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CNN WOLF BLITZER REPORTS

Fighting in Fallujah; Skirmish in Senate over Vietnam War; Bioterror Attacks: The Government Secret Plan to Keep You Safe; Urgent Efforts to Boost Security at Summer Olympics

Aired April 28, 2004 - 17:00   ET

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


(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Flash point Fallujah. The Marines say it's only defensive action.

We've been playing patty cake with these insurgents. We have not begun to do offensive operations. And the world will see that when we do.

BLITZER: Skirmish in the Senate over a war long ago.

SEN. FRANK LAUTENBERG (D), NEW JERSEY: Chickenhawks. They shriek like a hawk, they have the backbone of a chicken.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: I wish we would just stop.

BLITZER: The battle over the candidates and their military records. Has it gone too far? I'll ask former senator and Vietnam veteran Max Cleland.

Bioterror attacks. The government secret plan to keep you safe. Will it work?

Race against time. An urgent effort to boost security. But will terrorists deal the world a massive defeat at the Olympic Games?

ANNOUNCER: This is WOLF BLITZER REPORTS for Wednesday, April 28, 2004.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Fresh fighting in a simmering trouble spot. American gunships once again pounding targets inside Fallujah. We'll hear from reporters who are on the scene in just a moment.

First, though, the big picture.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER (voice-over): Flash point, Fallujah. For the second day in a row, fierce fighting in this mainly Sunni city west of Baghdad.

Explosions lit up the sky again tonight as an AC-30 gunship fired on suspected insurgent targets. Earlier in the day, similar strikes on the city's train station, pummeled with machine gunfire, rockets and missiles.

U.S. military officials say they are standing by their cease- fire, responding only in self-defense to insurgent attacks. Tomorrow, Sunni sheikhs from around the country are expected to join in talks to try to end the standoff.

And a sign of how deep the animosity runs among insurgents, Reuters News Service showed these posters purporting to offer a $15 million reward to anyone who kills Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and two top military commanders in Iraq.

Najaf, U.S. forces dig in outside the city controlled by the wanted anti-American cleric, Muqtada al-Sadr. Americans are moving into camps, vacated by Spanish forces pulled out by their countries new government.

Inside the city, American peace activists protested saying they are human shields hoping to prevent military action against Najaf.

Halladia, west of Baghdad, until now, a relatively peaceful city. But at midday the calm shattered by a car bomb. Witnesses say it exploded near a youth center killing three Iraqis and wounding several more.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: More now on what's happening in Fallujah. U.S. television pool reporter Karl Penhaul is witnessing the violence there firsthand. He's with the United States Marines right outside the city.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KARL PENHAUL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The thump of rockets launched from U.S. Marine helicopters and slamming into buildings where insurgent gunmen are believed to be hold up.

Northwest Fallujah's engulfed in heavy fighting for a third straight day. Plumes of black spoke billow from at lest three buildings. Our vantage point was a rooftop about 800 yards from the heart of the battle. Marines from 2nd Battalion, Echo Company, were on the rooftop scanning buildings with their sophisticated scopes to help identify insurgent hideouts.

From this vantage point it doesn't seem like any civilians are on the streets. Hard to gauge where those civilians who remained in Fallujah have sought safety.

Back in Baghdad coalition authorities insist a cease-fire is in place. But no sign the Iraqi guerrillas are ready to heed coalition calls to turn in their guns.

BRIG. GEN. MARK KIMMITT, U.S. ARMY: There is still a determined aspiration on the part of the coalition to maintain a cease-fire and solve the situation in Fallujah by peaceful means. But our patience is not limitless. PENHAUL: Wednesday's fight began mid afternoon. A Marine commander said a small team of U.S. snipers tried to maneuver into Fallujah train station. He said insurgents had been digging in there and planning mortar attack on coalition bases.

But insurgents spotted the snipers and opened up with Rocket- Propelled Grenades. The sharp shooters were pulled out and armored Humvee trucks, the Marine commander told us.

Then the Cobra Attack helicopter and the Huey gunship fly into action. Iraqi fighters still control large sways of Fallujah. Coalition authorities say their ranks have swelled by foreign fighters tied to al Qaeda.

As the battle near the train station dies down, insurgent gunfire cracks over the small Marine base. A Marine sniper takes aim and blasts away at a building (UNINTELLIGIBLE) yards away.

Coalition leaders back in Baghdad still say they will give more time for peaceful settlement. On the ground in Fallujah, the war rumbles on.

Karl Penhaul reporting with the camera of John Templeton (ph), U.S. networks pool, Iraq.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: U.S. Marines in Fallujah say they haven't unleashed their real firepower. But at the same time the Pentagon is rushing more armor to Iraq even as U.S. commanders say military power alone isn't the answer. Let's go live to our senior Pentagon correspondent Jamie McIntyre -- Jamie.

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SENIOR PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, the quick deployment of extra heavy armor to Iraq, some for the Marines and some for soldiers, is an acknowledgement of something that the Pentagon doesn't want to talk about, namely that things are not going as well in Iraq, particularly parts of Iraq, as the official upbeat pronouncements would have it.

When the Marines were dispatched to Fallujah they left a lot of tanks behind thinking they wouldn't need them. But with the same Marines engaged in full-fledged combat the Pentagon is rushing more two dozen M1-A1 tanks to the front lines. As i said, some for the Marines, others for the 1st Cavalry Division near Baghdad.

This come as sources tell CNN that General John Abizaid, the U.S. commander responsible for Iraq, is worried that the anti-American violence will spread. Particularly concerned that more moderate Iraqis aren't stepping forward to condemn the insurgents.

Sources say part of the reason for the delay in the plan for Fallujah offensive is Abizaid's belief that the military solution cannot be imposed without more political support from average Iraqis.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) GEN. JON ABIZAID, U.S. CENTCOM COMMANDER: There is no solution to this problem other than an Iraqi solution. All of us have known it from the beginning. We do everything that we can to empower Iraqi institutions.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MCINTYRE: Now Pentagon officials admit that some of the Iraqi population have been intimidated by the insurgents, fearful that they would be murdered. But today Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld on Capitol Hill insisted that some brave Iraqis are coming forward.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD RUMSFELD, DEFENSE SECRETARY: We also know that the remnants of that regime kill those people. Three hundred of the Iraqi security people have lost their lives. We know teachers have been threatened with guns and said close your schools.

So it takes courage in a violent environment for a person to stand up and say I'm for law and order, I'm for freedom, I'm for a representative system. And there are a lot of them doing that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MCINTYRE: Sources say that General Abizaid is also considering asking for more troops if the security situation does not improve in the coming 30 to 45 days. And the Pentagon is already making plans to accommodate that request if and when it comes in -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jamie McIntyre at the Pentagon. Jamie, thanks very much.

And coming up we'll speak live with the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Porter Goss, on what is happening in Iraq.

Taking you inside the fight for Fallujah. We'll also have a live update from the ground. That's coming up.

Plus, testing the president's powers in the war on terror. The U.S. Supreme Court hears the historic cases of two men declared enemy combatants.

Also ahead...

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCCAIN: At least could we declare that the Vietnam War is over? And have a cease-fire?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Echoes of Vietnam. A very heated debate over Democratic candidate John Kerry and President Bush's past military service. I'll speak live with Vietnam veteran, former Senator Max Cleland. And defending the nation against a bioterrorism attack. What plans are in place to keep you and your family safe? The Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson will join me live from the Command Center at his department.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back. An extremely tense situation unfolding in Iraq right now, especially in Fallujah. Let's get some analysis. What exactly is going on. The chairman of the House intelligence committee Porter Goss is joining us live now from Capitol Hill. Thanks very much for joining us. What is going on in Iraq right now? There's a lot of confusion whether these are a few isolated insurgents or this is a relatively widespread uprising.

REP. PORTER GOSS (R-FL), INTELLIGENCE CHAIRMAN: I don't know if a widespread uprising is a way to describe it. I would simply say there is a crescendo happening in terms of the desperation of the increasing nearness of the deadlines, the realization of that and trying to make as much mischief as possible and do as much destabilizing and disruption as possible by the people who are not interested in having Iraq move towards democracy.

BLITZER: Some suggest this is really a no-win situation for the U.S. and its coalition partners, if you go into Fallujah or Najaf and destroy the insurgents there you may win a short-term victory but you could build up long-term animosity by the Iraqi people.

GOSS: It very much depends on how it's done. I think decent Iraqi people who are looking for an opportunity for a better life would just as soon have all of this go away and have the bad elements go away, too. As long as they are certain they are going to have a guarantee that they can have a relatively free, relatively stable life. I think there is still a little residual feeling about what happens if we leave. There's some uncertainty on that score. I think it is becoming clearer across the country that we desire and the coalition desires to return sovereignty to the Iraqi people, phase them into that, and at the same time while that is happening, we guarantee the stability through having our security forces there. I think that message is being understood.

BLITZER: You are suggesting, Mr. Chairman, it might get even worse as June 30, the deadline for transferring sovereignty back to the Iraqis approaches. April -- what, more than 115 Americans have already died, more than died in the whole takeover of Iraq, the removal of Saddam Hussein, during that first five weeks of the war. Should the American public brace in the next month, May and June, for even higher U.S. casualties?

GOSS: I think that we can expect more resistance and more desperation, more dirty tricks. More ambushes, more surprises that cause us trouble. I think they will pull out every game in the book to try and cause us trouble to make us leave. The problem is the more they do that, of course, they fail to understand our resolve gets greater. And the coalition resolve gets greater. So they are in a way defeating themselves. The good news is that our folks over there have better information, better understanding of what is going on, better situational awareness of the dangers around them and better ways to deal with the threats that are coming their way. I think we have gone through a very tough learning experience but I think we are better equipped right now to deal with what I expect to be a very intense couple of months.

BLITZER: Let's shift gears and talk about the summer Olympic games in Athens scheduled for August. You were just there. Are the Greek security personnel ready for the possibility of terror?

GOSS: I think that the -- yes, I think the preparations are very good. I think they have done a fabulous job in planning for the security. They have got to get all the pieces ready to go. That's going to be part of the problem. The airport there, their new airport, the road system functioning well, surveillance systems are really good. I'm a little concerned that they are going to have enough time to do the necessary drills. Because there are an endless number of scenarios you can create. The more you practice them, the better you are at security. But my view is I was pleasantly surprised by taking a look at what they have accomplished in the area of security. Frankly, I think their security precautions are somewhat ahead of the other architectures they need to pull off the Olympics. I'm not sure they are going to be roofs on whole stadiums and things. I have to admit I came away pleasantly surprised and encouraged about the security preparation.

BLITZER: Is there any hard intelligence that the summer Olympic games will be a target of al Qaeda or other terrorist groups?

GOSS: It depends on your definition of hard intelligence. I know of no specific intelligence that tells me what, where, why and exactly how a terrorist is going to do their mission. They are very good at those kind of nasty ambushes. But it is reasonable to expect there are some very obvious crowd concentrations that make big targets for terrorists. Where it is very hard to provide full protection, where you can get a maximum amount of damage and maiming and carnage done on innocent people who are going about the business of a sports event or an election or a -- some kind of a royal wedding, those kind of issues that we all know about, we have a list which I'm not going to go through in detail with you of likely targets where they would hit.

We watch the chatter levels very closely. We know that the desperation levels are up there. We realize they are trying to make a mark. We think they made a bad miscalculation on what really happened in Madrid in terms of the Spanish election and we are afraid they might try and employ terrorist tactics and other Democratic election areas to try and get regime change.

BLITZER: Very quickly, though, we're almost out of time, when you say they made a bad calculation in Madrid, the Spanish government has pulled out of Iraq in the aftermath of that train bombing.

GOSS: My worry is they will take that historic experience and try and replicate it in other areas. I don't think it will work. It certainly, I worry about our own elections obviously and our homeland security people are very alert. Obviously our resolve of any kind of an incident in this country, America would rise up and our resolve would be even greater and it would certainly be less chance in my view of regime change in this country and if regime change is what they want, the last thing the terrorists should do is strike the United States. But I don't think they understand that fully. I don't think they understand us fully.

BLITZER: Porter Goss, the chairman of the House intelligence committee. Welcome back from Greece. Good to have you back safe and sound.

More on the fresh fighting in Fallujah. We'll have a live update from the city. That's coming up. Just ahead, plus -- locked away with no rights. The U.S. Supreme Court hears the case of accused enemy combatants who are also U.S. citizens striking a balance between national security and civil liberty.

Military records in question in a past war at the center of a huge debate. Vietnam veteran, former Senator Max Cleland. He will weigh in and join me live.

Also, bioterrorism warnings right here in the United States. A newly updated defense plan is announced today. I'll speak with Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson on what is in store.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Two United States citizens classified as enemy combatants by the current anti-terror policy are being kept from legal advice or access to courts. The U.S. Supreme Court, though, is reviewing their cases. CNN national correspondent Bob Franken is standing by over at the court.

BOB FRANKEN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, it was not too long after each of these men was arrested that it became very clear the cases would end up right here at the Supreme Court.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

FRANKEN: Two individuals, Jose Padilla, U.S. born and raised. Arrested in Chicago's O'Hare airport. Accused of participating in a dirty bomb plot. And Yassir Hamdi (ph), also a U.S. citizen, but raised in Saudi Arabia, he was captured on the Afghan battlefield. Both declared enemy combatants by the president. Never charged and held indefinitely. Two cases the lawyers, argue, but one overriding issue.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Never before in the nation's history has this court granted the president a blank check to do whatever he wants to American citizens.

FRANKEN: The administration maintaining that in this time of war the president must have extraordinary power.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It has been well established and long established that the government has the authority to hold both unlawful enemy combatants and lawful prisoners of war captured on the battlefield in order to prevent them from returning to the battle.

FRANKEN: That would include U.S. citizens, said Clement, particularly when officials decide they need to be interrogated. Not only does the president have the power as commander-in-chief he argued, Congress right after September 11 authorized it. The justices vigorously questioned both sides.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It does say in this authorization the president is authorized to use all necessary and appropriate force against persons he determines planned, authorized, committed or aided the terrorist attacks.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We could have people locked up all over the country tomorrow without any due process, without any opportunity to be heard.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Is it just up to the goodwill of the executives? Is there any judicial check?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The government is on a war footing. You have to trust the executive.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

FRANKEN: An issue of civil liberties, Wolf. The question how many might be having to be given up if there is a defense of the nation, a defense of the civil liberties that make this a nation.

BLITZER: Bob Franken watching this story for us. Thanks very much, Bob, for that.

To our viewers, here's your chance to weigh in on the story. Our web question of the day is this. "Should the U.S. government have the authority to detain American citizens suspected of terror links without giving them access to the legal system?" You can vote right now, go to CNN.com/wolf, we'll have the results later in this broadcast.

It's a city under siege as fierce fighting breaks out again in Fallujah. Gunships are pounding insurgents in the city, up next, I'll speak with one of the few embedded reporters on the ground in Fallujah.

9/11 probe, President Bush and Vice President Cheney set to make a joint and private appearance tomorrow morning before the 9/11 commission. Now the White House gives another stipulation, we'll have details.

Also ahead...

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Chicken hawks. They shriek like a hawk. They have the backbone of a chicken. We know who the chicken hawks are.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Sounding off on service. The Democrats are fighting back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ANNOUNCER: From our studios in Washington, once again, Wolf Blitzer.

BLITZER: Welcome back. Fighting flaring again in Fallujah. U.S. marines stand their ground in a dramatic assault on buildings harboring insurgents. We'll have a live report from the city. That's coming up. First, though a quick check of the latest headlines.

A Moroccan sought in connection with last month's deadly train bombings in Madrid is charged by a Spanish judge with helping to plan the September 11 terror attacks here in the United States. The judge also said he provided lodging that summer to 9/11 planners. He's been on the run since he fled Spain in November 2001.

In the Kobe Bryant sexual assault case, attorneys have wrapped up closed-door, pre-trial arguments. They centered on a motion to throw out some evidence the defense says was illegally gathered. More hearings are planned in May. The judge could decide then if jurors will hear the sexual history of Bryant's accuser.

Cable giant Comcast is withdrawing its proposal to merge with Disney. Comcast's president and chief executive says it's time to walk away from what was originally billed as a $54 billion stock deal. Disney had said the offer was too low.

President Bush today spoke out on the fighting in Fallujah.

Joining us now with that, our White House correspondent, Suzanne Malveaux.

Suzanne, what exactly did he say?

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the president obviously is facing two parallel tracks here. They are pursuing two different aspects, the military track and the political track.

It was after President Bush emerged from a meeting with the prime minister of Sweden, he talked about the need to get the international community involved, the European community, the United Nations, of course the administration backing a U.N. Security Council resolution that would transfer the power back to the Iraqi people by June 30.

The president also, however, Wolf, emphasizing that really the stability in the region is of utmost importance and that may mean some military might.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: What you must realize is happening in a place like Fallujah is the closer we come to passing sovereignty, the more likely it is that foreign fighters disgruntled Baathists, or friends of the Shia cleric will try to stop progress. That's what is happening.

They want to kill innocent life to try to get us to quit. And we're not going to. And our military commanders will take whatever action is necessary to secure Fallujah on behalf of the Iraqi people.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MALVEAUX: Now, administration officials also making it clear today that they are backing the plan by U.N. special envoy Lakhdar Brahimi. That would be to escalate the timetable to try to get the members of that caretaker Iraqi government in place by the end of May, so that they could have a full month before the end of June to actually work out the type of arrangements with U.S. security forces on the ground -- a lot of work ahead, Wolf.

BLITZER: Suzanne, quickly turning to a big day tomorrow for the president and the vice president, their joint testimony before the 9/11 Commission. It will be tomorrow morning at the White House. So what do we know about that?

MALVEAUX: Well, we have just learned some new details about that.

We know it's going to take place in the Oval Office at 9:30 in the morning. It's expected to last about two and a half hours. We understand that both the president and the vice president have been preparing over the last couple of days, the president meeting with his national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, his chief of staff, Andy Card, and, of course, his counsel, Al Gonzales.

The vice president as well meeting with his top aides. They are going over records and notes and calendars to try to refresh their memory about what had occurred prior to September 11. We know that both of them will be in the room together. And we understand in a room with them not only the full commission, but also White House counsel Gonzales, two other members of the White House counsel as well, perhaps another note taker in the room.

We don't expect to hear from the president or the vice president following this question-and-answer session, although there could be some information coming out of the White House in the briefing that follows -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Suzanne Malveaux at the White House -- thanks very much, Suzanne.

Let's get back to our top story, what is happening in Fallujah right now. U.S. Marines ringing the city, saying they are just playing patty-cake, at least for now, fighting what they describe as a defensive action. Once again, though, they called in air support to hammer some insurgent targets.

"Los Angeles Times" reporter Tony Perry is embedded with the U.S. Marines in Fallujah. He's joining us on the phone once again now. Tony, give us the latest. What is happening as far as you can tell right now?

TONY PERRY, "THE LOS ANGELES TIMES": Well, we're in the middle of the night here. And it's been exceedingly quiet tonight, but there were two battles that raged for a number of hours between the insurgents and the Marines.

In one, four Marines were wounded. Airpower, F-16, F-18s, was brought in to subdue insurgents who had taken over some buildings and were firing down on the Marines. In the other battle, Cobra helicopters firing Hellfire missiles, plus Marines on the ground, fought a battle for several hours with insurgents who were taking ammunition out of a storehouse that they had created near a deserted train station.

In that battle, significantly, Marines reported that the insurgents when they came to get the ammunition, they came to get the weaponry, brought women and children, suggesting that they do like to use women and children as shields and that they wouldn't mind if there were women and children as civilian casualties. There weren't in this case.

But it does show us that when we finally move, if there is a final move, to go downtown, as they say, to wipe out the insurgent stronghold, there will be women and children, there will be civilians and there will be in that case I think inevitably civilian casualties.

BLITZER: We heard earlier from some U.S. officials, Tony, that most of Fallujah was actually secure in good hands. There were only small parts of it that were really controlled by insurgents. Is that what you can see from your vantage point?

PERRY: I think that, to a certain degree, it's true, Wolf. Don't forget, we have 7,000 Marines, about 3,500 in the city and another 3,500 outside the city, ringing it, keeping a cordon in effect so no one can get in and out that the Marines don't agree with.

The insurgents have certain neighborhoods. Just how big, I don't think anyone really knows. But they are down there. The Marines control, I would say, a little more than half of the geographic territory of this city. But the heavily populated area, the old Arab part with the souks and the winding streets and the dense housing, that is still no man's land. That is still controlled by the insurgents.

And that's where the fighting would be if the order goes to move, to push the insurgents basically into the Euphrates and either take them captive or kill them at that point.

BLITZER: Tony Perry has been kind enough to speak with us at this time nightly. We'll stand by and speak with you again tomorrow at this time.

Tony, thanks very much for that report. Please be safe. Waging political war over military service. John Kerry fends off allegations he tossed his Vietnam medals. And the president is pressed over his record in the Texas Air National Guard. I'll speak live with former Senator and Vietnam veteran Max Cleland.

Plus, bracing for bioterrorism. How prepared is the United States right now for a national emergency potentially even larger, more devastating than 9/11? We'll get the latest assessment from the health and human services secretary.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: The heated fight over military service, the military service specifically of the president and John Kerry during the Vietnam War erupted once again on Capitol Hill today.

Our congressional correspondent Ed Henry is covering the story -- Ed.

ED HENRY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, responding to Republican attacks on Kerry's defense credentials, World War II veteran Frank Lautenberg today launched a direct assault on Vice President Cheney's lack of military service.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

HENRY (voice-over): Responding to Republican attacks on Senator Kerry defense credentials the Democratic senator a World War II veteran launched a direct assault on Vice President Cheney's military service.

SEN. FRANK LAUTENBERG (D), NEW JERSEY: We know who the chicken hawks are. They talk tough on national defense and military issues and cast aspersion on others. When it was their turn to serve, where were they? AWOL. That's where they were. And now the chicken hawks are cackling about Senator John Kerry. And the lead chicken hawk against Senator Kerry is the vice president of the United States, Vice President Cheney.

HENRY: The props and harsh rhetoric did not sit well with Vietnam veteran John McCain. McCain pleaded with his colleagues and the presidential candidates to call a truce.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: At least could we declare that the Vietnam War is over and have a cease-fire and agree that both candidates, the president of the United States and Senator Kerry served honorably, end of story? Now let's focus our attention on the conflict that's taking place in Iraq that is taking American lives as I speak on this floor.

HENRY: Kerry has been stepping up his attacks on the president's military record in the National Guard and raising questions about Vice President Cheney's draft deferment during the Vietnam War. One Democratic close to the Kerry campaign argued the candidate must respond saying -- quote -- "It's hit or be hit." But leaders in both parties are showing no signs of dropping their arms.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), MINORITY LEADER: As far as we know, Senator Kerry got three Purple Hearts for risking his life in Vietnam. And President Bush got a dental examination in Alabama.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

HENRY: Wolf, Republican leaders are also rejecting McCain's call for a truce. I spoke earlier to Majority Leader Bill Frist in the Senate. He said he expects this to be a rough campaign and every single issue will be fair game -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Our congressional correspondent Ed Henry reporting from Capitol Hill -- Ed, thanks very much.

Former Democratic Senator Max Cleland volunteered for military duty in Vietnam and suffered very serious wounds there in 1968. Some analysts say that Republican attacks questioning Cleland's record on national security contributed to his failed reelection bid two years ago.

Senator Cleland is joining us now here in our studio.

Senator, thanks very much for joining us.

What do you make of this debate that's going on involving Kerry's record after he came back from Vietnam and the president's record when he was in the Texas Air National Guard?

MAX CLELAND, FORMER U.S. SENATOR: Well, John McCain above all should understand for George Bush to come after you, because George Bush went after John McCain's patriotism in South Carolina in the primaries in 2000.

And when I was in the Senate, John McCain -- Chuck Hagel and Bob Kerrey all came to John McCain's defense and wrote a letter to the citizens of South Carolina taking up for John McCain and his wonderful service and heroic service for this nation. Then the Bush team came after me in Georgia in 2002, accusing me basically of siding with Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden in terms of threatening this country. How ridiculous that truly is.

And now they are going after John Kerry. It's the same old Republican slime machine. Now you have got to fight back. You can't let this stuff take you down.

BLITZER: Let me ask you a question, because what the Republicans say they are doing is going through his voting record, Senator Kerry's voting record, taking a look when he voted for specific weapon systems, F-18, Bradley Fighting Vehicles. And they are saying, you know what? He voted against certain weapon systems. What's wrong with taking a look at a voting record and bringing it up as a legitimate campaign issue?

CLELAND: If you are in the Senate for 20 years, you can take the voting record and prove anything you want to. The truth of the matter is, John Kerry voted for $4.4 trillion worth of defense budgets and items in the last 20 years. The truth of the matter is, though, he has been tested in war. And now this president is taking us to war and in many ways has got us into a morass and quagmire that looks just like Vietnam.

Therefore, the experience of Vietnam is relevant. John Kerry won three Purple Hearts, the Bronze Star with V Device for Valor and the Silver Star. He brought his ship home and all of his crew members came back to this country alive. That is great leadership under fire. And that's what is being tested out there. And he's fighting back and making sure that this country understands his records.

BLITZER: Your friend, Senator McCain, a Republican, also a Vietnam veteran, says you know what? Let's have a cease-fire on this whole debate. It's ugly. It's history. What the president did during his service in the Texas Air National Guard, what the Democratic candidate did after he returned from Vietnam, let's move on. Is that sound advice from Senator McCain?

CLELAND: I think it's sound advice. And like I say, he ought to know because they came after him first. They came after me secondly and they are going after John Kerry third. This is ridiculous.

We ought to be talking about just like John McCain said, the kids that are dying in Iraq. Are they dying from weapons of mass destruction? No. There are none there. Are they dying for a nuclear weapons program that Dick Cheney said a couple of years ago were there? No. Are they dying for connections with al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden? No.

What are they dying for, oil? I don't know. We have got 730, 740 kids out there dead now and about 3,600 wounded and 13,000 evacuated from the theater and more killed today. Now, the question is, why? Now, this president did not go to Vietnam. He didn't learn the lesson that, in this country, you take this country to war only when you have to, as John Kerry says, not when you want to. And finally you go to war with your allies so there's somebody to help you pick up the pieces afterwards.

BLITZER: But are you now bringing up the president's decision not to volunteer to go serve in Vietnam as an issue that should be front and center in this campaign?

CLELAND: Absolutely. If you going to be commander and chief and you are going to start a war and you are going to start a war on false pretenses with false evidence, you are accountable. The president

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: I thought you just suggested there should be a cease- fire on these charges and countercharges.

CLELAND: But you just heard Senator Frist say not only no, but hell no. So this will continue. And it started with Bush going after John McCain in South Carolina when Bush got in trouble. Bush is in trouble now. He's got a failed war on his hands. And he has got a bona fide, authentic Vietnam American hero coming at him. And this war has only started.

BLITZER: Is it smart for John Kerry right now to be seemingly on the defensive and explain what did he when he came back from Vietnam, whether he threw his ribbons or medals across the fence at that anti- war demonstration?

CLELAND: I think it's not smart for President Bush to go after an authentic American hero.

I'm telling you, when you got three Purple Hearts, and that's John Kerry, and you're George Bush, you got none, if you are John Kerry you got a Bronze Star with V Device for Valor for saving a special forces officer out of the drink in Mekong Delta, and you're George Bush, you got none, and if you have got a Silver Star for gallantry in action for saving your boat and your crew in the Mekong Delta in the war of your generation and George Bush never left the shores of Texas, it doesn't seem like that the odds are very fair there.

So I would suggest that they both concentrate on how in the world do we have an exit strategy out of Iraq and how are we going to take care of these veterans when they come back.

BLITZER: Senator Cleland, as usual, thanks for coming in.

CLELAND: Thank you.

BLITZER: And to our viewers, this note. We'll get a very different perspective presumably tomorrow. The president's good friend Don Evans, the secretary of commerce, will join us on this program live.

Up next, there's a secret plan to protect the United States against germ warfare. Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson, he will join us live to tell us what the government is doing right now to safeguard American cities.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back.

A new presidential order is designed to improve efforts to stop bioterrorism right here at home. The administration says the new directive will plug gaps in the nation's current defenses against biological attacks. It includes plans to boost safety of the food and water supplies and ways to distribute antibiotics and vaccines around the country in the case of -- in the case of an attack.

Here to talk about some of the specifics of this important new directive on bioterror, Tommy Thompson, the secretary of health and human services. He's joining us from the HHS Command Center here in Washington. Mr. Secretary, why is this directive so important? What difference will it make?

TOMMY THOMPSON, HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES SECRETARY: Well, Wolf, we've come a long ways from where we started three years ago, and especially since 9/11 and the anthrax scare that all of us went through.

We've been able to develop a lot of procedures that's going to be able to benefit all Americans and protect them. And now we're going to go the next step. We're going to go into BioShield, BioSense and BioWatch. And what we're going to try and do is make sure that we can anticipate any future bioterrorist threat or bioterrorist attack.

And if, in fact, that attacks comes, be able to be prepared to take care of the casualties that may come as a result of that. So we're really doing a lot of things to really get America prepared, but more than that, to be able to implement the programs that we have already started planning.

BLITZER: Is there anything here that will improve intelligence surveillance of suspected terrorists, especially looking forward this summer? There are a lot of high-profile events, Democratic, Republican conventions, elections, as you well know. What specifically is being done to have better intelligence?

THOMPSON: Well, we are putting in a lot of sensors, which is controlled by Homeland Security and implemented, also, by Homeland Security, in conjunction with HHS.

And these sensors are going to be placed around America and a lot of them are already in. And these sensors will take in information from the air on a daily basis. And we'll get readings on a very regular periodic basis. And EPA is also going to be putting sensors into the water supplies, so that we're going to be able to develop a program to be able to find out if there's anything in the water supplies that would give us some cause to worry and be able to allow us to be able to respond very quickly.

BLITZER: Is there any progress made in the anthrax investigation, the killer or killers, those letters containing anthrax, as you well know, a couple of years ago, any progress in finding out who did this?

THOMPSON: There is no further information that can be divulged at this time, Wolf.

But the FBI and my department and Homeland Security are working vigilantly on it. But there has not been the breakthrough. But there has been breakthroughs on hopefully a new vaccine for anthrax that will be ready by the middle of next year. And that's a very good sign in order vaccinate individual against anthrax.

BLITZER: Speaking about vaccines, are you confident that enough vaccine is available right now around the country for some sort of terrible biological attack, if that were to occur? THOMPSON: Well, it depends upon what kind of attack. But we have plenty of vaccines that we have available.

In the case of smallpox, we have over 400 million doses, plenty enough to vaccinate every man, woman and child. And we have plans in place in order to vaccinate every American within 10 days of the onset of a smallpox attack. We're developing a brand new anthrax, as I have indicated, a vaccine that's going to be ready, up and running, by the middle of next year.

And we're developing a lot of things under BioShield for new vaccines that may come in to play with any kind of bioterrorist threat.

BLITZER: Are you confident now that communication between various agency, branches of the U.S. government has improved so that the left hand knows what the right hand knows?

THOMPSON: Wolf, it's never been better than it is today. It doesn't mean that we can't strive to do better, but right now there's great communications between Homeland Security, Department of Defense, EPA, Agriculture, and my department, probably the best that it's ever been.

Probably never in the history of the federal government has the cooperation been as acute as it is today.

BLITZER: Secretary Thompson joining us from the command center at HHS, thanks very much for joining us.

THOMPSON: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: And we'll have the results of our "Web Question of the Day." That's coming up.

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

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER (voice-over): Police in Thailand fired on the machete- wielding militants in the country's Muslim-dominated south, killing at least 107 people. Most of the insurgents were teenagers. Five security personnel also were killed.

Gaza violence. Four Israeli soldiers were wounded when a vehicle loaded with explosives blew up near a Jewish settlement. The driver was killed. The militant group Hamas said it carried out the attack in retaliation for Israel's recent assassination of two Hamas leaders.

Fighting anti-Semitism. Secretary of State Colin Powell says there has been a disturbing rise in anti-Jewish incidents in Europe. He urged Europeans to reject anti-Semitism during an address to a 55- nation conference of foreign ministers meeting in Berlin.

Taking it all off. Shrek, the wild New Zealand sheep who attracted worldwide attention because of a massive woolly coat, now has a different look. After dodging the shearer's blades for six years, Shrek was captured this month. and when the time came, with 200 people watching, Shrek didn't bat an eye as the country's top shearer used old-fashioned cutting blades to remove his fleece, all 59 pounds of it. The high-quality merino wool is to be auctioned for a children's charity.

And that's our look around the world.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Here's how you're weighing in on our "Web Question of the Day." As you look at these numbers, remember, this is not a scientific poll.

A reminder, we're on weekdays 5:00 p.m. Eastern, as well as noon Eastern. I'll see you back here tomorrow. Thanks so much for joining us.

"LOU DOBBS TONIGHT" starts right now.

sexual assault case, attorneys have wrapped up closed-door pretrial arguments. They centered on a motion to throw out some evidence that the defense says was illegally gathered. More hearings are planned in May. The judge could decide then if jurors will hear the sexual history of Bryant's accuser.

Cable giant Comcast is withdrawing its proposal to merge with Disney. Comcast's president and chief executive says it's time to walk away from what was originally billed as a $54 billion stock deal. Disney had said the offer was too low.

sexual assault case, attorneys have wrapped up closed-door pretrial arguments. They centered on a motion to throw out some evidence that the defense says was illegally gathered. More hearings are planned in May. The judge could decide then if jurors will hear the sexual history of Bryant's accuser.

Cable giant Comcast is withdrawing its proposal to merge with Disney. Comcast's president and chief executive says it's time to walk away from what was originally billed as a $54 billion stock deal. Disney had said the offer was too low.

President Bush today spoke out on the fighting in Fallujah.

Joining us now with that, our White House correspondent, Suzanne Malveaux.

Suzanne, what exactly did he say?

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the president obviously is facing two parallel tracks here. They are pursuing two different aspects, the military track and the political track. It was after President Bush emerged from a meeting with the prime minister of Sweden, he talked about the need to get the international community involved, the European community, the United Nations, of course the administration backing a U.N. Security Council resolution that would transfer the power back to the Iraqi people by June 30.

The president also, however, Wolf, emphasizing that really the stability in the region is of utmost importance and that may mean some military might.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: What you must realize is happening in a place like Fallujah is the closer we come to passing sovereignty, the more likely it is that foreign fighters disgruntled Baathists, or friends of the Shia cleric will try to stop progress. That's what is happening.

They want to kill innocent life to try to get us to quit. And we're not going to. And our military commanders will take whatever action is necessary to secure Fallujah on behalf of the Iraqi people.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MALVEAUX: Now, administration officials also making it clear today that they are backing the plan by U.N. special envoy Lakhdar Brahimi. That would be to escalate the timetable to try to get the members of that caretaker Iraqi government in place by the end of May, so that they could have a full month before the end of June to actually work out the type of arrangements with U.S. security forces on the ground -- a lot of work ahead, Wolf.

BLITZER: Suzanne, quickly turning to a big day tomorrow for the president and the vice president, their joint testimony before the 9/11 Commission. It will be tomorrow morning at the White House. So what do we know about that?

MALVEAUX: Well, we have just learned some new details about that.

We know it's going to take place in the Oval Office at 9:30 in the morning. It's expected to last about two and a half hours. We understand that both the president and the vice president have been preparing over the last couple of days, the president meeting with his national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, his chief of staff, Andy Card, and, of course, his counsel, Al Gonzales.

The vice president as well meeting with his top aides. They are going over records and notes and calendars to try to refresh their memory about what had occurred prior to September 11. We know that both of them will be in the room together. And we understand in a room with them not only the full commission, but also White House counsel Gonzales, two other members of the White House counsel as well, perhaps another note taker in the room.

We don't expect to hear from the president or the vice president following this question-and-answer session, although there could be some information coming out of the White House in the briefing that follows -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Suzanne Malveaux at the White House -- thanks very much, Suzanne.

Let's get back to our top story, what is happening in Fallujah right now. U.S. Marines ringing the city, saying they are just playing patty-cake, at least for now, fighting what they describe as a defensive action. Once again, though, they called in air support to hammer some insurgent targets.

"Los Angeles Times" reporter Tony Perry is embedded with the U.S. Marines in Fallujah. He's joining us on the phone once again now.

Tony, give us the latest. What is happening as far as you can tell right now?

TONY PERRY, "THE LOS ANGELES TIMES": Well, we're in the middle of the night here. And it's been exceedingly quiet tonight, but there were two battles that raged for a number of hours between the insurgents and the Marines.

In one, four Marines were wounded. Airpower, F-16, F-18s, was brought in to subdue insurgents who had taken over some buildings and were firing down on the Marines. In the other battle, Cobra helicopters firing Hellfire missiles, plus Marines on the ground, fought a battle for several hours with insurgents who were taking ammunition out of a storehouse that they had created near a deserted train station.

In that battle, significantly, Marines reported that the insurgents when they came to get the ammunition, they came to get the weaponry, brought women and children, suggesting that they do like to use women and children as shields and that they wouldn't mind if there were women and children as civilian casualties. There weren't in this case.

But it does show us that when we finally move, if there is a final move, to go downtown, as they say, to wipe out the insurgent stronghold, there will be women and children, there will be civilians and there will be in that case I think inevitably civilian casualties.

BLITZER: We heard earlier from some U.S. officials, Tony, that most of Fallujah was actually secure in good hands. There were only small parts of it that were really controlled by insurgents. Is that what you can see from your vantage point?

PERRY: I think that, to a certain degree, it's true, Wolf. Don't forget, we have 7,000 Marines, about 3,500 in the city and another 3,500 outside the city, ringing it, keeping a cordon in effect so no one can get in and out that the Marines don't agree with.

The insurgents have certain neighborhoods. Just how big, I don't think anyone really knows. But they are down there. The Marines control, I would say, a little more than half of the geographic territory of this city. But the heavily populated area, the old Arab part with the souks and the winding streets and the dense housing, that is still no man's land. That is still controlled by the insurgents.

And that's where the fighting would be if the order goes to move, to push the insurgents basically into the Euphrates and either take them captive or kill them at that point.

BLITZER: Tony Perry has been kind enough to speak with us at this time nightly. We'll stand by and speak with you again tomorrow at this time.

Tony, thanks very much for that report. Please be safe.

Waging political war over military service. John Kerry fends off allegations he tossed his Vietnam medals. And the president is pressed over his record in the Texas Air National Guard. I'll speak live with former Senator and Vietnam veteran Max Cleland.

Plus, bracing for bioterrorism. How prepared is the United States right now for a national emergency potentially even larger, more devastating than 9/11? We'll get the latest assessment from the health and human services secretary.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: The heated fight over military service, the military service specifically of the president and John Kerry during the Vietnam War erupted once again on Capitol Hill today.

Our congressional correspondent Ed Henry is covering the story -- Ed.

ED HENRY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, responding to Republican attacks on Kerry's defense credentials, World War II veteran Frank Lautenberg today launched a direct assault on Vice President Cheney's lack of military service.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

HENRY (voice-over): Responding to Republican attacks on Senator Kerry defense credentials the Democratic senator a World War II veteran launched a direct assault on Vice President Cheney's military service.

SEN. FRANK LAUTENBERG (D), NEW JERSEY: We know who the chicken hawks are. They talk tough on national defense and military issues and cast aspersion on others. When it was their turn to serve, where were they? AWOL. That's where they were. And now the chicken hawks are cackling about Senator John Kerry. And the lead chicken hawk against Senator Kerry is the vice president of the United States, Vice President Cheney.

HENRY: The props and harsh rhetoric did not sit well with Vietnam veteran John McCain. McCain pleaded with his colleagues and the presidential candidates to call a truce.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: At least could we declare that the Vietnam War is over and have a cease-fire and agree that both candidates, the president of the United States and Senator Kerry served honorably, end of story? Now let's focus our attention on the conflict that's taking place in Iraq that is taking American lives as I speak on this floor.

HENRY: Kerry has been stepping up his attacks on the president's military record in the National Guard and raising questions about Vice President Cheney's draft deferment during the Vietnam War. One Democratic close to the Kerry campaign argued the candidate must respond saying -- quote -- "It's hit or be hit." But leaders in both parties are showing no signs of dropping their arms.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), MINORITY LEADER: As far as we know, Senator Kerry got three Purple Hearts for risking his life in Vietnam. And President Bush got a dental examination in Alabama.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

HENRY: Wolf, Republican leaders are also rejecting McCain's call for a truce. I spoke earlier to Majority Leader Bill Frist in the Senate. He said he expects this to be a rough campaign and every single issue will be fair game -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Our congressional correspondent Ed Henry reporting from Capitol Hill -- Ed, thanks very much.

Former Democratic Senator Max Cleland volunteered for military duty in Vietnam and suffered very serious wounds there in 1968. Some analysts say that Republican attacks questioning Cleland's record on national security contributed to his failed reelection bid two years ago.

Senator Cleland is joining us now here in our studio.

Senator, thanks very much for joining us.

What do you make of this debate that's going on involving Kerry's record after he came back from Vietnam and the president's record when he was in the Texas Air National Guard?

MAX CLELAND, FORMER U.S. SENATOR: Well, John McCain above all should understand for George Bush to come after you, because George Bush went after John McCain's patriotism in South Carolina in the primaries in 2000.

And when I was in the Senate, John McCain -- Chuck Hagel and Bob Kerrey all came to John McCain's defense and wrote a letter to the citizens of South Carolina taking up for John McCain and his wonderful service and heroic service for this nation. Then the Bush team came after me in Georgia in 2002, accusing me basically of siding with Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden in terms of threatening this country. How ridiculous that truly is. And now they are going after John Kerry. It's the same old Republican slime machine. Now you have got to fight back. You can't let this stuff take you down.

BLITZER: Let me ask you a question, because what the Republicans say they are doing is going through his voting record, Senator Kerry's voting record, taking a look when he voted for specific weapon systems, F-18, Bradley Fighting Vehicles. And they are saying, you know what? He voted against certain weapon systems. What's wrong with taking a look at a voting record and bringing it up as a legitimate campaign issue?

CLELAND: If you are in the Senate for 20 years, you can take the voting record and prove anything you want to.

The truth of the matter is, John Kerry voted for $4.4 trillion worth of defense budgets and items in the last 20 years. The truth of the matter is, though, he has been tested in war. And now this president is taking us to war and in many ways has got us into a morass and quagmire that looks just like Vietnam.

Therefore, the experience of Vietnam is relevant. John Kerry won three Purple Hearts, the Bronze Star with V Device for Valor and the Silver Star. He brought his ship home and all of his crew members came back to this country alive. That is great leadership under fire. And that's what is being tested out there. And he's fighting back and making sure that this country understands his records.

BLITZER: Your friend, Senator McCain, a Republican, also a Vietnam veteran, says you know what? Let's have a cease-fire on this whole debate. It's ugly. It's history. What the president did during his service in the Texas Air National Guard, what the Democratic candidate did after he returned from Vietnam, let's move on. Is that sound advice from Senator McCain?

CLELAND: I think it's sound advice. And like I say, he ought to know because they came after him first. They came after me secondly and they are going after John Kerry third. This is ridiculous.

We ought to be talking about just like John McCain said, the kids that are dying in Iraq. Are they dying from weapons of mass destruction? No. There are none there. Are they dying for a nuclear weapons program that Dick Cheney said a couple of years ago were there? No. Are they dying for connections with al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden? No.

What are they dying for, oil? I don't know. We have got 730, 740 kids out there dead now and about 3,600 wounded and 13,000 evacuated from the theater and more killed today. Now, the question is, why? Now, this president did not go to Vietnam. He didn't learn the lesson that, in this country, you take this country to war only when you have to, as John Kerry says, not when you want to. And finally you go to war with your allies so there's somebody to help you pick up the pieces afterwards.

BLITZER: But are you now bringing up the president's decision not to volunteer to go serve in Vietnam as an issue that should be front and center in this campaign?

CLELAND: Absolutely. If you going to be commander and chief and you are going to start a war and you are going to start a war on false pretenses with false evidence, you are accountable. The president

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: I thought you just suggested there should be a cease- fire on these charges and countercharges.

CLELAND: But you just heard Senator Frist say not only no, but hell no. So this will continue.

And it started with Bush going after John McCain in South Carolina when Bush got in trouble. Bush is in trouble now. He's got a failed war on his hands. And he has got a bona fide, authentic Vietnam American hero coming at him. And this war has only started.

BLITZER: Is it smart for John Kerry right now to be seemingly on the defensive and explain what did he when he came back from Vietnam, whether he threw his ribbons or medals across the fence at that anti- war demonstration?

CLELAND: I think it's not smart for President Bush to go after an authentic American hero.

I'm telling you, when you got three Purple Hearts, and that's John Kerry, and you're George Bush, you got none, if you are John Kerry you got a Bronze Star with V Device for Valor for saving a special forces officer out of the drink in Mekong Delta, and you're George Bush, you got none, and if you have got a Silver Star for gallantry in action for saving your boat and your crew in the Mekong Delta in the war of your generation and George Bush never left the shores of Texas, it doesn't seem like that the odds are very fair there.

So I would suggest that they both concentrate on how in the world do we have an exit strategy out of Iraq and how are we going to take care of these veterans when they come back.

BLITZER: Senator Cleland, as usual, thanks for coming in.

CLELAND: Thank you.

BLITZER: And to our viewers, this note. We'll get a very different perspective presumably tomorrow. The president's good friend Don Evans, the secretary of commerce, will join us on this program live.

Up next, there's a secret plan to protect the United States against germ warfare. Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson, he will join us live to tell us what the government is doing right now to safeguard American cities.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back.

A new presidential order is designed to improve efforts to stop bioterrorism right here at home. The administration says the new directive will plug gaps in the nation's current defenses against biological attacks. It includes plans to boost safety of the food and water supplies and ways to distribute antibiotics and vaccines around the country in the case of -- in the case of an attack.

Here to talk about some of the specifics of this important new directive on bioterror, Tommy Thompson, the secretary of health and human services. He's joining us from the HHS Command Center here in Washington.

Mr. Secretary, why is this directive so important? What difference will it make?

TOMMY THOMPSON, HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES SECRETARY: Well, Wolf, we've come a long ways from where we started three years ago, and especially since 9/11 and the anthrax scare that all of us went through.

We've been able to develop a lot of procedures that's going to be able to benefit all Americans and protect them. And now we're going to go the next step. We're going to go into BioShield, BioSense and BioWatch. And what we're going to try and do is make sure that we can anticipate any future bioterrorist threat or bioterrorist attack.

And if, in fact, that attacks comes, be able to be prepared to take care of the casualties that may come as a result of that. So we're really doing a lot of things to really get America prepared, but more than that, to be able to implement the programs that we have already started planning.

BLITZER: Is there anything here that will improve intelligence surveillance of suspected terrorists, especially looking forward this summer? There are a lot of high-profile events, Democratic, Republican conventions, elections, as you well know. What specifically is being done to have better intelligence?

THOMPSON: Well, we are putting in a lot of sensors, which is controlled by Homeland Security and implemented, also, by Homeland Security, in conjunction with HHS.

And these sensors are going to be placed around America and a lot of them are already in. And these sensors will take in information from the air on a daily basis. And we'll get readings on a very regular periodic basis. And EPA is also going to be putting sensors into the water supplies, so that we're going to be able to develop a program to be able to find out if there's anything in the water supplies that would give us some cause to worry and be able to allow us to be able to respond very quickly.

BLITZER: Is there any progress made in the anthrax investigation, the killer or killers, those letters containing anthrax, as you well know, a couple of years ago, any progress in finding out who did this? THOMPSON: There is no further information that can be divulged at this time, Wolf.

But the FBI and my department and Homeland Security are working vigilantly on it. But there has not been the breakthrough. But there has been breakthroughs on hopefully a new vaccine for anthrax that will be ready by the middle of next year. And that's a very good sign in order vaccinate individual against anthrax.

BLITZER: Speaking about vaccines, are you confident that enough vaccine is available right now around the country for some sort of terrible biological attack, if that were to occur?

THOMPSON: Well, it depends upon what kind of attack. But we have plenty of vaccines that we have available.

In the case of smallpox, we have over 400 million doses, plenty enough to vaccinate every man, woman and child. And we have plans in place in order to vaccinate every American within 10 days of the onset of a smallpox attack. We're developing a brand new anthrax, as I have indicated, a vaccine that's going to be ready, up and running, by the middle of next year.

And we're developing a lot of things under BioShield for new vaccines that may come in to play with any kind of bioterrorist threat.

BLITZER: Are you confident now that communication between various agency, branches of the U.S. government has improved so that the left hand knows what the right hand knows?

THOMPSON: Wolf, it's never been better than it is today. It doesn't mean that we can't strive to do better, but right now there's great communications between Homeland Security, Department of Defense, EPA, Agriculture, and my department, probably the best that it's ever been.

Probably never in the history of the federal government has the cooperation been as acute as it is today.

BLITZER: Secretary Thompson joining us from the command center at HHS, thanks very much for joining us.

THOMPSON: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: And we'll have the results of our "Web Question of the Day." That's coming up.

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

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER (voice-over): Police in Thailand fired on the machete- wielding militants in the country's Muslim-dominated south, killing at least 107 people. Most of the insurgents were teenagers. Five security personnel also were killed.

Gaza violence. Four Israeli soldiers were wounded when a vehicle loaded with explosives blew up near a Jewish settlement. The driver was killed. The militant group Hamas said it carried out the attack in retaliation for Israel's recent assassination of two Hamas leaders.

Fighting anti-Semitism. Secretary of State Colin Powell says there has been a disturbing rise in anti-Jewish incidents in Europe. He urged Europeans to reject anti-Semitism during an address to a 55- nation conference of foreign ministers meeting in Berlin.

Taking it all off. Shrek, the wild New Zealand sheep who attracted worldwide attention because of a massive woolly coat, now has a different look. After dodging the shearer's blades for six years, Shrek was captured this month. and when the time came, with 200 people watching, Shrek didn't bat an eye as the country's top shearer used old-fashioned cutting blades to remove his fleece, all 59 pounds of it. The high-quality merino wool is to be auctioned for a children's charity.

And that's our look around the world.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Here's how you're weighing in on our "Web Question of the Day." As you look at these numbers, remember, this is not a scientific poll.

A reminder, we're on weekdays 5:00 p.m. Eastern, as well as noon Eastern. I'll see you back here tomorrow. Thanks so much for joining us.

"LOU DOBBS TONIGHT" starts right now.

sexual assault case, attorneys have wrapped up closed-door pretrial arguments. They centered on a motion to throw out some evidence that the defense says was illegally gathered. More hearings are planned in May. The judge could decide then if jurors will hear the sexual history of Bryant's accuser.

Cable giant Comcast is withdrawing its proposal to merge with Disney. Comcast's president and chief executive says it's time to walk away from what was originally billed as a $54 billion stock deal. Disney had said President Bush today spoke out on the fighting in Fallujah.

Joining us now with that, our White House correspondent, Suzanne Malveaux.

Suzanne, what exactly did he say?

sexual assault case, attorneys have wrapped up closed-door pretrial arguments. They centered on a motion to throw out some evidence that the defense says was illegally gathered. More hearings are planned in May. The judge could decide then if jurors will hear the sexual history of Bryant's accuser.

Cable giant Comcast is withdrawing its proposal to merge with Disney. Comcast's president and chief executive says it's time to walk away from what was originally billed as a $54 billion stock deal. Disney had said the offer was too low.

President Bush today spoke out on the fighting in Fallujah.

Joining us now with that, our White House correspondent, Suzanne Malveaux.

Suzanne, what exactly did he say?

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the president obviously is facing two parallel tracks here. They are pursuing two different aspects, the military track and the political track.

It was after President Bush emerged from a meeting with the prime minister of Sweden, he talked about the need to get the international community involved, the European community, the United Nations, of course the administration backing a U.N. Security Council resolution that would transfer the power back to the Iraqi people by June 30.

The president also, however, Wolf, emphasizing that really the stability in the region is of utmost importance and that may mean some military might.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: What you must realize is happening in a place like Fallujah is the closer we come to passing sovereignty, the more likely it is that foreign fighters disgruntled Baathists, or friends of the Shia cleric will try to stop progress. That's what is happening.

They want to kill innocent life to try to get us to quit. And we're not going to. And our military commanders will take whatever action is necessary to secure Fallujah on behalf of the Iraqi people.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MALVEAUX: Now, administration officials also making it clear today that they are backing the plan by U.N. special envoy Lakhdar Brahimi. That would be to escalate the timetable to try to get the members of that caretaker Iraqi government in place by the end of May, so that they could have a full month before the end of June to actually work out the type of arrangements with U.S. security forces on the ground -- a lot of work ahead, Wolf.

BLITZER: Suzanne, quickly turning to a big day tomorrow for the president and the vice president, their joint testimony before the 9/11 Commission. It will be tomorrow morning at the White House. So what do we know about that?

MALVEAUX: Well, we have just learned some new details about that.

We know it's going to take place in the Oval Office at 9:30 in the morning. It's expected to last about two and a half hours. We understand that both the president and the vice president have been preparing over the last couple of days, the president meeting with his national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, his chief of staff, Andy Card, and, of course, his counsel, Al Gonzales.

The vice president as well meeting with his top aides. They are going over records and notes and calendars to try to refresh their memory about what had occurred prior to September 11. We know that both of them will be in the room together. And we understand in a room with them not only the full commission, but also White House counsel Gonzales, two other members of the White House counsel as well, perhaps another note taker in the room.

We don't expect to hear from the president or the vice president following this question-and-answer session, although there could be some information coming out of the White House in the briefing that follows -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Suzanne Malveaux at the White House -- thanks very much, Suzanne.

Let's get back to our top story, what is happening in Fallujah right now. U.S. Marines ringing the city, saying they are just playing patty-cake, at least for now, fighting what they describe as a defensive action. Once again, though, they called in air support to hammer some insurgent targets.

"Los Angeles Times" reporter Tony Perry is embedded with the U.S. Marines in Fallujah. He's joining us on the phone once again now.

Tony, give us the latest. What is happening as far as you can tell right now?

TONY PERRY, "THE LOS ANGELES TIMES": Well, we're in the middle of the night here. And it's been exceedingly quiet tonight, but there were two battles that raged for a number of hours between the insurgents and the Marines.

In one, four Marines were wounded. Airpower, F-16, F-18s, was brought in to subdue insurgents who had taken over some buildings and were firing down on the Marines. In the other battle, Cobra helicopters firing Hellfire missiles, plus Marines on the ground, fought a battle for several hours with insurgents who were taking ammunition out of a storehouse that they had created near a deserted train station.

In that battle, significantly, Marines reported that the insurgents when they came to get the ammunition, they came to get the weaponry, brought women and children, suggesting that they do like to use women and children as shields and that they wouldn't mind if there were women and children as civilian casualties. There weren't in this case. But it does show us that when we finally move, if there is a final move, to go downtown, as they say, to wipe out the insurgent stronghold, there will be women and children, there will be civilians and there will be in that case I think inevitably civilian casualties.

BLITZER: We heard earlier from some U.S. officials, Tony, that most of Fallujah was actually secure in good hands. There were only small parts of it that were really controlled by insurgents. Is that what you can see from your vantage point?

PERRY: I think that, to a certain degree, it's true, Wolf. Don't forget, we have 7,000 Marines, about 3,500 in the city and another 3,500 outside the city, ringing it, keeping a cordon in effect so no one can get in and out that the Marines don't agree with.

The insurgents have certain neighborhoods. Just how big, I don't think anyone really knows. But they are down there. The Marines control, I would say, a little more than half of the geographic territory of this city. But the heavily populated area, the old Arab part with the souks and the winding streets and the dense housing, that is still no man's land. That is still controlled by the insurgents.

And that's where the fighting would be if the order goes to move, to push the insurgents basically into the Euphrates and either take them captive or kill them at that point.

BLITZER: Tony Perry has been kind enough to speak with us at this time nightly. We'll stand by and speak with you again tomorrow at this time.

Tony, thanks very much for that report. Please be safe.

Waging political war over military service. John Kerry fends off allegations he tossed his Vietnam medals. And the president is pressed over his record in the Texas Air National Guard. I'll speak live with former Senator and Vietnam veteran Max Cleland.

Plus, bracing for bioterrorism. How prepared is the United States right now for a national emergency potentially even larger, more devastating than 9/11? We'll get the latest assessment from the health and human services secretary.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: The heated fight over military service, the military service specifically of the president and John Kerry during the Vietnam War erupted once again on Capitol Hill today.

Our congressional correspondent Ed Henry is covering the story -- Ed.

ED HENRY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, responding to Republican attacks on Kerry's defense credentials, World War II veteran Frank Lautenberg today launched a direct assault on Vice President Cheney's lack of military service.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

HENRY (voice-over): Responding to Republican attacks on Senator Kerry defense credentials the Democratic senator a World War II veteran launched a direct assault on Vice President Cheney's military service.

SEN. FRANK LAUTENBERG (D), NEW JERSEY: We know who the chicken hawks are. They talk tough on national defense and military issues and cast aspersion on others. When it was their turn to serve, where were they? AWOL. That's where they were. And now the chicken hawks are cackling about Senator John Kerry. And the lead chicken hawk against Senator Kerry is the vice president of the United States, Vice President Cheney.

HENRY: The props and harsh rhetoric did not sit well with Vietnam veteran John McCain. McCain pleaded with his colleagues and the presidential candidates to call a truce.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: At least could we declare that the Vietnam War is over and have a cease-fire and agree that both candidates, the president of the United States and Senator Kerry served honorably, end of story? Now let's focus our attention on the conflict that's taking place in Iraq that is taking American lives as I speak on this floor.

HENRY: Kerry has been stepping up his attacks on the president's military record in the National Guard and raising questions about Vice President Cheney's draft deferment during the Vietnam War. One Democratic close to the Kerry campaign argued the candidate must respond saying -- quote -- "It's hit or be hit." But leaders in both parties are showing no signs of dropping their arms.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), MINORITY LEADER: As far as we know, Senator Kerry got three Purple Hearts for risking his life in Vietnam. And President Bush got a dental examination in Alabama.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

HENRY: Wolf, Republican leaders are also rejecting McCain's call for a truce. I spoke earlier to Majority Leader Bill Frist in the Senate. He said he expects this to be a rough campaign and every single issue will be fair game -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Our congressional correspondent Ed Henry reporting from Capitol Hill -- Ed, thanks very much.

Former Democratic Senator Max Cleland volunteered for military duty in Vietnam and suffered very serious wounds there in 1968. Some analysts say that Republican attacks questioning Cleland's record on national security contributed to his failed reelection bid two years ago.

Senator Cleland is joining us now here in our studio.

Senator, thanks very much for joining us.

What do you make of this debate that's going on involving Kerry's record after he came back from Vietnam and the president's record when he was in the Texas Air National Guard?

MAX CLELAND, FORMER U.S. SENATOR: Well, John McCain above all should understand for George Bush to come after you, because George Bush went after John McCain's patriotism in South Carolina in the primaries in 2000.

And when I was in the Senate, John McCain -- Chuck Hagel and Bob Kerrey all came to John McCain's defense and wrote a letter to the citizens of South Carolina taking up for John McCain and his wonderful service and heroic service for this nation. Then the Bush team came after me in Georgia in 2002, accusing me basically of siding with Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden in terms of threatening this country. How ridiculous that truly is.

And now they are going after John Kerry. It's the same old Republican slime machine. Now you have got to fight back. You can't let this stuff take you down.

BLITZER: Let me ask you a question, because what the Republicans say they are doing is going through his voting record, Senator Kerry's voting record, taking a look when he voted for specific weapon systems, F-18, Bradley Fighting Vehicles. And they are saying, you know what? He voted against certain weapon systems. What's wrong with taking a look at a voting record and bringing it up as a legitimate campaign issue?

CLELAND: If you are in the Senate for 20 years, you can take the voting record and prove anything you want to.

The truth of the matter is, John Kerry voted for $4.4 trillion worth of defense budgets and items in the last 20 years. The truth of the matter is, though, he has been tested in war. And now this president is taking us to war and in many ways has got us into a morass and quagmire that looks just like Vietnam.

Therefore, the experience of Vietnam is relevant. John Kerry won three Purple Hearts, the Bronze Star with V Device for Valor and the Silver Star. He brought his ship home and all of his crew members came back to this country alive. That is great leadership under fire. And that's what is being tested out there. And he's fighting back and making sure that this country understands his records.

BLITZER: Your friend, Senator McCain, a Republican, also a Vietnam veteran, says you know what? Let's have a cease-fire on this whole debate. It's ugly. It's history. What the president did during his service in the Texas Air National Guard, what the Democratic candidate did after he returned from Vietnam, let's move on. Is that sound advice from Senator McCain?

CLELAND: I think it's sound advice. And like I say, he ought to know because they came after him first. They came after me secondly and they are going after John Kerry third. This is ridiculous. We ought to be talking about just like John McCain said, the kids that are dying in Iraq. Are they dying from weapons of mass destruction? No. There are none there. Are they dying for a nuclear weapons program that Dick Cheney said a couple of years ago were there? No. Are they dying for connections with al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden? No.

What are they dying for, oil? I don't know. We have got 730, 740 kids out there dead now and about 3,600 wounded and 13,000 evacuated from the theater and more killed today. Now, the question is, why? Now, this president did not go to Vietnam. He didn't learn the lesson that, in this country, you take this country to war only when you have to, as John Kerry says, not when you want to. And finally you go to war with your allies so there's somebody to help you pick up the pieces afterwards.

BLITZER: But are you now bringing up the president's decision not to volunteer to go serve in Vietnam as an issue that should be front and center in this campaign?

CLELAND: Absolutely. If you going to be commander and chief and you are going to start a war and you are going to start a war on false pretenses with false evidence, you are accountable. The president

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: I thought you just suggested there should be a cease- fire on these charges and countercharges.

CLELAND: But you just heard Senator Frist say not only no, but hell no. So this will continue.

And it started with Bush going after John McCain in South Carolina when Bush got in trouble. Bush is in trouble now. He's got a failed war on his hands. And he has got a bona fide, authentic Vietnam American hero coming at him. And this war has only started.

BLITZER: Is it smart for John Kerry right now to be seemingly on the defensive and explain what did he when he came back from Vietnam, whether he threw his ribbons or medals across the fence at that anti- war demonstration?

CLELAND: I think it's not smart for President Bush to go after an authentic American hero.

I'm telling you, when you got three Purple Hearts, and that's John Kerry, and you're George Bush, you got none, if you are John Kerry you got a Bronze Star with V Device for Valor for saving a special forces officer out of the drink in Mekong Delta, and you're George Bush, you got none, and if you have got a Silver Star for gallantry in action for saving your boat and your crew in the Mekong Delta in the war of your generation and George Bush never left the shores of Texas, it doesn't seem like that the odds are very fair there.

So I would suggest that they both concentrate on how in the world do we have an exit strategy out of Iraq and how are we going to take care of these veterans when they come back.

BLITZER: Senator Cleland, as usual, thanks for coming in.

CLELAND: Thank you.

BLITZER: And to our viewers, this note. We'll get a very different perspective presumably tomorrow. The president's good friend Don Evans, the secretary of commerce, will join us on this program live.

Up next, there's a secret plan to protect the United States against germ warfare. Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson, he will join us live to tell us what the government is doing right now to safeguard American cities.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back.

A new presidential order is designed to improve efforts to stop bioterrorism right here at home. The administration says the new directive will plug gaps in the nation's current defenses against biological attacks. It includes plans to boost safety of the food and water supplies and ways to distribute antibiotics and vaccines around the country in the case of -- in the case of an attack.

Here to talk about some of the specifics of this important new directive on bioterror, Tommy Thompson, the secretary of health and human services. He's joining us from the HHS Command Center here in Washington.

Mr. Secretary, why is this directive so important? What difference will it make?

TOMMY THOMPSON, HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES SECRETARY: Well, Wolf, we've come a long ways from where we started three years ago, and especially since 9/11 and the anthrax scare that all of us went through.

We've been able to develop a lot of procedures that's going to be able to benefit all Americans and protect them. And now we're going to go the next step. We're going to go into BioShield, BioSense and BioWatch. And what we're going to try and do is make sure that we can anticipate any future bioterrorist threat or bioterrorist attack.

And if, in fact, that attacks comes, be able to be prepared to take care of the casualties that may come as a result of that. So we're really doing a lot of things to really get America prepared, but more than that, to be able to implement the programs that we have already started planning.

BLITZER: Is there anything here that will improve intelligence surveillance of suspected terrorists, especially looking forward this summer? There are a lot of high-profile events, Democratic, Republican conventions, elections, as you well know. What specifically is being done to have better intelligence? THOMPSON: Well, we are putting in a lot of sensors, which is controlled by Homeland Security and implemented, also, by Homeland Security, in conjunction with HHS.

And these sensors are going to be placed around America and a lot of them are already in. And these sensors will take in information from the air on a daily basis. And we'll get readings on a very regular periodic basis. And EPA is also going to be putting sensors into the water supplies, so that we're going to be able to develop a program to be able to find out if there's anything in the water supplies that would give us some cause to worry and be able to allow us to be able to respond very quickly.

BLITZER: Is there any progress made in the anthrax investigation, the killer or killers, those letters containing anthrax, as you well know, a couple of years ago, any progress in finding out who did this?

THOMPSON: There is no further information that can be divulged at this time, Wolf.

But the FBI and my department and Homeland Security are working vigilantly on it. But there has not been the breakthrough. But there has been breakthroughs on hopefully a new vaccine for anthrax that will be ready by the middle of next year. And that's a very good sign in order vaccinate individual against anthrax.

BLITZER: Speaking about vaccines, are you confident that enough vaccine is available right now around the country for some sort of terrible biological attack, if that were to occur?

THOMPSON: Well, it depends upon what kind of attack. But we have plenty of vaccines that we have available.

In the case of smallpox, we have over 400 million doses, plenty enough to vaccinate every man, woman and child. And we have plans in place in order to vaccinate every American within 10 days of the onset of a smallpox attack. We're developing a brand new anthrax, as I have indicated, a vaccine that's going to be ready, up and running, by the middle of next year.

And we're developing a lot of things under BioShield for new vaccines that may come in to play with any kind of bioterrorist threat.

BLITZER: Are you confident now that communication between various agency, branches of the U.S. government has improved so that the left hand knows what the right hand knows?

THOMPSON: Wolf, it's never been better than it is today. It doesn't mean that we can't strive to do better, but right now there's great communications between Homeland Security, Department of Defense, EPA, Agriculture, and my department, probably the best that it's ever been.

Probably never in the history of the federal government has the cooperation been as acute as it is today.

BLITZER: Secretary Thompson joining us from the command center at HHS, thanks very much for joining us.

THOMPSON: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: And we'll have the results of our "Web Question of the Day." That's coming up.

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

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER (voice-over): Police in Thailand fired on the machete- wielding militants in the country's Muslim-dominated south, killing at least 107 people. Most of the insurgents were teenagers. Five security personnel also were killed.

Gaza violence. Four Israeli soldiers were wounded when a vehicle loaded with explosives blew up near a Jewish settlement. The driver was killed. The militant group Hamas said it carried out the attack in retaliation for Israel's recent assassination of two Hamas leaders.

Fighting anti-Semitism. Secretary of State Colin Powell says there has been a disturbing rise in anti-Jewish incidents in Europe. He urged Europeans to reject anti-Semitism during an address to a 55- nation conference of foreign ministers meeting in Berlin.

Taking it all off. Shrek, the wild New Zealand sheep who attracted worldwide attention because of a massive woolly coat, now has a different look. After dodging the shearer's blades for six years, Shrek was captured this month. and when the time came, with 200 people watching, Shrek didn't bat an eye as the country's top shearer used old-fashioned cutting blades to remove his fleece, all 59 pounds of it. The high-quality merino wool is to be auctioned for a children's charity.

And that's our look around the world.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Here's how you're weighing in on our "Web Question of the Day." As you look at these numbers, remember, this is not a scientific poll.

A reminder, we're on weekdays 5:00 p.m. Eastern, as well as noon Eastern. I'll see you back here tomorrow. Thanks so much for joining us.

"LOU DOBBS TONIGHT" starts right now.

sexual assault case, attorneys have wrapped up closed-door pretrial arguments. They centered on a motion to throw out some evidence that the defense says was illegally gathered. More hearings are planned in May. The judge could decide then if jurors will hear the sexual history of Bryant's accuser.

Cable giant Comcast is withdrawing its proposal to merge with Disney. Comcast's president and chief executive says it's time to walk away from what was originally billed as a $54 billion stock deal. Disney had said President Bush today spoke out on the fighting in Fallujah.

Joining us now with that, our White House correspondent, Suzanne Malveaux.

Suzanne, what exactly did he say?

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the president obviously is facing two parallel tracks here. They are pursuing two different aspects, the military track and the political track.

It was after President Bush emerged from a meeting with the prime minister of Sweden, he talked about the need to get the international community involved, the European community, the United Nations, of course the administration backing a U.N. Security Council resolution that would transfer the power back to the Iraqi people by June 30.

The president also, however, Wolf, emphasizing that really the stability in the region is of utmost importance and that may mean some military might.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: What you must realize is happening in a place like Fallujah is the closer we come to passing sovereignty, the more likely it is that foreign fighters disgruntled Baathists, or friends of the Shia cleric will try to stop progress. That's what is happening.

They want to kill innocent life to try to get us to quit. And we're not going to. And our military commanders will take whatever action is necessary to secure Fallujah on behalf of the Iraqi people.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MALVEAUX: Now, administration officials also making it clear today that they are backing the plan by U.N. special envoy Lakhdar Brahimi. That would be to escalate the timetable to try to get the members of that caretaker Iraqi government in place by the end of May, so that they could have a full month before the end of June to actually work out the type of arrangements with U.S. security forces on the ground -- a lot of work ahead, Wolf.

BLITZER: Suzanne, quickly turning to a big day tomorrow for the president and the vice president, their joint testimony before the 9/11 Commission. It will be tomorrow morning at the White House. So what do we know about that?

MALVEAUX: Well, we have just learned some new details about that.

We know it's going to take place in the Oval Office at 9:30 in the morning. It's expected to last about two and a half hours. We understand that both the president and the vice president have been preparing over the last couple of days, the president meeting with his national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, his chief of staff, Andy Card, and, of course, his counsel, Al Gonzales.

The vice president as well meeting with his top aides. They are going over records and notes and calendars to try to refresh their memory about what had occurred prior to September 11. We know that both of them will be in the room together. And we understand in a room with them not only the full commission, but also White House counsel Gonzales, two other members of the White House counsel as well, perhaps another note taker in the room.

We don't expect to hear from the president or the vice president following this question-and-answer session, although there could be some information coming out of the White House in the briefing that follows -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Suzanne Malveaux at the White House -- thanks very much, Suzanne.

Let's get back to our top story, what is happening in Fallujah right now. U.S. Marines ringing the city, saying they are just playing patty-cake, at least for now, fighting what they describe as a defensive action. Once again, though, they called in air support to hammer some insurgent targets.

"Los Angeles Times" reporter Tony Perry is embedded with the U.S. Marines in Fallujah. He's joining us on the phone once again now.

Tony, give us the latest. What is happening as far as you can tell right now?

TONY PERRY, "THE LOS ANGELES TIMES": Well, we're in the middle of the night here. And it's been exceedingly quiet tonight, but there were two battles that raged for a number of hours between the insurgents and the Marines.

In one, four Marines were wounded. Airpower, F-16, F-18s, was brought in to subdue insurgents who had taken over some buildings and were firing down on the Marines. In the other battle, Cobra helicopters firing Hellfire missiles, plus Marines on the ground, fought a battle for several hours with insurgents who were taking ammunition out of a storehouse that they had created near a deserted train station.

In that battle, significantly, Marines reported that the insurgents when they came to get the ammunition, they came to get the weaponry, brought women and children, suggesting that they do like to use women and children as shields and that they wouldn't mind if there were women and children as civilian casualties. There weren't in this case. But it does show us that when we finally move, if there is a final move, to go downtown, as they say, to wipe out the insurgent stronghold, there will be women and children, there will be civilians and there will be in that case I think inevitably civilian casualties.

BLITZER: We heard earlier from some U.S. officials, Tony, that most of Fallujah was actually secure in good hands. There were only small parts of it that were really controlled by insurgents. Is that what you can see from your vantage point?

PERRY: I think that, to a certain degree, it's true, Wolf. Don't forget, we have 7,000 Marines, about 3,500 in the city and another 3,500 outside the city, ringing it, keeping a cordon in effect so no one can get in and out that the Marines don't agree with.

The insurgents have certain neighborhoods. Just how big, I don't think anyone really knows. But they are down there. The Marines control, I would say, a little more than half of the geographic territory of this city. But the heavily populated area, the old Arab part with the souks and the winding streets and the dense housing, that is still no man's land. That is still controlled by the insurgents.

And that's where the fighting would be if the order goes to move, to push the insurgents basically into the Euphrates and either take them captive or kill them at that point.

BLITZER: Tony Perry has been kind enough to speak with us at this time nightly. We'll stand by and speak with you again tomorrow at this time.

Tony, thanks very much for that report. Please be safe.

Waging political war over military service. John Kerry fends off allegations he tossed his Vietnam medals. And the president is pressed over his record in the Texas Air National Guard. I'll speak live with former Senator and Vietnam veteran Max Cleland.

Plus, bracing for bioterrorism. How prepared is the United States right now for a national emergency potentially even larger, more devastating than 9/11? We'll get the latest assessment from the health and human services secretary.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: The heated fight over military service, the military service specifically of the president and John Kerry during the Vietnam War erupted once again on Capitol Hill today.

Our congressional correspondent Ed Henry is covering the story -- Ed.

ED HENRY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, responding to Republican attacks on Kerry's defense credentials, World War II veteran Frank Lautenberg today launched a direct assault on Vice President Cheney's lack of military service.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

HENRY (voice-over): Responding to Republican attacks on Senator Kerry defense credentials the Democratic senator a World War II veteran launched a direct assault on Vice President Cheney's military service.

SEN. FRANK LAUTENBERG (D), NEW JERSEY: We know who the chicken hawks are. They talk tough on national defense and military issues and cast aspersion on others. When it was their turn to serve, where were they? AWOL. That's where they were. And now the chicken hawks are cackling about Senator John Kerry. And the lead chicken hawk against Senator Kerry is the vice president of the United States, Vice President Cheney.

HENRY: The props and harsh rhetoric did not sit well with Vietnam veteran John McCain. McCain pleaded with his colleagues and the presidential candidates to call a truce.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: At least could we declare that the Vietnam War is over and have a cease-fire and agree that both candidates, the president of the United States and Senator Kerry served honorably, end of story? Now let's focus our attention on the conflict that's taking place in Iraq that is taking American lives as I speak on this floor.

HENRY: Kerry has been stepping up his attacks on the president's military record in the National Guard and raising questions about Vice President Cheney's draft deferment during the Vietnam War. One Democratic close to the Kerry campaign argued the candidate must respond saying -- quote -- "It's hit or be hit." But leaders in both parties are showing no signs of dropping their arms.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), MINORITY LEADER: As far as we know, Senator Kerry got three Purple Hearts for risking his life in Vietnam. And President Bush got a dental examination in Alabama.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

HENRY: Wolf, Republican leaders are also rejecting McCain's call for a truce. I spoke earlier to Majority Leader Bill Frist in the Senate. He said he expects this to be a rough campaign and every single issue will be fair game -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Our congressional correspondent Ed Henry reporting from Capitol Hill -- Ed, thanks very much.

Former Democratic Senator Max Cleland volunteered for military duty in Vietnam and suffered very serious wounds there in 1968. Some analysts say that Republican attacks questioning Cleland's record on national security contributed to his failed reelection bid two years ago.

Senator Cleland is joining us now here in our studio.

Senator, thanks very much for joining us.

What do you make of this debate that's going on involving Kerry's record after he came back from Vietnam and the president's record when he was in the Texas Air National Guard?

MAX CLELAND, FORMER U.S. SENATOR: Well, John McCain above all should understand for George Bush to come after you, because George Bush went after John McCain's patriotism in South Carolina in the primaries in 2000.

And when I was in the Senate, John McCain -- Chuck Hagel and Bob Kerrey all came to John McCain's defense and wrote a letter to the citizens of South Carolina taking up for John McCain and his wonderful service and heroic service for this nation. Then the Bush team came after me in Georgia in 2002, accusing me basically of siding with Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden in terms of threatening this country. How ridiculous that truly is.

And now they are going after John Kerry. It's the same old Republican slime machine. Now you have got to fight back. You can't let this stuff take you down.

BLITZER: Let me ask you a question, because what the Republicans say they are doing is going through his voting record, Senator Kerry's voting record, taking a look when he voted for specific weapon systems, F-18, Bradley Fighting Vehicles. And they are saying, you know what? He voted against certain weapon systems. What's wrong with taking a look at a voting record and bringing it up as a legitimate campaign issue?

CLELAND: If you are in the Senate for 20 years, you can take the voting record and prove anything you want to.

The truth of the matter is, John Kerry voted for $4.4 trillion worth of defense budgets and items in the last 20 years. The truth of the matter is, though, he has been tested in war. And now this president is taking us to war and in many ways has got us into a morass and quagmire that looks just like Vietnam.

Therefore, the experience of Vietnam is relevant. John Kerry won three Purple Hearts, the Bronze Star with V Device for Valor and the Silver Star. He brought his ship home and all of his crew members came back to this country alive. That is great leadership under fire. And that's what is being tested out there. And he's fighting back and making sure that this country understands his records.

BLITZER: Your friend, Senator McCain, a Republican, also a Vietnam veteran, says you know what? Let's have a cease-fire on this whole debate. It's ugly. It's history. What the president did during his service in the Texas Air National Guard, what the Democratic candidate did after he returned from Vietnam, let's move on. Is that sound advice from Senator McCain?

CLELAND: I think it's sound advice. And like I say, he ought to know because they came after him first. They came after me secondly and they are going after John Kerry third. This is ridiculous. We ought to be talking about just like John McCain said, the kids that are dying in Iraq. Are they dying from weapons of mass destruction? No. There are none there. Are they dying for a nuclear weapons program that Dick Cheney said a couple of years ago were there? No. Are they dying for connections with al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden? No.

What are they dying for, oil? I don't know. We have got 730, 740 kids out there dead now and about 3,600 wounded and 13,000 evacuated from the theater and more killed today. Now, the question is, why? Now, this president did not go to Vietnam. He didn't learn the lesson that, in this country, you take this country to war only when you have to, as John Kerry says, not when you want to. And finally you go to war with your allies so there's somebody to help you pick up the pieces afterwards.

BLITZER: But are you now bringing up the president's decision not to volunteer to go serve in Vietnam as an issue that should be front and center in this campaign?

CLELAND: Absolutely. If you going to be commander and chief and you are going to start a war and you are going to start a war on false pretenses with false evidence, you are accountable. The president

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: I thought you just suggested there should be a cease- fire on these charges and countercharges.

CLELAND: But you just heard Senator Frist say not only no, but hell no. So this will continue.

And it started with Bush going after John McCain in South Carolina when Bush got in trouble. Bush is in trouble now. He's got a failed war on his hands. And he has got a bona fide, authentic Vietnam American hero coming at him. And this war has only started.

BLITZER: Is it smart for John Kerry right now to be seemingly on the defensive and explain what did he when he came back from Vietnam, whether he threw his ribbons or medals across the fence at that anti- war demonstration?

CLELAND: I think it's not smart for President Bush to go after an authentic American hero.

I'm telling you, when you got three Purple Hearts, and that's John Kerry, and you're George Bush, you got none, if you are John Kerry you got a Bronze Star with V Device for Valor for saving a special forces officer out of the drink in Mekong Delta, and you're George Bush, you got none, and if you have got a Silver Star for gallantry in action for saving your boat and your crew in the Mekong Delta in the war of your generation and George Bush never left the shores of Texas, it doesn't seem like that the odds are very fair there.

So I would suggest that they both concentrate on how in the world do we have an exit strategy out of Iraq and how are we going to take care of these veterans when they come back.

BLITZER: Senator Cleland, as usual, thanks for coming in.

CLELAND: Thank you.

BLITZER: And to our viewers, this note. We'll get a very different perspective presumably tomorrow. The president's good friend Don Evans, the secretary of commerce, will join us on this program live.

Up next, there's a secret plan to protect the United States against germ warfare. Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson, he will join us live to tell us what the government is doing right now to safeguard American cities.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back.

A new presidential order is designed to improve efforts to stop bioterrorism right here at home. The administration says the new directive will plug gaps in the nation's current defenses against biological attacks. It includes plans to boost safety of the food and water supplies and ways to distribute antibiotics and vaccines around the country in the case of -- in the case of an attack.

Here to talk about some of the specifics of this important new directive on bioterror, Tommy Thompson, the secretary of health and human services. He's joining us from the HHS Command Center here in Washington.

Mr. Secretary, why is this directive so important? What difference will it make?

TOMMY THOMPSON, HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES SECRETARY: Well, Wolf, we've come a long ways from where we started three years ago, and especially since 9/11 and the anthrax scare that all of us went through.

We've been able to develop a lot of procedures that's going to be able to benefit all Americans and protect them. And now we're going to go the next step. We're going to go into BioShield, BioSense and BioWatch. And what we're going to try and do is make sure that we can anticipate any future bioterrorist threat or bioterrorist attack.

And if, in fact, that attacks comes, be able to be prepared to take care of the casualties that may come as a result of that. So we're really doing a lot of things to really get America prepared, but more than that, to be able to implement the programs that we have already started planning.

BLITZER: Is there anything here that will improve intelligence surveillance of suspected terrorists, especially looking forward this summer? There are a lot of high-profile events, Democratic, Republican conventions, elections, as you well know. What specifically is being done to have better intelligence? THOMPSON: Well, we are putting in a lot of sensors, which is controlled by Homeland Security and implemented, also, by Homeland Security, in conjunction with HHS.

And these sensors are going to be placed around America and a lot of them are already in. And these sensors will take in information from the air on a daily basis. And we'll get readings on a very regular periodic basis. And EPA is also going to be putting sensors into the water supplies, so that we're going to be able to develop a program to be able to find out if there's anything in the water supplies that would give us some cause to worry and be able to allow us to be able to respond very quickly.

BLITZER: Is there any progress made in the anthrax investigation, the killer or killers, those letters containing anthrax, as you well know, a couple of years ago, any progress in finding out who did this?

THOMPSON: There is no further information that can be divulged at this time, Wolf.

But the FBI and my department and Homeland Security are working vigilantly on it. But there has not been the breakthrough. But there has been breakthroughs on hopefully a new vaccine for anthrax that will be ready by the middle of next year. And that's a very good sign in order vaccinate individual against anthrax.

BLITZER: Speaking about vaccines, are you confident that enough vaccine is available right now around the country for some sort of terrible biological attack, if that were to occur?

THOMPSON: Well, it depends upon what kind of attack. But we have plenty of vaccines that we have available.

In the case of smallpox, we have over 400 million doses, plenty enough to vaccinate every man, woman and child. And we have plans in place in order to vaccinate every American within 10 days of the onset of a smallpox attack. We're developing a brand new anthrax, as I have indicated, a vaccine that's going to be ready, up and running, by the middle of next year.

And we're developing a lot of things under BioShield for new vaccines that may come in to play with any kind of bioterrorist threat.

BLITZER: Are you confident now that communication between various agency, branches of the U.S. government has improved so that the left hand knows what the right hand knows?

THOMPSON: Wolf, it's never been better than it is today. It doesn't mean that we can't strive to do better, but right now there's great communications between Homeland Security, Department of Defense, EPA, Agriculture, and my department, probably the best that it's ever been.

Probably never in the history of the federal government has the cooperation been as acute as it is today.

BLITZER: Secretary Thompson joining us from the command center at HHS, thanks very much for joining us.

THOMPSON: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: And we'll have the results of our "Web Question of the Day." That's coming up.

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

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER (voice-over): Police in Thailand fired on the machete- wielding militants in the country's Muslim-dominated south, killing at least 107 people. Most of the insurgents were teenagers. Five security personnel also were killed.

Gaza violence. Four Israeli soldiers were wounded when a vehicle loaded with explosives blew up near a Jewish settlement. The driver was killed. The militant group Hamas said it carried out the attack in retaliation for Israel's recent assassination of two Hamas leaders.

Fighting anti-Semitism. Secretary of State Colin Powell says there has been a disturbing rise in anti-Jewish incidents in Europe. He urged Europeans to reject anti-Semitism during an address to a 55- nation conference of foreign ministers meeting in Berlin.

Taking it all off. Shrek, the wild New Zealand sheep who attracted worldwide attention because of a massive woolly coat, now has a different look. After dodging the shearer's blades for six years, Shrek was captured this month. and when the time came, with 200 people watching, Shrek didn't bat an eye as the country's top shearer used old-fashioned cutting blades to remove his fleece, all 59 pounds of it. The high-quality merino wool is to be auctioned for a children's charity.

And that's our look around the world.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Here's how you're weighing in on our "Web Question of the Day." As you look at these numbers, remember, this is not a scientific poll.

A reminder, we're on weekdays 5:00 p.m. Eastern, as well as noon Eastern. I'll see you back here tomorrow. Thanks so much for joining us.

"LOU DOBBS TONIGHT" starts right now.

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