran is holding, Saif Al-Adel, al Qaeda's alleged No. 3 man, wanted in connection with the 1998 U.S. embassy bombings in Africa. But "The New York Times" reports no deal was reached.
And the White House last week flatly denied there were any negotiations, though CNN has confirmed the U.S. and Iran exchanged messages through Swiss diplomats. U.S. officials warn, even with al Qaeda leaders in custody or on the run, the group is still lethal.
JOHN ASHCROFT, ATTORNEY GENERAL: We continue to develop information that leads us to believe that al Qaeda wants to continue to strike the United States. There is a debate about whether anniversaries are the key to those kinds of things or whether al Qaeda really and other terrorist groups, develop plans and when they are ready, and when they have opportunity, they strike.
BLITZER: Two key anniversaries looming: the U.S. embassy bombings in Africa, five years ago this month, and September 11.
BLITZER: A CIA official says a technical analysis shows that the voice on this latest audiotape is -- and I'm quoting now -- most likely that of bin Laden's aide, Ayman al-Zawahiri.
Joining me is an expert on al Qaeda, the journalist Eric Margolis. He's the author of the important book, "War at the Top of the World: The struggle for Afghanistan, Kashmir and Tibet."
Eric, thanks as usual for joining us.
What do you make of the possibility of a swap involving some al Qaeda operatives in Iran in exchange for anti-Iranian terrorists the U.S. is holding in Iraq?
ERIC MARGOLIS, AUTHOR, "WAR AT THE TOP OF THE WORLD": I think it's still possible.
The Iranian government is in a difficult position. Its minister of intelligence announced last week that they were holding both large and small members of al Qaeda. This has been rumored for some time, including the ones that you would mention. Important then in their own way.
There was also a rumor they were holding Dr. Zawahiri. But I think this has been discounted. But the Americans would very much like to get their hands on these people. It would really put a big major hole in al Qaeda operations. But Iran has no extradition treaty with the U.S., no diplomatic relations, and it would encounter a storm of abuse from the Arab world if it handed the people over. And interestingly, Dr. Zawahiri, in his last tape, said that anybody who cooperated with the United States by handing over al Qaeda people would become an object of al Qaeda attack and this could mean Iran now for the first time.
BLITZER: If we're hearing now this audiotape that the CIA now believes is authentic, how much of a threat in your opinion does al Qaeda pose to the U.S. and its friends?
MARGOLIS: I think that the threat has been exaggerated to a certain amount. Al Qaeda's ability to attack the United States has been sharply limited. You know, there have been 3, 000 suspected members of al Qaeda arrested, mostly by Pakistan and in Europe. But obviously its capability to move attacks has been limited. This doesn't mean it still can't mount some awful attack.
Dr. Zawahiri is the most capable and vicious and he is has a bloody record. So it is possible, and it's time for al Qaeda to launch an attack, Wolf, because they haven't done anything notable in quite some months. The United States has been spared attack, and to keep themselves in business, as a premiere terrorist operation, they need to do something dramatic soon.
BLITZER: Do you believe that they will be looking for one of these anniversaries like 9/11, for example, that are coming up?
MARGOLIS: Wolf, it has been the trend that they have, sometimes picking fairly obscure anniversaries that we're not looking for. But they very well may.
There's still the revenge that was promised for the invasion of Iraq, even though al Qaeda and Saddam are bitter enemies. Al Qaeda said that it will take revenge for Iraq, and there is the Guantanamo issue, which is also another pretext.
BLITZER: All right. Eric Margolis joining us with his expert analysis, as usual. Eric, thanks very much.
MARGOLIS: You're welcome, Wolf.
BLITZER: Three hundred West African peacekeepers are now on the ground in civil war-ravaged Liberia. They're the Nigerian vanguard of a force that may swell to 10 times that number.
CNN's Jeff Koinange is joining us now live via videophone from Monrovia. Jeff, what's the latest?
JEFF KOINANGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the phrase "never have so few meant so much to so many" would best be used to describe this day. As you said, peacekeepers, only 300 in number, but 300 is what's probably going to be needed as a show of force, because there are many more coming. Nigerian peacekeepers arrived in the capital, Monrovia. But they haven't actually rolled into the city. But when they did arrive at the airport, they received a rousing welcome from tens of thousands of Liberians who have been suffering, Wolf, suffering from not only the last few months of war, but the last 14 years.
But I'll tell you, after the celebrations, the peacekeepers have their work cut out for them. They'll have to first secure the capital Monrovia and then they'll have to stop the fighting that's been going on for endlessly for the last 14 straight days. After that, secure the ports of Monrovia and Buchanan so that much-needed food aid, much- needed relief can come to Monrovia's starving and suffering masses, Wolf.
BLITZER: Jeff Koinange, be careful over there. Thanks very much for that report. We'll be following all of these developments.
Still to come -- we'll have more developments on our top story, what's going on in Minneapolis right now involving an openly gay priest and the Episcopal Church. We have some new developments. Coming up, we'll go there live.
Also, a triple kidney swap. Coming up, find out why three living donors gave their organs to total strangers. We'll talk to the doctor who performed this milestone surgery. Stay with us.
BLITZER: Now back to our top story. Surprise last-minute allegations have postponed the final controversial vote on approving the Episcopal Church's first openly gay bishop. Once again, our national correspondent Susan Candiotti is joining us live from Minneapolis. Any indication, Susan, when this vote is now going to happen?
SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely none. No one knows how long a newly began investigation will take into two allegations involving Reverend Gene Robinson. The nature of these allegations are two-fold. Number one, his relationship to a Web site for an organization that he helped found, called Outright. It councils gay and lesbian youth. The question, does he have any connection to this Web site, which he says he does not, which takes you to additional links, which eventually show pornographic pictures, pictures that have been described in that fashion of people having sex.
Reverend Gene Robinson has said that he has no knowledge of this Web site, but this is what the bishops are going to look into.
Number two, they are looking into an accusation made in an e-mail that was sent to all of the bishops late last night. In it, a man from Vermont says that -- and accuses Reverend Robinson of, quote, "inappropriate behavior," that he allegedly touched him in an inappropriate way. We have no further details on that. Again, a committee has been formed to look into this, and we don't know how long the vote will be suspended until that investigation is complete -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Susan, thanks very much for that update.
We have more now on these dramatic developments, and for that I'm joined by the Reverend Claiborne Jones, she is an Episcopal priest in Atlanta and she voted yesterday in favor of Gene Robinson. Reverend Jones is joining us now live from the church convention in Minneapolis as well. Reverend Jones, thanks very much for joining us. I hope you can hear me OK. Can hear me OK?
REV. CLAIBORNE JONES, CHURCH OF THE EPIPHANY, ATLANTA, GEORGIA: Much better. Yes. Just fine. Thanks.
BLITZER: Excellent. Is this just a last-minute allegation that's come forward? How seriously is the church taking this?
JONES: I think from what I understand, the House of Bishops is taking it seriously. The presiding bishop I believe has appointed a committee to investigate the allegations. But since we have in the Episcopal Church a procedure in every diocese to handle accusations of sexual harassment and this gentlemen could have brought these charges months, years, whatever ago, it is a little bit suspicious to me personally that they'd come at the 11th hour like this.
BLITZER: It sounds like it's someone who is perhaps desperate to undermine -- to undermine this potential bishop.
JONES: I can't speak for that, because I don't know the person who made the allegations at all, but it does certainly come at an inconvenient time for those who would like to confirm bishop-elect Robinson.
BLITZER: As far as you know, has there been any kind of accusation like this at all in his background?
JONES: I have never heard of any such accusation, and there is a very strenuous process of background checking whenever a person is nominated for the office of bishop in the Episcopal Church. So I'd be very surprised if this is an accurate accusation, or if there were others that happened previous to this.
BLITZER: And what about the separate allegation, that Susan Candiotti reported, the connection to some sort of Web site that may have had a few links that could have come to a -- gone to a pornographic Web site? That sounds pretty far fetched to me.
JONES: Well, it seems like a stretch to me. I can certainly understand, since I have a lot of civic board involvements myself, that I could be linked to a Web site that could, you know, 12 links further down the road be linked to something inappropriate that I would personally completely disapprove of. But I find that hard to take too seriously personally.
BLITZER: So what do you expect to happen in the coming hours? I assume people are getting ready to leave the convention and head home.
JONES: We have a few more hours of work in the House of Deputies. The House of Bishops has just taken a break and will reconvene, I believe.
I would expect that the bishops will want to resolve and vote on this matter while we are here in Minneapolis. So I hope it won't go on for more than another day or so at the very most. But I have no way of really prognosticating about that.
BLITZER: The Reverend Claiborne Jones, thanks very much, Reverend, for joining us.
JONES: My pleasure. You're welcome.
BLITZER: Coming up -- musical organs, Johns Hopkins University Medical Center utilizes a special system to help patients in need of life-saving transplants. Meet an extraordinary doctor who leads this program.
First, though, a quick look at some other news making headlines around the world.
BLITZER (voice-over): Portugal's government is pledging financial aid for victims of the country's worst wildfires in two decades. More than 70 blazes still are burning. The fires have killed at least nine people in the past week. Fires also raging in British Columbia, more than 350 in all. The largest has destroyed about 80 homes and forced 10,000 people to evacuate. That fire grew by more than 40 percent yesterday.
China has unveiled its logo for the 2008 Summer Olympic Games in Beijing. It's the city's name, written in Chinese and drawn to resemble a runner. Two thousand people attended the ceremony.
Some unusual sights at London's Hyde Park. It's called fluttag (ph), literally flying day. Forty people competed to see who could get the most air in their homemade man-powered flying machines.
Celebrations at a zoo in northeast China, marking the birth of three rare white tigers. The two females and one male are the offspring of tigers on loan from Italy and Sweden. There are only 200 of the animals worldwide.
And the world's largest annual sailing regatta is under way off Britain's Isle of White. More than 900 yachts and 6,000 competitors are taking part in the eight-day race.
And that's our look around the world.
BLITZER: An update now on an incredible story we first reported last week. Three donors and three recipients are recovering from a highly unusual and highly complex triple kidney transplant. Dr. Robert Montgomery of Johns Hopkins Medical Center in Baltimore was the lead surgeon. He's join me now live here in Washington.
First of all, doctor, congratulations.
How are the patients doing?
DR. ROBERT MONTGOMERY, LEAD SURGEON: They are doing great. One of the donors went back to work today. A week out from the operation.
BLITZER: And the recipients?
MONTGOMERY: The recipients, two are -- two are still in the hospital and one's already gone home.
BLITZER: It's pretty amazing stuff that's going on.
Tell us what was so extraordinary about what you accomplished. MONTGOMERY: Well, I think there's a crisis right now in that the number of patients who need a kidney transplant is growing exponentially, where as the supply of organs is really stagnant. So we're looking at very innovative ways to try to get people transplants.
BLITZER: That was very innovative.
Normally it works how?
MONTGOMERY: Well, normally you have a loved one who you want desperately to donate a kidney to and you donate your kidney to that person.
BLITZER: And you assume it's compatible.
MONTGOMERY: It's compatible.
BLITZER: In this particular case you went outside the box.
MONTGOMERY: That's true. There's a large number of patients who have come with incompatibilities with their donors and we try to match them up through an elaborate system.
BLITZER: Walk us through how you did it in this particular case.
MONTGOMERY: We've sort of become the supreme court of kidney transplantations. We are the place that people come when they have nowhere else to go.
BLITZER: At John Hopkins Hospital?
MONTGOMERY: Well, our program, which is set up to take care of patients who have incompatibilities with their donors. So each of these pairs arrive separately.
BLITZER: You can see, we put the names on the screen to show our viewers.
MONTGOMERY: Right. So they each arrive separately. And each had an incompatibility and so could not receive an organ from their loved one. And so they were willing to enter into a situation where we would try to match them with another donor recipient pair in order to give everyone a compatible organ.
BLITZER: So three people in need of kidneys had three loved ones, basically, and they couldn't get the kidney from the person that loved them, their sister, their brother, their wife or whatever, so they managed to find people who could use those kidneys and they made the swaps?
MONTGOMERY: Well, we found those people. I mean, we look at this large number of patients who have come to us with incompatibilities, and we try to mix and match and try to give them a situation where they can receive a compatible organ.
BLITZER: It sounds like such a logical, such a good idea, why has it taken so long to come up with this?
MONTGOMERY: It's actually very complicated. We, he had six operating rooms running simultaneously. It's a huge amount of resources that are involved in something like this. And quite honestly, people have been worried about some of the possible things that could happen when you have a group of people who are donating to someone.
BLITZER: To a stranger.
MONTGOMERY: To a stranger. In order to get a kidney for their loved one. You can think of all sorts of scenarios, where things could happen.
BLITZER: Somebody could be duped into giving a kidney and their loved one is not get one.
MONTGOMERY: Well, I don't think that's as much the issue as you could have someone who have second thoughts. That's why we do all the operations simultaneously. You could imagine that we could open up one of the donors and find a cancer, for instance, and we wouldn't be able to then transplant.
BLITZER: It's pretty amazing stuff. This is obviously the cutting edge. It's going to be the future.
MONTGOMERY: It is the future. We have a crisis on our hands and we need to find solutions. This is one of those solutions.
BLITZER: Dr. Montgomery, good work. Thanks very much. Keep us informs on how things are going.
MONTGOMERY: Thank you.
BLITZER: Appreciate it.
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