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Weapons Fallout; Interview With Scott Ritter; Medicare Overhaul Goes Over Budget

Aired January 30, 2004 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Weapons fallout.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I, too, want to know the facts.

BLITZER: Is it now his turn to say I told you so? I'll speak with former U.N. inspector, Scott Ritter.

Whoops! The president's Medicare overhaul is over budget. Some fellow Republicans aren't happy. And that's making Democrats very happy.

Super Sunday, TV sponsors will be going for the big score.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Routine oil change, $20.


BLITZER: We'll have a preview.

ANNOUNCER: This is WOLF BLITZER REPORTS for Friday, January 30, 2004.


BLITZER: We begin with a remarkable statement today by President Bush now apparently voicing his own doubts about Iraq's alleged arsenal of banded weapons, an arsenal that was presented as a cause for war. Just two days after the man who headed the U.S. weapons hunt testified that his inspectors had come up empty-handed, the president says he wants to learn more.


BLITZER (voice-over): It was a candid moment from the president. Even he is now no longer sure whether Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction just before the U.S. led invasion.

BUSH: I, too, want to know the facts. I want to be able to compare what the Iraqi survey group has found with what we thought prior to going into Iraq.

BLITZER: It was in sharp contrast to the categorical statements he and his top aides made about Iraq's weapons before the war, statements his former top weapons hunter, David Kay, now says were based on faulty intelligence. That has led many Democrats and some Republicans to call for an outside commission to investigate.

But even as that pressure mounts President Bush so far isn't saying whether he will support such an inquiry, though he isn't backing away at all from his decision to go to war.

BUSH: Saddam Hussein was a danger. He was a growing danger. We dealt with the danger and as a result the world is a better and more peaceful place and other Iraqi people are free.

BLITZER: Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz among those make the strongest case for the war isn't backing down either.

PAUL WOLFOWITZ, DEPUTY DEFENSE SECRETARY: We didn't mislead the world. What we have been saying, what we saying all along was the unanimous conclusion of our various intelligence services.

BLITZER: Wolfowitz insists the jury is still out on the issue.

WOLFOWITZ: So there are still some things here we don't understand fully. But you have to act based on what you know ahead of time, not on what you're going to learn later.


BLITZER: A newly declassified State Department memo today reveals the secret history of attempts by the United States to get its hands on Osama bin Laden. National correspondent Mike Boettcher has been tracking down the story and joins us now live -- Mike.

MIKE BOETTCHER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the details are outlined in this document, a 9-page State Department cable written in the summer of 2001, months before 9/11.

What it shows is at the political level the U.S. was trying to get Osama bin Laden out of Afghanistan as early as September 1996, which was soon after he turned there from the Sudan. This was also soon after the Taliban regime took power in Afghanistan. At first, the U.S. asked that bin Laden be made unwelcome in Afghanistan. A Taliban official promised he would not be given refuge there.

Early the next year, the U.S. asked permission to visit the terrorist training camps in eastern Afghanistan and the Taliban initially agreed to that as well. But soon the Taliban changed their mind on both counts, despite repeated American requests both before and after two U.S. embassies were bombed by al Qaeda in August of 1998.

All told there were upwards of 30 U.S. contacts with the Taliban listed in the cable, continuing through the summer of 2001. Ultimately says the cable, "all these talks have been fruitless."

At one point, the Taliban made it clear how important al Qaeda was to their own survival saying that if they kicked out bin Laden, that would result in the downfall of Taliban. Of course, after 9/11, the U.S. did invade Afghanistan chasing out both the Taliban and bin Laden -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Mike Boettcher, thanks for that report.

A U.S. military spokesman in Afghanistan raised eyebrows this week when he vowed that the United States intends to catch Osama bin Laden and Mullah Mohammed Omar, quote, "in the next year." This comes as the U.S. is gearing up for a spring offensive in Afghanistan.

Joining us CNN now for some perspective, CNN national security analyst Ken Robinson and CNN terror analyst Peter Bergen. Ken, first to you, is that realistic this year? Osama bin Laden will be captured?

KEN ROBINSON, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: We don't talk to any special operations or military people in Afghanistan or back here that say they don't want to capture bin Laden and don't want to do it as quickly as possible.

But we don't know anyone here or in Afghanistan that we've talked to that is boxing themselves into a specific time period. They all insist that their operations are conducted based on what the enemy does and based on actionable intelligence.

BLITZER: But is there indication that they're getting closer?

ROBINSON: There's indication they're getting cooperation. They're getting more cooperation amongst war lords along the border, that I'm being told. And that may lead to information which might lead to actionable intelligence. But if they specifically knew where he was, they want have launched that mission already.

BLITZER: What do you think about that? are they getting closer to finding Osama bin Laden, Peter?

PETER BERGEN, CNN TERROR ANALYST: The people I've spoken to on the subject tend use phrases like we're back to square one. I don't think that we're much closer. The one time we were close are was in the battle of Tora Bora of December of 2001.

Since then bin Laden, we know vaguely where he is. (UNINTELLIGIBLE). That's like saying I know where -- somebody's in Virginia, it's a 40,000-square-mile area, obviously, in a very tough region.

You think about how long it took to find Eric Rudolph, the alleged Olympic Park bomber who was at large in this country, the subject of a massive manhunt. Took five years. So it's a tough thing finding one person.

BLITZER: It seems though that if they're getting cooperation from war lords, Ken, that could that be significant. Also the roll of the president of Pakistan, Pervez Musharraf, that could be significant as well. ROBINSON: The biggest concern they had all along was being unilateral in Pakistan and creating a footprint in Pakistan that would destabilize President Musharraf.

BLITZER: What exactly does that mean?

ROBINSON: If they took a large force like they have in Afghanistan and placed that in that province and tries to do search and destroy missions...

BLITZER: On the Pakistani side.

ROBINSON: ... on the Pakistani side of the border, the potential outcry in the cities in Afghanistan would be enormous and could destabilize his regime. But since the two assassination attempts there's been new thinking on his longevity and the issue of trying to resolve the issue of bin Laden as a symbol.

BLITZER: That could be very significant, the roll played, because on the Pakistani side of this no-man's-land, whatever you want to call, there's a lot of work that could be done that isn't necessarily being done.

BERGEN: Indeed, there are areas where the Pakistani army has only recently ever entered, ironically enough even though it's inside Pakistan this. This area is so unruly, so tribal. The fact that Musharraf has sort of got religion, as it were, as a result of these two assassination attempts it can (UNINTELLIGIBLE) said.

(UNINTELLIGIBLE) after al Qaeda really tried to assassinate him twice in the space of two week, relatively recently. So he wants to go after them now. I think that does change the dynamic.

BLITZER: Why would this U.S. military spokesman make the flat statement in the next year, they'll get Osama bin Laden?

ROBINSON: We're perplexed about that because in 2002, we were in Afghanistan with the Colonel Hilferty and he's a very moderate public spokesman. And we were surprised that he defined himself by that specific box because most every statement he made is very carefully calculated. So we're not sure what the motivation was behind it.

BLITZER: There's millions of dollars in reward money potentially out there for anyone who comes up with information. Also, Osama bin Laden, he's not somebody who can easily hide. He has distinguishable very characteristics. Remind our viewers.

BERGEN: Even in burka he's 6'5'. So this is not somebody -- it's very hard for him to disguise.

BLITZER: In that part of the world, someone 6'5" is unusual.

BERGEN: Unusual, obviously his face is very well known even if he changes appearance.

So the fact is that people around him are not motivated by these cash rewards. There's $50 million if you include his deputy, Amam al Zawari. There have been rewards on the bin Laden's head since 1999. So people have not been willing to pick up this cash reward. We don't appear to have a mole within the group. Bin Laden is not yakking on a satellite phone or cell phone, hasn't been for years. He's not doing the sorts of things that get people caught.

Eventually, dumb luck may intervene. He'll do something stupid. There is the chain of custody of these audiotapes he keeps releasing. One day we'll be able to trace that.

But the problem is the audiotapes come out infrequently, they go to different places. But that is the one weakness.

BLITZER: Peter Bergen, Ken Robinson, thank you very much. The hunt continues.

A day after a bloody bus bombing in Jerusalem, Israeli troops have hit back hard on several fronts and yesterday's historic prisoner exchange has been followed by an exchange of very, very serious threats. CNN's John Vause reports from Jerusalem.


JOHN VAUSE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Before dawn, about 20 armored vehicles rolled through the streets of Bethlehem. As Israeli troops went from house-to-house, almost a dozen people were arrested during the operation which Israel says was meant to stop future terrorist attacks like the one on Thursday which killed ten Israelis and wounded at least 45 others.

A suicide bomber blew apart a morning bus, he was a Palestinian policeman from Bethlehem, and at his house, Israeli troops ordered his family out, then blew it up.

Also demolished, six buildings. One a four-story apartment complex in the West Bank city of Ramallah. Israel says they caught Hamas operatives here. Palestinians say 50 people are now homeless.

And in Gaza, two Palestinian militants were shot dead by Israeli soldiers not far (UNINTELLIGIBLE) a Jewish settlement. Israel says they were armed with a rocket-propelled grenade and were carrying explosive devices.

In Israel, funerals not only for the victims of those killed in that bus bombing in Jerusalem but also for the three soldiers kidnapped by Hezbollah three years ago. In return for the bodies, Israel released more than 400 Palestinian and other Arab prisoners. Critics here say the price was too high and will lead to more kidnapping.

EHUD YAAHI, ISRAELI ANALYST: The bad news is this is not new. This has been with us for many, many years. They have tried before, I'm sure they'll keep trying.

VAUSE: And now the militant group Hamas says it, too, will kidnap Israeli soldiers. UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): The only way to resolve the issue of Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails is by kidnapping Israeli soldiers and swapping them for prisoners because Israel only understands the language of force.

VAUSE: That brought an immediate response from Israel. Don't mess with us, said one senior government official, and Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has also warned any would-be kidnappers will face Israel's wrath. John Vause, CNN, Jerusalem.


BLITZER: Happening right now, live pictures of a dramatic rescue attempt in Florida. You're looking at live pictures. A worker trapped in a water-filled pit. We'll have more on this life-and-death struggle under way right now. That's coming up.

Also, the hunt for weapons of mass destruction and now the fallout. One man can say I told you so. The former U.N. weapons inspector, Scott Ritter, joins me live.

Super security, unprecedented preparations to keep the people attending the Super Bowl safe. I'll talk live with the mayor of Houston, site of this year's big game. And this...


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Now or never call. Quarterback settles in.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's fourth and goal. This will tell the story.


BLITZER: Off-field hype. The buzz around this year's Super Bowl commercials. A preview. That's coming up ahead.


BLITZER: Underway right now in Parkland, Florida, that's in Broward county not far from Fort Lauderdale. You're looking at these live pictures. Todd LeDuc of Broward County Fire & Rescue is joining us on the phone.

Tell our viewers, Mr. LeDuc, what exactly is happening, how this unfolded.

TODD LEDUC, BROWARD CO. FIRE RESCUE: Sure, at approximately 3:00, the Broward sheriff's office department of fire rescue was called for a technical rescue team. Apparently a construction worker, working in an area with a large pit became trapped, reportedly by a large boulder or rock structure pit and started filling with ground water. He was trapped initially up to approximately his waist, a little bit above that, and water was not able to move, due to being pinned. You can see we've got divers, multiple agencies onscene, the Broward sheriff's office fire rescue, the technical rescue team is working to secure the sides of that pit, to make sure the victim is stable as we work to pump some of that water out and then use heavy equipment to move the actual structure that has him pinned. We also have the Broward sheriff's office air rescue helicopter on standby to rush him to a trauma center once he is freed.

BLITZER: All right, Mr. LeDuc. Good luck to you, and good luck to all the men and women working on the rescue, good luck to the man who is trapped. We'll check back with you periodically to get an update. If there is good news, we'll be speaking to you, of course, immediately. A life-and-death struggle. A man trapped in a water- filled pit. They're trying to rescue him in Broward county not far from Fort Lauderdale. Right now we'll continue to monitor that story but let's move on to some other important news around the world.

There was a bold attack in Baghdad today. Two rocket-propelled grenades were fired at the Dutch embassy. Authorities say one of the grenades set the embassy's roof on fire but the flames were extinguished quickly. The second grenade missed the building entirely. Officials say the embassy was closed for the night and there were no injuries. About 1,000 Dutch troops are in Iraq as part of the U.S.-led coalition.

This week, the former chief U.S. weapons hunter David Kay sent out shockwaves when he said, and I'm quoting now, "we were all wrong about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction." Scott Ritter also led many inspections in Iraq for the United Nations. He quit in 1998, saying the United States and the United Nations were too soft on Iraq, but later voiced strong doubts about Iraq's weapons and became an outspoken opponent of military action.

Scott Ritter is joining us now live from Santa Fe, New Mexico. Scott, thank you for joining us. What do you say to David Kay's bottomline report? Do you feel vindicated?

SCOTT RITTER, FMR. U.N. WEAPONS INSPECTOR: Well, it goes beyond any sense of personal vindication, I think we're dealing with a national issue here where all Americans need to reflect long and hard on the reason why 130,000 troops are at war.

I think David Kay made the only conclusion the facts would allow him to make which is that there is no evidence to sustain the pre-war assertions made by President Bush and others that Iraq had massive stockpiles of chemical and biological agent. That they had an ongoing nuclear weapons program. That they had a ballistic missile capability. Clearly there was no substantive fact to back up the allegations and David Kay has drawn the right conclusion on that front.

BLITZER: Scott, as much as you opposed the war, even you suspected they were concealing some quantity, some stockpiles of banned weapons, as I recall from all of our interviews?

RITTER: Look, I never wanted to gift Iraqis a clean bill of health. They didn't deserve any gift of that nature. I've always, since my resignation in 1998, have been a proponent about getting U.N. weapons inspections in Iraq to complete the mandate of the security council without interference from either Iraq or the United States, which was pursuing, you know, an independent policy initiative of regime change that took precedence over disarmament.

Clearly, I've said that we could account for 90 to 95 percent of Iraq's weapons capability, verifiably, but that there was 5 to 10 percent that we don't what the final disposition of it was and we needed to let U.N. weapons inspectors figure that out. And that's what I was pushing for. United Nations inspection to do this important task. Not an invasion which puts American military lives at risk when a threat has yet to be quantified.

BLITZER: David Kay, as you well know, says that not the Bush administration, the political leadership, the president or the vice president. They didn't get it wrong, the career professionals in the intelligence community in the U.S. military, they were the ones who got it wrong, as a result, there should be an outside investigation into how they came up with apparently faulty intelligence, is that your assessment?

RITTER: This is where David Kay and I part ways. You know, I know what the intelligence community of the United States, Great Britain and indeed Israel felt about Iraq in late 1998. While there was concern about the unfinished business of disarmament, nobody maintains that Iraq had massive stockpiles of chemical, biological agents.

Nobody maintained that Iraq represented a clear and present risk of growing danger that needed to be confronted. Indeed this assessment was upheld until 2001. Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice both maintained in 2001 that Iraq was a containable threat, that it didn't pose a threat. Something occurred between 2001 and 2003 that changed the way...

BLITZER: Let me interrupt you, Scott. What happened was 9/11.

RITTER: 9/11 had nothing to do with Iraq and now we come down to the crux of the matter here. This isn't an intelligence failure, this is a policy failure. This is policymakers like Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, Condoleezza Rice and others who used 9/11 to pursue their own agenda on Iraq when they knew there was neither substantive factually based information to sustain Iraq's weapons of mass destruction threat or links between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda.

We have to go back to Harry Truman's old adage. The buck stops at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. I agree, there has to be a full investigation but not just of the intelligence community but of the policymakers who made the decision to go to war based upon faulty (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

BLITZER: Having said all that, you lived in Iraq, you were a U.N. inspect. You saw what life was like under Saddam Hussein's regime, when all is said and done, despite some apparently faulty intelligence, are the people are Iraq better off today? RITTER: That's a question that has to be asked of the people of Iraq.

BLITZER: But what do you believe?

RITTER: I believe that the people of Iraq are going to -- they're suffering now, and they're going to suffer for years to come because of our unilateral actions, that there were ways to deal with Saddam Hussein that didn't involve unilateral invasion with the United States stepping away from international law, et cetera.

More importantly, though than the Iraqi people, I care about the American people. I care about the damage that's been done to democratic processes. The president of the United States misleading Congress, misleading the American people, the Congress abrogating the constitutional responsibilities regarding the declaration of war.

I think this country has been hurt tremendously by this war in Iraq, and we're going to continue to suffer. And that's why I think it's imperative that we complete the phase of democratic processes which is accountability. We hold those whom we elect to higher office accountable for what they do in our name. The president of the United States either lied or misled the American people and I think everybody in the United States has to look themselves in the mirror and say what are we going to do about it?

BLITZER: Scott Ritter, we're going to leave it right there. Thank you for joining us.

RITTER: Thank you.

BLITZER: And to our viewers, here's your chance to weigh in on this important story. Our web question of the day is this, "should there be an independent commission to find the facts on Iraq's WMD?" You can vote right now. Go to We'll have the results later in this broadcast.

Inside Iran, a possible trip by United States congressional delegation, the first official visit since the 70s. I'll talk live with Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania. He's involved in this dramatic development.

Tragic passing, news on the woman who created numerous reality TV shows, including "The Real World."

On the edge, a truck and its driver dangling, 185 feet above water. More on this. That's coming up as well.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Diaper, milk and laundry detergent. $25.



BLITZER: Homer Simpson at the Super Bowl. Just one commercial hoping to steal the spotlight at the big game. We'll have a preview.


BLITZER: We're following a potentially significant story right now. Perhaps the first step toward improving relations between the United States and Iran, which had been dubbed one of the members of the axis of evil, as all of our viewers remember, by President Bush.

Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, today said a group of congressional staffers will go to Tehran next month. It will be the first visit of its kind since 1979 when all those Americans were held hostage for 444 days. Senator Specter is joining us now live from Philadelphia. What's going on, Senator Specter?

SEN. ARLEN SPECTER (R), PENNSYLVANIA: I think, Wolf, the time is right now to pursue some talks with Iran. I think that the scene has changed in the Mideast with our projection of power there. Iran has now shown a willingness to have the United Nations come in with inspections on their nuclear facilities.

There's a lot of turmoil in the country, elections coming up there, a contest as to who the candidates will be. The theocracy still trying to control things, some forces of moderation. I've had some talks with Iranian officials, the Iranian ambassador to the U.N. and his predecessor. I met the speaker of the Iranian parliament when he was in New York a couple of years ago, and Congressman Bob Nay and I have been interested in the exchange of parliamentarians.

The Iranians are unwilling to have talks and so as our executive branch, executive to executive, I checked with a ranking official of the state department and heard that there was no objection to this kind of an effort, not that we have to get their permission, but I checked with them.

BLITZER: And so the Bush administration is on board. They're letting you go ahead with this exchange of delegations, is that right?

SPECTER: Well, that's true. Of course, they can't control us but I don't want to do something which is contrary to State Department policy if they have a reason not to. I made that check as I say with a ranking official, and it's fine, it's fine with them.

BLITZER: Let me ask you this question, the Iranian ambassador to the United Nations, he was allowed to leave New York, supposedly he's supposed to be only within a 25-mile radius, but the State Department gave him permission to come to Capitol Hill?

SPECTER: That's right. He had other business in Washington. They grant that extension from time to time, but we had a very cordial dinner. I talked to the ambassador about Hezbollah, urged them to stop supporting Hezbollah and the incursions and attacks on northern Israel. We talked about their nuclear facilities. He's a very interesting man, a very intelligent man, and it's a start. The Iranians do not want to have parliamentarians but staff members are going to go. And Wolf, I think it's an important first step.

BLITZER: Well, we'll see what happens, we'll see if some of those early first steps, as all of our viewers remember, between the U.S. and China eventually led to a thaw. Let me pick your brain on this subject of weapons of mass destruction and Iraq before I let you go. Some of your Democratic colleagues and one -- at least one of your Republican colleagues Senator McCain now wants an outside commission to investigate perhaps faulty intelligence. You're a former chairman of the Senate intelligence committee. Is it time for an outside investigation?

SPECTER: It's premature to decide that. We might have to go there in the long run, but in the first instance I think it ought to be the intelligence committees. The intelligence committees have oversight, I chair the intelligence committee in the 104th Congress. Let them do their job and then make the judgment after they have done their job.

I think it's very important, Wolf, to look forward and not backward, stop casting blame. If you want to cast blame, there are a lot of people who can be blamed. Lots of administrations, both Democrats and Republicans. The important thing at this point is how do we correct the failure of intelligence?

We have an intelligence committee which has very capable members. They're close to writing a report. Let's review what they say before we go back to an independent commission. Sometimes you need an independent commission but I think that it is congressional oversight which has that constitutional responsibility. And let's let them do their job first.

BLITZER: Senator Specter, thanks for joining us.

SPECTER: Always glad to be with you, Wolf. Thank you.

BLITZER: Thank you.

The Dean machine gets lean. The Southerners spread their charm and the front-runner faces new attacks. We'll take you to all the action on the campaign trail.

And look at this, committing a cannibal, a surprising sentence in a bizarre case.

Plus, this:


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Must be tough being a big-time basketball player.


(END VIDEO CLIP) BLITZER: Super Bowl ads, super ads, in fact, a sneak peek at the TV commercials we actually want to watch.

Stay with us.


BLITZER: Welcome back to CNN. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.

The price of Medicare skyrocketing above and beyond original estimates, startling new numbers prompting criticism from both Democrats, as well as Republicans. We'll get to that.

First, though, a quick check of the latest headlines. Another jury has deadlocked in the case of former Inglewood, California, police officer Jeremy Morse. He's accused of using excessive force against a teenager during an arrest in 2002. The first trial also ended in a hung jury. It's now up to the prosecutors to decide whether to try Morse for a third time.

A BBC journalist whose report alleged the British government -- quote -- "sexed up" intelligence about Iraq has resigned. Andrew Gilligan is the third person to resign from the BBC in as many days. A judicial inquiry called his reporting -- quote -- "unfounded." In a statement today, Gilligan admitted mistakes were made, but said the BBC -- and I'm quoting now -- "is a victim of grave injustice."

Muslims from around that world are gathering in Mecca, Saudi Arabia for the hajj. The pilgrimage is one of five pillars of Islam. Every Muslim who can afford it is required to do it at least once in a lifetime. Security is extremely tight for the event.

High winds in Washington state resulted nearly in a disaster on this bridge near Seattle. A wind gust estimated 70 miles an hour pushed this truck into ongoing -- oncoming traffic and nearly over the side for a 185-foot plunge. The truck driver managed to climb out safely. The driver of the other vehicle had minor injuries.

BLITZER: The woman behind some of the best-known reality TV series has died. Mary-Ellis Bunim created MTV's "The Real World" in 1990. She went on to co-create "Road Rules," "Making the Band" and, most recently, "The Simple Life." Bunim died after a long battle with cancer. She was only 57 years old.

President Bush is defending the recently enacted Medicare reform, but its growing price tag has stunned many lawmakers. Democrats, as well as Republicans, even some of those who voted for the overhaul are taken aback.

Our White House correspondent Suzanne Malveaux is joining us now live with details -- Suzanne.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, it was a major political victory for the Bush administration when it pushed that Medicare reform bill. It passed by just five votes in the House last year. But, of course, this is based on some different figures. There is quite a bit of concern over the new estimated figures now. There are conservative Republicans who are looking at this 10-year plan. And they approved of it by the Congressional Budget Office estimate of $400 billion.

But now the White House's Office of Management and Budget estimates that it's going cost nearly 30 percent more. That's about $535 billion. Now, the White House today said that it did not intentionally mean to mislead Congress, that the president himself said that he found out about this new figure just a couple weeks ago, but he's putting the onus on Congress to adjust.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The Medicare reform we did is a good reform, fulfills a longstanding problem to our seniors. Congress is now going to have to work with us to make sure that we set priorities and are fiscally wise with the taxpayers' money.


MALVEAUX: Now, the federal deficit is estimated to be $520 billion. That's what the president is going to outline in his proposed budget on Monday.

Republicans are concerned about this. And Democrats believe that this is -- really would allow the opportunity for Congress to reopen and reconsider this bill.


SEN. TOM DASCHLE (D-SD), MINORITY LEADER: Even government doesn't make a mistake that big most of the time. So this is an embarrassment to the administration, and it should be.


MALVEAUX: The White House insists that it can afford this, but they are very much concerned, Wolf, that this could become a political liability -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Suzanne Malveaux at the White House, thanks very much for that report.

With another round of presidential primaries and caucuses coming up this coming Tuesday, South Carolina will be a critical weekend battleground. Experts say John Edwards, a native of South Carolina and a senator from neighboring North Carolina, badly needs to win in the Palmetto State to remain a credible candidate. But rivals John Kerry and Wesley Clark are campaigning aggressively.

We have a series of report, starting with CNN national correspondent Frank Buckley, covering the Edwards campaign.


FRANK BUCKLEY, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Senator John Edwards is spending the day in the state that he considers a must-win state for him, the state in which he was born, South Carolina. Here at a candidates forum, he emphasized poverty and jobs, but he was asked how, as a wealthy trial attorney, he could relate.

SEN. JOHN EDWARDS (D-NC), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I grew up the way you grew up. I come from the same place. I spent 20 years in courtrooms fighting for you against big corporate America, against big insurance companies. I will never forget where I come from. And you can take that to the bank.

BUCKLEY: The senator is spending the day in South Carolina, ending it with a benefit concert by Hootie and the Blowfish. Tonight, he'll be continuing on to Missouri, New Mexico and Oklahoma.

Frank Buckley, CNN, Columbia, South Carolina.



KELLY WALLACE, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: This afternoon, John Kerry will be in Delaware, part of his six-day, seven-state tour, with Kerry spending time in all seven states holding contests on Tuesday.

Earlier, he was in South Carolina, trying to win the support of some of the state's 415,000 veterans. While Kerry was speaking, also in South Carolina, retired General Wesley Clark was criticizing Kerry on the issue of affirmative action, saying, in last night's debate, Kerry did not take responsibility for at one time calling affirmative action divisive.

We caught up with the senator, who said his position was the same as then-President Clinton, that affirmative action should not be ended, but mended. The senator went on to accuse Wesley Clark of -- quote -- "playing politics."

Before leaving here, the senator received another major endorsement, the backing of the large and influential union, the Communication Workers of America.

Kelly Wallace, CNN, reporting from Columbia, South Carolina.


BLITZER: Howard Dean appears to be writing off South Carolina. He left the state today and he is not expected to return before Tuesday's primary.

CNN senior political correspondent Candy Crowley has more.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SR. POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: From South Carolina, the Dean campaign is headed West to Missouri, New Mexico, and overnighting in Arizona. While it holds out little chance that Dean can really make a showing in Missouri, they believe that, in the Southwest, they do have a chance.

They've been up there with ads, although they have all been taken down since then. The Dean campaign clearly floundering at this point. Their money has gone from about $41 million raised last year to an estimated $5 million cash on hand. As a result, there may be some staff cuts.

But right now, what Howard Dean needs more than anything else is some momentum. They're considering here a visit by Al Gore, who endorsed Dean early on. There was talk earlier he might come to South Carolina and campaign. Now there is a consideration of a joint appearance.

Candy Crowley, CNN, Columbia, South Carolina.


BLITZER: Now a look what the other Democratic presidential candidates are doing.

Hoping not to strike out with voters there, Joe Lieberman is driving through Delaware today, first meeting with a senior bowling league in New Castle, then dining with supporters in Dover.

It's another dawn-to-dusk weekend ahead for Dennis Kucinich. Before heading to New Mexico and Arizona, he spoke with students at Claflin University in South Carolina.

Al Sharpton stays the course in the Palmetto State. He spoke with students at a Columbia high school and later rallied with young voters at Benedict College.

And that's our look at rest of the 2004 presidential candidates on the trail.

Remembering a disaster, the shuttle Columbia tragedy almost one years ago, looking back and ahead to this weekend's anniversary.

Super tight security. Unprecedented measures being taken right now to safeguard Sunday's big game. We'll have details.

Plus, this:


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: We all have needs, Julie.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: It's got sprinkles.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BLITZER: Why wait until Tuesday? Grab the Buffalo wings and the chips and the salsa. We have a sneak preview of the ads everyone is talking about.

First, though, a quick look at some other news making headlines around the world.


BLITZER (voice-over): Criminal cannibal. A German judge has sentenced a confessed cannibal to 8 1/2 years in prison for killing a willing victim and eating him. Prosecutors wanted a murder conviction, but the judge settled on the lesser charge of manslaughter, saying both the killer and his voluntary victim were extremely disturbed people who wanted something from each other.

Venezuelan violence. Political unrest continues in Venezuela, where students battled police in skirmish that lasted several hours. The students say President Hugo Chavez is persecuting political opponents.

Class action. It was teachers, not students, who were disruptive in Mexico. Hundreds of teachers fought with each other in a dispute over union leadership.

Whale of a mess. Here's something you don't see every day. The remains of a sperm whale were being trucked to a Taiwan university when gases from the internal decay caused the carcass to explode, spraying a busy street with whale guts. About the smell, don't even ask.

Canine crooner. Dinky Di may be Australia's best piano-playing, singing dingo. OK, so Dinky Di may be Australia's only singing, piano-playing dingo. But he's so popular, he's about to become the answer to a question in the Australian edition of Trivial Pursuit, proof once again that dogged determination can lead to howling success.

And that's our look around the world.



BLITZER: NASA and the nation are preparing to mark a grim anniversary. One year ago Sunday, seven astronauts died when the shuttle Columbia disintegrated minutes before it was supposed to land. But as NASA looks back, it's also looking forward.

CNN's Jennifer Coggiola is joining us now with the story -- Jennifer.

JENNIFER COGGIOLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, well, this week's anniversary perhaps most painful for the families of the astronauts, like Dr. Jon Clark, who was part of the space shuttle medical team, and his son, Iain. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JON CLARK, WIDOWER OF NASA ASTRONAUT: Did you play outside today at recess.


J. CLARK: What did you do?

I. CLARK: We played tag.

COGGIOLA (voice-over): Dr. Jon Clark and his son, Iain, continue to mourn the tragic loss of mission specialist, wife and mother Laurel Clark, who was aboard Columbia last February 1.

J. CLARK: There's probably no greater loss for a boy, a child. I see the best and brightest emerge from him, in trying to get through this.


COGGIOLA: At a service yesterday at NASA Washington headquarters, officials said their hopeful day can also grow and overcome their mistakes learned through this tragedy.

SEAN O'KEEFE, NASA ADMINISTRATOR: It's incumbent upon us to remember not just today, not once a year, not on the anniversaries, but every day, every single day, because the consequences of us not getting it right are catastrophic.

COGGIOLA: Tragic memories mixed with the excitement over the latest space endeavors.

BUSH: At this very hour, the Mars exploration rover Spirit is searching for evidence of life beyond the Earth.

COGGIOLA: With ambitious and costly new plans for space exploration, the Columbia disaster and Mars aspirations paint some painfully sharp contrasts.

O'KEEFE: It reminds you of what a thin line there is between great success and great tragedy. And every single day, we're reminded of that.

COGGIOLA: NASA top officials have since taken responsibility for what they call the poor decision-making and culture of complacency that led to the accident, including their knowledge of the debris that had hit Columbia's wing on takeoff and set its destiny.

J. CLARK: If somebody doesn't roll their eyes and take part of the Columbia Accident Report and say, wow, this applies to me and my job and I can do it better, then they don't really belong here.

I. CLARK: So, dad...

COGGIOLA: Clark says he'll ask Iain if he wants to come to East Texas with him this weekend, where his wife's mission came to a tragic end.


COGGIOLA: The last Thursday in every January will now serve as a remembrance to honor the crews of Columbia, Challenger and Apollo I -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Very moving. Thanks very much, Jennifer, for that report.

Also this Sunday, the Super Bowl, in marked contrast, final preparations now being made in Houston for the unprecedented security that will safeguard the game. A fence now surrounds Reliant Stadium. And fans will have to pass through one of 90 metal detectors and other checkpoints to get in.

Sunday morning, a no-fly zone goes into effect over the site. Federal planes and helicopters will monitor everything. On the ground, a security force 5,000 strong will be on guard at stadium and related sites, security also being stepped up at the border and on local waterways.

For more now on the Super Bowl security situation, we're joined from Houston by the mayor, Bill White.

Mr. Mayor, thanks very much for joining us.

Have you ever seen security for an event in your community, or maybe anywhere, this tight?

BILL WHITE, MAYOR OF HOUSTON: No, but I'll tell you, we're going to be safe, and it's going to be a great Super Bowl, a big party, a celebration for America. And people will be secure here.

BLITZER: What did you want to do, let's say, that you're not doing? Or are you doing everything that you wanted to do to make sure the thousands who go there will be safe?

WHITE: We're doing everything we wanted to do and more. We're having a party downtown in Houston, where over 100,000 local residents are coming. And they're going to be safe and secure. Our visitors are secure here. It takes a little extra care, but it's worth it to make sure that people feel free to have a good time.

BLITZER: Are you still at code level yellow, as opposed to orange? Are you in a high or elevated level of alert or are you just back to business as usual?

WHITE: No, we're treating it as if it's an elevated level of alert, with local police and federal law enforcement officials working together to create a safe environment.

And I'll tell you, Wolf, I listened to your last story. We're also using it as an opportunity to look to the future, after that Columbia space shuttle disaster. It's a great city and we look to the future. BLITZER: What about the federal government? Are they giving you all the support that you need? Because we know local law enforcement is the lead agency in charge of security for the Super Bowl.

WHITE: Yes, they are., FBI, intelligence agencies, ATF, and many local law enforcement authorities. It's a coordinated, team effort.

I have looked to see if there were rivalries. You get that sometimes. But they've been working together well as a team.

BLITZER: Mayor White, we'll be watching. Good luck to you. Good luck to everyone in Houston. It's going to be an exciting game, we hope, right?

WHITE: It will be exciting. And people will get the chance to look at Houston, which is a great American city.

BLITZER: It certainly is. We love Houston.

Mr. Mayor, thanks very much for joining us.

WHITE: You take care, Wolf.

BLITZER: Thank you.

When we come back, sneak peek.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Since I was born, I dreamed of being a Budweiser Clydesdale. The only problem is, I was born a donkey.


BLITZER: The TV commercials that may steal the show Sunday night. We'll show you some of them.

Stay with us.


BLITZER: The Super Bowl, of course, is famous for football, but it's also a showcase for another sort of competition. Who will have the cleverest, funniest, most memorable commercials?

CNN's Brian Todd has a preview of this year's ads.


BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's all about strategy, putting up the best numbers in each quarter, capturing the momentum as the game progresses. Yes, those Super Bowl ads are as competitive as ever.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: One shockingly refreshing lemon lime.



TODD: You'd be competitive, too, if you were paying these price to hawk your product; 30 seconds of commercial time during the Super Bowl costs an average $2.25 million this year. Compare that to $1.5 million for a 30-second ad on the Academy Awards last year. Britney, Beyonce, do your thing.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (singing): We will, we will rock you.


TODD: Actually, the soda pop divas won't be pulsating on your screen during your game. This ad is new, but is only airing internationally, not on the Super Bowl telecast.

One Pepsi spot you will see, this retro look at a young Jimi Hendrix, whose choice of soft drink inspires him to greater things. Many in the ad industry believe these spots are worth the price. This year, the Super Bowl is expected to draw some 90 million TV viewers just in the U.S. Many will be at parties, where the water cooler buzz begins. Who knows? This MasterCard ad may even provide a career boost for the guy who seems to make all the wrong choices.


NARRATOR: Getting your errands done quicker to spend more time with your family, priceless. That's getting your errands down quicker to...

DAN CASTELLANETA, ACTOR: Yes, yes, I heard you the first time.


TODD: But some say big bucks for big names and a big splash can leave sponsors all wet.

SUZANNE VRANICA, "THE WALL STREET JOURNAL": You go for the big entertaining ad. But, at the end of the day, we all remember what they were, what they liked like, even the celebrities that were in them. But what we don't remember is the brand that they're for. So that's the big danger here.

TODD: Sponsors jockey and pay more to land a spot in the first two quarters of the game, before the score may get lopsided. Experts say the creative trend this year is familiar.

RICHARD LINNETT, "ADVERTISING AGE": The creative is directed at men. It's funny. And unlike the past, where there were a lot of corporate sponsors, this is strictly a guy's show.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: I need file folders. Half a danish, half a folder.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: See, Randy, come to Staples.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: It was easy, Randy.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: What do you want from me?



TODD: As for a 30-second spot on WOLF BLITZER REPORTS, well, if we told you, we'd have to bill you.

Brian Todd, CNN, Washington.


BLITZER: Good piece, Brian.

Ring of fire. This looks like a movie, but there are no actors. It's our picture of the day. It's coming up.

Also, the results of our Web question when we come back.


BLITZER: These are live pictures you're seeing. We reported earlier on the man trapped in this pit. But the water is now going down. They're removing the water. He's now in much better shape. It looks like there's going to be a good ending to this. We'll keep our viewers updated throughout the night here. Hopefully, this will be resolved in Broward County very, very soon, down in Florida.

Let's get to our picture of the day. This may not be how you celebrate the coming of spring, but it's a grand affair in the Shetland Islands off Scotland. It begins with a torch-lit procession and ends with the burning of a full-sized replica of a Viking ship. Vikings arrived in Shetland 1,200 years ago. Their influence on the culture is felt to this day.

Here's how you're weighing in right now on our "Web Question of the Day." Take a look at this, remembering, of course, this is not -- repeat, not -- a scientific poll.

A reminder, we're on twice a day weekdays, noon and 5:00 p.m. I'll also see you this Sunday on "LATE EDITION," the last word in Sunday talk.

"LOU DOBBS TONIGHT" starts right now.


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